Singularities Of The Third Kind & A New Kind of Event Horizon
There are astonishing parallels between the internal and the external universes. In this article I’ll discuss one such remarkable parallel.
A great sacrifice was made to write this article. I wrote it at the cost of a truly marvelous experience because I believed its content to be just interesting enough to share.
Many of you may read this article and find it interesting. Some smaller number of you will rationalize and intellectually believe that it must be true. A still smaller number than that will both believe it and truly understand it. And finally, a fraction of you, especially those of you who have experienced certain altered states of consciousness will actually know it to be true by having had a direct experience of exactly what I’m talking about. To you, I offer my salutations and kindly request that you say as much in the comments section. Please do share this article with your friends and leave a comment saying that you have had a similar experience.
As someone who has always been a staunch advocate of the scientific method, and is passionate about debunking pseudoscience, I deliberated long and hard regarding whether I should write this article. After it was written it sat in my Google Drive for a while, and then got sent to a few close friends for advice on what I should do. It does not reference prior work and there is no section of cited papers. Yet, I believe this is probably the most scientific piece of work I have written.What I describe in this article falls completely within the scope of our accepted scientific method. Before you think otherwise, I kindly ask you this:
- Read it with an open mind. Read it with earnestness of quest. This means you are genuinely interested in the nature of human experience and will not take anyone’s word for it — not your scriptures, not your personal savior, not your guru, not your parents, and most certainly not me. Genuinely consider the possibility of what I’m about to say being real, but don’t hesitate to shred the article if it doesn’t agree with your own insight.
- Read it with courage, and no pretense even to yourself. Be willing to admit that every common experience has a finite value, even those you may think to be invaluable, like the joy of seeing your loved ones be happy, or the satisfaction of helping an old lady cross a busy road.
- Feel the truth of it personally. If you can’t feel it through direct first-hand experience, it will remain pseudoscience in my eyes for you even if you sincerely believe what I say at an intellectual level. The only way you can genuinely verify what I have written is by directly experiencing it. Test out the theory and see for yourself whether it holds water. If it doesn’t, then toss it aside as something that hasn’t passed your critical examination. But I ask that you please revisit the topic (not necessarily my discussion of it) in your own way from time to time in your life. Not because I said so, but because you feel a need to.
The External Universe
Here is a very brief overview of the gravitational singularity and its event horizon. These occur in Nature in the form of black holes. In this section I explain black holes using no math and as little jargon as possible. If you are already familiar with the concept of black holes in Nature, you can feel free to skip ahead to the section titled The Internal Universe.
As a physical force under normal circumstances, gravity is rather unremarkable compared to many other forces we know. The electromagnetic force, for instance, is many orders of magnitude stronger than gravity at the scales we’re accustomed to seeing in our daily lives, so much so that even a relatively weak magnetic repulsion can counteract the force of gravity in levitating objects against its downward pull. But the attractive force of gravity is unique in one critical way. It is unidirectional (there is no gravitational repulsion). Because of that, unlike electricity and magnetism, it’s not possible to “cancel out” attraction or repulsion by combining entities that manifest opposite forces. Take two charged particles, electrons for instance. They repel each other with a force that is inversely related to the distance between them. That means you can never ever push one electron into another. As the distance between two electrons approaches zero, the repulsive force between them increases dramatically, approaching infinity. However, take a proton and jam it into an electron — the result is a neutron — an electrically neutral particle that has neither a positive nor a negative charge. Thus there is no force of repulsion between two neutrons, allowing them to happily coexist beside each other. There are other forces that keep neutrons from falling into each other due to their mutual gravitational attraction, but let’s ignore that for now since it doesn’t hinder the understanding of our main topic.
Gravity’s unidirectionality causes every particle of matter to attract every other particle. The only thing that prevents the universe as we know it from collapsing into a single point of infinite density is really the existence of the repulsive forces between similarly charged particles (again, there are other forces which we’ll ignore for the sake of simplicity). These keep the gravitational attraction in check. When two atoms try and fall into each other due to their mutual gravitational attraction, it’s the shell of electrons orbiting their nuclei that prevents their union. Their electron shells repel each other and a balance is struck at a distance between them when the attraction due to gravity is equal to the repulsion of their electron shells. Thus they stay apart.
Gravity is what causes the force we call weight. It is the downward force of attraction between us (or other bodies of matter) and the mass of the Earth. It’s always directed towards the center of our planet. But the reason you don’t fall into the floor of your home is, as we just saw, because the electron shells of the atoms making up the floor repel the electron shells of the atoms on the soles of your feet. Likewise, if you were to make a stack of books, the books don’t fall into the floor for the same reason. But since gravity is unidirectional and there is no repulsion, you can imagine that if you kept piling on more and more books, the weight of the column of books on the floor will keep steadily increasing and at some point, in theory, the stack could get so high that the pushing force of the column on the floor will become large enough to overcome the repulsion of the electron shells at the junction between the floor and the bottom-most book. Of course, this doesn’t ever happen on Earth because there just aren’t that many books (or anything for that matter) that can result in a pile high enough to make matter fall into itself against the repulsive and protective electromagnetic force.
The Physical Singularity
You may expect that in massive celestial bodies like the sun (or stars much bigger than it) the downward pressure due to the weight of outer layers of the star’s matter would be large enough to overcome the electromagnetic repulsion between atoms near its core. You may also wonder why these stars don’t collapse due to their own weight. You’re on the right track if you wonder so. If not for the intense outward pressure generated by nuclear fusion in the core of a massive living star, that’s precisely what you can expect to happen. But what about when the star has run out of fuel and there is no outward pressure to balance the crushing inward force of gravity? You can indeed expect these stars to start collapsing inwards.
Under certain conditions at the core of massive stars (stars more massive than 3 of our suns, in fact) that have spent all their nuclear fuel, the combined weight of the outer layers of the star becomes formidable enough to overcome all other forces. Electrons near the core get pushed into protons to form neutrons and eventually even neutrons get jammed into each other. The end result of such a chain of events is a point mass, which we believe to be a chunk of matter that occupies zero volume and is thus infinitely dense. Because it’s infinitely dense, the force of gravitational attraction near it is unimaginable — in fact it is, in a sense, undefined because mathematically, the magnitude of such a force at zero distance from a mass (any mass) is the ratio of some finite number to zero, the (square of) its distance from the mass. This point mass is called a singularity because our currently known physical laws and mathematical frameworks don’t apply to it — There is a reason that when we divide 1 by 0, the result is undefined and not infinite, yes? It could equally well be negative infinity as positive, with no grounds to favor one over the other. Hence, we conveniently label it undefined, rather than infinity which evokes notions of an unimaginably large positive quantity.
The Speed of Light
Now, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the speed of light is a special property of our universe. It’s speed, traditionally denoted by the single letter, c, is a universal constant and no information (or anything containing energy) can ever travel faster than light. Another important outcome of Einstein’s theory is that energy and mass are essentially the same things and one can be converted into another under the right conditions. Indeed, matter is simply a highly compact form of energy. The precise relation between the quantity of mass, m, and its equivalent amount of energy, E, is now expressed in his famous and ubiquitous equation E equals mc-squared where c is the speed of light.
Since light is a form of energy, it follows that it has mass. This means that light ought to be affected by gravity and that massive bodies ought to attract light in the same way as they attract other masses. This remarkable prediction was tested and found to be consistent with observational evidence. Normally it’s difficult to tell when a beam of light is bending towards an ordinarily massive body like the Earth. But the light from distant stars, for instance, is known to bend ever so slightly as it passes the sun. And it bends by the exact amount predicted by Einstein’s theory — a fact verified during observations of the positions of stars near the sun during total solar eclipses.
At this point you’re entirely justified in asking that if the sun is massive enough to bend a beam of light around it, shouldn’t there exist more massive (strictly speaking denser) bodies in the universe that completely trap any beam of light that dares to venture close enough? The answer to this question is that there are such bodies, and they are called — you guessed it — black holes. A black hole is a region of space within which gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape from it. Imagine a boat trying to propel itself against a current. As long as the speed of the current is less than the speed of the boat, the boat will make progress in its upstream journey. But if the stream is flowing too fast downhill — faster than the boat’s upstream speed to be exact — then the boat will end up traveling downstream regardless of its attempted upstream ambitions — right?
So it is with light and massive objects. However, unlike the boat, light doesn’t require a medium to travel in. It moves in empty space. So you can sort of imagine that space itself is continually falling inwards around massive bodies. Alternately, you can imagine that space is somehow denser — tightened or scrunched up like a sponge so that traveling some distance in this denser space is from an external point of view the same as traveling a longer distance in normal space. The idea of denser space in the vicinity of massive objects is technically the better analogy, but intuitively, it’s occasionally harder to imagine that a lone stationary particle in this denser space would spontaneously “accelerate towards the mass”. Sometimes, I find it more helpful to visualize it using the analogy of space constantly flowing into the mass with increasing speed as you approach it. This way you can think of mass as space eaters, and singularities as voraciously and infinitely hungry space eaters.
Time Dilation Near Singularities
From our outside perspective, light appears to take longer to travel a mile in the denser space near the singularity than outside it. From the perspective of the light beam itself, however, nothing seems out of the ordinary. It’s happily passing objects in its vicinity at a speed it thinks to be exactly c — what it’s always been. This is because space is stretched (or shrunk depending on your chosen view) in the vicinity of the mass, but we as distant observers can’t see that it is. The only thing we can see is that a beam of light is taking longer and longer to cover the same distance as it gets closer and closer to the mass.
We thus draw the obvious conclusion — that time itself has slowed down in the vicinity of the mass. The closer we get to the mass, the more it slows (the denser the space). Very close to the mass, light appears to take forever (think billions of years) to cover even an inch of distance from our viewpoint. Yet, the beam of light itself (were it sentient) would experience billions of years of travel with a correspondingly long stretch of space covered in that time. At the singularity, where the density of the mass (and space) is infinite, light would become stationary from our perspective, even though in its own view, it’s simply zipping along merrily as always! Time has practically slowed to a halt at the singularity.
The Physical Black Hole and its Event Horizon
We just saw that the closer you are to a mass, the greater its appetite for space. Using the analogy of the stream and the boat, we’d say that the closer the stream is to its destination, the faster it’s flowing. In other words, the stream is constantly accelerating. So you can imagine that a boat near the source of the stream (where the current is fairly weak) has a good chance of making it upstream with moderate effort. But the more downstream it gets, the harder it’s going to be to make progress upstream because the downstream current there is much stronger. Likewise, space too can be thought of as accelerating into the singularity and it can be imagined to be at various speeds depending on its distance from the singularity. Far away from it, the space current would be so slow that even ordinary rocket ships would have a good chance at navigating away from the singularity. But the closer you get to it, the faster the ship has to be to escape from its pull.
There is, not surprisingly, a critical distance from the singularity at which you can consider space to be flowing into the singularity at exactly c, the speed of light. At this distance, one needs to be traveling away from the singularity at faster than c to escape from it. And at any distance closer to the singularity than this critical distance, space has accelerated so much that it’s flowing into the singularity at a speed greater than c. This means that an object needs to travel correspondingly faster than light in order to move away from the singularity. Any slower and it is doomed to be sucked in with the space current into the singularity. Since no energy (or mass) can travel faster than the speed of light (per Einstein’s theory), there exists nothing (that’s made of energy or mass) which can escape from within that radius of the singularity — Not even, you guessed it, light! If an object within this radius emitted light, it would never be seen by us because the light itself would be sucked in to travel backwards into the singularity.
This critical radius around the black hole is called an event horizon because nothing whatsoever that happens within that radius can ever be seen or known by external observers. The black hole is thus, precisely as its name suggests, a black hole in space. Everything goes in and nothing comes out (although recent theories by physicists such as Stephen Hawking predict that a black hole can implicitly and gradually, over billions of years, lose its mass via a special kind of radiation). Now you may ask: Given that we cannot peer into an Event Horizon, how do we even know that there is a singularity at its core? Good question. The answer is that although the singularity cannot be directly observed, we can predict a number of things about it by observing its effect on objects outside the event horizon. When we look at a massive star orbiting what appears to be empty space, for instance, we suspect that there is a dark and massive companion it must be orbiting. From calculations based on the size of the visible star, its period and orbital distance from the center of revolution, we predict that there must be a black hole in that region. We then perform other experiments to verify our hypothesis.
Before we leave the topic of black holes and physical singularities, the following admission is in order: Since I’m not a professional astrophysicist, I might have made errors in my description of the physical singularity and its event horizon. If so, please accept my apologies (and if you are a physicist yourself, I would be grateful for pointers on how I can correct or improve it). But despite these possible errors, I expect that the section captures the overall high-level idea I’m trying to get across. And it does it sufficiently well to set the stage for you to relate, in the following sections, analogical phenomena in the internal universe.
The Internal Universe
Knowledge and experience
All indisputably true knowledge is ultimately rooted in direct experience. That ought to be a fundamental postulate of epistemology. It is absolutely useless waxing and waning about light to someone who has been blind from birth. There is no common ground to relate to them on that subject.
I want to show that there is some subset of real human experiences that will forever be ineffable. But ineffable is a rather weak word to use for this purpose. Ineffable means inexpressible using words — to another person. What I need is a much stronger word, one that signifies not only that you cannot communicate the experience to another person, but that you cannot even know the experience yourself, although you are sure to have had it. Yes — Unknowable might be a better word. It is a state of pure being which defies conscious cognition. It is what Eliot meant when he wrote “The peace that passeth understanding” in his own notes on The Wasteland. Regardless of what that is, as you read this article, you will understand exactly what I mean.
As humans, we are perpetual chroniclers, journalists, and communicators. For whatever reason, evolution has instilled in us an insatiable appetite to record information, whether for others or for our own selves. Sometimes recording an experience gets in the way of actually having it. But still we do it. Let’s look at a little analogy to see how this need to record gets in the way of an experience. Please read this although it may seem quite obvious because I’ll extend this analogy later in this article.
Suppose that you were going on vacation to a dreamy place and your dear friend can’t accompany you. She decides to enjoy the experience of this vacation vicariously through you and asks that you communicate every moment of it to her.
“Sure” you say, but in your mind you’re thinking that you’ll take some time each night to email her the best moments of that day.
But no — That’s not what she wants. She wants you to share every moment of your trip live, as it unfolds. Now, we’ll probably have advanced technology soon that would allow one person to live-stream their sensations directly to another person. But assume for the moment that such a technology doesn’t exist (which it doesn’t today, as I’m writing this article). We’ll make this assumption because, as you’ll see, the existence of such a technology will become irrelevant to the point I’ll eventually make with this line of reasoning.
So back to our friend’s request now: Effectively, what she wants is for you to communicate your experiences during the vacation to her in real time. However, experiences have a certain uncanny property that makes this impossible. Like Heisenberg noticed with electrons, the very act of observing an experience changes it. In what might as well be a fundamental postulate, an experience can either be had or observed at any given time, never both simultaneously. If you are having the experience, you cannot observe it, and conversely if you’re observing it, you’re not having it!
The problem here is that your mind is only capable of being aware of one thing at a time. Even though you may fancy yourself as a furious multitasker, you’re not really doing multiple things at any one time. Rather, you’re switching contexts rapidly between multiple tasks while making sure to remember the state (context) of each task when you leave it and reviving that context when you return to it. Sometimes you could do this switching so rapidly and the amount of time devoted to a slice of any task could be so slim as to give you the illusion you’re really doing multiple things at once. But that’s not true; you are really only capable of being consciously aware of one task at a time. If you’re truly multi-tasking, you’re likely performing all but one of the tasks subconsciously.
In the context of sharing your experience with your friend in real time this would mean that you could take your time stream and chop it up into a large number of slices of short duration — say 1 sec each. This is shown in the following picture which depicts your actions over a 30s period, starting at, say, 5pm.
The 1 sec segments of time that are labeled E (yellow) are the times you experience (and enjoy) your vacation, and the segments that are labelled C (green) are the times you communicate your the memory of your immediately preceding 1-sec experience to your friend. You are time-sharing, like computers.
Although I say “communicating the experience or a memory of it” it is, in fact, impossible to communicate the actual experience itself because of the fundamental postulate. You cannot truly commit an experience to memory. Rather, what happens during the communication time slices labeled C is that you’re observing the environment and context and communicating that to your friend. In fact, that’s what you yourself tuck away in your memory for later reference. When you think you’re remembering one of your past experiences, what’s actually going on is that you’re remembering the events that caused the experience and reliving those moments as well as you can. Henceforth in this article, when we use the term “remember an experience” or “commit an experience to memory” this is what we’ll mean. You’re taking a break from the actual experience to commit to memory the events leading up to and surrounding it for later replay.
Note that the act of communication doesn’t come free — it has a certain cost — precisely the opportunity cost of the lost experience that could have been had during that time. In sum, you understand that by deciding to communicate your experience to your friend in real time, you effectively experienced only half of your vacation time (15 of the 30 seconds in the above example, for instance). The rest of the time was sacrificed by you for communicating the experience. But as it happens, there is a certain joy — a satisfaction — in the sharing experience itself. So it’s not as if you lost a complete 15 seconds of a positive experience. In fact, it may be that the sharing produced even more enjoyment in you than the experience itself, so you end up with a greater net value from your vacation by sharing it in pseudo-real time with your friend. That’s fine; but keep in mind the following facts:
- You’re not experiencing your vacation during the times you’re sharing your memory of some immediate past segment of it (say the last second of it) with your friend.
- You choose to share the experience only because the experience of sharing your joy with your friend had greater value to you than the opportunity cost of losing the experience during the sharing times.
Condensation of Experience
As humans, we crave intensity of (positive) experiences [See Note 1]. There seems to be an inexorable draw towards a void at our cores that is infinitely hungry for an experience. That’s why we like doubled up potato chips. We continually seek and thrust upon ourselves more and more concentrated forms of experience in the hopes of intensifying them, only to run up against the limits of our own biological barriers. Although it is possible in this way to concentrate our experience somewhat, as we saw, our insurmountable biological barriers put a cap on the rate at which these experiences can arise in the internal world. Our sensory portals into the outside world are necessarily finite and the conduits are limited in size. To quote from a poem from elsewhere:
The tragedy of mortal coil alas
Is one of greed that lives to see it fade;
True taste and touch and sight and smell don’t pass
Through narrow doors with which our cage is made.
The eye of humble bee sees subtle tints.
The ear of hatchling owlet bests my own;
Even mongrels savour floral hints
And relish what my nares never have known.
What cruel twist would stunt a reaching arm
Or bind a soul with saturated senses.
I cried, “O Force that fashioned feeble farm -”
“Might not thou have kindly spared it fences?”
But there is yet a way to intensify our experiences. The secret is not to seek it outside, but inside. Suppose we are to experience a certain finite amount of some positive experience over a fixed amount of time. By this I mean that the total value of the experience is fixed at some amount. Although we don’t yet have units to quantify the value of an experience, to make our discussion more concrete, let’s assume that you are to have an experience worth 1 unit, whatever that unit may be. Suppose also that you are to have that amount of the experience (1 unit’s worth) in some given duration of time, say 10 seconds, and also that the rate at which this value is delivered to you, the experiencer, is uniform. So you may expect that you would derive a tenth of the value of that experience every second.
Now suppose that I were to tell you that you are to have the same amount of experience in only 5 seconds. Most people would be confused at this point thinking that they would only extract half the value of that experience (in half the time). But I’m going to be extra careful here to reiterate that’s not what I’m saying — I mean that you still get the entire 1 unit of experience, except in 5 seconds instead of 10. This means that the rate at which you derive value from the experience is suddenly a fifth of a unit per second, double of what it was when you could only savor it over 10 seconds. An experience of a fixed value delivered over a shorter time span has higher intensity. What if you were to have that experience in 1 second? Then the intensity would be ten times as much, yes? Half a second? Twenty times as much. The shorter the duration, the more intense the feeling.
You see where I’m going with this now? At a duration that is close to zero, the magnitude of the experience is truly stupendous. And at zero, we hit what I call the experience singularity (more about this later). It is a true singularity in that it annihilates any other experience thrown at it into nothingness by comparison. Yet, by its very existence, it exerts a relentless pull on all other positive experiences towards itself. This attraction of experiences towards the singularity manifests in our conscious minds as an insatiable hunger for increasing their intensities which we erroneously believe will satiate the singularity at our cores.
Here is a graph of a mathematical shape called a Hyperbola (ignore the legends and annotations for now). It is simply the ratio of two quantities, one of which (the numerator), is fixed. The height of the curve at any point signifies the magnitude of the ratio, and the distance of the point from the origin (bottom left) signifies the value of the denominator.
Suppose that the fixed numerator is the finite quantity of experience we are to have, and the denominator is the amount of time in which we would experience it. Then the ratio of the numerator to the denominator is the intensity at which we would have that experience. In our folly, most of us seek to increase the numerator to concentrate an experience and intensify it.
However, here is a key insight: No matter how much you increase the numerator finitely, the maximum intensity you can derive from the experience is necessarily capped. You can never reach the higher echelons of the experience graph. For a given finite duration, one would have to experience a truly formidable quantity of a positive experience in order to even approach the singularity. For example, let alone the singularity, to achieve an experience intensity of only 1000 units per second over 50 seconds in the above graph, we would need to have a total experience value of 50,000 units.
We focus on the external world to magnify our experiences because we think, incorrectly, that that’s the only thing we have control over — An irony if ever there was one. If there was only one thing you had control over, it’s not out there, but in here!
As anyone who’s experienced an altered state of consciousness (ASC) knows, in certain mental states, our subjective experience of time tends to get highly skewed. What feels like ten minutes to us might actually be just one to an onlooker. And in certain other pleasurable states, we may come away thinking we were in an experience of a few seconds, while in reality several seconds had passed for an external observer. It’s possible to induce these states of mind in many ways, most notably through deep and mindful meditation in which we learn to consciously disengage our intellectual apparatus from the experiential part of our minds, or through the action of certain kinds of psychoactive substances. In these states, we experience very likely the same magnitude of a finite experience, but in highly contracted subjective time periods, and thus gain a fighting chance to approach the experience singularity.
The degree of subtlety of an experience
Experiences have varying degrees of subtlety. By subtlety, I mean that gossamer-like quality which makes the experience hard to nail down firmly. The slightest distraction takes you away from it and you find yourself repeatedly searching for that elusive feeling you had. Interestingly, subtle experiences happen at both ends of the spectrum of experiences. This is quite fortuitous, allowing us to practice in one area to gain expertise in operating in the other. Very light experiences of sensations can be subtle because they’re weak and overshadowed by stronger gross sensations with which our bodies are constantly bombarded. But very strong positive experiences are subtle too, for another, surprising reason. To understand this we must go back to the analogy we set up and review it.
Now remember when you decided to sacrifice some part of the experience of your vacation to communicate it to your friend? We had decided that the only reason you did that was because the pleasure you derived from the sharing was greater than the pleasure you would have derived from the experience itself during the sacrificed time. Now, although the value from sharing information about the experience increases with the value of the experience itself, they increase at different rates. Specifically, the value of having an experience E will at some point, which I call the critical point for that mode, catch up with and surpass the value of sharing it in that mode. Although it would smack of pseudoscience to describe what I’m saying using a mathematical analogy, I’m compelled to use it only because that’s the best I can think of. But bear in mind that the shapes of the curves in the graph serve a purely analogical purpose, meant to help you understand what I mean more clearly. By no means am I making a strong claim that one is a parabola and another is linear with such and such a slope, etc.
In this illustrative graph, I have a few different curves representing the various ways in which an experience is communicated. Of course, there are many more modes that I’ve left out for clarity. For instance, somewhere between writing home about the experience and remembering it to revisit for yourself lie the following other modes of communicating the experience: Typing it out into a makeshift journal, speaking it aloud and recording it, whispering it softly to a recorder or a notetaker sitting beside you, etc.
Each of these recording methods has a certain positive experiential value associated with it. Understandably, these values are each monotonically increasing functions of the value of the experience itself within some range of interest. And as you can see, for low values of the intensity of experience, E, the value of communicating it trumps the value of E itself. And so you can afford to break from E using the time-sharing method we discussed earlier and communicate your memory of it. But, equally, each of these modes of communication also has a critical point at which the value of communicating E using that mode is overtaken by the value of simply having E. Writing home about it, for instance, is one of the modes of communication overtaken early on by the value of having E.
Eventually, you find yourself desperately struggling in your search for any method you can think of to preserve your memory of E — Maybe you decide that you could speak your feeling into a recording machine to replay and analyze later. At some point, you find that the harshness of your speaking voice is too jarring, and that disturbs the delicate experience you’re having, so you decide you must simply whisper it. But you run up against the limit of that too — even the effort to move your vocal apparatus is too much. So you decide that you’ll instead simply commit the experience to memory to review later.
But pretty soon, you’ll encounter mental states in which you feel it’s too risky to even take microbreaks from E to communicate it. Why risky? Paradoxically, once the intensity of E crosses a certain threshold, notably when it’s close to what I call the Experience Event Horizon (more on this shortly), it feels both fantastically strong and incredibly delicate at the same time. The delicateness of the experience comes from the fact that you are now struggling to find ways to remember and hold on to E with the precision you’re used to. You fear that if you let go of it even momentarily in the hopes of committing it to memory, there may be neither anything to remember, nor something to go back to! The risk would be simply too great.
This, incidentally, is something that points to an asymmetry between happiness and sadness. It may be related to why we remember sad moments starkly, like they were etched into hard rock, but supremely happy moments are often a blur. During positive experiences, we’re busy enjoying the experience rather than bothering to record it. But during our negative experiences, we take every opportunity to break from the experience whenever possible, even if it means recording it from multiple perspectives!
Thus, the desire to commit the positive experience, E, to memory, though an apparently ubiquitous and strong desire, soon becomes fodder and yields to the unrelenting pull of the desire to experience E. I can’t help but think of the analogy of various macro forces in the external universe gradually yielding to the insidious but crunching pull of gravity as a mass falls into itself in the process of becoming a singularity.
Likewise, the pull of the experience singularity is relentless and inexorable. Your desire to intensify E increases at an accelerating rate as your perception of time continues to get skewed more and more strongly. The stronger E gets, the more it ends up warping your subjective time sensation. All this becomes a vicious cycle, feeding itself to better feed itself! The more intense your experience, the more time-warping power it has, and consequently the greater its value and the more intense your desire to intensify it even further!
In short, you’re effectively spiraling towards the singularity as your internal perception of the passage of time speeds up hyperbolically (speaking strictly figuratively). At some point, and there’s no two ways about it, you say to yourself “To hell with it. This experience is so valuable that I’m just going to simply have it, and forget about remembering it”, since, let’s face it — consciously committing things to memory also takes effort — yes?
But wait. There’s an even more subtle level that you cross in your one-way trip to the singularity — And this is the level at which you’re even consciously aware of the experience — the level at which you would normally commit it to memory, even a short term working memory, but now you suddenly and momentarily become aware of your conscious decision not to. Now, this is the new kind of Event Horizon or the Experience Horizon. In many ways, this horizon is similar to the event horizon surrounding a physical black hole because nothing that happens within it can ever be known — not even to the person having that experience.
This, I believe, is the state of pure being and feeling in which everything you currently know to be your mundane self — your memories, the sensory perceptions gained through your various bodily organs, specific ways in which your discriminative mind operates — in short your entire personality — completely melts away to yield to the state of pure experience. That is when a realization blossoms. This state of being, the one in which your corporeal self doesn’t exist any more, is the only real thing there is, and being devoid of identity, it is at once identical to the core of every single sentient being in the universe! This aha moment instills in you such an intense feeling of peace as cannot be described, and simultaneously, love and compassion towards everything. It suddenly dawns on you that true love is when selfishness and selflessness become one and the same thing. The sayings of ancient seers suddenly come to life and become your very own in a way that transcends time. You can see that is you who spoke their words. And that you have repeated it countless times since an eternity ago! You have the courage to admit to yourself that all love begins and ends with the love of this Self within you. And that in our daily lives, our love for another is simply a manifestation of our inner desire to complete our own selves, of our silent acknowledgement that we will always be incomplete without the realization that nothing and no one else can ever complete us.
Strangely enough, it is at this point that you somehow have the option to rematerialize (that’s the best word I came up with) outside the singularity [See note 2]. The next thing you remember is being outside the event horizon, but although you remember nothing at all of what happened within, there is some subtle effect, a slight transformation you can detect in your attitude towards life and towards others around you. This rematerialized being feels different. Somehow it’s like another you reborn outside whilst the old you is still within the singularity. Reality suddenly appears as if it’s a dream that must be played out but in a way that cannot really touch you at your core. Eventually, the mundane experiences of your daily life will overwhelm the new you thereafter, but until then you continue to fondly remember this feeling you had at the edge of the event horizon. Of how all your trials and suffering in life are no different from anyone else’s. That your corporeal self is just one transitory wave in the ocean of elements that constantly ebbs and flows. That everything you had hitherto thought to be real has a fundamentally unreal quality to it, and that the reality you had just witnessed… no, experienced, is the only one that is and what ultimately matters.
It is simultaneously both positively exhilarating and terrifying to reach the Experience Event Horizon because this is exactly the mental state at which you’re clinging onto your last shreds of consciousness and being faced with the choice of letting go. On the one hand, if you choose, with either great trepidation or tremendous willpower, to not let go — if you wrench yourself away from the event horizon and the singularity back to common experiences, you return to the normal world of waking consciousness, our trustworthy (really?) and safe sanctuary. We return to mundane items that make us feel like ordinary human beings — back to all our unfulfilled dreams, hopes and unresolved issues — loose ends in our lives we want to tie up before we die. On the other hand, if you give in to the pull of the singularity and enter the event horizon, you truly accept and believe deeply that this, in a sense, will be your death. You give up everything you know to be your conscious waking self — Your hopes and dreams and everything you cherished (or so you thought), and your own identity.
This is a most difficult decision. So difficult, in fact, that most of us would at this stage be unnerved enough and say to ourselves that we aren’t quite ready yet. Or that we should return to “face the beast” when we’re better equipped or more complete (whatever that means!). That’s why it’s entirely possible to flirt with the Event Horizon, be slungshot around it and return. If so, the journey that would have been the greatest pilgrimage of our lives would have turned into a satisfying vacation at best.
1. James Fadiman, commenting on an earlier version of the draft, questioned this assumption and said that it may not be universally true. I believe the confusion results from my less than ideal choice of words which suggest that by positive experience I mean those that we commonly associate with shallow and finite positive experiences. In a forthcoming article I will address this and other concerns.
2. Again, readers of an earlier draft have pointed to this sentence asking why we return from the singularity if it’s really all that it’s hyped to be. I have now found the answer to this (in early Feb, 2017) but it won’t fit here in a footnote. Since it’s worthy of a discussion by itself, I’ll try and articulate my thoughts in a forthcoming article soon. For those that are impatient (and lest I make the same mistake as Fermat), the answer centers on compassion as a culprit, and how a compassionate mindset is not something to strive towards, but something to hope for.