October 2, 2015

Brett's Updated View of the Universe

I fear that I repeat myself on this blog.

What is actually happening is that I'm refining the same set of ideas, and every now and then feel that it has deviated enough from previous posts, and I write about it again.

But what seems like a meaningful difference to me might not seem that way to you.   You might be like, "This is the same goddamn painting you showed me earlier, and I didn't like it then."  And I'm all "Yes, but before the fringe was a dark pink, and now it's more of a fuscia!"

Anyway, I hope it's not tiresome for my (scarce) readership.

Lotsa Thinking
I dwell quite a bit over the universe, and our place in it.  I probably think about it for thirty minutes every day.  It is my nighttime routine to read a few articles about science, then ponder the universe as I drift off to sleep.

This is a rather auspicious time to ponder the universe, because ideas twist and bend as you're drifting off to sleep.   Have you ever noticed that?  The very last thoughts you have before drifting off to sleep are often bizarre -- more dream than thought.  Salvador Dali, the famous painter, got some of his best painting ideas by capturing his thoughts at this moment of drift-off.

On top of that, I fuel this pondering with all sorts of books about the brain, consciousness, the universe, physics and various philosophies. I literally only read books that might help me better glimpse our place in the universe:
  • Feynman's Lecture Notes (3 books; Richard Feynman)
  • I Am A Strange Loop (Douglas Hoffstaeder)
  • Synchronicity (Karl Jung)
  • Superintelligence (Nick Bostrom)
  • Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness (Fred Kuttner)

Brett's Updated View
Along the way, long-held some beliefs sometimes evaporate, while novel ones appear on the fringes.  Some of these fringe ideas, surprisingly, turn into central beliefs.

So here is where my head is at now.  I reserve the right to trash any of these ideas at any time.
  • Infinity is a symbolic concept only.  Every now and then, I'll read "scientists theorize that the universe is infinite." and I think "Oh, puhleeze."   Look, I'm not saying that things aren't sometimes REALLY BIG.   For example, perhaps the observable universe isn't the entire universe -- I'd totally buy that.  Perhaps the observable universe is one part in 10^300 (that means "ten raised to the three hundredth power -- or 1 followed by 300 zeroes).  Our brains can't even conceive of a number that big.  Or perhaps it's one part in  10^300^300^300.  I'd buy that, too.  But infinite?  Infinite means I could keep raising that value to the 300th power 10^300 times, and we STILL wouldn't scratch the surface.    Even if it were infinite, our theorizing about it seems rather arrogant -- like a minnow who declares that the sea is infinite.   In my worldview, the only things that are infinite are logical and/or symbolic concepts.
  • Something created us.   The universe seems to have been was created by something.  There are literally dozens of VERY suspicious physics phenomena that suggest massive fine tuning of physical properties.  And no, this isn't Kirk Cameron's Christian bullshit about "Ooh, the eye is so complex!  Clearly only Jesus himself could have designed it."   I'm talking about finely tuned universal constants -- many of which, if they varied by a fraction of one percent, would cause the universe to simply not exist.  Stars wouldn't burn.  Galaxies would not coalesce.  Life wouldn't form.  I'm not just saying we wouldn't be here, but that NOTHING would be here. 
  • Our universe is a virtual representationAt its lowest levels, the universe clearly demonstrates that it's not "real" but virtual.  It is akin to video game characters on a monitor.  In short, at the most basic level, matter turns into energy, and energy into information (aka probability).  If we rendered any intelligence on a computer, and they looked closely enough, that's precisely what they would see.  If we were "real", then matter wouldn't break down like that -- it would remain as matter, no matter how closely you looked.
  • Our Creator likely exists right "now."   In all likelihood, whomever created our universe still exists.   It wouldn't make sense to create a universe and then die from old age while waiting for something cool to happen -- our Creator(s) would design our clock to run substantially faster than their own.   This means that if we COULD see them at this very second, and they hadn't slowed down the simulation (which they might do, sometimes), they would hardly seem alive at all.  It would be precisely like how a fleeting virtual particle (popping into existence and then back out again) might view you or me.
Markus = God?
  • Our Creator is only relatively special.  Yes, I believe that someone created our universe, and is still exists.  So is that God?   From our perspective, of course.  However, that doesn't necessarily mean that this creator is any great shakes in its reality.  Hopefully he/she/it is nice.  But he/she/it might just be a regular schlub.   Consider this:  Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, has led to the creation of countless Minecraft worlds, each of which was allowed to evolve over accelerated time, so that by the time someone plays one of those worlds, it has evolved for the equivalent of thousands of years.  (Um...I might be confusing Minecraft with Dwarven Fortress here, but one or the other does this.)   To us, Markus is just some guy.  Yet to the creatures in those Minecraft games, he is indeed a god.
  • I know what God wants ...kind of.   At least, I'm pretty sure, but it's rather terrifying: I think God simply wants to know what happens, and how it turns out.  For a variety of reasons,  I can't foresee a universe in which God already knows what will happen ahead of time.  However, it's unclear what parts God would be interested in.  Perhaps God is obsessed over  quantum particles (things far smaller and faster than us) or galaxy formations (things far bigger and slower than us). 
  • The resolution of reality is the true mystery.   Is all of the universe equally real?  We now know that at the quantum level, things are not real.  Are other galaxies real?  Is the dark side of the moon real?  Was 5,000 years ago real?  Is Toronto real?  I've never visited any of them.   Maybe those are just props in a play, where some of us are foreground, and others background.  It's entirely possible that only I exist.  Or only you exist.  If it's any one person, then it must be one of us, or else I wouldn't have written this and/or you wouldn't be reading it.  Indeed, it doesn't even have to be all of you -- it could be just you for the past five minutes.   And the rest is just a mimicry -- background props for the play.   ...All that being said, while I can't rule out any of these ideas, my gut tells me that the perceivable universe is equally real.
  • God has a God, too.  Our Creator created our reality, but they weren't the first:  Someone created our Creator's reality.  And someone created that reality.  And somebody created that reality.  This is almost perfectly analogous to parents.  We have parents, and they have parents, and so on.  It's hard to say what those realities might be like.  Would they love?  Would they be curious? 
  • The concept of the First Reality gives me the shivers:  Let's say that you traveled up the stack of realities-- from our universe to its parent, to its parent, to its parent.  You might follow the stack for countless generations, but sooner or later, you'd hit the very first reality.   But how did IT ever come to be?  I know that it's a cop out to say that it always existed, but I seem to be trapped in a logical cul-de-sac, because if it didn't always exist, then what created that?   Could it be a reality loop, where sooner or later, a the base reality is created again, like walking around the Earth and arriving where you started?  Or perhaps realities are constantly intersecting with one another, with myriad feedback loops -- and the distinction between levels of reality either blurs or collapses entirely.
  • Our Reality is not second-class:  Just because we're not the First Reality, that doesn't mean that we're second class citizens.  Our reality is just as legitimate as theirs.  It's all just rules, actions and consequences.  For example, consider a seventh grade girl who has just been embarrassed in front of her classroom -- does her reality not matter, because we can say that technically she's just an amalgam of synapses and proteins, firing and combining?   No.  Does that mean that she's NOT just an amalgam of synapses and proteins, firing and combining?   It doesn't mean that either.  Both are equally real.
  • The Resolution of our Reality is impossible to pin down. What is presently unclear to me is the resolution of our reality.   At one extreme, it could be a countless number of universes, where our particular universe is never even considered in any meaningful way, at any higher levels of existence.    Or, the opposite extreme, perhaps the universe is just me -- or just you.   If it were a single simulated person, it could not be anybody OTHER than me or you -- or I couldn't be writing and/or you reading this right now.   There's an old Infocom video game, A Mind Forever Voyaging, about someone who lives his life, only to discover that he's really just a simulation, everybody else he has dealt with has been either a scientist testing him, or pre-written memories.  ...Our reality's resolution could also be something in the middle:  Perhaps it's just Boston, or the Earth, or the Solar System, or the Milky Way.   This would also explain the Fermi Paradox:  Perhaps there is no life "out there" because we're staring off the edge of the simulation -- equivalent to staring at the sky in any adventure video game, and wondering what untold worlds exist out there.
  • Time's boundaries are equally obscure.  Perhaps this simulation started 13 billion years ago.  Or perhaps it started yesterday.  Perhaps just this split second.  Perhaps a dozen entities are rapt with attention at our every action, or perhaps we're just a flicker in time -- doomed to be fast-forwarded through by our Creator using some cosmic Tivo to get to the "good stuff", which might take place tomorrow, or in countless milennia.
  • Time is processing.  It is hard to ponder the universe without also pondering the nature of time.  Consider the moment of your first kiss.  Does that moment still "exist," but is simply somewhere else -- much like how the far side of the moon likely exists, despite the fact that you're not there?  Or is it gone?   I'm thinking that it's gone.  I think that moment-to-moment reality is being "processed" at a Planck level, by some cosmic computer that is chugging away.   Memories represent prior states of the equation, but those equations have been processed.    ...But maybe not.  Kurt Vonnegut envisioned time as a mountain range, where the past and future all exist simultaneously, and the "present" is simply your location.  That might be.
  •  Other realities likely interact with ours.  Consider how you might interact with a video game -- where you're "controlling" a character in another realm.  It's entirely possible that that's happening in our reality, too.  Indeed, there's generally no point for someone to create a simulation of any sort, if you're not going to interact with it, in some capacity.   
  • Heaven might exist -- but don't get too excited.  Indeed, we might be projections from one level up.  Again, it would really be no different from video games -- there, we are projecting downwards into a simpler reality.  Perhaps we're doing the same right now, and when we die, we "pop" back up to that level.  If so, that place might be wonderful, and perhaps it WOULD seem like Heaven, at first.  But I can guarantee you that we'd have problems there, too. We would adapt, evolve and strive. 
  • Death is probably (but not definitely) the end for us.  While we might exist on some other reality, I don't think it's likely.   Most likely, when we die, we're just dead.   Imagine yourself as akin to some amusing video, temporarily sitting on your desktop before inevitably being deleted.  Hopefully one or two people laughed at it before it hit the Recycle Bin.
  • Don't worry about death.  Even if there is another reality, and we "pop" to it, it won't be the same as what we have.  You won't be you, any more than "you" are not your seven-year-old self.  Sure, there's a cosmic continuity, between "Then You" and "Now You", but you are not the same.   So there's no point in fretting about whether when we die, we're permanently dead or we go to Heaven, because from that way of thinking, you've already experienced endless deaths and rebirths. 
  • A person's intent would transfer realities.  Consider if you and I were playing a video game, and in that game, I had loads of treasure and gold, and you had none.  Then we stop playing, we "pop out" of the game, and meet at Starbucks -- do my video game possessions confer any benefit in this reality?   No, not one bit.   Now consider that I was very wise in the ways of the game -- I knew all sorts of tricks, and you didn't.   Again, we meet in this reality at Starbucks -- do I have any inherent benefit because of all the video game skills I possessed in that other "reality"?  Again, no.    However, consider if I were very NICE to you in the game, and we meet at Starbucks -- might that benefit me in this reality?  YES.  If I was nice to you there, it would translate here.  You might buy me a coffee.  And if I were a jerk there, you might punch me, here.   Goodness and evil -- better known as intent -- is the only thing that can successfully translate realities.  So be nice.
Okay, that's all I've got for now.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff brett -

    I just listened to this podcast http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-multiverse-you-you-you-you. It is only partially about the multiverse, it's also about reality in general. It's Sam Harris, who I contend is one of the clearest thinkers and most concise writers around interviewing Max Tegmark, one of the smartest physicists around.

    The end of "The Gunslinger" by King has a great piece on the nature of reality believe it or not. It's an older mindblow, but still a good one, and done in a narrative fashion, which makes it very compelling. It could be read very well as a metaphor for the transcending/navigating of realities.

    "Surface Detail" by Iain M Banks is a good book dealing with the nature of existing in multiple realities (tho the first-order reality is 'ours' and we've made multiple layers since then that we also 'live' in)

    I agree with a lot of what you say, with a couple exceptions.
    RE: fine tuning - Say the universes were popping up for a relative infinite amount of time. If they weren't stable, i.e. their constants didn't provide for a stable universe, they would have collapsed. So yes, our constants are very fine tuned, but we don't know how many universes have existed. Ours could've been the 10^300^300^300th 'try'. Also there could be a very large number of combinations of those constants that would 'work'.

    Another thing that people seem unwilling to deal with is what we simply can't understand our universe? A monkey can't grasp the things we can, what says that human brains have evolved to really grok the universe? And even if we can understand our own, there's no reason to think that we could understand one 'above' us. Maybe it has 5 dimensions and beings have 10 senses and red sounds like ice cream.

    I'll leave you with this, I think it sums up things nicely: http://mediahub.umw.edu/media/animal-house-pot-universe-scene