About Paul J. van Leeuwen

“To know the Way,
We go the Way;
We do the Way.
The way we do
The things we do.
 It’s all there in front of you,
But if you try too hard to see it,
You’ll only become Confused.

The TAO of Pooh – 1982: Benjamin Hoff

Introduction – A good catholic boy

Paul with Tilly hat

I want to tell you something about myself, why I created this site and why I think that it is important that you see it.

I was raised as a catholic in the start of the second half of the twentieth century. The most important part of you was your eternal immortal soul. You had to keep it clean enough to earn eternal happiness after your existence on earth. Not an easy job considering the existence of a cunning malicious devil who wanted to compromise it. Almost an impossible task. However, halfway catholic high school I lost my soul somewhere. I started to question its existence and, consequently, of the existence of this devil who was striving to lure my precious soul into the eternal fires of hell. This happened when the teacher told us about Laplace’s demon. Pierre-Simon Laplace’s demon is a hypothetical intelligence, existing outside our universe, and knowing exactly all initial conditions of it. Knowing this it could calculate every future and past event in this universe. If you believed Laplace the universe became nothing more than a gigantic clock running its fixed course. Absolute objective coincidence disappeared without a trace from the world.

Laplace

We had been fed enough physics lessons to understand the idea of Laplace. Newtonian physics told us that you only needed to know the exact initial conditions of a closed system to be able, in theory, to calculate its historic and future behavior in both directions for ever. Past and future of everything, including myself, would be known in every exact detail by Laplace’s demon. If you believed Newtonian physics was the correct way to describe the contents of the universe, and I did then, you were merely a very complex piece of machinery. All living beings, plants, animals, humans, became nothing more than very sophisticated automata. Free will was an illusion caused by our lack of data and processing power.

This is an opinion cherished nowadays by otherwise well-functioning people who love their family and see no problem in rewarding good behavior and punishing criminals, preferably by locking them up and trying to convince them of the benefits of a decent lifestyle hoping they will change their way of life. But the majority of them would consider it silly to reward their computer or washing machine for their perfect functioning or to beat their car for its failing. Some do.

I found Laplace’s conclusion that I, my fellow human beings and not to mention the animals, were all just complex vending machines, unpalatable. At that very moment, the people around me, my fellow students, my teachers, everyone, changed into zombies and the world seemed to become one of cardboard dolls. Fortunately, this depressing vision passed quickly away, but the awful experience is still present in my memory.

TU Delft – Applied Physics study

After completing high school with excellent grades for mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology in 1967 I enrolled at the University of Delft to study technical physics. I found physics fun and fascinating. What I would be doing later with an academic physics title was not something I pondered much about. A university study would last for a nominal five years and in practice, even seven years. A working life and a career were far beyond my horizon at that time. A way, I suspect, for many to postpone the looming responsibilities and treadmill vision of adult life.

The first two years at the university went smoothly. In the following years however physics lost its attraction, and it took five more years to graduate. Quantum physics and relativity, interesting and important as these subjects are now, were in those days still a little bit too exotic to be an important part of applied physics in the technically and practically oriented Delft teaching program. However, it’s also probable that it was my own orientation that steered me away from exotic physics. This is very different nowadays. In hindsight, theoretical physics at Leiden university would perhaps have been a better choice. On the other hand, my graduation research involved computer modelling, which worked out very well in my later career switch to ICT.

Physics teacher and ICT consultant

Searching for a career fitting my interests after graduation I decided to go for high school teaching instead of laboratory type research. Some of the experiments I had to perform and report during my study did not go well and had caused me considerable frustration. Teaching seemed more attractive to me. So I started teaching mathematics and physics at a local high school. Teaching indeed turned out to be fun. Initially at least. After eleven years it had become a not-so-interesting-any-more routine job so I left teaching for an ICT career. ICT in those days was in its infancy and exploding. I wanted to be on that scene. The need for programming and analytical skills was enormous If you were talented you got a lot of chances to learn on the job. In that fascinating world of operating systems, programming languages and knowledge systems I felt really at home there and even found the opportunity to obtain a masters in knowledge technology. I even continued working as an ICT consultant until two years after my official retirement.

Sniffing the supernatural

All this time my interests were also often drawn to metaphysical subjects. I was not really satisfied with my day-to-day activities, like building friendships and useful contacts, reading, teaching or building software systems. I was still unclear about the meaning of my existence. Struggling with ‘Where am I, who am I, what am I doing here?’ questions. Adult existence was an almost daily challenge and felt sometimes like climbing mountains. I almost longed for my retirement, the liberation of toil and getting the amount of free available time I thought I needed. This kind of experience was and is far from unique, something I saw also around me. People searching – most of the time unaware – for their purpose.

Although the paranormal was fascinating stuff I did not take it all seriously. Apparitions, out-of-the-body experiences, paragnosts, mediums, poltergeists, reincarnation, regressions under hypnosis to previous lifes, all those issues were discussed.

I started reading books which still adorn my bookshelves. One day I did read about the Mars-effect, a statistic effect, researched and publicized by the agnostic Gauqelins, something that caused a scientific riot. The Gauqelin research had found a statistic correlation between the Mars position at the birth of known athletes and their sport career. They used civil status data of a large group of citizens whose birth dates were registered. Their publication was frantically attacked by CSICOP – Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. CSICOP needed however two years to carry out its investigation of the Gauqelin results and used fraudulent methods in order to prove the Gauqelins wrong. The CSICOP report proved to be full of errors and demonstrably fraudulent and biased. This scandal was the reason for the departure of a number of members of the board. Afterwards CSICOP became CSI – Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – and it refrained from then on from real scientifically conducted investigations to avoid this kind of disgrace. This affair was my first acquaintance with pseudo-skepticism coming from recognized scientists attacking everything that had to do with paranormal phenomena. I had my own doubts, of course, but the effect it had on me was to strive from then on for real sound unbiased skepticism. I have never experienced anything paranormal myself with the notable exception of a cat. Not the Schrödinger one.

In 1993 – sniffing through a Leiden bookshop – I came across Amit Goswami’s book ‘The Self-Aware Universe’, a physicist like me however one with an actual tenure at a university, which made me treat its interesting contents with serious attention. this was my first acquaintance with quantum physics and the weird nature of it. As every serious book on quantum physics it told you about the double slit experiment where one shot at with separate atomic particles or light particles. Goswami turned out to be a good and clear writer and teacher. However, to understand that measurement was the real problem in quantum physic took some time. I first had to understand that a quantum measurement is really weird because measuring seemed to materialize the quantum object which implicated that it did not exist before measurement. That is so weird that it confuses you and it takes some time to realize the impact on what you always considered as reality, a universe independent of me seeing it or not. The mind jumps back, unbelieving.

Quantum Mind

The quantum object to be measured seems to behave itself like an intangible wave containing all possibilities until measurement takes place. Precisely with the act of measurement the quantum particle will manifest itself as a physical object in the measuring device. This had already been determined in the beginning of the twentieth century as the most fitting physical description of a measurement. Still my mind balked at it. I couldn’t believe it. I had to read and re-read several times to let the irrefutable logic enter my mind and stay there.

Precisely that, the measurement effect, was the baffling question that fueled deep discussions between physicists in the first days of quantum physics. The implications were that it looked as if the observer had a magic influence on the measured object forcing it to reveal itself. Goswami expressed his opinion in a convincing way that this meant that consciousness should be considered primary in relation to material substance and was its creator. I really welcomed this confirmation of consciousness not being something depending on my living brain for its existence. Death would not extinguish it. Having an analytical educated physicists mind I could not really find fault in Goswami’s argumentation. But the question remained how my immaterial mind could reach outside to the material world and effect it. Which is essentially Harry Potter magic.

The same objection can be raised to the intangible soul idea of Descartes that connects to the body through the material pineal gland. An unexplainable mysterious operation without physical contact. Which is actually an objection that could also be extended to electrical, magnetic and gravity forces. Which reminds me that I was fascinated by magnets as a little boy and dreamt sometimes about having so many little magnets but waking up empty-handed. A vague idea that there should be a connection was always present in the back of my mind prompting me softly to search for an explanation.

I did study many, many books, popular ones about physics on the one side but also on the other side books about subjects as consciousness, reincarnation and near-death-experiences. Surprisingly, in this last category one can find important clues pointing to the nature of the quantum reality we experience.

Teaching again and writing a book

Not so long ago, when I was attending a course on extraordinary experiences I got triggered by an offhand remark of the lecturer about quantum physics. He quoted Richard Feynman: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”. In my opinion that’s only true when you leave consciousness outside the equation. I couldn’t help uttering to the person sitting next to me: ‘You don’t need to be a genius to understand quantum physics. If you let me explain my interpretation, I think you will understand a lot’. That remark set things rolling and some months later I was lecturing a course in quantum physics for non-physicists for a selected audience in an improvised location. Later I started lecturing this course to post-academics in university locations. Surprisingly I enjoy it as much as the audience. By having to lecture, to have to explain things really, I was pressed to think about and rethink initially by me not yet fully understood aspects of quantum physics. Everything I found out in that process eventually did find its way into a book I self-published in August 2018: Kwantumfysica, Information en Bewustzijn.

So, if you are of the opinion that physics has nothing worthwhile to say about the nature of consciousness because it eludes repeatable laboratory experiments or even that consciousness is an illusion of the brain, there is a surprise waiting for you. Quantum physics gives us a clear message about our consciousness, the nature of our reality and our experience of that reality.

The English version is under way

Because Dutch is a difficult language I’m on the way to translate the book to English. As I’m doing it all by myself it is a slow process. I do not expect to have it ready before the end of 2019. It will be an e-book and I hope to be able to publish it in the US or UK.