I apologize that the title may remind you of fuzzy new age stuff which I disagree with as vehemently as anyone does ( in part because I am a perfectionist by nature). Please don't try to guess what I have learned just this past week.
Still, I do start from a kind of bedrock belief in the core of Quaker Universalism. Quaker universalists believe that the same greater living spirit (or spirits, depending on how you count) have been active all over the earth, and has had valid expression and manifestation beyond the mundane aspects of culture all over the earth. And thus, "our spiritual heritage" is the combined heritage of all of humanity, not just the Christian roots which Quakerism started with (and retains). We are called to learn as deeply as we can from all major parts of that heritage -- and certainly we try to learn to see through the eyes of "people of the book," from core mystics like yogins and sufis and Buddhists and Western mystical traditions, as well as Daoism and Confucianism. And also from shamans and the most interesting traditions of native Americans in general.
But let me get straight to Tlingits and quantum physics, and say more later about the context.
In Alaska this month we had many contacts with Tlingit people, from a mix of native and hybrid culture. For example, we heard from a Tlingit who later became an official ranger, and spoke for an hour on the Holland America cruise ship we took from Seward to Vancouver in the final third of our Alaska trip from May 14 to May 29, today.
Alaska today has a population something like half a million people, half of who live in Anchorage. The Tlingits of Alaska, ranging from yakutak to ketchikan along the Pacific coast, had a serious Civilization based in long-distance trade, with a population greater gan modern Anchorage, just a few centuries ago -- but a series of tragedies cut it back an order of magnitude.
The Tlingits were deeply upset by the ruthless behavior of the Russian fur merchants who first oppressed them (not unlike Spanish fortune hunters we heard about in Peru last year), but they much preferred the open ecumenixal and respectful attitudes of Russian Orthodox priests over those of Presbyterian missionaries, who, while Christian in their way, were dedicated to smashing and breaking the core tlingit culture, stories, language and traditions. Many people told us of how tlingit chiefs banded together to request Russian Orthodox churches and clergy to come to Alaska, and expand their presence, because they did not want their heritage to be erased from the earth. (For example, 2 conversations in St Nicholas church in Juneau, where they preserved primary sources.)
The ranger on the cruise ship told us especially of a tlingit story told to him by his grandparents when he was growing up in yakutak, a story of two brothers lost at sea who in despair, many times, prayed both to their ancestors and to the creatures of the sea. "The history teacher and others in our church school told us to throw away such stories, and told us that praying to ancestors or animals is evil, work of the devil, in need of eradication and total forgetting." (I wonder whether Korean Christian churches ever went all the way that far?) "But they did not understand. We fully understood and revere the greatest spirit of earth and sky, but as small creatures we also can communicate with other lesser creatures who can help in other ways, all part of God's community we are part of."
In the original Christian Church, it was ok to pray to saints, and even to try to tube into them, and become part of the communion of saints. So why would it not be ok to build community with other humans and mammals and even ancestors, so long as it is understood we are all part if something larger?
When I heard the ranger, I thought at first "his earth and sky are a lot like the pachamama and pachatata we discussed in Peru." (These are good search terms for this blog, giving more context.) "But what about those apus? Did they make it here?" But as we traveled hundreds of miles from Denali to the Pacific border of Canada, we saw nothing BUT landscape with mountains, and Apus were not lost.
So now let me jump to connections with my own culture, including recent discussions with Yeshua ben David by email, and the book by David Deutsch which I read in the cruise ship (thanks to Holland America).
My whole life I have been a kind of hard core "materialist". More precisely, since age 14 (when a kind person in a suit at the weekly tea service of the mathematics department of Princeton explained Einstein's core vision to me),
I have mostly believed in "Einsteinian materialism," the doctrine that everything which exists at all in the entire cosmos is governed by mathematical laws, by partial differential equations (PDE) operating over the curved minkowski space described by Einstein's general relativity (GR). Mostly -- but I believe even more deeply in the scientific method which calls on us to be open-minded, to look actively for alternative possibilities and so on. Yet at present I see more reason than ever before to believe that everything we can see in the cosmos can be explained as phenomena which emerge from the operation of those underlying mathematical laws.
Most well-educated physicists do not believe that the laws if the cosmos could be so simple, but I have worked hard to study this "alternate view" of physics; at Google scholar, you can easily find my open access papers justifying this heresy. In summary, I am ultra materialist relative to today's mainstream physics.
But.. science requires that we face up to the weirdness if our cosmos, no matter how much we prefer simpler explanations for things. Long ago I was compelled to accept the reality of what most folks call spiritual or psychic phenomena, but, now that we know about the vast ocean of dark matter connecting our galaxy with many other galaxies, that reality does not force us to abandon the Einstein viewpoint. And so, until 2014, I still thought of us humans as patterns of life and mind in the objective 4-dimensional universe. I respected the achievements of David Deutsch (search this blog for context!) in quantum computing, but I simply lost interest back in the 1970s in the many worlds, parallel universe theory of quantum field theory he used in inventing digital quantum computing.
2014 was a great zinger for me. As I was developing a mathematical, forward time model of what a photon does, picosecond by picosecond, as it travels through polarizing sunglasses (look for cmrfp in my papers), I noted how a photon can "crinkle up its face like that guy in the old British comedy about a guy who makes a deal with the devil, and retroactively erase the whole time stream it is part of." Given what lamar Smith had done to nsf, I wondered briefly:"why can't I do what that photon can?" And suddenly it struck me that I can, in principle.. because like that photon I am a pattern which is a function of one possible scenario, not of all of objective reality. In practice, scenarios interact even in my mathematics (and in the feynmann path version), not just in Deutsch's cosmos. So Einstein's picture may be correct at the deepest level, but Deutsch's image works and is unavoidable at our level of existence.
(In my view, our level is governed by mqed, which is basically a variation of many worlds dynamics combined with a new, time-series way to model macroscopic objects used to make measurements.)
But this year.. I have paid attention to what Deutsch and yeshya been David yace said about a more radical concept, a kind of metaphysical idealism. I am not convinced that this is the most promising theory if the underlying!physics, but is it possible once again that Deutsch is right in a practical sense even if not in a theoretical sense?
In the past, I spoke about intelligent systems at the level of earth (noosphere) and galaxy, but should I pay more attention to the idea that the underling model of the cosmos could be understood as something like an intelligent system, even if it simply implements Einstein's vision?
For a long time, many serious physicists and mathematicians like Penrose have argued that "the universe looks more like a great mind than a great machine." But what if a mathematical model which we thought of as a great machine ALREADY has properties of a mind?
Our best mathematical model of mind as we know it are based on RLADP (see my talk posted at arxiv.org on mouse level computational intelligence, MLCI), the approximate maximization of a utility function across time. Is a statement like the cosmos less intelligent if it maximizes its values (Lagrange function) exactly over space time? It is not my mind as we know it, because its maximization is perfect (to the best of our knowledge so far), but do not people say "God is a mind, as we are, but is perfect and already knows everything." Is this actually a reasonable way to think about the deeper dynamics which our surface level of experience, mqed, emerges from?
In the past, I assumed that "mere PDE" could not be do interesting, but the insights of 2014 and the new .. feedbacks.. suggest they can be. For example, the structure of mqed involves probabilities, which are always positive, and are consistent with .. a positive view of things.