The Truest Adventure

Do you remember what it was like to poke your head out of the womb?  Let me remind you…

Sound bombing your ears.  Temperature that freezes your skin.  Blinding light with incomprehensible patterns spread through the brain.  A bewildering freedom to stretch head and torso and limbs in all directions, but without any skill to control or coordinate movement.  Gravity resists every muscular effort.  The air around feels like icy sandpaper, and when someone tries to wrap you in a blanket it, it’s a hundred times more painful yet.

Why screaming babies are so hard to ignore

The truest adventure is to open oneself to the coming moment free of expectation that it will be like anything you have known before.


Whoa, man — that’s some heavy-duty physics!

I know I’ve said this before, but I feel a need to formulate it anew, so I’m asking you to indulge me.  It’s about identical particles, Bosons and Fermions, and why the world seems solid when we kick it and how physics tells us that everything is really one thing.

Alice and Bob are both people, but you would never confuse them—they’re not identical.  “Identical twins” are a lot closer. Some people can’t tell them apart, but their mother can, their spouses can.  Imagine opening a box from the Acme Ball Bearing Company, picking out two stainless steel balls that look exacly alike.  You really can’t tell them apart. Maybe looking for pits and scratches with a microscope, or with a scale that weighs accurate to a microgram you might be able to distinguish them; but even if you couldn’t tell them apart at all, you would always think it’s a meaningful question to ask, ‘is this one ball number one or ball number two?’

We think of two electrons or two photons (light particles) with an extension of our common sense from larger objects.  They have no nicks or scratches, and even the most sensitive measurement apparatus can’t detect a difference in their mass or any other properties.  But we think of them as distinct in principle.  You, me, and the physics professor, we all think that this electron is the one over here, and that is the one over there.  In fact, micro manipulation technology has allowed us to line up individual atoms in a pattern, and they stay put!

A frame from

This picture is made of individual atoms (courtesy of IBM)

But (you knew there was a “but” coming after this long-winded explanation of what everyone knows) the formalism of quantum mechanics tells a very different story.  Actually, it’s two very different stories, very different from what we imagine and very different from one another.  These are the stories of Bosons and Fermions.

Light is made of photons, which are Bosons.  The equation that governs the movement of a collection of photons, is explicitly symmetrized to account for the fact that the photons are identical in principle.  What I mean by ‘symmetrized’ is that you write down the equation with photon #1 over here and photon #2 over there, then you write the same equation with photon #1 over there and photon #2 over there, you add up the equations and divide by two.  So, what difference does it make to go through this Chinese fire drill, averaging up the two terms that are really no different from one another? Why bother? Yes it makes a difference, it makes a big difference. Technically, it’s because the wave function for the photons is squared before you evaluate the intensity of the light, so that factor of 2 in the average doesn’t come out in the wash.  The probability is twice is high for two photons to be coupled together, moving in lockstep, acting like one big photon. And for a million photons, the probability is a million times as big. Once you get a large number of photons all moving in lockstep, the probabilty for the next photon to join them is very high. The upshot is that lasers are possible. Just a tiny crystal and an LED is enough to line up the photons, all moving in lockstep.  (When I was in college, a laser cost $100,000, but now they’re cheap enough that people buy them just to amuse their cats.)  Lasers work because of the way that identical Bosons behave in quantum mechanics.

Electrons are Fermions, the opposite of Bosons in quantm lingo.  Instead of adding up their wave functions and dividing by two, you subtract them and divide by two.  

[particle #1 here, particle #2 there]  –  [particle #2 here, particle #1 there]   

This minus sign is entirely responsible for the illusion of separateness which is so deeply embedded in our perception of the physical world.  It’s because for the special case where “here” and “there” are the same place, the two terms cancel out and the probability is zero.  For two Bosons to be in the same place at the same time, the probabiliy is doubled; but for two Fermions, the probability is zero. Never happens.  (This is called the Pauli exclusion principle.)  And as the two Fermions get too close together, they start to sense this and they get antsy. They can only be brought very close together by giving them a great deal of energy.  

When “here” and “there” are far apart, we imagine that particle #1 is over here and particle #2 is over there.  Applying our experience from everyday life, we think of them as separate and distinct, but the QM equations are telling a different story.  Both electrons are here, and simultaneously both electrons are there, and the two electrons are conspiring to keep a distance between “here” and “there” — not because they are different electrons, but precisely because their fates are locked perfectly together in this weird way, with the minus sign.          

So, why is the rock hard when you kick it?  Maybe you thought that the atoms in your shoe take up space and the atoms in the rock take up space and they can’t be in the same space at the same time.  That would be wrong. Or maybe you thought the electrons in your shoe have a negative charge and the electrons in the rock have a negative charge, and the two negatives strongly repel each other when they get close together.  That’s a very educated guess, but it’s also wrong.

The reason that the electrons in your shoe and the electrons in the rock kick up a fuss when they are in very close proximity is that the electrons in the rock and in your shoe are, at the most fundamental level, the same electrons, part of the same wave function.  The lowest energy state of that electron pair has two lobes, with empty space between them, and unless you have a whole lot of energy to bring those electrons up to the next higher energy state, they are going to conspire to maintain that empty space between them.

But there are more than two electrons in the world

How would you write the wave function for 3 or 4 or 1080 electrons?  This part gets technical, but I’ll write it down for those who find it fun.

Let’s say there are 3 electrons and three different places.  Call the places One, Two and Three, and call the electrons 1, 2, and 3.  Then


means that the 1st electron is in the first place, the 2nd is in the second place and the 3rd is in the third place.  There are 5 other possibilities. For example, Electron 1 can be in place two and electron 2 can be in place one. Electrons 1 and 2 have swapped places.  Every time that happens, there’s a minus sign. If there are an even number of swaps, then there’s a plus sign; odd number of swaps contributes a minus sign. The wave function has a structure like this.

One(1)Two(2)Three(3) + One(2)Two(3)Three(1) + One(3)Two(1)Three(2)
– One(3)Two(2)Three(1) – One(2)Two(1)Three(3) – One(1)Two(3)Three(2)

Yes, physicists really do work with combinations like this, and they have a name: they’re called Slater determinants.  With just four electrons, there are 12 positive terms and 12 negative terms.  The number of plus and minus terms in the Slater determinant increases very rapidly — I want to say increases exponentially with the number of electrons, but that would be an understatement.  The number of combinations is much bigger than that. There are 1080 electrons in the universe and their wave function is a Slater determinant with 1080! terms.  That’s “1080 factorial” which is the biggest number you’re ever likely to come across in a discussion of one universe.  

Quiz for the truly nerdy:  How big a number is 1080 factorial?  If you tried to write it down, how many digits would you have to write? Is it bigger or smaller than a googol?  Is it bigger or smaller than a googolplex?

We talk about a particular electron being in a particular place, or following a particular orbit.  But this is a shorthand, a fiction. The truth is that every electron in the universe participates equally in this behavior, whatever it is, and all the electrons are continually checking in with each other and coordinating their behaviors, such that if you shine a light on this place and look, exactly one electron will appear under your flashlight, and the one you catch has an equal probability of being any of the 1080 electrons in the universe.  

Universal mind and individual mind

Today I pulled together three thoughts that before I had recognized separately 

  1. All mystrical traditions and many moderns who report on psychedelic experiences tell us that we are one.  But individuality is such a powerful illusion, if illusion it be. How to make sense of this unanimity on the subject of oneness in light of the fundamental fact of our senses: that we each experience free will with regard to skeletal muscles of one individual human only?
  2. Thoughts from moment to moment are mostly out of our volitional control.  Anyone who tries to meditate learns this. Maybe I shouldn’t say “tries” to meditate, because this is meditation’s central message.  One becomes aware that whoever “I” is, this entity is not in control of the thoughts with which “I” is so identified.
  3. Experiments in telepathy show a consistently positive statistical effect, but famously unreliable, inconsistent, out of control.  Telepathy is not a modality we can count on to deliver a message, but in a well-designed experiment with just a few hundred trials, we can be confident in seeing the statistical fingerprints of telepathy.  There is certainly an influence of one mind on another, but it is mostly undirected and beneath conscious awareness.

Tentative synthesis: My thoughts have control over my body, but “I” have only partial control over my thoughts.  This is what it feels like to be a part of the universal consciousness. These thoughts that come unbidden to my mind are the universal mind of which my conscious awareness is just a part.  One function of my brain is an antenna which receives thoughts and images from people I am close to, but also from anyone who directs attention toward me, and in part from a larger sphere of humanity or all life and all nature.

universal mind depiction

Old mystics, shamans, acidheads agree
Connection universal binds us all
The I that seems so separate and small
Is but conceit, conditioned vanity.

My mind in meditation doth defy
My will, assimilates unbidden thought.
Thus meditation’s lesson aptly taught
Asks who, if not my neurons, am this “I”?

Our science if more honest, would concede
Statistics show telepathy is real,
Though not a force we hear or see or feel.
From what source do its messages proceed?

From psi research and from my meditation,
The mystics’ message earns consideration.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Twitter Bans the Donald

“President” Trump’s twitter account has been deleted, including past history that goes back to 2009. Twitter spokesperson April Asina announced yesterday that the social media giant was taking the next step in helping the unwashed masses to separate Gospel from Heresy.

Trump could not be reached for comment. None of the usual places that feature his drivel had a single word of it this morning.

It is rumored that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a press conference, but it was sparsely attended, and none of the usual channels seem to be reporting it. It’s hard to tell, because Google News is no longer indexing Trump’s pronouncements, or, for that matter, any news coming from the White House.

In a New York Times OpEd, Lawrence Lessig, professor of media studies at Harvard Law School, wrote, “This is not necessarily a good thing. If they can censor Trump’s lies, they can censor your truth. It’s a slippery slope.” But Lessig’s article was run underneath an unsigned editorial that took a firm stand against Fake News. “People in a democratic society depend critically on a reliable source of news to make the decisions that ultimately control our government. We at the Newspaper of Record pontificate that our democracy cannot survive the divisiveness that is brought about by alternative perspectives.”

“Everyone is entitlted to his own opinion, but not her own facts,” wrote George Stephanopoulos, on the ABC News web page.

Professor Patrick Stokes of Deakin University in Melbourne has probably bloviated more extensively than any other windbag about this question of the thin line between censorship and enforced standards of responsibility in journalism. “The problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ and, by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful,” he explained in The Conversation .

But Susan Herman of ACLU spoke in alarmist terms about a “crisis for our democracy”. “If they can censor the President, you can bet your bippy they won’t stop there.”


Seeking diversion

The sense of this ditty is just to amuse you
Providing distraction, albeit quite brief;
Pretense to instruction would only abuse you,
Command your attention, abscond like a thief.

Bombastic!  Cantakerous! Trumping, galumping
Explosion in ecstasy, fallen to hell;
Salcious, moist body parts, elephants humping,
Revulsion and passion have served us all well.

Still with me, I see? so I must be succeeding
(At least you have not yet turned on the TV.)
Now dare I leave off what’s tlll now kept you reading,
Endeavoring slyly to —— set you free?

To look with astonishment on mere existence
Cannot be a grace that’s evoked by a poem;
’Tis you must endeavor to banish the distance
That separates you from your primeval home.

Something has beaten us down and prevented
Our touching around us what’s present and real;
It sings to us, rainbow-hewed, subtly scented,
Adrift in our heads, we’re unable to feel.

Stop reading!  I mean it. Turn off your computer,
Tune in to the raw state of being in time;
Put down this device, or abandon this book,
Don’t wait for the poet to leave off his rhyme.

Could it be you’re still waiting for me to stop writing?
Well, then, I will

Image result for lightning

A modest proposal

I just received a survey in the mail from the Democratic National Committee asking about my priorities.  There were about a hundred check boxes, but not one related to peace.  (But several asked if I wanted to raise our military profile or “stand up to Putin”.)

Here’s my proposal.  At present, the US military budget is more than 1/3 of the world’s total, more than the next ten countries combined.  That doesn’t include the black budget, hidden from Congress and from the American people, which according to this Michigan State Univ study is three times larger than the official accounting on which the chart below is based.


Effective immediately, I propose that We the People demand our legislators take action to end the black budget and limit the official budget to the sum of Russia + China together.  This comes to an 80% reduction.  Starting tomorrow, we spend only 1/5 as much on guns and bombs.

We should then announce that we will limit our future military spending in the same manner, never to exceed the next two rivals combined, so that as other countries reduce their military, the US will follow them in disarmament.

*Saudi Arabia is a special case.  Historically, they have been the largest supplier of crude oil to the US, and in order to avoid a huge balance of payments imbalance the House of Saud royal family has purchased far more American hi-tech weapons than any other country.