Picking up pizzas at a local market I watched as the woman in front of me, exceedingly fat though otherwise attractive, paid nearly $200 for a couple cartons of cigarettes. Wow! I was contemplating how glad I am I don’t smoke as I walked out with the pizzas, and saw the woman go into her car with someone I presumed was her mother. The mom was also extremely fat, and the car had a handicapped parking symbol hanging on the mirror. Starting my car I said to myself, “life could be a whole lot worse, I could be one of them!”
Then a thought came to me. Maybe I am. I spent the ride home having a conversation with myself about that philosophical possibility. What if every person or every entity we encounter (or perhaps exists in history) is part of the same larger whole? What if we are one with everything, even though we experience reality as separate beings?
This isn’t a new idea. Eastern religions and neo-Platonist thought (especially Plotinus) put forth the existence of “The One” which was essentially that. We experience difference and separation because we operate from different perspectives. Moreover, it’s really not that hard to envision how that could be.
We know that space-time is an entity that seems to have come “into existence” at the big bang. What’s outside space-time cannot be imaged. Our minds are so shaped by the idea of space and time that to imagine something outside of it — existing in no space at no time — is impossible. That doesn’t mean nothing can exist outside space-time, only that it is beyond even our wildest imagination to figure out what it would be like — I defy anyone to craft a vision of reality that includes neither space nor time (and since space-time is one thing, having just one means you have both).
So if some kind of entity (for lack of a better term) existed beyond space time, it could create a space-time universe. Space-time allows one to experience reality as separate chunks. Instead of being “everywhere all the time” (again, we can’t imagine that outside realm) you can experience reality in discrete places at discrete times. Every location in space-time is different, often distant and not visible to other such locations. If an entity outside space-time created space-time in order to experience such difference, then it’s perfectly logical to assume that it could operate from multiple perspectives to experience reality in diverse ways.
What the “self” (a discrete space-time entity like us) experiences seems to be all we know because we are focused on this perspective. Some part of our brain or mind has to concentrate itself into this moment of space-time with laser like precision in order to be immersed in this reality, the world of space-time. If any part of what we are knows about the greater whole (should this fanciful theory be anywhere close to accurate) it would be deep in our unconscious, expressing itself with symbols or intuitions. To use a crude analogy, it would be like how each cell in our bodies (or every thought and memory in our heads) is separate and distinct, but still part of each one of us individual space-time creatures.
This isn’t that hard to imagine. But what does it mean? For instance, is Anders Behring Breivik, the right wing fundamentalist Christian who acted in a very non-Christian manner yesterday to explode a massive bomb in Oslo, Norway, really a part of me? Well, I can imagine that. That part of me who in a fit of anger would want to lash out (Send a missile into that car ahead of me that just cut me off! Let that irritating politician from the other side be drawn and quartered! Take a stadium of Nazi war criminals and make them suffer!), would simply be acting out on such an impulse. The layer between a fantasy of violence and the act of violence is immense and meaningful, but one can easily imagine circumstances where it can disappear — we read about it every day. In the right conditions, any of us might be pushed to the limit. Its not that these folk are fundamentally different from us, but that they turn impulses we easily restrain or even repress into reality.
In fact, if we look deep inside and recognize our weakest and strongest moments, our wildest fantasies, curiosities or disgusts, we would have to admit that something in our minds connects to the very best and the very worst of all humanity has experienced. Almost all of us can avoid murder, rape, and grotesque perversions of humanity at its worst; most of us are unable to attain the goodness, calm nature and joyful serenity and help/love of both self and others that defines humanity at its best. But if we search inside, isn’t there a stray thought, impulse or moment of extreme weakness where we can imagine at least the possibility of doing evil? It’s in us, somewhere — good and evil.
That doesn’t mean the “one with everything” theory is correct, but we can imagine it could be. In fact, I submit it is more congruent with what we know about modern physics than a purely materialist vision of reality. But if we take seriously the possibility, what would that mean? What does it mean that I am really part of the same entity as those cigarette smoking extremely large women in that car (and why do fat people tend to drive slow?)
The ethical implication would be that whatever I do to others, I do to part of myself. It might also mean that my larger self (Ueber-Self? All that is? Pan-God?) grows and improves as humanity grows and improves. Perhaps the purpose of this existence (these existences) is to, divided out into space and time, work on learning and improving what we are. If that’s the case, life isn’t just about self-improvement, but also about working to create a better world. Each individual self can only do a little, but can make a difference. Ethics, then would be about making choices that help others learn (be it learning to be more self-reliant and responsible, or overcoming a violent angry nature) as well as ourselves.
Of course, we could just be here to have fun — a kind of cosmic virtual reality game like I’ve started to imagine in my quantum life posts. In that case, a key is not to get sucked into living a life that one doesn’t love and appreciate and to figure out how to make the most of a situation.
I suspect it’s a mix of both. Our goal to learn and improve probably has meaning beyond that which we can imagine, but can be seen at least symbolically by what seems “good” and “evil” in this life. There seems to be considerable agreement on the basics of those concepts. The goal to enjoy it probably speaks to how we have to attain a kind of self-mastery in order to take responsibility for our own choices and lives before we can truly play a positive role in making the world a better place. Moreover, there do seem to be different types of people — doers, thinkers, followers, leaders, sufferers, perpetrators…perhaps people are in roles reflecting particular parts of the larger self, with different goals and possibilities.
Or maybe not. Driving home, smelling pizza on a warm summer day with the windows down, it does feel like I’m one with everything. A sense of connection overwhelms the since of difference. But that all could be fantasy. Lacking certain knowledge of what this world is about — what life really means — seems to be an inherent part of life as a mortal human. The good news is that this leaves us free to speculate and play with ideas, no matter how unlikely or strange!