10 Questions Series: Amit Goswami, Ph. D.

September 2, 2013 by Chris Grosso

Amit Goswami

NAME: Amit Goswami

BIO: Amit Goswami, Ph. D. is a professor of theoretical nuclear physics (retired) at the University of Oregon where he served since 1968. He is a pioneer of the new paradigm of science called “science within consciousness”, an idea he explicated in his seminal book, The Self-Aware Universe, where he also solved the quantum measurement problem elucidating the famous observer effect. 


Q: Who and or what, do you attribute the person you are today to?


A: There’s no one specific person or thing that makes me who I am today. The main things that stand out are of course my father’s early training on philosophical issues, especially the nature of reality even though it didn’t make any sense to us at six, seven, eight or nine years old but still; I’m sure it made an impression. The early upbringing I had in a backyard fruit orchard I spent a lot of time in because I was home schooled instead of regular school. Then coming to America, becoming a materialist only to become disappointed with it and thus opening up to other possibilities like how to integrate my personal life with the profession I was into, which was physics and taking that challenge seriously. I think that was a turning point. After that, it still took a long time, ten years or so, but I think I was on the right track and haven’t looked back since.


Q: What are some of the musical albums or musicians/bands that have impacted your life and in what way?


A: This is a hard one. There is much music that I listen to from Bengali written by the wonderful poet Rabindranath Tagore who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1913 and is one of the great poets of spirituality and peace, so his songs are very inspiring to me. As far as American music, I was extremely influenced by the folk singers of the 1970’s when I was going through my own opening. Judy Collins, John Denver, Joni Mitchell and the whole genre. I love to listen to that music it really helped in my opening.


Q: What is one of the most shocking experiences you’ve ever had?


A: When I was growing up, around the age of nine, the riot that took place just before the perdition of 1946/47. That really shook me up. It wasn’t just one incident as the riot environment was building for quite some time and I remember living that whole year in such tension. I was just a nine year old kid and I had three sisters. I was scared they’d be raped so I was learning how to use daggers so I could save them, at nine years old. That was probably the most traumatic experience I’ve ever gone through in my life.


Q: What is one of the most beautiful experiences you’ve ever had?


A: I have two competing experiences. One happened in November of 1977. I was meditating for seven days and after the seven days I was at the University when all of the sudden the Universe opened up to me, which I like to fondly think of as a Samadhi experience or what Maslow calls a peak experience. That’s one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had. Then also in May of 1985, I was in Ojai, CA and I had an idea that consciousness is the idea of being while heatedly discussing ideas of Quantum Measurement with a mystic. So those are the two experiences that undoubtedly stand out by far in my entire life.


Q: What is one of the most defining moments in your life and why?


A: I had the turning point experience when I was at a nuclear physics conference and still a very traditional, material physicist. I had my professorship in-hand and that was fine but I was not happy. So what I remember the most about the conference was that I gave an invited talk but it did not satisfy me. I felt that other people were doing better. I was intensely jealous. Other people were getting more recognition for their work and I wasn’t getting any. That jealousy continued the whole day into the evening when I went to a party. Nothing was helping. I noticed that at 1am I’d finished an entire pack of Tums, which I used to regularly carry because I often experienced heartburn. So I went outside, the conference was at Asilomar in Monterey Bay, CA, and the ocean air hit me on the face when all of the sudden it happened, I began to ask myself;  “why do I live this was, why do I live this way?” and that thought produced everything that happened subsequently in my life. It was so profound and unexpected. I felt a determination that I just couldn’t live that way any longer. So everything started to change. I got a divorce, I left the town I was in, got into a new relationship, started looking at physics in a new way and very soon, I found the Quantum Measurement problem to work with which brought happiness into physics for me and gradually started the path of integrating my life and profession all together. I had a new passion for Quantum Physics, which I needed. While it’s a wonderful mathematic theory, unfortunately the fundamental problem for the theory, as many people think, is it gives us the preposterous idea that everything is possibility. It gives us no recipe within Quantum Physics of how the possibilities become actualities of experience. It is a fact that we don’t see electrons in many possible positions. Whenever we measure them, we always find them localized in one particular position. So what makes these possibilities into actualities? That is what the Quantum Measurement problem is, because whenever we measure, we find actualities. It’s also called the observer effect. Whenever an observer observes, we find that possibilities are converted into actualities. Material interactions cannot do this. So scientific materialism, which says that everything is matter then material interaction falls apart. It is a paradox. The fundamental paradox, while staying within scientific materialism can’t be solved. I eventually solved this by suggesting that consciousness is the ground of being, not matter. Everything is made of consciousness and I’ve shown over the years that this idea solves every problem of physics and every problem that is open, not only in physics but in psychology, biology, medicine, it is the new way that we have to do science.


Q: What do you believe are the benefit, if any, vs. the dangers of mind-altering drugs?


A: Drug use is a very interesting topic from the New Age point of view because it is a fact that drug use has contributed greatly to the opening up of the American mind from that rigid Christian mindset to a mindset that is open to other possibilities. Today when we see the polarization between Democrats and Republicans I sometimes wish that everybody used LSD correctly so they’d see the world isn’t as rigid as they think it is. That notwithstanding, the problem of course is that it doesn’t solve anything. The condition of the drug use is in that ultra state of the brain, where other possibilities become very clear, but what is also clear is that the working apparatus of the brain is also impeded. So we cannot bring that much of the enthusiasm to work or to fruition later on when we’re out of the drug. So what happens then is we become frustrated and we turn to the drug again and again because that is the only way we know to enter these realities where things are quite possible and quite wonderful, and that produces the addiction. Creativity however is not available because creativity is a combination of both the altered state and the ordinary state, so creativity is something very special that just isn’t available in the drug experience. So in other words, drugs are good for people who are rigid in opening up the mind, especially people who exclude feelings completely. I know such people who’ve been helped enormously by this but it is ultimately a defeating process because you’re not going to do very much with those wonderful states. So how does one get out of it? Drug addiction is a severe problem. I have an idea that if we use the creative process then we can heal drug addiction. The idea is that addiction is a fundamental problem or mental block. What you have done is created a feeling of helplessness, a thought that I cannot do without this drug, which is a belief. This belief is a state of the mind. So one has to go beyond the mind, take a quantum leap, a discontinuous transition, which is also called a creative experience. So one has to go through the creative process, which is preparation and relaxing, preparation and relaxing. I call it do, be, do, be do. If we do this process of do, be, do, be do- one works hard to keep away from drugs and then relaxes and lets whatever happen for a bit and then again go ahead and work hard to keep away from it, that is a very effective program, with other peoples help. Never losing sight that we need other peoples help to keep things under control. Then this process, what I call an entangled hierarchal relationship between a person who is not drug addicted and one who is must work in conjunction so the neutral consciousness that separated them initially will start working in such a conjunction that will force the creative quantum leap, change up the belief that I need the drug. Once you change the belief on the fundamental level, then you are healed, but that change of belief needs to occur. The reason that rehabilitation, in the way that we normally apply it, doesn’t seem to work except for very few people, is that the transition, which sometimes happens spontaneously for a few people who have been healed by things happening in the normal course of their lives. But usually however, others need a more creative approach, a creative process, a deliberate creative process, not the spontaneous creativity that can always happen by chance.


Q: What are some films you’ll never forget seeing for the first time and why?


A: Gandhi. I’ve cried through the entire film every time I’ve seen it. I also love comedies. The Sound of music is definitely one. It’s an absolutely wonderful and joyful movie. To Kill a Mockingbird I’ll forever remember. Another movie that stands out is War and Peace based on Tolstoy’s book. Henry Fonda starred in it. I don’t know exactly why it impressed me so much but it did. I was also impressed with Citizen Kane but not necessarily in a special way. The Graduate was a film I enjoyed, though probably more for the soundtrack than the film itself. I’ve noticed movies have gotten very bizarre these days and don’t find as much pleasure in watching them anymore.


Q: Does God exist and if so, in what capacity? If not, why not?


A: The new paradigm is telling us yes, God exists but it needs clarification because God is many things to many people. First of all, to most people of this country, popular Christianity is the picture of God which has been imprinted from early childhood and that has got to go. This is one of the reasons why so many people are leaning towards Atheism today. If only they knew that this picture of popular Christianity, which they are rejecting, was just one viewpoint and that God is an idea that most people elsewhere accept. Anyone who accepts changes or creativity in their life, they are not scientific materialists. In scientific materialism, there is no creativity possible. You don’t have any cause of power, so how can it cause anything, how can you bring a new idea? Elementary Particles cannot produce lofty ideas like, “What is the nature of reality?” So today, we have accepted such a stupid underlying metaphysics because scientists say it is the one that works, but it is obviously wrong. It’s a funny thing today that people accept things that are obviously wrong. Obviously global climate change is real, how can it be unreal. And the media is saying it’s not real and many people buy that. We’re living in a complicated society which complicates things.  In reality of course, there are ideas which produce change. So coming back to the question of God, God has to be the creative principal in our life. Quantum Physics says that indeed there is a force, an interaction we need in changing possibilities into actualities. So you can posit this is the force, downward causation, not a material causation. A causation that exists independent of material causation coming from what we generally call consciousness. Consciousness chooses out of possibilities the actual event that becomes reality. So I posit that this is the solution to the Quantum Measurement problem. The solution says there is downward causation. There is a causal agent that gives us a freedom of choice to choose the really new stuff, creativity. If we think about it this way, I think most people who are already accepting change, the veracity of the idea of change, and the veracity of the idea of creativity, the people who accept the importance of love, beauty, justice, truth, goodness & ethics, they will readily accept this too. They feel these things come to them not from their conditioned stimuli and the mundane but from a dimension that is outside of the mundane. This is the dimension people conventionally call sacred or supra-mental. It’s this dimension of experience that forces us to conclude that there has to be causation outside of the material world and once we have taken this key then everything starts fitting together. We realize yes, of course, we are not just machines but we’re also processing meaning and values constantly in our lives. How can we process meaning and value if we are just material machines? It can easily be proven today that at most, with material matter, you can have symbolic or representative symbols that process, but symbols themselves cannot process meaning, values and ideas. The proof of God is so easy to do both conceptually by recognizing this and of course, through Quantum Physics which gives us experimental data. The downward causation comes with specific signatures that we can experimentally verify. One signature is that if this is true, then there should be signal left communication, communication between objects without the passing of signals between them. Has that been demonstrated, yes, by so many experiments today. Scientific Materialists lump the experiments together in the category of paranormal and create controversy to project the belief that they don’t really exist, like global climate change doesn’t exist, but it’s make believe these things don’t exist. The scientific data is as accurate as any other data that is acclaimed and accepted by the scientific community. It’s a shame that due to the conspiracy of the media, and it is a conspiracy of the media, like Fox News for example, there’s a conspiracy of silence. Once and a while we get a film or documentary shown about the paranormal but basically the media has been very silent about it. So because of this we’re not getting the idea that God (I’m not talking about the Christian God, the oh, father daddy God, but that God that is experimentally verified), is our creative impulse.


Q: What do you think your greatest contribution to humanity is?


A: With all humility, I’d have to say my idea that consciousness is the ground of being, which can be verified as a scientific idea was a pretty grand idea. I think it will help a new paradigm of science one day on this basis. Of course, I’ll be long gone because it won’t happen immediately, but within the next few decades we’ll see a change and that will be good.


Q: What does the human experience mean to you?


A: The Human Experience is the greatest of things. It means a lot to me. It makes me feel humble and wonderfully exalted. Humble because we have our experiences based on the brain circuitry that’s a conditioned aspect of us. It can make us feel angry, hurt or in pain. It produces all of those things but the same experiences can lead to ecstasy. Like after I stick with a creative problem and solve it, when I write and the flow experience happens, the writing just happens and I’m not there. These wonderful feelings, especially the couple of mystic experiences I’ve had, these experiences are just so fascinating, so energizing, so absolutely wonderful that I think the emphasis on human experience is the best thing that anyone can do for living an exciting, happy and satisfactory life.


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Chris Grosso is a writer, public speaker, mental health youth group facilitator, and author with Simon & Schuster. He also writes for Revolver Magazine, Fangoria, and has spoken at a bunch of fancy-schmancy festivals and conferences (as well as even more events that were significantly less than fancy-schmancy). Chris's podcast, The Indie Spiritualist, is hosted on Ram Dass's Be Here Now Network.