Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is the Universe an Illusion? (part 2)

In my previous post on this topic, I presented a logical reasoning for why the universe must be an illusion. This time, I intend to present some scientific evidence. Most of these ideas have been obtained from here.

First, a primer on consciousness. What makes the entire universe tick? We observe macroscopic phenomena such as the earth revolving around the sun, apples falling to the earth, people moving and interacting with each other, and in a subtle sense, individual atoms interacting with each other. What is the cause of all this? Some people say this is just random chance that the universe has panned out in this way, but quantum mechanics tells us that if this is so, then there are other possibilities, and hence other universes where these possibilities occur. The question still remains - what caused it in the first place?

The universe is commonly thought of as a machine, with individual components working as cogs, and consciousness was never really acknowledged. But scientists today are finding it more and more difficult to ignore consciousness as the reason for existence. Consider this: It is a commonly known phenomena that sub-atomic (and other) particles behave differently when observed as opposed to their behaviour when unobserved (e.g. light as both a wave and a particle). This projection of different behaviour is caused by human consciousness. In my previous post, I described how reality is closely associated with my senses. The existance of any object outside of my consciousness cannot be proved at all. Therefore consciousness is the direct cause of all reality, and as a corollory, consciousness is all that exists. This is the conclusion that scientists working on quantum mechanics are coming to, and this idea is gaining increasing credence.

The EPR paradox has instantaneous communication (read: greater than the speed of light) as its implication, also known as a non-local event. Looked at another way, it means that the separation between particles is an illusion.

As per the standard model of the atom, one of the fundamental particles is a quark. While admittedly, the standard model is not a complete theory (gravity is not explained, for example), it presents a very good picture of the atom. According to the standard model, quarks, while they possess mass, are only one-dimensional things. But three of them combine to form a three-dimensional proton or neutron. The problem is that quarks cannot really exist, because if they exist, they become three-dimensional things. The entire universe is, therefore, composed of particles which do not really exist. The universe, therefore, is only an illusion. Even if quantum theory is disproved for some reason in the future, the experimental evidence itself showing that the universe is an illusion is overwhelming.

It is also not necessary to take the aid of quantum mechanics to show that the universe is an illusion. Consider a beam of light travelling from point A (say, the sun) to point B (say, you, the observer). According to you, the light takes about eight minutes to get from A to B. But as far as the light itself is concerned, it reached point B in no time, since time stops at the speed of light. There is an equation (which is, incidentally, fundamental to quantum mechanics) that shows that time is zero, meaning, it does not exist. But you and me experience time. This is an apparent contradiction, but it really means that time is an illusion. If time is an illusion, then so is space, because we cannot experience space without time. And again, this leads to the fact that the universe is an illusion.

PS: That the universe is an illusion, and pure consciousness is all that exists, is also known as the Advaita philosophy.

PPS: Before you start jumping on me, this is not about trying to prove religion with the aid of science. These are conclusions drawn by scientists independent of religion.


Nikhil said...

Nice research :)

Let us define "Real" as something which exists. From human perspective it is something which we perceive to exist. Thus everything we perceive, though it may not actually exist comes under the human definition of real.

So if as you say universe is an illusion, that illusion is our definition for "real". Hence universe = real.

For us to define actual illusions, we need to be in a frame of reference outside of human perception.

I think this is another case of hazy boundaries (between definitions of real & illusion) leading to endless proofs of existence of either cases.

Sailesh Ganesh said...

Nikhil, your definition of real reminds me of the story of six blind men and an elephant. Each of them grab a different part of the elephant and come to totally different conclusions about what the elephant is like. From each of their perspectives, what they say is true, but since the elephant is a mix of all of those truths (and more), their own versions of the truth, while not false, is only a smaller truth, an incomplete truth.

To perceive the true nature of the elephant, the blind men will have to rise above their limitations. Similarly, we have to rise above the limitation of our senses to perceive the complete truth. Without that, we will be stuck in a continuous loop about the reality and illusion of the universe. As you say,

For us to define actual illusions, we need to be in a frame of reference outside of human perception.

Of course, thats nothing but enlightenment you are talking about! Cheers!

PS said...


Nikhil said...

"Enlightenment" too is a very human concept, all encompassed in only a part of the elephant one blind man (humans) can see.

PS said...

All this illusion talk is meaningless and bullshit.

Say you are in a dream. Is it possible for you tell whether you are in a dream or not, while you are still in the dream? No, you cannot. For finding it out, you have to wake up i.e. get into a meta-dream state.

Similarly, it is _not_ possible to find out whether universe is an illusion or not, unless you go into a meta-universe state, (something which people who attain Nirvana are _supposedly_ go to).

Thats what I meant when I said "mu" in my previous comment.

Nikhil said...

Aha. Thats what I was trying to say. I guess I should also have said the "bullshit" word. Clears things up pretty easily :)

Sanjit said...

I am not too sure but I guess it would be better to solve the problems of the world we see, live in the world we see, rather than try and convince ourselves that all what we see is after all an illusion!

It cud lead to escapism amongst mankind. So do ur karma and u shall realize at the end of it the truth!

Sailesh Ganesh said...

PS: Agree with you except for the first line. I digagree that it is meaningless, after all it is a step towards finding out the meaning and purpose of existance.

Nikhil: By "bullshit" if you mean you do not agree with what I have stated in this post, well feel free to disagree, but those are not my opinions I have written about (even though it happens to be the same!). And rather than using a bland word, perhaps you'd care to explain what you mean?

Sanjit: I agree with your comment, and even the enlightened sages have cautioned against taking the illusion concept too literally. Till such time we actually understand the concept (read: get enlightened, which btw might be never), it is only meant to provide a perspective; it does not give you freedom to abandon your duties in this world. This reminds me of the classic verse from Bhagavad Gita (2.47):

karmany evadhikaras te
ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango ’stv akarmani