Waves and particles seem to the unlearned to be two very different things. But as we look deep down the quantum rabbit hole we begin to see how words like Non dual and unity have a very big place in the quantum world of the tiny and unseen and Buddhism alike.
Although demonstrated by Thomas Young’s famous double slit experiment in 1801 Wave-particle duality only became widely accepted in Quantum physicists in the mid-1900s. It is very interesting that the theory states that particles can exist as waves, waves can exist as particles, and sometimes they exist as both at the same time.
Young discovered that when shooting particles or photons at a steel plate one can observe either an interference pattern that indicates a wave function or individual spots indicating particles. The experiment seems to get weird when we understand that particle patterns were observed when a detector was placed on the screen to track the particles and when no detector was there the wave pattern was observed. Even stranger was when a single proton was fired it spit into two at the slot only to combine once again at the screen displaying qualities of both waves and particles.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying:
“It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.”
Buddhism not surprisingly has some 1000-year-old insights that compare almost exactly to this modern quantum phenomenon. In roughly 1320 the 3rd Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Dorje wrote his crowning treatise on Mahamudra. Written in song or poetry like stanzas he tries to show us how things are not perceived as they really are and the connection of mind in our experience of how things truly are.
Verse 6 says “The nature of the ground is the dual truth, free from extreme views of a permanent reality and of nihilism” Karmapa states here that our reality is the dual truth that is free from any reality of permanent or unchanging existence and free from the nothingness of nihilism. I would draw the comparison here to Einstein’s words that point to the contradiction between our materialistic world of particles and the unseen world with wavelike properties or even possibilities. Einstein goes further to say that sometimes we need only one of the theories sometimes we need both. Young’ experiment would support both here by demonstrating how sometimes we are seeing particles and sometimes waves then sometimes both.
In verse 11 Karmapa goes on to clarify this in case we did not catch it the first time, “May we recognize mind’s essence, which is free of any extremes. It is not existent, for even the buddhas do not see it. It is not non-existent for it is the basis of everything, of conditioned existence and of the state beyond suffering. This is no contradiction. It is the middle way of unity.” So what Einstein initially proposed to be a contradiction is countered by Karmapa’s conviction that the middle way of unity and ultimately agreed to by Einstein “separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do”. Young would again agree when he observed particles splitting acting as waves and then reuniting to a particle once again. This to me is a very clearly non-dual co-emergent reality.
Verse 18, my personal favourite, Karmapa clarifies once more for the doubters among us, “Observing phenomena, none is found. One sees Mind. Looking at mind, no mind is seen, it is empty in essence. Through looking at both, one’s clinging to duality naturally dissolves. May we recognize mind’s true nature, which is clear light”. In complete agreement Einstein and Karmapa both recognize that a complete unified understanding of the seen and unseen or the particle and wavelike worlds between Quantum Physics and Buddhism leads to the truth of our existence. Moreover one cannot ignore the fact that Young and Einstein were both talking about light waves and particles called photons. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this clearly?
Meditation helps us to see more clearly or likely even completely clear. Once the veils of our emotions like jealousy and anger are cleared away we see our world free from their constant blurring effect. Our newly developed wisdom transforms suffering into joy. In the double slit experiment, we see the evidence of particles when our attention or the sensor is turned on, this is what we see now normally. If we can train ourselves in meditation maybe we can see the world of waves and their functions, maybe we can even understand or see our consciousness in action and watch as our awareness interacts with the collapsing wavefront into our particle material based world. It sounds a bit crazy, I know, but why not it might be really amazing.
So it seems to me that my three friends seem to agree on quite a lot, maybe the only thing that Karmapa, Young, and Einstein might disagree about is the path one takes meditation versus mathematics. Do both roads lead to Rome? Why not do both, that’s why people like me are here.