Imagine yourself on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and feel the natural power, pulsing through everything. The pulse is out there in the wind currents. The pulse is out there in the vast rock formations, shivering like water. The pulse is out there in brushstrokes of sienna, ochre, cadmium, amethyst, rouge, and rust, which dab the canyon lands with something like divinity. The pulse is out there in the Colorado River tracing its lifeline in the palm of existence. The pulse is out there in the electric silence. Feel the pulse.
For thousands of years, seekers of every kind have sensed this mighty force so apparent in the Grand Canyon and throughout nature. It has always lingered as one of life’s loveliest mysteries.
But what exactly is this current that for eons naturalists, poets, monks, philosophers, hikers, and other dreamers have been channeling? Maybe the past century of scientific inquiry into quantum mechanics, vacuum physics, and astronomy holds the answer. What science proposes is a radical new way to look at the all-powerful, god-like, mind-bending entity formerly known as “empty space.”
We now know that our universe is awash in a background sea of diverse light waves, countless fields of them, all occupying the quantum vacuum of outer space. It’s a titanic ocean full of electromagnetic riptides, which wields influence everywhere; the renewable energy of always.
A century ago, in 1913, Albert Einstein named it the “zero-point field.” Since then, Einstein’s calculations on the energy-gorged nothingness of outer space have generated a new discipline in itself, a zero-point field of inquiry that can be depicted quite accurately as the “science of the inconceivable,” which we can now celebrate 100 years after it was conceived.
But what the heck is it? A look at the surprising possibilities being studied by some of history’s most renowned skeptics, known collectively as the scientific community, reveals that Einstein’s zero-point field seems to be all things to all people, attracting everyone from astrophysicists to metaphysicists. Let’s look at three of the most popular books about his discovery.
“The Field Is the Only Reality”
Here’s the context. In 1913 Einstein and Otto Stern calculated the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system can have, a super-colossal amount of light energy within the vacuum of outer space, and named it the zero-point field.
Einstein helped fuel speculation about zero-point energy in commenting, with an air of universal significance, “The field is the only reality.” It’s a quote that recalls astronomer and humanist Carl Sagan’s description of the cosmos as “all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Unfortunately, for most of us, the reality observed by Einstein or Sagan travels at a speed light years beyond our comprehension. But zero-point energy is quite authentic, as science has demonstrated during the century since Einstein proposed it.
As contemporary astrophysicist Bernard Haisch explains in his thought-provoking book, The God Theory: Universes, Zero-Point Fields, and What’s Behind It All (2006), all light flows in sloshing electromagnetic waves composed of tiny charged particles called photons. What sets apart each form of light is its wavelength, ranging from hundreds of miles long for some radio waves, to one-millionth of a nanometer wavelength for gamma rays. These waves create fields, or regions of influence, made from photon particles nodding up and down like cork-fishing bobbers.
“Electric and magnetic fields flowing through space oscillate as a pendulum does,” writes Haisch. “At every possible frequency, there will always be a tiny bit of electromagnetic jiggling going on. And if you add up all these ceaseless fluctuations, you get a background sea of light whose total energy is enormous. This is the electromagnetic zero-point field.” In this case, enormous is a vast understatement. The field is a bottomless cup of potential energy that astrophysicists have called a “cosmic free lunch.”
Zero-point energy might open up the possibility that humans will travel beyond their own solar system. NASA and British Aerospace have heavily funded work into zero-point field energy propulsion. Arthur C. Clarke, among others, championed this work and suggested that aerospace companies entrust their most brilliant scientists with studying the zero-point field. If successful in harnessing the astonishing energy of space (dare we science-fictionalize it by calling it “the Force”?), researchers might be able to create anti-gravity WARP drives, not to mention planes, automobiles, and trains that run on the sustainable “science of the inconceivable.”
What these researchers would like to draw upon, reports British journalist Lynne McTaggart in her book, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe (2002), is “a vast inexhaustible energy source … sitting there unobtrusively in the background of the empty space around us, like one all-pervasive, supercharged backdrop.” To give an idea of the magnitude of that power, McTaggart quotes the great physicist Richard Feynman: “the energy in a single cubic yard of empty space is enough to boil all the oceans of the world.”
An Integral Theory of Everything
So goes the scientifically verifiable truth about zero-point energy. Now comes the philosophical part. What if the zero-point field holds the answer to… literally everything. There, I’ve said it.
Over the course of the century since Einstein proposed the zero-point field, conjecture about it has Darwinized into new theories that involve a natural selection of controversial mathematics, research, experiments, and hypotheses. These theories would not only connect all existence, but also bond physics with metaphysics, psychology with parapsychology, life force with life source.
The theories spring, like zero-point energy itself, from many fields. Beyond those who are working on zero-point energy propulsion, an array of additional scientists from various disciplines are studying the zero-point field, each from a different angle of inclination.
Systems philosopher, integral theorist, and future studies expert Ervin Laszlo is well qualified to decode the diverse and divisive science on the zero-point field and put it into plain English. Laszlo has been nominated for two Nobel Prizes, has written seventy-five books translated into twenty languages, and has been described by his contemporaries as one of the best thinkers of our time—a visionary who “links the best of modern science to the wisdom of the great spiritual thinkers,” writes Dr. Stanislav Grof, president and founder of the International Transpersonal Association.
In Laszlo’s mesmerizing book, Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything (2007), he proposes that the quantum vacuum of space percolates with a sea of fluctuating light energy fields from which all things arise: atoms and galaxies, stars and planets, living beings, and even human consciousness.
Laszlo prefers to call it the zero-point Akashic field, citing the mythical Akasha of the Sanskrit and Indian cultures, which he describes as “an all-encompassing medium that underlies all things and becomes all things.” As Indian Yogi Swami Vivekanada explained, “Akasha is the omnipresent, all-penetrating existence. Everything that has form… is evolved out of this Akasha.” In both Hinduism and Buddhism, Akasha is the universal medium, creating, touching, and containing everything.
Accordingly, Laszlo defines zero-point energy in terms of an all-encompassing Akashic matrix linking, integrating, and galvanizing the material universe and capable of communicating unlimited knowledge to human consciousness. His theory of everything would transform the cosmos from a hodgepodge of galaxies, drifting aimlessly toward chaos at the mercy of the Big Bang, into a dynamic and mindful unity. “Beyond the puzzle-filled world of mainstream sciences, a new concept of the universe is emerging,” he writes. “In this concept the universe is a highly integrated, coherent system.”
Its crucial feature is what Laszlo dubs “in-formation,” meaning information that actually forms, or creates, everything touched by it. Through in-formation, the universe is continually conceived, conserved, and conveyed. And in-formation links everything in our universe almost instantly.
“In the in-formed universe our brain/mind can access a broad band of information,” Laszlo writes, “well beyond the information conveyed by our five sensory organs. We are, or can be, literally ‘in touch’ with almost any part of the world, either here on Earth or beyond the cosmos. When we do not repress the corresponding intuitions, we can be in-formed by things as small as a particle or as large as a galaxy.”
To me, Laszlo’s in-formed world makes perfect sense, though I’m surely not smart enough to be “in touch” with all its significance, either here on Earth or beyond the cosmos.
A Unifying Concept of the Universe
Though McTaggart lacks Laszlo’s academic credentials, she brings a journalist’s reporting savvy to scores of scientific research projects dealing with the zero-point field. Her deductions in The Field resonate with Laszlo’s, but go a little beyond my pale into the realm of the paranormal.
“McTaggart … describes scientific discoveries that she believes point to a unifying concept of the universe,” notes Publisher’s Weekly.
One that reconciles mind with matter, classic Newtonian science with quantum physics, and, most importantly, science with religion. At issue is the zero-point field … [which forms] a “cobweb of energy exchange” that links everything in the universe; controls everything from cellular communication to the workings of the mind; and could be harnessed for unlimited propulsion fuel, levitation, ESP, spiritual healing, and more.
Whew! As that quote makes cosmically clear, the zero-point field is where the real dovetails spookily with the surreal and where “the Force” may be with you. What’s more, it might even hold the font of all knowledge.
So, again, though I admire much of McTaggart’s reporting on the zero-point field, I find myself squirming at the supernatural aura she sometimes casts around it. Likewise with Haisch. In God Theory, Haisch, a distinguished scientist and former Catholic seminarian, replicates most of Laszlo’s thinking about the zero-point field, but, much to my discomfort, also endows it with the all-powerful thoughts of a supreme being: “What I propose is an infinite conscious intelligence—so let’s call it God—who has infinite potential, whose ideas become the laws of physics of our universe and others, and whose purpose in so doing is the transformation of potential into experience.”
Haisch makes it clear that he doesn’t believe the zero-point field is actually God. (“A glib assumption,” he writes, that some best-selling authors pull wriggling and twitching from their deeply shallow pool of knowledge.) Rather, in effect, the zero-point field animates the thoughts of an absolute intelligence thinking out loud, and those omnipotent musings make everything everywhere happen.
Considering his scientific credentials, Haisch makes an intelligent, brave, and logical argument. Personally, though, I’d rather leave the much-abused term “God” out of the whole equation because of the countless atrocities, crimes against humanity, and abuses of natural law committed in that name. Let me risk my own glib assumption: launching God into the zero-point field smacks of a universe where the Wizard of Oz is yanking levers behind the big, dark curtain of outer space. It reinforces the human penchant for creating God in our own image and likeness. Personally, I prefer the inconceivable. (However, this is just my own bias as a devout agnostic playing God with his own essay.)
In the end, what does the electromagnetic mesh of mega-science and metaphysics prove? Do the light waves eddying throughout deep space generate the energy with which philosophers of every stripe have been communing for ages past? Who am I to say? As far as I’m concerned, these studies and theories simply shed new light into the cosmic rabbit hole leading beyond our own little world.
Joyously, Drunkenly, Divinely Aware
Ironically enough, scientific inquiry into the zero-point field only deepens my idolatry of nature and its abiding energy. My own personal experience is that some kind of natural energy—whether you call it in-formation, the zero-point field, Akasha, the God Theory, the Force, or anything else—saturates reality and inspires human consciousness with a sense of awe. To me, nature’s energy is the only thing I can depend on in a universe based on infinite and instantaneous change at every moment. And, as Laszlo notes, all I need to tap into it is simple awareness. Tune in, turn on, take off!
“The aim of life is to live,” observed novelist Henry Miller, “and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, divinely aware.” If you want to exercise your own drunken awareness of nature’s energy, go outside. Suck in the breezes. Wonder at the light. Wallow in the grasses. Gulp the air. Press the mulching leaves and rich soil to your nose. Marvel at the birdsong. Listen to the bullfrogs. Taste what’s on the wind. Laugh out loud. Gobble down the palpable feeling. Reel boozily under the influence of sheer ecstasy.
Naturalist Henry David Thoreau radiated such delight at a slightly different wavelength. “The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening,” he writes in Walden. “It is a little stardust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” How could anyone, even Einstein, calculate natural wonder any better than that?
Charles Creekmore is a professional science writer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the author of the e-book, Back to Walden and Zen and the Art of Diabetes Maintenance, published in 2003 by the American Diabetes Association. He’s written science and natural history articles for National Wildlife, the New York Times Syndicate, Psychology Today, Travel and Leisure, Islands, and many other outlets.