The Symbolic Big Bang
|Screen capture of the animation shown below.|
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 Geometry, Kabbalah, 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.