By Dr Rajagopal soondron
‘Are we to sit crossed-legged in the cool breeze of a mountain recess, to meditate indefinitely while contemplating ourselves, our self-awareness, our fate, our brain’s and mind’s evolution into that incomprehensible, paradoxical and ever expanding universal dance?’ Pic – skilledatlife.com
Philosophers and religious people have been speculating about the mystery of life for a long time. But there’s been arevival of thecontroversy when science came along, asitsmethodeliminatesbias andsubjective, emotional views. Scientistsprovidednew angles to ourthinking, thereby prompting us toapproachthe big mysterydifferently.
As to our consciousness, that hard problem of science, the present theory is that it is an emergent phenomenon; that is, it’s an ultimate result of accumulation of information and energy in matter.
Takingthe analogy ofa glass of waterwhosemoleculesmove about at a different rate to impact on the container’s wall –therebydeterminingatemperature-we cannotappreciatethe degree ofhotness or coldness unlesswe touch the glass.By physical laws there is no way to describe our sensation. We canjusttalk aboutstimulation of our nerve endingsby thatdegree of hotness or coldness, which is finally interpreted by our brain. And this subjective appreciationof different degrees of temperatureis called an emergent phenomenon.
Is time also of the same nature? Most probably it is amore complex one; some scientists may say that itdoes not exist, while the Newtonianswill disagree. Einstein conceived the idea of space/time curvature – where time isintimatelyintertwinedwithspace–leading to his theory ofrelativity. Butin our classical world we humans are incapable of doing away withtime; so could it be just such an emergentphenomenon – due to us being alive and intimatelylinked to intrinsic informationand matter?
And gravity? Recentlysome researchers are wondering whether gravity, that complexfourthforce, could be another suchphenomenon.With no clouds, sunorplane’s wing in viewwhiletravelling by plane, we get the strange sensation that the space outside is dull and flat. In fact some people viewspace as flat as a well-stretchedcotton net. But the moment we throw in some massive objects – like a sun, a planet, a star or a galaxy –it assumes a three-dimensionalaspect; just as throwing in a heavy metallic ball on the cottonnetforces it to sag, converting our two-dimensionalsensation intoa three-dimensionalone. The presenceofbillions of galaxies in space/timebend it into a curvature. And the energy inherent in that inevitable curvature istheemergent phenomenongravity, needingboth space and matter to pop outinto existence.Andconsciousness is said to bea similarphenomenon — between our body, mind, space, experience, information and matter.
Evolutionary psychologistsbelieve that we developed it to survive better; the more knowledge we have of our hostile environmentthe morechance we haveto negotiate around all the trapsto survive.
The balloon analogy
Meanwhile ouruniverse is expanding. Where is it going?- no one knows. If we have a deflated balloon with hundreds of coloured spots on it, then on inflation those spotswilldistance themselves from each other –and if we are in the centre of that balloon we would see these spots running away from each other and from us inall directions at the same speed. Those spots, representing the galaxies, arepartlymovingby themselves, in fact they are being carried by the elasticballoon. Similarly, anexpanding inter-galacticspace dragsthe galaxies along with it.
However, our analogystops here:the universe, unlike the balloon, has no space to expandinto, nor is it a closed system as the balloon. Further, beinginsidethe universewe cannot conceive what lies outside; the theory is that space and the universe are one and the same!We lay men arebaffled. Expandingfasterthe peripheralvoid/spaceleaves all the galaxies behind –failing toassumea curvature – hence it has an opened a flat end. Some scientists have suggested that it is like a horse saddle – a double convex/concave curvature. But actuallythe void –teemingwith enormous occult energy – will soon spurn outall sorts of particles, atoms, molecules and ultimately matter and new galaxies, ultimatelyinducingcurvature and gravity afresh as it expands.
To ourscientistsour universe- the initialvoid -is not only expandingbut also graduallyevolvingtowards greater complexity. This is epitomized by the human body: we started from simple life forms – like a virus- and during billions of years that simple organism gave birth to single cell organisms, thenmulticellular life forms that will ultimately lead to the birth of the individual, a real mass of complex cellswell oiled to live together.
So modern science viewsouruniversespurning more complexities as it ages. Consequently (a) universalenergyinevitably becomes locked up intocomplexmatter, (b) solessof it will be available to carry outother useful activities. This process is known as increasing entropy.
From avoid with very high energyandsimplicity, we progress towards a more complex state – locking up most of that energy.Meaningthe temperature of the universewill dwindledown towards absolute zeroasnew galactic matter uses up that original energy; in billions of yearsthe universe might have no choice but to stop its expansionadventureand it will start the reversejourney of collapsing andcontracting, going for a big crunch.
The ice cream: information
With the concept of information in modern physicstheapproach to analysis of matterand energy is taking a new meaningandimportance. Whichconceptis difficult to grasp, for it takes place at a molecular level and only those professionals in the field canreallyappreciate it?
If we leavea solid ice cream in aglass container in one hour, it would have melted – specially in a tropical climate.So, let’sask an abstract nano being –a cunningdemon – if given the choiceto describe those two states of the ice cream: which one of the two would it choose: the molecular frozen ice cream or the melted one? Being clever it would choose the former one because the molecules being in crystallized lattice would be in a more orderly arrangement; his formula to describe it would be extremely complicated but much less so than the one to describe the melted ice cream which is in a total disarray and more complex state. And physicists use this simplistic illustration to (1) measure and conceive the passage of time – the cooling of the system — for the environment has lost heat to warm up the ice cream which melted; (2) by locking energy that ice cream has lost shape and become more complex — which is faithful to the forward evolution of the universe, and (c) disorder has increased – as illustrated by the melted ice cream, another concept of entropy.
In simple terms -Time, complexity, entropyhave all increased.
And we humans, as we encapsulate energy andcomplexitywithin us, are webound toevolvea more sophisticated brain? Are we leaving simplicity for a more complex life? We have become more electronic dependent, getting addicted to our smart phone, our computer and soon to a quantum computer. Are we tending towards moredisorder, goingon rampageto destroy what looks like order so as to embracetheuniversal trend– oflesser energyandgreater disorder? But, in fact, wenotice that we areofferingresistanceand moving in anopposite direction due to our evolvingintelligence and sensitivity– whenceour more noble aspirations, beliefs and prayers that religious people ask us to cultivate. Is thisthe source of our inner conflicts and despair? Who knows?
Arewe to sit crossed-legged in the cool breeze of a mountain recess, tomeditate indefinitelywhile contemplating ourselves, our self-awareness, our fate, our brain’sand mind’sevolution into thatincomprehensible, paradoxicaland ever-expandinguniversaldance?
* Published in print edition on 27 April 2021
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