One implication of both possibilities, the purposefully created universe and multi-universes, is that there is ‘supra-reality' containing the physical world (and possibly other worlds). Thus, it is proposed that physical reality is only one level, a sub-system of a larger framework (multiple universes must be created in some other reality that contains all of them[1]).

This view is supported by universal (in the sense that they appear in practically all cultures) spiritual experiences of a greater whole within which the material world is embedded. Although its glimpses may be fleeting and difficult to interpret, they seem to be in the root of all religions, even non-theistic ones. It is true that religion sometimes serves a purpose to alleviate fears and increase sense of control, but these factors cannot be a full explanation for the ubiquitous nature of this belief. A human need to reach beyond immediate sensory experience (that often finds its expression in fantasies, art or mythology, but is also related to genuine transpersonal insights) cannot be easily dismissed as a sort of psychological defence mechanism. There are other (even more conducive) ways to produce similar results, and yet they have not rendered beliefs in supra-reality redundant. By claiming that there is nothing beyond, that humans live in a meaningless self-sufficient bubble, materialism closes the window for satisfying this need. There is no reason to deny the possibility that at least some of these experiences are genuine and correspond to something real. This, of course, does not mean that their various interpretations are valid, but the core of these interpretations should not be undermined.

Some scientists have also come to the conclusion that reducing everything to the world of matter is inadequate, that reality stretches beyond the physical. It is implied for example, in Bohm's theory of ‘implicate order' and earlier, in De Broglie's model. The latter proposed that reality is built in levels of size and organisation, each level containing its own causal and statistical laws. As already mentioned, some implications of Hawking's theory also hint in this direction.

So-called realistic sceptics, of course, might not be satisfied, because it is not possible to provide material evidence for this aspect of reality, which can only be extrapolated or experienced (in terms of transpersonal experiences). However, those who demand such evidence neglect the fact that solipsistic and historical sceptics can use the same argument against the existence of physical reality. Ultimately the existence of the material world cannot be proven either. It cannot be proven (to a solipsistic sceptic) that the world is not just a figment of one's imagination as a dream is, or (to a historical sceptic) that it existed a moment ago, and yet these are accepted as facts. Thus, material proof is here not considered decisive. However, there is indirect support for this notion. For instance, some findings in quantum physics suggests that ‘the world of matter-energy appears to float, rather as a thin precipitate, on a deep sea of almost infinite energies' (Laszlo, 1993, p.87). This is not the same kind of energy that forms matter. The energies in question, also known as zero-point energies, although not ‘real' undoubtedly exist and cannot be ignored. The following may be a case in point. Electromagnetic fields propagate in a vacuum, but there is not an obvious source for this field (the electron cannot be a field source). Nevertheless, the field in which the electron appears stores a large amount of energy. That energy must be, as it were, non-material (meaning without a mass) because otherwise it would have created a gravitational potential that would have collapsed all matter in the universe to a singularity shortly after the Big Bang. And yet, the universe is still expanding. In fact, the very existence of matter can be questioned. What appears as matter are in effect highly condensed (and relatively unstable) energy fields. Popper writes:

Matter turns out to be highly packed energy, transformable into other forms of energy; and therefore something of the nature of a process, since it can be converted into other processes such as light and, of course, motion and heat... The universe now appears to be not a collection of things, but an interacting set of events or processes... [atoms have] a structure that can hardly be described as ‘material', and certainly not as ‘substantial': with the programme of explaining the structure of matter, physics had to transcend materialism. (Popper and Eccles, 1977, p.7)

This all indicates that if the methodological and ideological limitations of scientific and spiritual approaches are overcome, there is no insurmountable conflict between them. They both point at the possibility that reality is made of at least two levels or planes. The familiar one, consisting of a huge amount of very dense and relatively slow energy that appears as matter. It can be defined as an aspect of reality determined by the physical laws. In other words, physical reality and the laws that govern it can be considered a special case, a subset of a larger reality (as Newtonian physics is assumed to be a special case of Einsteinian physics, and valid within a limited range). The boundaries of physical reality are twofold: on one hand, singularities, allegedly in the centre of black holes where the laws of physics break down, so they can be taken as ‘out of this word'; and on the other, the speed of light - anything faster than the speed of light would violate the General Theory of Relativity and therefore be again ‘out of this world'. Considering that the material reality includes entities of maximum density and minimal movement (black holes) it is likely to be the lowest possible level. It is proposed that the other reality consists of faster, less dense but more refined energy, not bound by all the laws of physics applicable in the material world. Although this may be difficult to imagine, all the evidence suggests that energy is best conceived as the process itself, pure movement (without necessarily something that moves). In this case it is possible that there are movements with speed beyond that of light. A science and spiritual writer, David Ash, who advocates this view, writes:

Modern physics may have established that particles cannot move faster than the speed of light, but this does not mean that movement is constrained to this speed. The speed of light is the upper limit of velocity if it is assumed that movement can only exist as the property of particles. However, this classical assumption of the atomic hypothesis is merely a reflection of outmoded materialism.' (1995, p.139)

The implication is that such energy does not operate within the space-time continuum (which is relative to the speed of light) and it can consist only of forms that do not have mass, so it can be called non-material reality[2]. Such reality has no stable ground state, no equilibrium condition, no space-time framework; hence, there is no beginning and there can be no end[3].

This is not to say that this realm can be interpreted in such a way to allow the breaking of the laws that operate within the physical world (as the Theory of Relativity would not have been valid if it had contradicted Newtonian physics within its range). Even fields and waves, as long as they are linked to physical objects and their interactions, have to be interpreted in compliance with the laws of physics. Nevertheless, on the level of sub-atomic particles (that can be conceived as waves too) some strange behaviour can already be detected: for example, if two photons that have been ‘entangled' (meaning essentially that they spin in the same direction) are separated, and one of them changes the direction of the spin, the other will also change direction irrespective of their distance - and instantaneously, indicating that they are still somehow connected and that the space-time framework is already losing its grip.[4]

It is likely that these two realties are in constant interaction. After all, subatomic particles seem to appear from ‘nowhere' and disappear all the time, but this interaction can be ignored in most of cases (except perhaps in the sub-atomic sphere and in complex wave generating systems such as the brain). Human beings normally perceive only the material world. Phenomenologically, the relation between reality as a whole and the material one can be compared to the relation between an awake state and a dream - regarding inclusiveness and non-presence. A dream state is situated within a larger framework of the awake state, but while in a dream, the dreamer is usually not aware of it (except in so-called lucid dreams). Of course, this parallel has its limits. A dream is typically subjective - meaning that dream events depend on the dreamer, while the material world is objective - other agents and objects exist independently from the observer. Nevertheless, it may not be completely off the mark to say that in this world all sentient beings share a collective dream.

The question may be asked why one should be concerned with reality beyond our immediate reality. In most situations, indeed, it does not need to be taken into account (as, for all practical purposes, Newtonian physics suffices and Relativity can be ignored). However, if non-material reality is in a causal relationship to the physical world - in other words, if the physical world is rooted in it, non-material reality is necessary for the existence of material one. Therefore, only a larger perspective that includes the notion of such reality can offer some hope of finding a rational explanation to some fundamental questions relevant to this world.

The real issue, however, is not the existence of this supra-reality. What separates the materialist perspective from the non-materialist one is that the former denies the role of  an agency and purpose, while the latter accepts this possibility. Thus, what needs to be considered is whether the necessity of sentience makes sense and can be justified.

  • [1]. Nothingness is non-referential and cannot be an option (vacuum is not nothingness, it only lacks matter). Empty space, if such a thing exists, is also not an alternative because, as science teaches us, space was created in the Big Bang, so it could not have existed before. It is possible that cosmological constants and some laws of nature vary within physical world, thus creating may universes. However, in this case they would all still depend on the specific mathematical and theoretical model, so the problem would not be resolved, just moved on a different level. If this theory is to be taken as a serious candidate, it must be assumed that multi-universes are created in reality that does not depend on the rules that operate within them.
  • [2]. Even in the material universe not everything has to have mass; fields do not have mass as well as light and other waves, and they may play an essential role in linking the two realms. However, electro-magnetic or gravitational fields are vector fields (having both, magnitude and direction) rather than standing scalar fields, so they really belong to the world of matter.
  • [3]. Note that if the beginning is not required, the problem that the Big Bang theory faces in relation to the material world, namely what was before, is not an issue anymore.
  • [4]. This does not violate the General Theory of Relativity that claims that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, because it is not an informational exchange - there is no cause and effect.