The Existence of the Universe
The Assumption that Reality exists
Let us suppose (I am almost certain that this is the case) that you, like me, assume the universe exists. You assume that it would exist if you were not present: it does not exist solely in your imagination – a virtual reality (a philosophy known as solipsism). But at the same time you can only perceive and experience the universe as it is constructed by your brain and nervous system. Your sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose etc.) receive various forms of stimulation from the external world that you assume exists ‘in reality’. This stimulation is in the form of light, sound and physical contact with material objects. Your brain converts these stimuli into subjective experiences - perceptions in the form of vision, hearing, odour, taste, touch, warmth, etc. And your brain integrates all of these perceptions so that you experience a coherent world that is ‘out there’ and not ‘a world that exists only in your head’. Moreover, the experiences that you have are interpreted by your brain in a manner indicating that ‘the world out there’ behaves according to certain rules, in a highly consistent and predictable manner. And any part of it is in existence even when your brain (or the brain of anyone else, for that matter) is not constructing it. You feel, think, and behave accordingly; if you did not, life would be difficult for you and even your very survival might be imperilled. Nevertheless, we cannot say that the world that your brain constructs is ‘the same as “Reality”’.
Now this last statement is not the same as saying that your brain gives you a distorted impression of ‘how the world really looks’. Indeed it makes no sense to say, ‘This is how the world really looks’ as opposed, say, to how it looks to you. The universe does not have the property of ‘looking’ or ‘appearing’ as anything. What does the statement mean then?
Suppose I say to you that the universe consists of objects of different colours – red, blue, yellow, etc. (and black and white). You then point out to me that colour is a subjective experience; it does not exist in the universe in any other way. You further inform me that science has demonstrated that what actually exists are objects that emit and reflect electromagnetic radiation (EMR) of varying wavelength and frequency and that the experience of colour arises because our visual receptors respond in different ways to EMR that differs in these properties.
This example demonstrates how, as the Theory of the Soul assumes, pursuing the scientific method moves us towards a more complete and accurate representation and understanding of reality ‘as it exists out there’ (though further such ‘movement’ is required in our knowledge and understanding of the nature of EMR). This assumption is contested by some philosophers but one, amongst several, reasons in its favour is the fact that a large part of science is simply the process of making more and more observations of the world, often with the assistance of instruments of increasing power and accuracy (such as microscopes and telescopes). Individuals from all over our planet have been making and recording these observations for centuries and, within science there is a high level, and very often unanimous, agreement about these observations – what we call ‘facts’. It is difficult to argue that this vast enterprise is not moving us closer to an accurate representation and understanding of external reality. Of course, one characteristic of this process is that over time, our theories and explanations change, sometimes radically but more often by small increments. It is important to note, however, that the observations and findings of the past do not normally change (unless they are found to be wrong). New theories and explanations must be based on all the accumulated information about the world and not just newly acquired information. Good scientists do not pick and choose, under the sway of social influence and culture, those facts on which to base their theories and hypotheses; facts do not fall out of fashion in the world of science, though theories may do so when they fail to account for the facts.
Notice, however, that even in the absence of any scientific theory we are able to recognise that colour does not exist as such in the real world; it is a subjective or conscious experience (see note 1). This illustrates another fundamental principal that guides the thinking behind the Theory of the Soul. There are important everyday assumptions about objective reality, based on our subjective experience - ways of thinking that we impose upon the world - that we can and must set aside for the purposes of answering the questions that I pose at the outset of the book Universal Awareness. This illustrates why I call the approach I take ‘top down’.
Let us call the above process ‘objectivisation’. For example, in the book I identify the concepts of sameness or identity and their preservation over time as subjective constructions which, for the purposes of thinking about the object world, we can set aside, notably with reference to any person or our sense of self. Likewise we can set aside the concept of an absolute ‘present moment’ which defines what exists in the universe, what has ceased to exist, and what has yet to exist. Past, present and future are always relative to some particular event, in our case our own immediate conscious experience. Later in the book I put to one side the idea that the universe consists of discrete objects and activities, again a structure that we impose on it; instead we think of it as one object engaged in one activity (note 3). And when discussing the idea of free will I question the distinction we subjectively make of cause and effect.
In each of the above cases, this ‘setting aside’ can be done for entirely logical reasons and not in any hypothetical or speculative manner (see note 2). Each time we do this, new and exciting vistas open up to us and possible solutions to what appear to be intractable problems offer themselves. Of course, this process of objectivisation is useless for the purposes of carrying on with daily life; we are designed, and we learn, to impose such structure and meaning on our world that best suits our everyday needs and purposes, not least our survival.
Note 1: Science must still work towards an explanation of this, though some believe that ultimately it will never be able to explain conscious experience.
Note 2: However, in the discussion of free will, the process of setting aside the subjective construct of just one universe and entertaining the idea of multiple universes, in which different outcomes of our conscious deliberations are realised, is certainly hypothetical and speculative (see below).
Note 3: This does not exhaust the list of assumptions or distinctions that we can set aside when thinking about Reality.
The idea of an infinite universe or multiple universes
It is acknowledged that there are various theories that our universe may be infinite in space-time; that there may be a huge number of parallel universes, perhaps an infinite number; that each of these universes originated in a manner similar to our own; and so on. This is not a crucial to the theory; the simple model of the universe expanding from the 'Big Bang' is sufficient for present purposes. However, it is worth noting one possibility that is given credence by many scientists: it is possible that the exact atomic configuration of a given individual, such as yourself, may exist in another parallel universe (maybe even an infinite number of parallel universes if these universes are themselves infinite in number). So that in another universe there is a person exactly like you reading these words. Further elaboration of this is provided in the discussion of Premise 6 (see sidebar).