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This so called reality
November 22, 2005 1:38 AM   Subscribe

If the universe is a hologram and the healthy human brain a valve of consciousness then where'd this mental infinity come from? Are we simply living the simulacrum? Or does Pi protect us all, forever, infinitely?
posted by 0bvious (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
http://www.xkcd.com/pi.jpg
posted by martinrebas at 1:59 AM on November 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


Actually of you follow the logic of the last link not only pi, but any Normal number will do. But of course we don't really know if pi is actually normal - nor of course whether it is Absolutely Normal or, if not, to what base it is normal.
posted by talos at 2:13 AM on November 22, 2005


I suppose the truth lies somewhere between 21/7 and 22/7.
posted by Mijo Bijo at 2:34 AM on November 22, 2005


Are we simply living the simulacrum?

Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
posted by alumshubby at 3:14 AM on November 22, 2005


fascinating stuff... thanks!
posted by Blip at 3:27 AM on November 22, 2005


The first link is an interesting example of the current state of science where professors don't pay lot of attention to what others have have done especially if they were considered controversial. The holographic model was first proposed by David Bohm back in the 70s along with Carl Pribram, a neurobiologist who hypothesized that brain function could also be understood holographically. This work got to be called the Holographic Paradigm which was also the title of a book by Ken Wilbur who brought together a great deal of material supporting this idea. But, unless the journalist just didn't do her homework, it would seem that Professor Bousso didn't do his homework.

However I am glad to see that this idea is back in fashion. And thanks, Obvious, for the fascinating post.
posted by donfactor at 4:04 AM on November 22, 2005


"Somewhere inside the digits of pi is a representation for all of us -- the atomic coordinates of all our atoms, our genetic code, all our thoughts, all our memories. Given this fact, all of us are alive, and hopefully happy, in pi. Pi makes us live forever. We all lead virtual lives in pi. We are immortal." - Cliff Pickover
Facile garbage! Infinity just doesn't work the way this guy thinks it does... And that is just for starters.

Some might be interested in a recent AskMe question: Quantum Physics.
posted by Chuckles at 4:09 AM on November 22, 2005


Duh, everybody, the answer's clear. The universe is becoming self-concious, and when that finally happens in 2012, we all enter the Supercontext.

Didn't anybody read The Invisibles?
posted by hughbot at 4:43 AM on November 22, 2005


What's all this about pie? I mean, I like pie as much as anyone else but to claim pie is holographic? I guess I baked a tasty virtual-holographic-pumpkin pie last night! Didn't some guy named Godel have something to say about sets of pie pans and other good quantum baking tips??
posted by gigbutt at 4:45 AM on November 22, 2005


I've had a class with Spivey. Very cool dude, very nice guy.

That's all. Nothing spectacular to add here, because I don't see much connection between the links.
posted by Eideteker at 5:22 AM on November 22, 2005


I believe the "holographic principle" is a very specific theory in the domain of string theory/fundamental particle physics
(it's extremely technical, something to do with the existence of a certain set of field theories on certain spacetimes which surprisingly turn out to lead exactly the same equations as string theory).

It is not really connected at all with the physics of ordinary holograms, that name is purely an analogy. I doubt the work by Bohm (and certainly the neurological stuff) has anything to do with this.
posted by snoktruix at 5:26 AM on November 22, 2005


Actually, this link gives more detailed info. It is holographic only in the sense that:

"all of the information contained in some region of space can be represented as a `Hologram' - a theory which `lives' on the boundary of that region"

Referring to a "theory which 'lives' on" the boundary of some other region as a 'hologram' is obviously mostly just a nice analogy leading to a cool sounding name (i.e. this wasn't discovered by someone having a eureka moment, shreaking "hot damn! the universe is a hologram!" and proceeding to scribble down his theory, it was discovered by someone working in detail with the equations of general relativity and string theory and noticing some deep mathematical correspondence pre-existing in these theories, which didn't exist when David Bohm was still sane).
posted by snoktruix at 5:35 AM on November 22, 2005


Um, the research in that "mental infinity" link seems awfully thin to support the conclusions Spivey's reaching.
posted by mediareport at 5:55 AM on November 22, 2005


This holographic paradigm is kinda fun. I found this essay more useful in trying to get my head round the concept. It still makes the back of my brain feel thick and viscous. Interestingly this copy of the same essay suggests no-one knows who wrote the article. Perhaps the universe spontaneously revealing itself to itself?

Some questions:

1. How long has science been going bat shit zany and where will this line of thinking take us? Is this break from atomism utterly radical or just a new understanding of old truths?
2. What is happening when I throw a ball (with regard to this paradigm)?
3. Is it possible to explain the holographic thing to a child?
4. Which book should I buy to find out more about this and its place in modern scientific thought?
5. My (very limited) understanding of the concept is that the third dimension is an illusion created from the second dimension. But why narrow down to the second? Doesn't the whole concept of dimensions simply collapse? Isn't the term holographic a rather misleading misnomer then?
6. What would buddha say to all this?

With apologies for any and all ignorance expressed above.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:56 AM on November 22, 2005


OK, I admit I had not read about Bohm's particular 'holographic' theory (could use a better reference than that page though...)

In his case, it sounds more like speculation about the deeper meaning of quantum mechanics than an actual theory of physics though. John Wheeler likes to engage in similar ruminations on the connectedness of all things etc. It's usually a sign that a theoretical physicist is getting old and a bit mystical in his dotage.
posted by snoktruix at 6:12 AM on November 22, 2005


But note that Bousso is actually talking about the 'holographic principle' as described in the page I linked to, not this Zen thing that Bohm is waffling about.
posted by snoktruix at 6:13 AM on November 22, 2005


The first link is interesting, although I'm not sure I see a connection between it and the others.

My (very limited) understanding of the holographic principle is that it stems from the theory that the upper limit on the amount of information that can be contained in a volume of space is directly proportional to its surface area.

With the most "entropy compact" structures in the universe, black holes, their surface area (measured in planck-length squared) is exactly four times the entropy contained within.
posted by justkevin at 6:14 AM on November 22, 2005


yeah i'd agree. models are devised that bring better results, or shed light from a different angle on an old idea. i think the holographic model is one such model, better not to think of it as a fundamental way to understand reality.

there is a quite good overview of the subject at wikipedia (link here) and remnants of it throughout science fiction/speculative writings but a lot of this holographic stuff i'm still getting my head around

the other links i posted i've got a little more i can speculate about :-) some great reponses here by the way, metafilter never disappoints - keep em coming...
posted by 0bvious at 6:19 AM on November 22, 2005


so the earth may be flat after all?
posted by poppo at 6:39 AM on November 22, 2005


Duh, everybody, the answer's clear. The universe is becoming self-concious, and when that finally happens in 2012, we all enter the Supercontext.

And here I was, thinking the Universe first became self-conscious with the birth of the first self-conscious organism...
posted by solipse at 7:05 AM on November 22, 2005


If anyone really wants to know about this:

Bohm, David, Wholeness and the Implicate Order; Routledge 1980

This is more accessible to the non specialist but an earlier version of the model.

Bohm, D & Hiley,B; The Undivided Universe Routledge, 1993
completed the day before Bohm died and while he was still sane.

I can only add that it is a pity that physicists are so narrowly educated these days that they can only see something if it is in the language of familiar equations - soluble or not.
posted by donfactor at 7:23 AM on November 22, 2005


The first link is interesting, although I'm not sure I see a connection between it and the others.

I could outline the connection between these links, but then I'd have to kill you...
posted by 0bvious at 7:34 AM on November 22, 2005


I popped on to post but talos said it for me more concisely.

If "the numbers existing that would represent you somehow" means "you exist", then pi itself is irrelevant. There are uncountably many normal numbers even though humans might have trouble identifying whether one specific number is normal or not, so based on that, any possible thing at all "exists".

I myself believe that things that *actually* exist have a special status that "things that exist in the digits of pi" do not.

Regarding the "humans are continuous, not discrete" -- that's an unsupported conclusion to come from an interesting but hardly novel experiment. The fact that humans will act while they are in an unresolved, undecided state is not new to science. The fact that you see an apparent continuum between two states, separated in time by hundreds of milliseconds, doesn't mean that the system is not discrete at the neuron-firing time-scale, milliseconds.

I myself lean towards thinking of the human brain as a continuous dynamical system in a large number of variables as opposed to a discrete digital-style device, but this experiment just doesn't give me any real support for that belief.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:46 AM on November 22, 2005


self-conscious universe
I think the word is "self-aware". The word "self-conscious" has a strong connotation of embarrassment. Which is as likely as any other emotional state for the universe to have, of course. In either case it's not true, because consciousness/awareness as a philosophical concept requires change. A thing that does not change cannot be conscious or aware. Pi does not change.

As for the data contained in pi, the procedure used to calculate pi is analogous to a random number generation algorithm. To my knowledge, all such algorithms start with a seed value and perform operations on it. Start with the same seed, and you get the same number. This is how the starting state of various computer games, FreeCell for example, allow players to attempt that same game again. Normally seed values are taken from somewhere external to the algorithm, such as the computer's internal clock.

Similarly to pi approximation algorithms, any random number generation algorithm will, given infinite time, generate all sequences that it could possibly generate. This isn't the same as saying that it will generate all possible sequences. I am not a mathematician, but it seems to me to be a leap of faith to assume that pi will contain all possible sequences. Rather, and perhaps tautologically, an approximation of pi will contain all sequences that it is possible for its generating algorithm to generate. There may be an upper limit on how many digits long such sequences may be.

To put it another way, an algorithm that randomly produces strings eight characters long each containing the letters A through H in an unpredictable order will never generate an English sentence, let alone the works of Shakespeare. Pi may be similar.

Furthermore, pi is not 3.14159264..., it is pi. It is not possible to represent pi in a base 10 (or base 2, or base n) numbering system, it is only possible to approximate it. Like a fractal picture--for good reason, exactly like one--you can "zoom in" forever, and you will never reach the exact value of pi.

Lastly, even assuming the digit length of sequences within pi grow with the closeness of approximation, to infinity, the length of time or quality of approximation (the same thing really) required to find a given sequence lies between zero (finding the sequence "3") and infinity (finding pi). Between zero and infinity there is a range of "practical times". Perhaps as long as a thousand years. That range as a ratio to the entire range of infinity is approximately zero.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:54 AM on November 22, 2005


I can only add that it is a pity that physicists are so narrowly educated these days that they can only see something if it is in the language of familiar equations - soluble or not.

The equations underlying the holographic principle are hardly familiar, there must be only a few hundred people in the world who can actually do good work at that level.

Powerful theories need to have powerful mathematical underpinnings. A theory without equations is at best a starting point, and probably isn't saying anything very interesting at all.
posted by snoktruix at 8:15 AM on November 22, 2005


From the BBC Link

"Despite experiencing hallucinations as part of their condition, schizophrenic volunteers to a study were better able to spot "real" visions than others."

But, they also claim that schizophrenics take less account of context and say

"This could explain why some people with schizophrenia might mis-attribute people's actions or feel persecuted."

I could offer another interpretation of the same evidence, which is that people are out to get each other, and only seem like they aren't in a given context.

I'm not saying that it's any more true then the explanation the researchers gave, but it seems to be equally valid given the evidence. I tend to think that schizophrenics are better at picking up on little cues that people give that they are hostile, and not as good at picking up cues that they are friendly. Or, maybe the "friendly" schizophrenics tend to readjust and become "more normal," whereas "hostile" schizophrenics retreat into their own world.
posted by jefeweiss at 8:37 AM on November 22, 2005


I'll second the derision for Spivey's work. Just like people, computers will take longer to determine that "jacket" and "candle" are different than to determine that "candy" and "candle are different. That's because computers typically compare strings by first comparing the first letter, then the second letter, and so on until the end of one string is reached, or the letters are found to differ.

Nobody really thinks that human brains are actually binary computers. However, work like Turing's shows us that there is a general computational model (the so-called Turing machine), and there is no more powerful model. Turing's machine isn't actually a binary computer, but finitebinary computers are capable of emulating finite Turing machines.

Binary computers are of course composed of physical objects, little pieces of metal, semiconductor, and insulator arranged in various ways to form basic building blocks: resistor, capacitor, and transistor. These are all analog devices--a capacitor can carry any voltage difference, and a transistor can be turned off, fully on, or somewhere in between.

Logic can be formed by combining transistors and resistors, and computer memory can be made by combining transistors and capacitors. When designers combine the building blocks into a larger device, such as a memory chip or a microprocessor, they are very careful to combine them in ways that let them pretend there are purely digital processes going on, but you don't have to.

In fact, one researcher took a kind of reprogrammable chip (FPGA) and used "evolution" to create a circuit that could perform a specific task. Like the microprocessor in your computer, these chips are designed to be used as digital devices.
So how did evolution do it--and without a clock? When he looked at the final circuit, Thompson found the input signal routed through a complex assortment of feedback loops. He believes that these probably create modified and time-delayed versions of the signal that interfere with the original signal in a way that enables the circuit to discriminate between the two tones. "But really, I don't have the faintest idea how it works," he says.

One thing is certain: the FPGA is working in an analogue manner. Up until the final version, the circuits were producing analogue waveforms, not the neat digital outputs of 0 volts and 5 volts. Thompson says the feedback loops in the final circuit are unlikely to sustain the 0 and 1 logic levels of a digital circuit. "Evolution has been free to explore the full repertoire of behaviours available from the silicon resources," says Thompson.
I'm in the camp that firmly believes there's nothing magical that the meat in our skulls does; it can probably be done by digital computers, and if not, it can be done by "freeing" our computers to operate at least partially in the digital realm. When someone says that clearly computers can never (fill in the blank), I suspect it's more because of our lack of facility at writing computer software than some limitation inherent in the transistor or in the binary representation of numbers.

If we do manage to create machine intelligence, I don't think it's likely to pass the Turing Test, though. Lots of things about the way humans act are products of our long evolution. If we design intelligence from the ground up, there's no reason to deliberately add things like the ability to become addicted to chemical substances; if we evolve intelligence like Clive Davidson evolved his FPGAs, we'll get an intelligence that is quirky and probably prone to mental illness (just like we are) but in ways that only underscore how alien those metal minds would be.
posted by jepler at 9:10 AM on November 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


Oops. The researcher was Adrian Thompson; the netscrap article was written by Clive Davidson. Adrian Thompson has a page with more information on his research, some of which is two years newer than that article.
posted by jepler at 9:14 AM on November 22, 2005


What's all this about pie?

No, gigabutt, not pie. Pi!
posted by whir at 10:10 AM on November 22, 2005


Dear everybody in the pi thread,

I've wasted my life.

Love,
G. Cantor

P.S. Screw you.
posted by jewzilla at 10:25 AM on November 22, 2005


In either case it's not true, because consciousness/awareness as a philosophical concept requires change. A thing that does not change cannot be conscious or aware.

Grant Morrison misled me? I'll never trust Comic Books again!
posted by hughbot at 11:47 AM on November 22, 2005


I've always thought of the universe this way.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:02 PM on November 22, 2005


Well, not 'always'. Erhum.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:02 PM on November 22, 2005


Just like people, computers will take longer to determine that "jacket" and "candle" are different than to determine that "candy" and "candle are different.

Other way around.
posted by voltairemodern at 12:53 PM on November 22, 2005


There is the old concept that we perceive, but our perceptions are illusions; and yet there is something out there for us to perceive, even if we distort that perception.

Extrapolated to this model, you could say that the universe is two-dimensional, but there are bits of third-dimensionality in there as well. That is, the first and second dimensions are complete, but the third (and perhaps other) dimensions are fragmented.

Not as outrageous as it sounds, if you consider the model of the universe with gravity wells displacing space-time. As an example, you could say that these gravity wells create fragments of fourth dimension. (This leads into the concept that gravity itself might not be a particle, wave or packet, but instead might be a *function* of the interaction of mass with space-time. (Function being like the plus sign in the equation 3+2=5. Other than being a function of the interaction of 3 and 2, the '+' sign has no value.))

Anyway, so the question then becomes what generates those fragments of third dimension? This would seem to fit quite well into membrane theory, as membranes would make a good candidate for this.
posted by kablam at 2:51 PM on November 22, 2005


So many great things to comment on here...

Firstly its not 'self aware' universe but 'reflexive' universe

This is a word used by eminent philosopher of consciousness Max Velmans in his book 'understanding consciousness' in which he puts forward a view of the human brain as a kind of mirror onto reality. in realising the evolution of the human brain the universe has grown closer to realising itself. this process is 'reflexive' i.e. mutual reflection.

As for infinity. Has anyone here read Jorge Luis Borges' classic short story 'The Library of Babel' in which an infinite library contains all the combinations of 410-page texts that could possibly be written? He outlines the problems inherent in infinity, in Pi, better than any scientist, philosopher or metafilter poster I have come across. (Browse this post for more)

Great to see how people here have connected these links together. Consciousness binds all things
posted by 0bvious at 5:07 PM on November 22, 2005


If Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, how can it be irrational?

You lost me at first.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:31 PM on November 22, 2005


Doesn't anyone else see the inherent hilarity of measuring human reactions using a digital computer, and then concluding that human reactions are contionous?

That's like timing a drag-race with a clock with only an hour hand, and concluding that the cars completed the track in zero seconds.
posted by spazzm at 12:25 AM on November 23, 2005


Voltairemodern: Thanks for the correction.
posted by jepler at 7:27 AM on November 23, 2005


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