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Holed in One

[This concept was briefly introduced in the preceding essay Unscientific Attachment, some of which is repeated here.]

There's an idea that's persisted through various systems of thought throughout the world for thousands of years. It's that our investigations and perceptions of the world and the universe around us are as much a reflection of our own inner natures as they are of anything "out there". Or more simply (and less dualistically) that the entirety of existence is holographic. Such persistence alone would seem to signal that the idea deserves serious consideration, since unsupportable notions don't have a habit of sticking around for quite so long.

Black hole Fairground ride

“ Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? ”
William Butler Yeats

Spacetime curvature

Two-dimensional visualisation of space-time distortion. The presence of matter changes the geometry of spacetime, this (curved) geometry being interpreted as gravity.

Albert Einstein by Yousuf Karsh, Feb 11 1948

Albert Einstein by Yousuf Karsh, Feb 11 1948

“ Mad World ”

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
And their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow.

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very
Mad World.

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me.

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very
Mad World.
Tears for Fears

“ Let us admit what all idealists admit – the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done – let us search for unrealities that confirm that nature. I believe we shall find them in the antinomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno ... 'The greatest wizard (Novalis writes memorably) would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of accepting his own phantasmagorias as autonomous apparitions. Wouldn't that be our case.' I surmise it is so. We (that indivisible divinity that operates in us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it as enduring, mysterious, visible, omnipresent in space and stable in time; but we have consented to tenuous and eternal intervals of illogicalness in its architecture that we might know it is false. ”
Jorge Luis Borges

Taking this as a basic premise, then it follows that the further removed our investigations in the outer world are from the familiarity of our immediate day-to-day environment, then the greater the depth and the wider the view we should be able to obtain relating to our internal reality. Whichever direction we head off in, whether down to the sub-atomic or out into the far reaches of outer space, we're in the realm of physics. Physics-as-metaphysics has been a common enough theme in recent decades and quite a bit of attention has been given to the parallels and similarities between discoveries in 20th/21st century physics and metaphysical and religious philosophy. Following in those footsteps, this essay suggests that investigations into the nature of the "black holes" in outer space may actually provide us with an extraordinarily cogent model for the nature and experience of our existence.

Not only is the Black Hole capable of modelling our various assumptions about the nature of reality "out there", but also our individual subjective experiences of existence. It provides a means of reconciling conflicting experiences, theories and proofs about the nature of reality, and a framework by which they can all be understood and accepted. Too good to be true?

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

To begin with, what we take for "reality" at any particular time is simply a hegemony of a particular way of seeing things, not reality itself. This is pretty obvious when looking at world views to which we ourselves don't subscribe. Less so when the spotlight is turned on our own. From the outside, there is little to distinguish the present dominant hegemony in terms of validity from any other world views preceding it or co-existing with it. What makes it different is the subjective experience of existing within it as if it were "true", because it does indeed appear to be true.

How can we explain this?

It's a little bit like a fairground ride. One of those old-fashioned plain vanilla ones that just go round and round at fairly moderate speeds. To anyone watching the ride, it's very clear the extent to which those on it are whirling around in a circle. Yet to those on the ride, providing they limit their field of vision to the ride itself and stay reasonably clear of its outer edges, there is little sensation of circling. If the ride is travelling smoothly at a constant speed, it's perfectly possible to get up and walk about for all the world as if you were on solid immoveable ground ...

... which, of course, isn't. Solid and immoveable, that is. The ground we take for solid and immoveable is rotating at speeds anywhere between near zero (at the poles) and 1,000mph (at the Equator) while it circles the Sun at roughly 67,000mph which is itself rotating around Galactic Centre at speeds thought to be somewhere in the region of 455,000mph ± 40,000mph which itself is rotating around ...? Whatever else, there's certainly an enormous amount of spinning going on. (It might even be possible to argue that the human drive to explore and push boundaries ever outward is merely a function of centrifugal forces.)

But spin is not just a permanent feature of our physical reality. It's also present in our thinking. All systems of thought are inherently self-referential, or, in different terminology, positive feedback systems. Their recursive nature appears to, in effect, create – or become a function of – a "spin" (a process already recognised in terms and figures of speech like "to spin a yarn", "put a positive spin on it", "spindoctor"). Yet, much as we're generally blithely unaware of the extent of spin we're being subjected to in our physical environment, so too for most of the time we're unaware of it in our thinking, particularly in our own thinking. (For more on the recursive nature of thought systems, see the preceding essay Unscientific Attachment.)

Yet the spin is there, whether we're aware of it or not. So to understand the nature of spin, and what unnoticed effects it might be having on our lives, we can study the nature and properties of things that spin.

Anything that spins around an axis creates rotational forces in and around it. It creates a vortex. And to understand the nature of the vortex, we can look to the models of the largest ones so far believed to exist. The black holes in outer space. It may seem incongruous to focus on such a massive example, particularly when there's no shortage of descriptions of vortices here on Earth within the science of fluid dynamics, but there's very good reason for doing so. A vortex so massive has relative permanence and stability (at least within human timescales), in contrast to those encountered on Earth, so it's much easier to clearly define and differentiate the various properties of certain regions within the vortex, and to postulate their effects, what it may be like to experience them, and how they interact with their immediate environment.

Anatomy of a Black Hole

Nobody really knows for sure if black holes are what we think they are, but it's the nature of our idea of them that's important for our purposes here, since it's the idea that's being highlighted as a reflection of the hologram.

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity proposed that gravity is spacetime curvature, a proposition that has survived every experimental test made on it since its formulation in 1915. Spacetime curvature exists around every mass, the degree of curvature dependent on the density of the mass. General relativity predicted that a mass of sufficient density would produce spacetime curvature so great that at a certain point the velocity required to escape its gravitational pull would exceed the speed of light.

This is a black hole. Initially, it was modelled as a static entity: a theoretical construct highly unlikely to exist in nature. Nevertheless, this simple model still made useful differentiation between certain regions. The core of the black hole is known as the singularity, the dense mass which, by virtue of its extreme density, distorts spacetime in such an extreme manner to produce such extreme gravitational forces. (All kinds of strange things go on at the singularity, but we'll leave that aside for the moment.) Surrounding the singularity is the region where gravitational forces are so strong that not even light can escape. The size of this region depends on the mass of the singularity, but its boundary is defined as the point at which escape velocity equals the speed of light. This boundary is called the event horizon. Crossing this horizon in the direction of the singularity, the normal relationships between time and space flip. Instead of being free to move in space while time marches on inexorably, the reverse occurs. You would be free to move anywhere in time while space drags you inexorably towards the singularity.

Once the models started to reflect more plausible "real" conditions – to take rotation and charge into account – they started to get really interesting.

Anatomy of a rotating black hole

The angular momentum (spin) and/or electrical charge of the singularity creates two event horizons. The outer equates roughly to the event horizon of a static black hole: the point at which escape velocity equals the speed of light. Once past it journeying towards the singularity, the normal relationships between time and space are reversed as in the case of the static black hole. However, once you cross the inner horizon, the normal relationships between time and space are restored, ie. you revert to being able to move freely in space while being dragged inexorably by time. To an outside observer, the distance between the two horizons would theoretically appear as a region in which time stands still (the observation of anything from the outside once it has crossed the outer event horizon being, of course, impossible). As the spin and/or charge of the singularity increase, the two event horizons move closer together. They meet when the angular momentum and/or charge equals the mass of the singularity. If that is exceeded, they annihilate each other, thereby creating a naked singularity (which most physicists doubt can exist in nature).

A black hole with charge and spin has the same gyromagnetic ratio as an electron. Its magnetic moment divided by angular momentum is equal to its charge divided by mass. This seems a particularly pertinent macrocosmic-microcosmic resonance.

A rotating black hole (but not one holding only charge) also features an additional region around it by virtue of its spin. In a static black hole, the static or stationary limit – the point at which it becomes impossible for even light to resist rotating the singularity – is the event horizon. In a rotating black hole, the point at which the rotational velocity equals the speed of light is not the same as the point where the escape velocity equals the speed of light. The difference between the two is an area immediately outside the outer event horizon, which, by virtue of centrifugal forces, is virtually non-existent along the axis of rotation (ie. at its poles) and at its greatest perpendicular to it (at the "equator"), hence is ellipsoidal in shape. This area is known as the ergosphere (literally "sphere of work, or action"). Within the ergosphere, nothing can escape being dragged along in co-rotation but, as long as it remains outside the outer event horizon, can still theoretically escape being dragged into the singularity.

Beyond the ergosphere the gravitational field remains sufficiently strong to trap light (in co-rotating and counter-rotating photon spheres), gas and matter in mostly perpetual orbit. An accretion disk forms on the equatorial plane, comprising gas and matter being pulled in toward the black hole by its gravitational forces. The accretion disk is a highly energised area due to the friction created by gravitational forces and emits large quantities of X-ray radiation. Accretion disks are not unique to black holes, but form around any strong gravitational source.

So much for the anatomy of black holes. How does that serve as a model for the nature of our individual and collective experiences of existence?

The Map is not the Territory ...

Any attempt to make sense of our existence, to find pattern and meaning in events and relationships, or to predict events and behaviours, involves utilising a system of thought. Even though, for most of the time, we're entirely unconscious of the fact that that's what we're doing, it is what we're doing.

Not only do systems of thought exhibit spin, but thought itself has an interesting property. While remaining at a fixed point in space, it moves freely through time. The individual consciousness doing the thinking also possesses an inner zone, invisible for the most part to outside observers. This inner zone frequently exhibits properties which appear to be the obverse of ones attributable to the individual from outer appearances: for instance, an outer demeanour of apparent authority, control and confidence may often be found co-existing with inner feelings of terror and powerlessness. These properties – the flipping of the external space/time relationship, and of the outer being's apparent nature to its opposite – coincide with the properties of the zone beneath the event horizon of a static black hole, or the zone between the inner and outer event horizons of a rotating black hole.

If we map all thinking – that is, the conscious and systematic identification of pattern and meaning in any shape or form – to this region of a black hole, what are the consequences? And can we determine whether the static black hole or the rotating/charged black hole is the more appropriate model?

If all thinking exists in a zone which is the mirror image of what's outside that zone, then it is entirely possible that all systems of thought present a mirror image of "reality". In other words, our systems of thought have reality back to front and inside out. What seems to be "out there" is really what's "in here". Which is interesting, because this has been the position of many esoteric philosophies for some considerable time (not to mention being the premise that started off this entire line of thought and consequent essay about black holes). Also, given that the area of the event horizon has been defined by reference to the entropy of the black hole – ie. the extent of its disorder (see below) – then the model would imply that our thinking, our conscious and systematic identification of pattern and meaning in any shape or form, is in fact profoundly disordered and that the more information we accrue, the more chaotic our ideas become. This again accords with esoteric religious philosophy in a number of traditions ... not to mention reflecting the quality of thinking that's informed our interventions in the Earth's ecosystem for one.

If we exhibit the properties of static black holes then, by definition, it is impossible not to think since the entire region bounded by the single event horizon is a reversal of what's outside it. This would initially seem to be a plausible enough model for the majority of us, but we need to push this further. The analogy doesn't account for dreaming states, meditational states, trance and so-called "exalted" states, all of which are experientially different to the recursive self-referential nature of systematic thinking. So it seems we need another region in the model. We also need to examine what happens when the capacity to think systematically breaks down. Black hole theory states that if the charge and/or spin of the singularity in a rotating and/or charged black hole increases to an amount equal to its mass, then its event horizons will converge, mutually destroying each other as the spin/charge continues to increase, and leaving a naked singularity. Increased spin/charge increases the pressure exerted on the singularity, so what happens to individuals subjected to enormous and ultimately unbearable psychological pressure? We say they "lose their mind". It's frequently the case in such instances that the individual's life then exhibits all the characteristics of complete chaos. Since black holes are maximum entropy objects – ie. the most chaotic objects in existence – the exposure of a chaotic "naked singularity" by the loss of mind (the mutual annihilation of the event horizons) fits the model of the rotating/charged black hole.

... but the Territory is the Map

Now this is where it gets really interesting. A rotating black hole possesses something that neither static nor merely charged models do. The ergosphere. The region in which it becomes impossible to resist co-rotation. Where spacetime is so entrained to the rotation of the vortex that it is unable to do anything else but conform to it. If the model of the rotating black hole holds good for modelling the nature and impact of our thought processes, then we should be able to define a region of influence where our thoughts are able to act on what exists outside of them and to a certain extent entrain events in such a manner that the thought becomes self-fulfilling: where the thought appears to create the reality.

To do so, one only needs to examine the experiences of individuals who subscribe to different systems of thought to one's own. As an external observer, it's very obvious how the system of thought dictates the interpretation of events and, what's more, seems to be able to produce the predicted results. Even within our own circles, we frequently acknowledge the apparent power of belief (whether wholly believing it or not), and can readily perceive how someone who is, say, "accident prone" seems to possess the uncanny ability to repeatedly enrol external events into that particular feedback loop.

But things don't always turn out the way we expect or predict. A lot of the time it seems rather as if the opposite is the case. Yet we fail to account for just how much we take for granted (this raises some interesting questions around what we assume to be axiomatic within any system of thought) and it's not just conscious thought that creates our reality. The realm of the unconscious has enormous impact. Here lies the Jungian shadow, not to mention the 95% of information we absorb which doesn't impinge on our awareness. Anyone with understanding of Jung's vision can readily see to what extent unconscious shadow dynamics entrain another individual's external "reality", and even without that perspective it's still the case that the vast majority observe the self-fulfilling power of thought often enough for it to be a fairly universal experience. For such experiences to occur with the frequency and universality they do, some consistent underlying mechanism must be in operation. One that should be amenable to identification and modelling.

Interestingly, the ability to create our own realities through our thoughts has been acknowledged for centuries in Buddhist and Taoist philosophy, among others. So we could say that subjective interpretation – how and what we perceive in the world around us – maps to the area of the accretion disk, while the ability to entrain events to thought systems enters the realm of the ergosphere. Dualistic perception maps very nicely to the co-rotating and counter-rotating regions of photons, gas and matter in the accretion disk – what is viewed is either "with us" (co-rotating = "self", good, white, positive, etc) or "against us" (counter rotating = "other", bad, black, negative, etc).

Relationships of subjective and objective reality

Is there any support for the notion of human-being-as-black-hole within the formal and informal definitions of black holes in physics? A rough definition of a black hole is a mass whose Schwarzchild radius (the product of the equation defining the event horizon of a non-rotating black hole) is outside of itself. According to this equation, the Schwarzchild radius of the Earth is about 9mm. Human beings are nowhere near as massive or as dense. How then, can a human being be a black hole?

Whether or not a human being has mass depends on your definition of a human being. Since the life force, consciousness and all sense of the "self" and individuality of the person leaves the body behind at death, and near death experiences (NDEs) support the notion of the essential nature of ourselves as being immaterial and independent of the body, it could be argued that the body is merely part of the human ergosphere. If this is the case, what constitutes the essential nature of a human being has no mass and hence can have no Schwarzchild radius (because mass is an essential component of the equation), ergo no black-holeness. But subsequent to Jacob Beckenstein's identification of the area of the event horizon with entropy (a measure of disorder), the entropy of a black hole, and hence its area, has also been identified with the amount of information it carries. While "information" in quantum theory has slightly different connotations to the common understanding of the word, it nevertheless describes the same general idea. Is it possible that something with no mass, but which continually absorbs and contains enormous amounts of information, could function in the same manner as a black hole?

The event horizon of any point (P) has also been defined (by Rindler) as the boundary between the region of points whose causal future includes P and the region of points whose causal future does not include P. Since a point is a coordinate, and not necessarily a mass, this opens up the possibility for the existence of an event horizon independent of mass and defined only in terms of time. If the body is outside the event horizon of a human being (being part of the ergosphere), and relatively individualised consciousness persists through a multitude of lifetimes (as NDEs, hypnotic regression and evidence of reincarnation would seem to suggest), then again it becomes possible to view a human being in terms of this definition.

Could it be that it's our very inability to be aware of the existence of our own event horizons, ergospheres and accretion disks that results in the conviction that reality is the way we perceive it to be, and from that to assume that no two conflicting views can both be "right"? Could it be that the angular momentum (spin) of our thought system is what creates the idea that the whole of existence should subscribe to the same thought system, just as a black hole's spin swallows up everything around it? This would certainly explain why attempts to reconcile conflicting thought systems only end up going round and round in circles (as indeed the model would predict) for as long as we persist in taking a view equivalent to the equatorial perspective within the model of any single system. The impasse between homeopathy and the materialist bias of the dominant world view is a case in point. The same argument has been going on for at least 200 years and is no nearer resolution.

To find the most objective perspective on the matter, any matter, the only direction to take is plain from the model. The ergosphere at its poles is virtually congruent with the outer event horizon, giving "mind" (the zone between event horizons) the most immediate and direct access to the reality that is least tainted by subjective self-reference. So the most potentially rewarding direction of enquiry is orthogonal – the one at right angles to the main centrifugally-directed line of thought (regardless of the absolute direction that line of thought takes). In other words, what is commonly referred to as lateral thinking, thinking outside the box, etc ... anything to avoid being caught up in your own spin.

Universal spin

If we do, in fact, function essentially as black holes, then this raises an interesting postulate that the entire universe is made up of nested "black holes" (rather like the picture below). An intriguing concept. It's been suggested by physicists that the universe itself might be a black hole, but generally there are conceptual difficulties in reconciling this idea with notions of either a closed or of an infinite universe.

The formal definition of a black hole is a region of spacetime that is not in the causal past of the infinite future, therefore a closed finite universe can neither be a black hole nor even contain one since it has no infinite future. An infinite universe cannot itself be a black hole, since a black hole is by definition a sub-set of infinity. However, an infinite universe can contain regions which are black holes, so it's conceptually plausible that within an infinite meta-universe there are universes which are black holes which, since the meta-universe remains infinite, can themselves contain regions which are black holes, and so on. Given that an electron possesses the same gyromagnetic ratio as a black hole with charge and spin, it becomes plausible to postulate that the entirety of existence functions as a series of nested black holes, or rather, nested regions of spin exhibiting many of the properties of what we presently understand to be black holes. Black holes themselves remain somewhat special because of their extreme degree of spin and their absence of reflected light and visible mass.

In such a scenario, our traditional view of the universe is turned inside out (which, bearing in mind that what we view "out there" is a mirror image, seems appropriate). Mass becomes a product of energetic process, not the other way round (this theory is developed in the next essay in this series, Does it matter?). And with matter being merely a product of the ergosphere at each level of existence, then we contemplate the immanence of the life force, from Gaia on out. Again this is something which esoteric philosophies have highlighted for centuries.

This model might conceivably even offer solutions to other dilemmas in black hole physics. Physicists are reluctant to countenance the possibility that such a thing as a naked singularity can exist in nature, but perhaps this stems more from the perspective that the rest of nature exists in an unspun, "unprotected" state. If, however, we all reside in our own black holes, contained Russian doll-like within larger similar structures, then our own event horizons as well as that of the immediate collective shield us from naked singularities, even while their own existence dissolves into chaos.

At the Event Horizon

'At the Event Horizon', fractal art by Lloyd Joseph Kudrick, the Fractal Farmer

Beyond the Event Horizon

Astrophysics is less clear about what goes on in this region, other than to suggest it encompasses realms where pretty much anything can happen. Performing quantum-field-theoretic calculations in infinitely curved spacetime is hugely difficult and produces results which are impossible to test.

Yet perhaps individual human experiences in the metaphysical arena – in such areas as meditation, so-called "exalted" or trance states, parapsychological phenomena, etc – can give us a clue.

Further Reading

Journey through the Galaxy: Black Holes
Beyond the Event Horizon, Robert W Lindsay
Wikipedia: Black Holes
Wikipedia: Rotating Black Holes
Jillian's Guide to Rotating Black Holes
Professor Stephen Hawking
Black Holes, Event Horizons and the Universe


© Wendy Howard, May 2005. Expanded and developed February 2006.
General Essays | Holed in One
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