The One

The ultimate ground of the world.

Some physicists are beginning to realize that quantum physics has much more to say about the world than that quantum mechanics is an unparalleled successful predictor of physical phenomena. The book ‘The One‘ by Heinrich Päs, professor of theoretical physics at TU Dortmund, is a very good example of this changing attitude. He concludes that quantum physics can only be fully understood if we accept the existence of a quantum universe – already ages ago described by many philosophers as The One – as the ground of the world we observe.

According to Päs, this quantum universe is the – immaterial yet real – version of Everett’s multiverse, but metaphysical instead of physically material. Päs states that the image presented to the public of endlessly splitting material universes is wrong, brought into the world by opponents of Everett’s idea. All these possible universes exist certainly, however as state waves that together, by their respective superpositions, form one single state wave, where all their oscillations cancel each other out. This composite superpositioned state wave of all possible universes together is The One, the unmoving immaterial ground of everything, where space, time and matter do not exist any more, not even as thought, but from which all observed diversity sprouts. This is the Tao of Lao Tze, here anew presented as an ultimate quantum metaphysical reality..

So what’s Everett’s idea, precisely?

To answer that, we first need to look at the greatest mystery that quantum physics confronts us with, the quantum collapse. The end of the – unlimited in space and time expanded (non-local) – immaterial state wave that, according to the accepted quantum physics interpretation, represents the probability to find the material particle at measurement when, precisely at that act of measurement, that wave ends abruptly. This end of that state wave is however not predicted by the mathematics describing the state wave, the Schrödinger equation. How the act of measurement triggers this abrupt transition of immaterial probabilities into matter is still not explained satisfactorily. The most commonly accepted explanation given is decoherence, which is actually not an explanation but only a verbal description of what seems to occur. Which is that a coherent phenomenon – the wave – suddenly loses its coherence as a connected whole, whereupon only one element of it – the in our measurement found particle – remains and becomes matter.

The attributed name – decoherence – doesn’t really explain how it works. However, Päs explains decoherence as an effect caused by the necessarily limited perspective of the observer on the composite quantum wave of the universe, that one single unmoving state wave in which the state waves of all possible universes are summarized, superpositioned in the language of the physicist. His explanation how a limited perspective of the observer hides the full unmoving universal state wave and presents us only one of its myriad components, does unfortunately not go into more detail.

A metaphor he offers as an explanation is that of a completely flat ocean surface that, observed from an overall perspective, shows no movement, but which in that motionlessness may as well be the result of an endless conjoining of an enormous number of waves, that together completely cancel each other out. Waves can cancel each other out, which is what we call destructive interference. This is applied in noise reduction headphones. From a much more restricted perspective then, the area of that ocean that we are able to observe becomes something that appears to be separated from the rest. I don’t understand fully how a perspective change will present to us the world of distinct objects, but it’s an interesting image and it can at least serve as a useful metaphor for a rough explanation of the idea. If you accept his idea, the decoherence of the state wave, happening on measurement, is not that the state wave does disappear into thin air on observation, but that it is just no longer observable from the limited perspective of the observer. The observer observes then only a small part of the full quantum universe. It’s still there, in its immaterial way, but we can’t ‘see’ it.

Everything becomes an observer

Which raises the questions of what an observer actually is, and – related – if an observer is really necessary for evoking the quantum collapse. Everett’s idea to do away with the observer and the quantum collapse is that every possibility exists in the state wave where ‘existence’ does not mean a material existence, but nevertheless a real existence. With this, the definition of what is real is changed in an important way. Accept this for the moment. According to Everett’s proposal, in the double-slit experiment with a single object shot at the slits, both possibilities exist in a real way – the object goes through the left slit and it goes also through the right slit – but both in their own separate immaterial realities. In each of these two realities exists an immaterial observer, who observes the only one outcome within his reality. Every observer is after all only able to observe the reality in which he exists. This eliminates the apparent necessity of a physically enigmatic influence of the observer on the state wave, triggering the quantum collapse of that wave, simply because there is no collapse at all. Instead, however, there are now two completely identical observers.

I hope that you will understand that Everett’s proposal does not impose any special immaterial requirements on the observer, such as perceptive awareness, a camera will suffice. The underlying condition for his idea is clearly that consciousness is an emergent property of the immaterial but nevertheless real brain of the observer. Both observers in both universes are (immaterially) identical to each other and therefore have an identical emergent consciousness, with their also identical emergent memories. The only difference is their observation at the time of the experiment. There splits their universe, with them in it, in two.

Wat is real, really?

Multiverse interpretation of Schrödinger’s living ánd dead cat.

This example of ‘bifurcating’ observers in their universes has been kept simple for reasons of explanation here, way simpler than in any practical real double-slit experiment. In practice, there are many, almost innumerable, possibilities in such an experiment where the observed object can manifest itself everywhere at any of the interference fringes on the back screen, and each possibility therefore means a split universe, each including a copy of the observer. I hope you see that the number of universes and observer copies can get quite substantial if not improbably gargantuan. Therefore, Päs stresses that all these possible universes are not material, even if they are real. The definition of what is real therefore needs to be adjusted. But in such an extended interpretion of reality, an illusion, even a dream, is also something real, although I think Päs does not want to stretch it that far.

Emergent consciousness as condition for the multiverse

Only by considering consciousness as an emergent property of the physical brain, this way of interpreting quantum physics is defensible, it is definitely a prerequisite for Everett’s idea, and this assumption is also stated repeatedly in Päs’s book: ‘Of course, as long as we stick to the reasonable hypothesis that our consciousness is confined within our brains, …’. After shortly considering the idea of primary consciousness as a possible cause of the quantum collapse like, for example, John von Neumann did – Päs joins the almost unanimous opinion of neurologists (Tononi et al.) that consciousness is an emergent product of the brain. He forgets that neurology is an ultimately reductionistic branch of science while he argues elsewhere in his book strongly against reductionism in physics.

Monism – not a new idea – to the rescue of physics?

The idea of the existence of an ultimate source of reality that is The One, that knows no separation, that contains no separate elements, that knows no time and space, is called monism. Päs spends an extensive and indeed fascinating chapter of his book on the history of monism. It is a view on reality – also known under the more common denominator Platonism – that can already be found in Greek antiquity with proponents like Thales, Plato, Parmenides, Pythagoras, and Philolaus. Later on, monism as an opponent of the monotheistic but dual presentation of the world that the Christian church steadfast portrays, repeatedly pops up in historical figures such as Giordano Bruno, Kepler, Copernicus, Meister Eckhart, John Scotius Eriugena, and much later on in time, Spinoza and Kierkegaard.

According to Päs, the strong reactionary suppression of the Catholic church of these clearly monistic ideas, through torture, pyre, excommunication and social exclusion, is the root cause of the fact that the notion of an immaterial ground of our reality is not very popular at the moment, certainly not among most physicists, although I do notice a growing change in attitude. Bohr and Heisenberg also played an important role in this suppression, with their idea of complementarity, by classifying the deeper reality of the state wave as not relevant to physical theories. They classified thus the contradictions, between for example particle and wave, as fundamental to nature, and thus not susceptible to further investigation. There is just no underlying reality to investigate. Case closed. Shut up and calculate.

According to Päs, this is the reason that physics, with its highly reductionistic approach, is currently in crisis. The investigation into the foundations of matter has so far been sought in the ever smaller dimensions of matter for which the necessary energies ánd finances are correspondingly increasing . The path of reductionist approach of nature, and what could be achieved by it, seems to have come to an end. It is therefore time, according to Päs, to introduce monism as a grounding principle in physics. Quantum physics and the quantum universe show us the way.

Entanglement as the ultimate creator of unity and universal love

According to Päs, entanglement is by far the most important factor in the quantum universe. It ensures a connection of everything with everything and confirms thus the unity of The One. Individual properties of the parts do cease to exist in favor of strongly interrelated properties. Interestingly, he quotes Neoplatonist John Scotus Eriugena in: ‘Just as entanglement unites the universe in quantum cosmology, for Eriugena it is “the pacific embrace of universal love” that “ gathers all things together into the indivisible unity which is what He Himself is, and holds them inseparably together”. Päs, apparently makes here a connection between quantum entanglement and what Eriugena calls universal love. That immediately reminds me of the NDE reports that are almost always about the overwhelming experience of universal love. This is found in almost all reports. That’s real, if only because of the amount of data.

You could protest now that you and your ex have a common history and must therefore be quantum physically entangled, but that there is no more love in your present relationship. Päs would say – I think – that your observation is of course a matter of your limited perspective.

Love is entanglement, entanglement is love.

Does Päs acknowledge the quantum physical reality of universal love? It might be different. By linking entanglement and universal love in this way, he also could reduce the latter to the first. Love would then become something that could be examined in the physicist’s laboratory as a phenomenon to which numbers could be assigned by means of measurement. He would then do the same that physicists have done with the actually incomprehensible mystique of forces at a distance, as we experience it with gravity, electricity and magnetism; reducing it to a field that can be measured and described mathematically and thus reduce the phenomenon to something that belongs to the material universe. Reïfication by reduction.

How could they know?

An important question then is, of course, how the ancient philosophers had already stumbled on this principle of the very substance of our reality without having the technical tools available to science today. The ancient Greeks had little more at their disposal than their own senses and their sharp minds. Päs just briefly goes into this and assumes that early and primitive humanity was capable of a more direct observation of The One than modern man, and that these insights were handed down from generation to generation. Which is very close to the assumption of the general validity of mystical lore.

Summary and comments

At the end of this book review, it is good to briefly summarize Päs’ ideas, supplemented with my summarized comments:

  1. The perceived reality is an illusion and originates in the quantum universe. Certainly a remarkable statement by a physicist.
  2. The multiverse is the quantum universe and it is not material. It’s one. That too is remarkable.
  3. In the apparent split of the universe, the physical observer and his mind also split into several observer copies, each observing a single outcome. The quantum collapse is therefore the impression that every observer copy has because each one observes necessarily only a single result of the many possible outcomes. That means that an underlying assumption has to be made, that the mind is a product of the physical brain. That assumption is essential in this multiverse explanation of the quantum collapse. Accepting this, the large number of experiences of people leaving their body at the threat of an imminent physical demise, often verified by third parties, while being able to perceive and report the circumstances near their body correctly (the NDE), are either completely ignored or declared as illusion.
  4. In this assumption, the observer is therefore just a physical object, so that actually every physical object becomes an observer. Which is also the conclusion that, among others, Carlo Rovelli, Sean Carrol and Thomas Hertog convey. Why certain objects, such as lenses, mirrors and even reflective crystals, are exempt from being observers is not clear to me.
  5. But since, according to Päs, physical reality is an illusion, we as observer have an illusion that observes the world and thus creates also reciprocally the illusion of the observer. Whoever wants to believe something contorted like that, is fooling himself, as far as I’m concerned.
  6. The quantum collapse is caused by decoherence which is, according to Päs, an effect of the observer’s limited perspective. The deeper mechanism of decoherence, and how it is triggered, remains unexplained.
  7. Given the interference that the state wave always shows us when it travels through the double slit, all those universes must be able to interfere with each other. That can only be true if all those universes are themselves indeed non-material state waves. Then they can indeed interfere with each other, because they are waves. In this way, they are not material and therefore do not contain any material observer copies. How a non-material state wave can then produce emergent consciousness is pure speculation.
  8. As Päs describes the quantum universe, he is already very close to the idea of the universal mind from which all reality comes, which is a description precisely matching those reported by many near-death experiences. He’s clearly switching his own perspective and he is almost there.

In short: A fascinating, instructive and in general honest book of the quest of a quantum physicist for the meaning and future of quantum physics and a much needed beginning of a farewell to the there-is-only-matter paradigm.

The Observer and his Measuring Device

The classical view on observation and measurement.

In classical physics, the human observer does not play a creative role in what is observed. Everything is observed from the so-called 3rd person perspective. In all physics experiments, any influence of the measurement on what is measured should be avoided as far as possible, although some small effect is unavoidable. For example, consider the radar detection of a vehicle’s speed. The radar photon will bounce back from the vehicle and thus have a tiny influence on the speed of the vehicle. But that effect is so small that we can safely ignore it in practice. Protesting the traffic control fine on account of this effect will be in vain. The electricity meter also uses a very small amount of energy by its measurement. But protesting the energy bill on that account will also be in vain, I am afraid.

Observation in quantum physics

However, in quantum physics – a branch of physics that has succesfully taken over the fundamental role of its parent, classical physics – this is not the case. The way we measure is of crucial influence on the behavior of that which we are measuring. There is nowadays no doubt about that effect. Is it the influence of the measuring instrument or of the experimenter? After 120 years of quantum physics success, the discussion about exactly what a measurement is is still not definitely decided. Measurement causes the so-called quantum collapse, the end of the immaterial state wave and the emergence of the material particle. John von Neumann – one of the first quantum physicists – already stated emphatically that the observed object and the measuring instrument are not physically connected in some way and thus cannot cause the quantum collapse.

Two waves meet without collapsing each other

This was the way he reasoned; both – instrument and measured object – are ultimately composed of fundamental particles that, when not measured, will behave like an immaterial wave of probabilities, which is their state wave. Both state waves will meet each other when doing the measurement, but will not collapse, just as two meeting waves will run unimpeded through each other without eliminating in some way the other wave. On meeting they excite their medium by summing their movements and after that they just roll on, unaffected. According to von Neumann, there is therefore no reason to assign a special influencing role to the physical measuring instrument with regard to the end of the state wave. His insight was dismissed by later phycisists, as the influence of the observer (and his consciousness) was not considered as something objectively measurable and was therefore preferred to be left out of physics. What made it even worse is that the state wave is a wave that we can formally describe, calculate and predict with physics – that is, with numbers and symbols – but that the state wave itself is not materially observable. It does not even exist in a material sense. It is a wave of probabilities and these are numbers, symbols, mathematical constructions of the mind.

Is then everything an observer?

As soon as you make a measurement, however, the immaterial wave ceases to exist and we find only one of the many possibilities, the particle, which is decidedly not a wave. This behavior is also expressed in the Copenhagen interpretation of Bohr and Heisenberg. Gradually, the insight of von Neumann, Bohr and Heisenberg – mainly because of some recent advanced quantum physical experiments such as the delayed choice experiments – has been confirmed in such a way that the observer, who is seemingly physically realising that which is observed, can no longer be ignored and is acknowledged as an essential element in the fundamental understanding of nature, which is of course something what physics aspires to. This inspired Carlo Rovelli – among others – to declare that literally every object acts as an observer of any other object in order to materialize each other. So, according to his idea, each particle only exists materially in relation to another particle. My question is then, of course, how to imagine such a process, where both particles – while not yet existing materially – are able to relate to each other and then become material as a result. In my opinion, the order of events here is wrong. Cosmologist and quantum physicist Thomas Hertog describes in ‘The origin of Time’ something similar; all things become observers causing the quantum wave to collapse and therefore matter to appear. But things are made of matter which has to collapse itself first? So – to ask the real question – what exactly do we mean by an observer and what role does it actually play?

What is an observer according to quantum physics?

Alternative realities Wigner’s friend experiment 2019

In many quantum physical experiments – especially those seeking to investigate the observer effect – have until now been carried out by an instrument acting as observer. The question is whether this is the right perspective. In an complex experiment pictured in the above figure – it was based on Eugene Wigners thought experiment with two observers – Wigners idea was indeed implemented, albeit with instruments acting as observers. In such an experiment, part of the experiment is carried out within a closed environment. One of the so-called observers is residing within that closed environment and thus observes directly the result of ‘his’ experiment. The state wave is then considered to collapse by that observer observing the experiment and has by that observation collapsed into an observed particle.

But outside this closed environment there is a second observer for which the content of that closed environment – the larger box with the experiment and the first observer in it – is still an uncollapsed state wave as long as the second observer has not yet observed the contents of the larger box. Only when that second observer can observe the contents of the larger box will for ‘him’ the state wave end, making the measurement of the particle becoming a fact. As far as the second observer is concerned it is then that the particle becomes manifested with its physical properties. Who of these observers is now the person who triggers the materialisation of the measured particle with its properties?

The figurines inside and outside the boxes, representing the observers, are physical measuring instruments and lack therefore any consciousness that could interpret their observation. So, is an interpretating consciousness really necessary here? The experimenters apparently do not think so. Anyhow, the outcome of the experiment implicated surprisingly that we could start to doubt the existence of an objective material world in which consensus rules, in which a fact is simply a fact, regardless of who did observe it.

Is consciousness really needed? Is interpretation necessary?

Can a physical instrument observe its environment and then interpret its observation? I would like to draw attention here to something that I do not think a physical instrument can do, however advanced it may be, namely interpretation, giving meaning to perception. That’s the core of the case here. What is interpretation? Can a physical instrument do that? The experimenters think so, which fits their materialistic image of the world in which man, and any organism, is only a complex machine. Something that can – in principle – be described as the result of its parts. The observers brain is according to them merely an advanced computer, coincidentally created in the evolutionary process of survival of the most suitable biological machines. The mind, emerging from the brain, can therefore be replaced by an advanced but non-biological machine such as ChatGPT, an AI. Interpretation by the mind is – in that vision – not different from a calculation. So, the question is; is there any difference between an organic living observer and an observing instrument? And what is the difference? In trying to answer this question, we have to simplify the discussion and look at the essential differences between a simple ‘acting’ measuring instrument – a central heating thermostat – and an organic observer.

Can a physical instrument be an observer?

What is the difference between the central heating thermostat and the biological entity that depends on its central heating thermostat for a pleasant ambient temperature? Is there a fundamental difference, fundamental in the physical sense? The thermostat ‘senses’ the ambient temperature, determines if it deviates from the optimal value, and then activates or deactivates the central heating boiler. Is that interpretation? Is that a measurement? These seem to me to be essential questions, although I suspect that they cannot be answered with a 100% waterproof answer. But I will try.

What causes the state wave to collapse?

We could therefore ask the following question. How is it possible that a physical instrument, which itself is not observed and thus is in a state wave, will cause the state wave to collapse or reduce? (The “collapse of the wave function” is also known as the “reduction of the wave packet). Consider the central heating thermostat. It does its job, even if no one is present because you have forgotten to lower the ambient temperature for a few days of absence. When you return home after a few days of absence you will notice that the house is warm, that the thermostat is still set on higher temperatures, so you must conclude that during your absence the boiler has been burning fuel for nothing. That conclusion – fuel burned for nothing – is interpretation. This unconscious thermostat was not able to understand that, otherwise it would have chosen to lower the desired ambient temperature. Can you still say that this unconscious thermostat is an observer? If so, did the thermostat collapse the state wave that contains your unobserved central heating boiler, all the radiators and the air in your home into a materiality? Every time it measured the temperature? How?

Real observers are interpreters

I think indeed that a real observer should be able to interpret his observations. Interpretation is assigning a meaning to an observation. That’s not what an instrument does. I have to tell the thermostat first, by programming it, which is a pleasant temperature. It cannot do that by itself because such an instrument has no knowledge of ‘pleasant’. Now you might argue that an advanced AI like ChatGPT could do it. But to do that, ChatGPT should first search through a huge database with data on what are pleasant temperatures for human beings. And how is ChatGPT’s database fed with these data? Indeed. By human beings who have recorded what they experience as a pleasant temperature. Had they not done so, ChatGPT would not be able to produce an answer on the question of what a pleasant temperature is. You might get an answer on the question of what ambient temperature a biological human being needs. But that’s not what is meant by pleasant. Pleasant is not a numerical expressible experience. Always, and without exception, the question of the meaning of an observation, its interpretation, has to be traced back to an observation by a conscious being. A being that was able to consciously interpret his perception as pleasant or unpleasant, red or green, hard or soft, wet or dry, beautiful or ugly. These experiences are certainly not numbers. I hope you will realize that, without living people, the ‘pleasantness’ of a temperature wouldn’t make any sense. The thermostat has no inkling of ‘pleasantness’. Of course it can be programmed to produce pleasant temperatures, but that always takes someone to think what that means and to translate it subsequently into the numbers a machine can process.

Conscious interpretation is always the final act of an experiment

The fact that a conscious interpreter is ultimately required, in my view, applies without exception to any experiment. Even for a run of the enormous Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. Ultimately, the result is always observed by a conscious being that assigns meaning to it. We may eventually get informed of the meaning by a publication, but it is usually not mentioned in the publication that there was always a person involved in the interpretation of the results. That is so obvious that it does not need to be mentioned explicitly. This means that an essential element of the experiment is never mentioned in reports. The observation was X, and that means Y. And that last part of it — and that means Y — that’s what it’s all about. That’s the interpretation of a person and therefore the actual experience of the world. That conclusion creates in the Copenhagen Interpretation by observation also all the previous events in the experiment as someting that did happen. As in previous example about the central heating, the history of the unwanted fuel consumption during your absence has become a fact after and because of your observation. That fact is then, after the quantum collapse brought on by your observation on returning home – unfortunately – no longer an immaterial probability distribution. It became what we call a fact. That’s something for which there can exist consensus.

What then is the role of a recording measuring instrument?

We have spoken enough of the observer for this moment and will now focus on the other question. What is a measuring instrument in this context? The requirement seems to be that it should be able to register. This means that a certain class of passive measuring instruments won’t qualify. Think of the yardstick, for example, which does not itself make a registration of length. It is a completely passive measuring instrument in contrast to an advanced central heating thermostat that remembers the indoor temperature pattern to anticipate the next moment of starting or stopping the boiler. So, registering ability seems at first glance a valid criterion, measuring plus recording. So, is a voltmeter connected to a recorder an observer or not? Is a photon detector connected to a coincidence detector in an advanced double-slit experiment an observer or not?

In order to answer that question, try therefore to think about how a recording measuring instrument might affect – by some yet unknown physical process – the registered object in its wave state and, above all, why another very similar instrument would not do so. Take, for example, a solid length of iron rod. That rod doesn’t seem a recording instrument, until you realize that the rod expands or shrinks according to its temperature. So, the rod measures the temperature by its length. If the rod is long enough and cleverly connected to a marker pen and a moving roll of paper, this would record the temperature evolution history. The change in the length of the rod provides the information on the temperature evolution. In this way you can consider the rod with marker and paper as a recording measuring instrument. Because we are able to use the rod in an ingenious way, as a registering instrument that we considered from another point of view as passive, it would thereby become an observer who would cause the quantum wave to collapse. I hope you see the inconsistency.

So you will not easily identify any arbitrary iron rod as an observing measuring instrument. If you start thinking about measuring instruments in this way, then the idea of an instrument as an observer becomes inconsistent and therefore highly questionable. Whether an instrument registers, or not, would then be not determined by its physical properties but by the way in which we employ it, and this is of course a case of human reflection. Ultimately, therefore, we must begin to acknowledge that even with an instrument that measures and records the result, the real observation – the observation that makes the quantum collapse happen – happens only if the result is observed finally by a conscious observer. If we accept that as an explanation then we may have an acceptable, useful, and consistent criterion for the definition of a measurement and also for the triggering of the quantum collapse, which is the material manifestation of the world.


So in the end we have to acknowledge that a conscious observer is needed for a real measurement, no exceptions. The measuring instrument is then nothing but an extension of our senses – which are also physical measuring instruments – and cannot be the cause for the quantum collapse, evoking the appearance of matter in our world. That has a profound meaning for our experience of the world. We are essential in the (hi)story. We are an essential part of the world, of the universe. By observing the world and thus experiencing the world consciously we create it.