Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Big Bang and immeasurable silence.

Singularity and the void.
Roughly three years ago the story of Stephen Hawking was playing in movie theatersThe Theory of Everything. Recently I watched the biographical documentary film on his life. He has been credited with the “proof” that nothing beyond naturally occurring physical conditions contributed to the Big Bang and therefore concluded there was no God. In his view (solely based on a universe governed by physical, conditional matter) there was no before and no space beyond the moment of singularity. Accordingly everything we know, including time, began with the Big Bang.

What Hawking did not consider was the context of the void within which the Big Bang occurred, that according to all scientists has no limitations or boundaries. Earlier cosmologists argued that the expansion of the universe would eventually slow, come to a stop and then begin to collapse back to the beginning: a sort of Cosmic Breath, resulting in an eternal continuing series of black hole/singularities with expansions and contractions.  However, contrary to orthodoxy of the time, no evidence has been found to support this process. Instead there is evidence to the contrary: expansion is speeding up into the unconditional void.

One of the preeminent foundations, upon which Hawking’s conclusions rest, is the definition of space as understood within the field of General Relativity. Einstein argued that physical objects are not located in space, but rather have a ‘spatial extent.’ Seen this way, the concept of empty space loses its meaning. Rather, space is an abstraction, based on the relationships between objects and without objects (due to the confluence of space and time) there would be neither space nor time at the point of singularity. The development of quantum mechanics complicated the modern interpretation of a vacuum by requiring indeterminacy. In the late 20th century, this principle was understood also to predict a fundamental uncertainty in the number of particles in a region of space, leading to predictions of ‘virtual particles’ arising spontaneously out of the void.

The scientific conclusions don’t address the limitless void since there is nothing to measure in a vacuum. However, to those who subscribe to the precepts of Zen, the void is everything yet nothing. According to Zen Master Huang Po:

“To gaze upon a drop of water is to behold the nature of all the waters of the universe. Moreover, in thus contemplating the totality of phenomena, you are contemplating the totality of mind. All these phenomena are intrinsically void and yet this mind with which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvelous for us to comprehend. It is an existence, which is no existence, a non-existence, which is nevertheless existence. To the ancients, to find the true essence of life, it was necessary to cast off body and mind. When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha.”

In similar manner Bodhidharma stated: “To say that the real Dharmakāya of the Buddha resembles the Void is another way of saying that the Dharmakāya is the Void and that the Void is the Dharmakāya ... they are one and the same thing.... When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha ... the void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma. This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning ... this great Nirvanic nature is Mind; Mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is the Dharma.”

It isn’t necessary to grasp either the highly technical nature of theoretical physics or the higher spiritual nature of Zen to understand the dimensions of The Big Bang, the context within which it occurred and that of the infinite nature of the Void. All that is necessary is to understand a relatively simple matter: dependent origination, which says that everything that exists arises and ceases along with an opposite dimension. 

A simple example will suffice. “There is no up without a down. There is no in without an out. There is no phenomenon without noumenonAnd there is nothing conditional without an unconditional dimension.” Thus to prove anything regarding the beginning of the universe (which Hawking later recanted) without considering the void, is like proving the existence of fish without considering water. His latter perspective was that the universe was unconditional (no beginning, no ending, no limits of any kind), which is precisely the position held by enlightened individuals. 

At Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in 2011, Hawking said that, “philosophy is dead,” and further, “philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science;” that scientists “have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

Stephen Hawking was awarded the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in 2006: America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and the Russian Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012. It is easy to agree with Hawking that there is no God, since “God” is a simple handle we use to speak of the ineffable source of everything. That, however, doesn’t really address the essential issue. With all due respect for his amazing insights and accomplishments, until the scientific community deals with the void and the Mind, the work will remain incomplete.
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