OM, the Big Bang, and the End of All Things

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Empirical cosmology increasingly supports the ancient Hindu cosmology, as I explain here.

Perpetual Motion
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 Big Bang theory comes from one key observation: space expands. Edwin Hubble discovered this. That is: (1) why he is famous, and (2) why the space telescope is named after him.

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.

Cosmology5

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.

lord-Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh-paint-images

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:

Early MinimoogLet’s zoom in and look at the controls better.

close up labeledI’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.

 

The newest picture of the temperature variations of the CMB from the Planck satellite. This is the quantum foam writ large across the Cosmos.  It is the pattern to have arisen from the unmanifest that gave rise to the manifestation we now inhabit.

The newest picture of the temperature variations of the CMB from the Planck satellite. This is the quantum foam writ large across the Cosmos. It is the pattern to have arisen from the unmanifest that gave rise to the manifestation we now inhabit.

 

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.

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11 thoughts on “OM, the Big Bang, and the End of All Things

  1. kashyap vasavada

    Hi Don! Happy New Year! If you remember, we had some exchange of comments on Motl’s blog in connection with my blog post on “Hinduism for physicists”. I have been reading your interesting writings from time to time. My knowledge of western metaphysics is nonexistent. So I will not comment on that. However, I am somewhat familiar with Hindu scriptures and am continuing to learn about them. I have not practiced meditation. Obviously, you are much ahead of me in that respect. So your views on Yoga as a science are very interesting. I have been trying to keep up with current advances in theoretical physics which is a big job!!
    Yes. Analogies between modern physics and Hindu metaphysics are fascinating. I made some remarks in that blog about them. I have a strong suspicion that although quantum and relativity theories were developed in west to explain sensory data on nature, they may be hinting strongly at the extra sensory world realized by ancient sages in India, In a sense this may be like trying to put your ears on the walls of a closed room in which we are confined to realize what is outside. So in that sense physics may have provided some hints for metaphysics. Developments in connection with Bell’s theorem which force us to give up our notions of reality strongly suggest some such connection. Of course the story is not finished yet. It is not clear how quantum theory is related to consciousness. But there are numerous efforts. As you have emphasized, Yogic meditation is another window on this world.
    I like your analogy of creation (actually manifestation), preservation and dissolution of universe with music. Hindu scriptures talk about cycles and multiverse. Physics is still debating about such things.
    Well. Keep writing about your views. Although West has contributed enormously to development of science, East can throw some light on such issues where science may hit a brick wall!

    • Dear Kashyap

      Happy New Year to you too, Sir! Yes, I certainly remember your outstanding article at Motl’s site! Thank you for stopping by and commenting, that is very kind of you, and a real honor that you would stop by. Yes, I can appreciate how difficult it is to keep up with current developments in your field. It is the same with me and molecular biology. Things change so rapidly nowadays.

      That is a very nice metaphor about listening at the wall in a closed room. I think the room you describe is the world of our sensory perceptions and what is outside it is what Kant called the “transcendental” or the “things in themselves”. I am reading Hermann Weyl right now, who as you may know was instrumental in bringing symmetry arguments into physics, and he very much takes this viewpoint. I have one blog post about him and another in the works.

      Yes, Bell’s theorem is decisive that quantum reality is interconnected in a way that is not obvious macroscopically. In my spare time, I have been watching videos on the internet about quantum optics, where people are visualizing entangled states. The technology is really incredible, and the results are simply amazing.

      Are you familiar with a fellow Jay Lakhani of the Hindu Academy? (https://www.youtube.com/user/HinduAcademy) He has an interesting video here, where he gets into links between science and Hinduism. Jay has really explored this well. He has a MS in physics from Oxford, under Penrose. He has interesting things to say about the links between Bell, the quantum foam, and Hindu teachings. Very interesting.

      Yoga is super-important. I think it is the perfect complement to Western science. Where science focuses outward via the senses, Yoga focuses inward, into the depths of consciousness. I don’t know if you saw my recent writing What Is Science? This explains how the two can mutually complement each other. Although it is not a 50:50 mixing. More like 90:10, yoga to science! This is because the yoga methods teach us about the links between objects of perception, the processes of perception, and the links between perception and the mind, topics that have been proportionally neglected in Western science.

      Thank you as well for your comments about this post. Again, I don’t know if I was successful conveying the main idea: the accelerating expansion of the universe will just dissolve back into “nothingness”, just like the sound of AUM fading away. The two viewpoints are so consonant with each other!

      Well, Kashyap, again, I very much appreciate not only that you are reading my blog, but took the time to comment. Please feel free to do so as you wish. I put these ideas out there not to be dogmatic but to get people thinking and to stimulate debate. Please feel free to offer critical comments, observations, etc, whenever you wish.

      All my very best wishes,

      Don

  2. Hi Don, excellent article! I really enjoy how you put modern science into perspective with the ancient wisdom of Hinduism and Yoga. Your recent book, “What is Science”, was especially interesting in those regards. One of the best books I have read in a while!

    In regards to the fact that space is accelerating, have you seen ideas like this one that are floating around out there?

    http://phys.org/news/2014-12-alternative-explanation-dark-energy.html

    Makes one wonder if the acceleration really is a “fact”. Since dark energy is the key mechanism for the accelerating expansion, I’m personally a bit skeptical on the accelerating expansion until we have some idea what dark energy actually is. Regardless ….

    Roger Penrose has some interesting ideas that also coincide with some of what you wrote (if the expansion of space is indeed accelerating). To quote from my blog (where I am talking about the Indian idea of Interdependent Co-arising, depicted in Indra’s Many-Jeweled Net) (http://exploreabitmore.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-middle-way-part-ii-interdependent.html):

    “Roger Penrose’s ideas on Cosmology, going by the name of Conformal Cyclical Cosmology [CCC], take this even deeper. First, Special Relativity basically says a photon does not sense the passage of time. As the Universe continues to evolve all mass will radiate away, eventually even Black Holes via the so-called Hawking Radiation mechanism. Imagine the last little piece of mass left in the Universe, say a microscopic Black Hole, which is the only piece of matter left in the Universe that can sense the passage of time. What happens when it radiates away? The mathematical implication is that time and, therefore distance, lose meaning. Penrose’s idea is that at this point the infinite vastness of space is equivalent to the infinitesimal beginning of the Big Bang, which of course initiates a new Big Bang, or a new cycle of the Universe. Space is an illusion whose power is sapped, without time and matter. The two entities – spacetime and matter – need each other for their mutually interdependent continued existence and even the continued existence of this current cycle of the Universe. Pretty wild, right?”

    Of course, Penrose has some fancy math to put all that into more formal, technical terms. (“Rogue electrons” are currently a big problem for this theory, as I don’t think we have any ideas on how these would “evaporate”) Anyhow, I had a bit of “cognitive dissonance” myself over this seemingly vast, cold, dark, infinite nothingness that is left with the accelerating universe. But, where you state “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?” ties in nicely with Penrose’s CCC and the cyclical cosmology of Hinduism, as well as tidies up rather nicely the cognitive dissonance the picture of an accelerating Universe can initially create.

    • Dear Evan

      Thank you for dropping by and thank you for the kind comments about my writing and about What Is Science? Thank you as well for offering so many provocative ideas. I will comment on a few of them.

      Thanks for pointing out the PLOS article, as I had not heard of it yet. I went and looked into it. Frankly, I found it a bit unusual that a cell biologist is publishing cosmology. Even though I discuss physics and related matters here, I do so as an informed layman, and maintain an appropriate professional respect for those who do practice physics (which, in my estimation, still allows me to call them “philosophical pygmies” because I am criticizing their use of philosophy, not their ability to do physics!). I did find a couple comments claiming this paper is bunk: here and here.

      Both critiques struck me as appropriate. The PLOS paper proposes to do away with the Lorenz Transform, which is at the heart of Einstein’s Special Relativity theory. This is one of the most amazing results in physics, and it has stood the test of almost 100 years. One would think that if it was fundamentally wrong, this would have been discovered decades ago. But it has not been shown wrong and is a corner-stone of modern physics. I have been reading Hermann Weyl lately, and he was one of the founders of modern Relativity theory. History has shown over and over that people of such top rate intellect generally do not make obvious mistakes.

      In short, I am very skeptical of the PLOS paper.

      As to whether the acceleration of the expansion is a fact, I would tend towards a “yes”. It is one of those observations that fits under the heading: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Based on what I have read and seen in talks, the observations have been scrutinized to the nth degree. It is very unlikely there is a mistake in either the data or the interpretation of accelerating expansion. If there is one thing that can be said about the culture of physics, it’s that physicists are anal retentive. Physicists do not play loosey goosey with data or theories. I only wish my field, and biomedicine in general, were like physics in this regard.

      As to dark energy being the cause of the expansion, I think you are correct that this is more ambiguous. Leonard Susskind has excellent videos on YouTube that explain some of the ideas linking dark energy to the energy of space, which is sometimes called the quantum vacuum. From what I understand, the cosmic microwave background data is the strongest basis for dark energy. Both dark energy and dark matter are unusual scientific objects. In each case we can observe their effects without knowing what is the thing causing the effects. But the effects can be observed and modeled, and that is the basis on which the physics is proceeding.

      I’m not too familiar with Penrose. Thank you for sharing some of his ideas. The idea of Indra’s many-jeweled net was one of the things I was alluding to above when I said the multiverse idea is consistent with Hinduism.

      It is interesting to hear his idea of the equivalence of the infinitely vast and infinitesimally small. This is a quality of the infinite identified by Nicholas of Cusa back in the twelfth century, where he pointed out that the infinitely large IS the infinitely small. He calls these the “Maximum” and “Minimum”, respectively. Ideas such as “larger” and “smaller” only make sense in a relative context. If you have not seen it, I recommend Cusa’s book On Learned Ignorance.

      I appreciate what you are saying about cognitive dissonance. I think the Hindu ideas resolve this by replacing the idea of a vast empty nothing with the idea of stuff just dissolving back into the Waters on which Vishnu sleeps, as depicted in the picture above. As you probably know, in Hindu thought, these waters are the unmanifest, the potential, out of which arises all things.

      Again, Evan, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I will certainly give your blog a read; it looks very interesting.

      Best wishes,

      Don

      • kashyap vasavada

        Hi Don:
        Yes. I agree with you. Existence of dark energy (and consequent current accelerated expansion of universe) is well established science resulting in a Nobel Prize in 2011. The current debate is not about whether it exists or not, but about how to explain its current small value theoretically. This is called fine tuning. In Einstein’s GR equation it is represented by a cosmological constant. Some people think it may be a field with space and time variation. But it would shatter lot of pillars of cosmology and physics if it is proven to be nonexistent!! Similarly Lorentz transformations are pretty much facts of life in modern physics. It is possible that once we have a *final* theory of quantum gravity, there may be corrections to them in some appropriate limit. But not yet anyway. Also Penrose’s cyclic model is controversial and is not widely accepted.
        Cheers.

      • Dear Kashyap

        Very nice to hear from you! Thank you for offering additional insight on the physics that Evan brought up. It is very helpful and I am very grateful that you are willing to comment.

        Looking at Wikipedia, it says the current value of the cosmological constant is 10−52 m−2, which is just outrageous fine tuning! I truly feel for what you all are going through trying to make sense of this. Imagine: needing to set 52 digits to get the model to work. Ouch! Seriously though, it is a really deep issue and I see why so many people are focused on it. It seems so arbitrary, which flies in the face of all that theorists try to achieve. Although I am not at all an expert in the physics, my small experience with modeling tends to make me sympathetic with both the string and inflation views that produce what I prefer to call “hyper-abundant” models. e.g. What everyone else interprets as “multiverses”.

        Evan, below in his comment, links to a post he wrote that references the Hindu idea of Indra’s Multi-Jeweled net, which indicates that Hindu cosmology has long considered we live in a “multiverse”. I also found reference to a “multiverse” idea in Swami Krishnananda’s commentaries on the Yoga Sutras. Here he was explaining what the word “Prakrati” means. Normally it is associated with the material side of manifestation (where Purusha or Shiva is associated with the conscious side of manifestation). Krishnananda compared the manifestation of a universe by Prakrati to carving a statue out of a block of marble. He asked: how many potential statues are contained in the block of marble? Obviously the answer is infinite. That, he claimed, is the relationship between Prakriti and a manifested universe. He put this in terms of the three gunas. He said that the specific form the gunas take in this manifested universe is only one of an infinite possible combinations they can take. What determines which particular universe manifests is a function of the previous manifestation. Specifically, the samskaras, or “memories” of the unfulfilled desires of the previous manifestation serve as something like initial conditions for the structure of the next universe. So you get something out that looks like the bounce cosmology models that people like Steinhardt are advocating, except that what determines their structure is not physical factors, but psychological ones. Very strange indeed.

        Anyway, I raise these points with you, Kashyap, since you know so much more about physics than me and perhaps it will trigger some insight.

        Finally, thank you for commenting on the Lorenz transform. From my limited knowledge, it appears to occupy a very important place in theoretical physics. The more I learn about relativity theory overall, the more I am amazed by it.

        Again, Kashyap, it is very great to hear from you! Thank you again for stopping by!

        Best wishes,

        Don

  3. kashyap vasavada

    Dear Don: It is nice to communicate with you. Indra’s jeweled net is a nice metaphor for multiverse. In fact if there is evidence of multiverse or even some planet in our own universe with life, Hindus and people like you who are knowledgeable about Hindu concepts, will not be surprised at all! But some religions who assume that the universe was designed for us human beings and we are special creations of God would be shocked! The physics world is currently divided into believers and non-believers of multiverse. As you know, string theory and inflationary model strongly indicate the existence of multiverse. Others hate string theory precisely for that reason!! They say that if you cannot verify something by experiments, that does not exist! Time will tell.
    I am gradually trying to understand Yogasutras. If I have something worthwhile to say, I will let you know for sure!
    Cheers!
    kashyap

    • Hi Kashyap!

      Very interesting conversation, Sir!

      Physics provides one “box” (as in “think outside the box”) proving there is more to the physical universe than what our senses convey. Dark energy and dark matter are not anything we know by our senses. There are two other important “boxes”.

      One “box” is neuroscience. I did a couple posts on Wilder Penfield. I plan to do a new post soon about him. So you can appreciate his stature, Penfield can be thought of as the Einstein of 20th century neuroscience. His data suggest that a form of energy functions through the brain that is not electrical. His suggestion is that an aspect of our minds imparts energy to the brain. This may or may not be related to those who seeks quantum mechanical descriptions of brain function (Penrose, Hameroff). My first impression is that it is unrelated, and can be dealt with in a “classical” manner (by which I mean we do not need to invoke QM). I will write more about this in coming weeks.

      The 2nd “box” is the Yoga Sutras (YS). The idea that gunas exist in four states (vitarka, vicara, ananda, asmita) is reminiscent of phase transformations in theories of grand unification, and even in classical thermodynamics. According to YS, our senses are made of, and therefore interact only with gunas in the vitarka state. Our mind, and its components (thoughts, emotions, intuition, etc), is made of the finer gunas and interacts accordingly on those levels. According to YS, the human body-mind complex is a “machine” that can interact with all 4 phases of the gunas.

      If one is very open minded, one can take the experience of yogis as empirical evidence for states of matter beyond the physical. As I suggested in the Pentamental interview, the term “gunas” may most fruitfully be translated as “matter”, keeping in mind it implies three states of matter that we cannot sense with the senses of the physical body. The evidence of the YS seems to dovetail with Penfield’s observations.

      Taken together, they suggest a view of the universe in which that which we perceive with the senses of the physical body corresponds to only a small portion of what exists. This is highly consistent with the lambda CDM model that attributes only ~5% of matter to be that which our physical senses can perceive.

      Where there is smoke, there is probably fire. All of these seemingly disparate ideas are converging in a quite unexpected manner. 20 years ago when I wrote Beyond the Physical, I never would have guessed the science would have progressed so fast in this direction.

      The physics paradigms arose almost exclusively through observations via the senses of the physical body. This is the strength, but also their limit. I guess the bottom line to what I am saying is that by considering these other “boxes” may provide insights to get beyond the current difficulties in physics.

      Again, Kashyap, a great pleasure to be able to share these ideas with you! Thank you for the great conversation!

      Best wishes,

      Don

  4. Hi again Don! I’m definitely with you on that specific paper I linked. I don’t think it is correct either, myself. It’s the one example of alternative ideas I could find quickly. One paper I need to try and find again, specifically addressed the measurements of the Type IA Supernovas and the “network” of dependencies coming from the way they are calibrated off Cepheids, etc. I can’t remember the details, but I think it can basically be summed up as the measurements are fairly solid, but not as robust as we would really like them to be. (Having said that, the one paper you linked gave me the distinct impression much progress has been made since I last looked into this!) In the end, I suspect expansion is indeed accelerating as the measurements indicate, but the details at this point are so nebulous I have a hard time deciding how to “interpret” what it really means.

    Thanks for the recommendation on Cusa. Sounds like interesting material, as I’ve been fascinated with ideas along these lines for some time.

    It also reminds me I have been meaning to look into projective geometry, again. Some interesting ideas about infinity in there too. I noticed you mentioned Theosophy a few times, so you may have heard of Rudolph Steiner? Steiner, once a theosophist, eventually starting the Anthroposophy movement, often talked about projective geometry. He seemed rather convinced the Etheric (as talked about in Theosophy/Athropospohy) is a type of counter-space (“dual” to our normal space) that could be mathematically described via projective geometry.

    I remember a few neat ideas from projective geometry, one being that we normally think of a circle as defined by – was it Euclid? – as a locus of points all equidistant from a central point. I forget the details, but in projective geometry a circle can also be defined by referencing infinity. Parallel lines are defined as lines which cross at a point located at infinity. Anyhow, these are the most trivial results from PJ. There are more profound insights, but I’m too rusty to describe. More here, if you might be interested:

    http://www.nct.anth.org.uk/

    Anyhow, once again, great blog Don, I really look forward to reading more of your material!

    Thanks!
    Evan

  5. PeterJ

    Great discussion! One most crucial point may be the equivalence of the infinitesimal and the infinite. Such a valuable idea in metaphysics!

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