For a long time I’ve toyed with the notion of doing a nonfiction book about the paranormal – specifically life after death. But I was always put off by the immensity of the task. I thought I would have to summarize masses of evidence and combat a bewildering array of skeptical objections. It all seemed like too much work, and I wasn’t sure anyone would want to read it, anyway.
But after reading Julie Beischel’s recent book, Among Mediums, I had a small epiphany. Her book is short, breezy, and eschews arguments with skeptics in favor of simply laying out some basic facts and possibilities. Additional resources are available in the appendix, but the book itself is intended to be a quick, easy read. And I started to think: Hey, maybe I could do something like that.
I might not. I don’t finish every project I start. But at the moment here’s the way I’m leaning.
My working title is How Things Are (Maybe). The structure is simple. I take you from the moment of dying, through the transition to the afterlife, and onward to the bigger questions of where you go from there and what it all means. The tone would be casual, almost conversational, and not overloaded with detail. I might expand on some of my points in endnotes, and I would also provide a bibliography for those who wish to investigate further. The whole thing would be pretty short and would be available only as an e-book.
I never seem to write things in their proper chronological order. In this case, I started with the very end of the book, the wrap-up that tries to make sense out of it all. The approach I take is one I’ve explored a little bit on this blog, to decidedly mixed reviews. Some people just don’t like looking at things this way, but to me it makes sense, or at least as much sense as any “theory of everything” can make.
My other decision was to preview the book in bits and pieces as I work on it. That way I can get feedback which, I’m sure, will make the final book much better. (Assuming, of course, that there is a final book – I reserve the right to drop the whole thing at any time.)
What follows, then, is the very last part of the book, in the form of a rough draft. I wrote this without consulting any notes, and it’s possible I got some of the physics wrong. Readers who are knowledgeable about physics are encouraged to point out any mistakes. In fact, readers are encouraged to supply any feedback at all, although just saying “You suck!” will not prove very helpful. It would better to explain exactly how and why I suck.
How Things Are (Maybe) - final section
A subatomic entity can behave like a particle or a wave. This is not at all the way objects in everyday life behave. In fact, it’s not consistent with the behavior of objects as such. It’s more consistent with the way information works.
An object cannot be both a particle and a wave, but information actually does have this quality. When we talk about a wave in this context, we’re really talking about a probability wave – a distribution curve representing all possible positions that the electron (or photon, or whatever) might occupy at a given moment. And what is a probability wave except mathematical information? It is an exact representation of all possible outcomes. And what is a particle? It is the one particular outcome that is actualized in any given case.
In other words, an electron can behave like a wave when its position is not determined, and it can behave like a particle when its position is determined. But what, then, is an electron? An object – or a mathematical construct, a bit of data?
Note that the electron’s behavior is directly affected by how it is measured – and can be affected even retroactively. That is, the electron’s status as a wave or a particle will vary, in some circumstances, depending on measurements made after the experiment has been run. What matters is not the physical act of shooting electrons through slits, but the mental decision on how to measure them – even if that decision is made after the fact.
Again, this is not at all how objects behave, but it is the way information behaves. The decision on which calculations to perform will determine what mathematical outcome we end up with, just as the decision on which measurements to make will determine whether the electron is expressed as a particle or a wave.
Another oddity of the subatomic realm is quantum entanglement. Two electrons, once paired, will continue to affect each other even when separated by any amount of distance, and are able to affect each other instantaneously – too fast for any signal to pass between them. If the spin of one electron is altered, the spin of its counterpart will be simultaneously altered in a corresponding way, even if the two electrons are at opposite ends of the universe.
If we think of electrons as objects, quantum entanglement is baffling. But if we think of them as pixels on the computer screen, the paradox disappears. A computer screen refreshes many times each second. Behind the scenes, the computer is constantly processing information, and with each screen refresh, the icons and graphics on the screen will be altered to reflect the latest calculations. The computer doesn’t care if pixel A is on the extreme left side of the screen, and pixel B is on the extreme right side. The physical distance between the pixels is irrelevant to the information processor’s calculations and to their visible expression. If the “rule” is that a change in pixel A necessitates a complementary change in pixel B, then as soon as that calculation is made and the screen refreshes, both pixels will be appropriately altered.
Interestingly enough, the computer analogy also gives us a way to solve one of the world’s oldest logical paradoxes – Zeno’s paradox of the arrow. Zeno argued that motion is impossible. To prove it, he asked us to consider an arrow in flight. The arrow’s path can be broken down into smaller and smaller units, and in the smallest of these units the arrow will be standing still. How, then, can it ever get anywhere, if its apparent motion consists ultimately of static positions? How can movement arise from immobility?
If Zeno had owned a PC, he might have solved his own paradox. The pixels on the screen never actually move. They are static. But because the screen is constantly refreshing, and because the pixels are drawn in different positions with each new refresh, the appearance of motion is created. We can drag the cursor across the screen, and it appears to be moving, but it is really a series of still pictures being refreshed and altered at a very high rate.
So let’s say Zeno’s arrow is equivalent to the cursor on the screen. As Zeno correctly stated, it is never actually in motion. But behind the scenes, our information processor is performing the necessary calculations and refreshing our four-dimensional reality “screen,” and it is those calculations and the resultant changes in the arrow’s position that create movement as we know it.
At this point it probably sounds like I’m suggesting that we all live in the Matrix, or that our universe exists on the hard drive of somebody’s laptop. (If it does, I hope it’s a Mac, because they don’t crash as much.) But actually I’m not saying that. The computer analogy is just that – an analogy, a metaphor, a way of thinking about it. I can’t begin to comprehend how it all really works, but I doubt that our 21st century technology, nifty though it is, can serve as an adequate model.
Still, whatever the details, it does appear that the space-time universe, at root, behaves more like information than like an assemblage of objects. It’s also noteworthy that the mathematical formulas necessary to describe this reality are often confoundingly simple. Kepler’s laws of motion and Einstein’s e = mC squared are remarkably elegant equations. There is no obvious reason why physical reality should be expressible in such terms. But if all physical things can be reduced to information, and if all physical events are the result of processing that information, then we might expect the basic rules governing the system to be as simple as possible. After all, these calculations would have to be performed untold quadrillions of times every second; simple formulas would clearly be better.
All of this leads us to the idea of a cosmic information processor – a nonphysical system existing outside of the four-dimensional space-time universe and actually governing the universe by means of the calculations it performs. Our everyday reality would be analogous to the artificial reality of a computer game – except, of course, that we are fully immersed in it and unaware that it is a mere construct. Even our own bodies are part of this constructed reality, and serve as our avatars, allowing our consciousness to explore and interact with this ever-changing environment. Consciousness itself, however, is not ultimately rooted in the space-time universe; as we saw earlier*, when our consciousness is viewed as a whole (incorporating all levels of awareness), it is outside space and time, much like the cosmic information processor itself. We might even think of our individual consciousness as a small branch of this immense information processing system, and we might think of the cosmic information processor as something akin to a mind in its own right.
Moreover, there is no reason why this particular reality is the only one that can be generated by the cosmic information processor. Indeed, most computer games have various levels of constructed reality; as the player develops more skill, he or she advances to progressively higher levels.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. In a system such as I’ve sketched out, there is no problem with migrating from one level of reality to the next. In fact, it’s all part of the game! And as you rise higher, maybe your ability to look behind the scenes and tap into the cosmic information processing system improves. Maybe your consciousness can learn to directly influence the calculations and thus their visible and tactile expression in the “real” world around you. Maybe, after eons of advancement, you will reach a point where you no longer require the comforting illusion of a constructed reality at all. Maybe at that point you will simply immerse yourself in the information processor itself, rejoining the ultimate source of your own identity. And maybe this unimaginably complex information processing system, which exists outside of space and time as we know them, and which is the source of our own consciousness or soul, as well as the “ground of being” for all physical things, is essentially what we call God.
*"as we saw earlier" - in a previous section, not yet written, but corresponding roughly to this blog post.