Yellow Sapphire



# Illusion #

Could someone or something switch us off? Could it possibly be true that our world is just a computer program, or a hologram, or a dream? Although it's about the weirdest thing you could think of, there are some tantalizing clues this might indeed be the case. The stuff we call 'reality' simply isn’t very real after all.

Welcome to the outskirts of reality. Welcome to the place where theoretical physics and philosophy meet, and where religion and science loose their meaning. Better fasten your mental seatbelts. What we’re about to tell you is just too weird. Too mind-boggling. And quite disturbing, really.

Here we go: the place we call reality may not be real at all. It may look real, and feel real, and smell real. But if you know where to look, and you look real close, you can see the cracks.

First, there’s a very, VERY peculiar thing about the place we live in – something so weird and profound it sends shivers down your spine. For in fact, the Universe seems to be ‘fine-tuned’ to make life possible! The British cosmologist Fred Hoyle was the first to realise this is no coincidence. A very peculiar thing about the fundamental constants is that they appear to have exactly the right values. If they were slightly smaller or bigger, atoms, stars, planets and people simply wouldn’t exist!

Take the strong force inside atomic nuclei. If the force were just slightly stronger, it would boost up the burning of stars so much, that they would explode only seconds after they were formed. We wouldn’t have a sun – or even a planet. If on the other hand the force were a tad weaker, it would be too weak to hold together elements like the heavy hydrogen isotope deuterium. Stars wouldn’t light up. And we wouldn’t be here either.

Astonishingly, the same goes for all other constants. As the famous British astronomer Martin Rees put it: “Wherever we look, we see examples of fine-tuning. Most of the physical constants and the initial conditions of the Universe examined so far appear to be fine-tuned to some extent.”
That leaves us with a gnawing, unsettling question: Why? Why are all physical contants exactly the way they are? Every cosmologist agrees that this can hardly be a coincidence. So what, or who, set the rules?

Okay, hold that thought: matter is ultimately the manifestation of something else. Gladly, there are also things that are normal. Take the Universe. Again, it is something we think we know. The Universe is that big black thing with all the lights in it over your head. Perhaps you’ve even heard it’s expanding: first, there was a kind of blast (called the ‘Big Bang’), and from that moment on, the Universe grew bigger and bigger.

But hold it right there. Once more, the real story is far stranger than that. For starters, the Universe has no ‘outside’. To ask what is ‘outside’ the Universe is a meaningless question – it would be like asking what continent lies ‘outside’ our planet. ‘Outside’ the Universe there are no dimensions, and there is no time. The Universe is best seen as an expanding bubble of dimensions in a sea of nothingness – although ‘nothing’ isn’t really a word you can use to describe what is ‘outside’ the Universe. It is extremely difficult to fully comprehend what that means. According to one theory, there are many dimensional bubbles like the one we live in. Our Universe could be the result of two of such bubbles – or ‘planes’ – colliding. And wait, now you’re doing it again: you’re picturing a place with bubbles floating around. But there’s no such thing as a ‘place’. Instead, the other Universes should be wrapped up within our own reality, remember?

An even more bizarre theory has it the place we call the Universe is actually best compared with a hologram. Our Universe could be some kind of optical illusion, the result of several dimensions resonating.

And it goes even further. For in fact, it could actually be possible to create a Universe! Basically, the only thing you’d have to do is squeeze a huge amount of energy together into a very dense, small spot. This would lead to a Big Bang, the theories predict. We wouldn’t see it happening: the Big Bang would create a new dimensional bubble, far beyond reach of our own bubble.

OK, let’s pause for a second. Just think about it. Is it possible that our reality is actually made by some other civilisation, in some other Universe? It would explain why the fundamental constants are fine-tuned.

And You? How Real Is Your Mind?
So, to wrap things up: we live in a place that’s not really a ‘place’, we’re made of stuff that’s not really ‘stuff’ and what we see is only a small part of what’s really there. Matter, time, dimensions, the Universe – it’s all lucid, unreal. And to make things even more bizarre, for some reason, our Universe is exactly preset to make our existence possible. Pretty confusing, don't you think?

Gladly, you can cling to this one security: that you are here. No matter how weird the stuff around you is, you are definitely for real. No need to explain: you just know you are. But do you really?

Let’s do an experiment. Speak out your name over and over and over and over again. After a while, you’ll notice something weird. Your name will begin to sound strange. It’s no longer something that is you – your name is just a word, a random sequence of syllables and sounds that other people utter when they want to catch your attention. If your parents had given you another name, you would listen to another sequence of sounds.

There are actually experiments that prove it. When you disturb your brain in a certain way, your feeling of ‘self’ can get detached from your brain. Suddenly, it will feel as if ‘you’ are not inside your body anymore. You experience what is known as an ‘out of body experience’, or a ‘near death experience’.

But you don’t have to be nearly dead to feel it. The sensation can easily be created in a laboratory, by placing a helmet with rotating magnetic fields on your head. The magnetic field acts like a ‘jam signal’ on your brain. Suddenly, you'll feel like you're floating outside your body. But you aren’t. It’s just your brain going confused.

And you don't really need a helmet to do the trick. Visiting a place where the movement of the Earth's crust generates magnetic fields can give you the experience. Being in a situation where your brain doesn't get enough oxygen sometimes does it. Certain brain operations bring out the experience. Meditation and intensive prayer can generate it.

In fact, exactly this is why some people see ghosts, or Maria, or feel like they are visited by aliens. It is an incredible weird experience to be ‘outside of your brain’. Your brain will try to make sense of it. Immediately, the rational part of your brain will come up with an ‘explanation’ for the experience. You will sense a ‘presence’ near you. If you’re religious, you might see Maria, or Jesus. If you believe in UFOs, your brain might tell you you’re visited by aliens. If you believe in ghosts, you’ll feel the presence of a ghost of a dead person. But in reality, it’s your own feeling of self you’re experiencing.

So... Are We A Game Of Sims? So there you are. You’re just a walking piece of matter that’s pretending to be someone. But in reality, things like matter, or self, or the Universe, or time, or dimensions are all illusions. Everything we see and everything we feel are, in fact, the manifestations of some underlying reality.

That leaves you with an unsettling question: what exactly is that reality?
The truth is: we don’t know. Could be almost anything, really. A dream, even. Or a simulation. Or a kind of computer game, an advanced kind of Civilization or Sims. There’s no way of knowing if there’s someone or something pushing the buttons. There’s no way of knowing if there isn’t, either.

And then, there’s this other thing most theorists agree on: our reality could suddenly end. Our universe could fold up. The dimensions we live in could be wrapped up. The very fabric of our physical world could be disrupted by some unprecedented, weird physical event. From one second to the other, our reality would no longer be there. Sounds like fun, right?

But then again, why bother? For that’s the deeper consequence of these things. If there is no such thing as a place we call Earth, we needn’t really worry about its end. Would the characters of a Sims-game feel sad or disappointed when you turned off the computer? Or would the people you dream of at night mind if you wake up? You guessed it: they probably wouldn't. What isn’t really there, doesn’t really end.

That being said, there’s only one small problem. You see: you have to be a good philosopher to really feel it that way!

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