by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince
April 16, 2014
LYNN PICKNETT &
CLIVE PRINCE's joint career began with Turin Shroud: How
Leonardo Da Vinci Fooled History and - eight books later
- they published
The Forbidden Universe.
They are best known
for their 1997 The Templar Revelation, which Dan Brown
acknowledged as the primary inspiration for
The Da Vinci Code.
As a reward for
their contribution they were given cameos in the movie
(on the London bus). They also give talks to an
international audience. Lynn & Clive both live in South
Their website is
The below article appeared in New Dawn No. 127
Stephen Hawking famously ended his 1988 bestseller
A Brief History of Time with the
statement that, if and when physics finds its long-sought grand
unified field theory,
"we would know the mind of God."
Although since then he has reportedly
regretted the phrase, and famously announced in 2010 that "God did
not create the universe," his original statement was - knowingly or
not - in fact simply a repetition of the underlying quest of the
historical scientific revolution.
All its great pioneers, from Copernicus to Newton,
were motivated by the passionate belief that by discovering the way
the universe works they were not only uncovering God's design, but
also taking humankind closer to the divine.
Science was for them primarily a
spiritual quest. And, given the evidence, that's precisely what it
should be now.
Despite rather desperately cowering behind the wall of strident
rationalism most of them are famous for, the startling truth is that
cosmologists and quantum physicists themselves have revealed that
the mind of God may be much nearer than we think. Science itself has
effectively proven that ours is not a random universe.
Science itself has demonstrated it was
literally designed for life, which implies a designer… But as
science itself - in general - is rather backward in coming forward
about this, permit us to explain.
The sensational conclusion that the universe appears to be meant
began to be formulated with the famous 'anthropic principle' brought
to the attention of the scientific community at the end of the 1970s
by the seminal Nature paper by British cosmologists Bernard Carr
and Martin Rees.
The latter, now Lord Rees -
Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society until 2010 -
recently attracted the disdain of many colleagues by accepting the
annual million-pound Templeton Foundation prize awarded for an,
"outstanding contribution to
affirming life's spiritual dimension."
Quite something for a mainstream
scientist - and of course hugely controversial.
At its most basic, the anthropic principle states that all the
cosmological data shows the laws of physics are, to an uncanny
degree, exactly the ones needed for a bio-friendly universe.
According to Paul Davies' book
The Goldilocks Enigma (2006) conditions are, like her porridge,
"just right" for organic life. It needs precisely our kind of
relatively stable, with galaxies and
stars - and this was by no means inevitable: if things were even
slightly different matter could never have coalesced, or the
universe would be riddled with black holes, preventing the
formation of heavenly bodies.
Life requires certain chemical elements,
primarily carbon, which need stars to manufacture them and disperse
them in their supernovae explosions. It also needs planets where the
building blocks can be assembled for living beings to develop.
All this requires not only fundamental particles and energies to
possess particular values, but the relationships between them must
be very precise. Carr and Rees noted that for almost every variation
of the physical laws, a bio-friendly universe would be impossible.
Yet as Hawking writes,
"a series of startling coincidences"
make the laws of physics "a system that is extremely fine-tuned"
to produce conditions propitious for life.2
Freeman Dyson, the British-born
American physicist, writes that there are,
"numerical accidents that seem to
conspire to make the universe habitable,"3
while Paul Davies notes the "ingenious and seemingly contrived
ways"4 the laws of physics allow the creation
and dispersal of the elements necessary for life - and that we
appear to live in a "designer universe."
More astoundingly, as all the values
were 'set' by the big bang - if the conditions at the start of the
universe had been say, bigger and bangier or smaller and less
bangy (sorry for the technical terms), the physical laws
would also be different - then life seems to have been an integral
part of the design from the very beginning.
One of the first examples of the fine-tuning to be recognized, back
in the 1950s, is the formation of carbon - quintessential to organic
life - which like all except the simplest three elements is forged
in the centre of stars.
However, scientists had long realized
that according to conventional wisdom, carbon shouldn't exist at all
(or if it did it should be extremely rare).
Even the vast temperatures and pressure
in stars shouldn't produce enough energy for stable atoms to form.
But we now know there is a lucky fluke - a quantum effect known as
resonance - which produces a 'spike' that enormously amplifies the
energy to exactly the right value. This only happens for carbon.
The scientist who worked out the process, the maverick British
astronomer and mathematician Fred Hoyle, was so astonished by
the coincidence that he famously described it as a "put-up job."
In a 1957 lecture he observed:
If this was a purely scientific
problem and not one that touched on the religious problem, I do
not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would
fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have
been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they
produce inside the stars.
If this is so, then my apparently
random quirks have become part of a deep-laid scheme. If not
then we are back again at a monstrous sequence of accidents.5
The most recently-discovered example of
fine tuning is perhaps the most compelling.
This relates to 'vacuum energy,' a force
arising from 'virtual particles' that fill even empty interstellar
space, and which has a profound effect on the universe, since it
determines its rate of expansion and this in turn determines how
life-friendly it is.
If the universe was expanding too
quickly, then gravity would be unable to build galaxies, planets and
stars; if too slowly, then all matter would be pulled back to the
'big crunch' before life had time to evolve.
Obviously, our universe is expanding
within that critically narrow range that allows it to be
bio-friendly. But only recently has it been discovered how narrow -
indeed, wafer-thin - that range is.
It all hangs on the rate of expansion, determined by the balance
between the negative and positive energy of the virtual particles.
In the mid-1990s, based on new improved
data from the
Hubble Space Telescope and other
sources, cosmologists were finally able to calculate the balance. It
turns out that the negative energy cancels out all but an
infinitesimal amount of the positive - all but 10120
(that's 119 zeroes after the decimal point and before the 1).
But the scary thing is that if this number was just one decimal
place shorter - 10119 - then the universe would be
expanding too quickly: there would be no stars and no planets.
That tiny decimal place is the
difference between life and no-life.
The leading American theoretical
physicist Leonard Susskind wrote:
"This seems like an absurd accident
and we have no idea why it should happen. There is no
fine-tuning quite like this in the rest of physics."6
Nobel prize-winning theoretical
physicist Steven Weinberg commented in 1993 that if the
extraordinary balancing act of the vacuum energy was confirmed then,
"it will be reasonable to infer that
our own existence plays an important part in explaining why the
universe is the way it is," but went on, "For what it is worth,
I hope that this is not the case."7
Unfortunately for Weinberg, it has since
been confirmed. It is the case.
It's rather like winning the lottery (we assume). If our numbers
come up we might think we're clever or destined to win but of course
it would be just chance. Not so long ago astrophysicists assumed
that's how it was with life: the right conditions just happened by
anthropic principle has shown that
the game appears to have been fixed - as if only our numbers went
into the machine. We couldn't lose. In fact, the 'coincidences'
involved in the universal fine tuning are so vast it's more like
winning the lottery week after week for several years.
Of course this was unthinkable for most scientists - after all,
design implies a designer - so they desperately searched for a
Susskind duly came up with
the now-ubiquitous multiverse as a
way out of the anthropic conundrum: the theory that there are really
billions - perhaps an infinity - of universes, each with its own
physical laws (since conditions at the big bang were different for
The vast majority don't possess life,
but because we live in one of the few that does, we are mistakenly
over-impressed by the coincidence that it is spot on for us.
The multiverse hypothesis turns the virtually improbable into the
inevitable. This time it's like entering our lottery numbers into
several billion games simultaneously. We're bound to scoop the
jackpot at least once. The multiverse allowed scientists
uncomfortable with the implications of the anthropic principle to
breathe a sigh of relief.
There is, however, a major problem with the multiverse - and its
exotic brother theories, string and M. There's not a shred of
evidence for any of it. Ironically it's a fundamental aspect of the
multiverse that there can never be any, since interaction between
universes is by definition impossible. Which also conveniently makes
the theory impossible to disprove.
As Carr wrote in 2007, the multiverse,
"is highly speculative and…
currently untestable. Indeed, it may always remain so…"8
It gets worse. Being untestable means it
violates one of science's cardinal rules - that any hypotheses
should be capable of being tested by experiment or observation.
At best the multiverse is an interesting
speculation, a possible but unprovable answer to the conundrum of
the anthropic principle. But the majority of physicists take it as
the answer to their prayers. If indeed they ever admit to praying.
It's easy to understand why. Hawking, for example, has acknowledged
it's a straight choice between intelligent design (begging the
awkward question of the designer) and the multiverse.9
Naturally he champions the latter, as do
most of his colleagues, keen to look cool and cutting-edge, and
beguiled by the seduction of endless equations - even if by
definition they can never lead anywhere or prove anything.
Anti-Science of the Multiverse
One of the key principles of every other area of science is that it
is contingent, the consensus at any time being based on the best
data, but with the underlying acknowledgement that future
discoveries may lead to major revisions.
But here we have hard data pointing
directly to a designer universe - and yet the overwhelming majority
of scientists prefer to accept the entirely speculative and
untestable multiverse, just because one day they might find a way of
In other words, they accept it on faith,
their belief in a non-designed universe blinding them to the
overwhelming evidence for one that is obviously designed, and that
science itself now points to.
The anthropic principle has been conceptually divided between the
'weak' version (the universe appears to be designed for intelligent
life, but this is an illusion) and the 'strong' version (the
universe appears to be designed for us because it is).
Enter the American John Archibald
Wheeler (1926-2008), one of the most eminent modern theoretical
physicists, discoverer of black holes and originator of the concept
of space-time wormholes, who came up with a new spin: the
"participatory anthropic principle."
Wheeler developed the concept as the logical extrapolation of
another weird aspect of quantum physics, the implications of which
few other physicists have dared explore. It is accepted that by
observing events at the quantum level they will inevitably be
changed by the act of observation.
The outcome of a particular experiment
often depends on how the experimenter chooses to make the
observation - in effect they assign particular values to a subatomic
This is seen most famously in the 'double slit experiment', where
the experimenter can 'choose' whether a beam of light behaves as a
particle or a wave even when only a single photon is involved.
Bizarre though it might seem, a
fundamental principle of quantum theory is that the photon does not
take a single path, but takes every possible path simultaneously.
They exist as a series of probabilities ('wave functions'), and only
when an observation is made does the wave function 'collapse' and
the photon take a specific position.
As Wheeler declared:
"Each photon is governed by laws of
probability and behaves like a cloud until it is detected… The
act of measurement is the transforming act that collapses
uncertainty into certainty."10
On a much wider scale, every particle in
the universe exists as a wave function, 'waiting' to be given
specific values by being observed.
Wheeler showed that it wasn't just a question of the experimenter
determining through observation how a particle behaves now. In the
double-slit experiment choosing how the photon is observed after it
has passed through the slit produces the same effect. The observer
effectively chooses how the particle behaved in the past - maybe
only microseconds ago, but in the past nevertheless ('backward
Initially Wheeler's proposal could only be a thought experiment as
the technology allowing a choice to be made in the infinitesimally
small period while a photon is in 'flight' wasn't available.
But in 2006 a French team devised a
method of experimenting for real. Wheeler was proved right.
He then realized the same effect could be obtained if light from a
distant star was involved, but the observer on Earth would be
'choosing' how a photon behaved when it set out on its journey
thousands, maybe millions, of light years ago. The observer effect
must be truly cosmic in scale.
He then developed the notion of the
"participatory universe" - by observing the universe, we are
actually creating it, not just now but in the past. In short, we are
determining the initial conditions set by the big bang. Physicists
aren't discovering the laws of physics - they are creating them.
As he noted:
"The past history of the universe
has no more validity then is assigned by the measurements we
make - now!"11
And in a somewhat Star Trekky sound-bite
"We are participators in bringing
into being not only the near and here but the far away and long
In Wheeler's vision, human consciousness
(and that of any other sentient beings out there) is an integral
part of cosmic evolution.
The big bang creates the subatomic
particles from which galaxies, stars and planets are built. Life
forms on planets and evolves to produce intelligent, conscious
beings, who through their active observation actually manifest the
big bang itself,
"the mechanism of genesis."13
(Wheeler pointed out that this disposes
of the multiverse: if consciousness is needed to make the universe,
then only a universe such as ours, with its conscious living beings,
In other words, there is a circular relationship between mind and
the universe - human consciousness is in some way necessary for its
completion: the universe is evolving from a starting point towards
some end, and mind plays a key part in that process.
As Bernard Carr commented:
"Wheeler has suggested a more
radical interpretation [of the anthropic principle] in which the
universe does not even come into being in a well-defined way
until an observer is produced who can perceive it. In this case,
the very existence of the universe depends on life."14
Although to the casual reader this might
seem somewhat off the wall, Wheeler's logic holds up - and, unlike
the multiverse, its predictions have been tested experimentally -
winning acceptance from other prominent physicists.
Among them is Stephen Hawking,
who writes in The Grand Design:
"We create history by our
observation, rather than history creating us."15
If Wheeler is right, then we play a part
in the grand design implied by the anthropic principle. And if for
'designer' we read 'God', then we are, at least in part, God, or
have a share in God's mind.
Back to the
Perhaps the oddest - and most satisfying - aspect of this is how
Wheeler's participatory universe dovetails with the beliefs of the
ancients, as Austrian astrophysicist Erich Jantsch (1929-80)
Based on the mass of evidence for cosmic
purpose, he developed the concept of the 'self-organizing universe',
very similar to Wheeler's. To him, the universe, through its
components - including conscious beings - determines its own
"God is not the creator, but the
mind of the universe."16
But although acknowledging that the
self-organizing universe was prefigured in many mystical religious
systems, Jantsch singled out one in particular:
"the oldest recorded world view,
In fact we had pinpointed the very same
tradition while researching our latest book,
The Forbidden Universe, as the
inspiration for all the great heroes of the scientific revolution:
The Hermetic system is a metaphysical
and magical philosophy and cosmology contained in a collection of
texts known as the Hermetica, ascribed to a legendary Egyptian
Hermes Trismegistus ('Thrice-Great
These writings, of which around twenty
survive out of a much larger body, were set down in Egypt during the
period of Greek domination, some time after the third century BCE.
They were largely lost to Europe after the crackdown on pagan
scholarship when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman
Empire in the fourth century CE.
But they survived in the Middle East
(where they actually laid the foundations of medieval Arab science),
and were rediscovered by Europe in the mid-fifteenth century by an
agent working for the great patron of learning, Cosimo de' Medici
- the event that actually triggered the Renaissance.
As we show in The Forbidden Universe, not only did the
Hermetica go on to be the driving force behind the scientific
revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but it also -
somewhat spookily - outlines a cosmology that fits very neatly with
Wheeler's and Jantsch's.
(This may not be entirely coincidental,
as Wheeler's great philosophical hero was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
[1646-1716], the extraordinary intellect and contemporary of Newton,
who, like him, was steeped in the Hermetic tradition - although it
was expedient to downplay his interest in matters esoteric.)
The Hermetica, too, celebrated the universe as an emanation of the
mind of God, declaring:
"…you must think of god in this way,
as having everything - the cosmos, himself, the universe - like
thoughts within himself."18
American historian of science Ernest
Lee Tuveson sums up the fundamental Hermetic principle:
"the world emanates from the divine
intelligence, and, as a whole in which each part is an essential
component member, expresses the great Mind."19
And modern Hermetic specialist, American
philosopher Glenn Alexander Magee, writes:
"Hermeticists not only hold that God
requires creation, they make a specific creature, man, play a
crucial role in God's self-actualization. Hermeticism holds that
man can know God, and that man's knowledge of God is necessary
for God's own completion."20
Back to Wheeler's participatory
In the Hermetic cosmology, the universe is God, everything in it is
an emanation of God's mind, and human beings play a necessary part
in God's self-actualization. In Wheeler's, consciousness plays a
fundamental role in actualizing the universe.
But where did the writers of the Hermetic treatises get their ideas?
Renaissance devotees of their philosophy
believed it encapsulated the highest wisdom of the ancient Egyptian
civilization, that of the pyramid builders themselves. In later
centuries there was a more critical view: the texts might have been
written in Egypt, but owed more to Greek ideas.
However, recent research shows that -
while written for a Greek audience - the Hermetic books do indeed
contain traditional Egyptian religious and cosmological ideas.
In fact, there a compelling case that
they came from the most ancient known Egyptian cult:
the religion of Heliopolis, as set
out in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest magical writings in the
And as it was indeed the religion of the
builders of the great pyramids of Giza, this would vindicate the
beliefs of the Renaissance Hermeticists.
In their complex and highly symbolic system, the
Pyramid Texts too reveal many
parallels with Wheeler's participatory universe. According to the
Heliopolitan theology the cosmos is an emanation flowing out from
the creator-god, Atum, expanding from a single point of origin
outward to the material world.
But it, too, involves a flow from
ourselves back to the moment of creation.
As specialist in the Heliopolitan
religion, American anthropologist Karl Luckert puts it, the
universe not only,
"exhales" from Atum but "inhales."
We might need Atum/God, but he needs us.
So perhaps instead of tying themselves in the knots of string theory
and abandoning themselves to the siren seduction of the
non-existent multiverse, scientists would be better advised to
read the Hermetica. After all, they would only be following in the
footsteps of intellectual giants.
But they should be warned: there is a
creative consciousness involved, as science itself shows. It is a
fact: face it.
But we must stress that while this 'god'
bears no resemblance whatsoever to
the petty tyrant of the Old Testament,
he/she/it is not too hard to find. Simply start the quest with a
1. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History
of Time, Bantam Press, London, 1988, 175.
2. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design,
Bantam Press, London, 161.
3. Freeman J. Dyson, A Many Colored Glass: Reflections on the
Place of Life in the Universe, University of Virginia Press,
Charlottesville, 2007, 44.
4. Paul Davies, The Mind of God: Science and the Search for
Ultimate Meaning, Penguin, London, 1993, 197.
5. In Mervyn Stockwood (ed.), Religion and the Scientists, SCM
Press, London, 1959, 64.
6. Leonard Susskind, 'A Universe Like No Other', New Scientist,
no. 2419, 2003, 37.
7. Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory, Hutchinson,
London, 1993, 182.
8. Bernard Carr, Universe of Multiverse?, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 2007, 14.
9. In the Sunday Times' Eureka magazine, September 2010.
10. John Archibald Wheeler and Kenneth Ford, Geons, Black Holes,
and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics, W.W. Norton & Co., New
York, 1998, 334.
11. Ibid., 337.
12. On 'The Anthropic Universe', The Science Show, ABC National
Radio, 18 February 2006.
13. John Archibald Wheeler, 'Genesis and Observership', in
Robert E. Butts and Jaakko Hintikka (eds.), Foundational
Problems in the Special Sciences, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1977.
14. B.J. Carr, 'On the Origin, Evolution and Purpose of the
Physical Universe', in John Leslie (ed.), Physical Cosmology and
Philosophy, Macmillan, New York, 1990, 152.
15. Hawking and Mlodinow, op. cit., 140.
16. Erich Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and
Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution,
Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1980, 308.
17. Ibid., 308.
18. Brian P. Copenhaver, Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum
and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1992, 41.
19. Ernest Lee Tuveson, The Avatars of Thrice Great Hermes,
Bucknell University Press, London, 1982, xi.
20. Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition,
Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2001, 9.