Saturday 3 February 2007

A Theory of Nothing...


Thanks for inviting me to your blog. You may recall I’m the freelance writer who contacted you after reading your excellent book. You may also recall me mentioning this theory I’d come up with. The original version was rather rough so I’ve attempted to polish it up a little. I must stress here and now that I’m not putting it forward as a serious scientific theory. It’s from a satirical book I’m working on and is merely intended as a bit of fun. Being human and therefore fallible, it will contain certain flaws and therefore be open to criticism. I suppose the only consolation is that my critics are also fallible, so their contributions will likewise be flawed. However, knowing my luck, they’ll probably be less flawed than mine. Anyway, here goes...

During a science documentary, a female TV presenter called Juneberry tells Stephen Hawking that her gardener, a man called Bert, had come up with a Theory of Absolutely Everything...

HAWKING: A Theory of Absolutely Everything?

JUNEBERRY: Yes, it’s based on absolutely nothing.

HAWKING: A Theory of Absolutely Everything based on absolutely nothing.

JUNEBERRY: That’s right. Apparently, he was considering the concept of Absolute Nothingness, as gardeners are often wont to do. He called this AN. It was composed, (if that were possible) of nothing to the power of nothing. He added a jocular note and asked me to imagine the inside of George Bush’s head. If I cared to think about it I would see that Absolute Nothingness cannot exist because there’s nothing there to exist. According to Bert, in a state of Absolute Nothingness there can be no form of existence whatsoever. Even to say that AN exists is a contradiction in terms.

She paused, but Hawking said nothing. He was just staring at her.

JUNEBERRY: So, if AN cannot exist, then its opposite – Absolutely Everything – must. According to Bert, Absolutely Everything or AE, is a state of existence that contains everything that can exist. I asked him about unicorns. They don’t exist. Bert responded by telling me that AE included everything real and imagined. Unicorns may not exist in the real world, but they do in the imaginary one. He pointed out that they also exist in drawings and animated cartoons. Absolute non-existence, he said, refers to something that does not exist in the real or the imaginary world. Could I think of such a thing? It was clearly a trick question and I said I couldn’t because as soon as I did it would exist. There you go, he said.

Hawking was still staring at her. He seemed mesmerised.

JUNEBERRY: Bert told me that the proof AE exists is in the pudding. We are the pudding. He also said that AE is infinite. And, because he knew mathematicians and philosophers liked to quibble about the definition of this term, he decided to save them a lot of hot air. He said his infinity, was infinity to the power of infinity. That’s pretty big, I said. Wrong, he said. This infinity has absolutely no size at all. According to Bert, infinity is both the largest thing there can ever be and the smallest. Like quantum particles, it exists in two states at the same time. In other words, said Bert, if there were an infinite number of universes out there they could, theoretically, fit inside the pocket of my jeans. However, in order to do so, the pocket of my jeans would need to be larger than infinity. This would make my jeans very big indeed. Not to mention, I laughed, the person inside them. Maybe I should go to Weightwatchers?

She wondered if the electronic voice were programmed to laugh. But there was no sound from Hawking.

JUNEBERRY: Then Bert explained that within AE, time exists. However, it is composed of two parts: there is infinite time that can be described as an infinite state of “now” and finite time. Of course, he said, the two are linked because finite time stretches to infinity. This, he said, throws up an interesting philosophical point. Within AE everything that can happen has already happened. Within the infinite now we have already lived our present lives and any future ones we may have. There, cried Bert, goes our free will! Is nothing sacred? Is this making any sense to you?

HAWKING: It’s all very interesting. He’s your gardener, you say?

JUNEBERRY: That’s right.

HAWKING: Do go on.

JUNEBERRY: It was at this point that Bert, (a simple man of the soil with very little formal education), began to ponder the nature of AE. He decided that in order for AS to exist it would require an awareness of its existence. After all, there would be no discernable difference between a state of Absolute Nothingness and a state of Absolutely Everything in which absolutely nothing is aware that there is something there. I was about to ask him to repeat this, but the warbling of a Blackbird had momentarily distracted him.

HAWKING: The warbling of a Blackbird.

JUNEBERRY: Yes. It was on a tree nearby. Fortunately, said Bert, one of the things that had to exist within AE was consciousness. It was when he began to think of consciousness as a form of energy that everything clicked into place. What if AE was composed of consciousness itself? An Absolute Consciousness, or AC.

HAWKING: This gardener of yours seems to have a very vivid imagination.

JUNEBERRY: Yes. So Bert asked, how is AC aware of itself? (He preferred the term “awareness” rather than “observation” because the latter implies something than can be seen. Unless, joked Bert, AC came in the shape of an infinitely large eye!) The answer, he said, was obvious. Because AC contains absolutely everything that can exist, it must contain living creatures. Each of these creatures would be conscious and this consciousness comes from AC. I must have looked sceptical because he asked me to imagine a power station pumping out electricity. The electricity is separated into small packages that are used by a particular appliance – like his lawn mower. It may look like the lawn mower has its own individual source of electric power, but that’s an illusion. In the same way, each organic sensory organ takes a small portion of Absolute Consciousness. He told me that the impression that his consciousness is totally independent of mine is a similar illusion. Given the limitations of the brain, most of it is separate, but it all springs from the same source. The bits that aren’t separate might explain telepathy.

HAWKING: I imagine the Paranormal Research Society will be delighted to hear that.

JUNEBERRY: By now I was convinced that Bert needed help. The colloquial expression, “nutty as a fruitcake” sprang to mind. Bert asked me to think of AC as a reality generator. It acts like a simulator except that it creates actual reality rather than a simulation of it. In fact, it creates every type of reality that can exist. Actually, he said, that’s not strictly true. Being infinite means that AC has already created them. The universe we inhabit is just one of the realities created by AC. Of course, said Bert, there’s a downside.

HAWKING: There always is. Take me - I have the best brain the world, yet I’m stuck in this bloody wheelchair.

JUNEBERRY: The downside is that absolutely everything must also include destruction as well as construction. Bad luck as well as good luck. Evil as well as good. Disease as well as health. And the element of chance. Actually, he said, that’s a paradox. Chance being created by certainty. If chance had been created by chance then it might not exist. But, if its creation was certain, then we have a contradiction in terms. I didn’t have a chance to ponder this because Bert continued with his thesis. This, he said, means that some of the organisms AC inhabits will have a happy life and others won’t. For example, he said, you could be the wife of a Taliban in Afghanistan instead of a middle-class TV presenter in London. It is pure chance that determines what creature each portion of consciousness inhabits. You could even have been a winkle on Blackpool beach. I told him that even a winkle would have been preferable to a Taliban’s wife. He then went on to say that there were numerous other realities. He didn’t know how many, but they would cover all possible realities. These realities, he said, were like parallel universes. Some of them would contain every possible permutation of myself and every other creature on earth. Others would contain life forms totally alien to ourselves. Some would be living in other universes. Indeed, he said, all possible universes have been created and exist out there. I asked him what had triggered these ideas and he told me it was dreams.’

HAWKING: Dreams?

JUNEBERRY: Yes, it had all come to him whilst he was thinking about dreams. As one tends to do, he said, when pottering about amongst the weeds. He realised that what he sees when he’s awake lies outside his head. So, what about when we dream? Where do we see those images? We see them inside our heads, I said. This seemed to amuse him. He said that if I was right, then we must be able to see inside our brains. He added that his mate Chalky must have been looking at something else when that clot formed – the one that killed him. He then asked me how big my dreams were. I was puzzled. All right, he said. Last night he had a dream that he was standing outside this large Victorian house. So how big was this dream image? It couldn’t have been the same size as a real Victorian house because that wouldn’t have fitted inside his head. I responded by telling him that the house wasn’t real.

HAWKING: Good for you.

JUNEBERRY: Very well, he said. Real in what sense? Was I saying dreams have no physical reality? Yes, I said. In that case, he replied, what are they composed of? Was I suggesting they’re composed of nothing? They’re composed of memories, I said. In that case, he said, what are memories composed of? Surely they must have a physical composition because if they were composed of nothing, they wouldn’t exist. Of course, I had to admit that I didn’t know what dreams or memories were composed of. Of course, he conjectured, one-way around this problem would be if our dreams appeared in another dimension. Maybe one of these parallel realities. Maybe he could work on that problem whilst watering the Delphiniums. By this time I was beginning to regret employing this particular man. I asked him if all gardeners were like him. He told me that a few of his mates were into cosmology. Others were dabbling in subjects like philosophy and medicine.

HAWKING: Perhaps they’re trying to put people like me out of business.

JUNEBERRY: He then told me that various theories had been formulated as to why we dream.

HAWKING: Yes they have. But no doubt he had his own.

JUNEBERRY: Yes. He told me to remember that we all belong to the same consciousness. In the same way that the electricity used by the lawn mower belongs to all the electricity that exists. Dreams, he said, were the clue. According to Bert, when we dream we are merely tapping into all the other realities created by AC. For example, he said, he once had a dream that he was flying on a magic carpet. Who’s to know, he said, that there isn’t a reality out there where science is imaginary and magic is real. Actually, he said, the very fact that he was able to imagine this reality means it must exist. Once again, he said, there was a downside. Nightmares. What about that dream, I said, where you find yourself naked in the middle of the road. He said he hadn’t heard of that one. I told him I thought everyone had experienced that. I proposed a theory of my own. Perhaps some dreams belonged in a sort of imaginary reality – a reality that can only exist in the imagination.

HAWKING: What did he say to that?

JUNEBERRY: He told me that reality exists in the eye of the beholder. He asked me if I’d ever taken LSD. I said no. He said if I did I would experience a different kind of reality. He then asked me if the dream that I was naked seemed real. I said it was all too bloody real. He said it meant that, for the duration of the dream, you entered a different reality. A parallel reality. Chemical substances can send you into a parallel reality. So can mental illness. I decided to make another joke. I told him I hoped Absolute Consciousness never took LSD or we’d all be in trouble. Worse still, what would happen if this AC of his became a paranoid schizophrenic? Bert asked me if I was trying to extract a certain bodily fluid. Consciousness, he said, is a form of energy. Although it can never be destroyed, it can be affected by other things. Like LSD. Perhaps in a parallel reality consciousness is not affected by anything. But it is in our parallel reality. All right, I said. What if I didn’t like this parallel reality? How do I get out? Take LSD, he said. Or kill yourself. He explained that one parallel reality was always the strongest. And that’s the one we’re stuck in. What about when we die, I asked.

HAWKING: I’d be interested to hear what he said.

JUNEBERRY: There’s good news, and there’s bad news.

HAWKING: Give me the good news first.

JUNEBERRY: The good news is that because consciousness is a form of energy it cannot be destroyed.

HAWKING: Is that it?


HAWKING: Then what’s the bad news?

JUNEBERRY: The bad news is that once your consciousness is free of the brain it returns to AC. You become absolute consciousness. Bert added that this is great news for the various religions. Clearly, they would consider AC to be God. This means that after you die you become God. No Big Judgement Day. No awkward questions to be answered. So Hitler, I said, became God. Yes, said Bert. But minus the personality of Hitler. Because of the law that nothing can cease to exist in its entirety – although parts of it can – Hitler’s personality was passed on to some other unfortunate. AC has no personality. It is neither good nor evil. Powerful or powerless. It is all these things. You may be lucky, said Bert. You may be one of those consciousnesses that gets reincarnated in this parallel reality and retain some of your past memory. Or you may be reincarnated and not remember a thing. Or you may end up in another parallel reality. All I can say is that when you die one of the things that could happen to you will happen to you. It’s all up to chance.

HAWKING: Not much comfort there.

JUNEBERRY: I know. That’s when he told me not to lose hope. What I wanted to know was, did the “I” exist? What’s that? I asked. He told me to imagine someone who was suffering from total amnesia. Although their memories had gone, one thing remained. Their awareness of self. The “I.” So I asked him if that remains. He said it was a little more complicated. There was only one “I” and it belonged to Absolute Consciousness. However, whilst we inhabit a physical body we all shared it. His “I” was exactly the same as my “I.” The only things that separated the two were our memories and our physical bodies. Take those away and there would be no difference. When and if we inhabited another physical body then our personal “I” returns.

HAWKING: That’s a relief. For a moment there I thought I might be a gonner.

JUNEBERRY: He finished by saying that some people might find his Theory too simple. He stressed that it was simple because he himself was a simple man. Indeed, his Theory is Ultimately Simple. In other words, there is nothing simpler than this. It is the Bottom Line. The theory about the existence of Absolutely Everything should be used as a starting point for cosmology. Bert reckons it makes better sense than saying nothing existed before the Big Bang. This way, the Big Bang becomes a product of AS. He said that better brains than his can take it from there.

HAWKING: That was nice of him.

JUNEBERRY: Bert wanted me to ask you if there was any scientific law that prevents the existence of an Absolute Consciousness. If there is no scientific law, then he must assume that his theory could be true. Not that it matters. He said has far more important things to worry about. Like those damned dandelions that keep springing up on the lawn. So, what d’you think of that, Mr Hawking? Mr Hawking? Are you all right? Your machine seems to be making some funny sounds...

1 comment:

Hurlyburly said...

That is absolutely brilliant! Thanks for posting it.