Quantum Rainbows

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(An excerpt from Paul’s upcoming book,
The Quantum Revelation: A Modern-Day Spiritual Treasure)

The appearance of a rainbow is made up of the interaction of raindrops, sunlight and our consciousness. By itself—from its own side—a rainbow has no existence in our universe prior to being observed. This is to say that there is no intrinsic, independent, objective rainbow that exists separate from the observing consciousness. Being a function of our observation, if no one were there observing it, there would be no rainbow. There is no physical rainbow existing somewhere out there in space; the rainbow is only to be found within—and not separate from—the very mind that is observing it. The highest Buddhist teachings—and now quantum physics—says that our physical universe is similar in this regard to a rainbow.

Just like a rainbow can’t be said to exist until the moment that it is observed, quantum entities can’t be said to exist until the moment of observation; the act of observation is truly creative. The quantum entities that make up what seems to be solid matter (let’s use, for example, a tree) are no more like the thing we call a tree than the raindrops are like the thing we call a rainbow. Just as a rainbow is the outcome between the raindrops and our consciousness, the tree is the result of the interaction between the quantum entities that compose it and ourselves. This is to say that in the case of the seemingly solid, three-dimensional world, there is one necessary ingredient: an observing consciousness. This isn’t some New Agey gobbledygook, but simply the logical outcome of following the insights of what quantum physics is revealing to us about the nature of the universe we live in.

If more than one person is seeing a rainbow, there is an unexamined assumption that this means that the rainbow is “really there,” i.e., that there is an objectively existing rainbow that they are all seeing. If a number of observers are seeing what seems to be one and the same rainbow, however, it is not accurate to say they are seeing the same rainbow. A rainbow appears in a different place for each observer—in fact, when any one of us sees a rainbow, each of our eyes sees a slightly different rainbow. Its position is context-dependent, rather than being innate; if we move, it moves. In a very real sense, there are as many rainbows as there are observers; each observer is seeing their own private rainbow. It is as if there is an infinite superposition of rainbows existing in a state of potentiality, each one inhabiting a virtual world until the moment it is observed.

Similar to how there is not one “objective” rainbow that exists as an “object-per-se,” quantum physics has discovered that there is no invariant way the universe “really is.” To quote Philip K. Dick, “for every person there is a different universe which is the result of a mutual participation between him and the macrocosm, a field that is a syzygy between them.”[1] There is no single reality that all observers share. Wheeler writes in his notebook, “Idea, surely not new, that there is not ‘one world’ but as many worlds as observers.”

Dick continues, “If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic?”[2] Are some of us more “in touch” with reality than others? It is easy to presume that the differences between people’s worlds is caused entirely by the subjectivity of the various human viewpoints, i.e., that people are just interpreting the one, objectively existing world differently. Quantum physics suggests that our situation might, however, be one of plural realities superimposed onto one another—akin to the potentiality of the wavefunction—like so many film transparencies. At any given moment, based on our observation, one of these transparencies takes on substantial form and appears, to our mind, to be the real and therefore only existing reality, while the other potential universes disappear as if they never existed.

The idea that there is an objectively existing world that we all share is a flawed assumption that creates the seemingly unsolvable paradoxes that riddle the quantum physics world. This state of affairs makes me think of how many conflicts in the world—both big and small—are the result of people arguing over the idea that their version of reality is the correct one, when in actual fact, there is no “true” reality (other than the fact that there is no single, true reality). To quote Bob Livingston, one of the founders of the discipline of neuroscience, “Our individual experiences are so different from one another that the world consists of a couple of billion people and a couple of billion worlds.”[3] If there are indeed plural realities, problems arise due to breakdowns of communication between the different realities; this puts the various conflicts in our world in a new context. Maybe instead of fighting among ourselves to determine who is in possession of the true reality, we can learn to build bridges to connect the multitude of realities. Quantum physics is such a bridge.


Born in 1956 and originally from New York, Paul Levy is a healer/teacher/writer in private practice in Portland, Oregon. Though not a physicist himself, Paul has been seriously studying and going down the quantum physics rabbit hole for decades. A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, he has a deep interest in both spirituality and all things having to do with the psyche. He is most known for writing the book Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books 2013; also available as an audio book). His most recent book is Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father. Founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, he is a longtime Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and the coordinator of a local Tibetan Buddhist center. His website is www.awakeninthedream.com; his email is paul@awakeninthedream.com.

[1] Jackson, P. and Lethem, J., eds., The Exegesis of Philip K Dick, p. 588.

[2] Sutin, L., ed., The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, p. 261.

[3] Quoted in The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama, Zajonc, A. ed., p. 145.

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5 Responses to Quantum Rainbows

  1. Paul..I wonder..Is wetiko an evil mind virus, or a case of mistaken identity that perpetuates an entrenched point of view of who and what we are? I don’t know, but I’d guess the latter. David

  2. A response to John…
    Hi John..Through conscious attention I can sustain self-observation during Vipassana meditation, but in everyday life I’m too much of a “quaking mess” to do so in an ongoing way. I’m 66, and tried countless times, and have finally given up. Entirely washed my hands of it. The surprise is the “ego” takes a backseat when you don’t give a shit about “it”.
    This dream I think we’re in is, perhaps, (who knows), of a “Kali Yuga” phase. It FEELS like it might be so. If that’s the nature of things I should say good luck riding such a wave.
    The Mystery is a guessing game as befits any good dream, whether it be lucid by day or unconscious by night.
    David G

  3. wow paul , you just never disappoint , what an exciting time to be alive when the spooky effects created by this quantum world is slowly being understood tis so exciting .. a good subject, well written and very interesting …. you have a real gift paul you keep writing so we all can keep reading pam

  4. I liked this essay and I really liked Dispelling Wetiko. The observer understanding the observed is the whole basis of spirituality. As you surf the wave, you are affected by envisioning yourself surfing the wave. That’s the only way we can actually grow instead of stuff just happening to us, I think. So many spiritual stories have to be indirect because they are about the person who is observing. I look forward to reading this book.

  5. Paul…Do you think it might be as told in an Australian aboriginal tradition that goes something like this..”God is dreaming the universe and we are the dream dreaming”?
    That maybe we’re all spooks, and the horrors we see in the world are not happening to anyone? Just God having nightmares. Reminds me of an old Star Trek episode.
    And is that what is meant in Buddhism by “no one suffers, there’s just suffering”?
    I’m still trying to wrap my head around wetiko. I think anything “evil” is not a threat within, but just part of the show. An old friend and part teacher of mine, (decades ago), used to say..”Dave..if you remember nothing else I tell you but one single thing its just this.. that EVERYTHING IS BULLSHIT. He wasn’t referring to the theme of my comments..yet maybe in a very gut instinctive level he was. Yet human nature sure does look “evil”, often enough.
    Thank you for your fascinating essay. Much to try to digest for us all. David

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