What something is, is different from what something is not. It is fundamental logical truth that when something is something, it can not also, then, be what it is not.
What physicists seem to have found, however, is that the very basic stuff of reality. . . is both what it is and what it is not. It is both continuous and discontinuous. . . smooth and flowing like a wave, and discrete and moving like a particle.
Physicists today call this wave-particle stuff quantum fields. Quantum fields are invisible ghosts of potentiality. Undisturbed, they are undulating waves of continuous possibility. Disturbed – ‘measured’ – ‘observed’, they are moving particles and events.
Erwin Schroedinger discovered an equation that describes the state of a given quantum field and how it behaves.
“There is no ‘energy’ in the Schroedinger equation, a central point that means that whatever is ‘waving’ in the Schroedinger wave equation is neither energy or matter. It is terribly important that no one knows ‘what’ is waving in the Schroedinger wave equation.” Stuart A. Kauffman.
Slam a quantum field with an intense point of energy. This is what Particle Accelerators do. With long tunnels of electromagnetic and superconducting powers, they drive particles to ever higher speeds, and focus them, with extreme precision, to collide into each other – “like aiming a rifle at a mosquito sitting on the moon“. Leon Lederman From how the bits of debris scatter, and where they scatter, physicists learn about quantum fields.
There are different kinds of quantum fields, it seems, quantum fields of gravity, of electromagnetism, and of nuclear forces. They must be unified in some way. This was something that Albert Einstein was trying to discover in the last thirty years of his life.
Peter Higgs, in Scotland, 37 years ago, figured that a certain other kind of field must also exist, a field that interacts with radiation and energy, and creates mass, and the material world that we can know. When particle accelerators became powerful enough, in 2012, the Higgs field was found.
“Over the 20th century, we came to picture all forms of matter as accumulations of transient disturbances in ubiquitous fields. Some of those fields, when cold, create space filling mists – the Higg’s field is one. Like morning dew, they are spontaneous emanations, thrown off as the fields settle into equilibrium.” Frank Wilczek.
Quantum fields seem layered, creating a giant jello cake Universe, in which some layers are like whipped cream and allow radiation unhindered to travel at the speed of light, the fastest anything can go, and some layers are like caramel, with resistance to movement causing mass and the gravity that creates the planets and galaxies.
The layers jiggle as events occur. . . not totally randomly, but with predictable probability . . and with mysterious unity. Where there is a bounce one way, there is somewhere else a bounce the other way.
There must be other layers. . . A field of consciousness. . .maybe?
“I’d expect complex biochemistry to be consistently biased in the direction that leads closer to consciousness, as gravitation biases motion towards massive objects. I have no evidence for this idea. It’s just the way biology seems to work.” David Gerlenter
And God said . . .
Isaac Newton got the concepts right, perhaps better than anyone else in history. Mass is quantity of matter. Momentum is quantity of motion. Force is change in motion. Change of motion is acceleration. Mass is resistance to force. Force equals mass times acceleration.
This equation “is the basis of our mechanical, civil, hydraulic, acoustic, and other types of engineering; it used to understand surface tension, the flow of fluids in pipes, capillary action, the drift of continents, the propagation of sound in air and in steel, the stability of structures like the Sears Tower or one of the most wonderful of all bridges, the Bronx-Whiteston Bridge Leon Lederman
Alone on his aunt’s farm, to escape the plague after graduating from college, he developed the laws of motion for both the planets in space and falling bodies on earth. To explain his laws, he developed a whole new system of mathematics, the calculus, which gives dynamic change to geometry. He is still the greatest scientist of all time.
He seemed to know that his mind was different.
“Common people did not know how to abstract their thoughts from their senses. Speaking always of relative quantities or measures, they are thus unable to discern the true, real world that lay beyond their perceptual cloaks.”
He was certain that his ideas were correct.
He was not much interested in convincing others. He avoided argument – the ‘legal sphere’. Why waste one’s precious time? He kept his discoveries to himself for almost 20 years, until Edmond Halley, of Halley’s comet, pressured him to publish.
Born into the puritan tradition, an orphan raised by priests, he was a devout believer in God, and an exacting student of the Bible.
He was a ‘natural philosopher’ and that included theology. Getting the concepts right meant getting God right too. Be clear about God so as to be clear about Nature. God is both immanent – in all things, and transcendent – above all things. Absolute Space is the universal presence of God. Absolute Time is the omniscient consciousness of God. The Laws of Nature are Transcendent, like their creator. Gravity, like God, is a omnipresent, a universal power, active everywhere.
“The principles I consider, not as occult qualities supposed to result from the specific Forms of things, but as general laws of Nature, by which the things themselves are formed; their truth appearing to us by Phenomena, though their causes be not yet discovered.”
As We are in God’s image, our reason is God’s gift to us to discover the laws of nature. And as God is unitary, so is truth. Truth must be consistent and agree with observation. Science, for Isaac Newton, was a religious calling, Our human reason can be trusted.
His great treatise, Philosophiae Principia Naturalis Mathematica – the greatest book of science ever written – for him, was written in the tradition of Moses of the Bible.
And yet he remained humble, mindful of what he didn’t know.
“Thus far I have explained the phenomena of the heavens and our sea by the force of gravity, but I have not yet assigned a cause to gravity. . . I have not as yet been able to deduce from phenomena the reasons for these properties of gravity, and I do not ‘feign’ hypothesis.”
Isaac Newton gave the same intensity that he gave to natural philosophy, to the study of Christian history. Any polytheism is blasphemy, and always leads to corruption. . . in all things, in theology. . . and in natural philosophy.
His studies convinced him that the notion of the Trinity was wrong – a giant conspiracy starting at the Council of Nicosia, with the falsely added 1 John 5:7, and 1 Timothy 3:16 verses to the King James Bible. In his time, in England, denial of the Trinity was a capital crime. He kept these views to himself.
Sir Isaac Newton didn’t like music, poetry, or literature. He never married, and had no known personal companion. He was buried in Westminster Abbey . . . ‘like a king’.
A fish won’t stare at you, but an octopus will. They watch you, with their human-like camera eyes, as much as you watch them. They are the smartest animal that has stayed in the sea, the only invertebrate – animals with no backbone – with a large brain. Though as primitive as shell fish, they have as many neurons as a dog.
Octopus are hunters and predators, but with no physical defense. Unlike their ancestors, they did not retain their shells. They can ink the water to escape, and do instantaneous camouflage, and a few are poisonous, but mostly they are mobile, and smart. . . brains over braun. Two thirds of their brain cells are in their eight arms. They can squeeze thru an opening as small as one of their eyes.
They are minds that swim.
Their squishy bodies, with no hard parts, are pure tasty, and quick, digestible meat. They are hunted by all the predators of the sea. Their life span is short, they die shortly after breeding just once. Life is risky, they go for broke.
They are ingenious at escape, and always try. They have been known to open a jar . . . from the inside . . . to get free. They seem able to recognize particular individual humans. When they escape, they are uncanny at picking the moment you aren’t watching them.
“When you work with fish, they have no idea they are in a tank, somewhere unnatural. With octopuses it is totally different. They know they are inside this special place, and you are outside it. All their behaviors are affected by their awareness of captivity.” Peter Godfrey-Smith
They have been found to have perceptual constancy – they understand an object is the same object, from different points of view. They have comparative memory analysis – they can bring past experiences to bear on present situations and decisions . They have curiosity. They will interact with something, even when they know they can’t eat it. They do step by step action, like other animals with consciousness, they can navigate mazes.
They are not considered to be social, but divers have known then to ‘high five’ each other . . . !
They have three hearts and blue-green blood.
We humans are not just conscious, but also are self-conscious, we have awareness of ourselves along with our awareness of the world, an eerie sense of two-ness that haunts us, and we sense that the octopus has that too.
“Meeting an octopus, is, in many ways, the closest we are likely to get to meeting an intelligent alien.” Peter Godfrey-Smith
They may BE alien. Scientists have very recently decided that since their genetics and intelligence are so much a leap from their origins that some of their DNA, literally, may have come from outer space, carried in the spray of meteors from outer space.
“the genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity, with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo Sapiens. . . the possibility that cryopreserved octopus eggs arrived in icy bolides [in meteors] several hundred million years ago should not be discounted, as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth circa 270 million years ago.” Steele, et. al. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, March 2018.
“All humans of normal intelligence can learn any language, provided they start at a young age. After the age of five or six, a child can almost never become perfectly fluent in a language, and the ability to learn it can completely disappear soon after that. After puberty, it is almost impossible to perfect the pronunciation of a second language.” Gene, Peoples, and Languages, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.
Do we speak because we think, or do we think because we speak? How does our thinking depend on our language? Did we become smart because we can talk, or can we talk because we are smart?
To Noam Chomsky, we speak because we think, and we think . . . linguistically . . .not because it helps us speak, but because it helps us think. Life is about characters and events, situated in the past, present, and future, and so is our thinking. We function in social groups, with goals of survival, children, cooperation, and deception. We live stories, and so we think stories. Our minds are literary. We are playwrights, and we are one of our characters. Language is always and everywhere structured for stories.
For Chomsky, speech came later, an output of thinking, like a printer is to a computer. Unlike for thinking, there are physical constraints on speech delivery, so speech is less than thinking. By speaking our minds with others, we expand our knowledge. Speaking empowered thinking. Thinking and speaking feedback to enlarge our intelligence and our scope of collective action. The rest is history. We vanquished the bigger and stronger Neanderthal, and everything else. We have taken over the planet.
Noam Chomsky started linguistics in the 1950’s, when the human mind was considered a blank slate, to be filled up with culture and learning. He noted, however, how easily and fast children acquire language without specific instruction. They acquire the skills of language fare faster than it can be taught. He wrote a ground-breaking work, Syntactic Structures, in 1957, in which he posited an innate language ability with a ‘language acquisition device’ in the human mind – a universal, innate and hard-wired brain system that unfolds a language ability – in a child, as it is activated, not learned, by exposure to speech in the early years of childhood.
This was at last a theory of nature and nurture in human development, not one or the other. Chomsky’s theory up-ended the blank slate foundational theory of social science, and launched the field of modern brain science. He is, today, the sixth most cited person in scientific literature . . . of all time . . . just behind William Shakespeare.
People vary in their ability to convert thought into speech. Chomsky, himself, is master thinker/speaker. No one can speak more clearly, more comprehensively, or more spontaneously, or enunciate streams of information as they support reasoned conclusions and opinions about very complex ideas, than Noam Chomsky. He can drive people crazy.
Politics is a different matter.
This great linguist theorist of biological human language is a . . . radical socialist anarchist. Famous for repudiating behaviorism, the blank slate theory of social science, he strangely applies behaviorist rationality to human political nature. Seemingly blind to the biology of tribalism and political behavior of non-linguistic human nature, he forever condemns illogical politics as immoral. . . .
“How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?” Albert Einstein.
In 1939, at Cambridge University, Ludwig Wittgenstein was lecturing on the Philosophy of Mathematics. By this time, with messianic certainty, he was adamant that mathematics was just a lot of linguistic convention, a bunch of tautologies based on definitions and word play. He thought that seeking mathematical proofs, along with the quest to develop a mathematics without inconsistencies, was pointless. He essentially taught against mathematics.
At the same time, Alan Turing, soon to be one of the great mathematicians of all time, was also at Cambridge, teaching a course in mathematical logic. He was also a student in Wittgenstein’s class. He had proven certain mathematical truths that would eventually be very important for code breaking during the coming war, and for the future of computer programming. He could not agree that mathematical inconsistency didn’t matter.
“The real harm of a system that contains a contradiction, will not come in unless there is an application, in which case a bridge may fall down or something of the sort.”
Turing and Wittgenstein debated each and every class. The other students were bystanders. Wittgenstein would cancel class if Turing wasn’t going to show up. Turing gradually realized that Wittgenstein considered debate. . itself. . . as meaningless. He eventually stopped going.
The Vienna circle philosopher, Moritz Schlick, told his friend Albert Einstein of his allegiance to Wittgenstein’s thinking, finding all philosophy ‘superfluous’ and all metaphysical thinking meaningless. Schlick was the dean of the Vienna school of ‘logical positivists’, philosophers who tried to believe that only observations, verified by experiment, could be considered real or true. Theory and philosophy can never lead to knowledge.
Einstein, like Turing, could not agree. He found the philosophers such as Kant and Mach very helpful. He defended the role of both experiment and theory in scientific advancement. It was not one or the other. All living creatures used thinking in some way! Concepts, as well as observations, theory as well as data, are necessary.
“Physics is an attempt to construct, conceptually, a model of the Real World, as well as its law-governed structure. You will be surprised by Einstein the metaphysician, but in this sense every 4 and 2 legged animal is, de facto, a metaphysician.”
Turing’s legacy is computers, Einstein’s is space travel.
Computers that have logically inconsistent programming will crash.
Space ships, with inaccurate calculations of fuel and trajectory, traveling millions of miles to encircle and land on asteroids, will crash.
The SpaceX robot-guided Falcon 9 rockets ride into sun-synchronous orbit, deliver satellites to geo-synchronous orbit, at the speed of a bullet, and then return, decelerating from 120,000 feet per second to zero feet per second, in a matter of minutes, rotating elegantly from head-first to feet-first, and landing, intact, on a platform 60 square yards in size, floating at sea.
Mathematics, a product independent of human experience, is the pilot.
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” St. Augustine of Hippo.
Everywhere in archeology, in the pyramids of Giza, the stones of Stonehenge, the observatory of Chichen Itza, or the temples of Angkor Was, humans have worshiped the heavens. But. . . not the sun or the moon or the stars themselves. No, humans have been worshiping their . . . predictability. Humans express reverence for this mysterious truth of nature . . . the past informs the future. And for their gift of memory, humans give gratitude to the . . . gods.
Rocks smash or get smashed. Life can get out of the way.
“Brains are predictive devices, and exploit the fact that recurrence is a fundamental property of the world around us. Experience and memory allow the recall of similar situations and the deployment of previously effective actions.” Nature, Vol 497, May 30, 2013.
Memory recall can be unconscious, but with consciousness, memories can more powerfully be re-lived. This may be what consciousness is for. Consciousness sorts the past, present and future, and with it comes a sense of a continuous, uniform, forward-flowing time. Isaac Newton declared that this time was an absolute. For Einstein, time only existed as a part of SpaceTime, not as an independent entity, and only a local one.
“Only ghosts can hear the sounds of an eternally, uniformly occurring tick-tock. Ask an intelligent man who is not a scholar what time is and you will see that he takes time to be this ghostly tick-tock There is no audible tick-tock everywhere in the world that could be considered as time.” Albert Einstein
For Nicholas Humphrey, the sensation of time is a tool of the mind for organizing memory and experience.
“Suppose indeed that human beings travel through life as in a “time ship” that like a spaceship has a prow and a stern and room inside for us to move around“. A History of the Mind, 2008.
And for artists too:
“Thus, what happens in the thick moment of conscious sensation, Monet seems to be suggesting, is not that we blend past, present, and future but rather that we take a single moment and hold on to it just as it is – so that each moment is experienced as it happens for longer than it happens. Seeing Red, 2006.
One physicist, Richard A. Muller, suggests that time very much does exist, and moves forward in the ongoing expansion of SpaceTime that has been happening since the Big Bang.
“Just as space is being generated by the Hubble expansion, so time is being created. The coninuous and ongoing creation of new time sets both thearrow of time and its pace. Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as Now.” Now, The Physics of Time, 2017.
NOW may be what rides the crest of this wave of new SpaceTime continually being created by our ever expanding Universe, and we, with our conscious awareness, as unique riders on this surf.
“After all, he seems to have a lot to say about what can’t be said.” Bertrand Russell.
Ludwig Wittgenstein came from a very wealthy family of Vienna, in the time before WW I, a family of musicians, professors, and suicides. He went to the same grammar school as Adolf Hitler. His sister was painted by Gustav Klimt, and helped Sigmund Freud escape the Nazis. He fought in WWI, reading Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief, while voluntarily manning the point, the most dangerous position, on the front. Beethoven was his hero. He was precocious in math, and obsessed by logic.
He would scrutinize his own thinking to find the hidden assumptions that underlie all thinking and the subtle ways that logic fails to be logical. He would puzzle over the use of words in speech – what is subconscious to most of us – and search for hidden patterns. He wanted to know how we know, what we know, what can be known.
“Sometimes my ideas come so quickly that I feel as if my pen is being guided.”
He was perplexed by the riddles of self reference in logic, the great stumbling block in Bertrand Russell’s attempt, in Principia Mathematica, to derive all knowledge from first principles of logic. Is the set of all sets that don’t include themselves, also a set?
He became anti-philosophical, convinced that philosophical questions were merely linguistic puzzles, and that language, with all of its mixing up of perceptions and conceptions, hopelessly impaired thought. Truth can only be known by experience, not with thinking, and only shown, with art perhaps, but not with words. Thought and speech are mere ‘social games’ for living a social human life. . . something, sadly, he himself was not much able to do.
“Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must remain silent”.
With his spooky certitude, and mesmerizing stare, he was considered brilliant. For a time, he was thought to have eclipsed all of conventional philosophy. He was lionized.
John Maynard Keynes: “I have met God, he arrived on the 4:30 train.”
He lived an eccentric, solitary life, much of his time in a remote cabin in Norway. At one point he gave away all of his enormous wealth, and lived thereafter in near poverty. He feared going mad, that he might commit suicide. Three brothers did.
He suffered a constant solipsism, an oppressive self consciousness, haunted by a loss of self connection. Is my thinking about myself also my self?
He was a disorder of self reference, like the paradoxes of logic that so obsessed him.
Insanity and genius are not the same thing.
“He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn’t agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking.” Bertrand Russell.
“Peace in thinking is the wished-for aim of those who philosophize.”
He was trying to think himself out of thinking too much. He didn’t succeed.
“I don’t really know what the interior of anybody else is like – I often feel very fragmented, and as if I have a symphony of different voices, and voice overs, and factoids, going on all the time, and digressions on digressions…” David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace was always Meta-thinking – thinking about thinking. He could be insightful, and engaging, and interesting, but get lost in recursions and riddles of semantics, and in puzzles of grammar.
He lived inside his head.
He would talk about the “special sort of buzz” logical thinking could give him.
“a gorgeously simple solution to a problem you suddenly see, after half a notebook with gnarly attempted solutions, you about hear a . . .click“.
Boredom was terrifying. He suffered severe writer’s block. There was this constant, oppressive feeling of something not feeling right, that he wasn’t really, somehow. . . him. He felt a menacing sense of disconnection with himself.
Being a person was like being a ghost.
Substance use gave him great relief, it helped him feel whole. He became addicted with a natural ease.
At a Kenyon College commencement, speaking to an audience of avid readers and writers, he tried to warn them about the dangers of the mental life: be careful! mentation isn’t all it is cracked up to be! you can be a fish swimming in water, and not know what water is. Stay grounded in simple truths, he said, somehow they are really true.
” The word despair is overused and banalized now but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. It’s close to what people call dread or angst, but it’s not these things, quite it’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and selfish and going, without a doubt, to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.”
Julian Jaynes famously noted that the mind of Achilles, in the Iliad – a mind solely and completely in the present – is very different from the mind of Odysseus, in the Odyssey – a mind scheming to manipulate appearance and orchestrate the future. Sometime in antiquity, between the Iliad and the Odyssey, Jaynes thought, the human mind had changed. Perhaps it was the advent of writing, and the emergence of the reading mind. Reading ignites the imagination.
With people like David Foster Wallace, reading can take the imagination too far.
With endless digressions, and foot notes to foot notes, the writing of David Foster Wallace is more a psychiatric exposition than it is literature. He conveys for us his lost, unmoored, and painful experience of being. That is his sad contribution.
“He waited two more days for an opportunity. In the early evening on Friday, September 12, Wallace suggested that his wife go out to prepare for an opening…After she left, he went into the garage and turned on the lights. He wrote her a two page note. Then he crossed through the house to the patio, where he climbed onto a chair and hanged himself.”
Our solar system is not a perfect clock. There have been 16 ice ages in the past million years.
“Small variations in the tilt of the Earth on its axis and variations in the planet’s elliptical path around the sun are all that is necessary to plunge the planet in and out of the freezer. ” Tim Flannery.
Some 120,000 years ago, modern humans migrated out of Africa, and we kept going, first into the middle east, then on to southeast Asia, with a detour down into Australia, then up the eastern Pacific to the Bering Strait, and finally into North America. By 15,000 year ago, we reached the tip of South America.
We evolved in Africa, from a hairy, tree climbing, social primate ancestor. Somehow, over time, we lost most of our hair, gained a lining of body fat, developed upright walking, a descended larynx that enabled speech, special sweat glands for thermal regulation, and a diving reflex for swimming. We became like sea mammals, more suited for water than the forest or savannah. Dolphins are our close cousins in intelligence and communication, the whale is the only other mammal to have menopause. Where and when this happened is a mystery. The Afar Triangle of northeast Africa, on the way out of Africa, may have been a vast, flooded wetlands. We may have had to swim our way out of Africa.
We followed the coastlines, along the beaches and up rivers, as sea gatherers and fishermen. Food was plentiful, rich in value, and easy to harvest. The travel and protection were easier. We love the beach to this day.
Our journey was during a perilous geologic time. A warming earth was melting ice, rising sea levels, lifting and shifting tectonic plates, causing earthquakes and volcanoes. Released by the loss of the weight of the great ice sheets as they melted, continental plates heaved up, and the moon pulled stronger on the increasing tidal waters. The Pacific tectonic plate, being the largest and the thinnest – only 2.5 miles thick – moved and cracked the most, aggravating the ‘ring of fire’ of volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunami’s that pound all the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.
As modern humans arrived along the South East Asian coast, some 70,000 years ago, the shallow, continental Pacific Sundra shelf waters were flooding, and a great volcano – perhaps the greatest ever volcano – Toba – in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra, erupted. The massive blast of volcanic dust blackened the sky, creating a volcanic winter and mass extinction. Human life all the way back to northern Africa was nearly extinguished.
The surviving humans were pushed inland and north, and eventually into the New World. Floods, tidal waves, receding waters, and exploding volcanoes filled their prehistoric consciousness. This has carried on to our day, in the creation stories of the world, told by their descendants.
The myths are not myths, they are history.
In the beginning the world was in water, and there was darkness. And then light came to the sky, and then the sun appeared and separated the earth from the sky.