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Consciousness and the Universe: Conversation with a Black Hole

June 6, 2019

 

 

 

A group of physicists calling themselves ‘The Curiosity Team’ were working on understanding the nature of Black Holes, when they got increasingly frustrated with the gap between the theoretical understanding of the object and the apparent inability to see it in tangible form. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) provided the first image of the Black Hole-an achievement for the “astrophysical paparazzi” but this did not satisfy the team since they thought this hazy image, made with 5 petabytes of data did not do justice to an object whose nature has been studied for over a hundred years. “It’s been over a century since Schwarzschild (a German astrophysicist) found the first exact solution of General Relativity – by postulating the existence of a black hole – and yet, after all this time all we have is a hazy image. “We need to do better” said Motivation, a member of the Curiosity team. 

 

Memory, another member of the team said,

 

“Yes, I agree. I mean, think about it. A single petabyte would fill up 62,500 fully loaded 16 GB iPads. If you stack them up, they are 2604 feet tall; twice the height of the Eiffel Tower and almost as tall as the Burj Khalifa. We need to find a different way to understand Black Holes.”

 

After sensing the restlessness in the room, Reward, the third member of Curiosity said,

 

“Let’s go and ask. Then we’ll know what it knows.”

 

Sensitivity, the fourth member of the team, who had been silent for a while, rose from his chair and passionately asked Reward,

 

“Just like that?”

 

Without much hesitation, Thrill, the final member of the team said,

 

“Yeah. Just like that.”

 

The first concern that the team had to address was the “How?”. After discussing for several days, they decided to try and approach the consciousness of a Black Hole by surrendering themselves to a non-ordinary state of consciousness, using LSD – one of the most dangerous drugs known to humankind. This approach was based on the extensive work of the Czech-American psychiatric researcher Stanislav Grof. The technique involves taking LSD to heighten one’s sense of curiosity. It has been used by pioneers like Francis Crick, the father of modern genetics who won the Nobel prize discovering the famous double helix structure of the DNA. Crick admitted to his fellow scientists that he was under the influence of small doses of LSD which helped him unravel the structure. Even the late Steve Jobs admitted taking LSD to be a “profound experience” that reinforced his “sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness.. ”.

 

Now, the next concern was the “What”. Assuming that they would successfully connect with the consciousness of a Black Hole, they had to decide what questions they’d want to be addressed. Sensitivity began the discussion saying,

 

“It’s so difficult to decide upon a set of questions. After all, Black Holes are the most well known yet least understood objects in the Universe.”

 

The first addrresal of this conundrum came from Reward.

 

“There are two schools of thought. Either we can ask the biggest unanswered questions related to its nature from a technical standpoint, or we can try to gain insights on the simplest yet the most fundamental questions related to its existence.”

 

Based on Reward’s idea, Memory fleshed out the two approaches

 

“So for example, we can ask about the existence of singularities inside it. Furthermore, we can inquire about the structure of spacetime beyond the event horizon and subsequently obtain some clarity on the Information Loss paradox. On the other hand, we can ask fundamental questions about its purpose of existence, the underlying nature of space and time inside it.”

 

Thrill, not being satisfied with this structure said in an animated voice

 

“But mere questions are not enough! Just imagine the sense of wonder that we could experience if we could just peek inside it? One small peek. It would explain everything!”

 

 

As the discussions went on, the team realized that due to the disparate scientific outlook of each member, it was better to split into teams and attempt to satiate different aspects of their collective scientific inquiry. Thus, there were two teams: Motivation with Reward, and Memory with Sensitivity, while Thrill decided to pursue an independent journey. They all had the same goal, but chose to follow different paths.

 

On a warm afternoon the two teams, and Thrill, sat in different parts of their lab, with each member ready to take a patch of 20 micrograms of LSD. Noticing the sense of panic in Memory, Sensitivity whispered, 

 

“This will work, Memory.”

 

After a quiet pause for a few seconds, Memory responded,

 

“I know it will. Because I don’t know what I am going to do if it doesn’t.”

 

Before injecting the patch, each member looked at the other with both uncertainty and determinism. Thrill was the first member to inject the patch and get “transported” to a transpersonal dimensional dimension of reality. The two teams quickly followed suit.

 

After hearing a cacophony of sounds and traversing through abstract, moving geometrical patterns, Thrill finally managed to connect to the consciousness of the Black Hole. After the connection was established, Consciousness spoke in an authoritative voice:

 

“You have reached a place where no one else has. I can only allow you to ask one question after which you’ll have to leave whether you like the answer or not.”

 

Thrill, unable to control its excitement of the mere existence of such a conversation, did not pay too much attention to the words of consciousness and without giving too much thought he enquired,

 

“Yeah that’s all good, but I cannot believe this is actually happening. Can you?”

 

Without much hesitation, the Consciousness responded with an emotionless response,

 

“Yes, sure.”

 

Thrill, completely forgetting about the primary motive of the conversation, asked in a child-like voice,

 

“It’s really amazing, isn’t it? Two entities of the universe talking…”

 

While he was still completing the question, Thrill realized that he was losing the connection and within seconds opened his eyes to the warm afternoon in their lab. He waited restlessly for the other teams to regain their consciousness, eager to share his experience.

 

The next team to connect to Consciousness was Memory and Sensitivity. Their presence was acknowledged with the same phrase:

 

“You have reached a place where no one else has. I can only allow you to ask one question after which you’ll have to leave whether you like the answer or not.”

 

Memory, who had an entire mental list of questions in theoretical physics was dumfounded by this predicament while Sensitivity was content with the mere existence of this connection and was as numb as a corpse in the situation. Memory started getting overwhelmed and frustrated having to choose one from the infinite possibilities of scientific questions that could be asked.

 

In a flustered manner, she asked,

 

“Do you have a singularity? No no wait. Do you have higher dimensions inside the event horizon. Or just tell me whether you existed at the beginning of the Universe.”

 

As soon as Memory fluttered her questions, Consciousness in the same emotionless voice responded,

 

“I am that I am.”

 

This was an unsatisfactory response to Memory. She had expected a response under the paradigm of theoretical physics, a response that helped unraveling the mysteries of the existence of the Black Hole and the nature of the universe. In a slightly agitated tone, she said,

 

“But what do I make of that?”

 

While she was asking the question, Sensitivity realized that they were losing the connection, and within seconds found themselves in the lab with Thrill eagerly waiting in one corner to share his experience. Almost immediately, Memory regained her consciousness and looked at Thrill and said,

 

“This did not go as planned.”

 

The team of Motivation and Reward was the last to establish the connection. Consciousness laid out the same rules for the conversation and the team took their time to come up with the question. They deliberated for sometime and asked in unison,

 

“Can we see what’s inside you?”

 

The consciousness responded with an affirmative. The team noticed a change in their surroundings and almost immediately they entered a region of space which they could not comprehend. There were patterns that didn’t look like patterns, matter that didn’t look like matter, objects that didn’t look like objects, sounds that didn’t feel like sounds. The team was not able to describe their experience in the bounds of language construction. Motivation, realizing that their independent attempt at comprehending their surroundings was futile, asked consciousness,

 

“What are we seeing here?”

 

 

 

As soon as it uttered the question, the team noticed another change in their surroundings and they found themselves in the lab, with the other members waiting for them. After a few seconds, Thrill inquired,

 

“So, how was it? What did you see?”

 

Reward, facing the same barriers of the language constructs that Motivation faced said,

 

“We don’t know.”

 

The team sat down to discuss their inability of obtaining meaningful answers to the questions pertaining to their scientific inquiry. It was a remarkable achievement to even establish the connection, but Curiosity was not satisfied with it. Sensitivity tried to float the question in the conversation,

 

“What do we do know?”

 

Motivation, trying to lift the morale of the team stood up and responded in a confident voice,

 

“We know that we should keep looking. But this time, we’ll do it together."

 

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About the Author

Aditya Tamar is a final year Electronics and Communications Engineering student at SRM IST, Kattankulathur, Tamil Nadu. He has had an excellent academic record throughout his schooling and has been actively involved in a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Aditya aspires to be an Astrophysicist, and when he is not getting sucked into solving fundamental questions related to Black Holes (pun intended) and Galaxies, he actively takes part in Model UN Conferences and Debates. Furthermore, he is an avid football fan, with his allegiance currently being split between his favourite player and his favourite club. Aditya has always had a penchant for world politics and in his articles, you can expect cogency in analysis and research.

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