Many are drawn to cosmology because it helps solve the greatest mysteries – not merely about galaxies and other stuff “out there,” but about ourselves. And it has been a growing science perception since the mid-18th century that Earth is not a “world apart,” but a planet whose origin, components and destiny march very much in sync with the rest of the universe.
Science may have seriously started hiking down this road when it first sought the nature of the four fundamental forces and the elementary particles. Einstein gave this quest a major boost when he revealed that energy and mass are two faces of the same entity, so that one effortlessly converts to the other. So the Eastern-sounding All-Is-One business went beyond the realization that all matter – even elements seemingly so wildly disparate like lead and helium – consists of arrangements of identical building blocks called subatomic particles. It was worse than that: How they appeared and how they behaved depended on whether and how they were observed. In short, our minds are part of the equation too!
The advent of quantum theory brought this physics revolution to the forefront. In the years between Einstein’s two major theories, Special and General, science was convulsed as two incompatible worldviews fought each other to a standoff. In one corner was “local realism,” which insisted that nature exists independent of our observations or measurements. As Wikipedia still explains today, “Einstein’s principle of Local Realism is the combination of the principle of locality (limiting cause-and-effect to the speed of light) with the assumption that a particle must objectively have a pre-existing value (i.e. a real value) existing before that measurement is made.”
Yet undeniable data kept pointing the opposite way, in which, as famed physicist John Wheeler put it, “No phenomenon is a real phenomenon unless it is an observed phenomenon.” A mind-dependent property does not have to be a value of a physical variable, such as position or momentum. A property can be potential (i.e., can be a capacity), in the way that a glass object has the potential (or capacity) to break if subjected to a particular force, but otherwise will not actually break.
If all this sounds confusing, you’re not alone; which is why the late physics guru Richard Feynman famously said that if anyone says they understand quantum mechanics, it means they haven’t.
The really inescapable clauses to quantum theory arise from aspects like Tunneling and Particle Entanglement. In the latter, the mere observation of a subatomic particle causes its “twin” – no matter how distant – to materialize instantly, assuming precisely the complementary properties from the object that you observed.
Among physicists, the most popular explanation, the Copenhagen Interpretation, says that objects do not have a real existence in space and time until they’re observed. In other words, local realism is unreal. (How’s that?) Only then, at that moment, will the electron you’re measuring, say, have its “wave function collapse,” so that it now occupies an actual position and has some real motion – or perhaps displays characteristics such as spin or polarization. At the same moment, perhaps even on another galaxy, its “twin” somehow “knows” of your observation and collapses itself into a particle with precisely the same characteristics, only reversed.
The fact of Entanglement is no longer in doubt, as it is routinely observed, and even utilized for our inventions. It seems to do away with local realism for good. It certainly unequivocally supports the intimate link between the observer and nature.
As if all this weren’t enough, experiments since the 1920s reveal that space and time have no independent existence, either. They can’t be probed and analyzed like cucumbers. That’s because they arise within ourselves as observers, as the mind’s algorithms organize the brain’s ongoing electrical signals. In other words, we carry around space and time like turtles with shells. This may be science’s most underpublicized revelation – and it is certainly central to any quest for understanding the cosmos or reality. Since much quantum evidence like the famous double-slit experiment shows that consciousness and perception are not trivial byproducts of the cosmos, but central to it, awareness must be something deep rather than idiosyncratic. It is apparently basic and permanent, rather than transient and dispensable.
One happy consequence of properly demoting time and space while acknowledging the role of consciousness and life is clarifying the true nature of death. Obviously, if time is unreal, the idea of your own sense of “experience” grinding to a permanent halt is seen to be one more illusion. Without reviewing the mainstream science that demolishes time and space (due to lack of space here), one may be left imagining that his or her own existence occurs in a fragile spatiotemporal matrix that can dissipate like smoke in a dream.
Conversely, with a Biocentric view in which life and the observer’s central role are appropriately inserted, the fact of no-death is seen as logical, rather than as, perhaps, some sort of philosophical pleading. Yet even with the proper groundwork not provided, let’s still tell you what happens after you’re dead. Seriously.
Okay, it’s not so serious, because you won’t actually die. The feeling of “me,” of consciousness itself, could be considered a 23-watt energy cloud, which is the brain’s energy consumption in producing our sense of “being.” Energy, as we learned in high school physics, is never lost. It can change form, but it never dissipates or disappears.
Since neither space nor time is real in any sense except as tools of the mind, anything that seems to occupy space (like the brain or body) or endures in time (again, the brain and body) has no absolute reality, but only an apparent one created by the mind. So there is no “after death” except the death of your physical body in someone else’s now. In reality, everything is just nows. And because there’s no absolute self-existing space/time matrix for your energy to dissipate, it’s simply impossible to “go” anywhere. You – the real you, which is awareness – will always be alive and continuous.
No wonder Parmenides, 2,400 years ago, figuratively ran down the streets of Elea trying to spread the happy news that reality is actually simple and safe. Along with Zeno, who lived down the block, he was flummoxed by the notion of mortality, which was starting to gain favor among the newer Greek philosophers who were showing signs of overthinking everything.
You, who exist as awareness, will never cease to be.
Some of this week’s column is taken from Bob Berman’s newest book, Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness and the Illusion of Death, co-authored with Robert Lanza, MD. Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous “Night Sky” columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at HudsonValleyOne.com.