What Quantum Physics Can Tell Us about the Afterlife

Swedenborg Foundation

Quantum physics is weird. To begin to understand it, you have to set aside everything you thought you knew about space and time and develop complex, abstract models of a universe in which the tiniest divisions of matter exist in constantly changing states and where the normal rules of action at a distance don’t apply . . .

Oh, wait. That’s Emanuel Swedenborg.

Spiritual concepts have nothing to do with space. They have to do solely with state, state being an attribute of love, life, wisdom, desires, and the delights they provide—in general, an attribute of what is good and true. A truly spiritual concept of these realities has nothing in common with space. . . .

However, since angels and spirits see with their eyes the way we do on earth, and since objects can be seen only in space, there does seem to be space in the spiritual world where angels and spirits are, space like ours on earth. Still, it is not space but an appearance of space. It is not fixed and invariant like ours. It can be lengthened, shortened, changed and altered; and since it cannot be defined by measurement, we here cannot grasp it with an earthly concept, but only with a spiritual one. Spiritual concepts are no different when they apply to spatial distances than when they apply to “distances” of what is good and “distances” of what is true, which are agreements and likenesses as to state. (Divine Love and Wisdom §7; see also Heaven and Hell §§154–55)

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Swedenborg emphasizes that space in the spiritual world is nothing like ours: he describes angels traveling over huge distances in an instant to reach someone who is thinking about them, communities of angels who are bound together by similarities in their states of love and wisdom, and surroundings that change in response to people’s thoughts and emotions. During the eighteenth century, when Isaac Newton’s laws of physics were still brand new, this must have been hard to imagine. Today, quantum physics is giving us new ways to think about the universe that have interesting parallels to what Swedenborg described.

Take the principle of quantum entanglement, for example:

Entanglement occurs when two quantum particles interact with each other so that their quantum states become interdependent. If the first particle is in state A, say, then the other must be in state B, and vice versa.

Until a measurement is made of one of the particles, its state is undetermined: it can be regarded as being in both states A and B simultaneously, known as a superposition. The act of measuring ‘collapses’ this superposition into just one of the possible states.

But if the particles are entangled, then this measurement also determines the state of the other particle—even if they have become separated by a vast distance. The effect of the measurement is transmitted instantaneously to the other particle, through what Albert Einstein skeptically called ‘spooky action at a distance’. [1]

In other words, if two particles are entangled, they function together as a single system. An action taken to affect one will also affect the other, no matter how far away they are. You could visualize this on a larger scale by imagining a pair of dice: if the dice were entangled in the same way that particles can become entangled, then when rolled simultaneously they would always turn up matching numbers, even if one die was on the opposite side of the planet from the other.

Entanglement between particles can happen as a result of almost any type of interaction, as long as they are close enough to affect each other. The effect can be almost unmeasurably brief (for example, when produced in a lab, as described in the article referenced above) or it could last indefinitely.

Compare this to the way that Swedenborg describes interaction between souls in the afterlife:

All motion in the spiritual world is the effect of changes of inner states, to the point that motion is nothing but change of state. . . .

This being the nature of motion, we can see that drawing near is likeness of inner state and moving away is dissimilarity. This is why the people who are nearby are the ones in a similar state and the ones who are far away are in dissimilar states. It is why space in heaven is nothing but the outward states that correspond to the inner ones.

This is also why in the spiritual world one individual is present to another if only that presence is intensely desired. This is because one person sees another in thought in this way and identifies with that individual’s state. Conversely, one person moves away from another to the extent that there is any sense of reluctance; and since all reluctance comes from an opposition of affections and disagreement of thoughts, there can be many people appearing together in one place as long as they agree, but as soon as they disagree, they vanish. (Heaven and Hell §§192–94)

In Swedenborg’s case, the interaction between two souls is a thought or feeling—an emotional or spiritual state that can either draw individuals closer or drive them apart. This works not only for individuals, as described above, but for communities of angels in heaven, who are bound together by similarities in the things they love (Heaven and Hell §§41–44). And, like quantum particles, two individuals can align either briefly or indefinitely, depending on their internal qualities.

Of course, the similarity isn’t perfect; as far as scientists know today, quantum entanglement can’t be used to move objects or information through space. But the idea of two objects being so aligned that they can affect each other regardless of the distance between them is one that has a powerful resonance in Swedenborg’s thought.

If we use quantum entanglement as a model, we see love as the glue that connects people together. In fact, in many places, Swedenborg observes that love is life itself (for example, the very first sentence of Divine Love and Wisdom). If that’s true, then when people share a common love, they share a common life—a common existence that stretches from this world to the next.

There’s one more very intriguing way in which quantum entanglement parallels Swedenborg’s thought. When building mathematical models of the universe based on quantum theory, researchers have found that entanglement is necessary to the existence of, well, everything:

Mark Van Raamsdonk, a string theorist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, likens the holographic concept [of the structure of the universe] to a two-dimensional computer chip that contains the code for creating the three-dimensional virtual world of a video game. We live within that 3-D game space. . . .

In 2010 Van Raamsdonk proposed a thought experiment to demonstrate the critical role of entanglement in the formation of space-time, pondering what would happen if one cut the memory chip in two and then removed the entanglement between qubits [quantum bits of information] in opposite halves. He found that space-time begins to tear itself apart, in much the same way that stretching a wad of gum by both ends yields a pinched-looking point in the center as the two halves move farther apart. Continuing to split that memory chip into smaller and smaller pieces unravels space-time until only tiny individual fragments remain that have no connection to one another. “If you take away the entanglement, your space-time just falls apart,” said Van Raamsdonk. [2]

Swedenborg says something very similar about the spiritual universe:

If you look at the created universe with an eye to its design, it is so full of wisdom from love that you might say everything taken all together is wisdom itself. There are things without measure in such a pattern, both sequential and simultaneous, that taken all together they constitute a single entity. This is the only reason they can be held together and sustained forever. (Divine Love and Wisdom §29)

Bringing these two ideas together gives us a new way to think about loving others: If there was no love connecting us as individuals, connecting individuals into communities, and connecting communities into a larger and larger whole, then our spiritual universe would fall apart. Loving everybody might seem like a difficult goal, but loving the people closest to you just might be the first step in the process of bringing all of creation a little bit closer together.

http://www.swedenborg.com/

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For even more parallels between quantum mechanics and Swedenborg’s writings, watch “Spiritual Physics” and “How to Travel in the Afterlife,” two episodes of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel.

You can also download all of Swedenborg’s writings, including the two works mentioned above, from our bookstore.

References

[1] Philip Ball, “Entangled diamonds vibrate together,” Nature, December 1, 2011, http://www.nature.com/news/entangled-diamonds-vibrate-together-1.9532

[2] Jennifer Ouellette, “How Quantum Pairs Stitch Space-Time,” Quanta Magazine,April 28, 2015, https://www.quantamagazine.org/20150428-how-quantum-pairs-stitch-space-time

 

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