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Thank God for Quantum Mechanics

Photo: The Sun, by NASA/SDO (AIA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Nature, it turns out upon close examination, is quantized. Nobody noticed this until about the beginning of the 1900s, but this unexpected aspect of reality has profound implications for making our universe livable. The relative unobservability of quantum effects in our normal experience of life is due to their realm of manifestation, which appears at the atomic level of size. This underlying reality of nature rests upon a foundation that speaks of the importance of information, mind, and intention. 

Physicist Max Planck first invoked quantization of radiated energy from a so-called blackbody object (in common vernacular, a lump of coal). Normally, a lump of coal, even if heated, is not particularly dangerous, but without quantization, classical physics predicted an infinite emissivity (energy density of its emissions) at the short wavelength end of the radiation spectrum. This potential problem was termed the ultraviolet catastrophe. But, thanks to quantum effects, the emissivity of a lump of coal is actually tame, and a backyard summer barbeque doesn’t incinerate the neighborhood.

From 1913-1915, Danish physicist Niels Bohr applied the new concept of quantization to achieve a stable model of the hydrogen atom. Earlier experimental investigations of the structure of the atom, conducted by Ernst Rutherford, gave rise to the familiar planetary model with electrons orbiting a nucleus. However, classical electrodynamic theory pointed out that the acceleration of the electron in its orbit would cause it to emit electromagnetic radiation, stealing energy from the electron’s orbital motion and causing it to spiral into the nucleus in roughly one nanosecond. Without quantum effects, there would be no atoms, no chemistry, and no life.

How Quantum Mechanics Does It

How does quantum mechanics save us from the precipitous self-destruction of atoms? Bohr boldly hypothesized that the orbital angular momentum of the electron must be restricted to a multiple of Planck’s constant (h=6.626×10-34 Joule-sec) divided by 2π. These restricted, or quantized, values provide stationary states for the electron’s orbit, preventing the implosion of the atom. Bohr’s hypothesis bore fruit when his theory quantitatively predicted the hydrogen atom energy levels, matching earlier data from spectroscopy. So, the existence of matter as we know it, made up of atoms with electrons in stable orbits, is made possible as a benefit of quantum effects.

But why does nature exhibit quantization? That is a profound question, and one worth asking. Here, we can give a partial answer by considering another physics hypothesis, stated by Louis de Broglie in his doctoral thesis at the University of Paris in 1924. His hypothesis, stated as an equation, reads simply, λ = h/p, where h is Planck’s constant and p is a particle’s momentum.  The ratio of h/p gives the wavelength of a wave associated with the particle, a phenomenon completely without counterpart in classical physics. Experiments in electron scattering confirmed de Broglie’s hypothesis within a year of his proposal, and additional experiments have conclusively affirmed that particles of matter have a wavelike nature.

A Depth of Meaning

The simple equation expressing de Broglie’s hypothesis exhibits a depth of meaning that is brilliant. Developing its ramifications has led to the entire physics of quantum mechanics, in which the wave function of a particle is described by the Schrödinger equation. Solutions to this equation revolutionized our understanding of the atomic scale of matter, based on the wave properties of particles, as originally proposed by de Broglie.

Another example of how quantum effects permit life as we know it operates in the nuclear furnace of the Sun. Stars like our Sun produce their energy deep down in their cores by the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium, a process that also converts a small amount of mass into energy, according to Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc2. The fusion of hydrogen into helium requires bringing protons (hydrogen nuclei) close enough together to allow the strong nuclear force to bind them together, eventually resulting in a helium nucleus of four nucleons. I describe the contribution of quantum effects to nuclear fusion in my book, Canceled Science (p. 96):

As is often the case, the story gets more interesting with a closer look. The range of the strong nuclear force is so short (about one quadrillionth of a meter) that the repulsive force between the positive charges of the protons makes it almost impossible for them to get close enough to fuse at the Sun’s core temperature. And yet fusion does occur there. A remarkable work-around exists involving the quantum mechanical wave function of the proton, in which its essence is extended several hundred times further than it would be otherwise. This allows the life-giving fusion process to occur in the Sun. Without the quantum wave function extending the proton’s reach, the Sun’s temperature would have to be more than a hundred times hotter to be able to produce energy by fusion. Our Sun’s mass is much too small for gravity to produce enough compression to make its core that hot, so no fusion would occur without the additional quantum effects. Sunshine is an amazing thing, and without this coordination of several properties of nature, the Sun wouldn’t shine and we wouldn’t be here.

Quantum Effects, Information, and Mind 

Returning to the question posed earlier, asking why nature exhibits quantum effects, the famous American physicist John Wheeler drew a connection between quantum effects, information, and mind.  Wheeler famously asked, “How come the quantum?”1 His understanding of the quantum nature of reality led him to the conclusion that reality is, at its most basic, the answer to a yes-or-no question. 

Wheeler coined the aphorism “It from bit” to describe his conviction, born of the many discoveries in particle physics and cosmology in the twentieth century, that information (characterized by the computer storage term “bit”) preceded and produced everything else (“it”). 

Canceled Science, p. 209

Quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger, in reviewing Wheeler’s contributions regarding quantum phenomena, notes this same connection between the discoveries of modern physics and what he terms “old knowledge.” As Zeilinger states (quoted in my book):

In conclusion it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Then the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of the gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”2

Canceled Science, p. 210

Physics thus arrives at the conclusion that nature is fundamentally derived from information, a surprising outcome that biblical tradition anticipated two millennia earlier. The quantum nature of our universe further includes observer participation for the formation of reality. The biblical account of creation in Genesis emphasizes the action of God in observing what was made: “And God saw.” It may not be too much of a stretch to suggest that God’s seeing the created order brought about his intended outcome, “it was very good.”


  1. John Archibald Wheeler, “How Come the Quantum?” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 480:1, 304-316, (1986),
  2. Anton Zeilinger, “Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?: Three Far-reaching, Visionary Questions from John Archibald Wheeler and How They Inspired a Quantum Experimentalist,” Metanexus, accessed May 11, 2023,