The Dead Live Elsewhen

An example of a light cone, the three-dimensional surface of all possible light rays arriving at and departing from a point in spacetime. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MissMJ. An example of a light cone, the three-dimensional surface of all possible light rays arriving at and departing from a point in spacetime. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MissMJ.
Many if not most if not all people have secrets, or think they do. But in fact there are no secrets. Even the secrets people take to the grave are not secret. Everything is known, in at least one way or another. Information is never lost, not even from inside a dissipated black hole that has given its all to the All via Hawking radiation.

So don't be like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Being unable to see does not mean being unable to be seen.

In private, people let their hair down; they take the opportunity to "be themselves". When no-one else is around, they pick their noses, masturbate, piss in the shower, eat gluttonously, murder their grandfathers, beat their children -- do all the stuff they don't want anyone to see or know about.

But everything is recorded in cosmic memory -- the Akashic Records if you prefer.

Nor are these the febrile imaginings of an aging hippie fumbling around in the peyote-flavoured smog of the Age of Aquarius. Well they are, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a grain of truth in them somewhere. In fact, no less an authority than old smarty pants himself, Einstein, believed that nothing is ever lost.

In a letter to the Besso family on the death of Michele Besso, one of his closest friends, Einstein wrote:

“He has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. … the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion…”

The subtext is that in a universe governed by relativity, the three times (past, future and present) are each as real as each other. So a living Michele Besso (in the past) is as real as a dead Michele Besso (in the present).

The implication is that from some standpoints Michele Besso is dead, but from other standpoints he is alive: really, truly, actually, fully alive—flesh-and-blood alive.

There’s no catch, no trick, no gimmick, no ambiguity. No complicated argument. No metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Einstein is saying simply that the dead live elsewhen.

This is no slippery, weak, empty, weasel-worded reassurance that the dead live on in the memories of those who remember them. (Cue violins.)

This is not about being alive (and dead) in the way that Schrodinger’s cat is alive and dead, i.e. in a quantum superposition of states.

No, Einstein is making a firm, unequivocal statement that Michele Besso (or any dead person) is alive as fully and validly as you are alive at the time of reading these words, or as I was at the time of writing them.

To understand how this can be requires a brief diversion (very brief I promise) into relativity.

Einstein’s theory of relativity unites space and time into four-dimensional spacetime. A person’s path through four-dimensional spacetime is called their world-line. Death and birth are events at opposite ends of a person’s world-line. You tread your path along your world-line. I tread my path along mine. Our world-lines are part of the world-line of the universe (but not vice versa, arguably). The four-dimensional spacetime universe is referred to as a “block universe” because future events are “already there”, in the block, and “…there is no objective flow of time. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘block time’ or ‘block universe’ theory due to its description of spacetime as an unchanging four-dimensional "block" as opposed to the view of the world as a three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time.” (Wikipedia 4 July 2016)

In theory there is a standpoint where a person’s world-line can be seen in its entirety, at one glance – past present and future taken all at once. In this “god’s eye view” a person is always alive somewhen, in the big picture of things. (Sadly, though, they’re always dead, somewhen else.) And where is that standpoint? Where is god standing when god looks upon the whole universe*? Why, outside the universe, of course, (outside of Reality, to be precise). If you want to see the whole of something, you have to stand outside of that something.)

What Einstein is saying is that death is not the absolute end in which the dead person is no more, but rather is a “relative end” from which point on the dead person is no longer “available” or “accessible”. But that’s still better than nothing, isn’t it? Unavailability is preferable to nothingness, isn’t it?

Take Joan and Jack, for example, a loving couple who live together. One day, Joan’s employer asks her to relocate overseas to the company’s head office in Lemuria. Jane is reluctant to be separated from Jack, but they need the money, so she agrees to relocate. Shortly after arriving in Lemuria, Joan commits murder and is arrested by the police. She is found guilty and is sentenced. Consider the two alternative scenarios below.

Scenario 1: Joan is executed by firing squad, in accordance with Lemurian Law.

Scenario 2: Joan is imprisoned for life, in accordance with Lemurian law. She will never be released, will never be allowed visitors, will never have any access to the outside world. She will have no contact with anyone outside the prison: no visitors, no emails, no phone calls, no letters.

Before the Lemurian justice department can inform Jack of Joan’s sentence, Jack receives a call, from god.

“I’ve got some bad news for you, Jack,” says god, “Joan has been found guilty of a crime under Lemurian law.”

God tells Jack about the two alternative scenarios.

“But the good news,” says god to Jack, “is that I’m going to give you a reward for being a good boy most of your life. The reward is that you get to choose what happens to Joan. So, what do you choose, Scenario 1 or Scenario 2?”

In Scenario 1, Joan is dead and Jack is upset.

In Scenario 2, Joan is as good as dead and Jack is upset, but less so than he is in Scenario 1.

Naturally, Jack chooses Scenario 2. He won’t ever have any contact with Joan, but at least she will still be alive for longer than she would be in Scenario 1. Unavailability is preferable to nothingness, isn’t it?

Which brings us to simultaneity. In a relativistic universe there is no absolute simultaneity, only relative simultaneity. (Things never happen at the same time, because there is no same time. Or at least, there is but only at the Planck length and the Planck time. In other words, events are simultaneous only if they are separated by less than the smallest unit of spacetime.)

On Earth we humans have “time zones” and a “world clock”. If it's dinner in Johannesburg it's breakfast in Wellington. But if I live in South Africa and you live you live in New Zealand we can still arrange to eat at the same time by reference to a standard, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is based on the Earth’s daily 24-hour rotation. For longer time periods we refer to a standard based on the Earth’s annual revolution around the sun in 365 days (and a bit).

But the universe doesn’t revolve around a sun. The universe doesn’t revolve at all – there is no centre within the universe around which universal revolution can occur. The universe has no centre. (Theoretically a universe could revolve around a point outside of itself, but what does that even mean?) Nor does the universe rotate on its own axis. There is no centre of the universe for it to rotate on.

Or, in other words, the only absolute simultaneity there is, is (a transcendent*) god’s.

But don't think that the quantum view of a block universe in which everything that will happen has happened means there’s no such thing as free will. Even in a block universe the choices you make in the present still determine the future. It's just that the future is already known, though not by you. Or more accurately, the future is always knowable, though not by you.

Or, if Everett’s many worlds idea is correct, every choice you make and every action you take creates a new future, causes reality to branch. So you can murder your grandfather without creating a paradox. If you did travel backwards in time and murder your grandfather you would be creating a valid future in which you are never born, never exist. Simple. And your creation of a future in which you don’t exist doesn’t affect those futures in which you do exist – they continue in their merrie way.

So you can murder your grandfather without creating a paradox. But you can’t murder your grandfather and keep it a secret. At one level, everything is observed and observable. Every action is observed at least by at least one person, Everything, and possibly by other observers as well, somewhen else in the universe/multiverse/reality.

The observer creates reality, collapses the wave function, causes a cloud of uncertain stochasticity to congeal into a certain lump of definitiveness. And entangled particles know what each other is doing, instantaneously, even if spatially separated at opposing ends of the universe.

As the Buddhist said to the hotdog vendor: "make me one with everything".


Footnote

* Only a transcendent deity could look at the whole of Reality in one glance. The mainstream monotheistic religions, the "Abrahamic" religions -- Christianity, Islam and Judaism -- are based on a transcendent model of deity, in which Creator transcends Creation. A transcendent Creator stands apart from Creation, separate from Creation. A transcendent Creator exists prior to Creation, and will continue to exist if and when Creation is destroyed/ends.

In contrast, models of immanent deity are based on the idea that Creator and Creation are one and the same thing. They are identical. Creator IS Creation, and Creation IS Creator. One way to have this conversation without bringing god or morality or ethics or good and evil into it is simply to say: "Reality is the Biggest Person there is". Or to put it another way: every thing is part of Everything.

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4 comments

mgeorge said...


If galaxies and super-clusters of galaies spin, I cannot imagine why the whole cannot. Not that there is any evidence of this. Moreover, we consantly hear that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. Where is it expanding in relation to? Is that yet another insensible question in cosmology?

masterymistery said...

Hi mgeorge, yes you're quite right (I think) that there's nothing preventing the universe from rotating, but how would you know, except by reference to a point outside the universe? But in any case I feel I am on stronger ground re the impossibility of the universe revolving. Because it would have to revolve around something outside of itself (in the same way as the sun is outside of the earth) but there is nothing outside of the universe, by definition. So, from the above one could conclude that there are universal days (involving rotation) but no universal years (involving revolution). Or something??!?! Thanks for your comments.

Cara H said...

This is wonderful. I continue to believe that something of us exists after the death of the body. I once had a conversation with my father while our plane was taking off about how there were different versions of us in different dimensions. He said "and in one of those dimensions, this plane has crashed."
I kind of wanted to smack him.
I do miss him very much.

srs said...

Hi Cara,
Yes I too miss my late father very much. Hopefully I'll catch up with him sometime someplace somehow. Thanks for your comment.