Monthly Archives: October 2010

Something from Nothing, Part 1

 

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That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what we want to know. To put it in its simplest terms, how can all of existence arise from nothingness?
Even while we understand our concepts are limited and we can never have complete knowledge, we sense that is the deep and burning question that humans have never answered to our complete satisfaction. And until we can come to terms with it, we will pursue it with a powerful and single-minded intensity.
Our conceptions require limits, edges, boundaries to exist and yet, we know full well we are attempting to use them to describe processes which are limitless, boundless, and infinite. We are even prepared to accept that the problem is with our ways of thinking about things. And many of us are even willing to question and, if necessary in the most rigorous and scientific pursuit of the truth, change our most deeply rooted paradigms…the ones that seem to be absolutely necessary to make sense of our world, the finite, mortal, material world.
We are willing to stretch our minds to include the physics of the impossible quantum realms, to embrace the unfathomable relativistic relationships between energy, mass, gravity, time, and space.
We know that we can execute, with astonishing precision, experiments that prove beyond a doubt that particles can be in two places at once. We continue to document experimentally verifiable proofs which mathematically demonstrate that particles must be in all possible places at once. We can posit, if we must, dimensions beyond our own, in which space and time are curled in upon themselves in infinitesimally tiny vibrating strings – these are things which the most stupendously imaginative of us struggle to barely comprehend.
Yet, the simple idea that, when all our most elegant conceptions are reduced down to their essentials, there remains the simple “something-from-nothing” question. And that one basic philosophical conundrum – perhaps because it is so simple and universally understood – we expect must have a simple solution.
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Let’s examine our notions of “nothing” and “something”. Perhaps we’re overlooking crucial aspects of the solution to our conundrum, which may be built right into the way we are asking the question.
Conceiving an idea of “nothingness” is, in itself, an awesome feat of abstraction – considering there is never a moment in which we actually experience nothing. It seems to be a generalization of the various experiences of absence that occur when particular things or experiences are not present.
No matter, the fact that we require a demonstration of why “nothingness” is not the universal state indicates this idea of non-existence is so deeply disturbing that we must create an endless series of explanations – religious, philosophical and scientific – which attempt to come to terms with it. Our own deep-seated fear of not existing – our fear of death – is wrapped up in all this, to be sure.
As for our notions of “something”, in the past century, the common sense meaning of what exactly constitutes “something,” be it matter or energy or space or time, has been overturned by very exact science. At the quantum scale, the factual existence of matter and energy, for example, turns out to be entirely dependent on probability. And at the intergalactic scale – the large-scale structure of the universe – environments such as space and time, are relativistic and entirely dependent upon frames of reference.
Our common sense experience of both paradigms is that neither satisfies the requirement of solidity, permanence, or “realness” that we tacitly assume to be the basis for what we like to think of as “something”. Yet both the very small and the very large scale include something highly prized in our common-sense view of the world. That is, both are based on actual experience. At the quantum level, observation is the crucial ingredient necessary to bring matter and energy into existence. And at the macro scale, frames of reference are descriptions of particular vantage points of particular observers. It would seem that in order for something to exist, we (or at least observational/experiential intelligence) must be present in the universe. Otherwise, it is meaningless to speak of existence, at all. It is very significant that this is the exact sort of universe in which we find ourselves….
And wasn’t this the point or our question in the first place? I mean when we say how did something come from nothing, we really are asking where do we come from, and, ultimately, where are we going?
Next: More on where we are and where we might be going.
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Image: “Something from Nothing 102210a” by Tullio DeSantis, ink on paper, 2010.

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Intelligent World

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“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” – John Muir
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A universe is well-described as a pattern of information…an infinitely complex, self-similar, resonant instance of a chaotic system, extremely sensitive to initial conditions and as adaptable and intelligent as the living entities it brings into being. The great thinkers of our era from Alan Turing to Stephen Hawking have produced explanations of the conditions and processes for bringing a myriad of possible universes into and out of existence by means of the probability fluctuations which must exist within states of non-existence, which are likened to a vacuum or void.
These fluctuations lead inexorably to the infinitely varied forms of material, energy, information, and thought we can experience in a lifetime. In other words, it can be clearly and mathematically demonstrated by contemporary science – just as it was understood by the ancient Vedic philosophers – that something arises spontaneously from nothing. In other words, information is created where there was none. And this information, over time, is intelligent.

 

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Microwave radiation from birth of the universe

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From the simplest field of universal energy that pulses with primordial existence – the heat radiation left over from the Big Bang that permeates the known universe at a temperature just slightly above absolute zero – to the largest pattern ever discerned – the shape and distribution of matter and energy in super-galactic space – a fine-grained structure is revealed, a complex pattern of information.

 

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Distribution of galaxies beyond the Milky Way
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Of course, in order for information to be information – and not simply data – there must be intelligence to decipher it. We only have to look in the mirror and in the eyes of our companion animals and the many forms of life around us to see clear evidence that the universe does contain intelligence. To simply describe the universe as a pattern of information misses the most significant aspect of what makes information meaningful. What we have before us in all its magnificent presence is a most intelligent universe.

YouTube Video from “The Secret Life of Chaos” Last broadcast on Thu, 25 Mar 2010, 20:00 on BBC Four
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First Image: “Intelligent World” by Tullio DeSantis, acrylic paint, world map, and digital image, 2010.
Second Image: Cosmic microwave fluctuations over the full sky represent the tiny temperature fluctuations of the remnant glow from the infant universe. NASA image: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/wmap_five.html
Third Image: Panoramic view of the entire near-infrared sky reveals the distribution of galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The image is constructed from the more than 1.5 million galaxies in the 2MASS Extended Source Catalog (XSC), and the nearly 500 million Milky Way stars in the 2MASS. UCLA/JPL Image: http://wise.ssl.berkeley.edu/2mass.html

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Imaginary World

 

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Enlarge Image

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Image: “Imaginary World” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010. 

 

 

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Why the world is art and why it matters, part 2

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Because we experience the world indirectly, through intervening filters: concepts, explanations, thoughts, perspectives, and paradigms – mental models of the world – it is especially helpful to see them as essentially aesthetic constructions, which we choose because they please us in some way.
Experience is mediated. Our brains create simulations of experience by means of chemical and electrical representation, neural patterns, wave phenomena, quantum decoherence, and other as-yet-unknown methods. Externally, our experience is transferred to us by assimilation of familial, tribal, and cultural symbols and systems of thought. We use pre-existing words, images, memes, and explanations to process awareness and give a sense of meaning to our lives.
Understanding why we make the choices we do involves looking into the aesthetic and ethical aspects of human perception, cognition, and behavior. We choose what we are compelled to choose for reasons which may be conscious or unconscious, yet it can still be said that we choose what pleases us. Examining the bases for our choices allows for the possibility of greater and greater degrees of freedom regarding the experiences we create and the world which results from the sum total of our human choices.
We can also take a look back at the world which has been chosen by us in the past and by those who came before us. What kind of world did humans choose to create and why did we make those choices? What was it exactly that pleased us about making those choices? And when we felt compelled to make them, what were we actually choosing to affirm? And what was it about those affirmations that pleased us?
We have the power to create illusions – to mystify, enchant, entrance, and hypnotize ourselves. And because our very paradigms of reality formation function in an identical fashion whether we are experiencing fact or fiction, we do not know when we are seeing clearly and when we are not.
We have a great need for beliefs. It pleases us to believe things. And it pleases us to believe we have knowledge. We need to feel that our beliefs are true in some way. We need to feel we can understand and therefore control or, at least, manage and influence the experience we refer to as “being alive” in what we call “the real world”. In the pursuit of all this, we enjoy inventing concepts, such as “free will” and entire systems of language, logic, and mathematics out of whole cloth.
We expect that our invented abstractions have some independent existence outside of ourselves. We create elaborate systems of proof, in which our invented concepts are imposed upon what we call “reality”. To the extent we can thoroughly impose these ideas upon some aspects of our experience, we see them as universal laws, applicable in the remotest regions of what we have named “the universe” – this is a conceptualized location which embodies the ideas we have named “space” and “time” – the exact nature of which we do not understand.
We desire domination and we enjoy submission. We create situations in which we can act out those roles. We are filled with fear. We fear pain and death. We have the ability to empathize with the pain of others and we have the ability to cause great suffering.
As we are, in fact, discussing life as art and not art in isolation, ethical considerations arise that relate to the kinds of aesthetic choices we make – in other words ethical decisions regarding what pleases us and what repels us. To what extent can we exercise free will and ethical decision-making in the world models, paradigms, and belief systems we create? If we are free to make the best choices what will they be? Can we learn to make choices that decrease suffering and increase compassion?
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Image: “The World is Art 2″ by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.

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