(DRAFT 7. Work-In-Progress)
What is the universe and where does it come from?
There are two major schools of thought on this question:
- Science: One is modern-day science, which takes the
position that universe is strictly a physical phenomenon and that
everything about can be explained by repeatable physical measurements,
testable scientific theories, and the rules of math and logic.
- Religion: The other school of thought is religion, which in general, takes the position that the universe comes from something non-physical that is ultimately unexplainable and beyond the reach of science.
In this paper we will take an intellectual adventure into the far fringes of both science and religion, to explore the question of whether or science and religion might be unified. Such a unification is an intellectual "Holy Grail" that could truly change the world. But is it even possible? I think it is, and I'll propose the core of such a unification here.
The Possibility of Convergence
While there are clearly differences between the approaches and beliefs of the sciences and religions of the world, there are also more similarities than many would like to admit. Beyond that however, at the very deepest levels, they lead to similar logical conclusions and in fact intersect on certain fundamental points, whether their proponents know it or not.
In particular, the question of the origin and nature of the universe is where I believe science and religion converge. Whether one holds the view of science, the view of religion, or both, it turns out that there is a logical necessity for reaching the same final conclusions about the ultimate nature of reality.
Whether one starts from a scientific viewpoint and applies only the methods of science and logic, or one starts from a religious perspective and applies only the methods of religion and logic, either way the conclusion is the same. As long as one regards logic as a valid method of enquiry, the final answer is the same.
The Core Argument
So what is the answer? In short, everything is "nonoriginated." This has a very specific meaning: the universe (or anything else that we might posit to exist) cannot logically originate from nothingness, from itself, or from some other fundamental thing.
Here's how this conclusion is reached in a nutshell (I will explain this argument in more depth later in this article, as well as its many implications):
To claim that something originates from nothing is a contradiction.
To claim that something originates from itself is a contradiction.
To claim that something originates from something else leads to an infinite regress unless you claim there is a fundamental first-thing -- but claiming there is a fundamental first-thing leads to a contradiction, so it's not an option. An infinite regress on the other hand, is not really an origin.
Therefore none of the three above ways of originating are logically tenable, yet there is no other possible fourth alternative.
This then leaves only two possible conclusions about the universe (and anything else that is posited to exist):
- The first option is that the universe is not really happening at all,
because there's no logical way for it to have originated. But this is
immediately contradictory to our experience. It is refuted by obvious,
undeniable evidence -- right in front of us we can see that something
is happening -- who knows what it is, but it would be absurd to deny
that there is some kind of phenomena taking place.
- The second option is that the universe is happening, although there is no origin for it (i.e. it is "nonoriginated"). It is not necessary for there to be an ultimate and final origin -- no first cause, prime mover, fundamental particle, or first moment of creation. The universe must therefore be infinite in time, space, and levels of scale.
Option (1) is easily refuted. We are left with option (2) - Nonorigination.
But it is a bit strange to imagine a universe that has no beginning, no origin. How can the universe exist if it is truly beginningless? Without a first-cause what could ever have gotten it started? Without a final fundamental particle, what could things actually be made of? In fact, it is precisely because the universe is nonoriginated that it CAN appear at all. This will be explained further in this article.
We can see how this logic applies to the origin of the universe. How about God? Well if God exists then the same logic would apply: God must also be nonoriginated. Anything that is posited to exist must be nonoriginated.
This point of nonorigination is where science and religion intersect. Nonorigination is the ultimate nature of reality. It is not merely a concept -- it is the actual nature of all things, and it has many profound implications. It points to a level of reality that is beyond the limits of space and time -- and in this respect it is proof of what might be called the Divine, yet it is also completely compatible with the physical world and its laws.
There are several other key dimensions of nonorigination as well. Awareness is one of them. Awareness is the unique capacity of sentient being to make observations. It plays an important role in making the universe happen, and is actually unified with nonorigination. Where there is nonorigination there MUST be awareness and vice-versa.
Likewise the process of cause-and-effect turns out to be a natural corollary to the nonorigination of the universe, and it's powered by awareness, the act of making observations. If there were no such process, the universe could not work as it does; it would effectively be random.
I will explore these topics in a lot more detail below.
The unification of science and religion is not philosophy, it is logic. But how we interpret it, and what we do with it is a matter of personal preference and personal philosophy. This paper will not attempt to draw conclusions about what scientific or religious belief is best. That is up to you. Use the logical evidence however you see fit.
What Does the Universe Come From?
If one even merely posits the existence of the universe or even just the presence of a fundamental particle -- then that immediately leads to further questions such as: Then where does that come from, what is it all really made of, and how could it all be taking place, what is space-time made of or located in, who or what designed this or how did it all happen so perfectly when it is statistically almost impossible?
Some people just can't imagine that anything as vast as God could be possible, so they simply decide (without any real evidence) that God is impossible. Or they think that there could not be anything greater than or beyond the scope of the physical universe because they feel that the only things that can exist are physical things. To them, there is nothing but the physical, it is all a big machine, this is all there is -- and for that reason they can't believe in some kind of greater being or ultimate reality beyond space and time or the physical laws. But the grounds on which they claim God is not possible can also be used to claim the universe itself is not possible. If they believe in the possibility of the physical universe they also must accept the possibility of God by the same logic.
Here's why: If the argument against the possibility of God is that it just isn't possible for there to be something infinite, then that means either space and time are finite or they can't exist either -- the universe would not be possible because space and time are presently thought to be infinite.
Similarly, if the argument against the possibility of God is that there just couldn't be anything beyond the physical universe, then even the physical universe could not exist -- for if there were no possibility of anything greater than or beyond the universe then where is the physical universe taking place? What does it come from? What is it "in?" If it ever ends, what remains? This second argument is a bit of a difficult point so it bears further explanation.
Whenever you posit something, it logically has to either come from nothing, or from itself, or from something else. And at the time it exists it either has to depend on nothing, depend on itself, or depend on something else.
Stating that the universe comes from nothing or depends on nothing is problematic -- it is in fact equivalent to saying that the universe comes from or depends on something beyond the universe: some primordial "nothingness."
Stating that the universe comes from or depends on itself is circular and also a contradiction of sorts -- in order for the universe to create itself or depend on itself it must already exist, and so this is impossible and not an option.
Yet stating that the universe comes from something else or depends on something else admits that there must be something beyond it to come from or depend on.
In other words, no matter what position one takes on the universe, it leaves open the possibility - indeed even the logical requirement - that there must be something before it, greater than it, deeper than it, beyond it, after it, etc.
Refuting Ideas that the Universe Comes from Nothingness
There are however some people who are not convinced by the above arguments. They hold tenaciously to the belief that the universe comes from some kind of primordial "nothingness" which they conceptualize as existing somehow on its own, either before or during the existence of the universe.
This belief in some kind of concrete "nothingness" has many problems. First of all to posit "nothingness" is to treat it as some kind of thing in fact -- so it is self-contradictory from the start. Secondly, it is impossible to even imagine actual "nothingness" so labelling it, speaking of it, or positing that it exists is simply delluded. To posit it is not actually to posit it. To imagine it is not actually to imagine it. And in fact there is no way to even conceive of nothingness actually existing, for if it were to exist it would not be nothing. Finally, even if we ignore all these logical problems and still cling to the concept of nothingness, how could anything come from nothing? Let's examine further.
If nothing really is "nothing" it could not contain anything that serve as a cause or origin for anything else, let alone an entire universe. So it could not give rise to anything. In fact it would be a contradiction to assert the co-existence of nothing and something as well -- so even if nothingness could somehow give rise to the universe it would have to be destroyed or eliminated at the moment the universe came into existence -- but if that were the case how could it give rise to the universe -- it could never overlap with the universe at all so how could it even be said to give rise to it?
For example the universe could not gradually emerge from nothingness since nothingness would be completely eliminated at the very first instant of the process of emergence, and then the process would be over since there would be no more nothingness left for the rest of it to emerge from.
Similary the universe could not emerge all-at-once from nothingness either, because for that to happen there would at least have to be a moment in which nothing and the universe co-existed -- the moment in which the universe emerged.
If we don't allow for at least that one moment of co-existence before the universe replaces nothingness, then causality is not possible to establish: there would be no way to connect the emergence of the universe as coming out of or from a pure state of nothingness that existed before it -- and so there would be no point in making this claim at all.
To say that one thing comes from another thing means we have to be able to show how they are connected, and for that to be possible they have to both exist at the same time, or there has to at least be some chain of events we can point to that connects them.
But if nothing and something are truly mutually exclusive then that is simply not possible to establish. All this effort is simply to show finally and totally that nothingness is a flawed concept, and to claim that something can come from nothingness is even more flawed. If you already accept that you don't have to re-read this paragraph to figure it out, just continue reading below.
Furthermore belief in the concept of nothingness actually refutes belief in the power of science -- for nothingness is not measureable, not verifiable in any way, and is therefore impenetrable to science.
So anyone who cites "nothingness" as the origin of the universe is not in fact being scientific, they are abandoning science. To claim that all space and time -- and all science -- springs from nothingness is akin to claiming that the physical world (and therefore the domain of science) depends upon something beyond the physical world and beyond domain of science, in other words on what is traditionally the domain of religion.
In other words, if we think the universe sprang forth from nothingness that is like saying that science depends on something beyond the realm of science at the fundamental level, and if we say the opposite -- that the universe has always existed or there is an infinite series of universes -- that is also akin to saying that science depends on something beyond what science can ever explain -- for infinity, while not a contradiction at least, is equally impenetrable to science.
Refuting Ideas that the Universe Comes from Itself
If the universe didn't spring forth magically from nothingness, then perhaps it came from itself. What would this mean? It would mean that the universe already existed before the universe existed, in other words it both existed and did not exist at the same time. That is circular reasoning, and it's also a logical contradiction. There's not much more that needs to be said about this. But I'll say it anyway, just to make it perfectly clear that this is not an option.
Perhaps we might interpret "coming from itself" in a slightly modified manner. For example, the universe today comes from the early universe, and they are quite different. So saying the universe of today comes from the universe of way-back-when is not saying that the universe today comes from itself literally, it is saying it comes from something else: the early universe. That is certainly one way to wiggle out of the fallacy of something coming from itself, but it just leads to an infinite regress: the fallacy of something originating from something else. The next section explores why that isn't an option either.
Refuting Ideas that the Universe Comes from Something
If the universe doesn't come from nothingness, or from itself, then what does it come from? If it comes from something else, then what does that thing come from? At some point there has to be a beginning to the process. But if there is a beginning then what is before it? Whatever that is, it is beyond the realm of science.
To state that the universe comes from something else is to say that something else (whatever it is) is the more fundamental level or prior state of the universe. In other words to state that the universe comes from something is really saying the universe comes from the universe, at a deeper level or an earlier time, or a different place, or in a different state or form, or all of the above.
But all such statements are either claims that the universe, taken as a whole (all states of the universe over all time and space) comes from itself, or at worst it is a circular argument that simply pushes the problem down a level: what does that other more fundamental "something" that the universe depends on come from?
On the other hand, if we claim that the universe is beginningless and unoriginated -- then what is the eternity in which this "beginninglessness" is taking place? What created eternity? To posit that there is an eternity "beyond" the universe, or that "contains" the universe (including space and time) is already to state that there is something beyond the realm of science, something outside the universe. That's acceptable, however, if we then claim that this "eternity" is some kind of more fundamental thing, we just end up in the same infinite regress as before.
Another possibility might be to claim that eternity and the universe are the same thing. This is to say that the universe is infinite in scope -- space and time are boundless and contain all there is. This is either equivalent to the claim that the universe comes from nothing, or from itself. Neither of those options is tenable.
If we posit that eternity comes from nothing that is a contradiction. If it is self-originated, that is circular and also a contradiction. If we say it comes from something else, then what -- an infinite series of greater eternities, each containing all the lesser ones, like a Russian doll? Or is there a highest level of eternity and if so, what prevents there from being greater levels of eternity -- what causes the boundary to exist and if there is a boundary, what is on the other side of it? This leads to either a contradiction or an infinite regress.
If one claims that the universe contains all space and time, then is the container and what is contained finite or infinite in scope? If it is finite there must be some kind of edge, if it is infinite it implies something so inconceivably vast it is frankly mystical in scope.
In short, if we claim the universe comes from something that leads to circular arguments and contradictions, or an infinite regress. If we're willing to accept circular arugments and logical contradictions or infinite regresses as satisfactory answers then that is not very different than accepting any other self-justified claims taken on faith, such as those made by religions. In fact, it's just a kind of religious belief disguised as science. If we are willing to think this way -- and most scientists are -- then why not also believe in God or other religious ideas as well? It would be hypocritical not to.
It's important to note that the same logic that refutes notions that the universe comes from nothing, itself, or something else, can also be applied to any claims that there is a God. If there is a God, then like the universe, it also cannot originate from nothing, itself, or something else without leading to logical fallacies. To claim that God came from nothingness is again the something-from-nothing argument that we know does not make sense under logical scrutiny. To claim that God comes from God is circular reasoning and contradictory. To claim that God comes from something greater than God contradicts the very notion of God and/or leads to an infinite regress which just pushes the problem down to deeper levels -- where does that infinite regress of ever greater Gods come from then?
Both the universe and the concept of God have the same existential status in fact. Neither one of them has an origin that we can actually find or name without ending up in a logical mess of contradictions and infinite regressions. In this respect they are quite similar.
If neither any possible universe nor any possible God can be said to come from nothing, itself, or something else, then that leaves only two logical conclusions:
- The first option is that these things are not possible and not happening at all since they can't have originated -- however that option is refuted by the fact that at least in the example of the universe, something is obviously and undeniably happening right now. The presence of the universe refutes the notion that it is impossible for something to exist that does not originate from nothing, itself or something else.
- The second option is that such things could be possible, but in an "unoriginated" manner. But what does this mean? In short, for something to be "unoriginated" does not mean it is non-existent, it just means that it is not dependent on some initial set of causes and conditions. One way for something to exist in an unoriginated manner is for it to be eternal, or at least beginningless.
Option (1) is refuted by the basic fact that we do observe something happening right now. Option (2) is the only remaining option, and is not refuted in any obvious manner.
But option (2) is mind-bending. How can something beginningless exist? How could it ever have come about if there were never any initial causes or conditions to start it? It's the primordial chicken-and-the-egg problem.
And this is where things get interesting. Scientific theories claim the universe either has an origin or is unoriginated. Religions also either claim the universe has an origin or is unoriginated.
In the first case, the claim of an origin (such as theories in which the universe started from some physical event before which there was literally nothing, or in which there was nothing and then a Diety appeared and created the universe), we can prove logically that this leads to fallacies (because the origin cannot come from nothing, itself, or something else), so this view is simply wrong, or provisional at best; it's not a final explanation.
In the second case, the claim of non-orgination, in which the universe is held to be beginningless and possibly endless (for example a never-ending sequence of Big-Bangs and Big-Crunches, or a timelessly existing realm), this begs the question of where did this never-ending sequence come from? How could it have ever started? What is it, what is eternity and what created eternity?
In either case however, whether we use science or religion to approach the problem of the origin of the universe, we end up at the same place in the end. The path we may travel to get there is different, and certainly the language with which we express the conclusions is quite different, but the final result is the same. Logically speaking, the universe must be either unoriginated or created by something unoriginated. It is the only logically tenable conclusion.
In other words whether universe is thought of as purely physical, or originating from God, the only logically tenable conclusion is that it is nonoriginated. And the same goes for God. We may believe that God is greater than the universe, in other words prior to it, and in this case God and the universe are not equivalent, however, upon final analysis, even in this configuration, the only logically tenable conclusion is nonorigination.
For example, if the universe is a physical thing that was created by God, yet God is nonoriginated, then by inference the universe is also ultimately nonoriginated (via God's nonorigination). Although provisionally we can state that the universe originates from God, since God is in this case nonoriginated, the universe is ultimately nonoriginated, for no final origin can be found or logically established.
In summary, nonorigination is the single fundamental truth of both science and religion. It is where they converge.
And now, based on the above lines of reasoning, the final capstone on the argument.
If we posit that only the physical universe exists, then we have no other choice but to say the universe itself must be unoriginated, in other words, uncaused and unconditioned -- neither coming from nothing or from something else.
There is no escape from this logical conclusion. Nonorigination is always found to be the ultimate nature of whatever is positied to exist. It doesn't matter how many levels of reality you think there are, as soon as you posit even one, it's "turtles all the way down," to quote the famous expression. In other words, if you posit the universe resting on the back of something (for example, a giant turtle) then that something must in turn rest on the back of something else (another giant turtle, for example), and so on, endlessly. The only way to not have an endless pile of turtles resting on still deeper turtles is to posit a final fundamental turtle, but that makes no sense -- for that turtle would be in free-fall, meaning the entire stack of turtles would have no foundation and would topple over. What nonorigination really means however is that the stack of turtles can be infinite or finite - it really doesn't matter and is equivalent -- either way the entire stack itself, whether just 1 turtle our countless turtles, is nonoriginated. This is not to say that the stack depends on something else we call nonorigination, it is to say that the stack itself IS nonorigination.
This is very hard to accept conceptually, but it is a logical conclusion. The only way to deal with it intellectually, once you derive it and are convinced there is no way around it, is to simply accept it. The universe really is beyond conception -- it really cannot ever be conceived. It's infinite and its nature is inconceivable.
Now what's interesting, and unifying, about this conclusion is that nonorigination is a logical and scientific kind of conclusion, and yet there is something about it that is inconceivable and wondrous like what we think of when we speak of something Divine. Nonorigination is unexplainable, inconceivable, prior to all space and time, beyond the limits of the mind, and the nature of all things. This is at once scientific and Divine -- it is something infinitely beyond all conceptual limits -- it is the point where everything converges.
Nonorigination is also a very subtle truth, because it neither asserts or refutes the universe and/or the Divine. In fact, what appears is free to appear and function -- yet if we analyze it we find it is nonoriginated. That doesn't mean there are no causes and effects in operation, it doesn't mean the universe is random -- in fact quite the contrary will be shown later in this article.
Nonorigination says nothing about the day-to-day "relative level of the world" and how it functions -- it is a statement about the ultimate nature of everything: the originlessness and fundamental essencelessness of whatever appears. Thus when speaking of nonorigination, we can make a conceptual distinction between the relative and ultimate levels of truth. They are both true, one does not contradict the other.
Relative truth is truth within limits -- specifically a statement that holds true locally but not globally. Ultimate truth applies globally. In this case within the reference frame of the universe alone, we can say that any effect we observe is originated from various causes and conditions, but within the larger frame of the origin of the entire universe, it is nonoriginated. In any case, whether one chooses to accept this modal logic or not is a matter of personal preference.
Beyond Four Logical Extremes
In Buddhism the ultimate nonoriginated, uncaused and unconditioned primordial nature of reality is said to be "unborn." Since it has no cause it is never actually created or "born" as some thing, yet since it is also not literal nothingness, it is not entirely non-existent, for if it were nothingness it could not be something that we could even apply the labels of nonoriginated, uncaused and unconditioned to.
That which is nonoriginated is entirely free of all logical extremes:
- Both existence and non-existence
- Neither existence nor non-existence
It doesn't exist because it is not originated. It doesn't not-exist because it isn't literally nothingness. It doesn't both exist and not-exist because that is a logical contradiction.
The fourth logical extreme is the hardest to overcome and there are a few different arguments to conquer it. First of all the assertion of something neither existing nor not-existing is also a contradiction, via double negatives: if it doesn't exist then this is equivalet to not-existing, and if it doesn't not-exist then this is equivalent to existing.
Another way to refute this extreme is by the fact that there is no other alternative to existing or not-existing: to exist is to be something, whereas to not-exist is to not be something. How could there be "something" which is neither something or not-something. If it is "something" that contradicts the prong of claim that it is neither "something" or not-something. Yet if it is "not something" then that contradicts the prong of the claim that it is neither something or "not-something." In other words, to claim that something is neither something or not-something is contradictory from the very start.
The Nonorigination of Nonorigination
It's important not to get stuck on conceiving of nonorigination as a special kind of thing. Nonorigination is in fact nonoriginated too. So it can't be something. It also can't be nothing. It's actually free of of four logical extremes of being something or nothing. It's not any of these four logical possibilities:
- Something and nothing
- Neither something nor nothing
There are no other logical possibilities than these four. Nonorigination cannot be said to be or not to be.
In fact, if we look for nonorigination we don't find it. For example, you cannot find the absence of something. The absence of that thing is literally the fact that you cannot find it. Nonorigination is the absence -- in any moment of experience -- of anything that can be found to exist, not-exist, exist and not-exist, neither exist nor not-exist. It is an absence, not the presence of something else that could be labelled "nonorigination."
But this absence is not merely a rhetorical or logical point -- it really is the actual fundamental nature of reality. In other words, whatever the universe is -- whatever appears to us -- really does have this nature of nonorigination, this complete absence of existing, not-existing, both, or neither. This means the universe is far more unexplainable than can even be imagined.
The Primordial Nature of Reality
We have found that whatever there is, it must be nonoriginated. There is no other logical alternative. Even nonorigination is nonoriginated. So while there is no final isolated thing we can point to as nonorigination itself, the fact that whatever we can point to is always found to have a nature of being nonoriginated is a fundamental truth. In fact it is perhaps the fundamental truth. It's the one logical conclusion that we always reach no matter what we analyze. All roads lead to nonorigination.
If we say that the universe is nonoriginated, then it doesn't exist the way that most scientists and even most religious thinkers imagine it to. While it's not nothingness, it's also not something, or any other alternative. This absence of having an existential status is in fact the way it really is, that's its primordial and ultimate nature. We can also say that this absence of existential status is the primordial nature of reality.
This means that reality is beyond the limits of existing and non-existing. This may defy common sense, or even feel impossible to imagine, yet it is the only logical option -- it is inconceivable yet must be so.
Many great religions all agree on this point at their highest levels of philosophy: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism all agree at the purest conception of the Divine is really inconceivable and unameable, and certainly primordial (not created or conditioned by anything else). At it's very purest essence the universal truth of all religions, and even of science, is that there must be, and is, something uncreated and unconditioned at the root of reality.
Whether the universe is theorized to have sprung out of perfect randomness or nothingness, or it is an eternity, or there are infinite parallel universes, the only logically tenable way that the entire reference frame can exist is if it is nonoriginated. This nonoriginated, uncaused and unconditioned nature, is the primordial nature of reality -- of the universe and/or the Divine -- regardless of whether one believes in just one, or in both.
So there we have it: the essence of the universe and the essence of the Divine are the same primordial unoriginated reality. We can call that the universe, we can call it God, or we call it Buddha, Christ, Allah, Tao, or something else. It doesn't matter what we call it really, it is nameless.
If something is truly nonoriginated, in other words, uncaused and uncreated, then it is totally free. In particular it is free of all concepts and beliefs about it or anything else. It is free of all limitations. We cannot say that it has a particular name and no other name. We cannot say it can only be reached through one path and not others. We cannot say that it can only be served by obeying particular rules and not others. We cannot say that only some people have access to it while others don't, or that anyone is closer to it than anyone else.
Who are we to say anything that would limit something that is totally uncaused and unconditioned? Something cannot be partially free. Either it is totally free or it is not free at all. There is no middle ground. If we truly believe in a conception of a "God" that is totally free, then we have to be careful not to impose further concepts onto it or onto ourselves or anyone else. The closer one is to knowing God, the less one can really say about God.
The same goes for science: we eventually must reach similar conclusions about the fabric of reality and the origin of the universe. We may be able to describe and predict all sorts of things about the physical universe, but the deeper or farther we look in space and time, the more it starts to become indescribable. At the smallest scales and the largest scales, and in fact at every scale in between, the origin and nature of the cosmos is and will always be a mystery. The best we can do is categorize it and glean some understandings about how it functions, but we'll never be able to explain it. The universe, like God, is also beyond conception. It is either uncaused and unconditioned itself -- which means it is free -- or it depends on something that is uncaused and unconditioned. Either way, it is free.
Think about that for a moment. If the universe is free or depends on something that is free -- then either way, what takes place in the universe is ultimately uncaused and unconditioned, meaning the universe is effectively free in both cases. What does "free" actually mean? It means literally that anything can happen. Anything. Any universe is possible. Any set of physical laws are possible. Anything at all is possible -- even things which we can't explain and which perhaps are contradictory to the physical laws (such as anomalies, miracles, etc.).
But then why do only particular things appear to happen, rather than other alternatives? Why does the universe appear to obey particular physical laws? Why don't we observe miracles or other anomalies that contradict the physical laws (note: some people do claim they observe these phenomena, so we cannot say with certainty that they don't happen at all...)? But in any case, why does the universe seem so rational and orderly if indeed absolutely anything is possible?
One school of thought on this question (the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics) answers that in fact everything does happen, but in parallel universes, all at once. So there's no real choice being made -- all possibilities from those that are consistent with the universe we know to those which are totally outlandish or seemingly impossible do happen, all at once.
Another school of thought claims that somehow the universe makes choices and that these choices come about whenever observations take place, and that they have something to do with probability -- the universe is not precisely deterministic, but not entirely non-determinstic either. If that is the case, then the act of observing something essentially causes the universe to choose what actually happens from the set of all the things that could possibly happen.
But if the universe makes quantum mechanical choices at each moment of observation, then what comes first, the act of observation, or what is observed? What creates reality, what causes the choice that selects one possibility versus all the others? Is what appears literally caused by the observer, or is it there before being observed -- does it cause the observer to observer it, or does the observer cause it to be observed? It's unclear, according to quantum mechanics at least; It's a chicken-and-the-egg kind of problem. In fact, the situation is better characterized as a kind of feedback loop, or a dance of sorts, that's been going on forever.
The universe is ultimately free; anything can happen. But anything does not appear to happen, only some things happen. This is currently said to happen because of choices that are made when observations take place, at least on a subatomic level.
But while observation may cause or condition reality on the quantum scale, on the macroscopic level -- the level of people and cars and houses and trees, and so forth -- the act of observation does not seem to function in the same manner; it doesn't cause things to happen. Or does it? The classic Zen koan, "If a tree falls in the woods and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?" addresses this question.
In fact, if there is no observer to hear the sound, how can we say there is a sound? When the tree falls it causes vibrations, but those vibrations only make a sound if they move the eardrum of something that can hear. If there is no observer, but only a recording device in the woods, there is a recording, but not yet a sound. The sound only can be said to exist when the recording device is actually used to play the recorded sound to an observer. Until that happens, the sound is not observed.
This strange fact is reflected in scientific experiments such as the famous "Double Slit Experiment" and many variations. In that experiment, the act of measuring the path that a photon takes causes it to appear to appear to behave like a particle, while if you don't measure the path it appears to behave like a wave. In fact, this effect is even stranger -- experiments have been done which seem to indicate that this effect can even go backwards in time. Even if you wait to measure the path the photon takes long after it has traveled through the experiment, that observation seems to effectively go backwards in time and cause the photon to retroactively behave one way or another, in the past.
Another famous thought-experiment which illustrates the interaction between observation and reality is the "Schroedinger's Cat" example, in which a cat in a box is either dead or alive depending on whether a random event happens, but until you actually open the box you can't know it's actual status -- and on a quantum level in fact, until the cat is observed you cannot really say it is either dead or alive; it exists in a kind of intermediate state. The moment of observation somehow causes the intermediate state to collapse into a particular quantum state. This is very odd stuff. And for a while it was thought to really only apply at very small scales, although more recently there is some evidence that similar logic may apply even at macroscopic scales.
What this all means is that there is something about observation that seems to cause the universe to make choices. Another way of expressing this is that the universe -- because it is totally free -- has the freedom to make choices, and this happens through the act of observation. This would also imply that the universe is intelligent and creative, because the things that make observations (sentient beings like humans, for example) are intelligent and creative. Perhaps the universe isn't happening out there on it's own, perhaps it is in a very real sense, imagining itself through an unfolding process of creatively making observations.
The Improbability of the Universe
If the universe either is something totally free, or depends on something totally free, then either way, the universe is totally free. That is to say there are no limitations on it. Anything can happen. How then is it that we observe particular things and not everything happening? Why don't each of us experience all possible parallel universes? Why is the universe the way it is, and not even slightly different? Why are things the way they are? We can look at physical things and use scientific knowledge to understand their trajectories and dynamics. That certainly helps us explain a little bit about those physical things. But it doesn't tell us why the initial conditions were not different, or why the universe is such that the physical laws and physical constants are what they are.
Even a slight change in the structure or unfolding of the universe would have resulted in a vastly different outcome -- the physical laws would be different, the physical constants would have different values, and this would result in different kinds of universes. Some would have very different properties than the one we live in. Some would support life, some would not. Some would have led to our planet and human beings, some would not. Some would have stars and galaxies, yet other extreme cases would burn out and collapse into giant black holes almost immediately, while other configurations would have led to the universe breaking into countless separate universes or literally exploding and then dissolving into countless separate black holes. And there are many other possibilities too. These claims may sound wild, but in fact they are predicted using our current scientific model -- if we simply change the initial conditions of the early universe slightly.
So why did things turn out the way they did? And why does our universe seem perfectly balanced to support human life -- or any life for that matter? There are so many possibilities for how the universe might have unfolded, and most of those possibilities do not result in a universe that could support human life at all. In fact the universe we live in is one of the more statistically improbable outcomes. The odds of our universe happening are infitessimally small. So how did it happen?
Furthermore, at least on a quantum level it appears that until an act of observation takes place we cannot really say the universe makes a choice about what happens. So what about the early universe -- before there were any human observers, or any living things at all to make observations? So what was made the first observation? Was there a "prime observer" at the first instant of the universe, and if not, how could it have come into being since on a quantum level without being observed it could not have had a particular state.
Or alternatively was there some other kind of outside observer that made the original observations of every ancient quantum interaction, enabling the universe to make choices, at least until living observers could evolve to make their own observations? Or, has the universe effectively made all those choices retroactively -- for example, now that there are observers, has the effect of our present choices gone back in time and caused the universe to make all the necessary past choices to lead to the way things are today (that one is a mind-bender, but on a quantum level it is not unreasonable or impossible to consider -- space and time are not obstacles on the quantum level. For more on this, read about the Anthropic Principle in physics and cosmology)
Perhaps only universes that can support life can therefore contain observers, and so only such universes can actually happen because without observers quantum level choices cannot be made -- in other words, possible universes that don't contain observers effectively cancel themselves out and never even happen, leaving only those universes that can and do support observers. This would at least eliminate a lot of possible universes and improve the odds of universes like ours ever happening. But there are still innumerable, literally countless, variations that are possible even within that set of observer-friendly universes. Why did it turn out that exactly one and only one of those possible universes -- ours -- is what happened?
Here's another question that we have to consider as well: If observation is required for the universe to make choices and effectively collapse on various states out of the space of possible states it could be in, then either there was a first observer (which leads the contradiction that the first observer could not happen because it was not observed) or there has to be an infinite regression of observers, or we couldn't have the present universe at all. Once again, we come to the logical problems we encountered earlier when discussing the universe and God. Either we end up in contradictions or regressions.
One possibility is that the universe is an observer of itself. We know that since the universe can contain observers (for example, humans), it is capable of making observations. So why should observations only happen on the human-scale. Perhaps there are larger systems within the universe that can make observations too? But even if we believe this it still doesn't solve the problem -- even if the universe can observe itself, what observes the universe? Alternatively, if we posit some kind of outside observer of the universe, then again, what observes that? In either case, we end up with a logical contradiction or an infinite regression.
Is there any way out?
Yes, there is one, and only one, way out: It all comes down to consciousness.
Just as we found that in order for the universe to exist either it must be nonoriginated, it also must be inherently observed. Without observation, nothing could happen, choices could not be made, at least according to quantum physics.
But if this the case, what made the first observation that started it all? The answer is that there was no first observation. Instead, observation must be inherently unified with nonorigination. There is no other alternative, at least if observation is necessary for the universe to exist, on a quantum mechanical level.
In other words, the universe does not require an outside observer. This MUST be the case, for on a quantum level the early universe -- indeed even the Big Bang or whatever we think the universe was like as far back as possible -- could not have happened at all without something observing it (on a quantum level). The capacity to make observations must be an inherent property of the universe itself, or at least of what the universe depends on if we think it depends on something else. Either way, the capacity to observe is inherent, it doesn't come from nothing, itself, or something else -- it has no origin. It has to be or we couldn't have the universe at all, according to current scientific theories about quantum physics.
So what is this mysterious capacity to observe? It seems to be pretty close to what we mean when we use the terms "consciousness" or "awareness" (and of "God" too by the way).
We humans have this capacity to experience our minds and senses -- to not only be aware but to be reflexively aware as well -- and it appears that animals and other forms of sentient life have this capacity too. We are able to observe and react to stimulus, but also to know it. We don't just react automatically, like springs bouncing back from being compressed. We experience what we observe -- we know -- we are. We have a sense of our own being, we are aware that we are aware. We are aware that we are. And that is observation in its most naked form.
The universe supports the evolution of things which are aware of their own being. And that means that the awareness of being either comes from the physical universe or from beyond it. But either way, we have seen in our earlier discussion, that at the end of the day, whether you believe in only the physical universe or you believe in a God beyond the universe, they have the same ultimate nature of nonorigination.
The characteristics of the universe, and therefore of what we call "God," are therefore that of being uncaused, unconditioned AND aware (in other words, making observations). There is no other logical, or scientific, alternative.
Consciousness is therefore something deeper than what we might think. It is a reflection of the universe's and/or God's inherent capacity to be aware. It literally IS the primordial awareness of the universe. And because consciousness IS primordial awareness -- the basic capacity to make observations that observes at least itself and can potentially observe anything or everything else -- that means it is coming directly from the most fundamental level of reality -- in fact it IS the most fundamental level of reality.
Awareness is uncaused, unconditioned and aware of being. Each of us, and indeed, each sentient being that is aware of anything, is a reflection of the entire universe in a sense, and of whatever we call "God," if we believe in God. In a very real sense -- from a scientific perspective as well as a religious one -- there is something divine in every sentient being, and indeed in the entire universe.
This primordial awareness is inconceivable, because it literally IS that which is nonoriginated. Even within our own minds we cannot describe it or limit it in any way. It is the nature of mind, and it is the nature of reality, and of whatever we might call God. The difference between each of our individual human awarenesses and the infinite and inconceivable awareness of the universe and/or God is one of scale, not one of qualities. This also means that each individual's mind is potentially as totally free as the total freedom of the universe and/or God. This is our true condition, whether we know it or not. Total freedom means the mind is potentially unlimited -- truly unlimited. That means it is possible to know or experience or observe anything, for us as individual sentient beings, and for the universe as a whole.
Although anything can happen in theory, sentient beings such as ourselves and others make observations -- that is our function in the universe in fact -- and these observations have quantum level repurcussions that actually cause the universe to choose particular outcomes, which in turn feedback to affect the probabilities of our future observations. In a very real sense, observation creates experience.
Whether you believe the universe is an inconceivably vast intelligent and creative being that has free will, or you believe it all depends on a God that is inconceivabley vast, intelligent, creative, and has free will -- it's the same. Take your pick, they lead to the same conclusion, and the same universe. Awareness -- the essence of consciousness -- has a very key role in the universe, and/or in whatever we think of as God. It is in fact THE key to it all.
Cause and Effect
From this discussion so far, we have concluded that the universe is nonoriginated. That is to say, the only logical option is that it exists in a nonoriginated manner -- it does not arise from nothing, itself, or something else (OR if it arises from something else then that thing must be nonoriginated, or at least something at some point that is causally upstream from it has to be nonoriginated). For example if the universe comes from God, then either God must be nonoriginated, or that which God depends on has to be nonoriginated, and so on. The point is that the series of things and things that create them is finite, not infinite. There is no infinite regress.
This does not deny the operation of cause and effect within the universe, nor does it deny that there can be an infinite series of causes and effects that lead to or stem from any event within the universe. It only denies that there can be an infinite series of causes and effects the lead to the creation of the universe as-a-whole. In other words, on the relative level, within the universe, cause and effect can operate just as science (or even various religions) might predict. However, the universe as-a-whole is not caused, or eventually depends on something that is not caused.
Therefore the universe as we know it is not contradicted by claiming that it is nonoriginated. Nor is cause and effect contradicted by stating that ultimately the universe as-a-whole, or whatever is that which is nonoriginated, is totally and complely uncaused, unconditioned and therefore free. Furthermore, even though observers -- individual sentient beings -- within the universe are expressions of that primordial freedom (by virtue of being aware), they are still subject to the laws of cause and effect within the universe.
For example, a particular observer may make an observation, and in doing so they perturb the universe on a quantum level, which conditions what they end up observing. Observation is a cause. What is observed is partially an effect of the act of observation, and partially an effect of other causes and conditions that relate to it. When an observer makes an observation, together with the appropriate set of causes and conditions, a particular event is observed to take place. Similarly, that event then acts as a cause or condition for other observations and events to take place for that observer and/or other observers.
In this manner everything that happens within the universe is the result of a complex network of causes and conditions, in which observers play critical roles. Observers actually change the topology of the network (the patterns of linkages between various causes and conditions and observers) whenever they make observations. This ability to rewire the network by making observations is something that is unique to sentient beings -- only true observers that are conscious are capable of causing this to happen.
In fact, without observers actively making observations we cannot truly say the network exists in any particular state -- it could be in any of an infinite number of possible configurations representing any of an infinite number of possible timelines of universes. The act of observation is what triggers chains of cause and effect to "fire" (almost as if they were patterns of neurons and dendrites in the brain firing sequentially to generate various thoughts). When there is no observation taking place we might say that the universe is frozen in a kind of indeterminate state. Only when observations happen are particular chains of potential cause and effect in time and space activated, and thus particular events they bring about appear to take place.
The process of cause-and-effect changes the probabilities of various events, making them more or less likely to take place, that is, to be observed. And it is the act of observation itself which triggers the chain of cause and effect, which powers it, which makes it happen. This is how the universe works on a quantum level, and also perhaps how it works on other levels too (for example, the law of Karma in Buddhism is effectively this very process of cause and effect, or what is also called dependent-arising, taking place not only in the external physical world and the body, but within all sensory modalities and even within the mind).
But is cause-and-effect required for the universe to function the way it does? Is there an alternative?
Suppose that there were no cause-and-effect within the universe. Instead imagine what it would be like if everything happened randomly. In a totally random universe every event has an equal chance of happening, so either all events would happen at once, or none of them would. We don't see either of these taking place however. Instead we see very non-random distributions of events taking place.
When you exert a force on an object it is highly likely to exert and equal and opposite reaction on you, and it is quite unlikely that it will do the opposite of that. But in a random universe both events would be equally likely, at least over all time and space and observers and possible universes. So if the all events are equally likely then we could not have the universe we experience, in which that is certainly not the case.
One might move the problem down a level however by suggesting that perhaps this universe is only one universe in an infinite number of parallel or possible universes, which are all equally likely to happen, and we just got lucky somehow. We happen to be observers within this one, where things fall towards the force of gravity rather than being repelled by it, and so we are able to stand here on the planet and the planet retains its atmosphere, etc.
It's fine to hold that view, however, even if one does, within this universe at least, it appears to be as if cause and effect is in operation. Whether cause and effect sequences are really happening sequentially over time and are influenced by the free will of observers, or they all happen all at once from the perspective of eternity and thus free will is illusory, what we experience would be the same. Thus these two alternatives are equivalent.
In this universe -- which is the only one we observe -- it appears to us as if cause and effect processes are unfolding over time, and for all intents and purposes, from our perspectives, whether causality unfolds creatively and non-deterministically over time and in part due to the free will of observers like ourselves influencing what we observe, or it's all preordained in eternity, its equivalent.
What this means is that for this universe to happen, cause and effect is necessary. There may be other possible universe in the set of all possibilities which may not appear to contain processes that resemble cause and effect, but we are not experiencing any of them right now, nor can we even prove they exist. So from our perspectives it is as if they do not exist. Notably however, we cannot prove they do not exist either.
Now the question is how can a universe that appears to operate by cause and effect, within it, be nonoriginated? How could a universe full of causes and effects not have a cause? How can nonorigination and cause-and-effect be compatible? Isn't that equivalent to claiming it is an effect (the univeres) that has no cause (nonorigination), and isn't that therefore a logical contradiction? No. To make such a claim would indeed be a logical contradiction -- an effect is the result of a cause and cannot exist without a corresponding cause. The solution is to not claim that the universe is an effect, nor to claim that nonorigination is a cause.
It is contradictory to assert the existence of an effect apart from its cause. Therefore the universe cannot be asserted to be an effect that has no cause. It is simply nonoriginated, it is not the result of anything. For it to be the result of something would contradict nonorigination, which we have already found is the only logical way that the universe can exist at all (because it can't come from nothing, itself, or something else, so therefore it must either not exist at all, or it must exist in a nonorignated manner, and since it does appear to exist, it must exist in a nonoriginated manner).
Nonorigination requires that the entire universe is not a cause nor an effect. But although the entire universe is not a cause or an effect, it can appear to contain what look like, and function within it as, causes and effects -- sequences of events that are causally linked over time and space in complex interdependent networks.This is a real mind-bender and will take some time to explain. Cause-and-effect is a relative level process -- it is provisionally true -- but on an ultimate level the process and everything within it is nonoriginated.
For example, we probe further, into any particular event, and we trace back its origins within the universe, and if space and time are infinite, then we may find an infinitely broad and deep network of causes and effects both upstream (leading to it) and downstream (stemming from it) in time. Since these sequences are infinite, they are from a logical perspective infinite regressions. To claim that any effect comes from an infinite series of causes and effects, is logically fallacious -- we cannot prove such a claim since we cannot test infinity to see whether or not the series is truly infinite or not, or even what all the causes and effects in the alleged series even are.
Cause and Effect is Nonorigination
Therefore, from a logical level, even though causes and effects may appear within an infinite universe, they too must be nonoriginated -- it is the only manner in which they can be said to exist without commiting a fallacy: They must exist in a manner that is free from four logical extremes. In other words, they cannot exist, not-exist, both exist and not-exist, or neither exist or not-exist.
They cannot exist because of infinite regression. They cannot not-exist because that is a logical contradiction and also conflicts with what we observe. Combining existing and not-existing is a logical contradiction. Rejecting both existing and not-existing leads to logical contradiction and also conflicts with what we observe. So while on a relative level the process cause-and-effect appears to operate, on the ultimate level of analysis, it is equivalent to being unoriginated, from our perspectives at least.
Another way of expressing the same thing is end result is that if the space and time are infinite, then the universe as well as its contents (including all causes, effects, observations, and observers) must be ultimately nonoriginated. And since it's not possible to have a finite sequence of causes-and-effects (because that would mean that at least one cause or effect would not have a corresponding effect or case, which is not possible (because a cause and an effect are inseperable, it is a contradiction to claim you have one without the other), a finite universe of causes and effects is impossible. Therefore finite universes are impossible, since only universes that contain causes and effects would not be random.
Therefore our universe must be infinite, because we do observe processes of cause and effect, and it also must be nonoriginated (or be equivalent to something that is nonoriginated -- for example be being part of an infinite series of causes and effects of universes or by being created by some kind of God's free will, not by cause and effect (where God is by definition not orignated by anything else). These are the only logical possibilities.
The lines of reasoning in this section, and those above it, prove that lead us to conclude that only infinite universes in which cause and effect appear to operate are possible, and that such universes (and the causes and effects they contain) must be ultimately nonoriginated, and observed, in order to be said to occur.
In other words, cause and effect is nonorigination. Whatever appears to be generated by causes and effects is ultimately nonoriginated.
Nonorigination is Cause and Effect
The same is true in the reverse direction. We cannot say that something is nonoriginated unless there is some relative-level appearance of a thing to make that statement about. The notion that nonorigination could exist on it's own without some subject or object that is nonoriginated is a contradiction. Nonorigination is a phenomenon that requires a complementary relative-level facet, namely whatever is being asserted to be nonoriginated. To assert nonorigination apart from anything else would be like positing a penny with no sides. A penny must have a heads and tails. It can't be a penny without them.
Therefore where there is cause and effect is the result of nonorigination and observation, and where there is nonorigination and observation there is some phenomena -- some event appearing to take place, and since phenomena do not happen randomly, the only alternative is that some combination causes and effects are at work.
It is the process of observations, causes and effects that makes some possible phenomena more or less likely than others at various locations in space and time. Without such a process all possible phenomena would be equally likely at all possible locations in space and time. That would not result in our universe, or anything like our universe, at least as far as we observers can know from our positions within space and time.
Perhaps one might argue that maybe if we could see eternity we might find that our universe was randomly generated as-a-whole, but that is not possible either -- for if all universes were equally likely then they would either all happen at once or none of them would happen at all. The fact that this universe appears refutes the possibility that none of them happen at least. As for the possibility of them all happening at once, this is a possibility, but we can't determine this for sure unless we can see eternity ourselves. From our perspective, and as far as we can know, only this one is happening.
Nonorigination is therefore equivalent to cause and effect, and vice-versa. The process of cause-and-effect is not refuted by nonorigination, indeed it is required by nonorigination, and vice-versa. The proof is that this universe is appearing and functioning the way it does.
At each moment of our lives, of each moment of observation no matter how brief or precise -- there is something else taking place that is NOT nothingness and NOT exactly whatever appears to us either.
For example when we observe a tree, we see the appearance of the tree visually. That appearance is there, at least as a mere visual image, not unlike an image in a dream. It may be a real image of a real tree, or a dream image of a dream tree -- but that doesn't matter, the two cases are equivalent for in fact we really cannot tell the difference at the moment of its appearance.
The image of the tree before us is of some thing which we may believe exists "out there" in the "real world" beyond our body and mind, and that it is really just a depiction of the object out there in the visual spectrum, formed by our particular sense organs and their abilities and limitations, and then rendered via the circuitry of our brains onto some kind of internal viewing screen, or to some further set of cognitive processes which then do things like interpret it, label it as a "tree" etc. That's all fine -- whether or not any of that is really what is taking place or not -- at the very moment of an appearance appearing that is all hypothetical from our own perspective. All we can know at the moment of an appearance is that it is there in its own unique way, and that we know it.
The appearance is the object side of a moment of experience. The "we know it" part of the experience is the subject side. There are these two sides to every ordinary moment of experience. This is consciousness, a dualistic interpretation of what is taking place in every moment into having two poles of subject and object that are somehow two different things. Most people spend their lives experiencing everything -- themselves, the outside world, others -- in this dualistic mode of cognition. Note that dualism is not inherent, it is a conceptual interpretation of raw experience. Experience itself is not dualistic -- there is no actual boundary that we can find between subject and object and we cannot separate them to have one without the other. This dualistic frame of mind is a deep-seated habit and unquestioned belief that is part of our "filter" of the world. It prevents us from knowing experience the way it actually is, and instead splits it like a prism splits a single beam of light, into multiple beams of "subject" and "object" halves of each moment.
It's key to notice that the dualistic frame of mind -- ordinary consciousness -- is a kind of artificial division of the moment into two parts. It comes about because a misunderstanding on our own part of what is actually taking place in each moment. What we call the object side of experience is any appearance in any sensory modality or the mind. The subject side of experience is the label we give to the part of the moment that seems to be witnessing it, or being it.
In fact there are not really two things like this, divided and separate from one another. Instead there is only one thing taking place that has both of these aspects. What is taking place is nonorigination. It has two aspects: awareness and appearance. Actually this triad can be expressed in three formulas:
Nonorigination = awareness + appearance (N = A + A')
Appearance = Nonorigination - awareness (A = N - A')
Awareness = Nonorigination - appearance (A = N - A')
Each moment of experience combines all three of these together into a trinity -- they are unified yet still distinct. This might in fact be The Ultimate Trinity of all trinities. Furthermore, if we focus on appearance we will find that it is nonorigination. If we focus on awareness we will find that it too is nonorigination. If we try to focus on nonorigination itself we never find it, instead we always find moments of awareness plus appearance. Yet if we then try to find the awareness or appearance on their own they dissolve back to nonorigination.
This Trinity is THE most important philosophical point of all. And I cannot take credit for it. Evertying I know about it or have said here is based on what I've learned from Buddhism and quantum mechanics. In particular there are thousands of years of highly developed Buddhist logical treatises on precisely this point.
What is Actually Happening
When things happen they don't just appear out of nothingness.
There isn't really any nothingness. Nothingness is impossible by virtue of the following proof: Something appears right now. Nothing and something are mutually exclusive.
Furthemore, even IF nothing was possible, it could never generate anything because there is no way to turn nothingness into something other than nothingness.
Instead of nothingness there is a kind of space of knowing or being -- what might be called awareness. This space is not inherently personalized -- it has no concepts or sense of I or of being an observer, etc. This awareness has the characteristic of being nonoriginated -- we cannot find it or call it a concrete, truly-existing, isolated "thing."
At the same time as there is any knowing or being, appearances spontaneously develop within its scope. For example, this is just like dreaming. In a dream there is the space of the mind and then within this space various appearances (and other sensory experiences, for example of sound, etc.) unfold. We then identify with a particular character or perspective in the dream and the appearance of its body -- and we call that "I" or "self." That is a habit -- there is nothing inherently real about the character we see ourselves as in a dream -- it is not really us, not really our body or our actual mind but rather just a dream image of a body and mind. We label it as "I" or "me" out of habit. In fact, our real body is alseep in bed and is not in the dream, and our real mind and self are having the dream they are not really in the dream. Or are they?
When we dream, dreams don't appear out of nothing, they appear out of awareness.
The same goes for all the experiences (aka appearances in various sensory modalities) that we call a moment of "our universe." At each moment of experience there is the space of awareness plus at least some appearance. Neither the awareness or the appearances are truly-existing or even separate, they are just two aspects of nonorigination.
Nonorigination -- or what in Buddhism is called "emptiness" is not a final fundamental thing that can be grasped or found either -- if you find it you find that it dissolves into awareness and appearances and these dissolve back into nonorigination, endlessly.
Time unfolds as the process of this infinite loop -- the Trinity of
nonorigination, awareness and appearance -- iterating. We are always
either looking at an appearance, our awareness, or nonorigination. In
either case as soon as we make such an observation what we find is that
these dissolve into their counterparts. As we keep observing we trigger
the process of cause-and-effect which continues to perpetuate
appearances and that is what powers the universe so to speak. The
energy we put into it by making observations drives it to "run" this
program so to speak, endlessly iterating new moments of experience that
then trigger us to make further observations and so on.
On a quantum level, the process of enacting awareness, via simple acts of observation -- is literally what causes the universe to make quantum decisions that jolt the quantum field of possibilities to "collapse" onto a single possibility whenever we look for it. This is analogous to being able to cause liquid water to suddenly freeze into ice by just looking at it. When we don't look, it's water, but when we do look it instantly freezes into a particular shape.
We can never really see it in its water form, it always freezes just when we look for it. But we can infer the water from the frozen shapes that appear. Even ice has has waterlike qualities -- it's clear, and it melts back into water when heated after all. If we look closely at any observation (any shape made of ice in this analogy), to find its nature, this is analogous to heating the ice we are looking at, which melts it back to liquid form.
Once it melts we can no longer see it (in this analogy) until we make the next observation as we continue to look for it again. Our next observation is conditioned by the previous observation -- the network of probabilities for what can appear next are changed by the previous observation -- and this causes it to follow from it, statistically, rather than to be completely random -- this is the process of cause-and-effect in a nutshell. Therefore our acts of observation crystallize and perpetuate our experience in an ongoing, recursive process.
Each act of observation effectively loads the dice for the next act of observation and so changes the odds of the next possible dicerolls. If the world did not work this way it would be totally random. Since it's not totally random -- it does appear to behave in a non-random fashion, we are able to make various kinds of predictions, there is a certain amount of consistency over time, this is how the universe must and does work. Cause-and-effect makes the universe non-random and non-randomness of the universe results in cause-and-effect operating.
Metascience: What are the Possible Beliefs We Might Hold?
So far we have explored some very deep questions about the origin and nature of the universe and, if one believes in God, then of God too. We have found that all these questions converge on the same ultimate reality -- the reality of nonorigination.
But while they may all converge on that point eventually, there are many different schools of thought within science and religion, and regarding how they relate to one another. So how do we choose what to believe in?
It is necessary to make such choices in order to simply function on a day-to-day level, to resolve difficult moral questions, and to figure out how to live or what to do in the future. Many people just accept the choice that is handed to them by their parents, or by authorities they trust. But if one has the freedom and presence of mind to question this themselves, then on what basis can an intelligent choice be made?
It's difficult to make sense of the range of belief system choices available, and their biggest differences or main points. One could proceed on an extensive voyage of exploration -- surveying every field of science and religion over decades (what I did by default). But the whole task might be a lot faster and more efficient if one had a map to start with.
I propose a field of thinking about what to believe that we might call "Metascience" in which we make maps to help people navigate possible belief systems more intelligently. In this approach we address big philosophical questions from a higher level, starting by enumerating the space of possible beliefs we could hold about them -- rather than by starting with a particular choice of belief. (Note: Another word for Metascience might simply be philosophy or metaphysics. But Philosophy and more specifically, metaphysics, have gotten totally lost, irrelevant, and non-objective. It's time for a refresh.).
So, regarding the choice of beliefs about the relatoinship between God and the universe -- Instead of immediately diving into the rathole of arguing the specifics of any one particular belief system or position on the issues, first let's at least try try to agree on what the set of possible beliefs and positions is, and on a way to enumerate them as elegantly and usefully as possible. Is a universally agreeable metascience possible? Can we come up with a way to enumerate all the possible belief systems about God and the universe that everyone can agree with?
A Categorization of All Possible Beliefs About The Universe and God
So here is my first attempt at mapping out the exhaustive metascientific enumeration of all possible philosophies regarding God and the Universe.
(A) Hierarchical Approach: Either the universe or God is more fundamental and/or includes the other
- Theories in which the universe – or all time and space – take place within God’s mind and/or body and is subject to God's laws and will
- Theories in which God exists as something within the universe, subject to it's physical laws and conditions
(B) Dualistic Approach: The universe and God are two separate things
- Theories in which God is the first-cause, creator or “blind watchmaker” who started the universe and then detached from it
- Theories in which God is watching the universe from some place outside and separate from it and may or may not intervene
- Theories in which God and the universe are separate things that co-exist within an even higher-order universe and/or pantheon
- Theories in which either God or the universe is more potent or real than the other, and they are separate things
(C) Non-Dualistic Approach: The universe and God are one unified thing
- Theories in which the universe is a vast, intelligent, aware, sentient being of some sort (that we name “God”)
- Theories in which God is just a synonym or label for the universe, or vice-versa.
- The universe and God are a dichotomy; they are neither the same nor different. The universe and God are distinct but connected or merged together as one entity (e.g. God or the universe is considered to be the fundamental aspect and the other is considered to be relative aspect of the same dichotomy, the wave-particle duality, space-time, matter-energy, mind-body, one-many, etc.). Or in other words, theories in which God and the universe are two sides of the same coin so to speak -- two distinct sides of the same thing
- Theories in which either God exists and the universe doesn’t, or the universe exists and God doesn’t
(D) Existential Approach: The universe and/or God is a provisionally existing thing
- Theories in which God or the universe has only a provisional kind of existence that when analyzed proves to reduce to a deeper level of existence, or to non-existence.
- Theories in which God or the universe is merely a conceptual construct or label for something that actually has no valid existence of its own (e.g. “the horns of a rabbit”)
- Theories in which God is a conceptual label for something that is impossible (e.g. “this statement is not true)
- Theories in which God is a fictional character in a story (e.g. the character, “Aslan” in the Chronicles of Narnia), or is a mental fabrication or projection of someone's mind
- Theories in which the universe is fictional but taking place – a mere fantasy or dream or a mental fabrication or projection of someone's mind -- it doesn’t exist in reality, it only exists in each of our own perceptions or at least in someone's mind.
- Theories such as nihilism which posit that there is actually nothing at all (a contradictory, and irrational assertion)
(E) Nonconceptual Approach: The universe and/or God is inconceivable
- Theories in which the universe and/or God is neither posited to exist, not-exist, both exist and not-exist, or neither exist nor not-exist (e.g. the Buddhist theory of "emptiness" or "freedom from four logical extreme views")
- Theories in which God or the concept of the universe is a conceptualization of something real but inconceivable (e.g. “infinity” or “zero”)
- Theories in which God and/or the universe cannot be conceived of for some axiomatic reason, such as being transcendental, beyond the scope of thought or words, beyond logic, not in the material realm, higher-dimensional, beyond time and space, etc.
There are no other major categories that I can think of regarding the Universe and God. I believe this may be then an exhaustive list. But feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below.
Are These Questions Worthwhile?
At this point, for the skeptics among us, we should ask whether it is even meaningful and worthwhile to try to unify science and religion.
It is certainly clear that science has value. But what about religion?
Firstly, much of the world's population believes in some form of religion and these beliefs are at the root of much of what takes place in the world -- culturally, politically, economically and more. For that reason, if nothing else, we really should have as deep an understanding of all the various conceptions about God as we can. But that's just the start. In fact there are sound scientific and philosophical reasons for exploring the topic of God as well. The theory that God originated the universe is just a valid a hypothesis as any other theory -- and may even be testable at some point in the future. It's certainly no more outlandish than some of the more exotic and hard-to-test cosmological hypotheses put forth in recent decades.
In addition, many people (including even many scientists) have had personal experiences that indicate that there is some greater entity beyond the body, mind or individual self, and perhaps even beyond the physical limits of space and time. While not everyone has had such experiences, and there is no way to validate the experiences of others, the fact that such experiences are so common and so similar, is another data-point that makes this topic worthy of consideration both by those who claim to have had such experiences, and by those who claim to have not had them. They may be artifacts of the particular architecture of the human body and brain, or they may be pointing to a deeper reality that exists just as objectively as the physical world.
Finally, from a purely scientific perspective, the origin of the universe is a mystery, and therefore the possibility of God is as much an open question as it ever was. Science has been able to learn about how the universe works to some degree, and to map parts of it, and even to form conjectures about how it has developed -- but where it comes from, how it started (if it even has a beginning at all), and even where it is located ultimately are a mystery. If one posits any kind of a beginning -- such as a Big Bang -- then that immediately begs the question of where did the Beginning come from?
Religion has certainly learned a lot from science over the millennia. But perhaps, ironically, science has as much to learn from religion in coming millennia, at least when it comes to understanding and exploring the farthest possible reaches of cosmology and the mind. The strange relationship between mind and matter may be what the next great scientific revolution will focus on.
Similarities Between Sciences and Religions
While science and religion may disagree on certain points, at the very deepest level, they may actually be more compatible than we might think. In fact, I would go so far as to propose that a grand unification of science and religion may come about in the future as we probe ever deeper into the edges of what we know about cosmology, subatomic physics, and even our understanding of consciousness and the mind.
The strangeness at the boundaries of science already points to a reality that goes beyond a strict division of mind and matter. For example, the simple act of observation seems to have an influence on what is actually measured to take place, according to the field of quantum mechanics. Similarly, at the borders of cosmology, questions still abound on the origin, structure, and fate of the universe. And in particular, given the improbabilty of a universe such as ours, which seems to be precisely balanced to support the emergence of intelligent life, how did this universe happen?
In many cases scientists are very careful to state that they simply don't know certain things yet. But at the same time, as scienfitic theories come into vogue, they often get out of control. For example the theory of the Big Bang. This particular theory, like most other scientific theories, has gone from being a new and contentious proposal, to a major and mainstream scientific belief, to a term that even non-scientists embraced as fact, and now today there is new evidence that perhaps the Big Bang theory is flawed and/or totally incorrect.
In the field of the philosophy of science, which studies how scientific paradigms are born, how they develop and compete, and how they are overturned, there are many other examples (the view of the Newtonian universe versus the view of Relativity, for example, or various explanations for the quantum world, and more recently String Theory). As scientific belief systems emerge, their proponents sometimes develop a kind of faith in the veracity of their beliefs that is not yet justified by the evidence, or that can never be justified in some cases -- this scientific faith is quite similar to religious faith. It's a strong belief in an explanation of nature for which there is some evidence but not yet final proof.
In fact, in science, theories can only be falsified, they can never be established as permanent and final. One never knows if and when new evidence may emerge that overturns the received view, or points to a deeper understanding.
It should also be noted that it is not the case that science is rational and religion is not. In fact, most if not all religions claim that that at least some of their beliefs are verifiable by individuals who follow a rational and repeatable process (for example, do certain things and you will get certain results). In addition at least some religions also apply rigorous formal logic to support their viewpoints. Those religions that provide an experimental method (do certain things and anyone will get predictable results) and that also apply rigorous logic to their reasoning, are applying a form of scientific method. It may be a weak form of scientific method, but it is not irrational.
So while science and religion have very different methodologies, at least with regard to their answers to the really Big Questions, such as the origin and ultimate nature of the universe, they both require a certain amount of faith, and they are both rational processes to some degree.
Differences Between Sciences and Religions
However there are also certain key differences between sciences and religions. In particular, many religions are built from axioms (creation myths, dieties, stories, traditions, and rules) which are established tautologically (they are considered to be true because simply they are defined to be true). For example, those religions which found their belief systems on ancient manuscripts that are said to have come directly for God, are building their belief systems from axioms. Such texts are claimed to be axiomatically true and cannot be disputed for they are God's Word.
Some relgions also make the claim that the only way to test and verify the truth of their beliefs is to first take them on faith as true. In other words, the only way to verify that x is true is to first believe that x is true, and then after you believe it, the evidence will start to emerge. In other words, not having faith -- asking questions or having doubts -- actually prevents one from discovering the truth. It is the act of having faith that actually opens the door, so to speak.
Putting faith first is the opposite of the scientific method. The scientific method starts with doubt. It invites questioning -- nothing is too sacred to examine, and if some theory can't stand up to scrutiny, or can't be shown through experiment or logic to be true, then it can't be said to be scientific fact. In fact, to accept that something is true without having doubts, but prior to having proof, would be a grave scientific error. This is a key difference between the methodologies of sciences and religions in general.
However, different though it may be from the scientific method, the religious approach seems to work. Billions of people throughout human history who have followed various religions have been able to verify, for themselves at least, the authenticity of their beliefs. Whether or not the stories in a certain religious text are literally true or only metaphorical or allegorical, the fact remains that the religious process of faith, devotion, prayer and personal growth do lead, in a predictible and repeatable manner, to profound religious experiences and in some cases even to unexplainable "miracles" at times (such as the many documented cases of spontaneous healings, for example). While this is certainly not the scientific method, it appears to work pretty well nonetheless.
It is not my intention to prove that the scientific method of "proof before faith" is better or worse than the religious approach of "faith before proof." In fact, I think they both have their place, and they both work, for different purposes.
The Boundary Between Science and Religion is Fuzzier Than One Might Think
The boundary between where science ends and religion begins is fuzzy at best. In fact, they are so intimately connected at the deepest levels that perhaps they will oneday turn out to be the same thing.
Already we have found that on the quantum scale there is an intimate and strange connection between conscious observation and what appears to happen. This is not well understood yet, but it is observed experimentally. Yet we don't have any real understanding of what consciousness is, or how it interacts with what is observed. The sciences have very little understanding of the mind at all. In fact, many scientists don't even believe there is a mind; they think the brain is a machine and the mind is a kind of illusion. There is no soul, no consciousness, no being at all. Yet others disagree. The jury is still out.
Religions on the other hand have been studying consciousness for millennia, and some are downright scientific about it. For example the ancient Hindu and Buddhist tantric sciences provide extremely detailed and sophisticated technologies for using the breath, posture, visualization, sound, and concentration to bring about extremely unusual states of body and mind (which have recently have been measured in scientific laboratories in a number of studies). Religions are in some ways way ahead of science when it comes to understanding the mind.
The mind is one of the places where science and religion are going to collide and most likely converge. Another is the ultimate nature of the universe -- the nature of space and time. The boundary between science and religion becomes fuzzier as one begins to explore the mind, the relationship between mind and matter, and simply as one views the universe at the largest or smallest scales.
There have been many past attempts by scientists at proving and disproving the existence of God. In fact the question of God's existence was once considered an acceptable topic of enquiry by scientists such as for example, Sir Isaac Newton, and many others. In the past science was concerned with all questions about nature -- including questions about the nature of reality and the mind, and even the possibility of a soul. But in recent times the focus of mainstream science has shifted far away from such topics -- which are now seen as almost taboo. But why should they be taboo? They are just as much a subject for enquiry as ever. God has not been proved to exist or not-exist by science, and therefore the jury is still out. The question is whether there is any way to prove that God exists or not? It may in fact be possible to do this, scientifically, eventually.
In any case, just as is the case for the question of God, there are many scientific questions that also have not been answered yet, especially in the fields of cosmology and theoretical physics. Where does the universe come from? What created it? What came before the Big Bang (if there was a Big Bang)? What medium is space-time taking place in right now, or if there is nothing beyond space time then how did it ever happen, what does it come from, how could there be nothing beyond it? Does the universe have any edges and if so what is outside them? If there are multiple universes, what separates them from each other, or are they connected and if so how? Do all possible states of all possible universes already exist or are they truly unfolding over time? Is everything predetermined by the physical laws, or is it all open to chance, or is there some level of intelligence and creativity taking place in the universe?
Even if science someday were able to describe and define everything there is to know about the physical universe, there would still be something more to know that could not be proved or discribed or defined. Godel's famous Incompleteness proof established this on a formal logical level -- there will always be gaps in our knowledge -- of any formal systems we construct. No formal system can be both consistent and complete at the same time. We will never have perfect scientific knowledge of the universe. And even if we could, it would simply beg the question of what is beyond that -- no matter what we say the universe is, the question will always come up: well, then where does it come from and how or why is it happening?
Whether through science or religion, all paths lead to the possibility of something inconcievably beyond what we know. And this is where the boundary between science and religions gets so fuzzy that it dissolves completely.
Making a Choice
Assuming we can all at least agree on the meta-level choices (the set of possible choices), we can then discuss possible criteria for comparing, testing, and even ranking the various possible choices available to us.
At the end of the process of course there may be no final best choice that everyone accepts (in fact, I can guarantee there will not be!), nor any agreement as to what are the best or correct criteria for choosing among them. But at least we can all at least agree on what the choices are and how they compare to one another in various ways.
This could go a long way to promoting and improving tolerance and understanding. Better yet, this kind of process might even lead to useful meta-level or inter-belief-system dialogues that may eventually lead to important discoveries and even grand unifications in the future.
However, for now, regardless of what belief system we prefer, we simply have to accept that the belief system we choose, if any, is a matter of personal choice (some might call that faith, others might call it aesthetic preference, others might call it a hunch or intuition) -- at least until such time as someone comes up with a way to objectively prove to everyone else that there is only one correct choice. Until that time, even if we have our own favorite belief system choice, we still have to keep some measure of open-mindedness in the face of the set of other choices available and the fact that we can't today prove objectively (to everyone) that we made the right choice.
At least however, we should be clear that if we are willing to believe anything about the universe, there are strong reasons why we therefore should keep an open mind with regard to the possibility of God. It is not that huge a leap in fact. If we are willing to accept that something as vast and inconceivable as the universe exists, then why not God too? We really don't have much solid grounds for holding any beliefs about such things -- to do so is really just an act of faith either way. We should not have illusions about that. Believing in scientific explanations of the cosmos is really not that much different than believing in religous ones.
the good news at least is that so long as our conception of God has the properties of being uncaused and unconditioned, we are likely to have made the right choice. This also means that all the great religions, at least at their cores, are in agreement -- they are all worshipping the same ultimate God, regardless of what different names they use for it. You really can't go wrong as long as you believe in an ultimate nature that is uncaused and uncreated. However -- where you certainly CAN go wrong is in imposing any further beliefs on it. And many make that mistake.
I have shown in this article that if one believes in the physical universe described by science, then in fact there is a logical requirement that the universe is ultimately nonoriginated.
I have also shown that the same holds for belief in God -- God is also logically required to be nonoriginated.
Therefore the universe and God have the same ultimate nature.
In addition I have shown that for the universe to make choices about what happens from the set of all possibilities, observation, and therefore awareness, is required. Furthermore the nature of sentient beings, and of God, is precisely this unique capacity of awareness. Both the universe and what we think of as God are characterized by the same nature of being nonoriginated and aware.
In fact, at this level, the ultimate nature is not very different from the core idea of what God is. On an ultimate level there is not really much of a distinction between the ultimate nature of the universe and the ultimate nature of God -- it is just one ultimate reality. The universe and God may be one thing, or they may be two things, or only one and not the other may exist, but in any and all of these cases, there is still only one ultimate nature: nonoriginated awareness.
There is no escape from this logic. There is no question that somewhere down the line, we must finally accept that there is something greater than the universe -- whatever we think the universe is -- and the characterstics of that greater thing are in fact the one common theme of the conception of God across all religions. We can name it what we want, and certainly different religions do. We also may have different perspectives on it, and add all sorts of other details. But what all the great religions have in common is an ultimate nature that is essentially transcendental.
In other words, science and religion are two sides of the same coin. You really can't have one without the other. They are a dichotomy, but not a duality. They are distinct yet unified.
We do however have the freedom to choose our relative level beliefs about science, and our religious tradition. This freedom is an expression of the primordial freedom of the awareness -- our ability to choose what to observe -- and this in turn is the ultimate nature of reality. Intellectual freedom is therefore not only irrepressible, it is a reflection of the nature of the universe, it is our birthright.
On the ultimate level everything is unified, but on the relative level, there is no one correct science or religion, there will always be different views, and they probably won't always agree on all points, and this is perfectly in accord with the freedom of the universe, and each individual. So while science and religion may be unified on the ultimate level, they certainly are not unified on the relative level, and in fact even within each indivividual field of science and each religion, there are differing viewpoints and schools of thought. And this is good.
There is a menu of different belief systems in both arenas and various items on the menu are or are not compatible with one another, or with the beliefs of others. It's really our personal choice to make. However, what should be clear from the above argument is we have to choose both a main course and a desert: science is undeniable, and religion is unavoidable, they are two sides of the same coin.
Science and religion are different on the relative level (though not as different as some might think), but they definitely converge at ultimate level and this convergence is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of logic. Therefore, regardless of whether we prefer science or religion, or any particular sect within either camp, at least we should not err on the side of thinking they are mutually exclusive.
Unifying Physics and Consciousness: The Next Scientific Revolution
If you pursue science to the very edges, you reach nonorigination. Similarly if you become as close as possible to the diety in any religious tradition, you reach nonorigination. Moreover, nonorigination is the nature of appearances and awareness, and vice-verse. They are never separated. It's a trinity.
The ultimate nature of the universe, and the ultimate nature of God (if you believe in a God) - must logically be precisely the same. This nature unifies the physical world of seemingly "external" sensory experiences and seemingly "internal" mental events, with the unfindable yet undeniable dimension of awareness, and the unfindable yet logically required nature of being nonoriginated.
The beauty of this is that on the ultimate level there really is no question at all about whether or not the universe exists, or whether or not God exists -- the appearances of primordially aware nonorigination is the truth -- and it is the most amazing miracle of all. It is irrefutable, it is logically required, and it establishes a basis for authentic and universal spirituality. One can logically derive or directly experience this logical trinity through the vehicle of focusing on and logically analyzing any phenomena (the universe, the mind, God, etc.). When this trinity is recognized as the nature of reality, and directly experienced as such, that is the deepest scientific observation or religious experience possible.
The universe including the body and all other physical things in space and time, the conceptual mind and its mental realm of thoughts and emotions, and all possible real or imaginary dieties, all have at their ultimate root, the same primordially nonoriginated awareness.
Proving this once and for all in a non-religiously couched manner -- using pure logical reasoning -- enables science to progress beyond its present day limitations to finally begin to make sense of the strangeness of the quantum world and of the role and nature of consciousness, and the ultimate nature of space and time.
The next frontier in science will not be simply be a deeper understanding of the physical world -- it will be a broader and more integrated understanding that includes both the physical world and the realm of consciousness -- the mental realm.
To fully explain and understand the physical world science must find ways to include and measure the crucial role of conscious observers. Each physical event has both sides on a quantum level: the side of the observer and the side of what is observed. Science has so far been focused exclusively on understanding the side of what is observed. But what is observed cannot fully be understood or explained without an equal measure of scientific understanding of the observer and the act of observation.
Similarly, the only way to fully understand consciousness is to include and measure the crucial relationship between consciousness and the process of appearance (namely cause and effect). Both the physical world and consciousness are nonoriginated -- they are empty of having an origin, not having an origin, having both, or having neither.
We don't have the tools for measuring or exploring consciousness yet, but we're close. Experiments that show the impact of observation on reality are indicators that consciousness is a phenomenon that can affect the observable world. This means that consciousness is indirectly detectable via measurments of the physical world around observers. It may be that consciousness -- the act of observing -- cannot be directly measured or observed except on its own -- by and "within" each individual -- but may still me indirectly measured or detected via its affects on the quantum field in the environment when it is present.
By analogy, this is similar to how space is measured, so it is possible to imagine doing this for consciousness. In the case of space, we cannot see it, touch it, or measure it directly. We can only infer things about it by measuring other things -- like the way light travels, or the way things move. These indirect measurements lead us to an undestanding of space.
Similarly we may be able to triangulate on consciousness by measuring the effects of various physical changes on consciousness (as reported by a conscious observer) and/or by the effects of consciousness (some observer) on physical phenomena (such as the Double Slit experiment). This is definitely an interesting possibility for further exploration, and perhaps the next scientific revolution is waiting just over the horizon in this direction.
Our civilization has not even scratched the surface of this new frontier -- a unified science of physics and consciousness. But we will soon. We have to. It is unavoidable. Our quest for knowledge and understanding will take us there whether we like it or not. Already there are cracks in our present scientific theories, and experiments are showing us gaps and contradictions in our theories that we cannot explain. And the light is spilling through them.