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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

THE UNIVERSE WITHIN


Back in 1998, on my way to Brazil, I picked up a copy of English physicist Stephen Hawking's best-selling book A Brief History of Time, thinking I'd peruse the 200-page tome with the goal of finishing it by the end of my 16-hour flight to Rio de Janeiro. I didn't make it past the introduction, too interested was I in beers and broads at the time. I think I probably downed a six-pack when at last we'd arrived at our destination, and may have made out with a fellow passenger, but don't quote me! Ah the thrills of youth!

Anyway, after seeing the movie The Theory of Everything, based on Hawking's film-worthy life and career- he suffers from ALS, though this neurological disorder has not hampered him in his physics research nor in his ability to sire multiple children - I decided to give the book another go, and as I had given away my previous copy promptly sent for another one.


In the book, Hawking proposes to address the fundamental questions we all ask ourselves. Questions like, Where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? And, will it ever end? By the end of this engaging read, though he offers numerous theories, the reader is left as confused about the topic as he was on page one. At least I was.

Indeed Hawking's dream to unite general relativity (the laws that govern bodies at a macroscopic level) and particle physics (microscopic stuff) into a theory of everything may not be possible to realize. In fact, recent advancements (Hawking's book is nearly 30 years old) suggest otherwise. For example the discovery of "firewalls" around black holes are confounding both Einstein's theories and Hawking's research, proving that there may not be any hard-and-fast laws governing things all over the place, all the time.

It's quite like beginning from a false premise, in this case that there is an explanation for the universe. If there is not, then we will never find one. Consider that if you started from the view that the Earth was flat (as scientists believed until relatively recently) and attempted to sail a ship until you fell off the world's edge. You would sail and sail and yet never achieve your aim. In fact, if you were lucky, you'd arrive back where you started, because the Earth is a globe not a plane. And this is what physicists are doing. Time and again they propose interesting theories which show promise only to prove inconsistent - leading them to tug their beards and go back to the drawing board admitting they must start over.

Hawking's attempt to "understand the mind of God," as Carl Sagan puts in the introduction, has not borne fruit and it likely never will. Imagine trying to lift a rock while standing atop it. Impossible. The mind may not be able to fathom something (the universe) which it is only a small part of.

But Hawking does mention some rather noteworthy views. For example, that the concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. That at the big bang the universe was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense and may have been the result of the contraction of a prior universe, implying multiverses. And that perhaps God created the universe in such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang. Which is profound shit, pardon my French. It is like saying there was no World War I. For those born after 1920 the universe began and it was created in such a way to appear as if historical events transpired, though they never really did. And who's to prove the contrary? I was born in 1973. I can't prove the existence of anything that I have not myself witnessed. Indeed with mirages and figments of the imagination I can prove nothing but the existence of the witness himself, the consciousness in whose light all events are made manifest. This consciousness, which we all possess, is like the sun, shining on bodies who live in the sun's light, but  itself unaffected by whatever transpires.

Hawking admits that it is very difficult to devise a theory to describe the universe all in one go. That partial theories may be necessary. However, if everything depends on everything else, "it might be impossible to get close to a full solution by investigating parts of the problem in isolation." Even if a theory of everything were possible, and he believes in it, since desire itself can often predict its own fulfillment, he is quick to address the fact that the discovery of a complete unified theory will likely not aid the survival of our species. Hell, it may not even affect our life-style! In short, it may do nothing but fulfill idle curiosity, and then life goes on. Think how many take it for granted that the world is round and revolves around the Sun! At this point it is just more useless information. What a futile endeavor, unless you are a physicist and enjoy the cosmic quest AND are reimbursed for your efforts (it's a living). There are those like Hawking whose "deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for the continuing quest."

But if you are not of that mold (and only a minority are), I propose this: rather than grapple with theories of everything, I suggest we focus on everything. Or rather, on the consciousness on which everything appears. Like in the dream. An entire world of events and people appear in the mind and then is projected externally, with the dreamer inserted in the imaginary world as main character. The consciousness we all have is our link with the eternal source of all that is. The universe has no independent existence. It requires the presence of the observer to witness things. Be the witness. The witness requires no proof of its existence. It is self-evident. It simply is. The witness (you) has all the power.

Sit in silence. By eliminating distractions, both external (sights and sounds) and internal (thoughts), you can contact that Absolute reality, beyond space and time. And this exercise, unlike the physicist's world of big bangs and black holes, in which he gropes in vain at mirages, pays dividends you can take to the proverbial bank. Stilling the mind grants peace and tranquility that is your true nature. What's more, this bliss is not in some remote galaxy millions of light years away but right in the immediate here and now.

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