The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.

Albert Einstein

 

 

When astronomers spot a new supernova in the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest galactic neighbor, they know they are seeing an event which actually happened more than 2 million years ago. This, of course, is because the light from the supernova did not travel instantaneously -- although it travels very fast, about 186,000 miles per second, light still takes time to travel through space. This means that the farther into space we look, the farther back in time we are seeing, and it also means that space and time are unavoidably interwoven into a single continuum know as spacetime.

Looking deeper and deeper into space, we find that the realm of the galaxy gradually gives way to the realm of the quasar, a mysterious object with the mass and energy of an entire galaxy, and in most cases, many times the energy of our own galaxy, concentrated into a relativity small spherical volume, like about the size of our solar system. It was once generally assumed that the quasar was an early evolutionary form of the galaxy, but how galaxies actually form and how quasars fit in to the evolutionary scheme of the universe is still not well understood. Recent observations indicate that many quasars actually reside within host galaxies, and are most certainly powered by black holes.

As we gaze into the blackness of infinity itself, we are actually looking at the beginning of the Universe. The diverging field of infinity all around us, the experience of infinity, is like a reversed image of the Universal Singularity, the Big Bang. This popular name is an unfortunate one, and it was coinded by cosmologists who did not support the idea (which was most of them early on). Most importanly, the cosmic creation event was nothing like an explosion at all, but more like the intense force field experienced near the singularity of a super-massive black hole.

 

In fact, the conditions in the earliest stages of the Universe would be very similar to the conditions we would find right now deep within any atom, in the quantum realm. We all know that the bodies we find ourselves living in are made of countless atoms forged eons ago in the nuclear furnaces of the stars. In much the same way, these atoms are composed of the primordial quantum processes born in the first stages of the Big Bang itself. The entire history of the Universe is encoded into the most basic components of our bodies, so as strange as it may seem, we are actually not far removed from the beginning of the Universe even at this very moment.

Einstein suggested that the speed of light was not only finite, but must also be constant, regardless of the motion of any observer. This was necessary in order to make any logical sense out of physical causality, the whole experience of what causes what in spacetime and the very experience of time itself. However, since this logical causality for an observer is defined by light coming from objects, and other observers have other light coming to them over a different path through spacetime, a very strange condition is imposed -- any objective view of the Universe must be entirely observer-dependent, and there is no real basis for the notion of a true universal time-frame.

Every one of us has our very own light cone which defines for us the present state of the Universe, along with what we experience as logical causality and thus the passage of time. Every light cone is unique, so no one can ever precisely agree on what is happening where or when. Of course, the differences are negligible except under relativistic conditions, such as near the speed of light or the singularity of a black hole, but they are real and they are there, all the time. The "wherewhens" of spacetime are relative. In fact, since everything we see in space, from our own bodies to the distant quasars, are images from the past, the actual present state of the Universe is never seen. The scientist must make a clear distinction between "that which appears to be" and "that which actually is". Disturbingly, everything seems to fall into the former category.

 

For most of this century, science has been struggling with some very strange revelations brought to light by relativity and quantum theory. These insights have shown us that the basic ideas we have always taken for granted about objective reality are very limited views of what the Universe must really be like. The reason they were such a struggle for science is that they blew away the foundational framework of classical physics along with our entire understanding of physical reality in a most fundamental and definite way. Could it be that our natural assumptions about space and time are simply not correct? Perhaps we have yet to realize the most beautifully mysterious experience of all.

 

 

Then the son of Pandu beheld the entire Universe,
in all its multitudinous diversity,
lodged as one being within the body of the God of gods.

Bhagavad Gita
11,13