Many universes?

“The universe” is, by definition, everything we can ever know anything about.  It’s hard enough to know about things (in our one universe) that are small and far away, at temperatures beyond what we can create in a laboratory.  It’s hard enough to know details of our evolutionary past, unable to do experiments, dependent on a spotty fossil record and conflicting studies of DNA similarity.  I’d say science has enough on its plate with trying to figure out this universe.  There’s no need to take on other universes, about which we can know nothing.

Last week, I wrote about the Anthropic Principle, which prompted mainstream astronomers to postulate the existence of zillions of other universes to avoid the alternative inference: that life is as primary as physics—that the purpose of our universe is to be a home for life.

There is another realm where physicists have postulated the existence of (even more unthinkably many) extra universes in order to save their 19th Century worldview.  That is in quantum mechanics.

QM is a set of equations for determining how the wave function changes over time.  Roughly speaking, if you know how the probability of a particle’s presence is spread out over space at any one time, you can use the QM equation to project that same knowledge into the future, to tell you, for example, what the probabilities will be for finding the particle at various points in space one second from now.  This is the mathematically-intricate but unmysterious part of QM.

The mysterious part is what happens when an observation is made.  All of a sudden, the wave function stops being what it used to be, and all probability becomes concentrated at a single point in space, where you saw the particle in your observation.  Then the equation picks up from there to start projecting a new future, based on your new knowledge.

The problem with this is: “What do you mean by an observation?”  If an observation is made by a physical system, then that physical system is governed by the same QM equations, and it shouldn’t be treated as an observation at all—just a more inclusive wave function that includes both systems.  Why should you need special rules for observations?  Aren’t Geiger counters and cloud chambers just physical systems subject to the rules of QM?  For that matter, aren’t human scientists just physical systems subject to the same rules as non-living systems?

The standard answer these days is to say that there are no observations, only different universes in which we might find ourselves, different universes in which the electron was here and it was there, different universes in which the photon spins to the right or the left, different universes in which the electron went through the left slit and in which it went through the right slit.  Every particle, every billionth of a billionth of a second, is splitting the universe into copy universes, each a tiny bit different from the other universes, each going its own way.  This is called the Many Worlds Interpretation of QM.  “Many” is the biggest understatement in science.

The reason the Many Worlds Interpretation has become popular is simply to avoid the alternative implication: that there is something outside of physics that is doing the observing.  In the MWI, all you need is a universal wave function—but a universal wave function for each universe, and there is a god-awful proliferation of universes.

In the minority view, there is just one universe, but it contains consciousness in addition to wave functions.  It is consciousness that collapses wave functions, and consciousness has an independent existence, separate from matter, able to influence matter (by making observations, collapsing the wave function).  Various versions of this view were promoted by such luminaries as von Neuman, Wigner, Bohm, and Schrödinger himself.

This story is another instance in which science is crying out for an interpretation congruent with ancient mystical ideas, but the science establishment recoils and invents a gazillion universes to avoid having to associate with mysticism.



How special is our universe?

Ask a physicist to imagine a universe different from our own.  Maybe gravity is ten times as strong. Imagine another one. There are 4 dimensions of space instead of 3.  Maybe the charge on an electron is 10% bigger than what it is in our world.

When I was a grad student in the 1970s, I wanted to ask the question, “how many of these universes are capable of supporting life?”  In other words, “how special is our universe?”

Before that decade, scientists assumed that the laws of physics were arbitrary and that life used them opportunistically.  In fact most scientists and most people still think that way.

The laws of physics were imprinted on the universe at the Big Bang, and life originated when a particular configuration happened to be able to make copies of itself.  All the rest is explained by Darwin. [the classic materialist perspective.]

That started to change in 1973, when a young Australian physicist named Brandon Carter wrote about an extraordinary series of what-ifs.  If the gravitational force were just a little weaker, there would be no galaxies or stars, nothing in the universe but spread-out gas and dust.  If the electric charge of the proton were just a bit bigger, hydrogen would be the only chemical element. If our world had four (or more) dimensions instead of three, there would be no stable orbits, no solar systems because planets would would quickly fly off into space or fall into the star; for that matter, there would be no stable galaxies in which solar systems might form in the first place.

When I proposed to my graduate adviser in 1979 that I wanted to write a dissertation on the question, “how special is a universe that can support life?” he told me the question was not yet ripe, that physicists did not have any way to interpret “special” by assigning probabilities.

But others have worked on the question.  Now, forty years later, physicists are agreed that our universe is very special indeed.  The vast majority of imaginable physical laws give rise to universes that are terminally boring.  They quickly go to thermodynamic equilibrium = “heat death”, so that nothing can happen. Or they Bang and then turn around and collapse so quickly that there’s no time for anything interesting.  Or they don’t support chemistry, or anything like it. Or they produce starlight that is too hot or too cold to interact with chemistry, so there’s no photosynthesis. Or….

So many things that can go wrong!  The inescapable conclusion is that this universe that we live in is a rare gem.  The probability of laws that can support life is infinitesimal. This has been called the Anthropic Principle.

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Two Interpretations

Scientists mostly don’t take account of this extraordinary fact; they go on as if life were an inevitability, an accident waiting to happen.  But those who have thought about the Anthropic Princple fall in two camps:

The majority opinion:  There are millions and trillions and gazillions of alternative universes.  They all exist. They are all equally “real”. But, of course, there’s no one looking at most of them.  It’s no coincidence that our universe is one of the tiny proportion that can support life; the very fact that we are who we are, that we are able to ask this question, implies that we are in one of the extremely lucky universes.

The minority opinion:  Life is fundamental, more fundamental than matter.  Consciousness is perhaps a physical entity, as Schrödinger thought; or perhaps it exists in a world apart from space-time, as Descartes implied 300 years before Schrödinger; or perhaps there is a Platonic world of “forms” or “ideals” [various translations of Plato’s είδος] that is primary, and that our physical world is a shadow or a concretization of that world.  One way or another, it is consciousness that has given rise to physics, and not the other way around.

I prefer the minority view

I am a mystic as well as a scientist, and the minority view resonates for me.  I worry that this is superstitious or even wishful thinking, so I examine the scientific evidence.

The argument for the majority view is in the nature of science.  Science asks, “what about the world can we agree on?” Getting the observer out of the picture is the essence of science.  Historically, the Enlightenment began, and with it the scientific age, when man was first willing to step aside from center stage long enough to describe an objective physical reality that exists independent of himself.  We have worked for centuries to emerge from the prejudices and superstitions of religious beliefs. We don’t want to let them creep in by the back door. It is to preserve the Copernican revolution that most scientists would rather imagine a large number of dead universes, rather than revert to the idea that man is special.

Of course, it is impossible to disprove the existence of gazillions of other universes, but it is also impossible to impute any evidence in favor of their existence.  I find it inelegant for a theory to carry so much baggage, to assume so much in order to explain so little. It is an extravagant waste of universes. These are aesthetic objections to the majority.

There are also scientific reasons to prefer the mystical view.

  • Quantum mechanics requires an observer.  Nothing is reified until it is observed, and the observer’s probes help determine what it is that is reified.  Physicists debate what the “observer” means, but if we assume that it is a physical entity, paradoxes arise; hence the “observer” must be something outside the laws that determine the evolution of quantum probability waves.  Cartesian dualism provides a natural home for the “observer”.
  • Parapsychology experiments provide a great many indications that awareness (and memory) have an existence apart from the physical brain.  These include near-death experiences, telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance.
  • Moreover, mental intentions have been observed to affect reality.  This is psychokinesis, from spoon-bending to shading the probabilities dictated by quantum mechanics.

Finally, the idea that consciousness is primary connects to mystical texts that go back thousands of years.

Dao existed before heaven and earth, before the ten thousand things.  It is the unbounded mother of all living things.
— from the Dao De Jing of Lao Tzu

We create our life as the spider spins its web.  We dream our lives, then we live in the dream. This is true for all the world.
— from the Upanishads (ancient Hindu scripture)

You are what you think. All that you are arises from your thoughts. With your thoughts you make your world.
— Dhammapada (Buddhist bible)

Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning or end, and is based on the principles, life and rest. Uncreated and indestructible, it endures under the compulsion of its own nature.
— Jinasena (Jainist saint)

“The dreamers are the saviors of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trials and sins and sordid vocations, are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers.”
— James Allen (As a Man Thinketh)

For as long as history can recount, mystics have been telling us that the nature of the world is primarily mental, and that the world of matter and sense is a veil of illusion.  Modern gurus and people who come back from near-death experiences and Jesus Christ and Plato and Depak Chopra all agree. Maybe they’re right.

The world is special because we made it that way — “we”  in the very largest sense.

Next week: An analogous choice in interpreting QM.

Create your own music with quantum biofeedback

There are a lot of new ideas here.

Start with the suppressed science that tells us that the famous randomness in quantum mechanics is not completely random, but can be influenced directly by human intention.  This was proved by Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne in a 30-year experimental protocol, and has been studied more recently by Dean Radin at Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS).  Unlike every other physical effect, this one doesn’t depend on distance, so it’s just as easy for you to affect a quantum event on the other side of the world as right in front of you.   There is enough data to demonstrate this effect with overwhelming statistical significance, less than a chance in a billion that this could be a random coincidence.

The effects have been small, easily lost in the quantum randomness in which they are embedded, so they have required large databases to see the mental influence.  Part of the problem is that it’s hard to get excited about whether quantum numbers are 1s or 0s.  People don’t have much skin in the game.

Iebele Abel has sought to address this problem by presenting people with music based on quantum random numbers.  People listening to the music can make it more beautiful (according to their subjective preference) by their effect on the quantum random events that drive the parameters of the music.  Abel calls the technology RT-ISMF, and he claims that people have deep healing experiences and even clarity about life purpose from engaging with this music.

You can try it yourself at this website.  (It requires creating a password account, but doesn’t cost anything.) (My browser generates a warning message “not safe” because the login page does not use SHTML in a standard way, but you may safely override the warning.)

The actual random event generator is in Greece, but you’ll find you can control it readily.spiral-kbd

A year in the life of Earth

In 2018, Earth picked up about 40,000 tons of interplanetary material, mostly dust, much of it from comets. Earth lost around 100,000 tons of hydrogen and helium,  light gases which escaped to outer space. Roughly 500,000 cubic kilometers of water fell on Earth’s surface as rain and snow—a tiny fraction of the 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of all oceans, but far more than the fresh water standing and flowing on Earth’s surface.

Bristlecone pines, which can live for millennia, each gained perhaps a hundredth of an inch in diameter, while the oldest Sequoias added a full inch of height.  Countless mayflies came and went. As of this writing, more than one hundred thirty-six million people were born in 2018, and more than fifty-seven million died.  That’s still more than two births for every death, but the exponential population expansion has finally begun to slow, and demographers predict it might level off at 11 billion before century’s end.

Tidal interactions are very slowly increasing the distance between Earth and the moon, which ended 2018 about an inch and a half further apart than they were at the beginning. The energy to pull moon from earth was taken from Earth’s rotation, so that each day is two ten-thousandths of a second longer than it was last year. Earth and the sun are also crept almost an inch further apart, but for different reasons, having to do mostly with changes in the sun’s gravitational pull as it converts some of its mass into energy radiated into space.

The Atlantic Ocean widened by about an inch as the rift valley along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge expanded. New material, in the form of magma rising to the seafloor, pushed apart the North American and Eurasian plates (North Atlantic) and the South American and African plates (South Atlantic). The East African Rift, at which one plate is splitting into two, also widened, but only by a quarter inch.  The end of 2018 finds the Himalayas half an inch higher than they were at the beginning of the year; they’re being pushed up as the Indian plate, moving about 3 inches this year, continues to plow into the Eurasian plate.

Some of Earth’s geological changes are visible well within a human lifetime. From May through September, the island of Hawaii gained more than a square mile of new coastal land in the form of lava from Kilauea. Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatoa) in the Sunda Strait in Indonesia erupted explosively in 2018. It appeared in 1930 in the caldera left behind after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, and every year it grows by about 20 feet.

Read more from Mary Hrovat at 3QuarksDaily

Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.
— Robinson Jeffers


Memory does not live in the brain

We are conditioned to think that our selves and our precious memories, built over a lifetime, are all dependent on this fragile, perishable body.  Most crucial is the brain, because that is where we imagine that we live.

But there are multiple biological examples of somatic cognition, discussed as part of this presentation by Michael Levin.  One-celled organisms can learn.  Organ transplant patients can take on skills and preferences of the donor.  Planaria can be cut into pieces, and the pieces with no brain retain memories.  Caterpillars liquefy their brains in the chrysalis on the way to becoming a butterfly, and the caterpillar’s memories are retained in the butterfly.

Is memory biochemical?  Does it have an extracorporeal existence, taking up temporary residence in a particular body for a particular lifetime?

The rest of this video is about regeneration, and is equally inspiring in a different way.


It only sounds esoteric

There is a debate at the foundation of physics that even physicists avoid thinking overmuch about, and yet it goes to the heart of our sense of who we are and where we come from.

The mainstream scientific view is that the universe is an objective, physical entity made up of elementary particles and associated force fields.  Life was an accident.  Intelligent life was a further accident.  And consciousness is a big mystery that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with physical matter, but somehow arises from the electrical activity in the brain, or maybe…

“The conception of the objective reality of the elementary particles has evaporated not into the cloud of some new reality concept but into the transparent clarity of a mathematics that represents no longer the behavior of the particles but our knowledge of this behavior.”

— Werner Heisenberg, describing the Quantum revolution

In view of the fundamental re-entry of mind into basic physics, it is nigh on incomprehensible that so few philosophers and non-physicist scientists entertain today, more than nine decades after the downfall of classical physics, the idea that the physicalist conception of nature, based on the invalidated classical theory, might be profoundly wrong in ways highly relevant to the mind-matter problem…The orthodox quantum ontology is in essential accord with the dualistic ideas of Descartes…

This conclusion that nature is fundamentally mind-like is hardly new. But it arises here not from some deep philosophical analysis or religious insight, but from direct examination of the causal structure of our basic scientific theory”

— Henry Stapp, from How Consciousness Became the Universe

Henry Stapp is a theoretical physicist, an emeritus professor of at UC Berkeley.   My interpretation of this quote:

The idea of an objective physical universe was the height of 19th Century science, but it has been supplanted by 20th Century quantum physics.  There is no room for mind in 19th Century physics, but there is an explicit place for mind in quantum physics.  So why are we still working with an understanding in which our world is dead, our brains are meat computers and consciousness is an illusion?

The light of consciousness is our primary experience, something we know before we know anything else. Science is supposed to be empirical, that is, rooted in experience.  Why would science want to deny the most fundamental fact of our experience?  If physical theory led inexorably to the conclusion that the physical universe is a complete, objective system, with no room in its laws for interference by anything mental then we might understand science, pushed into a corner, would be at a loss to embrace consciousness as anything else but a curious epiphenomenon.  But this was 19th century physics.  Why has the scientific world-view worked so hard to avoid the quantum implication that consciousness has a role in fundamental physics?

Stapp has many articles and 3 books in which he offers us one alternative understanding of physics and its relation to life.  Conscious observation and conscious intention exist outside of the physical world of particles and fields, but exchanges information with that physical world.  Intention can alter quantum probabilities.  And brains are so exquisitely constructed as to be able to leverage the tiny quantum effects of our intentions turn them into thoughts, ideas, and motor triggers.

Do you remember the butterfly effect?  The weather is such a complex system, poised on the knife-edge of chaos, that it is unpredictable, because the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in Tahiti six weeks ago might affect the weather in New York tomorrow.  It appears that our brains are designed on an analogous principle, but not to make neuronal activity chaotic, but to make it exquisitely sensitive to tiny quantum events that can, conceivably, be affected by this entity I call “me”.

I hope you had a delicious Thanksgiving

I hope your parents loved you and your childhood was free of trauma.

I hope the Founding Fathers were sincere in their desire to create an inclusive democracy.

I hope that two World Wars never happened.

I hope I don’t come off sounding like Erving Goffman.

Actually, I hope that I do manage to evoke the ghost of Goffman, because IMHO he was one of the funniest and most perceptive writers ever to poke holes in our blinders.Image result for wearing blinders

What does it mean to hope for something in the past that already has happened (or not)?

Heck—what does it mean to hope for something in the future?  And what does it mean to tell someone that we hope something, without really experiencing either the emotion of hope or the visualization of the desiderate event?

I hope that each time I say good-bye to my friend, I recall the image of God vouchsafing his passage.

I am acquainted with the literature at the edge of experimental psychology suggesting that intention and visualization (hope) can have a real impact on the future.  There is evidence for remote healing through the power of prayer.  The finding that this effect can even work retroactively suggests a need to rebuild the foundations of modern science, flowing from the axiom that the past is an efficient cause of the future (and never the other way ’round).  No shit.

I hope that this re-evaluation might proceed expeditiously.  I don’t hope that the re-evaluation might be obviated by re-arranging the past in such a way that the principles of causality were never woven into the fabric of scientific thought in the first place.

Einstein, BTW, rooted his most influential thought experiments in the principle that an experimenter’s free will may affect the future (he called it the forward light cone) but never the past.  This reasoning was the basis of his conclusion that the notions of future and past were, in some cases, relative to the observer (but beyond limits imposed by light speed, other events are in either the past or the future, which all observers agree upon).  When the emerging laws of quantum reality seemed to show that only half of the future was determined by the past, and the other half could be influenced by events distant in space and time, either forward or after, Einstein clung too long to the suspicion that this implies a problem at the heart of quantum mechanics.

The hopes that we express in polite conversation are social lubricants, significant for facilitating a level of familiarity and safety that we establish before trusting another human with a glimpse into our inner experience.  They are devoid of literal content.  To analyze their verbal content as though it held a meaning intended for communication is the height of absurdity.  Hence my hope that you might find this column an occasion for laughter.

Image result for thumbing my nose



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