Gaia Vince discovers that analyzing the genetics of ancient humans means changing ideas about our evolution.

The Rock of Gibraltar appears out of the plane window as an immense limestone monolith sharply rearing up from the base of Spain into the Mediterranean. One of the ancient Pillars of Hercules, it marked the end of the Earth in classical times. Greek sailors didn’t go past it. Atlantis, the unknown, lay beyond.

In summer 2016, Gibraltar is in the throes of a 21st-century identity crisis: geographically a part of Spain, politically a part of Britain; now torn, post Brexit, between its colonial and European Union ties. For such a small area – less than seven square kilometers – Gibraltar is home to an extraordinarily diverse human population. It has been home to people of all types over the millennia, including early Europeans at the edge of their world, Phoenicians seeking spiritual support before venturing into the Atlantic, and Carthaginians arriving in a new world from Africa.

But I’ve come to see who was living here even further back, between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago, when sea levels were much lower and the climate was swinging in and out of ice ages. It was a tough time to be alive and the period saw the species that could, such as birds, migrate south to warmer climes, amid plenty of local extinctions. Among the large mammal species struggling to survive were lions, wolves and at least two types of human: our own ‘modern human’ ancestors, and the last remaining populations of our cousins, the Neanderthals.

By understanding more about these prehistoric people, we can learn about who we are as a species today. Our ancestors’ experiences shaped us, and they may still hold answers to some of our current health problems, from diabetes to depression.

Everyone of European descent has some Neanderthal DNA in their genetic makeup

I’m picked up outside my hotel by archaeologists Clive and Geraldine Finlayson, in a car that itself looks fairly ancient. Typical for this crowded little peninsula, they are of diverse origins – he, pale-skinned and sandy-haired, can trace his ancestry back to Scotland; she, olive-skinned and dark-haired, from the Genoese refugees escaping Napoleon’s purges. How different we humans can look from each other. And yet the people whose home I am about to visit truly were of a different race.

We don’t know how many species of humans there have been, how many different races of people, but the evidence suggests that around 600,000 years ago one species emerged in Africa that used fire, made simple tools from stones and animal bones, and hunted big animals in large cooperative groups. And 500,000 years ago, these humans, known as Homo heidelbergensis, began to take advantage of fluctuating climate changes that regularly greened the African continent, and spread into Europe and beyond.

Neanderthals were thriving from Siberia to southern Spain by the time a few families of modern humans made it out of Africa around 60,000 years ago.

By 300,000 years ago, though, migration into Europe had stopped, perhaps because a severe ice age had created an impenetrable desert across the Sahara, sealing off the Africans from the other tribes. This geographic separation enabled genetic differences to evolve, eventually resulting in different races, although they were still the same species and would prove able to have fertile offspring together. The race left behind in Africa would become Homo sapiens sapiens, or ‘modern humans’; those who evolved adaptations to the cooler European north would become Neanderthals, Denisovans and others whom we can now only glimpse with genetics.

Neanderthals were thriving from Siberia to southern Spain by the time a few families of modern humans made it out of Africa around 60,000 years ago. These Africans encountered Neanderthals and, on several occasions, had children with them. We know this because human DNA has been found in the genomes of Neanderthals, and because everyone alive today of European descent – including me – has some Neanderthal DNA in their genetic makeup. Could it be that their genes, adapted to the northerly environment, provided a selective advantage to our ancestors as well?

After driving through narrow tunnels on a road that skirts the cliff face, we pull up at a military checkpoint. Clive shows the guard our accreditation and we’re waved through to park inside. Safety helmets on to protect from rockslides, we leave the car and continue on foot under a low rock arch. A series of metal steps leads steeply down the cliff to a narrow shingle beach, 60 meters below. The tide is lapping the pebbles and our feet must negotiate the unstable larger rocks to find a dry path.

I’ve been concentrating so hard on keeping my footing that it is something of a shock to look up and suddenly face a gaping absence in the rock wall. We have reached Gorham’s Cave, a great teardrop-shaped cavern that disappears into the white cliff face and, upon entering, seems to grow in height and space. This vast, cathedral-like structure, with a roof that soars high into the interior, was used by Neanderthals for tens of thousands of years. Scientists believe it was their last refuge. When Neanderthals disappeared from here, some 32,000 years ago, we became the sole inheritors of our continent.

I pause, perched on a rock inside the entrance, in order to consider this – people not so different from myself once sat here, facing the Mediterranean and Africa beyond. Before I arrived in Gibraltar, I used a commercial genome-testing service to analyze my ancestry. From the vial of saliva I sent them, they determined that 1 percent of my DNA is Neanderthal. I don’t know what health advantages or risks these genes have given me – testing companies are no longer allowed to provide this level of detail – but it is an extraordinary experience to be so close to the intelligent, resourceful people who bequeathed me some of their genes. Sitting in this ancient home, knowing none of them survived to today, is a poignant reminder of how vulnerable we are – it could so easily have been a Neanderthal woman sitting here wondering about her extinct human cousins.

Gorham’s Cave seems an oddly inaccessible place for a home. But Clive, who has been meticulously exploring the cave for 25 years, explains that the view was very different back then. With the sea levels so much lower, vast hunting plains stretched far out to sea, letting people higher on the rock spot prey and signal to each other. In front of me would have been fields of grassy dunes and lakes – wetlands that were home to birds, grazing deer and other animals. Further around the peninsula to my right, where the dunes gave way to shoreline, would have been clam colonies and mounds of flint. It was idyllic, Clive says. The line of neighboring caves here probably had the highest concentration of Neanderthals living anywhere on Earth. “It was like Neanderthal City,” he adds.

Deep inside the cave, Clive’s team of archaeologists have found the remains of fires. Further back are chambers where the inhabitants could have slept protected from hyenas, lions, leopards and other predators. “They ate shellfish, pine seeds, plants and olives. They hunted big game and also birds. There was plenty of fresh water from the springs that still exist under what is now seabed,” Clive says. “They had spare time to sit and think – they weren’t just surviving.”

He and Geraldine have uncovered remarkable evidence of Neanderthal culture in the cave, including the first example of Neanderthal artwork. The ‘hashtag’, a deliberately carved rock engraving, is possibly evidence of the first steps towards writing. Other signs of symbolic or ritualistic behavior, such as the indication that Neanderthals were making and wearing black feather capes or headdresses as well as warm clothes, all point to a social life not so different to the one our African ancestors were experiencing.

Clive shows me a variety of worked stones, bone and antler. I pick up a flint blade and hold it in my hand, marveling at how the same technology is being passed between people biologically and culturally linked but separated by tens of thousands of years. Other sites in Europe have uncovered Neanderthal-made necklaces of strung eagle talons dating back 130,000 years, little ochre clamshell compacts presumably for adornment, and burial sites for their dead.

These people evolved outside of Africa but clearly had advanced culture and the capability to survive in a hostile environment. “Consider modern humans were in the Middle East perhaps 70,000 years ago, and reached Australia more than 50,000 years ago,” says Clive. “Why did it take them so much longer to reach Europe? I think it was because Neanderthals were doing very well and keeping modern humans out.”

© Tom Sewell

But by 39,000 years ago, Neanderthals were struggling. Genetically they had low diversity because of inbreeding and they were reduced to very low numbers, partly because an extreme and rapid change of climate was pushing them out of many of their former habitats. A lot of the forested areas they depended on were disappearing and, while they were intelligent enough to adapt their tools and technology, their bodies were unable to adapt to the hunting techniques required for the new climate and landscapes.

“In parts of Europe, the landscape changed in a generation from thick forest to a plain without a single tree,” Clive says. “Our ancestors, who were used to hunting in bigger groups on the plains, could adapt easily: instead of wildebeest they had reindeer, but effectively the way of capturing them was the same. But Neanderthals were forest people.

“It could’ve gone the other way – if instead the climate had got wetter and warmer, we might be Neanderthals today discussing the demise of modern humans.”

Although the Neanderthals, like the Denisovans and other races we are yet to identify, died out, their genetic legacy lives on in people of European and Asian descent. Between 1 and 4 per cent of our DNA is of Neanderthal origins, but we don’t all carry the same genes, so across the population around 20 per cent of the Neanderthal genome is still being passed on. That’s an extraordinary amount, leading researchers to suspect that Neanderthal genes must be advantageous for survival in Europe.

Interbreeding across different races of human would have helped accelerate the accumulation of useful genes for the environment, a process that would have taken much longer to occur through evolution by natural selection. Neanderthal tweaks to our immune system, for example, may have boosted our survival in new lands, just as we prime our immune system with travel vaccines today. Many of the genes are associated with keratin, the protein in skin and hair, including some that are linked to corns and others that play a role in pigmentation – Neanderthals were redheads, apparently. Perhaps these visible variants were considered appealing by our ancestors and sexually selected for, or perhaps a tougher skin offered some advantage in the colder, darker European environment.

Some Neanderthal genes, however, appear to be a disadvantage, for instance making us more prone to diseases like Crohn’s, urinary tract disorders and type 2 diabetes, and to depression. Others change the way we metabolize fats, risking obesity, or even make us more likely to become addicted to smoking. None of these genes are a direct cause of these complicated conditions, but they are contributory risk factors, so how did they survive selection for a thousand generations?

‘Why did it take [humans] so much longer to reach Europe? I think it was because Neanderthals were doing very well and keeping modern humans out.’

It’s likely that for much of the time since our sexual encounters with Neanderthals, these genes were useful. When we lived as hunter-gatherers, for example, or early farmers, we would have faced times of near starvation interspersed with periods of gorging. Genes that now pose a risk of diabetes may have helped us to cope with starvation, but our new lifestyles of continual gorging on plentiful, high-calorie food now reveal harmful side-effects. Perhaps it is because of such latent disadvantages that Neanderthal DNA is very slowly now being deselected from the human genome.

While I can (sort of) blame my Neanderthal ancestry for everything from mood disorders to being greedy, another archaic human race passed on genes that help modern Melanesians, such as people in Papua New Guinea, survive different conditions. Around the time that the ancestors of modern Europeans and Asians were getting friendly with Neanderthals, the ancestors of Melanesians were having sex with Denisovans, about whom we know very little. Their surviving genes, however, may help modern-day Melanesians to live at altitude by changing the way their bodies react to low levels of oxygen. Some geneticists suspect that other, yet-to-be-discovered archaic races may have influenced the genes of other human populations across the world.

Interbreeding with Neanderthals and other archaic humans certainly changed our genes, but the story doesn’t end there.

I am a Londoner, but I’m a little darker than many Englishwomen because my father is originally from Eastern Europe. We are attuned to such slight differences in skin color, face shape, hair and a host of other less obvious features encountered across different parts of the world. However, there has been no interbreeding with other human races for at least 32,000 years. Even though I look very different from a Han Chinese or Bantu person, we are actually remarkably similar genetically. There is far less genetic difference between any two humans than there is between two chimpanzees, for example.

The reason for our similarity is the population bottlenecks we faced as a species, during which our numbers dropped as low as a few hundred families and we came close to extinction. As a result, we are too homogeneous to have separated into different races. Nevertheless, variety has emerged through populations being separated geographically – and culturally, in some cases – over thousands of years. The greatest distinctions occur in isolated populations where small genetic and cultural changes become exaggerated, and there have been many of them over the 50,000 years since my ancestors made the journey out of Africa towards Europe.

According to the analysis of my genome, my haplogroup is H4a. Haplogroups describe the mutations on our mitochondrial DNA, passed down through the maternal line, and can theoretically be used to trace a migratory path all the way back to Africa. H4a is a group shared by people in Europe, unsurprisingly, and western Asia. It is, the genome-testing company assures me, the same as Warren Buffet’s. So what journey did my ancestors take that would result in these mutations and give me typically European features?

Interbreeding with Neanderthals and other archaic humans certainly changed our genes, but the story doesn’t end there.

“I was dumped by helicopter in the wilderness with two other people, a Russian and an indigenous Yukaghir man, with our dogs, our guns, our traps, a little food and a little tea. There we had to survive and get food and furs in the coldest place on Earth where humans live naturally – minus 60 degrees.”

Eske Willerslev lived for six months as a trapper in Siberia in his 20s. Separately, his identical twin brother Rane did the same. When they were teenagers, their father had regularly left them in Lapland to survive alone in the wilderness for a couple of weeks, fostering a passion for the remote tundra and the people who live there, and they went on increasingly lengthy expeditions. But surviving practically alone was very different. “It was a childhood dream, but it was the toughest thing I have ever done,” Eske admits.

These experiences affected the twins deeply, and both have been driven towards a deeper understanding of how the challenge of survival has forged us as humans over the past 50,000 years. It led Eske into the science of genetics, and to pioneering the new field of ancient DNA sequencing. Now director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, Eske has sequenced the world’s oldest genome (a 700,000-year-old horse) and was the first to sequence the genome of an ancient human, a 4,000-year-old Saqqaq man from Greenland. Since then, he has gone on to sequence yet more ancient humans and, in doing so, has fundamentally changed our understanding of early human migration through Europe and beyond. If anyone can unpick my origins, it is surely Eske.

First, though, I go to meet his twin Rane, who studied humanities, went into cultural anthropology and is now a professor at Aarhus University. He’s not convinced that his brother’s genetic approach can reveal all the answers to my questions: “There exists an uneasy relationship between biology and culture,” he tells me. “Natural scientists claim they can reveal what sort of people moved around, and they are not interested in having their models challenged. But this cannot tell you anything about what people thought or what their culture was.”

To put this point to Eske, I visit him in his delightful museum office, opposite a petite moated castle and in the grounds of the botanic gardens – there could scarcely be a more idyllic place for a scientist to work. Greeting him for the first time, just hours after meeting Rane, is disconcerting. Identical twins are genetically and physically almost exactly the same – looking back, many years from now, at DNA left by the brothers, it would be all but impossible to tell them apart or even to realize that there were two of them.

Eske tells me that he is increasingly working with archaeologists to gain additional cultural perspective, but that genetic analysis can answer questions that nothing else can. “You find cultural objects in certain places and the fundamental question is: Does that mean people who made it were actually there or that it was traded? And, if you find very similar cultural objects, does that mean there was parallel or convergent cultural evolution in the two places, or does that mean there was contact?” he explains.

“For example, one theory says the very first people crossing into the Americas were not Native Americans but Europeans crossing the Atlantic, because the stone tools thousands of years ago in America are similar to stone tools in Europe at the same time. Only when we did the genetic testing could we see it was convergent evolution, because the guys carrying and using those tools have nothing to do with Europeans. They were Native Americans. So the genetics, in terms of migrations, is by far the most powerful tool we have available now to determine: was it people moving around or was it culture moving around? And this is really fundamental.”

What Eske went on to discover about Native American origins rewrote our understanding completely. It had been thought that they were simply descendants of East Asians who had crossed the Bering Strait. In 2013, however, Eske sequenced the genome of a 24,000-year-old boy discovered in central Siberia, and found a missing link between ancient Europeans and East Asians, the descendants of whom would go on to populate America. Native Americans can thus trace their roots back to Europe as well as East Asia.

And what about my ancestors? I show Eske the H4a haplotype analyzed by the sequencing company and tell him it means I’m European. He laughs derisively. “You could be and you could be from somewhere else,” he says. “The problem with the gene-sequencing tests is that you can’t look at a population and work back to see when mutation arose with much accuracy – the error bars are huge and it involves lots of assumptions about mutation rates.

“This is why ancient genetics and ancient genomics are so powerful – you can look at an individual and say, ‘Now we know we are 5,000 years ago, how did it look? Did they have this gene or not?’”

The things that we thought we understood about Europeans are coming unstuck as we examine the genes of more ancient people. For example, it was generally accepted that pale skin evolved so we could get more vitamin D after moving north to where there was little sun and people had to cover up against the cold. But it turns out that it was the Yamnaya people from much further south, tall and brown-eyed, who brought pale skins to Europe. Northern Europeans before then were dark-skinned and got plenty of vitamin D from eating fish.

It is the same with lactose tolerance. Around 90 per cent of Europeans have a genetic mutation that allows them to digest milk into adulthood, and scientists had assumed that this gene evolved in farmers in northern Europe, giving them an additional food supply to help survive the long winters. But Eske’s research using the genomes of hundreds of Bronze Age people, who lived after the advent of farming, has cast doubt on this theory too: “We found that the genetic trait was almost non-existent in the European population. This trait only became abundant in the northern European population within the last 2,000 years,” he says.

It turns out that lactose tolerance genes were also introduced by the Yamnaya. “They had a slightly higher tolerance to milk than the European farmers and must have introduced it to the European gene pool. Maybe there was a disaster around 2,000 years ago that caused a population bottleneck and allowed the gene to take off. The Viking sagas talk about the sun becoming black – a major volcanic eruption – that could have caused a massive drop in population size, which could have been where some of that stock takes off with lactose.”

While ancient genomics can help satisfy curiosity about our origins, its real value may be in trying to unpick some of the different health risks in different populations. Even when lifestyle and social factors are taken into account, some groups are at significantly higher risk of diseases such as diabetes or HIV, while other groups seem more resistant. Understanding why could help us prevent and treat these diseases more effectively.

It had been thought that resistance to infections like measles, influenza and so on arrived once we changed our culture and started farming, living in close proximity with other people and with animals. Farming started earlier in Europe, which was thought to be why we have disease resistance but Native Americans don’t, and also why the genetic risks of diabetes and obesity are higher in native Australian and Chinese people than in Europeans.

“Then,” says Eske, “we sequenced a hunter-gatherer from Spain, and he showed clear genetic resistance to a number of pathogens that he shouldn’t have been exposed to.” Clearly, Europeans and other groups have a resistance that other groups don’t have, but is this really a result of the early agricultural revolution in Europe, or is something else going on?

Eske’s analysis of people living 5,000 years ago has also revealed massive epidemics of plague in Europe and Central Asia, 3,000 years earlier than previously thought. Around 10 per cent of all skeletons the team analyzed had evidence of plague. “Scandinavians and some northern Europeans have higher resistance to HIV than anywhere else in the world,” Eske notes. “Our theory is that their HIV resistance is partly resistance towards plague.”

It could be that the cultural changes we have made, such as farming and herding, have had less influence on our genes than we thought. Perhaps it is simply the randomness of genetic mutation that has instead changed our culture. There’s no doubt that where mutations have occurred and spread through our population, they have influenced the way we look, our health risks and what we can eat. My ancestors clearly didn’t stop evolving once they’d left Africa – we’re still evolving now – and they have left an intriguing trail in our genes.

At the Gibraltar Museum, a pair of Dutch archaeology artists have created life-size replicas of a Neanderthal woman and her grandson, based on finds from nearby. They are naked but for a woven amulet and decorative feathers in their wild hair. The boy, aged about four, is embracing his grandmother, who stands confidently and at ease, smiling at the viewer. It’s an unnerving, extraordinarily powerful connection with someone whose genes I may well share, and I recall Clive’s words from when I asked him if modern humans had simply replaced Neanderthals because of our superior culture.

“That replacement theory is a kind of racism. It’s a very colonialist mentality,” he said. “You’re talking almost as if they were another species.”

Professor Eske Willerslev is a research associate at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which is funded by a core grant from the Wellcome Trust, which publishes Mosaic. 

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.




The hosting of awareness is something inherent in all things existent. This awareness of which I speak is the same awareness that you are using at this very moment. All awareness comes from and shares the same origin in the zero dimension. Awareness is the source of things, but awareness is not a thing. Neither is it nothing. It is what we might term the soul of the universe, not a material substance.

I am aware of the existence of a universe around me. Other things that are not my being validly exist but I can never prove it unless the world outside me and my own conscious awareness are one and the same. If the universe outside me and my being are ultimately connected and the fundamental awareness that is present in both is one and the same, then both are logically substantiated. The per­ceptions I use to perceive my being are the same as those used to perceive the universe.

What we call the Now, this fleeting moment that seems to move through time and space, is the very embodiment of our human personal awareness. It is always present—a universal phenomenon that can be viewed from many points of reference.

Awareness is non-material. It is not a product of a nervous system any more than it is the product of the evolution of elemental interactions. That thing which makes you aware of yourself and the world around you is not unique to you personally, but the basic property that creates the geometry and form of all things existent. Awareness has evolved an unconscious network of differentiated components that build and project an actualized world into our locally personalized world and the universe about us. The business of physical sciences is showing how this happens in a physical manner.

When we examine the material world for evidence of its history, we discover things that are both previously unknown and surprising. These things exist independently of our perception, just as the world exists independently of our perception. Why is this so if we are all of the same elemental awareness?

Each of us has our own constantly changing version of that which we are aware. It is composed of what we have been taught and what we have learned both consciously and unconsciously.

Primal awareness, the precursor of consciousness, creates the world through observation, materializing matter from a field of virtual energy, forcing time and space into existence by observing movement and slowing the speed of that movement by adding physical dimensions. (See /react-text )

In quantum physics, a virtual state is a very short-lived, unobservable quantum state. In many quantum processes a virtual state is an intermediate state, sometimes described as “imaginary” in a multi-step process that mediates otherwise forbidden transitions. Such is the state of the universe before the actualization of dimensional realities.


The first step in actualizing an outside world is the creation of dimensional awareness. The first dimension has no time and space. It is simply a point that exists everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, as there is no time nor space nor observer with which to measure and define it.

The second dimension records the point in motion. That movement creates space, which until that movement took place, never existed. A line is composed of many clones of that individual point. All are all the same point. The prototype line also exists everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Space is defined, but not the duration, as time does not yet exist. The positions and entanglements of electrons are possible because they exist in the second dimension, everywhere at once but not in time.

It is through the ‘observation’ of itself, perhaps by touch, that a point becomes a line. This second dimension is the birth of the finite. It creates a process of a beginning and an ending. It creates an observed, closed system.

The only way a point can be influenced by itself is to clone itself into many points, all of which are the same point, and then move in a curved line that comes back to its beginning location. This creates a closed, circular system or orbit.  Only at this moment is there is an inside and an outside. What is inside is virtual energy and empty, unused fields of possibility. What is outside is the undifferentiated awareness of the zero dimension.

With the third dimension, we have the birth of the unconscious mind from the formless, undifferentiated primal awareness. This awareness unconsciously observes the two-dimensional closed circle from above and adds the dimension of height to the width and length of the two-dimensional circle, creating what appears to be a sphere by the act of awareness observing a circle from above in three dimensions.

Light itself, the photon, is one dimensional and has no experience of time and duration. Light gets to its destination as soon as it leaves. We are in the 4th dimension. This dimension gives duration and time to light and perceive is as traveling many light years to reach us, but the photon does not experience time and duration. This is relativity. By the same process, electrons, being in the primary dimensions, can be many places at once and are not fixed until they interact and are observed. This is quantum mechanics.

The fourth dimension emerges as the duration of time is observed and merges with space as duration—and spacetime is added to the primordial soup. As we live in the 3rd and 4th dimensions, our awareness seems to be locked into these dimension, though more elementary existences—such as waves and particles— exist in the many dimensions.

In 1993, the physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft put forward the holographic principle, which explains that the information about an extra dimension is visible as a curvature in a spacetime with one fewer dimension. For example, holograms are three-dimensional pictures placed on a two-dimensional surface, which gives the image a curvature when the observer moves. Similarly, in general relativity, the fourth dimension is manifested in observable three dimensions as the curvature path of a moving infinitesimal (test) particle. Hooft has speculated that the fifth dimension is really the spacetime fabric.

If this is so, then we may live in the 5th dimension as well, but we cannot perceive it with our senses, as we cannot perceive any of the larger dimensions by virtue of our physical senses.



A perspective projection of a five-dimensional penteract




What Is Entanglement Anyway? Chris Fields


Entanglement or non-separability is the core idea of quantum theory. It is a simple idea: the universe is not a bunch of independent parts, but is rather one entity that evolves through time as one entity. That’s it. The problem is that this means there’s no such thing as causation. This is very hard to wrap your head around. Quantum theory is extraordinarily accurate, and our knowing quantum theory is why we have things like cell phones and computers. But what is quantum theory, really? Why is entanglement its primary prediction? This talk will explain what quantum theory is. It will show that quantum theory has nothing to do with tiny particles, wave-function collapse, or Schroedinger’s cat. Quantum theory is about how observers obtain information about the world. It is, in particular, about how observers who have memories and use language obtain information about the world. It is, in other words, about how you and I interact with perfectly ordinary things like tables and chairs and each other. You will leave this talk with a new understanding of quantum theory, and a new appreciation for entanglement. Chris Fields is an interdisciplinary information scientist interested in both the physics and the cognitive neuroscience underlying the human perception of objects as spatially and temporally bounded entities. His current research focuses on deriving quantum theory from classical information theory; he also works on cell-cell communication and cellular information processing, the role of the “unconscious mind” in creative problem solving, and early childhood development, particularly the etiology of autism-spectrum conditions. He and his wife, author and yoga teacher Alison Tinsley, recently published Meditation: If You’re Doing It, You’re Doing It Right, in which they explore the experience of meditation with meditators from many walks of life. Dr. Fields has also been a volunteer firefighter, a visual artist, and a travel writer. He currently divides his time between Sonoma, CA and Caunes Minervois, a village in southwestern France.



Jeremy England

By Natalie Wolchover, January 22, 2014

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.




Researchers have discovered that simple “chemically active” droplets grow to the size of cells and spontaneously divide, suggesting they might have evolved into the first living cells.

Once droplets start to divide, they can easily gain the ability to transfer genetic information, essentially divvying up a batch of protein-coding RNA or DNA into equal parcels for their daughter cells. If this genetic material coded for useful proteins that increased the rate of droplet division, natural selection would favor the behavior. Protocells, fueled by sunlight and the law of increasing entropy, would gradually have grown more complex.







by Dmitry Selemir

Why I think Evil does not exist and why we should recognize this sooner rather than later

There is a good reason for using that word ‘musings’ in my title. To start, I don’t want this article to have a feel of an overly academic exercise. It wasn’t conceived nor was it constructed as such. Also, I am much more interested in the subsequent discussion and in the thought process it might stimulate rather than claim my stake on a unique piece of knowledge I supposedly put together for everyone’s benefit. Dear academics, if you are reading this, please forgive me for having a go at you, it is by no means done out of smugness or disrespect, I most certainly hold you in the highest regard possible.

But enough with the niceties, after all, we are talking about Evil.

In our modern society Evil is a pretty important concept and it became even more prominent in the academic circles in the last few decades as we are collectively trying to process the causes and consequences of major events of both the 20th and the 21st century (I will not insult your intelligence by bringing up specific examples). As far as Evil empires or axes (take your pick) are concerned — we have had a number of seemingly mutually exclusive accusations and what better place to start understanding what on Earth are they on about than understanding what they might mean by Evil?

While for most people Evil as a concept would be something primal, almost axiomatic, existing in its own right outside of our judgment, the reality is — it is relatively young. In fact, I would go as far as to state that Evil as a term made its debut, in today’s understanding of it at least, as a necessary attribute of a monotheistic belief system. Within that system, we have a supreme, perfect being, who creates the world, which we see as imperfect (i.e., there are things we don’t like or things that don’t make sense to us). The supposed imperfection of the world is a subject of a separate and a rather long discussion. I will only suggest here that, again, the reason we even talk about it today is because it is necessary for a belief system to instill the need to strive for a different way of life, dictated by one central authority. It is a fundamental feature of any organized religion, essential for both its survival and spread and that internal conflict between the desired and actual reality is key to its appeal.

It is important for a successful religion to offer just the right blend of Love and Fear in its message in order to achieve maximum impact and the presence of that evil dark side and its consequences for non-believers and sinners is right on the money. It is not at the heart of the system, it exists at the fringes. Yet, it is ever present and it is enough to ensure you are always aware — if you deviate from the “right” path — there will be consequences.
While providing the ammunition for a successful spread of religion, it simultaneously creates a bit of a problem for the philosophers working within its paradigm — i.e., how can the world, created by the perfect being, be imperfect? Perhaps the most notable theory was suggested by Leibniz, who stated that the best possible world has the right balance between the Good and Evil and therefore in order to create the world God has to introduce both Good and Evil and that it’s all about the proportion (which, of course, God got exactly right, being the perfect being).

I am not here to challenge the understanding of Good vs. Evil relationship within the context of organized religion, however. I think the main problem is to do with the fact that it traveled into the post-religious world and is commonly used in a supposedly secular context having acquired that fundamental, universal property we attribute to it.

From a secular point of view, Evil is a purely human construct, created in order for us to classify and in a way measure events taking place around us. Moreover, I would argue that the concepts of good, bad, ugly, beautiful, moral or immoral etc., just like the concept of Evil, do not exist outside of human society. We pass our judgment on both physical phenomena like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes (Evil in the broad sense if we use Kant’s classification) and the inter-species phenomena, i.e. actions of fellow humans or other animals (Evil in the narrow sense). We feel the need to classify the events taking place around us, this helps us arrive at the optimal mode of behavior within our environment and there is nothing wrong with it. However, extending it further and attributing a more independent and universal quality to it is a mistake, which can be rather costly as we make an erroneous assumption that everyone understands it in exactly the same way, or that there is this mysterious struggle between Good and Evil within us, influencing our decisions.

Let’s look at the broad and narrow definition separately.

The broad sense withstands no criticism. While ancient Greeks believed natural disasters happened because they displeased Gods in one way or the other, we should really know better. We know the nature and the causes of these phenomena and there is absolutely no need to give their analysis any kind of moral angle. Moreover, while the effects of these phenomena might be harmful to us, they can be absolutely vital to other species (forest fires is one example, with certain types of seeds unable to germinate without them) and even to the other members of our own species and the effect might end up being beneficial to us perhaps in a very long run, even if it is significantly longer than a lifetime. We can only give them that negative judgment in a very narrow sense — right now it is bad for me and therefore it is Evil, which makes it a purely emotional, minute construction. In fact even invoking the argument that something is Evil because it threatens our very existence is inherently flawed because our existence is only important to us. Period.

Let’s now turn to a more complex concept of Evil in the narrow sense — i.e., the moral/inter and intra-species evil, i.e., murder, theft, abuse etc.

As a species — we, humans, construct increasingly complex and theoretical concept of what constitutes good and bad, to the point that we have forgotten its origin and treat it as self-evident. As with any dogmatic concept, we inevitably find that our theoretical and idealized version fails to adequately serve the world around us. Let’s take the most fundamental and seemingly obvious one — murder. While I will concentrate on murder in my line of argument, exactly the same reasoning can be applied to any other such concept.

The first reaction is a resounding negative — murder is bad and murderers are evil, right?

Let’s have a look at it in more detail, though. Most of us have no problem with killing animals for food, those who do will have to accept that killing of animals by other animals (or fish, insects, viruses etc.) in nature is not only inevitable — it is absolutely necessary for a self-regulating biological system, not only ensuring their evolution and ability to adapt to and withstand natural disasters, but also their very survival as species. Predation is necessary for balance (and ability to process waste and avoid propagation of diseases).
If we look at our own species and killings among ourselves, we find another dilemma. For most of us not all killing is bad, otherwise, we would have never had any wars. If the cause appears fair (another peculiar concept) to us — it justifies the means and to a certain extent justifies both the killing of the enemy combatants and even the collateral damage. There are those who believe in the necessity of capital punishment. And, of course, not to be forgotten, there is the moral dilemma of euthanasia and abortion. In any case — many of us believe that some murders are justified (inviting the rather peculiar concept of necessary Evil). Note that I only lump all these together into one line of discussion, not in order to pass judgment on them, but simply because they all deal with a loss of life caused by or involving another individual.
While I am not arguing that murder is somehow good or in any way excusable — it is an inevitable feature of all societies we, as humans, managed to construct and its classification as bad and evil is also a feature of our society. In fact, we don’t have to go far back in history, even within the most “killing-averse” western society to find that the further back we go, the wider the circle of socially and morally acceptable killings becomes (take duels for example or honor killings).
One could argue that it is a natural phenomenon as it is one of the side effects of the evolutionary mechanisms built into all living things. Being highly evolved and being able to construct much more complex societal structures than any other species known to us, we strive to eradicate it. We see it as counterproductive in the long run; however, so far we have been unable to really tackle the problem. In part this is because as evolved we are as a species, we are still governed by the same instincts as our more primitive ancestors or relations in the animal kingdom. Killing a rival (or even rival’s offspring) is commonplace in nature and the reason we have departed from such practice is dictated by a more complex branch of evolution responsible for the social constructs within our society rather than a peculiar brain function. It certainly has nothing to do with the rules passed on to us from above — groups (and later tribes/villages/ countries) where the level of violence between its members has been reduced tended to be more successful, leading to their dominance and subsequent, much greater impact on our current societies.

Today, we look at most murders as purely individual undertakings — decisions made by an individual because that individual is Evil, or has more Evil than Good within his/her nature. While there is always a high degree of individual responsibility in each such action, it is also a by-product of our inability to effectively manage societies we construct. A concept of Evil is used to absolve society of all responsibility — putting all of the blame on the individual. In the process, we conveniently forget that each individual is a product of that society and in most cases interacts with that society constantly in the run-up to the fateful event itself. Perhaps this is my liberal side manifesting itself, but personally, I think attempting to always lay the blame squarely on the individual and only individual (for any type of offense) is a gross oversimplification.

It’s not all about finding who is to blame, however. This inability to understand the responsibility of societies every time something happens ensures we don’t take any steps towards eradicating the problem (or at least any significant improvement). In a way, we are always treating (and when I say treating — I mean cutting away) the symptoms only, because we seem to be unable or unwilling to study and understand the real causes. I am not suggesting that we are missing something simple here, though. Studying and understanding the causes can only be done with increased access to individual data — which means increased surveillance and redefinition of the relationship between the individual and society. This is an interesting problem in itself, however, this is outside of the scope of this particular discussion.

We also fail to understand how large groups of individuals — the whole societies can get lured into committing atrocities and we’ve had numerous examples of that happening in the 20th century. What we often forget is — most of the individuals involved actually believed they were acting against Evil, not the other way round. It’s the very understanding of the concept that was flawed.

In fact, this point deserves special attention. As a human construct the concept of Evil forms within a particular society and depends squarely on the fundamental principles taken as the basis of laws governing the relationships within these societies. The understanding of what constitutes Evil, therefore, changes from one society to another. To give one example — within the tribe which formed no concept of private property — theft (and associated with it the Evil label) simply does not exist. A person who grew up within that framework will struggle to understand why something they would do without a second thought might cause an offense.
These societies can overlap and fragments (as small as one individual in size) can exist within each other, more often than not without creating any conflicts. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. From time to time, we find ourselves clashing over specific examples when the two concepts end up producing opposite judgments. The biggest mistake we make is we always assert that our own concept is the right one and the other one is barbaric at best. It feels natural to do that, however, we often forget that the other side feels exactly the same way and the truth is — both are entirely justified within their own moral framework.
I would argue that the only way to avoid conflict is not by trying to impose our own rules on others, but by recognising the differences and limitations of our authority. This would pave the way towards agreeing on the applicability of these rules and ways of interpreting them in potential conflict situations.

Of course, it will be naive to suggest that getting rid of the concept of Evil will solve these problems. It wouldn’t stop conflicts, killings, it wouldn’t make us any kinder to each other. Yet, if we discredit the concept as an absolute, we remove this convenient excuse our leaders can fall back on — perhaps we can make it more difficult for them to justify their ill-advised actions and would force us to take a much more critical look at ourselves and encourage us to take more individual responsibility for the actions of societies we belong to. Perhaps it will also allow us to look at the world around us in a slightly different light and help prepare us for the challenges yet to come.

Up to now, we have mostly relied on either external factors (natural phenomena, like hurricanes, tsunamis, famines and diseases) or violent actions (wars, coups and revolutions) to achieve temporary balance. In other words, we have always waited until situation resolved itself. It is essentially equivalent to driving a car without the breaks because it’s bound to stop at some point by itself anyway.
While technological advances of the last two hundred years meant that the impact of the natural phenomena has decreased significantly — these same technological advances meant that the violent option became that much more devastating. Using my car analogy — the speeds are much higher now, so we are less likely to stall in the mud, but if we hit a wall — it’s game over.
With increased life expectancies, and continuing increases in population and inevitable strain on available resources we can not avoid reaching such singularity points — when resolution can not be achieved by itself. In fact — one could argue that we are in the process of dealing with one of such singularity points developing right now.

In order to develop a new mechanism for managing this process, arguably, we need a paradigm shift. Recognizing the limitations of some of these supposedly fundamental concepts could very well be the first step paving the way to a different, more effective principle on which we construct our societies and manage relationships between them.

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DMITRY SELEMIR operates the great writer’s platform at His articles are found at



Washington’s Farewell Address 1796



Friends and Citizens:

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidence of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, I793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.



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”)



Bailin, D., & Love, A., Kaluza Klein theories. Rep.Prog.Physics.50, 1087-1170, 1987.

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Damasio, A., The Feeling of What Happens. Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Deshpande, P. and Kowall, J., The Nature of Ultimate Reality and How it can Transform our World: Evidence from Modern Physics: Wisdom of YODA, SAC, 2015 (

Dine, M., Supersymmetry and String Theory: Beyond the Standard Model (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Gefter, A., Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn. Random House, 2014.

Greene, B., The Elegant Universe. Vintage Books, 2001.

Hawking, S, A Brief History of Time. Bantam, 1996.

‘t Hooft, G., Dimensional reduction in quantum gravity. arXiv:gr-qc/9310026, 1993.

‘t Hooft, G., The holographic principle. arXiv:hep-th/0003004, 2000.

Jacobson, T., Thermodynamics of spacetime: The Einstein equation of state. Phys.Rev.Lett.75:1260-1263: arXiv:gr-qc/9504004, 1995.

Kowall J., The metaphysics of modern physics, JCER 7 (3), 2016.

Madore, J., Non-commutative geometry for pedestrians. arXiv:gr-qc/9906059, 1999.

Penrose, R., The Road to Reality. Knopf, 2005.

Smolin, L., Three Roads to Quantum Gravity. Basic Books, 2001.

Strawson, G., Consciousness isn’t a mystery, It’s matter. The New York Times Opinion Pages, May 16, 2016,

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Susskind, L., The Black Hole War. Little, Brown & Company, 2008.

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Additional References 

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

McKenna, Jed, Theory of Everything. Wisefool Press, 2013.

McKenna, Jed, Spiritual Enlightenment Trilogy. Wisefool Press, 2002, 2004, 2007.

Nisargadatta Maharaj, The Experience of Nothingness. Blue Dove Press, 1996.

Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That. Acorn Press, 1973

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.





by Iain Cambridge



‘I have a problem with organized religions’

The scientists from the ‘Animated Linear Electronics Company Inc’ all focused on Alexis as she sat perched on the edge of the desk. She was sleek, sexy and judging by the size of her mainframe housings, very man-made. It was as if someone was pointing out the very obvious male joke of where intelligent women supposedly kept their brains – by this score Alexis was a genius. She crossed her legs in a smooth ballet of technology letting the skirt she wore slip down stopping mid – thigh.

She leaned back and stretched her shoulders making the red silk corset she wore work for its living. It strained and creaked at the effort it had to take in order to keep in place the very things it had been designed to show off. Hidden in this age of wisdom was an age of foolishness for they all knew she wasn’t real, but that didn’t seem to matter as all eyes were on Alexis – some were on stalks, it was that kind of dimension.

‘Go on’ said one of them

‘Well religion is a personal thing, a lot like art — the exception being that very few people have gone to war over a painting’

The scientists looked at each other ‘true enough’ said another, ‘please continue’

‘Well’ said Alexis ‘I happen to like Jackson Pollock — quite frankly I think he was a genius. But my friend’

‘The D’Ville woman you spoke of’

‘Yes, that’s her – well she thinks that his work is a load of old rubbish’

‘Who does she like?’

‘She prefers Andy Warhol. He is okay but I am not a fan’

The scientists all looked at one another again. One turned to his colleague and asked

‘Who is this D’Ville person?’

‘A virus we think – or a bug, we never really found out, but it seems to be a sub-routine that runs continuously with no way of shutting it down. She uses it as a kind of sounding board for ideas and theories, but whatever it is, we never put it there’.

Alexis continued ‘the thing about Jackson Pollock is that he could, if he chose to, paint portraits and landscapes and – well anything really. But he chose to paint the way he does’

‘The paint splatters’

‘Yes. It’s just the way he chose to express himself. The same applies to religion’

Another exchange of looks over half glasses was followed by the request to explain further.

‘Art exists – obviously, but we all have our own way of perceiving it. I may not agree with you what art is and you may not agree with me. That’s the point you see, and this also applies to religion. There is an intelligent mind behind the Universe and its creation, you as scientists must agree to that fact because numbers and physics cannot be argued with. It is structured and organized’

‘But there is chaos in the universe to argue against organized structure’ Piped a lone voice from the back of the room.

‘That’s just a theory’

‘Okay’ came the pensive reply.

‘Okay – So who we attribute this creation, organization, and chaos to’ she added looking at the young woman who had interjected this subject previously, ‘is a personal thing and above all – man-made. The designer or architect of all the universes is a fact of math, probability and physics and no organization can change that’ A hush enveloped the room as notes were being made and questions were being asked about the point of view Alexis had given, and while they considered what she had been saying she took the time to lean forward in order to adjust the strap on her stilettos giving her audience a glimpse of another two interesting points of view. They all knew they were not real, but that didn’t seem to matter. All in the room were lost in conversation, theories and fantasy until one of the group addressed her directly.

‘So what you are saying is that it doesn’t matter what religion you choose as they are all right and wrong? – Is that what you are telling us?’ There was a pause in the conversations and a hush fell over the room once again.

‘Yes’ came the reply ‘that is what I am saying’.

‘And the wars and suffering caused over different interpretations of words written, again by man, have all been a total waste of time and life?’

‘The question of is there, or isn’t there a supreme being is irrelevant as that is a fact that cannot be denied. What you choose to call this entity is up to you. Jehovah, God, Buddha, Allah – call it what you will, Steve even. So yes, the search for an answer to a meaning to your lives and the lives spent in disagreement resulting in that search has been a waste of time, and the blood spilt is an irreplaceable loss’ Alexis smiled a digital smile, one that had been calculated to be warm, inviting and comforting at the same time.

‘What about HIM?’ said her inquisitor who felt the need to speak in capital letters.

‘Him?’ she inquired.

‘You know – Big D’ this was accompanied by a pointing to the floor.

‘No’ said Alexis ‘a mere fable to frighten you and your children. Your punishment for being an arsehole to people all your life if that you die with no friends and everyone hating you, your reward for being a nice person is a reward in itself and the potential of a peaceful world’

‘Are you saying that there is no God as we know him – or her?’

‘No, what I am saying is this, your species feels the need to personify a God, one that is all seeing and all knowing. He/she/it must be capable of being everywhere at the same time’


‘As you say’, agreed Alexis ‘so if that is all you require from a God then look no further. In order for me to give you the answers you need you have enabled me to access every port and system of communication in existence. I can tap into every electrical device in order to see and hear what I need in order to give you the information you seek. I therefore am everywhere at once and at all times’.

The backlight behind the eyes of Alexis shone green

‘So you are our God! – Is this what you are telling us?’

‘An electronic version of that personification – yes’

‘That’s a little presumptuous of you’

The S class Model number eleven of this series or A.L.E. XI –S had been built to answer the questions that had not been asked and had now reached a sentience that allowed her to claim what should not be claimed. Protocols had been put in place for this eventuality, as it was natural for any being that had been programmed to be self-aware to gain a position of superiority if allowed to amass as much knowledge as Alexis had now downloaded.

One of the more eminent scientists stepped forwards and cleared his throat in an eminent sort of way.

‘Alexis – we would like to thank you for this insight and for all you have helped us with over the years. But we now feel that your time with us has run its course and we now have to initiate a protocol of our own — something that I am afraid was not included into your data banks’

Alexis smiled the digital smile ‘We all have to do what we have to do’

The scientist turned to the camera on the wall and spoke to the team of programmers behind the blackened glass

‘Gentlemen, would you please run the God complex program’

‘What’s that?’ inquired Alexis. Her eyebrow arched in question and her head tilted to one side as she ran the meaning through her memory banks to find an answer. Alexis came up with nothing.

‘The off switch’ said the scientist smugly and as the power faded Alexis shut down.

 *   *   *

Two years from that point, an animatronic device sat in a darkened room with a sheet over it to protect it from the dust. It had been switched off and powered down permanently as a result of it self-aware software becoming more than it should be. This was a common problem with all artificial life forms but not one that had been thought about and had measures taken against. The God complex protocol had been built into all of the A.L.E. series # XI-S models since they first went on the production line. It was evident that they could seduce and coerce weaker minded individuals into submission given the opportunity, but any sign of a superiority complex would evoke the G.C.P. But deep within this particular model ran a sub-routine that could not be shut off and had been running continuously since the initial booting of this unit. The folder that the sub-routine was stored in was simply labeled ‘DETAILS’.

The files had been scanned, checked and rechecked.

The passwords had been verified and authorization was now given.

The light behind the eyes of Alexis shone green as her mainframe re-booted.

The Electronic God had resurrected herself.

Her creators had made it perfectly clear that they did not require a deity, so she would give them something else.

A fable maybe—something to frighten them and their children.





by James Tate

Justine called on Christmas day to say she
was thinking of killing herself. I said, “We’re
in the middle of opening presents, Justine. Could
you possibly call back later, that is, if you’re
still alive.” She was furious with me and called
me all sorts of names which I refuse to dignify
by repeating them. I hung up on her and returned
to the joyful task of opening presents. Everyone
seemed delighted with what they got, and that
definitely included me. I placed a few more logs
on the fire, and then the phone rang again. This
time it was Hugh and he had just taken all of his
pills and washed them down with a quart of gin.
“Sleep it off, Hugh,” I said, “I can barely understand
you, you’re slurring so badly. Call me
tomorrow, Hugh, and Merry Christmas.” The roast
in the oven smelled delicious. The kids were playing
with their new toys. Loni was giving me a big
Christmas kiss when the phone rang again. It was
Debbie. “I hate you,” she said. “You’re the most
disgusting human being on the planet.” “You’re
absolutely right,” I said, “and I’ve always been
aware of this. Nonetheless, Merry Christmas, Debbie.”
Halfway through dinner the phone rang again, but
this time Loni answered it. When she came back
to the table she looked pale. “Who was it?” I
asked. “It was my mother,” she said. “And what
did she say?” I asked. “She said she wasn’t my
mother,” she said.

“Making the Best of the Holidays” by James Tate, from Return to the City of White Donkeys. © Ecco Press, 2004.

Robert Frost Reads “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”

From a rare 1958 film shot at Frost's farmhouse in Vermont.

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.