Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Speed of Consciousness

I've been thinking about consciousness and reality for many years now and have come to believe that the most reasonable hypothesis is that reality is intimately related to consciousness and that consciousness is at least as primordial as matter and energy. Along the way, I've imagined the universe from the point of view of a surfer riding a photon created in the Big Bang. Because at the speed of light time stops, that “surfer” will be everywhere the photon will ever be in the same instant. From that vantage point, time does not exist and one can imagine the universe, from its moment of creation to its end, as a single crystal containing all of spacetime.

Today I was wondering about the speed of light and what exactly it means. One of the odd things about the speed of light is its value, 186000 miles per second. Why is it exactly that and what does it mean that light has a “speed” when, from the point of view of light, it is instantaneous. Perhaps the speed of light is not its speed at all but rather the speed of time? We experience time as a wave, passing from past to future with its crest being the present moment, our now. I've been reading Montaillou – about the life of a village in southern France in the early 14th Century – and felt myself looking through a portal into the lives of people far away in time, in many ways so different, but also real breathing humans just like us. Of course, when these people were alive – when they were riding the crest of time – theirs' was now. We now ride the wave but it will continue beyond us. Perhaps it is time itself that moves through the crystal universe? We see light moving at some speed only because that is the speed with which time can record its own passage.

It may seem strange to think of time moving with some speed. Whether spacetime is quantum or analog is now much in debate within physics, as well as what the smallest moment of time or unit of space may be. But according to relativity, the speed of light is both a measurement of space and time. The total distance between two points in spacetime must be conserved within the limits of the speed of light. Between two objects at rest to each other, the distance is almost entirely one of space because their speed relative to each other is functionally zero. Two objects moving relative to each other at some speed will have part of their distance in space and part in time. At rest or at low speeds, the distance in time may be negligible. But an extreme example is the case of the two twins. One twin stays at home on earth and the other travels to a nearby star and back at the speed of light. At the speed of light, the distance of the trip is experienced mostly as time. When the twin returns to the spot where he left, he has barely aged while his twin is an old man. What is being measured by the “speed of light” is really the relationship of time and space.

What is it that is traveling at the speed of light? It's not really time but our awareness of the distance traveled within spacetime. The speed of light may actually be the speed of consciousness. By this I mean the speed of our crest of awareness through the timeless, eternal crystal universe. Whatever consciousness caused the Big Bang, determined the value of the Higgs boson and the parameters of physical reality, and dumped itself into that reality may have wanted a long vacation. At the “speed of light” – really the speed of the wave of consciousness that sweeps through creation – the lifetime of the expanding universe (expanding due to dark energy) should be counted in tens of billions of years. An infinite string of nows flung like pearls upon the wine dark sea.

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