By Mike Meyer
I didn’t realize how how far along we are in building a new universe. The surprise is how much common ground has been found in defining something as difficult as a new way of seeing and understanding the universe we live in.
The universe we have is broken. Obviously it is not ‘the’ universe that is broken but the model that we share in understanding it. What we have is broken on so many levels that it is beyond our ability to list the broken parts. But what, you may ask, does the state of our universe have to do with what we have to deal with everyday? This is usually not the first thing that you worry about in the morning after breakfast, bills, car servicing, and now long to your next vacation.
During most of our species existence this was not an issue. Usually if the nature of the universe was mentioned at all it was some form of mansplaining that would end with you being screwed.
We live in a very new and difficult time. To prevent being totally screwed, as in our children and grandchildren not surviving on this planet, we need to get a much more accurate and functional grasp of how everything works. That also includes what our responsibilities are and what abilities we have to fix things that are seriously broken. Or maybe things are not really that broken but we just don’t understand them well enough to know. Maybe it is just the way we are looking at things.
To keep this manageable let’s look at the two parts: 1) The broken universe in its present form with some notes on its origin, and 2) The emerging universe or world view that is very different in some basic and important ways. Some of the new may be shocking if you haven’t been paying attention. I was shocked as I realized how fast this is becoming the standardized model. It actually makes many things much easier to understand. That is the reason a new universe comes into being.
The broken universe
We can start with the historical, Newtonian form of our universe as that has evolved to the point it is mostly wrong and making people nervous. A great part of our planet’s population has some idea of Newtonian physics because that was the source of industrialization and steadily increasing living standards over the last two to three hundred years. This is the basis of elementary science education.
The Scientific Revolution (17th century Europe) built the Newtonian Universe. This world view based in objective science and physical reality worked really well compared to what people had up until then. The Age of Discovery (1492 and all that) was an early part of this so the benefits were very real. More and more people came to rely on what became known as the Newtonian Universe even if they didn’t really understand it because people who did understand it succeeded.
This had really evolved from the heliocentric view of the solar system developed by Copernicus although it took a couple of hundred years for people, in general, to figure that out. No one had ever done that before or even thought it was important enough to worry about.
The Industrial Revolution developed because of the Newtonian Universe and this produced a lot of wealth on top of what was taken from other parts of the planet in the Age of Discovery. This made economics very important leading to much more complex understanding of how to value things and finance them. Capitalism evolved to accomplish these things and created a whole range of concepts about what was important. Profit was most important.
As a result of these linked revolutions the Newtonian Universe became standardized around the planet by the beginning of the 20th century. The rapid growth of knowledge driven by capitalization to achieve more profits shaped human society to accept a very physical view of the universe with growth of wealth from profits as the driving goal.
This had problems very quickly because it made for miserable lives for the people forced to work in this world. There were efforts to restructure this but that turned into an old fashioned set of wars that began with new political revolutions at the end of the 18th century (America and France), carried on in fits during the 19th century and got serious at the beginning of the 20th century.
The level of industrialization, technology, and weaponry made it clear by 1945 that wars could destroy the planet. This became sidetracked into a cold war between two version of industrialization and growth that polarized the planet for another forty years. While there was relatively little difference between the two protagonists as they were both based in the evolved version of the Newtonian Universe and both saw the universe as humans over everything else animate and inanimate. Animate meant life but only human life was important.
This whole humans over everything was the unfortunate result of an initially good innovation in religion among Semitic goat herders in the war zone between Sumer and Egypt. Around the start of the axial age, roughly the second millennium BCE, people were getting more sophisticated with gods, god kings, and sacrifices. They realized that it would be better, maybe, to simplify things while adding some abstract ethical standards to direct people in their kingdom.
This had been seriously tried in Egypt with a major restructuring of Egyptian religion into a monotheistic, ethical from with new emphasis on soteriology rather than just sacrificing people who screwed up. There were good elements to this but it mostly didn’t work so everyone went back to a balance of gods, male and female with different aspects. Unfortunately a group goat herders got it all entangled in trying to merge a bunch of religions into theirs and never installed the update.
By limiting themselves to a single, male, warrior god running everything it discounted all other life forms and left a very limited hierarchy of one god and human males who were the only people that counted. When the people didn’t have much ability to destroy their environment this wasn’’t too bad but the Scientific Revolution began to put serious tools of destruction in the hands of a badly distorted religion system. And, do, here we are.
The steady growth of science and wealth continued but became increasingly distorted by the characteristics of capitalism that reduced wealth for the majority people and concentrated in the hands of a very few. This required increasingly active management of human societies and their economies to maintain and improve happiness and well being of all the population. In the most extreme places (America) this even came to be denied as a goal and the very small group of extremely wealthy people were allowed to prey on everyone. This was a self replicating system that turned from making things to creating abstract wealth that could be said to grow but only made life worse for the majority.
Meanwhile the science and technology thing created the internet that is completely transforming the way people communicate and function in groups. Everything began to decentralize while the old political institutions disintegrated or struggled to regain centralized control. The old way was to make larger and larger states and that worked really well to consolidate vast amounts of capital and then to distribute goods and services. This created layers of jobs to handle management of everything from resource acquisition to product distribution. But the internet made most of that redundant and the rest was steadily disrupted.
Parts of Europe had managed to balance this out so things were better but it was still more and more distorted and people were less and less happy. Something was missing and people were sure they were being screwed by someone. But they were easily fooled into thinking that other people were screwing them although the other people were just as or more screwed.
Since people were unhappy and angry and didn’t really understand much about what was happening some of them began listening to old fashioned opportunists and fell into the strongman and fascism trap. That went the way it always goes and the opportunists started stealing all the money for themselves and lying about what they did.
Things were obviously getting worse instead of better for most everyone but everything was working the way it should in the universe in which they lived. At the same time some people have always been unhappy because the whole point of the universe seemed to be only to make money and things and not pay any attention to people, animals, plants, and everything else. The old religions were fading away quickly but some people desperately held on to them because there was nothing else to hold on to. There were a lot of things missing in life and they just didn’t seem to be part of the universe although they once had been.
While the Scientific Revolution was the big break for Homo sapiens, it happened in western Europe, even though China was the most advanced civilization at the time, because the educated Europeans made a deal with owners of the European universe, i.e. the Christian church, to only play around with the physical part and leave the metaphysical part to them because they had a monopoly.
China and other non European parts of the world were important because there were other old and very sophisticated ways of seeing the universe that didn’t break things apart. Elements of Chinese intellectual tradition maintained a unified logic with an important place for people’s emotions and need to feel integrated and part of the universe. This was discovered European colonialists and began to spread in the 19th century. This is now the spiritual part of the new Quantum Mechanical Universe.
By luck the Europeans, back at the beginning of the new universe then, were good with making glass and discovered that shaped pieces of glass could be used for telescopes, microscopes, and clear glass windows to literally see the universe. These new ways of seeing the universe encouraged the idea of objectivity or neutral observation along with using logic to argue about what this meant. This was the main process that elaborated the new Western universe that would become Newtonian because of telescopes.
Even though it was quickly recognized that the way the Western Universe had been split between the old (metaphysical) and new (Newtonian Universe) was bad it was too hard to change and the fight has been violent and took a century or more so everyone simply kludged the two universes together. People spent more and more of their time in the new scientific one and then, maybe, one day a week they acknowledged the old metaphysical one. By the late 19th century it was obvious that the church couldn’t justify their universe except as some kind of symbol of how things should have been. By then they were weak enough that they were happy to keep what they had and make do.
The Newtonian universe that started the split was not really a problem. It worked in ways that were intuitive for people based on everyday activities and careful observation. But then Eisenstein came along and figured out that everything was relative to where you were standing when you looked at something. He also figured out the light was the fastest thing in this universe and nothing could go faster than that. Then he figured out that time and space were parts of the same thing and the same speed limit applied.
Very quickly it was determined that things were not only relative but not what they appear at all. This was the universe of Schrödinger’s Cat in 1935 who was neither dead nor alive until someone actually looked inside the box with the cat to see if the poison, through no fault of its own, may have killed poor kitty.
This was the end of the old Western (now the world’s) universe. Quantum Mechanics broke it completely because the intuitive human understanding of our planet and the universe around us was not an independent thing but, somehow, the product of a sentient being, such as humans, observing things that had the potential to happen.
At the macro level where we live that still worked but it could not be based on anything at the subatomic level because that was where things really work. Except, like Schrödinger’s Cat, things don’t work until something else happens to collapse the waveform of potentiality. Kitty wasn’t actually both dead and alive but Ina superposition waiting to happen. This is, incidentally, what makes makes quantum computing works and so potentially powerful because it is more than just on and off.
It took until the 21st century for this all to filter down to enough people and longer term effects of this to be felt to make people finally realize their model of the universe really didn’t work well. This was the dual universe of live things and everything else and also the physical and metaphysical (spiritual). While the spiritual, or what was left to religions, had been discounted to almost nothing there were major problems with people accepting that.
This lead to more people realizing that something was wrong and this universe was missing things. But what it was missing didn’t make any sense with the practical solutions we knew that had scientific validity.
The real blow came in the second decade of the 21st century when it could no longer be ignored that the industrial and scientific things combined with the human capitalist profit thing had totally hosed our planet’s atmosphere. To keep the planet livable for the existing flora and fauna would require a completely different way of living plus a tremendous planet wide effort to clean up the carbon we had thoughtlessly produces since the late 18th century. This would require a quick change to a completely different way of living in a very short time or misery and death would probably end Homo sapiens.
The new universe in process
I’m already over my normal word limit so this will be very brief.
People have been anticipating the problem of our universes breaking for a long time. For most of that time it was a purely academic discussion but the problems of how we know about the universe and then how it is really made quickly run into the same problems.
However you cut it we only know what we sense. So we are always describing what we sense with no way to determine if what we are sensing is out there or only in our sensing of it. This leads most every person to suddenly discover in their late teenage years that maybe that means there is only ‘me’ and everything else is just what I sense. This is called solipsism.
Shortly after that the folks thinking this discover that there are too many things that happen that we don’t know about to be able to claim them so there must be something else than just me. But the base problem remains. How do we confirm that what we think is separate from us, really, is something that is not us?
As the Newtonian universe evolved and more precise physical information was measured and understood this was not really an issue. There must be a physical reality that we are measuring because, well, it is really huge and complicated so it must be so. This is called ‘physicalism’ and is the basis of our current, broken universe.
An alternative view held that we really can’t prove that psychical stuff that we see actually exists. This has come to be called ‘idealism’. There were always lots of problems with idealism because things seem to be physically real and if they are products of our mind why can’t we control them better? And why can’t we read other people’s minds? And who came first?
The big problem, as stated above, came when it was proven that observing something dictated what happened to it and we could prove that the potential was all the existed before that. Einstein couldn’t handle this quantum mechanical reality and always called it “spooky action”. This has become mush worse as we now work daily with things that are entangled at the subatomic quantum mechanical level and those things react to change on one side instantly on the other even if the two particles are on opposite sides of the universe.
This is very hard for people to think about because it breaks the universe that we live in. If you understand the mathematical descriptions of this you also discover that things do not care whether you go forward or backward in time. That doesn’t break our universe but gives people serious headaches.
The description that seems to be emerging from several directions for a new universe to handle this is switch from the physicalism of the past to a new idealism that successfully makes sense of all this by understanding that the universe is, itself, a mind that experiences everything. But, then, what are we?
We are disassociated psyches within the universal mind. Disassociation is something that we understand because this happens to people sometimes. This is usually called multiple personality disorder and is an excellent plot for stories. But if our minds work that way then the mind that we are part of could obviously work that way. That allows billions of disassociated people within a universal mind that interact with each other based on their sensory systems that provide shareable information.
Needless to say this universe changes the basis of everything. One of our biggest problems with understanding how we work is ‘the hard problem of consciousness’. That is how does a conscious mind come from a physical body? What neurons in our brains, that we measure and observe, cause our consciousness to happen? On another level what would cause an Artificial Intelligence to become self aware and conscious? Is that even possible?
As you can see these are not just things to talk about after too many beers. We are directly up against these issues and in our current universe there is no good way to answer these questions. Something is not right so the answers are not reachable.
But a universe understood to be based on the idealism model allows these questions to be answered or understood to be irrelevant. We are inherently defined by the nature of the universe we live in and that is a mind that incorporates us and all the spooky things that we know actually happen.
At the practical level this forces us to take responsibility for our special role as sentient in the universal mind. At a quantum level we must exist and observe as a component of things being able to to exist and happen. This is both a power and a responsibility.
In this universe it makes no sense at all to consider yourself as separate from everything. We are actively part of a universal process. It is no surprise that things that happen in our galaxy or some other part of this universe directly affects us. Planets and stars are not distant things with no life (another part of this new universe) but parts of the process that we are inherently a part. Everything is an agent in this universe.
The old model for the universe that we had gave us much power of things but pushed things apart. We now need to pull things together and understand a much bigger set of relationships.