Ron Minarik

An inspirational journey for students of all ages

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, or performed for an audience either by a reading or on stage without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review or photocopying the Figures to use when reading the associated text. Any content used elsewhere must be properly referenced.
© 2001, 2020, 2021 by Ronald William Minarik
The 2001 Certificate of Registration TX0005519518 incorrectly states on Line 4 that the book was published when it was printed at a local printer. This error was corrected in 2019 by the Certificate of Registration TXu002160501, which said that Line 4 of the 2001 registration should not be filled in because the work was not published.
The author has never sold a 2001 printed book or any content therein to any person or entity. A 2001 printed book was given to various people.
This book’s storyline is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, dialogue and incidents related to these characters are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The author has taken every precaution to verify the contents of the book (to include scientific and other facts stated by plain text or character dialogue) but assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions in the book and any damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein. Readers must be aware that a portion of any book’s factual content and bibliographic references can become outdated or be controversial, and that the terminology used herein for some subjects may differ from the terminology used elsewhere.
Paperback ISBN: 9798551560319
Kindle eBook ASIN: B08SRDJ8P9
Thanks to Bill, Danny, Don, George, George Jr., Marie, Reenie, Russ and Steven

And a special thanks to Bonnie and Kathy

Dear Students,
xxxiWhen I use the term “students” I am referring to everyone because we are all continually learning. But we want to start inquisitive learning at the earliest possible age in order to develop the passion for delving further into a subject and adding our own thoughts about it. Inquisitive learning, however, is not the end result because learning precedes intelligence. And by inquisitively learning a new subject we expand our inquisitive intelligence.
xxxiSo join the inquisitive problem solvers, Connie and Phil, on their inspirational journey to solve what may be the greatest mystery of all time: the nature of our existence. And in the process you can explore many facets of both the science and the nature of our existence in a captivating way.
Ron M.
THE DECISION (CHAPTERS 1-4).................... 001
THE RESEARCH (CHAPTERS 5-17)................ 027
THE ANALYSIS (CHAPTERS 18-37)................ 195
RESOLUTION (CHAPTERS 38-40)................... 389
FIGURES 1-6........................................................ 411
BIBLIOGRAPHY.................................................. 419
SOME FINAL WORDS........................................ 421

Written as a novel, the characters are fictional but the science is not.

xxxiGordon stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for Sublevel 3. The massive door closed and he began his descent to an underground area once reserved for top security. No one was forcing Connie to stay down here. Security was no longer an issue and Agency downsizing had resulted in plenty of vacant offices above ground. But Connie kept working below to tackle those world-class problems that Gordon always seemed to reserve for her. She said that she needed the solitude to see the big picture. Well, there was no bigger picture than the one Gordon was about to propose.
xxxiThe elevator stopped. Gordon stepped out and walked past the empty desks toward Connie’s office. Blue-sky programs with large staffs were now extinct, but there was still enough funding to put a small team on anything the top brass could dream up. The new assignment was one Connie should enjoy. Gordon thought she would really go for it.
xxxiPhil was present when Gordon arrived. Connie must have called him in. Although she could choose a new assistant at the start of a job, she was now working with Phil on virtually everything. The two of them had the mutual thought process down pat. They would bounce ideas off each other and make sure they were in complete agreement before going to the next step. They didn’t mind backtracking again and again until they got things right. Most of all, there was no ego problem between them. Neither was afraid to blurt out something stupid in their effort to find the truth.
xxxiIt was good that Phil was there. Gordon didn’t know which direction the task would take, and it was best that Phil heard everything from the outset. In fact the task was so open-ended that Gordon still wasn’t sure how to define it. He temporarily avoided the subject.
xxxi“This place is a like a tomb,” he said. “Why don’t you two grab some offices upstairs?”
xxxi“Got one with windows?” Phil asked.
xxxi“Do you want to face the woods or the lake?”
xxxi“Either one sounds good.”
xxxiConnie was typing away at her computer. Gordon looked over at her. “How about you, Con? Ready for a new office?”
xxxi“I’m ready. I’ve been down here too long.”
xxxi“You’ve been saying that for over a year now.”
xxxiConnie’s eyes remained fixed on the computer screen. “They’re moving me over the weekend. I’m ready to rub shoulders with upper management.”
xxxiShe typed a few more words before asking, “So what’s the new project? The one you’re keeping a mystery.”
xxxi“It’s no mystery. I wanted to let you wrap up your final report before springing it on you.” Gordon paused to reconsider his answer. “On second thought, I guess it is a mystery. Maybe the biggest mystery of all.”
xxxi“Who really shot Kennedy,” Phil declared.
xxxi“Bigger than that.”
xxxiPhil tried again. “How to wipe out the national debt.”
xxxiGordon smiled. “That’s a big one all right, but the scope of this one’s much bigger. As big as you can get.”
xxxiConnie stopped typing and looked up. Gordon now had her attention.
xxxi“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Gordon said. “Part of the job is to define the problem before solving it.” Gordon spoke slowly, searching for the right words. “The best way I can put it is that I want you to find the nature of our existence.”
xxxi“You mean the Agency?” Phil asked. “Why it was formed?”
xxxi“I don’t think he’s talking about the Agency,” Connie said.
xxxi“No, not the Agency,” Gordon confirmed. “I mean the physical things that exist. People and other forms of life. Nonliving things. The earth. Take a look at where things came from and why we’re here.”
xxxiPhil cracked a smile. “Is that all?” he asked.
xxxi“Maybe the entire universe. Everything that exists.”
xxxiConnie broke in. “Is the universe all that exists?”
xxxi“You tell me,” Gordon said. “That’s part of the study.”
xxxiPhil sat there speechless, his mouth half open. He was rarely at a loss for words, even for a just a moment. Finally, with his mind still processing Gordon’s request, he blurted out, “Are we talking about God here? Some sort of Supreme Creator?” Phil didn’t necessarily believe in a particular type of Supreme Entity. Despite his religious upbringing, which he cherished, his analytical mind was open to different religious interpretations.
xxxi“Again, you tell me. But we must be totally objective about this. We serve the entire public. Many people are religious. Some are agnostics. Others are atheists.”
xxxi“And some are all three,” Connie said under her breath.
xxxiGordon didn’t hear the comment. “We must take an impartial view of things,” he said.
xxxi“Some pretty smart people have already studied the subject,” Phil said. “Over thousands of years.”
xxxi“And there’s still no clear-cut, universal answer,” Gordon countered. “Not for everyone.”
xxxi“How are we going to be any different from all the scholars throughout history? Philosophers, theologians, scientists… How are we going keep from duplicating their work? Just the two of us.”
xxxi“It’s because there are only two of you. Most of the people you mentioned concentrate on just part of the problem, a few pieces of the puzzle. Important pieces but small ones compared to everything that goes into our existence. And for various reasons these people work independently, with no coordination among them. Somebody has to take a broad view, pick out the right pieces, and put them together to come up with a different slant on things. You guys are uniquely qualified. You have the technical background to comprehend the science that applies to the subject, yet you also know how to generalize and see the entire picture. You should be able to cut through to the heart of the problem without getting bogged down in the details.”
xxxiPhil kept pushing. “There’s more literature on the subject than we could read in ten lifetimes.”
xxxi“Don’t spend a lot of time reading. Both of you have enough experience in the physical sciences to get by with minimal study, to supplement what you already know. If you go into too much detail on any aspect you’ll get stuck in some remote corner. Especially if you bring in high level math. Use what you already know, read some to supplement your knowledge, and tie together everything that’s pertinent to come up with answers.”
xxxi“But it still sounds like you want a scientific approach.”
xxxi“Not necessarily. But it must be a logical approach. I personally think the answers are simple. But that’s just my gut feeling and at this point not very objective.”
xxxi“Simple answers usually take longer to find,” Phil countered. “When do you want results?”
xxxi“Let’s say two weeks for a start. After that, we’ll see.”
xxxiTwo weeks to explain the existence of everything. Phil bit his lip to keep from laughing. “Anything else?” he asked.
xxxi“Yes. No equations. Your results must be intelligible to the layman. People like me.”
xxxiPhil was about to wisecrack if logic flow diagrams were okay but he caught himself. He had a reputation for being sarcastic at times and he didn’t want to further that image.
xxxiConnie, strangely detached from the discussion, broke her silence to ask, “Why are we doing this?”
xxxiGordon was glad she asked the question. He wanted her inputs but she was curiously indifferent. He thought she’d be firing questions along with Phil. Maybe this was the first of many. Gordon was ready with his response.
xxxi“Suppose we have a global crisis that causes widespread panic. One that could wipe out millions of people, or maybe even destroy humanity. It could help calm things down if people had something firm to cling to, like a higher purpose for our life here on earth.”
xxxi“They have religion,” Phil said.
xxxi“Which may not work for everyone. And even the most religious can panic when faced with impending doom. We need something concrete, an assurance that everyone can embrace until we get things under control.”
xxxi“You know of some crisis?” Phil asked. “An asteroid headed our way? An atomic bomb in the hands of a terrorist? Maybe extraterrestrials contacted the U.N. and told us they’re taking over.”
xxxi“There’s nothing. Really. But who knows what might happen in the next hundred years. We may reach a point when the increase in population reaches a boiling point. You then get more possibilities for a global disaster: environmental pollution, not enough food or energy… ”
xxxi“Why don’t Connie and I just work on minimizing the possibilities?”
xxxi“Others are working on that. And you may eventually. And of course there’s always the chance of something that’s completely out of our hands. Something we can’t predict. Or eliminate.”
xxxi“Like asteroids or extraterrestrials?”
xxxi“Probably nothing so melodramatic. Maybe just death itself. Even if there’s no big disaster, just shedding light on our existence could help when we ultimately face death. At least those of us who need tangible proof that there’s something more to existence than a rather brief stay on earth. That there’s a higher purpose.”
xxxi“And if we don’t come up with anything? Or we prove there’s nothing more, no higher purpose?”
xxxi“Then we don’t publish the results.”
xxxi“This is off the beaten track, isn’t it? I wonder who came up with this one.”
xxxiPhil decided not to push further. He didn’t necessarily agree with Gordon’s reasons for the project, but the job did sound intriguing. He needed time to think.
xxxiGordon was still puzzled with Connie’s apparent lack of interest. “So what about it Con?” he asked. “You interested?”
xxxi“I’ll let you know,” she said, trying to avoid more questions. Connie already knew her answer, but she assumed she would never have to give it. The assignment would be forgotten as soon as the next crisis arose.
xxxiAfter Gordon left, Connie began typing. Phil waited until Gordon was out of earshot before speaking. “Wow. Is he serious? You think he’s got a terminal illness and wants to know if there’s life after death?” He paused, waiting for Connie to reply. When she didn’t he said, “I’ll bet he’s never funded anything like this, to figure out how things really came about. And why. Kind of makes sense though, when you think about it. Take a scientific approach to finding the nature of our existence rather than using philosophy or religion.”
xxxi“You’re not knocking religion are you?” Connie asked.
xxxi“Absolutely not. Places of worship are great morality centers. They inspire people to live a righteous life. To treat others with respect. But we still need cold hard facts, not philosophical arguments or good old-fashioned faith. Take an approach based on math and physics.”
xxxi“And on chemistry, biology, and evolution?” Connie asked.
xxxiConnie’s question was rhetorical. She and Phil agreed long ago that all branches of science boiled down to physics and the associated math. To evolve life you start with the physics of subatomic particles and work your way up from there: electrons, protons and neutrons to form atoms, atoms clustering together to form molecules, and eventually large macromolecules combining to form life. Evolution then takes over to form all sorts of organisms, including humans. You could start with elementary particles like quarks instead of protons and neutrons, but it wouldn’t change the result.
xxxiPhil picked up on Connie’s question. “Cosmology also plays a big role, but it’s still all physics.”
xxxiConnie was sorry she had opened her mouth. She didn’t want to work on the new project. Entering into a technical discussion would draw her in deeper.
xxxi“How soon can we start?” Phil asked.
xxxi“Maybe we should hold off.”
xxxi“Hold off for what?”
xxxiConnie could no longer avoid her answer. She had to spring the news on Phil immediately. Better now than later.
xxxi“You know I like working with you. We’re a good team. But I’ll pass on this one. Feel free to work with someone else if you want.”
xxxiOnce again Phil was stunned. First by Gordon’s proposal and now by Connie’s unwillingness to work on it. A double whammy in the same morning. Phil tried to find the reason for Connie’s decision.
xxxi“But this sounds like something great to work on. And get paid for it. I can’t think of anything more fascinating.” When Connie didn’t answer and kept typing, Phil probed further. “When we start a project you always say we should back off and look at the big picture. You’ve got to admit, Con. We’ll never get a chance to do something this big.”
xxxiToo big, Connie thought. Too big for mere mortals to comprehend.
xxxiWhen Connie remained silent Phil gave it one more try. “Look, I know it’s a long shot. But so what? If we don’t come up with anything in two weeks, Gordon just cancels the job and we move on to something else. Nothing to worry about.”
xxxiConnie didn’t respond out loud but said the words to herself. “That’s not what I’m worried about.” When she kept typing while ignoring Phil’s presence, he gave up and left.

xxxiGordon was concerned about Connie. He waited until the following Monday to let her finish her report, then went back down to see her. But her office was barren except for a few boxes yet to be moved. Gordon realized that Connie meant it this time, to move upstairs. That, at least, was a good sign. She wasn’t going to be a hermit for the rest of her life. Well, as long as he was down here he may as well talk to Phil about Connie’s indifference. Gordon continued on to Phil’s office.
xxxiPhil, surprised to see him, spoke first. “What’s up, boss?”
xxxiGordon walked into the room and shut the door, not that anyone was around to hear the conversation. He felt uneasy asking questions about one of his people behind her back, regardless how innocent the questions were. It wasn’t his way of doing things. He sat down as he spoke. “I see Connie’s moved upstairs already. You going too?”
xxxi“I guess so.”
xxxi“I thought she’d jump at the chance to work on the new job, but she didn’t seem interested.”
xxxi“She said she won’t work on it.”
xxxi“When did she say that?”
xxxi“Right after you left.”
xxxi“Did she say why?”
xxxi“We talked a little. Mostly me. She didn’t give any reason. She was also busy with her report and I wanted to let her finish it.”
Gordon couldn’t understand Connie’s reluctance with the job. It wasn’t that big a deal. It was more of a lark than anything, something they should have fun with regardless of the outcome. “I’m surprised she’s not interested,” he said. “It would be a nice break for you guys.”
xxxi“That’s what I told her, but it didn’t help.”
xxxi“That’s too bad. I wanted the two of you to work on this thing. Then I could drop in from time to time. Get you to explain some things that might be related to the subject.”
xxxi“Like what?”
xxxi“I’m always confused by the infinite universe.”
xxxi“Infinite universe?”
xxxi“Yes. It goes on forever. It keeps going and going. No matter where you are in it you’re not at the end. How can that be? You can go crazy thinking about it.”
xxxiAlthough Gordon’s business training included engineering courses, they never went into the deeper areas of physics. But he could grasp a physical concept provided you spoon fed it to him and left out the heavy math.
xxxi“Actually, the universe may not be infinite,” Phil said. “It may be comprised of a finite amount of matter.”
xxxiGordon gave a sigh of relief. “Oh, that’s better. Then can we get in a fast space ship and reach the end.”
xxxi“Not really. The universe is expanding pretty fast, and because the space ship can’t go faster than the speed of light we’ll never get as far as we can see.”
xxxi“Oh my God. That’s even worse.”
xxxiPhil kept speaking, trying to calm Gordon down. But to keep things simple he didn’t mention that some of the matter is the theoretical “dark matter” whose gravitation is needed to explain the visible locations of various heavenly bodies. And he really didn’t want to mention dark energy, a theoretical form of energy that is causing the universe to expand at a faster pace.
xxxi“However, with a finite amount of matter in the universe some people say it will eventually stop expanding and begin to shrink. If it does then the density can get so high that space folds back on itself and keeps you inside.”
xxxiGordon tried to form a mental image of the folding of space but he couldn’t.
xxxi“That’s hard to imagine,” he said.
xxxi“It’s hard to imagine in the three dimensions of our universe. It’s easier to think of in two dimensions. Like the surface of a sphere.”
xxxiGordon restated Phil’s comment to get a better feel for it. “The surface of a sphere is in two dimensions.”
xxxi“Yes. If you’re on the surface of a sphere you can walk straight ahead, in one dimension. Or you can walk sideways, a second dimension. Any other direction you walk in can be described by some combination of these two. Another way of looking at it is that any point on the surface of the sphere can be defined by two numbers.”
xxxi“Like latitude and longitude.”
xxxi“Correct. So if you’re on a sphere, a curved two-dimensional surface, you can walk forever. There’s no boundary. At some point our shrinking three-dimensional universe would have a similar property. If you start out from any point and keep going, you’ll never reach the end.”
xxxi“So the universe would be unbounded. Finite but unbounded.”
xxxi“Well, we’re unbounded within it yet still bounded in the sense that we’re confined to our universe. No matter which way we go in your space ship we can keep going but we’ll never get out. At least that’s one theory.”
xxxiGordon studied Phil for a moment before saying, “You have a good grasp of the subject. And you’re able to describe it to people like me.”
xxxi“I only described the space part of our existence. There’s also the ‘time’ part.”
xxxi“The ‘time’ part?”
xxxi“Like when did time start? And when will it end? That is, if it ends at all.”
xxxi“So when did it start?”
xxxi“Most cosmologists say that time started with the Big Bang.”
xxxi“Isn’t that when the universe exploded from a very small size.”
xxxi“Or perhaps no size at all. A single point that’s called a singularity.”
xxxiGordon reflected on Phil’s description. “You mean everything is compressed into something that has no dimensions? No height, width or breadth?”
xxxiPhil smiled. “That’s the point, no pun intended. Anyway, one theory says that time started when everything started expanding from this point, and it’s meaningless to think about a time before the expansion took place.”
xxxi“That doesn’t sound very satisfying.”
xxxi“You may want to keep your opinion to yourself. Many religions will accept this theory because it corresponds to the beginning of creation. And many scientists go along with it.”
xxxi“But not all scientists, I assume.”
xxxi“There are other theories of course, like time starts at minus infinity, at an infinite time in the past. Or that the universe was never a singularity. But it’s hard to relate any theory to everyday experience.”
xxxi“When will time end?”
xxxi“Good question. Right now the universe is expanding. It might expand forever. Or maybe just stop and burn itself out. But if the universe has enough matter and not enough energy it could collapse back on itself, maybe even to a single point, a singularity. Time would end, although, like I said, there are other theories concerning time.”
xxxiPhil took a deep breath and paused to let Gordon digest the explanation. While trying to decide if he should mention dark energy, Gordon interrupted his thoughts.
xxxi“How old is the universe?”
xxxi“About fourteen billion years.”
xxxi“How do they know that?”
xxxi“They look at how the universe is expanding now. Then they work backwards and calculate how long it would take to reach where we are now if everything started with the Big Bang. Even if we didn’t expand from a singularity, the assumption is good enough to get us close to the actual age of the universe. And to give a name to the start of the universe we just call it The Big Bang, regardless how it actually occurred.”
xxxi“What happens if the universe collapses back to a point? Is that the end of time?”
xxxi“Could be. But it may not stop at a point. We may have another Big Bang and everything starts expanding again. And the process could repeat over and over, an oscillation that keeps going.
xxxi“Look’s like there’s a lot of theories about the universe.”
xxxi“All kinds of theories: It’s initiation, curvature, timeline… If it’s finite or infinite. And just when a theory takes hold someone comes along, points out a problem, and tries to solve it with a different theory. Over the years a lot of smart people have worked both theoretically and experimentally to find a theory that ties everything together. Or at least more things together.”
xxxiIt was now Gordon’s turn to take a deep breath. He had to decide what to do with the assignment. He didn’t want to drop it, nor did he want to turn it over to other analysts. Gordon had some good ones but they didn’t have the overall vision the task required. The task needed Connie and Phil. Or, if necessary, one of them. Gordon decided to work on Phil. “Sounds like you’re familiar with the subject.”
xxxi“I’ve given it some thought.”
xxxi“The subject of existence should include what we’ve been discussing.”
xxxi“How about taking on the assignment yourself.”
xxxi“Without Connie?”
xxxi“She could be a consultant. Not full time, just someone to run things past occasionally.”
xxxiAs intriguing as the job was, it could turn into an ordeal. Phil didn’t want to take sole responsibility for its success. Yet he was also hesitant to turn down a direct request. “It’s unlikely I’ll come up with anything new on the subject.”
xxxi“Then you can recommend how to fund additional research: astronomy, space exploration… Whatever you decide. Give some direction on how to continue the search.” Gordon waited for Phil to answer. When he didn’t, Gordon coerced further. “It’s only for two weeks.”
xxxi“And after that?”
xxxi“We’ll see what you come up with. How about it?”
xxxi“I guess I can try.”
xxxi“Good.” Gordon rose from his chair. “I’m going back up. You want to come along? We can ask Connie if she’ll consult with you part time.”
xxxi“I’ll go up with you, but let me talk to her myself.”
xxxiOn the way upstairs Phil debated how to approach Connie. Should he ask her to reconsider the new assignment? Should he begin discussing it and hope she would change her mind on her own? Or should he ask her point blank why in the world she turned it down? Phil couldn’t figure the reason for her refusal. Did she have another project lined up? Had she decided to quit being an analyst and go into administrative work? Or, worst of all, did she want to stop working with him? He could be impulsive at times. Was she letting him down easy with a few kind words? Was that why she moved away from him?
xxxiPhil arrived at Connie’s new office. She was unpacking boxes and he offered to help. “Need a hand?”
xxxi“Thanks, but I have to do this myself so I know where things are.”
xxxiPhil browsed through reports of past assignments, several of which he co-authored. He read one of the titles. “Optimal Management. With all the books and courses on effective management we didn’t think we’d come up with anything new, but we did.”
xxxi“And the job was a lot more interesting than the title indicates.”
xxxiPhil picked up another report. “Then there’s the one where we were like real detectives.”
xxxi“I always think of us as detectives.”
xxxi“I guess you’re right. Anyway, that was a fun job.”
xxxiWhile still flipping through the reports, Phil shifted gears. He wanted to get Connie involved but he couldn’t be devious. It just wasn’t in him. So he decided to give her the straight scoop and let things run their course.
xxxi“Gordon thinks this job could be fun too,” he said. “In fact he offered it to me and I decided to take it on. I know you don’t want to work on it, but I was wondering if I could run my thoughts past you once in awhile, to let me know what you think.”
xxxiConnie grew tense. Phil sensed her mood and also felt uneasy. He now wished he hadn’t come in to see her. He continued speaking, if only to relieve the tension.
xxxi“I’m searching the literature, trying to see if there’s any prior work I can use. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”
xxxiHaving thought about the subject for many years, Connie could offer many suggestions. But she did not want to get drawn into something that always ended in frustration. She was now faced with a dilemma. Although she didn’t want to work on the job, Phil was a loyal coworker and friend who had come through for her in the past. How could she turn him down?
xxxiWhile Connie was thinking, Phil kept talking. “To tell the truth, I’m a little nervous about this one. I’ve never taken on a job by myself. Not one potentially this big.”
xxxiConnie finally spoke. “Before deciding on an approach, you may want to break things down into the three areas you mentioned to Gordon.” When Phil just stared at her she added, “Philosophy, religion and science.”
xxxiPhil was quick to answer. “I’d choose science right now?”
xxxi“Don’t jump to a hasty conclusion. You may change your mind and decide on one of the others, or some of all three.” Wanting to break off the discussion before getting too involved, she said, “Go off and think about it.”
xxxiPhil nodded and walked out. Connie wondered if he would come up with anything. Or come back for help. Phil was a sharp guy but he was up against a real brainteaser, a problem with perhaps no starting point. Of course he might get lucky and come up with a fresh approach, something she had overlooked. Then again, he may go crazy, as she nearly did.

xxxiConnie woke in a cold sweat. It was that time of the morning when her depression could set in and sink to its lowest depth, although Connie didn’t get that far this time. For now it was just mind-spinning frustration, with her brain flipping from one thing to the next but always winding up at that same intractable problem—the only problem that really counted.
xxxiFalling back into a light sleep, she was now floating inside a large cage. At first she wasn’t concerned, she had ample room to move about. But she couldn’t tell where she was. So she floated over to the wire mesh surrounding her and pushed her face against it, straining to see outside. There was nothing but darkness, no clue to her imprisonment. Then the cage started getting smaller, as if she was running out of time. And she was afraid in a strange sort of way.
xxxiIt had been years since Connie last endured one of these dreams, but their meaning was still clear.
xxxiConnie was four years old when she had her first thoughts related to existence. She was playing on her front lawn when it occurred to her that she had played in that same spot before. Although she was too young to put the concept into words, the idea of things occurring in sequence intrigued her. She decided to remember that precise moment, of playing on her lawn, and to later recall that she had done so. Here, without realizing it, she was exploring the concept of time.
xxxiLater Connie would question other aspects of existence. In school she learned about two kinds of charged particles, electrons with their negative charge and protons with their positive charge. Charged particles of the same kind, say two electrons or two protons, repel each other. Particles of different kinds, like an electron and proton, attract each other. Connie wondered why this is so, why charged particles behave this way. Why isn’t the opposite true? Why don’t charges of the same kind attract each other and charges of different kind repel each other? She had a similar question about gravity. Here particles of all kinds always attract each other with the weakest of all forces, regardless whether the particles are charged or not. Why don’t all particles instead repel each other with gravity’s weak force?
xxxiAlthough Connie’s formal education included considerable math and physics, her primary field was now engineering. She was no longer in the scientific community that dealt with the physical phenomena related to our existence. Exploring existence was more of a hobby, something to ponder on a long plane ride or when unable to sleep in the early hours of the morning. It was an interesting diversion.
xxxiFor years Connie never confronted the question of existence head on. Instead, her mind would stray to related scientific issues. Can you go faster than the speed of light? Are there physical processes that explain reported phenomena such as telepathy and levitation? Is there a mechanism that provides a passage into an afterlife? Then there were the philosophical issues, like why does one person lead a charmed life while another has nothing but bad luck. Is it because some people are being tested and others are not? Connie saw all kinds of theories but none with scientific proof. Still, there was always the hope that such proof would be found.
xxxiAs the years passed she thought more about the heart of the matter, on the question of existence itself. Where do we physically reside and how did we get here? It was an immense subject. She had to reduce it to something she could get her hands around. She also had to divorce herself from worldly distractions, and to keep her mind from wandering back to the pressing concerns of everyday life. So she would close her eyes and transport herself into the void of space, to the limits of the universe and beyond. Here the mundane problems on earth were insignificant. She could concentrate on bigger things.
xxxiWhen she got far enough away the universe became something quite manageable, a small jelly-like glob. It seemed alive as it expanded from its birth at the Big Bang. Moreover, there appeared to be other small globs—that is, other universes.
xxxiHer new perspective brought new questions. What determined the amount of material in the universe? Why did the universe expand from a very small volume, perhaps even a perfect point? What happened before the expansion to get it started? Or, for that matter, when did time itself start? The last question seemed the most baffling of all.
xxxiWhen Connie was young it didn’t matter that she couldn’t solve the mystery of existence, not when she had her whole life to contemplate the subject. Besides, there were always problems in work to occupy her mind, problems she was getting paid to solve. Still, the existence mystery would occasionally surface, and over the years it began to gnaw at her. There was no direct evidence, no clue that was irrefutable. Nor did it appear there ever would be. There was this insurmountable problem with the cage.
xxxiConnie thought about our enclosed universe—enclosed in the sense that we cannot get beyond its limits, either in space or in time. Are we trapped inside forever, nothing more than mice going round on a treadmill? And if we can’t get outside the cage, how will we ever know for sure what’s out there? Is there a way to find out?
xxxiWe humans tell ourselves that our lives are important. As a species we’re experts on any subject: art, science, finance, cooking, construction, fashion, sports, entertainment, law, education... We analyze things in excruciating detail. We’re intense. We pride ourselves on how much we know. And we consider ourselves superior to all other creatures. Yet could our accomplishments and aspirations be trivial, maybe even pointless, in the total scope of things?
xxxiPerhaps we’re no different from other forms of life. Like them we spend most of our time on survival. This includes hobbies and entertainment, things important to human survival in a stress-filled world. We’re too preoccupied to go the next step, to find the true meaning of our existence. We may even think we have found it, but have we?
xxxiThe time comes when each of us approaches death. Do we then realize how pointless our daily activities were, that they were nothing more than distractions from getting at the truth? And billions of years from now, when the earth is swallowed by the expanding sun, and later when the universe either dies in a big collapse or runs out of gas in an unlimited expansion, will humans have had any effect on that which exists?
xxxiConnie had many questions but no solid answers. Her scientific mind couldn’t accept standard explanations or blind faith. She needed proof. Our existence was not just a subject of major importance. It became the only subject of importance. Everything else paled in comparison. For most people the satisfaction associated with work, family and friends goes a long way toward facing the inevitability of death. Connie sought more. Humanity needed to find a scientific explanation for its existence. Maybe not the complete answer but at least part of it. Otherwise humans will have contributed nothing of value to the only knowledge that counts. They would have done nothing more than lived what many of us would call a full life.
xxxiFor Connie, without firsthand knowledge of what lies beyond the cage, life could never be full enough. It would be a few fleeting years of survival, imperceptible in the eternal thread of time. Is the quest for such knowledge the only thing that separates humanity from all other forms of life? Was it Connie’s mission to uncover solid evidence that unlocks the mystery?
xxxiThis hobby, this search for existence, was consuming her. It occupied more of her time. Connie was an expert at solving tough problems and she couldn’t shrug this one off. Her mind would wander during the day. And the sleepless nights became more frequent, with her mind jumping from one thing to the next yet always back to the same dead end: that infernal cage that surrounds our universe, the cage that places the ultimate limit on our knowledge.
xxxiWill we ever see beyond the cage, perhaps to another universe? Or to another dimension? If so, what’s the physical mechanism? It must be based on science and not science fiction or hope. And what happens if we break out of our prison and learn all the answers? Will our existence end and a new one begin? Connie concluded that she would never find out during her lifetime. The cage would see to that.
xxxiAs if the intellectual prison wasn’t bad enough, things got worse. Her frustration continued to build. She once thought the question of when time began—not for just our universe but for everything that might lie beyond—was the most baffling thing that one could imagine. But she was wrong. One night, in the wee hours, she was struck with the ultimate mind-boggler: the ultimate “chicken-or-the-egg” problem. Why does anything exist at all? Not just our universe but—if they exist—other universes and other dimensions as well. The question is not whether everything was always there or when “always” began. The crucial issue is that without existence there would be nothingness: no universe, no stars and planets, no life. Absolutely nothing. Connie began to tremble. What would absolute nothingness look like? Was the state of absolute nothingness an existence of sorts? Maybe the state of absolute nothingness is so absurd that it’s the best reason why everything exists in the first place.
xxxiHer mind rambled on. Are we imagining all this? Are we all part of a gigantic computer, with each of us processing everything in such vivid detail that we’re convinced that it’s real? Perhaps we’re in a state of suspended consciousness and everything is an illusion. Nothing is as real as it seems.
xxxiThings were getting out of hand. Connie reached the point where she didn’t even know how to ask the right questions. She had never been more frustrated. Her expertise in solving tough problems was no help on this one. She couldn’t make the slightest headway. The subject of existence needed a different approach, an approach that can be analyzed scientifically. Are clues to our existence right in front of us but we keep overlooking them? Clues that are irrefutable? Everything seemed to hinge on asking the right question. But what was it?
xxxiConnie’s fixation was affecting her work. When a restless night caused her to oversleep she would come in late and use the back entrance. Then she would hurry to her office below ground, unnoticed by the administrators on the first floor. She considered moving upstairs, where the steady commotion might help her frame of mind. But she decided against it. For now it was better to have a remote workplace, an out-of-view haven when she came in late. Once there she would bury herself in her work and try to forget about existence, that is, until that evening and another poor night’s sleep.
xxxiShe wondered if it’s best not to ponder the subject. Once you’re hooked on it you cannot shut it out of your mind. It’s like a bad tooth. You don’t notice it if your thoughts are elsewhere, but eventually you probe it with your tongue to see if it still hurts. And it does. Only there’s no dentist to pull the tooth and end the suffering.
xxxiHer obsession was sprinkled with bouts of despair. Are our endeavors and accomplishments nothing more than a sophisticated form of solitaire, something to occupy our minds so we don’t dwell on the inevitability of death? Does it make sense to work so hard to accomplish things, to excel in our vocation or in any other activity? Why should an athlete torture the body to win a prize? Why should any of us strive to be the best? The prize—along with the ability we’ve worked so hard to acquire—will die when we do. Why waste time on perfection when perfection won’t last forever?
xxxiPerhaps we’re just treading water, just living out the string. We think our lives are meaningful when they are not. Such thoughts may seem absurd considering the many benevolent acts we humans perform, like charity and self-sacrifice. Yet when each of us dies we leave nothing but ashes. So why live in the first place? Is it to pass a legacy to our descendants, who in turn pass legacies to their descendants in a continuous chain? Too bad the chain is not endless. All forms of life will die someday, not just on earth but in the entire universe.
xxxiDoes there come a time when earthly accomplishments no longer matter and we are instead focused on death? Most of us wouldn’t lose sleep over this, not when we’re young and preoccupied with worldly things. But maybe all that changes when we reach the end, when we can’t get that last gasp of air, and there’s still no evidence of something more to existence than our less-than-brief stay on earth. Connie needed evidence built on fact rather than faith or hope. Then again, perhaps at some point we all revert to faith and hope to get us past that last precious instant of living.
xxxiThen there were the dreams. Never two quite the same but all related to the cage that bounds our knowledge. She would see her time running out before she could make any headway in finding something, anything—a sliver of indisputable fact about our existence. She was not afraid of dying, but before she did she wanted to find a clue on how we got here, a clue that would be hard to dispute. But things didn’t look good, not for her or for humanity. Time would run out before anyone found an answer. No one would ever be able to see beyond the cage.
xxxiConnie decided that this was the crux of the matter, the reason her dreams were filled with fear. It was locked in her subconscious. Humans must find an irrefutable clue to existence before they are extinct, and she was the one charged with doing it. Yet that wasn’t fair. Why should she be the one saddled with this burden, a dilemma she’s incapable of resolving? She was no different than anyone else. She too couldn’t see outside the cage.
xxxiIn desperation she turned back to religion. Could there be an afterlife that prolongs our existence, a place where all things are answered? It was a comforting thought, one that Connie wanted to embrace. But her scientific mind could not accept the presumption of an afterlife, not without confirmed evidence. Nor could she conceive of any mechanism that could provide a passage from this living world to the hereafter.
xxxiClaims of an afterlife, whether written or spoken, do not come from science. They come from people we call prophets. We’re told that a Supreme Being is speaking through them. These prophets are wise, yet they are still human like the rest of us. Why do we believe them? Is it because they tell us what we want to hear? We’re drawn toward the prophets who expound love and benevolence and eternal life. We base our entire existence on such noble beliefs. There are also prophets of darkness and eternal death, but we don’t listen to them because their proclamations are repulsive.
xxxiConnie wanted to be part of the majority. She wanted to believe in an afterlife, one where she would get all the answers. It would be a place where we are not eternally forgotten and where our life on earth would have meant something. But is there an afterlife? It wasn’t good enough to say that our lives are meaningless without one. That alone can’t prove an afterlife exists. Perhaps there’s a shortcut to finding the answer? If she died she might find out right away. And if there’s nothing more, and no answer can be found, why keep living a life that is ultimately pointless?
xxxiHer thoughts were turning morbid. She went from a stage where her mind was hyperactive, trying to explain existence, to a period where nothing mattered. Her inability to solve the existence mystery had instilled self-doubt, and it was now spilling over into her work. It was increasingly difficult to concentrate. At times she was despondent. Should she seek professional help? She read where it’s possible to obsess over a problem to the point of depression. Fine. That explained how she got to her current state. But how could a professional pull her out of it? Who could understand the complex scientific rationale for her hopelessness, and who could give her any type of advice that she hadn’t given herself many times before?
xxxiConnie viewed emotional stability as a jigsaw puzzle. Professional counselors view the entire puzzle and help the mentally ill assemble the pieces to obtain meaning for their lives. But Connie’s problem was different. Her puzzle, her reason for existence, extended past the boundaries of professional training. Her puzzle was infinitely large, with the edges lying beyond the cage of our universe. Where could she even start placing the first few pieces?
xxxiShe didn’t need counseling on how to make sense out of a life confined to a few years on earth, a twinkle of time on a speck of dust. And she didn’t need speculation on what may lie beyond the cage, regardless how appealing that speculation might be. She needed something more substantial.
xxxiIf only she had never pondered existence and found the limits of our knowledge, and never realized that existence lies beyond our comprehension. Then the subject wouldn’t be driving her crazy. “Careful,” she would tell herself. “Don’t go off the deep end.”
xxxiShe had to get her mind off of this. And she did. Her forte was solving problems. Perhaps she couldn’t solve the problem of existence, but she was determined to solve the emotional trauma she was having with it. She turned it into a challenge. She was not going to spend the rest of her life in despair. The problem of existence was replaced by the problem of finding emotional stability. It pulled her back on track. She knew it wasn’t enough to ignore the search for existence. Trying to block the subject from her mind could create other problems. She had to meet the problem head on, with sound logic.
xxxiShe found a strategy that seemed to work. It was one that a professional counselor may have recommended anyway, although Connie had to find it on her own. If an afterlife exists—great! She would welcome it with open arms. It meant life had not been pointless. But if an afterlife doesn’t exist then it made complete sense to enjoy her remaining years to the fullest. Anything less would be pointless. She chose jobs that were both challenging and fun. She developed a clever young protégé who complemented her talents. And she decided that when the time was right she would take an office upstairs. The constant activity on the first floor would be therapeutic. She would make the move between projects.
xxxiHer family and friends, along with recreation and some community service, became an important part of her emotional remedy. It wasn’t long before she could get through the day and stay upbeat throughout. But the bad dreams at night, when she was at the mercy of her subconscious, persisted longer. Then one day the dreams, like her despair, also subsided. That is, until Gordon revived past memories.

xxxiIt was ironic. Phil began the job full of confidence, Connie full of doubt. Now the situation was reversed. Connie was upbeat while Phil thought they had no chance for success. Although he hadn’t said much about it, Phil was increasingly preoccupied with how the universe came into being. He saw the futility of trying to learn what happened before the Big Bang. To him this was the ultimate roadblock, one that would doom the project. His growing frustration came to a head with his outburst Saturday evening.
xxxiConnie, however, was ready to do battle. After many years of seeking the answer to existence she realized she didn’t even know the question. That’s when she gave up the search. But this time around would be different. She and Phil would get things in the proper order. Before seeking answers they must first find the right question to ask. It would leave no doubt of the key issue to be addressed. Moreover, the procedure for answering the question would be completely objective. There would be no science fiction or blind faith involved. The search for existence would be based on fact.
xxxiConnie wasn’t naive. She was fully aware of the task before them. The search could be exhausting. And expensive. It could take many years and end in failure. Yet they had to try. They couldn’t stop now. If successful, the impact on humanity would be staggering.
xxxiConnie had not realized it at the time, but the seed for her new approach was planted when they discussed the consequences of taking on the project. Phil said they could butt heads with religion, even question the existence of God. Then came the roadblocks, the “miracle” steps in evolution. Normally a preponderance of roadblocks on a job would worry Connie as much as it now concerned Phil. But when the list of roadblocks kept growing she saw a big opportunity. All the roadblocks might turn a hopeless situation into a major breakthrough. Then it came to her, the approach that had eluded her for all those years. It would let them reach outside the cage, to other dimensions or whatever lies beyond. Why didn’t she think of it before? Years ago when she considered religion it was more in terms of an afterlife rather than creation. And she was not working with Phil at the time, who had the uncanny knack of giving her ideas when they were needed the most.
xxxiYes! Her approach to existence was now so obvious, so profound. There could be a giant leap forward, for both science and religion.