Tal, a Conversation with an Alien
Copyright 2012 by MWorlds Publishing LLC
Copyright 2016 by Many Worlds Publishing LLC
Tal, a conversation with an alien
He called himself Tal, though I do not know his name. He also called himself an alien, though I do not know if he spoke the truth. I met him only once, when he invited himself into my home, and stayed, claiming to be hiding from something. When we first met, I thought he was insane. Now looking back, after months of reading, analyzing, thinking, and struggling, I have grown comfortable with the possibility that he was, what he said he was.
Certainly my claim should not come as a great shock to you. Plenty of people profess to have had conversations with ‘higher beings’ such as angels, demons, aliens, spirits, and gods. In the distant past, when these types of claims were taken more seriously, the consequences rarely ended advantageously for the claimant. Most of these people were ridiculed, ostracized, or burned at the stake. Now these claims often mean a book deal, a small social media following and an occasional TV show appearance. None of these possibilities appeal to me. I am a private person. I like my quiet and comfortable life. Yet I experienced something, and have had the growing urge to share what I have experienced.
I am not a writer. I am not even good at writing things down, and this is because I rarely need to do so. You see, while I admit I lack something in the creativity department I do have a rare ability. I am a synesthete. This means that according to psychologists, I suffer from a neurological condition called synesthesia. This condition is usually described as a crossover of the senses or a combining of the senses. Most synesthetes typically combine colors with sounds or numbers. Musical pitches or numbers come alive with color in their mind. There are many different possible combinations, and I have a rare type called spacial sequence synesthesia. I see numbers, letters, even words, in different spatial positions. Some numbers will be to the right, some the left, above or below me. The numbers or letters always occupy the same locations; I won’t see the number eight for instance, anywhere except in one specific location. Thus, my memory is connected to my sense of space. For me to confuse a date, or juxtapose a word with another, would be similar to you deciding to take a nap and walking into your kitchen instead of your bedroom. I have read that this condition may have some relation to hyperthymestic syndrome. People suffering from this disorder remember everything in perfect detail throughout most of their life. I would say I have some symptoms of that disorder as well, though it is not overwhelming to the point that memories dominate my thoughts. I can choose to forget.
I think of my ability to remember as normal, so I am often amazed at how truly scatterbrained and forgetful actual normal people are. This leads to my main objection to their myriad of claims of communication with higher beings. Whether their claims are true or not doesn’t concern me. My problem with these people and their testimonies is a purely procedural one. Let us even accept that they did discuss the facts of life with a higher intelligence. Being altruistic, they did not want to keep this information to themselves. Yet they were certainly unable to remember the exact details of such a conversation. Words would have been mixed up, ideas juxtaposed, concepts forgotten or created. They would have written what they remembered of their experience, what they, in the end, understood. Their personal ideas and interpretations used to fill in the blanks of their memory and understanding. Yet they bravely trudged on. Paraphrasing, approximating, and extrapolating. The pure, unaltered words of their muse may have indeed been amazing to anyone that heard them directly. However, most people are normal, and thus their very human testimony must be questioned, and historically it was, usually to their detriment. Unless perhaps one was truly bold and claimed knowledge from the ultimate higher power, some one true God. Put your words into the mouth of a greater God, and they call you a prophet. Put your words into the mouth of a lesser god, and they call you insane. Though my guest’s abilities could be interpreted as those belonging to a god of at least the lesser variety, he did not claim any level of godhood, and I have no desire to be personally judged for the content of this book. Yet, I do know that the way I look at the world has changed since I first spoke to him. Even now, months later, I am still coming to terms with the meaning of what Tal said, and I have a desire to share our conversation. Thanks to the emergence of online publishing, I can write down our conversation anonymously, privately, and with no outside interference. I write it down word for word. You can come to your own understanding and your own conclusion.
As I relive the spaces of our conversation in my mind, I certainly have regrets. I do not want to act as an apologist for myself, but in retrospect, I wish I had asked some different questions. Anyone going to school in the modern era will have heard their teachers tell them, “There are no stupid questions” and perhaps this is true. However, there questions you wish you had asked and questions you wish you could take back. In reading some of my questions and responses in this dialogue, I hope you will not think of me as completely ignorant of science. I am a true believer in the method and, I think, understand it better than most, though my education in it was the standard basics taught in school. For those of you who are very familiar with modern physics, some of the initial topics of our conversation may be redundant, as Tal had to explain these concepts to me. In my defense, it is not because I was ignorant; I have read books about physics, psychology and philosophy. But as they say, knowing and understanding are two different things.
Finally, I would like to explain a few technical issues. In my use of punctuation, I used comas and semicolons to emphasize the manner and pace of speech rather than follow strict rules of grammatical correctness, with commas signifying short pauses and semicolons longer ones. I however resisted the temptation to italicize or bold words or phrases that I believed Tal emphasized, as this would be my personal opinion, and I would prefer that like a performance of a good piece of classical music, the details be left to the interpretation of the individual. I also resisted using quotation marks throughout most of this book, as much of our meeting was a conversation. When I do describe an action or a thought I am having I precede the paragraph with a --. Finally, if you would allow me a small amount of personal creativity, I took the liberty of dividing our conversation into chapters. I gave the chapters names based on the general concepts covered. Though I now sense that Tal was leading me through an organized order of explanation, these explanations were not always linear and some concepts were repeated or clarified later in the conversation. I only separated this book into chapters for convenience and some small dramatic effect, primarily to break up the monotony of blocks and blocks of E-book text.
—There was an Earthquake. Everything shook. This would have been fine if I had not been inside a crowded train station at the time. People were thrown to the ground, the lights went out and the fire alarm went off. I was one of the unfortunate ones knocked over as I was making my way through a crowd carrying some groceries and a large crate of cherry juice that I occasionally purchase at the farmers market. People were running all around me in a panic heading for the exits, but my main priority was my crate of juice. You see I sometimes suffer from gout, which can be quite painful. Cherry juice is one of the best natural remedies; it has very high levels of antioxidants, specifically anthocyanins, which are plant pigments. When I fell, the crate opened and a few bottles rolled out. It took me a few moments of scrambling about to secure them. By the time I had gotten all of them back into the crate the earthquake had passed. The emergency lights turned on, and no one seemed to be hurt. Soon things returned to normal, and I arrived at my apartment building in just a few minutes.
—I was in a hurry, eager to find out the results of a very hotly contested chess tournament being played in London. I currently live on the top floor of an old five-story building. When I entered the lobby, I realized that the only elevator was down due to the power outage. I was not very excited about having to walk the five flights of stairs with my groceries and the large crate of juice. Just as I was preparing myself for the climb, a young man came into the lobby. He was of average height, in his twenties I would guess, with dark hair. He was, in my opinion, quite handsome, though he looked a bit disheveled and pale. He greeted me warmly and asked if I was heading to the fifth floor. I said I was and he immediately offered to carry my crate of juice. I hesitated, but before I could answer, he reached over and deftly took it from my hands with no effort. I thanked him and we began our climb. On the second floor we walked by my slightly insane landlady who was pushing the elevator button repeatedly. I wanted to tell her that there was no power, hence no elevator, but the young man’s pace was quick and it was all I could do just to keep up with him. When we reached my door, I looked at him briefly and noticed he was even more pale than before. He didn’t look very well. I hurried with the keys. When I opened the door, he went in without saying a word and put the crate in the kitchen. I thanked him, and offered him some water.
Thank you very much, but could I perhaps have a glass of that juice instead?
Well, it’s pure cherry juice, it sounds quite good, but it actually tastes horrible, I buy it for my gout, it works better than any medicine.
Yes, I know what it tastes like, could I have a glass please?
Certainly, just a moment, just let me get a bottle out of the crate.
—I poured the juice and gave it to him. He drank it in one gulp and sat down in the easy chair that was next to my coffee table. I meanwhile opened the drapes to let in some light.
Ah, thank you, that was delicious. Could I have another please?
—I hesitated for a moment, but he said nothing and simply stared at me. There was nothing to do but pour him a second glass. He drank the second in the same manner. As I watched him, I noticed his complexion gain color and a slight grin start to appear on his face. Now he asked me again, but this time, with less intensity.
Could I just have the bottle?
Certainly, though I am amazed, it is hard for me to drink even a single glass. Cherry juice tastes so bitter, I usually have to dilute it with a lot of water.
—I handed him the rest of the bottle and he quickly finished it. At this point I was feeling somewhat upset about my empty bottle of juice, as it is very expensive. Meanwhile he was looking quite radiant. I wanted him to move along. I was imagining the possible results of the matches in London; it was the last day of the tournament and a lot was at stake. I tried to make some small talk in an effort to politely get him to leave.
Well, thank you for your help. Who are you visiting here?
Oh, that doesn’t matter, could I have a bit more juice?
—Regretfully, I took another bottle out of the case, opened it and was about to pour him a glass, when he said,
Oh, you don’t need to waste time on that, I’ll just take the bottle.
—I gave it to him and did not sit down. I hoped he would see that I was waiting for him to finish it and leave. This time he did not gulp it down, but leaned back, sipped it slowly, and then said,
When I have my fill of this juice, I become quite fond of chatting and telling stories. You are a very kind fellow and we seem to have a few things in common. I see you like chess.
-- He was looking at the chessboard I had set up on the table, and the book 'My Great Predecessors, Part 1' by Gary Kasparov.
Yes, very much. There is an important tournament going on in London and I was about to review the results on my computer.
—I regretted saying this immediately. I just wanted him to leave before he requested something else.
Oh really? Do you play?
Yes, but I am not very good. Compared to a professional anyway.
Well just about anybody who takes it seriously.
Would you like to hear about an interesting chess game that I played against Kasparov?
You played Kasparov?
Yes, back when he was a teenager. He was a rising star in the Soviet system, and I really wanted to play against him. He had an intense emotional energy, a deep seeded need to win.
When he was just a teenager?
—I laughed nervously.
Kasparov was born on April 13, 1963. Where you even born when Kasparov was a teenager?
Ah, I see you are a chess connoisseur.
Well I just have a very good memory.
Impressive, but I did play him, and many great chess players before him.
Please, you look barely out of your teens.
Well I am much older than Kasparov. I have been on this planet for almost one hundred thousand years. And that is just a walk around the park for me.
You’re joking. Are you saying you are some sort of immortal, like the Highlander or something?
No, that is fantasy, who would believe such a concept? People running around and cutting each other’s heads off with samurai swords. Ridiculous. No, I am what you humans would call, an alien.
-- I looked him over for a split second. He did not seem insane, but now I was getting a little nervous. I had a complete stranger in my living room. My mind started to contemplate various unpleasant scenarios.
Are you serious?
I’m sorry this juice makes me feel very light and jocular.
Oh, ok, very funny.
-- I felt only slightly relieved. He had developed a big grin on his face as he finished the entire bottle.
But in all seriousness, yes, I am an alien. I was not born on this planet, but have been here for over one hundred thousand years, since around the time humans developed language. Now there were others, but most left recently, when humans started writing. You know, no one was too happy about that. It was like the whole Prometheus fiasco all over again. But I stayed.
I’m sorry but Prometheus brought fire to humans, not writing.
Well, fire wasn’t the only thing humans stole from the gods, and fire wasn’t what made the gods leave.
-- I was taking this nonsense in, and was frankly speechless. In hindsight, while most of what he said in our conversation made complete sense, I still have no idea what he was talking about here. It seemed to me he was acting a bit tipsy, almost drunk. He continued.
I like this juice and I like you. Since you seem to know a lot about the subject, perhaps I can tell you a story from human history to repay you for your hospitality. Would you bring me another bottle please? And have a seat. Most humans love a good story, action, adventure, plot twists. And best of all, when they know that it actually happened, not some figment of the imagination, it can be quite exhilarating.
Listen, I am not interested in any stories, and anyway, you could make up any story you like, how could I possibly know if it is the truth.
Yes, I suppose you are right. These days humans desire facts, figures, proofs, agreement between many credible sources.
-- This moment reminded me of something that Carl Sagan, the great astronomer, once said about crazy people who wrote him claiming they were in contact with aliens. He told them to make the alien prove it was truly an alien by asking it to do some ridiculously difficult, yet unsolved mathematical exercise, like writing a proof for the Riemann hypothesis or the Goldbach conjecture. Unfortunately, I would not have recognized a proof of either of these if I saw it, and I am not sure Carl would have either. Still I had the idea that perhaps I could get him to say something stupid, admit he was wrong and leave. So I brought him another bottle and played along.
So you have been here for one hundred thousand years?
Yes, I have been documenting and interacting with life on this planet. An anthropological study, you might say.
The same reason anyone should study, curiosity. In my case, I am curious to understand the evolution of my species’ perception, hopefully finding a somewhat similar more primitive model in humans. Plus, I simply enjoy interacting with the many different varieties of life on this planet.
Well you won’t find any variety here, just me. So where is your spaceship?
I have been on this planet for many years now and there are considerably more convenient ways of getting around than having to get into a big metal box, or plastic plate.
I suppose you have a point there. Now you said you have been here for a hundred thousand years, weren’t we just cavemen then?
You would be surprised at how sophisticated human thought has been in the past. Physically humans haven’t changed much in that time, and in many ways their perceptions and observations of the natural world were more acute then, without all the human made distractions. Plus, a lot of really exciting things were happening back then. I could give you a bit of a history lesson about ancient humans if you are interested.
No, that really isn’t necessary.
Not an admirer of stories I see, well perhaps just some cold hard facts.
So you can tell me some alien secrets, like the meaning of life, the universe and everything?
Well I can’t really tell you those secrets.
What I can do is describe to you how I observe the world, and how some other life forms in the universe observe the world.
And that will give me all the answers?
No, once you truly understand what I have to tell you, the universe will become a much grander place, with more questions. When it comes to life, the universe, and everything, questions answered only create more questions. Your confusion will only increase.
It’s ok then really. I’ve had a long day. I’m tired and I don’t need any more confusion than I already have. I try to avoid confusion as much as possible.
Well, perhaps that is your first problem, but we can fix that. It looks like I have a lot of juice to drink, and a lot of talking to do.
-- He either wasn't picking up on my annoyance and sarcasm or didn't care. He stood up, went over to my crate and took out another bottle of juice. Perhaps someone a little younger and a little bigger would have gotten fed up and demanded he leave immediately, but for the time being he was posing no threat to me, and I decided to continue my course.
All right, well do you have any super-alien-powers?
I could tell you that I can teleport, time travel or see alternate dimensions, yet, how helpful would that be? You have read about all of these things in your fictions. Perhaps I could show you, but even then, if I did some fancy tricks; after I drank all of your juice and left; my tricks would just leave you completely confused. Tomorrow you would think it was all a hallucination or a dream. You would discount what you experienced, since dreams are not real. No, these days it is not enough to hear it, or to see it, you must understand it. I will teach you to understand, but you have to accept a few basic concepts about knowledge first.
The first thing you need to know is that I know a lot. When one being who knows a lot attempts to communicate some of that knowledge to a being who doesn’t, that communication must be in the language of the less informed listener. Imagine you are training a dog. You must speak to the dog in the language it understands, the language of bones, treats, and voice inflections. If you attempt to verbally lecture your dog about the many benefits of sleeping outside, your dog will simply sit, listen, wag his tail, and as soon as you aren’t looking, return to his bone chewing on your comfy couch. So it is with teaching humans. In your current scientific paradigm, humans take pride in dealing with complex concepts. You use deduction, logic and analysis to develop an understanding of complex concepts from more basic ones. These basic concepts are like building blocks. Once you understand the basic stuff, you can then take on larger structures. Like a child, humans take small blocks, combine them and create large structures. The smaller building blocks, the basic ideas, have to be valid and stable. If even one is incorrect, the structure will come tumbling down.
I am aware of how logic works. I have read books by quite a few philosophers, from Aristotle to Bertrand Russell.
Very nice. Fine fellows. Now understand that humans are social creatures and every human culture plays with its own building blocks. These blocks are called a paradigm. A paradigm is an accepted social understanding of how things and events are to be seen and understood. In a successful social group, all the people, or at least most, understand things in a similar way.
Like common cultural customs or religions.
Yes. I have been here for a very long time and have discussed all sorts of physical and metaphysical concepts with many individual humans throughout history, and with each, I have had to speak in the language and ideas of their paradigm. If I had a conversation with a catholic monk in the middle ages, I would need to describe myself in the language that such a person would understand. A spiritual, mystical language of angels, demons, and God. If I were to have the same discussions with a great yogi in a cave in the Himalaya, I would speak of the Vedas, of yoga, and of meditation. I certainly would not start a scientific conversation about neutrons, electrons or the theory of relativity. If I did, the yogi would sit and listen, smile, and as soon as I left, return to the quiet contemplation of the universe in his comfy cave.
That makes sense. But what is your point?
My point is that the building blocks of knowledge that I will work with when teaching you are ones accepted and understood in the belief system of your paradigm, or as you said, your religion.
Sorry, but I am not religious. I would say I am an agnostic, borderline atheist.
That is fine, because here in your time, in your paradigm, the religion you believe in, you call science.
Excuse me, but science is not a religion.
I would say that it is. Like any good belief system, science is used in your society to describe the world around you, and to explain how and why things happen. The fact that science focuses more heavily on the how rather than the why, doesn’t change that.
But in science we prove things, we know them to be the truth, not just belief. Religion functions on faith, science functions on truth.
Scientists attempt to build models and conduct experiments that reveal the truth. Yet what was proven by scientists as truth in their time was almost always incomplete and often just plain wrong. Think of the scientific truth that the earth was the center of the universe and the stars revolved around it. Or other famous scientific theories like the luminous ether, phrenology, or Newtonian physics. At no time has science been actually completely correct. Even in your current time, scientists argue, like a bunch of bickering Rabbis, constantly rewriting, and reinterpreting what the truth is.
I agree, the truth is always changing in science, but isn’t that constant rethinking and testing what sets science apart from religion?
Think of the ethos that drives science, the scientific method. The method that seeks the simplest explanation, the most elegant explanation, the repeatable explanation. This ethos is itself not a universal truth. Humans could just as easily focus on the anomalous, the not so easily repeatable events of the universe, the way many religions focus on miracles to understand the world. What you consider important in science is not universal, it reflects human beliefs and opinions of your current time. How many interesting events, interesting results, have been discarded by science because they cannot be repeated ninety-five percent of the time in a laboratory; failing to stand up to that holy grail of concepts, statistical significance. Yet the threshold for statistical significance, and even the definition of proof, is bickered about by experts not only between scientific fields but within the fields themselves. Humans have been around for a very long time, and only in the last few centuries has science become the norm. Before that, scientific thoughts and methods, like those of the Ionians in Greece, were tried and thrown out, or were considered helpful but subservient to already established religions. It is by no means the most natural way for a human to think, just one of many.
So perhaps science is the popular mode of thinking now, but it is not a religion.
In its structures and hierarchies it resembles the other religions of the world. Are not your scientists and mathematicians like high priests? The preachers and practitioners of a mysterious truth that most common people really don’t understand but believe? Everyone goes to grade school, where just like in the local churches, the commoners learn the basic easy to follow and simple stories of how things work, and are told to believe them faithfully. While those seeking further knowledge must be accepted into the circles of the universities. And are those universities not like the monasteries of ancient religions, where the truly devout or curious go to learn the deepest truths? Where else but at the universities will you learn the mind boggling scientific theories of Einstein or Bohr?
I suppose you are correct about that. What we learn in grade school is science of a hundred years ago, most of modern physics, for instance, is considered too weird to teach. Though you can find many books about advanced science in bookstores and libraries.
Certainly there are plenty of books available on various topics of science and religion. That is a great advantage of your current paradigm, access to vast stores of information. However, the deductions that these scientific authors come to are based either on extremely complicated mathematical equations that are not usually included in the book, or on delicate experiments that you have not personally experienced. In the end, the vast majority of people believe in science by faith. They know things work, and science made it happen. Just as in other paradigms, where people knew how things worked, but their gods made it happen. Notice also that just like almost all other religions, science is exclusive. If believed in zealously and without doubt, it leads the believer to the conclusion that all other modes of thinking are invalid. The scientific method supersedes all other modes of thought, labeling them illogical, unprovable, figments of the imagination; and therefore worthless, or downright dangerous.
Many scientists would not call other religions worthless or dangerous.
Just like the Priests, Rabbis or Imams of other religions, your scientists will run the gamut of opinions. From strict fundamentalists who believe non-scientific belief is the root of all evil, or at least pure foolishness, to liberals who try to find the benefits of all modes of thought.
Yes, but science has made real progress in the furthering of man and his ability to change the world around him, to give us better lives.
Again, you are expressing an opinion that comes from the deep-rooted beliefs of your paradigm. If you could have lived through thousands of years of changes, of the coming and going of so many paradigms, you would see more clearly. The opinion that a culture that manipulates nature is superior to cultures that do not manipulate nature is subjective, many cultures believed you should not manipulate nature at all, but live in a symbiotic relationship with it. Granted, most of those cultures have been destroyed by the cultures that do manipulate nature, especially for their military benefit.
Well is not that survival advantage then, desirous? Does it not show science as superior to other modes of thought? Evolutionally superior?
Again, your opinion is very temporal. If one were to look at another time, say the 1940’s, science had led to great discoveries like the theory of relativity, quantum theory, and to inventions like cars, airplanes and rockets. This period also encompassed the rise of purely scientific and rational thought in Europe, Russia and America. Yet, the destruction and pain caused by the rational scientific people of that time, manipulating scientific theories like evolution to justify genocide and using scientifically derived weapons to carry it out, was destruction on a scale unimaginable by people of the past.
I suppose that is true.
Science did not lead to a fantastic world then, and who knows, fifty years from now, you may not be singing its praises. As far as a survival advantage goes, the advances of science are a double-edged sword. Yes, the life expectancy for an average human is higher now than in most cultures in history. However, people from other cultures would question the quality of that long life. And as far as pure species survivability goes, your scientific culture is only a few hundred years old, and has already been just a few unfortunate steps from complete destruction. Since the 1950’s due to your ability to manipulate the atom, your culture is closer to complete annihilation than at any time in recent human history. Now your scientists have learned to artificially create anti-matter, which is many times more powerful than fusion or fission. And those are just the dramatic blow up the world threats that scientific advances have created. Manipulating the vast energy of the universe is a dangerous game when life is such a delicate thing. Thanks to science, the entire existence of the human race is always hanging on the edge of a precipice, something that has not happened in a very, very long time.
-- At this point, perhaps he read something in my expression, which you can imagine was not a very pleasant one. He took another large gulp of juice and continued.
Let us stop the direction of this conversation now, this tasty juice will soon run short, and it is not my point to, in your eyes, belittle the very foundation of your beliefs. I love science. It is exactly through the magnificent discoveries of science and mathematics that I will be able to describe myself to you in a way that pleases me greatly. I will be able to reveal aspects of the universe in a way that I have not been able to reveal to humans before. Even fifty years ago, the progress of science would make it difficult for me to describe my way of observing the world in much detail. Your culture’s ability to manipulate mathematics and the very building blocks of matter and energy has led you to a very fortunate position of potential understanding. However, I also want you to understand that many humans, from many cultures and many religions over thousands of years of existence have thought, discovered, and felt deep truths about the universe, following their unique path, and using their own building blocks. So you should not feel superior.
I suppose it is in our nature to want to feel better than those before us.
Yes, that is indeed human nature. Hence the famous quote by George Orwell that “Each generation imagines itself more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
—I felt somewhat relieved. It was as if I was having an argument with one of those liberal philosophy students fresh out of college. But having a stranger in my house was still making me uncomfortable and my mind began to wander to my soon finished chess event, and my quickly emptying crate of juice.
Well thank you for that philosophy lecture, but can you get to the point? Aside from being able to live a long time, do you have other special abilities; I mean you said you could teleport and time travel. How do you do it?
Yes, I can time travel. Though the first question you should be asking is how I observe time and the other dimensions of the universe.
—This statement went over my head at the time, and I pressed him on my original point.
So if you are a time traveler, can you travel into the future?
Of course, but unfortunately for you, in your lifetime, your technology will not let you time travel. At least in any significant way.
I understand that, but how do you do it?
You still miss the point, it is not my ability to time travel, but my understanding of how the dimension of time works that should be important to you. But to answer your question, there are actually many ways of time traveling. The easiest for humans to understand and a method which has been proven and well understood for over one hundred years by your scientists, is the ability to travel into someone else’s future. For instance, if I wanted to travel into your future, I could get into my space ship and fly off near the speed of light. I could travel near the speed of light for just a few minutes, but when I get back, you would be 60 or 80 years old, or even long dead; depending on how close to the speed of light I traveled. Yet I will only have aged those few minutes that I was flying. When I returned to earth, it would be many years later by your clocks, but just a few minutes by mine. I will still be young and you will be old. Therefore, I would have traveled into your future.
Yes, yes, that is the famous twins example in Einstein’s theory of relativity. One twin stays on earth and the other speeds off at near the speed of light. When the speeding twin returns in what to him seemed like just a few minutes, he sees that on earth many years have passed, and the twin who remained on earth is very old.
Yes, Einstein was famous for creating imaginative thought experiments. They couldn’t be proven in a laboratory at the time, but they expanded his theories into possible real life situations.
I know this thought experiment well. Is there anything you can do that I don’t know about?
I can see you know of the experiment, but do you understand it?
Well I can’t say that I can explain why it happens, but I know that it is true.
Then you don’t really understand it, you simply believe it. The reason it is confusing to you, is because your senses give you a pretty good idea of the nature of space, but they completely mislead you about the nature of time. It seems to you that everything in the universe operates by the same time. You and I could be at different coordinates in space, and we can move through space at different speeds, but we all occupy the same time, this moment, and we all move through time at the same speed. This is actually an illusion. Just as there is no single point in space more important than any other, there is also no point in time more important than any other. That is an important idea in Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein explained that time is a dimension, bound together with the three spatial dimensions you are aware of. Scientists now call this concept space-time. In other words, you are not a three-dimensional being, you are a four-dimensional being. You exist in the three dimensions of space, and in the dimension of time.
You said dimensions we are aware of. There are more?
Yes there are more, but before I can explain any extra dimensions you don’t sense, you need to fully understand the dimensions you do sense. If you really understood the dimension of time, the twins thought experiment would be very simple.
I am not even sure why you claim that time is a dimension in the first place.
I will explain why, but first you must understand what a dimension is. One definition of a dimension is that a dimension will give you a specific location in the universe. Generally, you think of a location in the universe as purely a spatial one, but it is more than that. We can do a little thought experiment of our own to make this clear. Let’s imagine I write you a note that I am to meet you for lunch at a well-known location in the universe, let’s say the Empire State Building in New York City. Do you know where that is?
Yes, I have visited it before, it is at the corner of 34th Street and 5th Avenue.
You begin to read my note and it tells you to meet me in the Empire State Building at 34th and 5th. When you arrive, you do not see me. How could that be?
You have told me the avenue and cross street only. You could be in the lobby, or the 5th floor or the 105th floor. If you told me what floor, I could find you.
Correct. You need to know the third dimension of space we are meeting at. You read the note further and see that is says: 34th street, 5th Ave, 50th floor. You take the elevator up to the 50th floor, but I am not there. Why?
Well obviously, you told me where to meet you but not when to meet you.
That is right, you could be very excited to see me and show up today, while I could arrive tomorrow, or next year or in a million years. You need a time coordinate to actually meet me in any specific place in the universe. So to actually meet without assuming anything, you will need to know four things: 34th street, 5th avenue, 50th floor, and the time, say tomorrow at 3pm. Humans often don’t think of time as a dimension because they think of time as existing only in the now. Yet, in relativity and mathematics, time is not treated this way. Like any of the three spatial dimensions, time stretches into what you call the future and the past. Just as space stretches in all directions and you are in one location of it, so time stretches in all directions and you are experiencing one location, one coordinate in time.
I understand what you are saying, but this has not cleared up the twins situation for me.
Ok, here is the main point. Most humans believed, and still do, that we all move through space freely, but we all move through time in exactly the same way. For instance, it is obvious that you move at different rates of speed in space. I could speed up and move faster than you, or you could speed up and move faster than me. Yet through time we all move at the same speed, together, we always share the same time. However, if you think about it, since space and time are intertwined in space-time, if we move through space at different rates, we must also move through time at different rates.
—At this point, he stood up, and walked to the window. I didn’t say anything as I was trying to visualize what he was saying. The power had not been restored and it was getting darker. He pulled back the drapes further and lifted the window up half way. He stuck his head out and looked around. He then walked back to the kitchen and got another bottle of juice. I had the thought of getting up to look for some candles, when he pulled from his pocket what looked like a small round flashlight and put it on the table. It turned on seemingly by itself and gave off a soft glow that illuminated the entire apartment. The light was very natural and did not seem to radiate from the device itself, in that it was not much brighter near the device than it was in the rest of the room. If I did not see the contraption, I would think I had at least twenty candles spaced around my apartment. He took a big gulp of juice and continued.
When you move through space you also move through time, so the speed at which you move through space, affects the speed at which you move through time. When you accelerate through space, you actually move slower through time. As the twin accelerates away from earth, it would appear to someone on earth that time slows down in his spaceship, if he had a clock, it would appear to tick slower than clocks on earth. To the twin in the space ship, everything seems normal. Though he leaves for what seems to him as only a few minutes, hundreds of years have passed on earth. Understand that the accelerating twin doesn’t perceive time moving slower, nothing changes in his personal observation of time. Humans all perceive the passing of time in a similar way, no matter how fast they move through it. So there are two different things here: Your perception of time flowing by, and your actual movement through time coordinates relative to others movement through time coordinates.
So even though we both feel the flow of time equally, we don’t necessarily move through time equally.
Correct, you can be walking on a street, or walking inside a flying airplane; if you aren’t looking out the airplane window, you will feel as if you are moving at the same speed in both situations. You need to think of time in a similar fashion. Biologically, you experience the flow of time the same way other humans do, regardless of how fast you are traveling. But you will experience this flow of time at different coordinates in time. Both twins are experiencing time in the same way, one in a space ship and one on earth. However, because the twin in the spaceship is moving so quickly, he moves through time much more slowly, he experiences very different coordinates in time. The illusion your senses give you is that everyone is experiencing time at the same coordinate, and they are not.
But I know that these differences in time only manifest at very high speeds, near the speed of light.
They manifest all the time, but your speed on earth is not nearly fast enough for you to notice. Speeds on earth are so similar that you feel like you are all in the same boat. The phenomenon that scientists call time dilation, the slowing of time, which occurs when you accelerate, is only obvious at very high speeds near the speed of light. The closer to the speed of light, the slower the time. Since everything on earth moves so slowly relative to the speed of light, which is a speedy 186,000 miles per second, you do not notice it. The differences are minute and your mind will create a seamless version of events to avoid confusion. To notice the difference at earth speeds, you would need to use clocks that measure in milliseconds. You have these clocks now, and your scientists have proven all of this. When you check a clock in orbit in space, where it is traveling slightly faster than a clock on earth, the two clocks will show a small but significant discrepancy. Things traveling even slightly faster than you, like satellites, have their clocks tick slower than clocks on earth. This technology is critical in your global positioning systems. GPS positions you in space and time, but without the mathematics of relativity to account for the time discrepancy between your time and the satellite’s time, your GPS systems would go askew very quickly. Adjustments are constantly being made to GPS calculations to make up for the difference of the time on satellites and your own time on earth.
I have read about time dilation, though the cause of it was confusing. I know that this is a way one could travel to distant stars and galaxies quickly.
Yes, time dilation allows interstellar travel without any extra dimensions or wormholes. If a spaceship traveling near the speed of light travels to a star that is one hundred light-years away, it will seem to take one hundred light years for the spaceship to reach the star to people on earth. To the people on the spaceship however, it will seem like a very short time, maybe a few days or a few months, depending on how close to the speed of light the ship is traveling. As they move faster in space, they would move slower in time compared to people on earth. If the people on earth could somehow look into the spaceship, the people within the space ship will seem to be moving in slow motion. If somehow, the spaceship flew at the speed of light and you could observe it, the people inside the ship would appear not to move at all, their time would stop, their clocks would not tick, they would never age.
I guess I understand what you are saying about relativity, and why you claim that you can travel forward into my future. But can you travel forward into your own future to see what will happen to you?
Physically traveling forward into your own future is more complicated than humans tend to imagine. Remember that you are already there. So you run into a physical law, the law of conservation of energy. The law basically states that in any system, things can change states, but nothing is created or destroyed. Therefore, if you just instantly appear in the future, you would need to remove your future self, and replace your future self with your current self. This could be very messy and your future self would not appreciate being removed.
Could I create a machine that could immediately teleport me to the future, thus removing me from this time to make up for adding me to another?
Good, now you are seeing time in a more complete way. But you won’t get the result you desire by using such a machine. Remember the old saying, “wherever you go, there you are”. So if you removed yourself from the world, and magically appeared fifty years into the future, then you will have disappeared for those fifty years. When you look back over the fifty years you jumped over, there is no you whose life you can look back on, because you disappeared fifty years ago. You didn’t jump into your future, you simply jumped into your world’s future.
Yes, I suppose that wasn’t a very good question.
It is hard for humans to accurately visualize time, so these mistakes happen often. Though there is a way you could do what you propose, to gain knowledge about your life in the future, but it involves another step. You would need to make a clone of yourself. Then send the real you into the future in a teleporter, or just in the traditional way, by flying around at near the speed of light. When you get back to earth it will be many years later, and you could visit your clone and see how its life turned out. Then that older and wiser clone-you could give the still young real-you personal advice on how to live life. Now you would have the choice of living in the future with this new knowledge, or going back in time, knowing what will happen to you and avoiding the mistakes your clone made.
—I was going to ask about how you could travel back in time, but I was a bit confused by this last explanation and did not want to pursue it any further. After a moment he continued.
An easier solution, instead of physically traveling into any future, would be to simply gather information from the future while staying where you so rightly belong, in the present.
You mean like a psychic who claims to see the future. They aren’t actually there but they claim to know what will happen?
Yes, that’s right. When you look up at the moon, you are receiving information in the form of light from the moon. You see the moon, but you are not there, you are on earth. You could travel to the moon, but it’s a lot easier to just look at it.
But can you really get information from the future, when the future hasn’t happened yet?
The future has happened, the future already exists, that is the point of the whole theory of relativity, time-is-a-dimension conversation we just had. I know this is a very difficult concept for humans to accept. Nevertheless, what you call time past and time future, exist. In relativity there is no mathematical difference between time at any point. A point in time is just a coordinate, like a point in space. The future already exists, as does the past. Your understanding of time is based on observing only one coordinate of time, the present. Because you can only observe the present, you tend to believe that the other coordinates of time do not exist.
But I can also observe the past by remembering what happened to me.
No, you can think of the past, in other words use your imagination to recreate an experience you had, to relive it in your mind, but you are still doing that thinking in the now. Your attention may not be on the present, but you always experience in the present. You can imagine the future too, but you are doing the imagining in the present, at this moment. Again, no matter where you go, there you are. No matter what time you are imagining, past or future, you are thinking now. Humans spend most of their time regretting the past or dreaming about the future, but both the past and future are figments of your imagination in the present. The only thing you are capable of actually observing is your current coordinate in time.
Fine, perhaps I am not actually experiencing the past, I am just recalling it with my mind, but I certainly don’t sense that there is some expansive future time already set in front of me that I simply haven’t experience yet. After all, the future is not set in stone, don’t we change the future with our actions?
What time is it and where are you?
It is 6pm and I am in my apartment.
You understand that time and space are dimensions in the universe correct?
Yet you do not believe any time other than the current one exists. Do you have the same sense about the space that is beyond this apartment?
What do you mean?
Well, do you perceive that there is space everywhere, or is there only space where you are experiencing it currently, in your apartment? You see your ceiling, yet you do not see the stars beyond it, do you believe they exist?
Well that is pretty obvious.
Just as there is space everywhere but you currently only see your apartment, there is time everywhere, but you can only see this one moment of it. Again, Einstein proved that there is no special place in the universe, for instance your apartment. There is also no special time, for instance 6pm on Thursday. Just because you are here, doesn’t mean no other place in the universe exists, just because you are at this time, doesn’t mean no other time exists. All time exists, past and future.
I can understand this logically, and this may be what science states. But it is not something I feel. I feel that I do influence my future. And what of fate and free will, if the future already exists?
Throughout human history there has been a debate as to whether all of time already exists, or whether only the present moment exists. The bias was of course towards the idea that there is no time but the present, and you create the future with your free willed actions.
Yes, I certainly feel I am in control of my future. At least to some extent.
It is very possible for you to feel that you are creating your own future, when in fact you are simply approaching the event horizon of your consciousness. You could say your event horizon is the moment when you are consciously aware of something. In the case of space, it is where you first see a thing, where it first enters your field of vision. In the case of time, it is the present, since you do not actually observe the future. This creates some confusion in your understanding of time. Let me give you an example of a life form that is just as confused about the nature of space as you are about time. There are actually plenty of such creatures on earth, but I will use a more dramatic example from a distant place. Ah, this juice is making me warm.
On a Distant Planet
—He had just finished the bottle. Instead of being pale he now looked quite red. He stood up and went to get another bottle of juice. He was wearing a dark blue sport coat, Penguin brand I believe. When he returned to his chair he unbuttoned the coat. When he did, I noticed he was wearing a green tee-shirt under the coat, with the words ‘Trust Me’ written at the top. Below the words was a picture of Yoda, the green muppet character from the Star Wars films. There were words under the Yoda picture which read, ‘A Jedi I am’. I am not a big fan of Star Wars, but this was a very odd shirt, and at that moment, an image came to me. I had seen it before.
Wait, I saw you, at the train station, in the crowd. You were wearing that shirt, and unlike everyone else, you weren’t panicking, you were just standing there.
Yes, that’s right. You did see me, and I saw you. Frankly, I was a bit surprised you didn’t recognize me when I met you downstairs. Perhaps your mind was on something else.
Yes, it was on gathering my juice. I only caught a glimpse of you. I guess it didn’t register immediately because you were wearing the jacket now. But why were you just standing there instead of running? Where you not scared of the earthquake?
Why should I be scared, I knew there was no danger. And at any rate it was not an earthquake.
How do you know?
Because I caused it, and it was nothing really, a minor mishap. Don’t worry, I took care of the situation and it won’t happen again, we are quite safe.
—My guest’s delusions of grandeur did not bother me as much as the realization that being in my apartment was all part of his plan.
So you followed me here?
Not exactly, I followed the juice.
What do you mean?
I needed your cherry juice. And though I would have brought you another case tomorrow, I thought you might think it rude if I just grabbed it from you while you were walking down the street.
Why would you want cherry juice?
While cherry juice is somewhat helpful to humans, it is even more helpful to me, as you can see. Plus it helps to hide me from their scanners.
—My thought then was that he was certainly insane and possibly schizophrenic. I felt somewhat sorry for him and tried to reason with him.
You do realize that while there are plant pigments in the juice, it doesn’t actually make you look like a plant.
Of course. But notice that I am already hiding in your apartment, thus I have taken care of any exterior visual identification protocols. However, there are other ways of scanning. But don’t worry, as I said I have everything under control. Let’s continue with the story shall we?
—I was going to ask him who “they” were, but I really didn’t want him to get into it. I wanted him to tell me what he wanted to tell me, and leave. He took a sip of juice and continued as if nothing happened.
I know of a creature that lives on a stormy desert planet similar in size to your earth. Unlike the earth however, this planet is tidally linked to its sun, hence the sun only shines on one side of the planet and the other side is always cold and dark. On this planet, a female of the species lays her eggs many miles apart on the dark side of the planet, away from her children’s many predators. Once her children hatch, their subconscious internal directional system sends them on a long journey through the cold and stormy desert. If they survive, the hatchlings will at some point reach the lit side of the planet, where the weather will be warm, and they will meet others of their species and spawn. These creatures initially are blind, since they are born on the dark side of the planet and do not receive much information in the form of light. Yet they are actually born with organs you might call eyes. However, these eyes are dormant, they are not engaged until later in life, when they get closer to the illuminated side of the planet. These young creatures, though highly intelligent, often do not meet any other sentient beings for quite a while as they blindly travel the vast and desolate desert surface of their planet.
Sounds like a difficult life.
Yes, now imagine looking at the world through the eyes of these solitary creatures, walking through the desert. Initially they do not see, so what they know about the world is defined by their sense of touch. As they walk, they touch things; rocks, strange insects, various cactus like life forms. They bump into things, and then they keep moving. They perceive the world in a very different way than you do. An object, say a rock comes into existence for them only when they touch it, since they can’t see it coming, and when they no longer touch the rock, it disappears.
Well the rock isn’t gone, it’s just behind them.
You know that to be true, but from their point of view it is not so obvious. Remember that they are solitary creatures, moving ever forward to the light side of the planet. Since they communicate with no other creature, they only have one point of reference, themselves. But you are right, being intelligent, they would have several ways of interpreting what is happening in the world around them. The most simple is that objects come into existence when they touch them, and then the objects are gone as soon as they lose touch with them. The more subtle idea would be that they are walking on a road that actually stretches farther than they can sense, objects already exist but they simply haven’t come in contact with them yet.
I am not sure it is so subtle, it seems very obvious to me that any semi intelligent alien would realize that the world isn’t being created just for them as they walk around. It already exists but they just haven’t experienced it yet.
Yet this is how you think of time, as the world popping into existence when you touch the present moment. Now when we are talking about space, the answer seems obvious to you, but to these creatures, until they meet someone who tells them of things further down the road, they would have no reason to believe that there is any world outside of what they are touching at that moment. To them, space is the surface of their skin. The entire world is their world of touch, things will appear within their world when they touch them, and disappear again. The concept that there is a massive world outside of what they can touch is a more subtle idea that only comes about once they have interacted with others, or develop the ability to see far away objects. Until they reach the warm and lit lands where they can see the vast expanse of their planet, the idea that there is a massive world beyond the surface of their body would be too much to imagine.
I see what you are saying.
Now imagine what happens in a hypothetical encounter between two such creatures walking from slightly different directions. After bumping into each other, one would say “Wow, hello I am sure glad you came into existence, I have been quite lonely.” The other would say, “Hello, but it is not I who just came into existence, it is you. I have been alive a long time.” At that point, if neither attempted to kill the other for usurping their privileged place at the center of the universe; after much discussion and experimentation, both could come to the realization that things do not come into existence, they already exist. Once you get close enough to sense them, their existence is, uncovered. Still this would be a logical understanding only. Wouldn’t it be much more pleasant for them to continue to believe that they were the center of the universe? That all things appear and disappear but they were constant? Would it be so easy for them to change their egocentric worldview to one where they were just one thing amongst many things?
Well they would have to, if they were logical. Perhaps they could modify their view. After all, their world would still be very small. In fact they could just come to the agreement that the world is simply twice as large, just what each of them can touch. And even if they did realize it was bigger than just what they touch, they would have no idea how big it really is, they could still be the major part of it.
Yes, direct sensory observation would be far more dramatic and enlightening. Imagine what happens when these new friends finally climb over the summit of a hill, and below them lies an illuminated valley. Their dormant organs of sight awakening, they see for the first time the true expanse of space.
It would surely be an amazing experience.
Just as these creatures can only know the existence of what they can touch, you can only know the existence of what you can sense with your mind at the present moment. You cannot actually observe the future, hence you naturally believe time exists only at your location. Time only pops into existence when you experience it.
Well you can’t fault us for understanding things according to how we sense it.
The nature of a dimension, whether time or space, can be easily misunderstood if you lack the senses to understand it properly. Your sense of sight gives you a very good understanding of the spatial dimension. Yet humans do not all have the same ability to see. Those who have problems with their sense of sight often get nearly as confused about the nature of space as these alien creatures do.
Yes, since I have my own space perception issues, I have read quite a few case studies about spatial perception in people who have vision problems.
Do you recall one of the most famous early cases, documented in the seventeen hundreds, about a boy who gained vision late in life?
Yes, he was born blind because of cataracts in his eyes, and had them removed at thirteen. When he first regained his sight, he thought that the new images he saw with his eyes actually touched his eyeballs. As if they were pasted onto his eyes.
Right, even though he had lived for thirteen years, all that time touching, listening and moving in space, he had very little understanding of space and distance. To him space was flat. Humans who have spent their entire lives in rain forests or places where they are enclosed, also tend to misunderstand space. When they are removed from the enclosed spaces of the forest and first see objects far away from them, they believe those objects are still close, but just very small. Your understanding of a dimension depends on your brain’s interpretation of the sensory information it receives. Even what you might consider a subtle change in your sense perception of space can have a very meaningful impact on how you understand it. One of the greatest abilities humans have when observing the spatial dimension is their ability to observe it from two distinct coordinates. You gain information from two eyes that are spaced apart from each other. Your brain creates a coherent image by combining the images from these two different perspectives of space. When it does so, you gain a sense of depth perception, what your scientists call stereoscopic vision. However, there are humans who only see from one coordinate, one eye, and this creates a more limited ability to see depth.
Yes, that’s a condition called stereo blindness. People who lose an eye for instance, will lose some of their stereoscopic vision. They lose depth perception, and they can’t judge distance accurately. I know of a well-documented story of a woman named Sue Barry, a neurobiologist and writer who gained stereoscopic vision only as an adult.
Yes, she is a pretty famous case. She was born with a condition called strabismus, or misaligned eyes, one well known type of strabismus is crossed eyes. Though her eyes were later realigned with surgery to cosmetically appear as if they were straight, her brain did not correctly combine the two images from her eyes. Instead of combining images, her brain switched from one eye to the other. If you cover one eye, you will actually see everything in two-dimensional space, there is no depth in the image. The image will still appear to you as three-dimensional because there are other depth cues besides seeing from two different perspectives such as the size of objects, shading, or one object blocking the view of another. These cues give you a sense of 3D space, and you brain will use those cues to create a coherent 3D image; it will simulate depth. This makes the condition of seeing space from one perspective minor or even unnoticeable to most people. If you had stereo vision all your life, your brain will give you a simulated sense of depth even if you cover one eye. But if you never had this type of vision, you literally live in a two dimensional world. Due to the closeness of your eyes to each other, the angles at which they see the world are not that different, hence as you look farther away, that three-dimensional perception fades. So distant objects, past a few hundred feet, are always seen in a two-dimensional way by everyone, though your mind will still create a sense of depth. When you look at the moon at night for instance, you cannot really perceive its distance from you. If a cloud happens to then float over and partially obscure the moon, you can get a sense of the vast space between you.
Is that very important?
I think you will see the value. Sue writes that she often tried to use her imagination to visualize what truly seeing in three dimensions would be like. When she found out there were newly developed vision therapies that could teach her brain to synthesize the images of the eyes instead of switching back and forth, she began to practice them. She was shocked when her stereo vision first began to manifest itself. Even though she worked in the field of neurology and understood her condition, the actual experience of stereo vision was nothing like what she had imagined. As things began to randomly pop out at her, the world began to look completely different. Though she logically knew that she existed in a three-dimensional world, and she used other depth cues to function; without being able to see space from two different locations, she did not actually see it the way you do. She writes eloquently about how she and others who suffer from stereo blindness perceived space before and after gaining stereo vision. Before, she felt separate from what she saw, for instance in a snow storm, snow fell in a flat sheet in front of her instead of all around her. Though she didn’t specifically feel her visual detachment from the world, she found herself drawn to activities where she could at least physically feel herself within a medium, for instance swimming in water. Other people who regained their stereo vision had similar stories. They felt separated from what they were looking at. They also did not sense the space around them and between objects, the negative space. The interesting thing is that though she never had stereo vision, Sue’s world seemed complete and natural. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at the time, it was just the way it was. Only in retrospect did she become consciously aware of these shortcomings. Her change in vision even changed the way she thought. Feeling detached from her surrounding, she tended to look at each object separately. She could see the details of a thing, but not easily understand it as a whole. Her thinking had evolved to work in a very sequential way, object by object. After gaining stereo vision, she was able to take everything in at once, instead of having to look at one thing and then the next. She got the big picture.
—He had finished his bottle of juice, and this time when he went to the kitchen, he actually grabbed the entire crate of cherry juice and put it next to his chair, he then opened another bottle, took a drink and continued.
So you see, your senses give you a conception of a dimension. When you only have a single point of reference, a dimension seems flat. When you have two point of reference, when you can receive and synthesize information from two coordinates in a dimension, you can perceive that dimension more fully, and you will get a sense of immersion in the dimension. You actually have this ability with both space and time. Between points you remember in the past and this current point, you can sense a block of time, and you can sense yourself within that time. With the future however, you have no point of reference, so time seems to stop at the present. Logically, mathematically, we can see that it does not, just like Sue knows the snow is not really falling on a 2D plane in front of her. Imagine if you did not have the ability to remember the past. You would have only one point of reference and thus see time as completely flat, only the moment, nothing before, nothing after, you would have only pure in the moment experience. Since your past is in your imagination, it is your mind that creates a sense of time beyond what you can actually observe at this moment. Just as it is your mind that creates depth in your world even when you close one eye.
So we are physically experiencing one slice of time, like a frame in the middle of a movie?
Yes. Imagine you are watching a dramatic scene in a horror movie you have seen before. The characters do not know what will happen next, yet you as the observer, do. Will it make any difference if during the movie you stand up and yell to those innocent teenagers, “Stop you fools! Don’t go in the forest alone at night!” No, there is no point, you can yell at the screen all you want, but their fate is sealed.
So you are saying we are living a story that has already been written, we just don’t know it yet.
It reminds me of those brilliant words of Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances.” But don’t feel too bad, your experience of the world is just as real whether you know it has happened or not.
I am not so sure that’s any consolation. If time already exists, if there is no free will, if our fate is already sealed, it seems like a bleak picture to me.
I think that depends on your definition of fate and free will.
Fate means that you cannot change what will happen to you. Free will means you had a choice in your actions.
So lack of free will would mean some powerful force outside of yourself was making you act in certain ways?
Then lack of free will and fate are two different things. You can have choice in your actions, but not be able to change your future.
I don’t see the difference. If you are saying that you can see the future, and we are like actors in a movie, we may believe that we have free will, but we do not.
Yes, you are like actors in a movie to me, but your level of free will depends on what type of movie I am watching. Let’s say I am watching a movie and I know the outcome. If that movie was one in which the screenwriter has written the lines for the actors, and the director has told everyone exactly how to move and deliver those lines, then indeed I know the actors are fated to speak those lines, and they have little free will in what they say. On the other hand, what if am watching a rerun of one of your very popular reality shows, like ‘Survivor’ or ‘Jersey Shore’? The people in these shows create their own stories and conversations based on a loose framework set up by the director. Since I already watched the show, I know the outcome. They are fated to speak the lines that they speak, yet in creating those lines, they are making their own individual choices. So simply because all of space and time exists, doesn’t necessarily mean that the constituents within it do not have some measure of free will. They can make choices, they simply can’t change those choices. Don’t feel too frustrated. I am trying to explain with words something you do not feel with your entire self. It will take time for you to assimilate the concept, and your understanding of it will change. The obstacle is not only physical, in that you can’t perceive time future, it is also emotional and philosophical. It feels better to think that you control the future, you control your destiny. No one wants to feel helpless or hopeless. No one wants to feel like a pawn in an infinite game of chess. But understand that though you are powerless to change the future, you are not necessarily incapable of free will. Different beings perceive space in different ways, and different beings perceive time in different ways. There are beings in the universe who have a more developed sense of time, and experience it in ways quite different from humans. Aside from beings like yourselves, who only experience time in the current moment, some beings can see multiple coordinates in time. For example, they can see coordinates in the near future. And some beings can see all of the coordinates of time, their entire future, to the end of their consciousness, and even beyond that.
That seems like an amazing power. To see the future up to or even past your death.
Well if you look exclusively at the ability to observe a time future coordinate, it is not that special, and does not give these creatures a higher level of free will. It would be somewhat akin to the two of us sitting at the front of a train with me looking far forward down the tracks, and you looking straight at the tracks below. You will see the same track I see, just a little later. For those beings who can see all of the time coordinates to the end of their lives, it is like being able to see the destination of the train. Interestingly, already knowing everything that will occur during their trip, and with no choices to make, a human would see some of these creatures in a sense, as frozen, like objects.
Because they see all of time, and they can change nothing, they have no impetus to act, they merely observe.
If they can see forward in time, why would they have no desire to act, to change the outcome of events they don’t like? I don’t understand any creature making such a passive choice.
They make the passive choice because they have no other choice to make. It is part of their nature. It is hard for you to understand this in the context of time, so I will give you an example of a creature that gladly relinquishes its freedoms in the dimension of space. And I won’t leave your planet this time. Do you know of a creature called the sea squirt?
Yes, it is a filter feeder. It sits on rocks, shells, and choral, just about anything and filters nutrients from the water. There are many kinds, some with beautiful patterns and colors.
Correct. The sea squirt attaches itself to something, usually on the sea floor, and remains there all of its life. But in its initial larva form, it actually looks like a tiny tadpole. It has a primitive eye, a primitive backbone, and a tail. It swims around looking for a place to attach itself. Once it does, its eye, backbone and tail dissolve, and it even digests the most developed parts of its brain, the parts used for navigation and movement. The sea squirt eats its own brain. So it is not unheard of for a creature to actually relinquish its freedom, if that is in its nature. Understand that creatures who truly see, not imagine, their future, do not think of the future in the way that you do. There are not a myriad of different possible futures, there is only one future, and they have seen it.
And you are saying that this ability to see the future is of little benefit, since they can’t change what will happen to them anyway.
Right, they must settle into a peaceful acceptance of the future, much as humans would with a loved one who everyone knows is going to die soon. This still seems unnatural to you?
Yes, the peaceful acceptance of the future does. Because if I can sense that a bus will hit me five minutes into the future when I try to cross the street; I will stop, get in a building, and go up an elevator to the 50th floor.
What these creatures observe is a fact. These creatures do not attempt to change the future, they accept the future as it is. The only reason you can imagine changing the future is because you imagine many futures, you don’t concretely see one future. These creatures naturally accept what will happen in time, they do not dream of anything different and do not attempt to alter their circumstances. How can they change a future that is already set and unchangeable?
I understand, but this seems completely unnatural to me. These accepting beings, perhaps they may feel this way, but couldn’t a creature know what the future will be but still wish it was something else?
That would be equivalent to looking at your chess set, and wishing it was an ice cream cone, what would be the point?
Does there need to be one?
This is why I love being around humans, you have such strong feelings. You believe that you can change your fate, that you can mold the universe to your desires. You have an innate sense that your actions determine the form of the universe.
Well, our little corner. I suppose it does sound grandiose.
Not at all, it is ingrained within you; it is part of your very nature.
Is our nature just wrong?
No, and you make a very good point about the desire to change your future. It can happen that you know a future, and I mean really know, not imagine, yet still desire it to be something else. I share this nature. I also want to experience futures that I choose. I also would not sit idly by and experience a future I do not want to experience, and in fact, I don’t.
Well you just contradicted yourself. You just said it was impossible to change the future, since it already exists, so how can you possibly experience something else?
—I was just beginning to think that perhaps he had regained his sanity and that this last objection would somehow bring him back to reality, when he suddenly got up, walked over to the window, and climbed out on to the ledge. I was too surprised to do anything but sit there for a moment. He then stood up and started walking down the ledge. I started to panic and ran over to the window to see what he was doing. He was standing in front of my neighbor’s window, perhaps twenty feet down the right side of the ledge. He was looking down at the street. I was afraid he was measuring for a jump when he suddenly kicked over two of my neighbor’s empty flowerpots. They landed on the street below, shattering. I yelled to him.
What are you doing?
Reserving a parking space.
—He walked back to my window and climbed back in while I stood there, speechless. He went right back to his chair and drank down the rest of the bottle of juice. When he finished he calmly resumed speaking.
I know you think my last action seemed odd. Unfortunately, due to your very limited perception of time, you do not understand the reasons I just did that. Since you have not seen the past events that caused this action, nor can you see the future events that this action will lead to, your mind will make up the most likely explanation for my action. That explanation would be that I am crazy. I assure you that this is not the case. Please relax, have a seat, perhaps you would like some tea?
-- I did not know what to do. In my mind, this person was capable of anything. The hold his story about time had had upon my attention was broken and my intention to challenge him in hopes of breaking him out of his delusion strengthened.
No thank you, I am fine, and in fact, since we are speaking about physics, I see another major hole in your argument. What you are really talking about is a deterministic universe where everything is already predetermined. You may not know this, but you are talking to someone who remembers everything they read. I know for a fact that the universe is not deterministic. After all, quantum theory shows that events are actually random, that particles can move in random ways that we can’t predict. Since the future is unpredictable, I don’t see how it can already be set, or how anyone can possibly know any future outcome.
—He nodded in agreement to this statement but seemed unfazed by it. He reaching for yet another bottle of juice and answered,
You are right about quantum theory. It states that you can never know a particles location and momentum at the same time, thus you cannot predict with complete certainty where it will be in the future. However, simply because you cannot predict what will happen, does not mean it does not happen. The fact that, due to randomness, you cannot predict what the future will bring, doesn't mean that the future cannot exist. Think of randomness as a veil that hides other coordinates of time from your current one. Because of randomness, you do not know for certain what will happen at another coordinate in time using information from your current coordinate. Still, that does not mean that other coordinates do not exist. Let’s say from your current coordinate in time, a photon is bounced off of a mirror and has a 50% chance of going left and a 50% chance of going right, and you have no way of knowing which way it will go. Once you do observe the next coordinate in time, it will indeed have gone left or right. Even if it is random in your universe, there is one definite version that comes from the randomness.
What you are saying is that if the future exists, the fact that it got there in a random way doesn’t change anything.
In a universe that doesn’t unfold in time, but is already a whole, the perceived randomness of the unfolding is a manifestation of your consciousness. For those beings that can see other coordinates in space-time, though the events that lead from point to point may seem random to you, and perhaps even to them, they still see the outcome.
So if randomness doesn’t stop the future from already existing, then how can you alter the future? Can you somehow manipulate the randomness?
An interesting thought. If you could manipulate the quantum randomness of the present moment to your own advantage, that would be quite a power.
The ultimate power. You could make events unfold the way you want them to.
But alas, you cannot manipulate something that already exists. In your universe, time exists; it just appears to unfold to beings who experience only one physical coordinate of it at a time. Thinking only this point in time exists is similar to the notion that nothing in the universe exists except the one location in space that you are occupying right now. As if the entire universe is only as large as this little apartment, because that is all that you can see.
Yes, yes I understand that now, but again, if you can’t manipulate randomness, how do you have any choice in what you experience?
I will try to explain it to you, but this will be a bit of a challenge. Though you instinctively touched on the key, which is the nature of the quantum randomness you mentioned earlier.
But you said it plays no part, since their ends up being one event that does occur, random or not.
Yes, but the inherent randomness of all things in the universe is a very interesting phenomenon, the implications of which most humans fail to understand. The reason goes back to your conception of dimensions. When you can only observe one coordinate of a dimension, not only does that dimension appear flat to you, you can also be unaware that it is a dimension at all. In the case of time, it was not thought of as an actual dimension until Einstein, with the use of mathematics, showed it to be part of space-time. This is what happens with the human perception of other dimensions of the universe as well.
I am pretty confused; you are implying there is another dimension in the universe that I cannot sense?
There are many dimensions in the universe that elude your senses.
It sounds interesting, but making up an extra dimension to explain yourself contradicts your own previous statements about teaching. There is no way for me to know if you are speaking the truth. After all, how can you make me perceive a dimension that I can’t perceive?
You do perceive this dimension, but like time, you perceive it in a very limited way. Now that you have expanded your understanding of time, you are ready to understand this dimension. Just as with time, I can’t physically make you see a dimension exactly the way I see it, but I can describe the dimension to you and explain how it relates to concepts you do at least partially understand, like randomness. Then you can begin to see it in your own unique way. First however, I need to get past a major mental block. I need you to understand more clearly how it is possible that you could fail to identify an entire dimension in the first place. Once you understand that, you will be able to actually comprehend many types of dimensions, and be open to adding at least one to your universe. I think you will enjoy this part.
—I was not really enjoying it. I was looking at my quickly emptying crate of juice, and while the previous conversation about time would have been a wonderful thing some evening with a scientist friend over tea, having it forced upon me by a schizophrenic stranger was not so pleasant, and try as I might, I had not yet dissuaded him from his lecture. At this point, I felt he was a greater threat to himself than to me, so I don’t know why I didn’t force him out. Perhaps I didn’t want to traumatize him further. Perhaps I was just curious. Though it also dawned on me that without power, there would be no chess games to review anyway. And with very little light, not much to do but talk. He continued.
I already explained to you the definition of dimensions as defining coordinates in the universe. Now we just need to explore how I can perceive a dimension that you cannot. I will now transform you into the extra dimensional, super powerful, alien being who is trying his best to communicate with a pleasant, but more simple-minded fellow.
—This last statement broke me out of my internal dialogue about chess and juice and I responded with some surprise,
Don’ worry, I won’t actually do anything to you. We will just perform another not so scientific, but still instructive attempt at an Einstein-like thought experiment. Size is relative, so instead of trying to make you bigger than you are, let’s just imagine you are attempting to communicate with someone smaller; a being who exists and perceives only three dimensions, one less than the four that you can perceive. You will need the time dimension to communicate with this being, so let’s assume you both perceive time in the same way. Thus we will have to imagine that this simpler creature can perceive one spatial dimension less than you can. This dimensionally handicapped being would live in a spatial world of not three but two dimensions. It would then be living, moving, existing, on a two-dimensional plane. A 2D plane is like the surface of a sheet of paper, it has two dimensions of space, North-South and East-West.
Yes, longitude and latitude, with no height. Like a cartoon.
Exactly. This being would be living in a flat cartoon world. So, imagine that you are reading the daily newspaper and you decide to have a conversation with one of the cartoons in the cartoon section, let’s choose Charlie Brown. Now Charlie is very happy in his 2D world. He can move left and right as well as up and down. He sees things to his left and right, and also above and below him. Now in your conversation, you are trying to convince Charlie that his world is simpler than yours, that in fact there is an entire large spatial dimension, a third dimension of depth that he cannot sense. As you try to explain to him the extra dimension of your world, he would have many objections to this possibility. The first one would be that the universe feels totally natural and complete to him in his 2D version. He doesn’t feel this so called third dimension, he cannot see it and he cannot move through it. It also seems completely unnecessary to him, as the world he inhabits is already infinitely large and infinitely complex. He could walk forever in any direction left or right, or climb up or down, and never get to the end of his massive world. What you say about a mysterious third dimension of in and out seems ridiculous to him. Charlie is stuck on his flat sheet of paper. What can you do to enlighten him? And you cannot, after getting really frustrated, just yank him out of his cartoon and into your three-dimensional space.
Without actually moving him into the third dimension, I think it is impossible for him to understand our world. After all, his senses, his beliefs, are anchored in a 2D flat world.
True, if he were not a logical, rational being, you would be stuck. But he is Charlie Brown, the epitome of the serious brooder. You could appeal to his sense of logic. You could tell him that there are some strange things happening in his world that he can’t explain with his limited 2D conception of the universe. For instance, if Charlie runs towards his friend Lucy and Lucy runs toward him, when they get close enough, in a 2D universe, they should bounce off of each other every time, since they cannot occupy the same space. Yet in Charlie’s cartoon world, something strange can happen. When he and Lucy run toward each other, sometimes Charlie and Lucy collide, but other times, instead of colliding, for no apparent reason, either a part of him disappears or a part of her disappears.
Yes, a cartoonist could draw Charlie running past Lucy instead of into her. He could run in front of Lucy, thus blocking her from our view. In a cartoon, it is very common for one character to just get drawn over by another. We automatically assume that the one that disappears is behind the one that does not. This couldn’t happen in a true 2D universe.
Yes. But it does happen in cartoons because the cartoonist understands how the universe actually works. When Lucy disappears, we realize she is simply behind Charlie, she didn’t literally disappear. But to Charlie, Lucy does in fact disappear. When you point out to him that it is strange that part of Lucy simply disappears when he is close to her, he would certainly have some theory to explain it. For instance, he might have a theory that as he approaches Lucy, if they do not collide, then randomly, part of him disappears, or part of her disappears. Since they both cannot exist in the same space at the same time, this must happen. It is just the way his world functions. One or the other must disappear and reappear afterward. To Charlie, since he does not know the intention of the cartoonist, there is no way to predict with certainty who will disappear. Sometimes it could be him sometimes it could be her. Though his universe generally works very consistently, there is a strange randomness to it in certain circumstances. You could say “No Charlie, there is no randomness. It is not that you appear or Lucy disappears. It is that when you come together with Lucy, you are actually occupying space in an extra dimension. She seems to disappear, but in reality she is just in another dimension of space, behind you.”
I see what you are saying, even though he doesn’t sense it, by explaining the reason he perceives random events, Charlie could logically understand the possibility of another dimension.
The many problems of overlap that can happen in cartoons are not confusing to us. In fact we don’t even notice them. But they would be confounding to inhabitants of a cartoon world, due to the limited senses of their consciousness. Perhaps there could be certain scientific experiments or predictions you can make that will uncover the hidden dimension that Charlie cannot perceive with his senses. Though Charlie will probably not believe you at first, by explaining the nature of the randomness in his world, you will have made more sense of it.
Is this how you perceive me? As a sort of cartoon?
Yes. You seem like Charlie Brown to me. You are surrounded by a much more interesting and complex world than you currently perceive. Fortunately, like Charlie Brown, you have the ability to understand your limitations and expand your perceptions.
So you perceive extra spatial dimensions?
Well, I used that as an example because spatial dimensions are the easiest for you to visualize. In fact, because of that, extra spatial dimensions are a key part of many of your modern scientific theories like string theory. Existing in extra spatial dimensions is a nice ability. As a four spatial dimensional being, to humans who can only perceive three dimensions, you would seem to have super-powers. You would appear to have the ability to disappear and to teleport to various locations instantly.
I understand the disappearing part, since all you would need to do is just move in the fourth dimension we cannot perceive and you will disappear from view.
Yes, like Lucy does when she goes behind Charlie. The cartoonist can have her occupy the same 2D coordinates as Charlie but once he moves her slightly in the third dimension, she will disappear. If you were able to create a 2D avatar of yourself and put it in Charlie’s world, all you would need to do to have your avatar disappear is to move it slightly within the in and out dimension Charlie cannot see. Your avatar will be hovering just above him, invisible.
That I understand, but how can you teleport, it seems to me you still have to move through space to go anywhere in a 2D world.
Imagine that Lucy and Charlie are on opposite sides of a comic strip that runs from the far left end of your newspaper all the way to the far right end. For the ever lusty Lucy to reach Charlie, she will need to run all the way across the entire newspaper. But we three dimensional beings can make her trip a lot shorter. All we need to do is close the newspaper. Once the newspaper is folded, Lucy will actually be laying right on top of Charlie. To us she will be hovering just above him. Charlie won’t be too worried however, since he will not see her. And Lucy will not even notice that anything has changed, though she will be millimeters away. In her attempt to reach Charlie, she will actually, from our point of view, start running away from him until she reaches the center of the closed newspaper and only then will she start running towards him. If Lucy had the ability to see and move through the third dimension, once we folded the newspaper, she could step through that millimeter of space and appear right next to Charlie. Because they are limited in their dimensional perception, neither Lucy or Charlie would have any way of knowing if their cartoon world was long and flat, or folded once, or even rolled up over and over in the third dimension. If it were rolled up tight, and they had the ability to move and perceive the third dimension, they could actually have access to many different points in their two dimensional world.
He Does Not Play Dice
So is this your power then? You can disappear and teleport?
Disappearing and teleporting aren’t bad powers per se. But they are nothing compared to what I can do. I see a much more interesting dimension than purely an extra spatial one. And now that you have gotten this limiting idea of not being able to conceive of extra dimensions out of your head, I will explain how you can understand this dimension, at least logically and then perhaps intuitively. Do you want to make some tea yet?
—It looked like I was in this for the long haul, so I decided to follow his suggestion. Luckily I have a gas stove so making tea was not a problem. He waited as I poured the water into the kettle and lit the burner with a match. I noticed the light in the room grow brighter as I fumbled around for the tea and sugar. He continued talking as I waited for the water to boil.
The concept of time as a dimension was proven with the help of mathematics and physical experiments just one hundred years ago. Interestingly the dimension I will explain to you was also proven by mathematics and experiments almost one hundred years ago. However, the results of these equations and experiments still needed to be interpreted correctly by humans.
You are referring to the randomness described by quantum mechanics?
Yes, that is the key. But let’s start from the beginning. You mentioned quantum mechanics before, what do you know of it.
—I decided to show off.
Quantum Mechanics is the branch of Mathematical Physics that deals with the atomic and subatomic systems and their interaction with radiation in terms of observable quantities. The laws of quantum mechanics, unlike Isaac Newton’s deterministic laws lead to a probabilistic description of nature. That is part of the definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Well that was pretty short and concise; what does it mean?
I would say the most basic idea behind quantum mechanics is that the universe is not a gigantic predictable machine, as scientists believed for centuries before. Scientists had thought that if they could just unlock the secrets of the universe machine, they could understand and predict the actions of the universe, really figure out how it works.
Yes, the quest for The Theory of Everything. Continue.
Most scientists believed in a few key principles, one of the most basic being the law of cause and effect, or the causality principle, as the encyclopedia states it. If you knew everything about the forces acting on an object, you would know for certain what would happen to that object. You could repeat the experiment over and if the cause was identical the effect was always identical. Like adding two plus two always equals four. From these ideas came the unbreakable, predictable laws, like Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion. Using these laws Newton predicted the motion of just about everything, including planets. However, what experiments in the early 1900’s showed was that while large objects we perceive behave in predictable ways, the things that make up those objects: atoms, electrons, protons etcetera, can act in strange ways. They can unpredictably disappear and reappear somewhere else without actually moving from place to place. They can also entangle and communicate instantly over large distances, faster than the speed of light. It seems illogical, but I know that quantum theory is the basis of almost all of our modern technology. Like semiconductors, computers, cell phones, fusion and fission.
Very thorough. And you are right, much of modern technology requires the mastery of the very small micro world. Quantum theory describes this world. Hence it is critical in the understanding of fusion and fission, electricity, magnetism, just about everything. Most humans are not familiar with the details of quantum mechanics because it is so strange and counter intuitive. Since you have read about it and seem to understand some of it, the most important aspect of it for you to try to comprehend right now is that particles can act unpredictably. In other words, the same exact cause can have many different results. A force can act on a molecule, but what happens next is not definite, and if you run the same experiment a few times, you will actually get different results.
This lead to Einstein’s famous objection that God does not play dice.
Yes, Einstein was a lifelong opponent of quantum theory, even though his own experiments lead to its development. One of his main objections was that particles seem to act unpredictably. His belief however was that these particle dice rolls were not truly unpredictable, they just appear to be so. His belief was that there was an underlying law that would explain all of the randomness in the particle’s motion. He spent the majority of his life searching for that law, searching for The Theory of Everything. One of the most important models of quantum theory that Einstein hoped to explain away was a theory at the heart of quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
That is a well-known theory. I think of that as one of the few understandable parts of quantum mechanics. It states that you cannot know the exact position and the exact momentum of a particle at the same time. The more you know about where something is, the less you know about where it is going, and vice versa.
That’s correct. As you get more and more accurate measurement of a particles position, you actually lose accuracy in measuring its momentum, hence you cannot know both. Since you cannot know exactly both where it is and how fast it is going, you cannot predict with certainty where it will be in the next moment. If you could, there would be no randomness.
Yes, I am aware of much of this, though I can’t say I know why it is so.
Quantum theory is such a grand and frankly confusing idea that philosophers, scientists, even mystics have spent the last one hundred years trying to interpret it. There is already more written about it than you can absorb in a lifetime. Still, now that you understand that time is a coordinate, just like space, I want you to think of uncertainty in the following way: You cannot predict with exact certainty, with information only from your current coordinate in space-time, what the exact form of any other coordinate in space-time will be. Now rationally this seems true for coordinates far from your current coordinate, say one hundred years into the future. You could not possibly predict with certainty what will happen in this apartment one hundred years from now. But there is still a belief that coordinates closer, say, one millisecond from now, you could know. If we just know the position of all the particles in this room, and their trajectories, we can predict, with one hundred percent certainty what will happen in this apartment in the next millisecond. Quantum theory explains that even for the shortest amount of time, this is impossible.
But it seems to me we can predict with certainty what will happen to large objects, like cars or planets or baseballs. How is it that science is so certain of what will happen when in reality it is just a gamble, a roll of the dice?
Their certainty is a simple matter of statistics. Let’s say we have a six-sided die, and we throw it, there is no way for us to know which number will come up. We can make no accurate prediction. It will be any number 1 through 6. We know that there is an equal chance for any of these numbers coming up. However, already on the second roll, we can start to make predictions. We know that if you roll the dice two times, you will get a number between 2 and 12. But the chance of the results adding up to 2 or 12 after two dice rolls are much less than the chance of the results adding up to 7. To get 2, for instance, there is only one possibility: both dice land on 1. But to get 7 there are many possibilities, 1 and 6, 2 and 5, 3 and 4, 4 and 3, and so on. Now if you roll the dice one hundred times, we can make predictions that are even more accurate. We know that while possible, it is very, very unlikely for the dice total to be 100. That would require one hundred rolls of the dice all landing on 1. Similarly, it is also as unlikely to get a total of 600. All one hundred rolls landing on 6. They are not impossible results, just very unlikely. At the same time, it is very likely that the total after 100 rolls will be around 350. Large objects have billions of molecules. Thus after a billion rolls, you can make, relatively speaking, a very accurate prediction of the final number, though not the exact number. This is why an object made of billions of particles will end up acting predictably. This is also why casinos make so much money. The casino knows that it can lose; in fact it will lose quite often. It is impossible for the casino to know if it will win any specific hand of blackjack or spin of roulette. It does know however, that over the long term, with many millions of games played it will come out ahead. The odds, however slight, are in its favor. Hence in the macro world, things are often predictable, but quantum mechanical laws are always in effect. For instance, it is actually possible for me to walk through this wall, as all of my particles could tunnel through the wall simultaneously. Since there is a chance that one of my particles can do so, there is a chance they will all do so. I am made of billions and billions of particles, so the chance of all of these particles appearing on the other side together is extremely, extremely small, but again, not impossible.
Is all this dice rolling really random? I mean, if we knew all the parameters of that dice throw; the wind, your exact muscle strength, the angle you throw the dice at, the softness of the table, can’t we in fact know the exact number that will come up? Isn’t it more a lack of information than pure randomness?
Lack of information can be perceived as randomness; the information is out there, but we simply do not have a way to gather enough of it to make a correct decision. This is actually the type of randomness most humans believe in. This is why in betting on sports or making decisions about the future, humans try to gather as much information as possible. They believe that the uncertainty comes from their lack of information. They believe that if they knew all the facts, there would be no randomness, the same thing would happen every single time. But in the micro world of quantum effects, there is no hidden knowledge, it is simply, physically impossible to know. All things around you are vibrating fields of probability. They only appear definite because you observe them on the macro scale.
I understand, but you have still not explained the reason for the randomness. I suppose this is one of those “why” questions science has no answer to.
Actually, there are many answers to this question. Philosophical, mystical and scientific. Without randomness, there would be no evolution, no life, and no variety. It is the random nature of the universe that manifests the variety in your world. As living beings, we are children of this process and are naturally attracted to it. We find it, beautiful. Dynamic changing systems are attractive to life. Think of the most beautiful and varied places on your planet, they are often the most dynamic, teeming with life, change and flow. These things bring variety and interest. The frozen tundra or empty desert is not usually the most popular vacation spot. If everything behaved in the same fashion, without variety, your universe would be very different.
Couldn’t these changes be guided and not random, say controlled by a God? He could have some master plan, but we wouldn’t necessarily know it because it appears random.
You are right, and on a theological level, the quantum mechanical model gives God a different role than in traditional religions. In a non-random, deterministic universe, God controls all changes and all events. In a randomly generated universe, God could create a framework of initial laws, and then let the universe unfold without needing to actually micro manage the system. The inherent randomness will continue to generate an infinite amount of interesting variations. In essence, God, the Universe, Mother Nature, whatever you call it, changes from a puppet master to an observer.
Is God even necessary then? I know that many scientists have claimed he is not. After all, who needs an observer?
It is only natural, don’t you think, that the high priests of a scientific paradigm that prides itself on understanding the world without faith or belief, would at some point come to that conclusion?
—He had finished his bottle of juice, took another and continued.
Do you know the ancient Greek story of Icarus?
Yes, his father attached wings to his body in an attempt to escape from the island of Crete. He flew higher and higher, ignoring his father’s warning not to fly too high. He flew too close to the sun. The heat melted his wings off, and he fell to his death.
It is an interesting story that is often told to warn people of the penalty of over confidence or hubris. One interpretation of the story could be that Icarus used technology to fly. When he did so, he flew too close to the heavens. As he flew higher and higher, the Sun melted his technology, and he died. In a sense, an inherently random universe acts like the Sun, protecting the knowledge of the gods. Remember that not too long ago, scientists believed that if they had the proper tools and technology, they would know the position and speed of any single particle. If they just knew all the facts, they could know exactly, with one hundred percent certainty where it would be in the next moment.
They could know the future.
Yes, now imagine your species in a few million years, designing massive computers the size of planets, calculating the position of all particles and their trajectories. If your computers became powerful enough, they could predict the exact configuration of the universe in the next moment, and if they could do that, since they know the exact configuration of that moment, they could predict the next moment, and from that information the next moment. In other words, a sufficiently advanced civilization, with a sufficiently advanced computer, could know its exact future. They would know the future not due to divine will, but by their own technological creations.
I could see that being an encroachment on the playground of the Gods, if you believe in them.
Well yes, these last few arguments are philosophical, and your religion of science believes in experiment and logic.
That is correct, and you mentioned a scientific explanation.
Yes. And that scientific explanation will uncover the hidden dimension that I can observe. To understand the nature of this hidden dimension, you will need to understand one more thing, one of the great mysteries of science: the nature of light. For thousands of years, the central question concerning light was whether it was a wave or a particle. Did light exist as an unbroken wave of energy, or as little individual packets of energy?
I believe quantum theory states that light is actually both.
During Einstein’s time, lacking the proper tools, scientists believed light to be a wave only. People think of Einstein primarily as the father of relativity, but it was his experiments with light that won him the Nobel Prize. Einstein, building on the research of great scientists such as Max Planck, showed that light was a particle; it could be broken down into single packets of energy, or quanta. Yet experiments up to then proved that light was a wave. It’s hard to relate to light, so initially it doesn’t seem so strange that it could be both, but this fact leads to some very odd conclusions. Often, before there is scientific proof, great thinkers come up with beautiful ideas. Even back in the 1700’s Isaac Newton believed that though they seemed different, matter and energy were interchangeable. And Einstein’s well known E equals MC squared implies a relationship between mass and energy. So it is not surprising that since light has a dual nature, matter must also have a dual nature.
This does seems like a pretty radical idea that I never completely understood. Light can behave like a wave, but I don’t see all the objects around me behaving like waves. I do not see myself as behaving as a wave.
Think of a particle the way you think of a baseball. In the classical sense, you know where the baseball is when you look at it, it is in one place. You can also know how fast it is moving if you measure it. Now think of a wave. A wave is spread out over many coordinates of space. It has a wavelength and an amplitude, but it has no definite position that you could say is its only position. Another interesting point about waves is that you cannot add them as you do particles. If you take 10 baseballs, you can put them together and get something that is the size of 10 baseballs. You cannot do that with waves. Sometimes adding waves together gets you a bigger wave and sometimes they cancel each other out and you get smaller waves, or no waves at all.
I understand the difference, but I don’t see matter as waves. Matter is particles, atoms, molecules, and baseballs.
How do you model the action of a system, like an electron or a bus? You can describe what you see: it is going fast, or slow, accelerating or decelerating, but these are approximations. In order to accurately model the actions of a system, you go beyond your senses, you use mathematics. For instance, Newton’s second law states that force equals mass times acceleration. Using this equation, you can know an object’s force, mass or acceleration if you know the other parameters. If one of the parameters, such as force exerted on a system changes, you can plug that into the equation, and know how the acceleration of that system will change. Thanks to the use of very advanced mathematics and sensitive measuring equipment, scientists have become very good at predicting what will happen to matter; even at the smallest scales. In quantum mechanics, scientists have developed different mathematical models, equations, and matrices, to predict where particles will be in their next space-time location, but these equations are much more complicated than Newton’s equations.
Yes, I know that mathematicians use functions to predict the actions of systems. You put in some values and get a changing result.
That is right, and in the mathematics of quantum mechanics, matter can be defined by what is called its wave function. This is a mathematical equation that predicts where a particle will be in space and time. The most famous equation of this type is the Schrödinger wave equation. In 1926, Erwin Schrödinger formulated this equation, which describes the motion of any system, predicting how it will change through time. The main difference between Schrödinger’s and Newton’s equations is that Newton’s equation gives one specific answer, one definite location for an object. While quantum mechanical equations like Schrödinger’s give many possible answers.
I have heard of the equation, it is very complicated and its derivations even more so.
Yes, basically, you plug in the forces acting on the particle and you will get a result that can be mapped out as a wave function. The function will take the form of a wave, with peaks and troughs. The equation is indeed very complicated, even finding a wave function for a single molecule in one dimension of space is a challenge to university physics students. Trying to figure out all of the parameters acting on an object becomes nearly impossible for larger objects, yet, since it works for one or a few molecules, it theoretically works for many. Schrödinger’s equation doesn’t even take into account certain aspects of relativity, or the collision and creation of new particles. There are other, yet more complicated equations for describing those possibilities.
Why don’t we see waves in larger objects then? Are these purely mathematical manipulations?
Well one interpretation is that the wave that and object makes is not a real wave; it is actually a probability wave. All systems, great and small have a mathematical probability wave function that defines their motion. Matter as a probability wave means that though we cannot know for certain where the particle will be, we can know the probability that the particle will be in one place or another, depending on the values of the wave function. This answer gives no concrete place, only possible places, and the probability that the particle will be in each of those places. This explains the phenomena of quantum tunneling; when an object can seemingly pass through a barrier it should not be able to pierce. A particle will most likely bounce off a barrier, but because all particles behave as a wave, some part of the particles probability wave could reach past the barrier itself, hence the particle has a chance of being on the other side of the barrier. This is the quantum tunneling effect so necessary in many semiconductors.
Okay, so matter can be described by mathematics as a probability wave, but we really don’t understand why it behaves this way, just that it does?
Interpreting what the math means is important. In the end math needs to make sense to you, otherwise, it is literally just numbers. The basic equations of the past like Newton’s laws of motion are pretty easy to grasp. You understand them concretely in your mind because they represent a physical fact you can observe. The Schrödinger wave equation maps the motion of a particle, but it gives multiple results, a wave of positions for one particle; though you actually observe one position for one particle. Therefore, the equation is not what you observe in real life. The big problem with the Schrödinger equation is the fact that there is no second part to the equation; some other mathematical pyrotechnics that will provide one concrete result from the myriad of possibilities. You see one concrete result in the real world, not a wave of results.
So what happens to the other possibilities that do not occur? Are they simply thrown out? It does seem that perhaps there is something missing in our knowledge, some part of the equation that would give us one concrete answer.
Einstein and even Schrödinger himself understood that his equation could make accurate predictions, but both believed that behind the equation, there must be some underlying effect, some information that would illuminate the next position of the particle precisely. The Schrödinger equation was just the best they could do at the time. They still believed that God did not roll dice. Yet in the nearly one hundred years since the debate began, no such information has appeared, the universe does seem to behave inherently randomly.
If there is no such information, what does the probability wave actually mean?
The Double Slit Experiment
I have been presenting these concepts in a sort of abstract mathematical way, so let me explain it to you again in the context of an actual physical situation.
If you think it will help.
I think it will. One thing I like about humans is that you can explain something in one way, and then another. That combination helps their understanding. Like seeing things from two angles gives you a better understanding of space. So you have mathematics describing particles as waves, yet you do not usually see particles as waves. The reason is that particles only behave as waves when you aren’t looking.
What do you mean?
Just like the Invisible Boy in the super hero comedy ‘Mystery Men’, whose power is that he can become invisible, but only when no one is looking; particles behave as waves, but only when no one is looking. Hence, in order to see the wave, we need to not look at it.
—This last reference caught me by surprise and broke me out of my intense mode of analysis. It brought me back to the reality that I was speaking to someone who claimed he was from outer space.
I find it curious that an alien would be so familiar with our pop culture. Charlie Brown, Survivor, Mystery Men? I haven’t even seen that movie.
Do you feel that an alien should only go around quoting Shakespeare? I have the ability to process a lot of information. When studying humans, wouldn’t you think that I would be interested in what the majority of a human population find entertaining, even if that thing only had its moment and then passed away with the humans who enjoyed it? Great art may transcend paradigms, but popular art defines them. And only on rare occasion is great art completely accepted or understood by the people of its own time. I have an interest in many types of ideas. The ideas that blaze hot and fade away, and the ideas that linger at a cool burn. Besides, when communicating with humans, it is usually more effective to use references from their current pop culture, plus some of those references are truly entertaining. In this case, the reference is very fitting. It is disappointing that you, as a long-time member of this paradigm are unaware of this very amusing reference. But even if it is of no use to you now, it may aid your understanding some evening when you are flipping through the channels on your television and ‘Mystery Men’ happens to be on. Perhaps you should get another cup of tea, and I will return to my story?
—He waited until I poured my tea from the teapot and continued.
There was an experiment done with light in 1799 that paradoxically allowed you to actually observe the phenomenon of not observing. It was called Young’s experiment. It has since been refined, and is now repeated in almost every college physics class in the world with not only photons of light but many types of particles. It is now better known as the Double Slit Experiment.
Yes, I have read about this experiment, and it is included in many lay books about quantum theory.
What do you remember about it?
I remember it all: Single photons were fired off one by one into a chamber. The photons could go through one of two slits. One to the left and one to the right. Behind the slits was a board that absorbed the photons. Photon detectors were placed at the entrance to both slits. When experimenters looked at the pattern of the photon strikes behind the slits with detectors on, it made a definite pattern of dots behind one slit, and dots behind the other slit.
That is the logical result. If you have half of the photons go through one hole and half through the other, after a while, you will see a pattern of two clumps of dots on the paper behind each hole. This would be a pattern made by a particle. If you throw baseballs through two slits and against a wall behind them, the baseballs will all hit the wall in a clumped pattern in the area directly behind the slits.
Yes, and here was the strange result of the experiment: when they let the particle shoot out, but turned the detectors at both slits off, it created an interference pattern on the wall behind the slits. A pattern of particles in vertical stripes or lines, not clumps of dots. And some of these lines were not even directly behind the slits. Some photons were striking the back of the wall in places they should not even reach.
Correct, and this is an illogical result. If the scientists had their particle detectors on, detecting the photon as it moved through the slit, there was the expected regular pattern of the photons going through one hole or the other hole and striking the wall behind the slits. However, when the detectors weren’t on, when no one was watching the photons, something else happened; there was a completely different pattern on the wall behind the slits, an interference pattern of light and of dark lines. This pattern happens when a wave runs into another wave. In some places the wave is amplified and you get distinct lines and in other places it is canceled out and you have dark lines. So the particles were crashing into each other, like waves, and being bounced around to places on the wall not directly behind the slits.
Yet the photons were fired off individually, one at a time, so they could not possibly collide with each other.
You see, when the scientist were measuring or observing each individual photon as it went through a slit, they got one specific result, each photon going through one hole or the other. Light as a particle. When they were not measuring, turning the detectors off, they got an interference pattern. Light as a wave. This is the dual nature of light. This experiment works exactly the same way with electrons or protons too. This interference pattern, with photons striking the back wall at impossible angles, could only be created if single particles were going through both slits at the same time and bouncing off each other. What that means is that when the detectors did not measure the particle, when no one was looking, it was in many places at once, in likely and unlikely locations. This is the wave nature of matter that the Schrödinger equation models.
So when measured, or observed, the photon existed in one concrete location, but when it wasn’t measured it existed in many locations.
It boils down to this: why do the results change when you aren’t looking? Common sense would say that the particle is in the same place whether you are looking at it or not, yet that is not the case. So what is happening?
I have read a few different interpretations, all of them confusing. I guess the way I have thought about it is that the particle isn’t anywhere until it is measured or observed and then it seems to find a concrete place to be. I do think of it as rolling dice. If you close your eyes and roll it, you are rolling all possibilities. Only when you looked to see what you are rolling would it actually become 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
This is called wave function collapse in quantum theory. And this brings up an interesting question about the nature of reality. Do you exist in a definite world, where everything exists whether you see it or not? Or do you create your own personal world with your observations, where the only thing that actually exists is what you observe? Most religious experts and scientists would agree with the first idea: Whether with the help of God or all by itself, the world was created and exists regardless of your observation. Yet your interpretation of the experiment, that your observations create the world seems to contradict that.
It reminds me of the famous Zen koan “When a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”
Yes, what the Buddhist monks grappled with a thousand years ago, Einstein and Bohr grappled with almost one hundred years ago, and current scientists and philosophers grapple with now.
So what is the answer?
The theory that dominated quantum mechanics for most of the 20th century was the Copenhagen interpretation originally created by Niels Bohr. He and Einstein had quite a few famous battles about it, but by Einstein’s death, Bohr was widely considered the victor. Actually there are a lot of interpretations of the Copenhagen interpretation; but basically it says a thing exist in a superposition of states until it is measured or observed. Once the particle runs into an observer, a measurement or an interaction, it collapses the wave function, changing the wave into one specific result.
Yes, I have heard this theory used in new age thinking. It has been interpreted to mean that there is no world outside of your own experience. Nothing exists until you see it, so if you really desire to experience something, the world can manifest that way.
The idea certainly gives humans a sense of personal power, however, that isn’t what Bohr was saying. You don’t see wave patterns of falling trees, or baseballs when no human is looking. You can roll dice and not look all day, you won’t get a wave of dice possibilities. This is because it is not only human observation that collapses the wave function. It does not even need to be a living being doing the observation. A particle’s wave function can collapse even if it encounters another particle. The molecules in the die, and the table and your hand and the air, will observe each other and give a concrete result, whether you cover your eyes or not.
So the molecules observe each other and stop the interference pattern.
Since you don’t usually think of nonliving things as observing, you could just say that they interact with each other. The photons in the double slit experiment interacted with the detectors as they went through the slits and they took on definite positions. Since they took on definite positions before the slits, they now made particle like marks on the wall behind the slits. The Copenhagen interpretation states that interaction with a measuring instrument or even other atoms may collapse the wave function of a system, and then give you an actual concrete result.
This seems to make some sense.
It does, but it has some major problems. One problem is that relativity shows that no point in space, no point in time, and no observer is unique or better than any other. Yet some observers collapse the wave function, and some do not. You can easily have an object made of many particles behave like a wave in the double slit experiment. The Copenhagen interpretation seems to imply that some observers collapse the function, and some do not, these effects do not happen, say in baseballs, which have billions of atoms, but do happen in some larger structures, some large enough to be seen with the naked eye. It does not explain which observer is good enough to collapse a system into reality. The other issue is that the Schrödinger equation accurately provides a wave of results. You can interpret it as saying that that none of the results actually exists and one happens to pop into existence when observed. Or you can interpret it as saying that all possibilities are somehow superimposed on top of each other and when observed all the possibilities simply disappear, except for one. To me, neither interpretation is satisfactory.
What do you think?
I think that Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation, bores me. In the Bohr interpretation, the Schrödinger equation’s results are strictly hypothetical, there are many results but only one version actually exists. Why should one version win over others that could actually be more likely? And why do some observers collapse the wave into reality and some do not. It seems to me that the whole thing is a very complicated attempt to keep the world very simple. I think the reason it was initially popular was because the other possible interpretation of the results of the Schrödinger equation opens up an infinitely large can of worms that was virtually unimaginable back then.
The Garden of Forking Paths
So what is the other possibility?
The other possibility is that the Schrödinger equation simply describes what actually happens to a system, the results are not possible locations, but actual locations. When a particle moves to the next coordinate in space-time, it moves to all the locations described by the Schrödinger equation.
But if all these possibilities do actually occur, what you are saying is that the particle will be in many places at once. We do not see particles in many places at once.
Yes, because you are only capable of observing one of these results. When you experience one of the possibilities, the other possibilities do not cease to exist. They still exist, you simply cannot observe them. Your consciousness is singular; it observes one possibility. Once it observes one, it cannot observe the others. Though you cannot perceive the other positions of the system consciously, you can see them mathematically because math transcends the senses. These other possibilities are represented in the mathematical equations of quantum mechanics. So you see, Einstein was right, God does not play dice. He rolls 1,2,3,4,5 and 6, all of them, though you are only capable of observing one of those rolls.
But where exactly are these other rolls, these other results?
They manifest in a different dimension of the universe. Rather, what your scientists now call, the multiverse. A universe that encompasses other universes.
You are speaking of parallel worlds.
Well why didn’t you say so earlier, I am familiar with the idea, though mostly from science fiction books and movies.
Parallel universes do make for many great science fiction plots. But I wanted you to know the scientific reasoning behind the idea, to truly understand the concept. And while the idea has been around for quite a while in fiction, like the beautiful writings of Jorge Luis Borges, it is not a new idea to science either. The idea of parallel universes has been around for over fifty years in the scientific community. The first scientist to propose it was Hugh Everett the third. He called it the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. It may seem like a crazier idea to you than Bohr’s one result universe, but actually it is simple compared to the complexity of the Copenhagen interpretation. All things follow the Schrödinger equation, period. Everett even presented the theory to Bohr in 1959. Of course he was misunderstood and ignored at the time.
Was his theory taken seriously by other scientists?
Not immediately, though by the end of his life Everett was considered a bit of a star in the scientific community. You see, the human imagination is always playing around with many worlds, what could have been and what could be, and that is only natural, because many worlds are a structural part of the multiverse. As an observer of many worlds, to me a single variation universe seems so plain, so uninspired.
It does sound interesting, but is hard for me to believe that many universes exist out there that I cannot see.
Think again of your concept of the spatial dimension; you exist in a location in space, and though you have the power to see other locations, you cannot see all locations in space. Yet you still know other locations exist and you can use your imagination to see far of places: whales in the ocean, the peak of Mount Everest, or the rings of Saturn. Now think of your concept of time. At any single moment, you exist in one coordinate of time. You cannot directly see any of the other coordinates of time, but I hope you now understand that they too exist, and you can use your imagination to recreate them as well. The situation is the same with the dimension of universe variations. You are only capable of observing one possibility, one universe. Yet you constantly use your imagination to see other possibilities. Hence it is not the limits of God, or mathematics, or even your imagination that bind you to one single world; it is the limits of your consciousness. The universe you are observing is just one variation of a possibly infinite number of universes. But you do not have the ability to observe all of these universes simultaneously. Your consciousness can only observe a single variation, a single slice, and in that sense, you seem to me, like Charlie Brown seems to you; flat.
Think of Charlie who is limited in the dimension of depth. He exists on his one flat sheet of paper, yet beyond that paper is a greater universe that holds an infinite amount of such sheets. Similarly, you can only perceive one world, though you are surrounded by many worlds. You can visualize the multiverse as a massive tree. From each moment sprout many branches of variation. These variations lead to more and more branches, creating a vast network of interesting universes. Like a fractal, each branch also functions as the trunk, the starting point of many new branches and variations.
Why can we only experience one of these branches?
The many worlds branch out through time, like a garden of forking paths. You are walking down a path, at each moment there is a fork in the road. Since there is only one of you, you can only take one path at a time. You are oblivious to what happens on the other paths. You can imagine them, but you are not physically there. This is the structural explanation of quantum mechanical unpredictability. Each moment has different possibilities. You can know the possibilities scientifically and mathematically. The Schrödinger equation, which is not limited by a single consciousness, will give you a bird’s eye view of the different paths that the next moment will take. However, since you can only walk down one path, only one path will be observed by you. The Schrödinger equation is like a map that shows the many forks, but you can only physically experience one of these paths.
The paths are alternate dimensions.
No, they are all part of one dimension of the multiverse, the dimension of universe variations. I know this still sounds like fantasy to you, but from a logical standpoint, do you see that the idea of many worlds can unravel the confusion that you feel about time?
You are referring to the fact that I do not feel that time is already predetermined and unchangeable. That I would want to change my destiny if I could see the future?
Yes. I spent a lot of time trying to explain the nature of the time dimension to you, and I hope you understand that the future does actually exist. Therefore, if you knew of a future event, in a single variation universe, with only one end result, you could not change anything. But, in a multiverse of many possibilities, once you change your actions to avoid a future consequence, for instance getting hit by a bus, you are now simply observing a different branch of the multiverse. You don’t actually change anything. The universe you were observing, the one where you did get hit by a bus, it still exists, but you are observing a different branch now.
So what happened to the me that decided to still cross the road and was hit by a bus?
That you still exists in another branch of the multiverse. After all you saw an actual future not an imaginary one. Thus, that you doesn’t cease to exist because you now made a different choice. That you is the you who didn’t receive the information about the incoming bus, or the you who unfortunately chose to ignore the information, since it was just a spooky feeling.
But what you are saying is that at every moment, there are near identical me’s branching out into many universes. I have a hard time imagining that there are an infinite number of almost identical me’s scattered about in the universe.
It’s a natural progression. Through the passage of time, humans have discovered, unceasingly, that they are a part of an ever larger and more complex world. In fact, that is a way of gauging a species’ advancement. More primitive humans believed their world was not much larger than their hunting ground. Later not only did humans realize they lived on a round planet much larger than what they could see or explore at the time, it was tiny compared to other celestial objects like the Sun. Then the Sun was just one of a vast ocean of suns in their galaxy. Now they know that galaxy is just a spec in an ever-expanding universe of galaxies.
I understand our universe is huge, but what you are talking about is unimaginable. That at every instant there are billions and billions of more universes; billions of variations of myself. It seems impossible.
I think that this was one of the reasons that the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics only gained popularity in the scientific community after the other interpretations were found to be unsatisfying. In the early part of the 1900’s your scientists were still struggling with the disappointment that their single universe was not just one big clock. Both Einstein and Schrödinger were working hard to find out the hidden variables that would return the universe back to its more simple predictable form. The additional idea that this unpredictable universe was also just one of a potentially infinite number of universes was not seriously considered.
Was it just beyond the imagination of the scientists of that time?
Maybe beyond the imagination of some, but humans have wrestled with these concepts for thousands of years. More so, I think it went against what scientists were hoping for: a simple, easily provable answer. Nevertheless, these true scientific geniuses understood their own limitations. As Max Planck said, “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” And in a sense that is what has happened; the old generation is gone, the new generation, now familiar with many worlds, in both fiction and science, takes it much more seriously. These days, the Copenhagen interpretation is basically dead or heavily reinterpreted. And while the masses only think of parallel worlds as science fiction, your scientists now think seriously about many worlds and it is considered a viable theory. Many of the scientists currently working towards the development of quantum computers believe in some form of the many worlds interpretation.
I still cannot comprehend a universe where every possibility that could ever exist, actually does.
Why? Is it less appealing than a universe where just one possibility exists, and all of the others do not?
It just seems too big.
The other you’s in the universe would be quite upset to find out that the universe is too small for them, and only big enough for you.
—There was a knock at the door at this time. I opened it to see the old Chinese man who lived at the other end of the hall. It was dark in the hallway behind him. My apartment was illuminated by the flashlight and he probably assumed I had either power or candles. The old man didn’t speak English and when he started trying to speak to me in Chinese, all I could really do was stand there and listen. After a few seconds, my guest stood up and took another round light out of his jacket pocket. It turned on and he gave it to the old man. The old man thanked us and left. My guest returned to his seat, and grabbed another bottle of juice from the case. He sipped it slowly this time, and continued.
Look, if you think back to Charlie Brown, after you explain to him that his simple 2D universe is lacking an entire dimension, he would say exactly what you are saying to me right now. “My universe is vast, huge, infinite in fact. I could walk forever and never see the end. I could climb forever and never see the end. Now you are adding an entire new dimension to the universe that would create infinitely more space for me to deal with.”
You are right, to Charlie, the universe didn’t just double or triple in size, it became infinitely bigger. You could fit an infinite amount of his 2D universes into our 3D one. He would insist such a massive universe, comprising of an infinite amount of his flat universes, is impossible.
Of course this notion is laughable. To us, adding a dimension of depth to his flat world, no matter how massive or even infinite, seems completely natural, not mind blowing at all.
Could Charlie ever accept such a possibility?
Yes, it is not so difficult. Just like you, Charlie would need to overcome one very significant mental obstacle; this obstacle is a misunderstanding of infinity. You can try to imagine infinity in your mind, however what you imagine is not infinity, it is just something really, really big. This is because in your world, you are surrounded by the finite. All things around you are limited; even your known universe.
I thought you said our universe is an infinite universe.
Actually, it is impossible to know whether your universe is truly infinite. You can only know for certain if it is finite. You can only know what you can observe, and your observable universe, the one you can see and measure with your telescopes, is definitely finite, but expanding.
So what we can see is finite, but the actual universe beyond that may or may not be infinite?
Yes. Your knowledge is limited by a lack of information. Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, and light is information about space. Thus information about the universe travels at the speed of light. When you look at a star that is five light-years away, you are actually looking at what the star was like five years ago. The star could have exploded yesterday, but you won’t know it until five years from now when its light, its information, reaches you. Hence when you look at the observable universe, you can only see as far as it has taken light to travel since the Big Bang, which happened around 14 billion years ago.
So the farthest we can see is 14 billion light-years.
Actually it is more than that because the universe has been expanding. You can really see about 50 billion light-years in any direction. You cannot see what is beyond 50 billion light-years, because light has not reached earth from any further yet.
But what is beyond the 50 billion light-years?
Well light is you source of information. What is beyond it you do not know. Literally, to you, it does not exist. You get no information from beyond your 50 billion light-years in all directions. You can think of it as a flashlight illuminating one round spot in the darkness. Some of your scientists have compared it to a patchwork quilt, where your observable universe is one patch in an infinitely large blanket.
All right, our scientists don’t know if the universe is infinitely large. But do you know if the universe is infinitely large?
If you truly understood infinity, you would realize that I could not know that for certain. I could only be sure if the universe was finite, and to my knowledge it is not.
Why can’t you know if it is infinite?
Once you understand the nature of infinity, you will answer your own question. Understanding infinity is one of the keys to understanding many worlds. Once you have a clear conception of infinity, you will have a much deeper understanding of the world around you.
—He must have seen a lack of confidence in my expression, because he stopped to take a sip of juice and reassured me.
Actually, of the things we have already discussed, this is one of the easier concepts for humans to grasp, at least initially. Infinities can take many forms. Humans are generally familiar with three of these forms: mathematical infinities, imagined infinities and actual physical infinities. Obviously, you can’t observe physical infinity, and your ability to imagine infinity is what we are trying to improve. So we are left with mathematical infinity, which for followers of science, is the easiest to comprehend and leads to insights in the understanding of the other types. In math, the set of whole numbers, 1, 2, 3, etcetera is actually an infinite set. No matter how high you count, you can simply add one to create an even larger number. There is no number that serves as the end of the set.
So if numbers are in fact infinite, we deal with pretty small ones.
Indeed you do. Have you heard of a googol?
You mean the search engine?
No, I am referring to the mathematical number.
Yes it is a one with one hundred zero’s behind it. And a googolplex is 10 to the googol.
Yes, the googolplex. It is such a massive number; it is bigger than all the elementary particles your scientists know of in the entire universe. A short and simple mathematical representation, for instance a googolplex of atoms, represents more stuff than there is in the entire observable universe. Now, this is a lot of stuff, but is this the largest number you can imagine?
I don’t think I can really imagine how much that is, but I can write it.
Actually if you tried to write a googolplex in the traditional way, 1 and then 0’s after it, you could spend a billion years doing it, and you would not have even come close to actually writing the number. In fact, there would not be enough room in your observable universe to write this number.
I could forget writing zero’s and just write operators, like a googolplex times a million, or a googolplex to the googolplex to the googolplex.
Yes, that is a good way to do it. You could write googolplex to the googolplex to the million times googolplex. And how many of your universes would that number represent?
Googols of them. I suppose if each googolplex is larger than the known universe, it would be a universe of universes.
Now imagine you wanted to create a number much greater than that; the greatest number ever created by humans. How large a number could you create?
Well I supposed as large as I could think of, or say or write.
Imagine you spent the rest of your life saying googolplex to the googolplex to the googolplex like a yogi reciting a mantra. Or you sat down and wrote googolplex to the googolplex all day and night. Let’s go further, you could just imagine numbers running through your head, googolplex after googolplex after googolplex, every moment, for the rest of your life.
That would be a massive number.
Yes, after doing this for many, many years, you would certainly believe that you hold the world record for the largest number ever imagined in the history of mankind. Surely just before your death I would visit you, and you would proudly say to me “There, I have spent my entire life thinking of a giant number, I have achieved the largest number ever thought of by man. After eighty years of tireless googolplexing, I have achieved it, and I have called it the SuperGoogol.” And I will reply, “Supergoogol times two.”
—I laughed a little here. He took a brief pause to let me think about it, and then continued.
I have encompassed your entire life of counting in one second, and I have named my new number Supergoogolplex Extreme. Now, to give you a taste of infinity. Do you know how my Supergoogolplex Extreme; the number that would encompass googols and googols of your universes, would compare to infinity?
What do you mean?
I mean like a ratio, one third of infinity, or one fourth or one tenth of infinity.
Since infinity is infinitely bigger, I am not sure.
If we have 25% of something, it is the same as saying one fourth, mathematically written 1 over 4. If we want to know what part of infinity my number is, we need to put it over infinity. So my number, as it relates to infinity would be written mathematically as Supergoogolplex Extreme over infinity. And in math we know that any real number, any actual number, no matter how large over infinity has a limit of zero, which mathematicians typically treat simply as zero. The Supergoogolplex Extreme, as large as it is, would be, in the vastness of an infinity of numbers, nothing.
But how can it equal nothing, it is a real number, it is a part, even if a small part, of infinity.
You make a good point. To be completely accurate, this number is actually called an infinitesimal. An infinitesimal is smaller than any actual number, just as infinity is bigger than any actual number. So compared to infinity, my Supergoogolplex Extreme is too small to be measured, too small to have any actual value. Thus your known universe, in the scope of the infinite multiverse is also too small to be measured, it is basically, nothing. I will show you another way of looking at the situation. Let’s try to mathematically remove the Supergoogleplex Extreme from infinity. Do you know what number you get? You will still get infinity. In mathematics, infinity minus any finite number is still infinity. Thus if you remove your known universe, or even a massive Supergoogolplex universe from the infinite multiverse, what you will be left with is still an infinite multiverse. If you tear one patch out of an infinite quilt, you still have an infinite quilt. If you tear out a million patches, you will still have an infinite quilt.
This is confusing.
Yes because you still think that infinity is a really large thing. Infinity doesn’t act like a giant number. Unlike a googol, if I take infinity, times two, I do not get twice as much of infinity, I still have, infinity. If I add infinity to infinity, I still have infinity, not something twice as big as infinity. If I take any countable amount of stuff, no matter how large, out of infinity, I still get infinity.
Perhaps Infinity is unfathomable to finite creatures.
Not really, great mathematicians like George Cantor and Kurt Gödel made major insights into its nature. They transcended the traditional ways of thinking to gleam real insights into infinity, and these days mathematicians rely heavily on the use of infinity and infinitesimals in their equations to solve real world engineering problems. The main thing I want you to understand is that when dealing with an infinite universe, simply adding another dimension to it does not make it too big, or even bigger at all, it is still infinite. This is why we laugh at Charlie Brown when he protests that our infinite 3D universe is too big, while his infinite 2D universe is just big enough. Though his infinite 2D universe is bigger than we can possibly imagine, adding another dimension does not confuse us. So now, if I tell you that in an infinite universe there are also infinite variations, can you comprehend it?
I am not sure. Logically I understand it, psychologically not so much.
It will take time, but you believe in logic and mathematics, and as you accept your logical understanding, it will become more natural to you. It will become something that you can feel is true, and this leads us back to whether I can know if the multiverse is infinite. Here is the concept that is really important to understand when dealing with infinities. You cannot imagine or comprehend infinity in the same way you comprehend finite concepts; by putting parts together or breaking them apart. No matter how much finite stuff you have, you will never reach infinite stuff. No matter how much finite knowledge you have, you cannot reach infinite knowledge. So when dealing with an infinite concept, like an infinite universe, or an infinite God, you cannot fully understand it by combining finite parts. Nor can you prove or disprove such a thing by breaking it down into smaller parts, as its parts themselves, are infinite. I can tell you that the universe behaves as if it is infinite, in that there is nothing in its nature that would point to any limit. But do you understand that unless I had infinite knowledge, I could not truly know if the universe was infinite?
Indra and the Ants
It is very complicated.
You don’t need to understand it all, but try to understand that your notion of the multiverse being too big is a mental projection of your mind. The multiverse is infinite, therefore it cannot be too big. Freed from a conception of a limited universe, does it not seem even more beautiful that there is not just one world, but all possible worlds? In fact, since you now understand that mathematically, one infinity is just as good as many, you don’t even have to believe in the multiverse at all. If you just believe that your single universe is infinite in size, or eternal in time, you still will get infinite parallel worlds, within your single universe.
If you allow that either space or time is infinite, the universe is already much vaster than anything you have actually imagined. It is so vast a thing, that it will allow for infinite variation and infinite repetition.
Even if you exist only in your traditional single world, where things only happen one way, since it is of infinite size, there are actually copies of you, scattered throughout the universe. Though of course those copies would think of you as a copy. If the world is infinitely large, then there is an infinite amount of galaxies and an infinite amount of stars. There will be somewhere in the universe of galaxies, planets just like Earth. There will be people living on these planets, and on some of these planets there will be a person just like yourself. Again, if you think of your universe as an infinite patchwork quilt, with your observable universe as a patch; then somewhere there will be other patches in the quilt just like, or very similar to your own.
So out there in the universe there are billions of me’s, but I can’t see them.
Correct. Due to the very limited range that you can observe, the chance of a copy of you existing in your known universe is small. Yet in a universe that is infinite, you are everywhere.
This is hard for me to believe, but I guess I did not understand the result of a limitless universe. Perhaps the universe is not infinite after all?
As you come to terms with the concept of an infinite universe, you will have some very strange and challenging insights, but that is good, you just need to, as they say, “go with the flow.” But I will indulge you. Let’s imagine that the universe is not infinite, and it does stop somewhere. However, it is eternal, never ending in time. Again, in an eternal universe, even if finite in size, somewhere in time, copies of you exist.
Wouldn’t a world that is limited in space also be limited in time? It could not be eternal.
There are many types of eternal universes. One well-known type of universe that your scientists believe is possible is the rebirthing, or cyclical universe. This type of universe is written about in Hindu texts thousands of years old. In a cyclical universe, we have a universe that starts with a Big Bang, expands and then at some point contracts back onto itself, and then starts all over again. Like an infinite series of Big Bangs. As it develops, due to quantum uncertainty, this universe will cycle through many copies and slight variations of itself. Within the scope of such a universe, you exist now just as you have an infinite amount of times before, and will again. There is a well-known Hindu story called ‘Indra and the Ants’ that illustrates this concept. In the story, the god Indra, the creator of the universe, builds a massive castle and brags about how powerful and great he is. He is king and creator of the universe after all. Vishnu, the all mighty God, in the guise of a boy tells Indra “Don’t be so brazen, I have seen many Indras come and go, you are not that special, you are just one of many Indras.” Vishnu looks down at a line of ants walking on the floor of Indra’s castle and says, “All of these ants were Indras once.” Indra is the master of one universe; Vishnu is the master of all universes. He is not bound by any local time, he is able to observe the Indras of all times, of all universes.
—Perhaps I was looking a bit overwhelmed, because he then said,
Let me try to explain this to you in a more basic way that you might be familiar with. Have you heard of the thought experiment called the infinite monkey theorem?
Yes, it states that because of the simple possibility of chance, if you make a bunch of monkeys type on a typewriter, sooner or later, some monkey will write ‘Hamlet’ or ‘War and Peace’, by just pure chance.
Yes that’s right, now let’s imagine a universe full of these monkeys writing on typewriters.
If we line up an infinite amount of monkeys and have them all start typing, somewhere in the universe of infinite monkeys there will be monkeys who type ‘War and Peace’ without making a single mistake. Similarly, if we have just one monkey, an immortal monkey, who types forever, eventually he will also type ‘War and Peace’ most likely after many mistakes. So no matter how unlikely, if the universe is large enough or old enough, you will get a monkey to type ‘War and Peace’. In the multiverse, you would not need an army of monkey’s or an immortal one. One very lucky monkey will type ‘War and Peace’, and will do it right on the first try. He will type it perfectly in some very unlikely universe variation within the multiverse. Even more amusingly, somewhere in the multiverse there will be versions of ‘War and Peace’ typed with a few random words added, which will be judged even better than the original!
That would be one smart monkey.
How excited the humans of that dimension would be to find such an amazing monkey. They would breed him in hopes of creating a new race of literary geniuses. And how sad it will be, when they realize that his children are complete idiots.
Very funny. So there are copies of me somewhere in the universe, it is just unlikely I would ever meet them?
Yes, in fact it would be very unlikely, even with billions and billions of galaxies out there, that you would ever meet anyone even remotely similar.
But theoretically, it is possible to see a version of me nearby, in this universe.
Sounds like another interesting science fiction plot.
Yes. Imagine a time in the future. Humans on Earth send an astronaut to explore a nearby star system that looks very similar to your own. When the astronaut gets there, he sees a solar system just like Earth’s, and within it, a planet just like Earth. When he lands, he is shocked to find that everything seems to him to be exactly like Earth, including the people. He is even greeted by people who look just like his wife and children. The planet is an exact duplicate. It evolved in exactly the same manner as your own planet.
There was some movie along those lines I think.
Perhaps, but I doubt it really gives duplicate worlds justice. If it is truly a duplicate world, our astronaut is in trouble. Because unfortunately for him, the inhabitants of that world also sent an astronaut at the very same moment, to explore your solar system. The people of that world will think that your astronaut is actually the astronaut that they themselves had recently sent out. Since your astronaut’s spaceship and appearance are exact copies of the astronaut they sent out, they assume his spaceship had a guidance malfunction and brought him back home. When your astronaut insists that everyone is just a copy of the inhabitants of the real Earth, they think he has gone mad with space sickness. Your astronaut demands to be sent home, but The United States of America of their planet, refuses to fund another failed mission to distant stars, especially if it is flown by a lunatic. Thus your astronaut is forced stay on in his new home, with his new wife, and new kids, living out the rest of his life with what he calls, doppelgangers.
Quite a story.
Yes, highly improbable, but possible. This may be fantasy, but I hope you understand now that your bias against a multiverse of infinite possibility is a product of faulty logic and the limits of your imagination, not an actual physical or mathematical limit. Your imagination can grow to understand the consequences of infinity. Once it does, the idea that there is an infinite dimension of universes out there will not surpass you.
Now you are talking of feeling or imagining infinity, not just logically understanding it.
Yes, logical understanding is good. It can inform how you feel or imagine a concept. You felt that the universe could not be so vast as to have billions of copies of yourself, yet now you understand that it can. Now you will start to expand your feeling of how vast the universe is, and that will, in time, change your concept of the universe itself.
I understand what you are saying, that the universe is vast and the possibilities endless. But what about that feeling of uniqueness; with so much stuff, copies, variations, dimensions, what does it mean for us, do we like our mathematical equivalents just get smaller and smaller, like that infinitesimal? Are we basically meaningless?
The fact that the universe is constantly growing more vast and more complex in your mind, can make you feel as though you are ever less and less significant within it. This feeling is actually more a matter of how you interpret what you perceive, or rather, how people of your paradigm tend to perceive things. I will give you a suggestion, though it is from an alien outside of your paradigm. It may seem a bit philosophical, but perhaps it could help you reconcile, and even seek out, the knowledge of a far greater and more interesting universe. Do you know what duality and non-duality are in a mystical or spiritual context?
The concept of duality is that you are a separate thing from the things around you. That you are you, and that the universe is something else. You are not intricate parts of each other. It was not always this way, but modern humans tend to think of themselves as separate entities from their environment. You have your bodies, small and puny, and your world, massive and vast. Since you are separate, as the universe gets bigger, you in relation, get smaller. Non-duality is the opposite concept. You are an inseparable, integrated, part of the universe, or God. You are it and it is you, there is no actual separation between you and the universe, the separation is purely a perceptual one. Therefore, as the universe gets bigger and more interesting in your mind, as your concept of the vastness and beauty of the universe expands, you yourself expand.
This does sound like a bunch of mystical mumbo jumbo to me.
Well I didn’t think you were going to take an alien’s personal account to heart, so I will use a human example. Remember Sue, who gained stereoscopic vision? She writes that a mystical experience happened when she was walking through a snowstorm after she had first gained her ability to see the dimension of depth. What she saw was beyond her imagination. Instead of falling in a flat sheet in front of her, the snow fell all around her, she felt she was within the snowstorm, not observing it from some other place. She writes, and this time I will quote her, because I also have a pretty good memory, “I was completely unprepared for my new appreciation of space and the deep feelings of joy and wonder, the enormous emotional high. I had no idea just how different and how magnificent the world would appear in all its glorious dimensions.” Sue’s perception of the universe expanded immensely, immeasurably, when she could perceive space from a new perspective. Her universe became vast, not just a simple flat plane, but a three dimensional all-encompassing world. Yet instead of making her feel smaller, she felt larger, she felt more complete. She felt enveloped in the universe, it was to her a mystical experience, and much more amazing than she could have ever imagined. So being able to experience a grander universe does not have to make you feel smaller, in fact it is usually the exact opposite. For thousands of years, in many cultures outside of your paradigm, this was the belief. The removal of that feeling of separation was the ultimate spiritual goal.
-- I think he saw that I wasn't really buying the argument, and so continued,
Look you don’t have to think this way. Just understand that feeling less significant is an interpretation manifested by your mind. Having a closed mind due to fear of a sense of lost uniqueness can stop you from observing a more interesting and varied universe.
—There was a moment of silence now. My guest stood up, went to the kitchen and brought me my teakettle. He poured some tea into my now empty cup, put the teakettle on a coaster on the table and sat down. It was getting quite dark and I could now hear the rain outside tapping my window. The silence was beginning to be uncomfortable so I asked him a further question.
Ok, so I think I understand the science behind the multiverse. Any single universe is just one of many variations in the multiverse. And you are claiming you can observe these variations. But how can you possibly observe many worlds simultaneously?
—He opened his next bottle of juice, looked down at my chessboard and said,
Do you know the great chess grand master Mikhail Tal?
Of course. He was the eighth World Chess champion, won the title in 1960, at the age of 23, at that time the youngest champion ever. He was known as the Wizard of Riga, his birthplace, for his imaginative and aggressive attacking style. I personally prefer the more conservative controlled approach of Karpov. But Tal is a favorite of many chess players. His style was both ruthless and beautiful. He sacrificed his pieces in suicidal attacks that almost always lead to an awe-inspiring win. He was also known for his steely glare, which he used to great effect in intimidating the young Bobby Fischer.
A very animated description! As with many geniuses, Tal’s life imitated his art. He drank, smoked and was constantly hospitalized for various health conditions. At fifty-five, he already looked like a ghost. I was there when he rose from his deathbed, walked over to a famous chess tournament in Moscow, and proceeded to beat the reigning World Champion Gary Kasparov, then in his prime. When the tournament ended, he went back to the hospital and died shortly after.
Yes, that story is legendary in chess circles.
Tal was famous, like Paul Morphy before him, for playing interesting simuls. You have heard of a simul?
Yes, it is a simultaneous exhibition. Many grandmasters will show off their skills by playing games versus many players simultaneously, often 30 or 40 players, but the record is over 600.
Correct, and how does the grandmaster play against all of these players, do his opponents all get together and decide on a move?
No, each opponent has his own chessboard and makes his own unique moves. The grandmaster will go from board to board in order, making one move at each board. Usually his opponents are arranged in a circle or square so that the GM will return to his starting point. He will then make the second move and go around the circle again. This can take some time. As he wins, players drop out, and by the end, there are usually just a few players left. Grandmasters perform simuls just about everywhere they go, this way many people get a chance to play them. They are so good at what they do, even though they are contemplating 30 or 40 different games, they still win a vast majority of the time. It’s funny that you mentioned Kasparov earlier, because I played him in a simul. I was holding my own at first because I had memorized a lot of opening theory. But once we got into the middle game and I was one of the few survivors, he focused on my game for a few moments. I felt his intensity and lost my nerve. I made a blunder and ended up losing badly.
Don’t feel bad, when facing Kasparov, most people lose their nerve. Just as Fischer did when facing Tal. I spent quite a bit of time in the U.S.S.R during the cold war, when the art of chess was being elevated to its highest levels. Once, I observed an interesting simul featuring Tal. In this simul, a number of players, mostly youths, were seated on one side of a very long table in a massive auditorium, with chess boards in front of them. They were playing chess versus an opponent, but he was not there. Tal was thirty-three then, and recovering from major surgery, always a risky proposition in those days. He was sitting in a chair in a small room separated from the auditorium. He was wearing a short sleeve white shirt and black tie, smoking a cigarette. The room otherwise was empty aside from a single microphone. He had no chessboards in this room. Occasionally he leaned forward and spoke chess moves into the microphone.
Ah, Tal is playing blindfolded chess. Many great chess players do not even need to see the board or the pieces. They can play without ever looking at it, in their mind.
That is right, Tal does not physically see any of the boards. He is not even in the main playing hall. Each move by his opponents is relayed to him through a speaker in his room, and he in return speaks his desired move back through a microphone. After he calls out a move, an arbiter in the playing hall moves Tal’s chess pieces on the boards of his opponents. Tal is not only playing multiple games against multiple opponents, but also playing those games completely in his mind. At no time has he ever physically seen the boards, nor has he ever physically touched the pieces. In his mind, he is keeping track of all the games, in each game considering many possible moves, positions and consequences. Though they all start the same, each game will evolve in different ways. Each board is going to have completely different positions for all of the pieces, with its own googols of possibilities. Yet he has no problem keeping it all in order. At one point he even stops one of his youthful opponents who makes a blunder, and tells him to change his move. If the youth stays with his errant choice, Tal will win. With some embarrassment, the youth changes his move, and the game continues. So you see, you are like those young aspiring members of the Russian chess machine, each one extremely focused on controlling their own single chessboard. And I, am Tal. You are one consciousness that observes one world, your own personal chessboard. I am one consciousness that observes many worlds.
—He stopped to take a drink and let me think a bit. As I disengaged from the narrative I heard the sirens of several police or ambulances, they passed in a few seconds and were gone.
But is Tal observing all the games at once, or just continuously switching his attention from game to game?
When you observe your thoughts, you are observing conscious thoughts. These thoughts come one at a time, so humans tend to think that this is their entire mind. Yet their subconscious mind is always working, performing many tasks simultaneously. Though Tal may be consciously observing one game at a time, his subconscious mind is still solving problems in the other games. Think of the times you forget some name or fact, and once you stop thinking about it, it will suddenly pop out of your subconscious. Many scientists and artists who are stumped by a tricky problem will focus their mind on something else. After a good night’s sleep, or a brisk walk, the answer will come to them; usually quite unexpectedly. My mind is less separated and more developed than yours. I do retain multiple streams of consciousness at the same time. I can make multiple plans, observe multiple possibilities, make multiple, what you would consider, rational conscious decisions, simultaneously. I can observe many worlds and therefore can observe many thoughts. Imagine that fork in the road again. When you come to the fork, once you have followed one path, the other path falls away. You cannot observe the other path, though you could use your mind to imagine what it might look like. I am actually able to observe both paths, and then the next branching of those paths, and the next. As the paths diverge farther from each other, they take on very different qualities. The paths that take on the most interesting qualities are the ones which I am attracted to. This is similar to how some Grandmasters approach the challenge of playing a simul. No matter how brilliant, every GM has some limit to his mental resources. Therefore, while he is considering the various chess positions, he cannot dwell upon all of the specific games equally, as he will be wasting valuable time and energy. Hence, while playing each game he will choose to play moves that lead to exciting positions. In games where he has easily won, a GM will pay little attention, just for a few moments, and win quickly. In games that are going badly, a GM will tend to let them end quickly, instead of wasting too much energy trying to save a lost position. Most of the GM’s attention goes to the interesting close games.
So you do not change your future, you choose your future.
That is right. And here we have a few things in common. Just like humans, I also prefer certain possibilities or outcomes over others. To me, to paraphrase another famous literary line; all the worlds are equal, but some are more equal than others. Thus I choose which worlds to observe more closely.
Can you actually see all possible variations?
No, that would mean processing an infinite amount of information. Then I would not need to choose, I could just sit back and observe everything.
Like an all powerful God.
Yes, but like you, I am limited in what information I can gather, and how much I can observe. Very likely and unlikely variations branch out from every moment in the multiverse. I easily observe the most likely variations, but the very unlikely ones are harder to see. Granted my mind is very powerful, so I can observe some very unlikely outcomes. Still it is an infinitesimally small part of what is possible. You can compare my ability to see different variations with your ability to see objects in space. You have very sensitive eyes that can certainly observe many objects in your world. Yet you cannot see everything. In the grand scheme of things, your eyesight is very limited. Large objects reflect a lot of light, so they are easy to see. Small objects that reflect less are much harder to see. As objects get smaller, they slowly fade from your vision, or they melt together to create one seamless object. You can’t differentiate the parts, even though they are separate. Can you see the various dust particles, pollen, or bacteria floating between us in this room? Can you see the individual cells in your skin? To see these details you need special tools.
Like a microscope.
Yes. You can use tools to enhance your ability to observe.
Do you use such tools to observe very unlikely variations?
Yes, there are tools that can enhance my observation of unlikely universe variations. And like your microscopes, when you use tools to focus in on the little picture, you lose the ability to see the big picture. Sometimes this can cause problems.
Is this what happened with you and the earthquake?
A very astute conclusion. Yes, while I was focused on fixing one very unlikely problem another unlikely one occurred. But it was an interesting possibility, and I did what I could to salvage it. So far it is going pretty well.
If you see these possibilities simultaneously, how many can you see and how can you tell them apart?
This is a difficult aspect to describe. When I look at you, versus a variation of you in another universe, I do not see exactly the same thing. Probably the easiest way to get some idea of my ability to discern many worlds would be to compare it with your very developed ability to discern differences in light frequency. In other words, your ability to see color. Color is not a dimension, it is a quality, but it does help distinguish similar objects and it adds informational content to an object. If you are curious as to how many world variations I can see, just think of the elegant, though pretty primitive human eye. Did you know it can see about ten million shades of color? That means that an object, like this chair, can be distinguished from millions of others just like it. Millions of chairs could be identical in shape and texture, and all outward appearance, yet you could still distinguish them all from each other. Some are going to be very similar, for instance two chairs in shades of blue, and some will be very different like a red chair and a green chair. A colorblind person might just see a million copies of the same chair. You could not even describe this distinction to a colorblind person. You could only say that each color is different, and that some chairs are more similar than others. On a planet of colorblind people, they would not even believe you. Nevertheless, you could prove that the distinction exists, because no matter how a colorblind person shuffles what he believes to be identical chairs around, you could still identify any specific chair.
So you see this world, say in a shade of blue, while a very different world could be red.
Well I am really stretching the analogy. Universes are not the same as colors, they define a dimension of the multiverse.
I know you have said this is an extra dimension, and I understand that space and time are dimensions. But why do universe variations represent another dimension?
Unlike color, each universe occupies its own coordinate in the multiverse. Thus knowing the coordinate of your universe variation is necessary for knowing your actual location within the multiverse.
I don’t see the need for an extra coordinate. Didn’t I meet you at the Empire State Building with just the four dimensions of space-time we used earlier?
At our hypothetical meeting at the Empire State Building, we had sufficient information to meet because we assumed one thing; we were starting and ending in the same universe, the same universe variation in the multiverse.
—I must have been looking confused again because he stopped for a moment and gave me a warm smile, perhaps like father to a child who is having trouble stacking his blocks.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you were to meet Charlie Brown at the Empire State Building. Since he would be moving around on a flat earth, he would only understand the street and avenue part of the address you provide to him. Since there is no up and down dimension in his world, he would assume it is the ground floor. If you told him to meet you on the tenth floor, he would have no idea what you are talking about. He could only meet you in the lobby. Thus in your case, you did not need a multiverse coordinate, since you only experience one multiverse variation. Your mind automatically makes the seamless assumption of one variation, but for me it is very different.
You can think of this moment as a massive crossroads, where all possible events leading to this variation and all possible events leading from this variation intersect. Let’s go back to the time that you read my note telling you to meet me at the Empire State Building tomorrow. At the moment of reading, you are standing at that crossroads. From that moment, countless variations of you will begin to branch off into different universes. As you head home, you may notice a shiny billboard advertising a new movie and decide to go see it. While another you, too lost in thought, doesn’t see the billboard and goes home to bed. Another you, on his way home to bed, takes a slightly different path and accidentally bumps into an old friend heading the opposite direction and decides to go out for some coffee. By the time I meet you at the Empire State Building the next day, I will need to decide which of the many you’s waiting for me is the one I want to talk to. If I want to discuss the new movie with you, I will have to go to a different coordinate in the multiverse than if I want to talk to you about how good your coffee was. I don’t need to tell you anything about this coordinate, since you are oblivious to it. But, if I wanted to invite a friend of my race to join us to discuss the movie, I will need to tell him the exact Empire State Building coordinate in space, time, and the universe variation in which we are to meet the you who watched the movie. Otherwise, my friend could show up at the Empire State Building and meet you at the correct time, but have nothing to talk about, since that variation of you went to bed and didn’t even see the movie.
It is hard for me to believe I am completely oblivious to all of these other worlds, all of these other variations of myself.
It would be more accurate to say that your conscious mind makes you feel completely oblivious.
What do you mean?
Human mental function; how humans observe and interact with the world around them is a vast topic. Vast enough that we would need a lot of time and several crates of juice to deal with even the basics, and we are running short of both. Most of the really interesting concepts are too advanced for your current level of science. The actions of electrons and photons are relatively easy for your scientists to understand. The actions of humans; much more complicated. Your scientists have focused intensely on understanding the universe surrounding you, how it interacts with the universe inside of you is still mostly a mystery. The experiments currently being performed attempting to understand human brain function are crude and just the tip of a massive iceberg.
Certainly you could explain some of it, I know we have made progress.
Sure, but up until now, I have made my points with well established scientific theories. To explain consciousness I will need to site some pretty recent, and controversial brain research you are probably not aware of, so you will have to believe me. And if your faith is not strong enough, you can reinforce it by reading some papers in journals or on the internet. That is, if you have faith in what you read on the internet.
That’s fine, if there is something I don’t know, I can verify it.
—He took a sip of juice, and I noticed that it was raining very hard now. I also noticed blue and red lights illuminating the space outside my window. I assumed it was an ambulance or fire engine parked below, though I did not hear a siren. The power had not returned. The outside lights drew my attention and I looked at the window. Tal got up and walked to it. He looked outside, seemed to contemplate something, returned to his chair, grabbed another bottle of juice and continued.
Your mind, from a very complicated and chaotic universe of vibrating probability fields, creates a seamless, simple world for you to interact with. The universe is constantly bombarding your physical body, your skin, eyes, ears, all your sense organs, with stimuli. Your mind makes sense of these stimuli in the context of the paradigm you were raised in. In your current paradigm, the perceived order of this process is usually explained like this: Your sense organs receive information from the outside world. Your brain then processes that information. Then there manifests a conscious decision in your mind to act based on this information. Finally, the signal for that action is sent from your brain to the parts of your body that will do the action.
That is correct. I receive information, process it, and make an informed, logical decision with my conscious mind. I gather all the pertinent information and make a choice of action.
Humans have an interesting ability that many animals do not have. They are able to observe their own thoughts. Who do you associate with when you are thinking? Is it the voice inside your head that seems to guide your thoughts? Is that you?
Yes, I suppose so.
Then who is it that observes that voice, listens to it and then commands it to be quiet when you are trying to sleep or concentrate on something else?
I suppose that is also me. Another voice appears that tells that voice to be quiet.
And who is it that is observing the conversation between these two voices?
—I had no answer to this question. He gave me a little smile and continued.
It is still you. Under these layers of thoughts and feeling, there is observation. It is like a very deep well. How deep do you have to dive to get to the bottom, to the final observer? Thus whenever a thought consciously manifests, there is an internal observer of that thought. What you observe when you observe your thoughts is what you call your conscious mind. The illusion created by your conscious mind is that it is the generator of most of your actions and decisions. You believe this because the conscious mind is the part of your mind that you can actually feel working. To you, the conscious thoughts that drive your actions seem consistent, thought out, and logical.
Why do you say this is an illusion?
Because humans tend to think that what they see and feel is all there is, and this is how they understand their mind. You have thoughts that you can feel and observe, your conscious thoughts, and thoughts you cannot feel or observe, your subconscious thoughts. Most humans think that their subconscious mind controls their basic bodily actions, heart beat, digestion, etcetera, and your conscious mind makes all the real life decisions. You feel in full conscious control of how you interact with your world. When you turn the page of a book, move these chess pieces, or walk down the street, the act of doing these things seems like a conscious one. In reality, the vast majority of your actions and the vast majority of your decisions are made subconsciously, with no conscious input from you.
Some actions I would say are semi-conscious, I don’t really think about them, but my conscious mind guides what my subconscious does.
What your conscious mind actually does is make sense of your decisions and actions after they have occurred. The conscious mind analyzes your decisions, observations, actions, and tries to make sense of them in a way that fits into your current emotional and intellectual state. In essence, your conscious mind attempts to recreate a mental universe where, at least at the time, your decisions and actions all had a very good reason. Any emotion or sensation that you have manifests as chemical and electrical signals in your brain, in the physical world. The unique physical composition of your brain and its method of processing information is what guides many of the decisions in your life. The illusion comes from a feeling that your conscious intention, your ghost, comes first, and the physical reaction comes after.
That may have been what people felt in the past; that their soul guides their body. I would think that these days, people understand this happens simultaneously. Your mental idea or intention and its physical representation happen at the same time.
That would be a logical way to look at it. However, the most recent scientific research has shown that the decisions and actions which you feel you have consciously chosen, actually manifest physically in your brain much earlier than your conscious mind is aware of them.
You mean they are processed subconsciously?
Yes. Even though you feel very strongly that the decision originated in your conscious mind. There have been many experiments done testing this. When asked to make a simple decision or action, for instance choosing when to move a finger, studies have shown that physical reactions in the brain begin happening before the subject is aware of any intention to act. In other words, the scientists, while monitoring signals from the body and brain, could predict when the subjects would choose to do the action, before the subjects even knew it themselves. The physical brain acts, and the mind follows. There have been further experiments in which scientists found that when subjects were asked to make a choice, such as pressing a button with the left hand or the right hand, it was possible to predict, with some accuracy, up to seven seconds before their conscious decision to act, when and which button the test subject will press.
You are saying that the subconscious somehow makes these decisions well before the conscious mind is even aware there is a decision to make?
Well these are very basic experiments that show certain results. After the experiment is complete, there follows the very long and often contested process of interpreting and understanding these results. The types of experiments with consciousness being done now are similar to the first quantum mechanical experiments, like the double slit experiment one hundred years ago. The results of those experiments seemed impossible at first, and are still befuddling a hundred years later. The meaning of these consciousness experiments is not so clear now and will challenge your scientists and philosophers for many years to come. The one thing you should understand, however, is that the subconscious plays a very significant part in all of your functions, even in decisions and actions that seem to you, purely conscious. You see, here we run into the limitations of teaching in your modern scientific era. Because your brain is already wired to accept the reality of your current paradigm, I do not teach you with knowledge from outside your paradigm, as you will naturally resist this knowledge. I must teach in a way your brain will understand. Thus I must teach based on a logical systematic method, and am forced to use information that you believe is scientifically valid. Luckily in this case, you can check the research yourself, but the research is very limited, so what I can discuss with you is limited. Current scientific research is typically not done for the sake of pure knowledge and the quest for truth. There is not much profit in that. The vast majority of your scientists work to make money for corporations. Doing drug testing, or product testing; joining the quest for the ever better tasting toothpaste. The little fundamental research done today is mostly funded by your governments and universities. It will be a while before there is enough pure scientific research to give you a clear idea of what is really going on inside your head.
Honestly, I have to doubt these experiments. Perhaps for basic simple decisions like choosing left or right, or physical actions like walking or breathing or picking things up this indeed happens. I do not consciously choose, I have already made the decision subconsciously before I am aware of it. But I certainly use my conscious mind to make important thought out decisions about my life.
Because you can sense conscious thought more strongly than unconscious thought, you tend to believe that conscious thought is your decision generator. And since you do not sense the actual physical state of your brain, you do not realize how little actual conscious control you have. For instance, when a physical aspect of the brain suffers damage or its chemical makeup is not in balance, it affects all of your decision-making, including thought out decisions. What to an outsider, may seem like erratic behavior, your conscious mind will try to make logical to you. One example is the behavior of humans with too much testosterone. Humans who produce too much testosterone not only tend to get angry easier, but all sorts of decisions change; their likes and dislikes, the activities they do, the people they socialize with, the jobs they enjoy. All the choices they make are affected by the imbalance. Once the balance is restored, the conscious decisions that person makes change dramatically. Similarly, with problems like addiction or depression, the simple conscious understanding that something is wrong rarely changes the behavior. This is often why drugs need to be taken, to physically change the chemical balances in the brain. Sometimes counseling can help to break repetitive patterns and create new ones. In the end, the physical structure of the brain needs to change for conscious action to also change. Let me give you a very amusing example of how a change in the physical brain alters conscious thought. There is a very interesting thing that can happen to humans when they suffer a certain type of brain damage. Have you heard of the Capgras Delusion?
In this mental disorder, a person feels that all of their friends and relatives are imposters. They also believe that their home is not their real home, their pet, not their pet, etcetera. Though they accurately recognize the face of a loved one, those who suffer from Capgras Delusion do not believe that this is the genuine person. Scientists found that this condition often arises after a person has suffered brain damage caused by an accident or stroke. The area where the brain damage usually occurs is one that controls emotions. A lot of information goes into recognizing someone, and much of it is not visual. Even though they recognize the person visually, they feel no emotion towards them. This emotional recognition you are normally not conscious of is so strong that it overrides the very obvious visual input. Thus they believe that the person they are looking at is an imposter. If their conscious mind was truly powerful, you might think it could override this subconscious information. Yet logical explanations do not fix the problem. No matter how much you try to logically explain to people with this disorder that they are delusional, that their family members are not imposters, the feeling remains. So a dysfunction or imbalance in your physical brain can completely change your conscious actions and observations, though to you, those actions and observations will seem free willed and perfectly logical.
It’s hard to believe that I have so little control over how I think and what I choose to do.
I would not say you have little control. I would say you have little conscious control. Think of your mind as a deep ocean; the surface waves are your conscious mind. Hovering above the ocean, all one can see is the surface ripples. This is what you usually sense when you observe your mind working. Just the surface. Yet the structures under the water affect what patterns manifest on the surface. The subconscious controls 99.999 percent of everything that happens in your life; how you move, how you fight disease, how your billions of cells work together to balance your system. All done without any conscious awareness, millions and millions of actions. Your conscious mind can’t keep more than seven numbers in your memory for more than a few seconds. Current scientific research has shown that even when making very important thought out decisions like buying a car, or answering very difficult questions like those on university entrance exams, you are statistically more successful when you make the gut decision and don’t ponder for too long about it. Your conscious mind actually gets in the way.
Yes, I have heard of this idea in some popular psychology books and magazines. When comparing cars or homes, the more people thought about it, the worse their decision. Frankly, much of what you said seems pretty logical to me; aside from the part about my subconscious having the answer before I am aware of the question. But why is it that we have made so much progress in manipulating matter, and so little in understanding how we think?
Because the vast majority of your scientists and mathematicians discount the importance of consciousness, even though all of science and mathematics depend on it. Any measurement, experiment, or theory requires a conscious mind’s involvement.
But we can use tools to measure, like microscopes or electron detectors, we don’t need to observe anything.
You still need to create those tools and then collect the information from those tools via conscious interaction. You also need conscious interaction with numbers to manipulate mathematics and create theorems.
Aren’t mathematical laws already there? We didn’t invent them.
It takes consciousness to either create them or uncover them, either way consciousness is required. What defines mathematics and what defines mathematical proofs is constantly changing and evolving with the people who practice it. I am not making a judgment about the situation. You can discount consciousness; that isn’t a problem in many branches of science. You can still get results. It only becomes a problem when you are seeking insights about consciousness in a paradigm where it is generally ignored.
Must we step out of the paradigm to understand truths about consciousness?
At this point in your development, you do need to step out a bit, but not too far. If you are interested, I can explain a few controversial ideas about the brain and quantum theory, ideas on the fringe of your scientific understanding. Your scientists don’t have a consensus opinion on what I will tell you next, but that is nothing unusual. Science knows so little about the brain. If you told scientists even twenty years ago something obvious, like the fact that the human brain is capable of neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, most would have laughed at you. Now it is standard knowledge.
Yes, I would like you to continue, especially since you still haven’t explained the link between consciousness and seeing many worlds.
Not only is your mind required for perceiving many worlds, it plays a vital role in the creation of many worlds. You now understand that most of your life is controlled by your subconscious mind. And your subconscious mind is influenced by your brain, which is a very complex structure whose constituents operate at the quantum level. Your brain’s function is based on the firing of neurons, which send electrical signals throughout your brain. These neurons form neural networks. Your neurons and their many smaller constituents, the parts that make up the neural network, like microtubules and ion channels are all sensitive to the subtle effects of quantum randomness. Your brain is a fluctuating field of neurons, chemicals, and electrical signals. It is not the individual neurons and their synapses or even the microtubules themselves, but the interactions between all of these constituents that is critical. This symbiotic interaction is what creates the amazing abilities of your mind. Look at your chess set. There are only 32 pieces, and 64 squares on the board. Yet your most powerful computers are nowhere near solving chess. They play better than humans, but that’s about it.
I have read that the number of possible interactions or positions in chess is infinite. But I now realize it can’t be, since there is definitely a finite amount of pieces and squares.
That’s right, it is a large number. The number of possible interactions between these 32 pieces, on a 64 square board is greater than 10 to the 100, or one Googol, which is more than the amount of atoms in your observable universe, but definitely finite. Now compare that to your brain, which contains billions of neurons and billions of synapses, with each synapse connected with discrete levels of strength. The brain is extremely complex and extremely delicate. Just as the same action on a particle or group of particles can create many possible reactions; the same stimuli on your body and brain can create many possible reactions in your mind. Humans make decisions in reaction to stimuli, and they believe that if the stimuli were exactly the same, if the situation was exactly the same, they would make exactly the same decisions in reaction to it. This is just not the case. The decisions you have made in your life are more random than you think they are. Just as molecules will not move in the same fashion every time; living things will also not behave in the same fashion every time, even if the situation is exactly identical.
I would think that life forms, using their minds, might actually remove some of the randomness and act more consistently. I certainly feel as if I make consistent decisions and would repeat them if the situation was exactly the same.
I think you are confusing what your paradigm would like your actions to be like and what they really are like. In your modern industrialized world, humans strive for perfect repetition and the removal of as much randomness as possible. They have developed artificial life forms, computers and robots; machines to create identical products for mass consumption. They also desire consistency and repeatability in their research and experiments. Living in a paradigm that puts great value on consistency and predictability leads the people of that paradigm to think the same way about themselves, when the reality is the exact opposite. Conscious living things, by nature, are much more chaotic than non-conscious things. Living things actually have a tendency towards randomness; it is built into their very structure. For instance in observing many types of animals, you will see that they perform very many random actions even when there is no reason to do so. Their reaction to stimuli is very chaotic. In the case of a non-living object, laws of motion will tend to send an object in the shortest and most energy conserved manner to its destination. There could be some slight quantum variation, but it is tiny. Yet life doesn’t work that way, even though logically it would seem conserving energy is helpful for survival. Even with a clear path to food, you will see that animals don’t always take the shortest route. They will take various random paths, often less efficient than a direct path. And when they do decide to move this way or that, living things do not tend to move anywhere in continuous motion like a non-living object. Their motion is interrupted by accelerations, decelerations and pauses. When there is a similar stimulus to many animals, like fruit to a group of fruit flies, they will all act in many different and random ways. Eventually most will go to the fruit, but all in their own time and by their own unique path. The actions of living beings are generally, inherently, random. This randomness is manifested by the design of the brain and the sensitivity of its structure to quantum effects. This is the root physical generator of their chaotic and random behavior.
Why would there be this extra inherent randomness in living things?
Well if you think about it, if there is no randomness, there is predictability. Once you are predictable as prey, you are much easier to catch. Once you are predictable as predator you are easy to avoid. If you are predictable in a fight, you will most likely lose. In a constantly changing environment, if you lack variety as a species you are in major trouble. Any calamity or change will wipe you out, as one goes, so do the others. In human groups, even in the most socially controlled environments, the strictest governments or societies, there are always outliers. These outliers are necessary for the survival of the species, and from them come many of the most interesting and novel ideas. Random action in animals increases their chance of survival and their group’s chance of survival.
But as humans, we have some conscious control over these random processes.
Let me give you an example from recent scientific research that shows how random action is generated in humans. The brain is constantly working. If you are engaged in some activity or thought, certain parts of the brain will be more active than others. However, there is neuronal activity in all parts of the brain. There are many types of neurons in the brain and they fire randomly at different rates. A recent study attempted to observe the random firings of neurons within the brain and their effect on decision-making. While monitored, test subjects were asked to make a simple fifty-fifty choice between performing two tasks, such as performing addition or subtraction. These tasks use two different parts of the brain. The results showed that, depending on where there was more random neuronal firing, one could predict which action would be chosen, again up to seven seconds in advance. Which part of your brain is more randomly lit up before a decision, will influence the decisions you make, even though to you, it seems to be a completely free willed conscious decision. So the brain chooses and your conscious mind follows with a nice feeling of intention. The state of your brain is the state of your mind.
Ok, I can understand how actions of animals or our subconscious actions are random. Perhaps even very simple decisions we make, like going left or right, or adding and subtracting have random qualities to them. But what about the conscious, thought out choices that I make? If I actually take some time to make a complicated decision, would I not make the same decision every time?
Since your brain is a quantum physical system, it will follow mathematical probability rules. You could think of the brain as having its own Schrödinger brain equation. Each time your mind encounters a stimulus, depending on the state of your brain, and how it processes that stimulus, different reactions will have a probability of occurring. Some reactions more likely, and some less likely. You may not feel that long thought out decisions can be influenced by quantum effects, but that decision is going to depend on many subconscious processes and associations you are not aware of. A very popular current research field in psychology is known as priming. Research in this field points to the fact that subconscious symbols and associations have a dramatic effect on your conscious thoughts and actions. Researchers prime their subjects with certain ideas and observe if this affects subsequent unrelated thoughts and actions. In one well-known experiment, students in two groups were told to perform simple manipulations of certain words. One group had to make sentences with words that seemed to refer, though did not mention, old age. Words like Florida, forgetful, bald, and gray. After manipulating these words, those students were then told to walk to another room down the hall for further testing. The researchers then measured the students’ rate of movement. The students who manipulated the old words walked down the hall significantly slower than the control group, which did not manipulate words dealing with old age. There have been many such studies. Other interesting studies primed subjects with thoughts or images of money. Later the subjects were asked to perform various tasks measuring generosity, initiative and helpfulness. For instance how many students, after being exposed to symbols or ideas related to money, would help someone who happened to drop their belongings as they were walking by. Those groups who were primed in advance by thinking about money were more selfish, less helpful and more driven in their decision-making.
This seems similar to repetitive or subliminal programming. I know that just hearing something repeated many times programs our minds to believe it is true, this is why I hate TV. But I would think I could consciously control some of these influences on my behavior.
Of course every individual is aware of these influences, but still thinks they personally are not affected by them. Yet even small things you would never notice can have a dramatic effect on your thoughts and feelings. For instance, researchers have shown that holding a warm drink or a cold drink in your hand will change the way you think about the people around you. Physical warmth associates with emotional warmth. So the fact that you are holding a warm cup of tea in your hand right now actually makes you feel greater positive feelings towards me; amplifying associated feelings of warmth and comfort and trust.
—This made me quite self-conscious of the tea I was holding and I had a brief flicker of doubt about my guest’s intentions. For a moment, I felt like a puppet.
There is one final interesting idea I would like to mention. All of your thinking and considering when making a decision takes time, and the chance of making one decision or another changes depending on how long you think. Usually various factors put pressure on any time-based decision. Thus when you actually make the choice to stop considering and finally make a decision can vary greatly. In the context of the multiverse, as you sit there thinking, various you’s will separate into their own universes; some where you have made a quick decision and move on, some where you take a few minutes and consider many options, and some where you finally run out of time and put the decision off until later. In the end, every decision has some random nature to it. People of this paradigm tend to think and feel that their mind is some separate entity from their body, from the world around them. Yet most scientific research points to a much more symbiotic relationship. Scientists call this embodied cognition. You do not have perfect control of your external environment or your internal environment. Quantum effects are everywhere. The world is a fluctuating field of possibility, and your mind is part of that world.
The Magic Bus
—He stopped for a moment. Took another bottle from the now near empty crate, and continued.
The reason I wanted to explain this link between quantum effects and consciousness is that the quantum nature of living things allows me greater freedom in choosing which variations of the universe I can observe.
What do you mean?
In a dead world, things behave more consistently, more predictably than in a living one. For most objects, their likely path is a very predictable one, where small and likely quantum changes do not make much difference. However, in organic systems, quantum variations lead to very different worlds. Though there are many worlds created on a dead planet, they are generally pretty similar. However on living dynamic worlds, things are far more interesting. Think back to the bus scenario, in which you saw that in the future, a bus would hit you if you crossed the street. In that situation, you saw the future, realized you would be crushed, and therefore decided not to cross the street. You went into a building and up to the 50th floor instead. Now you observed a universe where you were safe. This time, imagine you still want to cross the street, so you ask me if I could see a scenario, another variation in the multiverse, in which you cross the road, but the bus does not hit you.
So I want to experience a world where I still cross the road. I don’t change my motion, the bus must change its motion.
Yes. If that bus, instead of being a bus, was a giant boulder rolling down the street, though it is possible, it would be very difficult for me to see a variation where you will not be hit; since small changes at the quantum level won’t alter a boulders trajectory that much. But with a real bus, being driven by and interacting with humans, it is very easy to see likely possibilities where the bus will be nowhere near you when you cross the street. For instance, the bus driver could press on the break just a little heavier or lighter approaching a bus stop. A passenger could slip walking up the stairs into the bus. The bus driver could decide to change the radio station or daydream for a few extra seconds before starting off again. Now, delayed for millions of possible reasons, all relatively likely, the bus is a few seconds behind schedule. More passengers have time to make it to the bus stop and the bus misses a green light slowing it even further. Outside influences also have a huge effect on the bus. A driver of another car cuts the bus off when he happens to see a pizza shop, which reminds him that he is hungry. A stray dog decides to run across the road, or the bus driver decides to avoid running over a dead cat in the street. Just about anything can affect the buses trajectory, from within and without. You can see that because of its interactions with so many life forms, there are millions of possible scenarios where the bus would be nowhere near you when you cross the street. Small subconscious decisions like which way to look, or how to move, lead to huge differences in the many worlds.
It seems to me you need time to affect the trajectory of the bus, you cannot simply change its motion at the very last second.
Yes, it is physically possible for the bus to instantly teleport to some other part of the universe, but it is highly unlikely. It is through time that subtle quantum effects manifest very different possibilities. Generally, coordinates in space-time that are near each other are more similar than coordinates that are distant. The moment you arrive at a fork in the road, you can make a choice that will lead to change, but the change only becomes dramatic after you have walked down that path for a while.
—I stopped to pour myself some more tea. While I remember clearly all of the words spoken in our conversation, I do not remember clearly how I felt much of the time. Possibly because emotions and feelings do not occupy spatial positions in my mind the way facts do. I now know that the actual memories and impressions of past events can change over time, so I will never know for certain how I actually felt. But I believe, from what I said next that I was making a genuine attempt to understand.
All this talk of forks and paths reminds me of the famous Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.” Frost then finishes with the famous lines, “I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
It is very telling that one of the most popular poems by one of the most beloved American poets discusses the different possibilities that your life can take. Those possibilities are dimensionally separated from each other in the multiverse, like paths in a forest. At the beginning, since you are one traveler, you choose one path, and at first, not much has changed. Taking one step down one path or the other, things generally look the same around you. You need time to follow these paths, before significant differences in the many worlds can be observed. A short walk down either path and you will indeed be looking at very different environments. Even if both paths just continue into the forest, you will be observing completely different trees and animals down each path. Though you generally only think of diverging paths when you see dramatic choices or events in your life, these forks in the road happen all the time. They are all around you, every moment things are changing, both internally and externally.
I can see how these effects create random action in life forms. Do they just not manifest in non-living systems in any significant way?
Quantum effects influence everything, though they are especially influential in natural chaotic systems such as the weather. In a chaotic system, tiny changes in the initial condition can create massive changes in the long term. Very small variations at the beginning create very large differences at the end. Hence the infamous Butterfly Effect, where a butterfly flapping its wings helps to create a hurricane far away.
That is a very popular reference though it is hard to believe that a butterfly can make such a dramatic difference.
The Butterfly and the Cat
Your scientists call this branch of science Chaos Theory. As explained in the butterfly effect, it is actually pretty simple, and indeed dramatic. A very large and complicated system like the earth’s weather, will develop differently with even the smallest change in its initial condition. If we were to map the weather from this moment, there is some set of conditions. Now imagine that only one small change is made. One butterfly that is sitting on a flower, decides to fly to a different one. This tiny change, the butterfly at rest or the butterfly flapping its wings is significant enough that in a chaotic system, it will change the outcome of that system. In some cases weeks later causing a hurricane where there would otherwise not be one. The effect is usually not so dramatic, but it will always lead to two different weather patterns: one where the butterfly chose to fly and one where it did not. To the inhabitants in both universes the results will seem completely natural. And remember, there are millions of butterflies and billions of other things, great and small that will influence the system. The subtle differences that influence chaotic systems are generated by even subtler quantum effects. You can think of chaotic forms as quantum forms amplified. Remember the idea of the super computer that could predict the future? If you still tried to use one to predict the future in many worlds, no matter how powerful, the small uncertainties in the motion of particles will start to create errors, and soon the errors will multiply, creating larger errors. At some point, the future predicting machine will predict a world so different from the one it probably occupies, that its predictions will be worthless.
But if we somehow knew the positions of all the butterflies and all the insects and humans and everything, would we not get an exact result? Is chaos perceived randomness or true randomness?
Remember that in chaos theory, any change in the initial state of the system will create different evolutions of that system. What do we know as a fact from the Heisenberg uncertainty principle? That you cannot know the initial state of any system. All things, great and small have a wave function, hence their position and momentum is not precise. You would have to believe that it is impossible for quantum effects to have any influence over what you would call a larger system. Even to this day some scientists believe there is a real dividing line between quantum and classical worlds. This has been a big source of argument for a long time, and it started with an interesting experiment regarding a cat.
I think I know the cat you are referring to.
It is a pretty famous cat. In the early stages of thought about quantum mechanics, scientists really didn’t see much link between quantum effects and real world results. That unsavory concept of God playing dice. Quantum effects worked at an unspecified micro level, but larger objects behaved predictably. This didn’t create a big philosophical crisis immediately. Humans created an imaginary line that divided quantum and classical effects. But there was a famous thought experiment that brought crossing that line into the greater imagination of the scientific community and the general public. That was the thought experiment called Schrödinger’s cat.
I knew you were going there, and I particularly like that thought experiment. Though I don’t think I really understood it as clearly as I think I do now.
The experiment was thought up, with input from Einstein, by Schrödinger in 1935. It was initially created in an attempt to show how ridiculous quantum theory, especially Bohr’s interpretation of it really was. In the cat experiment, Schrödinger proposes a problem. What if quantum effects really do influence a macro object? You know the details?
Yes I do. A cat was placed inside a black box. A cyanide capsule was placed in the same box. A radioactive material that had a 50% chance of decaying within an hour, and by decaying releasing a particle was placed outside the box. If the material did decay and lost a particle, that particle would hit a fuse that released the cyanide, which would kill the cat. While if it did not decay within the hour, the cat remained alive.
Correct, a 50/50 quantum dice roll decided the fate of the cat.
Yes, so the question was, until you opened the lid to observe the results an hour later, was the cat alive or dead? According to the Copenhagen interpretation, the cat had no fate; it was neither dead nor alive, until you looked inside. Or perhaps it was both dead and alive?
There are some interesting implications no matter how you interpret it. First, that in a single universe, a cat could be both alive and dead, or neither alive nor dead. Then there is the implication that since you are the measuring device, by opening the lid, you somehow have control over the fate of the cat.
Maybe the cat, obviously knowing if it was alive or dead before you opened the box, already collapsed its own wave function?
All of this speculation about the cat’s fate is a moot point. As you understand now, during experiment there would be many universe variations that exist. In some worlds the cat would have died almost immediately after you started the experiment, because the radioactive material decayed almost immediately. In some worlds the cat died after 30 minutes or right at the end, and in approximately half of the worlds, it would not have died at all. To me this experiment is pretty meaningless, but to you, since you cannot see coordinates in the future, this experiment is quite dramatic. First, it shows that there are scenarios where micro objects can affect macro objects. Thus there is no black and white division between micro and macro worlds. Moreover, this shows that even at a very close coordinate in time, say a few seconds, quantum mechanical effects can create two dramatically different universes, one in which the cat is dead and one in which it is alive.
This type of situation doesn’t happen too often in the real world though.
It is true that the situations where quantum uncertainty can make such a huge impact on macro objects, almost immediately, like a single particle instantly killing a cat, are not very likely. But these processes, at a subtler level are occurring all the time, everywhere within the multiverse. It is just that these fluctuations do not usually result in a living or dead cat at such close coordinates in time. Yet over time, small changes at the micro level through a long chain of events, leads to large changes at the macro level. Thus I do not need a fancy contraption and cyanide to kill the cat, but I do need time, and some options. I can observe a relatively likely possibility, a simple molecule that influences a larger molecule, which influences yet a larger group of molecules, which influences some water molecule, which influence a raindrop, which hits a butterfly, which influences the butterflies motion, which influences a hurricane, whose winds collapse a house on top of a cat. The results are the same, one dead cat. The difference is simply a matter of time. Another way for me to kill the cat would be to choose to observe a world in which the internal working of the butterfly’s brain influences the butterfly to fly off, instead of staying on its flower. It flies off, starting the long chain of events that create the hurricane that leads to the death of the cat. In the end, I have many ways to skin a cat.
But to decide which initial situation is best, you would need to see into the future to see the result.
A good insight. Without the ability to see what you would call future coordinates, the fact that I can observe multiple variations at once would do me little good. I must be able to see where these variations will lead. Otherwise I would be like a blind person who has the ability to choose which fork in the road to take, but can’t see where the road will lead. It is similar to having no choice at all. I would be just as helpless as you; like a fish flopping around in the river of randomness. Or like Robert Frost, sighing about making a choice, then looking back and wondering what the other choice may have led to. The poem after all is titled ‘The Road Not Taken’, not ‘The Road Less Traveled’.
So you can see many possible events and also see where they will lead.
Yes, but to a limited extent. Again, I liken my developed ability to see other coordinates in time to your developed ability to see coordinates in space. The farther into the future or past the event is, the less clearly I see the event. This is a very common ability for beings who can observe many universe variations. Life forms that can observe many worlds, but who have no idea where those worlds will lead, do exist, but are not that common. These beings have no concept of time outside of their current moment.
So they see many events at once, but not their consequences. This would seem very confusing.
Of course their mind will make sense of the confusion for them. They might think of your single event consciousness as extremely dull.
Perhaps they could observe multiple worlds and have a mental image of what the future could be. Using their imagination, as we do.
This is actually one of my research areas. I am curious to see how these abilities evolved from more primitive sources like yourselves. Creatures who have a more limited understanding, a more limited ability to observe time and the variations of the universe. Did one ability come from the other organically? For instance after a species developed the ability to observe future time did it only become natural that at some point, it would also develop a sense for the variations of the multiverse? Perhaps it did not internally evolve but only happened once a species migrated to locations in the multiverse where time or universe variations become easier to observe.
What do you mean by locations where they are easier to observe?
Your location in the universe affects what type of information you can receive. You live on the surface of a planet bathed in information in the form of light. The sun’s energy illuminates the space around you and gives you a detailed understanding of the spatial dimension as light reflects off of objects and onto you. So it is no accident that you have developed very sensitive organs, your eyes, which allow you to interpret that information. But if you lived deep inside a planet, or on an asteroid far from any stars, your concept of space would be completely different, and you wouldn’t have developed eyes at all, since you would have no need for such things.
So you are saying there are places where you can see time or many worlds?
Yes, that is exactly right, different places in the universe have different types and quantities of information. There are places where time or variation information is readily available and it is only natural that a life form will create organs to process that information. Even though humans lack the gross organs to process such information, as your brain became more complex, it developed the ability to consciously simulate the dimension of time, and the dimension of universe variation. It is an entertaining ability because you can imagine some very unlikely worlds while living in your more predictable one.
Is this world, the one I am experiencing, a likely variation?
Well, what seems likely to you may not be so likely. How likely did you think it was going to be, when you were walking home today, that you would be having a conversation with an alien? You have an intrinsic desire to feel that your world was meant to be. Your scientists pretty much only take theories seriously that establish your world as very likely, as it is not so pleasant to think that you are some sort of fluke. But in fact, if you think about it, you yourself are not likely. You would not exist if your parents had not met, and decided to copulate at the exact moment that they did. They would not exist if your grandparents didn’t happen to meet and do the same. Going back further, every one of your grandparents needed everything to go just right for them to be born. Every successive generation depends on the prior to do the exact correct thing. If in this chain going back billions of years, any tiny single event is different, any butterfly, any bird or bus; then in your current form, you do not exist. If you look at your own unique existence, it is, and I will use this term just once for dramatic effect though we know there is no such thing; a near infinite sequence of coincidences. In a finite single universe, the chance of this exact you existing is less than one in a googol of googolplexes. You do not exist because you got so darned lucky. You exist because all that is possible, is.
The Best of All Possible Worlds
-- I sat thinking about this for a few seconds as he took another drink. The rain had subsided and I heard voices from the street. I had not noticed earlier, but the lights below were out now.
So everything is possible?
If there is a physically possible configuration of matter, it exists somewhere in the multiverse. It would not make sense if it did not. Why should this course of events exist, and others not? Though some variation would be so unlikely, that if you filled your observable universe with sand, you would be looking for one grain. However, unlikely is not the same as impossible. Some things would break the laws of physics and hence are impossible, at least in nearby universes. I say nearby universes because the laws of your world are not universal. They were set at the very chaotic start of the Big Bang, when the rules of this universe and others like it were defined. Due to the very strong influence of quantum effects at that time, many different universes and laws governing those universes were created. There are actually countless worlds out there that are fundamentally different from your own.
—I took a few moments to think. I stared into my tea cup, I am not sure for how long, and then said,
I can’t say that I feel all that much better about a world where everything possible happens anyway, and my life is just a result of forces beyond my control. Perhaps it really is a bigger and better world than the one I know, but I think I like my smaller one, where at least I have some control over my destiny.
Does this come back to the free will question?
I suppose. You said earlier we could have free will since we can still choose, but then you said that we weren’t even choosing; we were just interpreting subconscious choices with our conscious mind.
That is correct, but things are not so black and white. We all make choices, but they are limited by our nature and our environment. Does a salmon make choices? Yes, but it is still stuck in the river, and its choices are influenced by its internal instincts. It cannot always control whether it will be eaten by a bear, no matter how hard it tries to avoid one. Can it jump this way or that, can it even decide to challenge its programming and not swim upstream? Under certain circumstances yes, though other salmon would call it insane. But even an insane salmon can’t leave the river and go for a walk in the woods. Unless it had gotten really lucky and developed a mutation that gave it lungs. So do I have more choice than you do? Yes, but there are still possibilities I cannot see, still paths I cannot choose. If you can know anything about the universe it is that everything is a matter of scale. There are no intrinsically small or large things, there are only relationships between them. That is all that can be in an infinite universe. Hence you may have free will. Is it complete free will? No, is it more than a fish? Perhaps.
But subconscious choice doesn’t seem like free willed choice to me.
Let me give you an example, one of many, where there is no dividing line between subconscious choice and conscious choice. In many physical activities such as sports or martial arts, the dependence on subconscious decision-making is extremely beneficial. Once you have become skilled in sports or just about anything, it is often said that you do not think about each action, you react instinctively. In martial arts if you think about every technical aspect of your attack, just like if you think of every detail of your swing while swinging at a baseball coming at you at one hundred miles an hour, you will not do well. You must depend on your subconscious mind to guide your body. Are the subconscious reactions of your body free willed actions?
I would say no, since you have to trust your subconscious processes.
Would this dependence on subconscious process work for a beginner, in martial arts or in baseball?
No, a novice would fail miserably. They need to learn the mechanics first, they have to practice, train their mind and body so they can react properly.
So to master the technique of a sport takes conscious input. You must choose to practice. To sacrifice your time, to consistently make the daily decision to practice, to be at the gym for hours instead of watching TV. These are conscious decisions. All of these longer, involved decisions mold the quality of your subconscious reactions. Your subconscious reactions may not be observed or manipulated by you, but they are a result of choices and actions you have made during your life. Are these decisions made completely independently of the world around you? No. They depend on prior decisions, interactions, genes, brain functions, chemical balances; it is a very long list. So your choices are limited, but I would not say you are completely helpless. Subconscious decisions inform conscious ones, conscious decisions inform subconscious ones. Without the free willed decisions to practice, your subconscious skill cannot develop. Hence you do control your future to some extent, just not to the extent you would like. Obviously being able to see actual futures and choose to experience them is appealing and is a higher level of choice. But this is choice you do not have. Your consciousness is like a stone, cast in the dimension of variation. You do not have the conscious freedom to choose your exact physical location in the multiverse. However, unlike a stone, you can consciously and subconsciously choose to increase your chances of observing certain outcomes. If you decide to take a month long trek through the Himalaya instead of sailing for a month in Bermuda, even though you cannot choose exactly how your Himalayan trip will turn out, you can be pretty sure that you will be cold, tired, and require the aid of Sherpas. You will not get a suntan. Well maybe just on a few exposed bits of skin. In the end it is still choice, less than you would like, more than you probably deserve.
So you are saying there is some choice and some luck.
Yes, sometimes it just pays to be lucky because you cannot completely control the outcome of anything. You are not oblivious to the fact that the future may hold many different outcomes. In fact, is it not a natural pattern of human thought to imagine many worlds and predict those outcomes? Do you not desire to observe the future and to control what your future will be? For most humans your conscious mind, your attention, is not even with your body in real time, it is usually imagining some other place and time. Your consciousness is rarely in the moment. Aside from times when you are doing some extremely complex task, your mind is usually busy planning what will be for dinner, or thinking about some event that happened yesterday, or feeling upset because your boss is the son of a genius monkey. Rarely are you observing the moment and place that you are. Modern humans spend most of their time absorbed in their mental world, regretting the past or imagining the future, rarely in the present.
Yes, I think that is definitely human nature.
There are very difficult and millennia old human practices of actually trying to be, where you are. Methods of observing your current time and current variation fully with all of your attention. Yet your mind is always being dragged away from observing your current universe. You are constantly thinking of your hopes, dreams, and regrets; imagining the many histories and many futures of the multiverse. When your consciousness is focused on your current experience and you are observing the actual world, not your imaginary one, you can experience your current world more fully. To completely remove all imagined thoughts, to find one pure stream of consciousness, to intently observe just your single current coordinate in the multiverse is virtually impossible even for a few minutes by the untrained human mind. If this was the true form of the universe; no other time but the present, no other universe but the current one, then I would think this practice would be very easy for humans. It is not.
This is definitely true. Only when I play chess do I feel like I am in the moment. And only in the most intense games do I sometimes feel completely engrossed, and time seems to stop, or rather pass without me noticing it.
This is the rush, or the flow, the excitement of in the moment experience. This is a dramatic feeling many humans seek. Yet I am speaking of an even more difficult art of pure observation. Where your mind is not distracted by any mental activity, except the singular observation of the current moment and the current world.
Why is it so difficult to focus on the present? Was the conscious mind’s desire to learn from mistakes and anticipate futures part of a primitive survival instinct?
There is no doubt that being able to imagine many worlds; the ability to imagine alternate histories and futures is important for survival. Learning from the past and being able to plan for the future is critical, especially in social groups. A successful hunt for instance, requires the ability to plan and predict the action of your prey, and then learning what you did wrong so you can be more efficient the next time. Humans developed even more complicated visualization skills when they took up agriculture, with all of its tedious planning of crop and livestock growth. Focusing on the moment, being extremely aware of your current surroundings isn’t necessarily as critical for survival in such planned out societies. Throughout human history, some cultures favored the ability to communicate and plan, while others valued awareness and intuitive reaction.
But the worlds that we imagine don’t really exist do they?
When you say you imagine a possibility, to you, it exists only in your mind. However, that possibility does physically exist in the multiverse. The memories you have of past events, and the future events you imagine may seem like only thoughts to you, but they are manifest realities in other worlds. Some of the possibilities you imagine are truly unlikely to the point of being irrelevant, but some are not, some dreams do come true just as you imagined.
Are you saying by imagining possibilities we are also observing many worlds?
Not exactly. The difference is that you, while imagining, are observing a mental image of a world, not the actual variation of the multiverse that your physical body occupies. The world created by your mind is an approximation, a representation of the universe; it is a mental world. Though these mental worlds do play a dominant role in your life. When you observe your mental images, they are often just as powerful, or even more powerful than actual events. Dopamine, a hormone that creates feelings of pleasure in your mind, increases with the anticipation of an event, such as imagining eating something sweet, or imagining having sex. In fact, dopamine often increases more consistently when you imagine an act, than when you partake in the physical act itself. Who doesn’t know of many times where the anticipated event, even when it did in fact happen, didn’t give you the pleasure you imagined. In many ways, humans are more strongly connected to their mental world than the external world they live in. They get more emotional content out of their hopes and their regrets than their real life experiences. Thus your mental world exists, and your subconscious often interprets it as a real physical world, but it is not. You are not able to choose the actual physical reality of your body. So you can imagine many worlds, but you have no conscious choice as to the one you will physically occupy. Your mind creates a virtual reality where you feel that you have some control over the results of your actions, but in the end, though you can imagine an alternate future, the actual variation of the universe you end up in is beyond your control. You set off to climb Mount Everest and imagine the view when you finally reach the summit. But sometimes things do not happen the way you plan, sometimes you get blown off the mountain. Hence, a decision you make now, while looking great in your imagination, can lead to horrible consequences in the long term. Or an event that may seem terrible to you now, can actually evolve into something good, the blessing in disguise.
You make it seem like there is no point in trying to make concrete plans.
That is your interpretation. I am simply explaining the way things are. How you interpret that information is up to you. Perhaps I can clarify what I am saying with a well-known story from another paradigm. Have you heard of the story of the Taoist Farmer?
A farmer and his son cultivated a small farm in China. The farmer’s only horse ran away. His neighbors said to the farmer, “how unfortunate for you.” “Maybe yes, maybe no” said the farmer. The horse then returned with another horse, a fine stallion. The neighbors said “how lucky for you.” “Maybe yes, maybe no” said the farmer. The farmer taught his son to ride the stallion, but it threw his son and he broke his leg. He could not help with the farm chores anymore. This was very hard on the farmer. “How unfortunate” said the neighbors. “Maybe yes, maybe no” said the farmer. A war broke out in the region and the army forced all the young men to fight. Many were killed, but the farmer’s son was not drafted because he had a broken leg. “How lucky for you” said the neighbors. “Maybe yes, maybe no” replied the farmer.
I see what you are saying. It is an example of not trying to control everything. I think people tend to do everything they can to make their imaginary world come true.
Very motivated people certainly do. In your western paradigm of science, where humans feel they have control over their environment, there is a strong belief that you should craft the world according to your will. If you want something, you must make it happen regardless of the obstacles. This was not always the belief in other paradigms. In some Native American traditions for instance, the interaction between humans and their world is different. When picking medicinal herbs, the Native American method would be to pull on the herb, if it goes, then it is ready for picking and it will have a good effect. If you pull on the herb and it does not go freely, it is not its time. You just need to move on, give up on your intention, because the herb will not give the desired result even if you do get it out. In your paradigm, you would just pull harder and harder until you got the herb.
I think in our paradigm, if you want something, you do what you must to achieve it, no matter what. And if you don’t achieve it, you weren’t smart enough, or you just didn’t want it bad enough.
Yes, your mental picture, your mental desire, is very important and you feel confident that it is good to achieve that desire. Your conscious mind plans ways to do it, and often you succeed in the task. Yet you have little control over the big picture, sometimes, what you achieve is not the best result.
This is what I dislike about politicians and religious zealots. They are so sure of themselves and are always trying to convince me to think like they do. They will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, even though it is obvious those goals are misguided. They subscribe to the philosophy that the end justifies the means.
Indeed, this concept of the end justifying the means is an interesting argument. The thought is that the long-term benefits of your plans will outweigh the short-term actions you know to be wrong, thus validating your short term actions. Yet humans can only create a mental image of what they think is a good outcome. They do not actually know the result, especially in the long term. They have no way of seeing into the future to see how a plan or an idea will turn out in the big picture. They have no way of choosing the variation of the universe that matches their mental plan. One of your most famous modern leaders, the Mahatma Gandhi, wrote specifically about this situation. His thought was pretty simple: you cannot know the future, you can only know at that moment whether your action is right or wrong. Violence was wrong, lying was wrong, hence regardless of the end, or the desired end, such actions must not be followed. He said, “It is the action, not the fruit of the action that is important.” Though situations certainly came up in his struggle to bring independence to India where violence may have seemed like the best option, he preached non-violence. He was against violence because all he could really know was that at that moment, violence was wrong, and wrong action does not lead to right results.
This is a good point, though I think arguments could be made that we have achieved some great things, not always with the best actions or intentions.
You do realize that you are heading towards a conversation about human morality with an alien.
A Paradigm Shift
But there are real issues of how our society would function if we take to heart what you are saying. If our decisions are mostly subconscious and their results affected by randomness, doesn’t that make people less responsible for their actions? Could a person just claim that they meant to do the right thing but some quantum randomness made a bad outcome, or even worse, they could claim some form of quantum randomness actually made them commit a crime? How do we punish someone for having thoughts that they had no control over?
The argument you just voiced is actually two different ideas. As to the first point of bad outcomes to good intentions, your court system is already in many ways more sophisticated than the general view of the public. Your court system typically does not punish you for outcomes. It punishes for intention. If you performed an action that lead to someone’s death, if you didn’t do it intentionally, recklessly, or illegally, you usually don’t go to jail. So the justice system already assumes some external randomness that can turn a good intention into a bad result. Yet the fact that your intentions themselves, your very thoughts, are influenced by internally and externally random events, is usually not taken into account. Under extreme cases of mental dysfunction some people can be labeled insane and be sent to some psychiatric hospital instead of jail, but generally people are expected to take full responsibility for their actions, regardless of their mental or environmental circumstances.
Are you saying they should not?
Well, a society is constantly evolving. As it processes new external information, it often changes internally. This is what is called a paradigm shift. As the models of the universe on which you base your world view change, so does your paradigm. The classical views of simple predictable physics and simple predictable psychology will change. Your society values individual power, and believes you can control your destiny to shape your circumstances, yet in reality this is only partially true. Your society’s ideal of the perfect self-made individual, its belief that all of your successes and achievements are your sole conscious doing, is a bit classical. As is the thought that your failures or problems are all things you could have prevented.
If you made the right choice perhaps you could.
I have shown you that science, through research and case study has evolved more and more to the conclusion that your thoughts, and thus your actions are deeply connected to the physical states of your brain and body. Yet in your paradigm, there is still a belief that you possess a soul; pure and uninfluenced by the outside world, and it is from there that your free willed choices emerge. That somehow you can step out of your brain and your world and make some spirit or soul based, perfectly sound, society and religion approved decisions. This is a misconception. Your environment shapes your brain, which shapes your actions. You can visualize your mind the same way you visualize a chaotic weather system. Even the most subtle events, from glancing at a few words on a billboard to the random firings of your neurons will affect your decisions. The hurricanes of your mind are manifested by the butterflies of your mind. It is certainly easier to continue to believe in an outdated model, since your brain has been conditioned to be very comfortable with it. And it is certainly easier to judge others based on that simple model. But it is important that social paradigms shift with scientific advances. Social and philosophical understanding should follow scientific understanding, because a rift between technology and the wisdom to use it can become quite dangerous.
If you are saying there is no soul, and that the origin of our actions is a purely physical manifestation, then even conscious actions are not free willed, there is always some underlying physical cause beyond our control.
That is actually the opinion of many of your neurobiologists. But there are also forces beyond your understanding that mold your decision-making, quantum randomness being just one, and there are many interactions between your mind and those forces. To believe that the only things influencing you are physically measurable by your current technology is short sighted. Nevertheless, the idea that the physical world plays a very significant role in shaping your conscious perceptions and choices is a fact.
What about heredity? Does it not play a significant role as well?
Yes, it plays a major role. But if the patterns of your actions are already set within you before you are even born, it only amplifies my argument. Every human has thousands of genes and variations of these genes, called alleles. Now that your scientists have isolated many of the genes in the human genome, they have begun to label certain genes and alleles for how they influence behavior. There is the Warrior Gene, the Adventure Gene, the God Gene. The adventure gene for instance, DRD4 and its allele 7R, is believed to make people much more risk receptive. Humans with this allele take more chances, get much more instant gratification from risky behavior, and in some studies are better at making risky choices. If a person is born with this gene in an environment that favors creativity and risk taking, say you are born into a family of Wall Street bankers, then that person will thrive and become a star of their society. If the same person is born into an environment that fosters criminal activity, that person will be a very good and very dangerous criminal, feared and hated by their society. A more risk averse person, in the same criminal environment will commit no crime for fear of being caught, and will be a model of good citizenship. If that person with the adventure gene is born in a very rigid fixed society, that person will challenge authority, and ultimately be imprisoned or killed by that authority. In fact, around the world, different countries have different amounts of the adventure gene in their population. Generally, in very rigid and conservative societies, people have much less of this gene. It makes sense, because if someone has this gene, they will most likely be ostracized by a society that is conservative and controlling. They will not have a good chance of reproducing and thus replicating and spreading the gene. Or they will be more likely to escape the situation by migrating to far off lands, thus removing the unwanted gene from the rigid society. This is just one example, and you have thousands of genes and alleles of those genes, all influencing some part of various behaviors and tendencies.
But we know of so many people in bad circumstances that chose to make a change, to change their lives for the better.
Yes, and your society glorifies those who make changes in line with its established beliefs. Such as rising from obscurity to become a millionaire or sports star. But even that choice, to change a pattern, to even recognize a need for change, is a very complicated physical process in the brain. It depends on having the correct balance of enzymes and proteins. It requires the correct mix of genes, the correct function of neural networks. And it requires the right interactions with the right people, and the right environment for that change to create a successful result.
But certainly we have to take some responsibility for our actions and our condition.
I know what I am saying may make you uncomfortable. I am an observer from outside your paradigm. I cannot tell you any paradigm is right or wrong, but I can point out inconsistencies within a paradigm. When you look at your actions, do you really think you could have acted in any other way than the way you did? You acted a certain way for a reason. That reason is not easily identifiable, though your conscious mind will create an explanation. The simplest being that you can ignore the physical influences you are not cognizant of, and focus on your pure, paradigm approved soul decisions.
But what if there really is a soul?
Let us assume for a moment that there is a non-physical soul that guides you in your decisions. How do you define the ethics of that soul? Each paradigm has different ideas of what this perfect soul is. Even the altruistic, pure in spirit actions of a Gandhi would be laughed at in many of the societies of the past. His nonviolent actions would just get him and his tribe massacred. If a woman in Europe, just two hundred years ago, showed the desire for education, learning and freedom that your current paradigm praises so greatly, she would be ostracized and sent to her physician for various, therapies. So it seems to me that the pure light of soul is reflected to you through the warped mirror of your society. You can ignore that fact and still insist there is some pure, distilled, perfect soul information that reaches you. Yet every society and every person seems to harbor a unique level of connection to that soul, from intense to non-existent. The strength of that connection would depend heavily on environmental and hereditary factors. Some societies encourage people to tap into mystic intuitions, while others think it is foolishness. Some genes affect the body in ways that promote spiritual thinking, and some do not. In the end, the basic facts have not changed, soul or no soul. You just need to relax and understand that there are many aspects of the universe beyond your knowledge or control, including your thoughts and actions. In fact, things are very different for you in other worlds, where you have had different thoughts, made different choices, and lived a different life.
But those me’s in other universes are not really me, they are someone else.
Well this leads us to an interesting question, and it will take more time than this conversation for you to come to terms with the answer. But how separate are you? How separate are you from the you’s who have made other choices, the you’s of other universes?
I don’t know. They are in different worlds, I can only relate to this current me.
Really? I would not say this is true.
Well they are not here, I cannot communicate with them, and I know I am different from them. I am myself.
I would argue that you already conceive of many you’s, and that you feel a strong connection to them.
Think of you at time coordinates different from this one, you of the past as a child, or of the future, retired and sipping margaritas on a beach in Florida. Do you not think of those you’s as you?
Well yes, who I was in the past, and who I will be in the future are still me.
And this feeling of connection to past and future you’s is very beneficial. It gives you a much greater sense of self, of wholeness, than just the thought of the single you of this moment, with no future or past. This feeling is perfectly valid, since all of these you’s exist. They occupy unique coordinates in time within the multiverse. Yet you cannot communicate with them. You cannot talk to, or physically observe any of the past you’s or future you’s. Though they exist, these past and future you’s are molecularly very different from the current you. The you’s of other time coordinates have different thoughts and experiences than the current you. The past you was perhaps more adventurous, more optimistic, more innocent? How about the you who at five years old only wanted to bike around all day and eat lots of sweets. Is that still you?
Regardless of how much you have changed, you are still you. You do not have a feeling of duality with any of these other you’s. You are all of those you’s throughout your life. And there have been so many you’s. At no moment in your entire past has one been exactly the same as another. So there are virtually an uncountable number of you’s stretched out through many coordinates of time and space that you feel connected to. Though you are in fact very different, you do not think any of those you’s as some other person. You take responsibility for the actions of the past you, even if you would act differently now.
Perhaps this is because the change has been gradual, I do not see a dividing line between me as I am now and me as I was.
That is the root of change. Some things have to stay the same and some things have to change in order for you to notice change. If everything changes all at once, and nothing is the same, then the thing hasn’t changed, it has become something else altogether. So though you change through time, you still feel parts of you are the same, and since you feel this way, you do not feel separate. Though you are in fact vastly separated by both time and space. The earth moves at 67,000 miles per hour around the sun, the solar system rotates at almost 500,000 miles an hour within the Milky Way. Therefore, the you of a few years ago is millions and millions of miles from the you of today. You are not in the same space or the same time, yet you are connected. In the multiverse, you are separated from other current you’s by universe variations. Many of these variations of you are much more similar to the current you than you’s of the past. They could occupy the same space and time as you do, just a different coordinate in universe variation.
—I could not visualize what he was saying then, and my mind returned to the prior thought about connections to past me’s.
Perhaps I do not feel separate from past me’s because I emotionally feel those past me’s. I do not feel any connections to me’s of other worlds, even if they are very similar.
That is a good point. You seem to suffer from Capgras Delusion against other you’s in the multiverse. You think they are imposters because you lack an emotional connection.
—At this point he looked over to my crate and took out the last two bottles of juice. He opened one and took a sip. He then placed them both next to his chair and continued.
Actually I think your sense of separateness is due to the fact that you were not familiar with many worlds as a concept before, and have not had time to assimilate the information. Think of future you’s, do you have emotional ties to those future you’s?
I don’t think so. Well, actually maybe I do. When I think of future me’s, perhaps I am connecting emotionally with them, though not at the same level as past me’s.
So do you or don’t you feel a connection to the future you?
Honestly, I am not sure.
Your future self is also you, it is not some other entity altogether. Your society treats you that way. Your justice system treats you that way. Part of incarcerating someone is not just to punish. There are many punishments worse than being in jail. The idea of incarceration is partially the idea of preventing crimes in the future. When a prisoner gets parole, he is labeled no longer a risk to society. In other words, the criminal has convinced the parole board that his future self will not commit any more crimes. The same could be said of applying to a university. When you apply, you are trying to convince the heads of the university that the future you is going to be successful, so that they agree to teach the current you their very expensive secrets. This is also why we love child prodigies. Who hasn’t had the thought about someone, “She is pretty good now, but in a few years, she is going to be amazing.” Remember that your sense of your past and future selves is purely imaginary. Yet you have a strong sense of non-duality with them. Of course you are different, you are separate, but you are still one.
I suppose you are right. The me that I imagine I will be, or the one that others think I will be, they are still related to me, I do not think of them as completely separate entities.
Because of your strong memory and imagination, you have a decent conception of the time dimension. You can think about time from different coordinates, hence you view a single object as occupying many time coordinates. Abraham Lincoln was Lincoln from his birth to his death. Your idea of Abe Lincoln is not singular. It is not just him the day he was shot, or the day he returned a library book, or the day he made the Gettysburg Address. It is the combined actions and thoughts of Abe Lincoln throughout his life. Similarly, you realize that you are you from your birth to your death, not just at any single time coordinate. In the dimension of many worlds, I see you in the same way. I do not see the you of this world as that different from the you of other worlds. I see you as one entity stretched out through many universe variations. I see you making many choices and living many lives. Remember when I told you to think of the multiverse as a vast tree with many branches. You can think of yourself in the same way. You are the trunk of a massive tree that has sprouted many branches. Your current experience of this moment is a leaf on that tree. It is the bloom of single consciousness at the end of one of the many branches. Yet you erroneously think of yourself as a pretty paltry tree with only one branch and one leaf. You sense no connection between your leaf and the other leaves on the tree. I do not see you this way. I see you as a tree blooming with many leaves. Thus I see many manifestations of you, and they are not separate, they are all part of a greater you. In a non-dualistic sense of understanding the multiverse, not only is your world greater than you imagined, but you yourself are greater than you imagined. But again, these are things you have to understand, accept and finally, feel.
—At that point, he finished the penultimate bottle of juice. He picked up the last bottle, looked at my empty crate with disappointment, stood up and said,
And with that thought I will leave you, time is short.
Why do you have to go?
They are coming for me.
Who? The police?
Can they actually catch you?
Not the police specifically, but let me share with you a multiversal truth: no matter how high you are on the totem pole, there is always something higher. But don’t panic. We are not in any serious danger.
—I went to the door and could hear voices below.
They are talking to my landlady. She will tell them she saw you with me.
You are right, well this has been very pleasant, and thanks for the juice.
Wait. One more thing. Actually, I really don’t think we will have time, they will be here any moment.
It’s fine, I know you have a pressing question, and since you want an answer, I will make some time. The old woman will confuse your apartment number with the nice Chinese man’s across the hall. The police will spend some time trying to get inside. Then they will search his apartment. Then they will search the other apartments next to his. Then they will go back and question the old woman again. We have time to get into it.
—He sat down again, though not before getting my umbrella, which was nearby, and setting it next to him. I noticed his flashlight dim to the strength of just a few candles. I could just barely see his features in the soft light. I hurried to ask my question.
What about God?
What about God?
Well, does he exist?
I am assuming by God you are referring to the Vishnu type God, the creator of all the universes, what George Cantor called the Absolute Infinite. The Infinity that encompasses all other infinities, the God that encompasses all gods.
Yes, does he exist?
Well, have you met him, or her, or them?
If I did, I probably wouldn’t ask you the question.
Sure you would. Many of the greatest saints and holy men who claimed to have experienced God have had their doubts occasionally, and were curious what others’ experiences were also.
Well, I am not a saint, I am not even religious.
Did you ever get an inkling, a feeling, an experience?
Not really, nothing dramatic.
Well, if you haven’t experienced it, it is impossible for me to just explain it to you.
You see, as I mentioned earlier, you cannot describe something infinite with logic, deduction or analysis. Logic and deduction take basic, simple finite ideas and lead you to more complex finite ideas. But you are not trying to understand a finite idea; you are asking me about God. If I give you some more finite blocks of knowledge, all your blocks of knowledge will never add up to what you are hoping for, some infinite block of knowledge. No matter how big your block gets, it will be infinitesimally small compared to the infinite knowledge you are seeking. Hence, just like I cannot prove or disprove an infinite universe to you, I cannot prove or disprove God.
What about a partial knowledge, more knowledge than I currently have?
Using the type of knowledge you are seeking, still infinitesimally small, you could call it mathematically insignificant.
So that’s it? You leave me with that?
No I suppose I won’t. It pains me to see humans in such a confused state about the most basic things. This happens a lot in your paradigm. Realize that knowing something logically, scientifically, intellectually, is not the only form of knowledge.
What else is there?
How do humans come to gather knowledge? Your philosophers have argued about this for millennia.
Yes, and most of it is just that, philosophical speculation in my opinion.
I want you to think of humans as gathering information about something in three major ways. They can come to understand a thing or a concept logically, by knowing its parts. This is knowledge through analysis and deduction that is so prevalent in your current scientific paradigm. More commonly, throughout history, humans have learned about something from information provided by other humans through their stories, testimonies and teachings. This would be passed on knowledge. Finally, they can gather direct knowledge through their senses; see it, hear it, touch it.
—He put down the last bottle of juice without opening it. He thought for a moment, and then said,
I think we have just enough time for one last thought experiment. Imagine that at the Empire State Building there is an extremely fancy restaurant, and I have invited you there for dinner. Imagine that you have lived in a monastery all your life and haven’t eaten anything except rice gruel, so you have almost no concept of what any other food could possibly taste like. When you get to the restaurant and look at the menu, there are many famous dishes on it, but you do not recognize any of them since all you have ever eaten is gruel. Luckily, this restaurant has a very detailed menu that lists all of the ingredients of each dish. The first item you read about is their signature dish, the Lobster Newburg. By the way, I don’t condone sentient beings eating other sentient beings when either has evolved to the point that they don’t have to. But we will use lobster as an example because I know humans don’t get too excited about the taste of broccoli. When you read the ingredients of the lobster on the menu, do you know how it will taste or whether you should try that instead of the other dishes?
Logically, I should be able to get some idea from the menu. But I don’t know what the ingredients taste like, since all I have eaten is gruel.
That’s okay because the menu has much more detailed information you can read about. This amazing menu also lists the number of calories, the amount of fat, salt, vitamins and minerals in the lobster dish. In case you are still short on information, the menu gets even more detailed. It now tells you the exact molecular structure, the approximate amount of atoms, electrons, quarks, gluons, leptons, and neutrinos in the lobster. Finally just in case you are still indecisive, it gives you a Schrödinger wave function for the lobster dish. In fact, in this menu you have at your disposal all possible information about the lobster known to science and mathematics. Once you have read this most detailed account, would you know what lobster tastes like?
No, of course not.
No problem, because there is a second part of the menu that perhaps will be more convincing. In the next section, you find the testimonials, reviews and ratings for the lobster. You read that the president loves the lobster, as do many famous celebrities. You read the extremely detailed descriptions of how rich the sauce is, how succulent the flesh is. You read the famous story of how a lone fisherman, on a lifelong quest for the finest lobster, found this particular type after diving for months in the deepest of oceans. He returned only when he had found the perfect lobster to share with the world. Could you now make a choice? Could you now leave the restaurant fully satisfied and recommend the lobster to others?
Well, I think that if the reviews are the best, I could confidently choose it. However I would not be satisfied, as I still need to taste it.
Armed with all of this knowledge, knowing all the physical parts, and knowing all the written opinions, you could describe to me in great detail what the lobster should taste like. If you wanted to, you could even make others who have never tasted lobster desire it also. But, in the end, you don’t know how the lobster tastes until you have actually tasted it. You can stack and stack your logical knowledge about the lobster, process more and more details, and yet all of this finite knowledge does not add up to anything significant when compared with the knowledge you receive when you have actually tasted it. You see, there are things in this world that you cannot break apart, or fully describe.
Well you may not be able to describe them exactly, but you can get some idea, can’t you?
Of the three types of knowledge, the first two, the logical, and the testimonial, do exactly that. They are social constructs that convey an idea about something. A tiger for instance, who does not socialize much, is a pure experiencer of its world. It does not care about other tigers’ opinions about a subject. It garners direct sensory information; it sees things for what they are. Humans on the other hand are social creatures, depending on each other for survival, so it is beneficial for them all to be on the same page, to have similar ideas. You couldn’t go planning a hunt and having even one person in your group act erratically. You would all starve. Humans developed ways to communicate; to describe objects, ideas, emotions, just about everything, in ways that others in their social group could understand. The reason for this is pretty obvious: humans cannot read the minds of other humans, they are all separate consciousnesses. Humans cannot directly observe the conscious thoughts of another as a whole. For them to have any idea what another is thinking, they must communicate their ideas through a medium they can observe, such as words or gestures, or art. They observe this more basic information, and using it, their mind will create an approximate picture, a mental simulation, of what someone else is thinking. Using social knowledge the society defines for the members who their friends are, who their enemies are, and who their God is. What happens in very large and highly organized societies is that the members tend to understand the world primarily through these social constructs. They listen to the stories of others and take up the ideas of others. In many societies, this imagined knowledge is considered as good, or even better, than personally experienced knowledge.
Yes, you mentioned the power of our mental world earlier, but isn’t it true that our senses often deceive us?
That is definitely a strong opinion in your current paradigm; your senses deceive you, are limited and can even be harmful.
Yes, and that is the teaching of many religions, not just science.
True, many religions use stories, testimonies, allegories and lessons, to teach you what you should think, but so does your society in general. Your personal experience is secondary to the accepted teachings of your paradigm, stated by your wise men and your books. When you experience something that does not conform to you society’s beliefs, those experiences are discounted.
Well I don’t particularly subscribe to other peoples opinions or to their holy books being forced on me. I prefer scientific fact.
Actually, science is in many ways the most advanced form of social knowledge. It uses both the first way of knowledge and the second. It elevates abstract knowledge through facts and figures, mathematics, logic and analysis to a much higher level than experienced knowledge.
Perhaps it should then. Doesn’t it tell you what a thing truly is, a pure form of knowledge, unblemished by opinion or personal perception or misconception?
Well I wasn’t finished. Scientists then take these abstract numbers and results and proceed to create a theory or hypothesis interpreting them. Which is?
Or a testimony or a decree about how the world works and what all of these numbers and formulas mean. So I guess I will add to my previous statement this: that in your paradigm, your personal experience is secondary to the accepted teachings of your wise men, books and scientists. But remember that neither the scientific method nor the religious method of describing a thing is the actual thing they are describing. They are representations, approximations, substitutes for direct experience. They are building blocks that are combined to manifest a mental image in your mind.
—Again I must have looked confused.
Let me make another attempt to get this through, let’s try Music. Say we are dealing with sound now instead of taste. How different is the experience of listening to Beethoven’s 9th in a concert hall, compared to reading a review in the New York Times. How different is it from an objective scientific description such as: A vibration in the air generated by a wooden instrument onto which four gut strings are attached, at the resonating frequency of 494 HZ simultaneously sounding with one at 440HZ for a duration of .5 seconds followed by a pitch at 523 HZ, resonating for .2 seconds played on a three foot long metallic instrument with a bell shape on the end.
I understand that science can’t accurately describe music.
I would not say “not accurately” because these objective descriptions are perfectly accurate. I would instead say not meaningfully. These descriptions will put a mental image in your mind about an object, but it is not a meaningful image. Your mind will create a mental simulation of the 9th from this abstract knowledge, but it will be very different from the direct observation of the object itself. In essence, when you observe a description of something; that is what you are observing, not the thing itself, but the description.
—The point he was making seems very clear to me now, but at the time, I can only guess that I was not showing complete comprehension, because he continued with another approach.
I can see it is hard for you, in your scientific paradigm to understand the importance of the difference. Let me try to restate my argument in a scientific light, describe it in the words of your paradigm, perhaps that will clear it up for you. Think of it this way: We know every object has a Schrödinger wave function that describes its many possible coordinates in space. And we know that the wave function will collapse to one result when it is observed by a single consciousness. What this means in many worlds, is that an object has within it all the potential possibilities of motion, and a mathematical equation can describe those possibilities.
So, within the Schrödinger wave equation there is information about every possible position. When observed, the other possibilities fall away and there is indeed one definite position in each world.
Now think of an object or an event, like the lobster, or the act of eating the lobster. Imagine that it can have many potential qualities; a feeling, taste, smell, emotion. To each consciousness that interacts with it, the lobster has a different quality. Just as we could not pinpoint a wave’s exact location, so we cannot pinpoint a lobster’s definite quality. The lobster’s value is spread out over all the consciousnesses that can observe it. Therefore, you can imagine that each object, event, or concept, has a mathematical representation. Not one that defines its position in the multiverse, but one that defines its quality in the multiverse. Defining the actual sense and feeling it is capable of producing to a consciousness that interacts with it. You could call it its Quality Function. Each object has within it a myriad of possible qualities, and depending on who is observing it, will provide a unique quality for each observer.
I am not sure I follow.
Imagine again the Beethoven’s 9th. The piece as a whole has within it many possible qualities, and will manifest a different quality in each person that observes it. People of the same social group, say western music lovers, will have relatively similar yet unique reactions. Some will think Beethoven is great but prefer Mozart, some will think it is great but too long, some will think it is the greatest thing ever created by a human. People from other paradigms will probably just be confused by it. An African musician may find the harmonies strange, and the rhythms simple and uninteresting; so plain compared to the complicated drum rhythms he is used to. Eastern music lovers may find it is too active, since its heroic nature does not allow for the meditative and peaceful experience music is supposed to create. A dog, who’s brain doesn’t process music in the same fashion as a human will be far more interested in chewing on the seats of the concert hall. No one will experience the 9th in the same way; no one will feel exactly the same thing about it since everyone has different pasts, opinions, and moods. The 9th has within it all of these potential qualities, and will manifest differently for each observer.
I understand that all things have their unique interpretation and their unique meaning to each person. But I guess I still don’t see why you think abstract or learned knowledge is not important, especially since within our paradigm, we agree on what these things mean.
Because all of this information and deduction about a thing serves to create in your mind a mental approximation of something, you could call it a dream. Neither the information, nor the image created in your mind has the same quality as the thing itself. Think of how you imagine the future and the past. These are indeed mental approximation of actual worlds, but they are not the same as being present in, and observing an actual variation of the multiverse. Similarly, the image that manifests from social knowledge is not the same as a directly experienced observation of the thing. Hence, a description of Beethoven’s 9th in the New York Times will have its own quality function; one that is different from the quality function of any actual performance of the 9th. Just reading more reviews of the performance will not get you any closer to the experience of hearing an actual performance. Now think of all of these quality functions as wave functions. As I had explained before, just adding waves doesn’t necessarily make a bigger wave. Thus piling on a lot of facts or testimonies doesn’t necessarily create more meaningful knowledge. Just as gathering more and more facts does not necessarily lead to a better decision, it often leads to information overload. Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better. Sometimes you even have to unlearn what you have learned. Sometimes you need to remove some waves so you get less interference and less confusion.
But what about the most basic concepts, the building blocks. Can we at least agree on those?
All mental concepts, from abstract scientific concepts, to the most basic sensory information like color, touch or sound have their own unique quality function for each observer. This is one of the reasons humans are always fighting. Though you may all hear the same words, the thoughts and images those words create in your mind are very different for each person. The physical sound of the word is the same, but its mental manifestation is different.
What about these mental images that we create; you said they are similar to our mental images of possible futures. Is the mental image we create in our mind, the one we observe, actually real or just imagination?
There is information in your mental image, therefore it is real. The mental images created by your mind have a physical representation in the firing patterns of neurons and chemical reactions in your brain. All the bits of information you are using to create the ideas in your mind each have their own quality function, as does the final mental image you observe. They all exist.
But no one else can actually observe my mental image. It is my creation.
It is created by your mind, and you certainly feel that you are the only one privy to it, but that is actually not the case. Since it is information, like all information, it is available to those that can gather it. Just like you can gather information about an object because you have a way of sensing the light reflecting off of it. The mental images in your mind are also available information to those beings that have developed the senses to observe them.
You mean like mind readers?
Why do you act so surprised? Of course there are beings that can do this, but don’t worry I can’t read your mind. Though it may seem that I can, because I see your future actions. I observe many possible worlds, but I observe them all as myself. As powerful as I am, I cannot see the world the way you do. Think back to Tal playing blindfolded chess. Though he plays many games at once, he plays them all as Tal. He does not play one game as Tal, one as Kasparov and one as Korchnoi. He can mimic their styles to keep himself interested, however he is always in the end, Tal. There are beings in the multiverse that do directly observe the mental activity, perceptions, and emotions of others. While I play chess as Tal, such a being could be playing chess against me as all of the Russian youths. Such a being could observe one world, but many versions of it as seen through many different consciousnesses.
That sounds like a very interesting power.
Yes, where I see many physically possible events with one consciousness, they see one event but with many consciousnesses. I observe many worlds and they observe many minds. In some sense I think this type of observation is even more interesting than my own. To be able to actually observe the world through the consciousness of another.
But don’t people already do that to some extent? I often sense when someone is angry or upset, and I certainly often know what will make someone happy. Isn’t that a natural part of being social?
You are correct, and this is one of the reasons I spend so much time with humans. Humans have another very useful ability most animals do not. Humans can simulate the consciousness of another being with their mind. This simulation of another consciousness is what humans call compassion.
—As Tal had predicted, I heard the voices of the policemen as they knocked on nearby doors. I heard the kicking and breaking down of doors and of quickly moving feet. Tal seemed unfazed and continued calmly.
Compassion, another word often used is empathy, is the mental image, the mental approximation of the consciousness of other beings. It is deeper than simply predicting how another being will react. It is the actual simulation of another being’s thoughts and feeling, their emotions. Compassion in the end, is also a figment of your imagination. Just as you can imagine many worlds by imagining many possibilities, you can imagine many minds by imagining the inner conscious worlds of other beings.
I have often thought about compassion, how it seems impossible to teach it and how some people simply do not possess it.
In that respect it is similar to faith, its intensity varies greatly from person to person. You can profess faith’s benefits logically, like Pascal’s famous wager, but it must, in the end, be felt.
That is true. Some people are always out there helping others while some are more concerned about their own life. But I would say that I personally try to avoid feeling too much, it seems like an unnecessary amount of pain and worry.
Yet compassion serves a beneficial purpose in the survival of the human species. If every member of the society acts only for their own benefit, the society will usually not be as successful as a society where people work together for common goals. This has been proven mathematically in game theory. Sacrificing some benefit for you creates more benefit for the entire group.
Yes, obviously if everyone worked together there would be world peace, and everything would be great. But that is not how things work. I think perhaps in evolution, it pays to be selfish.
You are right, it often does, and even though humans are social creatures that generally thrive from cooperation, there is always a percentage, some scientists claim as much as five percent, that do not feel virtually any compassion. These people are usually categorized as psychopaths. For the majority of humans however, taking action to help others is not usually a logical process where you calculate that helping others will benefit you somehow. You act due to the feeling you yourself get when you sense the positive emotions of someone you feel connected to. Though it may seem like an advantage to not let feelings get in the way of logic, each individual benefits directly from the ability to simulate another’s feelings. Just as dopamine levels can increase when imagining the taste of something more than the actual experience itself, so it is with compassion. Imagining the joy of others is often a stronger feeling than your own joy. Creating joy in others creates joy in you. Sometimes it truly is better to give than to receive. Those that lack compassion may not feel the pain or need of others, but they also do not feel their joy or happiness. Humans who lack compassion find positive emotions only in their own thoughts and actions. They have no sense of the myriad of emotions manifested by the billions of beings on this planet. Thus they pursue self-centered desires and crave personal success through collections of objects, status, and power.
I suppose this explains why so many of these people end up in positions of power, their satisfaction comes from their own achievements. Yet it seems over time, our compassion has grown from those of out tribe, to those of our country, to even those of different races. It seems it has evolved to include a larger and larger group.
Indeed, since compassion is product of your imagination, for modern humans, whose mental worlds are so powerful, compassion has developed to a very high level, even transcending visual differences such as skin color, though that has been a more recent change. These days, each individual human’s level of compassion, of connection to others, is primarily influenced by their social paradigm, their religion and their nationality.
Yes, we still separate ourselves by country and religion, while we are more accepting of people of other races.
It is only natural, as it is typically more difficult to simulate the thoughts and feelings of creatures that you feel are different from you. Though this has changed recently as humans have accepted, at least intellectually, the scientific teachings that other races are not inferior, they are not lower on the evolutionary ladder. This was not a common belief in most paradigms before your own. Now the next level of compassion is to feel compassion for all living things, not only humans.
I think that is certainly more difficult. Very few people would say their compassion for animals is anywhere near what they feel for other humans, nor do I see a reason that it should be. If compassion is an evolutionary edge, I could see how compassion for humans is important, but compassion for other species seems counter-evolutionary. Since the survival of your species trumps all other species.
Be careful not to interpret every single one of life’s actions as a need to survive or procreate. This is a very limited way of looking at the world. In addition, your concept of evolution has within it a misconception common in this paradigm; it is a misunderstanding of the concept called survival of the fittest. Survival of the fittest does not mean survival via wiping out all other species. If you look at most natural systems, there is a delicate balance, a symbiosis, between many species. It is an ecosystem. It is not one species dominating, subjugating or killing off all others. Look at situations where apex predators were re-established into an ecosystem. One example is the repopulation of wolves in North America. Wolves were almost completely wiped out by humans, but were recently reintroduced in some western states. When they were, they did not go off and kill everything in their path, creating a wasteland populated by wolves. In fact, their return actually boosted the activity of the entire ecosystem, and of the many creatures within it. Plants, trees, beavers, foxes; the entire ecosystem thrived because a balance was restored. Survival of the fittest means an ability to adapt to changing environments; it does not mean the need to destroy all other life. In fact, from a bird’s eye view, an environment dominated completely by ones species is an inefficient and unstable one. Being primarily homogeneous, such an ecosystem is vulnerable, as a change in the environment, or the introduction of a new life-form such as a bacteria which happens to be a weakness of the dominant species will destroy the species and thus the entire ecosystem. Variety serves to protect the greater ecosystem. In the natural world, animals, plants, trees, all play an important part in a constantly changing system. Nothing is in reality higher or lower in the system, everything depends on everything else, there is no evolutionary ladder. The worms that eat you when you die would definitely consider you to be on a lower rung of the ladder than they are, if they ever had such a ridiculous idea.
I suppose since we are not the center of the universe, we are not the center of evolution.
Actually, you are at the center of the universe. This understanding will come with your greater understanding of infinity. If the universe is infinite, there is no single center. You cannot find a definite middle of an infinite set; any point can be the middle of an infinite set. Thus you are in fact at the center of the universe. It is just that every other place in the universe is also the center. This also applies to your perceived central place in the ecosystem. If you must imagine an evolutionary ladder then imagine it to be a circle. Wherever you happen to be on the ladder can be oriented to be the top. You do not intrinsically feel this way because modern humans have removed themselves from the system. In a sense, they have created their own artificial environment, a purely human environment where you are most certainly the only center. Hence in this paradigm, humans have lost the sense of symbiosis, of non-duality with the natural world.
Perhaps you are right that we feel little compassion for the natural world because we have successfully created our own self-sufficient one. But within our human world we have expanded compassion to a community that now encompasses billions of people.
The striving of modern humans to include all versions of humans in their circle is laudable. But there are important reasons to expand compassion beyond the human. First, you are missing out on the many variations of pure and joyful emotion present in the other animals on this planet. Second, if you limit your compassion to humans, it is not such a great leap to simply call your human enemies less than human. This is what many of the most brutal regimes in history did to those they persecuted. They lowered their victims to a sub human status, called them and treated them like animals. How easy is it to label one or a group of humans pigs, or dogs. Is that not what enemies of your country call you even today?
You are right about that, certainly in slavery and genocide this is a consistent thought in the people who carry it out. You must dehumanize your victim. I would think that to commit such crimes, in your mind you must think of your victims as lower than yourself, as an animal.
No matter how accepting and compassionate humans become with each other, the situation will always be tenuous if they do not have similar compassion for other living things. Actually, this has been a curiosity to me for a while, and I ask humans this question often. Why is it that you do not imagine, or do not have the desire to imagine the consciousness of the creatures around you? Though you may seem like only a cartoon to me, I still gain much joy and entertainment in observing your race. Your experience is a unique one and I strive to understand it. In fact, I think I have a greater desire to understand your consciousness than that of members of my own race. Why do you not generally feel the same about the creatures around you?
Well it is taught in some religions that the lower animals are inferior to man and are there to serve him. I do not necessarily believe that, but I do know that animals are not as intelligent, so perhaps that is why we have little interest.
Yes, to excel in modern society often requires what you would call intelligence. Humans are masters of the mental world and they put the ability to plan, remember, and deduce on a much higher level than the ability to observe nature directly and live within it skillfully. Thus humans also link high intelligence to deeper emotions and deeper observations. Yet these are separate things. Do you think a tiger’s ability to gather knowledge through direct observation as he prowls through the jungle is less than that of a human? Do you think he feels less than a human does; with his acute senses, his constant immersion in the forest, his one pointed ability to observe the jungle interior?
I would actually think his observation and feeling is probably much keener than our own. Maybe a native that has lived all his life in the jungle would have similar purely observational skills and feelings.
You would be right.
—The sounds of the police were getting closer still and I was getting quite nervous. Though Tal seemed in no hurry, I wanted to get some concrete answer from him, as he still seemed to be evading the God question.
I understand that there is a difference between the real world and our mental world. But I am not sure I agree that our mental worlds are not helpful in understanding God.
I would not say they aren’t helpful. Mental concepts can enhance direct experience. They can point the way to the experiential understanding of infinity, many worlds, God. I have been using mental concepts and stories throughout our conversation, trying to expand your knowledge. Your mental images inform your direct experiences. Yet they cannot be substituted for those experiences. They can only compliment them. The quality of your direct observation depends on what you know. Imagine the universe around you. Now think of the conceptual idea of how large space is. In the past, humans who did not know we lived in an infinite expanding universe thought the sky was a shell, the stars fixed on a rotating dome above the earth. Imagine how different looking at the night sky was to a person of that time and a person of this time. Imagine how different looking at the day sky is when you can imagine beyond the blue; stars, galaxies and an infinite expanse. How different is it to observe space in the context of a fish bowl, or a vast endlessness? The mental forms of knowledge combine with your sensual experience to create deeper direct observations. So mental concepts can be good pointers, but the truly meaningful knowledge comes when you experience. Here I have to mention one of my favorite pop culture icons. Do you like martial arts movies?
Too bad. If you will indulge me, this last thought reminds me of the beautiful opening scene of Bruce Lee’s ‘Enter the Dragon’. Bruce is training a student, and the student performs a good kick. Bruce is pleased, he asks in his slow and melodious voice, “how did it feel to you.” The boy says, “Let me think.” Bruce smacks him on the head and says, “Don’t think. Feeeeel.” He points to the sky and says, “It is like a finger, pointing a way to the moon.” The boy looks at Bruce’s finger, and gets smacked on the head again. “Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
—I didn’t have much of a reaction to this at the time, so he then said,
Well you have to have been there, or at least watched the movie. The point is that you must sense and feel. You are looking for the moon, don’t get enthralled with the finger pointing to it.
Is this the purpose of religion then? To point the way?
Yes. This is a benefit of religion that has been taken lightly in modern times. In most paradigms, the people of that paradigm judge others by their own standards, their own values. Hence in your paradigm, scientists often think of other religions and cultures of the past as simply being bad at science. They tend to think that the only purpose of religion is to explain how things work, and all of these past explanations were objectively wrong. Yet religion is also there to explain the desire that so many humans have to know God. To explain and enhance the feelings of deep connection between themselves and their world; the spiritual feelings, the flashes of insight, the occasional feelings of overwhelming joy. These are questions that science has only recently begun to consider. But as Bruce says, don’t get too enamored with the finger, you must look past it to direct experience. In fact, you actually don’t need any mental constructs, scientific or religious, to gain insight; sometimes it just happens spontaneously. You happen to look up and see the moon without anyone pointing it out to you. Remember that you live in a very ego centric, human centric world. Those flashes from beyond come much more rarely to humans now than they did in the past. To humans that were born into societies that depended on a deep connection to the natural world for survival, these feelings flowed more easily.
I suppose those flashes have happened to me at times. A sense that there is something far beyond my little world, beyond language and understanding. But I tend to ignore it and move on with my daily routine. You mentioned living in a fish bowl, and I have heard the saying that those occasional flashes of insight that we have about the greater universe is like a fish hitting the side of its fish bowl and realizing there is more out there than it usually observes.
It’s a good analogy. You can explain things to a fish all you want, but until it experiences running into the fish bowl, it will not understand its limitations. Humans, who rely so heavily on their mental worlds rarely try to look beyond their own fish bowls, and the average human fish bowl is a pretty limited one. Due to your very strong dependence on vision, especially in the current literary and technological culture, few humans really have a good sense of their internal physical world; the subtle and rich world within their physical forms that they cannot see. Also, due to the close proximity of your eyes, humans can only observe stereoscopically for a few hundred feet. Hence you only feel immersed in a world that is quite close to you. Things beyond a few hundred feet are like pictures, flat. You have very little concept of the vastness of space beyond that short distance. You can conceptualize it, but rarely feel it. Therefore, I would say the general human fish bowl is the space from your skin outwards to the few hundred feet that encompass you stereoscopically. This is the world you swim in, the one you feel a part of. It is the bubble that follows you everywhere you go. Actually I have kept some Goldfish myself; just to see what humans like about it. My fish barely notice me at first, they were happy swimming in their bowl and eating the food I dropped in it. But as time went by, they realized I was feeding them from outside their fish bowl. Soon, whenever I came near the bowl, they would come over, and do little sucking motions with their mouths in my direction. They learned to look beyond their bowl. Luckily, you are as smart as at least some species of Goldfish, so even though you are well fed and comfortable in your bowl, you can probably look beyond it if you tried.
But how do we look beyond our bowl?
By placing importance on direct observation, and expanding your ability to observe the world within you and around you. For instance, the loss of your sense of internal space has been a relatively recent occurrence in human history. Thus, you could look to the practices of other paradigms for guidance. For many thousands of years, humans have used sound to connect to their internal world. Unlike sight, sound permeates your internal world. You can physically sense the rhythms inside of you; they can put you into trance states and assist in linking you to an internal world that you do not normally experience. Drums are still used in the rituals of many societies today to help their members transcend their limitations and experience new sensations. This is just one linking mechanism of many. Most people of your paradigm are aware of meditation practices like Zen meditation, where one focuses on observing the world around them. This is a fine practice, but there are yet more esoteric methods of meditation still taught, that direct your attention to the world inside of you. Taking time and focusing your attention inward, observing the minute sensations within your internal body can be enlightening. The breath is possibly the strongest linking mechanism humans can sense, as it constantly flows from the outside world into your internal world and out again. The ancient practice of observing and controlling your breath is what the yogis called Pranayama, and is one of their greatest tools for achieving Samadhi, true enlightenment. The lost sense of your internal space creates the dualistic feeling that the world and your body are separate things, that your mind and your body are separate things. Observing your internal world can remove these barriers, opening up for your observation the infinite space within you.
—I was listening with a lot of skepticism but probably showed no reaction as I was distracted by the noises coming from the hallway. The police were, what seemed to me, just a few feet away running up and down the stairs. Tal continued through all of this without break and without any sense of hurry in his voice.
Just as you can cast your attention inward to expand your experience, you can also cast it outward. You can expand your observation of external space beyond your stereoscopic fish bowl. Since your stereoscopic vision is limited, it is hard for you to actually feel the vastness of the universe around you. You can feel immersed in a snowstorm or a jungle where things are close, but vast distances are more difficult to fully comprehend. Imagine if you could integrate two images of the universe from distant locations in space. This would give you a completely different experience of the universe as a whole. I know of creatures who live within the most beautiful and colorful nebulas. They are not of one body but of several. They live separated, on distant planets, and are able to integrate the images of their members, gaining massive stereoscopic and even multiscopic vision. Imagine the feeling that such a being can have, the immersion it can feel surrounded by such a vast and beautiful world. I cannot describe it to you, but you can attempt this type of observation yourself. The view from your planet on the edge of the Milky Way, with its own moon and a diverse solar system is more than sufficient. You cannot physically expand your very narrow stereoscopic vision, but understanding that this is a limit created by your senses, you can combine your senses with your imagination and attempt to experience the vastness in your mind. Don’t just glance at the 2D image that is space, take the time to feel the true expanse of it. Take the time to expand and broaden your attention out into the universe that surrounds you.
—Now he must have caught the skepticism in my expression, and thus said,
Look, you asked me a question whose answers do not lie within your paradigm. All I can do is offer some suggestions. I cannot give you instant experience, I cannot yank you into another dimension, nor can I create within you an experience of God. You must do that for yourself. But if you doubt the fact that my suggestions can help you, just remember Sue. With the help of some simple visual exercises and in middle age, she awakened within her an ability to perceive and feel an entire new dimension.
But what is the connection between expanded ability to observe and actually observing God?
If you want to know more about the universe, if you want to know more about God, you must expand your ability to observe. You need to increase the range of your experience, internally and externally. You will never understand God entirely. You can only expand upon the quality of your observations, and this is how you gain great insight, from the expansion. Remember, since the universe is infinite and since God is infinite, you cannot approach either with finite knowledge. All the finite objective knowledge you can gather in your lifetime of reading or studying will still be an infinitesimal amount of the infinite. Even direct observation has its limits. As a single consciousness you cannot completely comprehend the true taste of a lobster or the sound of Beethoven’s 9th, when so many other consciousnesses will understand it in ways that you cannot feel. You will only observe one of its manifestations. Now imagine the complexity of an infinite God who encompasses all of these things. If any religion no matter how great, claims complete knowledge of God, it is highly unlikely. What it preaches could be true, but that truth will not be the only truth. God is infinite; therefore there is other truth out there, a lot of it. You cannot know it all, the best you can do is to expand your objective understanding and your experiential understanding.
So we can expand our knowledge of truth objectively.
Of course you can. But what I am trying to tell you is that you have enough factual information. What you do not have enough of is experience. You have been trained by your paradigm to want more and more abstract information, more facts. You cling to the belief that if you just continue reading the menu a little longer you will somehow know the taste of the lobster, but you never will. At some point you will need to stop reading, put down the menu, and start tasting.
Is the food really that good?
Mmmm, yes, the food is delicious. Perhaps we will meet again someday after you have tasted something besides gruel. Then we can share some recipes on how to cook a really nice meal. Now I am afraid we must go.
What do I have to do with this?
They will come here, and you don’t want to be here when they do. Look, you can stay, but I have not seen a variation where it will end well for you, and I have tried. On the other hand, I have found a very tidy possibility if you come with me. It will cause you minimal problems.
—He walked over to the coat rack, handed me my coat and the umbrella which he was holding. He then gave me my cane, which was set behind the coat rack.
Better take this.
But I am feeling fine, I only use my cane when the gout is very severe, I really don’t need it.
—Tal grabbed the last bottle of juice, and put his flashlight back in his pocket. He took my hand and headed toward the window. I meekly followed. He climbed out to the ledge and gave me his hand. The rain was falling hard, I could barely see anything out there, but still I followed. He walked us over a few feet to the right. I looked down into a dark abyss. I could see nothing below with the darkness and the rain. I heard the police pounding at my door. Tal yelled to me.
Ok, when I say jump, jump forward as far as you can. Ready?
—When I think back, I do not know why I listened to him. Maybe I was under some form of hypnosis or perhaps the electron that was supposed to tell my brain that this person was insane and that I was about to die missed the synaptic jump. I don’t know. I only know that a second later I was falling into the abyss. Tal let go of my hand when we jumped. I didn’t see anything as I fell. I hit something soft, and then something hard, I heard a cracking noise and all went black.
—I was awakened by a loud sound, which I now believe may have been a gunshot. I was lying face up in the back of a convertible. My head was in the back seat on the soft-top roof, my legs over the front. I tried to move and felt a sharp pain in my ankle. I thought at the time I had broken it. Rain was hitting my face, and I was about to try to move again when I heard two people talking just a few feet from me. One voice was deep and authoritarian.
Well officer, what happened?
I don’t know, Sir. I heard a loud crash, I believe he struck the roof of that car, but I only saw him tumble onto the ground. I yelled for him to halt but he took off down the street, very fast. I took out my weapon and began to run after him, but slipped and fell. By the time I got up again he had turned the corner.
Ok, thank you officer, you can go now.
—I heard footsteps again, people quickly getting into a car. The car drove off, screeching. I waited for a few minutes, listening to the police officer slowly walk around the scene, occasionally seeing the beam of light emanating from his flashlight. After a minute he opened his car door, closed it, and drove off. The rain, which had been falling like a torrent, eased shortly after he left. I laid there in silence for a minute and then I felt around. My umbrella and cane lay conveniently close. I climbed out of the convertible and onto the street. A man, who I assume was the owner of the car Tal had landed on, had come outside, looked at his dented car and then at me and asked,
What the hell happened?
I have no idea.
—The man bent down and picked up something that was next to his car. It was my last bottle of cherry juice, unopened.
That’s mine, thank you!
—The hospital was only a few blocks away. I wasn’t going to climb five flights of stairs on a broken ankle. I opened the bottle of cherry juice and took a big gulp. At that moment, it tasted really good. I closed the bottle and put it in my jacket pocket. Then I opened my umbrella, leaned on my cane, and proceeded to hop toward the emergency room.
This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. References to real people, living or dead are made with no intention to harm or misrepresent.
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From the Publisher: The author of this book, who chooses to remain anonymous even to us, submitted this draft and we chose to publish it. The author writes of an encounter that they had with a being called 'Tal' who looked human but claimed to be an alien. The author believes that this person was in fact an alien due to the content of their conversation and the events that lead to and followed it. The author requests we divulge no information about the book that could influence the first reading of it. We will reveal, however, that in the conversation, Tal attempts to show the author how a far more advanced life form would observe and function in the universe. Tal does not describe a technological superiority, but an actual perceptual and physical difference that leads to a fundamentally greater understanding of the world. The conversation covers many topics; including time, the perception of extra dimensions, quantum theory, infinity, and consciousness. Tal uses examples from modern scientific theory, ancient religions, alien worlds and even chess. The author wished to publish this book because they felt that this encounter dramatically changed their life. We hope that you find this book as entertaining and meaningful as we do. Thank you, Mworlds Publishing