Sunday, April 29, 2007

Interview with a quantum physicist. . .

Here is a fascinating interview where a parapsychologist interviews a quantum physicist. Here are a few excerpts:

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. You know, as a parapsychologist I find it fascinating that of the various academic disciplines that are interested in psychic phenomena, there seems to be the most interest from quantum physicists such as yourself.I wonder if we can begin the program tonight by having you explain to our viewers just what is quantum physics, and why would you find the phenomenon of consciousness to be so interesting?

HERBERT: Well, quantum physics started out in the twenties to explain the interaction of light with atoms. It focused on that, but now it's extended to explain the interaction of anything with anything. It's basically the physicists' theory of the world these days, and it's been very successful. So there are two reasons, I think,why quantum physics and consciousness have some connection. One is that quantum theory, as most people know by now, is very strange. It has very weird properties. . .

MISHLOVE: Subatomic particles. Typically we hear that this sort of stuff [knocking on furniture] is no longer solid; it's mostly a vacuum in quantum physics.

HERBERT: Not only is it not solid, is it mostly empty space, but it's also probabilities -- just fuzzy, not even totally real.

MISHLOVE: In other words, particles aren't even particles anymore.

HERBERT: Particles aren't even particles anymore. That's one of the connections with consciousness -- that the solidity of matter is dissolving away in light of these theories, and becoming more and more like the fuzziness that's inside our heads.

MISHLOVE: And that's the basic, most fundamental theory in all of physics.

HERBERT: Yes, that's the basis of everything that we do in physics anyway, in quantum physics.

MISHLOVE: And physics is in fact the basic science of all the sciences. So the most fundamental theory of all of science is that the basis of reality is fuzzy.

HERBERT: Is fuzzy, is crumbling, and it is ambiguous -- that's a word I like to use. Somehow there's a basic ambiguity at the center of the world -- the center of the inanimate world, the unconscious world. . .

MISHLOVE: A term that I keep hearing is quantum interconnectedness, and the notion that separability doesn't exist -- that somehow all is one, the way the mystics used to say it.

HERBERT: Yes. There is a peculiar feature in quantum theory called quantum interconnectedness, and it was discovered right when quantum theory was discovered. It was found that in the quantum description of two objects, when two objects briefly interact and then you pull them apart, in the description at least they never come apart; there's a kind of stickiness that connects them together, so they're bound together forever in the theory. They never separate, even though they're not interacting anymore. It was thought that this was just a theoretical artifact; it was nothing that existed in the real world. Physicists noted it, said this is very strange, and then they promptly forgot about it for about fifty years. But recently, due to something called Bell's theorem, new interest has been rekindled in this interconnectedness. Bell's theorem proves that this connection is not a theoretical artifact, but actually exists in the real world.

MISHLOVE: I should mention for the benefit of our viewers, Nick, that you are probably one of the world's foremost authorities on Bell's theorem; that's what you specialized in. Bell's theorem seems like the crack in the cosmic egg, in a way; it's the one part of quantum physics that's almost turned everything upside down.

HERBERT: One of my claims to fame is that I have produced the shortest proof of Bell's theorem in existence. It's about three lines.

MISHLOVE: Now, Bell's theorem, as I understand it, goes back even prior to Bell -- to Einstein, and Einstein's disagreement with quantum physics, back in the early days. He made his classic statement, "God doesn't play dice with the universe," at a time when Einstein himself felt he disagreed with quantum physics, as I understand it. He felt that if quantum physics were true, it would have these horrendous implications which it now turns out are true.

HERBERT: Yes, Einstein was never comfortable with quantum theory, and he basically had three gripes with it. The one gripe was that quantum theory is a probabilistic theory. It just describes things like the world is essentially random and governed only by general laws that give the odds for things to happen, but within these odds anything can happen -- that God plays dice. Einstein didn't like that, but he could have lived with that. The second aspect that Einstein didn't like was the thinglessness, this fuzzy ambiguity -- that the world isn't made of things, it's not made of objects. It was put by Paul Davies -- the notion that somehow big things are made of little things. Quantum theory doesn't describe the world that way. Big things aren't made of little things; they're made of entities whose attributes aren't there when you don't look, but become there when you do look. Now, that sounds very, very strange.

MISHLOVE: Like an illusion.

HERBERT: Like an illusion, yes.

MISHLOVE: Or the Hindu concept of Maya, something like that.

HERBERT: That's right. The world exists when we don't look at it in some strange state that is indescribable. Then when we look at it, it becomes absolutely ordinary, as though someone were trying to pull something over our eyes -- the world is an illusion. Einstein didn't like that. He felt that the big things were made of little things, as the classical physicists thought.

MISHLOVE: The Newtonian view of billiard-ball-like particles -- that if you could only understand the momentum and position of each one, you could predict everything in the universe.

HERBERT: Everything in the universe, yes, a comfortable sort of view.

MISHLOVE: You mentioned three things that Einstein objected to; then there must be one more.

HERBERT: Well, the third thing is this interconnectedness. Einstein said the world cannot be like this, because this interconnectedness goes faster than light. With this quantum interconnectedness, two objects could come together, meet, and then each go into the universe, and they would still be connected. Instantaneously one would know what the fate of the other one was. Einstein said, now that can never be; that's like voodoo -- in fact, he used the word -- it's like telepathy, he said; he said it's spooky, it's ghostlike. Almost his last words in his biography were, "On this I absolutely stand firm. The world is not like this." He died in '55, and ten years later Bell showed that the world must be like this. It's kind of ironic. Bell himself said, "My theorem answers some of Einstein's questions in a way that Einstein would have liked the least."

MISHLOVE: And Einstein created a very strange picture of the universe as it is, almost time travel, in his theory of relativity.

HERBERT: Yes, but even Einstein's mind wouldn't go this far, to accept these instant connections, which now we believe really must exist in the universe.

MISHLOVE: The notion of instant connections almost implies that space itself is an illusion.

HERBERT: Yes, that distance is an illusion.

MISHLOVE: That distance is an illusion -- that you and I and our viewers and the chair are all somehow intimately connected with the most distant part of the galaxy.

HERBERT: Yes, that we're all in one place, that there aren't any places.

MISHLOVE: And the notion the mystics sometimes say, that you and I, we're not really separate individuals, but at a deeper level we're like fingers; we're all connected. Or we're like islands connected. There's that sense of connectedness as well. . .

MISHLOVE: Well, you mentioned earlier that you believe quantum physics is at the basis of consciousness. I wonder if you would come back to that point and elaborate on it.

HERBERT: Yes. Right now there are two main approaches to consciousness, I believe. They are studying the brain, looking at how the brain does it -- the one machine in the world that we know is conscious for sure -- and then trying to simulate cognitive things on computers. I think this is where the smart money is placed these days. I think these are a good place to do research.

MISHLOVE: Trying to simulate brain functioning on the computer.

HERBERT: On computers, and looking at brains. And I think we learn a lot about brains and computers there, but not very much about consciousness.


Book Surgeon said...

I read the entire interview and something struck me as very interesting. Herbert talks about concsiousness as being vastly less powerful in terms of bit processing than the brain, something like 2 to 4 bits versus the 1012 bits the brain processes. He makes the point that consciousness seems to exert tremendous influence given that it is so low-powered.

This makes me wonder, how can consciousness be based solely in the brain when it is such a weak effect in computing terms? I understand that Herbert was comparing the brain's ability to receive vast amounts of information and process much of it unconsciously, but does it make sense that the control device of such a powerful computer would be so weak? Or is it that consciousness is not entirely based in the brain?

Very interesting. It appears the realms of frontier physics and consciousness studies are converging.

karan said...

Quantum physics has always facinated me, you're nothing or your the sole frame of reference, am I actually writing this comment or am I just lost in the illusion that I am, if its an illusion for me why is it the same for someone in the next room, is it because of the interconnectedness?