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>> Don, it is a pleasure to see you and thanks for making the time to come on the show. I appreciate it. >> Thank you for your very kind invitation. It's a pleasure. >> I've been looking forward to this conversation for some time, and I'd like to start with perhaps a name that my listeners will not recognize, and that is the Helmholtz Club. Could you please give us some background and explain what is or what was. I don't know the tense on this, the Helmholtz Club. >> The Helmholtz Club was a group of neuroscientists primarily, and some cognitive scientists like me that met roughly once a month at the University of California at Irvine. But it was neuroscientists from the whole Southern California area, from UC San Diego, all the way up to UCLA and USC and Caltech, and of course UC Irvine, and sometimes from UC Riverside. The point was for us to get together. It was led by Francis Crick and Terry Sonowski and VS Roma Condren. But it was to get neuroscientists together to discuss consciousness. What was the state of neuroscience as it related to consciousness? We were trying to problem solve this open issue in cognitive neuroscience, which is what is the relationship between brain activity and our conscious experiences? When I was a graduate student at MIT in the early 80s, it wasn't really appropriate for graduate students to talk about consciousness. It was sort of a fringe kind of thing. But in the early 90s, Francis Crick basically made the case that this problem needed to be addressed. Consciousness needed to be addressed. And he felt that he could address it in pretty much the same fashion that he had addressed the issue of life. Life had been an open mystery. You could imagine that there was maybe some Elon Vitale that was some special spirit inside living things that wasn't inside inanimate things. But when Crick and Watson elucidated the structure of DNA, it became obvious that maybe he didn't need an Elon Vitale anymore. You could sort of give a reductionist, physicalist, account of many of the basic functions of life. And so I think what Crick and the Helmholtz Club was really about was doing the same thing for consciousness that Crick and Watson had done for life, which was to take this thing which right now seems mysterious and get a neuro reductionist story for it in the same fashion that we got a molecular biological reductionist story for life. And so we met and it was a lot of fun. I must say it was private. So we met in secret basically at the University Club at UC Irvine, not because it was clandestine in any bad sense, but because of Francis Crick. If people knew that Francis was there, we would be mobbed and we wouldn't get anything done. He was for good reason, a very, very popular man, and people wanted to talk with him. So we met in secret and it was invitation only. So each of the members of the club could invite one or two people to join in any given time. But the intention was to keep it really small. There were maybe 15 to 20 of us at most in a meeting. And we would start, usually on Tuesdays, we would have lunch together and then we would go out it all afternoon. We would invite two speakers whose neuroscience work seemed pretty interesting. Even if they weren't directly working on consciousness, we thought it might be, we'd bring them out and grill them. And it was pretty fun. It was intense, but it was not at home and everything.
Conceptual Discussions On Consciousness, Space And Time
What is consciousness? (04:20)
It was really just a very intense time. And we would then adjourn and have dinner together at some restaurant, usually near South Coast Plaza, a place near Irvine. And we would close the place out, 10, 11 o'clock. We'd be there talking and then we'd finally leave. So it was a very intense afternoon and it was, I must say, a real privilege for me. I started as a young assistant professor in the group and I got, I mean, I continued all the way through being a full professor, but it was fun for me to see how Francis thought he was absolutely brilliant, even into his late 70s and 80s. He was like a complete genius. And his understanding of the field, his command of the facts, his logic was beyond anything that I ever could imagine for myself at my prime in my 20s. He was in his late 70s. I mean, he truly was stunning. So it was a great pleasure. And of course, the other members of Terry Sonowski and David Van Essen, John Allman and the S. Robocondron. The list, it was truly a fun and engaging time. So I always left inspired and thinking about consciousness. Wow. I wish, I wish, I wish there were a current club, maybe there is where I could be a fly on the wall at the very least with such greats. And what I'd like to do before we get too far into this conversation is define some terms. So consciousness is a word that people have heard in many contexts. It is a term or concept that in one form or another has been of great interest for thousands of years at a minimum. And you know, there are quotes we might unpack later, but quotes I'm fond of that use this word, like Max Planck, the German physicist, right? I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matters derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness. Could you please give us a working definition of consciousness? So it's intuitively your experiences. If you hit your hand with a thumb with a hammer, the experience of the pain. If you see a blue sky, it's the experience of the blue. In some sense, with words, we can only point to it. And I have to hope that you have your own experiences that I can point to in this way indirectly. But that's not so different from what we have to do with other things. So when I tell you, you know, what is space? Well, there's really, you know, what is empty space? Well, if you don't, if you're never seen and you're not cooperative, I can use all the metaphors I want. You're not going to get it. Right. And if you're blind and I try to say, you know, something about the color red, well, you're not going to get it. And so this, in some sense, we're not in any special problem here with consciousness that we're not with other things. So to be really clear, when we take a child and we are trying to teach them the name of something like the word rabbit, right, what does the mother do? Right. She or her father, they sit there and they point. And the point is some furry object that's sitting there and they say rabbit. And the child has to be old enough. Right. A three month old is not going to get it. But an 18 month old will get it. And so they have to have had their own experience. The pet, their visual system has to be developed well enough. And when the mother points, she doesn't go biped or quadruped or mammal. She doesn't use those kinds of terms or she uses like rabbit. So she knows don't use quadruped because, you know, you're going to mess up your kid. The first thing you need to say is rabbit. And so we learn by a stensive definition that's called a stensive definition. And in some sense, we have to also point with a stensive definition to what we mean by consciousness. And we have to say, you hit your thumb with a hammer, that feeling of pain, that's part of a conscious experience. When you fall in love, that's a conscious experience. When you're in a deep sleep, that dreamless sleep, that's in some sense when you don't have this conscious experience. And sort of, so we have to use a stensive definition, but I don't feel too uncomfortable about that because we use it all the time and we don't even know that we're doing it that way.
What the desktop interface metaphor is and what it means for us (08:46)
All right. So we're going to certainly come in and out of the territory. Well, I suppose we're always in the territory of consciousness on some level, but we'll be explicitly exploring that from a number of different angles. Like a lot of people, I was exposed to your TED talk. Do we see reality as it is? And was struck by the desktop interface metaphor. Could you please just explain that in brief and then we can take that in a number of any directions? The question is, how should we understand our perceptions and the relationship to reality? Most of us just assume that we know the answer. Our perceptions show us reality. Not all of it, but when I see the moon, there really is a moon. And of course, I don't see everything about the moon, but I see what I need to see. When I see a carrot, I'm seeing the truth. I'm seeing the correct shape, the correct color, the correct weight, if I pick it up. And of course, I'm not seeing as molecular structure, so there are things I don't see. But I'm seeing truly, if incompletely. And the interface theory of perception takes a different tack on what perception is. It says, if we take evolution of a natural selection seriously, we can ask a technical question. Would evolution of a natural selection shape sensory systems to tell truths about the physical world around us, or whatever the world might be around us? That's the technical question. What is the probability that natural selection would shape sensory systems to report true properties of objective reality? And you can show through theorems and simulations, some of my graduate students working with me on this, Brian Marion, Justin Mark, and others, and some of my colleagues, Shaitan Prakash, when you're seeing, and I've worked on this, Robert Prenner, a number of us have worked on this, and the simulations and the mathematics all agree. The probability is zero, that natural selection would shape any sensory system of any organism to reveal any true properties of objective reality. That is precisely zero. And one intuition about that is that fitness payoff functions, we can go into this later on, if you want, fitness payoff functions almost surely have no information about objective reality. They are not so-called homomorphisms of structures in objective reality. And so if we're tuned to fitness, and the fitness payoffs literally are not homomorphisms of structures in reality, then there's no way that our perceptions can be homomorphic to reality, to be the structures of reality. So if we take evolution of a natural selection seriously, and I think we should, not because I'm claiming it's the final story, but it's the best story we have. Science always, to its credit, gets new theories. And what we thought was the final theory, 120 years ago, we now look back on it, and Newton was great, but we have much better theories today. And so I have the same view about all of our scientific theories that we have today. The reason I take them seriously is not because I think that the final word is just that we have, as human beings, no better theories. And so these are, so we have to take our current theories seriously. And so if we take evolution of a natural selection seriously, of course, as scientists, we're going to eventually try to show its limitations. But what it says in its current form is that the probability is zero, that our senses have shaped us to see the truth about the world around us. So what have they shaped us to do? Well, the answer within evolutionary theory is it's all about fitness. Our sensory systems have shaped us to guide adaptive behavior so that we can live long enough to reproduce, basically. And so one way to put that in a metaphor that's easier to understand is to say that natural selection didn't shape us to see the truth, but it shaped us with sensory systems that are like a user interface to the truth. So right now we're both sitting in front of laptops and we're able to, I mean, I've got gigabytes of memory and all this circuitry inside my laptop. I have no idea about the truth of that. I mean, I know the words, I'm not an engineer of that type. So I don't really, if I had to toggle voltages inside my computer to do this video with you, it wouldn't happen. So if I actually knew the truth and I had to actually toggle all the bits and bytes and so forth and voltages in the computer to make this video happen and you had to do it, it wouldn't happen. We have a very simple dumb down user interface that lets us control the complexity of the computer without having any expertise and what's really going on inside. And that's what Evolution did for us. It gave us simple user interface that lets us stay alive long enough to reproduce, to interact with reality in the ways that we need to interact with it to stay alive and reproduce, without having any idea what that reality is. You don't have a need to know, so you don't know. And that's just the way it is. Very few of us know exactly how the desktop interface on our computer works. And when you drag an icon to the trash can to delete a file, there's a lot of stuff going on inside there that's involved in deleting the file. We're blissfully ignorant. And that's what Evolution has done. It makes us blissfully ignorant about the nature of reality and gives us icons that allow us to control reality. So to be very, very clear, space and time, which we typically think of as fundamental reality, is just the format of our 3D desktop. We have, instead of a flat desktop, we have a 3D space-time desktop. And objects in 3D are merely the icons in our desktop. They're not pointers to objective reality in any sense. There's the colors, the shapes, the positions that we see have nothing to do with true colors and shapes and objective reality. They're just a nice format that Evolution gave us. And that format's going to vary from species to species.
The current theories about the nature of space and time (15:49)
So as you said, the theories that we have are sort of the best stories or plausible explanations of how things work, but those will change. They're constantly in flux and the theories we had. The best theory is 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 20 years ago, two years ago, get replaced. And there's this constant process of replacement as we update. And I'm just going to try to encapsulate some of what you said and please correct me. Feel free to stop me if I get any of it wrong. But that we are optimized through natural selection for sexual reproduction. There's no sort of intrinsic value in accurate representation unless it contributes to more effective reproduction, hence the discussion of layers of abstraction and simplification. Just like you would have the desktop and then many layers below that, you would have assembly language, many layers below that, machine code, and then you get into the circuitry and so on. What are some of the implications of this research? Because I think for a lot of people listening, consciousness has been the domain of philosophers and pontificators who are operating outside of the scientific method or a world where things are falsifiable or testable. So I would just love to know what excites you about this and what some of the implications are scientific or otherwise. I would make just one little change to the summary that you gave. And that is that evolutionary theorists probably wouldn't in general want to say that evolution optimized us for anything. That we typically, there's the term that they use called "satisficing" that you just have to be a little bit better than the competition.
The fundamental purpose of natural selection (17:41)
Right, that's a good point. So that also then is an interesting thing about it. We're not the best at anything, we're just better than the competition and that's all we need to be. And so the idea then that evolution of a natural selection has not shaped us to see the truth, it's just given us a user interface. And that space and time themselves are not fundamental. They're merely a data structure that evolution gave us. What I've just said is true or not, it depends on whether evolution by natural selection is fairly accurate theory. So I'm just saying that that's what natural selection entails.
We may get better theories further on down the line and then we'll have to re-fize it. But that's what we got. Now why is that interesting with respect to consciousness? Well, the reason it's interesting there is that I would say my colleagues in cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence who are interested and in philosophy of mind, who are interested in consciousness, I would say at least 95% of them are physicalists. That is, at least 95% of the efforts in science in understanding consciousness assume that certain objects in space and time are real, that they exist whether or not they're perceived, that they have genuine causal powers. In particular, for example, neurons and brains. So neurons exist and brains exist whether or not they're perceived. They have genuine causal powers. Most neuroscientists would just say, of course, space and time are fundamental. Physical particles exist when they're not perceived. The brain exists when it's not perceived. We have to explain how consciousness could arise from physical processes that in themselves are not conscious. At least, I guess most physicalists would say they're not conscious. We can talk about panpsychism and so forth later on. So the standard work of most of my good colleagues, good friends who are studying this, are is we will boot up a theory of consciousness from a theory of neuroscience or from a theory of integrated information, a little bit more abstract theory or a theory of attention schemas in neuroscience and so forth. But the idea is that we're going to start with objects in space and time that we take to be fundamental reality and then boot up a theory of consciousness. So the first thing to say then is, well, if you take evolution of a natural selection seriously, you should not start there. You should not start with space and time and objects in space and time. Those are not fundamental reality. Now, I should also at this point say, I'm a cognitive neuroscientist. What in the world do cognitive neuroscientists know about physics? I'm now talking physics, right? This space and time is not fundamental. Surely the physicists will be happy to put a cognitive neuroscientist in his place and let him know that he's out of his league. And indeed, I'm not a physicist. But the physicists themselves, independent of this work on evolution of a natural selection, are saying, and I quote, "Space time is doomed." This is Nima Arkani Ahmed, David Gross, and many other contemporary physicists are, and I can go into why they're saying that. I mean, I can actually explain it to a broad audience why physicists are saying this. But basically, physics, at least since Newton, has been about what happens in space and time. Now, physicists like Nima Arkani Ahmed are saying, "Space time is not fundamental." In fact, fairly obvious from recent advances in the study of gravity and quantum theory, that it cannot be fundamental. They're spending their careers looking for the deeper structures that are beyond space and time that will give rise to space and time as some kind of simple projection of a much deeper, deeper story. So the state of play is really quite interesting. Cognitive neuroscientists studying consciousness believe in space time and objects in space time is fundamental. When the physicists are saying, "We're spending our careers looking for what's beyond space time, space time is doomed." So it's really time for the cognitive neuroscientists who are studying consciousness to catch up with what the physicists have already said. Space time had a good run. It was a really wonderful framework, and it's over. And by the way, reductionism and space time have been spectacularly successful assumptions of science for centuries. Absolutely spectacular. Hats off. Those were wonderful assumptions, and science really needed those assumptions. But it's the glory of science not to get stuck in its current theories. It's the glory of science to know, to have theories that tell you where they stop. That's how you avoid dogmatism. And when evolution of a natural selection says probability is zero, that space time is fundamental.
Space-time Is Doomed (23:23)
And then the physicists independently say, "Our theory of gravity tells us that space time cannot be fundamental. We have our two pillars of modern science saying the same thing. Space time has had a good run, but it's over." So the methodology of methodological reductionism, which is the idea that as we go to smaller and smaller scales in space, we find more and more fundamental laws. So how do we explain temperature of the air? Well, if we go to the molecular level, we can understand that molecules bouncing around have certain kinetic energy. And the mean molecular kinetic energy, the microscopic level, can explain what we call the temperature of the air at a more macroscopic level. So that kind of going to a reductionist, smaller scale, deeper laws, has worked in many ways spectacularly in science. But we now know that there is a hard limit to how small you can go with that approach. It's 10 to the minus 33 centimeters. And in some sense, that's not very small. If someone said, "It's 10 to the minus 20 trillion centimeters," I would go, "Who cares? I mean, 10 to the minus 20 trillion." That's tons of zeros. But this is only 33, 10 to the minus 33. The space time story stops. It's not like there's pixels of space time at 10 to the minus 33 centimeters. It's that space time doesn't make sense. We need a different framework. And in fact, as you try, and we can go into it if you want, but as you try to probe space time at higher, higher energies and smaller, smaller scales, you just start actually engaging bigger and bigger volumes of space, not smaller. So gravity destroys reductionism. Reductionism is, it worked for a little bit, but deeply, it's deeply false. It is deeply false. So that's why this kind of stuff is really interesting for the theory of consciousness. I think 100 years from now, when scientists and historians of science look back at this period, they'll look at it with some interest. We have right now clear evidence that space time is doomed. Reductionism is false. We still have this very interesting sociological phenomenon that 95, I would say probably 98, 99 percent of my colleagues who are seriously studying consciousness are disregarding that and are trying to give reductionist accounts in which space time and particles are fundamental. Even panpsychism does that, we can talk about it. And I think it's going to be, you know, a century from now, when the new physics is probably well established, and we actually understand these new structures deeper than space time, and we already have great hints there, we can talk about some of the hints, I mean, I can talk about them for a broad audience. Some of the hints that they already have from NIMAR, Cunningham, and others, cosmological polytopes, amplitudehedrons, there are these structures that have names and are being deeply studied that are much deeper than space time, that for which space time arises as in some sense a trivial projection. And in fact, when you go to these deeper structures, you find deep symmetries that are true of the data that you cannot even express in space time.
Going beyond spacetime (26:49)
Space time actually becomes a handcuff. It keeps you from actually doing what you need to do. So it's going to be interesting sociologically that the cognitive neuroscientists and philosophers of mind who were studying consciousness, you know, in 2020, were disregarding what evolution told them and what physics was telling them that that's the wrong foundation. Now, what is the right foundation? To say that space time isn't fundamental, is not to say what is fundamental. So the best ideas we have right now are things like the cosmological polytope and amplitudehedron and socihedron and so forth that NIMAR and one, while the same and others are working on. So I then are looking at consciousness in a different way. I can't in good conscience attack it from a physicalist framework anymore. I mean, that our best theories tell us that's not the right way to do it. But they don't tell us what see the theories tell us where they stop, but they don't tell us what the next theory should be. What we have to do as scientists, and this is part of the fun of science, is we have to be creative. We have to take a leap into the unknown where we say what if it was such and such like the cosmological polytope. So we write down this mathematical structure. Now, then we say, okay, we have to be able to test our idea. So you have to show a mapping from whatever news you start with like the cosmological polytope. How does it how does space time arise from that polytope? What constraints we can only measure things in space time, right? That's where we can do our experiments, large hadron collider or neural EEG or fMRI. We call we do all our data collection in space time, not because space time is fundamental, but because evolution is forced us to use an interface, and that's what we're forced to do. So we're stuck with this interface. We have to project everything into our interface. So whatever deeper structure we get beyond space time, we will have to show how it maps on to the interface that evolution gave us, so we can actually do experiments and test it. So of course, any proposal that I make is almost surely wrong. It would be a miracle, if I was right. Right. In fact, I'll go even further than that. I would say that science can never have a theory of everything. Why is that? For two different reasons. First, what is the theory? Scientific theory is an explanation. It says, if you grant me these assumptions, I can explain these other things. If you grant me molecules and the idea that they bounce around and have kinetic energy, I can explain temperature and thermodynamics, but I'm assuming those molecules. So whatever you assume is a thing that you're not explaining there, what I would call the miracles of the theory. Now, of course, you can then try to say, well, I can get rid of those miracles. I can say that particles are themselves, what the physicists would call irreducible unitary representations of the Poincare group, which is the symmetries of space time. So I can have my theory of space time and say particles are merely these representations of properties of space time. But now I'm assuming space time. So every scientific theory is going to have this thing where it says, these are my assumptions, and those are the miracles. And that's what a scientific theory is. So by definition, a scientific theory can never be a theory of everything. It's a theory of everything except its assumptions. The assumptions are other things not explaining. It's it's miracles. Turtles all the way down. That's right. This explanation is all the way down. And there's another deep reason why that has to be true. And it comes from Gurdell's incompleteness theorem. Gurdell showed that any finite axiomatization of mathematics that you make that's at least rich enough to account for arithmetic will have a weird property that there are truths that cannot be proven from that system. And he actually showed that there are statements that are true, but cannot be proven from within that system. And if you add those true statements to your axioms, to your assumptions, so those axioms are like the assumptions of a scientific theory, then Gurdell's theorem still comes back and says, well, there'll be new statements that are true, but not that cannot be proven from within that new axiomatization. And what this means is that any conceptual scheme that we come up with will always and only barely scratch the surface of reality. This is a truly humbling point of view. It is to say, every scheme we come up with, you can show that you can actually write down truths that are true, but can't be proven. And so our theories will always never get all of the truths. And so this is great job security for mathematicians and real will always be doing this. So that's why I don't believe my own theory. So let me hop in just for a minute here and just to sort of tell a story that leads to a question, and it may or may not be related to cosmological polytope site or a singular or plural. I don't, I'm not actually familiar with that term, but just to perhaps also try to highlight a few things that you said, again, please fact check anything that I get wrong. But I'm not a physicist nor my cognitive neuroscientist, but I am an avid watcher of documentaries. And I was watching a PBS documentary, which was produced and then made available online pretty recently called Einstein's Quantum Riddle. And there were a lot of credible scientists in this. A lot of scientists and communicators like Sean Carroll, who has a fantastic podcast of people haven't seen it. And towards the end of this discussion, because it tracked the chronology of Newtonian physics, which had incredible explanatory power and utility for a very long time still does. But then it traced the the debates between Einstein and Niels Bohr related to the implications of quantum mechanics, right? And there's a lot of disagreement, these two beheanuts meeting multiple times a day for a period of time, this gathering of the grades. And then ultimately, getting to the point towards the end of this, where they were gathering experimental data to test the hypothesis of quantum entanglement in the Canary Islands. Fascinating documentary, I highly recommend it. And where it kind of wraps up at the end is at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where I did not spend any time as a researcher, but I was an undergrad nearby for a period of time. And I mean, the halls of that place, I mean, have just had the footsteps of so many luminaries, it's incredible to look at the list.
The holographic model of the universe (34:22)
And the director at the time, Robert with two bees, he's Dutch, I cannot pronounce his last name. Towards the end of this, trace out on a blackboard, the possibility of a holographic universe, or the universe as we experience it being a projection of some type. And I think I found on your Twitter, you have a great Twitter feed, by the way. Thank you. I found a link to nature. And I believe it was a paper called simulations backup theory that universe is a hologram. And this is actually at this point, somewhat, I don't want to say dated, but it's older, 2013. Could you elaborate on this holographic model of the universe, this concept? This is the physicist now, this is not cognitive neuroscience. But I understand enough to explain it to a raw audience. And that is that they've discovered that you can think of the universe as being a hologram, that there is, it is called the ADS CFT, anti-decider space conformal field theory duality. So you can have a field theory without gravity on a boundary. And it turns out to be dual or equivalent to a theory with gravity of in the space of one higher dimension. Now it turns out this was a major advance. One while the Saina was a key figure in doing this. But everybody understands that this is not our space. So we don't live in an anti-decider space. So the holographic principle works for a space that's not ours. And one problem with the ADS CFT holographic principle is that the time on the boundary is the same as the time in the bigger space, in what they call the bulk, the bigger space. And that's so you don't get emergent time, you only get emergent space in this. So the holographic principle is it currently stands as very, very intriguing and suggestive. And it's making, it's leading one while the Saina and Nemar, Connie, and others to try to do the same thing for our space time, which is a decider space. So we have a different thing than anti-decider space. But I'll give you just an idea about this holographic principle in a compact sense. And where in some sense the idea first came from. When they studied black holes, and they were trying to figure out when you stick stuff into black holes, they get bigger. In some sense, as they're getting more, as you put more things, more information into the black hole, they get bigger. And so they wanted to know how much information could you stick inside a black hole? What's the, what's the, what's the, and you might think, well, the amount of information, like if I wanted to stick like hard drives, like I could stick hard drives, it would depend how much memory I could store into hard drives. It depends on the volume of the hard drives, right? And, you know, so what was the maximum that I could compress hard drives into a certain volume to store information? Well, when they worked out, and this was Stephen Hawking, who did the math, there was another physicist who first proposed this, but Hawking was the one who actually proved it.
Space-Time Is Doomed (37:49)
The amount of information that you can stick into a black hole does not depend on this volume. It depends on the surface area of the black hole. That's the universe we live in. You should really let that sink in. Yeah, that's squirrely for me to wrap my head around. It's truly stunning, but if you let that sink in, you begin to understand why space time is doomed. Right? There's space time is a great data structure, but it's not the object that we thought it was. It's a data structure. It has certain interesting properties. And so, the amount of information you can stick into a black hole depends only on the surface area of the black hole. And then, it's easy, physicists have shown that that's true of any region of space. So it's not just black holes. I mean, they first discovered it in black holes with Hawking's work, but any volume of space the amount of information you can store and it has nothing to do with the volume. It has only to do with the surface area. So bizarre to think about. So that's the holographic principle. And so, really trying to understand what that means, but it does mean that space time is doomed and we're looking for a deeper, deeper story. Let me hop in. What I'd love to ask is no doubt something that a lot of listeners are wondering, and I'm wondering also, let's say space time is doomed, and that we are, as humans operating on this very high level of abstraction that serves to satisfy our drive and our evolutionary imperative to procreate.
What Happens When We Realize This Theory? (39:10)
As we realize that space time is doomed and that these paradigms need to be revised, these theories need to be revised. Are there practical ramifications of this in the same way that perhaps at some point quantum mechanics reviewed as sort of an academic exercise, but then before you know it, and it might be contending with the shut up and compute kind of school of thought where let's not worry about how it works if we can use it to make something work. You're seeing quantum computing. I think the implications of which are quite profound. What might things look like in the next five, 10, 20 years as we begin to fundamentally revise how we think of reality matter, the interplay of consciousness or the role of consciousness as fundamental? What happens? What might manifest? What might change? Any thoughts on that? Yes, quite a bit. Every new advance in science leads to unexpected miraculous technologies when Maxwell wrote down Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism in the mid-19th century. He wrote down these equations which sort of captured all of Faraday's experiments with electricity and magnetism and so forth. So, Faraday had done all these experiments, wonderful stuff. Maxwell realized that all of the experiments could be captured in a few equations. True tour de force. Our modern technology is largely due to Maxwell. I'm talking to you today cross-country because of Maxwell and the technology is that of Maxwell's equations stimulated Einstein to come up with special relativity in part. So, I think that the scientific theories that are being developed right now, like the cosmological polytope and so forth. My understanding is that these guys understand that there's really hard work ahead. It may be decades before they can, this is really, really tough, but once we have a really strong theory that can be mapped back into space-time to make predictions. Here's the kind of technologies that you could conceive might come out of that. When we realize that space-time is not fundamental reality and we get technologies based on structures beyond space-time. If I want to go to Alpha Centauri, I may not need to spend light years in a ship. I may be able to go outside of space-time and just get there. Not even through wormholes, just through just understanding the true nature of reality beyond space-time realizing that it's a data structure, we can play with the data structure, we can reverse engineer it. I can just put myself there. So, I think the kinds of things that we take as fundamental limits on us right now will not be fundamental limits. In other words, to answer your question, you really have to think out of the box in ways that what would happen if space-time was no longer a limit. You can just go around space-time. I can go to, right now, for example, the physicists will tell us that because of the expansion of the universe, most of the galaxies that we can see, we could never get to. They're going way too fast. You can go at the speed of light and you'll never get there. As fast as we can go through space-time, it's, I think, 90% or more of the galaxies are inaccessible to us. Too bad, all that real estate is just gone. Well, what if we don't have to go through space-time? Suppose we can use some new structures that the physicists find that projects into space-time but is far more comprehensive and then we get technologies built out of that. We just go around. We go out to space-time and pop up where we want. So, it's going to be very, very different. But that theory is going to perhaps lead us to a new realm of far more interesting than the space-time. So, the work that I'm doing is a theory of conscious agents. So, I'm proposing a model in which consciousness is fundamental and there are innumerable agents beyond space-time. So, if that model is, and again, I would bet against myself, that's just a good scientific attitude to assume that you're wrong and try to get a theory that as quickly as possible will make predictions that you can test and show you're wrong. That's just the good scientific attitude. So, with that in mind, I'll just go with this theory of conscious agents. So, they're countless conscious agents interacting. So, I get a model of how they interact. I get a model of how certain conscious agents we call human beings use a space-time interface, a data structure of space-time to interact with them. And we use that data structure. We have portals. But right now, I have a portal into your consciousness. It's called your body. And we're using laptops and technology to take pixels which are an image of your body and your voice. And it gets projected to me and I even understand something about your consciousness. And then you get you understand something about my consciousness. And I think that I'm genuinely changing your consciousness and you're genuinely changing things in my consciousness through the portals that we call our body. So, we know that there are portals in our space-time interface into consciousness. So, the question that comes from the point of view of what I'm working on, once we understand the theory of conscious agents and how space-time arises as an interface that some agents use, can we open up new portals in that interface? Maybe hallucinogenic drugs do that. I don't know. Maybe they don't. But could we develop new technologies that open up new portals into the realm of conscious agents? And if so, are they friendly or hostile? And could they teach us stuff? So, you can see once you start thinking out of the space-time box, as a scientist, you want to let your imagination go. You don't want to be constrained. You really have to think outside of the box. But then you always have to take your theory and say, "Okay, I need to make predictions in space and time that my colleagues can go and show me wrong." That's why this is not dogmatism and it's not just pie in the sky. You have to think pie in the sky. You've got to think big to write down your theory.
The struggle of simulating the theory of conscious agents (46:14)
You've got to think big. But then you also have to say, "Here's how you can pop my bubble. Do this experiment. That's how you pop my bubble." So, a question about the conscious agents, right? I'd love to hear more about how you workshop this or simulate or use computer models. In other words, how do you poke and prod at this with the understanding that, as you said, this is a hypothesis worth disproving. And you want there to be some predictive power or make an attempt at constructing a model that has predictive power. You want it to be falsifiable, right? You want to tell people how they can burst your bubble. Exactly. How do you explore this? How do you explore this struggling for the right word but this theory of conscious agents? So, there's a couple steps. We've published a paper that people can look up. It's called Objects of Consciousness. So, if you just Google Objects of Consciousness and my name, Donald Hoffman, it's free online. And you can just see a paper where we propose a simple model of consciousness using simple mathematics probability theory as things called Markovian kernels. And my attitude about it is, I'm trying to start off with a very, very simple model. What our 1.0 model, right? The simplest math that I could do that sort of models the idea that conscious agents have experiences, they make decisions, and they act to change the experiences of other conscious agents. That's the basic idea. Mathematically, now you get a dynamical system that's called a Markovian dynamical system. And so, now we can start to study these Markovian dynamical systems of conscious agents and look at how their behavior would predict properties of consciousness and how they might predict the emergence of space-time. So, one thing that I've been working on, I was working on this very, very heavily a little over a year ago and then COVID took me down for about a year. So, I've been, I was out of commission for a year with COVID, long haul COVID. It took out my heart. I'm sorry to hear that. Yeah, it made my heart almost fail. So, it's taken me a year to get back on my feet. So, I'm planning to get back to what I was doing before COVID took me out. But the idea that I was pursuing is that the long-term behavior of these conscious agents, the so-called asymptotic behavior, has structures that are very interestingly related to structures that Nima or Connie Hamed is finding beyond space-time. So, I would like to show that the asymptotic behavior of this conscious agent dynamics has a fit with some of the structures like the amplitude hedon, cosmological polytope, that they're finding behind space-time. But if that were right, then the structures that they're finding behind space-time would still be simplifications of the conscious agent dynamic, because they would only capture the asymptotic, the long-term behavior, not the full dynamics of the consciousness. So, once again, we'd have the full dynamics of consciousness, a certain projection of that would lead to the cosmological polytope and the amplitude hedon, and a projection of those leads to space-time. So, the idea would be to start with a theory of conscious agents through the asymptotics, project to the cosmological polytope, project to space-time, and that way we would get consciousness leading to predictions in space-time that we could test.
Why Dr. Hoffman does not believe the brain is a conscious receiver (49:41)
So, that's a big project. And I'm glad to put it out there so that someone who's much smarter than me can go ahead and run ahead of me and beat me to it. So, I would just be delighted to read about it from someone who could beat me to it on that. So, we're going to come back to cosmological polytope, because I feel like after the 17th time it comes up, we should probably return to it and cover it. However, I want to ask you something first, and I'm going to wade into this maybe in a in a roundabout way, and we'll see where it goes. Might be a dead end, might not be, but if we're talking about from understanding correctly, the fundamental, the possible fundamental error of taking a bottom-up approach to understanding consciousness. That is sort of starting with the neurological structures and using our space-time tools to kind of build from the smallest upward to sort of explain the phenomenology and subjective experience that people have that they label consciousness. How would you answer the question, is consciousness localized? And I ask that understanding, there's a lot of controversy around this, and people look at different types of injuries and either use it as proof for or against the idea that consciousness is locally generated, so to speak, by what we, you know, the three pounds of a goo that we hold between our ears. But there are people who take the opposite stance, and even though I think it's very difficult to test, might look at the brain as almost a receiver of sorts. How do you think about this, and I apologize if it's a sloppy question. It's a great question. If you would mind unpacking that, however, it seems best. I'd love to hear your thoughts. The receiver theory. So a lot of people might think that I'm proposing a receiver theory, that the brain is a receiver for consciousness, and I'm absolutely not. Because that theory is assuming that the brain exists and is a real object with real causal powers. And that somehow there's the brain and there's consciousness and somehow consciousness interacts with the brain as a receiver. And that's absolutely not what I'm saying. Nothing inside space and time has any causal powers. Nothing. Everything inside space and time are merely perceptions within consciousness from this framework. So the brain is an icon in my desktop that appears when I look inside skulls. And as soon as I look away, I delete that icon and there is no brain. So to be very, very clear, right now I have no brain. There is no brain. If you looked inside my skull, of course, you would see a brain. But that's an icon that you create on the fly. The icon exists when you create it, and you delete it when you don't need it. So neurons do not exist when they're not perceived, nor does space time. So that's my point of view. So again, I could be wrong, but I just want to make very, very clear. It's not the brain receiver because that's giving the brain too much existence. The brains only exist when they're perceived. Just to stand in for the audience. So people might be squirming a little bit in their seat here. Of course. So if you say that nothing in space time, if I'm getting this right, act as a causal agent, that's not to say that if someone holds a gun to your head and pulls the trigger, that it's not going to splatter your brains all over the wall behind you. But rather that that is an abstraction on the user interface that we are using. I mean, there can still be consequences experientially. So is the question then just a it's based on false assumptions because it predicates that the brain is actually something that exists and persists whether or not we're looking inside your skull. So that is the big assumption that the brain that physical objects exist and have causal powers, even when they're not perceived. And by the way, the physicists have tested this. So there's two very technical terms for this. One is local realism, and the other is non-contextual realism. So local realism is the claim that physical objects like electrons have properties like position, momentum, and so forth. Real values of those properties that exist whether or not they're perceived and that have influences that propagate no faster than the speed of light. So the realism is the claim that they have the properties, even if they're not perceived. And the locality, the local, is that they influence no faster than the speed of light. So together is called local realism.
Implications Of Consciousness And New Predictions In Physics
The relatively unknown scientific consensus that could change everything (54:44)
And most of us might think that of course, local realism is true. It turns out local realism is false. It's been tested and local realism is dead. It's simply untrue. And that's the end of the story. Local realism is false. Non-contextual realism is the claim that again, realism, the property particles, for example, have their properties like position and momentum is been when they're not observed. And that the values of those properties do not depend on how we measure them. That's the non-contextuality. And non-contextual realism is false. So local realism is false. Non-contextual realism is false. I conclude that particles themselves don't exist when they're not perceived. They have no property. They have no position. They're not there. If you have no position, you're not there. So they're not there. In space time itself is not there. Space time itself is merely a data structure. And particles, by the way, when we say that physicists say that they're irreducible representations of the Poin-Kareg group, they're basically saying that the structure of space time, the representations of the structure of space time is what particles are. They fall from the structure of our interface. I think a better framework is to think about this as a data compressing error correcting code that we're using. If you think about space time and particles as part of a data structure for data compression and error correcting code as part of our sensory interface, I think it'll be a much more useful framework. So that's sort of why I go that way. Now, maybe I should stop and leave it.
Consciousness and physicalism-related implications of death (56:31)
Okay. So I may take us into deep water here with my next question, but I will ask you because I know that your next commitment today relates to the subject of death. So in a few hours, you have a commitment that not a funeral, but rather an event that is discussing various topics and questions surrounding death. How do you think of death? Given all that we're talking about and sort of the first-order, second-order, third-order implications of all of that, how do you think about death? So physicalism has a very clear implication for death. The space time is fundamental and elementary particles like electrons and quarks and protons and so forth are the fundamental nature of reality. And what you are, what your body is, is just an assemblage, a complex assemblage of particles. And your consciousness is somehow an emergent property of certain activities of those particles, say brain activity. Then it's very, very clear that in death, when the brain dissolves, your consciousness dissolves, and that's the end of the story. That's the end. That's it. That's a very, very clear implication of physicalism. We can talk about panpsychism, but physicalism, strict physicalism, that's the end of the story. If consciousness is fundamental and space time is just an interface, and our bodies are merely icons that we use to represent certain assumptions, interactions of conscious agents, and we can go into how I think about that. Then on that approach, there is the possibility that some aspect of my consciousness survives death. Now, there, I have to look at the mathematics of the model and go into it, but it may be, for example, that the bare awareness that's associated with me, just awareness without content, that survives. But all the details of Donald Hoffman and his life story within this interface, maybe that all dissolves. Maybe we can, that's a story about what is conscious and septune. We can talk about, if consciousness is fundamental, what is it doing and why? What is the dynamics of consciousness about? To answer the question about death, we might have to answer that question too. It's a big one, please continue. I'll try a stab at that question, because I think it relates to the death question.
What is consciousness doing and why does it exist? (59:25)
What is consciousness doing and why? The right answer is, I don't know. I've only seen one idea that seems deep enough to at least be worth thinking about. I want to say it's the right idea, but only one idea that seems deep enough to at least be a candidate, and it again comes from Girdle's incompleteness theorem. Girdle says that essentially, no matter how much you explore within a particular conceptual system, you can't get all the truth. There's always going to be more to explore mathematically. So if consciousness is the fundamental nature of reality and consciousness is all there is, then mathematical structure is only about the possibilities of consciousness. That's all that there is to be about. And so what if, what consciousness is doing since the exploration of mathematical structure is in principle, unending, then perhaps the exploration of the possibilities of consciousness itself is in principle unending. And therefore, consciousness, what it's up to is exploring all of his potentialities. And the reason is continuing to do that, from our perspective as continuing to do that, is because there's no end to it in principle. So consciousness itself is in some sense always learning about itself. And so perhaps then what we are, what you, what people are, and what cats are, and what dogs are, and what amoebas are, and so forth, is consciousness trying on different headsets, different realities, and exploring, and, and losing itself. I mean, so this very interesting idea that consciousness chooses to really explore so deeply that it loses itself in the exploration, doesn't even know what it is. It becomes a physicalist. It actually thinks that consciousness isn't fundamental. It goes through the whole bit and then slowly has to wake up. And so doing it really explores what it's not, and what it is, in some sense to know what you are, you have to know what you're not. And so, so on that point of view, the Hoffman icon is simply consciousness taking a perspective on itself, looking at itself through a particular space-time headset, taking a little projection. And from that headset, there was a finite, there was a birth, there was growing strong until your 20s and 30s, and then after 40s, you start declining, and you know, in your 80s and 90s, you die. And that whole process is just consciousness exploring itself from a particular perspective, in which case, maybe the Hoffman icon and maybe a lot of stuff can be left behind, but in some sense, consciousness itself has, has learned something through that experience, and the 8 billion other people, and the quadrillions of amipas, and who knows how many viruses, and so forth. Consciousness is just trying on innumerable headsets, and when it's done with that headset, it takes it off, and awareness is perfectly fine. The raw awareness is fine, but the detailed icons that happen to appear, space-time icons, objects in space, and time brains, neurons, all those things, those were just icons, and you studied them, and then you realized pretty cool, really, you know, Mount Everest, what a beautiful icon, Death Valley, what a beautiful icon, these are really, but I'm not that, I'm something even more transcendent than space and time, I'm more transcendent than Death Valley, and so consciousness is just waking up. I mean, again, I'm trying to tell the story, I'm not saying that it's correct, it's just, it's the only story I've seen so far that at least is deep enough that is worth taking seriously. Who is the origin of this story, and can you ever know that it's accurate, do you think, through testing or experimentation?
Starting to make testable predictions in answering these questions (01:03:59)
The story that I'm saying right now has an interesting way that you might be able to test it, so this dynamics of conscious agents that I mentioned is the Markovian economics. You can make it so-called stationary dynamics in which the entropy of the dynamics doesn't change, but you can show that even if you have this Markovian dynamics of consciousness in which the entropy never changes, any projection by conditional probability, any projection looking at that dynamics, we'll see it as increasing in entropy. In other words, the arrow of entropy, the arrow of time is an artifact of the projection, so consciousness itself has no arrow of time, but you can prove from this mathematics that you get an arrow of time by projection. The proof is trivial, it's like two or three lines. So here's a project that I think would be really fun. Can we show that when you look at all the different ways that you could project consciousness in this mathematics, the conditions under which all these different arrows of time, the entropy that you get, satisfy the Lorentz transformations? In other words, can we get special relativity out of this? We would have to model also the space aspects of it, what's happening to space as projection of the dynamics of these conscious agents, but we see the time aspect. So could we actually show how special relativity arises as just different perspectives that consciousness can take on a fundamental dynamics of consciousness that has no arrow of time? That's the kind of thing where we could start to make brand new predictions that could be testable.
Context for folks new to the physics realm: fractals and quantum physics (01:05:46)
I just want to as a sidebar say to folks that I know we're probably serving quite a bit up on the plate to chew on in this conversation, and I would highly recommend folks who are like, "Good Lord, I mean, how do I even wrap my head around one tenth of this?" To consider exploring some of the documentation of, for instance, quantum entanglement, which does get, I think, misappropriated and used by a lot of kind of hand wavy new-agey folks, but if you just look at the experimental data and double slit experiment and then the kind of later generations of experimental data like what was done in the Canary Islands, I think they were using two quasars. Which is just like who funds that? I want to know. It's incredible that somebody actually put the money up for that. Pretty awesome. If you start to even dip your toes into that or watch a few presentations by Carla Raveli, who is, as I understand it, I mean a skilled practitioner and physicist, I think he focuses on quantum gravity. He's brilliant. Yeah, brilliant guys. He's not just a stage presenter with a decorative title. This guy actually does serious work. You'll begin to see just how weird some of this gets when you start to push around the edges.
Let's chat for a second because it's a term that has come up. Panpsychism. Could you please explain what this is? There are various versions of panpsychism, but the basic idea is that if you take elementary particles, electrons and protons and so forth, in addition to their physical properties, position, momentum, and spin and so forth, panpsychists, they also have an elementary unit of consciousness. You take an electron and a proton and put them together to form a hydrogen atom, then somehow the consciousness of the electron, the consciousness of the proton together somehow combine to create the new consciousness of the hydrogen atom. And when the hydrogen, two hydrogens get together and an oxygen get together and combine to form water molecule, then the consciousnesses of the hydrogens and oxygens somehow combine to create the consciousness associated with the water molecule. And by the time you get up to humans, you have so many of these particles coming together that human consciousness emerges somehow. So it takes physicalism too seriously, from my point of view. It's saying that these electrons exist. They really do exist in space and time, so these things are fundamental, fundamental reality. And in addition, they have this other fundamental unit of consciousness. One analogy that's sometimes given is that particles had position and momentum. In Newtonian theory, with quantum you discovered that that wasn't enough. You needed something called spin, so they just added spin. So particles now have spin. So we could do the same thing with consciousness. We had a position, momentum, spin. We now have to just add this other unit of consciousness.
Theories And Concepts In Advanced Physics
Conscious realism (01:09:06)
They have a unit of consciousness. We'll do the same thing we did with spin, sort of the idea. And so my approach I call conscious realism, where I say consciousness is fundamental reality and space time is merely one user interface out of countless that consciousness can use. There's countless interfaces. Space time is just one. Panpsychism, at least the version that I'm talking about here, and I think is the standard sort of the standard one, is I think smuggling in the idea that space time and particles are still somehow fundamental reality. Philip Gough, I think we could have a good discussion about it. I think that that's what he says. I would love to have him disagree with me. Who is Philip Gough? Philip Gough, he's a very famous panpsychist. Panpsychist. Now, just because I think it'd be certainly satisfying for me to know this just based on my curiosity, are there what you would consider credible scientists who ascribe to panpsychism, or is it relegated to other arenas? Well, I think that the integrated information theory that Christoph Koch and Jilia Tannoni are studying, it's often taken as a panpsychist theory. It says that certain physical systems also have the under of consciousness. They have the certain property called integrated information, the right kind of integrated information, then they also have a certain amount of consciousness is quantified, the amount is quantified by the degree of fee with the integrated information. So that's a sort of a panpsychist thing, because they're taking again, space, time, and particles as a reality, as an objective reality, but that reality, if it has certain kinds of properties, also has consciousness. So it's in that sense of panpsychist kind of approach. So Tannoni and Christoph Koch are of course brilliant, brilliant scientists. The fact that I disagree is irrelevant. These are geniuses. I did a bit of reading on this prior to this conversation, panpsychism, and having lived in Japan, it struck me how the sort of output of these assumptions and these models is actually very similar to, in some respects, not all, but animist religions like Shintoism, right? The rock, the moss, the dirt, everything has a consciousness of one type or another, just a quick sidebar, not to say they're related, nor that all panpsychists are into it. I agree with that. That raises the question that I would like to just mention briefly. Please. And that is, I'm saying that the question of which objects are conscious and which are not, or the question of which things are alive and which things are not. The answers that we give right now are an artifact of our interface. If reality is not space and time in physical objects, our interface is then giving us more or less information about some realm beyond space and time, beyond our interface. Now, when I see a cat, I think it's alive. I see a mouse, I think it's alive. When I see a miba, a virus, I don't know, I see electron, I say no, definitely not alive. Well, is that a genuine insight into the nature of reality, or am I mistaking a limitation of my interface or an insight into reality? And so this is the kind of question that arises when you no longer take space and time as fundamental. It opens up the possibility that we've actually got the question of life and the question of consciousness so fundamentally wrong that we're asking it the wrong way. The question could an electron be alive or not is the wrong question. In fact, my body is not alive. My body is merely an icon. It's not alive. In fact, if you close your eyes, my body disappears. Why close my eyes? My body just, this is merely an icon. So the only question is which icons on our desktop give us effective portals into life or consciousness. And once it do not, doesn't mean that we're not interacting with life or consciousness, it just means that our interface is giving up. Of course, it had to give up. Reality is too complicated. So once again, this actually shows how important it is. If space time is just an interface, we better get on with the program and not fool around with space time being fundamental. We're just asking, we get life wrong. The question of what's living and not living is in fact the wrong question. So this is what how important it is. If space time is not fundamental, we need to change our science, how we're doing our science. Yeah, it's going to be quite a kapurnican upset. It's going to make people very, very unhappy for a long time, I expect. Let's segue to cosmological polytope, which if I ever go back to burning, man, I feel like that should be my nickname on the pliocosmological polytope.
What is a cosmological polytope? (01:14:10)
What is the cosmological polytope? Well, or the amplatoe hydron at them getting that correct. The amplatoehedron and so forth and so to hedon. What I'll talk about is at a high level, what these guys are up to and what they're finding. This place. So they're looking for structures beyond space time that can give rise to space time. And they want to do it in a way that they can test empirically. The tests that they have are of two fundamental kinds. One is the scattering studies that they do at the large hadron collider, where you take subatomic particles of high energies, smash them into each other and see what sprays out.
Scattering amplitudes (01:14:47)
What they do is they look at the so-called scattering amplitudes. If you have like two gluons hitting each other and four gluons go spraying out, what is the amplitude of the probability for the various kinds of ways that that can happen? And that turns out those the scattering probabilities for these various events is the fundamental data that needs to be explained. Those are the big, big data. And when several decades ago, when they were starting to try to build the superconducting super collider in the United States, which didn't happen, but they realized they were going to be doing so many of these collisions per second, then most of them would be things that weren't interesting. So you needed to have some way of analyzing the data very, very quickly and getting rid of the stuff that was not interesting. So you can find the needle in the haystack that was interesting. So they needed to compute these scattering processes, so-called scattering amplitudes. And it turned out, if you got like two gluons in and three going out, it was a lot of algebra. And four going out is like hundreds of pages of algebra for one computation, for one amplitude. It was nasty. So they were doing it using quantum field theory and Feynman's approach to things. And the experimentalists said to the theorists, look, we can't do hundreds of pages of algebra billions of times a second. You supercomputers can't do this. You've got to simplify the math for us. And so some mathematical physicists said, okay, we've got to help out our experimentalists friends. So they found that they, a miracle, they could collapse all this stuff down to a couple pages. And then in another miracle, they collapsed it down to two or three terms. They couldn't believe it. They thought this must be a one-off. But over the decades, they discovered one after another all these scattering amplitudes that were going into hundreds of pages of algebra could be collapsed to three or four terms that you could write down by hand. And so that's what the amplitude hedon and the cosmological polytune they're actually showing that there's this deeper reality. They're deeper symmetries. So what they discovered, there are deeper symmetries that are true of the scattering data that cannot be seen in space time. So when you let go of space time and go to these deep, like the amplitude hedon and cosmological, you are now dealing with deeper symmetries than space time that are true of the data. And all of a sudden the math becomes trivial. If you do it in space time because you've got the wrong framework, you're doing it, you're doing it in this projection space that's not right. It's not the right, it's not the deepest reality. When you go to the deeper reality, you see the deeper symmetries and the math becomes trivial. So that's what they're the kind of thing that makes them think they're on to something here. We're seeing new symmetries, the computations become much, much easier, and now we're seeing these structures. Now they don't know what the structures are about. So this is really an interesting point in the history of physics. So these geniuses are like we're trying to go beyond space time. What the heck is beyond space time? How do we go there? What kind of flashlights can you use to probe in the dark? - Now you're speaking my language. - Right, so that's the problem that the hats off to these guys like Neemar, Connie, Hunter, and Juan, and these guys, they're brilliant and they're brave. So what they're doing is they're saying we have to of course really know all the physics in space time and they know it backwards and forwards. They know all the scattering stuff, they know all the symmetries. They're going, now we're discovering that there are these symmetries in the data that can't be explained in space time. We need to go to these deeper structures. So you have to take a leap, you have to propose these structures like the cosmological, you have to propose them, and then propose how they map back into space time and show that you can make predictions that are testable. Now the other thing they're looking at is not just the scattering data from the large Hadron Collider and other colliders, but also they're looking at the correlations you see between stars and various objects in space, the two and three point correlations and so forth.
A recommendation for further learning (01:19:16)
The idea is that they might think of the whole universe as one big scattering event from the Big Bang and they might be able to get data that you couldn't get their energies high enough in the colliders that we could build on earth, but there was much bigger energies at the Big Bang and so we might be able to probe nature more deeply by looking at the sky, and looking at these correlations in the sky. Wow, just so I can take a note for myself, who are the researchers or the what is the institute that if people wanted to do a deeper dive on this, they should look up in this case? Well, you'll like this. Nima Arkani-Hamed is that the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Oh, look at that. That makes sense. It makes sense. As is I think one, Waldasena as well. A lot of work has been done there, but Nima's influence is huge. He's trained a large group of young people who are working on this. If people are interested in it, I highly recommend Nima Arkani-Hamed gave a semester-long class at Harvard in the fall of 2019. So if you just Google Nima Arkani-Hamed Harvard Lectures 2019, you can get everything that I've been talking about in all the detail. He's got 20 more lectures on this. That's incredible. Okay, so we will put this for everybody listening. We'll put those in the show notes, since if you like me are not quite clear how to spell this person's name, we will get it, and we'll find the links. We'll put it in the show notes at Tim.blog/podcast.
A Theory of Portals (01:21:07)
I'd love to return to something you mentioned in passing, which is hallucinogenic drugs. So you may or may not know, I've been very involved with funding scientific studies over the last, I don't know what the exact range is, six to eight years within the realm of psychotropic drugs with a focus on psychedelic compounds across a whole spectrum of, say, classes. So tryptoemens, phenethylamines, but also including some stranger ones like Saffin or an A, just derived from salveative norm. This is an area of deep interest to me, and I would love to know what you find interesting about hallucinogenic drugs or what questions they raise, anything at all that leads you to find them just in an area of interest. I should first say that I'm interested, but I haven't actually explored myself, not that I won't, but I haven't yet. But I have many friends who have, and some who've really done it systematically, like with five MEODMT, some who have been very, very systematic about it, and others who've taken psilocybin and so forth. The reports that they have are very interesting, in many cases they do find themselves interacting with other agents, other conscious agents, and some of those agents are teaching them, and some of them are rough, they're rough teachers, and so forth. And from a physicalist framework, you have to conclude that this is just brain malfunction, right? This is not an inside into reality. This is the brain being kicked in ways that it wasn't intended to be kicked with neurotransmitters, at levels or concentrations that are not supposed to be there, and that's the whole story. And the same thing happens at death with near-death experiences. Those are merely brain malfunctions effectively. But in a theory in which consciousness is fundamental, it still may be the case that these are merely hallucinations and no insights, right? This is absolutely possible. But also, I cannot, with my theory of conscious agents, I cannot dismiss the possibility that perhaps the drugs are somehow opening up new portals into this realm of conscious agents, new access, new that we didn't have before. To a different interface. That's right, or through a different aspect of our interface that hadn't opened up before. So, from my point of view then, what I really need to have is a theory of portals. How, space-time, I have a portal, the portal is your body and interacting with your consciousness, and we have one technology, we have one technology by which we know how to open up new portals. One really important technology. It's very low-tech, but it's having kids. When you have a kid, you open up a new portal into consciousness. So, we do know that there is a way to open up new portals into... Could you elaborate on that just a little bit? What do you mean by that? So, you and your significant other decide to have a kid. Well, and you have no idea whether that person is going to be like, right? So, you have a kid, you start off as a sperm and an egg and nine months later through a magical process of morphogenesis, which we don't understand. By the way, Mike Levin at Tufts is doing some beautiful work on morphogenesis and showing that it's not just the molecular biology that's involved with, there's bioelectric fields, electric fields that are actually guiding the body growth, the body morphology, and the morphogenesis. It's truly stunning. So, there may be a lot, a lot there, but by the time the child is born, you now have this little portal. You have very little insight into the concertino if it's happy or sad, right? It cries or not. But over a period of years, you see the portal getting more and more sophisticated. You're getting deeper and deeper insight into the conscious agent that you're interacting with. And so, studying that and studying the morphogenesis process, we may be able to come up with new technologies that allow us to open new portals into the realm of conscious ages. And who knows? That technology may look like silicon in circuits. Who knows? If so, it might look like artificial intelligences that are conscious, but it would be very, very different from the standard approach to this, right? The standard approach of people thinking about this is that if I get my artificial robot complex enough with the right kind of complexity, maybe the first book rings of consciousness will emerge from the pattern of activity in the hardware somehow. And if I get it really sophisticated, they'll be more conscious. So somehow, the physics of the AI is fundamental, but if the physics of the AI has the right dynamics, then consciousness might emerge. I'm saying something entirely different. Physics is not fundamental. Space time is not fundamental. Consciousness is what we call physical objects are merely the ways that we play with our interface to open new portals into the realm of conscious agents. And so once we understand, maybe it's the amplitude, the heat, the associate heat, the cosmological, what's behind space time and maybe conscious agents behind that if we're lucky, then we understand how the interface is related to it. We then be able to build technologies that open new holes, new portals in our space time interface. And then once we've done that, once we've figured that out, then we'll have lunch. Then we might be able to answer your question, which is, are these drugs really opening up new portals? Now we have a theory of portals. You have the drugs really open up new portals, or are they just screwing up the interface? Right. It's just pathological firing, or is there more to it? So we have a little work to do. Yeah, we do have a lot of work to do. And I just want to share a few things that may be of interest. So the first is that with many of these compounds, I mean, there are people who I consider not going to name them by name, because a lot of them are under the radar at the moment, but intelligent, thoughtful, rational, to the extent that any human is rational, rational actors, who are very interested in trying to get a deeper understanding of at least experiment with these entity encounters, which in the example, it's in my mind, surface very consistently with DMT or NNDMT, which is a very different subjectively in its experience than 5-Meo DMT, 5-Athoxy DMT. And so they've looked at me at means of extending the interactions by changing, say, the mode of administration to intravenous and so on. At the very least, the questions are very interesting. And I recognize for a lot of people listening, this is going to sound like we're going, well, I'm not going to use we. That's the royal. It's unfair to you, Don, that I'm just going to crazy town, but just allow me to be self-adulgent for a second. If you also look at the sort of ethnobotanical and ethnographical studies and just self-reporting in the histories of tribes, say, in South America, who use ayahuasca as just one example, it is largely accepted among the cultures down there and it hinges on certain cosmological views and so on, but that shared visions are common, so that people in close proximity, taking these drugs at the same time, often have shared visions. They see the same thing slash experience, the same thing. So I am and it's easy, I think, to or on one hand, just dismiss all of this as kind of the the ravings and made up stories of people who have taken drugs that have kicked their brain as you put it in ways that the brain is not intended to be kicked, but these things have also been used and I don't think the people in these tribes are stupid by any stretch of the imagination, but furthermore, I'd say the pharmacopoeia and their knowledge of medicine often outstrips what we consider modern medicine, like for a long time, curari, which came from the Amazon and played a huge role in the creation of anesthesia as we know it today in hospitals, was studied in in many different capacities and there were certain ingredients that were included in these mixtures such as black pepper or various species of pepper that were thought to be inert and the conclusion of the Western chemist who were doing the analysis was you know these these these tribesmen have no idea what they're talking about. Yeah, they got one or two things right, but this has no bearing and that may be true in very very many instances, but turned out that you know bioprene if I'm pronouncing that correctly in these pepper species increased bioavailability so it increased the speed of onset of these paralytics and I'm going to stop in a second but but this is an area of deep interest.
Shared Visions (01:30:01)
If you look at how let's just say ayahuasca has been used historically it's also been used for hunting and warfare. So it's just and I'm not saying any of this holds water but at the very least you know consistent use by humans over millennia would seem to imply some utility and if one is to believe the claimed utility it raises questions that we are currently not able to answer from a a physicalist paradigm anyway end of end of speech. I agree and I think that this is very much worth exploring. I think that I cannot dismiss and should not dismiss the possibility that these these drugs are opening up portals into this this other wrong. I mean it's also possible that they're not. Yeah, we need to have a mathematically precise theory of what we think you know this realm beyond space time is and what what portals are but I don't dismiss this at all. There's a brilliant researcher named Monika Gagliano who has spent time with these native societies and that they're using these these plants. She's and she's got a book called Thus Spoke the Plant. I love the title. My Monika Gagliano and she was inspired by these tribes and their their work to do new experiments on plants that show that that plants have capabilities that we never thought they can do classical conditions.
Experiments In Consciousness And Personal Insights From Scientists
Aware the Movie and Monica Gagliano, PhD. (01:32:33)
She's done classical conditioning on plants. Plants can learn to associate a sound with food and they will grow their roots to just the sound that's been paired with the food when there's no food there. So you can do classical conditioning with plants and she's got other remarkable discoveries about plants. And so she says there's a wonderful movie that just came out called Aware where she and Christoph Koch and several other people are interviewed. I highly recommend the movies called Aware. I forgot the subtitle of something like Explorations of Consciousness or something like that for the subtitle but the movie is called Aware. It just came out very recently. So Monika is in that, Christoph is in that and she they go through and talk about her experiences with the tribes that you see are sitting with the tribes then you see the experiments that she's done. So I think that there's again I don't know what the answer will be here because until we have the science, you know, a mathematically precise science, we just don't know. It could just be screwing up the brain in some sense or it could be a genuine insight. So there's a lot of hard work ahead to do this. You're a physicalist, we know the answer. You're just screwing up your brain. Yeah, you're just completely cuckoo bananas and should be put in a padded room so you can't damage yourself. Which, you know, in fairness, some of these things you do have to be careful with. This book looks fascinating. Let's book the plant. Yeah, Monica Gagliano, 253 ratings, it's like 4.5, 4.8. And I should also recommend, you know, in conjunction with this or if people wanted a place to start that is a little shorter, there's a piece called The Intelligent Plant that Michael Pollan wrote for The New Yorker at one point, which also speaks to this in so much as plants can sense gravity, the presence of water, feel an obstruction in the way of their roots before coming in contact with them. There's time lapse, videography or photography of plants finding poles to climb up in using means that are very unclear. Really, really fascinating piece that's a bit older, 2013. So I would imagine that Monica's book has more up to date science. That's right. This will give food for thought to vegetarians. Yeah, that's true. The ethical considerations. Right. If plants are this intelligent, I mean, are they sentient? Yeah. Right. From my point of view, of course, that's the wrong question, right? The question of which things are conscious and which are living and which is the wrong question. We're always interacting with consciousness. When you see something that's called a plant, you're interacting with consciousness. It's just that you're symbol is what you call a plant, but you're really interacting with consciousness. Ooh, that's a thorny dilemma for people to sort out. I'm going to save that for the bioethicists and a little bit better understanding. I'd love to ask you about a book which was gifted to me. I did not agree with everything in it, but I did find some of the explanations and thought exercises to be, is it worthy of exploration? Very simple, but are you familiar with the book called Bioscentrism? Have you ever heard of this book? Yes. What is your opinion of this book? I think generally it's okay. I think that he's letting go of the physicalist framework, which is I agree with letting go of the physicalist framework. The disagreement has come. I agree with him that physicalism is an inadequate framework. Absolutely. I agree with him on that. The disagreements may or may not come in what we propose is beyond space-time. A particular model of conscious agents that is mathematical and he may or may not like that. In his case, he doesn't have any specific mathematical models. It's more just using the current evidence to suggest that physicalism is false, that it's something more life-like, more conscious-like, maybe fundamental. It doesn't go to the next scientific step, which is, give me a mathematical model that's falsifiable or testable. Thank you for answering that.
Neat things within the realm of falsifiable science. (01:37:12)
You mentioned a number of names, Nima, something, something, Hamed, which I will get right in the show notes. Which scientists, they don't have to be scientists, but I do like playing within the realm of falsifiable hypotheses, if proven true, that have predictive powers. Anyone you would suggest taking a look at or who you find interesting in terms of what they are attempting to figure out or testing? One person I find brilliant and interesting is Chris Fuchs, he's a physicist and one of the founders of Cubism, QBISM, formerly called Quantum Basinism, but I think he dropped that and just now calls it Cubism. Cubism is catchier. Cubism is catchier, and he had some technical reasons for maybe dropping the Quantum Basin name. Also, David Merman is another Rudiger shock. They're all quantum Cubists. It's an interpretation of quantum theory that is very, very close to what I'm saying. They make the point that each act of observation in physics is an act of fact creation. When you measure the position of the electron, you're not measuring a pre-existing fact, you're creating the fact in the act of measurement. That's the Cubist approach. Of course, I find that very, very cordial to what I'm saying, that space-time is just an interface in these properties. When we look, they're data structures, you create when you look and then you garbage collect, you destroy it when you don't need it. And so particles are things that we create when we need them. And he's got a paper called Cubism. The outer fringes of quantum basinism is a 2010 paper. I can give you the exact title of it. But in that paper, Chris Fuchs actually describes a mathematical experiment that some other mathematical physicists did in which they prove, they show using quantum theory, a series of measurements that you can make where you can predict with probability one what the outcome will be, which you can prove that quantum mechanics is incompatible with the value being there before you measure it. I think I'll need you to say that one more time. This is in Chris Fuchs' paper, but it's some other work. A series of measurements that you make where you can prove that with probability one, what the outcome is going to be. But you can also prove that the outcome did not exist, the value did not exist before you made the measurement. You can prove it. So that's again against the local realism. But it's also against what Einstein says. So now Einstein was a realist who said if you can, without interfering in any way with the system, predict with probability one what the outcome of measurement will be, then there's an element of reality corresponding to the thing that you could get with probability one. So if without disturbing a system, you can predict with probability one what the measurement will be, then there's an element of reality corresponding to that measured value. That's what Einstein said. Very, very, really nice idea. And what Chris Fuchs and his paper shows is Einstein was wrong. Here's something, probability one, we know what the outcome is going to be and we can prove it didn't exist. So this is once again, the nail in the coffin of space, time, and particles being fundamental reality. They don't even exist when they're not perceived, when they're not measured. So Cubism says every physical measurement is an act of fact creation. You create it in the act of observation. And that agrees with what I'm finding from evolution by natural selection. You create the symbols you need on the fly to survive long enough to reproduce. So Cubism for folks, we'll put this in the show notes as well and we'll get the title of that paper is QBI-S-M. Not to be confused with Q-bit, although I do recommend for people interested that you maybe listen to my conversation with Steve Jurbitsen who's very involved with D-Wave and other quantum computing companies, which will also really stretch the boundaries of the mind, just to consider what is involved.
On the experiments Dr. Kaku would like to see funded (01:41:51)
And these are things that are happening right now. I mean, these are Google and many of these companies have vast resources dedicated to quantum computing. It is of great practical value, but it gets into some very, very strange territory. I'd love to know what experiments, if you could wave a magic wand, or if you just had a pet billionaire who would fund whatever you thought was worth funding, what type of experiments would you like to see? Or do any experiments come to mind that you would like to see? You would love to see done in the next five, ten years. The magic wand, I would say that the stuff I'm working on, we need to just be funded for the next ten years to really get the mathematics worked out of this third conversation. But in terms of experiments that could be done right now, my take would be I would go to Neema Arkani-Hamed at Institute for Advanced Study Princeton and say, "Here's all the money you want. What experiments do you want to do? Because you're the one who's actually telling us how to go beyond spacetime. What do we need to do to go beyond spacetime and really understand the structures behind there?" So he's got some ideas and in fact, he was, in fact, perhaps still is sort of the lead on a new collider that was going to be built in China. I don't know what's happening on that. So I would say, so the most beneficial experiments we could do right now are the ones that really help us push beyond our current spacetime understanding and really go into the structures that are beyond spacetime. That's going to be our best bet. I mean, the kinds of stuff that I would do, I think, as a neuroscientist and so forth, they're incremental, but his stuff would be transformational. On my part, I think we have to just go after the mathematical modeling and then try to tie it into the structures that they're finding. I think that's the best way for science to move forward in the quickest way on this. I'm going to ask a totally unrelated question. Thank you for that. And I did finally, I found, I'll just read it for folks. So Nima Rakhani-Hamed, N-I-M-A, next word, A-R-K-A-N-I, hyphen-H-A-M-E-D, American Canadian physicist. I will be looking really into this gentleman. Also, seems to have done a hell of, I guess, the older I get, the more I'll view other people as young. But he's done a lot. He's 49. I mean, he's really, he's gotten a lot done.
This scientist's personal revolution in consciousness, informed by the spiritual, the mathematical (01:44:45)
Wow, very impressive. He's stunningly brilliant and hardworking. What are you reading these days or what do you have on deck? Could be something that you've finished reading, something you're working on currently, something that you're looking forward to digging into. I'm just curious what your information diet looks like these days. Well, so several different fronts. One is on the very technical front, so I'm studying some information theory in the entropy, conditional entropy, and so forth, trying to, and then the Poincare group and your municipal representation of the Poincare group to see if I can't show how space-time emerges from these conditional probability projections of a dynamic subconsciousness. So the idea is that consciousness has this dynamics that has no arrow of time. There's no change in entropy. Anytime you look at that dynamics from a perspective, but using conditional probability, you get an arrow of entropy, but different ways of looking at it will give you different entropic rates. So the rates will change depending on how you, how you condition. I would like to show that I could get a group of transformations of these entropies that then give me back the Poincare group, for example. That would be, again, it wouldn't prove I'm right, but it would least prove that we have a theory that's compatible with what we know that can actually map into space-time. It would actually be tremendous. So I'm looking at technical stuff on Markov chains, information theory, and of course the related physics on this. I'm also in a completely different direction, because I feel like when we're studying consciousness on its own terms, there's very few of us, scientists who are trying to study consciousness on its own terms. So I'm not trying to think of consciousness as some, how does neural activity give rise to consciousness and so forth. I'm asking what is consciousness, qua consciousness? I want a scientific theory of consciousness that doesn't assume a physical world is the foundation at all. Sounds very difficult. It absolutely is. You have to just like reboot everything without all the props that we've had of space and time. So what do you want in the mathematical model of consciousness? Now, as I mentioned, I published that paper, Objects of Consciousness, a few years ago, and people can read what we have there. But I realized that I should listen to various spiritual traditions. But now spiritual traditions are a mixed bag. I have no doubt that many practitioners have had deep insights and that I have no doubt that many of the things that they say are dogmatic nonsense. And the question is how to separate the two, right? Part of it is that they may have had insights, but without the scientific technique of writing down mathematically precise theory isn't it? And testing them, you just can't make progress. Even if your insights are deep and correct, you can't take them and evolve them very far. If you're just using words, you have to use mathematics and then make testable predictions. And so I've read the Bible and this is a mixed bag. So I get some insights from that. I had a chance to talk with Adali Lama and give a talk to him and get some interaction with him. I'm reading Eckhart Tolle and Rupert Spira. Who is Rupert Spira? Spira, S-P-I-R-A Rupert Spira. Who is that? I just don't work in Azaleid. He's a spiritual teacher from England. And I've run across him. I had a chance to have breakfast with him up in San Jose. There's a science and non-duality conference that I've gone too many times. It's called science and non-duality meets once a year until sort of, you know, got messed up with COVID, but it'll probably restart. And there, you know, they bring together scientists and people from spiritual traditions to have a dialogue, which I found very, very, very useful. And so, again, my attitude is, as a scientist, I don't think any of our current scientific theories are correct, including my own. I think a century from now will all look back and look at our current theories like we look at Newton's theory. It was great for its time, but it was time to move on. And I think all of scientific theories will be the same way. So I have the same attitude about even the spiritual teachers and the way they think about what they've experienced. On the other hand, I think it's important for me as a scientist to listen very carefully to what these spiritual teachers are doing. They seem to have explored in ways that perhaps I and other scientists have not. And can I get insight? So I'm spending time reading Eckhart Tolle's books and Rupert Spira and just again, taking everything with a grain of salt. But I don't want to just ignore this. I want to really think about it deeply as I try to get a mathematical model.
Jaini's personal journey with merging science and spirituality (01:49:54)
Yeah, I wonder, as you're talking about this, I wonder, just thinking about the convergence of spiritual practice, not just the saturation of religion, but let's just say, practices and mathematics. And just offhand, and this could be completely misguided, I'm wondering if there have been any pairings of mathematicians and spiritual practitioners in say, India. I mean, there's such a strong, certainly millennia long set of traditions related to deep practices of various types, but also mathematics. I mean, you have been incredible, I don't say tradition, but you do have a historical record of outstanding mathematicians out of India as well. I know two of them. All right. And I am very, very lucky to count them among my longtime collaborators. So Chaitan Prakash and Manish Singh, these guys are mathematical geniuses. And with also deep spiritual understanding, they have their own spiritual practices. And Chaitan has worked with me for over 30 years and Manish for almost 30. Manish was a student of mine, but he's now my superior. He's absolutely brilliant. So any mathematical savvy in our papers is not due to me, it's due to them. And perhaps any spiritual savvy is also due to them. So I don't know what I do, but anyway, these guys are more brilliant. And also, I was very fortunate to work with a gentleman named, he wasn't Indian, he was Jewish, Bruce Bennett. And he was just a flat out genius mathematician with also deep spiritual understanding of Eastern spiritual traditions, I think, informative stuff. So I've been around, I've been fortunate to be and to collaborate with these brilliant mathematicians. And so I agree, absolutely.
Finding continuity between inquiry and insight (01:51:58)
I'd love to just know, as you're reading from these religious and spiritual texts, whether it's scripture like the Bible or any other source, how do you pull from that? What is your kind of filtering mechanism? Could you give any examples? Because I think that there are people who can hold the, let's just call it kind of rationalist mathematical faculties, while simultaneously having faith-based religion or spiritual practices, they don't have to be faith-based. I mean, you could be a mystic with direct experience. It's very different, though, to integrate those things. You can have those two things coexist in you, but some would view them as antithetical to one another. So how do you filter? And are there any examples that come to mind of things you've pulled from spiritual practices and look to pour over into the scientific? A couple things. One, from the Upanishads, there's this saying, "Not that which the eye sees, but that whereby the eye can see." Know that alone to be Brahma, the eternal, and not what people hear adore. Not that which the ear hears, but that whereby the ear can hear. Know that alone to be Brahma, the eternal, not what people... Not that which the mind thinks. But that whereby the mind can think. Know that to be. So there's this distinction between pure awareness versus the contents of awareness. And when I realized that they were making that distinction, I looked back at my math and I realized that when I was writing down these mathematical models of consciousness, they're probabilistic models. And you have to write down when you do that, you have to write down a probability space. So there's just this thing. It's this timeless thing, probability space. And then you have the dynamics occurring on that space. So the mathematics itself also models there's this pure awareness beyond time, beyond the dynamics. That's the, what I call the probability space. And then there is the dynamical system of the contents that appear and disappear within that system. So I realized that there is this really interesting correspondence between the kinds of things that they're saying, the contents, there's pure awareness. And in some sense they'll say, "What you are is not any of your contents. You're not your body. You're not the sound of your voice. You're not your possessions. None of that stuff is you. You are the pure awareness and the pure awareness is what survives death, but not necessarily any content." Well, that does seem to correspond pretty well with some of the mathematics that I wrote down just because I had to write it down that way. That's just what you do when you write down the mathematics. And so I find these kinds of correspondences really interesting and I want to pursue them further. The other one that I think is really interesting is the insistence. And I get this, you get this in many of the spiritual traditions, but I see it really clearly like when Eckhart Tolle is explaining these things. In his books like A New Earth and The Power of Now and so forth. He points out that thinking is not a very deep intelligence compared to the realm of our reality beyond thought. So in these spiritual traditions, one of the things you do in meditation is you let go of thought completely. Any thoughts that come up, you don't fight them, but you don't give them any engaged space, the illegal let them go. And the point that they make is that as you do that, and it may take you years to really be able to do that, you are getting in touch with an infinite intelligence that is much, much deeper than any thought intelligence. And in fact, is the source of all intelligence that comes through our thoughts. And so if that's right, that also makes sense from this Girdle's incompleteness theorem point of view that I've been taking on this. That is that consciousness, there's no description of it, including any conceptual thought description that we can give, that even scratches the surface of the depths that Girdle's incompleteness theorem says is there. So I see this correspondence again between letting go of thought. So there's this really interesting thing. We need thought, without words, we wouldn't have this conversation, right? Hard to podcast, very difficult. Hard to podcast with. So it's not like words are bad and concepts are bad. The question is how, what is the relationship between conceptual systems and this intelligence that transcends any conceptual system? That's the really interesting. Now, the spiritual traditions will say, it's a pointer relationship. I'm using the word, aware as a pointer. Of course, the word, aware, don't take it too seriously. You can also call it consciousness, whatever, but don't take the pointer too seriously. And then some pointers are really bad, right? So we have this notion of good and bad pointers. Well, so as a scientist, I'm going, now that's really interesting. What is, what do we mean mathematically by a good pointer versus a bad pointer? Can we actually take these ideas and make them more rigorous? So for example, I'll just give a really simple concrete idea of kind of thing that I'm talking about. The real numbers, the real line, you know, from minus infinity to infinity, right? So that's a lot of numbers. How about the integers? I'm the mathematician, it sounds like a lot of numbers. It's a lot of numbers, right? And now just now just the integers from minus infinity to infinity. Well, right, there's between zero and one, there's a whole bunch of real numbers, right? So there's a sense in which the integers are a very good approximation to the real numbers, right? There's so many real numbers between zero and one. Zero is not really telling me anything about the integers between zero and one. So you could say that the integers are a pointer to the real numbers, but it's a really bad pointer. But now take the rational numbers. A rational number is an integer divided by an integer. So you just take any two integers, you get a ratio. Those are called the rational numbers. And it turns out that the rational numbers are what mathematicians call dense in the real numbers. You can approximate a real number as close as you want with rational numbers, but not with integers. Now it turns out there's just as many rational numbers as there are integers. This sounds crazy. So the number of integers equals the number of rational numbers. The integers are a bad pointer to the real numbers, but the rational numbers are a good pointer to the real numbers. They can approximate them. So this is the kind of thing that I see, can we take the spiritual idea that what we are is an infinite intelligence that cannot be captured by any finite conceptual system, language, for example, speech thought. We have this notion of good, bad, and worse pointers. Can we make this idea which has been for thousands of years in the spiritual traditions? Can we now dust it off and make it serviceable in a more rigorous way? Can we actually take spirituality and turn it into a scientific discipline? Again, which is not to desiccated and deprived of its life, but to make it precise and make it actually serviceable, actually make predictions. I would love, I mean, my father was a minister in a Protestant fundamentalist church.
Future Predictions On Science-Spirituality Relationship
The Future of the Science - Spirituality Relationship (02:00:13)
Here's what I would love. I guess what we just discovered mathematically about spirituality this week. You won't believe it. Here's this new theorem about spirituality. Sign me up. I would love to go to a church like that where they're telling you the new discoveries, where rigorous discoveries about good pointers to, here's how to think about consciousness. Here's a better way to do your meditation, and we now have this mathematics to explain why you should do it this way and not that way. I would just love that kind of thing. And I think that science and spirituality eventually could collaborate. Now, a question of view, would spirituality not at that point cease to be a useful term in so much as if spirituality is, and please feel free to disagree with the wording, but an attempt to describe with words these clumsy, imprecise labels, glimpses somehow, if we look at the mystic traditions, mistle traditions, into this fabric beyond space time, like by the time they converge, we will have the tools and the mathematics to obviate the need for this word spirituality. Is that nonsense that I'm that I'm spouting? Well, I think that's a very natural question. And and my attitude is that science itself is in the same boat. Science will never have a theory of everything, and science will always, as as Newton put it, Newton described near the end of his life, he described himself as a little boy on the seashore, amusing himself with a little shell or a pebble when the vast ocean of truth lay unexplored all all before him. I think that's exactly right, and that's the right attitude that science should have, is that no matter how far we we get with our scientific theories, we have to understand that we will always be playing with pebbles on the seashore, just like Newton was. At least Newton was smart enough to understand that, that he was playing with pebbles on. And so the fact that the spiritual people are also just playing with pebbles on the seashore, but they're pointing to the ocean beyond and saying it's beyond conception. That's why I think the notion of the pointers is really important. Yeah, for sure. Good pointers versus bad pointers, we can never get a theory of that. But if the spiritual traditions are right, and if conscious realism is right, even though you can't get a theory of it, you can know it by being it. So you can't know that infinite intelligence through your conceptual analysis, you can get good pointers to it, and science can help us get good pointers, which you can only deeply know it by actually letting go of thought and being it. But then as a scientist, you can go there and be it and then come back with the goods in your own conceptual system and make progress in your science. And that's where I see this possibly going. Scientists would actually learn, once we let go of our physicalism, would learn actually how that we as scientists are that infinite intelligence. But our conceptual tools are inadequate, so we have to go into that infinite intelligence in your silence and then learn how to come back and take whatever insights we have gotten into terms that we can actually write down in mathematics. And we go back and forth that way. So that's where I see science and spirituality eventually going. And it's so it's going to require a scientist to actually be not only a master of mathematics and the theories, but also a master of letting go of thought and actually going into the deep intelligence if this whole approach is correct. How much pushback/blowback criticism have you had to deal with from the scientific community for bringing the S-word spirituality into the fold of conversation? Have you experienced that or have you not really run into it? My colleagues have treated me very well, I think. As a scientist, I absolutely not only expect, but request. Hard-nosed pushback. That's the mean, I'll be the first to say that my theory of conscious agents is probably wrong. And I should just to confirm that before we started recording, you're like the more you push back, the better. Love it. Hard, hard questions, that's my job is to contend with that. So I just wanted to confirm that. So please continue. That's right. So I'm not interested in my own dogmatism at all. I would like to be disabused of my own mistakes as quickly as possible. So when my colleagues, what I usually talk with them about is not so much the spiritual side of things, but more evolution of a natural selection entails that physicalism is false. We have to get over that hump before we even get anywhere near spirituality. So that's where I've really pushed with my colleagues. And I'm getting good feedback and good pushback of the kind that I would help. So there's a team at Yale, for example, that are trying to defend realism. They're trying to use evolution by natural selection. They're looking at the simulations we've done and the mathematics we've done. They're trying to find conditions in which systems could evolve to see the truth, if they were the truth. And so we're having a very profitable back and forth on that. And my own attitude is that it's no surprise that you can find certain conditions in evolutionary theory in which under those special conditions, yeah, organisms could see the truth. The thing will be that they are probability zero. So if you are going to bet, you know, you would not bet on them. So and that's a whole other discussion. I'll just say one thing about it. And it has to do with their approach is if you have lots and lots of fitness payoff functions and you force the organism to only see the world as a unified whole, you can't carve it up. Then in that special condition with with many thousands of payoff functions, they're coming very, very quickly. You don't get you can't adapt to any payoff function. And so the truth is what you sort of default to. But what we've shown so that's great. I'm grateful to them for doing that. What we've shown is that if you allow an organism to cluster the payoff functions into similar payoff functions so that you can sort of take these 50 payoff functions are roughly the same. So we will just make one payoff function for all of them for all the various. Quick question, fitness payoff function. I mean, I think of, I'm probably a very simplistic game doing payoff fitness payoff function as successful reproduction. What would other payoff functions be? Well, so so ultimately, if I'm not totally misunderstanding it, right? So you understand correctly, evolutionary theory has been turned into mathematics called evolutionary game theory. And in evolutionary game theory, what you do is you set up a game where players have different strategies. And when one strategy interacts with another strategy, it will get a payoff, a dollar amount or something that it gets for that. So for each strategy interacting with another strategy, you get a matrix of these payoffs that you get for strategy and direct. I say you have rules for accruing points effectively. That's right. And the more points you get, if you get more points in the competition, then you have greater chance of reproducing effectively than the competition. Got it. So you have these payoff functions. So when you mathematically evolution of an actual selection, you get these payoff functions. And yes, if you, if you allow an organism now that's dealing with thousands of payoffs, and we do, we have thousands of payoffs that we have to deal with. But if you can group them, cluster them into these, these actions with these payoffs, you have roughly the same payoff. So let me make what I call an object out of them. So what we call visual objects or physical objects are merely data structures by which we sort of put together a bunch of payoff functions together that so that we can just use that as a shorthand. For if I, if I have an apple, I, you can bite it, you can eat it. I wouldn't do other things with it. You know, I wouldn't try to drink it. Right. I wouldn't try to mate with it. So there are certain payoffs you're not going to get from an apple. You know, and if with a stick, right, I mean, I can beat someone with it, but I wouldn't want to eat it and I wouldn't try to drink it. So different objects will have different payoffs. And so, so what we've showed in our simulations just in the last couple of weeks, so this is just brand new. So this is in response to the team at Yale. We found that, yeah, what they did was correct, but as soon as you let organisms cluster the payoff functions into objects, then then you get far more payoff for not seeing the truth. And you make these false, you make these fake objects, which are just data structures for the fitness payoffs. And so once again, we actually then see where objects come from. They come not as representations of the truth, but as mere conveniences for representing payoffs. Don, this has been tremendously fascinating. I could certainly continue with many questions from many hours, perhaps another time, perhaps around to. Yes.
Parting Thoughts (02:10:02)
Is there anything else you'd like to say anything else you would like to mention before we bring this first conversation to a close? I think the thing I would highlight, we've talked about it before, but I would highlight it at the very end. And that is the nature of science. That good scientists understand that we will never have a theory of everything. When they talk about a theory of everything, it's with a wink and a nod. That we will always have that science is an ever-ending process of getting deeper and deeper theories, but each theory always makes assumptions. And as scientists, it's not our duty to believe our theories. It's our duty to study the theories, really understand them thoroughly, and then try to break them. The point is to break your theories. When you can break your theory, when you find its limits, that's when you break out the champagne, because that's when you're going to go to the next step. And Girdle's incompleteness theorem tells us that this process will never end. So there is job security. Go to science. Job security. I love that. Well, people can find you on Twitter @DonaldDHoffman. You have a fantastic Twitter feed. You really share quite a bit in terms of references and articles and so on. That's Donald D. Hoffman, H-O-F-F-M-A-N. And it has been so much fun to have you on and to have this conversation. I appreciate you taking the time. It was a great pleasure, Tim. Thank you so much. And for everybody listening, we will add copious and detailed links in the show notes as pre-usual at Tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, thank you for tuning in.