Most of these introductory articles are exracted from Volume I of the Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn al-Arabi's View of Time and Creation... more on this can be found here.
Creation Scenario: the World as a Movie
Creation Scenario: the World as a Movie:
Later Muslim writers, especially the great masters of mystical poetry in Persian and other Eastern Islamic languages, developed a great range of familiar symbolic forms intended to elaborate and communicate the basic Qur’anic imagery for the cosmological processes and their symbolic expression that we have discovered in the writings of Ibn al-Arabi. One of the most powerful and multi-faceted of those images was Ibn al-Arabi's famous account - reminiscent of the Sun-Line-Cave section of Plato's Republic - of the universe as a vast 'shadow-theatre', a true 'divine Comedy' (Morris 1993: 50-69). Thus in contemporary terms, based on the concept of perpetual cosmic re-creation that we have explained above, we may envisage the world as like a movie being displayed on a computer monitor. It is quite fascinating to discover that this analogy is quite accurate in most of the details, even regarding what happens inside the computer, since the Universal Intellect/Perfect Human Being/Pen can be considered as a kind of 'supercomputer' which creates, organizes the world and displays it in the 'Universal Tablet' (of the world-Soul). Ibn al-Arabi already asserted that the world appears as 'living, hearing, seeing, knowing, willing, able and speaking' with the same seven fundamental Attributes of the Real. This is because the world is His divine work, and as Allah said: Say: 'everyone works according to his own type' (17:84) [II.438.19]. This is also equivalent to what we have repeatedly noted: that the Perfect Human Being and the world (including its human beings) are all created 'according to the Form/Image' of the Real, and that they are also the second-level shadows of the Real (see for example [I.163.20, II.652.25, III.343.25], and also: [Kanz: 1142, 1148]).
Likewise the computer today is certainly created as a certain kind of 'image' of some specific aspects of the human mind, and certainly the way the computer works resembles the human mind in many respects. However the shadow or the image in the mirror (or photocopier) resembles at best only one facet of the original. Likewise human beings, for example, do not fully resemble the Real, just as computers do not (and cannot) fully resemble humans in many other respects.
As we have seen, Ibn al-Arabi repeatedly showed that in many respects both the world and the essential (spiritual) human being work in the same way. That is why he generally considers the world as a great human being (al-insan al-kabir) and the human being as microcosm (‘alam saghir) [III.11.18]. Just as our own world is essentially constituted by the meanings, images and states that are reflected in our spirit, soul and intellect, so the world also reflects the divine 'meanings' brought into creation by the Universal Intellect, so that the phenomena that we perceive are the doubly reflected forms of these original meanings. However, Ibn al-Arabi also repeatedly asserts that the world would not exist if the observing 'eye'/'I' of the viewer was not also always there. So because of the underlying reality of the created world as essentially 'imaginal' forms or multiple 'reflections'/shadows, we can only understand the cosmos if we understand how we perceive it, since for Ibn al-Arabi it is all ultimately, and quite literally 'in the mind' - albeit a different kind of 'Mind' at each level of manifestation.
It is known that the movie which is displayed on the cinema screen is composed of a large number of succeeding still pictures that pass rapidly before the eye at very short intervals, so that the human mind observes only smooth changes between those rapidly successive pictures. By running this movie at the proper speed we feel (by illusion) as if a normal motion of objects and images is happening on the screen. So if we suppose that the screen has no visible edges, and especially with the new technology of three-dimensional (laser holography) movies, it would be very hard initially to distinguish this illusion from reality.
Now if we examine how the picture is displayed on the screen of the computer monitor, we realize that it is even more closely similar to Ibn al-Arabi's view of creation. In this way the whole cosmos is a combination and rapid succession of imaginal forms (images/reflections/'shadows') that are created by or through the Single Monad in a similar manner to the single electron beam which is creating the picture on the computer screen one pixel at a time.
As Ibn al-Arabi has pointed out, the Single Monad is continuously and perpetually 'wearing' new forms which make us see and otherwise experience motion. When we open our eyes we see a picture of many things around us, and if we keep on watching we see things moving. Each mental picture is also created in series and not all at once, as we have noted before (section V.5 and V.6). In every single instance and at each single point of space there exists a monad with a specific unique form, and we have explained before (sections III.15 and IV.1) that it takes the Monad a full divine 'Week' of creation to appear in this form, but this divine Week for us is like a single instant. This same monad, still in the same instant of time - for us, but a full divine 'Week' for the Monad itself, since we only exist for one moment in this Week: see section III.6 - takes another form but in another point of space, and so on. So in one single instant the picture that we see is a combination of a huge number of reflected forms of the same Single Monad. He/It scans the whole of space at no time (for us) and without real motion (on the part of the Single Monad), because space itself is what we subjectively experience as a consequence of the succession of forms within this monad, and motion is meaningless when we talk about one single all-encompassing entity. It takes the monad a full 'Week' of creation (i.e. seven 'Days of event': one for each direction of space - up, down, right, left, front and back, and one for the observer - time) to scan all the states in the cosmos, but since each one of us is one single state - as observers, not as bodies - we live a single moment in each full 'Week of event', in which we observe the other states around and within us as the traces or memory of the forms left over by the Monad after it has created those states. Ibn al-Arabi succinctly referred to this cosmological fact, in a favourite image of the later mystical poets, right in his Forward (khutba) to the Futuhat, when he said:
Then He released the Breath, so the water waved because of its vibration and foamed… Then the water diffidently withdrew and returned back heading for the middle, and it left over its foam on the shore that it produced. So it (the world) is the churning of this water that contains most things.
The 'water' here refers to the Single Monad itself (or the Greatest Element: Al-Mu‘jam Al-Sufi: 812-7, 826-8) because (in the famous expression of the Qur’an) 'every thing was created from the Water', and the 'foam' is the created forms (or their images) left over by the Single Monad after it has 'scanned' into existence the created world (in six divine Days) and then returned back to the middle to start over a new picture [II.438.3] on Saturday. That is why Ibn al-Arabi also affirms that the cosmological 'ruler' of the last Day of time (Saturday) has the ability of holding and fixing (i.e., memory), in order to hold the cosmic picture and integrate it with what follows (see also section III.5 above, Saturday as the Day of Eternity).
When this perpetual creative process is conceptually 'stopped' and taken in isolation, all this will form a kind of 'still picture' of things around us, including ourselves both as bodies (matter) and as spirits or states of realisation (meanings). Within this conception, the dynamic manifest world, then, is the instantaneous, continuously renewed succession of these slightly changing still pictures. As we showed in section II.6, motion is observed because things successively appear in different places, but indeed there is no actual motion: for the observed objects are always at rest in the different positions that they appear in. Allah is constantly re-creating the cosmos in ever-renewed forms.
Now what we have just mentioned is exactly like what happens on the screen of the computer monitor: when we look at the screen at any instant of time, we see a still picture that is composed of an array of dots (pixels) in the two dimensions of the plane of the screen (for example 800 horizontal by 600 vertical pixels). This still picture is made by a single electron beam that scans the screen over and over again, one pixel at a time. It starts from the bottom left corner of the screen and scans horizontally all the 800 pixels (one line), then it switches back to the left to make the second line, and so on till all the screen is scanned, ending up by the upper right corner; then it switches back to start a new picture from the bottom left corner again in the same way. Because this process is performed at very high speed or refresh rates (around a hundred million times per second), we only see a continuous picture in the two dimensions; we never see the pixels being drawn one by one. By watching the succession of pictures, we observe motion. While the beam creates them, each pixel on the screen wears a specific form of a different colour and intensity that (slightly) changes from one still picture and instant to the other. This momentary form that the pixels wear every time they are scanned lasts only during the very short time while the beam is in its place. Once the beam leaves the pixel to the next one, the form vanishes intrinsically; we only see the traces of these forms for a short time till they are scanned again to wear a new form.
In terms of Ibn al-Arabi's understanding of the cosmogonic process, the electron beam here is like the Single Monad/Pen/Intellect; the screen is like both our imagination and outwardly or objectively, the effective 'substrate' of creation that Ibn al-Arabi calls 'the Dust': al-‘ama’); while the cosmos is like the series of pictures on the screen, which are printed on our imagination and in the Universal Tablet. Ibn al-Arabi's description of the world is identical to this example of the computer monitor, even the names that he gives to the Single Monad as the 'Higher Pen' and to the cosmic Soul as the 'Higher Tablet', indicate that the process of creation is similar to the process of a pen's writing on a tablet, which is also similar to the electron-beam writing on the screen. To take yet another of Ibn al-Arabi's most favoured cosmological images, we creatures are the 'letters' and the 'words' that are spoken by the Creator (through the creative, existentiating 'Breath of the All-Merciful'), after having been written down by the Higher Pen on the Higher Tablet (see section VII.8 [Superstrings and the Science of Letters]).
With a closer examination of this example, we can now realize the meaning of the intertwined days, the taken-out days, and also the significance of the (normal) week and Saturday - as the Day of Eternity - , that we explained in Chapters III and IV. If an observer was in one point of the computer screen (as we are individually in one specific place in the world), a week for him would be a combination of 800 by 600 instances of 800 by 600 'Weeks of events', because each point will be present (created) only while the electron-beam is on it, so it stays only one part of the 800 by 600 pixels 'created' during each run (original Week/Day). Similarly, each entity in the world lives only one 'instant' (that equals an outwardly observable day over the entirety of entities in the world) in each 'Week' of creation: i.e., only the time when the Single Monad creates it or appears in its form. Therefore, a week for this point would be a combination of different instants of many other Weeks of the original Weeks of events. Also, because Saturday is the divine Day of manifest creation when each entity realizes itself - and it does not realize itself (nor the world) while being created in the other six Days (see section III.6) - we, as entities living in the world, realize only the Saturdays' instances, those that are manifest in time. Therefore, all our life (as time) is Saturday, while the world as space is the other six Days. In other words; the motion of the electron beam horizontally and vertically on the screen creates the space in which the picture is viewed. This is identical to the cosmic Week-Days of creation from Sunday to Friday, while the motion when the electron beam returns from the right-top to the lower-left corner is identical to Saturday or the manifest instant of time, because time is the motion by which we observe the succession of the pictures.
In section VII.10, we shall talk about dimensions in more detail, but it is good to remember here what we have already said in section II.11 about the two cycles of life (see in particular Figure II.1). The screen of the computer monitor is of course two-dimensional (2-D). So the starting of the scanning of the screen from the lower-left corner resembles the starting of the world by creating the Real (0-D) as the pixel itself, and then the angels in 1-D. This in the real world, according to Ibn al-Arabi's account of the astrological cycle of life, takes 11,000 years; but for the case of the computer monitor it takes a very short but also fixed time, in which a fixed number of motions or jumps happen - 800 pixels for example. Then after finishing the first line and by starting the second one, this scanning/creating process moves us into two dimensions, to start the world of jinn, while the 1-D world of angels continues. The scanning of the 2-D screen continues until it is finished after a short but fixed time. There is no third dimension in normal computer monitors, but there is in the outside world: there, according to Ibn al-Arabi, when this manifest stage of creation starts after 54,000 years, it marks the creation of dunya ('this lower world'). Then the after-world starts in yet another dimension (4-D) - according to Ibn al-Arabi after 9,000 more years, although we have not moved yet into it (see section VII.10).
It is fascinating to notice that this analogy between the world and the computer applies to many of the details - not only with regard to the visible manifest world, but also to the spiritual world that is analogous to the processor, the memory, the hard disk and the software running inside the computer. It is enough to notice that the processor of the computer - no matter how fast it may be and how many jobs it may do very quickly - can only do one elementary job at a time. So from outside we see multiple jobs and multiple images, running and interacting, but from inside only one thing is manipulating all that, one by one, in series, one single bit at a time. For example when we say that the speed of the computer central processing unit is 3.4 GHz, this means that it can manipulate 3.4 billion bits every one second, and the bit is the smallest peace of information, which is the digital state of either 1 or 0, yes or no. This is indeed a huge speed, yet surely the speed of the Single Monad creating the world is much larger, as Allah plainly said: and He is the fastest of all calculators (6:62) - although this is normally interpreted with regard to the Judgement Day.
 Like the English pun, Ibn al-Arabi frequently plays with the fact that the same Arabic word (‘ayn) refers at once to the observing 'eye', the concrete individual entity (of the observer), and to their ultimate Source. See also: Kitab al-Azal: 9.