viernes, 15 de abril de 2011


Ancient greek mithology charactersEdwin Francisco Herrera Paz. According to ancient Greek mythology the universe emerged from the union of Gaia, the fertile earth, with Uranus, the sky. From this couple the first generation of gods would be born. It consisted of Titans, Cyclops and Centimanes. This was a very dangerous generation, and finally the most daring of them all, a terrestrial Titan named Kronus, took power by castrating his father Uranus with a sharp sickle.
Kronus Regency was despotic. He imprisoned the Cyclopes and Centimanes in the Tartarus, the deepest of hells. In addition, he ordered his wife and sister Rea to give him their children at birth in order to devour them, thus avoiding the same fate of his father.

Greek mythology also refers to a god with a similar name: Chronos, a remote god, incorporeal, formed by himself at the beginning of time, the very personification of time. Subsequently, the Hellenistic tradition merged the two gods in one, a trend that would continue until Renaissance. It is curious that in the context of this tradition, the god of time is also a tyrant and ruthless god. Was the historic merger of these two figures a mere coincidence? Or is it, perhaps, due to a natural human tendency to consider time as a cruel element of life?

Finally, the Greek god Chronos is closely related to Anake, who was created by himself intertwined with Chronos, embracing the primordial egg from which the ordered universe emerged. Anake is the deity that represents the necessary, inevitable, inescapable; in other words, the destiny.

Time and NDEs
Occasionally, someone dies for a brief time. He or she may have suffered an accident or a heart attack and has been brought back to life by a team of doctors, or spontaneously. Some of these people pass through what is known as a Near-Death Experience, or NDE. The NDEs are often transformative. A typical NDEr often speaks about conversations with beings of light which they relate to God, are greeted by relatives who have previously died, feel a presence of infinite love and /or recall that the mysteries of the universe were revealed to them, but most are forgotten when returning to life. After an NDE, many change their behavior radically. They usually become less materialistic and more focused on helping others. They also have the conviction that the most important thing in life is to provide lavish, unconditional love to their fellows and to all creation.

A light seen through a tunnel
We are still far from finding a satisfactory explanation for NDEs, and it has even been postulated that they are behind the origin of the great religions. An NDEr very often rejects drastically the categorization of his or her experience as a hallucination, and insists that the state of consciousness during the NDE was, at least, the same as in daily life. For these people, time often becomes trivial, and they generally lose their fear of death. But what really strikes me is the fact that many report that the experience was timeless. That is, the time during the experience is meaningless; there are neither past nor future, with events happening at once, and this is a point particularly difficult to explain for them. Communication with other beings usually takes place telepathically and instantaneously without the spatial and temporal limitations of our physical realm. For that matter, if clinical death lasted for not more than a couple of minutes, the person may narrate very vivid events that in the physical realm could take hours, such as a full life review. In many cases, they gather enough material from the experience to write an entire book. Is it then time a limitation of the physical realm? And if so, what is the purpose of this limitation?

Past and future
We humans, as well as the rest of the universe, live between two eternities, or at least two extremely long periods of time we have given the names "past" and "future." The past is already written, and if was not written at least it left indelible marks everywhere. In our planet, we have reconstructed many events from the past through analyzing the stratigraphic record. The evolution of species has left identifiable marks on DNA as well as in the fossil record, and it is possible to reconstruct the history of the universe from its inception through the distant echoes of the Big Bang represented by the residual heat of 3 degrees Kelvin left behind, plus the expansion of the universe revealed by a red shift in the electromagnetic spectrum from the light of distant stars. The past is susceptible of being reconstructed, as a particular shape can be reconstructed with a set of Lego bricks, like a building, for example. 

Something very different is the future. That moment in time, whether it is close or distant from our present moment will always be elusive, uncertain, and random. The events in our everyday world roll like a novelist's pen on the paper: It is not until the pen tip passes over the sheet that the story becomes true. Before that, there is only a nebulous web of indefinite ideas floating in the mind of the writer. The future makes life appear as a trap. There is an invisible veil, a curtain that prevents us from seeing beyond the now, beyond this very instant, and it seems like that veil has been put in our earthly life for some sort of mysterious purpose. Sometimes we feel that the veil hinders us, causing anxiety and a perpetual feeling of uncertainty, and that is when we try to take control over time, by thoughtful planning, by seeking a glimpse of our future by consulting diviners and prophets, or by trying to build mathematical theories that could tell us that we can communicate with beings of the future, only to realize that even with the most accurate of schedules the expected results cannot always be obtain, and the future revealed through prophets or fortune tellers rarely meet our expectations.

No wonder the Greek dramatists were so successful. In the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the lives of mortals seem like games driven by the will of capricious gods full of earthly passions. The destination is marked and there is no way to escape it.

The arrow of time
Time is not symmetrical. There is a time arrow that always points toward the future and is known as the law of entropy. To illustrate this law, imagine a pool table without friction and without holes. You hit hard the first ball which will impact on two or three balls, which will impact on others and so on, until all balls are moving. What was at the beginning an entirely predictable movement of one ball ended, after a certain amount of time, in many balls moving at about the same speed, but in a very unpredictable, random manner. Initially, the system is highly informative, but then it becomes chaotic with many balls rolling all over; and this process is virtually impossible to reverse, which is why the law of entropy is the law of increasing randomness and disorder.

Ugly and tough character
The pool table illustrates what happens in the universe at all levels, from molecules, large populations of living beings, or even the stars and galaxies. The law of entropy guarantees that it is very difficult to develop a functional genome in specie. In fact, achieving a highly organized setting of DNA sequences for a given species has taken hundreds of millions of years of trial and error of the evolutionary mechanism. However, just a small change in the environment is enough to make an entire species disappear. In the same manner, just a few mutations in the genome of an organism are enough to cause a cancer that will kill it. It takes valuable time and effort to nurture, raise and educate a person but just a few seconds to end his or her life. Just a few errors in the administration of justice are enough to increase crime rate in a city. You need a great deal of planning and investment to create a corporation, but a simple fluctuation in the exchange markets is enough to put it into bankruptcy. In technical terms, the universe always tends to a thermal equilibrium imposed by the law of entropy which leads to disorganization, i.e. the loss of structure and information.

The truth is we do not need the demons at all to create destruction and chaos as law of entropy takes care of it naturally. Therefore, this law can be associated with evil, selfishness, greed, and in general, everything related to the dark side that tends to the destruction or disintegration. It is extremely difficult for life to develop in a universe with a natural tendency to disorganization, but the funny thing, the wonderful thing is that life has found its way. Life has formed in spite of entropy. The wonders of life overcoming entropy can be reasonably explained by science, but what I find intriguing is that both, the veil of the future and the forces of evil. relate in some way to the law of entropy as if they were the two sides of the same coin.

It's all about ignorance
There are two elements that act in cahoots to ensure that the veil of the future cannot be run despite all our efforts. The first one is ignorance.

Let us go back to that pool table. In theory, if we calculate the speed and trajectory of the first ball as well as the exact position of the other balls it would be possible to predict the exact position and velocity of any ball at any future instant, no matter how far away in time we make the observation. It is just a matter of plain, simple math, isn’t it? As it turns out, this is not entirely true. 

If we reproduce the initial conditions in a physical system, we expect its behavior to be always the same. It doesn’t matter how many times we replicate the experiment, outputs will always be identical. However, most systems in the real world are complex and chaotic; that is to say, the system is very sensitive to very small changes in its initial conditions resulting in unpredictable outputs, and initial conditions will always show small perturbations. So, no matter how hard we attempt to, exact initial conditions cannot be replicated. In the case of the pool table, no matter how much we try, we will never copy the exact initial speed and trajectory of the first ball two times, and the more we move away in time, the harder will be to predict the position and speed of the balls. 

Now, this is pure ignorance. If we were able to control the initial conditions, and we could also consider the status of each of the hundreds or thousands of variables that influence the system, we could accurately predict the speed and trajectory of each of the balls in the table at any future time. In fact, science is getting very good at calculating and monitoring the conditions of a system. Scientists are able to send spacecrafts to distant sites with great accuracy, just as an example, although it must be said that in these cases real time corrections have to be made.

Then, it is just a matter of time before science could predict future events based on very accurate measurements of actual conditions at the present time. This deterministic behavior of the universe was proposed some two centuries ago by Pierre Simon Laplace, an outstanding mind from the age of the enlightenment who said that if there were an omniscient being who knew the exact position and movement of all particles in the universe, this being could predict the state of the universe at any future time.

The Laplace-omniscient being, which can be represented today by high-precision devices and powerful computer systems, in fact is still far from being truly omniscient. We humans have become extremely good at predicting the trajectory of a spacecraft, but when it comes to calculating something as simple (in appearance) as the behavior of a small human population, calculations tend to fail. The community is composed of many minds, highly complex per se, interacting in complex ways. We can predict trends, but knowing the position and status of each individual at a future time is an impossible task even for an extremely wise being. 

To further illustrate the issue of complexity and our inability to fully understand a complex system, consider free will in relation to the human brain, which is a very complex structure. The complexity of the human brain is such that we are certain of the existence of freedom of choice. In fact, free will does not make sense if future conditions of a brain could be predicted with accuracy from some initial conditions. And, indeed, we are free, or at least we have the opportunity to experience freedom in making our decisions under different circumstances. It is said that the only thing God, omniscient being by nature, cannot (or maybe don’t want to) control is our ability to make decisions. This quality is one of the fundamental differences between a PLC and a human being, or in the words of the reputed psychiatrist Victor Frankl: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one's own way". 

Now, suppose that Laplace’s wise being knows your brain, and perfectly knows the state of all its atoms in a given time. Can he predict the decision you are going to take in a few moments? Is free will, after all, the product of an incredibly complex brain but deterministic in nature? Well it is not.

Quantum indeterminacy
If you throw a pair of dice, do you know which number to bet? Of course, if you have ever thrown a pair of dice you will bet on the 7. This is because there are more ways to make 7 than any other number. There are six combinations of dice that are 7, while there are only 5 combinations that will give an 8 or a 6. Definitely you will bet for 7 whenever you can and you know the reason, but in a given throw you are not sure you will get a seven. In fact, in a single throw any number may drop. The result will always be subjected to randomness.

When there is lack of certainty about an event or occurrence we rely on probabilities. And for sure, there are few things that are really certain. In the case of the pair of dice the reason of our uncertainty is plain ignorance about the initial conditions and the factors involved in the movement. So, we say that nature is random.

Randomness is everywhere. For instance, the fact that you have a certain height is random. Your stature and other personal characteristics have a certain occurrence in the population where you live, and you are a representative of that population liable to be chosen randomly. The marriage of your father and your mother was a random population phenomenon resulting in you, a random mix of genes from your parents. The lottery consists of a series of arranged numbers, but the wining number will be random, i.e. we have no idea what will the winning number be until it wins. This gives us a glimpse of the tricks that the future plays on us. In reality, the future remains uncertain; consisting of a distribution of probabilities. When the past meets the future, probability becomes certainty.

Here we have nothing new, just total ignorance. If we knew the exact position of each number in the lottery pot, the initial velocity of each particle of the small spheres and all the variables that influence the movement, we would know with certainty the future winning number. The future would be predictable.

Well, not so fast. Quantum physicists think there is a truly random probability distribution. That is, there is no way to know all the initial conditions of this distribution despite of the knowledge and wisdom you may have. Briefly, it is not possible to know both the velocity and position of a subatomic particle at the same time. If we determine the speed, then the position of the particle lies within a probability distribution. According to quantum physics, at the precise moment when the speed is measured, the particle is found in all parts of the probability distribution at the same time, and there is no way to define its exact position. Conversely, when performing a quantum measurement of position, the phantasmagoric world of the particle, present in many places at once, disappears and the particle is already in a particular place, but now it is its speed that is within a probability distribution. In the world of quantum mechanics this phenomenon is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

The quantum world is manifested at a very small scale, and for common human space scales is as strange as can be. As we increase the size of objects, quantum effects disappear due to probabilistic additive behavior. We all know that an object cannot be in several places at the same moment. For large objects (compared to subatomic particles) Heisenberg’s uncertainty disappears. This phenomenon is called quantum decoherence. 

Well, quantum uncertainty is not plain ignorance. It makes it impossible to know the initial conditions of all variables for each particle in the lottery pot. You might know the position of each particle, but then it will be impossible to know their speed, and vice versa. It is clear that a small change in initial conditions, as the position or velocity of a few electrons, can affect the functioning of the entire lottery determining different winning numbers. Even with the most perfectly accurate measurements, it will not be possible to know more than 50% of the initial conditions. The undetermined nature of the systems in the physical world then becomes obvious. There are many possible states. There are many possible futures, and the true state of things is not displayed until the pen rolling over the paper unites the past with the future. The future, in principle, cannot be determined by our knowledge, as quantum indeterminacy is an inescapable limitation. Quantum uncertainty and ignorance are the factors that preclude our unveiling of the future.

Looking into the future
Since ancient times, trying to know the future has always been an obsession for mankind, and it has been sought through oracles, diviners and prophets of all kinds. All cultures have had their own ways of revealing the future. The oracles were divination entities used in various ancient cultures, among which are the Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, Phoenician, Chaldean and Jewish. Many books from the Old Testament are named after the prophets who communicated directly with God in order to bring the news of future blessing and condemnation to the Jewish people, taking the role of the central figures in the politics of the people of Israel.

Many forms of divination have been used by the so-called clairvoyants since ancient times, such as Tarot cards, dream divination, astrological interpretation, etc. It is said that due to the profitability of the profession of diviner, this art, or rather gift, has been invaded by quacks with extensive knowledge of psychology who take advantage of customers eager to know the future. These false diviners have tarnished and discredited those who truly have the gift of clairvoyance.

But is it true that the future can be felt or predict to some extent? The stories of people who literally feel when something bad will happen to a family member are counted by thousands. Science has remained skeptical to such statements, however the evidence is so abundant that it is worth at least to listen and give them the benefit of the doubt. Science is the best tool we have for discovering truth and falsehood, but in many cases, paradigms and fashions narrow the range of acceptance of what has to be considered worth of studying, excluding a huge range of possibilities that are categorized as "waste of time." I think these sorts of psychic phenomena are some of these areas denied to serious scientific knowledge, and perhaps worth investigating in a more profound manner. 

As I said before, hunches are frequently reported in cases of tragedies involving a family member. But the presentiment of death is not reserved to humans. In 2007, Oscar suddenly became famous. The fact that this remarkable cat is capable of predicting the death of the residents of a nursing home in Rhode Island, United States, spread virally through the media. Few hours before the death of an elder resident, Oscar heads directly toward his (or her) bed and does not leave the person until the final time comes. At that precise moment Oscar goes out of the room. In this way Oscar has predicted the imminent death of at least 50 patients to the fascination of medical personnel at the nursing home.

Oscar is able to do what no geriatrician can. Now doctors at the nursing home know when to call the relatives of a patient who is in his final hours. One theory postulated is that this special cat is capable of sniffing substances produced by the elders a few hours before death. Unfortunately, Oscar is unable to communicate verbally to tell us if this hypothesis is correct.

Although the theory of the odorous substances emitted premortem is attractive, -especially because it opens the possibility of creating a biochemical diagnostic test- it does not take into account the innumerable stories of animals that sense the death of their masters, and most important, even when death occurs in a violent manner. Behavior before the imminent death of the owner includes plaintive meows and howls from cats and dogs, and behaviors that could be considered suggestive of anxiety or depression. Well, it seems like we humans still have a lot to learn from animals.

Are animals and some special people able to capture, somehow, messages from the future? What does science tells us about messages from the future? According to the special relativity theory particles with mass cannot reach the speed of light. The only kind of particle that can travel at this speed is the photon, which has zero mass. As a matter of fact, visible light and the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum are made up of photons. But if someone could travel at the speed of light (an impossible mission according to relativity), from the point of view of a static witness time would stop: the traveler would never grow old. So in theory, it would be possible to send a message to the past only if that message is carried by hypothetical particles, called tachyons, that could travel faster than light, but the existence of such particles has never been proven.

The problem with a message sent back to the past is the violation of the law of causality, leading to the paradoxes of time made famous by Hollywood. For example, imagine you experience some life threatening danger. In an attempt to overcome it you send a message to the past, so the past-you could make the corrections on time to completely avoid the dangerous situation, saving your life. The past-you makes the corrections and the situation is avoided. Then, because the situation never exists, you will not send the message, so the past-you won’t make the corrections though getting yourself again into the same predicament. We clearly see that for a period of time between the past-you and the present-you a loop is formed where time comes and goes. At the precise moment in which you received the message the universe is spliced into two: In one you received the message, and in the other you didn’t.

Well, some quantum theories have no problem with parallel universes. According to these theories, when a particle -an electron for example- is in the quantum limbo, in many places at once as a probability distribution, it is actually found in all these sites at the same time, each one determining a different future. We would then have an infinite number of parallel universes and thus an infinite number of futures.

For me, this quantum interpretation seems to be absurd, but quantum physicists are serious about it. Perhaps there really is only one future with all of its futuristic determinism, which has traditionally been called fate, or predetermination. Imagine, for example, that your dog begins to howl because it senses that you are going to die. You know why your dog howls. You know that something bad will happen to you because you know the canine nature. You try in vain to escape your fate, but everything you do will take you to that inevitable future. Because if you could somehow avoid this tragic future making appropriate corrections, you would not die, then your dog would not howl and therefore you would not be prevented, and here we go again with the paradoxes of time.

Determinism in the Greek tragedy
After marriage, Laius, king of Thebes, and Jocasta, his wife, consulted an oracle from Delphi, represented by the messengers of the god Apollo, who warned Laius that his own son would be the murderer of his father and then wed his mother. So, to avoid this terrible fate, after his son birth Laius ordered one of his vassals to kill him, but he disobeyed the order leaving little Oedipus along in the forest, hanging in a tree.

Oedipus was rescued by a shepherd and then adopted by a family. At fourteen years of age Oedipus visited the oracle from Delphi who told him he will kill his father and marry his mother (at this point he didn’t know he was adopted), and also advised him to leave and not return to his homeland, Corinth. Oedipus left Corinth, obedient and trying to avoid the horrific fate foretold by the oracle. Along the way, he found what he believed was a gang of outlaws who really was King Laius and his companions. Oedipus killed Laius without knowing that by doing this he was fulfilling the prophecy.

On his way to Thebes Oedipus kills a terrible monster called the Sphinx by answering a riddle. The people of Thebes, grateful, makes him king and so he marries Jocasta, fulfilling the second part of the prophecy of the oracle. Later, Oedipus and Jocasta had four children.

Oedipus Rex, one of the best works of the great Greek dramatist Sophocles, teaches us the frailty of our being subjected to the inexorable fate, and although the story does not end here, the narration is so far enough to ask some questions. How is it that the oracle is able to predict a future event (the death of Laius and Oedipus marrying Jocasta) but is unable to predict exactly how that will happen? For if Oedipus had known the way he would take the life of his father, he could have done something about it, changing the destination. And besides, for what purpose does the god Apollo reveal the future if it cannot be changed in any way? Or is it perhaps that the oracle really has some kind of limitation and do not have enough information about the future? Are the Greek gods also limited by the quantum uncertainty? After all, the god Uranus had no way of knowing he would be castrated by his own son, or did he?

Here’s one hypothesis
The null hypothesis would be that it is impossible to sense the future, and those who speak of hunches is only due to suggestion, intense emotion, or lie. But this would include animals, and yes, Oscar the skilled medical clairvoyant cat too. However, we will reject this hypothesis for a moment for the sake of wisdom.

I'll digress a bit and think “out of the box” to try to explain the causes of foreboding. Here's my hypothesis: We can receive messages from the future, but a future that is found in many possible states at a time in a probability distribution. But how is this probability distribution constructed? Well, as I said ut supra, we know that an electron is in many places at the same time within a probability distribution given by a wave function. Well, in the same way, the nebula of possible future states would be built for some kind of combined (from all the particles in the universe) wave function under the present state.

All possible future states would emit certain signals to the present. Depending on the probabilities of the distribution of states, some future states would be more prone to occur than others, though emitting stronger signals. But in fact, the future would exist only as an indefinite limbo of all probable future states. Animals and clairvoyants sense a sort of universal “wave function” that depends on the present state of things. By no way is this “wave function” deterministic, but rather probabilistic, avoiding the conflicts that arise from true parallel futures and at the same time, allowing corrections that could change the real future.

For instance, suppose a friend will die soon. You do not know if he will actually die because the event is in an indeterminate future, but within the probability distribution of possible futures, he will most likely die, so the stronger signal would correspond to that event. His pet’s brain, and maybe your brain, could somehow sense that distribution. How could brains receive information from the probability distribution of future states? Well, that’s the big question.

Let me say just one more word (I hope you don’t find it too mystic) about the not so inflexible future that could accept changes: a truly omniscient and omnipotent being could manipulate quantum uncertainty at will, thus changing the future. In other words, God (not the Greek gods of course) could collapse the wave function at will, something seldom expressed in the so-called miracles, but more often surreptitiously, from day to day by small manipulations veiled by the quantum uncertainty, just as a pilot makes slight corrections of altitude, heading and speed to a plane en route.

Just one more…
Imagine an immaterial world where there is only God in his magnificent unit. For some reason, some fragments of God called souls get away from God, but He in his infinite love and mercy devises a plan to make separate souls grow closer to Him, eventually coalescing. To do this, he designs something called the physical realm, beginning with a big bang and constructed with a few features such as universal constants, four types of forces, and plenty of mass-energy. Such construction will allow the formation of progressively more complex structures that could sense and interpret this physical realm. This entire physical world has a purpose. Remember the video games like Mario Bros which contain challenges to get points? Well, this is how the physical universe works.

God furtively facilitates the formation of increasing complexity and allows souls to inhabit these complex forms of matter we call life. Before taking possession of the complex physical entity (which would act as an antenna, or maybe an anchor), the fragments of God drink from the “pond of forgetfulness”, otherwise the experience would lose its grace and purpose. 

Man with arms wide open
The physical world comes with a special feature: a veil that prevents souls looking beyond the present moment, a construction called time. This construction has the intent to bring souls to a decadent and damaging world demined by entropy against which to fight, and most importantly, with uncertain results. Done! Let’s play. The souls who learn to perceive God and thus seek the spiritual path; the ones that decide to trust in Him despite of the veil covering the future; the ones that decide to forgive other soul’s faults; the ones that follow a path of constant learning; the ones that decide to give unconditional love to others (the glue that keeps souls close to God), these will achieve the highest scores. At the end of the game (physical death) the payback is extraordinary: the oneness with God.

There are some souls living within the physical realm that occasionally visit the immaterial, spiritual realm to take some of its infinite energy, to view future events from this timeless area, or just to feel the proximity of God. Some do it naturally, but others need training. Many others have forgotten their true home and thus strongly adhere to the physical world with all its material belongings. The noise of their big reasoning brains is so loud that any small, dim memory of the spiritual world is completely deleted. And finally there are some more that pass through this physical world castrating or eating others for fear, as the god Kronus. 

Unfortunately I must say that what I've described in the above lines is not a figment of my imagination. It could rather be a typical narration of many people who have been through an NDE, who claim to have received the revelation of the true purpose of our participation in the physical realm. If this is right, time, with its veil that prevents us to see the future, would not be our cruel enemy at all. Rather it would be a friend; a great ally in our journey back to God.

Hence the title of this post is: Our friend time.

Click here for the spanish version.

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