Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Coming to terms with a radical possible new view of life

Months ago, a guy named Kafatos urged me to write a paper on “the time machine of consciousness.” I felt a duty to respond, because I had put a lot of energy before then in understanding the physics of time, the mathematics of neural networks and brain models that really work, and in coming to terms with the full depth of our first person experience of life. The paper I wrote was deeply shocking to the orthodox – but at the same time when they screamed, a request arrived out of the blue from Russia, and I sent a revised version, now in press, in English and in Russian. To the orthodox it may be shocking, but in my view it is a calm unification of thought, which is something this troubled world badly needs at this time. Lots on the meaning of life, of sanity, zhengqi and so on.
However.. life itself is not by nature static. There are new developments in the basic physics here, which suddenly are not quite so calming as they seemed at first.

What are these new developments? They are not really the strangest mathematical fantasies that many think of these days when they think of basic physics, fantasies which give a feeling of Fu Manchu narcissistic glory to  some of the authors because no one else can understand them, not even they themselves. No, this is the “humble’ world of empirically-based fundamental physics. This is the world I sang to my granddaughter about a couple of months ago: “one little, two little, three little photons…”
A few months ago, I worked out a new simple mathematical model of what really happens to one little photon as it passes through a very common kind of object – a polaroid polarizer. (Like some sunglasses.) To test the model, you need to do an experiment with three entangled photons, but that’s already being done. (I am waiting for permission to find out what happened… but in any case people need to do a lot more of that kind of experiment anyway, to develop some new technology.)  If you empathize a little with that little photon…. It has four choices at any moment: (1) to change its alignment to match the polarizer, and then get absorbed into heat and nothingness; (2) to realign itself exactly perpendicular to that alignment, which can be a wrenching and “expensive” change; (3) to stay as it is for one more instant, despite heavy pressure not to; (4) to “scream” that it doesn’t want to be in the situation in the first place, and retroactively make it less likely to happen at all. That fourth choice or term in the equation is the key to understanding what we now call quantum mechanical phenomena – what Kimble of CalTech has called “putting weirdness to work.” Reality is weird, and we have to accept that.

But how weird? I thought that the new three photon experiments would prove that the weirdness of the universe is far less than we had thought. Ultimately, we may be able to get back to the nice, clean, beautiful image of Einstein, where it’s all real, no magical “condensation of the wave function,” even just three dimensions of space and one of time (With a little wiggle room like what EDinstein talked about sometimes).

But.. between the first version of my paper and the second, I did have to add a new paragraph/section about a caveat. As I thought about that little photon… it reminded me a lot about what I was going through, as new polarizing forces affect life in the US government. (Those realities are more shocking to me than anything I say here today, but I am not posting on THEM!) But I don’t have that type of inner “scream” option… or do I? I start to wonder. The new section … is it the tip of an iceberg? But this morning I ask: am I avoiding reality not to face up to it}?

Our lives often seem to follow scripts or stories. I am amazed at times how powerful stories can be in shaping our lives, and our entire world. I real many science fiction stories, in part to stimulate my imagination and in part to avoid becoming too captive to any ONE story (as people do who do not read so many). Long ago, for example, I read the book of Genesis and the Ambder Chronicles of Zelazny – which were truly beautiful poetically, but which I never took even HALFWAY seriously. (By contrast, I have taken Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged and the Book of Revelations halfway seriously; each is an antidote to some degree of the excesses of the other, but I have taken some work by Dan Simmons and Orson Scott Card more seriously.)

But now… I do begin to wonder.
The new physics is similar to Feynman’s in a way – where reality is in 3+1 dimensions, but everything that happens is based on an interplay between what I call “scenarios” and he calls “paths.”
But here is the zinger: we think of ourselves as realities, as part of the final scenario. Isn’t that the way it is, in an Einsteinian kind of universe? But what of that poor little possible photon? Can entire MIND states and life states also inhabit scenarios, where they FEEL as if they were the one reality (in a universe where there IS only one reality in the end across space-time)? Indeed they can. The math is pretty clear, once you start to really understand what it means. EVEN in Einstein’s mathematical vision of one objective reality… the emergent outcome for folks like us.. is that the phenomenon of mind in such a universe, with the full symmetries we know of now… is that we are very much like the people in Zelazny’s Chronicles, shadows in shadow scenarios. I am not yet at the point of seeing any reality in those parts of his stories which get to primal chaos and such (as in Genesis!)… but.. the idea that WE are parts of scenarios… takes some adjusting to.

So many meanings to the word “shadows,” not all the same…
But are we all shadows in the way Zelazny talks about?

Who knows? Right now I know it’s time to get back to bed, and then adapt to whatever this morning brings. I am not about to jump whole hog into another story, but it wil be tickling my mind as I do what I must, and I remember other stories.


PS Speaking of Atlas Shrugged.. I received a great call yesterday from an old friend in Michigan, where we talked about a new engine... and about the time he report to John Von Ndeumann's daughter. He mentioned her book, "Martian's Daughter," which I ordered yesterday on Amazon to be sent to my older daughter, based on some things he said....


Jan. 28, Wed, 5AM:

I have not fully absorbed this new possible viewpoint (possible? the math seems to say more)..
but it evokes many associations and memories.

First... it reminded me of the time at Lawrenceville, when I took advanced mathematics courses
at Princeton, when I seemed to understand math pretty well, but wasn't sure what to make of some "simple" nonlinear partial equations, the kind of things Einstein had studied. I wondered: "Do people really understand these things?" I didn't know the half of it until this past month! Embedded
in what seem to be such innocuous things... is a lot more than I had any appreciation for before...

It reminds me of my quest for reality in physics... how it began in the summer when I worked at the RAND Corporation just a few blocks from the beach, entertained at times by Ellsberg's circus bouncing up and down loudly in the corridors for anyone with eyes to see. I was thinking ahead to my personal future, which didn't seem to align with RAND quite as much as I had hoped.. RAND wasn't what I had hoped... I wanted to help with important larger things, but I also knew I had to be realistic about my own personal comparative advantage, in mathematics, even though I no longer thought of mathematics as a goal or religion in itself. I remembered Von Neumann's thought that three major areas where new math could make a big difference is in more unified understanding of three things -- mind, life and how the universe works. So I borrowed a book from the RAND library on quantum mechanics, to see what I could see, and maybe help prepare for me to pursue that path, in my forthcoming PhD program at Harvard. As I read that book, it seemed to \assume some very confused thinking, in need of some straightening out... and aty Harvard, more and more, restoring Einstein's vision of reality seemed to be correct, worthy and interesting... if extremely challenging.

So in a sense... this year... I finally FOUND that reality, that authentic, credible 3+1-dimensional reality that Einstein talked about. 'Yes there is an objective reality, but no, we are not part of it." OOPS!

All of a sudden, I find myself in Plato's cave... and we, from monkey brains to noospheres, are all just the shadows projected into the cave! (Again, please be careful with this word "shadow." Like "consciousness" and some other tricky words, it has multiple meanings, each worthy of analysis, but not to be confused with each other! )

It starts.. like Alice in wonderland.. chasing not after a rabbit, but after a photon... where does it go when it seems to do peculiar things and vanishing acts at times? And realizing: "Hey, I am not less than a photon. What it does, it could do too." Indeed I could. A typical earthy neurotic
could easily swell up with delusions of godhood, if he saw he or she could do a few of the odd things I have done on occasion. But then as I look at the whole picture, I see what it really means... yes, the manipulation of shadows is easier than the manipulation of reality would have been... because they are shadows.

It also reminds me of a quiet thought which has come at times to the back of my mind, more often this year than before... people have so MANY holy trinities.  (A high up in India was not amused when he mentioned the trinity of Vishnu, Brahma and Siva, and I told a story about the other holy trinity of mommy, daddy and baby.) I was thinking.. for me it is more like noosphere (which some call 'Gaia"), galaxy and... cosmos or universe. I knew that the optimization equations which seem like our best model of the universe logically imply "more intelligence than intelligent systems" in a way... only in a way.... but now I realize that gthis is more operational than I thought, that it is not intelloigence as we know it, but it does have the power to generate complex structures in a way even more powerful than what we see in things like noospheres. (Yes, earth has just one, but there is the galaxy out there, folks. Virtually all your spiritual experience, from high to low, is just one window into one little noosphere. For the most part, your "gods" or saints are just archetypes within one little noosphere.) And suddenly.. the greater world makes us the same kind of creatures the old Hellenes thought we were, buffeted not between literal gods or archetypes... but clusters of scenarios. Not our stories, but objective scenarios...


Time to go back to a relatively normal day, packing up... tying up loose ends... addressing a few scenarios..

Well, one more thought. Part of my concrete duty today relates to the work of an important famous guy named David Deutsch, from Oxford. A wonderfully creative guy.. but I didn't really believe we have evidence in physics of anything as complex as what he describes in his book The Fabric of Reality. Now... it seems there may be more complexity, similar in spirit, but more like a Jack in the box, all compressed into a tiny space, objectively.  Hmm. When do we start turning on the music?

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