Empirical cosmology increasingly supports the ancient Hindu cosmology, as I explain here.
In the clockwork universe of classical physics, God set the world in motion. As to how things stayed moving, there was some debate. Leibniz thought the Universe was a perpetual motion machine powered by the Harmony of God’s Will. Newton, on the other hand, thought the World required the occasional winding (as in the winding of a clock) (See the Leibniz-Clarke correspondences for details).
As to how it would all end, people didn’t think about this as they would in future centuries. In part this was due to the still-strong influence of the Catholic Church and Rome, and ideas of Raptures and Books of Revelations predominated. Leibniz did offer the intuition that, as a machine of sorts, the Universe was on the course of transforming into something unimaginably perfect, beyond any human’s wildest hopes and dreams. But in general, science, and physics in particular, was too young to make guesses about the beginning and end of the Universe.
Man, It’s Getting Hot in Here
By the mid-nineteenth century, science had come on its own and, at least on the surface of things, separated from its Christian roots. With the rise of classical thermodynamics, a new concept came on the scene about how the Universe would die. It would die in a heat death.
This idea came from the notion of entropy. While the idea of conservation of energy had become a main principle in physics, thermodynamics added to the study of energy the idea of heat. Heat is the loss of energy into a form that we can’t utilize productively, for example, to run our machines.
Simple example: think of a light bulb in a lamp. A light-bulb becomes super-hot and you will burn yourself if you try to touch it. The light bulb converts the electrical energy coming from your wall socket into light. But some of that energy is lost as heat, and so is not used to make light. Where does the heat go? Into warming things up. Therefore it can no longer be utilized to do work. Nonetheless, conservation of energy still holds for the light bulb:
Energy from electricity = energy of light + heat energy
In thermodynamics, the thing that measures how much of the energy is lost as heat is entropy. Heat is the random jiggling about of microscopic things in the environment. This random motion is disorder and the disorder is quantified as entropy.
As these notions became clear, it was inferred that all natural things would eventually exhaust the energy of which they are made into the form of heat. One example of this is the Sun. Via the nuclear processes in the Sun’s interior, the substance of the sun (mostly hydrogen, but also some helium and much less of other elements), converts to heat and light and radiates away into space. It’s not hard to fast-forward this picture and realize the Sun will eventually use itself up and convert itself mostly into heat and light (with a little bit of, essentially, ash, left over, which nonetheless can be recycled into future stars).
This type of logic was extrapolated to the Universe as a whole. All the processes in the Universe, all of which involve the various conversions of some form of energy into another form of energy, will eventually run out and convert themselves pretty much completely into heat.
Then, everything in the Universe would just be a jumble of random stuff. All the energy will have been converted into the random motion of atoms, moving through the void. This is the heat death of the Universe.
It’s Getting Bigger All the Time
And so it was in people’s minds perhaps until the 1930s-1950s and the advent of the Big Bang theory. Once the Big Bang theory came on the scene, new scenarios to image the end of the Universe could be imagined.
The easiest way to explain the expansion of space is this: Imagine an uninflated balloon that is not yet blown up. Draw some dots on the balloon with a magic marker. Then blow the balloon up. You will see that the dots you drew get farther apart the bigger the balloon gets. This is because the balloon is made of stretchable rubber. As you blow air into the balloon, the rubber stretches, and it pulls the dots farther and farther apart, as shown in the following image.
The dots on the balloon, as shown in the picture, are the galaxies. We live in the Milky Way galaxy. Our Milky Way galaxy is constantly getting farther and farther away from all the other galaxies.
Space expands. This is really bizarre and weird. If you didn’t know this was happening, stop and think about it for a moment. It’s one of the weirdest facts of modern science that space itself is getting bigger, like a balloon blowing up.
This idea never entered the minds of Westerners, from the ancient Greeks up to the early 20th century. Hindu India understood this, but I get ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the story.
That was a VERY LOUD Big Bang
The fact that space expands is why people “believe” in the Big Bang. The idea is very simple. If space is blowing up like a balloon, then it doesn’t take a genius to run the camera backwards. If you imagine time going backwards, then the balloon would get smaller, space—the Universe—would shrink.
People run the camera backwards all the way to the logical extreme. The universe keeps shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, until it shrinks to a point. This must have happened at some time in the past. At that time, the Universe was just a point and then it “popped” out of that point and came into existence. The popping into existence is the Big Bang.
The other major piece of evidence for the Big Bang model of the Universe is the cosmic microwave background radiation or “CMB” for short. People call this the “after-glow of the Big Bang”. The idea here is also pretty simple. Everyone knows that when something explodes, it gives off a flash of light. The CMB is thought to be the remaining light from some process that occurred at or near the birth of the universe.
There is obviously more to the Big Bang story (such as inflation, or element abundances) but it is not relevant to go into that here. The key points for this article are that: (1) outer space is getting bigger all the time, and (2) there is this super, super faint light that fills all of space, the CMB. We can observe these two facts with our senses; aided of course by the technologies we have invented to expand our senses, mainly telescopes of various types.
Different Ways to Die
How do physicists and cosmologists account for, or understand these facts? They use Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (GR). GR uses advanced mathematics which I understand only in a simple-minded way. The math used in GR describes how things deform and change shape (called “metric tensors”).
When we blow up a balloon, we are deforming the balloon. The math of GR describes how things change shape and deform and so can describe how the balloon’s shape changes. It can also be used to describe how the three dimensional space we live in expands.
Applying GR to the expanding universe gave the 20th century mind new ways to imagine how the Universe could die. It gets quite technical, but there are metaphors that explain it easy enough.
Imagine tossing a baseball up into the air. There are three things that could happen. (1) The ball comes back down. (2) The ball goes in orbit around the Earth, and (3) You throw it so hard that the ball escapes the Earth’s gravity completely (like a rocket ship) and just keeps traveling away from the Earth forever. Again, in list form, the ball could:
- Go up then come back down.
- Go into orbit around the Earth
- Fly away from the Earth and travel away from the Earth forever.
These three possibilities provide a metaphor to think about the fate of our expanding universe.
There and Back Again
First, the universe could expand to some certain maximum size and then start shrinking. This is like the case of throwing the ball up into the air and then it comes back down. The ball will only go so high, then fall back; same idea with the Universe. The Universe expands to some maximum size and then begins to contract again. Some people call this the “Big Crunch”. Alex Filipinko called it the “Gnab Gib”, which is “Big Bang” spelled backwards.
That is certainly one way for the Universe to die. It pops out of nowhere, grows for a while until it hits some limit. Then it shrinks back to nothingness.
There, but Not Back Again
The second possibility is that it grows to some point and just stays at that size. This corresponds to having the ball orbit the Earth. Einstein made one of the first models of this type and invented a thing called the “cosmological constant”, which was a hypothetical force that held the Universe at a fixed maximum size. In the mainstream mythology you will hear about “Einstein’s blunder” and dark energy, but we are not going there in this article.
As a way to die, this is pretty boring. The Universe wouldn’t die in this scenario. It would just sit there forever at a fixed size. Anyone who knows anything about this stuff does not believe that this could happen, which leads to our third possibility.
Getting Bigger Forever
Finally, third, it is possible for the Universe to just keep getting bigger. Forever. People generally did not take this idea too seriously until the 1990s. During the 1990s, another discovery was made that was really important. What was discovered is, not only is the universe expanding, but it expands faster and faster as time goes on. The short way to say this is that the expansion is accelerating.
Again, this is something we can all understand easily. Think about driving your car at 35 mph for, say, 10 miles. This is called “constant velocity” and you never speed up, but just stay at the same speed the whole time. But you also know that you have to speed up your car when you get on the freeway. You may be going 35 mph on the on-ramp, but then you hit the accelerator (hello! “accelerator”!) and go faster and faster: 35, 40, 45, 50 mph, and so on until you get up to speed. That is acceleration. You know it. You do it all the time when you drive your car.
Well, this is what was discovered in the 1990s. The expansion of the universe is accelerating. Seriously. It’s freaky enough to know that space is getting bigger. But now add to this that it is getting bigger and bigger faster and faster.
This leads to a different way for the Universe to die. Now, instead of a Big Crunch, what happens is space just keeps getting bigger and bigger until all the galaxies disappear from our view. In effect, the Cosmos becomes diluted with space.
All that will be left one day will be just our galaxy. Technically, by that time in the future, our local galaxy cluster (including us, Andromeda, the two Magellanic Cloud galaxies, and a few others) will have fused into some big galaxy, but still, it would be the only thing in the observable universe.
Eventually this future galaxy will undergo a heat death. The stars will burn out. Atoms will slowly escape into the surrounding void. All that will be left will be the atoms of our former galaxy, randomly floating around, eventually filling the vast, now empty space of the observable universe. Where once there were stars, planets and galaxies, some trillions of years into the future, one will find in their place, the occasional atom, electron, or photon.
Further, over time, even the atoms will leave the observable universe. Everything will just fade away. And that is the key point.
The fact that we today observe an accelerating expansion of space has caused serious cognitive dissonance with those in the know about this stuff. This knowledge has, in a manner of speaking, caused physicists and cosmologists to lose their minds. This is where all the craziness of multiverse mania comes from. For those who don’t know, the idea of “multiverse” is a set of recent (maybe last 15 years) speculations in physics that our universe is not the only universe that exists.
A Hindu sage looking at all this would roll his eyes and say “It’s about time you figured this out”.
To close out the science part of this, let me repeat: THESE ARE FACTS:
- The Universe is expanding.
- The expansion is accelerating.
The funny thing is, the Hindus have known about this all along and have called it: OM
Beginning, Middle, and End
What is OM? It is many things. Primarily it is a mantra chanted by yogis. A mantra is a type of mental training wheels used in yoga to help the mind become one-pointed and to learn samadhi. OM is the MAIN mantra of yoga. It is considered to be the “sound” of the entire Universe.
In Hindu cosmology, there are three basic forces that are conceptualized as beings (which Western people think of as deities, but that is a simplification for simple minded people). These forces are called Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is the creator. Vishnu is the preserver. Shiva is the destroyer. Creator, preserver and destroyer of what? Of the manifested universe.
At a sensory level, this is the Hindu mind projecting on the entire universe our direct experience that all things are born, live for a while, and then die. But with all things Hindu, there are much deeper levels at work here.
The forces that give rise to the entire manifested system of existence are Brahma. Vishnu is all the forces that keep things moving and maintain states of quasi-equilibrium. The forces of decay and transformation are Shiva. These forces are directly experienced in the deeper layers of consciousness. They are not myths, nor are they mere ideas. Learn samadhi really well, and go experience Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva for yourself.
In some truly very deep sense, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the much sought after “laws” of the universe. But that is a discussion for another time.
Math and Music
I first realized the nature of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in the context of music. I love music, and naturally then, I love synthesizers, especially the old analog ones. I first made the connection about what Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are using an old Moog synth not unlike this one:
I’ve labeled the relevant parts of the zoom-in picture. Remember, the purpose of a synthesizer is not only as an instrument to play music, but as a machine to make sounds. When you make a sound on a synthesizer, there are two aspects. First you pick a waveform, usually a sin or square wave. This is the timbre of the sound.
The second thing you do is make what is called an “envelope”. The envelope is what allows one to recognize different sounds, like for example, the difference between a violin, bells, drum, or a horn. The envelope is set by setting the attack, sustain, and decay of the waveform. The knobs for setting attack, sustain, and decay are circled in the picture.
It’s hard to describe an envelope in writing, but it is obvious once you hear it. But I will try to give an example. Imagine the difference between a long violin note and hitting a snare drum. The violin builds up, goes for a while, and then slowly fades away. On the other hand, the drum hits abruptly, does not last long at all, and also fades away pretty quickly.
The attack is how the sound builds up. The sustain is how long it lasts. The decay is how long it takes to fade away. The violin has a slow attack, a long sustain, and a moderately slow decay. The snare drum has a very fast attack, very short sustain, and very fast decay. The two different envelopes are critical for you to tell the difference between a violin note and a drum hit.
And there we have it: music itself is a little microcosm of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva working together to make something: The birth, the life, and the death of a musical note.
The three taken as one thing are what OM is.
The other way to spell OM is AUM. Aaaauuuummmm. When you say it this way, you can literally feel in your mouth the onset of the word as “aaaaa”, the sustain part as “uuuuu” and the decay of the “mmmmm” as it fades into nothingness. Aaaa-uuu-mmm. Attack, sustain, decay. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The sound of AUM comes from nothing, and then it fades back into nothing.
It is all around us. Everything is born, lives for a while, then decays and disappears.
Apparently, even the whole Universe.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
What I am getting at here is that the West has finally hit upon the same view of the Universe that the Hindus have been teaching forever. AUM underlies the manifested universe just as it underlies everything in the Universe.
Recall the two facts we modern people know beyond a shadow of a doubt:
- Space expands
- Space is expanding at an accelerated rate.
These are not mere metaphysical speculations on the part of the Western mind. They are facts of our experience.
The Big Bang comes from Brahma. The Universe grows and evolves from Vishna. It will die by Shiva. The Universe also has the structure of things-within-things-within-things. Therefore, all the things inside the Universe share the pattern of AUM: birth, life, death.
The CMB is the faint “ringing” of Brahma’s utterance of the magic word AUM. As space expands, this light red shifts more and more, until it fades into insignificance: the fading of the “sound” of AUM.
Physics has finally stumbled onto a truth the Hindus have long taught. The third scenario pointed out above—that everything will just eventually, in billions or trillions of years, just fade away—is what is implied by the Hindu concept of AUM.
This is a very weird line of thought to express in words. It is as simple as imagining a sound fading away, but applied to the whole manifested universe.
Right now, we see around us so much motion and activity. Galaxies revolve around each other. Stars revolve around each other inside of galaxies. Planets revolve around suns. Life blooms and spirals around itself on the planets. The atoms spin and spin making molecules, matter, and stuff. This is all Vishnu around us, sustaining all this, keeping it all running and in motion.
But space is expanding faster and faster. Everything is separating. First the galaxies will fly apart. Then for each of the isolated galaxies, the cycle of star formation will slowly come to a halt. Then the atoms will be free again, in a deep freeze unlike anything we know of now. There will only be a giant emptiness peppered here and there by the occasional atom or photon. Eventually, as atoms cross the cosmological horizon, there will just be the giant emptiness of the quantum vacuum.
But is it even giant? With nothing in it to set a distance scale, can we even assign a size to this final thing that is the faded out universe?
Just like AUM: The Universe will fade away, back into the nothingness from whence it arose.
Its not a nothing though, to which the universe will fade. It is the quantum foam. That is how we have come to understand it in the West: as the quantum foam. The quantum foam is imprinted on the CMB as the slight temperature variations responsible for the formation of the large scale structures. These are seemingly random patterns of variation across an otherwise homogenous medium.
In Hinduism, what we call “quantum foam” they call the “unmanifest”. It is the realm of potential out of which the manifested arises. From the unmanifest arises the manifested. And it is to this the manifested returns.
West vs East (Again…sigh)
This eventual fading of the manifested universe is not the whole picture. It is just a phase of Eternity. It is with the meaning, the interpretation, of what it means for the universe to fade away where the modern cosmologist and the Hindu part ways.
The contemporary physicist takes this picture and beats his head against the wall over it. He fantasizes about multiverses that are beyond all human ability to ever experience. Therefore he becomes a fiction writer, and will soon include unicorns and Spider-man in his accounts of “reality”. He imagines bizarre mathematical fantasies about how all the random atoms could somehow magically reassemble themselves, whether via Boltzmann’s “ergotic principle” or quantum fluctuations, or the Uncertainty Principle, or some other statistical phantasy.
The Western mind, enamored as it is with things, stuff, and movement, can’t understand that between the musical notes is emptiness. Without the moments of silence between the notes there would be no music. Stupid, stupid Western scientists: Go learn music.
That is what the fading of manifestation is to the Hindu mind: the moments of silence between the musical notes. The moment between breathing in and breathing out.
Braham, Vishnu, and Shiva arise from Brahman, the Eternal. Brahman: Pure consciousness, alone in itself, from which all arises and into which all again fades.
The West has finally, finally got a clear glimpse into the phantasmagoria of our seeming. Will we here in the West come finally to recognize Maya for what she is?
I doubt it. I hate to be a pessimist and I hope history proves me wrong. But the West is stupid and shallow. I don’t see our Western cultures transforming into something that can accept Maya before the culture disintegrates. There is too much ignorance, too much arrogance, too much fetish worship of math equations and sensory observations, too much decadence.
No matter. It is just Brahman breathing in and out, in and out, in and out; eternally. Brahman composing vast songs where entire universes are but a single note in a meta-cosmic symphony that Leibniz seemed to intuit when he said:
“…if we could understand the order of the universe well enough we would find that it surpasses all the hopes of the wisest people, and that it is impossible to make it better than it is.”
Whether it comes to pass or not that Western civilization forms itself around such deep understanding is not really a problem. It’s not like we won’t be back to give it a try again.