To be honest, I'm somewhat disappointed with the Big Bang Theory. The biggest problem is what caused the Big Bang and what happened before. Efforts to dismiss those questions by claiming time didn't exist before the Big Bang smell suspiciously like a cop out. The proponents of this view have clearly taken a leaf out of religion. When some great disaster occurs and people ask why God would allow something like that, the standard response is that it's all part of God's master plan. And, being his children, we're not privy to that. When they proposed the Big Bang theory scientists neatly painted themselves into a corner. Faced with answering questions they couldn't answer, some scientists decided they'd simply ignore them. Perhaps hoping they might go away. Or that we might take their patently desperate explanations at face value.
Fortunately, help is at hand. In the shape of an idiot savant called Hubert. Hubert has come up with an explanation so simple that any question of what happened before simply doesn't exist. If you'll excuse the pun. Let me stress here and now that Hubert's theory is only that: a theory. Hubert doesn't give a toss whether you believe it or not. That's entirely your choice. Hubert's theory is based on the concept of Absolute Nothingness, or AN. To explain his theory, Hubert describes AN as nothingness to the power of nothingness. Hubert would like to stress that AN is not space itself. Because even space contains something. No, unlike space, AN is an absolute vacuum. Now, according to Hubert, Absolute Nothingness cannot exist simply because there's nothing there to exist. Indeed, to even say it exists would be an absolute contradiction in terms.
"Remember," said Hubert, "no cosmologist has yet discovered the existence of AN out there. In fact the entire universe appears to contain at least something." Hubert went on to point out that his theory is self-proving. The fact that the universe exists proves that AN doesn't. There are those, said Hubert, who will object to this line of reasoning. "In that case," he said, "let them provide conclusive proof that my theory is impossible." At this point I must warn any protestors that Hubert is a hard taskmaster. In his definition, "conclusive proof" means proof that no reasonable person can refute. In other words, every reasonable person on earth would have to agree that it was impossible. Hubert said he wanted me to stress this point because it applied to all the other theories he was about to put forward.
Hubert then went on to argue that if AN couldn't exist, then its opposite must. In other words, Absolute Something-ness, or AS.
"You mean the universe?" I said.
Hubert shrugged, stating he preferred to think of the universe as a part of AS. So what is AS? Hubert said he didn't know. But he speculated that AS might either be consciousness or it might contain consciousness. A state of absolute consciousness. Hubert reckoned consciousness was nothing more than energy. Hubert, explained there are different types of energy – mechanical, electrical, chemical, etc. So why not conscious? Hubert acknowledges that there are those who'd dismiss this theory. Indeed, there are some who would question the very existence of consciousness. But they don't worry Hubert one little bit. In fact, he said they were entitled to their views and he would hope they'd extend the same courtesy to him. Unless one of them could find conclusive scientific evidence that Hubert's theory was false, they'd have to accept that it was a possibility no matter how unlikely that possibility was.
Having dealt with his detractors, Hubert said he chose consciousness because in that way AS could be aware of itself. To paraphrase Descartes, "I'm aware therefore I exist." And even if AS had no self-awareness, according to Hubert, even the existence of a one-cell organism would be enough to keep things ticking over. "Ah!" I cried. "What happened before life was created?" Hubert wasn't phased. He said that when talking about AS, we're talking about something that is absolutely infinite. Infinity to the power of infinity. Therefore some form of life must always exist within it! From the simplest to the most advanced. The sheer audacity of Hubert's theory was beginning to numb my mind. The possibility that it could be that simple was utterly unacceptable. I was just glad I wasn't Stephen Hawking. Imagine someone with an intellect like his being forced to accept that the most fundamental question of all is so simple that any dork could grasp it!
So I tried to change the subject by mentioning some of theories put forward in that excellent book, Supernatural, I'd recently finished reading it and it had struck a chord. Hubert said he found them fascinating. He just wished he could read. Unfortunately, that ability fell within the "idiot" part of his condition. I then told him I'd achieved at least some of the hallucinogenic effects mentioned by Hancock by applying a slight pressure to the eyeballs. I've created some stunning geometric patterns including a very detailed snakeskin. I've also produced some high tech images. In fact some years ago whilst lying on the couch with my eyes closed I observed pages containing highly detailed technical drawings of various bits of machinery, (unfortunately they didn't seem alien and I wasn't able to construct the ray gun I've always been dreaming about. Or the X-Ray Specs that actually work!) Nevertheless, I confessed the experience had alarmed me. Especially since it occurred when I was applying no pressure at all! Whoever and whatever was feeding me this data was wasting their time. Maybe they got their lines crossed and the lottery numbers that should have come to me went instead to some engineer dozing over his blueprints. Hubert asked if I had any other skills in that department. I told him I could produce different colours at will. I even contemplated using these skills to make money. Marvo – the Amazing Inner Illusionist! I'd ask members of the public to pick a colour and then imagine it.
Hubert was puzzled. He felt my act would demand a certain amount of trust on the part of the punters, seeing I'd be the only one who was able to observe these effects. I told Hubert I was sure I'd make a decent living. Given the popularity of TV shows like Big Brother there were plenty of people willing to accept any old rubbish you throw at them. Alas, my stab at satire fell on stony ground. Instead Hubert began to wonder how big those images were. He assumed that they must have had some sort of physical reality in order to be observed. When I told him I'd always though they were non-physical, Hubert shook his head. "If a thing has no physical properties whatsoever, what is there to see? A non-physical object has no size, no mass, no weight, no temperature, no shape, no colour…so how can it be observed? So Hubert reckoned it was only reasonable to wonder about the size of these images. He started by contemplating the images we see whilst we're awake. "In that state," Hubert said, "we describe as reality. Which doesn't really help us very much because reality, like time, is relative."
"In what way?" I asked.
"One man's reality may be another man's illusion," Hubert replied. " A blind man's reality would differ from a sighted person. Even variations in eyesight can cause alterations in so-called reality. And then there are the other senses to consider. Not to mentions Mr Hancock's hallucinogenic cocktails." Hubert sensed he was losing me, so he stopped. "I digress," he said. He then asked me to describe what I could see in front of me. We were standing in the park overlooking the bowling green. In the distance some trees and bushes and behind them a line of old Victorian houses. After describing the scene, Hubert told me that I couldn't be seeing the image inside my head because it was just too big. Of course, we're told that the optic nerve turns the images into a series of electrical signals that are carried to the brain. And, in the brain, these signals are then decoded and turned into the image we see. "Surely not a life size image inside the brain," said Hubert. "Otherwise our heads would burst." For a moment I imagined how far evolution would have got if it had chosen that route.
"Then just how," asked Hubert, "does the image we see appear to be outside the brain that is decoding it?" Hubert reckoned that if it was merely an illusion, then it was a very good one. Because the images we see outside our heads are definitely life size. We can prove that by measuring them. According to Hubert, we're forced to concede that these images really do exist outside the head. So when the brain decodes them, what does it do next? Does it project them back out? The point he wanted to make was that dreams are different. To all intents and purposes dreams appear to occur inside our heads – otherwise other people would see them. "And what sort of a world would that be?" he asked.
"A pretty weird one," I said. "I mean. imagine telling someone you dreamed about them and the person saying, 'Yes, I saw it.'"
"Or," said Hubert, "what about that dream when you're standing naked on a crowded street?" We shuddered. "In a world like that," Hubert observed, "sensible people would be reluctant to go to sleep."
The joking over, Hubert turned to serious matters. Why are the images we see awake observed outside ourselves and dream images are said to be inside? After all, both are decoded in the brain. So where do dream images come from? And what about the images seen in hallucinations? In dreams and hallucinations our eyes become redundant. So what is sending these coded messages down the optic nerve? We know, for example, that hallucinatory images are associated with chemical activity in the brain. "However," said Hubert. "Something else is required. And that is consciousness." At this point I began to wonder why we dream at all. Because the existence of two separate images – real and unreal – just confuses the issue. Hubert shrugged and told me that so far no one had produced any conclusive scientific evidence to answer that question. All we have are plenty of theories ranging from the scientific to the ridiculous. Hubert went on to say that things are even more confusing when you remembered that some hallucinations occur during the waking state when the eyes are open…and that these false images occur outside ourselves.
I was able to give an example of this by describing an experience I'd had that very morning. I was lying in bed looking at the window. At one point my eyes unfocused and I saw two images. A portion of the window was superimposed on the real one – only this portion was at a 20-degree angle! Both images existed outside my head, yet only one could be seen by another person. Did this mean that reality and my so-called "inner space" both existed in the same place? Hubert smiled. "We'll get to that later. Let's concentrate on a more practical matter." Hubert said he was referring to the precise size of the images seen in dreams and hallucinations. Because, when one considers the question of size, one runs into a paradox. "Of course," said Hubert. "The paradox may be of our own making."
"How d'you mean?" I asked.
Hubert explained that we often forget that language was created by us humans. And, because humans are fallible, our language will not be perfect. He therefore regarded paradoxes as Nature's way of telling us that. If our language was perfect there would be no paradoxes and we would be able to explain everything. "It may be," said Hubert, "that the term "size" is insufficient to describe this particular process. Of course, being absolutely infinite AS would have no concept of size. Something absolutely infinite is both the smallest thing that can be and the biggest. Indeed, it's so non-sized that you can fit an infinite number of universes inside it."
I told him he was merely confusing the issue. "Then," he conceded, "let us assume the term "size" is sufficient for our needs." He told me to imagine I was having a dream and I found myself standing outside a large Victorian house – like the ones in the distance. If it did exist in the brain then it certainly couldn't exist as a life-sized image. Instead, it would have to be very small indeed. Because there isn't much spare room in our brains. "Unless you're a politician," I said. "In which case you'd probably get a whole city in there."
Hubert found the idea interesting. "Perhaps our heads are like Dr Who's Tardis," he said. Actually, I felt that would explain it. The problem, of course, is that the Tardis is fiction. "Yet might it actually be true?" remarked Hubert. I replied that if it was true, I hoped I didn't have two people in there. Hubert responded by wondering if that was the cause of those auditory hallucinations. That the voices actually were real! We were clearly getting carried away. So we decided that if dream images did exist inside our brains then they must be incredibly small. At least the size of atoms if not smaller. Which means we must have a built in microscope, said Hubert. The only other logical explanation was that these images occurred in what we refer to as our "inner space." Which brought us right back to the Tardis theory.
Hubert confessed that the problem of where we see dreams and hallucinations had been bugging him for some time. Idiot savants don't have job like the rest of us, so they have plenty of time to mull things over. "The popular belief," said Hubert, "was that they existed in our "inner selves." Whatever that might be."
"Sounds reasonable to me," I said.
Hubert gave me a withering look. "That's only because we dream with our eyes shut. At least I do. If we were to dream with them open, I suspect the dream images would be superimposed on what we call reality."
"Like that skewed portion of the window I saw."
"Precisely," said Hubert. "So we have to accept that somehow the brain projects false images onto real ones. Like a projector creates a film on a screen."
I wondered if it were possible to memorise a whole feature film, like "Lord of the Rings" and play it back as you were walking down the street. "You're thinking of turning us into human I-Pods," said Hubert. We had a good laugh about that.
"Actually, the Tardis theory may have some truth in it," said Hubert. "For there's another possible explanation. That reality and our 'inner space' were both in the same place. I think they are." He then asked me to recall the extra ingredient required to create the images we see. "It's consciousness that allows us to be aware of images," said Hubert. "For that is what "seeing" is. It's an awareness of something. Hubert explained that he didn't know if AS was composed of consciousness or if consciousness merely existed within it. "That's not important," he said. "For argument's sake we'll call it Absolute Consciousness to indicate that this is the total amount of existing conscious energy." By calling consciousness a form of energy Hubert was saying that it could neither be destroyed nor created. This would fit in neatly with his AN/AS theory.
"However," he went on, "we haven't quite finished yet. We need to add one more quality to it and that is intelligence."
"So, basically, your entire theory hangs on the existence of a form of intelligent conscious energy?" I said.
Hubert nodded. "We'll call it Universal Conscious Intelligence or, UCI." Hubert said the idea had occurred to him when he heard that some quantum physicists believed that we created the universe simply by observing it. "So what if the universe we observe has been created by UCI?"
"Wait a minute!" I cried as his words sank in. "In that case, people could argue that your UCI is actually God."
Hubert laughed. "God with a difference. This God didn't create us, we're part of it. We ourselves are God, albeit in a very minor fashion. So when we pray to God we're merely praying to ourselves. And those who claim to have heard God's voice are simply talking to themselves. I pointed out that if he was right, then Richard Dawkins would find himself in a rather embarrassing position. He'd be arguing that he himself was a delusion. No doubt his publishers would welcome that because they could stop paying him royalties. Hubert looked blank and I realised he probably hadn't read that book. Seeing he couldn't read.
"Think of it as UCI's Grand Dream," Hubert said. "Technically speaking it's not a dream because it represents what we consider to be reality. But the term, "Grand Dream" is a nice catchy one. And this Grand Dream contained the Big Bang, (if that particular theory survives), leading to the creation of planet earth and resulting in the emergence of organic life. Leading eventually to us human beings. Each of these organic life forms use a small portion of UCI which gives them awareness. Of course, because we use only small portions of UCI, we humans can't see the whole picture. In other words, the universe would initially be a total mystery to us."
I remarked that his theory was certainly a fascinating one. But what evidence did he have to support it? "The fact that we're able to dream," said Hubert. "Not just ordinary dreams, but dreams so vivid that to all appearances they're real. We dream because we're mimicking what UCI can do. And we can't help but create these alternative realities because that's what our consciousness is built to do, albeit – in our case – at a much smaller level."
"So," I said. "Basically you're saying that we're living in a virtual world created by UCI. Just like that film, "The Matrix."
Hubert nodded. "Except, instead of actually existing inside a giant battery charger, we exist as pure UCI. And the feeling that we're individuals is pure illusion. It's all part of the Grand Dream. The truth is we all share the same consciousness. Which may explain the phenomena we call telepathy. This occurs when we partially awake and, in doing so, our consciousness merges briefly with another's."
Hubert could see I was sceptical, although the thought of being "The One" was rather appealing. "I wonder if I can dodge bullets," I mused. Hubert looked alarmed. "Not in this virtual universe. Not only have we as UCI constructed this virtual world, we've also constructed scientific laws to explain it. Along with certain rules. Just like the rules that govern the virtual worlds created in computer games."
"So now we're living in a computer game?" I said.
"No," said Hubert. "UCI is not a computer in any physical sense. Computers are machines that merely emulate what UCI can do. And the only one playing this game is ourselves. Your problem is that my theory implies that none of this is real. But you're wrong. This is reality. The fact that this may be a Grand Dream changes nothing. The universe we observe remains exactly the same. Scientists can consider my theory to be totally irrelevant. Why? Because the only thing that needs concern them is how the Grand Dream works. So what if it is a Grand Dream? Who cares? If my theory is false it changes nothing. And if my theory is true, then no amount of disbelief will change that fact. So why worry about it?"
"I'm not too happy about being in a Grand Dream," I said. "I love playing those RPG's on the computer. You know, the Role Playing Games. Like Dungeons and Dragons. You're out there with a band of like-minded heroes slaying goblins and evil wizards. A better term would be Virtual Reality."
"How about Virtually True Reality, or VTR," said Hubert.
"I'll go with that," I said.
I told Hubert that his theory actually produced a number of analogies with the world of computers. Alarming analogies. "Alarming?" asked Hubert. "In what way?"
"I hate to think I'm taking part in some ultimate version of "The Sims!"
I explained the game to him and Hubert nodded. "Art imitating reality," he observed dryly. "Of course," he said, "we must keep the analogy with computer games in perspective. In VTR we're playing for real, computer games are merely a relaxation." He went on to postulate that when we dream or hallucinate we're not entering a different conscious state, but taking a rest from what we term reality. At this point Hubert reminded me that his theory depended on the premise that all conscious living beings were just part of UCI as a whole. Our "conscious" part, that is. And that the feeling that we're individuals is an illusion. An illusion created by the brain. "Think of the brain," said Hubert, "As an organic version of those virtual reality goggles people wear. They merely enable us to partake in the VTR we've created for ourselves." When we relax and cease concentrating on VTR, either because we're going to sleep or because of chemical influences in the brain, the goggles power down and we begin to observe alternate realities. Because this is our natural function. UCI creates realities…period."
"In other words," I said, "we replace one virtual reality with another."
"Unfortunately, yes," said Hubert. "It seems UCI gets no rest at all."
"You mean we get no rest at all," I replied.
"Yes, it is rather confusing." Hubert said if his theory was true it meant that people suffering from mental illness were actually using defective goggles. I told Hubert that maybe we – as UCI – should improve our quality control. Hubert shook his head. "We have to take the bad as well as the good. Remember, this VTR is programmed to contain imperfections." Hubert then came up with the disturbing news that UCI – in other words us – creates evil as well as good. That UCI was responsible for creating Auschwitz and all those other horrors. "After all, you can't argue that we weren't responsible for that," observed Hubert.
"UCI was responsible," I said.
"We are UCI," Hubert replied.
"Okay," I said. "So what about someone who's in a coma. You know, when the goggles really malfunction. If they eventually awake they always remember nothing. Surely if they were creating alternate realities they'd remember them."
"You have a valid point," said Hubert. "And I've attempted to answer that one in my other theory. The one about the Absolute Law of Everything, or ALE. This is the law that governs UCI and states that whatever can be, will be. So, if it's possible for a physical reality to exist then it will exist. The proof, if you need it, is all around us. It's a self-verifying theory. And if it's possible for that physical reality to contain a pair of organic goggles that will enable UCI to observe this physical reality, then those goggles will eventually exist. When I said UCI has created this VTR it has done so using fundamental materials that have always existed. And they've always existed because they're all part of that state I called Absolute Something-ness. Surely you can see that?"
I thought I'd detected a flaw in his reasoning. "But before these goggles arrived – before organic life emerged on this planet – they didn't exist!"
"Not in their present form," said Hubert calmly. "But the fundamental elements that go into making them existed. What are you having for dinner tonight?"
His question puzzled me. "My wife wants to make a nice curry. Why?"
Hubert smiled. "Right now, that curry doesn't exist. But the ingredients to make it do. It's the same thing."
It all sounded too simplistic, so I decided to return to the question of morality. "All right," I said. "That means UCI – in other words we -selected two bits of ourselves to play the role of Fred West and his obnoxious wife. That UCI – we – selected a bit of ourselves to come up with Harold Shipman!"
"And Ghandi," said Hubert. "And Martin Luther King. The good and the bad. UCI as a whole exists outside of VTR. Out there the concept of good and evil doesn't apply. Outside VTR there's just an infinite amount of something-ness. Good and evil are concepts UCI has created. And you can't have the one without the other. Like it or not, it's part of this reality. VTR ensures that UCI gets the whole experience. Pleasure as well as pain."
Hubert said that another possibility was we could replay our own lives. And by doing so make certain changes, just to see what would happen. Hubert based this on his theory that the past cannot disappear into nothingness because nothingness cannot exist. So the entire past is out there somewhere. Probably contained within UCI's more than ample frame. For example, by reliving these past "games of life" we could rectify mistakes. Of course, at the level of player we'd have no memory of what had happened in our previous game. However, at a higher level of consciousness these memories would remain. And we'd be able to tap into them in a very limited way. Either consciously or unconsciously. So when we came to a crisis point we'd have one of those "hunches" about what to do next. Not all hunches would be correct. UCI needs to know everything that can go wrong as well as right. This would explain the phenomena known as déjà vu. It would also explain cases of precognition.
As for the question of good and evil, Hubert said UCI could have created a Shangri-la…a Utopia where nothing bad ever happened. But just imagine how boring that would be? "No, said Hubert, "Like it or not, in this VTR there's a constant struggle between the forces of good and evil. Some of us play the good guys, others play the bad guys. Just like in those computer games."
"Wait a minute!" I cried. "This theory of yours is just another form of creationism!"
"Of our own creation," Hubert replied. "This is what we're collectively dreaming. Not the piddling little individual dreams we have. The ones no one else can see. But the dream of an infinite amount of conscious intelligence."
"Okay, Mister Cleverclogs," I said. "What about evolution? Some scientists reckon that's proof against creationism."
"I imagine a computer can be programmed to emulate a process of evolution similar to the one you're talking about. So UCI would have no problem at all dreaming something like that up. And why? Because it's a perfect way to create a whole range of different species. Some of who will survive, others won't. Evolution is blind because it's meant to be blind."
I still looked sceptical, so Hubert asked me to imagine how evolution came about. Surely not as a result of evolution itself. Because there are far better ways of doing it. "Survival of the fittest," said Hubert. "And there are far fitter ways of doing it than to resort to evolution which is both time consuming and wasteful."
"It came about by pure chance."
"And how did pure chance come about?" asked Hubert with an impish grin. "Surely not by pure chance itself. And what is pure chance? It merely refers to something that cannot be explained. But if you had infinite knowledge pure chance would cease to exist. And so would coincidence. Everything could be explained."
"But we don't have infinite knowledge," I said. "You might, but I don't."
Hubert ignored my feeble effort at sarcasm. "But infinite knowledge is theoretically possible. That means it's theoretically possible pure chance doesn't exist. Or maybe it's our imperfect language that's at fault. And the term "pure chance" is flawed."
We were getting into deep water again. Far deeper that I liked. "I've just had a thought," I said.
"I hope it hasn't done any permanent damage," observed Hubert.
"These life games we play," I said. "Where we take on specific roles. Do we have any choice in those roles? After all, I'd hate to take on the role of some character who comes to a nasty end. And if we had no choice, that could imply we don't have any free will."
"Ah," said Hubert. "But if you believed you had free will you could fool yourself into thinking you did. And how do you prove it? You can't. At least not at this level. So the question is irrelevant. If I were to kick you in the goolies, I could say I was programmed to do that or I could say I did it just for the hell of it. The point is, free will or not, you'd still be writhing in agony."
I decided to change the subject. "There could be a way of proving this," I said. I told him about this article I'd read some time ago in the "New Scientist." There was speculation whether the concept created by the film, "The Matrix" could be reality. This led to a suggestion that one way of finding out would be to look for anomalies. Things that couldn't be explained by science. These would indicate glitches or bugs in the master program.
"I can think of quite a few anomalies," said Hubert.
I mentioned another article in the "New Scientist" in which some professor proposed that when you strip everything else away from the universe you're left with mathematics. In other words, the universe is constructed out of mathematics. "And isn't there something else that creates virtual worlds using mathematics?" asked Hubert. I gave a whistle. "Wow! Do you think someone's trying to tell us something?"
"We're trying to tell ourselves something," corrected Hubert. "And it looks like UCI's using the "New Scientist" to get its message across. I just wish I could read."
"Your theory sounds fascinating," I said. "But I'm sure, if we think about it, we'll find some flaws."
"Of course you'll find flaws!" cried Hubert. "Nothing in VTR is perfect. "Not only that, VTR allows us to come up with any number of theories about why and how it exists. Some reasonable, others not. And we each pick the one we think is closest to the truth. If you want to believe in my theory, go right ahead. If you want to disbelieve it, then do so. The choice is yours."
"But surely one theory must be true?" I said. "What about this Theory of Everything scientists are on about?"
"It's just a theory," said Hubert. "Like mine and all the others. Of course, they may be able to prove it's a fact by constructing a universe in the laboratory. In a huge flask. One containing intelligent life on another planet earth. And this intelligent life in the flask will come up with it's own Theory of Everything and prove it by creating another universe in a small flask – and so on, ad infinitum. And then there's the theory that this is just one universe in an infinite number of them. So how do you come up with a Theory of Everything to cover that one? Let alone start proving it."
"Hmm," I said. "That would be a bit of a problem."
"We're just an infinitesimal portion of UCI and that means our ability to gain knowledge is limited. There will always be things we'll never know. Only that won't stop us trying to find them out. Why? Because the game of reality played in VTR has to go on. If we suddenly knew everything there is to know…"
"Our goggles would explode!"
"Something like that," laughed Hubert. "Anyway, philosophical concepts like truth and reality only exist within VTR where they perform a specific purpose. Outside of VTR there's just…something."
At this point the Carer arrived to escort Hubert back to the home. It had been an interesting conversation. And one that left me totally confused. Hubert had argued that those who refuse to believe anything could be that simple were merely contradicting themselves. Because if they were right, then it would have been impossible for Hubert to come up with such a simple theory. The fact that he had doesn't prove that things are that simple, but that they could be. On the other hand, scientists are always saying that Nature prefers simplicity. And what could possibly be simpler than this?