The End of Quantum Reality

Written and produced by Richard Deland
Philos-Sophia Initiative Foundation: DVD, 1 hour, 26 minutes, $17.

You hold a red apple in your hand and see it as a red apple. Yet another view says that it is a collection of particles. The corporeal view of a red apple gives way to the physical view, yet they both occupy the same space. Which is real, then? The world of measurements is free of qualities such as red. Then there is the world of potentialities, which, according to quantum theory, can only become actualities in the presence of measurements.

Questions such as these have occupied great intellects such as Descartes, Heisenberg, Planck, and Einstein. Wolfgang Smith joins them as a pioneer. Born in 1930, Smith is a mathematician, physicist, philosopher of science, metaphysician, Roman Catholic, and member of the Traditionalist school of philosophy.

For a common man, questions posed by the quantum enigma are daunting. Early in the twentieth century, physicist Niels Bohr proclaimed that there is no quantum reality, only quantum description. In 1925, as we learn in this film, Werner Heisenberg “postulated that what exists in general, prior to measurement, are not actual values of an observable, but only their probabilities.”

This thesis led to the less than satisfying confusion that classical reality, with its external objects, does not exist. There are no particles as such in the quantum world: they only come into existence with the act of observation. The obvious question: what is there before measurement? The answer: not a thing!

By the time the quantum reality debate had passed the half-century mark without a resolution in sight, Smith became interested in the subject. When he applied to Cornell at the age of fifteen, as he says in the film, “We were asked what we wanted to major in, and I said, ‘Physics,’ and then the question was, ‘Why? Why did you choose that major?’ And I remember to this day my response. I wrote down, ‘I want to study physics because I believe that physics is the key to the understanding of the universe.’

“Needless to say,” he adds, “I have changed my mind in the interim.” Smith realized that there were ways of entering into higher, spiritual realms, which were far more profound than the world revealed by our five senses. He was deeply influenced by the works of the revered Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore.

Later Smith was accepted as a fellow in philosophy at Cornell, but he gave it up immediately. Philosophyphilo-sophia—means love of wisdom, but Smith found that in academic philosophy, “people were not interested in sophia (wisdom); nor there was any philos (love). Everything was dry.” Something fundamentally sacred was missing.

Smith traveled to India and met many great saints and sadhus. He returned a changed man, yet a certain nagging dissatisfaction remained, indicating that he still didn’t have the answer.

Smith then met his wife-to-be, Thea, who was deeply rooted in her Catholic faith. He studied Augustine’s commentary on the Gospel of St. John and the biography of Catherine of Siena. Here he found the answer: “God became man so that man could become God.” The link to what happens to human nature after enlightenment was now clear to him. Smith started writing, inspired by his wife and his newfound Catholic faith.

“Such was Smith’s background when he approached the quantum reality quandary some twenty years ago,” the film says. “From his study of Platonism and the metaphysical traditions of the world,” Smith realized “that the universe comprises not just quantities but qualities as well and . . . moreover, that qualities have primacy—that, in fact, they resemble a light from higher spheres shining into this world.” The implication of this revelation is stunning.

The film introduces us to the Islamic Traditionalist philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a great champion of Smith’s work. We also meet Olavo de Carvalho, a Brazilian thinker who has introduced Smith’s work to circles of physics professors and students interested in resolving the quantum enigma.

The Philos-Sophia Initiative Foundation, launched by this film’s producer, Richard DeLano, has drawn thousands (see the website: DeLano shares how Smith has changed his life: “My friend Wolfgang Smith has taught me to never, ever forget that the cosmos and everything in it, at every second, is being both brought into existence by something incomparably higher than those aspects of reality which can be reduced to an equation. I love Professor Smith.” We can agree with DeLano when he says that only one or two men like Wolfgang Smith can be found in a century.

DeLano has produced a masterful work, which captures the dilemmas, breakthroughs, and gateways to answers in this perplexing field. It is a beautiful movie. See it as many times as you can.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for forty years. He reviews regularly for Quest and works as a volunteer in the archives department of the TSA.