Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Big Bang and the Big O

A direct link to the above video is at

"I always remember the Big Bang as the biggest orgasm in history." - Oscar Janiger
A few days ago, in Poll Question 30, we talked about death and how natural it is for us to believe that some part of us carries on afterwards. Here's a quote from well-known psychiatrist and psychedelics researcher Oscar Janiger, this is from the 1993 book Mavericks of the Mind, a brain-expanding collection of interviews by David Jay Brown and Rebecca McClen Novick:
David Jay Brown: Have you ever given any thought to what happens to human consciousness after physical death?
Oscar Janiger: I've given a lot of thought to it, but I'm afraid not much productive thought. My bias is that when the current is shut off, we somehow lose our sense of individuality... my thought is that, for myself only, that I'm simply shut down in my present state, and that somehow I--which is now a kind of fruitless phrase--am somehow restored to the earth, or to the matrix, or to what the Germans called the urschleim, or the fundamental substrate of all things, the fundamental primitive primordial stuff of which we are constituted. We go back to before the Big Bang. I always remember the Big Bang as the biggest orgasm in history.
Persons familiar with my project will recognize several ideas here: we are all connected to a larger whole (or, as physicist Michio Kaku puts it, we each have a wave function that gently seeps out into the entire universe), there is an enfolded symmetry containing all possibilities that is "before" the Big Bang (which I've talked about in entries like "The Big Bang and the Big Pie" and "Imagining the Omniverse")... but Dr. Janiger's bold connection of the Big Bang to sexual orgasm is an idea that's new to me. So this time around, let's play with that as a concept.

Rock On!
Are you familiar with the origins of the term rock and roll? Originally, this phrase was a euphemism within the American black community for sexual intercourse, originating in the 1930's. It's a particularly evocative phrase, I think, because it implies something that's more sensual: rather than an unimaginative binary in/out of straight lines and ejaculation, "rocking and rolling" brings to mind curves and creativity, a sex act that is interested in the combined satisfaction of both participants.

In the 1950's, disc jockey Alan Freed is credited with popularizing rhythm and blues records and using "rock and roll" as the new label to promote this predominantly black music style to the white audiences of America. Did the average white American know about the sexual connotations of the phrase? They did not. In fact, with racism still deeply embedded in 1950's American culture, the term "rhythm and blues" was a much more difficult sell because of its common association with "negro" culture, so giving this music style a new name was an important key to helping it find a broader audience.

As a music style, how do you define rock and roll? I've talked before about neuroscientist Daniel Levitin's "This is Your Brain on Music", a wonderfully diverse book which ties together many of the ideas my project also plays with: what gives music its power? What connects music to memory, and what allows music to be able to universally communicate emotion across centuries and across cultures, transcending time and space? Dr. Levitin talks about the subtle interplay of rhythm and groove, the cultural and genetic connections of dance and vocalizing, and yes, how intertwined those are with sex not just for human beings but throughout the animal kingdom.

"It's got a back beat, you can't lose it" - Chuck Berry
For all the rhythmic interplay and emotional connections that the best rock music is plugged into, that snare drum cracking away on the two and four is an extremely important ingredient - it's one of the things that gets people up out of their chairs and makes them want to move, and that dancing is what made puritanical parents of the 50's and 60's reel back in horror, condemning this music because of the sexually suggestive ways they saw their kids bopping around on the dance floor back then.

Dr. Levitin helps put this in context for us. Throughout the history of life on this planet, we see again and again that rhythmic displays and vocalizations are how mates are attracted, and how one creature demonstrates to another that it's healthy and vigorous, in other words a good choice for a sexual partner. In that sense, "rock and roll" was much the same as any dance music that had come before, and not nearly as big a deal or as new an idea as many suggested it was. What rock and roll was doing was the same as any other music that communicates emotion and physicality, and I've talked about this in other blog entries like "The Geometry of Music" and "Information Equals Reality". This also relates to sections of my book where I talk about the genetic connections shared by all living things in patterns that exist across time and space, and this is where I came up with a few fanciful connections of my own:
All of the body’s senses have ways to connect through our minds and our memories to other points in time and space. Sights, sounds, smells, and even textures can conjure up connections that are part of the complex system of memes that make up our individual experience across the higher spatial dimensions we are now imagining as being used to construct the ten dimensions of reality.
How about the well-known experience of a certain smell vividly bringing to mind a moment from the past? Scents and pheremones are known to be powerfully and intricately tied to memory and instinct, in ways that would seem to fold time. Could molecules of a certain scent that bring to mind a certain memory be exerting their power in part because those molecules are clumped together in a higher dimension? If that were the case, the doorway to the memes and memories of a different time and place could be much more easily accessed when the same fragrance is encountered again, because in a higher dimension that different time and place really would be in that much closer proximity to each other.
Sounds also can trigger memory and even instinct. We have already mentioned the squealing sound of chalk on a chalkboard being commonly reviled. Could this be because it resembles the cry of some prehistoric predator which our distant ancestors learned that they should retreat from as quickly as possible? Or, as another example, could the desire to urinate at the sound of running water be a racial memory that connects us to our ancestors who chose to urinate in a place where their urine would be carried away? That would mean the potential ancestors we could have had who constantly chose to urinate in their own standing drinking water supply died of disease, did not become our ancestors, and therefore we have no connection across time to them. As we discussed before, these ideas can also tie into the work of Richard Dawkins, who proposed a new way of looking at genes and how their “desire for continuance” connects them from the past to today in a “river out of Eden”.
It's All About Connections
Isn't it obvious that if we're talking about sex, then we're talking about a connection that we share with all of our ancestors, and if we're thinking outside of time and space then the pattern that represents "orgasm" is something that we share with our fathers (and at least some of our mothers) back to the beginning of sexual reproduction on this planet? But Dr. Janiger suggests an even deeper connection than that, back to the moment of creation for our universe.

Physicists talk about the Big Bang as being the most highly ordered state our universe was ever in. Quantum computing expert Seth Lloyd tells us to think of the Big Bang not as a physical event, but as the first binary yes/no that separates out our universe from all of the other possible universes that could have existed. More and more physicists, including Frank Wilczek, John Moffat, and Sean Carroll have put out articles and books in the last few months which talk about a state which exists "before" the big bang, an enfolded symmetry state from which our universe (or any other) springs, and this of course is one of the central ideas to my way of visualizing reality.

Still, I think it's important when we talk about the Big Bang being equivalent to a huge orgasm that we don't just apply the forward motion explosion/ejaculation image, because from our perspective that's actually backwards! What do I mean by that?

As we've discussed in entries like Scrambled Eggs and Time in Either Direction, when we think about our position within spacetime, and we think about the move back through time to the big bang, we are thinking about a gradual paring away of choices: a move towards the very simple initial conditions which defined our universe's basic physical laws. From our perspective, then, what lies "beyond" the big bang? Not our universe, not some other universe, but the enfolded symmetry of all possible states, where, as John Moffat says "t equals zero". We'll talk about this idea more next blog, but this leaves us with one of the most basic ideas from this project: no matter what you are thinking about in the universe, there is a binary viewpoint, and there is a holistic viewpoint. In quantum terms, this relates to the three states for a particle which can then be used in quantum computing: we can call these a "yes" state, a "no" state, and a "simultaneously yes and no" state. From our perspective, then, the move towards the big bang takes us to the highest grouping order (as Gevin Giorbran so eloquently showed us), or the most primary binary state for our universe (as Seth Lloyd asks us to think of it), but the actual "orgasm" of the big bang is what happens when we move beyond the big bang and back into the enfolded whole that we should all be celebrating as the source of every possible reality.

And for me, that's the connection between the big bang and the big "O".

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: "t" Equals Zero


Ian said...

This was a great post, so many different threads woven together. Thank you. Ties in with many of my own thoughts, although none that I've managed to string together into coherence yet.

One thing though, which comes easily to mind in response to "there is a binary viewpoint, and there is a holistic viewpoint." is the similarity to the Garden of Eden myth.

In the bible, the tree is "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and the other tree is "tree of life". And I've always thought of this in conjunction with the idea of going "Beyond Good and Evil" (which has been discussed by various thinkers, from Nietzsche to Rumi), in that good and evil aren't really opposites, they're just variations away from a whole, directions in which we can choose to move that whole.

It's our own problem if we think they cannot co-exist, since they do anyway!

ian said...

I'm kind of working on something that references this post, and thought you might like to read this other article I'm also referencing:

George Wald: The Origin of Death

It's a really good one, especially given your thoughts on life, death, sex, and all that stuff!

Rob Bryanton said...

Wow, Ian, that is a great article, thanks for pointing it out. And I really look forward to seeing what you produce, you obviously have some very diverse threads to pull together!


ian said...

Thanks Rob, glad you liked that article. My post's up as well; it's part of a series I'm doing of posts that I wanted to write, but I couldn't quite get to come together.

Death (triage #1)

It missing a "punchline" (so to speak) but I think it might still make an interesting read, so I'm posting it anyway! :)

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