Stop Brooding and Start Functioning

The question “why we are here” has worried mankind from the earliest times. We have dealt with this question earlier in this column several times over, and have answered variously. But the questions of this kind keep coming in; which is the reason why we call them “the perennial questions.” There are several questions related to this Master Question. Mankind has no answer for them.

These questions are the strongest demonstration of human mind’s limitations. Humans seem to be clever enough to ask these questions. But if a mind is clever enough to raise questions, it should be clever enough to answer them too. If it cannot, then, after all, it is not clever enough.

This is important to note; because behind these questions lie the assumption of self-importance. Man thinks he is great. He can make or break. He can do wonderful things. He pats himself for the things he does and pumps himself up like a frog. He is proud. If he is knocked down, another takes his place and begins to croak as high. If you gathered together a good many millions of the same class, the croaking can be deafening. “We are a great nation” they croak up together and strut before the cameras. (Remove the camera, and lo! they are stealing oil and raping women in prisons).

So, these questions originate with the arrogant ones. (Simpler people pick them up from them and pass them on to each other’s agony). But the arrogant ones must be dealt with disdainfully. The Prophet has referred to one of their by-products as “dung-beetles.” They raise these questions out of pride. When they are told there are no answers to their questions, they say, “See. We were right. God does not exist.” If it is suggested, “What if He exists?” they answer, “Then he should usher us – the great ones – into His Paradise!” Such is their arrogance.

So, the right answer would be to belittle the proud ones. They need to be told they are too tiny to ask such questions. Is that a fact? No. It is an understatement of a fact.

Take the example of a bacterium. It has a life cycle. It needs nourishment to live on. There are things harmful to it (unlawful). It avoids them. There are things beneficial to it (lawful). It finds them, feeds on them and completes its life cycle. When the time comes for it to go, it (takes a deep sigh and) gives up its ghost. Burial does not follow its death and nobody weeps for it. Those who deny God and sing songs of self-glory, are no better than an ameba: so wrote one of their wise ones, Bertrand Russell – or something close to it.

The bacterium-kind do not ask: why are we here? That is because they do not have a brain. Supposing they were given one; and one of them asked its proud fathers and family bards, thinkers and community leaders, artists and scientists, “Why am I here?” What is the answer it will get? Of course, several. But none would be the right answer. We know why. Bacteria are too tiny to be asking and replying such big questions. With reference to them, these are absurd question. They have not been designed to ask such questions. Let alone understanding their role in the world of creation, they do not even know the world around them. Their universe is, perhaps, a few feet wide. And that little universe too, they have been denied the ability to understand.

So, what’s the right answer for the bacterium? It is: “My friend! You haven’t been using your little brain properly. Stop brooding, and start functioning.”

But the comparison of bacterium with reference to its world, with that of the humans with reference to their world, is absurd. Why? Because a human is tinier with reference to the known universe, than a bacterium is when compared to its “few-feet-wide” world. The world around the humans is so large, they have no means to express how large it is. Traveling at the speed at which they do in space, about 10 km per second, they will need 135,000 years to reach the next star; which, by cosmic standards, is as close to the sun as two bacterium on the head of a pin. To cross their own Milky Way Galaxy, the humans will need 3,000,000,000 years (3 billion). And how many galaxies are there? Billions.

Is that all to the world that there is? No. It is the visible world. Are there others? Definitely there are. But they cannot be known, because they are out of range. A beam of light, traveling from there at the speed of 300,000 km. a second, will never reach us. Why? Because, the distance would have doubled up: before the beam could traverse the present distance – from 14 billion light years to 28 billion light years. The beam will keep traveling towards us, and the world will keep flying apart at a greater speed, to defeat its dream of ever landing upon us.

Is that all to the world that there is? No. We were so far talking of the visible world. Is there an invisible world? Yes, we live in one of the universes of a multiverse. How many universes could there be in this multiverse? Well, billions upon billions. But we shall never see the universes other than ours. Why? Because they are made up of more than four dimensions. We will never observe them even if we passed through one of them.

Is that all to the world that there is? Not at all. So far, we have been talking of real worlds. Is there any other kind of universe apart from the real universe? Yes, and they are known as the virtual universes or, the fake worlds, or, the simulated universes (terms used by cosmologists). How many? Well, infinite in number.

Writes Paul Davies, the much acclaimed physicist and cosmologist with several international awards to his credit, in a recent publication, “Our universe may be a fragment of a vast (probably infinite) and heterogeneous system called the multiverse. The other ‘universes’, or cosmic regions, may be observationally inaccessible to us. Their existence would be inferred from theory plus some indirect evidence.”

This is the latest on (infinite number of) universes other than ours. They are inaccessible to us – thus spake the scientists.

Davies also writes: “The laws of physics and the initial state of the universe could vary from one ‘universe’ to another. What we have taken to be absolute laws might be more akin to local by-laws, with key features, including those relevant to life, which ‘froze’ out of the hot big bang in the first split second.” And, “Some features of the more complicated laws we experience now – features that resulted from symmetry-breaking – might be random. Therefore they could be different in other regions.” (The Goldilocks Enigma, Allan Lane publication, 2006, p. 215-16).

Here is another scientist, a professor of physics and mathematics and a Pulitzer Prize finalist: “The basic idea rests upon the following possibility. Imagine that what we call the universe is actually one tiny part of a vastly larger cosmological expanse, one of an enormous number of island universes scattered across a grand cosmological archipelago.”

And, “Linde .. argues (that) the conditions for inflationary expansion may happen repeatedly in isolated regions peppered throughout the cosmos, which then undergo their own inflationary ballooning in size, evolving into new, separate universes. And in each of these universes, the process continues, with new universes sprouting from far-flung regions in the old, generating a never ending web of ballooning cosmic expanses .. And so we can imagine that physics varies from one universe to another.” (Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe, Vintage Books, New York, p. 366-67)

This is the latest on laws governing the possibly infinite number of universes. They could be different in universes other than ours – an added reason why we will never observe those other universes.

Thus it can be seen that the universe in which the humans live is tinier in comparison to the multiverse, real or virtual, fake or simulated, than a microscopic bacterium is when compared to its “few-feet-wide” world. If the bacterium is denied the answer to the question why it happens to be in this world, why it comes to life, why it dies, where goes its soul when it dies, and so on, then humans are all the more disqualified from asking such questions. They are barred from asking these questions because of the very nature of their form and existence. If they find it hard to understand how they can be in what the physicists and cosmologists call as a simulated universe, how do they expect to get an answer for why they are here? The bacterium has every possibility of understanding its infinitesimally narrow world. Humans do not enjoy the same possibility.

Ironically, it is not the question of human brain capacity. It is the simple case of impossibility. Never ask a man a question about what he has never seen, heard, felt, or calculated. Never should man ask himself a question that he cannot, and will never be able to answer. Never let him ask questions such as, what was before the big-bang; why the big-bang at that moment, why not earlier, what is the nature of space that is appearing in our known world by billions of km square every second, where did the laws governing our world come from .. and so on. If he did, he will make a fool of himself.

As regards us Muslims, our attitude is that of resignation and submission. We too do not know who we are, where we are from, why we are what we are, where shall we go from here .. to the end. All that we know is that our great grandparents were in another world, in a place called Paradise, that they were removed for an error, and that we – as their progeny – are to prove our worth for re-entry. Thus, this life is a test, during which we are required to worship none but our Creator – who does what He will; Who cannot be questioned for what He does, but we shall be questioned for what we do. Therefore, we better follow the Revelation to the point – to avoid all hassles. Our next point of stop will be a place called Barzakh, then on to the Field of Judgment, and then, hopefully, Paradise. This is all that we know, of course, in quite vague terms, but in complete certainty – thanks for the Revelation.

In a way we are luckier than a few billions, who do not know even as little as we know, and, unable to answer the questions to any degree, sometimes say this is virtual world, at others that it is a fake world, yet others that it is a simulated world, and so on. Every time you question them, they give you mathematical equations that came out direct from super-computers. Thus they stumble around blindly, struggling in an archipelago of quagmire, managing to keep a smile on their faces, but in deep agony that leaves them fit for no true joy in life, except for what materials and minerals can afford.

We Muslims are luckier that at least we know a few landmarks of our future world, and how to get across to the promised ever-lasting bliss – of course, on good behavior. What we need to do is to stop brooding and get functioning.