Thought is Consciousness

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


I was pleasantly surprised by the profoundly enlightening comments I received earlier this month. “We are not aware of the conflict within because ego possesses thought and we think it natural,” writes Thomas, “but after thought finds release from ego, we become stunned at finding the true characteristics of thought, and we are left dumbfounded when we realize that it is not different from consciousness.” When we are conscious, our sensitivity is directed outward, like sunlight, making us aware of everything, even a once-familiar gait from a distance. “Thought is consciousness.” 


Thought is Consciousness


The garden is in complete disarray. The plants have taken over. Is it an act of will on their part?  Fall is adding colors to the landscape. Like those native plants, we can’t seem to ‘grow neatly.’ Our thoughts and actions appear messy at times. Chaos has its beauty. I am not an experienced yogi like Thomas, although I sure would need to practice some of his techniques -- like facial asana -- to allow thought and consciousness to be “aligned and become one.” In my next post, I’ll tackle mathematical models of consciousness and, while we wait for Thomas’s account in his own words, I will reflect a bit more on his experience with consciousness. But for now, I’m going to let my mind run its course through the neverending flow of thought-provoking news.


...there is no total opposition between a deterministic universe and free will. In particular, it is possible to freely act in a deterministic world.

Eric Sanchis


I have conveyed in the past the way I feel about the accidental nature of things. In a seemingly deterministic universe, what it comes to in the end is whether our free will and ability to express ourselves are a real thing or a false belief of those -- like me -- who can’t completely agree that it is all about the nature of knowledge, and the nature of agency and the self combining in ourselves to act and create.  I wish to read more about the role of intuition and remain in agreement with Alexander’s description of a state of cluelessness preceding an act of expression.


The impression of free will is the feeling according to which our choices are neither imposed from our inside nor from outside. It is the sense we are the ultimate cause of our acts. In direct opposition with the universal determinism, the existence of free will continues to be discussed.

Eric Sanchis


Surprisingly, artificial intelligence, too, can turn thoughts into words. A neural network used by a team of researchers at the Center for Integrative Neuroscience was able to encode a sentence-length sequence of neural activity into an abstract representation, and then decode this representation, word by word, into an English sentence.  Assuming that an AI can think and communicate independently, will it have free will? It leads to a fundamental question, that is how Consciousness and free will are connected. Is consciousness a prerequisite for free will? Is free will sine qua non in the definition of consciousness? Does the implementation of free will in an entity require that this entity is provided with a brain or an advanced mental system? The computational approach of a concept, such as free will, entails that it will be possible to put together this synthetic property with other synthetic properties to create artificial characters that do not presuppose a brain’s existence.


Consequently, I wonder whether my mind wandering freely could precede me being aware of it. A few months ago, I had a lucid dream of an incandescent line formed by warm underground waters breaking off a river of ice flowing to where I could not say. My eyes felt riveted on what looms beneath glaciers that defines their fleeting nature. A research article published this month brought back its memory. The study concludes that the damage feedback processes observed in the shear zones of Pine Island and Thwaites ice shelves in Western Antarctica are, in turn, accelerating further ice shelf instability and mass loss and, therefore, may constitute a precondition for disintegration.


Serpens South star cluster (NASA/ESA)

Serpens South star cluster (NASA/ESA)


Our restless mind has a will of its own. Leaving Earth’s river of ice, I fly off to the radiance of Serpens South magnetic rivers. Molecular clouds are strongly magnetized, and magnetic fields influence the formation of stars driven by a complex interplay of several fundamental forces, including turbulence and gravity. New observations from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy have allowed us to measure magnetic fields at the center of our galaxy and provided us with an image of the Y-shaped structure of warm material falling toward the relatively quiet and massive black hole Sagittarius A*. 


Dust and magnetic fields: NASA/SOFIA; Star field image: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope

Dust and magnetic fields: NASA/SOFIA; Star field image: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope


The observations done at the European Southern Observatory in Chile have resulted in discovering another quiet but smaller black hole not far from us. At 1,000 lightyears away, it lies about 25 times closer to us than Sagittarius A*. Its mass is typical of a galactic stellar remnant black hole. Among hundreds of millions out there, the non-accreting black hole is part of a naked-eye triple system, called HR 6819, in which the black hole and one of the stars are orbiting each other. 


My mind feels like a free-floating object searching for kindred spirits among cosmic loners and travelers with their heads in the clouds. My inner camera zooms in and out, riding across lightyears to extend its mental outreach and elongate its suspended body endlessly. There appear to be many more free-floating planetary-mass objects in interstellar space like CFBDSIR 2149. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in the mid-2020s, will survey bound exoplanets as well as planetary-mass objects not gravitationally bound.  



While we wait for the Roman Space Telescope and other next-generation space telescopes and observatories to be fully operational, we contemplate the possibility of lifeforms out there on multiple fronts. First closer to us, it was recently proposed that any phosphine gas detected in a rocky planet’s atmosphere is a promising sign of life. Its discovery in Venus’s atmosphere could originate from the presence of life unless it is the result of photochemistry or geochemistry. Second, in our search for extraterrestrial intelligence, a study has concluded that fewer than 0.04% of stellar systems have the potential of hosting advanced civilizations and that one in 1600 stars, closer than about 330 light-years, host transmitters just a few times more powerful than the strongest radar we have here on Earth. 


Unfortunately, I have found no extraterrestrial intelligent life form on my mental promenade. My mind returns to Earth, riding the fast radio bursts. They are observational phenomena whose astrophysical origin remains a mystery. Over one hundred sources have been detected so far. One of them, FRB 121102, occurs periodically. Last month, a paper predicted the source to be active from July to October. It should be active again from December to March 2021. 


In front of the Supreme Court

In front of the Supreme Court


Death has become a leitmotiv in my writings lately. I don’t know why. A friend of mine just passed away the same day as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Thought is consciousness.


Share this post


The ongoing story of white holes

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


I gather my thoughts as I write and see more clearly what I have been trying to say that what binds Consciousness to the Universe is how every physical object feels the passing of time in the most personal and private manner. It isn’t a matter of whether the emotion of time, feelings, and consciousness exist. It is a matter of translating it. If we crack the code of time, we will solve the mystery of consciousness.


The emotion of time is the language spoken by the Universe. As death occurs, where does our consciousness that is information-driven go? Let’s pick up where we left off and tackle the information paradox in regard to us, humans. Since poets can only see the Universe through metaphors and analogies, they tell the story of life and death in black and white.  Our individual footprints fade away when death comes in a similar way as trapped quantum information would get lost with a black hole’s complete evaporation. 


The story of a black hole evolving into a white hole should be read within the context of a universe whose expansion is fueled by the buildup of information.  A black hole acts as an informational traffic hub. Does the information end up caught in a black hole’s deep interior, or is it released from a white hole whose evolution is essentially the time reverse of that of the black hole


Black hole in galaxy Messier 87 (Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)

Black hole in galaxy Messier 87 (Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)

I imagine how some information falling down the throat of a black hole isn’t lost, but the data is compressed, waiting to be spewed out of a white hole. For the very first time, an image was caught using the Event Horizon Telescope of a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy 55 million light-years from Earth. This year, a picture of a black-hole powered jet was also published. A white hole, however, remains an astronomical object that has not been observed yet.  


Credit: J.Y. Kim (MPIfR), Boston University Blazar Program (VLBA and GMVA), and Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Credit: J.Y. Kim (MPIfR), Boston University Blazar Program (VLBA and GMVA), and Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

If the Universe as a whole is subject to reversible processes, remnants of a black hole from a pre-big-bang phase may have been at the origin of a primordial white hole bursting at once in a bouncing scenario. Could there be a direct quantum tunneling from a black hole sucking in matter in one universe to a white hole spewing out matter in another?  It begs the question of whether a white hole crosses over through spacetime or from one universe to the next and whether it involves a wormhole structure between a black hole and a white hole of different mass. If white hole remnants are a constituent of dark matter, dark matter may have played a role in the Early Universe. 

… if the system is subjected to reversible processes, the irreversibility doesn’t occur and the irreversibility footprint disappears and time becomes null. So, in completely reversible processes, the systems move only in the space component of the space-time, without having any movement in the time components. So, any completely reversible system seems to be able also to disappear in a space position and to appear in any other space position without spending time.

Umberto Lucia & Giulia Grisolia


A more realistic point of view would favor the possibility of the emergence of a white hole where the end of a life of a black hole occurs. A black hole could shrink to the point that it has no other way than to rebound into a white hole. Recent results in quantum gravity indicate that small-mass white holes with large interiors are produced at the end of the evaporation. The death of a black hole is a quantum phenomenon. Consequently, the birth of a white hole is in a region where quantum gravitational phenomena are strong


White holes were understood as the exact time reversal of black holes, therefore they should continuously throw away material. It is accepted, however, that a persistent ejection of mass leads to gravitational pressure, the formation of a black hole and thus to the "death of while holes". So far, no astronomical source has been successfully tagged a white hole.

Alon Retter & Shlomo Heller


Residual matter ejects at a single pulse when a black hole disappears or perhaps even before much evaporation has taken place. The white hole hereafter vanishes as well when the rebounding matter shell emerges, leaving nothing behindThe very nature of such an event makes it difficult to observe. If white holes are only a short window through which matter is spilled out at once, they could surreptitiously emerge inside voids from where matter would then slowly drip and spill. 


What we understand by the fact that a white hole displays a process reversed from that of a black hole is that a trail of particles entering the event horizon of a near-extremal black hole could theoretically come out of a white hole event horizon. A paper suggests that the extremal white hole appears to be the source of ultra-high-energy particles. Several scenarios still come to mind, some more wildly imaginative than others. Do white holes emit negative-energy particles?


When a black/white horizon exists, the surface gravity at the black (white) hole horizon can be positive (negative). When they do not exist, the spacetimes have wormhole structures. In all these solutions, spacetime curvature singularities are absent.

Wen-Cong Gan, Nilton O. Santos, Fu-Wen Shua and Anzhong Wang


As I stumble upon a section of Nolan & Hawthorne’s paper on teleology and backward causation, I wonder whether the theory of double causality could be at play in the back and forth between a black hole and a white hole. Could white holes spew out antimatter in a scenario in which two universes are both expanding from the point of view of their internal inhabitants, who identify matter with the particles that move in their spacetimes and antimatter with the particles that move in the time reversely symmetric universe? Can such a mechanism be looked at as a recycling device in which nothing gets lost but is being converted into particles which, in turn, are being tunneled from one universe to the next? Or could particles be traveling back from the future and mingle midway at the bottom of the “pit” with positive-energy particles traveling forward in time? 


But for now, let’s stick to a more familiar view of the arrow of time and see the “creative advance of reality”* as it is “intrinsically experiential”.  Black holes have an intrinsic dimension where particles of a wayward star are shredded by their gravitational pull and tunneled to the other side. And from the other end, quantum processes burst into macroscopic matter. What comes in and out are elements of reality. The Universe comes to know itself through them, experiencing all its potentialities. Wings of earthly feathers lift my mind as I look from above the shedding of the human body and liken the after-life to a white hole. 


This blog is a story to be told with a beginning and a plot. Like time itself, it only goes one way, picking up ideas and thoughts left off from one post to the next. Every post adds another piece to the puzzle, another angle to the problem at hand, another brick to the house of thoughts and ideas as I try over and over again to get it right until all the pieces of the plot are assembled. 




*Alfredo Pereira Jr., Chris Nunn, Massimo Pregnolato and Greg Nixon, Consciousness and Cosmos: Building an Ontological Framework

Share this post


Death as Resonance

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

... death is as much a part of life as the dark side of the moon is a part of the moon

Gregory Nixon

Hampered by a cloud of confusion, my moon-like mind can’t see the forest for the trees. An inexpressible feeling hangs off the tip of my tongue, a story I can’t convey in which time, the Universe, and Consciousness are brought into play. “Look at these thousands of globes in this narrow corner of the universe, ” wrote Louis-Auguste Blanqui in 1872,  “and remember their history. A conflagration pulled them out of the bosom of death and launched them into space, as immense nebulae, the origins of a new Milky Way”(1).


Often at night, sometimes
out in the snow or going into the music, the hunch says,
I don't know what it means.
Just, "Push it. Go further. Go deeper."
And when they come talking at me I get
antsy at times, but mostly I stay put and it keeps saying,
"Deeper. This is not it. You must go deeper."
There is danger in this, also
beautiful fingers and I believe it can issue in
gestures of concord; but I
cannot control it, all I know is one thing—
"Deeper. You must go further. You must go deeper.

Dennis Lee, Deeper

Quintuplet Cluster (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Quintuplet Cluster (ESA/Hubble & NASA)


 In a Universe of process, time, and evolution, what we call ‘death’ applies to events from the breakdown of an atom to the transitory stage in the evolution of stars. The history of the Universe may be a story of life and death from star-forming clouds to the extinction of dinosaurs.  It is a common feature, a natural event. Life and death intermingle. The Quintuplet cluster contains a number of red supergiants that will release upon their death vast amounts of energy heating dust and gas between other stars. The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array has observed a star engulfing the other, fighting it out to the death. At least one in five planetary nebulae have their origin in this kind of common envelope evolution and red novae may also result.

Blanqui’s use of the term ‘death’ reminds us of how we allow ourselves to make analogies between life and cosmic events. I once imagined that, when matter falls into a black hole, it may be what death feels like to our mind and body. Since the early Universe, when two galaxies merge in a cataclysmic event, black holes in their centers coalesce. The Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo detectors observed in May 2019 a short duration gravitational-wave signal consistent with a binary black hole merger. It happened 7 billion years ago at the same time that an enhanced star formation occurred in our own galaxy before our Sun came into being when some of the oldest grains of the Murchison meteorite were formed. 


Mergers may happen between black holes of various sizes. In the case of a smaller black hole embedded in the accretion disk of a supermassive black hole, it may unfold the same way as with the migration of a planet in a protoplanetary disk. An extensive study describes a multiple set of circumstances involving the interaction between black hole binaries and a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. Models have shown that more than 70% of binaries would merge within a Hubble time via the combined action of stellar hardening and gravitational wave emission.


As I attempt to draw death on the blackboard of the Universe like a chalk shape of a jump into nothingness, death analogies pale in comparison when it comes to laying out what is actually on the other side, what occurs on the edge of a black hole, what a merger would mean to the structure of black holes. And when I struggle to imagine what ‘nothingness’ is, its implicit stillness is inconsistent with matter clearing out voids and disappearing into black holes. 


Ted Honderich writes that radical externalism is the general proposition that what it is to be perceptually conscious is for a world in a way to exist. Analogies, and in particular death analogies, are our way to express that something like a black hole resonates with us, that there exists a shared resonance that we can’t quite explain. Could the evolution of living things mirror that of stars and follow a process similar to stages of stellar lifetimes? A detour to the wealth of scriptures, commentaries, and translations in the field of Buddhism will warn us against a cognitive veil,  that is a human consciousness “that projects and superimposes false notions and presuppositions on to reality, by which we mistake our interpretations for reality itself” (2).  


Stellar evolution (ESA)

Stellar evolution (ESA)

There's a place I go, inside myself,
Where nobody else can be,
And none of my friends can tell it's there—
Nobody knows but me.

It's hard to explain the way it feels,
Or even where I go.
It isn't a place in time or space,
But once I'm there, I know.

It's tiny, it's shiny, it can't be seen,
But it's big as the sky at night . . .
I try to explain and it hurts my brain,
But once I'm there, it's right.

There's a place I know inside myself,
And it's neither big nor small,
And whenever I go, it feels as though
I never left at all.

Dennis Lee, The secret place

Buddhism, I feel, takes us on an inward journey as opposed to a cosmic quest facing outward. Both perspectives are complementary to each other. Peace of mind and closure are necessary to lift the heavy sky that weighs like a lid and to free ourselves from the prison of our own making, so we can step out to search for answers. As we take the journey inward, we come to the following conclusions: First, in our attempt to describe what the Universe looks like, our anthropocentrism affects our ability to construct images in our head. “Any description would encourage conceptual reductionism. Some imaginings might be more accurate than others, but they remain imaginary either way”(2).  Second, our own self-experience of an act of will leads us to infer that any instance of motion, movement, and action on the part of the Universe is likewise the expression of an act of will and, therefore, an evidence-based form of consciousness. 


... we experience in ourselves that when we act (and for instance when we speak), our action is preceded by a will to act. So when we witness an action that has not been preceded by our own will to act, we can infer that this action was preceded by a desire to act that does not belong to our own stream of cognitions – and this other willing entity must be another conscious subject.

Isabelle Ratié

When our time-bound body imperceptibly feels life slipping away from it, we are faced with the fleetingness of our own individual self. We wonder what is, after all, our calling as a species. Death, in a sense, is a sign that we are part of the overall structure of the Universe, nothing more. I can’t think of anyone who could embody better our experience with the end of life than the philosopher Herbert Fingarette in his own words. But what does the Universe look like from the other shore? 


To find closure with the death of our physical body, we formulate the theory of the “release of consciousness in the form of energy”(4) and conjecture with Bernardo Kastrup that cosmic dissociation ends when death comes. And if we consider the fact that it is “the world coming to know itself through us”(5), information becomes paramount in the Universe for which we only are a conduit for knowledge. But since nobody has returned from the other side to explain how it is -- except for ghosts visiting us in our sleep -- we may take comfort in looking at life and death as a teleological causation, convinced that all things have a natural end, or telos, at which they aimed as a way, through adaptation and evolution, to keep things flow. 


The mind contains an underground source from which a stream of thought runs outward to follow its own twists and turns,  unwilling to give a direction to its path as it fully embraces sparks of discovery. Intuition is its only rule, its only discipline. 


... it is possible to imagine, explore, and promote forms of consciousness that enhance awareness as well as dissolve the artificial illusions of self and separate identity.

Geoff Mulgan

Share this post


Cosmic Consciousness

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

A delicate thin rain
Surrounds the house where I write
Perched on the edge of nothingness.
If everything was a dream,
A sad lost life founded on vanity,
the rain tells me nothing.
As if sitting mesmerised
in a car ride to an airport of the dead
I recite the names
of everyone I’m leaving.
The rain wipes out the earth
and I know that nothing can come back.
I could be travelling,
I could be staying still.
The rain goes on
monotonous, beyond all translation,
a pure eloquence
the other side of human speech.

Rain at Midnight by Peter Boyle

Moon hidden behind clouds

Moon hidden behind clouds

The Moon hidden beneath clouds is the way I feel sometimes. Confusion puts a heavy burden on my soul. There is an unsettling truth to the idea of a cosmic consciousness independent from ours, an eternal Nowness. Death is a clock ticking inside us and before the clock strikes, we are only a speck in the near-infinite field of the Universe and our consciousness is only a wrinkle in the universal eternal Now.  When we think of the three circles of dance in the observable Universe, they are inflows and outflows of a time that prevails over ours.  When we think of a black hole, it is a gate to where even our consciousness is left out. Time is born in a void, lost in a black hole. The Universe at the present epoch is the single ontological ultimate there is and the definitive ground of all spatiotemporally localized centres of consciousness.


Clouds of yellow, purple, and white flora bring colors to the garden one season to the next. As I feel its tangibility, time is no longer an illusion. All matter is time-experiencing or time-involving*. Despite being closely related, time and consciousness are discriminable entities. Beyond the apparent lack of unity in consciousness, it is through time that all matter enjoys a little bit of consciousness. The mechanisms of integration that combine forms together and of dissociation that tear them apart are colors of time.  


Although time’s arrow is perspectival, every physical object feels time. It is the source of their identity**. Consciousness is a subjective experience the way time is a perspectival phenomenon. Time asymmetry reflects in all the seemingly irreconcilable perspectives or points of view. Individuality is the illusion. Differences in forms and contents are only aspects of time. In the physical Universe where randomness and free will are dominant principles, I see them be equally essential to the emergence and evolution of consciousness. 



If time is reflected in the macroscopic irreversibility, it is no more than a consequence of the microscopic irreversibility. Streams of particles within the flow of time constitute the basis for complex and dynamically evolving physical forms. As the Universe expands and electrons interact with photons,  the cosmic microwave background isn’t unlike a snapshot of some form of consciousness. The interplay between electromagnetic waves and matter involves conscious actors in each scene. Whether it is a leaf of grass or the journey work of the stars, they all are conscious states from their point of view. 

Ingredients for Life Artist Concept (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingredients for Life Artist Concept (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


 If a cell derives its energy from the transfer of electrons one molecule to the next, are we holobionts hosting the consciousness of microorganisms? Are we, Homo sapiens, more conscious than other hominids?  Superposed layers of consciousness lie in the texture of time and space. It is not because we do not know what it feels like to be an Adélie penguin in Antarctica or “any of the first animals whose lives felt like something to them”*** that we are not from the same evolutionary cradle that involves consciousness. That I am helpless to feel what a hummingbird feels when it sticks its head into flowers of the trumpet vine is only an evidence of a spacetime boundary that separates us. If individuality is an illusion, so is the divide between us. Hindered in its free flow by an army of armors, shells, and layers,  caught in the canvas of spacetime, whispered in our deaf ears, consciousness is still coextensive with the Universe.

Adélie penguin (ESA)

Adélie penguin (ESA)

 I am surprisingly more realist than I expect myself to be. Writing takes me to places I do not expect. If the term ‘realist’ applies to those who believe in seen and unseen physical matter, including the many species of particles, I am one of them. And if the word ‘magical’ implies that what we see and know is not the whole story, I am a magical realist.  I would tend to think that consciousness is rooted in the physical side of things and that “the distinction between physical and mental is superficial and unreal”****. Matter and consciousness go hand in hand. To the question “what is matter?” Flow, energy, waves are all matter that we can’t see.   


For me, cosmopsychism is a bit counterintuitive because I see the Universe through the prism of process, time, and evolution, that begins with the smallest constituents. I can not conceive the Universe as an absolute. As it expands, it becomes what it is. It is difficult to think of a “cosmic conscious entity as the absolute” given the fact that I see matter and consciousness be co-emergent. The ocean of consciousness that is the background of the ever-changing physical reality is not an absolute but the object itself of process, time, and evolution. 


 The relevant mechanisms of integration merely serve to weave together small islands of sentience into bigger and bigger landmasses.  Although I do not see a dual nature in the Universe the way Itay Shani describes it,  I too see our Universe as a sentient medium. Are there restrictions applied? Are only organic boundaries permeable to consciousness? Are there aspects of consciousness concealed? Maybe, but the fact that there is a communication breakdown between the different parts of the whole is not a sufficient reason to dismiss such a theory as ‘bottom-up panpsychism’. 


Combinatorial infusion is a diachronic process in which the constituents and their characteristics are ‘absorbed’ into the new whole. Their identity is lost.

William Seager

A fundamental question is whether we are the ultimate reality or whether the Universe is. John Wheeler’s concept of observer-participancy could be looked at in a different light as a “cosmic dissociation” that happens at the level of individual living organisms as referred to by Bernardo Kastrup. Ultimately, our framework of reality is as good as our human consciousness makes it to be.  As we envision increasingly more complex forms of consciousness, will thoughts and ideas, too, have a life of their own, merging into clouds of consciousness? Will fears and emotions do the same? As we peel layers after layers of physical reality, will we reach the layer of consciousness? Could antimatter be consciousness? Could there be a wave-particle of consciousness? Could consciousness just be another state of matter



* Galen Strawson, Mental Reality

**Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

***Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds 

****Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of matter

Share this post


The Will to Believe

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

As regards the world in general, both physical and mental, everything that we know of its intrinsic character is derived from the mental side, and almost everything that we know of its causal laws is derived from the physical side. But from the standpoint of philosophy, the distinction between physical and mental is superficial and unreal.

The Analysis of matter, Bertrand Russell


I am taking a break from the physical side of things at least for this post and the following. Writing has unraveled an unstoppable train of thoughts and ideas in a state of chaos and conflict. This blog is not a realm for certitudes. It is for doubts and backtrackings.  I have tried hard, though, to free my intuition from the weight of my reason and remain intimately convinced that there is more to our story than just our physicality. With time and in the years to come, will I find what I seek? 

...we know so little about how consciousness arises from matter in our own case and that of the animals in which we can identify it that it would be dogmatic to assume that it does not exist in other complex systems, or even in systems the size of a galaxy

Mortal Questions, Thomas Nagel

I feel as if I had a bit of an awakening. My unsettling dreams can only be explained by the fact that I ask so many questions that words and concepts circle around in my sleep. I need to rest my soul and review what others have said about the mental side of things. I would define cosmic consciousness as a unified umbrella of consciousness. It is anima mundi. It is a matter of belief, a choice to carry, in oneself, the awareness of the Universe’s “mentality”.   Gustav Fechtner imagined what death feels like. Will we receive at the moment of death the “consciousness of all”?


Panpsychism, taken literally, is the doctrine that everything has a mind. In practice, people who call themselves panpsychists are not committed to as strong a doctrine. They are not committed to the thesis that the number two has a mind, or that the Eiffel tower has a mind, or that the city of Canberra has a mind, even if they believe in the existence of numbers, towers, and cities.

David J. Chalmers, Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism


Some would rather use the word ‘panpsychism’ instead of the term ‘consciousness’ because of the confusion with metacognition. But poets approach words from a different angle. They choose them for their musicality. My natural preference remains unchanged especially since my primary focus is the subject of “cosmic consciousness”. I would define ‘panpsychism’ like this: ‘where there’s flow, there’s a soul’. Poets give a soul to whatever they please and lean on their intuition to see the Universe. When sculptors blow the ‘breath of the Void’ into their sculptures, the stone is gifted with a soul in the palm of their hand. 

The philosophy of six thousand years has not searched the chambers and magazines of the soul. In its experiments there has always remained, in the last analysis, a residuum it could not resolve. Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence. The most exact calculator has no prescience that somewhat incalculable may not balk the very next moment. I am constrained every moment to acknowledge a higher origin for events than the will I call mine. 

As with events, so is it with thoughts. When I watch that flowing river, which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season its streams into me, I see that I am a pensioner; not a cause, but a surprised spectator of this ethereal water; that I desire and look up, and put myself in the attitude of reception, but from some alien energy the visions come.


The Over-soul, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Brown-eye susan

Brown-eye susan


Panpsychism is multilevel and multiform. It describes a universe of proto-conscious entities.  It carries the view, Thomas Nagel writes, that “the basic physical constituents of the universe have mental properties, whether or not they are parts of living organisms”. The concept of “constitutive panpsychism” implies that the properties of any complex system derive from the properties of its constituents and that there are means by which properties combine with each other to form others. In doing so, they bring into the mix “totally different forms of experience”. 

Every level of consciousness from the Universe to the parts of an atom act as if they were a set of hollow nesting dolls placed inside each other: the human consciousness into the Earth’s consciousness which, itself, is part of the cosmic consciousness through the agency of the Sun, the Milky Way and so forth. In a universal landscape where the largest nesting doll is the conscious Universe, the infinite series of increasingly smaller dolls experience their own feelings. What is at stake is whether the nature of consciousness is ultimately subjective or whether its true nature is universal in the way that “drops of experience” feel the same across species and entities. 


Flowering spurge

Flowering spurge


Most of us seem to believe in a privacy agreement signed between the parts of a whole that would not allow the disclosure of species-specific experience to outsiders. Do we sadly live in a Universe where I could not tell how it feels to be a bee in a local ecosystem of redbuds and white oaks and the Moon could not tell either how I feel? The Universe would be a lonely place if the only thing that we could say is how it feels related to ourselves. In the case of humans and the Earth, shouldn’t we know how she feels? 

Evening primrose

Evening primrose


If constitutive panpsychism allows macroexperience to inherit causal relevance from microexperience, how do micro-conscious entities combine into a higher-level macro-consciousness? Tam Hunt and Jonathan Schooler write that synchronization, harmonization, vibrations, or simply resonance in its most general sense, seems to have an integral relationship with consciousness itself. Whether mental properties of one specific type of entities could be communicated, understood, or transmitted to another type remains an open debate, but I would imagine that there is a shared resonance and that all the conscious bits of our surroundings resonate in the depth of each and every one.




It seems that an emergence stage precedes the constitutive stage of consciousness and when “the many become one, and are increased by one”,  the constituted one takes the lead and holds the key.  Let’s say that the electron is conscious, we could imagine that the constitutive parts add greater consciousness over time. If the principle of continuity that we witness in the physical realm holds for consciousness and mirrors what happens in the mental realm, the experiential reality could be ubiquitous. 

Horse needle

Horse needle


Our inadequacies in feeling and accessing those ubiquitous throbs of experience do not allow us to comprehend how and when such a process takes place. Furthermore, it may not be that an across-the-board connection with the Universe doesn’t exist but that we paint it with the same brush as we paint our own experiential reality. In the organized manifestation of the life of feelings, there is a difference of form, and also of content. A suprahuman form of consciousness could possess, Josiah Royce suggests, “a depth of meaning, a completeness of expression, a wealth of facts, a clearness of vision, a successful embodiment of purpose which, in view of the narrowness of our form of consciousness, do not belong to us”. 

Pasture thistle

Pasture thistle


Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

Patrick Spät, Panpsychism, the Big Bang Argument, and the Dignity of life, Mind that Abides

Panpsychism in the New Millennium

Gustav Theodor Fechner, The Little Book of Life After Death

Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions

Josiah Royce, Selected Writings

David J. Chalmers, Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism 

Galen Strawson, Mental Reality

White wood aster

White wood aster

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed

Share this post


The Void

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

To paraphrase what I. M. Pei once said about architecture, the Universe is a form of art whose medium is space. In the pitch-black skies, there are holes and wells of a darker nature. Those are voids. Some are expanding faster than the Universe itself. Even blue galaxies are deserting their kingdoms. The Universe will become a Mega Void eventually when all the flashing lights turn off. From voids in the clouds to voids-in-void, that is how the story goes. A void-centric view of the Universe is laid bare against the background of the unknowable eternal Now.


Double Negative Artwork


While architects assemble materials in order to create, stone sculptors chip away ‘matter’ and blow the breath of the ‘Void’ into their sculptures. The Void is the primordial well from which the flow emerges, and so, the flow is the breath of the Void.  Cosmologists may agree that it is an “eminently dynamic and active” * element of the Universe. The Void is singular and plural. It is the spatiotemporal foundation of the cosmic web and fulfills its functional role ubiquitously. Theoretical studies have shown that voids occupy more than 50 percent of the total volume of the Universe. 


The French sinologist François Cheng expressed our puzzlement over the concept. The Void is the bridge between the Noumenal and the Phenomenal. In the phenomenal realm, words like  ‘non-being’, ‘nothingness’, ‘emptiness’ and ‘void’ are often interchangeable. It goes to the root of what it means: Is void non-matter? The fact that it stems from both the noumenal and phenomenal world would imply that those words actually differ. Nothingness would amount to a perfect void, an absolute vacuum state.


But, voids are underdense regions. They are bubbling seas of elementary particles, cauldrons of unknown baryonic content. In reality, matter is sparsely distributed within voids. Magnetic fields populate them.Void and matter struggle to find a balance, encroaching on each other's territories. In the ternary relation between Consciousness, the Universe and the Void, the Void is the point of origin as much as it is the central element in the inner workings of the Universe. 

Traditionally the formation of structure is viewed as hierarchical buildup of smaller dense clumps of matter into ever-larger objects. We take the dual perspective where structure formation is seen as the emptying out of void regions onto the walls, filaments, and clusters that surround them.

Constraints on Cosmology and Gravity from the Dynamics of Voids


We live at the edge of the Local Void, which mainly lies in the Zone of Avoidance. It begins at the fringe of the Local Group, whose motion away from the Local Void is consistent with its expansion.  Are voids pushing matter away, or is it the other way around? As matter coalesces, does it drive them away? As the Local Void grows, two dwarf galaxies have been observed moving away from the center. Because matter evacuates from voids and builds up over time, most of what makes up our galaxy and that of our neighbors must have come out of the Local Void

Dwarf galaxy KK246 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, E. Shaya, L. Rizzi, B. Tully, et al.; CC BY 4.0)

Dwarf galaxy KK246 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, E. Shaya, L. Rizzi, B. Tully, et al.; CC BY 4.0)

The evolution of voids is ruled by the joint action of gravitational attraction, that empties voids by pushing material towards their boundaries, and the expansion of the Universe, that also enlarges voids by diluting the space between galaxies

Alice Pisania, Elena Massarab, David N. Spergel

Voids come in all sizes and shapes. The Local Void is part of a continuous network that extends to a complex system of sub-voids  -- the Eridanus supervoid -- that is almost perfectly aligned with the Cold Spot. Supervoids are recognizable by their central cold spots surrounded by hot rings of superclusters. Other voids in the Local Universe are Hercules Void and the Sculptor Void. Voids are interconnected and gather in clumps. That is why their boundaries could be arbitrary. Some are embedded in under-dense large-scale environments that appear to be expanding while others with over-compensating walls are contracting. 


Galaxy superclusters and galaxy voids

Because they are freely streaming, neutrinos can penetrate the interior of voids more easily than cold dark matter or baryons, which makes their relative contribution to the mass budget in voids much higher than elsewhere in the Universe.

The bias of cosmic voids in the presence of massive neutrinos

We do not understand their morphologies, but the existence of neutrinos may be suppressing the abundance of small voids while boosting the number of large voids found in the halo distribution.  Voids are mostly devoid of dark matter. What is left of it -- in or around them -- affects their shapes, resulting in their ellipticity, with the larger ones becoming more spherical. Because voids have only evolved minimally, they are fundamental to our understanding of the early Universe. Voids are the most dark energy dominated regions in the cosmic web


The dynamics of voids have been affected by dark energy for a longer time and therefore the imprint of dark energy is stronger within them.

Testing the spherical evolution of cosmic voids


Currently, a few methods are used to help with the identification of voids in the Universe, notably the Significant Cosmic Holes in the Universe (SCHU) and the Void IDentification and Examination toolkit (VIDE). The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has also proven to be a valuable resource for the study of cosmic voids. Void finding algorithms and large-scale spectroscopic astronomical surveys -- such as the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) and the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx)  -- as well as upcoming instruments like the Space telescope Euclid, the Roman Space Telescope (WFIRST) and the Rubin Observatory (LSST) will enable the compilation of vast new catalogs of clusters and voids. 

The Void


A rainbow draws a circular arc in the eastern sky during a rain shower. Two Carolina wrens come out of their nest hidden in a pile of wood logs. Instead of flying to the closest bird feeder, they carefully hop on the fence just like chipmunks and squirrels do. On top of the roof, another one calls its mate while a ruby-throated hummingbird flies to the young tulip tree. 



Void, canceled, simply annulled.

Endlessly aching, unconsoled.

Life without you, cause without reason.

Touch without sense, time without season.

I face life now facing a cancerous sore,

A sordid parasite that eats at my core.

All that makes me whole, all I hold deep within,

Leaving me lifeless, or at least not livin'.


A shallow face, anguished and marred.

An empty space, scaled and scarred.

Sweetly abiding to a cynical charade.

Secretly hiding 'hind a fictitious facade.

Still, lost within this heart of glass,

This fragile and yet unfeeling mass.

Lies the remains of a love that glowed,

The gift to you I once bestowed.


But honor and pride now bereaved-

By your love for me so misconceived,

Ripped from my inner depths, impeding-

Mind and body and spirit, bleeding;

Now's crushed to sand from thy ruthless hand,

A cold stare I just can't understand.

I feel that somehow, somehow I'm dying,

At least my soul and all that's underlying.


A simple void, is that what I've become?

The hollowed sphere on a pendulum.

Swinging back and forth, emotion to emotion,

Never once stopping, nor slowing the motion.

No reason, no answer, no justification.

The creation of a sterile imagination.

Just passing through time as time passes me.

Merely a nothing- nothing, merely, left to be.

Sightless and soundless, unseen and unheard.

Mindless and boundless, obscure and absurd.

All empathy lying ungraced, unemployed,

I live my life dying, unembraced, a void.


Void by Michael Anderson




* Vide et Plein, Francois Cheng

Share this post


Three circles of dance

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Burnt Norton (No. 1 of 'Four Quartets'), T.S. Eliot

Representational models of the cosmic velocity help to better understand the motion of the main structures in the local Universe. Those images trigger stories and connections in my head and open the gate to a new string of pictorial brain representations.  For the past few years, major discoveries have been made in the field of cosmography. Unanticipated discoveries have entered our frame of reference and changed the landscape of the known Universe in ways that we could not have predicted.


There is no well-motivated common framework to objectively define the constituents of the cosmic web, so there is no way of judging which methods are successful or which ones are - in some objective way - “better”.

Tracing the Cosmic Web

In our neck of the woods, the Local Void has a substantial dynamical effect. It pushes toward us the Maffei Group while members of the Local Group are drifting away in a well-established direction toward the south supergalactic pole.  Although our mapping of the Zone of Avoidance is incomplete, what we have so far observed is the combined perturbations due to repulsion from the Local Void and attraction toward the Virgo Cluster.  


Maffei 1 and 2 ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

Maffei 1 and 2 ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

Despite how critical the two videos included in this post are for our understanding of the cosmic web, cosmic flows in our larger vicinity appear today to show not one but two repulsion patterns. The one convergence point is the Great Attractor, an extension of the Shapley concentration of galaxies. In the ‘immense heaven’ named Laniakea Supercluster, motions are directed inwards, as water streams follow descending paths toward a valley at the bottom of which lies the Great Attractor



Repellers are much harder to identify than attractors.  They are the Dipole Repeller whose repulsion mechanism may be associated with a void, and further away from us, outside the range of our current observation capabilities, the Cold Spot Repeller recently identified in the proximate direction toward the Cold Spot that is a dominant-negative density feature of the cosmic microwave background. There appears to be increased evidence of a substantial void or succession of voids in that direction. 


The two visual representations of the cosmic velocity also included in this post show the flow streamlines seeded in the Dipole and Cold Spot repellers converging predominantly onto the Shapley and Perseus–Pisces attractors while anti-flow streamlines are seeded in the Shapley attractor, with flows traveling to the Cold Spot and Dipole repellers. The lines represent transport channels. They display the journey taken by large scale structures as if they had somewhere to go. Those rotational flows dance before my eyes. 


Three circles of dance

A gravitational tug-of-war is taking place. Inside the invisible celestial Sphere, plates-like walls and filaments slide as if they were running on a gravitational energy source. They move away from oceans of space and close in on other parts of the sky. They are migration streams,  flowing waters to a point of no return, primordial waves engulfing curls, and ripples of energy. They are timeflows. 


Three circles of dance

It is truly an immense background of energy. To the question “What sort of things flow?”: Star systems, galaxies, clusters, superclusters, walls, and filaments all flow. They are inflows and outflows of time. It isn’t just the flow of things but the things that make the flow, the cold accretion delivering fuel for star formation from cosmic web filaments to galactic disks. Those multiple flows within one flow trace the motion of time between the two very large underdensity areas of the sky -- The Dipole Repeller and the Cold Spot Repeller -- and the Great Attractor. 


We make our mind about the outside world within the confines of our head and look at the Universe from the vantage point of the Earth. We extend our rules of engagement to our local galaxy population and apply our lessons learned on the traffic flow of our local sheets and walls to the rest of the Universe. The thing about observation is the two steps we take: perception and differentiation. Multiple flows within one flow mean that we focus on motion rather than on matter to see the whole Universe. 


The alternative description from the velocity field independent of information about the distribution of galaxies is complementary.

Tracing the Cosmic Web

Grounded to the Earth as if she were solidly in place, matter feels more familiar to us. Even particles of dark matter, we expect them to be of a physical nature. But as it is for time, motion is an abstract, insubstantial concept. Depending on the way we look at it, is it that we are participating in the void expansion or responding to multiple overdensities outside the void? All is flux. My steps on the ground, the music in my ears, the traffic in the streets, the wheels turning, the clouds moving closer, the spreading of the morning light, the rain falling. All is energy-content flows within an unknown and undefinable totality of flowing movement. 


The poet is drawn to invisible flows rather than to physical entities and she responds to them by writing down words. Those rounds and circles, streams and rivers as if they were pulled by invisible strings of dark energy suggest the existence of a time that prevails over ours, outside of our immediate experience. Such a field of near-infinite potential energy could be thought of in connection with what Gregory Nixon called an ‘unknowable eternal Now’.  He suggested that a universal creative and conscious Now encompasses all the fragmented, monadological nows and that it hosts the passage of time. 




I saw a chipmunk on the porch, a chipmunk hidden in the trumpet vine climbing the wood trellis, a chipmunk walking on the fence, a chipmunk in the gutters sitting on the edge of the roof looking over the native plant garden. Can my observation of all those events truly be random? Serendipity becomes the value that we attach to them. But, for now, I wish I could watch the setting and rising of the sun from the Tip of the Castles.




Share this post



Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.


The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:


For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

 (I wandered lonely as cloud, William Wordsworth)

I will try to walk very slowly and follow the path I chose as I wish not to break away from my initial motivations. So let me backtrack and reassess my earlier statements before moving on. The Universe, I feel, is busy expressing itself while Consciousness stays a step behind.  If there is such a thing as cosmic consciousness, somehow we feel cut off. Omniscience is not a thing either as far as we can tell. Our individual or human consciousness suffers from amnesia. Information flows drip by drip as our consciousness rises and grows in its struggling attempt to reach the far edges of the Universe.


Magnetars are neutron stars powered by an extremely powerful magnetic field. Among hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds, only 30 are currently known. Moreover, we do not know of any magnetar outside of that region of the sky. I wonder how many of them may be accounted for among the 2.6 million galaxies cataloged in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Their low number could be explained by the fact that only a small proportion of neutron stars form and live briefly as magnetars, and that they usually remain hidden except if they exhibit a strong magnetic field. 


Magnetar 3XMM J185246.6+003317 near Supernova remnant Kesteven 79 (ESA/XMM-Newton/ Ping Zhou, Nanjing University, China)

Magnetar 3XMM J185246.6+003317 near Supernova remnant Kesteven 79 (ESA/XMM-Newton/ Ping Zhou, Nanjing University, China)


Fast Radio Bursts are millisecond-duration impulses. They allow us to figure out what to make of the unseen matter. Out of the thirty magnetars, only five were observed to have exhibited transient radio pulsations. The most radio-luminous event from any galactic magnetar -- SGR 1935+2154 in the constellation of Vulpecula -- was detected in April and is considered the first-ever observational connection between magnetars and Fast Radio Bursts. A new uncatalogued source -- Swift J1818.0−1607 -- discovered in March by the Swift X-ray telescope belongs to the small group of young neutron stars with properties straddling those of rotationally and magnetically powered pulsars. Its magnetic field is 70 quadrillion times stronger than that of Earth. In 2008, SGR 0501+4516 became the first recorded outburst from the first new SGR discovered in a decade. SGR stands for ‘soft gamma-ray repeaters’. 

...the frequent short bursts are associated with small cracks in the neutron star crust, driven by magnetic diffusion, or, alternatively, with the sudden loss of magnetic equilibrium through the development of a tearing instability, while the giant flares would be linked to global rearrangements of the magnetic field in the neutron stars magnetosphere and interior.

The first outburst of the new magnetar candidate SGR 0501+4516

Time rules over our understanding and knowledge of the Laws of Nature. Our observations appear to follow a particular timeline. In the world of science, we wonder whether accidental discoveries obey to a preexisting order, and how to “make sense out of their occurrence” *?  Unanticipated discoveries shake the foundations of our fragile system of rules and conventions. Whether it is scientific experiments unveiling unanticipated results or astronomical instruments uncovering strange sightings and new findings, what we can’t predict plays an important role in scientific discoveries. 


I wish to know what astronomers who work with Hubble for the past thirty years would say looking back about unsought findings. I am not talking about the unexpected surface of Asteroid Bennu that will render the sampling by OSIRIS-REx all the more challenging. What I am talking about is when macroscopic objects with not yet determined properties, such as asteroids, comets, and magnetars appear, I wonder about their timely discovery. Why were those 30 magnetars the first ones to be spotted? Even if I imagined a scenario in which the Universe is a clueless thing that reveals itself by expressing itself, still there is ‘order’ in how it shows itself.  What is the nature of that order? What makes those events unfold before our eyes the way they do? Science is left to write a discourse on the method used by the Universe to manifest itself before our eyes and our debate around the fire under our simmering pot of fundamentals and concepts amounts to a discussion on the principal rules of the method at hand. 


If, as James Baldwin was quoted as saying, “the great force of history comes from the fact that... we are unconsciously controlled by it”, could it mean that every random discovery is part of a larger scheme of things meant to guide us through the maze of the unknowable?


Blue mistflower

Blue mistflower

If the Universe were a macro-state, new comets and asteroids would be "hidden variables" coming into play, whose measurements are pieces of a puzzle. Consciousness is set to understand whether those encounters are the result of true randomness or the outcome of a deterministic pattern.



“An uncomfortable puzzle”, Robert Friedel writes, “is presented by the role of accident and chance”. Those unexpected ‘encounters’ may even be serendipitous.  First, when one is looking for one thing but finds another thing of value. Second, when one finds sought-for results, although by routes not logically deduced but luckily observed. Third, when one discovers things unsought and recognizes them for what they mean. The discovery of astronomical objects such as magnetars seems to fall into the third category. 

The quintessential joy of serendipitous science lies in its capacity to remind us that, as much as we know, we know only a fraction of what is to be known. As the accidents tell us and the sagacity to use them confirms, we do not even truly know what it is we do not know.

Robert Friedel

Some may not quite agree with the serendipitous nature of such events. According to Joseph Henry’s writings; the seeds of insights and discoveries “are constantly floating around us”, but they “only take root and germinate in minds well prepared to receive them”. Anecdotally his words are reminiscent of the story of the seeds and the Zen masters. Being well prepared and alert and taking advantage of relevant data and powerful instruments create the conditions for a serendipitous outcome. Discoveries tend to follow technical innovation, not theoretical predictions


Experience shows that when telescopes enter unexplored areas of observational phase space, they make unexpected discoveries, and these discoveries often outshine the specific goals for which the telescope was built.

The SKA Mid-frequency All-sky Continuum Survey: Discovering the unexpected and transforming radio-astronomy


Gilbert Murray, skeptical of the fact that an artistic creation could happen on the spur of the moment,  would object to Alexander by saying that preparation does not need to be ‘conscious’ and that the mind has by some process of thinking and feeling been prepared for it. What it sounds like is that in hindsight we may say that it is simply the outcome of favorable conditions but no one could foresee, even artists and poets, what the final shape of the creation would be. Allen Foster and Nigel Ford take the middle road by adding that the notion of serendipity arises from both conditions and strategies and should be regarded as both a purposive and a non‐purposive component of information seeking and related knowledge acquisition. It remains unclear to me to what extent and how ‘unconscious’ behavior plays a role in unsought findings.




Magnetars tell a story of stars’ life after death. What does it feel like to be a dead core of a once-massive star?  We’re told that we are made of star stuff.  Should we take comfort in knowing that there’s life after death?  Could we assume that we, too, will decay into another form of matter and energy?  Could that question be, in the back of my mind, the unconscious intent that drives me forward, softly patting me on the back and nudging me towards an answer? I heard that some thoughts are like comets, but others, I fear, are like tick trefoil seeds that you can’t get rid of. 

Is every step I make part of an already defined course of events or a truly random balancing act between non-locality and causality?

On the nature of metaphors

Ghostly ring around magnetar SGR 1900+14 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ghostly ring around magnetar SGR 1900+14 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


The clouds were holding the Moon to prevent her from falling down. She played hide-and-seek, watched over by Jupiter shining above. She was round and foggy as if she were wrapped with a white cloth like the Veiled Nun. Words disappear and only ideas, I hope, stick. Odd shapes and exotic objects, comets ‘eccentric behavior, and magnetars’ unusual character are stuff poets are made of. What separates a scientist from a poet? Serendipity explains poets' urge to follow their intuition. They do not hesitate to embrace the influence of Providence, and to go against any method to reach their goals. I have been prone in the past to brush off unexpected occurrences in my life. I have learned lately to not dismiss them and keep my eyes open for serendipitous moments to occur. These days, I follow my intuition wherever it takes, pushing away boundaries. 

Golden rod

Golden rod


The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,

Like the structure of music,

seamless, invisible.

Even the rain has larger sutures.

What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,

Is faith, it appears--faith of the eye, faith of the ear.

Nothing like that in language,

However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossoms

Blown by the wind.

April, and anything's possible.


Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang.

A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India

And back--on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on


Ten thousand miles it took him, from 29 to 645,

Mountains and deserts,

In search of the Truth,

the heart of the heart of Reality,

The Law that would help him escape it,

And all its attendant and inescapable suffering.

And he found it.


These days, I look at things, not through them,

And sit down low, as far away from the sky as I can get.

The reef of the weeping cherry flourishes coral,

The neighbor's back porch light bulbs glow like anemones.

Squid-eyed Venus floats forth overhead.

This is the half hour, half-light, half-dark,

when everything starts to shine out,

And aphorisms skulk in the trees,

Their wings folded, their heads bowed.


Every true poem is a spark,

and aspires to the condition of the original fire

Arising out of the emptiness.

It is that same emptiness it wants to reignite.

It is that same engendering it wants to be re-engendered by.

Shooting stars.

April's identical,

celestial, wordless, burning down.

Its light is the light we commune by.

Its destination's our own, its hope is the hope we live with.


Wang Wei, on the other hand,

Before he was 30 years old bought his famous estate on the Wang River

Just east of the east end of the Southern Mountains,

and lived there,

Off and on, for the rest of his life.

He never travelled the landscape, but stayed inside it,

A part of nature himself, he thought.

And who would say no

To someone so bound up in solitude,

in failure, he thought, and suffering.


Afternoon sky the color of Cream of Wheat, a small

Dollop of butter hazily at the western edge.

Getting too old and lazy to write poems,

I watch the snowfall

From the apple trees.

Landscape, as Wang Wei says, softens the sharp edges of isolation.


(Body and Soul II, Charles Wright) 


Red lobelia

Red lobelia


* Robert K. Merton, The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics 

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed

Share this post


The Distance Revolution

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a golden horse and see
That it's the past

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a gray horse and see
That it's the future

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a white horse and see
That it's Love

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a black horse and see
That it's Death

Song in Abyss by Ya Hsien, translated by John Balcom

The initial motivations for a theory, writes Chris Smeenk, are sometimes rendered dubious or superfluous by later work. In my own journey that began with a wish to define a relationship between Consciousness and the Universe, I agree that the above statement might be true given all the relevant issues that need to be considered in that relationship. Will my initial purpose be swamped by unforeseen ideas, washed away down the road by what I will end up expressing, clueless now of what it will be?   I would say no, but in the network of highways that cross through my mind, I am not conscious of what I will write till I have written it, and what it entails comes as a revelation even to me. For now, this is how I learn the ropes as I am jotting notes into my notepad.


In the past few decades, cosmology has become a precise science. Since History inconspicuously displaces itself in time and space, today’s explorers and cartographers are discovering stars and galaxies of a Whole New World separated by voids like lands are by seas. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)  has created the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the Universe ever made. SDSS began with data collection from Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico and added that from the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile three years ago. Over the past 20 years, it has gone through various phases of operation. 




Galaxy redshift surveys, including SDSS I and II, BOSS, and eBOSS, measure three-dimensional positions of millions of galaxies in redshift space. In its 4th phase, SDSS has provided spectra for around 2.6 million unique galaxies covering over 11 billion years of cosmic time. In 2012, it started to include data of the spectra from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) which mapped the Universe on the largest scales. Its successor eBOSS focused on a cosmological survey of quasars and galaxies. In so doing, it has created the largest spectroscopic sample to date with 173 736 star-forming emission-line galaxies, half a million luminous red galaxies, and 330 000 quasars. Although quasi-stellar objects -- commonly known as quasars -- appear to shine like stars, they are not. They are phenomena powered by the accretion disks of active galactic nuclei. Due to their high intrinsic luminosity, they can be used as tracers of the large scale structure at high redshifts. 


Quasar 3C 273 (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Quasar 3C 273 (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

I mentioned previously that we find ourselves in the center of an imaginary celestial Sphere, and our body seems to elongate itself, stretching its arms to reach beyond. I think that the distance revolution touches upon one of the most significant themes that I pursue, that is the idea of universalization. We are not anymore reaching by land and sea one continent after the other. We are set to conquer the Universe not physically but with our minds. When we talk about distance revolution, what it means is that by the mere fact that we are able to pinpoint the location of astronomical objects on a celestial map, our Universe becomes a more familiar face and appears closer to us. And those markers -- newly identified objects -- become themselves landmarks on our journey,  ports on a portolan chart that show us the way to future discoveries.



Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta Marina with possible contribution by the artist Albrecht Dürer

Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta Marina with possible contribution by the artist Albrecht Dürer


As I once wrote, poets imagine connections between almost everything.  I see the expansion of the celestial Sphere happening the way tectonic plates move apart, except that galaxies are not like crust anchored to a ‘solid’ space but floating on an invisible mantle. Their movement is not due to convection but to an invisible gravitational force. Shadowy points in the night sky like uncharted lands on the horizon are brought out of the darkness to tell a totally different story from what we expect.



Cosmologists look for clues to interpret celestial signs. Ingenuity allows them to find all sorts of ways to explain the unexplained. They look at the emission and absorption lines of galaxies,  measure baryon acoustic oscillations, and use to their advantage galaxy-scale strong gravitational lensing. The observation of the emission and absorption lines of galaxies gives an indication of their evolution phase, Clusters of galaxies are located at the intersection of filaments (and sheets) which radiate radio synchrotron emission, powered by the infall shocks of baryons. SDSS has been instrumental in the way we are increasingly using those  ‘frozen relics’ that are the baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO). 


BAO leave their imprint on the distribution of matter in the Universe as a characteristic separation scale between matter over-densities. This distance is found in the separation of gravitationally collapsed structures such as galaxies and quasars and can be used as a `standard ruler' by large-scale surveys to measure the evolution of the expansion of the Universe at different epochs.

The Completed SDSS-IV extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey: BAO and RSD measurements from the anisotropic power spectrum of the Quasar sample between redshift 0.8 and 2.2

 The eBOSS team’s measurement of the current rate of expansion of the Universe has confirmed that it is about 10 percent lower than the value found from distances to nearby galaxies. The study of the cosmic web and in particular the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the statistics pertaining to galaxy clustering, have fostered the publication of a great number of scientific papers. Large Scale Structure catalogs have become the basis for testing cosmological models. One research paper released a Spectroscopic Identification of Lensing Objects candidates. Another reported on the Halo Occupation Distribution model of Emission Line Galaxies. As part of the eBOSS program, the  Lyman-alpha forest is a probe that measured early structure in an equatorial region of the celestial Sphere -- the Stripe 82 field. Using those results, a paper presented a 3D map of large-scale matter fluctuations. The distribution of matter provided by the probe consists of absorptions in the electromagnetic spectrum of bright and distant sources such as quasars. 


The distance revolution is about how much more we can stretch ourselves to grasp, through a telescope’s lens or a radio receiver, the four corners of the Universe.  Our brain is a screening room where images and stories are projected onto the walls of our minds. Those images and stories in the form of 3D maps allow us to understand the workings of the Universe better than we would, have we only had at our disposal abstract thinking and mathematics.



Distance revolution also means taking down walls, popping each other’s bubble to remove the distance that separates us. Our extended mind rises to a new level, transcending what we understand by 'being human’.


Share this post


The Reign of Bubbles and Particles

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The Reign of Bubbles and Particles

The legend says that since Portland’s founding, sightings of small green archers have been reported throughout downtown. Along with the archers, a celestial stag, a phantom building, and a huge tree have been spotted, time-to-time, throughout Old Portland.

The Green Man of Portland, Daniel Duford


A strange feeling washes over me when I travel from town to town. My body and mind seem bewildered as if they are trying to adjust to another universe. With its nonconformism, its Reedies gifted with an unusually independent mind and its community credit unions and low-cost cinemas, Portland holds a special place in my memory. From the ‘little green men’ to the Green Man of Portland.

To think is difficult. To think about nothing is more difficult than about something.

Lev Okun



A few days after I wrote Universalis Cosmographia -- a post on data visualization --  the most comprehensive 3D mapping of the Universe from 300 000 years on was released. I’ll dig into it next. But first, because of my deep interest in topics such as ‘time before time’, nothingness, or the essence of ‘being’, I am using this post as an opportunity to read a bit about the growing and ever-more complex world of particles.  


The spread of information depends upon the extent to which it is neither filtered, stopped nor altered as it bumps into the bubbles we, communities and individuals alike, live in.  My mind draws a parallel with the distant past and sets the stage of our preexistence. In a multiverse of bubbles only protected by the thickness of their walls, is our Universe bound to collapse or relatively stable? Lev Okun explained that what ‘primordial vacuum’ refers to is certain virtual states of particles



Turning to the multi-leveled stage of bubbles and elementary particles, from larger to smaller scales, could they too communicate with each other?  We paint a picture of their rise and fall. As our holobiont-like Universe enters infancy, its own army of bubbles burst, sending sound and gravitational waves. And when blisters of ionized hydrogen swell and start to proliferate and merge, they too are overshadowed by pockets of new stars and quasars which, themselves, interconnect.  


The Reign of Bubbles and Particles


A model of the Universe starts with a model of particles and works its way forward. I understand the concept of ‘superposition’ in the context of a universe of particles overlapping ours. Physicists have so far identified 57 species of elementary particles, but describe the number of hadrons -- which include mesons and baryons -- as limitless. Within the classification of mesons there are pions, while neutrons and protons are baryons.  Most of the baryons in the Universe are not found in stars, but rather they are in the form of a hot intracluster gas of hydrogen and helium.  A paper has just reported the direct measurement of the baryon content of the Universe. Hadrons are made of two or more quarks which come in six different flavors with their own mass --  up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. 


By studying charmed particles– particles containing charm quarks –, physicists can learn more about hadrons, in which quarks are bound by gluons, as well as the quark–gluon plasma which is thought to have existed in the early universe and can be recreated in heavy-ion collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).


In addition to a series of novel states consistent with containing four quarks that have been discovered in the past, the LHCb detector -- the single-arm forward spectrometer at the LHC -- has recently observed resonances interpreted to be pentaquark states. It is by sifting through the full LHCb datasets that a new particle structure was identified. It could originate from a hadron state consisting of four charm quarks but other interpretations cannot presently be ruled out. That said, not only there are hundreds of particles but theorists predict hypothetical ones such as sterile neutrinos, neutralinos, inflatons and axions. 


 Xc1(3872) hadron (CERN)

Xc1(3872) hadron (CERN)

Particles’ inherent differences and multicombinations point to the distinctive character of their function and remind me of bees in a beehive. Defining their individual function is key to our understanding of fundamental questions such as those related to dark matter and the early Universe. How do all those particles get along? We know that the early universe was filled with hot plasma whose turbulence and related processes were induced by the presence of particles and by their collisions, but we still wonder how all the actors got involved and played their part in the formation of the Universe.  


The majority of a hadron’s mass actually comes from the energy of the gluons that bind quarks together but exactly how the energy of gluons translates to the mass of hadrons is a question physicists are still trying to answer.

Cesar Luis Da Silva

I see experiments in particle physics, in particular with the use of powerful particle colliders, as the backdrop for our never-ending stream of questions. Those experiments are a bit like a time machine whose goal is to reveal one new particle after another that may have taken part in the making of matter. Experiments highlight the process and timeframe of decay that not only depends on the mass of the particle but on the force that impacts them.  In doing so, they draw a picture of how it all happened although no one has ever observed a proton decay. The question lingers as to what other forms of matter and energy protons decay into. As we peel layers after layers, when will we reach the bottom layer? When will we say that this amounts to ‘nothingness’? Convinced that we will find a way, that we will build more advanced, more powerful instruments to see the unseen, we brush off the idea that nothingness exists.  

We tell the story of a hot Big Bang at millions of millions of degrees when gravity was not alone but together with the weak force, electromagnetism and the strong force that governs the dynamics of quarks and gluons. Magnetic fields originated at some point from the early universe and evolved as they interacted with the primordial plasma. Today we even contemplate the possibility that there may be a fifth force. Within the dynamics of bubble nucleation and growth, it is as much the frictional motion of the bubbles as they detonate and deflagrate as it is the interactions between particles in the plasma that matters. As the Universe expanded and cooled down, it underwent a series of phase transitions. A paper has proposed a hybrid model to probe the extraordinarily rapid and unstable conditions pertained to early-time dynamics and quark-gluon plasma.


As the color deconfined quark-gluon plasma cools below the critical temperature, it becomes energetically favorable to form color confined hadrons (primarily pions and a tiny amount of neutrons and protons due to the conserved net baryon number)

Michael B. Christiansen and Jes Madsen

During the quark-hadron transition, things cooled down even more in an area of roughly a thousand times the size of our Solar System where the quark-gluon was transformed into hadron gas. During the primordial nucleosynthesis, neutrons and protons combined to form the first nuclei. As the Universe kept on expanding and electrons interacted with photons, the cosmic microwave background was encoded with valuable information. 


Share this post


1 2 3 4 5 6 > >>