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The Science of Godmanship
December 5, 2010 12:58 AM   Subscribe

The Science of Godmanship [annotated], in which the late Robert Anton Wilson (novelist, philosopher, psychologist, essayist, editor, playwright, futurist, polymath, civil libertarian and self-described agnostic mystic) examines Quantum theory and other weirdly weird stuff.

... but fortunately the cosmic glue can be illustrated, with amusing accuracy, by an old Sufi joke. Nasrudin is out riding when he sees a group of horsemen. Thinking this may be a band of robbers, Nasrudin gallops off hastily. The other men, who are actually friends of his, say, "I wonder where Nasrudin is going in such a hurry?" and trail after him to find out. Nasrudin, feeling himself pursued, races to a graveyard, leaps the fence, and hides behind a tombstone. His friends arrive and, sitting on their horses, lean over the wall to ask, "Why are you hiding behind that tombstone, Nasrudin?"  "It's more complicated than you realize," says Nasrudin. "I'm here because of you, and you're here because of me."

Originally published in Oui Magazine, 1979.
WARNING: Link NSFW (in 1979)

Robert Anton Wilson previously.
posted by philip-random (58 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Today, new breakthroughs in a far-out branch of physics called Quantum Theory indicate that Einstein was, as usual, fifty years ahead of his contemporaries. These new discoveries seem to offer a single scientific explanation for all the weird events that parapsychologists have classified under such conflicting labels as ESP, direct-brain perception, clairvoyance, distant viewing, psycho-kinesis, out-of-body experience, and cosmic consciousness (Illumination).

No. No they don't. Noooooooooooooooo.

What some physicists are suggesting is that all such mystical brain functions are aspects of one phenomenon: a subatomic but universal intelligence system that receives, integrates, and transmits information at a level much deeper than the sensory appearances of what we call space, time, and separateness. And this intelligence system, although outside space-time as we know it, manifests itself within space and time as electrons, atoms, molecules, cells, complicated critters like you and me, planets, stars, and whole galaxies.

No they aren't, no there isn't, no it doesn't. No.

Should have been published in Non Magazine.
posted by Segundus at 1:33 AM on December 5, 2010 [9 favorites]


From the link: What some physicists are suggesting is that all such mystical brain functions are aspects of one phenomenon: a subatomic but universal intelligence system that receives, integrates, and transmits information at a level much deeper than the sensory appearances of what we call space, time, and separateness.

[CITATION NEEDED]

Yet another attempt to use quantum theory that the author clearly doesn't understand to justify whatever the fuck it is they want. Might as well call the link THE SECRET: PART II.

I've never heard of Robert Anton Wilson before, and from the previously link he's well liked around these parts. But from the linked article, he's a bullshit artist of the first order who has a way with words but no real understanding of what he's talking about. I have no idea why this is worthy of a FPP.
posted by auto-correct at 1:46 AM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: a bullshit artist of the first order.
posted by Justinian at 2:05 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yet another attempt to use quantum theory that the author clearly doesn't understand to justify whatever the fuck it is they want.

And yet, there are those who do understand quantum theory and make the same arguments. Wilson cites them.

Don't be so closed minded. Wilson is discussing Bell's Inequality Theorem here. This is the basis of most arguments about causality at a distance and thus the reason why all particles in the universe are locked together into a bonded state, even beyond the reach of causality (e.g. instant effects at a distance, faster than light speed). I remember once I was reading Heinz Pagel's book "The Cosmic Code" which has a lengthy discussion of Bell's work and proposes an elaborate thought experiment to demonstrate Bell's Inequality. As I pondered it and drifted off into thought, I suddenly had a mystical experience. I could feel every atom in the most distant stars in the universe, as if it was part of my own body. I was the entire universe, it and I were the same. And then suddenly, that feeling disappeared. It was a satori moment. This is what the buddhists talk about when they say there is "no difference between self and other."
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:12 AM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Aaaaahhhhh. One can never get RAW enough.

@auto-correct: What RAW has to say about the interpretations of QM is -all- historically correct. Repeat 23 times: RAW -always- did his homework.

Fnord
posted by Twang at 3:11 AM on December 5, 2010


When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of Robert Anton Wilson. Then I did a little outside reading and realized that he had *completely* misunderstood (or completely misrepresented) Bell's Inequality Theorem, which as charlie don't surf notes above is the basis for much of his ... I don't know, philosophy? Snake oil with a veneer of science? Bullshit?

In a nutshell, there is a result called "no-communication theorem", which finds the conditions under which instantaneous transfer of information is impossible. It can be applied to Bell's theorem. It essentially shows that failure of local realism cannot lead to communication at a distance.

In a simpler nutshell, it has been shown that instantaneous, faster-than-light communciation at a distance is not the implication of Bell's Inequlity. Information cannot be tranferred that way. Essentially, once you try to use it to transfer information, the quantum entanglement breaks.

Meaning that everything Robert Anton Wilson ever said about it, in multiple books, showed a ludicrous misunderstanding of the science. Something any amount of serious reading on the subject would have instantly shown.

And it's not like he talked about the result and explained why he thought all this stuff was possible anyway. He never mentioned it. He ignored it. It never came up in his books. Basically, there was an obvious, fundamental flaw in everything he was saying and he never attempted to refute, explain, or even acknowledge it.

Did he not know about the no-communication equations? Did he know and not care? Well, I don't know the answer to that. And I don't care.

But I don't read Robert Anton Wilson anymore. And the whole experience made me very, very suspicious of anyone who says, "No, really! There's a scientific explanation for magic! It's real! Even if it sounds too good to be true!"

It is too good to be true. It's not true. Science can do amazing things, and someday we might have teleportation or all kinds of neat stuff. But if you want to know how long that will take, or how it might happen, don't look to the mystical, misunderstood, oversimplified, incorrect explanations of Robert Anton Wilson. Try to understand the actual science for yourself.
posted by kyrademon at 3:47 AM on December 5, 2010 [15 favorites]


It seems that actual scientists get kind of ticked with this sort of thing, because it facilitates a misunderstanding of how it actually works. I was at Gencon two years ago with some friends of mine who all happen to be physicists. They were all terribly excited that this transhuman game, Eclipse Phase, was coming out. That was until they found out how FTL communication worked. In this game, quantum entanglement was used to explain it. There was an actual hour long discussion with the game designer about why that wouldn't work. The short answer from the designer seemed to be that yes, they were aware that Bell's Inequality Theorem didn't allow for that, but that FTL communication was awesome.

I've always been fascinated by Wilson and the other 20th century magicians. Fringe mythology is a hobby of mine. But, their grasp of science has never been particularly strong, especially when claiming otherwise.
posted by khaibit at 4:32 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's been about eight years since I really looked into the whole quantum entanglement and the concept of FTL communication. What do people mean when they say that Bell's Inequality couldn't be used to transmit information across a distance? Is it that, if you - say - were using the spin of a pair of entangled particles to represent a boolean 0 or 1 value, you would destroy the entanglement once you determined the spin state? If that's the case, couldn't you theoretically make a one-time transfer of information before the entanglement was destroyed? I'm not saying this justifies the woo stuff RAW was talking about, but this was basically how I understood the problem in college when we were talking about quantum computers.
posted by graymouser at 4:45 AM on December 5, 2010


The trouble with the Copenhagen solution is that, however much Niels Bohr and his defenders may deny it, this path ultimately leads to the conclusion that everything we think we know is only a construct of our brains.

Brains construct knowledge! Film at 11.

Physics then becomes a branch of psychology;

No it doesn't.

it tells us not what the universe does, but what our brains do in organizing their impressions into ideas.

No, it describes things that are describable and predicts things that are predictable. One of the many things described, and this with with considerable precision, is the extent of our ability to make accurate predictions.

The main thing a probabilistic theory such as QM doesn't do that a classical theory does do is base itself on the following assumptions: (a) every identifiable event is the effect of one or more causes (b) identical preconditions will always and everywhere give rise to identical results.

Since (a) relies on a concept (causality) that isn't even rigorously definable, and empirical counterexamples to (b) are readily available, dropping both of them from a physical theory should not be anywhere near as intellectually problematic as writers like Wilson seem to think.

The conclusions he draws about the central place of consciousness in the operation of the universe and the possibly feasibility of FTL information transfer are standard low-grade religious/pseudoscientific bullshit.

Consciousness is clearly central to the formulation of physical theory, but this is true for no more profound reason than that theory construction is the act of conscious beings; no consciousness -> no theories. No consciousness -> no universe is not a claim supportable without question-begging and/or special pleading.

That said: the Illuminatus books are a hoot. If there's truly still anybody out there who hasn't read them: do.
posted by flabdablet at 5:02 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


RAW was a commercial writer who wrote what sold and repeated over and over that his information was unreliable and unbelievable. The thing which I recall most clearly is his repetition of the litany: I do not believe anything!

He would have gotten a kick about us arguing about his Bell's theorem usage.
posted by bukvich at 5:28 AM on December 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Whenever I see words like "mystic", "religion", "supernatural" and "mysterious" used in close proximity to the word "quantum" I immediately make a bet with myself that I'm about to read a colossal bag of arse-drenched woo written by someone who knows as much about quantum physics as Ann Widdecombe knows about graceful movement, human compassion and shutting the fuck up.

If it were possible to make such bets at the bookies I'd be as rich as Bill Gates by now.
posted by Decani at 5:38 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back when RAW was alive, I once went to hear him lecture about conspiracies and when the time came for questions, I asked him how come the conspirators allow him to tell everyone their secrets. He began to answer but after a few words, he suddenly grabbed his chest and looked like he was about to collapse. Then he smiled and we all had a good laugh.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:38 AM on December 5, 2010 [9 favorites]


I do understand the urge to fact-check Robert Anton Wilson like he was one of today's crop of authors of New Age books on How to Use Quantum Physics to Achieve The Life of Your Dreams. And it's probably not, ultimately, fair to argue that he should be held to a different standard than the nonsense of The Secret. And yet... he's Robert Anton Wilson. I'm not sure what else to say. His writing is at least as focused on trying to make you feel a certain funny feeling as it is on teaching you any actual, true facts. Purple-on-black text is also excellent for this, I find, as is the occasional insertion of that .gif of an eye on a pyramid. In other words: it's a performance.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:53 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


couldn't you theoretically make a one-time transfer of information before the entanglement was destroyed?

Wouldn't you theoretically make a one-time transfer of information BECAUSE the entanglement was destroyed? In other words, the destruction of the entanglement IS the information (albeit a single bit).
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:56 AM on December 5, 2010


RAW and Wavy Gravy are two sides of the hippie prankster coin. I love them both, but it's a mistake to take them (or yourself) too seriously.

Have fun with the wig-bubbles.

Extra bonus question: Why is it that satires of conspiracy theories lead to more people believing in conspiracy theories?
posted by warbaby at 6:00 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Graymouser --

Let's say an electron-positron pair is emitted from a source in a state called a spin singlet. The particles shoot off and are measured later. Whatever axis their spins are measured along, they are always found to be opposite from each other. This can only be explained if the particles are linked in some way. Amazing!

It seems like this should allow faster than light communication, which violates causality according to special relativity. But it doesn't.

Causality is preserved because there is no way to transmit messages with these particles by manipulating the spin. When you take a first measurement of one of the particles, you always have a 50% probability of measuring a positive spin and a 50% probability of measuring a negative spin on whatever axis you're looking at, completely at random. It is fundamentally impossible to influence what result you get.

So, yeah, if you measure "-x" on one you will measure always "+x" on the other, even if the particles are millions of light years apart. It's counterintuitive and strange and spooky and all that stuff. But you can't actually use it to transmit a message. On either side, it's always going to look random. It is random. Just linked.

No quantum experiment has ever demonstrated that faster-than-light signaling is possible.
posted by kyrademon at 6:07 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


ZenMasterThis -- How exactly would you know, on the other side, that the quantum entanglement had been destroyed?
posted by kyrademon at 6:09 AM on December 5, 2010


What do people mean when they say that Bell's Inequality couldn't be used to transmit information across a distance? Is it that, if you - say - were using the spin of a pair of entangled particles to represent a boolean 0 or 1 value, you would destroy the entanglement once you determined the spin state? If that's the case, couldn't you theoretically make a one-time transfer of information before the entanglement was destroyed?

If we entangle particles A and A' and then separate them physically, all we've done is set things up so that measurements involving A can be used to generate accurate predictions about the results of measurements involving A'. So if I examine A and find out something about its polarization or spin or whatever, then I can confidently predict the result you will get whenever you get around to measuring A'.

What I cannot do with A and A' is push some kind information into A when it arrives at my measuring station that you can then extract from A' without hearing from me via some other channel. All I can do is measure properties that A (or, strictly, the A+A' entangled pair) already has, such as the response it generates in a spin or polarization detector.

Sure, I can encode information into the entangled pair at the point of entanglement, and extract that same information from either A or A' or both wherever they end up as long as they remain entangled; but what this does not do and cannot do is transmit some other piece of information - not even information about the nature of the measurement I chose to perform on A - from the place where A ends up to the place where A' ends up.

Let's use entangled polarized photons as an example. Say I have a photon source on the Moon feeding two measuring stations - one on Mars and one in Belgium, each with a polarizing filter oriented identically with respect the the photon transfer path. Both measuring stations keep records, writing down a 0 whenever a polarizing filter blocks a photon and 1 when it passes one. With a non-polarized photon source, what they will both see is a string of random bits.

Then I switch on the photon entangler on the Moon, and something weird starts happening: the same bit strings start emerging on Mars as in Belgium. Each bit string still looks like noise, but Belgium's noise bits are identical to Mars's. If Belgium and Mars both twist their polarizers by some arbitrary but identical amount, they continue to generate identical bit strings. If Belgium twists its polarizer by an additional 90%deg; it now starts seeing the inverse of Mars's bit strings.

The "spooky action at a distance" much beloved of popular writings on entangled photons refers to this correlation between Mars and Belgium's bit strings. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any ability to transfer other information from Mars to Belgium or vice versa; the content of the bit strings is still random.

The only way to test whether Mars and Belgium are seeing correlated results - and therefore work out for which photons Belgium probably had its polarizer twisted at 0° or 90° with respect to Mars's - is to compare those bit strings; and that is inevitably going to involve transmitting bits from Mars to Belgium or vice versa via some kind of standard light-speed-or-slower information channel. There is no free lunch here.
posted by flabdablet at 6:31 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Incidentally ... hope I'm not thread-jacking with these multiple posts in a row, but I did want to note --

There appear to be three theories about Robert Anton Wilson in this thread:

1) Robert Anton Wilson had amazing insight and really knew his stuff; his work will teach you counterintuitive truths about the weird and unexpected nature of the universe.

2) Robert Anton Wilson was an idiot and/or a con artist who fundamentally misunderstood the science which supposedly formed the basis for all of his books, which can be demonstrated with even cursory research.

3) Robert Anton Wilson DELIBERATELY wrote masses of books containing wish-fulfillment "science" that was incorrect but somewhat plausible-sounding to people who had heard about quantum mechanics but never studied it, in the hopes that people would check into, find out they had been misled, and be shocked into becoming cynical skeptics.

Now, in this thread, I have clearly come down in category 2. But given that Wilson was a founder of Discordianism and did, in fact, advocate in his books that people should become "super-agnostics" who don't even take for granted that the sun will rise in the morning ... I have to admit that theory three is, let's say, not implausible. Don't know if I believe it, but it's not implausible.

But that doesn't mean I want to read any more of his stuff.
posted by kyrademon at 6:33 AM on December 5, 2010


The correct answer is a superposition of 2) and 3).
posted by flabdablet at 6:57 AM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


RAW was an artist. Cons were part of his medium.
posted by warbaby at 7:26 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


To the knee-jerk woo deniers: This is not the droid you're looking for. One thing that's very important to remember is that this article is over thirty years old; another thing that's very important to remember is that Wilson was writing it for a stroke-book, which I'm gonna go out on a limb and say probably didn't have an audience that was super-interested in long and involved unpacking of physics concepts; yet another thing that's very important to remember is that at the time, ideas like this were just starting to hit the mainstream consciousness, and had yet to get a lot of well-publicized scientific scrutiny; and finally, it is really, REALLY important to remember that in 1979, people did a lot of drugs. Wilson himself seemed fairly woo-resistant and atheistic, and was really much like yourselves, only from an era when that didn't mean being an obnoxious neo-puritan in nerd drag. If you must, try when judging his writings from this period to regard him as you might, say, the Don Draper character when watching "Mad Men" -- it's okay to be horrified by much of what he says and does, but it's also necessary to contextualize it, and realize that, adjusted for his times, he's still more progressive and generally vastly pimpier than you are.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think all my posts in this thread have been leading up to My Robert Anton Wilson Story. It isn't a remarkable story, perhaps. I never met the man and he certainly never heard of me; the sole connection between us was my reading his books. But nonetheless, he had an effect on my life.

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I got into my very first long-term relationship and, mostly through that, acquired a new circle of friends who were very different from any people I had ever spent time with before. They were of a, let's call it, mystical bent. Deeply intrigued with magic, psychic phenomena, ghosts, astrology, alternative medicine, the whole thing.

I had been a geeky kid raised by an engineer and an academic. It all sounded like bullshit to me. But these were my only friends -- I had recently moved to a new town -- plus my first real lover, and my feelings on this matter made me a definite outsider in the group. My lack of belief was regarded as contempt, and they treated it, in turn, with disdain. Especially my lover. In retrospect, I recognize now that this was a very abusive relationship, emotionally and, occasionally, physically, but I was young and stupid.

Anyway, the problems between my and my only circle of friends eventually got agonizing. I deeply wanted to fit in. (Young. Stupid.)

Then one day, I discovered the nonfiction works of Robert Anton Wilson.

I had read the Illuminatus trilogy when I was even younger, and enjoyed it but thought it eventually kind of fell apart and didn't hold up to rereading. But I had never read his nonfiction before.

It was like a revelation. Here was science -- equations, solid experimental evidence -- that seemed to show that everything I by that time wanted to believe was possible. Psychic phenomena. Magic. The whole thing. Quantum mechanics, he said, showed that the world was not simple and obvious. Weird things were happening all the time. The universe was in flux. The view of the world as a magicless place was as outdated as the nineteenth century universe of Newtonian clockwork.

At last, I could put it together. I could combine my hunger for evidence, for truth, for fact, with the strange new world I had somehow become a part of. I became truly part of the group for the first time. I felt loved.

And then one day ... I don't remember exactly when ... I decided to look more into these wonderful experiments and equations Wilson wrote about. Maybe, I thought, I would study them eventually. Really learn about how the world works.

And that was when I found out that everything he had written was based on a lie.

The equations did not say what he said they had. What he'd assured me they had. It didn't work like that. It had never worked like that. Bell's theorem, the EPR paradox, all the math ... that was not what they said at all. Not what they said at all.

I felt incredibly betrayed. The world view I had been cobbling together fell to bits. I fell back into outsider status. My abuser, angered by my turnabout, got even more abusive.

Now, eventually, I left that relationship, and that group of people. And these days, I try to balance skepticism with respect for people's beliefs, even though it's hard sometimes.

But I will never again trust anything Wilson has to say.

Now, maybe that was his intent. Maybe he wanted me to learn that no one was to be trusted, not even him. Maybe he was just trying to sell books. Maybe he just belonged to a group with beliefs as delusional as the one I was in, and was bad at math.

But from my point of view, I was young and trusting and naive and wanted something desperately, and he pretended to give it to me. But he didn't, really. It was all bullshit, smoke and mirrors, and I was devastated when his house of cards collapsed with me sitting on top of it.

So, maybe he was an awesome guy. But I will always think of him as the ultimate asshole.
posted by kyrademon at 8:33 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah I still love RAW for the way he got me thinking about perception and reality, but when he got close to actual science he spewed woo like the worst of them, and I honestly think he was blind to how wrong he was beyond some very superficial disclaimers. He let his desire for his pet theories to be true get in the way of his own BS filter (and it spilled over into weird and ugly things like The New Inquisition and the nasty caricatures of Sagan and Randi and what the skeptical movement is about in some of his later works). Which is a lesson of sorts.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:59 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Which is a lesson of sorts.

Yeah, I would agree. It's easy to say that (as Wilson once did) "everything you know is wrong!"...if what you now know instead is much more exciting to you personally. It's obvious one of the big problems we have right now is that personal/political agendas get all mixed up with what we believe to be true about the world, or what we want to be true about the world, and I'm not sure there will ever be a 100% effective way around that (I am sure that if you're 100% sure you've overcome it, you're usually part of the problem), and I think it's clear that Wilson was as vulnerable to that as anybody else.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:22 AM on December 5, 2010


The Science of Godmanship

Here at the U of C I see people wearing a cheeky shirt that says "And God said," which it followed by a highly complex looking equation, followed by "...and there was light!" I've always thought this is theologically erroneous, at least if we are talking about creation ex nihilo. Wouldn't the very existence of physical laws be a result of a sovereign decision necessarily unmediated by those laws? Even the weaker argument, that God's act of creation is just extensionally equivalent to what we perceive to be scientific regularity, seems to imply that a scientific language is closer to God's than, say, the ordinary language of agency. But how was this proximity established? Presumably not by a pre-established proximity of scientific language to God -- aside from begging the question, this undermines God's omnipotence. I guess the t-shirt is just a holdover from good, old-fashioned natural theology. And I guess I've never understood how that form of theology is at all coherent when it comes to talking about God.
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 9:34 AM on December 5, 2010


Metafilter: an obnoxious neo-puritan in nerd drag
posted by overglow at 9:54 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


But from my point of view, I was young and trusting and naive and wanted something desperately, and he pretended to give it to me. But he didn't, really. It was all bullshit, smoke and mirrors, and I was devastated when his house of cards collapsed with me sitting on top of it.

kyrademon, I hear you. Though not near as dramatic as yours, I could tell a similar story about my perhaps overly high regard for Kurt Vonnegut's writing and how, in time, it soured, turned ultimately toxic for me. Does this make him some kind of evil manipulator? No. But his writing was playing with some fairly high (and deep) ideas about the nature of life-universe-self and, for my young, admittedly fragile psyche, his ultimately flippant attitude toward much of it (at least from my perspective) made him a dangerous teacher indeed.

As for RAW, he's the guy I stumbled into later, after I'd sort of put myself back together, cut back on the psychedelics etc, and surrendered to the fact that I was NEVER going to figure it all out. Not even close. That is, Life-The-Universe-Everything wasn't just stranger than I thought, it was stranger than I could think. So the appeal for me of RAW wasn't that he had any high knowledge of what was really going on; just a wise and well honed sense of enthusiasm for exploring any and all the weird mysteries out there, because as a friend of mine likes to point out, "A living mystery always beats a dead certainty."
posted by philip-random at 9:58 AM on December 5, 2010


Isn't it a bit misleading, though, to say that it's impossible to transmit information FTL? The entangled particles are transmitting information, therefore it must be possible for them; it's just impossible for *us* to transmit useful information. Even though we are made of the same kind of particles.
posted by rainy at 10:01 AM on December 5, 2010


First, I used to love RAW like many people, and was turned on to the Illuminatus! trilogy in college (at Simon's Rock- oh, those were the days!). I've read a couple of his "non-fiction" books and plenty of articles. I've also devoured the works of Terrence McKenna and (as a child) hippie dippie writers like Richard Bach, or quasi-scientific "Doctors" writing books about FTL travel and Quantum Parapsychology, et al.

So I understand the thrill and temptation of these kinds of writings: science is the search for knowledge, and the thrill of understanding something you didn't before, or finding something you didn't know existed- this is part and parcel of the reason real scientists do what they do. Hell, even just the moment when you realize you finally "get" something you've been trying to learn can be a real thrill! "Real" scientists aren't- hopefully- motivated to be grist mills of mechanical knowledge turking, dutifully and passionless running through their experiments like soulless automatons. They are- hopefully- letting their imaginations run free, dreaming up new hypotheses and thoughts... but having the maturity and discipline to then subject them to peer-reviewed, rigorous tests.

This latter discipline is what distinguishes a real scientist from every stoner shroomhead writing about the deep secrets of the universe based on mostly misunderstood 10,000 foot least-common-denominator descriptions of the latest in scientific research. And while a "bullshit artist of the first order", RAW was definitely a little brighter and more fun than most, and for me he (and McKenna, etc) turned me on to the "fun" of speculative thinking, of OMNI magazine, of late night conspiracy theory blogs. But while I think he was mostly #3- all about mocking conspiracies and overly wrought prose- he had plenty of #2 in him, and believe a fair portion of what he wrote.

In any case, I've long, long, long since left behind a genuine belief in what these people say, except in rare cases (like the writings of Tom Robbins) where they can serve as a lovely and exciting metaphor for the weird amalgam of interlocking systems and mini-brains that make up for what we call ourselves or the culture and society of collective human race. And I don't hold it against these writers, any more than listening to story tellers who keep alive the art of ancient creation fairy tales makes you hate them for their lies- when really, you are delighted by their keeping alive a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder, as kyradaemon describes it above, is a good thing to cultivate and maintain, even if it means slumming it in "bad science" writing that's still damned fun.
posted by hincandenza at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


As regards to FTL communication, I'll start by saying "I'm stupid and know basically nothing about this", but based on what kyradaemon and flabdablet said about it:
kyrademon: Graymouser --
Let's say an electron-positron pair is emitted from a source in a state called a spin singlet. The particles shoot off and are measured later. Whatever axis their spins are measured along, they are always found to be opposite from each other. This can only be explained if the particles are linked in some way. Amazing!

It seems like this should allow faster than light communication, which violates causality according to special relativity. But it doesn't.

Causality is preserved because there is no way to transmit messages with these particles by manipulating the spin. When you take a first measurement of one of the particles, you always have a 50% probability of measuring a positive spin and a 50% probability of measuring a negative spin on whatever axis you're looking at, completely at random. It is fundamentally impossible to influence what result you get.

So, yeah, if you measure "-x" on one you will measure always "+x" on the other, even if the particles are millions of light years apart. It's counterintuitive and strange and spooky and all that stuff. But you can't actually use it to transmit a message. On either side, it's always going to look random. It is random. Just linked.
flabdablet: If we entangle particles A and A' and then separate them physically, all we've done is set things up so that measurements involving A can be used to generate accurate predictions about the results of measurements involving A'. So if I examine A and find out something about its polarization or spin or whatever, then I can confidently predict the result you will get whenever you get around to measuring A'.

What I cannot do with A and A' is push some kind information into A when it arrives at my measuring station that you can then extract from A' without hearing from me via some other channel. All I can do is measure properties that A (or, strictly, the A+A' entangled pair) already has, such as the response it generates in a spin or polarization detector.

[...]

The "spooky action at a distance" much beloved of popular writings on entangled photons refers to this correlation between Mars and Belgium's bit strings. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any ability to transfer other information from Mars to Belgium or vice versa; the content of the bit strings is still random.
This is what I don't get- unless I'm missing some key part of what you're saying, if you're saying I can: Couldn't you then build a simple FTL communication device using that last big presumption, that t between Mars and Belgium stays roughly bell-curve-consistent within some delta of time d? That if d is for example also 1 second, then you can say that a measurement on Mars should then cause a measurement on Belgium within 0-2 seconds? Maybe the entanglement is consistently instantaneous- has this actually been done in a pair of labs with atomic clocks?

With those presumptions in hand, let's start by saying:
-x = 0
x = 1

With this information, if I measure x, I can determine if it's an x or -x; somewhere in Belgium y would be oriented to do the same thing in reverse if I measured it.

So if I measure on Mars, and get a -x, that's a "0" in binary, and x is a "1". Ah, but I can't transmit a message- because each time I measure I can't choose which measurement I'll get. But I can choose how long I wait between measurements, right? So what if I add a rule of "If the measurement I got is NOT what I wanted it to be- either a 0 or 1- I wait 2 * delta, but if it is what I wanted it to be- either a 0 or a 1- then I wait 4 * delta"? This is like inverse Morse code, where it's not the length of the dits and dashes, it's the length of the time between them.

Is the problem that the entangled pair don't emit information, they only reveal it when measured, such that I'd still have the problem of "How did Belgium know when to do its next measurement? What happens when I do a measurement in Mars; how long after that will Belgium's entangled photo still respect the Mars' measurement?"

However, even if that's the case, in flabdablet's version, if the entanglement works and a bitstream on Mars and Belgium really did mirror each other and the delta t of "spooky communication at a distance" was even passably consistent, you could embed a message FTL using the pauses between sending the entangled photon sources from the Moon; yes you'd only get 2xc, but that's still FTL right?
posted by hincandenza at 11:23 AM on December 5, 2010


The entangled particles are transmitting information, therefore it must be possible for them

From my very limited understanding, they don't transmit so much as carry information. Rather like twins exhibiting similar behaviour even if they are separated at birth. That is some form of determinism, not communication. If anyone who actually knows wishes to step in, I'd be interested to know if that is a correct interpretation.
posted by Marlinspike at 11:27 AM on December 5, 2010


However, even if that's the case, in flabdablet's version, if the entanglement works and a bitstream on Mars and Belgium really did mirror each other and the delta t of "spooky communication at a distance" was even passably consistent, you could embed a message FTL using the pauses between sending the entangled photon sources from the Moon; yes you'd only get 2xc, but that's still FTL right?

You could say the same about any broadcast. If I shout, and two people in equal but opposite directions hear, I am communicating with both of them at the speed of sound, they are not communicating with each other at 2x the speed. Unless I'm misunderstanding you.
posted by Marlinspike at 11:36 AM on December 5, 2010


Might as well call the link THE SECRET: PART II.

More like THE SECRET: ORIGINS: THE SEQUEL: PART 632.

As I pondered it and drifted off into thought, I suddenly had a mystical experience. I could feel every atom in the most distant stars in the universe, as if it was part of my own body. I was the entire universe, it and I were the same. And then suddenly, that feeling disappeared. It was a satori moment. This is what the buddhists talk about when they say there is "no difference between self and other."

Maybe. Or maybe this is what ordinary people mean when they say "my mind drifted and I imagined something awesome."

W.r.t. RAW, I think the admonition up-thread that it's not a good idea to take as gospel on his ideas something that was written 30 years ago for a "stroke book" is very apt. OTOH, while I like Wilson quite a lot, I do think that he and a lot of his compatriots (some more so than others -- he, less so than most) are basically shams: They don't really know what they're talking about w.r.t. to physics, and often w.r.t. to psychology & neuroscience. A lot of the religious stuff is just pulled out of their ass, too.

At a very basic level, I have a problem with religious systems (which is really what we're talking about here) that are founded in the practice of feeding you a line of bullshit to get your to think differently so you can surpass the bullshit. It feels deep when you're learning it; but when you're done, and all you've accomplished is to basically come around 360 degrees and one level up, I think you've got every right to feel cheated and manipulated.

I have more respect for RAW than for others I've heard about (Peter Lamborn Wilson springs to mind) because to my knowledge, he never actively fucked anybody up. Some of the people who are into this shit (Chaos Magick, Discordianism, etc.) are into it explicitly as a way of fucking with people's heads. I know this because I've met them and have known some of the people they fucked with. These are systems explicitly designed to do that, in fact. You can have every intention of using them for "good", but in the end, does manipulating and lying to people ever really right, even if you do it to get them to come to a "right" state of mind?

If you have a strong confidence in your own cognitive and intellectual abilities and approach this stuff in a spirit of play, it can be very useful as mental exercise. If you approach this stuff as learning something scientific, or don't have a strong sense of self, or don't have a robust and healthy critical apparatus in your head, the better probability is it's going to leave you muddled and less able to deal with real reality.

Put another way: For the ordinary peson, steeping yourself in RAW is not going to make you any more likely to appreciate the evidence in support of the idea that global climate change is real, or that we're going to run out of oil, or that manufacturing jobs are leaving the US and won't be coming back until we're cheaper than Bangladeshis.
posted by lodurr at 11:47 AM on December 5, 2010


hincandenza: once you make a measurement, entanglement is broken. And when you make measurement, you don't know if it was already broken or not. In my limited understanding (I could be wrong): it's like having 2 rotating billiard balls in 2 black boxes. You take one to Australia, and when you open it, and measure rotation speed as 3 revolutions/sec, the only thing that you know is: *if* the other box wasn't opened yet, at that moment the other ball is rotating at that speed, as well. If you make an agreement that you will open the boxes at a certain time, the only thing you will know is what the others measured. But you have no way to test if they actually did do it, because you only get the speed of rotation, it doesn't tell you if or when the entanglement was actually broken. So, if they wanted to transmit a bit value, e.g. '1' to you, whether they make the measurement before, at the same time, or after you, and what is the value of measurement, you still don't get that '1' value.
posted by rainy at 12:00 PM on December 5, 2010


once you make a measurement, entanglement is broken.

This doesn't rule out universal entanglement. The universe generally doesn't go around measuring itself.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:07 PM on December 5, 2010


Marlinspike: no, the measurement does actually alter properties of the entangled particle that's a lightyear away. According to wikipedia, anyway. You just can't use that to transmit information, because you can't "pre-measure" the properties to see if they were altered by remote measurement later on. If you could have two ways of measurement, one that wouldn't break entanglement, and the other that would, you could transmit information, but having it break on any measurement, you can't. Even if you quickly open a door just a bit, take a peek and then close it in a nanosecond, it still breaks it.

But the other particle somehow knows that entanglement was broken.
posted by rainy at 12:10 PM on December 5, 2010


charlie: again, I could be wrong, but it seems like any interaction between particles counts as measurement, so if a photon strikes an electron, that's a break in entanglement. So all of those stars that send out radiation, they must break quite a bit of entanglement.
posted by rainy at 12:12 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, well that changes everything- obviously if the measurement is a one-time deal- or not even that- then it's a useless entanglement for the purposes of communication. kyradaemon and flabdablet both seemed to imply that such a system could be created and repeatedly measured/linked... but would just never really be usable as communication et al.
posted by hincandenza at 12:14 PM on December 5, 2010


Might as well call the link THE SECRET: PART II.

More like THE SECRET: ORIGINS: THE SEQUEL: PART 632


I can see the temptation to reference THE SECRET or WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW when it comes to some of RAW's more out there stuff, but I gotta cry foul. I mean, Miles Davis and Kenny G both played music with some kind of horn-like thingy, right? They even both called what they do jazz. Not that I'm aiming to equate RAW's genius with Miles'; just suggesting that dismissing EVERYTHING that comes from weird side of the quantum wars with the same broad brush is akin to saying, "I hate all jazz." That may be how you genuinely feel, but man, it does tend to limit a lot of very cool possibilities.

Case in point, RAW's giving a talk in Vancouver, mid-90s sometime, and someone asks him what he thinks of X-FILES. A pause for thought, then: "I prefer REPO MAN." And then he went on to elaborate. "If you're going to play with such themes as Black Helicopters, Area 51, Men-In-Black, please do so from a place of raw, punk satire, because that's what it is, even if it ends up happening to be true." [or words to that effect]
posted by philip-random at 12:17 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


hincandenza: well, how did you think the entanglement is broken? By smashing the electron with a hammer? Or it has nine lives like a cat, you measure it x times then all best are off? I agree that's odd to think about. Even odder is that all normal, solid things we know and love so much are made of these buggers and nothing else.
posted by rainy at 12:22 PM on December 5, 2010


best/bets
posted by rainy at 12:22 PM on December 5, 2010


phillip-random: hence, THE SECRET: ORIGINS: THE SEQUEL: PART 632. It's a sequel to a sequel to a [...] prequel, so many version-numbers out there that the possibility of it not being satire is effectively negative.*

--
*Is that possible? Who cares.
posted by lodurr at 12:31 PM on December 5, 2010


I guess the source of a lot of confusion is the word measurement. In macro physics you can either measure something by looking at it or photography, or you can change it with force, chemically, with temperature, pressure. For quantum particles, measurement and interaction are the same because a photon has to interact with a particle you're measuring and then you can record the photon.
posted by rainy at 12:34 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong & we're All-One. All-One!!!
posted by crunch42 at 1:06 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK. You forgot to dilute, dilute again, didn't you?
posted by lodurr at 1:37 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Based on the Illuminatus Trilogy and not much of his later writing, I always thought RAW's schtick was to write a bunch of suggestive bs in an interesting way that would lead you to question your existence from various angles. On further exploration, you'd realize that he was lying to you, but then there he'd be a couple of steps ahead saying, "Well, what about John Lilly and the dolphins? He was there, man! C'mon, let's go see!". Plus he was pretty good fun along the way, and had some sage advice for the Young Person, like "Don't fuck anyone who doesn't share your belief system" which seemed too pragmatic to fit with the rest of his writing, but was still worth listening to.

Later on, he came out and said, "Yes, I was fucking with you, and I'm going to keep at it until you grow out of your mental conditioning." Which is a fair ambition for an author.
posted by sneebler at 1:50 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


At a very basic level, I have a problem with religious systems (which is really what we're talking about here) that are founded in the practice of feeding you a line of bullshit to get your to think differently so you can surpass the bullshit.

I could do the strike a bunch of stuff / FTFY thing here, but I think it would be an unreadable mess so I won't.

What I will do is ask how that's different than science where the universe shows you something, and then you have to make up your own line of bullshit, then you test your bullshit and it looks OK but not perfect but you don't have a better idea right now so you run with that until everyone comes to really believe that your bullshit, warts and all, is how things truly are. Then someone (maybe you, maybe not) gets fed up with the bullshity aspects of your previous bullshit and comes up with something else (maybe a little bit different, maybe a whole huge paradigm shift) and so you surpass that bullshit.

Rinse.

Repeat.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:27 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


kyradaemon and flabdablet both seemed to imply that such a system could be created and repeatedly measured/linked

Then I apologize for unclear writing. Repeated measurements break entanglement.
posted by flabdablet at 3:52 PM on December 5, 2010


Wilson was quite frank in one of the Cosmic Trigger books that nearly all of his nonfiction -- and for that matter his fiction -- was what he called "guerrilla ontology," a deliberate mix of lies and truth that was meant to challenge you to sort the one from the other for yourself. He wrote many times that you shouldn't believe something just because he wrote it -- or just because anybody else wrote it, for that matter, and his own writings were designed to teach that lesson. In fact, he was emphatic that belief itself was an artificial and damaging self-imposed limitation, and that considering our limited knowledge of the Universe it would be more sensible to adopt "beliefs" appropriate to the current situation than to wear a consistent set that never changed.
posted by localroger at 4:33 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I will do is ask how that's different than science where the universe shows you something, and then you have to make up your own line of bullshit, then you test your bullshit and it looks OK but not perfect but you don't have a better idea right now so you run with that until everyone comes to really believe that your bullshit, warts and all, is how things truly are.

Srsly?

I guess I'm missing the intent to deceive in this scenario, because they seem totally different on that basis alone. Not to mention the fact that in this scenario, you're proposing an interpretation of reality with the intent of moving science forward, instead of the idea of fooling people so they'll (hopefully) have a realization that they've been fooled and then thank you for it.

As I noted at least twice, I think RAW was, of that crowd, the least vulnerable to that criticism. So, please, let's not get het up about insults to the sacred cow. Some of these "challenger" types are alright, and generally get good results in driving people to think; but there's a lot of them that are really no better than the assles they're pretending to oppose.
posted by lodurr at 5:00 PM on December 5, 2010


Wilson was quite frank in one of the Cosmic Trigger books that nearly all of his nonfiction -- and for that matter his fiction -- was what he called "guerrilla ontology," a deliberate mix of lies and truth that was meant to challenge you to sort the one from the other for yourself.

Absolutely, but like virtually all human being Wilson also held some blinkered beliefs for the whole of his life. Ridiculous ideas about how quantum physic relate to consciousness was a big consistent theme for him from the 70s on, with little sign to my mind that he was winking behind it all (or "burying the dog" in a grand hermetic work, as another weirdo that I'm a fan of would have it). Orgone too: it was always an article of faith with RAW that Reich's orgone theory was true and "fundamental materialists" had destroyed it for no reason other than ignorance and fear of how it "challenged" their own models of reality (rather than because it was, you know, bullshit).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:38 PM on December 5, 2010


Here at the U of C I see people wearing a cheeky shirt that says "And God said," which it followed by a highly complex looking equation, followed by "...and there was light!" I've always thought this is theologically erroneous, at least if we are talking about creation ex nihilo...

Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon, you're missing the joke in that shirt, and overthinking it. The equation you see following "And God said" are actually Maxwell's (4) Electro-Magnetic Equations. The joke is that they are essentially all-descriptive of photons, ergo: they are God's complete utterance of light.

It's an electrical engineer/optical engineer joke. Nothing ontological, really.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:48 PM on December 5, 2010


Orgone too: it was always an article of faith with RAW that Reich's orgone theory was true and "fundamental materialists" had destroyed it for no reason other than ignorance and fear of how it "challenged" their own models of reality (rather than because it was, you know, bullshit).

I'm anything but an expert on (or believer in) Wilhelm Reich's theories, but seriously, it's pretty much impossible to either defend or condemn them when the bulk of his technology and his writings were destroyed by order of the FDA in 1957 (the same year he died in prison).
posted by philip-random at 11:08 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


he was emphatic that belief itself was an artificial and damaging self-imposed limitation

And science is no more immune to that than any other human endeavor; over and over in the history of science people come up with new ideas (continental drift, washing hands before surgery, ad infinitum) and are ignored, ridiculed, even chased out of the field into exile ... then later on, turns out they were right(er) - but the existing paradigm had too tight a hold on their contemporaries.

In modern times, I thought it was brave of Sagan to apologize for the attempted suppression of Velikovsky's ideas.

I don't think anyone would seriously suggest that RAW is to be taken very seriously on scientific stuff. He does his homework and represents the science as ably and entertainingly as he can ... thoughtfully for a general audience. As for his writing about things about which science can say, as of yet, nothing, I think RAW's concept of Reality Tunnel is the most important of his ideas. It is more practical and easily understood as Jung's ideas about the joys and dangers of the archetypes, about which noone with actual experience in that area will argue.
posted by Twang at 3:01 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Has anyone mentioned the recent Bell test yet? The one where they simultaneously closed the locality loophole and freedom-of-choice loophole, and still violated local realism?
No?
I'll just leave this here then.
posted by Minus215Cee at 3:49 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm the 23rd user to mark this as a favorite? Nice.
posted by Minus215Cee at 3:52 AM on December 6, 2010


As they explain in their study, local realism consists of both realism – the view that reality exists with definite properties even when not being observed – and locality – the view that an object can only be influenced by its immediate surroundings.

The trouble with this definition is nailing down the precise meanings of "reality" for the first part and "immediate surroundings" for the second.

I'm more than comfortable with the idea that people who see local realism as a reliable guide to hypothesis formation will need to stretch their understandings of both of those terms, and think carefully about to precisely which features of reality it is helpful to ascribe definite properties.

It seems to me that the "spookiness" of the correlations observed between measurements on widely-separated entangled photons relies entirely on a misguided impression that the photons concerned are somehow analogous to little billiard balls. They just aren't. Photons are relationships between photon-emission and photon-absorption events.

It also seems to me that conceptualizing the correlated measurements entangled photons give rise to as if they involved some kind of FTL "communication" from the first one measured to the second must rest on misunderstanding the nature of photons, and measurement, and communication.

On my secret moon base I tear two tabs of blotter acid off my sheet and mail one to Bob in Belgium and the other to Lucy on Mars. When Bob receives his tab, he measures it by putting it under his tongue. It soon occurs to him that he now knows what's going to happen to Lucy in the sky when she does likewise, even though there hasn't been time for a letter saying so to reach him from Mars! Spooky action at a distance.
posted by flabdablet at 7:57 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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