Sun, 01 Oct 2000

Still on the illusionary notion of time

By Rahayu Ratnaningsih

JAKARTA (JP): Last week, we ventured into the diminutive world of quantum particles to see our notion of time shattered into pieces.

Let's now venture into the world that is infinitely vast, our universe or cosmos. What I am going to tell you is a really bizarre story that will make your hair curl in an instant. Try to empty your mind of all preconceived ideas, like a child who is ready to venture into the unknown and explore all avenues and possibilities.

The origin of the universe has been a source of wild speculation and overheated debate from both religious and scientific camps. Religion (typically Semitic ones), on the one hand, tries to explain away the complexity of this world through accounts of an invisible, and invincible, divine designer.

By adding a supreme being into the equation, it hopes to answer all the questions and confusion in one single, brief stroke. Apart from that, it is very comforting to know that we have an all-wise government to our universe.

Scientists, particularly those who subscribe to the creation ex nihilo, on the other hand, assert that the universe came about by blind chance. After all, virtual particles can appear out of a perfect vacuum today. So, in the beginning, there was nothing -- no matter, energy, space or time. Then because of the "fuzziness" allowed by the uncertainty principle, there was a random fluctuation. A bit of matter spontaneously appeared.

Normally, this would have disappeared again almost immediately. But in the instant after it came into existence, other processes occurred which triggered a brief but exponential burst of expansion, which, to cut a long story short, through billions of years of evolution the universe became what we know today.

Both propositions suffer from troubling difficulties of their own. Religion expects us to have faith in something we have never seen and, we are told, can never hope to understand. We are to accept blindly that God made the universe without inquiring who or what may have made Him/Her.

Contrary to the hardened believers' claim that faith in a creator answers everything, it has in fact answered nothing. It simply shifts the problem from one stage to another; it fails to account for the nature and prior existence of the Designer. God is just a question mark -- simply another way of saying we don't know where the universe came from.

As the distinguished science essayist and geneticist J. B. S. Haldane once wrote: "The theory of (a deistic) creation is essentially a refusal to think back beyond a certain time in the past when it becomes difficult to follow the chain of causation. To hold such a belief is, therefore, always an excuse for intellectual laziness, and generally a sign of it."

But if religious cosmologies have their faults, then so too do scientific ones. A closer examination of the ex nihilo theory reveals some serious, and perhaps fatal, flaws. First, the very hypothesis is self-contradictory since a timeless, spaceless "nothing" cannot ever really be said to exist, because it is the very negation of existence. Since nothing cannot exist, any theory that employs it as the basis for generating something effectively undermines itself from the start.

Second, there is the problem of the origin of time. How could the universe possibly have got off the ground if it was in a timeless state to begin with? Any form of activity, even quantum mechanical, must take place in time. Hence, time cannot be created because creation itself is an activity that takes time in which to happen.

In a genuine state of timelessness, there can, by definition, be no change, so that it would be impossible to make the transition from some precosmic condition to the infant universe.

Third, if the uncertainty principle is invoked as the instigating mechanism for creation, then it must be assumed to have already been in existence at (or "before") Time Zero. But then where did the uncertainty principle come from? How, in a supposedly immaterial, spaceless, timeless state, could the "un- universe" have selected and acquired one particular set of rules to govern its future activity over all others?

There is a better, less problematic alternative to these two hypotheses, despite perhaps its equally controversial nature, namely John Wheeler's Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP).

This theory came about from the unlikely and peculiar catalog of cosmic coincidences which perfectly match everything needed to allow a life to exist, like the synthesis of carbon, oxygen, and the properties of water. The physicist Freeman Dyson commented: "It almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming." And John Wheeler, too, has made the point: "It is not only that man is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man."

PAP says that we -- together with any other conscious observer who may exist in space and time -- are the necessary and sufficient means by which the universe is brought into being. This leads to the Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) which states that not only must intelligence evolve in the universe, but once it has come into existence it will never die out. It must continue to live and grow without limit so that it can participate in the creation of everything that came before it!

So, according to this theory we have influenced the universe since way before we, or our great grandparents, were even conceived. And our universe now has been and is being shaped by the generations that have yet to be born in the distant future. How could this be possible? Once again, as mentioned in the previous article, we have to adopt a radically new picture of nature, transcending our preconceived illusionary notion of time.

We have to see that the universe may exist as a block, throughout the whole of time -- and that it has always done so. All the universe, past, present, and future, exists at once, as a closed, self-sustaining, self-creating cycle. It never started, and it will never end. It simply is.

The author is Director of the Satori Foundation, a center for study and development of human excellence through mind programming and meditation techniques, email: