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#3974 - Friday, August 6, 2010 - Editor: Jerry Katz

  The Nonduality Highlights -    

The following article is submitted anonymously exclusively for the Nonduality Highlights. See the link at the bottom to the author's free e-book.      



A Brief Essay on the Mysterious Ways the Concept of

Nonduality Presents Itself in Literature and Science



The Bhagavad-Gita is a story about war and death. At the beginning of the story, the warrior Arjuna refuses to give the command to launch the great battle. He falls down in fear and confusion, because he sees that his beloved teachers and family members are on the other side. He knows that if he launches the battle, they will all be killed. The rest of the story is about how Krishna convinces him to get back up and launch the war. The basic argument Krishna makes is:


The soul that with a strong and constant calm

Takes sorrow and takes joy indifferently,

Lives in the life undying. That which is

Can never cease to be; that which is not

Will not exist. To see this truth of both

Is theirs who part essence from accident,

Substance from shadow.


And a bit later:


Never the spirit was born;

The spirit shall cease to be never;

Never was time it was not;

End and beginning are dreams.


The best known quote from the Gita is:


Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.


This line was quoted by Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed the first nuclear explosion at the Trinity test site in New Mexico. Oppenheimer named the test site after the Hindu concept of the divine trinity, in which Brahma is the creator of the cosmos, Vishnu is its preserver, and Shiva is its destroyer.


Between the two world wars, Sigmund Freud was greatly troubled by what he saw as the tendency of the human race to destroy itself, and wrote a book called Civilization and its Discontents. In this book he described the human tendency for self-destruction as the ‘death instinct’, which he considered to be a counter-instinct to the nature of emotional attachment, or cathexis, which he considered to be the ‘life instinct’. Freud used the word cathexis in the sense of investment of emotional energy, based upon the Greek word ‘to hold’. Freud saw the drive to love something as a ‘holding’ of emotional energy, or an emotional attachment, and considered the tendency for self-destructiveness as its counter-instinct.


Shakespeare understood this tendency for self-destruction as seeing the futility of everything that can be done in the world, which he expressed in Macbeth as:


Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing


The same futility of everything that can be done in the world is expressed in Ecclesiastes:


I have seen all the works that are done under the sun;

And behold, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.


Shakespeare makes frequent references to Plato and the Allegory of the Cave. This is how Plato describes the world in the Allegory:


They see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws upon the opposite wall of the cave. To them the truth would be literally nothing more than the shadows of the images. See what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. See the reality of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion. His eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision.


Shakespeare, like Plato, describes the world in a way that is often referred to as the ‘theater of consciousness’. Everything that appears to happen in the world is presented on the ‘stage’ of consciousness:


All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players

They have their exits and their entrances

And one man in his time plays many parts


Shakespeare also refers to the world as a dream:


We are such stuff

As dreams are made on and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep


And in Hamlet describes the end of the dream:


To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil


Which brings us right back to the death instinct, or self-destructiveness, which might be described as the desire to awaken from the dream. The big question is: Who or what is out there in the audience of the ‘theater of consciousness’, watching whatever is presented on the ‘stage’ of consciousness? Who is the ‘one’ that is actually present for that ‘play’? The obvious answer is: I am.


And this brings us back to the Bhagavad-Gita and the war of self-destruction. Who or what is left after the desire to destroy the self-concept has run its course, and there are no more characters left on that stage? What is left when there is nothing but the consciousness of the ‘one’ that is present in the audience?


The answer from William Blake is:


If the doors of perception were cleansed

Everything would appear to man as it is, infinite


A few decades ago it was a popular activity in neuroscience to explain the nature of the mind by considering the brain to be like a computer, a field that aptly was called computational neuroscience. The theoretical physicist Roger Penrose objected in a book called The Emperor’s New Mind, and a follow up book called Shadows of the Mind. Penrose considers himself to be a mathematical Platonist, and based his argument on the Gödel incompleteness theorems. The upshot of the Penrose argument is that it is impossible for consciousness to be something that is computational in nature. It is impossible for consciousness to arise from a computer, even a computer as complex as the human brain. Penrose was viciously attacked by the neuroscience community for pointing out this fact.


The story of how Gödel discovered the incompleteness theorems is interesting, and is well described by the novelist Rebecca Goldstein in her nice little book Incompleteness. Gödel made his discovery in Vienna in the early 1930’s, the same Vienna that Freud lived in. Gödel was reacting to a book by Wittgenstein called the Tractatus, in which he claimed all of mathematics was a ‘mind game’, or a meaningless tautology invented by the human mind. To Wittgenstein, all of mathematics consist of logical statements which are only true because they say so, and in that sense, actually say nothing. Wittgenstein also liked to quote the mystical poet Rabindranath Tagore: ‘Of what we cannot speak we must remain silent’. Gödel was a Platonist and believed there were mathematical truths that transcended the human mind, which is what he proved in the incompleteness theorems. To get back to Penrose, if the human mind is a computer, and there are mathematical truths that transcend the human mind, then whatever that truth is, it is not computational in nature. It is the truth of consciousness, whatever it is that knows about the nature of mathematical truth. Since consciousness is that which knows about the mathematical truth that transcends the human mind, its nature can never be reduced to a mental concept the mind can conceptualize.


Mathematical concepts, like all other mental concepts, are presented on the stage of consciousness. The nature of consciousness is that which knows what those concepts mean. That consciousness belongs to the ‘one’ that is present in the audience. This is what Plato described in the Allegory of the Cave. Whatever concepts are presented in the mind, including the self-concept, are only like the shadows that are projected upon a wall.


This is how Melville describes the Allegory in Moby Dick:


All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event-in the living act, the undoubted deed-there some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the moldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.

If man will strike, strike through the mask!

How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?

Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But it is enough.


Is the Allegory only an allegory, or is there a scientific reason to believe it really is a description of reality? The answer is found in the unification of quantum field theory with relativity theory. That unification has lead to the holographic principle of quantum gravity. The holographic principle is about how space-time geometry is quantized. The quantization of space-time geometry creates a virtual reality, much like the virtual reality described in the movie The Matrix. That virtual reality is inherently computational in nature, as though the entire universe is one big quantum computer. The movie The Matrix came out in 1999, a few years after the holographic principle was discovered. In part, the rational for the holographic principle was based upon a version of String theory called Matrix theory. It was later discovered String theory is inherently holographic in nature. Coincidence?


Basically, the holographic principle is what you get if you put the uncertainty principle of quantum theory together with the principle of equivalence of relativity theory. The principle of equivalence is the basis for how gravity arises as the curvature of space-time geometry. Gravity is nothing but the curvature of space-time geometry, and that gravitational curvature is equivalent to an accelerating frame of reference. There is no way to distinguish the effects of gravity on the surface of the earth, where the acceleration due to gravity is g, from the effects of a space-ship that accelerates through empty space with an acceleration rate a=g. The principle of equivalence says all observational points of view are the same, no matter how those observers appear to move relative to each other. Every observer has equal validity to its observations, no matter how those observers appear to move relative to each other. Every observer may proclaim that it is at rest, and that the rest of the world moves past it, as long as a gravitational field is included in a description of its environment. That gravitational field is equivalent to an acceleration. An implication of the principle of equivalence is that in free-fall through empty space the effect of gravity disappears, since gravity is always equivalent to an acceleration.


Relativity theory predicts event horizons. The most famous event horizon is that of a black hole. The event horizon of a black hole is a surface of radius R where the acceleration due to gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape. A black hole forms whenever a star burns out and gravitationally collapses in on itself. A very massive black hole is found at the center of every galaxy, with a mass of the order of a million to a billon times the mass of the sun. The radius of the black hole is given in terms of its mass M as R=2GM/c2, where G is the gravitational constant and c is the speed of light. Nothing can escape from a black hole. The effect of gravity is so strong at the event horizon that even light cannot escape.


But black holes radiate a kind of radiation called Hawking radiation. This kind of radiation is due to quantum uncertainty. Quantum field theory inherently gives a description of physical reality that involves creation and annihilation, just like the ideas of Brahma the creator, and Shiva the destroyer. In quantum field theory, all particles are created as excitations of field energy from the vacuum state. The vacuum state is the state of zero energy, conceptualized as empty space. But the vacuum state in quantum field theory is described as a ‘stormy sea’ of quantum fluctuations, due to the virtual creation of particle-antiparticle pairs. The virtual particle-antiparticle pairs are created out of nothing, and normally annihilate back into nothing within a short period of time, as specified by the uncertainty principle. A virtual particle-antiparticle pair is described as a closed loop process. In some sense, the antiparticle is like an ordinary particle with positive energy that travels backwards in time, which is how the closed loop process completes itself. The other way to look at the antiparticle is as a particle with negative energy that travels forwards in time. The antiparticle of the virtual pair carries an equal and opposite amount of energy as the particle, so that the total energy of the virtual process adds up to zero.


Something very strange happens in the vicinity of an event horizon, like that of a black hole. At the event horizon, the virtual antiparticle can fall into the black hole and carry negative energy into the black hole, while the virtual particle can travel away from the event horizon, and carry positive energy away from the black hole, called Hawking radiation. The black hole appears to radiate Hawking radiation. The virtual particle-antiparticle pairs are separated at the event horizon. To an observer outside the black hole, the event horizon appears to radiate positive energy ‘real’ particles. The total amount of radiation radiated away from the black hole only depends on the surface area of the event horizon A=4(pi)R2. The idea of the holographic principle comes from this result. The black hole stores bits of information, just like a computer. Hawking found the number of bits of information stored in the black hole is given by b=A/4l2, where the Planck area is defined as l2=Gh/2(pi)c3, and where h is Planck’s constant. The holographic principle basically says the event horizon is covered by Planck areas, and each Planck area is like a pixel on a viewing screen that encodes a bit of information. The holographic principle explains how space-time geometry is quantized. Space-time geometry is quantized on surfaces. Every quantized Planck area on the surface acts like a pixel on a viewing screen, and encodes a quantized bit of information.


In a sense, the event horizon creates a three dimensional virtual reality from a two dimensional viewing screen, as virtual particle-antiparticle pairs are created in the vicinity of the event horizon, and the virtual particle is separated from the virtual antiparticle. An observer outside the event horizon only sees the virtual particle that appears to become a ‘real’ particle. In that sense the event horizon creates a virtual reality. That virtual reality is inherently holographic in nature. Whatever that observer perceives in that virtual reality is like a holographic projection from the viewing screen. All the information perceived is pixilated on the surface of quantized space-time, which acts as a holographic viewing screen. Whatever that observer perceives in that virtual reality is like a holographic image projected from the viewing screen and perceived at a point of view.


The holographic principle is not just about how information is encoded on the event horizon of a black hole, but about how information is encoded on all event horizons. Observational evidence is that we live in an expanding universe that is exponentially expanding faster over the course of time. Every observer, present at a point of view, is surrounded by a cosmic event horizon, which is a spherical surface where the universe at that point appears to expand at the speed of light. Since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, that observer can only see things as far out as that cosmic event horizon. Wherever that observer looks into space, the cosmic event horizon forms a boundary in space that is as far out as that observer can look into space. The holographic principle also applies to the cosmic event horizon, which is a surface of quantized space-time. Each Planck area on the surface encodes a bit of information, and acts just like a pixel on a viewing screen. Whatever that observer perceives in space is like a projection of holographic images from the viewing screen.


The concept of an exponentially expanding universe is an integral part of the standard theory of the creation of the universe, which is called inflationary cosmology. The basic idea is that the universe was created in the big bang event as a spontaneous eruption of energy from the vacuum state. That spontaneous eruption of energy occurred because of the virtual creation of particle-antiparticle pairs. In an exponentially expanding universe there is always a cosmic event horizon, which is just like the event horizon of a black hole that separates virtual particles from virtual antiparticles. Matter is separated from antimatter at the cosmic event horizon, which is how a universe of matter is created. An observer, present at a point of view, perceives the cosmic event horizon. The cosmic event horizon acts like a holographic viewing screen, and creates its own virtual reality.


The standard theory of the creation of the universe says the size of the universe at the time of the big bang was about a Planck length. The current size of the universe is about fifteen billion light years. The universe has expanded since the big bang event. What did the universe expand into? The universe is holographic, defined upon surfaces of quantized space-time that act as viewing screens. The universe expanded into empty space.


So far we have an idea from the holographic principle of what Brahma the creator and Shiva the destroyer are all about, but what about Vishnu the preserver? The nature of a hologram is coherent organization. A hologram encodes information coherently, which means to hold together as a bound state. There is no actual image on the hologram, only a coherently organized interference pattern. That inference pattern arises from a phase transition inside a laser that emits coherent light, which interferes with itself and creates the interference pattern on a piece of photographic film. That interference pattern is like the pattern of wave motion we see when we throw two rocks into a pond. The holographic image that arises from the hologram represents that coherent organization of information. In the language of thermodynamics, which is the basis of the holographic principle, coherently organized systems tend to replicate their forms in the same phase of organization, since it requires a lot of energy to change phase, which is the nature of a phase transition, like melting ice into water. A lot of heat has to be applied to the ice before it will melt into water. That is why coherently organized systems tend to replicate their form in the same phase, or how their forms are preserved. The only way to change the phase of the system, or to melt the ice back into water and to allow the water to flow freely, is to apply a lot of heat.


Which brings us back to the death instinct and self-destructiveness. The desire to destroy the self-concept is like the hot emotional energy that melts ice back into water. The Bhagavad-Gita is the story of the war within the true nature of what you are. In that war the ego fights for its own self-destruction, which is like the heat that is applied that allows ice to melt back into water, or the burning away of the ego. But that war only comes to an end with a surrender, which by its nature is an acceptance of the death of the ego. By its nature, that burning away of the ego is the willingness to let go of the emotional attachment to everything in the world. That kind of detachment is only possible because of the willingness to do nothing, which only arises if you clearly see the futility of everything that you can do in the world. Everything you can do in the world is for nothing, and leads to nothing. Anyone who has watched the Matrix trilogy knows how the story ends. The Oracle can see the end coming:


I see the end coming. I see the darkness spreading. I see death-and you are all that stands in his way. He won’t stop until there is nothing left. One way or another, this war will come to an end.


At the very end, Smith sums it all up:


Why do you fight? Do you believe that you are fighting for something? Is it for more than your own survival? Do you even know? Is it for freedom, for truth, for peace or for love? Illusions. Vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose-all of them as artificial as the matrix itself.


What is left when the ego dies? The scientific answer is found in the principle of equivalence and the holographic principle. The entire perceivable universe is defined on surfaces of quantized space-time that are like event horizons and act as holographic viewing screens. If the observer is in free fall, the event horizon disappears. The disappearance of the viewing screen is the disappearance of the universe. An observer with no emotional attachment to anything in the world is in free fall. What is left when the viewing screen disappears? Empty space is left.


~ ~ ~


The author's book Nonduality: A Scientific Perspective may be downloaded free at

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