Sunday, November 2, 2008

The "Prime Mover" Conundrum

Clearly the concept of "Prime Mover" (or "First Cause" or "Original Creator") doesn't work because it regresses infinitely. No matter how "prime" or "first" or "original" you get, there always (by this concept) has to be something that originated that.

Perhaps our cultural conditioning, or even our basic brain functions themselves, cannot tackle this problem. Perhaps our cognitive abilities (i.e., our capacity for making reproducible observations and for using logic in thinking about them) or our intuition (that is, our sense of what is real or possible) cannot encompass this. If so, that would be nice to know--and we must accept our limitations. But on the other hand, perhaps there is more ground we can gain.

During the past hundred years, cosmology and nuclear physics have given us some remarkable, counter-intuitive perspectives on reality. First to fall thanks to Einstein's theories of Special and then General Relativity were the sacrosanct objectivity and separability of time and space. On a cosmological scale, how fast time flies depends on one's location and movement through space; so do distances and speeds and accelerations. Einstein's theories were derived mathematically from a few basic ideas and observations, but they seem to violate our previous Newtonian picture, a picture which had become deeply embedded into our cultural consciousness. During the 20th century there were several sets of observations (such as measurement of the precession of the orbit of Mercury and the bending of light in a strong gravitation field visible during an eclipse of the Sun) that have supported Einstein's relativity picture of reality.

Also during the first few decades of the 20th century another set of theories, quantum mechanics, emerged from studies in nuclear physics. Quantum mechanics is devilishly counter-intuitive, that is, its theories and observations violate our comfortable Newtonian picture of how the world works. For example: (1) At the sub-atomic level, particles appear and disappear--they are created out of nothing and disappear into nothingness. (2) Pairs of particles can be so intimately entangled that even though they are millions of miles apart, a change in one is instantly reflected in a corresponding change in the other--far faster than the speed of light could carry a message between them. (3) Every particle has an anti-particle with equal and opposite properties. (The positron, for example, is the antiparticle counterpart of the electron; it has the same mass but equal and opposite charge and spin.) When a particle meets its antiparticle, they are both annihilated. (4) When their interactions are depicted in Feynman diagrams, antiparticles can conveniently be considered to be particles traveling backward in time. (5) One of the most curious and unreasonable discoveries of quantum mechanics is that certain characteristics of a subatomic particle are not established until they are measured--that is, observed or brought into consciousness; but after they are thus established, the particle somehow revises its history so that further observation reveals it has always been thus; however, if a different measurement is made, the particle was always different.

This last point raises the philosophical ogre that creation doesn't happen until we observe it--even though, once observed, it clearly had to happen at the temporal beginning of the Universe 13+ billion years ago.

So how's this for a resolution of the "Prime Mover" conundrum: the linearity or progression of time is a cultural (or even biologically inbred) illusion; time, in fact, happens all at once; and creation represents the interaction of the realm of consciousness (i.e., observation) with the realm of physical reality? Since consciousness clearly depends on a physical brain with neuronal connections, one could say that neither realm exists until the other makes it so. Which (time being what it is) is continually happening and always fully complete, though not in consciousness.