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Does the Past Still Exist?
August 20, 2010 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Is our present defined by decisions we make in the future? And maybe we don't know who killed JFK because the universe hasn't decided yet. A Huffington Post science blogger discusses the nature of history from a quantum perspective. To quote Stephen Hawking, "The histories of the universe depend on what is being measured, contrary to the usual idea that the universe has an objective observer-independent history."

I found this article while I was searching for scientific theories that might help me come to terms with the notion of death and non-existence. I'm somewhat heartened by the notion that existence seems to span beyond time and that the past and future aren't independent from of present. Thought others might enjoy it as well!
posted by GnomeChompsky (95 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Our past must exist in some being's perspective, what with all those radio waves beamed out from Earth over the last sixty years.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2010


Although quantum effects are fascinating and sometimes bizarre, it is also true that they tend mostly to occur on a sub-atomic level. I personally still believe that there is an actual past, with a definite history, which has some kind of objective reality that is independent of individual observations - but I could be wrong.

A work of fiction that explores this concept, which you would undoubtedly find interesting, is the novella "The Stories Of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, which can be found in the anthology named "The Stories Of Your Life And Others". (I have mentioned it before, it is a very remarkable book.)

I also believe that when you die, you will find eternal joy (and nutrition) within the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But I could be wrong about that, too.
posted by grizzled at 10:47 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


At some point in the future I must have decided it was a good idea to make this comment.
posted by fuq at 10:47 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why is it that I can safely ignore what a biologist says about physics when I am interested in what a physicist says about biology?
posted by Dmenet at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh damn, I read the article and it's another big misunderstanding about quantum mechanics.
posted by fuq at 10:49 AM on August 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


I wish I could convince everybody who's not a quantum physicist to stop talking about quantum physics.
posted by pts at 10:50 AM on August 20, 2010 [40 favorites]


I think the many worlds interpretation is the only sensible way to look at quantum nonsense (simplistic counting of "entities" be damned).

I find the idea that history could be undetermined until future measurements interesting.

That said:

I'm somewhat heartened by the notion that existence seems to span beyond time...

This article does not say this.

...and that the past and future aren't independent from of present.

Causality already told you this.
posted by DU at 10:50 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


This guy comes off as another iteration of Deepak Chopra: an MD peddling spiritual theories in the guise of quantum physics (which, you know, isn't their field by far) via popular mediums instead of peer-reviewed journals.

Stick to stem cells and pubMed, Dr. Lanza.
posted by griphus at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can anyone recommend any articles by quantum physicists about this topic that would be somewhat decipherable by a non-physicist?
posted by GnomeChompsky at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2010


On preview, what delmoi hasn't said yet.
posted by notmydesk at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2010 [45 favorites]


Previously.
posted by hermitosis at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


Sorry about that, guys.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:58 AM on August 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


In reply to Dmenet who asks, Why is it that I can safely ignore what a biologist says about physics when I am interested in what a physicist says about biology? there is a certain hierarchy in science. The most fundamental description of how the universe works is found in physics. Chemistry is a special case of physics. Biology is a special case of chemistry. (This goes farther as well; medicine is a special case of biology.)
posted by grizzled at 10:58 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


(farts)
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:00 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can discount just about any individual's application of quantum physics to "real life" if they're not a published quantum physicist.
posted by griphus at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


grizzled, make one of those hierarchies for computer science. :D
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2010


I agree with DU, most of the absolutely insane paradoxes of QM go away with non-collapse interpretations like Many Worlds. Of course you're left with a universe that's much larger than you previously thought, but that's sort of been the history of science so far.
posted by justkevin at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those HuffPo "science" "blogs" are the most worthless wastes of pixels I've ever had the displeasure to encounter. Headline: "Everyone lives forever scientists say!" Article: "Yeah some scientists kind of say something and . . . energy . . . time . . . did I mention science?" If you liked this article you might also like: moar complete bullshit.
posted by ND¢ at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


In some sense, our consciousness of "past," and "present," and "future," depend on our perception of the passage of time, which is, at large scales at least, linked to the directionality of cause and effect. To put it another way, it doesn't make sense to talk about effects happening before causes, and it doesn't make sense to talk about a cause in the future effecting the past.
posted by mai at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2010


Timing.
posted by stavrogin at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


there is a certain hierarchy in science

No one who works in biology talks about positively charged hadrons when researching how cells move ions. The early geneticists abstracted how genes were distributed with mathematics that have little practical relationship with particle physics or physical phenomena. All the basic sciences have their roots in mathematics and bookkeeping, ultimately.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quantum mechanics is very strange, and you get some very surprising experimental results with photons, but speculation about what that might mean for reality as a whole is best left to quantum physicists, I find. e.g. the Penrose interpretation probably has plenty of critics, but at least its an interpretation of how quantum effects scale to the macro level made up by someone who actually knows the field well.
posted by memebake at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2010


Oh damn, I read the article and it's another big misunderstanding about quantum mechanics.

HuffPo seems to be heading towards supermarket tabloid territory.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's happening at a quantum level is different and more confusing because of things like entanglement. You can also get some time/causality weirdness from relativity. But neither of those two situations apply to our everyday lives.
posted by mai at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2010


I just wish it wasn't preordained that by the end of 2010 I would strip naked, run screaming through the mall, and then frantically rub stolen M&Ms all over my body in the reflecting pool while reciting the Kalevala as nude women writhe at my feet in ecstasy.

Sigh.

I encourage the jury to consider quantum mechanics when deliberating upon my guilt.
posted by aramaic at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Step one: Read book jacket on latest pop sci hard covers, headlines in Science
Step two: Place quotes from readings evenly spaced on blank sheet of paper
Step three: Write whatever the fuck you want between the quotes. Make it sound *deep*.
Step four: Public on Huffpo
posted by pjaust at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


PUBLISH not public.
posted by pjaust at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2010


I think most of our problem in understanding the universe stem from confusing gravity for time.
posted by any major dude at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


You want to read "Quarantine" by Greg Egan.
posted by Eideteker at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2010


Next on HuffPo SCIENCE!: Fucking Magnets, How Do They Work?
posted by ND¢ at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


This has nothing to do with "history." This has to do with "events."
posted by Ironmouth at 11:13 AM on August 20, 2010


pts: "I wish I could convince everybody who's not a quantum physicist to stop talking about quantum physics."

I agree whole-heartedly, but when I discuss (briefly) the Many-worlds hypothesis in my QM class, I do (jokingly) point out that the big proponents of the theory must admit that there is another world in which they are amongst its biggest detractors. I would say it gets a big laugh, but to be honest, none of my QM jokes get laughs. The purpose is to get snickers, which keep students awake through the long sections of linear algebra.

In other words, QM isn't nearly as interesting as most of you think.
posted by JMOZ at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why is it that I can safely ignore what a biologist says about physics when I am interested in what a physicist says about biology?

Actually it works the other way too, eg. Roger Penrose talking about neurology.
posted by nangar at 11:20 AM on August 20, 2010


It really doesn't matter if no one who works in biology talks about positively charged hadrons when researching how cells move ions. If you try to delve into the reasons why ions move in cells in the way that they do, and look for the reasons behind the reasons, eventually you do wind up with the laws of physics, including the behavior of positively charged hadrons. Chemists talk about things such as the octet rule, but behind that lies Coulomb's Law. The electromagnetic force is what moves ions. And while it is also true that mathematics is fundamental to everything in science, mathematics is a tool used by science, which only yields useful explanations about reality when it is applied to observations of reality. Otherwise, mathematics is just about mathematics, it is a world unto itself.

I have also been asked for a scientific hierarchy leading to computer science. Physics is still basic, electronics is a special case of physics, and computer science is a special case of electronics. With, of course, a huge element of mathematics thrown in. See my first paragraph.
posted by grizzled at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2010


To repeat an old rant, the worst thing that ever happened to physics was using the word "observe".

It inserted an observer, a conscious observer, where none needed to ever be.

Look: When you find dinosaur bones, you do not send a signal back in time 65M years creating that dinosaur. It's really that simple.
posted by effugas at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh shit, Robert Lanza? Good lord. I need to write a greasemonkey script that just filters out HuffPo FPPs on the blue.
posted by signalnine at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2010


I second the wish for a recommendation of a book or article on quantum mechanics and the whole time travel thing that is a) intelligible to someone who never got past high school physics and b) not hugely wrong about everything.
posted by marginaliana at 11:25 AM on August 20, 2010


This actually reminds me of how Umineko is set up. Something, presumably a series of murders, occurs on October 5th and 6th while a typhoon cuts an island away from the world. When the police arrive, the evidence has been destroyed such that no one can tell what happened. The story involves characters using what they know, what they can deduce and what lies they they slip in to solidify the story and the truth of what happened on those days. The past is unknown and in flux and furiously being written and rewritten by the players in order to establish their version of the truth.
posted by charred husk at 11:27 AM on August 20, 2010


To repeat an old rant, the worst thing that ever happened to physics was using the word "observe".

Agreed.

Look: When you find dinosaur bones, you do not send a signal back in time 65M years creating that dinosaur. It's really that simple.

Non-sequitur. Dinosaur bones don't leave interference patterns in rocks.
posted by DU at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently I just cause myself to eat taco bell last night. Ugh.
posted by sanko at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


To repeat an old rant, the worst thing that ever happened to physics was using the word "observe".


"interact" would be much more accurate, but would allow for fewer science fiction articles to be written.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:29 AM on August 20, 2010


That's not going to happen, marinaliana. There is no whole time travel thing. There's only the extrapolation of weird rules about the macro world from what happens on the quantum level. Except we can't do that with any degree of accuracy (yet?) So you'll might be able to get plenty of somewhat "understandable" (sugarcoating, handwaving) "theories" (unprovable, not even wrong) but you'll never get one that at least one physicist who Knows What They're Doing wouldn't call a crock of shit.
posted by griphus at 11:29 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


If it's on Huffington Post, the word "science" should be in quotes.
posted by Legomancer at 11:30 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I second the wish for a recommendation of a book or article on quantum mechanics and the whole time travel thing that is a) intelligible to someone who never got past high school physics and b) not hugely wrong about everything.

I gather that Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything does a pretty good job of explaining these things without getting carried away
posted by memebake at 11:31 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I gather that Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything does a pretty good job of explaining these things without getting carried away

I would also recommend In Search of Schrödinger's Cat by John Gribbin (although it's probably a bit out of date now, but it's good at the historical perspective).
posted by Electric Dragon at 11:38 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


"The histories of the universe depend on what is being measured, contrary to the usual idea that the universe has an objective observer-independent history."

Hm. I think this is only true if you accept the Copenhagen interpretation of the Schroedinger equation.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh, I believe that God is transcendent (used in the theological sense ) and is outside of space and time. Therefore these kinds of articles are just fun.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:43 AM on August 20, 2010


I am constantly visited by future regrets, but I go ahead and do the thing I am going to regret anyway.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:46 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"space and time" doesn't have an "outside"
posted by DU at 11:46 AM on August 20, 2010


I see what you did there XQUZYPHYR.
posted by republican at 11:48 AM on August 20, 2010


@GnomeChompsky

Try this article to broaden you horizon:

Many lives in many worlds...
http://arxiv.org/pdf/0707.2593v1
http://arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/0302131
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:49 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recommend Nick Herbert's Quantum Reality for the various interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Ideas of retrocausality have been around for a while (Wheeler-Feynman's time-symmetric electrodynamics, Cramer's transactional interpretation which has never really taken off), but there are many observationally equivalent interpretations, and right now they can only be taken as ways of looking at the math and not descriptions of reality.
posted by Schmucko at 11:49 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh, I believe that God is transcendent (used in the theological sense ) and is outside of space and time.

Maybe he's just moving really fast ;-)
posted by The World Famous at 11:59 AM on August 20, 2010


Hrm. And I was just listening to the Stuff You Should Know podcast on Quantum Suicide.

I think it's okay to extrapolate philosophical theories from quantum mechanics, but don't pretend them to be quantum mechanics.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:59 AM on August 20, 2010


I would like to strap these quantum foam-fuckers to a chair, Clockwork-Orange style, and make them watch What the Bleep Do We Know until they reflexively vomit when multiple universes or neuroscience is mentioned.
posted by benzenedream at 12:07 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Otherwise, mathematics is just about mathematics, it is a world unto itself.

Some might disagree or say that there isn't much of a difference between mathematics and reality. To the larger point, I wouldn't agree that there is a hierarchy, otherwise I could suggest that physics now derives from biology, if some physicists are starting to use biological concepts such as natural selection to explain newer theories. Once you get to the details, sciences are all rooted in mathematics. It's just the choice of mathematics that matters, to the extent that the math agrees with the observations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:11 PM on August 20, 2010


mai wrote:
it doesn't make sense to talk about effects happening before causes, and it doesn't make sense to talk about a cause in the future effecting the past.


I would suggest we examine the notion of a attractor.
posted by kuatto at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2010


grizzled, I'd say that computer "science" is pure mathematics, which is not science (as you noted). Don't forget that guys like Turing were defining the field before any actual computational devices existed (Babbage excepted). I wouldn't even say that electronics is a subset of physics -- it's engineering, which is about applying a subset of physics to create new technology. Sorry to be pedantic, it's just a pet issue of mine.
posted by Edgewise at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2010


I wish I could convince everybody who's not a quantum physicist to stop talking about quantum physics.

I totally imagined Jack Donaghy following your comment around screaming, "DO NOT LOOK SCIENCE IN THE EYES! NOT IN THE EYES!"
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2010


Nothing annoys me more then people who try to make generalizations about human life based on quantum physics. It's just stupid. Quantum physics should affect each atom in our bodies differently, for the most part. Right?

I think what this shows is that it's entirely possible to be a 'scientists' and still have woowoo out there crazy ideas. A lot of people think 'scientists' should all think the same way, but really that's ridiculous. What makes someone a scientists is what they do when they're doing their research. Not what they actually believe.
Although quantum effects are fascinating and sometimes bizarre, it is also true that they tend mostly to occur on a sub-atomic level. I personally still believe that there is an actual past, with a definite history, which has some kind of objective reality that is independent of individual observations - but I could be wrong.
Really? It seems to me that once time passes, it's gone. History doesn't 'exist' at all, just the stuff that used to be in the past. You can tell what the past was like based on evidence (including memories) but I don't think it exists the same way, say, the sun exists.
posted by delmoi at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2010


Electric Dragon: "I would also recommend In Search of Schrödinger's Cat by John Gribbin (although it's probably a bit out of date now, but it's good at the historical perspective)."

It may be out of date, but its a great introduction. And he has a followup to include new information, "Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality".
posted by charred husk at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2010


grizzled, I'd say that computer "science" is pure mathematics, which is not science (as you noted).
Well, in some cases but not all. In a lot of situations you really are doing experiments. Sure, you're doing experiments on idealized mathematical devices, but you don't know the result without testing. It may not be possible to mathematically figure out what the result will be before hand. Or it may be possible but not worth it. Machine learning, in particular involves lots of experiments to see how well algorithms will perform.

Any kind of heuristic algorithm is going to be tested by experimentation.
posted by delmoi at 12:21 PM on August 20, 2010


I don't want to read the article too closely because I don't want to get any dumber, but it's trying to talk about consistent histories. I actually took general relativity class from one of its proponents, Hartle. I've heard him talk about it, and it's not nearly as crazy as it sounds. I'm firmly in the many worlds camp, but my understanding is that the differences between that and consistent histories are subtle. It's intended as a tool for doing cosmology.

Quantum is tough to talk about, because people have wacky expectations of it, and the way to make money on your book is to play up spiritual or mystery angles, not to break it down into practical understanding of how the world works. Also, there is some math involved. You'd really want to have at least a basic understanding of linear algebra, I think. Avoid anything by Hawking. People who work on quantum computation are the ones who (in my opinion) are best at writing and understanding this stuff. They have to have a really quantitative understanding of what measurement is, what coherence is, etc. Otherwise their devices/experiments won't work.
posted by Humanzee at 12:29 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is it that I can safely ignore what a biologist says about physics when I am interested in what a physicist says about biology? there is a certain hierarchy in science.

Yes there is...

posted by doctor_negative at 12:33 PM on August 20, 2010


Well, my library has In Search of Schrödinger's Cat so I think I'll start there. Thanks for the recommendations!
posted by marginaliana at 12:34 PM on August 20, 2010


Likewise, thanks for the book and article recommendations. Leave it to Metafilter to keep you on your toes. :)
posted by GnomeChompsky at 12:38 PM on August 20, 2010


When you find dinosaur bones, you do not send a signal back in time 65M years creating that dinosaur. It's really that simple.


Your damn right you don't send a signal back in time 65M years to create the dinosaur. You send the signal back a couple of thousand years.
posted by digsrus at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2010


kuatto, we call that the hyperdimensional object at the end of time, aka the UFO aka the oversoul.

Yeah, I like my Terence McKenna.

(whether I *believe* it is a whole other story ;))
posted by symbioid at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2010


Sometimes I just have to agree with Ned Flanders:

"Well, I say there are some things we don't want to know. Important things!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:44 PM on August 20, 2010


This is nonsense, Paul the octopus continues to shape our collective futures.
posted by biffa at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2010


First!
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:49 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Look: When you find dinosaur bones, you do not send a signal back in time 65M years creating that dinosaur. It's really that simple.

Non-sequitur. Dinosaur bones don't leave interference patterns in rocks.

Belief in the power of conscious observation meaning anything, really does back-establish dinosaurs on fossil discovery.
posted by effugas at 12:54 PM on August 20, 2010


I still remember exactly where I was when I found out that JFK had been shot.

It was a cool, autumn day and we were discussing American history in the fourth grade. Mrs. Clark suddenly dropped the bombshell that American President, John F. Kennedy, had been shot and murdered in Dallas, Texas seventeen years earlier. It was something I'll never forget.
posted by flarbuse at 1:01 PM on August 20, 2010


effugas: "Look: When you find dinosaur bones, you do not send a signal back in time 65M years creating that dinosaur. It's really that simple.

Non-sequitur. Dinosaur bones don't leave interference patterns in rocks.

Belief in the power of conscious observation meaning anything, really does back-establish dinosaurs on fossil discovery.
"

Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?
posted by symbioid at 1:06 PM on August 20, 2010


Coworker: "I don't really understand quantum"

Me:: "Well, it typically describes something really small, and a lot of people are trying to figure out a way to connect it to the physics of really big things. but it isn't easy, because it's really difficult to describe it in a way that everyone can understand."

Coworker: "So is it something I should worry about?"

Me: "Constantly."
posted by quin at 1:11 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why The Bleep Does Anyone Read HuffPo?
posted by defenestration at 1:16 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Physicist like Lee Smolin theorize that "fundamental" particles and forces and laws are emergent phenomena just like life and biology, making all of these fields sisters more than arranged hierarchically. The previous stratifications were mostly reflections of a neatly stratified society. As that stratification has broken down via globalization, the relationships between the sciences must change as well, meaning the "sisters" configuration is just as contingent on social order.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 1:21 PM on August 20, 2010


In a couple of years, this will be the latest greatest hot new thing in literary theory. Wait and see.
posted by synecdoche at 1:27 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


pts: I wish I could convince everybody who's not a quantum physicist to stop talking about quantum physics.

You already have... IN THE FUTURE.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:30 PM on August 20, 2010


The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene is a book that explains recent findings well. It manages to convey the utter weirdness of the universe without extrapolations into breathless nonsense. It's not very well written unfortunately.
posted by eeeeeez at 1:35 PM on August 20, 2010


I recommend Nick Herbert's Quantum Reality for the various interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Oh, absolutely. In years past I read obsessively about physics, and Quantum Reality made me realize that things I thought I had understood quite well, I did not understand at all until I read it.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:46 PM on August 20, 2010


I'd like to recommend this book, but alas I am not qualified to "talk about quantum mechanics".
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 2:07 PM on August 20, 2010


I'm very fond of Uncertainty, by David Lindley. The new book by Manjit Kumar, Quantum, is shittily written 2 teh max, but is pretty good at conveying most of the basics. They're similar in scope, these two books, as they both go back to the birth of QM and describe how the theory arose, both with respect to the science and the sociology of science.
posted by Zerowensboring at 3:14 PM on August 20, 2010


Having read some of Lanza's stem cell textbook I find it hard to believe that he's the author of so much New Age claptrap. The Huffington Post's science page is a bad joke and the fact that such bilge is linked to here is a little disappointing...
posted by inoculatedcities at 3:29 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stonestock Relentless: I'd like to recommend this book, but alas I am not qualified to "talk about quantum mechanics".

So, reading the product description at Amazon:
In trying to understand the atom, physicists built quantum mechanics and found, to their embarrassment, that their theory intimately connects consciousness with the physical world ... Quantum Enigma's description of the experimental quantum facts, and the quantum theory explaining them, is undisputed. Interpreting what it all means, however, is controversial. Every interpretation of quantum physics encounters consciousness.
The bits above that I've emphasised in bold are very misleading, I'd say. While its true that, some interpretations of quantum mechanics involve consciousness (the von Neumann/Wigner interpretation and the many-worlds interpretation being the best known ones) there are plenty that don't. Quantum decoherence, Stochastic interpretation, and the Penrose interpretation all have a pretty good go at explaining the whole thing without any problematic pondering of the role of Consciousness. But, perhaps because these theories are a bit less exciting to trip-out on, they don't get discussed as much as the more mind-bending consciousness based theories. And so they are probably not on the radar of the sort of people who write those sort of books. Or is it just more convenient for authors to skip over the more dry, complex and (in my view) likely explanations in favour of the more sexy and marketable ones?
posted by memebake at 3:35 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

OK. fine.

There is a concept of retrocausality on the macro scale. This concept summarizes as: An effect can occur before its cause, and this can happen at large time and space scales.

Retrocausality is often linked to an exaggeration of the importance of observation, specifically conscious observation. The problem is that if you believe conscious observation is required for events to occur, the fact that many events occurred before anyone was conscious to detect them is a bug.

A solution is to assume, then, that discovering a dinosaur fossil retroactively creates that dinosaur -- observation has happened, so the dino may now have lived.

Of course, nobody says this quite so ridiculously. But most of the time you hear a description of retrocausality, please think: Would this let the paleontologist create the dinosaur?
posted by effugas at 4:03 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


If humans started from viewing the world on a quantum level, we'd be arguing over whether things really were predetermined at a classical level or whether they just gave the appearance of being that way due to the way the wave functions add up.

It doesn't actually matter. Both viewpoints predict the same results.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:11 PM on August 20, 2010


Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer.

Paging Alan Sokal! Paging Alan Sokal! Patient with PMTS[*], needs percussive cluestick treatment STAT!

[*] PostModern Transference Syndrome
posted by Creosote at 7:43 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's the secret to comedy?
posted by stavrogin at 11:59 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's the secret to comedy?
posted by biffa at 5:08 AM on August 21, 2010


It would be possible to invent a complete mathematical analysis of how to program and use computers without ever building any actual computers, purely as an intellectual exercise, in which case it would be true that computer science would consist of pure mathematics, but that is not what happened. In the real world, computer science exists to enable us to make better use of our actual computers. These computers are physical, not mathematical objects, constructed by means of a particular technology known as electronics. And electronics is derived from upon physics.

It is also suggested above that perhaps physics is a sub-set of biology and not the other way around, since some forms of physics now use principles observed in biological systems. While it is true that cross-pollination is always possible between any two branches of science, and one specialty can learn from another specialty, any attempt to determine the causes of events will eventually take you back to principles of physics, not of biology. On a biological level, the fox eats the rabbit because it is hungry. This is not the complete explanation, however. We can then ask, but why does a fox get hungry? Biochemistry shows us that the fox has a metabolism, and various biological processes that are driven by chemical energy that has to be obtained by eating. Why can't it just generate its own chemical energy? Energy has to come from somewhere; this we know by means of the law of conservation of mass-energy. At this point we are back to physics. I can perform a simiar process with any other biological observation you might wish to make.
posted by grizzled at 6:19 AM on August 21, 2010


No hard science is really a subset of any other, though the bounds are blurry, perhaps arbitrary, and there may be some crossover. It is computationally infeasible, or in some cases physically impossible to derive all the stuff that biochemistry does from the laws of physics ourselves, even though they surely arise from those laws of physics. Each science is just glancing at how aspects of the universe combine to work at different scales and in different situations. The universe is just too damn big and complicated for a top down or bottom up approach to even be possible.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:30 AM on August 21, 2010


memebake: many worlds doesn't involve consciousness
posted by Humanzee at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huffington Post frequently posts columns similar to Lanza's that makes me first raise an eyebrow only to facepalm after getting further into the article and realizing that it's along the lines of 'What the Bleep Do We Know'.
posted by daHIFI at 5:25 PM on August 22, 2010


Humanzee: Yeah, you're right. I think I confused myself by imagining the path of a single consciousness through the many worlds, but its more like an ever expanding tree.
posted by memebake at 6:18 AM on September 11, 2010


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