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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantum Consciousness and the Search for a New Paradigm: How Science Can be Spiritual

  • Author(s): Cochran, Christopher L.
  • Advisor(s): Harding, Susan F
  • et al.


Christopher Cochran

Quantum Consciousness and the Search for a New Paradigm: How Science Can be Spiritual

This dissertation examines how a network of “quantum consciousness” scientists have sought to change the epistemological and ethical boundaries of scientific research in hopes of creating knowledge that can adequately address contemporary problems in both science and society more generally. Quantum consciousness (QC) is defined as both scientific research and spiritual practice that seeks to understand consciousness in light of foundational questions that emerge from quantum physics. QC scientists believe neuroscience alone cannot provide a scientific explanation of consciousness because neuroscience is premised on “materialism” of Newtonian physics. QC scientists draw on the authority of physics to argue the correct scientific account of the mind-matter relationship will have to incorporate quantum physics, understood as the correct theory of matter since the quantum revolution of the 1920’s. Insofar as the physical delimits and shapes the mental, QC makes good on the potential quantum physics holds for redefining what mind is and can be.

By examining the practices and discourses of QC scientists, I demonstrate that conceptual transference between science, philosophy and New Age spirituality is part of the formation of scientific disciplines and the bounds of scientific debate. QC’s cultural contestations with mainstream science show how the demarcation problem in science becomes intertwined with the mind-matter problem of philosophy. My ethnography follows QC scientists’ movements between conferences, research settings, classrooms, and dinner parties to show how technical philosophical disagreements in quantum foundations, such as the measurement problem and the theory of decoherence, are the fulcrum of a cultural, de facto demarcation between QC scientists and mainstream scientists.

Max Weber postulated “disenchantment” as the result of a world rendered knowable in principle, yet the doctrine of intrinsic probability in quantum mechanics denies the possibility of such a world, and thereby troubles the assumption of a necessarily disenchanted science. I show how QC science is motivated by an expectation of a future “spiritual” discovery, called the New Paradigm, that redeems QC’s hypothesis that “universal consciousness is the ground of physics.” This expectation encourages QC scientists to incorporate and proliferate non-science within science, in ways that make hybrids, rather than clear boundaries. My dissertation shows how QC’s expectation of a “New Paradigm” guides what may be called a spiritual revivalism to redefine the secular norms of science.

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