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.
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 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…