Cosmic Weirdness – Reality Explained?
The study of cosmology (which differs from astronomy like an architect differs from a building inspector) reveals a host of oddities that underlie the very fabric of the Universe. There’s light that travels at the same speed regardless of its starting velocity, space and time folding into four-dimensional spacetime, an infinite space in a finite space, and an elastic expanding universe that has no beginning, center, or edge. Weird!
The experts are right – we have no hope of making any sense of any of this – not because there’s no sense involved, but because we lack the senses to make sense of it. We are sensory beings and we expect reality to match the experience of our senses. We expect to be able to “visualize” things. When we can’t relate reality to our reality – it makes no sense to us. The answer is simple enough – we must stop trying to understand the universe on our terms or in our way. We must think in the manner preferred by scientists – “positivism”.
“Positivism” has many meanings, so let me be clear and call this “scientific positivism”, having these characteristics:
1. The goal of intelligent (scientific) inquiry is to explain, predict, and control.
2. The logic used for inquiry must be the same in all circumstances.
3. Scientific knowledge should be proven through empirical evidence and deductive logic.
4. Not only must science not rely upon common sense, scientists must proactively avoid common sense biases during inquiry and analysis.
5. Science should be as neutral as possible in relation to politics and value judgments.
6. Science should strive to produce universal conditionals or laws: statements true for all times and places.
7. Science should be expressed in clear, concise, and complete terms such that ambiguity is diminished and proof is possible (mathematics serves as the model).
A scientifically positive approach yields an astounding result: the cosmos is only understandable in the “abstraction of information” and mathematics is the form of universal information. The reason that a photon visits all points along its path at the same time is that it is not an object. Instead, it is information being distributed across the grid of spacetime. Information is not bound by gravity, mass, or physical laws. (However, as Einstein held, certain types of information may only be transferred at the universal speed – “c”). How is this so?
One analogy would be your new flat screen TV that uses individual pixels to create a picture. Each pixel has certain potential that is controlled by information sent from elsewhere. Individually, the pixels have insufficient information or potential to create any “reality”, but when viewed together in the right order, they create images that have deeper meaning. Thus, there are five levels of reality that are involved: the image created, the physical devices that work together to create the image, and the information that controls the devices. Of course, the image only has meaning if there’s a proper observer and somehow the information has to be organized and transmitted in the first place.
Although we seldom consider our role in the creation of reality, we know that it’s a big part of the picture. Indeed, it seems apparent to us that the whole works was put in place specifically for us. Obviously, reality would be real without us (it seems). But we have only recently found that the “observer” plays a bigger role in the process than we ever thought. We are not just a passive audience or on-lookers, we are inherent in the result. Besides, what good would it be to have this magnificent picture without someone to enjoy it.
Science has been making huge gains in understanding the mechanisms of reality that create the “image” we experience. Recent advances in quantum physics, mathematics, and cosmology are revealing an exciting new view of the “works” behind the scene. Obviously, reality is more complex than a digital TV, but the analogy seems true at every level. Quantum particles are best viewed as points of potential which take on qualities or properties based upon outside information. Some create light, some gravity, and others do all the things that make matter and what we perceive as physical reality.
Science, however, tends to strongly focus on what it’s best at: modeling and instrumentation. “Theoretical scientists” often work with non-physical ideas, but their primary tool is mathematics and our mathematics is strongly oriented towards physical reality. Thus, the vast majority of our science has been devoted to understanding the physical realm. Scientists know that there is more to the picture than the physical realm, but they simply lack the focus and the tools to deal with it. Thus, our current conundrum: we are at the point where the “boundaries” of the physical realm and the non-physical realms meet. We have seen the image created by the TV (trying to figure out the “show”) and have a pretty good idea what physically creates it (like the LEDs/LCDs in a TV). But we have now encountered the “information” reality that exists in a non-physical realm.
So we now know that the individual physical components of reality have certain potentials and that they interact in specific and predictable ways. But the “image” (reality) that we observe requires something more; and that the something more simply doesn’t make sense in physical terms. Somehow, all the parts are connected in a way that doesn’t fit the physical rules AND the reality that we experience has much more to do with this connectedness than it does with the characteristics of the parts.
It is as though a battery operated TV fell out of an airplane and was discovered by primitives. After spending a long time figuring out its parts and being on the verge of understanding how they work, someone hit the “On” switch and a TV show appeared. The reality before and the reality afterwards are the same, but now we have a whole new realm to discover. The methods used to understand the TV will not be very useful in understanding the shows. Plus, understanding how the shows are transmitted involves a whole different science.
The reality that we experience is like a show being broadcast through the Universe. Perhaps this show was built-in to the structure of the Universe as if our “TV” is more like a DVD player. Perhaps there is some creative intelligence controlling the show. We simply don’t know. What is clear is that we will never figure out reality or its meaning by focusing solely on the parts. While those with the right knowledge and focus continue to study the parts and how they work, others will need to focus on the nature and source of the information that makes the parts work. And, we need to start using scientific-like methods to analyze the “show” – methods arising from scientific positivism.
It is said that we have entered the “information age”. This is undoubtedly true in ways not previously apparent. The key to understanding the Universe is to view all of physical reality as an information processor. While we might draw some interesting parallels to computers, such would probably be more misleading than helpful. But truly, we now recognize that a computer is a tool of little value without software and that our interaction with a computer is more software oriented than hardware oriented. We also understand that we can study computers and have no idea of how they will function until we know what software they will be executing.
Finally, we know that there is a huge leap in computer reality that only becomes apparent when we stop looking at how the hardware functions and begin to analyze the result. Information processors are interesting, but it is the information they process that matters.
The Universe is a fascinating mechanism and our devoted study of its workings have brought us to the point where we can see its true nature. What matters is not its matter; it is the information within the Universe that matters. More so, we are about to realize that “matter” is an illusion in the same fashion that a TV show is an illusion. Sure, both are “real”, but they represent entirely different realms. Matter is merely part of a mechanism that shows in a specific way the information sent to it. The Universe is not merely a bunch of parts that can be understood individually – it is an intricately connected mechanism that processes and reveals a “reality” being “broadcast” through it.
The physical laws, interactions, and properties that we observe are only the “hardwired” part of the mechanism. Somehow, “behind the scenes”, the information that creates reality is transmitted to the “hardware” under laws and means we have yet to grasp. This “information based reality” view of the Universe provides a new pathway to understanding and leads to compelling new questions about the nature of the information and its origins.
Those who fail to see the role of science in opening our eyes to the potential of divinity have missed the point. Nothing we know thus far proves the necessity for creative design and intelligent purpose underlying the Universe, but the road points more and more in that direction. The best vehicle to take us along that road is scientific positivism.
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