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     Copyright ╘ 1980 by John Dobson
     Origin:     http://www.magicpubs.com/dobson/PhysicsOfIllusion.html

     This  essay  was  delivered by John Dobson as a lecture at  the Vedanta
     Berkeley, USA, on 12th October 1980 and has been reprinted from:
     The Vedanta Kesari May, 1988 (pages 181-189)

     Some of you  may think from the title "Einstein's Physics of Illusion",
that I'm going to talk about the physics which underlies what we think of as
magic. That is not what I expect to talk about. Some of you may think that I
suspect that Einstein had some special  physics of  illusions. If he did,  I
don't know anything of it. Instead, what I want to do, with Einstein's help,
is  to  trace our physics all the way back to  square one, and  to find  out
whether, underlying it, there  may possibly  be  something  akin  to  magic.
George Valens has written a charming book called The Attractive Universe. It
is subtitled "Gravity and the Shape of Space", and on the very first page he
says  that when a ball is thrown straight  up,  after a  while it comes to a
stop, changes its direction and comes back. He says it looks like magic, and
probably it is.  Now  what he is taking for granted  is that it  should have
gone off  on a straight path without  any change in speed  or direction. But
you see, that also would have been the result of magic. We do not understand
in  physics why the ball comes back. But we also  do not  understand in  our
physics why the  ball  should  have  continued  without  any  change in  the
direction of its speed.
     Now  in the title, and in the remarks that  I have made so  far, what I
mean by magic or illusion is  something  like  what  happens  when,  in  the
twilight, you  mistake a  rope  for a  snake. And  this  sort  of  thing was
analyzed very  carefully  by some people in North India long,  long ago, and
they said that when you make such a mistake there are  three aspects to your
mistake. First,  you must  fail to  see the  rope rightly. Then, instead  of
seeing it as a rope, you must see it as something else. And finally, you had
to see the  rope  in first place or you never would have mistaken it  for" a
snake. You mistook  it for a snake because the rope was three feet long, and
you're accustomed to three foot long snakes.
     But before I speak  further about illusion,  I  want to say a few words
about what  we do  understand in physics, and I also want to point out a few
gaps in that understanding. When we talk about the universe, or when we look
out and see it, what we see is that the universe is made out of what we call
matter. It's what we call a material universe. And what we want to do, first
of  all, is to trace that  material  back,  not quite to square  one, but to
square two at least, We want to find out whether  we can think of  all these
things which we see as being made out of matter, as really being made out of
only a few ingredients. And the answer is that we can. Long ago the chemists
pointed  out that all these things that we see are made out of not more than
92 ingredients. Those are the 92 chemical elements of the periodic table. It
was  suggested  in  1815  that all  those  different chemical  elements  are
probably made out of hydrogen. That was Prout's hypothesis, because in those
days no one knew how to do it. But now, in modern times,

All the other chemical elements  are made out of hydrogen, and it happens in
the stars"
     The  universe,  even as  it is today,  consists mostly of hydrogen. And
what it is doing is falling together in  the gravitational  field. It  falls
together to galaxies  and stars, and the stars are hot. Falling together  by
gravity is what makes them hot. And they  get hot enough inside so that  the
hydrogen is converted to.helium. Now helium is a very strong atomic nucleus,
and so the  main line in building up the atoms of the atomic table goes this
way:  First,  four  hydrogens make  one helium. Then three  heliums make one
carbon. Two  heliums won't  stick. That would be  beryllium-8. There  is  no
beryllium-8. It won't last. But three heliums will stick, and that's carbon.
Four is oxygen. Five is neon. That's the way it goes in the stars; the other
nuclei  are built  of  helium  nuclei. Six  makes  magnesium.  Then silicon,
sulfur, argon, calcium, titanium, chromium and iron.
     In big stars it goes like this. But in small stars like our sun it goes
only up to  carbon or possibly carbon  and oxygen. That's where our sun will
end,  at about  the size of the earth,  but with  a  density of  about  four
concrete mixing trucks in a one pint  jar. Larger stars get too hot by their
own gravitational squeeze, and the carbon cannot cool off like that. They go
right on to oxygen and  so on, until  they get, in the center, to  iron. Now
iron  is  the  dumbest stuff  in  the universe.  There is  no nuclear energy
available   to  iron  --  nothing  by  which   it  can  fight  back  against
gravitational collapse; so gravity collapses it, this time to the density of
a hundred thousand airplane carriers squeezed into a one pint yogurt box One
hundred thousand airplane carriers in a one pint box! And, when it collapses
like  that, the gravitational energy  that is  released to other forms blows
the outer portions of the star all  over the galaxy. That's the stuff out of
which  our bodies  are made. Our bodies  are all  made out of star dust from
such exploding stars. We do know that the main ingredient of the universe is
hydrogen and  that the main usable energy in  the universe is gravitational.
We know that the name of the game is  falling together by gravity (hydrogen,
falling together  by gravity), but  what  we don't  know is  why things fall
together by gravity. We do know that the stuff out of which this universe is
made is hydrogen, but we do not know from where we get the hydrogen. We know
that the hydrogen is made  of electrical  particles,  protons and electrons,
and we know that the total electrical charge of the universe is zero, but we
do not know,  you see, why it is made of electricity. We do  not know why it
falls together. And we do not know why, when things are moving,  they should
coast. There are these gaps in our  understanding. We know how things coast.
We know how things fall. We know how the electrical particles behave, but we
don't know any  of the  why questions. We don't have  any answers to the why
     What I want  to talk  about next is a discovery made by Albert Einstein
when he  was 26 years old  and working in the  patent office in Bern. Then I
want  to talk about the" consequences of that discovery and, through that, I
want to trace our physics back, if possible, to  answer those why questions.
Einstein  noticed  that  we cannot  have  an  objective  universe  in  three
dimensions.  We all  talk about 3-D. Hardly anybody talks about 4-D. But the
universe is  4-D.  It is not possible to  have a universe of space without a
universe  of  time. It is not possible  to  have space without time, or time
without space, because  space  and time are  opposites.  I  don't know  that
Einstein ever  used the language  that space and time are  opposites, but if
you  look at his equations, it is very, very clear that that's  exactly what
they are.  If, between two events, the space separation between them  is the
same  as the time separation between them, then the total separation between
them is zero. That's  what we mean by opposites in this case. In electricity
if we have the same amount of plus charges as we  have of minus charges, say
in the same Einstein's Physics Of Illusion

neutral. There is no charge seen from outside. Likewise here. If  the  space
separation  between, two  events  is  just the same  as  the time separation
between those two events, then the total separation between those two events
is  zero. I'll give you an example. Suppose we see an exploding star, say in
the Andromeda galaxy.  There's  one  going on there  right  now.  It's  been
visible  for about  a month or  so. Now  the Andromeda  galaxy is two and  a
quarter  million light years away, and when we see the explosion now, we see
it as it  was  two and  a  quarter million years  ago.  You  see,  the space
separation and the  time separation are the same, which means that the total
separation between you  and what you see  is zero. The total separation, the
real separation,  the objective separation,  that is, the separation as seen
by anybody, between the event which you see and the event of your  seeing it
-- the separation between those two events is always zero. What we mean when
we  say that the space and time separations between two events  are equal is
that light could get from one of those events to the other in vacuum.
     We see things out there, and we  think they're really  out there.  But,
you see, we cannot see them when they happen. We can't see anything when  it
happens. We  see everything in  the past. We see everything  a  little while
ago, and always in such a way that the  while ago just balances the distance
away,  and  the  separation between the  perceiver and the perceived remains
always at zero.
     As soon as Einstein noticed that we cannot  have  a  universe  of space
without  a universe  of time  and vice versa, and that they are connected in
this way,  and that the only way  to  have an  objective universe is in four
dimensions, and not in two or three or one -- as soon as he noticed that, he
had to  redo our physics. Now relativity theory is  a geometry theory.  It's
not something else.  It's  a geometry theory. It's about the geometry of the
real  world. I'm  sure  that most  if  not all  of  you  have been  exposed,
somewhere  along  your educational careers, to  the geometry of Euclid.  His
geometry is in two  dimensions and in three,  but  he didn't have  any  idea
about introducing the fourth  dimension. His  geometry  - is  a  theoretical
geometry  about a theoretical space which does  not, in  fact, exist. Newton
based his understanding of physics also  on that  understanding of geometry,
and Newton's physics is a theoretical physics  about a theoretical  universe
which does not, in fact, exist. We know now, you see, that Euclid  was wrong
in his understanding of geometry, and that Newton  was likewise wrong in his
understanding of physics. And  we  had  to correct  our physics  in terms of
Einstein's  re-understanding of geometry. It was when Einstein went  through
our physics with his new understanding  of geometry that he saw that what we
had been calling matter or mass or inertia is really just energy. It is just
potential  energy. It had  been  suggested  a  few years  earlier  by  Swami
Vivekananda that what we call matter  could be reduced to potential  energy.
In about 1895 he writes in a letter that he is to go the  following  week to
see Mr.  Nikola  Tesla  who thinks  he  can demonstrate  it  mathematically.
Without  Einstein's  understanding of  geometry,  however,  Tesla apparently
     It was from the geometry that Einstein saw that what we call rest mass,
that  which  is  responsible  for the  heaviness  of  things  and for  their
resistance  to  being  shaken,  is  really  just  energy. Einstein's  famous
equation is E = mc2. Probably  most of you have seen  that equation. It says
that for a particle at rest, its  mass is  equal to its energy. Those of you
who read Einstein know that there is no "c" in that equation. The c2 is just
in  case your  units  of space  and time don't match.  If  you've chosen  to
measure space in an arbitrary unit and time  in another  arbitrary unit, and
if you have  not taken  the trouble to connect the two units, then, for your
system you have to put  in  the  c2. If  you're going  to measure  space  in
centimeters, then time must not be measured  in seconds. It must be measured
in jiffies. A jiffy is the length of time it Einstein's Physics Of Illusion

minded  people, and they have noticed  that the universe is quite  a bit too
big to be measured conveniently in centimeters,  and quite  a bit too old to
be measured  conveniently in seconds; so they  measure the time in years and
the  distance in  light-years,  and the units  correspond. That "c"  in  the
equation is the speed of light in your system of units, and if you've chosen
years and light-years then the speed of light  in your system is one. And if
you square it, it's still one, and the equation doesn't change. The equation
simply says that energy and mass are the same thing. Our problem now is that
if  we're going to trace this matter back, and find out what  it is, we have
first of all to  find out what kind of energy makes it  massive. Now we have
only a few kinds of energy to choose from. Fortunately there are only a few:
gravitational energy, kinetic  energy, radiation, electricity, magnetism and
nuclear energy. But I must allay your suspicion that nuclear energy might be
very important.  It is not. The nuclear energy available in this universe is
very  small.  If all  the matter in the universe began  as  hydrogen gas and
ended as iron, then the nuclear energy released in  that change (and that is
the  maximum nuclear energy available) is  only one per cent of what you can
get  by letting that hydrogen fall together by gravity. So nuclear energy is
not  a  big  thing, and we have only five kinds of energy to choose  from in
order to find out what kind  of energy makes the primordial hydrogen hard to
shake. That, you remember, was our problem.
     What we want is potential energy, because the hydrogen is hard to shake
even when it's not doing a thing.  So what we're  after is potential energy,
and  that restricts it quite  a bit more. Radiation has  nothing  to do with
that. Radiation never stands still. And kinetic energy  never stands  still.
And even magnetic energy never stands still. So we are left with electricity
and gravity. There are only two. We don't have  any choice at  all. There is
just the  gravitational  energy and the electrical energy  of  this universe
available to make this universe as heavy or as massive as we find it.
     Now I should  remind you that the amount  of energy we're talking about
is very large. It's five  hundred atom bombs per pound. One quart of yogurt,
on the open market, is worth one  thousand atom bombs. It just  happens that
we're not in  the open market place. We live where we have no way to get the
energy of that yogurt to change form to kinetic energy or radiation  so that
we can do  anything  with it. It's  tied up  in there in such  a way that we
can't get it out. But right now we're going to talk about the possibility of
getting it out. We want to talk about  how this tremendous energy is tied up
in there. We want to talk about how this matter is "wound up".
     First let's talk about  watches. We  know how they're wound up. They're
wound up against a  spring. Now when we wind up a watch, what I want to know
is whether it gets heavier or lighter. If we have a watch, and if we wind it
up, does it  get harder to shake or easier? It gets harder to shake  because
when we  wind it up we put more potential  energy into it, and energy is the
only thing in the  universe that's hard to shake. So now we want to know  in
what  way the whole universe is wound up to make it heavy and hard to shake.
We  know  that  it must  be  wound  up against electricity  and gravity. The
question  is: How? We  need to know some details on how  to wind  things up.
How, for instance, do you wind up against  gravity? You wind against gravity
by pulling things apart in the gravitational field. They all want to go back
together again. And if the entire universe were to fall together to a single
blob, the gravitational energies that would be released to other forms would
be  five  hundred  atom  bombs  per  pound.  The universe  is  wound  up  on
gravitational  energy just  by being  spaced away  from  itself against  the
gravitational pull inward.  And it turns out to be just the right amount. It
really  does account  for  the fact  that  it's five  hundred atom bombs per
pound. Einstein's Physics Of Illusion

each other. If you push two electrons toward each other you have to do work,
and it  gets  heavier or more massive. If you  push  two protons toward each
other  it gets more massive. And  if you take a single electrical charge and
make it very  small, since you're pushing like charge toward itself,  it too
becomes more massive. Now it turns out that the work that's represented by a
smallness of all the teeny-weeny particles that make  up  the hydrogen atoms
and all the rest of  this stuff is, once  again, five hundred atom bombs per
pound. Some  of you  might think that it  should come out to a  total of ten
hundred atom bombs per  pound -- five hundred gravitational and five hundred
electrical. No, it's only five  hundred atom bombs per pound because winding
it  up one way is  exactly  the same  thing  as winding it up the other way.
Coins have two sides,  heads and tails. You cannot make coins with only  one
side. For  every heads  there  is  a tails.  Plus and minus charges are like
heads and tails. Space and time are  like  heads and tails.  And electricity
and gravity are like heads and tails. You cannot space things away from each
other in the gravitational field without making them small in the electrical
field. I think that  we're ready now to attack the consequences of  this new
understanding  of  physics.  We  want  to  find  out  whether, through  this
understanding, we can trace our physics  all  the way back to square one, to
see whether, underlying it, there may be something akin to magic. We want to
know why things fall. We want the answers to our why questions.
     I'm going  to draw  you a  quick map. This is  a picture of the physics
before Einstein: Mass Space
     Energy Time In the  last century we  thought  that  mass was one thing;
energy was  another. Space was  one thing; time was another.  In our present
understanding of physics that won't work. Space and time  are just two sides
of the same coin. Mass and energy are just two sides  of the  same coin. And
there is no line through there:
     There is no line between mass and energy or between space and time. And
we just talked about the way in which  the universe is wound  up in order to
make the particles massive. They're wound  up against  space. They're spaced
in  against  the  electrical  field,  and  they're  spaced  out  against the
gravitational  field,  which  means that what we call matter and  energy are
also nothing but geometry, and  the line down the  middle goes too. But when
the lines go, the  picture goes.  When the lines of demarcation between mass
and energy and space and time are  obliterated, we do not have a model  of a
physical  universe. Every  definition  in our physics, every  concept in our
physics.  requires  measurements  of  length. or  of Einstein's  Physics  Of

discrimination  between length,  time and  mass we  have no  way  to measure
anything in physics, no way to define anything  in physics. Our model of the
universe  does not hold  up  when  we  examine  it  from  the standpoint  of
Einstein's equations. And what we  are left with I shall indicate  here by a
question mark: ?
     What is it that exists behind  our physics? Relativity theory  does not
say exactly what it is, and our task is to find it out, if we can.
     First let us  understand a  little bit about what we call  causation in
physics. What do we  mean in our  physics when we say that one  thing causes
another? We mean that  there  is a transformation of energy from one form to
another. For instance, if the hydrogen falls together to galaxies and stars,
the  gravitational  energy  is  first  converted  to kinetic energy  in  the
falling;  and then the kinetic  energy is  converted to  radiation  when the
hydrogen falls  together into stars. When radiation from  stars like our sun
is picked up by all these green leafy things which we call plants and trees,
it's converted to electrical and magnetic forms. So all these things  happen
by changes in energy, by changes in the  form  of the  energy. The amount of
energy does not change. There is no such animal as the generation of energy.
The amount  of energy, whatever it  is, seems to be completely unchangeable.
It's  one of our  most basic observations in physics.  And what we  mean  by
causation is changes in  the  form of this energy.  Matter itself is energy,
and what we mean is that when something happens, whether it's hydrogen being
converted to helium, or  whatever it is, there's some  change in the form of
the  energy. Now  the universe cannot arise by this kind of causation simply
because  in any such  change the  amount of energy at  the end  is never any
greater  than  the  amount  at  the  start.  You cannot manufacture  gold by
remolding gold. You never finish with more than you started with.
     With  this understanding of causation in mind, I want to go back to our
question mark. We want to see whether we can get some  idea of the nature of
what the equations of relativity theory say  must exist behind the  universe
of our observations. And  we want to see  how, from that nature, we  come to
the world of our perception.
     When we look at this  question mark, what we see is that it  has  to be
beyond space and time. Our physics is on  our side of space and time, if you
like, but  Einstein's equations  say that behind our  physics there is  this
question, "What is it?". We know that it  has to  be  beyond space and time.
And for that reason  we can get  a  negative  statement about what it is. If
it's beyond time, it must be changeless, because only in time could  we have
change.  If  it's beyond space,  it must  be  both  undivided and  infinite,
because  only within space could we have things  finite and divided. Without
space  you couldn't break a. cookie in  two. Without space you couldn't have
cookie  crumbs.  And without  time  you couldn't do  anything,  because  you
couldn't have  any kind  of change. So  whatever exists behind this universe
must be changeless, infinite and undivided:
     Einstein's Physics Of Illusion

     The  curious  thing  is  this,  that  what  we  see is  apparently  not
changeless, not  undivided and  not infinite.  It  is obviously  finite. The
teeny-weeny  particles that make up  the hydrogen atoms and all the  rest of
these atoms and molecules are really minuscule. The number of hydrogen atoms
required to make a single drop of water is equal to the  number  of drops of
water in a million cubic miles of ocean. They are certainly finite. And this
matter is divided up  into atoms.  Why  should it be  so  divided?  And it's
continually  changing.  You  can look anywhere. So what we see  is changing,
finite  and divided, and now  comes the  question: By what kind of causation
could we get from the  changeless to the changing? From the infinite to  the
finite? And from the undivided to the divided?
     We haven't  proved that we can get  there by magic, but  we have proved
that we can't get there any other way. We cannot get there by the  causation
of our physics, because  that would require that we change the changeless to
the changing, that we divide the  undivided, and that  we make the  infinite
finite. As  I  say, we can prove that we cannot get there any other way, but
we have not yet proved that we can get there by magic. So now I want to ask:
What happens if we look at  this  problem from the standpoint of  what  I'll
call apparitional causation? My  favorite  word for this is not quite magic.
It's not quite illusion. It's apparitional causation. It's the kind of thing
you do  when  you  mistake a  rope for a snake. Could we  have mistaken  the
changeless for  the changing?  Could we  have  mistaken the infinite for the
finite?  Could we have mistaken the  undivided  for the  divided? That's the
     So let s  go back to that old analysis of apparitional causation to see
if such  a mistake could give rise to our  physics. We want  to know whether
apparitional causation  can  answer our why  questions. When we mistake  one
thing for another, you remember, there are three aspects  to our mistakes --
three consequences, if you  like. First, we must fail to see  it rightly. In
this  case,  we  must  fail to  see  the changeless,  the  infinite and  the
undivided. That's fine; we've failed. Then we must see something else in its
stead,  and  that  else  must  be  different. And so it  is. What  we see is
changing, finite and divided. Finally, you remember, we had to see the thing
to start  with. If  we  had  not  seen  a three foot rope we would not  have
mistaken  it  for a three  foot  snake. When  you  mistake your friend for a
ghost, if your friend is tall and thin then the ghost will be tall and thin.
But if your friend  is roly-poly you'll  see a roly-poly ghost.  Had you not
seen  your roly-poly friend  you would not have  seen a roly-poly ghost. If,
then, our physics has arisen by apparition, the changeless, the infinite and
the undivided must show in that physics. But isn't that exactly what we see?
The  changeless shows  as  inertia, the  infinite as  electricity,  and  the
undivided as gravity. Had  we not  seen the  changeless, it  would  not have
shown up  in  our  physics.  It is  the changeless which  we see, and, as  a
consequence, that changeless shows in what we see. That is why things coast.
That is what we see as inertia. That is what we call mass. Likewise in order
to see the undivided as the divided we had to see the undivided, and that is
what  we see as gravity. It is a consequence  of having  seen the undivided.
You cannot see a universe of particles,  all spaced out, without  Einstein's
Physics Of Illusion

seeing it as  divided without having  the  undividedness show. And, finally,
you  cannot  make  the  mistake  of  seeing  the  infinite  broken  up  into
teeny-weeny particles without the consequence  of  seeing those particles as
electrical.  Probably  some of  you  don't  know  quite  enough  physics  to
understand  what  I mean by  that, but every electrical  particle has energy
just because of its smallness, and if  you let it get bigger, its electrical
energy would go down.  If it could get infinitely big, its electrical energy
would  go to  zero. So you  can  think that electrical  energy  is just  the
tendency  to go back to the infinite,  just as  the gravitational energy  is
just the tendency to go back to the undivided.
     Now these two things  are really the same  thing.  The  wind up against
gravity by being spaced out is exactly the same thing as the wind up against
electricity by being spaced in. And these  two things make up the rest mass.
They make up the thing called inertia. It's the electro-gravitational energy
of the particles which we see as their rest mass. It is that energy which is
hard to  shake. It's  impossible to see  an apparition of this  sort without
having it wound up. It is not possible to see this universe except wound up.
The infinite and the  undivided  must necessarily show as the electrical and
gravitational energy. There  is no such thing as matter. There  is only this
energy, and the energy is  five hundred  atom bombs per pound. The energy is
the consequence of the apparition. It is the yearning for liberation  in the
apparently finite. It  is the yearning  for the undivided  in the apparently
divided.  And it  is  the  yearning  for  the changeless  in  the apparently
     With  the help  of this notion of  apparitional causation suggested  by
Einstein's equations, we are able, you see, to trace our physics all the way
back  to square  one to answer those why questions. With Einstein's help  we
are able at last to  understand why  matter falls, why it coasts, and why it
is made of discrete electrical particles.
     We  have to look at it very carefully. We have completely to change our
understanding  of geometry. Our native understanding of geometry, or  rather
our  native misunderstanding of geometry,  is a genetic mistake. We make the
mistake because it was never necessary not to. It  was  never  necessary, in
the long past history of our race, for us  to  see space and time correctly.
It  never was. It was definitely  necessary  that  we  have at least a dog's
understanding  of a three dimensional  space, otherwise we wouldn't have had
offspring,  and  the species  would  all have  died  out.  But it  was never
necessary  to  understand that  space and time  are  opposites. It was never
necessary  to understand the origin of gravity, or the origin of inertia, or
even the -fact that the atoms are made of electricity, or the fact there are
92 chemical elements. It's not necessary  to understand any  of these things
in order to  have offspring and  have the perpetuation of the species go on.
It works all right through many, many mistakes.
     You must not think that just because it's  a native  perception on your
part that it's true. That has nothing to do with it. Just look  back and see
how  you got the way you are. You have to think that it's all a mistake, and
you have to notice that our genetic misunderstanding of space and time is at
the root of it.  That's  where  the root  is. It is with.  in  our  mistaken
notions of space  and time that we see this universe the way  we do. So what
we have to do is to straighten out our misunderstanding. Space is not really
that  which separates the  many. It's that which seems to separate  the one.
There's  only one. And in that  space  that  oneness shines. Therefore falls
whatever falls. Space is  not that in  which we see the  finite. There is no
finite. Space  is that in which the  infinite appears as small, and  in that
space that  vastness  shines.  Therefore bursts  whatever  bursts. Therefore
every  electrical  particles wants to become infinite.  And therefore shines
whatever  shines. And time is not  that in which  we see  change, Einstein's
Physics Of Illusion

     but that in which the changeless seems to change, and in that time that
changeless shines. Therefore rests whatever rests; therefore coasts whatever
coasts. Our problem is to discriminate between what's behind this notion  of
space and time and what's within it. Our problem is to discriminate  between
the real and the make believe. Einstein's Physics Of Illusion

Last-modified: Sat, 10 Aug 2002 20:08:41 GMT
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