The extension of ourselves

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

There is a paradox, an impossible task, one that may be transcendentally understandable and left for others to figure out. Although what we merely know of nothingness is its absence, when matter eventually fades away to nothing, nothingness, I feel, becomes not just a concept but a timeless presence. If all that matters is that we experience, how could we experience nothingness? Nothingness is the trough between two crests of a wave. It has already passed as my train of thought keeps going. It makes oneself feel woozy as if the place of nothingness is lodged inside us. Inwardly it feels as if the heart needs to stop to experience it. In and out, it is past while still being our destination. Dizzy and lost, our soul is sucked into a black hole.


Each post attempts to complete an idea or redirect a statement. It becomes an addendum to a previous one like a series of fractals. But battles that we wage aren’t confined to realms of words. Shadows are threefold. They stand high in the physical world,  trail behind in our understanding of the Universe, and weaken the mere foundation of our expression. The verb can’t name hidden entities it has not experienced yet. 

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. 

The ongoing story of white holes

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

The story of the Universe unfolds like a wave that disperses the outbound matter whose sense of isolation it battles by spatializing time and grounding locally feeling, consciousness and knowledge. The outer space has taken a divergent role while time is — I intuitively feel — the convergent one. The noise that acts on the quantum system, and that the quantum system acts back on is the voice of time. Time and the quantum Universe are in rebus. Once coupled to mass and volume, the voice becomes lost in translation. Frequencies that expand and multiply create the choir of time.


In all appearances, the Universe looks highly compartmentalized in the way information is stopped at the defensive lines between senders and receivers. Kitarō Nishida would say however that the self is unable to determine its own existence from within itself. It is the objective environment and the related web of multidimensional relations in which it is timelessly trapped that confers meaning and self-identities upon the individual (individual object).


Walking towards the sunrise leaving the full moon behind, I try to clear my mind of all the redundancies. Analyzing our thinking process is an essential part of our path. One would need to fly over the nest of mental entanglements like a bald eagle and get a bird’s-eye view of the mirroring reality that comprises our mind and the Universe.  The dilemma we face between our physicalist view of the Universe and the quest we carry inside us of a transcendental beyond brings uncertainty to our endeavors and to the choices we need to make. 


There is more to our story than our physicality. It is that dichotomous approach that compelled me to take the latest turn as I attempted to define non-being and nothingness. It may be that everything that we know of the Universe’s intrinsic character is derived from the metaphysical side. But the study of non-being only makes sense for science if it unveils something. We are, I feel, engaged in an undertold pursuit of absolutes when all that we feel, see and touch is relative. The technological extension of our visual and auditive reach allows us to access the unknown and fill the mental holes.

...perhaps there is no such thing as metaphysics—or at least nothing that deserves to be called a science or a study or a discipline. Perhaps, as some philosophers have proposed, no metaphysical statement or theory is either true or false. Or perhaps, as others have proposed, metaphysical theories have truth-values, but it is impossible to find out what they are.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

How can humanity building on its considerable extension in time and insignificant extension in space enter a new era of knowledge? It is by recognizing that, although we are physical beings, the extension of ourselves is likewise metaphysical. Steven French describes two types of structural realism: one epistemic (“all what we know is structure”) and the other ontic (“all that there is, is structure”). Our mind relies on a pyramid of structural terms to construct an image of the Universe. Stathis Psillos resolves the opposition between the two views as he defines metaphysical realism — in its stronger version — as the claim that there is more to the Universe than its structure, “ and this more — the X — can be known”*. There exists a higher dimensional continuum whose point of origin challenges our imagination and our reason.


Nothingness meets being in the quantum realm in which individuals’ names or labels are “effectively obscured by the relevant aggregate descriptions in terms of wave functions.”**. A basic reconceptualization is what is in Erik Verlinde' s mind when he describes the emergence of ‘macroscopic’ notions of spacetime and gravity from an underlying microscopic description in which they have no a priori meaning. Names, labels, notions, and meaning emphasize holes in our knowledge while spacetime and gravity are large shadows in the physical world. By the mere fact that they are said to be emergent, they presuppose temporality.

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

The circularity of a debate around fundamentals meant to explain the inner causal relations of the Universe calls for a move upward. I draw a roof over the theoretical house of everything under which circles of fundamentals perform their dance. Three intertwined swirls are circling out of the roof and a physical tree grows out from within. Time, the quantum Universe, and nothingness are the three spiraling Universals. 


Cutting through correlational circles, time escapes from the initial ring, slips away and upward, leaving space and gravity. Time is a vernacular expression for all that it represents: simultaneity and timelessness. The Universe is a physical tree and its boundaries are walls of fundamentals. Outside the mind and objectively, the boundaries set by the Universe, in which we exist, aren’t those of an absolute. Beyond the experiential physical frame, the mind learns its way through nothingness the way the body learns to move through space. Its knowledge remains insignificant.

The more theories are thought out, the more complex they become. I wish it were simpler. If it were, the patchworks of laws and theories would collapse like a house of cards and leave bare a renewed sense of unified consciousness. A simpler explanation is a relational description, possibly a theory of natural selection applied not just to life itself but to the Universe as a whole. Our Universe is a participant member of a multiverse in which black holes act as reproductive cells. Is there somewhere within that said multiverse remnants of an initial progenitor? 


It would help to catch a glimpse of the far horizon and see where all is going. A relational theory — such as universal Darwinism — would narrow down what forms to attach to supra-individuals and the relational aspects that will continue to bind them but it might lack precision partially because of our knowledge, still imperfect, of the process. The accuracy of our predictions in regard to the evolution of individuals hits a wall. 

The white-throated sparrow has come out of the shadows. Its whistle fills the spatiotemporal hole it has left behind just a few months ago. Shadows are reflections in the rear mirror of fast-moving objects. If unpredictability is the norm, the Universe may be purely utilitarian. Individual objects have an instrumental value that is time-bound and on a need-to-know basis. We still trust however that the passage of time will help shed light on individuals and on that is beyond their physicality.

Often our sailors, for an hour of fun,
Catch albatrosses on the after breeze
Through which these trail the ship from sun to sun
As it skims down the deep and briny seas.
Scarce have these birds been set upon the poop,
Than, awkward now, they, the sky's emperors,
Piteous and shamed, let their great white wings droop
Beside them like a pair of idle oars.
These wingèd voyagers, how gauche their gait!
Once noble, now how ludicrous to view!
One sailor bums them with his pipe, his mate
Limps, mimicking these cripples who once flew.
Poets are like these lords of sky and cloud,
Who ride the storm and mock the bow's taut strings,
Exiled on earth amid a jeering crowd,
Prisoned and palsied by their giant wings.

Charles Baudelaire translated by Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)

*Stathis Psillos, Knowing the Structure of Nature

** Steven French, The Structure of the World

Quentin Meillassoux, Après la finitude

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