The Participatory Anthropic Principle

It has often been remarked by physicists and chemists that the universe is very sensitively tuned to allow life to exist.  If certain physical and chemical constants were just a fraction out from their observed values, life could never have arisen. There is, for example, an extraordinary series of coincidental physical conditions which led to the high cosmic abundance of the element carbon, the basis of all life.[Hoyle 1983]

Life does not seem to be an accidental occurrence but somehow is actually required by the universe.

According to some cosmologists, the universe began as a quantum fluctuation in the limitless Void (Hartle Hawking cosmology). In the absence of an observer, the evolving universe remained as a 'multiverse' - a coherant quantum superposition of all logically possible states.

Throughout its early history the universe continued to develop as an immense superposition of probabilities. Not only was the structure of the universe superposed, but all logically possible states of matter, physical constants, properties and laws were simultaneously present and evolving into ever increasing diversity.

Collapse of the Multiverse
Quantum theory states that any physical system remains in a superposed state of all possibilities until it interacts with the mind of an observer. Both quantum theory and Buddhist teachings on sunyata suggest that as soon as an observer's mind makes contact with a superposed system, all the numerous possibilities collapse into one actuality. At some instant one of these possible alternative universes produced an observing lifeform - an animal with a nervous system which was sufficiently evolved to form a symbiotic association with a primordial mind. The first act of observation by this mind caused the entire superposed multiverse to collapse immediately into one of its numerous alternatives.

That one alternative version of the multiverse was not just the first configuration to be inhabitable by mind. The fact that it was the first configuration also guaranteed that it was the only configuration. All uninhabited alternative universes, ranging from the nearly-but-not-quite habitable few, to the anarchic and unstructured vast majority, were instantly excluded from potential existence. According to the participatory anthopic principle the evolving multiverse was thus always destined to resolve itself into a sufficiently ordered state to allow itself to be observed. 

The early multiverse can perhaps be thought of as a massively parallel quantum computer which explored all of possibility-space until it was able to generate a living body, which became the habitation of an observing, sentient being. At that moment the multiverse collapsed into the actuality of that one alternative environment. This theory is known as the Participatory Anthropic Principle and was first put forward by the physicist John A.Wheeler in 1983.

But where did the observing mind come from? Buddhist philosophers claim that minds are primordial and exist before entering their physical environment.  In the early stages of its evolution the universe was, of course, uninhabitable for animals and humans. 

But according to B. Alan Wallace [Wallace 1996], highly advanced Buddist and Hindu contemplatives speak of experiencing other realms, or dimensions of existence that transcend this gross sensual realm which they call kamadhatu. They report the existence of rupadhatu, a form realm that is unperturbed by many of the changes in the gross physical cosmos.  And beyond this is the arupyadhatu, a formless realm that is completely unaffected by the stages of cosmic evolution. All three of these realms are said to be inhabited by sentient beings. When the gross physical dimension of a cosmos is uninhabitable, sentient beings reside in the rupadhatu and arupyadhatu or in other inhabitable cosmoses. Humans cannot dwell in the rupadhatu and arupyadhatu, though these realms are accessible to a human mind that has been highly refined through meditation.

The bottom line of the participatory anthropic principle is that minds can exist independently of matter, and they create their actual environments from the potentialities around them. But isn't this all just pure metaphysical speculation?  Well maybe not. The participatory anthropic principle makes potentially verifiable statements about the early history of the universe, the speed of evolution and the occurrence of extremely unlikely evolutionary steps, including the first appearance of life itself.

Two-speed evolution
The series of events needed to make the universe habitable by sentient mind, up to and including the evolution of animals complex enough to support sentience, would have proceeded at the maximum possible rate and efficiency (almost by definition - because the myriad strands of the superposition were essentially racing against one another for 'winner takes all'). 

Because a myriad parallel universes were simultaneously evolving, the most highly improbable combinations of chemical and cellular building blocks needed to bring about living organisms would inevitably appear, even if the probability of them doing so in an 'ordinary' universe were infinitesimally small.  This could explain the appearance of such extremely unlikely structures as Yockey's cytochrome C.


See also

Emptiness of mathematics
' the final analysis the entire number system has been generated by the play of mind on emptiness, in the complete absence of the need to refer to any material thing, or things, which are being counted.  Numbers do not exist by reference to physical reality, nor are they self-existent, abstract 'things in themselves'...'

Quantum emptiness
'...It is important to emphasise that the mathematical equations of quantum physics do not describe actual existence - they predict the potential for existence. Working out the equations of quantum mechanics for a system composed of fundamental particles produces a range of potential locations, values and attributes of the particles which evolve and change with time. But for any system only one of these potential states can become real, and - this is the revolutionary finding of quantum physics - what forces the range of the potentials to assume one value is the act of observation..'

The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in science and engineering
'So we are left with something of a mystery. According to the physicalist worldview, the mind (including mathematicians' minds) is an epiphenomenon of matter which has evolved solely to ensure the survival of the selfish genes which code for it. Why should this 'top-level' phenomenon have such intimate access to the 'bottom level' phenomena such as quantum physics? After all, the two levels are supposedly separated by less well-understood (in some cases) explanatory layers such as evolutionary psychology,   neurology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry.'

Sunyata - the emptiness of all things
'.......all things have no fixed identity ('inherent existence') and are are in a state of impermanence - change and flux - constantly becoming and decaying. Not only are all things constantly changing, but if we analyse any phenomenon in enough detail we come to the conclusion that it is ultimately unfindable, and exists purely by definitions in terms of other things - and one of those other things is always the mind which generates those definitions...'

God in Buddhism
Having described the Buddhist objections to the overspecified inherently-existent God, it should be pointed out that Buddhism is not purposely atheistic, and certainly does not deny the existence of a God in the sense of  that in which 'we live and move and have our being' [ACTS 17, 28].

Arguments against Buddhism
In order to understand the strengths of a philosophy one should attempt to refute it.

Buddhist Teachings
on the mind, personal relationships, meditation and the spiritual path.



Hoyle, F (1983), The Intelligent Universe, Publ London: Michael Joseph

Wallace, B. A. (1996), Choosing Reality - a Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind.  
Publ Ithaca N Y : Snow Lion    ISBN 1-55939-063-8.

Wheeler J. A. (1983), Law without law. In Quantum Theory and Measurement (ed. J.A. Wheeler and W.H. Zurek) Princeton University Press pp. 182 -213

- Sean Robsville


If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?

Christian versus Buddhist worldviews

Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation