This chapter may not immediately seem relevant and when I originally wrote it the feedback from my friends and contacts was that it was way too long. So this is the abridged version. The full version, if you are really interested, is located on the website.
There seems to be a theme running through the story told so far that perhaps relates to the very nature of reality. So what is reality? We experience the Universe through our senses and our brain processes the information they gather into things we can understand. However, what if there was a deeper reality or even an alternative reality? A reality that goes undetected by our senses as far as we know? Is this just a hare-brained notion? The Universe feels like a very real place, made up of solid things including, ultimately, building block components that we call atoms. And yet, atoms themselves consist of mostly nothing at all. They are huge empty voids with a nucleus at the centre. The hydrogen atom is 99.9999999999996% empty space.
Our understanding of the Universe has changed radically over the millennia with perhaps the most profound changes in our understanding occurring in just the past one hundred years of mankind’s several hundred thousand years or perhaps million years of existence. This is depending upon the assumption of what and when we started from. I will do my best to explain the physics in layman’s terms but I think it is important to explain where we have been in our thinking, where we are now, and what could be just around the corner. I will be highlighting some of the outstanding problems in physics along with my own theories as to how we might arrive at a solution. This is a solution that should resonate with much of what has been said so far in this book and it is not without a pinch of heresy, controversy, and over-simplicity that I offer it. Indeed the origin of the word heresy meant ‘choice’ and was Greek in ultimate origin. I will lay out a choice for the reader. First though some further words of caution insomuch as I have deliberately oversimplified in some cases to make this chapter accessible to a wide range of potential readers without having their eyes all glazing over and their subsequent passing out. If you are a physicist then I apologise but I would welcome a discussion on the details of what I describe and am proposing.
In the hundreds and possibly thousands of years ‘before’ Galileo, Newton and other polymaths that brought us enlightenment in our understanding of the universe and our place within it, the human race thought it was the centre of the Universe. God’s Universe or the gods’ Universe. The sky was simply a blanket with tiny pin holes in it, letting light through from heaven behind it, where god or the gods resided. The similarities of such a belief system with Plato’s cave is remarkable since we could only see what we could see and formed our conclusions from that. At the time we did not know any better. We were the prisoners chained in front of the wall watching the dancing shadows caused by objects in front of the fire that was behind us. However, despite it being an incorrect understanding of the Universe there was something romantic about it. The mystery held a level of uncertainty that required faith and belief. Ignorance was therefore bliss.
God’s creation at the centre of the Universe came under threat from Galileo when he suggested that the Earth revolved about the sun and therefore the sun was the centre of the Universe. A heliocentric Universe. This was a horrifying prospect for the Vatican especially given their efforts to stamp out the previous ‘sun-worship’ religions from the pagans and of course the Egyptians. Galileo was charged with heresy as a result.
Newton demystified the solar system further, including the movement of planets, through his theory of gravity and the laws of motion. This blew the last of the romance out of the water since Newton was implying that the Universe was simply a giant game of billiards. It was all entirely deterministic or predictable and some might say it was fatalistic. Perhaps Newton consoled himself with thinking that this was god’s plan? The result for some was a feeling of a loss of control, being trapped in a giant game of billiards whose motions were like clockwork and predictable. Once set in motion there would be no deviations. You were trapped by fate.
Over the following centuries it was to get worse still. The Earth it seemed was just an ordinary planet in roughly the right spot from its parent star, an ordinary star in the outer reaches of an ordinary galaxy. And there were at least 100 billion stars in the galaxy and at least 100 billion galaxies out there that we can estimate. We were certainly not the centre of the Universe but rather an insignificant blip in space and time and that time was a mere million or so years of human-like kind in a 14 billion year old Universe. That’s what I call perspective.
Then in the early 20th century we were failing to explain a number of important phenomena using these Newtonian perspectives. In some cases it also seemed that the Universe didn’t want to be entirely deterministic or, let me say, ‘be predictable’. To solve these outstanding problems in physics required several game changing theories which were Relativity (coming in two forms called ‘Special’ and ‘General’) and Quantum theory. Each was unique and highly innovative in their own right.
It was Einstein who suggested what happens when you travel at the speed of light (special relativity) and that space and time were two sides of the same coin (general relativity). But well over two hundred years before Einstein it was Danish astronomer Olaus Roemer who successfully measured the speed of light and determined it to be finite as opposed to infinite or having an instantaneous nature. This speed limit of the Universe intrigued Einstein. It applied everywhere in the Cosmos and the Universe would insist upon holding everything to account against it. But, why should the Universe have a speed limit in the first place? What was limiting the Universe or holding it back? It transpires that you cannot convey information any faster than this inherent limit and that any attempt to reach the speed of light with objects made of matter will ultimately require a vast (impractical) amount of energy. Eventually an impossible infinite amount of energy would be required to match the speed of light. The Universe couldn’t be bypassed.
Indeed one of the many peculiar effects of travelling fast and even at just a reasonable fraction (say a tenth) of the speed of light is that time for the traveller actually slows down compared to a stationary observer. These are real measured properties of the Universe. Sensitive engineering related timing applications must account for it and we do. In other words, you could travel from Earth at some high fraction of the speed of light for ten ‘traveller years’ but upon return to Earth the traveller would discover that many tens of years or even hundreds of years could have passed. The Universe works in a relative kind of way in order to maintain what I call the ‘maximum information processing rate’. I’ll come back to this soon.
Perhaps just as profoundly, we must conclude that there is no absolute time or clock governing the Universe. Time runs at different rates depending upon where you are and what you are doing. This was to be extended further by Einstein some years after he devised Special Relativity. General relativity describes space and time as a part of the same thing, called ‘space-time’. There’s essentially a form of trading relationship between time and space. One of the peculiar aspects here is that matter (mass) ‘warps’ (bends) space-time through its presence and in turn, because space-time has been warped, any matter (mass) will follow the curvature of this warped space-time. This is best visualised through taking a look at large bodies of matter like stars, planets, and moons and their orbits around each other. Planets orbit their more massive stars because the star has warped space-time in a similar way to what happens if you put a large solid metal ball (the size of a softball) in the centre of a rubber mat and then roll marbles (or any much smaller mass spheres) nearby. The marbles follow the distorted surface of the mat and tend to fall towards the large metal ball. An orbit in other words. This ‘warping’ is a departure from Newton’s explanation and has since explained the discrepancies between Newton’s law of gravity and what we have measured in our solar system and beyond.
I did allude earlier that space and time were inextricably linked and it turns out that the stronger the gravity of the object (the bigger the mass) the slower the rate of the passage of time for someone caught up in it. This was brought to life in the excellent but also heart wrenching movie Interstellar where every extra minute spent in the immense gravitational field of a nearby blackhole represented years of additional Earth time causing a serious family issue for one of the returning crew members. But what is really causing the Universe to behave in this way? Why should matter cause time to slow and more matter cause it to slow down even more? Of course if you were caught up in this then time for you would seem to flow just like normal. I will come back to this soon when the connections with this story will hopefully become apparent.
The Newtonian view of the Universe was starting to change with Einstein’s now thoroughly tested theories but it would be at the very small scale that Newton’s Universe would start to impressively fall apart in many circumstances. In the early part of the 20th century Quantum theory emerged as a means of describing a range of phenomena that simply could not be explained any other way. Quantum theory described how things operate at the very small scale (think atoms and even smaller than the scale of atoms) where in essence everything was ‘quantised’ insomuch as the values for particular properties of particles could only exist in predefined states which had a minimal amount of energy associated with them, termed ‘quanta’. It’s a little like money. In the UK there is a one pence, two pence, five pence, ten pence, and a twenty pence coin and so on. But there is nothing less than a one pence coin or penny. And, there is no three pence coin (not anymore anyway!), no four pence, no six pence, no seven pence and so on. In some sense the Universe at the very small scale was a form of ‘digital’ system. This may sound counterintuitive but the Quantum realm held much bigger surprises. When we throw a tennis ball at a wall we expect it to rebound but at the Quantum level a particle (like an electron, proton, neutron, photon and even an atom) can tunnel through a barrier and appear at the other side even through it did not have enough energy to ‘blast’ through the barrier. This is called Quantum tunnelling and is an effect exploited in modern day electronics. Indeed we wouldn’t have modern day electronics if it weren’t for Quantum physics more generally so its validity is unquestionable. Another mind bending effect is called the superposition of states. This is where a particle can have multiple values of a property (according to the predefined states or quanta) all at the same time. In the case of an electron one property is called spin which can be ‘up’ or ‘down’ (think heads or tails) but in Quantum physics it can be both at the same time. This effect, along with another called entanglement, that I will explain soon, is ushering in a new revolution in computing called, unsurprisingly, Quantum Computing. These are machines that can hold a massive range of values simultaneously and compute a result which would take all of the computers on the planet the age of the Universe to determine the same answer, if they could at all. Then there’s non-localism in which a particle does not have a specific place in which it exists but rather it exists everywhere all at the same time. It just happens to be the case that if you looked for it (you observed it) you would find that it has higher probability of being in one particular place than another. This probability is formed by something called the ‘Wave function’ which seems to be a very real mathematical equation the Universe has in place to describe everything at the Quantum level.
According to one interpretation of Quantum physics, called the Copenhagen Interpretation, only when a conscious observer chooses to observe the particle is the wavefunction equation ‘solved’ and the particle becomes real. This probabilistic nature of Quantum physics caused Einstein to criticise the theory saying ‘God does not play dice.’. Einstein helped to pave the way for Quantum physics but he did not like it and tried hard to disprove it with alternative explanations. In the end Einstein failed and he was proven wrong. The Universe did in fact play dice. It is hard not to sympathise with Einstein since what was really being said here was that nothing was really real until it is observed and in the meantime everything simply exists as a type of probability wave or sets of equations waiting to be solved. The big problem with this and one I’m sure that you have spotted is, what does observation actually mean, and, what do we mean by a conscious observer? I could probably write a book on this topic alone, although many already have, and it is the source of much debate amongst physicists and philosophers with alternative explanations being offered. These include things like ‘multi-verses’ springing into existence whenever an observation is made by ‘anything’. However, I’ve always found these to be very clumsy and as a fan of Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is often the correct one, I tend to favour the conscious observer explanation. This is part romanticism and part arrogance I am sure, as in a way it could imply that humans are back at the centre of the Universe especially if they are the only ‘conscious’ observers. However, it gets confusing if we bring whales, dolphins, primates, corvids (the crow family), parrots and some other animals into the ‘conscious’ definition and here lies an interesting set of experiments perhaps?
For now I’ll go with the human only assumption. What I mean by this is that if the fundamental nature of reality at its lowest level does not physically exist until observed by a human then in a sense Pythagoras and others could indeed be right. ‘All is number’, or at least not real or perhaps in some way abstract, until it is observed, when it would then be ‘calculated’ by the Universe. Whether this is what Pythagoras really meant we just don’t know. Naturally, most physicists avoid this kind of debate but the philosophical questions still remain.
To make matters worse, perhaps the most perplexing mystery in Quantum physics is something called Quantum entanglement. Through some processes in physics two or more ‘particles’ can become ‘entangled’. This means that they have an unseen, and to date, a still unknown connection to one another through space and time. Einstein referred to this as ‘spooky’. Let’s take our electron from earlier that could have a spin state of ‘up’ or ‘down’ but can have both at the same time (the ‘superposition’ mentioned earlier) until it is observed. This time we have an ‘entangled pair’ of them and is where we find some very strange behaviours. When we measure (observe) one of the entangled electrons in the pair to determine its spin state, the other one, when measured, will have the opposite spin state. It’s like flipping coins, if we flip one and it is heads it means when we flip the other it will be tails! This is not as a result of the states being predetermined in any way where one was always ‘up’ and the other was always ‘down’ as there have been many tests to demonstrate that this is not the case. These tests involve Bell’s theorem which is beyond the scope of this book but please rest assured that there appears to be a Cosmic form of signalling between these particles which is independent of the distance between them as well as appearing to be an instantaneous connection. So one electron could be at one side of the Universe and the other at the opposite side. It doesn’t really matter. How this signalling or spooky correlation is actually working has physicists scratching their heads since if it is a signal it is clearly breaking the speed of light limit. Despite not being able to explain it physicists and engineers are putting the principle to work in Quantum Computers mentioned earlier where they are linking (entangling) multiple particles together to represent larger ranges and more combinations of data. Super-powerful computers in other words.
This is all a little mind bending and mysterious but I have not yet mentioned the most common experimental evidence of Quantum physics at work. This is in the double slit experiment. Consider a light source like a lamp with a narrow output wavelength (meaning it largely has one colour like yellow as opposed to white light which is made up of all of the colours of the rainbow) shining through a vertical slit several feet away. The result of the light’s interaction with the slit is appearing on a screen several feet further away from the slit. In this case we see a bright band on the screen representing the light that made it through the slit. No surprises. Now if we replace this slit with a double slit (two vertical slits separated by a few millimetres) we don’t see two bright bands on the screen but instead we see an interference pattern. This is a series of bright and dark vertical bands on the screen and is caused because the light is behaving like a wave. The light coming out from each slit is interfering with the other. This is just like the ripples on a pond if you throw two stones in at the same time. You will get peaks and troughs where the waves add up together (called constructive interference) and flat regions where the waves cancel each other out (called destructive interference). This is happening with the light from the two slits. Light is a wave. No surprises there either. But what if we repeated the experiment with particles of light, called photons, or used electrons, protons, neutrons, or other particles? Let’s stick to photons for now. Quantum physics tells us that there is a minimum amount of energy possible and that everything occurs in these quanta (remember my digital Universe analogy earlier) so light should be no exception. When we replace our light source with one that emits a single photon or ‘packet’ or ‘quanta’ of light at a time and stick with the one slit to start with we see that the photon makes a splash somewhere near the middle region on the screen in a horizontal sense but it could land anywhere in the vertical sense on the screen. This splash is a tiny dot of light on the screen which is what you might expect from a particle of light. We’ve just thrown a tiny ball towards a much bigger slot. We then fire or emit another photon from the source to the slit and then see the splash of the photon on the screen in another location but still roughly near the central region of the screen in a horizontal sense. Over time and with more photons we end up with the same single bright vertical band centred in the middle (horizontally) of the screen. Nothing surprising here. So what happens when we replace the single slit with the double slit? Over time the photons make seemingly random splashes on the screen but eventually they build up an interference pattern. This should be surprising since we got an interference pattern earlier when lots of light was behaving like a wave and going through both slits at the same time causing it to interfere with itself. But surely in this case we should have just seen two bright bands from the photons that managed to get through the two slits. Remember that each photon was sent through on its own and it should resemble something like a tiny billiard ball. How is it possible that the photon somehow managed to interfere with itself as this implies that it must have travelled through both slits at the same time, come back together as a photon (a particle), and then made a splash in just the right place on the screen to begin to form the interference pattern from the following photons? This experiment has bothered me since being a teenager and if you hadn’t come across it until now I am hoping that it is bothering you too! To work out what was going on physicists decided to measure which slit or slits the photon was passing through by placing a detector at one or both of the slits. What they discovered next added to the confusion. When we try to work out which slit the photon passes through the interference pattern previously built up on the screen no longer appears and instead we simply see two bright vertical bands formed by the photons. It seems that the Universe won’t allow us to get the interference pattern on the screen and to know which slits the photons went through. They are mutually exclusive. To explain this the act of observation forces the light to behave like a particle with a distinct position (at the detector) and from there on behaves like a particle (a photon in this case). So what if we get a little clever and try to beat the Universe at its own game? What if we place the detector some way after the slit and so the photon has had to make its mind up about whether it behaves like a wave or a particle well before it reaches the detector? We still get the same result. The two bright vertical bands and no interference pattern. Somehow the measurement of the photon with our detector has influenced what happened to the photon before it was actually measured (back in time, when it was travelling by the slits)! This experiment has taken many forms since including probably the most bizarre experiment in the whole of physics, the ‘delayed choice quantum eraser’ experiment which I urge you watch on YouTube and to read about. This remarkable experiment along with Cosmic versions of the simpler ‘delayed choice’ experiment (yes, Cosmic, using stars and something called gravitational lensing as our light source and slits) is suggestive of two things about the Universe. First, that somehow time is no object insomuch as an observation in the present could be influencing events in distant history (millions or even billions of years past). Second, no matter how hard you try to reveal information in the Universe even through clever experiments that try to trick the Universe you just can’t. The Universe will actually ‘erase’ information so you cannot know it. An alternative explanation might be to say that the Universe never needed to calculate the information in the first place so there was nothing to erase but that’s just my own interpretation. The Universe was saving the effort. These experiments work for photons but they also work for electrons and for many other particles. This has been quite a long explanation of the bizarre nature of one of physics most tested theories. It is a theory that comes as a whole and can’t be divided up to discard the parts of it we don’t like or find too spooky. It is a theory that has built the modern world of electronics and computing and is ushering in the next set of technological revolutions. I fear however that I have not done it justice as there are so many fascinating philosophical implications here. For example, I haven’t mentioned the Quantum Zeno Effect, Schrödinger’s cat, and much more. I hope however that I’ve managed to lay sufficient ground work for what I am about to describe. That the Universe is quite probably a form of simulation processed by a type of computer. ‘All is number’ may be true after all.
In the late 1980s I imagined the Universe being a form of computer where reality was merely a projection of something much more fundamental, like ‘information’. I wondered if there was a simple explanation, a single high level theory, which could explain the weirdness of Quantum physics and Einstein’s Special and General relativity. This was of course the Holy Grail of physics with many different theories being proposed by many physicists over the past few decades in particular. One promising theory and a personal favourite of mine is called the ‘holographic principle’ by Professor Leonardo Susskind. This appeared in a paper in the Journal of Mathematics in 1995 and was called “The World as a Hologram”. What Susskind proposed, with the mathematics to back this up (as opposed to my handwaving), was that the entire Universe could be represented by two-dimensional (2D) information on some distant cosmological horizon. In other words, what we experience in our Universe in the three-dimensions (3D) plus time is merely a ‘projection’ from the source information which is held in two dimensions. This is in the same way that a 2D holographic plate can show a 3D image that you can look around. I’m sure that most readers have seen a proper hologram. Furthermore, it was also suggested that gravity simply emerges from such a representation. It would appear that some of the mysteries of Quantum theory like entanglement could now be explained. For example, the pair of entangled electrons and their ‘spooky connection’ is explained by both electrons merely being two projections of the same piece of information that sits on some Cosmic boundary or cosmological horizon. They are both part of a single system. There is no need for a special signal between the two electrons but, perhaps, our observation of one of the electrons is really an observation being made in the Cosmic boundary (at the true information level) and it naturally affects both projections from itself into our Universe. Susskind based his work upon others before him, bringing together a number of theoretical physics pieces and uniquely interpreting them. One such pieces of work was by Jacob Bekenstein back in 1981 and has been termed the ‘Bekenstein bound’. This determined that the maximum amount of information that could be contained in a volume of space is actually proportional to the surface area of the volume and not the volume itself. This is counterintuitive. If I have a polystyrene cup, a volume, and fill it with the smallest thing that I could find to represent information such as different coloured marbles, then I might get a few tens of marbles in my cup. If I have a bigger polystyrene cup then I’ll manage to get some more in. The number of marbles being proportional to the cup volume I have. The bigger the volume the more marbles I can fit in. Information content is surely proportional to the volume? If I now squash my cup from the sides and make it almost flat I might not manage to get any marbles in it at all, or, if I do then perhaps just a few at one layer of marbles thick. Again, the smaller the volume the less information I can fit it. But the Universe doesn’t seem to work like this. Our flattened polystyrene cup can contain a number of marbles proportional to its surface area and that does not change between the semi-squashed and unsquashed cup scenarios! In other words it can contain just as much information. Bringing this back to the Universe, the Cosmic boundary could be thought of as a shell although it may not have a flat surface at all, I have theorised that it may be wrinkly just like the human brain’s cerebral cortex. From this shell our 3D plus time reality is merely projected.
When I first read about the Holographic Principle it seemed to make intuitive sense but there were still shortcomings in the explanations. At this point I wondered if Susskind’s Holographic principle should be combined with the notion of the Universe as a computer. I imagined what might happen if the two-dimensional Cosmic boundary has a processing power constraint or limit per unit of its area. In other words, for each patch of the Cosmic boundary it corresponds to a volume (3D) of our Universe plus time and that it could only process or transform information at a maximum rate and no faster. Overloading this patch with too much stuff to process would have interesting consequences. One such consequence is that time would slow down in our volume of the Universe corresponding to the Cosmic boundary’s patch that is responsible. A local time ‘dilation’ would occur. Time is relative just like Einstein said. So what would cause the ‘patch’ to be overloaded? Having lots of information to process would be one case, through for example, having objects which contain lots of matter, or things to be calculated, like stars and planets. As Einstein pointed out in General Relativity, more massive objects slow the passage of time. Could we have just found the real why? Another case would be to attempt to change information very quickly in our Universe, far quicker than the Cosmic boundary patch can deal with. We might do this by having matter (think ‘information’) travelling very fast, like at a good fraction of the speed of light. Again, as Einstein pointed out, but this time in Special Relativity, the faster you travel the slower the passage of time for the traveller. Basically our patch can only process so much information in a given ‘Cosmic boundary amount of time’. Is this why we have a Universal speed limit in the form of the speed of light? Does this tell us something about the ‘clock speed’ of the ‘Cosmic boundary computer’?
What we may have here is an incredibly efficient computer running the Universe. I use the term computer very loosely because we don’t really know what it is. What this could ultimately mean is that the observers (people and perhaps animals) in this system have a much more fundamental form as a type of information in some, so far, unreachable place. Information which cannot be created nor destroyed. Is this then the physics of immortality? It made me think more heretically than normal about Pythagoras and his ideas around the transmigration of souls.
Einstein could see the philosophical implications of his theories including especially those relating to Quantum physics. He famously said “I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”. However, I believe that he was both right and wrong. If we are dealing with a Cosmic computer in some ‘Matrix-like’ existence then that computer might want to be very efficient (noting that it already has a speed limit in the speed of light constraint) and so just like playing a first person video game the algorithms only calculate or render the scene which you are looking at. This is essentially termed the ‘view-port’ and saves processing power. Observation means calculation but with no observation there’s no need to calculate. Saves effort. However, if we have lots of observers like here on Earth, the Cosmic boundary computer would need to ensure self-consistency, so given multiple past and present, including simultaneous views, of the moon or observations of the tides (which would infer a moon) then the moon has been calculated to exist for us. This makes it a pretty permanent feature. To explain this further, consider an astronomer looking through her new big telescope at a region of space that no one else could ever have seen before. If we follow the previous logic then at that instant of the observation the distant stars and galaxies are calculated into existence for the astronomer. I know this sounds crazy. The simple equations that describe them (like the wave-function mentioned earlier that describes particles) are essentially solved. They are in effect ‘back-calculated’ through time including their potential interactions with other objects near them in Space as further observations are made by the astronomer of objects in the near vicinity. This sounds like a lot of new information has been revealed but in real information terms it is surprisingly little. The Cosmic boundary computer only had to calculate just enough to fit with the type of observation (type of telescope) being used. It doesn’t need to calculate every atom in the far off stars or galaxies but rather just enough to ensure consistency. Some computer games work like this and it is called procedurally generated or procedurally generated universes. As the light from these stars and galaxies could be billions of years old we must come to the conclusion that time does not flow in an orderly manner forwards as we have been indoctrinated to believe and as our everyday experiences would tell us. Rather, it cascades outwards in all directions including especially the past. It may be thought of as a crowd of people going to a football game jostling for position around a ‘Hot Dogs for free’ street vendor rather than the more orderly British queue in say a bank somewhere in England. Ideas about the nature of time are brought to life in Professor Carlo Rovelli’s book ‘The Order of Time’. Interestingly he has described pondering about such matters whilst holidaying on a beach in Calabria when he was younger. If time is no longer a left to right chain of events but rather a cascade of networked logic branching out from observations or choices made in the present (procedurally generated) then it leaves just one quite incredible question. How do we really know how old the Universe actually is? We might need to throw our conventional view of cause and effect out of the window since we are not here as a result of the big bang but rather the big bang has only existed for as long as human kind sought and found evidence for it. It’s a mind bending notion and one I’ve pondered for several decades. I’m not a creationist advocate by the way.
At this point you are probably thinking that I have gone mad but to defend myself renowned philosopher Nick Bostrom (University of Oxford) described in a paper regarding “The Simulation Argument” that it was almost certain that we are now living in some form of simulation. This was contained in a paper called “Are you living in a computer simulation?” and was released in 2003. The most likely simulation being formed by our far future generations equipped with incredibly powerful computing power (perhaps Quantum computers). It is an argument that has been picked up by a number of famous figures such as Elon Musk and reported as such in the media in recent years.
There is much effort underway attempting to push physics forwards including through ‘string theory’, some of which formed a part of Susskind’s work. It probably isn’t appropriate for me to start to explain this nor attempt to do so (which would be more accurate). However, it is worth mentioning Professor James Gates work. In formulating the mathematics of his branch of string theory to unify some of the major aspects of the theories of physics and describe the Universe he came across a strange feature that simply emerged from the mathematics. He had discovered that the same string theory that could start to describe the Universe had features directly related to the error detection and correction ‘code’ used in modern day computing. In other words, if the Universe worked in the way Gates was proposing then it was ensuring that it was calculating correctly and fixing anomalies automatically. Gates served on former President Barack Obama’s council of advisors on science and technology.
I have dabbled in ‘physics-on-the-edge’ over the years as did my friend and former colleague Dr Ron Evans. He was trying to unlock the secrets of gravity through the use of analogy and some of the more unusual aspects of physics that are still a little difficult to explain and not mentioned here for the purposes of brevity. His excellent book “Greenglow : The Search for Gravitational Control” and a BBC Horizon appearance summarised his work largely as a heretic. I was very fortunate to be credited by Ron in his book but mostly no doubt for the number of times I looked blank faced after he asked me a physics question with a “But why?” at the end of our conversations. However, I often felt we were all looking in the wrong places and that if we made the outlandish assumption that the Universe was the product of a computer built into the fabric of some unreachable 2D Cosmic boundary or horizon with the aforementioned processing constraint per unit area then we could think up ‘strange’ ways to not only control gravity but time too. Surely, this is just make-believe, and the stuff of Dr Strange from the Marvel Universe? As was mentioned before, if time is related to information density and as we know gravity arises as a result of the presence of matter (which is also information) then perhaps we can create a high enough information density in our Universe without resorting to needing something as big as a planet or a star? I then wondered if there was a way to create a massive amount of what I termed ‘knowable information’. It was ‘knowable’ by conscious observers and occurred in a very small volume of space. The details of the experiment I am unwilling to reveal here but it does involve the use of photons and the measurement of local time versus some remote time keeping device for comparison, as well as the use of a sensitive ‘gravity gradiometer’. Ultimately, this is to determine if there is a correlation between what I’ve called ‘maximum knowable information density’ and time and gravity. The theory being that having a lot of information which can be known in a small volume of space should start to slow down the local passage of time and lead to the generation of a very small gravitational field. This is heresy at the highest level. Physicists reading this will either be laughing, swearing, or the more open minded ones may wondering about the tingling feeling on the back of their necks. So far I have not found anyone willing enough to conduct my experiment. However, to move the whole reality debate forward we need things we can test and this may be testable.
Physics is in many respects is at a crossroads with much in the way of trouble ahead. Thus far we have been unable to explain just what the majority of the Universe is actually made up of nether mind it not being real until observed (in the particle realm at least). Physicists call this missing matter ‘dark matter’. Without this mysterious form of matter galaxies would fly apart under their own rotation because there is insufficient matter (that we can observe) for the forces of gravity to be strong enough to hold it all together. What is this elusive force carrying particle that we cannot detect? This may be a classic case of looking in the wrong places. We are indoctrinated to believe what we believe and sometimes it takes someone who really knows very little to form the ideas to take us forward. There is a Zen saying which goes something like this, “To the novice there are many possibilities but to the expert there are few.”. Clearly this has merit in some situations but not all. Take the mysterious dark matter question. It may not be matter at all that we seek but rather what I’ve termed as “rough space-time”. To prevent the stars in the galaxy from flying apart under the galaxy’s rotation then perhaps all that is required is a form of friction. Our prevailing assumption since Einstein described space-time is that it is smooth. It may in fact be rough or choppy like the surface of the sea making progress across it more challenging in places. We know that a large object like a star or planet warps space-time in the same way that placing a large metal ball on a rubber mat depresses the mat and thus our marbles, that we’ve rolled along the surface of the mat, follow the curvature created. But this mat may still have a rough rather than the assumed smooth surface. Progress of our marble would be retarded in this case. A type of friction has been created but is caused by the tiny undulations in the surface of the mat, or space-time. What could cause this roughness? It transpires that at the centre of most galaxies (as far as we can tell) are multiple blackholes including, probably, a super-massive blackhole. These mysterious objects which tear apart our notion of space and time beyond their ‘event horizon’ (a boundary from which not even light can escape) are orbiting one another and as they orbit one another are creating ripples or gravitational waves. Ripples in space-time. Gravitational waves have recently been detected by scientists. But if we have dozens, may be even hundreds or thousands of blackholes, significantly more massive than stars, orbiting one another the resulting waves would cause a chaotic mess of background choppiness in space-time. And just like the ocean this choppiness could spread far beyond the centre of our galaxy in most unexpected and difficult to predict ways. Eventually however it would spread out and smooth out. This is my “rough space-time”. Now, I’m not saying this theory is correct, nor am I saying that my theory is somehow unique as I’d be surprised if someone much smarter hadn’t already thought of this. It is only a theory to make a point and that point is there are mysteries in our Universe and that taking the indoctrinated approach is not always the best approach even though it has served us well for quite some time until now. One further mystery is that of dark energy. A mysterious energy that is stretching the Universe apart. Indeed the expansion of the Universe is actually accelerating. The space between galaxies and every other piece of matter is expanding, faster and faster. What is possibly causing this? I offer no scientific suggestion here but if the Universe is some kind of computer that has finite constraints then perhaps it is a method of self-protection? This may sound like a bizarre statement for me to make but if more humans, more observers, are looking into the Universe to understand it, there has to be a mechanism to limit the amount of processing required by the Cosmic boundary computer as it may not be limitless in capability. Perhaps by pushing what appears to be clusters of massive amounts of information further and further beyond our reach the computer is thus preventing us from knowing too much since for us to know requires the computer to calculate and it is already pretty busy with a growing human and animal population here on Earth. It is a spectacularly speculative notion and one perhaps for a science fiction novel rather than serious scientific study but if we don’t think the unthinkable then I would argue that we are not giving science the fullest set of opportunities to explain what is going on.
The role of the human mind at that most intimate of boundaries between the world and the self is explored in Dr Dean Radin’s fascinating book ‘Real Magic’. There’s more than a hint that something unusual may be going on even if it is a weak effect. I wondered if the interesting results regarding mind over matter that Radin talks about are in some way attributable to the wild and whacky theories suggested here. The adept at such matters is probably a Neo in ‘The Matrix’ or even a Harry Potter. However, this is not our everyday experience of the World so please don’t try to leap off a roof on a broomstick any time soon. But if it were true then it puts science in a difficult place. Science can never be the ultimate truth and who says there can’t be backdoors in the system which can violate the most assured and sacred laws of physics. Perhaps these backdoors may be opened through some sequence of actions or words or something else equally bizarre. Perhaps even the ritual of prayer? I’m not making an argument that magic could in fact be real since as far as I know we haven’t had Harry Potter wannabes flying around on broomsticks but rather it just creates a little glimmer of hope or doubt (depending on your perspective) about the nature of reality and the truths that come with that. I am certainly not in the magic camp but rather I’m in the science camp seeing a glimmer of light of something that could be more profound that is yet to be explained. It is hard to imagine isn’t it? But let’s just suppose all of this is true. What could it mean? Is geometry the secret? Actions that relate to geometry like parading around a lodge room as part of a ritual? This equally applies to religion where again, repeated words and actions are performed. It is known that those with religion live longer than those without it although I hesitate at suggesting a clear causal relationship. It could simply be that this is a matter of stress reduction where the belief in something more, something better, sooths the soul and reduces our worries about our own demise or the demise of a loved one. Some anthropologists have made arguments to this effect, suggesting a human predisposition for a belief in God and / or the supernatural as a result of when our brains became potent enough to foresee our own future demise. But what if there was a little more to it, just a little that was attributed to geometry, actions, or words? The Netflix series ‘The OA’ explored this to some extent where individuals were caged by a serial killer obsessed with proving there was an afterlife. One individual in the group could access otherworldly powers through performing a series of sounds and actions.
This was a long chapter I realise but I wanted to do a few things. First, to press the indoctrination reset button. Second, to help open our minds as a result of the first but not to keep them so open that our brains fall out. Third, to hint at what ancient wisdom may have been grasping at but without the same level of scientific understanding as we have today. If humans are right back at the centre of the Universe and in some form of bizarre ‘reality construct’ then there perhaps there might be an architect? I do not make an argument in theism here but rather to simply ask the question. What then really is reality? I believe that reality is simply that which cannot be replaced. And as we know from Quantum theory, the uniqueness of information is an important factor. Let us now continue our journey to find the truth.