Let me get a little nerdy, if you don’t “mind.” 😉
In my last post I suggested that not only are mass and energy unified as mass-energy, and space and time are unified in spacetime, but that mass-energy and spacetime might also be so unified as a single thing, a Singularity. And it seems Einstein already showed us this.
If mass-energy and spacetime really are a unified whole, then it seems spacetime must also appear somewhere in Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc² (energy = mass * speed of light, squared).
And sure enough, it does!
It’s right there in the c variable, the speed of light.
Speed is a distance, an amount of space, traveled in a certain amount of time. It is therefore an amount of spacetime. So spacetime is already there in the equation unifying energy and mass, but maybe we don’t often notice that spacetime is also there, meaning it is also part of the equivalence. Another way of saying this is that mass and energy don’t have equivalence apart from spacetime. They are all part of the greater Whole. The equation unites them all.
We generally consider c to be a constant, the speed of light (or the speed of information or causality), and it is thought to be invariable, being the same in every reference frame, and so we may tend to ignore it in the equation, focusing on energy and mass. But what if it is not merely a constant? What if it can tell us much more about the emergence of spacetime itself, as spacetime relates to energy and mass.
Solving for Spacetime
Let’s solve the equation for c.
If we recall our middle school algebra, we divide both sides by m (mass), and then take the square root of both sides, and we get:
There it is. The speed of light, this spacetime (~300 million meters per second), is equal to the square root of energy divided by mass. In other words, spacetime has already been shown to be unified with energy and mass. They are One, what we might call massenergy-spacetime. We only split them apart from that Oneness in order to talk about them as seemingly separate parts of our perceived reality.
We might notice a pattern, as we continue to find greater wholes, greater unification, greater oneness in reality.
What does this tell us? Perhaps a lot.
The speed of light is considered a constant because whenever we measure the energy and mass of a particular body, any body, we always get the same proportion between them, this particular spacetime (c) (~300 million meters/second). If there is less energy, there will also be less mass, so that c always comes out at the same number, the same spacetime. This was actually Einstein’s insight that led to his famous equation. He noticed in 1905:
If a body gives off the energy L in the form of radiation, its mass diminishes by L/c².-Albert Einstein
The constancy of the speed of light (this amount of spacetime) is what allows this mass-energy equivalence. So we have this close relationship between mass-energy and spacetime, such that they are somehow parts of the same thing, qualities of the same Whole. But why?
The spacetime seems to be dependent on mass-energy and vice versa. This seems to be contrary to our common sense intuitions, that the existence of an object should be dependent on spacetime, the seemingly open and empty field in which that object is found. They seem to be quite unrelated and disparate things, like a boat moving through water. But this perceived differentiation seems to be an artifact of our perceptions themselves. It is not reality. It may be the “perceived reality” in our minds, but not the Ultimate Reality. In a more ultimate sense, the object and space are One.
The “Illusion” of Spacetime & Separateness
Remarkably, Einstein also intuited that this perceived reality of objects (such as ourselves) separate from each other in spacetime was a kind of “illusion” of consciousness, and not ultimate reality. They belong to a greater whole that seems veiled from our everyday awareness:
A human being is a spatially and temporally [i.e. spacetime] limited piece of the whole, what we call the “Universe.” He experiences himself and his feelings as separate from the rest, an optical illusion of his consciousness. The quest for liberation from this bondage is the only object of true religion. Not nurturing the illusion but only overcoming it gives us the attainable measure of inner peace.
We see ourselves and all other things as limited pieces of the Whole, pieces that are separate from each other, when really we are the Whole, we are all parts of that same Whole, manifestations of the very same One Great Whole, and thus not ultimately separate from one another or the greater Whole. It is this perceived separation that is a bondage in our lives, and only by overcoming it or transcending it do we find Peace, reconciling ourselves back into that Whole. So how do we overcome this illusion? It seems Einstein gave us many clues.
Transcending the Illusion
Where does our perception of spacetime come from? What makes it seem like there is distance between us, this gap of air, this void between your being and mine? What makes us feel apart, disconnected, independent, autonomous, detached, divorced, and how do we reverse this feeling, how do we transcend it, how do we get “married” again to each other and the One? It seems like it is spacetime itself which separates us into completely distinct and disparate beings. We seem separated from each other both spatially and temporally. So what generates this “illusion” of spacetime, or distance between things? Is it in consciousness as Einstein suggested?
Ultimately, spacetime and the object are not separate things, but interdependent and related qualities, perhaps One thing perceived in two different ways, which points us toward a dialectical monism again. An object in space is not something separate from the space in which it is found. It is somehow deeply dependent on it, related to it, and has being because of that relationship. And the same goes for spacetime; it is somehow dependent on objects, on mass-energy, even perhaps the “object” we call our self and its mind, as we will see below.
Artists might also intuit this, that an object is interdependent on the space around it, what they sometimes call “negative space” or “white space.” The object and the space are dialectics, polarities, opposites, two ends of a spectrum, the presence or absence of a single thing, the contrast or juxtaposition in which gives rise to the perception of the duality. Without this juxtaposed duality, there could be no perception, no awareness of anything, because there would be no edges, no difference between things in the field of perception. We see differences between things because that is the only way we can see them as things. It is what gives them reality in our perceptions.
Imagine a solid circle drawn on a white sheet of paper. Now eliminate the white space around the circle. What is left? Just a solid sheet of paper. There is no circle anymore. Do the opposite, and eliminate the solidity of the circle. What is left? Just an empty sheet of paper. It is the presence of both the object (the space in which it occurs), and the space around it (the space in which it is absent), that give the thing being in our perceptions. A thing needs both in order to exist.
Is Spacetime Constant or Relative?
Does c always stay the same? Is it truly constant? Does spacetime always occur in the same way, everywhere, always? No! Well, not exactly. Einstein also realized this, which is what led to his theories of relativity. Space and time are relative, they change depending on the relative perspective or frame of reference of the observer; a frame in motion will seem to have time pass more slowly relative to one at rest. The speed of light seems to be “constant” but only relative to each frame; no matter what frame of reference we find ourselves in, sitting still on Earth, or racing through space on a rocket, we will always measure the speed of light to be the same value (~300 million meters per second), so the speed of light is relative to each frame. It may be because of our relative finite perspectives (the perceptions themselves) that spacetime and the speed of light derive this relative nature.
Let’s look at the equation that we solved for c. If we ignore how energy is seemingly always the same proportion to mass for a moment, then when mass approaches zero, the spacetime (c) goes asymptotically to infinity. When mass is zero, spacetime is “infinite,” or undefined. It breaks the equation, the dreaded divide by zero. For this reason, when such an equation with division is presented, the denominator is often noted that it cannot be zero (m ≠ 0); the rule is that you can’t have a zero mass for the equation to “work,” to be a functional equation.
But we know this doesn’t accord with reality. We know that some “particles” such as photons and gluons do not have “mass” in the traditional sense. They are a kind of pure energy. And some transformations “convert” mass into energy (as in nuclear bombs). The same goes for all forms of massless radiation. Devoid of mass, these “particles” seem to us to travel at the speed of light (they traverse 300 million meters in a second, relative to our perspective). But to the photons themselves, or other similar radiations, they do not “experience” spacetime. From their perspective, there is no spacetime, neither space nor time. Pure energy seems beyond spacetime, transcending spacetime. It “experiences” spacetime as the equation is solved when mass is zero: undefined, nonexistent, or “infinite.”
The Speed of Light in Light’s Own Reference Frame
This seems to be a special case in relativity. As I said before, in every frame of reference, whether seemingly at rest or moving very fast, if we were to measure the speed of light we would always get the same number, ~300 million meters per second. But, this is not the case in the frame of reference of photons or other massless “particles.” Photons do not measure light moving at the speed of light relative to themselves. This might seem obvious, since they are light, but it is still strange and unexpected, and here’s perhaps why.
Consider another particle, like a proton, that has mass, albeit only a tiny bit of mass. If that proton were to speed up to 99% the speed of light relative to our perspective, that proton would measure the speed of light relative to itself and still see it as 300 million meters per second. There is something, then, about the presence or absence of mass in the thing measuring the speed of light that suddenly changes everything, flips everything, transforms everything, that instantly makes spacetime change from 300 million m/s to indefinite/infinite, or vice versa. And, of course, this accords with the equation. Once there is even a tiny bit of mass, then energy will be proportional to it, and c becomes the definite value. Spacetime seems to emerge, suddenly.
Then why do we see such massless radiation travelling at the speed of light, this spacetime interval? It is perhaps because we are perceiving it in our finite mind, in this relative observation, from this point of view. Spacetime may emerge from our perceptions themselves. But how could this be?
Mind Generated Spacetime
When a photon is perceived through the medium of a finite mind, this perception itself is correlated with a brain that has mass. Those thoughts and perceptions are correlated with the activity of electrochemical interactions in the brain, all of which is dependent on massive particles, atoms, molecules, cells, etc. Because of that correlation, the perceptions themselves may become the seeming reality of a “particle” in spacetime, travelling a spacetime interval. We see the massless photon traversing spacetime because we are seeing it from our perspective, not its perspective.
The brain has mass in its neurons and in its electrochemical activity, and so our perceptions we might say have a correlated “mass,” and that “mass” perhaps means perceiving the seeming emergence of spacetime, distance, etc. Any thought, any perception, feeling, sensation, has this “mass” because it is correlated with brain activity that has mass. It may be thought itself that becomes aware of spacetime, perhaps because thought is itself part of the equation that seems to generate it, it is part of the “mass” that makes spacetime a perceptual reality.
The Transcendence of Contemplation
So how do we “overcome” this spacetime perception? How do we transcend this separateness, this “illusion of consciousness” as Einstein put it, and realize the wholeness of the Uni-verse again? How do we awaken to this inner Peace?
Well, you might have already guessed it. If thought is the place where spacetime emerges in our perceptions, this perceived separation and distance, then transcending thought in consciousness would seem to be a way of also transcending spacetime and all distance. Where there are no thoughts in consciousness, there is no correlated mass in the brain activity either. It seems this is the goal of contemplation reached through the many forms of meditation or other contemplative practices like centering prayer. When thoughts become zero, their “mass” is zero, the correlated brain activity and its mass is thus zero, and spacetime becomes undefined or “infinite.” There is no spacetime there, no distance, no separation between anything. All is One.
It is intriguing that in my former religious tradition of Mormonism, Joseph Smith would contemplate with a seer stone as a meditation object, and he once said in 1826 when he found a new seer stone what happened to space and time when using it:
With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye.-“Appendix: Reminiscence of William D. Purple, 28 April 1877 [People v. JS],” p. , The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 23, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/appendix-reminiscence-of-william-d-purple-28-april-1877-people-v-js/1
In other words, in contemplation he transcended spacetime, he overcame the separation between objects, the “intervening obstacles” between things being “removed,” there being no “distance,” no “place,” no “time.” As I’ve suggested before, use of a seer stone may have been a meditative means to clear his mind of thoughts and perceptions, to focus his consciousness on a single object and thereby let go of all other objects in consciousness, and that empty consciousness then is contemplation. It is a kind of seeing (seership) where all things are One, Whole, Infinite. It is the pure ground of consciousness from which all things, forms, objects, dualities, and even spacetime arises.
Of course, some may say, but how can you be aware of anything if consciousness is empty, if you have transcended all thought? How can you “see” anything? Isn’t it just a dark empty nothingness? Well, that’s where it becomes very paradoxical, and impossibly difficult to describe, a hallmark of mysticism. And yet we try.
When the mind is empty, and thus consciousness is clear and open, one can seem to remain the infinite wide open consciousness, even while objects continue to arise in consciousness, made up of consciousness. The difference is that one is no longer a subjective self separate from those objects. There is no spacetime separation between “you,” as consciousness, and the objects arising in consciousness, because all the objects perceived are made up of consciousness itself. They are made up of you, your Self. You, as consciousness, are the whole, extending infinitely in all “directions,” and anything that arises anywhere is a manifestation of You, a wave arising from that pure ground that is You, the One ocean of consciousness. Nothing is separate from You, because it is all made up of You. You have your Self become, or realized your Self to be, that Whole that encompasses all mass, energy, space, and time.
In contemplation we might say that we transcend spacetime, or we return to the source from which it emerges, and there is no space or time there. It is atemporal or timeless. Or we could say that spacetime becomes infinite, endless, what is often called “eternal.” But as has been noted by many, “eternal” is not necessarily an endless duration of time, but no time at all. It transcends time, and yet may include time within it. As I heard Rupert Spira once put it, time is what the eternal looks like through the lens of the finite mind. What is looking through that lens of the finite mind? The Eternal, the One, Infinite Consciousness.
This is all to say that through meditation/contemplation we may be able to empty our mind of thoughts and experience pure consciousness. This pure consciousness may be like (or synonymous with) that pure energy of the photon, that massless radiation, which doesn’t experience spacetime, where all is infinite or undefined, and it is thus also the realization of the Whole, the One, the Singularity, the All. Spacetime may emerge only in the finite mind, relative to our dualistic perceptions and thoughts that have “mass” because they are correlated to the mass in the brain’s activity. When there are no thoughts to differentiate mass from energy, or space from time, to construct these finite relative perceptions, it is perhaps all “known” as One Great Whole. This knowing may be what is classically called gnosis.
The illustration at the beginning is by Carl Wiens.