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How Big is God?

How Big is God?


I have argued that humans lack knowledge about the organization of time/space on distance scales greater than 300 million light years or so, and that this lack of knowledge means that agnosticism is necessary regarding higher intelligence, to the extent that “higher intelligence” means an entity who exists on incredibly large distance scales. But what kinds of things or entities could we imagine exist on these scales?

When we talk about quantum mechanics, we accept that there is a different physics on small scales. We call the physics that we observe in our day to day lives, the gravity that holds us down, and the mechanics of objects that we can observe “macro level” or “Newtonian” physics. Suppose we imagine that there is something on larger distance scales than what we can observe. Let’s call this the “supermacroscopic” level.

When I talk about supermacroscopic physics, I am talking about huge things, bigger than galaxies, and obviously, we don’t know what exists on those scales, if anything. I can just imagine hypothetical supermacroscopic beings laughing at our feeble attempts to pretend we understand something about them. Of course, I don’t believe that there are Gods laughing at me – this imaginary entity I have created in my brain is a metaphor for the lack of knowledge that I have.

What do we know about the supermacroscopic? Almost nothing. It is easier to list what we do know, because that is a very short list. We know that there is some physics operating there that we don’t understand, because we can measure the influence of dark energy.

When scientists talk about dark energy and dark matter, they are really just talking about certain unknowns in physics. Astrophysicists believe that galaxies are held together by gravity. Judging by the number of stars and nebulae that are visible, and including objects such as black holes which are invisible but can be measured, there still is a large deficit of matter. If the only gravity doing the heavy lifting of keeping all the stars together in a galaxy is the gravity of the stuff we can know is out there, there just isn’t enough gravity. Galaxies should just fall apart. But they don’t.

And scientists don’t know why. Maybe the laws of gravity change at larger distances, or maybe some undiscovered geometric property of space time is responsible, or maybe there really is some hidden matter. So the shorthand for this problem is “dark matter.”

“Dark energy,” on the other hand, refers to the fact that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. As far as scientists can tell, if something expands at an ever increasing rate, there must be something pulling it. They call this unknown force “dark energy.” But just like dark matter, dark energy could actually be a manifestation of some unknown property of gravity, or of the geometry of the universe, or of something completely unknown.

So what do we know about the supermacroscopic? We know that forces exist which we cannot understand yet, or maybe ever. That’s it – that’s all we know.

There are a lot of possible “theories of everything” – and if we found the right one, it might tell us more about what we might expect on supermacroscopic scales. String theory is one of those that gets most of the play in science journalism. But it’s easy to come up with theories that are wrong, when there isn’t much information. String theory is based on the idea that there is some underlying symmetry to the universe. Which may well be the case. But that symmetry might be nearby or far away.

What do I mean by “nearby” symmetry? What I mean is that it might be just a little bit bigger than us or it might be a whole lot bigger than us. Let me explain this idea by way of analogy. Imagine that you are a little ant crawling around on a huge piece of paper, which to you is your universe. Now imagine that the paper is just a flat triangle. Well if you are a very intelligent and enterprising ant, you might realize that you live on a symmetric universe, and that the symmetry is that of a triangle.

Now suppose that you are that same ant living on that same triangle, but this time, the triangle is part of a pyramid. Maybe you could figure that out, maybe not. But the symmetry of the pyramid would be further away from you –the symmetry of the ant’s universe would be bigger than the symmetry of the triangle.

Imagine that our universe is part of the 11-dimensioned bulk imagined by the most widely discussed version of string theory. Imagining it is all you can do – since we lack the ability to measure or detect what else might exist in this fantasy landscape. We might see the symmetry of stars, galaxies, clusters, voids and filaments, and lack the ability to perceive the symmetry of objects beyond 4-dimensional space-time, or how our universe looked from the perspective of an 11-dimensional observer.

String theory remains just a guess, because it is untestable. But the reason I mention it is simply to point to the levels of the unknown that may exist at greater and greater distance scales. String theorists assume that the symmetry of the universe, while unobservable, is just further away than the furthest thing we can see. Which of course, is the furthest any theory we can develop can reach. But the universe may be a whole lot bigger than that.

The smallest thing known to human beings that actually has a size that can be identified is a proton at approximately 3x10^-15 meters. Of course, we also know about quarks and leptons, and imagine the existence of strings, which are so small, size no longer has meaning. The largest thing known to humans is the Sloan Great Wall, a giant formation of galaxies stretching 1.37 billion light years, which is equal to 1.3x10^25 meters. This giant collection of galaxies is impossibly huge, and yet, it exists in four space/time dimensions and follows the laws of physics as we understand them.

We have no idea how far away the ultimate symmetry of existence lies. The Sloan Great Wall could be some piece of a larger order that we have yet to understand. After all, it seems bizarre that this giant thing could just be randomly floating in the universe and have no connection to anything. (Of course, just because in some vague intuitive sense it seems bizarre means nothing other than that we are speculating.)

Astrophysicists refer to a phenomenon known as “the end of greatness,” which basically means that at a certain point of bigness, everything just sort of seems homogenous. There is no more order to be found because everything is a just a big soup – everything in the universe is smoothly distributed.

But we can’t say for sure that there is no more order, all we can say is that anything bigger is too big for us to see. As we move from distance scale to distance scale, at certain levels, homogeneity seems apparent. When we move from the chaos of the subatomic level to the surface of an atom, it seems we are looking at a smooth surface with no trace of perturbation. When we move from the chaos of nuclear fusion to the surface of the sun, all we see is heat and light in every direction.

If we could, we might scroll back from the end of greatness to see that the homogeneity that we observe is the surface of some four-dimensional object floating in the multiverse. If string theorists are correct, the "end of greatness" is only the beginning of a whole new order in the multiverse.

We have established that we have no information about the supermacroscopic and strong reasons to suspect that there is more anisotropy at larger distance scales. But all we can come with up about its particular characteristics is speculation. So let’s do some speculating.

Let us suppose that there are entities with some analog of perceptual ability in the supermacroscopic universe. Why am I making this supposition? Well, if we are going to think about higher intelligences, the logical place to look is in these larger scale structures.

Whatever they are, they have to be bigger than 3x10^27 meters, which is the size of the observable universe. Let’s make a conservative guess, and say that, dimensionality aside, these beings are ten times bigger than that. If our universe is a particle in some larger branefield, this is conservative because the entity would only be made up of 10 particles!

Now, we can discern distances that are 3x10^-15 meters smaller than us, which is the size of a proton. If these entities can discern distances that are an equal number of orders of magnitude smaller than they are, they could make out distances of 3x10^13 meters. That is smaller than a light year and greater than the distance traveled by Voyager 1, the probe launched in 1977, that has traveled to the outskirts of the solar system. Which means that such beings could dimly make out the sun, but would not be able to perceive planets. The sun would be one of billions upon billions of particles that appeared to them so hazy that they would not be able to make out specific differences.

Because of the “end of greatness” phenomenon, we know that an external observer viewing it from afar would see our universe as homogenous. It is very difficult to create a complicated structure from homogenous particles – it takes a whole lot of them. Imagine that our universe is a basic particle in someone else’s multiverse.

The human body has approximately 7x10^27 atoms, which are our universe’s basic particles. Suppose the larger entity is composed of 7x10^27 basic particles, each weighing in at close to the order of magnitude of our universe. Then if these entities were a billion trillion times (1x10^21) better than us at seeing down into orders of magnitude, then they could see galaxies and star clusters but not individual stars, let alone people.

As I noted, these numbers are pure speculation. Such beings may be able to perceive many more orders of magnitude than we are, or many fewer.

Now, this whole discussion of distance scales leaves out the very important piece – the “gap” in physics. What I mean by a “gap” is that when you reach a certain size, the laws of physics are completely different.

When we observe the quantum level, we see that there is a change in fundamental laws of physics – electrons can be in two places at once, causality no longer seems to apply, a particle can be wave, and more. If I were a photon and managed to glimpse the macro-scale world, I would observe that the physics that governed my universe had broken down and had been replaced with something else. (Yes, I know that perception as we understand is probably impossible in the quantum world, but this remains a useful analogy). Waves and particles would no longer be one, every reaction would have an equal and opposite reaction, and so forth.

Likewise, the physics of a multi-dimensional brane-world is highly likely to be radically different than ours. We can only guess at what it is like, but we know certain ways it cannot be. For example, in our universe, intelligent beings use electromagnetic signals to carry information throughout their brains and to communicate with others. In the supermacroscopic world, electromagnetic signals will be far too slow if they exist at all. No being so large could rely on information that moves at the speed of light, unless it moves at a pace where thoughts take longer to process than the age of our universe (which also seems possible).

Of course, if there is no superluminal information transfer apparatus, then the subjective perception of the passage of time would be so slow that such an entity would be unable to perceive our existence, because we would already be long dead by the time it received the relevant information.

However, the speed limit on information transfer in our universe is relative to the time dimension, and in 11 dimensions, some dimension might share characteristics with the dimension we perceive as time, and allow supermacro beings to take action or communicate along its axis while no time passes in our temporal dimension.

But regardless of how the “gap” manifests itself, it is likely to be a barrier to perception. Due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, we cannot measure both the position in space-time and the velocity of a quantum particle. While this is considered a fundamental property of quantum physics, we might imagine that the act of perception might be a little easier if we existed on the quantum level (and if perception were possible by a quantum particle).

The analogy is loose, but the basic idea is that gaps in physical laws have the potential to make any perception or communication between worlds difficult.

The bottom line in all of this is that even though we don’t know what’s out there at the supermacro level, it will have no resemblance to the Gods of religion, spirituality, myth or legend. It is not likely to know or care about us, and it is much more likely to be made of us that to have made us. The supermacro being may exist, but it is not what we know as God, and it is beyond our ability to imagine.


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