Square, Triangle, Circle, Sengai (1750-1838), ink on paper. Photo courtesy of Idemitsu Museum of Arts.
Square, Triangle, Circle, Sengai (1750-1838), ink on paper. Photo courtesy of Idemitsu Museum of Arts.

One way of viewing the millennium is that the infinite would again take finite incarnation to benefit beings at a certain point in space and time. Although such an occurrence is always welcome, we should be aware that the infinite is always present and place our emphasis on recognizing that. Otherwise, we are always stuck in finite, relative reality, where the concepts of space and time constrain and solidify our experience. It is exactly beyond the relative reality in which the concepts of space and time exist that we contact the infinite, space and time being constructs co-emergent with our finite, incarnate mind-body system.

In Christianity, the event of the next arrival of a physical incarnation is described as the Second Coming, and in Buddhism in this particular cosmic era (good kalpa) we anticipate that one thousand Buddhas will appear, Shakyamuni being the fourth, and Maitreya the fifth (a few million conventional years from now!).

As a working theoretical physicist, I am aware of the many intriguing questions that still linger on the relative level connected with the concept of time. During the earliest times in the history of the universe, as we go back to pinpoint the origins of the Big Bang, energy densities became so high that gravitational forces between elementary particles became as important as the strong electromagnetic forces between these particles. As a result, quantum mechanics, which governs the laws of physics of these particles, modified Einstein’s classical theory of gravity (for that time period) in such a manner that both space and time fluctuated. That is, the geometry itself (the path light travels), which is determined by the distribution of energy, was not fixed or concrete, but pulsated in an uncontrollable fashion around some average value.

The result: Gravity gets described by quantum laws that only govern probabilities and that possess uncertainty relationships; and Einstein’s theory of relativity, which relates the nature of space and time (geometry) to the energy distribution present, gets modified because the constituents of the energy—and thus space and time themselves—are governed by uncertainty relationships.

zthe revolution of the spheres, according to sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Photo courtesy of American Museum of Natural History.
zthe revolution of the spheres, according to sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Photo courtesy of American Museum of Natural History.

Consequently, what we take for granted—that we are defined by being here in a particular place at a particular moment of time—is only an accident of our not being entities that were conscious during the creation of this particular universe. For then, there were no space and time as we experience them now. It was only as the Big Bang progressed—so that the universe expanded and energy densities decreased (total energy is fixed, so that energy per unit volume goes down as the universe expands)—that one can think in terms of the scientists’ conventional notion of space and time that Einstein so clearly presented when he discovered general relativity.

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