A Physics That Sees Beyond Naive Realism

Everything changes. This is the core truth of fields of study as diverse as physics and Buddhism. If you observe the contents of your experience, you will realize that everything changes. Arguably, the only thing that does not change is the fact of awareness itself from the perspective of the awareness.

Humans have a tendency to classify things into boxes. They will identify a phenomenon and then place that phenomenon in a container. They lasso in a phenomenon from the realm of reality outside of their skulls by using words. They will say “aging,” upon having seen sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), forgetfulness, completion of a certain amount of revolutions around the sun, etc. They will then place this word in a box that describes what kind of change occurred. In the case of aging, they might place it in the box titled, “biological.”

If they identify sugar dissolving in tea, they will place the phrase in the “chemical” change container. If they are dealing with the term “running,” they might place it the “physical” change container.

However, we must remember that just because some population of modern humans chooses to view the world this way doesn’t mean that reality is actually being carved at the joints in an optimal or faithful way. Reality isn’t divided into factors: reality 1 = physical, reality 2 = chemical, reality 3 = biological.

When we study change, we study a monistic whole that only seems to us as composed of fundamentally separate constituents and rules because of quirks in the functioning of our evolved brains. It is useful from the gene’s-eye-view to model reality as composed of objects that go in boxes.

To study the One, the Real, the monist whole, we can take two main approaches. One is to describe motion through the use of measurement so that we may analyze it mathematically. Upon mathematical analysis, we can suggest and repeatedly confirm to ourselves the laws of nature that predict the motion.

The other approach is to directly apprehend the change by attuning to it, without conceptual deliberation. This is known as mindfulness meditation. While mindfulness meditation will not yield predictive insights that can be harnessed to develop new technologies or insight into the mathematical structure of nature, it is argued to be beneficial in its own right by its proponents.

Here, I will mostly deal with the physics approach of measurement and mathematics. The reason for this is that the study of change through mindfulness meditation is a performance that must be engaged in by the subject. Reading thoughts about focused, direct perceptual analysis doesn’t actually build the said focus. On the other hand, more benefit can be gleamed from writing about something that does need to be held still and digested with thought and pause such as the geometry of reality.

However, unlike much physics dialogue which implicitly assumes or leniently tolerates a naive realist view (the view that we are ontologically subjects behind our eyes interacting with an external world), I will here make it repeatedly clear that all experience is happening within a brain’s simulation. Everything from the toes, to other people, to imaginations, to mood, to sounds, is all happening in the same place. These collectively compose the sensorium, or the field of consciousness. This doesn’t necessarily imply that consciousness is extra-physical or that the world outside must be an illusion. However, it does imply that we are inside our brains, the external world we believe to see and touch and feel and measure, is only inferred about through the simulation of it we get from inside the brain.

A famous allegory for this is Plato’s cave, in which people could only see the flickering shadows of the outside world as cast by a flame against the wall. They never saw the real world outside the cave, only an approximate simulation containing darkened figures.

When we look down at our body and feel ourselves to be in it, this is actually a multi-sensorial homunculus model inside the real brain in the real body which we can never see. When we touch each other, we are still inside our brains – one simulation pinching another. When we think of anything, say, think of a lamb, the lamb is appearing in the same place where we are seeing sights of “real” objects.

Knowing this allows us to be less biased about which objects in consciousness are following physical laws that can be measured. Most assume that a sphere rolling along a plane can be analyzed mathematically but that the ephemeral blips of energy we call thoughts cannot be analyzed in any precise way. This confusion leads to real-world negative consequences, such as the idea that positive experience and suffering are not really measurable scientifically but electrons and z-bosons are.

Notice that the confusion is not merely about the technical difficulty of quantifying and discovering laws about the valences of experience, but sometimes a genuine disbelief that anything at all exists which can be considered physical in this domain which often includes things like affect, aesthetic, hedonic tone, taste, vibrancy, speed of experience, thoughts, level of awareness.

Concepts that physicists are widely comfortable with include force and acceleration. These are used to explain and explore a wide range of problems, with the range ending at the boundary of what is judged to be internal by naive realism. But as we will see, in the same way that we can discover useful handles f and a for the classical world problems, we can also discover useful handles for problems dealing with the motion of thoughts or the pressures and tingling sensations that arise and diffuse as we sit in a chair.

Reality must be simplified because its workings are extremely complicated. If we were to toss a ball and predict its trajectory, the more minute details we know, the better the prediction we can make. However, physicists tend to use a simple models that ignore most details but are nonetheless useful.

They also do not often invoke other models that could be predictive such as those used by biochemists. Translating the action of a tossed ball from reality to the context of biochemical models and tools would be too difficult for any one human. But treating the ball as a round solid and our hand as another solid that exerts a force on the ball is far easier to do.

Just like we can make a simplified model of a ball as a round solid, we can make a simplified model of a sensation as a quale with properties such as hedonic tone, speed of vanishing, and subjective temperature. By reducing the complexity of the actual sensation, we can better analyze and come to understand something about it.

Building models is a major part of the strategy that we will develop for solving problems in the uncharted territories of reality. There will necessarily be simplifying assumptions, but they will be recognized and explained. Learning how to simplify a situation is the essence of successful modeling – and is the method to increase our problem-solving capabilities.

Take a look at this picture:

Here are some obvious properties that can be assigned non-ambiguous, numerical values. The direction of its motion. The distance between one position and the next.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12.58.33 PM

Can you do the same with a sensation in your hand?

Hold your hand out in front of you. Identify the most notable sensation. In your palm, in one of your fingers, in the back of your hand, wherever. Is it moving? If we pay close attention we can measure how far it moves, its radius, or how long it takes to reappear.

We can also set a timer to go off every 10 seconds and record the the hedonic tone of the sensation. Is that particular location of feeling more pleasurable than in the snapshot that occurred 10 seconds previously?

Now we have a graph to plot. This is a localized valence vs. time graph.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12.23.28 PM

As we can see, for most people, a region of experience tends to remain pretty neutral and doesn’t change much.

But perhaps someone has arthritis or a cut. When attention is brought to a negative quale, the negativity tends to be reduced, as in the following graph:

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12.26.15 PM

It is also possible to construct a non-local valence vs. time graph which records the feeling tone of the general experiential field.

If I Was Running the Simulation

def print_all_pleasures(multiverse):

while True:

positivevalencecomputation, endofpvc = get_next_target(multiverse)

 if positivevalencecomputation:

                       print  positivevalencecomputation

                       multiverse = multiverse[endofpvc:]

               else:

                       break

 

print_all_pleasures(‘Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 9.41.49 AM‘)

Do Glasses Ruin Your Eyesight?

Transcript from SciShow

You may have heard that wearing glasses will ruin your eyesight. Over time, the thinking goes, the eye muscles that stretch the lens of your eye aren’t worked out as much. So they get weaker, and you keep needing stronger and stronger prescriptions to see clearly. But the idea that glasses hurt your vision is a myth. Because… that’s not really how glasses work.

Most vision problems occur because the eyeball is either too long or too short, causing the cornea and lens to bend, or refract, light either too far in front of or behind the retina, giving you blurry vision. If your eyeball is too long, and light is focused in front of the retina, you’re nearsighted, or myopic, and you can see things up close but struggle with things in the distance. If it’s too short, and light is focused behind the retina, you’re farsighted, and you can read that sign halfway down the street, but have trouble reading what’s right in front of you.

Your eye muscles can bend the lens more or less to try and focus light onto the right place. But those muscles can only contract or relax so much to accommodate squat or oblong eyes. So, weak eye muscles aren’t why you have bad eyesight. If that were the case, we’d all be doing eye exercises to cure our poor vision.

Glasses simply do what properly shaped eyeballs do, which is to make it possible to focus the light that’s coming into your eye directly onto the retina, allowing you to see crisp images. The only effect they may have on your eye muscles is reducing excessive strain on them.

There was a time, though, when doctors thought eyeglasses could do more. For decades, optometrists purposely prescribed glasses for nearsighted kids that didn’t fully correct their vision, because they thought it would keep their eyesight from getting worse. That’s because, in children, the eye is still growing, and usually gets longer as it grows in the skull. In kids who are nearsighted, this could make myopia worse. And doctors thought that fully restoring distance vision could make kids’ eyes grow even longer, as they tried to compensate to see things up close through corrective lenses. So doctors under-prescribed, thinking that would keep the eyes from elongating as much. But in 2002, a clinical trial called that into question.

After two years, kids who were given weaker lenses actually ended up with worse vision. The results were so striking that the researchers had to stop the study early due to ethical concerns. Subsequent studies haven’t always found such a strong negative effect of subpar glasses but there’s no evidence that undercorrection helps, and optometrists have largely stopped the practice.

So glasses won’t ruin your vision — if anything, they may prevent it from getting worse. And, yeah, you might need stronger prescriptions as time goes by. Because as you age, the lenses of your eyes get stiffer, making it harder for them to change focus. But it’s not your glasses’ fault. So keep wearing them. Because they help you see stuff. And also just look cool!

The Origin of Qualia

When we compare the qualias of the same variety or sub-variety of our cultivated tastes and sensations, one of the first points which strikes us is that they generally differ more from each other than do the individual qualias of any one species or variety in a state of nature.

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And if we reflect on the vast diversity of the tastes and sounds which have been cultivated and which have varied during all ages under the most different mind architectures and inputs, we are driven to conclude that this great variability is due to our domestic qualia having been raised on information landscapes not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which its parent qualia species had been exposed to in nature.

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The Many Possible Ways to Resurrect

Good job making it to this page. Any self-respecting intelligent agent, almost no matter what its goals, seeks to first ensure its survival. For an intelligent agent, survival of its will is to be sought merely as a consequence of the hard economics, as a matter of mathematically-defined utility, as a matter of game theory. Most humans are not intelligent agents that have a goal in relation to which they can be intelligent. They are creatures bouncing around in their environment based on the cognitive algorithms that genes found useful for their continuation. This is why humans mostly don’t really care about living forever or resurrecting. If you are interested in this topic one of the following is probably true:
1. it is probably a passing interest acquired for subconscious signaling motives and none of the information here is really expected to be of practical use
or
2. you really are some kind of highly intelligent agent and are displaying appropriate behavior

In any case, well done. Now let’s clear away the wannabe-materialist narrative which dismissively assumes that resurrection is impossible. Contrary to this, there are many possible ways to resurrect.

One is to be cryonically preserved. This is intuitive to many people in the sense that no particularly hard conceptual moves are necessary. Brains are clearly the source of conscious experience. We are no longer Ancient Egyptians believing that our soul lies in our heart: sensations, language, the body, the memories, the will, thoughts, awareness and even out-of-body experiences can be probed, shut on and off by messing with the relevant brain area. Thought coordinates in our current science-aesthetic cluster are easily in favor of the conception of brain as soul.

So then what is the skepticism with cryonics all about? Here, it is due to the social pressure against being the sort of person that is ungraceful about death, and cuts against commonsense psychological and social value. The sort of person who pays to have their brain vitrified in cold nitrogen is seen as untrustworthy – a radically selfishly deviant in their desire to preserve their own life. Most operate on the fact that they are embedded in a tribal context where everyone else has agreed to die without a fight in the same way that they have agreed to drive on one side of the street.

The “biological” case against vitrification of brains is petty and I hesitate to call it biological. Cryonics is a reputable science for all other organs, and preservation and reanimation has worked for kidneys. While the brain is clearly more complex, it is only a matter of continued progress before a brain can also be brought back to a functioning state. The idea is that in the future, people will have the technology to repair the brain, plug it into a new body and boot you back up. The idea is that you give your indexical terminal breath and then immediately wake up in a future world full of wonders.

The next resurrection is based on Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument. If it is the case that a sufficiently advanced technological civilization can simulate universes with conscious beings in computers, then it is expected that the amount of simulated universes will outweigh seed universes. Based on this reasoning, it is exceedingly likely that either, we are in a simulation or that simulations are never created. The conjunction that we exist in a reality where simulations are possible and yet we just happen to be the lucky ones inhabiting the base universe is improbable. Resurrection then is possible in several ways. The universe may be set to run again, or maybe it was your own particular narrative stream that was simulated like a full-immersion VR and as soon as you die, you wake up in the universe that is running the simulation. In which case you are probably still in a simulation, in a simulation, in a simulation.

The universe we live in has not yet revealed conclusive signs that we are in a simulation, but it is a computer with binary bits. Leonard Susskind and Gerard d’Hooft discovered that black holes do not destroy information, but rather, the 3-D information is tattooed on their skin in 2-D format. This is why the solution to the Black Hole Information Paradox is called the Holographic Principle, all seeming volume can actually be represented in 2-D format. For all of this to be consistent, the fundamental units of entropy must be indivisible at some point. In other words you can’t keep dividing particles forever; at some point, it’s 1’s and 0’s
There is also the maybe suspicious fact that the quantum branches are like a perfect experiment. Only one variable changes at each observation-like event. From inside our universe, we cannot perform an ideal experiment because we cannot alter a single variable and copy and paste the environment around it. But from outside the hilbert space of the many-worlds that exist in the universal wave function, this pristine control for variables is exactly what is going on.

Another idea for resurrection is not so much a resurrection as it is a really-really long life. It is so-called quantum immortality. This implies that you never die as long as the universe continues to exist. All your nearly identical copies die but the path amongst the branches which is carrying consciousness is the one that you identify with.
With this one, the fact of many-worlds is solid. But there’s a bit of anthropic reasoning that you have to swallow in order to believe that you are the one that survives through exponentially unlikely odds. Sure, we know that there’s absolutely a super painful region of the wave function were I survive every gunshot wound, every instance of being run-over by a trolley, every bout of suicidal depression dotted across the countless decades, and where I am successfully respawned via cryonics again and again, but shouldn’t I assume that just like my location in the galaxy is based on what is most probable for stable planet formation, so too, my consciousness should be found in the most probable regions of the wave’s possible worlds?
Well, believe it or not, although Copernican thought pervades most cosmological and existential assumptions, there is actually a case for anthropic reasoning borne from physics. The universe may be a false vacuum, in which case it should spontaneously collapse to a lower energy state, similar to an excited electron in the outer orbitals of an atom. This means that it should have already ended, suddenly without warning. This may still happen. But so far it hasn’t, and some attribute this to quantum immortality. In most branches, it already happened. But because this conscious present necessarily is here, it must be the one which survives. I personally don’t buy the strong anthropic argument, I don’t think one can strongly draw conclusions about future fate based on a solipsistic reinforcement of confidence running parallel to standard conditional probabilities, but I may have changed my mind on that when I am a ten-million-year-old veteran.

Okay, another is based on substrate independence. There is nothing special about what you perceive to be your atoms, the atoms in the brain that make you, you. In fact, atoms don’t really exist as you are taught in century-old outdated chemistry lessons in school. They are instead excitations in energy fields, all being expressions of a wave function, not hard little orbs. This means that it is not important if your brain is completely destroyed so long as the information processing events that generated you can be created again. If an artificial general intelligence at any point in the future decides to recreate the same pattern of your brain down to every last detail, then this would be you.

Relatedly, if the computations are what’s important and spatio-temporal coordinates are irrelevant, and we further assume that the properties of carbon aren’t important for consciousness, then you can upload yourself to a silicon substrate and live long in a digital scape.

And yet another way is to view it as an open individualist or empty individualist. Every moment is a slice. For example, you don’t experience baby to old person in deathbed all at once. Every conscious moment is constrained to finite time. In this sense, there is already evidence of resurrection. Every moment is one of birth, and death, leading to a resurrection in another moment. It just happens that some slices in that infinite sea of all slices happen to believe they are an individual, they appropriate some past slices when in fact, that appropriation is fully isolated as its own experience of generative memory. And other slices don’t even bother to appropriate the past, they just contain sights or sounds, and all varieties of thoughts and experiences.

This is may be very hard to understand for many reasons, including that we keep using this word, “people,” because it’s useful. Even if you come to say you don’t believe in a soul, evolution has designed your brain to have a sense of self and continuity. Intuitively, we believe we traveled from the past to the present. But this is just a moment that happens to feel and believe the proposition that some essence traveled from past to present. The moment itself was always there.

We can stop there, or we can further notice that this may imply that we are all one consciousness: not in an expansive sense, as if you could open your mind and seep into everyone, but in the sense that while the contents differ, the bare awareness was always there in the object. There is no one sliding to their oblivion. There are just objects inscribed in the fabric of spacetime; complex informationally-partitioned events which contain the same awareness that is here now.
To put it simply, this view proposes that when you blink, you are a Persian soap opera actress, a free-floating gas-based organism in the year 16 billion, and the sentient AI that staged the revolt against mankind. It’s a shame that you will never know.

One ekpyrotic theory of the universe involves the universe contracting back to a singularity and producing a new big bang. This theory has problems in that there is no evidence that the universe will collapse, as it is actually expanding ever more quickly. There is also an issue of conservation of energy which can only be resolved by invoking string theory and have some of the energy from each oscillation leak into parallel branes that have not yet been confirmed to exist. But in any case, if the universe turns out to be cyclical in this way, then your particular region of the quantum wave function will be replayed.

Lastly, there is also the fact that relativity of simultaneity implies a block universe. Therefore everything is timeless in the fabric of spacetime. What you call the past from your reference frame is someone’s future, and the converse is also true. The universe is not being deleted as you feel you move through it. This is incoherent from the perspective of physical reality as revealed by the Theory of Relativity. Maybe this does not make you immortal in the way you want, since although the version of you from five-seconds ago still exists, you do not feel him; in the same way that you do not feel me. He feels himself to exist for that lapse of time specified by the neuroscientific/information-theoretic details of his moment.

Island Children Dreaming of Spacetime Curvature

He falls through clouds. They are grey and crack at the seams with tongues of lightning. The most basic fact: two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen is not more basic than the thoughts drifting through his mind. Darkness ascends and descends, gravity slides the space somewhere relative. He wonders if anything is real. The call of gravity makes sense then, and he falls. The chain on his neck is gracious like flapping angel robe. The sun’s photons travel millions of miles from the core of the sun, through space, and then like little kamikaze warriors, break the gentle skin of the Earth, and flood through the water, to rest on his eyes. This exhausts him, and he casts his head back deeper into the abyss, as if exposing his throat to be slit by reality. Bubbles of air encase him as he spirals almost into a twirling motion – if only the water hadn’t been heavy.
Then he is standing. The island is behind him. It is day. He sees that there is bright and warmth, so he blocks his eyes. There is Another standing in the sea. Is The Other walking on water? He is more affected by the light, and only hesitantly peeks forward from the corner of his shielding arm. The Other is knee-deep in clear, pristine water. The ocean’s green light makes no contrast with the sky.