Quantum Physics and Life After Death

Some food for thought on the after-life courtesy of Robert Lanza, MD, author of Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, at Huffington Post:

When I was young, I stayed at my neighbor’s house. They had a grandfather clock. Between the tick and the tock of the pendulum, I lay awake thinking about the perverse nature of time. Mr. O’Donnell is gone now. His wife Barbara, now in her nineties, greets me with her cane when I go back to visit.

We watch our loved ones age and die, and we assume that an external entity called time is responsible for the crime. But experiments increasingly cast doubt on the existence of time as we know it. In fact, the reality of time has long been questioned by philosophers and physicists. When we speak of time, we’re usually referring to change. But change isn’t the same thing as time.

To measure anything’s position precisely is to “lock in” on one static frame of its motion, as in a film. Conversely, as soon as you observe movement, you can’t isolate a frame, because motion is the summation of many frames. Sharpness in one parameter induces blurriness in the other. Consider a film of a flying arrow that stops on a single frame. The pause enables you to know the position of the arrow with great accuracy: it’s 20 feet above the grandstand. But you’ve lost all information about its momentum. It’s going nowhere; its path is uncertain.

Numerous experiments confirm that such uncertainty is built into the fabric of reality. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is a fundamental concept of quantum physics. However, it only makes sense from a biocentric perspective. According to biocentrism, time is the inner sense that animates the still frames of the spatial world. Remember, you can’t see through the bone surrounding your brain; everything you experience is woven together in your mind. So what’s real? If the next image is different from the last, then it’s different, period. We can award change with the word “time,” but that doesn’t mean that there’s an invisible matrix in which changes occur.

At each moment we’re at the edge of a paradox described by the Greek philosopher Zeno. Because an object can’t occupy two places simultaneously, he contended that an arrow is only at one place during any given instant of its flight. To be in one place, however, is to be at rest. The arrow must therefore be at rest at every instant of its flight. Thus, motion is impossible. But is this really a paradox? Or rather, is it proof that time (motion) isn’t a feature of the outer, spatial world, but rather a conception of thought?

An experiment published in 1990 suggests that Zeno was right. In this experiment, scientists demonstrated the quantum equivalent of the adage that “a watched pot doesn’t boil.” This behavior, the “quantum Zeno effect,” turns out to be a function of observation. “It seems,”said physicist Peter Coveney, “that the act of looking at an atom prevents it from changing”. Theoretically, if a nuclear bomb were watched intently enough — that is, if you could check its atoms every million trillionth of a second — it wouldn’t explode. Bizarre? The problem lies not in the experiments but in our way of thinking about time. Biocentrism is the only comprehensible way to explain these results, which are only “weird” in the context of the existing paradigm…

[continues at at Huffington Post]

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  • Haystack

    It can be frustratingly hard to judge stuff like this without having an advanced physics background. Much of the philosophy derived from quantum mechanics seems to be based on a popularized understanding of it. For example, Lanza says “Thus the knowledge in our mind can determine how particles behave.” Most physicists now disagree with this interpretation and feel that it’s the instruments making the measurements, rather than the consciousness of the researcher, that are collapsing the wave function. It often seems to be the case that writers like Lanza are either misunderstanding quantum physics, or arbitrarily choosing one interpretation over another. Additionally, this is all cutting edge science, and the facts may look very different in twenty years.

    Ideas like there are provocative and interesting, but quantum philosophies seem to be constructed on an uncertain foundation of shifting sand, and probably don’t amount to more to than just speculation.

    • Liquidself2004

      I agree; without being a physicist it is hard. But one test of a science is how well it is able to be communicated to the general public. I disagree that most scientists believe it is just the instrumentation though; I believe Lanza’s interpretation is perfectly legitimate given the experiments; though he is using the traditional (original) Hiesenberg interpretation. It s not just a popular interpretation, its a good one; and one that makes sense. Of course, you know what they say about quantum physics: if you think you understand it you probably got it wrong. The thing I find strange is using mostly physics examples to prove a biologic theory, yes interdisciplinary but: some more biologic examples would help as well. I havent seen a good nuts and bolts explanation of how /why we as mammals project space/time in the articles I ve read so far.- just that we do. I think he’s using a neo-Kantian framework for this, and using physics to back it up. His position has always seemed primarily philosophical to me, which is not to say that it doesn’t have merit, but that a lot of the attention he has garnered has been based on his being a top rate (I gather) biologist.

      • Word Eater

        You think too much. Clearly, quantum physics = magick.

        • Haystack

          Theoretical physics uses an esoteric language to unlock the hidden workings of the universe, so it kind of it is like the occult.

          • emperorreagan

            I found sitting in a room doing the assignments in one of the advanced physics courses I took in grad school to be more mind bending than pretty much any other experience I’ve had in life…

          • Haystack

            If you didn’t consume anything more mind-bending than physics in college, then you missed out. *g*

          • emperorreagan

            If only I had some psychedelics! Still have yet to fulfill that desire, I’m afraid.

      • Haystack

        It seems me that it would be impossible to distinguish between consciousness and instrumentation, since the two always go together. You can’t perform an experiment where you isolate one from the other. The consciousness interpretation, while definitely the more philosophically compelling, opens up troubling questions that instrumentation does not (i.e., are the observers limited to scientists with PhD’s, or can a fruit fly influence a quantum process?). Again, without actually understanding quantum physics on advanced level, I don’t see how empirical evidence could lead one to prefer the consciousness interpretation over instrumentation.

    • Tunaghost

      “Most physicists now disagree with this interpretation and feel that it’s the instruments making the measurements, rather than the consciousness of the researcher, that are collapsing the wave function.”

      Actually, I was under the impression that the opposite was true–that the initial explanation was that it was the instruments, and then eventually the Copenhagan interpretation was meant to say that it was consciousness collapsing the wave function. Could you tell me where you heard this?

  • Haystack

    It can be frustratingly hard to judge stuff like this without having an advanced physics background. Much of the philosophy derived from quantum mechanics seems to be based on a popularized understanding of it. For example, Lanza says “Thus the knowledge in our mind can determine how particles behave.” Most physicists now disagree with this interpretation and feel that it’s the instruments making the measurements, rather than the consciousness of the researcher, that are collapsing the wave function. It often seems to be the case that writers like Lanza are either misunderstanding quantum physics, or arbitrarily choosing one interpretation over another. Additionally, this is all cutting edge science, and the facts may look very different in twenty years.

    Ideas like there are provocative and interesting, but quantum philosophies seem to be constructed on an uncertain foundation of shifting sand, and probably don’t amount to more to than just speculation.

  • Liquidself2004

    I agree; without being a physicist it is hard. But one test of a science is how well it is able to be communicated to the general public. I disagree that most scientists believe it is just the instrumentation though; I believe Lanza’s interpretation is perfectly legitimate given the experiments; though he is using the traditional (original) Hiesenberg interpretation. It s not just a popular interpretation, its a good one; and one that makes sense. Of course, you know what they say about quantum physics: if you think you understand it you probably got it wrong. The thing I find strange is using mostly physics examples to prove a biologic theory, yes interdisciplinary but: some more biologic examples would help as well. I havent seen a good nuts and bolts explanation of how /why we as mammals project space/time in the articles I ve read so far.- just that we do. I think he’s using a neo-Kantian framework for this, and using physics to back it up. His position has always seemed primarily philosophical to me, which is not to say that it doesn’t have merit, but that a lot of the attention he has garnered has been based on his being a top rate (I gather) biologist.

  • Word Eater

    You think too much. Clearly, quantum physics = magick.

  • Haystack

    It seems me that it would be impossible to distinguish between consciousness and instrumentation, since the two always go together. You can’t perform an experiment where you isolate one from the other. The consciousness interpretation, while definitely the more philosophically compelling, opens up troubling questions that instrumentation does not (i.e., are the observers limited to scientists with PhD’s, or can a fruit fly influence a quantum process?). Again, without actually understanding quantum physics on advanced level, I don’t see how empirical evidence could lead one to prefer the consciousness interpretation over instrumentation.

  • Haystack

    Theoretical physics uses an esoteric language to unlock the hidden workings of the universe, so it kind of it is like the occult.

  • Thyml

    The problem for me with books and articles suggesting that time is an illusion is that while they point out difficulties with the usual conception of time they never seem to spell out an alternative — at least not in a way that makes sense to me. I cannot imagine any meaningful kind of awareness/consciousness without something like flowing time. The closest I can come is a static awareness of all or some portion of the space/time continuum — but what does that even mean to be aware of something without any change? If this awareness is a map of some portion of reality then where/when does that map exist — is it part of reality or apart from it. If apart does that reality have something like change/time? Can the awareness shift or focus on different parts of reality and if so does that not imply change and something like time? If there is no change then how can there be awareness. It is all fine to say that time is an illusion but without change/time how can there be awareness and without awareness it is exceedingly difficult to identify something that could be experiencing the alleged illusion.

    The fact that these sorts of basic questions never seem to be considered in these articles make me question the authors’ grasp of the problem of time. I have to ask again, if time is an illusion then what is your alternative? Of course I should read the damn book, but I expect it would be a waste of my (illusory) time at least as far as really addressing or even acknowledging the fundamental question of what is awareness without time?

    • Manny Furious

      It’s only difficult for you to understand, because your way of thinking is so adjusted to the concept of “time” that it automatically rejects everything else. There are no “alternatives” because there doesn’t need to be any. One way to look it at all of existence is a circle where everything happens at once. Every thing has happened or is happening right now. Every decision you’ve ever made, every “good” moment or “bad” has happened/is happening. It’s all there in the circle. Now it is our awareness or concsciousness which makes it seems as if these processess and events are somehow seperate or different. It is our awareness which causes the illusion of that ever-present circle being chopped up into sections or “changing”. By creating the illusion of time and space, that is how we have “experiences.” That is how we play out the drama of our lives.

      Quantum physics isn’t really that difficult once you start thinking in the images and language of quantum physics. But it is difficult to get there. And I also want to point out that liquidself is correct in stating the Heisenberg Principle is a legit theory. If there is any confusion in quantum physics it’s in trying to identify which model makes the most sence most of the time. Some people believe the Heisenberg Principle, despite it’s holes, is the best model. Others don’t and they come up with their own models which are also full of holes.

      • thyml

        No you miss my point. I can imagine a static reality without time just fine, or one where time is just another dimension. What I cannot imagine is what awareness would be like without change/flowing time. To me static awareness is meaningless, nonsensical, contradictory. It would at best be something that a being could transition to and from but then there is change, no? Without change there would be no perceiver, no thinker, no experiencer, no life. I don’t know how to make this any clearer.

        You said, ‘By creating the illusion of time and space, that is how we have “experiences.” That is how we play out the drama of our lives.’ But creation implies change/time. How can your awareness create anything if everything already exists and there is no change? You can’t have both your static circle and awareness unless of course your awareness is not part of the circle, not bound by its unchangingness. But then you have just shifted the time problem elsewhere.

        Perhaps you are taking the strong AI view that consciousness is merely emergent from deterministic processes and therefore awareness is an illusion. If so I see what you mean but disagree — your inner experience may be unreal but I assure that mine is quite real.

        • Manny Furious

          You’re confusing “change” with “time”. Let me put it to you this way, science has now all but proven that time really does go faster as one ages. Certain drugs also affect one’s perception of time, some speed it up, some slow it down. What’s interesting here is that this evidence that time itself is only “perceived”. If time were time, an absolute, such as electricity, how would our minds, our “perceptions”, our awareness of it differ? There is no time without perception. Time and change are not one in the same.

          And you read me completely wrong. There is no determinism in what I said. In fact I said that every choice you will ever make has already been made. This is not determinism. It is not free will, either. Both determinism and free will are imaginary processes that are meaningless without time. And since I believe time is an illusion, the ideas of determinism and free will are also imaginary. I also didn’t mean to come across as saying awareness was an illusion. What I’m trying to say is that awareness segments the “whole” so as to create certain illusions, such as time (or free will/determinism for that matter). But what we are seeing/experiencing is completely real. It’s like looking at a mitochondria in one of my cells through a microscope. It is only part of the whole, but it isn’t any less real.

          • Tuna Ghost

            “You’re confusing “change” with “time”.”

            I really don’t think he is. You can’t measure one without the other, is closer to the point I believe.

            “Let me put it to you this way, science has now all but proven that time really does go faster as one ages.”

            Wrong, our perception of time gets harder to keep track of as we get older, so we feel that time is going faster.

            “What’s interesting here is that this evidence that time itself is only “perceived”.”

            Everything is “only percieved”. It’s how we notice anything, ever. This is a meaningless statement.

            “If time were time, an absolute, such as electricity, how would our minds, our “perceptions”, our awareness of it differ?”

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here. Time and electricity are two radically different concepts. Are you trying to say the laws of electromagnetism are absolute, whereas the laws of time are not? You are aware that time plays a crucial role as a constant in experimentation, right? And that, far from being absolute, time slows the faster you go? If time were an illusion, only a matter of perception, then how would the experiments concerning time even work? Are the measuring instruments counted as “percieving” agents, even though they lack awareness?

            “There is no time without perception. Time and change are not one in the same.”

            But you can’t have one without the other. I’m getting the impression that you don’t actually know much about time or the study of it.

            Believing that time is the fourth dimension, that all of our 4-dimensional universe happens simultaneously like a painting, is not the same as time being an illusion or only existing when we percieve it. Saying that awareness (whose? Mine? Yours? Do we share one? If not, what about when we experience time the same way? If so, what about when we experience time differently?) cuts up the whole to create the illusion of linear cause and effect (which is what I think you mean when you say “time” here) is basically rehashing the Doctrine of Temporal Parts. Rehashing it badly, and missing the point.

        • Tuna Ghost

          “Perhaps you are taking the strong AI view that consciousness is merely emergent from deterministic processes and therefore awareness is an illusion. If so I see what you mean but disagree — your inner experience may be unreal but I assure that mine is quite real.”

          I don’t see how it follows that, if consciousness is merely emergent phenomenon from physical, deterministic processes, awareness is an illusion. Self-reference arises in completely in non-biological systems all the time. With a much more complex system, why couldn’t the self-reference, the self-awareness we share, be called “real”? And, if it arises from a process (or multitude of processes) bound by time, wouldn’t that help explain our sense of time passing?

          • thyml

            “I don’t see how it follows that, if consciousness is merely emergent phenomenon from physical, deterministic processes, awareness is an illusion. Self-reference arises in completely in non-biological systems all the time. With a much more complex system, why couldn’t the self-reference, the self-awareness we share, be called “real”? And, if it arises from a process (or multitude of processes) bound by time, wouldn’t that help explain our sense of time passing?”

            Once I would have agreed with you. Now I think that the experience of aliveness that I have (and I assume you have) that I have been calling awareness is not emergent, that it is somehow fundamental to reality, already present at every scale, even without biology — it is present in an electron for example. The complexity of our bodies and nervous systems (which are emergent) allows us to go from awareness to self-awareness. So yes, emergence is involved (and helps explain how we are able to have a conversation about time) but it is in my view not sufficient.

            As I said I cannot imagine awareness without flowing time of some sort. Our perception/conception of time may be flawed and variable but that is a far cry from saying that time is totally an illusion, created by our minds. Further I am persuaded by the existence of awareness that reality is not deterministic, since in a deterministic space/time reality, such as I think Einstein imagined, time would be just a dimension and flowing time would be basically an illusion.

          • Tuna Ghost

            I’m not sure what distinction you’re drawing between awareness and self-awareness, I had thought we were using the two terms synonymously. Could you elaborate on the difference, as you see it?

            Regarding determinism, I’m reminded of when Leibniz formulated his theory of predicates, which eventually described four dimensional time/space that we inhabit. He was struggling to salvage the notion of free will from the apparently pre-determined universe he had just described. But a four dimensional universe, in which everything happens simultaneously, only appears pre-determined from a perspective of someone outside time (God’s perspective, according to Leibniz, but we can forgive him his religious bent considering the times). To anything inside the foud-dimensional time frame, free-will is still in play and self-responsibility still holds. I agree that awareness doesn’t amount to much if the universe is a static picture, but there’s no reason to assume that because it is a simultaneous moment that it is “static”. If you learn anything from Leibniz on this, it’s that one has to be careful not to jump from a perspective of being outside spacetime to a perspective of being inside. The rules for each are different but it’s easy to blur them when talking about this sort of thing by shifting perspective and not carrying the appropriate rules with you as you go.

          • thyml

            What I meant by self-awareness is awareness of awareness. For example you (I presume) are aware of your existence and aware that you are aware of your existence. So you can have a conversation about awareness. It seems to me that this requires memory of some sort and an ability to create and manipulate models of one’s experience. Humans have these faculties and can be self-aware though I rather doubt that all (most?) are very self-aware.

            Awareness itself is difficult or impossible to properly define — it must be experienced — which is awkward since it is the experience itself. I think this experience is fundamental to reality because I don’t see any way that it could emerge. So electrons, quarks, etc. have this experience. I think that some but not all associations of particles have this experience, depending on how they are interconnected, atoms and molecules certainly, biological lifeforms certainly, a crystal maybe, a pail of sand probably not, at least not as a whole. A digital computer executing an AI program or simulating a neural network? Not.

          • Tuna Ghost

            too much to say on this subject, but I strongly recommend Godel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter for a look at how self-reference (which can be described as a low-fi version of “awareness”, I suppose) arises in both biological and non-biological systems.

          • thyml

            It has been a long time since I read GEB (I first read it when it came out 30 years ago) and my copy has gone missing. It’s a beautiful book, a classic, by a great thinker and writer. As I recall (and gather from some quick web searches) Hofstadter, unlike Dennett, does not deny the importance of the inner experience problem, in fact he tries to explain it. He defines patterns called “strange loops” and says that we are strange loops and hypothesizes that that is what makes us feel that we exist. He goes further and says that the ‘I’ is an illusion that hallucinates itself. He also says that we are a pattern that can exist on a variety of substrates.

            As you might guess I do not find his argument convincing. Interesting yes but not convincing..

            I want to try to clarify one more time what I mean by this “inner experience”. If you are like me you are right now aware of your sensations, your thoughts, your feelings, your intuitions, your emotions, your memories, words in your head, your environment, etc. And you are aware that you are experiencing these things and that this experience seems very real and immediate You may doubt the veracity of some of these things, your environment, what your senses are telling you, your memory, … but one thing you do not doubt is that you (whatever ‘you’ may be) are experiencing something.

            The contents or the shape of the inner experience could be an illusion, but the experience itself? … no way. Hofstadter’s claim contradicts our direct experience — the one thing that we know for sure to be real he says is an illusion. I can’t imagine a more extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Where is it?

          • thyml

            Regarding determinism: I don’t know Leibniz’ philosophy but I have to say that he was fooling himself if he thought that free-will had any real meaning in a deterministic universe. I’m sure Leibniz did the best he could within the constraints of his time but I wonder how his philosophy would have changed had he lived to see quantum theory.

            From my perspective it doesn’t make much sense to wonder how a being inside a deterministic space-time would view free-will: it would be an automaton (actually less — just a complicated static pattern spread across a 4 dimensional surface) and it would not experience the illusion of free-will or time (or anything else) since without flowing time, experiencing doesn’t happen.

          • Tuna Ghost

            In the instance of a consciousness being a complicated pattern spread across a 4-d spacetime, the debate between freewill and determinism becomes moot. Either is equally applicable and equally inaccurate. If we consider a novel, which exists all at once even though the story is linear, the character introduced on pg. 52 has all the same predicates regardless of whatever page you’re currently reading, and he will always be making the same choice on pg. 52. It is still his choice, he nevertheless bears the responsibility and will still suffer the consequences even though from the perspective of someone outside the novel (you and I) the choice has, in a sense, already been made. That is immaterial for the character in the novel making the choice. In this way, Leibniz salvages the notion of free will and responsibility in a universe where God has “foreknowledge” (which is not really foreknowledge, since He exists beyond concpets such as “before” and “after” in regard to our universe) of all our actions and decisions.

            The sensation of passing time can be reconciled to this view even if you consider consciousness to be an emergent phenomena of the brain/mind. In his book Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett theorizes that consciousness emerges from the thousands or millions of virtual devices, or “good tricks”, or “memes” if you’re so inclined, that we have learned as a species and society and throughout our development. It is a pandemonium of thousands of “voices” screaming at once, and the loudest or most effective get the largest vote (it sounds strange, but Dennett does a much better job explaining than I do). The consciousness of a person at any specific coordinate of space/time where your brain/mind is will be aware of itself at that specific coordinate (lets call it [w,x,y,z]). It will remember past coordinates, since the past instances are part of what it is at that specific coordinate ([w, x, y, z]). It will not “remember” future states, as those states are not a part of it at [w, x, y, z]. And so the sensation of “traveling” in a linear fashion is experienced, even though the 4-d terrian may appear static to an outside observer, the way a novel or a painting appears static to us. There seems to exist a past which we can recall and a future which we cannot.

            Keep in mind that this is just a model in which the sensation of experiencing a linear time flow can be had in a static 4-d universe. I’m not claiming that this is actually what is happening. There’s no reason to assume that our universe is a static 4-d terrain, scientists have recently discovered that many universal constants (the speed of light, etc.) may not have always been the same. Light may have been slower (or faster, I can’t remember which) billions and billions of years ago, and the strength of gravity compared to mass may have been different as well.

          • thyml

            The book analogy is lovely — thank you. It illustrates my point. The character introduced on p 52 does not exist — he is only words on a page. As I read the book I imagine him; I create a mental model of him; I imagine myself in his place. But he does not make choices not only because his future is predetermined but also because he has no body and no environment for a body and does not experience the flow of time. He and his world are just a complicated pattern of ink spread over a 2-d surface. Much simpler than a life pattern spread over a 4-d surface but otherwise just the same. Each only comes ‘alive’, so to speak, in the mind of a reader looking at the pattern from the outside, me for the book, Leibniz’ God for the 4-d pattern.

            I could not resist the bait of a book called “Consciousness Explained” even though I was pretty sure Dennett would not keep that promise. So I checked it out from the library and skimmed it a few years ago. As I recall it does not even attempt to explain the experience problem, the so called “hard problem of consciousness”. Dennett does not acknowledge the reality of the experience problem so that is no surprise. I don’t doubt that he says a lot about the contents of consciousness and it probably makes sense as far as it goes (I only skimmed it). Trust me when I say that I understand what you are saying about coordinates and future states, etc., and you say it very well. It is just that I don’t buy Dennett’s premises and I think it is fundamentally dishonest of him to “explain” consciousness by redefining it to exclude the most important part.

            If the universe is deterministic it is static in 4 dimensions — the speed of light, etc. changing over time is interesting but not relevant to the discussion.

            I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I didn’t understand what you were saying about the point of view of a being inside a deterministic universe. I really do so you don’t need to explain it further. But I’m not sure you understand what I mean by the “inner experience” of being alive — I have probably confused you by calling it “awareness”. I was trying to avoid the even more ambiguous term “consciousness”.

          • Tunaghost

            Re: Dennett, I suggest you read it again. He most certainly deals with what you call the “hard problem of consciousness”.

            “The book analogy is lovely — thank you. It illustrates my point. The character introduced on p 52 does not exist — he is only words on a page.”

            That rather misses the point, I would think, unless by drawing a similarity to words on a page and a pattern spread across a 4-d terrain you’re also attempting to say that you and I don’t exist either, unless something is “reading” us. That puts you on some pretty shaky ground, guy.

            As I read the book I imagine him; I create a mental model of him; I imagine myself in his place. But he does not make choices not only because his future is predetermined but also because he has no body and no environment for a body and does not experience the flow of time.

          • Tunaghost

            whoops. Bad editing job, sorry

          • thyml

            “That rather misses the point, I would think, unless by drawing a similarity to words on a page and a pattern spread across a 4-d terrain you’re also attempting to say that you and I don’t exist either, unless something is “reading” us. That puts you on some pretty shaky ground, guy.”

            If the 4-d terrain was static, that is it contained all events in a predetermined sequence — then yes, the patterns in it could only ‘live’ in the mind of a ‘reader’. But that’s not the reality I think we live in. The ‘pages’ in our ‘book’, to continue the analogy, have not been written yet past the current moment — we and the rest of the universe are ‘writing’ it as we go along, deciding what will come next. Our book is unusual in another way: the ‘writing’ dissolves as soon as it is written leaving no past ‘pages’ to reread.

            Only the constantly changing present is real, the past and the future can only be guessed at from what we experience in the present. We make choices that affect the future. This is what our senses tell us. Isn’t this obvious? Why do some people try so hard to believe in determinism? I can think of several possible reasons:
            1) So that they can believe in an all-knowing God, like Leibniz. That doesn’t appeal to me.
            2) so that they can believe in deterministic physical laws, like Einstein. Fortunately quantum physics gives us an out on this one.
            3) So that they can disbelieve in ghosts, like Dennett. Personally I’d rather believe in spirits inhabiting bodies than be an automaton. But I’m not sure it is necessary.
            4) Because it’s really hard to figure out how a nervous system produces or supports an inner experience and free will. Well, yeah it’s hard but the alternatives are even harder to believe.

            As Sherlock Holmes said “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. The postulate of determinism would eliminate inner experience and flowing time, things I know from experience to be true. Therefore the postulate is false and can be eliminated. What remains, however improbable it may seem, is free will, at least to some degree.

            Regarding “Consciousness Explained”: I admit I only skimmed Dennett’s book but I’m pretty sure Jaron Lanier read it. He says ‘Only a zombie like Dennett could write a book called “Consciousness Explained” that doesn’t address consciousness at all.’ (‘Zombie’ is a term for someone who doesn’t believe inner experience exists or believes that it doesn’t matter). I’ll keep it on my list but I doubt I will get back to it.

    • Namelesswon

      dude, thats what “WikiPEDIA” WAS INVENTED FOR, DUH. Theres all manner of time alternatives, not to mention tribes which have no concept of time. You need to step out of your programmed mindest for one second and use your IMAGINATION. Or wikipedia,

  • Thyml

    The problem for me with books and articles suggesting that time is an illusion is that while they point out difficulties with the usual conception of time they never seem to spell out an alternative — at least not in a way that makes sense to me. I cannot imagine any meaningful kind of awareness/consciousness without something like flowing time. The closest I can come is a static awareness of all or some portion of the space/time continuum — but what does that even mean to be aware of something without any change? If this awareness is a map of some portion of reality then where/when does that map exist — is it part of reality or apart from it. If apart does that reality have something like change/time? Can the awareness shift or focus on different parts of reality and if so does that not imply change and something like time? If there is no change then how can there be awareness. It is all fine to say that time is an illusion but without change/time how can there be awareness and without awareness it is exceedingly difficult to identify something that could be experiencing the alleged illusion.

    The fact that these sorts of basic questions never seem to be considered in these articles make me question the authors’ grasp of the problem of time. I have to ask again, if time is an illusion then what is your alternative? Of course I should read the damn book, but I expect it would be a waste of my (illusory) time at least as far as really addressing or even acknowledging the fundamental question of what is awareness without time?

  • Douglas Adams

    To quote the late great Douglas Adams, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

    I think your understanding problem may be is that, unlike me, you aren’t dead yet and thus lack the proper perspective. Or whatever.

    Sorry to be late.

  • Douglas Adams

    To quote the late great Douglas Adams, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

    I think your understanding problem may be is that, unlike me, you aren’t dead yet and thus lack the proper perspective. Or whatever.

    Sorry to be late.

  • emperorreagan

    I found sitting in a room doing the assignments in one of the advanced physics courses I took in grad school to be more mind bending than pretty much any other experience I’ve had in life…

  • Manny Furious

    It’s only difficult for you to understand, because your way of thinking is so adjusted to the concept of “time” that it automatically rejects everything else. There are no “alternatives” because there doesn’t need to be any. One way to look it at all of existence is a circle where everything happens at once. Every thing has happened or is happening right now. Every decision you’ve ever made, every “good” moment or “bad” has happened/is happening. It’s all there in the circle. Now it is our awareness or concsciousness which makes it seems as if these processess and events are somehow seperate or different. It is our awareness which causes the illusion of that ever-present circle being chopped up into sections or “changing”. By creating the illusion of time and space, that is how we have “experiences.” That is how we play out the drama of our lives.

    Quantum physics isn’t really that difficult once you start thinking in the images and language of quantum physics. But it is difficult to get there. And I also want to point out that liquidself is correct in stating the Heisenberg Principle is a legit theory. If there is any confusion in quantum physics it’s in trying to identify which model makes the most sence most of the time. Some people believe the Heisenberg Principle, despite it’s holes, is the best model. Others don’t and they come up with their own models which are also full of holes.

  • Haystack

    If you didn’t consume anything more mind-bending than physics in college, then you missed out. *g*

  • thyml

    No you miss my point. I can imagine a static reality without time just fine, or one where time is just another dimension. What I cannot imagine is what awareness would be like without change/flowing time. To me static awareness is meaningless, nonsensical, contradictory. It would at best be something that a being could transition to and from but then there is change, no? Without change there would be no perceiver, no thinker, no experiencer, no life. I don’t know how to make this any clearer.

    You said, ‘By creating the illusion of time and space, that is how we have “experiences.” That is how we play out the drama of our lives.’ But creation implies change/time. How can your awareness create anything if everything already exists and there is no change? You can’t have both your static circle and awareness unless of course your awareness is not part of the circle, not bound by its unchangingness. But then you have just shifted the time problem elsewhere.

    Perhaps you are taking the strong AI view that consciousness is merely emergent from deterministic processes and therefore awareness is an illusion. If so I see what you mean but disagree — your inner experience may be unreal but I assure that mine is quite real.

  • emperorreagan

    If only I had some psychedelics! Still have yet to fulfill that desire, I’m afraid.

  • Forandb

    It at first can be awkward and difficult at “times” to comprehend time as a component of the fourth dimension. That the third dimension and the second dimensions are interrelated as it is with the first dimension consider that you are now on the threshold of observing a fourth dimension interrelation with the third as supported by the first and second as well. Eternity as a void, are without boundaries, that we exist consciously within. We establish points of references, as our intellect allows, points for conscious to establish distinction of our present locality in this eternal void of existence.
    Here we can now entertain ourselves with fourth dimensional equations and visualize an horizon off in the distance, to stimulate our never ending quest of the grail.
    Consider for one example for you to play with. When is triangle internal angles not equal to 180 degrees? When it is in curved space. Draw a line from North Pole to equator. Now return to North Pole, from previous line you drew draw a line that forms a 90 degree angle, go to equator and line will form a 90 degree angle to equator as did the first one. Now 3 times 90 equals 270 degrees in a curved space. There are many such examples of a variety of fourth dimensional scenarios to discover. Geometrics as well as quantum effects on the eternal time factors. Be forewarned once you begin into such adventures it can have profound effects to your consciousness. You may never come to cross this way again. Best to ya and enjoy…

  • Forandb

    It at first can be awkward and difficult at “times” to comprehend time as a component of the fourth dimension. That the third dimension and the second dimensions are interrelated as it is with the first dimension consider that you are now on the threshold of observing a fourth dimension interrelation with the third as supported by the first and second as well. Eternity as a void, are without boundaries, that we exist consciously within. We establish points of references, as our intellect allows, points for conscious to establish distinction of our present locality in this eternal void of existence.
    Here we can now entertain ourselves with fourth dimensional equations and visualize an horizon off in the distance, to stimulate our never ending quest of the grail.
    Consider for one example for you to play with. When is triangle internal angles not equal to 180 degrees? When it is in curved space. Draw a line from North Pole to equator. Now return to North Pole, from previous line you drew draw a line that forms a 90 degree angle, go to equator and line will form a 90 degree angle to equator as did the first one. Now 3 times 90 equals 270 degrees in a curved space. There are many such examples of a variety of fourth dimensional scenarios to discover. Geometrics as well as quantum effects on the eternal time factors. Be forewarned once you begin into such adventures it can have profound effects to your consciousness. You may never come to cross this way again. Best to ya and enjoy…

  • Manny Furious

    You’re confusing “change” with “time”. Let me put it to you this way, science has now all but proven that time really does go faster as one ages. Certain drugs also affect one’s perception of time, some speed it up, some slow it down. What’s interesting here is that this evidence that time itself is only “perceived”. If time were time, an absolute, such as electricity, how would our minds, our “perceptions”, our awareness of it differ? There is no time without perception. Time and change are not one in the same.

    And you read me completely wrong. There is no determinism in what I said. In fact I said that every choice you will ever make has already been made. This is not determinism. It is not free will, either. Both determinism and free will are imaginary processes that are meaningless without time. And since I believe time is an illusion, the ideas of determinism and free will are also imaginary. I also didn’t mean to come across as saying awareness was an illusion. What I’m trying to say is that awareness segments the “whole” so as to create certain illusions, such as time (or free will/determinism for that matter). But what we are seeing/experiencing is completely real. It’s like looking at a mitochondria in one of my cells through a microscope. It is only part of the whole, but it isn’t any less real.

  • Tunaghost

    “Most physicists now disagree with this interpretation and feel that it’s the instruments making the measurements, rather than the consciousness of the researcher, that are collapsing the wave function.”

    Actually, I was under the impression that the opposite was true–that the initial explanation was that it was the instruments, and then eventually the Copenhagan interpretation was meant to say that it was consciousness collapsing the wave function. Could you tell me where you heard this?

  • Tuna Ghost

    “Perhaps you are taking the strong AI view that consciousness is merely emergent from deterministic processes and therefore awareness is an illusion. If so I see what you mean but disagree — your inner experience may be unreal but I assure that mine is quite real.”

    I don’t see how it follows that, if consciousness is merely emergent phenomenon from physical, deterministic processes, awareness is an illusion. Self-reference arises in completely in non-biological systems all the time. With a much more complex system, why couldn’t the self-reference, the self-awareness we share, be called “real”? And, if it arises from a process (or multitude of processes) bound by time, wouldn’t that help explain our sense of time passing?

  • Tuna Ghost

    “You’re confusing “change” with “time”.”

    I really don’t think he is. You can’t measure one without the other, is closer to the point I believe.

    “Let me put it to you this way, science has now all but proven that time really does go faster as one ages.”

    Wrong, our perception of time gets harder to keep track of as we get older, so we feel that time is going faster.

    “What’s interesting here is that this evidence that time itself is only “perceived”.”

    Everything is “only percieved”. It’s how we notice anything, ever. This is a meaningless statement.

    “If time were time, an absolute, such as electricity, how would our minds, our “perceptions”, our awareness of it differ?”

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here. Time and electricity are two radically different concepts. Are you trying to say the laws of electromagnetism are absolute, whereas the laws of time are not? You are aware that time plays a crucial role as a constant in experimentation, right? And that, far from being absolute, time slows the faster you go? If time were an illusion, only a matter of perception, then how would the experiments concerning time even work? Are the measuring instruments counted as “percieving” agents, even though they lack awareness?

    “There is no time without perception. Time and change are not one in the same.”

    But you can’t have one without the other. I’m getting the impression that you don’t actually know much about time or the study of it.

    Believing that time is the fourth dimension, that all of our 4-dimensional universe happens simultaneously like a painting, is not the same as time being an illusion or only existing when we percieve it. Saying that awareness (whose? Mine? Yours? Do we share one? If not, what about when we experience time the same way? If so, what about when we experience time differently?) cuts up the whole to create the illusion of linear cause and effect (which is what I think you mean when you say “time” here) is basically rehashing the Doctrine of Temporal Parts. Rehashing it badly, and missing the point.

  • thyml

    “I don’t see how it follows that, if consciousness is merely emergent phenomenon from physical, deterministic processes, awareness is an illusion. Self-reference arises in completely in non-biological systems all the time. With a much more complex system, why couldn’t the self-reference, the self-awareness we share, be called “real”? And, if it arises from a process (or multitude of processes) bound by time, wouldn’t that help explain our sense of time passing?”

    Once I would have agreed with you. Now I think that the experience of aliveness that I have (and I assume you have) that I have been calling awareness is not emergent, that it is somehow fundamental to reality, already present at every scale, even without biology — it is present in an electron for example. The complexity of our bodies and nervous systems (which are emergent) allows us to go from awareness to self-awareness. So yes, emergence is involved (and helps explain how we are able to have a conversation about time) but it is in my view not sufficient.

    As I said I cannot imagine awareness without flowing time of some sort. Our perception/conception of time may be flawed and variable but that is a far cry from saying that time is totally an illusion, created by our minds. Further I am persuaded by the existence of awareness that reality is not deterministic, since in a deterministic space/time reality, such as I think Einstein imagined, time would be just a dimension and flowing time would be basically an illusion.

  • Tuna Ghost

    I’m not sure what distinction you’re drawing between awareness and self-awareness, I had thought we were using the two terms synonymously. Could you elaborate on the difference, as you see it?

    Regarding determinism, I’m reminded of when Leibniz formulated his theory of predicates, which eventually described four dimensional time/space that we inhabit. He was struggling to salvage the notion of free will from the apparently pre-determined universe he had just described. But a four dimensional universe, in which everything happens simultaneously, only appears pre-determined from a perspective of someone outside time (God’s perspective, according to Leibniz, but we can forgive him his religious bent considering the times). To anything inside the foud-dimensional time frame, free-will is still in play and self-responsibility still holds. I agree that awareness doesn’t amount to much if the universe is a static picture, but there’s no reason to assume that because it is a simultaneous moment that it is “static”. If you learn anything from Leibniz on this, it’s that one has to be careful not to jump from a perspective of being outside spacetime to a perspective of being inside. The rules for each are different but it’s easy to blur them when talking about this sort of thing by shifting perspective and not carrying the appropriate rules with you as you go.

  • thyml

    What I meant by self-awareness is awareness of awareness. For example you (I presume) are aware of your existence and aware that you are aware of your existence. So you can have a conversation about awareness. It seems to me that this requires memory of some sort and an ability to create and manipulate models of one’s experience. Humans have these faculties and can be self-aware though I rather doubt that all (most?) are very self-aware.

    Awareness itself is difficult or impossible to properly define — it must be experienced — which is awkward since it is the experience itself. I think this experience is fundamental to reality because I don’t see any way that it could emerge. So electrons, quarks, etc. have this experience. I think that some but not all associations of particles have this experience, depending on how they are interconnected, atoms and molecules certainly, biological lifeforms certainly, a crystal maybe, a pail of sand probably not, at least not as a whole. A digital computer executing an AI program or simulating a neural network? Not.

  • thyml

    Regarding determinism: I don’t know Leibniz’ philosophy but I have to say that he was fooling himself if he thought that free-will had any real meaning in a deterministic universe. I’m sure Leibniz did the best he could within the constraints of his time but I wonder how his philosophy would have changed had he lived to see quantum theory.

    From my perspective it doesn’t make much sense to wonder how a being inside a deterministic space-time would view free-will: it would be an automaton (actually less — just a complicated static pattern spread across a 4 dimensional surface) and it would not experience the illusion of free-will or time (or anything else) since without flowing time, experiencing doesn’t happen.

  • Tuna Ghost

    In the instance of a consciousness being a complicated pattern spread across a 4-d spacetime, the debate between freewill and determinism becomes moot. Either is equally applicable and equally inaccurate. If we consider a novel, which exists all at once even though the story is linear, the character introduced on pg. 52 has all the same predicates regardless of whatever page you’re currently reading, and he will always be making the same choice on pg. 52. It is still his choice, he nevertheless bears the responsibility and will still suffer the consequences even though from the perspective of someone outside the novel (you and I) the choice has, in a sense, already been made. That is immaterial for the character in the novel making the choice. In this way, Leibniz salvages the notion of free will and responsibility in a universe where God has “foreknowledge” (which is not really foreknowledge, since He exists beyond concpets such as “before” and “after” in regard to our universe) of all our actions and decisions.

    The sensation of passing time can be reconciled to this view even if you consider consciousness to be an emergent phenomena of the brain/mind. In his book Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett theorizes that consciousness emerges from the thousands or millions of virtual devices, or “good tricks”, or “memes” if you’re so inclined, that we have learned as a species and society and throughout our development. It is a pandemonium of thousands of “voices” screaming at once, and the loudest or most effective get the largest vote (it sounds strange, but Dennett does a much better job explaining than I do). The consciousness of a person at any specific coordinate of space/time where your brain/mind is will be aware of itself at that specific coordinate (lets call it [w,x,y,z]). It will remember past coordinates, since the past instances are part of what it is at that specific coordinate ([w, x, y, z]). It will not “remember” future states, as those states are not a part of it at [w, x, y, z]. And so the sensation of “traveling” in a linear fashion is experienced, even though the 4-d terrian may appear static to an outside observer, the way a novel or a painting appears static to us. There seems to exist a past which we can recall and a future which we cannot.

    Keep in mind that this is just a model in which the sensation of experiencing a linear time flow can be had in a static 4-d universe. I’m not claiming that this is actually what is happening. There’s no reason to assume that our universe is a static 4-d terrain, scientists have recently discovered that many universal constants (the speed of light, etc.) may not have always been the same. Light may have been slower (or faster, I can’t remember which) billions and billions of years ago, and the strength of gravity compared to mass may have been different as well.

  • Tuna Ghost

    too much to say on this subject, but I strongly recommend Godel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter for a look at how self-reference (which can be described as a low-fi version of “awareness”, I suppose) arises in both biological and non-biological systems.

  • thyml

    The book analogy is lovely — thank you. It illustrates my point. The character introduced on p 52 does not exist — he is only words on a page. As I read the book I imagine him; I create a mental model of him; I imagine myself in his place. But he does not make choices not only because his future is predetermined but also because he has no body and no environment for a body and does not experience the flow of time. He and his world are just a complicated pattern of ink spread over a 2-d surface. Much simpler than a life pattern spread over a 4-d surface but otherwise just the same. Each only comes ‘alive’, so to speak, in the mind of a reader looking at the pattern from the outside, me for the book, Leibniz’ God for the 4-d pattern.

    I could not resist the bait of a book called “Consciousness Explained” even though I was pretty sure Dennett would not keep that promise. So I checked it out from the library and skimmed it a few years ago. As I recall it does not even attempt to explain the experience problem, the so called “hard problem of consciousness”. Dennett does not acknowledge the reality of the experience problem so that is no surprise. I don’t doubt that he says a lot about the contents of consciousness and it probably makes sense as far as it goes (I only skimmed it). Trust me when I say that I understand what you are saying about coordinates and future states, etc., and you say it very well. It is just that I don’t buy Dennett’s premises and I think it is fundamentally dishonest of him to “explain” consciousness by redefining it to exclude the most important part.

    If the universe is deterministic it is static in 4 dimensions — the speed of light, etc. changing over time is interesting but not relevant to the discussion.

    I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I didn’t understand what you were saying about the point of view of a being inside a deterministic universe. I really do so you don’t need to explain it further. But I’m not sure you understand what I mean by the “inner experience” of being alive — I have probably confused you by calling it “awareness”. I was trying to avoid the even more ambiguous term “consciousness”.

  • thyml

    It has been a long time since I read GEB (I first read it when it came out 30 years ago) and my copy has gone missing. It’s a beautiful book, a classic, by a great thinker and writer. As I recall (and gather from some quick web searches) Hofstadter, unlike Dennett, does not deny the importance of the inner experience problem, in fact he tries to explain it. He defines patterns called “strange loops” and says that we are strange loops and hypothesizes that that is what makes us feel that we exist. He goes further and says that the ‘I’ is an illusion that hallucinates itself. He also says that we are a pattern that can exist on a variety of substrates.

    As you might guess I do not find his argument convincing. Interesting yes but not convincing..

    I want to try to clarify one more time what I mean by this “inner experience”. If you are like me you are right now aware of your sensations, your thoughts, your feelings, your intuitions, your emotions, your memories, words in your head, your environment, etc. And you are aware that you are experiencing these things and that this experience seems very real and immediate You may doubt the veracity of some of these things, your environment, what your senses are telling you, your memory, … but one thing you do not doubt is that you (whatever ‘you’ may be) are experiencing something.

    The contents or the shape of the inner experience could be an illusion, but the experience itself? … no way. Hofstadter’s claim contradicts our direct experience — the one thing that we know for sure to be real he says is an illusion. I can’t imagine a more extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Where is it?

  • Tunaghost

    Re: Dennett, I suggest you read it again. He most certainly deals with what you call the “hard problem of consciousness”.

    “The book analogy is lovely — thank you. It illustrates my point. The character introduced on p 52 does not exist — he is only words on a page.”

    That rather misses the point, I would think, unless by drawing a similarity to words on a page and a pattern spread across a 4-d terrain you’re also attempting to say that you and I don’t exist either, unless something is “reading” us. That puts you on some pretty shaky ground, guy.

    As I read the book I imagine him; I create a mental model of him; I imagine myself in his place. But he does not make choices not only because his future is predetermined but also because he has no body and no environment for a body and does not experience the flow of time.

  • Tunaghost

    Re: Dennett, I suggest you read it again. He most certainly deals with what you call the “hard problem of consciousness”.

    “The book analogy is lovely — thank you. It illustrates my point. The character introduced on p 52 does not exist — he is only words on a page.”

    That rather misses the point, I would think, unless by drawing a similarity to words on a page and a pattern spread across a 4-d terrain you’re also attempting to say that you and I don’t exist either, unless something is “reading” us. That puts you on some pretty shaky ground, guy.

    As I read the book I imagine him; I create a mental model of him; I imagine myself in his place. But he does not make choices not only because his future is predetermined but also because he has no body and no environment for a body and does not experience the flow of time.

  • Tunaghost

    whoops. Bad editing job, sorry

  • Tunaghost

    whoops. Bad editing job, sorry

  • thyml

    “That rather misses the point, I would think, unless by drawing a similarity to words on a page and a pattern spread across a 4-d terrain you’re also attempting to say that you and I don’t exist either, unless something is “reading” us. That puts you on some pretty shaky ground, guy.”

    If the 4-d terrain was static, that is it contained all events in a predetermined sequence — then yes, the patterns in it could only ‘live’ in the mind of a ‘reader’. But that’s not the reality I think we live in. The ‘pages’ in our ‘book’, to continue the analogy, have not been written yet past the current moment — we and the rest of the universe are ‘writing’ it as we go along, deciding what will come next. Our book is unusual in another way: the ‘writing’ dissolves as soon as it is written leaving no past ‘pages’ to reread.

    Only the constantly changing present is real, the past and the future can only be guessed at from what we experience in the present. We make choices that affect the future. This is what our senses tell us. Isn’t this obvious? Why do some people try so hard to believe in determinism? I can think of several possible reasons:
    1) So that they can believe in an all-knowing God, like Leibniz. That doesn’t appeal to me.
    2) so that they can believe in deterministic physical laws, like Einstein. Fortunately quantum physics gives us an out on this one.
    3) So that they can disbelieve in ghosts, like Dennett. Personally I’d rather believe in spirits inhabiting bodies than be an automaton. But I’m not sure it is necessary.
    4) Because it’s really hard to figure out how a nervous system produces or supports an inner experience and free will. Well, yeah it’s hard but the alternatives are even harder to believe.

    As Sherlock Holmes said “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. The postulate of determinism would eliminate inner experience and flowing time, things I know from experience to be true. Therefore the postulate is false and can be eliminated. What remains, however improbable it may seem, is free will, at least to some degree.

    Regarding “Consciousness Explained”: I admit I only skimmed Dennett’s book but I’m pretty sure Jaron Lanier read it. He says ‘Only a zombie like Dennett could write a book called “Consciousness Explained” that doesn’t address consciousness at all.’ (‘Zombie’ is a term for someone who doesn’t believe inner experience exists or believes that it doesn’t matter). I’ll keep it on my list but I doubt I will get back to it.

  • Namelesswon

    dude, thats what “WikiPEDIA” WAS INVENTED FOR, DUH. Theres all manner of time alternatives, not to mention tribes which have no concept of time. You need to step out of your programmed mindest for one second and use your IMAGINATION. Or wikipedia,

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