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IEET > Life > Enablement > Vision > Bioculture > Contributors > Christopher de la Torre

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Higgs Boson and the Spiritual Universe


Christopher de la Torre
Christopher de la Torre
Ethical Technology

Posted: Aug 18, 2012

Right now the Higgs boson discovery seems little more than a spasm of speculation, but the recent event follows a progression—a hidden connection between technology, spirituality and self-awareness—that’s tough to ignore.

According to theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, it’s too early for any practical applications: “The Higgs boson is more or less useful for technology in the near term. It decays very quickly. It doesn’t hang around. You make one, and then in one zepto-second it turns into other kinds of particles. That’s one thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. Fifty years from now, 100 years from now, we might have very clever ideas. That’s what happened with a little thing called electricity” [1].

So what, then, might this scientific discovery mean for spirituality? Author of The Spiritual Universe, Dr. Fred Alan Wolf:

“According to Plato, the mere fact that someone is embodied makes our perceptions somewhat distorted, somewhat inaccurate, somewhat of an illusion ... The findings of quantum physics increasingly support Plato. There is evidence that suggests the existence of a non-material, non-physical universe that has a reality even though it may not as yet be clearly perceptible to our senses and scientific instrumentation. When we consider out-of-body experiences, shamanic journeys and lucid dream states, though they cannot be replicated in the true scientific sense, they also point to the existence of non-material dimensions of reality” [2].

Too spiritual? Albert Einstein, the man responsible for the Theory of Relatively, would have routinely seen, or at least felt, something the rest of us couldn’t. Germany, 1933. It took fierce intuition to know when to get out before Hitler and his cronies would make a colossal mess of things—an easy target for the brain that reconciled Newtonian mechanics (inertia, force, acceleration) with light, electricity, and magnetism [3].

Nearly a century later, it’s anyone’s guess as to where we’re headed with the Higgs boson, but it’s likely the father of modern physics expected the inevitable when he recognized reality as “an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” [4]. Einstein felt at home with the invisible. Yet, although metaphysics and particle physics may have more in common than science is willing to consider, it does little to change the fact that we’re still likely to discount what we cannot see—something empirical research has taught us over time.

Our relationship with the universe is rapidly changing as we approach the Singularity—a period futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil says “will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself” [5]. Ever since Jaron Lanier [6] founded VPL Research in the early 1980s, virtual reality (VR), has shaped how we think of cities, war, education and social process, even our bodies.

Donna Haraway and Anne Balsamo later connected culture, technology and the reconstituted body, challenging our longstanding beliefs about the gendered self [7,8], while MIT professor Sherry Turkle, Internet scholar Annette Markham and others explored social identity construction, documenting our online interactions, bringing to light a “proliferated self” we had never seen; one person could live as many, existence no longer confined to space and time [9,10].

Einstein’s words implied that nothing is ever as it seems, that everything is always-already open to augmentation, change, transformation—even matter itself. What the genius could not account for was a complete theory of the universe—a single formula to explain the behavior of all matter and energy everywhere. His Unified Field Theory eluded him until he died in 1955. As we further deconstruct consciousness and explore the space within space, what will we find? Will we master the art of deity or find that we are, in fact, intelligently designed?

The last 30 years gave us a deeper understanding of systems, and revised models of artificial intelligence (AI) instilled within us a deeper connection to community. In the new millennium we again see the value of working and living together, and we now have the means to produce and progress more efficiently than before.

In fact, within a very short time, we have claimed the role of creator/destroyer (weapons of mass destruction, the Human Genome Project, synthetic life)—a role we have traditionally relegated to “God” [11]. We believe we are not alone in the universe, and we now consider the possibly of intelligent design. Man creates God, man destroys man, man destroys God, man becomes God, man (as God) creates man. Meanwhile, time has become short, despite an increasing list of potentialities.

In “Are you living in a computer simulation?”, philosopher Nick Bostrom offers an alternate reality in which humans are part of a grand “ancestor simulation”, run by advanced descendants of the race we were made to simulate [12]. Bostrom says the argument “provides a stimulus for formulating some methodological and metaphysical questions, and it suggests naturalistic analogies to certain traditional religious conceptions”—more reason to reconcile spirit with matter. Let’s just say that we are part of a simulated reality. Simulated existence would imply a genuine desire on the part of our descendants to achieve ethical equilibrium, and in itself require a level of ubiquitous technology that facilitates control down to the tiniest particle.

In the process of becoming “self-aware”, the simulant would be endowed, naturally or otherwise, with a greater sense of accountability and autonomy—both notoriously problematic in the current paradigm. If technology were to become truly ubiquitous, the simulated body could be transformed into a substrate and join with other simulants to perform complex “reactions”. In a simulated reality where multiple dimensions coincide, time, space and energy could be harnessed through willpower alone. It’s the ultimate creation fantasy where body, spirit and mind converge in a brilliant array of creative potential.

The simulation argument implies that human self-awareness, ever tightly bound to its own perspective (through waking life, subconsciousness and virtual habitation), is analogous to merging technological imagination with lived experience, making reality an illusion at times and at others, illusion a reality. Augmented reality (AR) will soon require an unprecedented level of responsibility on the part of the user. As enlightened human beings continue to acclimate, shifting perceptions of “self” and “other” will flow with greater spontaneity and elasticity, much like the proposed mechanics of String Theory—the controversial theoretical model to which Higgs boson closely relates.

This suggests that any reality coincides with its respective dimension or set of dimensions. By importing elements of VR into real-life settings, AR functions as a bridge between potential and kinetic immersion—a gateway between what we consider the physical world and the dream world. This is, of course, based almost entirely on what we can process through standard and augmented vision.

Mediating the space between objects and ubiquitous technology is in part the basis for Sight, the short futuristic film by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo. The technological neutrality of the story illustrates how science and society are not mutually exclusive, meaning AR applications may be used for good or evil, depending on any combination of factors. Likewise, the mystery of the Higgs boson represents a conjuring of unearthly forces—the application of metaphysical data from other dimensions for entertainment, medicine and industrial purposes that, as of yet, remain undefined. As the film suggests, users are expected to consume responsibly, despite the current paradigm which promotes passivity and adolescence.

Sight from Sight Systems on Vimeo.

What does all of this mean for reality going forward? If energy is at the heart of material formation and change, and individuals have the power to invoke that change, now is a good time to explore our collective understanding of “authentic” and how immediacy and “real-time” communication shape what we consider “real” and what we consider “illusion”. It’s helpful to work within a paradigm in which the self looks not to supersede externality, but rather to absorb it. In the end the difference between reality and illusion, mediated by the spirit within, may continue to elude us. We may never know what comprises the “space within space”. Regardless, this new era of physics is likely to teach us as much about our bodies as it does the universe.

 

Notes

[1] From Science Friday 7/6/12: Interview with Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe http://www.npr.org/2012/07/06/156380366/at-long-last-the-higgs-particle-maybe

[2] From Experiencing the Soul: Before Birth, During Life, After Death, Edited by Eliot Jay Rosen

[3] James Clerk Maxwell’s proposition that light was an electromagnetic wave that moved independently of its source, also generally known as the “speed of light” (or “lightspeed” to Trekkies)

[4] see Albert Einstein, Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

[5] From The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil http://singularity.com/aboutthebook.html

[6] see Jaron Lanier, homepage http://www.jaronlanier.com/

[7] see “A Cyborg Manifesto” by Donna Haraway

[8] see Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women by Anne Balsamo http://www8.georgetown.edu/centers/cndls/applications/postertool/index.cfm?fuseaction=poster.display&posterID=3851

[9] see Sherry Turkle, homepage http://www.mit.edu/~sturkle/

[10] see Annette Markham, homepage http://www.markham.internetinquiry.org/

[11] Despite sensationalism, the Higgs boson is not to be referred to as the “God” particle. The particle, as a force beyond reckoning, may lend itself to “savior/destroyer” imagery, but the boson has no relation to the Christian deity or its tangent beliefs.

[12] From “Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?” by Nick Bostrom http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html

 


Images

Image 1 A computer-generated image shows a typical proton collision of the kind that produced evidence of a particle thought to be the Higgs boson. Image from “A Blip That Speaks of Our Place in the Universe” by Lawrence M. Krauss, July 2012.

Image 2 IEET Contributor Christopher de la Torre with Ray Kurzweil at the 2010 Humanity+ Summit, Harvard.

Image 3 “Lips” by Kuzuo Ooka

Video “Sight” by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo, Bezaleal Academy of Arts, 2012. http://vimeo.com/46304267

 


Christopher de la Torre writes about science and cyberculture. Follow him on Twitter @urbanmolecule.
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COMMENTS


“Man creates God, man destroys man, man destroys God, man becomes God, man (as God) creates man.”

Precisely! (IF? We stick around long enough)

We need to get some T-Shirts printed!





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