Does quantum mechanics support Buddhism?

By Don Lincoln, Ph.D., Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Quantum mechanics is not always easy to understand. He tries to explain the systems of the world on the scale of the atom and atomic particles. Some old mysteries of physics have been solved using quantum physics. There are many rumors about strange concepts, but the misconception that quantum mechanics supports Buddhism is one of the strangest.

Many people mistakenly believe that quantum mechanics supports Buddhism, but there is absolutely no scientific basis for this belief. (Image: Jurik Peter / Shutterstock)

Physics is a science of movement, actions and reactions. However, not everything is as simple and straightforward as falling or pushing. Relativity was one of the first such subjects in physics.

Quantum mechanics

Relativity paved the way for quantum mechanics, an even more complex subject. Relativity has raised issues such as how objects seem to gain mass when they go fast, or when clocks slow down or objects shrink. None of these could be explained by classical physics.

Additionally, scientists began to focus on smaller scales: the realm of atoms and electrons, and whether small subatomic particles were particles or waves. Quantum mechanics was born to answer these complex questions.

Learn more about what quantum mechanics means.

Quantum mechanics and Buddhism

Quantum mechanics goes beyond known physical realms and even claims that consciousness is a fundamental part of the nature of physics. This strangeness extends to the point that many writings link it to Eastern philosophy. They then wrongly conclude that this branch of physics supports Buddhism.

There is no scientific basis linking quantum physics and any Eastern philosophy, including Buddhism. However, many people have connected them simply because the two are special and not intuitive. It is simply wrong to think that these two subjects are at any level related or support each other.

Unfortunately, this has been said so many times that it starts to sound logical, when the truth is far from it. However, why did people come up with this idea in the first place?

This is a transcript of the video series Understanding the misconceptions of science. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Special features of quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics covers strange topics that are not so predictable. For example, if a person tries to predict something in a hypothetical situation, the possibility of false predictions is very high. The subatomic world is not easily predictable either.

The structure of atoms, the possibility of communications faster than light, and the confusing nature of light are all topics in this branch of physics. Let’s focus on the light as an example. Even scientists before Isaac Newton had tried to understand light, but it was he and a Dutch physicist, Christiaan Huygens, who debated the issue.

Learn more about if we can go faster than light.

The nature of light

Newton believed that light was a particle, and Huygens claimed it was a wave. It took science until 1801 when the British mathematician and physicist Thomas Young did a series of light experiments to answer the question.

Particles and waves act differently when they pass through slits. Young used it to design his experiment and passed the light through two thin slits. If a particle passes through, it will either pass or hit the wall and fall. If it goes through and another wall is placed behind the crack, they will hit the wall in a characteristic pattern. This is how shadows are formed.

On the contrary, the waves spread out after passing through the slit. Like water waves in an ocean, other waves can also join together to form a larger one or go against each other and kill each other in some way. What did the light do?

Learn more about the existence of a theory of everything.

Behavior of light waves

Reflection of atomic particles in the pupil of an eye for the background of physics.
Light was a mystery to many scientists, and even its wave behavior could not answer all questions. (Image: Ezume Images / Shutterstock)

Young cut two slits in a wall and placed a screen far behind. If the light was a wave, it should have spread across the screen further, and the two sources must be interfering, positively or negatively. If the interference is constructive, they will reinforce each other to form a larger wave, and if they interfere destructively, the two waves cancel each other out.

It can be calculated where waves would interfere constructively and destructively, but that is beyond the scope of this article, focusing on quantum mechanics and its basic components. However, the interfering waves come out of the slits at different angles.

When Young did the experiment, he saw the behavior of clear waves in light. The behavior of a wave can be predicted: there would be bright spots where the waves combine and dark spots where they cancel each other out. This is what the light did.

The scientific community then agreed with Huygens on the nature of light as a wave. This seemed to be settled until in the late 1800s a new question arose: does light have electrons? Obviously, light has energy, and that’s how you can get sunburned from too much sun exposure. Now the scientists had a new challenge and had to see how electrons and light were related. The wave-like nature of light was also called into question.

Whether or not it’s waves or particles is up for discussion for another time, but that was just one example of what quantum mechanics has to deal with. No wonder some people associate it with Buddhism, which it certainly is not!

Common questions about quantum mechanics

Q: What is quantum mechanics in simple terms?

Quantum mechanics focuses on how the particles that make up atoms work and is also called quantum physics.

Q: What is the connection between quantum mechanics and Buddhism?

Quantum mechanics has nothing to do with Buddhism. The only thing that makes some people connect the two is that they’re both weird and mysterious.

Q: Why is quantum mechanics important?

Quantum mechanics is vital for understanding the world on an atomic scale. For example, understanding the behavior of light was an achievement in quantum physics.

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