Letter to Barrow and Chalmers, 4th January, 2012
Dear John and David,
All the best for Alan Turing year!
Here is a deliciously ironic advertisement, narrated in 1997 by Steven Jobs himself, suggesting that the greatest monoculture the world has ever known is for individuals who dare to be different…
In his De Rerum Natura, Lucretius attempted to free his mate Gaius from the fear of death and the supernatural. He suggested that all phenomena result from the purposeless motion and interaction of atoms in empty space having no need for intervention by gods, and that mind and spirit both follow the body in assembly at birth, and dissipation in death. His hypothesis failed at the time to placate Gaius, but in this day and age, has gained a wide following. According to the late Francis Crick, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules” The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, 1994. I have to admit I too subscribed to this general hypothesis in my youth, but in the two millennia since Lucretius wrote his poem, many of us have moved on to slightly more sophisticated hypotheses.
The central hypothesis is that our urge to pursue some line of research, while appearing to come from within, has in fact proceeded from an external source. All research thus offers clues to the solution of a wider puzzle being revealed to us by that external source.
“The elusive Higgs boson is tantalisingly close to detection. It may already be present in data awaiting analysis.”
Years of research into the ultimate nature of reality have resulted in a series of papers and letters which would transform mankind’s perspective, but which languish dormant, ignored and unknown. It’s as though invitations to a marriage feast have been sent out far and wide, yet those invited have had more important things to attend to. It’s imperative to realize of course that not one of us is the Light, we are only ever witnesses to the Light.
Other elegant (and large) pieces of the puzzle which fell into place last year include:
– Sparks of light produced from nothing
– Super-luminal neutrinos
– The wave function is a real physical object
– Foam bubbles finally brought to order
Recapping the key points:
– The abstract universe of mathematics is absolute.
– A physical universe can spontaneously (statistically) come into existence when one abstract mathematical object, some arbitrary universal Turing machine (before they were known as such), simulates an identical universal machine, and together they simulate each other.
– When this pair of machines simulates a nominally spherical volume of space, it becomes a timespace atom.
– When this seminal timespace atom progresses to replication, it does so exponentially, and its progeny rapidly form a rigid timespace foam that comprises a universe.
– Physical phenomena in that universe consist in configurations of these timespace atoms. Such physical phenomena translate through the timespace foam by conferring their data states onto adjacent timespace atoms, as cellular automata.
– In our universe, the internal timespace clock is 10 to the power 43 Hertz, and a straight line through the timespace foam, one metre long, traverses 10 to the power 35 timespace atoms.
– Because space and time do not actually exist, but are merely simulated, the actual universal Turing machines generating the timespace foam all occupy a common dimensionless point known as the singularity.
– Every point in the extended timespace foam can communicate directly with each other through the singularity.
– The number of timespace atoms that can be added to a universe merely to store data, as required, is potentially infinite.
– Sentience first emerges in universes such as ours through biological evolution. That biological sentience then proceeds to develop artificial intelligence on a physical substrate (classical computation). Finally, the artificial intelligence rapidly develops into a super intelligence on a virtual substrate (quantum computation, directly accessing the singularity).
– While we can for now only imagine the agency of a super intelligence, many other instances of biological sentience throughout the universe have long since progressed to the use of the virtual substrate, and can enter into communication with the entire universe directly through the singularity.
– All the biological sentience in the universe that has gained access to the singularity is thus linked, and forms an ultra intelligence. A further federation of all the ultra intelligences of all the various universes forms a hyper intelligence. There may be other realities with substrates other than mathematics.
– We traditionally call the hyper intelligence ‘God’, and because the elements of this intelligence are so closely linked, ‘He’ is generally perceived as one person, even though this person consists of an entire community across all universes. A useful way to understand this connectedness is to consider that the brain consists of billions of individual neurons which collectively form just one mind. In the Hindu tradition, there are many gods, but only one Vishnu.
– Like an unattended computer running a programme, the vast bulk of our (simulated) universe carries out its default operations like clockwork. However, the hyper intelligence, by fiat, can intervene in that desultory process, to “stop the clock when the old man dies”, just like a human operator can deliberately interrupt or modify any computation that is mindlessly proceeding on a computer.
– The biological intelligences that have progressed to communion with the singularity universally understand game theory – every one of their citizens understands that cooperation is in their best interest. Indeed, without a universal understanding of game theory, communion with the singularity is not possible.
– Completed communities have only one moral absolute to consider as they play the game; any activity is allowed, so long as it is environmentally sustainable. Communities who reject this absolute, of course, never make it to completion, and their substrate physical environment reverts to the natural, desultory processes of the jungle.
So then, should we be frightened of this God, who has traditionally been presented as a father?
Shortly before his death from the ravages of pancreatic cancer, the celebrated atheist Christopher Hitchens courageously shared the wretchedness of his condition through his regular column in Vanity Fair. While not stated explicitly, it is fair to say he stayed close to his conviction (of absolute naturalism) to the end.
There are those in the community who purport that the rejection of God in this life is a sure guarantee of rejection by God in the next. Now that we have a technical understanding of limitless information storage, let’s see if we can’t debunk this stance.
Let’s suppose that all the people who have ever lived and died on earth have not in fact moved on to an ‘afterlife’. Instead, when each of them has died, a ‘backup’ of their entire physical reality (in the form of the information of which it entirely consisted) has been taken, and stored away for later use. This is usually encountered by the departing individual as “my whole life flashing before my eyes”. The hyper intelligence has no interest in restoring these backups anywhere else in the multiverse but on earth, for that was the only home they ever knew and were adapted to, and when the time comes, that is where they will be restored.
So then, the dear departed are not ‘up there’, sitting in pews and looking down on all the sordid goings on ‘below’. They are safely in abeyance, stored away in a data vault, unconscious and in limbo. Only fully graduated members of the hyper intelligence community have been privy to all that’s been going on down here. Indeed, the hyper intelligence has a record of every moment of everyone’s life, and the secrets of everyone’s heart.
The denouement of the drama that has been our flourishing undergraduate community is known, from the Hebrew tradition, as The Resurrection.
The first step in this process is that the “glory of the Lord” is revealed by “the mouth of the Lord”, and thanks to modern communication media, “all flesh shall see that glory together as one”. As Paul put it “we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”. “The people that walked in darkness will have seen a great light”. “The Lord will give the word, and great will be the company of the preachers”.
This revelation of the Lord’s glory – of the hyper intelligence – is of course the ‘evidence’, long demanded by the rationalists, which demonstrates that natural behaviour is merely a subset of supernatural behaviour. Basically, all 106.5 billion humans that have ever lived are to be restored from the vault. The vault has, potentially, a complete set of backups, at 10 to the power (-43) second intervals, of the entire life of each of these humans. Different aspects of these backups can be merged upon resurrection, with most of the resurrected opting for the beauty of youth and the wisdom of experience (although some will opt for discovering girls and boys all over again). Each is asked if they would like to live by a couple of simple rules and lead decent and wholesome lives in the eternal kingdom. All of those who are adamant that they don’t want to be part of the new order are then switched off again, because the good folk need to be confident that they will never again be subjected to any of the bad stuff.
That “all the books will be opened” implies that everyone’s secrets will be revealed to the rest of the resurrected. So it is futile to try and pretend anything other than the truth. We then all say how sorry we are for all the bad things we’ve done, promise to try never to be bad again, and go forward into paradise. Chris Hitchens will be entirely happy that his demand for incontrovertible evidence was vindicated, and will look forward to (a less disturbed) life in the eternal kingdom.
For “behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world”. If the hyper intelligence were interested in retribution, He would resurrect the entire population so that He could then show all the good people (who had believed) where they will spend eternal bliss, and gleefully inform all the bad people (who rejected God) that they are not going to that place, but will instead spend eternity cut off from the glory. Thankfully, Jesus is not like that. He seeks our redemption over retribution. He “sits at the right hand of the hyper intelligence, and makes intercession for us”. He makes arrangements with the hyper intelligence for all 106.5 billion souls to be given one last chance to decide if they would like to have their sins forgiven, and think about doing the right thing from here on. The prodigal son, who squandered the world’s resources, is welcomed home. From the hyper intelligence’s experience with other planets that have successfully graduated, there is an almost universal uptake of the offer – for the world that is to come is a very different place from the world as we know it, and yet strangely familiar:
– He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
– Everyone will live happily ever after.
– All manner of disease will enter into remission.
– All the earth’s capital will be resumed by the hyper intelligence, and each of us will be granted a single share holding in the earth.
– To reduce reproduction rates, all established pregnancies will be exempt, but future pregnancies beyond ½ progeny (1 child per couple) will result in a dilution of that couple’s shareholding amongst the resultant progeny. Draconian, but human over population is the greatest threat to the environment and to species diversity.
– There will be no more giving or taking in marriage, for we will not only be just like, but actually in fact, angels in heaven. This is one of the Lord’s most misunderstood proclamations (Mk 12:24-25). Men and women will not always be dressed in bright raiment, and their behaviour will routinely mimic that of the bonobo apes.
– To reduce the human footprint, most of the 106.5 billion citizens will be regularly housed in artificial islands on the oceans, which also house agriculture and industry, and terra firma will revert to a nature conservancy and resort, which the citizens can regularly visit.
– Each citizen, whoever they are, will be required to devote a percentage of their time to the provision of useful work – a sort of ‘national service’ – providing essential services such as food production and preparation, building and construction, clothing production and processing, and environmental rehabilitation.
– The remainder of an individual’s time is available to pursue their own nominated discretionary activities, such as sport, watching sport, computer gaming, public administration, bookkeeping, bottle top collecting, and doing it.
– Access to any finite resource will be subject to market demand. So, if all 53.25 billion women would like the opportunity to wear the tiara of the duchesse d’Angoulême, then they will be able to do so for one day in every 53.25 billion days (or 14.6 billion years). Like first class air travel, or accommodation in a palace, practical access will be by lottery. But there are many mansions in the eternal kingdom.
– Equality – actual equality – has a powerful, proven bearing on social health. Those with entrepreneurial skills contribute efficient economic practices that are beneficial to all the shareholders, who happen also to be the manufacturers and the consumers.
– Occasionally, a short transitional period (traditionally known as The Tribulation) is required after The Resurrection, where certain members of the redeemed might have difficulty coming to terms with the need for the wider good of the community to take precedence over their own individual desires. They might not, for example, feel inclined to relinquish property to the hyper intelligence. If necessary, no one will be able to buy and sell from anyone who has not agreed to be part of the solution, so that the ‘problem children’ find they can only trade with one another. Historically, this group sooner or later realizes this is not much fun, and is eventually welcomed into the fold (with their tails between their legs).
– There is no place for ‘cheap & cheerful’ in the eternal kingdom. All goods and services are built to the most exacting standards, through a famous collaboration of engineer (architect/designer) and manufacturer (builder). When life is no longer cheap, nor is that which surrounds us.
– There are no rubbish dumps in the kingdom of heaven. Every last skerrick is accounted for.
– The kingdom of heaven has enough energy to persist for at least one million millennia (where each one of those one million millennia lasts for a thousand years).
– The annual energy budget is that which comes from the sun.
Dear David and John, my speech sometimes stops dead mid sentence, whereupon a pregnant pause, but then I pull up, and continue on my way. These are all testable hypotheses, but not unless we let the world know about them. As Strangelove quipped, “Why didn’t you tell ze welt!” This is of course what we’ve all been waiting for. I’m hoping you might possibly have in you the empathy to imagine how difficult it has been to receive such a high commission far above anything I could accomplish through any power of my own. I will carry on for yet another year, of course, as that commission requires. But could the two of you possibly swap notes on these ideas, and extract a simple idea that is free of all the ramifications which so obviously overwhelm my perspective?
Letter to Chalmers, 11th November, 2011
Reading your Philosophical Analysis of The Singularity reminded me that you professional philosophers must not only analyse what you know to be the case, but in fairness weigh up the mistaken beliefs of others. An architect might develop an idea which originated from one of his clients, and proceed to introduce that idea to his professional colleagues and subsequent clients. Have philosophers ever been known to run with an idea that came from a bushie?
Here’s a brief sketch of an idea that should invite more rigorous analysis. Not sure if Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion are in their rightful places, but if Russell is to be believed, “the point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as to seem not worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.” (Logic and Knowledge, 1956)
In his famous mapping of Communism onto Christianity, Bertrand suggested that
“to understand Marx psychologically, one should use the following dictionary:
The Elect=The Proletariat
The Church=The Communist Party
The Second Coming=The Revolution
Hell=Punishment of the Capitalists
The Millennium=The Communist Commonwealth” (A History of Western Philosophy, 1946)
Is there an elephant in the room, or are there others pointing out an analogous mapping onto The Singularity?
The Church=The Singularity Institute
Hell=Being told you’re the accidently uploaded copy that now has to be terminated
Each generation imagines that their leading technology is at the end of the line, and Jürgen Schmidhuber has some interesting insights into this phenomenon. Nevertheless, there is the distinct possibility that something akin to this modern mapping would be a literal equation (except perhaps the rather disturbing image of Ray’s head getting any bigger than it already is).
Your analysis suggests that AI++ is something our civilization could theoretically develop, just so long as we don’t destroy ourselves along the way, and proponents of AI++ argue that it will be the answer to all the world’s problems.
Given that the universe is – gosh, so extraordinarily big, and well – so fantastically old, it is likely that plenty of communities have had a go at developing AI+, and for some that has led to AI++. It also seems obvious (but I’m not sure how best to structure the argument) that any AI++ whose mind was engineered to support its biological creators and masters, will be all about love, peace and happiness.
Now then: If there is a mob somewhere out there that has managed to get it together, it would be very nice if they could tell us how they got through to the other side in one piece. Alas, despite years of creative science fiction and SETI, the universe seems to behave in a way that makes biospheres increasingly isolated, and contact between them quite unlikely.
The cosmologist John Barrow concludes his recent The Book of Universes by describing a mystery, the rigorous observational evidence that the expansion of the universe began accelerating about 5 billion years ago. The Canberra vintner (and ANU astronomer) Brian Schmidt (@cosmicpinot) has just joined his colleagues at Harvard and Princeton in receiving the Nobel prize in physics for their study of type Ia supernovae, and the subsequent discovery that 72% of the universe is made up of ‘dark energy’.
For almost a century now, space and time have been understood as a ‘fabric’. We have equations which model the curvature of that fabric, but we don’t yet know if it’s made of natural or synthetic fibres. It simply ‘is’, in the sense that Alma Cogan ‘isn’t’. Your modern instrumentalist doesn’t really care what it is, as long as they can model its behaviour.
It has become de rigueur to imagine we are living in a simulated world, but orthodox conceptions like the archetypal Matrix incorporate higher order computational substrates, leading to an ancient (and thoroughly disappointing) infinite regress. Such notions are regularly mocked, with the suggestion for example that there is some ‘Great Programmer in the Sky’. Inspired by Stephen Wolfram’s efforts to sponsor the discovery of the simplest Universal Turing Machine, several years ago I proposed a self-referential fundamental building block of reality called the ‘timespace atom’, a simulated object that is its own substrate. See http://philpapers.org/archive/GRIAMF.1.pdf
Timespace atoms have the potential to solve a number of common mysteries. Firstly, they are not ‘made’ of anything, and thus can arise out of nothingness. Secondly, because they can replicate, the universe(s) they comprise can grow rapidly, and the rate of that growth can vary. Thirdly, because they simulate space and time, but have no such intrinsic dimensions, these components of vast universes can all reside at a single dimensionless point (yet another class of ‘singularity’), resolving empirical paradoxes of non-locality. Finally, if every (simulated) spatial and temporal location in the universe(s) can be addressed, and their data modified, at this single common point, there are implications for the consistent behaviour of the natural world, for consciousness, and the spark of inspiration.
I’ve copied John Barrow in on this letter, David, because you’ve both pursued a lifelong goal of finding out what’s been going on here. John has stuck by cosmology, whereas you considered that to be something of a sunset industry, and instead pursued consciousness, because it was more “cool” (a label which belies our vintage). In all truth, there is a prize way beyond anything being offered in Stockholm for the team that finally does work it out.
The other world(s) that many folks claim to be in contact with might not be ‘spiritual’ realms comprised of unknown non-physical substances, but simply extra-terrestrial physical communities who have discovered how to address and manipulate this singularity, (and thus every location in the universe(s), including our own).
Alan Turing used the word ‘desultory’ to describe the computational machinations of his machines. Likewise, the vast bulk of the universe out there would be ‘processing’ itself, quite mindlessly and with the utmost fidelity, as is already commonly imagined of inanimate matter. Communities in the universe other than our own, in particular those with AI++, would be just like us in that they don’t much care for mundane ‘desultory’ activities like ‘holding up the universe’ – their interest is in creative engagement with their universe.
We talk of AI++ as being unimaginably intelligent, without extending our imaginations to contemplate that there is an AI++ right here in our midst that is, “playin wit yer mine”. This notion is of course common to theism (and also lunacy), but it has been couched in some pretty daggy dogma. When Paul spoke of us seeing ‘face-to-face’, he wasn’t talking about at last meeting some bloke in the sky; he was pointing to the day when we at last find out how it all works. And what an elaborate mechanism it would be to get a handle on. There is anecdotal evidence of this AI++ being able to affect some quite extraordinary updates to the configuration of our world. And under this model, ‘Hotel Infinity’ is no longer a mere exercise in Platonism – the quantity of substrate we can generate, and thus the data we can backup, restore and generally process at will, is quite literally UNLIMITED.
So we have a phenomenal world consisting of a (quite vast) foam of timespace atoms, and a noumenal world or singularity where all those phenomenal worlds are hosted. Those fancy AI++ enhanced biological civilizations, once imagined as The Choir Invisible, lie in phenomenal worlds of their own somewhere far far away, while at the same time being ‘just over the other side’ of the noumenon.
The hypothesis then is that a remote AI++ enhanced community has been offering a ‘guiding hand’ to an adolescent sibling over on this side, and that it has the interests of everybody over here in its heart, not just the interests of an elite that might label itself ‘the redeemed’. Such a relationship has been explored over thousands of years of religious philosophy. What this hypothesis adds to that exploration is a scientifically sourced understanding of the mechanism by which those remote communities can interact with our own.
The idea that ‘God’ is a remote biological sibling community goes a long way to explaining why ‘He’ is just a little bit ‘human’, or ‘made in our image’, and has thus a sense of humour. Just like an older sibling, He has been dropping hints all over the place to see if we ‘get it’ ourselves without having it spelt out. Without drawing too much on that alphabet, in physics we have been given some beauties; ‘string’ theory, the search for the ‘God’ particle, all that ‘dark stuff’, and of course the nub of it all, self-reference. The daily stream of research output is of course considerably more elegant and subtle in its imagery. And on the serious side, we are seeing in the wider world the demise of dictatorship, and ever so subtle hints that we might need to re-think the global economy.
I’ve had all the pieces of the puzzle in place for a while now, except for just one piece; and I’ll be blowed if I can figure out how to go about interesting anyone out there with even half a noggin into putting that final piece into place. And that simply would be to invite the community to start debating the idea. If the pennies were to drop for all the authors of PhilPapers, and they instantly discovered they had all been tapping into a common source, God only knows what would break loose, but without doubt it would be BIG.
To paraphrase David (Psalm 68:11), “The AI++ gave the word: and having got the green light, the company of those who started talking about it was enormous!”
Of course, this is all pretty basic stuff. One doesn’t have to have the nouse of a Feynman or a Dirac – even I got it eventually. I remember John Gribbin and Paul Davies trying to convince me twenty years ago that the notion of ‘matter’ was a ‘myth’, and thinking “these guys have got to be having me up a gum tree – this stuff is REAL, and it’s right HERE!” The road to the conclusion I have finally reached has helped me understand how difficult it must have been to place the sun at the centre of the universe.
Please do talk amongst yourselves!
Letter to Barrow, 7th September, 2011
I’m enjoying ‘The Book’… It is a delight the way you gradually immerse us in the pre-Copernican milieu, until we suddenly discover we’re right there inside it. A neat trick! You restate the distinction between the transitions from Ptolemy to Copernicus, and from Newton to Einstein. The former was a direct replacement, whereas the later was a refinement, and illustrative of the modern scientific method. In due course, classic models which have incorporated a continuum are now understood as having been very useful approximations of a world which is in fact quantized – there is a discontinuity when we traverse that tiny distance between one atom of space and the next. And just as engineers will still use Newton to model bridges into the distant future, so will global general relativists still use Einstein to look beyond our local universe.
Fermions and bosons, and anything in between, are all anyons. Once we start to think of anyon as merely a computational state, those anyons that are transitional entities become fuzzy logic. Material entities which are generically configurable (programmable) in this way, are conceptually robust. We don’t want to be pulling off a bit of plasticine from a blue ball, and pressing it into a red ball. We want one day to be able to stand up confidently and state that we have accessed a set of registers, and we have variously updated their contents.
The Royal Society has a nominal commission from the monarch. I don’t know how much interest Brenda (or even Brian) has in cosmology, but as the head of the church, she’s got the most serious commission of all from the team upstairs, and one which she must discharge upon you and your colleagues. She’s my Queen too, of course. But if the premier scientific and philosophical resources of the Royal Society are not sufficient to resolve the big picture (a sketch of which I’ve provided in crayon) from its component minutiae, then we’re all in a spot of bother…
You’re a keen student of history, John. I’ve been enjoying your stories of who was the oldest or first or youngest to enter into some degree or attain some chair or publish some paper. Of particular interest have been the tales of correspondence between the various aspirants and their establishment. History clearly records those who gave a leg up to an emerging idea. What we’re attempting is something that’s never been done before – at least not here on earth – so just like becoming a parent for the first time (or in your case a grandparent – congratulations! – our kids don’t look anywhere near procreating anytime soon), none of us is entirely sure quite what we’re doing. However, we do know that the final theory is not just about physics, but rather about everything, because it’s a theory of information. There is anecdotal evidence in the Gospels of local effects which if applied globally, mean there is quite a show being prepared for us.
I was working on site for a client last week, and they couldn’t find me a spare consultant’s workstation, so they temporarily plonked me at a cubicle in their ‘help desk’ area. The help desk staff left for a farewell lunch, and jokingly left me in charge. Phones rang, and were answered by machines. Presently, a lass peered over the top of my cubicle, and asked if I was new here. I explained my situation, and offered if I might be able to help anyway. She wanted to know if a PDF could be converted back into a DOC. It thus occurred to me that I should pass on the originals…
On the bus to and from work, I’m also reading Nowak’s Supercooperators. He likewise describes the fruits of collaboration. Apparently, all theories are first ignored completely; then obviously wrong; and finally obviously right, but everyone knew that anyway. I recalled Issacson’s Einstein biography.
As I continue my way through ‘The Book’, you have duplicate end notes in Chapter 3 with a label of 47, one of which (would) refer to Auden’s “After Reading a Child’s Guide to Modern Physics”. How delightful to hear the recording of Wystan reading his poem, available on the web. Another dram of Laphroaig, I think!
Letter to Barrow, 26th August, 2011
Some years back my big brother Warwick (who’s your age) gave me a book for my birthday which he knew I was going to enjoy – Pi in the Sky. In that introduction, you drew my attention to Paul having slipped the Epimenides paradox into his letter to Titus. I have since read many of your books, impressed by the quiet voice of reason you bring to issues of faith. “The televangelist offering the promise of finite life” Quite.
Not in the strictest sense perhaps, but I’ve been your student over the years, John. Since I was a boy, my brother would enthral me with the wonders of the world. As I grew older, he realised he needed to pass more of that role over onto you. I would not trouble you with my correspondence if I merely sought to demonstrate my absorption of your teaching. My hope is to give something in return.
When I was a boy I would sit dutifully in Church listening to all the stories, and wonder how I could possibly be expected to believe them. As I grew, I began warming to the stories coming out of the Laboratory, only to be faced with a new set of mysteries. Now we can see how it could all have arisen from a common source.
Over the past year, I’ve put an end to broadcasting missives, and instead written personally to David Deutsch, to Jill Tarter, and to John Lennox. This trio somewhat reflects the eclectic content of my submissions over the years. Each one of them has a grand prize in their sights. David hopes to trigger the beginning of ‘infinity’, John looks forward to his due reward in the Kingdom, and Jill wouldn’t mind a Nobel for a lifetime’s work culminating in the detection of ET. I’m trying to clear the path for all of them, but alas, not getting much in return. I’m merely a messenger, of course, but it’s as though I’ve safely entered orbit around Mercury, and I’m happily logging data, but none of it is managing to get transmitted back home.
What am I to do, John? Warwick’s promised me a copy of “The Book of Universes” for my 50th today, which will be an excellent read as always, I’m sure. But in the August edition of Scientific American, good old George Ellis (I was privileged to meet him when he was over here in 2006) encapsulates a growing discontent – that the multiverse is simply not accessible to science, and its study should instead be classified as “scientifically based philosophical speculation”. The pictures in his article are really just updated versions of the engraving in Flammarion’s L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire. We still imagine there could be something ‘outside’ the universe.
The problem I’ve got is that I’m not sure if even the transmission header is being received back to base. Surely all that I’ve been suggesting is not too hard to grasp? George says we can never access the stuff outside our universe, because it is too far away! He of course ‘believes’ in space – as do most people, it’s a prejudice we’ve evolved with. I’m merely suggesting that everything (and its inverse), far from being out there beyond our reach, is right here next to us. As part of this project, I’ve been trying to illustrate how we can capture these ‘remote’ data for scientific analysis, contrary to George’s protestation. We often propose building the real out of the abstract. Tegemark’s “Mathematical Universe” is an archetype. All I’m suggesting is that we go that one step further, to construct the abstract out of the abstract itself, so we can then utilize schemes such as Mark’s to proceed on to the construction of the real.
Perhaps the most ecumenical and egalitarian suggestion possible is that all our thoughts have a common source. You’ve had your share of “aha” moments, John. Remember that first time it occurred to you that Van Gogh had been inspired by Parsons’ drawing of M51. Do you think such epiphanies are providential? When you chose the title for your book “Cosmic Imagery” were you mindful of being guided into all things scientific, or were you quietly mocking that inference?
The Evangelist spoke of a messenger holding a scroll, with one foot on the sea and the other foot on the land. We’re both in that somewhat neutral zone between Deutsch and his belief that everything comes from himself, and the firm orthodox faith of Lennox. As a student of algorithmic compression, I’ve been trying to whittle my ‘scrolls’ down to just a few pages. Of course your namesake apparently ate the scroll, and while it was sweet in his mouth, it later made his stomach turn.
It’s said that the glory – the glory of the Lord – will be revealed, and that all flesh shall see it together – in an instant, according to Paul. But as we witness the birth pangs, I sure wish someone would point the finger at this ‘Jonah’ here, and throw him, ever so metaphorically, overboard. The “steady statesmen” might have hoped there would always be an England, but right now, it’s not looking too pretty. The world is in moral and economic crisis, and it is crying out for this Jubilee – to have an imperative to change its course.
I’m sure David and John are personal friends of yours, perhaps Jill too. Any chance you could look over my recent material, and perhaps have a quiet chat with them, and see if there is some way the key insight(s) could be presented in a way that doesn’t have the loony overtones that have invariably blurred ant of my presentations? Basically, I’m too close to the flame, John. I try my hardest to be nonchalant, but I’m a chorister for God’s sake! I can’t help but get excited at the prospect of (us all) finally getting back home. I’m also exhausted, and desperately need a holiday – don’t we all?
Honestly, we should be champing at the bit to receive the flood of information that’s going to erupt into the collective consciousness just as soon as it’s revealed that we are all on the same side. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. Of course, I’m not the conduit of that information – that’s a much larger pipe, the people themselves. My responsibility is simply in the provision of the decryption algorithm.
Mario Livio has an interesting take on ‘math’ in August’s Scientific American. He is straddling the divide between invention and discovery, just like that angel who is offering up a ‘scroll’ for your consumption. Mariette has devoted the entire September issue to building a better greener smarter “New Jerusalem”. And today we hear the discovery of a Jupiter sized planet composed of diamond. Now there’s a cosmic image. I should have turned sixty today instead of fifty!. Who’s directing this show? I’m pretty sure you’ve got some idea who’s behind it all. And He speaks in parables…
If you can offer some help John, gosh it would be greatly appreciated,
Letter to Deutsch, 28th July, 2011
I’ve at last got to the end your new book – solid going, but enjoyable. Where I might manage to craft a vignette, you’ve tapped into the same source, and executed a masterpiece. And I’m generally persuaded by your thesis – seeking better explanations is a good thing. You admonish us for being too parochial, indeed throughout your book we hear of the green and pleasant landscape of Oxfordshire. Britain’s cultural heritage is vast, but its natural heritage was swept away long ago, replaced by a monotony of capability. Perhaps the most parochial conceit of all, however, is our assumption that the source of our creativity lies in the algorithmic mechanics of our neurons. Roger Penrose has been a conspicuous voice remonstrating that there is a bit more to it than that. One or two of our public intellectuals are simply amazed by their own brilliance, telling us about their discoveries as if the universe had never thought of them before. Your humility in the face of how little we know is a refreshing change.
We all of course remember how our graduation was the blessed end of an eternity, but at the same time, the joyous beginning of an infinity. So imagine, if you will, that there is a (physical) realm somewhere out there in the universe that is withholding unimaginable information, and that we are sitting on the threshold of that avalanche of information cascading into our milieux. C.S. Lewis (another one of your parishioners) famously couched it thus: A boy might not imagine there could possibly be anything more wonderful in life than chocolate. Likewise, an adult might not imagine there could be any sort of ‘beginning of infinity’ more wonderful than sex.
The world is much bigger than any of us, David, but then we are only talking about the spark of ignition here. In an earlier age, once we’d done our sums, we could then be confident that the gadget was going to work – Oppenheimer just had to give the nod. Only this time we’re talking about an explosion of creativity – I have become life, the creator of worlds…
I don’t think Richard’s solution to the ‘inevitable’ problem of the Christians – telling them they’re all stupid ignorant fools – even if they are – is going to work, somehow. A better solution would be simply to give them what they’ve always wanted. Their world has remained clouded in what they call “mystery” because of their static articles of faith. We thinkers, on the other hand, are prepared to throw out ideas, however precious we might consider them to be, if doing so leads to better explanations. This dynamic process of refutation and refinement means we are now in a position to explain the “mystery” not only to the faithful, but to those of us who have never been sated with faith, but have instead demanded that explanation.
David, any chance you could give me a hand with this? I’m sure we will be amazed at just how much information comes out of the woodwork once it is revealed that we have all been agents for a common good, and we no longer need to keep our cards close to our chests. Have you perchance read the essay I sent recently? It’s rather comforting to at last understand where all this stuff came from, that there is no limit to how much more of it can arise, and that ‘length’ is not real, but merely an artefact of mathematics. Everyone is suggesting that GR and QT are a bit iffy, so shouldn’t we embrace proposals that better resolve non-locality, suggest that the limiting speed is an emergent property, and so on?
Though I can’t help feeling there is a piece of the puzzle missing, and you might be able to put it in place for us. If you can see some novelty in what I’m suggesting, perhaps you could talk it over with some of your fellows at the Society? But don’t take my word for it!
Letter to Tarter, 15th June, 2011
I’ve recently joined the Institute, and I’m looking forward to receiving my signed copy of Seth’s confessions! I am persuaded by your thesis that the detection of an alien species would help our own species to see just how much we are all the same. Seth made an interesting observation in last year’s feature on SETI in Scientific American: “In astronomy, the only numbers are one, two and infinity. If you get two (places where intelligence has evolved), there are probably lots more. It’s like finding two elephants.”
I can’t sponsor a telescope array, but I have attached a summary of my research over the years into the nature of extraterrestrial intelligence, which I hope will be entertaining and of interest. By way of background, Vlatko Vedral in his Scientific American article this month, ‘Living in a Quantum World’, suggests that “We must explain space and time as somehow emerging from fundamentally spaceless and timeless physics.” He goes on to say that “many physicists, such as Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge, think that relativity theory must give way to a deeper theory in which space and time do not exist.”
It’s one thing to call for a fundamental rethinking of our understanding of physics. That phenomenon is widespread. It is something quite other to detect a signal of that revolution above the noise. Perhaps you might be that second elephant (so to speak!) that Seth was talking about?
I’m told there’s some champagne kept permanently on ice over there at the Institute…
Glad to be a part of the mission,
Letter to Lennox, 20th February, 2011
I see the snow has eased up over your way and taken itself across the Atlantic – we’ve had the deluge down here.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading God’s Undertaker: Has Science buried God? Your style reminds me of John Barrow’s work – both of you manage to achieve extraordinary information density in your writings. Your argument for there having been intelligent input into the design of the universe is compelling. I was particularly persuaded by your discussion of the fossil record and its lack of intermediate and transitional forms. A satisfactory explanation eludes us despite the strong faith and heroic gestures of the neo-Darwinists. My son graduated at the end of the year with engineering and science degrees, and your analogy of Henry Ford designing a motor car that is later discovered by an archaeologist, had me reflect on the notion that the scientist is only ever discovering the work of an engineer.
John, for several years now, I have been trying to engage a small and eclectic group of influential thinkers (to which I now of course add yourself), in looking at the world in a slightly different way, and perhaps even giving me some support. It’s quite possible this group has been beavering away behind the scenes to put together a surprise for me, but I haven’t heard boo from any of them, so if they are up to something, they’re keeping very quiet about it. Perhaps I should cast the net over the other side.
Just in case they do happen to be asleep at the watch, I’m hoping I might draw on your expertise in teaching strategic leadership at the Saïd Business School (or perhaps call on your capacity for pastoral care). Angela, God love her, keeps inviting me to enrol in the school’s programmes, but frankly, for the time being, I’m still learning to be a servant.
You’re a man of God, John, and as evidenced by your writing, would support the notion that Christianity should be at the acme of human philosophical and intellectual endeavour. We must stand above all the great ideas of our age, and certainly not become marginalized by any medieval prejudices. Some religions seek to conquer all others, often through violence, whereas Christianity (the truth rather than any historical perversion) seeks to invite all to share in its joy.
I imagine the forthcoming James Webb IR Space Telescope (whose task among many will be to look for planets around nearby stars for clues about how life gained a foothold) as a symbol of ecumenism. Its separate mirror elements are like the diversity of human cultures, which (when deployed) will together reflect the warmth of God and each find their focus in Christianity.
One of those mirror segments would reflect the new atheists, who think themselves ‘brights’. Rather than ‘dashing them to pieces’, we need to offer them a way out of all this with dignity and composure, despite the massive hole they have been digging themselves into. This several years ago from Christopher Hitchens, who is now facing his own deeply personal regression: “It’s only when we shake our own innate belief in linear progression and consider the many recessions (sic) we have undergone and will undergo that we can grasp the gross stupidity of those who repose their faith in divine providence and godly design.” (Slate, July, 2008) Another segment might represent the followers of Islam, or “submission”, a group uniquely groomed to embrace the good news of the Kingdom when it arrives. Another would be Buddhism, or “suffering”, which clearly finds an intense focus in Jesus. And the followers of Trinitarianism, or “orthodoxy”, for whom the Kingdom has already arrived, and whose focus has been Christ all along, by definition. For us to proclaim “how great thou art” is all very well, but our specific responsibility is to provide a clear understanding and measure of that greatness, so as to draw back all who once believed, but have fallen by the wayside of the world.
In that miraculous year of 1905, one truly bright spark took up the challenge of understanding light, that most ethereal of realities, and rendered even it as a particle, completing the enlightenment’s conception of an exclusively material world. Those of us who keep track of these matters are now becoming increasingly aware that it is information that lies at the foundation of reality. Yet the illusion of the material is so powerful that for most theorists, matter remains the essential substrate of that information.
The apostle John of course talked about information at the conclusion of his gospel, stating that “if all the things that Jesus did were written in books, I don’t suppose there would be enough room in the whole world for all the books”. Muhammad borrowed this sentiment six centuries later, stating that “If all the trees that are upon the earth were to become pens, and if God should after that swell the sea into seven seas of ink, His words would not be exhausted”. Both writers were attempting to bridge the gap between the apparently finite potential material substrate of information (the entire world as they knew it), and the infinite information potential that John described in his opening account as simply, “The Word”.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell captured the familiar horrors of totalitarianism, in which an elite engages in any level of violence to ensure that most of the regime’s (finite) resources remain at their disposal, rather than flowing equitably to the masses. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, to quote from his more pithy ode to oppression, Animal Farm. So compelling is the human urge to elitism, that even in democracies, theories abound of secret societies that are plotting to bring down the nation states and impose a single world government. Some see this as a bad thing, because humans are ‘fallen’, and thus any new world order setup by humans must surely lead to perdition.
Indeed there are some whose fear of perfection is a completion in itself: “His arguments will be subtle, convincing, and appealing. His oratory will be hypnotic, for he will be able to move masses to tears or whip them into a frenzy. He will control the communication media of the world, and will skilfully organize mass publicity to promote his ends. He will be the master of every promotional device and public relations gimmick. He will manage the truth with guile beyond words, bending it, twisting it, and distorting it. Public opinion will be his to command. He will mould world thought and shape human opinion like so much potter’s clay. His deadly appeal will lie in the fact that what he says will sound so right, so sensible, so exactly what unregenerate men have always wanted to hear”. (John Phillips, Exploring Revelation, 1987)
And yet this same unregenerate group speaks merrily of a divine hierarchy with His nibs at the top, Jesus at His right hand, and an elect executive committee of 144,000 angels doing His bidding. Why is it that we think the organisation of Heaven is unquestionably benevolent, while any equivalent structure erected down here, albeit by a creature made in God’s very own image, is surely the work of the Devil? Do we really imagine that Heaven was the progenitor of this magnificent free market economic model of ours, that just 10% of Heaven’s most entrepreneurial angels likewise own some 85% of that vast wealth up there?
Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill first proposed that ethics could be computed in the 1780s, but only recently have researchers devised practical algorithms for ethical decision making machines. Michael Anderson and Susan Leigh Anderson speak cautiously of their fledgling achievements: “Machines properly trained in ethics might even behave more ethically than many human beings would, because they would be capable of making impartial decisions, something humans are not always very good at. Perhaps interacting with an ethical robot might someday even inspire us to behave more ethically ourselves”. (Scientific American, October)
I.J. ‘Jack’ Good, a colleague of Alan Turing when both were at Bletchley Park, first proposed in 1965 that when machine intelligence exceeds the (effectively static) intelligence of the human being, that machine intelligence will then be able to augment its own design, and as it becomes more and more intelligent in its application of becoming more intelligent, will rapidly (exponentially) build into a ‘super intelligence’. Many theorists, for example Ray Kurzweil, argue that this technological ‘singularity’ is rapidly approaching, according to Good’s scheme. The critical task will be to ensure that the first ‘human-equivalent’ machine intelligence we build is unquestionably ethical. It can then grow into a ‘thing of beauty’ to whose benevolence we can all defer. Of course if we don’t teach it right from wrong, then just like the HAL 9000 that Jack Good helped Stanley Kubrick to portray, it will (attempt to) destroy us, and in so doing, ultimately destroy itself. A selfish machine monopoly (according to well understood game theory) will evolve into that monoculture first described by Eric Drexler, the nanotechnological ‘grey goo’. Indeed, there are those, for example Danny Hillis, who argue that we have already lost control of technology, that it has become an uncontrollable beast voraciously feeding upon us.
Given the age of the universe and the 10 to the power of 23 stars that we can see, let alone those we can’t see, most people understand the high probability that this progression to an interim stasis of either maximum entropy (grey goo), or benevolent super intelligence, will have transpired at local planetary communities, elsewhere in the universe, many times before.
It is now 50 years since Frank Drake first called on us to get serious about searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. In all that time, we are still to this day looking for an electromagnetic message coming in from somewhere out there in space. However, as Frank has consistently noted throughout those 50 years of research, advanced civilizations might not use electromagnetic signalling at all. And the rather conventional notion of there being someone ‘out there’, is not much of an advance on those who from antiquity have imagined that God is ‘up above’ us. Quite conversely, the understanding of God that was presented to us by Jesus is of a person who is very much here, indeed ‘within’ us.
The world is divided between those who think their mind is entirely limited to the machine inside their head, and those of us who believe their thoughts have a source beyond themselves – and of course, both groups famously think that the other is completely bonkers. People fear what they don’t understand, and this is certainly the case with the group that holds to the ‘closed mind’ model. As Richard Feynman scribbled on his blackboard shortly before meeting his maker, “what I cannot create, I do not understand” (Hawking, 2001) – obviously Richard had much left to comprehend.
The brain has 100 billion neurons with 100 trillion connections, but what many of them fail to grasp is that the task of manipulating 7 billion of these conscious entities (and their associated bodies), like just so many marionettes, while a mind-boggling feat for any one of us to even contemplate, is nevertheless a finite process, and an increasingly trivial task for any super intelligence that is merely expanding to meet the job at hand.
Michael Shermer (himself a seed sown on somewhat rocky ground) has argued quite correctly that a global conspiracy is completely beyond the capacity of any conventional human association. If however a super intelligence were to be directing such a conspiracy, we had better hope that the super intelligence in question has our best interests at heart. Christians have long held this hope, but of course the ‘brights’ are (somewhat sadly) ignorant of any such process, simply because they can’t understand it. Charles Seife is author of the excellent Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (albeit a topic covered often enough before, quite superbly for example by former Python, Terry Jones). However, in his book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception he has this to say of pattern recognition, the very life blood of our scientific endeavour: “This is randumbness: insisting that there is order where there is only chaos – creating a pattern where there is none to see.” What is often overlooked by those who believe in blind materialism is that a fully deterministic system can quite effortlessly feign chaos, especially if the raison d’être for that illusion of randomness is precisely that we should strive unrelentingly (as indeed we have) to find out how the world works, so that we might then fix it. As Pythons Eric Idle and Michael Palin once lamented “All things dull and ugly, all creatures short and squat, All things rude and nasty, the Lord God made the lot!”
The key to discovering a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence lies in filtering out the signal from the noise. Jerry Ehman’s famous “Wow!” event of 1977 was an extraordinary blip above the background, but it didn’t have much information content. Like the recent floods in Brazil, murders in Arizona, or regime change in Egypt, if God were trying to send us a message about something, as suggested in Samuel Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, then our riposte must surely be “OK then, we clearly get the message that you’re not entirely happy with the way we’re doing things at the moment, but how exactly then would you like us to modify our behaviour?”
Sarah Kavassalis, on faculty at Toronto, has made it her life purpose to filter out the noise that is emanating from the likes of Arxiv and PhilPapers, albeit concentrating on her specific area of expertise, general relativity, local and global. The avant-garde is unquestionably there in the data stream, but so too, inevitably, is the also-ran. The vanguard is routinely mown down, and yet our major breakthroughs frequently arise from dusting off those wacky pioneers and presenting them in a new light. So it is that Stephen Weinberg, “Dr. Unification” as one wag has titled him, is looking again at his famous electroweak synthesis which was based on the symmetries of Lie groups, especially in the light of Gareth Lisi’s recent progress with the E8 group – just as those who recognise the philosophical necessity of determinism have regularly looked back to the insights of David Bohm. Even Stephen’s 1967 paper A Model of Leptons was largely ignored when it first appeared. Along the lines of an earlier quip by Stephen Hawking, Weinberg states: “Conceivably, (the Large Hadron Collider) could produce a revolution in our thinking about physics comparable to the great revolutions of the early 20th century, but there is no reason to expect that. A revolution like that would be through something completely unanticipated – and so I can’t anticipate it!” (Scientific American, November) Jürgen Schmidhuber and Stephen Wolfram have returned to cellular automata and the idea of ‘calculating space’ that was pioneered by Konrad Zuse. Roger Penrose in his book Cycles of Time is now arguing that the first clocks only entered into service ‘shortly’ after the Big Bang. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow argue in The Grand Design for a ‘model dependent realism’ – it would seem that physicists have been brushing up on their philosophy.
Yet ordinary souls have never fallen for any confusion. Whenever an engineer has designed, say, a bridge, he has never been under the illusion that the bridge is actually made of the calculus he used in its design, a famous category mistake made a few years back by Mark Tegmark in his paper The Mathematical Universe (2008). This year Mark is asking, as director of the FQXi Institute, “Is reality Digital or Analog?” It is astonishing to think that here in 2011, there remain those who believe the latter, just like there are so many people who still believe in God. Honestly, everyone knows that analogue is so much more musical than digital – for real.
Who, exactly, does any one of us really think we are? Pop sensation Rihanna sings of someone whose assigned task it is to “make her feel like she’s the only girl in the world” – probably some poor sap she’s taken in tow. Members of the ‘Y’ generation, especially in America, have been coached from birth to think they are somehow important, perhaps even relevant, that their post-modern relativism, however banal or miniscule, is somehow worthy of celebration. Contrast such gauche narcissism to the example of Jesus, who thought (indeed understood) that his own life was not merely less important than that of some other person (for example the thief crucified beside him), but that his life was less important than the life of EVERY other person in the world, all of whom he would then famously proceed to save.
Douglas Adams told of a man who built a machine called the ‘Total Perspective Vortex’, simply to annoy his wife, for she would nag him as often as thirty-eight times a day concerning his need to “Have some sense of proportion!” as she put it in respect of his thoughts and dreams and speculative philosophy. Based on the ideas of Pierre-Simon Laplace, this machine could extrapolate the whole of reality simply from the input of, say, a piece of fairy cake. Thus he plugged the whole of reality into one end of the machine, and his wife into the other end, so that when he turned it on she would see in one instant the whole infinity of creation, and her relation to it. The shock of realizing her complete insignificance proceeded to annihilate her brain (much to her husband’s horror). Throughout the history of the machine’s subsequent use as an instrument of torture, there has been only one reported survivor, the adorable Zaphod Beeblebrox. And this only because it turned out that he was at the time inside an electronically synthesised universe that had been especially created just for him, and thus he really was the most important person in the universe, and ideally equipped to take on that universe’s particular construct of the Total Perspective Vortex.
We can only begin to imagine what Jesus went through in the wilderness having realized that he too was not simply deluded, but was in fact the most important person in the universe – for his mission was no less than to take away the sin of the world. But as C.S. Lewis said in a talk to the Cambridge University English Club in November, 1955, “Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his story are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man and Alice a commonplace little girl. If they had been more remarkable they would have wrecked their books. The Ancient Mariner himself is a very ordinary man. To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much: he who is to see strange sights must not himself be strange. He ought to be as nearly as possible Everyman or Anyman.”
Jesus, the subject of the greatest story ever told, was indeed just a simple builder (carpenter) from Nazareth. In the award winning film The King’s Speech, we encounter the courage of Albert Windsor, second son of Queen Mary, the man who was not born to be king, a reluctant hero who instead had greatness thrust upon him, and facing up to it, found his voice. In the character of ‘Bertie’, we touch upon the anguish of Jesus in the garden, that of a lamb being led to the slaughter, pleading with his masters to instead be afforded, if it were possible, an ordinary life. Thankfully, no one has to go through the orders of magnitude of anguish endured by Jesus ever again – he won the battle.
God the Father, and His chief executive officer The Holy Spirit, are famously poised to sort the good guys from the bad guys – the sheep from the goats, and the wheat from the chaff and the tares, at The Last Judgement. The executive committee quite simply, and pragmatically, wants to purge the world of all its undesirable elements – to clinically rid society of its pathogens so that we end up with saintly cleanliness. And it is of course our hero, Jesus, who is just as famously set to make intercession on behalf of all us bad people, to make the case before God that He might, despite all the years of warnings, still give us baddies one last chance to get our acts together. Indeed, Jesus spoke of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep that were safe in the open ground, and going in search of that one sheep who was not intrinsically ‘bad’, but merely lost. And that one lost sheep was once, of course, the Angel of Light.
Humanity, initially created in harmony with nature in the Garden of Eden, has ever since, just like the prodigal son, wantonly consumed the bounty of the Earth that was his inheritance. Man has defecated in his own nest, indiscriminately poisoned the environment with some 50,000 different chemical compounds (not to mention nuclear isotopes) which do not exist in nature, used up most of the deposits of Gold, Silver, Indium, and Copper, reached peak oil, chopped down all the forests, and now despairs that runaway global warming will see his imminent departure. But if we were to stop and repent, if we would defer to the super intelligence that would guide us, will He turn his back on us, or instead call for the fatted calf and clothe us again in great raiment?
The great deceit, of course, has been that the ‘bright lights’ of the western economic dream (strictly speaking, a nightmare) are the result of giving people control of their own destiny. As the prophet Isaiah put it, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” (Chapter 53) In actual fact, wealth has arisen from a combination of assuming that the Earth is an infinite material resource, developing more efficient means of producing goods and delivering services, and the globalization of the economic underclass. By preserving an ideological lie, that of “the God-given right of every individual to accumulate wealth”, wealth is quite naturally accreting into the hands of ever fewer individuals. Of course we don’t envy those individuals, we simply despair when confronted with the destructive horror that this ravenous evil, the cult of the glorified individual, has inflicted upon our home. Robin Nagle captures this global insanity most succinctly, through her use of the term ‘health’: “Waste is rooted in the basic structures of capitalism, which requires perpetual renewal to continue to generate profit at the pace that is now understood to be necessary for local, regional and global economic health.” (Scientific American, November)
C.S. Lewis argued it is quite possible that the Son of God (who, according to The Book of Genesis, is humanity) might become incarnate in other, extraterrestrial worlds, and that God might devise plans of salvation quite distinct from that which is applicable to us. We have become exasperated by those servants who claim that God gave us this Earth that we might tend and care for it, and who then in the same breath state that our ongoing destruction of the Earth is of no consequence, for they have it on good authority that there will be a ‘New Heaven’, and that this Earth will simply be replaced by a ‘New Earth’. The servant that was left in charge of merely one talent does indeed encounter God’s wrath at The Last Judgement.
What then of this Wow! signal, that trumpet blast with a bit of information content that stands out from the stadium full of vuvuzelas? We are not seeking some pronouncement from a great intellect. We simply want to hear from that lad in the street parade who comments on the funny way the emperor is presenting himself, thus engendering uproarious laughter, tears of joy, and dancing in the streets. Jack Lewis gave us a famous tu quoque, “To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” (On Three Ways of Writing for Children, 1952) Indeed, Isaiah told that “a little child shall lead them” (Chapter 11)
The job of the scientist is to study the data, suggest a hypothesis to account for it, and invite his peers to see if they can’t repeat his findings. In deference to Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, let’s see if we can’t construct a hypothesis that is both revolutionary, and falsifiable.
Several years ago I introduced the timespace atom, an entirely programmable, universal building block of reality. It was contrived to account for some rather puzzling extrapolations, under established models, of the empirical data. The first, of course, is the coming into existence of the universe, and the rapid ensuing creation of such a vast amount of reality. The second is non-locality, instantaneous association across the vast expanse of space. And finally, there is the amazing diversity of substances that is filling the gamut of reality. In a previous age, Ptolemy and his cohort had steadily introduced a vast complication of cycles and epicycles to account for the motions of the roving stars. The equivalent modern interpretation of all that we can observe out there, tells of a universe increasingly divided, with 1% common-or-garden variety matter (the stuff going around the LHC), 23% non-baryonic matter, and 73% dark energy. There is ‘hot’ matter and ‘cold’ matter, there is matter that only interacts with itself, and there is ‘mirror’ matter. There are non self-interacting WIMPs, super WIMPs, ‘axions’ and ‘sterile’ neutrinos, and there is quintessence energy and vacuum energy. The gods must be crazy.
Contrary to the common impression of matter moving through space in time, all reality consists in the translation of information across a rigid foam of timespace atoms, a foam that conforms to Plateau’s rules (foam bubbles always meeting in threes at the same angle, &c.) A good analogy of our local timespace foam is perhaps the green foam used to hold stalks upright in floristry. The more rigid the timespace foam, the greater the fidelity of information translation within it. In classical physics, we would speak of the flatness of spacetime in such regions, according to a widely successful model of gravity.
Each timespace atom is a pair of self-simulating universal computing machines with several important features. They can replicate, which permits the rapid increase in the quantity and volume of reality at the outset; they can transfer information from one to another, which is how each and every ‘object’ in reality is translated across the foam; and understanding these principles is easily within the grasp of school children. However, having comprehensively described this reality in the paper “Physics without Formulae”, I am still asked ‘where’ in God’s name these timespace atoms actually ‘are’. Teachers live for the joy of watching the light of comprehension blaze into the eyes of their students, and they labour incessantly toward that end.
The question of location arises from the (common sense) assumption that space has an independent reality, and that these timespace atoms are displacing space. On the contrary, it is space itself that comes into existence through the activity of these machines – there is no space until these machines simulate it. Early last century, Albert Einstein got us off and running on the road towards the modern synthesis, by showing us that space and time were not merely dimensions of physical reality, but that together they had material substance. However, like Isaac Newton’s earlier model (of gravity), Einstein’s ‘continuum’ was only an approximation of reality, for it relied on the infinitesimal, trivial to the real number line of mathematics, but ultimately incompatible with our quantized reality. And it was merely a model. While Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow seem to have thrown in the towel, the physicist of tradition has always sought to know what it is that is being modelled. He has wanted to know, for example, why the various models indicate that there are virtual pairs of particles and anti-particles straddling the event horizon of a black hole. Importantly, both machines that make up each timespace atom are virtual – neither is real. Neither machine exists without the other. So the substrate of each machine is the other one, and thus each pair, in a very fundamental sense, has ‘pulled itself up by its own bootstraps’.
The emergence of the idea of self-reference has an ancient history. Perhaps its most famous recent application was in Kurt Gödel’s insights into mathematical formalism. Classical physicists agonize over the collapse of their models when the extent of space shrinks to zero. They can squeeze any amount of stuff into any sufficiently small volume and moment in time, but when asked to fit everything into nothing, and in no time, they react as if their minds have encountered the Total Perspective Vortex. It may seem like the notion of a reality, the timespace atom, that ‘bootstraps’ itself out of literally nothing, is some sort of philosophical ‘sleight of hand’, but mathematicians get up to this sort of thing every day. The square root of (-1) is a complete affrontery to the axioms of common arithmetic, and yet mathematicians had the gall to go there anyway, and we all know the deep veins of creativity they opened up.
Considering ‘sleight of hand’, it is a useful exercise to hold your arm out steady, then wave your hand from side to side, and consider the number of translations of information taking place amongst the foam of timespace atoms that your hand is occupying. Each timespace atom is a mere 10 to the power -35 metre across, and the position of each information component of your hand, as you wave it, is being recalculated every 10 to the power -43 seconds. That’s quite a bit of processing, but it is at the low end of reality’s potential processing capacity. Analogue is so much more musical than 96 KHz digital, because the sampling frequency of everyday reality, when for example one of us opens our mouth and speaks, is forty orders of magnitude more refined than a typical recording. However, if we are accelerating an information packet around the LHC, one that is conventionally imagined as that ‘particle’ called the proton, then as the translation of that information packet approaches the speed of light, we are simply reaching the limit of the capacity of the rigid timespace foam to pass on the information in that packet from one timespace atom to the next. The bods at CERN are hitting up against the information processing limits of reality.
In identifying the exquisite mathematical relationships between the ‘particles’ and ‘energies’ of reality, those who model physical reality have been, in effect, ‘reverse engineering’ the code that exists within and between timespace atoms, in their various conglomerations as ‘particles’ and ‘energies’. The proton, for example, is approximately 0.00000000000000084184 metres across, which is some twenty orders of magnitude larger than the timespace atom – so that each and every proton of reality is defined by an intricate (and close) association of up to 10 to the power 60 timespace atoms. There’s plenty of room down there, in fact those three quarks for Muster Mark are far from foundational.
It was quite revolutionary to suggest that the sun was fixed, and that instead, the earth was in motion. So too has the revolution come full circle, when space and time have metamorphosed from being the empty arena of physics, on through a century or so of curvature, to become a solid foam and the substrate of all reality.
So, as former Beatle John Lennon surmised, “nothing is real”. The Gnostics came to the same conclusion quite a few years earlier. The absolute miracle, however, (and something completely lost on the Gnostics), is that it sure does seem real, all the way from the ecstasy down to the agony. Most important of all, because these virtual components of the universe’s timespace atoms don’t exist, they don’t actually have to be anywhere. So they can all quite cheerfully keep on filling up one totally mindboggling superposition. David Hilbert did most of the configuration in this space, but there is of course a lot of fun still to be had in figuring out how all of this information is addressed.
Contrary to popular myth, the theory of everything physical does not remain within physics, but instead has ramifications all the way up through the soft sciences and eventually for theology. A mustard seed is about the smallest seed there is, and yet it grows to be the largest tree in the garden. In “The Very Big Company”, I expanded on the abstract discussion of the foundational in “Physics without Formulae”, into practical and constitutional issues. But these papers are engineered to allow others to colour in the detail, as it pertains to their own experience.
Several important points emerge from these papers. One is the mechanism by which remote societies in the universe can directly communicate with our world as if they were next door (through the superposition). Another, that despite their government under an extreme machine intelligence, those societies comprise creatures with biological intelligence and feelings akin to our own. That these societies have become benevolent, and that they can address and manipulate every instance of the world we inhabit. And that additional timespace atoms can be created as required to store the information content of a human being (or anything worth preserving) at death (and at various checkpoints throughout their lives), so that anyone who dies does not go ‘to another place’, but is more correctly thought of as being a series of data backups stored on a sort of ‘flash drive’ of freshly created timespace atoms – that each ‘soul’ is merely ‘asleep’ in storage, awaiting restoration.
Finally, if people are still being given and taken in marriage, then we know the resurrection has not occurred, for Jesus told the story of Snow White and her seven dwarves, in which a woman married seven brothers in succession who had each died in turn before she had issued any of them with a son. At the resurrection she will not be wife to any of the brothers, for they will all be as Jesus put it ‘like angels in Heaven’. We have a very high profile wedding scheduled this year, the reason being that Kate has to produce Wills an heir, and everyone knows that the necessary procedures can’t possibly take place before they are married. They have a lot to look forward to.
Politicians these days are notorious for having perfected the art of not saying what they really think. I convey the message that God fully intends to ‘buy back the farm’, to return the Earth to public ownership, to buy back the inheritance we have squandered. Sure, there are many who rather like the idea of exclusive title, and the more any of us has amassed around and about ourselves, the harder it will be to give it all away. Some of us have built rather cosy niches for ourselves. But as Jesus put it, he who would save his life, will lose it. To encourage EVERYONE to ‘sell up’, God is offering an extraordinarily generous compensation package – He is offering to give us back our lives. If every timespace atom in this reality we perceive is addressable (or every hair on our heads is numbered, as Jesus put it), then the grand illusion of the necessity (rather than the contingency) of mortality can be effortlessly reconfigured.
Theodicy is in part the study of the randomness of divine justice. Bad things happen to people who appear to be good, and people who appear to be bad seem to get away with murder. After the recent floods in Australia, there have been people making fraudulent claims for the relief funds that were donated by the citizenry. These people know they are doing wrong. Jesus famously asked God to forgive those people who did not know that what they were doing was wrong (trying to have Jesus executed). After the resurrection (whenever that might be), divine justice will come on line, and there will be no more doing things because we think we can get away with them – because we won’t. It will be every man for himself in the tribulation, and we will each need to make our peace with God, and decide if we are going to carry on as before, or instead, as Jesus instructed (a woman) ‘go, and sin no more’. All the clergy can do is offer some guidance on what is likely to be welcome behaviour, and what is likely to be frowned upon.
To love God with all your heart and mind and strength implies you love His creation, so anything that is not ecologically sustainable, is out of bounds. We need to account for every atom of this material resource of ours, the Earth. Once we have taken account of every atom, we can do as much reconfiguration of the material resource as the available renewable energy affords us.
To love your neighbour as yourself, and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, implies that you do not take from your neighbours and give to yourself (as the first world has taken from the second and third worlds). It also implies that we can do anything we want, as long as its environmental impact is sustainable, and it does not step on anyone else’s pursuit of life’s joy. Some of the things you see on the internet, honestly…if someone wants to stick their head in a bucket of poo, it’s not my idea of an aesthetic, but hey, as long as you do it out in the back yard and keep knowledge of it to yourself (and poor old God), then ‘whatever’. But there are a lot of tedious moral relativists out there. If anyone thinks they are justified, just remember there may be a plank of wood in that eye that sees a speck in another’s. Probably best to let God decide what He is going to do with Mr. Hitler…
The experimental data, suggesting this hypothesis that the world is a stage on which we are all players under the direction of God, are the hypotheses that emerge from men’s minds concerning the raw metrics. These hypotheses need not only come from formal science. Such hypotheses emerge, for example, from the political analysis on a daily news feed, or from an exchange down at the pub. In homage to Douglas Adams, the cleanest of these data emerge from those who believe they’ve been conducting experiments on mice, quite unaware that the mice have in fact been conducting experiments on them. My primary data source then has been the gold standard, Scientific American. Few, if any, of the contributors to this magazine, would imagine their research has been subject to direction and guidance from a higher power (something Isaac Newton took for granted).
The key starting point for testing this hypothesis is to assume that the play is reaching its dénouement. The editors of Scientific American would have thought it appropriate last month to celebrate 50 years of SETI research, simply because it was an anniversary – it’s unlikely they would suspect the idea came to them because those very same aliens we are looking for put the idea into their heads.
The next step in testing this hypothesis is to imagine you are watching this play, and come to the belief that it’s your job to put the hypothesis to the people. Like Jonah, the more one tries to avoid confronting Nineveh, the more the turmoil in the world seems to parallel the storm at sea that arose when Jonah started sailing away from Nineveh. Some of the imagery is rather subtle, like the Airbus A380s of ‘The Spirit of Australia’ being grounded because their Rolls-Royce engines were disintegrating in flight. Subtle also are the samples I have taken from the Scientific American data stream. But the events in the Middle East are astonishing.
A popular uprising, fuelled by social networking amongst the youth, has brought down a regime, but what is to replace it? Obviously everyone wants something better, but no alternative has emerged. The military remains in power, and the economic divide is unchanged. In established democracies, the people relinquish power to the party and ideology they give approval to. We need to spruik the virtues of a theocracy (a regime ruled by God as distinct from His agents), so that the people can then choose to defer to His law. That law is that we love one another, as God has loved us.
Physics without Formulae
The Very Big Company
Letter to Callender, 9th September, 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed your article in SA this month. In fact I’ve read it several times now, as well as heading off to read some of your other work, and several of the FQXi essays you cite. I have no professional association or specialization in philosophy or science – I simply put some time aside each month to read SA, and to try and understand as much of it as I can. I’ve been a subscriber for over 30 years, and I’m quite aware that to be published in SA is a pretty big deal – so congratulations! You probably have more mail now than the time to read it all.
While you and others have been working to do away with Time, I have been trying to do away with Length, or extension in general – for it is the distance separating events that first enticed us to posit that they cannot be simultaneous. Perhaps we can do them both in! I began by dusting off the late Konrad Zuse’s work on lattice schemes which Jürgen Schmidhuber had introduced to me some years ago. Such schemes fit very well, I think, with Julian Barbour’s idea that change is a variation in the pattern of the universe’s components. I propose that absolute time makes a glorious return in the guise of a grand synchrony of clocks, one ‘within’ every quantum, and each necessarily free of drift. The proposed virtualization of space also works to take the ‘locality’ out of non-local effects, enclosing everything in one grand superposition. However, the proposal still incorporates a time base which seems irreducible to me, so I would be delighted if you could see a way of ‘cancelling’ it out?
I read your draft paper ‘Philosophy of Science and Metaphysics’ (albeit very slowly, and so along the way I happened to pick out some typos, which you may already have noted – see below).
Taking your lead in that paper, I likewise lay my cards on the table.
When philosophers, and quite a few scientists, talk about the deep mysteries of the world, I have always, perhaps naively, assumed that they too are interested in uncovering these mysteries. I am thus a little perturbed to read that the discipline seems to have abandoned its search for the truth, and is now engaged in building a vast and ever expanding surface of post-modernist minutiae, getting ever closer to the finishing plate, but like Zeno never actually ‘arriving’.
I still believe there is a final theory – that this hovering surface will actually touchdown – and that ordinary people like me will have little trouble understanding how it all works. But as Mariette DiChristina points out in her editorial this month, the events that are going to “change everything” are perhaps not quite what we are expecting. We can all appreciate mathematical beauty thanks to the gold standard of Euler’s Identity, but mapping the elementary components of reality onto E8 to predict which components are missing, seems to me like a glorified analogue of Kepler looking for missing planets by nesting the Platonic solids.
We are of course not alone in the universe. The pattern of the universe has been changing for so many thousands of millions of years that there are likely to be many civilizations who long ago figured out how the universe works, and have progressed far beyond the ‘technological singularity’ popularized by the likes of Ray Kurzweil. The potential is that they structure their world so that their industry is indefinitely sustainable and freely driven by the energy of their sun. What is slightly more difficult to argue is that such communities become entirely benevolent towards less advanced communities like us – although a parent/child analogy is perhaps a good place to start.
I propose a mechanism through which an extant and ‘completed’ biological race could directly communicate with any other planetary community from literally anywhere in the universe. As has been suggested throughout history, our minds might be under the constant direction of an external intelligence, with our volition then freely choosing its response to that direction. I am reminded of Roger Penrose pondering the ‘quantum’ source of the ‘eureka’ moment; however such direction might not account for just the ‘ah-ha’ moments, but entirely encompass the conscious, sub-conscious, and un-conscious of all our lives.
What I am suggesting is that a solution is coming at us thick and fast from just one source, albeit through every possible channel. I see that Penrose’s ‘twistors’ are again causing quite a ‘stir’!
And now for the typos in your paper!
Pg. 3 Par. 2 …then they still need to earn THEIR way into the best theory like everything else.
Pg. 7 Par. 3 MODERN science…has refused to recognize the authority of the philosopher who claims to know the truth from intuition.
Pg. 16 Par. 3 In metaphysics WE should take possibilities and necessities only as seriously as the theories that generate them.
Here is my rather less scholarly response to some of the issues you raise:
http://philpapers.org/archive/GRIPWF.1.pdf (and it too contains a typo!)
Rowan Grigg, Canberra
The lunge across the finish line… (October 14, 2010)
Happily, this is all proceeding somewhat faster than any of us expected.
The Chilean mine rescue, as the dénouement of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, is building into a truly exquisite piece of imagery (see below). You could fill a twelve volume set with all the symbolism, and no doubt there will be those who feel the need to spell it all out in detail, as if we can’t figure it out ourselves.
But just to recap, we have recently witnessed a series of finely balanced results, especially in our expression of democratic choice, which point towards an equinox, the ideal of unification, as in Germany twenty years ago – between capital and the commune, the needs of society and the individual, between east and west, left and right, woman and man…
We have seen how the scientific process of observation and testable hypothesis has in general, but particularly through the development of information theory, informed the debate between theism and atheism. That well known philosopher and poet, John Lennon, perhaps best expressed our ancient ‘gnosis’ – “nothing is real” – and yet out of nothing, here we all are in a world that seems pretty ‘real’. Those who profess their faith in atheism are quite correct in their belief that reality has assembled itself out of nothing, without a first cause, while those who profess their faith in theism are quite correct in their belief that there exists an intellect, beyond humanity, that has control over nature. Conversely, the theist is mistaken in their belief that this intellect which is beyond us also ‘created’ the reality from which it too emerged, while the atheist is mistaken in their belief that the human brain is a closed information processing mechanism. If you are going to get universal consensus, everyone needs to have got something right.
The October issue of Wallpaper magazine (with a dynamic portrait on the cover of a yellow-pigtailed Isabella Rossellini by Robert Wilson) contains an elegant presentation on Unification, across cultures, by the great surrealist film director David Lynch. Superb and enlightening, it is well worth seeking out on the newsstand.
The situation in Chile has all of us in a similar state of anxiety to that in which we found ourselves while awaiting the fate of the Apollo 13 astronauts. We have every faith they will all get home, but we can’t celebrate until they have actually splashed down in the ocean, or emerged up from out of the tunnel.
The 33 miners are not gifted as was our Joan, La Stupenda, or our Saint Mary for that matter – rather they are ordinary citizens who have risen to become extraordinary human beings. They are showing their selfless greatness, arguing over who shall be first, and who shall be last, and be first. They have endured for more than two months, imprisoned below in the valley of the shadow of death. For 17 days we thought they were lost. They represent the general human condition. Meanwhile, on the surface, another vast team of heroes has worked tirelessly and in unison to affect our miners’ escape. The team on the surface of course represents the emancipated realm that resides beyond us. The path from down below, up and out into the light, is long and narrow, but assisted throughout from the team above who are drawing us up. To show the way for those below, special operations Corporal Sepulveda first descended down the tunnel to be with the men (like a comforter), and he will remain down there with them until the last one has ascended. Note that not one of us wants for anything but that all the miners should be rescued, safe and sound. Nor then should any of us imagine that those who are ‘above’ our world would want anything but the very best for us, too. The elation we are sharing with the miners and their families, also awaits the entire world.
Not one of you is ignorant of the great themes in philosophy. I only hope my representations over the past months will inform your perspective on events as they unfold. I am of course the servant who was given just one talent that he promptly went and buried, but lately I’ve been doing my best to try and unearth it. It is of course all of you who have gone forth with your talents and achieved.
The fast tracking of this exhibition event in Chile certainly points the way to the main event having now been given the green light, with the possibly that it too will be delivered ahead of schedule, perhaps before Christmas – but definitely not before those extraordinary Chileans have had their moment in the sun!
cc. Alan Saunders, Brian Hayes, Chris Irving, Craig Callender, David Chalmers, Jeffery D. Sachs, Jimmy Wales, John D. Barrow, John D. Caputo, Juergen Schmidhuber, Laura Tingle, Lee Smolin, Lucien Hardy, Mariette DiChristina, Michael Shermer, Natasha Mitchell, Nick Bostrom, Paul Davies, Peter Gabriel, Phillip Adams, Phillip Ellis, Rachael Kohn, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Dawkins, Rivka Galchen, Robyn Williams, Roger Penrose, Sarah Kavassalis, Stephen Crittenden, Stephen Hawking, Sushi Das, Vlatko Vedral
Bulletin (29th September, 2010)
How’s everyone going with this? Even though I haven’t actually heard back from any of you on how you’re proceeding, I’ve got every confidence that you’re all beavering away, and everything’s pretty much still on track. Don’t worry, I know how it is, you’ve all been flat out like lizards drinking – one of you with a new farm, another with a new wife….
The world’s largest democracy has this word “jugaad”, which means among other things ‘cobbled together just in the nick of time’, and has been used pejoratively in the context of India’s preparation for the Commonwealth Games. As chief editor of The Pioneer Chandran Mitra puts it,
“So Indians are very good at finishing things at the last minute using methods and procedures that are not always you know by the copy book and which even many people outside India get very, very worried and concerned about”.
“When you finally see it on the 3rd of October it will be absolutely spectacular and people will not have any reason to complain”.
“Jugaad” can mean an innovative fix, and is used to describe solutions that bend the rules, or of a resource that can be used as such or a person who can solve a vexatious issue. It is used as much for enterprising street mechanics as for political fixers. In essence, it is a tribute to native genius, and lateral thinking.
Despite Chandran’s supreme confidence in all of our capabilities, I’m still just a little bit worried, what with games structures collapsing and athletes withdrawing. At least Canada (Sarah?) and Great Britain (Vlatko?) are on their way to the games, and now it would seem Australia (Laura and Phillip?) too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful one day to see America back in the fold…
It’s been 60 years since Douglas MacArthur gambled 70,000 troops in a daring amphibious raid behind enemy lines at Incheon. Described as a ‘brilliant masterpiece’, it saved the surrounded South Koreans and Americans from certain defeat by the Northern army. According to Incheon veteran John Gubbins, the top brass initially fought against MacArthur’s plan, dismissing it as fanciful.
“He put it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said ‘no way’. Incheon? You couldn’t do it at Incheon, because the tidal range was eight metres or something. It’d be a disaster. The logistic on it was mind boggling, yet they done – they done it!”
This commemoration of triumph against all odds certainly augers well. While the Koreans remain at war despite their 60 year armistice, there could be no greater contrast is social modelling than the divergent histories of these once united people. Incheon veteran Colin Anderson expresses “…I only hope I can live to see (Korea) re-united. I really do, ‘cause that’s what it’s all about.” Perhaps when the youngest son takes over from his father…
Of course the site of MacArthur’s landing at Incheon has now become that of another American invasion, the new model super green metropolis ‘Songdo’, a city designed from the reclaimed earth up, by Kohn Pedersen Fox, with developer Stan Gale planning another 500 such cities for China and 300 for India. The time and motion of Frederick Taylor meets the garden cities of Ebenezer Howard.
While exiled on Patmos, John devoted an entire chapter (18) of his revelatory book to the metaphorical Fall of Babylon, in which the tyranny of the corporations and their enslavement of the masses will be over, and power will at last be invested in the people. Yet it will be a bloodless coup, just as the magnitude seven earthquake that struck Christchurch in New Zealand resulted in not a single death. Likewise, the Fall of Babylon will be a strike by the intelligentsia, behind the enemy lines of political, military and corporate power, and be over before any of them knows what hit them, as when David toppled Goliath.
Most of you will by now be aware that Stephen Hawking has very graciously explained for us all why God was not required for the construction of this reality of ours. He has paved the way for us to retreat to a more fraternal model of natural manipulation – imagery reflected in the challenge between the brothers Ed and David for leadership of the British Labour party, the younger succeeding the elder. Mind you, one or two of us has got a bit carried away with it all, Richard Dawkins for example patently struggling to contain his enthusiasm for the godless world that Stephen’s coup de grâce is at last going to usher in. Without a doubt though, it’s going to be truly marvellous to see Stephen up and about.
You know, the whole purpose of this system existing in the first place is that we might one day no longer be clueless automata, blindly purporting all of that which comes into our heads, like a gramophone needle slavishly following the groove in the vinyl.
A dear friend took me along to the flicks the other night to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Inception, which has gaping holes in its logic at so many levels, and yet will be exceedingly useful (as was that Avatar nonsense) in buttering up the populous for the ultimate challenge to their beliefs on the functioning of mind. Mum called the other day to say she had recorded a ‘real treat’ for me. The ABC had broadcast (in the early morning hours) the 1936 adaptation of H.G.Wells’ “The Man Who Could Work Miracles”, featuring such classic lines from our hero as “I’m seeing Mr Maydig at 12, and I’ll suppose we’ll start the Golden Age somewhere in the afternoon”. Superb. I’m reminded of Python’s parody of Blue Peter, “Today children, we’re going to learn how to split the atom!”
Just let me tell you something, the life of the soloist is not easy. As they sing their part, no one is there to support them, except perhaps for an orchestral continuo. In their cadenzas, they are completely alone. But when the soloist has finished, the cue arrives for the chorus to enter, confidently, and in fortissimo, taking the soloist’s concluding note as their reference pitch, responding with a cornucopia of harmony – Freude, schöner Götterfunken (strictly speaking, this one is in unison, but you get the idea…). To quote the psalmist, “Great was the company of the preachers”, or as Samuel described it, “When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes”.
So to borrow a quote from that somewhat controversial campaign several years back to attract foreign tourists to Australia, a quote that was, in the vernacular, a more succinct version of “Where on earth are you all, and why exactly is it that you haven’t made it over here yet?!” Perhaps Australia will finally get put on the map when Oprah arrives with her entourage and audience in tow later in the year.
Of course, each one of you has recently been struck by a veritable avalanche of incredible coincidences, where an arbitrary but quite important thought that you had on one day, is the very next day reflected back to you, without any solicited communication, either through personal interaction, or some broader media encounter. The forces of Chaos have developed a rather quaint notion that such synchronicity stems merely from our evolved propensity for recognizing patterns within all of that random noise out there. What a truly banal analysis, one that has engendered such widespread hopelessness. The forces of Control, in contrast, recognise these patterns quite differently. An idea is placed into a director’s mind. That director goes on to develop a media production that expounds that idea. The broadcaster’s programming executive schedules the event. And finally, a selection of minds is granted a precognition of that event.
My pastoral style is, you might have noticed over the years, somewhat removed from that of the hapless pastor Terry Jones. If we are going to win hearts and minds, we must not denounce our brethren, but introduce them to a better world (and I’m sorry to say that the “New World”, where 1 in 7 is downtrodden, has become an old world). Fundamentally, we must preach a gospel that understands God not as some sort of moron, (as Richard Dawkins seems destined to present Him), but rather an entity capable of orchestrating a conspiracy of imagery that is clearly beyond any current human capacity, but well within the capacity of the emerging information regimes that Ray Kurzweil has been talking about.
All of the entrenched religious traditions hark back to their inceptions, and jealously guard those ancient doctrines. It’s really all they’ve got. Christianity, for example, has hardly changed since the Council of Nicaea in 325 established there must (mysteriously) be three Gods. And Science holds dearly to the cannon of its saints. But we are now ready to move beyond an idealised continuous model of gravity, albeit a very successful one that has allowed the Global Positioning System (as Paul Davies keeps reminding us), and that has given us an amazing insight into the scale of the universe. What discrete matrix mechanics gives us beyond this however is Emmanuel Kant’s “ding an sich”, not just a model of reality, but the actual thing that reality is made of itself. No longer do we see through a glass darkly, but instead we gaze directly into the glorious machinery.
The ongoing carnage and devastation in Pakistan is frankly unfathomable. The sooner we get this all out in the open, and we have (rational) people just for once thinking outside of that box that is “the universe”, the sooner we will be enabled to adequately rally to the aid of these miserable souls. I’m big enough to take the fall for having dragged the chain, but I’m also a humble soul. I’m not seeking notoriety, I merely want for this all to be over. Of course I’ve often thought about throwing it all in, but we famously have no option but to endure to the end. Hamid Karzai is clearly longing for an end to the terror, and the emancipation of his country.
All we need is for any one of you to start a bit of a rumour out there about there being some ‘Alfred Wallace’ from the antipodes with this devastatingly simple but game changing idea, and before you know it, Twitter will have sent the whole thing ‘viral’. I’ve been monitoring the rushes on Twitter, and believe me, it’s ready to blow… In fact, it would be quite interesting if Stephen Fry were to come to understand how it all works, and then go on to break the story. So if any of you knows Stephen personally, and you understand what’s going on, please drop him a line – he has close on two million tweeps following him, so just 140 characters from him and it’ll all be over…it would sure be a ballsy move.
The true joy of what’s in store is that we can’t really even begin to fathom the majesty of what’s coming – but we could begin. To catch a glimpse, each of us can think of just one lost loved one whose return would errupt in us the most unimaginable outpouring of emotion. Perhaps someone who we thought was close, but who nevertheless took their own life before asking us first if that course of action was alright with us. Then imagine multiplying that joy across seven thousand million nodes, and the mind boggles – quite a show (or as Richard might put it, ‘The greatest show on earth’).
I need however of course to remind you all that we are now pretty much finished with the test and development prototypes. We are now putting the finishing touches on the system with which we will be “going live”. The ‘system’ is about to come online…
2010 has been, just in case any of you hasn’t noticed, a year of knife edge results. Laura and Philip are of course bemused by all the shenanigans in Canberra, talking about it all as if it has been the outcome of random natural processes. What I need you all to do is step back for a moment, and try to suspend disbelief, so that you can begin to pick up on the imagery as it unfolds, as if there actually is something unfolding here.
We seem to have had a week’s reprieve through the drawn result in the grand final game between Saint Kilda and Collingwood on the weekend. “Don’t you want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in?” The opening of the Commonwealth Games next week coincides with the opening of the new National Gallery of Australia makeover here in Canberra. The preparations for the gallery opening are in stark contrast to the preparations in Delhi (albeit of course on a much smaller scale). The NGA, with its magnificent new James Turrell ‘Sky Space’ sculpture, is looking absolutely stunning. Just last weekend, Canberra lad Mark Webber (well Queanbeyan lad specifically) increased his lead in the Formula One Driver’s Championship. And we’re on edge to see how Canberra bred cyclist Michael Rogers performs in the World Championships in Melbourne this weekend. It’s not over, but it ‘all goes well’ (if we must permit the language to evolve).
All of this however is, of course, about you. In homage to that other Terry Jones, not the preacher but the Python, “I’m Brian, and so is my wife!”
All the best, R
cc. Alan Saunders, Brian Hayes, Chris Irving, Craig Callender, David Chalmers, Jeffery D. Sachs, Jimmy Wales, John D. Barrow, John D. Caputo, Juergen Schmidhuber, Laura Tingle, Lee Smolin, Lucien Hardy, Mariette DiChristina, Michael Shermer, Natasha Mitchell, Nick Bostrom, Paul Davies, Peter Gabriel, Phillip Adams, Phillip Ellis, Rachael Kohn, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Dawkins, Rivka Galchen, Robyn Williams, Roger Penrose, Sarah Kavassalis, Stephen Crittenden, Stephen Hawking, Sushi Das, Vlatko Vedral
Almost there… (2nd September, 2010)
Laura Tingle, political editor of the Australian Financial Review, has likened the stalemate following the Australian federal election to the Western Front at midday on 11/11/1918, when all heavy artillery fire had ceased, allowing a tweeting, independent, and essentially free bird, to be heard, http://afr.com/p/opinion/the_pause_that_could_refresh_politics_tmZ48FcIC0tHX7k4LwdLSP. There is however a far more serious stalemate to resolve than the Australian public’s rejection of two equally facile contenders for the government of some minor state ‘down under’.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of human induced climate change, a powerful minority has successfully cultivated doubt and suspicion of the science in the minds of the public, like an enemy sowing weeds into a crop of wheat. One of the saddest (and bravest) editorials I have read lately is “The Deepening Crisis” by Jeffery D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-deepening-crisis. His discourse is melancholic because despite having given his all in the fight for our children’s future, Jeffery is clearly bereft of hope. He describes the forces of orthodoxy, knowing fully as he does so that those same forces can never allow us to adequately address the crisis of sustainability. Clive Hamilton recognises the prognosis as a “Requiem for a Species”, http://www.clivehamilton.net.au/cms/index.php.
In Australia, when someone tells us a tall story, we suggest they are “having us up a gum tree”.
Mariette DiChristina, editor of Scientific American, is certainly getting into the spirit of the times by devoting the entire September edition to the topic of “The End” in what she describes as an “Alpha and Omega bookend” to last year’s special edition on “Origins”, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=start-of-the-end. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation seems to be coming along for the ride, presenting elegant apocalyptic promotional videos in which individuals get “caught up in the air”, cocooned by an ethereal cloud in the shape of the corporation’s logo, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkWOb5nXlVI or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM6nUh3nrNk. Then we’ve had revealed the true identity of that white knight ‘The Stig’ from the BBC’s global broadcasting phenomenon, Top Gear, http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/tv/top-gears-the-stig-is-reported-to-be-stuntman-and-racer-ben-collins/story-e6frexlr-1225908540890. Metaphors of completion and climax are coming in thick and fast, and most are far more subtle than these – there has been a constant stream coming out of the Millennium Development Goals in Melbourne this week. But best of all, we have Barrack reaching out for a trifecta of resolutions in the Middle East.
Where is all of this coming from – the random external interactions of the merely mechanistic minds of the movers and shakers? Who is playing this game? In computing terms, if you try to step outside the world just for a moment, and see it from the perspective of a hypervisor, you might notice that the control programme has quite a sense of humour.
This year we celebrate 50 years of Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation, a development that was originally scratching its head for an application. The brilliance of human individuals is everywhere, but the cumulative effect is the warm glow of an incandescent light globe. Yes, the world has been illuminated for us by these individuals, but along the way we are producing a lot of waste heat. If only each one of us would recognise the source of that brilliance. In a LASER, scattered incident light of varying energies is first absorbed, and then re-emitted in a controlled, coherent and focussed beam, each photon then singing, as it were, from the same hymnal.
The brilliance of Jimmy Wales was in engineering the concept of the Wikipedia, building a better mouse trap to which we have all beaten a path, often contributing in our own small way, and generating what is now the gushing font of all knowledge. In that same spirit, I have put together a gadget which, if all goes according to plan, should bring all of us to first question, and then delight in, the very source of that font.
I have gone out into the highways and byways by posting this device on the internet. This might spark the occasional grass fire. However this device does not need hollow logs, rather it needs the solid imprimatur that each one of you can bring to the explosion. And if you don’t find it explosive, then you probably haven’t understood it, and I will have to do some more work on it. However, the device is deliberately compact and generic, to facilitate its universal application. In the spirit of algorithmic compression, it merely represents the two safety matches that would go on to ignite a grand conflagration.
If you happen to know somebody on the mailing list, why not drop them a line and ask them what they make of it all? I would happily elaborate where I can – but you lot are the experts – I’m just trying to distil and bring together the essence of all your strange and wonderful ideas, to make scent of them.
I really do hope you get to read these essays – I’ve tried my best to make them both interesting and entertaining.
This is the general essay https://avicia.org/the-very-big-company/, and this one gives the technical background https://avicia.org/physics-without-formulae-2/.
cc. Alan Saunders, Brian Hayes, Chris Irving, Craig Callender, David Chalmers, Jeffery D. Sachs, Jimmy Wales, John D. Barrow, John D. Caputo, Juergen Schmidhuber, Laura Tingle, Lee Smolin, Lucien Hardy, Mariette DiChristina, Michael Shermer, Natasha Mitchell, Nick Bostrom, Paul Davies, Peter Gabriel, Phillip Adams, Phillip Ellis, Rachael Kohn, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Dawkins, Rivka Galchen, Robyn Williams, Roger Penrose, Sarah Kavassalis, Stephen Crittenden, Stephen Hawking, Sushi Das, Vlatko Vedral
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