In the pursuit of knowledge about the universe, recent discoveries have pushed earlier than the Big Bang, bringing physics to the point when the early universe was doubling in size every hundredth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. Such fine-scale measurement is awe-inspiring. The technicalities of how a Cold Little Swoosh preceded the Hot Big Bang was lucidly presented in a New York Times article by the noted cosmologist Max Tegmark. He explained for us laymen why physicists are so excited about the discovery of gravitational waves that originated so early in cosmological time, another victory for the predictive powers of quantum field theory.
One is left with the impression that science has now delved much deeper into reality, getting closer to the origins of the universe and therefore our own origins. However, there’s an analogy that seems relevant here. If you wanted to know the reality of music, would you study a radio as it broadcasts a Mozart symphony, taking it apart and delving into the atomic and subatomic structure of its transistors, or would you study music as a creation of the human mind?
The answer seems obvious, and yet by dismantling the cosmos down to trillionths of a second, physics is basically dismantling a mechanism, like a radio. This leaves aside the unassailable fact that like music, our entire knowledge of the universe arrives through subjective experience. We are immersed in reality, not detached from it. The exciting discoveries of cosmology keep advancing along an objective track when it’s well known in quantum physics that objectivity has definite limits. Whatever cosmology is discovering, it may very well not be reality itself.
So how do we know what’s real? One way is to trust the evidence of the five senses, which deliver a tangible world of sights and sounds. But the five senses indicate that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, which is an illusion. Many other illusions exist, enough to make reliance on the five senses quite shaky. Giving them a grade, the five senses get no more than a C for explaining the physical world, but they deserve a solid B for telling us about our inner world, since we sense pain, pleasure, moods, likes and dislikes, etc. as extensions of the five senses. Remembering the hot touch of a stove is the recapture of a sensory event, for example.
To untangle what is illusory from what is factual, a second way to explore reality is available, using the rational mind. Reason gave rise to science, with its data, measurements, explanatory models, scientific machinery, etc. It deserves an A for measuring the physical world, which is good enough to tempt many people into believing that an ultimate way of knowing reality has been found. But reason gets a C when it comes to the inner world, because the rational mind doesn’t even know where an idea comes from, much less the source of creativity, insight, love, beauty, imagination, and many other aspects of mind. Consciousness cannot be explained objectively, despite the hopes and claims of neuroscience. The brain functions like a radio, delivering the music of the mind, as it were. As you dissect it, you can delve very deeply into the brain’s physical structure. However, just as the reality of music eludes anyone who tries to find it inside a radio, the nature of mind will elude anyone who tries to find it inside the brain.
To know what is “really” real requires going beyond the five senses and the evidence of reason. The world’s wisdom traditions proclaim that reality is known only by examining experience, first and foremost, which entails looking directly at consciousness. This method is a radical departure from anything most people have ever experienced. Once you look at experience directly, however, some startling conclusions emerge:
- The universe reflects our human perspective.
- All so-called objective measures depend upon the human nervous system, which has the limitation of operating in a linear, cause-and-effect way that confines us in spacetime.
- The source of the universe is beyond space and time; therefore it is inconceivable using thought processes and models.
- Being inconceivable, the source of reality makes reality itself inconceivable. All we think we know is part of a feedback loop that begins and ends with the brain.
- Mathematics may seem like a reliable, objective language for explaining Nature, but it too has a mysterious source and is ultimately an experience, like everything else.
- Because it is infinite, with a source beyond spacetime, impenetrable by either reason or the five senses, reality cannot be modeled. It simply is. In other words, existence can only be explained by existence, just as consciousness can only be explained through consciousness.
These conclusions tend to baffle and anger everyday working scientists, understandably, because words like “existence” and “consciousness” smack of metaphysics. Moreover, when you propose that reason has its limits, scientists feel that you are attacking their methods and science itself. But none of these assumptions about attacking science is really valid. Devising a third way to know what’s real came about because just as the five senses cannot tell you that the Earth moves around the sun, reason cannot tell you why your inner world gives life its meaning and purpose. To say that a random universe gave rise to purpose and meaning through the accidental bump of particles in the night is just as tortuous as claiming that the same random activity enabled matter to learn to think.
The third way of knowing reality promises to answer the following deep mysteries, among others:
- Where did mind originate, or is it innate in Nature?
- Why is the universe so fine-tuned that the jiggle of a single constant would have made the cosmos as we know it impossible?
- Is the force of evolution mindless or intelligent?
- Is the universe a conscious entity?
- Is creativity innate in Nature?
- Do we ultimately live in a human universe?
Only a third way of examining reality makes these questions answerable, or even make it valid to ask them. From a Western perspective, it’s impossible to grade this third way of knowing, because we are so convinced of the superiority of rationality. Judging itself, the wisdom tradition of India, especially Vedanta, gives itself an A for knowing reality, both inner and outer. There is no need to give two grades, because Vedanta views reality as a wholeness, not divided into inner and outer domains as if they are separate kingdoms. I’m not advocating that science turn spiritual. It’s unfortunate, but the argument between science and religion has muddied the waters, hiding the fact that the world’s wisdom traditions are not primarily about God but about knowing reality. Once you see this, then consciousness – the vehicle for all knowledge – becomes a suitable study for both sides of the debate.
“Judging itself, the wisdom tradition of India, especially Vedanta, gives itself an A for knowing reality, both inner and outer. ” ….. as do most religions.
Here’s how it goes….
A scientist’s viewpoint is good for a scientist…. a physicist’s viewpoint is good for a physicist…. a philosopher’s viewpoint is good for a philosopher…. a goldfish’s point of view is good for a goldfish.
Whenever we imagine our viewpoint to be superior, more well-informed, than that of another group or individual, we make our initial mistake and this goes for Vedanta. Vedanta is great for Vedanta.
The article doesn’t actually say a lot more than, “I / we have a ‘better”‘ viewpoint”.
” existence can only be explained by existence, just as consciousness can only be explained through consciousness” is a pretty meaningless statement. Vague and unsubstantiated.
Good luck .
I think whitehead cosmology of organisms give an explanation’
there has to be a natural law that gavent all form including reality
I think the only way to get to “Reality” is to go into the “NO MIND” state, where and when all sense inputs are totally cut off and the mind “merges” with the universal mind and only and only awareness remains. With that awareness everything is experienced in totality. Any reliance on the senses would be treacherous.
You know, my physics teacher once told me that physics, and others like mathematics, chemistry, … are EXACT sciences. There is no room for error, if the arrhythmic is wrong or slightly off, the answer is incorrect. Yet still, mathematics which btw is the universal language, not just for humans and animals, is the devil, because it’s the language we use for equations used in other sciences like physics, chemistry, even economy,…
A couple of examples that are used very common, are the mathematical character PI, cosinus,tangus,cotangus,sinus, every single one of them are rounded of making room for future errors in future equations, PI is the biggest one of them all, and used in every single equation to calculate the capacity of object where there is even just one line that makes a curve, because it’s still presumed endless after calculating it after a couple billion numbers after the comma.
Was Albert Einstein wrong with E=MC², or was this equation perhaps incomplete? Because truth be told, Einstein didn’t have a chance to test this, because he was unable to see the effects in deep space.
I based this question on one single answer i remember from an article i read years ago, which also is used in plenty of scifi movies. “If you can hit a baseball halfway to the moon, the moon’s gravity will pull that ball towards itself”, now my question is, if I hit a baseball in open space at a speed of 200 mph and nothing “flies” in the way, no planet or star changing or altering its trajectory, how fast will that ball still fly after 1 million miles? Will this still be 200mph, because if it is, if I catch up with that ball somehow, and I give it an equally hard hit again, how fast will the ball go then if the trajectory is still unchanged? Will it go 400 mph then? Or the other way around, if I hit the ball at the same force but in the opposite direction, will the ball stay at the same space because it’s presumed that applying an equal and opposite force will cancel out the previous force?
If this is the case, then it is possible to reach speeds faster than light-speed, it will just take a very long time to get used to the G-forces that will come with speeding up.
So the real question is, it is possible that Einstein was wrong or perhaps incomplete with his equation, or did he truly hit the nail on the head?
An interesting and well-written article. I only have a couple of problems with it.
1) “The world’s wisdom traditions proclaim that reality is known only by examining experience” True, but we are capable of experiencing many things which have no basis in reality, such as schizophrenic delusions, the sense that the world is made of solid objects, and plenty of experiential data which QM has discovered to be illusory.
2) “The universe reflects our human perspective.” should probably read “To humans, the universe reflects our human perspective.” It seems that each organism experiences the quantum soup of the universe as reflecting its own sensory make-up and perceptions. (I.E., to the grass the sun does not emit bright light.
I expect someday we will figure out that the universe has always had its own form of sentience and that is why it produces life and even intelligent life. Personally I agree with Max Planck that “Consciousness is primary and matter is derivative from consciousness.” Even the physical universe is derivative from the universal consciousness.