Human consciousness, and how it arose, might just be the greatest mystery known to science. If there is perhaps a greater mystery, then surely, it can only be the mechanics behind the origins of this universe, as covered in the well known big bang theory. In this article Bruce bravely attempts to tackle both of these controversial subjects and suggests that they may be intrinsically interlinked.
Religious texts tend to all come up against a similar starting point problem when they attempt to address the beginning of our human story. When does the tale of humanity really begin?
The Christian bible, for example, settled on a starting point long before human beings even existed, choosing instead, to begin with, the manifestation of the universe. This choice of a pre-humanity starting point actually makes a lot of sense in regards to pondering human origins, even though we may not be setting out to consider any religious theories. Let me explain just briefly why I say this.
Today we live in an age of immense scientific revelations. Thanks largely to the hard work of astrophysicists and cosmologists, those scientists that specialise in understanding cosmic processes, we now know that every atom which is a part of our world today was also present at the very start of this universe. This, of course, means that we human beings can directly trace our physical origins right back to the birth of the universe, even if through a very long series of differing forms.
This first aspect of the early stages in our human evolutionary continuum, the physical aspect which relates to all spatial bodies, is more easily understood and has generally accepted explanations. The second aspect, relating to consciousness, is rather more complex and enormously more controversial. It is my opinion, certainly not mine alone, that our consciousness also traces a logical route right back to the birth of the universe. Before attempting to explain this part of our evolutionary history we should first hop in our time machine and head back about 14 billion years.[i]
The first thing we notice on arrival in the distant past is that there is no universe, our normal senses break down, being unable to function due to a lack of any sensory input. We are in a strange kind of dream state. Then, quite suddenly, our attention returns and we see a minuscule point of light, smaller than a full-stop on a piece of paper. This point expands faster than human eyes can perceive, growing at faster than light speeds, we can only see a blur of movement. The universe has now been born, after only a few seconds it is already enormous, stretching out in all directions to undetectable limits of vastness.
Cosmologists refer to this moment of universal creation as, The Big Bang, an event in which no-thing suddenly and spontaneously produced every-thing. They do not, however, have any agreed upon explanation for how or why this event happened. Even today the actual mechanics behind this event remains extremely mysterious.
Our interest is that first point of light and whatever it was that preceded it. Who else do we turn to for help answering that question but the world’s best-known cosmologist, Professor Steven Hawking. In one of his excellent lectures on the subject, Steven Hawking explains these events thus:
“At this time, the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe, would have been on top of itself. The density would have been infinite. It would have been what is called, a singularity. At a singularity, all the laws of physics would have broken down.[ii]
It is perhaps impossible for the human mind to conceptualise Hawking’s singularity; it is the weirdest of phenomena. This singularity had no spatial dimensions, that is there was no height, width or breadth involved and it was smaller than a single atom. We have to somehow appreciate that it also had infinite density, that it was the compacted form of all the matter and energy now making up our entire universe.
The singularity did not play by our rules, in fact, all of the laws of physics as we know them today, fail to apply to the singularity. In other words, we can’t fully relate the functionality of our current physical universe to anything within the singularity, even the deterministic laws of cause and effect no longer function. Even the amount of matter contained in the universe does not have to directly equal the amount of matter compressed within the singularity. The singularity retained infinite possibility, quite literally anything could have come out, even a universe made up of giant pink elephants or conversely one of nothing at all, both possibilities were theoretically plausible outcomes from this bizarre Big Bang.
The descriptions of the singularity rather remind me of some of the quantum phenomena that I have read about, it might help to briefly explore some of these from my limited understanding of them. Quanta are the smallest measurable building blocks of anything physical, whilst quantum mechanics is the scientific study of these and any laws governing them. The easiest example of a quantum phenomenon is a singular light photon; we will use one as our subject.
Quantum mechanics has revealed that it is impossible to fully pin down all the facts about our light photon. There are several major problems that hamper fully understanding the properties of our photon or its behaviour, the most relevant here are called the Uncertainty Principle, Wave-Particle Duality and Quantum superposition.
The uncertainty principle refers to the fact that the more we know about one paired property of our photon, the less we know about the other. For example, the more we define the photon’s position the fuzzier the data on its momentum, and vice versa. We can’t ever be sure of both where it is and where it will be next.
Wave-particle duality, as the name suggests, is a quantum phenomenon that allows our photon to move in the manner of both a singular particle or as a diffuse wave of energy, depending on the way in which we measure our photon it can indicate that it is either of these, rather suggesting to us that it is in fact both, at the same time. Going against all our senses of reason.
Quantum superposition at its most basic is the ability for our photon to be in many states or many places at the same time, we really do not know even after we observe the photon directly what the true state or position is, we only observe one possible state and location, not all of the possibilities. It is hard to really process this, stop and think about it for a moment.
The strangeness of our universe reflects the strangeness of the singularity that gave birth to it, and one of the strangest and most mysterious phenomenon we know of is consciousness. The definitions are many and confusing, perhaps the shortest possible summary with reasonable depth is that offered by the Wikipedia website:
Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined as: sentience, awareness, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in ‘The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness’:
“Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives.”
There are already a number of respected theoretical physicists that suspect consciousness arose from the singularity along with everything else, some even suspect that it may have been directly involved with the state transition that took the infinite possibility of the singularity to a more fixed material universe.
Quantum physics strongly suggests that a conscious observer of some type is the cause of quantum state changes, that is to say, infinite possibility, as there was in the singularity, suddenly becomes fixed and observable phenomena whenever a conscious observer is present. If this is also the case for the Big Bang, then our consciousness would trace its origin right back to a unified field of consciousness existing within the singularity.[iii] Some might well wonder if such a unified field of consciousness might not be the very same thing that is often referred to in spiritual traditions as God, or Great Spirit.
[i] The calculation for the theorised starting point of this universe is provided by scientists from the world’s most famous space agency, NASA. Their scientists base their dating on many factors, particularly the study of the oldest detected stars.
[iii] Consciousness before and during the Big Bang is well described by theoretical physicist Dr. Fred Alan Wolf in the short YouTube video ‘The Observer of the Big Bang – Consciousness Before Matter’.
By Bruce Fenton
Bruce is a researcher of ancient mysteries, human origins, unusual states of consciousness and all things peculiar.