The emergence of consciousness

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


We sometimes feel that we have reached an impasse and need a breath of fresh air to keep going. Words are powerless without a final resolution. Our heart measures time; our brain harbors consciousness, and our body moves through space. Weighted down by the material universe, we think of time and consciousness unworthy of our immediate concern. David Bohm might agree with Samuel Alexander on the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of an artist’s creativity. In our attempt to explain any creative process, we have come to understand that the train of thoughts and the flow of words as well as their association with each other influence the way any subject is discussed or pursued to a more or less unpredictable outcome.


..the discovery of new ideas may typically require a quantum-like, general, even non-logical thinking process, while their justification has to take place in the “classical limit of thought" and make use of the logical thinking process

Paavo Pylkkänen


That which feels, where is it? There is no consensus on the level at which consciousness appears. It may be the result of classical, chemical, and electrical interactions between neurons or arise within cellular structures inside neurons via quantum coherence or even a combination of both.  A model that would establish a relation between states of experience and the quantum universe stems from the fact that there appear to be resemblances between quantum processes and thought processes. In particular, microtubules that are found in almost all eukaryotes and some prokaryotes have been suggested to play an essential role by Penrose and Hameroff. It is often argued that consciousness is limited to large brains and a few living species because only when an animal possesses enough microtubules (or a large enough brain) could it give rise to consciousness in a relatively short and realizable period of time. Among the most recent undertakings, a Functional Modeling Framework proposes to define the criteria for a model of consciousness. 


All that glitters in the brain


The context-dependence of properties in a quantum system affects the superposition and collapse of the wave function, that is when Consciousness comes into play.  David Bohm underlined the indivisible nature of a quantum system. I understand that the collapse of one particle has an effect on the entire system. Could a model of consciousness test the relationship between the conscious experience and the behavior of a quantum system?  In the end, Paavo Pylkkänen writes in a 2014 paper,  we use the thinking process to explain the thinking process, so there is an intrinsic circularity, to begin with. If we are, psychologically, quantum-theoretical beings, he adds, then by being familiar with ourselves, we may be familiar with quantum effects.


Others hypothesize that consciousness emerges from entangled atoms within molecules in the brain or it has to do with photons and photoreceptors. Once the photon is delivered to its photoreceptor, the entangled wave function collapses, and the visual awareness starts to emerge. A ‘quantum Goldilock effect’ -- analog to the fine-tuning -- has been recently proposed, suggesting that the interplay between noise and temporal quantum correlations leads to an increase in the system’s efficiency. 


That something that feels may be a form of ‘proto-cognition’ or ‘proto-will’. I could not say whether we’re talking about panprotopsychism, panexperentialism, or micropsychism. There appear to be varieties of panpsychism that are the subject of many papers and studies today. Modeling frameworks would allow the opportunity to test them. The first step of a conscious experience is feelings. Those are ubiquitous. It is what comes next that creates an irreversible distinction in temporality. William Seager raises the possibility that there is no radical or ontological emergence but an intelligible relation that holds between ’mental components’ and the resulting aggregative state.


What is required of a clump of matter for it to have an experience of something, for it to have a perspective on the world? The new millennium’s theoretical challenges to anthropocentric thought urge us to respond to this question.

Alexander Wilson


Could consciousness be paired with other physical forms of communication abilities? Some may defend a more standard view of the Universe for the reason of conceivability, but conceivability is a concept subject to the extent of our current knowledge. In the end, we remain unsure at what level consciousness emerges and continue to debate whether  ‘proto-cognition’ or ‘proto-will’ is real.  Could it be that it isn’t that consciousness is solely confined within our body, but that the human brain is a transmission box of communication specific to us, the human species? Other transmission models of communication include those in blue whales that have “ten times as many neurons as we do devoted to picking up sounds below 100 Hz”*. Dolphins perceive sounds with a frequency eight times higher than ours. A migrating bird with its light-sensing cells in the eye and its quantum sensor sees the Earth's magnetic field. Cephalopods represent an island of mental complexity in a sea of invertebrate animals. They have developed a large brain and adopted a complex behavior on a branch of the phylogenetic tree, separate from ours. And bees can communicate with each other, through a dance, about the location and quality of a distant food source. Human consciousness appears to be a more integrated, coherent, and unified form of subjective experience. What may be even more disconcerting to us is why some of the other minds have such a short life span. And so is our fate compared to the life of a star.



Poets are tamers of imagination. For them, the Universe is a poem and humankind, a forest of walking brains. Cosmic consciousness is a shadow trapped inside the Universe shaped like a dodecahedron with flat mirrors reflecting endlessly. The octopod-like consciousness propels its eight-fold appendages suitable for feeling and seeing to explore the cavernous empty space. While human consciousness may be a by-product in the evolution of life,  sufficiently complex networks, whether they be ecological, cosmological or even social or artificial, may have become conscious. Could there be extra physical dimensions where consciousness lies? If consciousness is a multiscale phenomenon, are multiscale emergent phenomena common in nature? Cosmic consciousness may be twofold. On the one hand it is, I believe, the inner resonance box that connects us with our surroundings. On the other hand, beyond our conscious experience and that of other organisms, forms of consciousness have emerged and integrated complex physical systems through experience-sharing, fusion, and phenomenal bonding, all of the ways that have triggered in ourselves neural plasticity. 



As I recall, astrophysicist Franco Vazza and neuroscientist Francesco Izzo attempted a comparative study between galactic networks and neural networks. Preliminary results tend to show that the human neural network and the cosmic web are remarkably similar. According to the Integrated Information Theory,  a system is conscious only to the extent that its parts act in a seemingly indivisible and unified way. As it turns out, even sand dunes can interact with each other.


aqueous dunes interact over large distances without the necessity of exchanging mass. Interactions are mediated by turbulent structures forming in the wake of a dune, and lead to dune-dune repulsion, which can prevent collisions.

Wake Induced Long Range Repulsion of Aqueous Dunes


My mind imagines quantum interactions leading to molecular reactions, the Earth as one physical entity, and the Universe a place where consciousness emerges at the molecular level even in stars. Swarm intelligence means the pooling of individually acquired knowledge, a sort of collective consciousness of a group, a population, the universe quite simply. Do the chains of salps swamping Antarctic waters have a mind of their own? A theory of everything, which includes a theory of consciousness, involves the study of how consciousness, spreading branches on its own phylogenic tree, evolves beyond the brain.


The emotionality of the natural world is not a metaphor. It is not a projection from the symbolic repertoire of our cultural history, nor an arbitrary thought, but the inside, the existential side of the natural world’s biological functioning.

Andreas Weber


*Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary
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There is something that feels

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I discover two sides of consciousness: on the first side a constitutive consciousness that is the state of being conscious of the phenomenon, and on the second side, the being or existence of this very consciousness itself.

Boss's Dialogue with Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, Buddha and Jung : On Being Authentic


While most of us run out of words, poets caught in the midst of impressions, feelings, and connections imagine “ what it is like” to unveil “what is”. The ontological status of consciousness is defined as follows:  “there’s something that feels”. That ‘something’ represents that which is, regardless of whether it is unseen and intangible. What is that which is? How much consciousness is out there? How is it for that which is to feel? Is an atom’s consciousness external to the Sun’s of which it is a part? 


Do we believe that the mind is only the result of a collection of biological circuitry, or is it something more or different?

The Routledge Handbook of Emergence


Without shared resonance, consciousness is confined to a single emergent layer. With shared resonance, it becomes layers upon layers of intertwined emergence. The Universe may be a composite subjectivity, formed of many individually conscious parts. How do those parts bind together? At the very least, they need to obey principles of reflexivity and transitivity.  If time is my common denominator, how to relate the experience of a star to that of a human being? 


Whatever objects might appear through a mental state, the latter, besides being a consciousness of these objects, is necessarily an awareness of time passing.

Aron Gurwitsch


While it appears to our mind and body that consciousness is grounded in natural science, it may be an element of the quantum Universe. A model of consciousness will need to prescribe a relation between states of experience on the one hand and the natural world or the quantum Universe, on the other.  If analogical terms and fractal representations are imaginative but reductionist to explain the Universe, how to remediate their insufficiencies? 


The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.

P. W. Anderson


What it is like refers to how it is for the subject itself, whether it be the Universe as a whole or an electron. Although analogies refer to relations and similarities between aspects of experience, there is no conception that allows one to establish the identity of a ‘what it is like’ aspect of experience with a physical state. Since mathematics is considered essential to gain understanding into the Universe, could those relations be translated into a mathematical structure?  


In any scientific approach, writes Johannes Kleiner in his paper on mathematical models of consciousness, two fundamentally different methodological approaches allow one to gather information: a first-person perspective and a third-person perspective. A scientific model of consciousness addresses both. What is an act of consciousness? How does it unfold? In the case of the universal wave function, in which the Universe is as much the observer as it is the observed, the process starts during superposition and ends with collapse. What exactly happens during the intervals between events of collapse and what flows throughout these intervals might need to be taken into account in regard to the transfer of information, feeling, or consciousness. Could the idea of cosmic consciousness be addressed within a general mathematical framework?


Free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules (ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai; CC BY 4.0)

Free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules (ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai; CC BY 4.0)

how much is what we “see" affected by the scientific theory and, more generally, the worldview or paradigm we happen to hold?

Paavo Pylkkänen


No scientific methodology applied to date, writes Johannes Kleiner, can be used to address non-collatable aspects of experience.  A part, property, or feature of conscious experience is non-collatable if there are no reasonable means to identify this part, property, or feature over experimentation. Non-collatability implies limitations on how aspects of experience can be referenced in a theory or empirical investigation. How then do we define cosmic Consciousness that is ineffable and inaccessible? The observed is the experiencing subject. How experience reveals itself to the Universe, how it finds itself experiencing, defines cosmic consciousness. Its conscious experience constitutes the totality of feelings. 


One of the mathematical models of consciousness is the Integrated Information Theory. At the heart of the theory is an algorithm that aims to determine both the quality and quantity of a physical system’s conscious experience. It is constantly under development, with new and refined definitions being added every few years. Johannes Kleiner and Sean Tull published in a paper this year their mathematical analysis of the theory.


The idea that we can only talk about consciousness of the self and not a universal consciousness feels limiting. For me, the thinking process unfolds internally as if I were conversing with other minds around a table. It is reminiscent of a fictional dialogue cleverly written in 2014 between Medard Boss, Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, Buddha, and Jung. The quotation at the beginning of this post is part of it. Words of Josiah Royce, Thomas Nagel, and others resonate in my head. 


If there is conscious life elsewhere in the Universe, says Thomas Nagel, “it is likely that some of it will not be describable even in the most general experiential terms available to us” because there might be out there, asserts Josiah Royce, “a depth of meaning, a completeness of expression, a wealth of facts, a clearness of vision” to which we may not have access. Even so, it does not mean, observes Nagel, that “we should deny all the possibles that come from what we can never describe or understand”. It is not to say either that “such an understanding may be permanently denied to us by the limits of our nature”. 


If the theory we are allegedly testing is also the one we use to interpret the results, and the one which defines what counts as observation, problem, method and solution, how objective, neutral and impartial can such testing be judged to be?

Paavo Pylkkänen


There appears to be a difference between self-consciousness and cosmic consciousness as if we need to access one to attain the other. Not everyone reaches such a level of symbiosis with the Universe. There is a transition, claims Richard Maurice Bucke, between self-consciousness and cosmic consciousness, that is when a person who was self-conscious enters into cosmic consciousness. As a result, one feels how the Universe is “not a dead machine but a living presence” and is motivated to “take on enormously greater capacity both for learning and initiating”. Either we’ll transcend individually to a higher level of consciousness, or the day will come when the entire species will evolve. We will then understand the Universe in the most subtle way. Such a new aspect of ourselves will demonstrate an evolved behavior. But when discussing the future of humankind, we often mention how we could benefit from being artificially augmented. I would rather know what will happen to our sense of empathy, sensitivity, and intuition. Will those human traits grow in the future to help tackle the socio-economic and environmental challenges?


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Transitional thoughts

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Transitional thoughts

As time passes, an increasing number of praying mantises are spotted in the native plant garden. A friend of mine said the other day that it is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. “Whenever I want to feel humbled,” writes Thomas about the ecological collapse, “I think of the species that disappeared because of our conceit. They went away painfully, but we never saw it happen. A last male or female waited forever for a mate, and then they fell dead and unmourned after their hope was dashed”. The Moon set early last night as I, too, fell asleep at an earlier time than usual, exhausted by the burning magma of thoughts in my head. 


Transitional thoughts


Moving forward, I’d like to restate the following points: The code in the hidden order of time converts information into rounds of communication between Consciousness and the Universe. No matter which fundamentals of reality take part in the circle of concepts and whether some are co-emergent,  I intuitively feel that time comes first.  I remain cautious, though, keeping in mind that I ought to go deeper. Writing helps with the disentangling of my thoughts. I would not know where to start without it as I continue to grasp the more profound significance of what I have so far barely touched upon. 

The deeper we go, the more our understanding grows and adds substance to the dynamic framework that we put in place. The approach is uncertain and won’t be devoid of twists and turns. ‘Transitional thoughts’ lays out a course of action that I tentatively draw for the next few posts, a path opening on the hazy horizon. I am well aware of the gap between running ideas in one’s head and testing them, and I wonder how mathematicians render a phenomenal experience into a mathematical representation.


Initially, I wanted this post to complement an earlier one on computational models of the Universe. A model of consciousness is a hypothetical theory about how conscious experience and the physical domain relate. It refers to brain function and individual consciousness. Since a dream of a final theory can only include a theory of consciousness, I thought that a paper on models of consciousness by Johannes Kleiner from the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy could be of interest in my own pledge to define the bond between the Universe and Consciousness. 


As it is often the case, I got sidetracked from my original intent. An article by David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen will soon be published in the volume of Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness.  They plan to demonstrate how consciousness comes into play in the collapse of the wave function. “Measurement is where consciousness comes in. Measurement is when a physical system affects a conscious observer”. In a video chat with Robert Wright, four years ago, David Chalmers suggested that whenever the wave function collapses, that is when consciousness kicks in. Without it, there is no consciousness. 



David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen intend on spelling out, in mathematical terms, how consciousness exerts a causal effect on the dynamics of the wave function. “Consciousness never enters a superposition. It is always in a definite state. The collapse defines the definite state of consciousness”. In my mind, quantum fluctuations are at the steering wheel of virtual particles. Could a process of appropriation occur during the superposition state leading to the collapse of the wave function? When we speak of quantum ontology, we mean that at the base of quantum mechanics lies the possibility that a wave similar to a physical thought or a speck of metaphysical dust operates a particle of matter mentally, giving it shape and guiding its movement by the transmission of information.  


A larger problem at hand is how the wave function applies to the entire Universe. The concept of universal wave function entails that the Universe as a whole is both the observer and the observable. All the actors and players within the Universe are only bearers of their own perspective. We could look at the entire Universe as the setting of an infinite number of superposed states that collapse and emerge in the quantum universe. The cosmic microwave background could be seen as the collapse of a universal wavefunction. It is as much a holographic projection of the data-embedded early universe as it is a snapshot of a universal form of consciousness. 


From the perspective of bottom-up panpsychism, “the moment any physical system potentially becomes entangled with consciousness, it too will have to go into a definite state,” concedes David Chalmers. If consciousness only occurs at the time of the collapse, it would imply that a shared resonance from micro-conscious to macro-conscious entities could only be limited in time, at best intermittent. The definite state constitutes a self-recognition of such an event. But what the collapse signals is that a transfer of information, feeling, or consciousness is finalized. In a sense, a wave-particle is a wave of consciousness that may be short-lived and whose only function is to combine with others.



In a time-embedded Universe, Consciousness takes the form of a silent chatter, the arousal of feelings internally vocalized. Thomas gained an understanding of what it is. “All creatures have consciousness,” he writes. “Consciousness seems like emptiness, but when it aligns with thought, it becomes magnified and fulfilled”.  His distinction between thought and consciousness is an interesting take on the wave-particle duality as if consciousness has always been there, but it is the thought of it that somehow eludes us. 

As we wish to pinpoint consciousness’ whereabouts and physically seize it,  we may ponder upon the implications of a method such as facial asana. It is based on the belief that one half of the face is reactive, and the other side is composed. “From an abstract perspective,” Thomas writes, “the reactive side is occupied by thought, which is in turn possessed by self, ego, whereas the composed side is occupied by consciousness, which is in turn detached from the mind and body. After we lose self, our thought becomes pure and spiritual - exactly like consciousness. When thought is possessed by self, it can be challenged to the point of disintegration, but it attains oneness of presence after it aligns with consciousness”. 

The individual consciousness takes the form of Thought, which is fluid and mobile like quicksilver, perpetually in a state of change and unrest fraught with pain and effort; the other consciousness is not in the form of Thought. It touches, hears, sees, and is those things which it perceives—without motion, without change, without effort, without distinction of subject and object, but with a vast and incredible Joy.

Edward Carpenter


The idea of alignment between thought and consciousness could be seen as a state of superposition until, in a possible form of interactionism, consciousness takes over. Going back to the wave function, it may be that a physical thought, a speck of metaphysical dust, needs to interact with us in order for us to be fully conscious of it as we evidently are at the time of measurement. 


Transitional thoughts
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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.”

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.

Thought is Consciousness

...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 Ruth Bader Ginsburg did. Thought is consciousness.


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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 drawing in energy in one universe to a white hole spewing out energy 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

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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

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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.


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

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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 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

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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

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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.




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