1. Religion & Spirituality
Elizabeth Reninger

Seventh-Heaven Shoe Store,
Indra's Net & Hare Krishna

By February 27, 2013

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Last evening I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by physicist Brian Greene, best known for his capacity to render the most abstruse concepts of contemporary physics in terms understandable to non-specialists.

My friend and I -- after a longer-than-anticipated search for parking -- arrived just ten minutes or so before the lecture's scheduled starting-time, and were directed immediately all the way up to the second balcony. Once seated, we were not much more than an arm's-length away from the ceiling of Macky Auditorium (a gorgeous Neo-Gothic concert hall) whose web-like ornate details brought to mind immediately the interwoven geometry of Indra's Net.

Luckily, the sound-system was excellent, and the screen upon which Mr. Greene projected his visual images and movie-clips large enough to easily see, even from our seventh-heaven seats.  And true to his reputation, Mr. Greene (who within our view was about the size of a sparrow) delivered an engaging and inspiring talk, tracing out three separate lines of inquiry, all of which support the theory of a multiverse: of a cosmos which contains not only our own, but numerous other, universes.

The first image he projected was that of his young daughter, with which he relayed the story of telling her, one day, that he loved her "more than anyone in the universe." Her reply (pressing for relevant clarification) was: "in the universe or in the multiverse?"

Somewhere near the end of his whirlwind tour of Newtonian-to-Einsteinian understandings of gravity; the Big Bang and expansion theories; dark energy and string theory, he offered another story, this time about going shoe-shopping with his young son. After choosing some shoes that he liked, and having the sales-person retrieve, from the storeroom, a pair of them in his size, his son had then remarked -- on their way home -- how very lucky it was that the store happened to have a pair in his size.

The assumption his son was making -- Mr. Greene then remarked -- was that the shoe-store scenario had been something akin to Cinderella in the royal ballroom, in which there was only a single pair of shoes of that kind -- so how amazingly lucky it was that they just happened to be in his size.  Once Mr. Greene explained to his son how a shoe-store works -- i.e. that in the storeroom they actually have many, many different sizes of the same kind of shoe -- the apparent mystery was solved, dissolving the seemingly magical into something quite ordinary, and understandable.

And so it is -- Dr. Greene continued -- with dark energy. The specific amount we find within our universe, which may appear to be strangely inexplicable, becomes much more understandable in the context of a cosmos which contains a whole host of universes, each with its own unique amount of dark energy.  The amount of dark-energy within a given universe becomes, then, like a particular shoe-size within a shoe-store. And the specific organisms (e.g. human beings) supported by a universe with a given amount of dark-energy are like the feet which are the "perfect fit" for that shoe-size.

Questions that Dr. Greene entertained, after the lecture, included one from a CU physics professor, who asked what might be an (even hypothetical) experimental protocol, which could verify or disprove string theory?  Mr. Greene's response rested on the possibility of our universe, every now and again, having a "fender-bender" -- a minor collision -- with another universe. Such a collision would leave a detectable signature, as a kind of vibratory ripple within our space/time fabric, which could, at least theoretically, be detected.

Someone then asked whether communication between universes was possible, to which he answered, yes (at least theoretically).

Another person asked what his thoughts were regarding the "space" within which the Big Bang occurred (i.e. the ultimate metaphysical origin of all universes) -- to which he replied: "I have no idea." At this point he shared a story about his brother, who is a Hare Krishna (a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness). For every new physics discovery that he relays to his brother, the latter responds with a scriptural citation from the Vedas, demonstrating that what's just now being discovered by contemporary physicists has been known for thousands of years, by the Rishis, Yogis and realized Sages of India.

At this point it would have been interesting to ask him to comment on Erwin Schrodinger's view that the ultimate reality of all-there-is is not a material thing (an atom, quark, gluon or string) but rather is a single, all-embracing Consciousness. At the time, however, from my perch there in the rafters of Macky Auditorium, the thought of standing up in front of a microphone, and speaking this question to the 2,052-plus people in attendance, didn't even appear on my screen as a possibility .....

Anyway, fascinating stuff. Perhaps what contemporary physicists are now theorizing as a collection of universes, is similar in some ways to what Tibetan Buddhists know as Pure Lands?

Who knows .....

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