The Illusion of Separation

A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘the universe,’ a part limited in time and space,” wrote Einstein in 1950. “He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical illusion of consciousness.” It’s a brilliant and fascinating perspective, and science tells us that it’s true. Our eyes inform us that there is a definite boundary between us and the world around us, and so we perceive ourselves as entities separate to the wider universe—as individuals just making our home in this vast place. But when we take a step back, we can see that we’re molecular machines built from a specific arrangements of atoms—atoms that existed before we were born and will continue to exist after we die. They were recycled from the dust of dead stars, and we’re only their temporary custodians. Fundamentally, each of us is just a tiny individual expression of an enormous singular entity—so we are the universe perceiving and studying itself. The idea that the individual and the universe are inseparable is a humbling, counter-intuitive and ultimately awe-inspiring idea—there’s a mad kind of beauty in knowing that we do not live in the universe, but rather we are the universe. As Feynman wrote: “I…a universe of atoms…an atom in the universe.”


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