Part 4 of the series is here.
I listened to a YouTube video this week in which physicist Sean Carroll gave a talk entitled “God Is Not a Good Theory.” In his presentation, Dr. Carroll used Bayesian probabilities to compare the likelihood of God’s existence to the likelihood that we live in a multiverse—(multiverses being one naturalistic way of explaining the appearance of a statistically unlikely universe such as our own). The Bayesian procedure involves using evidence to update an a priori assessment of the likelihood a given outcome is true. So, for instance, prior to gathering evidence of any kind, we could ask ourselves, “If God were real, what type of universe would we expect to find?” We could then look to see if this is so.
I was expecting him to comment on a few elements of reality that trouble all of us—the existence of suffering, or of evil, for instance, (which I should note he did get around to eventually)—but instead he reported that the greatest strike against the argument for God’s existence is the incredibly low entropy of the early universe. The reason is that if God’s goal was to create life, as is commonly asserted, the entropy of the early universe didn’t need to be nearly as low as it was. He noted another way to think about this is to ponder the night sky, in which there are just way, way, way more galaxies than are strictly necessary for life to exist. While many parameters of our universe appear to be tuned “just right” for life, the entropy of the early universe is so far from what one would expect, it just cannot be consistent with the hypothesis of a creative God.
I find this argument a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s an interesting opening because what I want to talk about is how the universe of form is in many ways a perfect response to what I’ve described in this series as “the choice for separation.” I mentioned last time that the shift in our identification that is part and parcel to this choice is the root cause of suffering, and noted as well a few reasons why a benevolent universe would not simply dissolve the consequences of a freely made choice or overrule the choice altogether. But what I didn’t address is what benevolence did do in this story I am (re-)telling, and that is equally important.
Unity is a state of perfect communion. Communication—felt, let’s say, as the sensation of mutual identification—continuously joins each to each, each to the All, and the All to each without interruption. Knowledge of unity is immediate, pervasive, and unopposed. As I noted previously, the primordial state of being, which exists perpetually and only in the light of this knowledge, enjoys a creative power that we cannot imagine. But in the choice for separation this power was lost, along with the ubiquitous communication, or mutuality of presence, we once enjoyed with the entirety of being.
The first thing to understand is that the desire to restore what was lost is very strong. Incredibly strong. But the way back can only be a choice on our part. As I also noted before, this is a very difficult choice to make because it appears to involve the abdication of our individual sovereignty, freedom, and creative ability—in short, it appears to involve the loss of all that we are and have made ourselves to be. The image of ourselves must be released and the reality of ourselves accepted, but to make this leap we must allow a complete reframing of all that we’ve known in our separated condition. But in the meanwhile, the profound desire to restore what was lost operates through the image of ourselves, every day, in attempts to (re)construct the reality we’ve seemingly lost right in the here and now. This compulsion moves all of us.
Perversely, the deep drive to recover what was lost by recreating it in the world of form engenders profound attachments to what we produce with our lives. This makes releasing these images and desires all the more difficult. If all that we work here to build, painstakingly, one day at a time for years and years—(by which I mean our inventory of experiences, our status, our accumulation of knowledge, our memories of heroic exploits, our list of failures, our losses, our “stories,” etc.)—if all that comes apart, we experience the profound loss of “our kingdom” all over again. We are each Sisyphus in this way, trying to reconstruct in this manifest world that which can never be constructed here (but only realized through a return to the unity that was lost). (It’s important, I think, to note that a return to formlessness or an abdication of this experiential world altogether is not where this is headed, but that will have to be a future post…)
How can this strange loop be exited? If a benevolent universe could neither remove the consequences of the choice for separation, or overrule the mind(s) that made such a choice without a much greater loss, what could it do? The answer is that it could foster those conditions most appropriate for learning and safeguard forever the aspects of itself “lost” to this strange experience. And here, like physicist Sean Carroll, we could ask: what would such a universe look like?
At the risk of being tedious, I think to begin answering this question we need a picture of the primordial state of being in front of us once again. This state—the reality of unity—is eternal, unopposed, and the fulcrum of all creative power. Most importantly, this state is timeless. There is no “process” by which expressions of love and unity in this singularity are mediated. We could think of this as being akin to the magic we write about in our fairy tales, only the magic we imagine is often “used” to change things in the world of form and that is not what I’m getting at. I’m suggesting the primordial state of being is like the full power of Aladdin’s lamp, only not to make a bunch of stuff, but to communicate and share the content of who we are in endless and beautiful ways. The critical element of this “state” is that it is always instantaneous and maximal. We might imagine there is cause (will, or desire) and effect (awareness of love given and love received), but these are so indelibly joined they are more like a “mutual arising” than a sequence. They are both-at-once, together. And they are timeless.
Such an instantaneous out-picturing, or projection, of separated minds would not be ideal for learning, however. It would be quite dangerous in fact. If everything a seemingly separate mind desired or willed instantaneously came to be it would very obviously be chaotic insanity. There’s the problem of wanting different outcomes, first of all, which is the hallmark of separation: several billion all-powerful wizards painting our physical reality to pieces. But there’s also the problem of providing a means of learning, which is the most important outcome, because it is only through learning that the consequences of the choice for separation might be understood, and the means of making the choice for unity finally realized. And then there’s the problem of protecting the very selves that we are: the connection to the primordial state of being.
What we’ve been given in response to the choice for separation is not a chaotic mess wherein every seemingly independent mind has the full creative power of unity, but a world that precedes very clearly by cause and effect—a world in which the two are teased apart and placed in a sequence, or relationship, that produces time. Such a world reflects the various fractures or splits that all occurred with the choice for separation, prior to which cause and effect were unified and simultaneous. The split of cause from effect echoes the loss of unity, and produces time, which is a perfect vehicle for learning. The non-simultaneity of cause and effect enables the opportunity to deeply understand choice and consequence.
So I think this is a reason our physical reality is deterministic. It must proceed “separately” from “us” and our independent, fragmented wills to allow for stability of experience as well as the opportunity for learning. Determinism protects us from the worst psychological outcomes of the choice for separation. In a sense the choice for separation “froze” the creative power of unity and sealed the experience of separation into time. Our power in this container is largely reduced to transitory physical machinations, but it is far, far, far from the power of cause and effect. Nothing we do in time can change the true nature of our being in unity with the primordial state of being, and this allows for the experience of separation without any lasting consequences. Time is a safe container for this strange dream.
But the question remains: are we making our own choices in time, in every instant like we think? Or are our bodies and all that we know the product of material laws alone? My answer to this is that physical reality is deterministic unless acted upon by the power of unity, and that at the moment of the choice for separation all of time—the entire epoch of learning, healing, and return to unity—arose. It is like the block universe physicists discuss—all past and future co-existing in a perfectly ordered causal sequence. In this sense, there is no free will in the land of image. Everything proceeds on the basis of a fully determined cause and effect.
But this is ostensibly a universe of zombies! Consciousness is unnecessary for physical events to proceed by physical laws, so it’s a bit of an anomaly in this context. The word sealed in time can unfold quite nicely without our presence. The truly amazing thing is that we do have the ability to witness events, and it is necessary only for this: to witness and experience what is occurring. And in this, I believe, there is one choice we do have. We can choose to witness through the thought system of image, or the thought system of unity.
When we are perceiving the world with image at the root of our comprehension, we identify almost exclusively with the body, we imagine we are at cause, and it feels like we’re making a string of choices, but in essence we’re witnessing the deterministic unfolding of material processes (including our bodies). We perceive and feel events a certain way and we respond on the basis of the image at the root of our identity, but it doesn’t change the world’s sequence. We’re along for the ride in a sense. We glory at our triumphs and despair at our failures. We clamor about freedom, take credit for this and that, blame our losses on factors beyond ourselves, but really… we’re watching the movie from the inside. This is just how we learn. This is how we come into immediate experiential contact with the consequences of our most fundamental choices: we live them. And for this and this alone is consciousness required.
But as we move into the choice for unity—as we heal the various rifts that are co-extensive with the choice to experience separation—then something new can happen. The frozen, deterministic sequence of cause and effect is interrupted by moments of contact with unity—by the touch of time to the timeless. And then true cause enters the scene for a moment, everything recalculates, and a new track is possible. Through these moments of unity, which we all access all the time, tracks are perpetually shifting, reorganizing. The contents of time are reordered. It is through such moments of genuine freedom and access to unity that we “shorten” time and genuinely create transformation of what is. But this freedom is not that of a lone individual wielding the power of the proverbial lamp, it is immersion into the realization that what we each desire is what we all desire. It is, ironically, not making a choice at all! For choice is not freedom!
Choice, in the condition of separation, or the sequence of time, is a facsimile of freedom, a distorted rendition of what is real. It is an attempt to recreate the experience of freedom we so deeply desire, but like all the ways we try and recreate what we remember, it cannot work in the way we’re going about it! We cannot retain our root identification with the separated state and create the conditions of unity.
To summarize, the experience we are having in time and space can be understood as perfectly consistent with the response of a benevolent universe to a choice to experience the unreality of an isolated or separate state. The structure of causality, time, and determinism provides the perfect sandbox for learning while eliminating the worst outcomes of our choice. The wisdom of what has arisen remains well beyond my ability to comprehend, and this is just one man’s strange and skewed depiction of a small piece of it, but even a feeble glimpse of such a response is enough to amaze me.
Sean Carroll might ask me if I had a blank sheet of paper on which to draw any universe I could possibly imagine, and I started with only the question of what a benevolent universe would look like, is the world around us what I would draw? Because if not—if a mind that didn’t know anything about our world would draw something completely different—then maybe this whole essay is simply an effort to bend the data we have to fit some strange notions that are dear to me. But this type of question is naïve I think, because it assumes the creative heart of existence is fixed and autocratic—that it would choose to deny the very possibility of freedom and choice that make it “real” so that only pleasant utopias might come into being, populated by automatons. If we ask instead how a benevolent universe that allows freedom and choice to meaningfully exist might respond to a choice by “part” of itself to explore a question about experiencing what it is not, you may be surprised by what you imagine…