Fate, Tesseracts and Free Will
Through the Albatross
FIRST, you might feel a sort of relaxing tug from the soles of your feet, as though a chiropractor were gently relieving the spine of everyday stress. This may or may not last for just a few moments.
Then, as the light around you begins acting strangely — bending, warping and curving confusingly — the relief you felt earlier subsides and is replaced by a gnawing worry. Why is the light acting strangely? Why is this pull from my feet not going away? Is it actually getting stronger?
Short answers: Gravity, gravity and yes it is getting stronger. Much stronger.
Panic sets in, as does pain. Your heart palpitates as adrenaline pumps into your bloodstream. However, unlike any other naturally occurring phenomena, there is no fighting or fleeing this monster.
Pressure floods and bursts your eardrums. Cracks explode throughout your body as the base of your spinal column succumbs to the will of gravity and unlatches its bony ties to your fleshy upper half in a gory secession. Then, everything begins spilling out. Everything.
While you lose blood and consciousness you look up and around at the halo of bent light surrounding you, knowing full well that you made the biggest, most awfully amazing mistake of your life.
Then, as everything separates exponentially and you lose all desire to keep holding on... There’s just blackness. And finally, nothing.
This, of course, is the strange death you would experience when swallowed by a black hole. There probably would be very little time for reflection or even realization of what’s happening to you, but one disappointing fact would make itself abundantly clear: this wouldn't be the mysterious gateway you imagined it could’ve been. Admittedly however, that consensus is based upon the observed physicalities attributed to black holes in our universe, not on any hard proof found within the singularity itself. For, in order to obtain such evidence at the point where all time and space merge would be impossible.
Imagine an incredibly elastic sheet suspended in mid air with several spheres placed all throughout its stretchy plane — some big, some small and some far more massive than others. These spheres represent the planets and stars throughout our universe, whose sizes and masses affect the surrounding spacetime continuum to the point where it bends around their physical bodies. The deformations are neatly explained in one word: gravity, the phenomenon that enables celestial bodies to rotate and collide regularly, much like a spiraling wishing well.
Now, imagine that one of these spheres is the smallest and, oddly enough, absolute heaviest body. The elastic sheet forms around this mass so much that it extends infinitely from the plane’s zero-point, representing the inescapable gravitational pull of a black hole through which everything goes in, but [almost] nothing comes out.
When light approaches the black hole’s event horizon, it appears to slow down and circle around the infinitely concentrated amalgamation of gravity. The light particles themselves begin to rip apart ferociously — kind of like you did when you had the brilliant idea of seeing what would happen. In fact, the light is so voraciously devoured that the great void belches out small doses of radiation from the intense ingestion.
The light goes in and does not come out again, thus giving this phenomenon its namesake: the BLACK HOLE.
Funny, then, that nature’s ultimate doomsday device is still shrouded in sci-fi mystery, where these enigmatic gargantuas actually hold the keys to unlimited knowledge, possibly even other dimensions.
Are they gateways to other realms or universes? What truths are hidden within the singularity, wherein the laws of physics literally break down?
It’s impossible to know, for obvious reasons. Even if one were brave or thrill-seeking enough to find out, there would be absolutely no way of documenting, let alone sharing, any of your experiences at all.
All data would be lost to gravity and time. Assuming you are lucky enough to get through the event horizon all the way down to the singularity — if there even is one — without being shred into gamma radiation, your aparati would no longer function properly and your communication to the outside universe would no longer be effective. What’s even weirder is that the universe itself would no longer exist.
Assuming relativity holds to be more accurate a description of how our spacetime continuum works — which is highly likely — then at the point of singularity, time would move so slowly at your location that the rest of the universe would have already experienced its slow demise long before you even reached the bottom of the well.
So not only would you be unable to find, store or relay any data, there would be nobody back home to send your newfound discoveries.
Unless, that is, you have a handy-dandy tesseract available to transport your 4D mind into a 5D universe. Then, of course, you could just flip through the pages of time, find a spot and send your message using gravity itself. Ala, Interstellar.
The Tesseract Paradox
FEW, if any, have attempted to display such an unimaginable event as flying into a black hole and being caught by a tesseract — a 4 Dimensional geometric object that can only exist inside the 5th Dimension as time is represented physically by the constant evolution of the object itself — but Christopher Nolan did it. With the help of renowned theoretical astrophysicist, Kip Thorne, an entire global audience was given the chance to visually enter the conundrum of time, singularity and the 5th Dimension.
In Nolan’s incredible film, Interstellar, we see our protagonist discover the physicality of time inside the 5th Dimension, wherein time is as tangible an object as space is inside the 4th Dimension.
As fate would have it, Cooper was saved from his own gory demise by highly evolved human beings who long before transcended the 4D in which they were born. By constructing a tesseract at the point of singularity, Cooper and TARS are ensnared in the infinite timeline of Murph's bedroom. It’s here where Cooper finally understands that the linearity of time is inescapable for those within the 4D — he reveals to himself that he is Murph’s ghost as he tries to stop himself from ever going on his mission in the first place, thus revealing that he and the whole 4D universe is stuck in its linearity of events.
Once he understands that he cannot change the past but can only continue what is sent in motion, he sends himself the coordinates of NASA via gravitationally embedded Morse Code inside Murph’s room.
Cooper seems to be acting on his own timeline despite being somewhat inside the 5D. This is attributed to the fact that the tesseract itself is a creature stuck between the 4th and 5th Dimensions, as it would be impossible otherwise to represent a 5D environment to a 4D mind, let alone do so on a 2D film strip.
That said, Cooper’s decisions are still contained in some dimensionally universal timeline, for if that were not the case, then it would have been possible to fail at sending the quantum data TARS records while in the singularity, thus ruining the future of humanity and disabling Cooper from ever being able to leave Earth at all. Despite taking Cooper out of the 4D, he still seems caught in Einstein’s Grandfather Paradox.
As the story goes, a young man or woman with the ability to travel through a single timeline decides to go back and kill their infamously murderous grandfather. After all, if your grandfather were a genocidal maniac, wouldn’t you feel inclined to save the world of misery if you had the ability to do so? Yet, despite one’s good intentions, the repercussions of the hero’s mission are physically and logically damning.
If the hero succeeds, there would be no way in which they’d be alive to commit the act of killing their grandfather at all. Thus, the very action of traveling backward in a single timeline with the intent of killing the grandfather would be logically and physically impossible. The traveler would be bound by fate to not kill their grandfather, otherwise they would never exist to go on their journey... Assuming, that is, there is only one timeline.
For the sake of argument, the thought experiment can be continued further to extend possibility of infinite timelines, or universes, in which time travel is possible only when navigating pasts outside of one’s native universe.
Let’s say our hero goes back in time, kills their grandfather, and then returns to their home timeline. Would they have saved any lives? The hero would be disappointed to discover that, within their string of time, their grandfather remained very much alive and murderous for the simple reason that their life depends entirely on their history. That is to say, without the events preceding us today exactly in the way in which they occurred, we would otherwise be completely different individuals — the butterfly effect, as chaos theory summarizes it even more succinctly.
However as the film portrays, it is clear that only one timeline exists — and for all intensive purposes, the plausibility of other universes is of no relevance even if we could somehow interact with them. We are bound to our existence, otherwise we wouldn’t be the kind of beings that we are.
And so, if all events in time are indeed a physical aspect of higher dimensions inside of one universe, then how is Cooper able to convince himself to go to NASA in the first place? Quite simply, he doesn’t.
In other words, Cooper has no agency in the course of his actions. Despite being the bridge between the 4th and higher Dimensions, he is still bound by the loop of some kind of universal spacetime. He is merely a piece of the puzzle, one that cannot deviate from the intended outcome.
It may sound horribly depressing at first, but the logic of the film seems to hold up when applied to reality. Our decisions are not our decisions, a statement that has actually been proven quantifiably.
Studies have been conducted using brain scanning technology and simple methods — such as clicking a button with the participant's left or ride hand — that demonstrate the flow of events that take place inside and outside the brain of a person making a choice. The results are astounding.
When making a choice, it seems the neurons within our brain know what the decision will be seconds before we are even conscious of making the choice. How free, then, is our will?
Freedom of Fate:
the Illusion of Free Will
THERE is something perversely grandeur about characters like Mr. Robot’s Fernando Vera.
Vera’s first conversation with Elliot reveals his absolute hatred of himself — an obsessive putridity that he fought endlessly while growing up, a battle that nearly cost him his life several times over.
As he explains this hatred to Elliot, Vera has an almost enlightened look in his eye (though that could easily be caused by whatever was in that pipe...). He’s detached, somehow, from the pain that he felt all those years while trying to escape his self-animosity. He’s graduated past depression and embraced, wholeheartedly, the damning person that he is and apparently always was. As Vera put it himself, he found true power within accepting and embracing his self-hatred, a power that is known to only a few people throughout history.
We see these Satan-incarnate anti-heros time and again in lore and pop-culture. Within these dark, sadistic characters is the powerful truth that one has little effect on the outcome of their lives — they became the role that was destined for them from birth, perverse and evil as it may be. And, in a strangely taboo way, the world needs those vile buddhas just as much as the pure ones.
Did we avoid the possible future of total atomic annihilation due to America’s careless use of just two hydrogen bombs after WWII, creating prudency in warfare unforeseen by any previous generation? Is the world beginning to stand together against violence and bigotry due to the acute rise in vile religious, political and state extremism?
The temptation to say otherwise is the saint’s approach to existence — I don’t buy it. The world cannot and habitually does not know evil without the villains who bring it about it, thus giving the just a cause to fight against it. But, even then, to what end can one claim justice in the name of peace? Do you know of any war that brought all wars to an end? How many revolutions finally and absolutely set the state upright?
There is, inarguably, a logical healthiness to the endless battle between light and dark. Just like the microbes fighting in your bloodstream, our global issues are evidence of our thriving vitality as a celestial organism. Furthermore, it is innate. This battle, this back and forth, is as evident as the physicality of time — it is bound to our existence as a mere attribute on higher planes.
(Side-note: That is not say, however, that evil nor good has the excuse to destroy the world, just as a healthy body would not want too strong of white blood cells so as to cause damage to its own self.)
The acceptance, then, that one cannot change who they are is the ultimate power one can realize when their particular ego remains alive. What’s more is that the acceptance of fate is actually what tempers the flames that initiates evil actions. This is why we love fictionalized conflicts between fallen and rising heros — where the dark side is fueled by angst, the light side is driven by tranquility.
To bridge this deeply philosophical idea to fate is not a matter of cunning rationale. The world we live in is unchangeable by any single acting member. Our existence is bound by the flow of events. The choice we have, then, is simply to either fight against or go with the river of time.
Interstellar’s thought experiment seems to agree with this logical end, that we have no free will despite feeling the contrary. Even while Cooper thinks he has the mere chance to change the past and make himself stay with Murph, he is completing the loop that existed long before he ever arrived in the tesseract. This leads to one diminishing point in logic, that he is forever bound by fate.
What then is one to make of this logical paradox? After all, it undeniably feels like we have control over one small bit of existence. How then is it possible that my conscious experience of the continuous flow of events is bound by the inescapable fact that time itself is a physical segment of higher dimensions — that even if I chose to eat healthier today, I could still die of a heart attack at 45?
It’s maddening to think about too much. Trust me; I’ve done it. However if you can bear the madness and the heart-palpitating anxiety, you might just end up on the other side of the fence, like Vera.
All of those demented villains that we love to hate have the same secret that the hero comes to realize by the end of their journey. It is the secret of all life. It explains how we are able to move our lumbering mass of flesh and bones around as elegantly as we do. It explains how the titans in the sky traverse the heavens. It explains everything about existence itself.
That "secret," in fact, isn’t so secret at all. The reason why people whisper about it, write poetry instead of dictation or call it “the secret” is the mere reason that it is inexplicable without doing so. You can’t spell it out. There is no logic system that accurately defines "enlightenment" to the extent a near death experience will force the feeling of it into your bones.
But — and this is a big “but” — if you think long and hard about this problem of free will versus fate, you can glimpse past it entirely and understand the simple fact that both are the same action at the same time.
Love and hate. Courage and fear. Malevolence and benevolence. Pleasure and pain. Choice and destiny.
The truly happy people are those that let go of trying so hard to change the outcome of their lives. They know that their bones will grow as they grow despite all the worry of having osteoporosis at the age of 70. They know that their heart will beat despite the fear over the one day it ceases to beat any more.
They know that they were born without having willed their birth, and that they live without needing to will their life.
If you have the chance to meet a person like this, and you ask frustrated questions like, “Well, how did you become so successful at what you do? How did you get this, that or the other? How the hell are you so lucky?”, don’t be too put off at the laughter that follows the question.
The truth is, that person didn’t do a damn thing to get to where they are today. And, guess what, neither did you. If you desire to be successful at what you do, then get out of your own way and let the actions take place that will grant your success. For, despite what your tricky ego wants you to believe, your actions needn’t be forced into reality.
The more you stress over your life, the more anxious you become over wanting to do something, the less likely it is you’ll actually take the necessary action to get yourself out of the rut in the first place.
Fate is not a logical reason to feel remorse over life. Instead, think of it this way: Would you rather relax on a train ride through a mountain ridge or drive your car through their treacherous peaks? Either way, you’ll still get to your destination, but you’ll miss the best parts of the journey — the scenery of snow covered bluffs basking in golden sunlight. That is to say, life is still very much enriching and fulfilling even if you can’t change the past, present or future.
And in letting life take its course, you’ll find a peaceful, passive energy that will fuel your existence like a masterful samurai — with patience, virtue and effortlessness. Then you will be able to enjoy true success and happiness.
I like to think that this is a hidden meaning in Interstellar’s tesseract. The impairment of man’s transcendence of what we are today is not due to our inability to transcend. It is simply due to our misunderstanding that we have to do anything at all.
The solution to a problem always presents itself, as it did for Cooper inside of a black hole. But just like the agony he had to endure while watching his little girl be abandoned by her father again and again and again, our learning to accept is like a growing pain. Once we understand that all we must do is let go of trying, then we are free to take action — the action we were destined to take from the beginning.