In Defense of Good Vibes
‘Good vibes, man.’
When you read those three words, what do you think of? Is it some surfer on a beach, freshly stoned, getting ready for a day of beach bumming? Or is it a fundamental description of the universe, entrenched in both the teachings of Gautama Buddha and the smashing of protons beneath the Swiss countryside?
Is it possible that one of the simplest, most basic concepts in New Age thought — that of a universe where everything is energy, is vibrations — is actually backed by both the most rigorous spiritual paths and the most rigorous scientific experiments?
One of the ironies of modern society is that we needed to build giant particle accelerators and derive incredibly complex theories to discover things that the average mystic/Yogi/Buddhist monk has known for thousands of years. While the parallels between quantum mechanics and spirituality have been trumpeted since the 70’s, most people have never bothered to critically examine the technical aspects of them, and, as a result, have dismissed the comparisons, or used them to make vague and unscientific arguments. This is a shame, as one needn’t be a particle physicist to see concrete, describable similarities.
Everybody knows that people — and the universe — are made up of atoms. Atoms, in turn, are made up of electrons orbiting a nucleus. The nucleus, which represents 99.95% of the mass in an atom, are comprised of protons and neutrons, held together by the strong nuclear force. These particles — called nucleons — are, in turn, comprised of three quarks each, which are held together by the transmission of gluons (this is analogous to the transmission of photons between charged particles).
Within a neutron or proton, the quarks themselves represent maybe 1% of the mass. The gluons — like photons — are massless.
Where is all the mass, then? It’s actually in a field of a certain type of energy, called quantum chromodynamics binding energy. As mass and energy are equivalent, the energy here — specifically, the kinetic energy of these particles, moving at near the speed of light — is responsible for 99% of the nucleon’s mass.
So, to put it simply, you (and everything you’ve ever known) is literally comprised almost entirely of energy, of waves, of — if you will forgive a slight linguistic liberty — vibrations.
This is a notion intimately familiar to Eastern religions, from the Chinese belief in qi to the Vedic notion of Prana. There’s even an entire lineage of Tibetan Buddhism that uses the notion that we are made of light to achieve remarkable meditative practices, like generating immense heat in the midst of the Himalayan snows.
Yet, in most conversations in the West, people dismiss this idea out of hand.
Tell the average American that there are Buddhist monks who can dry sheets dipped in ice water with their body heat, and they might express mild interest. Tell them that a comprehensive study has been done by Harvard scientists into the same phenomenon, and they’ll accept that it’s true. Tell them that the monks achieve feats like this by visualizing their entire body as being made of clear white light, and they’ll go ‘huh’ and forget about it.
Much of this dismissal has to do with the superficiality of New Age spirituality, which substitutes the tremendously arduous dissolution of the self that undergirds all true mystical paths for platitudes about ‘consciousness’ and deriving happiness from purchasing overpriced crystals. The ignorance of true mysticism — and the scientific method at the heart of it — is so strong in our ‘spiritual’ cultures that mainstream particle physicists have gone from being open-minded spiritualists to materialistic skeptics over the past forty years.
Still, the extent of close-mindedness in mainstream Western society is breathtaking. The average person is so entrenched in (hedonistic) materialism that, even when confronted with dramatic evidence, they actively ignore it. Tell someone about these heat-generating monks, or how observation of a quantum system irrevocably reduces it (a physical phenomenon that, because your brain is very possibly a quantum system, poses serious questions for the notion of the objective, detached self), and, 99 times out of 100, you’ll get a disinterested ‘that’s deep,’ or ‘that’s trippy,’ as a response.
No contemplative silence, no openness, no attempt to understand it or examine how such notions can radically remake the self and our society. This doesn’t just go for monks and particles, either — people, by and large, brush off just about anything that doesn’t help them get their next dopamine hit.
This is no one’s fault, per se. The effect of centuries of rationality, materialist worldviews, and ever-intensifying sensory pleasures on seven billion people cannot be laid at the foot of any person, or group of people. And yet…
And yet it’s destroying our planet, our culture, our mental health. We have both empirical evidence of a worldview that teaches us we are more than material bodies and dozens of millennia-old, tried and tested techniques to access this deeper level, and yet we remain asleep, engrossed in our smartphones and bank account balances.
As we rush headlong into 2018, each of us is confronted with a choice. We can stay in our loops, our mindstreams, repeating the same patterns that have caused one in five Americans to suffer from a mental health disorder on a yearly basis and 200 species to vanish from the earth every day. Or, we can change.
The good vibes are here, all around us, inside us. We just need to wake up and see them.