Most people at some time wonder about the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. Are there non-physical dimensions? Will we live in some other form beyond this transitory existence? [Português]
We know instinctively that our five physical human senses — sight, sound, touch, smell, taste — are limited. They can sense directly only certain aspects of what we imagine to be the whole of reality. We have the ability to design and construct instruments that can extend the range and sensitivity of our five human senses. What is humanly possible to sense and deduce — both directly and through artificial instruments — is what I call known reality. This is seen to work according to identifiable universal laws of cause and effect. It is not necessarily limited to what we usually think of as physical reality. Mathematics and logic have no physical bodies, but they are certainly real, and they are part of what we know.
We speculate continually about aspects of reality that may exist beyond the reach of the instruments we have so far developed. I call this unknown but knowable reality. In the future, we may be able to sense and deduce further aspects of reality as we design and develop better instruments. We thus gradually extend the boundary of known reality. As we do, we observe that all our newly won territory of knowledge continues to uphold the same familiar laws of cause and effect, and helps us to understand them better. Like known reality, unknown but knowable reality may contain not only physical entities and phenomena but also mathematical or logical abstractions.
It is conceivable that there may be an ultimate limit to how far we can probe the unknown with physical instrumentation and deductive reasoning. In other words, there is probably a final boundary to knowable reality beyond which it is fundamentally impossible for physical instrumentation or deductive reasoning ever to penetrate. This we can call unknowable reality or perhaps hyper-reality. We would be arrogant to suppose that what is thus unknowable does not exist. The limit of knowable reality is a limit of the physical human life-form: not the universe itself.
These three realms of reality — as depicted in the above diagram — are an attempt to fabricate an objective model of reality as seen from the point of view of all humanity.
The individual human brain is a vast neural network of immense capability. Perhaps the greatest function it performs is to map its environment: that is, to construct within itself a dynamic logical model of its external universe. However, this model is constructed by the individual through his own perception from his own point of view. It is therefore necessarily a subjective model.
The information from which the mind constructs the dynamic logical model of its external universe is of two distinct types:
information from experience that enters through the five human senses enables the mind to construct within the brain an accurate model of its immediate environment. This immediate environment can be quite large because it includes everywhere the individual has travelled so far during his lifetime, all the things he has encountered and all the events he has experienced, and
information from communication with others that enters the mind via symbolic language enables it to extend this model to include an extended environment experienced by others, including those who specialize in various fields of knowledge.
The mind is then able to use the information model of its immediate and extended environments to deduce information about what we can call the individual's deduced environment.
This dynamic logical model of one's immediate, extended and deduced environments is a mental model of what I term the individual's perception of known reality.
The human mind is not only capable of observation and deduction: it is also capable of imagination. Imagination can venture way beyond what has been seen and experienced. It is able to speculate about entities and phenomena that may exist beyond the boundary of known reality — entities and phenomena that are not necessarily bound to obey the laws of cause and effect that rule the realm of known reality.
There are two realms of imagination:
the realm of hypothesis in which the laws that govern the behaviour of entities and phenomena are consistent with the laws of known reality, and
the realm of fantasy in which events and phenomena do not necessarily behave in a way that is consistent with the laws of known reality.
Two areas within the realm of fantasy are fictional fantasy and dreams. However, we will not consider these in this article.
The fact that imagination exists is very significant. It demonstrates that the human life-form comes readily equipped with a mental capability that far exceeds that necessary to guarantee its evolutionary imperative. Merely to facilitate its survival and well-being on this planet, the human mind is ridiculously over-specified. Science tells us that none of us uses more than a fraction of the capacity of his brain throughout his entire life, even now in our advanced education-based society.
The human mind has an enormous capacity and a burning curiosity to extend its knowledge without limit. It strains continually to extend forever the scope and detail of its internal model of its external universe. It probes intrepidly inwards beyond the atom and outwards beyond the cosmos into dimensions it cannot even sense. How and why has it become so supremely developed? It seems that the human mind — by whatever means and for whatever reason — has been "designed" for a much bigger universe than the one it is now able to experience.
Let us now examine four areas of thought where we make use of imagination:
One area of imagination that is consistent with known reality is scientific hypothesis. This speculates about entities and phenomena that may exist just beyond the boundary of known reality. These can be physical entities and phenomena that inhabit the material universe around us. They can also be the abstract entities and phenomena like the variables and operators that take part in the proof of a mathematical theorem. A hypothesis is investigated and tested by experiment. Experiment reveals whether the hypothesis be true or false. A new area of knowable reality is thereby invaded by human knowledge. It becomes a new area of known reality. This is the scientific method.
Science as a method is fine. Unfortunately, the world of science is riddled with establishment arrogance, petty politics and pride-driven competition. Nothing is accepted or published that does not conform to currently established thinking. This has driven many reliable intelligent observers of unusual phenomena to withhold their discoveries for fear of universal ridicule. Of course, the world of science must test and validate evidence with which it is presented, but it should do so with an open mind.
Another area of imagination that attempts to be consistent with known reality is philosophy. But the speculations of the philosopher are not limited to the realm of knowable reality. The philosopher can hypothesize about entities and phenomena that may or may not exist anywhere within the whole of reality. His territory includes the realm beyond knowable reality, which I call hyper-reality. Here, the philosopher is unable to test his hypotheses using the material experiments of the scientist. He can test his hypotheses only through thought.
One area of imagination that is not completely consistent with known reality is religion. The body of knowledge on which a religion is based comes not from observation but from revelation. The channel through which this revelation arrives is invariably a sacred text.
A sacred text usually originates from a distant place and a distant time. It is written by people of a different language and a different culture. Consequently, their experiences and view of life are entirely different from those who read, interpret and believe its message today. The meaning it conveys is thus subjected to much error through copying, translation and interpretation. As a result, it contains — or at least appears to contain — many inconsistencies. It may also refer to things that are clearly outside the known reality of substantiated human experience. So those who accept its message believe in entities and phenomena that are outside the realm of substantiated known reality.
Another area of imagination that is not completely consistent with known reality is mystery. Groups of ardent followers often form around observations of currently unexplainable phenomena. These can be things like luminous spheres or discs, the appearance of strange humanoid beings, or the sound of strange voices.
Based on the precedent of human experience and substantiated known reality, there is a high probability that most of these phenomena are natural but rare. We must bear in mind certain tendencies about the human brain. Whenever it is presented with an unintelligible view, it always first tries to parse a human face or form out of the mess. That is why we think we see clouds shaped like faces and human forms among the trees of a dark forest. Similarly, our brains try first to parse speech out of an unintelligible cacophony of sound.
On the other hand, there could be at least some truth locked up within the garbled message of an ancient text. At least some of the exotic phenomena experienced by people could be genuine communications from intelligence of a higher reality. It would be arrogant in the extreme for us to dismiss these possibilities. Nevertheless, we would expect a communication from beings of superior intelligence — be it through the revelation of an ancient text or through exotic apparitions — to have certain qualities. We would expect it to be:
So far, I have been unable to find an example within the fields of religion and mystery that meets these criteria.
It would also be arrogant to presume that the human mind could not receive input other than through the five known physical senses of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. We may have a sixth or even a seventh sense or even more. So all humans may have other means of sensory input of which we may not even be aware. Some of these 'extra' senses may even be of a nature that we would not think of as physical.
However, we must be aware of another characteristic of the human mind. Only a small proportion of what we 'see' or otherwise sense at any given instant is entering from the external world. The vastly greater proportion is actually coming from our memories. And what comes from our memories is very likely to be influenced and modified by our imaginations.
Through science and philosophy we can readily perceive that what we see as known reality is not complete as a universe. It is like the exposed part of an iceberg. This finishes abruptly and awkwardly at the surface of the sea, suggesting strongly that it continues on beneath. Likewise, we perceive inconsistencies within known reality. These suggest that reality as a whole continues into a realm we cannot yet detect by instrumentation or understand through deduction. Further extrapolation implies that reality continues even beyond this into the realm which I have called hyper-reality. This is a postulated realm in which the existence and nature of entities or phenomena must be forever fundamentally impossible to verify.
Known reality seems always to favour the form of a smooth continuum. It shuns abrupt discontinuity. I therefore prefer to think that The Universe (the whole of reality) extends smoothly into a hyper-reality. Hence, I see known reality as merely the part of reality we are currently able to perceive. By definition, all parts of a universe are connected and are thereby mutually accessible. Consequently, the entities that inhabit this hyper-reality must obey the same laws of cause and effect that govern those that inhabit known reality. So what is the essence of the universe that we perceive?
Duality and Asymmetry: One major characteristic of the perceived universe is duality. The entities that inhabit it are frequently seen to occur as complementary pairs. But complementary pairs are never exact mirror images of each other. There is always some degree of asymmetry between them. This duality with asymmetry appears in entities ranging from the largest to the smallest scales in nature. It is seen in the smallest yet known constituents of matter all the way to the physical and psychological gender asymmetry of the human life-form. There is a universal theme that we can readily imagine as male and female. At every level, duality provides the foundation upon which asymmetry weaves variety and beauty.
Rhythm and Melody: The other major characteristic of the perceived universe is cyclic rhythm. The planets, stars and galaxies move according to strong underlying cyclic motions. So do things at all scales of size from weather systems to the smallest detectable entities of the microscopic world. But these motions are not as cyclic as they may at first appear. Superimposed upon their strong regular rhythm is always a gentle melody of chaos. And it is this that gives the immense variety and beauty to all of nature, as well as to the musical creations of humanity.
At the familiar scale of everyday things, we perceive a universe in which everything obeys universal laws of cause and effect. Quantum physicists argue that at sub-atomic scales, the notion of which is a cause and which is an effect becomes fuzzy. However, at these scales, the act of observation is itself the primary cause of an event. So an objective identification of cause and effect at this scale would seem to be indeterminate. I therefore prefer to draw deductions from my direct experience of entities and phenomena at familiar scales of size.
I believe that the existence of the universal laws of cause and effect strongly suggests that these laws must have an author and sustainer. The scale of the known universe demands that this omnipotent First Cause must possess supreme intelligence and power. It may be a single entity, but I think it is more likely to be a single species of separate individuals. Perhaps this First Cause could hear my prayers and read my thoughts. I do not know because I have not yet had a tangible two-way conversation with it, him, her or them.
Deeper speculations about how The Universe came to be the way we all see it today truly belong to the realm of philosophical thought-experiment or the dogmatic belief in an ancient revelation. Of such, one of my favourite scenarios is as follows:
The Universe was originally an inert fabric of energized space-time that polarised spontaneously into small male and female entities. These then evolved by combining and dividing according to universal laws of cause and effect. This precipitated the rich variety of form and motion we now perceive in our restricted realm of known reality.
But is all this without purpose? The human mind has the capacity to speculate beyond known reality and knowable reality into hyper-reality and eternity. This begs the question of why it should be able to do this if it has no higher destiny than the transitory existence of a human life. Perhaps the scenario continues:
A male/female pair of super-beings or gods polarised out of the universal fabric, within the realm I have referred to as the hyper-reality. And humanity is their project in progress. This Shakti and Shiva were perfect partners. But their divine intellects could not be satisfied with only each other. They craved the companionship of a vast company of divine peers. So they created a beautiful world we call The Earth. Within it they sculptured living images of themselves in mortal human form. Now they wait for us — their mortal children — to complete the task they have set us. This task is to evolve spiritually — under our own free-will — to the stage at which it will be appropriate for us to be transformed into gods. Then we will all live together happily ever after as a vast egalitarian community of gods nestling eternally within the bounteous universe of hyper-reality.
But how does the present life we endure on this blighted planet fit into this grand plan of the gods? For most people, this is a disparate world of exploitation and poverty. It is not exactly the popular conception of Shangri-La.
Perhaps this experience is necessary for our spiritual development. We need to suffer this life-time in a world ruled by totalitarian hierarchies driven by greed and self-interest. Later we will be re-incarnated into an egalitarian world that is ruled by love. There we will already know the folly of the old way. Our combined experiences of both worlds will enable us to reach the necessary spiritual height. Then we will be ready to be transformed into that vast family of immortal beings.
One final thought: If the human mind be part of reality, then all that the human mind contains must be part of reality. Consequently, all that the human mind can imagine must be a part of reality. When we become gods, perhaps what we imagine can become reality. That would place an awesome responsibility upon us.
The vastly over-specified human mind has an insatiable curiosity to search for truth. It craves knowledge about the whole of its outside universe, and also the universe within. It longs to know its destiny. For most of history, the pursuit of this kind of fundamental knowledge was an activity open only to members of a rich elite or religious order. The poor were always too preoccupied with survival. The rich thinker of history has now been largely replaced by a global academic elite. But the poor are still preoccupied with survival.
Most people seem to fear the unknown, particularly regarding the nature of reality and their eternal destiny. Such notions can be quite daunting. They can find solace only in a complete all-encompassing explanation. One way they do this is to relinquish their freedom of thought by adopting the prescribed belief-system of an established religion or exotic following. Another way is to avoid thinking about such nagging questions by keeping their minds focused on business, a hobby, vandalism or trivia like soap-operas and sports.
Some try to find solace in science by probing deeper and deeper into the unknown using ever-improving instrumentation and deductive reasoning. But this approach can never address the ultimate questions of what is beyond scientifically knowable reality. It can never reveal the First Cause or answer the question of human destiny. And any academic approach is always cloistered within the walls of established discipline.
I am not an academic or a recognized authority in this area. I am what may be called an amateur. But to me, this is the ultimate advantage. I am not tied to any established belief-system. I am free to think. I am free to say what I really think. Others may take it or leave it. And I am free to change what I think when I feel that to be appropriate.
However, what is most important to me — what gives me the ultimate comfort and solace of mind — is my freedom to be honest about my thoughts. To be honest about what I so far know, and to admit that beyond this I still do not know. I am happy to recognize that there are things I can never know while in this present human form. Seeing my knowledge as patches of luminosity quilting the dark fabric of reality: that is the picture that brings real satisfaction to the mind and comfort to the spirit.
I travel this road in the certain belief that there cannot be many truths, but only one. I am therefore certain that one day, religion, philosophy and science must converge completely to become a unified body of beautiful knowledge.