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Al-Ghazili and Quantum Physics j 

A Comparative Analysis nf 
The Seventeenth Biscnssion of Tahafut al-Falmifa 

Quantum Theory 

Umit Yoksuloglu Devji 

A Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in partial 

fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of 

Master of Arts 

Institute of Islamic Studies^ McGill University, 
Montreal, Canada 

August, 2003 


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Author: Umit Yoksuloglu Devji 

Titles Al~GhazilT and Quantum Physics: A Comparative Analysis of the 
Seventeenth Discussion of Tahafut al-Falasifa and Contemporary 
Quantum Theory. 

Department: Mstitute of Islamic Studies, McGill University 

Degree : Master of Arts 

This thesis compares the concepts presented in the Seventeenth Discussion of 
al-Ghazali's Tahafut al-Falasifa with concepts currently being discussed in the field of 
quantum physics. Written as an attack on the neo-Platonic and Aristotelian thinking 
which challenged the orthodox theology of Medieval Islam, Tahafut al-Falasifa 
(Incoherence of the Philosophers) questions the understanding of physical reality 
forwarded by the philosophers of al-Ghazali's times. The Seventeenth Discussion ('On 
causality and miracles') in particular, with its aim of proving the possibility of miracles, 
questions the acceptance of notions such as necessary causality and the validity of 
scientific observation in the natural world. 

The dilemmas posed by al-GhazalT in this work find a complement in 
contemporary quantum theorizing, which questions formerly accepted notions of the 
nature of physical reality. The causal and deterministic nature of the physical world 
presented by Newtonian classical physics is giving way to new schema in quantum 
physics, which rejects the possibility of objective scientific observation. Whereas 

al-Ghazall's thinking is based on logical premises, the work of quantum physicists such 
as Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Max Bom is grounded in scientific 
experimentation. Nonetheless, the ideas put forth by both have brought about 
philosophical reevaluations of the limits of humei understanding of the physical universe. 

Although several scholars have examined al-GhazalT's argument in the 
Seventeenth Discussion in terms of causality, observation and the nature of human 
conceptions of physical reality, and many others have noted the implicit potential 
connections between quantum theory and concepts of reUgiosity, only one, Karen 
Harding, has attempted a synthesis of the ideas put forth within these two seemingly 
diverse subjects. This thesis, then, carries forward fi'om the ideas of Harding and attempts 
an original comparative analysis of the two. 

Parallels drawn between the two points to the contemporary nature of al-GhazalT's 
thinking as well as to the applicability of current discoveries in quantum physics to a 
reexamination of eleventh century Islamic theology. As such, this thesis attempts to 
move beyond the intellectual boundaries of fields of inquiry, time and milieu towards a 
holistic apprehension of human understanding of the physical and metaphysical 
constructs of the universe. 



Auteur: tJmit Yoksuloglu Devji 

Titre: Al-Ghazali et la Physique Quantique: Une Analyse Comparative de la 

Dix-septieme Discussion de Tahafut al-Falasifa et Theorie Quantique 

Departement: Mstitut des Etudes Islamiques, Universite McGill 

Diplome: Maitrise est Arts 

Ce memoire met en comparaison les concepts presentes dans la Dix-septieme 
Discussion de I'oeuvre Tahafut al-Falasifa d'al-Ghazali avec des concepts qui sont 
actuellement tres discutes dans le domaine de la physique quantique. Envisagee comme 
une attaque contre la pensee neoplatonicienne et aristotelicienne qui s'opposait a la 
theologie orthodoxe de I'islam medieval, la Tahafut aUFalasifa (L' incoherence des 
philosophes) met en question la comprehension de la realite physique proposee par les 
philosophes de Fepoque d'al-GhazalT. La Dix-septieme Discussion en particulier, avec 
son but de demontrer la possibilite des miracles, met en doute F acceptation de notions 
comme la causalite necessaire et la surete de I'observation scientifique du monde naturel 

Les dilemmes poses par al-Ghazali dans son oeuvre sont comparables a la theorie 
quantique contemporaine, qui elle met en question des notions acceptees au sujet de la 
nature de la realite materielle. Le caractere causal et deterministe du monde materiel, tel 
comme presente dans la physique classique de Newton, conraience a s'effondrer en face 
d'un nouveau schema de la physique quantique qui nie Fobjectivite de Fobservation 


scientifique, Tandis que la pensee d'al-Gh^all se base sur les premisses de la logique^ 
le travail de physiciens quantiques comme Niels Bohr^ Werner Heisenberg et Max Bom 
est fonde sur Fexperience scientifique. Neanmoins, les deux out provoque une 
reevaluation pMlosophique des limites de la comprehension humaine face a Funivers 

Bien que plusieurs specialistes aient exraiine les arguments d'al-GhazalT a propos 
de la causalite, Fobservation et la nature de la concqjtion humaine de la realite materielle 
dans la Dix-septieme Discussion^ et beaucoup d'aufres aient note un rapport potentiel et 
implicite entre la theorie quantique et les concepts de la religiosite, il n'y a qu'une^ -Karen 
Harding, qui ait tente une synthese des idees proposees par ces deux domaines 
apparemment divers. Pm" consequent, ce memoire, a Fexemple de Harding, tache de 
formuler une nouvelle analyse comparative des deux. 

Les paralleles traces entre les deux indiquent Fesprit modeme de la pensee d'al- 
GhazalT, ainsi que la possibilite d'appliquer des decouvertes actuelles de la physique 
quantique a une reevaluation de la theologie islmnique de du Fonzieme siecle. De cette 
fagon, ce memoire tente de fi"anchir les fi-ontieres de certains domaines intellectuels, et 
celles du tanps et de Fespace, afin de mieux penetrer la comprehension humaine de sa 
propre conceptualisation materielle et metaphysique de Funivers. 


I am most of all grateful to Allah, The Most Merciful, who clearly has helped 

me in every step of this thesis. 

I am indebted to the faculty of the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill 
University for helping me build my ideas and for the encouragement and support I 
received, both financial and academic, during my studies. Without such encouragement, 
this thesis could not have been written. 

I would like to thank Dr. Eric L. Ormsby, my thesis supervisor, who always 
encouraged and helped me with patience. I also would like to thank Dr. Uner Turgay, 
the head of the department, and the professors Issa J. Boullata, Sajida Alwi, and Wael 
Hallaq for their constant support and guidance. I will forever benefit from their 
encouragement and I am extremely gratefiil to them. 

Special thanks must go to Dawn Richard, Ann Yaxley, and all the staff members and 
fiiends in the Institute of Islamic Studies, who encouraged me and helped me through my 
research and hard work. I also would like to thank the librarians of the Islamic Studies 
Library, Adam Gacek for his general support, and Salwa Ferahian for her assistance in 
providing and locating sources. 

Finally, I would like to add a note of personal gratitude. I would like to thank 
my husband, Asif Devji, who edited my work, and who helped me with patience and 
supported me every time I needed encouragement. My special thanks are also due to my 
mother Zahide Ozkan Yoksuloglu and father, Ali Yoksuloglu, thousands of miles away in 
Adana, Turkey, without whose guidance I would not be the person I am today. 



Abstract ii 

Resume iv 

Acknowledgements vi 

Table of Contents .....vii 



1.1. Introduction 9 

1 .2. The Seventeenth Discussion - On Causality and Miracles 11 

1.3. Fire That Does Not Bum .....13 

1 .4. Transformation and Revivification , 24 

1 .5. Possibilities and Impossibilities 28 

1.6. Conclusion .............32 


2.1. Classical Theory 34 

2.2. Quantum Theory ..36 

2.3. Max Planck 37 

2.4. Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect 40 

2.5 . Bohr and Quantum Jumps 43 

2.6. Compton Scattering .45 

2.7. De Broglie and Matter Waves 46 

2.8. Schrodinger and Wave Mechanics 47 

2.9. Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle 48 

2.10. The Double-slit Experiment 50 

2.11. The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen(EPR) Paper ..........56 

2.12. Schrodinger's Cat Paradox ....................60 

2.13. Bell's Inequality Theorem and Aspect's Experiments .63 

2.14. The Bohmian Interpretation 67 

2.15. The Many-Worlds Merpretation .68 

2.16. Conclusion ..71 



3.1. Causality Under Observation 73 

3.2. Possibilities .80 

3.3. Impossibilities ..84 

3 .4. Prophets, Humans and the Collapse , 92 

3.5. Conclusion .......99 





Abil Hmrnd Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Ghazali (450/1058-505/1 1 1 1) 
is considered among the foremost of Islamic academics Jurists, theologians, mystics and 
philosophers of the last millennium. As impressive as the breadth of his leaming was the 
originality of al-GhazalT's thought and the depth of his influence on the Islamic sciences. 
He gathered in his works all the important intellectual and religious movements of his 
time, and attempted to negotiate among them successfully in his pious search for truth 
and his desire to serve God. The degree of respect and distinction which al-GhazalT 
attained during his lifetime is reflected in the terms of honour with which he was 
acclaimed: the Proof of Islam (hujjat al-Islam), the Ommient of Faith {zain al-din) and 
the Renewer of Religion (mujaddid)} 

During his lifetime, al-Ghazali is thought to have written about four hundred 
books some of which are lost to us today. However, within the abundant work which 
survives, his ideas are as insightful and influential today as they were during his own 

^ W. Montgomery Watt, "Al-Ghazili," Encyclopedia of Islam, (New York: EJ. Brill, 1960) 1038-1042; 
Saeed Sheikh, "Al-GhazilT: Metaphysics," A History of Muslim Philosophy, ed. M. M. Shariff (Karachi: 
Royal Book Company, 1983) 581-593; Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosop hy, New York: 
Colombia University Press, 1970) 244- 261; Fray Luciano Rubio, El Qccasionalismo de los Teologos 
Es peculativos del Islam, (Ediciones Escurialences, 1987) 161-166; Micheal E. Marmura, Introduction, The 
Incoherence of the Philosophers. Tahafut al-Falasifah: a Parallel EngMsh- Arabic Text, by Abu Himid al- 
Ghazali, trans. Micheal E. Marmura (Provo, Utah: Brigham University Press, 1997) xv-xix; Ismail Hakki 
Izmirli, Islamda Felsefe Akmilan (Istanbul: Istanbul Kitapevi, 1995)177-204. 

^ Some of the books of Ghazali that are read today are al-Munqidh min aUDalal (Deliverance from error), 
Ihya ulum al-din (The Revival of Religious sciences), Kitab al-Jawahir al-Qur'an ( The Jewels of the 

Qur'an), Maqasid al-falasifa (The Intentions of Philosophers), Al4qtisadfi'l4tiqad (Moderation in belief), 
Mi'ydr al- Him ( The Standard for Knowledge), al-Durra al-Fakhirafi Kashf 'Ulum al-Akhira (The 

Precious Pearl), al-Maksad al-Asnafi Shark Asma ' Allah al-Husna (The Highest Aim in the Commentary 

on the Beautiful Names of God). For chronology and full list of Ghazali's works, see, G.F. Hourani, "The 

A most unique aspect of al-Ghazill's thinking is the open-minded spirit of Ms 
investigative pursuit and his consistent rejection of dogma. For him, all knowledge was 
worthy of examination and none was to be avoided. Before al-GhazalT, dialectically 
competing fields of inquiry such as classical philosophy and theology were considered 
intellectually distinct within the academic milieu of Medieval Islam. Philosophical works 
translated from Greek were beginning to pose threatening questions about the rationality 
of faith. Al-Ghazali's intuitive belief that theology would be supported and even 
affirmed by other fields of knowledge, such as logic, led him to attempt a reconciliation 
between them.^ His success in bringing the two together marked a turning point in the 
history of Islamic thought. With his astounding breadth of background in several fields, 
al-GhazalT possessed the rare intellectual capacity to be able to compare and draw 
parallels between and among such seemingly diverse fields."^ 

Al-Ghazali's Tahafut al-Falasifa, (Incoherence of the Philosophers), thought to 
have been written between 1091 and 1095, is one of the best examples of his 
dialectical method of discourse. In the work, al-Ghazali deftly presents his arguments, at 
times as an Ash'arite, at times as an Aristotelian, Mid at times as a neo-Platonist. Thus 
although Tahafut aUFalasifa is indeed a polemical work, it is nevertheless also 

Chronology of Ghazali's Writings," JRAS 79 (1959): 225-33; W. Montgomery Watt, The Faith and 
Practice of al-Ghazill (London, 1953). 

^ See for exanf^le Micheal Marmura, "al-Ghazali's Attitude to tiie Secular Sciences and Logic," Essays on 
the Islamic Philosophy and Science, ed. George F. Hourani (Albany: State University of New York Press, 
1975); Marmura, "al- Ghazili and Demonstrative Science," Journal of The History of Philosop hy 3 (1965): 

1 83-204; Van den Bergh, "al-GhazilT's Gratitude towards God and its Greek Sources," Studia Islamica 7 
(1957): 77-98). 

^ C. A. Qadir, Philosophy and Science in the Islamic World (Kent: Mackays of Chatham LTD., 1988) 96- 
100; For a con^lete study of Ghazali's life see for exanqjle W. Montgomery Watt, Muslim Intellectual: A 
Study of al-GhazalT (Edinburg: Edinburg University Press), 1963; Mustafa Abu-Sway, al-Ghazali: A Study 

in Islamic Epistemology ( Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, 1996). 

sophisticatedly philosophical, and often accepts the plausible points of its interlocutors in 
the spirit of intellectual pursuit. In it, al-Ghazali attacks not philosophy /?er se, but rather 
lays out the contradictions within the thinking of the philosophers of his time, whom he 

believed had deviated from the straight path of religion. Al-Ghazali's proposed aim and 
method in the book are outlined as follows: 

Let it be known that [our objective] is to alert those who think well of the 
philosophers and believe that their ways are free from contradiction by 
showing the [various] aspects of their incoherence. For this reason, I do not 
enter into [argument] objecting , except as one who demands and denies, not 
as one who claims [and] affirms. I will render murky what they believe in [by 
showing] conclusively that they must hold to various consequences [of their 
theories]. Thus I will force on them at one time necessary adherence to 
Mu'tazilite doctrine, at times to that of the Karamiyya, at yet another to that 
of the Waqifiyya, I will not rise to the defense of any one doctrine, but will 
make all the sects as one group against them. For the rest of the sects may differ 
from us in matters of detail, whereas these [philosophers] challenge the [very] 
principles of religion.^ 

Clearly then, Tahdfut al-Faldsifa is a work written not to put forward or defend a specific 
line of reasoning, but rather one which chooses from among the many already available in 
order to mount a dialectic attack on accepted notions within philosophy. 

In his introduction to the book, al-Ghazali begins by showing how the 
philosophers of his time were divided into three camps, based on their epistemological 
approaches to religion: the materialists (dahriyyun), the naturalists or deists {tabfiyyun), 
and the theists (Ilahiyyun), The first group, the materialists, were the philosophers who 
according to al-Ghazali rejected the concept of God as the supreme creator and held that 

^ Abu Himid al-Ghazili, The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Tahifiit al-Falisifa: a Parallel English- 
Arabic Text , trans. Micheal E. Marmora (Provo, Utah: Brigham University Press, 1997) 7-8. (Here on 
Tahafut ) 

the universe was an eternal^ self-subsisting system which had developed and operated on 
its own, and which could therefore be studied according to its own laws. The second 
group, the naturalists or deists, who studied the sciences of natural phenomena, held that 
each entity in the universe, and the universe itself, showed a wondrous purpose and 
wisdom behind it which evidenced the existence of God as a wise creator. However, they 
denied theological concepts such as spirituality and the immortality of the human soul, 
resurrection, the day of judgment, and heaven and hell, all of which seemed to run 
counter to their logic, proposing that such ideas were simply pious fictions. The third 
group, the theists, were the philosophers who al-GhazalT felt examined and refuted the 
views of the materialists and the naturalists effectively. Such thinkers as Socrates, 
Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle and later their followers in the Islamic world, al-Farabl (d. 
950) and Ibn Slna (Avicenna) (d. 1037),^ who translated and commented on their works 
extensively, were for al-Ghazali the best among this group. However, they too needed to 
be examined and refuted on their own grounds on several points. ^ 

hi his introduction, al-GhazalT finther categorizes the philosophical sciences into 
six fields: mathematics, logic, politics, ethics, physics and metaphysics. He 
systematically anal^es each in tum in order to test their validity on the basis of factual 
data and the principles of reason. According to his analysis, the bulk of the errors of the 
philosophers are contained within their theories on metaphysics. Al-Ghazali finds 
metaphysics to be mere conjecture on the part of the philosophers, and does not believe 

^ For a contrary argument see Mes Jannes, "Al-Ghazili's Tahafut: Is it really a Rejection of Ibn Sina's 
Philosophy?" Journal of Islamic Studies 12.1 (2001): 1-17. 

^ SheiMi 592-596. 

that in it are contained any truths grounded in reason or positive inquiry. Tahafut al- 
Falasifa thus primarily attacks the metaphysical views of the philosophers on the basis of 
accepted orthodox beliefs. Philosophers like al-Farabi and Ibn Sma, who expressed 
numerous metaphysical speculations, had in al-Ghazali's view departed from the truth 
revealed in the Qur'an. He does not refrain from calling them heretics^ mid blames them 
for following their whims into the depths of Greek philosophy while ignoring the 
inconsistencies between their trust in Hellenism and the Qur'an.^ 

At a time when classical philosophy was presenting a severe challenge to Islamic 
orthodoxy, al-GhazalT's basic argument was that the positive facts of reMgion could not be 
disproved, and for the philosophers to claim otherwise was disingenuous, hi Tahafut at- 
Falasifa he therefore goes about showing how many of their arguments were logically 
suspect and contradictory, but more than that, how some of their basic assumptions were 
unfounded, in this way discrediting the validity of their system as a whole.^ 

Tahafut al-Falasifa is divided into two sections. The first part of the book 
critiques the philosophers' metaphysical propositions in sixteen discussions, hi the 
second part of the book, al-GhazalT moves on to the natural sciences, critiquing the 
philosophers' theories on natural phenomena in the final four discussions, hi an 
introduction to this second section of the book, al-Ghazali explains that he will here 
examine those of the natural sciences whose discourses he finds run contradictory to 
accepted ideas within the religious sciences. *° 

Sheikh 592-596; Marmura Introduction xv-xix. 
^ Sheikh 592-596 
^^ Marmura Introduction xv-xix. 

The first of these final four discussions^ the Seventeenth Discussion^ 'On miracles 
and causality,' attempts to prove the possibility of the occurrence of miracles in the 
physical world. In order to accomplish this, al-Ghazali attacks the sources of knowledge 
of the philosophers who rejected such a possibility. He calls into question the 
observations on which they based their opinions and their understmiding of the 
physical principles by which the natural world operated. Using logical and theological 
reasoning, al-Ghazali slowly deconstructs the arguments of the philosophers before 
mounting counter-arguments in support of the possibility of the miraculous. 

Until relatively recently, the Newtonian concept of the universe has held as the 
dominant framework through which the physical world has been understood. 
Newton's ideas gave rise to the field of classical physics, which has since held sway over 
the hard sciences. However, in 1900 Max Planck stumbled upon a surprising discovery 
in the midst of an experiment. What he found was that energy flows not in smooth 
streams, but in separated and distinct 'packages' which he referred to as quanta. His 
discovery launched a revolution in the field of physics, and indeed in physicists' 
conceptions of physical reality. Since then, quantum theory has developed as a 
competing field of inquiry in its own right; one which has questioned and discredited 
commonly held notions such as the deterministic nature of the universe and the possibility 
of objectivity in scientific observation. The new knowledge provided by quantum physics 
has consequently led to a philosophical reevaluation of the place of human consciousness 
in the physical realm. 

What is perhaps smprising is that the new information provided by quantum 
physics tends to support the view of the natural world espoused by al-GhazalT in the 12th 
century. Although there are clearly gaps between the work of a Medieval Islamic 
theologian and that of a modem physicist, parallel concepts such as the rejection of 
causality and the limits of scientific observation run through the thinking of both. 
This thesis thus attempts a comparative analysis between these two seemingly divergent 
subjects, with the aim of contemporizing the thinking of al-Ghazali and universalizing the 
concepts of quantum theory. 

As can be expected, little scholarship has yet been accomplished in bringing 
together these fields of knowledge. As such, what this thesis attempts is highly original. 
It finds a predecessor in only one previous scholar, Karen Harding, whose relatively short 
paper "Causality then and Now: Al-Ghazall and Quantum Theory,"" grasps at only some 
parallels between the two. In general, however, research for this thesis has had to be 
conducted along two separate but parallel paths, and this is reflected in its structure. 

This thesis follows a comparative method of analyses. For this reason, the 
examination has been divided into three sections. In the first section a thorough review of 
the ideas contained in the Seventeenth Discussion is presented. The second section 
presents a review of the history of and dominant concepts discussed within the field of 
quantum physics. In the third section, a comparative analysis of the two is undertaken. 

" Karen Harding, "Causality Then and Now: Al-GhazilT and Quantum Theory." The American Journal of 
Islamic Social Sciences 10.2 (1993): 165-177. 

The reader may find the logical flow of this structure jarring and counter-intuitive 
at points, but it should be kept in mind that only following a thorough understanding of 
both of the main subjects, al-GhazalT's theology and quantum theory, can an informed 

connection be made between the two. 


1« 1, Introduction 

In the introduction to the second part of the book al-GhazalT states that he will 
first examine the concept of necessary causal connection, which the philosophers 
accepted and which he denies: 

The first is their judgment that this connection between causes and effects 
that one observes in existence is a connection of necessary concomitance, 
so that it is within neither [the realm of] power not within [that of] possibility 
to bring about the cause without the effect or the effect without the cause/ 

Al-GhazalT further states that he will attempt to refute the existence of a clear 
connection between what is considered cause and what is considered effect. This will 
form the basis of his defense of the miraculous, as he explains below: 

The contention over the first [theory] is necessary, in as much as [on its 
refutation] rests the affirmation of miracles that disrupt [the] habitual [course 
of nature], such as changing the staff into a serpent, revival of the dead, the 
splitting of the moon.^ 

He begins by separating the miracles that the philosophers accepted from those that they 
refused. According to al-GhazalT, the philosophers had themselves affirmed three 
instances of miracles. The first was the ability to foresee future events based on the 
'Imaginative faculty," Whereas ordinary people could have this ability in their dreams, 

^ Abu Himid al-Ghazill, The Incoherence of tiie Philosophers. Tahafiit al-Falasifa: a Parallel English - 
Arabic Text , trans. Micheal E. Marmura (Provo, Utah: Brigham University Press, 1997) 166 (Here on 
Tahafut) . 

^Tahafiit 166. 

al-Ghazall relates, prophets can achieve this during their normal daily lives. The second 
was intuitive ability, related to the "theoretical rational faculty." Intuition, according to 
the philosophers, was the ability of the human mind to move from one object of 
knowledge to another in a quick transition. For example, when a person is told about a 
thing that is proved the person quickly realizes the proof that led to that conclusion; and 
when the person is told the proof, the person quickly reaUzes what is proved. "It may be 
the case," al-GhazalT states, "that the intuition of a holy and pure soul would proceed 
uninterruptedly [as to grasp] all the intelligibles in the quickest of times." Such a person 
would be a prophet, who would without instruction miraculously immediately 
comprehend all of the intelligibles, so much so that it would be as though he leams them 
all by himself The third of the accepted miracles relates to "the practical faculty of the 
soul." The philosophers agreed that the soul had the power of influence over the body, 
and that in the case of a prophet, it was possible that the soul could reach a point in its 
strength where it could exert influence not only over the prophet's own body but would 
also be able to be effective on the objects in the environment. Thus, as it is possible for 
the parts of his body to obey the prophet's soul, it is not impossible for other bodies to 
obey his soul also. The philosophers agreed that it was therefore possible for the prophets 
to perform miracles such as causing a storm, rain, or an earthquake to annihilate a 
community of people, all of which are contingent on the occurrence of coldness, heat, or 
motion in the atmosphere. These things then can be generated from the soul of the 
prophet and without an apparent natural cause. However, the philosophers put a limit to 


this idea, as they beHeved that these things could only occur in an atmosphere that was 
disposed to receive such actions. ^ 

Al-Ghazali openly admits, "we do not deny anything they have mentioned and 
[agree] that this belongs to the prophets." But he disagrees with their confining 
themselves to it. The second group of miracles, those which the philosophers had denied 
outright or accepted in a way inconsistent with what was revealed in the Qur'an, he felt 
ought to be accepted completely also. These included the possibility of the changing of 
the staff into a serpent, the revivification of the dead and the splitting of the moon."^ He 
therefore prepares the reader for the Seventeenth Discussion of Tahafut al-Falasifa, "On 
Causality and Miracles," both "to affirm miracles and for something else — namely, to 
support what all Muslims agree on, to the effect that God has power over all things."^ 

1.2. The Seventeenth Discussion - On Causality and Miracles 

The Seventeenth Discussion of Tahafut al-Faldsifa, "On Causality and Miracles," 
focuses specifically on proving the possibility of miracles. Al-GhazalT begins the first 
part of the discussion with a statement that shows he clearly refiises the concept of 
necessary connection between cause and effect by saying that "the connection between 

^ TaMfut l67. 

^ However, Ghazili does not mention the splitting of the moon again. 

^ Tahafut 168-169; also see George Giacaman and Raja BaMul, "Ghazall on Miracles and Necessary 
Connection," Medieval Philosophy and Theology 9 (2000): 39-50; Barry S. Kogan, "The Philosophers al- 
Ghazali, and Averroes on Necessary Connection and the Problem of the Miraculous," Islamic Philosophy 
and Mysticism , ed. Parviz Morewedge (New York: Caravan Books, 1981) 1 13-132; Blake D. Button, 
"Al-Ghazili on Possibility and the Critique of Causality," Medieval Philosophy and Theology 10 (2001): 
38; Marmura, Al-Ghazali's Second Causal Theory 85-87. Alai Alon, "Al-Ghazili on Causality," Journal of 
die American Oriental Society 100 (1980): 397-405. 


what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed an effect is not 
necessary, according to us." ^ 

Al-GhazalT's basic argument against necessary causation is premised upon the 

following Aristotelian logicaf assertion: 

. . . [with] any two things where 'this' is not 'that' and 'that' is not 'this,' and 
where neither the affirmation of the one entails the affirmation of the other nor 
the negation of the one entails negation of the other, it is not a necessity of the 
existence of the one that the other should exist, and it is not a necessity of the 
nonexistence of the one that the other should not exist.^ 

The argument states that a presumed cause and a presimied effect are in fact two separate 
and unconnected events. In order to explain this point fiirther, al-GhazalT provides 
examples of assumed cause-effect pairs, such as "the quenching of thirst and drinking, 
satiety and eating," as well as "burning and contact with fire" and "death and 
decapitation," all of which, according to his premise, are in fact separable and 
unnecessary for one another to exist. For al-GhazalT, the Ash' ante theologian, only a 
single source is responsible for all connections: 

. . .all [that is] observable among connected things in medicine, astronomy, arts, 
and crafts. Their connection is due to the prior decree of God, who creates them 
side by side, not to its being necessary in itself, incapable of separation. On the 
contrary, it is within [divine] power to create satiety without eating, to create 

^ Tahifiit 170. 

^ Goodman states that "here al-Ghazali uses no other basis for his argument beyond Aristotle's 
correspondence tiieory of truth (in making the transition from events to propositions and back) and the 
Aristotelian rules of logical conversion in deducing that if two propositions imply one another a 
contradiction must rise from the affirmation of one and tiie denial of the other. No reference is made to the 

atomism of the Kalam, or to the Kaldm occasionalism." Lenn E. Goodman, "Did Al-GhazalT Deny 
Causality?" Studia Islamica 47 (1978): 86. 

^ Tahafiit 170. 


death without decapitation, to continue Mfe after decapitation, and so on to all 
connected things. The philosophers denied the possibility of [this] and claimed 
it to be impossible.^ 

13. Fire That Does Not Burn 

Al-GhazilT dwells on one example for much of the remainder of this discussion; 
the "burning of cotton. . .when in contact with fire." This he chooses in order to connect it 
with a miracle, namely the miracle of the prophet Abraham who was thrown into fire by 
his people and did not bum: 

For we allow the possibility of the occurrence of the contact without the buming, 
and we allow as possible the occurrence of the cotton's transformation into burnt 
ashes without contact with the fire. [The philosophers], however, deny the 
possibility of this.^° 

In order to call into question the philosophers' logic denying the possibility of this 
miracle, al-Ghazali first outlines the two positions which they have presented against it." 
It should be noted here that one of al-Ghazill's repeated dialectical strategies is to refute 
the arguments that the philosophers have already made as well as arguments which he 
anticipates they will make. 

The first of the philosophers' positions is that the fire alone is the agent, and that 
its agency is by nature; therefore, buming happens necessarily and not by choice. In other 

^ Tahafiit 170; according to Marmura, what Ghazili means by saying *side by side' is not "one following the 
other" but that they are concomitant to each other. Marmura also gives us the information here that GhazalT 
is denying the idea of essential causality of Avicenna. See Tahafut 242; Marmura, "Ghazilian Causes and 
Intermediaries," rev. of Creation and the Cosmic System: Al-GhazalT and Avicenna , by Richard Frank, 
Joumal of the American Oriental Society 115.1 (1995): 91-92. 

^Q Tahafut 170471. 

^^ Tahafut 170-171. It should also be noted here that al-GhazalT proposes three different positions to prove 

Ms point but gives only two. 


wordSj fire can not refrain itself from burning an object that is able to receive its effect. 
Al-Ghazali completely denies this view^ firstly on a basis very similar to Ash'arite 
atomism, in which it was widely held that every object mid event, atoms and accidents, 

are due to God's decree. ^^ 

. . .And this is one of the things we deny. On the contrary, we say: 

The one who enacts the buming by creating blackness in the cotton, [causing] 
separation in its parts, and making it cinder as ashes, is God, either through 
the mediation of His angels or without mediation. ^^ 

Further, to respond to the philosophers who defend their opinions based on logic, 
al-Ghazali is not at all incapable of producing logical refiitations in his argument in a 
manner that shows that he does not solely argue from the point of belief: 

As for fire, which is inanimate, it has no action. For what proof is there that 
it is the agent? They have no proof other than observing the occurrence of the 
buming at the [juncture of] contact with the fire. Observation, however, [only] 
shows the occurrence [of buming] at [the time of the contact with the fire]. 

^^ Ash^irites held that everything that God created (matter, time, space and motion) consisted of two basic 
elements, namely atoms and accidents. Atoms were accepted as indivisible. As a result of atomizing mater, 
space, time and motion the Ash'arites saw the universe as consisting of separate and independent entities. 
They denied the Aristotelian necessary causal connection between bodies. For them things in nature could 
neither posses any causal power nor could they have any ability to create another thing. All the motion and 
change in the world is caused by God. Things in the world do not have any permanent nature. Fire, for 
exan^le, does not have an inherent permanent power or quality of buming. When a substance like cotton 
touches fire, it is only God who creates buming in the cotton, not fire. The Ash*arites, thus denied the 
Aristotelian cause and effect correlation and denied that causes create effects. They held strong on the idea 
of God's constant intervention with the universe. They wanted to maintain that God has the ultimate power, 
that God is constantly practicing power and control over creations. Ash'arites held atomism also for proving 
miracles as literally true. The earliest atomism of Islamic theology is thought to have derived from Greek 
sources, such as from Democritus and Epicurus, however, Indian sources are also acknowledged. For more 
information on this subject see Sholomo Pines. Studies in Islamic Atomism, trans. Michael Scwarz, ed. Tzvi 
Langermann (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, Magness Press, 1997); Majid Fakhry, Islamic 
Occasionalism . (London: George Allen and Unwin LTD, 1958), 17-48; George Makdisi, "Ash*ari and the 
Ash'arites in Islamic Religious History," Studia Islamica 17 (1960): 19-39; Andrey Smimow, "Causality 
and Islamic Thought," A Companion to World Philosophies, eds. Eliot Deutsch and Ron Bontekoe 
(Maiden, Massachesetts; Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997) 593-503. 



but does not show the occuirence [of burning] by [the fire] and that there is no 
other cause for it. ^^ 

Mere observation is not enough for al-Ghazali. The concurrence of two events in no way 
proves that one of them caused the other. 

Al-Ghazili builds on this argument by providing examples of similar situations in 
which philosophers have agreed upon the idea of God's being the sole agent. One of 
these examples is of a sperm that is placed in a womb. Al-GhazalT reminds the 
philosophers that faculties such as seeing, hearing, the life of the sperm itself, or the 
inftision of spirit are accepted by them not to be brought about 'by' the parent or 'by' its 
placement in the womb but by God alone: 

It is known that these [come to] exist with [the placing of the sperm], but no one 
says that they [come to] exist by it. Rather, they exist from the direction of the 
First, either directly or through the mediation of the angels entrusted with 
temporal things. ^^ 

Al-GhazalT concludes the argument by showing that to find the cause behind the effect 
one can not trust observation, because observation may show things other than the causes. 
The cause of something, therefore should mean that the thing is brought about 'by' it, 
according to al-Ghazall; 'with' it, on the other hand, is something quite different. 

Al-Ghazali then presents an example to show fiirther proof that observation does 
not take one to the truth, and in fact it is prone to error. According to him, it is very easy 
to mistake the cause of things based on mere observation. This time his example 
describes a person who is bom blind and has never experienced the difference between 

^^ Tahafut lTl. 



night and day. Al-Ghazali says that if such a person were to start seeing daylight and 

colors, the person, based on his observation, would firmly and wrongly hold that sight 

came to him because of the opening of the eyes; however, when night came and darkness 

fell, the person would realize that in fact the colors and everything else that he could see 

were due to the dayli^t. These, according to al-Ghazali, are a sequence of wrong 

impressions of natural events which the person observes and comes to a conclusion based 

on his observations. The real cause, al-GhazalT repeats, is God alone. ^^ 

hi order to attack the philosophers on their own grounds, al-GhazalT presents a 

proof based on their accepted neo-Platonic notions. He puts forth inferences that would 

necessarily follow based on principles that the philosophers who supported the idea of 

emanation^^ would have to accept. Again, his argument is about the fallibility of 


Whence can the opponent safeguard himself against there being among the 
principles of existence grounds and causes from which these [observable] 
events emanate when a contact between them takes place— admitting] that 
[these principles], however, are permanent, never ceasing exist; that they 
are not moving bodies that would set; that were they either to cease to exist 
or to set, we would apprehend the dissociation [between the temporal events] 
and would understand that there is a cause beyond what we observe? This 
[conclusion] is inescapable in accordance with the reasoning based on [the 

^^ Mamiura Al-GhazilT's Second Causal Theory 89. 

*^ Theory of enmnation in Islamic thought comes from al-Faribi. His theory explains tiie origin of creation 
by emanation in a hierarchical order from a Necessary First Cause. The First Cause is both Intelligent and 
Intelligible^ as well as unique and it has no opposites. From the first Cause emanated a second intelligence 

necessarily when the First Cause realized Itself. The third intelligence emanated necessarily from the second 
when the second intelligence realized the First and itself, and Ms continued until the tenth intelligence from 
which the earthly four material causes emanated. Al-Farabi's theory of cosmos is thought to have its roots in 
the thoughts of Plotinus and the school of Alexandria. For more information see Ibrahim Madkour^ 
"Al-Faribi," Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism, ed. Parviz Morewedge (New York: Caravan Books, 1981) 
450-468; Muhsin Mahdi, "Al-Farabi and the Foundation of Philosophy," Islamic Philosophy and 
Mysticism , ed. Parviz Morewedge ( New York: Caravan Books, 1981) 3-21; Therese-Anne Druart, 
"Al-Farabi's Causation of the Heavenly Bodies," Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism, ed. Parviz Morewedge 
(New York: Caravan Books, 1981) 35-45, also see bibliography. 


philosophers' own] principle. 


How is it possible for the philosophers to claim that the idea of causality is completely 
true, al-Ghazali seems to be askings while they simultaneously hold the theory of 
emanation as true? The contradiction is anchored in the fact that one cannot prove that 
the causes of temporal events don't actually come from the principles of existence 
(which were accepted to be angels or celestial bodies). It is possible that the causes and 
effects observed between objects could all be coming from these principles, but because 
they do not set or die, we do not see that they are the real causes. Based simply on 
observation of the objects around us, it is not possible to prove that these causes are not 
from those principles. Although it is unclear at this point whether al-GhazalT himself 
accepts the notion of causality as coming from the principles of existence, it seems that he 
is only playing the part of a neo-Platonist in order to deliver another proof to the 
philosophers who accepted the concept of emanation, to show them that his argument 
against the inherent necessity between causes and effects in the observable world still 
holds, even according to their own description of nature. ^^ 

Al-Ghazali then tums to the philosophers whom he refers to as "the exacting 
among them." They are those who accepted that the real cause of, for example, sight, or 
"the imprinting of the form of color in the eye comes from the bestower of the forms" and 
that "the sun's appearance, the healthy pupil and the colored body" are only "preparers for 
the receptacle's acceptance of these forms." Those who have made this case for all 

^^ Tahifat l72. 

^^ Fray Luciano Rubio, El Qccasionalismo de los Teologos Especulativos del Islam (Ediciones 

Escurialences, 1987) 188-189: Marmura Al-Ghazalf s Second Causal Theory 85-89. 


temporal events show an inconsistency among the philosophers while weakening the case 
for an inherent necessity between presumed causes and effects: 

With this, the claim of those who proclaim that it is fire that enacts the burning, 

that it is bread that enacts satiety, that it is medicine that produces health, and 
so on, becomes false. ^° 

Up to this point, al-GhazalT has been responding to the philosophers' first position 
against the possibility of the miracle of the prophet Abraham's not buming in the fire, 
based on the concept of fire being an agent which cannot refrain from buming. 
Al-GhazalT's response has included an attack on the inherent necessity of the cause and 
effect relationship, evidence of the fallibility of observation, and a pointing out of the 
contradictions within the philosophers' thinking. His attack has incorporated Ash'arite, 
Aristotelian, and neo-Platonic thinking, as has been strategically useful. 

Having thus refuted the philosophers' first position, al-GhazalT at this point tums 
his attention to their second position: 

The second position belongs to those who admit that these temporal events 
emanate from the principles of temporal events, but that the preparation of the 
reception of the forms comes about through these present, observed causes— 
except that these principles are also [such that] things proceed from them 
necessarily and by nature, not by way of deliberation and choice, in the way 
[that] light proceeds from the sun, receptacles differing in their reception 
because of the differences [of] disposition. ^^ 

What al-GhazalT seems to reject here is not the notion of emanation but the notion of 
necessity in the actions of the principles of temporal events. The example of sunlight, 

^^ Tahafut l72. 
^* Tahiflit 172. 


which radiates with an undiscriminating strength over all that it touches, is given to 
exemplify such natural necessity — only "the differences of the disposition in the 
receptacle" can determine whether sunlight illuminates, is reflected or is absorbed. In the 
same way, the philosophers proposed, the principles of existence are constantly 
inundating all receptacles to the same degree without withholding any from any. They 
thus reasoned that if two similar pieces of cotton were brought to fire, which is 
necessarily undiscriminating, they would both bum equally. Applying these principles, 
the philosophers denied the possibility of the miracle in which the prophet was cast into 
fire and did not bum. The only way this could be possible, they argued, is "by taking the 
heat out of fire ~ which makes it no longer fire — or by changing the essence and body of 
Abraham into stone or something over which fire has no effect," neither of which they 
accepted as possible. 

Al-GhazalT's response to this position takes two approaches. The first approach is 
based on refiiting the assumption that God does not act voluntarily. Throughout his 
arguments below, he reasserts his contention that God's will and actions are not 
involuntary and necessitated. This point should be kept in mind because as al-Ghazali 
pursues his argument he does not clearly express this, building the argument instead 
around the premise that the agent's actions are voluntary he says he does not "concede that 
the principles do not act by choice and that God does not act voluntarily," ^^ 

^^ Tahifut 173. GhazilT here also refers the reader to the 3'^ discussion of Tahafiit in which he rejects and 
attacks the notions of the philosophers on tiie act and will of God as necessarily coming from God's 
Essence or Nature. For more information see Marmura, Al-Ghazali's Second Causal Theory 86-87. For a 
more extensive description see Saeed Sheikh^ "Al-Ghazali: Metaphysics," A History of Muslim Philosophy, 
ed. M. M. Shariff (Karachi: Royal Book Company, 1983) 598-601. 


Here al-Ghazali's position as an Ash* ante theologian is that God acts voluntarily. 
Thus God "through His will creates the burning" of cotton when in contact with the fire. 
This proposition gives way to the next proposition that "it becomes rationally possible 
[for God] not to create the burning with the existence of fire." Here al-Ghazali clearly 
states the agency of God as the ultimate cause of everything, including the perceived as 
cause Mid effect relationship. ^^ 

Anticipating the philosophers' objection that if one accepts the possibility of fire 
not burning, then one must also allow for other unreasonable possibilities and "repugnant 
contradictions/' al-GhazalT carefiiUy prepares the way for his response: 

It may be said: . . ..if one denies the effects follow necessarily fi-om their causes 
and relates them to the will of their Creator, the will having no specific designated 
course but [a course that] can vary and change in kind, then let each of us allow 
the possibility of there being in fi-ont of him ferocious beasts, ranging fi"om fires, 
high mountains, or enemies ready with their weapons [to kill him], but [also the 
possibility] that he does not see them because God does not create for him [the 
vision of them]. And if someone leaves a book in the house, let him allow as 
possible its change on his returning home into a beardless slave boy— intelligent, 
busy with his tasks— or into an animal; or if he leaves a boy in his house, let him 
allow the possibility of his changing into a dog; or [again] if he leaves ashes, [let 
him allow] the possibility of its change into musk; and let him allow the possibility 
of stone changing into gold and gold into stone. If asked about any of this, he 
ought to say: 'I do not know what is at the house at the present. All I know is 
that I have left a book in the house, which is perhaps now a horse. . . .For God is 
capable of everything, and it is not necessary for the horse to be created fi'om the 
sperm, nor the tree to be created from the seed-indeed, it is not necessary for 
either of the two to be created from anything. Perhaps [God] has created things 
that did not exist previously.' hideed, if [such as person] looks at a human being 
he has seen only now and is asked whether such a human is a creature that was 
bom, let him hesitate and let him say that it is not impossible that some fruit in 
the marke^lace has changed into a human, namely this human-for God has 
power over every possible thing, and this thing is possible-hence, one must 
hesitate in [this matter]. ^^ 

^^ Maraiura, Al-Ghazili's Second Causal Theory 85-1 12; Rubio 189-191; Giacaman and BahM 45; Alon 

^^Tahafiit 173-174. 


In response, al-Ghazlli defends the position that God is able to do eiything and has 
power over eveiything. These seeming impossibilities are thus all possible for God if 
God chooses to do them?^ "If it is established that the possible is such that there cannot 
be created for man knowledge of its nonbeing," he argues, then "these impossibilities 
would necessarily follow." In other words, if God had not created in human beings the 
ability to conceive of the possible not occurring, then the philosophers' reasoning would 
hold. However, as the philosophers themselves acknowledged, it is possible for a prophet 
to know, for example, "that a certain individual will not arrive from his joumey tomorrow 
when his arrival is possible, the prophet knowing, however, the nonoccurrence of this 
possible thing." Similarly, one may look at a faithless and ignorant man and yet "one 
does not deny that the soul and intuition [of this ordinary man] may become stronger so 
as to apprehend what the prophets apprehend, in accordance with what the philosophers 
acknowledge— although they know that such a possibility has not taken place." With 
reference to the possible, then, al-Ghazali states: 

We did not claim that these things are necessary. On the contrary, they are 
possibilities that may or may not occur. But the continuous habit of their 
occurrence repeatedly, one time after another, fixes unshakably in our minds 
the belief in their occurrence according to past habit. ^^ 

^^ For different discussions on Ghazili's possibilities see Eric. L. Ormsby, Theodicy in Islamic Thought : 
The Dispute over al-Ghazali's "Best of All Possible Worlds " New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984) 
182-216; Taneli Kukkonen, "Possible Worlds in the Tahaftit al-Falasifa: Al-Ghazali on Creation and 
Contingency," Journal of the History of PMlosophv 38.4 (2000): 479-502; Kukkonen, "Plenitude, 
Possibility, and the Limits of Reason: A Medieval Arabic Debate on Metaphysics of Nature" Journal of 
Historv of Ideas 61.4 (2000): 539-560. 

^^ Tahaftit 174. 


The point being made is similar to al-GhazalT's previous argument about the faUibility of 
observation leading to the false notion of a necessary causality. The distinction here is 
between the possible and the necessary, with a waming that simply because God has 

chosen to allow us to rationaMze that what has tended to occur will continue to occur, that 
doesn't mean that its non-occurrence is impossible: 

If, then, God, disrupts the habitual [course of nature] by making [the miracle] 
occur at the time in which disruptions of habitual [events] take place, these 
cognitions [of the nonoccurrence of such unusual possibilities] slip away from 
[people's] hearts, and [God] does not create them. There is, therefore, nothing to 
prevent a thing being possible, within the capabilities of God, [but] that by His prior 
knowledge He knew that He would not do it at certain times, despite its possibility, 
and that He creates for us the knowledge that He will not create it at that time. ^^ 

That is, if God were to first 'disrupt the habitual course of nature' and then produce a 
miracle, it would become clear that miracles are indeed not impossible. Only because we 
have grown accustomed to the habitual courses of nature do we see these as connected. 

The above constitutes al-Ghazali's first approach in response to what he terms the 
philosophers' "vilifications," or their reductio ad absurdum argument above. He now 
embarks on his second approach, which he begins with the following statement: 

The second approach, with which there is deliverance from these vilifications, 
is for us to admit that fire is created in such a way that if two similar pieces 
of cotton come into contact with it, it would bum both, making no distinction 
between them if they are similar in all respects. ^^ 

Agreeing with the philosophers on this point, al-Ghazali nevertheless holds fast to his 
initial position: 

^^ Tahafut 175. 

' Tahafot 172. 


With all this, however, we allow as possible that a prophet may be cast in the 
fire without being burned, either by changing the quality of the fire or by 
changing the quality of the prophet. ^^ 

He is able to maintain this seemingly contradictory stance by referring to a logic superior 
to yet not contradictory with that of the rational sciences which he has accepted: 

Thus, either there would come about from God or fi'om angels a quality in the 
fire which restricts its heat to its own body so as not to transcend it (its heat 
would thus remain with it, and it would [still] have the form and true nature 
of fire, it's heat and influence, however, not going beyond it), or else there will 
occur in the body of the prophet a quality which will not change him from being 
flesh and bone [but] which will resist the influence of the fire. ^° 

In this way, al-GhazalT is able to defeat the philosophers' argument that the only way for 
the prophet not to be bumed would be for the quality of either the fire or the prophet to be 
changed. Al-Ghazali here presents both as retaining their qualities and yet, through 
divine intercession, the prophet remains unharmed. He provides a tangible example to 
explain his point: "a person who covers himself with talc and sits in a fiery fiimace is not 
affected by it." One who has not seen such an occasion, al-Ghazali argues, will not 
believe this, and the philosophers' denial of the possibility that the prophet who was put 
in fire did not bum is the same. He concludes this argument by stating that God's power 
includes all kinds of possibilities and wondrous things that we have not observed, and we 
cannot deny them as impossible simply on the basis of not being able to observe them. 




1, 4, Transformation and Revivification 

Thus satisfied with his defense of the miracle of the prophet who did not bum in 
fire, Al-GhazalT moves on to his next aim^ to show the possibiMty of the miracles of the 
transformation of the staff of the prophet Moses into a snake and the miracle of the 
prophet Jesus raising the dead. Once again, he finds a way to explain his argument using 
facts and examples that the philosophers used in their own arguments. He starts with one 
of the philosophers' axioms, that "Matter is receptive of all things," and continues to 
explain that the world is in a constant process of change. For example, earth and the 
elements that are contained in earth change into plants, plants due to being eaten by 
animals change into blood, then blood changes into several parts of the body as well as 
the sperm. The fetus in its mother's womb respectively develops in stages slowly. All 
this, "in accordance with habit, takes place in a lengthy period of time." After listing 
such naturally occurring progress and stages of development and change as they are 
accepted by the philosophers, al-GhazalT again connects the argument to the ability and 
power of God and asks: 

why, then, should the opponent deem it impossible that it lies within God's power 
to rotate matter through these stages in a time shorter than has been known? And 
if it is possible within a shorter time, there is no restriction to its being [yet] 
shorter. These powers would thus accelerate in their actions, through [this] there 
would come about what is a miracle for the prophet. ^^ 

That is, the raising of the dead can be seen as simply a regeneration following natural 
courses; the only unusual factor is the rapid time within which it occurs. And surely, to 

^^ Tahafut 176. 


alter time like this is within the power of God, who has created time itself. Once again 
anticipating the objections of the philosophers, al-GhazalT asks their next question for 
them: "Does this proceed from the prophet's soul or from some other principle at the 

suggestion of the prophet?" His response takes the form of another question directed 
back at the philosophers: 

[In] what you have admitted regarding the possibility of the coming down of 
rain [and] of hurricanes and the occurrence of earthquakes through the power 
of the prophet's soul, do [such events] come about from him or from another 
principle? Our statement in [answering your question] is the same as your 
statement in [answering ours]. ^^ 

It is unclear what this statement would be, but al-GhazalT at this point seems to be 
suggesting that both himself and the philosophers have reached the limits of their human 
ability to know such things: 

It is, however, more fitting for both you and us to relate this to God, either 
directly or through the meditation of the angels. The time meriting its 
appearance, however, is when the prophet's attention is wholly directed to 
it and the order of the good becomes specifically [dependent] on its 
appearance so that the order of the revealed law may endure. ^^ 

For al-GhazalT, that such an event is possible, and that its principle is "benevolent 
and generous," give credence to the existence of such miracles. This notion of benevolence is 
applied further by him in explaining when such miracles can occur: 

But it does not emanate from Him except when the need for its existence becomes 
preponderant and the order of the good becomes specified therein. And the order 
of the good becomes specified therein only if a prophet needs it to prove his 

^^ Tahifut l76. 
^^ Tahaftit 176. 


prophethood in order to spread the good. 


This explanation, says al-GhazalT, is consistent with and a necessaiy consequence of what 

the philosophers have accepted — namely, that prophets are given different characteristics 
which are superior to those of normal human beings. Thus al-Ghazall asks why and how 
the philosophers can deny such miracles that have been reported and corroborated by 
multiple sources and by religious law. 

In the discussion which follows, al-GhazalT prepares the way to prove the miracle 
of the staff turning into a seipent. Beginning with the philosophers' accepted ideas on 
"the principles of being," or creation via natural reproduction, al-GhazalT describes how 
only a human is created from human sperm and only a horse from the sperm of a horse, 
"since [to take the latter case] its realization from the horse is the more necessitating of 
preponderance because of the greater appropriateness of the equine form over all other 
forms." In other words, each thing that is reproduced takes its form from its parental 
source because, with the participation of the angels, that specific form is the most 
appropriate and the most necessary one for it. In this way, "wheat has never sprouted 
from barley and apples never from the seed of pears." ^^ 

Although it is unclear whether al-Ghazali takes this theory of reproduction from 
the philosophers for the sake of argument or whether he accepts it himself, it should be 
noted that his argument here seems to imply an acceptance of a type of cause and effect 

^^ Tahifat 176. 
^^ Tahifut 177. 


relationship; this appears to contradict his seemingly total rejection of the necessity of 
causality stated earlier. ^^ 

Continuing this explanation of generation based on what the philosophers 
accepted, al-Ghazali next mentions the creatures that were thought at the time to be 
generated spontaneously. ^^ In doing so he takes another step forward in his aim of 
explaining the miracle of the staff turning into a serpent: 

Moreover, we have seen genera of animals that are [spontaneously] generated 
from earth and are never procreated-as, for example, worms-and others like 
mouse, snake, and the scorpion, that are both [spontaneously] generated and 
procreated, their generation being from the earth. Their dispositions to receive 
forms differ due to things unknown to us, it being beyond human power to know 
them, since, according to [the philosophers], forms do not emanate from the 
angels by whim or haphazardly. ^^ 

The possibility of the transformation of the staff of the prophet into a snake, 
then, seems to be related to the possibility of the naturally spontaneous generation of 
snake-like creatures. It is clear that al-GhazalT is aware that this argument is less 
convincing than the others he has presented, for he cites here the inability of human 
beings to completely comprehend the machinations of the divine. 

According to the philosophers' neo-Platonic theory of emanation, the dispositions 
of created things vary according to certain principles, such as "the configurations of the 
stars and the differing relations of the heavenly bodies in their movements." These 

^^ Marmnra Al-GhazilT's Second Causal Theory 85-86. 

^^ This also is an Aristotelian Thought. For a short description of Aristotle's thoughts on spontaneous 
generation, see A. I. Oparin, "Theories of Spontaneous Generation of Life," The Mystery of Matter, ed. 

Louise B. Young. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965) 277-282; also James Conant, "The 
Controversy Concerning Spontaneous Generation," The Mystery of Matter, ed. Louise B. Young. (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1965) 290- 302. 


Tahafut 177. 


principles of dispositions have been applied by those practicing the talismanic arts^ al- 
Ghazali explains, "to combine the heavenly powers and the special properties of 
minerals" to achieve almost magical results. If such abilities, as it was believed, are 

possible, he asks, then how can the philosophers doubt similar abilities in a prophet: 

If, then, the principles of dispositions are beyond enumeration, the depth of their 
nature is beyond our ken, there being no way to ascertain them, how can we know 
that it is impossible for a disposition to occur in some bodies that allows their 
transformation in phase of development in the shortest time so that they become 
prepared for receiving a form they were never prepared for receiving previously, 
and that this should not come about as a miracle? ^^ 

The sources of the denial of this, according to al-GhazalT, are "our lack of capacity to 
understand, [our lack of] familiarity with exalted beings, and our unawareness of the 
secrets of God." He adds, as a final note, that those who study such sciences are able to 
observe the wondrous and yet not claim that these miracles are beyond the power of God. 

1. 5. Possibilities and Impossibilities 

As he has based much of his argument on the concepts of the possible and the impossible, 
al-Ghazali anticipates the philosophers demand that he define these terms. Indeed, by 
broadening the meaning of 'possible' and reducing the meaning of 'impossible,' one can 
propose clearly false and nonsensical postulates leading to contradictory conclusions. 
For example, there would be no difference between voluntary and involuntary actions; the 
act on the part of the individual would no longer prove either the knowledge or power of 
the agent; and God would also be able to change genera: 

^^ TaMfiit 178. 


[God] would thus change substance into accident, knowledge into power, 
blackness into whiteness, sound into smell, just as He had been able to change 
the inanimate into the animate and stone into gold, and there would follow 
as necessary consequences impossibilities beyond enumeration. ^^ 

Al-Ghazali's response to such a call for definitions is as follows: 

The impossible is not within the power [of being enacted]. The impossible consists 
in affirming a thing conjointly with denying it, affirming the more specific thing 
while denying the more general, affirming two things while negating one [of them]. 
What does not reduce to this is not impossible, and what is not impossible is within 
[divine] power. ^^ 

Nevertheless, examples for the above statements are provided. According to al- 
GhazalT, it is impossible to combine blackness and whiteness, because blackness by 
definition implies the absence of whiteness, and whiteness negates the presence of 
blackness. Once one of them is understood as the negation of the other, then it becomes 
impossible to have the negated with the affirmed. It is also impossible for an individual 
to be in two places at the same time. If an individual is in a house, then, fi"om this, the 
individual's being out of the house is negated. Hence it is impossible to suppose that the 
person is in the house as well as out of the house at the same time. As well, it is 
impossible to create knowledge in inanimate matter, because an inanimate object is 
understood not to have apprehension: 

If apprehension is created in it, then to call it inanimate in the sense we have 
understood becomes impossible. And if it does not apprehend, then to call what 
has been created "knowledge" when its receptacle does not apprehend anything 
is [also] impossible. On the other hand, something has apprehension then our 

calling it inanimate becomes impossible. If matter does not have apprehension, 


Tahifut 179. 
Tahafiit 179. 


then the 'knowledge' created in that matter can not be called 'knowledge', for 
to call it 'knowledge' while it can not receive a is not able to receive knowledge is 
impossible. ^^ 

Regarding the changing of one genera into another, al-Ghazali mentions that some 

of the Islamic dialectical theologi^is accepted this as one of the possibilities for God. He^ 
however, concurs with the philosophers in saying that blackness, for example, cannot 
change into a cooking pot. Were this to happen, the blackness would cease to exist and 
something else, the cooking pot, would come into existence. If a thing stops existing mid 
some other thing comes into existence, then it caimot be said that the first changed into 
second; rather, there is simply the existence of a new and separate thing. Al-GhazalT 
holds that one genera can not change into another genera only because they have no 
common matter between them. "Between accident and substance, there is no common 
matter," he argues, and so, "the transformation between one genera into another is 
impossible." If, however, common matter exists between two objects, it is possible for 
their forms to be changed. Examples of this are blood changing into sperm or water into 
steam, and "the same holds when we say the staff has changed into a serpent and earth 
into animal."^^ Thus for al-GhazalT the staff and the snake both comprise the same 
matter, but in different forms. 

In the next argument, he discusses the possibility, posed as a challenge by the 
philosophers, of God's moving a dead man's hand while the man is in a sitting position, 
his eyes open and his hand writing. The issue being debated was agency. If, as al- 
Ghazall proposed, all things were within the power of God, then human beings possessed 




no agency, and if human beings possessed no agency, then surely it would be possible for 
God to animate a dead man as it is for him to know the fiiture actions of a live one. 
Al-Ghazali at this point again takes a stand as m. Ash' ante theologian:"^ "[This] in itself 
is not impossible as long as we turn over [the enactment of] temporal events to the will of 
a choosing being/' he says. This has been accepted as impossible only "because of the 
continuous habit of its opposite occurring." Al-GhazalT responds to the idea of the "well 
designed act" of a human being with the concept that, "the agent is now God, who is the 
performer of the well-designed act and [the] knower of it." 

A related argument regards voluntary and involuntary actions. The Ash'arite view 
of human action held that it was only God who created human actions, and that humans 
acquired these actions as they are being created in the person. This, the philosophers 
would claim, erased the distinction between volunt^y and involuntary actions. 
According to al-GhazalT, there exists a difference between involuntary actions (i.e., a 
tremor) and voluntary actions. "We apprehend [this difference] in ourselves," he states. 
Voluntary and involuntary actions are different, so much so that we, as humans, have 
expressed "the difference by the term 'power.'" The two actions happen in two different 
states. Voluntary actions happen by "bringing the existence of a motion with the power 
over it" and involuntary actions happen in the state in which the motion comes into 
existence without the power. Al-Ghazali forther explains that involuntary actions are 
from God: 

If however, when we look at another person and see that there are many ordered 


motions, we apprehend this as if all these are within the power of the individual. 
For, these are cognition's which God creates according to the habitual course 
[of events], by which we know the existence of one of the two possible alternatives 
[but] by which the impossibility of the other alternative is not shown as has been 
previously said. ^^ 

Here al-Ghazali refers to his definition of impossibility, in which he explained, for 
example, that the existence of blackness shows the nonexistence of whiteness; when the 
existence of blackness is affirmed, it is impossible to also affirm the existence of 
whiteness. By using the same logic, he explains that in voluntary actions humans hold 
power over their motions, and in involuntary actions human power is lacking. Therefore, 
it can not be said that when an individual has power over her actions, it is possible to call 
those movements involuntary, and that when the human does not have power over her 
actions, it is possible to call them voluntary. Al-Ghazali concludes that the difference 
between voluntary and involuntary actions persists even when it is held possible that God 
can move a dead man's hand and thereby writing is produced. 

1, 6. Conclusion 

The above has been a more or less uncritical presentation of al-Ghazall's ideas in 
the Seventeenth Discussion of Tahafut al-Falasifa, the purpose of which is simply to give 
the reader a sense of his thinking on the nature of physical reality through an examination 
of his arguments. The Seventeenth Discussion has attracted many scholars, who have 
produced invaluable works on al-GhazalT's opinions on causality, the nature and sources 



of knowledge and possibilities and impossibilities, as well as whether his arguments can 
be considered Ash'arite or Aristotelian. ^^ 

The above has been presented within these perspectives, particularly with an eye 
to the commentary of Marmura. For the purposes of this thesis, however, al-GhazalT's 
statements themselves have been given more weight than the scholars' ideas regarding the 
nature or sources of his statements. 

The reader is invited to keep in mind the general tenor of al-GhazalT's thinking on 
the nature of the universe as he or she moves on to the next chapter, which will deal with 
the quantum physics conception of the universe. Although intuitive links may be made at 
this point, it is only in the final chapter that a comparative analysis between the two will 
be attempted. 

^^ For example, according to Turkler, Ghazili shows that tiie connection between cause and effect is not a 
necessary one as it is in nmthematics. Turkler, tJc Tehaflit Bakimindan Felsefe ve Din Mtinaseleti (Ankara: 
Tiirk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 1956) 67-68; Izmirli states that GhazalT denies causality and asserts God's 
ultimate sovereignty over everything. Ismail Hakki Izmirli, Islamda Felsefe Akimlan (Istanbul: Istanbul 
Kitapevi, 1995) 195-196. Fakhry analyzes Ghazali's views of ontological and logical necessity. He 
concludes that Ghazili sees causality as a part of nature and that nature holds a consistency in showing 
cause and effect relationship, however, this is only based on observation. Majid Fakhry, A Historv of 
Islamic Philosop hy, New York: Colombia University Press, 1970) 61; Goodman believes that GhazalT' s 
discussion is made against the notion of causality that the philosophers held and not against causality per se. 
He also explains that this discussion is based on Aristotelian logic and not on theological or atomistic 
perspectives of nature. Goodman 83-120; Alon holds tlmt GhazalT is an Ash^Srite and reconciles the two 
views: theology and philosophy. Alon 397-405; Marmura focuses on whether GhazilT sees the connection 
between cause and effect as a necessary one and concludes tiiat GhazalT argues as an Ash'arite and does not 
hold a necessary connection between causes and effects. Marmura, Al-GhazalT's Second Causal Theory 99; 
Rubio informs us that GhazalT denies necessary causality and he is even a betterAsh'aritethan his 
theological teacher al-Juwayni; Rubio 161-197. Riker, states that GhazilT philosophically defends that 
natural events are in succession of each other but this is not an enough proof for causality. He further states 
that "perhaps best solution is to grant that GhazalT himself may have preferred the first more occasionalist 
view," but also that he accepted natural causality "while still remaining religiously orthodox." Stephen 
Riker. "Al-GhazalT on Necessary Causality." The Monist 79.3 (1996): 321-322 Giacaman and Bahlul, see 
that GhazilT' s holds occasionalism and refuses necessary connection between causes and effects. Giacaman 
and Bahlul 30-50; Abrahamov's conclusion shows that GhazilT combines divine causality with secondary 
causality and that he holds that secondary causes have inherent natures created and maintained by God. 
Binyamin Abrahamov, "Al-GhazilT's Theory of Causality,". Studia Islamica (1988): 75-98. 



As many physicists suggest, the world of quantum mechanics can best be 
understood within the context of its development. This section will present a brief 
history of this fascinating field of physical science, outlining the most important dates, 
figures as well as experiments and results. 

2,1. Classical Theory 

In OUT everyday contemporary reality, our observances and expectations provide 
us the ideas of nature as a continuous, logical and predictable whole. Thus, for example, 
if a bullet hits its target, we say that it was aimed correctly — we know that the bullet 
went through a definite path from the gun to its target and we know that the path was 
determined by the magnitude, direction and velocity of the muzzle. This knowledge we 
possess comes from classical physics, inspired by Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton in the 
late seventeenth century. Newton discovered the laws ofmotion and gravity. His book 
the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural 
Philosophy, published in 1687), explained the laws ofmotion of material bodies, which 
the following generation of scientists used and developed. Newton accepted that the 
motion of a body was determined by the forces that act on that body, but the initial 
position and velocity had to be fixed. Newton also described the motion of the planets as 
moving according to these universal laws ofmotion. Although Newton himself did not 
attribute an inherent necessity of cause and effect — or determinism — to the natural 


worlds these notions eventually followed as a result of his discoveries.^ In a letter to his 
friend Bentley in 1693, Newton wrote the following: 

It is inconceivable that inanimate brute matter should, without mediation of 
some else which is not material, operate upon and effect other matter without 
mutual contact.... That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to 
matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance and through a 
vacuum without the mediation of anything else by and through which their 
action or force maybe conveyed from one to another is to me so great an 
absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters any 
competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused 
by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws, but whether this 
agent be material or immaterial is a question I have left to the consideration 
of my readers. ^ 

As Newton's laws proved accurate under many conditions, they were thought to 
be universally applicable. This acceptance of the laws of motion, in the following 
century, brought with it the implication of the concept of determinism as the new 
paradigm for the interpretation of the universe. Every event, that is, occurred by 
necessity as a result of the action of applied forces. The universe was thus seen as a great 
clockwork set at the beginning of time and left to tick forward with no intervention. In 
this universe all macro- and micro-particles worked with absolute accuracy. Once 
scientific data were gathered about an event, predictions could easily be made about past 

^ Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint (London: Heinemann, 1987) 9; Heinz R. Pagels, The Cosmic Code 
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982) 18-20; Eman McMuUin, "The Explanation of Distant Action," 
PMlosophical Consequences of Quantum Theory, eds. Cushing, James T. and Eman McMullin (Notre 
Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989) 289-302; Ronald Omnes, Quantum Philosophy: 

Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Science, trans. Arturo Sangalli (New Jersey:Princeton 

University Press, 1999) 31-35. 

^ McMullin 290. 


and fixture events. The idea of determinism that was grounded in Newton's explanations 
thus became the basis for all scientific testing. ^ 

The Newtonian theory of nature, today accepted as classical theory, meant that 
nature could be understood by reason and logic, and that the changes in nature could 
accordingly be predicted. For three centuries after the publication of Newton's Principia, 
the mechanical view of nature provided the basis of the science of physics. More 
recently, however, this mechanical view of nature has undergone major convulsions, and 
has developed to give rise to a theory that seems to contradict Newton's initial notion of a 
clockwork universe. This theory has come to be known as quantum theory. 

2,2. Quantum Theory 

Quantum theory was bom by the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning 
of the twentieth century (1900-1926), when experimental physicists contacted the atomic 
structure of matter. The first findings showed that it was randomness and 
uncontrollability, rather than the determinism of Newtonian physics, which modulated 
the entire micro-world. 

Although numerous physicists working on quantum mechanics have explained 
matter's behaviors in mathematical terms, their interpretations could not be gathered 
under one heading, and therefore, several different interpretations by different scientists 
currently exist. Some of these are known as the Copenhagen interpretation, the Many- 
Worlds interpretation, the Bohmian interpretation, the Rational inteipretations, the 

^Davies 9; Pagels 18-20; Wemer Heisenberg, The Physicists Conception of Nature, trans. Arnold J. 
Pomerans. Wesport (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1970) 121-151; Nick Herbert, Quantum 
Reality: Beyond the New Physics (New York: Anchor Press, 1985)1-29; Roberto Torretti, The Philosophy 
of Physics (Cambridge: Cambridge Uniyersity Press, 1999) 20-84. 


Collapse theories of quantum mechanics, Everett's relative-state formulation of quantum 
mechanics, modal interpretations of quantum mechanics, and the Kochen-Specker 
theorem of quantum mechanics. 

23. Max Planck 

Although the laws of classical physics were used by all physicists and accepted as 
valid and credible, several problems arose regarding experiments and their results. Many 
physicists were working on these dilemmas, conducting repeated experiments in the 
hopes of finding results that they could accept. The initial quantum theory grew out of 
the results that could not be explained by the accepted classical concepts. 

It was Max Planck, a German physicist, who brought the first important idea of 
quantum theory in 1900. Before Plank's theory, the classical view of nature as a logical 
continuum was widely accepted. It was believed that forms of matter smoothly blended 
into one another. That is, the physical qualities of the elementary particles of matter, 
such as momentum, position, energy and spin were considered continuous and free of any 
irregularities, or so it was thought. Planck, while working on black bodies,^ derived some 
surprising findings. According to the concepts of classical physics, when high 
temperatures were applied to a black body, the energy emitted, which was measured as 
electromagnetic radiation, was expected to rise steadily. Mathematically speaking, the 
energy inside the heated black body was expected to increase in proportion to the square 
of the fi-equency of the radiation that was produced. This should have eventually resulted 

^ A black body is a sealed container with a small hole that can absorb heat in high temperature. A perfect 
black body is able to absorb all the radiation that is given to it and as a fimction of its energy. It emits 
radiant energy in the most efficient way. Menas Kafatos, and Robert Nadeau, The Conscious Universe: 
Parts and Holes in Physical Reality (New York: Springer, 2000) 20; Amrtin Ernst- Wolfgang Luther, The 
Infinite Voyage: A Metaphysical Odyssey (Minnesota: Marwolf Publishing, 1996) 26. 


in the emission of extreme amounts of energy, termed the 'catastrophe in the ultra-violet.' 
However, Planck's measurements of energy emission in the experiments done on black 
bodies show^ed a bell-shaped curve. That is, the energy emitted rose to a certain point and 
then began to recede, eventually falling to a point where no measurable radiation was any 
longer emitted. This was very different from the predictions, as explained above. Thus, 
Plank's findings caused a dilemma within classical physics, for the results of the 
experiments contradicted the deterministic notion of a natural continuum, which would 
have predicted a continuous rise of the emitted radiation as a factor of the continuing 
increase of the appHcation of heat. Plank, who worked on this question for years, 
eventually came up with a hypothesis that shook the foundation of physics. He 
visualized radiation as an enormous collection of tiny "vibrating oscillators." He came to 
the conclusion, which he later described as "an act of sheer desperation," that the 
radiation of energy from the vibrating charges was not as it had always been formulated. 
By using mathematical argumentation in which he used a new concept (later called 
'Planck's constant'), he theorized that the absorption and emission of energy were not 
continuous but discrete. That is, the exchange of energy was not in a single stream but in 
tiny "lumps or energy packages," which were discrete and quantized. He concluded that 
"the hypothesis of quanta has led to the idea that there are changes in nature which do not 
occur continuously but in an explosive manner." ^ 

^ Gary Zukav, The Dancing W^u Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (New York: William 
Morrow and Company) 55; Herbert 34-35; Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the 
Parallels between Modem Physics and Eastern Mysticism, 3rd ed. (Boston: Shambhala, 1991) 67-68; 
Victor J. Stenger, The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modem Physics and Cosmology (New York: 
Prometheus Books, 1995) 37-37. 


These energy packages have since been called "quanta^"' a term denoting their 
discrete quantity. According to Planck^ these quanta had various sizes, depending on the 
frequency of the emitted radiation. All the energy packets of frequencies of red light, for 
example, are the same size, and so are all the energy packets of frequencies of violet 
light. However, the energy packets of violet light are larger than the energy packets of red 
light. Therefore, Plank discovered that the size of the low energy frequency Mght. ^ 

Plank himself was uncomfortable with his findings as they so clearly challenged 
accepted notions in classical physics, and he knew he would have to face strong 
opposition against his new hypothesis. His trepidation is evident in his writing 
recounting the moment: 

By nature I am peacefully inclined and reject all doubtful adventures. But a 
theoretical interpretation had to be found at all costs, no matter how high.. . .1 
was ready to sacrifice every one of my previous convictions about physical 
laws. ^ 

Victor Guillemin, professor of physics at Harvard, explains Planck's dilemma as follows: 

[Plank] had to make a radical and seemingly absurd assumption, for according 
to classical laws, and common sense as well, it had been presumed that an 
electronic oscillator, once set in motion by a jolt, radiates its energy smoothly 
and gradually while its oscillatoiy motion subsides to rest. Plank had to assume 
that the oscillator ejects its radiation in sudden spurts, dropping to lesser 
amplitudes of oscillation with each spiHt. He had to postulate that the energy 
of motion of each oscillator can neither be built up nor subside smoothly and 
gradually but may change only in sudden jumps. In a situation where energy is 
being transferred to and fro between the oscillators and the light waves, the 
oscillators must not only emit but also absorb radiant energy in discrete 
"packets". . ..He coined the name "quanta" for the packets of energy, and he 
spoke of the oscillators as being "quantized." Thus, the trenchant concept of 

the quantum entered physical science. ^ 

® Zukav 52-57. 
^ Herbert 93. 
® Zukav 55-56. 


Although Pl^ik was surprised by his own disco very^ it was he, on December 14, 
1900 at the Physikalisch-Technishe Reichsantalt in Berlin, that took the first step in the 
direction of a quantum theory which was going to be shaped within the next 25 years. 
After Plank's discovery physics was to change. The idea of an outrageous — because 
classical physics simply had no place for it — discontinuity had entered physics. It was 
not only Planck, but many physicists who felt that the new discovery gave new messages 
that they did not understand yet, but the impact of the results were huge.^ So huge that, 
for example, Louis de Broglie, a well-known physicist at the time, characterized the 
importance of Planck's discovery as "On the day when quanta, surreptitiously, were 
introduced, the vast and grandiose edifice of physics found itself shaken to its very 
foundation." '' 

2.4. Einstein and thie Pliotoelectric Effect 

The second important step in quantum theory, five years later in 1905, came fi^om 
Albert Einstein. Einstein was working on photoelectric effect. The concept of 
photoelectric effect can be described simply as an experiment in which a beam of light is 
sent to a photosensitive metal plate. When the light travels and hits the plate, the results 
showed that several electrons departed fi'om the sensitive surface of the plate. As light, in 
classical physics, was thought to be like a wave, this departure of electrons was not 
possible. Thus, the photoelectric effect, just like black body radiation, was another 

Pagels 20-39; Zukav 55-57. 

^° Luther 28. 


enigma of classical physics. The first guess was that a bright source of light would eject 
more electrons than a weak source of light. However, soon what was seen was the 
opposite. A weak beam of ultraviolet light would eject more electrons from the 
photosensitive plate than a very bright beam of red light. This dilemma would be similar 
if we compare light to ocean waves and photosensitive plate to pebbles on the shore. The 
results then, were showing that a very weak wave was moving more pebbles on the shore 
than a stronger wave. ^^ 

Einstein solved the problem by applying Planck's theory of quanta. He postulated 
light not as waves but as particles. If light was also a bundle of electrons than the 
photoelectric effect could be explained. Einstein hypothesized that the reason why one 
weak beam of ultraviolet light would eject more electrons fi"om the plate than a strong 
beam of red light was because the energy of these quanta is proportional to the fi-equency 
of light. In other words, it was not the brightness or the weakness of the light that effected 
the electrons, but rather the rate or fi-equency of the light. Red light then, no matter how 
bright, because of its low frequency, does not have sufficient energy to knock the 
electrons off the plate, but ultraviolet light does. ^^ 

As a result, by using Planck's constant in his explanation of the photoelectric 
effect, Einstein explained that Hght waves also consisted of quanta, which he later called 
"photons" meaning little packets of energy that constitutes light. Einstein won a Nobel 
Prize for his theory of light as a bundle of particles and not waves. With his results, 
Plank's idea was reemphasized and gained more support. 

^^ Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos The Non-Local Universe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 
30-31; Luther 29-30; Zukav 57-70; Jennifer Trusted, The Mystery of Matter (London: MacMillan Press, 
Ltd.; New York: St Martin's Press, 1999) 119-121. 

^^ Nadeau and Kafatos Non-Local Universe 30-31; Luther 29-30; Zukav 56-57. 


With Planck's and Einstein's findings, a new particle-wave dichotomy entered 
physics. Up to that point the concept of light, in accordance with the idea of nature as a 
continuum, had been understood and accepted as waves. However, for a while, Einstein 
was alone and not supported in his discovery. The majority of physicists found these new 
notions hard to accept because they were all against the classical notions of nature. This 
skepticism can be seen in a letter of recommendation written for Einstein's membership 
into the prestigious Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1913: 

In sum, one can hardly say that there is not one among the great problems, in 
which modem physics is so rich, to which Einstein has not made a remarkable 
contribution. That he may have missed the target in his speculations, as for 
example, in his hypothesis of the light quanta, cannot really be held too much 
against him, for it is not possible to introduce really new ideas even in the exact 
sciences without taking a risk. ^^ 

At the beginning of twentieth century, first with Planck's idea of the quantum, 
and later with Einstein's photons of light, the view of the nature of light as continuum 
could not be maintained, and so although not accepted, a new vision and transfomiation 
in physics started. What was found showed that the behavior of atoms were incompatible 
with the classical physics notion of a clockwork universe. The discreteness of light was a 
big departure fi'om classical physics and the determinacy principle. Because discreteness 
broke the accepted notion of continuation it also broke the notion of absolute 
determinism. Discreteness meant that nature was not in a continuum; the behavior of 
nature, then, could not be predicted, measured and tested. Once the continuum and 
determinacy were challenged the whole concept of physics was challenged. For that 
reason, many physicists tried to reconcile these new discoveries with the idea of 

^^ Pagels 30. 


deterniinism within the domain of classical physics. Einstein was one of them. For them, 
there was still a hope of showing that the construction of atoms as the smallest 
constituents of the big clockwork universe also followed Newtonian determinism, ^^ 

Nevertheless, it was unavoidable to see that as these new discoveries were applied 
in different areas in physics, they did not only challenge the old classical Newtonian 
physics in some ways, but they also gave rise to new insists and new solutions to the 
problems that were posed within classical physics. Another one of these problems was 
the circulation of electrons around a heavy nucleus. ^^ 

2,5, Bohr and Quantum Jumps 

Emest Rutherford, in 191 1, set up a model of the atom whose nucleus was 
suggested to have a heavy positive charge orbited by negatively charged electrons, in a 
structure similar to that of the solar system. This was inconsistent with the classical 
physics concept of electromagnetic theory, in which it was believed that opposite charges 
would attract each other, hi this way, according to classical physics, electrons would 
circuit the heavy nucleus in ever smaller orbits until a certain time and then they would 
have to collapse into the nucleus, hi such a universe, how planets could circle the sun 
and not collapse into it, for example, was one of the questions that had been puzzling the 

^^ Pagels 28-30; Nadeau and Kafatos Non-Local Universe 30-31; Luther 29-30; P.C.W. Davies and J.R. 
Brown, eds. The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics (Cambridge: 

Cambridge University Press, 1986) 2-3. 

^^ Davies and Brown 2. 


physicists until another step in quantum mechanics came from the Danish physicist Niels 
Bohr. '' 

When Niels Bohr, in 1913, entered the scene to solve the problem of atomic 
structure with his experiments and theories on atoms and electrons, he abandoned 
classical physics and appHed the quantum theory that had started with Planck and 
Einstein. He explained that electrons could only leave their orbits by either giving or 
taking energy, and that they moved in spectral lines or colored lines. Bohr also used 
Planck's constant and quantization in his explanations, which resulted in the fiirther 
acceptance of queitum energy packets and discontinuity theory. He explained that 
electrons were also quantized and they could reside without a loss of energy at certain 
energy levels. There was a lowest orbit beyond which the electrons could not fall. He 
fiirther explained that when electrons jumped between orbits, they released or absorbed 
electromagnetic energy in discrete quantities. Because only certain electron orbits are 
possible only certain jumps took place. When the electrons jumped from one orbit to 
another, the atom emitted li^t and that li^t was quantized. Bohr concluded that these 
energy packets were photons. As the energy of light is related to its color (or frequency), 
Bohr explained that atoms emitted only specific colors of light, and the fact that each 
atom emitted light with distinct and unique colors showed the quantum structure of 
atoms. In other words, it was found that the transmission of energy was discontinuous, 
unlike a line but discrete; electrons jumped from one orbit to another suddenly, without 

^^ Davies and Brown 2-3; Karl R. Popper, Quantum Theory and the and the ScMsm in Physics (New Jersey: 
Rowman and Littlefield, 1982) 135-138; Fred A. Wolf, Star Wave: Mind, Consciousness., and Quantum 
Physics (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1984) 72-79. 


appearing at any place in-between, and that this movement happened with no obvious 
reason in ascending or descending order with the atom. ^"^ 

When the structure of atoms was exposed by such experiments, a new and 
unfamiMar world started to reveal itself. The usual rules that the physicists had accepted 
no longer seemed to be trustable. Bohr, perhaps before any other physicist, was ready to 
accept this new world with its new rules, as his words make clear below: 

One must be prepared for the fact that the required generalization of the classical 
elecfrodynamics theory demands a profound revolution in the concepts on which 
the description of nature has until now been founded. ^^ 

This new world was the atomic world in which the rules of determinism, supported by 
centuries of experiments and theories, was about to fall. 

2.6. Compton Scattering 

Another similar step towards quantum theory was taken by Arthur Holly 
Compton in 1923. Compton was working on x-rays (high-frequency light). His 
discovery, known as 'Compton scattering,' involved experiments in which collisions of 
x-ray photons with electrons were engineered. Compton shone a beam of x-rays onto 
electrons and found that the x-rays bounced off the electrons. This showed that x-ray 
photons were also particles. Compton forther found that just as hght had particle-like 
properties, electrons could also have wave-like properties. As a result, it came to be 

^"^ Luther 32; Erol Kurt, "Kuantum Teorisi ve Temel Ilkeleri." Populer Bilim Dergisi (1997); 30-34; 
Pagels, Cosmic Code 70-71; Davies and Brown 2-3; Victor Weisskopf, "Atomic Structure and Quantum 
Theory," The Mystery of Matter, ed. Louise B. Young (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965) 95-120; 
Barry Parker, Quantum Legacy: The Discovery that Changed our Universe (New York: Prometheus Books, 
2002) 27-28. 

^^ Pagels 72. 


accepted that light had a nature that behaved like waves or particles, depending on the 
experiments performed. ^^ 

IJ. De Broglie and Matter Waves 

Soon Clinton Davidson, experimentally, and Luis de Broglie, theoretically, 
arrived at a new understanding of matter. De Broglie, in his doctoral thesis, explained 
that all subatomic matter possessed waves that corresponded to them. He called these 
waves 'matter waves.' The wavelength of these waves corresponded to the nature of the 
particle. He used Planck's constant and formulated a new equation in which he showed 
that as the momentum of a particle gets bigger, the corresponding wavelength gets 
shorter. Experiments performed by Clinton Davidson at the Bell Telephone Laboratories 
confirmed his thesis, and both scientists received the Nobel Prize for this new discovery. 
Thus, in this new underst^iding, electrons as well as photons were shown to be both 
particles and waves. Depending on particular circumstances, they behaved either as 
waves or as particles. Soon this theory was accepted for all subatomic particles. That is, 
it was not only photons and electrons but all subatomic particles that behaved as both 
particles and waves. In the micro-world of atoms and subatomic particles, therefore, it 
became evident that the traditional laws of mechanics that were proposed by Newton 
were completely to be doubted. ^° 

^^ Zukav 103-105; Nadeau and Kafatos Non-Local Universe 34; Herbert 38-39; Parker 27-28. 

^° Davies and Brown 4; Zukav 106-1 10; Herbert 39-41; Weisskopf 95-120; Robert P. Crease and Charles 
C. Mann, The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in the Twentieth-Century Physics (New York: 
Macmillan Publishing Company, 1986) 53-55. 


2 J« Schroiinger and Wave Mechanics 

Erwin Schrodinger was also working on electrons; however^ his approach was 
more concerned with the visualization of the atomic world. He was attracted to the 
waves notion of particles of deBroghe's, as well as to classical physics. Schrodinger did 
not accept Bohr's idea that electrons could jump from one orbit to another with no 
obvious reason. These jumps were inconsistent with classical physics, in which the 
notion of continuum is very important. Schrodinger wanted to find a theory that would 
settle this problem in classical physics. He posited a theory that electrons were not 
spherical objects but were instead pattems of standing waves. His solution was arrived at 
by using a mathematical formula, later termed Schrodinger' s equation. He explained that 
these standing waves are also quantized just as atomic phenomena are, ^id that each 
standing wave was an electron. He further proposed that electrons were the segments of 
vibrations of these waves, bounded into nodes. Each atom, Schrodinger explained, had a 
multitude of differently shaped standing waves. In other words, one atom has several 
different shapes of standing waves but they are all three-dimensional. This idea of 
different shapes came to Schrodinger from Wolfgang Pauli, who put forth a principle 
called the "principle of exclusion," which stated that there can not be any two electrons 
that are exactly alike in one atom.^^ Schrodinger commented on his extrapolation as 

The ingenious but nevertheless somewhat artificial assumptions of [Bohr's 
model of the atom] . . .are placed by much more natural assumption in de 

Broglie's wave phenomena. The wave phenomenon forms the real ^body' 
of the atom. It replaces the individual punctiform [pointlike] electrons, 

2^ ^Zukav 110416; Luther 45-48; Parker 85401. 


which in Bohr's model swarm around the nucleus. 


Max Bom, another physicist, interpreted Schrodinger's standing waves as unreal 

and purely mathematical constructions, which he therefore termed "waves of 
probability." His explanation follows: 

... the whole coiffse of events is determined by the laws of probability; to 
a state in space there corresponds a definite probability, which is given by 
the de Broglie wave associated with the state. ^^ 

We have two possibilities. Either we use waves in spaces of more than three 
dimensions. . .or we remain in three-dimensional space, but give up the simple 
picture of the wave amplitude as an ordinaiy physical magnitude, and replace it 
by a purely abstract mathematical concept. . .into which we can not enter. ^^ 

From this he concluded the following that "physics is in the nature of the case 
indeterminate, and therefore it is the affair of statistics." ^^ 

2.9. Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle 

Soon after Max Bom's explanation of probability waves, Werner Heisenberg, 
made another big step in quantum theory by explaining the indeterminacy of subatomic 
events. Heisenberg laid out a principle called the "uncertainty principle" in 1927. 
Heisenberg' s uncertainty principle, sometimes referred as "quantum mechanical 
indeterminacy" states that one can not precisely know the momentum and the position of 
a given electron together at the same time. This is not due to the invalidity of the 

^^ Zukavll4. 

^^ Zukavll?. 

^^ ZukavllS. 

^^ ZukavllS. 


measurement tools used or the scientists' observations, but because it is inherent in 
nature. As a result, it was concluded that an electron (or any other subatomic particle) 
does not posses both a position and a momentum simultaneously. In order for any 
particle to traverse a path in the universe, the particle must have a location at a point on 
the path. If we return to the example of a gun being fired, for example, we can know the 
position of the bullet as it leaves the barrel and we can also know its momentum. Using 
classical physics, by knowing the bullet's initial position and momentum, its future 
trajectory can be determined and predicted precisely. However, if we look at this 
example fi^om the subatomic perspective, a different conclusion must be arrived at. The 
Heisenberg uncertainty principle implies that the particle's position and momentum at the 
instant of its leaving the barrel can not be established at the same time. Since these initial 
measurements are uncertain, the fixture trajectory of the bullet is also undetermined. As a 
result, only a statistical and probabilistic future trajectory of the bullet can be given, with 
no certainty as to how it will actually move. This uncertainty, it must be kept in mind, is 
only valid in the micro-world of atoms and particles. Therefore, in the world of electrons 
we can only have a probabilistic description of fiiture motion. ^^ 

According to the results of the experiments done on the observation of atoms and 
subatomic particles, it was seen that their behavior was not identical even among 
identical atoms whose energies are identical. This gave rise to an understanding that 
observation does not give a clue for the examiner on their behavior. Their behavior is 
random, or if there is a cause (or causes), it is not known yet. As a result, no prediction 
of fiiture events of electron behavior can be given. This of course shows that in the 

^^ Davies and Brown 6; Pagels 91; Trusted 138- 150; Parker 116-1 19; Richard Morris, The Big Questions: 

Probing the Promise and Limits of Science (New York: Henry Holt and Con:q)any, 2002) 54-57. 


micro-world of atoms, electrons and photons^ as well as other particles^ there is a strong 
element of uncertainty. ^^ 

The significance of determinacy implies that in order to predict the fiiture, we 
should have a complete and accurate picture of the present^ but quantum indeterminacy 
shows that we can not do that. Heisenberg not only thought that such prediction was 
impossible, but he also thought accurate knowledge of the present was impossible, as is 
clear in his statement below: 

In the statement , 'if we knew the present in all its details we could predict the 
future with accuracy' it is the premise rather than the conclusion which is wrong, 
[because we can not] know the present in all its details. ^^ 

Such indeterminacy, for Neils Bohr, required "the necessity of a final renunciation of the 

classical ideal of causality and a radical revision of our attitude toward the problem of 

physical reahty." ^^ 

2.10, The Double-slit Experiment 

One of the experiments performed on electrons was called 'the double-slit 
experiment.' In this experiment a beam of electrons was sent forward from a small source 
towards a plate punctured by two slits. A detector was placed behind the double-slit plate 
to record the electrons' positions of impact, which registered as little specks. What was 

^^ Davies and Brown 6; Omnes 140-144; Wemer Heisenberg, "Remarks on the Origin of the Relations of 

Uncertainty," Quantum Implications: Essays in Honour of David Bohnx eds. BJ. Hiley and F. David Peat 
(New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. ,1991) 3-6; Gordon Reece, "In Praise of Uncertainty," Quantum 
Im plications: Essays in Honour of David Bohm, eds. BJ. Hiley and F. David Peat. (New York: Routledge 
& Kegan Paul Ltd. , 1991) 7-12; David Bohm Causality and Chance in Modem Physics (New York: Harper 
and Brothers, 1957) 81-89; Peter Kosso, Appearance and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of 
Physics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 110-1 16; Parker 116-119; Trusted 138- 150. 

^^ Brackets mine. Luther 43. 



found was that when the multiple electrons were released simultaneously, the specks 
formed a clearly discernible pattern, called an interference pattern, such as would be 
created when water when passed though two slits. When the beam was arranged so that 
only one electron was released at a time, each electron passed through one of the slits, 
seemingly at random, and registered as an individual speck on the detector plate. When 
numerous individual electrons had passed through the sMts in this way, however, the 
collective result on the plate began to form the interference pattem again. That is, each 
individual electron had somehow behaved according to a law of averages, acting as if in 
cooperation with all the other individually released electrons. Even more surprisingly, 
when one of the shts was closed off, no such pattem emerged. Nor did the 
superimposition of the registered specks of two individually opened slits indicate the 
interference pattem. The electrons somehow knew that one of the slits was closed. It 
seemed, therefore, as though each electron had somehow 'chosen' which hole to pass 
through in concert with other individual electrons only when there was such a choice to 
be made. What's more, if the physicists were to position two detectors in front of the 
holes to ascertain in advance towards which hole a p^icular electron was heading, the 
electron's pattem was so disturbed by the act of measurement that the interference pattem 
disappeared altogether. That is, only if the physicists did not attempt to trace the route of 
the electron would the electron's 'knowledge' of both routes be displayed. ^° 

One way of looking at this as proposed by some scientists is to remember that 
quantum policies do not have definite pathways in space, and then to suppose that each 
electron somehow posses an infinity of different pathways in space in which it has the 

^° Zukav 63-73; Luther 45-53; Nadeau and Kafatos Non-Local Universe 46-51; Richard Feynman, The 

Character of Physical Law (Massachusetts: The M.LT. Press, 1965) 127-148; Popper 151-156. 


ability to traverse. In this way, it can be explained that some of their pathways pass 
through the slits and encode information about each pathway and this is how each 
electron can keep track of what is happening throughout a large area of space. This idea 
also shows itself when the observer were to put a detector in front of the holes to detect 
which electron will choose which hole and then immediately blocks the other hole 
without altering the motion of the electron. In this case, it is seen that the electron's 
motion is so disturbed that the interference pattem defiantly vanishes. It is apparent that 
what the observer decides now in a sense influences how the quantum particle shall have 
behaved in the past. ^^ 

This experiment with its mysterious results is explained by the physicist John 
Gribben as follows: 

In the experiment with two holes the interference can be interpreted as if the 
electron that leaves the gun vanishes once it is out of sight and is replaced by 
an array of ghost electrons each of which follows a different path to the detector 
screen. The ghosts interfere with one another, and when we look at the way 
electrons are detected by the screen we then find the traces of this interference, 
even if we deal with only one 'real' electron at a time. However, this array of ghost 
electrons only describes what happens when we are not looking; when we look, all 
of the ghosts except one vanish, and one of the ghosts solidifies as a real electron. . . 
each of the 'ghosts' corresponds to a wave, or rather, a packet of waves, the waves 
that Bom interpreted as a measure of probability. The observation that ciystallizes 
one ghost out of the array of potential electrons is equivalent, in terms of wave 
mechanics, to the disappearance of all the Mxay of probability waves except for 
one packet of waves that describes one real electron. This is called the 'collapse of 
the wave function,' and bizarre though it is, it is at the heart of the Copenhagen 
Interpretation. . .[which] depends explicitly on the assumption that myriad ghost 
particles interfere with each other all the time and only coalesce into a single real 
particle as the wave function collapses during an observation. What's worse, as 
soon as we stop looking at the electron, or whatever we are looking at, it 
immediately splits into a new array of ghost particles, each pursuing its own path 
of probabilities through the quantum world. Nothing is real unless we look at it, 

^^ Davies and Brown 6-9; Pagels 135- 147; Nadeau and Kafatos Non-Local Universe 46-51; Feynman 127- 
148; Capra 132-139; Tony Rothnmn and George Sudarshan, Doubt and Certamtv (Reading, Massachusetts: 
Perseus Books, 1998) 163-166; Kafatos and Nadeau Non-Local Universe 38-42. 


and it ceases to be real as soon as we stop looking. ^^ 

This and similar experiments are explained in different ways according to 
different interpretations of quantum mechanics. The developments of the differing 
explanations divided the physicists into two camps. Such physicists as Plank, 
Schrodinger and de Broglie joined ranks with Einstein, who resisted the implications of 
quantum theory; other physicists such as Dirac, Pauli, Jordan, Bom and Heisenberg were 
in another group, which was led by Bohr, advocating the Copenhagen interpretation of 
quantum mechanics. The Copenhagen interpretation eventually became one of the most 
widely accepted and discussed views, according to which, the outcomes of the above 
experiment show at least three different results. ^^ 

The first of these is that the measurement results are completely indeterministic 
and therefore purely statistical, hi the quantum world there are no hidden variables that 
could support the determinism of classical theory, in which probabilities are used to give 
an accurate prediction of the future act of an object. Therefore, according to the 
Copenhagen interpretation, no fiiture momentum or position of a particular quantum 
particle can ever be given. Because individual precise measurements are meaningless, 
one experiment must be repeated several times to get what can only be seen as general 
statistical measurements. 

Another result derived from these experiments is that the observed object is 
affected by the observer or by the observing tool. It is impossible to remove the effect of 

^^ Luther 49-50. 

^^ Kafatos and Nadeau, Conscious Universe 30. Heisenberg, Physicists Conception 32-41; Robert Forrest, 
Quantum Mechanics (Basil Blackwell, 1988) 57-63; Pagels 94-95; Bohm, Causality and Change 84-103; 
Popper 104-106; Morris 54-57. 


the observer on the result. Therefore, what is observed is not nature j?er se, but nature 
that has been influenced by the examiner. The objectivity of the experiment is lost. 
Quantum reality is an observer-created reaUty. The physical world is influenced by the 

physical world. Heisenberg stated this point as follows: 

What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of 
questioning. ^^ 

Some physicists would prefer to come back to the idea of an objective real world 
whose smallest parts exist objectively in the same sense as stones or trees exist 
independently of whether we observe them. This however is impossible. ^^ 

The hope that new experiments will lead us back to the objective events in time and 
space is about as well founded as the hope of discovering the end of the world in 
the unexplored regions of the Antarctic. ^^ 

Bohr fiirther stated that it was meaningless to ascribe attributes to quantum 
objects before they were observed and measured. It was impossible, for example, to 
speak about the past of a particle and say that it was a particle or a wave before the 
measurement. He explained that if the observation is set up to measure the particle's 
position, what will be seen is a particle at a place; however, if it is set up to measure 
momentum, the particle will be seen as a motion. 

At this point, when several physicists discussed these conclusions, several thought 
experiments were contrived. One of them, for example, suggested by the 
Copenhagenists, was that when an electron is put in a box it can be imagined that it can 
be anywhere in the box while its wave fills the totality of the box. When a screen is 


^^ Herbert 32. 
^^ Herbert 17. 


placed in the middle of the box, dividing it into two, the electron's waves are still in both 
places in the box and they will keep existing this way until someone looks at one of the 
chambers. The Copenhagenists explained that at the point of observation, the particle 
will be seen only in the chamber that was observed, and the wave in the other chamber 
will consequently disappear. ^"^ 

This experiment, for the Copenhagenists, explained the three notions that they 
held - the collapse of the wave function, supeiposition and non-locality — at the same 
time. The observation collapses the particle's wave, which up to that point is in a state of 
superposition. In the Copenhagen interpretation it is accepted that atomic phenomena are 
in a quantum state, meaning that they are in a state that contains a gathering of different 
quantum states. These quantum states are superimposed over the actual event. Only at 
the time of observation is one of these states seen, and the others vanish. The idea of 
non-locality can be understood as two microscopic objects being still connected even if 
they are in a large distance from each other. For example, in the electron in the box 
experiment, when the two chambers of the divided box are moved quite a long distance 
apart from each other, the superposition continues to operate over both chambers. The 
Copenhagenists held that the electron existed in both chambers although it was only one 
electron; the electron vanished from one chamber only when the other was observed. 
Until that point, they were somehow still together but in a wave form. ^^ 

A lot of physicists and philosophers have criticized the Copenhagen interpretation 
of quantum mechanics due to its indeterministic and bizarre explanations of nature and 

^^ Davies and Brown 15-22. 

^^ Davies and Brown 15-22; Popper 86-88; Morris 68-69; Euan Squires, The Mystery of the Quantum 
World, 2nd ed. (Bristol; Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Pubhshing, 1994) 56-69. 


also because it violated the principle of local causality. The principle of local causality 
asserts that whenever an object is affected, it is either due to local changes in the state of 
the object itself or due to energy that has been transmitted through the surface of the 

object. This principle, accepted by all physicists, is the center argument of causality. 
Einstein explains this concept of local causality as follows: 

If one asks, what, irrespective of quantum mechanics, is characteristic of 
the world of the ideas of physics, one is first of all strack by the following: 
The concepts of physics relate to a real outside world.. . .It is further 
characteristic of these physical objects that they are thought of as arranged 
in a space-time continuum. An essential aspect of this arrangement of 
things in physics is that they lay claim, at a certain time, to an existence 
independent of one another, provided these objects "are situated in 
different parts of space. ^^ 

2,11. The EiEStein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) Paper 

A critical attack of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics was 
launched in 1930 by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen, who published a famous paper 
known as the EPR paper in which they described a thought experiment showing that 
quantum mechanics was either incomplete or that it violated the principle of local 
causaHty. Einstein explains the condition of completeness below: 

If, without in any way disturbing a system, we can predict with certainty (i.e., 
with probability equal to unity) the value of a physical quantity, then there exists 
an element of physical reality corresponding to this physical quantity. ^° 

In this thought experiment the three scientists proposed that if, for example, a 
particle is imagined as exploded into two equal fragments, A and B, by using the law of 

^^ Pagels 162463. 


Davies and Brown 14. 


action and reaction, observation of 5's momentum could be deduced to predict ^'s 
momentum. By the law of symmetry, B's distance from the point of the explosion would 
also show the distance of A from the same pointy since they are equal hi this way, the 
momentum or the position of A could be predicted, counter to the indeterminacy 

Further, Einstein also opposed the whole macro-effect idea of the quantum 
particles. He argued that if ^ and B had flown a very long distance apart, the experiments 
done on B could not influence A, as the Copenhagenists had claimed with their electron in 
the box experiment, because according to the special theory of relativity, no physical 
signal or effect could traverse space faster than speed of light. According to Einstein, 
these two systems could not still be affected by each other because they were too far 
apart. Related to this issue, eleven years later in his autobiography Einstein wrote: 

. . .on one supposition we should, in my opinion, absolutely hold fast; the real 
factual situation of the system S2 [the particle in area B] is independent of what is 
done with the system SI [the particle in area A], which is spatially separated from 
the former. ^^ 

According to Einstein, there were ways to accept the possibility of quantum 
mechanics as the Copenhagen interpretation explained it, as complete, but he admittedly 
refused them. He explained this as follows: 

One can escape from this conclusion [that quantum theory is incomplete] only by 
either assuming that the measurement of Si ((telepathically)) changes the real 
situation of 52 or by denying independent real situations as such to things which 
are spatially separated from each other. Both alternatives appear to me entirely 
unacceptable. ^^ 

^^ Zukav 320. 



According to Bohr, however^ althou^ no signal or influence travels faster than 
the speed of light, and although there seems to be no physical force between A mid B, the 

idea that they cooperate in their behavior cannot be ignored. Furthermore, for Bohr, this 
did not imply an incompleteness of the theory. After the EPR paper, Bohr explained that 
matter acted in complementary ways and that depended on the experiment that was being 

. . .in the phenomena concemed we are not dealing with an incomplete description 
characterized by the arbitrary picking out of different elements of physical reality 
at the cost of sacrificing other such elements, but with a rational discrimination 
between essentially different experimental arrangements and procedures which are 
suited either for unambiguous use of the idea of space location, or for a legitimate 
appUcation of the conservation theorem of momentum. Any remaining appearance 
of arbitrariness concems merely our freedom of handling the measuring 
instruments, characteristic of the very idea of experiment. In fact, the renunciation 
in each experimental arrangement of the one or the other of two aspects of the 
description of physical phenomena — the combination of which characterizes the 
method of classical physics, and which therefore in this sense may be considered 
complementary to one another - depends essentially on the impossibility, in the 
field of quantum theory, of accurately controlling the reaction of the object on the 
measuring instruments, Le. the transfer of momentum in the case of position 
measurements and the displacement in case of momentum measurements. ,,,^^ 

. . .we are, in the "freedom of choice" offered by the. . . [EPR] aixangement, just 
concemed with the discrimination between different experimental procedures 
which allow of the unambiguous use of complementary classical physics. "^ 

Bohr refused Einstein's thought experiment results, holding the view that the 
momentum and the position of ^ have no objective meaning until they are directly 

measured. He held fast to his belief that the whole microscopic behavior of quantum 
particles must be regarded within the totality of the macroscopic world. In this view, the 

^^ Henry J. Folse, The Philosophy of Neils Bohr: The Framework of Conylementarity (New York: Sole 

Distibutions for the USA, 1985) 149. 

^^ Folse 149. 


experimental method chosen in the macro-world itself affected the outcomes of the 
experiments conducted on the micro-world. Bohr explains this below: 

. . .the very fact that in quantum phenomena no sharp separation can be made 

between an independent behavior of the objects and their interaction with the 
measurement instruments, lends itself to any such phenomenon a novel feature of 
individuality which evades all attempts at analysis on classical lines, because eveiy 
imaginable experimental arrangement aiming at the subdivision of the phenomenon 
will be incompatible with its appearance and give rise, within the latitude indicated 
by the uncertainty relations, to other phenomena of similar individual character. "^^ 

The discussion. . .thus emphasized once more the necessity of distinguishing, in 
study of atomic phenomena, between the proper measuring instruments which 
serve to define the reference and those parts which are to be regarded as objects 
under investigation and in the account of which quantum effects cannot be 
disregarded. ^^ 

The opposing views of the defenders of the EPR paradox and the orthodox 
interpretation of quantum mechanics are summarized by Peter Gibbins below: 

Einstein showed that if it is admitted, as it is by the Copenhagen interpretation in 
one of its forms, that the act of making a measurement on a quantum system 
disturbs it, then this disturbance can be transmitted over large distances. Einstein 
rejected action-at-a-distance on principle and so considered that he had 
demonstrated the incompleteness of quantum mechanics. . . [However], a deeper 
analysis of EPR. . .shows, so most philosophers of physics would say, that 
quantum mechanics is inconsistent with any hidden-variables theory that rejects 
action-at-a-distance, and further that quantum mechanics is itself a non-local 
theory. Experiments, though difficult ones to perform, can decide between 
quantum mechanics and any local hidden-variables theory. The consensus is that 
experiment has vindicated quantum mechanics and also refiited locality. ^^ 

Many physicists and philosophers pondered the philosophical problems of the 

idea of superposition that was seen in the quantum world, and whether mid how it could 

^^Folse, 50451. 

^^ Vincent Edward Smith, Science and Philosop hy (Milwaukee: Bruce Publications, 1965) 191. 

^^ Christopher Norris, Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism: Philosophical Responses to (New 
York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2000) 74. 


apply to the macro-world. In the Copenhagen interpretation, as the act of measurement 
plays a central role^ it is suggested that prior to the measurement it is impossible to know 
which of the many possibilities impMed by the wave fiinction will collapse and which will 
be materialized. The standard Copenhagen inteipretation held that an objective micro- 
world did not exists and that the micro-world existed only when one looked at it. Soon the 
debate took another root. The opponents of the Copenhagen interpretation argued that 
this was wrong, because the same could not be said for the macroworld. 

2, 12, Schroiinger's Cat Paradox 

In 1935, Schrodinger, who along with Einstein believed that in order for a 
physical theory to be complete it had to have one-to-one correspondence between every 
element of the physical theory and the physical reality it described, presented a thou^t 
experiment which came to be known as "the Schrodinger's cat paradox." His intent with 
this experiment was to show that the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics 
did not really explain much, and that its credibility should be doubted. He also he wanted 
to build on his argument for the existence of an objective reality. Schrodinger wanted to 
show the absolute reality of existing things even in the absence of observation. In this 
experiment he asked his detractors to imagine the reality of a cat as a multitude of wave 
functions. ^^ 

The thought experiment included a cat in a closed box. The idea of the closed 
box is to show that the events inside the box can not be seen by any observer. This sealed 
box also contains a random event: the release of poisonous gas determined by the 

^^ Nadeau and Kafatos, Non-Local Universe 56-58; Zukav 94-96; T.D. Clark, "Macroscopic Quantum 
Objects," Quantum Inylications: Essays in Honor of David Bohm , eds. B. J. Hiley and F. David Peat 

(New York: Routledge, 1991) 121-150. 


radioactive decay of an atom or by the passage of a photon through a half-silvered mirror. 
The radioactive decay of the atom determines whether the gas is released or not. If the 
gas is released it will break a bottle, releasing a poison which the cat will inhale and die. 
At the same time, according to the concept of indeterminacy, there is an equal chance of 
the radioactive decay's not taking place. In this case the cat will remain alive. Either 
trigger is quantum mechanical, and as a result, both are indeterminate or random. If the 
box is left for an hour one can say with equal certainty that there was a release of the gas 
leading to the cat's death, or that there was no release of the gas and that the cat thus 

According to classical physics, the cat is either dead or alive. To know the result 
one would only have to open the box and see the result. The result, is not effected or 
changed by the observation, because the fate of the cat was determined independently 
during the experiment. However, according to quantum mechanics the situation is more 
compMcated. Quantum mechanics at this point says that there are two systems existing in 
the box at the same time. These two systems are explained as a superposition of two 
different states. The cat is explained as a wave fimction or as in a limbo state in which 
the possibilities of the cat's being dead or alive are equally existent at the same time. 
Because the observer is outside the box, the observer can not know if the gas is released 
or not and therefore can not know if the cat is dead or alive. The question here is what 
exactly is happening in the box? The Copenhagen interpretation of the experiment 
suggests that the cat in the box is both alive and dead at the same time prior to the 
observation and that the cat will die or live only when the observer looks into the box. 
According to the Copenhagenists, quantum mechanics implies that only when the 


observer looks into the box will one of the two possibilities will be actualized and the 
other disappear. The actualization of a possibility, as mentioned, is known as the 
"collapse of the wave fiinction." Until the wave function collapses by the observer's 
observation, then, the existence in the box is only accepted as a wave function.^^ 

Nevertheless, according to Schrodinger and Einstein, if the Copenhagen 
interpretation didn't show a one-to-one correspondence between the physical reality and 
theory, what then was it explaining. They were suggesting that a mathematically real 
property exists in the physical reality whether or not it is observed. 

Different responses came from different physicists about the cat paradox thought 
experiment. Abner Shimony's explanation of the experiment was as follows: 

There would be nothing paradoxical in this state of affairs if the passage of the 
photon through the mirror were objectively definite but merely unknown prior to 
observation. The passage of the photon is, however, objectively indefinite. Hence 
the breaking of the bottle is objectively indefinite, and so is the aliveness of the cat. 
In other words, the cat is suspended between life and death until it is observed. ^° 

David Bohm's answer to the cat paradox was presented as follows: 

In our approach. . .the paradox (of Schrodinger's cat) does not arise because we go 
beyond the assumption that the wave function provides the most complete possible 
description of reality. ^^ 

Some physicists say although Schrodinger intended to show the reality of 
existence of an object prior to the observation of the object, it can be seen that this 
paradox appears only when it is assumed that there is one-to-one correspondence between 

^^ Zukav 94-95; Morris 57-59. 
^° Zukav 58. 
^^ Luther 60. 


the physical theory and reality as Schrodinger and Einstein held. But on the other hand, 
when this seeming paradox is viewed through the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum 
physics as Bohr suggests, it ceases to exist. According to Bohr, the state of these systems 
becomes real only when they are measured and the reality of the potential states can not 
be assumed in the absence of measurement. ^^ 

2.13, BelFs Inequality Theorem and Aspect^s Experiments 

The debate after the EPR paper finally came to an end in 1965. That's when John 
Steward Bell put forward Bell's inequality theorem, which was basically a mathematical 
statement predicated on two assumptions: locality mid realism. The principle of locality 
assumes that no signal or energy c^i travel faster than the speed of light (300.000 
kms/sec) and that only objects in the same locality can affect each other. Realism 
assumes that there exists a physical reality independent of observer, observation or 
measurement. Bell sympathized with Einstein and supported his EPR debate, and wanted 
to prove to himself whether it was Bohr or Einstein who was right. For Bell, the issues 
came down to whether there were certain correlations between quantum particles 
reflected in a universal reality that was local or non-local in nature. Since Newton, 
classical physics had accepted the assumption that everything in the universe happens by 
local actions; by forces that operate in close proximity. These forces were known as the 
strong force, the weak force, electromagtietism and gravity. All these forces would lose 
their effect over distance and none operated through space at a speed greater than the 
velocity of light. The predictions of quantum theory, on the other hand, distinctly 

' Nadeau and Kafatos Non-Local Universe 59. 


implied that a non-locality principle of action existed. Expressing Ms skepticism of this 
possibility^ Einstein had commented as follows: 

I can not seriously believe in the quantum theory because it can not be reconciled 

with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from 
spooky actions at a distance. ^^ 

Bell developed a mathematical formulation that defined the necessary 
characteristics of every local reality theory. He thought that if events in spatially 
separated systems were not causally linked then a mathematical proposition could show 
this. Bell's theorem, as a result, mathematically shows that the principle of local causes 
(that Einstein held fast to) is incompatible with the statistical predictions that are made by 
quantum theory. It also shows that not only subatomic phenomena but also the 
macroscopic domain has aspects that can only be described, for lack of better word, as 
"irrational."^^ Henry Stapp describes this below: 

The important thing about Bell's theorem is that it puts the dilemma posed by 
quantum phenomena clearly into realm of macroscopic phenomena. , . [it] shows 
that our ordinary ideas about the world are somehow profoundly deficient even on 
the macroscopic level. ^^ 

Several experiments, including a famous one in 1982, by Alain Aspect, Philippe 
Grangier, Jean Dalibard and Gerard.Roger, today known as "Aspect's experiment," were 
carried out to test the foundations of quantum mechanics and check Bell's inequalities 

theorem in a manner very similar to that of the EPR thought experiment was postulated 
by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen. The results of the experiments showed that the 

^^ Luther 77. 

^^ Luther 75-84; Zukav 314-326. 

^^ Zukav322. 


correlations between paired photons over space-like separated regions, do, in fact^ hold 
over any distance instantly, or in "no time." ^^ Allan Aspect describes the experiment 

It is very difficult to describe. But we can roughly say that first we have a source 
which emits pairs of correlated photons, and then we have to do some kind of 
difficult measurements on each of these photons. Now one of the main features of 
our experiments was to improve the efficiency of this source. Previous attempts to 
study the EPR correlation led to rather uncertain results. . ..We would excite this 
atom of calcium in a particular way and then observe the light — a pair of photons 
— emitted by the atom as it gives up its energy and drops back to its unexcited 
state. . . .In these experiments you have to measure the polarization of photons, the 
results of which can be either yes or no, either plus one or minus one. . ..[in the 
third experiment] we have tried to make sure that the two different p^s of the 
system are truly independent of each other. The reason for doing this is that 
quantum mechanics predicts a veiy strong correlation between the results of the 
measurements on the pairs of photons even if the two sets of measuring apparatus 
are far from each other (15 m in our case). One possibility for understanding this 
correlation in a naive picture of reality is to admit that the two sets of measuring 
apparatus have some mysterious interaction with each other. To eliminate this 
interpretation, some people argue that if we rapidly change some feature, like the 
orientation, of one measuring apparatus, then the other apparatus could not 
respond to this change because no signal can travel faster than the speed of light. 
So that's what we did. ^^ 

The results which Aspect found are described below: 

. . . we can say that the results violate Bell's inequalities, which means that we 
cannot keep a simple picture of the world, retaining Einstein's idea of reparability. 
This is the first feature of the results. . ..I don't think that there can be some 
signaling, if by signaling you mean that there is some true kind of transfer of 
information. What these experiments have shown is first that they violate Bell's 
inequalities, and on the other hand that these results are in very good agreement 
with the prediction of quantum mechanics. So we assume that quantum mechanics 
is still a very good theory. Even in this kind of experiment it is not possible to send 
any messages or useM information faster than light, so I will certainly not conclude 
that there is faster-than-light signaling. However, if you mean that in some picture 
of the world that you want to construct, you can include some kind of faster than 
light mathematical object, then perhaps, yes, it could be a possibility. But you can 
not use this mathematical construction for practical faster-than-light signaling. ... 
But here we have shown that in this kind of very unusual situation quantum 

^^ Kafatos and Nadeau, 65-70; Davies and Brown 15-20, 40-57, 149. 

^"^ Davies and Brown 41-42. 


mechanics works very well, and so this must convince us that truly we must change 
the old picture of the world. . . .[these experiments] demolish. . .the possibility of 
having a hidden variable theory based on Einstein's ideas such as separability. 
[However] some hidden variable theories still remain possible: the hidden variable 
theories of David Bohm, for example. But not that these theories are not separable; 
they are not local. I mean, in these theories (such as Bohm's), there is some kind of 
faster than light interaction, and so we should not be surprised that these theories 
cannot be excluded by our experimental results. ^^ 

Physical reality was not as Einstein had thought. The experiments showed that physical 
reality in fact operated non-locally. Another physicist, Jim Baggot, described the impact 
of Aspect's results on our conceptions of physical reality as follows: 

Three centuries of gloriously successful physics have brought us right back to the 
kind of speculation that it took three centuries of philosophy to reject as 
meaningless. ^^ 

These results provide almost overwhelming evidence in favor of quantum theory 
against all classes of locally realistic theories. . .so where does all this leave local 
reality?. . .Either we give up reality or we accept that there can be some kind of 
'spooky action at a distance,' involving communication between distant parts of 
the world at speeds faster than that of light. . .Although the independent reality 
advocated by the realist does not have to be a local reality, it is clear that the 
experiments described here leave the realist with a lot of explaining to do. . . . 
Whatever the nature of reality, it cannot be as simple as we might have 
thought at first. ^° 

The idea of a non-local nature and universe is completely different from the world 
view most of us have known. Today, the discovery of non-locality is seen as one of the 

"most profound discovery in all of science" which causes physicists to revise their 
understanding of physics, nature and universe at large. According to physicists, non- 
locality proves that any two particles once connected in any space in the universe are 

^^ Davies and Brown 42-43. 
^^ Luther 77. 
^^ Luther 95. 


always able to somehow be coimected, even if they are billions of light years apart. This 
result of the experiments, within the theory of Big Bang, shows that all particles that are 
existent in the universe had interacted with each other at the Big Bang explosion and 
therefore, today it is believed that all parts of the universe are in immediate connection 
with each other. The universe, then, is like a web of particles that are in constant contact 
with each other over any distance, in no time, without the transfer of energy or 
information. All of physical reality can be seen as a virtual quantum system that reacts 
together to further interactions. 

2.14. The Bohmian Interpretation 

Before the advent of quantum mechanics, classical physics had accepted the 
universe as a gathering of individual and separate objects existing independently. These 
objects were accepted to be tied together by forces that could only be local. Their effects 
would diminish with distance between them. The fundamental laws persisting between 
the objects were understood by their proximity. Very quickly, however, in recent history, 
the notion of the universe as non-local has been accepted and further developed and 
explained by some theoretical physicists. One of these physicists is David Bohm's 
interpretation of quantum mechanics. His comments on non-locality, after Bell's 
theorem, which are the foundations of his interpretation follow: 

One is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea 
of the analyzability of the world into separately and independently existing parts 
. . .We have reversed the usual classical notion that the independent 'elementary' 
parts of the worlds are the fiindamental reality and that the various systems are 
merely particular contingent forms and arrangements of these parts. Rather, we 
say that inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe is the 
fundamental reality, and that relatively independently behaving parts are merely 


particular and contingent forms within this whole. ^* 

As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, there are several different 

interpretations of quantum mechanics. Until this pointy the growth of quantum mechanics 
has been discussed primarily via the Copenhagen interpretation^ as it is now accepted as 
the orthodox one. It is useful at this point to examine the Many- Worlds interpretation^ as 
it has the support of a significant minority of physicists studying quantum physics. 

2.15. The Many- Worlds Interpretation 

The Many- Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics was first developed by 
Hugh Everett in 1957. His basic aim was to explain quantum mechanics without the 
notions of randomness and action-at-a-distance, notions opposed by Einstein as 'spooky.' 
One of the criticisms against the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics was 
the emphasis on the observer's effect on quantum states, which, if accepted, necessitated 
the rejection of an objective reality. The dilenmia this posed resulted in the rising of 
different interpretations to challenge this idea. ^^ One of these was introduced by Hugh 
Everett, John Wheeler, and Neil Graham in 1957. This is the Many- Worlds interpretation 
of qu^itum mechanics. 

The Many- Worlds inteipretation responds to the cat in the box paradox by 
introducing the idea that the limbo state that is represented as a wave fimction containing 
the two possibilities (the cat is alive and the cat is dead) does not in fact collapse upon 
observation. Instead, it explains, at the moment of the photon's decay the world splits 

Luther 103-103. 

^^ Zukav 83-87, 300-303: Luther 100-106. 


into two branches, producing two worlds: one containing a dead cat and the other a live 
cat. These two worlds proceed on their own, although they coexist in space and time. 
The Many- Worlds interpretation ignores the idea of the quantum system of a particular 
experiment^ and instead proposes that the whole universe is in state of superposition that 
is represented as a wave function. Therefore, at the moment of the observation, the 
observer's world splits into two; one in which the human saw the cat alive, and the other 
in which the human saw the cat dead. Both of these worlds are as real and as existent. 
Everett explains this below: 

From the viewpoint of the theory all elements of a superposition ("branches") are 
"actual," none any more "real" than the rest. It is unnecessary to suppose that all 
but one are somehow destroyed, since all the separate elements of a superposition 
individually obey the wave equation with complete indifference to the presence or 
absence ("actually" or not) of any other elements. This total lack of effect of one 
branch on another also implies that no observer will ever be aware of any 
"splitting" process. ^^ 

The Many- Worlds interpretation proposes that there are many worlds in addition 
to the one we are aware of. They are all similar and they all exist in the same space and 
time unaware of one another. This understanding of the universe is not a metaphorical 
rendering of the realm of the quantum world of atoms and sub-atomic particles, but it 
directly refers to the macro-world, Byrce DeWitt, who contributed much to the work of 
Everett explains this as follows: 

One universe must be viewed as constantly splitting into a stupendous number of 
branches, all resulting from the measurement-like interactions between its myriads 
of components. Because there exists neither a mechanism within the framework 
of the formalism, by definition, an entity outside the universe that can designate 
which branch of the grand superposition is the 'real' world, all branches must be 
regarded as equally real. To see what this multiworld concept implies one need 
merely note that because every cause, however microscopic, may ultimately 




propagate its effects throughout the universe, it follows that every quantum 
transition teMng place on every star, in every galaxy, in every remote comer of 
the universe is splitting our local world on earth into myriads of copies of itself. ^^ 

There are different perspectives of the Many- Worlds view. One, given by David 
Deutsch, today's best known proponent of the Many- Worlds interpretation, suggests that 
rather than a constantly branching structure, it is more reasonable to consider that there 
are in fact an infinite number of imiverses and that they have always existed side by side. 
Each one of us is also exists in each of those universes. According to Deutsch, the 
universes never split but they can sometimes come together. He also believes that with 
the help of 'quantum computers' (which do not yet exist), we could communicate with 
the different v^orlds. ^^ 

[w]e exist in multiple versions in universes called 'moments'. Each of us is not 
directly aware of the others, but has evidence of their existence because physical 
laws link the content of different universes. It is tempting to suppose that the 
moment of which we are aware is the only real one, or is at least a little more real 
than the others. ... All moments are physically real. The of the multiverse is 
physically real. Nothing else is. ^^ 

David Deutsch' s particular explanation about the Many- Worlds interpretation of the 
quantum mechanics can be appUed here. It is presented below: 

[t]he snapshots which we call 'other times in our universe' are distinguished 
from 'other universes' only from our perspective, and only in that they are 
especially closely related to ours by the laws of physics. They are therefore 
the ones of whose existence our own snapshot holds the most evidence. For that 

reason , we discovered them thousands of years before we discovered them the 

rest of the multiverse, which impinges on us very weakly by comparison, 


Torretti 392. 

®^ David Deutch. The Fabric of Reality: the Science of Parallel Universes-and its Implications , 
(London: Allen Lane, 1997) 199-121. 



though interference-effects. We evolved special language constracts (past and 
future forms of verbs) for talking about them. We also evolved other constructs 
(such as 'if.... then' statements, and conditional and subjunctive forms of verbs) 
for talking about other types of snapshot, without even knowing that they exist. 
We have traditionally placed these two types of snapshot - other times, and other 
universes - in entirely different conceptual categories. Now we see that this 
distinction is unnecessary. ^^ 

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who also accepts the Many- Worlds 
interpretation^ looks at the parallel universes as "histories." He explains this in his book 
'Black Holes mid Baby Universes' as follows: 

. . .we happen to live on one particular history that has certain properties and details. 
But there are very similar intelligent beings who live on histories that differ in who 
won the war [referring to World War II] and who is top of the Pops. ^^ 

What is interesting about the Many- Worlds view is that, while advocating the 
coexistence of what seem to be multiple times and spaces into a single time and space, it 
seems to collapse the concepts of time and space themselves into one another. 

2.1 6, Conclusion 

Today, with the advent of quantum physics, there exist several new views of the 
universe and of physical reality which are being discussed by both physicists and 
philosophers. This chapter briefly outlined the Copenhagen interpretation, which is also 
known as the orthodox interpretation; the Bohmian interpretation that was first 
expounded by David Bohm; mid also the Many- Worlds interpretation, which accepts 
several splitting or parallel universes which are all real and continuing. Each of these 
theories contain their own particularities. The Copenhagen interpretation, for example, 


^^ Morris 50. 


accepts notions like indeteraiinism, a non-local universe, no hidden variables and also an 
observer effect known as the collapse of the wave fiinction. The Bohmian interpretation, 
on the other hand, accepts a non-local universe with hidden variables (causal laws), and 
denies notions like indetermism and the collapse of the wave fimction. Finally, the 
Many- Worlds interpretation, besides accepting the presence of several worlds existing in 
the same time and space, accepts determinism and locality while it denies the theory of 
the collapse of the wave function. 

hi all cases, with the advent of quantum physics, the notion of the universe as a 
collection of objectively and independently existing parts which are in relation to one 
another in any causally unambiguous fashion, as in classical physics, is no longer held as 
valid. Although this field has revolutionized ways of thinking about physical reality, for 
many physicists working outside the quantum realm, the arguments of determinism and 
objective reality still hold. 

As stated, the next chapter will attempt a comparative analysis of the current ideas 
in quantum physics with al-Ghazali's ideas in the Seventeenth Discussion in terms of 
issues such as causality, the validity of scientific observation and the nature of the 
physical universe. It is hoped that at that point these seemingly divergent subjects of this 
study will coalesce into a somewhat coherent whole. 





3,L Causality Under Observation 

As outlined in Chapter One of this paper, in the first part of the Seventeenth 
Discussion of Tahdfut al-Falasifa, al-Ghazali rejects the idea of inherent necessity 
between cause and effect in his aim to show that God is the ultimate cause of all things. 
He chides the philosophers for coming to accept this concept, inherent necessity, based on 
their empirical observations. According to al-Ghazali, causality can not be asserted 
simply on the basis of observation because observation is not a tool that can be trusted. 
For this reason, in the first part of his discussion, his arguments and exmnples are geared 
towards revealing how observation is untrustable in apprehending reality. 

To review, al-Ghazali first lists many occurrences in nature that are observable in 
connected pairs: 

. . .the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with 
fire, light and the appearance of the sun, death and decapitation, healing and 
drinking of medicine. . .and so on to [include] all [that is] observable among 
connected things in medicine, asfronomy, arts, and crafts. Their connection is 
due to the prior decree of God, who creates them side by side. * 

He then chooses a specific example to make his point, that observation itself is 
insufficient to prove a causal connection between such events: 

They have no proof other than observing the occurrence of the burning at the 

^ Abii Hamid Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-TiisT al-GhazalT, Incoherence of the Philosophers. Tahaftit 
al-Falasifa: a Parallel English-Arabic Text, trans. Micheal E. Marmura (Provo, Utah: Brigham University 
Press, 1997) 170 (Here on Tahafut ). 


[juncture of] contact with fire. Observation, however, [only] shows the 
occurrence [ of burning] at [the time of the contact with fire], but does not 
show the occuirence [ of burning] by [ the fire] and that there is no other 
cause for it. ^ 

Al-Ghazali states that observation shows only that such events exist 'with' each 
other, but it does not show that one of them is caused 'by' another: "It has thus become 
clear that existence 'with' a thing does not prove that it exists 'by' it." ^ 

He attacks the philosophers on their ovm groimds by showing the fallacies in their 
reasoning. According to al-Ghazali, there is no proof that the philosophers can produce 
that shows that what they consider necessary causality does not in fact emanate fi-om the 
principles of existence. It is possible that this is indeed the case. Since these principles 
never stop, we can never observe that the causes actually emanate firom them and that 
actually there is no necessary causality between objects on earth: 

Whence can the opponent safeguard himself against there being among the 
principles of existence grounds and causes from which these [observable] 
events emanate when a contact between them takes place - [admitting] that 
[these principles], however, are permanent, never ceasing exist; that they 
are not moving bodies that would set; that were they either to cease to exist 
or to set, we would apprehend the dissociation [between the temporal events] 
and would understand that there is a cause beyond what we observe? This 
[conclusion] is inescapable in accordance with the reasoning based on [the 
philosophers' own] principle. ^ 

To summarize, al-GhazalT at the beginning of the Seventeenth Discussion denies 

an inherent necessity between presumed causes and presumed effects, stating that such a 
conclusion is the result of an over-reliance on observation, which is prone to error. All of 

^ Tahafut lTl. 
^ Tahifiit ni. 

^ Tahafat l72. 


this he does in order to prove the possibihty of the miraculous, a task undertaken in his 
theological quest to prove that there exists a higher reality beyond what one can see^ and 
that observation does not take one to that higher reality. 

By comparison, in one of the contemporary interpretations of quantum theory, 
namely in the Copenhagen interpretation, ideas strikingly similar to those of al-GhazalT 
can be traced. This is particularly true of some of the arguments of Heisenberg and his 
uncertainty principle and some of Bohr's ideas on the nature of observation. 

Prior to Heisenberg' s uncertainty principle, causal laws and determinacy in the 
quantum world seem to have only been discussed among the physicists. Causal relations 
of matter had always been derived from scientific observation. After repeated tests and 
experiments on some subject, results were recorded, statistics were formulated and 
reports were written. As physicists arrived at the same conclusions time and time again, 
they accepted that there were causal laws and that these laws did not change. The 
acceptance of the laws of causality introduced also the acceptance of the notion of 
determinism. Once the existence of the causal laws were accepted, determinism followed 
because scientists could predict approximately what was expected and when the expected 
result would come about. Heisenberg explains this below: 

The concept of causality became narrowed down, finally, to refer to our belief that 

events in nature are uniquely determined, or, in other words, that an exact knowledge 
of nature or some part it would suffice, at least in principle, to determine the future. ^ 

^ Werner Heisenberg, The Physicist's Conception of Nature , trans. Arnold J. Pomerans. (Westport, 
Connecticut: Greenwood Press PubMshers, 1970) 34; see also Karen Harding, "Causality Then and Now: 
Al-Ghazali and Quantum Theory," The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 10.2 (1993): 165-177. 


It was accepted that if before an experiment all the conditions (such as position^ 
momentum^ time, energy, etc.) of an event were known, then the result would be 
predicted with near-perfect accuracy. However, as it was never possible to know all the 
variants of the conditions of an event, this clearly meant that only general predictions 
could be made. In other words, the accuracy of predictions directly correlated with the 
accuracy of the knowledge of the initial conditions, and this, of course, were based on 
observation. Heisenberg explains this below: 

Even in principle we can not know the present in all detail. For that reason 
everything observed is a selection from plenitude of possibilities and a limitation 
on what is possible in the future. ^ 

In the early years of the advent of quantum theory, several unexpected results 
were derived from the experiments of microphysics, all pointing to the discontinuity of 
subatomic nature. This concept of discontinuity came into the open with Heisenberg' s 
formulation of an uncertainty principle. Heisenberg formulated this principle based on 
the observation of quantum particles under specific microscopes. He found that as the 
nature of subatomic particles were inherently both waves and particles, it was not 
possible to make measurements of them that could give precise results. He saw that when 
an electron's momentum is observed its position is disturbed, and when its position is 
observed its momentum got blurred. Heisenberg' s uncertainty principle shows that to 
know the initial conditions of matter in the quantum realm is impossible. The immediate 
result, of course, is that to make predictions in the quantum world is also impossible. This 

^ Helge Kargh, Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century ( Princeton; New 

Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999) 209. 


is not based on the physicists' inabiMty of measurement or the unavailabiMty of the 
precise measurement tools but on the inherent nature of matter at the sub-atomic level: 

Nature thus escapes accurate determination, in terms of our commonsense ideas, 
by an unavoidable disturbance which is part of every observation. It was originally 
the aim of science to describe nature as far as possible as it is, i.e., without our 
interference and our observation. We now realize that this is an unattainable goal. 
In atomic physics it is impossible to neglect the changes produced on the observed 
object by observation. ^ 

Bohr also made similar arguments: 

. . .any measurement which aims at an ordering of the elementary particles in time 
and space requires us to forgo a strict account of the exchange of energy and 
momentum between the particles and the measuring rods and clocks used as a 
reference system. Similarly any determination of the energy and momentum of 
the particles demands that we renounce their exact co-ordination in space and time. 
In both cases the invocation of classical ideas, necessitated by the very nature of 
measurement, is, beforehand, tantamount to renunciation of a strictly causal 
description. ^ 

Heisenberg, further thought that if matter was inherently not able to be observed under 

the most precise tools, and gave results undermining the concept of determinism, then 

perhaps, the laws of causality which were the ultimate source of determinism were to be 

undermined as well, since they too were based on observation: 

In view of the intimate connection between statistical character of the quantum 
theory and the imprecision of all perception, it may be suggested that behind 
the statistical universe of perception there lies hidden a 'real' world ruled by 
causality. Such speculations seem to us - and this we stress by emphasis - 
useless and meaningless. . . ^ 

"^ Jennifer Trasted, The Mystery of Matter (London: MacMillan Press, Ltd.; New York: St. Martin's Press, 
1999) 144. 

^ Trasted 147. 

^ Franco Selleri, Quantum Paradoxes and Physical Reality , ed. Alwyn van der Merwe (London: Kluwer 
Academic Publishers, 1990) 111 


According to Heisenberg: 

Since all experiments obey quantum laws and, consequently, the uncertainty 
relations, the incorrectness of the law of causality is definitely established 
as a consequence of quantum mechanics itself. ^° 

Here we see the simileity between Heisenberg' s conclusion on the incorrectness of the 
law of causality in nature, based on the fallacy of determinism, which is based fallacy of 
observation, and what al-Ghazali says about the lack of inherent necessity of the cause 
and effect relationship which is also based on the fallacy of observation. They both agree 
on mistrusting observation as a precise and ultimate tool to see causality. 

The founder Copenhagenists with their conclusions took the matter further and 
claimed that if observation disturbed the nature of matter, perhaps the nature we know is 
not the same as the nature that we are now discovering. 

Although both al-Ghazali and the physicists argue about fallacy of observation 
and fallacy of causality, they do not think on the same lines. Al-GhazalT's aim is to prove 
the omnipotence of God and therefore miracles, whereas the physicists' arguments center 
around how the fallacy of observation effects physics and its view of nature. Heisenberg 
commented on this latter subject as follows: 

We have had to forgo the description of nature which for centuries was 
considered the obvious aim of all exact sciences. All we can say at present is 
that in the realm of modem atomic physics we have accepted this state of 

affairs because it describes our experience adequately. On the question of the 
philosophical interpretation of the quantum theoiy opinions still differ, and 
occasionally we may hear the view that this new form of natural description is 
still unsatisfactoiy, since it fails to satisfy earlier ideals of what scientific fruth 
ought to be and must be considered itself as a symptom of the crisis of our times, 
and by no means final. ^^ 


Kargh 209. 


The meaning of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is very important for understanding 
nature. The fact that the ultimate constituents of matter have dual characteristics altered 
the way physicists and also philosophers conceived of reality. 

Although Einstein did not agree with all parts of the Copenhagen interpretation of 
quantum physics^ he, just like most physicists, accepted the duality of matter and the new 
reality. Einstein and Leopold Infeld explain this below: 

Physics really began with the invention of mass, force, and inertial system. These 
concepts are all free inventions. They led to the formulation of the mechanical point 
of view. For the physicist of the early nineteenth century, the reality of our outer 
world consisted of particles with simple forces acting between them and depending 
only on the distance. He tried to retain as long as possible his belief that he would 
succeed in explaining all events in nature by these fundamental concepts of reality. . .. 
The quantum theory again created new and essential features of our reality. 
Discontinuity replaced continuity, histead of laws goveming individuals, probability 
laws appeared. The reality created by modem physics is, indeed, far removed from 
the reality of the early days. ^^ 

The arguments put forth by al-Ghazali on observation insist that observation is 
like illusion, we see things but we do not really know if we see a reality or there is 
another reality behind what we see. Contemporary physics, with quantum mechanics, 
also came to a point where what al-GhazalT is saying about observation and reality are 
now being talked about in a veiy similar manner. James Jeans discusses the new physics 

The new physics suggest that, besides the matter and radiation which can be 

represented in ordinary space and time, there must be other ingredients which can 
not be represented. These are just as real as the material ingredients, but they 
do not happen to make any direct appeal to our senses. Thus the material world. . . 

^^ Heisenberg. 25. 

^^ Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, "Physics and Reality," The Mystery of Matter, ed. Louise B. Young. 

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1965) 126. 


constitutes the whole world of appearance, but not the whole world of reality; we 
may think of it as forming only a cross-section of reality. ^^ 

Al-Ghazill's arguments regarding causality, observation, and reality are framed by 

scriptural evidence, background knowledge in both theology and philosophy, and of 
course, also his intellectual ability, whereas today's arrival to these quite similar 
conclusions is by way of quite detailed and precise experimentation and scientific 
theorizing. Nevertheless, it is evident that there are compelling similarities between the 
two conclusions. 

3.2, Possibilities 

Before entering into an examination of the similarities and the differences 
between the Many- Worlds interpretation and al-GhazalT's Seventeenth Discussion, a brief 
review of one of the thought experiments explained in Chapter 2 would be useM. This 
thought experiment involved Schrodinger's cat paradox. The experiment was contrived 
to show the incorrectness of applying microworld concepts to the macroworld, and also to 
show that the 'collapse' was not applicable in the real world, where objects exist in reality 
even when no conscious being was observing. 

The thought experiment of a cat in the box whose death and life depended on the 
quantum action of a decayed or undecayed photon respectively, showed that the cat was 
neither alive nor dead but both at the same time. This position of both quantum states 
(although they are opposites) existing at the same time was explained by the notion of the 
superposition of quantum states in a quantum system (or experiment). To reemphasize 

^^ James Jeans, "Some Problems of PMlosophy," The Mystery of Matter , ed, Louise B. Young. New York: 

Oxford University Press, 1965) 127. 


the pointy it bears repeating that in the Copenhagen interpretation, the two quantum states, 
(one in which the cat is dead and the other in which the cat is ahve) exist together, and 
only when an observer looks at it does the quantum potential collapse into either one of 
the states, causing the disappearmice of the other state. 

The Many- Worlds interpretation explained that there are an infinite number of 
worlds and universes coexisting in the same space and time. There are variations to this 
interpretation, one of which was proposed by Deutsch. It is possible to compare one of 
al-GhazalT's examples to Deutsch' s interpretation of quantum mechanics. 

Al-Ghazall's argument is to prove the omnipotence of God and that God and the 
principles of existence or celestial bodies, (an expression he uses later in his discussion) 
are voluntary. God can will fireely, and create whatever God wills. Once this is stated, 
al-GhazalT accepts the strange possibilities that he believes God can create, which the 
philosophers call "repugnant contradiction" His first example of these is as follows: 

". . .The possibility that there being in fi"ont of him ferocious beasts, ranging 
from fires, high mountains, or enemies ready with their weapons [to Mil him], 
but [also the possibility] that he does not see them because God does not 
create for him [the vision of them]. ^^ 

In al-GhazalT's view, God can create beings which exist unseen near a person. In 
the Many- Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, especially in the one Deutsch 
proposed, there exist many universes and there exist many beings in these universes, 
unseen to each another. What al-GhazalT accepts as possible, Deutsch sees as true and 

^^Taha&t 173474. 


actual For Deutsch, they are not just possible imaginations but they are all true and 
physical beings. However, in Deutsch' s view, God is not mentioned. 

Furthermore, in al-GhazalT's view, althou^ a person can not see these beings, 
they can see the person. This happens because God does not create the vision for the 
human being to see them. In the Many- Worlds interpretation, as well, the multiverses are 
not aware of each other. However, Deutsch accepts the possibility of some of them to 
fose with each other. 

It should be mentioned that the basic reason why the Many- Worlds interpretation 
was proposed was because scientists wanted to explain quantum mechanics in classical 
terms, and this was also the reason why the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum 
mechanics, which spoke against the classical ideas of determinism and causal laws, was 
refused by some scientists. 

Seen from this view, al-Ghazali's "repugnant contradictions" seem at first similar 
to the Many- Worlds interpretation, but when analyzed more deeply it is clear that they 
differ, because the Many- Worlds inteipretation accepts the laws of causality and 
determinism while al-Ghazali's worlds do not obey those laws. In a way, al-Ghazali's 
possibilities represent a Many- Worlds interpretation that should be explained by the 
Copenhagenists. But such an interpretation does not exist; after all that would be against 
the aim of the Many- Worlds interpretation. If, on the other hand, those examples were 
seen from the perspective of the Copenhagen interpretation, the comparison could be 
easily made. 

More of al-Ghazali's examples are given below: 

And if someone leaves a book in the house, let him allow as possible its change 


on his returning home into a beardless slave boy - intelligent, busy with his tasks 
— or into an animal; or if he leaves a boy in his house, let him allow the possibility 
of his changing into a dog; or [again] if he leaves ashes, [let him allow] the 
possibility of its change into musk; and let him allow the possibility of stone 
changing into gold and gold into stone. If asked about any of this, he ought to 
say: 'I do not know what is at the house at the present. All I know is that I have 
left a book in the house, which is perhaps now a horse that has defiled the library 
. . .and that I have left in the house ajar of water, which may well have turned 
into an apple tree. For God is capable of everything. . . it is not necessary 
for the horse to be created from the sperm, nor the tree to be created from the 
seed — indeed, it is not necessaiy for either of the two to be created from anything. 
Perhaps [God] has created things that did not exist previously,' Indeed, if 
[such as person] looks at a human being he has seen only now and is asked 
whether such a human is a creature that was bom, let him hesitate and let him say 
that it is not I impossible that some fruit in the marketplace has changed into a 
human, namely this human - for God has power over possible things, and this 
thing is possible - hence, one must hesitate in [this matter], ^^ 

In his description of the event in which the object that is left alone in the house 
changes into another object, al-Ghazali approaches a description of the thought 
experiment of Schrodinger, in which the cat is put in a closed box. In both cases, the 
object is somewhere beyond observation and speculations are made about the object 
while the object is not seen. In both cases as well, the observer, with limited information 
and untrustable natural laws, hesitates in making any predictions about what is occurring 
inside the unseen area. 

In the Copenhagen inteipretation, the object is in a superposition of two quantum 
states, both life and death are present, and when the observer looks, one of the two 
qumitum states collapses into fomi as the other disappears. In al-Ghazali's example, the 
book (or ashes, or stones) is not under the superposition of any (quantum) state but still 
under observation, because the observer, in al-Ghazall's case, is not a human but is God 
who is able see and do rniything. 

^^ Tahafut 173-174. 


33, Impossibilities 

Al-Ghazili finishes Ms argument on the possibiMties that he beheves God can 
create with a warning to "hesitate" in giving more examples of those possibiMties. As he 
returns to the arguments of possibiMties and impossibiMties at the end section of his 
argument, we understand that he put Mmitations on those possibiMties. He outMnes these 
impossibiMties in the last section of the Seventeenth Discussion. 
Al-Ghazali clearly states what is not possible below: 

The impossible is not within the power [of being enacted]. The impossible consists 
in affirming a thing conjointly with denying it, affirming the more specific thing 
while denying the more general, affirming two things while negating one [of them]. 
What does not reduce to this is not impossible, and what is not impossible is within 
[divine] power. ^^ 

From this it is clear that al-GhazalT thinks in terms of classical physics. He has a 
definition of objects in his mind, just as we have of the macroworld. When we think of 
an object, in other words, we have an image of it and we also have some intellectual 
definition of it. In our mind, the object is distinct fi*om another object, although the two 
might be quite similar. Here al-Ghazali is doing the same thing; in order to affirm a 
thing, he defines it in his mind and he knows what it is. Similarly, when he denies it he 
knows what he is denying. In this way, he affirms in his mind that he can not affirm a 
thing while denying it. From most of his examples on the impossibilities, it is evident 
that al-Ghazali thinks of a "thing" as matter. 



In an earlier part of his discussion, Al-GhazilT states that "matter is receptive of 
all things,"^ "^ However, at the last section of his discussion, where he talks about the 
impossibilities, he makes it clear that matter is not limitless in its receptivity: 

[Again,] we say that blood has changed into sperm, we mean by this that matter 
itself took off one form and put another. This, then, amounts to the fact that one 
form has ceased to exist and one has come into existence, there being a subsistent 
matter over which the two forms rotated. When we say that water through heating 
has changed into air, we mean that matter receptive of the form of water took of 
this form and received another form. Matter thus common, while the quality 
changes. ^^ 

Before going into the compmson, it should be noted that al-GhazalT very clearly 
contradicts himself in two places. One, when he says, as we shown above, that "matter is 
receptive of all things" he contradicts himself by saying that this only applies to specific 
things such as the changing of blood into sperm. Two, this contradiction itself violates 
what he said above about the impossibilities: that it was not possible to affirm "the more 
specific thing while denying the more general." This in fact is exactly what al-GhazalT does. 
He first gives a general argument that "matter is receptive of all things," which he then 
violates by giving only a specific meaning to it and proposing that change can happen 
only within the same genera. Thus, al-Ghazall affirms the specific while denying the 

A comparison of al-GhazalT's description of matter with the description of matter 

proposed by the quantum physicists produces some interesting results. After a long 
history of experimentation, physicists today have a specific vision of what constitutes 




matter. Today, matter is understood to consist of several different particles, such as 
protons, mesons, photons, electrons, etc. These are accepted as the elementary particles, 
or simply, particles of matter. However, this definition is far too simple, for the 
description of these so-called particles articulates not, as we might imagine, simply tiny 
individual dots. For example, Schrodinger tells us: 

Increasing knowledge has in some ways made us not more certain but less certain 
of the nature of matter. . .modem wave mechanics implies very clearly that, in fact, 
they are not identifiable individuals at all. ^^ 

This new view of elementary particles seems to be very similar to how al-Ghazall first 
explains matter. According to al-GhazalT there is a subsistent matter in nature and this 
matter can receive all forms. Schrodinger tells us that elementary particles are 

. . .The elementary particle is not an individual; it can not be identified. . .The 
implication, far from obvious, is that the unsuspected epithet "this" is not quite 
properly applicable to, say, a superposition electron, except with causation, 
in a restricted sense and sometimes not at all. ^° 

Heisenberg further explains that recently the number of elementary particles that 
constitute all matter, and therefore nature, were reduced to three. Recent experiments, 

however, have showed that there are more. But again it was found that the newly found 

particles were not always persistent in nature. They appeared and disappeared. This is 
explained below: 

*^ Erwin Schrodinger, "What is an Elementary Particle?" Interpreting Bodies: Classical and Quantum 
Objects in Modem Physics , ed. Elena Castellani (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998) 197. 

^° Schrodinger 197. 


In contrast to the three basic building-stones, these new particles are always 
unstable and have very short lives, . .one type. . .of about a millionth of a second, 
another lives only one hundredth part of that time. . .a third. . .only a hundred 
billionth of a seconds... ^^ 

This state of affairs is best described by saying that all particles are basically 
nothing but different stationary states of one and the same stuff. Thus even 
the three basic building-stones have become reduced to a single one. There is 
only one kind of matter but it can exist in different discrete stationary 
conditions. Some of these conditions, i.e., protons, neutrons and electrons, 
are stable while many others are unstable. ^^ 

Thus what al-Ghazali first says about matter is confirmed by what has been found about 
the constituents of matter by current quantum mechanics. The fact that there is only one 
ever-shifting kind of matter that simply takes on new forms is stated by both. 

However, as al-GhazalT changes his description, and also contradicts himself, the 
similarities turn into differences. Al-GhazalT makes it clear that only genera within itself 
can be changed (by God). However, if he continued to hold his first opinion fiuther, he 
could conclude that if all matter is constituted of basically the same material, which 
would then not make it possible for him to claim that there are different kinds of genera, 
he could not conclude that God could not change one genus into another. This would 
bring his theory more in line with that of quantum physics. 

Regarding the changing of matter from one form to another, Heisenberg describes 
the current capability to actually do so. He explains that especially after "Otto Hann's 
discovery of the fission of uranium in 1938," elements can be changed into one another 
even on a large scale. ^^ His explanation is presented below: 

^^ Heisenberg 45. 
^^ Heisenberg 45-46. 
^^ Heisenberg 43. 


. , .during experiments in the last few years, it has become clear that these 
elementary particles can change into one another during their collisions, with 
great changes of energy. When two elementary particles collide with great 
energy of motion, new elementary particles are created and the original 
particles, together with their energy, are changed into new matter. ^^ 

Nevertheless, it is evident that, in general, both contemporary quantum physics and al- 
GhazalT give similar views about the changing of one form of matter into another. 
Al-Ghazali also proposes the following as impossible: 

As for combining blackness with and whiteness, this is impossible. For by the 
affirmation of the form of blackness in the receptacle we understand [(a)]the 
negation of the appearance of whiteness and [(b)] [the affirmation of] the 
existence of blackness. Once the negation of whiteness becomes understood 
from the affirmation of blackness, then the affirmation of whiteness, together, 
becomes impossible. ^^ 

If we take al-GhazalT's idea above conceptually, we can see that he believes that opposite 
things can not exist with each other. Al-Ghazali's belief is that because opposite things 
deny the presence of each other they can not be in existence at the same time and place. 
We also understand that he perceives blackness and whiteness as a kind of characteristic 
of a matter whose receptacles are able to receive one or the other. 

This concept can be compared to the characteristics of matter in quantum physics. 
That an electron can have different and opposite characteristics at the same time is a 
proven and accepted concept today. Schrodinger's describes this below: 

A vast amount of experimental evidence clinches the conviction that wave 
characteristics and particle characteristics are never encountered singly, but 

always in a union; they form different aspects of the same phenomenon, and 

^^ Heisenberg 45-46. 


indeed of all physical phenomena. The union is not a loose or superficial one. 
In the early days of the new theory it was suggested that particles might be 
singular spots within the waves, actually singularities in the meaning of the 
mathematician. The idea was very soon abandoned. It seems that both 
concepts, that of waves and that of particles, have to be modified 
considerably, so as to attain a true amalgamation. ^^ 

According to this information about the nature of matter, it is possible to say that matter 
has two opposite characteristics together. In fact, having two opposite characteristics is 
the nature of matter. 

What al-Ghazali says about a receptacle (of matter) not being able to have both 
whiteness and blackness, because two opposite qualities can not exist in the same matter, 
is in direct contradiction with the contemporary interpretations of quantum mechanics. 
Quantum mechanics, as has been shown, accepts and asserts the idea of matter having 
two different characteristics at the same time, for this is the nature of matter. Al-Ghazall 
states another of the impossibilities below: 

It is [further] impossible for the individual to be in two places, because we 
understand by his being in the house [for example] he is not being in [a place] 
other than the house. Hence, it is impossible to suppose him in [a place] other 
than the house together with his being in the house, [his being in the house] 
signifying the denial of [his being] elsewhere other than the house. ^^ 

This above idea of al-GhazalT is in direct contradiction with the Many- Worlds 
interpretation of quantum theory. According to many worlds interpretation, there is no 

contradiction at all in accepting a person as being in the house and outside the house at 
the SOTie time, for a person's being in the house does not deny his being simultaneously 

• Schrodinger 199. 

^^ Tahifiit 179. 


outside the house. In fact, according to the Many- Worlds interpretation, a person is in 
infinite worlds at all times. 

One last point of comparison between the ideas of al-Ghazali and quantum 

mechanics is the impossibility of knowledge existing in inanimate matter. Al-GhazalT 

It is impossible, moreover, to create knowledge in inanimate matter. For 
we understand by the inanimate that which does not apprehend. If apprehension 
is created in it, then to call it inanimate in the sense we have understood becomes 
impossible. And if it does not apprehend, then to call what has been created 
"knowledge" when its receptacle does not apprehend anything is [also] 
impossible. This, then, is the way in which this is impossible. ^^ 

In contemporary theories of quantum mechanics, discussion on the constituents of matter 
and nature and the universe involve speculations based on the consciousness of both the 
elementary particles and also the whole universe. For example, Cochran, who explains 
the double-slit experiment fi-om a different perspective, accepts that each electron has a 
degree of consciousness and this is how they find their ways through the holes: 

Each electron passes through one hole, but is aware of the existence and 
location of the other hole when it is open, and it chooses different angles of 
diffraction when the second hole is open ~ angles that will enable it to form a 
part of the characteristic diffraction pattern. Instead of being something that 
has both particle and wave properties, the electron in this concept is a particle 
that has a degree of consciousness. The consciousness of the electron is a periodic 
pulsation with characteristic frequency that is determined by the energy of the 
electron, and it does not involve an extended wave. The electron exhibits its 
particle aspects in interactions in which it gains or loses energy, and it exhibits its 
degree of consciousness in interactions in which its energy remains constant, such 
as diffraction. Since an electron going through a hole can deflect its course in a 
great many ways, a calculation of its possible angles of diffraction involves a large 
number of possibilities and takes the form of the quantum mechanical wave 
function. The wave function describes the choices open to the electron and the relative 
probabilities that these choices will be realized. ^^ 



The authors of the book 'The Conscious Universe/' Kafatos and Nadeau, both 
accept that the universe as a whole is a conscious being. A part of their view is presented 


. . .on the most fundamental level the universe evinces an undivided wholeness, 
and this wholeness in modem physical theoiy does not appear to be associated 
with a principle of cosmic order. If this principle were not a property of the 
whole that exists within the parts, it seems reasonable to conclude that there 
would be no order or no higher-level organization of matter that allows for 
complexity. Because the whole, or reality-in-itself, transcends space-time and 
exists or manifests within all parts or quanta in space-time, the principle of order 
seems to operate in self-reflective fashion. If the whole were not self-reflectively 
aware of itself as reality-in-itself, the order that is a precondition for all being 
would not, in our view, exist. Since human consciousness in its most narrow 
formulation can be identified as self-reflective awareness founded on a sense of 
internal consistency or order, we can infer, but not prove, that the universe is, 
in these terms, conscious. ^° 

We can see that in both of the given contemporary views, one derived from the double- 
slit experiment and the other inspired by the non-locality concept of quantum mechanics, 
the physicists and scientists look at inanimate things in the universe and also the universe 
itself as possibly conscious. From this perspective, al-GhazalT's view of inanimate things 
as not being able to comprehend mid contain knowledge is contradicted by the 
conclusions of contemporary inteipretations of quantum mechanics on inanimate things. 

According to al-GhazalT, an inanimate thing can not have knowledge because it 
does not apprehend. According to Cochran's interpretation, the elementary particles, 


^° Menos Kafatos and Robert Nadeau, The Consciouss Universe: Parts and Wholes in Physical Reality 
(New York; Springer, 2000) 158 


which have commonly been seen as inanimate matter, do have a degree of consciousness. 
They do apprehend their environment and act accordingly. 

3 A. ProphetS5 Humans and the Collapse 

Al-Ghazali first introduces the subject of the souls of the prophets because the 
philosophers accept the souls of prophets as being special and different from those of 
ordinary human beings. At the point he first mentions the nature of the souls of the 
prophets, al-GhazalT's aim is directed at exposing the incoherence of the philosophers' 
views in also accepting as possible a normal human being's ability to arrive, with hard 
work and study, to a point equal in nature to the souls of the prophets. This initial 
mention, taken together with what al-Ghazali says later in the discussion about the souls 
of the prophets, indicates that both the philosophers and al-Ghazali see the souls of the 
prophets as being at a higher level of intuition and knowledge: 

Indeed, it is possible for one of the prophets to know through the ways [the 
philosophers] have mentioned that a certain individual will not arrive from 
his journey tomorrow when his arrival is possible, the prophet knowing, 
however, the occurrence of this possible thing. ^^ 

The discussion goes on to show that, according to the philosophers, the prophets' souls 
are able not only to know whether a possible future event will occur or not, but that they 
also have special powers to affect a natural event in a way so as to bring about another 

event in nature. Al-Ghazali describes this as follows: 

[In] what you have admitted regarding the possibility of the coming down of 
rain [and] of hurricanes and occurrence of earthquakes the power of the 

■ Tahafut 175. 


prophet's soul. . .Our statement. . .is the same as your statement. 


However, al-GhazalT quickly ties this ability of the prophets to the omnipotence of God. 

In explaining why and how such things can occur, he states: 

It is, however, more fitting for both you and us to relate this to God, either 
directly or through the mediation of the angles. ^^ 

The time meriting its appearance, however, is when the prophet's attention is 
wholly directed to it and the order of the good becomes specifically [dependent] 
on its appearance so that the order of the revealed law may endure. [All] this 
gives preponderance to the side of [the] existence [of the miracle], the thing in 
itself being possible [and] the principle [endowing it being ] benevolent and 
generous. But it does not emanate from Him except when the need for its 
existence becomes preponderant and the order of the good becomes specified 
therein. And the order of the good becomes specified therein only if a prophet 
needs to prove his propehthood in order to spread the good. ^"^ 

Does what al-GhazalT says above have any points in common with contemporary 
interpretations of the quantum mechanics explain? This is a question dealt with below. 

Both in Schrodinger's cat paradox and in the double-slit experiment the presence 
of the observer effect was accepted by the Copenhagen interpretation. In the cat paradox, 

the presence of an observer collapsed the wave function from a superposition of two 
quantum events. The cat either lived or died only after the opening of the box. However, 
this was only a thought experiment which was constructed after the Copenhagenists 
explained their view of the quantum world. 

^^ Tahaftit l76. 
^^ Tahaflit 176. 



The double-slit experiment, on the other hand, shows real events happening in the 
quantum world. To review, when an electron was sent throu^ one hole, the measuring 
apparatus gave results indicating that a particle had passed, and the same result was 
achieved when the other hole was closed. However, when both holes were open, one 
electron's passage created an interference pattern indicating that waves were passing. 
This and several other experiments in the history of the quantum theoiy showed that 
quantum particles have both wave-like and particle-like properties. They can behave like 
waves, and they can behave like particles. The behavior of the particle was concluded to 
be both wave-like and p^icle-like based on the experiment the scientist chose to 
perform. Bohr soon explained this reality of wave-like/particle-like behavior in the 
quantum world. He explained them as complement^y and related to the type of 
experiment performed, hi order words, for Bohr the position or the momentum of an 
electron can only be found within the context of an experiment, and so the quantum world 
could only be defined with respect to the type of observation chosen. Bohr describes this 

No photon exists until a detector fires, only a developing potentiality. Particle-like 
and wave-like behavior are properties we ascribe to light. Without us, light has no 
properties, no existence. There is no independent reality for phenomena nor 
agencies of observation. . ..Isolated, material particles are abstractions, their 
properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other 
systems. ^^ 

Further, according to Bohr: 

There is no quantum world. There is only quantum physical description. It is wrong 

^^ Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modem Physics and Eastern 
Mysticism , 3rd ed. (Boston: Shambhala, 1991) 137. 


to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what 
we can say about nature, ^^ 

Furthermore, Schrodinger explained that the elementary particles are in a 
deterministic quantum system that can only be represented by a mathematical 
construction known as a wave function. The Copenhagenists explained that when the 
system is observed by an extemal observer, the wave fimction collapses. As a result, the 
system, at the time of observation is divided into two — the one that is observed and the 
one that was before being observed. This explanation led to another result: that there is 
more than one reality. According to Heisenberg: 

The concept that events are not determined in a peremptory manner, but that 
the possibility or 'tendency' for an event to take place has a kind of reality 
- a certain intermediate layer of reality, halfway between the massive reality 
of matter and intellectual reality of the idea or image.. . .In modem quantum 
theory this concept takes on a new form; it is formulated quantitatively as 
probability and subject to mathematically expressible laws of nature. ^^ 

According to Eugene Wigner: 

It appears that our theory denies the existence of absolute reality - a denial which 
is unacceptable to many. . . .1 do not know how one could define operationally the 
reality of anything. ^^ 

According to Wheeler: 

No elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed 

^^ Trusted 258. 


^^ Tony Rothman and George Sudarshan, Doubt and Certainty (Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 
1998) 167. 


phenomenon. . ..The universe is a self-excited circuit. As it expands, cools, and 
develops, it gives rise to observer-participancy. Observer-participancy in turn 
gives what we call 'tangible reality' to the universe. ^^ 

The collapse of the wave fonction, as accepted primarily by the Copenhagen 
interpretation, is very similar to what al-GhazalT explains above regarding the nature of 
the souls of the prophets. Both he and the philosophers, as al-Ghazali explains, believed 
that the nature of the souls of the prophets could affect the environment around them. 
They could do so in such a way that earthquakes and hurricanes could come about from 
their effect. The Copenhagen interpretation also suggests that the observer collapses the 
wave function that is persistent in the quantum world. The observation affects the 
quantum state in such a way that the effect somehow creates what we perceive as physical 

This can again be shovm in the thought experiment that was proposed by 
Schrodinger, in which the cat in the box is in a superposition of two quantum states. 
These qu^itum states exist as one system because they are together and not separated. 
But from a classical point of view, they can be seen as the quantum state in which the cat 
is alive, and the quantum state in which the cat is dead. The Copenhagen interpretation 
explained that this superposition of quantum states can only be separated when the 
observer looked, and thereby interfered with the system. At the point of observation, the 
wave fimction that was persistent collapses into either one or the other of these states. As 
a result, the cat is seen as either alive or dead. In other words, the observation affected 
the quantum system and brought about a single reality out of at least two possible 

' Rothman and Sudarshan 167 


realities. From this, it is possible to conclude that, similarly, the interference of the 
prophets' souls in the physical system was able to bring about a single (unexpected) 
physical reality from multiple possible realities. 

There are, however, as mentioned, several different interpretations of this 
experiment. Some, for example, explained this point of the experiment not as a wave 
function collapse but as the coexistence of many realities in different worlds at the same 
time and space, as in the Many- Worlds interpretation 

There are also different views as to what exactly happens at the time of 
observation. For some theorists, it is the consciousness of the human being, and for 
others, it is the recording of the observation of the event that collapses the wave function. 
By the second perspective, the observer does not need to be a conscious being. Any 
observer, including a robot or a recording instrument, can collapse the wave function. 
For Wigner, the collapse of the wave function takes place as follows:. 

. . .the impression which one gains at an interaction, called the result of an 
observation, modifies the wave function of the system. The modified wave 
fiinction is, fiirthermore, in general unpredictable before the impression gained 
at the interaction has entered our consciousness; it is the entering of an impression 
into our consciousness which alters the wave function because it modifies our 
appraisal of the probabilities for different impressions which we expect to receive 
in the future. It is at this point that the consciousness enters the theory unavoidably 
and unalterably. ^° 

Two physicists, John Barrow and Frank Tipler, explain the observer's role as 

We ourselves can bring into existence only very small-scale properties like the spin 
of the electron. Might it require intelligent beings 'more conscious' than ourselves 
to bring into existence the electrons and other particles? ^^ 



From this it is possible to conclude that al- Ghazali and the Copenhagenists have 
another point in common: they both accept the influence of human consciousness on the 
physical environment. In al- Ghazali 's view the influence is understood as miracles 
performed by the prophets at specific times and under specific conditions. As al- Ghazali 
explains, it is only when the prophet's attention is directed towards the environment that 
it can be influenced in a miraculous way. 

Al- Ghazali takes this point fiirther by stating that both he and the philosophers 
ought to attribute the prophet's ability to influence the natural environment in this way to 

hi the Copenhagen interpretation any observer can, by the act of observing, 
collapse the wave function into an actual state from a superimposed state. The result in 
this case is not a miracle but simply a collapse from a wave form into a particle form. As 
Borrow and Tipler conclude, human consciousness is able to affect the physical world in 
a relatively small way, but perhaps more intelligent or more conscious beings could do so 
on a larger scale. 

Moreover, some physicists also attribute this influence to God, as al- GhazalT 
does. According to these quantum theorists it is also possible to consider the whole 
universe as being under the observation of its creator, hi this view, it is God, as an 
ultimate observer, who collapses every wave function. ^^ This, however, is not (yet) a 
generally accepted idea within the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. 

^^ Rothnmn and Sudarshan 167. 

^^ For example, see Euan Squires, The Mystery of the Quantum World, 2nd ed. (Bristol; Philadelphia: 


3J« Conclusion 

All of the above point to parallels between al-Ghazali's concept of the structure 
and machinations of the natural world, as outlined in the Seventeenth Discussion of 
Tahafut al-Falasifa, and the views of the quantum physicists reg^ding systems operating 
within the physical universe. For both, generally speaking, notions of an inherent 
causality guiding events in the universe are rejected. As well, regarding the place of 
human consciousness, particularly in terms of the inability of human observation in 
discovering an objective reality, the views of both are in general agreement. The 
consequent reevaluation of what is possible and impossible is evident in both as well, 
although the two views differ in tenns of the details. Finally, the work of both points to 
the need for a reconsideration of preexisting beliefs about the physical world and how it 
operates, from a human perspective. 

Institute of Physics Publishing, 1994) 66-99. 



Although more than nine centuries separate the thinking of al-Ghazali in the 
Seventeenth Discussion of Tahafut al-Falasifa from the work of the quantum theorists, 
numerous parallels can be drawn between the conclusions reached by both as to the 
nature of physical reahty and the ability of the human mind to perceive an objective view 
of its structure. 

These parallels can be grouped under four general headings, as follows: 

1) The invalidity of the idea of causality as an inherent system consistently operating 
within the physical/natural realm. 

2) The impossibility of human perception to apprehend an objective 'always true' vision 
of the operating structures of physical matter and the universe. 

3) A subsequent reevaluation of what can be confidently asserted to be possible and 
impossible within the physical realm. 

4) A consequent call for a reconsideration of the sources and means of obtaining 
knowledge about the physical realm. 

Clearly, the purposes and objectives of the two in undertaking their respective 
projects differ. Al-GhazalT, in his theological Seventeenth Discussion, aims to prove the 
possibility of the miraculous and thereby underline the omniscience and omnipotence 
of God; whereas the quantum theorists, in their scientific experimentation and resulting 
conclusions, aim to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the physical world 
and the place of human consciousness within it. Nevertheless, both projects explicitly 
call for a reevaluation of the assumptions held by the dominant theories of their times, be 


they in the fields of physics or philosophy. In this sense^ the ideas produced by both 
projects can be seen to be truly revolutionary within their respective epochs. 

Admittedly, the method applied within this comparative analysis has been less 
than systematic, in the academic and scientific senses. However, the material being 
compared, as it has been derived from two ields of inquiry considered mutually distinct 
—theology and physics — has not lent itself to such systematic analysis. In a somewhat 
Ghazalian sense, then, this thesis has not attempted to defend any one line of reasoning, 
but has chosen from the many available in order to arrive at a more holistic consideration 
of the nature of the physical universe. In the process, it has attempted to connect the 
thinking of the Medieval Islamic milieu to that of contemporary Westem science. 

It is hoped that this will help to pave the way for further such studies, with the 
aim of redirecting the focus of academia, both within religious studies and the physical 
sciences, towards a contemplation of the similarities rather than the differences between 
such seemingly exclusive fields of investigation. 



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