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.

 

Bizarro Physics

All sorts of oddities emerge from equations that we have developed to describe reality.  What is surprising is that rather than being simply mathematical artifacts, they actually show up in our physical world.

Perhaps the first such bizarro (see DC Comics) entity was antimatter; matter with an opposite charge and spin.  A mathematical solution to Paul Dirac’s relativistic version of Schrödinger’s equation (it makes my head hurt just looking at it), antimatter was discovered 4 years after Dirac predicted it.

One of last year’s surprises was the negative frequencies that are solutions to Maxwell’s equations and have been shown to reveal themselves in components of light.

And, earlier this month, German physicists announced the ability to create a temperature below absolute zero.

So when we were told in physics class to throw out those “negative” solutions to equations because they were in the imaginary domain, and therefore had no basis in reality…uh, not so fast.

What I find interesting about these discoveries is the implications for the bigger picture.  If our reality were what most of us think it is – 3 dimensions of space, with matter and energy following the rules set forth by the “real” solutions to the equations of physics – one might say that reality trumps the math; that solutions to equations only make sense in the context of describing reality.

However, it appears to be the other way around – math trumps reality.  Solutions to equations previously thought to be in the “imaginary domain” are now being shown to manifest in our reality.

This is one more category of evidence that underlying our apparent reality are data and rules.  The data and rules don’t manifest from the reality; they create the reality.

Bizarro185 antimatter185

Complexity from Simplicity – More Support for a Digital Reality

Simple rules can generate complex patterns or behavior.

For example, consider the following simple rules that, when programmed into a computer, can result in beautiful complex patterns akin to a flock of birds:

1. Steer to avoid crowding local flockmates (separation)
2. Steer towards the average heading of local flockmates (alignment)
3. Steer to move toward the average position (center of mass) of local flockmates (cohesion)

The pseudocode here demonstrates the simplicity of the algorithm.  The following YouTube video is a demonstration of “Boids”, a flocking behavior simulator developed by Craig Reynolds:

Or consider fractals.  The popular Mandelbrot set can be generated with some simple rules, as demonstrated here in 13 lines of pseudocode, resulting in beautiful pictures like this:

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a4/Mandel_zoom_11_satellite_double_spiral.jpg/800px-Mandel_zoom_11_satellite_double_spiral.jpg

Fractals can be used to generate artificial terrain for video games and computer art, such as this 3D mountain terrain generated by the software Terragen:

Terragen-generated mountain terrain

Conways Game of Life uses the idea of cellular automata to generate little 2D pixelated creatures that move, spawn, die, and generally exhibit crude lifelike behavior with 2 simple rules:

1. An alive cell with less than 2 or more than 4 neighbors dies.
2. A dead cell with 3 neighbors turns alive.

Depending on the starting conditions, there may be any number of recognizable resulting simulated organisms; some simple, such as gliders, pulsars, blinkers, glider guns, wickstretchers, and some complex such as puffer trains, rakes, space ship guns, cordon ships, and even objects that appear to travel faster than the maximum propagation speed of the game should allow:

Cellular automata can be extended to 3D space.  The following video demonstrates a 3D “Amoeba” that looks eerily like a real blob of living protoplasm:

What is the point of all this?

Just that you can apply some of these ideas to the question of whether or not reality is continuous or digital (and thus based on bits and rules).  And end up with an interested result.

Consider a hierarchy of complexity levels…

Imagine that each layer is 10 times “zoomed out” from the layer below.  If the root simplicity is at the bottom layer, one might ask how many layers up you have to go before the patterns appear to be natural, as opposed to artificial? [Note: As an aside, we are confusing ideas like natural and artificial.  Is there really a difference?]

The following image is an artificial computer-generated fractal image created by Softology’s “Visions of Chaos” software from a base set of simple rules, yet zoomed out from it’s base level by, perhaps, six orders of magnitude:

softology-hybrid-mandelbulb

In contrast, the following image is an electron microscope-generate image of a real HPV virus:

b-cell-buds-virus_c2005AECO

So, clearly, at six orders of magnitude out from a fundamental rule set, we start to lose the ability to discern “natural” from “artificial.”  Eight orders of magnitude should be sufficient to make natural indistinguishable from artificial.

And yet, our everyday sensory experience is about 36 orders of magnitude above the quantum level.

The deepest level that our instruments can currently image is about 7 levels (10,000,000x magnification) below reality.  This means that if our reality is based on bits and simple rules like those described above, those rules may be operating 15 or more levels below everyday reality.  Given that the quantum level is 36 levels down, we have at least 21 orders of magnitude to play with.  In fact, it may very well be possible that the true granularity of reality is below the quantum level.

In any case, it should be clear to see that we are not even closed to being equipped to visually discern the difference between living in a continuous world or a digital one consisting of bits and rules.

The Digital Reality Bandwagon

I tend to think that reality is just data.  That the fundamental building blocks of matter and space will ultimately be shown to be bits, nothing more.  Those who have read my book, follow this blog, or my Twitter feed, realize that this has been a cornerstone of my writing since 2006.

Not that I was the first to think of any of this.  Near as I can tell, Phillip K. Dick may deserve that credit, having said “We are living in a computer programmed reality” in 1977, although I am sure that someone can find some Shakespearean reference to digital physics (“O proud software, that simulates in wanton swirl”).

Still, a mere six years ago, it was a lonely space to be in.  The few digital reality luminaries at that time included:

But since then…

– MIT Engineering Professor Seth Lloyd published “Programming the Universe” in 2006, asserting that the universe is a massive quantum computer running a cosmic program.

– Nuclear physicist Thomas Campbell published his excellent unifying theory “My Big TOE” in 2007.

– Brian Whitworth, PhD. authored a paper containing evidence that our reality is programmed: “The emergence of the physical world from information processing”, Quantum Biosystems 2010, 2 (1) 221-249  http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.0337

– University of Maryland physicist, Jim Gates, discovered error-correction codes in the laws of physics. See “Symbols of Power”, Physics World, Vol. 23, No 6, June 2010.

– Fermilab astrophysicist, Craig Hogan, speculated that space is quantized.  This was based on results from GEO600 measurements in 2010.  See: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/10/holometer-universe-resolution/.  A holometer experiment is being constructed to test: http://holometer.fnal.gov/

– Rich Terrile, director of the Center for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, hypothesized that we are living in a simulated reality. http://www.vice.com/read/whoa-dude-are-we-inside-a-computer-right-now-0000329-v19n9

– Physicists Leonard Susskind ad Gerard t’Hooft, developed the holographic black hole physics theory (our universe is digitally encoded on the surface of a black hole).

Even mainstream media outlets are dipping a toe into the water to see what kinds of reactions they get, such as this recent article in New Scientist Magazine: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528840.800-reality-is-everything-made-of-numbers.html

So, today, I feel like I am in really great company and it is fun to watch all of the futurists, philosophers, and scientists jump on the new digital reality bandwagon.  The plus side will include the infusion of new ideas and the resulting synthesis of theory, as well as pushing the boundaries of experimental validation.  The down side will be all of the so-called experts jockeying for position.  In any case, it promises to be a wild ride, one that should last the twenty or so years it will take to create the first full-immersion reality simulation.  Can’t wait.

Things We Can Never Comprehend

Have you ever wondered what we don’t know?  Or, to put it another way, how many mysteries of the universe are still to be discovered?

To take this thought a step further, have you ever considered that there may be things that we CAN’T understand, no matter how hard we try?

This idea may be shocking to some, especially to those scientists who believe that we are nearing the “Grand Unified Theory”, or “Theory of Everything” that will provide a simple and elegant solution to all forces, particles, and concepts in science.  Throughout history, the brightest of minds have been predicting the end of scientific inquiry.  In 1871, James Clerk Maxwell lamented the sentiment of the day which he represented by the statement “in a few years, all great physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and that the only occupation which will be left to men of science will be to carry these measurements to another place of decimals.”

Yet, why does it always seem like the closer we get to the answers, the more monkey wrenches get thrown in the way?  In today’s world, these include strange particles that don’t fit the model.  And dark matter.  And unusual gravitational aberrations in distant galaxies.

Perhaps we need a dose of humility.  Perhaps the universe, or multiverse, or whatever term is being used these days to denote “everything that is out there” is just too far beyond our intellectual capacity.  Before you call me out on this heretical thought, consider…

The UK’s Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees points out that “a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum mechanics.”  Despite the fact that Richard Feynman claimed that nobody understands quantum mechanics, as Michael Brooks points out in his recent article “The limits of knowledge: Things we’ll never understand”, no matter how hard they might try, the comprehension of something like Quantum Mechanics is simply beyond the capacity of certain species of animals.  Faced with this realization and the fact that anthropologists estimate that the most recent common ancestor of both humans and chimps (aka CHLCA) was about 6 million years ago, we can draw a startling conclusion:

There are certainly things about our universe and reality that are completely beyond our ability to comprehend!

My reasoning is as follows. Chimps are certainly at least more intelligent than the CHLCA; otherwise evolution would be working in reverse.  As an upper bound of intelligence, let’s say that CHLCA and chimps are equivalent.  Then, CHLCA was certainly not able to comprehend QM (nor relativity, nor even Newtonian physics), but upon evolving into humans over 8 million years, our new species was able to comprehend these things.  8 million years represents 0.06% of the entire age of the universe (according to what we think we know).  That means that for 99.94% of the total time that the universe and life was evolving up to the current point in time, the most advanced creature on earth was incapable of understand the most rudimentary concepts about the workings of reality and the universe.  And yet, are we to suppose that in the last 0.06% of the time, a species has evolved that can understand everything?  I’m sure you see how unlikely that is.

What if our universe was intelligently designed?  The same argument would probably hold.  For some entity to be capable of creating a universe that continues to baffle us no matter how much we think we understand, that entity must be far beyond our intelligence, and therefore has utilized, in the design, concepts that we can’t hope to understand.

Our only chance for being supremely capable of understanding our world would lie in the programmed reality model.  If the creator of our simulation was us, or even an entity a little more advanced than us, it could lead us along a path of exploration and knowledge discovery that just always seems to be on slightly beyond our grasp.  Doesn’t that idea feel familiar?

chimpscratching185 humanscratching185

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.

hal9000_185

Explaining Daryl Bem’s Precognition

Dr. Daryl Bem, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Cornell University recently published an astounding paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect.”  In plain English, he draws on the results of eight years of scientific research to prove that precognition exists.  His research techniques utilized proven scientific methods, such as double blind studies.  According to New Scientist magazine, in each case, he reversed the sequence of well-studied psychological phenomena, so that “the event generally interpreted as the cause happened after the tested behaviour rather than before it.”  Across all of the studies, the probability of these results occurring by chance and not due to a real precognitive effect was calculated to be about 1 in 100 billion.

This little scientific tidbit went viral quickly with the Twitterverse and Reddit communities posting and blogging prolifically about it.  We have to commend the courage that Dr. Bem had in submitting such an article and that the APA (American Psychological Association) had in accepting it for publication.  Tenures, grants, and jobs have been lost for far less of an offense to the often closed-minded scientific/academic community.  Hopefully, this will open doors to a greater acceptance of Dean Radin’s work on other so-called “paranormal” effects as well as Pim van Lommel’s research on Near Death Experiences.

More to the point, though, this has many scientists scratching their heads.  What could it mean about our reality?  Quantum physicists say that reality doesn’t really exist anyway, but most scientists from other fields have compartmentalized such ideas to a tiny corner of their awareness labelled “quantum effects that do not apply to the macroscopic world.”  Guess what?  There isn’t a line demarking quantum and macroscopic, so we need to face the facts.  The world isn’t as it seems and Daryl Bern’s research is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

OK, what could explain this?

Conventional wisdom would have to conclude that we do not have free will.  Let’s take a particular experiment to see why:

“In one experiment, students were shown a list of words and then asked to recall words from it, after which they were told to type words that were randomly selected from the same list. Spookily, the students were better at recalling words that they would later type.”

Therefore, if students could recall words better before the causative event even happened, then that seems to imply that they are not really in control of their choices, and hence have no free will.

However, our old friend Programmed Reality, again comes to the rescue and offers not one, not two, but three different explanations for these results.  Imagine that our reality is generated by a computational mechanism, as shown in the figure below.

programmedreality

Part of what constitutes our reality would also be our bodies and our brain stuff – neurons, etc.  In addition, assume that that “Computer” reads our consciousness as its input and makes decisions based both on the current state of reality, as well as the state of our consciousnesses.  In such case, consider these three possible explanations:

1. Evidence is rewritten after the fact.  In other words, after the students are told the words to type, the Program goes back and rewrites all records of the student’s guesses, so as to create the precognitive anomaly.  Those records consist of the students and the experimenters memories, as well as any written or recorded artifacts.  Since the Program is in control of all of these items, the complete record of the past can be changed, and no one would ever know.

2. The Program selects the randomly typed words to match the results, so as to generate the precognitive anomaly.

3. We live in an Observer-created reality and the entire sequence of events is either planned out or influenced by intent, and then just played out by the experimenter and students.

Mystery solved, Programmed Reality style.

 

billmurray185