Continuity of Self

Dr. Pim van Lommel presents an interesting question in his book “Consciousness Beyond Life” regarding the continuity of consciousness: “Every day, fifty billion cells are broken down and regenerated in our body. And yet we experience our body as continuous… Every two weeks all of the molecules and atoms in our body’s cells are replaced. How can we account for long-term memory if the molecular makeup of the cell membrane of neurons is completely renewed every two weeks and the millions of synapses in the brain undergo a process of constant adaptation (neuroplasticity)?” Further, he notes that since quarks and gluons are destroyed and reconstituted every 1E-23 seconds, effectively so are our bodies. How then does it appear continuous?

Our cells can live independently of our bodies, so effectively “we” are a large network of cells, much in the same ways that beehives are large networks of bees and computer networks are large networks of interconnected computers. In these cases, it is fairly easy to identify that the whole is the sum of the parts, while allowing the parts to be swapped out. If a few bees die and some new bees join the colony, one still sees the entire hive as continuous, although it might undergo continuous change. So the puzzle at the core of this question is not a philosophical debate about the validity of the existence of a large identifiable structure, but rather the existence of something that is truly continuous despite the replacement of its parts, such as human consciousness.

Or is it continuous? Are you the same person you were yesterday? Can we say to the judge: “Your honor, that wasn’t me that stole the car on that date. I was a different person then.”?

What links our past to our present (and hence, generates the appearance of continuity) is our structure for memories. If I lost every memory when I slept at night, would I even have the sense of having a continuous consciousness? Or, to flip the argument around, is it really the central database of memories in our brains that makes us have a continuous consciousness? The research actually supports the idea that the sense of “continuity of self” extends beyond mere memory recollection. For example, patients who have full retrograde amnesia, completely incapable of recollecting a single event from their past, nonetheless have the sense of a continuous personal identity1 and often show no personality change after the event that triggered the amnesia2,3.

This would seem to suggest that since “sense of self” is greater than simply memories, our consciousness is either due to some as yet unknown aspect of the brain that maintains a continuity of “self” aside from memory, or it is a superset of brain function entirely.

Given the evidence that values and personality extend beyond the brain and the preponderance of other evidence that a consciousness exists beyond the brain, it seems likely that continuity of self is just one more data point that supports the consciousness driven digital reality model.

  1. Klein, Stanley B., “Memory and the Sense of Personal Identity”, University of California, Santa Barbara (http://dingo.sbs.arizona.edu/~snichols/Papers/MemoryandSenseofPersonalIdentity.pdf)
  2. Brooks, DN and W McKinlay, “Personality and behavioural change after severe blunt head injury – a relative’s view” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1983;46:336-344.
  3. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/374514/memory-abnormality/23519/Traumatic-amnesia

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Materialism BS

<rant>

I have never before used my blog to rant about someone else’s writing. But I came across a rather humorous attempt at scientific reporting that is unfortunately all too common in its tone, inaccuracies, and presumptive style and I just can’t resist.

The article appeared in Gizmodo’s supposedly edgy spinoff blog SPLOID and purports to reveal an amazing new discovery that for the first time explains scientifically how out of body experiences (OBEs) are produced by the brain.

Here is a partial list of logical flaws in this report:

1. “This is the very first time that this type of experience has been analyzed and documented scientifically” – Researcher Celia Green must be having a good chuckle at this considering that she analyzed and documented hundreds of OBE accounts over 45 years ago.

2. “this may be the first documented case of someone who can get into this state at will” Robert Monroe must be guffawing from one of the remote rings, given that he and William Buhlman each had hundreds of experiences and were able to predictably initiate OBEs decades ago.

3. “This is not an astral trip, like those described by mystics. There’s no paranormal activity of any kind.” – This is where the article really crosses over into fiction.  Really?  No paranormal activity of any kind?  You’re sure about that?  Let’s consider an analogy.  The argument that the author gives for this claim is that since the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) showed brain activity in regions “associated with kinesthetic imagery” that the experience must come from the brain.  First of all, “associated with” is hardly the kind of phrase that would warrant a definitive conclusion.  Second, science is not about definitive conclusions.  Science is about evidence and theories, not conclusions, facts or proofs.  The most definitive thing the science can provide is falsifiability when an observation negates a particular hypothesis.  However, in this case, it is the opposite – the University of Ottawa study is simply generating evidence that one person’s OBE correlates to some activity in a particular region of the brain – certainly not the stuff of facts, proofs, or even much of a theory.  The referenced paper is appropriately restrained in its conclusions, unlike the Gizmodo article, which takes silly leaps of logic.  So anyway, back to that analogy.  Let’s say that we break open my cell phone and attach some test equipment – an oscilloscope or logic analyzer – to some contact point in the circuitry.  My friend sends me a text message and, lo and behold, the test equipment activates.  Oooh, that must mean that the text was initiated from that part of the cell phone circuitry, rather than from the mind of my BFF.  NOT!

4. “The fact is…scientists believe that these out-of-body experiences are a type of hallucination triggered by some neurological mechanism.”  Sorry, Jordan, not clear where you get this “fact.”  You have made a sweeping generalization of the beliefs of all scientists.  Have you checked with all of the scientists?  Or did you mean to say “some scientists?”  Because most scientists with open minds would argue to the contrary.

</rant>

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Embracing Virtuality

In 2009, a Japanese man married a woman named Nene Anegasaki on the island of Guam.  The curious thing was that Nene was a virtual character in the Nintendo videogame LovePlus.

OurVirtualFuture1

In 2013, Spike Jonze directed the highly acclaimed (and Academy Award nominated) film “Her”, in which the protagonist falls in love with an OS (operating system) AI (artificial intelligence).

OurVirtualFuture2

Outrageous you say?

Consider that for centuries people have been falling in love sight unseen via snail mail.  Today, with online dating, this is even more prevalent.  Philosophy professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev notes that online technology “enables having a connection that is faster and more direct.”

So it got me thinking that these types of relationships aren’t that different from the virtual ones that are depicted in “Her” and are going to occur with increasing frequency as AI progresses.  The interactions are exactly the same; it is just that the entity at the end of the communication channel is either real or artificial.

But wait, what is artificial and what is real?  As Morpheus said in “The Matrix,” “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”  This is not just philosophy; this is as factual as you can get.

As a growing number of researchers, physicists, and philosophers come to terms with the supporting evidence that we already live in a virtual reality, we realize that there is no distinction between a virtual entity that we think is virtual (such as a game character) and a virtual entity that we think is real (such as the person you are in a relationship with).  Your consciousness does not emerge from your brain; its seat is elsewhere.  Your lover’s consciousness therefore is also elsewhere.  You are interacting with it via the transfer of data and your emotions are part of your core consciousness.  Does it matter whether that data transfer is between two conscious entities outside of physical reality or between a conscious entity and another somewhat less conscious entity?

As technology progresses, AI advances, and gaming and simulations become more immersive, falling in love or having any other kind of emotional experience will be occurring more and more frequently with what we today think of as virtual entities.

Now, it seems shocking.  Tomorrow it will be curious.  Eventually it will be the norm.

The Asset-Light Generation – A Sign of Humanity Evolution?

We are moving from an era where it was important to possess everything to an era where it is considered cumbersome.  From racks of CDs and DVDs to music (Spotify) and movies (Netflix) in the cloud, accessible by subscription from a small handheld device.  From bookcases full of books to reading on demand from an iPad.  From stores full of products to eCommerce sites full of data.  From workplaces with cubes and desks to telecommuting and Workforce as a Service (WaaS).  From owning cars to sharing cars (Uber).  From a physical wallet full of cash and credit cards, to digital wallet transactions with just enough bitcoin in the account to satisfy “just in time” needs.

This new era is called the Shared Economy or Collaborative Economy and the individuals who thrive in it are becoming known as the Asset-Light Generation (fka Millennials, or Gen Y).

It strikes me that in many philosophies and spiritual teachings, the suppression of material desires is a crucial step on the road to evolving the spirit.

“All suffering is caused by desire.”
– Buddha

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
– Jesus Christ

“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”
– Bertrand Russell

“When we share – that is poetry in the prose of life.”
– Sigmund Freud

“It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none.”
– Snoop Dogg

So I wonder – if each generation of humanity is becoming less interested in ownership and increasingly more comfortable with the idea of sharing resources, is that another indication that humanity is evolving spiritually?

Or is it just cool tech?

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Nature, Nurture, Neither?

Most of us are aware of (or may be part of) a family where siblings are radically different from each other, their personalities, interests, and value systems sometimes seeming to be completely opposite.  It is difficult to chalk this up to either nature or nurture because both parties couldn’t have a more common nature environment, or common nurture environment.  Having been raised in the same household for their entire lives, and being biologically from the same sets of DNA, what could possibly cause such stark differences?

Psychologists and biologists have attempted to tease out the influential factors by studying criminal records, IQ, personality traits, and sexual preferences of identical twins raised together, identical twins raised apart, adoptive siblings raised together, fraternal twins, siblings, and random pairs of strangers.  Criminality appears to have influences from both nature and nurture, while IQ seems largely hereditary.  Some studies support the conclusion that personality traits are mostly hereditary, while others lean toward environmentSexual preference appears to be unrelated to DNA, yet is also hard to explain by environment alone, given the results of identical twin studies.  However, even in studies of these traits, where correlations are observed, the correlations tend to be small, leaving a large portion of the reason for such traits up in the air.

Mathematically, nature plus nurture doesn’t appear to explain why we are the way we are.  However, if instead we adopted the well-supported and researched view that we are not our bodies, then our consciousness exists independent of our bodies.  As such, it is reasonable to expect that that consciousness learns, adapts, and evolves across multiple lifetimes, and perhaps non-physical experiences.  And this would certainly provide an excellent explanation for the anomalies listed above.  It would make sense, for example, that IQ, perhaps being related to the function of the brain, be largely influenced by genetics.  However, it would not make sense for value systems to be genetic, and the influence from family environment would only extend back to childhood; hence personality traits should show some nurture correlation from “this life”, with the majority of the influence being from past lives (and therefore, a mystery to those who don’t understand or accept this paradigm).

Research supports this view and notes that ‘many aspects of the child’s present personality have carried forward intact from the past life: behavior, emotions, phobias, talents, knowledge, the quality of relationships, and even physical symptoms.’  Sadly, such research is as heretical to scientific orthodoxy as heliocentrism was 500 years ago, although referring to it as epigenetics may be a safe way for scientists to dip their toes into the water without getting scalded.

So, the next time someone gets on your case for not living up to the family ideal, smile knowingly, and be proud of your karmic heritage.

nature_vs_nurture2

Quantum Zeno Effect Solved

Lurking amidst the mass chaos of information that exists in our reality is a little gem of a concept called the Quantum Zeno Effect.  It is partially named after ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea, who dreamed up a number of paradoxes about the fluidity of motion and change.  For example, the “Arrow Paradox” explores the idea that if you break down time into “instants” of zero duration, motion cannot be observed.  Thus, since time is composed of a set of instants, motion doesn’t truly exist.  We might consider Zeno to have been far ahead of his time as he appeared to be thinking about discrete systems and challenging the continuity of space and time a couple thousand years before Alan Turing resurrected the idea in relation to quantum mechanics: “It is easy to show using standard theory that if a system starts in an eigenstate of some observable, and measurements are made of that observable N times a second, then, even if the state is not a stationary one, the probability that the system will be in the same state after, say, one second, tends to one as N tends to infinity; that is, that continual observations will prevent motion …”.  The term “Quantum Zeno Effect” was first used by physicists George Sudarshan and Baidyanath Misra in 1977 to describe just such a system – one that does not change state because it is continuously observed.

The challenge with this theory has been in devising experiments that can verify or falsify it.  However, technology has caught up to philosophy and, over the last 25 years, a number of experiments have been performed which seem to validate the effect.  In 2001, for example, physicist Mark Raizen and a team at the University of Texas showed that the effect is indeed real and the transition of states in a system can be either slowed down or sped up simply by taking measurements of the system.

I have enjoyed making a hobby of fully explaining quantum mechanics anomalies with the programmed reality theory.   Admittedly, I don’t always fully grasp some of the deep complexities and nuances of the issues that I am tackling, due partly to the fact that I have a full time job that has naught to do with this stuff, and partly to the fact that my math skills are a bit rusty, but thus far, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.  The more I dig in to each issue, the more I find things that simply support the idea that we live in a digital (and programmed) reality.

The quantum Zeno effect might not be observed in every case.  It only works for non-memoryless processes.  Exponential decay, for instance, is an example of a memoryless system.  Frequent observation of a particle undergoing radioactive decay would not affect the result.  [As an aside, I find it very interesting that a “memoryless system” invokes the idea of a programmatic construct.  Perhaps with good reason…]

A system with memory, or “state”, however, is, in theory, subject to the quantum Zeno effect.  It will manifest itself by appearing to reset the experiment clock every time an observation is made of the state of the system.  The system under test will have a characteristic set of changes that vary over time.  In the case of the University of Texas experiment, trapped ions tended to remain in their initial state for a brief interval or so before beginning to change state via quantum tunneling, according to some probability function.  For the sake of developing a clear illustration, let’s imagine a process whereby a particle remains in its initial quantum state (let’s call it State A) for 2 seconds before probabilistically decaying to its final state (B) according to a linear function over the next second.  Figure A shows the probability of finding the particle in State A as a function of time.  For the first 2 seconds, of course, it has a 0% probability of changing state, and between 2 and 3 seconds it has an equal probability of moving to state B at any point in time.  A system with this behavior, left on its own and measured at any point after 3 seconds, will be in State B.

probability

What happens, however, when you make a measurement of that system, to check and see if it changed state, at t=1 second?  Per the quantum Zeno effect, the experiment clock will effectively be reset and now the system will stay in State A from t=1 to t=3 and then move to state B at some point between t=3 and t=4.  If you make another measurement of the system at t=1, the clock will again reset, delaying the behavior by another second.  In fact, if you continue to measure the state of the system every second, it will never change state.  Note that this has absolutely nothing to do with the physical impact of the measurement itself; a 100% non-intrusive observation will have exactly the same result.

Also note that, it isn’t that the clock doesn’t reset for a memoryless system, but rather, that it doesn’t matter because you cannot observe any difference.  One may argue that if you make observations at the Planck frequency (one per jiffy), even a memoryless sytem might never change state.  This actually approaches the true nature of Zeno’s arguments, but that is a topic for another essay, one that is much more philosophical than falsifiable.  In fact, “Quantum Zeno Effect” is a misnomer.  The non-memoryless system described above really has little to do with the ad infinitum inspection of Zeno’s paradoxes, but we are stuck with the name.  And I digress.

So why would this happen?

It appears to be related in some way to the observer effect and to entanglement:

  • Observer Effect – Once observed, the state of a system changes.
  • Entanglement – Once observed, the states of multiple particles (or, rather, the state of a system of multiple particles) are forever connected.
  • Quantum Zeno – Once observed, the state of a system is reset.

What is common to all three of these apparent quantum anomalies is the coupling of the act of observation with the concept of a state.  For the purposes of this discussion, it will be useful to invoke the computational concept of a finite state machine, which is a system that changes state according to a set of logic rules and some input criteria.

I have explained the Observer effect and Entanglement as logical necessities of an efficient programmed reality system.  What about Quantum Zeno?  Why would it not be just as efficient to start the clock on a process and let it run, independent of observation?

A clue to the answer is that the act of observation appears to create something.

In the Observer effect, it creates the collapse of the probability wave functions and the establishment of definitive properties of certain aspects of the system under observation (e.g. position).  This is not so much a matter of efficiency as it is of necessity, because without probability, free will doesn’t exist and without free will, we can’t learn, and if the purpose of our system is to grow and evolve, then by necessity, observation must collapse probability.

In Entanglement, the act of observation may create the initiation of a state machine, which subsequently determines the behavior of the particles under test.  Those particles are just data, as I have shown, and the data elements are part of the same variable space of the state machine.  They both get updated simultaneously, regardless of the “virtual” distance between them.

So, in Quantum Zeno, the system under test is in probability space.  The act of observation “collapses” this initial probability function and kicks off the mathematical process by which futures states are determined based on the programmed probability function.  But that is now a second level of probability function; call it probability function 2.  Observing this system a second time now must collapse the probability wave function 2.  But to do so means that the system would now have to calculate a modified probability function 3 going forward – one that takes into account the fact that some aspect of the state machine has already been determined (e.g. the system has or hasn’t started its decay).  For non-memoryless systems, this could be an arbitrarily complex function (3) since it may take a different shape for every time at which the observation occurs.  A third measurement complicates the function even further because even more states are ruled out.

On the other hand, it would be more efficient to simply reset the probability function each time an observation is made, due to the efficiency of the reality system.

The only drawback to this algorithm is the fact that smart scientists are starting to notice these little anomalies, although the assumption here is that the reality system “cares.”  It may not.  Or perhaps that is why most natural processes are exponential, or memoryless – it is a further efficiency of the system.  Man-made experiments, however, don’t follow the natural process and may be designed to be arbitrarily complex, which ironically serves to give us this tiny little glimpse into the true nature of reality.

What we are doing here is inferring deep truths about our reality that are in fundamental conflict with the standard materialist view.  This will be happening more and more as time goes forward and physicists and philosophers will soon have no choice but to consider programmed reality as their ToE.

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RIP Kardashev Civilization Scale

In 1964, Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed a model for categorizing technological civilizations.  He identified 4 levels or “Types”, simplified as follows:

Type 0 – Civilization that has not yet learned to utilize the full set of resources available to them on their home planet (e.g. oceans, tidal forces, geothermal forces, solar energy impinging upon the planet, etc.)

Type 1 – Civilization that fully harnesses, controls, and utilizes the resources of their planet.

Type 2 – Civilization that fully harnesses, controls, and utilizes the resources of their star system.

Type 3 – Civilization that fully harnesses, controls, and utilizes the resources of their galaxy.

halosphere500

As with philosophical thought, literature, art, music, and other concepts and artifacts generated by humanity, technological and scientific pursuits reflect the culture of the time.  In 1964, we were on the brink of nuclear war.  The space race was in full swing and the TV show “Star Trek” was triggering the imagination of laymen and scientists alike.  We thought in terms of conquering people and ideas, and in terms of controlling resources.  What countries are in the Soviet bloc?  What countries are under US influence?  Who has access to most of the oil?  Who has the most gold, the most uranium?

The idea of dominating the world was evident in our news and our entertainment.  Games like Risk and Monopoly were unapologetically imperialistic.  Every Bond plot was about world domination.

Today, many of us find these ideas offensive.  To start with, imperialism is an outdated concept founded on the assumption of superiority of some cultures over others.  The idea of harnessing all planetary resources is an extension of imperialistic mentality, one that adds all other life forms to the entities that we need to dominate.  Controlling planetary resources for the sake of humanity is tantamount to stealing those same resources from other species that may need them.  Further, our attempt to control resources and technology can lead to some catastrophic outcomes.  Nuclear Armageddon, grey goo, overpopulation, global warming, planetary pollution, and (human-caused) mass extinctions are all examples of potentially disastrous consequences of attempts to dominate nature or technology without fully understanding what we are doing.

I argue in “Alien Hunters Still Thinking Inside The Box (or Dyson Sphere)” that attempting to fully harness all of the energy from the sun is increasingly unnecessary and unlikely to our evolution as a species.  Necessary energy consumption per capita is flattening for developing cultures and declining for mature ones.  Technological advances allow us to get much more useful output from our devices as time goes forward.  And humanity is beginning to de-emphasize raw size and power as a desirable attribute (for example, see right sizing economic initiatives) and instead focus on the value of consciousness.

So, certainly the hallmarks of advanced civilizations are not going to be anachronistic metrics of how much energy they can harness.  So what metrics might be useful?

How about:  Have they gotten off their planet?  Have they gotten out of their solar system?  Have they gotten out of their galaxy?

Somehow, I feel that even this is misleading.  Entanglement shows that everything is interconnected.  The observer effect demonstrates that consciousness transcends matter.  So perhaps the truly advanced civilizations have learned that they do not need to physically travel, but rather mentally travel.

How about: How little of an impact footprint do they leave on their planet?

The assumption here is that advanced civilizations follow a curve like the one below, whereby early in their journey they have a tendency to want to consume resources, but eventually evolve to have less and less of a need to consume or use energy.

wigner

How about: What percentage of their effort is expended upon advancing the individual versus the society, the planetary system, or the galactic system?

or…

How about: Who cares?  Why do we need to assign a level to a civilization anyway?  Is there some value to having a master list of evolutionary stage of advanced life forms?  So that we know who to keep an eye on?  That sounds very imperialistic to me.

Of course, I am as guilty of musing about the idea of measuring the level of evolution of a species through a 2013 cultural lens as Kardashev was doing so through a 1964 cultural lens.  But still, it is 50 years hence and time to either revise or retire an old idea.

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