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.

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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).

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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.

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.

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The Consensus Reality Spectrum

I have recently been on a quest to learn more about the greater “landscape” of realities and have actually had some rewarding successes.  I call them all realities, because the definition of the word “real” is entirely arbitrary and subjective; hence, everything may be considered a reality.  During a recent lucid dream, I had a revelation.  In retrospect, it doesn’t seem as substantial of an idea now as it did then, but here is the gist of it:

The only significant difference between a dream state and what we think of as our “normal physical reality” is the level of consensus that is applied to it.

When we dream or fantasize, our minds are fully in control of creating the reality that we take part in.  In our physical world, however, this is clearly not the case.  We can’t just make the sky red, fly, or defy the laws of physics.  However, there is incontrovertible evidence that we can mold our reality, as demonstrated by:

And, as if to put the final nail in the materialistic determinism coffin, scientists at the prestigious IQOQI institute in Vienna, demonstrated to a certainty of 1 part in 1E80 that objective reality does not exist.

So why does physical reality seem so real?  It is because it is designed that way.  We are much more likely to learn when we believe in well-grounded cause and effect.  Seriously, when was the last time you actually consciously learned something from a dream? (Subconsciously, that is a different story.)  In order for us to get something useful out of this physical-matter-reality learning lab, we must believe it is somehow more real than what we can conjure up in our minds.  But, again, all that means is that our experience is relatively consistent with that of our free-willed friends and colleagues.  She sees a blue car, you see a blue car, you both describe it the same way, it therefore seems real and objective.  Others have referred to this as a consensus reality, a descriptor that fits well.

It is not unlike a large-scale computer game.  In a FPS (first person shooter), only you are experiencing the sim.  In an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game), everyone experiences the same sim.  However, if you think about it, there is no reason why the game can’t present different aspects of the sim to different players based on their attributes or skills.  In fact, this is exactly what some games do.

So, one can imagine a spectrum of “consensus influence”, with various realities placed somewhere on that spectrum.  At the far left, is solipsism – realities that belong to a singular conscious entity.  We may give this a consensus factor of 0, since there is none.  At the other end of the spectrum is our physical matter reality, what most of us call “the real world.”  We can’t give it a consensus factor of 100, because of the observer effect.  100 would have to be reserved for the concept of a fully deterministic reality, a concept which, like the concept of infinity, only exists in theory.  So our physical matter reality (PMR) is 99.99-something.

Everything else falls in between.

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Many researchers have experienced realities at various points on this spectrum.  Individual OBEs that have closely locked into PMR are at the high-consensus end of the scale.  OBEs that are more fluid are somewhere in the middle.  Mutual lucid dreaming can be considered a consensus of two and is therefore somewhere toward the low-consensus side of the spectrum.

I believe that this may be a useful model for those psychonauts, astral travelers, and quantum physicists among us.

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?

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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.

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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 theuniversesolved.com: “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.”

and…

“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.