You can’t push it out of your mind, but you can accept it.

“Paradoxically, the more we focus on trying to get rid of painful thoughts or feelings, the more those things become the center of our lives.”

…a form of therapy inspired by Buddhist meditation.  Develop a different relationship to your thoughts.  Know your own mind.  Watch your thoughts, but don’t necessarily believe them.

Read more from Jamie Friedlander

Metamorphosis

Carl Zimmer has written about the prevalence of metamorphism in the animal world — much more common than I had ever imagined.

He writes about the work of Hanna ten Brink in the Netherlands, which begins from the conservative framework of most evolutionary biologists today, the selfish gene ideology.  She starts from the premise that animals maximize their individual fitness, meaning they try to reproduce as much as possible.  Her conclusion, then, is that animal species can eat more total food if they have access to two different ecological niches.

…animals pay a steep price to go through metamorphosis. They burn a lot of calories to tear apart the old anatomy and develop a new one. There’s a chance that this complicated process will go awry, leaving them with defects.

Metamorphosis also takes time, leaving animals vulnerable to predators and parasites. In many cases, Dr. ten Brink and her colleagues found, the cost of metamorphosis is too high for it to be favored by natural selection.

“You have to get back something really good,” she said.

In my reearch, I have been skeptical of the selfish gene ideology, and I have promoted the radical thinking of Lynn Margulis.  I think Lynn is correct that the way metamorphosis evolves is not by one species reaching out into two niches, but by two entirely different species merging their genomes—perhaps hard to imagine on its face, but Lynn cites a “paper trail” from the genome.

And what is the fitness payoff for the merger?  My theory is that it solves an ecological problem.  Adults are much larger, stronger, more experienced and more robust than their offspring.  It is hard for the young to grow up if to do so they must compete with larger and stronger versions of themselves.  Metamorphosis is a way to take the young out of competition with their elders, who have an unfair advantage.  It is thus about preserving the species, not the individual.

Scientific Objectivity

Since the time of Roger Bacon, Science has defined its unique contribution to understanding of the world by the practice of objectivity, meaning separation of the observer from the observed.  The pinnacle of success for this paradigm was in the 19th Century perspective of the world as a machine, in which atoms bumping against atoms were to explain all.

Physics was thus queen of the sciences, with claim to provide a deep explanation for chemistry and biology, not to mention geology and astronomy.  But as physical theory became more accurate, more successful, and more universal, a funny thing happened.  The quantum theory (1925) was able to account for properties of atoms and subatomic particles only by letting go of objectivity.  There is no longer any fixed reality independent of the questions we ask about it.  In fact, the question helps determine the answer.

This is a conclusion that physicists fought for decades, before J.S. Bell proved it was unavoidable in 1964.  Since then, science has not died, but it is now on a tenuous foundation.  Scientists cannot agree among themselves what to make of the fact that there is no way to separate the experiment from the experimenter.  They go about their business as if it does not matter.  Henry Stapp has one idea how to reconcile the quantum with the scientific method.

Quantum mechanics accounts with fantastic accuracy for the empirical data both old and new. The core difference between the two theories is that in the earlier classical theory all causal effects in the world of matter are reducible to the action of matter upon matter, whereas in the new theory our conscious intentions and mental efforts play an essential and irreducible causal role in the determination of the evolving material properties of the physically described world. Thus the new theory elevates our acts of conscious observation from causally impotent witnesses of a flow of physical events determined by material processes alone to irreducible mental inputs into the determination of the future of an evolving psycho-physical universe. In this orthodox quantum mechanical understanding of the world our minds matter!

Thus quantum mechanics assigns to mental reality a function not performed by the physical properties, namely the property of providing an avenue for our human values to enter into the evolution of psycho-physical reality, and hence make our lives meaningful.

Henry Stapp is a quantum physicist at University of California and Lawrence Berkeley Lab

We are accustomed to a world in which science says that the world is indifferent to us, while mystics say that we are creating our own reality. What will we think if science says we are co-creating our own reality?

atomhead

The Body Clock (flash fiction)

We might delay, but cannot avoid death.  Even if you had the Goblet of Gilgamesh, the actuaries would offer even money whether you’d survive your thousandth birthday.  The world is just too full of drunk drivers and mutating viruses. You know this, of course, but I didn’t. The only excuse I can offer is that fear of dying was clouding my reason.

When I was 46, I walked away from a career in computer science to go to med school.  I wanted to learn the science of aging, and convinced myself there was a chance—I was not too proud to grasp at a thread—that the Breakthrough would come in time for me.  I never imagined making the discovery myself, but hoped I might be close enough to the field to secure a place near the head of the queue when human trials became available.

I was lucky.  Aging, it turns out, is epigenetic.  It’s all about gene expression, and Big Data yielded to Bigger Database.  I’m 69 years old, and I have in hand a vial with a transcription factor that will set my body’s clock back 40 years.

The grey fog of fear has lifted, and I can think about death for the first time.  I can read about children’s past lives, mediumship, and NDEs. I can plan. A thousand years feels, at once, too long to occupy one body, and completely beside the point.  When I’m 900 years young, will I still be able to learn? Will I still dread the looming Void?

A faint glimpse into the obvious.  The best gift of that vial is already mine.  All I really wanted was a view of life outside the fog, and this I have been given.

— JJM

The Seventh Seal

The Science of Sleep

Matthew Walker is the Sleep Diplomat.  In this video he teaches us how to sleep better, and documents some of the ways in which quantity and quality of sleep can make us smarter, more attractive, better connected, more creative, happier people.  Sleep quality contributes to health of the immune system, resistance to disease and to cancer, lowered risk of cancer and heart disease and dementia, richer lives in the here and now.

A new theory of negative mass

It was Einstein who first noted that we have two different definitions of mass.

      1. Mass is inertia.  It’s a measure of how hard it is to get something stationary to start moving or to get something that’s moving to stop.  F=ma.
      2. Mass is the source of gravity.  Mass is attracted to other mass through the weakest force in the universe.  F=Gm1m2 / R2

Einstein elevated the equivalence of gravitational and inertial mass to a founding postulate, the equivalence principle, and on it he built a geometric theory of gravity.

Jamie Farnes, an Oxford University physicist, thinks that some of the mass in the universe is negative.  It has negative gravitational mass and negative inertial mass.  So Farnes-stuff has a repulsive gravitational effect on itself, but it attracts ordinary matter.  In the Farnes universe, negative mass is being continually created, popping out of the vacuum.


What’s the motivation for making a radical new proposal?  Well, 20 years ago, cosmologists realized that the conventional view isn’t viable.  On the one hand, they found that galaxies are held together by a force stronger than their gravitational mass can account for.  On the other hand, they found that the universe is flying apart faster and faster, as if under the influence of some kind of negative gravity.  To solve these two problems, the conventional wing of physical cosmology postulated that 70% of everything in the universe is “dark energy” while 25% is “dark matter”, and only 5% is the matter we’re familiar with.  In order to explain the motions of the 5%, they have invented 95% of stuff that no human has ever seen, heard, or tasted, and that we know for a fact can’t be made of electrons, neutrons, protons, or any of the exotic particles observed in high-energy accelerators.

So Farnes-stuff is no more crazy than the theory it purports to replace, and the advantage, says Farnes, is that it’s just one thing—a single substance that can play the role of both dark matter and dark energy.


I was skeptical about dark energy and dark matter because they were invented out of the blue to rescue a failing theory.  Three hundred years ago, people invented phlogiston to account for the properties of heat, and two hundred years ago there was the luminiferous aether to explain the properties of light.  Today, we understand light and heat without the need for these fictional substances.

But I became less skeptical once I saw a video by Yale astrophysicist Priya Natarajan, describing two ways to locate dark matter in maps of the sky.  (1) she looked for gravitational lenses—concentrations of matter that bend light from distant galaxies and distort the images, or even cause them to appear in two pieces  (2) she reverse-engineered the gravity that binds galaxies together to locate the extra mass that would be needed to keep them from flying apart.  Natarajan shows pictures in which these two maps coincide.  In other words, two different ways to detect dark matter seem to agree.

Natarajan-map

The question I would like to see Natarajan and Farnes address is whether the same trick works for Farnes-stuff.  Can gravitational lensing and the coherent force in clusters of galaxies be explained in a single map of where the negative mass is hiding?

~∃∞

(~∃∞) = (Infinity doesn’t exist)

“Where did the Big Bang come from?  Who made it? Answer me that, wise guy!”

It would be plenty Daoist enough to imagine that the Universe popped into existence from the void.  There was nothing, and there was nothing, and there was nothing, and then there was everything.

What Einstein’s equation tells us is another leap beyond what our diminutive brains can grok.  Space-time came into existence at the moment of the Bang. We might stretch our minds to imagine existence outside of space. Existence outside of time is something else again.

∪∉t.    t∈∪

(The world does not exist in time, but time exists within the world.)

The domain of time is part of our Universe.  Another part, part of what exists, is outside of time.

endoftime

Contemplation of paradox is a path to expanded awareness.  This is the logic of the illogical Zen koan. The mind that forms rational structures to house and to order its knowledge gives up, and a larger mind takes over, one that is capable of encompassing a reality beyond our senses, beyond comprehension, beyond logic.

Existence outside of time.

Time is just one domicile, one possible home for being.  Something birthed space-time, something larger, something capable of encompassing space-time as part of itself.  

Dao is beyond understanding.  Words may be used to speak of it, but they cannot contain it.

Dao existed before words and names, before heaven and earth, before the myriad things.

Therefore, to see beyond all boundaries to the subtle heart of things, dispense with names, with concepts, with expectations and ambitions and differences.

Dao and its many manifestations arise from the same source: subtle wonder within mysterious darkness.

To dwell in the world as it is, we must first dispense with the ambition to understand.

— Dao De Jing (or Tao Te Ching), Brian Browne Walker translation (all except the last line which is my own rendering)


 

Les Deux Infinis

Infinity as a concept has been made rigorous by mathematicians.  It is assigned a definite meaning so that the symbol ∞ can be manipulated sensibly without undermining the logic of the systems in which it participates.  Mathematicians can talk about infinity because they have come to agreement in advance about precisely what it means.

1 / 0 = ∞

In science, infinity has another meaning, a different meaning that must not be confused with mathematical infinity.  To a physicist, infinity simply means “large enough that we don’t have to worry about running out, or coming to its end.”  Alternatively, infinity is a conceptual tool for approximate calculations. We say something is infinite to justify neglecting terms that are in comparison, that might be added to it or subtracted from it.  We always remember that an infinity must be divided by a comparable infinity before it has a meaningful place in our computations or in our conceptions.  Infinity always cancels out of the equations.

The greater part of quantum field theory consists in rules for how to add and subtract infinities so that we are left with a finite answer.

Physicists acknowledge that we come to practical limits of what we can measure, or of what affects us, so we never have to grapple with mathematical infinity.  Mathematical infinities are not part of our world, not in any sense that has consequence for science.

Astronomers commonly raise the question, Is our Universe finite or infinite?  And the related question, Will the Universe go on forever, or will time come to an end?  They adduce evidence in the form of measurements of speeds and galaxy counts and densities, plug those numbers into Einstein’s equations, and purport to tell us one way or the other. These questions and their answers must be understood in the context of physical infinity, not mathematical infinity.  

Physics offers us enough challenges to stretch our mental framework without having to worry about forever, so there’s one subject on which you can set your mind at ease.

Time, even time had a beginning, and will have an end.