The relativistic physics of the gods

Ok, hear me out! I’ve had a crazy idea. @NgXinZhao and @mikenz66 you may be interested!

In DN 23 Payasi Sutta we find a rather striking description about the nature of time. Apparently time moves differently in the realm of the gods than it does in the human realm.

The question comes up in a discussion of the correct empirical means for testing the hypothesis of rebirth. The proposal is that a dying person might be urged to return to this world and let people know that there is a world beyond. Not so fast, the objection follows. Once born in that realm, only a short time might pass, and it would be many years in the human realm, and it would already be too late to return.

You might recognize this story. It’s the plot of (spoiler alert!) The Planet of the Apes. Astronauts go off on a mission where they are flying near the speed of light. By the time they return to earth, things have … changed.

This is, of course, based on Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which posited a number of curious qualities or properties of entities as they approach the speed of light. There are three main variables:

  • time slows down
  • mass increases
  • length shortens

Now, the experience of the gods as per the Payasi Sutta is basically the same as the results of relativistic time dilation. In fact, so far as I know, it is the earliest expression of relativistic time anywhere. And it is essentially identical to that posited in The Planet of the Apes:

  • one starts out here.
  • one goes to another realm (space or the heavens)
  • there time moves differently relative to here.
  • upon return, only a short time has passed for the travelers, whereas a long time has passed here.

So that’s interesting. I wonder if there are any hints as to the other aspects of special relativity? It turns out, there are.

In AN 3.127 we find the curious story of the god Hatthaka, who when manifesting in the human realm, isn’t able to maintain a solid form. They basically just melt away like ghee on sand. Only after the Buddha’s encouragement can they achieve solidity.

This tells us a number of things. First, in line with everything we know about the gods from a Buddhist perspective, they are conditioned and imperfect creatures not too dissimilar to us. They’re not omniscient (they require advice from the Buddha) nor omnipotent (they have to learn skills), nor, of course, eternal.

This also tells us that there is some kind of what appears to be a gravitational mismatch between the realm the gods inhabit and our realm. Hatthaka was perfectly able to maintain a normal form there, but when he came here, it all went awry. One is reminded of, perhaps, astronauts used to zero G having to return to earth.

Now, as for length, in SN 56.41 we find another curious story, this time a cautionary tale about someone who was speculating about the world. While trying to figure out how the world works by thinking, they saw something unexpected: an army of asuras (ironically perhaps, parallel to the “titans” of Greek myth) entering a lotus stalk. Understandably, they thought they’d gone mad, because such a thing doesn’t exist in the world.

It’s an odd narrative, because the moral of the story is “don’t speculate about the world or you’ll go mad”, but the Buddha says he did not, in fact, go mad. He actually saw something real. In this case, an empirical observation upended the speculator’s (apparently atheistic) theorizing. Perhaps the moral is that with excessive and ungrounded speculation you will no longer be able to tell the difference between madness and reality.

In any case, we have the rather striking revelation that the asuras are very small! Now, elsewhere we know that they are comparable in size to the devas. And at least some of the devas are said to have very large bodies. So it seems that spatial extension, as with time and mass, is relative.

I don’t know about you, but to me this seems pretty remarkable. The same physical properties that, according to the special theory of relativity, are relativistic, are in fact treated as relativistic in the Suttas. Obviously it’s not exactly the same. The Suttas lack Einstein’s mathematical precision, and the descriptions are far more vague and couched in mythological terms. Also, spatial dilation affects only length, not total size. But there is a pattern there. I think it would be churlish to over-insist on details. It’s not just random.


If we are to take these observations seriously, where might we go from here?

The Suttas propose two aspects of the material world: coarse matter, which is the kind our bodies are made of, and subtle matter, which is the kind the devas’ bodies are made of. The gods are not immaterial (with the rather exotic exception of the formless realms).

The fact that they are limited in their physical extent and capabilities is emphasized in, for example, the story of Rohitassa, the god who tried to travel to the end of the world. No matter how fast and how long he traveled, he never got there. This again would agree with a relativistic world, where a form-bound entity could travel at speeds approaching, but never exceeding, the speed of light.

But what exactly is this “subtle matter”? Well, no-one knows. But it clearly has something to do with “energy”. Perhaps it is a blanket term for more subtle aspects of the physical realm, like light and gravity. We can’t solve this yet, but the important point is that there is a material dimension to the heavenly realm, and that material dimension is subject to the laws of physics.

The gods are able to do a range of things that we cannot. They can appear and disappear, move between realms, and so on. One of their defining characteristics is light. The word deva ultimately harks back to the same root as “day”, and the gods are always said to appear with a great radiance.

So let’s indulge in some quasi-scientific theorizing here and propose that the forms of the devas are made up of a kind of energy that is similar or related to light in some way. But it has mass (albeit very little) and can maintain an organized structure. Of course, it also acts to support consciousness, but that’s getting outside our scope for now.

I’ll let our scientist friends tell me if there is, in fact, a known form of matter that qualifies!

So our divine friends have this subtle form. Now, we know that they struggle to manifest in this realm, which suggests that they normally inhabit a realm more amenable for them. Given the time dilation effect, perhaps we can speculate that their realm is normally moving at very high speeds. If their bodies were made of a form of energy that was only slightly heavier than light, they would naturally approach the speed of light. At such speeds, their physical form would appear compressed to us, and their energetic bodies would take on concrete mass.

If so, though, why aren’t they just speeding off into the galaxy? We know that, generally speaking, the divine realms are associated with a single sun and moon, i.e. a single solar system. This suggests that, like the planets, the heavenly realms are held in a kind of orbit due to the sun’s gravity.

Perhaps, then, the heavens are orbiting the sun, but due to their extreme lightness, they rotate at speeds approaching the speed of light. Their speed increases their mass, which is how they are caught by gravity. Like humans on earth, they are not absolutely trapped in those realms. They can leave, but it is hard and requires a lot of energy.

Of course, to them it would be normal, just as our realm is normal to us. But in moving from one dimension to the other, it would be a massive adjustment, hence the effects observed in the Suttas.

This suggests an answer to another question that is rarely raised: what is it that powers the heavens? It can’t just be the kamma of the gods, because, like the earth, the realms exist independent of them.

If they orbit the sun, the obvious hypothesis is that they are powered by solar energy, just like the earth. So we are getting an idea of rings or bands of energy surrounding the sun. Call them “haloes”. There are multiple haloes, corresponding to the different heavenly realms, moving further out. All the haloes are rotating at very high speeds, sufficient that relativistic effects are observed. But they are not the same: the wider the orbit of the haloes, the faster they rotate and the greater the relativistic effects, and the longer the lifespan of the gods in those realms.

These realms are energized by the sun, so the form of matter that they are comprised of cannot be completely transparent to solar energy. In the Suttas, physical contact is characterized by “impact” (paṭigha). The sun, of course, produces lots of different kinds of energy at many different wavelengths. We know that these realms are affected by gravity, and presumably by at least some other forms of energy as well.

This is rather crucial, because it means that the realms are measurable. If my theory is correct, you could measure the solar energy inside and outside the orbit of a heavenly realm, and there would be a measurable difference not accountable by mere distance and other known factors. This would provide us with a rather simple way of testing for the presence of such realms. They are material and hence affect and are affected by gravity and other forms of energy.

Of course there are many difficulties: we have no idea what kind of energy we’re looking for, or what magnitude of variation to expect, or how far from the sun they might be, or how their orbit is aligned, and so on. But that’s science for you! None of it is easy, which is why it’s fun. The point is, this is an empirical hypothesis, which is made possible because the presentation of the gods in the Suttas is empirical. It’s testable in principle. Whether it’s testable in fact is a different matter. And whether it’s true is, of course, yet another matter.


If this is not too far out for you already, let me add yet another layer of speculation. We can extend this hypothesis to cover (at least some) of the lower realms as well.

Astronomers are familiar with the idea of the “Goldilocks zone”. This is a somewhat nebulously-defined region around a star where a planet might support life. It’s not too hot or too cold, but just right. When searching other solar systems for extra-terrestrial life, the first question is whether they have an earth-like planet in the Goldilocks zone.

It stands to reason that our haloes also have a Goldilocks zone. If they are powered by the sun, they can have either too much or too little. The realms we call “heavens” would be those in the Goldilocks zone, which have a suitable amount of energy for the kind of life enjoyed there.

The “hells” would be either too close to the sun, and hence hot and burning, or else too far from the sun, and hence cold and dark. Once again, the Suttas pave the path for us, as they refer to the existence of wretched beings in the cold dark void of interstellar space.

The traditional model of the Buddhist cosmos would suggest that the Goldilocks zone is physically related to the orbit of the earth: the hot hells are inside our orbit, the heavens outside, and the cold hells further out again. Given the very different physical nature of the haloes, however, it’s probably unwise to assume that this is the case. The Goldilocks zone for haloes may well be unrelated to that for earth-like planets.


The next step is to call NASA and get them to set up the experiment.

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my goodness bhante, I can only imagine the serious breath meditation required to overcome the kammic force of this level of speculation :stuck_out_tongue:

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Dear Bhante,

Interesting speculations, thanks for sharing!

I can only comment from my limited understanding of the Suttas and from my former training in Physics.

From the point of view of Physics, there are indeed particles with very small mass called neutrinos, which only interact via the weak nuclear force. They come in 3 flavours: electronic, muonic and tauonic (plus their corresponding antiparticles). However their interactions are so weak, that thousands of neutrinos are passing through us at any second, almost without interaction, so it would be unlikely that any organism be made of them.

When it comes to understanding the physical universe at a scale larger than the solar system, there are things that we do not currently understand and that are parameterised as “dark energy” and “dark matter”. There are many hypotheses about their nature, but so far no certain answer. The difference is that dark matter seems to clusterise around stars and galactic centres, while dark energy somehow permeates the whole universe. What we know from cosmological measurements, and is quite remarkable, is that “omega =1”, which roughly means that the universe, when taking into account these two dark components, is expanding at exactly the acceleration that will one day allow it to crunch back onto itself (within experimental error). This could allow for multiple cycles of big bang and big crunch.

Getting back to relativity, the asura is in the details (pun intended). Not only the dilation of masses etc refers only to one direction, but also it refers to two inertial frames of reference, moving at the same speed from each other. Whenever the speed changes, general relativity should be used.

So, if anything may be of use for speculation, maybe the dark energy and dark matter may be a reasonable starting point.

Many thanks and plenty of Metta!

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Lots of good stuffs there, some can be easily calculated on the back of a letter. Will do that later.

Yup, I was thinking of neutrinos, even with the series of articles linked below here on what could devas be, i still didn’t put neutrinos there, because back then it’s too easy to dismiss the ghost particles (because they go through us like ghost) have anything to do with life.

There’s plenty of characteristics of devas which are scattered in the suttas. So to really speculate on what they could be we should take them all into account ideally. I wrote the article above having not yet read most of the suttas. Even now I haven’t read the KN book on devas and heavenly mansion. So I suspect the list above would be outdated and incomplete somehow.

Now, with your speculation, I was thinking that since neutrinos are not charged, there’s no reason for them not to be able to go very close to each other. Suppose a group of neutrinos manage to form a complicated structure enough to support a mind, then it could resize itself to be very small, or very large depending on the will of the mind. Real size change akin to ant-Man, but more scientifically sound.

Since neutrinos are very light and goes near the speed of light, I don’t think any physicist thought of modelling them as in a circular orbit around a star. They would be more like straight lines outwards from stars. As the centre of the stars where the nuclear fusion happens can generate a lot of neutrinos.

I will try modelling some equations for the orbit of neutrinos later around the sun.

Neutrinos being electrically neutral means it is definitely not interacting with light. That’s why we don’t see them in any EM wave. That is one downside to seeing that gods are luminous, but then since gods are invisible to the normal eye, could be that it’s not normal photon light.

I was thinking also that if gods can control neutrinos, it could account for some supernormal powers.

Neutrinos can hit the nucleus of atoms and transmute them to become another atom. And if enough of them hits the air at the right place, also needs to do some Fusion perhaps, they could manifest atoms and molecule bodies out of thin air. Very complicated procedure, very delicate. Likely got some fatal objection to the process I haven’t thought of for now. I was thinking that this could be how the meditators with supernormal powers do teleportation etc. Still too speculative, but a sufficient ground for investigation.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to do physics without devoting a lot of time into it, and it’s not easy to ask the mainstream physics community if they get the hint of you are doing physics to prove religious stuffs.

Also, referring to your first sentence, it’s not a theory, it’s a speculation at this point, not even a hypothesis.

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Indeed, I’ve changed it.

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I wrote this a while ago. It’s part of Physics and Buddhism book. Now not progressing. I must had given up at the end, cause the height of the heavens are ridiculous when I calculated them. Too small.

Special Relativity Time Dilation for Devas

In the Anguttara Nikaya book 8 sutta 421, the Buddha listed down the benefits of observing the eight precepts (five precepts, with the 3rd modified into no sexual activity, plus three more of not eating after noon, no singing, dancing, instrumental music, unsuitable shows, basically no entertainment, or adorning the body, and not using high and luxurious beds) that it can lead to rebirth in the heavenly realms. He proceed to describe the six heavenly realms from the lowest to the highest, each time comparing the length of their single day and night to human years, and each stage up there are more human years in a single heavenly day.

The table below summaries the numerical details in the sutta.

Deva realms (heavens) Human years per deva day Total lifespan in deva years (360 deva days) Total lifespan in human years
Four great kings 50 500 9 million
Tavatimsa 100 1000 36 million
Yama 200 2000 144 million
Tusita 400 4000 576 million
Devas who delight in creation 800 8000 2.304 billion
Devas who control what is created by others 1600 16000 9.216 billion

This leaves some open question of interpretation. Before special relativity was discovered and time was considered to be absolute, the same everywhere, flowing at the same rate, we might think that the four great kings might actually experience nine million years of heavenly delight, instead of just 500 of their year.

1 AN 8:42

However, there are several stories in ancient mythology which detailed some of the gods who came to earth, brought one human to heaven to enjoy the party for a while, when the human wishes to come back to earth, the gods were concerned and warned him that a great amount of time had passed on earth, giving him some magical items to help prevent the effects of time from catching up with his body. Back on earth, the human was astonished to find all his family had long since died and was sadden, eventually he opened the magical item, and instantly turned to dust as time catches up with his body.

The main takeaway I want to focus on here is that the devas can experience time at a different rate in their realm compared to on earth, at the human realm. Seeing that in several suttas, the king of the Tavatimsa heaven, Sakka was able to talk to the Buddha in real time, it should not be the case that the devas are like Ents in the Lord of the Rings, who’s mental processes are slow in the first place, so they might think a hundred years of human life is just a day and leisurely do everything slow. Thus a reasonable assumption is that time really do flow differently in heaven compared to on earth.

Now on to special relativity. Special relativity is mainly concerned with readjusting the velocity transformation laws from one inertial frame to another given that there is one speed, the speed of light, c which does not change in any inertial frame. Previously, we use Galilean relativity, which works like this: You are at rest with respect to the earth, a car drives past you at velocity v. Then your friend, Calvin is in the train track moving parallel to the car, the train moves at velocity u. To Calvin, the car is moving past him at velocity v-u. If the train happens to be faster than the car, then the value of v-u becomes negative, so the car is going in the other direction with respect to Calvin. This is all common sense, at speed of v and u much slower than c.

Special relativity destroys this common sense of addition of velocity by insisting that the speed of light in vacuum moves at c with respect to all inertial observers. Inertial means constant velocity, including being at rest. So back to the car, train example, the car turns on its light, the light moves past the car, with respect to it at velocity c. You at rest see the light moving at velocity c too, not c+v (speed of light plus car) as Galelian relativity would suggest. So does Calvin who measures the speed of light with respect to him, seeing that it is c, not c+v-u. How can this be? Lorentz came up with a velocity transformation law which helped to correct for the observation and Einstein bravely thrown out the notion of simultaneous time for all inertial observers, thus giving physical sense to the Lorentz transformation laws.

In essence, Einstein thought if you at rest saw two lighting strikes at both ends of the train where Calvin is in the middle of the train, would Calvin see both lighting strikes at the same time? No. You would see Calvin is moving towards the front end of the train, so while both lights from the lighting strike are travelling towards Calvin at the same velocity, the front end has less distance to cover before reaching him, so Calvin sees the front lighting strikes first, then the back one. To him, both lighting travelled the same distance to him since he is at the centre of the train and both lighting moves at speed c with respect to him, so really, he saw the front end got strike first before the back! His conception of simultaneous events (present moment) is different from yours! Your concept of simultaneous event (the present moment) is not simultaneous to another inertial observer moving at different velocity with respect to you.

Extending this to the measurement of length, we realise that to measure length means to read off a ruler both sides of an object at the same time. It is no problem if we were to measure an object at rest and we are at rest, but if you were to measure Calvin’s train, you can use the black marks left by the lighting to measure how long Calvin’s train is. However, Calvin would object to your usage of the black marks. To him, the front end of the train got struck first, then the train move a bit more, followed by the lighting strike at the back of the train. So he would say that the train is longer than your measurement by the velocity of the train, u times the time difference between the lighting strike on the front and the back of the train.

Now not only does time depends on inertial frame or the velocity of the observer, so does length! Lorentz transformation beautifully captured the relationship, showing that each inertial frame has its own time, which ticks at a different rate depending on the relative velocity between inertial frames. Lorentz transformation allows the speed of light to be transformed into the speed of light in all inertial frames consistently. Examining the effects of Lorentz transformation on the length, we can see as in the train example, that people at rest would see the train shrink its length when it is moving. The people on board of the train can use their own internal rulers and own internal simultaneous time to see that the length of the train has not changed with respect to them, they would instead see the world outside is compressed a bit on the direction of their travel. This length contraction as seen from the point of view of the resting observer would become more pronounced as the velocity of the train approaches the speed of light, approaching zero length as the speed approaches light speed.

Now if we ask what happens to time intervals, we can compare your watch with Calvin’s watch. Each of you feel and see one second past for each second as per normal. When you video call Calvin and see his watch, you realise that it has gone slow with respect to yours. The Lorentz equations gives us time dilation, an inertial observer sees the time of the other inertial observer moving with respect to them to be slowed. This slowing of time approaches zero when the velocity approaches the speed of light, which is the origin of the saying: light experiences no time.

Thus this might be the time dilation effect between the world of the humans and the heavenly realms, explaining why a day in heaven is so much longer time on earth, as speculated by a lot of people before me. Let us make some quick calculations of the velocity that these heavenly realms would have to move with respect to earth to maintain the time dilation effect.

Deva realms (heavens) Human to deva time ratio, γ Velocity of heavens with respect to earth as fraction of light speed, v/c Difference from speed of light by this fraction (1-v/c)
Four great kings 18262.5 0.99999999850084 1.50E-09
Tavatimsa 36525 0.99999999962521 3.75E-10
Yama 73050 0.99999999990630 9.37E-11
Tusita 146100 0.99999999997658 2.34E-11
Devas who delight in creation 292200 0.99999999999414 5.86E-12
Devas who control what is created by others 584400 0.99999999999854 1.46E-12

Students of special relativity would recognise the γ as commonly used in special relativistic calculations. The notation at the last column is that E represents “times ten to the power of”. Anyway, that value seems more appropriate to compare given that all the heavens are moving very close to the speed of light.

A more interesting calculation follows, since there are six heavens who has to maintain their relative time dilation with earth and thus each other, we simplify our model and assume that the are all moving in the same one direction in a straight line so that we can calculate what each heavens perceive the other heavens velocity with respect to them are.

Deva realms (heavens) Velocity as fraction of light speed with respect to Four great kings Velocity as fraction of light speed with respect to Tavatimsa Velocity as fraction of light speed with respect to Yama Velocity as fraction of light speed with respect to Tusita Velocity as fraction of light speed with respect to Devas who delight in creation Velocity as fraction of light speed with respect to Devas who control what is created by others
Four great kings 0.0000 -0.6000 -0.8824 -0.9692 -0.9922 -0.9980
Tavatimsa 0.6000 0.0000 -0.6000 -0.8824 -0.9692 -0.9922
Yama 0.8824 0.6000 0.0000 -0.6000 -0.8824 -0.9692
Tusita 0.9692 0.8824 0.6000 0.0000 -0.6000 -0.8824
Devas who delight in creation 0.9922 0.9692 0.8824 0.6000 0.0000 -0.6000
Devas who control what is created by others 0.9980 0.9922 0.9692 0.8824 0.6000 0.0000

There is a certain regularity in velocity distance between the heavens, with only the direct adjacent one being relatively close in velocity space. For those not familiar with the velocity transformation in special relativity, there is no error, even through Yama heavens is moving at 0.6c with respect to Tavatimsa and Tavatimsa moving at 0.6c with respect to Four great kings, their velocity addition would indeed result in 0.8824c, consistent with how nature sets the speed of light as the upper speed limit for things. Negative velocity just means that they see the other heavens below them moving in the other direction with respect to them. I have chosen the number of significant figures to display for clarity since these are purely theoretical calculations with no plans for any experimental measurements.

What follows will be pure speculation. One of the naturally occurring structure in nature which is a straight line and travelling close to the speed of light are the jets shoot out from the top and bottom of rapidly spinning massive compact interstellar objects like neutron stars and black holes. The devas could easily use their technology to anchor their homes onto the jets and enjoy years of time dilation. However, this would run counter to the requirement that each gods are to be with their solar system. Unless it is just that they are assigned to or associated with a solar system and does not have to be physically be close to it, since they have the ability to instant travel.

These would support time dilation for devas as aliens, advanced intelligence and dark matter beings.

Let us not stop here but proceed on to the realm of general relativity to investigate the possibility of gravitational time dilation to account for the time dilation between the devas and human worlds.

General Relativity Time Dilation for Devas

Special relativity is called special because it only tells us how velocities transforms between inertial frames of references. General relativity includes accelerated frames of references by noting that our inertial mass is the same as our gravitational mass. Thus if we woke up trapped in a sufficiently small elevator, we cannot tell for sure if the elevator is in a gravitational well of a planet, or had been taken out to space and accelerating upwards with the constant magnitude of our earth’s gravitational pull. Or if we experience weightlessness in the elevator, we cannot tell if the elevator is falling down into the centre of a planet, or we are floating in free space, far from gravitational influences, with no acceleration.

By using the mass equivalence of inertial and gravitational mass, Einstein had a breakthrough to understanding how light behaves in gravitational wells. Imagine you are in a laboratory in a rocket in free space. A light came through a window of the rocket at the same time the rocket is accelerating upwards. The light doesn’t get pushed to go up like you are, so you see the light is falling to the floor of the rocket in a parabolic curve just like any massive object would. So by using the equivalence principle, light is bent in a gravitational well as well. Wait a minute, light is supposed to be of zero mass, how can it be pulled by gravity then? It is because light follows the curvature of spacetime and massive objects just curves the spacetime such that light is bent when trying to move in its straight path via curved spacetime.

The notion that massive objects curve spacetime and spacetime curvature in turns tell how things move is the essence of Einstein’s general relativity equation. From this equation, many predictions had been done, different from the prediction of Newton’s theory of gravity and one by one they are verified by experiments. The latest being the existence of gravitational waves which was emitted by two black holes merging together. Gravitational waves are waves of spacetime which carries energy out from that event. As gravity is the weakest force of all, it takes extremely massive object like black holes to accelerate (when they merge) to produce enough ripples of spacetime to distort the length the bars in our gravitational wave detectors.

From Einstein’s equations, we got to know that gravity also slows time down and can calculate exactly how much using a relatively simple formula which took a massive effort to be derived. I used two days of calculation on the following results, following textbooks examples and some guide from the internet. First off, there is a simple solution to the Einstein’s equation called the Schwarzschild Geometry. This is the spherically symmetric solution, valid for non-rotating spherical objects like planets, stars, black holes.

The closer to the Schwarzschild radius of the astrophysical object the more time slows down. Schwarzschild radius for a black hole is its event horizon, the point of no return, the surface where the escape velocity becomes light speed. For our sun, the Schwarzschild radius is about 3km. Since there are some of the masses of the sun which is outside its Schwarzschild radius, (the radius of the sun is 6.955*105 km) it does not become a black hole. The Schwarzschild solution only works for the surfaces outside of the mass distribution, so inside the sun, the gravitational pull decreases compared to its surface as there are less mass within to contribute to the gravitational pull. This also means that if we somehow manage to squeeze the sun into smaller than its Schwarzschild radius, it will become a black hole.

If the Sun were to magically turn into a black hole, the Earth would not magically be sucked into it. It would still feel the exact same gravitational pull and revolves around the Sun once a year. The awesome gravitational pull of a black hole is only immense the smaller it is and the closer to the event horizon of the black hole we go. Objects can still orbit around the black hole in a stable orbit at three times its event horizon. Within that until 1.5 times its event horizon, there can be unstable orbits and if an object without any means to accelerate were to venture into range of less than 1.5 times the event horizon of a black hole, it would get sucked into it.

If there are powerful rockets, there is still a chance to escape from the black hole within the range of 1.5 times its event horizon. However, once an object crosses into the event horizon of a black hole, it is doomed to be sucked to its centre, the singularity, no matter how powerful rockets you use. As the radius of the event horizon increases proportional to its mass, a massive black hole can be quite big.

Normally, when we pack stuffs to a spherical object, its density remains the same, so its volume increases proportional to its mass. So its radius increases proportional to one third the power of its mass. That is a much slower increase compared to a black hole.

In the centre of nearly every galaxy, we found supermassive black holes, of the mass of the order of millions to billions of our solar mass. Our solar mass is 1.989*1030 kg, already pretty heavy. So the event horizon of these supermassive black holes can be found by multiplying its mass in terms of our solar mass to our sun’s Schwarzschild radius. Recall that the amount of time slowing down is on how close it is to the Schwarzschild radius, so our gods will have to live at some narrow range near the event horizon of supermassive black holes to fit into their described time dilation effect.

Just thinking of it using futurist projection and some sociological thinking, if an advanced race of aliens have sufficient technology to build homes near the unstable orbits of supermassive black holes to take advantage of the time dilation, they might just do that. This is partly to survive longer. Interstellar distances are too big, and the speed of light too low, so to maintain any form of galactic empire, it is very difficult to wait for the traffic to arrive from various parts of the galaxy. The galactic centre would also face many changes politically within the thousands of years for just businesses conducted near the centre of the galaxy. So to maintain a stable and long lasting galactic centre, parking it near gravitational time dilation sources would be a good idea. It allows time to flow fast at the rest of the galaxy and still able to maintain some form of continuity for the galactic empire throughout massive amount of time.

However, the gravitational pull they will feel at the radius of around 1.5 times the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy is around 1.69 million ms-2. Compare that to our the pull at the surface of the earth 9.8 ms-2, we conclude that only advanced intelligence race can make use of the smaller range of supermassive black holes, whose mass is around four million times the mass of our sun. At the higher end range of the supermassive black hole, of 50 billion solar mass, the gravitational pull at around 2 times the event horizon distance is 76ms-2, which will be suitable for some hardy form of alien biology to survive and live there.

Another concern is the height of the heavens available to the beings who chooses to live near supermassive black holes. Closer to the black hole, one would get more time dilated. As each heavens have a fixed time dilation to maintain, the lower heavens (which sits on top, further away from the centre of the supermassive black hole) will have some limit to go down before hitting the heavens which is twice as long time dilated as it is. So the height of each heavens are fixed depending on the mass of the supermassive black hole if we assume that the devas would live there.

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I think this contradicts other suttas with devas involved. For example in DN 21 Sakka gets converted, but also reports that

This one time, sir, the Buddha was staying near Sāvatthī in the frankincense-tree hut… But at that time the Buddha was sitting immersed in some kind of meditation… ‘It’s the wrong time to see the Buddha’

So he disappeared again. Also think of the numerous times Brahma Sahampati beams into and out of our realm.

Sure, if Sakka is “very fast” in his realm he could still achieve to appear to the Buddha several times. But even that speed wouldn’t fit with MN 37: Here the Buddha teaches Sakka, Sakka beams home, Moggallana checks up on Sakka shortly afterwards and already finds Sakka in the middle of a party. With time dilation Moggallana would barely catch Sakka making the first steps towards his palace, let alone being in the middle of an activity with musicians.

So the time dilation idea would require to dismiss some sutta accounts at least.

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Maybe it’s only for the sensual realm devas.

For the Brahma realms, the sutta below: SN6.14 SuttaCentral—discourses seems to suggest that time in Brahma realm is the same as human realm. Or else how can the speech be heard so clearly? If time is longer in Brahma realm, then the speech would be slowed down a lot on earth.

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Neutrino energies | All Things Neutrino (fnal.gov)
Range of neutrino energies: 10^-6 eV to 10^18 eV.

Using very crude Newtonian physics, (should use relativistic corrections, but I am not familiar with it),

GMm/r^2 = m v^2/r

m= mass of neutrino gets cancelled out. We use M= mass of entire solar system, as I guess r would be super big. r, being the radius of the orbit of devas as neutrinos as suggested by Bhante @sujato. If r turns out to be too big, we might have to discard the idea.

v is just practically c, speed of light.
M= 1.0014* (1.98847±0.00007)×10^30 kg

Plug in the numbers, r = GM/v^2 G * 1.0014* (1.98847)×10^30 kg/ c^2 - Wolfram|Alpha (wolframalpha.com)

r=1479 meters, from the centre of the solar system (basically sun).

Nope, we got an error here. This result would make sense if the sun is a black hole smaller than 1.479 km in radius. Even if the sun magically becomes a black hole, the radius of the resulting black hole would be around 3km.

As it is, our intuition of neutrinos being too fast to capture in orbit is right. Even black holes cannot capture them in circular motion outside of their event horizon.

So the whole idea of goldilocks zone goes down the drain. It’s not just for neutrinos, any attempt of simulating time dilation via special relativity, that is to boost orbital speed up to near the speed of light is doomed, the centripetal force cannot come from gravity alone. Even black holes cannot hold them stable.

Edit add on:

Event Horizon, Singularity and Photon Sphere of a Black Hole | Physics Feed

There are photon spheres around black holes, that is light in orbit around black holes, but it’s unstable. And photons experiences zero proper time, so no time dilation effect is possible. Devas as light itself doesn’t help explain the time dilation effect. Doesn’t explain how devas experiences time to pass personally.

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Time is probably in the sense of the experience of time.

Speech as we know it is likely not used but more of telepathic transfer of ideas, concepts and understanding.

Wow Ven, that’s amazing, an actual physics analysis! So it looks like the Goldilocks idea doesn’t work, at least as currently postulated. Still one of the reasons it attracted me was that it was testable: even if we don’t know the mechanism we can still (in theory) test it. And your analysis shows that it is amenable to treatment in physical terms.

Well, I guess I’ll let it percolate, perhaps something else will come!

Don’t give up! I think it’s an area that rewards serious attention, and you are one of the few people with the skills. I think it’s only reasonable to expect that not everything will fit neatly into a physics model, what’s remarkable is how many things do.

Yes, I would not assume that the Sutta accounts are going to be 100% consistent. I mean, on the whole the cosmology is pretty coherent and rational, but still.

What struck me in this case was the convergence of several features, each of which seemed to relate directly to relativity.

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Lots of interesting comments here. I could make a general comment that observing time-dilation (one person getting older slower) from special relativity (i.e. motion) requires that person to have gone through accelerations, e.g. accelerate to travel to another star, accelerate to turn around, accelerate to slow down on return. Otherwise the two people will never be back in the same place, where they can meaningfully compare their ages.

However, the acceleration could be constant, such a spacecraft in orbit around the earth (or a particle being accelerated in a circle in a particle accelerator). In that case, the special-relativity effect is that the clocks on the spacecraft will appear to run slower, which is readily observable with modern atomic clocks and radio communication.

For general relativity effects (gravity) the difference is also observable by sending messages back and forth. This has practical effects - the clocks in GPS satellites run faster than clocks on earth. There is some cancellation between the effect of the orbital motion described in the previous paragraph, and the effect of gravity, but for the GPS satellites the gravity effect wins because they are relatively high and slow.

The overall effect is that the orbiting clocks on the GPS satellites will run faster.
The total fractional effect is about +4.5 × 10^-10 (0.00000000045).
This doesn’t sound like much but it’s about 40,000 ns (nanoseconds) per day, and since light travels 30 cm in one ns, this correction is critical to GPS navigation, otherwise there would be a drift equivalent to a distance error of 12km per day…

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This just in:

Castelvecchi, D., ‘How light is a neutrino? The answer is closer than ever’, Nature, 14 February 2022,
(accessed 14 February 2022).

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The image of the “4 Great Kings sweating to visit our world every 2-3 minutes” comes to mind. (based on AN 3.37) :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

Screen Shot 2022-02-16 at 22.35.45

It’s been a great read so far, can’t wait to read the rest of this thread. :heart:

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This is interesting Bhante @sujato.

There was a philosopher who made the observation that the reality we experience depends on our rate of perception. For example, if we speed up the rate of our perception, a fly’s wings would slow down and eventually stop.

Increasing the rate of perception even more would result in us ceasing to see matter and seeing waves (light) instead.

I’ve wondered whether this leads to the possibility that the deva realm is right here, but time shifted.

Mindfulness and jhana development would presumably allow us to be faster in our perception, hence the relationship between jhana and accessing the devas realms.

Possible, but requiring confirmation through science or jhana though I suspect science won’t get there in our lifetime …

Best wishes Bhante.

Right. Hmm. This is even more speculative, but I wonder if the rate of perception is tied to the speed of light in some fundamental way?

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Bhante, I think you may be correct. I’m not a physicist, but I believe Einstein’s theory of relativity has implications for the perception of time (when you travel closer to the speed of light, subjective time slows down?).

Just googling the phrase ‘rate of perception is tied to the speed of light, relativity’ brings up some interesting links, but you’re best to have someone else explain them to you!

This is something I’ve noticed living in the forest for a while now: bigger creatures (humans, deer, etc) have slower reaction times than smaller animals (monkeys, squirrels, etc) and the insects generally have the fastest reaction times of all. I always assumed it just takes a longer time for electrical signals to make their way through larger brains. There’s also a bit of a correlation with lifespan too, as smaller creatures tend to have shorter lifespans, while whales are slow and long-lived in addition to large.

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I have been making up a reply to this thread for a few days now and it became unmanageably long so I will stick to a more condensed version (yes, what follows is a condensed version!! :grin:) and bring in a different perspective; starting from where we are instead of including further unknowns in what is already a speculation. This is definitely a biased point of view based on my own research trajectory, which started off with gravitational waves (big) then quantum fields and Bose-Einstein condensates (small) and eventually settled onto the scale of tangible things, a field called soft matter physics (middle).

For several curious features mentioned in the suttas, my first instinct also was to invoke relativity, extra dimensions, dark matter etc. but then I started to think more along the lines of how could such things be plausible using only the ideas we know so far (with reasonable certainty) with possibly a moderate extension, without invoking unknown conjectured entities like dark matter, dark energy, parallel universes etc. I am only speculating about beings somewhat advanced than humans, not all the types mentioned in DN27 (unified in body and/or unified in perception etc.)

If we look at non-living and living entities on earth, they fall on a spectrum of a mix of matter and electromagentic (EM) energy that moves around. The proportion of each in the composition is crucial. Rocks for example are mostly all matter and very little mobile EM fields or energy. Plants have minimal EM component and mostly are solids, fluids, and gas exchangers. Animals and humans have a more refined composition with a matter based “plumbing” system with an EM energy component for sensory apparatus. It appears to me that this ratio of matter to EM components could decide all sorts of things like longevity, various powers and abilities, and so forth (I just read the observation by @Khemarato.bhikkhu - the reasons for that is metabolic, biological. Tardigrades can stay in stasis in vaccum indefinitely, apparently, and come back to life).
The biggest problem with matter is that it has inertia; it takes force to move it around and keep it moving. It takes a lot more force or energy to pump blood constantly than to keep a current flowing. So, any being with predominantly EM constituents and minimal matter would be “finer”, easier to maintain, and longer lasting.
A good candidate for such a spatially confined and organized entity could be one made up of cold plasma (ionized gas) and EM signaling network like we have or better, with minimal matter component. Right now, we confine cold plasma in glass casing (fluorescent lights) but all it needs is a stronger EM field around it. The same with sensory EM signals; we have a network of nerves (flexible matter tubes) but it only needs some kind of conduit to support solitary traveling waves (solitons). These are waves that retain their shape over long distances and don’t disperse like normal light.
A few salient points:

  1. For the time scale difference (DN23): There doesn’t have to be large scale relativistic motion of the whole system. The time clock of even an individual life form made up predominantly of EM fields would be much much slower because almost everything inside of them is moving at the speed of light.
  2. It also sort of accounts for rarity of their visits— every time such a being has to appear and stabilize itself in high gravity and dense atmosphere, a lot of energy and adjustments are needed and very importantly like in Hatthaka’s case, temporarily acquire more matter and change the matter to EM ratio. This has not only energy costs but it costs them in terms of life-span. Their clocks will run much faster for the duration of the visit.
  3. An additional point not mentioned in OP is about devas lighting up the sky or a forest when they appear. That can happen for two reasons— one is because they are made of predominantly EM fields (light) and hence are radiant and the other is when charged particles traveling close to speed of light are forced to travel through a matter medium, they emit Cherenkov radiation. It is like a sonic boom for sound. This is actually seen as a blue glow around nuclear reactors in water.

An even better candidate is an entity made up of Bose-Einstein condensate or a superfluid and superconducting components for EM transmissions. Such a being, once “switched on” or alive would function for thousands of years without any decay.
It would also remain in a coherent state (like a laser that doesn’t disperse like normal light) and maintain its shape. In this state of matter, a lot of particles can be collapsed into a low energy state and they experience no resistance to motion.

About the realms and kamma: From DN27 (which has a lot of interesting physics parallels including conversion of light energy into matter) I inferred that there were no heavenly or separate realms in the beginning. The realms seem to appear when there are sufficient number of beings with similar kamma. It could be the collective kamma of beings that brings and keeps these realms in existence.

About location: There doesn’t have to be a separate location, although that is the most likely scenario, but a predominantly EM being could be right next to us and we would not be able to detect them or mistake them as arising from some banal source.
A noteworthy point here is that both Indian and Chinese medicine systems have posited a network of pure energy channels in the body mirroring the network of nerves but distinct in nature. No such energy flow structure has ever been observed scientifically so it is possible that we do not have fine enough instruments to detect that type of energy or it could be a new phase of matter or energy.

Finally, let us not forget the greatest mystery of all the imbalance of matter and antimatter. There should be equal amount of them but there is practically no antimatter around and it is all matter on our side of the observable universe (here, the neutrinos may hold the key). Maybe the devas gobbled it all up!

This speculation is a lot of fun and can be quite distracting and time consuming if pursued without restraint, which is why I try not to do it too often :laughing:

Good analysis using normal scale science! I didn’t think it very seriously. It could fit into the advanced aliens or advanced intelligence (AI) category then for what could devas be.

It would be interesting if we can have all the EM wave readers as the cameras on everyone’s phone, then people can help record and scan the whole earth to search for these beings. Ghost or gods hunting.

It would make it more likely if there are aliens who maintain the low temperature needed. As it is, I dunno if there’s anything natural out there that can be cooler than the cosmic background microwave radiation (3K), which is too hot for BEC.

Is my elaboration here correct? Say devas A and B are reborn in the 4 great king deva realm at the same time. They are supposed to die together, all else being equal, due to the same lifespan. We posit the internal subjective lifespan and the external time lifespan as separate time keeping device. Say their internal time should be 500 celestial year lifespan. Translate to human measurement of measuring external lifespan, we see a 50*360 times * the 500 celestial lifespan = 9 million human years.

Deva B likes to visit humans and manifest themselves to humans, he totalled one whole year of his lifespan out of 500 to visit humans. He returns to deva A who never visited humans and compare the time they would die. B dies first, then A. Deva A checks and confirms that he dies 17999 human years after B dies, which to him, is the subjective time of just under 1 year.

Deva A reflects that deva B claimed to have spend 1 year of his subjective time in human realm, but A only sees B gone for a total of about half an hour from the deva realm. So comparing only the subjective lifespan, going to human realm for half an hour, makes the deva dies about 1 year earlier. Although it’s fair in the sense of same subjective time.

A lot of assumptions about lifespan, time translation between deva and human realm here.