The Rise of Exotropy

The following passage is from Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants.

Most hydrogen atoms were born at the beginning of time. They are as old as time itself. They were created in the fires of the big bang and dispersed into the universe as a uniform warm mist. Thereafter, each atom has been on a lonely journey. When a hydrogen atom drifts in the unconsciousness of deep space, hundreds of kilometers from another atom, it is hardly much more active than the vacuum surrounding it. Time is meaningless without change, and in the vast reaches of space that fill 99.99 percent of the universe, there is little change.

After billions of years, a hydrogen atom might be swept up by the currents of gravity radiating from a congealing galaxy. With the dimmest hint of time and change it slowly drifts in a steady direction toward other stuff. Another billion years later it bumps into the first bit of matter it has ever encountered, After millions of years it meets the second. In time it meets another of its kind, a hydrogen atom. They drift together in mild attraction until aeons later they meet an oxygen atom. Suddenly something weird happens. In a flash of heat they clump together as one later molecule. Maybe they get sucked into the atmosphere circulation of a planet. Under this marriage, they are caught in great cycles of change. Rapidly the molecule is carried up and then rained down into a crowded pool of other jostling atoms. In the company of uncountable numbers of other water molecules it travels this circuit around and around for millions of years, from crammed pools to expansive clouds and back. One day, in a stroke of luck, the water molecule is captured by a chain of unusually active carbons in one pool. Its path is once again accelerated. It spins around in a simple loop, assisting the travel of carbon chains. It enjoys speed, movement, and change such as would not be possible in the comatose recesses of space. The carbon chain is stolen by another chain and reassembled many times until the hydrogen finds itself in a cell constantly rearranging its relations and bonds with other molecules. Now it hardly ever stops changing, never stops interacting.

Is time real?

A pretty good (admittedly brief) look at two views of time:

  • Presentism: there’s nothing but the eternal now. Here, the past and the future are only present in our minds.
  • Eternalism: The past, present, and future aren’t the makings of our conscious mind. They’re as real as the dimensions of space. ‘Now’ is to time, as ‘here’ is to space.

Alas, they both make sense to me.

Time as kaleidoscope

“There was also no longer any sense of my moving along a timeline. Time was no longer a path with the past behind me and the future before me, as we commonly conceive of it. Instead there was a sense of an eternally unfolding present moment. Rather than time being a journey along a linear path, change appeared to be mandala-like. It seemed to be like a flower seen from above, endlessly unfolding from within, or like a kaleidoscope’s image forever rearranging itself. It struck me as highly misleading to think in terms of there being a past behind us and a future ahead of us. Instead there was only this one present moment, eternally unfolding according to its nature. I found myself in an eternal, timeless present.”

The passage above is from Living As A River. I have a little trouble with the flower image but really like the kaleidoscope analogy. I even bought a small one and enjoy watching the tiny pieces of glass rearranging themselves. How many different patterns are possible, I wondered. I thought it would be a matter of permutations and combinations but couldn’t find a formula. I did find this from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“The kaleidoscope was invented by Sir David Brewster about 1816 and patented in 1817. Sold usually as a toy, the kaleidoscope also has value for the pattern designer. […] The number of combinations and patterns is effectively without limit.

That surprises me a little. If there are x pieces of glass, it would seem there would be a finite number of combinations. But for the purposes of the analogy, “without limit” works just fine. But another question occurs to me: Is there a way to compute the probability the exact same pattern will repeat? But I’ve drifted pretty far from the “present moment.”

The image of our lives as a road stretching from birth to death, always in one direction, is pretty grooved into my psyche. But I like the kaleidoscope better. All the tiny, colored pieces of my existence, rearranging themselves, moment to moment, never the exact same pattern twice. Yes. That’s a more interesting way to imagine time.

What is Reality?

“Emergence theory is a new physics model currently being developed by a Los Angeles based team of scientists. Emergence theory intricately – yet simply – weaves together quantum mechanics, general and special relativity, the standard model and other mainstream physics theories into a complete, fundamental picture of a discretized, self-actualizing universe.”

“Physics allows the possibility that all the energy of the universe can be converted into a single, conscious system that itself is a network of conscious systems. Given enough time, what can happen will eventually happen. By this axiom, universal emergent consciousness has emerged via self-organization somewhere ahead of us in 4D spacetime. And because it is possible, it is inevitable. In fact, according to the evidence of retro-causality time loops, that inevitable future is co-creating us right now just as we are co-creating it.”

Memory creates the illusion of continuity

Daniel Kahneman said, “There are the experiences in our lives… and our memories of those experiences. And they are not the same.”

Memory seems to be the secret sauce to that feeling of a continuous, unchanging ME. But I’m finding it increasingly difficult to think of my memories as “mine.” It was easier when I thought of them as photographs in a shoebox on a shelf in my mind.

“Memories are not etched permanently in the brain. Instead, every time a memory is retrieved, it is destroyed and then re-created, and it becomes a memory of a memory. Any current memories we have are copies of copies of copies… many times over depending on how many times we have recalled that particular experience. Because of this process of creating, destroying, and re-creating memories, our recollections are unstable and subject to alteration. Each time we recall an event from our lives, the memory of that event can change. […] We never have a full recollection of anything that’s happened to us, and our memories are constructed from hints, scraps and traces found within the mind.” — Living As A River

I have a memory of a four-year-old Steve jumping up and down on the bed and then crashing through the bedroom window. Obviously that didn’t happen and I have no idea when or how the memory was formed. How many other of my memories are “constructed?”

Thirty years ago Barb and I went to New York with another couple. It was miserably cold and I remember almost nothing of that weekend. I have a photo of me with a parrot sitting on my shoulder. That must have happened but I’m not sure if I have a memory of the experience or if the photo somehow created that memory.

So what remains when the person, that oh-so-strong sense of a permanent self, is gone?

“A vague memory remains, like the memory of a dream, or early childhood. After all, what is there to remember? A flow of events, mostly accidental and meaningless. A sequence of desires and fears and inane blunders. Is there anything worth remembering? Realize that your present existence is like a shower of sparks, each spark lasting a second and the shower itself — a minute or two.” — Nisargadatta Maharaj

My memories seem so important. Would there be a “me” without them? And, yet, when I examine them, one at a time, they are indeed “mostly accidental and meaningless.”

James Gleick says “We experience childhood one way when we’re living it and another way when we relive it in memory.” Good. That means it was more fun than I recall.

Again, James Gleick: “But if memory is the action of recollection, the act of remembrance, then it implies an ability to hold in the mind two constructs, one representing the present and another representing the past, and to compare them, one against the other. How did we learn to distinguish memory from experience?”

Might that be why memories are mostly fuzzy and vague, “…constructed from hints, scraps and traces found within the mind.” We seldom confuse experience with memory.

I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the question who or what am I? And the answer I keep coming up with is: I am this immediate experience. And nothing more. As Alan Watts said, “This is it.” But it’s impossible for me to think of an experience as a discrete ‘thing.” Each is gone before I can bring it into consciousness. I can only think about the experience that just slipped away. It easier to think in terms of process, a flow of experiences. Ever changing. Never the same. That means keeping all the inputs wide open. Turn down the noise, turn up the signal. Be here, now.

Why does time seem to move faster as get older?

“The “associated theory” states that between the ages 15 and 25 the most formative experiences of our life take place, such as our first kiss, first car, first love, and so on. This creates a “reminiscence bump.” The farther we move away from the bump, the quicker time seems to move.”

“William James in his 1890 book Principles of Psychology, described it this way—that fewer and fewer novel experiences pop up as we grow older, and this is why life seems to pick up speed.”

More at Big Think

Time Travel: A History (James Gleick)

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-12-01-53-pm“From the acclaimed author of The Information and Chaos, here is a mind-bending exploration of time travel: its subversive origins, its evolution in literature and science, and its influence on understanding time itself.”

Sleeping into the future is what we do every night.

“Man can do what he will, but he cannot will what he wills.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

“People living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.” — Albert Einstein’s message in the time capsule buried at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

We know that complete certainty must always elude us. We know that for certain.

“Time and space are modes by which we think, and not conditions in which we live.” — Albert Einstein

“I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything.” — Richard Feynman

What is time? Things change, and time is how we keep track.

Schopenhauer asserted that life and dreams are pages from the same book. To read them in their proper order is to live, but to browse among them is to dream.

No one can really explain how memories are formed and retrieved. Nor can anyone explain away Proust’s paradoxical contention: that the past cannot truly be recovered by searching our memories, by interrogating them, by rewinding the film or reaching back into the drawer; rather, that the essence of the past, when it comes to us at all,comes unbidden.

If you ever see yourself coming out of a time machine, run the other way as fast as you can. Nothing good can come from meeting yourself. — Charles Yu

We experience childhood one way when we’re living it and another way when we relive it in memory.

But if memory is the action of recollection, the act of remembrance, then it implies an ability to hold in the mind two constructs, one representing the present and another representing the past, and to compare them, one against the other. How did we learn to distinguish memory from experience?

Our conscious brains invent the concept of time over and over again, inferring it from memory and extrapolating from change. And time is indispensable to our awareness of self. […] You order the slices of your life. You edit the film even as it records.

“There were buttons and switches everywhere—buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature, and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.” — The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster

Why do we need time travel, when we already travel through space so far and fast? For history. For mystery. For nostalgia. For hope. To examine our potential and explore our memories. To counter regret for the life we lived, the only life, one dimension, beginning to end.

“We know it all now, with our thoughts travelling at the speed of tweet. We are time travelers into our own future. We are Time Lords.” — Ali Smith

If we confuse the real world with our many virtual worlds, it’s because so much of the real world is virtual.

Time’s winged chariot isn’t taking us anywhere good. […] The past, in which we did not exist, is bearable, but the future, in which we will not exist, troubles us more.

“We perceive time only because we know we have to die.” — Heidegger

Time Travel: A History (review)

Maria Popova describes James Gleick’s new book Time Travel: A History, “a dizzying tour of science, philosophy, and their interaction with literature.” A few snippets from her lengthy review:

“Why do we need time travel, when we already travel through space so far and fast? For history. For mystery. For nostalgia. For hope. To examine our potential and explore our memories. To counter regret for the life we lived, the only life, one dimension, beginning to end.”

“Things have been, says the legal mind, and so we are here. The creative mind says we are here because things have yet to be.”

“The mind is what we experience most immediately and what does the experiencing.”

“If we have only the one universe — if the universe is all there is — then time murders possibility. It erases the lives we might have had.”

One of my favorite topics by one of my favorite writers.

UPDATE: From a good piece in The Guardian: “Howard and his editors also manage a number of celebrity Beatle-fan coups, like the day when, to their astonishment, they spotted a 14-year-old Sigourney Weaver looming lankily over her fellow teenyboppers in footage of a 1964 show.”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

sapiens-book-coverAmazon: “Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.”

You can scan my favorite nuggets after the jump: Continue reading