29 Jan

what is reality?

I had a discussion on #linux yesterday about what my own beliefs about physics, the universe, and reality are. This post will hopefully clarify it.

In short, I said that I believe that the sum total of all things is zero – that, in effect, the universe is not “real”.

While that sounds implausible (after all, you are “real”, as is everything you see and touch), I’d urge that you continue reading.

One of the most basic laws this universe seems to obey is that “symmetry rules” – there is the law of Conservation Of Energy, the law of Conservation Of Angular Momentum, and Newton’s classic “every action has an equal but opposite reaction”.

In other words, it is impossible to change the sum state of the universe – you can change the order of it, but you will never add new energy, or destroy it.

Taking that a little further, you can extrapolate that the sum energy of the universe at its beginning must be exactly the same at its end.

But how can that be? We obviously exist, so there must be a sum greater than 0, right?

Well… no.

If you were to take the mathematical sum “x + -x = 0″, you can easily see that it is possible for two objects to exist (x and -x) even though the sum total of the equations is zero.

I explained this to someone, who then half-jokingly suggested that every piece of matter must be balanced by anti-matter, and every piece of positive energy must be balanced by an equal amount of negative energy.

This summoned up images of whole anti-worlds, where anti-Kaes lived their lives backwards. Preposterous…

The sum “x + -x = 0″ can also be written as “x + y + z = 0″, where one or more of those variables has a negative value. The balance must be maintained, but the symmetry does not need to be blatant.

I think that’s an over-simplification of it, though. I think the truth is more fundamental than thinking about energy or matter.

How can matter or energy pop into existance?

Here’s the bit that sounds like science fiction, but I think actually fits quite well with modern physics. The idea of virtual particles is that it is possible for a particle and an anti-particle to pop into existance without needing external energy to cause it. In fact, this happens all the time.

Usually, though, the particles exist for only a very short time before they annihilate each other. This is remarkably similar to the maths analogy. In the formula “x + -x = 0″, the “particles” x and -x can be considered to be real, as they are distinct. The analogy is continued when you consider that bringing the two particles close enough to each other will cancel them out, allowing the formula “0 = 0”.

So, the difference between existance and non-existance, is just a matter of distance between particles and their opposite values.

I won’t pretend to understand what can possibly cause the two opposites to drift apart enough that they are considered “real”, but this tiny idea is a solution to the puzzle of how something can possibly come out of nothing.

12 Dec

are omniscience and consciousness compatible?

This may be rubbish, so if you’re not into “what if” scenarios, then go somewhere else.

I was thinking of the difference between these two sentences:

I could never grow tired of watching that.

If I’ve seen that once, I’ve seen it a thousand times.

Naturally, my mind started ticking, and I started pushing the above to extremes. It’s obvious from experience that everything gets a little boring after time, even things you are currently interested in. Eventually, you lose interest in these things, as there is nothing new to be learned from them.

For example, I’m a fan of Nine Inch Nails, and have been since their 1988 (IIRC) album Pretty Hate Machine. However, I don’t enjoy listening to the album as much now as I used to – after 16 years of listening, the novelty is wearing thin. If you take that to extremes, in fifty years, I will only listen to it one every few years, and in a thousand years, I’d probably be satisfied with just the memory of it.

Anyway – what I’m getting at is that all things eventually fade into boredom – be it after one experience of it, or a thousand.

Now, consider what happens if you are omniscient, or you have an enormously long lifespan and a perfect memory. Everything you, or anyone else does will have consequences that you can predict from past experiences. There will be no novelty in anything, as you will have experienced everything, or will already know what will happen as a consequence of every action that is taken.

So – I was considering that scenario, and how it might affect a conscious person. I came to the conclusion that any conscious person, after being subjected to perfect memory for a long time, or omniscience for any time at all, will lose sense of “self” – as every action and reaction will be totally predictable, there will be no sense of free will, and so the person will become a mere actor in a dream-like drama. A serious consequence of this is that the person will not have the power to consciously make a decision. This person will always know which path to take in all eventualities, so there will be no thought involved – just memory.

What this means to the average human is not much, at the moment, but in the future, when long lives are commonplace, and memories are much improved, it may become a problem.

I predict that a solution that will become very popular in those days will be total-submersion games, where the person loses all memory of “reality”, and lives a life from beginning to end in a virtul reality. This is ominous, really, as there is no real way to prove that this is not already taking place at this moment – how can you tell that you are just who you think you are, and that once you die, you will not awake into a “higher” reality with memories of another life? It’s an interesting thought… Obviously, this is similar to that described by the Matrix films, but that doesn’t make it any less possible.

This idea also would allow for the cuckoo ideas such as regression (imperfect removal of previous memories), after-life experiences (waking up and deciding to continue the “game” just a bit more), rebirth (obvious), and even more outlandish ideas such as angels (“messengers” from reality) and aliens (who says you have to play a human?).

Ignoring the above paragraph, consider what it might also mean for religion – if an omniscient being cannot make conscious decisions, then it is impossible for the following two statements to be true at the same time:

  • God created the universe.
  • God is omniscient.

Of course, I’m biased, in that I don’t believe in an ultimate creator of the universe, but I think it’s interesting to play thought games where everything is at least possible, even if improbable.

Then again, it does support the idea that the universe was created by an unconscious being – ie: itself…

Feel free to laugh now.

17 Aug

atheism and spirituality

I was out doing a job for a few friends of mine (Linux-based ISDN router), and got a lift back with one of them.

We chatted on the way back to Monaghan about our differences in belief. One thing that struck me was how people think that atheists do not have a sense of spirituality – perhaps because atheists do not believe in spirits.

I think of myself as a very spiritual person. When Marcus put me on the spot by asking what spirituality meant to an atheist, it took a few moments to gather my thoughts on how i felt about it.

In my opinion, a “spiritual” person is one who feels an empathy with his/her surroundings. The surroundings could be people, nature, or just thoughts.

With that in mind, there is little difference between a pagan shaman (or witch or whatever) and myself. I feel “at one” with my surroundings, wherever I am, even though I do not subscribe to theist viewpoints.

Marcus then posed another – what will I do when I die but have not “turned off”? We had a bit of a chuckle when I said that I’d probably feel a bit embarassed at being wrong.