Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The End of the World, Death, and the Tenth Dimension

A link to this video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2Y9m34iJVY

Since it's the holiday season, here's a blog entry to lighten the mood: "The End of the World, Death, and the Tenth Dimension". :-) The songs in this blog entry are from the 26-song collection attached to this project, in this case these are songs recorded very simply with me sitting at my beat up old piano.

Twenty years ago I was writing the music for a play about the end of the world. Placed twenty thousand years in the future, it was probably ahead of its time: its premise was that our ongoing environmental abuses had destroyed all plant and animal life and made our planet so unstable that the last remaining inhabitants were being forced to leave the Earth forever.

Let's think back to twenty years ago. The 80's, quite frankly, were not a real great decade for environmental consciousness. The "Me" Decade, as it's sometimes called, was looking back at the horrific environmental warnings of the sixties and seventies and saying "Look! Nothing happened! We're all fine! Relax!". This got me thinking that no matter what time in history you're looking at, there's always been a small contingent waving their arms and saying the "end is nigh"! In the 80's, trying to get the audience to imagine that the end was coming as a result of our pollution of the environment seemed to me to have some difficulties: but eventually, I reasoned, there's going to have to be a time when one of those end of the world predictions come true, whether that be tomorrow, or twenty thousand years from now. Was there a way, I wondered, to make those predictions seem more real to the audience right now?

I should mention here that (as I describe in my book) I had been pondering the ideas of branching timelines and important "cusps" that each of us experience as far back as the age of seven, and a wonderfully subversive book by Madeleine L'Engle called "A Wrinkle In Time" that I read a number of times as a child definitely had already caused these ideas to have started brewing way back then.

I should also mention here that I was really worrying about things that were none of my business: I was the composer, and the playwright creating the text for this project had already come up with a story rich in metaphor and texture. But there was still something about the environmental catastrophe angle that, for me, seemed to need a little bit more. So I kept thinking.

This is when the way of imagining reality that became the tenth dimension project first became locked in for me. The first three dimensions are easy: think of a line, that's the first dimension, draw a second line that crosses the first (which creates a plane), that's the second dimension, bend those lines and you're in the third dimension. I was reading an article about quantum physics, and trying to imagine how our reality could be so strange: down at the quantum level, everything is a wave until it's observed, at which point its wavefunction is collapsed into one state or another. How, I asked myself, can the act of observation be what causes subatomic particles to stop being waves? It was just too weird. The way I decided to explain it to myself, then, was that this must mean that those waves exist in the fifth dimension, and that it is us moving down our 4D line of time, picking one part of the waveform out from the other, that gives us the quantum observer effect. But what, I asked myself, if this was also happening not just at the quantum level, but also within our physical reality of spacetime? If we think of our timeline as being in the fourth dimension, then that would mean that there are other parts of the fifth dimension where end of the world predictions had already come true, and that if you wanted to get to those other timelines you would have to jump through the sixth dimension to get there.

I remember sitting in a coffeeshop with the playwright, excitedly drawing little diagrams of lines and branches on a napkin and showing how you could fold the napkin to jump from one reality to another. This, I said to him, is how you can explain how the end of the world is constantly coming: because if it had already come, we wouldn't be around anymore to ask why these end of the world predictions never seem to come true. This would mean, I reasoned, that at the end of the play the characters were waiting to be rescued by someone from one of these other realities where the end of the world hadn't happened yet: some place out there in the fifth or sixth dimension. And the clincher, for me, was that once we got to the seventh dimension that was as far as the logic could be taken, and the fact that so many spiritual and mystical systems also assigned a special significance to the number seven seemed to add to the impact of what I was imagining.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I may not have explained these ideas back then as well as I could have, but the upshot is that the playwright looked at me like I was crazy and the conversation was dropped. So. Twenty years ago I was a guy with an unusual idea about a way to imagine how our reality is constructed, out in the middle of the Canadian prairies, and that was where the idea and I stayed. Over the following two decades I showed these concepts to a number of other people, trying to get them interested in working on projects that explored these ideas: some people seemed to get what I was talking about but there were also quite a number who gave me that "you're crazy" look.

Still, for me, the idea never went away, and about five years ago I decided to write some songs about the ramifications of all this: let's just say my obsession was still strong, because in my spare time I ended up writing over forty songs in about two months surrounding the ideas that sprang for me from this way of imagining reality. In the back of my mind I was planning that some day these songs would end up on a CD with a little booklet explaining the ideas. As it turns out, that CD project ended up flipped on its head, because I ended up with a 220 page book about these ideas, and the lyrics to 26 of those songs I wrote back then are printed at the end of the book.

Okay. Now let's move on from the cheery topic of the End of the World, to talk about Death.

A link to this video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeClGTuhCy4

Four years ago, in 2004, I almost died. I went in for routine laparoscopic surgery to have my gall bladder removed, and the surgeon accidentally sliced open a large (and unusually positioned, apparently) vein on my liver. My entire chest cavity quickly filled with blood, making it impossible for them to see exactly where the bleeding was coming from, so they jammed some packing into the general area and closed me up. I woke up the next day blown up like a large balloon with almost half of my blood not flowing in my veins, but pooled in my chest and gut. The surgeon explained that this was the best option, because the blood was pressing on my vital organs from the outside, and that if they had drained the blood off, my blood pressure would have dropped to the point where I most likely would have gone into shock and died.

The internal bleeding took several days to stop completely, and it took almost three months before all of that blood in my gut had been absorbed back into my system and I stopped looking (and feeling!) like I was very pregnant. So there I was, lying in the hospital, with my family putting on a brave face for me but knowing how close it had been. Within a day or two of this disaster, my eldest son was at my bedside, and I again started trying to tell him about this way of imagining reality: although he didn't give me the "you're crazy" look (bless him for that), he did confess later on that he presumed this was just the ravings of a man stoned on morphine.

But that's not where our story about death ends.

About two and a half years ago, in 2005, I went on a trip to Australia. Up to that point in my adult life I had been reading mostly science fiction novels and Stephen King thrillers for my entertainment, and of course the never-ending stream of equipment manuals I was constantly poring through as part of my day job as a composer and studio owner. But it was around this time that I had decided to start reading more "serious" science books, and that's why the light reading I took with me to Australia was by physicist Michio Kaku, an eye-opening book called "Hyperspace: a Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension".

Now, some people will tell you that my way imagining reality is not the one that's currently taught in physics classes, but what kept happening for me as I read Kaku's book was that I could see ways that string theory and cosmology could quite easily be pasted onto what I had been thinking. More importantly, what that book showed me is that my way of imagining didn't go far enough, because it accounted only for the universe we live in, as a point in the seventh dimension. What, I reasoned, if the other different-inital-conditions universes Kaku was talking about were other "points" in the seventh dimension? My immediate inspiration was that this meant the line, branch, fold pattern I had already imagined to get to the seventh dimension could be repeated a third time, leaving us with absolutely every possible expression of reality up there within the tenth dimension.

But we're still talking about death here. So on my way back from Australia to Canada I developed blood clots in my legs (a not uncommon problem from sitting too long on the plane), which gradually migrated to my lungs. Feeling increasingly weak and short of breath in the weeks that followed, I finally got to the point where I couldn't even fall asleep because I kept having to gasp for breath, and I ended up in the hospital's Cardiac Surveillance Ward for almost two weeks, hooked up to heart monitors and that lovely oxygen tube.

For someone looking for a two week holiday, I highly recommend the Cardiac Surveillance Ward (just make sure you're in there with nothing actually wrong with your heart!): the nurses are friendly and work very hard to keep you calm and peaceful. The beds are comfortable, and once the blood thinners they put me on started to work and the clots in my lungs started to clear, I actually felt pretty good.

So there I was, with this recent insight about how my way of imagining reality could interface with leading-edge theories about cosmology and extra dimensions. I had my wife Gail bring in my laptop and during my two week stay in the hospital, I wrote the first draft of my book. I've been asked more than once what drugs I was taking when I wrote all my unusual ideas down: but lots of people still think I'm kidding when I say I was on "oxygen"!

During the following year, I took that ninety page first draft I had written in the hospital and did a lot more reading about physics and cosmology. I was thrilled to discover that my way of blending quantum waves and branching timelines from twenty years before was in fact a real and recognized scientific theory, first advanced by Hugh Everett III, and it was commonly known as the "Many Worlds Interpretation" of quantum physics. Everett went to his grave in 1982 largely unrecognized for the significance of his work, but over the past ten years or so his theory has been increasingly embraced by the modern physics community.

And while I was adding all this research into my book, I also created the audio soundtrack for an eleven-minute animation I was envisioning, that would more clearly illustrate those concepts I had been drawing on napkins in coffeeshops twenty years before. The talented folks at OH! Media here in Regina Saskatchewan Canada worked with me to turn my simple hand-drawn sketches into the interesting visuals which are seen in the book and the animation, and in the accompanying website which was launched at the end of June 2006. Within a few days, the website vaulted to popularity, and this project became known all over the world.

If anything, the project continues to gradually become more popular now because of the growing fascination people are having with the middle ground I'm trying to portray: a place where science and spirituality, physics and metaphysics can be shown to all be talking about the same thing. The website is currently averaging almost two million hits a month, and my little book, written as I lay in a hospital bed wondering if my heart was about to do me in, has been sold all over the world.

Why has this project been so popular? Because it isn't just about physics: it's about creativity, and inspiration, and souls, and memes (which are ideas that can be transmitted across time and space). It's about the place where information equals reality (a quantum physics idea that applies to many other things), which in our modern accelerated world of information, means people with shared beliefs are connecting to each other more quickly than ever before.

And, with the increasing fascination these days over the Mayan Calendar's predictions of the "end of time" happening in 2012, and futurists like Ray Kurzweil predicting a rapidly approaching "Singularity" where humans and technology merge, the fact that this project began as a way of thinking about the End of the World adds new resonance (but to be clear, both Kurzweil and promoters of the Mayan Calender are not talking about an apocalypse, they are instead talking about a great leap forward in the way our conscious minds interface with space and time... so, not an End of THE World, but an end to the antiquated ways of our current world).

Twenty years ago I was a guy with an unusual idea in the middle of the Canadian prairies. Now I'm a guy with an idea that millions of other people around the world have seen and enjoyed, and which more and more people are becoming convinced is not crazy at all, and just may be the truth about the nature of our reality. Perhaps most amazingly, all of this happened with almost no advertising or promotion, just through the power of shared ideas in our modern hyper-connected world. How cool is that?

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

PS: to close, a song about hope for the future.

A link to this video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69pUzwSONBc

No comments:

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist