10 min read
The Quantum Mechanic And The Physicist Monk

by William Thomas

Consider a quark-stained quantum mechanic sprawled beneath the raised hood of an atom-size ’58 Ford pickup. Working by feel, it’s taken an interminable 51 Fermi-seconds to fit a #.00000008 open-end nanowrench around a rusted particle in the vehicle’s quantum distributor.

     “Let me help,” offers a 73-year-old passerby, directing a penlight onto the work area.     

     “Thanks. Now I can… DARNIT!” The mechanic jerks back, sucking knuckles barked against a protruding boson. Pushing back goggles inscribed with a vertical slit in each blacked-out lens reveals tears of frustration.     

     “How am I supposed to fix this heap? Every time I look at that stupid particle, it splits into vertical waves. I can never tell how many in advance.”

     Her helpmate grins.     

     “What’s so funny. Buster Brown? You try keeping a nanowrench on a particle when it flips into wave state.”      

     “Observing what you’re working on changes the outcome,” the old guy remarks. “Every time.”     

     “Don’t bore me with Bohr,” the quantum mechanic snaps, blowing on her injured paw. “Oh yes. We all know that homewrecker: Any observation necessitates an interference with the course of the phenomenon. How am I supposed to work with that?”     

     “I can’t help it if Consciousness plays a crucial role in the formation and evolution of the universe,” the good samaritan says. “But you can.”     

     “Stop with the C-word already,” requests the repairperson identified by the name tag, QUANTUM GIRL. “I refer to Tor Norretranders: Scientists do not know what consciousness is, how to measure it, what causes it, or what role it has in nature.”   

     The stranger surprises her by completing the quote: “Antiquated notions of physics are mute before the great mystery of I AM.”     

     “That’s why it’s ignored,” Quantum Girl pounces. “Even though conscious observation alters every experiment they attempt, few neuroscientists concerned for their funding and reputations are willing to jump through that particular phase-state.”     

     “Even way-out string, M-state, and multi-universe theorists become extremely shy around something as ‘slippery dippery’ as Consciousness,” Wallace agrees. “Does this mean they prefer to work unconsciously?”      

     “They consciously duck the entire discussion concerning consciousness,” Quantum Girl picks up on the Zen joke. “Your colleagues say it ‘just happens’. When enough clumping brain cells achieve some indeterminate complex criticality, consciousness arises from the mush in our skulls like steam off mashed potatoes.”      

     The physicist winces at the mechanic’s metaphor. “Which doesn’t say anything about hash browns,” he points out. “Or consciousness. By the way, Einstein was yet another nuclear physicist conversant with the ancient Vedas, which describe atomic battles in disturbing detail. You know what he said about physics?”     

     “Physics is an attempt to grasp reality,” Quantum Girl recites, “independently of its being observed.” She laughs. “Good luck with that, Albert. And while you’re at it, would you care to define ‘reality’ in words we can all agree on?”      

     “Let’s stick with consciousness,” the physicist urges. “Starting with the difference between, say, awareness and consciousness.”     

     Quantum Girl responds in her so-glad-you-asked-me-that voice. 

     “Like I said. It’s all about I AM. Critters conscious enough to recognize themselves in a mirror are called humans. Also chimps, crows, elephants and photo-snapping octopi. Among other curious creatures.” Octopus Selfie Takes 1st Place In Wide-Angle Underwater Photo Contest -screenrant.com

     A pair of eyebrows shoot up. “Go on.”      

     “Sitting bolt upright at three in the morning and exclaiming, ‘I AM!’ is a huge deal,” Quantum Girl forges ahead. “And not just for whoever’s sharing the bed. For us neocortex-challenged hominids, staying conscious is the whole deal. Anything less is sleepwalking.”      

     “What if consciousness precedes and gives rise to everything that exists?” Wallace muses aloud. “What if all mental and physical processes arise from another dimension of reality that does not separate mind and matter?”     

     “Like Spinoza said,” the quantum mechanic nods. “There is no terminal freak-out death. Only a change of form. Like taking off a pair of lead boots and romping barefoot through the universe.”     

     Wallace grins. “How do you know?”     

     Quantum Girl quickly changes states. “And what if this entire big huge universe really did ‘spontaneously emerge’ from the Nothingness Buddhists call the Void; scientists, the Quantum Field?”     

     “Well, I have given that some thought. For example…”     

     “Wait!” QG interrupts. “Did you say your name is Alice B. Tolkas?”     

     “B. Alan Wallace.”     

     Her eyes light up. “You wrote, Hidden Dimensions of Consciousness.     “That’s right.”     “Nearly turned my brain into a pretzel.”     

     “That’s better than mashed potatoes,” B. Alan Wallace says and they both laugh.


The physicist does the math while Quantum Girl uses a Sherlock Holmes-size magnifier to hunt for her dropped nanowrench.      “As far as any sensors can tell,” he intones, “the original, soundless Big Blammo lasted .0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001/ of that first improbable second. Consciousness took another 13.6 billion years to show up. Give or take.”     

     The quantum mech sounds less than awed by all those empty integers. “That’s just numbers. Slippery dippery numbers. How did consciousness come about? “Why?”     

     Wallace shrugs a cosmologist’s shrug. “It’s hard to explain. And don’t roll your eyes. As you may have noticed, quantum physics is not always intended to be mansplained.”     

     “You kill me,” shrieks the delighted quantum mechanic, tossing her glossy locks and sending photons flying. “Is Universal Consciousness even a thing?”     

     “Consciousness may exist by itself, even in the absence of matter, just like gravitational waves,” the physicist posits.     

     “Electromagnetic waves, more likely,” Quantum Girl comes back.      

     “Mmmm,” goes Wallace.

The quantum mechanic switches back to their previous state of interaction. “What if this all-pervasive mind — the so-called ‘zero-point field-state’ — is in the process of becoming conscious of itself through the thought patterns and nerve impulses of each recycled participant experiencing 3D for however long realization takes?      

     “Or not,” she quickly adds, before the physicist can object. “Things can go wrong on the reincarnation circuit. Given what’s coming down, I may beg not to be sent back.”     


     “You know. When we croak and our bodily Matter is converted back into Energy. And eventually back into Matter again. Without gain or loss. Like Albert said.”     

     “I think you’re being a bit over-familiar with that luminary’s name,” B. Alan Wallace admonishes.      

     “Oh no. We know one another,” Quantum Girl assures him, brushing back long purple hair. “We naturally bumped into each other on the Fundamental Ground of Everything. I took shop classes from him there.”


     “What I want to know is: does individuated consciousness continue after death? Albert knows. But he’s not saying.”     

     “Why sweat it? No amount of of fantasizing can prepare you for an unembodied existence. And if it’s Chandler’s Big Sleep, you’ll never know.”     

     “I hate big surprises. Tell me now.”     

“You’re referring, I take it, to that unitary experience in the flux of the quantum void,” Wallace says stiffly, still put out by Quantum Girl’s presumption.     

     Quantum Girl grips her head in a parody of pain. “More bafflegab.”     

     “Are you sure that’s not a cop-out?” B. Alan Wallace gently suggests. “Look again at the words ‘unitary’, ‘flux’, ‘quantum’ and ‘void’. Do they imply transcendence to you?”     

     “They do suggest a zero-kelvin steady-state,” allows the quantum mechanic. “Filled with infinite potentialities.”  

     “Where everything is change and impermanent,” Wallace elaborates. “Nothing is separate from anything else. How can it be otherwise when energy and matter flow through each other as aspects of the same underlying reality?”     

     “At the speed of light squared,” Quantum Girl reminds them both. “Which, according to the Standard Model, is impossible.”   

     “But there it is,” Wallace says. “And here we are. Everything is energy. Nothing is solid. And you don’t want to know how many neutrinos are zipping through your alleged body right now.” 

     “You sound just like a Buddhist monk.”     

     “I should,” Wallace says. “After 14 years of practice.”     

     “Ordained by the Dalai Lama. Correct?”     

     “His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the author of nine books on Science and Buddhism, and 17 books on Tibetan Buddhism quietly corrects.     

     QG nods — point taken — and has another thought. “What do you think of this riddle: Instead of asking whether consciousness continues after death, perhaps we should ask how long consciousness persists after birth.”


After sharing a meal of gluten-free muons smothered in cranberry sauce at the diner conveniently materialized by mutual intention next door, the pair step back into the night.           

     “I never knew quantum mechanicking could be so fun,” whispers Quantum Girl as they turn their gaze to the firmament overhead.     

     “We look up and see only a few thousand stars,” her new mentor remarks, “while countless billions of suns remain hidden in the subconscious of deep space. Look long enough and the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”     

     Quantum Girl claps her hands in delight. “That’s terrific! You’re saying that to really know the ‘subconscious’ of black holes and other cosmic koans, astronauts must become star shamans, and astronomers historians of starlight.”     

     “I suppose I am,” Wallace says slowly, a shy grin starting at the notion of cosmic riddles, star voodoo and starshine scribes. “Here, check this out.” Pulling a smartphone out of the Quantum Flux, he taps the screen…       

     “I regard consciousness as fundamental, I regard matter as derivative from consciousness,” intones the voice of Max Planck. “Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”     

     “In other words,” Wallace carries on, “Consciousness is where we come from, the place we inhabit, where we’re headed. When you get right down in it, Consciousness is all there is.”     

     “Whether we know it or not,” Quantum Girl says, dissing most of humanity.      

     Wallace nods, says: “Whether fern, finned, furred or feathered; two-dozen, four or two-legged — or a tube worm hugging a sulphur vent in the cold, eternal darkness of the depths — we’re all one Consciousness having different experiences.”     

     “Who said that?”     

     “A lot of minds have expressed that thought. Want to know the Buddhist formula for the General Theory of Ontological Relativity?”      

     “You mean a General Theory of Being relating to every category of existence?”     



     “The Buddhist equivalent to E=MC2 — wait for it,” winks the physicist-monk — “is E=MC2. That’s why the Dalai Lama thinks Buddhist philosophy and Quantum Physics can shake hands on their view of the world.”      

     Quantum Girl is startled by the juxtaposition, but recovers quickly when seeing they’re a near-perfect fit. Before she can cheer the Tibetans, a topless Tesla zips past, quiet as a phase-shift.      

     “Who gives a crap?” Elon Musk calls out. “We’re living in a simulation!”

     “Jerk!” Quantum Girl calls after the receding spaceman. “You and your darn Starlink! Is no inch of Earth sacred?”     

     “What if he’s wrongt?” Wallace asks after she calms down. “Whether you share Elon Musk’s inescapable conclusion that you are an AI-generated simulacrum living in an artificial matrix — or if you take the world around you to be as ‘real’ as a stubbed toe — you’re both shadow-boxing in samsara.”     

     Though she’s not sure about this “samsara” stuff, and has always taken “wacko” as a compliment, Quantum Girl is not entirely pleased by this assertion. “Say more about consciousness,” she invites in a tone that says, if you dare.     

     Wallace does.     

     “If consciousness is the brain’s energy field — as Johnjoe maintains — I think we'd better take your suggestion and look at electromagnetic field theories of the mind.”     

     “Electrifield what?” the Q-mech asks. “And who the heck is Johnjoe?”

     “A professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey working hard to repair Descartes’ disastrous body/mind dualism,” Wallace tells her. “Johnjoe came up with the Consciousness Electromagnetic Information Field Theory. CEMI for short.”     

     “What’s that?”     

     “Go easy. We’ll get there in the next installment.”  

Photo Caption:

Quantum Girl driving a subatomic '58 Ford pickup

Are mashed potatoes a brain? Or vice-versa?

B. Alan Wallace and the Dalai-Lama in Sydney

Raven narcissism -pinterest

Einstein chillin'

Author’s Note:

Though I have never met B. Alan Wallace, since we are of the same age and writerly temperment, I trust this Buddhist scientist will allow the liberties I’ve taken in this fictional account, in order to introduce him to a more general audience. All Bohr, Wallace, Norretranders, Einstein, Musk and Dalai Lama quotes are verbatim in italics. Quotes attributed to people not in italics are entirely my invention. -William Thomas