Roger Eugene Hill
The life, career, scientific and spiritual insights of a physicist plus a few excursions into Complexity Science and Art.

Research Gate

Only by the comradeship of scientific knowledge and intuitive experience can we grow into true insight -- (S. Radhakrishnan)

The Reflections page develops a metaphysical point of view that emerges from what modern science tell us about the material universe and what I see as spiritual and metaphysical reflections of that knowledge. Fundamental to this metaphysical view is the idea that the universe is not an accident: it has been created and it is purposeful. The Creator (Spirit) is defined as what exists without dimension outside of our spacetime. The view of human nature is that the distinguishing feature of our material existence is self-awareness and that our life in spacetime is, at its core, an interplay of the material and the spiritual. This page presents essays that elaborate on several issues relating to the interplay of the material and spiritual in the universe and in our lives.

all of material existence emerged from awareness and all of material existence rests on a foundation of uncertainty

  Big Bang

All cosmological observations to date are consistent with the idea that our universe began 13.8±0.13 billion years ago in an explosion known as the big bang. The big bang started from a vanishingly small object known as a singularity. Except for a very short (< 10-32 seconds) period of initial inflation, the expansion of the universe has taken place ever since then in accordance with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity: a theory that has been verified to great accuracy in many experiments. According to this theory, spacetime, the coordinates that we use to order our existence and describe the results of our observations, began with the big bang and continues to expand as our universe expands. In this view spacetime is not a mental construct; it is an inherent part of nature. Spacetime is defined by the existence of matter and the curvature of spacetime is responsible for the gravity that governs the motion of matter. Time, the coordinate we use to define “before” and “after”, began with the big bang. That is why the question of what existed before the big bang is a meaningless scientific question. The singularity from which the big bang emerged is outside of our spacetime.

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac
Paul Dirac (1902-1984) was one of the early pioneers of quantum mechanics and one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th century. It was he who first made quantum mechanics consistent with Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity: a connection that leads to the prediction of the existence of antimatter and lays the foundations of modern quantum field theory. Dirac won the Nobel Prize in 1933 (together with Schrödinger) for his work in quantum mechanics. He became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge: the same chair occupied by Sir Isaac Newton and, today, by Stephen Hawking. In his beautiful textbook, The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, first published in 1930, Dirac introduced the concept of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle with the following statement:
There is a limit to the fineness of our powers of observation and the smallness of the accompanying
disturbance—a limit which is inherent in the nature of things and can never be surpassed by improved
technique or increased skill on the part of the observer.1
(emphasis mine)

The uncertainty principle effects measurements at all length scales, though such effects are completely negligible at the scale of classical physics. But what Dirac recognized is that the spacetime with which we describe the results of our observations is subject to complete uncertainty when we try to use coordinates less than some limiting size. If we try to observe nature with spacetime below this limit, we will so hopelessly disturb nature that causality will no longer apply and there is only uncertainty. Whatever existence there may be below this limit, a region usually referred to as the vacuum or void, is total, unobservable uncertainty.

What is the limiting size of spacetime? It is generally assumed that as the universe expanded from the singularity it passed through a spacetime state where everything was unified and only one force was in play. This is the point at which gravitational and quantum forces are of equal strength: they are unified. The natural spatial length at which this unification occurs is based on the values of three experimentally determined universal constants: Planck’s constant from quantum mechanics, the speed of light from Special Relativity, and the gravitational constant (a number that comes into play in all gravitational interactions) from General Relativity. This length is called the Planck length and, using the present day values of the constants, it is of the order of 10-35 meters. It seems logical to associate the observation limit with this unification limit: the singularity in which everything was unified was outside of our spacetime and therefore also in the realm of the unobservable.

So, observation tells us that all that exists in the universe emerged from a singularity that lies outside of spacetime and that there is a region of uncertainty at the base of the spacetime defining all of material existence. In the Reflections I defined all that exists outside of spacetime as Spirit so, with this definition, our observations could be rephrased as:
all of material existence emerged from Spirit and all of material existence currently rests on a foundation of uncertainty.

The question is: What is Spirit? The first thing to remember is that there can be no scientific answer to that question (scientific theories can only be tested within our spacetime.) It is a completely metaphysical question.

Other metaphysical choices are to believe that Spirit is simply uncertainty itself or to deny that it exists at all. That is the point of view taken by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their recent and popular book, The Grand Design2. They choose to believe in the existence of a multiverse that contains an infinite (they admit to only 10500) number of universes each with their own spacetime and physical laws. In their view each universe arises from spontaneous creation. (This is, in principle, no different from the idea that each universe arises from fluctuations in an infinite quantum vacuum that I discussed in the Reflections.) Their explanation for the fact that the conditions required for self-aware life to exist in our universe are nothing short of miraculous (probability of 10-100?) is simply that an event with a probability approaching 0 is bound to occur in a population approaching infinity. (In a truly infinite population, it will occur infinite times!) Their metaphysical choice then leads to the belief that the universe is an accident; everything is random; there is nothing outside of the multiverse so there is, literally, no room for Spirit. It is important to keep in mind that the theory of the multiverse is a metaphysical theory based on mathematics and imagination. It is not a scientific theory since it can neither be verified or falsified by observation. Looking back in time, our science stops at the singularity.

The point of view that I developed in the Reflections is based on the metaphysical choice to believe that Spirit is awareness (or, if you prefer, consciousness). So, with this choice for all that exists outside of our spacetime, the summary of our observations about the origin and nature of our spacetime reads:
all of material existence emerged from awareness and all of material existence currently rests on a foundation of uncertainty.

In this view, the singularity from which all existence emerged is awareness. Awareness operates to produce certainty out of uncertainty. This operation establishes a direction for the evolution of our universe and the existence of this direction allows for a definition of the purpose and meaning of material existence. I believe the direction is related to the evolution of self-aware beings in the universe: invoking what might be called the ultimate anthropic principle.

The singularity was infused with the creative principles (natural laws) that governed the birth and continue to govern the evolution of our universe. The goal of all science is to become aware of those natural laws through observation and reason. We already know from quantum mechanics that indeterminism (uncertainty) is at the core of these natural laws. Spirit, all that is outside of our spacetime, cannot directly enter and affect the material world inside spacetime. That would be a contradiction of the nature of Spirit. Furthermore, because of the inherent indeterminism of the material world, not even an omniscient awareness (operating within our spacetime) could predict the detailed unfolding of the universe. This would put a contradictory limit on the presumed omniscience of Spirit, the Creator. There is, however, a means for Spirit (Awareness) to indirectly affect the material world by acting in cooperation with self-aware beings whose existence includes an immaterial aspect that is outside of spacetime. On the planet Earth, those beings are us and our immaterial aspect is what we call our individual soul. I say "cooperate" because, just as indeterminism is at the heart of the natural world, free will is at the heart of human nature. (Further discussion of the idea of an individual soul is presented below in the essay "Emergence of Spirit".)

Once again, I want to point out that the metaphysical choice of Spirit as Awareness is just as valid as the choice of Spirit as uncertainty or the complete denial of the existence of Spirit and there is no scientific test that can be used to distinguish among these choices. I believe, however, that the effects of direction, purpose and meaning implied by the choice of Spirit as Awareness are reflected in the evolution of our own self-awareness and are observable to anyone whose mind is open to the possibility.

1. P.A.M. Dirac,The Principles of Quantum Mechanics,Oxford University Press, 4th ed, 1958 (first published 1930), 3-4.

2. Stephen Hawking and Leaonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Bantam Books, 2010.

Emergence in Nature

An army ant is an almost blind minimally intelligent creature. Put a hundred of them on a flat surface and they will wander in circles until they die of exhaustion. But put a half a million of them together and they become a superorganism displaying amazing intelligence and survivability. A new level of existence - the colony- has emerged.


As a physicist who began his research career in experimental particle physics I fully appreciate the value of reductionist thinking. Looking at matter through increasingly powerful "microscopes", the discovery of the nucleus led to an understanding of atomic structure; the discovery of the proton and neutron led to an understanding of nuclear structure; the discovery of quarks has led to an understanding of the forces holding the proton and neutron together. And so it continues: one of the objectives of the experiments planned for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is to probe even deeper to look for possible structure within the quarks. (The discovery of quark structure would completely change our current physics model for the nature of matter.) We are trying to understand the nature of the whole (matter) by discovering all of its constituent parts and, hopefully, the relationships among the parts. The latter is important, because, as Dirac once pointed out, if you want to understand the game of chess you have to know the rules governing the interaction of the pieces: whether the pieces are made of ivory or wood is irrelevant.

But looking beyond the "simple" world of particles and fields we find there are many complex adaptive systems that require a different kind of thinking in order to understand them. These are systems with so many individual parts and with such a multiplicity of relationships (interactions) among the parts that the whole of the system is larger than the sum of its parts. The added element is the network of relationships among the parts that obeys its own rules; e.g., scalability, self-similarity, regulation, self-organization, etc. A new phenomenon (level of existence) has emerged from the complex system because of this network of interactions. The limits of reductionist thinking come about because reductionism does not usually attempt to understand the rules of the network itself (as opposed to the rules operating within the individual links) or to take into account the two-way feedback between the network and the environment in which the system is embedded. This two-way feedback implies there is a top-down causality at work whereby the emergent collective state produces changes in the individual agents through the network. To understand the real world in which we live and function, reductionist thinking must be complemented by network thinking.

There are many examples of emergent phenomena in the world around us. The most obvious ones are those associated with the origin and evolution of life. About a billion years after the formation of the earth single cell organisms emerged from the complex soup of organic molecules that had formed in the early oceans. The exact sequence of events leading to this emergence is not yet understood: it's the ultimate chicken and egg question - Which came first, the membrane or the protein replication systems inside the membrane? But, however it happened, it's clear that a new level of existence had appeared on the planet. Biology had emerged from chemistry and an understanding of biological evolution cannot be reduced to an understanding of chemistry. Because of the increasing complexity of the environment (much of it caused by life itself) and of individual biological structures (genetics) the evolution of the biosphere has produced incredible biodiversity and the emergence of complex social systems. The social systems in turn have caused changes in the individuals; for example, the emergence of language in human society.

A vivid example of emergent phenomena can be found in the behavior of insect colonies. Take, for example, the army ants of the Brazilian rain forest1. Each individual ant is nearly blind and displays only rudimentary intelligence. It can respond to certain chemical signals from other ants, has an instinct to find food and fight intruders. If you put a hundred army ants together on a flat surface they will wander around in circles until they die of exhaustion. If you put a half a million of them together they will form a super organism that displays a very sophisticated collective intelligence that has no leader or central coordinator. When foraging, the collective will march in a fan shaped swarm efficiently devouring everything in its path, carrying away that which can't be immediately eaten. At night they link their bodies together in the shape of a meter wide ball sheltering the young larvae and the queen mother at the center.
  Ant Bridge
At dawn, the ball dissolves and each ant takes its place again in the swarm. When nesting they use soil, twigs and leaves to build huge nests of great strength and stability. These nests include large arrays of underground passages
  1D cellular automata obeying Wolfram rule 30
and dry warm nursery chambers whose temperatures are carefully controlled by decaying plant material and the ant's own bodies. When traveling between nests they will link their bodies together to form bridges across gaps that impede the flow of the swarm. They respond collectively to threats posed by weather or intruders. All of this leaderless, cooperative, very intelligent behavior emerges in the collective through the network of interactions among the minimally intelligent individuals within the collective. It's not yet understood exactly how this comes about but practitioners of Complexity Science are actively studying these and related phenomena (typically, using computer simulations of the networks linking individual agents within a collective.) The cellular automata that I have presented elsewhere in this website, including Conway's Game of Life, provide simpler examples of emergent phenomena. The cellular automata are collectives in which very complex behavior emerges as a result of a network of simple existence rules linking the individual agents that have only two possible states, existence or non-existence, within the collective.

Perhaps the complex adaptive system of most interest to us humans is our own brain. Each human brain is a collective of some 100 billion individual neurons linked in a network that involves some 500 trillion connections (synapses) among the neurons. All of the capacities of the human being, including the higher capacities of consciousness, abstract thought, compassion, altruistic love, etc., are phenomena that emerge from the incredibly complex network within the brain. But these capacities correspond to new levels of existence and, though they emerge from the physical brain, they cannot be understood through the behavior of individual neurons and synapses. In this view, the human mind emerges from the physical brain. The mind is supported and affected by the physical brain but an understanding of mind cannot be reduced to an understanding of individual neurons and synapses any more than an understanding of the behavior of an ant colony can be reduced to an understanding of an individual ant. The concept of emergent phenomena, a central aspect of Complexity Science, supports the view of the human mind that philosophers have labeled non-reductive physicalism2.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

What phenomena are likely to emerge from the network of minds within our human society? We saw that in an ant society of sufficient complexity a superorganism, displaying considerable intelligence, adaptability and survivability, will emerge from the network linking the "minds" of the minimally intelligent individual ants. The superorganism- the colony- displays a form of collective consciousness that interacts with the external environment to provide for the protection, nourishment and reproduction of the society. Just how collective consciousness emerges from the network linking the individuals is not understood but it is clear from observation that it does happen. I believe that a similar emergence is taking place within human society that is related to what Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) called the noösphere.3

Facebook connections. Dec. 2010
Human society is, of course, much more complex than an insect colony. We are a society of self-aware beings acting with free will. (We are not the Borg.) The physical links between human minds are what we call the media that have evolved to now include the internet with all of its powerful networking capabilities. The noösphere is all of the combined media together with the content of those media. In other words, it is the sum total of linked human consciousness. It is entirely reasonable to believe that when the noösphere reaches some critical state a new level of existence will emerge just as the superorganism of the ant colony emerges when the ant population reaches some critical state. It is likely that the new level of existence will be one of human wide (global) consciousness that reflects the nature of the individuals within it and functions to protect and nourish the lives of all human beings. I believe that in order to provide these functions the global consciousness that finally emerges will reflect that humans are by nature free, equal and responsible beings, each endowed with inalienable rights and, as we shall see below, each engaged in the emergence of their individual spiritual nature. This consciousness will include the righteousness and wisdom of protecting the planet and the biosphere from which we emerged and by which we are nourished.

A regional consciousness has recently emerged in the noösphere linking the Arab communities that recognizes the individual's right to freedom and democratic governance. A wave of hope and courage has surged through that part of the noösphere that has brought about leaderless, cooperative social rebellion against tyranny. This is just a preview of how the evolution of the noösphere toward the emergence of global consciousness is likely to eventually bring about a transformation of human society. The success of the efforts to transform the Arab communities is threatened by the current weakness of the emerging global consciousness that would naturally support such transformation. This weakness is what allows the autocrats, theocrats, and oligarchs of the world to maintain their power (and wealth). But I believe evolution is a powerful force and that the emergence of global consciousness will eventually reach fruition.

The view of the mind that comes from network thinking, i.e., as an emergent phenomenon, provides a logical alternative to the ancient concept of mind-matter dualism that lies at the heart of so much of the religious division within the human community. This division has come about because of the implicit identification of the mind with the idea of an immortal soul. This dualism dates back at least to Plato where it is rephrased as a body-soul dualism. In Plato's view we consist of a body and soul that are in irreconcilable conflict and the purpose of life is seen as following certain prescriptions to prepare the soul for the afterlife. This dualistic view of human nature has been adopted by many of the world's religions.

1. This description of ant behavior is derived from the writings of biologist Nigel Franks as reported in Melanie Mitchell's delightful book: Complexity - A Guided Tour (Oxford University Press, 2009).

2. Nancey Murphy, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?, Cambridge University Press, 2006, 69-70.

3. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2008, first published in 1959.

Emergence of Spirit

Love emerges from our relationship with the Creator expanding our individual souls to include an awareness of The One.


If the mind is a phenomenon emerging from the physical, is there an immaterial aspect of human nature that qualifies as immortal; i.e., that exists outside of spacetime? If the soul is not the mind, what could it be? The metaphysical point of view that I am espousing1 is that what we call the soul emerges from our relationships (interactions) with nature, with other human beings, and with our Creator. Our individual minds emerge from the complexity of our individual brains and our individual souls emerge from the complexity of our interactions with nature and with other human beings alive or dead. If the individual soul is immortal it must exist outside of spacetime and, as I explain above, I choose to label everything that exists outside of spacetime as awareness. So the individual soul emerges as a non-local awareness that is capable of a relationship with the Creator - who is awareness itself. In other words, the individual human soul emerges as self-awareness. I don't mean the capacity for self-recognition that is exhibited by the interplay of other animals with mirrors, but the awareness that you are aware, that you are aware, etc. As far as we know, human beings are the only self-aware beings on our planet. (Though, almost certainly, not the only ones in our universe.)

What is the nature of the relationship of an individual self-awareness with the Creator - the totality of awareness? I believe, following Charles Williams2, that you and I coinhere with each other and with the Creator through the mystery of what we call Love. Most of us live out our lives in spacetime with our self-awareness focused on the drama of our individual lives and building the network of connections with other beings that forms the basis of our individual soul. But I believe the full emergence of our individual soul occurs when Love expands our awareness to realize our oneness with each other and with the Creator - who is Love and Awareness itself. This is not blasphemy: being one with the Creator does not mean that we are the Creator any more than an ant is the colony. Nor am I saying that the Creator is a collective. All I'm saying is that Love emerges from our relationship with the Creator, expanding our individual souls to include an awareness of The One. I realize there is a certain circularity to what I'm saying. But that is because as a mere creature I don't understand the mystery of the Love that makes us coinhere as One. All I can do is to be humbly and profoundly thankful for the awareness of its existence and try to facilitate the emergence of my individual soul by infusing the network of all my connections with Love.

There is another level of potential emergence related to human existence and that is the level emerging from the network of our individual souls. This network lies outside of spacetime. It is a purely spiritual network and I described it in the Reflections using the metaphor of a hologram. In that description I stressed how there is an image encoded as a pattern in the hologram that can be seen (decoded) only when the hologram is illuminated with the same light used to create it. But another feature of the hologram is that the decoded image reveals another dimension of existence beyond the hologram ( e.g., a 3D image from a 2D physical hologram). The extra dimension in the spiritual hologram is the dimension in which the individual spiritual nodes and links are unified and the image reveals the nature of that unity - the Creator. The light is Awareness and the extra dimension is Love. The clarity of the image revealed to the individual soul depends on the degree to which that soul is linked to the hologram through freely established connections of love and awareness. Though this is only a metaphor, I have come to believe that the hologram is, in fact, a reasonable first-order model for the spiritual nature of self-aware beings3.

How does top-down causality work in this situation? That is, how does the emergent behavior in the collection of individual souls affect the individual soul and then, from there, affect the individual mind? The only point of contact I see among them is thought, or, its product, ideas. Though a thought may result from electromagnetic activity in the brain, is an idea material? Can an idea be localized in spacetime or have any measurable physical properties? I don't see how. If ideas are immaterial, they could be the vehicle for top-down causality between the collection of souls and the individual soul.
  C. G. Jung
Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Jung believed that there is a form of universal ideas (archetypes) existing in what he called the collective unconscious that affect the basic levels of the mind of all human beings. This form of top-down causality operates on our basic levels of mind primarily through dreams but, maybe, also through chemically altered states that result in trances, visions, or other dream-like conditions. I believe the higher levels of our individual minds can also be affected by the collection of all human souls living or dead, with whom our souls are connected in awareness and love, through the phenomenon we call inspiration. We can open our minds to inspiration through practices that quiet and focus the mind, such as silent meditation, chanting, and prayer.

1.This point of view is inspired by Nancey Murphy, a Neuroscientist and Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary. (Nancey Murphy, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?, Cambridge University Press, 2006.) Professor Murphy makes the interesting observation that the Platonic view of human nature as a body-soul dualism is not specifically supported anywhere within the Bible.

2.Barbara Newman, Charles Williams and the Companions of the Co-Inherence, Spiritus, 9.1, 1-26, 2009.

3.I have come to suspect that this spiritual model can be made more realistic and provide a deeper understanding by considering the Creator to be a living Being, and, perhaps, the hologram to be alive as well. (If awareness is alive, wouldn't information be its nourishment?)

Santa Fe, New Mexico
March 1, 2011

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