Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

PROCESSUAL RELATIONAL PANENTHEISM: Creatio Continua vs Creatio Ex Nihilo

Creatio Continua vs Creatio Ex Nihilo

formerly entitled

The Quantum Physics of Creatio Continua
(as opposed to Creation Ex Nihilo)

by R.E. Slater

“Panentheism” is a constructed word composed of the English equivalents of the Greek terms “pan”, meaning all; “en”, meaning in; and “theism”, derived from the Greek ‘theos’ meaning God. Panentheism  (all-in-God) considers God and the world to be inter-related, with the world being in God and God being in the world.
While panentheism offers an increasingly popular alternative to classical theism, both panentheism and classical theistic systems affirm divine transcendence and immanence. But, classical theistic systems, by prioritizing the difference between God and the world, reject any influence by the world upon God while panentheism affirms the world’s influence upon God.
On the other hand, while pantheism emphasizes God’s identity with the world, panentheism maintains the identity and significance of the non-divine.
... A rich diversity of panentheistic understandings has developed in the past two centuries primarily in Christian traditions responding to scientific thought.... Although panentheism generally emphasizes God’s presence in the world without losing the distinct identity of either God or the world, specific forms of panentheism, drawing from different sources, explain the nature of the relationship of God to the world in a variety of ways and come to different conclusions about the nature of the significance of the world for the identity of God.... - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

* * * 


(and also one different from Roger Penrose's version at the end of this post)

by R.E. Slater

In this commentary I will try to speak clearly but as well, specifically, building layer upon layer upon the initial idea expressed. Please bear with me. I do not wish this to be a difficult read but an illuminating read without all the philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Thank you. - res


When one speaks of Relational Process Theology, the concept of a process-imbued relational panentheism must also be admitted. One where God and the world are (I) together eternally conjoined in relational experience with each other and, (II) where each is processually affecting the other, both in the present processual moment, as in all past and future processual moments which have occurred and will occur. Neither can be unseparated from the other. Both God and the cosmos form a (III) necessary functional link in arrangement even as they each together form (IV) a necessary economic link of vitality as next explained.
V. Importantly, God is the First Process of all succeeding processual processes, even as God is the First Prehender, the First Actuality itself, and the First *Concresence of any-and-all prehending possible actualities (*e.g., concresence is "the coalescence, or condition of, growing together of all originally diverse, or separate, parts to one-another relationally in all aspects: metaphysically, ontologically, existentially, etc.) In a relational cosmology, especially a panentheistic one, there can never be unrelated, unaffected, inconsequential relationships. Implied in the "God-Thou" combine will always be the "Processual-Relational" combine of a relational processual panentheistic continuum of Divine to the cosmos.


  • V/aAn Implied Caveat: Many theologians might speak to the cosmos as a "non-divine material/immaterial substance," but this would take away from the implicit idea "wherein all things coming into contact with the divine necessarily partake, absorb, or share in, the essence of the divine nature of that processual experience - such as the resultant relationality of all things to all things - but not ontologically, as to the Person or Being of God, but as to those traits of God so imparted via mere contact, metaphysically.")



Please view the Tabular Summary here

VI. Next, to say a thing is "created" does syllogistic harm to the "God-Thou combine" where in a creatio continua cosmology, there was never a "created moment" but rather a linking of the (Divine) Relationship-Giver to all "non-relational material/immaterial substances". This cosmological state of unrelatedness might be used to describe the Genesis "Void" of the bible, or to the "primordial universe" itself, which existed before the Planck Era:


Stage 0. The Very Early Universe. This is the first picosecond (10−12) of cosmic time. It includes the Planck epoch, during which the currently established laws of physics may not apply. [This era exists before] the emergence [of the quantum] stages of the four known fundamental interactions or forces—first gravitation, and later the electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions. [And it exists before] the expansion of space itself and [the rapid] supercooling of the still immensely hot universe due to cosmic inflation. [Quantumtatively] tiny ripples in the universe at this stage are believed to be the basis [for the formation] of large-scale structures that formed much later [much like a tree or a plant results from a tiny seed]. Different stages of the very early universe are understood to different [temporal] extents [or eras]. The earlier parts are beyond the grasp of practical experiments in particle physics but can be explored through other means. - Wikipedia [all bracketed words are mine, RE Slater]


VI/a. This means that before the Planck Era there was an era by which one might describe as a "Spatial Void" (but not a space-time void) wherein there was only liquified, homogeneous space of one dimension where all matter was indistinguishable from one another implying there were no eventful irregularities occurring (sic, until the Lord God set it in motion). Consequently, there would exist an infinity of time (where time = 0, zero), where we might describe as an era "without time" because there were no event-relationships occurring within the primordial mix of this timeless, dimensionless, quantumized soup of primordial matter which would someday form the universe as we would experience it today.

A symbolic graphic which might help
the present visualize discussion

VIIFurther, this Cosmic Primordial Era was so completely unrelated to itself as to lie without cause or effect upon its neighboring force or energy. One which could not affect even a casual spacetime relationship with one another. It was only at the act of God as the First Inviting Relational Processual Causal Casual (words fail here) acting upon all existing non-relational substances/possibilities/entities (again, words fail here) where an "existing but not self-creating cosmos" is processually enacted to form eventful processual relationships. Until this time, there was a matter universe but not a matter-forming universe. Hence, creatio continua but NOT creatio ex nihilo.


  • VII/a. God as Creator may more properly be thought of as God the Enactor (or Divine Actor) upon all uncasually-unrelated relationships which were unformed, non-interacting, and essentially, a spatial void to all possible spacetime cosmologies.
  • VII/b. In quantum physics terms, the primordial quantum soup of all elementary objects (quantum strings, quantum gravity loops, etc) are absent any spatial interaction within-or-without themselves. That there can be no "irregularity" as there can be no interactional relationships existing during this phase of a non-relational spatial context. That the concept of "time" may only result from (a cascading of) concrescing inter-relational and intra-relational interactions a) within a substance's interior or, b) without it's exterior to other interacting substances.
  • VII/c. NOT until this happens may the concept of spacetime form from this primordial soup which is a timeless, one-dimensional "void" of unformed space existing "apart from" - or "separated from" - a Relational God. But when coming into contact with this Relational God is energy/force/matter immediately transferred either by a) divine fiat as the "First Cause" or, more likely, b) by coming into relational contact with the "One who imparts Relationality," who LOVINGLY acts upon the "inseparably unrelating" cosmological substance. This "relational processual birth" is usually incorrectly referred to as God "forming, or creating" substance. More correctly, God is "breathing upon, reviving, or imbuing," a material "cosmic void" with eventful life, wellbeing, and value up to which point it had none. Not so much as the cosmos' Creator per se, but more like it's Redeemer upon directionless living matter.


VIII. In sum, Creatio Continua therefore admits to a necessarily relational-panentheistic creational linkage to the God which is "separate" but "necessarily conjoined" with all which exists apart from God (however we wish to term this primordial process-relationship metaphorically). That Creatio Ex Nihilo from nothing into something is a physical-material-a/temporal impossibility. An older Platonic classical concept which bears no relevance to the discussions of today's processual quantum sciences.
IXMore correctly, creatio ex nihilo is as improbable as creatio continua is the more tenable - the first cannot be, as the latter must be, as respecting a process-based panentheistic relational structure between God and the resultant material/immaterial cosmos.


  • IX/a. That they are currently bound metaphysically together as an  essential combine between the Divine as the First Life-Giving Processual Process to all subtending relationally-bonded processual life-giving processes.
  • IX/bA resultant cosmology borne of a concrescent-pantheistic process reflecting God as the Life Source, Giver, and Sustainer.
  • IX/cA God who passes along all past and present processual influences into all future processual possibilities of wellbeing and valuative concresing moments to come.


R.E. Slater

* * * 


The term creatio continua refers to God's continuing creative activity throughout the history of the universe. In a sense, most theologians accept creatio continua, since creation is the dependence of the whole of space-time on God. But more traditional views hold that because God is timeless and immutable, there is only one divine creative act, which originates the whole of space-time from first to last. Those who speak of creatio continua think of creation taking place in many successive acts, partly in response to events in time. Thus, at any particular time God's creation has not been completed, and the future is partly open, in some theological views, even for God. - Philosopher Theologian Keith Ward

* * * 

Creatio Continua is a concept within the Christian doctrine of creation, specifically within the Eastern Orthodox tradition and some Process Theologies. It refers to speaking of God’s action in relation to the world.

According to this idea, we are to envisage this not as a single act in the past, but as a continuing presence here and now, hence it is legitimate to speak of a continuing creation (sic, evolution of cosmology).
Historically, it is an approach located in the writings of Maximus, Hildegard of Bingen and Gregory Palamas. It is not a past event, but a present relationship, an initial act that constitutes a starting point. In spite of the different ways this phrase is put to use, it need not be seen as in opposition to the classical position of creatio ex nihilo. - CounterBalance

* * *

Creatio ex Capacitas and Creatio Continua: "When having Power just isn't Enough" - article link
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep . . . Then God said, "Let there be light;" and there was light. ~ (Genesis 1:1-2a; 3 NRSV).
The biblical passage above has been the subject of much debate in light of not only how God created, but also as to out of what He created. There are two main camps in this debate: those who affirm creatio ex nihilo and those who affirm panentheism. Both speak of God's omnipotent creativity expressed through the generation of new modes of existence. Creatio ex nihilo advocates claim that God did this 'out of nothing;' creating all things out of absolutely nothing. Panentheists purport that God created by influencing a realm of 'non-divine actualities.' These non-divine actualities are comprised of 'moments of experience,' which have always been, and these actualities present the options from which the next moments are created. Panentheists believe a realm of actualities has always existed alongside God, although the individual actualities themselves are neither eternal nor do possess any divine power in, or of, themselves.
Those on both sides of this debate profess God to be a sovereign, holy, omnipresent, and a personal being who interacts with the loving intent of bringing about the most possible good for all creation. The discrepancy in the debate is found in the different views of how this goal is carried out. As a result, some of the attributes of God are conceived differently: in particular God's love and omnipotence, and free creaturely response to God.
Those professing creation ex nihilo come under fire by those who ask the question "what is nothing?" This question cannot be ignored, because, while it endows God with unlimited power over creation by showing Him to be the sole actor in creating, creatio ex nihilo seems paradoxical. Or as Peter Van Inwgen says,
To say that there is nothing is to say that there isn't anything, not even vast emptiness. If there were a vast emptiness, there would be no material object - no atoms or elementary particles or anything made of them - but there would nevertheless be something: the vast emptiness (Qtd. "Creation Out of Nothing" Lodahl. 2).

* * *



(as vs. a MULTI-VERSE)

(Richard Goerg/Getty Images)


4 JANUARY 2022

"The last star will slowly cool and fade away. With its passing, the
Universe will become once more a void, without light or life or meaning."

So warned the physicist Brian Cox in the recent BBC series Universe. The fading of that last star will only be the beginning of an infinitely long, dark epoch. All matter will eventually be consumed by monstrous black holes, which in their turn will evaporate away into the dimmest glimmers of light.

Space will expand ever outwards until even that dim light becomes too spread out to interact. Activity will cease.

Or will it? Strangely enough, some cosmologists believe a previous, cold dark empty Universe like the one which lies in our far future could have been the source of our very own Big Bang.

The first matter

But before we get to that, let's take a look at how "material" – physical matter – first came about. If we are aiming to explain the origins of stable matter made of atoms or molecules, there was certainly none of that around at the Big Bang – nor for hundreds of thousands of years afterwards.

We do in fact have a pretty detailed understanding of how the first atoms formed out of simpler particles once conditions cooled down enough for complex matter to be stable, and how these atoms were later fused into heavier elements inside stars. But that understanding doesn't address the question of whether something came from nothing.

So let's think further back. The first long-lived matter particles of any kind were protons and neutrons, which together make up the atomic nucleus. These came into existence around one ten-thousandth of a second after the Big Bang.

Before that point, there was really no material in any familiar sense of the word. But physics lets us keep on tracing the timeline backwards – to physical processes which predate any stable matter.

This takes us to the so-called "grand unified epoch". By now, we are well into the realm of speculative physics, as we can't produce enough energy in our experiments to probe the sort of processes that were going on at the time.

But a plausible hypothesis is that the physical world was made up of a soup of short-lived elementary particles – including quarks, the building blocks of protons and neutrons.

There was both matter and "antimatter" in roughly equal quantities: each type of matter particle, such as the quark, has an antimatter "mirror image" companion, which is near identical to itself, differing only in one aspect.

However, matter and antimatter annihilate in a flash of energy when they meet, meaning these particles were constantly created and destroyed.

But how did these particles come to exist in the first place? Quantum field theory tells us that even a vacuum, supposedly corresponding to empty spacetime, is full of physical activity in the form of energy fluctuations. These fluctuations can give rise to particles popping out, only to be disappear shortly after.

This may sound like a mathematical quirk rather than real physics, but such particles have been spotted in countless experiments.

The spacetime vacuum state is seething with particles constantly being created and destroyed, apparently "out of nothing". But perhaps all this really tells us is that the quantum vacuum is (despite its name) a something rather than a nothing.

The philosopher David Albert has memorably criticized accounts of the Big Bang which promise to get something from nothing in this way.

Suppose we ask: where did spacetime itself arise from? Then we can go on turning the clock yet further back, into the truly ancient "Planck epoch" – a period so early in the Universe's history that our best theories of physics break down.

This era occurred only one ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. At this point, space and time themselves became subject to quantum fluctuations.

Physicists ordinarily work separately with quantum mechanics, which rules the microworld of particles, and with general relativity, which applies on large, cosmic scales. But to truly understand the Planck epoch, we need a complete theory of quantum gravity, merging the two.

We still don't have a perfect theory of quantum gravity, but there are attempts – like string theory and loop quantum gravity. In these attempts, ordinary space and time are typically seen as emergent, like the waves on the surface of a deep ocean.

What we experience as space and time are the product of quantum processes operating at a deeper, microscopic level – processes that don't make much sense to us as creatures rooted in the macroscopic world.

In the Planck epoch, our ordinary understanding of space and time breaks down, so we can't any longer rely on our ordinary understanding of cause and effect either.

Despite this, all candidate theories of quantum gravity describe something physical that was going on in the Planck epoch – some quantum precursor of ordinary space and time. But where did that come from?

Even if causality no longer applies in any ordinary fashion, it might still be possible to explain one component of the Planck-epoch Universe in terms of another. Unfortunately, by now even our best physics fails completely to provide answers. Until we make further progress towards a "theory of everything", we won't be able to give any definitive answer.

The most we can say with confidence at this stage is that physics has so far found no confirmed instances of something arising from nothing.

Cycles from almost nothing

To truly answer the question of how something could arise from nothing, we would need to explain the quantum state of the entire Universe at the beginning of the Planck epoch.

All attempts to do this remain highly speculative. Some of them appeal to supernatural forces like a designer. But other candidate explanations remain within the realm of physics – such as a multiverse, which contains an infinite number of parallel universes, or cyclical models of the Universe, being born and reborn again.

The 2020 Nobel Prize-winning physicist Roger Penrose has proposed one intriguing but controversial model for a cyclical Universe dubbed "conformal cyclic cosmology".

Penrose was inspired by an interesting mathematical connection between a very hot, dense, small state of the Universe – as it was at the Big Bang – and an extremely cold, empty, expanded state of the Universe – as it will be in the far future.

His radical theory to explain this correspondence is that those states become mathematically identical when taken to their limits. Paradoxical though it might seem, a total absence of matter might have managed to give rise to all the matter we see around us in our Universe.

Nobel Lecture: Roger Penrose
Nobel Prize in Physics 2020
Jan 29, 2021

Black Holes, Cosmology, and Space-Time Singularities
Roger Penrose, University of Oxford, UK

Cosmic Conformal Rescaling

In this view, the Big Bang arises from an almost nothing. That's what's left over when all the matter in a universe has been consumed into black holes, which have in turn boiled away into photons – lost in a void.

The whole universe thus arises from something that – viewed from another physical perspective – is as close as one can get to nothing at all. But that nothing is still a kind of something. It is still a physical universe, however empty.

How can the very same state be a cold, empty universe from one perspective and a hot dense universe from another? The answer lies in a complex mathematical procedure called "conformal rescaling", a geometrical transformation which in effect alters the size of an object but leaves its shape unchanged.

Penrose showed how the cold dense state and the hot dense state could be related by such rescaling so that they match with respect to the shapes of their spacetimes – although not to their sizes.

It is, admittedly, difficult to grasp how two objects can be identical in this way when they have different sizes – but Penrose argues size as a concept ceases to make sense in such extreme physical environments.

In conformal cyclic cosmology, the direction of explanation goes from old and cold to young and hot: the hot dense state exists because of the cold empty state. But this "because" is not the familiar one – of a cause followed in time by its effect. It is not only size that ceases to be relevant in these extreme states: time does too.

The cold dense state and the hot dense state are in effect located on different timelines. The cold empty state would continue on forever from the perspective of an observer in its own temporal geometry, but the hot dense state it gives rise to effectively inhabits a new timeline all its own.

It may help to understand the hot dense state as produced from the cold empty state in some non-causal way. Perhaps we should say that the hot dense state emerges from, or is grounded in, or realized by the cold, empty state.

These are distinctively metaphysical ideas which have been explored by philosophers of science extensively, especially in the context of quantum gravity where ordinary cause and effect seem to break down. At the limits of our knowledge, physics and philosophy become hard to disentangle.

Experimental evidence?

Conformal cyclic cosmology offers some detailed, albeit speculative, answers to the question of where our Big Bang came from. But even if Penrose's vision is vindicated by the future progress of cosmology, we might think that we still wouldn't have answered a deeper philosophical question – a question about where physical reality itself came from.

How did the whole system of cycles come about? Then we finally end up with the pure question of why there is something rather than nothing – one of the biggest questions of metaphysics.

But our focus here is on explanations which remain within the realm of physics. There are three broad options to the deeper question of how the cycles began.

It could have no physical explanation at all. Or there could be endlessly repeating cycles, each a universe in its own right, with the initial quantum state of each universe explained by some feature of the universe before. Or there could be one single cycle, and one single repeating universe, with the beginning of that cycle explained by some feature of its own end.

The latter two approaches avoid the need for any uncaused events – and this gives them a distinctive appeal. Nothing would be left unexplained by physics.

Penrose envisages a sequence of endless new cycles for reasons partly linked to his own preferred interpretation of quantum theory. In quantum mechanics, a physical system exists in a superposition of many different states at the same time, and only "picks one" randomly, when we measure it.

For Penrose, each cycle involves random quantum events turning out a different way – meaning each cycle will differ from those before and after it. This is actually good news for experimental physicists, because it might allow us to glimpse the old universe that gave rise to ours through faint traces, or anomalies, in the leftover radiation from the Big Bang seen by the Planck satellite.

Penrose and his collaborators believe they may have spotted these traces already, attributing patterns in the Planck data to radiation from supermassive black holes in the previous universe. However, their claimed observations have been challenged by other physicists and the jury remains out.

Endless new cycles are key to Penrose's own vision. But there is a natural way to convert conformal cyclic cosmology from a multi-cycle to a one-cycle form. Then physical reality consists in a single cycling around through the Big Bang to a maximally empty state in the far future – and then around again to the very same Big Bang, giving rise to the very same universe all over again.

This latter possibility is consistent with another interpretation of quantum mechanics, dubbed the many-worlds interpretation. The many-worlds interpretation tells us that each time we measure a system that is in superposition, this measurement doesn't randomly select a state. Instead, the measurement result we see is just one possibility – the one that plays out in our own Universe.

The other measurement results all play out in other universes in a multiverse, effectively cut off from our own. So no matter how small the chance of something occurring, if it has a non-zero chance then it occurs in some quantum parallel world.

There are people just like you out there in other worlds who have won the lottery, or have been swept up into the clouds by a freak typhoon, or have spontaneously ignited, or have done all three simultaneously.

Some people believe such parallel universes may also be observable in cosmological data, as imprints caused by another universe colliding with ours.

Many-worlds quantum theory gives a new twist on conformal cyclic cosmology, though not one that Penrose agrees with. Our Big Bang might be the rebirth of one single quantum multiverse, containing infinitely many different universes all occurring together. Everything possible happens – then it happens again and again and again.

An ancient myth

For a philosopher of science, Penrose's vision is fascinating. It opens up new possibilities for explaining the Big Bang, taking our explanations beyond ordinary cause and effect. It is therefore a great test case for exploring the different ways physics can explain our world. It deserves more attention from philosophers.

For a lover of myth, Penrose's vision is beautiful. In Penrose's preferred multi-cycle form, it promises endless new worlds born from the ashes of their ancestors. In its one-cycle form, it is a striking modern re-invocation of the ancient idea of the ouroboros, or world-serpent.

In Norse mythology, the serpent Jörmungandr is a child of Loki, a clever trickster, and the giant Angrboda. Jörmungandr consumes its own tail, and the circle created sustains the balance of the world. But the ouroboros myth has been documented all over the world – including as far back as ancient Egypt.

The ouroboros of the one cyclic universe is majestic indeed. It contains within its belly our own Universe, as well as every one of the weird and wonderful alternative possible universes allowed by quantum physics – and at the point where its head meets its tail, it is completely empty yet also coursing with energy at temperatures of a hundred thousand million billion trillion degrees Celsius.

Even Loki, the shapeshifter, would be impressed.

Alastair Wilson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Birmingham.

Jörmungandr consumes its own tail