Creating Souls is like Boiling the Ocean

Let’s say you want to boil the ocean.  Or, to make a slightly less violent example, let’s say you want to raise the temperature of the ocean by one degree (note: various sources indicate that this requires 3.4E25 joules of energy).  How might you go about doing it?

One possibility is to find a corner of the ocean and attempt to heat it through some means.  I can imagine buying a heat lamp at Home Depot, getting a really long extension cord, plugging it in, leaving it on the sand in Playa del Rey, and waiting for the ocean to warm up.

Clearly, a highly ineffective strategy.

Assuming zero radiative cooling to the atmosphere, 100% heat transfer from the heat lamp to the water (both invalid assumptions), and a convection heating process whose losses are insignificant, it would take a 1000-watt heat lamp about 78,000 times the age of the universe to accomplish that task.  The biggest part of the problem is that we are applying a relatively tiny amount of energy to the problem.

But what if we were able to distribute the energy source and hover a 1000-watt heat lamp over every square meter of ocean water?  Now the problem becomes a combination of source energy and convection process (how long it takes for the heating at the surface to make its way to the bottom of the ocean.)  In this case, we would be applying 3.6E14 times the energy, which should reduce the duration of heating to only 3 years.  However, now we are bound by the slowness of the convection process, which would take 200 million years, again assuming no radiative cooling.  Still, highly ineffective, but for a different reason.

Now, what if we were able to apply a 1000-watt heating source to every cubic meter of water in the ocean?  Disregarding convection, it would take a little over an hour to supply enough energy to raise the ocean temperature by one degree.  Convection inefficiencies could be resolved by further subdividing the ocean (e.g., have a 1 watt heating source per liter of water).

What is interesting about this is the simple observation that distributing a process recursively can be hugely more efficient than injecting energy at a single point, or even a linear distribution of function.

There are all sorts of situations for which this metaphor can be useful.  For example, let’s say you want to start a movement, like OWS.  If your method of distribution is to stand on a street corner with a megaphone, it will take a very long time for your message to reach the rest of the 300 million people in the country.  However, if you are able to recruit 1000 lieutenants, each of whom are armed with the same energy and message, and send them out to 1000 population epicenters, the movement will grow much faster; perhaps even 1000 times faster.  But that may still not be the fastest possible way to achieve the end result because each lieutenant still has to reach 300 thousand people.  But, if each of the 1000 lieutenants recruits 1000 sergeants, each sergeant only has to reach 300 people.  Any further levels of distribution would probably only result in overlaps of audiences and thus not achieve any incremental effectiveness.  I cannot think of a more efficient way to achieve the desired result than this recursive distribution process.

Let’s apply this idea to the ultimate metaphysical scenario, whereby the grand purpose behind “all that there is” is to increase the quality of the universal consciousness.  How might a universal consciousness self-organize in such a way as to optimize the rate of growth of consciousness quality?

The answer is to follow the recursive model outlined above for boiling the ocean.  Break the universal consciousness into chunks and ask each chunk to optimize its quality level through some sort of consistent organizing principle.  Each chunk can in turn break itself into even smaller chunks and make the same request, until the chunks are so small that they start to overlap their function.  Those smallest practical chunks are our individual consciousnesses.  The goal of each individual consciousness would be to raise its quality level.  How?  Perhaps via experiences obtained from this learning lab virtual reality we call “physical reality.”  Think “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles.

These ideas of individuated consciousnesses increasing their quality level, thereby contributing to the quality of the whole, are well documented by Tom Campbell (“My Big TOE”) and Steven Kaufman (“Unified Reality Theory”).  I am merely providing an ocean boiling metaphor as a means to relate to the idea of optimizing the efficiency of a change process via recursive distribution.

Perhaps this is why we see fractal patterns all over the universe – similar structures at different scales imply an underlying recursive process at work.

And, after all, wouldn’t we expect the universal consciousness to be pretty efficient after all these years?


Alien Hunters Still Thinking Inside The Box (or Dyson Sphere)

As those who are familiar with my writing already know, I have long thought that the SETI program was highly illogical, for a number of reason, some of which are outlined here and here.

To summarize, it is the height of anthropomorphic and unimaginative thinking to assume that ET will evolve just like we did and develop radio technology at all.  Even if they did, and followed a technology evolution similar to our own, the era of high-powered radio broadcasts should be insignificant in relation to the duration of their evolutionary history.  In our own case even, that era is almost over, as we are moving to highly networked and low-powered data communication (e.g. Wi-Fi), which is barely detectable a few blocks away, let alone light years.  And even if we happened to overlap a 100-year radio broadcast era of a civilization in our galactic neighborhood, they would still never hear us, and vice versa, because the signal level required to reliably communicate around the world becomes lost in the noise of the cosmic microwave background radiation before it even leaves the solar system.

So, no, SETI is not the way to uncover extraterrestrial intelligences.

Dyson Sphere

Some astronomers are getting a bit more creative and are beginning to explore some different ways of detecting ET.  One such technique hinges on the concept of a Dyson Sphere.  Physicist Freeman Dyson postulated the idea in 1960, theorizing that advanced civilizations will continuously increase their demand for energy, to the point where they need to capture all of the energy of the star that they orbit.  A possible mechanism for doing so could be a network of satellites surrounding the solar system and collecting all of the energy of the star.  Theoretically, a signature of a distant Dyson Sphere would be a region of space emitting no visible light but generating high levels of infrared radiation as waste.  Some astronomers have mapped the sky over the years, searching for such signatures, but to no avail.

Today, a team at Penn State is resuming the search via data from infrared observatories WISE and Spitzer.  Another group from Princeton has also joined in the search, but are using a different technique by searching for dimming patterns in the data.

I applaud these scientists who are expanding the experimental boundaries a bit.  But I doubt that Dyson Spheres are the answer.  There are at least two flaws with this idea.

First, the assumption that we will continuously need more energy is false.  Part of the reason for this is the fact that once a nation has achieved a particular level of industrialization and technology, there is little to drive further demand.  The figure below, taken from The Atlantic article “A Short History of 200 Years of Global Energy Use” demonstrates this clearly.


In addition, technological advances make it cheaper to obtain the same general benefit over time.  For example, in terms of computing, performing capacity per watt has increased by a factor of over one trillion in the past 50 years.  Dyson was unaware of this trend because Moore’s Law hadn’t been postulated until 1965.  Even in the highly corrupt oil industry, with their collusion, lobbying, and artificial scarcity, performance per gallon of gas has steadily increased over the years.

The second flaw with the Dyson Sphere argument is the more interesting one – the assumptions around how humans will evolve.  I am sure that in the booming 1960s, it seemed logical that we would be driven by the need to consume more and more, controlling more and more powerful tools as time went on.  But, all evidence actually points to the contrary.

We are in the beginning stages of a new facet of evolution as a species.  Not a physical one, but a consciousness-oriented one.  Quantum Mechanics has shown us that objective reality doesn’t exist.  Scientists are so frightened by the implications of this that they are for the most part in complete denial.  But the construct of reality is looking more and more like it is simply data.  And the evidence is overwhelming that consciousness is controlling the body and not emerging from it.  As individuals are beginning to understand this, they are beginning to recognize that they are not trapped by their bodies, nor this apparent physical reality.

Think about this from the perspective of the evolution of humanity.  If this trend continues, why will we even need the body?

Robert Monroe experienced a potential future (1000 years hence), which may be very much in line with the mega-trends that I have been discussing on “No sound, it was NVC [non-vocal communication]! We made it! Humans did it! We made the quantum jump from monkey chatter and all it implied.” (“Far Journeys“)

earthWe may continue to use the (virtual) physical reality as a “learning lab”, but since we won’t really need it, neither will we need the full energy of the virtual star.  And we can let virtual earth get back to the beautiful virtual place it once was.

THIS is why astronomers are not finding any sign of intelligent life in outer space, no matter what tools they use.  A sufficiently advanced civilization does not communicate using monkey chatter, nor any technological carrier like radio waves.

They use consciousness.

So will we, some day.

You Are Not Your Body

The debate rages on, but those of us who have done the research know which side is true.

We are NOT our bodies.

I am posting this as a reference to all of the excellent scientific research that has been done around this topic so that I can easily refer to it during future blog posts.  For example…

Gary Schwartz, HaConsciousness185rvard-educated professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery at the University of Arizona, has done extensive research in peer-reviewed journals and several books, such as “The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life After Death”, where he states: “consciousness exists independently of the brain. It does not depend upon the brain for its survival. Mind is first, the brain is second. The brain is not the creator of mind; it is a powerful tool of the mind. The brain is an antenna/receiver for the mind, like a sophisticated television or cell phone.”

– Here are 290 Scientific papers on NDEs, such as: K. Ring and M. Lawrence, Further evidence for veridical perception during near-death experiences, Journal of Near-Death Studies, 11 (1993), pp. 223-229, which provide evidence and support for the theory that consciousness is separate from the brain.

– Research by the University of Virginia School of Medicine Division of Perceptual Studies includes a compilation of 12 books on reincarnation, 39 articles and research papers, 3 books on NDEs, and 71 articles and research papers, all supporting the evidence that we are not our bodies.

– “Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century” was written by six interdisciplinary scientists who present years of evidence and thought that lead to the conclusion that “the mind as an entity independent of the brain or body.”

– Cardiologist Pim van Lommel’s presents 20 years of research and supporting scientific data on Near Death Experiences in his book “Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience.” “Ultimately, we cannot avoid the conclusion that endless consciousness has always been and always will be, independent of the body.”

– Harvard-educated neurosurgeon Eben Alexander explains in this article about his new book that “the brain itself doesn’t produce consciousness.” “it is, instead, a kind of reducing valve or filter, shifting the larger, nonphysical consciousness that we possess in the nonphysical worlds down into a more limited capacity for the duration of our mortal lives.”

– Kenneth Ring is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut.  In his new book, “Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind”, he documents 31 cases of blind people who had OBEs and NDEs who not only gained “knowledge of facts they could only have learned through a faculty like vision”, but there were also relevant eyewitnesses who corroborate their testimonies.

There is much more – this barely scratches the surface.  Don’t take my word for it, do your own research.  If you maintain an open mind, you will find that there is a boatload of supporting evidence for a separate brain and consciousness.  And pretty much no evidence to the contrary.

And yet, the idea is heretical in scientific circles.  Because it is not understood, it is scary to the closed-minded.

Einstein Would Have Loved Programmed Reality

Aren’t we all Albert Einstein fans, in one way or another?  If it isn’t because of his 20th Century revolution in physics (relativity), or his Nobel Prize that led to that other 20th Century revolution (quantum mechanics), or his endless Twainsian witticisms, it’s his underachiever-turned-genius story, or maybe even that crazy head of hair.  For me, it’s his regular-guy sense of humor:

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”


“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”

Albert Einstein on a bicycle in Niels Bohr's garden

But, the more I read about Albert and learn about his views on the nature of reality, the more affinity I have with his way of thinking.  He died in 1955, hardly deep enough into the digital age to have had a chance to consider the implications of computing, AI, consciousness, and virtual reality.  Were he alive today, I suspect that he would be a fan of digital physics, digital philosophy, simulism, programmed reality – whatever you want to call it.  Consider these quotes and see if you agree:

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

“I wished to show that space-time isn’t necessarily something to which one can ascribe a separate existence, independently of the actual objects of physical reality. Physical objects are not in space, but these object are spatially extended. In this way the concept of ’empty space’ loses its meaning.”

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are uncertain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

“Space does not have an independent existence.”

“Hence it is clear that the space of physics is not, in the last analysis, anything given in nature or independent of human thought.  It is a function of our conceptual scheme [mind].”

 “Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”

I can only imagine the insights that Albert would have had into the mysteries of the universe, had he lived well into the computer age.  It would have given him an entirely different perspective on that conundrum that puzzled him throughout his later life – the relationship of consciousness to reality.  And he might have even tossed out the Unified Field Theory that he was forever chasing and settled in on something that looked a little more digital.


My Body, the Avatar

Have you ever wondered how much information the human brain can store?  A little analysis reveals some interesting data points…

The human brain contains an estimated 100 trillion synapses.  There doesn’t appear to be a finer level of structure to the neural cells, so this represents the maximum number of memory elements that a brain can hold.  Assume for a moment that each synapse can hold a single bit; then the brain’s capacity would be 100 trillion bits, or about 12.5 terabytes. There may be some argument that there is actually a distribution of brain function, or redundancy of data storage, which would reduce the memory capacity of the brain.  On the other hand, one might argue that synapses may not be binary and hence could hold somewhat more information.  So it seems that 12.5 TB is a fairly good and conservative estimate.

It has also been estimated (see “On the Information Processing Capabilities of the Brain: Shifting the Paradigm” by Simon Berkovich) that, in a human lifetime, the brain processes 3 million times that much data.  This all makes sense if we assume that most (99.99997%) of our memory data is discarded over time, due to lack of need.

But then, how would we explain the exceptional capabilities of autistic savants, or people with hyperthymesia, or eidetic memory (total recall).  It would have to be such that the memories that these individuals retrieve can not all be stored in the brain at the same time.  In other words, memories, or the record of our experiences, are not solely stored in the brain.  Some may be, such as those most recently used, or frequently needed.

Those who are trained in Computer Science will recognize the similarities between these characteristics and the idea of a cache memory, a high speed storage device that stores the most recently used, or frequently needed, data for quick access.

As cardiologist and science researcher Pim van Lommel said, “the computer does not produce the Internet any more than the brain produces consciousness.”

Why is this so hard to believe?

After all, there is no real proof that all memories are stored in the brain.  There is only research that shows that some memories are stored in the brain and can be triggered by electrically stimulating certain portions of the cerebral cortex.  By the argument above, I would say that experimental evidence and logic is on the side of non-local memory storage.

In a similar manner, while there is zero evidence that consciousness is an artifact of brain function, Dr. van Lommel has shown that there is extremely strong evidence that consciousness is not a result of brain activity.  It is enabled by the brain, but not seated there.

These two arguments – the non-local seat of consciousness and the non-local seat of memories are congruent and therefore all the more compelling for the case that our bodies are simply avatars.

Is LIDA, the Software Bot, Really Conscious?

Researchers from the Cognitive Computing Research Group (CCRG) at the University of Memphis are developing a software bot known as LIDA (Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent) with what they believe to be cognition or conscious processes.  That belief rests on the idea that LIDA is modeled on a software architecture that mirrors what some believe to be the process of consciousness, called GWT, or Global Workspace Theory.  For example, LIDA follows a repetitive looping process that consists of taking in sensory input, writing it to memory, kicking off a process that scans this data store for recognizable events or artifacts, and, if something is recognized, it is broadcast to the global workspace of the system in a similar manner to the GWT model.  Timings are even tuned to more or less match human reaction times and processing delays.

I’m sorry guys, but just because you have designed a system to model the latest theory of how sensory processing works in the brain does not automatically make it conscious.  I could write an Excel macro with forced delays and process flows that resemble GWT.  Would that make my spreadsheet conscious?  I don’t THINK so.  Years ago I wrote a trading program that utilized the brain model du jour, known as neural networks.  Too bad it didn’t learn how to trade successfully, or I would be golfing tomorrow instead of going to work.  The fact is, it was entirely deterministic, as is LIDA, and there is no more reason to suspect that it was conscious than an assembly line at an automobile factory.

Then again, the standard scientific view (at least that held by most neuroscientists and biologists) is that our brain processing is also deterministic, meaning that, given the exact set of circumstances two different times (same state of memories in the brain, same set of external stimuli), the resulting thought process would also be exactly the same.  As such, so they would say, consciousness is nothing more than an artifact of the complexity of our brain.  An artifact?  I’m an ARTIFACT?

Following this reasoning from a logical standpoint, one would have to conclude that every living thing, including bacteria, has consciousness. In that view of the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to assert that there might be some threshold of nervous system complexity, above which an entity is conscious and below which it is not.  It is just a matter of degree and you can only argue about aspects of consciousness in a purely probabilistic sense; e.g. “most cats probably do not ponder their own existence.”  Taking this thought process a step further, one has to conclude that if consciousness is simply a by-product of neural complexity, then a computer that is equivalent to our brains in complexity must also be conscious.  Indeed, this is the position of many technologists who ponder artificial intelligence, and futurists, such as Ray Kurzweil.  And if this is the case, by logical extension, the simplest of electronic circuits is also conscious, in proportion to the degree in which bacteria is conscious in relation to human consciousness.  So, even an electronic circuit known as a flip-flop (or bi-stable multivibrator), which consists of a few transistors and stores a single bit of information, is conscious.  I wonder what it feels like to be a flip-flop?

Evidence abounds that there is more to consciousness than a complex system.  For one particular and very well research data point, check out Pim van Lommel’s book “Consciousness Beyond Life.”  Or my book “The Universe – Solved!”

My guess is that consciousness consists of the combination of a soul and a processing component, like a brain, that allows that soul to experience the world.  This view is very consistent with that of many philosophers, mystics, and shamans throughout history and throughout the world (which confluence of consistent yet independent thought is in itself very striking).  If true, a soul may someday make a decision to occupy a machine of sufficient complexity and design to experience what it is like to be the “soul in a machine”.  When that happens, we can truly say that the bot is conscious.  But it does not make sense to consider consciousness a purely deterministic emergent property.


There is no “Now.” But there will be.

One of our long time Forum Members posted an excellent question: “Is there really a ‘now'”?  The mystics tell us that there is only NOW.  But I suspect they are referring to a state of reality or a state of consciousness that one only reaches when they die or if they sit on top of a mountain contemplating their naval for a dozen or so years and get really lucky.

Back in the reality that we all know and love, I got to thinking about the reality that we all know and love.  And came to the conclusion that there is no NOW.  Here’s why:

Our interpretation of the present is really based on our short term memory, which lasts some 30 seconds or so. If we had no short term memory, we would not be able to think, plan, procreate, remember to eat, etc. In short, we would perish.

However, what is in short term memory is not NOW, it is the past. Now can only be defined as an instant. Or, in mathematical terms, it is t=0, or the limit as “delta t” approaches zero at t=0. As an absolute, or an infinite concept, it could only exist in an infinite universe, which also must be continuous. As I “tend” to believe that our universe is not infinite and is bound by the attributes of the Program (see “The Universe – Solved!”), the smallest unit of time around the concept of NOW would be a clock cycle of the Program. If it is the Planck time, then it is 10E-43 seconds (although it could be other resolutions). In any case, it has a duration, so it can’t be instantaneous or absolute. Therefore, there is no NOW, only our PERCEPTION of now, which is our very short term memory.

That said, in the other realm, where consciousness “probably” goes after death, everything is NOW, as the mystics say. That is because there is no physical stuff, no brain, no short term memory, and therefore no need for time as a dimension. Hence, everything could only be NOW.

If so, no need to even fear the “five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique.”


Musings on the idea of Free Will

Think about what it means to make a decision.  The cashier gave you too much change – do you tell him/her?  It seems like you make your choice based on past events (your parents taught you that it was deceitful to take something that shouldn’t be yours) or the current state of your mind (the cashier is really cute, maybe I’ll get a few points by pointing out the mistake).  Upon further analysis, it really seems that the exact state of your brain (memories, neural pathways and triggers) and the state of external stimuli might be fully responsible for each decision and action.  However, one could make the same argument for a computer, which function is based on the concept of a finite state machine (each action is fully determined by the state of the machine and its inputs).  This idea essentially boils down to us being nothing more than robots.  Are you okay with that?

What about the following scenario:

Two kids with the same parents grow up in the same environment.  Why do they frequently have a completely different set of values?  One gives the money back to the cashier without question; one keeps the money without question.  Why?  It can’t be purely due to genetics.  And it can’t be purely due to upbringing.  Determinists would argue that slight differences in genetics or environment may have a domino effect on the value systems of the individual.  But, could it also be due to the possibility that these are two different souls, which have evolved differently?  Believers in reincarnation might say that the former has learned a universal lesson in a previous incarnation and is perhaps an older, or more experienced, soul.  It is therefore natural for that person to make such a decision, whereas the sibling’s soul has not yet learned that universal lesson.  We can’t be sure, but it does seem odd that people often talk of the deep personality differences between their children that are observable at such a young age that environmental differences are precluded.  This tends to lend support to the idea that there is a “ghost in the machine.”