Daniel Catalaa

My Big TOE

(Article by Daniel Catalaa, published Dec 13th, 2009)
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I chose to read "My big TOE" by Thomas Campbell and review his book in this article because in it he undertakes a task of the highest order, to explain all of reality in one coherent theory from intestinal microbes to ghosts and from evolution to time travelling. As you may have guessed by now, the book is not about the anatomy of lower limbs. TOE is actually an acronym that stands for the "Theory of Everything" and it refers to the same pursuit that eluded Albert Einstein despite his best efforts: the search for a Unified Field Theory. I was enthralled by Campbell's imagination and intellectual ambition and wanted to know more.

The author is a physicist by profession and was involved in the US missile defense system and virtual reality simulations used to assess possible nuclear war scenarios. He also was a researcher at the Monroe Institute that pioneered in the 70's the exploration of metaphysics through altered states of consciousness.

Belief traps

The trilogy of books that comprises My Big TOE is not for the faint-hearted as it demands an inquisitive mind and resolve to finish and later assimilate the 896 pages (!) of content. The series of books is necessarily long because Campbell must first helps us to identify and unlearn Western belief traps concerning the nature of reality. A belief trap is a set of beliefs that are self-reinforcing and exclude alternative explanations from consideration, even those that are equally or more plausible, and discourages their exploration. You can think of belief traps as mental viruses.

He explains that two major sources of belief traps are religion and science. Religion demands blind obedience (faith) and the disengagement of the rational mind. It prevents the explanation of the explainable, such as lightning as electrical activity instead of divine anger. The other self-inflicted blindness comes from traditional science and the implicit belief that, given enough time, it will explain everything, and if it can't explain something (e.g. dreams, consciousness, meaning, purpose) it must not exist. To dismiss experiences because science as an exploration tool cannot detect them or is ill equipped for them, is patently unwise. For example, imagine if you were trying to describe dreams to a scientist who never dreams and they were asking you for proof. All the electroencephalograms, CAT scans, and blood pressure readings imaginable could never convey the experiences of dreaming. Yet it occurs.

Campbell's view is that religion replaces testable information with made up beliefs while science excludes the subjective experience and therefore can only explain a tiny slice of reality. The exploration tool he endorses is what he calls "open-minded skepticism" because it overcomes the limitations of science by being open to new experiences and information that fall outside of the currently accepted paradigm, e.g. metaphysical events, and it escape the limitations of religion by testing out all data firsthand so that you can change beliefs (theories, models, theses, dogmas) into knowledge.

What is real?

Supported by the latest quantum physics findings, Campbell suggests that things only exist while we observe them. Subnuclear particles exist as probability clouds that only collapse into material particles when a person takes a measurement (looks at them). Solid objects do not exist until an observer is there to observe them, much in the same way that a dish of food at a restaurant is just a picture on the menu until you order it at which point it is prepared and presented to you "for real". The webpage you are currently looking at was assembled in real time on the server and presented on the screen of your computer only after and because you requested it by clicking a link to go see it. Prior to that the page only existed as an immaterial set of instructions in the database. Applied to people, this means that your aunt Betsy only exists when you think of her. So keep thinking about aunt Betsy :o)

Therefore, reality is not defined by the information that your senses feed you, rather it is defined by where your awareness is at any particular moment. For example, when you are dreaming, the dream is the most real thing to you. In your dream you are not aware of any aspect of your physical existence (i.e. your body lying on the bed). On the other hand, when you are focused on your job at the office, the dream world is just a distant notion to you that seems totally unrelated to your daily activities. When you are in an in-between state such as daydreaming while driving, you have very little recollection of the drive, but you can remember the "mental place" you visited while at the wheel. These awareness twilight zones, specifically those inducible by meditation, are the portals for us to access other reality frames.

No one reality is "more real" than any other one, they are all equally authentic. So the more relevant question shifts from determining which reality is most authentic to which one provides the best learning environment for a person to get to know themselves better and to evolve their consciousness. Since physical reality, spiritual reality, dreams, and meditative states each provide unique learning opportunities, it makes sense to explore all of them and not just the physical one to the exclusion of all others. For example, do you find yourself overriding your own intuition in favor of objective data and then regretting it? Do you dismiss dreams only to discover within them a truth your were finding hard to accept? Do you find it unremarkable that time, space, and your ego melt away in the middle of an orgasm? What important shortcuts and information are you missing because you have latched on too strongly to a belief in a physical reality that excludes all other realities?

Central Thesis

The author's Big Theory of Everything only has two premises as its building blocks and these are that...

  1. Consciousness is the fundamental component of all reality.
  2. Evolution acts on consciousness to decrease it's entropy.

The first premise describes reality as a non-physical environment where there are no solid objects, only the perception of solid objects by an ever-present consciousness of which you are part. This assertion is supported by quantum physics as it has shown us how at the subatomic level we do not find any of our man-made metaphors (e.g. protons, electrons, photons, etc.); all we find is empty space, energy, and statistical probabilities of something occurring. This means that you, as a person, are also empty space, energy, and that you influence the statistical probability of something occurring through your consciousness (i.e. by exercising your free will and intent).

With reference to the second premise, note that entropy is just a fancy word for disorder. As entropy goes down, order increases. The reduction of entropy has different manifestations depending what areas of consciousness it is applied to. When applied to systems like cities, societies, and biological tissues, it refers to increased efficiencies and organization. When applied to individual people it means developing courage by facing fears, increasing our capacity to love and to continually learn, refining the quality of our intentions, and living gracefully in the face of uncertainty.

Campbell understands physical reality to be a digital virtual reality simulator optimally designed for us to learn and become better people. Your body only exists in your mind and is just a metaphor or symbol that represents your individual identity much in the same way that an avatar represents you in a virtual reality environment. In other words, you play Pac-Man, but you are not the Pac-Man. You know the rules to Pac-Man, but you can go play other games with other rules (visit other realities), and if Pac-Man dies, you do not die.

Philosophical ramifications

As persuasive as My Big TOE is, it is just a theory and only you can change it from belief to knowledge through your firsthand experience. Objective information can be learned vicariously, subjective information instead must be experienced personally. No one else can fall in love for you, take a piss for you, develop your courage, or wake you up to other realities. You have to do it on your own. There is no other way. Campbell invites us to use meditative techniques to explore other realities and gives some initial instructions on how to get started.

If through personal exploration you verify that you indeed are a fragment of consciousness trying to lower its entropy, how would you live any differently than you are currently living? Well, for one thing, since you are participating in a multiplayer virtual simulation game, you may choose to take more risks and have fun with life. Your focus may shift towards attaining spiritual versus material gains and you may assess your relationships not on their length, but on how transformative they have been. Maybe instead of asking "how much does my job pay?" you will start asking "is my occupation helping me to learn, change, and evolve?" Finally, meditation can help you to experience out-of-body journeys and meditative trances where you feel connected with Everything That Is. Once you have peered behind the curtain of physical reality enough times, you lose the fear of death and this results in a great sense of peace and centeredness.

As you embrace open-minded skepticism you may begin to understand and accept the totality of your experience, including phenomena that seem weird, kooky, or out of place (intuition, manifesting intentions, precognitive dreams, telepathy, etc.). Any experiences that you have had that were tested with sound methodology belong in your reality. Keep in mind that these phenomena are subjective experiences and you may never be able to prove them to somebody else's satisfaction. Just use the information you obtain from other reality frames to make headway in your life and to help others. Skeptics will become curious and ask you what your secret is in which case you can point them to this article, or, alternatively, just point to your big toe, wiggle it, and smile :O)