If so, what is ‘all this’ that we see?
Well, if such a question arises, the scriptures invoke the IkShaNa shruti – to explain creation. It is just a conceptual model – a fact which the shruti itself affirms. A throb in brahman is said to have engendered a formless Hiranyagarbha, as the Creator, whose thought then projects a world. Sage Vasishta explains very clearly in the Chapter on Origination in Yogavasishta that “Hiranyagarbha is born within the Supreme Self. He has no form. His body comprises his mind only. There is no physical body for him. The five fundamental elements are born from Hiranyagarbha through his mentation (thought process). Hence the five elements and the subsequent products arising out of them like the gross worlds do not have reality. They lack Beingness. They are not really born. They are like the horns of a rabbit.”
While answering the question of “What is this universe?” the physicists too figured out from their calculations a similar mechanism. What they find is that there is a high probability of a vacuum fluctuation in an absolutely quiescent thermodynamic equilibrium giving rise to a single conscious brain (mind) within it rather than the entire gamut of universes, galaxies, livable planets, living creatures. us and so on.
If true, the implication of what they say, in the words of Dennis Overbye, is: “that you yourself reading this article are more likely to be a momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space than a person with a real past born through billions of years of evolution in an orderly star spangled cosmos. Your memories and the world and the world you think you see around you are illusions.” Vedantins have no problem with it. The physicists, however, call it The Boltzmann Brain paradox. And they are still probing into the problem.
The most fundamental theories of Physics are three. They are:
The Relativity Theory about space and time.
The Quantum Theory about small particles.
The Principles of Thermodynamics about matter and energy. (The thermodynamic quantity ‘entropy’ is about order and information).
A galaxy of physicists including Dr. Albert Einstein devoted their energies in unifying the Relativity Theory with the Quantum Theory trying to develop a Theory of Everything (TOE) in order to explain the origin of the universe (what we see as ‘our world’). It has remained a holy grail for them to date.
For Biologists and, perhaps, Vedantins the interface between The Quantum Theory and Thermodynamic Principles is of a greater interest in order to explain the origin of life forms (and Consciousness(?)). ‘Life’ is after all a process and not a static entity. Hence, Thermodynamics can throw more light “since literally all work (processes) in the universe is a function of the flow of heat” and Thermodynamics is basically the study of heat and heat flows.”
The Boltzmann Brain is a thought experiment similar to Schrodinger’s cat. It’s created to explore the interesting and complex questions regarding consciousness, intelligence, entropy, and probability.
“One of the fundamental principles of thermodynamics is the idea of equilibrium. This is the notion that differences in heat will, over time, tend to “even out.” When you drop an ice cube into a glass of water, you create a thermodynamic system with a significant heat gradient in it. Heat will flow out of the water and into the ice cube, melting it, and eventually the entire glass will reach a uniform temperature. There’s no physical law that says one spot in your glass of water can’t spontaneously get cold and freeze into an ice cube. But it’s so incredibly unlikely that you could watch a glass of water for infinite time and never see an ice cube form.” Our existence in the universe appears to be “even more improbable than an ice cube spontaneously forming in a glass of tap water.”
Ludwig Boltzmann, the 19th century Austrian physicist who studied the behavior of molecules in gases, “was perplexed by the existence of seemingly thermodynamically impossible things like human beings. He proposed that maybe we are just ice cubes that formed spontaneously. It’s just really improbable that they should. But in an infinite universe, isn’t it possible for the vastly improbable to happen? Since there’s no law preventing it, then it in fact can occur, and the fact that it did isn’t itself a violation of the laws of thermodynamics. We’re only surprised to find that we exist because, well, we’re the ones who are noticing we exist. If “we” were somehow disembodied minds observing the cosmos at a larger scale, the fact that there’s a tiny, completely insignificant thermal fluctuation in this one invisibly small spot doesn’t seem all that surprising, or even particularly interesting.”
“There’s a problem with that idea, though. If it’s possible for us to have emerged in the universe in the way that we did — as complex biological organisms that evolved greater complexity in a steady process taking place over millions of years — then it’s also possible for a conscious, thinking being to just emerge spontaneously out of, for instance, a glass of water. Boltzmann advanced the idea that, thermodynamically speaking, in fact it’s vastly more probable that a thinking being should emerge spontaneously out of thermodynamic equilibrium than what happened with us.”
“The Boltzmann Brain problem arises from a string of logical conclusions that all spring from the question why time seems to go in only one direction. The fundamental laws governing the atoms bouncing off one another in the egg look the same whether time goes forward or backward. In the universe the future and past are different and you cannot remember the future. Boltzmann ascribed the so-called arrow of time to the tendency of any collection of particles to spread out into the most random and useless configuration in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics, which says that entropy (the amount of disorder) can never decrease in a closed system like our universe.”
The universe having been there from time immemorial (anAdi), would have reached equilibrium long back (what cosmologists call ‘heat death.’ That means “it would have already reached maximum entropy, and so with no way of reaching more disorder, there would be no entropy gradient, no arrow of time. No life would have been possible.”)
As Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist from Caltech, says, “If what we want is a single planet, we certainly don’t need a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars each. And if what we want is a single person, we certainly don’t need an entire planet. But if in fact what we want is a single intelligence, able to think about the world, we don’t even need an entire person–we just need his or her brain. So the reductio ad absurdum of this scenario is that the overwhelming majority of intelligences in this multiverse will be lonely, disembodied brains, who fluctuate gradually out of the surrounding chaos and then gradually dissolve back into it.”
Alan Guth, MIT Cosmologist even adds that some ‘calculations result in infinite number of free-floating brains for every normal brain.’ The famous physicist Richard Feynman too, following the same logic as Boltzmann, contemplates the possibility that we’re all just a statistical fluctuation. Only the fluctuations can create an entropy gradient and the life process can then start. The entropy gradient (from low to high) also brings in the arrow of time (irreversibility of processes – eggs do not unscramble).
But the fluctuations are not a regular feature. They are random and unpredictable. In fact, during the overwhelming majority of a universe’s history, there is no entropy gradient at all created by a fluctuation. Everything just sits there in a tranquil equilibrium (See the figure at top left). That is brahman condition. The ground state. Nothing happens in brahman. brahman is absolutely placid, composed (balanced), calm-posed (tranquil), empty (no form) situation (is-ness). No arrow of time. No life (a process, an activity) is possible. Life requires motion and evolution, riding the wave of increasing entropy.
A rare fluctuation, like a vacuum fluctuation, would decrease the entropy in some place and starts the arrow of time and the Boltzmann Brain. The dark energy which is running the universe now (rapidly expanding universe) is responsible for Boltzmann Brains.
Borrowing the words of Sean Carroll: So if we are explaining our low-entropy universe by appealing to the anthropic criterion that it must be possible for intelligent life to exist, quite a strong prediction follows: we should find ourselves in the minimum possible entropy fluctuation (points like C in the figure) consistent with life’s existence. And that minimum fluctuation would be “Boltzmann’s Brain.” Dr. L. Susskind at Stanford and his coworkers said that Boltzmann’s Brains are more likely than universes and real people in a scenario of eternal inflation giving raise to recurrent bubble universes. Such a likelihood (of a brain only) is more in the same way that it is more probable for a meaningful word to emerge than a whole sentence when you shake a box of scrabble letters.
So physics does indicate the greater probability of a Hiranyagarbha emerging from a random fluctuation in ground state equilibrium position. And there is this further possibility that you yourself are a Boltzmann Brain, if the only requirement is consciousness like what you have in your brain without the whole lot of baggage of galaxies, stars, planets, human bodies etc. etc. Of course, all physicists do not accept this model. They are still investigating the problem. That includes the popular theoretician Sean Carroll too. Unfortunately, he is not much interested in Vedanta.
Sean Carroll gave a talk recently on Quantum Fluctuations and a short version of it is relevant for us here to tell us about the nature of fluctuations that can trigger an entropy gradient which then activates the downstream processes. I am reproducing the salient points:
“There are really 3 different types of fluctuations: Boltzmann, Vacuum, & Measurement.
Boltzmann Fluctuations are basically classical: random motions of things lead to unlikely events, even in equilibrium.
The ‘macro’ state of a system can be static (equilibrium), but stuff is churning beneath the surface. That allows Boltzmann fluctuations.
Vacuum Fluctuations are the differences between quantum and classical states. Classically-definite observables can have a quantum variance.
Nothing actually “fluctuates” in vacuum fluctuations! The system can be perfectly static. Just that quantum states are more spread out.”
By itself, a system can be static, but observational outcomes are probabilistic. Observe over and over again, get different results.
That makes us confuse (static) vacuum fluctuations with (dynamical) Boltzmann fluctuations. We think what we see is what really is.
But quantum mechanics says that what really exists is very different from what we see. In an atom, electrons aren’t fluctuating at all.
All of which is crucial for understanding Boltzmann Brains.”
Though I am still to get a clear picture of it, I see a hint of similarity between the ‘spandana’ that shruti speaks about and the vacuum fluctuations – maybe a post for another day!
[Note: Almost all material presented above is a cut and paste job from many sources and I am indebted to all of them.]