The second of three essays I wrote in early 2023 to get my ideas straight on a few things.
This is a biggish subject, The title is a nod to the genius of Douglas Adams.

 . . . and one more thing – Since Jan 2024 I have started putting my essays on Substack and with audio too! Please follow me there and give it likes and shares. Pretty please all that good stuff.

Life the Universe and Everything

It was suggested to me once by a faithful friend – that means a friend with faith, not a friend who was loyal to me, although he was – he suggested that he didn’t have to prove the existence of God, I could just look around me and observe the beauty of His creation. That was proof enough. Yep, you got me. I love mountains, the sky, oceans, forests, raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens! I also love the creative product of my fellow humans. I really do. All of that stuff. Really.

That doesn’t mean I believe in the Qur’an (my friend was a Muslim) or in the Resurrection.

But if it wasn’t crafted by the God of the Old Testament, then how did the universe originate? To me, that is a completely different question from the endless (and for me, irrelevant) squabbles about which religion or none, and far more difficult to answer.

I believe I’m the product of evolution. I believe that consciousness evolved to enable my physically weak species to survive the brutality of natural selection. But consciousness begets self-awareness and that gift comes bundled with a curse. My ancestors had acquired a psychotic maelstrom of self-doubt. So to save us from its own gift, evolution had to program in a new fix; what programmers call a patch. I believe that I and my kind evolved with a deep hard-wired love for our environment to help us survive inside our newly confused heads. I’m saying that the apparent beauty of nature is actually a metaphorical bowl of chicken soup, served to my ancestors by the imperative of survival.

Does that make the power of nature or human culture to ignite my emotions any less real? Well, I can only speak personally. For me, it makes it more real, more beautiful, and more awe-inspiring. I don’t need a god to provide me with a beautiful world. Evolution gave me a brutal world and then reprogrammed me to believe that it was beautiful for the ulterior motive of making me want to stay alive. That whole construction is an elegant cherry on top of a complex cake.

But let’s go back thirteen billion years. I believe that clouds of primordial matter coalesced into solid chunks that were too massive to resist collapse. They burnt and exploded in events so powerful that subatomic particles were crushed into atoms. The first and simplest element, hydrogen, was fired in these crucibles not only into helium but into all the other elements with atomic weights measured in one, two and three figures. I believe that those first and second-generation exploding stars populated the universe with elements that fused chemically to form rocks and water, proteins and life and intelligence and me. It’s totally crazy and impossible, but I believe it.

The chances of that having happened are microscopic. But given time, I believe that it did.

You can read Stephen Hawking and learn that it’s still weirder than that. If the power of gravity had differed from the value that it has by a small fraction of a percent, then none of this would have happened at all; not the stars, or the galaxies, not the planets nor their inhabitants.

And yet still, I believe it did. Why? Well we are here, aren’t we? And all of that stuff is so astonishing that I find it no more or less likely that it may have been the creation of an old geezer with a long white beard. I believe in the existence of God the Designer, no more or less easily than I believe in the postulate of “it just happened.” I don’t know how my smartphone works, but it does. Who am I to say whether intelligence created the universe or the universe created intelligence?

It all comes down to the beginning. Maybe God created the world as described in Genesis I. Maybe it all started as described in the different story given in Genesis II. Maybe we started with the Big Bang. Maybe intelligence was deliberately planted here in the terrestrial nursery by nurturing aliens. Maybe every quantum event in infinite time splits the Multiverse into a vast branching tree. Maybe we exist as a digital experiment inside a computer that was programmed to include the illusion of my consciousness, maybe we exist as an experiment within an experiment twenty layers down in a computer. Maybe we live in a zoo curated by extraterrestrials. Maybe our whole planet is a calculation machine commissioned by white mice to determine the ultimate question.

None of these scenarios (all of which were invented by brighter minds than mine) addresses the question of what happened before that. If God made us, who made God? Similar questions arise for each of those scenarios.

However, the Big Bang thing offers at least one extra step down into the well. Not what I’m calling Big Bang Model A which postulates that the universe started from a singularity (presumably with the laws of physics attached to a small label) and then expanded rapidly. That model was devised by extrapolating backward from the present rate of expansion of the cosmos, assuming the current laws of physics hold up under pressure as they have never done before. But it’s not enough. It still begs the God question loud and clear. In fact, it raises but doesn’t answer at least two God questions, “Who devised the laws of physics?” and “If there was no time, before the Big Bang, then how did he light the blue touch paper?”

But there’s a Big Bang Model B too. That one is a bit deeper, and can be described with the analogy of imaginary little flat people living on a sheet of paper. I’m calling them ILFPs. These ILFPs have no concept of up or down, only of the world that exists in their own two dimensions, perhaps left/right and ahead/behind, or perhaps distance and bearing, but the point is, there are just two dimensions here. ILFPs are bright. They can do geometry, they know about pi and Pythagoras, they just can’t experience cubes and spheres.

They might guess that if they travel far enough they would float off the edge of their paper world. I note here that they wouldn’t think about falling off – they don’t know about “down.” Or they might think their paper universe would go on forever. However, their common sense probably wouldn’t predict that a straight path would eventually bring them back to where they started.

But let’s say that we took their piece of paper and wrapped it around into a cylinder, taping it to itself along the join. We might surprise their explorers.

Our little friends the ILFPs can’t look up. Because they are two-dimensional beings, they don’t have any concept of “up”. But if they invented a piece of scientific apparatus that could look up and see the stars, then they could take sightings to demonstrate the curvature of their cylindrical universe, and they just might realise that there is a third dimension in which their two-dimensional space is curved. Not curved in any sense they had experience of, but curved in a way unimaginable to them.

So it is with us. Newton’s analysis of physics worked just fine until scientists found that his laws of motion didn’t work for light. If you can’t measure the speed of light, as Newton couldn’t, then there is no problem at all with his work. On the contrary, he analysed motion in a new way, leagues beyond the understanding of his contemporaries. His reasoning was so powerful that it covered every event that could be measured with available technology for the next 250 years. But Einstein’s Theories of Relativity turned his work on its head. This new analysis arose not from the analysis of Newton’s Laws themselves, but from hard experimental data.

Light just doesn’t behave like anything else. Ignore light and Newton’s work is robust, elegant, flawless. If you are playing polo, then you can add the speed of your teammate’s pony to the speed at which he hit the puck, allow for friction, and subtract your speed (measured in the same direction) and that gives you the relative speed at which the puck is moving towards you.

But try the same with light, and you discover that light is moving away from your teammate and towards you at the same speed (imaginatively known as “the speed of light”) absolutely independently of your speed or of his. Michelson and Morley discovered this in 1887 while looking for something else, called “the ether” which we now believe doesn’t exist. Nearly twenty years later, Albert Einstein realised that in order to force their experimental discovery to work mathematically, he had to combine matter, space, and time in new ways, first with his formula E=mc² and then a decade later by curving space-time itself to explain gravity.

This idea of space-time curvature is nothing like Columbus on a curved planet. Columbus was an animal who moved in only two dimensions (he couldn’t fly) but he already knew about three dimensions – he could see the stars and the flight of birds. The concept of a ball was not a mystery to him; his only problem was that his concept of a spherical planet (already proved and measured by the ancients) was not acceptable to his Church. No, Einstein’s work demands that space-time is curved in a higher dimension that neither Columbus nor we can see. Just as our little ILFP chums couldn’t see up and down.

Now the really impressive thing is that everything that has been measured or invented since Einstein has proved him right. Even things that he didn’t foresee as possible have shown that he got his sums right, just the way that space rockets demonstrate Newton’s laws. In the case of Einstein, that includes everything from nuclear submarines to Google maps. These things wouldn’t work unless Einstein’s theories are robust. But they do work, and they don’t care if I can understand them, they just work.

So now I will ask you to take a big jump with me. A jump that neither you nor I can imagine. I won’t even try to describe the logic here, you can look it up if you want. But I do want you to understand that this is a leap not of faith but of science. The difference is that faith asks you to believe something because it was written a long time ago and lots of other people believe it. Science says that if two people do completely different but well-designed experiments to prove or disprove the same postulate, then they will get the same result. You don’t have to understand the experiment or the maths that interpret the experiments to understand the difference between faith and science. This one is the latter.

And here’s the Jump. Just as the ILFPs can travel in what he believes to be a straight line (but which we in a higher dimension can see as a circle) and come back to the same place, so our universe can expand from a singularity, and come back around to that same point. Around and around ad infinitum. That is because our universe is curved in a fourth dimension that we can’t imagine but that we can prove exists.

Has science answered the God question with all this? Not at all. To say that we need a fourth dimension to make our universe exist is rather like saying we need water to make our bodies live. Add water to a dead body and it doesn’t come alive, add a fourth dimension to the Big Bang, and it doesn’t explain why it happened, it just gives a way of describing how it did happen.

So are there pan-dimensional beings looking down on us from what they might call “above?” I don’t know. I doubt I’ll find out in my lifetime, and I really doubt that they will reveal it to my soul after my body dies. But it’s in my nature to wonder about this stuff while I’m alive.

Nick James      Posted in:



Early 2023, Bandurrias Island, Chile.

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Photo: Graham Holtshausen on Unsplash