I’m a scientist, so I constantly push the boundaries of discovery. Here’s my question: can the wisdom and insight of religion help me do that?
In the previous essay in this series, we began taking a closer look at some of the most likely, near-term scientific breakthroughs that could conceivably occur sometime soon—and trying to determine whether or not the Baha’i teachings might offer us clues, corollaries or ideas related to those potential breakthroughs. Let’s continue with that exercise here, first by looking at the long-held dream of scientists everywhere:
The Grand Unification of the Physical Forces
Our scientific quest for a grand unified theory of the physical forces in the universe—although no one has yet provided the proof—strives to demonstrate the essential unity underlying all creation. Anyone can visualize this theory by thinking about the electrical charges of protons and electrons, which cancel each other exactly with extreme precision, allowing atoms to exist and making the basic building blocks of life possible. Our universe offers us an astonishing fact: somehow, the energy in it is perfectly balanced. How did that happen?
It has always seemed to me that the project of grand unification seems very consistent with my understanding of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha’s discussion of the nature of reality arising from singularity and the unity of existence. In his “Tablet of Wisdom” Baha’u’llah refers to the structure and science of creation:
The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different. Thus doth the Great Announcement inform thee about this glorious structure. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 140.
Abdu’l-Baha identifies the active and passive force with the ethereal force:
… the substance and primary matter of contingent beings is the ethereal power, which is invisible and only known through its effects, such as electricity, heat, and light — these are vibrations of that power, and this is established and proven in natural philosophy and is known as the ethereal substance. This ethereal substance is itself both the active force and the recipient; in other words, it is the sign of the Primal Will in the phenomenal world …. The ethereal substance is, therefore, the cause since light, heat, and electricity appear from it. It is also the effect, for as vibrations take place in it, they become visible. For instance, light is a vibration occurring in that ethereal substance. – provisional translation by Keven Brown.
Abdu’l-Baha seems to say several interesting things here. First, as I noted before, that the ethereal substance gives rise to both matter and electromagnetic fields. This is interesting by itself, since it is yet another example of Abdu’l-Baha getting right a very important consequence of quantum field theory, namely that both matter and the electromagnetic field arise out of the quantum field. Second, the fact that he links the ethereal substance to Baha’u’llah’s active and passive force, seems to point to it being the ultimate origin of all forces, including gravity.
The idea that a single field or ethereal substance gives rise to all forces is of course at the heart of all the grand unified field theories. It would seem that Baha’i scripture lends significant credence to this concept.
Space-Time arises from Quantum entanglement
In a previous essay in this series I made the observation that the description of gravity contained in Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of the Universe sounded a lot like a description of quantum entanglement. The idea of viewing space-time as a product of quantum entanglement originated with Van Raamsdonk based on the so called AdS/CTF correspondence and is described nicely here.
Basically, quantum entanglement occurs when a pair of particles, or a group of them, generates and interacts symbiotically and inseparably—in ways that make it impossible to distinguish one independent particle from another.
The question as to how gravity might relate to the quantum or ethereal field is possibly hinted at in the Tablet of the Universe, where Abdu’l-Baha relates that the universal attractive force is derived “… from the firm ties, the mighty correspondence and affinity that exist between the realities.” To me this sounds suspiciously like a description of entanglement. After all, entanglement at its heart represents a ‘correspondence’ or correlation between particles.
The idea that space-time emerges from quantum entanglement seems to have a lot of circumstantial evidence behind it. If we can prove it one day, that theory may provide the ‘holy grail’ of linking gravity with the quantum field, and providing a possible pathway towards a ‘good’ grand unified field theory.
As a side note, I personally think that if both space and time are emergent properties of the quantum field that this implicates dimensionality as well. So the very fact of three-dimensional or higher dimensional space may itself be an emergent phenomena of the quantum field. Ultimately the very idea of space and passage of time can be expressed by the rules and modes by which matter interacts.
This related idea is actually embedded somewhat in the idea that space-time is built-up from quantum entanglement. At the heart of the AdS/CFT correspondence is the application of the holographic principle, where higher dimensional dynamics are encoded into a lower dimension on its border and actually emerge from the lower dimensions. I find the manner Abdu’l-Baha describes this physical existence as rather suggestive of the holographic principle:
… this nether place is only its shadow stretching out. A shadow hath no life of its own; its existence is only a fantasy, and nothing more; it is but images reflected in water, and seeming as pictures to the eye. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 320.