Science admits: Big Bang hasn’t happened yet and you are not real

The big explosion that started our universe, hasn’t happened yet!

This may sound crazy to you, but it is the logical consequence of applying the laws of the universe to the universe itself: The universe appears to be real and unfolding only for the observers that are inside it (for humans experiencing it), but it cannot have happened yet for an observer that’s located outside it.

In other words, the universe is both real and unreal! But how is that possible? Do we know anything that can be like that? Hmmm… Dreams! Guess what? It seems that modern science has come to a strange conclusion that was thought to be the true by some of the sages of past.

But how did modern science ended up in this predicament? Well, Quantum physics is responsible for all this.

The Enigma of All Enigmas

What is the enigma of all enigmas? Before answering this let’s find its origin in quantum theory: A quantum system’s wave function (its mind) is always in a state of pure potentiality and is actualized when the system interacts (observation is a kind of interaction) with something outside of itself, an environment. In the absence of any interaction and when the system is perfectly isolated, it always remains in a superposition state—a state of pure potentiality. When an interaction, or observation, occurs and a particular outcome is actualized, we say that the wave function has collapsed. So, the collapse of the wave function corresponds to the actualization of a quantum behavior, i.e. an observed outcome.

Wave function is a mathematical construct in which all the information about the present and future behavior of a quantum system is encoded. Knowing the wave function, one knows everything there is to know about the system. A wave function is to a quantum system like a mind to a human person.

We also know from quantum mechanics that each quantum system, regardless of the number of its components, can be assigned a single wave function that contains all the information about the system as a whole. We may define our quantum system to contain one electron or one billion electrons; in either case, one wave function is enough to describe the entire system. Quantum mechanics treats its objects, whether an atom or a galaxy, as a whole and not as composed of separate parts. In the quantum world, there seems to be an intrinsic connection between the seemingly separate components of a whole, a connection that transcends both space and time. This phenomenon is called quantum entanglement: two particles that were once together, will still be in instant communication even if they are light years apart.

This way of treating a system as if it were an indivisible whole is one of the consequences of the principle of superposition. In fact, wave functions can add up in the same way that colors do: if you perfectly mix ten different colors, you will end up with one color and not ten or seven. Colors mix up in such a way to yield one new color; they superimpose to form a unity. Waves are the same: white light, which the eye detects as one color, is the superposition of the seven different colors of the rainbow. These colors can be said to exist in the whiteness as potentialities because they are there but not experienced. A prism, however, can differentiate and actualize these potentialities as different colors.

Quantum wave functions act exactly the same way as regular waves when it comes to combining them with one another: a billion electrons forming an isolated, untouched quantum system mix up in such a way that their identities and distinctions merge into the potentialities of an apparently indivisible whole. The whole system is then assigned one single, universal wave function.

The Universe Viewed From the Outside

Now, here is what happens when we apply this principle to the universe itself: since any quantum system is given one wave function that collapses only upon interaction with an environment, what would happen if we defined our system to include the whole environment without leaving anything out? That is, what if we defined our quantum system to be the whole of the universe?

We assign to this whole-system a single wave function representing the largest possible universe that contains our universe. This is all in agreement with quantum physics. Here is the enigma of all enigmas:

The wave function of this universal whole can never collapse, i.e. this universe can never be actualized. And here is why: Since our quantum system is the largest possible whole, by definition there exists nothing outside it so as to interact with it forcing its wave function to collapse into an actuality. This universe is always in a superposition state, i.e. in a state of pure potentiality waiting to be actualized. It is bound forever to remain in this state. For this universe of all universes to become real, something outside it must interact with it; but to posit something outside this universe contradicts the very assumption that this universe is the largest whole. To sum it up:

Our universe cannot possibly be real; it cannot have come into existence. Nothing has ever happened.

This assertion is the logical consequence of the laws of quantum theory when the system under consideration coincides with the universe itself. According to quantum physics, our universe, or the largest universe containing ours, cannot happen unless of course we put a consciousness outside this totality. But this move, besides leading up to the contradiction mentioned above, does not interest us here due to the purely metaphysical and unverifiable nature of the assumption.

What is paradoxical and even more disturbing is that we arrived at this conclusion, that our universe can’t be real, using a science and reasoning whose existence depend on the reality of our universe! In other words, the universe has to be real in order for me to realize that it is unreal! Holy s…. The only time something as paradoxical as this is experienced is when we have lucid dreams, when while dreaming we realize that we are dreaming. This conclusion is a piece of information that exists inside of a supposedly unreal universe. It is as if the universe both exists and does not exist!

The universe has to be real in order for me to show that it is unreal.

This logical consequence of quantum physics—the universe both existing and not—is the enigma of all enigmas; and there is no way out of it unless quantum physics is false. But we know that quantum theory is actually the most successful and the most experimentally validated science in human history!

Mystics Knew All This!

If this paradoxical state of affairs gives you a headache, it did not do so for a group of ancient mystics, particularly those of the Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta. In fact, their sages and mystics have frequently expressed exactly the same proposition as the one we concluded from the principles of quantum physics: this world is only experienced but it is not truly real. And they came to this conclusion a few thousand years ago.

This idea of the unreality of our universe is now being taken even more seriously in cosmology. Many cosmologists are considering the possibility that perhaps our universe is a holographic universe. Our universe could be a holographic projection played on a three-dimensional spherical surface enclosing a four-dimensional singularity. In this picture, what is in fact real is the central singularity, while the Big Bang and our universe are as unreal as the events in a film that is projected on a screen: they are mere appearances, as real and as unreal as our dreams, only apparently more stable.

According to ancient mystics of the Hindu and some other nondualistic traditions, our universe is a mere appearance, an illusion that is only experienced as an independently existing reality. They claimed to have realized this truth when they accessed the nondual state of consciousness through intense meditation, a practice that if done properly, can help us escape the universe, or more precisely, the experience of the universe. Drawing upon their mystical intuitions, they concluded that in the same way that a dream is the experience of an apparently objective reality that is not really happening, our universe, too, is a mere subjective experience whose sense of reality is created not by an actually existing material world but by the experiencing consciousness itself.

Meditation, if done properly, can ultimately help us escape the experience of the universe.

These mystics called this transcendental “experiencing consciousness” the witness consciousness. They experienced this witness as a dense and singular point of pure consciousness whose inward projection, or introjection, creates the illusion of an independently existing material world. Investigating the essence and structure of our dream experience is the most telling clue that can lead us to the nature of this transcendental consciousness and how it creates the world-experience.

These mystics have often described higher states of consciousness as states of pure potentiality in which there are no distinctions and no divisions between the subject, the object, and the knowing that connects them. Their descriptions remind me of the superposition state of which our universe is a mere possibility—something not yet happened.

Transcendental Consciousness

Mandukya Upanishad is one of the most philosophical Vedanta texts of Hinduism. Verse seven of its first section gives an account of the state of the true Self, the witness consciousness, a state called Turiya. This Self is realized to be the pure witness, unaffected by and disinterested in the world of appearance. Everything that is, is in Turiya and is nothing but Turiya.

They [sages] consider the Fourth [quarter/state] to be that which is not conscious of the internal world, nor conscious of the external world, nor conscious of both the worlds, nor a mass of consciousness, nor conscious, nor unconscious; which is unseen, beyond empirical dealings, beyond the grasp (of the organs of action), un-inferable, unthinkable, indescribable; whose valid proof consists in the single belief in the Self; in which all phenomena cease; and which is unchanging, auspicious, and nondual. That is the Self, and That is to be known.

Mandukya Upanishad, VII

It is the nondual tendencies inherent in the philosophical foundations of quantum physics that suggest the resurrection of the perennial truths of nondual traditions. As serious seekers of the highest truths, we must overcome ideological preferences and fashionable convictions, whether theistic or atheistic, and value only objective inquiry. In this spirit, we shall suspend all opinion and proceed in the sacred path of intuition: to realize and see for ourselves, as conviction-less children do, that there is before us and within us nothing but the beginningless and the endless field of experience. And only then, we can truly enjoy the play.


11 thoughts on “Science admits: Big Bang hasn’t happened yet and you are not real

    1. That’s a good analogy. I don’t think it can. Consciousness is consciousness. It’s nature is to know; I can’t see itself as it is except through its reflection. And the world is that reflection. Well there’s no way around explaining consciousness without contradictions.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Nice essay, as usual! If you aren’t already familiar with John Wheeler, he was a theoretical physicist (he popularized the term “black hole”). Rachel Thomas at FQXI.org (Foundational Questions Institute, recommended) wrote: “Wheeler’s “it from bit” concept implies that physics, particularly quantum physics, isn’t really about reality, but just our best description of what we observe. There is no “quantum world”, just the best description we have of how things will appear to us.” Wheeler’s seminal paper on his information-centric theory of the universe is here: https://philpapers.org/archive/WHEIPQ.pdf A decent overview of his work is here: https://mindmatters.ai/2021/05/it-from-bit-what-did-john-archibald-wheeler-get-right-and-wrong/ He also proposed several thought experiments around the notion of “delayed choice” that seek to show that the existence of a human observer affects the quantum state of a photon (e.g., in the classical ‘double slit’ experiment). A number of laboratory experiments have since supported the notion that the existence of an observer is what causes a probability wave to collapse into a particle or ‘single eigenstate’. Very cool stuff.

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    1. Thanks Jim for the insightful comment. I really like Wheeler’s work and interpretation of QM and the universe. My grad research project was actually on his work on delayed choice and subsequent experiments that verified it. Fascinating stuff. Good old days.
      Thanks for the links!

      Like

  2. “All that we see, or seem, is but a dream within a dream.”, Edgar Allen Poe. While this is not what he meant in the poem, the phrase is conspicuously applicable. The only remaining question is, who is the dreamer?

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    1. Thanks Frank for commenting. It’s a quote that reminds me of inception.
      That’s tricky question because the moment we offer an answer, the follow up question is “where is the dreamer?” Instead, I like to think of the dreaming being more fundamental than the dreamer. It’s no one that dreams; there’s incessant dreaming, and once you leave it someone else will pick up where we left off. Experience is more fundamental than both the subject and object of experience but can’t exist without showing itself as if it belonged to a subject and directed toward an object. This phenomenological perspective has helped me process the question a bit better. There’s always holes in any explanations of consciousness. I’m sure this one is no exception.

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