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.”

Everything is exactly the same

“Everything is made of some other thing. And those things in turn are made of other things. Over the next hundred years, scientists will uncover layer after layer of building blocks, each smaller than the last. At each layer the differences between types of matter will be fewer. At the lowest layer everything is exactly the same. Matter is uniform. Those are the bits of God.”

— God’s Debris by Scott Adams

“Matter is incredibly, mind-bogglingly empty. An atom is like a miniature Solar System, with a tight nucleus playing the role of a Sun orbited by electrons like planets. But the nucleus is incredibly tiny compared with the orbits of the electrons. Tom Stoppard, the playwright, had the best image. He said, if the nucleus is like the altar of St Paul’s cathedral, an electron is like a moth in the cathedral, one moment by the altar, the next by the dome. Imagine squeezing all the space out of an atom. Well, if you did that to all the atoms in all the people in the world, you could indeed fit the entire human race in the volume of a sugar cube.” — Physics.org


A few months ago I read James Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman (Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman). Lots of math and physics (all way over my head, but fascinating nonetheless) and a deep-dive into particle physics, at least for me. My simplistic take-away: 1) Matter and energy are the same thing. Sometimes. 2) Everything is made of this energy/matter. Everything. My hat. My body. Donald Trump. All made of the same stuff.

It would be difficult to get through the day if we experienced reality at this sub-atomic level so our brains (consciousness?) process it in a way that won’t make our heads explode. Nevertheless, I find it comforting to think of it in this way. Little bits of god or the Universe or whatever… winking in and out of existence.

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

“You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. . . I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.”

— Richard Feynman

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

A thousand years is but an instant

“A thousand years is but an instant. There’s nothing new, nothing different; same pattern over and over. The same clouds, same music, the same things I felt an hour or an eternity ago. There’s nothing here for me now, nothing at all. Now I remember, this happened to me before. This is why I left. You have begun to find your answers. Although it will seem difficult the rewards will be great. Exercise your human mind as fully as possible knowing that it is only an exercise. Build beautiful artifacts, solve problems, explore the secrets of the physical universe, savor the input from all the senses, filled with joy and sorrow and laughter, empathy, compassion, and tote the emotional memory in your travel bag. I remember where I came from, and how I became human, why I hung around, and now my final departure’s scheduled. This way out, escaping velocity. Not just eternity, but Infinity.”

From Waking Life by Richard Linklater (IMDb)

Tao is just a name for whatever happens

“The Tao is the pattern of things, but not the enforced law. […] The universe is a harmony or symbiosis of patterns which cannot exist without each other.”

“You can’t diverge from the Tao, for everything, anything, and nothing is Tao.”

“The vague, void-seeming, and indefinable Tao is the intelligence which shapes the world with a skill beyond our understanding.”

I’m at the point in my life when I occasionally stop, turn and look back down the path, marveling at how I got from there to here. I’ve pretty much decided it’s mostly random. Luck. Being at the right place at the right time (or wrong place/wrong time). You’ve seen all the same movies I have so I don’t have to explain what I’m talking about here but I made a short list of those moments that didn’t seem momentous at the time but, in retrospect, made a big difference. Perhaps a few personal examples?

Sometime during college I drove to Columbia, Missouri to take the Law School Admissions Test. I had no interest in law schools but it was a road trip and the girl I was dating knew some people and we wound up partying all night and sleeping on the floor. Next morning I took the test and forgot about it. A couple of years later I graduated and was about to lose my draft deferment. I had applied to a couple of law schools somewhere along the way and got accepted. That kept me out of Viet Nam until Richard Nixon stopped drafting people into that loser of a war and the next day I dropped out of law school. No planning here (at least not conscious planning), just luck.

Couple of years later I applied for a job with the Memphis Police Department. Didn’t get hired so I went to work at hometown radio station. That’s where I met the guy that later hired me and changed my life big time.

What if I hadn’t gone to that honky-tonk on the night that Barb was there with friends? Easy to imagine we would have never met.

I could go on but you get the idea. All these little forks in the road. Few of them seem important and most probably aren’t but I’m only here because I was there. The randomness of this horrifying. Unless things work out well, I guess. Some will argue we are the masters of our fate. Prepare, work hard, make good decisions, etc etc. And let’s not get into Free Will.

I cannot escape the memories of those (seemingly) meaningless decisions or events that changed the course of my life. Is this wisdom? A curse? A better question is: Will I be able to spot the next LCFITR (life changing fork in the road) and would I want to if I could?

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.”

A new mind for an old species

“Technology and life must share some fundamental essence. … However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms. Both life and technology seem to be based on immaterial flows of information.” (What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly)

“Humanity is developing a sort of global eyesight as millions of video cameras on satellites, desktops, and street corners are connected to the Internet. In your lifetime it will be possible to see almost anything on the planet from any computer. And society’s intelligence is merging over the Internet, creating, in effect, a global mind that can do vastly more than any individual mind. Eventually everything that is known by one person will be available to all. A decision can be made by the collective mind of humanity and instantly communicated to the body of society.” (God’s Debris, Scott Adams, 2004)

“All information will come in by super-realistic television and other electronic devices as yet in the planning stage or barely imagined. In one way this will enable the individual to extend himself anywhere without moving his body— even to distant regions of space. But this will be a new kind of individual— an individual with a colossal external nervous system reaching out and out into infinity. And this electronic nervous system will be so interconnected that all individuals plugged in will tend to share the same thoughts, the same feelings, and the same experiences. […] If all this ends with the human race leaving no more trace of itself in the universe than a system of electronic patterns, why should that trouble us? For that is exactly what we are now!” (The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts,1989)

“This very large thing (the net) provides a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall, planetary scope) and a new mind for an old species. It is the Beginning. […] At its core 7 billion humans, soon to be 9 billion, are quickly cloaking themselves with an always-on layer of connectivity that comes close to directly linking their brains to each other. […] By the year 2025 every person alive — that is, 100 percent of the planet’s inhabitants — will have access to this platform via some almost-free device. Everyone will be on it. Or in it. Or, simply, everyone will be it.” (The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly)

The Big Picture

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself. By Sean Carroll

Life is a process, not a substance, and it is necessarily temporary.

For a long time, there has been a shared view that there is some meaning, out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered and acknowledged. There is a point to all this; things happen for a reason. […] Gradually, our confidence in this view has begun to erode.

“Life” and “consciousness” do not denote essences distinct from matter; they are ways of talking about phenomena that emerge from the interplay of extraordinarily complex systems.

At a fundamental level, there aren’t separate “living things” and “nonliving things,” “things here on Earth” and “thinks up in the sky,” “matter” and “spirit.” There is just the basic stuff of reality, appearing to us in many different forms. […] We will ultimately understand the world as a single, unified reality, not caused or sustained or influenced by anything outside itself. That’s a big deal.

The only reliable way of learning about the world is by observing it.

The world is just the world, unfolding according to the patterns of nature, free of any judgmental attributes. The world exists; beauty and goodness are things that we bring to it.

(The) answer to the question “What determines what will happen next?” is “The state of the universe right now.” […] The entirety of both the past and the future history are utterly determined by the present.

The universe is something like a computer. You enter input (the state of the universe right now), it does a calculation (the laws of physics) and gives you an output (the state of the universe one moment later).

Conservation of Information – implies that each moment contains precisely the right amount of information to determine every other moment.

Realistically, there never will be and never can be an intelligence vast and knowledgeable enough to predict the future of the universe from its present state. […] To simulate the entire universe with good accuracy, you basically have to be the universe. […] The future may be determined by the present, but literally nobody knows what it will be.

We don’t know any way to predict what a person will do based on what we can readily observe about their current state.

The Principle of Sufficient Reason: For any true fact, there is a reason what it is so, and why something else is not so instead.

Just as there is no reference to “causes” in the fundamental laws of physics, there isn’t an arrow of time, either.
There are over 100 billion stars in the Milky Way and at least 100 billion galaxies. By coincidence, the number 100 billion is also a very rough count of the number of neurons in a human brain.

The Big Bang itself, as predicted by general relativity, is a moment in time, not a location in space. It would be the moment prior to which there were no moments: no space, no time.

Information about the precise state of the universe is conserved over time; there is no fundamental difference between the past and the future.

Different moments in time in the history of the universe follow each other, according to some pattern, but no one moment causes any other.

Belief (is) anything we think is true regardless of whether we have a good reason for it. […] The beliefs we choose to adopt are shaped as much, if not more, by the beliefs we already have than by correspondence with external reality.

The universe evolves by marching from one moment to the next in a way that depends only on its present state. It neither ames toward future goals nor relies on its previous history.

Most of the interesting things it is possible to know are not things we could ever hope to “prove,” in the strong sense. […] Math is all about proving things, but the things that math proves are not true facts about the external world.

Science has a simple goal: to figure out what the world actually is. Nat all the possible ways it could be, nor the particular way it should be. Just what it is.

All of the things you’ve ever seen or experienced in your life — objects, plants, animals, people — are made of a small number of particles, interacting with one another through a small number of forces.

What we see when we look at the world is quite different from how we describe the world when we’re not looking at it. (the fundamental feature of quantum mechanics)

There seems to be no obstacle in principle to a universe like ours simply beginning to exist.

To a poetic naturalist, “mind” is simply a way of talking about the behavior of certain collections of physical matter, just as “heaviness” is.

To imagine that the soul pushes around the electrons and protons and neutrons in our bodies in a way that we haven’t yet detected is certainly conceivable, but it implies that modern physics is profoundly wrong in a way that has so far eluded every controlled experiment ever performed.

Life is a way of talking about a particular sequence of events taking place among atoms and molecules arranged in the right way. […] What is “life” anyway? Nobody knows. There is not a single agreed-upon definition that clearly separates things that are “alive” from those that are not.

Our brains construct models of their surroundings, with the goal of not being surprised very often by new information. Subconsciously, the brain carries with it a set of possible things that could happen next, and updates the likelihood of each of them as new data comes in.

We are all just complicated collections of matter moving in patterns, obeying impersonal laws of physics in an environment with an arrow of time. Wants and purposes and desires are the kinds of things that naturally develop along the way.

What you can see has a dramatic effect on how you think.

Episodic memory and imagination engage the same neural machinery.

What we call a “thought” corresponds directly and unmistakably to the motion of certain charged particles inside my head.

The human brain contains roughly 85 billion neurons, each of which is connected to a thousand or more other neurons, so we’re talking about a hundred trillion or more connections in total.

Memories are physical things located in your brain.

Like “entropy” and “heat,” the concepts of “consciousness” and “understanding” are ones that we invent in order to give ourselves more useful and efficient descriptions of the world.

Who “you” are is defined by the pattern that your atoms form and the actions that they collectively take, not their specific identities as individual particles. It seems reasonable that consciousness would have the same property.

Our mental experiences or qualia are not actually separate things, but instead are useful parts of certain stories we tell about ordinary physical things.

If consciousness were something over and above the physical properties of matter, there would be a puzzle: what was it doing for all those billions of years before life came along? […] Some things just come into being as the universe evolves and entropy and complexity grow: galaxies, planets, organisms, consciousness.

(Meaning, morality, and purpose) aren’t built into the architecture of the universe; they emerge as ways of talking about our human-scale environment.