Will Evolving Minds Delay The AI Apocalypse? – Part II

The idea of an AI-driven Apocalypse is based on AI outpacing humanity in intelligence. The point at which that might happen depends on how fast AI evolves and how fast (or slow) humanity evolves.

In Part I of this article, I demonstrated how, given current trends in the advancement of Artificial Intelligence, any AI Apocalypse, Singularity, or what have you, is probably much further out that the transhumanists would have you believe.

In this part, we will examine the other half of the argument by considering the nature of the human mind and how it evolves. To do so, it is very instructive to consider the nature of the mind as a complex system and also the systemic nature of the environments that minds and AIs engage with, and are therefore measured by in terms of general intelligence or AGI.

David Snowden has developed a framework of categorizing systems called Cynefin. The four types of systems are:

  1. Simple – e.g. a bicycle. A Simple system is a simple deterministic system characterized by the fact that most anyone can make decisions and solve problems regarding such systems – it takes something called inferential intuition, which we all have. If the bicycle seat is loose, everyone knows that to fix it, you must look under the seat and find the hardware that needs tightening.
  2. Complicated – e.g. a car. Complicated systems are also deterministic systems, but unlike Simple systems, solutions to problems in this domain are not obvious and typically require analysis and/or experts to figure out what is wrong. That’s why you take your car to the mechanic and why we need software engineers to fix defects.
  3. Complex – Complex systems, while perhaps deterministic from a philosophical point of view, are not deterministic in any practical sense. No matter how much analysis you apply and no matter how experienced the expert is, they will not be able to completely analyze and solve a problem in a complex system. That is because such systems are subject to an incredibly complex set of interactions, inputs, dependencies, and feedback paths that all change continuously. So even if you could apply sufficient resources toward analyzing the entire system, by the time you got your result, your problem state would be obsolete. Examples of complex systems include ecosystems, traffic patterns, the stock market, and basically every single human interaction. Complex systems are best addressed through holistic intuition, which is something that humans possess when they are very experienced in the applicable domain. Problems in complex systems are best addressed by a method called Probe-Sense-Respond, which consists of probing (doing an experiment designed intuitively), sensing (observing the results of that experiment), and responding (acting on those results by moving the system in a positive direction).
  4. Chaotic – Chaotic systems are rarely occurring situations that are unpredictable because they are novel and therefore don’t follow any known patterns. An example would be the situation in New York City after 9/11. Responding to chaotic systems requires an even different method than with other types of systems. Typically, just taking some definitive form of action may be enough to move the system from Chaotic to Complex. The choice of action is a deeply intuitive decision that may be based on an incredibly deep, rich, and nuanced set of knowledge and experiences.

Complicated systems are ideal for early AI. Problems like the ones analyzed in Stanford’s AI Index, such as object detection, natural language parsing, language translation, speech recognition, theorem proving, and SAT solving are all Complicated systems. AI technology at the moment is focused mostly on such problems, not things in the Complex domain, which are instead best addressed by the human brain. However, as processing speed evolves, and learning algorithms evolve, AI will start addressing issues in the Complex domain. Initially, to program or guide the AI systems toward a good sense-and-respond model a human mind will be needed. Eventually perhaps, armed with vague instructions like “try intuitive experiments from a large set of creative ideas that may address the issue,” “figure out how to identify the metrics that indicate a positive result from the experiment,” “measure those metrics,” and “choose a course of action that furthers the positive direction of the quality of the system,” an AI may succeed at addressing problems in the Complex domain.

The human mind of course already has a huge head start. We are incredibly adept at seeing vague patterns, sensing the non-obvious, seeing the big picture, and drawing from collective experiences to select experiments to address complex problems.

Back to our original question, as we lead AI toward developing the skills and intuition to replicate such capabilities, will we be unable to evolve our thinking as well?

In the materialist paradigm, the brain is the limit for an evolving mind. This is why we think the AI can out evolve us, because the brain capacity is fixed. However, in “Digital Consciousness” I have presented a tremendous set of evidence that this is incorrect. In actuality, consciousness, and therefore the mind, is not emergent from the brain. Instead it exists in a deeper level of reality as shown in the Figure below.

It interacts with a separate piece of ATTI that I call the Reality Learning Lab (RLL), commonly known as “the reality we live in,” but more accurately described as our “apparent physical reality” – “apparent” because it is actually Virtual.

As discussed in my blog on creating souls, All That There Is (ATTI) has subdivided itself into components of individuated consciousness, each of which has a purpose to evolve. How it is constructed, and how the boundaries are formed that make it individuated is beyond our knowledge (at the moment).

So what then is our mind?

Simply put, it is organized information. As Tom Campbell eloquently expressed it, “The digital world, which subsumes the virtual physical world, consists only of organization – nothing else. Reality is organized bits.”

As such, what prevents it from evolving in the deeper reality of ATTI just as fast as we can evolve an AI here in the virtual reality of RLL?

Answer – NOTHING!

Don’t get hung up on the fixed complexity of the brain. All our brain is needed for is to emulate the processing mechanism that appears to handle sensory input and mental activity. By analogy, we might consider playing a virtual reality game. In this game we have an avatar and we need to interact with other players. Imagine that a key aspect of the game is the ability to throw a spear at a monster or to shoot an enemy. In our (apparent) physical reality, we would need an arm and a hand to be able to carry out that activity. But in the game, it is technically not required. Our avatar could be arm-less and when we have the need to throw something, we simply press a key sequence on the keyboard. A spear magically appears and gets hurled in the direction of the monster. Just as we don’t need a brain to be aware in our waking reality (because our consciousness is separate from RLL), we don’t need an arm to project a spear toward an enemy in the VR game.

On the other hand, having the arm on the avatar adds a great deal to the experience. For one thing, it adds complexity and meaning to the game. Pressing a key sequence does not have a lot of variability and it certainly doesn’t provide the player with much control. The ability to hit the target could be very precise, such as in the case where you simply point at the target and hit the key sequence. This is boring, requires little skill and ultimately provides no opportunity to develop a skill. On the other hand, the precision of your attack could be dependent on a random number generator, which adds complexity and variability to the game, but still doesn’t provide any opportunity to improve. Or, the precision of the attack could depend on some other nuance of the game, like secondary key sequences, or timing of key sequences, which, although providing the opportunity to develop a skill, have nothing to do with a consistent approach to throwing something. So, it is much better to have your avatar have an arm. In addition, this simply models the reality that you know, and people are comfortable with things that are familiar.

So it is with our brains. In our virtual world, the digital template that is our brain is incapable of doing anything in the “simulation” that it isn’t designed to do. The digital simulation that is the RLL must follow the rules of RLL physics much the way a “physics engine” provides the rules of RLL physics for a computer game. And these rules extend to brain function. Imagine if, in the 21st century, we had no scientific explanation for how we process sensory input or make mental decisions because there was no brain in our bodies. Would that be a “reality” that we could believe in? So, in our level of reality that we call waking reality, we need a brain.

But that brain “template” doesn’t limit the ability for our mind to evolve any more than the lack of brain or central nervous system prevents a collection of single celled organisms called a slime mold from actually learning.

In fact, there is some good evidence for the idea that our minds are evolving as rapidly as technology. Spiral Dynamics is a model of the evolution of values and culture that can be applied to individuals, institutions, and all of humanity. The figure below depicts a very high level overview of the stages, or memes, depicted by the model.

Spiral Dynamics

Each of these stages represents a shift in values, culture, and thinking, as compared to the previous. Given that it is the human mind that drives these changes, it is fair to say that the progression models the evolution of the human mind. As can be seen by the timeframes associated with the first appearance of each stage of humanity, this is an exponential progression. In fact, this is the same kind of progression that Transhumanists used to prove exponential progression of technology and AI. This exponential progression of mind would seem to defy the logic that our minds, if based on fixed neurological wiring, are incapable of exponential development.

And so, higher level conscious thought and logic can easily evolve in the human mind in the truer reality, which may very well keep us ahead of the AI that we are creating in our little virtual reality. The trick is in letting go of our limiting assumptions that it cannot be done, and developing protocols for mental evolution.

So, maybe hold off on buying those front row tickets to the Singularity.

Will Evolving Minds Delay The AI Apocalypse? – Part I

Stephen Hawking once warned that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He went on to explain that AI will “take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate,” while “humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” He is certainly not alone in his thinking, as Elon Musk, for example, cautions that “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”

In fact, this is a common theme not only in Hollywood, but also between two prominent groups of philosophers and futurists.   One point of view is that Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will become superintelligent and beyond the control of humans, resulting in all sorts of extinction scenarios (think SkyNet or Grey Goo). The (slightly) more optimistic point of view, held by the transhumanists, is that humanity will merge with advanced AI and form superhumans. So, while biological dumb humanity may go the way of the dodo bird, the new form of human-machine hybrid will continue to advance and rule the universe. By the way, this is supposed to happen around 2045, according to Ray Kurzweil in his 2005 book “The Singularity is Near.”

There are actually plenty of logical and philosophical arguments against these ideas, but this blog is going to focus on something different – the nature of the human mind.

The standard theory is that humans cannot evolve their minds particularly quickly due to the assumption that we are limited by the wiring in our brains. AI, on the other hand, has no such limitations and, via recursive self-improvement, will evolve at a runaway exponential rate, making it inevitable to take over humans at some point in terms of intelligence.

But does this even make sense? Let’s examine both assumptions.

The first assumption is that AI advancements will continue at an exponential pace. This is short-sighted IMHO. Most exponential processes run into negative feedback effects that eventually dampen the acceleration. For example, exponential population growth occurs in bacterial colonies until the environment reaches its carrying capacity and then it levels off. We simply don’t know what the “carrying capacity” is of an AI. In an analogous manner, it has to run in some environment, which may run out of memory, power, or other resources at some point. Moore’s Law, the idea that transistor density doubles every two years, has been applied to many other technology advances, such as CPU speed and networking bit rates, and is the cornerstone of the logic behind the Singularity. However, difficulties in heat dissipation have now slowed down the rate of advances in CPU speed, and Moore’s Law no longer applies. Transistor density is also hitting its limit as transistor junctions are now only a few atoms thick. Paul Allen argues, in his article “The Singularity Isn’t Near,” that the kinds of learning required to move AI ahead do not occur at exponential rates, but rather in an irregular and unpredictable manner. As things get more complex, progress tends to slow, an effect he calls the Complexity Brake.

Let’s look at one example. Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in a game in 1996, the first time a machine beat a world Chess champion. Google’s AlphaGo beat a grandmaster at Go for the first time in 2016. In those 20 years, there are 10 2-year doubling cycles in Moore’s Law, which would imply that, if AI were advancing exponentially, the “intelligence” needed to beat a Go master is 1000 times more than the intelligence needed to beat a Chess master. Obviously this is ridiculous. While Go is theoretically a more complex game than Chess because it has many more possible moves, an argument could be made that the intellect and mastery required to become the world champion at each game is roughly the same. So, while the advances in processing speed and algorithmic development (Deep Blue used a brute force algorithm, while AlphaGo did more pattern recognition) were substantial between 1996 and 2016, they don’t really show much advance in “intelligence.”

It would also be insightful to examine some real estimates of AI trends. For some well-researched data, consider Stanford University’s AI Index. Created and launched as a project at Stanford University, the AI Index is an “open, not-for-profit project to track activity and progress in AI.” In their 2017 report,  they identify metrics for the progress made in several areas of Artificial Intelligence, such as object detection, natural language parsing, language translation, speech recognition, theorem proving, and SAT solving. For each of the categories for which there is at least 8 years of data, I normalized the AI performance and calculated the improvements over time and averaged the results (note: I was even careful to invert the data – for example, for a pattern recognition algorithm to improve from 90% accuracy to 95%, this is not a 5% improvement; it is actually a 100% improvement in the ability to reject false positives). The chart below shows that AI is not advancing nearly as quickly as Moore’s Law.

Advancing Artificial Intelligence

Figure 1 – Advancing Artificial Intelligence

In fact, the doubling period is about 6 years instead of 2, which would suggest that we need 3 times as long before hitting the Singularity as compared to Kurzweil’s prediction. Since the 2045 projection for the Singularity occurred in 2005, this would say that we wouldn’t really see it until 2125. That’s assuming that we keep pace with the current rate of growth of AI, and don’t even hit Paul Allen’s Complexity Brake. So, chances are it is much further off than that. (As an aside, according to some futurists, Ray does not have a particularly great success rate for his predictions, even ones that are only 10 years out.

But a lot can happen in 120 years. Unexpected, discontinuous jumps in technology can accelerate the process. Social, economic, and political factors can severely slow it down. Recall how in just 10 years in the 1960s, we figured out how to land a man on the moon. Given the rate at which we were advancing our space technology and applying Moore’s Law (which was in effect at that time), it would not have been unreasonable to expect a manned mission to Mars by 1980. In fact Werner von Braun, the leader of the American rocket team, predicted after the moon landing that we would be on Mars in the early 1980s. But in the wake of the Vietnam debacle, public support for additional investment in NASA waned and the entire space program took a drastic turn. Such factors are probably even more impactful to the future of AI than the limitations of Moore’s Law.

The second assumption we need to examine is that the capacity of the human mind is limited by the complexity of the human brain, and is therefore relatively fixed. We will do that in Part II of this article.

Nick Bostrom Elon Musk Nick Bostrom Elon Musk

OMG can anyone write an article on the simulation hypothesis without focusing on Nick Bostrom and Elon Musk? It’s like writing an article about climate change and only mentioning Al Gore.

Dear journalists who are trying to be edgy and write about cool fringe theories, please pay attention. The idea that we might be living in an illusory world is not novel. Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi wrote about it with his butterfly dream in 369 BC. Plato discussed his cave allegory in 380 BC. The other aspect of simulation theory, the idea that the world is discrete or digital, is equally ancient. Plato and Democritous considered atoms, and therefore the fundamental constructs of reality, to be discrete.

I’m not taking anything away from Nick Bostrom, who is a very intelligent modern philosopher. His 2001 Simulation Argument is certainly thought provoking and deserves its place in the annals of digital philosophy. But it was predated by “The Matrix”. Which was predated by Philip K. Dick’s pronouncement in 1977 that we might be living in a computer-programmed reality. Which was predated by Konrad Zuse’s 1969 work on discrete reality, “Calculating Space.”

And as interesting as Bostrom’s Simulation Argument is, it was a 12-page paper on a single idea. Since then, he has not really evolved his thinking on digital philosophy, preferring instead to concentrate on existential risk and the future of humanity.

Nor am I taking anything away from Elon Musk, a brilliant entrepreneur who latched onto Bostrom’s idea for a few minutes, generated a couple sound bites, and then it was back to solar panels and hyperloops.

But Bostrom, Musk, and the tired old posthuman-generated simulation hypothesis is all that the rank and file of journalists seem to know to write about. It is really sad, considering that Tom Campbell wrote an 800-page treatise on the computational nature of reality. I have written two books on the subject. Both of our material is largely consistent and has evolved the thinking far beyond the idea that we live in a posthuman-generated simulation. In fact, I provide a great deal of evidence that the Bostrom-esque possibility is actually not very likely. And Brian Whitworth has a 10-year legacy of provocative scientific papers on evidence for a programmed reality that are far beyond the speculations of Musk and Bostrom.

The world need to know about these things and Campbell, Whitworth, and I can’t force people to read our books, blogs, and papers. So journalists, with all due respect, please up your simulation game.

Transhumanism and Immortality – 21st Century Snake Oil

Before I start my rant, I recognize that the Transhumanism movement is chock full of cool ideas, many of which make complete sense, even though they are perhaps obvious and inevitable.  The application of science and technology to the betterment of the human body ranges from current practices like prosthetics and Lasik to genetic modification and curing diseases through nanotech.  It is happening and there’s nothing anyone can to to stop it, so enjoy the ride as you uplift your biology to posthumanism.

However, part of the Transhumanist dogma is the idea that we can “live long enough to live forever.”  Live long enough to be able to take advantage of future technologies like genetic manipulation  which could end the aging process and YOU TOO can be immortal!

The problem with this mentality is that we are already immortal!  And there is a reason why our corporeal bodies die.  Simply put, we live our lives in this reality in order to evolve our consciousness, one life instance at a time.  If we didn’t die, our consciousness evolution would come to a grinding halt, as we spend the rest of eternity playing solitaire and standing in line at the buffet.  The “Universe” or “All That There Is” appears to evolve through our collective individuated consciousnesses.  Therefore, deciding to be physically immortal could be the end of the evolution of the Universe itself.  Underlying this unfortunate and misguided direction of Transhumanism is the belief (and, I can’t stress this enough, it is ONLY that – a belief) that it is lights out when we die.  Following the train of logic, if this were true, consciousness only emerges from brain function, we have zero free will, the entire universe is a deterministic machine, and even investigative science doesn’t make sense any more.  So why even bother with Transhumanism if everything is predetermined?  It is logically inconsistent.  Materialism, the denial of the duality of mind and body, is a dogmatic Religion.  Its more vocal adherents (just head on over to the JREF Forum to find these knuckleheads) are as ignorant to the evidence and as blind to what true science is as the most bass-ackward fundamentalist religious zealots.

OK, to be fair, no one can be 100% certain of anything.  But, there is FAR more evidence for consciousness driven reality than for deterministic materialism.  This blog contains a lot of it, as does my first book, “The Universe-Solved!“, with much more in my upcoming book.

The spokesman for transhumanistic immortality is the self-professed “Transcendent Man“, Ray Kurzweil.  Really Ray?  Did you seriously NOT fight the producers of this movie about you to change the title to something a little less self-aggrandizing, like “Modern Messiah”? #LRonHubbard

So I came across this article about the 77 supplements that Ray takes every day.  From the accompanying video clip, he believes that they are already reversing his aging process: “I’m 65. On many biological aging tests I come out a lot younger. I expect to be in my 40s 15 years from now.”

He has been on this regimen for years.  So let’s see how well those supplements are doing.  Picking an objective tool from one of Ray’s own favorite technologies – Artificial Intelligence – the website how-old.net has an AI bot that automatically estimates your age from an uploaded photo.  I took a screen shot from the video clip (Ray is 65 in the clip) and uploaded it:

Ray Kurzweil Age

85!  Uh oh.  Hmmm, maybe the bot overestimates everyone’s age. I’m 10 years younger than Ray.  Let’s see how I fare, using a shot taken the same year at a ski resort – you know, one of those sports Ray says to avoid (Ray also claims that his kids will probably be immortal as long as they don’t take up extreme sports):

JimHowOld

I don’t know if it is the supplements that make Ray look 20 years older than he is, or the extreme skiing that makes me look 13 years younger than I am.  But I’m thinking maybe I’m onto something. [Note: I do realize that the choice of pictures could result in different outcomes.  I just thought it was ironic that the first two that I tried had these results]

Yes, I’m fairly confident that these supplements have some value in improving the function of various organs and benefiting a person’s overall health and well being.  I’m also fairly certain that much of traditional medical community would disagree and point to the lack of rigorous scientific studies supporting these supposed benefits as they always do.  On the whole, I suspect that, on the average, supplements might extend one’s lifetime somewhat.  But I doubt that they will reverse aging.  The human body is far too complex to hope that adding a few organic compounds would be sufficient to modify and synchronize all of the complex cellular and systemic metabolic chemical reactions toward a reversal of the aging process.  Kurzweil is obviously a very bright man who has had a significant entrepreneurial legacy in the high tech world.  However I think he and the rest of the materialist transhumanists are way over their heads on the topic of immortality and our place and purpose in the Universe.

My suggestion, Ray… skip the supplements, skip the self-promotion, skip the Google plugs, drive your goddamn car, and don’t be afraid to be active.  Stick with high tech, leave the evolution of the universe to its own devices, and enjoy the rest of this life.

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.

Things We Can’t Feel – The Mystery Deepens

In my last blog “Things We Can’t See”, we explored the many different ways that our eyes, brains, and/or technology can fool us into seeing something that isn’t there or not seeing something that is.

So apparently, our sense of sight is not necessarily the most reliable sense in terms of identifying what is and isn’t in our objective reality.  We would probably suspect that our sense of touch is fairly foolproof; that is, if an object is “there”, we can “feel” it, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, we have a lot of the same problems with the brain as we did with the sense of sight.  The brain processes all of that sensory data from our nerve endings.  How do we know what the brain really does with that information?  Research shows that sometimes your brain can think that you are touching something that you aren’t or vice versa.  People who have lost limbs still have sensations in their missing extremities.  Hypnosis has been shown to have a significant effect in terms of pain control, which seems to indicate the mind’s capacity to override one’s tactile senses.  And virtual reality experiments have demonstrated the ability for the mind to be fooled into feeling something that isn’t there.

In addition, technology can be made to create havoc with our sense of touch, although the most dramatic of such effects are dozens of years into the future.  Let me explain…

Computer Scientist J. Storrs Hall developed the concept of a “Utility Fog.”  Imagine a “nanoscopic” object called a Foglet, which is an intelligent nanobot, capable of communicating with its peers and having arms that can hook together to form larger structures.  Trillions of these Foglets could conceivably fill a room and not be at all noticeable as long as they were in “invisible mode.”  In fact, not only might they be programmed to appear transparent to the sight, but they may be imperceptible to the touch.  This is not hard to imagine, if you allow that they could have sensors that detect your presence.  For example, if you punch your fist into a swarm of nanobots programmed to be imperceptible, they would sense your motion and move aside as you swung your fist through the air.  But at any point, they could conspire to form a structure – an impenetrable wall, for example.  And then your fist would be well aware of their existence.  In this way, technology may be able to have a dramatic effect on our complete ability to determine what is really “there.”

nanobot

But even now, long before nanobot swarms are possible, the mystery really begins, as we have to dive deeply into what is meant by “feeling” something.

Feeling is the result of a part of our body coming in contact with another object.  That contact is “felt” by the interaction between the molecules of the body and the molecules of the object.

Even solid objects are mostly empty space.  If subatomic particles, such as neutrons, are made of solid mass, like little billiard balls, then 99.999999999999% of normal matter would still be empty space.  That is, of course, unless those particles themselves are not really solid matter, in which case, even more of space is truly empty, more about which in a bit.

So why don’t solid objects like your fist slide right through other solid objects like bricks?  Because of the repulsive effect that the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the fist apply against the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the brick.

But what about that neutron?  What is it made of?  Is it solid?  Is it made of the same stuff as all other subatomic particles?

The leading theories of matter do not favor the idea that subatomic particles are like little billiard balls of differing masses.  For example, string theorists speculate that all particles are made of the same stuff; namely, vibrating bits of string.  Except that they each vibrate at different frequencies.  Problem is, string theory is purely theoretical and really falls more in the mathematical domain than the scientific domain, inasmuch as there is no supporting evidence for the theory.  If it does turn out to be true, even the neutron is mostly empty space because the string is supposedly one-dimensional, with a theoretical cross section of a Planck length.

Here’s where it gets really interesting…

Neutrinos are an extremely common yet extremely elusive particle of matter.  About 100 trillion neutrinos generated in the sun pass through our bodies every second.  Yet they barely interact at all with ordinary matter.  Neutrino capture experiments consist of configurations such as a huge underground tank containing 100,000 gallons of tetrachloroethylene buried nearly a mile below the surface of the earth.  100 billion neutrinos strike every square centimeter of the tank per second.  Yet, any particular molecule of tetrachloroethylene is likely to interact with a neutrino only once every 10E36 seconds (which is 10 billion billion times the age of the universe).

The argument usually given for the neutrino’s elusiveness is that they are massless (and therefore not easily captured by a nucleus) and charge-less (and therefore not subject to the electromagnetic force).  Then again, photons are massless and charge-less and are easily captured, to which anyone who has spent too much time in the sun can attest.  So there has to be some other reason that we can’t detect neutrinos.  Unfortunately, given the current understanding of particle physics, no good answer is forthcoming.

And then there is dark matter.  This concept is the current favorite explanation for some anomalies around orbital speeds of galaxies.  Gravity can’t explain the anomalies, so dark matter is inferred.  If it really exists, it represents about 83% of the mass in the universe, but doesn’t interact again with any of the known forces with the exception of gravity.  This means that dark matter is all around us; we just can’t see it or feel it.

So it seems that modern physics allows for all sorts of types of matter that we can’t see or feel.  When you get down to it, the reason for this is that we don’t understand what matter is at all.  According to the standard model of physics, particles should have no mass, unless there is a special quantum field that pervades the universe and gives rise to mass upon interacting with those particles.  Unfortunately, for that to have any credibility, the signature particle, the Higgs boson, would have to exist.  Thus far, it seems to be eluding even the most powerful of particle colliders.  One alternative theory of matter has it being an emergent property of particle fluctuations in the quantum vacuum.

For a variety of reasons, some of which are outlined in “The Universe – Solved!” and many others which have come to light since I wrote that book, I suspect that ultimately matter is simply a property of an entity that is described purely by data and a set of rules, driven by a complex computational mechanism.  Our attempt to discover the nature of matter is synonymous with our attempt to discover those rules and associated fundamental constants (data).

In terms of other things that we can’t perceive, new age enthusiasts might call out ghosts, spirits, auras, and all sorts of other mysterious invisible and tenuous entities.

starwarsghosts

Given that we know that things exist that we can’t perceive, one has to wonder if it might be possible for macroscopic objects, or even macroscopic entities that are driven by similar energies as humans, to be made from stuff that we can only tenuously detect, not unlike neutrinos or dark matter.  Scientists speculate about multiple dimensions and parallel universes via Hilbert Space and other such constructs.  If such things exist (and wouldn’t it be hypocritical of anyone to speculate or work out the math for such things if it weren’t possible for them to exist?), the rules that govern our interaction with them, across the dimensions, are clearly not at all understood.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t possible.

In fact, the scientific world is filled with trends leading toward the implication of an information-based reality.

In which almost anything is possible.

Yesterday’s Sci-Fi is Tomorrow’s Technology

It is the end of 2011 and it has been an exciting year for science and technology.  Announcements about artificial life, earthlike worlds, faster-than-light particles, clones, teleportation, memory implants, and tractor beams have captured our imagination.  Most of these things would have been unthinkable just 30 years ago.

So, what better way to close out the year than to take stock of yesterday’s science fiction in light of today’s reality and tomorrow’s technology.  Here is my take:

yesterdaysscifi