Friday, July 21, 2017

What happens to you and me when we due?

This week I witnessed an intense debate for and against the idea of afterlife. I proposed a view quite different from the usual extremes:

Actually, as I near 70th birthday, a year after cancer surgery, I experience a more practical reason to be more concrete about how I view death in my personal planning.
Most people fall into the usual trap of a bias towards black or white thinking on the issue.
I really like Connie Willis's  inspired novel Passages on the issue of life after death, from a more sensitive and less formal black and white viewpoint. She does not endorse the Mickey mouse mundane view that "nothing at all survives death ever" but deeply and sensitively disputes the naive idea that we are the same after death, that we appear as our normal selves in some Bardo or other, to be judged where to walk with our normal two legs.

If in reality we as individuals are a symbiosis or "alchemical marriage" of mundane body and "soul" (which is easier for me to fit with science and with experience both), then of course after death we are missing something quite serious. How serious? It varies from person to person. As Bennett says, in his book popularizing Gurdjieff, which I translate as: "If you have important data to save, put it on hard disk."

For this blog, I should go further on a few obvious questions.

First, I never joined any of the various Gurdjieff schools or groups. At Harvard graduate school, I had two very close friends who did – one a fellow graduate student in the El primo scholarship based in France, set up by ouspensky, and another an undergraduate in the number two group based on Bennett in England. I did read all three of Gurdjieff’s books, and one by Bennett and ouspensky each.

Second, what can I say about the specific methods they propose for “putting your data (and other key information) on hard disk, more permanent storage”? Those schools had their own incredible personality issues and distractions and red herrings; I do not endorse all of that. Above all, in discussing ethics or the meaning of life, gurdjieff suggested  (as a very rough generalization) that people go through three levels of spiritual motivation as they mature: “to know, to do, to be.”
Yes, a lot of folks get frozen out as they pursue dry academic “knowledge” about life beyond the mundane. After a period of intense exploration by experiment (“to do”), they settle down to what matters objectively here (to be?). But in fact, it is usually not natural for a creature evolved from natural selection (on earth or in a larger ecology) to care only about prolongation of its own personal existence.
(E.O.Wilson’s book Sociobiology has some important gaps but deserves a lot more respect than the ideologues would allow it.) Thus is why I hesitate to say much more about the two core serious subgoals gurdjieff presents, the most reliable part of his approach: (1) “crystallization,” simply raising intelligence and knowledge in “the soul” based on mental challenges overlapping with the challenges we use to improve our brains; and (2) connection, in which we, like neurons within a brain, develop strong and energetic connections with other souls of the earth, ideally the earth as a whole.
Maybe these two are not so risky, if one remembers that they both require a high degree of honesty and altruism, higher emotional intelligence, without which many types of catastrophic breakdown can occur.

To that list I posted a few more details in another context:

I am depressed that anyone on this list would reassure us with absolute total conviction  that paranormal connections exist only in a tiny fraction of humanity, somewhere less than .01%. Work in Dean's community, and in western mystical disciplines, suggests that this is false. Priest kings following the tradition of ancient Sumeria have used that lie, and claims of their divinity, to control and repress both brains and souls, for millennia -- most recently support by a follower of Ayn Rand, Mercer, of Ted Cruz, as a cynical way to subvert democracy. (Just search Google news!) As with mathematics ability, another discipline of the mind, DNA does matter, but training (intensity and quality) matters more, and the abilities aren't so strictly personal as the priest kings seem to imagine.

Once again, I highly recommend the article "Are we a nation of mystics?" by Greeley and McCready (sp?), reprinted in Goleman anthology Consciousness, which everyone on this list should own. (I bought it for  $1 used on amazon.)
From what I have seen, paranormal abilities have some analogy to mathematical abilities.  Dean rightly notes that only a small fraction of the people who come to him for testing show dramatic and reliable results, though 30% show something memorable. The classic book Mind Race by Puthoff and Targ sounds similar, and highlights two very special subjects, Swann and Price.

But what if Dean were testing for understanding of the mathematics of general relativity? The percentage of reasonable understanding would be even less -- but would be very much a function of education. Many people who COULD understand the basics of general relativity never do, because their education and motivation does not lead them there. Education in basic mathematics and general relativity is far more available than education in how to use inner powers of mind.  Yoga, AND people like Dean and Julia, have the potential to help close the gap. In truth, I wish for a world where both types of education are more prevalent and effective-- and I believe they support each other because discipline of the mind works best in am integrated way.

I have also been recently near the places of Carl Jung, and people who spoke about the synergy of music, Mathematics and mysticism.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Vedanta, brains, Qatar and threats to the President

This morning, I woke with a clear picture of what's really happening in the US right now. I summarized it to Luda, who said "Ah, but what can you do about it." My reply: "I have no idea. I certainly don't want to start new conflicts making life even worse for people." But an impossible series of coincidences did move me to say a few things ... a small initial part of the answer, maybe.

Part one, reply to a guy from the Vedanta list:


On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 6:10 AM, '... wrote (to someone else on the list):
[S.P.] I repeat for the second time: electric impulses (or the physical sensory signals) have nothing to do with my writing the replies. My reply is a product of my consciousness. Second. Electric impulses do not carry information.

I wonder. In writing the replies, did you actually use your hands, or did you use telekinesis?

If you used your hands, there were electrical impulses along the nerves of your hand. So electrical impulses had SOMETHING to do with it.

I have heard many people say "in my out of body experience, I felt a wonderful experience of being far more intelligent and conscious than in everyday life."
Yet Ingo Swann, who was one of the people most successful in displaying consciousness under such circumstances, discussed how he found it much harder to remember numbers in such situations than he did in ordinary life. Jane Roberts had some beautiful images in her "Oversoul" science fiction trilogy,
which somehow moved me more than her more formal ponderous writings did.

A physical brain is a really great thing to have and to use, as dependent as it is on electrical impulses. 
I am always reminded of the commercial "don't leave home without it." And don't be careless about chemical or electrical interventions that might weaken it, either for you or for others. 

I am reminded in a way of the time when my father had to retire, and lost access to many of his physical filing cabinets. 
"You have no idea how painful it is to be without that repository of information. They are my brains! Without them, without that information, I am far less intelligent and capable than I was." It really was a great loss to be without them. They really did contain useful information.

At times, when people ask me to explain in concrete, intelligible terms what Gurdjieff was really trying to tell people, I say:
"He said, if you have important information you want to save, work to put it on a more permanent place, like the hard disk. That doesn't mean just erasing or disrespecting what you currently have only in volatile storage."

Best of luck,



Part two, another vedanta post:

Every one of us has struggles we are called to face up to, for our spiritual evolution. This morning, it was really incredible for me to see two related messages next to each other in my inbox, one of them yours, especially:

On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 4:03 AM, .... wrote:

Thus, when you say about incompleteness of machines, it perhaps can be construed that it is part of the Evolutionary transition, as everything else.
Maybe. I see it as a step toward the contemplation era. Today we are in the "production era".

(And I just now note our reference to a book by Daniel Cohen, and I wonder whether it might possibly be the same Daniel Cohen I knew at Princeton long ago)

The other being an article from the Wall Street Journal, from a network aligned with the outgoing (lingering?) science policy czars:

A Hardware Update for the Human Brain

From Silicon Valley startups to the U.S. Department of Defense, scientists and engineers are hard at work on a brain-computer interface that could turn us into programmable, debuggable machines

EMILY BORGHARD has a computer inside her skull, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. A small bump behind her left ear, the only external evidence of her implant, is partially covered by a tuft of hair that’s still growing in from the last time she had the batteries changed.
Before Borghard received a brain implant, she was having as many as 400 “spikes” of seizure-like activity a day, along with multiple seizures. This unrelenting storm of abnormal neural activity turned her teenage years into a semiconscious nightmare.

The article strongly endorsed a vision of Brain Computer Interface explicitly intended to turn humans into well-controlled peripheral units of the Internet of Things, very similar to the helmets depicted in the most recent movie in the Star Wars sequence (or in the Winter Soldier movie which my son insisted I see).

One of the details which rattles me even more than it rattles you is the way they think of "spikes." It reminds me that all this heavy technological intervention is in fact based on deep ignorance of the actual neural code, as we see it in actual scientific analysis of 24khz data from higher centers of the brain:

See: Regular Cycles of Forward and Backward Signal Propagation in Prefrontal Cortex and in Consciousness, by Paul Werbos and Yeshua (J.J.) Davis, Front. Syst. Neurosci., 28 November 2016. (Note the clickable link to the open access paper.) It is "can do" manipulative intervention no more justified than the frontal lobotomies which once were popular.

The effect is not to develop deeper, higher bandwidth mundane communication, but rather to corrupt the reinforcement centers of the brain,
exactly like the opiate drugs which impair many people's spiritual growth along with their physical well-being, and convert people into puppets 
of greedy drug-dealers.

I do not see these stories as a call to go to extremes. On the one hand, we really are called to understand ourselves better, which includes the development of serious brain science and barin understanding as one part of it. Understanding the mathematics of intelligent systems also offers a kind of "reality testing" to our own higher intelligence, just as higher physics and pure mathematics do. But we are walking a difficult tightrope.
It is a difficult balance. These two inputs are only one example of contrasting, conflicting inputs spiralling out of balance, and it is not obvious how to stabilize the system while maintaining progress. 

But certainly the effort to being spiritual growth and science back into balance in human thinking is an important positive step.


The sheer shock of all the many things happening at once... well, if there is someone you trust, I am very tempted, just for reasons of personal sanity. 
People do need to get things off their chest. Then again, my wife is very intelligent, and talking to her can help me maintain sanity.

But even if the US is at risk of going the way of the Roman Empire... something I can see in quantitative terms... the survival of the species as such is more important. The message about the Antarctic and the need for geoengineering needs to get out, and if it can be done in an inflammatory but nonpartisan way, that would help.

This morning, I am stunned by the insane claims on CNN that the Saudi break with Qatar was a Russian plot motivated by Saudi misperception that Qatar supports Iran. This morning, the ISIS/ERdogan/Qatar people made it quite clear how they feel about Iran, and actively refute the "Russian claim"...
But just the day before, CNN reported what the Saudis actually said, which clearly shows this new claim is trash. 

Why did CNN repeat such an insane claim, and who put it out?

In a way, the core problem is corruption. Lots of Democrats know the important book Dark Money, as well as Brock's book, but not the final chapter of "A G Man's Journal," where he describes how a kind of deep corruption entered the top management of the US government. Clinton is fully aware of how dark money corrupts elections, but it is tragic how neither she nor Trump understand how it has gone even further to take over US government agencies. 
I have seen them fall like dominoes, one by one, but I do not believe it is appropriate that I personally go too far in naming names.
(Well, I have at times discretely said that the Congressional investigations should get deep into Lamar Smith, one of the central players in the network
threatening to engulf us all.)

The key problem is that when government agencies are for sale, they end up serving the highest bidder, and doddering old fundamentalist billionnaires in 
Turkey and Qatar (supported by their governments) and in  Saudi Arabia (whose government is trying to rise above all that now, and which even knows what a "Pareto optimum" is) feed into puppets like Smith who run folks like Comey. NO elected president, whether Clinton or Trump, is safe from their growing presumption that they should be running everything, and their top goal right now is to cause a war between US and Israel versus Russia and Iran, in order to cancel out both main obstacles to a truly global Third Caliphate. Trump has been utterly disgusting and embarrassing in many ways, as he shows all his worst thoughts to everyone, but there is a serious imminent risk of even worse by folks who are very calculating about hiding how awful their plans really are.


Trump would at times ask: "Where are the details of your methods and sources? Why don't you give them in detail on live TV?" There are many, many of those, and I am certainly not referring to psychic inputs without veridical corroboration. But unlike the folks who want to start a war, I do not want to waste energy on distraction. Nor do I have plans to show up on CNN.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

post to vedanta society on planes of existence

Many have asked: how could one reconcile the concept of planes of existence (as in etheric, astral, mental, whatever) with any of the variants of science, such as -- most extreme -- Einstein materialism?

Clearly one CANNOT reconcile concepts like astral worlds with utter debunking, in the school of Hansen, whom many have rightly complained about here. 
I do not really view that school as a branch of science, but as a branch of politics. 

Still, it is a big decision for scientists whether they believe at all in powers of the mind beyond what is seen in the normal mechanical functioning of neurons, glia and chemical flows in the brain. It is very understandable that many sincere scientists agree with the analysis of D.O. Hebb, in his important classic book, the Organization of Behavior, one of the two strands of thought which started the neural network field. (The other strand was the Von Neumann strand, quite different.)  Hebb argued that parapsychology is a beautiful example of Bayes' Law, where the probability of a theory after experience is proportional to its empirical likelihood, its fit to the data (technically pr(data|model)) multiplied by its prior likelihood. Since psychic powers are almost impossible, apriori, based on our understanding of physics, he argued that it is very unlikely in the end despite the fact (which he acknowledged freely) that it long ago passed all the standards normally used in psychology research.  That was my own view until spring of 1967, when the likelihood term became rather overwhelming and inescapable in my personal life, and I revised my views to 50-50. Once it was 50-50, I then looked further, and by 1971 or 1972 it was inescapable.  Psychic phenomena and objective reality BOTH are grounded in our minds based on experience, if we are fully sane, and not just engaging in florid fantasy and ego boosting.

But then: how could one reconcile the two of them, objective reality and the full range of experience? How to reintegrate?

The concept of planes of existence is tricky. I certainly remember, back in graduate school, respecting and resonating with yoga people exploring the planes of existence (not just with fantasy), but puzzled by what could really be going on here. 

There is a nice easy-to-read book "What Dreams May Come," somewhat better than the video version on Netflix, portraying one image of another plane of existence, not so different from many accounts of the astral plane. It is easy for people to resonate emotionally with that book, but not so easy to sort out in clear terms what it really implies if true. How to make it more completely coherent? How to get beyond the "sponge thinking" syndrome, where people believe in multiple inconsistent things with equal fervor at the same time?

In my view,  the vast bulk of serious, accurately reported experience of "other planes" and of "out of body experience" on this planet can be understood as travel not in some other physical world, but in the interior mental space of "the noosphere," the greater common mind we are part of, which some people call "Gaia" (though I do not add spurious associations to that). All brains we know of have many parts and levels of consciousness within them; as part of the noosphere, we can experience different levels and parts. The noosphere is not infinite and infallible, but RELATIVE TO US it seems that way.

How can noospheres exist in our cosmos? The explanation offered by folks like Teilhard de Chardin does not make sense in tough scientific terms, because evolution on one planet alone is not enough. But this past year, maps have become available showing the vast web of interconnection of dark matter (far more plentiful than the mundane/ordinary forms of matter understood as yet in mainstream physics) all across our cluster of galaxies. There has been plenty of time and scope for natural evolution of the whole species of noospheres. In my view, the simplest, most natural explanation (  is that "our" experience is the experience of a hybrid lifeform, a symbiosis of a mundane component and a noospheric component. Our own local noosphere is a young child of that species, certainly not a mature or stable adult, and may or may not survive the challenges which any young child faces in nature.

What fraction, if any, of valid, nonimaginary experience of "higher planes of existence" goes beyond the region of earth?

That is a very tricky question. All of us have limits on how far we can see, and on our ability to do reality testing to make sure that it is not fantasy. Physics and mathematics themselves do offer some reality testing here, as we might expect there are some things in those areas not known yet on earth which could still be evaluated on earth. 

Earlier I mentioned Annie Besant, whose books are still there on Ghandi's bookshelves in Mumbai, and who wrote about causal, astral, mental planes, etc. She is often described as "the number two" person in Theosophy, versus Blavatsky, founder and number one. Besant's books rang true, as authentic in spirit, grounded in experience (albeit not science), and I read a few myself. But Blavatsky says a lot about planets beyond the earth which did not feel right to me. Perhaps the immature, undisciplined minds of our world impose a requirement for pubic relations and fantasy and false conviction (wishful thinking, defense mechanisms catalogued by Freudians)... and she was not alone in that. Or maybe one of the various, very different florid theories about life beyond earth is more real. It is important that none of us overestimate the range of our vision. The less we overestimate our current range of vision, the better our chances of extending that range with time and care and discipline, the kind of discipline that a true scientist also exerts.

For those of us who live near Washington DC, however, it is a serious challenge right now how to cope with what we already see. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Earth to US on climate change: urgent need for a new approach

A DC-based policy group asked: what should we do now about climate after Trump dissed the Paris climate words? My reply:
To address this policy issue in a constructive way, as with many policy issues, it helps to start with the question: is there hope of a positive way forward here? Can we think of a positive way forward consistent with the most basic values of the key decision maker we are looking at in this moment, which in this case is Donald Trump?
Trump has stated that he is not (currently) taking a stand against constructive action on climate change, but that the Paris agreement was a bad deal. He said something like: “I now invite climate change people, including even Democrats, to come work with me on something more effective.” After the experience with health care, it is understandable that many people have reason not to take him at his word, but if we do not try to take the moral highground here we will share in the blame for what happens, which in my view could kill us all.
It is understandable that many people believe that climate change is not important enough to distract us from other more serious issues, such as the dangers of new wars, especially serious when some folks would push us into a war between US and Israel versus Russia and Iran, in much the same way as they calmly pushed us into a war with Iraq under Cheney. In 2009, working for Senator Specter (one of the few people who gave priority to the search for truth over PR advocacy for selected external groups), I was impressed by the conclusions of the International IPPC effort, which estimated that “business as usual” energy policy would result in a 5% loss to world GNP in 2100 due to climate change — not exactly a matter of life or death to the world as a whole.
However, there were serious loose ends in everyone’s understanding back then, and I did wonder about John Kerry’s forceful argument that we should pay serious attention to the “25% probability that Hansen might be right, that the Antarctic might start to melt, resulting in sea level damage much worse than the base case.” Kerry argued “even a 25% probability of something that bad requires.. precautionary principle.” In the second half of my recent paper,, I review the new information which has forced me to be MUCH more worried now. A big crack is starting to fissure right now, this month, in the Antarctic, following Hansen’s worst case scenario (as did the retirement process applied to Hansen himself) — and, even worse, the crucial currents which bring oxygen to the Pacific ocean have shut down. THE PROBLEM IS NOT GLOBAL WARMING; THE PROBLEM IS ANTARCTIC WARMING. So far as I know, global warming elsewhere is a problem no more serious than what IPCC IV depicted, on the whole, but Antarctic warming has the potential to literally kill all humans on earth, if one looks with hard eyes at the system of system effects in operation now.
And so: if President Trump wants to do something more useful than the Paris accords, focused directly on keeping us all alive at minimum possible cost, he does have an opportunity to work with Democrats to take positive action, to propose a new international partnership on something much smaller on cost but much bigger on value. More precisely, he could offer to lead a new international coalition apply the Teller/Caldeira/Wood geoengineering scheme NOT to cool the earth, but specifically to cool the Antarctic, under a strategic effort focused on restoring the oxygen-bringing ocean currents at the soonest possible time.
Of course, Ed Teller was far from a fuzzy-headed left winger. If anyone here does not know his name, I sure hope you will do a web search; even dead, he is still a person whom everyone in energy should know about. Lowell Wood, his former science advisor, is still alive, and I have often hoped that Trump would consider him for OSTP — someone compatible with Trump’s general attitudes but deeply competent. At
, an important site for energy and environment research, it is reported that total global cooling by geoengineering would cost only $700 million per year. That may be low (as most cost estimates at this stage are, for aerospace projects or for nuclear power plants, etc.), but compare that with the $500 billion per year in substantive “allowances” which the Obama climate bills would have given out.
People who wanted that $500 billion per year were understandably violently worried about the risk that right-wingers would do something so cheap instead (even if geoengineering the Antarctic ended up costing, say, $2 billion per year to be split across all the nations now working together in Antarctica). Would this hurt the politics of the effort to get other larger actions, such as laws which force greater use of renewable energy? But maybe we have wasted too much energy on political double-think and triple-think. Yes, if Trump offers this to Democrats, some of them may object because of such calculations, but by taking the moral highground and making the offer sincere and visible to everyone, the worst risk would be that he would strengthen his position politically. Those of us who truly recognize the nature and urgency of the problem would not hesitate to save our lives, regardless of other considerations. (Waxman type bills are not the most realistic way to move renewables faster in any case.)
Does anyone see any hope of making this kind of middle way opportunity more visible in serious political circles? Or will we just waste our time in useless ego wars and mutual posturing? I wish Specter were still part of this game, but if anyone knows Murkowski or Collins or Cantwell…

Saturday, June 3, 2017

reply to Vedanta guy on use of drugs for spiritual development

A member of the Vedanta Society recently asked a large group:
 One question. Do you think the experiences Rishis had in meditation are similar to those under psychedelic drugs even though most of them could not have taken these drugs? Your description of Mukti is much more general than Vedic concepts of liberation of soul etc. Well, quantum mechanics may not be a path to mukti! But it sounds like a bridge to non-sensory world. Though,  of course, the story is unfinished yet. Many people challenge even the existence of non-sensory world.

My reply:

Two years ago, during a lunch break in Udaipur, my wife (whose higher doctorate came from the Institute of Physiologically Active Compounds of the Russian Academy of Sciences) showed me and a fellow traveler involved in yoga an article in Smithsonian Magazine discussing the controversies about the new NIH protocols allowing administration of psilocybin to humans in research. It seems that this new research (and the debates informed by it) represent our best direct scientific knowledge right now.

In reaction to that article, my immediate knee-jerk response was to discuss a book (I think a thin book called "Thought Forms") by Annie Besant, where she said that the human mind contains natural protections which block inputs which we are not yet mentally prepared to make positive use of. To become open to those inputs, she recommended that we work hard and develop the kind of inner discipline and clarity (vivid, coherent  clarity) which prepares us to be able to benefit in a more positive way from the inputs; then, she argued, the inputs would come naturally. Forcing the inputs in, unnaturally, through any use of drugs, would not only violate nature but do more harm than good to the mind. This fits very well with the details of an important paper by Greeley and McReady ("Are we a nation of mystics", a summary of a large NSF-funded study of deep values of Americans, reprinted in the book 
Consciousness edited by Goleman available for about $1 now via Amazon) describing how many, many PhD Americans do have an experience with another level of consciousness, but recoil because of inability to cope with it constructively. It also fits with what I heard long, long ago from an MIT professor and teacher of Daoism, who said that many of their exercises are intended to produce readiness, not enlightenment; "enlightenment is easy," he claimed, "but not the ability to survive it." There is a Gopal Krishna who wrote a book on what happened after he raised kundalini, which fits the picture as well. 

The folks around me expressed great skepticism when I discussed another odd book in my collection, The Seven Lives of Annie Besant, which described how she served as a kind of teacher and mentor to Ghandi. However, when this simple Gate1 tour moved on to Mumbai, we not only saw the street named in her honor in that city, but we saw several of her books in the treasured book collection of Ghandhi. I wanted to send you a link to the photograph my wife took of the books in his library, but it would take more time digging into my blog than I can afford this morning.

One serious faction described in the Smithsonian article argued that the new protocols may prevent the terrible risks which accompany normal use of mind-altering drugs. People like Andrew Weil would probably say that some of the native cultures of earth have evolved similar effective protocols -- but human cultures morph and res[pond to political forces and wishful thinking in a way which tends to mutate any such disciplines, and we see really huge damage all over the planet due to persistent misuse of drugs even by people who have reason to think they know better.

I was also amused by some aspects of the movie "Men Who Stare at Goats," which has some basis in things which really happened (described in the book).

For myself, I would prefer to avoid serious risks in something so important. 

Quantum physics and related areas of physics (like dark matter and study of emergent phenomena in general) can help with
the core problem of natural readiness as Greeley depicts it. It is unfortunate that I have not seen major follow-on to some of the open research questions posed in Greeley's paper.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Reply to Vedanta guy asking about Bohm's theory of physics relating to mind

A member of the Vedanta Society wrote:

As you know, quantum mechanics is the most successful theory in the history of mankind. The agreement with experiments is more than 1 part per billion. The cell phone in your pocket is a glowing tribute to it! And yet, debates about interpretation are going on for some 90 years without any resolution. In fact some Nobel laureates like Weinberg and ‘t Hooft do not believe in any interpretation! The reason for majority believing in Copenhagen interpretation is that it is mostly epistemological...
Bohm’s interpretation (theory) has to agree with experiments and well established theory like theory of relativity...
... It would be nice to continue this discussion. I would like to know about feelings of various members of this group about Bohm’s model.

My reply: =================================================

These are all complex, important issues, which have generated a huge amount of secondary confusion as the waves of thought get reflected many, many times, like an image reflected in a series of fun house mirrors. 

That kind of reflection and distortion happens in many areas. For example, I just returned from giving a plenary talk at the International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IJCNN17), where some people casually attacked that "bad old Von Neumann model of computing." But Von Neumann, like Bohm and Einstein, learned and grew and changed many times in his life. At the IJCNN history session, I discussed the important conversations of Von Neumann, Wiener and McCulloch which actually created the neural network field, a new paradigm which continues to grow and is in a major growth spurt right now. Bohm and Einstein also went through stages of thought, which have confused other people. 

To begin with, does Bohm's model contradict special relativity? I have an old (unreliable?) impression that Bohm came from upstate Pennsylvania to Princeton, to work with Einstein, and that his most important driving goal in physics was to strengthen Einstein's view of reality, which I lately call "Einsteinian materialism." Einstein himself worked hard to develop a kind of new unified field theory in his later years, using new differential geometry, but I myself have mostly worked with the earlier version of his vision, epitomized in the "already unified field theory" which won John Wheeler (of Princeton) the Nobel Prize. 

Einsteinian materialism appears at first to contradict the long emerging feeling in physics that "the universe looks more like a great mind than a great machine." But just as Wheeler discovered that ideas which appear to be in conflict may already be unified, if we look more closely, I now believe that Einsteinian materialism and "universe as mind" are ALREADY consistent with each other, to a degree I did not even consider when I did not understand the mathematics as well as I do now. Still, even a brief explanation of how this could be does require a little digression and background:

But what IS Bohm's model, and how does it fit with relativity and quantum mechanics?

When many people talk about "Bohm's model," they are referring either to his earlier work on the "pilot wave" concept (which I attribute more to Louis De Broglie, whom I discussed this with at length years ago; I recently scanned the letters he sent me) or to his later work with Hiley. Hiley has remained active, as Brian Josephson on this list knows very well. If I were Bohm, perhaps I would have even published a short summary list of alternative models like "Bohm 1, Bohm 2" or "Bohm 3," to reduce confusion. Is it possible that some "Bohm's models" are still other models developed by followers of Bohm? 

At one time, De Broglie and Bohm hoped that a "pilot wave" formulation of the simple, original nonrelativistic Schrodinger equation, based on a concept of "Q potential," could explain the quantum mechanical behavior of the electron in a way consistent with Einsteinian materialism. (The Copenhagen version of quantum mechanics was not.) But in a paper in the 1970's, I pointed out that this would only work in the general case of N electrons if the Q potential were a function of many dimensions. Thus the Q potential effort ended as a mere complicated reinvention of the "many worlds" or "multiverse" theory of the cosmos, developed by Hugh Everett and John Wheeler (more Princeton here!), and developed much further by David Deutsch of Oxford (the father of digital quantum computing). 

I have the impression that Bohm decided to stay with the Q potential kind of approach, and embrace the nonlocality of the many worlds school of thought, while De Broglie himself (and I) looked for another way, trying to resurrect the full original  Einstein vision, which is consistent with experiment only if one makes different assumptions about the nature of time and causality. That can be done, and it is not 
only a matter of interpretation. It is a matter of testable differences in competing theories. Furthermore, the differences are fully testable in the realm of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which is NOT a complete or fully resolved matter at all.

I remember when I took graduate courses in physics at Harvard, when everyone said that QED was the most successful, fully tested theory in all the history of physics, that it is highly precise in all of its predictions, and that it is a "done deal" in terms of basic physics. People would say "if you want to learn something fundamentally new, don't do QED." They believed that modern electronics and photonics (and phononics etc)  "are all just applied QED."

Then I ended up running the research program in the Engineering Directorate of NSF supporting "applied QED" for the electronics and photonics areas, very complex and serious areas full of lots of experimental exploration, and learned more and more from the new community that "No, QED is NOT a done deal. Many, many really fundamental things still need to be done and discovered, though yes computation and approximation theory are part of it." (For example, see my paper at arxiv with Klimeck and Dowling inaugurating the NSF QMHP activity, which ended when I retired in 2015. My opposite number in NSF's DMR division also retired, and Dean Poor of Princeton legitimately wondered what was happening -- to this area, to climate change, to social science, to evolution.... even to NASA!)  

I deeply regret not taking the course in quantum optics taught by Glauber at Harvard. I certainly considered it, and wondered what was really behind his door as I walked by it on the way to Schwinger's class. But I did not realize that he was teaching the scalar version of a whole new stream of fundamental mathematics fundamental to Einstein's program, or that the laboratory aspect with lasers would have let me do myself either or both of the fundamental new experiments we need done, to clarify the core issues before us now regarding quantum measurement and how it really works. One of those experiments, the all-angles triphoton experiment, is described in Werbos and Dolmatova (published in Quantum Information Processing, reposted at More recently, I came up with a messier but easier design which would require only two entangled photons, which a friend says he will be doing fairly soon. 

But where did the pilot waves go? The Q potential... well, that aspect went away, in my view. But De Broglie's core concept of pilot wave 
(as in his book with Vigier, which I cite in the recent paper) is a key part of how I make a BRIDGE between the deeper Einsteinian level of reality (which addresses gravity and addresses why particles exist at all) and the level of CORRECTED QED. To describe our mundane level of life, as "shadows in Plato's cave," it is enough to understand corrected QED, which is equivalent to David Deutsch's view BUT WITH A DIFFERENT VERSION OF QUANTUM MEASUREMENT.  The pilot wave concept is a crucial piece of how we CONNECT that level of physics and life to a deeper level.. a level which I understand mathematically this week better than I did just a few weeks ago, when I went to Alaska. (No papers yet, only a few entries in my Samsung Galaxy Tab and related thoughts.)

But now, this week, I go back to more mundane things, all in the realm of truly applied QED, true electronic and photonic technology.
One week, one lifetime, at a time.

Best regards,


Monday, May 29, 2017

Reply to Vedanta Society discussion of types of knowledge

Thank you for posting a review of three types of knowledge according to Vedas/Upanishads. Unfortunately, I read your post when I was on travel for a month, and cannot copy the original, but the issues are important and easy to remember. 

Your post reminded me of warm memories of reading the Hume translation of principal Upanishads in 1963, initially sitting on the concrete floor of the Princeton (undergraduate) library and then later in the house I lived in at Lawrenceville. It also reminds me of a friend who knew Oppenheimer very well, who discussed how Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit just in order to be able to read the Upanishads in the original.

If I understand you correctly, you are reviewing and applying a three-fold classification of knowledge into: (1) knowledge based on direct personal experience (essentially, the flow of direct sensory inputs) to a person; (20 knowledge based on what we impute the experience of others to be, and (3) knowledge based on logical reasoning. As I recall, some parts of the Upanishads suggest that mystical enlightenment, the seeing of the world through many eyes at once ( i.e. the brahman/Atman viewpoint), appears as a manifestation it extension of the third principle, the reasoning.

In 1964, that was my interpretation of what I saw in the Upanishads and in reality. It seemed more elevated and pleasing and logical than the "yoga alternative," present in other parts of the Upanishads, in which enlightenment could be seen "merely" as an extension or manifestation if the first type of knowledge, the direct and substantive personal experience. Sometimes an abstract concept or representation is of real value only to the extent that it "opens our eyes," by enlarging what we consciously see, expanding the power of the direct personal experience. That is how I see this now, after many years of reassessing based on all three types of knowledge.

On netlix there was one great season of a show called "sense8," which ultimately failed commercially (perhaps due to unnecessary confusion and baggage related to sex) but which did contain beautiful images of what it means to see through many eyes at once.

This is not just an academic issue. At the present stage of development of the economy and technology of humanity, the species itself us under very clear threat to its very existence, and traditional concepts of balance of power may not be enough to offer us hope of a sustainable resolution of deep conflicts of ideas. The yogic approach in general (which has manifestations in all the great cultures of the world) is more and more essential, and of course in need of more advanced development.

Just as parts of the ocean nay be mapped according to depth and longitude, not just latitude, the ocean of knowledge can also be mapped according to other dimensions in addition to .., .. and .. For example, there is great value in being mindful of the distinction between knowledge which takes the form of strings of words, versus knowledge which takes a form like images in fields of neurons exactly as we see in the brains and minds of other mammals who do not use words. A key part of the yogic approach, and of some enlightened aspects of Confucianism (like Meng Tzu's concepts of zhengqi), is to respect always the nonverbal "half" of our minds. Professor James Anderson of Brown has compared the formal "half"  to a "new but still buggy alpha version of software." It gives a great extension to the power of the mind, but we do need to get the bugs out, and put it into proper relation with the bigger, older part.