John Wheeler’s Participatory Universe

Autor: Marina Jones
Vía futurism | February 13, 2014

Besides his extraordinary contributions to the field of theoretical physics, Wheeler inspired many aspiring young scientists, including some of the greats of the 20th century. Among his doctoral students were Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize laureate, with whom he coauthored the “Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory”; Hugh Everett, who proposed the many worlds interpretation; Kip Thorne, who predicted the existence of red supergiant stars with neutron-star cores; Jacob Bekenstein, who formulated black hole thermodynamics; Charles Misner, who discovered a mathematical spacetime called Misner space; Arthur Wightman, the originator of Wightman axioms; and Benjamin Schumacher, who invented the term “qubit” and is known for the “Schumacher compression”. The list could go on.

Wheeler had a reputation pushing his students into a place where logical thought would not necessarily take them. Former student Richard Feynman, to Kip Thorne, declared, “Some people think that Wheeler’s gotten crazy in his later years, but he’s always been crazy![Reference: Princeton] Wheeler was willing to make a fool of himself, to go anywhere, talk to anybody, and ask any question that would get him closer to understanding “how things are put together.” 


Wheeler believed that the real reason universities have students is to educate the professors. But to be educated by the students, a professor had to ask good questions. “You try out your questions on the students”, he wrote, “If there are questions that the students get interested in, then they start to tell you new things and keep you asking more new questions. Pretty soon you have learned a great deal.” [Reference: Cosmic Search Vol. 1 No. 4]

Wheeler had a fantastic sense of humor. Often he engaged in Koan-like expressions that puzzled and amused his listeners. He saw beauty in strangeness and actively sought it out. He declared, “If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.”

Wheeler divided his own life into three parts. The first part he called “Everything is Particles.” The second part was “Everything is Fields.” And the third part, which Wheeler considered the bedrock of his physical theory, he called “Everything is Information.”


John Archilald Wheeler was born on July 9, 1911, in Jacksonville, Florida, into a family of librarians. At 16, he won a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University. He graduated five years later with a Ph.D in physics. A year later he got engaged to Janette Hegner. They stayed married for 72 years.

Source UnknownIn 1933 in an application for the National Research Council Fellowship to go to Copenhagen and work with Neils Bohr, Wheeler wrote: “I want to go to work with Neils Bohr because he sees further than any man alive.” Bohr and Wheeler published their first paper in the late 1930s, explaining nuclear fission in terms of quantum physics. They argued that the atomic nucleus, containing protons and neutrons, is like a drop of liquid, which starts vibrating and elongating into a peanut shape when a neutron emitted from another disintegrating nucleus collides with it. As a result, the peanut shaped atomic nucleus snaps into two.

In 1938 Wheeler started teaching at Princeton University. In 1941 he interrupted his academic work to join the Manhattan Project team (which included the likes of Feynman, Bohr and Albert Einstein – with Marie Curie helping lay out the blueprints) in building an atomic bomb. Wheeler considered it his duty to help with the war effort, but the atomic bomb wasn’t ready in time to end the war and save his beloved brother, who died in Italy in 1944.

After the war ended, Wheeler returned to Princeton and taught Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which at a time was not considered a “respectable” field of physics. Wheeler’s classes were exciting – one of his tricks was to write on chalkboards with both hands. He frequently took his students to Albert Einstein’s house in Princeton for discussions over a cup of tea.


Wheeler co-wrote the most influential textbook on general relativity with Charles W. Misner and Kip Thorne. It was called Gravitation. While working on mathematical extensions to the theory, Wheeler described hypothetical “tunnels” in space-time which he called “wormholes”. He was not the first scientist to think of the possibility of wormholes, or even black holes, but he established the idea. In this regard, it’s worth noting that Democritus, an ancient Greek philosopher, suggested that matter was composed of atoms, which was “mainstreamed” by John Dalton’s discovery of atoms 2000 years later. In 1784, John Mitchell, a Yorkshire clergyman, suggested that light was subject to the force of gravity long before Einstein proved it.

After the publication of the theory of General Relativity in 1916, in which Albert Einstein predicted the existence of black holes, in 1967 John Wheeler named them. Nigel Calder calls them “awesome engines of quasars and active galaxies.” We now have multiple variations of the original concept: charged black holes, rotating black holes, stationary black holes, supermassive black holes, stellar black holes, miniature black holes.


Let’s get to Wheeler’s three-part life- story, the last part he called “Everything is Information”.

In the final decades of his life, the question that intrigued Wheeler most was: “Are life and mind irrelevant to the structure of the universe, or are they central to it?” He suggested that the nature of reality was revealed by the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics. According to the quantum theory, before the observation is made, a subatomic particle exists in several states, called a superposition (or, as Wheeler called it, a ‘smoky dragon’). Once the particle is observed, it instantaneously collapses into a single position.

Wheeler suggested that reality is created by observers and that: “no phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.” He coined the termParticipatory Anthropic Principle (PAP) from the Greek “anthropos”, or human. He went further to suggest that “we are participants in bringing into being not only the near and here, but the far away and long ago.” [Reference: Radio Interview With Martin Redfern]

This claim was considered rather outlandish until his thought experiment, known as the “delayed-choice experiment,” was tested in a laboratory in 1984. This experiment was a variation on the famous “double-slit experiment” in which the dual nature of light was exposed (depending on how the experiment was measured and observed, the light behaved like a particle (a photon) or like a wave).

Unlike the original “double-slit experiment”, in Wheeler’s version, the method of detection was changed AFTER a photon had passed the double slit. The experiment showed that the path of the photon was not fixed until the physicists made their measurements. The results of this experiment, as well as another conducted in 2007, proved what Wheeler had always suspected – observers’ consciousness is required to bring the universe into existence. This means that a pre-life Earth would have existed in an undetermined state, and a pre-life universe could only exist retroactively.


These conclusions lead many scientists to speculate that the universe is fine-tuned for life. This is how Wheeler’s Princeton colleague, Robert Dicke, explained the existence of our universe:

“If you want an observer around, and if you want life, you need heavy elements. To make heavy elements out of hydrogen, you need thermonuclear combustion. To have thermonuclear combustion, you need a time of cooking in a star of several billion years. In order to stretch out several billion years in its time dimension, the universe, according to general relativity, must be several years across in its space dimensions. So why is the universe as big as it is? Because we are here!”

[Reference: Cosmic Search Vol. 1 No. 4]

Stephen Hawking has also noted: “The laws of science, as we know them at present, seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” Fred Hoyle, in his book Intelligent Universe, compares “the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by a chance combination of amino acids to a star system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.”

Physicist Andrei Linde of Stanford University adds: “The universe and the observer exist as a pair. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of the universe that ignores consciousness.” [Reference: “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the Universe“]

Wheeler, always an optimist, believed that one day we would have a clear understanding of the origin of the universe. He had “a sense of faith that it can be done.” “Faith”, he wrote, “is the number one element. It isn’t something that spreads itself uniformly. Faith is concentrated in few people at particular times and places. If you can involve young people in an atmosphere of hope and faith, then I think they’ll figure out how to get the answer.”


Wheeler died of pneumonia on April 13, 2008, at age 96. His whole life he searched for answers to philosophical questions about the origin of matter, the nature of information and the universe. “We are no longer satisfied with insights into particles, or fields of force, or geometry, or even space and time,” he wrote in 1981, “Today we demand of physics some understanding of existence itself.”  [Reference: “The Voice of Genius: Conversations with Nobel Scientists and Other Luminaries”]

Let’s hope that young scientists will continue to be encouraged by these words and will push the boundaries of human imagination beyond its limits, and maybe even find the elusive final theory – a Theory of Everything.

John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a scientist-philosopher who introduced the concept of wormholes and coined the term “black hole”. He pioneered the theory of nuclear fission with Niels Bohr and introduced the S-matrix (the scattering matrix used in quantum mechanics). Wheeler devised a concept of quantum foam; a theory of “virtual particles” popping in and out of existence in space (similarly, he conceptualized foam as the foundation of the fabric of the universe).

Imagen destacada: How It Works

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By: Discovery Communications Inc.
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“Cuando quiero algo me lo pido a mí misma”

Autor: CiseiArgentina
Vía Consejo Interamericano sobre Espiritualidad Indígena | Mayo 13, 2015


La Abuela Margarita, curandera y guardiana de la tradición maya, se crió con su bisabuela, que era curandera y milagrera. Practica y conoce los círculos de danza del sol, de la tierra, de la luna, y la búsqueda de visión. Pertenece al consejo de ancianos indígenas y se dedica a sembrar salud y conocimiento a cambio de la alegría que le produce hacerlo, porque para sustentarse sigue cultivando la tierra. Cuando viaja en avión y las azafatas le dan un nuevo vaso de plástico, ella se aferra al primero: ‘No joven, que esto va a parar a la Madre Tierra’. Rezuma sabiduría y poder, es algo que se percibe con nitidez. Sus rituales, como gritarle a la tierra el nombre del recién nacido para que reconozca y proteja su fruto, son explosiones de energía que hace bien al que lo presencia; y cuando te mira a los ojos y te dice que somos sagrados, algo profundo se agita.

Ella nos dice: ‘Tengo 71 años. Nací en el campo, en el estado de Jalisco (México), y vivo en la montaña. Soy viuda, tengo dos hijas y dos nietos de mis hijas, pero tengo miles con los que he podido aprender el amor sin apego. Nuestro origen es la Madre Tierra y el Padre Sol. He venido a la Fira de la Terra para recordarles lo que hay dentro de cada uno.’

-¿Dónde vamos tras esta vida?

-¡Uy hija mía, al disfrute! La muerte no existe. La muerte simplemente es dejar el cuerpo físico, si quieres.

-¿Cómo que si quieres…?

-Te lo puedes llevar. Mi bisabuela era chichimeca, me crié con ella hasta los 14 años, era una mujer prodigiosa, una curandera, mágica, milagrosa. Aprendí mucho de ella.

-Ya se la ve a usted sabia, abuela.

-El poder del cosmos, de la tierra y del gran espíritu está ahí para todos, basta tomarlo. Los curanderos valoramos y queremos mucho los cuatro elementos (fuego, agua, aire y tierra), los llamamos abuelos. La cuestión es que estaba una vez en España cuidando de un fuego, y nos pusimos a charlar.

-¿Con quién?

-Con el fuego. ‘Yo estoy en ti’, me dijo. ‘Ya lo sé’, respondí. ‘Cuando decidas morir retornarás al espíritu, ¿por qué no te llevas el cuerpo?’, dijo. ‘¿Cómo lo hago?’, pregunté.

-Interesante conversación.

-’Todo tu cuerpo está lleno de fuego y también de espíritu -me dijo-, ocupamos el cien por cien dentro de ti. El aire son tus maneras de pensar y ascienden si eres ligero. De agua tenemos más del 80%, que son los sentimientos y se evaporan. Y tierra somos menos del 20%, ¿qué te cuesta cargar con eso?’.

-¿Y para qué quieres el cuerpo?

-Pues para disfrutar, porque mantienes los cinco sentidos y ya no sufres apegos. Ahora mismo están aquí con nosotras los espíritus de mi marido y de mi hija.


-El muertito más reciente de mi familia es mi suegro, que se fue con más de 90 años. Tres meses antes de morir decidió el día. ‘Si se me olvida -nos dijo-, me lo recuerdan’. Llegó el día y se lo recordamos. Se bañó, se puso ropa nueva y nos dijo: ‘Ahora me voy a descansar’. Se tumbó en la cama y murió. Eso mismo le puedo contar de mi bisabuela, de mis padres, de mis tías…

-Y usted, abuela, ¿cómo quiere morir?

-Como mi maestro Martínez Paredes, un maya poderoso. Se fue a la montaña: ‘Al anochecer vengan a por mi cuerpo’. Se le oyó cantar todo el día y cuando fueron a buscarle, la tierra estaba llena de pisaditas. Así quiero yo morirme, danzando y cantando. ¿Sabe lo que hizo mi papá?

-¿Qué hizo?

-Una semana antes de morir se fue a recoger sus pasos. Recorrió los lugares que amaba y a la gente que amaba y se dio el lujo de despedirse. La muerte no es muerte, es el miedo que tenemos al cambio. Mi hija me está diciendo: ‘Habla de mí’, así que le voy a hablar de ella.

-Su hija, ¿también decidió morir?

-Sí. Hay mucha juventud que no puede realizarse, y nadie quiere vivir sin sentido.

-¿Qué merece la pena?

-Cuando miras a los ojos y dejas entrar al otro en ti y tú entras en el otro y te haces uno. Esa relación de amor es para siempre, ahí no hay hastío. Debemos entender que somos seres sagrados, que la Tierra es nuestra Madre y el Sol nuestro Padre. Hasta hace bien poquito los huicholes no aceptaban escrituras de propiedad de la tierra. ‘¿Cómo voy a ser propietario de la Madre Tierra?’, decían.

-Aquí la tierra se explota, no se venera.

-¡La felicidad es tan sencilla!, consiste en respetar lo que somos, y somos tierra, cosmos y gran espíritu. Y cuando hablamos de la madre tierra, también hablamos de la mujer que debe ocupar su lugar de educadora.


-¿Cuál es la misión de la mujer?

-Enseñar al hombre a amar. Cuando aprendan, tendrán otra manera de comportarse con la mujer y con la madre tierra. Debemos ver nuestro cuerpo como sagrado y saber que el sexo es un acto sagrado, esa es la manera de que sea dulce y nos llene de sentido. La vida llega a través de ese acto de amor. Si banalizas eso, ¿qué te queda? Devolverle el poder sagrado a la sexualidad cambia nuestra actitud ante la vida. Cuando la mente se une al corazón todo es posible. Yo quiero decirle algo a todo el mundo…


-Que pueden usar el poder del Gran Espíritu en el momento que quieran. Cuando entiendes quién eres, tus pensamientos se hacen realidad. Yo, cuando necesito algo, me lo pido a mí misma. Y funciona.

-Hay muchos creyentes que ruegan a Dios, y Dios no les concede.

-Porque una cosa es ser limosnero y otra, ordenarte a ti mismo, saber qué es lo que necesitas. Muchos creyentes se han vuelto dependientes, y el espíritu es totalmente libre; eso hay que asumirlo. Nos han enseñado a adorar imágenes en lugar de adorarnos a nosotros mismos y entre nosotros.

-Mientras no te empaches de ti mismo.

-Debemos utilizar nuestra sombra, ser más ligeros, afinar las capacidades, entender. Entonces es fácil curar, tener telepatía y comunicarse con los otros, las plantas, los animales. Si decides vivir todas tus capacidades para hacer el bien, la vida es deleite.

-¿Desde cuándo lo sabe?

-Momentos antes de morir mi hija me dijo: ‘Mamá, carga tu sagrada pipa, tienes que compartir tu sabiduría y vas a viajar mucho. No temas, yo te acompañaré’. Yo vi con mucho asombro como ella se incorporaba al cosmos. Experimenté que la muerte no existe. El horizonte se amplió y las percepciones perdieron los límites, por eso ahora puedo verla y escucharla, ¿lo cree posible?


-Mis antepasados nos dejaron a los abuelos la custodia del conocimiento: ‘Llegará el día en que se volverá a compartir en círculos abiertos’. Creo que ese tiempo ha llegado.

Imágenes: CISEI y SophiaOnline

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