by William Lane Craig

William Craig earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, England, before taking a doctorate in theology from the Ludwig Maximiliens Universitat-Munchen, West Germany, at which latter institution he was for two years a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Universite Catholique de Louvain. He has authored various books, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz, and The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents from Aristotle to Suarez, as well as articles in professional journals like British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Zeitschrift fur Philosophische ForschungAustralasian Journal of Philosophy, and Philosophia.

The kalam cosmological argument, by showing that the universe began to exist, demonstrates that the world is not a necessary being and, therefore, not self-explanatory with respect to its existence. Two philosophical arguments and two scientific confirmations are presented in support of the beginning of the universe. Since whatever begins to exist has a cause, there must exist a transcendent cause of the universe.Source: “The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe.” Truth: A Journal of Modern Thought 3 (1991): 85-96. 


“The first question which should rightly be asked,” wrote G.W.F. Leibniz, is “Why is there something rather than nothing?”[1] This question does seem to possess a profound existential force, which has been felt by some of mankind’s greatest thinkers. According to Aristotle, philosophy begins with a sense of wonder about the world, and the most profound question a man can ask concerns the origin of the universe.[2] In his biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Norman Malcolm reports that Wittgenstein said that he sometimes had a certain experience which could best be described by saying that “when I have it, I wonder at the existence of the world. I am then inclined to use such phrases as ‘How extraordinary that anything should exist!'”[3] Similarly, one contemporary philosopher remarks, “. . . My mind often seems to reel under the immense significance this question has for me. That anything exists at all does seem to me a matter for the deepest awe.”[4]

Why does something exist instead of nothing? Leibniz answered this question by arguing that something exists rather than nothing because a necessary being exists which carries within itself its reason for existence and is the sufficient reason for the existence of all contingent being.[5]

Although Leibniz (followed by certain contemporary philosophers) regarded the non- existence of a necessary being as logically impossible, a more modest explication of necessity of existence in terms of what he calls “factual necessity” has been given by John Hick: a necessary being is an eternal, uncaused, indestructible, and incorruptible being.[6] Leibniz, of course, identified the necessary being as God. His critics, however, disputed this identification, contending that the material universe could itself be assigned the status of a necessary being. “Why,” queried David Hume, “may not the material universe be the necessary existent Being, according to this pretended explanation of necessity?”[7] Typically, this has been precisely the position of the atheist. Atheists have not felt compelled to embrace the view that the universe came into being out of nothing for no reason at all; rather they regard the universe itself as a sort of factually necessary being: the universe is eternal, uncaused, indestructible, and incorruptible. As Russell neatly put it, ” . . . The universe is just there, and that’s all.”[8]

Does Leibniz’s argument, therefore, leave us in a rational impasse, or might there not be some further resources available for untangling the riddle of the existence of the world? It seems to me that there are. It will be remembered that an essential property of a necessary being is eternality. If then it could be made plausible that the universe began to exist and is not, therefore, eternal, one would to that extent at least have shown the superiority of theism as a rational world view.

Now there is one form of the cosmological argument, much neglected today but of great historical importance, that aims precisely at the demonstration that the universe had a beginning in time.[9] Originating in the efforts of Christian theologians to refute the Greek doctrine of the eternity of matter, this argument was developed into sophisticated formulations by medieval Islamic and Jewish theologians, who in turn passed it back to the Latin West. The argument thus has a broad intersectarian appeal, having been defended by Muslims, Jews, and Christians both Catholic and Protestant.

This argument, which I have called the kalam cosmological argument, can be exhibited as follows:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its 
2. The universe began to exist. 

   2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an 
       actual infinite.

         2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist. 
         2.12 An infinite temporal regress of 
              events is an actual infinite.
         2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal 
              regress of events cannot exist. 

   2.2   Argument based on the impossibility of 
         the formation of an actual infinite by 
         successive addition. 

         2.21 A collection formed by successive 
              addition cannot be actually infinite. 
         2.22 The temporal series of past events 
              is a collection formed by successive 
         2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of 
              past events cannot be actually 

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its 

Let us examine this argument more closely.

Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Second Premiss

Clearly, the crucial premiss in this argument is (2), and two independent arguments are offered in support of it. Let us, therefore, turn first to an examination of the supporting arguments.

First Supporting Argument

In order to understand (2.1), we need to understand the difference between a potential infinite and an actual infinite. Crudely put, a potential infinite is a collection which is increasing toward infinity as a limit, but never gets there. Such a collection is really indefinite, not infinite. The sign of this sort of infinity, which is used in calculus, is ¥. An actual infinite is a collection in which the number of members really is infinite. The collection is not growing toward infinity; it is infinite, it is “complete.” The sign of this sort of infinity, which is used in set theory to designate sets which have an infinite number of members, such as {1, 2, 3, . . .}, is À0. Now (2.11) maintains, not that a potentially infinite number of things cannot exist, but that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist. For if an actually infinite number of things could exist, this would spawn all sorts of absurdities.

Perhaps the best way to bring home the truth of (2.11) is by means of an illustration. Let me use one of my favorites, Hilbert’s Hotel, a product of the mind of the great German mathematician, David Hilbert. Let us imagine a hotel with a finite number of rooms. Suppose, furthermore, that all the rooms are full. When a new guest arrives asking for a room, the proprietor apologizes, “Sorry, all the rooms are full.” But now let us imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms and suppose once more that all the rooms are full. There is not a single vacant room throughout the entire infinite hotel. Now suppose a new guest shows up, asking for a room. “But of course!” says the proprietor, and he immediately shifts the person in room #1 into room #2, the person in room #2 into room #3, the person in room #3 into room #4 and so on, out to infinity. As a result of these room changes, room #1 now becomes vacant and the new guest gratefully checks in. But remember, before he arrived, all the rooms were full! Equally curious, according to the mathematicians, there are now no more persons in the hotel than there were before: the number is just infinite. But how can this be? The proprietor just added the new guest’s name to the register and gave him his keys-how can there not be one more person in the hotel than before? But the situation becomes even stranger. For suppose an infinity of new guests show up the desk, asking for a room. “Of course, of course!” says the proprietor, and he proceeds to shift the person in room #1 into room #2, the person in room #2 into room #4, the person in room #3 into room #6, and so on out to infinity, always putting each former occupant into the room number twice his own. As a result, all the odd numbered rooms become vacant, and the infinity of new guests is easily accommodated. And yet, before they came, all the rooms were full! And again, strangely enough, the number of guests in the hotel is the same after the infinity of new guests check in as before, even though there were as many new guests as old guests. In fact, the proprietor could repeat this process infinitely many times and yet there would never be one single person more in the hotel than before.

But Hilbert’s Hotel is even stranger than the German mathematician gave it out to be. For suppose some of the guests start to check out. Suppose the guest in room #1 departs. Is there not now one less person in the hotel? Not according to the mathematicians, but just ask the woman who makes the beds! Suppose the guests in room numbers 1, 3, 5, . . . check out. In this case, an infinite number of people have left the hotel, but according to the mathematicians there are no fewer people in the hotel—but don’t talk to that laundry woman! In fact, we could have every other guest check out of the hotel and repeat this process infinitely many times, and yet there would never be any f people in the hotel. But suppose instead the persons in room number 4, 5, 6, . . . checked out. At a single stroke, the hotel would be virtually emptied, the guest register reduced to three names, and the infinite converted to finitude. And yet it would remain true that the fewer same number of guests checked out this time as when the guests in room numbers 1, 3, 5, . . . checked out. Can anyone sincerely believe that such a hotel could exist in reality? These sorts of absurdities illustrate the impossibility of the existence of an actually infinite number of things.

That takes us to (2.12). The truth of this premiss seems fairly obvious. If the universe never began to exist, then prior to the present event there have existed an actually infinite number of previous events. Hence, a beginningless series of events in time entails the existence of an actually infinite number of things, namely, past events.

Given the truth of (2.11) and (2.12), the conclusion (2.13) logically follows. The series of past events must be finite and have a beginning. But since the universe is not distinct from the series of events, it follows that the universe began to exist.

At this point, we might find it profitable to consider several objections that might be raised against the argument. First, let us consider objections to (2.11). Wallace Matson objects that the premiss must mean that an actually infinite number of things is logically impossible, but it is easy to show that such a collection is logically possible. For example, the series of negative numbers {. . . -3, -2, -1} is an actually infinite collection with no first member.[10] Matson’s error here lies in thinking that (2.11) means to assert the logical impossibility of an actually infinite number of things. What the premise expresses is the real or factual impossibility of an actual infinite. To illustrate the difference between real and logical possibility: there is no logical impossibility in something’s coming to exist without a cause, but such a circumstance may well be really or metaphysically impossible. In the same way, (2.11) asserts that the absurdities entailed in the real existence of an actual infinite show that such an existence is metaphysically impossible. Hence, one could grant that in the conceptual realm of mathematics one can, given certain conventions and axioms, speak consistently about infinite sets of numbers, but this in no way implies that an actually infinite number of things is really possible. One might also note that the mathematical school of intuitionism denies that even the number series is actually infinite (they take it to be potentially infinite only), so that appeal to number series as examples of actual infinites is a moot procedure.

The late J.L. Mackie also objected to (2.11), claiming that the absurdities are resolved by noting that for infinite groups the axiom “the whole is greater than its part” does not hold, as it does for finite groups.[11] Similarly, Quentin Smith comments that once we understand that an infinite set has a proper subset which has the same number of members as the set itself, the purportedly absurd situations become “perfectly believable.”[12] But to my mind, it is precisely this feature of infinite set theory which, when translated into the realm of the real, yields results which are perfectly incredible, for example, Hilbert’s Hotel. Moreover, not all the absurdities stem from infinite set theory’s denial of Euclid’s axiom: the absurdities illustrated by guests checking out of the hotel stem from the self-contradictory results when the inverse operations of subtraction or division are performed using transfinite numbers. Here the case against an actually infinite collection of things becomes decisive.

Finally one might note the objection of Sorabji, who maintains that illustrations such as Hilbert’s Hotel involve no absurdity. In order to understand what is wrong with the kalam argument, he asks us to envision two parallel columns beginning at the same point and stretching away into the infinite distance, one the column of past years and the other the column of past days. The sense in which the column of past days is no larger than the column of past years, says Sorabji, is that the column of days will not “stick out” beyond the far end of the other column—since neither column has a far end. Now in the case of Hilbert’s Hotel, there is the temptation to think that some unfortunate resident at the far end will drop off into space. But there is no far end: the line of residents will not stick out beyond the far end of the line of rooms. Once this is seen, the outcome is just an explicable—even if a surprising and exhilarating—truth about infinity.[13] Now Sorabji is certainly correct, as we have seen, that Hilbert’s Hotel illustrates an explicable truth about the nature of the actual infinite. If an actually infinite number of things could exist, a Hilbert’s Hotel would be possible. But Sorabji seems to fail to understand the heart of the paradox: I, for one, experience no temptation to think of people dropping off the far end of the hotel, for there is none, but I do have difficulty believing that a hotel in which all the rooms are occupied can accommodate more guests. Of course, the line of guests will not stick out beyond the line of rooms, but if all of those infinite rooms already have guests in them, then can moving those guests about really create empty rooms? Sorabji’s own illustration of the columns of past years and days I find not a little disquieting: if we divide the columns into foot-long segments and mark one column as the years and the other as the days, then one column is as long as the other and yet for every foot-length segment in the column of years, 365 segments of equal length are found in the column of days! These paradoxical results can be avoided only if such actually infinite collections can exist only in the imagination, not in reality. In any case, the Hilbert’s Hotel illustration is not exhausted by dealing only with the addition of new guests, for the subtraction of guests results in absurdities even more intractable. Sorabji’s analysis says nothing to resolve these. Hence, it seems to me that the objections to premiss (2.11) are less plausible than the premiss itself.

With regard to (2.12), the most frequent objection is that the past ought to be regarded as a potential infinite only, not an actual infinite. This was Aquinas’s position versus Bonaventure, and the contemporary philosopher Charles Hartshorne seems to side with Thomas on this issue.[14] Such a position is, however, untenable. The future is potentially infinite—since it does not exist—but the past is actual in a way the future is not, as evidenced by the fact that we have traces of the past in the present, but no traces of the future. Hence, if the series of past events never began to exist, there must have been an actually infinite number of past events.

The objections to either premiss, therefore, seem to be less compelling than the premisses themselves. Together they imply that the universe began to exist. Hence, I conclude that this argument furnishes good grounds for accepting the truth of premiss (2) that the universe began to exist.

Second Supporting Argument

The second argument (2.2) for the beginning of the universe is based on the impossibility of forming an actual infinite by successive addition. This argument is distinct from the first in that it does not deny the possibility of the existence of an actual infinite, but the possibility of its being formed by successive addition.

Premiss (2.21) is the crucial step in the argument. One cannot form an actually infinite collection of things by successively adding one member after another. Since one can always add one more before arriving at infinity, it is impossible to reach actual infinity. Sometimes this is called the impossibility of “counting to infinity” or “traversing the infinite.” It is important to understand that this impossibility has nothing to do with the amount of time available: it belongs to the nature of infinity that it cannot be so formed.

Now someone might say that while an infinite collection cannot be formed by beginning at a point and adding members, nevertheless an infinite collection could be formed by never beginning but ending at a point, that is to say, ending at a point after having added one member after another from eternity. But this method seems even more unbelievable than the first method. If one cannot count to infinity, how can one count down from infinity? If one cannot traverse the infinite by moving in one direction, how can one traverse it by simply moving in the opposite direction?

Indeed, the idea of a beginningless series ending in the present seems to be absurd. To give just one illustration: suppose we meet a man who claims to have been counting from eternity and is now finishing: . . ., -3, -2, -1, 0. We could ask, why did he not finish counting yesterday or the day before or the year before? By then an infinite time had already elapsed, so that he should already have finished by then. Thus, at no point in the infinite past could we ever find the man finishing his countdown, for by that point he should already be done! In fact, no matter how far back into the past we go, we can never find the man counting at all, for at any point we reach he will have already finished. But if at no point in the past do we find him counting, this contradicts the hypothesis that he has been counting from eternity. This illustrates the fact that the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition is equally impossible whether one proceeds to or from infinity.

Premiss (2.22) presupposes a dynamical view of time according to which events are actualized in serial fashion, one after another. The series of events is not a sort of timelessly subsisting world-line which appears successively in consciousness. Rather becoming is real and essential to a temporal process. Now this view of time is not without its challenges, but to consider their objections in this article would take us too far afield.[15] In this piece, we must rest content with the fact that we are arguing on common ground with our ordinary intuitions of temporal becoming and in agreement with a good number of contemporary philosophers of time and space.

Given the truth of (2.21) and (2.22), the conclusion (2.23) logically follows. If the universe did not begin to exist a finite time ago, then the present moment could never arrive. But obviously, it has arrived. Therefore, we know that the universe is finite in the past and began to exist.

Again, it would be profitable to consider various objections that have been offered against this reasoning. Against (2.21), Mackie objects that the argument illicitly assumes an infinitely distant starting point in the past and then pronounces it impossible to travel from that point to today. But there would in an infinite past be no starting point, not even an infinitely distant one. Yet from any given point in the infinite past, there is only a finite distance to the present.[16] Now it seems to me that Mackie’s allegation that the argument presupposes an infinitely distant starting point is entirely groundless. The beginningless character of the series only serves to accentuate the difficulty of its being formed by successive addition. The fact that there is no beginning at all, not even an infinitely distant one, makes the problem more, not less, nettlesome. And the point that from any moment in the infinite past there is only a finite temporal distance to the present may be dismissed as irrelevant. The question is not how any finite portion of the temporal series can be formed, but how the whole infinite series can be formed. If Mackie thinks that because every segment of the series can be formed by successive addition and therefore the whole series can be so formed, then he is simply committing the fallacy of composition.

Sorabji similarly objects that the reason it is impossible to count down from infinity is because counting involves by nature taking a starting number, which is lacking in this case. But completing an infinite lapse of years involves no starting year and is, hence, possible.[17] But this response is clearly inadequate, for, as we have seen, the years of an infinite past could be enumerated by the negative numbers, in which case a completed infinity of years would, indeed, entail a beginningless countdown from infinity. Sorabji anticipates this rebuttal, however, and claims that such a backwards countdown is possible in principle and therefore no logical barrier has been exhibited to the elapsing of an infinity of past years. Again, however, the question I am posing is not whether there is a logical contradiction in such a notion, but whether such a countdown is not metaphysically absurd. For we have seen that such a countdown should at any point already have been completed. But Sorabji is again ready with a response: to say the countdown should at any point already be over confuses counting an infinity of numbers with counting all the numbers. At any given point in the past, the eternal counter will have already counted an infinity of negative numbers, but that does not entail that he will have counted all the negative numbers. I do not think the argument makes this alleged equivocation, and this may be made clear by examining the reason why our eternal counter is supposedly able to complete a count of the negative numbers ending at zero. In order to justify the possibility of this intuitively impossible feat, the argument’s opponent appeals to the so- called Principle of Correspondence used in set theory to determine whether two sets are equivalent (that is, have the same number of members) by matching the members of one set with the members of the other set and vice versa. On the basis of this principle the objector argues that since the counter has lived, say, an infinite number of years and since the set of past years can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of negative numbers, it follows that by counting one number a year an eternal counter would complete a countdown of the negative numbers by the present year. If we were to ask why the counter would not finish next year or in a hundred years, the objector would respond that prior to the present year an infinite number of years will have already elapsed, so that by the Principle of Correspondence, all the numbers should have been counted by now. But this reasoning backfires on the objector: for, as we have seen, on this account the counter should at any point in the past have already finished counting all the numbers, since a one-to-one correspondence exists between the years of the past and the negative numbers. Thus, there is no equivocation between counting an infinity of numbers and counting all the numbers. But at this point a deeper absurdity bursts in view: for suppose there were another counter who counted at a rate of one negative number per day. According to the Principle of Correspondence, which underlies infinite set theory and transfinite arithmetic, both of our eternal counters will finish their countdowns at the same moment, even though one is counting at a rate 365 times faster than the other! Can anyone believe that such scenarios can actually obtain in reality, but do not rather represent the outcome of an imaginary game being played in a purely conceptual realm according to adopted logical conventions and axioms?

As for premiss (2.22), many thinkers have objected that we need not regard the past as a beginningless infinite series with an end in the present. Popper, for example, admits that the set of all past events is actually infinite, but holds that the series of past events is potentially infinite. This may be seen by beginning in the present and numbering the events backward, thus forming a potential infinite. Therefore, the problem of an actual infinite’s being formed by successive addition does not arise.[18] Similarly, Swinburne muses that it is dubious whether a completed infinite series with no beginning but an end makes sense, but he proposes to solve the problem by beginning in the present and regressing into the past so that the series of past events would have no end and would therefore not be a completed infinite.[19] This objection, however, clearly confuses the mental regress of counting with the real progress of the temporal series of events itself. Numbering the series from the present backward only shows that if there are an infinite number of past events, then we can enumerate an infinite number of past events. But the problem is, how can this infinite collection of events come to be formed by successive addition? How we mentally conceive the series does not in any way affect the ontological character of the series itself as a series with no beginning but an end, or in other words, as an actual infinite completed by successive addition.

Once again, then, the objections to (2.21) and (2.22) seem less plausible than the premisses themselves. Together they imply (2.23), or that the universe began to exist.

First Scientific Confirmation

These purely philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe have received remarkable confirmation from discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics during this century. These confirmations might be summarized under two heads: the confirmation from the expansion of the universe and the confirmation from thermodynamic properties of the universe.

With regard to the first, Hubble’s discovery in 1929 of the red-shift in the light from distant galaxies began a revolution in astronomy perhaps as significant as the Copernican revolution. Prior to this time the universe as a whole was conceived to be static; but the startling conclusion to which Hubble was led was that the red-shift is due to the fact that the universe is in fact expanding. The staggering implication of this fact is that as one traces the expansion back in time, the universe becomes denser and denser until one reaches a point of infinite density from which the universe began to expand. The upshot of Hubble’s discovery was that at some point in the finite past-probably around 15 billion years ago-the entire known universe was contracted down to a single mathematical point which marked the origin of the universe. That initial explosion has come to be known as the “Big Bang.” Four of the world’s most prominent astronomers described that event in these words:

The universe began from a state of infinite density. . . . Space and time were created in that event and so was all the matter in the universe. It is not meaningful to ask what happened before the Big Bang; it is like asking what is north of the North Pole. Similarly, it is not sensible to ask where the Big Bang took place. The point-universe was not an object isolated in space; it was the entire universe, and so the answer can only be that the Big Bang happened everywhere.[20]

This event that marked the beginning of the universe becomes all the more amazing when one reflects on the fact that a state of “infinite density” is synonymous to “nothing.” There can be no object that possesses infinite density, for if it had any size at all it could still be even more dense. Therefore, as Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang Theory requires the creation of matter from nothing. This is because as one goes back in time, one reaches a point at which, in Hoyle’s words, the universe was “shrunk down to nothing at all.”[21] Thus, what the Big Bang model of the universe seems to require is that the universe began to exist and was created out of nothing.

Some theorists have attempted to avoid the absolute beginning of the universe implied by the Big Bang theory by speculating that the universe may undergo an infinite series of expansions and contractions. There are, however, good grounds for doubting the adequacy of such an oscillating model of the universe: (i) The oscillating model appears to be physically impossible. For all the talk about such models, the fact seems to be that they are only theoretically, but not physically possible. As the late Professor Tinsley of Yale explains, in oscillating models “even though the mathematics say that the universe oscillates, there is no known physics to reverse the collapse and bounce back to a new expansion. The physics seems to say that those models start from the Big Bang, expand, collapse, then end.”[22] In order for the oscillating model to be correct, it would seem that the known laws of physics would have to be revised. (ii) The oscillating model seems to be observationally untenable. Two facts of observational astronomy appear to run contrary to the oscillating model. First, the observed homogeneity of matter distribution throughout the universe seems unaccountable on an oscillating model. During the contraction phase of such a model, black holes begin to gobble up surrounding matter, resulting in an inhomogeneous distribution of matter. But there is no known mechanism to “iron out” these inhomogeneities during the ensuing expansion phase. Thus, the homogeneity of matter observed throughout the universe would remain unexplained. Second, the density of the universe appears to be insufficient for the re-contraction of the universe. For the oscillating model to be even possible, it is necessary that the universe be sufficiently dense such that gravity can overcome the force of the expansion and pull the universe back together again. However, according to the best estimates, if one takes into account both luminous matter and non-luminous matter (found in galactic halos) as well as any possible contribution of neutrino particles to total mass, the universe is still only about one-half that needed for re-contraction.[23] Moreover, recent work on calculating the speed and deceleration of the expansion confirms that the universe is expanding at, so to speak, “escape velocity” and will not therefore re-contract. According to Sandage and Tammann, “Hence, we are forced to decide that . . . it seems inevitable that the Universe will expand forever”; they conclude, therefore, that “the Universe has happened only once.”[24]

Second Scientific Confirmation

As if this were not enough, there is a second scientific confirmation of the beginning of the universe based on the thermodynamic properties of various cosmological models. According to the second law of thermodynamics, processes taking place in a closed system always tend toward a state of equilibrium. Now our interest is in what implications this has when the law is applied to the universe as a whole. For the universe is a gigantic closed system, since it is everything there is and no energy is being fed into it from without. The second law seems to imply that, given enough time, the universe will reach a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, known as the “heat death” of the universe. This death may be hot or cold, depending on whether the universe will expand forever or eventually re-contract. On the one hand, if the density of the universe is great enough to overcome the force of the expansion, then the universe will re-contract into a hot fireball. As the universe contracts, the stars burn more rapidly until they finally explode or evaporate. As the universe grows denser, the black holes begin to gobble up everything around them and begin themselves to coalesce until all the black holes finally coalesce into one gigantic black hole which is coextensive with the universe, from which it will never re-emerge. On the other hand, if the density of the universe is insufficient to halt the expansion, as seems more likely, then the galaxies will turn all their gas into stars and the stars will burn out. At 10[30 ]years the universe will consist of 90% dead stars, 9% supermassive black holes, and l% atomic matter. Elementary particle physics suggests that thereafter protons will decay into electrons and positrons, so that space will be filled with a rarefied gas so thin that the distance between an electron and a positron will be about the size of the present galaxy. At 10[100] years some scientists believe that the black holes themselves will dissipate into radiation and elementary particles. Eventually all the matter in the dark, cold, ever-expanding universe will be reduced to an ultra-thin gas of elementary particles and radiation. Equilibrium will prevail throughout, and the entire universe will be in its final state, from which no change will occur.

Now the question which needs to be asked is this: if, given sufficient time, the universe will reach heat death, then why is it not now in a state of heat death if it has existed for infinite time? If the universe did not begin to exist, then it should now be in a state of equilibrium. Some theorists have suggested that the universe escapes final heat death by oscillating from eternity past to eternity future. But we have already seen that such a model seems to be physically and observationally untenable. But even if we waive those considerations and suppose that the universe does oscillate, the fact is that the thermodynamic properties of this model imply the very beginning of the universe which its proponents seek to avoid. For the thermodynamic properties of an oscillating model are such that the universe expands farther and farther with each successive cycle. Therefore, as one traces the expansions back in time, they grow smaller and smaller. As one scientific team explains, “The effect of entropy production will be to enlarge the cosmic scale, from cycle to cycle. . . . Thus, looking back in time, each cycle generated less entropy, had a smaller cycle time, and had a smaller cycle expansion factor than the cycle that followed it.”[25] Novikov and Zeldovich of the Institute of Applied Mathematics of the USSR Academy of Sciences, therefore, conclude, “The multicycle model has an infinite future, but only a finite past.”[26] As another writer points out, the oscillating model of the universe thus still requires an origin of the universe prior to the smallest cycle.[27]

So whatever scenario one selects for the future of the universe, thermodynamics implies that the universe began to exist. According to physicist P.C.W. Davies, the universe must have been created a finite time ago and is in the process of winding down. Prior to the creation, the universe simply did not exist. Therefore, Davies concludes, even though we may not like it, we must conclude that the universe’s energy was somehow simply “put in” at the creation as an initial condition.[28]

We, therefore, have both philosophical argument and scientific confirmation for the beginning of the universe. On this basis, I think that we are amply justified in concluding the truth of premiss (2) that the universe began to exist.

First Premiss

Premiss (1) strikes me as relatively non-controversial. It is based on the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come out of nothing. Hence, any argument for the principle is apt to be less obvious than the principle itself. Even the great skeptic David Hume admitted that he never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something might come into existence without a cause; he only denied that one could prove the obviously true causal principle.[29] With regard to the universe, if originally there were absolutely nothing—no God, no space, no time—then how could the universe possibly come to exist? The truth of the principle ex nihilonihil fit is so obvious that I think we are justified in foregoing an elaborate defense of the argument’s first premiss.

Nevertheless, some thinkers, exercised to avoid the theism implicit in this premiss within the present context, have felt driven to deny its truth. In order to avoid its theistic implications, Davies presents a scenario which, he confesses, “should not be taken too seriously,” but which seems to have a powerful attraction for Davies.[30] He has reference to a quantum theory of gravity according to which spacetime itself could spring uncaused into being out of absolutely nothing. While admitting that there is “still no satisfactory theory of quantum gravity,” such a theory “would allow spacetime to be created and destroyed spontaneously and uncaused in the same way that particles are created and destroyed spontaneously and uncaused. The theory would entail a certain mathematically determined probability that, for instance, a blob of space would appear where none existed before. Thus, spacetime could pop out of nothingness as the result of a causeless quantum transition.”[31]

Now, in fact, particle pair production furnishes no analogy for this radical ex nihilo becoming, as Davies seems to imply. This quantum phenomenon, even if an exception to the principle that every event has a cause, provides no analogy to something’s coming into being out of nothing. Though physicists speak of this as particle pair creation and annihilation, such terms are philosophically misleading, for all that actually occurs is conversion of energy into matter or vice versa. As Davies admits, “The processes described here do not represent the creation of matter out of nothing, but the conversion of pre- existing energy into material form.”[32] Hence, Davies greatly misleads his reader when he claims that “Particles . . . can appear out of nowhere without specific causation” and again, “Yet the world of quantum physics routinely produces something for nothing.”[33] On the contrary, the world of quantum physics never produces something for nothing.

But to consider the case on its own merits: quantum gravity is so poorly understood that the period prior to 10[-43] sec, which this theory hopes to describe, has been compared by one wag to the regions on the maps of the ancient cartographers marked “Here there be dragons”: it can easily be filled with all sorts of fantasies. In fact, there seems to be no good reason to think that such a theory would involve the sort of spontaneous becoming ex nihilo which Davies suggests. A quantum theory of gravity has the goal of providing a theory of gravitation based on the exchange of particles (gravitons) rather than the geometry of space, which can then be brought into a Grand Unification Theory that unites all the forces of nature into a super symmetrical state in which one fundamental force and a single kind of particle exist. But there seems to be nothing in this which suggests the possibility of spontaneous becoming ex nihilo.

Indeed, it is not at all clear that Davies’s account is even intelligible. What can be meant, for example, by the claim that there is a mathematical probability that nothingness should spawn a region of spacetime “where none existed before?” It cannot mean that given enough time a region of spacetime would pop into existence at a certain place—since neither place nor time exists apart from spacetime. The notion of some probability of something’s coming out of nothing thus seems incoherent.

I am reminded in this connection of some remarks made by A.N. Prior concerning an argument put forward by Jonathan Edwards against something’s coming into existence uncaused. This would be impossible, said Edwards, because it would then be inexplicable why just any and everything cannot or does not come to exist uncaused. One cannot respond that only things of a certain nature come into existence uncaused—since prior to their existence they have no nature which could control their coming to be. Prior made a cosmological application of Edwards’s reasoning by commenting on the steady state model’s postulating the continuous creation of hydrogen atoms ex nihilo:

It is no part of Hoyle’s theory that this process is causeless, but I want to be more definite about this, and to say that if it is causeless, then what is alleged to happen is fantastic and incredible. If it is possible for objects—objects, now, which really are objects, “substances endowed with capacities”—to start existing without a cause, then it is incredible that they should all turn out to be objects of the same sort, namely, hydrogen atoms. The peculiar nature of hydrogen atoms cannot possibly be what makes such starting-to-exist possible for them but not for objects of any other sort; for hydrogen atoms do not have this nature until they are there to have it, i.e. until their starting-to-exist has already occurred. That is Edwards’s argument, in fact; and here it does seem entirely cogent. . . .[34]

Now in the case at hand, if originally absolutely nothing existed, then why should it be spacetime that springs spontaneously out of the void, rather than, say, hydrogen atoms or even rabbits? How can one talk about the probability of any particular thing’s popping into being out of nothing?

Davies on one occasion seems to answer as if the laws of physics are the controlling factor which determines what may leap uncaused into being: “But what of the laws? They have to be ‘there’ to start with so that the universe can come into being. Quantum physics has to exist (in some sense) so that a quantum transition can generate the cosmos in the first place.”[35] Now this seems exceedingly peculiar. Davies seems to attribute to the laws of nature themselves a sort of ontological and causal status such that they constrain spontaneous becoming. But this seems clearly wrong-headed: the laws of physics do not themselves cause or constrain anything; they are simply propositional descriptions of a certain form and generality of what does happen in the universe. And the issue Edwards raises is why, if there were absolutely nothing, it would be true that any one thing rather than another should pop into being uncaused? It is futile to say it somehow belongs to the nature of spacetime to do so, for if there were absolutely nothing then there would have been no nature to determine that spacetime should spring into being.

Even more fundamentally, however, what Davies envisions is surely metaphysical nonsense. Though his scenario is cast as a scientific theory,. someone ought to be bold enough to say that the Emperor is wearing no clothes. Either the necessary and sufficient conditions for the appearance of spacetime existed or not; if so, then it is not true that nothing existed; if not, then it would seem ontologically impossible that being should arise out of absolute non-being. To call such spontaneous springing into being out of non-being a “quantum transition” or to attribute it to “quantum gravity” explains nothing; indeed, on this account, there is no explanation. It just happens.

It seems to me, therefore, that Davies has not provided any plausible basis for denying the truth of the cosmological argument’s first premiss. That whatever begins to exist has a cause would seem to be an ontologically necessary truth, one which is constantly confirmed in our experience.


Given the truth of premisses (1) and (2), it logically follows that (3) the universe has a cause of its existence. In fact, I think that it can be plausibly argued that the cause of the universe must be a personal Creator. For how else could a temporal effect arise from an eternal cause? If the cause were simply a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions existing from eternity, then why would not the effect also exist from eternity? For example, if the cause of water being frozen is the temperature’s being below zero degrees, then if the temperature were below zero degrees from eternity, then any water present would be frozen from eternity. The only way to have an eternal cause but a temporal effect would seem to be if the cause is a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time. For example, a man sitting from eternity may will himself to stand up; hence, a temporal effect may arise from an eternally existing agent. Indeed, the agent may will from eternity to create a temporal effect, so that no change in the agent need be conceived. Thus, we are brought not merely to the first cause of the universe, but to its personal Creator.

Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, we have seen on the basis of both philosophical argument and scientific confirmation that it is plausible that the universe began to exist. Given the intuitively obvious principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence, we have been led to conclude that the universe has a cause of its existence. On the basis of our argument, this cause would have to be uncaused, eternal, changeless, timeless, and immaterial. Moreover, it would have to be a personal agent who freely elects to create an effect in time. Therefore, on the basis of the kalam cosmological argument, I conclude that it is rational to believe that God exists.


[1]G.W. Leibniz, “The Principles of Nature and of Grace, Based on Reason,” in Leibniz Selections, ed. Philip P. Wiener, The Modern Student’s Library (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), p. 527.

[2]Aristotle Metaphysica Lambda. l. 982b10-15.

[3]Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 70.

[4]J.J.C. Smart, “The Existence of God,” Church Quarterly Review 156 (1955): 194.

[5]G.W. Leibniz, Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil, trans. E.M. Huggard (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951), p. 127; cf. idem, “Principles,” p. 528.

[6]John Hick, “God as Necessary Being,” Journal of Philosophy 57 (1960): 733-4.

[7]David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, ed. with an Introduction by Norman Kemp Smith, Library of the Liberal Arts (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. 1947), p. 190.

[8]Bertrand Russell and F.C. Copleston, “The Existence of God,” in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1964), p. 175.

[9]See William Lane Craig, The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz, Library of Philosophy and Religion (London: Macmillan, 1980), pp. 48-58, 61-76, 98-104, 128-31.

[10]Wallace Matson,  The Existence of God (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965), pp. 58-60.

[11]J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 93.

[12]Quentin Smith, “Infinity and the Past,” Philosophy of Science 54 (1987): 69.

[13]Richard Sorabji, Time, Creation and the Continuum (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 213, 222-3.

[14]Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism(Chicago: Willett, Clark, & Co., 1941), p. 37.

[15]G.J. Whitrow defends a form of this argument which does not presuppose a dynamical view of time, by asserting that an infinite past would still have to be “lived through” by any everlasting, conscious being, even if the series of physical events subsisted timelessly (G.J. Whitrow, The Natural Philosophy of Time, 2d ed. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], pp. 28-32).

[16]Mackie, Theism, p. 93.

[17]Sorabji, Time, Creation, and the Continuum, pp. 219-22.

[18]K.R. Popper, “On the Possibility of an Infinite Past: a Reply to Whitrow,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 29 (1978): 47-8.

[19]R.G. Swinburne, “The Beginning of the Universe,” The Aristotelian Society 40 (1966): 131-2.

[20]Richard J. Gott,, “Will the Universe Expand Forever?” Scientific American (March 1976), p. 65.

[21]Fred Hoyle, From Stonehenge to Modern Cosmology (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1972), p. 36.

[22]Beatrice Tinsley, personal letter.

[23]David N. Schramm and Gary Steigman, “Relic Neutrinos and the Density of the Universe,” Astrophysical Journal 243 (1981): p. 1-7.

[24]Alan Sandage and G.A. Tammann, “Steps Toward the Hubble Constant. VII,” Astrophyscial Journal 210 (1976): 23, 7; see also idem, “Steps toward the Hubble Constant. VIII.”  Astrophysical Journal 256 (1982): 339-45.

[25]Duane Dicus, “Effects of Proton Decay on the Cosmological Future.” Astrophysical Journal 252 (1982): l, 8.

[26]I.D. Novikov and Ya. B. Zeldovich, “Physical Processes Near Cosmological Singularities,” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 11 (1973): 401-2.

[27]John Gribbin, “Oscillating Universe Bounces Back,” Nature 259 (1976): 16.

[28]P.C.W. Davies, The Physics of Time Asymmetry (London: Surrey University Press, 1974), p. 104.

[29]David Hume to John Stewart, February, 1754, in The Letters of David Hume, ed. J.Y.T. Greig (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), 1:187.

[30]Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983), p. 214.

[31]Ibid., p. 215.

[32]Ibid., p. 31.

[33]Ibid., pp. 215, 216.

[34]A.N. Prior, “Limited Indeterminism,” in Papers on Time and Tense(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 65.

[35]Davies, God, p. 217.

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Updated: 14 July 2002







Matter, Death & Consciousness 

by James P. Kowall* & Pradeep B. Deshpande

*Correspondence: James Kowall, MD, PhD, Independent Scholar, Coos Bay, OR, USA. Email:


An argument based on recent developments in theoretical physics is made that consciousness itself is the primordial nature of existence and that all possible physical and mental experiences that can ever become manifest in the world are only forms of consciousness. This conclusion follows from the premise that in its ultimate undifferentiated state, consciousness exists as the nothingness of the void. Modern physics then demonstrates the only way a world can be experienced is if consciousness differentiates itself into an observer that observes all the physical and mental images of that world as projected from a holographic screen to a point of view. In this scenario, the focal point of the observer arises from the void through the differentiation of consciousness while the holographic screen arises through the void’s expression of geometric mechanisms such as the expansion of space and non-commutative geometry. This scenario tells us the focal point of consciousness of the observer is the bridge that connects the ultimate being of the void to the becomings of the world. The nature of life in the world can then be understood as about becoming, while the ultimate nature of death can be understood as the final transition from becoming and the differentiation of consciousness to nondifferentiation and ultimate being. This premise also tells us that death is the end of an illusion. The illusion that ultimately comes to an end is not only the illusion of life in the world, but also the illusion of separation.

Keywords: Consciousness, nothingness, void, existence, being, becoming, life, death

  1. Introduction and Overview 

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed: “Consciousness isn’t a Mystery, It’s Matter,” Galen Strawson (2016) writes: “Conscious experience is itself a form of physical stuff, and the hard problem is not what consciousness is, it’s what matter is.” He asks: “What is the fundamental stuff of physical reality, the stuff that is structured in the way physics reveals?” He answers: “We don’t know—except insofar as this stuff takes the form of conscious experience”.

We’d like to point out this argument is a straw man. Once the primordial existence of consciousness is accepted, modern physics has already shown that it’s exactly the other way around: physical stuff is a form of consciousness. Ironically, this brings us back to the mystery of the primordial existence of consciousness. This line of reasoning is discussed in detail by Amanda Gefter (2014) as she surveys the landscape of modern physics. Based upon the recent observational discovery of dark energy and the theoretical discovery of the holographic principle she concludes that nothing is ultimately real.

Gefter defines ultimate reality in terms of what is invariant for all observers. Since modern physics tells us every observer’s observations are observer-dependent, nothing can ultimately be real. Everything an observer can possibly observe depends on the observer’s frame of reference. Only the primordial nothingness of the void is invariant for all observers and therefore can ultimately be real.

The only thing needed to complete Gefter’s argument about the nature of ultimate reality is to identify the primordial nothingness of the void as undifferentiated consciousness, while the perceiving consciousness present for living organisms is differentiated consciousness. This premise tells us the individual perceiving consciousness of the observer is differentiated from the undifferentiated consciousness of the void. This essay gives the scientific reasons why her argument can be extended in this way.

The concept of ultimate reality is at the heart of all discussions of ontology, which is the study of what exists in reality. This directly leads into a discussion of being and becoming. This critical distinction between the concepts of being and becoming has a long philosophical tradition, beginning with the works of Plato. The idea of becoming has to do with the nature of the world, specifically the physical and mental world we experience through the perception of the world. All ideas of space, time, matter and energy have to do with becoming, while being has to do with something that is prior to becoming. As modern physics clearly points out, not to mention the conclusions of many modern philosophers, the only thing that is prior to the creation of the world is the nothingness of the void. In this sense, the void is the ultimate nature of being. Simply put, being is prior to becoming.

Relativity theory tells us that even the dynamical space-time geometry of the world has the nature of becoming. The holographic principle tells us that all the physical and mental images of the world are projected from a holographic screen to the point of view of an observer, and that these images of the world are animated through the expenditure of energy that animates the world, not unlike the animation of a movie. Everything in the world, from elementary particles to body and mind, is animated.

The animation of all things in the observer’s world requires the expenditure of energy, which relativity theory refers to as an accelerated frame of reference. It is always the observer itself as a focal point of consciousness that enters into an accelerated frame of reference. The holographic principle tells us that if energy is not expended and the observer’s frame of reference is not accelerated, the observer no longer has a holographic screen, and so all images of the observer’s world must disappear.

The big question is about what finally exists when the expenditure of energy comes to an end. Correctly interpreted, the holographic principle tells us that without the expenditure of energy only the nothingness of the void can exist, which is therefore the ultimate nature of reality. Only this nothingness is invariant for all observers (Gefter, 2014). Since the flow of time is directly related to the expenditure of energy, this is a timeless or an unchanging reality.

If the void is the ultimate nature of being, while all the animated images of the world projected from a holographic screen to the point of view of an observer are the nature of becoming, then what is the relation of the void to the world? The holographic principle tells us the only possible bridge that can connect the void to the world is the focal point of consciousness we call an observer. The perceiving consciousness of the observer must have a source, which can only originate from the void itself. In this sense, the perceiving consciousness of the observer can only be understood as differentiated.

Correctly understood, the holographic principle is telling us that the focal point of consciousness of the observer is differentiated from the all-encompassing empty space of the void whenever a holographic screen arises in that empty space and projects images of the world to the observer. Since the perceiving consciousness of the observer is differentiated, the consciousness of the void can only be understood as undifferentiated. Undifferentiated consciousness is what it means to say the void is the ultimate nature of being. As undifferentiated consciousness, the ultimate nature of being is One Being.

This nondual concept of One Being has a long metaphysical tradition, ranging from the Tao Te Ching to the Vedas to Zen Buddhism. It can be found in the works of Plato and the Advaita tradition of Shankara. Most modern philosophers have also come to the conclusion of the nothingness of being and that the ultimate nature of being or ground of being can only be identified as the nothingness of the void.

This is also what modern physics tells us when correctly interpreted in the context of the holographic principle. The fundamental reason this is the correct interpretation is logical consistency. This is the only possible interpretation that is not fraught with the logical inconsistency of paradoxes of self-reference.

The nature of life in the world has to do with the animation of forms. These animated forms have a tendency to hold together while animated, which modern physics calls the coherent organization of information. The holographic principle tells us that all the bits of information that become organized into forms are encoded on a holographic screen, that forms are animated with the expenditure of energy that characterizes the world, and that images of forms are projected to the point of view of an observer.

At least superficially, the nature of death has to do with the disorganization of information in forms so that they no longer can hold together and become animated as distinctly perceived entities. At a deeper level, an argument can be made that the nature of death has to do with the transition of consciousness from the differentiated perceiving nature of an observer to its ultimate undifferentiated nature.

The holographic principle is telling us that the focal point of consciousness of the observer is the bridge that connects the ultimate being of the void to the becomings of the world. This also tells us that the nature of life in the world is about becoming, while the ultimate nature of death is about the final transition from becoming and the differentiation of consciousness to nondifferentiation and ultimate being. In this transition, the illusion of life in the world comes to an end. Ultimately, death is not only the end of the illusion of life in the world, but also the end of the illusion of separation.

The other way to say this is that consciousness is the true nature of what we are. The holographic principle tells us that the perceiving consciousness of the observer can only be identified as the focal point of consciousness at the center of its world. As we perceive the becomings of a world, the nature of our individual consciousness and being is differentiated from the void. This differentiation process can only occur as a holographic screen arises from the void and projects all the images of that world to the observer’s central point of view. If the holographic screen does not arise, this principle also tells us that the ultimate nature of our consciousness and being is undifferentiated.

Correctly interpreted, the holographic principle tells us that all physical and mental experiences are manifestations of our consciousness. Whenever we have a physical or mental experience, we manifest the experience we perceive either as an external sensory perception, an internal emotional body feeling, a memory, a thought, or some other form of mental imagination. The holographic principle tells us that all these perceptions are analogous to images projected from a holographic screen to the point of view of an observer. The screen defines our physical and mental world and the observer is only a focal point of consciousness. The mystery of our existence is that we exist as a point of consciousness.

The really big mystery is that ultimately we exist as the infinity of undifferentiated consciousness, which is the void. The void expresses its potentiality through the expression of energy, fundamentally as dark energy, which is the expansion of space. The expression of this energy is an expression of desire, specifically, the desire to create and perceive a world. From that expression of desire a physical world arises and all the possible physical and mental experiences of that world. We might even venture to say the void creates a conceptual world for itself in order to explain itself to itself within that world, and then is able to return to itself after it has gained this conceptual understanding of itself. Such a conceptual understanding of itself is not possible in the ultimate state of existence, only in a conceptual world.

What is the scientific evidence for such bold statements about the nature of reality? Relativity theory tells us the expression of dark energy is the exponential expansion of space that expands relative to the central point of view of an observer. Due to the limitation of the speed of light, a bounding surface of space called a cosmic horizon surrounds the observer at the central point of view and limits the observer’s observations of things in space. If the holographic principle is applied to the cosmic horizon, all the bits of information that define everything the observer can possibly observe in this bounded region of space are encoded on the cosmic horizon.

Leonard Susskind (1995, 2008) realized the observer’s cosmic horizon acts as a holographic screen that projects the images of things in space to the observer’s central point of view. This is just like the projection of images from a computer screen to an observer, except the images appear 3-dimensional since their nature is holographic. Gefter (2014) has stressed that in the sense of quantum theory and a Hilbert space, the observer’s holographic screen defines everything the observer can possibly observe in its world. She also realized that a consensual reality shared by many observers becomes possible if their respective holographic screens overlap in the sense of a Venn diagram and share information.

Where does the holographic principle come from? The holographic principle is automatically in effect if non-commutative geometry is applied to a bounding surface of space. Position coordinates on the surface are no longer represented by ordinary continuous numbers, but by non-commuting variables, which is a way of quantizing position coordinates. In effect, each possible quantized position coordinate defined on the surface turns into an area pixel that encodes a bit of information.

Raphael Bousso (2002) has shown the holographic principle is a general property of relativity theory called the covariant entropy bound, which is due to very general focusing theorems. The holographic principle is best understood as a geometric mechanism that allows all the bits of information that define things in a bounded region of space to become encoded on the bounding surface of that space. The bounding surface acts as a holographic screen that projects the images of things observed in that bounded space from the screen to the point of view of the observer. This geometric mechanism naturally arises with the expression of dark energy, the expansion of space, and non-commutative geometry.

How do the laws of physics that appear to govern the behavior of everything in the observer’s world fit in with the holographic principle? The strange answer is that all the laws of physics are derivative of the holographic principle, but they can only arise as thermodynamic averages. Ted Jacobson (1995) has shown that Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric, which determine the space-time geometry of the observer’s world, arise from the holographic principle as thermodynamic equations of state, which are only valid as thermal averages. In other words, the law of gravity isn’t really a law at all, but is only a thermal average that is a statistical consequence of the holographic principle.

The other laws of physics that govern the interactions of the electromagnetic and nuclear forces can be understood to arise from Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric through the usual unification mechanisms, which include super-symmetry and the Kaluza-Klein mechanism (cf. Bailin & Love, 1987) of extra compactified dimensions of space. All the usual quantum fields of the standard model of particle physics then arise as extra components of the space-time metric through unification mechanisms. The final result is akin to 11-dimensional super-gravity, which is a part of M-theory. Like gravity, the electromagnetic and nuclear interactions arise from the holographic principle as thermal averages. Like the holographic principle, these unification mechanisms can all be understood as geometric mechanisms.

These geometric mechanisms pretty much explain the creation of the observer’s world, the nature of all physical and mental stuff in that world, and why that world appears to be governed by the laws of physics. The observer’s world is only created because the void has the potential to express these geometric mechanisms. The void expresses its potentiality as it creates a world through geometric mechanisms, such as the expansion of space, and observes that world from the central point of view of that world, as all the physical and mental images of that world are projected from a holographic screen to the point of view of the observer.

2. Modern Physics Tells Us Life in the World Is an Illusion 

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one – Albert Einstein

It helps to back up and review in detail how modern physics has brought us to this critical point in the development of science. Modern physics is concerned with the nature of the physical world, which is to say matter and energy apparently existing within some kind of space-time geometry. There is a big puzzle in the connection between consciousness and modern physics in that all the matter and energy in the physical world that apparently exists within some kind of space-time geometry is composed of observable things like fundamental particles, while there is a long metaphysical tradition that equates the nature of being to consciousness itself, which is to say the observer of the observable things.

The big conundrum is about whether consciousness itself, as the observer of the observable things, can arise from some complicated configuration of the observable things like a human brain. Is it possible that consciousness arises from the things it observes? The simple answer is no. The problem with this idea is it lacks logical consistency and inevitably leads to paradoxes of self-reference. Almost all serious thinkers that have considered this puzzle have come to the conclusion that this idea is not possible, which begs the question: where does perceiving consciousness come from?

The scientific answer to this question about the source of perceiving consciousness is really about what is ultimately real. Is the physical world the ultimate nature of reality, or is there an ultimate state of reality that is beyond the physical world? Until recent discoveries in physics, many physicists held the position that the physical world is the ultimate nature of reality, but that position is no longer tenable (Gefter, 2014).

The basic difficulty with this position goes back to the problem of the unification of quantum theory with relativity theory, which is the problem of fundamental particles existing in some kind of space-time geometry. Relativity theory tells us there is no such thing as an absolute space-time geometry, and so with unification there can be no such thing as fundamental particles. Change the space-time geometry as observed from the point of view of an accelerating observer, and the symmetries of that space-time geometry also change. Since all so-called fundamental particles reflect the symmetries of the space-time geometry as representations of a symmetry group, there really is no such thing as fundamental particles.

The ultimate example of this dilemma is an event horizon, which always arises from the point of view of an accelerating observer. The observer’s horizon fundamentally limits the observer’s ability to observe things like particles in space. As Hawking (1996) realized with the discovery of Hawking radiation from the horizon of a black hole, an accelerating observer that accelerates away from the black hole horizon in a rocket ship does not observe the same set of particles that an observer observes while free falling through the black hole horizon. The basic problem is the event horizon of the black hole breaks the symmetry of empty space, and so radically alters what these two observers call fundamental particles. For the freely falling observer, particles of Hawking radiation do not exist.

How can particles of Hawking radiation radiated away from the event horizon of a black hole exist for the accelerating observer but not for the freely falling observer? How can any particles be fundamental if the particles that appear to exist for an observer can change or appear to go in and out of existence based on whether the observer’s point of view is accelerated or not? If neither space-time geometry nor particles are really fundamental, what is?

We might guess that only the consciousness of the observer is really fundamental, and that so-called fundamental particles can change based on whether the observer’s frame of reference is accelerated. Although this is a good guess, it’s not the right answer. There must be something more fundamental than the point of view of the observer that explains whether that point of view is accelerated. The basic problem is acceleration implies the expenditure of energy, and that energy has to come from someplace. There must be some kind of a mechanism inherent in the generation of the energy that gives rise to the observer’s accelerated frame of reference. If that energy is not expended or the acceleration mechanism is not put into effect, the observer’s frame of reference is freely falling.

At the root of this problem is the underlying foundation of relativity theory. Relativity theory is fundamentally based on the principle of equivalence. The exertion of any force, which requires the expenditure of energy, is equivalent to an observer’s accelerated frame of reference. For example, the force of gravity on the surface of a massive planet is equivalent to the acceleration of a rocket ship through empty space. An observer on the surface of the planet observes exactly the same kind of accelerated motion of objects that fall through space as an observer in the accelerating rocket ship, and so there is no possible way to distinguish between these two scenarios based only on the accelerated motion of objects. As an object accelerates through space, it gains kinetic energy. We usually think that gravitational potential energy is converted into kinetic energy as the object accelerates under the force of gravity, but where does the energy come from in the accelerating rocket ship? The answer is the energy comes from the energy expended as the thrusters of the rocket ship force it forward through space.

This means that before we can discuss an observer’s accelerated frame of reference, we have to discuss the expenditure of energy or the mechanism that generates this accelerated motion. The consciousness of the observer cannot really be fundamental because there is the issue of whether or not the observer’s point of view is accelerated and energy is expended. The observer is only in an accelerated frame of reference if energy is expended. Where does this energy come from? The strange answer is the energy comes from the same place as the observer’s point of view. The irony of this answer is that this most fundamental of all places and all things can only be described as the void or nothingness.

Closely related to the issue of the principle of equivalence is the issue of the generation of an event horizon. Although the horizon of a black hole seems like a special case, it turns out event horizons arise for all accelerated observers. The observer’s horizon always limits the ability of the observer to see things in space. An event horizon always arises for any observer in an accelerated frame of reference. In the most generic case, this is called a Rindler horizon (Smolin, 2001). In line with the idea that the observer’s accelerated frame of reference is only an accelerated point of view, we say the observer’s horizon arises as the observer follows an accelerated world-line through its space-time geometry.

This brings us back to the question of where does the energy come from that gives rise to the observer’s accelerated frame of reference? Although the answer seems exceedingly strange, it can be summarized with only a few concepts. This answer is at the heart of all theories of the big bang creation event. The energy must come from the same place that the observer comes from, which is the void. The nature of this energy is called dark energy, which is understood in relativity theory as the exponential expansion of space, which always expands relative to the central point of view of an observer. Dark energy is the creative energy that puts the “bang” in the big bang event (Gefter, 2014). If space does not expand and dark energy is not expended, only the void exists, which is like an empty space of potentiality. If space does expand and dark energy is expended, an observer’s world is created, and the observer of that world is always present to observe that world at the central point of view of that world.

In relativity theory, the force of dark energy is called a cosmological constant Λ, which gives rise to the exponential expansion of space that always expands relative to the central point of view of an observer. With the exponential expansion of space and the expression of dark energy, the farther out in space the observer looks, the faster space appears to expand away from the observer. Due to the limitation that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, the observer is always surrounded by a cosmic horizon that limits the observer’s ability to see things in space. This limitation of the speed of light is really not that mysterious, since it is like the maximal rate of information transfer in a computer network. At the observer’s cosmic horizon, space appears to expand away from the observer at the speed of light, and so this is as far out in space as the observer can see things in space.

How can space appear to expand? The answer is the curvature of space-time geometry as formulated by Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric. The space-time metric is the field that measures the curvature of space-time geometry. Einstein’s field equations relate a change in the metric in a region of space to changes in the energy content of that region of space.

With the attractive force of gravity, space appears to contract. This gravitational contraction of space is like the kind of length contraction and time dilation that occurs with uniform motion in special relativity, but with gravity generalizes to accelerated motion. Relativity theory tells us the gravitational contraction of space always occurs relative to point of view of an observer, like the observations of a distant observer limited by the event horizon of a black hole. At the horizon of a black hole, the contraction of space or the attractive force of gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape away from the black hole, cross out of the boundary of the horizon, and reach the point of view of a distant observer.

In a very similar way, the repulsive force of dark energy gives rise to a cosmic horizon that limits the observations of the observer at the central point of view. With the repulsive force of dark energy, space appears to exponentially expand relative to the central point of view of the observer, and due to the limitation of the speed of light, this limits the observer’s ability to see things in space. At the observer’s cosmic horizon the expansion of space or the repulsive force of dark energy is so strong that even light cannot cross into the boundary of the horizon and reach the central point of view of the observer.

Accelerated Expansion of the Universe (image from

Although a lot of dark energy was used up in the big bang event, astronomical observations indicate there is still a lot of dark energy left in the universe. These are observations of the rate with which distant galaxies accelerate away from us. If the only kind of force operative over galactic distance scales was the force of gravity, the expansion of the universe should be slowing down, since gravity is an attractive force, but that is not what is observed. The expansion of the universe is speeding up, as though all the galaxies were repelling each other. This repulsive force, like a force of anti-gravity, is called the force of dark energy. Its current observed value in terms of the cosmological constant is Λ=10−123.

If the only recent discovery of modern physics was dark energy, physics would only have another puzzle, but about the same time dark energy was discovered, the holographic principle was discovered (’t Hooft, 1993, Susskind, 1995). The holographic principle is about where all the bits of information that define all the observable things in any bounded region of space are encoded (’t Hooft, 2000).

The strange answer is that these bits of information are not encoded in space itself, but on the bounding surface of that space. The bounding surface of space acts as a holographic screen that projects the images of things into space, just like a conventional piece of holographic film projects holographic images into space. The other analogy is a computer screen. Bits of information encoded on the screen project images into space to the point of view of an observer.

This kind of holographic projection from a screen into space is really no different than the kind of animated space-time geometry projected from a computer screen to the point of view of an observer, except the images appear three dimensional since their nature is holographic. Just like the animated frames of a movie, the projected images are animated over a sequence of screen outputs. With each screen output, which corresponds to an instant of time, the images are projected into space. Since the projected images can become distorted as they change in size and shape, the projection of images from a screen to an observer over a sequence of screen outputs can give the appearance of the curving or warping of space-time geometry.

Just like a computer screen, each pixel defined on the screen encodes a bit of information in a binary code of 1’s and 0’s. In a conventional computer, this encoding of information in a binary code is performed by switches that are either in the on or the off position, but on a holographic screen, the encoding is generically performed by spin variables that are either in the spin up or the spin-down position. Since spin variables are mathematically represented by SU(2) matrices, this encoding of information has a purely mathematical representation.

The holographic principle is fundamentally about how the space-time geometry of any bounded region of space is defined, specifically where all the bits of information defining the space-time geometry of that bounded region of space are encoded. The strange answer is that all the bits of information are not encoded in space itself, but on the bounding surface of that region of space.


Bits of information are encoded in a pixelated way, with each pixel on the screen encoding a single bit of information. The holographic principle tells us the pixel size is about a Planck area ℓ2=ћG/c3, given in terms of Planck’s constant, the gravitational constant and the speed of light. For a bounding surface of space of surface area A, the total number of bits of information encoded is given by n=A/4ℓ2.

What is a bounding surface of space? The answer is for any region of space, the bounding surface is an event horizon that limits the ability of the observer of that region to see things in that region of space. With the expression of dark energy and the expansion of space, the observer at the central point of view has limited ability to see things in space due to its cosmic horizon, and so the bounding surface is the observer’s cosmic horizon.

This is where things start to get weird. The holographic principle tells us the observer’s cosmic horizon acts as a holographic screen that encodes all the bits of information that define everything the observer can possibly observe in that region of space. Every observation of something is like the projection of an image of that thing from the observer’s holographic screen to the observer’s central point of view.


The Observer, the Screen and the Thing (image from Smolin, 2001)

Before delving into all the weird implications of the holographic principle, it is worth an examination of how the holographic principle arises in the first place, and secondly, how the holographic principle gives rise to a world that appears from the point of view of the observer of that world to be composed of matter and energy, all of which appears to reduce down to some kind of fundamental particles existing in some kind of space-time geometry.

The first question is: how does the holographic principle arise in the first place? The answer is it can only arise if there is a bounding surface of space that acts as a holographic screen that projects all the images of things in that bounded region of space to the central point of view of an observer. This is the critical role that dark energy and the exponential expansion of space play, as the expenditure of dark energy gives rise to a cosmic horizon that acts as the observer’s holographic screen. All the bits of information encoded on the observer’s holographic screen in effect define everything in the observer’s world in the sense of a Hilbert space. The observer’s cosmic horizon is the bounding surface of space that defines the observer’s world as it limits the observer’s observations of things in space.

How does the observer’s cosmic horizon encode all the bits of information that define everything the observer can possibly observe in its world? The answer has to do with the quantization of space-time geometry. This is what the unification of quantum theory with relativity theory is all about. The most generic way to understand unification is with non-commutative geometry. Although the holographic principle was first discovered in string theory, which has been generalized to M-theory (see Witten, 1995), string theory is a special case of non-commutative geometry. All examples of the holographic principle occur in some kind of non-commutative geometry. Even fractal geometry can be understood as non-commutative. If non-commutative geometry is applied to a bounding surface of space, the holographic principle is automatically in effect. Non-commutative geometry is manifestly holographic. This basically says the space-time geometry of any bounded region of space is a direct consequence of how bits of information are encoded on the bounding surface of that region of space.

How does this happen? The basic problem is that position coordinates on the bounding surface of space can always be parameterized in terms of some (x, y) coordinate system, like latitude and longitude on the surface of a sphere. In a commutative geometry, there are an infinite number of (x, y) position coordinates, since the geometry of the surface is a two-dimensional continuum and is infinitely divisible. The quantization of space-time geometry turns this infinitely divisible continuum into a finite number of quantized position coordinates on the surface.

The way non-commutative geometry performs this trick in the most generic case is to require an uncertainty relation between the x and y position coordinates where the product of uncertainty is at least as large as the Planck area. This is analogous to the uncertainty relation between the position, x, and the momentum, p, of a particle in ordinary quantum theory where the product of uncertainty is at least as large as Planck’s constant, except in non-commutative geometry the uncertainty relation is between the position coordinates of space itself, not the dynamical variables of particles defined in a space-time geometry. Non-commutative geometry is fundamentally about how space-time geometry is quantized, not how the dynamical variables of particles are quantized. This turns the (x, y) position coordinates defined on the bounding surface into non-commuting variables.


Horizon Information (image from Gefter, 2014)

Whenever non-commutative geometry is applied to a bounding surface of space like a cosmic horizon, there are no longer an infinite number of position coordinates defined on the surface, but rather a finite number of non-commuting variables, which give rise to pixels. In effect, each quantized position coordinate is smeared out into an area element of size 4ℓ2. The total number of pixels defined on the bounding surface of area A is given as n=A/4ℓ2, which corresponds to the number of non-commuting variables that define the non-commutative geometry.

In the most generic case of non-commutative geometry, these n non-commuting variables give rise to n bits of information defined by the n eigenvalues of an SU(n) matrix, and so the ‘n’ pixels defined on the bounding surface encode ‘n’ bits of information. Since an SU(n) matrix can always be decomposed into SU(2) matrices, and since SU(2) matrices encode bits of information in a binary code like spin variables that are either spin up or spin down, the SU(n) matrix thus encodes n bits of information in a binary code, which is the nature of horizon entropy.

The second question was about how the holographic principle gives rise to a world that appears from the point of view of the observer of that world to be composed of matter and energy, all of which appears to reduce down to some kind of fundamental particles, and appears to exist in some kind of space-time geometry. Although this sounds like a broken record, the answer is geometric mechanisms.

The first step in solving this puzzle is to understand how bits of information encoded on a bounding surface of space give rise to the appearance of a curved space-time geometry in a bounded region of space. This is the problem of how the holographic principle explains the nature of gravity, which is understood as the curvature of space-time geometry.

Although there are many ways to approach this problem, the most generic way is the second law of thermodynamics. The second law is a very general statistical relationship that relates how a change in the number of bits of information or entropy that define the configuration state of everything in a region of space are related to the thermal flow of energy or heat through that region of space. This relation is usually written as ΔQ=TΔS, where ΔQ is the flow of heat through the region of space, T is the absolute temperature of that region of space, and ΔS is the change in the entropy or number of bits of information that define the configuration state of everything in that region of space.

The flow of heat through that region of space is understood as the random thermal motion of those things through space, while the holographic principle tells us all the bits of information defining everything in that region of space are encoded on the bounding surface of that region of space as S=kn, where the total number of bits of information encoded is given in terms of the surface area A of the bounding surface as n=A/4ℓ2. The constant k is called Boltzmann’s constant, which converts thermal kinetic energy into conventional units of absolute temperature.

Remarkably, this simple statistical relation between the flow of heat through a region of space and the entropy of that region of space implies Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric in that region of space as a thermal average as long as things are near thermal equilibrium, which is called a thermodynamic equation of state. The reason is fairly simple. The holographic principle tells us all the bits of information that define everything in a region of space are defined on the bounding surface of that region of space as S=kn. As heat flows through that region of space and the heat content of that region changes as ΔQ=TΔS, the second law tells us the entropy of that region must also change as ΔS=kΔn.

Since entropy is given in terms of the surface area of the bounding surface, n=A/4ℓ2, as heat flows across the bounding surface, the surface area of the bounding surface must change. As the bounding surface of space changes, the geometry of the region of space bounded by the bounding surface also changes. This change in the geometry of the bounded region of space is mathematically specified by Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric, which relates a change in the curvature of the space-time geometry of that bounded region to a change in the energy content of that region of space.

Before the discovery of the holographic principle, the vast majority of theoretical physicists thought Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric were about as fundamental as physics can ever get. Thanks to the holographic principle, we now know that Einstein’s field equations are not really fundamental, but only arise as a thermal average in any bounded region of space, or a thermodynamic equation of state that is only valid near thermal equilibrium. Einstein’s field equations arise from the holographic way bits of information are encoded on the bounding surface of that space.

Remarkably, the holographic principle is more fundamental than Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric. Einstein’s field equations are derivative of the holographic principle as a statistical or thermal average that is only valid near thermal equilibrium. The force of gravity and the curvature of space-time geometry only arise in a bounded region of space from the holographic way bits of information are encoded on the bounding surface of that region of space.

The holographic principle in turn is only a geometric mechanism that allows bits of information to become encoded on a bounding surface of space whenever a bounding surface like a cosmic horizon arises with the expression of dark energy and the exponential expansion of space.

If Einstein’s field equations are only derivative of the holographic principle, which in turn is only a geometric mechanism, what is really fundamental? The weird answer is nothing is really fundamental. Only the potentiality of the void to express itself with the expenditure of dark energy and encode bits of information on a bounding surface of space is really fundamental. This is the potentiality of the void to create a world for itself and observe that world from the central point of view of that world.

The second law of thermodynamics in the context of the holographic principle also explains the temperature of an event horizon as observed by a distant observer. This becomes an important issue when we discuss the temperature of a cosmic horizon as observed by the observer at the central point of view, since this horizon temperature sets the stage for the thermal evolution of the observer’s world.

The observer will observe thermal photons radiated away from the horizon as a consequence of the horizon temperature. These thermal photons have an energy given in terms of their momentum as E=pc, where quantum theory tells us this momentum is related to wavelength as p=h/λ. The wavelength of a thermal photon that is just barely bound within the horizon as observed by the distant observer is given approximately in terms of the horizon radius R as the maximal circumference of the horizon, λ=2πR. For example, for a black hole horizon, a thermal photon that is barely gravitationally bound within the black hole as observed by a distant observer has a wavelength that is about equal to this maximal horizon circumference. This tells us the energy of a thermal photon that is barely bound within the horizon and is just barely able to escape away from the horizon and become radiated to the distant observer is given as about E=hc/2πR. The energy of this radiated thermal photon is the flow of heat, ΔQ=hc/2πR. The second law tells us this flow of heat is related to the change in entropy as ΔQ=TΔS, where ΔS=kΔn. The lowest energy thermal photon radiated away from the horizon corresponds to the smallest possible change in entropy, Δn=1, which gives the observed horizon temperature as about kT=hc/2πR.

What about other forces of nature besides gravity, like the electromagnetic and nuclear forces? What about other quantum fields besides the space-time metric that comprise the standard model of particle physics? The unification of quantum theory with relativity theory solves this problem in a straightforward way based on geometric mechanisms. The only known mechanisms of unification are supersymmetry (Dine, 2016) and the Kaluza-Klein mechanism of extra compactified dimensions of space.

If there are six extra compactified dimensions of space, then Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric give rise to the electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces. The quantum fields that describe these forces are extra components of the space-time metric that arise in extra compactified dimensions of space. The quantum fields for these extra forces represent the curvature of space-time geometry in extra compactified dimensions of space, just like the ordinary components of the space-time metric for the usual four extended dimensions of space-time represent the force of gravity.

If super-symmetry, which is the idea of spatial coordinates with both commuting and anti-commuting aspects, is applied to Einstein’s field equations for the space-time metric with six extra compactified dimensions of space, not only are the boson force particle quantum fields generated, but also the fermion matter particle quantum fields. If the extra compactified dimensions of space are formulated in terms of non-commutative geometry, not only are the force particle fields and the matter particle fields generated, but also the Higgs symmetry breaking fields. By breaking the symmetry of space, the Higgs mechanism gives rise to the mass energy carried by all the matter particle fields.

In the Kaluza-Klein mechanism, the electron is understood in terms of an extra compactified dimension of space. At each point of ordinary 3+1 dimensional space-time there is an extra circular dimension of space. Momentum can flow in the extra circular dimension just as it can flow in an extended dimension. Quantization of momentum in the circular dimension explains the quantization of electric charge, which is quantized in units of the electron. This is the usual Bohr argument for quantization of momentum in terms of an integral number of wavelengths fitting into the circumference of the circular orbit, nλ=2πr, where r is the radius of the circular orbit, n is the number of wavelengths, and in the sense of a Fourier transform momentum and wavelength are inversely proportional to each other, p=h/λ, except momentum in the extra circular dimension is the nature of electric charge. Momentum can flow in either the positive or the negative direction, explaining both the positron and the electron.

What we call an elementary or point particle is really only angular momentum quantized in an extra compactified dimension of space. As a geometrical mechanism, the quantization of electric charge is really no different than the quantization of energy in a hydrogen atom.

The idea of a gauge theory naturally arises from this idea of extra compactified dimensions of space. With multiple extra compactified dimensions of space the idea of an Abelian gauge theory generalizes to non-Abelian gauge theories, which explains nuclear charges in addition to electric charge. In both cases, the nuclear and electrical forces are understood in terms of extra components of the space-time metric that arise with extra compactified dimensions of space, which allows the gravitational force to become unified with the nuclear and electromagnetic forces in a natural way.

The final result of unification is called 11-dimensional super-gravity, which includes all the standard quantum fields of the standard model of particles physics, including the electromagnetic and nuclear forces in addition to gravity. Since 11-dimensional super-gravity can only arise as a thermal average valid near thermal equilibrium, it is only valid as a low energy limit. All so-called fundamental particles are thus understood to be nothing more than localized excitations of field energy, which are called wave-packets. The wave-packet is localized in space and time, which gives rise to the particle quantization of energy and momentum.



The wavelength of the wave-packet is extended in an extended dimension of space, which allows for the particle quantization of energy and momentum, while the quantization of wavelength in an extra compactified dimension of space gives rise to the internal structure of the particle like electric charge. Internal structure is related to external structure since the space-time metric relates the curvature of extended dimensions of space to compactified dimensions of space.

A so-called fundamental particle is thus nothing more than a localized excitation of field energy. These quantum fields all arise from the space-time metric through the usual unification mechanisms of super-symmetry, extra-compactified dimensions of space, and non-commutative geometry. All the quantum fields of the standard model of particle physics are really only extra components of the space-time metric that arise through these geometric mechanisms. Even the space-time metric only arises as a thermal average through the geometric mechanisms of the expression of dark energy, the expansion of space, and non-commutative geometry. In reality, there are no such things as fundamental particles or fundamental forces, only the potentiality of the void to express these geometric mechanisms.

Simply put, there is no Theory of Everything because there is No Theory of Nothing. The potentiality of the void cannot be reduced to a theory or conceptualized in any other possible way. That is the nature of infinite potentiality. Scientific reductionism simply does not apply to infinite potentiality. Anything is possible as long as it can be expressed in terms of a geometric mechanism. The expression of this potentiality always requires the expenditure of energy. In emotional terms, the expression of this energy is the expression of desire, which directly leads to the manifestation of desires. The manifested world is only a manifestation of desires.

This important point cannot be stressed enough. Correctly interpreted, the holographic principle is telling us the physical world is only an expression of the potentiality of the void. This expression of potentiality always requires the expression of energy, which in emotional terms is the expression of desire. Through its geometric mechanisms, the void has the potential to create a world for itself and to observe that world from the central point of view of that world. The void is the source of everything in that world, including all the matter, energy, information and even the space-time geometry of that world, but it doesn’t end there. The void is also the source of the perceiving consciousness that observes that world. When we use the word source, we really mean potentiality. Just as the source of the world is an empty space of potentiality called the void, the source of the perceiving consciousness that observes the world is the potentiality of the undifferentiated consciousness of the void.

If we take the big bang creation theory seriously, as formulated with inflationary cosmology, we understand that at the moment of creation of the observer’s world a great deal of dark energy is expended. That world is initially only about a Planck length in size, but then inflates in size due to an instability in the amount of dark energy. This instability in dark energy is like a process that burns away the dark energy. Inflationary cosmology hypothesizes that at the moment of creation the cosmological constant takes on a value of about Λ=1, but due to an instability in the amount of dark energy, the cosmological constant transitions to a lower value. This transition is like a phase transition from a metastable false vacuum state to a more stable vacuum state of lower energy. The most stable state, the true vacuum with Λ=0, is a state with zero dark energy.

The expenditure of dark energy breaks the symmetry of empty space by constructing an observation limiting cosmic horizon that surrounds the observer at the central point of view. The instability in dark energy is like a consumptive process of burning that burns away dark energy and undoes this broken symmetry. As dark energy burns away to zero, the cosmic horizon inflates in size to infinity, and the symmetry is restored. We understand this undoing of symmetry breaking is like a phase transition from a false vacuum state to a true vacuum state. Dark energy burns away as the phase transition occurs. This idea is also consistent with the current measured value of the cosmological constant, Λ=10−123, based on the rate with which distant galaxies are observed to accelerate away from us, which also corresponds to the size of the observable universe of about 15 billion light years.

This burning away of dark energy also explains the normal flow of energy in the observer’s world in terms of the second law of thermodynamics. Relativity theory tells us the radius R of the observer’s cosmic horizon is inversely related to the cosmological constant as R2/ℓ2=3/Λ, while the holographic principle tells us the absolute temperature of the observer’s horizon is inversely related to its radius as kT=ћc/2πR. At the moment of creation, R is about ℓ, Λ is about 1, and the absolute temperature is about 1032 degrees Kelvin. As Λ decreases to zero, R inflates in size to infinity, and the temperature cools to absolute zero.

The second law of thermodynamics simply says that heat tends to flow from hotter to colder objects because hotter objects radiate away more heat, which is thermal radiation. The instability in dark energy explains the second law as dark energy burns away, the observer’s world inflates in size and cools in temperature, and heat tends to flow from hotter states to colder states of the observer’s world.

Second Law of Thermodynamics (image from Penrose, 2005)

The normal flow of energy through the observer’s world reflects this normal flow of heat as dark energy burns away and the observer’s world inflates in size and cools. This normal flow of energy naturally arises in a thermal gradient. This also explains the mystery of time’s arrow, as the normal course of time is related to the normal flow of energy through the observer’s world. As far as the holographic principle goes, a thermal gradient is also a temporal gradient.

What are we to make of other forms of energy besides dark energy? Modern physics gives an answer in terms of symmetry breaking. All forms of positive energy arise from dark energy through symmetry breaking. This allows an observer’s world to emerge from the void along the lines of the inflationary scenario, but only if the total energy of that world adds up to zero.

The remarkable discovery of modern cosmology is cosmic observations indicate the total energy of the observable universe is exactly zero (Gefter, 2014). This is possible in relativity theory as the negative potential energy of gravitational attraction can exactly cancel out the total amount of dark energy and all other forms of positive energy that arise from dark energy.

How do other forms of energy, like mass energy, arise from dark energy? The answer is symmetry breaking. As dark energy burns away, high energy photons are created, and these photons can create particle-antiparticle pairs, like proton-antiproton pairs. One of the mysteries of cosmology is why there are so many protons in the universe and so few antiprotons. Symmetry breaking gives the answer. At high energies, antiprotons can decay into electrons and protons into positrons, but there is a difference in the decay rates due to a broken symmetry, and so more antiprotons decay than protons. As the universe cools, protons become relatively stable, and so that’s what’s left over. Even the mass of the proton arises through a process of symmetry breaking called the Higgs mechanism. The expenditure of energy that characterizes all the gauge forces, like electromagnetic energy in a living organism or nuclear energy in a star, all arise from dark energy through a process of symmetry breaking, but all of this positive energy is exactly cancelled out by the negative potential energy of gravitational attraction.

The observational fact that the total energy of the observable universe exactly adds up to zero tells us something important. Since everything in the world is composed of energy and all energy ultimately adds up to zero, this tells us that everything is ultimately nothing.

eternity symbol

Ying-Yang Balance

If the void is the ultimate nature of reality, the physical world is a lower form of reality, like a virtual reality of images projected from a screen to the central point of view of an observer. This lower form of reality, with its projection of images from a screen to an observer, only exists when the void expresses its potentiality through geometric mechanisms, which is the nature of becoming. When the void expresses its potentiality through these geometric mechanisms it creates a world for itself, which it always observes from the central point of view of that world as the perceiving consciousness of the observer is differentiated from itself. If this potentiality is not expressed, only the void exists. Simply put, being is prior to becoming. As undifferentiated consciousness, the void exists as One Being.

What about a consensual reality apparently shared by many observers? The answer is many observers can share a consensual reality to the degree their respective holographic screens overlap in the sense of a Venn diagram and share information. This is just like the kind of information sharing that occurs in an interactive computer network. Each observer only observes its own holographic screen, but to the degree different screens overlap, different observers can apparently interact and share information. The network of interacting holographic screens can share information to the degree the screens overlap.


Overlapping Bounded Spaces

Each holographic screen encodes bits of information in a binary code. This is due to defining n quantized position coordinates on a bounding surface of space, which is due to defining n non-commuting variables on the bounding surface. The n bits of information, one per pixel, arise from this holographic mechanism as the n eigenvalues of an SU(n) matrix.

It’s worth pointing out that the holographic principle is completely consistent with quantum theory. In effect, each observer has its own Hilbert space of observable values, with all the bits of information for observables encoded on the observer’s holographic screen. In this sense, each observation of something by the observer is like a screen output that projects an image of the thing from the screen to the central point of view of the observer.

The well-known fact that the observer has the innate ability to focus its attention on things in its world raises the issue of choice. How is this choice expressed? Quantum theory gives a natural answer in terms of a quantum state of potentiality. The quantum state can always be expressed in terms of a sum over all possible paths in some configuration space.

The configuration space relevant for the holographic principle are n non-commuting variables defined on the observer’s screen that give rise to the SU(n) matrix that defines the n bits of information encoded on the screen. That is the nature of the observer’s Hilbert space.

Since the observer’s holographic screen projects all images of the observer’s world, each path specified in the sum over all paths is a possible world-line through the observer’s projected space-time geometry. The observer’s space-time geometry is not only projected from its holographic screen, but is also animated over a sequence of screen outputs. It is the observer itself that follows this world-line through its projected and animated space-time geometry. As a focal point of consciousness, an accelerating observer always follows a world-line.

Just as the observer observes its own world, the observer follows a world-line through its own world. Each observer’s world-line is defined by the observations made on its world-line. In computer terms, each observation is like a screen output. A sequence of screen outputs occurring over a sequence of decision points on the world-line allow for the animation of observations. Until an observation is made, the quantum state of potentiality branches into all possible paths, but as the observer chooses to observe a particular state of information at a decision point, a particular path is followed.

Each screen output on the observer’s world-line is a decision point where the observer chooses to follow some particular path rather than some other possible path. Each possible path of the observer through its projected and animated space-time geometry is a possible world-line. At every decision point or screen output the observer has a choice to make about what to observe and which path to follow in its world. This choice arises with the observer’s focus of attention on images of its world.

Quantum theory tells us each observer has its own Hilbert space of observable values for its own world defined by quantization of non-commuting variables on the observer’s holographic screen. This defines everything the observer can observe in its own world, but due to information sharing in the network of overlapping screens, its observations can become correlated with the observations of other observers.

What is meant by other observers? Each observer is only a point of view that arises in relation to its own holographic screen. This point of view can be called a differentiated focal point of consciousness, or individual consciousness. The holographic principle tells us this focal point of consciousness is a point of singularity that arises at the center of the observer’s horizon, which is to say the observer is the singularity at the center of its own world. Many apparently distinct observers can share a consensual reality, but ultimately when these geometric mechanisms are no longer expressed, only the undifferentiated consciousness of the void exists.

What role does the observer play in the creation of its world? The nature of quantum potentiality tells us every observation is a choice or a decision point on the observer’s world-line as the observer’s path or world-line branches into all possible paths. In computer terms, every observation is like a screen output. In the language of quantum theory, every observation is a decision point on the observer’s path about what to observe and which path to follow. The observer expresses its choices through its focus of attention on images of its world.

Even the laws of physics are not fundamental but are all chosen. Everything is a choice and nothing is determined. All the laws of physics that appear to govern that world can only arise with random choice as statistical or thermal averages, which is what the second law of thermodynamics tells us in the framework of the holographic principle. As long as things are near thermal equilibrium, the laws of physics only appear fixed and stable due to symmetry breaking, and in some sense have frozen out of the quantum state of potentiality like a phase transition that turns water into ice, although the better analogy is probably the spontaneous magnetization of a magnet. The laws of physics only appear stable because they all arise through symmetry breaking within a metastable or false vacuum state.

The nature of symmetry breaking tells us that bits of information spontaneously become organized into complex forms as energy flows in a thermal gradient, like the spontaneous magnetization of a magnet. The holographic principle and the expression of dark energy explain how bits of information become encoded on a holographic screen in relation to the point of view of an observer, and the instability in dark energy explains the origin of the thermal gradient. The expression of complexity arises through these geometric mechanisms because the organization of information occurs at a metastable state. Even the transition from one metastable state to another metastable state is a kind of symmetry breaking. This is epitomized by a cosmological constant that is only constant within a metastable state, while the transition from one value of the cosmological constant to another value is akin to a phase transition.

The birth and development of the observer’s body can be understood in terms of the coherent organization of information, just as the physical death of the observer’s body can be understood in terms of the disorganization of information. Modern physics tells us the development of coherent organization arises through a process of symmetry breaking. This is as much the case for biological organisms as it is for physical objects. The only significant difference is the organization of physical objects through phase transitions is dependent on the transfer of heat, while biological organisms can also engage in a process of eating, which adds organizing potential energy to the organism.

There is always a balance between the flow of thermal kinetic energy that tends to disorganize objects and organizing potential energy that tends to organize objects. When the balance shifts in favor of organizing potential energy, symmetry breaking occurs and coherent organization develops. When the balance shifts in favor of too much heat, disorganization occurs. As organizing potential energy is added to a body through a process of eating, the development of coherent organization naturally occurs through a process of symmetry breaking. Although symmetry breaking may be sufficient to drive the development of coherent organization in the observer’s body, the observer also plays a role in the organizing process through choice, especially when those choices become emotionally biased.

3. The End of an Illusion 

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed. –Friedrich Nietzsche

The nature of consciousness only appears to be mysterious if we do not know the true nature of what we really are. Plato describes an observer that mistakenly identifies itself with the central character of an animation of images it perceives on a screen as a prisoner. The only possible freedom is an observer that no longer identifies itself, but for that we have to know the true nature of what we are.

The age-old problem of identity often expresses itself as an identity crisis. This identity crisis is about the true nature of who I am. Is it possible that I am only the observer and not the person I am observing? If I am not a person in the world, then who am I? Can the true nature of identity be purely spiritual? Can the problem of identity be answered with a statement like “I am nothing but consciousness”, or “Ultimately, I am the undifferentiated consciousness of the void?”

Ultimately, this identity crisis is about the mystery of the ultimate nature of existence. The ultimate nature of existence is a mystery that can never be explained, just as infinite potentiality can never be reduced to scientific concepts. The most that it is ever possible to say about the ultimate nature of existence is that It Exists, which is to say It Is or I Am.

The ultimate nature of existence can never be personified. The holographic principle tells us that the nature of a person in the world can only be understood as a limited expression of the ultimate nature of existence as the image of a person is projected from a holographic screen. This limited expression of a person in the world is very much like the animation of an avatar in a virtual reality world, which is no more real than the images of a character animated on a screen and projected to the point of view of an observer. As Plato tells us, the observer becomes a prisoner when it identifies itself with its character.

“If man will strike, strike through the mask!  How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?” -Herman Melville, Moby Dick 

The void expresses its potentiality as it creates a world through geometric mechanisms and observes that world from the central point of view of that world. The expression of this potentiality requires the expenditure of energy, specifically dark energy and the expansion of space. Without this expenditure of energy, neither an observer nor its world can exist.

How are these geometric mechanisms expressed? The only logically consistent answer is the void has the potentiality to express these mechanisms. The void is what exists prior to the creation of the world. Being is prior to becoming. In the sense of One Being, the void can be understood as undifferentiated consciousness. This argument is consistent with all the nondual traditions, including Advaita Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Kabbalah Judaism and Gnostic Christianity.

Nondual traditions of the past

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am.” (Gospel of John 8:58)

The book of Genesis 1:4 tells us that in the beginning, God divided the light from the darkness. The light that Genesis refers to is not physical light, but the light of consciousness, which is divided from the darkness of the void. The light of consciousness is inherent to the observer itself and can be understood as the observer’s focus of attention, which allows for the observer’s expression of choice in the sense of quantum potentiality. Each decision point on the observer’s world-line is another choice.

Just as the observer is understood as a focal point of consciousness to which images of the observer’s world are projected from its holographic screen, the observer’s focus of attention allows for the projection of those images. To use a physical analogy, the observer’s own light of consciousness illuminates the images of its world like the light of a laser projects images from a physical hologram. In this sense, with the creation of the observer’s world, the differentiated consciousness of the observer is divided from the undifferentiated consciousness of the void.

Genesis 1:2 also tells us the creation of the world occurs as the Spirit of God moved over the face of the deep. The Spirit of God is the observer, the motion appears to occur as the observer follows an accelerated world-line through its projected and animated space-time geometry, the face of the deep is the observer’s holographic screen, and the deep is the void.

The Rig-Veda tells us darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. All that existed then was void and formless. The undifferentiated consciousness of the void is referred to in the sense of One Being as that One thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature. Apart from it there was nothing. The creation of the world is described in a thermodynamic sense as that which becomes was born through the power of heat. Upon that desire arose in the beginning the first discharge of thought. The observer is described as whose eye controls this world in highest heaven.

The Tao Te Ching describes the observer’s world is only created through the expression of desire, and without that expression of energy only the mystery of the void exists: Ever desireless one can see the mystery; ever desiring one can see the manifestations. The Tao describes the void as darkness, darkness within darkness. the gate to all mystery. The gateless gate paradox describes that when One passes through this gateless gate, one walks the universe alone.

What is the nature of passing through the gateless gate? When the holographic mechanism that creates the observer’s world is no longer expressed, the observer’s world comes to an end and disappears from existence. What happens to the observer? The observer’s individual consciousness must return to the undifferentiated consciousness of the void. This reunion is described as a dissolution, like a drop of water that dissolves back into the ocean (Osho, 1974).

In both Hinduism and Buddhism the final dissolution of individual consciousness into undifferentiated consciousness is referred to as the experience of nothingness or Nirvana (Nisargadatta Maharaj, 1973, 1996). The experience of Nirvana is understood as the final dissolution into nothingness in which individual consciousness reunites itself with undifferentiated consciousness. In the sense of spiritual reunion, the individual spirit of the observer reunites itself with the Supreme Spirit of the void, or to use the language of Advaita Hinduism, Atman reunites itself with Brahman (McKenna, 2013).

Brahman is the only truth, the world is an illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Atman and Brahman” 

“That which permeates all, which nothing transcends, and which, like the universal space around us, fills everything completely from within and without, that Supreme nondual Brahman-that thou art.” (Shankara)

The literal translation of Nirvana is to blow out the flame of life or extinguish the light of consciousness. When the light of consciousness is extinguished, only the darkness of the void remains. This reunion with undifferentiated consciousness or final dissolution into nothingness is the ultimate nature of death, which is the end of an illusion. The illusion that comes to an end is not only the illusion of life in the world, but also the illusion of separation. Ultimately, death is a transition from the differentiation of consciousness and the becomings of a world to nondifferentiation and ultimate being (McKenna, 2002, 2004, 2007).

Both the Rig-Veda and the gateless gate paradox refer to the ascension of consciousness. Plato also refers to the ascension of consciousness in the Allegory of the Cave. It is as though an ascended observer looks down on its world from a higher vantage point as it observes all the images of its world on a two-dimensional screen from a point of view outside the screen, and sees that all those images are only projected by its own light of consciousness (Nisargadatta Maharaj, 1973; McKenna, 2002). An ascended observer that clearly sees this state of affairs can no longer identify itself with the image of its own character animated on the screen, but can only know itself as the focal point of consciousness or singularity at the center of its own world (Gefter, 2014). Only this singularity of consciousness can act as a bridge that connects the ultimate being of the void to the images of the observer’s world.

The birth and development of the observer’s character can be understood in terms of the coherent organization of information, just as the physical death of the observer’s character can be understood in terms of the disorganization of information. Although symmetry breaking may be sufficient to drive the development of coherent organization in the observer’s character, the observer also plays a role in the organizing process through choice, especially when those choices become emotionally biased.

The animation of the observer’s character naturally arises in the flow of energy, which in part is directed by the observer’s focus of attention. An investment of emotional energy arises whenever the observer focuses its attention on its character, but this investment of energy can be withdrawn when the focus of attention is withdrawn. The part of the animation the observer can direct arises in the sense of choice with the observer’s emotionally biased focus of attention, but this always plays out against the backdrop of the normal unbiased flow of thermal energy through the observer’s world. Emotional bias in the focus of attention gives rise to emotional feedback as it leads to the expression of biased emotions.

In some sense, every emotionally biased expression of emotional energy that arises with the observer’s emotionally biased focus of attention is an interference with the normal flow of things through its world. This interference is analogous to a quantum interference pattern in the sense of a non-stationary path. This kind of interference leads to feelings of disconnection, while coming into alignment with the normal flow of energy and following the path of least action gives rise to feelings of connection.

Before I sink into the Big Sleep I want to hear, I want to hear the scream of the Butterfly.” (Jim Morrison, “When the Music’s Over”)

Coming into alignment with the normal flow of things is the meaning of the Grail legend, while interfering with things in an emotionally biased way is the meaning of the Wasteland. The transition to this state of energetic alignment is described as a metamorphosis, like the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. In this transformation, the caterpillar dies and the butterfly is born. This is the archetypal metaphor of spiritual rebirth. One dies to one’s false self-identification with one’s body and is reborn to one’s true spiritual identity (McKenna, 2002).

How is it even possible for the observer to identify itself with the form of its body? Neuroscience has demonstrated the emotional nature of meaning. Meaning is given in an emotional context, and this is also the case for self-identification (Damasio, 1999). Emotional context has to do with the flow of emotional energy that relates one distinct perceivable thing to another distinct perceivable thing. The observer is only able to emotionally identify itself with the form of its body due to the expression of emotions that relate the observer’s body to other distinct perceivable things in its world and that make the observer feel like it is really self-limited to the form of its body. This feeling of being embodied is perpetuated by the expression of biased emotions and the observer’s biased focus of attention that play an essential role in the mental construction of the observer’s body-based self-concept (McKenna, 2002).

The observer’s body-based self-concept is emotionally energized by the expression of biased emotional energy that relates the observer’s self-concept to other things in the observer’s world in emotionally biased ways. This self-identification process is also an emotional attachment process. As the observer identifies itself with its character, the observer also becomes attached to things in its world, including its own body. This emotional attachment process can only occur when the observer’s focus of attention is emotionally biased in favor of its character’s survival and is focused on its character and other things in its world in emotionally biased ways, which directly leads to the expression of biased emotions.

Emotional bias in the observer’s focus of attention and the expression of biased emotions are two sides of the same coin. As long as biased emotions are expressed by the observer’s character, the observer’s focus of attention is emotionally biased. As long as there is emotional bias in the observer’s focus of attention, its character will express biased emotions. This kind of emotional feedback is a vicious cycle. The only way this vicious cycle can be broken is if biased emotions are no longer expressed by the observer’s character and the observer stops directing its focus of attention in emotionally biased ways.

Breaking the vicious cycle is always a detachment process, or a process of letting go, as the observer detaches itself from its world and de-identifies itself from its character in that world. This letting go process is a kind of death as the observer stops being emotionally invested in or expressing bias in the outcome of any situations relevant to its character’s survival, and in effect stops caring about whether its character lives or dies. This is a giving up process both in the sense of letting go and a surrender.

The impartiality of this kind of emotional detachment is the only way the expression of emotional bias can come to an end. In this detachment process, things are accepted the way they normally occur as an expression of the normal flow of energy through the observer’s world, just like the acceptance of death that finally occurs through a process of grieving. In this detached state, the observer only watches as things play out in the normal way, and stops interfering with or trying to control things in an emotionally biased way so that things come out in favor of its character’s survival. This state of non-interference only occurs with willingness to relinquish the emotionally biased desire to control things (McKenna, 2002).

For the purpose of the observer’s awakening, only the de-animation of the observer’s character and disappearance of the observer’s world are required. This de-animation of the observer’s world is a direct result of withdrawing its focus of attention and emotional energy away from its world. Without the observer’s focus of attention on its world and this expression of energy, there can be no animation of the observer’s world. This always requires a shift in the observer’s focus of attention away from its world.

This shift in the observer’s focus of attention away from its world is what is meant by turning around, which is the original meaning of the word repent. In a spiritual or metaphysical sense, the observer turns the focus of its attention away from its world and onto its own sense of being present (Nisargadatta Maharaj, 1973). The observer shifts the focus of its attention onto itself. In some sense, only the observer’s focus of attention on its character and the expression of biased emotional energy can keep the observer emotionally attached to its world and self-identified with its character. The only way the observer can detach itself is if this expression of biased emotions comes to an end, which naturally occurs when the observer focuses its attention on its own sense of being present (McKenna, 2002).

An ascended observer can only know itself as the focal point of consciousness at the center of its world, or dissolve back into the undifferentiated consciousness of the void. In a very real sense, an ascended observer exists right at the edge of the abyss that separates the existence of its world and the animation of its character in that world from the void and the non-existence of its world (McKenna, 2002).

There is no scientific way to prove the existence of the undifferentiated consciousness of the void, but anyone can confirm this ultimate state of being for oneself. It is possible to do an experiment of One. That is what it means to become a Buddha and awaken from the dream of separation. All nondual traditions describe the process of awakening. When one awakens from the dream of the world, one’s world disappears and only one’s true underlying reality remains. The experience of one’s underlying reality is the experience of undifferentiated consciousness, which is the experience of nothingness. There is no other way to describe it. With dissolution, there is a sense of falling into the void, like entering into a state of ultimate free-fall (Osho, 1974). After awakening one observes one’s world again, but from an ascended point of view and self-identification with one’s character in one’s world is no longer possible.

What happens to the observer’s differentiated consciousness with the death of its body? One possibility is the observer’s consciousness remains differentiated as a focal point of consciousness at the central point of view of its world after body death. Like a phase transition, body death is only the irreversible disorganization of information in the way the observer’s body is coherently organized on the observer’s holographic screen. Even with body death the focal point of consciousness can remain differentiated. Maybe a new body coherently forms for the observer, which would explain the nature of reincarnation.

It’s important to point out the observer’s mind is greater than just the information organized within the physical limits of the observer’s body or brain. Quantum entanglement tells us the information for mental events involves entangled bits of information that are encoded both within the limits of the observer’s body and outside those limits. Quantum entanglement is a natural consequence of the holographic principle since the observer’s Hilbert space for observables as defined by its holographic screen arises as the eigenvalues of an SU(n) matrix, and all those bits of information are entangled with each other.

Entanglement tells us that with any mental event it is possible to know about events that occur outside the limits of the body even if those events are not physically connected to the body. Even after body death, quantum entanglement remains in effect, and so the observer still has a form of mind after body death. It may be that these mental experiences after body death lead to the reincarnation of a new body.

A critical point is only the holographic principle can resolve the paradoxes of quantum entanglement, like the Schrodinger cat paradox and Wigner’s friend paradox. All these paradoxes require an outside observer to collapse the entangled state of a quantum system, but as Amanda Gefter (2014) points out, the universe has no outside observer. The only possible point of view is from inside the universe. Gefter also points out that these entanglement paradoxes are really paradoxes of self-reference. All the bits of information encoded on the observer’s holographic screen are entangled, but the observer cannot arise from entangled bits of information. The observer can only identify itself with a form of information it observes, which brings us back to the question: where does the observer come from? The answer is the observer arises from the void at the central point of view of its world as its world is created.

The way the holographic principle resolves this problem is that all possible images of the universe are projected from a holographic screen to the central point of view of an observer, which is only a focal point of consciousness. Dark energy tells us the observer’s holographic screen is a cosmic horizon that only arises with the expansion of space. Only the cosmic horizon by breaking the symmetry of empty space allows for encoding of bits of information and projection of images from the screen along the lines of it from bit. Only the undifferentiated consciousness of the void as an empty space of potentiality can give rise to the point of view of the observer and the observer’s holographic screen. In the sense of ascension and dissolution, the observer is right at the edge of being outside the universe. The only way to be outside the world is to go beyond the images of a world projected from a holographic screen. The dissolution of consciousness into nothingness is all about what is beyond the images of a world.

How is it possible for the observer to return to its original state of being and for its differentiated point of consciousness to dissolve into undifferentiated consciousness? The answer is the holographic mechanism that creates the observer’s world must come to an end, which means the end of all expressions of energy, including the emotional energy we call the expression of desire. In all nondual traditions, this end of the expression of desire is understood not as body death, but as ego death. When the expression of all desires to live a life in the world come to an end, the observer’s ego, which is the observer’s mentally constructed and emotionally energized self-concept of who it is in its world, also comes to an end.

“No One Here Gets Out Alive” (Jim Morrison, “Five to One”)

The only possible breakthrough occurs with ego death, but ego is in resistance to the very end. Ego fights for its survival until it comes to an end, since that is the nature of how ego is coherently organized as a self-replicating form of information. This fight for survival is the nature of self-defensiveness.

Self-defensive expressions can occur in the moment as an expression of the normal flow of things, but with the expression of biased emotional energy and the mental construction of ego, these self-defensive expressions become emotionally reinforced, distorted and amplified like a positive feedback loop. The ultimate expression of self-defensiveness is the fear of death, which is ultimately the fear of nothingness. Paradoxically, the fear of nothingness is the fear of the ultimate nature of being. In a twisted way, being becomes afraid of itself. This fear of nothingness can only arise through the paradoxes of self-reference and self-identification that give rise to the mental construction of ego.

Only ego death, or the disorganization of this complex, mentally constructed, emotionally energized, self-replicating form of information allows for the breakthrough, which is really a break-out as the differentiated consciousness of the observer leaves its world behind, dissolves back into the undifferentiated consciousness of the void, and returns to its primordial state of undivided being. Like any process in which a coherently organized self-replicating form of information becomes disorganized, this breakthrough is really a breakdown, like a phase transition that melts ice back into water or a process of burning in which the ego burns away. Those who go through this disorganization process describe it as a mental, emotional or psychic breakdown, or a break with reality (McKenna, 2002).

“Burning, burning, burning, burning

Oh Lord, Thou pluckest me out.”

(The Buddha’s Fire Sermon)

As is often stated, the antidote is in the poison. The breakthrough can only occur with ego death, which is a complete and total surrender in which the fight for survival comes to an end. The fight for survival naturally comes to an end when all desires to live a life in the world come to an end. In this breakdown process, the self-identification of the observer with its character in its world also comes to an end, which is the only way the observer can break out of its embodied state of imprisonment. In a very real sense, only this break with reality can lead to the ascension and dissolution of consciousness.

Dissolution of the observer’s consciousness into undifferentiated consciousness requires de-animation of the observer’s world, which is a natural result of the observer withdrawing its focus of attention away from its world and its investment of emotional energy in its world. Ascension of the observer’s consciousness requires enough disorganization of the observer’s ego to allow for a state of emotional detachment in which the observer no longer identifies itself with its ego. This naturally happens when the expression of emotional bias comes to an end. Biased emotional energy is withdrawn away from its ego as the observer stops focusing its attention on its ego in emotionally biased ways.

As Plato tells us, even an ascended observer can still have an ego, but this mentally constructed self-concept no longer has enough emotional energy animating it for the observer to identify itself with it, and so the observer is no longer a prisoner. Plato calls this non-identified state of the observer freedom from bondage. The observer can only know itself as the light of consciousness emanating from its own focal point of consciousness and see its ego as another image projected from the screen like the self-referential narration of a movie by the central character (Nisargadatta Maharaj, 1973). With dissolution, the expenditure of all energy comes to an end, the observer’s world disappears, and the observer reunites itself with the undifferentiated consciousness of the void. Ultimately, the observer can only know itself to be the undifferentiated consciousness of the void (McKenna, 2002).

In a metaphysical sense, each observer’s differentiated light of consciousness, as it emanates from its own focal point of consciousness or singularity, is the nature of spiritual being, while the undifferentiated consciousness of the void is the ultimate nature of all being. Ultimately, only One Being exists.

Each observer’s consciousness has an apparent individual existence, but at the end of the day when the holographic mechanism is no longer expressed and the observer’s world disappears, every observer must return to its ultimate state of being as undifferentiated consciousness. The holographic mechanism must come to an end when energy is no longer expended and desires are no longer expressed. As the Tao Te Ching states: “Ever desireless one can see the mystery” (Lao Tsu, 1997).

Ultimately, there is only One Being. The void expresses its potentiality as it creates many worlds, each observed by its own observer at the central point of view and sharing information to the degree each observer’s holographic screen overlaps with the screens of other observers, but at the end of the day when these holographic mechanisms are no longer expressed, only the undifferentiated consciousness of the void exists. Every observer must eventually return to this ultimate state of being. Individual consciousness must ultimately reunite itself with undifferentiated consciousness. The divided light of consciousness of the observer must ultimately return to the undivided darkness of the void.

When the Music’s Over, Turn Out the Lights.” (Jim Morrison, “When the Music’s Over”)



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Additional References 

Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English trans. Vintage Books, 1997.

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Osho, The Book of Secrets. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1974.

Scientific GOD Journal | December 2016 | Volume 7 | Issue 10 | pp. 567-606 Kowall, J. P. & Deshpande, P.B., Matter, Death & Consciousness 

ISSN: 2153-831X Scientific GOD Journal Published by Scientific GOD, Inc.







Intellectuals — a category that includes academics, opinion journalists, and think tank experts — are freaks. I do not mean that in a disrespectful way. I myself have spent most of my life in one of the three roles mentioned above. I have even been accused of being a “public intellectual,” which sounds too much like “public nuisance” or even “public enemy” for my taste.

My point is that people who specialize in the life of ideas tend to be extremely atypical of their societies. They — we — are freaks in a statistical sense. For generations, populists of various kinds have argued that intellectuals are unworldly individuals out of touch with the experiences and values of most of  their fellow citizens. While anti-intellectual populists have often been wrong about the gold standard or the single tax or other issues, by and large they have been right about intellectuals.

The terms “intellectual” and “intelligentsia” arose around the same time in the 19th century. Before the industrial revolution, the few people in advanced civilizations paid to read, write, and debate were mostly either clerics like medieval Christian priests, monks, or secular scribes like Confucian mandarins who worked for kings or aristocrats, or, as in the city-states of ancient Greece, teachers whose students were mostly young men of the upper classes.

The replacement of agrarian civilization by industrial capitalism created two new homes for thinkers, both funded directly or indirectly by the newly enriched capitalist elite. One was the nonprofit sector — the university and the nonprofit think tank — founded chiefly by gifts from the tycoons who lent these institutions their names:  Stanford University, the Ford Foundation. Then there was bohemia, populated largely by the downwardly-mobile sons and daughters of the rich, spending down inherited bourgeois family fortunes while dabbling in the arts and philosophy and politics and denouncing the evils of the bourgeoisie.

Whether they are institutionalized professors and policy wonks or free-spirited bohemians, the intellectuals of the industrial era are as different from the mass of people in contemporary industrial societies as the clerics, scribes, mandarins, and itinerant philosophers of old were from the peasant or slave majorities in their societies.

To begin with, there is the matter of higher education. Only about 30 percent of American adults have a four-year undergraduate degree. The number of those with advanced graduate or professional degrees is around one in ten. As a BA is a minimal requirement for employment in most intellectual occupations, the pool from which scholars, writers, and policy experts is drawn is already a small one. It is even more exclusive in practice, because the children of the rich and affluent are over-represented among those who go to college.

Then there is location. There have only been a few world capitals of bohemia, generally in big, expensive cities that appeal to bohemian rich kids, like the Left Bank of the Seine and Greenwich Village and Haight-Ashbury. In the U.S., the geographic options for think tank scholars also tend to be limited to a few expensive cities, like Washington, D.C. and New York. Of the different breeds of the American intellectual, professors have the most diverse habitat, given the number and geographic distribution of universities across the American continent.

Whether they are professors, journalists, or technocratic experts, contemporary intellectuals are unlikely to live and work in the places where they are born.  In contrast, the average American lives about 18 miles from his or her mother. Like college education, geographic mobility in the service of personal career ambitions is common only within a highly atypical social and economic elite.

In their lifestyles, too, intellectuals tend to be unusually individualistic, by the standards of the larger society. I am aware of no studies of this sensitive topic, but to judge from my experience the number of single individuals and childless married couples among what might be called the American intelligentsia appears to be much higher than in the population at large. The postponement of marriage in order to accumulate credentials or job experience, the willingness to move to further career goals, and — in the case of bohemians — the willingness to accept incomes too low to support children in order to be an avant-garde writer or artist or revolutionary sets intellectuals and other elite professionals apart from the working-class majority whose education ends with high school and who rely on extended family networks for economic support and child care.

The fact that we members of the intellectual professions are quite atypical of the societies in which we live tends to distort our judgment, when we forget that we belong to a tiny and rather bizarre minority. This is not a problem with the hard sciences.  But in the social sciences, intellectuals — be they professors, pundits, or policy wonks — tend to be both biased and unaware of their own bias.

This can be seen in the cosmopolitanism of the average intellectual. I was the guest of honor at an Ivy League law school dinner some years ago, when, in response to my question, the academics present — U.S. citizens, except for one — unanimously said they did not consider themselves American patriots, but rather “citizens of the world.”  The only patriot present, apart from yours truly, was an Israeli visiting professor.

Paranoid populists no doubt would see this as confirmation of their fear intellectuals are part of a global conspiracy directed by the UN or the Bilderbergers.  I see it rather as a deformation professionelle.  Scholarship, by its nature, is borderless.  The mere phrases “Aryan science” and “Jewish science” or “socialist scholarship” and “bourgeois scholarship” should send chills down the spine. Furthermore,  many successful academics study, teach, and live in different countries in the course of their careers.

So it is natural for academics to view a borderless world as the moral and political ideal — natural, but still stupid and lazy. Make-believe cosmopolitanism is particularly stupid and lazy in the case of academics who fancy themselves progressives. In the absence of a global government that could raise taxes to fund a global welfare state, the free movement of people among countries would overburden and destroy existing national welfare states, or else empower right-wing populists to defend welfare states for natives against immigrants, as is happening both in the U.S. and Europe.

The views of intellectuals about social reform tend to be warped by professional and personal biases, as well. In the U.S. the default prescription for inequality and other social problems among professors, pundits, and policy wonks alike tends to be:  More education! Successful intellectuals get where they are by being good at taking tests and by going to good schools. It is only natural for them to generalize from their own highly atypical life experiences and propose that society would be better off if everyone went to college — natural, but still stupid and lazy. Most of the jobs in advanced economies — a majority of them in the service sector — do not require higher education beyond a little vocational training. Notwithstanding automation, for the foreseeable future janitors will vastly outnumber professors, and if the wages of janitors are too low then other methods — unionization, the restriction of low-wage immigration, a higher minimum wage — make much more sense than enabling janitors to acquire BAs, much less MAs and Ph.Ds.

The social isolation of intellectuals, I think, is worsened by their concentration in a few big metro areas close to individual and institutional donors like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (where I live) or in equally atypical college towns. It was never possible for Chinese mandarins or medieval Christian monks in Europe to imagine that their lifestyles could be adopted by the highly visible peasantry that surrounded them. But it is possible for people to go from upper middle class suburbs to selective schools to big-city bohemias or campuses with only the vaguest idea of how the 70 percent of their fellow citizens whose education ends with high school actually live.

Universal national service would be a bad idea; the working class majority is hard-pressed enough without being required to perform unpaid labor. But it might not hurt if every professor, opinion journalist, and foundation expert, as a condition of career advancement, had to spend a year or two working in a shopping mall, hotel, hospital, or warehouse. Our out-of-touch intelligentsia might learn some lessons that cannot be obtained from books and seminars alone





“Concerning matter, we have been all wrong. What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.”

– Quote attributed to Albert Einstein


Yes, this is quite a bold statement, if true, that would certainly demand some sort of evidence or mathematical proof to back it up. It may seem like a paradox that the things which we can see and touch are nonexistent. However, there is an answer to this, which may be found in the bold and exciting (relatively) new science of quantum physics.

In ages past, it was believed that what we can see and touch, like a rock for instance, was the elements, in other words, matter. However, as science developed, such as chemistry, and much more recently quantum physics, it had been observed that matter seems to exist on one hand, but once one takes a deep look into the heart of the matter (no pun intended), there seems as if there is nothing. In atoms, you have mostly protons, neutrons and electrons. However, electrons for example, are insignificantly microscopic and spread out over enormous distances. Inbetween them, there is what is perceived as empty space. In fact, 99.99999% of an atom is this so-called ‘empty space’. Even if we look into electrons, protons, etc, we see that there is yet more open space. Gluons, neutrinos and the like are also in there somewhere but no matter how far into these particles we look, there is not anything that we can say quantifiably that it is the building block of all of this. What’s more, electrons literally possess no dimension. An electron is simply not an object as we know it. There is nothing. However, our eyes and observations are fooling us because indeed this nothing is something but we can not quantifiably say it is something and therefore it is nothing. There has to exist an energy that holds all these particles together like a sort of glue, or else matter would not exist because it would be akin to having a rock turn into sand that can not stay together as a rock any longer.

There have been some notable quantum physicists, such as Dr. Fred Alan Wolf, that have been looking to fuse science with spirituality…and with relative success. Below is from an article attributed to Dr. Wolf concerning his perception of this most-interesting issue at hand.

Quantum physics has thus brought about a radical new understanding both of the particles and the void. In subatomic physics, mass is no longer seen as a material substance but is recognized as a form of energy. When a piece of seemingly solid matter–a rock or a human hand or the limb of a tree–is placed under a powerful electronic microscope: the electron-scanning microscope, with the power to magnify several thousand times, takes us down into a realm that has the look of the sea about it… In the kingdom of corpuscles, there is transfiguration and there is samsara, the endless round of birth and death. Every passing second, some 2-1/2 million red cells are born; every second, the same number die. The typical cell lives about 110 days, then becomes tired and decrepit. There are no lingering deaths here, for when a cell loses its vital force, it somehow attracts the attention of macrophage.

As the magnification increases, the flesh does begin to dissolve. Muscle fiber now takes on a fully crystaline aspect. We can see that it is made of long, spiral molecules in orderly array. And all of these molecules are swaying like wheat in the wind, connected with one another and held in place by invisible waves that pulse many trillions of times a second. What are the molecules made of? As we move closer, we see atoms, the tiny shadowy balls dancing around their fixed locations in the molecules, sometimes changing position with their partners in perfect rhythms. And now we focus on one of the atoms; its interior is lightly veiled by a cloud of electrons. We come closer, increasing the magnification. The shell dissolves and we look on the inside to find…nothing.

Somewhere within that emptiness, we know is a nucleus. We scan the space, and there it is, a tiny dot. At last, we have discovered something hard and solid, a reference point. But no! as we move closer to the nucleus, it too begins to dissolve. It too is nothing more than an oscillating field, waves of rhythm. Inside the nucleus are other organized fields: protons, neutrons, even smaller “particles.” Each of these, upon our approach, also dissolve into pure rhythm. These days they (the scientists) are looking for quarks, strange subatomic entities, having qualities which they describe with such words as upness, downness, charm, strangeness, truth, beauty, color, and flavor. But no matter. If we could get close enough to these wondrous quarks, they too would melt away. They too would have to give up all pretense of solidity. Even their speed and relationship would be unclear, leaving them only relationship and pattern of vibration.

Of what is the body made? It is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world, there is no solidity. Once again, there is only the dance. (At) the unimaginable heart of the atom, the compact nucleus, we have found no solid object, but rather a dynamic pattern of tightly confined energy vibrating perhaps 1022 times a second: a dance… The protons–the positively charged knots in the pattern of the nucleus–are not only powerful; they are very old. Along with the much lighter electrons that spin and vibrate around the outer regions of the atom, the protons constitute the most ancient entities of matter in the universe, going back to the first seconds after the birth of space and time.

It follows then that in the world of subatomic physics there are no objects, only processes. Atoms consist of particles and these particles are not made of any solid material substance. When we observe them under a microscope, we never see any substance; we rather observe dynamic patterns, continually changing into one another–a continuous dance of energy. This dance of energy, the underlying rhythm of the universe, is again more intuited than seen. Jack Kornfield, a contemporary teacher of meditation, finds a parallel between the behavior of subatomic particles and meditational states:

When the mind becomes very silent, you can clearly see that all that exists in the world are brief moments of consciousness arising together with the six sense objects. There is only sight and the knowing of sight, sound and the knowing of sound, smell, taste and the knowing of them, thoughts and the knowing of thoughts. If you can make the mind very focused, as you can in meditation, you see that the whole world breaks down into these small events of sight and the knowing, sound and the knowing, thought and the knowing. No longer are these houses, cars, bodies or even oneself. All you see are particles of consciousness as experience. Yet you can go deep in meditation in another way and the mind becomes very still. You will see differently that consciousness is like waves, like a sea, an ocean. Now it is not particles but instead every sight and every sound is contained in this ocean of consciousness. From this perspective, there is no sense of particles at all.

If truly being the words of Dr. Wolf, I believe this above explanation of this fascinating reality is a beautiful description of the issue at hand.

So how is it that we exist as matter? Albert Einstein alluded to this answer. We, the people of this beautiful planet, are really beings made of energy, but we exist at the 3rd dimension because our atoms have a specific frequency which makes us able to exist in this very 3rd dimension. This specific frequency is stable enough for all our lifetime. Using this information, if we are indeed capable of accelerating and decelerating the frequencies to make us able to exist in the 3rd dimension, then naturally, we can use this in order to travel inter-dimensionally throughout the infinite multiverse…and here lies the key to the true evolution of the human being race. Once we learn, or progress far enough, to accelerate and decelerate the vibrating frequencies of our atoms, then, in theory, we will be able to exist in the 5th dimension and in parallel universes of this wonderful multiverse.

Note: The quote attributed to Albert Einstein in the beginning of the article, as well as the article quotations attributed to Fred Alan Wolf are not in the specific terms which these two physicists have used. However, upon deeper research, there is enough evidence to be compelled to believe that the general message of matter not being definitive to still hold true. A quote from Einstein’s “Metaphysics of Relativity” (1950)shows this:

“Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended (as fields). In this way the concept ‘empty space’ loses its meaning. … The field thus becomes an irreducible element of physical description, irreducible in the same sense as the concept of matter (particles) in the theory of Newton.”

Legendary physicist Max Planck is attributed to saying in a lecture that was given in Florence the following:

“As a physicist, that is, a man who had devoted his whole life to a wholly prosaic science, the exploration of matter, no one would surely suspect me of being a fantast. And so, having studied the atom, I am telling you that there is no matter as such. All matter arises and persists only due to a force that causes the atomic particles to vibrate, holding them together in the tiniest of solar systems, the atom. Yet in the whole of the universe there is no force that is either intelligent or eternal, and we must therefore assume that behind this force there is a conscious, intelligent mind or spirit. This is the very origin of all matter.”

Source of this quote is from the following:



The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions — sights, sounds, textures, tastes — are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it — or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion — we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

Getting at questions about the nature of reality, and disentangling the observer from the observed, is an endeavor that straddles the boundaries of neuroscience and fundamental physics. On one side you’ll find researchers scratching their chins raw trying to understand how a three-pound lump of gray matter obeying nothing more than the ordinary laws of physics can give rise to first-person conscious experience. This is the aptly named “hard problem.”

On the other side are quantum physicists, marveling at the strange fact that quantum systems don’t seem to be definite objects localized in space until we come along to observe them — whether we are conscious humans or inanimate measuring devices. Experiment after experiment has shown — defying common sense — that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space. As the physicist John Wheeler put it, “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.”

So while neuroscientists struggle to understand how there can be such a thing as a first-person reality, quantum physicists have to grapple with the mystery of how there can be anything but a first-person reality. In short, all roads lead back to the observer. And that’s where you can find Hoffman — straddling the boundaries, attempting a mathematical model of the observer, trying to get at the reality behind the illusion. Quanta Magazine caught up with him to find out more. An edited and condensed version of the conversation follows.



To read the interview and the rest of the article go to




This article was reprinted on

Ron Padgett

The Writer’s Almanac for June 17, 2016



by Ron Padgett

Listen Online

The older I get, the more I like hugging. When I was little the
people hugging me were much larger. In their grasp I was a rag
doll. In adolescence, my body was too tense to relax for a hug.
Later, after the loss of virginity—which was anything but a
loss—the extreme proximity of the other person, the smell of
hair, the warmth of the skin, the sound of breathing in the
dark—these were mysterious and delectable. This hug had
two primary components: the anticipation of sex and the plea-
sure of intimacy, which itself is a combination of trust and
affection. It was this latter combination that came to character-
ize the hugging I have experienced only in recent years, a hug-
ging that knows no distinctions of gender or age. When this
kind of hug is mutual, for a moment the world is perfect the
way it is, and the tears we shed for it are perfect too. I guess it
is an embrace.
“Hug” by Ron Padgett from Collected Poems. © Coffee House Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Today, 6/12/16, is the birthday of avant-garde American poet, essayist, and translator Ron Padgett (1942) (books by this author), who once said: “If you match yourself up against Shakespeare, guess what? You lose. It’s not productive. Better to focus on the poem you’re writing, do your work, and leave it at that.”

Padgett was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father was a bootlegger who also traded cars; his mother was a housewife who assisted Padgett’s father with bootlegging. Padgett was a precocious reader as a teenager, drifting toward Baudelaire and Rimbaud. He said: “When I got to adolescence, I became more and more gloomy and introspective and serious and angst-ridden.” He and a few friends started an avant-garde literary journal called The White Dove, which lasted for five years. They weren’t shy about writing to their literary heroes and soliciting work. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and LeRoi Jones all published poems in Padgett’s small magazine.

Padgett went to New York to attend Columbia University (1960), where he fell in with a group of poets who favored stream-of-consciousness writing, vivid imagery, and spontaneity. It was the 1960s, and Padgett, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and Ted Berrigan drew inspiration from the art galleries, museums, dancers, and artists that surrounded them. Padgett inherited Kenneth Koch’s teaching position as a “poet-in-the-schools” (1969) for the Teachers & Writers Collaborative, and stayed for nine years. In the beginning, he was paid $50 for three class visits, which he could do in one day, and which paid for an entire month’s rent, utilities, and his phone bill. He loved teaching public school children. He said that whenever poets visited a classroom, “We were like heroes being welcomed home.”

Padgett’s collections of poetry include Bean Spasms: Poems and Prose (1967, with Ted Berrigan); How to Be Perfect (2007); and Alone and Not Alone (2015). His collection How Long (2011) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Padgett says: “Almost everything that’s happened in my poetry is what you might call organic. I don’t do much pre-conceiving. If I start to sound too much like the Ron Padgett that I’ve read before, I stop myself.”

On writing his poems, he says: “If I don’t make line breaks, it’s a prose poem. The line breaks are part of the dance of the poem. If I’m not dancing, I don’t know what steps to take. I don’t know whether to turn or to bow or to move quickly or whatever. I don’t know what to do if I don’t have the line breaks.”





Democracies end when they are too democratic. -Plato

As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.”

What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the non-judgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

And so, as I chit-chatted over cocktails at a Washington office Christmas party in December, and saw, looming above our heads, the pulsating, angry televised face of Donald Trump on Fox News, I couldn’t help but feel a little nausea permeate my stomach. And as I watched frenzied Trump rallies on C-SPAN in the spring, and saw him lay waste to far more qualified political peers in the debates by simply calling them names, the nausea turned to dread. And when he seemed to condone physical violence as a response to political disagreement, alarm bells started to ring in my head. Plato had planted a gnawing worry in my mind a few decades ago about the intrinsic danger of late-democratic life. It was increasingly hard not to see in Plato’s vision a murky reflection of our own hyper-democratic times and in Trump a demagogic, tyrannical character plucked directly out of one of the first books about politics ever written.

Could it be that the Donald has emerged from the populist circuses of pro wrestling and New York City tabloids, via reality television and Twitter, to prove not just Plato but also James Madison right, that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention … and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”? Is he testing democracy’s singular weakness — its susceptibility to the demagogue — by blasting through the firewalls we once had in place to prevent such a person from seizing power? Or am I overreacting?

Perhaps. The nausea comes and goes, and there have been days when the news algorithm has actually reassured me that “peak Trump” has arrived. But it hasn’t gone away, and neither has Trump. In the wake of his most recent primary triumphs, at a time when he is perilously close to winning enough delegates to grab the Republican nomination outright, I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself.

Plato, of course, was not clairvoyant. His analysis of how democracy can turn into tyranny is a complex one more keyed toward ancient societies than our own (and contains more wrinkles and eddies than I can summarize here). His disdain for democratic life was fueled in no small part by the fact that a democracy had executed his mentor, Socrates. And he would, I think, have been astonished at how American democracy has been able to thrive with unprecedented stability over the last couple of centuries even as it has brought more and more people into its embrace. It remains, in my view, a miracle of constitutional craftsmanship and cultural resilience. There is no place I would rather live. But it is not immortal, nor should we assume it is immune to the forces that have endangered democracy so many times in human history.

Part of American democracy’s stability is owed to the fact that the Founding Fathers had read their Plato. To guard our democracy from the tyranny of the majority and the passions of the mob, they constructed large, hefty barriers between the popular will and the exercise of power. Voting rights were tightly circumscribed. The president and vice-president were not to be popularly elected but selected by an Electoral College, whose representatives were selected by the various states, often through state legislatures. The Senate’s structure (with two members from every state) was designed to temper the power of the more populous states, and its term of office (six years, compared with two for the House) was designed to cool and restrain temporary populist passions. The Supreme Court, picked by the president and confirmed by the Senate, was the final bulwark against any democratic furies that might percolate up from the House and threaten the Constitution. This separation of powers was designed precisely to create sturdy firewalls against democratic wildfires.

Over the centuries, however, many of these undemocratic rules have been weakened or abolished. The franchise has been extended far beyond propertied white men. The presidency is now effectively elected through popular vote, with the Electoral College almost always reflecting the national democratic will. And these formal democratic advances were accompanied by informal ones, as the culture of democracy slowly took deeper root. For a very long time, only the elites of the political parties came to select their candidates at their quadrennial conventions, with the vote largely restricted to party officials from the various states (and often decided in, yes, smoke-filled rooms in large hotel suites). Beginning in the early 1900s, however, the parties began experimenting with primaries, and after the chaos of the 1968 Democratic convention, today’s far more democratic system became the norm.

Direct democracy didn’t just elect Congress and the president anymore; it expanded the notion of who might be qualified for public office. Once, candidates built a career through experience in elected or Cabinet positions or as military commanders; they were effectively selected by peer review. That elitist sorting mechanism has slowly imploded. In 1940, Wendell Willkie, a businessman with no previous political office, won the Republican nomination for president, pledging to keep America out of war and boasting that his personal wealth inoculated him against corruption: “I will be under obligation to nobody except the people.” He lost badly to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but nonetheless, since then, nonpolitical candidates have proliferated, from Ross Perot and Jesse Jackson, to Steve Forbes and Herman Cain, to this year’s crop of Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and, of course, Donald J. Trump. This further widening of our democracy — our increased openness to being led by anyone; indeed, our accelerating preference for outsiders — is now almost complete.

The barriers to the popular will, especially when it comes to choosing our president, are now almost nonexistent. In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote and won the election thanks to Electoral College math and, more egregiously, to a partisan Supreme Court vote. Al Gore’s eventual concession spared the nation a constitutional crisis, but the episode generated widespread unease, not just among Democrats. And this year, the delegate system established by our political parties is also under assault. Trump has argued that the candidate with the most votes should get the Republican nomination, regardless of the rules in place. It now looks as if he won’t even need to win that argument — that he’ll bank enough delegates to secure the nomination uncontested — but he’s won it anyway. Fully half of Americans now believe the traditional nominating system is rigged.

Many contend, of course, that American democracy is actually in retreat, close to being destroyed by the vastly more unequal economy of the last quarter-century and the ability of the very rich to purchase political influence. This is Bernie Sanders’s core critique. But the past few presidential elections have demonstrated that, in fact, money from the ultra-rich has been mostly a dud. Barack Obama, whose 2008 campaign was propelled by small donors and empowered by the internet, blazed the trail of the modern-day insurrectionist, defeating the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic primary and later his Republican opponent (both pillars of their parties’ Establishments and backed by moneyed elites). In 2012, the fund-raising power behind Mitt Romney — avatar of the one percent — failed to dislodge Obama from office. And in this presidential cycle, the breakout candidates of both parties have soared without financial support from the elites. Sanders, who is sustaining his campaign all the way to California on the backs of small donors and large crowds, is, to put it bluntly, a walking refutation of his own argument. Trump, of course, is a largely self-funding billionaire — but like Willkie, he argues that his wealth uniquely enables him to resist the influence of the rich and their lobbyists. Those despairing over the influence of Big Money in American politics must also explain the swift, humiliating demise of Jeb Bush and the struggling Establishment campaign of Hillary Clinton. The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics.

None of this is necessarily cause for alarm, even though it would be giving the Founding Fathers palpitations. The emergence of the first black president — unimaginable before our more inclusive democracy — is miraculous, a strengthening, rather than weakening, of the system. The days when party machines just fixed things or rigged elections are mercifully done with. The way in which outsider candidates, from Obama to Trump and Sanders, have brought millions of new people into the electoral process is an unmitigated advance. The inclusion of previously excluded voices helps, rather than impedes, our public deliberation. But it is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.

What the 21st century added to this picture, it’s now blindingly obvious, was media democracy — in a truly revolutionary form. If late-stage political democracy has taken two centuries to ripen, the media equivalent took around two decades, swiftly erasing almost any elite moderation or control of our democratic discourse. The process had its origins in partisan talk radio at the end of the past century. The rise of the internet — an event so swift and pervasive its political effect is only now beginning to be understood — further democratized every source of information, dramatically expanded each outlet’s readership, and gave everyone a platform. All the old barriers to entry — the cost of print and paper and distribution — crumbled.

So much of this was welcome. I relished it myself in the early aughts, starting a blog and soon reaching as many readers, if not more, as some small magazines do. Fusty old-media institutions, grown fat and lazy, deserved a drubbing. The early independent blogosphere corrected facts, exposed bias, earned scoops. And as the medium matured, and as Facebook and Twitter took hold, everyone became a kind of blogger. In ways no 20th-century journalist would have believed, we all now have our own virtual newspapers on our Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter timelines — picking stories from countless sources and creating a peer-to-peer media almost completely free of editing or interference by elites. This was bound to make politics more fluid. Political organizing — calling a meeting, fomenting a rally to advance a cause — used to be extremely laborious. Now you could bring together a virtual mass movement with a single webpage. It would take you a few seconds.

The web was also uniquely capable of absorbing other forms of media, conflating genres and categories in ways never seen before. The distinction between politics and entertainment became fuzzier; election coverage became even more modeled on sportscasting; your Pornhub jostled right next to your mother’s Facebook page. The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking “Is this relevant?” or “Do we really need to cover this live?” in the rush toward ratings bonanzas. In the end, all these categories were reduced to one thing: traffic, measured far more accurately than any other medium had ever done before.

And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.

Yes, occasional rational points still fly back and forth, but there are dramatically fewer elite arbiters to establish which of those points is actually true or valid or relevant. We have lost authoritative sources for even a common set of facts. And without such common empirical ground, the emotional component of politics becomes inflamed and reason retreats even further. The more emotive the candidate, the more supporters he or she will get.

Politically, we lucked out at first. Obama would never have been nominated for the presidency, let alone elected, if he hadn’t harnessed the power of the web and the charisma of his media celebrity. But he was also, paradoxically, a very elite figure, a former state and U.S. senator, a product of Harvard Law School, and, as it turned out, blessed with a preternaturally rational and calm disposition. So he has masked, temporarily, the real risks in the system that his pioneering campaign revealed. Hence many Democrats’ frustration with him. Those who saw in his campaign the seeds of revolutionary change, who were drawn to him by their own messianic delusions, came to be bitterly disappointed by his governing moderation and pragmatism.

The climate Obama thrived in, however, was also ripe for far less restrained opportunists. In 2008, Sarah Palin emerged as proof that an ardent Republican, branded as an outsider, tailor-made for reality TV, proud of her own ignorance about the world, and reaching an audience directly through online media, could also triumph in this new era. She was, it turned out, a John the Baptist for the true messiah of conservative populism, waiting patiently and strategically for his time to come.

Trump, we now know, had been considering running for president for decades. Those who didn’t see him coming — or kept treating him as a joke — had not yet absorbed the precedents of Obama and Palin or the power of the new wide-open system to change the rules of the political game. Trump was as underrated for all of 2015 as Obama was in 2007 — and for the same reasons. He intuitively grasped the vanishing authority of American political and media elites, and he had long fashioned a public persona perfectly attuned to blast past them.

Despite his immense wealth and inherited privilege, Trump had always cultivated a common touch. He did not hide his wealth in the late-20th century — he flaunted it in a way that connected with the masses. He lived the rich man’s life most working men dreamed of — endless glamour and women, for example — without sacrificing a way of talking about the world that would not be out of place on the construction sites he regularly toured. His was a cult of democratic aspiration. His 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, promised its readers a path to instant success; his appearances on “The Howard Stern Show” cemented his appeal. His friendship with Vince McMahon offered him an early entrée into the world of professional wrestling, with its fusion of sports and fantasy. He was a macho media superstar.

One of the more amazing episodes in Sarah Palin’s early political life, in fact, bears this out. She popped up in the Anchorage Daily News as “a commercial fisherman from Wasilla” on April 3, 1996. Palin had told her husband she was going to Costco but had sneaked into J.C. Penney in Anchorage to see … one Ivana Trump, who, in the wake of her divorce, was touting her branded perfume. “We want to see Ivana,” Palin told the paper, “because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.”

Trump assiduously cultivated this image and took to reality television as a natural. Each week, for 14 seasons of The Apprentice, he would look someone in the eye and tell them, “You’re fired!” The conversation most humane bosses fear to have with an employee was something Trump clearly relished, and the cruelty became entertainment. In retrospect, it is clear he was training — both himself and his viewers. If you want to understand why a figure so widely disliked nonetheless powers toward the election as if he were approaching a reality-TV-show finale, look no further. His television tactics, as applied to presidential debates, wiped out rivals used to a different game. And all our reality-TV training has conditioned us to hope he’ll win — or at least stay in the game till the final round. In such a shame-free media environment, the assholes often win. In the end, you support them because they’re assholes.

In Eric Hoffer’s classic 1951 tract, The True Believer, he sketches the dynamics of a genuine mass movement. He was thinking of the upheavals in Europe in the first half of the century, but the book remains sobering, especially now. Hoffer’s core insight was to locate the source of all truly mass movements in a collective sense of acute frustration. Not despair, or revolt, or resignation — but frustration simmering with rage. Mass movements, he notes (as did Tocqueville centuries before him), rarely arise when oppression or misery is at its worst (say, 2009); they tend to appear when the worst is behind us but the future seems not so much better (say, 2016). It is when a recovery finally gathers speed and some improvement is tangible but not yet widespread that the anger begins to rise. After the suffering of recession or unemployment, and despite hard work with stagnant or dwindling pay, the future stretches ahead with relief just out of reach. When those who helped create the last recession face no consequences but renewed fabulous wealth, the anger reaches a crescendo.

The deeper, long-term reasons for today’s rage are not hard to find, although many of us elites have shamefully found ourselves able to ignore them. The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet. No one asked them in the 1990s if this was the future they wanted. And the impact has been more brutal than many economists predicted. No wonder suicide and mortality rates among the white working poor are spiking dramatically.

“It is usually those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘new poor,’ who throb with the ferment of frustration,” Hoffer argues. Fundamentalist religion long provided some emotional support for those left behind (for one thing, it invites practitioners to defy the elites as unholy), but its influence has waned as modernity has penetrated almost everything and the great culture wars of the 1990s and 2000s have ended in a rout. The result has been a more diverse mainstream culture — but also, simultaneously, a subculture that is even more alienated and despised, and ever more infuriated and bloody-minded.

This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate.

For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”

And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization. The Black Lives Matter left stoked the fires still further; so did the gay left, for whom the word magnanimity seems unknown, even in the wake of stunning successes. And as the tea party swept through Washington in 2010, as its representatives repeatedly held the government budget hostage, threatened the very credit of the U.S., and refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, the American political and media Establishment mostly chose to interpret such behavior as something other than unprecedented. But Trump saw what others didn’t, just as Hoffer noted: “The frustrated individual and the true believer make better prognosticators than those who have reason to want the preservation of the status quo.”

Mass movements, Hoffer argues, are distinguished by a “facility for make-believe … credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible.” What, one wonders, could be more impossible than suddenly vetting every single visitor to the U.S. for traces of Islamic belief? What could be more make-believe than a big, beautiful wall stretching across the entire Mexican border, paid for by the Mexican government? What could be more credulous than arguing that we could pay off our national debt through a global trade war? In a conventional political party, and in a rational political discourse, such ideas would be laughed out of contention, their self-evident impossibility disqualifying them from serious consideration. In the emotional fervor of a democratic mass movement, however, these impossibilities become icons of hope, symbols of a new way of conducting politics. Their very impossibility is their appeal.

But the most powerful engine for such a movement — the thing that gets it off the ground, shapes and solidifies and entrenches it — is always the evocation of hatred. It is, as Hoffer put it, “the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying elements.” And so Trump launched his campaign by calling undocumented Mexican immigrants a population largely of rapists and murderers. He moved on to Muslims, both at home and abroad. He has now added to these enemies — with sly brilliance — the Republican Establishment itself. And what makes Trump uniquely dangerous in the history of American politics — with far broader national appeal than, say, Huey Long or George Wallace — is his response to all three enemies. It’s the threat of blunt coercion and dominance.

And so after demonizing most undocumented Mexican immigrants, he then vowed to round up and deport all 11 million of them by force. “They have to go” was the typically blunt phrase he used — and somehow people didn’t immediately recognize the monstrous historical echoes. The sheer scale of the police and military operation that this policy would entail boggles the mind. Worse, he emphasized, after the mass murder in San Bernardino, that even the Muslim-Americans you know intimately may turn around and massacre you at any juncture. “There’s something going on,” he declaimed ominously, giving legitimacy to the most hysterical and ugly of human impulses.

To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. But his movement is clearly fascistic in its demonization of foreigners, its hyping of a threat by a domestic minority (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews), its focus on a single supreme leader of what can only be called a cult, and its deep belief in violence and coercion in a democracy that has heretofore relied on debate and persuasion. This is the Weimar aspect of our current moment. Just as the English Civil War ended with a dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell, and the French Revolution gave us Napoleon Bonaparte, and the unstable chaos of Russian democracy yielded to Vladimir Putin, and the most recent burst of Egyptian democracy set the conditions for General el-Sisi’s coup, so our paralyzed, emotional hyper-democracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.

His response to his third vaunted enemy, the RNC, is also laced with the threat of violence. There will be riots in Cleveland if he doesn’t get his way. The RNC will have “a rough time” if it doesn’t cooperate. “Paul Ryan, I don’t know him well, but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him,” Trump has said. “And if I don’t? He’s gonna have to pay a big price, okay?” The past month has seen delegates to the Cleveland convention receiving death threats; one of Trump’s hatchet men, Roger Stone, has already threatened to publish the hotel rooms of delegates who refuse to vote for Trump.

And what’s notable about Trump’s supporters is precisely what one would expect from members of a mass movement: their intense loyalty. Trump is their man, however inarticulate they are when explaining why. He’s tough, he’s real, and they’ve got his back, especially when he is attacked by all the people they have come to despise: liberal Democrats and traditional Republicans. At rallies, whenever a protester is hauled out, you can almost sense the rising rage of the collective identity venting itself against a lone dissenter and finding a catharsis of sorts in the brute force a mob can inflict on an individual. Trump tells the crowd he’d like to punch a protester in the face or have him carried out on a stretcher. No modern politician who has come this close to the presidency has championed violence in this way. It would be disqualifying if our hyper­-democracy hadn’t already abolished disqualifications.

And while a critical element of 20th-century fascism — its organized street violence — is missing, you can begin to see it in embryonic form. The phalanx of bodyguards around Trump grows daily; plainclothes bouncers in the crowds have emerged as pseudo-cops to contain the incipient unrest his candidacy will only continue to provoke; supporters have attacked hecklers with sometimes stunning ferocity. Every time Trump legitimizes potential violence by his supporters by saying it comes from a love of country, he sows the seeds for serious civil unrest.

Trump celebrates torture — the one true love of tyrants everywhere — not because it allegedly produces intelligence but because it has a demonstration effect. At his rallies he has recounted the mythical acts of one General John J. Pershing when confronted with an alleged outbreak of Islamist terrorism in the Philippines. Pershing, in Trump’s telling, lines up 50 Muslim prisoners, swishes a series of bullets in the corpses of freshly slaughtered pigs, and orders his men to put those bullets in their rifles and kill 49 of the captured Muslim men. He spares one captive solely so he can go back and tell his friends. End of the terrorism problem.

In some ways, this story contains all the elements of Trump’s core appeal. The vexing problem of tackling jihadist terror? Torture and murder enough terrorists and they will simply go away. The complicated issue of undocumented workers, drawn by jobs many Americans won’t take? Deport every single one of them and build a wall to stop the rest. Fuck political correctness. As one of his supporters told an obtuse reporter at a rally when asked if he supported Trump: “Hell yeah! He’s no-bullshit. All balls. Fuck you all balls. That’s what I’m about.” And therein lies the appeal of tyrants from the beginning of time. Fuck you all balls. Irrationality with muscle.

The racial aspect of this is also unmissable. When the enemy within is Mexican or Muslim, and your ranks are extremely white, you set up a rubric for a racial conflict. And what’s truly terrifying about Trump is that he does not seem to shrink from such a prospect; he relishes it.

For, like all tyrants, he is utterly lacking in self-control. Sleeping a handful of hours a night, impulsively tweeting in the early hours, improvising madly on subjects he knows nothing about, Trump rants and raves as he surfs an entirely reactive media landscape. Once again, Plato had his temperament down: A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life … is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.” Sound familiar? Trump is as mercurial and as unpredictable and as emotional as the daily Twitter stream. And we are contemplating giving him access to the nuclear codes.

Those who believe that Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism has no chance of ever making it to the White House seem to me to be missing this dynamic. Neo-fascist movements do not advance gradually by persuasion; they first transform the terms of the debate, create a new movement based on untrammeled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events. And so current poll numbers are only reassuring if you ignore the potential impact of sudden, external events — an economic downturn or a terror attack in a major city in the months before November. I have no doubt, for example, that Trump is sincere in his desire to “cut the head off” ISIS, whatever that can possibly mean. But it remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.

And though Trump’s unfavorables are extraordinarily high (around 65 percent), he is already showing signs of changing his tune, pivoting (fitfully) to the more presidential mode he envisages deploying in the general election. I suspect this will, to some fools on the fence, come as a kind of relief, and may open their minds to him once more. Tyrants, like mob bosses, know the value of a smile: Precisely because of the fear he’s already generated, you desperately want to believe in his new warmth. It’s part of the good-cop-bad-cop routine that will be familiar to anyone who has studied the presidency of Vladimir Putin.

With his appeal to his own base locked up, Trump may well also shift to more moderate stances on social issues like abortion (he already wants to amend the GOP platform to a less draconian position) or gay and even transgender rights. He is consistent in his inconsistency, because, for him, winning is what counts. He has had a real case against Ted Cruz — that the senator has no base outside ideological-conservative quarters and is even less likely to win a general election. More potently, Trump has a worryingly strong argument against Clinton herself — or “crooked Hillary,” as he now dubs her.

His proposition is a simple one. Remember James Carville’s core question in the 1992 election: Change versus more of the same? That sentiment once elected Clinton’s husband; it could also elect her opponent this fall. If you like America as it is, vote Clinton. After all, she has been a member of the American political elite for a quarter-century. Clinton, moreover, has shown no ability to inspire or rally anyone but her longtime loyalists. She is lost in the new media and has struggled to put away a 74-year-old socialist who is barely a member of her party. Her own unfavorables are only 11 points lower than Trump’s (far higher than Obama’s, John Kerry’s, or Al Gore’s were at this point in the race), and the more she campaigns, the higher her unfavorables go (including in her own party). She has a Gore problem. The idea of welcoming her into your living room for the next four years can seem, at times, positively masochistic.

It may be that demographics will save us. America is no longer an overwhelmingly white country, and Trump’s signature issue — illegal immigration — is the source of his strength but also of his weakness. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting how polling models have consistently misread the breadth of his support, especially in these past few weeks; he will likely bend over backward to include minorities in his fall campaign; and those convinced he cannot bring a whole new swath of white voters back into the political process should remember 2004, when Karl Rove helped engineer anti-gay-marriage state constitutional amendments that increased conservative voter turnout. All Trump needs is a sliver of minority votes inspired by the new energy of his campaign and the alleged dominance of the Obama coalition could crack (especially without Obama). Throughout the West these past few years, from France to Britain and Germany, the polls have kept missing the power of right-wing insurgency.

Were Trump to win the White House, the defenses against him would be weak. He would likely bring a GOP majority in the House, and Republicans in the Senate would be subjected to almighty popular fury if they stood in his way. The 4-4 stalemate in the Supreme Court would break in Trump’s favor. (In large part, of course, this would be due to the GOP’s unprecedented decision to hold a vacancy open “for the people to decide,” another massive hyper-democratic breach in our constitutional defenses.) And if Trump’s policies are checked by other branches of government, how might he react? Just look at his response to the rules of the GOP nomination process. He’s not interested in rules. And he barely understands the Constitution. In one revealing moment earlier this year, when asked what he would do if the military refused to obey an illegal order to torture a prisoner, Trump simply insisted that the man would obey: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse, believe me.” He later amended his remark, but it speaks volumes about his approach to power. Dick Cheney gave illegal orders to torture prisoners and coerced White House lawyers to cook up absurd “legal” defenses. Trump would make Cheney’s embrace of the dark side and untrammeled executive power look unambitious.

In his 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis wrote a counterfactual about what would happen if fascism as it was then spreading across Europe were to triumph in America. It’s not a good novel, but it remains a resonant one. The imagined American fascist leader — a senator called Buzz Windrip — is a “Professional Common Man … But he was the Common Man ­twenty-times-magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose, which was exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.”

He “was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic.”

“ ‘I know the Press only too well,’ ” Windrip opines at one point.

“ ‘Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest … plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks.’ ”

He is obsessed with the balance of trade and promises instant economic success: “ ‘I shall not be content till this country can produce every single thing we need … We shall have such a balance of trade as will go far to carry out my often-criticized yet completely sound idea of from $3000 to $5000 per year for every single family.’ ”

However fantastical and empty his promises, he nonetheless mesmerizes the party faithful at the nominating convention (held in Cleveland!): “Something in the intensity with which Windrip looked at his audience, looked at all of them, his glance slowly taking them in from the highest-perched seat to the nearest, convinced them that he was talking to each individual, directly and solely; that he wanted to take each of them into his heart; that he was telling them the truths, the imperious and dangerous facts, that had been hidden from them.”

And all the elites who stood in his way? Crippled by their own failures, demoralized by their crumbling stature, they first mock and then cave. As one lone journalist laments before the election (he finds himself in a concentration camp afterward): “I’ve got to keep remembering … that Windrip is only the lightest cork on the whirlpool. He didn’t plot all this thing. With all the justified discontent there is against the smart politicians and the Plush Horses of Plutocracy — oh, if it hadn’t been one Windrip, it’d been another … We had it coming, we Respectables.”

And, 81 years later, many of us did. An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.

But elites still matter in a democracy. They matter not because they are democracy’s enemy but because they provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself. The political Establishment may be battered and demoralized, deferential to the algorithms of the web and to the monosyllables of a gifted demagogue, but this is not the time to give up on America’s near-unique and stabilizing blend of democracy and elite responsibility. The country has endured far harsher times than the present without succumbing to rank demagoguery; it avoided the fascism that destroyed Europe; it has channeled extraordinary outpourings of democratic energy into constitutional order. It seems shocking to argue that we need elites in this democratic age — especially with vast inequalities of wealth and elite failures all around us. But we need them precisely to protect this precious democracy from its own destabilizing excesses.

And so those Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency and understand that the Trump question really isn’t a cause for partisan Schadenfreude anymore. It’s much more dangerous than that. Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands. That it will fall to Clinton to temper her party’s ambitions will be uncomfortable to watch, since her willingness to compromise and equivocate is precisely what many Americans find so distrustful. And yet she may soon be all we have left to counter the threat. She needs to grasp the lethality of her foe, moderate the kind of identity politics that unwittingly empowers him, make an unapologetic case that experience and moderation are not vices, address much more directly the anxieties of the white working class—and Democrats must listen.

More to the point, those Republicans desperately trying to use the long-standing rules of their own nominating process to thwart this monster deserve our passionate support, not our disdain. This is not the moment to remind them that they partly brought this on themselves. This is a moment to offer solidarity, especially as the odds are increasingly stacked against them. Ted Cruz and John Kasich faced their decisive battle in Indiana on May 3. It was the bitter end. The Republican delegates who are trying to protect their party from the whims of an outsider demagogue are, at this moment, doing what they ought to be doing to prevent civil and racial unrest, an international conflict, and a constitutional crisis. These GOP elites have every right to deploy whatever rules or procedural roadblocks they can muster, and they should refuse to be intimidated.

And if they fail in Indiana or Cleveland, as they likely will, they need, quite simply, to disown their party’s candidate. They should resist any temptation to loyally back the nominee or to sit this election out. They must take the fight to Trump at every opportunity, unite with Democrats and Independents against him, and be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their country.

For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.

*This article appeared in the May 2, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.

Hans Christian Andersen





Saturday, Apr. 2, 2016


Today is the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen (books by this author), born in Odense, Denmark (1805). He was the only son of a shoemaker who used to tell him stories from Arabian Nights. His mother was an illiterate washerwoman who was widowed when her son was 11. When Andersen was 14, he told his mother that he wanted to go to Copenhagen. When she asked what he intended to do there, he said, “I’ll become famous! First you suffer cruelly, and then you become famous.”

He intended to find his fame on the stage. He even found a patron, Jonas Collin, who was the director of the Royal Danish Theatre. But Andersen was tall and gawky, and people used to laugh at his attempts to sing and dance; he also experienced poverty worse even than he had known in Odense. He felt like an outsider. These feelings were reinforced when he finally went back to school at Collin’s urging. Andersen was a country boy not used to life in the capital city, he was much older than the other students, and he was a mediocre student at best; his schoolmaster used to pick on him mercilessly. He finally graduated from the University of Copenhagen in 1828, and he published his first story in 1829. It was called “A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager,” and it was a success. His writing career was launched.

Andersen followed up that first story with volumes of poetry, plays, autobiographical novels, and travelogues. He published his first collection of fairy tales in 1835, but still continued writing for adults. Although his novels did well, his fairy tales were overlooked at first, and it wasn’t until an English translation was published in 1845 that they became popular. Andersen gave us “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Little Match Girl,” among many others – more than 150 fairy tales in all.

With his literary success came the fame and acceptance that Andersen had always wanted. He traveled extensively around Europe, rubbing elbows with fellow writers like Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Henrik Ibsen. In England, he met Charles Dickens, whose work he admired. The two men shared a concern for the less fortunate members of society, and had both grown up without money, and they became friends.

In 2012, a Danish historian came across a previously unknown Andersen fairy tale in the bottom of a storage box in the national archive. The story is called “The Tallow Candle,” and it’s about a lonely candle that feels misunderstood and unappreciated until it is finally recognized by a tinderbox. Andersen wrote it when he was a teenager, during a particularly unhappy period at school, and he presented it to a vicar’s widow who had loaned him books when he was a child.

In 1872, Andersen was badly injured when he fell out of bed. He never fully recovered from his injuries; he also developed liver cancer, which claimed his life in 1875.



By Dan Reilly


The Beatles with George Martin (Photo Michael Ochs)

Outside of his arrangement and recording skills, one of late producer George Martin’s greatest talents was taking the Beatles’ ambitious, often psychedelic concepts and making them into reality. It was particularly challenging when it came to the abstract ideas of John Lennon, whom Martin called an “aural Salvador Dalí.” Unlike Paul McCartney, who could generally offer concrete suggestions for his sounds, Lennon would speak of colors and sensations, which Martin somehow managed to translate to tape. In the wake of Martin’s passing, Vulture looks back at the many times he turned Lennon’s far-out ideas into musical legend.

“The First Feedback Ever Recorded”

The beginning five seconds of the Beatles’ 1964 single “I Feel Fine” contains nothing but a thick buzzing, which was actually feedback from a guitar Lennon left leaning up against his amp. Martin agreed to keep the accidental noise in, years before ax men like Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend would incorporate the screeches and howls in their songs. “That’s me, including the guitar lick with the first feedback ever recorded,” Lennon told Playboy in 1980. “I defy anybody to find an earlier record … unless it is some old blues record from the ’20s … with feedback on it.”


“Something Baroque-Sounding”

For the poignant Rubber Soul track “In My Life,” Lennon knew he needed something unique for the instrumental section in the middle. As usual, his instructions to Martin were vague, telling the producer he wanted “something Baroque-sounding.” Martin composed a piano solo but, thanks to his limitations with the instrument, couldn’t play it quickly enough to match the song’s pace. Rather than bring in another musician, Martin decided to experiment with the studio’s technology, recording the solo at half-tempo and speeding up the tape to make it fit, inadvertently giving the piano the sound of a harpsichord.


“Thousands of Monks Chanting”

As the Beatles got more into drugs and the burgeoning hippie movement, Lennon composed his most ambitious song yet, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” for 1966’s Revolver, interpreting lyrics from The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner. Lennon’s dream sound for the droning album closer? “I’d imagined in my head that in the background you would hear thousands of monks chanting. That was impractical of course and we did something different.” Instead, Martin ran Lennon’s vocals through a rotating Leslie speaker, though Lennon pondered the possibility of being hung upside down from the ceiling and being spun around a microphone to get a similar effect. He and the rest of the group also used the innovative techniques of playing certain instrumental tracks in reverse and looping tapes to create surreal background noises, such as Paul McCartney’s laugh being tweaked into the sound of a seagull.


“Just Join Them Together”

After Revolver, Lennon continued his boundary-pushing writing, penning the nostalgic “Strawberry Fields Forever” about his Liverpool childhood, ultimately recording two distinct versions of it. The first, featuring just the band’s sparser electric instruments, came out a little too brash for his tastes, but the second, with the more dramatic addition of strings and horns, also didn’t fully live up to his standards. According to Martin’s 1979 memoir, All You Need Is Ears, he made an offhand comment to Lennon about splitting hairs, leading the Beatle to suggest splicing the two takes together — “Why don’t we just join them together?” Martin balked, telling Lennon that the takes were in different tempos and keys, but Lennon insisted, saying he knew the producer could tackle the problem. “John always left this kind of thing to me,” Martin wrote. “He never professed to know anything about recording. He was the least technical of the Beatles.” Challenge accepted, Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick adjusted the tracks’ speeds to make their pitches match and, using a pair of editing scissors, spliced the tapes together around the one-minute mark to make one of the Beatles’ most-loved songs. “That is how ‘Strawberry Fields’ was issued, and that is how it remains today — two recordings,” wrote Martin.

“Inject My Voice”

In order to get a beefier bass sound for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band title track, Martin and his team had McCartney plug his instrument directly into their studio console, a now-common but then-pioneering tactic. Lennon loved the sound so much that he wondered if they could do the same for his vocals. “John came up to the control room one day and asked if we could possibly inject his voice directly into the console,” engineer Geoff Emerick said, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. “George replied, ‘Yes, if you go and have an operation. It means sticking a jack-plug into your neck!'”


“Smell the Sawdust”

Based on an old poster he owned, Lennon wrote “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and asked Martin to help him evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of a carnival, with his usual vague ideas. “He’d make whooshing noises and try to describe what only he could hear in his head, saying he wanted a song ‘to sound like an orange,'” Martin recalled in Mark Lewisohn’s 1988 book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. “John had said that he wanted to ‘smell the sawdust on the floor,’ wanted to taste the atmosphere of the circus.” Martin took recordings of old Victorian steam organs and told Emerick to cut the tapes into small pieces, toss them in the air, then reassemble them at random and include them in the song to re-create the cacophony of a circus.


“A Chicken Cluck”

For no discernible reason, Lennon’s upbeat, soulful “Good Morning, Good Morning” is, excuse the pun, peppered throughout with the sounds of dogs and farm animals. Seeking to make the album flow seamlessly, Martin stumbled on the perfect solution to bridge the gap between “Good Morning” and the “Sgt. Pepper’s” reprise. “Imagine my delight when I discovered that the sound of a chicken cluck at the end of ‘Good Morning’ was remarkably like the guitar sound at the beginning of ‘Sergeant Pepper,'” he wrote in All You Need Is Ears. “I was able to cut and mix the two tracks in such a way that the one actually turned into the other.”


“Like the End of the World”

While working on “A Day in the Life,” the final Sgt. Pepper’s song, the Beatles and Martin were at a loss for how to fill in the 24 bars that close it out. “As always, it was a matter of my trying to get inside his mind, discover what pictures he wanted to paint and then try to realize them for him,” Martin wrote of Lennon in Ears. “He said, ‘What I’d like to hear is a tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world.” Martin hired a 40-piece orchestra and gave them an improvised score to create the grand dissonance, while the band invited a number of friends, include several Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull, to the session, and kept the mood loose by giving the orchestra members gag props to wear, such as fake nipples and gorilla-paw gloves. McCartney then convinced Martin to add in another couple strange bits to close out the LP after the final piano chord faded. The first is a high-pitched noise set at a frequency where only dogs can hear it, followed by a sampling of random studio chatter that originally appeared on the vinyl LP’s run-off groove. Some fans claimed that if they played the gibberish backward, they heard a random, hidden obscene phrase. “Well, with a huge stretch of the imagination, I supposed it did, but that was certainly never intended,” Martin said.

“Some Weird Noises”

After learning that an English teacher from his old high school was having students analyze his lyrics, Lennon wrote “I Am the Walrus,” just for the sake of writing something so surreal and confusing that people wouldn’t be able to decipher it. Martin was flummoxed, recalling the sessions in a 2013 interview with Rock Cellar magazine: “When I first heard that he just stood in front of me with a guitar and sang it through. But it was weird. I said to him, ‘What the hell am I going to do with this, John?’ And he said, ‘I’d like for you to do a score and use some brass and some strings and some weird noises. You know the kind of thing I want.’ But I didn’t but I mean I just went away and did that.” And that’s how the Magical Mystery Tour single — with its acid-influenced references to Lewis Carroll, Ginsberg, schoolyard rhymes, and King Lear — came to fruition


“A Picture in Sound”

“Revolution 9,” the divisive avant-garde collage from The White Album, is easily the weirdest thing the Beatles ever released. In a 1971 interview with Melody Maker, Martin took credit for much of the song’s oddities: “It was just an extension of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ a similar kind of thing with various tapes, and I guess this was largely influenced by Yoko, because it was her kind of scene. But again I was painting a picture in sound, and if you sat in front of the speakers you just lost yourself in stereo. All sorts of things are happening in there: you can see people running all over the place and fires burning, it was real imagery in sound. It was funny in places too, but I suppose it went on a bit long.” Lennon took umbrage with these comments, as well as some in which the producer criticized his solo work, and wrote directly to the interviewer. “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?,’ I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’ I noticed you had no answer for that! It’s not a putdown, it’s the truth,” he said, before adding, “For Martin to state that he was ‘painting a sound picture’ is pure hallucination. Ask any of the other people involved. The final editing Yoko and I did alone (which took four hours).” According to Rolling Stone, a calmer Lennon later took it all back, saying, “George Martin made us what we were in the studio. He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.”


Drew Pearson

Drew Pearson, Columnist

Andrew Russell “Drew” Pearson was one of the best-known American columnists of his day, noted for his syndicated newspaper column “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” in which he attacked various public persons.  Wikipedia
BornDecember 13, 1897, Evanston, IL
DiedSeptember 1, 1969, Washington, D.C.

[KHF notes: I read Drew Pearson’s column regularly in the Dayton Daily News when I was a teenager. Some may never have heard about him and the power he had in Washington.]

Drew Pearson and the Assassination of JFK

by John Simkin

John Simkin's Photo

Posted 03 March 2010 – 08:47 AM

Drew Pearson was America’s leading investigative journalist in 1963. However, as far as I can see, little has been written about his thoughts on the assassination of John Kennedy.

First of all I want to look at his record.

In 1929 Drew Pearson became Washington correspondent of the Baltimore Sun. Three years later he joined the Scripps-Howard syndicate, United Features. His Merry-Go-Round column was published in newspapers all over the United States. He soon established himself as an anti-corruption journalist. His politics came from his religious beliefs – he was a Quaker.

Pearson was a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal program. He also upset more conservative editors when he advocated United States involvement in the struggle against fascism in Europe. Pearson’s articles were often censored and so in 1941 he switched to the more liberal The Washington Post.

During the Second World War Pearson created a great deal of controversy when he took up the case of John Gates, a member of the American Communist Party, who was not allowed to take part in the D-Day landings. Gates later pointed out: “Newspaper columnist Drew Pearson published an account of my case… Syndicated coast-to-coast, the column meant well but it contained all kinds of unauthorized, secret military information – the name of my battalion, the fact that it had been alerted for overseas, my letter to the President and his reply, and the officers’ affidavits. As a result of this violation of military secrecy, the date for the outfit going overseas was postponed, the order restoring me to my battalion was countermanded and I was out of it for good. It seems that some of my friends, a bit overzealous in my cause, had given Pearson all this information, thinking the publicity would do me good.”

Pearson also became a radio broadcaster. He soon became one of America’s most popular radio personalities. After the war he was an enthusiastic supporter of the United Nations and helped to organize the Friendship Train project in 1947. The train travelled coast-to-coast collecting gifts of food for those people in Europe still suffering from the consequences of the war.

In 1947 Jack Anderson became Pearson’s assistant. Anderson had worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in China in the Second World War. This included working with Paul Helliwell, John K. Singlaub, Ray S. Cline, Richard Helms, E. Howard Hunt, Mitchell WerBell, Robert Emmett Johnson and Lucien Conein. Others working in China at that time included Tommy Corcoran, Whiting Willauer and William Pawley. I am convinced that Anderson was also working for the OSS that became the CIA in 1947.

Over the next few years Anderson was able to use his contacts that he had developed in the OSS to help Pearson with his stories. One of Anderson’s first stories concerned the dispute between Howard Hughes, the owner of Trans World Airlines and Owen Brewster, chairman of the Senate War Investigating Committee. Hughes claimed that Brewster was being paid by Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) to persuade the United States government to set up an official worldwide monopoly under its control. Part of this plan was to force all existing American carriers with overseas operations to close down or merge with Pan Am. As the owner of Trans World Airlines, Hughes posed a serious threat to this plan. Hughes claimed that Brewster had approached him and suggested he merge Trans World with Pan Am. Pearson and Anderson began a campaign against Brewster. They reported that Pan Am had provided Bewster with free flights to Hobe Sound, Florida, where he stayed free of charge at the holiday home of Pan Am Vice President Sam Pryor. As a result of this campaign Bewster lost his seat in Congress.

In the late 1940s Anderson became friendly with Joseph McCarthy. As he pointed out in his autobiography, Confessions of a Muckraker, “Joe McCarthy… was a pal of mine, irresponsible to be sure, but a fellow bachelor of vast amiability and an excellent source of inside dope on the Hill.” McCarthy began supplying Anderson with stories about suspected communists in government. Pearson refused to publish these stories as he was very suspicious of the motives of people like McCarthy. In fact, in 1948, Pearson began investigating J. Parnell Thomas, the Chairman of the House of Un-American Activities Committee. It was not long before Thomas’ secretary, Helen Campbell, began providing information about his illegal activities. On 4th August, 1948, Pearson published the story that Thomas had been putting friends on his congressional payroll. They did no work but in return shared their salaries with Thomas.

Called before a grand jury, J. Parnell Thomas availed himself to the 1st Amendment, a strategy that he had been unwilling to accept when dealing with the Hollywood Ten. Indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the government, Thomas was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison and forced to pay a $10,000 fine. Two of his fellow inmates in Danbury Federal Correctional Institution were Lester Cole and Ring Lardner Jr. who were serving terms as a result of refusing to testify in front of Thomas and the House of Un-American Activities Committee.

In 1949 Pearson criticised the Secretary of Defence, James Forrestal, for his conservative views on foreign policy. He told Jack Anderson that he believed Forrestal was “the most dangerous man in America” and claimed that if he was not removed from office he would “cause another world war”. Pearson also suggested that Forrestal was guilty of corruption. Pearson was blamed when Forrestal committed suicide on 22nd May 1949. One journalist, Westbrook Pegler, wrote: “For months, Drew Pearson… hounded Jim Forrestal with dirty aspersions and insinuations, until, at last, exhausted and his nerves unstrung, one of the finest servants that the Republic ever had died of suicide.”

Drew Pearson also began investigating General Douglas MacArthur. In December, 1949, Anderson got hold of a top-secret cable from MacArthur to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressing his disagreement with President Harry S. Truman concerning Chaing Kai-shek. On 22nd December, 1949, Pearson published the story that: “General MacArthur has sent a triple-urgent cable urging that Formosa be occupied by U.S. troops.” Pearson argued that MacArthur was “trying to dictate U.S. foreign policy in the Far East”.

Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, told MacArthur to limit the war to Korea. MacArthur disagreed, favoring an attack on Chinese forces. Unwilling to accept the views of Truman and Dean Acheson, MacArthur began to make inflammatory statements indicating his disagreements with the United States government.

MacArthur gained support from right-wing members of the Senate such as Joe McCarthy who led the attack on Truman’s administration: “With half a million Communists in Korea killing American men, Acheson says, ‘Now let’s be calm, let’s do nothing’. It is like advising a man whose family is being killed not to take hasty action for fear he might alienate the affection of the murders.”

On 7th October, 1950, Douglas MacArthur launched an invasion of North Korea by the end of the month had reached the Yalu River, close to the frontier of China. On 20th November, Pearson wrote in his column that the Chinese were following a strategy that was “sucking our troops into a trap.” Three days later the Chinese Army launched an attack on MacArthur’s army. North Korean forces took Seoul in January 1951. Two months later, Harry S. Truman removed MacArthur from his command of the United Nations forces in Korea.

Joe McCarthy continued to provide Jack Anderson with a lot of information. In his autobiography, Confessions of a Muckraker, Anderson pointed out: “At my prompting he (McCarthy) would phone fellow senators to ask what had transpired this morning behind closed doors or what strategy was planned for the morrow. While I listened in on an extension he would pump even a Robert Taft or a William Knowland with the handwritten questions I passed him.”

In return, Anderson provided McCarthy with information about politicians and state officials he suspected of being “communists”. Anderson later recalled that his decision to work with McCarthy “was almost automatic.. for one thing, I owed him; for another, he might be able to flesh out some of our inconclusive material, and if so, I would no doubt get the scoop.” As a result Anderson passed on his file on the presidential aide, David Demarest Lloyd.

On 9th February, 1950, Joe McCarthy made a speech in Salt Lake City where he attacked Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, as “a pompous diplomat in striped pants”. He claimed that he had a list of 57 people in the State Department that were known to be members of the American Communist Party. McCarthy went on to argue that some of these people were passing secret information to the Soviet Union. He added: “The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because the enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer – the finest homes, the finest college educations, and the finest jobs in Government we can give.”

The list of names was not a secret and had been in fact published by the Secretary of State in 1946. These people had been identified during a preliminary screening of 3,000 federal employees. Some had been communists but others had been fascists, alcoholics and sexual deviants. As it happens, if McCarthy had been screened, his own drink problems and sexual preferences would have resulted in him being put on the list.

Pearson immediately launched an attack on Joe McCarthy. He pointed out that only three people on the list were State Department officials. He added that when this list was first published four years ago, Gustavo Duran and Mary Jane Keeney had both resigned from the State Department (1946). He added that the third person, John S. Service, had been cleared after a prolonged and careful investigation. Pearson also argued that none of these people had been named were members of the American Communist Party.

Jack Anderson asked Pearson to stop attacking McCarthy: “He is our best source on the Hill.” Pearson replied, “He may be a good source, Jack, but he’s a bad man.”

On 20th February, 1950, Joe McCarthy made a speech in the Senate supporting the allegations he had made in Salt Lake City. This time he did not describe them as “card-carrying communists” because this had been shown to be untrue. Instead he argued that his list were all “loyalty risks”. He also claimed that one of the president’s speech-writers, was a communist. Although he did not name him, he was referring to David Demarest Lloyd, the man that Anderson had provided information on.

Lloyd immediately issued a statement where he defended himself against McCarthy’s charges. President Harry S. Truman not only kept him on but promoted him to the post of Administrative Assistant. Lloyd was indeed innocent of these claims and McCarthy was forced to withdraw these allegations. As Anderson admitted: “At my instigation, then, Lloyd had been done an injustice that was saved from being grevious only by Truman’s steadfastness.”

McCarthy now informed Jack Anderson that he had evidence that Professor Owen Lattimore, director of the Walter Hines Page School of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University, was a Soviet spy. Pearson, who knew Lattimore, and while accepting he held left-wing views, he was convinced he was not a spy. In his speeches, McCarthy referred to Lattimore as “Mr X… the top Russian spy… the key man in a Russian espionage ring.”

On 26th March, 1950, Pearson named Lattimore as McCarthy’s Mr. X. Pearson then went onto defend Lattimore against these charges. McCarthy responded by making a speech in Congress where he admitted: “I fear that in the case of Lattimore I may have perhaps placed too much stress on the question of whether he is a paid espionage agent.”

McCarthy then produced Louis Budenz, the former editor of The Daily Worker. Budenz claimed that Lattimore was a “concealed communist”. However, as Jack Anderson admitted: “Budenz had never met Lattimore; he spoke not from personal observation of him but from what he remembered of what others had told him five, six, seven and thirteen years before.”

Pearson now wrote an article where he showed that Budenz was a serial liar: “Apologists for Budenz minimize this on the ground that Budenz has now reformed. Nevertheless, untruthful statements made regarding his past and refusal to answer questions have a bearing on Budenz’s credibility.” He went on to point out that “all in all, Budenz refused to answer 23 questions on the ground of self-incrimination”.

Owen Lattimore was eventually cleared of the charge that he was a Soviet spy or a secret member of the American Communist Party and like several other victims of McCarthyism, he went to live in Europe and for several years was professor of Chinese studies at Leeds University.

Despite the efforts of Jack Anderson, by the end of June, 1950, Drew Pearson had written more than forty daily columns and a significant percentage of his weekly radio broadcasts, that had been devoted to discrediting the charges made by Joseph McCarthy. He now decided to take on Pearson and he told Anderson: “Jack, I’m going to have to go after your boss. I mean, no holds barred. I figure I’ve already lost his supporters; by going after him, I can pick up his enemies.” McCarthy, when drunk, told Assistant Attorney General Joe Keenan, that he was considering “bumping Pearson off”.

On 15th December, 1950, McCarthy made a speech in Congress where he claimed that Pearson was “the voice of international Communism” and “a Moscow-directed character assassin.” McCarthy added that Pearson was “a prostitute of journalism” and that Pearson “and the Communist Party murdered James Forrestal in just as cold blood as though they had machine-gunned him.”

Over the next two months Joseph McCarthy made seven Senate speeches on Drew Pearson. He called for a “patriotic boycott” of his radio show and as a result, Adam Hats, withdrew as Pearson’s radio sponsor. Although he was able to make a series of short-term arrangements, Pearson was never again able to find a permanent sponsor. Twelve newspapers cancelled their contract with Pearson.

Joe McCarthy and his friends also raised money to help Fred Napoleon Howser, the Attorney General of California, to sue Pearson for $350,000. This involved an incident in 1948 when Pearson accused Howser of consorting with mobsters and of taking a bribe from gambling interests. Help was also given to Father Charles Coughlin, who sued Pearson for $225,000. However, in 1951 the courts ruled that Pearson had not libeled either Howser or Coughlin.

Only the St. Louis Star-Times defended Pearson. As its editorial pointed out: “If Joseph McCarthy can silence a critic named Drew Pearson, simply by smearing him with the brush of Communist association, he can silence any other critic.” However, Pearson did get the support of J. William Fulbright, Wayne Morse, Clinton Anderson, William Benton and Thomas Hennings in the Senate.

In October, 1953, Joe McCarthy began investigating communist infiltration into the military. Attempts were made by McCarthy to discredit Robert T. Stevens, the Secretary of the Army. The president, Dwight Eisenhower, was furious and now realised that it was time to bring an end to McCarthy’s activities.

The United States Army now passed information about McCarthy to journalists who were known to be opposed to him. This included the news that McCarthy and Roy Cohn had abused congressional privilege by trying to prevent David Schine from being drafted. When that failed, it was claimed that Cohn tried to pressurize the Army into granting Schine special privileges. Pearson published the story on 15th December, 1953.

Some figures in the media, such as writers George Seldes and I. F. Stone, and cartoonists, Herb Block and Daniel Fitzpatrick, had fought a long campaign against McCarthy. Other figures in the media, who had for a long time been opposed to McCarthyism, but were frightened to speak out, now began to get the confidence to join the counter-attack. Edward Murrow, the experienced broadcaster, used his television programme, See It Now, on 9th March, 1954, to criticize McCarthy’s methods. Newspaper columnists such as Walter Lippmann also became more open in their attacks on McCarthy.

The senate investigations into the United States Army were televised and this helped to expose the tactics of Joseph McCarthy. One newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, reported that: “In this long, degrading travesty of the democratic process, McCarthy has shown himself to be evil and unmatched in malice.” Leading politicians in both parties, had been embarrassed by McCarthy’s performance and on 2nd December, 1954, a censure motion condemned his conduct by 67 votes to 22.

McCarthy also lost the chairmanship of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate. He was now without a power base and the media lost interest in his claims of a communist conspiracy. As one journalist, Willard Edwards, pointed out: “Most reporters just refused to file McCarthy stories. And most papers would not have printed them anyway.”

In 1956 Pearson began investigating the relationship between Lyndon B. Johnson and two businessmen, George R. Brown and Herman Brown. Pearson believed that Johnson had arranged for the Texas-based Brown and Root Construction Company to avoid large tax bills. Johnson brought an end to this investigation by offering Pearson a deal. If Pearson dropped his Brown-Root crusade, Johnson would support the presidential ambitions of Estes Kefauver. Pearson accepted and wrote in his diary (16th April, 1956): “This is the first time I’ve ever made a deal like this, and I feel a little unhappy about it. With the Presidency of the United States at stake, maybe it’s justified, maybe not – I don’t know.”

Jack Anderson also helped Pearson investigate stories of corruption inside the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. They discovered that Eisenhower had received gifts worth more than $500,000 from “big-business well-wishers.” In 1957 Anderson threaten to quit because these stories always appeared under Pearson’s name. Pearson responded by promising him more bylines and pledged to leave the column to him when he died.

Pearson and Anderson began investigating the presidential assistant Sherman Adams. The former governor of New Hampshire, was considered to be a key figure in Eisenhower’s administration. Anderson discovered that Bernard Goldfine, a wealthy industrialist, had given Adams a large number of presents. This included suits, overcoats, alcohol, furnishings and the payment of hotel and resort bills. Anderson eventually found evidence that Adams had twice persuaded the Federal Trade Commission to “ease up its pursuit of Goldfine for putting false labels on the products of his textile plants.”

The story was eventually published in 1958 and Adams was forced to resign from office. However, Jack Anderson was much criticized for the way he carried out his investigation and one of his assistants, Les Whitten, was arrested by the FBI for receiving stolen government documents.

In 1960 Pearson supported Hubert Humphrey in his efforts to become the Democratic Party candidate. However, those campaigning for John F. Kennedy, accused him of being a draft dodger. As a result, when Humphrey dropped out of the race, Pearson switched his support to Lyndon B. Johnson. However, it was Kennedy who eventually got the nomination.

Pearson now supported Kennedy’s attempt to become president. One of the ways he helped his campaign was to investigate the relationship between Howard Hughes and Richard Nixon. Pearson and Anderson discovered that in 1956 the Hughes Tool Company provided a $205,000 loan to Nixon Incorporated, a company run by Richard’s brother, Francis Donald Nixon. The money was never paid back. Soon after the money was paid the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reversed a previous decision to grant tax-exempt status to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

This information was revealed by Pearson and Jack Anderson during the 1960 presidential campaign. Nixon initially denied the loan but later was forced to admit that this money had been given to his brother. It was claimed that this story helped John F. Kennedy defeat Nixon in the election.

Like other political journalists, Pearson and Anderson investigated the death of President John F. Kennedy. Sources close to John McCone and Robert Kennedy claimed that the assassination was linked to the plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba.

In 1966 attempts were made to deport Johnny Roselli as an illegal alien. Roselli moved to Los Angeles where he went into early retirement. It was at this time he told attorney, Edward Morgan: “The last of the sniper teams dispatched by Robert Kennedy in 1963 to assassinate Fidel Castro were captured in Havana. Under torture they broke and confessed to being sponsored by the CIA and the US government. At that point, Castro remarked that, ‘If that was the way President Kennedy wanted it, Cuba could engage in the same tactics’. The result was that Castro infiltrated teams of snipers into the US to kill Kennedy”.

Morgan took the story to Pearson. The story was then passed on to Earl Warren. He did not want anything to do with it and so the information was then passed to the FBI. When they failed to investigate the story Jack Anderson wrote an article entitled “President Johnson is sitting on a political H-bomb” about Roselli’s story. It has been suggested that Roselli started this story at the request of his friends in the Central Intelligence Agency in order to divert attention from the investigation being carried out by Jim Garrison.

In 1968 Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson published The Case Against Congress. The book documented examples of how politicians had “abused their power and priviledge by placing their own interests ahead of those of the American people”. This included the activities of Bobby Baker, James Eastland, Lyndon B. Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, Thomas J. Dodd, John McClellan and Clark Clifford.

On 18th July, 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne, died while in the car of Edward Kennedy. Pearson was investigating the case when he died on 1st September. Chalmers Roberts of the Washington Post wrote: “Drew Pearson was a muckraker with a Quaker conscience. In print he sounded fierce; in life he was gentle, even courtly. For thirty-eight years he did more than any man to keep the national capital honest.”