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Wheeler, Professor John Archibald

Category: Genius


John Archibald Wheeler (July 9, 1911 – April 13, 2008) was an American theoretical physicist and one of the legends of modern physics. He did foundational work on quantum mechanics, collaborating with Niels Bohr on some of the earliest work in nuclear fission. He invented the S-matrix. He played important roles in both the Manhattan project (atomic bomb) and the Matterhorn project (Hydrogen bomb). He made major contributions to general relativity, co-authoring with Charlie Misner and Kip Thorne one of the standard texts on Einstein's general theory of relativity.

In 1966, he proposed that a brilliant cloud of gas known as the Crab nebula was illuminated from within by a whirling sphere of solid neutrons created by the implosion of a star. Astronomers later detected such spinning neutron stars, or pulsars, both in the Crab nebula and elsewhere in the Milky Way.


He was legendary for his way with words, coining such terms as wormholes, quantum foam, black holes, and the wave function of the universe (the Wheeler-DeWitt equation). It was Wheeler who speculated that matter could collapse even beyond the solid ­neutron state, becoming so dense that nothing—not even light—could escape its gravitational clutches. Such an object was first proposed by J. Robert Oppenheimer and Hartland S. Snyder in 1939, but it had been dismissed as a theoretical curiosity and not something that might actually exist.  Wheeler recalls discussing such "completely collapsed gravitational objects" at a conference in 1967, when someone in the audience casually dropped the phrase "black hole." Wheeler immediately adopted the phrase and it caught on.

From the point of view of this site, however, he plays a very key role.  All mystic thought is based around the concept that the universe is formed of energy and that ‘matter’ is, not so much an illusion, as a temporary state of energy that exists because evolution – the Great Work is operating, executing.  We live in a temporarily congealed and tiny layer of energy surrounded on either side by the future plan of the universe as it enfolds, and a trail of the past, a sort of vast log of the past, snapshots in time over aeons.

And Wheeler was one of the first prominent physicists seriously to propose that reality might not be a wholly physical phenomenon.  Furthermore he saw the links with computers and information theory, if only as an analogy.

Wheeler's style was described at the time as  "prophetic, leading the way rather than relating what's already been done."

Mystic, scientist or eccentric?

It is difficult to know exactly where to place Wheeler, but his eccentricity and humanity tend to place him in the category of genius rather than just a scientist.  For example:

Wheeler, the cosmologist and co-inventor of the greatest explosives the world has known, used dynamite to crack logs in the back yard of his New England summer home

He was apparently totally disorganised:

.... in the ’70s I edited a paper with him on cosmology. I remember being in his new office in Jadwin Hall when he searched for a related paper. “It’s somewhere here in a pre-Cambrian layer.” Like many scholars with a comprehensive interest, papers were piled high on the desk. [Arch Davis]


We would break for lunch, and walk up to the faculty club. I often had trouble keeping up with him. He would always take the stairs (“No time to wait for an elevator!”). He would hook his arm into the banisters, and swing around, practically leaping from one flight to the next. This was 1990; Wheeler was 79 years old.[Daniel Holz]

Wheeler with Eckehard W. Mielke 1985

Perhaps key is that he had the very broad interests that characterise a genius. 

He was capable of discussing biology, or history, or poetry and more important drawing on numerous sources to see the wider picture.

In the spring of 1989 a conference was held entitled Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information

Wheeler's address to the meeting, covered 16 pages, and he cited 175 sources, including the Greek poet Parmenides, Shakespeare, Leibniz, Einstein and graffiti in the men's room of the Pecan Street Cafe in Austin, Tex., which states: "Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once."


John Wheeler was brought up in the Unitarian church.  It appears, from looking at a number of articles, that the Unitarian church is greatly misunderstood, as such the following is a brief summary from the website of the Church itself:

An inclusive approach to a shared spiritual journey: Unitarians emphasise freedom of conscience and affirm the validity of many religious traditions as well as science and secular culture.  Among Unitarians you will find people who have Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Humanist, Buddhist, and Pagan perspectives.  To build and explore our individual faiths Unitarians are aided and inspired by:

  • the example and spiritual insights of others;
  • writings deemed 'holy' and 'sacred' by the various faith traditions of humanity;
  • inherited traditions of critical and philosophical thought;
  • the ongoing creative work of artists, musicians and writers;
  • the scientist's search for knowledge and understanding.

Despite the wide variety of beliefs you will find among Unitarians there is broad agreement on what constitutes our shared values:

  • the nurture of life's spiritual dimension;
  • the use of reason and honest doubt in the search for truth;
  • mutual respect and goodwill in personal relations;
  • constructive tolerance and openness towards the sincerely-held beliefs of others;
  • peace, compassion, justice and democracy in human affairs;
  • reverence for the earth and the whole natural system of which we are part.

We find that these values form a more effective foundation for true community than insistence on uniformity of belief and doctrine.  Generally speaking, Jesus is thought of as a powerful example of integrity, courage and compassionate living, fully and unequivocally human – not a deity – and divine only in the sense that his life and work came to symbolise the divinity and high potential inherent in everyone. Therefore while honouring him, we do not worship him.

As such I think we can say that John Wheeler lived his religion.  He was honest and kindly, open minded and at times deeply affected by the sorrows of others

May 8, 2008, edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper - Remembering John Wheeler
Wheeler had a personal bond with colleagues that .. ran deep. In one of his last public lectures in A10 Jadwin, he related his history with Neils Bohr. Along with discussion of the quantum theory as then formulated by the two and its development since, he told a story of a time when Bohr was out in the water in a small boat with his son. “The boy went overboard, and despite an afternoon of searching, was never found.” Wheeler wept from the podium.

His upbringing also affected his approach to others.  He was approachable and open with everyone.  There was no attempt to pull rank or impress, he clearly thought of himself as just like everyone else:

One office door was always open. As you walked by you could peek in, and see its occupant hard at work. Hunched over his notebook, scribbling away. Or standing by his bookcase, deep in thought. Most often at the blackboard, chalk in hand……. We would often work all afternoon (with the occasional interruption, the nuisance of having to leave for my class lectures). Every evening I would walk with him from Jadwin up across the full length of the campus, to catch his bus.


There were no secret negotiations around theories or attempts to steal the work of others.  Wheeler was the supervisor for some 50 PhDs in physics during his career, an "enormous number," according to Jeremy Bernstein, a physicist and science writer. Wheeler's most famous student was the late Richard P. Feynman, who received a Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work in quantum electrodynamics.  Generally Wheeler let others take the credit for what often appeared to have been his ideas. 

Profile by John Horgan, published by Scientific American in 1991:
Wheeler, a professor emeritus of physics at Princeton and the University of Texas at Austin, where he holds a joint appointment and spends a few weeks each year, has made a career of racing ahead of other scientists and throwing open doors for them. He has helped gain acceptance—or at least attention—for some of the most outlandish ideas of modern physics, from black holes to multiple-universe theories. "He has this great ability to see what is important before anyone else and persuade others that this is so," says David Deutsch, a physicist at the University of Oxford.

His motives were not money or prestige, but a real and fervent desire to find out:

May 8, 2008, edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper - Remembering John Wheeler
I was fascinated by Wheeler’s concentration in cosmology. He wanted to see the scope of creation from the sub-atomic to the vastness of a 12-dimensional space of confluent universes. It was a grand panorama. Although theologians criticized him for being naive regarding past thought, and secular physicists criticized his conversations with theological greats such as Tommy Torrance, he maintained a reverence to the existential. …………. Even in the sea of talent and greatness that the Princeton community is, he was the deepest individual I ever have known. His latest musings on “all is information” goes toe to toe with John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1. Everything is created out of the Word

It is worthy of note that he was greatly loved by his students, for his eccentricities and his humanity, his efforts on their behalf , his patience and enthusiasm:

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours at Wheeler’s bedside [as he was dying]. I tried to say thank you. But it was impossible to convey how much he means to me, and how grateful I am to him. ….. every day I am grateful to him for showing me the way.[Daniel Holz, a 1992 Princeton alumnus, Feynman Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in the Theoretical Astrophysics group.]


It seems apposite here to use the description we have provided for Kekule and show how Wheeler was in effect building on the understanding already gained thus far.…


Atoms of ordered energy spread like a matrix in three dimensions in a sea of energy, it is like a soup of ‘particles’ everywhere. Everything in the universe is made of 'particles/atoms' of this ordered energy – they are 'programmed' [analogously] to offer a certain behaviour according to the class they are in.  An ‘oxygen’ atom is thus not some physical thing it is a ‘programmed object’ that displays the properties of oxygen. The particles/atoms are exactly the same - all atoms are the same, but they are 'programmed' to appear differently and fire differently.  'Electromagnetic' particles/atoms are no different they just display different properties. 

The equivalence of electromagnetic particles and other particles was recognised by Wheeler in the Breit–Wheeler process or Breit–Wheeler pair production, which is the simplest mechanism by which pure light can be potentially transformed into matter.  The process was described by Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler in 1934 in Physical Review.

Units of energy

If the atoms are really only ‘software’ objects analogously, then they must be ‘programmed’.  If they are programmed then at the absolutely lowest of levels, the ultimate unit of energy is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – ‘on’ or ‘off’.  Wheeler, coined the phrase ‘its from bits’, by which he meant that the functions or processes that provide the behaviour we expect from an aggregate or atom are ‘programmed’ at a unitary ‘bit’ level and the bits are fundamental units of energy. 

The units of energy – the bits are thus the means by which the ‘its’ that comprise our material world work.

Wheeler did not, however, put the final piece of the jigsaw in place in that he did not attribute to the units of energy the concept of ‘spin’.  It is only by having spin that other realms can co-exist in the same ‘space’ as that which we occupy.  In effect higher or lower levels of spin, are not capable of being perceived by us, as such we see only the functions that are pertinent to our ‘Earth’ level. 

Executing the functions


As with all programs, something has to will them to be executed.  In some cases they are executed by a transfer of control – an event – that kicks them into action.  In this case the functions respond to the event, it is not an act of will.  In other cases, however, the will of an object starts the chain of cause effect.

The results of Wheeler’s double slit experiment, as well as others conducted in 2007, proved what Wheeler had always suspected – ‘consciousness’ is required to bring the universe into existence.  This has been widely misinterpreted as meaning that a person has to be watching something, for it to happen.  This is not at all what is meant.  Consciousness belongs to every aggregate and atom, and it is consciousness that either responds to an event or starts a chain of events.

From one execution of the functions needed to handle an event, then the perceived universe comes into being.  Once the event has been processed, the spin rate is changed and it becomes ‘the past’ – a log of events and executions – like the do/undo log of computers.  Symbolically the loom or the tapestry.

Again another analogy might be that the execution causes the water of spirit energy to temporarily freeze into crystals, but almost instantaneously afterwards, having coalesced into crystals which can be perceived, it melts again into a trail of past actions and events.

This is why before the observation is made, - before the programs execute - a subatomic particle exists in myriads of potential states (or, as Wheeler called it, a ‘smoky dragon’). Once the particle has been the subject of ‘will’ – consciousness – where the will is either reacting to an event or starting a new chain, then ‘it instantaneously collapses into a single position’.

Wheeler suggested that “we are participants in bringing into being not only the near and here, but the far away and long ago.”

Consciousness thus creates ‘time’.

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle draws a distinction between two kinds of potentiality. On the one hand, there are latent or inactive potentialities [the programs/functions of the universe]. On the other hand, there are active or at-work potentialities [the executing programs].

Rather interestingly, therefore, it also starts to move into the areas of metaphysics and philosophy, as once one has stated that the universe exists only because consciousness and will exist, then one of course should ask the question ‘what is consciousness?’

The Voice of Genius: Conversations with Nobel Scientists and Other Luminaries [1981]
“We are no longer satisfied with insights into particles, or fields of force, or geometry, or even space and time…Today we demand of physics some understanding of existence itself.”


The flow of control

Imagine now a loom.  Where the shuttle has been we see a woven cloth which represents the past actions of the shuttle – a trail of activity – time and the past.  Ahead we see only the threads ready to be woven, the future, although the pattern may well be predetermined. 

As just one of millions of warp threads we [our consciousness and perceptions] can only perceive the current weft thread.  But the shuttle keeps on moving, the flow of control is continuous.

beam me up Scottie

The one-electron universe postulate, was proposed by John Wheeler in a telephone call to Richard Feynman in the spring of 1940.  It hypothesises that all electrons and positrons are actually manifestations of a single entity moving backwards and forwards in time. Analogously – the shuttle.  According to Feynman:

I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said,
"Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass"
 "Because, they are all the same electron!"

Wheeler suggested that any given moment in time is represented by a slice across spacetime, and would meet the warp lines a great many times. Each such meeting point then exhibits the behaviour of what we term an ‘electron’ at that moment.

At those points, half of each warp line will be directed forward in time and half will be directed ‘backwards’. Wheeler suggested that these backwards sections appeared as the antiparticle to the electron, the positron.  It is notable that Feynman used Wheeler’s insight and received a Nobel Prize for extending the idea

Rate of execution


Perceptions are  being accumulated by very large bodies [stars planets galaxies], through smaller bodies [planets], smaller [seas, oceans] smaller [trees, humans], smaller [insects], smaller [microbes]; smaller [compounds, molecules and atoms].

In effect anything which has processes attributed to it – every object [aggregate and atom] - accumulates perceptions and at different rates depending on the frequency with which its processes are executed.

If we were to take a vibrational level  view of the Universe it would thus appear more like a turtle’s egg with its very soft shell, an egg with a flexible bendy rubbery skin in which trillions upon trillions of bodies were embedded,  and from which ‘rods’ of perception streamed.  There would be rods within rods.  Rods for the larger bodies and rods for the tiny bodies.  Every execution creates a log entry thus the whole would appear to be a knobbly writhing landscape expanding outwards in a totally irregular way, clicking its way outwards by little intervals of execution.  So not a smooth soap bubble, more like a knobbly expandable squash or a pumpkin.

Symbolically the exterior of this expanding shell is chaos.  In other words there is a great sea of Energy, an ocean of unlimited potential and this sea of energy is used to create the effects of both apparent mass and radiation ie Energy = mass AND electromagnetic radiation. This energy is either ordered or unordered [chaos].

In all symbol systems the ocean is thus the sea of unordered energy [chaos] from which ordered energy [spirit] is formed and all symbol systems then use the concept of foam [meaning millions of tiny egg like bubbles to describe that interface between ordered and unordered energy.

It should be noted that this is not a new idea, but Wheeler brought the idea within the remit of ‘science’ and called it Quantum foam (also referred to as spacetime foam). The foam is conceptualized as the foundation of the fabric of the Universe.

The trails and wormholes

Let us now continue with the analogy of the loom.  The warp threads are the perceptions of each ‘thing’ [entity/aggregate etc].  The weft thread represents the realm of perception – that which can be perceived at a moment in ‘time’.  But the weft thread is actually quite complex, because through our minds we may be connecting and in contact with any number of different other objects, and furthermore via bridges we may form connections, temporary or otherwise, that provide pathways between entities.  There is thus one obvious ‘tunnel’ for each entity/aggregate – the perception log that provides the past and links to our future.  But there are, as it were, numerous side holes in this tunnel, that provide links directly to other aggregates – bridges to other objects.

When a person has a spiritual experience and ‘explores group perception’ they experience the entire weft thread [threads] of the past, but they may get there by following a direct link to another person, say, via inter composer communication.

Wheeler labelled these wormholes.

A wormhole is “a solution of the Einstein field equations having a non-trivial structure linking separate points in spacetime, much like a tunnel with two ends, each at separate points in spacetime”. Such connections are consistent with the general theory of relativity; as far as a physicist is concerned ‘their existence remains hypothetical’ as far as a person able to have spiritual experiences is concerned, there is nothing hypothetical about them.  And all the hundreds of thousands who have had NDEs know all too well what the tunnel looks like.  One man’s tunnel is another man’s wormhole.

“A wormhole may connect extremely long distances such as a billion light years or more; short distances such as a few meters; different universes; and/or different points in time. This is proposed in Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, where the combination of space and time into a single spacetime continuum could theoretically allow one to traverse both space and time using a wormhole with the correct conditions.”

Forget the theoretically phrase.  People do – all the time.

Aggregates/classes/entity types and crystals

Atoms group together to form aggregates [many synonymous names here – classes, entities etc]. A water molecule, for example, is an aggregate and is a set of exactly the same particles that having aggregated into an occurrence of the entity 'water', and display the behaviour of water. Aggregation of atoms confers new functions on the aggregate

In other words, the process of aggregation is the means by which new function is introduced into the universe.   Each atom has the full complement of functions [the functions of the universe], but according to the aggregate to which it belongs it has only some functions turned ‘on’ – activated.   

The proportions in the formula H2O simply describe the rules by which the particles aggregate - the rules of attraction and ‘coalescing’.  But the structure of the grouping is also important, as by different structures, different functions can be conferred.

A crystal is an apparently solid material whose constituent atoms are arranged in an orderly repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions.  The crystal is the basic building block of form.  It is obtained by arranging atoms into lattice frameworks which appear to be ‘solid’, they exhibit the property of apparent solidity. 

Everything is made of crystals – not just minerals.  DNA is crystalline, protein is crystalline, even water is crystalline.  All crystals are aggregates, but not all aggregates are crystals.  Cells are aggregates made of crystals, for example.

John Wheeler wanted to reduce physics to geometry in an even more fundamental way using general relativity with a dynamic geometry whose curvature changes with time. In this he used three concepts:

  • mass without mass
  • charge without charge
  • field without field.

As we have seen in the section on Kekule, in order for there to be ‘form’, atoms are combined in structures  - three dimensional structures.  The structure is a lattice framework – the crystal – and is thereby an aggregate.  In essence therefore, form is made up of functions organised into structures – it is mathematically arranged energy, ‘coalesced’ function.  Mass without mass. 


What holds atoms together to form these crystals?  The forces of attraction and repulsion.  There is obviously no physical bond, the forces are entirely functional.  The repulsive and attractive forces thus control the aggregation of particles and determine their class and how they behave.  ‘Gravity’ doesn't exist, it is a sub behaviour of the overall forces of attraction. 

Wheeler wanted to lay the foundation for quantum gravity and unify gravitation with electromagnetism and ultimately it is the rediscovery of the forces of attraction and repulsion that do this – functional forces that are charge without charge.

As we saw the same forces determine things like molecular weight – which is a comparative measure - and is based on the intensity of attraction and repulsion between atoms, like a sliding scale of balance.

Many of Ritter's researches were guided by a search for polarities – opposites - in the several "forces" of nature, and for the relation between those "forces" – two of the assumptions of Naturphilosophie.  In some descriptions this theory is called duality, but the main name for this is the theory of Contrast, and it is a key plank in the Strategy of the Great Work.

All particles in the universe are actually suspended in a force field or matrix of repulsion and attraction.  Everything is invisibly held together by lines of communication that repel or attract.  A vast web with silken threads of force.

A field without fields.

Particles do not move, as such, they intercommunicate.  This is why photons behave like waves and particles.  They are ‘waves’ and particles/atoms.  They are communicating the whole time [wave], but also displaying their properties eg ultraviolet properties. 


The universe is a vast collection of atoms that are inter-communicating the entire time with each other, forever executing functions depending on whether they are in the right state to be invoked.  Each function is ‘programmed’ at the bit level described by Wheeler, but each bit, if ‘on’ also displays a unit of spin that determines its ‘visibility’ to perception and its ascendant and descendant properties.

The concept of the ‘present moment’ can be mathematically perceived as crystals, but a log of past perceptions linked by wormholes can be used to explore the past; and the future in outline as a plan for the Great Work [a plan linked to destiny exists for each entity].  And the universe clicks, clicks, clicks its way ever onward, expanding because the past is increasing the loom is getting bigger and as a consequence the amount of data is increasing. 

Wheeler also covered the process of energy recycling.



John Archilald Wheeler was born on July 9, 1911, in Jacksonville, Florida, into a family of two librarians "who were interested in ideas, interested in the world, interested in adventures" (and who obviously endowed him with an omnivorous appetite for reading),

At 16, he won a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University. He graduated five years later with a Ph.D in physics. A year later he got engaged to Janette Hegner. They stayed married for 72 years.

She was a teacher and social worker. They were married on June 10, 1935, and had three children: Letitia, James English and Alison Wheeler.  In their later years, she accompanied him in his work to places such as France, Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Netherlands, and Japan. Wheeler and Hegner were founding members of the Unitarian Church of Princeton, and she initiated the Friends of the Princeton Public Library. Hegner died in October 2007  at the age of 99.

Front row, left to right Rutgers president Mason Gross,
John Archibald Wheeler, Pearl Buck, Henry Lewis, Germaine Bree

After graduating from Johns Hopkins University, Wheeler journeyed to Copenhagen to study with Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist, "because he sees further ahead than any man alive," Wheeler wrote on his application for the fellowship. In 1939 Bohr and Wheeler published the first paper successfully explaining nuclear fission in terms of quantum physics. Wheeler's expertise in nuclear physics led to his involvement in the construction of the atomic bomb during World War II and, during the Cold War's early years, the hydrogen bomb.

John Wheeler’s Participatory Universe - Marina Jones February 13, 2014

In 1938 Wheeler started teaching at Princeton University. In 1941 he interrupted his academic work to join the Manhattan Project team (which included the likes of Feynman, Bohr and Albert Einstein – with Marie Curie helping lay out the blueprints) in building an atomic bomb. Wheeler considered it his duty to help with the war effort, but the atomic bomb wasn’t ready in time to end the war and save his beloved brother, who died in Italy in 1944.

After the war ended, Wheeler returned to Princeton and taught Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which at a time was not considered a “respectable” field of physics. Wheeler’s classes were exciting – one of his tricks was to write on chalkboards with both hands. He frequently took his students to Albert Einstein’s house in Princeton for discussions over a cup of tea.

Wheeler retired from Princeton University in 1976 at the age of 65. He was the director of the Center for Theoretical Physics at the University of Texas at Austin from 1976 until 1986, when he retired and became a professor emeritus there.

Over the years Wheeler gathered numerous prizes and awards, including the Enrico Fermi Award in 1968, the Franklin Medal in 1969, the National Medal of Science in 1971, the Einstein Prize in 1969, the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal in 1982, the Oersted Medal in 1983, the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize in 1984 and the Wolf Foundation Prize in 1997. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Academy, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, and the Century Association.

He received honorary degrees from 18 different institutions and, in 2001, Princeton used a $3 million gift to establish the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professorship in Physics.

On April 13, 2008, Wheeler died of pneumonia at the age of 96 in Hightstown, New Jersey.

After his death, the University of Texas named the John A. Wheeler Lecture Hall in his honour.


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