Have you ever wondered why ancient cultures and religions so willingly believed that everything was created from nothing? Whether we’re talking about the Tao (which existed eternally) or God (which also existed eternally) or any other fundamental creation force, there was an acceptance that that force just always WAS, IS, and WILL BE, i.e. it didn’t follow the rules of causality. In the modern era, it seems so primitive to accept this unquestioningly. As a result, many of us — myself included — get stuck in the question of the chicken and the egg. If God created the universe, who created God? What created the Big Bang? Looking back on those ancient cultures, we conclude it’s our superior intellect which necessitates this line of questioning, they simply were too simple to contemplate such mysteries.
But what if it was not our modern intellect that birthed this unanswerable riddle, but rather, the destruction of an ancient part of ourselves which held the answer? An investigation into our ancestors’ beliefs is in order.
When we look at creation myths themes of darkness, the void, the ocean, the ground, and space abound, all being the fertile fabric out of which all other things are formed. There is often a conscious — or perhaps “metaconscious” — entity which is able to interact together with this darkness to create all of the universe.
The first of Genesis’s two creation stories has the Spirit of God hovering over the waters when he calls light out of the darkness. Yin and Yang are the two fundamental expressions of the Tao, who together give rise to life’s complexity. Chronos and Ananke in Greek mythology represent Time and Force respectively, together creating the cosmos. Many other stories exist of the creation of complexity rising out of simplicity.
But where did these stories come from? Just like our chicken and egg question of creation itself, we can ask ourselves what created these unified creation stories across global cultures. In a twist of events, could these stories themselves hold an answer to the question of creation itself? If the stories come out of an emergent-based pattern, the answer is inevitable.
Emergent theory, simply put, is the belief that complexity rises out of a complexity similar to itself, but at a smaller scale. One of the best examples of emergent theory to visualize is the snowflake. We’re all familiar with the classic six-pointed stars of wintertime decorations, but have you ever wondered why snowflakes are formed so similarly, yet so unique? The answer lies in their six-pointed geometry; it is exactly reminiscent of the six-pointed pattern formed when water molecules freeze and combine to form ice.
As more water molecules freeze and combine they aggregate or “emerge” on that initial geometry, expanding outward, forming unique traits from one another along the way, yet always maintaining their underlying formation — in all definitions of that word. So could the creation myths of old all be little snowflakes?
Arising so similarly, yet with unique traits, it seems conceivable that the creation myths were also built upon a unique “seed,” like the frozen water molecule, to result in a variety of similar narratives. And just like the snowflake we can theorize what that seed was, i.e. the lower level complexity, by simply looking at what manifests at the higher levels of complexity.
We know that the seed the creation myths are built upon must be a universal human experience separate from culture, politics, or environment, since the similarities occur globally. This would include a set of things like birth, eating, breathing, walking, sleeping, sex, living, and death, among others. We also know that the themes stated above of darkness, the void, the ocean, the ground, and space must somehow be connected to the seed since, like the six-pointed figure of the snowflake, they are the repeating patterns across stories.
Together, this reasoning would limit the potential universal human experience to birth, sleeping, sex, and death since these events occur in the darkness of the womb, night, or grave. We can see the influence of sex through the combining of consorts during creation, but birth and death wouldn’t likely be a germinating source for these stories since no memories form as these events transpire. Sleeping, however, serves as a useful metaphor for death and birth, as we turn off our brains only to turn them on the next morning. And, importantly, it is also the time when our minds experience dreams. It is here where I believe the true seed lay at the heart of the ancient creation myths.
Dreams and dreamtime contain all the characteristics of mythic creation and would have served as a nightly experience to these ancient cultures, providing a logical basis for the riddle of creation. Dreams occur during sleep — a time of darkness, lifelessness, and the ground (since most ancient cultures slept directly on the dirt).They give visions, worlds, ideas, forms, emotions, and experiences to the dreamers where there should be none — seemingly out of nothing. They even, when cultivated, impacted directly on waking life in the form of divination, prophecy, warning, or preparation, thus transcending from the realm of hallucination and into manifestation. In short, when faced with the question of “where did we all come from?” ancient people weren’t avoiding the chicken and egg riddle, they already had a sufficient answer in the creative power of dreams.
What do we do with this idea that dreams helped ancient people handle the creation mystery? It’s so easy to say with our modern minds that dreams are just fanciful meanderings which fundamentally don’t mean anything. It’s inconceivable that they could hold any intrinsic value. And yet, it’s that mindset (or, perhaps, mindcollapse) that’s inducing the unanswerable chicken-and-egg paradox we struggle with in the first place. It turns out emergent theory has more to say on the topic.
If the globally similar, something-out-of-nothing creation myths emerged as a more complex reflection of the something-out-of-nothingness essence of dreams, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to theorize that the something-out-of-nothing essence of dreams would have emerged from an even more fundamental seed, i.e. the something-out-of-nothing nature of creation itself? If this were the case, we would see that dreams not only provide an everyday band-aid to the struggle caused by the chicken and the egg paradox of creation, since we are given a nightly example of how something can arise out of nothing, but dreams themselves would point to the solution altogether. Some scientists are beginning to believe that is exactly the case.
Matter, when arranged in careful patterns, produces humans which are conscious beings. This is a basic tenet of materialism, the belief that consciousness has arisen as a characteristic of the physical world. However, where do these patterns come from? Where do the forces of nature come from to combine quarks into atoms, into molecules, into cells, into us? Whether coming from a religious or scientific background, within seconds we arrive at that classic mystery of the universe. Some force, some pattern had to exist which arranged it into order, right? Chicken and the egg? So where do we go now? Or more pertinently to this thought process, can dreams somehow be a missing link?
If we begin to connect the dots of our emergent theory fractal we can begin to answer the question. In Christian tradition, the six days of creation, when tracked backwards, lead to a time of darkness where the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and called everything to life. In Taoist tradition, the complexity of life when tracked backwards leads to yin and yang, together arising from the Tao which is the source of all life. In regards to our own consciousness, when the brain slows down from the workings of its day into its natural trance state, it conjures up our dream world.
So what about the universe? Its current physical complexity is analogous to Life in the creation myths, and if we track backwards to the Big Bang we arrive at the patterning forces of nature (i.e. gravity, strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces) being analogous to the voice of the God. Is it that crazy to think, that just like our own consciousness cycle, there was a point in the beginning where matter and forces existed so simply, devoid of complexity, that together they chose to create their own complexity? Stay with me for a second.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but think about it. If we could turn the clock backwards and get back to a place of simplicity where the rules of causality (a.k.a. duality) didn’t apply due to simplicity, where no cells had merged, no molecules had bonded, and no atoms structured, the chaos of the universe would not have any causality inside of it, meaning it would not be bound by causality’s rules. Then, without the binds of causality, its own existence could be consistent with the rules of causality in the universe, i.e. that there are none. From there it could produce causality/duality whenever it felt like it.
The problem with this thought experiment is that we can’t go back in time, but what if we could arrive at this chaos/simplicity in the future? Are there machines which can undo the patterns of nature back so intrinsically that it looks like they were never touched by nature at all? In fact, yes, there are. Black holes stretch everything in their cores so far apart that infinity and eternity exist in their centers. Light itself doesn’t escape not because it’s trapped but because the fabric of space, on a planck-by-planck level, is too far for it cross. In addition, the two leading theories for the end of the universe are a “Big Crunch,” or a big stretch, both of which would return either all or at least a part of the universe back to its “Big Bang” conditions. Thus, if our own universe contains within it the means for reverting its own complexity (not coincidentally in forms of darkness), then we have all the means for understanding the creation of the universe just as we understand the birth of our own consciousness every morning.
The universe has had, at all times, the means to both make itself more complex and more simple. It has had, at all times, the means to create duality/causality, and to unify it. Complexity, when taken to its extreme resembles both simplicity and chaos just as the end of our days result in sleep and dreams. In fact, we can even show this with the chicken and egg paradox itself! If chickens and eggs were produced ad infinitum, filling every square inch of the planet, they would produce so many eggs and so many chickens that the result would be a chaos of carnage from which life, and in turn, chickens and eggs, would be formed. The paradox is the answer to the paradox.
And so I return to the ancient peoples who didn’t wrestle with chickens and eggs. They simply knew that, like dreams, somethingness can arise out of nothingness when complexity peaks and ultimately is removed. So what about us moderns? Why don’t we get this? Perhaps it’s not because we are superior thinkers, but because we’re inferior dreamers. We’ve broken that emergent, fractal chain of information which so clearly taught us the creation of the universe. The University of California Santa Cruz says “It seems likely that all of us forget 95–99% of our dreams for the very ordinary reason that we sleep right through them and aren’t paying attention to remembering anything.” We aren’t paying attention to remembering anything and as a result we not only have forgotten our dreams, we have forgotten our universe.
Slow down your minds. Slow down your thoughts. Make an effort to increase the mindful moments of your day by decreasing its complexity, and watch your dream life blossom. There are many ways to increase your dream activity. With any amount of effort (or, in this case, relaxation) you can go from dreaming once a month to dreaming once every hour at night. Watch and listen to your dreams and see how they produce new worlds for you to inhabit both at night, and over time, during the day. It doesn’t take long to believe that like our minds, the universe can create itself once it slows itself down too.