Friday, November 11, 2011

Black Holes & Michelangelo’s Sistine Brain – Is God in our head?

God between your ears.

In last year’s May issue of Neurosurgery – the official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons – medical illustrator Ian Suk, BSc, BMC, and neurosurgeon Rafael Tamargo caused a bit of a stir by posting an article in which they subscribed to the theory that, indeed, Michelangelo had placed his famous Creator God on a human cranium. What Michelangelo had meant with that can no longer be established, but one of the proposals was that God exists solely in the human mind. Ergo: the famous detail of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was not about God creating man, but man creating God! The message that critics derived was that Michelangelo preached that God, like all other figments of human imagination, existed only between human ears. Is that bad? Well, no, it isn’t.

The Sistine Brain by Ian Suk and  Rafael Tamargo

Everything between your ears.

In order for the human brain to create a picture of what is around it, it needs stimuli, and it obtains stimuli through the senses. When something makes a sound, the sound travels through the air, reaches our ears, is translated into an electrical signal and travels to the brain. The brain then uses the same sub-routine that allows us to fantasize, dream or ponder abstractions, and connects the stimuli-dots into a recognizable picture of something that might be out there.

Without that signal reaching the brain, there is no awareness in the brain of the source of that signal. In other words: items are only incorporated into our reality-model when its signal passes into our body and into our brain. In other words: in order for something to be perceived as real, it must exist between our ears. We can not be aware of something that doesn’t exist solely in our minds.

And that means that for a solitary person, it is impossible to detect a difference between observed reality and fantasy. When there are two or more people together, fantasies will be restricted to one person, and reality will be confirmed by the others, and that’s how we can tell the difference. And that works really well, until someone realizes that he or she could be making the other guys up, and there is no way of telling whether anything is real.

General Existential Relativity

Einstein is famous for discovering that there is no difference between sitting motionless in a gravitational field or speeding up outside of one. All math works the same in either situation, and there’s no way of telling whether we’re accelerating or whether we’re stationary close to a massive object.

In much the same way there is no way of telling whether the world truly exists or whether you, the reader, are making everything up. You could be some solitary worm-like creature floating in some ocean out there, erroneously convinced that you are a human, and that there are more humans who all tell you that you are one too. Or you could be a spark flying off some handle in which in a blip of consciousness an entire fantasy world arose. In fact, there’s no way of knowing for sure that you are not the only thing that exists, and that besides you there’s only the howling infinite of nothingness. You could be all alone.

Fortunately, we’ve learned to believe. And we like to believe that we are humans, and that the other humans are autonomous humans just like us, and that we’re in a universe. And some of us have been given the additional belief that God created everything (or should we say that this belief is inherent to all mankind and some of us try very hard to deny it?)

The Grave And Beyond

An implication of Einstein’s relativity theories is the existence of so-called black holes. These are celestial objects that are so incredibly dense that all material structure is crushed into a single point. And another implication of relativity is that the stronger the gravitational field, the slower time progresses. At the so-called event horizon (that’s the edge) of a black hole, time stands still.

But that means that if we could place an observer inside a black hole, he would see the rest of the universe pass within the blink of an eye. In fact, he would see all the other black holes (or rather the radiation that flows from them) zip in an out of existence. But he wouldn’t be able to tell whether the images he sees originate from outside the black hole or not. All he sees are signals that are inside. Between his ears.

An infinite volume within a finite diameter.

Einstein figured out that mass curves space-time. If we would depict the 3 dimensions of space as a 1-dimensional rubber string, a massive object would lean in on that string and create a crater-like indentation. Light from that massive object would have to travel up the crater to finally reach open, flat space. But that means that a space-traveler who decides to travel very near the star would have to travel much further (down the crater and back up again) than a space traveler who decides to give the star and its crater a wide birth. And that means that the radius of the crater (from the edge to the star) is much larger than half the diameter (from one point on the diameter to a point directly on the other side).

In black holes space is curved so dramatically that the radius becomes infinite. And that means that even though the diameter of a black hole is finite, the volume inside a black hole is infinite, which makes it effectively as large as the universe it lives in. To an observer inside a black hole, there is absolutely no difference between believing that (a) the black hole sits inside the universe or (b) the universe sits inside the black hole.

There are several strong indications that the mental sphere is a self-similar replica of the material sphere. And sure enough, the human mind seems to work quite alike a black hole. A human mind isn’t structured according to a temporal lattice (memories of what happened years ago may be much stronger than what happened this morning) and the space needed to contain a human mind is much smaller than the space the mind contains.

Just like physicist deem it folly to demand to know whether an observer is in an accelerating rocket or stationary in a gravitational field, so is it folly to demand to know whether something is between our ears or not. To physicists there is no difference between the two and mankind’s reality view should also not try to make a difference between believed reality and absolute reality.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful world - out there and in here, and let God’s will be done, in heaven as it is on earth.

“The Kingdom of God is not coming with your careful observations; nor will it be said, ‘here it is, or there it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
- Luke 17:20-21

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