Space and Holograms and Black Holes …Oh My!

I’ve always held firmly to the idea that just because something you believe cannot be proven by science doesn’t mean you should change your mind about it.  But, I have to say that, occasionally, it’s nice to get some confirmation from the scientists. This is one of those times.

I recently showed my chemistry class a Nova program, “Fabric of the Cosmos,” featuring Brian Greene (the physicist who gave us string theory). It was entitled “Space” and the upshot was that space was not the vacuum we thought it was. (By the way, this and what follows is not news to any student of non-dualitybut I digress.)  Turns out that space is teeming with energy or ‘activity’ as is the so-called “empty space” that comprises the atom.  My students were fine with all that, except when it came to the end of the show where it was suggested that physicists are now thinking that the universe is a hologram. Seems it has something to do with newly discovered properties of black holes. There was an audible silence after the show as they digested what they had just heard.  The idea is difficult to wrap your brain around. The implications are even more difficult to verbalize.

For me – I was thrilled. I’ve written about this idea, on this blog, based on Michael Talbot’s work, The Holographic Universe, which was published back in 1991. This blog entry was taken from a larger piece I wrote, published in November 2007 in the Aquarius (a newspaper published in Atlanta). You can check that out in their archives here.

These times we are living in reminds me of the early years of the 20th century when science was exploding with all the new ideas put forth by Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr etc. Quantum mechanics was born during that exciting time and changed how we view the world. I feel that we are on the precipice of a similar radical revision of our view of reality. I felt it back in the early ‘90’s when I read about the work of physicist David Bohm, who is mentioned in Talbot’s work. That was also around the time I read Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics.”

Ideas that have been discussed and bandied about outside of the mainstream over the past few decades are now suddenly being hailed as “new” discoveries. I applaud those men and women who risked and endured being ridiculed and laughed at in order to present the world with other possibilities. In the words of Epictetus, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

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Finding Truth Beyond Belief

As I’ve blogged before, I’m consumed with finding Truth.  I was raised Catholic – went to Catholic schools for the first 12 years of my education. That’s a lot of religion. Thinking back, I never really questioned my faith – my beliefs. There were loopholes in the dogma I was being taught – plenty of them – and I did question those as I got older, but I was stuck in blind belief. Also, I figured that science would eventually answer all of my questions. I was looking for that bridge between science and religion that I knew was there but was in no position to find.  I was trying to find the Truth through thought – through the manipulations of my mind.

I look around me and all I see is struggle. That struggle spurs some of us to seek what is real, what is true. But just like love, we end up searching for it in all the wrong places. When we think we find a piece of truth, usually in whatever religion we adopt, it is often shrouded so thickly in doctrine, dogma and ritual that we fail to recognize its essence. Don’t misunderstand me – at their core all religions contain truth. But you can make a choice between “blind belief of truth” or “truth beyond belief.”

Below is a quote that I found in my inbox. I subscribe to JKrishnamurti online and receive a quote from the Krishnamurti archives each day. This one particularly struck me so I wanted to share it with all of you.  Click here for more info: www.jkrishnamurti.org/

“We realize that life is ugly, painful, sorrowful; we want some kind of theory, some kind of speculation or satisfaction, some kind of doctrine, which will explain all this, and so we are caught in explanation, in words, in theories, and gradually, beliefs become deeply rooted and unshakable because behind those beliefs, behind those dogmas, there is the constant fear of the unknown. But we never look at that fear; we turn away from it. The stronger the beliefs, the stronger the dogmas. And when we examine these beliefs the Christian, the Hindu, the Buddhist we find that they divide people. Each dogma, each belief has a series of rituals, a series of compulsions which bind man and separate man. So, we start with an inquiry to find out what is true, what the significance is of this misery, this struggle, this pain; and we are soon caught up in beliefs, in rituals, in theories. Belief is corruption because, behind belief and morality lurks the mind, the self the self growing big, powerful and strong. We consider belief in God, the belief in something, as religion. We consider that to believe is to be religious. You understand? If you do not believe, you will be considered an atheist, you will be condemned by society. One society will condemn those who believe in God, and another society will condemn those who do not. They are both the same. So, religion becomes a matter of belief and belief acts and has a corresponding influence on the mind; the mind then can never be free. But it is only in freedom that you can find out what is true, what is God, not through any belief, because your very belief projects what you think ought to be God, what you think ought to be true.” – J. Krishnamurti, The Book of Life

Burden of Proof

In my posting of July 12th, Step to the Music, I mentioned how pursuing a spiritual path is a lonely business. Part of the isolation we feel comes from the inability to properly verbalize our direct experiences, let alone be able to prove them.

Ever since I was little I had an intense curiosity about the world around me, wanting to know everything about everything, which is probably the reason I made science my major course of study in school.  I figured that science would have all the answers to the questions I had.  Problem was it didn’t.

Scientific inquiry follows a set of ‘rules’ we call the scientific method.  The process usually takes place in a laboratory where data is collected and analyzed to determine whether or not the hypothesis has been proven.

Spiritual inquiry, obviously, does not follow those parameters, simply because there is nothing that can be measured. And if science can’t measure it then it must not exist – right?

Science debunks anything it can’t prove, but does that mean it isn’t so? Over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Democritus, coined the term “atom” to name the particles that comprise matter. He had no way to prove his claim so his ideas were mostly ignored. It wasn’t until the 19th century that science began to learn more about the atom and the structure of matter. And although the atomic model has undergone much revision over the years, its existence did not depend on its discovery.

This debate is a major thread in the movie “Contact,” a credible telling of how making contact with other beings in the universe just might play out on our world stage.  The relationship between the two main characters, the scientist (played by Jodie Foster) and the man of faith (played by Matthew McConaughey) is tested by their clashing belief systems. The scientist doesn’t believe in God (actually, you can say that science is her God) because there is no empirical data (proof) to support the idea. When McConaughey relates to her a spiritual experience he had she basically tells him that anyone believing in spiritual experiences does so because they are deluded and have a need to believe in such things.

Her worldview changes when she is given the opportunity to travel through space into the deep reaches of our galaxy, where she experiences contact with those alien beings. Her journey and contact cannot be proven, though in the deepest part of herself she believes in everything she experienced. Members of a congressional committee grill her and try to get her to admit that her experiences constitute “a self-reinforcing delusion.”  Bottom line: she admits that she has no proof of her experience, but she cannot admit that it never happened.

Science provides a comfort level for us. It helps us make sense of the world in which we live. And that’s fine, but just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, we should not be blind to the limitations of science. It does a fabulous job using finite tools and techniques to describe the finite world. No question.  Describing the infinite, well, that’s another story.  Progress is being made, though, as physicists continue to delve into the secrets of our physical (not so physical?) world.

Scientific inquiry gives us knowledge.  Spiritual inquiry also gives us knowledge, but of a different type.  The Dalai Lama says in his book, The Universe in a Single Atom, “ I have argued for the need for and the possibility of a worldview grounded in science, yet one that does not deny the richness of human nature and the validity of modes of knowing other than the scientific.”