Speed of Light Broken?

Let’s hope this is true. That would be seriously exciting!

From this source

A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the
speed of light – an achievement that would undermine our entire
understanding of space and time.

 
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921

According
to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, it would require an
infinite amount of energy to propel an object at more than 186,000
miles per second.

However, Dr Gunter Nimtz and Dr
Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz, say they may have
breached a key tenet of that theory.

The pair say
they have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons –
energetic packets of light – travelled "instantaneously" between a pair
of prisms that had been moved up to 3ft apart.

Being able to travel faster than the speed of light would lead to a wide variety of bizarre consequences.

Roswell Officer's Deathbed Confession: UFO's Are Real

This just in. Lieutenant Walter Haut was the public relations officer at the Roswell Air Force base in 1947 when aliens or a weather balloon allegedly crash landed on a nearby ranch.

Lieutenant Walter Haut was the public relations officer at the base
in 1947, and was the man who issued the original and subsequent press
releases after the crash on the orders of the base commander, Colonel
William Blanchard.

Haut died last year, but left a sworn affidavit to be opened only after his death.

Last week, the text was released and asserts that the weather balloon
claim was a cover story, and that the real object had been recovered by
the military and stored in a hangar. He described seeing not just the
craft, but alien bodies.

Read the rest here.

 

British Ministry of Defense Chief Resigns; Cites Concerns About UFO's

Ok, here’s a very unusual news item:

During his time as head of the Ministry of Defence UFO project, Nick
Pope was persuaded into believing that other lifeforms may visit Earth
and, more specifically, Britain.

His concern is that "highly credible" sightings are simply dismissed.

And he complains that the project he once ran is now "virtually closed" down, leaving the country "wide open" to aliens.

Mr Pope decided to speak out about his worries after resigning
from his post at the Directorate of Defence Security at the MoD this
week.

"The consequences of getting this one wrong could be huge," he said.

Read the rest here.  I have several thoughts about this  news and what it might mean… 

Continue reading

Is There Room for The Soul? – Good Article on Cognitive Science

This is a surprisingly good article on the nature of consciousness — providing a survey of the current state-of-the-art in cognitive science research. It covers the question from a number of perspectives and interviews many of the leading current researchers.

What Was Before the Big Bang?

An article in my new favorite magazine, Seed Magazine, by cosmologist Sean Carrol, proposes an interesting new theory about the nature of time and the evolution of baby universes. In this approach, baby universes can suddenly come into being from empty space when random quantum vacuum fluctuations fall into place in just the right way. Admittedly the odds of this happening are incredibly slim, but not impossible, and therefore in an infinite amount of time it definitely will happen over and over again. The only issue I have with the article is that it presents the issue of "time’s arrow" in the wrong light in my opinion. The so-called "arrow of time" is simply the progression from low to high entropy states — that is things start out ordered and become disordered over time. The new proposed theory doesn’t really show any way for that arrow to be reversed as far as I can tell. Entropy doesn’t run backwards, even in the metaverse. It would seem to me that every baby universe would be born from a highly ordered, extremely low entropy, state, and would then become less ordered and would gain in entropy over time. Although this might happen at different moments in meta-time, each of these universes would still develop in the same manner. But perhaps I’m missing something. Maybe the theorists have a way for high-entropy states to suddenly come into being and explode to become full-fledged universes which then lose entropy instead of gaining it? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. While the chances of a high-entropy state randomly occuring are incredibly slim, in an infinite amount of time they too would all occur at least some of the time — yet even so, I don’t see any reason to think that a high-entropy baby universe would, or could, run backwards towards a lower entropy state. Feel free to comment and explain it further if I got it wrong.

A Village Where Aging is Sped Up

Here’s an interesting video about a village in India where men have been stricken for over a decade with a disease that causes them to age much faster. Nobody knows what is causing this. Men in their 30’s appear to be 80. It’s strange. Watch the video. Perhaps if someone were to collect some DNA and compare it to DNA of people without this syndrome a cure or at least an explanation could be found. This might also reveal what is different, if anything, about the DNA of people in this village that causes them to age — and if a specific gene or set of genes is involved, this could perhaps provide a key to slowing down aging in healthy people.

A Problem with Space Travel

As the distance a spaceship travels through space increases, so do the odds that it will collide with debris in its path – such as interstellar dust, micrometeorites, asteroids, dark matter, dark stars, etc.

If you are traveling at super high-speed, through uncharted territory, there is no way to know what is out there.

Even if it is charted territory, debris is always flying through – sometimes at incredibly high speeds. Especially when you near solar systems, or in denser areas.

It should be possible to say that after a certain distance the odds are 100% that a spaceship will experience a fatal collision.

As a result, only short range space travel is probably safe enough to be feasible unless some kind of shield technology is invented that can withstand the  blasts that result from collisions with even tiny things at such high
speeds.

My guess is that if advanced interstellar civilizations exist, they do not travel linearly through space because it is just too dangerous. They must have a way to “tunnel” – either by using or creating wormholes, or some other means of teleportation, or hyperdimensional travel.

In speaking about this, my friend Josh, suggested the following:

Yeah- and here’s another aspect to that problem.

Assume you are using a near light speed drive to go from star to star.

Any detection system you are using (radar, etc) will only extend slightly in front of the ship- because it is only moving slightly faster than you are- and the faster you go, the less
time you have to detect and deal with obstacles or objects.

If you are moving slowly- perhaps a generation ship or a “frozen cargo” scenario- you could use radar connected to an autopilot- but you still need something to protect you from micrometeorites and interstellar dust- maybe a big electrostatic shield extending far in front of the ship that will attract and deflect such objects (most meteroids are ferromagnetic, so they respond well to electromagnetic fields…)

You really need a rapid response detection system…

Water Powered Car — Too Good to Be True? Video.

OK this is a clip from Fox News, which is not normally a source that I consider to be factual or trustworthy — but it cerrtainly is an interesting story. The video clip profiles an inventor who has developed a novel method of converting water to useful fuel. He powers a welding torch and a car in the video. It’s pretty interesting to watch. What is most strange to me is that although his welding torch can generate enough heat to burn holes in rock, the tip of the torch stays cool enough to touch. Check it out.

All Cell Phone Calls Easily Eavesdropped … With Common Household Appliance

A major, virtually unfixable, security flaw in the design of nearly all cell phones and other mobile devices will be announced this week by researchers at the Foundation for Microwave Safety (FMS). According to sources, it turns out that due to a coincidence in engineering, ordinary household microwave ovens can actually be used to receive and eavesdrop on all cell phone calls made or received within a 1 mile radius. Better yet, you can also use them to broadcast to all cell phones within a 1 mile radius!

According to the study, which will be released next week, the technique is ludicrously easy: simply go to any microwave oven. Set the power level to high. Next, on the microwave keypad or time setting dial, enter a time in that is at least a minute or so. Then hit the "Start" button. Next, press your ear against the microwave oven door as it runs and listen carefully — you won’t believe it, but you will actually hear cell phone calls. If you then wish to broadcast to all the calls you are hearing, simply speak loudly, while your head is pressed against the microwave door.

(Editor’s Note — WARNING: Do not try this at home!!! Permanent injury may result — Please see warning at end of article.  If you try this you may end up cooking your brain. If your brain is already cooked, make sure you set your microwave on "Reheat: Canned Vegetables" setting to avoid over-cooking, and season lightly with salt and butter.)

Why does this work? It turns out that the microwave transmission elements in ordinary microwave ovens are not so different from what’s in your everyday cell phone, except much broader spectrum and slightly more power. "When microwave ovens run they act not only as transmitters, but also as receivers — or what are called ‘transceivers,’" says Philippe Connerie, of the FMS.

Although there is no true audio output or input, the microwave shielding in the case still resonates to the frequency of whatever is being received. If you press your head tightly against the casing you can hear these vibrations — which are actual cell phone calls. When you speak it sends resonance back through the shielding which scatters the reflected microwaves to the frequency of your voice, which are then received back into the microwave, acting as modulators of the carrier wave of the emitter, which effectively broadcasts what you are saying across a range of microwave frequencies at once. Click here to read the paper.

WARNING: Pressing your head against any device that is actively emitting microwaves — such as microwave ovens, cell phones, or other mobile devices — may result in permanent injury, brain damage, cancer or death. Please do not do this, unless you are really stupid, in which case, go right ahead. But first read the paper (linked above) so that you understand that this is truly not something worth doing. If after reading that paper you still insist on trying this then I give up. — The Editor

Physics World Buzzing Over Faster-Than-Ever Particle

Hot news from Fermilab… (see this article)

Tom Spears

Ottawa Citizen

A major physics lab in the
U.S. has found a particle, far smaller than any atom, that switches
itself back and forth between being a piece of matter and a piece of
anti-matter 17 trillion times each second.

It has taken 700
people in 20 countries, millions of dollars’ worth of custom equipment,
vast amounts of energy, and 20 years of work to find this.

The
back-and-forth switching appears to be one of the fastest processes in
nature. One of the big mysteries in physics is why the universe is
practically all matter, and not anti-matter. The universe once had
equal amounts of both, scientists believe.

So where did the anti-matter go?

And
while the physics world has been buzzing since Thursday’s announcement
of the latest anti-matter find, outsiders have barely noticed.

Why?

The
experiment illustrates the difficulty in publicizing work in this
abstract world of concepts unknown to most people — quarks, muons,
particle accelerators, and anti-matter itself.

The finding at
Fermilab, a U.S. federal physics laboratory, is never going to affect
your daily life. Fermilab found a particle called a "B-sub-s meson."
You won’t ever buy an iPod made of B-sub-s mesons. And Fermilab’s
announcement was pure gobbledygook, which didn’t help.

The work’s
significance? "This measurement has confirmed the Standard Model," says
physicist Wendy Taylor of York University, one of the 700 who toiled on
the experiment.

Quantum Evolution — A Radical Theory

The theory of quantum evolution is a radical new take on how mutations
in DNA occur. Basically the theory postulates that DNA molecules are in
fact macroscopic quantum objects that undergo quantum interference. It
is spearheaded by Johnjoe McFadden, a professor in the UK and makes for an interesting
read. Here is a brief overview of the main ideas of the theory. He also has some interesting ideas about a possible interaction between electromagnetic fields and consciousness.  It’s way too early to tell whether he is correct in his hypoetheses, but I give him high marks for original thinking! Very interesting stuff.

New Quantum Propulsion Being Researched By Air Force

A radical new form of propulsion is being researched that may enable travel from Earth to Mars in 3 hours, and travel to nearby stars in just 80 days. The system is based on a novel quantum theory termed Heim quantum
theory (HQT).

The hypothetical device, which has been outlined in principle but is
based on a controversial theory about the fabric of the universe, could
potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and
journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days, according to a
report in today’s New Scientist magazine.

The
theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that,
according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim
in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust
for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would
slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster,
allowing incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic
field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.

The US air force has expressed an interest in the idea and
scientists working for the American Department of Energy – which has a
device known as the Z Machine that could generate the kind of magnetic
fields required to drive the engine – say they may carry out a test if
the theory withstands further scrutiny.

Professor Jochem Hauser, one of the scientists who put forward the
idea, told The Scotsman that if everything went well a working engine
could be tested in about five years.

However, Prof Hauser, a physicist at the Applied Sciences University
in Salzgitter, Germany, and a former chief of aerodynamics at the
European Space Agency, cautioned it was based on a highly controversial
theory that would require a significant change in the current
understanding of the laws of physics. (Source)

It is interesting to note that this
theory shares a similar physical picture, namely a quantized spacetime,
with the recently published loop quantum theory (LQT) by L. Smolin, A.
Ashtektar, C. Rovelli, M. Bojowald et al. [11, 24-28]. LQT, if proved
correct, would stand for a major revision of current physics, while HQT
would cause a revolution in the technology of propulsion. (Source)

Links for further reading on this subject.

Big Thinkers' Most Dangerous Ideas

The Edge has published mini-essays by 119 "big thinkers" on their "most dangerous ideas" — fun reading.

The history of science is replete with discoveries
that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally
dangerous in their time; the Copernican and
Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious.
What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think
about (not necessarily one you originated)
that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

 

Does the Cosmic Background Radiation Contain Hidden Message?

This is a cool idea — some researchers are considering whether the cosmic background radiation may contain an encoded "message from God." OK I doubt it. I think it is more likely to be somewhere in our DNA, or in the digits of Pi, or perhaps in the distribution of the prime numbers. But it’s pretty cool to think about!

Boy in Nepal Said to go Without Food or Water for 6 Months

From the Fringe Department… This article is making the rounds today. It’s about a 15 year old boy in Nepal (see the picture) who is said to have been meditating under a tree without food or water, or even moving or going the bathroom, for 6 months. Interesting. Although unfortunately, now that he has been "discovered" I wonder if he’ll have any peace from the crowds of onlookers? Jeez, can’t a guy just be left alone to meditate without food or water for 6 months in peace anymore??? What is this world coming to?

New Study: Human Hands, Feet and Foreheads Emit Light

Now this is really interesting! New research has found that certain parts of the body emit measurable numbers of photons. This may open up new diagnostic techniques. But that’s just the beginning. Spiritual healers from many different faiths have long said that they experience light coming from their hands, and can feel (and even see) energy from the hands, feet and heads of other people. And of course there’s the classical image of halos around the heads of saints, which can be taken metaphorically, or perhaps literally, in light of this new research. I wonder if the levels of light coming from different people indicates not only health, but perhaps alertness, stress levels, or state of mind. There are many interesting possibilities for this research…

Sept. 6, 2005 — Human hands glow, but fingernails release the
most light, according to a recent study that found all parts of the
hand emit detectable levels of light.

The findings support prior research that suggested most living
things, including plants, release light. Since disease and illness
appear to affect the strength and pattern of the glow, the discovery
might lead to less-invasive ways of diagnosing patients.

Mitsuo Hiramatsu, a scientist at the Central Research Laboratory at
Hamamatsu Photonics in Japan, who led the research, told Discovery News
that the hands are not the only parts of the body that shine light by
releasing photons, or tiny, energized increments of light.

"Not only the hands, but also the forehead and bottoms of our feet
emit photons," Hiramatsu said, and added that in terms of hands "the
presence of photons means that our hands are producing light all of the
time."

The light is invisible to the naked eye, so Hiramatsu and his team used a powerful photon counter to "see"it. 

The detector found that fingernails release 60 photons, fingers
release 40 and the palms are the dimmest of all, with 20 photons
measured.

 
The findings are published in the current Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology

Continue reading

Strange But True — Low Frequency Audio as a Social Instrument

This is really fascinating:

Scientists used to consider the frequency band of 500 hertz and below
in the human voice as meaningless noise, because when a voice is
filtered, removing all higher frequencies, ne hears nothing but a
low-pitched hum. All words are lost. But then it was found that this
low hum is an unconscious social instrument. It is different for each
person, but in the course of a conversation people tend to converge.
They settle on a single hum, and it is always the lower status person
who does the adjusting. This was first demonstrated in an analysis of
the Larry King Live television show. The host, Larry King,
would adjust his timbre to that of high-ranking guests, like Mike
Wallace or Elizabeth Taylor. Low-ranking guests, on the other hand,
would adjust their timbre to that of King. The clearest adjustment to
King’s voice, indicating lack of confidence, came from former Vice
President Dan Quayle.

The same spectral analysis has been
applied to televised debates between U.S. presidential candidates. In
all eight elections between 1960 and 2000 the popular vote matched the
voice analysis: the majority of people voted for the candidate who held
his own timbre rather than the one who adjusted.

From this site.

Who are the Clickers?

I have a question. Maybe it’s just me, but I think I’ve almost never clicked on a Web banner ad or sidebar ad in the nearly 10 years that Web ads have been around. A short informal poll of my friends yields similar answers. Nobody I know clicks on Web ads. Never. Ever. Now maybe my sample is skewed because my friends are..well..my friends. But even so, I’ve even got ads running on my own damn blog and I’ve never looked at them or clicked on them. In fact, I don’t even SEE Web ads anymore. My brain literally tunes them out. Like dirty dishes. Does yours? So who IS clicking all those ads? Google and Overture are making gigabucks, but how? This is one of those unexplained mysteries of the Twilight Zone of the Web. Where are the actual clicks coming from? Who are the Clickers? Has anyone actually witnessed someone click on a Web ad? It’s kinda OO-EEEE-OO, isn’t it? We’re all building businesses that rely on clickstreams but we don’t actually know anyone who clicks. I wonder if it’s some obscure, unexpected, demographic?

A Possible Future of Physics

Today I read this nice article which provides a short consumer-friendly overview of the history of the Digital Physics paradigm. Digital Physics is not mainstream physics — but it is growing and someday could become huge. It brings together computer scientists and physicists in an interdisciplinary approach to physics. While many advocates simply take the position that some physical processes resemble computations, the most extreme would go so far as to posit that the universe is actually a giant computation taking place on some sort of primordial computing fabric.

I’ve been involved with this field since the 1980’s when, as a college student at Oberlin, I got interested in cellular automata as a tool for modeling both the brain and the universe. This led to summer research on cellular automata simulations of physical systems on the CAM-6 parallel processor at the lab of Tomasso Toffoli and Norman Margolus at MIT. They were among the first experimentalists in the digital physics field — running massive cellular automata simulations of fluid dynamics, population biology, optics, and spin glasses, among other things. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with both Ed Fredkin and Stephen Wolfram, discussing the future of digital physics and the quest for a Theory of Everything.

I think that the Digital Physics is the The Next Revolution in physics. But it may still be another 50 to 100 years before it really takes root. But it’s just the beginning of what I think may be an ongoing process of future physical models. Below, I speculate about where this trend will lead us (disclaimer: Wild Speculation ahead: Read at your own risk!)

Humans have always used their most advanced technologies as metaphors for the physical universe — a process which can be seen in the history of physics itself. For example, Newtonian physics and Einstein’s Relativity were largely based on the metaphor of clocks –which were for a long-time the most sophisticated “computers” on earth. Whereas Newton’s vision was mainly influenced by the mechanics of clocks, Einstein’s’ vision was more influenced by the dynamics of clocks. Thanks to clocks we have been able to develop sophisticated computers. And now, with the advent of the computer era, we have begun to model our universe using computers, and even to think of it as a computer.

This emerging Computer Model of physics (aka “Digital Physics”) takes the computer metaphor to its fullest extent by viewing the universe itself as a computer program running on a vast cosmic computer of some sort.  The next step in this emerging model will be enabled as quantum computing and the theory of quantum computation begin to be applied to physics. Quantum computers will revolutionize both theoretical and experimental physics by enabling the simulation and testing of infinitely complex physical systems in finite time, using finite computing resources. This will naturally evolve the digital physics paradigm such that the universe is conceived of as aquantum computer.

After the Computer Model of the universe, the next model will come when we start to view our universe not as a single computer, but rather as a vast network of computers. This shift mirrors the evolution of computers and networks, which has led us to the Internet. We will start to view our universe as something like a vast computer network in which countless computations interact, move around, compete, reproduce and evolve higher levels of fitness in an almost Darwinian manner –instead of a single isolated Perfect Computer In Space.

Out of this Network Model of the universe, we will begin to view the cosmos as something that resembles a nervous system. The human nervous system is a computing network that is conditioned by countless internal and external factors at every level of scale, all at once. Feedback is essential to how it functions. It is neither a bottom-up nor a top-down system — rather it is an all-directions system. The universe is also like this — we cannot adequately explain it with a reductionist model– ultimately, the only way to understand it is from all directions at once, as a network. The Network Model will have three phases of development — the first will focus on the inner-workings of the nodes, the second on the functioning of the links, and the third on the interactions that take place via nodes and links.

What’s beyond the Network Model? My hunch is that it will have something to do with a realization that the universal computer networks capable of self-modification such that the output of the programs that run on it affects the very structure of the computing nodes and links that comprise it. When we cross that bridge we will realize that it is not precisely correct to conceive of a division between the computing fabric that comprises the network, the software programs that run on that network, and the output of those programs — instead we will see this as a single self-modifying system. Rather than a static primordial computing fabric on which various programs run like so many experiments in a lab, we will view the entire system as a recursive loop in which each output is taken as an input for the next step in time. In the earlier Computer Model and Network Model, the physical laws were conceived of as being somehow “hard coded” into the computer, but in the model beyond these — what might be called the Evolutionary Model– we will see that the physical laws themselves are evolving. In other words, we will see that there is a feedback loop between the output of the universal computation, the structure of the underlying computing fabric, and the definition of the programs that run on it. These three layers will come to be seen a single evolving, self-reproducing, self-modifying, system. The activity that takes place in the universe will be understood to directly affect the underlying physical laws themselves, and vice-versa.

Next we will begin a phase which could be called the Organic Model of the universe, in which we will begin to view the cosmos as a kind of meta-organism — a creative, evolving, living thing. Our knowledge of the Network Model will enable us to map what takes place on different levels of scale to familiar physical processes that take place within the human organism. Our understanding of the universe will start to take on a distinctly biological character. We will begin to look at computational pathways and the equivalent of organs on a cosmic scale just as we do within the chemical and biological systems of the human body. We will begin to view the functioning of the cosmos as intelligent and creative and even capable of rudimentary adaptive learning on both the smallest and vastest scales. We will begin to become open to the possibility that there are forms of intelligence and life that are vastly smaller as well as vastly larger than what we experience on our human-centric measurement perspective.

Beyond this phase, we will begin to look at our evolving cosmos as a kind of meta-organism in a community of other similar meta-organisms. We might call this the Social Model. Beyond just focusing on our individual universe in isolation, we will begin to look at it as a member of a community of similarly evolving universes — an infinite array of interacting generations of universes that are subject to a process of cosmic natural selection of universes.  These different universes will be understood to be capable of communicating, and even reproducing to form new universes. We might call this the Metaverse. Physicists have already glimpsed this level of reality from a theoretical perspective, but we lack the tools to really describe its mechanics, let alone dynamics. But we’ll get there eventually, if our species doesn’t destroy itself first.

Brain Has Particular Neurons for Recognizing Celebrities and Other Concepts

In a very interesting new finding, researchers have discovered the people’s brains contain individual neurons, or small groups of neurons, that seem exist only to recognize particular people or concepts. This would imply that there is one neuron, or at least a small group of neurons, in our brains for every unique thing that we know. However, that raises certain questions — for example, if this is true, then the brain should be a lot larger since there wouldn’t be room to represent everything a typical adult knows with unique neurons in that amount of space. On the other hand, perhaps the memories are not stored on the neuronal level at all, but instead are stored and computed on the sub-neuronal tubulin "quantum computing" level, which is the subject of much research these days. For more on that check out this book on research into quantum computing in the brain (found by: Josh).

New Quantum Model May Resolve Time Travel Paradoxes

Quantum researchers have proposed a new model of time travel that may overcome paradoxes (such as going back in time and undoing something that causes an impossibility in your future  — for example, preventing yourself from being born). The basic idea is that if you travel to your past you cannot interact with anything that will change something you have measured in your future. There are not enough details provided in the article though — so I remain skeptical that anything has been resolved yet.

Simulated Universes and the Nature of Consciousness

Researchers in Europe have completed the first phase of what may be the largest computational physics experiment in history: They built and ran a simulated universe through 14 billion years of development. The experiment used up 25 million megabytes of memory, and the biggest supercomputer in Europe for a month. The result was a “Cube of Creation” of 20 billion light years per side, containing 20 million simulated galaxies. Now they’re studying it to see what evolved. They hope to gain insights into the function of black holes, and other cosmological principles. This is an amazing piece of work — definitely the future of cosmology research.

In previous articles, I’ve speculated that our own universe might also be such a simulation, perhaps run by a much more advanced civilization in a meta-universe outside ours. But in fact, I think our universe is probably quite different from a mere computer simulation (despite how cool it would be if it were a computer simulation!) — because I don’t believe we can explain everything there is in terms of information and computation: I think consciousness doesn’t fit in that model.  After exploring this issue for more than 20 years from the perspectives of computer science and physics, philosophy and religion, I’ve come to believe that consciousness cannot be reduce to, or emerge from, information or computation. As far as I can tell, it’s something at least as or more fundamental than space, time, matter and energy. I would even go so far as to say that we won’t ever really understand what the universe is or how it develops or functions without first understanding consciousness much more deeply.

There are basically two fundamental, mutually exclusive camps on the issue of consciousness that have been sparring for millennia. Either you are in the camp that believes consciousness is something that emerges from the physical universe, or you are in the camp that believes that the physical universe is something that emerges from consciousness. (Note: Even the Buddhist theory of interdependent origination, which says that physical phenomena and consciousness arise in co-dependence at the same time, rather than one from the other, can still be reduced to a version of Camp #2 because in that theory, interdependent events take place by virtue of a primordial unification of mind and phenomena that is equivalent to what I mean when I say “everything emerges from consciousness” — in other words, nothing is truly separate from consciousness)

I am a Camp 2 person. I believe that consciousness is more fundamental than anything else.  The example of a dream can be used to illustrate my view on consciousness: Although everything in a dream is a projection of consciousness, nothing in a dream is conscious. For example if you dream of Sue that is not really Sue: that dream-image of Sue is not a really a conscious person, it’s just a projection of your consciousness. Similarly, in a dream, if you find yourself interacting with a dream-image of Sue, your dream body in that dream is also not conscious, it is equally just a projection of your consciousness.

Even if you experience your dream from the perspective of being a particular character, looking through their eyes, thinking their thoughts, etc., that which is actually having that experience — the consciousness that is dreaming the dream — is outside the dream. It doesn’t appear anywhere within it, it cannot be measured within it, and it has no form or location. But still, as the one having the dream, it is undeniable that there is a dream appearing and an experience of that appearance. Furthermore, the nature of consciousness itself is self-aware — it can realize its own capacity of cognizance — the fact that it is aware, even though nothing to grasp as “consciousness” can actually be located anywhere. This self-awareness, in my view, is not a function of the brain or the body, or any physical system, rather it is completely beyond material phenomena  — beyond all possible universes in fact.

So who or what is projecting the universe in a manner of a dream? Is the universe nothing more than a dream in fact? This question cannot be answered by physics — it can neither be disproved or proved. Even various religions disagree about how to answer it — some label consciousness as soul, or universal or eternal Self or as God, while other systems, such as Buddhism instead argue that it is in fact so completely transcendental that it is entirely empty of self-nature and therefore cannot be reified as one or many, something or nothing, self or other, or truly-existent or non-existent.

Please note that when claiming that everything comes from consciousness, and using the example of a dream to illustrate that, I am not suggesting the philosophical view of solipsism, which posits that everything is just in my own mind, or some cosmic mind perhaps. Nor am I proposing an eternalistic argument that claims that “all is one” or that there is an ultimate, truly-existing soul, or that there are or are not really other beings. From my perspective, which comes largely from my studies of the Buddhist theory of dependent-arising and emptiness, what I am calling  “consciousness” cannot really be conceived of — because it is literally beyond thoughts, and even beyond the universe; is not a thing. Therefore, there is no way within this universe to frame or express the nature of consciousness. All we can do is use analogies, which are just shadows of the real thing, not the real thing itself. However, although we cannot describe consciousness, we can directly experience it as it really is, without using concepts or analogies, because we are it.

There are a number of difficult subtleties that have to be carefully sorted out when you really go deeply into this view of consciousness. In particular, regarding the question of whether other beings exist, or whether there is really a universe “out there” apart from your own mind (whether there is actually a sound when a tree falls and there is nobody there to hear it, for example). My opinion is that it is certainly possible for there to be multiple beings with their own experiences — and furthermore that is certainly what appears to be taking place. Yet to be precise,  we cannot prove that what appear to be other beings are truly-existent “out there” nor can we prove that there are no other beings apart from ourselves — in fact, we really cannot decide one way or the other about this question, at least if we want to be hairsplittingly precise. Therefore, from a philosophical perspective, the best thing to do is to simply not take a position on that question.

There is no way to prove that “everything is a dream” or that “everything is not a dream,” and so we simply have to avoid forgetting that we really don’t know which position is correct. Most people err on the side of thinking “everything is not a dream” and so they get totally absorbed in the intricacies of of daily life and the material world — they become mindless materialists. On the other hand, those who err on the opposite side of thinking that “everything is just a dream” tend to fall into the extreme of being spaced-out spiritualists. So our task, as rational observers of reality is to try to be as true to what we really can observe for ourselves as possible — meaning we have to avoid becoming either mindless materialists or spaced-out spiritualists. To be most true to what we can observe, we have to take the “middle road” and avoid falling into any extreme philosophical viewpoints. This means, in particular, that we should not fall into a an overly materialistic view of thinking that everything that seems to be “out there” really truly exists apart from our own minds, nor should we fall into a nihilistic view of thinking that there is only ourselves or that there is nothing at all.

From the philosophical view of Tibetan Buddhism (which happens to be my favorite), the most accurate way to portray consciousness might be to say that it, and in fact anything else we can label, is neither nothing, one, nor many — and so therefore we avoid falling into the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Eternalism is materialism — it is the belief that phenomena truly-exist on their own — that they can be decomposed to irreducible particles. Western science is basically materialism. Nihilism is the extreme opposite of materialism — it posits that nothing exists at all. Nihilism leads to all sorts of delusions and bad behavior but is fortunately quite easy to refute: indeed, the very fact that anyone is able to hold the belief that they are a nihilist refutes their belief in nothingness.

I should also mention that while I am definitely a Camp 2 person, I don’t discount the utility of science for explaining how the material world appears to function, I just don’t think that it can explain what the material world really is, nor what consciousness is. I think that science is ideally suited to explaining the dynamics of matter and energy in time and space — the various physical patterns that we observe. But at the same time, I think that to really explain everything — a theory also has to explain consciousness, and I don’t think there is a material, scientific explanation for that because consciousness is not simply a pattern in the physical world — it is completely transcendental.

Some scientists try to use the fact that consciousness cannot be located or measured like physical phenomena to be proof that it doesn’t exist at all, but that argument is fallacious. Just because no scientist has ever isolated consciousness or measured it doesn’t mean it’s not there, it just means it’s beyond the scope of their measurement tools. For example, if our only measurement tool is a microscope we cannot prove that galaxies don’t exist simply because we cannot see them through it; for if we later have a telescope we definitely can see galaxies. In the case of consciousness the situation is even simpler: no material measurement tool can measure consciousness, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist because everyone, including every scientist, directly knows that they are conscious. So in a sense we could say that the only “measurement tool” that can detect consciousness is consciousness itself. There’s another interesting fact that is worth mentioning here: no scientist has ever directly seen or measured space, energy, or time (all measurements of these are in fact indirect and inferential)  — but for some reason they are willing to believe in those phenomena. Why are scientists willing to believe in their inferences about the nature of space, time and energy but not consciousness? I find this puzzling.

Science began as what was called “natural philosophy” — it wasn’t confined to the material domain but actually was a much broader undertaking, an attempt to explain everything. Natural philosophers, such as Sir Isaac Newton, for example, were interested in all the dimensions of experience, including the mind, soul and even the possibility of God. They truly wanted to understand the world, and they considered anything observable to be within the scope of science. Gradually, however, this open-mindedness was lost and science became increasingly limited in focus. Today science is incredibly myopic and close-minded — it has in fact become institutionalized to the point where, to succeed and be respected by their peers, scientists must specialize and conform to the point of losing almost all originality and intellectual freedom. A side-effect of this is that scientists have gotten so focused on trying to observe what everyone else observes, that they no longer notice what they themselves observe — they no longer consider their own minds, consciousness, or their own experiences to be valid subjects of observation, nor do they consider themselves to be qualified observers of their own minds, consciousness and experience.

This belief comes from the mistaken idea that it is impossible objectively to observe one’s own experience. Modern science is built on the notion that only observations which can be demonstrated to, and repeated by, other scientists are considered valid. The problem is that all observations, whether of one’s own mind or of some external experimental result are ultimately subjective. So in fact, although scientists like to think that their methods are not subjective, in fact, to be precise they are subjective. Because ultimately all observations are subjective, observing one’s own mind directly is really no more subjective than observing any external physical experiment or phenomena: We cannot really demonstrate anything objectively, whether internal or external, to anyone because ultimately we all sense things subjectively.

If this isn’t enough to hammer in the point that self-observation of the mind is a valid pursuit of science, there is another argument: If consciousness is truly fundamental, then it is not conditioned by anything it observes and so it is perfectly objective in nature. Of course, here we have to be very careful to make a clear distinction between consciousness itself and the many layers of thoughts that may obscure it (thoughts are not consciousness). Using consciousness (without thoughts) to look directly at consciousness is perhaps the most objective scientific experiment possible!

Therefore, just because nobody can demonstrate their consciousness to anyone else doesn’t mean that consciousness doesn’t exist or that it is unscientific to study it by direct self-observation. In fact, the only way to directly study consciousness is by direct self-observation — that is the best measuring device for the job, so to speak. Furthermore, it is indeed possible to “demonstrate” one’s own observations of consciousness to others in a repeatable manner — simply: if they follow the same steps and end up observing the same things about their own consciousness, then your experiment has been repeated successfully. So in fact the direct study of consciousness is valid, objective and repeatable. In short, it is and should be within the scope of scientific study.

Until scientists discover this fact and look inwards at their own minds, they are never going to make real progress in the scientific study of consciousness, because this is the only way to actually study consciousness. (Note for the brain scientists in the audience: merely studying the physical brain is not really studying consciousness itself — consciousness is not a brainstate but is rather that which is capable of knowing or being. In fact, consciousness itself has no content — it is not a set of thoughts or sensations. Brainstates may represent the content of consciousness at a given moment just as a frame on a movie film print represents the content of that particular moment of the movie, but in this analogy consciousness is the light in the movie projector, not the film or the patterns on the film. Don’t mistake the content of a given frame for the light of the movie projector!).

So, I hope I’ve made the point by now that from the perspective of what we can directly observe, for ourselves, it actually makes more sense to start with the hypothesis that consciousness is fundamental — since nobody has ever directly experienced any phenomena outside the scope of their own consciousness. As far as anyone can directly observe, wherever phenomena are found there is also an observer of those phenomena at that very moment. Furthermore, as far as anyone can measure, there is no way to establish that phenomena actually exist “out there” when they are not observed. So from a truly rational, scientific point-of-view, consciousness appears to be fundamental in that it is ever-present in our experience of the universe, and as or more necessary to having that experience, as are space, time and energy.

It is in fact more rational and scientific to hold that consciousness is fundamental until proven otherwise than to hold the reverse hypothesis. After all, as far as we ourselves can observe, our experience of the universe is mediated by consciousness and there is no way to establish that the universe we perceive is separate from our consciousness. All the evidence seems to indicate the contrary: that the universe is not separate from our consciousness. Many scientists who pride themselves on their rationality in all other areas, seem to overlook this fact (are they literally “blinded by science?”). They think of consciousness as some kind of process within the physical brain. Some even attempt to “explain away” consciousness as some sort of epiphenomenon (e.g. an illusion that can be reduced to something physical), or worse, as a mathemagical result of “complex enough” computation (the absurd but oft cited, “someday the computer just gets sooooooo complex that it suddenly wakes up” argument). But none of these approaches to consciousness can account for the actual experience (what the philosopher, John Searle calls “qualia”) of being conscious — an experience which each of has direct and undeniable access to.

I am skeptical that any computer will ever be able to simulate, let alone embody, the actual experience of consciousness. Since our universe and everything material, is in my opinion, emergent from consciousness, not vice-versa, it is not possible to cause consciousness to emerge from physical things: I don’t think you can build a machine that will become conscious. I don’t think we can synthesize consciousness — it’s already there and we don’t create it. We might be able to build very smart machines, but they still won’t be conscious in the same way that truly conscious beings are. In fact, I think the best and fastest way to make something conscious, if that’s what you want to do, is to just have a baby.

Consciousness is not a material thing, nor is it a result of a material process. It can neither be created nor destroyed and it never actually “inhabits” physical matter, which is why we cannot find consciousness anywhere in the brain or body when we try to measure it (i.e. the brain and body are within consciousness — they can be found within consciousness, but consciousness cannot be found within them). And if that’s the case, then no computer simulation will ever really contain actual consciousness — at best it will be merely a projection in the consciousness of whomever makes the simulation. Now why does this matter? Well for one thing it means that we will never succeed in creating artificial intelligence simulations that are conscious, and furthermore, that no simulation of any kind will be conscious. And it follows then that no simulated universe will truly be like our universe — because there won’t be any real conscious beings in the simulation.

My point here is that to really simulate our universe completely we would have to be able to make a simulation that contains conscious beings, but we can’t do that because we cannot make consciousness. And this is important because consciousness is not just some minor force in our universe — in fact it may have a vastly larger role in shaping our universe than we can presently see or understand. Some physicists even go so far as to postulate that if it weren’t for consciousness our universe wouldn’t exist, or alternatively, that our universe has evolved specifically to support conscious life (what is called the anthropic principle). But although we cannot prove or disprove such views at present, we can certainly see the effect that conscious life has had on our home planet: If consciousness can transform our planet from a jungle to a teeming metropolis in a matter of a few million years, then by extension it could do the same thing to entire solar systems, and perhaps over billions of years, interstellar civilizations of consciousness beings could literally transform galaxies. No simulated universe will be able to truly model or account for such effects.

Research into quantum mechanics is also arriving at the fact that consciousness plays an important, but not yet understood, role in shaping physical reality. It is clear that consciousness has a major impact on the outcome of certain types of experiments, for example. Whether you observe a particle or not determines how it seems to behave. Whether you observe a system, determines whether or not it is in one of various possible states. The act of observation seems to be the catalyst which collapses infinite possibility into a particular event. This can actually be measured experimentally on very small scales, but there is speculation that it operates similarly at larger scales too, in some circumstances. But even if merely at the very smallest scales, consciousness — “the act of observation” – is built-in to how physics works, then it follows that it has a emergent effect on the largest scale  — the whole universe. But who knows, maybe the effects of consciousness on the whole are direct, not merely emergent? We don’t know yet.

There’s another reason that consciousness may throw a wrench in computer simulations of the mind and universes alike: Free will. Given that consciousness is totally transcendental, it is not conditioned by anything material. Yet, since everything is a projection of consciousness, consciousness can affect the world. To understand this, we can go back to the dream analogy again: For example, a dreaming consciousness can sense its dream projections, and it is even possible to have a lucid dream in which the dreamer controls the content of the dream, but at no time does the content of the dream ever have the ability to limit or condition the dreaming consciousness. In other words, it’s a one-way interaction. Consciousness can condition what it projects, but projections cannot condition consciousness.

Note here that consciousness is at an entirely different level from thoughts and sensory experiences –they are just mere appearances, not consciousness itself. This means that ultimately conscious beings have free will: They can effect what appears to their consciousness, but what appears to them cannot ultimately effect their consciousness in return — consciousness remains basically free, empty, pure, unconditioned, and untarnished at all times, regardless of what projections currently appear to be taking place. And, if consciousness has free will, then no computer simulation will be able to model it. The reason for this is simple: Computers are logic machines that follow instructions. They don’t have free will, they just follow sequences of logical operations. Nowhere in a computer or computer program is there anything that is truly free. At best we might be able to simulate computer intelligences that act as if they are free, but in fact, their seemingly free behavior is still actually caused by an underlying computer program at some level. Even non-deterministic, “emergent computations” are still reducible to underlying programs. But real free will is irreducible — it is not a result of any programming and cannot be conditioned by any external forces. In other words, consciousness is not a computer program, it is inherently unconditioned and free. No computer program can replicate that freedom.

In conclusion, I think our present civilization is at least several thousand years from really understanding much about consciousness and how it fits into physics, or vice-versa, but if we keep going the way we’re going our civilization probably won’t last that long. So to save time, we could look more deeply into the cosmologies of earlier civilizations that were much more advanced when it comes to consciousness than we are (for example the Buddhist cosmology as represented in the Kalachakra system for example, or the Mayan cosmology, both of which are far more inclusive of consciousness in their explanations of the universe.) I’m not suggesting that those cosmologies are going to help us understand black holes — for that our modern cosmology is probably better — but they certainly could help us understand how consciousness fits in.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this view of consciousness, but I’m not enough of an expert on Buddhist philosophy to explain it all in detail. I should also add that it is possible that my view is not exactly equivalent to the Buddhist view, and if that is the case, then any differences or mistakes herein are my own. If you’re interested in going directly the source (which is by far superior than anything I could write), I would suggest that you start reading up on the philosophy of dependent-arising and emptiness, for example the work of the ancient Indian philosopher Nagarjuna, and then perhaps start reading about the Buddhist conception of mind. There are lots of good books available on these subjects, although some are quite scholarly and difficult for beginners. Another, more accessible approach is to discuss these issues with a qualified scholar and teacher of Buddhist philosophy.

Hackers Crack Junk DNA?

A group
of researchers working at the Human Genome Project will be
announcing soon that they made an astonishing scientific
discovery: They believe so-called non-coding sequences (97%) in
human DNA is no less than genetic code of an unknown
extraterrestrial life form.

The above excerpt is from an article that has to be one of the most interesting things I’ve read all year — IF IT CAN BE CONFIRMED (note: I am not sure yet whether this information is reliable — it could be a hoax or it could be the real thing — so please read the source article for yourself and help me research the validity of its claims: I have not yet located supporting materials, have you? Link to this post and I’ll see your trackback).

The article is an account of an alleged project to decipher the "junk DNA" portion of the human genome, by treating it as if it were an encrypted message. Essentially they attacked the problem in the same way that one might try to crack an encrypted message.  It turns out, according to their report, that the junk DNA is not junk at all, but actually appears to be DNA that has been "commented out" in much the same way as portions of unused computer code are commented out.

As a result of their study, the researchers found that among other things, they may have uncovered a new approach to curing cancer. Beyond this however, they have come up with some interesting speculations about who wrote this code and then commented it out (yes, it is even suggested that this code could have been written by extra-terrestrials) and how we might take advantage of it to generate new lines of "debugged" humans. While I’m not sure the code they have found is due to aliens (it might be a side-effect of some yet-unknown evolutionary process for example), it is certainly one of the most interesting new frontiers for further research.

I hope that some geneticists will take a look at this research in more detail. Please link to this article so that those with a deeper knowledge of the relevant science can comment and critique it. I have not been able to substantiate the claims that are made, but if it turns out to be correct, this is the kind of research that has the potential to really change the world.

Notes:
– This article — if it turns out to be correct — is possible experimental confirmation of my earlier hypothesis that there could be a hidden message in the junk region of human DNA. This is an idea that has also been proposed by various science-fiction writers in the past.

Time Traveler Convention and Further Thoughts

There’s a very interesting event taking place at MIT tonight — the first (and only?) Time Traveler Convention. The organizers are inviting anyone in the future who is capable of time travel to travel back to the geo coordinates of this event (to be held at MIT) and attend it, along with proof that they are from the future. In order to increase the chances that this event will be discovered by the relevant people in the future, the organizers have asked as many people as possible to link to the event and have also asked people to insert acid-free paper containing the coordinates of the event into library books that are likely to be read in the future.

This event is an experiment that attempts to test whether in fact time travel will be invented in our future. The hypothesis is that if time travel is possible, and if it is discovered, and if future time-travel-capable beings also find out about this MIT Convention, then they will travel back in time to the event. Of course this begs the question of whether they actually would attend this event even if they could — for example, perhaps they prefer to remain secret at this time? Or perhaps if they prove to us that time travel is possible at this moment in our evolution it might influence their timeline such that it could risk interfering with their past discovery of time travel or risk the technology ending up in the wrong hands in the future. Or maybe, just maybe, they are simply too "cool" to travel all that distance backwards in time (and spend who knows how much money to do so) just to have cheap chips and dip for an hour or two with a room full of MIT nerds? I mean hey, if I could travel backwards in time would I go to a geek gathering at MIT or would I go somewhere more fun (and with better food and drinks too) like an imperial party in ancient Rome?

In any case, the various potential risks of time travel might outweigh the potential benefit of any actual time travelers attending the MIT event. But let’s hope that some real live time travelers do show up at the event. I know one thing for certain, if anyone does show up from the future they will probably be geeks too, since anyone who isn’t a geek probably has other parties higher on their list.

Incidentally, this event reminds me of a similar proposal I came up with last year for building a receiver that might be able to receive a message from the future. While time travel by macroscopic things like people might be difficult or impossible due to the amount of energy required and the potential negative impact on the physical structure of the traveler, sending messages backwards in time could be more practical. Such messages could be comprised of subatomic particles or tiny black holes or local disturbances in fundamental fields or physical constants. The question is, how to design a receiver that could receive messages sent by beings in the future? If anyone can think of how to do this, blog about it and link to this article (since comments are off); I’ll see your post via the trackbacks hopefully and if it’s a really good idea I’ll link to it from this article. If someone can design and actually build a suitable receiver then just like the MIT event, it could be publicized widely in the hopes that in the future if and when there is suitable technology, someone will send a message to it.

Links:

My friend, Tom Meyer, suggests that we might be able to utilize existing particle accelerators as "receivers" — his idea is that we publicize that we will be analyzing the data from a particular device for anomalies placed there as messages to us. It’s an intriquing proposal. Would it work?

Who Inserted Mutated Human Flu Virus in South Korean Pig Virus?

In a worrying development, part of a mutated human influenza virus related to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was found in a virus in pigs in South Korea. The question is, how did this happen and what does it indicate? It couldn’t have taken place naturally and may be evidence of the early-stages of a  bioterror attack.

How to Talk to Aliens

Here is an interesting article, written by a chess grandmaster, on how to trade information with alien civilizations, assuming they are ever contacted. The article proposes that at interstellar distances, the only realistic form of trade would be a trade in information — such as technology and scientific knowledge. He suggests that the best way to effect such trade would be for civilizations to send one another the code for artificial intelligences that would act as their "brokers" of sorts. But there is a problem with his proposal. While it certainly is based on less anthropomorphism than the current SETI and NASA idea of sending binary encoded pictures back and forth, it still makes a number of unwarranted assumptions about our potential alien correspondents. In particular, I question the assumption that there would be any need for trade or negotiations at all! For example, given that we establish contact with an alien civilization that is, say, 300 light years away, and given that there is no form of faster-than-light travel available, then it would take at least 300 years (but most likely much, much longer) for either civilization to send a physical spaceship to the other. At time-scales of that length it would probably not make sense to visit one another at all. Given that, why withold anything from one another? Instead, it would make more sense for both civilizations to just send each other everything they know to date, as a gift of sorts.

It would still take 300 years for this data-gift to arrive, but that at least would save both civilizations a lot of time in their respective futures (assuming they did not already know everything in the content of the respective messages). It seems to me that if there is little possibility of ever physically interacting, advanced civilizations would be likely to adopt a policy of altruistically sharing all their knowledge rather than withholding it from one another. Why? Because there is little to no risk of doing so, but at least there is a near-guarantee of benefiting the recipients. In a situation where taking an action is unlikely to cause harm but guaranteed to bring about at least some benefit, advanced civilizations would very likely take the action (assuming the cost to them is not on a scale where it is harmful to them).

Why would they take such action? First of all by demonstrating good-faith to that degree the senders of such a "gift of knowledge"  would have at least some chance of receiving a reciprocal gift from the recipients, which would result in eventual reciprocal benefit to them. But even if no benefit was ever expected or recieved, by the senders, they would at least be benefiting the recipients, which, to a truly advanced civilization (i.e. one that is advanced on social dimension as well as technological dimensions) might be satisfying enough in-itself.

This also makes sense from a sociobiological perspective. According to sociobiology altruism is ultimately selfish and based on the drive to spread one’s genes to future generations. But this argument doesn’t explain cross-species altruism — for example, where a person or an animal takes care of an orphaned baby animal of a different species. In such cases of altruism there is no direct or indirect genetic benefit to the initiator. So why does it take place? Perhaps it is due to a desire to spread Life itself, an even deeper motive than just spreading the genes of one’s own family or one’s species. Perhaps truly advanced civilizations identify with all Life to some degree, and are motivated to help it evolve and prosper in the universe. They might also have a spiritual/religious perspective on generosity — for example, they might believe that helping others is both "the meaning of life" and the most satisfying reward of living. Even the religions that have arisen within our own quite primitive and violent civilization all suggest that kindness is the highest ideal, and perhaps alien civilizations have also come to similar conclusions.