What Might Be Going On(?)

Suggested prior reading


1. People have made various proposals, down through history, for what the elements of the universe might be. This essay is my proposal.

2. Thales proposed that everything was made of water, Anaximenes thought the basic element was air, Heraclitus thought it was fire, and Xenophanes thought it was earth. Then Empedocles increased the number of elements from one to four and said everything was made from combinations of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. In the early days of modern science, when Mendeleev came up with the periodic table, the number of elements increased to around a hundred.

3. About this same time, people wondered if there weren't a smaller number of 'elements' and they got back down to the number two with the Proton and Electron. Soon the number went up to three with the Neutron but that was still a pleasingly small number of elementary particles that made up the Bohr Atom. That's where it was when I was a boy.

4. Then the particle zoo got populated with an unpleasant number of particles so Murray Gel-Mann came up with Quarks to get the number back down to a more pleasing number. Unfortunately, the number of flavors and varieties of Quarks grew again to an uncomfortable size and science is again wondering if there isn't a smaller number of even more elementary particles of matter.

5. My proposal is sort of an outgrowth of ideas expressed by Teilhard de Chardin and Deepak Chopra. I propose that the three elements are Energy, Information, and Consciousness. To be more specific, I think these three are the elements that make up the universe that we experience, while Consciousness is the single element that makes up the entire cosmos, or reality, of which our universe is a mere subset. I think that the universal energy and information is produced by the cosmic consciousness.

6. Teilhard didn't express his ideas so much as elements as they were stages in evolution. These were roughly that the universe was evolving and has gone through a mineral phase, a plant phase, an animal phase, and currently a human phase. All along, there was some more or less dim consciousness accompanying the structures of matter that were evolving.

7. The mineral phase is described by the Big Bang theory in which the universe starts out with energy in the form of pure radiation. This coalesced into elementary particles which formed atoms of Hydrogen and Helium. These then coalesced into galaxies and stars and the stars produced the heavier elements which went on to form the planets. This was the culmination of the mineral phase.

8. The planets (or at least one of them) were sufficiently rich and complex at this point that they could support plant life, which then appeared and began evolving.

9. At some point, animal life appeared, introducing new concepts of individuality, death, feeling, and consciousness. Later, humans appeared with again new levels of consciousness and intellectual thought.

10. I may not have done Teilhard's ideas justice, having never read or studied his works, but from what I have heard and read about them, this is the impression that his ideas have had on me.

11. Deepak Chopra has impressed me with the notion that the only things going on in the universe are energy and information and we have consciousness that is outside of the normal notion of the universe. Again, Deepak may not agree that this is what he wrote or thought, but that is the notion that occurred to me after having read a few of his books and listening to many of his lectures.

12. Regardless of whether my brief summary of what others have thought about what is elementary in the universe is accurate or not, let me leave that and get into my own view of what might be going on in the big picture.

13. This might be going on: There is a place, which for clarity I will call the 'Universe', which has four dimensions. These are our familiar dimensions of three for space and one for time. Modern science has adopted a rule that says that scientists are not to consider the possibility of anything existing outside of this place when proposing theories that explain the things that go on in this place. At this point in time, modern science seems to be getting close to a Theory of Everything (TOE) that will explain everything from the Big Bang to the evolution of Elephants without acknowledging any agency outside of the Universe and the laws of Physics that govern the behavior of everything in the Universe.

14. So we have this place called the Universe. The problem that I see is that science has not satisfactorily explained everything that goes on here. I remember as a child wondering about everything I saw and experienced and I remember the delight I felt when I learned that science could explain everything I wondered about. I also remember the keen disappointment I felt as I began studying science in Junior High School. I learned that science wasn't interested in, and couldn't explain, some of the more interesting questions like How come red looks different from green? or How come I am me and no one else? or How come there is anything at all? Then there were the simpler questions that I also heard others asking like What is beyond the end of the Universe? or What was happening before the Big Bang? Science didn't talk about those either.

15. I am pleased that science is finally beginning to look into the question of consciousness, after denying its existence for so long. It seems obvious to me that there are some good clues that science should pick up on to help unravel, or at least shed some light on, this great mystery.

16. What is going on here in this universe, as Deepak pointed out, is the interplay of energy and information. What we experience as matter, is really just little chunks of energy that interact according to the laws of physics giving the appearance to us, at our relatively large scale of size, that there is such stuff as matter, and virtually everything we deal with in our daily lives is made of it. So matter, as Einstein theorized, is simply a manifestation of energy.

17. Information, on the other hand, is another breed of cat. Unschooled as I am, I still take exception to conventional scientific wisdom by refusing to believe in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If the Second Law would stick to heat energy, or even just to energy itself, I would probably go along with it. But when the claim is made that the Second Law also applies to Organization or to Order or to Information, then that is where I draw the line.

18. Information is the pattern of arrangement of discreet chunks of energy. This might be the pattern over time of chunks of electromagnetic radiation energy going through the air from a radio transmitting antenna to our walkman radio with information coming from a talk show host. Or it might be the pattern over the face of a stop sign in red and white paint pigments that spell out the word 'STOP' with the information that, according to the rules, you are to stop your car and look both ways before proceeding through the intersection.

19. The problem with the Second Law trying to deal with Information, or Order, is that there is no reasonable definition of a scale of order which can be used to quantify order or information without also including some kind of sentient being to whom the Order or Information has some meaning.

20. For example, the letters of the alphabet that appear on the wings of butterflies, as shown in the beautiful photographs by Kjell B. Sandved, have no meaning as elements of language, as I think everyone would agree. Even if the word 'STOP' should perchance appear on the wings of a yet-undiscovered species of butterfly, I think people would still agree that no meaning corresponding to the English language word was embodied in the pattern. So the word "STOP' on a stop sign has meaning to people who understand that English word, while the word 'STOP' on a butterfly has no such meaning. To me it is meaningless to measure the entropy or disorder associated with the appearance of these two instances of the word 'STOP'. One is very significant and deliberately arranged by sentient beings, and the other is probably completely random and insignificant.

21. Information has meaning of two types that I will call Downward and Upward. Downward information affects how particles behave, thus exhibiting phenomena that we may be able to see. Upward information affects how sentient beings behave. For the present purposes, in addition to living organisms, let's extend the notion of sentient beings to include such machines as computers, Jacquard Looms, and furnaces controlled by living room thermostats, as well. Sentient beings, then, are things that have their behavior determined to some extent by coded information inputs.

22. Don't confuse my use of the term 'sentience' with consciousness; there is an important distinction that I am making for the purposes of this essay. Sentience in this sense is not equivalent to my 'element' of Consciousness. In order to tease out this difference, we need to consider the difference between simple information and coded information.

23. As I said earlier, information is the pattern of arrangement of discreet chunks of energy. Coded information is the pattern of arrangement of discreet chunks of energy that have some 'meaning' to one of these sentient beings (keep in mind that this includes some non-conscious machines). So this 'meaning' might be understood by a conscious being, like you or me, but in addition, it might be 'understood' by a machine. For example, the pattern of the holes in a card fed into a Jacquard Loom will determine the pattern in the resulting fabric even though I think we would all agree that the loom was not 'conscious' of the information. And, of course, examples involving computers abound.

24. To press this distinction further, consider the pattern of weather on the Earth at a given moment, and its effect on the global weather at some later time. We have all learned about the 'butterfly effect' in which a minute detail in the initial pattern of weather factors, such as the air movement caused by a single butterfly, influences the global weather on a large scale later on.

25. The initial pattern of weather factors qualifies as 'information' under my definition, but it does not qualify as 'coded information'. I suppose it could if we posited a God who, when it was time to send a hurricane to a particular place for a particular reason, would deliberately arrange for all the weather factors at all places on Earth to be just the right starting conditions that would cause the desired hurricane. This would really be a stretch and you would have to consider the entire evolution (I don't mean Darwinian Evolution here, just the plain old English word meaning the process by which something gradually develops into a different form) of the universe as being deliberately thought out and predestined by God.

26. Apart from such a stretch, weather and other chaotic systems do not develop in response to coded information or upward information; they respond to patterns, albeit complex, patterns of simple, non-coded information, or downward information.

27. Even though the distinction may be subtle, it is a real distinction. You might object that there is no difference between the 'downward information' of the fundamental laws of physics determining the quantum evolution of a few fundamental particles and the 'upward' information of the pattern of keystrokes on your keyboard determining the pattern of pixels that will light up on your screen. Both are simply results of the evolution of the energy patterns in our universe in response to the laws of physics.

28. The real distinction is that in addition to the resulting rearrangement of energy patterns in the universe, upward information also has meaning to what I have called sentient beings. The patterns of letters appearing on your screen as a result of lighted pixels are different in kind from the patterns of letters appearing on the butterfly wings.

29. Maybe we could strengthen this distinction by saying that upward information has a large scale, long term, predictable effect on the evolution of the universe. By this I mean that it is not enough that the sentient being 'understands' the upward information, but also that some sentient being(s) must also, in principle, be able to predict the outcome of the effect of the upward information.

30. (This is sort of a tautology, because we, as humans, have defined chaotic systems to be those whose non-random behaviors we are unable to predict. It may be that some superior sentient being would be able to predict the behavior of some of these systems. For them, they would have a different set of systems that they would call 'chaotic' even though they might use the same definition of the word that we do, just because they are more clever predictors.)

31. To sum up the distinction, downward information is the pattern of arrangement of manifestations of energy that, together with the laws of physics, determine the outcome of the evolution of the universe. Upward information is the pattern of arrangement of manifestations of energy that, prior to having any influence on the evolution of the universe, had been deliberately arranged in order to have a predictable effect on a sentient being, which, under the influence of this upward information together with the laws of physics, causes the evolution of the universe to have the predicted outcome. (We are temporarily ducking the obvious questions of who or what did the deliberate arranging and who or what did the predicting.)

32. That last paragraph might sum it up, but it may still not make the idea clear. Let me try to clear it up using an example.

33. Suppose you think the room is too cold, so you walk over to the thermostat and turn the dial from its previous setting of 68 to a new setting of 70. Then, during the next hour or so, the furnace starts and stops at various intervals, and the temperature in the room goes up to 70 degrees. What has gone on here?

34. According to my definitions, we have two sentient beings involved: the furnace-thermostat system, and you. In addition, one of those sentient beings is conscious: you. Now the conscious entity (you) has some idea about why the room is too cold, and some motive for changing the temperature (Maybe you are uncomfortable, or maybe your ailing mother is due to enter the room.) We haven't discussed anything about ideas or motivation so we can ignore these for now.

35. The important thing is that you, the conscious one, are able to predict that if you turn that dial, the room will get warmer. Specifically, if you add the upward information to the arrangement of the molecules in the thermostat that 'means', to the furnace-thermostat system, 'establish 70 degrees as the target temperature for the room', then the furnace-thermostat system will behave in such a way for the next hour or so, so that the behavior of a huge number of atoms in the vicinity, all strictly obeying the laws of physics, will result in the outcome that the room will warm up to 70 degrees.

36. There is not much upward information in this example; just the thermostat setting which occupies only a few bits. In contrast, there is a huge amount of downward information here. All the particular mechanical, electrical, and chemical actions that take place and evolve according to the laws of physics do so in response to the particular arrangements of particles at every moment during the hour. These arrangements all represent downward information and it would take an astronomical number of bits to hold all of it. (In this example, the manufacturer and installer of the furnace-thermostat system did the deliberate arranging, and you did the predicting that we parenthetically questioned in the above summary.)

37. Now let me put a little different spin on Teilhard's phases. I think the phases that are significant are Mineral, Life, and Conscious Action.

38. My Mineral phase would be the same as his. My Life phase would include his plant phase and maybe some of his Animal phase. My Conscious Action phase would start whenever the first animals began to use conscious choice in deciding on their actions. We know that humans have been doing that for at least a million years (or maybe only 3,000 years as suggested by Julian Jaynes), but it could be debated whether or not beavers consciously decide where and when to build a dam, or whether trilobites consciously decided where and when to go looking for food. I am not interested in the outcome of such debates in this essay.

39. The observation I want to make at this point is that the Mineral Phase could have evolved in the complete absence of upward information. Downward information alone would have brought stars and planets out of the big bang. The Conscious Action phase, on the other hand has a large component of phenomena produced in response to upward information, at least here on Earth where we have lots of conscious critters. These observations are fairly obvious given my definitions.

40. The interesting question remaining is, "To what extent is upward information necessary for the development of life?" My answer is "A lot!". Evolutionist Science's answer is, "None."

41. If I'm right, I have a lot of explaining to do. So I'll start explaining. First, I'll explain why I believe that life requires upward information in order to thrive. I don't think it would be hard to get agreement that DNA contains coded information. People talk about the 'genetic code' contained in DNA and we know how the information expressed in the four codons is used in the assembly of protein molecules. The hard part is the question that we ducked earlier, and that is "Who or what deliberately wrote the information in that code into the DNA, and who or what, if anyone, predicted the outcome of the information acting on our physical world?"

42. The evolutionist answer is that no one, or nothing, deliberately wrote the information and no one predicted the outcome. The DNA information evolved over eons by the random mutation and natural selection processes, and the outcome has been what it is by pure chance and happenstance.

43. I have two problems accepting this explanation. The first is that I don't think that there was enough time. I won't elaborate on that reason because it is more of a hunch and I haven't gone to any work to try to figure it out. But my hunch is that if you made some kind of measurement of the complexity of a genome, and then took the number of generations available to that particular organism and divided the two numbers to get the amount of complexity that would have to have developed per generation, particularly during the early Cambrian period, I think the quotient would be too big of a number to believe. Again, since I haven't done this work, I can't comment any further.

44. The second reason I don't accept the evolutionist explanation for the origin and development of a genome stems from an analogy with a familiar system: a large computer operating system.

45. I haven't done this work either, but from what I understand, the number of bits contained in a large modern computer operating system is on the same order of magnitude as the number of bits in a genome, or close enough. I worked for many years on the development of IBM's largest operating system and I have a fair idea of what it took to get each and every one of those billions of bits turned on and off in just the right sequence to make the system work. I am also well aware of how frequently they were found to be not quite right and the system would fail. I'm also aware of what it took to fix those failures. And what it took to make the next new version with its bells and whistles.

46. Now all this operating system does is provide the upward information to the computer so that it operates and runs and does what it is supposed to do. To be fair, it also can effect some minor repairs of some predictable things that might go wrong, but that's about all.

47. DNA on the other hand, in addition to providing the upward information to the organism so that it operates and runs and does what it is supposed to do, also provides the upward information to repair some fairly significant damage, to manufacture all the parts that go to make up the machine that the DNA 'runs' in, to assemble those parts not only into the machine, but into a growing, developing machine from a zygote to a mature and old organism, and finally, to start up completely new and different organisms that get new and different sets of DNA with complete instructions to do all these same things for the new organisms. By comparison, our computer operating systems seem pretty simple and puny.

48. When evolutionists talk about origins, they describe how molecules in the primordial environment might have assembled into primitive organic molecules and eventually built up into DNA, RNA or even proteins, or some other molecular scenario that led up to the first viable living organisms. Using the same analogy as before, I could maybe buy into an explanation of that sort that described how the equivalent of a reel of magnetic tape, or a CD ROM might have evolved from basic chemicals. But the hard part, in my mind, is to believe that the bits on the tape or the CD got 'programmed' somehow without a conscious 'programmer'. In other words, it would be a lot easier to explain the origin of the medium than it would be the origin of the message.

49. A much more plausible explanation to me for the origin of life, and even for the on-going operation of life forms, is that there is some conscious entity somewhere involved in designing, and directing to some extent, the material structures that we call organisms. In other essays, I have described where I think these entities might be located and how they might interact with us organisms down here.

50. Briefly, there is another place outside or beyond our Universe. We don't (science doesn't) have access to this hyper spatial place. Conscious beings exist in this hyper spatial place without being observed by anyone, or any instrument here in our Universe, and are the ones who impose the upward information on energy packets (matter) in our Universe. They are the ones who deliberately arrange, or 'program', the upward information, and they would also be the ones, if anyone, who would be in a position to predict the long term effect, or outcome, of the upward information on life.

51. Beyond this hyper spatial place, are several more dimensions, or levels of existence, in which even more complex and capable beings exist with roughly the same relationship to the beings at the next lower level as the ones directly above us have to us. There are fewer and fewer conscious entities as the levels go up and at the highest level, there is only one consciousness. The apparent consciousness experienced by all beings below that highest level, including us, is an illusion. The experience of consciousness only happens to that one highest entity but it may be through the eyes and other senses of beings existing on lower levels.

52. Given this explanation, a complete theory of everything would go something like the following: A little before the Big Bang, the conscious One decided on the laws of Physics and set a bunch of energy loose into a four dimensional subspace that was subject to these laws. This was the Big Bang, or the creation of the universe.

53. The positions and states of the chunks of energy within the four dimensional space-time continuum determined or embodied the downward information about what was going on. This determined the course of mineral evolution. Once a sufficiently rich and varied set of mineral structures had evolved (early planet Earth and possibly others), the conscious One intervened somehow by imposing the upward information on some molecules of matter forming not only DNA but the software written into the DNA that would successfully boot and continue to operate.

54. Information flow goes the other direction also. The patterns of energy and matter that exist in the Universe as it evolves are available to be read or perceived by the consciousness One.

55. So the basic operation is that there is a Universe operating according to the laws of Physics and the downward information present in the moment by moment arrangement of energy within the universe. And then there is the conscious One in a hyper space-time continuum that contains the universe (as well as possibly many others) that exchanges information with the universe(s).

56. Now for some speculation that goes beyond this picture. (This is based on some experiences I had under the influence of laughing gas in the dentist's office.) As the conscious One exchanges information with the universe, it gets more and more involved with what is going on down there. A transfer of omniscience occurs. As the conscious One gets more involved with the universe by experiencing what is going on here through the media of the living organisms (and also in a rudimentary way through the minerals) it correspondingly diminishes in the greater hyper space-time. In the meantime, the organisms down here collectively increase in their knowledge and understanding of what is going on. The ultimate result is that all consciousness will be transferred to the universe and the structures in it and no consciousness will be left in the outside place. This is sort of like Teilhard's Omega Point.

57. When this happens, there will have been a convergence of what up to then will have seemed like many individual consciousnesses into a single universal consciousness which will be more than the equivalent of the consciousness One prior to the big bang. It will have been enriched by the outcome of the experience of the universe.

58. Armed with this additional information, the newly enriched conscious One will dream up some new laws of Physics, set another chunk of energy loose in a chunk of space-time, and another process of evolution involving energy, information, and consciousness will start again.

59. This consciousness transfer started big time on Earth between 10,000 and 3,000 years ago. At this point in Earth's history, there exists downward information which organisms use to determine their behavior. This downward information is provided by evolutionary experience and biology together with the laws of physics. In addition to this, there is upward information, which originates in the conscious One but seems to us to originate in our minds as a manifestation of our free will, which also has an affect on our behavior.

60. In many cases, in particular situations involving sex, eating, and other biological bodily functions, we seem to be torn between doing what our body wants us to do and what our minds tell us to do. This is the conflict between upward information and downward information. The major job of humans now at this point in our development is to make a switch from having our behavior determined mostly by downward information to being determined mostly by upward information.

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