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Dr. Wolf is a physicist, writer and lecturer who earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics at UCLA in 1963. A professor of physics for many years, he is the author of many books including Taking the Quantum Leap, Parallel Universes, The Dreaming Universe, The Eagle’s Quest, The Spiritual Universe, Mind into Matter and Matter into Feeling. He appeared in the new movie phenomenon, What The Bleep Do We Know!? He continues to write, lecture throughout the world and conduct research on the relationship of quantum physics to consciousness.
He spoke with Edge Life by phone from his office in San Francisco about his upcoming talk at Bridging the Water Gap, his latest book The Yoga of Time Travel: How the Mind Can Defeat Time, and much more.
You will speak on “From Earth, Air, Fire, and Water to a New Vision of Mind and Time” at Bridging the Water Gap. What will you share with participants in that talk?
Fred AlanWolf: I want to explain the new alchemy, which has to do with understanding what I call the subjective and objective qualities of existence.
In the Greek way of dealing with alchemy, which was earth, air, fire and water, these were the objective qualities. But, in order to understand earth, air, fire and water, the subjective or mindset had to enter. When air and fire are experienced, we have the sensation of heat or hotness. With earth and fire, we would experience that as dry or dryness. If we’re experiencing earth and water, we would experience that as cold, and if it was air and water, we would experience that as moist, like rain. So within the objective qualities — things of earth, air, fire and water — are our subjective experiences of hot, cold, dry, and moist.
In the new alchemy, we have a similar kind of way of thinking. Our internal space includes our intuitions, our thoughts, our senses and our feelings, and from these we construct or build a picture of the outside world. From intuition and thought, we construct time. We also construct space from thought and our sensations. From our senses and our feelings, we experience energy, and from our intuitions and our feelings, we experience motion.
There’s always an inner and an outer, whether it’s old alchemy — earth, air, fire and water, and the primary qualities of hot and cold, wet and dry — to the new alchemy — intuition, thinking, sensing and feeling, and the outer qualities are time and energy, space and movement.
I believe there are transformative things contained within this. Chemistry comes about through the transformation of earth, air, fire and water. All chemistry is just movement within those things, and so we experience the joys and the sorrows of hot and cold, and dry and moist, because of these chemical transformations. In a similar way, we create and experience a world of time, space, motion and energy, through our intuitions, our thoughts, our sensing and our feeling.
I will be talking about how that all relates together and discussing the idea of the relationships between such things as feeling and water, intuition and air, thought and earth, and senses and fire.
You use a term in connection with your new books: new alchemy. How would you define that?
Wolf: The old alchemy, or what was just called alchemy, has a history. Most people, if they’ve been trained in sciences, think of alchemy as the precursor to chemistry. Back in time, people were called alchemists and they worked for kings and rich people, smelting metal and trying to change base metal into gold, because the king wanted to be richer.
The core idea for that transformation and the desire to do so doesn’t start there. I think its early beginnings probably starts a couple thousand years earlier in Egypt. We find that alchemy has to do with magicians or magic and may even have roots in the Chaldean people who lived in the land that we now call Iraq.
Abraham emerged and took a flock of people with him into Egypt. They were later called the Hebrews because of the valleys that they came out of. The alchemy that they saw was a transformative power within the individuals to affect the “out there” reality — and that, of course, is the basis of shamanism and is the basis for most magical and so-called Third World belief systems.
So what you’re describing as new alchemy is actually a reference to ancient alchemy?
Wolf: Yes, it’s really a reference back to the ancient way of seeing “as above, so below, as within, so without,” which became obliterated in the Middle Ages to only refer to the transformation of base metals into gold.
The real alchemy is transforming the base self into gold or into spiritual awareness. That’s really what new alchemy’s all about. The reason I call it “new” alchemy is because I began to see a way to write about that transformation in terms of modern science, particularly in terms of what we call quantum physics. It’s that relationship that I wrote about in my book, Mind into Matter and Matter into Feeling.
I brought the symbols for that back to the most ancient form that Western minds know: the Hebrew letters. The Hebrew letters seem to be the language of the alchemists. In fact, if you look through any of the alchemical literature of that time, particularly in Germany, you find that Hebrew symbols are all over their writings. That’s where Kabbalah comes into the equation, because Kabbalah deals specifically with the meaning of the Hebrew letters and how they, themselves, are agents of the transformation from within to without.
You’ve said that alchemy and Kabbalah are the two fields of intellectual inquiry that have most affected the work you are doing. How have they influenced your work?
Wolf: Alchemy and Kabbalah are later developments in my thinking. I think the primary interest has been the relationship of magic and mystery to logic and understanding. Those are the primary driving forces of my life. I have this ability, for some reason, to be able to hold both the Magical MysteryTour we’re on in conjunction with the logical rigor of understanding theoretical physics, which makes me kind of a rare bird, because usually you’re one or the other.
That has led me into questions about the nature of what this is we’re doing, this thing we call life and consciousness, and whether or not there is a God. What is spirituality? What is the relationship of the obvious things that we see around us to the things that we believe we understand within ourselves? This is the ancient alchemical formula: “as above, so below, as within, so without.” It’s also the basic truth to all shamanic healing and all shamanic ritual — and if you go back deep enough, it’s the basis for all magic, that somehow we can influence the “out there” by things we do “in here.” By “in here” I mean within the realm of the mind and spirit.
These are the things that interest me. I believe, or sense, that the universe has not been constructed from a purely mechanical, logical, rational point of view, but there is a magic afoot in the universe, that God can be looked at as a kind of a magician in which we get to perform tricks ourselves, without knowing that we’re doing so.
I’ve always believed that as human beings we have much more power than we really know we do, in terms of influencing things around us and things to come to us.
Wolf: I think that is basically a true statement, that there is a lot of power — meaning there is an ability to move and transform things. I think each human being has that power, and it’s often one that we are willing to relinquish to others. That makes it possible for people to entice others through their speech or mannerisms, or we see people on a movie screen who turn into God-like images, and actually they’re not. They’re just ordinary folks who have believed in themselves enough to put out that power. I think that that helps to awaken that power in others, particularly in young people who then begin to either emulate or want to go off in their own direction. So, I think that’s part of what we’re all here to do for each other.
What has been your life mission or the thread of inquiry that you have been pursuing in your life?
Wolf: I look at my job today and, in fact, probably since the early beginning, as a magician who has come to, let’s say, unshackle people from thoughts that tend to bind them and keep them from realizing potentials that they all have. I don’t see myself more than that. When I speak or when I offer ideas and explain how the universe seems to work from the point of view that I’ve understood, it seems to give people a lift — an unshackling or freeing.
Opening them to possibility?
Wolf: Yes, opening to possibilities, and that seems to be what happens.
Your newest book is The Yoga of Time Travel, and in it you indicate that you are a time traveler. How do you travel in time? Is this something we all do, but we don’t realize it?
Wolf: Well, we can all do it, and some of us do without realizing it. It really has to do with a rather delicate relationship that exists between mind and matter.
To understand that, we have to begin to imagine what a universe would be like if there wasn’t anything in it called Mind. If that was the case, according to quantum physics now, then every possibility would also come into existence as every other possibility. Coins would land heads and tails at the same time. Colors would never emerge because reds and blues and greens would all meld into white continuously. There would be no such thing as color. All there would be are overlaps of possibilities and that’s all that could ever be seen. Electrons would never be confined within atoms. Atoms would not be confined within molecules. Molecules would not be confined within cellular tissue. Nothing would be in its place, so to speak. Everything would just be constantly multiplying into what we might call a chaos of possibilities.
Then quantum mechanics comes in and notices that there is a thing that happens. The chaos, which quantum mechanics predicts will occur, suddenly gets whittled down to actualities, and these actualities are objectified. Electrons are no longer are all over the universe. They’re now confined within atoms, and the atoms are confined within molecules. Things form and fit into logical, rational relationship to each other as material objects.
They also form and fit into logical, rational relationship to each other in terms of before and after, and where, and how far. Space and time, and matter and energy, emerge from this thing, whatever this thing is, that changes everything from this realm of infinite possibility into actual things with very limited possibilities. Chairs no longer go flying off into space. Electrons don’t just spontaneously bubble out of atoms. Atoms stay together to form molecules, and human beings form and they stay together more or less for 70-plus years.
The question is, what is it that changed from the quantum mechanical picture, which we know adequately predicts the behavior of all stuff. The answer seems to be something called consciousness, or mind.
There’s no way to get out of having mind present in the universe, because of what we understand from quantum physics. Now the question arises, “Well, what is it doing?” What seems to be occurring is that it is limiting things. As it limits, it puts everything in sequence — and that sequence becomes what we call time. Things are put into temporal sequence, and we call it time, one thing occurring after another.
The magic of it all is that we remember something that occurred in the past and begin to see it in terms of the present, or vice versa, the present in terms of the past. We even begin to see the future in terms of the present, and in terms of the past. We have a sense of continuity, which gives us what we call a sense of time.
Then we begin to look at things that are out there that have been created in this kind of “mind” way and begin to watch everything. Through our ability to have remembrances of both what’s coming and what’s happening and what has happened, we begin to piece together a logical picture of the world. We need all three senses of time — a sense of the future, a sense of the present, and a sense of the past — at all times to understand or experience what’s happening right now. It’s constantly unfolding that way.
Otherwise it’s chaotic.
Wolf: Otherwise it’s very chaotic. We couldn’t listen to music. We couldn’t understand each other. We couldn’t even form sentences. We couldn’t speak.
So it came to my mind then that what time travel is really all about is learning how to move in and out of that realm where things get defined by the mind. I certainly had it understood from the logics of quantum physics, but in order to understand it in terms of experience, I had to see where anything like that had occurred in the past. It came to my mind that in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, in Indian spiritual literature, and in the Bhagavad Gita, and when I started reading about outstanding yogis and people of exceeding spiritual power such as Ramana Maharshi, or Yogananda, they all had the ability to do what we would call — I don’t know what you would even call it — psychic phenomenon, magic, transform objects, be able to perceive the future, the past and the present simultaneously. Then I read that Buddha was able to see all of his past lives, and I realized the only way any of these people could do that is by being outside of time.
You couldn’t be in time and do that. You had to be able to lift yourself outside of the time stream — and that essentially became what is called the yoga of time travel.
The most common way people could do that would be a form of meditation in which you don’t get caught up in your thoughts and don’t make patterns of logical consequences follow as a result of your thinking process. It’s very hard for most of us to do that if we think about it. But if you start to watch the process by which things come into being, and you begin to witness from the point of view of watching the words form, then you’re beginning to move into the non-temporal mindset, or that which is free of time.
People who are creative often will spend hours doing something and come out of their period of creation and not even notice that hours have passed. In that sense, they’re able to time travel. They don’t really age in the same way they would have been if they were just functioning in normal concern of survival.
Would that experience be similar to what the aborigines call the Dream Time?
Wolf: Dream Time is certainly an indication of it. I actually wrote about that in a book called The Dreaming Universe. From what they told me, that is really part of it. I’m not sure if it’s all of it, or if it totally fits in with this idea.
I think you’d have to experience it to really know.
Wolf: Exactly. You’d have to experience it. The kinds of mystical experiences that I have had definitely convinced me that I was able to get out of time. I have had experiences, or brief glimpses, of being able to see the future and then come back into time, and then go into extraordinary realms of the past. All this has been something that I’ve been able to do, so for me it’s not that much of a mystery. What’s amazing to me is I can’t do it all the time. Maybe there’s a good reason not to be able to do it all the time, because we have a lot invested in just being here now.
We all get out, maybe for longer than we wish, because we all pass this mortal coil more or less and so we certainly get a chance to experience it again, and we’ve experienced it before we were born. So it’s more or less our natural place of being, unless you believe that the only time you’re conscious is when you’re alive.
You referred to some of your mystical experiences. Do they relate to the work you did with the shamans in Peru?
Wolf: A lot of things occurred to me with shamans in Peru. I actually wrote a whole book about it called The Eagle’s Quest. There were a number of different kinds of experiences that you learn from doing ritual and taking ayahuasca [a common tropical forest hallucinogen used by remote tribal people who believe ayahuasca is the key to understanding the native consciousness and perception of the world] with the Peruvian shamans that you wouldn’t get unless you had been with them, but every shamanic tradition, including the Native American tradition of medicine and cleansing ritual, like the Sun Dance or the sweat lodge.
They’re all designed to free you from the mundane concerns of your temporal activity and open you into the realm in which all this activity is seen as a subset rather than being the only thing that is. They get you into what’s called non-ordinary states of consciousness. Most people who’ve never experienced them and only hear them described tend to try to describe them in terms of the logical, rational way of looking at things, the so-called scientific explanation, which often leaves a lot lacking and doesn’t really fulfill understanding the experience at all.
Science can’t really explain it.
Wolf: I think it was Democritus (460-370 BC) who said about the mind: “Oh, scientific mind. You get all your data from us, the senses, but without us you would be nothing.” That’s sort of the idea that if we, in attempting to explain away that which is experienced, the experience itself is diminished. Part of the problem is that when you start to try to understand everything in terms of words, the understanding of the words becomes the experience, and the experience gets lost.
The shamanic realm is to get you out of the word set. For skeptics, that’s impossible, and they just can’t see that and it just makes no sense. They would see it as total nonsense, and they’re mystified, frankly, by people who are having these experiences. It’s very frustrating if you’ve never had an experience and somebody comes up to you and says, “I’ve just been on a flying saucer.” Your tendency is to think, “Oh, this guy must be wacko, nuts, having an hallucination. None of that can be true because none of that has ever happened to me.”
It generally — if I can use the word “generally” — takes you into the realm of your deepest fears and things that you’re holding onto, things that usually are encumbrances to your life process. Because it takes you there, it’s sometimes called a voyage into your own death. For most people, that’s frightening enough, so those who are brave enough to venture into it will come out with a new sense of life, but they also know that they’ve been transformed and they can’t go back to the old ways anymore, and that’s not always something that’s comfortable for people.
And words really can’t do justice to it.
Wolf: No, they really can’t. In my book, I describe the variety of different kinds of experiences I had, from seeing into the future to being inside the body of a bird and feeling the bird consciousness, to being in a plane of existence with beings that do not exist on this planet at all. And I described my experiences to shamans who started to laugh, saying, “Oh, we know those guys.”
And that struck me as being very funny. I took it as being, “Oh, wow, this is fantastic!”
And they said, “Oh, yeah, we know those guys. We know who they are.”
For them, these voyages into these plant spirits is nothing very special. They’ve come to know them and trust them. They have conversations with ancestors who have long since passed, hundreds of years ago. Several of them sit around a fireplace after taking ayahuasca and begin having a conversation with this being who has transcended from far back in time and now is talking to all of them — and they can all see him. A rational mind just can’t deal with that.
From your perspective, how you describe healing? It seems to be quite an alchemical process itself.
Wolf: Well, it is. There is a mystery to it. It doesn’t always work according to one’s wishes. From that point of view, there’s something magical afoot, and it’s something that is not always rational. And yet, we know that certain medicines we take can induce one to get into the healing mode.
It seems to me that healing is the natural mode. It’s what, if nothing else is taking place, that will be taking place. Anything else, then, is something that has been created. Therefore, illness is something out of balance, rather than something within balance. It’s been something that is created and it’s been created for a purpose and a reason, and that purpose or reason may not be obvious to the person that has the disease. Nevertheless, there is something going on and it’s not always easy to find that out.
When I worked with various healers of one kind or another, very often what came up was that there was an “inner” person who was controlling what was going on in the life of the “outer” person, who thinks he’s in control of his life. That inner person has a vested interest in keeping the person from getting well, so the healing doesn’t take place. There’s a real effort going on, too, because there’s a payoff that has been put into expectation, and so the healing doesn’t work as successfully in some people. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person because you’re not healing. It just means that there is something still to be worked on. It’s a question of what you can do to expose that dialogue between the inner and the outer person
That’s one way of looking at it. I’d have to think about that some more. It’s still a mystery to me.
Do you think quantum physics will change the way medical science looks at the human body?
Wolf: I think it already has done so. Certainly in terms of technology, it’s made a tremendous impact, but medicine is still within the realm of what we might call “objective” science. It’s still part of the objective way of looking at the world. But certainly, it could have pretty far-reaching effects once we begin to look at the kinds of things that people can do to induce transformation in their thinking, their sensing, their intuiting and their feelings — and whether there’s some power there that can be unleashed that would cause blockages that were primarily put in place through thought to be let go of.
I think a lot of psychological healing tends to work on that basis. We go into the unconscious to find what’s holding you back, so to speak, and I think there is an unconscious body image that may be responsible for the unhealing that’s taking place. Again, you can’t blame the person for creating that illness for themselves, because it was a creation. If you could find out how you created it, you might be able to find out a way to let go.
For more on Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D., visit www.fredalanwolf.com or e-mail email@example.com