- April 13, 2015 at 5:22 pm #3928An extensive conversation has been underway on the Deep Time Journey Facebook page regarding the issue of whether it is scientifically valid to consider our universe as a living system. I would like to use the criteria from Big History as a basis for a constructive debate for this foundational topic. From the big history project (and the work of founder David Christian) we find this straightforward definition of “life”:https://www.bighistoryproject.com/chapters/3?hc_location=ufi#the-tremendous-diversity-of-living-thingsHere David Christian explains that “we know that life has four qualities”:• Metabolism: the ability to take in energy from surroundings to keep going• Self-regulation: also known as “homeostasis,” an organism’s ability to regulate itself to maintain stability• Reproduction: the ability to create copies, allowing life to preserve itself and go on• Adaptation: the ability to change from generation to generation and become better suited to environmentsI propose that these four criteria apply to the universe and, on that basis, it is legitimate to consider our universe as a unique kind of living entity:1. The universe demonstrates metabolism as it takes in vast amounts of energy to sustain itself as a flow-through system. Numerous scientists have described this process. Mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme, states that the “universes emerges out of an all-nourishing abyss at every moment.” Physicist David Bohm states that “the universe is a unified whole in flowing movement.”2. The universe demonstrates self-regulation over billions of years by producing self-organizing systems at every scale, from the atomic to the galactic. The signature of these self-organizing systems is found in the toroidal architecture throughout the universe—the torus being the simplest geometry of a self-organizing system. This is not speculation but visible, clear, and scientifically evident.3. The universe demonstrates reproduction in the multi-verse view of black holes as the doorway into new cosmic systems and the premise of “survival of the fittest”—the most successful and surviving universes are those that are able to emerge and evolve over billions of years. Because we cannot stand outside our universe, we cannot “prove” this process is occurring but a multi-universe view is now the widely accepted norm in scientific cosmology.4. The universe demonstrates adaptation as it has evolved through billions of years to ever higher order systems at every scale: cosmic, planetary, microscopic, atomic. This is not speculation but based on observable facts from science.Because I see the universe as exhibiting these qualities as viewed through the lens of science, it does seem appropriate to consider our universe as a unique, living system that supports the emergence of a vast array of other living systems within it. In turn, I welcome comments on David Christian’s four qualities of life as a basis for considering whether it is scientifically valid to regard our universe as a living system.
- April 13, 2015 at 9:40 pm #3930
Are there any differences between black holes or systems of galaxies and a prokaryote cell, and if so, what are they? Are there any differences between what is seen as the consciousness of the universe and how people think, and again, if so, what are they. I’m looking for ways of making distinctions.
- April 13, 2015 at 10:44 pm #3931
I’ll give a simple answer to a very important and complex question: I assume there are meaningful distinctions in “consciousness” in the sense that I assume that every “thing” has a consciousness that uniquely fits its form and function. For example, scientific research indicates there is some kind of self-organizing capacity (and “knowing” capacity) operating at the level of DNA that enables self-assembly, as well some level of knowing-sentience operating at the level of single-celled organisms (e.g., slime mold) that enables collective self-assembly (when faced with starvation), and some degree of consciousness and self-organizing capacity operating at the human level, etc. but the form and function of each is vastly different so I would assume that the reflective or knowing capacity at each level would be vastly different. There appears to be a permeating sentience or knowing capacity infusing the universe and different systems make use of that to enable self-organizing activity appropriate to their form and function.
- April 14, 2015 at 1:10 am #3936
I know you’re heavily invested in this, but the things you’re citing are neither scientific nor evidentiary for the argument that the universe is “living.” It’s a misuse of language, and an important one to clean up. “Living” and “Dead” are biological terms. Used elsewhere, they’re being used as metaphors. You use words in senses far more “sweeping” than they can be used: Universe, living, consciousness, and the rest of them. There is no sense at all in which the Universe is alive. As most of the BH writers point out, almost everywhere, at every scale, the universe is a dull place with nothing happening: almost all suns burn out without ever growing beyond hydrogen and helium, burning out in a short time, producing nothing. The same is true at every level of magnification. The overwhelming majority of prokaryotes never got complexified at all, and are still with us — prokaryotes/bacteria/archaea account for half the biomass of the Earth today (the weight of living and recently dead things). No complexity, no advances, etc. Only rarely is this monotony broken, and to try and make those exceptions the Rule is not at all scientific. The same applies to all the words you’re using out of their original context, and in very misleading ways. I know you’re not alone in this. Many people want to think we’re special, that the Universe somehow “cares” or at least “notices” the presence of wonderful us. But no.
This is why I keep bringing up the word “mysticism”: the game where the wish and need are parents to the data we choose to see and cite. And I know people like saying things like “we are the universe being conscious of itself,” and so on. But it’s important to say this is scientific nonsense — and to say it to the scientists who use the language this way, as well. This applies to the four qualities of “life” you cited from David Christian. When applying them to “the Universe,” you’re using them metaphorically, not factually, and not helpfully.
In my limited experience — not enough to be scientific — the roots of mysticism are biographical and psychological. A very dear, now dead, longtime friend of mine was the example I knew best — and he helped explore his own past as we both wondered about these things. John was into every kind of (my word) goofy crap that came down the pike, and there was a LOT of that in the 70’s! Marijuana, LSD, Transcendental Meditation, Astrology, auras. I would tell him he never met a flaky idea he didn’t love. Once, I asked what he GOT out of this, and he answered quickly: “A feeling that I am loved, valuable, accepted in Reality even at its largest scales.” We were both surprised by that! He was puzzled, but figured out where that came from (John had his Ph.D. in psychology — no surprise!). His father was a fundamentalist Christian minister of the most soul-numbing literalist kind, living in a world where Rules governed absolutely everything, there was Judgment everywhere, and almost no one could ever pass that judgment — least of all John, he said. As he grew, this very bright boy grew toward adulthood with a monstrous vacuum where a contented and fertile soul should have grown. When he got to the University of Michigan in the late 60’s, he was in the perfect place to experience every sort of alternate reality there was, and he did. Marijuana first relaxed him and gave him a sense of belonging. LSD blew his mind, gave him very creative illusions, wrapped him in a “world” within which he felt loved — for the first time in his life, and so on with the rest of it.
Once, when I was grilling him about the Astrology crap, he first told me that’s just what a Taurus would say, and wanted at least two points for that move — we decided it was worth more like five. Then he said “Oh very well, I’ll come into your world to answer your questions.” And he did. He described the whole grammar of astrology as a system of metaphors and symbols, along with fertile and imaginative images and stories, that offered him a set of lenses through which he could view the world, and the people, around him, and find insights that let him accept everyone for their “gifts differing” (he knew the Bible very well, even though he didn’t like it). That orientation let him accept the wild differences he found in people, without ever Judging them — a very bad word for him, given his biography. Acceptance meant a lot to John, and he was one of the most accepting and loving people I’ve ever known. After spending some time fleshing out this world in ways I could understand, he said “Is that enough?” I said it was, and thanked him for it. “Fine. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going back to MY world!”
John was as complete a mystic as anyone I’ve ever known, and helped me understand why someone would leave reality for a far more fertile imaginative world/universe in which they felt — for the first time ever, in John’s case — part of an inclusive, empowering and loving Whole. We would be poorer without our mystics, whether they’re writing in religion, poetry, history, or the sciences. But we must still insist that language is too innocent to deserve being bent as mystics bend it. Yes, it’s fine in their world, as John insisted. But it’s important that in empirical sciences, we outlaw such deceptive uses of words that have their meaning in other fields: like “living,” “dead,” “metabolism,” and the rest of them. No, “the Universe” doesn’t care if we’re here, because it can’t hold any anthropomorphic attributes: caring, seeing, loving, any of them. It’s important to make distinctions between knowledge and yearning: between science (scientia = knowledge, meaning empirical knowledge) and wishing.
I’m not trying to be mean, but am meaning to say language doesn’t deserve being used so sloppily that it can slough off its important connection with empirical facts/data. No, of course “the Universe” isn’t “living”. Mostly, it’s terribly boring, with very little of interest happening — no matter how much all those prokaryotes weigh. There’s no Presence, no Life, sort of hovering over the universe, beckoning to it and to us. I still think the metaphorical use of words whose meanings — empirical meanings — lie in quite different areas is probably best explained by biography and psychology. Nor does this condemn us to an existence without hope or meaning, though it’s misleading to use words like “hopeful” or “meaningful,” “purposeful,” outside of specific situations where “potential” can have meaningful products because the circumstances happen to be just right. People often — perhaps usually — look to religion to fill the universe with meaning, embrace them in love and so on. That’s the solipsism that is no friend of honest religion. But it’s the mortal enemy of honest science. The fact that there are some scientists, including some popular ones, who use scientific language in deeply unscientific ways doesn’t mean they’re right to do so. Personal authority can’t reach that far, even though personal need and wishing can always reach that far without even breaking a sweat. We’ve not met, Duane, and I don’t know anything about you, but you’re mixing science and religion/mysticism in ways that don’t serve either of them well, as I understand them, and as I understand language.
- April 14, 2015 at 9:46 am #3937
Thanks for opening the discussion here. This could be an easier venue to work in than facebook.
I suspect that it might be best to pick one aspect and focus on discussing the scientific evidence there before going to others, so as to keep the discussion manageable. If so, then for starters I’ll agree to use David Christian’s definition of life. So starting at the first claim (metabolism) seems like a logical place to start.
However, do we want to follow Lowell’s line first? If so, then the next step would be to provide evidence for the large number of claims in Duane’s response (3931).
I’ll do either as we wish, leaving the other to follow. Best-
- April 14, 2015 at 10:31 am #3938
Thanks Jon. For this conversation to be helpful, let’s look at a specific statement that Duane is making and evaluate whether it is:
A) A science-based statement that most of the science community would subscribe to.
B) A statement that’s an “interpretation” of science-based statements that most of the science community would not subscribe to, at least not at this time. If it is B, it may be valid for creating a paradigm, but it’s important to be clear that there is not consensus in the scientific community regarding the paradigm, at least not at this time. In my many years of experience with scientists at Princeton and elsewhere, there’s nothing that drives scientists more bonkers than people making statements, as interesting and valid and they might be, without making the distinction between science-based statements that have consensus in the science community and interpretations of science-based statements.
The “Approaches to a Science-Based Origin Story” paper that I’m working on is about creating a map, or topology, of different views. It’s attempt to identify the strictly evidence-based lineages from other lineages that interpret science and create paradigms based on science. Evolution is so messy, particularly the evolution of ideas. What we’re about here is cutting edge, where science is being integrated into culture in so many different ways impacting human identity and behavior. The care and rigor we bring to this project is so important.
So, as you suggest Jon . . . how about starting with metabolism?
What do scientists say about metabolism — statements that enjoy consensus?
What statement(s) are you making about metabolism Duane? Are they a departure from statements that enjoy consensus in the science community. If so how? Why is this important?
Thanks for prompting this important discussion Duane.
- April 14, 2015 at 3:30 pm #3940
Yes, let’s focus the conversation. Metabolism does seem like a good place to start. David Christian describes “metabolism” as the ability to take in energy from surroundings to keep systems going. In turn, my understanding of current science is that it requires vast amounts of energy for the universe to maintain itself as a flow-through system. I mentioned two scientists who have described aspects of this process. Mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme, states that the “universes emerges out of an all-nourishing abyss at every moment.” Physicist David Bohm states that “the universe is a unified whole in flowing movement.” I agree with Jennifer that this is an interpretative understanding of the word “metabolism” because this word is generally identified with biological systems at the earth-scale and the physical and chemical processes which enable those systems to maintain themselves. The question becomes whether it is rational/scientific to expand our description of scale beyond the earth and, in turn, consider the universe as a unified system with physical and chemical processes at work that enable it to maintain itself. Returning to David Christian stating that metabolism is “the ability to take in energy from surroundings to keep systems going,” this view fits with a number of scientists exploring the idea that the universe is not static but is, instead, a dynamically regenerated system maintained by enormous amounts of energy drawn from its surroundings (recall that 73 percent of the known universe is dark energy–and this could be regarded not only as an expansive energy but also as a sustaining energy for a dynamically maintained universe). This seems to align with the views of the distinguished Princeton physicist John Wheeler who stated that material things are “composed of nothing but space itself, pure fluctuating space. . . that is changing, dynamic, altering from moment to moment.” Wheeler goes on to say that, “Of course, what space itself is built out of is the next question. . . . The stage on which the space of the universe moves is certainly not space itself. . . The arena must be larger: superspace. . .” At this larger scale, it does seem scientifically legitimate to consider our unified (non-local) universe as a dynamic system that draws energy from its surroundings to maintain itself.
- April 14, 2015 at 7:26 pm #3941
As context for this inquiry, I want to say that I view all paradigms as provisional and evolving as our understanding of the universe grows and deepens. Therefore, I consider a living universe paradigm as provisional and very much open to change as our knowledge of the universe develops. We are in a time of deep change in how reality is understood and described. Scientific materialism is no longer a fully validated paradigm as some of its underlying assumptions are being questioned by science. Science has become so powerful that it is challenging itself and its own deep assumptions regarding concepts as fundamental as “time,” “space” and “matter.” Likewise, neither is the paradigm of a living universe fully validated as many of its assumptions are also questioned by science. This is a time of exciting discovery and change. Openness to discovery is vital for developing a scientific paradigm that fits most closely with our evolving understanding of the universe. With an appreciation for the developmental and evolving nature of all paradigms, I look forward to a respectful exploration of the paradigm of a living universe.
- April 14, 2015 at 8:39 pm #3942
First, Duane, I really admire the way you’re putting the Living Systems Paradigm out there for scrutiny. Not everyone has the guts to do what you’re doing. This is a profound and complex inquiry and it would be good to bring in scientists and also philosophers of science to take this conversation to the level where it needs to go. It certainly does seem that some of the patterns that distinguish life are also happening at the universe level in some form. But I would like to get biologists and astrophysicists involved. Jon, you’re our lone scientist for the moment so it would be great to hear your view. Duane, do you know Fritjof Capra? If so, can you invite him into the conversation.
I’m leaving tomorrow morning early for Indiana to give a program and so may not respond right away. All of you might also reach out to others who you feel would be able to contribute to the conversation.
- April 14, 2015 at 9:38 pm #3943
Glad to be joining the conversation at this point. A helpful approach to understanding whether the term metabolism applies to the universe might be to apply it to nested and emergent biological systems and see at what point (if any) the term breaks down as we apply it to larger scales. I think biologists would all agree that cells and organisms all metabolize by exchanging energy with the environment, and they might feel comfortable applying the term to collections of biological entities such as nests, colonies, or even ecosystems. At ecosystems, it begins to push the boundary between traditionally defined living and non-living entities. For example, the largest ecosystem on Earth could be considered to be the biosphere itself, which metabolizes sunlight as it’s primary energy source. This extends the ecosystem to at least the Sun-Earth system. At this point I think most astronomers would be uncomfortable using the term metabolism to describe the energy dynamics of the system, and would see it as a biological metaphor applied to a physical system. But I’m not sure it doesn’t apply here as well, if we’re using David Christian’s definition as a starting point. Astronomers also talk about galactic ecology, the exchange of energy between various parts of the galaxy and the enrichment of the interstellar medium (the “soil”) over time through stellar nucleosynthesis – is this metabolism on a galactic scale?
It may be that these larger-scale metabolic processes occur on such long timescales (millions and billions of years in the case of galactic metabolism) that we simply don’t have enough scientific observations and evidence to answer the question “Is the universe a ‘living system’?” from a scientific standpoint. I’d love to have biologists weigh in on this issue and see where the cracks are in the argument from their perspective.
- April 14, 2015 at 9:49 pm #3944
Thanks for these thoughtful and insightful contributions to our conversation. I don’t have any “answers” but you certainly raise important questions and offer stimulating insights that make me think freshly about this theme! I agree that it would be wonderful to have biologists (and cosmologists) weigh in on the fascinating issues you present. I look forward to further dialogue catalyzed (metabolized?) by your contributions.
- April 15, 2015 at 6:33 am #3945
Indeed. Thanks for your insightful comments Stephen. Moving from small to large and seeing if and where the term metabolism breaks down is a great question. I’m searching for biologists to help us out. Do either of you, or Davidson, Jon, or Lowell, know any who could come into the conversation?
- April 15, 2015 at 8:48 am #3946
<p>As a non scientist my only contribution to this discussion is the expression of my gratitude to Duane for initiating such a riveting conversation. It actually began on the very day that I was, during my arduous journey of self-education regarding science, wondering about the boundaries between life and non life. I await, with baited breath, the next contributions to this fabulous exchange.</p>
- April 15, 2015 at 10:56 am #3948
Welcome to this conversation. Thanks for your work–preserving geological evidence of the Earth’s ancient origins of life is vital to understanding the story of our evolution.
- April 15, 2015 at 10:41 am #3947
Stephan, Following up on your comments about metabolism at the scale of galaxies, I recall an article in Scientific American magazine in January, 2004 by Bart P. Wakker and Philipp Richter with the title, “Our Growing, Breathing Galaxy,” and the subtitle comment, “Long assumed to be a relic of the distant past, the Milky Way turns out to be a dynamic, living object.“[emphasis added] I don’t have the full article (they charge roughly $8 for it!), but I think it directly bears on your thoughts about galactic-scale metabolism as a “dynamic, living object.” Here’s a link: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/our-growing-breathing-gal/ Duane
- April 15, 2015 at 12:33 pm #3949
Good conversation, (and, Linda, welcome!).
OK, so metabolism being the ability to take in energy from the surroundings to keep systems going, the first question that comes up with me is “what ‘surroundings’ are we referring to?”. Since the Universe is by definition everything, it seems that there aren’t any clear “surroundings” to take anything from. While multiverses are possible, they certainly haven’t been shown to be real.
Next, “energy”. We understand well what the different forms of energy are (thermal, electromagnetic, kinetic, etc.). Is there evidence of any of them coming from outside the Universe?
Brian Swimme is a great popularizer and a huge asset to our human species – but he is not a scientist. If we can get the source he used to base his statement on, then it might be useful.
Dr. Bohm was a great physicist, but I’m not sure how his statement that “the universe is a unified whole in flowing movement.” really means anything. I mean, we already agree that we can see the Universe as a unified thing (after all, that’s it’s name), and of course it is filled with flowing movement (as the res-shift shows) – but that doesn’t show that the Universe is taking in energy from someplace else.
Perhaps more to the point, we need to look at actual research, and be careful not to fall into the trap of treating quotes as data. This means that wherever possible, we need to favor data over quotes – and especially favor consensus views over individual statements. After all, scientists are humans, and with millions of scientists, some are going to have wrong ideas about some things. Dr. Bohm is a good example of this – he was regularly fooled by charlatans.
The fact that we don’t know what dark energy is, is not a reason to conclude that it is coming from somewhere else or that it is categorically different from the known forms of energy. Sure it could be, but one could have said that same thing about radiation energy in 1920 – and further work showed that radiation energy is just another type of energy.
The Wheeler quote is about the quantum phenomena of matter coming into existence on a quantum level. Without more data or explanation from Wheeler explaining what he means about that, I don’t see that it supports the idea of metabolism of the ability to take in energy from the surroundings to keep systems going. That’s especially because particle coming into existence this way are balanced by anti-particles, and hence the sum energy or matter is zero (nothing is being taken in).
The scientific American article sounds interesting. Could you explain what details it gives that are useful here, since I don’t have it?
- April 15, 2015 at 3:05 pm #3951
Thanks for the important questions Jon,
In that spirit, I question your assumption that “the universe is by definition everything.” This assumption is now being strongly questioned by scientists developing multiverse or multiple universe theories. For example, if I go to the “Google Scholar” search engine, it lists nearly 13,000 references regarding the “multiverse.” See: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=multiverse&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C5 Also, in publications such as “The New Scientist,” different views of the multiverse theory are regularly featured and discussed. This does not mean the multiverse is “real” or “proven” but it does suggest that we keep an open mind regarding whether there is a larger context within which our universe resides. The assumption that “the universe is by definition everything” may be outdated if “everything” is now beginning to include the possibility of a multiverse.
In terms of energy, it is well-established that particles are constantly popping in and out of existence at the quantum level. This does not mean they are coming from “outside” the universe, particularly since 95 percent of the known universe is invisible. However, it does open the door to discovery and curiosity as to where this activity is originating.
You say that Brian Swimme is “not a scientist.” However, his education and background suggest otherwise. He received his Ph.D. (1978) from the department of mathematics at the University of Oregon for work with Richard Barrar on singularity theory, with a dissertation entitled Singularities in the N-Body Problem. Swimme was a faculty member in the department of mathematics at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, 1978–81. He describes himself as an evolutionary cosmologist.
I agree that we need to be careful to not fall into the trap of treating quotes as data. However, in that same paragraph you offer the statement that the physicist, Dr. David Bohm “was regularly fooled by charlatans.” I am interested in the actual data that supports this important assertion.
You also say that “particles coming into existence this way are balanced by anti-particles, and hence the sum energy or matter is zero (nothing is being taken in).” I have had the understanding that there is, in fact, a slight but significant asymmetry in the universe such that there are more particles than anti-particles and this provides the basis for the physical universe we live within. See, for example, the Stanford article: https://www.slac.stanford.edu/pubs/beamline/26/1/26-1-sather.pdf which states that, “If we work out what the Universe was like one billionth of a second after it began, it turns out that for every billion particle-antiparticle pairs there was just one extra particle. To that particle we and stars owe our existence.”
- April 15, 2015 at 2:06 pm #3950
Many better men and women have wrestled with attempts to define life. Perhaps Humberto Maturana and Francisco Vatema come the closest to explaining why life defies simply definitions. Vernadsky recognized that there was a difference between the geophysical Earth and what he called living matter. Lovelock used the metaphor of the Earth as a superorganism, but he agreed with Margulis that they were describing the Bioshere within the Earth system. Terms in science usually have very specific meanings. It degrades clear communication to misapply terminology and that doing so is scientific. Genes are incapable of selfishness. You cannot have a symbiotic relationship with another human being. The Living Universe may be poetic, life may be common in the Universe, but if the Universe is alive, what then is not?
- April 15, 2015 at 6:25 pm #3955
Duane – thanks for the reference to the SciAm article on our Growing, Breathing Galaxy. I’ve requested it via interlibrary loan and will be happy to share it when it arrives.
It seems that there may be two threads emerging in the discussion here: one about the on-going “livingness” on the universe, in terms of its dynamism and continual emergence on a moment by moment basis. The quantum particles that emerge from the quantum or false vacuum, by the way, are thought to be virtual particles (which means not fully real but mathematical possibilities). They can become real particles through the application of an electromagnetic field, which provides energy that pulls them into “realness” out of the void.
The other thread is whether the universe possesses properties (such as metabolism, growth, etc…) that are commonly agreed upon as necessary for life. I see the two as different, in that describing the qualities or characteristics of something does not necessarily tell you what it is exactly (think about how describing the characteristics of a person falls short of knowing them fully), especially in the case of emergent systems, which the universe, or multiverse may be. So even if we all agree that the universe possesses properties that we agree are requirements for life, these may not be enough to demonstrate that it is a living system. Something which is like a living system and shares its characteristics such as computers or computer viruses, does not mean it is a living system, and this is a big debate among computer and cognitive scientists right now.
However, it might open the door to considering other approaches to understanding life, which as James pointed out, is still very much a mystery. It’s interesting that many of indigenous peoples the world over would agree that the universe and all that exists is alive in a very real way, and yet most western scientists would not. Why is this? Partly I think it’s because indigenous people would consider qualitative approaches to knowing as sufficient evidence whereas western scientists would need quantitative data as well. Life may be difficult to define precisely because its “livingness” is a qualitative perception that can’t be easily quantified, even though the properties of life (such as metabolism rate, growth rate, etc…) can be precisely determined. Indigenous scientists such as Dr. Gregory Cajete (Native Science, et al.) and western scientists such as F. David Peat (Blackfoot Physics et al. ) have proposed we need both types of knowing for a full view of reality, and I would tend to agree with them.
It feels like we’re really pushing the paradigm here with this discussion – thanks for all the great ideas flowing!
- April 15, 2015 at 6:44 pm #3956
Thanks for these clarifying and insightful comments. Yes, we seem to have at least these two threads of conversation going and I appreciate your contributions to them both. Personally, I agree with your comment that, “Life may be difficult to define precisely because its “livingness” is a qualitative perception that can’t be easily quantified, even though the properties of life (such as metabolism rate, growth rate, etc…) can be precisely determined. Indigenous scientists . . . and western scientists . . . have proposed we need both types of knowing for a full view of reality, and I would tend to agree with them.”
Yes, we are pushing the limits of paradigms here! Very exciting inquiry!
- April 16, 2015 at 6:43 am #3957
Duane – Thanks for the response. I would like to add that I greatly appreciate your work and contributions, and see a lot of positive impact in our world from you and your work, and am honored to be friends with you. That’s regardless of whether or not we’ll find points where we disagree.
you wrote:*** In that spirit, I question your assumption that “the universe is by definition everything.” This assumption is now being strongly questioned by scientists developing multiverse or multiple universe theories***
((A)) It’s not an assumption, it’s the simple use of a definition.It’s important that we use definitions, and not try to make up our own definitions for things. Clear communication depends on clear definitions. It’s also helpful if we don’t call things that we don’t agree with “assumptions”, unless they, in fact, are.****For example, if I go to the “Google Scholar” search engine, it lists nearly 13,000 references regarding the “multiverse.” See: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=multiverse&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C5 ****((B))Irrelevant. you can get tons of hits for things like “alien abduction”, or whatever. Hits don’t equal truth, both because papers often talk about speculative ideas as speculation, or otherwise discuss the topic without supporting it.****Also, in publications such as “The New Scientist,” ****citing “new scientist” can hurt your claim, as New Scientist often publishes crackpot ideas. They do usually have plenty of real science, but pseudoscience, and especially misleading hype, can be found in New Scientist. You can see this from their “Was Darwin wrong” cover from 2009, supporting creationists.((C))******This does not mean the multiverse is “real” or “proven” but it does suggest that we keep an open mind regarding whether there is a larger context within which our universe resides. ****Then do we agree that it is outside the realm of material for teaching in a “scientific field”?((D))*****In terms of energy, it is well-established that particles are constantly popping in and out of existence at the quantum level. This does not mean they are coming from “outside” the universe, particularly since 95 percent of the known universe is invisible. However, it does open the door to discovery and curiosity as to where this activity is originating. ***Then do we agree again that it is outside the realm of material for teaching in a “scientific field”?((E))****You say that Brian Swimme is “not a scientist.” … dissertation entitled Singularities in the N-Body Problem. Swimme was a faculty member in the department of mathematics*****Right. I’m familiar with all that. Having a background in Math does not make one a scientist, and not a astrophysical scientist either.****He describes himself as an evolutionary cosmologist.**** How one describes oneself is completely irrelevant (to the point that mentioning how he describes himself hurts your case). Many creationists describe themselves as scientists.((F))Als0 I asked what the text of the “living galaxy” article said. I thought that you had it. I didn’t see that in your reply.More later – gotta go.-Jon
- April 16, 2015 at 10:05 am #3958
Dear Jon, Lowell, Linda, Davidson, Steve, Duane, Jim, and Steve,
I’m following this conversation with intense interest and will comment later. Got to Cincinnati late last night and preparing for a program for tomorrow. BTW – Linda Fitch’s uncle, Val Fitch, won the Nobel Prize with James Cronin for the developing the theory of CP Violation, or Symmetry Breaking, which you mention in one of your posts Duane.
- April 16, 2015 at 12:27 pm #3960
Sorry for the delay. Here is my response continued.
***you offer the statement that the physicist, Dr. David Bohm “was regularly fooled by charlatans.” I am interested in the actual data that supports this important assertion. ***
Yes, it is always quite fair to ask for support for any claim. Here is a start – though there is more out there if you’d like.
“Bohm’s creative work in physics is undisputable, but in other fields he was almost as gullible as Conan Doyle. He was favorably impressed by Count Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity, with the morphogenic fields of Rupert Sheldrake, the orgone energy of Wilhelm Reich, and the marvels of parapsychology.  For a while he took seriously Uri Geller’s ability to bend keys and spoons, to move compasses, and produce clicks in a Geiger counter, all with his mind.” from: http://thinkg.net/david_bohm/martin_gardner_on_david_bohm_and_krishnamurti.html
*****You also say that “particles coming into existence this way are balanced by anti-particles, and hence the sum energy or matter is zero (nothing is being taken in).” I have had the understanding that there is, in fact, a slight but significant asymmetry in the universe such that there are more particles than anti-particles and this provides the basis for the physical universe we live within. See, for example, the Stanford article: https://www.slac.stanford.edu/pubs/beamline/26/1/26-1-sather.pdf which states that, “If we work out what the Universe was like one billionth of a second after it began, it turns out that for every billion particle-antiparticle pairs there was just one extra particle. To that particle we and stars owe our existence.”****
Yes, that was the case during the Big Bang – but not now. Now, there is no residual particle from the pairs. As pointed out, they are not clearly real – as a mathematical model.
A major concern I have is that much of this appears to follow a similar approach as does a lot of pseudoscientific fields. Specifically:
- Redefining words (“Universe”)
- Use of quotes as evidence in itself (Bohm)
- suggesting that other ideas are “assumptions”
- citing non-scientists as evidence (this also applies in cases, not seen here, where scientists are quoted outside their field).
- Vague, unsupported assertions (such as “There appears to be a permeating sentience or knowing capacity infusing the universe…”)
These are the types of approaches used by pseudosciences such as creationism. We need to be especially careful to avoid them, both because we want to make accurate claims, and because we need to maintain the credibility of Big History (and the Deep Time Journey Network). There is room for philosophical speculation, and for poetic and metaphorical use of language – but when we do that, we need to be clear about what we are doing, and we need to keep that out of forums/area/publications that are for scientific articles, so that we avoid even the appearance of presenting speculation as fact.
So far, it seems to me that the reasons cited for claiming that the Universe has metabolism are not helping to support that claim. Thoughts? Jon
- April 16, 2015 at 1:08 pm #3962
Jennifer asked me to weigh in here.
Since Duane quotes Brian — the universe emerges out of an all-nourishing abyss at every moment — to support his point, I think it would be appropriate to get Brian’s feedback here as well. Brian, for example, is also known for “gravity is love,” and the last time I heard someone question him on that he walked it way back. I’ve not heard him comment on this quote, but I’d be quite surprised if he would be comfortable with its supporting the metabolism metaphor.
The noun metabolism has a very specific meaning in biology, as in wiki:
Metabolism (from Greek: μεταβολή metabolē, “change”) is the set of life-sustaining chemical transformations within the cells of living organisms. These enzyme-catalyzed reactions allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. The word metabolism can also refer to all chemical reactions that occur in living organisms, including digestion and the transport of substances into and between different cells, in which case the set of reactions within the cells is called intermediary metabolism or intermediate metabolism.
Metabolism is usually divided into two categories. Catabolism, that breaks down organic matter and harvests energy by way of cellular respiration, and anabolism that uses energy to construct components of cells such as proteins and nucleic acids.
To take this word and apply it, for example, to what stars do makes no sense to me. What is accomplished?
Here’s where I come out in general. I’ve not been resonant with any Gaia-premised understandings of nature from the get-go, where Duane’s expansion of the concept to the universe is even less appealing to me. To my ears, those proposing Gaia-like worldviews are motivated, whether consciously or not, by the premise that to call something alive, or some process a living process, is to enhance its value, to increase our affinity towards it. This is the outcome, I would say, of our negative view of matter (Loyal Rue makes this point in some of his books as well, calling it the “grunge theory of matter”). So we hear such phrases as “only matter” or “mere matter” or “just matter,” whereas we don’t hear only/mere/just life.
I would say that the project to helping humans feel at home in the universe needs to include a celebration of all the wondrous things that matter does and can do when it’s not included in a life process, using the nouns and verbs we have for these things, rather than according them life-process nouns and verbs.
- April 16, 2015 at 8:58 pm #3964
Ursula makes a good point in highlighting the life/matter bias that has deep roots in our contemporary worldview. Ideas that matter/earth is sinful, fallen, ‘dirty’, etc… have a long history in western culture, and one that contemporary ecological philosophers such as Freya Matthews (For Love of Matter) and others have addressed by suggesting that the duality between the two may not be fundamentally real or helpful in creating a more participatory view and positive engagement with the world/universe. Matthews approaches this by suggesting that rather than maintaining a world of subjects and objects (which could represent living beings and matter in the present discussion), that we propose that subjectivity is inherent to the world itself. This lines up nicely with Brian Swimme’s view of the universe centrating into many unique centers of experience and Thomas Berry’s “communion of subjects.” Perhaps subjectivity (to whatever degree it exists in various forms) might be a useful concept here in bridging the “participatory gap” between humans and the universe, rather than trying to demonstrate participatory engagement through common structures of life and livingness?
- April 16, 2015 at 10:02 pm #3965
I think the basis of this discussion/debate is fatally flawed. The list of qualities that describe life is hopelessly outdated, inadequate and vague.
- Metabolism is more than the ability to “the ability to take in energy from the surroundings to keep going” (whatever that means). Cells are the basic units of life and they have very distinct requirements, a source of energy, a source of electrons, a source of carbon (and other elements usually abbreviated as CHNOPS), and a terminal electron acceptor. Metabollisms come in specific types named for their sources of energy and carbon, such as photoautotrophs (light & C02), chemoautotrophs (inorganic chemicals & CO2), heterotrophs (organic chemicals & organic chemicals), and others.
- Homeostasis may be a feature of the internal chemistry and electrical charge of all active cells, but this may not be a requirement for dormant forms, spores, round bodies, other propagules and variant forms that can survive desiccation or freezing for decades or longer.
- Reproduction may be a feature of some cells at some point in the life cycle of an organism for growth or to produce more numbers of the organism, but a mule, grandmother or a heterocyst can not reproduce but all are nonetheless alive.
- Adaptation would seem to require clairvoyance on the part of organisms and “punctuated equilibrium” in evolution refers to the fact that much of evolution is not a record of gradual change but long stretches of stasis punctuated by bursts of rapid change or extinction events followed by radiations of new species. Horizontal gene and genome transfer (symbiosis) confers novelty and natural selection (an elimination process) winnows out the unfit and unlucky. It is probably more useful to think of repurposing novel traits rather than “adaptation”. The genome is dynamic and the organism has a given amount of plasticity which can be expressed given various information flow from the environment. Putting organisms under stress appears to be one way to invoke change in the growth and development of organisms and these changes have been shown to be inheritable.
- DNA is an important molecule in the organelle of the nucleus of the eukaryotic cell or in the nucleiod of a bacterium but DNA is only a part of the system of the cell structurally coupled to the environment. DNA by itself does nothing. A tipping point has been reached and a new synthesis has replaced the so called Modern Synthesis or “gene-centered” view of life and biology that has dominated science for the past 70 years. You do not have to take my word for it, here is Oxford Professor of Physiology and Systems Biology Denis Noble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzD1daWq4ng.
Noble also gives a great talk on What is Life? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hS6PDOcJwY8&index=3&list=PLnqQJI0EhuwwdoH18CnKcOC6j4qaU_yXI
As to the use of the word “science”, that term has an origin and history and a meaning that I think needs to be respected. Otherwise it may as well mean wishful thinking or “because I said so”. There are many ways of knowing, but sticking the word science or physics onto a way of knowing that differs dramatically from the rules and methods of science, such as “dowsing science” or “Creation Science” does not make these ways-of-knowing science in anything but phony name.
Having worked for ten years with Lynn Margulis, one of the main collaborators with James Lovelock on Gaia theory, I must say I got a chuckle out of Ursula’s opinion that Jim or Lynn were “anti-matter”. I can assure everyone that Lynn loved every element of the periodic table but she did understand that living matter differed from matter that was busy being a stone, a snowflake, a glass slide or a light-emitting diode.
I must apologize for using my iPhone for my first foray into this discussion and getting Francisco Varela’s name misspelled and other sentence gaffs. The book I mention is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what knowing is or what mind is. I think they make a compelling scientific argument that it is an emergent property of life (cellular life – the only kind for which there is evidence).
There is a talk by David Lenson at the second day of the memorial symposium to Lynn Margulis in which he plays a bit of her audio from one of her visits to his radio show and she talks about science as a way of knowing. It is 4 minutes into the clip and worth a listen. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9hTlyfq8PA> Science has rules and is a discipline. It looks for the truth (with a small “t”) as defined as what is shown by the best evidence at the time. There is no certainty in science because it is not objective, we humans do science so it is done through our senses and our minds and they are fallible. But science does seem to be one of the best ways we have to really know the world.
- April 17, 2015 at 12:25 pm #3966
There are many ideas that you bring up that I have questions about and don’t have the time today to go through them all. I would like to mention a couple:
First, you say that the physicist, David Bohm was “regularly fooled by charlatans” and, as proof of this you quote Martin Gardner. Gardner was a notoriously closed-minded skeptic who dismissed anything having to do with intuitive functioning. To quote Gardner as proof that Bohm was regularly fooled by charlatans is like asking an atheist to comment on whether people are being fooled by ministers. Martin Gardner is not a source of “empirical scientific data” but dogmatic opinion.
Second, you say (with regard to Brian Swimme) that being a mathematician does not make one a scientist. I’ve been exploring definitions of the sciences and mathematics is regularly included as a “science.” How do you justify removing mathematics from science?
Third, you say that references to multiverse theory in the Google Scholar search engine are “irrelevant” as are articles in “The New Scientist.” Does this mean you dismiss multiverse theory as “irrelevant”?
Fourth, with regard to the words “universe” and “multiverse,” I am suggesting there is a useful distinction to be made and explored. Your closed-minded description does not leave room for open-minded inquiry–which is what this dialogue is all about. Is there a definition of a multiverse as a larger context for individual universes that opens a door for inquiry?
Fifth, non-locality does suggest there is a deeper connectivity in the universe which can include “information” connectivity. See, for example, http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=nonlocality
Sixth, you seem to regard scientists as independent observers who are separate from that which they are observing. Is that a correct assumption on my part? If so, I wonder what you think of the statement by physicist John Wheeler who wrote: “Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than this, that it destroys the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there,’ with the observer safely separated from it…. To describe what has happened, one has to cross out that old word ‘observer’ and put in its place the new word ‘participator.’ In some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe.”
- April 17, 2015 at 5:27 pm #3969
Yes, we are both very busy, and that’s OK. There is no rush. If you’d prefer I wait to reply after you put in a partial reply, so you can put the rest of the reply up, just let me know and I’ll wait. I had just split up a post like that yesterday.
To keep things from getting messed up, I went back and labelled the current topics using ((A)) type tags. These are, we should remember, all sub topics under “metabolism”, itself being the first part of the examination of whether the Universe fits David Christian’s definition of “life”.
Also, thank you, additional posters, for clarifying the metabolic, catabolic, etc, details of metabolism. I agree that those are relevant, but think that Duane and I have quite a bit already started, and suggest we get to those topics after finishing at least the lettered topics ((A)) through ((H)).
With that, let’s see if we can continue here.
((A)) “Universe” definition Also, your “fourth” from the last post.
I am suggesting there is a useful distinction to be made and explored. Your closed-minded description does not leave room for open-minded inquiry–which is what this dialogue is all about.
Whoa, you are calling me “closed minded” because I used a dictionary to get a definition? How are you suggesting we get definitions? By making them up? If we don’t have an established word for what we are talking about, we can try to coin a new word, but I don’t we should be making up definitions. Right?
Is there a definition of a multiverse as a larger context for individual universes that opens a door for inquiry?
Well, that word too has a definition. I just looked it up in the dictionary. Instead of me posting the definition here (since that didn’t seem helpful last time), would you like to look it up, and see if you’d like to use that word?
((B)) “Multiverse” references
Third, you say that references to multiverse theory in the Google Scholar search engine are “irrelevant” as are articles in “The New Scientist.” Does this mean you dismiss multiverse theory as “irrelevant”?
No, it doesn’t – I don’t dismiss it. It means that if you are going to cite a reference to support your point, you need to cite a credible reference that actually supports your point. Those two (the fact that there are many hits and the fact that it was discussed in “New Scientist”) don’t support your point. I’m happy to talk about the possibility of the multiverse, and what evidence supports it.
((C)) “Multiverse” – not proven
(no response in your last post on whether or not your response indicates that it doesn’t belong in Big History).
((D)) Particles popping into existence
(no response in your last post on whether or not your response indicates that it doesn’t belong in Big History).
((E)) Swimme “Scientist”
Second, you say (with regard to Brian Swimme) that being a mathematician does not make one a scientist. I’ve been exploring definitions of the sciences and mathematics is regularly included as a “science.” How do you justify removing mathematics from science?
There are at least three reasons why Swimme’s math degree doesn’t make him a scientist (and by the way, I didn’t “remove” math from science – math is a formal science, like logic, not an empirical science, like chemistry).
1. “Scientists” are those who are doing (or retired from) active research in empirical science. Math is not an empirical science.
2. Swimme has not published experimental results in peer-reviewed journals to my knowledge.
3. Even if 1 and 2 weren’t the case, his statement would still be irrelevant because it is outside the field where he has published work. Specifically, if you want to use a quote about the galaxy from someone, that person needs to have published research about the galaxy, or have expertise in, and have reviewed work by others about experimental research about the galaxy. Using a quote about, say, biochemistry, from a published astrophysical scientist, for instance, is fallacious.
************more later. Please wait to reply. My turn to be out of time ********************* : )
((F)) Text of “Living Galaxy” article
((G)) David Bohm
((H)) Pseudoscience List
- April 17, 2015 at 6:52 pm #3970
A: my apologies for describing you as “closed minded” as my concern was that you did not seem to be open to the idea of a “multiverse.” Now I see that you are.
B. More on my own definition of a “multiverse” in a later post. Thanks for bringing it in.
C. You are correct that multiverse theory is not “proven” although there are some tantalizing clues emerging from brane theory. If big history is genuinely “big” then I do think this deserves inclusion in big history.
D. Beyond “particles” (or energetic structures) popping in and out of existence, I’d like to raise the issue of the entire universe as a continuously emergent process.
E. I respect your restrictive definition of a scientist as someone who has published experimental results in a peer reviewed journal and, in those terms, I may qualify as a “scientist.” More on that later. In the meantime, I do consider Brian a scientist in the widely accepted definition of being “a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.”
- April 18, 2015 at 8:23 am #3972
Never has there been any kind of serial narrative more fascinating (to me at least) than the conversations that have shot back and forth in the past few days. I sincerely hope that it all continues and that nobody bows out.
Though I grew up in a culture of science, with my physicist uncle Val (Fitch) and his brother (my father) talking about k mesons, leptons, and “naked charm” at the dinner table, I always felt on the outside of science and occupied, for many years, the world of the humanities and the arts.
I an seated, at the moment, in the Peanut Gallery of your conversations and very much appreciate what I am reading. Please keep it up. Your perspectives, whether in conflict or not, are of immeasurable value.
Jim M., I’m so hoping that you and Lois Byrne will come to Isle La Motte, VT next summer to see the “Walk Through Time” exhibit set up in the context of our 83 acre Ordovician fossil preserve. My unexpected battle, in the mid 1990s, to preserve these ancient outcrops gave rise to my first faint interests in science (ie what happened 480 million years ago, what happened before and what happened after.) I very much appreciate what I am learning – among other things and particularly from you – about the legacy of Lynn Margulis.
To Duane, Jon, Jim, Steve, and all: I am honored to be walking in the outskirts of your worlds. My thanks for your sharings.
- April 18, 2015 at 9:28 am #3973
OK, I’m back. I’ll quickly respond to your most recent post, then continue on the points ((F)) – ((H))
((A)) Apology accepted. Thanks. : )
((C)) – Let’s not bring in additional topics such as branes until we resolved the current ones. So far, it doesn’t seem clear to me that we’ve resolved a single point, much less resolved whether the universe meets criteria #1 for life – metabolism. Same for “continuously emergent process” ((D)).
I do consider Brian a scientist in the widely accepted definition of being “a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.”
No, because “is studying” is wide enough to drive a truck through. That would classify college students as “scientists”, and is clearly not “the widely accepted definition”. After correcting that, you have “person who has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.”
So, how do we know if one has “expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences”? Exactly by the criteria I listed, which were 1. a Ph. D. in a relevant field (natural or physical sciences are the empirical sciences), 2. significant research in the field, and 3. significant publications of #2 in peer reviewed journals. (that’s to show that #2 is true, otherwise it’s hearsay).
Our criteria are the same, and Brian doesn’t meet them. As a further check, we must remember that our criteria is only useful if it can weed out pseudoscientists, like creationists. It does so, in the 1, 2, 3 form above. We agree that the criteria is only useful if it weeds out pseudoscientists, right?
((F)) Text of “Living Galaxy” article – I thought that you had it. What does it say?
((G)) David Bohm-
You wrote: First, you say that the physicist, David Bohm was “regularly fooled by charlatans” and, as proof of this you quote Martin Gardner. Gardner was a notoriously closed-minded skeptic who dismissed anything having to do with intuitive functioning. To quote Gardner as proof that Bohm was regularly fooled by charlatans is like asking an atheist to comment on whether people are being fooled by ministers. Martin Gardner is not a source of “empirical scientific data” but dogmatic opinion.
Martin Gardner looked for evidence for claims, and rejected those that did not have it. That is being “evidence based”, and that’s what it means to be a scientific field. Being that you called me “closed-minded” for using a dictionary, I’m not sure what basis you are using for calling Martin Garnder “closed minded”. If you have evidence of a claim that Martin Gardner rejected, which was later shown to be correct in peer-reviewed journals, then please present it. Otherwise, you section above sounds like simple name calling.
Since you are asking for evidence beyond Gardner, I can supply some as well, though it isn’t necessary. Feynman also pointed out Bohm’s gullibility, in this article: http://www.indian-skeptic.org/html/fey2.htm, and you can see plenty of co-presentations by Bohm and charlatans like Krishnamurti, Sheldrake, etc, on sites like this:
Also, this raises a larger, and important, point, which is especially relevant when seen in conjunction with our point ((E)). That important point is the use of quotes as evidence in themselves.
Unlike Swimme, we both agree that Bohm is a real scientist, and is speaking in the relevant field (physics). Yet, I have objected to his quote as proving the point it was used for. Why? Because to do so is to use quotes as evidence in themselves, which is a mark of pseudoscience. If one is to look to determine if something is likely true, then finding a scientist who says so (though better than nothing) is not sufficient to do so. Why not? Because scientists are real people, and there are millions of them. Out of millions of real people, of course one can find one who has said something that could support whatever is desired. Creationist do this all the time. It also opens the door to the similar method of quote -mining.
So even if we agreed that Swimme was a scientist in the relevant field, and had quoted him at saying “the universe is alive”, it still wouldn’t establish the point. It would help you a lot, but what is needed is something peer reviewed, or better yet, in a college textbook, since those also go through extensive peer review, so the views are those that are widespread among real scientists. Which brings us back to point ((H)), which is:
((H)) Pseudoscience List
A major concern I have is that much of this appears to follow a similar approach as does a lot of pseudoscientific fields. Specifically:
- Redefining words (“Universe”)
- Use of quotes as evidence in itself (Bohm)
- suggesting that other ideas are “assumptions”
- citing non-scientists as evidence (this also applies in cases, not seen here, where scientists are quoted outside their field).
- Vague, unsupported assertions (such as “There appears to be a permeating sentience or knowing capacity infusing the universe…”)
You also wrote:
Fifth, non-locality does suggest there is a deeper connectivity in the universe which can include “information” connectivity. See, for example, http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=nonlocality Sixth, you seem to regard scientists as independent observers who are separate from that which they are observing. Is that a correct assumption on my part? If so, I wonder what you think of the statement by physicist John Wheeler who wrote: “Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than this, that it destroys the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there,’ with the observer safely separated from it…. To describe what has happened, one has to cross out that old word ‘observer’ and put in its place the new word ‘participator.’ In some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe.”
These could be interesting discussion points, but we haven’t resolved any of the points ((A)) – ((H)), so adding more topics now would make less manageable than it already is. Plus, it would begin to look like a Gish Gallop, which we surely want to avoid.
How about we make a “parking lot” for future topics? If that’s good, then here it is:
((I)) Parking lot: Branes, continuously emergent process, non-locality, independent observer.
Sound good? Thanks – Jon P. S. Take your time to think and respond. I’ve got stuff for the next several days, and so certainly won’t be able to write again until mid next week.
- April 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm #3982I’d like to bring empirical research into this conversation that gives a more complete explanation for why I regard the universe as a living system and, in John Wheeler’s phrase, as a “participatory universe.” This research involves both objective and subjective aspects of knowing. The conversation so far has focused only on the “scientific” perspective of the removed observer. I want to bring in evidence from the side of an engaged participator that is based on years of personal experience in a laboratory setting with double-blind experiments whose results have been published in some of the most rigorous and prestigious journals in the scientific world.In 1973-1975, for nearly three years, I was a subject in parapsychology experiments at the think-tank SRI International. Although my participation was intentionally, largely anonymous, I was one of four, primary subjects who participated in a wide range of scientific experiments funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to explore our intuitive potentials. These experiments were conducted in the engineering laboratory at SRI International (separate from the “futures group” where I also worked). Results from these experiments (particularly “remote viewing”) have been published in major scientific journals; for example, the scientific paper by two, world class scientists, Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ, “A Perceptual Channel for Information Transfer Over Kilometer Distances,” published in the proceedings of the prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, (vol. 64, no. 3), March, 1976. This work is also described in the book MindReach: Scientists Look at Psychic Ability (1977) also by Targ and Puthoff. I also authored the appendix on “Personal Observations on the Use of SRI’s ESP Teaching Machine,” for the SRI report: Development of Techniques to Enhance Man/Machine Communication, by R. Targ and H. Puthoff, for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, June, 1974 [Contract 953653 Under NAS7-100, c/o California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory] These rigorous, double-blind, scientific experiments with empirical data were thoroughly reviewed by NASA, IEEE, NSF, and others—including the CIA. I dropped out of the research program after three years when it was classified as secret and taken over by the CIA (Freedom of Information Act files indicate that the research continued for roughly another twenty years and was one of the longest running programs in the agency’s history).Below is a personal summary of my three years of experience. Because I worked at the SRI think-tank, I was an easily accessible subject and was paid as a consultant by NASA for engaging in experiments. I would often spend two or three hours at a time, several days a week, engaged in diverse experiments in the engineering laboratory. I’m not presenting this as “proof” or “empirical data” but as a “subjective” summary of my own, first hand experiences (as it includes a brief description taken from of a series of psychokinesis experiments not conducted under “controlled” conditions but instead that relied on my honest participation as a subject). For the peer reviewed, empirical data for controlled, “remote viewing” experiments, please refer to the studies in the previous paragraph.Beyond my own experience (and that of others in the SRI experiments) the respected scientist and researcher, Dr. Dean Radin, did an exhaustive meta-analysis of psi research involving more than eight hundred studies and sixty investigators over nearly three decades. After weighing the collective evidence from more than 800 studies, he concluded that we do participate in a subtle field or ecology of consciousness where we can both “send” and “receive.” [See: Dean Radin, The Conscious Universe (1997) and Entangled Minds (2006).]There is an enormous amount of research emerging that is directly related to this theme: see, for example, “Action at a Distance in Quantum Mechanics” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, January 26, 2007 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-action-distance/ My intention in sharing these experiences is to open our dialogue to the possibility that our universe is infused with an ecology of consciousness and is a participatory system in which we can participate meaningfully and measurably.
- April 18, 2015 at 9:40 pm #3987
Duane, thanks for your courage in sharing your personal direct experience of a living universe. I know many others who have had experiences in this direction, including myself and other scientists. For a while, the psychologist Charles Tart was keeping an archive of scientists’ transcendent experiences, and he feels that this type of data from scientifically trained individuals are especially important since part of scientific training is to maintain a healthy skepticism towards the data and resist premature interpretation. Accumulating similar experiences from large numbers of individuals is important to help avoid the “messiah effect” and to begin to see common overlaps between experiences. One area where these experiences overlap is the widespread experience and agreement among these individuals that the universe is infused with both consciousness and aliveness.
This is also the widespread view of many indigenous peoples that I have spoken with around the world – that everything that exists is alive in some way, including the universe as a whole. It might not be too big a leap to suggest that many of the ancient cultures of the world believed (and perhaps experienced) the world as a living being. Certainly it was the case for many of the ancient Greeks such as Plato who thought it obvious that the world was alive, since how could something which was not alive give rise to individuals who were clearly alive?
However, these data are qualitative in that they come from the direct subjective experiences of individuals, and can’t be measured quantitatively via instruments, which makes them much less convincing to contemporary science.
So there might be different aspects to the living universe, some of which can be measured quantatively in biological systems, such as metabolism, etc.. and some which can only be experienced through more qualitative approaches to knowing. To mix qualitative and quantitative data can lead to great confusion, which is partly what may be happening in this dialog. Also, after reflecting on Ursula’s definition of metabolism as a specific set of reactions and energy transfers limited to a particular set of biological systems, I tend to agree with her. Trying to fit galactic activity into the biological idea of metabolism may miss what may be really going on at the galactic scale, which could be an entirely different type of energy exchange and perhaps aliveness of an entirely different order and character.
There’s more to say about the qualitative perception of aliveness, and I think many people have the sense or intuition of this aliveness, but it gets filtered out through our common worldview. I can give some examples next time, but I’m prepping for a public talk tomorrow, so I’ll finish this post up here.
- April 19, 2015 at 1:28 pm #3988
Thanks for your insightful comments Stephan. I think you point clearly to the difficulty of exploring the universe as a living system by trying to extrapolate from the biological processes in earth-based systems:
Trying to fit galactic activity into the biological idea of metabolism may miss what may be really going on at the galactic scale, which could be an entirely different type of energy exchange and perhaps aliveness of an entirely different order and character.
The challenges you describe for understanding the “metabolism” of galactic scale systems may be magnified when trying to describe systems of cosmic scale (assuming a multiverse cosmology where our universe is a continuously regenerated system–which I realize is a controversial hypothesis).
- April 19, 2015 at 8:45 pm #3990
<p>Hi All. Interesting discussion!</p><p>Definitions in science allow useful distinctions to be made in the study of observable phenomena – particularly the study of relationships between the objects being distinguished from one another, or the (conceptual) isolation of one particular type of system under study from other types of systems. The intent behind David Christian’s definition of life (I would guess) is to distinguish inert matter from biological systems. If you blur the distinction between biological life and inert matter, than the word “life” could be less useful to the scientist. I doubt that you will get scientists to let go of that distinction.</p><p>Duane, I would pose this question to you. What do you hope to achieve by defining the entire universe as a “living system?” Also, who do you hope to convince? I am asking this because you have clearly chosen an uphill battle and there is likely a better way to achieve your goals.</p><p>Certainly we can say that the universe is highly dynamic when viewed over a large time scale. And the universe (somehow) spawns biological life. Biological organisms are also known to form superorganisms. And (despite some lingering disagreement) the Gaia hypothesis put forth by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis plus the work of James Hutton, Vladimir Vernadsky and Guy Murchie, suggest that the biosphere is a superorganism. These all seem like reasonable positions to take.</p><p>However saying that galaxies – which can be (nearly) completely modeled and predicted using simple numeric simulations – should be placed into the same general category as a biological organism or superorganism would remove the ability of scientists to make what is a very important distinction between biological systems and matter. </p><p>I also share some of Davidson Loehr’s concerns about the scientific validity of your four criteria (although I differ with Davidson on his critique of mysticism – perhaps another debate for another day). You say:</p><p>”The signature of these self-organizing systems is found in the toroidal architecture throughout the universe—the torus being the simplest geometry of a self-organizing system. This is not speculation but visible, clear, and scientifically evident.”</p><p>Can you please explain what you mean by this and cite some mention of it in recent scientific literature? I can model a toroidal motion and other natural phenomena using very simple physics. Biological systems are complex and, while we have dissected and analyzed biological organisms and our understanding of them continues to grow, to my knowledge they have not yet yielded to any singular mathematical or numerical model. There is no computer model that can adequately describe a nematode much less a human. </p><p>Perhaps we should instead add non-reducable complexity to David Christian’s criteria for life…</p><p> </p>
- April 19, 2015 at 9:58 pm #3991
Yes, thanks so much for your insightful comment Stephen pointing out the differences between a biological idea of metabolism and what’s going on at the “galactic scale which could be an entirely different type of energy exchange and perhaps aliveness of an entirely different order and character.” Perhaps there’s another approach we might try, rather than trying to extend a biological definition of life to include the universe as a whole.
Jim, Varela’s or Maturana’ definitions of life might be helpful here? Can you tell us what they are.
I’m not a scientist and not sure how this relates to your question Ed, but it might:
Eric Chaisson’s (astrophysicist) work examines the grand narrative of the universe as one of increasing complexity, reflected at a fundamental level as an increase in energy rate density, that is, an increase in the flow of energy per second and per gram of material found in a given system. This increase in energy rate density increases from the first elements to elements in stars, through early life, plants, animals, humans, and society. A single metric is used across all these different phenomena. In other words, life is not a radical departure from what came before, but is, instead, part of a pattern of increasing energy flow. Or put another way, an amplification of what was before. Is there a way in which life is part of an energy continuum that includes “non-life”? Seems so according to this metric. Ursula? Thoughts?
What about behaviors? What are life (or life-like) behaviors that biological life and let’s say, galaxies have in common? (Might be better to steer away from considering the universe as a whole since we get into the multiverse problem referred to in earlier comments.)
Re your question Ed, about the goal of the discussion, I hear that Duane is looking for a scientific explanation of his own personal experiences. Would that be fair to say Duane?
- April 20, 2015 at 12:40 am #3992
When viewed on a macroscopic scale, galaxies have simple behavior governed primarily by Newton’s laws of motion with additional factors including relativity, dark matter and dark energy. Very predictable. Biological organisms are complex systems that are not so predictable or easily reduced to a simple set of math equations. I think it is valid for scientists to differentiate between these types of systems.
Regarding personal experiences, that is another thing altogether! I have experienced moments of heightened awareness where I saw everything as alive with “consciousness.” However I am also very careful not to assume that my phenomenological (subjective) experiences are literally applicable to the same domain that scientists study – namely, the observable physical universe.
I do have my own theories about how the phenomenological domain of mind relates to the physical universe. I see “mind” as an informational domain that may very well be supported by quantum informational/computational processes. My scientist colleagues groan what I say this, but quantum theories of consciousness are my best guess so far for the mental phenomena that I’ve observed based on my study of a wide range of published data. For anyone interested I’m currently moderating a LinkedIn discussion on quantum consciousness (QC) theories here: https://lnkd.in/bBA48WN
Should any of these QC theories be confirmed we may someday be able to substantiate the statement that the universe (including the vacuum) is alive with consciousness. However at the present time there is no repeatable evidence that biological organisms can exploit quantum informational/computational processes, so we are not going to get mainstream science to accept such a statement. Now if scientists polished the lens of contemplation, as Ken Wilber says, perhaps they would also see the universe as “sentient.”
A less (yet still) controversial interpretation of the universe as “intelligent” comes from James Gardner (and others with similar ideas) in his book Intelligent Universe: http://www.intelligentuniverse.org/Contents%20and%20Excerpt.htm. But even here, there is not enough consensus to win over mainstream science.
Perhaps there is a better way to achieve Duane’s goals…
- April 20, 2015 at 6:17 am #3993
Thanks so much to Jennifer for hosting this fascinating exchange of views as we struggle to understand and articulate our best current understandings of these complex topics.
The discussion about the specific meaning of metabolism is helpful. Jennifer also reminds us of Eric Chaisson’s idea of energy densities.
As you remember, his estimated power densities are:
Generic Structure Approximate Age (10 9 year) Average Φ m (10 − 4 watt/kg)
Galaxies (Milky Way) 12 0.5
Stars (Sun) 10 2
Planets (Earth) 5 75
Plants (biosphere) 3 900
Animals (human body) 10 − 2 20,000
Brains (human cranium) 10 − 3 150,000
Society (modern culture) 0 500,000
The ideas of increasing complexity and emergent properties in addition to energy densities are also often used. Portions of the universe seem to have moved from a level of complexity best analyzed by physics, to that of chemistry, then to biology, then to ecosystems, social systems, and finally (showing my bias) the most complex level: the humanities.
It is not only that there are increasing energy densities, it is also useful to consider the alternate possible routes that these flows can take. Increased energy densities produce and sustain higher complexity. I don’t think there are too may alternatives for electrons when H2 is formed. The steps in increasing complexity of electrical and chemical exchanges from the emergence of atoms to communication among neurons are many and not completely understood. Along the way, there seem to be many emergent properties.
By the time we get to humans, electrical impulses in the brain seems to be able to take a great many different paths. The possibilities of this conversation are even more varied. I doubt that H2 gets bored by endless repetition of movement of electrons; I doubt that flatworms get bored either. However, we would lose interest in this discussion if new ideas were not introduced. Boredom and interest are emergent properties in consciousness.
Only a small portion of matter becomes more complex and more conscious, while most remains at lower levels of complexity. There are still enormous clouds of hydrogen and helium that have been floating since the Big Bang, I think. There are still huge numbers of prokaryotes who have never found any good reason to develop greater complexity.
Most hydrogen in the universe is just floating about. A tiny proportion of it has become able to be fascinated by this conversation. I am grateful that I get to be among that portion.
- April 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm #3994
I think it needs to be said that, when I claim that the macroscopic model of a galaxy is governed by relatively simple equations, it is because I am making a differentiation between macroscopic and microscopic scales. Scientists love to divide things into bits. The macroscopic view ignores the many smaller features of galaxies – including us. The only 100% accurate model of a galaxy would have to include everything – planets, atmospheres and biospheres and all species of life. Any attempt to separate these bits (i.e. macroscopic/microscopic) results in an approximation, and approximations can lead us astray if taken too literally.
However, without these conceptual separations there would be no science.
Lowell’s point of view is more holistic. Life is not separate from the universe – separation is a concept. Life is a natural progression of galactic evolution (or at least our galaxy). What the scientist “sees” – the answers we get – depend on the questions we ask and the choices we make in our conceptual differentiations. Big-picture thinking like this is usually relegated to a field called cosmology. So, in a cosmological sense, I do think we can say that the universe is alive because we are not separate from the universe.
Having said that, I still do think that scientists deserve a separate category for biological organisms versus non-biological organisms. The convenient and most common word that makes this differentiation is “life.” If we want to shift the story, trying to prove that a rock or a galaxy is alive is probably not going to work. I think it may be best to work within the field of cosmology and show that what we call life is inseparable from the rest of the universe and is a natural progression of galactic and planetary evolution (under the right conditions).
- April 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm #3997
As you had proposed, we were having an orderly discussion of a specific question – “does the universe fit David Christian’s definition of being “alive”, starting with the first part of that definition, “having a metabolism”. It is clear that we have not resolved that question, nor agreed on points ((A)) through ((H)).
You have repeatedly proposed new topics before finishing the current one. Now you have proposed looking at the SRI results – and I am OK with doing so – but before we do, should we not intentionally move on from the current topic?
So which would you like to do? Would you like to: 1. Put the SRI stuff in the parking lot and continue with the current topic.
or, 2. intentionally pause the current topic (metabolism and A-H) and look at the SRI stuff?
Your call. Thanks-
- April 21, 2015 at 5:12 pm #3998
Jon – I see no reason why we cannot have parallel conversations as long as we are not distracted from addressing the points you are making.
You say: “Martin Gardner looked for evidence for claims, and rejected those that did not have it. That is being “evidence based”, and that’s what it means to be a scientific field. Being that you called me “closed-minded” for using a dictionary, I’m not sure what basis you are using for calling Martin Garnder “closed minded”. If you have evidence of a claim that Martin Gardner rejected, which was later shown to be correct in peer-reviewed journals, then please present it. Otherwise, you section above sounds like simple name calling.”
Then you go on to say: “Since you are asking for evidence beyond Gardner, I can supply some as well, though it isn’t necessary. Feynman also pointed out Bohm’s gullibility, in this article: http://www.indian-skeptic.org/html/fey2.htm, and you can see plenty of co-presentations by Bohm and charlatans like Krishnamurti, Sheldrake, etc, on sites like this:
With all due respect, it sounds to me like you are now the one who is name-calling 🙂
I have followed Sheldrake for years, and while his theories certainly do not follow the “status quo” of science, he has indeed put forth testable and falsifiable hypotheses – unlike most “new age” philosophers – and I have found his approach to studying unusual phenomena be consistent with the scientific method. He should be praised for this and does not deserve the vitriol that has been directed towards him. Personally, I suspect that he has been targeted so heavily exactly because he is attempting to progress science – real science – in a direction that is quite uncomfortable for skeptics because it challenges their worldview.
The problem I have with extreme skepticism is that is promotes a faith-based worldview that purports to be scientific but in fact is not. I found Gardner to be one of the more rational and balanced skeptics, and for the most part I found myself agreeing with him, however he still promoted the smug faith-based certainty of scientism. An honest and open-minded scientist would consider his certainty unjustified and extreme when seriously reviewing the evidence at hand.
Colin Wilson said it better then I could when he commented on Gardner:
“He writes about various kinds of cranks with the conscious superiority of the scientist, and in most cases one can share his sense of the victory of reason. But after half a dozen chapters this non-stop superiority begins to irritate; you begin to wonder about the standards that make him so certain he is always right. He asserts that the scientist, unlike the crank, does his best to remain open-minded. So how can he be so sure that no sane person has ever seen a flying saucer, or used a dowsing rod to locate water? And that all the people he disagrees with are unbalanced fanatics? A colleague of the positivist philosopher A. J. Ayeronce remarked wryly “I wish I was as certain of anything as he seems to be about everything”. Martin Gardner produces the same feeling.”
– Colin Wilson, in The Quest For Wilhelm Reich (1981), p. 2
- April 21, 2015 at 6:54 pm #3999
Hi, I am very happy to add my viewpoint to the conversation. Thank you Duane, for enlightening me about these interesting topics. Jennifer asked me to read the entire discussion–I have done that, but I have not had time to read the supporting material. But I think I can make a post now, and then another post after I have time to study. So here goes:
First, is is worthwhile to use a unique model to analyze a big thing?
Why, yes, I’d say.
For example: I recently attended a seminar where the presenter described the Earth as a battery (or , galvanic cell).
The scientist used standard definitions for such words as cathode, anode, voltage, current. (Humans, who oxidize sugars and fats for fuel, are part of the anode.)
He presented the methodology he used to come up with his numbers (the amount of electrons transferred between anode and cathode)
With this unusual way of viewing the Earth, if memory serves, he calculated voltage and current for different years, and had some interesting observations relating to our politics and environment.
With the above talk as a (simple) model for this type of endeavor, our version being: Is the universe a living system?
Okay, as others have said, words must be defined precisely. That means a group of people (we, on this board?) must first agree to the definitions of the words, before anything other step.
We must also define the methodologies used to gather our information.
The original poster gave four criteria for ‘living’, and I am happy to agree with them.
The words contained in the criteria, however (‘universe’, ‘metabolism’, ‘living’, ‘surroundings’, ect.) already have so many definitions ‘out there’ and thus we are already discussing which ones to use.
Forum members have introduced other words, too, in the above discussion, also carrying multiple definitions, and we don’t agree. (“consciousness”) Just debating our definitions can be fun, as we have seen. We can ‘choose’ a definition, and must. Once we choose it, our group can use it.
Secondly, the methodology. How do we determine if the universe imports energy, for example?
A monumental job just to get to the point where we all agree where to start our work!
I also think we might want to state our purpose for asking the question: is the universe living? The truth is, if our definitions (that we as a group choose) are sufficiently narrow, the answers we get may be dull. (i.e., yes, according to our own strict, narrow definition of metabolism, the universe has a metabolism. What now?)
Also, what do we hope to gain? (Ed Lantz made this point.) The ‘battery’ scientist above (if memory serves) proposed that if electrons are ‘missing’ from the cathode or anode on any given year, he could infer that some eco system or other is undergoing a change that might be interesting.
Do we have such a purpose, after this all the work of our exercise? Perhaps not.
In my opinion, I believe the original poster wanted to make the broader point that there is more going on in the universe than meets the eye, and that there are things we don’t understand, and that some people won’t acknowledge. There are connections we don’t yet see or understand.
I personally agree with this.
Is it necessary to call the universe ‘living’ to make this point?
The other problem: this question is so difficult, compared to say, the earth as a battery, which, if memory serves, was a hard enough model to create. That doesn’t in itself make this a not worthwhile endeavor.
Back to the task: Jon’s idea of choosing one criteria, metabolism, is a reasonable idea. I myself volunteer to look into the question: what is the universe compared to the ‘surrounding’ of the universe? Can energy be imported from surrounding into universe? I don’t know if I will come up with answers, but if I get any insight, I will post them.
There is a parallel discussion in this forum: Is there an emergent property of ‘life’? Are there emergent properties at all?
This question intrigued me some years ago. A philosopher who says the answer is no (I think) is Daniel Dennett. See his book: ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’.
I’ve been told that Roger Penrose’s book, ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’, explains the answer is yes. I can’t make heads or tails what that book is about, because it is too hard for me.
I don’t know the answer to the question, Are there emergent properties at all? but I don’t think it is necessary to have emergent properties for there to be more going on in the universe than meets the eye, nor do I think the universe has to be living.
I believe that the ‘missing connections’ will come from the study of the small, (waves, the electron) not the large (the universe). Someone will have a new insight and the new insight will overturn preconceptions. Just my personal belief and I am probably wrong! I hope it happens in my lifetime, though!
An interesting question: If the universe is living, can we define when it would ‘die’?
My apologies to the fellow who gave the battery seminar if I have disremembered something. I am kicking myself because I can’t find the notes I took.
- April 21, 2015 at 8:06 pm #4003
<p>Hi Karen,</p><p> </p><p>Welcome to this intense conversation! As Jon described, there are so many topics to which to reply, but there is one that, for me, is over-riding:
Were it not for the survival of human civilization (and the survival of roughly a quarter to half of all plant and animal species), I could easily let our many differences slide by as merely an academic concern. However, the currently dominant perspective of scientific materialism regards all phenomena, including consciousness, as the result of mechanical interactions of matter. In this view, the universe is (non-living) “dead matter” at the foundations—inanimate and without consciousness. Given this view, it then seems logical that we, the living, would seek to exploit on our own behalf that which is not alive—the vast majority of the world around us. If the universe is lifeless at its foundations, then it has no deeper purpose, meaning, or value. In short, a “dead universe” perspective immediately fosters an exploitive mindset—encouraging us humans to use that which is dead on behalf of that which is most alive–ourselves. In turn, an exploitive and ruinous future for the Earth emerges directly and powerfully from scientific materialism. This ruinous paradigm is already profoundly impacting the Earth with climate disruption, species extinction, resource depletion, ocean acidification and much more—producing a world that is moving rapidly into a global, systems crisis. Looking beyond the paradigm of scientific materialism is not simply an academic or philosophical exercise—it is vital for the future of our species and the rest of life on the Earth.</p><p> </p><p>Put simply, can we move beyond seeing the world around us as an “it” to a “thou”? Can we find within the realm of science the wisdom and insight to revere and preserve the world around us? I’m thinking of Martin Buber’s proposition that we can regard existence either as an “It” (an object that is separate from us which we can use), or as “Thou” (in which we regard all that exists as being in an intimately interdependent relationship). Scientific materialism has been very powerful in regarding existence as comprised of separate objects. It seems to me a new scientific understanding is emerging which regards existence as an inseparable whole in which we intimately participate. This insight, in turn, seems to foster a more “ethical” paradigm that moves from exploitation to preservation. If the universe is infused with aliveness, then a “thou” relationship is not an artificial construct but a deeper scientific realism. </p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p>
- April 21, 2015 at 11:20 pm #4006
Hi Duane. Thank you for sharing your motivations here. So what I hear you saying is that you would like to foster a shift in human consciousness towards greater reverence, sensitivity and respect for our biosphere and, in fact, all of creation. I believe you are making the assumption that humans have greater reverence and respect for life (i.e. biological organisms), therefore if we can convince people (namely, scientists) that the entire universe is alive, then we will be forced to apply a more caring set of ethics to how we treat all things.
A few thoughts:
1) It seems to me that the “ruinous paradigm” that concerns you is also prevalent in how we treat other lifeforms as well. We exploit plants and animals insensitively just as we treat natural resources without regard for the consequences. So even if you could prove that everything is alive, I question whether that alone would bring about the shift in consciousness that you seek.
2) The ethical stance that you hope to foster in the public requires that we pay more attention to the affect of our natural resource utilization, waste products and other human activities on our bodies, our biosystems and our future generations. This does not require that we grant “living” status to all things. It requires holistic “big picture” understanding, monitoring and modeling of these subtle and dynamical systems, allowing us to explore interrelationships and “what-if” scenarios so that we can make wiser choices. And it requires that information to be validated and disseminated widely to the general public in order to influence public policy.
3) I would assert that the ruinous paradigm that you refer to is not, in fact, the result of a materialist philosophy. A wise, sensitive and compassionate materialist will likely reach the same conclusions as you about “climate disruption, species extinction, resource depletion, ocean acidification” and more. In fact, concerned scientists are the ones leading the charge against climate change. The problem is one of ignorance and insensitivity. There are a wide range of philosophical stances that one can take – pantheism, reductionist materialism, objectivism, realism, pragmatism, etc. Rather than attempting to convert everyone to a particular philosophical/religious path by asserting that inanimate matter is literally alive (an uphill battle that some may see as the promotion of a pantheistic worldview), I would recommend that we instead document these subtle dynamical relationships in nature and show how human can affect these relationships (for better or worse) to foster a greater sensitivity to these systems.
4) In my mind, education is the key for fostering the shift in consciousness that we seek. Not necessarily traditional education, however. Education is so often associated with the conveyance of “cognitive” information, but that is not enough. Here we also wish to foster a sense of compassion for and a sense of interconnectedness with our environment – what some have called “deep ecology.” This is an “affective” educational goal. I have directed my work towards the development of immersive media programming including virtual reality systems and dome theaters. There are 1200 digital domes in the world – largely in schools, museums and science centers – that are hungry for compelling content. And in another couple of years there will be millions of VR headsets in consumer’s homes. These are the most powerful media delivery systems on the planet able to immerse audiences in future scenarios, scientific visualizations and more, using the power of art, music and experiential storytelling to evoke a deep connection with and understanding of our world, including our diverse biological ecosystems and diverse social cultures. That is my contribution to this work for which we are seeking support.
Hope this helps!
- April 22, 2015 at 12:16 am #4007
Two points seem to belong here. First, it’s useful to remember — as Wittgenstein so tersely put it — that “Certainty is only an attitude.”
Second, it’s useful to know the background of those posting opinions and comments in these discussions. Not all of us are scientists, and shouldn’t have our comments valued as though we were. To name just the two I know about: myself, and Duane Elgin. My undergrad was in music theory (Univ. of Michigan — Go Blue!). My M.A. was in methods of studying religion. And my Ph.D. was in theology, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science, with Wittgenstein’s language philosophy added into the mix (Univ. of Chicago). Duane’s undergrad was in liberal arts, and his two M.A. degrees were in finance and the history of economics. It might be useful, since we don’t know each other, to provide a sense of our education and professional experience, and its connection with our comments in this forum. For me: before graduate school (1979-1986), I had been a professional musician, combat photographer in Vietnam, owned a high-priced wedding and portrait studio in Ann Arbor, and done carpentry, first as hobby then to earn a living. After graduate school, I was a Unitarian minister for 23 years, before retiring in 2009. I have just one book, America, Fascism & God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher (Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2005). My concerns in these discussions are mostly with language: using it clearly, not using emotional language as though it were intellectual/factual (three decades of reading and listening to people in religion created a deep yearning for people who could say what they meant in ordinary language!) It might help if we shared a brief introduction of ourselves when we enter these discussions. At least it would help me, so I began.
That said, I’ve been frustrated at Duane’s use of “scientific materialism” as a straw man, and what have felt like romantic/emotional arguments cloaked in scientific garb, so appreciated Ed Lantz’ challenges and clarifications in those areas. Guess I’m over-sensitive to arguments that feel more like sermons, without unambiguous arguments and support. My limitation.
- April 22, 2015 at 3:27 am #4008
Thanks for the background info, Davidson. It’s great that we’re such a multidisciplinary group!
I have a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering with an emphasis in quantum physics, plasma physics and electromagnetics (my professor was a physicist). Prior to that I studied digital and analog circuit design. For 7 years I led optical signal processing R&D for DOD and other clients as a government contractor then quit my job to work in a planetarium writing code to drive star, sun and moon projectors and automate the theater. I then went to work for a planetarium manufacturer and designed digital dome theaters around the world, including the Library of Alexandria’s planetarium in Egypt and Domo Digital at Papalote Museo in Mexico City. I left the dome world to launch Harmony Channel, one of the first VOD networks in Comcast on 14 million homes. I am now running a company that is bringing the digital dome technology into mainstream entertainment and we create mobile 360 VR cinemas and 4D theaters for corporate branding and develop live arts and entertainment programming as well. We operate a 50′ dome studio in downtown LA called the Vortex Dome. I want to tell transformative stories in these powerful theater environments that can also distribute to VR headsets.
In addition to being a natural scientific thinker, I have been meditating since a teenager and have studied Theosophy, shamanism and other wisdom paths and am ordained as an interfaith minister (primarily because I wanted to study world religions). I consider myself to be an a pragmatist, an open minded and curious scientist, a determined entrepreneur and a fearless mystic. I’m super passionate about helping to advance the evolution of human consciousness. I believe Ray Kurzweil is right – the computational capacity of our computing systems are going to exceed the intellectual capacities of our brains in a few decades due to Moore’s Law. I want to see a corresponding Moore’s Law geometric increase in human wisdom to go along with this.
And reading Wittgenstein makes my head hurt.
- April 22, 2015 at 3:29 am #4009
Happy Earth Day!
- April 22, 2015 at 1:24 pm #4010
Ed- great to meet you!
Interesting background. I think our ability to tell stories is key to any culture, and I see the Universe Story as so essential to our future. Your technology could be extremely helpful. It’s great to connect here. You can see some of my stuff by looking around online. You’ll find that I feel a spiritual connection to all of life on Earth, an overflowing gratitude for our Ancestors (all the way back to stars!), and that everything I do is to help build a just, healthy, and sustainable future for all.
My background – I was raised Catholic, and in college realized that I simply didn’t buy it anymore. From the position of an Atheist, I wanted more of a connection to our human family, so my first step in constructing a rational, real, and living spirituality started when I realized that our Neolithic forebears, in culture after culture, celebrated the Winter Solstice. It’s a spiritual time that encompasses humanities deepest religious roots. So over a decade ago, I started watching the sunrise every Winter Solstice. This changed my life by opening the door to a celebration of this life and of our earth. Soon after, my wife and I added celebration of the Summer Solstice as a celebration of the joyful life of summer. The celebration of the Equinoxes followed, as did the celebration of the Celtic Holidays, which are the thermal equivalents of the Solstices and Equinoxes. As a whole, these eight holidays connect me to our Earth, to life, and to our human family. Somewhere along there, we realized we were celebrating the Pagan Wheel of the Year. With an evidence-based worldview and Pagan holidays, I’m a Naturalistic Pagan (www.naturalpagan.org). Of many different activities related to that, my most recent endeavor was helping craft the Pagan Statement on the Environment, which we just released today (Happy Earth Day!) It is at http://www.ecopagan.com/ , and you can add your voice by signing it.
Academically, my B. S. and Ph.D. (from Northwestern University) are in Materials Science (a field that includes Chemistry, Mechanics, and Physics). I’ve been a research scientist for the past 18 years, with about a dozen peer-reviewed papers published, including one in the journal “Nature”. Most of my work has been in the field of silicon, though I’ve done some nanoparticle work too. My wife and I do a lot of different things to bring science to kids. We wrote a book on celebrating birthdays by atomic number (really fun!), the 18 second book trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9Tyck37klw
OK, back to the topics.
First- Duane, since you aren’t staying on any given topic, I’ll have to conclude that we agree that the Universe doesn’t meet the first criteria for life – metabolism. I still hope for a response on many of the other topics listed (including simply giving us the text of the “living Galaxy article”, which you seem to have. Is there a reason why you won’t answer that after I’ve asked it at least 4 times? ((F)) ). Do we agree on the list in ((H)) – that these are methods of pseudoscience and should hence be avoided? etc.
Next – I too am concerned with Duane’s characterization of “the dominant perspective of scientific materialism” sounds like the same strawman I hear creationists use. That’s why I asked you, Duane, to explain if you mean methodological or philosophical materialism/naturalism – because in my many times engaging creationists and other pseudoscientists, that was very often at the root of the problem.
About SRI stuff – it’s a whole topic I don’t have time for now (unless we focus on it instead of bringing up more topics), but one point does come to mind. Even if such communication were shown to be real, it really doesn’t show that the universe is “alive”. After all, before the understanding of electrical conduction, the telegraph would be a similarly “unknown” way to communicate, and all the same arguments that Duane made could have been made then on the basis of an unknown way to transmit information by copper wire in 1700 AD. We know now that such communication is quite possible – and yet it doesn’t show that the universe is any more “alive” then it was in 1400AD.
I think that Ed, your point that what Duane (and I, for that matter) want is to show that the Universe *has value* is correct. We want the Universe treated with reverence, regardless of whether or not it is “alive”, or if there is some unknown communication method, or whatever.
Happy Earth Day everyone!
- April 22, 2015 at 1:40 pm #4011
Jon et al,
There is something about a few people on a planet so small we can’t even imagine imagining its size relative to the universe — something about a few in this species treating the universe with reverence that is at least comical, isn’t it? On the other hand, I guess it’s like traditional believers extolling the virtues and infinite wisdom, love, etc. of God. Kind of like “My Guy is the best, so I’m sort of connected to the best.” We’re all stardust, all God’s children, etc. And that sounds pretty solid, psychologically speaking. Still, it’s funny!
- April 22, 2015 at 2:28 pm #4012
Sorry for the delay in responding. I’m extremely busy with a number of projects and just don’t have time to respond to all of the discussions underway. Regarding the Scientific American article on the “living Galaxy” theme, I don’t have the online version and they charge a fee for it, so I only saw it in a hard copy some years ago. Here is the citation they have for it: Scientific American, January 2004, “Our Growing, Breathing Galaxy”, by Bart P. Wakker and Philipp Richter, with the subtitle, “Long assumed to be a relic of the distant past, the Milky Way turns out to be a dynamic, living object.” (FYI: I did reply with this information on April 15th, so I was not ignoring your request.)
We do agree that ” We want the Universe treated with reverence, regardless of whether or not it is “alive”, or if there is some unknown communication method, or whatever.” I’ll try to follow up later today with more focused comments on my concerns regarding Big History–which is where this conversation started.
- April 22, 2015 at 3:39 pm #4013
Jon is doing a better job of asking the hard questions than I ever could, so please allow me to offer a parallel suggestion.
- We humans make our decisions primarily by emotions and intuition. It’s hard to make people change their minds. Even scientists are notorious for refusing to acknowledge evidence that contradicts their personal views.
- The most powerful “proof” that humans respond to is social proof. “Do the people I admire do XYZ? Then I want to do XYZ.”
- So if you want to get the “living universe” accepted at IBHA, then the best way might be to get it accepted by similar organizations first. Let the people at IBHA see what they’re missing when other organizations embrace the “living universe” and leave the IBHA behind.
Duane, you can see for yourself how hard it is to win Jon over to your side, so you can extrapolate to how hard it will be to overcome the IBHA’s rejection. If you try a “direct assault” and try to get the IBHA to reverse itself, you’re going to run into this much resistance and more. Does it really matter whether you’re right? Realistically, being right is probably not enough to overcome this level of entrenched resistance.
So what if you tried getting your material accepted in other organizations, conferences, etc? Victories in these other arenas would bolster your case and give you valuable experience in learning what approaches work best and which approaches don’t work as well as one might think they would. The alternative—trying to force the IBHA to admit they were wrong—seems doomed to failure no matter how good your case might be.
Personally, I must admit that I have a negative reaction to an attempt to describe the universe as conscious. I see consciousness as a precious gift that our ancestors have bequeathed to us, something that our ancestors evolved bit by bit over hundreds of millions of years. It’s a miraculous result of Darwinian evolution, something for us all to marvel at. To ascribe this wondrous capacity to the universe at large, in my view, does a disservice to us and to all our sentient relatives on the planet. But I’m a shameless fan of evolution, so that really colors my perception of this matter.
As for my background, my parents tried to raise me as a liberal Lutheran, but I was a liberal atheist instead. As a young man, I spent a few years persuaded that New Age mysticism was true, and I’m glad that I spent that time in mysticism because I think it softened me. But now I’m a natural materialist through and through.
- April 22, 2015 at 4:19 pm #4015
Thanks for your wise reflections. My hope has been that Big History would be big enough to allow other paradigms–a living systems paradigm–to be considered. I see that this is not the case despite the catastrophic consequences for the Earth that are being fostered by the scientific–and social–paradigm of materialism. As you suggest, I am already working with various other organizations that are more amenable to exploring a living systems perspective (I don’t think of this as “mysticism” as I don’t know what that word means for most people and I did not use that word in my presentations to the Big History community). I do, however, think there is an “ecology of consciousness” which is an integral and highly functional aspect of our universe and this eco-system of consciousness has been demonstrated in years of rigorous laboratory experiments in which I have participated. So, for me, this is not about theism or atheism or mysticism etc., but rather about how the universe works and whether it is more accurate to describe it as a mechanical system or as a living system. I will take your thoughts to heart that people make decisions primarily by emotions, intuition and the prevailing views of others.
- April 22, 2015 at 4:37 pm #4016
Duane — You write: “the catastrophic consequences for the Earth that are being fostered by the scientific–and social–paradigm of materialism.”
Again consulting wiki, one finds: “Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.”
Is it your position that the “living systems perspective” stands in contrast to materialism? Negates materialism? If so, where do the materials that constitute organisms leave off? Are you saying that the “consciousness” of organisms, let alone the universe, is non-material? If so, then what is it instead?
- April 22, 2015 at 5:12 pm #4017
Ursula–I’m not sure what you mean by matter? Does your question include “dark matter” which is invisible but accounts for most of the matter in the universe? Does your question about matter also refer to the constituents of quarks and gluons? In turn, what are the constituents of quarks and gluons? Strings of resonance? It seems to me that there is no single universally agreed scientific meaning of the word “matter.” If so, materialism rests on a very precarious foundation. You ask if consciousness is non-material–but what is “material”?
- April 22, 2015 at 5:15 pm #4018
Yup. Matter is all of the above in my lexicon.
- April 22, 2015 at 5:32 pm #4019
If there is no agreed upon scientific meaning of the word “matter” then your question about differentiating “matter” from “consciousness” does not have meaning.
- April 22, 2015 at 5:40 pm #4020
If we leave out the strings-of-resonance part, which is currently a mathematical concept, then I believe there is empirical support for all the others you list, so most scientists of my acquaintance would say that all are forms of matter. Might you start with that and help me understand how you configure consciousness, or livingness, in that context? Thanks.
- April 22, 2015 at 5:53 pm #4021
Since you have asked me, I will attempt to condense Maturana and Varela’s thesis and explain why the new paradigm, the Third Way of Evolution and the new Integrative Biology turns what we have long considered the truth on its head.
Humberto Maturana, biologist and philosopher, and Francisco Varela, biologist, philosopher and neuroscientist, have worked on life and sensing. They came up with the concept of autopoesis in reference to life. Autopoesis is often referred to as “autonomous”, “self-making” and/or “self-maintaining”. However, in their book, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, they make it clear that autopoesis is much more “world-making” or “Universe-making” if you like. They lay out a very logical scientific argument about life (which is more of a verb than a noun), knowing and follow that to human consciousness. All of this argument is as cellular phenomena. So this would be the first point I would make about what life (living) is: it is a cellular process. I would also point out that we are dealing with a definition for life or living which should distinguish it from things that are not alive. The difference between a person and a corpse, for example. I think we can all agree that there is a difference even if we might not be able to describe exactly what it is.
Maturana and Varela begin their book with some words about what they call the “temptation of certainty”. I will say that certainty is the opposite of science. To quote George E.P. Box, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” I would expand that and say that we could replace Box’s word “models” with “theories” or “physical laws” or “first principles” or “paradigms” or “facts”. This is because scientific knowledge is at best an approximation of reality or the truth. Maturana and Varela will use their argument to explain why this is so.
Maturana and Varela first take on what knowledge is and they do this in an evolutionary context. They begin with the original cell. Not its origin, but what the cell needs to survive. These requirements have not changed in over 3800 million years. Cells need a source of electrons, a source of energy, a source of carbon, and a terminal electron acceptor. Cells get these from their environment. In addition to Carbon, other elements, such as Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus,and Sulfur (together abbreviated as CHNOPS) are also essential for biosynthesis of proteins, etc. How do they get these things?
In science, it has long been assumed that there is an objective reality, that is, a reality that we observe directly. But here, Maturana and Varela have a great insight: you have to approach the problem of how cells structurally couple to the environment–not as an observer from the outside, but from the perspective of the cell that “brings forth its own world”– inside of the cell through its sense or senses, however basic. So far, the “cell” and its sense(s), advanced molecules, bi-phospholipid membranes, etc. likely originate as a result of physical and chemical evolution—much like viruses—a kind of “near life”. Life happens through structural coupling that allows metabolism (getting and using what it needs to survive). Maturana and Varela argue that knowledge is action to gain and maintain structural coupling. We even have a name for this kind of knowledge, instinct, and we connect it to action, instinctive behavior. Here would be another point: knowledge is a cellular process (action).
I want to switch tracks to deal with the new paradigms in evolution and biology and the effects they are already having in medicine. biology and other fields of natural science. When I say new, I mean newly accepted. This new paradigm has a scientific history more than a century long, much of it done in Russia. Most researchers who are currently doing research in things like the Human Microbiome Project are unaware of the history of the ideas in their own fields. In TED talks they will state that these ideas arose 20 years ago with DNA sequencing. Most scientists who are specialists within very narrow disciplines of reductionist science have no idea of the historical context of their work, much less the history of science as a whole. Being a scientist does qualify anyone as an expert on any kind of “big picture” or systems science or on science out of their field. For example, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, presents the Modern Synthesis explanation of evolution and genes in the 2014 remake of the Cosmos series. Tyson is an astrophysicist, he is not an expert on biology or evolution. Every rule and assumption of the Modern Synthesis has been broken. Paradigms don’t shift. They fade out as those that were certain that the old paradigm was right die off and a new generation of scientists and new textbooks with new facts replace old textbooks with old facts.
Lynn Margulis did not originate the ideas that she championed but she was a polymath with wide ranging expertise across disciplines and she had the vision and genius to recognize that these ideas made sense and she gathered evidentiary support when the consensus of science was certain that the models, theories, statistical proofs, just-so stories, assertions, such as the Weismann barrier, and misinterpretations of Crick’s “central dogma of biology” proved that her ideas and those of Barbara McClintock were impossible, crazy and ridiculous. Consensus and authority are not evidence. Correlation is not causation. McClintock was right: the genome is dynamic—part of a dynamic organelle of the cell, the nucleus. The genome is rearranged in response to the environment. Margulis was right: mitochondria (the energy producing units of nucleated cells) and chloroplasts (the photosynthesizing organelles of algae and plants) were once free-living bacteria that were incorporated into the cell, not the products of random mutation. Now microbiology is revealing that changes in the genome that are not random in relation to function, non-random changes are the rule. Margulis championed a view of the world that was the opposite of the “big-like-us” zoological model of evolution popularized by Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) that omitted 7/8ths of deep time where all of the important events in the evolution of life happened. Bacteria invented almost all of the important stuff in evolution. Margulis realized that the Earth had always been a bacterial world and that microbes still play the essential roles in the Biosphere, not the megafauna and, as disappointing as it may be to our egos, not us. Now that micro biomes are finally being recognized by science they are revolutionizing our understanding of growth, development, health and disease and opening new avenues for research. They were the top science story in 2013.
James Lovelock is another polymath and extraordinary scientist (an atmospheric chemist who discovered the hole in the ozone layer) and an inventor (microwave oven, electron capture device, instruments for NASA) who “discovered life on Earth” while coming up with a test for life on Mars that did not rely on Martian life resembling life on Earth. Lovelock’s test that revealed “life on Earth” led to his formulation of his Gaia hypothesis and with much work, revision and collaboration—primarily from Lynn Margulis—Gaia theory (a theory that is almost sure to be wrong in some detail, but nonetheless useful). Margulis supplied the microbial underpinnings for Gaia theory. Margulis is now recognized for the Serial Endosymbiosis Theory (SET) on the origin of nucleated cells from the symbiogenetic merger of eubacteria and archaebacteria, for her work in taxonomy, and she is acknowledged as “the master architect for rethinking biology in terms of interacting consortia [symbiosis]”. Lynn Margulis referred to Gaia (the Earth system) as “symbiosis seen from space”. Evolution and Gaia are processes, but they are not limited to cells. They involve abiotic processes, the structural coupling of cells to the environment and the interaction of these processes. They also include influences, forces, energy, matter, etc. from the Solar System and Universe on the Earth system. For this reason, Lynn Margulis never used the metaphor of a superorganism when describing Gaia. Lovelock used the metaphor because the Earth exhibits evidence of regulation (“a tendency to homeorhetic regulation within physical limits”) over 3800 million years and much of this regulation appears to be a result of the presence of life on Earth. The Earth with life is a dynamic complex system far from equilibrium unlike Venus or Mars. It appears that these anomalies including the presence of large amounts of water, continents, tectonics, a reactive gas atmosphere, carbon sequestration, deep time temperature regulation in spite of a Sun that has grown 25-30% hotter are the result of the life process. This theoretical Gaian regulation is the direct result of cellular processes, structural coupling or the combination of those with non-living thermodynamic, physical and chemical processes.
This view which is just beginning to be adopted by mainstream science, social science and human culture will take a long time for us to wrap our collective heads around. It is a view that turns most of our worldview on its head. Lynn Margulis used to put a slide up during her talks on which was written the ancient Indo-European word, “dghem”. She would explain that it was the common root for Earth, humus, human and humility. We humans need more than anything to learn that we are of the Earth, dependent on the microorganisms that transform regolith to rich soils and the air we breath. We need desperately to be learn humility. We suffer from anthropocentricity and delusions of human exceptionalism.
Maturana and Varela were colleagues of Lynn Margulis and some have questioned whether their concept of autopoesis, defined as “autonomous, self-making and/or self-maintaining, needs to be revisited in light of the new Integrative or Symbiotic Biology which has completely undermined the idea of animal individuality. The animal eukaryotic cells are now seen as the “holobiont” and the persistent microbial symbionts (the microbiome) that outnumber the animal cells in animals 10 to 1, make animals a composite or collaborating community. Another blow to our egos, “I” is “us” and our idea of self turns out to be a kind of neurosis. Maturana and Varela argue that to a cell, the environment can be the physical environment or other cells. In meta-cellular organisms many cells have environments that are made up of extracellular fluids, specialized nerve cells that act to perturb the environment, and neighboring cells. Meta-cellular organisms have developed systems, including nervous systems, to coordinate the action of cells to maintain structural coupling. The more elaborate the nervous system, the more the system organizes from a decentralized network toward a center: a nerve chord or brain. These more elaborate systems and senses “bring forth” worlds that contain more information and more choices of action in forms of mind or consciousness. Organisms add learning to instinctive behavior as a recursive function of structural coupling, mind and consciousness.
In humans, our elaborate languages have produced the illusion of the individual or independent “self”. Language facilitates learning, reflection, invention, imagination, simplification, social organization, culture, agriculture, technology and other methods that maintain structural coupling. These elaborate levels have extended beyond cellular processes to the use of tools (in the broadest sense of the word) and the archiving and transmission of proxies for knowledge. They have had a darker side seen in human history as struggles for power, god-complexes, wars, inhumanity (an ironic term if ever there was one) and the suicidal despoiling of the Earth. It is evident that we humans are incredibly gullible and prone to denial. Mark Twain probably made the most astute comment about what distinguishes humans from other animals when he observed that “Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.”
Maturana and Varela are not supporting a solipsistic view or an entirely representationalist view. Their’s is a middle path. Cells “bring forth” the world with which they couple through their senses and actions, but the world that they sense is out there. Because we view reality through our senses and actions, we can be fooled—as any magician or optical illusion will demonstrate—we cannot be certain that our descriptions of reality are more than approximations. That said, science is still the best way of knowing because it is based on best evidence. Sometimes certainty masquerading as science has us believing things based on consensus or authority, but that isn’t science.
Maturana and Varela end their book on a note that I find interesting because their argument parallels Buddhism in some interesting ways: certainty can easily be seen as attachment, their argument is a middle path, and their conclusion is mindful and compassionate:
“In this book we have harked back to the “tree of knowledge”. We have invited the reader to eat the fruit of that tree by offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon. If we have followed its line of reasoning and imbibed its consequences, we realize that they are inescapable. The knowledge of knowledge compels. It compels us to adopt an attitude of permanent vigilance against the temptation of certainty. It compels us to recognize that certainty is not a proof of truth. I compels us to realize that the world everyone sees is not the world but a world which we bring forth with others. It compels us to see that the world will be different only when we live differently.”
Do we inhabit a Living Universe? Given just those things that I have discussed above, which would not be a complete scientific definition of life, I think the answer would be that the known Universe (about which we know so little) is not living because it does not fit even these parts of a definition. However, I am in total agreement with J. B. S. Haldane who remarked, “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
- April 22, 2015 at 6:30 pm #4022
”Were it not for the survival of human civilization (and the survival of roughly a quarter to half of all plant and animal species), I could easily let our many differences slide by as merely an academic concern.’
I don’t think we have any differences between us at all! I think, yes, we can explore whether the universe is living, as long as we describe our words, terms and methods and agree on them, and it may indeed be fun to do that, or, if folks on the forum agree to define the words very narrowly, the exercise might be mundane.
(For example, we agree to call living, anything that contains something living. Then, yes, the universe is living, but that’s kind of mundane)
Or, we define our words more broadly, and have some fun exploring the issue!
A slight disagreement between you and I would be, I think we don’t have to define the universe as living to believe it is possible there is more going on in the universe than researchers yet understand, or _acknowledge_. It might blow our minds when researchers figure out/admit what it is!
Bear with me, I am not going off topic: I held a salon last year, to explore the fact that the electron’s orbit is huge compared to the size of the nucleus. The atom thus stores a lot of potential energy because of all the weirdnesses of the electron, and WHY? Systems ordinarily try to get to a low energy state. The atoms thus created are hugely unstable and need to combine.
I work in a university with a lot of scientists who study the orbitals of atoms, but when I tried to discuss that basic idea, I actually got kind of stonewalled. It seemed people didn’t want to discuss it. If there is an answer for this, no one would tell me.
There is some reason, some need, for the the weirdnesses of the electron, and perhaps for the atom to store potential energy–and we don’t know what it is. Is there more to the universe then we know now? I _think_ so.
I don’t have to describe the universe as ‘living’ to know that. I do have a gut feel the answer will come from the small scale, but will be relevant to the macro–this is just my fun speculation.
“First- Duane, since you aren’t staying on any given topic, I’ll have to conclude that we agree that the Universe doesn’t meet the first criteria for life – metabolism. ”
Wha, wha, wha! I’m still doing my homework (attempting to define the system and surrounding of the universe) , but it will take me a while, and when you least expect it, I will post. If we want to explore an energy exchange, we need to describe a system and a surrounding. I tackled Brian Green’s book, which addressed this in regards to the universe, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of the book. (He had paragraphs containing negative energies and pressures, if I can recall my trouble.) It’s not going to be right away, but I thought I’d make a list of everything I didn’t understand and see if others here could help, and maybe we can define this bad boy!
- April 22, 2015 at 7:26 pm #4025
Ursula–There are empirical expressions of consciousness as well as matter.
I understand consciousness to be an invisible life-force and knowing capacity that permeates the entire universe. So-called “material” systems (strings of resonance?) are able to utilize this permeating knowing capacity in order to self-organize. As self-organizing matter and consciousness co-evolve, they can reach sufficiently high levels of complexity for us to recognize and describe them as “living.”
- April 22, 2015 at 7:27 pm #4026
I may as well say, that when reading Duane’s four criteria, another idea from my salon jumped into my head, but it doesn’t involve metabolism. It touches on the last criterion, adaption.
Since all the weirdnesses of the electron conspire to create the hugely unstable hydrogen atom (i.e., a repository of potential energy) and because this happened early on in the big bang, and because I can come up with no other explanation for the weirdness, maybe universes need to have stored energy to thrive. Maybe those universes that don’t collapse.
I see a huge analogy to ”survival of the fittest’.
I don’t have even vaguely the physics training to suggest why a universe would need to store energy.
But as you see Duane, I love to speculate about stuff, and I did see you getting ‘pushed back’ for speculating, so I’ll join you, a little nervously.
Does anyone else have ideas about potential ‘adaptations’?
- April 22, 2015 at 7:36 pm #4028
A fascinating speculation Karen. I will be interested to see what our physics friends have to say about your thoughts.
Also, I do not agree with Jon nor do I appreciate his way of imposing his conclusion on me. “Duane, since you aren’t staying on any given topic, I’ll have to conclude that we agree that the Universe doesn’t meet the first criteria for life – metabolism.”
- April 22, 2015 at 8:44 pm #4029
Can you help me understand what a life-force is, and what a knowing capacity is, and how it permeates into matter, and how it is that matter needs this permeation in order to self-organise?
Are you saying that “living” is merely our label for self-organised/consciousness-permeated entities that have evolved to meet some bar for complexity?
Am I correct in picking up Whiteheadian influence here? And the permeation of matter is a (Tibetan) Buddhist tenet, yes?
- April 22, 2015 at 9:21 pm #4030
While I don’t presume the following article and study “proves” the presence of a life-force that aids “matter” in its process of self-organization, it does seem suggestive of such a process. See the article in “Science Daily,” April 7, 2015 “New study hints at spontaneous appearance of primordial DNA” The article states:
“The self-organization properties of DNA-like molecular fragments four billion years ago may have guided their own growth into repeating chemical chains long enough to act as a basis for primitive life. . .” It continues by stating, “The new findings suggest a novel scenario for the non-biological origins of nucleic acids, which are the building blocks of living organisms.” The article also states that, “While there now is consensus among origin-of-life researchers that RNA chains are too specialized to have been created as a product of random chemical reactions, the new findings suggest a viable alternative. . . The new research demonstrates that the spontaneous self-assembly of DNA fragments just a few nanometers in length into ordered liquid crystal phases has the ability to drive the formation of chemical bonds that connect together short DNA chains to form long ones, without the aid of biological mechanisms.”Here is the URL for the original article in “Nature Communications“:You ask, “Are you saying that “living” is merely our label for self-organised/consciousness-permeated entities that have evolved to meet some bar for complexity?” In reply, I think this is an interesting track to pursue as this article indicates there is a process of “spontaneous self-assembly” at work and this suggests that a “life-force” or “knowing capacity” is at work to enable this “spontaneous” process.
- April 22, 2015 at 10:47 pm #4034
I read the Nature Comm. paper and the U Colorado press release that you quote from, and it’s a cool study.
You say that the study indicates there is a process of “spontaneous self-assembly” at work and this suggests that a “life-force” or “knowing capacity” is at work to enable this “spontaneous” process.
These guys aren’t getting DNA from scratch. They’re starting with DNA fragments that already have the spatial and thermodynamic constraints of DNA built into them, and under the conditions imposed, with lots of precursor nucleotides around, an autocatalytic cycle a la Prigogine/Stu Kauffman/Terry Deacon ensues.
Why do you posit the need a “life-force” or “knowing capacity” to enable this process?
- April 22, 2015 at 10:55 pm #4035
If something is “spontaneously” self-organizing, then it is happening or arising without apparent external cause–it is “self-generated.” What is the “self” that is doing the “self”-organizing?
- April 22, 2015 at 11:06 pm #4036
The ‘self” in this example are all the prefabbed constraints in the system — the oligonucleotides, the liquid crystal conditions, the precursors — all of which are externally caused. A self-organizing system doesn’t mean there’s a self that’s doing the organizing.
Have you had the chance to read Terry and my chapter on this kind of stuff http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Ursula%20Goodenough-%20The%20Sacred%20Emergence%20of%20Nature.pdf ?
- April 22, 2015 at 11:07 pm #4037
The ‘self” in this example are all the prefabbed constraints in the system — the oligonucleotides, the liquid crystal conditions, the precursors — all of which are externally caused. A self-organizing system doesn’t mean there’s a self that’s doing the organizing.
Have you had the chance to read Terry and my chapter on this kind of stuff http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Ursula%20Goodenough-%20The%20Sacred%20Emergence%20of%20Nature.pdf ?
- April 22, 2015 at 11:23 pm #4038
Through The Wormhole | Season 3 Episode 3 | Is the Universe Alive
Haven’t watched it. Are you in it? If so I will.
- April 23, 2015 at 12:10 am #4041
No I have not watched this video (“Through the Wormhole”). Looks interesting. I’ll try to take a look at it in the next few days.
- April 23, 2015 at 12:01 am #4039
If something is happening “spontaneously,” then it means that it is happening without any apparent external cause. Yet, in your description you say that “. . . all the prefabbed constraints in the system . . . are externally caused.” If the constraints are “externally caused” as you say, then it is not, by definition, “happening spontaneously.” Do we need to eliminate the idea of “spontaneous” self-organization?
Here’s another study that suggests the possibility of consciousness or some life-force enabling “self”-organizing behavior that is fitting to the form and function of what is being organized. This study is found in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B and is titled, “DNA Double Helices Recognize Mutual Sequence Homology in a Protein Free Environment” and was published on the web 01/09/2008. See: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/jp7112297 The chemistry described in this article is beyond my limited grasp but a number of articles have been written to explain it in more layman’s terms. For example, from the “Daily Galaxy,” December 24, 2008, see the article, “Does DNA Have Telepathic Properties?”
“DNA has been found to have a bizarre ability to put itself together, even at a distance, when according to known science it shouldn’t be able to. Explanation: None, at least not yet. Scientists are reporting that contrary to our current beliefs about what is possible, intact double-stranded DNA has the ‘amazing’ ability to recognize similarities in other DNA strands from a distance. . . Double helixes of DNA can recognize matching molecules from a distance and then gather together, all seemingly without help from any other molecules or chemical signals. . . No one knows how individual DNA strands could possibly be communicating in this way, yet somehow they do. The ‘telepathic’ effect is a source of wonder and amazement for scientists.”
The self-organizing behavior of DNA–putting itself together with other strands, even at a seemingly impossible distance–suggests that some level of “knowing” or “consciousness” is operating at this level that fits the form and function of the system being self-organized.
- April 23, 2015 at 12:54 am #4042
Here’s the abstract of the article:
“DNA Double Helices Recognize Mutual Sequence Homology in a Protein Free Environment
Geoff S. Baldwin,*,† Nicholas J. Brooks,‡ Rebecca E. Robson,†,‡ Aaron Wynveen,‡
Arach Goldar,‡,§ Sergey Leikin,*,| John M. Seddon,*,‡ and Alexei A. Kornyshev*,‡
DiVision of Molecular Biosciences, Imperial College London, SW7 2AZ London, U.K., Department of
Chemistry, Imperial College London, SW7 2AZ London, U.K., and Section on Physical Biochemistry,
National Institute of Child Health and Human DeVelopment, National Institutes of Health, DHHS,
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
ReceiVed: NoVember 27, 2007
The structure and biological function of the DNA double helix are based on interactions recognizing sequence
complementarity between two single strands of DNA. A single DNA strand can also recognize the double
helix sequence by binding in its groove and forming a triplex. We now find that sequence recognition occurs
between intact DNA duplexes without any single-stranded elements as well. We have imaged a mixture of
two fluorescently tagged, double helical DNA molecules that have identical nucleotide composition and length
(50% GC; 294 base pairs) but different sequences. In electrolytic solution at minor osmotic stress, these
DNAs form discrete liquid-crystalline aggregates (spherulites). We have observed spontaneous segregation
of the two kinds of DNA within each spherulite, which reveals that nucleotide sequence recognition occurs
between double helices separated by water in the absence of proteins, consistent with our earlier theoretical
hypothesis. We thus report experimental evidence and discuss possible mechanisms for the recognition of
homologous DNAs from a distance.”
The Daily Galaxy’s report on this has been fun to follow on Google — became all sorts of “action from a distance.” The distances referred to in this paper, however, are several nanometers.
Follow-up studies of this phenomenon, e.g. PNAS 106:19824 (2009)
Single molecule detection of direct, homologous, DNA/DNA pairing
aDepartment of Physics and
bDepartment of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138
Contributed by Nancy Kleckner, September 30, 2009 (received for review August 10, 2009)
Using a parallel single molecule magnetic tweezers assay we demonstrate homologous pairing of two double-stranded (ds) DNA molecules in the absence of proteins, divalent metal ions, crowding agents, or free DNA ends. Pairing is accurate and rapid under physiological conditions of temperature and monovalent salt, even at DNA molecule concentrations orders of magnitude below those found in vivo, and in the presence of a large excess of nonspecific competitor DNA. Crowding agents further increase the reaction rate. Pairing is readily detected between regions of homology of 5 kb or more. Detected pairs are stable against thermal forces and shear forces up to 10 pN. These results strongly suggest that direct recognition of homology between chemically intact B-DNA molecules should be possible in vivo. The robustness of the observed signal raises the possibility that pairing might even be the “default” option, limited to desired situations by specific features. Protein-independent homologous pairing of intact dsDNA has been predicted theoretically, but further studies are needed to determine whether existing theories fit sequence length, temperature, and salt dependencies described here.
The homology recognition well as an innate property of DNA structure
aDepartment of Chemistry, Imperial College London, Faculty of Natural Sciences, London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom;
bMax-Planck-Institut für Mathematik in den Naturwissenschaften, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany; and
cInstitut für Theoretische Physik II: Weiche Materie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany
Edited by Nicholas J. Turro, Columbia University, New York, NY, and approved January 30, 2009 (received for review November 6, 2008)
Mutual recognition of homologous sequences of DNA before strand exchange is considered to be the most puzzling stage of recombination of genes. In 2001, a mechanism was suggested for a double-stranded DNA molecule to recognize from a distance its homologous match in electrolytic solution without unzipping [Kornyshev AA, Leikin S (2001) Phys Rev Lett 86:3666–3669]. Based on a theory of electrostatic interactions between helical molecules, the difference in the electrostatic interaction energy between homologous duplexes and between nonhomologous duplexes, called the recognition energy, was calculated. Here, we report a theoretical investigation of the form of the potential well that DNA molecules may feel sliding along each other. This well, the bottom of which is determined by the recognition energy, leads to trapping of the molecular tracks of the same homology in direct juxtaposition. A simple formula for the shape of the well is obtained. The well is quasi-exponential. Its half-width is determined by the helical coherence length, introduced first in the same 2001 article, the value of which, as the latest study shows, is ≈10 nm.
Double-stranded DNA homology produces a physical signature
aDepartment of Chemistry, New York University, New York, NY 10003; and
bDepartment of Chemistry, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907
↵2Present address: Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.
Edited* by Alexander Rich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, and approved June 7, 2010 (received for review January 7, 2010)
DNA is found in the cell largely as a negatively supercoiled molecule. This high-energy form of the genetic material can engender sequence-dependent structures, such as cruciforms, Z-DNA, or H-DNA, even though they are not favored by conventional conditions in relaxed DNA. A key feature of DNA in living systems is the presence of homology. We have sought homology-dependent structural phenomena based on topological relaxation. Using two-dimensional electrophoresis, we demonstrate a structural transition in supercoiled plasmid molecules containing homologous segments. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) reveals a dumbbell structure in molecules whose linking difference is beyond the transition point. The position of the dumbbell shaft is a function of the site of homology, and its extent is proportional to the linking difference. Second-site-reversion electrophoresis data support the notion that the shaft contains PX-DNA. Predicted cross-linking patterns generated in vivo suggest that homology-dependent structures can occur within the cell.
All of these are bona-fide chemistry papers documenting that identical DNA helices can recognize each other without unwinding, indicating that they have previously unexpected surface recognition signatures. It has zero to do with telepathy.
As for the spontaneous part, please read the reference I offered earlier by Goodenough and Deacon — it’s written for lay audience — and then we can see where we are.
- April 23, 2015 at 8:49 am #4043
You might want to look at the constructal law <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructal_law> as stated by Adrian Bejan in 1996 as follows: “For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it.” He is a physicist and his definition of living is an oversimplification for cellular life, but if you substitute (organize) you have a useful law for why things “self-organize”. Bejan’s reference to flow is to energy gradients so organization is a thermodynamic process. Life too is a thermodynamic process, but one that tends to maximize entropy. Perhaps “auto-organize” would be a better term since the minimal unit of self is the cell.
I will introduce myself. I was an award-winning science and medical program scriptwriter, director, editor for 30 years. I then began working with the evolutionist and natural philosopher Lynn Margulis, I was her colleague and teaching assistant for a decade, earned my Master’s of Science in geography and was getting my PhD with her as my committee chair when she died unexpectedly in 2011. I am a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and I run the website http://www.environmentalevolution and edit the Environmental Evolution newsletter which comments on various Gaian, microbial, biospheric, and Margulisian topics. I will be speaking at the European Society of Literature, Science and the Arts Meeting on “Scale” June 15-18 on Malta. My talk is entitled “Bacteria to Biosphere: ‘Gaia is symbiosis seen from space.'”
- April 23, 2015 at 1:35 pm #4044
Thanks for your observations. A brief question emerges for me: If the cell is considered the “minimal unit of self” then how did RNA “self-emerge”? If there now is consensus among origin-of-life researchers that RNA chains are too specialized to have been created as a product of random chemical reactions, then where did the life-forming intentionality come from that enabled RNA to self-emerge/auto-emerge?
- April 23, 2015 at 3:20 pm #4045
Here we have confusion due to the use of language in the use of the word “self”. Table salt will crystalize out of solution following the form of the NaCl molecule and this might be referred to as “self-organizing”, but what is mean is that the crystal forms according to the molecular bonds in a fashion that is nearly “automatic”. There isn’t any self in a biological sense. I am not an expert on origins of life, but I have spent a little time studying in that field and there is a good deal of molecular evolution that would have taken place on the early Earth. Their would have been an abundance of organic molecules (since these exist in space and would have been part of the gas and dust that formed the Sun and planets). The Miller/Urey experiment and other such experiments have shown that most of the precursor molecules for life can be formed by natural processes occurring in the early atmosphere. Various “scaffolds” such as clays or pumices at deep sea vents provide settings where more complex “near life” evolution could occur and deep sea vents provide a setting with an abundant source of energy in the form of hydrogen sulfide for many early “experiments” with metabolism. The ideas of an “RNA-World” or “DNA-World” are this sort of pre-biotic evolution of molecules or of early biotic evolution with cells using only RNA at first and then later having some of the functions taken over by the more robust (as I understand it) characteristics of DNA. Many natural phenomena lack purpose or intentionality. They are explained by forces such as thermodynamics, electromagnetism, radioactive decay, gravity, tectonics, volcanism, etc. rather than teleology.
- April 23, 2015 at 3:29 pm #4046
I suggest that we not get bogged down in self-language, which is used very loosely. Sound waves, for example, are often spoken of as self-propagating.
This sentence illustrates the quagmire we’re in: “If there now is consensus among origin-of-life researchers that RNA chains are too specialized to have been created as a product of random chemical reactions, then where did the life-forming intentionality come from that enabled RNA to self-emerge/auto-emerge?” Let me parse it a bit and see if that gets us anywhere.
There’s no such thing as a random chemical reactions. Atoms/ions/molecules interact, or not, in accordance with their inherent properties — their shape, charge, solubility — and external circumstances — temperature, radiation, concentration, solvent, catalysts. When these factors hit a sweet spot, then the reaction occurs spontaneously, in conformity with thermodynamic expectations.
My perspective is that there’s no reason to posit that there was any intentionality in the formation of RNA in terms of the “life-forming” capacities it came to acquire. Rather, the circumstances arose, as per above, for nucleotide monomers to form and their polymerisation into chains, and these then turned out to be particularly adept, due to base-pairing, at adopting shapes, and these shapes turned out to be effective as catalysts (emergent property).
- April 23, 2015 at 3:42 pm #4047
“If there now is consensus among origin-of-life researchers that RNA chains are too specialized to have been created as a product of random chemical reactions, then where did the life-forming intentionality come from that enabled RNA to self-emerge/auto-emerge?”
Consensus does not equal evidence. There was a consensus for the past 70 years that evolution occurred due to the accumulation of random mutations to the genes and that the genome was a static archive that was unaffected by the environment of the organism. The so-called Modern Synthesis–all of its rules and assumptions have been broken.
I don’t believe that there is this consensus among origin-of-life researchers, but if there is, I would like to know what the evidence is that has persuaded them that this must be so. Evidence, not authority.
- April 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm #4048
More later, but first I have to ask about this.
Duane, you wrote:
If there now is consensus among origin-of-life researchers that RNA chains are too specialized to have been created as a product of random chemical reactions…..
Are you claiming that such a consensus now exists? If so, could you offer some support for that? If not, then what do you mean – why suggest that such a consensus exists?
- April 23, 2015 at 8:57 pm #4049
It took me a minute on Google to find this http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html
“For a long time the synthesis of RNA monomers under prebiotic conditions appeared to be a fundamental problem since the condensation of sugar (ribose) and nucleobase (purines and pyrimidines) does not work (Orgel, 2004). The prebiotic synthesis of purine ribonucleotides is still unclear, yet recently a breakthrough has been made with regard to the synthesis of pyrimidine ribonucleotide monomers (which incorporate cytosine and uracil). It now appears in principle to be solved, in a completely unexpected manner. The study by the group of John Sutherland (Powner et al. 2009) shows how nature could have spontaneously assembled pyrimidine ribonucleotide monomers from prebiotically plausible molecules through intermediates that contribute atoms to both the sugar and base portions of the ribonucleotides, thus avoiding a condensation step of sugar and base altogether (Fig.1). See also Nature News for the impact of these findings. While a good pathway for synthesis of purine ribonucleotides (incorporating adenine and guanine) still remains to be found, Jack Szostak argues in a comment accompanying the article (Szostak 2009) that “it is precisely because this work opens up so many new directions for research that it will stand for years as one of the great advances in prebiotic chemistry”.
In science, it is very important to make sure that your “facts” are up to date because they change. Apparently early abiotic synthesis of RNA may not have been a problem or is now much less of a stumbling block.
- April 23, 2015 at 10:39 pm #4050
This makes post number 80 and it seems like the conversation has scarcely begun. However, I am now in the process of moving (finding another rental and then going through all the details of setting up a household in a new location), so I will have to sign off from this fascinating inquiry for the time being. I’ve learned a great deal and appreciate the depth and scope of responses to the hypothesis that the universe itself is a unique kind of living entity. I know we have barely scratched the surface but time and resources demand that I focus my attention on getting my family moved. I hope this conversation will continue and I will try to check in on occasion.
My thanks and gratitude to all,
- April 24, 2015 at 10:04 am #4051
Having spent some time on this discussion/debate in an attempt to bring some scientific rigor to it, I am not satisfied to let it close with any suggestion that there has been any evidence presented that the Universe is any kind of “living entity”. This is not a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an attempt to explain data or evidence (facts). What Duane has presented is conjecture.
To quote Duane, “The self-organizing behavior of DNA–putting itself together with other strands, even at a seemingly impossible distance–suggests that some level of “knowing” or “consciousness” is operating at this level that fits the form and function of the system being self-organized.” is getting close to creationism.
Statements such as the this call on the supernatural, forces or entities not in evidence and therefore are equal to saying that God did it. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not science because science considers that to not be an answer. Answers have to be explainable by natural elements and forces. A scientist is not satisfied calling something “junk DNA” because that is an example of giving something a name that gives the illusion that you know what it is or what Alfred North Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness”. A scientist finds out what that DNA doe or doesn’t do. A polymer molecule like DNA or RNA has innate physical properties and chemical bonds that are responsible for its ability to replicate. Nothing else required. The shoreline of a lake does not fit due to any kind of “consciousness”.
Science does not rob the world of wonder. Reality is so much more amazing, surprising, complicated, creative–you name it–than anything you dream up or can see on the big screen in computer generated imagery by Hollywood. I took Lynn Margulis to see the movie Avatar in 3D which borrows liberally from ideas coming from symbiosis. We agreed that it was a retreaded cowboys and indians story with symbiotic window dressing that paled in comparison to the things we witnessed daily in the lab. If you are looking for adventure and discovery, become a scientist who works with systems.
- April 24, 2015 at 10:14 am #4052
Yes, an interesting conversation.
Duane, I hope everything goes well with the move. Since you indicated you don’t agree on the conclusion to your opening discussion about metabolism (sorry about my statement, since you ended up not agreeing), it sounds like we’ll need to get back to points ((A))- ((F)) if you want to return to that conclusion/discussion.
At any rate, thanks to everyone – especially those who contributed expert input, such as Ursula, Ed, etc.
Best to all- -Jon
- April 24, 2015 at 12:05 pm #4053
Thanks Duane for prompting this remarkable outpouring of 82 comments and for bringing people into the Network who might not have known about it — Ed, Elisabet Sahtouris, David Korten, and others. Wishing you all the best with moving and please check in.
Thanks to everyone else — Lowell, Jon, Jim, Karen, Ursula, Ed, Davidson, Stephen, Jonathan, and Linda for representing so many different fields — physics, chemistry, biology, theology, philosophy and more — showing the complexity of the subject. I’ve learned a heck of a lot.
No need to stop the conversation. Lots more needs to be said re this subject of “science-based statements” vs. statements that are outside of science — valid and important in other ways, and perhaps will be proven in the future but are not subscribed to by much of the science community at this point. Many gray areas, as the conversation shows, for sure, as new discoveries are made and gain, or not, consensus in the science community.
One of the visions in founding this Network was to offer a place where people with hugely different perspectives, who might not otherwise meet, can come together and interact in ways that help all of us to further develop our understanding. Duane, deep gratitude to you for starting a conversation that brought the Network to another level of engagement.
Re future conversations: This site has considerable capability for engaging in PUBLIC and PRIVATE conversations.
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- April 24, 2015 at 2:23 pm #4054
Jennifer — You write “Lots more needs to be said re this subject of “science-based statements” vs. statements that are outside of science — valid and important in other ways, and perhaps will be proven in the future but are not subscribed to by much of the science community at this point.”
My primary concern with Duane’s approach — and he is hardly alone here — is that he takes an “outside of science” position but then goes into science to seek support for it, cherry picking particular articles, or even sentences within those articles, to buttress his case. I analysed in some detail, in an earlier posting, how these moves were made in the case of the observation that homologous DNA helices give evidence of recognising each other without unwinding. Papers subsequent to the one Duane cited show that this is indeed a real phenomenon that may have bearing on how chromosome homologues recognise one another in early meiosis. All of the papers, including “Duane’s,” assume that a structural-chemical basis will be found for this phenomenon. Yet a few words in the abstract that implied “acting at a distance” were picked up by psi websites, and then by Duane, as providing support for psi-type concepts.
As Carl Sagan popularized: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I frequently encounter — can’t recall whether Duane used this one or not — the statement that little is known about dark matter yet it has moved into central position in cosmological thinking, suggesting that scientists can be guilty of evidence-lite claims. But the core reasons for positing dark matter — the necessity of some such entity to explain how galaxies hold together, for example — are in fact founded on huge amounts of evidence about the gravitational properties of the universe.
Returning to the initial matter, whether the universe engages in metabolism and hence is alive, I hope Duane has absorbed the fact that metabolism has a very specific definition for living organisms on this planet, and extrapolating that noun to what e.g. stars do during their energy transductions is a move that is guaranteed to generate a full-court pushback from the scientific community. To attribute our response to our “closed” or “prejudiced” mindset is to deeply misunderstand how our community works.
- April 24, 2015 at 3:51 pm #4055
I want to say that I agree for the most part with what Ursula has said particularly to emphasize that scientists (if they are true to their calling) are not closed minded or prejudiced. To be a scientist requires being open to surprise, but the surprise must be evidence based and science has very practical rules for what constitutes evidence in much the same way that courts do. There is nothing wrong with metaphysical, mystical, religious, secular or other kinds of thinking or debates, but those should be known for what they are and not claim to be science when clearly they are not. Science has rules and if you want into the game, you have to play by the rules. The same thing applies if you want to join the Catholic Church or the Marines.
Do scientists on occasion fall so in love with their ideas that they forget that nothing in science is ever certain? Yes, they do. but when they do that, they are just masquerading as scientists. Certainty is the stuff of fundamentalism, not science. So when I hear someone going on and on about how something they don’t agree with is “pseudo-science” and rather than debate why the idea lacks merit they just talk a lot of trash or do a lot of name calling, then I begin to suspect that the are victims of the temptation of certainty and they probably know little of nothing about the idea they are ridiculing. Real scientists debate ideas using facts hence they cannot be called closed minded.
I will take issue with Carl Sagan. I have heard the quote Ursula refers to (it really didn’t originate with Sagan but he repeated it). I disagree. First of all, who says that a claim is extraordinary? Some authority? That isn’t evidence that it is extraordinary. Practically all novel ideas sound extraordinary when they are first proposed. Saying it is extraordinary is just an empty attack on the idea. Why should any idea have to produce extraordinary evidence when the ideas it is competing with are supported by just regular ordinary evidence. I think this saying is really lopsided and absurd. I think ideas need to be supported by evidence. The position that the Universe is a living entity is a claim and I did not see any evidence of even the regular sort to support it.
- April 24, 2015 at 3:58 pm #4056
Good point on the Sagan quote. I think the context was in his pushing back against paranormal claims, which he and most others found particularly extraordinary. But I’ll scrub it from my usage (actually it’s the first time I’ve used it, but will have it be my last!).
- April 24, 2015 at 5:25 pm #4057
I want to revisit my original post, where I said that what Duane was doing was “sheer mysticism.” By “mysticism,” I mean emotional needs or certainties are driving the discussion, not intellectual data. Mystics — in religion, science, or anywhere else — start with their conclusion, then can see only the cherry-picked data that support it. This is tied to why I say mysticism is a need or a wish that drives the discussions. It’s also why I think biological and psychological data will show the reasons for someone’s mysticism better than perhaps anything else. I used the case of a very close friend of mine, who had an unusual ability to be very candid about what he was doing and why he was doing it — because it let him surround himself with a world — or “world” — quotes he would have agreed with — in which he felt valued and loved, rather than judged. I say this for several reasons, but one is simply that just looking at solid data can never lead anyone to that mystical certainty that “the world is as I think it is for I think it is that way.” For me, that’s the tip-off that the argument is being need-driven or wish-driven. My frustration with vague language comes both from my frustration with most religious arguments, but perhaps moreso from my belief that the Wittgensteinian style of “language philosophy” is the most significant philosophical advance since Kant — I think Wittgenstein was one of the four best philosophers of Western history (Plato, Aristotle, Kant), and a corrective we sorely need in our most befuddled arguments and ideologies. That doesn’t make it picayune and insensitive, just concerned enough with clear and honest communication that it will try to unmask other kinds. His saying “Certainty is only an attitude” is as pure an expression of the scientific attitude as I’ve read. But he was equally vigorous to attack assaults on someone’s belief just because they weren’t rational or scientific. Unlike science, religion doesn’t need to be factual to be effective (though it does if it is to help us integrate major parts of the world around us).
Well, a story here. Trying (always unsuccessfully) to drum some nuance into one of his adoring students (and, I suspect, sexual partners) over this topic, W. told a story I’ll paraphrase: “Imagine this. A man lived … sometime, and he believed everything he was taught by his church, never questioning a bit of it. Grounded in these beliefs, he lived a happy, blessed life, was a devoted husband and father and a beloved friend. When he died, hundreds of people turned out to express their appreciation for the ways in which this man had touched their lives. Now imagine that two weeks later, it was suddenly — somehow — revealed that everything this man believed had been false. Very well, you can say his beliefs were false. But can you say his life was false?” — And if not, I’d add, then just what role does truth necessarily play in helping us toward a good life? Toward good science, yes. Toward a beloved and loving life? Not necessarily at all.
I was happy to back out of most of the discussion and watch those of you with a lot more personal investment, education and experience in the sciences define and defend your turf.
- April 25, 2015 at 3:46 pm #4058
Thank you Jennifer for making this Forum available, and thank you Duane for posting such an interesting forum topic!
- April 28, 2015 at 12:11 am #4065
<p>I have to agree with Ursula and James here (and I also agree with James’ framing of the “extraordinary claims” quote – what is extraordinary to one scientist may be routine observation for another). Unless there is additional evidence to support this claim, it would seem to be an uphill battle to convince mainstream scientists that the universe (galaxies, planetary systems, etc.) are “alive” in the same way that biological organisms are alive. </p><p> </p><p>This is not to say that Duane and others should not continue this line of research…</p><p> </p><p>I personally resonate with and appreciate the values that you are trying to express, Duane! However, at this time, the scientific evidence for the assertion that inanimate matter is actually a living system is so sparse that it feels to me like we are promoting a spiritual belief or philosophy. Scientists will (rightfully) rail against these sort of assertions because science is, by design, very careful about vetting evidential claims. The watchguards of science will fiercely attack such claims like antibodies attacking a foreign bacteria. I don’t recommend subjecting yourself to that sort of treatment (though it sounds as if you already have!).</p><p> </p><p>As a side note, science can be very slow to progress in new areas that might seem obvious to the lay person. If a flying saucer picked you up and took you to Venus and dropped you back without any physical evidence, while it would be personal proof to you that aliens exist, this is not scientific proof that aliens exist. Similarly, many of us have experienced firsthand in our personal spiritual practice the perception that the entire universe is alive with consciousness. I expect that science will eventually be able to substantiate a similar conclusion. However to scientists, our personal experience remains nothing but an anecdotal datapoint on the scatter plot of bizarre claims without factual substantiation. As a scientist I accept this. I also see it as my life’s dharma to understand and explore the question of consciousness in a more scientific manner.</p><p> </p><p>So often it has been said that “faith” has no place in science. However as we uncover the “science of faith” we find that beliefs act as tuning filters on our perceptual filters. Beliefs can have very real effects on our brains, our minds, our bodies, our cultures and global behaviors. Understanding global challenges, and more importantly, global solutions, and having faith that there is hope for humanity to “get it together” is an unsubstantiated belief system that, when accepted on faith, can tune humanities’ perceptual filters in a way that helps to bring about the awesome future that we envision.</p><p> </p><p>Many on this list including Duane are doing just that. IONS has investigated “worldview transformation” http://noetic.org/research/program/worldview-transformation/. There are also educational initiatives such as the Worldviews Network that are using earth data in immersive environments to shift consciousness: http://worldviews.net. </p><p> </p><p>While it will be an uphill battle to get scientists to recognize the universe as a living entity, there are many concerned scientists out there that are devoted to making a better world for humanity. The challenges to our biosphere – both human-caused and natural – are very real concerns and should pique the interest of any caring scientist. Rather than clashing with scientists, I think it is wise to find common ground with scientists and work with them and for them. Presenting scientists with tools for communicating global concerns and influencing the general public to demand meaningful and important changes to public policies is one way to engage the scientific community. Storytelling is one such tool. </p><p> </p><p>Duane and all on this list who are writers, producers and storytellers – let’s keep getting our stories and perspectives out there! We can draw upon hard science when warranted, but we can also springboard off of scientific evidence (inspired by our personal spiritual experiences) to enrich the public with meaningful stories and perspectives that emotionally engage and motivate the public to act in positive ways. Scientists are great at crafting theories and gathering evidence. But they are not generally very good storytellers or interpreters of that data.</p><p> </p><p>Scientists will agree that the universe is a complex, evolving dynamical system to which we are integrally connected, and the fate of humanity depends on us understanding and working intelligently within these systems – not necessarily to “preserve” them in a kind of nostalgic stasis – but to be conscious co-creators in the evolutionary path that we are an integral component of. As “unconscious co-creators” we’ve already set off a chain reaction of climate change and biodiversity loss that is probably irreversible at this point. However as Elisabet Sahtouris has said, this really is nothing new on our planet. We’ve been here before:</p><p> </p><p>“Humans within this planet now are the newest experience of the universe in what, biologically, always seems to come down to cycles: of unity to individuation, through which arises conflict, negotiations happen, cooperation is arrived at; and we go to unity again at the next higher level…”</p><p> </p><p>”And that’s why the story of evolution is so important today, to help us understand where humanity is, and what is our next step. If we look to the lessons of evolution, we will gain hope that the newly forming worldwide body of humanity may also learn to adopt cooperation in favor of competition. The necessary systems have already been invented and developed; we lack only the understanding, motive, and will to use them consciously in achieving a cooperative species maturity.” </p><p> </p><p>– Elisabet Sahtouris</p><p> </p>
- April 28, 2015 at 10:41 am #4071
“Scientists are great at crafting theories and gathering evidence. But they are not generally very good storytellers.”
Exactly. We have our work cut out for us in crafting inspiring stories that align with science. Jennifer has done it with her universe books, and I’m giving it a shot with Grandmother Fish.
- April 28, 2015 at 12:29 am #4066
Thanks for the comments Ed,
I’ll take a quick break from family tasks to say that I definitely do not see the universe as “alive” in the same way that biological organisms are alive. However, I do see the universe as a unique kind of unified and living system nested within the unique aliveness of a larger multiverse. At a micro-scale, I do not see a rock, for example, as “alive” in the same way that biological organisms are alive. However, the atoms that comprise the rock (and within the atoms, the quarks, gluons, and resonance patterns of “strings” at an even more micro scale, do seem to possess some kind of primary “aliveness”). So, my working hypothesis is that unique expressions of aliveness are found at both higher and lower orders of scale, with “biological” organisms being an expression of life found within the human range.
- April 28, 2015 at 2:34 am #4067
Thanks for taking the time to explain. Perhaps I should read your book “The Living Universe” before commenting further 🙂
“…I definitely do not see the universe as “alive” in the same way that biological organisms are alive. However, I do see the universe as a unique kind of unified and living system nested within the unique aliveness of a larger multiverse… the atoms that comprise the rock… do seem to possess some kind of primary “aliveness”. So, my working hypothesis is that unique expressions of aliveness are found at both higher and lower orders of scale, with “biological” organisms being an expression of life found within the human range.”
Sure. Well the difficulty here is measuring “aliveness.” As you admit, by all definitions, you do not see a rock as “alive” in the way that we are alive. Yet the very word “alive” would imply this, no?
There is another way at this. It is possible to show (by both theory and experiment) that the universe has vast quantum informational and computational capacities (even a rock – even the vacuum, for that matter). Currently, these computational and informational processes are thought to be completely random. Shannon taught us maximum randomness is (or, to be exact, could be) a sign of maximal information. Perhaps if we knew how to look at “quantum noise” we would find (superimposed) bounded informational structures that we might think of as intelligent informational processes. This is completely plausible based on what we know about quantum computation.
We might then posit that life is an outward expression of the “intelligence” that is imbued in all matter, living as it were in this quantum computational substrate (the “quantum foam,” as it is called). Now we have a theory that is (ultimately) testable. Instead of looking for metabolism in rocks and galaxies as a sign of life, we would be looking for intelligence – not in the atomic motions or chemical exchanges of those systems, but in the quantum informational exchanges within those systems.
Measuring quantum informational “patterns” in matter is possible with sensitive instruments. If we could show that matter is imbued with intelligence in this manner, intelligence implies consciousness, and consciousness implies life. So in a roundabout way you could then indeed claim that all matter is alive… alive with intelligence.
I’ve been chatting about quantum consciousness on a LinkedIn forum – I’ll post a summary of my latest research and thoughts on the topic.
- April 28, 2015 at 2:56 am #4068
Thoughts on Quantum Consciousness and its Implications
There are an increasing number of serious theories from biologists and physicists alike postulating that quantum information processes are fundamental to consciousness. Now in all fairness, quantum theories of consciousness are still somewhat speculative. There is limited research happening in this space and it is still considered “fringe” by some scientists, however that is changing. So with that qualification, here is my take on “quantum consciousness” and why it could revolutionize neuroscience.
Of main importance is the utter weirdness of information on a quantum scale. Information contained within Hilbert Space – the “superposition of possible states within every atomic particle” – is vast. It can move about instantaneously (“teleport”) across any space to other entangled particles. Matter can also be entangled with “virtual particles” in the vacuum (“decoherence”).
Until recently we did not know of many macroscopic consequences to these microscopic informational properties of the universe. It was just thought to be an atomic-scale phenomenon and completely invisible on our macroscopic scale.
Experiments have now shown that macroscopic objects, gasses and light beams can be entangled:
Even mechanical vibrating systems can informationally entangle:
Images can be coherently transmitted through entanglement;
And particles in the future can be entangled with particles in the past:
It has also been shown that entanglement allows the preparation and transfer of quantum states to perform quantum computing:
It has recently been found that some biological systems do, in fact, exploit quantum information effects;
These quantum informational properties of the universe are very real. But, the above cases notwithstanding, most consequences of these quantum informational properties do not come into play in the universe as we perceive it. Who cares if we can prove that a rock is entangled with another rock if there is no visible outcome that we can see?
Here’s the thing. We know that biological systems are rampant exploiters of chemistry and physics across all scales from the microscopic atomic and molecular scales to the macroscopic human form. And we also know that the human brain is the most powerful informational processor on the planet. If biological systems have found a way to exploit quantum information, the human brain would be the first logical place to look for it.
An increasing number of researchers – from medical doctors to physicists – are theorizing that consciousness may depend, in some fundamental way, on quantum information processes. That is to say that consciousness may not just be an emergent property of neural networks that process information according to known electro-chemical processes, but that consciousness, or some portion thereof, might rely on the very strange properties of quantum (or sub-quantum) information. For instance, Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose have developed the “Orch OR” theory of consciousness that hypothesizes quantum processes are at work in collections of microtubules within brain neurons:
Researchers theorize that consciousness is in fact a fundamental property of the universe – a kind of panpsychism: https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/why-physicists-are-saying-consciousness-is-a-state-of-matter-like-a-solid-a-liquid-or-a-gas-5e7ed624986dhttp://www.biolbull.org/content/215/3/216.full?view=long&pmid=19098144
And because of this, it is thought possible that computers could achieve self-awareness: http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/imaging/can-machines-be-conscioushttp://www.wired.com/2013/11/christof-koch-panpsychism-consciousness/all/
Why is this important? As David Deutsch, the father of quantum computing puts it:
“At the quantum level we have access not only to actual worlds but to other universes as well. What is happening in a quantum computation is that the algorithm runs over not only the states of the actual world but also over states from an infinite number of universes…”
He makes this statement based on the demonstrated ability of quantum computers, composed of a small number of individual atoms, to factorize very large numbers using Shor’s algorithm.
“To those who still cling to a single universe world-view, I issue this challenge: explain how Shor’s algorithm works. I do not merely mean predict that it will work…I mean provide an explanation. When Shor’s algorithm has factorized a number using 10 to the 500th power or so times the computational resources that can be seen to be present [in the 250-atom/qubit computer], where was the number factorized? There are only about 10 to the 80th power number of atoms in the entire visible universe, an utterly minuscule number compared with 10 to the 500th power. So if the visible universe were the extent of physical reality, physical reality would not even remotely contain the resources required to factorize such a large number. Who did factorize it, then? How, and where, was the computation performed?” https://www.academia.edu/2461377/THE_ONTOLOGICAL_STATUS_OF_QUANTUM_INFORMATION
So, what if the brain could filter coherent (useful) information from the sea of seemingly random information that pervades the very fabric of the universe? And what if the computational capacity of the universe could be exploited by biological systems? Here are some possible consequences of these “what if” scenarios:
- The so-called binding problem in the brain could be quantum informational via entanglement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binding_problem)
- Non-sensory cognitive processes in the brain (thoughts, imagination, dreams) could be the result – at least in part – of quantum informational processes.
- Near-death experiences could be the result of navigation within a quantum informational domain, explaining why the brain can continue to sense and operate while largely shut down (“Near-Death Experiences: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife” by Eben Alexander, M.D. – http://amzn.com/1451695195 , also: http://www.resuscitationjournal.com/article/S0300-9572(14)00739-4/abstracthttp://www.salon.com/2012/04/21/near_death_explained/ )
- Cases of anomalous information transfer (i.e. telepathy, reincarnation memories, remote viewing, etc.) might be explained (see “Psychic Phenomena: The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities” by Russel Targ, PhD – http://amzn.com/0835608840, “The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena” by Dean Radin, PhD – http://amzn.com/0061778990, “Reincarnation: Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives” by Jim B. Tucker, M.D. – http://amzn.com/1250005841)
- Even precognition could have an informational basis: http://dbem.ws/FF%20Meta-analysis%206.2.pdf
- The computational feats of savants would be a simple thing with access to quantum computational capacities: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2015/01/28/genetic-memory-how-we-know-things-we-never-learned/
- If some portion of our consciousness is quantum informational/computational in nature, this portion of our consciousness could theoretically exist outside of our physical bodies, perhaps surviving the death experience.
Should these QC theories pan out, it’s not that consciousness would be “non-physical.” It’s more like consciousness could be “informational” in nature. Just as a computer (hardware/firmware) hosts computer applications (software), the human brain (hardware/firmware) might host consciousness applications (software).
The more spooky scenario would be the possibility that consciousness (bounded computational applications) might also operate on the quantum computational substrate of the universe itself (but without sensory/motor capacity to operate in the physical domain). Such a scenario would be akin to “transcendental consciousness.”
- April 28, 2015 at 4:28 am #4069
Ed, are you the Ed Lantz with Vortex Immersion Media? If so, is there any of your “immersive media” in the Austin, TX area? Or San Antonio, Houston or Dallas area?
- April 28, 2015 at 6:42 am #4070
Hi Davidson, Yes, that’s me. There are only a small handful of arts & entertainment digital domes in the world currently (including our Vortex Dome in LA, SAT in Montreal, and the Catalyst Dome in Vegas), however there are over 50 digital planetariums in Texas that can run the same content: http://lochnessproductions.com/lfco/lfco.html. There are over 1300 digital planetariums in the world.
- April 28, 2015 at 11:17 am #4072
Thanks for your “Thoughts on Quantum Consciousness and its Implications.” You are moving the conversation into a very interesting realm. I look forward to having the time to explore the resources that you present.
- April 28, 2015 at 11:43 am #4073
Hi Duane, Yes, fascinating stuff indeed! Keeps me up at night. Perhaps I’ll spin it into another discussion thread 🙂
- April 28, 2015 at 12:44 pm #4075
Hi All. Rather than co-opt Duane’s discussion of a living universe with quantum consciousness theories I’ve launched a new thread entitled Quantum Consciousness: Is The Universe Intelligent?
I’ve been trying to get Elisabet Sahtouris to join this thread. We had some great discussions as she passed through Los Angeles recently and think she can add a lot to Duane’s hypothesis…
- April 28, 2015 at 12:46 pm #4076
Thanks for launching this new thread! I look forward to tuning in as I can and learning as I go.
- April 28, 2015 at 2:12 pm #4077
Yes, exactly! This is why our Deep Time Journey Network is so vitally important. It reminds me of this very interesting podcast I listened to recently by Randy Olson, called “Don’t be such a scientist!”. Have you heard it? If not, and you’d like to, here it
P. S. – to mention our own story work, my “elemental Birthdays” book has a story in every chapter, plus the whole Universe story as an appendix. www.elementalbirthdays.com (18 second video trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9Tyck37klw )
- April 28, 2015 at 3:16 pm #4079
I have not yet weighed in on this dialogue for two reasons: 1) I am in a complex transition from living on the island of Mallorca in Spain to living on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, and 2) I did not want to get embroiled in an unwinnable war between the radicals and fundamentalists of science. However, I do see real value in the dialogues among those of us in the latter camp as a way of honing our ideas and discovering our harmonies.
My approach to the issue of Living vs Non-Living Universe is to look very deeply into the foundations upon which science necessarily rests: the conceptualizations of the universe to be studied by science as its essential task. The very issue of life vs non-life begins right there: in the unprovable assumptions (dignified as ‘axioms’) necessary to making theories. So let me begin my contribution(s) with the following quote from my article published in Kosmos journal in 2008, called
The Evolution of Science:
A Changing Story; a possible Global Science
I quote myself:
Could planet Earth—even the entire Universe—be conscious and alive?
Most people inclined to a scientific worldview think the answer to this question is a clear “no” because they believe that science has proven the universe to be made of non-living matter/energy, accidentally evolved from the singular Big Bang event, and that planets are accidentally assembled stardust—our own being Earth, on which life evolved from non-life, intelligence from dumb mud and consciousness from brain matter.
This is indeed the Creation Story of western science, but has it been proven? Current debates, and even court trials, between Darwinians and Creationists have opened the story to question. This debate is framed as being a conflict between science and religion, but the story of science itself is changing and this sharp, publicized conflict may be solved from within science itself.
In fact, many western scientists, influenced by also studying eastern sciences and philosophies, as mentioned above, have come to the startling conclusion that life does not come from non-life, that intelligence is already inherent in “dumb mud” and that planets, as well as people and their brains, evolve within a limitless universal consciousness that gives rise to everything we know as our universe.
How can we come to such conclusions in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary? The simple answer is that science has no evidence to the contrary. Science, as already stated, is necessarily founded on a set of beliefs arrived at through reason, rather than revelation, but unproven beliefs nevertheless. These fundamental assumptions of science are held by agreement within a scientific establishment as the most reasonable assumptions that can be made as a basis for scientific inquiry. As a graduate student half a century ago, this was clearly taught to me by a well-known philosopher of science J.R. Kantor1, with assigned exercises in founding a science on assumptions to drive the point home to us budding scientists. Unfortunately, as philosophy of science in academia has been replaced by more ‘practical’ or ‘realistic’ courses, even scientists now often lack awareness of the difference between their fundamental beliefs and the enterprise of forming theories and performing research. Nevertheless, all theory, research and interpretation of results are deeply biased by unproven foundational beliefs.
Descartes’ belief in a universe created by a Christian Grand Engineer God who designed all of nature as machinery and put a bit of God-mind into his favorite robot, man, so that he, too, could create machinery was a merger of western science and religion. Note that this foundational scientific story accounted for conscious intelligence as the root of all creation. The later revision of the story to exclude God clearly divorced science from religion. Most importantly, for our understanding, it eliminated all consciousness and purpose from nature while keeping the concept of nature as an assembly of machinery, clearly implying that ‘natural’ machinery could and did create itself in accidental material processes.
This remains the current belief in biology, the study of life, although, somewhat ironically, astronomy and physics have moved far beyond the mechanistic metaphor into birth and death of stars, the dance of energy, collapsing wave functions, etc. if still divided on the primacy of consciousness. Biology, having long accepted the primacy of physics, seems stuck in Newtonian physics, still seeing mechanism as the appropriate metaphor from the level of individual molecules now visible in their amazing ‘machinations’ to entire vastly complex organisms such as our own bodies and the engineering diagrams of entire ecosystem interactions. But metaphors do not make truth, much as they imply it. In the next section of this chapter, I make the arguments for how we can reasonably accept alternative assumptions about a living universe and planet Earth upon which to build science, as many scientists have done by now.
The real sticking point for western science, ever since intelligence and purpose were removed from its worldview, has been the question of consciousness, brought to attention by physicists as quite possibly fundamental while biology persisted in seeing it as a late emergent property of evolution. Erwin Schroedinger, the physicist popularly noted for his cat- in-box conscious wave collapsing model, published an essay in 1958 called “Mind and Matter”, later published together with his earlier 1943 essay “What is Life?”2 , in which he pointed out that scientific models of the universe are generated entirely within the human mind, which is then conveniently, if not logically, omitted from the models themselves. Evelyn Fox Keller3,4 has since been an important analyst of the history of a wide range of vitalist propositions that life cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry— seeing hope of ending the argument soon in models of the universe based on information theory that continue in denying the primacy of consciousness.
What might a new scientific model of a universe based on a different set of assumptions look like? The following is an attempt to go deeper into the current assumptions of established western science and the reasons for adopting alternative assumptions better fitting the data of science itself.
(the next section is called
Introduction to a Tentative Model of a Living Universe
Let me know if anyone wants more…..
- April 28, 2015 at 3:57 pm #4080
Sure — What’s the model?
- April 28, 2015 at 4:29 pm #4081
for the prompt to continue. Note that in this continuing quote I suggest that assuming (conceptualizing) the universe as living is more plausible that assuming it to be non-living. I remind you all, that fundamental assumptions are by definition not provable, just plausible. Okay, I quote myself again:
The fundamental assumptions—the ‘self evident truths’ or axioms underlying western science—included the following:
- a) that the universe exists objectively (not subjectively) as matter located in three-dimensional space and linear time,
- b) that the universe is non-living, describable and measurable in terms of matter and energy,
- c) that the universe has linear causal order discoverable through the science of physics, using mathematical models supported by logical reason (including induction and deduction),
- d) that the material universe is accidentally assembled from the smallest physical units into larger structures and interactive patterns through the workings of discoverable natural laws,
- e) that large structures can be understood by reducing them to their component parts, and
- f) that life is a rare and peculiar emergent phenomenon in a non-living universe, possibly restricted to a single planet’s surface and ultimately subject to the laws of physics.
The most fundamental laws of physics were formulated (on the basis of these axiomatic ‘truths’) in contained laboratory experiments and then extrapolated from laboratory to cosmos. They are well known as Newton’s laws, including inertia, energy conservation and entropy—the dissipation of working energy, and with it the disintegration of order, along the “arrow of time.”
Much, of course, has happened in the world of physics since these axioms were formulated and the laws ‘discovered’. Further understanding of light and the broader electromagnetic spectrum, Big Bang theory, Einstein’s equivalence of matter and energy and adjustments to laws of time and motion, the dissolution of hard particles into quantum waves, string theories, multi-dimensional worlds, zero point energy, non-locality have produced many candidates for a Grand Unified Theory, but none has yet been officially accepted. Physicists remain divided about the role of consciousness.
My Assumptions for a more Integral Global Science:
…I propose that it is actually more reasonable to project our life onto the entire universe than our non-living machinery, which is a derivative of life, a truly emerging phenomenon, rather than a fundamental one. I propose that it is possible to create a scientific model of a living universe, and that such a model is not only scientifically justified but can lead to the wisdom required to build a better future for human life on and for our planet Earth as the ancient Greeks intuited it should.
Toward that end, I propose:
- The scientific definition of reality should be the collective human experience of self, world and universe as consciously perceived inner and outer worlds seen from individual perspectives. (We have no other legitimate basis for creating cosmic models.)
- Consciousness shall be axiomatic for the simple and obvious reason that no human experience can happen outside it.
- Formal experiments have as their purpose the creation of publicly shareable models of reality that permit common understanding and prediction where appropriate.
- Autopoiesis (continuous self-creation within a cntext) shall be adopted as the core definition of life. Since galaxies, stars, planets, organisms, cells, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles all fit this definition, this implies that, using this definition, life is the fundamental process of the cosmos, a self-creating living whole with self-creating living components in co-creative interaction.
- Nature shall be conceived in size-scale levels or units of holons in holarchy, with holons defined as relatively self-contained living entities such as those listed in d) and holarchy defining their embeddedness and co-creative interdependence on energy, matter and information exchange. Beginning with these few assumptions and definitions as a conceptual framework for an integral consciousness-based science, we can reassess the past findings of science based on previous models, discover past errors and redesign experiments as necessary. We can also look for new patterns of regularity. (I shall avoid the term laws because of its implication of a lawgiver.) Cosmic autopoiesis—the self-creation of a living universe—promises to become an elegant view of the whole, with essentially the same production and recycling processes at all scalar or fractal levels. The highly complex life forms familiar as “biological” are seen to emerge uniquely at a holarchic level halfway between microcosm and macrocosm. An autopoietic universe is a universe of continual creation. Much evidence has been amassed against Big Bang theory and against the concept of entropy overwhelming the negentropic efforts of life, including the review of such reported by Samanta-Laughton6. The most commonly proposed alternative is a universe in dynamic balance between centrifugal radiation and centripetal gravitation; in terms of autopoietic/biologic systems, the balance between anabolism and catabolism, entropy and syntropy. With regard to evolution theory, we note that while Darwin’s theory of evolution through competition in scarcity was adopted by the capitalist West, Kropotkin’s theory of evolution through cooperation was adopted by the communist East, clearly indicating the coupling between science and political economy on both sides. In my own view, both theories are half-right and together can make a whole. I have expounded my own syncretic theory in detail11,12 as an amalgamation of the two. The competitive (Darwinian) phase, represented by Type I ‘pioneer’ ecosystem species, is a highly competitive and creative juvenile phase of species that eventually become cooperative (Kropotkinian) in their mature phase, represented by species of Type III ‘climax’ ecosystems. Why? In the simplest version of a complex evolutionary process, because hostile competition becomes too energy costly and the advantages of cooperation lead to change in that direction. The biological fact that fighting or killing your enemy is more energy expensive than feeding or otherwise cooperating needs recognition. From the most ancient bacterial dawn of Earthlife to the present, this lesson has been learned again and again. There is a strong possibility that the human species is now involved in exactly that maturation cycle shift, and a more accurate understanding of evolution in the framework of a scientific co-creative cosmology may do much to help encourage it. This current revolution—this impending paradigm shift—in science is forcing reconsideration of its most fundamental assumptions, that is, of the worldview described above, of the basic beliefs supporting the current scientific model of our universe or cosmos and ourselves within it. Cosmos is defined as “the universe as an orderly construct,” so because I am proposing an orderly model of the universe, I will usually prefer the word cosmos. In eliminating those aspects of the perceived world that are not measurable, western science relegated them variously to subjective, mental, mythological, imaginary, storytelling, fictional, spiritual and other categories identified as unreal. A few aspects of our world, such as taste, smell and electromagnetism were shifted from unreal to real as ways of measuring them were discovered. My model of the cosmos includes all human experience. The goal of this new framework for science is proposed to be a) to model a coherent and self-consistent cosmos as a public reality conforming as much as possible to necessarily private individual realities, and b) to interpret this model for the purpose of orienting humanity within the cosmos and thus permitting it to understand its particular role within the greater cosmos.
- April 28, 2015 at 4:39 pm #4082
It sounds like we are talking about “models”, not “assumptions”. I don’t know of any scientists who make this list of assumptions. Even the idea of “model” doesn’t fit for some of these.
- April 28, 2015 at 4:57 pm #4083
You are quite right to see the list of assumptions as a model, a paradigm. That is exactly what fundamental assumptions comprise: the conceptualization of the universe and how to study it that is self-evident to the founders of a science.
- April 28, 2015 at 4:58 pm #4084
Pease note the impossibility of making a theory about a universe for which there is no conceptualization
- April 28, 2015 at 5:22 pm #4085
Thanks for sharing, Elisabet!
Jon, I do think that scientists make some of the assumptions that Elisabet posits:
>1) the universe exists objectively (not subjectively) as matter located in three-dimensional space and linear time
The subjective domain of experience has been almost completely dismissed by mainstream science until fairly recently. There is clearly much to learn from phenomenological approaches to discovery and it is a great loss to not be exploring this domain.
>2) that the universe is non-living, describable and measurable in terms of matter and energy,
This is true per the currently accepted definition of “life” which is intended to differentiate between biological systems and non-biological systems. Of course this is a conceptual differentiation and indeed there are gray areas (i.e. is a virus alive?).
>3) that the universe has linear causal order discoverable through the science of physics, using mathematical models supported by logical reason (including induction and deduction),
This is a well-known assumption of science (see: http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/basic_assumptions).
>4) that the material universe is accidentally assembled from the smallest physical units into larger structures and interactive patterns through the workings of discoverable natural laws,
This “accidental universe” theory relies on “natural selection” alone as a shaping force of biological life and has been promoted by many prominent scientists and has been a point of debate with many religious and spiritual paths.
>5) that large structures can be understood by reducing them to their component parts
True, reductionism is a common assumption of many scientists, but has been abandoned by most quantum physicists who have had to accept paradoxical, non-reducable properties of the universe.
>6) that life is a rare and peculiar emergent phenomenon in a non-living universe, possibly restricted to a single planet’s surface and ultimately subject to the laws of physics.
Most but not all scientists would agree with this.
Here is where I lose you, Elisabet:
>Autopoiesis (continuous self-creation within a context) shall be adopted as the core definition of life. Since galaxies, stars, planets, organisms, cells, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles all fit this definition, this implies that, using this definition, life is the fundamental process of the cosmos, a self-creating living whole with self-creating living components in co-creative interaction.
This sounds like a wholesale re-definition of life. Correct? Aren’t you “stealing” away from scientists an important differentiator between biological organisms and inert matter?
- April 28, 2015 at 7:04 pm #4087
Why do we need to describe the universe as living (according do some arbitrary man-made definition of such) to find it connected, beyond our current understanding and to find the Earth worthy of our stewardship?
A single bacteria in a Petri dish is living. A previous forum delineated the really neat attributes of bacteria ; still, I believe a bacteria is reducible to the physics and chemistry of its components. I have colleagues who have devoted careers to elucidating the chemistry and thermodynamic of bacterial enzymes. It’s truly believable that an entire bacterial creature can be understood by humans someday.
In fact, here’s a mental exercise: imagine that in time chemists design and synthesize a synthetic non DNA or RNA ‘bacteria’ that completely fits all four criteria of ‘life’, but is orders of magnitude simpler than E. coli, and in fact they design it simply because it does exhibit ‘life’. Would this simple design be more worthy of our esteem and stewardship than the universe, which we may find does not happen to fit the criteria ?
Robots may some day exhibit consciousness and be precious companions but still not fit our very arbitrary four criteria.
We can’t get people to kill chickens humanely, and they are certainly alive.
It seems like maybe people here want to say the universe is ‘human’. Wow. That really harks back to the idea of creating man in His image, but it’s cool. I don’t deny anything, I don’t pretend to know! (Just to clarify, that’s pretty far out and I am not positing the claim, just repeating that as far as the universe goes, I don’t pretend to know.)
It might be more telling to simply list what in the universe we do find worthy (which I guess many here already do)
Btw, why can’t scientists tell stories? Not arguing, just don’t understand the idea behind that statement.
- April 28, 2015 at 8:33 pm #4089
Karen: “Why do we need to describe the universe as living (according do some arbitrary man-made definition of such) to find it connected, beyond our current understanding and to find the Earth worthy of our stewardship?”
Karen: “I believe a bacteria is reducible to the physics and chemistry of its components.”
You certainly have a right to your opinions, however you must admit that the ultimate reducibility of biological life to mechanical systems is a faith-based belief and one of several competing theories.
Karen: “…why can’t scientists tell stories? Not arguing, just don’t understand the idea behind that statement.”
Sure, some scientists are great storytellers including Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and a few on this list! However good storytelling is an interface to the emotions as much as it is an interface to the mind. It is a craft that few scientists are trained in. Scientists have stories to tell: insights into our world, solutions to global concerns, advanced scientific visualizations, etc. Storytellers excel at communicating complex ideas in simple ways that are compelling and interesting. When we’re talking about shifting people’s worldviews to be more aware of subtle interrelationships between our actions and the biosphere, for instance, forming teams of expert scientists and storytellers makes a lot of sense.
- April 29, 2015 at 9:44 am #4091
Ed wrote: you must admit that the ultimate reducibility of biological life to mechanical systems is a faith-based belief and one of several competing theories.
I would say that the reduction of biological life to mechanical systems is not a faith-based belief but rather an already-accomplished project, where there are still many many things to learn that will further expand and deepen these understandings. Such reduced perspectives are essential to grasp how life REALLY works, which is that the relationships between these “parts” generate what many are calling emergent properties — traits like metabolism and motility and awareness. An analogy is a car engine, which can be reduced to myriad parts that are important to know about if one is to understand the properties that emerge, like acceleration and braking and temperature control and directional control. Terry Deacon and I have written a piece on this http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Ursula%20Goodenough-%20The%20Sacred%20Emergence%20of%20Nature.pdf where the first two pages summarize these concepts.
I’m curious to know how you regard these understandings as a faith-based belief. Perhaps your comment related to the “ultimate” modifier?
- April 29, 2015 at 12:38 pm #4092
Ursula Wrote: “I would say that the reduction of biological life to mechanical systems is not a faith-based belief but rather an already-accomplished project, where there are still many many things to learn that will further expand and deepen these understandings.”
Fundamental assumptions can be very difficult to recognize. Like wearing rose-colored glasses, we see the world through these perceptual filters and it can severely limit the questions we ask and, as a result, the answers we get. When pushing into new frontiers, questioning fundamental assumptions is a very healthy scientific practice.
Your article looks fascinating – I will review in more detail. However your statement that “reduction of biological life to mechanical systems is not a faith-based belief but rather an already-accomplished project” is mostly true, but it makes a leap of faith over a chasm that I believe contains the answers to the questions that we are not yet asking as scientists.
The bottom line is this. I can build a car engine from scratch, resulting in a functioning automobile. I cannot build a living, reproducing being from scratch. There are missing ingredients. If we have truly cracked the code of life then we would be creating our own lifeforms. We’ve become quite good at meddling with life and our understanding of biological processes has grown in leaps and bounds. But something is still missing.
The missing piece, in my estimation, has to do with bioinformation. We do not understand how information encoded in DNA expresses from microscopic to macroscopic spatial forms. We do not understand neural coding. We do not understand memory and consciousness. And we do not understand how computational processes work in the brain. There is an informational language in biology that needs to be decoded.
I suspect that this discovery will take us into the quantum informational domain and will explode into entirely new fields of study beyond simple chemistry and physics. In this informational domain, biology will appear more as an intelligent life force – a bounded software application – than a machine. Like a computer, the mechanical components are a substrate for some pretty amazing informational processes – firmware, software, and an array of software applications – all of which are invisible to us until we understanding the coding.
The physicist believes that the quantum wavefunction can – in theory – explain all phenomena of the universe including the emergence of life. This is a leap of faith because the equations cannot be solved. Believing that known physical/chemical/mechanical/biological processes alone will lead to a complete understanding of life is like wearing rose colored glasses. We need to be looking closer at the informational domain.
Many of my scientist colleagues scoff at the idea that quantum informational processes would have anything to do with life and consciousness. This important research has been sidelined and is not being funded in earnest. I’d like to see that change, but as long as we have faith in our current methods the motivation will not be there to try something different.
- April 29, 2015 at 12:53 pm #4093
Ursula and Ed,
It seems to me that “the reduction of biological life to mechanical systems” does not go deep enough into the underlying nature of what are described as “mechanical systems.” At the quantum levels, mechanical systems dissolve into energetic systems that seem to have an informing life-force or, as Ed writes, “biology will appear more as an intelligent life force.” We have far to go to understand the quantum dynamics beneath what are described as “mechanical systems.”
- April 29, 2015 at 1:19 pm #4094
Ed wrote: Sure, some scientists are great storytellers including Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and a few on this list!
Okay, I see–the percentage of scientists who are good story tellers is the same as the percentage of people in general then–it’s not some characteristic of scientists that makes them bad story tellers?
- April 29, 2015 at 1:33 pm #4095
I think there is a danger of personal prejudices, judgments and opinions being presented as if there is data to back them up. Let me request that we not become uncivil in simply slinging around mud. I think characterizations such as “scientists rail against” things or that scientists are not good at storytelling or sciontists are not good at interpreting data (!) are assertions that simply won’t stand critical scrutiny. Great scientists are generally quite humble (they appreciate how much they don’t know). Yes there are some, like Richard Dawkins, who rail against faith-based ideas as delusional, but Dawkins is more of a certaintist than a scientist. His own selfish-gene ideas are demonstrably wrong, but he clings to them in exactly the same fashion as a religious fundamentalist claims the Bible or other religious text as proof in and of itself. That is religion or scientism, not science. Simon Winchester writes science-based non-fiction that is easily as good as the best fiction.
It is fine to have all kinds of discussions, such as this one, but it should not be mistaken for a scientific discussion which it is not. I would recommend not using terms from science which have specific meanings. Paradigms, hypotheses, theories and even facts have specific definitions. I don’t think any discussion is facilitated in clarity when terminology is misused. Calling something a “paradigm” which is nothing more than an idea does not make it a paradigm. Arguments from authority, consensus or correlation are not evidence. It is not important that 99% of climate scientists agree that global warming is caused predominantly by things humans are doing (anthropogenic). What matters is that 99% of the evidence says that we are warming the planet. Uniike other ways of knowing, scientists run “controls” to compare what they are testing against the same set of circumstance without that factor, they double-blind experiments so the thing they hope to show does not bias the result, other teams of scientists in other countries check to see if they can reproduce the same result or data, etc.)
Scientists exercise great care. To be a hypothesis, you have to start with facts that you are attempting to explain. You cannot have a hypothesis without facts and evidence. The hypothesis has to be stated in such a way that it can be proven false with facts and evidence. Hypotheses have to withstand critical scientific thinking and available evidence, they have to pose questions and predict answers. After a great deal of testing, withstanding attempts to falsify the hypothesis, experiments, research and data that tend to confirm the explanation offered and maybe restating the hypothesis to correct overstatement or places where the hypothesis does not align with evidence, the hypothesis may gradually become known as a theory. Using the word theory to mean something that you wish were true is a gross misuse of the term. There are theories about how organisms evolve, but evolution, which simply means change-through-time, is a fact, no different than gravity. It has been recognized in writing since the ancient Greeks that the one constant is change.
We humans really have to get a grip on own inflated self-importance, our hubris. We are not stewards of the Earth. To quote James Lovelock, who loves the planet, “I would expect people to be stewards of the Earth as much as I would for goats to be gardeners.” We all need to get our heads on straight. It is the Earth that cares for us, not the other way around. We may have special (meaning different or unique) qualities as humans, but we are not important to the Biosphere. Cyanobacteria, are far more important than we could ever hope to be. They do all the photosynthesis on Earth. Their waste product is the oxygen you breath. We depend on them completely. They would not notice if we vanished. We are not the “crown of creation”. All life on Earth has evolved just as much as we. We are not “more evolved”. Evolution does not “make progress” with humans as the end result. We are just another heterotroph mammal, a clever, dangerous, naked ape. We may be the “universe knowing itself” but that definition would fit every living cell wherever they may be found in the Universe.
There is currently a mass extinction (popularized as the “sixth extinction”) going on and we are the primary cause of the shrinking biodiversity on the planet. It seems very likely that we will be the victims of our own success as “stewards” of the Earth. It will not be the end of life on Earth. We do not have that power. Most of the life on Earth which is bacteria will survive and go on to “invent” some new meta-celllular forms of life. Ian McHarg, one of the giants of the environmental movement of the 1970s had a story about how he saw our suidcide as a species. “The algae will laugh and say, ’Next time, no brains!’’
- April 29, 2015 at 2:04 pm #4096
Elisabet Sahtouris wrote: ‘In fact, many western scientists, influenced by also studying eastern sciences and philosophies, as mentioned above, have come to the startling conclusion that life does not come from non-life, that intelligence is already inherent in “dumb mud” and that planets, as well as people and their brains, evolve within a limitless universal consciousness that gives rise to everything we know as our universe.’
It is a very interesting idea that the universe has more going on than we suspect, and the above is a new paradigm for me. I am not well read in any of this. My only connection to the Deep Time community is Jennifer Morgan, her books and some seminars she gave, and I haven’t read the philosophers you and others have mentioned.
Which makes me hesitate to jump in with my theories, developed by me imprudently right here and now, but anyway: The problem I see is the emphasis given to ‘life’ and ‘consciousness’. What if life is _just not all that important_ compared to this ‘intelligence’ you see in the ‘not-so-dumb’ mud. I think the reason we see ‘life’ and ‘consciousness’ as so important is because it is what we have and are. We can’t imagine anything greater. We’d like to see the universe as having what we know, so when we pass from this life, we join something that is the same as it has always been.
But right now ‘life’ is polymers that can replicate using material and energy from the surroundings and maybe also adapt to the environment and that’s just _not all the interesting_ compared to this idea of the universe and what it might be. And consciousness might be just an illusion. But the universe–it has this great _stuff_ we can’t even imagine.
So we don’t have to argue is a bacteria mechanism of adaption and reproduction, or so-called ‘life’ reducible to its components, because maybe it is the _components_ that have this truly interesting property you are trying to describe in the above quote. And thus if it turns out the bacteria is reducible, it doesn’t change anything.
I mean, imagine a cat who thinks (if it can think) its true attribute as a cat is its athletic body that moves through its world and lets it have a sense of being a cat. So to a cat, a universe should move through the world the same way. To a bird, the universe should fly. To a fish swim. Because it can’t imagine anything else. To some alien, it might be magnets, or smell, or who knows .
Maybe it is that we humans who are the most important thing, and we are conscious because the universe is conscious, and the universe developed us humans in its image. I just don’t know; it would be nice and it is not all that implausible, but there is no evidence for it, except experiential evidence that Ed has mentioned. (That I have never experienced, but that is another story!)
Now, as I said before, as for this interesting _stuff_ of the universe, if we do figure it out, our understanding, I feel, will come from the study of the small. Just a gut feel. And my feeling might stem from the fact that I am pretty well versed in chemistry and biology, but not so much in physics and math. But still, I think we need to study the electron to have any type of understanding, and that is why I am studying it.
(I don’t know why the above is bold type, but I can’t seem to change it! )
- April 29, 2015 at 3:29 pm #4101
Ed wrote: “I cannot build a living, reproducing being from scratch. There are missing ingredients.” This isn’t the case. Craig Venter’s team almost achieved this in 2010 http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form, though they cheated a little, and they are working away at doing it without cheating http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23266-craig-venter-close-to-creating-synthetic-life.html I have every reason to believe that they will be successful, but fine to hold this opinion until then!
“We do not understand how information encoded in DNA expresses from microscopic to macroscopic spatial forms.” This also isn’t the case. We have a deep understanding of how this happens.
“We do not understand neural coding. We do not understand memory and consciousness. And we do not understand how computational processes work in the brain.” We understand quite a bit about neural coding, and a bit about memory. Consciousness, however defined, is still a mystery. But, of course, all of these brain-based processes occur only in animals and aren’t general properties of life.
James — Totally awesomely spot-on. Thanks!
And Karen, I love your observation that the notion that the universe is conscious is related to our being enamored with our own consciousness. I fully agree. Love the cat example!
- April 29, 2015 at 4:10 pm #4102
You write that, “Consciousness, however defined, is still a mystery. But, of course, all of these brain-based processes occur only in animals and aren’t general properties of life.” If consciousness is “still a mystery,” I am puzzled how, in the very next sentence, you can say with certainty that, “. . .of course, all these brain-based processes occur only in animals and aren’t general properties of life.” Consciousness is indeed a mystery and clear evidence of a knowing capacity is found not only in animals but also in plants and organisms without a biological brain.
- April 29, 2015 at 5:43 pm #4103
I am sorry, James, I used the words paradigm and theory casually. But I don’t think the piece I wrote above is scientific! It’s psychology, on which I am not versed. I don’t actually know the scientific meaning of the word paradigm, but I do know the scientific meaning of the word theory, and my paragraphs are not theories, just ideas.
here is Dilbert on paradigms:
- April 29, 2015 at 6:17 pm #4104
James, I hate to get into an argument on this beautiful day, but you did bring it up again (above) and I had thought of a rebuttal to your idea that bacteria are more worthy because they can survive in more difficult places and are more robust then we are (I thought of this at the time we were arguing before, but didn’t post it).
Think of a piece of monopoly money, and think of Michelangelo’s David. Now imagine dropping a huge weight on both of them. The monopoly money would survive, but is it truly more wonderful?
In all honesty, I always feel a little injured at your insistence that bacteria are better than me. I’m great, I’m part of God’s creation (or the universes!) , I don’t want to dis their work, I’m me, bacteria are okay too, they have their advantages, I have mine. Something that’s a bit more resilient might be so because it is simple. Maybe this artificial life that Ursula spoke of is even more resilient and simple. Something more complex might be more interesting. You say that I am made of single cells and bacteria, but bacteria are made of atoms, and atoms are made of sub atomic particles. Are atoms better than bacteria? I really just don’t get this. It’s so opinion based. not scientific, whether bacteria are better, or people. I guess you can have your opinion, but it feels like an insult every time you say it! (If we are going into this whole discussion again, we’d better take it to the original page. )
- April 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm #4105
<p>Karen wrote: “Okay, I see–the percentage of scientists who are good story tellers is the same as the percentage of people in general then–it’s not some characteristic of scientists that makes them bad story tellers?”</p><p> </p><p>No, not any more than a car mechanic or a store clerk would be a good or bad storyteller… Storytelling (including filmmaking, game development, writing, directing, etc.) is a profession. Professional storytellers take years to perfect their craft. It is a lot to expect a scientist who has spent their career doing theoretical or experimental research to suddenly become a great storyteller. Even if they are a good communicator, storytelling often combines multiple media modalities – music, art, technology, etc. – to engender deep emotional engagement.</p><p> </p><p>The challenge before us is not simply one of communicating information (though there is indeed important information to be communicated). The greater challenge is to get people to care, to grok the significance, to feel empathy and to feel motivated to act. Then we need to give them tools for action. </p><p> </p><p>We are ushering in new worldviews – cosmic worldviews where our eyes and ears are powerful satellites orbiting the earth, probes journeying into the depths of space and visceral journeys into other worlds and cultures. Virtual reality and immersive media technologies can deliver these experiences in new and powerful ways. We can fly through scientific datasets or through the mind of an artist or monk. This is my focus – delivering powerful transformative experiences using advanced media modalities that enlighten, awaken, dazzle and entertain.</p>
- April 29, 2015 at 11:38 pm #4106
“Think of a piece of monopoly money, and think of Michelangelo’s David. Now imagine dropping a huge weight on both of them. The monopoly money would survive, but is it truly more wonderful?” This is just not the right analogy.
You and I are communities not individuals. The word for our animal cells is the “holobiont”, the rest of each of us is our “micro biome” (our persistent microbial symbionts). The relationship of your animal cells to your bacterial symbionts is obligatory. You cannot live without them. Most of the metabolites in your blood are made my your microbiome including your neurotransmitters.–your thinking. It is the same for every organ system in your body. Your bacterial symbionts is that they outnumber your animal cells 10 to 1. When we think of ourselves as individuals, that is an illusion (or neurosis).
To judge anything requires that it be judged in relationship to something. But bacteria since they are the primary producers on Earth can not be thought of as worthless (like monopoly money) since they make all life on Earth possible. Since you and I and Michelangelo are all more bacteria than animal cells — a good argument could be made for their contribution to David as well. I was saying that if you judge an organism by its importance to the Biosphere (which I would argue is the ultimate measure) than cyanobacteria (and bacteria in general) are far more important than people. It is true that we carve statutes and write books, but then again, it is only we who look at statues and read books, so using those things as a measure is self-referential.
Think of the Earth without bacteria, and think of Earth with only people and nothing else. Now imagine what the world would look like without bacteria (it would look like Mars but a lot warmer.) Now imagine the Mars-like Earth with no vegetation or water or oxygen atmosphere with just people on it. What would they eat? What would they drink? What would they breathe? They wouldn’t survive. I think the Earth that we have is a whole lot more wonderful. It is thanks to bacteria.
David Bohm had a wonderful saying, “Science is the search for truth [with a small “t”], whether we like it or not.”
- April 30, 2015 at 6:33 am #4107
Ursula writes: “Ed wrote: “I cannot build a living, reproducing being from scratch. There are missing ingredients.” This isn’t the case. Craig Venter’s team almost achieved this in 2010 http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form, though they cheated a little, and they are working away at doing it without cheating http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23266-craig-venter-close-to-creating-synthetic-life.html I have every reason to believe that they will be successful, but fine to hold this opinion until then!”
Venter is doing amazing work! Thanks for sharing this. His published work to date still falls into my category of “meddling with life” since he did not create a cell from scratch, but instead borrowed one and inserted his own “designer DNA.” I have no doubt that we will eventually succeed in taking control of our genetic and biological destinies. There are a lot of really smart people working on these things. We are like babies just waking up. Some might even say we are like babies playing with fire 🙂 Getting burned, however, can be a great teacher…
Ed: “We do not understand how information encoded in DNA expresses from microscopic to macroscopic spatial forms.”
Ursula: “This also isn’t the case. We have a deep understanding of how this happens.”
Ok, well I am not a biologist by any stretch. Can you cite more awesome references to back this up? How do spatially distributed stem cells in a zygote know to start differentiating – one into a liver and another into a brain? I thought this was still a mystery.
I will stand by my other statements about us not understanding informational processes in the brain. If we really understood neural coding, I would be able to pick up my thoughts with a probe and project them onto a screen. Again, there are really smart people working this… so it’s probably just a matter of time…
What I’m trying to say is that there is an informational domain at work in the universe and that trying to reduce everything into simple mechanical chemistry and physics misses this more subtle property. We’re like alien scientists trying to understand a computer by probing voltages on circuit boards. Yes, there are correlates between images flashing on the computer screen and voltages on the pins. But we cannot really understand the computer until we learn its software programming language. Once we learn how to program the computer then we’re able to explore a vast informational domain. We don’t even have to understand the mechanical/electrical underpinnings of computer chips to operate competently in this informational domain (most of us are doing this right now as we type).
The biggest beef I have with how science has been conducted is this complete and utter denial of the inner realms of experience – what I like to call phenomenology (in the positive and less dogmatic sense of the word). Others will call it mysticism or the practice of subjective contemplation. I think of it as a scientist turned inwards. Consciousness IS the informational domain of nature, waiting for us to explore directly. Sure, we can probe voltages in the brain and there is useful information to be attained from that. However the most powerful observational domain we have in the exploration of consciousness is our own minds, and the most powerful tool for this is the lens of contemplation. There are very few scientists trained in this practice. You will not find many research dollars for phenomenology.
Eastern traditions have thousands of years of experience in contemplative practices. Modern science can now substantiate neural correlates of brain states. These two practices, taken together, are a powerful duo for the exploration of consciousness. To me, the exploration of consciousness is an exploration of the computational and informational nature of not just our own brains and nervous systems, but of the universe itself.
What has hindered this important work is the non-scientific notion that anything we see when looking within is “just” our imagination, fantasies that are subject to delusion and hallucination. This is one of those fundamental assumptions – that the “outer” world is objective and worthy of study, while the “inner” world is subjective and just an emergent property of mechanical/physical/chemical processes anyway and is therefore not worthy of study except, perhaps, for psychologists or self-help gurus. This thinking needs to change. And when it does, a new frontier of scientific exploration will be opened.
- April 30, 2015 at 8:20 am #4109
James: “I think there is a danger of personal prejudices, judgments and opinions being presented as if there is data to back them up…. It is fine to have all kinds of discussions, such as this one, but it should not be mistaken for a scientific discussion which it is not. I would recommend not using terms from science which have specific meanings. Paradigms, hypotheses, theories and even facts have specific definitions. I don’t think any discussion is facilitated in clarity when terminology is misused.”
James, perhaps you can help keep us on track by pointing out specific biases and misused terms.
Regarding my comments about scientists not being good storytellers and interpreters of data, this is clearly a generalization. What I am trying to express is that there are storytellers and visionaries by profession who are really, really good at their craft and can work hand-in-hand with scientists to interpret their data (in a wider, more holistic sense) and communicate it in a way that more deeply engages the public. Expecting a person to be a good scientist and a good storyteller is a tall order.
- April 30, 2015 at 8:56 am #4110
Ed wrote: Ok, well I am not a biologist by any stretch. Can you cite more awesome references to back this up? How do spatially distributed stem cells in a zygote know to start differentiating – one into a liver and another into a brain? I thought this was still a mystery.
Ursula: The reference I gave you has some of this; my book The Sacred Depths of Nature has some as well. If you go to the Nature page on our RNA website, http://religious-naturalist-association.org/nature/, you’ll find refs to several books on development.
It’s not remotely the case that scientists are in “complete and utter denial of the inner realms of experience.” If you go here http://religious-naturalist-association.org/human-nature-mind-and-culture/ you’ll find clicks to 2 good books, Self Comes to Mind and Consciousness and the Brain, that should get you started. The wiki entry on qualia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia also has lots of stuff.
- April 30, 2015 at 9:32 am #4111
Karen and Ed,
I’d like to respond to your conversation regarding scientists as story tellers. A big part of the challenge is not the story telling ability of scientists but rather the story they are telling. If the perceived story is shallow and restricted then it will be reflected in the story that is told. If the universe is regarded as non-living at its foundations, then, in its depths it has no feelings for us as human beings nor does it offer a sense of meaning and purpose. A non-living universe is unconscious at its foundations and is indifferent to humanity and unknowing of our evolving creations and conditions. Nothing matters to non-living matter. An old saying goes, “A dead man tells no stories.” In a similar way, “A dead universe tells no stories.” In contrast, a living universe is itself a vast story continuously unfolding with countless characters playing out gripping dramas of awakening. In turn, could the essence of learning embodied in countless life stories be remembered within invisible or non-material ecologies of a living universe and passed along to enhance the field of intelligence on behalf of other cosmic systems blossoming within a larger multi-verse? That is a big and beautiful story!
- April 30, 2015 at 9:42 am #4112
James, I see you are passionate about bacteria. I’m not convinced about your conclusions, but it’s too nice out to argue. I am happy our world has bacteria!
- April 30, 2015 at 10:12 am #4113
Duane — Seems like we’ve circled back to one of the first exchanges in this thread, where you voiced something along these lines and I responded with something about “the grunge theory of matter.” The concept that matter is not alive doesn’t mean it’s “dead.” It means it’s something other than an organism which, on our planet and possibly elsewhere, organizes matter to give rise to particular properties, like metabolism, that are associated in most minds with being alive, properties that cease to function when the organism dies and matter returns to its non-living state.
I, for one, and I am not alone, have no problem with the concept of a universe that has no feelings for us as human beings etc. Rather, this understanding nurtures my humility, and fuels my astonishment that I have the life that I have given its stunning improbability.
We’re obviously all entitled to our metaphors of choice, and the-universe-is-alive is clearly your choice. What several of us here are urging you and others in your project to do is to be responsible in citing scientific support for your metaphors, and to develop your perspective without disparaging scientists and others who have a different take on the matter.
- April 30, 2015 at 11:26 am #4114
No disparagement of scientists is intended. My understanding of a “materialist” view of the universe is summarized in the following propositions (which I understand may not reflect your own):
• Measurable matter is the only reality and is essentially mechanical in its workings.• At the foundations of existence, matter is without consciousness or subjectivity.• Because there is no underlying “presence” or awareness, nature has no purpose and evolution has no inherent meaning.• Consciousness is largely unique to humans, is a by-product bio-chemistry and is confined within the brain.
These premises (which, as I understand it, are at the foundations of scientific materialism) do suggest the very limited “story of the universe” that I described. I have presented my own premises about the nature of the universe and its attributes as a unique kind of living system in previous postings but would be happy to repeat them again if that seems helpful.
- April 30, 2015 at 12:19 pm #4115
Since current calculations have “ordinary matter” being only 1-5% of the total universe, there’s lots else!
We may have different definitions of mechanical, but for me nuclear fusion, for example, isn’t mechanical in the folk understanding of the word.
Yes on 2.
Purpose shows up with organisms on this planet, as elaborated here http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Ursula%20Goodenough-%20The%20Sacred%20Emergence%20of%20Nature.pdf
Consciousness is another one of those definition things. In my vocabulary, all organisms are aware; brain-based consciousness shows up in animals with brains; I-self consciousness, a product of symbolic language, is unique to humans with symbolic-language-competent brains. Jury still out as to whether animals like bonobos who are trained in symbolic language develop an I-self consciousness. To repeat, this is a definition thing, but for me, attributing consciousness to matter doesn’t work at any level, nor does that make matter any less interesting or important.
From my perspective, these premises do not generate a “very limited” story of the universe. They generate a fascinating story. Doesn’t float your boat? Go for another. Only please make let us know the evidence for your premises, at least on this evidence-based site, and please pay us the courtesy of responding when we challenge features of what you offer as evidence.
- April 30, 2015 at 1:05 pm #4116
My understanding of a “materialist” view of the universe is summarized in the following propositions (which I understand may not reflect your own):• 1 Measurable matter is the only reality and is essentially mechanical in its workings.Is someone claiming that nothing else could exist? I think you might be taking the fact that scientists talk about measurable matter when they study it as a statement that nothing else exists. Do you have statements from scientists that nothing else could possibly exist? Also, what do you mean by “measureable”? Dark matter, love, and qualia are all things that are difficult or impossible to measure, yet scientists don’t claim they don’t exist. Or do you mean “detectable”, in which case how could anyone claim something non-detectable exists? Even with “detectable”, we are back to the fact that scientists study detectable things – they may or may not, as individuals, think that other things exist.On the “mechanical” part – again, I don’t know what you are claiming, since many things are not “mechanical”, and I don’t know of any declaration from a scientific group, or other claim, that everything is “mechanical”. It sounds, again, like matter without consciousness is somehow “bad” or “evil”, as with the ancient Gnostic view of the world – along the lines of Ursula’s “grunge” approach to matter.• 2 At the foundations of existence, matter is without consciousness or subjectivity.I think a lot of scientists, as people, would agree with this as a guess – but again I don’t see where this is being made as a claim. I think that the most common position here is that “we simply don’t know”. After all, it’s very different for one to say “my best estimate is that sub-atomic particles aren’t conscious”, for one to say “I know for a fact that sub-atomic particles aren’t conscious”. Do you see the difference between those two statements?•3 Because there is no underlying “presence” or awareness, nature has no purpose and evolution has no inherent meaning.I don’t know where you are getting the idea that “science” is making that claim. Is there a group that has issued a statement on that? I think this goes back to the reminder that “I don’t know” is a common answer, and one which is not an assertion in either direction. Also, and perhaps just as importantly, the idea that there is no evidence that the tiniest bits of matter are conscious doesn’t, in itself, lead to the conclusion that nature has no purpose or meaning. Is not a universe without aware particles still able to be one filled with meaning? I guess I don’t see a reason for the “Because” above – like if I said “Because my cell phone works, Alexander the Great didn’t conquer the Aztecs.” , you could point out that B doesn’t follow from A. in the case above, I don’t see why you see B (lack of meaning) as following from A (unaware particles).• 4 Consciousness is largely unique to humans, is a by-product bio-chemistry and is confined within the brain.
Like 2, I think that most scientists would guess that this is the case, but that most would say they really don’t know, and I would wonder what evidence one could have that this is incorrect. Again, it sounds like one is taking the fact that scientists avoid stating things without evidence as evidence that they assert those things are non-existent, which are two very different things.
In contrast, a living universe is itself a vast story continuously unfolding with countless characters playing out gripping dramas of awakening.
Again, I don’t see how B follows A here either. Would not a Universe which contains both living and non-living things be capable of being a vast story continuously unfolding with countless characters playing out gripping dramas of awakening? I think so. I don’t see how the removal of all non-living things is a requirement for a vast story continuously unfolding with countless characters playing out gripping dramas of awakening.
These premises (which, as I understand it, are at the foundations of scientific materialism) do suggest the very limited “story of the universe” that I described.
I wonder if it is possible that some of this is a caricature of “scientists” – a picture formed by what others have said are “assumptions” of scientists, when many of these are not things that scientists (nor science organizations) are claiming as positive assertions?
- April 30, 2015 at 1:17 pm #4119
Ursula and Jon,
We have the foundations for an interesting discussion! I’m just heading out the door for several days of traveling and speaking and won’t be able to reply immediately. However, for various “flavors” of materialism, I find the discussion in Wikipedia interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materialism (although I realize that for many scientists, this is a suspect source). When I have more time, I will be exploring, for example, David Christian’s definition of the universe used in Big History for comparisons.
- April 30, 2015 at 2:26 pm #4120
Wikipedia is OK in this case – it gives a good overview.
However, the article is talking about philosophical naturalism. You may remember that more than once I’ve asked if you understood the difference between philosophical materialism and methodological naturalism. They aren’t the same thing. We all – including you – operate under methodological naturalism, and that fact in no way requires us to each subscribe to philosophical naturalism. The same is true of scientists. Using the fact that they operate under methodological naturalism to cast them all as philosophical materialists is just as unfair and wrong as if I did that to you.
- May 1, 2015 at 2:14 am #4121
<p>Ursula: “It’s not remotely the case that scientists are in “complete and utter denial of the inner realms of experience.” If you go here http://religious-naturalist-association.org/human-nature-mind-and-culture/ you’ll find clicks to 2 good books, Self Comes to Mind and Consciousness and the Brain, that should get you started. The wiki entry on qualia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia also has lots of stuff.”</p><p> </p><p>Thanks for the references! I do think we’ve been hanging out with different scientists. My debates are most often with physicists who are, for the most part, quite adamant about the the universe being purely “mechanistic” and not having an informational dimension. Consciousness research is a very recent field of study. So is positive psychology (the study of happiness as opposed to treatment of disorders) which attests to my claim that this domain has been long ignored by both neuroscientists and many psychologists (particularly behaviorism) and is only recently being seen as something of value. A few exceptions aside, I believe this is a historical fact and am happy to dig up references to support this claim.</p><p> </p><p>Personally, I have had endless debates over the years with hard-nosed scientists (I worked 7 years for a company that employed 3000 engineers and scientists in my division alone), only a small handful of whom placed any value on the study of subjective experience. Subjective experience, anomalous mental phenomena and consciousness studies were nearly taboo topics in many of the circles that I moved in. Never mind spirituality (which I equate with phenomenology – focus on one’s inner state of affairs)… I have been shamed for that. </p><p> </p><p>Nontheless, our debate is pointing to a leap in reasoning that I initially warned against and I will now have to take my own medicine. We really should not be making generalized statements about “science” and “scientists.” “Holistic” concepts and studies are now bubbling up in all of the sciences. An expansion in thinking is afoot. We need to support this movement by highlighting those scientists who are leading this charge (as you are doing, Ursula). Better to discuss specific cases and topics.</p><p> </p><p>Science moves slowly by necessity. Things that may seem patently obvious are often very difficult or expensive to formally substantiate. The perception of a living universe is, to me, largely a phenomenological observation and is far from being substantiated. Scientific observations are very precise when measuring interactions within the physical domain. Using the tools of science we see ordinary matter is relatively inert, following simple rules of chemistry and physics, while biological organisms are highly active and intelligent. In other words, non-biological matter does not behave as if it is alive or conscious.</p><p> </p><p>However the EXPERIENCE of unity with all things – now that’s a different cup of tea altogether. While this experience can radically shift worldviews, there really is no objective, factual basis for the literal interpretation of what is – essentially – a mystical experience of unity. That does not invalidate the experience – it just means that you need to experience yourself it to “get” it.</p>
- May 2, 2015 at 1:27 pm #4122
I continue to be completely riveted with this discussion.
Ed, you have a remarkable way of making distinctions between evidence based approaches and direct experience of the oneness of everything. This is exactly the distinction I’m making in the “Approaches to an Origin Story” paper that I’m working on. A revised version incorporating feedback will be back up for comment soon.
I am in a program and will write more later, but I wanted to ask all of you a question. Developing definitions for key terms has come up several times throughout this discussion and I’d like propose that we jointly come up with definitions that everyone can agree to. I’m working with Shane the programmer to develop “docs” a program in which DTJN members can work on the same document. The words so far (others?) that have come up (that need agreed upon definitions) are:
Having these definitions in place for this and future discussions would be hugely helpful.
Re storytelling, here’s a picture of me giving a workshop in Cosmic Education and Storytelling for the Bay Area Montessori Association in San Mateo, CA last Saturday (wearing the star covered robe of course). Also, just gave a teacher in service program in the Community Montessori Charter School, New Albany, Indiana, for all teachers, 0 to 18 in Cosmic Education Across All Levels. Simple storytelling, in the dark around a candle continues to be deeply powerful, even in our high tech age.
- May 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm #4123
Jennifer — Please tell us more about what you do in these workshops or post links. The robe is gorgeous!
- May 2, 2015 at 5:38 pm #4124
The full day programs for teachers (Montessori Cosmic Education as a Continuum Across All Levels) that I give generally include the following:
1. Circle dance.
2. Discuss Context — An Evolving Universe
3. An overview of the scientific narrative from 13.8 billion years ago to today.
4. Show “The Known Universe” video developed by the American Museum of Natural History set to Hans Zimmer as a meditation. There are other videos too that I show, for them to sit quietly and internalize the magnitude of the story.
5. The origin of Cosmic Education when Montessori was under house arrest in India as an Italian national. Also cover Big History and work of Thomas Berry/Brian Swimme.
6. Cosmic Education as a Pedagogy and as a means of creating a “New Human” through education . . . humans who know where they come from and their role as a “cosmic agent.”
6. Definition of Cosmic Education. https://dtnetwork.org/resource/definition-of-cosmic-education-2/
7. Cosmic Education as developed for the Elementary level with Five Great Stories: Stories of Universe, Life, Humans, Communication and Math . . . all nested stories, each told as evolutionary stories. All subject are hung on this scaffolding.
8. Interiority of Teacher and Student
9. Cosmic Gift/Task. Understanding that everything has a gift/task . . . bacteria, plants . . . something it does for itself and for the whole. This concept is brought home to the students through the Great Stories/Lessons/experiments and art projects.
10. The Planes of Development and Cosmic Education, what’s appropriate for each level, and how each one prepares the student for the next level.
11. Explaining Cosmic Education to parents and handling questions about religion.
12. Discussion about the importance of storytelling for igniting the imagination, and using the story on which to hang all information. Discussion about finding voice.
13. Model storytelling. Have teachers tell stories in groups.
14. Have all teachers act out one of the Great Stories, groups take a piece of the story.
15. Work individually to set goals for implementation of Cosmic Education, then work in groups with their levels, then work with teachers in different levels.
16. Share the fruits of the day.
17. Music to dance to and clean up the room and prepare to leave. I like “The Particle Dance” for this. Please leave in a great mood after a wonderful day.
These trainings can be hugely impactful, with teachers seeing themselves, teaching, and their students, and everything, very differently by the end of the day. Would be much better to have several days, but one day is usually what happens.
- May 2, 2015 at 6:32 pm #4125
Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your encouragement!
You are right, of course, about definitions. Some are easy to define (i.e. hypothesis, theory, evidence-based). Some seem obvious but are hard to nail down precisely (life). Others are nebulous and subject to opinion (paradigm). And other terms are used in so many different contexts that they are a flashpoint for disagreements (i.e. consciousness). Here are some helpful definitions:
Theory & Hypothesis: http://www.livescience.com/21491-what-is-a-scientific-theory-definition-of-theory.html
Paradigm – A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Scientific+paradigm
Consciousness – Better have some time on your hands if you intend to read this one: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness/. So tell me, my intelligent colleagues, which definition do you subscribe to? It seems that we need more than one word to describe the many definitions that are lumped into this one word – “consciousness.”
Jennifer, your storytelling costume looks great! You would love the digital dome storytelling that we’ve been doing. Here is what ASU students did with one of our dome systems: http://wonderdome.co. We’ve been teaching at-risk kids in LA how to produce dome content. The State Department even brought hip-hop artists to our dome from Egypt and Tunisia: http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs171/1101599026911/archive/1119767210912.html. We’ve produced fulldome music videos from Native American artists: https://vimeo.com/113670173 plus so much more…
One thing that is exciting to me is the large quantity of scientific visualizations now available in fulldome format. A few years ago I gave an invited keynote talk in Tokyo to a scientific visualization conference on this topic: https://www.academia.edu/12193333/Immersive_Scientific_Visualization_in_Education_Storytelling_and_Art
- May 2, 2015 at 7:42 pm #4126
I’m glad to be a member of a group where it’s OK to believe that the universe is alive and OK not to. And now I’m going to unsub from this interesting conversation.
- May 2, 2015 at 9:00 pm #4127
Ed, your work is fantastic. What an incredible medium for conveying a sense of place inside the larger narrative using many points of view. I LOVE the sound of the Native American storyteller.
Thanks too for your ideas and references for definitions. I’m still getting this docs program figured out. Do you or does anyone else have a good definition for “evidence based”?
Hope to hear from you soon Jonathan about your book “Grandmother Fish” when it is published.
- May 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm #4132
Hey Jennifer – would love to help you get your stories into the dome space! There are over 1200 digital domes globally, many in colleges and regional schools districts as well as science centers and museums: http://lochnessproductions.com/lfco/lfco.html
The term “evidence-based” was adopted primarily by the medical community to denote treatments that have passed the scrutiny of quantitative research studies. The term is now being applied to a wide range of practices, according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence-based_practice).
- May 4, 2015 at 4:09 pm #4136
Ed and Jennifer-
What a great idea – to get Jennifer’s stories and such up in dome format! I agree with Jennifer – the dome stuff is fantastic! Let me know if there is any way that I can help.
Jennifer – that description of Cosmic Education sounds really cool.
Ed – also thanks for the link about EBP. I’m glad that more rigorous standards are being applied more widely – it sounds like this has been mostly a very helpful thing.
Best – Jon
- May 4, 2015 at 9:00 pm #4137
Ed — Oh Wow! That would be absolutely awesome to get the stories into dome space. I can’t imagine better places for all ages to see/experience our origin story. Let’s communicate directly about this.
I almost have the docs capability up and running so that members can create documents together, and in this particular case agree on definitions. More on that tomorrow.
Coming back into Princeton today after 20 days away was extraordinary . . . Magnolia, Forsythia, daffodils exploding everywhere. The whole world turning green and awash with color. Wonderful to travel but also great to come home! What a joy!
- May 7, 2015 at 10:54 am #4159
To Everyone in Remarkable Conversation,
This morning, over coffee with Sam and Paula Guarnaccia, (composer/producer of the Emergent Universe Oratorio, in Princeton for a reception to help raise support for bringing the Oratorio to Princeton), Paula said that in this conversation we’re striving for a “shared reality.” It’s a basic human need, she said. That so struck me.
Clarifying definitions can be one way toward a shared reality. I’ve started a “Definitions” doc that we work on together.
First, an explanation of Docs:Docs, now available to all Contributing Members, “adds collaborative work spaces. It’s part wiki, part document editing, and provides a robust way for members to collaborate on group content. Permissions can be set to control edit and view privileges. Version control is automatically maintained, and members can revert changes, or simply track a document’s evolution. Documents can be tagged, sorted, and filtered.
A “Doc” needs to be associated with a group. I started a doc (named “Definitions”) associated with a group (also named “Definitions”). Here is what’s in the doc right now (the steps for how to get to the doc are below):
Scientific Method: A method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested. (From Dictionary.com)
1. a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either asserted merely as a provisional conjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis) or accepted as highly probable in the light of established facts.
2. a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument.
3. the antecedent of a conditional proposition.
4. a mere assumption or guess. (From dictionary.com)
(Jim MacAllister) No question can be called a hypothesis or theory without “scientific” or empirical evidence in its favor.
Empirical (adjective)1. derived from or guided by experience or experiment.2. depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.3. provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.
Evidence1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof. 2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible evidence of his fever. 3. Law. data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects. (From dictionary.com)
What requirements does a set of facts (data) need to satisfy to qualify as evidence inside the scientific method in order to prove or disprove a hypothesis? (The following are from Jim MacAllister)
1. Observation: Evidence is based on, and subject to, observation with the senses or with instruments that aid the senses.
2. Measurement: Empirical data that serves as evidence can be measured and is statistically significant.
3. Experiment: Data from controlled experiments can serve as evidence. Good experimental design includes double blinding to prevent bias by the researcher and the incorporation of controls to which the test results are compared.
4. Reproducible: Evidence must be reproducible by independent researchers using exactly the same methods and materials.
5. Not evidence based: Some things that are not evidence are unsupported belief (faith), arguments that cite authority rather than evidence, arguments that cite consensus rather than evidence. There is also evidence, such as correlation, that is not evidence of causation. For example, the fact that vultures are found on dead animals is not proof in itself that vultures killed the animals. Personal anecdotes or resorting to supernatural answers are not scientific evidence.
Are there other definitions of science? Such systems definitions? Please add them.
To get to the doc: 1. Log in
2. Hover over DTJN Community and select Groups
3. Select “Definitions” Group
4. Join the group (it’s public so anyone can join)
5. Once you’re in the group, in the right hand column select “docs”
6. Select the “Definitions” doc.
7. Then select “edit” and add very concise. Be sure to click “Save” at the very bottom of the page after making edits.
8. Comments should be added to the comment box inside the group.
Feel free to write to my personal email address at [email protected] with any questions/suggestions.
- May 7, 2015 at 11:05 am #4161
The formatting on the last post got a little screwed up. I just edited it so it looks much better. You can go to the forum here for an easier to read version.
- May 7, 2015 at 3:23 pm #4162
I just wrote what ended up longer than intended as a comment in the Definitions Doc, and am wondering if it belongs more appropriately here? I would like all of us in this Living Universe group to see it and don’t know that we will all participate in Definitions. So here is the same post:
I still believe it essential that we work on coming to some agreement about fundamental assumptions in science as the essential basis for our definitions work. In the two international symposia I co-convened on this topic, no one even suggested that science could be done without such assumptions– a basic set of statements conceptualizing the universe to be investigated scientifically and how it can be so investigated (statements that are by definition unproven, but ‘obvious’ by agreement).
This is a critically important matter, since this foundation of science both suggests and restricts what can be hypothesized. Unfortunately, it is given little and vague attention in science education, especially since the contextual philosophy of science is scarcely taught at all any more.
In the first symposium, the participants were self-identified as paradigm shifters, and each of us first listed the assumptions (or axioms) we were taught in the course of getting our PhDs. We ended up with some 176 overlapping but differently worded assumptions which we eventually reduced to the ten we agreed were most essential. We then repeated the process with the assumptions we had put in place of those we were taught (some diametrically opposite, such as
a) Consciousness is a late emergent property of material evolution
b) Consciousness is the source of material evolution
In the course f this symposium we recognized that very different sciences could b built on very different sets of fundamental assumptions, and shifted our thinking from paradigm shift (replacing one set of assumptions with another) to parallel sciences, even the possibility and desirability of a Global Consortium of Sciences. (Note that ‘paradigm shifters’ including those in this group, got their fundamental assumptions mostly from Eastern Vedic or Taoist sciences.)
For this reason, a second symposium was held for Islamic scientists to list and come to agreement on their fundamental assumptions in Islamic science. (Note that both Western science and Islamic have strong roots in Arabic science.)
As things stand, Western science claims to be the only science and gets away with it by insisting its fundamental unproven assumptions are the only reasonable ones possible. In a globalized world, this is no longer tenable.
- May 7, 2015 at 4:09 pm #4163
Thank you for this valuable expansion to our discussion of fundamental assumptions and their cultural sources.
- May 8, 2015 at 12:01 am #4165Thanks, Duane,Unless people see how assumptions define a science, Western science will continue to maintain its hegemony unless overthrown by a paradigm shift, and I’m not into that conquest model any more….especially as we so need the checks & balances there could be among sciences seeing each other as legit. I do not want to replace Western science with any other, as its assumptions have led it to technological applications I would not like to do without. In other words, I no longer consider myself a paradigm shifter, but I am a strong parallel sciences advocate.‘Non-life’ is a concept that was coined to distinguish from ‘life’. We all know life through direct experience of it, and as my favorite Swiss botanist Walter Pankow once said “It takes a living system to know a living system” (quote from his chapter of that old book on Conciousness co-edited I believe by Erich Jantsch, a great pioneer in the Living Universe concept! The first or 2nd chapter by Ralph Abraham.)Life has been notoriously difficult to define, and what I so love about the Maturana & Varela autopoiesis definition is that it is the first core definition that avoids the usual recourse of simply listing a string of attributes. I wrote Varela a four-page single-spaced argument for Earth as alive in the mid 90s and, although he had not “considered anything that large as alive,” he accepted my arguments and that thrilled me.THERE IS NO WAY TO PROVE THAT THE UNIVERSE IS EITHER ALIVE OR NON-LIVING. It is either one or the other depending on how we experience it and/or what conceptualization of life we accept. I am perfectly clear on my choice and I believe the bulk of humanity has been and is with me (my Islamic foundations of science symposium, for example, made it clear that the entire Islamic world opts for a living universe, since Allah declared it so). My choice, like yours Duane, is for life, AND I have no need to convince those making the other choice that they are wrong.Why don’t we just take a straw vote of how many in this dialogue make each choice and get on with defining the other terms?
- May 8, 2015 at 12:11 am #4166
Wise words Elisabet: “My choice, like yours Duane, is for life, AND I have no need to convince those making the other choice that they are wrong. Why don’t we just take a straw vote of how many in this dialogue make each choice and get on with defining the other terms?”
This seems like a productive approach to me Elisabet as I have never sought to make those with a non-living view of the universe “wrong,” rather, as I wrote at the close of my essay on Deep Big History: “It is scientifically valid, critical to our pathway into the future, and enormously enriching to bring a living systems paradigm into big history as a legitimate track of discovery and development.” In other words two or more tracks of discovery and development are fine with me as I view all paradigms as provisional. I was simply asking that a living systems perspective not be excluded from our inquiry.
- May 8, 2015 at 9:23 am #4167
<p>Great work on the definitions, Jennifer and Jim!</p><p> </p><p>I do have one general exception, primarily to Jim’s Evidence Based Statements section. It has to do with the attitude that many of my scientist colleagues have towards phenomenology or subjective observation. Its the insinuation that subjective phenomena lack empirical status and are thus inadmissible as scientific evidence of any sort. </p><p> </p><p>Consider our definition of Empirical: “derived from or guided by experience or experiment.2. depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.3. provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.”</p><p> </p><p>Clearly we experience our own nervous systems, our psyche and our so-called “objective” world as sensory experience. However the domain of mind is informational in nature – that is, mind is mutable, etherial, fleeting and not terribly stable. The physical domain is, by comparison, rock solid. We can measure gravity to 10 significant digits and compute the position of the planets to a very high degree of accuracy. We can make quantitative measurements of physical characteristics, however it is difficult to measure thoughts or emotions which are more qualitative in nature and much more subject to bias and error. </p><p> </p><p>I would point out that, just because the subjective mind is more difficult to study and “objectify,” it does not mean that this domain is not worthy of introspective study and real science. I would in fact assert that introspection is a much finer observational lens than the blunt instruments of neuroimaging, EEG and other neurometric techniques. Of course, combining the two (objective neurometrics and subjective self-reporting) is an extremely powerful technique for exploring consciousness.</p><p> </p><p>Here’s why I think this is important. There are mental phenomena and subjective observations that may have yet-to-be discovered correlates in the physical domain. For instance, when we have a “unity experience” or whatever you want to call it (mystical experience, cosmic consciousness, etc.) and have the “realization” that the universe is alive and interconnected, perhaps we are indeed sensing something greater than ourselves – something “real” – and not just a neural phenomena. Perhaps we are activating a new sensory capacity that we do not yet know how to use.</p><p> </p><p>So when I read the following definitions:</p><p> </p><p>1. Observation: Evidence is based on, and subject to, observation with the senses or with instruments that aid the senses.</p><p>2. Measurement: Empirical data that serves as evidence [that] can be measured and is statistically significant.</p><p> </p><p>it strikes me as being biased against subjective observation which might be neither “observation with the senses nor with instruments,” and might be excluded by the requirement of “empirical data that serves as evidence [that] can be measured.” I would want to expand the definition to include observations or experiences in both the “objective” and “subjective” domains.</p><p> </p><p>Make sense? When Elisabet says that the “bulk of humanity” believes in a living universe, this “belief” may actually be rooted in observational experience and not just religious doctrine. We will not get to the bottom of it until we are able to explore these more subtle human observational capacities – possibly real sensory experiences – and stop dismissing them as “delusions” or “hallucinations” of the mind as many of my colleagues have done over the years.</p><p> </p>
- May 8, 2015 at 9:27 am #4168
Elisabet, I commented in an earlier post: here is where I lose you, Elisabet:
>Autopoiesis (continuous self-creation within a context) shall be adopted as the core definition of life. Since galaxies, stars, planets, organisms, cells, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles all fit this definition, this implies that, using this definition, life is the fundamental process of the cosmos, a self-creating living whole with self-creating living components in co-creative interaction.
This sounds like a wholesale re-definition of life. Correct? Aren’t you “stealing” away from scientists an important differentiator between biological organisms and inert matter?
- May 8, 2015 at 9:29 am #4169
Elisabet, It would be FANTASTIC to have definitions of Eastern Vedic and Taoist Sciences to add to our list of definitions. That would be hugely helpful.
- May 8, 2015 at 9:34 am #4170
Elisabeth: Also, the Maturana and Varela definitions of life would be important to include in definitions. Can you tell us what they are and I’ll put them in the doc. You’re also welcome to put them in the doc directly. Then, we can study and compare. Thanks so much, Jennifer
- May 8, 2015 at 10:02 am #4171
I’ve lost track of which “Western science” definition(s) of life are to be included in the forthcoming glossary, but I’ll go ahead and offer the ” minimal list of list of features that constitute all present-day organisms on planet earth” that I offered in our course The Epic of Evolution.
1) Ability to capture and utilize energy from the environment.
3) Reproduction of one’s kind.
4) Capacity to evolve
The first three can be subsumed under the category of “purposive” or “teleodynamic” which, in my view, is a phenomenon that showed up on this planet with organisms.
- May 8, 2015 at 10:30 am #4172
Elisabet writes: “Unless people see how assumptions define a science, Western science will continue to maintain its hegemony unless overthrown by a paradigm shift, and I’m not into that conquest model any more….especially as we so need the checks & balances there could be among sciences seeing each other as legit. I do not want to replace Western science with any other, as its assumptions have led it to technological applications I would not like to do without. In other words, I no longer consider myself a paradigm shifter, but I am a strong parallel sciences advocate.”
Science in fact is already composed of many parallel disciplines, each with their own set of assumptions. One thing I learned recently (on this forum, in fact) is to be careful when generalizing about “science” and “scientists.” An environmentalist sees the world very differently than a physicist, for instance. I think there are many Western scientists who have already been “won over” to a more holistic worldview which seems to be emerging within many of the sciences.
As most of you know, there are age-old introspective disciplines – perennial wisdom traditions – that have “known” or observed that the universe is alive for millennia. I see this as a perceptual capacity more than an intellectual belief in a set of assumptions or axioms. When a culture has opened this perceptual capacity, the concept of a living universe becomes woven into the fabric of popular worldviews and scientific pursuits that emerge from that culture.
As a shared cultural perception there is no reason to seek scientific validation for what is assumed by a culture to be patently obvious. At the same time, those who do not share the perception see it as a (perhaps mistaken) assumption. As Elisabet pointed out, substantiation of the perception of a living universe is extremely difficult. We agree that apples are red because were taught what the color red is and have shared perceptual access to the apple. However if we had to prove that an apple is red to one who had no concept of the color red or had no concept of an apple we would be hard pressed to do so. Likewise, one who has never experienced a living universe themselves, or who was not raised with this cultural framework, is going to be slow to accept any sort of logical proof. The only real proof we have at this time is found through the experience itself.
This is what led me to the art and science of delivering powerful immersive media experiences – I wanted to induce and share ineffable experiences directly rather than talk about them.
- May 8, 2015 at 3:21 pm #4175
Ursula – this is a great list to apply to the universe as a unified and living system:
1) Ability to capture and utilize energy from the environment. — The universe appears to emerge and then maintain itself by capturing energy from non-visible/trans-visible sources. Both atomic structures of matter-energy and the fabric of space-time appear to be involved in a process of continuously utilizing energy from the deeper dimensional environment.
2) Self-maintenance. Utilizing this energy, the universe is a self-maintaining system that has persisted for nearly 14 billion years.
3) Reproduction of one’s kind. Multiverse cosmology suggests that the universe is able to reproduce itself and create offspring cosmic systems.
4) Capacity to evolve. The evolution of the universe from simple hydrogen and helium to the complex forms we have today is one of the basic facts of science.
- May 8, 2015 at 6:54 pm #4176
Hi Duane, here are some comments on your assertions:
“1) Ability to capture and utilize energy from the environment. — The universe appears to emerge and then maintain itself by capturing energy from non-visible/trans-visible sources. Both atomic structures of matter-energy and the fabric of space-time appear to be involved in a process of continuously utilizing energy from the deeper dimensional environment.”
Do you have any references supporting this statement? My understanding of physics is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred. There is no known energy flow from other universes or dimensions into ours – this would violate the laws of thermodynamics. Oddly, it is possible for matter and antimatter to spontaneously appear from the vacuum in equal amounts, but they still average to zero. This is considered a local inhomogeneity in the vacuum… one possible origin for our entire universe.
“2) Self-maintenance. Utilizing this energy, the universe is a self-maintaining system that has persisted for nearly 14 billion years.”
The evolution of galaxies and such unfolds according to (as far as we know) fixed physical laws such as gravity, nuclear fusion and such. Your term “self maintenance” implies an intelligent force behind such an evolution beyond these simple laws. There are theories emerging that might account for this but they remain speculative. Most physicists would say that the evolution of the physical universe is governed by known (mechanical) natural laws and would challenge you to prove them wrong.
“3) Reproduction of one’s kind. Multiverse cosmology suggests that the universe is able to reproduce itself and create offspring cosmic systems.”
Things that make you go hmmmm…. Well there are many physicists who do not like multiverse theories, however if you do accept that multiverses exist, it still would fall into the category of “natural laws of physics” and, as such, wouldn’t prove that there is an intelligent intent behind the replication of universes as we think of the biological reproductive process.
“4) Capacity to evolve. The evolution of the universe from simple hydrogen and helium to the complex forms we have today is one of the basic facts of science.”
True. Again, however, this evolution unfolds (according to a materialist interpretation) according to the natural laws of physics without the need of underlying intelligent forces, consciousness or “life.”
There are two tracks that I’d like to see us explore here:
Elisabet evoked the term Autopoiesis: “Autopoiesis (from Greek αὐτo- (auto-), meaning “self”, and ποίησις (poiesis), meaning “creation, production”) refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself. The term was introduced in 1972 by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela to define the self-maintaining chemistry of living cells. Since then the concept has been also applied to the fields of systems theory and sociology.”
Elisabet, how does this differ from Duane’s assertions above? Is there a theoretical model positing that the universe exhibits autopoiesis?
As I’ve expressed in previous postings, attempting to show that the universe behaves thermodynamically or energetically as a biological organism (and is thus “alive”) is a very steep uphill battle, as there are huge differences between biological life and inert matter. These differences can and should be emphasized in the sciences. Currently the terms “living system” and “non-living system” are how we contrast biological and non-biological systems.
Rather than chiding “Western science” for being based on (possibly flawed) assumptions because they see inert matter as “dead” and migrating to Vedic or other sciences (which also have their limitations), we can instead incorporate “deep thinking” into mainstream scientific perspectives if we go about this the right way. We need to be clever, patient, determined and stay consistent with the scientific method. And I do think this is a very, very worthy cause. Vedic/indigenous sciences allow us to probe deeply into the “soul” of the universe, but use phenomenological methods that Western science is only just starting to recognize.
So the second track that I think could be more productive is this notion that the universe itself is imbued with intelligence or consciousness. In this case there is no need to prove that inert matter behaves as a biological system (because, quite simply – it does not… not unless you bend our definition of life in ways that render the definition a powerless term because it would then apply to all matter). We instead need to look more closely at the sub-quantum informational properties of matter and how these properties might subtly guide the unfoldment of the universe.
When a quantum wavefunction collapses, a vast (some physicists say infinite) amount of information is reduced to a single action (i.e. spin up or spin down – essentially, a yes/no outcome). This sub-quantum information (technically, the particle’s “phase space” or “Hilbert space”) was potentially gathered from all corners of the universe. In addition, these informational interactions have vast computational capacity (the basis for quantum computing). If it could be definitively shown that our consciousness can access and interact with this sub-quantum informational domain it would radically affect many scientific fields of study – neuroscience, biology, cosmology – not to mention many philosophical endeavors.
I know this line of thinking might be difficult for some. There is not yet a single post on my “Quantum Consciousness” forum topic!
For what it’s worth, I am making myself available here to help anyone interested in understanding this line of thinking, and can provide numerous references to support it. There are a small handful of scientists working full-time in the field of quantum consciousness, but overall the field is terribly underfunded and is still scoffed at by many scientists from various disciplines (mostly, I think, due to the hijacking of the term “quantum” by spiritual/New Age/self-help thinkers).
What is different here is that the quantum consciousness hypotheses result in testable predictions. In other words, these hypotheses can be proven or falsified through experimentation and are completely consistent with the scientific method. And they potentially bridge the mind/body gap, with the body (and perhaps the entire known universe) a substrate for the quantum information domain of consciousness. Furthermore, QC could explain many anomalous informational properties of the mind that have been extensively observed and reported over millennia.
An intelligent universe is a living universe. Simple. We do not need to show that inert matter is following some sort of chemical or thermodynamic behavior that mimics our biology to prove that it is alive with consciousness. Consciousness is an informational (not chemical) property of the brain and perhaps of matter itself.
What we already know about the informational properties of inert matter is stunning: one atom can contain an infinite amount of information; information is nonlocal and can teleport instantaneously (faster than light) anywhere in the universe to other entangled particles; masses of particles can entangle at room temperature to form quasiparticles; quasiparticle entanglement waves are passing through matter and are propagating faster than light; and inert matter itself has vast computational capacity.
The challenge here is to show that these informational properties are supporting activity that is something other than random noise, and that biological organisms can access this informational domain. There are many experimental tools and techniques that could be applied to such an endeavor… We just need to ask the right questions.
- May 8, 2015 at 9:15 pm #4179
Ed, Thanks for these thoughtful comments. They spark many reflections and questions for me. I am not a physicist, so I bring wonder to these questions. Importantly, I do not view the universe as a “biological system.” Life seems to be nested within life–and biological systems seem (to me) to be a subset of the unique aliveness of our universe. Turning to Ursula’s list of minimal requirements for a living system, I find it interesting to see if our universe meets these requirements.
First, an example: Guy Murchie, in his book Music of the Spheres, writes that if you were to look at a yellow dress for just one second, the electrons in the retinas of your eyes would vibrate with more waves than all the waves that have beaten upon all the shores of all the Earth’s oceans in the last 10 million years. (p. 451). Given the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), how can this level of activity persist for billions of years without drawing upon and utilizing energy from the surrounding or sustaining environment? Also, I wonder how the universe can be expanding at an increasing rate without utilizing energy from the surrounding environment?
Second, because a toroidal geometry (the simplest geometry of a self-organizing system) can be seen throughout the universe, it suggests that self-organizing systems abound. Because we find this same architecture of self-organization at every scale of the universe, it seems that the universe has the ability to maintain self-organizing systems as coherent structures over time scales of billions of years. I agree that a materialistic science can find “natural laws” that describe how this is occurring; however, my point was a simpler one; namely, that we see self-organizing systems throughout the universe that have the ability to maintain themselves.
Third, with regard to reproduction, I do not view a universe through the restricted lens of Earth biology, so the increasingly widely held view among cosmologists that we inhabit a multiverse seems to suggest there appears to be the capacity of “reproduction of one’s kind” at the scale of the universe.
Fourth, regarding whether a system has “the capacity to evolve,” given that our universe does evolve, it would seem to satisfy that requirement.
When we put these four attributes of our universe together, they seem to point toward “aliveness” rather than non-living systems. I am definitely not saying this proves the universe is a living system; rather, I am saying the evidence seems to point increasingly in that direction.
Looking beyond these four attributes, I agree with you Ed that a more productive notion could be the idea that the universe is imbued or permeated with consciousness. After three years of laboratory experiments to explore this notion, I moved from agnostic curiosity to personal clarity based on scientific experiments, some with thousands of trials. In my view, an ecology of consciousness is an integral aspect of the universe. Based on years of first-hand experience with diverse instrumentation in diverse settings, I agree with your view that there is a “quantum consciousness” and I welcome your educating me in this view. My direct experience with the ecology of consciousness over years in a laboratory setting gives me great confidence that you are exploring a very productive track that has radical implications for understanding how our universe works.
- May 10, 2015 at 11:30 am #4181
Re-posting my list with additional commentary in boldface..
I’ve lost track of which “Western science” definition(s) of life are to be included in the forthcoming glossary, but I’ll go ahead and offer the ” minimal list of list of features that constitute all present-day organisms on planet earth” that I offered in our course The Epic of Evolution.
1) Ability to capture and utilize energy from the environment.
Modern organisms possess an attribute I call “discernment,” a manifestation of which is displayed in their capture and
utilization of energy from the environment. As contrasted with non-organisms, they utilize selected facets of the energy
spectrum, ignore most others, and shield themselves from toxic features. Examples include atmospheric oxygen,
wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, and metals.
Organisms construct and maintain a self, one of the many words in our conversation that muddy quickly. The self-
maintenance has everything to do with autopoiesis/emergent properties — these concepts are fully imbued in “western
science” thinking, contra to some claims that they are rejected.
3) Reproduction of one’s kind.
Modern organisms on this planet all utilize DNA/RNA to encode key features of their “kind,” instructions that are copied
and transmitted, with or without occasional mutations, to future generations. The notion that this feature can be
extrapolated to speculations about multiple universes is to me forced to the max.
4) Capacity to undergo biological evolution evolve
The fact that the mutations can give rise to amended instructions, and that these are on occasion adaptive and hence
selectively spread into the population, is the basis of biological evolution. It’s important, and I neglected to do so in my
list (I didn’t in my course!) to distinguish between evolution as “change” and biological evolution.
The first three can be subsumed under the category of “purposive” or “teleodynamic” which, in my view, is a phenomenon that showed up on this planet with organisms.
- May 11, 2015 at 7:25 am #4182
Hi Duane, I get that you are not a physicist which is fine. I’ve studied physics but am not currently practicing this profession. I think these discussions are extremely helpful. It feels like we’re sharpening our intellectual arguments and points of view by mirroring and reflecting with one another. Jennifer has assembled an amazing and diverse group of subject matter experts on this network and I enjoy the many points of view being expressed. Just now returning from Manila (We were spared from the Typhoon! Yay!) and getting back to the thread.
Duane: “I do not view the universe as a “biological system.” …Turning to Ursula’s list of minimal requirements for a living system, I find it interesting to see if our universe meets these requirements.”
Isn’t this a contradictory statement? What is the difference between a “biological system” and a “living system?” I thought they were the same thing… If you are positing that the universe is a “non-biological life form” then why is there a need to apply a set of requirements for biological life to a non-biological system?
Duane: “Guy Murchie, in his book Music of the Spheres, writes that if you were to look at a yellow dress for just one second, the electrons in the retinas of your eyes would vibrate with more waves than all the waves that have beaten upon all the shores of all the Earth’s oceans in the last 10 million years. (p. 451). Given the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), how can this level of activity persist for billions of years without drawing upon and utilizing energy from the surrounding or sustaining environment?”
The 1st law of thermodynamics states that energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed. In this sense, the universe is a perpetual motion machine… the spinning of an electron around an atom will never slow down. Its angular momentum can, however, be dissipated when it emits a photon, for instance. In this case the photon is a transformation of some of the electron’s energy into an electromagnetic wave which, in a sense, is a “wiggling” of the electric field of the electron (which is always present and extends to infinity, dropping off as the inverse-square of the distance from the electron) just as wiggling a rope sends waves down the rope. But when this energy goes out as a photon (or, paradoxically, a wave), it can be transferred to other matter but will never “dissipate.”
Entropy (2nd Law of Thermodynamics) indeed says that everything will eventually reach an equilibrium (in this sense the universe is winding down). The heat from a hot cup of tea placed outside in winter will dissipate into the environment. Entropy is not a measure of energy, it is a measure of the ordering of energy, or in a sense, the amount of energy available to do work. If we have one pot of hot water and another pot of cold water, we can use this difference in temperature to drive a heat engine – to do work. Eventually the temperature difference will equalize.
As the story goes (because there is no way of knowing for sure), the entropy of the universe will eventually increase until everything is a uniform temperature. That is not the same as a loss of energy – the 1st Law says the total energy in the universe stays the same. But the manner in which the energy is organized will be uniform, and it will not be possible for energy transfer to take place because everything will be equally random without “higher” or “lower” temperatures or “energy wells” where energy can flow from one system to another.
Duane: “Also, I wonder how the universe can be expanding at an increasing rate without utilizing energy from the surrounding environment?”
Well if the universe itself is expanding, there is no such thing as a “surrounding environment,” right? The universe is, by definition, “all that is.” While there are various models for this expansion (and still some argument regarding whether the universe really is expanding), none of these models calls for a violation of the 1st Law. Energy is always conserved. Dark energy is said to be responsible for the expansion, but to my understanding it really is just a “cosmological constant” imposed in the equations to explain our observations.
Duane: “Second, because a toroidal geometry (the simplest geometry of a self-organizing system) can be seen throughout the universe, it suggests that self-organizing systems abound. Because we find this same architecture of self-organization at every scale of the universe, it seems that the universe has the ability to maintain self-organizing systems as coherent structures over time scales of billions of years.”
I am not familiar with any “toroidal geometry” that “can be seen throughout the universe.” I did not study cosmology. Do you have any references to this?
Duane: “I agree that a materialistic science can find “natural laws” that describe how this is occurring; however, my point was a simpler one; namely, that we see self-organizing systems throughout the universe that have the ability to maintain themselves. “
I do not see how galaxies “maintain themselves.” If two galaxies are on an immanent collision course, one galaxy does not steer away to avoid collision. They neatly follow Newton’s laws of motion as they collide, just as a baseball follows a parabolic arc when you throw it and does not avoid being struck by a baseball bat. We say that matter is “inert” because it has no apparent intelligence and makes no attempt to “maintain itself.” A biological life form, on the other hand, will steer clear of danger and seek to create conditions wherein it can thrive. We do not see this behavior in inert matter.
Duane: “Third, with regard to reproduction, I do not view a universe through the restricted lens of Earth biology, so the increasingly widely held view among cosmologists that we inhabit a multiverse seems to suggest there appears to be the capacity of “reproduction of one’s kind” at the scale of the universe.”
Ok. Well the multiverse is not really an intelligent act as such, it is more like a splitting of all possible outcomes into separate universes as a natural occurrence. It is mind boggling and many physicists disagree with this interpretation…
Duane: “Fourth, regarding whether a system has “the capacity to evolve,” given that our universe does evolve, it would seem to satisfy that requirement. “
Yes, however the “evolution” of a chemical reaction is not anything like biological evolution. A star evolves over time just as a fire in a fireplace evolves. But it is not improving itself, avoiding toxic situations, or attempting to thrive or reproduce as such. It is a chemical reaction that unfolds according to simple chemical and physical “laws” or reactions.
Duane: “When we put these four attributes of our universe together, they seem to point toward “aliveness” rather than non-living systems. I am definitely not saying this proves the universe is a living system; rather, I am saying the evidence seems to point increasingly in that direction.”
Ok, well I am still not seeing it. Sorry. Perhaps there is more here that I am not considering?
Duane: “Looking beyond these four attributes, I agree with you Ed that a more productive notion could be the idea that the universe is imbued or permeated with consciousness. After three years of laboratory experiments to explore this notion, I moved from agnostic curiosity to personal clarity based on scientific experiments, some with thousands of trials. In my view, an ecology of consciousness is an integral aspect of the universe. Based on years of first-hand experience with diverse instrumentation in diverse settings, I agree with your view that there is a “quantum consciousness” and I welcome your educating me in this view. My direct experience with the ecology of consciousness over years in a laboratory setting gives me great confidence that you are exploring a very productive track that has radical implications for understanding how our universe works.”
Your work with SRI was incredible! I presented a paper on quantum consciousness at SSE some years ago and Hal Puthoff patted me on the back and said I was on the right track… More recently we hosted the xTedX with Russel Targ. I have great respect for this pioneering work! Thank you.
- May 11, 2015 at 4:33 pm #4186
There is a lot to read here, and I am a little behind! I do have a couple of questions, and if these have been addressed and I missed them, please forgive me.
Elisabet Sahtouris, hi, I am very much trying to wrap my mind around your science. I see you got as far as tenet 5. Can you list a few more? (or, all??) Or is there a place elsewhere to read them?
Ed, you may have explained this, but is there a way to experience the material you put in your domes without traveling to one, which is not going to happen for me in the next week, with finals, etc, etc
I was interested in the definition doc, but didn’t see how to join the group, and that might be because I am not a contributor (for me all I see when I try to select ‘docs’ is, ‘you must a contributor to join this group’, HOWEVER, if everyone is also faithfully posting their definitions here too, it isn’t needed for me to go there.
I am probably going to come on and quibble with a few definitions and assumptions, but it’s better if I read them in the correct document before I do!
- May 11, 2015 at 4:45 pm #4187
I have several questions in mind with regard to your comments about my comments. . . However, I’m swamped right now, getting ready to travel to Japan. So, I have one, core question that keeps nagging at me: Can something be consciousness without being alive? If something is conscious then can it be considered “alive”? What connection do you see between these two?
- May 11, 2015 at 6:18 pm #4189
I’m really behind, but I am just mulling over some ideas on page 11 (let alone page ten) that I think I _can_ mull over even before my questions are answered! So just randomly:
- From Ed: What is the difference between a “biological system” and a “living system?”
There is, I think, a big difference. I think if the universe is a living system, in any narrow ‘western scientific’ sense we choose (and I am not now addressing Elisabet Sahtouris‘ nonwestern-science definition, because I am not ready to apply it until I can read all the tenets) the universe would have to be a non biological life form.
I googled the phrase: What is the difference between a “biological system” and a “living system” and came up with this from Wikipedia:
A biological system is not necessarily alive. Your respiratory system is a biological system. (according to wiki). A biological system is not to be confused with a living system, which is commonly referred to as life. For further information see e.g. definition of life or synthetic biology.
When I went to look at these definitions, I see they are too complex, and there are many different definitions from different people. As I said before, we as a group would have to agree on one. I kind of suspect we as a group will never do that, because it’s a lot of work, and we are so different. We may just have to fall back on “Ursula’s definition of life’ and ‘Elisebet’s definition of life’, etc, etc. I am interested to learn more about the non-western-science definition, by the way!
- from Ed: The universe is, by definition, “all that is.”
I don’t think Duane and Ed agree on this definition, and because scientists don’t agree, both Ed and Duane are right!
Duane thinks there is something outside the universe.
I googled ‘what’s outside the universe’ and came up with this: http://www.geek.com/science/geek-answers-whats-outside-the-universe-1567885/
- One idea of the universe says that it is finite but never-ending. (Ed)
- Then there are the multiverse explanations. These postulate that the universe split off after the Big Bang into everything from bubbles to sheets. Our universe is just one of many, possibly a finite number or possibly infinite. In this conception, what’s “outside” our universe is simply another universe. (Duane)
My understanding is point B can’t be discounted.
III. from Duane: “Guy Murchie, in his book Music of the Spheres, writes that if you were to look at a yellow dress for just one second, the electrons in the retinas of your eyes would vibrate with more waves than all the waves that have beaten upon all the shores of all the Earth’s oceans in the last 10 million years.
I didn’t read this book, but the numbers involved in small bits of matter are both more astounding and more mundane than meets the eye.
I couldn’t find how many retinol molecules are in an eye. I don’t have the math to calculate how many ‘waves’ would be in a a typical retinol (molecular) orbital involved with photon absorption. But suppose instead, we say one gram of hydrogen absorbs photons and every electron within is promoted (and this takes less than a second). This is 6.02 x 10^23 electrons. Since electrons are waves, you can clearly say these 6.02 x 10^23 electrons are ‘vibrating with waves’
This is a huge number, in only one gram. Probably it is a MUCH bigger number than all the waves that have beaten upon Earth’s shore in 10 million years.
What a nerd I am! Let’s do the math!! (I am doing this really quick and dirty!)
total coastline , Earth: 0.8 million km (http://world.bymap.org/Coastlines.html)
lenght of coastline per wave (my estimate) 0.1 km (so, ten per km)
How many waves per minute: 6 (every ten seconds)
waves total per minute : 48 million.
Minutes in 10 million years
1 x 10^7 years x 354 day per year x 24 hour per day x 60 minutes per hour = 5 x 10^12 minutes.
Take this times waves per minute and total is 2.4 x 10^20.
Yes, there are one thousand times more ‘electrons are ‘vibrating with waves’ in a gram of hydrogen in a split second than waves here on earth in 10 million years (ten million is a tiny number, in the scheme of things)
But what does this mean? And I after taking a graduate course in entropy, I don’t truly understand it. Thanks Ed, for your attempt to show how it apples here, which is helpful.
I have looked up Guy Murchie book. It looks interesting, put it on my to read list, maybe I will understand better.
This is fun!
Edit: 365 days per year, I mean!! But, it doesn’t change anything.
- May 11, 2015 at 6:31 pm #4190
Duane, referring to your latest post, I was going to wait until I have access to the ‘definitions doc’ , but my casual reading of the last two pages has me thinking people are using the words ‘consciousness’ , ‘conscious’ , ‘living’ and ‘intelligent’ synonymously.
This kind of bugged me, because in my (standard, western) education, ‘living and intelligent’ and ‘living and conscious’ are different, different, different, different.
I actually had some things I wanted to say, but at least I want to understand the topic from a different point of view.
But I am waiting to read about the non western definitions. So, come on, please elucidate, and assume this is all new to me! Is anyone interested in the western science definitions, btw?
Edit: I think Ursula has provided the types of definitions of biological life that I remember from college biology.
- May 11, 2015 at 11:32 pm #4194
Thanks for your wonderful willingness to do the math on all the waves on all the shores in the last 10 million years!! I was curious about this but too intimidated to try and do the math. Also, I appreciate your curiosity about the definition of a biological system and a living system… and universe and multiverse. . . However, I’m not clear: Did you offer your views on my question to Ed: Can something be conscious without being alive? And, if something is conscious then can it be considered “alive”?
Our inquiry is so interesting that it definitely deserves far more time than I can devote to it. However, I’m a faithful reader & thinker about what is being offered!
- May 12, 2015 at 8:09 am #4195
<p>Hi, Duane, our inquiries have opened many lines of thought. Thank you for being the founder and instigator.</p><p> </p><p>I think Guy Murchie is saying that even in a mundane process, the number of energy transitions is enormous. Entropy is involved, and I need to read to refresh my learning.
</p><p> </p><p>I didn’t respond to your question about consciousness and living. In my education, which includes nothing of say, Eastern thought, they would be obviously different concepts. I think my training is not as useful to you as say, Ed’s or Elisebet’s, so I am waiting along with you.</p>
- May 12, 2015 at 2:45 pm #4198
Karen Chaffee: “Ed, you may have explained this, but is there a way to experience the material you put in your domes without traveling to one, which is not going to happen for me in the next week, with finals, etc, etc”
Well there are nearly 1300 digital domes in the world. Here is a compendium – perhaps there is one near you: http://lochnessproductions.com/lfco/lfco.html
Otherwise you can get a similar experience using the Oculus Rift, Gear VR or other virtual reality headset. These head-mounted displays (HMD’s) are providing a home entertainment market for our 360 dome programming. HMD experiences can also be personalized, while the domes are more of a group-VR experience.
- May 12, 2015 at 3:23 pm #4201
I just re-read what Ed wrote about entropy, and it really was very helpful. Entropy is confusing, but that was a great explanation. Thanks, Ed. His entire post was in fact very helpful.
- May 12, 2015 at 3:44 pm #4202
Duane writes: “…I have one, core question that keeps nagging at me: Can something be consciousness without being alive? If something is conscious then can it be considered “alive”? What connection do you see between these two?”
Excellent question! This line of thinking challenges our notion of what life is. I do not have a snappy answer, but will raise some questions that might help clarify the question.
Most people would agree that computers are not “alive” in the sense that biological organisms are alive. However they do exhibit intelligent behaviors at times. So where does this intelligence originate – from the silicon chips, or from the software applications that are running on the chips? If you think about it, you’ll realize that it is the software applications that bring the computer to life. Furthermore, these software applications can migrate from one machine to another. They are bounded, self-maintaining entities that “live” on the substrate of silicon chips, but are not “of” silicon. Without functioning software applications, a computer is little more than a box with wires and lights. Software programs can live on, however, even if the computer is damaged, passing from computer to computer over network connections. So we might say that it is the software that gives life to an otherwise inanimate computer.
Likewise, the human body is an amazing “machine.” But it is largely inanimate without consciousness. Like the computer, the human body is a host to “software applications” or consciousness. Like a computer, the body has many peripheral devices allowing input/output (I/O) operations (sensory/motor functions). All of the phenomena of mind, however (thoughts, dreams, memories, etc.) are more akin to software. Most sensory/motor functions can be localized to specific neural circuits in the brain, but consciousness itself (and memories) do not seem to have a centralized location.
Could it be that the substrate for consciousness might extend beyond the brain itself? Clearly we need the brain and body to interface with the physical world – our sensory organs, motor functions, and sensory/motor processing all are neural processes in the brain. However we now know that matter itself – even the vacuum – has vast quantum computational capacity. What “software applications” are running on this computational substrate? Is it all really just random noise as most quantum physicists would assert? Or could some portion of our consciousness exist as a software application in the “quantum foam,” with our human body simply an I/O device allowing out consciousness to express itself in the physical domain?
Such a notion is admittedly speculative. However there is actually a great deal of evidence in support of this line of thinking. Shaman, mystics, monks and sages have all said that there are other dimensional realms within us, that the entire physical universe is infused with consciousness, and that there are disembodied entities that can move about and interact with us mentally if not physically. Science has had a hard time measuring or substantiating these claims. Of course, up to now, science has focused on the study of matter and how matter behaves. What we have not yet done is study the recently discovered quantum informational properties of matter. We have until now assumed that quantum information – unless properly prepared in a lab – is a meaningless soup of random interactions, and any computational capacity within matter cannot possibly be performing useful operations.
If inert matter turns out to be a substrate for consciousness, then does that mean that all matter is “alive?” Well not in the biological sense. However biological life might one day be seen as nothing more than a means for consciousness to express itself in the physical domain. In this sense, the human body is alive in the same sense that a computer is alive. It is a host for software applications or consciousness. The spark of life could turn out to be informational in nature, not physical. If the source if life is indeed consciousness – “software” applications running in the quantum foam – then it is also conceivable that this consciousness could “tip the scales” in quantum interactions (wavefunction collapse), nudging up the probabilities of the emergence of biological life in nature. That is, perhaps biological life is not the result of random interactions, but is instead an outward expression of “intelligence” that is inherent within what we think of as ordinary matter.
If this turned out to be the case, I would have to say that the universe is “alive” – not biologically, but informationally.
- May 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm #4203
However we now know that matter itself – even the vacuum – has vast quantum computational capacity. What “software applications” are running on this computational substrate? Is it all really just random noise as most quantum physicists would assert?
Hi Ed, thanks for the reply–this is very interesting!
Or could some portion of our consciousness exist as a software application in the “quantum foam,” with our human body simply an I/O device allowing out consciousness to express itself in the physical domain?
Now I understand your ideas a little more. I have lots of reading to do. Thanks for the list.
- May 12, 2015 at 4:32 pm #4205
Thanks for your creative contributions to this inquiry: You write, “… could some portion of our consciousness exist as a software application in the “quantum foam,” with our human body simply an I/O device allowing out consciousness to express itself in the physical domain?” While I have difficulty regarding consciousness as a “software application,” whether in the body or in the quantum foam, I do agree with your view that “biological life might one day be seen as nothing more than a means for consciousness to express itself in the physical domain.” This provides an elegant bridge in language between domains that have difficulty connecting.
- May 12, 2015 at 8:57 pm #4206
<p>Hi All,</p><p> </p><p>In a few hours, I’m off to a conference in Japan focusing on the social and spiritual transformation of humanity’s future — there will not be too many “scientific materialists” in the crowd, so I’ll have to wait until my return the middle of next week to get my paradigm software re-straightened out. 🙂 I look forward to the conversation that develops.</p><p> </p><p> </p>
- May 12, 2015 at 9:53 pm #4207
<p>Karen, glad you found my comments on entropy useful. Thermodynamics can be confusing but it does boil down to some very basic concepts. The term entropy is also used in information theory. Interestingly, the more random a signal appears, the more information is potentially contained in that signal. So when we probe quantum information and see pure randomness, we could in fact be seeing the superposition of a vast amount of information from all corners of the universe.</p><p> </p><p>Duane, regarding the computer/brain – software/consciousness analogy – agreed – you don’t want to push that metaphor too far. The distinction that I’m trying to make here is that consciousness is not mechanical or even electrical in nature, it is informational in nature, and can only be understood by looking at informational structures. Just as we cannot fully understand a computer by probing voltages on the motherboard, the mind cannot be fully understood by probing voltages in neurons. But the truth is that we’re not very good at probing neurons yet, much less quantum correlations.</p><p> </p><p>We do not yet understand neural coding – the neuronal language of our brains – because we have no means of imaging in detail the spatial distribution of neuronal activity in the brain. We can image blood flow down to several millimeter accuracy with fMRI imaging which is suggestive of bulk neuronal activity. And we can implant multielectrode arrays that image a small patch of neural tissue. But we cannot image bulk neural “action potentials” (voltages from firing neurons) over large areas of the brain with single-neuron spatial accuracy. And we’ve hardly begun to look at quantum informational activity in the brain. </p><p> </p><p>When we are able to image the informational activity of consciousness, whether it ends up being neuronal, quantum informational or whatever, I’m sure it will be infinitely more complex than computer programs. </p>
- May 13, 2015 at 12:42 pm #4208
Ed– “Interestingly, the more random a signal appears, the more information is potentially contained in that signal.”
Interesting, and of course, to me baffling. By the way, I read the New Yorker Article on quantum computing you suggested–very readable, but when I thought I understood for a few sentences, I read a few more sentences and realized I didn’t! (non physicist here) As I said, I read David Deutsch’s book–it was fun and confusing at the same time.
- May 14, 2015 at 11:50 pm #4212
As I am neither a neuroscientist nor a physicist, I invited a departmental colleague who is a physics-trained neuroscientist to read through some of this conversation and offer her/his assessment. Here’s the response:
The software analogy is deeply flawed both in discussions of computer “intelligence” and particularly with respect to life and consciousness. Cogent critiques of these software/hardware analogies have been available for decades, but perennial talk of “uploading” minds to computers has continued to find its way into pop movies and new age tech conference venues. But this is where science fiction and fantasy overlap.
Software is written by people as instructions prescribing machine operations to accomplish some task. When these instructions aren’t being carried out, they are just instructions. Like text in an unread book. When they are being followed by a computer they are just machine operations, not in any way fundamentally different than the operation of an automobile engine. Think about instructions explaining how to fold a napkin, and actually folding a napkin. In which of these do we find consciousness, except for the person who “interprets” the instructions? A napkin-folding machine would also operate according to these instructions.
I am uploading my thought to a computer right now. That’s as close as we’ll get.
But if you believe that minds compute, and you additionally extend this to quantum computing, and you are ensnared by dualistic thinking, then it is only a few additional missteps of logic to take you to claims of consciousness pervading the cosmos in the quantum foam with brains serving as I/O devices.
The issue with most consciousness talk is that some people find that even a whisper of out of the body experience, spiritualism, immaterial mind, dualism, etc., when framed in even vaguely scientific terms, is just too attractive to pass up. Such strong emotions have always been able to overcome clear thinking. I find it particularly interesting that physicists are some of the most easily attracted to these ideas, perhaps due to a platonistic leaning borne of their fascination with the unreasonably descriptive power of mathematics.
Quantum physics is attractive in large part because of its Alice-through-the-looking-glass affront to our intuitions. But quantum processes don’t have the qualities we need consciousness to have. There is no self there, just indeterminacy, entanglement, acausality, lack of simple location. So what do they contribute to the analysis? What is missing from quantum theory is an account of any property that could account for autonomous agency and the interiority of subjective experience. Consciousness seems mysteriously counterintuitive, quantum processes seem mysteriously counterintuitive, therefore they must be related—right?—or maybe the only relationship between them is our ignorance.
- May 15, 2015 at 12:43 am #4213
Your friend’s comments are helpful, Ursula. There have been two categorically different discussions going on, presented as scientific — or “scientific”. One is among people who just want to know what’s out there. The other is among people who want to feel connected to things like “the Universe.” The first is scientific. The second is not in any way scientific, though it’s psychological, kind of New Agey, spiritual/religious. In science, it just doesn’t matter at all whether we like what’s out there, or feel at all connected to it. But we evolved as integral parts of local populations, and we do seek patterns and means of relating to them in our environment, so it makes sense that we would extend that through fiction, fantasy, imagination and plain old wishing, to things as unimaginable as a universe we can’t even imagine imagining: it’s just nearly infinitely larger than human scale. What we’re really imagining being connected to isn’t the universe, but the idea of a universe. They sound alike, but aren’t at all. The need for some to insist that unless the universe is “living” they will be missing something they dearly want is one example of this. Scientifically, it wouldn’t matter whether we felt we were missing something important or not. Our psychology, on the other hand, wants or needs some sense of connection. All this seems, to me, simply to be a kind of religious yearning posing as a scientific one. These yearnings to be somehow meaningfully connected to a nearly infinite universe feel like calls coming from those raised within Biblical religions, but who grew away from, or grew bored with, the idea of a supernatural God, while still carrying that yearning for a relationship with “Him” or “It” or “the Universe,” etc.
As we’re trying to get clear definitions, it’s worth becoming more clear about these two categorically different needs and methodologies. As your friend said, scientists — being humans — are among those who often conflate the two, wanting to feel “connected” to the objective reality they spend their professional life studying. The way it is being done in the two discussions going on is by using the same words, but with categorically different meanings: living, conscious, universe, and the rest. This is very common — and equally frustrating — in religion. When it became impossible for theologians to believe in God as a Being — a guy in the sky — they adopted a clever-ish move, by defining God as “Being Itself.”
It seems one easy way to clarify these different activities is the way we’ve done it for centuries: we use imagination, fiction, plays, novels, fairy tales, folk tales, science fiction, and lots of movies to help us imagine a different sort of reality that can make our dreams, fears, angers, yearnings as real parts of our world. King Midas, David & Goliath, every great imaginative story in history has been part of a noble and respected effort to make our inner values and yearnings seem like real and essential parts of our world. The love of money, carried too far, is dehumanizing. The righteous weak really can defeat the brutally strong sometimes. God created the universe and us, so of course we “fit” together, at least in the mind of God (who loves us). We’d be lonely without our favorite fictions. But we need to keep our facts and fictions distinct, or we’ll let our feelings muddle our thinking. It’s not degrading our fictions to point out that they are wishful but not empirical, not factual. Shakespeare did it, and I don’t remember anyone calling him silly because of it.
I think another word that can help distinguish between knowing and needing is the word “Certainty.” I’ve mentioned before my love of Wittgenstein’s simple statement that “Certainty is only an attitude.” If we were certain that we were connected to “the Universe,” that wouldn’t mean it was so, just that we had acquired an attitude of certainty. And we’ll generally take certainty over truth. (The histories of both science and religion show this over and over.) But the best way we know to distinguish between them is through empirical, objective knowledge. “Subjective knowledge” confuses the word “knowledge” with need, or wish, or our personal solipsisms. Someone in this discussion said something about how once we know something intuitively, then we “get it” in ways that surpass (or bypass) “mere” knowledge. I’d say it’s worth asking just what we think we “got” that way, other than confused through failing to tell the difference between certainty and truth, faith and fact.
Well, enough. But thanks to your friend for helping to refocus the two categorically different discussions going on.
- May 15, 2015 at 12:06 pm #4215
I think the beauty of this web page is the chance for those with disparate views to attempt to see each other’s viewpoint, and in doing so, broaden our collective imaginations. It’s tough, because science is so specialized, and so is philosophy.
I had meant to post comments on four different topics, but was waiting for time to read some of the links posted. But in the spirit of keeping the talk alive, let me at least post my plans. I hope to post on:
- My rationale behind my firm belief that simple one-celled life can be reduced to chemistry and physics. I have insights of my own, and I lately talked to people in my department. Also, I believe life evolved on our planet in ways consistent with known chemistry. This post would involve chemistry, and thus I figured it would be a lot of trouble for me, and few people would read it!
- My belief, in part developed working in the flavor industry with Amodori and Maillard reaction (google it–they are a means to chocolate, nut and meat flavors) that: given carbon and other elements, simple life is _probable_. I wanted to address Elizabet’s number 3 tenet of Western Science, that life is rare and perhaps confined to the surface of our planet. Perhaps many scientists think that life is likely, not rare. I think that (currently working as teacher, not scientist).
- Consciousness. As a group, have we defined this? I believe as yet scientists have no mechanism to explain how something nonphysical (consciousness) directs something physical. Has that been addressed lately since I did my consciousness reading a few years ago? (And seminar attending–Rutgers philosophy department had some interesting talks!) I leaned to the ‘consciousness is an illusion’ explanation, as the most likely, but even it has big problems.
- What connections are going on in the universe? As I said elsewhere, there seems to be ‘something’ going on. As I said before, I have no evidence that it is ‘consciousness’ (and labeling it thus seems a leap) (and I have no evidence against). But I feel right now, there is something going on in universe we don’t know yet.
Here is a quote from Ed Lants’s Quantum Consciousness page:
As British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle put it:
“Would you not say to yourself, “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule?” Of course you would. . . . A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
I had a series of investigations in my home (a ‘salon’) into this very topic, and I can narrow it down to even Hydrogen (simple proton plus electron) seems improbable. Why does it exist?
Lawrence M. Krauss wrote the wonderful book ‘Physics of Star Trek’. His recent book, ‘A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing’, while good (and I didn’t completely understand it) seemed to shout from every page: nothing here folks. It’s all explainable, all random. The afterward by Richard Dawkins actually did shout that sentiment (he used caps). Well, guys, why hydrogen?
Maybe this is a function of my ignorance, and I am an analog of those who think a mysterious ‘life force’ must animate DNA because they don’t understand it. But those of us who believe ‘life is chemistry’ are very willing to explain (and then we get the yawns and the glazed eyes because it _is_ difficult). Is there an explanation out there for hydrogen?
When I asked physical chemists, the answer was variations of ‘we don’t ask that’. Are there physicists who can explain it? Even my own tentative explanations (is it needed as a precise energy sink?) met with: ‘we don’t ask that’.
Last year, I read the book ‘Fabric of Reality’ by David Deutsch, the thinker that Ed Lants promotes, and his ideas did at least offer tentative attempts at explanations of some of the questions my salon generated (too long to go into here exactly what, I will do that later). (and it had didn’t have to do with consciousness) (My philosopher/math friend at Rutgers poo-pood the book, by the way.) But it excited me.
Are there other thinkers who address this that I don’t know about?
It seems I have hijacked this thread to talk about hydrogen, but like I said, I think it is related and my ‘something’ and Ed’s ‘consciousness’ or at least ‘connectiveness’ might be two people looking at a similar problem in different ways.
- May 15, 2015 at 1:39 pm #4217
Thanks for yet again greatly helping our discussion by clarifying the points being made.
I’ve often wondered how to best explain to people how attractive and deadening the idea of dualism is. It pervades our culture and stifles so much inquiry that it literally can’t be estimated. I thought of a story, where a supporter of dualism (nearly all the people we meet and talk with support dualism, after all), describes how a “car” is both the mechanical, dead machinery, and it also inhabited by a spiritual essence of motion, which allows it to drive around. These two aspects are separate, and can thus be separated. The dualist then explains that upon dismantling, the spiritual essence of the car is liberated from the pistons and gears of the dead car machinery, and is able to inhabit something else. To demonstrate this, the car is dismantled, and the spiritual essence of motion is transferred to a gallon jug of milk, which then begins to cruise down the freeway (after a person sits on it and turns the cap – and the person is carried along). Now that we understand how a car moves (due to the spiritual essence of motion), there is no need to waste time with the science of understanding how an internal combustion engine works.
But, on looking at the story, I can’t help but think that a better illustration of dualism is possible.
David – thanks also for your clear post. That’s helpful as well.
Best to all-
- May 16, 2015 at 3:45 pm #4218
Duane, I know you are away, but I enjoyed thinking about your question: do I see a difference between ‘living’, ‘conscious’ , ‘intelligent’ and I will add, ‘wise’. Can the universe be these things? Also, I add my question, is it emotionally interesting?
Living system: Can the universe be seen as a living system, with functions analogous to those found in a single-celled organism? Duane’s original four criteria are useful here. On page 1 of this forum, Stephan Martin introduced a useful approach: Scale. Can the Earth exchange ‘nutrients’ with the surroundings? Can a galaxy? A galaxy cluster? Although, honestly, I think we will eventually answer these questions as ‘probably not’, we can debate, and learn about both cells and the universe.
Emotionally, the question is not interesting to me, with one exception: The idea of the very edge of the universe if it exists. What would be the surroundings if the universe did end(the Multiverse?) What would be the ‘membrane’ at the edge? These questions inspire a feeing of awe in me, because the answers are beyond imagining.
Conscious. Although consciousness and how it arises isn’t understood, I will define it as “a system that exchanges information within itself and becomes at least momentarily aware it is doing so.” Ed’s articles on entanglement and the vast information contained in q-bits are interesting. Brian Greene, in his book Hidden Reality, says something like: because the universe is so vast, every conceivable arrangement of matter and elementary force that doesn’t disobey the laws of physics must be in place somewhere or sometime. So _in that sense_ an arrangement that momentarily allows consciousness doesn’t violate the laws of physics and should be possible, though I could in no way understand it.
Emotionally, to me this idea is somewhat unsettling, in a ‘Twilight Zone’ sense, but intellectually these ideas about q-bits seem interesting and I have already learned how some encryption programs work by reading the articles posted.
Intelligence Could a system as described above persist long enough for the entity to have an inner life and ideas about its own surrounding, even in a rudimentary sense, like a mouse does? Extending Brian Greene’s ideas that everything imaginable occurs, I suppose it happens, but to me now, it becomes such an outlandish idea it no longer inspires any emotional response at all. That may be a lack in my imagination. Could this intelligence have intentionality, and attempt to preserve it’s consciousness? I can’t see a mechanism to provide this. When I try to imagine it, I again feel unnerved, perhaps at the vastness of the universe in space and time.
Wisdom I have lived this long and had no idea there are those who believe, as a central tenet, the universe is inherently living and wise, and feel comforted by this, so I suppose some of my earlier posts must have seemed naïve and perhaps unkind. Elisebet has explained that the Muslim faith holds this as a tenet. I have just read here that some people feel that matter has wisdom and that our consciousness is a mirror of this. I believe, these ideas (new to me) are an example of faith. I believe scientists shouldn’t lecture to faith (with the exception of neurologists and psychologists who try to understand the religious experience). Faith should not lecture to science.
If you grew up in a faith that holds the above (I didn’t), you will have a strong emotional attachment to the idea, because it is your heritage. These ideas don’t inspire emotion in me, nor do I truly understand them. I would like to read more and try to understand, as an intellectual exercise.
Similarly, I don’t believe those who hold these ideas should disparage those who don’t.
I don’t feel writers, like I guess, Richard Dawkins, should hold we know everything in this generation and all what’s needed is a bit of mopping up and connecting the dots. I believe that scientists not yet born will have insights that would seem as wondrous and unimaginable to us as the idea of quarks would to George Washington. I am unwilling to harrumph and declare any idea impossible, lest some scientist born 100 years from now read this forum and laugh at me for my ignorance!
- May 16, 2015 at 4:03 pm #4219
I’d like to bother everyone to say that although I included this quote from Ed’s post….
[As British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle put it:
“Would you not say to yourself, “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule?” Of course you would. . . . A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.]
… that I don’t myself feel that a creative intelligence is needed and I don’t think Ed does either (although I have no evidence against it) . I just agree with Sir Fred Hoyle that there are too many coincidences to dismiss and that I feel there is ‘something’ going on. I hope they figure out what it is before I leave this world!!
- May 16, 2015 at 5:10 pm #4220
Karen — This is known as the anthropic principle, which takes many forms. The wiki article is a good intro.
- May 16, 2015 at 6:14 pm #4223
Hi, Ursula, thanks for the link! That is interesting. I had read about the anthropic principle years ago, but I forgot about it. I just tried to read the wiki article. It is quite related to this forum discussion, in that it links consciousness and the beginning of the universe, which is when the structure of the universe was decided. I see it is philosophy. Is it considered science? Wow, I can’t see any mechanism for it to occur, however. And it would be very interesting to know how that could occur.
For those who haven’t read the article, the strong form (the one that would apply here) says that the universe would have to evolve to accommodate consciousness, so it is not surprising that it did. That makes my head spin.
For the weak form, we can imagine there are gadzillions of universes, and only those that have consciousness are observed and studied by its inhabitants, and those of course would have to accommodate consciousness. I had read about this recently, I think in Brian Greene’s book (and forgot that it is called the weak anthropic principle) and I guess I dismissed it . Although, there is no reason to. It does explain things.
Perhaps this is why when I ask physicists if they have explanations for how atoms occur, they tend to dismiss me, because it seems I am eluding to the anthropic principle, and I can see why they would say, ‘we don’t discuss that.” Because without a mechanism, it is not very satisfying.
Look, here I am with my public speculations, which are probably nonsense, and boring, but, when Bohr noticed a mathematical pattern in the photons absorbed by the hydrogen atom, he assumed it indicated something about the hidden structure of the hydrogen atom.
So we look these atoms and their exact energy levels, and I wonder if it indicates something about the hidden structure of our universe. I mean, why do we have these atoms? I am a chemist and I study these atoms and the energy differences between them are so precise and intricate and improbable and you’d think there is a reason. Like I said, maybe a process that requires an energy storage form of precise value. When I google words to this effect, I don’t find anything.
The strong anthropic principle is very interesting, but without a reason for why it occurs, it is just a matter of faith. I wish there was a reason. But I am just not going to give up on the idea there are too many coincidences (unless you buy into the weak anthropic principle, which of course explains everything and maybe it is right.)
Perhaps there is not that much light between me and the people who have faith in the universe, like the Muslims. Because I just think it is too much coincidence, when you really study it. But I also think someday scientists will understand why. Hey, Duane, you got me twisted up like a pretzel!
Thanks Ursula, that does clear some things up.
- May 17, 2015 at 3:21 am #4224
<p>Ursula, thanks for passing along the critique of your neuroscientist colleague. However it doesn’t seem fair to have him/her critiquing from the sidelines anonymously. I’d like to directly address your friend. Can you get him/her to join our thread, perhaps? Otherwise it is a “hit-and-run” conversation. Anyway, I’ll clarify some nuances of my perspective a bit more.</p><p> </p><p>I am not a neuroscientist either and I’m sure it grates on them when people engage in “armchair neuroscience.” Believe me I know, quantum physics is one of the most misappropriated fields in all the sciences! </p><p> </p><p>As mentioned, neuroscientists have yet to crack the brain’s neural coding (which seems to be a mixture of analog and digital-like processes) so they have not been able to observe the fine informational details of the mind through instrumentation. Granted, we’ve learned a lot from perceptual tests and neuroinformatic techniques allowing us to infer computational models for brain functions, and neuroimaging techniques that allow us to localize many of these functions in specific regions of the brain. However these are very blunt instruments of observation. There is not currently a means of imaging or decoding our actual thoughts and mental processes.</p><p> </p><p>However we can directly observe personal thoughts and mental processes – our consciousness – through subjective introspection. This is the “informational domain” of consciousness that I’m referring to. We optimize the clarity of these observations when we polish the lens of contemplation. I tend to call this study “phenomenology” in the positive sense of the term. In my opinion, if we are to truly study and understand consciousness, we need to include the phenomenological domain as a valid window of scientific observation. Neuroimaging studies of meditators and Buddhist monks are revealing useful information about brain function, for instance, because they can invoke and sustain a variety of unique brain states while their brains are being imaged for neural correlates. </p><p> </p><p> </p><p>My issue is this. I cannot ignore numerous personal phenomenological (subjective) experiences that have led me to conclude that there is much that neuroscience does not yet understand about consciousness – things that are perfectly obvious to those who are skilled in the contemplative arts. I’m referring to a wide range of phenomena and experiences – lucid dreams, access to lower level processes in the brain, anomalous information transfer and such. I have no religious or spiritual agenda to push here and am not blinded by emotions as your colleague suggests. I am a curious rational scientific/creative thinker who is seeking to understand the universe, and am taking in the totality of my experiences and training – including subjective experiences – and trying to make sense of it all.</p><p> </p><p>My background and continued research in quantum physics leads me to suspect that quantum information science is going to play heavy in neuroscience and, specifically, consciousness research. I also have a neuroscientist friend who I’ve had deep conversations with, and have been told that I am spot on with my inquiries. However when speaking him I am very careful how I contextualize and frame my statements. My comments on this forum were not aimed towards neuroscientists :-)</p><p> </p><p>I’ve engaged in over 15 years of self-guided consciousness research including published studies and personal subjective experiences. My working hypothesis has speculative elements (which is why it is called a hypothesis), but I’m building arguments based on a large volume of data – too much data to share here. The point is that my thinking is not as shallow or speculative as is being assumed by your colleague. </p><p> </p><p>I do not subscribe to dualism. My brain/computer analogy was intended to point out that there are two domains of study here – one is the physical domain, the “hardware” and “firmware” of the brain, the neuro-biological computational “circuits” that support brain function. The other domain is the fine-grained informational domain of the brain – the brain’s “software” – which I refer to as an “informational domain” for lack of a better term. I am making the point that “brain vs mind” is no more dualistic than “computer vs software.” I’m sure there is a better way to frame this without resorting to the “hardware/software” analogy…</p><p> </p><p>In any case, your neuroscientist friend pushed the computer analogy farther than I had intended with his (astute) comments about software code being mechanistic in nature. Your colleague also overstates that I am making “claims of consciousness pervading the cosmos in the quantum foam with brains serving as I/O devices” when I am actually stating potential ramifications of my working hypothesis (I am not making claims because there is insufficient evidence to do so). He/she misinterprets my arguments as being in favor of dualism and underestimates the amount of research that has led me into this line of thinking, casually attributing my thinking to “missteps of logic” due to strong emotions. </p><p> </p><p>I’ve said nothing about “uploading” of consciousness into machines because we currently know so little about consciousness and neural coding that, in my opinion, there is insufficient data to make any sort of definitive statements about how human and machine intelligence might merge in the future. I will say that our smart phones are already serving as brain prosthetics and, if the trend continues, “hands free” nanotech brain interfaces cannot be far away.</p><p> </p><p>I’m not yet attempting to “explain” consciousness (that is your friend’s job). I am providing alternative framing and suggesting methods of conducting consciousness research that may yield greater understanding of consciousness. I have some very specific ideas for experimental work in the field that combine quantum information science and neuroscience (which are beyond the scope of this conversation).</p><p> </p><p>Consider this: Biological organisms are made out of atoms and complex molecules that work in concert to form living entities – bounded autonomous agents, as your colleague might say – that interact, survive, reproduce and have active agency in the physical domain. What is slowly being revealed in quantum physics is that there is also a quantum computational/informational domain that pervades the universe. We can show how information moves about in natural ways using matter and even the vacuum as a substrate. Like matter, this information cannot be created or destroyed. Nor can it be hidden or contained, even in a black hole. Information is “boiling” off of us at all times into the environment through a process called decoherence.</p><p> </p><p>Most physicists believe that these informational processes are purely random and have nothing to do with the unfoldment of life or the functioning of biological organisms much less consciousness. While we can show that informational transport and interactions are taking place in nature, the math of quantum physics is stochastic – that is, our wavefunctions only describe statistical probabilities. The math says nothing about actualities, and cannot comment on the vast “hidden” information within Hilbert Space – unless, of course, we carefully prepare that information as with a quantum computer. In a lab environment we can track quantum information, teleport it, compute with it and more. We can even transport images using entangled particles (http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/semiconductors/devices/quantum-entanglement-camera). But otherwise this information is perfectly random, right?</p><p> </p><p>I think not.</p><p> </p><p>If we released a massive amount of hydrogen gas into space, it would seem perfectly reasonable to predict that this gas would randomly disperse or settle into a quiescent state. Even if we knew everything there was to know about the nature of hydrogen atoms, it would be difficult (and even unreasonable) to predict star formation, the creation of heavier elements including carbon, planetary formation and the eventual emergence of life. Nature is not quiescent! The universe is full of active and orderly systems ranging from the macroscopic (planetary systems, galaxies, superclusters of galaxies) to the microscopic – and us. Basic matter, although (seemingly) governed by very simple atomic rules, has bifurcated into a myriad of forms including bounded autonomous chemical agents known as biological life.</p><p> </p><p>So why would we expect this quantum informational domain to be any different? We’ve identified a wide range of informational elements (particles, virtual particles and quasiparticles) and interactions (entanglement, decoherence, quantum computation, squeezed states and more). We know that “quiescent matter” (and even empty space) is boiling with information and has vast computational capacity. Based on what we know about nature, I’d say it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that natural quantum informational processes are random or formless. If we could image this domain in detail, I expect we would see that the universe is full of active informational structures and systems ranging from the macroscopic to the microscopic – perhaps even bounded autonomous “informational” agents – that may interact with (but are not necessarily dependent upon) physical forms, biological systems or such.</p><p> </p><p>So within this contextual framing, here is a (very general) working hypotheses: An essential portion of our consciousness exists within, or accesses, the quantum informational domain – the non-local informational/computational nexus created through natural quantum interactions. </p><p> </p><p>This simple premise results in the following predictions:</p><p> </p><p>1) Cessation of primary brain activity will not necessarily result in a cessation of consciousness. Sensory/motor functions will of cease but some portion of the mind can continue to exist and navigate within the vast quantum informational domain. Whether or not consciousness could survive death of the body remains to be seen and depends on what portion of our consciousness is supported by our physical form.</p><p>References:</p><p>“Near-Death Experiences: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife” by Eben Alexander, M.D. – http://amzn.com/1451695195 , also: </p><p>“AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study”</p><p>http://www.resuscitationjournal.com/article/S0300-9572(14)00739-4/abstract</p><p>”Characteristics of Near-Death Experiences Memories as Compared to Real and Imagined Events Memories”</p><p>http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057620 </p><p>”Near death, explained”</p><p>http://www.salon.com/2012/04/21/near_death_explained/ </p><p> </p><p>2) Because of the nonlocal nature of quantum information, to the extent that the brain is able to access quantum information, we would expect to see cases of anomalous mental information transfer (i.e. telepathy, reincarnation memories, remote viewing, etc.).</p><p>References:</p><p>“Psychic Phenomena: The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities” by Russel Targ, PhD – http://amzn.com/0835608840,</p><p>“The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena” by Dean Radin, PhD – http://amzn.com/0061778990,</p><p>“Reincarnation: Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives” by Jim B. Tucker, M.D. – http://amzn.com/1250005841)</p><p> </p><p>3. Because quantum particles in the future can entangle with particles in the past, we would also expect to see anomalous mental information transfer backwards in time – i.e. precognition.</p><p>References:</p><p>”Feeling the Future: A Meta-analysis of 90 Experiments on the Anomalous Anticipation of Random Future Events”</p><p> http://dbem.ws/FF%20Meta-analysis%206.2.pdf</p><p> </p><p> </p><p>4. Intense phenomenologial experiences of “oneness with the universe” and other experiences associated with mystical states of consciousness seem hyperreal because they ARE real. These states are direct observations of the vast quantum informational domain. </p><p>References:</p><p>”Mystical Experience Among Tibetan Buddhists: The Common Core Thesis Revisited”</p><p>http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2011.01570.x/abstract</p><p> </p><p>This is not a “consciousness seems mysteriously counterintuitive, quantum processes seem mysteriously counterintuitive, therefore they must be related” argument. As the above above references show (and there are many, many more where that came from), there is an abundance of unexplained experimental, anecdotal and phenomenological data collected by reputable scientists and researchers that are inconsistent with standard theories but easily explained by the quantum consciousness hypothesis. This is ultimately a testable (or falsifiable) hypothesis and a worthy field of study that deserves attention.</p><p> </p>
- May 17, 2015 at 3:41 pm #4226
<p>Hi Karen – Yes I love that quote from Sir Fred Hoyle because it sums up the intuitive impressions of a number of physicists and cosmologists. There is also this notion that the universe (including numerous physical constants) seems to be “fine tuned” for life as we know it. There are an array of physical constants which, if varied even slightly, would so radically change our universe that life (as we know it) would not be possible. Things that make you go hmmmm…</p><p> </p><p>Adherents of the anthropic principle says it is unremarkable that the universe’s fundamental constants are fine tuned. The anthropic principle is, to me, not an explanation at all, however. Saying that the universe “is the way it is” because if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be here to discuss it – that’s every much a “cop-out” as the simplistic God “explanation” (that there is no reason for science to inquire about our origins because God did it all).</p><p> </p><p>While these big questions are fun to ponder, for the most part they are not (yet) testable or verifiable, placing them more in the realm of philosophy than science (or Cosmology – which often lies on the speculative fringe of science). Where I get suspicious is when people are very smug about a particular creation story. Perhaps there are other ways of “knowing” (psychic abilities, intuition, divine revelation, alien information, etc.), but as a scientist, the question of our origin falls into the “insufficient data” category – it is currently “unknowable.” Of course we should continue to collect data and ponder these questions… </p><p> </p><p>Karen: “… that I don’t myself feel that a creative intelligence is needed and I don’t think Ed does either (although I have no evidence against it). I just agree with Sir Fred Hoyle that there are too many coincidences to dismiss and that I feel there is ‘something’ going on.”</p><p> </p><p>The universe appears to behave very consistently according to stochastic descriptions (such as the quantum wavefunction). There can be local variations of course, but these are not biases and tend to average out over time. It would be considered quite a coincidence if, for instance, you flipped a coin 100 times and got “heads” every time. However it is perfectly possible (just not very probable). If there is an intelligence guiding the universe, I expect that it works within the bounds of these statistical probabilities – that is, happy “coincidences” or “synchronicities” that are within statistical norms. One could imagine a subtle effect that ever so slightly tips the probability scales in favor of life over long periods of time.</p><p> </p><p>In my thinking, should such a thing exist, it would not be a “supernatural” effect, but would be the result of activity (conscious intelligence) within the sub-quantum informational domain which, by its very nature, has an opportunity to tip the scales every time there is a wavefunction collapse. Many religious and contemplative traditions speak of a “higher mind” or “higher force” that pervades the universe. Such a thing fits nicely into a quantum informational universe where space itself has nonlocal informational and computational capacity to support something akin to consciousness or intelligence.</p><p> </p><p>There are numerous experiments that have shown statistically significant “mind over matter” effects (http://www.deanradin.com/papers/RNG%20Mason.pdf). However the effect is on the order of one part in 10,000, so it is not large enough to cheat in a casino (you would need around 1 part in 6 to beat casino odds). However a small statistical bias of one part in 10,000 would be more than enough to sway the path of planetary formation, evolution and more. While skeptics continue to doubt results such as this, from what I can tell, the argument basically comes down to “the experiment is flawed because the results are impossible.” I’ve taken these and other published experiments at face value and have asked the question “how could it be possible?” </p><p> </p><p>The anthropic principle applies more to the origin of our universe and the reasons why the universe is the way it is (physical constants and all). But there is also the question of planetary formation and the origin of life which came along after these physical constants were already in place. I suppose that a statistically minded cosmologist could compute the probability of (and thus the expected quantity of) carbon formation in the universe based on random processes alone and compare that with actual measurements. Perhaps in this way you could show that it is “necessary” for intelligence to guide otherwise inert matter, because elements in the universe would not have emerged in the quantities that they have according to known statistical probabilities.
- May 17, 2015 at 4:43 pm #4228
Ed wrote: I suppose that a statistically minded cosmologist could compute the probability of (and thus the expected quantity of) carbon formation in the universe based on random processes alone and compare that with actual measurements. Perhaps in this way you could show that it is “necessary” for intelligence to guide otherwise inert matter, because elements in the universe would not have emerged in the quantities that they have according to known statistical probabilities.
??? I thought carbon was formed during nucleosynthesis in old stars. Isn’t it the case that all you need is hydrogen and gravity?
- May 17, 2015 at 8:51 pm #4229
<p>Ursula, the formation of the carbon nucleus itself is dependant upon some fine tuning of some constants that govern the strong and weak nuclear force and something called the Hoyle state. I have not read about the Hoyle state, but the strong and weak force form in a fraction of a second after the big bang with the required fine tuning.</p><p>The coincidences that intrigue me involve the properties of the electron, also in place in a fraction of a second. These properties require the electrons to be a distance from the nucleus relatively quite huge, making the atom (relative to the size of the nucleus) very large and the atom mostly empty space. The properties of the electron result in the orbitals (and the bonding orbitals) and that is what leads to the formation of molecules.</p><p> </p><p>I’ve never felt spiritual, I don’t believe I have religious longing, and I never felt interested in New Age, and it never occurred to me that the universe might be alive (and I don’t think it is), but when I decided to make a study of this, it was just one thing after another after another. At some point it seems to me it becomes unscientific to ignore it.</p><p> </p><p>You can read about the fine tuning of the universe that allows for the formation of the carbon nucleus in the wiki page of that name. There is no place I know of that allows you to read about the fine tuning of the electron that allows for chemical bonding. You can read my study of it in my forum post (carbon mystery and wonder) but that really needs to be edited, it isn’t easy to read.</p>
- May 17, 2015 at 9:17 pm #4231
Let me stress, all these parameters (see my above response to Ursula) were in play one second after the big bang. Subsequently, I think the formation of carbon is _likely_ (I might be very misinformed here, it isn’t my field) and the formation of life _likely_ (this at least is my field)
If you want to read about that, go to the very last post in my forum (scroll to the bottom) . I just rewrote it to make it more clear, but for those who want info, annoyingly it also describes the evening. If anyone wants, I can rewrite it to include “just the facts, ma’am”. Even better, does someone know of a book or article that has this info?
- May 17, 2015 at 9:21 pm #4232
Ed, I actually think what you are doing is interesting. Like David Deutsch, you are at least addressing some of these questions. I may never understand what you say, much less believe, but I enjoy reading and thinking about big questions, even if as you say, they may be unknowable.
- May 17, 2015 at 9:31 pm #4236
If you get hydrogen nuclei hot enough they fuse to make helium, and if you get helium nuclei hot enough they fuse to make carbon.
- May 17, 2015 at 10:25 pm #4237
Thanks, Ursula, are you responding to my question regarding given the correct constants (strong nuclear force, etc) is carbon formation in our universe likely? The article is interesting, I have read about a third, but it will take me time to finish.
- May 18, 2015 at 10:06 am #4238
Karen, Can you rewrite your post about the fine tuning of electrons within the first second for this conversation. It would great to have it here in this thread. Thanks a lot! Jennifer
- May 18, 2015 at 12:27 pm #4239
Hi Ursula – Carbon is formed in stars through a “triple alpha” process which was previously unknown and thought to be improbable. Hoyle recognized that there had to be a way for carbon to form and hypothesized a quirky resonance that would allow it. Some use this as evidence that the anthropic principle has predictive power. This from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple-alpha_process):
The triple alpha process is highly dependent on carbon-12 and beryllium-8 having resonances with the same energy as helium-4, and before 1952, no such energy levels were known. The astrophysicist Fred Hoyle used the fact that carbon-12 is abundant in the universe as evidence for the existence of a carbon-12 resonance. This could be considered to be an example of the application of the anthropic principle: we are here, and we are made of carbon, thus the carbon must have been produced somehow. The only physically conceivable way is through a triple alpha process that requires the existence of a resonance in a given very specific location in the spectra of carbon-12 nuclei.
Hoyle went boldly into nuclear physicist William Alfred Fowler‘s lab at Caltech and said that there had to be a resonance of 7.69 MeV in the carbon-12 nucleus, and that all of the physicists in the world had missed it. Fred Hoyle’s audacity in doing this is remarkable, and initially all the nuclear physicists in the lab were skeptical to say the least. But he was persistent and kept coming back to the lab and talked to every assistant and associate individually. Finally, a junior physicist, Ward Whaling, fresh from Rice University, who was looking for a project started believing Hoyle, and decided to look for the resonance. Fowler gave Ward permission to use an old Van de Graaff generator that no one else was using, and everyone joined in with suggestions for Ward. The experiment took 6 months, and Hoyle was back in Cambridge when his outrageous prediction was verified. They put Hoyle as first author on a paper delivered by Ward Whaling at the Summer meeting of the American Physical Society. A long and fruitful collaboration between Hoyle and Fowler soon followed, with Fowler even coming to Cambridge. By 1952, Fowler had discovered the beryllium-8 resonance, and Edwin Salpeter calculated the reaction rate taking this resonance into account.
This helped to explain the rate of the process, but the rate calculated by Salpeter was still somewhat too low. A few years later, after a project by his research group at the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, Fowler discovered a carbon-12 resonance near 7.65 MeV. This eliminated the final discrepancy between the nuclear theory and the theory of stellar evolution.
The final reaction product lies in a 0+ state. Since the Hoyle State was predicted to be either a 0+ or a 2+ state, electron–positron pairs or gamma rays were expected to be seen. However, when experiments were carried out, the gamma emission reaction channel was not observed, and this meant the state must be a 0+ state. This state completely suppresses single gamma emission, since single gamma emission must carry away at least 1 unit of angular momentum. Pair production from an excited 0+ state is possible because their combined spins (0) can couple to a reaction that has a change in angular momentum of 0.
Improbability and fine-tuningMain article: Fine-tuned universe
Carbon is a vital component of human biology. 12C, a stable isotope of carbon, is abundantly produced in stars due to three factors:
- The decay lifetime of a 8Be nucleus is four orders of magnitude larger than the time for two 4He nuclei (alpha particles) to scatter.
- An excited state of the 12C nucleus exists just above the energy level 8Be + 4He. This is necessary because the ground state of 12C is 7.3367 MeV below the energy of 8Be + 4He. Therefore a 8Be nucleus and a 4He nucleus cannot reasonably fuse directly into a ground-state 12C nucleus. The excited Hoyle state of 12C is 7.656 MeV above the ground state of 12C. This allows 8Be and 4He to use the kinetic energy of their collision to fuse into the excited 12C, which can then transition to its stable ground state. According to one calculation, the energy level of this excited state must be between about 7.3 and 7.9 MeV to produce sufficient carbon for life to exist, and must be further “fine-tuned” to between 7.596 MeV and 7.716 MeV in order to produce the abundant level of 12C observed in nature.
- Conversion of 12C + 4He to 16O is much more difficult than the production of carbon; no resonance exists for this reaction. Were this not true, insufficient carbon would exist in nature; it would almost all have converted to oxygen.
The 7.656 MeV Hoyle resonance, in particular, has been cited by physicists arguing for the existence of a multiverse where different regions of a vast multiverse have different fundamental constants. According to this controversial fine-tuning hypothesis, life can only evolve in rare patches of the multiverse where the fundamental constants are fine-tuned to support the existence of life.
- May 18, 2015 at 1:14 pm #4241
“According to this controversial fine-tuning hypothesis, life can only evolve in rare patches of the multiverse where the fundamental constants are fine-tuned to support the existence of life.”
The fine-tuning trope carries the implication of there being a fine tuner.
I for one prefer the concept that in at least one universe of the multiverse, the fundamental constants happened to be such that stable matter could exist and complexify, and in at least one patch of that universe, conditions were such that stable carbon-based molecules went on to give rise to what we call life.
- May 18, 2015 at 2:26 pm #4242
Ursula: “The fine-tuning trope carries the implication of there being a fine tuner. I for one prefer the concept that in at least one universe of the multiverse, the fundamental constants happened to be such that stable matter could exist and complexify, and in at least one patch of that universe, conditions were such that stable carbon-based molecules went on to give rise to what we call life.”
Scientists have rightly avoided the assumption of a Biblical/traditional God or gods in their study of our origins. What seems to be emerging, however, is the notion that there might be some intelligence “built into” the universe itself. This actually should not be a stretch, as we ourselves emerged from the universe – why would the universe itself not be capable of inherent intelligence? It is a fascinating line of thinking, but a challenging one for many scientists.
The classic scientific creation narrative that the universe emerged as dumb/lifeless matter and that humans are the result of random chance is getting harder and harder to justify. The multi universe narrative provides a way out by saying there are an infinite number of universes – most of them are trivial and are without life – and we just happen to be in one of the successful ones. Personally, I am getting the feeling that our explanations are becoming more and more fanciful as we cling to the “dumb/random chance universe” narrative in an attempt to avoid “God-like” or “creator” explanations.
I like the quantum consciousness narrative because it allows the possibility of intelligence as a fundamental property of the universe, operating within the sub-quantum informational domain. Unlike God explanations (and dumb/random universe explanations), it is ultimately testable, too.
Without solid theories with predictive power, all of this thinking is little more than narrative. This is where scientists take on the role of storytellers (whether they know it or not) and propagate a particular worldview. When you come down to it, however, the classic dumb/random universe narrative has no more evidence supporting it than the quantum consciousness narrative… Time will tell. This is fascinating stuff!
- May 18, 2015 at 2:42 pm #4243
I’m frankly surprised that you are using the dumb/random chance phrase when you are doubtless aware that random chance in biology only creates variability and that it’s selection for those that work that drives the process, selection being the antithesis of random.
I’m again not an expert here, but it’s my understanding that the term “information” is used in computation theory, theoretical physics, and quantum computational contexts in a very different way than it is used the semiotic contexts. In the former it refers to the signal itself; in the latter it refers to what the signal is about, its meaning. Hence to say that because there’s a signal indicates that this signal has meaning, consciousness, whatever, is to erroneously conflate the two definitions of the term.
- May 18, 2015 at 3:46 pm #4244
“…life cannot have had a random beginning…The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in 10 to the 40,000power, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by a scientific training into the conviction that life originated on the Earth, this simple calculation wipes the idea entirely out of court….The enormous information content of even the simplest living systems…cannot in our view be generated by what are often called “natural” processes…For life to have originated on the Earth it would be necessary that quite explicit instruction should have been provided for its assembly…There is no way in which we can expect to avoid the need for information, no way in which we can simply get by with a bigger and better organic soup, as we ourselves hoped might be possible a year or two ago.”
Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe,
Evolution from Space [Aldine House, 33 Welbeck Street, London W1M 8LX:
J.M. Dent & Sons, 1981), p. 148, 24,150,30,31).
- May 18, 2015 at 4:00 pm #4245
A lot has changed since 1981, Ed. You don’t need all 2000 enzymes in the initial proto-cell (and actually there are now a lot more than 2000). Have you had a chance to read this yet http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Ursula%20Goodenough-%20The%20Sacred%20Emergence%20of%20Nature.pdf ?
- May 18, 2015 at 4:41 pm #4246
*****According to this controversial fine-tuning hypothesis, life can only evolve in rare patches of the multiverse where the fundamental constants are fine-tuned to support the existence of life.******
There are many reasons why the physical constants don’t clearly suggest any kind fine-tuner or such. We simply don’t know what the bounds are on these – if any other values are possible. For instance, the same explanation used elsewhere is true for me as well – that when I learned multiplication, I saw no reason why 4 X 8 had to be the same as 8 X 4. It was as if there was some fine tuner who miraculously programmed 8 X 4 to be just exactly equal to 4 X 8, – perhaps to show His benevolence to learners like me. But of course, many of us now understand that these two numbers are not independently free to be “set” at any values – and the same could be true of other numbers.
There are other reasons like this one that show that the physical constants do not require, or even suggest, fine tuning. Perhaps the clearest point here is the fact that the physicists who best understand these constants have not suddenly formed a unified front to argue for theism, nor any similar conclusion from anthropic ideas.
*****The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in 10 to the 40,000power, an outrageously small probability ……the conviction that life originated on the Earth, this simple calculation wipes the idea entirely out of court….The enormous information content of even the simplest living systems…cannot in our view be generated by what are often called “natural” processes…For life to have originated on the Earth it would be necessary that quite explicit instruction should have been provided for its assembly…There is no way in which we can expect to avoid the need for information, ….******
I’m not sure where to start here. This seems to significantly underestimate the ability of natural selection to, well, select. After all, you don’t need 2,000 enzymes – all you need is replication. This sounds an awful lot like the standard “God of the gaps” argument – where “since we don’t fully understand it, it must have been by (Jesus), (intelligence), (Aliens), (quantum foam), (Allah), (the FSM), (etc.). This is the same stuff used by creationists all the time (examples here: (https://answersingenesis.org/evidence-against-evolution/probability/applying-probabilities-to-evolution/ http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/ReferencesandNotes32.html ). I mean, we could get into all the details that show that we know so many more plausible steps than this 30+ year old quote shows, but that’s really not important when the basic method of the quote is that of the God of the gaps argument.
Ed, I think we can, as a team working to promote the Universe Story, avoid creationist methods.
- May 18, 2015 at 5:10 pm #4247
Ursula: “…it’s my understanding that the term “information” is used in computation theory, theoretical physics, and quantum computational contexts in a very different way than it is used the semiotic contexts. In the former it refers to the signal itself; in the latter it refers to what the signal is about, its meaning. Hence to say that because there’s a signal indicates that this signal has meaning, consciousness, whatever, is to erroneously conflate the two definitions of the term. “
Sure. However I see information and computation as fundamental building blocks of intelligence and consciousness. Of course, there may be other ingredients as well.
When your neuroscientist friend pointed out that computation is mechanistic, this is true. Neuronal processing is also mechanistic, right? We know that, as a computational processor increases in complexity, at some point it starts to exhibit emergent behaviors that can no longer be traced back to individual “instructions.” It takes on a life of its own. This is not necessarily the same thing as “consciousness,” of course. How mechanistic “informational and computational capacity” of any kind gives rise to consciousness is far beyond my understanding. However, informational and computational capacity must be key elements in the support of consciousness, no? The brain is – if nothing else – a powerful computational device. The brain clearly has a lot to do with consciousness.
When we look at the nature of quantum information, what we see is the capacity for informational and computational processes pervading the universe. This is new territory… we may need to define new terms for this, but for now what I am calling an “informational domain” is the mesoscopic-to-macroscopic nexus of sub-quantum computational/informational capacity formed by both small and large ensembles of particles, virtual particles, and quasiparticles.
If we see the universe as a vast quantum computer, we can only imagine what sort of “emergent” behaviors it might exhibit, including consciousness. Interestingly, however, from what we know from observational/experimental science, ANYTHING happening in the sub-quantum world will (on average) obey well defined statistical properties as defined by the quantum wavefunction and other physical laws when it moves from “potentiality” (superposition state) to “actuality” (wavefunction collapse). On average, you would not see “divine intervention” events, “miracles” and other seemingly magical occurrences. If something like this were to happen, my conjecture would be that it would appear more as a fantastic coincidence than a violation of the laws of physics (like flipping a coin 100 times and getting “heads” every time). Such an intelligence would more likely be manifest either through direct mental connection (revelation? prophesy? visions?), or through a string of small “coincidences” accumulating over deep timeframes (planetary formation? origin of life? evolution?).
So far there is no experimental evidence showing that there is “meaningful” computation taking place in this quantum informational domain in the natural world, nor is there any evidence that biological organisms can access such information. However I do think there is solid evidence that such a domain does indeed exist. And there is a large body of experimental and anecdotal data suggesting anomalous mental information transfer that suggests (to me) that the human mind can access and extract coherent information from this domain.
Interestingly, there is now a raging debate in science about whether there is some sort of active intelligence behind what was hitherto through to be purely random processes behind the origin of the universe, the origin of life and perhaps evolutionary processes as well. If there is some sort of intelligence inherent in the universe, the quantum informational domain would be the first place that I would look for it. Where else would you look? Heaven? Hey, I’m a scientific thinker… resorting to supernatural explanations is not an option for me.
I should point out that, while this might be considered an argument for “intelligent design,” it is not intelligent design through a Biblical God, mythical gods, or sudden divine intervention. It is intelligent design via a “collective intelligence” operating in the quantum informational domain, a postulated intelligent-ish process that “fine tunes” otherwise random interactions that have resulted in the universe, universal laws, and biological life as we know it.
I do not see such a concept as “un-scientific” as long as they are presented as a testable hypothesis. It is a concept that is, admittedly, pretty close to what many have called God. But, to be clear, my motivation is to understand and model the universe, not to prove or disprove the existence of God or other religious concepts. This is simply where the data (and my creative/scientific intuition) are taking me…
- May 18, 2015 at 5:28 pm #4248
Ed wrote: Interestingly, there is now a raging debate in science about whether there is some sort of active intelligence behind what was hitherto through to be purely random processes behind the origin of the universe, the origin of life and perhaps evolutionary processes as well. If there is some sort of intelligence inherent in the universe, the quantum informational domain would be the first place that I would look for it. Where else would you look? Heaven? Hey, I’m a scientific thinker… resorting to supernatural explanations is not an option for me.
There sure isn’t a raging debate in the scientific culture that I inhabit. The fact that there are a few persons with scientific training and degrees who are raising these questions does not qualify as a raging debate, any more than the fact that there are a few persons with scientific training and degrees who question climate change means that there’s a raging debate on that axis. It is, unfortunately, the case that media reports lift up the outliers, in both instances, because it makes for good copy. The “average reader” isn’t likely, or isn’t motivated, to grasp the details of the science, but they’ll click on something that says CONTROVERSY!
The fact that your posited “collective intelligence” doesn’t have a throne and a beard doesn’t mean that you aren’t talking about intelligent design. The Discovery Institute people are equivalently vague on this axis.
- May 18, 2015 at 6:56 pm #4249
Jennifer, I worked on my post and will add it first thing tomorrow. Busy day.
Wow, fourteen pages!
- May 18, 2015 at 9:21 pm #4250
Ursula and Ed,
This alleged “raging debate” is what I mean about two very different discussions, one scientific and one decidedly not. And I still think it’s worth considering that what is driving the “intelligent design” discussions is a desire to “find a Home” or “feel like we Belong” in the vast universe. Very human — yearnings religions and spiritual schools have tried to address forever. But the “home/belong” part isn’t science, and using scientific words in very unscientific ways, as Ed mentions, makes clear communication impossible. I recognize this linguistic trick because it is so rife in religious writing — what’s called apologetics.
I’m still reminded of the Roman Catholic theologian David Tracy, who suggested over 30 years ago that religious beliefs — and I’d include all beliefs used to support a yearning to belong or have a home in something as vast as the universe — are best described as “useful fictions” or, as he admitted of his own faith, “necessary fictions.” That degree of honesty and candor is rare anywhere, but it can help, rather than cripple, communication involving Big Words. Though it still begs the question “useful for what?”
- May 18, 2015 at 11:36 pm #4251
I wrote in an earlier posting how there is more genetic information in a grain of rice than there is in a human being. Synchronistically, I’ve just returned from a conference in Japan where I met Prof. Kazuo Murakami, described as “one of the top geneticists in the world.” He played a significant role in the decoding of the genome for rice and was astonished at the information contained in its genetic code. He wrote this is “the equivalent of a vast library of information packed into a site that measures one five-hundred-thousandth of a millimeter across and weighs a two-hundred-billionth of a gram. This is a superhuman feat. It is in the world of the divine.” He continued by writing, “I have come to think that there are two Natures: one that is visible to the naked eye, and the other that is not . . . and whatever packed such a mass of code into that tiny space and makes it function is unseen. In this modern age, we perhaps tend to undervalue that which we cannot see.” Prof. Murakami further writes, there is “something great” going on in the unseen realms. It seems to me we are beginning to awaken our appreciation of the unseen realms in discovering, for example, that 95 percent of the known universe is invisible.
Prof. Murakami also wrote that “The probability of living cell having come into existence by chance is so slender as to constitute a miracle: the odds would be something on the order of winning a million dollars in a lottery a million times in a row.”
- May 19, 2015 at 12:30 am #4252
Well perhaps I overstated my case by calling this a “raging debate” – maybe it is better classified as a “simmering debate.” In any case, I’ve been seeing a lot more theorists stepping out on a limb and positing that the universe may not be as random as we think, or that consciousness might be a fundamental property of matter. I’ll pull together some references when I have a moment.
Jon: “This sounds an awful lot like the standard “God of the gaps” argument – where “since we don’t fully understand it, it must have been by (Jesus), (intelligence), (Aliens), (quantum foam), (Allah), (the FSM), (etc.). This is the same stuff used by creationists all the time…”
Davidson: “I still think it’s worth considering that what is driving the “intelligent design” discussions is a desire to “find a Home” or “feel like we Belong” in the vast universe. Very human — yearnings religions and spiritual schools have tried to address forever.”
Ursula: “The fact that your posited “collective intelligence” doesn’t have a throne and a beard doesn’t mean that you aren’t talking about intelligent design.”
Hmm… well I feel like most of my points are being ignored and you guys are reacting to anything that smacks of “intelligent design.” As I’ve said, I am not pushing religion and, while I’ve had “mystical” experiences where I felt “one with all” and the sense that the universe is alive with intelligence, as a scientist, I know better than to interpret this literally without further substantiation. I know that I could have been hallucinating, delusional, etc.
I absolutely do not have an agenda to prove that God exists – I’m just trying to explain a wide range of phenomena (as already referenced) plus my personal experiences, and the hypothesis I laid out is my best effort to date. From my research, it appears that there are anomalous informational phenomena that current models are at a loss to explain. The hypothesis that I’m developing is, in my opinion, a testable conjecture grounded in observation, not mystical musings, religious doctrines or spiritual yearnings. Fortunately I am not a career scientist at the moment, because clearly it is not a “safe” position to take in the world of science. This is probably why there is scant funding available for quantum consciousness theories.
So what if this hypothesis “smells like” intelligent design? Is this crossing some kind of line or violating a scientific taboo? I am not evoking a divine or mystical “creator.” I am positing the possibility of quantum informational channels and a processing substrate that is accessible to biological organisms, and suggesting the possibility that this processing substrate could be host to something resembling “intelligence.” And I’ve promised that this hypothesis is – ultimately – testable.
Jon: “Ed, I think we can, as a team working to promote the Universe Story, avoid creationist methods.”
I actually agree that this line of thinking is not yet a foundational piece of the “Universe Story” that Jennifer and this group is working on, and never intended to imply that. Quantum consciousness hypotheses are showing up in various forms but are not well published or publicized, supporting evidence is still sketchy and overall they need a lot more development. These things take time to develop and require budgets for experimentation.
Recall we were discussing on this thread how we might prove that the universe is “alive?” I brought up the “quantum consciousness” hypothesis because I believe it to be a better line of thinking. Instead of trying to show that the universe is functioning as a biological organism (which it is not as far as I can see), we might find it easier to show that the universe has the capacity of expressing intelligent-like behavior.
In a sense, the proof of this is right under our nose. Humans are products of the universe. Humans are intelligent. Therefore the universe IS intelligent – regardless of the means used to create us (multiple universes, coincidences or whatever) – because we ARE the universe. The prevailing scientific narrative – a faith-based belief born out of a backlash against religion, in my opinion, and not grounded in evidence – is that the universe operates blindly without intelligent direction or “vision,” and that life is an “accident.” This is a narrative, a story, an interpretation – not anything approaching a substantiated fact and I find it dogmatic to try to imply otherwise.
An alternate interpretation that equally fits the facts would be that humans are the “eyes, ears, hands and mind” of an intelligent universe… In this sense, the universe is waking up and evolution is now clearly being directed by intelligent design. Ours.
- May 19, 2015 at 12:50 am #4253
Hi Duane, welcome back!
Murakami may be a very fine man, but “one of the top geneticists in the world” is a line from his book publisher. The rice genome paper has 72 authors, where he is somewhere in the middle. His 2006 book, called The Divine Code of Life: Awaken Your Genes and Discover Hidden Talents (http://www.amazon.com/Divine-Code-Life-Discover-Talents/dp/158270144X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432008457&sr=1-1) is described thusly:
For many years, genes have been thought of as immutable: “You can’t change, it’s hereditary” was the mantra. But studies now show that genes are functioning and changing, every minute, every second. According to The Divine Code of Life, dormant genes have the potential to “wake up” and transform personality and outlook. The book shows how mental and emotional factors—negatives like stress and positives like excitement, joy, gratitude, and spirituality—are also involved in switching genes on or off. Drawing on recent scientific research and the author’s own observations, this book shows that humans can bring forth their talents at any age. How? Dr. Murakami argues that a positive outlook can turn on the genes that are necessary to bring happiness and success into anyone’s life and turn off the bad genes. He calls this process “genetic thinking”—a science-based approach to controlling the genes by cultivating enthusiasm and inspiration.
This isn’t exactly mainstream.
These “odds of a cell coming into existence by chance” arguments are a staple of Intelligent Design treatises. As per several comments above, the operant feature of origin-of-life scenarios is selection, not chance, working over hundreds of millions of years and presumably generating early entities that were far less complex than modern organisms.
- May 19, 2015 at 3:04 am #4254
Ursula: “As per several comments above, the operant feature of origin-of-life scenarios is selection, not chance, working over hundreds of millions of years and presumably generating early entities that were far less complex than modern organisms.”
Nice theory, Ursula. It’s what they taught me in school. But to promote such a story as fact is making a huge leap of faith, and falls into the realm of scientism.
Duane: “Dr. Murakami argues that a positive outlook can turn on the genes that are necessary to bring happiness and success into anyone’s life and turn off the bad genes. He calls this process “genetic thinking”—a science-based approach to controlling the genes by cultivating enthusiasm and inspiration.”
Ursula: “This isn’t exactly mainstream.”
Well if it isn’t mainstream now it soon will be thanks to numerous experiments in epigenetics that are proving our decades of believing that we are stuck with the genes that we are dealt with is flat out wrong… another faith-based belief promoted as factual. Scientism at it’s best. It just goes to show you that we need to be very careful about our underlying assumptions.
Here are some “mainstream” books and articles showing that meditation, Qigong, exercise and positive thinking can alter gene expression:
- May 19, 2015 at 8:40 am #4255
<p>Ed, you wrote:</p><p> </p><p>Humans are products of the universe. Humans are intelligent. Therefore the universe IS intelligent – regardless of the means used to create us (multiple universes, coincidences or whatever) – because we ARE the universe. The prevailing scientific narrative – a faith-based belief born out of a backlash against religion, in my opinion, and not grounded in evidence – is that the universe operates blindly without intelligent direction or “vision,” and that life is an “accident.” This is a narrative, a story, an interpretation – not anything approaching a substantiated fact and I find it dogmatic to try to imply otherwise. An alternate interpretation that equally fits the facts would be that humans are the “eyes, ears, hands and mind” of an intelligent universe… In this sense, the universe is waking up and evolution is now clearly being directed by intelligent design. Ours.</p><p> </p><p>This seems, to me, to be the heart of some of your arguments, most of Duane’s, and some others in this thread. It seems to me that the logical fallacies scream out. “Humans are intelligent. Therefore the universe is intelligent.” Well, then “Humans are violent, hierarchical, territorial; they love stories, are easily led and misled by stories, often dishonest — many times a day, according to some articles. Humans, as the long history of slavery illustrates, are racist, classist, depressingly unwise, and not to be trusted when power is at stake…. Therefore the universe is violent, hierarchical; is drawn to (or exists within) stories, is often dishonest, racist, classist, depressingly unwise, and not to be trusted when power is at stake.” And so on. It’s hard to find a lot of “intelligent design” in our history, our attitude towards the environment, other people, etc. But in every human ideology or activity, Chance always plays a role. Mutations are created by chance, etc. </p><p> </p><p>A reason I keep feeling this is a religious argument — one from Western civilization — is around the fact of Chance (I think it’s earned the capital). Here’s why. In Western (i.e., Biblical) religions, Chance is the primary enemy. Jews used the word apikoros to describe a category of people who would be excluded from their imagined “world to come.” Their sin was to deny that God is in charge of everything, to posit that some things happen on their own, without any connection to God. It comes from the word Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who observed that Chance is involved in everything — at all scales, we could add today. Throughout the history of Biblical religions, Chance has been the primary demon, simply because it says that the ancient tribal deity (and war god) Jahweh — the main God of the Bible — is not in charge of history, or the universe. And they’re right, in a sense: when Chance is involved, no god has any interesting role left to play (well, except all the Tricksters). Biblical religions haven’t hated all Greek philosophies, only Epicureanism. They used Plato to structure all their mysticism, Aristotle to structure their integrative thought, and the Stoics to structure their notion of ethics. But Chance is always the enemy. That’s what’s really being fought in the orthodox stand against evolution, as well as women’s rights (remember that Paul said men were created in the image of God, but women were just created in the image of men). With any tribal god, obedience is likely to be far more important than empowerment. I’ve long thought that you can spot someone raised in a culture where those notions of obedience play a central role just by their attitudes toward Chance. From my understanding of science, religion and history, Chance plays a role everywhere, at every level.</p><p> </p><p>This is shorthand; it sounds like I’m almost endowing Chance with intelligence, purpose, etc. No, no Thing there, no Power or Agency. Just the observable fact that no deterministic rules ever account for all the phenomena. But I’d argue that it’s the same shorthand used when “God” is instead expressed as a consciousness, intelligence, or a nearly infinite universe that lives, thinks, anticipates — so must love — humans. I think this is why several on this list are quick to link what you’re saying with “intelligent design” arguments. It sounds and feels like one shorthand way of saying what you’re saying is “God did it all, and God loves us.” Or at least that we share in the “Holy Spirit.” I’m not arguing for religious orthodoxy: I think it has done immeasurable harm, both to religion and to people. But so has libertarianism.</p><p> </p><p>The fuzzy area, it seems to me, is where you cite a lot of articles or individual scientists who are espousing what sound like straight-up mystical beliefs, and when you argue that this enlarged definition of “science” is fast approaching: “the world to come.” (If so, then certainly the apikoros will be excluded.) If you’re right, then yes, it would move the lines of orthodoxy to a place where, now, would seem quite wrong. And I’m aware that every major scientific advance has first been met with widespread resistance because it doesn’t toe the established line. So it’s fuzzy. I don’t think there is any coherent sense at all in which “the universe” (is it really a thing, rather than trillions of things?) can be called alive, intelligent, a kind of substrate — made of what? — and so on. Maybe that just marks the limits of my ability to understand the future. I’ll admit, I can’t know that. Fuzzy. </p><p> </p><p>But good stimulating ideas in this fairly haphazard thread of discussions!</p><p> </p><p>Davidson</p>
- May 19, 2015 at 9:14 am #4256
Hi Davidson, Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
I suppose when referring to “intelligence” it’s not in the sense of acting wisely or compassionately. Neither people nor the universe seem to follow our common sense ideas about acting wisely or compassionately. How many mass extinctions have there been? Senseless loss of life in natural disasters? However our disdain for these things are value judgements – meanings and importance that we’ve placed on things – right? I suppose by the word intelligent I’m trying to say “directed” or “autonomous” or “purpose driven” by some hidden “intent.” Whether this intelligence is God or the devil is a value judgement that is best avoided.
I should point out that any operant “intelligence” in the universe, according to my thinking, would be something on the order of 1 part in 10,000 (the degree to which human consciousness has been shown to sway quantum/random event generators with a high confidence, should you take such studies seriously). That means that, at best, the universe is 99.99% random and 0.01% “intelligent.” So you would rarely see this effect in our ordinary lives. It would only become evident over long time periods when the constant but gentle “tipping of the scales” accumulates into gross changes in outcome. The effects could ripple out faster in a chaotic system that is sensitive to initial conditions or in a system that is already teetering between two equally possible outcomes. In that case, a very small change in particle behavior could tip the scales between these two outcomes.
In the case of mental states affecting physical health and gene expression, well there is a direct causal relationship there, so this should not be a surprise. It’s just that we’ve been told all along that our DNA is fixed and un-mutable. So it is a bit shocking that the field of epigenetics has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt (as far as I can tell) that gene expression is modulated by a number of factors including behavior and the environment, and that the resulting epigenetic traits can then be inherited. It means we are much more responsible for our wellbeing and our children’s children’s wellbeing than we thought. Darn. I kind of liked blaming everything on my genetic makeup.
Your comments about everything becoming “fuzzy” makes me smile. There seem to be people who serve as anchors, and there are others who serve as change agents. Each one has their day. When change is afoot, it can be painful for those who have been anchoring the current paradigm. But when changes sweep across the meme-scape, anchors are needed to lock it in. Interesting dynamics. I try to stay flexible 🙂
- May 19, 2015 at 10:58 am #4258
Ed: Ah — epigenetics! I didn’t realize that that was what Dr. Murakami was invoking.
For sure the expression of a given gene is turned on and off on a regular basis. Protein transcription factors, microRNAs, and DNA methylation are the agents/mechanisms we best understand, but others will doubtless be discovered. Stress, disease, exercise, one’s inborn gene complement, and probably countless other factors are able to influence this phenomenon, which was first described at a molecular level in the 1950s by Jacob and Monod.
Most epigenetics enthusiasts want it to be the case that these changes — notably methylation — are heritable, and that seems to be the case in a few studies for a few genes for one or two generations, but then it goes away. One issue is that to be inherited the methylation has to affect genes in eggs and sperm, which is pretty different from affecting genes in muscle cells as a result of exercise or stress-related genes in cortisol-producing cells as a result of meditation.
Far more promising for transmitting our ideals to our children is that we do what we can to help construct a mindful global community, which is what DTJN has set out to promote.
As for your comment “Nice theory, Ursula. It’s what they taught me in school. But to promote such a story as fact is making a huge leap of faith, and falls into the realm of scientism.” I wasn’t promoting it as fact, nor as theory. The noun I used was scenario. I haven’t a clue how life originated, nor does anyone else. I was lifting up dynamics that were likely operant given our current understandings. Speaking for myself and I believe others in this conversation, it would be appreciated if the epithet “scientism” not be tossed about here. It is as insulting as is the term woo http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Woo to describe your perspectives. Let’s try to keep things classy.
- May 19, 2015 at 11:11 am #4259
Regarding Murakami credentials as a scientist: He was appointed as a professor at the Tsukuba University, one of the leading universities in Japan. He founded the Institute for the Study of the Mind-Gene Relationship . He is now Professor Emeritus of the University of Tsukuba. Among his greatest scientific success was the genetic decoding of renin , a key enzyme for the cause of hypertension. In 1990, he received the Max Planck Research Award in the Department of Biological Sciences and in 1996 Japan Academy Prize. So he seems like a legitimate “scientist” to me. So, I take him seriously when he writes that the genetic instructions in rice is “the equivalent of a vast library of information packed into a site that measures one five-hundred-thousandth of a millimeter across and weighs a two-hundred-billionth of a gram. This is a superhuman feat.” Nature, more generally, does express a stunning design intelligence and craftsmanship that we are only beginning to appreciate. This is seen; for example, the exploding field of “biomimicry.” It seems very improbable that inert matter can generate such exquisite designs within the time frame of our universe. From whatever source (I like Ed’s description of the “quantum field”), nature exhibits intelligent operations.
- May 19, 2015 at 11:29 am #4260
I had three salons (meetings to discuss) in my home about chemical bonding. I tried to use activities and demos to present difficult material, my attempt at ‘storytelling’! Storytelling is much, much, much, much harder than I thought! You can read about it all in my forum (Carbon, mystery and wonder)
Jennifer asked me to present a “Just the facts, Ma’am” version. Here it is. The first two salons were checked over by graduate students in my department for accuracy. The last one was not, because nobody was familiar with the material. But it is the one most relevant to this forum. By the way, I am an organic chemist, so much of this is not my field.
Salon One: The properties of the electron cloud
Salon Two: Quantum Weirdness
Interlude: Introduction to the particle zoo, three families
Salon Three: When and how in the first moments of the big bang did these properties emerge? MOST RELATED TO DUANE’S FORUM
Appendix: The particles
- My premise: The carbon nucleus per se is not involved in the formation of organic molecules; it is the six electrons (one for each proton) that determine carbon’s chemical and bonding properties.
(Why six electrons and protons?) Electromagnetic force: The electrons have negative charge, protons have positive charge. Protons attracts electron. The charge is a manifestation of the electromagnetic force.
One carbon atom by itself is not stable. It must form four bonds to other atoms. The atom forms molecules because of the instability of the electron cloud, which stems from electron properties.
The electrons are not located close to the nucleus, but rather a relatively huge distance away. An atom is mostly empty space. Since energy is required to separate charges, this stores a large (relative to the size of the atom) and exact amount of potential energy.
- What properties of the electron do I mean?
A. Wave Nature: Electrons are both waves and particles. Electron has relatively large, important wavelength. The wavelength depends on speed, mass and Plank’s constant, h
a. mass: Less mass means longer, more observable wavelength. Electrons have very little mass.
b. speed Electron must move. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle tells us that we cannot know both position and speed. A nonmoving electron in our atom doesn’t work. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is most important for very small objects (like electron).
c. Plank’s constant is a characteristic of our universe.
B. Electron has to have an allowed energy state. Normally we know where something ‘is’ or ‘goes’. A softball flies above the earth; it has speed going forward, and gravity (potential energy) pulling it down and we can predict where it is or will be. Electrons are different because they are so small and simple. Instead of position, they have a wavefunction. Their quantum states affect their behavior. We have to use quantum theory to see where to put the electrons in atoms. The wavefunction of electron is huge compared to wavefunction of any other particle. (A graduate student told me to use this demo for my group: hold up a big cotton ball, hold up a tictac. The cotton ball is the electron’s wavefunction, the tictac, the proton’s.)
C. Schrodinger’s equation: (a description of the equation is in my forum.)
This equation examines the energy of an electron to determine where it will be. The solutions only give probabilities, not certainties, about where the electron can be. THESE ARE CALLED ORBITALS. Higher energy orbitals are farther from the nucleus
D. Electrons spread far from the nucleus. Electrons are Fermions and have non integral spin (see APPENDIX for description of particles). Fermions obey the Pauli principle which states that no two electrons can have the same state. They can’t all go in the same orbital. Electrons fill in the lower energy state orbital first, then fill in higher energy states orbital (far from the nucleus.)
E. Spin. We put two electrons in each orbital. This is because electrons have two spins states. (+1/2 and -1/2) So these two electrons have everything the same except their spin state, and that is allowed.
F. Shells. Orbitals are arranged in groupings (shells) according to the ‘principal quantum number’ which describes energy levels. This is described by Schrodinger’s equation
G. Filled vs unfilled shells Calculations show that electronic arrangement is more stable when a shell is filled (not partially). Noble gases have filled shells and do not (normally, outside the laboratory) form molecules. Noble gases exist as atoms. No other elements exist as atoms. Other atoms interact and bond in some way, because atoms existing with unfilled shells is not stable.
H. Carbon needs four electrons to have a filled shell. Because of the nature of the orbitals and shells (which depends on the nature of the electron) carbon needs four more electrons to have a filled shell. It is unstable. It bonds with other atoms to become stable. It forms four bonds. (The bonding is described by molecular orbitals, described by mathematics using parameters as used in Schrodinger’s equation)
I. Orbitals and molecular orbitals have complicated structure (remember, they are mathematical entities) because of the electron’s large wavelength due to electron’s small size.
Salon Two was called “quantum weirdness” You can read it in my forum and I will only include this excerpt from “Particle at the end of the Universe” by Sean Carrol: An on-line contest to describe quantum weirdness in five words produced this winner: ‘Don’t look: wave. Look: particle.’
!!!Interlude: a little quiz on three families!!!!
The mass we see on earth is made of atoms, which are made of protons, electrons and neutrons. However, scientists have found larger analogs of these in particle accelerators (i.e., they don’t exist except at high energies.) There are 3 families (3 flavors.)
- proton, neutron electron
- Bigger proton, neutron electron
- Even bigger proton, neutron electron. 3 families!
The ‘electron’ of family 2 is called Muon
Muons have mass 207 times the mass of electron.
Scientists have made muon atoms—the muon replaced the electron in our regular hydrogen!!!!! 9 IA (It only lasted 1/500000 of a second.) HOW WOULD A MUON ATOM BE DIFFERENT?
Answer: The muon’s wavelength would be shorter, its wavefunction smaller, its uncertainty in position reduced. The atom would be much much smaller, the bonding properties radically changed if not eliminated.
The Tau lepton (family three) is 3500 times as massive as electron. It is bigger than a proton!
They have not made Tau lepton atoms.
Think: How would atom be different if electron were Tau lepton?
Answer: With these massive electrons, the atom would be tiny! The electrons would all sit close to the nucleus and there would be no bonding.
Muons and Tua leptons are still leptons, still fermions. They have spin ½ and must still obey Paulie’s exclusion principle. (Fermions cannot ‘pile up’, they must spread out in space. The less massive they are, the more they must spread.)
Think: How would the chemical properties of the atom change if they could be made using protons and neutrons from family two and three? Answer: not different. The electron cloud determines the atom’s chemical properties.
SALON THREE: MOST RELATED TO DUANE’S FORUM POST
The Salon’s entire theme (salon 1-3) is the atom, and the bonding that allows complex molecules to form, and the properties of the electron and nucleus that bring that about.
I am going to talk about Salon Three in terms of the actual meeting, because the participation of the group members was so important, because this is not my field and I was trying to discuss things I had never read about before.
In this meeting, we explored how the particles and their properties emerged in the first stages of the Big Bang. As far as I know, no one book or article addresses this—one has to read multiple sources. (If you know one, please inform me!) This topic does not seem to have captured popular imagination.
Here are the topics we discussed
- Spontaneous Symmetry breaking (Mexican Hat analogy)
- The matter particles
- When they emerged.
- Symmetry breaking, also called the Higgs mechanism. (If I understand correctly, our universe started without a differentiation among the forces and particles, but the particles and forces as we know them emerged in the first second of the big bang as a result of symmetry breaking.
- We learned that the universe is governed by quantum rules (see the salon 2), and was so even at the very beginning.
Here is the timeline we discussed, and what emerged.
1. When the universe was 1 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old.
This is Plank time. The universe is smaller than an electron at this point.1 Scientists can’t know what is happening at this point. If we imagine an even smaller universe, it would be smaller than quantum mechanics allows–a contradiction. At any rate, whatever ‘it’ was, the universe emerged out if it, what it was before, we can’t know.
But a tiny slice of time later, the Universe was outside of Plank Time. All particles and fields had the same values and were identical. The particles do not have mass.
(By the way, what is a particle? It is a vibration in a field. What is a field? Well, the books I read said a field has a number at every point. No one in the salon could interpret this!10)
Next we talked about Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking. (This is the Higgs mechanism. )
We tried to understand the Higgs Mechanism:
We envisioned a Mexican Hat Type Roulette wheel with marbleSC. The Marble (balanced on the very top of the Mexican Hat) is a wavefunction that could give different solutions, like Schrodinger’s equation. The Mexican Hat represents energy level. The sort of valley at the top of a Mexican Hat represents where the wavefunction could get stuck. (I actually projected a picture of a Mexican hat for people to see.)
The marble somehow comes to sit on top of a peak (or is it peaks?) of the ‘Mexican Hat’ (remember, Mexican hat symbolize energy level of early universe.) At this energy (top of hat), all particles and energies merge, because their energies are so high. The universe is stuck there, because the barrier on the top of the ‘hat’ holds it. If the wave function slides over the ‘hump’ to lower energies the properties of the particles and forces emerge.
This is important, because it seems it is here our familiar properties emerge, the ones so important to chemistry and bonding. We (salon members) envisioned the universe’s wavefunction rolling to a lower level which is some energy surface. We (salon members) were undecided: was the structure of the universe energy level present from the beginning ready for the ‘marble’ to find its level, or was the structure decided in the Symmetry Breaking? I.e., Was the surface (floor?) of that lower level there all along? One member seems to think she’d been told in an earlier seminar, that the structure of the universe was there; I had envisioned it being decided during the process of the marble rolling (wavefunction collapsing). At any rate, the properties of the universe were not evident at the high temperatures following Plank time. At the very beginning there is superforce, superfield; only after more cooling and symmetry breaking, all the different forces and particles emerge:
For example—one wavefunction split into 3 entities: the photon, the W and the Z particles. The photon acquires no mass, but acquisition of mass by W, Z breaks symmetry: before ‘symmetry breaking’ there is one kind of particles with no mass, after ‘symmetry breaking’, there are three different forces, 3 different particles, with different masses.SC
The theorist ‘infers’ the shape (the floor of the universe energy level) to explain the particles we see. (However to account for ‘every thing’ we see, theorists must have surface in more than 4 dimensions, sometimes many more.)
Some proof that this model is correct: One Higgs boson was (theoretically) made every time symmetry was broken. Higgs boson are massive! (Compared to other particles, that is) Scientists found one!!!! (in a particle accelerator) July 4, 2012, scientists at CERN announced that they’d found a particle that behaved the way they expect the Higgs boson to behave. SC We talked about the Higgs Boson search. It was an attempt to make waves in the Higgs field to prove it’s really there.
Bottom line as I understand it: At super high energy, the universe was one pure force. At lower energies, the universe cooled into a certain structure, which included particles and forces. Maybe the structure was pre-determined, maybe it was pure chance that we got the forces and particles we did, maybe something in between these two extremes.
This all happens in a tiny fraction of a second.
We (the salon members) went on: At approximately 10-34 seconds: the Universe is filled with a quark-gluon plasma. (Please see APPENDIX below for explanation of particle vocabulary)
INFLATION begins (as a result of Higgs mechanism). Here is an explanation for how Higgs causes inflation. (Not accepted by all scientists!) The floor has some depression in a higher place. Our universe’s wavefunction (the marble) gets stuck in it as universe cools. It is stuck so it has artificially high energy. The universe is cooling but its wavefunction is stuck at high energy! Things go rapidly awry. Normally, expansion would dilute the universe’s energy smoothly. This ‘artificial, ‘vacuum’ energy does not diminish. It is like a car with accelerator stuck. The universe doubles its size in a trillion trillionth trillionth of a second, and again, and again, and again. The energy density also doubles. The extra, artificial ‘vacuum’ energy becomes, eventually, particles (and galaxies, etc.) This explains why universe is flat and looks the same all over and has so much density of particles and objects.
How did inflation stop?? In some theories, tunneling is responsible. Tunneling is a quantum mechanical phenomenon. A tiny portion of an object’s wavefunction exists at an unlikely position. The wavefuction symmetry breaks there, in the unlikely position. So, the wavefunction of the universe tunnels through the barrier that kept the universe at artificial high energy, and returns to the normal floor.
(By the way, Jennifer posted a forum about proof that inflation did happen)
Now we talked about the Higgs field, which we gathered was different from the Higgs mechanism. The Higgs field gives particles mass. It affects different particles in different ways. Photons can slide through the Higgs field unaffected, while W and Z bosons get bogged down with mass. Particles got mass by interacting with the Higgs field, which occupies the entire universe. (Like the other fields covered by the standard model, the Higgs one would need a carrier particle to affect other particles, and that particle is known as the Higgs boson, the one that was found. (See APPENDIX) Particles that interact with Higgs field have mass; the more strongly they interact, more mass. Sean Carrol has a ‘Celebrity Crossing Room’ analogy. Tom Cruise (a celebrity) would interact with the people in the room strongly and be slowed. I would not react with them, and could travel freely. (I would have less mass.) Why do some particles interact more strongly—scientists don’t know. I was surprised to learn that protons and neutrons and other composite particles (made up of quarks, for e.g.) get most of their mass from other mechanisms. But electrons and other elementary particles do get their mass from the Higgs field. If the electrons had no mass, they would not keep their places in atoms (massless particles must travel at the speed of light), and matter would explode. (see salon 1). If it had more mass, the electron would have a tiny wavefunction, the atom would be tiny, and the quantum properties that necessitate orbitals and shells would not exist. Life as we know it seems to be dependent on the exact properties of our Higgs field.
This point is not mentioned much (that I see) in literature that mentions other ‘fine tunings’, but it was mentioned in a book by Sean Carrol. From P. 146 Sean Carrol’s book: “The absence of Higgs field would mean that the quarks and hadrons would have slightly different mass (they get some mass from strong nuclear force) and that would affect atoms slightly. Any change to the mass of the electron would be hugely significant. Change the mass of the electron just a little, and all life would instantly end. (My italics)
Bottom line: change the Higgs field and carbon would not be our element of life.
Now we moved to ‘Universe is less than one/ten thousandth second old’:
Hadrons (for example neutrons, protons) form. They are made from quarks. One billion and one baryon forms for every anti baryon. (APPENDIX!!) Obviously this is important for both the atom and the universe. (If there weren’t an excess of baryons, the anti and regular would have annihilated each other, and we would have no baryons)DL
Lastly: spin and the early universe: Very important for structure of atom. Fermions and bosons (see APPENDIX DIRECTLY BELOW) are 2 aspects of a single entity. But—this meant theorists must extra dimensions to our universe structure. The quantum arrow can switch direction in extra dimension to change boson into fermion. Fermions have quantum arrow in an extra space dimension. That is why they have extra spin state. They need to turn around twice to get back to where they started, facing forward. CA (We did a fun demo of this in our salon CA) This property means Fermions must obey the exclusion principle. Without exclusion principle, (which says fermions can’t pile up) electrons would glob onto nucleus. Quarks would, instead of making protons, make vast globs of quark stuff.5 DL
My important take home message: The Higgs mechanism and Higgs field seems to have determined the properties of the electron. The electron is important for chemical bonding. Why and how did the properties emerge in just the way they did? Was the structure ‘pre-determined’? Spin emerged during inflation. Because of the properties that emerged, the position of the electron in the atom is hugely far away from the nucleus. This is essential for chemical bonding (and life). What happened? Was it random? What do scientists know about it that I haven’t discovered in my reading?
APPENDIX: Salon members got a chart with some details about the standard model, which we went through briefly. The chart was from the internet, anyone can find one, just google ‘standard model’. With the chart in front of us, we covered these details:
Fermion vs. Boson
- Fermions have spin 1/2 (or 3/2, 5/2) and cannot occupy the same state at the same time.1 They take up room. (Electrons are fermions. So are protons and neutrons.) THEY ARE THE STUFF WE RECOGNIZE
- Bosons have spin 0 (like Higgs), or spin 1 like photon, or spin 2, (graviton) and don’t have to take up space. They can pile on top of eachother.2,3 THEY CARRY THE FORCES WE RECOGNIZE
FERMIONS . They have a non integral spin (like 1/2, 3/2). THEY CAN BE: Baryon (like protons) vs. Lepton (like electron).
- Baryon (Protons and neutrons) are an example of larger class Hadrons. Hadrons are ALL made of QUARKS. Baryons have three quarks. Because Baryon have three quarks, they have non integral spin and are Fermions. (Not all hadrons are fermions)
- Baryons (protons and neutrons) can feel strong nuclear force, like all hadron (matter made of quarks). You find them in NUCLEUS. They tend to be massive.
- Leptons do not feel strong nuclear force. THEY DO NOT HAVE TO BE IN NUCLEUS. If they are charged (like electron) they are attracted to nucleus. If they are not charged, like neutrino, they fly off into space and they do not seem to affect our world. Electrons and neutrinos are almost massless. ELECTRONS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE to our world.
Bosons They have integral spin. They carry forces:
- Gravity field, gravitons are ripples in field (not needed in or description of carbon 12)
- Electromagnetic field: photons are ripples (particles when you look! See salon 2)
- weak, or ‘electro weak’ W+, W-, Z (this are actually the same as photons, only massive. The acquisition of mass by W and Z happened during symmetry breaking. (Govern certain decays; carbon-12 doesn’t depend on them much)
- strong force: ripples or particles are gluons (gluons these are mesons. Mesons are hadrons (made of two quarks, so they have integral spin and are bosons)
- Higgs boson isn’t one of our ‘forces’. Its field is non-zero in empty space; it broke symmetry and gave us mass.
- Every field is there whether or not there are particles interacting with it. We don’t understand them more fundamentally—maybe we will some day
- All forces are interactions with a field. Matter is interaction with Higgs field
- 3 families (3 flavors) Only the least massive are seen. The others are made in particle accelerators.
- With no Higgs field, the three flavor of electron would be identical. Higgs breaks symmetry.
- Scientists made anti helium!!!!!8 In 1965 : two antiprotons and antineutron combined to form anti helium
That was our salon 3! To me, the most important point is that the Higgs mechanism and Higgs field are responsible for the properties of the electron, which is in turn responsible for the carbon atom and life.
Notes: I used four books plus some web sites.
IssacAzimov: The Atom (annotated as as IA)
David Lindley: The End Of Physics: The Myth Of A Unified Theory (annotated as DL)
Sean Carrol: The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World and numerous web pages by Sean Carol (annotated as SC)
Particle or Wave: The Evolution of the Concept of Matter in Modern Physics Charis Anastopoulos Princeton University Press. (annotated as CA)
- Heisenberg uncertainty: We can’t have a single point at start of universe singularity. There is a point at which theories no longer work—when size of universe is as small as it can be—further implies that universe is smaller that quantum mechanics allows-a contradiction—called plank time—we can’t understand the universe when it is younger than plank time
- Interchanging fermions would leave configuration same but wavefunction must be multiplied by negative 1 and only 0 can be multiplied by negative one and be the same. It has to spin around twice to bring spin to the front, so interchanging it would leave it backwards. (fermions would be able to ‘pile on’ if our world was 2 dimensions)
- P 286 Sean Carrol
- spin 0: 1 spin state. spin ½: 2 spins states. Proton has spin ½ and 2 spin states. (this happens to be important for MRI) Spin 2: 4 spin states. Etc
- Lindley p 178
- Lindley p 189
The extra dimensions that give fermions spin ½ means that there must be a partner to the electron that is spin 1, a boson, that doesn’t obey exclusion principal. They are called super partners , Lindly, page 192. It is very massive because of a un-symmetry in Higgs mechanism, and we don’t see it. The search for super partners in the most important search now!
- Lindley p 190
- Azimov p 223
- P 241 Asimov
- This is more about fields from Sean Carrol : Symmetries give rise to the forces in nature. How? Guage symmetries—I can change my system at my local point and compare to yours
It comes with a connection field that lets us compare. The connection fields are the boson field (the force carrying fields). They push particles in different directions depending on how they interact. For local forces, must be (almost) massless bosons, so can stretch over long distances
- May 19, 2015 at 11:39 am #4262
Ursula: “Let’s try to keep things classy.”
Agreed. Guess I was feeling ganged up on by you guys. Scientific thinkers and rationalists often have an almost knee-jerk reaction against anything that even remotely sounds religious – especially creationism and intelligent design. I do feel it is important to keep religion out of science, however I also think that many of the concerns of religion are increasingly accessible to scientific scrutiny. As we tread on this territory it can get touchy. Scientists are becoming myth makers (as with origin stories) and spiritual people are using spiritual technologies verified by science (such as meditation).
I’ve worked hard to integrate my subjective reality with my scientific mind. I studied world religions and began to notice similarities between mystics, shaman and spiritual practices of all faiths. Before tossing out religion I think we need to recover some of the gemstones of truth that are buried within. There are many spiritual technologies therein that help focus and regulate our inner state of affairs.
But the thing that is most interesting to me are mystical/shamanic experiences. These states of consciousness can seem as if we are awakening to a greater reality and peering into infinity and the true nature of reality. I know all the arguments: “it’s just a brain state,” “you’re hallucinating,” etc. I don’t buy it. The problem is we do not have instrumentation that can image the fine structures of consciousness. If taken literally, mystical (and other mental) experiences are pointing towards a greater reality, or alternate realities, and the ability of the mind to navigate through these realities as if they are some sort of informational domain.
My studies in quantum information science are pointing to the existence of just that: a nonlocal informational domain. We’ll see if this eventually ties in with consciousness on some level. But for now these ideas remain a bit fringe until they can be tested and verified.
Epigenetics is fascinating. Here is an article discussing recently discovered cases of inheriting epigenetic traits. Sounds like it is still somewhat rare: http://episona.com/3-examples-transgenerational-epigenetic-inheritance/
Speaking of classy, I really admire your Religious Naturalist Association: http://religious-naturalist-association.org
- May 19, 2015 at 11:47 am #4263
I wanted to edit my post to say that electron is the smallest particle in the atom. But the spacing is lost when I hit edit. Here is something from wiki:
In the physical, known universe we can say that an electron occupies the smallest area and has the least mass. In the quantum mechanical universe we can define the ‘smallest particle’ as a muan neutrino.
I also wanted to say that I will be very grateful to anyone who wades through my post. I have been wanting feedback for some time. In return, I will wade through something that you want feedback on. In addition, I think the material is very relevant to our discussion!
- May 19, 2015 at 12:14 pm #4264
Duane — Dr. Murakami is for sure a legitimate scientist — I wasn’t comfortable with “one of the top geneticists in the world” from his publisher. My publisher blurbs me as “one of America’s leading cell biologists,” which is also incorrect.
His description of the genome’s minute size and extraordinary complexity is totally correct.
Where we seem to be stuck here — and I for one am becoming pretty weary of this impasse — is that some of us attribute life’s complexity to phenomena that we have some science-based understandings of, like (bio)chemistry, thermodynamics, replication, mutation, and selection, and others of us, to quote your last post, invoke nature’s “design intelligence”and “craftsmanship” and “quantum field.” Ed indicates that some of his ideas could be subjected to empirical tests but that the scientific establishment is too biased to fund such inquiries. I would be interested in what such a grant application would look like.
The home page of DJN: “The Deep Time Journey Network, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered in the US, is a global community of individuals and organizations exploring a science-based grand narrative and its implications.”
The science-based grand narrative has lots and lots of stuff in it. When a new science-based understanding comes on line, that gets added to the stuff one works with. My understanding of the project is to work with/explore all of this stuff and not cherry-pick features of it that seem to relate to or support one’s interpretive framework. The challenge and, I would say, the thrill is to figure out the implications of the whole narrative and not slices thereof — particularly slices where the scientific consensus is weak-to-non-existent — that one prefers.
- May 19, 2015 at 12:57 pm #4265
Regarding a “science-based” narrative, I am not aware of a common, “scientific” definition of the nature of “matter,” “time,” “space,” “consciousness,” “dark energy,” “dark matter,” “life,” and more. So, until we do, it seems to me we will have to struggle with understanding the elegant design and complexity of the universe.
- May 19, 2015 at 4:25 pm #4266
Duane — well, I offered a definition of life a few screens ago. Of course you might not agree with it, in which case it could be said to already fail as a common definition, but I predict that most students of biology would agree with it.
But there’s something else afoot here, that Jon and Davidson have at various times pointed out as well, namely a god-of-the-gaps approach. Now I realize that you and others aren’t using the god word, but what I sense you are doing is looking at our understandings, identifying what is as yet (very) incompletely understood, and building your cosmology/views/whatever on those “gaps.” I and others are looking at our understandings, identifying those that offer a coherent picture of the natural world, and building our cosmology/views/whatever on those understandings.
So why would one person adopt the former approach and another person adopt the latter approach?
- May 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm #4267
I am confused by what is meant by a “god-of-the-gaps” approach. If, for example, 95% of the known universe is invisible, does this constitute one of the “gaps” to which you refer? Or, if you view “consciousness” as only a by-product of biochemistry in a neural system and I see it as a part of the ecology of the universe (based on three years of double-blind experiments, etc. to which I referred earlier), is this also one of the “gaps”? Or is the improbability of cellular life coming into existence by chance alone one of the “gaps” (e.g., to repeat Prof. Murakami, “the odds would be something on the order of winning a million dollars in a lottery a million times in a row”). As I have written, I view all paradigms as “provisional” and evolving as our understanding of the universe develops. It is now evident that there is a lot going on that has been overlooked by the paradigm of “materialism.” So I see this as an exciting time of discovery–and I am opting for an approach to discovery that extends beyond materialism alone.
- May 19, 2015 at 5:21 pm #4268
Prof. Murakami also wrote that “The probability of living cell having come into existence by chance is so slender as to constitute a miracle: the odds would be something on the order of winning a million dollars in a lottery a million times in a row.”
Duane, first, could you please provide the source for that (full context), so we can see that it isn’t a quote mine? Second, on face value, it seems simply wrong. That’s because no one is suggesting that the first cells formed by pure chance. Natural selection is the opposite of chance, and the use of the word “chance” in his sentence appears to be the same standard creationism equivocation fallacy using the word “chance” that we’ve seen dozens of times. If the quote indeed intends what it sounds like, then it does more to destroy Dr. Murakami’s credibility than it does to support your point. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, to use a chosen quote about biology to argue against a biologist of Dr. Goodenough’s stature doesn’t look good, either. Davidson wrote: using scientific words in very unscientific ways…..makes clear communication impossible. I recognize this linguistic trick because it is so rife in religious writing — what’s called apologetics. Right. I should have expected that the term “epigenetics” would come up next. Along with “quantum”, “dark energy”, “nanotechnology”, and others, these should be used only with understanding. A comment on this next blog writes that
((“Epigenetics – it’s the new “quantum” -a fancy word that people with no understanding of what it actually means can use to sell bullshit to suckers.))
With so many people doing exactly that, we need to be very cautious – and very mainstream – when we use it in promoting the Universe Story, or the damage we will do to the credibility of the Universe Story will far outweigh any good we would have otherwise done. Here is a useful blog post on this: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/02/11/epigenetics-you-keep-using-that-word-i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means/ Ed wrote:
From my research, it appears that there are anomalous informational phenomena that current models are at a loss to explain.
Then publish them, and collect your Nobel prize.
The hypothesis that I’m developing is, in my opinion, a testable conjecture grounded in observation, not mystical musings, religious doctrines or spiritual yearnings.
Testable is not a matter of opinion. If it is testable, then it will be tested – by you and many others. If it’s testable and correct, you will get fame, fortune, and tenure. A testable hypothesis? Sounds great!
Fortunately I am not a career scientist at the moment, because clearly it is not a “safe” position to take in the world of science. This is probably why there is scant funding available for quantum consciousness theories.
Suggesting there is a conspiracy against new ideas in the world of science makes you look like a quack. I think more highly of you than that. Funding is denied to non-testable hypotheses based on mysticism. If yours is not that, then funding is a possibility. Yes, sometimes new ideas meet resistance, such as endosymbiotic theory (opposed largely due to the fact that the person suggesting it was a woman), or relativity (because it is so counterintuitive), but in even those cases, testable hypotheses were tested, and when shown correct, fame, fortune and tenure followed.
So what if this hypothesis “smells like” intelligent design? Is this crossing some kind of line or violating a scientific taboo?
It’s not what it smells like that is the problem. It’s that nearly all the support here has been provided by using the common methods of pseudoscience – as I listed earlier and can list again. If you don’t want it to look like pseudoscience, then don’t used the methods of pseudoscience. One of these was suggesting that the work is “suppressed” by the “hostile scientific community”.
And I’ve promised that this hypothesis is – ultimately – testable.
Cool! That’s a big point in your favor. Maybe build on that – how to test it, specifically?
I actually agree that this line of thinking is not yet a foundational piece of the “Universe Story” that Jennifer and this group is working on, and never intended to imply that.
Call me a stick in the mud, but my best guess is that your impressive talents could do incredible good in helping the Universe Story as is – and that as such, your time may be much better spent on that than on “this line of thinking”, which appears to me, so far, to be a dead end waste of your powerful mind.
Quantum consciousness hypotheses are showing up in various forms but are not well published or publicized, supporting evidence is still sketchy and overall they need a lot more development. These things take time to develop and require budgets for experimentation.
I’m not sure there is anything new there than the decades of time and millions of dollars spent on all kinds of psychic claims – all of which has shown powerfully that there is nothing there. What is different now besides the use of a new, catchy word – “quantum”?
Humans are intelligent. Therefore the universe IS intelligent – regardless of the means used to create us (multiple universes, coincidences or whatever) – because we ARE the universe.
The prevailing scientific narrative – a faith-based belief born out of a backlash against religion, in my opinion, and not grounded in evidence – is that the universe operates blindly without intelligent direction or “vision,” and that life is an “accident.”
Again it sounds like this is calling a conclusion (that no intelligent direction can be found) an “assumption” or “faith based belief” (that it was decided ahead of time that no intelligent direction will be permitted). Many, if not most, scientists would be happy to find evidence for an intelligent force or direction. Being that many of them are, in fact, religious.
But the thing that is most interesting to me are mystical/shamanic experiences. These states of consciousness can seem as if we are awakening to a greater reality and peering into infinity and the true nature of reality.
Yes. I will publish, in the next month, a description of an experience I had like this. Ed, if you are interested, I’d like to hear your take on it. We could start another thread. It’ll come out in a couple weeks or so. Duane wrote”
Regarding a “science-based” narrative, I am not aware of a common, “scientific” definition of the nature of “matter,” “time,” “space,” “consciousness,” “dark energy,” “dark matter,” “life,” and more. So, until we do, it seems to me we will have to struggle with understanding the elegant design and complexity of the universe.
Duane, as we discussed before, definitions can be found in the dictionary. You can also use dictionary.com. No struggling is needed. Ursula wrote:
what I sense you are doing is looking at our understandings, identifying what is as yet (very) incompletely understood, and building your cosmology/views/whatever on those “gaps.” I and others are looking at our understandings, identifying those that offer a coherent picture of the natural world, and building our cosmology/views/whatever on those understandings.
I have to deal with pseudoscience regularly, often in connection with fundamentalists trying to get creationism in schools and/or push evil-ution out. So often, their approach is “science can’t fully explain X, so that means that 6 day creationism is true!”. “X” can be the origin of life, cancer, bat evolution, you name it. The most recent “X” has been epigenetics. Could we all be careful to ensure that we aren’t using the form of an argument like that in bold, above? Duane – you asked what “God of the gaps” was. That’s “God of the gaps”, in bold. Together in the Great Work- -Jon P.S. Karen, I’m sorry I don’t have time to provide too much reflection, aside from pointing out that the topics in your salons are enough to fill several years, full time, at a University. If one expects the conversations to be meaningful, then those present must either come knowing the basics, or enroll at the local University for years of courses.
- May 19, 2015 at 6:30 pm #4271Jon,You wrote, regarding my question about the understanding of terms such as matter, dark energy, time: “Duane, as we discussed before, definitions can be found in the dictionary. . . No struggling is needed.” So, I decided to do as you suggested and look in the dictionary to find commonly accepted definitions. Here are three that I explored quickly. I conclude from this that dictionary definitions are not so simplistic and straightforward as you suggest:DARK ENERGYMore is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. [emphasis added]MATTER:Before the 20th century, the term matter included ordinary matter composed of atoms and excluded other energy phenomena such as light or sound. This concept of matter may be generalized from atoms to include any objects having mass even when at rest, but this is ill-defined because an object’s mass can arise from its (possibly massless) constituents’ motion and interaction energies. Thus, matter does not have a universal definition, nor is it a fundamental concept in physics today [emphasis added]. Matter is also used loosely as a general term for the substance that makes up all observable physical objects. . . . there is no single universally agreed scientific meaning of the word “matter”. Scientifically, the term “mass” is well-defined, but “matter” is not. [emphasis added]TIME:Most websites and books on the subject begin with a candid admission that time is a curious and slippery concept which continues to defy definitive explanation despite hundreds, even thousands, of years of trying. [emphasis added] We are told that time is “enigmatic” and “ineffable”, but that does not help us much in our search for the true nature of time. Nearly two and a half thousand years ago, Aristotle contended that, “time is the most unknown of all unknown things”, and arguably not much has changed since then.Philosophy and physics may seem like polar opposites, but they regularly address quite similar questions. Recently, physicists have revisited a topic with modern philosophical origins dating over a century ago: the unreality of time. What if the passage of time were merely an illusion? [emphasis added] Can a world without time make sense? While a world without the familiar passage of time may seem far-fetched, big names in physics, such as string theory pioneer Ed Witten and theorist Brian Greene, have recently embraced such an idea. A timeless reality may help reconcile differences between quantum mechanics and relativity, but how can we make sense of such a world?
- May 19, 2015 at 11:54 pm #4272
Hey, Jon, not so. (The material in my salon would take years of study) . In fact, the material in Salon One is covered in much less than one lecture in a first year college chemistry course. In fact, it is presented in non-majors chemistry-for-poets type classes. Anyone with a science degree should be familiar with it. In fact, I kind of rushed through it because I figured everyone would know it. I can slow down if that’s needed.
The material in my interlude (three families) is really basic easy stuff found in books for popular reading found in Barnes and Nobel. I took it from the book I referenced, Atom, by Isaac Asimov. It isn’t hard, it’s just vocabulary, it’s written at a high school level. It’s a great book, I completely recommend it, Asimov is supurb at explaining stuff.
The stuff found in salon three was completely learned by me by reading popular science books in three weeks in my spare time. (Which I listed) Granted, that makes me a non expert, but the material is very worth discussing. Granted, the material is beyond our understanding, but the basic ideas are understandable.
I know enough about biology to know that the stuff Ursala and Duane are discussing is far more advanced. Maybe the difference is they are using words that refer to advanced concepts that Ursula understands but Duane doesn’t .
I took some very basic basic basic concepts, (salon one) but also reviewed them so we could all be on the same page and may be that is why it seems so advanced. If Ursula did that, your head would spin because the stuff she is doing is advanced.
(Then, yes, I let my nerdy side take over and presented an appendix with a bunch of neat info I compiled. But that is in the appendix. Way at the bottom.
(That doesn’t mean I can’t try to do a better job of presenting it. Like I said, I rushed through the simple stuff because I figured everyone would know it.)
Now, let me mention why I feel it’s so relevant. Like Ursula, I feel that life evolved all on its own. In fact I think that carbon nitrogen hydrogen etc _tend_ to form the molecules of life. (As a result of my personal research, which I will explain in a separate post.) As much as I support Jon and his journey, I’m amazed he (and Duane) believe that some special guidance is needed to form anything we see (life, trees, bugs, us) from the materials we have (carbon, other atoms, sunshine) . I believe it’s inherent in the material; these atoms tend to bond as they do, these life molecules tend to form.
Where Ursula and I diverge is that I am troubled and I ask, why do the atoms behave this way? And then I discover that every thing was decided in a tiny part of a second, and it makes me wonder why. Evolution, for me, is a given, requires no mystical explanation, and I am somewhat shocked we are debating it. Why carbon has the properties it does is another question.
I was going to quibble at the way you dismissed the idea of fine tuning by saying, I don’t hear scientists discussing this. Well, they do. The books I read are very main stream popular science books written by main stream scientists. But if you don’t read about chemistry, then yes, you will miss that interesting discussion.
- May 20, 2015 at 1:26 am #4273
Hey, Jon, I want to apologize for my tone. Because of your last name, all this time I was under the impression that you were the moderator of this site. I’m sorry, stupid me, I did. And I thought as moderator, you were dismissing my topic. I am sorry! I just read your bio. You have every right to dismiss me if you are not moderator! If you personally didn’t like it, that’s your right.
(It shows on my cellphone as John Cleland, then skip a line, then: Host.)
- May 20, 2015 at 2:22 am #4276
I appreciate you taking the time to express your reactions to some of my statements. From my perspective, I do feel a bit “attacked” here by you and Ursula too. There are a lot of acquisitions (inquisitions?) being made about me using methods of “pseudoscience,” as if I’m being branded as a witch or something. That sort of branding of others – without taking the time to examine their arguments (such as critiquing the references that I cited) – is behavior that I would expect from someone trying to force an agenda. That is why I raised the “scientism” flag. Or maybe it’s coming from an ideological place – atheism, perhaps?
None of that really matters to me – we all have emotional or ideological “noise” that obscures our vision at times. You said that you’d like to dialog so that’s great. I always try to look past the noise…
I did not suggest a conspiracy, for the record. I was referring to the treatment received by you, Ursula and Davidson regarding a hypothesis that I presented (I think scientists are too disorganized, independent and apolitical to be capable of conspiracy, lol!).
You said my inquiries are a “dead end waste of your powerful mind.” Well thanks for the kind words. Would you like to comment on a specific point I made in my hypothesis? I am hearing general comments (insults?) that are not really focused on trying to understand what it was that I was attempting to communicate.
I was speculating – is speculation pseudoscience? To me speculation is the creative process at work – free inquiry. I squint my eyes and look for patterns in the universe. Sometimes we see patterns that are the result of apophenia (Apophenia /æpɵˈfiːniə/ is the experience of perceiving patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.). Sometimes our vision is true. Time (or research) will tell.
To me, wild speculations are the leading edge of science and should be encouraged at all costs. It only crosses into pseudoscience when speculative notions are overstated as factual or well-researched when they are, in fact, not. I believe that my earlier statements and hypotheses were fairly well framed as “notions,” “conjectures” or even “speculations.” So by my definition at least, I do not see that I am guilty of pseudoscience as you say.
I’ve been a meditator and a contemplatist for 40+ years in addition to research engineer, inventor, entrepreneur and such. I’m multidisciplinary and very very familiar with the philosophy of science. I’m also studied in world religions ranging from humanism/UU to theosophy and shamanism. I seek to build bridges between the sciences. You might say my views are eclectic. But heresy? Really?
I am a purist when it comes to science – science is not based on status quo, it’s not something that you can enforce or fit into a philosophical mold, it’s based on observation, logic, wide-eyed curiosity and, of course, experimental data. The curious mind will not avoid “dangerous territory” because a topic is taboo or off-limits. Though crossing that line can certainly lessen one’s chances of building consensus within the scientific community (perhaps explaining the inquisitional tone that I sensed and commented on, leading you to accuse me of playing the “conspiracy card” then likening me to a quack).
I also like debate and building consensus (or not). But to be fair, let’s focus on the argument at hand – the specific data, logic, or whatever in my hypothesis is bothering you, rather than labeling or branding. I posted my ideas here because I was hoping to have an intelligent conversation about this stuff. As a purist I’m willing to change my views in the light of new evidence. I’d like to hear what specific statements I made in my hypothesis where you want explanation or clarification, or where you see a leap of logic that you cannot follow. I wouldn’t expect you could possibly follow my logic very well without checking out some of the references I am citing – at least ones that bug you. Feel free to refute them. Hey, I might be mistaken… It’s happened before.
- May 20, 2015 at 9:39 am #4278
I wrote yesterday: “Ed indicates that some of his ideas could be subjected to empirical tests but that the scientific establishment is too biased to fund such inquiries. I would be interested in what such a grant application would look like.”
First-year graduate students in our program take a class where their weekly assignment is to write a one-page mock research proposal outline on assigned topics, being very specific about what question(s) would be asked, what experiments would be done, what controls would be included, and how the data would be analyzed.
It would be great if you could post such an item in relation to your ideas. Possibly such specifics were included in your earlier postings but I missed them — if so, you can cut and paste!
- May 20, 2015 at 12:24 pm #4280
Philip Snow GangParticipant
To explore this begs the question: What is autopoiesis? The word itself was coined by Francesco Varela and Humberto Maturana in their exploration of “What is life? In autopoietic processes, entities are continually self -making, both self-contained and in relationship (coupled) to their environment. There is a network of processes in which the function of each component is to participate in the production or transformation of all components. In this way, the entire network continually “makes itself” while simultaneously bringing forth a world.
Is this true for the universe as a whole?
According to Fritjof Capra in the Systems View of Life, “The double role of living systems as parts and wholes requires the interplay of two opposite tendencies: an integrative tendency to function as part of a larger whole, and a self-assertive, or self-organizing tendency to preserve individual autonomy” (p. 65).
In what ways might cosmic events participate in this dynamic?
- May 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm #4281
Thanks for supplying those. It looks like things there are pretty well laid out.
Like Ursula, I feel that life evolved all on its own. In fact I think that carbon nitrogen hydrogen etc _tend_ to form the molecules of life. (As a result of my personal research, which I will explain in a separate post.) As much as I support Jon and his journey, I’m amazed he (and Duane) believe that some special guidance is needed to form anything we see (life, trees, bugs, us) from the materials we have (carbon, other atoms, sunshine) . I believe it’s inherent in the material; these atoms tend to bond as they do, these life molecules tend to form.
Karen, I have the same view as you and Ursula – I don’t see any evidence for, nor need for, some external guidance.
Evolution, for me, is a given, requires no mystical explanation, and I am somewhat shocked we are debating it.
Why carbon has the properties it does is another question.
Yes, but because the physics of why carbon (or any other atom) has the exact properties it does are so beyond my physics knowledge, I know that it’s pointless for me to argue the point – especially if I take a position that isn’t supported by a scientific consensus.
(It shows on my cellphone as John Cleland, then skip a line, then: Host.)
All good – no offense taken. (not even before, come to think of it). Best!
Hey Jon, I appreciate you taking the time to express your reactions to some of my statements. From my perspective, I do feel a bit “attacked” here by you and Ursula too.
I don’t mean to attack you, and apologize for anything that sounds like an attack on you. Part of this might be that I’m very busy (with a full time job, 4 young kids, finishing a solar power system at home, etc, and that might make me sound a bit short.
here are a lot of acquisitions (inquisitions?) being made about me using methods of “pseudoscience,” as if I’m being branded as a witch or something. That sort of branding of others – without taking the time to examine their arguments (such as critiquing the references that I cited) – is behavior that I would expect from someone trying to force an agenda.
But that’s exactly what’s being avoided. No one is branding you anything. I’ve pointed out that some of your arguments use methods of pseudoscience – which is specifically critiquing the argument and not the person. Maybe I should go into more detail when that comes up?
None of that really matters to me – we all have emotional or ideological “noise” that obscures our vision at times. You said that you’d like to dialog so that’s great. I always try to look past the noise…
Yes, me too, and I appreciate that. In our case, I think that the two of us really don’t have many major differences in ideology anyway. It’s not like I’m talking with a fundamentalist relative or something.
I did not suggest a conspiracy, for the record. I was referring to the treatment received by you, Ursula and Davidson regarding a hypothesis that I presented (I think scientists are too disorganized, independent and apolitical to be capable of conspiracy, lol!).
OK. I agree that scientists are much too diverse, etc, to form a conspiracy. After all, there are millions of scientists, from all different cultures, different religions, different politics, and so on. I think I was referring to the suggestion that the “scientific establishment” is “too biased” for a given testable hypothesis to be tested. That brings up two responses. First, I don’t think that’s tenable based on the diversity just discussed. Secondly, that’s a classic reason used in pseudoscience to explain why a given pseudoscience promoter isn’t publishing her or his paper on X idea.
In other words, I’m saying that saying “the scientific establishment is biased against my ideas” is not a valid argument, and instead is a sign of pseudoscience. As such, I’m critiquing the argument, not the person.
You said my inquiries are a “dead end waste of your powerful mind.” Well thanks for the kind words. Would you like to comment on a specific point I made in my hypothesis? I am hearing general comments (insults?) that are not really focused on trying to understand what it was that I was attempting to communicate.
I don’t mean to insult anyone. I’ve attempted to point out when arguments use the same form as those in pseudoscience. I guess I’m not sure what specific hypothesis you are putting forward to test. Is it this one here ** : ?
*****From my research, it appears that there are anomalous informational phenomena that current models are at a loss to explain.
If so, then it sounds more like a claim than a hypothesis – a claim that does’t appear to be supported.
I was speculating – is speculation pseudoscience? To me speculation is the creative process at work – free inquiry.
Sure – but the statements – like that above – sound more like claims than speculations.
I believe that my earlier statements and hypotheses were fairly well framed as “notions,” “conjectures” or even “speculations.” So by my definition at least, I do not see that I am guilty of pseudoscience as you say.
How about your statement above, about “anomalous informational phenomena”? The “at a loss to explain” sounded to me a lot like the classic God of the Gaps argument, where one states “because X is not fully explained, therefore, my pseudoscience is correct”. Just to suggest that an unexplained thing is evidence for a hypothesis is false. Positive evidence is needed for support – not a mystery. And, of course, it’s very often the case as well that the item suggested to be “unexplained” really is quite possible with current explanations. A good example was the earlier statements that bacteria evolution is beyond the capabilities of natural selection.
I squint my eyes and look for patterns in the universe. Sometimes we see patterns that are the result of apophenia (Apophenia /æpɵˈfiːniə/ is the experience of perceiving patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.). Sometimes our vision is true. Time (or research) will tell.
Yep, I agree.
I’ve been a meditator and a contemplatist for 40+ years in addition to research engineer, inventor, entrepreneur and such. I’m multidisciplinary and very very familiar with the philosophy of science. I’m also studied in world religions ranging from humanism/UU to theosophy and shamanism. I seek to build bridges between the sciences. You might say my views are eclectic. But heresy? Really?
Did I accuse you of heresy?
The curious mind will not avoid “dangerous territory” because a topic is taboo or off-limits. Though crossing that line can certainly lessen one’s chances of building consensus within the scientific community (perhaps explaining the inquisitional tone that I sensed and commented on, leading you to accuse me of playing the “conspiracy card” then likening me to a quack).
No topic is taboo or off limits. I’m fine with any topic – but not fine with common methods of pseudoscience, like “god of the gaps”, shifting the burden of proof, suggesting unfair bias against an idea as a reason for lack of progress, and so on. I’m not saying that you used each of those, but that some of your points did sound like some of them.
I’d like to hear what specific statements I made in my hypothesis where you want explanation or clarification, or where you see a leap of logic that you cannot follow. I wouldn’t expect you could possibly follow my logic very well without checking out some of the references I am citing – at least ones that bug you. Feel free to refute them. Hey, I might be mistaken… It’s happened before. Smiles, Ed
Yes, smiles. : )
Did some of the above show a leap of logic that I disagreed with? I need to go now, but if a specific list – with reasons for concern for each one – is preferred, let me know.
Together in the Great Work-
- May 20, 2015 at 3:46 pm #4283
I’d like to clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding. Earlier you wrote that I “believe that some special guidance is needed to form anything we see (life, trees, bugs, us) from the materials we have (carbon, other atoms, sunshine).” I do not believe that “special guidance” is required from some external (supernatural?) force. Rather, I was referring to the “self-organizing” capacity of natural systems. To me this implies there is some level of consciousness (or “knowing capacity”) that is fitting to the form and function of the system. In other words, I’m suggesting that self-organizing systems have an internal guidance process enabling them to cohere and persist as a dynamic system. Importantly, I am not suggesting that trees and bugs, etc., have the same consciousness as a human being but I am suggesting there is a “knowing process” at work that fits the form and function of these living systems enabling them to “self-organize.” Is this congruent with your views?
- May 20, 2015 at 3:50 pm #4284
Why invoke a “knowing process”? Why not just say that, given the thermodynamic and molecular-shape constraints of the constituents, they self-organize?
- May 20, 2015 at 4:08 pm #4285
Why do you use the word “self” in self-organize? What do you mean by “self”?
- May 20, 2015 at 4:11 pm #4286
Well, um, it’s the term you used.
- May 20, 2015 at 4:16 pm #4287
Do you use the term?
- May 20, 2015 at 4:22 pm #4288
Yes. Maybe before we go any further here, you might read (unless you’ve already done so) the paper by Terry and me that I lifted up early in this conversation. I think it would help our communications. http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Ursula%20Goodenough-%20The%20Sacred%20Emergence%20of%20Nature.pdf
- May 20, 2015 at 7:17 pm #4289
Hi, Duane. I am very sorry I mischaracterized your thinking. It is a little more clear now, thanks. I think Ursula answered your question basically the same as I would have, maybe better, so I will sit back and let the debate continue.
- May 20, 2015 at 8:34 pm #4290
Thanks Jon. No offense taken. I will accept the challenge of carefully framing my hypothesis for review including testable predictions as Ursula suggests. I’m busy too – it may take a few days to turn this around.
Jon: ‘“the scientific establishment is biased against my ideas” is not a valid argument, and instead is a sign of pseudoscience. As such, I’m critiquing the argument, not the person.’
I was not using this as an argument in favor of my hypothesis, just making an observation (and perhaps a complaint). There absolutely IS a bias in many scientific communities against anything that smacks of “nonlocal causality,” “anomalous information” or “intelligent design,” resulting in blanket reactions without consideration of the claims being made or the evidence supporting them. The responses to my posts on this forum illustrate this effect. As I said, I recognize the need to separate non-scientific religious thinking (as Davidson framed it) from scientific discussions. I’m doing my best to frame this hypotheses in a way that is consistent with good science (fitting the facts, predictive power, testable, etc). However when there is a bias of this sort it does indeed inhibit researchers from entering these areas of study and also inhibits their funding. I did stick my neck out and did apply for funding over a decade ago and was turned down… things are starting to look better now.
Stand by for more.
Jon: “How about your statement above, about “anomalous informational phenomena”? The “at a loss to explain” sounded to me a lot like the classic God of the Gaps argument, where one states “because X is not fully explained, therefore, my pseudoscience is correct”. Just to suggest that an unexplained thing is evidence for a hypothesis is false. Positive evidence is needed for support – not a mystery. And, of course, it’s very often the case as well that the item suggested to be “unexplained” really is quite possible with current explanations.”
Right. My attempts to explain “the gaps” are my conjectures and I have not attempted to use explanatory gaps as proof of anything aside from demonstrating the need for a proper explanation. The real difficulty here is that much of the phenomena that I’ve cited as demonstrating that there are gaps (anomalous mental information transfer) are still hotly debated in scientific circles, as I will demonstrate below.
Personally, I’ve moved past such arguments – there is a TON of evidence regarding anomalous information transfer. Others can wait for “extraordinary proof” to emerge that will put down even the most extreme skeptic, however I’ve grown impatient as the data mounts in favor of a true anomaly. I’ve seen enough to feel good about assuming the data are correct and moving on to develop testable hypotheses. When you look closely at the skeptical arguments, most of them amount to “this effect is impossible, therefore the study must be flawed.” I’m more interested in asking “if the data are correct, how on earth could this be possible?”
I know that I’ve thrown out a lot of references, some of which are books that study these claims in great detail by citing in turn hundreds of studies. Let’s focus on just one case – a research study showing anomalous information transfer. The original study published in 2011 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (100, 407-425) by Daryl Ben at Cornell University showed statistically significant anomalous anticipation of emotionally stimulating (erotic) images:
Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect, Daryl J. Bem, Cornell University
“…This article reports 9 experiments, involving more than 1,000 participants, that test for retroactive influence by “time reversing” well-established psychological effects so that the individual’s responses are obtained before the putatively causal stimulus events occur. Data are presented for 4 time-reversed effects: precognitive approach to erotic stimuli and precognitive avoidance of negative stimuli; retroactive priming; retroactive habituation; and retroactive facilitation of recall. All but one of the experiments yielded statistically significant results; and, across all 9 experiments, Stouffer’s z = 6.66, p = 1.34 Å~ 10-11 with a mean effect size (d) of 0.22.” http://dbem.ws/FeelingFuture.pdf
The publication of this work in a highly respected psychology journal set of a firestorm of criticism, with claims by skeptics that his studies were “flawed” and chiding the reviewers http://news.discovery.com/human/journal-to-publish-flawed-esp-study.htm, http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/back_from_the_future. Bem of course defended his work and pointed out how rigorously his paper had been reviewed: http://dbem.ws/ResponsetoAlcock.pdf
Subsequently, initial replication studies were aggregated in a registry by a group of skeptics who (Bem claims) published only the ones that did not show an effect – apparently two studies showing positive results were actually suppressed by the skeptics (a reverse-file drawer effect). http://www.skeptiko.com/daryl-bem-responds-to-parapsychology-debunkers/ http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/controversial-esp-study-fails-yet-again-120912.htm
“Failing the Future: Three Unsuccessful Attempts to Replicate Bem’s ‘Retroactive Facilitation of Recall’ Effect, Stuart J. Ritchie, Richard Wiseman and Christopher C. French. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0033423
These failed studies were later refuted as having “selected an unrealistic Bayesian prior distribution for their analysis, leading them to seriously underestimate the experimental support in favor of the psi hypothesis: http://dbem.ws/ResponsetoWagenmakers.pdf
Anyway, Bem offered a kit allowing other researchers to use his computer software to easily replicate his findings. He is now finishing up a meta-analysis of 90 experiments from 33 laboratories in 14 countries which yielded an overall effect greater than 6 sigma, z = 6.40, p = 1.2 Å~ 10-10 with an effect size (Hedges’ g) of 0.09. The discussion at the end of this paper is a particularly good read:
“Feeling the Future: A Meta-analysis of 90 Experiments on the Anomalous Anticipation of Random Future Events”
Daryl J. Bem, Cornell University, Patrizio Tressoldi, Università di Padova, Italy, Thomas Rabeyron, Université de Nantes, France and University of Edinburgh, Scotland and Michael Duggan, Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom
Abstract: In 2011, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a report of nine experiments purporting to demonstrate that an individual’s cognitive and affective responses can be influenced by randomly selected stimulus events that do not occur until after his or her responses have already been made and recorded, a generalized variant of the phenomenon traditionally denoted by the term precognition (Bem, 2011). To encourage replications, all materials needed to conduct them were made available on request. We here report a meta-analysis of 90 experiments from 33 laboratories in 14 countries which yielded an overall effect greater than 6 sigma, z = 6.40, p = 1.2 Å~ 10-10 with an effect size (Hedges’ g) of 0.09. A Bayesian analysis yielded a Bayes Factor of 1.4 Å~ 109, greatly exceeding the criterion value of 100 for “decisive evidence” in support of the experimental hypothesis (Jeffries, 1961). The number of potentially unretrieved experiments required to reduce the overall effect size to a trivial value is 547. Several tests demonstrate that the database is not significantly compromised by publication bias, selection bias, or by “p-hacking,” the selective suppression of findings or statistical analyses that failed to yield statistical significance. An analysis of p–curve, the distribution of significant p values (Simonsohn, Nelson, & Simmons, 2014a; 2014b) estimates the true effect size of the database to be 0.20, virtually identical to the effect size of Bem’s original studies (0.22). We discuss the controversial status of precognition and other anomalous effects collectively known as psi. http://dbem.ws/FF%20Meta-analysis%206.2.pdf
The problem with experiments of this type is that the effects are relatively small and are presumably nonlocal in nature. By definition, the experiment cannot be completely “isolated” from extraneous influences and the results are subject to a high degree of interfering “noise.” This is just one of scores of experiments across multiple disciplines that are showing a small anomalous information effect with high statistical significance. As the evidence mounts I expect that even the most hard-nosed skeptics will eventually be forced to accept these results.
As I am sure you know, physical anomalies harken to un-discovered physical laws or effects. That’s where my interest comes in. As Bem himself points out, this nonlocal informational effect is exactly the sort of thing that quantum physics has found in nature. We should therefore be able to search for this effect with common instrumentation. I want to apply my background in signal processing to this field. When working as an aerospace engineer, we routinely recovered signals that were buried 90 dB below the noise floor. It is not enough to show that there is an effect. We need to characterize it. More on this later.
The first step is to image this “informational domain.” Then we can show that there are not only informational channels, but that biological organisms can exploit this information. I would not attempt at this time to show that the computational capacity of the universe can operate autonomously… that is very speculative. To even approach such a conjecture experimentally we first need to “see” into this informational domain. That’s the work that I’ve been addressing.
- May 20, 2015 at 9:17 pm #4294
Duane: “I’d like to clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding. Earlier you wrote that I “believe that some special guidance is needed to form anything we see (life, trees, bugs, us) from the materials we have (carbon, other atoms, sunshine).” I do not believe that “special guidance” is required from some external (supernatural?) force. Rather, I was referring to the “self-organizing” capacity of natural systems. To me this implies there is some level of consciousness (or “knowing capacity”) that is fitting to the form and function of the system. In other words, I’m suggesting that self-organizing systems have an internal guidance process enabling them to cohere and persist as a dynamic system. Importantly, I am not suggesting that trees and bugs, etc., have the same consciousness as a human being but I am suggesting there is a “knowing process” at work that fits the form and function of these living systems enabling them to “self-organize.” Is this congruent with your views?”
Ursula: “Why invoke a “knowing process”? Why not just say that, given the thermodynamic and molecular-shape constraints of the constituents, they self-organize? ”
Duane, I think it is best not to anthropomorphize effects seen in nature. The modern concept of God is an anthropomorphization of nature – attributing human-like attributes to something that is clearly not human at all. Scientists are going to reject this sort of description out-of-hand.
The real question here, it seems, is whether nature operates – at all times – according to observed stochastic probabilities and nothing more. If so, then known (and perhaps some unknown) physical laws govern everything, with quantum effects being nature’s “rolling of the dice” as it were, introducing an element of randomness into every interaction. That is the commonly held view, I believe.
What you are suggesting, Duane, is that there might be another effect at work that skews natural probabilities, perhaps slightly, towards a particular outcome. In all of our observations we find that, on average, the universe does indeed follow consistent stochastic probability characteristics. Any instances of “outliers” – local anomalies – average out over time. This is what we see. At an atomic level, the universe is very “noisy” and there are no consistent “patterns” or “biases” to be found in this noise. Mix two chemicals together uniformly and you can predict the reaction to a high degree of accuracy and plot the reaction speed versus temperature and such. Watch a crystal form and it looks like magic, but once you understand molecular bonding, it becomes obvious why crystals take on their unique shapes and properties. We do not attribute crystal formation to “intelligence,” we attribute it to the known properties of molecules and atoms. In chemical reactions or crystal formation we do not see a predilection towards particular outcomes that might favor life.
Such an effect has not been ruled out by any stretch – it’s just not been found in nature, or if it is operant, it “looks” like ordinary “statistical outliers.” It could be that it is a small effect that operates in nature over long time spans, or it could be at work in biological systems. Questions such as this do not get answered unless they are asked…
- May 20, 2015 at 11:06 pm #4295
Thanks for your wise words. I certainly did not intend to anthropomorphize nature. I see the universe in a very different manner than human biological systems. My years of laboratory research as a subject in psi research persuaded me there is an ecology of consciousness infusing the universe that can operate in a non-local fashion–therefore my question about the universe: If something is conscious, can it be considered alive?
Overall, I am getting lost in the micro-details of our discussions when the question I raised was of a macro-scope: Is the universe a unique kind of living system? When I review the really big concepts in science, I am stunned by the scope and depth of mystery regarding the nature of our universe. I’d like to bring back in the definitions I described earlier (after Jon said no struggling is needed as definitions can be found in the dictionary):DARK MATTER:Dark matter is a hypothetical kind of matter that cannot be seen with telescopes but accounts for most of the matter in the universe. . . . it has not been detected directly, making it one of the greatest mysteries in modern astrophysics.MATTER:Matter does not have a universal definition, nor is it a fundamental concept in physics today. . . there is no single universally agreed scientific meaning of the word “matter”DARK ENERGY:We know how much dark energy there is because we know it affects the universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery.TIME:Time is a curious and slippery concept which continues to defy definitive explanation despite hundreds, even thousands, of years of trying. . . . What if the passage of time were merely an illusion? Can a world without time make sense? . . . big names in physics, such as string theory pioneer Ed Witten and theorist Brian Greene, have recently embraced such an idea.SUMMARIZING:“Dark matter” accounts for most of the matter in the universe but has not been detected directly, making it one of the greatest mysteries in modern physics. “Matter” does not have a universal definition nor is it a fundamental concept in physics. “Dark energy” is the largest part of the known universe and is an expansive force but, other than that, it is a complete mystery. The passage of “time” defies definitive explanation and may be an illusion.DISCUSSION:Mystery is compounded by mystery. The preceding does not indicate whether the universe is a living system or not; instead, it suggests deep humility and great openness in exploring a truly open question.
- May 21, 2015 at 12:49 pm #4300
Duane: Have you defined the word “consciousness” in this discussion as you are using it with respect to the universe? How are you distinguishing human consciousness from universe consciousness? I hear that you are making a distinction but I’m not sure how you’re making the distinction. It might be better to use a different word since it’s confusing and almost immediately evokes resistance for all the reasons we’ve seen in this discussion. [Physicist Freeman Dyson told me he uses the term “World Mind” but immediately said that he was not an expert in this. He said that religious have access to World Mind, not him. But he believes it exists.]
Phil: Thanks for posting the Varela and Maturana definition of autopoesis. Duane, is there something beyond this idea that you’re pointing to with the word “consciousness”? Sounds like there is.
Ursula: Your paper, “The Sacred Emergence of Nature” is outstanding . . . covering, among other things: Reduction and Emergence; The Emergent Human; What is Meant by Religious?; Interpretive Responses, Spiritual Responses, Moral Responses. PLEASE post it in the resource section. I will highlight in a News Feed. This is a must read for everyone in this conversation! Here’s the link:
Karen, I need to read more closely what you’ve written about the characteristics of electrons set down at the beginning. Sounds crucial to everything.
My apologies for not participating more in this remarkable conversation. Been tough with programs . . . most recently a performance here in Princeton with world renowned musician Andor Carius. What fun to work with a musician of his caliber! It was a packed house with all ages!
- May 21, 2015 at 1:27 pm #4301
Jennifer — Glad you like the piece! Connie Barlow was sufficiently excited by it to figure out how to post it on the edtechpost site, but I suspect it’s not legal from a copyright standpoint since it’s a book chapter. If you’re able to make a call on this I’d appreciate it.
- May 21, 2015 at 1:38 pm #4302
Ursula — You would post it as a link to the edtechpost. (Good job Connie for posting!) Links are not copyrightable, so there would be no copyright issues re DTJN. Assuming that the edtechpost follows copyright rules, you’re fine. In any case, there’s no problem for DTJN in linking to the edtechpost.
- May 21, 2015 at 2:08 pm #4303Jennifer,You asked about my understanding of the nature of consciousness, so let me offer the following brief summary. I regard “consciousness” as an invisible ecological substrate of life-energy extending throughout the universe that provides a “knowing capacity” for systems at every level in ways that are fitting for their form and function. An invisible knowing or reflective capacity that infuses the entire universe seems no more improbable than the other mysterious attributes of the universe such as dark energy, dark matter, “time” and more. As a pervasive life-force that is a substrate of the universe, consciousness seems to be utilized at every level to support the emergence of self-organizing systems in ways that fit their unique form and function. This pervasive life-energy can become intensified in its expression in humans—as Ed stated, “biological life might one day be seen as nothing more than a means for consciousness to express itself in the physical domain.” Although consciousness expresses itself intensely within the human being, that does not prevent humans from extending that knowing capacity beyond the confines of the biological body and connecting in meaningful ways with the larger universe. In my experience—and that of other experimenters in this realm—consciousness has both a receptive and an expressive aspect. This invisible life-energy enables us to receive information in ways that extends beyond our physical/sensory modes of knowing. We can also express or communicate this invisible “information” as life-energy beyond the scope of our biological body and connect with the universe in meaningful and measurable ways. This suggests there is a “literacy of consciousness”—both receptive and expressive—that is still being discovered and developed by the human species.
- May 22, 2015 at 5:42 am #4307
Duane: “I see the universe in a very different manner than human biological systems. My years of laboratory research as a subject in psi research persuaded me there is an ecology of consciousness infusing the universe that can operate in a non-local fashion–therefore my question about the universe: If something is conscious, can it be considered alive?… Is the universe a unique kind of living system?”
This is a much better approach Duane. Rather than trying to squeeze the universe into the current definition of life, which many scientists will see as an ideological force-fit, proposing that the universe is a unique kind of living system gives you the freedom to name, define and characterize that system. Other’s might not buy your definition, or might not agree with your suppositions about that system (the Gaia hypothesis is still disputed), but you would not face the same resistance as you are now when trying to stretch the popular definition of life outside of it’s usual bounds.
You ask: “If something is conscious, can it be considered alive?.” Per my working hypothesis, I would say that the universe, at a sub-atomic level, is an informational/computational substrate that supports non-random activity – possibly consciousness or “intelligence” – with biological organisms as the agency for that intelligence to interact in the physical domain. However as I’ve pointed out, this general hypothesis, which a number of scientists much smarter than me have been coming at lately in a variety of ways, is still a bit “out there” and not generally accepted. It requires a better understanding of quantum informational activity at a mesoscopic and macroscopic scale, and requires the demonstration of how biological systems can access and operate within that informational domain.
I expect this line of inquiry will yield results and should be supported. That’s why I get a bit riled when these quantum consciousness hypotheses are ridiculed, dismissed out-of-hand or called pseudoscience. I actually see these attitudes as standing in the way of scientific progress.
Duane: “Mystery is compounded by mystery. The preceding does not indicate whether the universe is a living system or not; instead, it suggests deep humility and great openness in exploring a truly open question.”
Absolutely! The apparent stability of the objective physical universe, which operates upon discoverable “laws” that humankind has collectively focused on understanding (and applying) for the last few centuries, and the resulting success of these discoveries, can easily seduce us into a certain smugness about our resultant worldview. Smugness is a useful property of the human mind, as it provides a stable knowing, a confidence, in a world that is still far beyond our understanding. Some scientists are explorers, pushing the envelope of science rather than simply practicing their craft within the safe boundaries of the “standard” worldview. These explorers must, at times, drop their smugness and deal with a great deal of ambiguity and “not knowing” without imposing standard presuppositions about the nature of the universe. Adopting or “trying on” different perspectives are their tools of the trade. Could the universe be alive? Let’s try that one on and see…
When I take a big view, what I see is a universe that has somehow produced us – intelligent life. In our minds we separate the universe into “living” and “nonliving” bits, but in reality it is all one system – the separation is in our minds by virtue of what we whose to focus on, how we chose to see the world. Stories are one way that we organize and amplify these world views. In science we temper our stories – our theorizing – with fact-checking. Theories are accepted because they have predictive power.
As Ursula says, without proof we’re left filling the gaps with our suppositions – all of us. As you point out Duane, there are a lot of gaps. Swiss cheese, I’d say. Perhaps they will be filled with more of the same as Ursula suggests – extrapolations of what we already know – and we should be smug with that. Or perhaps the universe still has some surprises for us. From what I’ve seen, each time a new frontier opens, the truth turns out to be stranger than any fiction.
Many of the “big questions” remain unanswerable. We fill them with stories and interpretations – assumptions – philosophies without predictive power. We mostly understand the human brain. The biochemistry of the body is well understood. These are stories that children tell themselves to feel safe in the night. If we truly understood the language of the brain then we could see thoughts. If we understood the language of the body then we could cure cancer. If we understood consciousness then we could build conscious machines. If we understood gravity then we could fly. This is what I mean by predictive power.
There are fundamental gaps in our understanding. It could be that we will never crack the deeper codes of nature using our current thinking – we may need to come at it another way, with new eyes.
- May 22, 2015 at 6:04 am #4309
Karen: “Like Ursula, I feel that life evolved all on its own…Evolution, for me, is a given, requires no mystical explanation, and I am somewhat shocked we are debating it.”
Jon: “Karen, I have the same view as you and Ursula – I don’t see any evidence for, nor need for, some external guidance.”
Who is resorting to mysticism or external guidance? All of my notions about the universe and consciousness are built on known informational properties of sub-atomic physics. I would see what you are calling “guidance” as an emergent property of matter itself, an effect that our current stochastic models are incapable of detecting. The hypothesis remains a conjecture only because we do not yet have the imaging tools needed to test it.
Jon: “…because the physics of why carbon (or any other atom) has the exact properties it does are so beyond my physics knowledge, I know that it’s pointless for me to argue the point – especially if I take a position that isn’t supported by a scientific consensus.”
“Scientific consensus” is not a priesthood. It’s ok to step outside of prescribed worldviews and try on alternate perspectives. Scientific breakthroughs often involve independent thinking (not following the herd). It does of course take a lot of evidence to sway mainstream consensus, and there is a good chance that mainstream consensus is right in any case. But not always…
- May 22, 2015 at 9:07 am #4310
Hey, Jon, until Ed replied to you, I interpreted your post to me differently. I thought you said that there was no reason to read a lot of physics and argue against the fine tuning since it enjoyed scientific consensus anyway. Ed interprets your sentence apparently to mean it doesn’t enjoy scientific consensus. So I don’t know what you feel, but as far as I know, fine tuning enjoys scientific consensus. I have never read or heard otherwise and practically the first sentence of the wiki page Fine Tuning of the Universe states just that. There is a section labeled Distractors, but the objection seems to be to some vocabulary, or to the anthropic principle, or to the focus on carbon and not to the notion itself.
By the way, having read to the bottom of the Wiki article , I see a third explanation introduced by Steven Hawking. (The other explanations being Anthropic Principle and Multiverse) This is a busy day and I won’t have time to read a difficult paper by Steven Hawking, but it’s called Top Down Cosmology and I think it might be something along these lines:
Just like schroedinger’s cat, our universe existed in multiple ways, until the present ‘chose a way’ and the universe’s wavefunction (containg every possible beginning) collapsed and became the beginning that created us.
- May 22, 2015 at 5:36 pm #4311
Hi Karen. Yes, interesting writeup on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_Universe):
“Physicist Paul Davies has asserted that “There is now broad agreement among physicists and cosmologists that the Universe is in several respects ‘fine-tuned’ for life”. However, he continues, “the conclusion is not so much that the Universe is fine-tuned for life; rather it is fine-tuned for the building blocks and environments that life requires.” He also states that “‘anthropic‘ reasoning fails to distinguish between minimally biophilic universes, in which life is permitted, but only marginally possible, and optimally biophilic universes, in which life flourishes because biogenesis occurs frequently”. Among scientists who find the evidence persuasive, a variety of natural explanations have been proposed, such as the anthropic principle along with multiple universes. George F. R. Ellis observes “that no possible astronomical observations can ever see those other universes. The arguments are indirect at best. And even if the multiverse exists, it leaves the deep mysteries of nature unexplained.”“
It is interesting that the “intelligent design” theories are all considered religious. This, again, points out the mainstream bias against a naturalistic intelligent universe hypothesis. If we designate a hypothesis as “religious” in nature then, to me, it is the same as saying it is not testable, not naturalistic and cannot be part of the scientific dialog.
If we see intelligence as an emergent property of complex computational systems, then intelligence fits the definition of a naturalistic phenomenon. The brain is a complex computational system, and it clearly exhibits intelligence. Neurons (or whatever elements are responsible for computation in the brain) are not the only natural computational elements that we know of. Quantum “qubits” (particles, virtual particles or quasiparticles) are extremely powerful computational elements and are a naturalistic, measurable phenomenon that pervades the universe. This quantum informational domain therefore COULD be host to complex, bounded informational/computational structures. These informational structures would express themselves through small changes in quantum information actualization (wavefront collapse) that would be very difficult (but not impossible) to detect, because these outcomes would still obey expected stochastic properties and would be nearly indistinguishable from random chance.
It’s a speculative notion of course, but if we do not speculate, we will not seek, and if we do not seek, we most certainly will not find. More soon.
- May 23, 2015 at 5:03 pm #4312
Ed I don’t understand quantum physics enough to evaluate your hypothesis, as others here have.
However, I am slowly looking at the articles you posted. The one by Penrose is way beyond me, but the points regarding consciousness in the introduction, I have already read about. I read (tried to read) his book Emperor’s New Mind which was too difficult for me but I enjoyed it and came away with my mind a bit expanded.
The universe got here the way it is _somehow_ and I actually enjoy reading other people’s speculations and ideas. In the process I get introduced to new science and I get to see how various people are thinking.
- May 29, 2015 at 1:54 pm #4322
Sorry for the long delay – a lot going on in my life.
Personally, I’ve moved past such arguments – there is a TON of evidence regarding anomalous information transfer. Others can wait for “extraordinary proof” to emerge that will put down even the most extreme skeptic, however I’ve grown impatient as the data mounts in favor of a true anomaly.
I don’t see “a TON” of evidence. We all know that in the 1800’s there were many claims of all kinds of psychic phenomena with very large effect sizes, which, when tested, were found to be either mistakes or outright deception. Then in the 1900’s , the claims changed name to things like “quantum ESP”, with only a moderate effect size, and when examined closely, these too were found to be either mistakes or outright deception. Many other claims were made which were debunked, which I’m not mentioning just for space. Then, in the 1990’s, this paper came out: http://web.arizona.edu/~vas/358/doespsi.pdf,
which was later again found to be either a mistake or outright deception, as shown here: http://www.deanradin.com/FOC2014/Milton1999Ganzfeld.pdf
Thanks for the many points to look into about the Bem work, which claimed an even smaller effect. It seems that a lot of attempts were made at reproducing his work, all of which failed to find any affect – but that many of these were submitted and not published because the Journal doesn’t often publish failed replication experiments. They finally did so, and here it is: http://deanradin.com/evidence/galak2012.pdf
The trend here seems to me to suggest that the closer anomalous information transfer/quantum ESP/psychic/etc is looked at, the smaller the effect becomes, which is a common trend for things that turn