The End Is the Beginning

comments 14
Science / Reflections

In response to Lee’s comment on my previous post I listened to the dialogue between Roger Penrose and Jordan Peterson that was recently posted to YouTube. I’d never listened to Penrose before and really enjoyed him. He has a brilliant, creative mind and a delightful way of expressing himself. I had many impressions and possible responses to the video but one thing in particular jumped out at me: Penrose’s cosmological theory of an endless, recreating universe is profoundly similar to Walter Russell’s depiction of the eternally recurring wave cycle of the elements.

For those who don’t know, Penrose is a British physicist and mathematician who shared in the 2020 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on black holes and relativity theory. Walter Russell was an American polymath nicknamed “the modern Leonardo” who described the elements as “octaves of light” following an extended spiritual vision he received. Suffice to say, a single sentence is a woefully inadequate CV for either one of them.

Let’s start with Penrose’s description of an endless, recreating universe, which is composed of aeons—the period of time that spans the beginning and the end, (which is also the beginning). The technical term for this is conformal cyclical cosmology. In this model, the starting point of each aeon is an event comparable to what we call the Big Bang, which expands outwards in all directions and never stops. The end, at first blush, after a very long time, is thought to be quite a boring wasteland: the so-called heat death of the universe. Such a universe is consistent with what we know about our own: it began with the Big Bang and has been found to be in a state of continuous and possibly accelerating expansion.

So how does one obtain a cycle out of this? Well, this is where the word “conformal” enters the picture. A geometrical pattern is conformal if all the relationships it contains are identical regardless of scale. From within the pattern one has no ability to determine the absolute size of it. To speak of such an absolute is basically meaningless. Imagine you print a repeating pattern on a grain of rice, and then blow it up in scale so that it fits on the side of the Chrysler Building. Because all of the relationships between elements in the pattern are identical, the “experience” of each pattern from within the pattern would be the same. There would be no way to differentiate the rice grain pattern from the building façade.

What Penrose suggests is that the contents of the universe at the time of the Big Bang (the beginning) are, in this way, indistinguishable from what the contents will be at the end of our aeon (the end). At the time of the Big Bang, all of the “contents” of the universe existed as light—as pure radiation essentially. As the universe expanded and cooled, matter formed. But near the end of our aeon, if one imagines that black holes steadily gobble up all the matter in the universe in the meanwhile and then proceed to “evaporate” as we expect them to, then there will be nothing left but light again, or pure radiation. The beginning and the end (for what I gather are various technical reasons) are conformal—they would be indistinguishable from one another. And so the idea is it just starts again… The end is the beginning.

Turning now to the ideas of Walter Russell, one of his principal ideas was the organization of the chemical elements into what he described as “octaves of light.” He viewed this as the progression of pure light into material form, and then back out of form to pure light again. The picture below shows one way that he depicted this graphically.

Russell's Octave Wave Model of Light

Russell’s Octave Wave Model of Light

The picture below shows another depiction, which contains a lot of information that I won’t go into detail about here. The interesting thing is that he notes directly that the final element, which he termed Omeganon, is identical to the first element, Alphanon. He also notes that Alphanon has absolutely zero mass. (Look at the very center of the image or the close-up below.) This cycle is very much like Penrose’s: they each begin and end in an identical state that contains no mass. The absence of mass is a very specific and important claim to Penrose’s model because without mass, in general relativity theory, there is no time, and so the beginning and the end for Penrose are in essence timeless. For Russell, too!

Russell's Spiral Table of the Elements

Russell’s Spiral Table of the Elements


The End is the Beginning


Russell’s Model: The Ending Is an Explosion of Light…

Russell produced additional sketches of his spiral map of the elements, and in one he describes the end of the cycle as “the great nine octave radioactive explosion into static space for re-emergence as dynamic matter.” He then describes the beginning of the cycle as “the embryo of new life in the womb of space preparing for rebirth into the first of its nine octaves of light.” (There is a discrepancy between his ten octave sketches, which I’ve used here, and his later renditions in which I believe he modified this into nine octaves after further work on his ideas. But the qualitative ideas are unchanged.)

Lastly, Penrose and Russell both say the following about their universal cycles: they have no beginning or end. They repeat indefinitely. It’s worth noting that Penrose is describing the universe as a whole, and Russell the cycle of pure light into form and back to pure light. Russell’s is the story of atoms. But this is the icing on the cake because it suggests the old adage: as above, so below…


  1. Hi Michael,
    Your blog title drew me in to pay a visit. While I will admit I was not able to keep up with content about the theories, I was struck by the visuals and how they have some aspects common to astrology charts. Then of course the adage as above, so below, is strongly associated with Astrology. I have no intellectual grasp of how or if we are truly evolving on the fate of the cosmos, however I am attuned to the timelessness and rhythm of cycles and how they play with the artificiality prescribed constructs of beginnings, endings and linear timelines.



    Liked by 3 people

    • Hello Linda,

      I have no idea either…! I thought the parallels here were really neat, but I’m not thinking we have cosmology licked just yet. Haha. I do think timelessness has an interesting relationship with rhythm and recurring cycles. These are things we can all relate to I think… Cyclical movements are all around us and the bedrock of materiality…

      Blessings to you too, Linda!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post Michael!

    Penrose’s theory has some interesting features. I read or heard somewhere that there may be a possibility of information being transmitted between the aeons. (I’m not sure how though given the description.) Which might concurrently give hope for something surviving the heat death of the universe, and possibly finding signals in the CMB.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Mike!

      In a talk or two I watched on YouTube, Penrose talked about “Hawking Points,” which I understand are relics of the previous aeon. Penrose showed some data from the CMB that was analyzed somehow–I have no idea how exactly–to extract/highlight the existence of these small regions of particular intensity. I’m not sure his ideas are in fashion generally with cosmologists but they’re fascinating to think about. I also understand they argue against the theory of inflation in the early universe…


      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Michael! Pretty interesting discussion at that link on Hawking Points. I had heard that the previous aeon would look like the inflationary epoch, but I guess that counts as being an alternative to inflation.

        Yeah, I don’t see discussion about CCC from many cosmologists. Neither Greene nor Carroll mention it in their books on similar topics where it might make sense. CCC does seem pretty speculative, but a lot of other speculative stuff gets discussed in those books, or at least mentioned. (Penrose does get mentioned, but typically in relation to black holes or his quantum consciousness theory.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Michael. Much like Linda, the details are beyond my understanding, but I’m intrigued by the general idea of a cyclical universal life cycle that begins and ends with emptiness. I read something else by Walter Russell. He was an interesting and talented man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Brad,

      The idea of cyclical existence has been with us and intriguing to humanity for a long time I think. As to Russell, yes, he was fascinating! I’m continually astonished how few people are familiar with him. It’s inspiring just to think about all the different things he accomplished… any one of which would be considered a tremendous, career-capping achievement. Like having a painting in the Louvre, or sculpting the bust of US presidents, or designing buildings in NYC and parks in Florida… Amazing!


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lee Roetcisoender says

    Great post Michael…… I really don’t have much to add other than most of Penrose’s ideas about the expansion of the universe and consciousness being a quantum system are based upon his research and understanding of General Relativity per se. Personally speaking; although GR is a useful tool for making predictions and building hypothetical models, I do not believe the GR reflects the true nature of our universe. Pansentientism is superior model of our universe, one that can explain motion, form and complexity without the need for the so-called laws of physics or the rules underwriting complex algorithms that so many computationalists embrace.

    There are a few recent youtube videos on the internet where Penrose and Hameroff discuss their ORCH Theory of Consciousness. Although I agree with Penrose that consciousness is a quantum system, I do not think consciousness or what they call proto-consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe per se, but a highly complex emergent physical system, albeit it quantum in substance.

    Technically speaking; one could posit that every phenomena that could possibly ever exist is indeed a fundamental property of a singularity. So their is that……

    Keep the ideas coming my friend

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lee. It’s interesting that Russell felt General Relativity was not at all an accurate picture of things. But yes, it is a great predictive model useful in countless modern technologies. I think Russell was from such a different world than Einstein, the latter of whom would have used very technical language to frame his ideas, that had they spoken they probably would have talked past one another. I think the overall worldview of modern physics turned Russell off, but they actually had many suppositions in common: for instance, Russell’s work suggested time was not universal and that it changed as moved closer to the center of strong gravitational fields. One thing missing in all “modern” scientific parlance is a place for a generative principle that is the equal and opposite to entropy, and I think Russell felt this was absent from relativity as well. He also didn’t like the notion that space was nothing at all but geometry, and felt it was filled with the so-called (by him) “space octaves” that were outside of the range of human instruments but fill all of space. Makes you wonder a bit about dark matter doesn’t it? Haha.

      Anyway, terminology can be crippling. I find it interesting for instance that you advocate pansentientism while not thinking that there is any proto-consciousness. But I can bend my mind into agreement if I imagine a proto-consciousness is something like a discrete organism’s consciousness, and agree that’s not a good model. So in that sense, I don’t believe in that either. But then what is sentience!? Haha. Not sure we have the words for this stuff.

      All I can say, I suppose, is that I believe I am part of something greater than myself. What that is… is impossible to say at some level. Thanks for the note, Lee!



  5. Lee Roetcisoender says

    The vocabulary is the difficulty for sure Michael. When we start focusing on sentience as a substrate or an underlying architecture of matter for example, the very notion becomes unchartered intellectual territory for us because the familiar landscape concentrates our attention on the familiar schemas of panpsychism or universal consciousness. But consciousness, mind or the psyche of panpsychism implies cognition of some form or the processing of information such as Tononi’s IIT theory, whereas sentience as a substrate does not require cognition and yet, sentience is inclusive for both the non-conceptual systems as well as the conceptual systems of mind. And to add specificity to the notion, it is this absence of cognition that we observe with the four forces of electromagnetism, the nuclear force both strong and weak as well as the force of gravity.

    There is no question in my mind that our physical universe is a dynamic living system in the truest sense of the word “life”. It is ironic that the pendulum of mysterianism has swung to the opposite extreme within the institution of the physical sciences to the point where the very notion of life has been arbitrarily determined to include only organic metabolizing matter and has excluded the inorganic material out of the definition. This epistemic maneuver creates insurmountable problems for the physical sciences that fundamentally do not exist and therefore have to be explained. As a result, a new schema had to be developed to fill this newly created ontological gap; the solution then becomes this ethereal, magical something we refer to as “law”, another mysterian force that commands unwavering, unquestioning obedience from its unknowing, unsuspecting subjects.

    Surely, sentience makes more sense than the mysterian schema of laws or algorithms plus, one can account for complexity because living systems will naturally migrate towards what feels good in contrast to what feels bad. The apex of that complexity is the human mind and the experience of that mind we refer to as consciousness. And as a physical system ourselves, we are compelled to choose what feels good to us individually in contrast to what feels bad and I would also posit, that of all the physical systems in the universe, human consciousness is the apex of complexity and the apex of what feels good in contrast to what feels bad.

    The notion of sentience is simple enough that a pre-schooler can grasp the concept and it does not impinge upon the physical sciences in any way…….. But all of this is just the ramblings of a tired old hippie who lives in the west central mountains of Idaho.

    Be at peace my friend


  6. I’m a big fan of Penrose’s work. It’s possible he is, or is close to being, a modern Einstein. I did read his book about CCC, a hypothesis he presents as highly speculative. A major question I have about it is at what point does the conformal mapping between an ancient, expanding, empty but for low-energy photons universe kick in and look like an energetic Big Bang in a new universe?

    To answer the question about possible evidence in the CMB, it’s his thought that gravity waves from merging giant blackholes might cross over the mapping and be visible as circles in the CMB. He’s worked with someone to try to find those, and apparently had some tantalizing results, but nothing definitive so far.


    • Hello Wyrd!

      I’ve not read any of Penrose’s books directly but would like to. Is Cycles of Time the one about CCC? I’ve just been reading Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon for the second time, after a two decade interlude of normal reality, and am loving it. It’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten all the little details and descriptions that make his writing so hilarious. And in the on-deck circle is The Janus Point by Julian Barbour. Penrose will be a project for second half of the year probably.

      I have a similar question as you, as in his presentations there is this one moment when it seems like some sort of “reset” or “rescaling” has to happen to initiate a new cycle… His book doesn’t go into that?

      Thanks for the info on the CMB. It doesn’t appear difficult to find cosmologists who disagree with Penrose on this one… 🙂



      • Yes, Cycles of Time is Penrose’s book about the CCC. His writing is so dense and technical that I usually need years and several re-reads to absorb his books. That one was a library book, which I had for only 21 days, so I couldn’t spend much time chewing on it. (FWIW, I did post about the book. See The Puzzle of Entropy and the post that follows, Entropy and Cosmology. Those posts are mostly about Penrose’s discussion of entropy. I only mention the CCC in passing in the first post — the technical details are too far above my head for me to really grasp it.)
        I bought the Penrose books The Road to Reality and Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy because I figure it’ll take me months, if not years, to understand the material. Penrose isn’t shy about including higher math or getting deep into the weeds. (OTOH, I’d long wondered what fiber bundles were.) The former, so far, has mostly been about the math of physics. I think his end goal is discussing quantum reality. The latter, aligned with its title, is about string theory (hugely in fashion), quantum mechanics (and our faith in its axioms), and I think cosmology (and multiverse fantasies?) but I haven’t gotten to it, yet. (When I have time, I read his books in passes. The first pass skips anything that gets too heavy. Later passes drill down.)
        I’ve been thinking about re-reading Cryptonomicon myself. I’m a huge fan of Stephenson’s books. I recently read and enjoyed his most recent, Termination Shock. (I posted about that, too.)

        Liked by 1 person

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