To explain the human story, why we are here and our answer to happiness it is necessary to walk a path through physics, cosmology, neuroscience and philosophy. At the outset a little must be said as to how this, the best we can offer, is limited by language.
Cosmologies, sciences and philosophies of the past have stated a quite natural and seemingly obvious claim that "there was nothing and by some event/magic/intervention/unknown/unknowable there came to be something". Leading physics today though says that there is no such thing as nothing and no true idea of something. That there is a quantum state which is impossible to fit into our language, causal or mechanical frameworks. This can seem limiting but it is also wonderfully magical. Perhaps this start point appears as a knife to the throat of any attempt to describe our world and place in it but this very same sharp edge is what we need to cut right through to the truth of the matter. Nothing is doing anything, acting on anything, causing anything. At root, in the quantum fabric there is the possibility of something and nothing appearing, always as a unity and - here at the introduction - that attempts too much with language.
From the above "something/nothing" quantum state of nothing/something came an appearance of something floating around in nothing. That took time and so something, nothing, spatial and temporal dimensions, apparent forces and so on appeared to come about at once. These terms are attempts to describe facets of this quantum nothing/something and so we must never take one of them as having an objective reality or consider one without all of the rest. One can not consider time without space or matter without space. Also then not consider time without matter or any of the above without the seeming forces at play. The apparent first case of this quantum occurrence, at least the one measurable and so meaningful to us, we know of was The Big Bang. There may have been more bangs, there may not have even been one. We measure the first significant event by tracing back all that we can see and measure now to, not a point in space and time, but the occurrence of space and time. (It is clear how language fails as the very rules for constructing a sentence demand apparent cause, effect and temporality of which "then" there were none).
Be it through entirely reductional means or by more holistic means where new "emergent" qualities arise from increasingly complex arrangements of networking "parts" then the quantum dance wiggled and became increasingly huge and complex. In truth this is beyond huge as it is infinite and beyond complex as such as it is the entirety of everything bar none. This quantum dance, which as said has no meaningful language to describe it, from our perspective and in our language, interacted with itself. [from now onwards I will just use English words without quotations or explanation and let you remind yourself of their inadequacy for describing that outside of our sensory world. These words are all we have after all so lets progress without the inertia of caveats]. Certain parts took on certain qualities providing them the abilities to interact and this appeared to happen along a causal and temporal, linear dimension. Invisible to us but known to our minds as time.
Within this story ever more complex wiggles appeared to 14 billion year old scientists (as that is how old we are in this story) as various constituent parts. This is after all how our mind has evolved to describe our macro world, we insist that wholes are made of parts. These parts however are not parts but aspects of this self interacting dance of one, infinite, nothing. For a time these parts were atoms, for a time they were protons and electrons (protons and electrons we found made up atoms), for a time they were electrons and quarks (3 quarks we found made up a proton), for a time they were known as strings (strings were theorized to be the fundamental wiggles which made up anything known before them), for a time strings became more complex "branes" and for a time all of these ideas were embraced, cast aside, loved and even dismissed. We met limits in our abilities to test theories but what we had come to know in a brief magical time in science was so great and so accurate in describing our world that in the wake of the revolution came GPS, Wi-Fi, CPU's, Lasers and a whole host of magical and powerful things depending on the, as yet unseen, quantum universe behind all of reality.
As these wiggles took on complex forms, be they described as strings, quarks, atoms or anything else then the force we all know as gravity acted also. This stuff coalesced and, as it did, even more complex forms came to be. In time gravity and the other forces present in these (truly) nuclear furnaces in space could balance no more and huge explosions ripped thorough space scattering what we know as chemical elements into space. Carbon, lithium, helium and anything up to the weight of iron spilled out into the universe and they all too felt gravity. New, second generation stars, of which our Sun is one, took form and matter, which was not grabbed by the gravity of these stars and sucked into them, floated around in volatile elliptical orbits sustaining collisions. In time the larger bits pulled in the smaller and planets of very complex mixtures of chemicals took shape.
The indescribable quantum wiggle grew more in complexity and in our story became chemical compounds and, not forgetting the possibilities on offer in infinity, some, you can imagine it happening, animated.
At first two complex compounds would both do well to react with another compound. When one did it went static but when the other did it became larger and was left fit to continue. Within liquids certain reactions went well and those compounds which generated bubbles grew to protect or isolate themselves. An interplay went ahead where many possibilities were tried and by no method whatsoever besides having all the time they wanted and any means available to them, reactions went on in whatever way they did. As growing compounds took on mass they split apart and these parts continued. In time these subdividing parts came together and, not forgetting the time scales involved, billions of years, and how long you have to read this story, much less, some mixtures were successful and others not. Successful compounds grew more complex and at some time, still billions of years ago, there were chemical compounds so adept to duplication that they were carrying with them instruction manuals, protection, and things we may now recognise as cells were living. The quantum universe, from our perspective, was alive. Although it would be simple to state and accept that aliveness is the natural state of the universe I'm only now looking at the animated life which contrasts, in our macro world, with the inanimate dead.
The most complex collection of cells we know of are the ones collectively known as human beings and the most complex part of them is their brains. Until very recently brains were thought to be made of neurons and useless goo. It turned out with time that there are many hundreds of kinds of neuron, the eye has over a hundred kinds of its own, the heart has neurons, your stomach (gut feelings) has neurons and your brain has billions. The largest collection of neurons is in the brain and each neuron has thousands of linkages which may reconfigure at any moment. Your brain is said to be plastic as it can, and it does, reconfigure moment by moment. It is said that there are more connections in the brain than stars in the known universe. The complexity here is, as you know by being there right now and considering all of this, quite incredible.
Not only are the connections in the brain vast but they do not operate as switches, on or off, and in circuits, nothing so simple as that! They operate in networks with many kinds of signalling media available to them. The specific skills of our brain, and the reason we did not evolve a language suited to the quantum world, were honed by our need for survival in a world that seems to us to be made of big and small things operating in a causal manner. Lion runs at human, human will be eaten, human attempts evasive action. The resulting complexity of our brains though is a very powerful tool and, as said, plastic and highly adaptable. While certain parts of the brain do seem to be commonly wired one way for most of us, say the part for vision is almost certainly at the back of your head, other parts of the brain can be involved in many tasks and parts can alter purpose and many features will be unique to individuals.
During the evolution of the brain the increasing complexities of, what are ultimately quantum wiggles, dressed as chemicals, being successful or not in replication, took on increasingly more complex roles. Brains for some animals are only a means to navigate relatively simple landscapes, finding food, partners and so on. Brains for other animals developed apparent skills like the ones you are using now and along side the near visible features such as these the invisible world of genes operated unseen.
Seeing as we did that successful chemical interactions multiplied then so too successful genes will lead to duplication of certain traits. If two sisters are born and they move to different sides of the same river and one caries a gene that makes her snore at night then given the same nocturnal predators the snoring sister may have more chance of scaring away nocturnal animals from her babies as, even unaware of the threat, she slept at night. This outcome is deemed successful and, as unimpressed as you are at snoring, nature deemed it a successful adaptation. Variations of this speculative example can be from two tree seedlings dropped by a tree. They happen to be indigestible by birds but eaten all the same. Both seeds drop in the birds droppings onto different fields. One field is prone to flooding and the other not. Both seeds carry a gene that allows them to cope well with excess water but as the trees have offspring in their respective fields the gene degenerates in both families. In the flooded field only those offspring carrying the gene survive, the others don't but in the dry field all saplings survive with or without the gene. Within not too many generations the gene is strengthened in one strain and diluted or lost forever in the other. These related trees, given enough time and variation become different species with different appearances and qualities which can no longer interbreed.
The brain then underwent internal evolution in ways so far and beyond the complexities of the above examples that they would take pages to even theorise over but we do not need to attempt to rewrite what Charles Darwin and all who have followed him have already stated and proven so well. Certain qualities, even seen as quite horrible, such as feeling pain or being depressed flourished for their ability to lead to successful duplication and nothing else. Two people cut their hands, one feels pain and is drawn to act the other does not feel pain, great for them!, but they do not react, become infected and die with no offspring, not so great for them. The qualities we have have been successful to date so you do not have a single relative in your direct family tree who has failed to duplicate itself since the beginning of time. We are one big family.
We are one big family though where it has been good for our genes as a collective whole for some of us to be subservient and others dominant, for some to be creative and others dogmatic, for some to be so fond of their recent heritage that they will kill in its name and for some to be so taken by our interrelatedness that they are drawn to question all apparent division. We have evolved with dangerous and complex contradictory drives inside one brain. We have genes that know success is from having one steady life partner and via complexities in community have attempted to legislate that this must be the way for all. We have genes that know success by having many partners and have successfully duplicated these genes by doing just that. We have dominant brain organizations which infer parts out there in the world and we have dominant brain organisations that see wholeness. With such wildly separate examples and so much else in our mix it can be no surprise that in the 9 billion versions of the human alive today that we are so different to one another even given our striking similarities. There may well be 9 billion completely correct views on some subjects, or exactly what shade of green is the real green.
Along with the complexities in our brains we have the external world where interactions between us are just as important and just as complex as the interactions of neurons and transmitters in our heads. As our genes move to duplicate and for duplicated genes to reattempt their successes, our complex brains have gone to shape the world in which we live. Now our world is only this way for us. A bird will fly from one area of land to another but we will display a passport to cross the very same land mass. We have labelled and split our world in the way our brain has evolved to label and split what we sense around us. When a child is born then the universe for them is completely at one. Just as soon as we can though we have them label parts. We have them say dog when they see a dog and we repeat it until they repeat it and then we congratulate them for saying it on their own and then we ask them to please stop saying things out loud and to internalize the labelling. This learned labelling, while very useful and and purposeful, is then taken to new levels as we have children apply labels to things which are not even things. We have them label good and bad, consciousness, east, west, China, India, space, life and death. We have them treat concepts as things as real to them as doggy and Mum and Dad.
From this labelling tool that was deemed so useful and successful to organisms that successfully replicate, a method by which we could pick the right food, give directions and avoid danger, we have moved to increased complexity where we label areas of land, animals and misty concepts such as consciousness with the same language. We have killed one another over these labels. I say this is called X, he says it is Y, I say that X has the qualities of goodness and love and he says that X is unreal and those qualities must be applied to Y instead. We fight to the death.
Not only do we fight to the death over concepts but we fight intellectually over labels. The very contents of this writing up to now and likely to the end will upset people who don't like the use of certain labels. I said early on how we don't have the language to describe the quantum world and later how our language evolved in the large scale world - yet people will fill debates with hours of airy talk over just what labels should be used for such things. To avoid expanding this writing by pages I'll lump religion into one basket as a form of philosophy, a way of carrying ideas suited to some genes surviving certain times and places down through generations. Philosophy has been about as long as humans I'd confidently guess and due to this it is apparent that the philosophies of past generations can only survive if they follow the examples of the genes that carry them and adapt, casting the weak aside and moving forward with those that suit the current climate. A revolution which took flight from the shoulders of philosophy was that of science.
Science has a unique quality that religion did not display and only the better philosophies did, it is willing and even flourishes by throwing off all that is proven wrong. Science refuses the unprovable and only maintains the proven if it remains testably true. As new tools come about or new measurements, findings or so on science, and what it deems to be truth, adapts. As great a mind as Isaac Newton had, formidable in fact, we only moved with his ideas for so long. We did not think we must keep them going for eternity because they are old and we did not think that we should keep them once more accurate methods came about. Our ideas of what goes on in the brain are only as good as our tools and current investigations allow for, we do not deem them fact but part of an ongoing discovery.
Science is the complex universe, the indescribable quantum wiggle, attempting to explain itself - which leads to a discussion on happiness.
Due to the successful duplications over the past billions of years since the universe seems to have gone from the potential to the seemingly actual, and following our story version which is restricted by language and the way our brains formed, we have exactly this to go on. By this I mean that sense you have there of being someone who can sit back and think of being someone and think about being someone thinking about being someone - self aware and conscious. That is what we have and that is our tool and we are the universe looking back on itself and attempting explanation, even given the faults that came with it, this is it.
We have minds that insist on there being parts that operate by cause and effect (as false as this is from what we do know about the quantum thread our life’s tapestry is woven from then cause and effect are illusions true only for our brains and not the universe writ large). We have qualities such as brains which have us writhe in agony when something goes wrong like toothache or a poke in the eye. We have imbalances which have us kill, hurt one another, hurt the ones we love. We have finite lives and we die, we suffer the deaths of others and we are guaranteed nothing more certainly from the moment we are born that we will die one unknown day.
Along with these weaknesses that evolution has provided us we have daily fluctuations in our brains too. We have been provided by evolution a sense of self, feelings of happiness and sadness and a sense of agency in the world. It just happens that these qualities, good or bad, weak or strong were the ones that can trace a family tree back as far as we have yet managed to see. Perhaps we had ancestors who were only ever happy, but they did not replicate. We can be happy or sad. [Note that philosophically it would be impossible to be only happy as happiness is only know by contrasting it with sadness so to know happiness one must know sadness.]
So here we are, we have this set-up and we have our complex drives, we have this sense of agency in the world and we have this desire to explain or be explained, to find purpose in this universe. This universe is what we are though, we are the universe, we are the magical, inexplicable quantum dance. One thing that can not be proven false and is ever there to be in awe of and take great fulfilment from is that we are the universe. Confused as we are by our make-up into thinking we are an individual -in- the universe, we are in fact, the universe.
This individual self, that we are confused into thinking we are, and have learned to believe that we are, seems by the readings of any culture yet to leave its mark in writing to have one true desire - happiness.
We want to be happy and we want our offspring to be happier than we were. This has been found by every researcher who has enquired to date, humans want to be happy. As I have pointed out though, happiness is only known because of its opposite, but let's not be put off by that. We can always redefine, after all, language is only labelling gone mad. It's not real.
Many fine and informative pieces of research have been made available by people researching this quest and happiness comes about from some things and is taken away by others.
Happiness is taken away by; the unknown, excessive money, a lack of money, spending money on only yourself and not others, loneliness, being too far in the past or projecting too much into the future, being too lost in thought, being sick, having a wandering mind, ...
Happiness comes when; we share experiences, share food, money, forget the past, are unconcerned by the future, have health, love, ... and many more things.
As seen, happiness can come and go, it can be brought about and taken away. Love can be lost, money, health, things which provide security and meaning such as a house and family, can be themselves great potential sources of sorrow. Happiness is, unfortunately, as said, a relative state but one method for happiness that has been passed down through many generations of successful dividing humans is the appreciation of the moment.
Sit comfortably, relax your shoulders, let the strain drop from your brow, and your jaw, and your back and your legs, let your body rest. Breath in slowly and deeply and pull yourself up straight. Focus on that vacant clarity that emerged just then in your head or heart. That's nice, happy peace. That is the appreciation of the moment - a moment with no labels attached to it, no story, no explanations, just a universe being its wonderful self.
A unique thing about that happiness is, while transient, for many of you it is probably gone already as your mind is wandering, it can be re-achieved very simply. You can do it again right now and any time you choose. That happiness is unconditional happiness as it is just happy with the simple, unlabelled emptiness.
Happiness due to something, money, house, love, friendship, can go and be replaced by unhappiness. Happiness due to simple emptiness and recognizing the universe with no labels or storyline - that is an unconditional happiness. Literally requiring no conditions.
A quantum dance is taking place. We know it is because the great scientist who worked hard and diligently to discover and measure it, who only accepted a scientific approach, have proven it. The fact you have a device with GPS, Wi-Fi, a CPU, Lasers and so on prove that there is a quantum world hidden from the large world senses we evolved to sense the natural world. That quantum world, which for now is indescribable - but even a description of it will not change the truth of this only uphold it more - is the dancing universe. And that is what you are.
Sitting empty of storyline and labels you are the universe in the highest evolved state to date - a human feeling unconditional happiness.
When thoughts wander back in, as they will, you are whatever story you believe.
The above findings of a true and content simple happiness that can be experienced by anyone, from a child to a person on their deathbed is the most important conclusion of this writing and to any human to ever live. Relative paths to happiness can not fulfil us or sustain like the simple resting can and so nothing more need be said. There are though two big outstanding questions that wandering minds like to wrestle with. Beyond unconditional happiness they are Consciousness and Free Will.
Consciousness and Free Will.
The fact of the matter is that you only -think- you are you and in truth you are the universe, the quantum dance, no more, no less. In this way any ideas of consciousness and free will can be simply discounted as stories within the language unfit for the threads which make up the tapestry. The universe as a whole is not consciousness as it can not meaningfully be said to be conscious or unconscious. We don't benefit at all by applying relative terms to the absolute. Things within the story, the story that appears on the tapestry of life can be said to be conscious or unconscious as they are useful terms in our life and language but an important boundary exists. As we enter the world described by language and the story we apply to reality then we must not infer the reality of the things we label. They are just useful labels. No more.
Equally, as we label things within the story then there is no actual entity outside of the story to have free will. There are no agents, no actors to act and no things to be acted upon. In the story, yes, sure, useful. In reality, not at all. The universe is, by convention of language, changing and living out some kind of temporal, causal story. Within that story there are apparent people seeming to make choices but also within that story there is, as mentioned before, the scientific method.
The scientific method as touched upon earlier does not just make claims and hold onto them, it measures, tests, retests, checks and when better tools come about, we recheck afresh. When it comes to ideas of free will and the vivid sensation that we are choosing our actions then the tools and investigations at the disposal of science right now are very powerful, very deep and very accurate. We have learned things that we could never have gotten to by any other method, we have watched the brain at work and the body and we have done this with people just like you and me who have been aware, present, convinced they are free agents, perfectly sane people in test after test have sat with researches and the results are consistent. In test after test and under all degrees of scrutiny researchers had watched the brains of volunteers and have known the forthcoming action the person will make even before the person thinks they have consciously willed the action.
That is: A person will say they have willed an action at a certain point in time but in test after test the researchers watching the brain at work have already known, seconds before, what the person will do. The workings of the brain take place. The "choice" is made. The researches see this occur in the images they are seeing of the brain and can clearly see what is about to happen. A few seconds later the person thinks they have made a choice and then almost straight away they make their move. Supposed free will is an illusion which comes after the event. Naturally evolution would favour people who think they have free will as, take this example. Two people punch you in the face. One cares less and walks away. The other appears to be apologetic and appears to feel responsibility for their actions. Given that neither had free will in either case, even for their reaction after the event, the one who appeared sorry would survive apparent society better.
At the very best all we are doing is justifying whatever took place and as the best outcome we are fooled into thinking we were the agent. In truth no agent even exists.
Sad? Not at all! You are the universe! Relax, breath, sit in the moment, drop the storyline. Happiness is.
Tao Wow | Daily Cup of Tao