The Symbolic Big Bang


In anticipation of the release of my new book, More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth, Truth and Belief, I have been publishing a different quote from the book every day, for the past 40+ days, in my social media sites. In the last couple of days, the quotes have been about a crucial concept introduced and elaborated upon in the book: that of the cognitive big bang. The idea is that time and space aren't objectively real, but myths conjured up by thought. The cognitive big bang allows us to replace the notion of an objective big bang in some far distant past with that of subjective projections of mental contents experienced now. Here are the three most recent quotes, at the time of writing this essay:
The present moment is the cosmic egg described in so many religious myths. … It is a singularity that births all existence into form. It seeds our mind with fleeting consensus images that we then blow up into the voluminous bulk of projected past and future. These projections are like a cognitive ‘big bang’ unfolding in our mind. They stretch out the intangibility of the singularity into the substantiality of events in time. (pp. 102-103)
The cognitive ‘big bang’ is not a process unfolding in time. Rather, it’s a qualitative pattern of distribution of mental contents across the map of human cognition. This complete pattern exists now and only now. … Each of [its] mental contents is a particular reflection of the central singularity on the mirror of human awareness. (p. 103)
The past and the future are thus projected images—symbols, icons—of the intrinsic, timeless attributes of the singularity [that we call the present moment]; of the intangible essences contained in the cosmic egg. There is nothing else the past or the future could consist of. Myths are the form taken by these symbolic projections of intangible essences. (p. 103)

           

This theme of the big bang has thus been in the foreground of my mind. It occurred to me that in my older book Dreamed up Reality, from 2011, I explore the same theme. In that work—an atypical book for me, in which I openly discuss my own transcendent experiences and speculate freely about their possible meaning—cosmogony is a dominating subject. One of the experiences I describe at length in the book gave me profound insights into the origin of the universe and the dynamics of its unfolding. From Dreamed up Reality:
Suddenly it was completely clear. I could understand it! It was an unbelievably complex, yet self-explanatory evolution of concentric patterns growing out of concentric patterns; like self-generating, hyper-dimensional mandalas recursively blossoming, like flowers, out of the centers of previous hyper-dimensional mandalas, ad infinitum, but with a single point of origin from where it all emanated. This point of origin, this Source of it all, however, remained elusive: hidden behind the layers of wonders growing outwards from it. Somehow, the way new patterns unfolded and evolved was already entirely encoded in, and determined by, the very shapes, angles, and proportions entailed by previous patterns, so that no new primary information was ever added to the thing as it evolved. The entire story was already fully contained in it from the very beginning, and it was simply unpacking and manifesting itself in all its indescribable glory. It was a thing of startling power and beauty, yet put together with a level of sophistication and perfection that goes way beyond anything I could compare it to. ... This was the answer to the question that haunted me my entire life: ... One simply needed to “look” at it with the mind’s eye to know that this is how reality came to being; this is how nature was formed. ... All of reality seems to be the unfolding of a thought pattern in the imagination.
It was not lost on me that this very visual and powerful experience somehow echoed ideas expressed in ancient cosmogonic myths, such as Sacred GeometryKabbalah, etc. And neither were the significant implications of this surprising similarity lost of me, as I discuss in the book.

Shortly after the experience itself, I sat contemplating its significance. Suddenly, a strong and very precise intuition seized me about a way to capture what I had intuitively sensed: a very simple algorithm, based on a so-called cellular automaton, that could symbolically represent some of the properties of what I had seen. I even 'stumbled' on a particular cellular automaton rule—1 out of 4096 different possibilities!—that turned out to be precisely the one able to reflect some of what I had experienced. The result was a computer-simulated symbolic representation of the origin of the universe—the (cognitive) big bang—in geometrical form. It starts with a single active pixel in the center of the screen. Then, through the recursive application of a very simple construction rule, amazing complexity is generated out of that single starting pixel and this very simple rule. See the video below.




Dreamed up Reality explains this simulation in details and even provides the complete computer source code for it in its appendix.

I find this animation startling, not only for the peculiar way its underlying algorithm spontaneously popped in my mind. The images display profoundly symbolic elements at multiple levels: nested triangles and squares—archetypal forms that symbolize harmony and completeness—arise spontaneously and intermingle. Fractal mandalas—so significant in mystical traditions the world over—underly the entire evolution of the structures. Multiple layers of unfolding can be discerned, as though the animation were a projection of a pattern wrapping around itself in a higher dimension. The evolution of the pattern forms a self-perpetuating loop that seems to symbolize eternity; etc. The symbolic significance of this simple algorithm, which came to me apparently by pure 'chance,' is inexhaustible. I often use this video during my own meditation sessions, for it seems to have soothing, almost hypnotic properties. I invite you to watch it more than once, shifting the focus of your attention each time to a different area of the pattern, observing small local details as they unfold. You will realize how many subtleties and nuances can be found, and how each of them seems to carry a symbolic message of its own.

I realize today that Dreamed up Reality and More Than Allegory have something significant in common: they both stress the importance of symbols for conveying insights that transcend language and linear logic. In Dreamed up Reality, I simply used these symbolic metaphors to try and convey my own transcendent experiences. In More Than Allegory, I attempt to make rational sense of the way in which such symbols can carry actual truth, as well as review and interpret their historical usage across the world's religious myths. The books are complementary in ways I never explicitly intended them to be. While More Than Allegory discusses religious myths, Dreamed up Reality relates my own personal myth, derived from my own contemplative practices.

I hope you enjoy and find value in both books.

Copyright © 2016 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Some frames reminded me of the Sri Yantra...

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    1. The video is simply breathtaking Bernardo. It takes me directly back to my own experience when I was 34. A colorful big bang that was the start of a creative life I am so grateful for. I read your book 'Dreamed up reality", that gave me so much recognition too. In my time this was not understood. Great to see evolution evolve so graciously :)

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  2. Lovely stuff, Bernardo. So free will is an illusion due to not comprehending how we are pre-programmed to unfold? I'm OK with that- but for your next project, please can you provide the code for 'fast forward' and the algorithm for a 'higher dimensional view'? ;-)

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    1. :-)
      I didn't mean to imply determinism with this metaphor... but I did expect that the association would come, so I discussed it a bit in the book. As you probably also know, I discussed free will much more extensively in a dedicated chapter of Brief Peeks Beyond. There, I take the view that the distinction we ordinarily make between free will and determinism is a linguistic illusion.

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  3. Bernardo, have you ever heard of this book:

    Amazon: Incomplete Nature-How Mind Emerged From Matter by Terrence W. Deacon

    The person who runs the Skeptic Zone blog claims that this is supposed to show how matter formed consciousness through thermodynamics or something. He recommended that when I sent him three links from the Science Against Evolution site (a good site) about the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

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    1. People have been making this pompous claim at least since Dennett in 1991. It's nonsense. Since Chalmer's (1996) we know that matter cannot, even in principle, constitute the qualities of experience. What we have here is consciousness creating abstractions within itself, and then pointing at these abstractions and saying "I am that!" Duh.

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    2. I have heard of Chalmer's work. I read about it at Joe Hinman's apologetics site (DOXA.ws).

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    3. Try these short essays:
      http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2014/07/grokking-hard-problem-of-consciousness.html
      http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2014/09/the-magical-trick-of-disappearing.html

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    4. I do like the idea of a cosmic mind as far as to agree that it is again a concept. What i am interested to know is this. You have said materialists are trying to move away a part of an abstraction in their own consciousness called matter and make that as fundamental reality from which everything arises including the consciousness. If that is so , how do you explain the empirical evidence of matter before consciousness arises. For e.g. earth about 3 billions years ago. We do have experimental evidence of that. Surely we don't have consciousness there and yet there is proof of matter there. So why cant consciousness considered a chance happening resulting from a sophisticated response to stimuli when life emerged as a phenomenon. Do you really really believe that consciousness which appears to be only on a planet to be the fundamental aspect of the universe? To me it looks like an exception rather than a rule.

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    5. RenjithMohan, I've answered this question so many times I've lost count. Here is how I addressed it in my 2015 book 'Brief Peeks Beyond':

      "Criticism 4: It is untenable to maintain that there is no reality independent of consciousness, for there is plenty of evidence about what was going on in the universe before consciousness evolved.
      Rebuttal 4: This, of course, assumes materialism – the notion that consciousness is generated by, and confined to, biological nervous systems – in a circular argument for materialism. If all reality is in consciousness itself, then it is nervous systems that are in consciousness, not consciousness in nervous systems. Nervous systems are images of particular localization processes in consciousness, which could and did evolve later than other, earlier processes in consciousness. Those earlier processes weren’t biology, but corresponded to everything that happened in the universe before life arose. A living being is like a whirlpool – a localization of flow – in the stream of transpersonal experiences, while non-biological phenomena are like ripples. As such, nothing in monistic idealism precludes the possibility that there were plenty of ripples long before the first whirlpool ever formed (more on this in essay 2.5). The fact that there is evidence for the existence of the universe before nervous systems simply does not invalidate monistic idealism. The circularity of this criticism is self-evident. Yet, well-known biologist, author and militant materialist Jerry Coyne actually argued it when attacking my work."

      I've also addressed this in my 2015 interview at Skeptiko (http://www.skeptiko.com/274-bernardo-kastrup-why-our-culture-is-materialistic/) and a recent blab interview (https://youtu.be/GSQ0x_bLWiQ).

      If you have more questions and criticisms of my philosophy, please have a look here first:

      http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2015/04/social-media-policy-and-useful-links.html

      Cheers, B.

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  4. Did you make this video yourself, Bernardo? It's very interesting.

    I don't know if you're familiar with Duane Elgin's work - he's been talking about the "world" coming into being (the manifest images of unmanifest Consciousness) for a long time, and tying it in with some quite impressive theories from various areas of physics and evolutionary biology. He worked at Stanford Research Institute for some time before going off on his own. I'm sorry I don't have a link but his work shouldn't be hard to find.

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    1. Hi Don,
      I've met Duane twice now and he gave me a copy of one of his books. I haven't made my way to it yet (shame on me), but will. I have a positive impression of him.
      Yes, I've created the algorithm behind this animation myself, inspired in a very... unexpected way. Dreamed up Reality explains the algorithm in detail, as well as the context of its creation.
      Cheers, B.

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    2. Thanks. I was just looking at Dreamed Up Reality again - very good writing.

      I've corresponded with Duane over the years but never met in person. Strikes me as a genuinely humble, caring person. Lots of interesting views and ideals. Simplicity!!

      Really good series of posts recently, by the way. Sorry you took my reference to "Beyond Physicalism" as a criticism. I don't recall if I posted it on one of your blogs or on the forum, where you might have missed it. But after I posted and you wrote, I went back through the entire Beyond Physicalism book and saw quite clearly nobody had approached the non-materialist analysis (revisioning?) of specific neuroscience studies the way you have. Excellent work. Your post recently on your accurate prediction regarding reduced brain activity is what got me back on to your blogs - very positive, very good stuff!

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    3. Yes Don, I saw your post over at the forum. Thank you.

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  5. Yes! Much of science seems to be an attempt to explain the "big bang of experience" (as I call it). Physics does it using the Big Bang, biology asks "where did life come from?" (not realizing that "life" is just this aliveness that we sometimes call consciousness), and neuroscience has the Hard Problem (and upon realizing just how Hard it is, they amusingly deny the very thing that is responsible for the question; I think this is cognitive dissonance at work).

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  6. The cellular autonoma is amazing! Wolfram may actually be onto something much more profound than he realized. I wonder if music could be created directly based on the executing alogorithm? What is this written in?

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    1. Hey Bob, thanks. :) The algorithm was written in Processing (https://processing.org/). I listed the complete source code in an appendix of Dreamed up Reality. It's pretty simple and short. All the complexity arises from a single starting pixel (a 'singularity'?) and a rule specified in only 12 binary bits. The music was added later and was composed by Kevin MacLeod from incompetech.com.

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    2. I really cant get over this CA. It would make an incredible art installation. You walk into a small round white screening room and the automation starts from a pinpoint and ultimately surrounds you. Or do you have a planetarium near you that you could convince to project it onto its dome? : ) I guess the processing power needs would get out of hand.

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    3. I am often mesmerized by it too. In an art installation one would pre-compute the frames, not process them live. Live processing is heavy, yes. To compute the frames in real-time in standard 1080p resolution takes a Mac Pro. The algorithm is very simple, but needs to be applied recursively to every pixel, every frame.

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  7. Strangely enough, the words 'SELF-perpetuating dream'-- along with the implied double entendre, and visions of infinitely, perpetuated patterns of idea construction -- came to me in a dream, now astonishingly mirrored by the insights in Dreamed Up Reality, as well as this latest post. Can't thank you enough Bernardo for sharing, clarifying and verifying. Keep 'em coming ... as if one could stop it anyhow!

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  8. Fractals Do have always very simple alghoritms, but...

    Try "zooming" into the well known Mandelbrot set
    It's as mesmerizing as your automation :)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jGaio87u3A

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  9. Or maybe you could just prefer this :)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXTpASSd9xE

    So beautiful and scaring the infinity is

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