Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Will Rogers, a homespun humorist of my early years, liked to say “all I know is what I read in the papers”. I might paraphrase that as “all I know is what I read in my memories”. The great spiritual teacher Krishnamurti often said “you are your memories”, “you are the past”. We know the past does not exist in the present. So, if this is true, we human personalities do not really exist; except as memories. But we know we exist, don’t we? Then logically, we are not our personalities, our memories. What are we? We believe we are individuals. We sometimes feel lonely, disconnected from others. We may not know everything about our selves, but others, even those closest to us, know far less about us. Our thinking is based on the assumption that we are separate individuals, and the relationships we experience seem to be myself vs. “the other”. This is our dualistic consciousness.
Many have said that the worlds we live in are illusion; that the selves we think we are, are illusory. This statement usually comes from the eastern philosophies where “illusion” (maya) is not considered false, but a relative reality. Our western definition is that “illusion” is a distortion of reality. I think “phenomenon” is a more appropriate term for us, as it means that which we perceive and experience, whether or not it comes from the physical world. Our world of matter seems very stable and solid. We have an innate need to believe our world and our selves as people are real; we need security and meaning. We were born into a world of reason and science, where matter matters very much, and many mysteries have been explained as mechanical and physical systems in motion. Most people on our planet accept this self and world concept created by the recently evolved faculty of reason, yet behind the world of appearances they sense more; beauty, love, the sacred.
As some scientists are attempting to create a unified theory that can integrate the mathematical models of the physical world at its fundamental and largest aspects, others are trying to explore and understand the depths of our subjective consciousness and awareness, and how it relates to the physical world. Paranormal experiences and the whole spectrum of “imaginary psychic entities” which had been largely discredited by our scientific paradigm are being pulled out of the wastebaskets and reevaluated in the light of our latest findings in quantum physics.
I find that the more we learn about our world, and ourselves, the more there is to learn. We humans have always had a need for security, to have a recognizable and understandable environment. Yet we also have curiosity, a desire for novelty, excitement, new experiences, new worlds to explore. We are at a point where our security seems threatened, and we are forced to admit we do not know as much about our selves and our world as we had thought. We cannot go back to the old world views. Our world, and our selves, are far too big to fit those small realities. A new world view is emerging, not yet distinct, perhaps blurred by old ideas we have not yet discarded. We try to merge ancient concepts with our scientific ones. We try to transform the old, comforting religious beliefs into a new idea of a divine universe, a world of consciousness underlying the solid seeming mask of physical reality.
Nasrudin, that bumbling, naive Sufi character who teaches us how foolish we sometimes are, was looking for something on the ground. A friend passing by asked him what he was looking for.
“My key”, he replied. The friend also got down on his knees and looked for it. Finally he asked Nasrudin
“do you know where you dropped it?”.
“in my house”, Nasrudin replied
“Then why are you looking out here?”
“The light is better out here”, Nasrudin replied.
The sciences have been studying the “objective world”, the world of “things”. We believe in the reality of what we can see with our eyes and other senses, and with our instruments and tools. We all experience far more in our lives than what science has been studying. We each have an interior world of sensations, feelings, a sense of the sacred, of aesthetic appreciation of music, dance, art, etc. Science sees this as a dark and mysterious world, and prefers to study the brighter “outside” world. Some scientists want to believe that the interior world is nothing but effects caused by the electro-chemical changes in our brains, which do have a relation to what is going on in our minds. Perhaps the scientific method and its instruments and formulas are just not up to the exploration into the dark house of consciousness. And, perhaps each of us has an opportunity to advance knowledge of the realities we share through an exploration into our own personal portal to a vast, largely unknown territory. Much of my life has been an exploration into the interior world.
“Where does the universe exist?” Nasrudin might exclaim, if he lived in today’s world.
“It just exists all around us”, we might answer.
“Well, how do we know the universe exists?”
“We have a lot of highly verifiable information that it does” we reply.
“And where is that information studied and thought about?”
“In our minds” we reply; and we begin to see where Nasrudin is leading us.
If we were the size of atoms, we might see human bodies as huge galaxies of tiny vibrating lights, the photons released by atoms. Other bodies around us might look like distant galaxies. The forms we are used to would not be visible. The world we see depends upon the scale of the bodies we are identified with. Matter, when seen on an atomic level, is virtually all space, filled with vibrating “force fields” of energy. So everything we see is in fact phenomenal. But what a phenomenon! When we see it as it truly is, it is magnificent! It has been under construction for many billions of years, as we reckon time. When we see it as it is, without the filters of conditioned thought and belief, we sense the beauty, love, and the sacred, behind (or within) the phenomena. Some seekers of Truth believe that we must leave our physical reality and merge into the transcendent “ground of being”, and escape the “wheel of death and rebirth”. I am sure a temporary journey to our source is a very important experience, but afterward, we want to return to the world of drama and action, loving it much more than before.
The world may be illusion, but it is the best illusion we have.
Love it, and make the best of it!
What do we really know about our world, about ourselves? I think that few can deny the world-expanding knowledge that the sciences have developed. For thousands of years, people lived in a world of superstition, mythology, and magic. Some claimed to be able to summon and control devils, or talk with the gods. Paranormal phenomena were commonplace, and there were many “healers” and prophets. But then no one ever traveled to the moon, eradicated diseases, transported people in aircraft, or gave humans the ability to talk to each other across thousands of miles. Truly, science has produced the magic that the magi of old only dreamed about.
But, science has its limitations. It has been unable to see the whole picture of our world, and ourselves. By definition, science studies only the objective things of the world. The subjective experiences we all have, what we experience, is off limits. Yet, the scientists are subjective entities. They cannot completely separate their hopes, ambitions, feelings, and disappointments, from the “objective” research they do. Quantum physics, which has been around for almost a century, has proven that there is another factor in the equation of energy-matter; human consciousness. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to our seeing the big picture is the fact that our human perception is limited to three space dimensions and a separate linear time dimension.
They are ill discoverers that think there is no land,
when they can see nothing but sea.
Our reality, spacetime, is at least 4 dimensional. This we were told by Minkowski, Einstein, Maxwell, and others more than a hundred years ago. Our universe, and everything in it, is at least four dimensional, including our bodies and their brains. Our brains are designed to perceive the three space dimensions, but do not integrate them with the time dimension, so we measure time separately, as a linear “arrow of time”, or duration of existence. The logic of mathematics can give us information about four dimensional objects in simple algebraic equations, and they can be translated into geometrical graphics. Relativistic physics shows us that the faster we travel, the slower time seems to move. At the speed of light, time stops. Without time there is no movement; without movement, there is no space. We try to visualize the continuum of space-time, but we can only conceive images which are spatial, not temporal. Science says that matter cannot reach the speed of light, that as it approaches that velocity, time “contracts”, and at the speed of light, time does not exist. Why is this so hard for us to grasp? Because we cannot conceive of spacetime, we project four dimensional events onto the three-dimensional screen in our minds, eliminating the time dimension.
Plato told of people living in a cave who tried to interpret outside reality from the two-dimensional shadows of the outside world projected on their wall. We are in a similar situation. Our instruments and computers must translate data from the 4 dimensional world into three dimensional logic so we can understand the information, but we can not understand the world as it is, in its four or more dimensions. The conception of the world presented byNewtonis a three dimensional world existing and moving in time, and it works well in our lives because it is consistent with the way our brains conceive our reality.
When we interpret experimental data and translate our math logic into verbal, we are still projecting the four dimensional events onto our three dimensional mental screens. We cannot conceive of an electron, or photon, or any fast moving “particle”, as it really is. So we talk about the properties we have abstracted from “what is”. We can determine where the particle is in space, but in doing so, we eliminate its time dimension. When we measure its speed, which is the speed of light, it does not exist in 3D space, so we cannot determine its location.
Quantum physics shows us that at a very small scale, events become indeterminate and probabilistic. And, that a particle split in two and separated by space still behaves as if the two parts were connected. Science calls this the “quantum nonlocality” principle, discovered by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen, in 1935. It has been verified many times, and states that objects in quantum scale may seem to be separate, but somehow they are connected in a way we cannot see. Does this sound similar to the phenomenon of gravity?
Suppose there is a pond, with a two-dimensional surface on which tiny creatures live. They can go in any direction on the plane of the surface, but not up or down. Their mentality is two dimensional. They encounter two impenetrable circular areas some distance apart. One of the areas moves, and then the other. The two areas move across the pond, one after the other, staying about the same distance apart. The more curious of the creatures thinks the two areas are connected, but can not see any way they can be. If the creatures could suddenly perceive three dimensionally, they could see that there is a huge bird wading in their pond.
We are creatures made up of quantum parts; quarks, electrons, photons, atoms and molecules. Our physical bodies are connected with all the quantum particles in the universe. If we could perceive four dimensionally, we could understand this. The more we can accept this idea of connectedness, the less loneliness, insecurity, and fear we will experience, and the better we will relate to others, and to our world which we once believed to be inert matter.
We are one, after all, you and I, together we suffer, together exist,
and forever will recreate each other.
Teilhard de Chardin
What our limited understanding, based on what we have learned from science, is suggesting (at least to me) is that the space-time universe in which we live, if we could perceive it four-dimensionally, is essentially spaceless and timeless. To a photon, or electron, which we see moving at the speed of light, there is no time; and without time, there is no motion, and without motion, there is no space. There is no matter, or things. At lightspeed, energy is totally potential. Every event that occurred in the past still exists, timelessly, or eternally, and all possibilities for the future also exist as unrealized probabilities, relative to where we are in the universe.
Let’s think closely about the time we experience. We say that the future does not exist yet. And, the past is gone. Is there a “present moment” when things actually exist? Can we measure the length of a “present moment”? I suspect that moment is not measurable. A certain amount of time elapses as the light reflected from your face passes through the space between us, and falls on the retinas of my eyes. The nerve endings in the retinas are stimulated by the intensities and frequencies of light, and send coded information through the nerves to the optic nerve, where it is processed and combined into 3D information. Then coded information travels through the nerves to the rear of the brain, where it is analyzed, matched with patterns in memory, and identified. And then the magical power of imagination presents an image of your face to consciousness. All this happens in a small bit of time, and for all practical purposes, I can assume that I am seeing your face in the present, but the fact is that I am getting an instant replay of your face from the past. The important fact to realize is that the world we experience has already disappeared into the past by the time we experience it. For us, as we race through the multidimensional matrix, there is no present moment. Our world, as the ancients said, is an illusion. A very persistent illusion, as Einstein said.
We hear a lot about “being in the present moment; that’s all there is”. While being conscious of one’s self as a person, there is no “present moment”. Only when one forgets one’s self, observing without thinking, does the experience become timeless. The phenomena of our reality continues to pass by, but awareness is (as always) in the timeless state.
It seems to us that time is flowing, that future probabilities become realized in the “present moment”, and then disappear into the past, which we cannot perceive. Like a passenger on a smoothly moving train that gets the impression that the station is moving by, we, consciousness, may be moving through the spaceless-timeless continuum at the speed of light, causing probabilities to become realized events, phenomena, then leaving them behind. However, we are not moving in a linear direction, but in all spacial directions, as light seems to do in our experience. That is four dimensional movement. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity tells us that there is no difference in what we experience if we are moving through the space-time continuum, or if the continuum is moving past us. The motion, and phenomena experienced, are relative.
Now, what is the world like, in itself- not as we see it. Without light or sound. Sounds weird! Consider- light is an experience for us. What is “out there” is a very complicated mix of electromagnetic vibrations and powerful “force-fields”. A very small part of the spectrum of vibrations is visible to us as colored light. Other parts of the spectrum we use are infra red, ultra violet, microwaves, radio and tv transmissions, etc. Light, as we experience it, is produced by our sensory system, brain, and imagination. Without us or other sophisticated sensory systems, without imagination to create an experience of it to consciousness, there would only be darkness.
And, we experience sound when vibrations in the atmosphere affect the nerve endings in our ears, and the information is passed to the brain for identification and processing. Then imagination presents us, consciousness, with the experience of sound. Without the sensory processing, imagination, and consciousness, there would be no experience of sound. The vibrations would be there, but only silence. The “big bang” beginning imagined by the astro-physicists would have been silent, and totally dark, without a complex perception system and consciousness to experience it. We look at the starry sky, and see lights; but without living forms to experience the phenomena, it is totally dark.
Our world as we see it, is composed of many forms of energy-matter, some very large and some very small. But the forms vary, depending on the sentient being that perceives and imagines them. To the microbes on my skin, the world would be a radically different place from the one I live in. And, taking a closer look at the forms, we find that the molecules and atoms are really tiny whirlpools of vibrating energy. The sub atomic particles (quarks) which make up the atoms do not really exist, until consciousness or a scientist’s experiment chooses them. So say the physicists. So the world we experience is a phenomena; an illusion caused by our physical makeup and the magic of imagination and consciousness.
Was there a beginning to our universe? A “big Bang”? Maybe yes, and maybe no. Let’s look at it from “out of the box”. Way out!. Suppose there are infinite possibilities for material forms to exist (as phenomena). Time, movement, and space, does not exist. Then we, consciousness, begin to move through the matrix of possibilities, in all space dimensions simultaneously, as light seems to do in our observation. We are moving at the speed of light. Our movement creates the phenomena of matter and forms, which seem to be moving in space and time, as we experience them. In the timeless, spaceless continuum of probabilities, there are an infinite number of paths to take. The future is not determined. We have free will.
When consciousness begins to move, infinite potential energy resists movement, and enormous forces result. In the beginning of creation, the movement of consciousness, possibilities for all forms of matter exist, even your body, and mine. If they weren’t possible, we would not have them. But the probabilities for complex material forms are extremely small at the beginning. The most probable forms are the tiny energetic particles (quarks) that later assemble into atoms. As the early vibration forms interact, the great forces of the beginning are bound in space-time bubbles of highly kinetic energy. The first atoms contain what we see as four primal forces; the strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity, and the electromagnetic force. As consciousness moves through the continuum of possibilities, probabilities increase for more complex forms, and molecules develop. Of course, these forms are only apparent to moving consciousness.
An analogy might be the way a motion picture can be recorded on a disk, and then recreated. For instance, the movie “Gone with the Wind”. The disk we have has only little bumps on a spiral track imbedded in its plastic. A laser light beam moves along the track and variations in the reflected light are transformed by our player’s computer, and light images that seem to us to be moving are projected onto our screen. Actually, the disk is moving and the laser is stationary, but the effect is the same. The whole drama is on that disk in the form of information. We may be watching Scarlet O’Hara walking under the Spanish moss, but the past and future of her life exists at the same time on different parts of the disk. The laser light moves along, illuminating the “present”, as the future quickly becomes the past. Everything in Scarlet’s world is connected by the track on the disk, but while we watch the action unfold, we are not aware of the connections. The difference between Scarlet’s world and ours is that there is only one track ahead in her future. She has no free will, but must play out the drama as it was written.
Has the speed of light been changing, as it seems to travel through the continuum of possibilities? (Or, has our velocity through the continuum been changing?) Scientists have been measuring its apparent velocity for a little over three hundred years, more precisely for one hundred years. Physics states that it has always been the same as it is now, everywhere in the universe. Physics has decreed that lightspeed is constant, and the whole edifice of relativity physics has been built on this assumption. Their mathematical model would require drastic changes if E did not equal MC squared, in all “frames of reference” (C being the constant speed of light). Yet recently, some scientists have questioned the constancy of time, and revealed that each measurement taken has shown it to be a tiny bit slower. Perhaps it has been slowing, not enough for us to see much difference yet, but over a million years, it could have slowed significantly. And in a billion years, a lot. If light, or consciousness, were going faster early on, then the whole history of the universe, as seen by today’s astro physicists, could be quite different. If the light from galaxies far from us in time and distance started toward us at a much higher velocity, then those galaxies would be closer to ours than we think, and the idea of an accelerating expansion of our cosmos would be in question. There would be no need to invent “dark matter” and “dark Energy” to explain the apparent phenomena. And, the universe would be much younger than science thinks it is.