Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In or Out?

Was recently talking about the Higgs boson and what it seemed to indicate about the Big Bang.  I gushed that the only way to think about it was as an act of conscious intention, an act of creation.  My friend responded by asking "so what."  How does that help us live now?  That was a good question.

If the Big Bang was a conscious act of creation, if the universe in which we live was "engineered" to be a home for life and consciousness, what was the meaning of the act and what does it say to us today?

First of all let me say that I do not believe in "God."  After thousands of years of human history, that concept is too loaded with unhelpful freight.  Indeed, I don't "believe" in anything as an act of faith.  Rather I follow Saint Thomas in following reason until it can go no farther.  At that point, the finger is pointing at God.  Or as Plato saw it, we can never describe the Good, we can only perceive the world in its light.

However, quantum physics and relativity present us with a deep understanding of the universe.  We can trace back the expanding cosmos we see now to a moment in time and a place in space - the Big Bang - that in fact created time and space.  We can paint a picture of the elementary particles that fill the universe in the form of matter and energy.  We can understand gravity as a bending of spacetime.  We can explain the entire material world of our day-to-day existence.   That our understanding is incomplete - gravity cannot fit into the Standard Model yet, we cannot so far explain dark matter or dark energy and we have no explanation of consciousness - does not impact on all that modern science has so far allowed us to understand and do.

So we tend largely to allow the question of what it all means and where it comes from to hang in the air.  Just one of life's mysteries, the answer to which is beyond our reach and really not essential.

Nevertheless, for some, unless there is a meaning, a reason, life may seem rather pointless.

Following Aquinas and using Occam's Razor, I've come to believe that the Big Bang was the result of a conscious act, an act we'll never understand the mechanics of on this side of the veil.  How something is created from nothing and where the agent of that creation comes from, that defines the outlines of the essential meaning of "God."  But one can think about the "why's."

Being a conscious being, we can at least hypothesize about why.  We can, for example, wonder about how it would be to be everything and eternal, the one thing that is and neverchanging.  Lonely and bored?  Finally coming to the point of dumping oneself into an act of creation that created a stage for consciousness to inhabit space and time in pieces, to fill each fragment and create many from one?  Think about a universe filled with 100's of billions of planets that support various forms of life.  Uncountable numbers of individual consciousnesses each looking out on Others?  No one lonely anymore and not at all boring.

And this bring me to the answer to my friend.  The whole point of creation is to experience fully the many splendored world we occupy for our allotted time.  Not everyone needs this answer.  Some instinctively inhabit their lives fully.  But some cannot help but see humanity as full of folly and much of what passes for news as pointless, evil or just epiphenomenal.  For us, it is worth realizing that the point of the universe may be that it exists, and so do we, for the shear experience of it.  It is all important, we are all important, our lives and loves are all important, our acts and efforts are all important because that it why the universe was created.  Nothing is epiphenomenal or beside the point because the point is us. 

If this is the case, then it is besides the point not to be fully engaged in all that life presents to us, not to strive to understand and act in the best way we know how.  Our "duty" then is to try to make this ride as enjoyable as we can for everyone.  To seek beauty, to do good and to have fun.  Fun was almost surely lacking before the Big Bang.

The choice is to be all in or to be all out.  To be engaged in everything or take no real interest in anything.  Freud called this choice one between Eros (love) and Thanatos (death).  Choosing the later would be a real waste.  To be or not to be. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Higgs and Creation

The "discovery" of the Higgs boson in July was hailed by many - finally, the "God" particle - and understood, assimilated into our understanding of the universe and creation by who?  To the community of physicists, it seemed to "explain" the universe, why it is here, why it is something rather than just eternally careening photons of energy.

In an excellent piece in ScienceNews, Tom Siegfried offers one of the most lucid explanations of what the Higgs is all about.  It's not so much the particle as the Higgs field itself.  In the first trillionth second or so after the Big Bang, everything was the same non-thing, speeding around at the speed of light.  Then the expanding universe cooled enough for the Higgs field to manifest itself.  When it did, it caught some of those careening non-things in its net.  The Higgs field slowed these down, subjected them to resistance, made them move as if they were plowing through a field of thick molasses.  They experienced inertia - thereby gaining mass - and became things, the elemental particles of which matter is made.  The others that were not affected by the Higgs field continued on their way as photons traveling at the speed of light.  The Higgs field, in other words, called forth from light the material universe.  Pretty cool, eh?

And there's more to it.  When the Higgs manifested itself with the (relative) cooling of the universe, there sprang up not just one kind of particle but a whole menagerie of them.  Each kind affected by the Higgs field to a different degree, therefore having differing masses.  Without this differentiation, there would be no real physics or chemistry.  Therefore no suns, planets or life.  In other words, from the moment of the Big Bang whatever was in the expanding blob of energy that was the universe was already imprinted with that which would be manifested as all the kinds of particles and forces of which we know (and probably some we don't know as yet).  The moment the Higgs field grabbed them, they became what they were to be.

This is quite a lot to consider.  But still there is more.  None of this so far explains gravity, dark matter or dark energy.  What about particles with mass also leads to gravity being able to warp time and space?  Where are the particles with mass - though apparently very little individually, as if barely caught by Higgs - that make up dark matter?  And what is that energy that seems to operate on large scales counter to gravity?  What is that dark energy all about anyway?

One can say that we are like dogs in relation to the works of man when we try to grasp what it all means.  Dogs just don't have the capacity to understand man or how we create the world they live in.  And we can't really understand why something exists rather than nothing.  Chalk it up to ramdoness, just fluctuations in the vacuum.

But this bears further thought.  What can we say about creation?  1. It happened. 2. It apparently happened according to laws written into the act - or moment, if you're shy - that would determine what manifested and when. 3. It produced a universe that allowed the development of life and manifestation of consciousness.

My Dad was a truck driver and never graduated grammar school.  He'd look up at the night sky and ask me how I could believe it's just accidental.

A lawful act of creation would imply what? Or as God said to Job:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding....
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone?