Saturday, 15 January 2011

In The Beginning (and the bit that came before it.)

"In the nineteenth century, scientists had thought that the cosmos was made up of ninety-two basic elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen and iron, which were indestructible. This implied that the universe had a diversity of independently existing materials. However, during this century research had revealed that all elements were in fact made up of a single energy. The cosmos was therefore intrinsically one, whether it appeared as a speck of dust, a tree, a Nobel Prize-winning genius or a black-hole beyond the galaxies. The differences were merely appearances. Our senses give us a knowledge of what is apparent, but not of the underlying one reality of the cosmos. This one energy which permeates the whole of creation was what Hinduism calls ‘brahma’. Long before physics discovered it, Shankara had argued that the world of sense experience, that is the world of matter, was a world of appearance (maya), because at the root of each individual existence is the same energy which forms the cosmos. The human self (atman) is ultimately not distinct from the universal self (brahma). Duality is illusion. Reality is not dual, but one. Science has yet to catch up with what the seers in India had already understood over 2500 years ago. While Greece is the country of my birth, India is the country of my soul."
~~Queen Frederika

What was there before the absolute beginning of creation? It is a question which has haunted humanity since ... well, for want of a better word, the beginning. We've always been curious as to where and what exactly it is that the Universe unfurled from. Modern theory holds to the idea that the fabric of the Universe - four dimensional space-time - was born from the Big Bang. But what was before the Big Bang? Because it is impossible to concieve of either space or time before the Big Bang, it makes the question terribly difficult to answer, except of course in terms of "nothing." In his paper, "What Happened Before the Big Bang?" Paul Davies sets about explaining some of the frustration in why it is that "nothing" (at least in terms of modern theory) is the only, though unsatisfactory, reply. An extract from the paper is given below:

"Well, what did happen before the big bang? Few schoolchildren have failed to frustrate their parents with questions of this sort. It often starts with puzzlement over whether space "goes on forever," or where humans came from, or how the planet Earth formed. In the end, the line of questioning always seems to get back to the ultimate origin of things: the big bang. "But what caused that?"

Children grow up with an intuitive sense of cause and effect. Events in the physical world aren't supposed to "just happen." Something makes them happen. Even when the rabbit appears convincingly from the hat, trickery is suspected. So could the entire universe simply pop into existence, magically, for no actual reason at all? This simple, schoolchild query has exercised the intellects of generations of philosophers, scientists, and theologians. Many have avoided it as an impenetrable mystery. Others have tried to define it away. Most have got themselves into an awful tangle just thinking about it.

The problem, at rock bottom, is this: If nothing happens without a cause, then something must have caused the universe to appear. But then we are faced with the inevitable question of what caused that something. And so on in an infinite regress. Some people simply proclaim that God created the universe, but children always want to know who created God, and that line of questioning gets uncomfortably difficult.

... Many people feel cheated. They want to ask why these weird things happened, why there is a universe, and why this universe. Perhaps science cannot answer such questions. Science is good at telling us how, but not so good on the why. Maybe there isn't a why. To wonder why is very human, but perhaps there is no answer in human terms to such deep questions of existence. Or perhaps there is, but we are looking at the problem in the wrong way.

Well, I didn't promise to provide the answers to life, the universe, and everything, but I have at least given a plausible answer to the question I started out with: What happened before the big bang? The answer is: Nothing.

~~Image: The 'ghost' of the Big Bang. A striking image showing the ghost of the Big Bang has been captured by a new space telescope. The Planck satellite was launched by the European Space Agency in May 2009 to study the early universe.

But I wonder, can it be possible for the human mind to concieve of something that does exist outside space and time, without leaning on something as unsubstantial as the term "nothing"? In terms of human history, is it possible to find any evidence of anyone ever having tried to point at the existence of such a thing? There is one source which comes to mind, and it's a place where the line between myth and metaphysics can get very fuzzy indeed - the Bible. Quite aptly, it is at the very beginning of the Bible, in the first words of the Book of Genesis, that we are introduced to a version of how things looked before the moment of creation:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
~~Genesis 1:1

This would seem to suggest that God stands alone, and seperate from the heaven and earth which He created, forming a trinity as it were, of heaven, earth, and Himself. We think we know what heaven and earth are, but where exactly does that leave our understanding of God? The way in-which God enters the Bible from some unmentioned, hidden realm, guarantees His presence is virtually impossible to define. He has effectively been drawn from nothing, having appeared from nowhere, so that before creation, He is seen as being empty and invisible - a concept of meaningless proportions. This concept has been dragged over into our understanding of God in the time after creation too, having so far proved Himself impossible to substantiate in anyway, shape or form - either physically, or philosophically. All this has assured God a place in humanity's collective consciousness as someone, or something, whom is distant, and unapproachable, simply because He is unknowable. To some, God might be the Universe, but to others, He might as well not bother to exist at all.

Quite unexpectedly, what we find is that Big Bang theory seems to correspond with the creation story told in Genesis, in that the Universe was born from "nothing." The Universe might be here now, for whatever reason, but both the Bible and Big Bang theory seem to agree, you would not find anything which existed before it - that includes space-time, and apparently, that goes for God too.

However, our understanding of what was around previous to creation, at least in terms of Western religion, is based on but one interpretation of what amounts to a few choice words from the Bible. Is it at all possible to interpret them differently? Professor Van Wolde of Radboud Univerity in The Netherlands, claims to have done so, and her interpretation of the first sentence of the Book of Genesis, gives us the perfect opportunity to piece together an entirely new perception of God, the Universe, and lest we forget, ourselves:

...Prof Van Wolde, 54, who will present a thesis on the subject at Radboud University in The Netherlands where she studies, said she had re-analysed the original Hebrew text and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".

The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"

If you remember from previous posts, we've discussed how the doctrines of the alchemists acknowledged the materia prima as the uncreated substance of God. The materia prima, though never fully disclosed, was also known to them as "black earth." Taking the view that the black earth of the alchemists' is the same sort of stuff as the earth mentioned in Genesis, then it appears that our modern understanding of the creation story is not as cast-iron as we think. Apparently, God did not just happen to mysteriously materialise into existence at the point of creation, but rather, He'd been hanging out the entire time previous to it too, in the guise of something non-too-disimilar from common, everday dirt.

Maybe the Book of Genesis was not written quite so simply as we percieve it today. Perhaps there is more to it than it simply being a story of God's magical appearance, and how He pulled heaven and earth out of a hat. What Moses may have been trying to convey, was an explanation of how a rather impressive Being, whom having made some sort of decision to create the Universe, did so by separating into a duality containing both heaven and earth. This is not describing dualism in the sense of two opposing substances in conflict with one another, but more of a monoism, in-which just one substance creates the illusion of duality by opposing itself.

"The concept of duality seems to be an integral part of all life as we perceive it on this planet. To those who have become increasingly aware of a deeper place of being, it is still, at times, difficult to comprehend the connection or better said, oneness, between these “seemingly” two realms of relative reality. We have called it “heaven/earth”, spirit world/natural world, or material world/nirvana, but the same veiled reality exists within all these concepts. One world we would call “natural”, is a phenomenal world perceived by the natural senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. The other world seems to be more a dimension of “spirit” and is “sensed” through a different set of senses which in most are hopelessly obscured behind an elusive veil. The subject of being able to reasonable discern the spirit realm to the extent that its peace, delightfulness and abundance may be experienced as a part of Life on earth has been the quest of people for millennia and has been woven into every form of religion, cult, or psychic group imaginable. Yet the premise that we are living in one realm “A” and needing to get to another realm “B” is foundation upon which all these formulae are based."

If God is a substance of some description, it must mean that heaven is a substance too. Importantly, the substance of heaven is the exact same stuff, the exact same single element, from which God Himself is made. This one same substance, the materia prima, is the thing from which the Universe was created, and subsequently, it might be supposed that it is also the one thing which constitutes the entire Universe in this very moment too. It's exciting to imagine that if heaven is describing a substance, it means, at least theoretically, that we should be able to find it around here someplace. Maybe, just maybe, it's possible to enter heaven within the limits of our own lifetime.

If we choose to, God can now be seen, and fully understood, not as some errant dictator, but as an ever-present, all-pervading entity from which all of creation spilled forth. It's intruiging that this perception of God as Universe, now moves us much closer to the philosophy expounded by Eastern mystics. For them, God is not some separate entity to be worshipped, but One whom is very much entwined with our everyday lives.

" One of the main philosophical trends in Hinduism is known as the Vedanta. Several streams of thought emerge from Vedantism, of which one is referred to as non-dualistic. While God enters the soul for an intimate communion with the saint in Christianity, God is also a separate entity with an existence apart from the mystic, hence the dualistic nature associated with Christian mysticism. In the East, the world is a manifestation of God (pantheism); in the West, the world is the creation of God (theism). In theism the mystic never is or becomes identical with God; there is always a “great gulf” between God and man. When Meister Eckhart claimed that “God and I, we are one,” he was accused of heresy by the church. In Hindu mysticism and Plotinus, mysticism seeks to go beyond all dualism and rest in an absolute undifferentiated unity. To these mystics it appears that there is within their mystical consciousness no division whatsoever, there is no God outside the Self; God is the Self. The secret is realizing that the individual self, the pure unity of the finite ego, IS the Universal Self, the Absolute. Where there is consciousness of the Self, individuality is no more. It is not that the individual self Becomes the Universal Self. It always was the self. It comes to realize this truth in the moment of illumination."

If we were to accept that God, and heaven, and earth are all describing the same substance, then it seems only natural to want to know what this substance is precisely. The next line from the Book of Genesis does not tell us directly, but it does offer something of a clue to the nature of this biblical earth, the only thing to exist before creation and the supposed uncreated substance of God.

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
~~Genesis 1:2

Sure, it's not exactly brimming with adjectives, is it? We are told that the biblical earth is something without form - a void, or chasm or somesuch - to be found only in utter darkness. For all intents and purposes, these could be the same choice of words that a blind-folded person might use when asked to describe what they see. Despite knowing that the materia prima is a real, physical substance, we are resigned to a fate where it is never discovered, because it seems we are unable to elaborate further on its constitution, other than using words which seem only to add upto "nothing." However, Moses does appear to be trying to describe SOMETHING. Something moves. Something is there. It's not much to go on, but I wonder, might it be enough?

Many thanks:

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