science and yoga

dear prakasha, how does the universe evolve?

I like to think that the universe evolves in spirals. The evidence for this is not complete, but is gradually emerging from the studies of both scientists and yogis. Viewed from above or below, a spiral appears to be going in circles, cycling through the same states again and again. But from another perspective, the upward or downward motion of each cycle becomes apparent.

From our limited perspective, what is most obvious is that the universe is expanding, creating new space as its galaxies rush apart from each other, and gravity brings what it can together into stars and planets. With equations and computers, we can extrapolate backwards in time to a hot, dense past where everything was crushed together and forwards to a cold, lonely future where every particle has either decayed or has become isolated beyond hope of communication with any other particle. Our equations break down and become suspect, however, both in the infinity of density at the beginning and the infinity of time at the end, so its hard to say for sure what really happens.

Scientists best current guess, guided mostly by mathematical consistency, is that the universe began from a state of pure, unmanifest potentiala beginningless and endless state where time and space have little meaning. This state is at once completely empty of the existence of any definite particles and, at the same time, so full that it contains all possibilities, has every symmetry and every potential. This is a void where left is the same as right, where big is the same as small, where weak is the same as strong, where what-will-become-gravity is the same as what-will-become-electricity, and what-will-become-an-electron is the same as what-will-become-light.

This pure and seemingly simple void is unstable. Something in it wants to choose among all the possibilities, to bring something definite into manifestation. Different parts of it are free to make different choices, but it does not exhaust itself in choosing. There is always something left to create new and different universes.

What triggers these choices is something like a sound: a fluctuation or vibration arising from the restlessness and uncertainty that quantum mechanics imposes on all things. Like a crystal forming in a still pool, something seemingly formless and directionless acquires beautiful facets that point in definite directions. Forces and fields and particles, and other more subtle potentials, originally all the same, became distinct. In the process, the tremendous amount of energy that it took to keep everything the same is suddenly released in an enormous explosion that stretches the fabric of space itself. Its size doubles a hundred times, and then almost a hundred times more, expanding from a tiny seed to a universe inconceivably large.

Many of the particles acquire mass in the process, and their heaviness slows them down and draws them together into the stars and galaxies, planets and black holes that we see today.

We still dont know whether the universe is finite or infinite, whether it will continue to expand forever or begin to collapse again. Recent observations suggest that its expansion is accelerating, driven by a kind of antigravity implicit in the crystallized void. If this is the case, then in the very distant future, long after all the stars have burned themselves out, the universe will begin to dissolve again, trillions of trillions of many more trillions of years from now. Most particles will eventually decay, pulled so far apart by the continued expansion of space that two could never meet, never tell by their patterns the story of what had been.

This would be a sad way for evolution to end, but I suspect that much more is going on than scientists now realize. The yogis tell a similar story about the evolution of both consciousness and the universe. They explain it in terms of the progressive differentiation of an omnipotent, unmanifest potential called Brahma or the Absolute. Triggered by a cosmic, unstruck sound (Om), the Absolute takes on many names and forms, while always remaining complete and timeless in its original nature. It is a process in which the infinite willingly limits itself to seem to become the finite, playing a game of temporary ignorance called maya, which literally means that which can be measured. Eventually the universe of maya, of differentiated consciousness, is also said to dissolve back into its original nature, until in some timeless way the cycle begins again.

This process of going out and coming back, like the mythical journey of the hero, does not really end where it begins. Instead, it contains the seeds and memories that will give rise to a new and richer cycle. This is the spiral that I spoke of in the beginning. There is still a great mystery about how this all happens, a mystery that goes beyond time and space, beyond existence and nonexistence. Ive often wondered how the Absolute could evolve, but perhaps something which is beyond time has the patience to wait while its perfection is being made manifest. The bud is no less perfect than the flower, but part of its perfection lies in its willingness to continue to grow.

Prakasha holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. He worked for over twenty-eight years in the physics department at the universitys Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory before taking early retire-ment to pursue full-time studies in yoga and its relationship to physics.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life