Sometimes, when I’m a little stuck with a story or editing or both, I relax with a bit of metaphysics. Sometimes it wanders into areas that might more accurately be referred to as paraphysics. Really, really weird stuff that seems to make some kind of sense but might not… You know, the sort of things that lead to ideas for horrible stories.
This time I came across something that was a little close to home, considering the way Panoptica and other stories seem to come to life as I write them. The idea that consciousness actually shapes the universe – all of it – and with no observer, the entire universe would be a chaotic quantum foam.
Well, this right away opens a ‘chicken and egg’ paradox. If the universe cannot exist without an observer, then there must be an observer before the universe can exist. But then if the observer is to observe, the universe must already be there in order to be observed.
Is this insoluble? No, as long as you can comfortably hold the idea of a pre-universe space in which there is no time and simultaneously infinite time. The size of the pre-universe space also does not matter. It can be as big as the current universe or a pinprick in a void from our current perspective. Inside, it’s still the universe. Space, like time, need not exist and at the same time there can be an infinity of both. Isn’t this fun?
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the concept that there was no such thing as time before the universe existed. Nothing was happening, nothing was changing, so nothing marked any passage of time. Note that this works whether you believe in the Big Bang or in Creation. There was nothing in the form of matter as we know it before the universe, so there was no ‘time’.
Now this is where it gets a bit freaky. ‘Zero time’ and ‘Infinite time’ are the same thing. If your mind was disconnected from all sensory input of any kind for a fraction of a second, disconnected entirely from not only your body but from the whole fabric of spacetime, you would experience infinity. Your mind would have nothing to latch onto, nothing to measure, no input – nothing is changing, nothing is moving, there’s just pure thought at the speed of thought with no limits of any kind. Every thought is simultaneous, every memory is recalled. With no sensory input your mind is likely to try to find something in the past to latch onto – if it finds nothing it’s just going to start making shit up.
Assuming you came out of the experience still sane, you’d at least be confused for a while. It seemed you were away for so very, very long but the hands on the clock have not moved. It’s doubtful that a human mind could cope with that kind of experience. We’re used to an orderly progression of time and a logical (even if sometimes bizarre) sequence of events.
I’m sure most people have heard of Boltzmann brains too. It’s known that tiny subatomic particles spontaneously pop into and out of existence in the vacuum of space. The theory goes that given infinite time, eventually those particles will appear in the form of a chair, a table, or a porcelain corgi. Extraordinarily unlikely of course but given infinite time it cannot be ruled out. It’s similar to the infinite number of monkeys with typewriters, all bashing at the keys – eventually they’ll hit the key combinations that produce the works of Shakespeare.
The Boltzmann brain is one such absurdly unlikely spontaneous appearance. A fully functioning brain popping into existence in deep space.
Well, we can’t consider it a human brain or the story ends here. A human brain popping into existence in deep space wouldn’t have time to think “What the f-” before it froze solid or died from oxygen starvation. Probably both at once. So we’re considering instead a conscious ‘object’ or ‘being’ of some kind. Let’s call it the ‘Observer’. Something that can cope with being conscious in a vacuum and can also cope with simultaneous zero time/infinity.
Our Observer must clearly fit both requirements by dint of its theoretical existence. Any other consciousness that popped into existence that failed one of the requirements would instantly die.
In order for this to happen at all, the quantum particles required to make it happen must already exist. So that solves the ‘chicken and egg’. The quantum chaos was there first. Whether it was the size of the universe or compressed into a point is irrelevant. Time, how long this tiny point of matter existed, is also irrelevant. There was no such thing as time, therefore there was infinity for our Observer to finally pop into existence. From our newly-popped-into-existence Observer, the universe is all there is and its size is of no consequence. The Observer will expand along with the universe, but currently fits inside it. Also, the Observer was ‘born’ into zero/infinite time and can therefore cope perfectly well with it without going bonkers.
In fact, this idea works best of all if the Observer occupies almost all of that universe. We can then use dark matter to explain the Observer’s existence later. We can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t see us.
Well, it has to be able to see us. If we weren’t being observed we wouldn’t exist, according to this idea.
So. The offshoot of quantum mechanics is that we affect every observation by the mere act of observing it. Saying ‘but the machine observes it’ doesn’t cut the mustard. We built the machine for the purpose of making the observation. We are still the observers.
Of course, we are only the observers at a local level – or are we? All those distant galaxies, the background microwave radiation, the entire universe… was it there before we looked? Or was it in multiple possible states before we looked?
Was the Earth really both flat and round before we measured its curvature and forced it into one state? Maybe it was a cube. But then we had already observed the ball-shapes of other stars and planets so we would assume it was round and perhaps that assumption made it so. We can never know, and that’s the fun of speculation.
At the beginning though, when the quantum chaos finally brought the Observer into existence, the quantum chaos was no more. The act of Observing forced it to collapse into a fixed state. At the very instant of observation. Maybe that’s what made the Big Bang happen – maybe it couldn’t stay compressed when all those particles were forced into a fixed state.
The Observer would have seen gas clouds form and collapse into stars and glalaxies. Things were changing in a logical sequence and so now Time exists. That’s not a creation of the Observer – not directly – but a consequence of Observation. Forcing the quantum foam into discrete particles by observing them means those particles now have distinct properties. The rest just happens.
Stars explode, new particles come into the void from those explosions, planets form, life starts, life starts observing things of its own, particles still collapse on observation, and all because an Observer looked at the quantum chaos. You can believe it was directed by a God, or you can believe the Observer just looked at it and went ‘Oops’ as it all exploded. Once you go back past the beginning of the universe it’s all guesswork and theory anyway. We still can’t prove the universe wasn’t sneezed out by the Great Green Arkleseizure and we’ll never be able to. The beginning of the universe is a theoretical playtime for all.
So let’s say all that dark matter out there is in fact the original Observer. Still looking at things, still forcing them to stay in one state byt the mere act of observing them. We exist in a stable form on a stable planet because the Observer sees us.
Now. Imagine what happens if the Observer looks the other way…
Halfway through this I mentioned to CStM that I was writing a mad theory about the origin of the universe. She replied “What? The orange at the end of the universe?” Yeah, I don’t really have a good voice for radio…
Now I’ll have to write that story. I have the ending already –
As the last star faded into darkness and the few remaining humans stared into the abyss, waiting for their failing suits to deliver one final breath, a face appeared in the heavens and a voice resounded in their ears.
“Hey hey hey, my droogies. No more crasting for you, eh? It’s been a real horrorshow ride though, yes?”
And the last words uttered by the final breath of humanity were…