I read Brian Greene’s book The Fabric of the Cosmos for a number of reasons. First I had at best a hazy idea of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity. For once really wanted to fully understand them. Second, I had heard about string theory (well, really superstring theory) and the uncertainty principle. I was curious to learn a whole lot more. But perhaps the real reason I read the book was that I was hoping that just maybe (in my own mind at least) I could merge the worlds of physics and metaphysics.
Why not? Physicists are hot to validate the grand unification of relativity (the universe at the macro level) with superstring theory (the universe at the subatomic level). It’s their Holy Grail. I can have mine too. Clearly I am not easily intimidated by daunting philosophical and scientific problems, even though I am neither a scientist nor more than an amateur philosopher. I am likely tilting at windmills but someone has to start.
Through Greene’s book I learned that there likely exist 11 (or possibly just 10) dimensions to the universe. Four dimensions we seem to understand as part of the nature of our reality: space (i.e. length, width and height) and time. It is hard for us to conceive of a reality of more than four dimensions because we cannot directly perceive them. But Greene points out that in order for superstring theory to work mathematically and integrate with Einstein’s theories there must be seven more. He generally refers to these dimensions as “curled up” dimensions that are embedded in the energized superstrings. These superstrings vibrate at certain frequencies and in the process take on properties. Some of these properties we can perceive as matter and some of which we can perceive as energy (light, for instance).
But we also know that there is a lot of energy that surrounds us that we cannot directly perceive. We know that the ether of the electromagnetic spectrum surrounds and permeates us. We cannot perceive any but its visible spectrum. We can infer its presence well enough every time we use our cell phones or listen to the radio. Clearly the universe is far more complex than what we can directly observe.
Now let’s get back to metaphysics. Metaphysics is “The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value.” Metaphysics is largely pure speculation and tries to give order and sense to that which lies just beyond science. Arguably a lot of it is nonsense. Most Westerners would probably say that most religions (except their own), horoscopes, palm reading and the like are nonsense. But if you read enough (and I’ve read quite a bit) there are certain areas of common agreement in the metaphysical world that seem almost scientific in nature. I’ve alluded to some of these in other blog entries. For example near death experiences and the high degree of commonality among these experiences have been well researched by academics like Raymond A. Moody, PhD and MD as well as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD. Many of us, including myself, have experienced deja vu. These experience suggests to me that time itself may be an illusion. There are even scientific studies into the psychics that are damned convincing.
Eastern religions have promoted various planes of existence for the soul for millennium. Perhaps the best established of these is the seven planes of existence from the Hinduism and Buddhism traditions. According to these mystics, each plane of existence has its unique attributes and purpose. For example after death we arise to the astral plane where we hang out again until the Masters can figure out which new body we need to inhabit to learn new important spiritual lessons we haven’t mastered. Eventually we are reincarnated and go back to the earthly plane. Assuming we get our karmic lessons right at some point after death we arise from the astral plane to the mental plane, the home of “masters” and “spirit guides”. Maybe at that level we exist to help others trying to complete their karmic experiences. This level maps quite well to many religions versions of heaven, including Christianity to some extent. Both these levels and the experiences anticipated map well with Moody and Kubler-Ross’s research into near death experiences. They also map well as past life regression research by well established clinical hypnotherapists like Michael Newton. Beyond the mental level are the Buddhic, Nirvana, Para Nirvana and finally the God Head levels.
I find a couple interesting things in this aspect of metaphysics.
First, most describe ascending from one plane to the next as moving to a higher “vibrational level”. This is true regardless of how many levels of consciousness a particular spiritual practitioner or guru seems to be promoting.
Second, at least classically there are seven planes of consciousness described. Superstring theory talks about eleven dimensions. Subtract four that amount to our earthly experience and that leaves seven that should exist. Curiously there are seven levels of consciousness promoted by the Hindu-Buddhist philosophies. Subtract one for the existence we can perceive (or for the 11th dimension which according to Greene may not exist) and we get close to or hit the number of dimensions required to validate superstring theory.
Lastly, Greene talks about how superstrings have various properties including very definite differences in vibrational rates. Maybe it means nothing, but both physicists and metaphysicians seem enamored with vibrations and energy levels. Perhaps some of those “curled up” dimensions that Greene and fellow physicists allude to can be mapped to planes of existence?
No doubt most physicists would be surprised by or laugh at my attempt at a comparison here. And I am sure that magazines like The Skeptical Inquirer have published numerous articles on why such theories are bunk. On the other side of the equation there are many in the metaphysical world, particularly those vested in a particular religious faith who will deny any reality outside of their faith’s.
These are thin threads I am suggesting. But there are some commonalities here that should raise eyebrows on both sides of this divide. Both sides are really rushing toward the same goal. The grand unification theory sought by physicists is but a way station toward understanding the mind of God (if God exists). Similarly, the religious and philosophers among us must at some level require the assurance that all those things they are saying are true can be proven objectively true.
All I’m suggesting is I see some threads that perhaps can stitch these two seemingly dissimilar worlds together. I invite those more learned than me to continue this effort. I think we need to wrap our minds around the true nature of existence. If there are curled up dimensions in subatomic particles that can be inferred this strikes me as a wholly fantastic idea. I find it no more fantastic those eastern religions thousands of years old were talking even then about planes of existence that also cannot be seen. Perhaps both sides are speaking a sort of common lingo. My job may be to put them in touch.