Samstag, 30. Juli 2016

Mittwoch, 27. Juli 2016

The quantum consciousness or the most important scientific theory of our time

In the previous post I wrote about how Sir Roger Penrose, renowned oxford theoretical physicist, promoted the idea that free will and consciousness have to be rooted in quantum phenomena “somewhere” inside our brain. When Roger Penrose released his book “the emperors new mind” in 1989 he had no idea where his proposed quantum states would be located in the brain. Many prominent scientists attacked Penrose reasoning and it was considered to be on the brink of being esoterical. If he would not have been Roger Penrose, whose standing as a scientist was beyond doubt, his ideas would probably have been ignored.
A science of consciousness, in the view of many of Penrose peers, was a an absurd proposition, but an American anaesthesiologist and neuroscientist named Stuart Hameroff read the book and was inspired by it. Taking away peoples consciousness every day must have put Stuart Hameroff on his journey on figuring out what it was he was actually doing. We know that anaesthetica take away consciousness, but until today we really don't know why. Other than Penrose, Hameroff had an incling where in the brain consciousness might be hidden, but before he read Penroses book he did not know how. He contacted Roger Penrose and they met 1992 and they released the first version of their combined theory in 1994. This theory is called “Orchestrated Objective Reduction” or Orch OR and it might be the most important scientific theory of our time.
According to Stuart Hammereoff, inside each of our neurons, a molecular structure called microtubulaes would be a perfect fit for Roger Penroses link between the quantum world and the classical world. These molecules are tubes of hydrocarbon where benzene rings with dislocated electrons make up much of the structure. These structures, Penrose and Hameroff proposed, contain superposed electrons that oscillate in frequencies that can be stimulated in wavelengths that make the transition into the classical world possible. As these superposed quantum states are fully capable of entanglement and resonate within the planck sphere, consciousness is not solely centered in ourselfs. We are in "harmony" with our universe and with each other.

This is a very crude description as the whole subject is really above my head. In spite of many critics that dismissed the theory out of hand, it holds up to experimental falsification for over 20 years now. In 2014, Anirban Bandyopadhyay of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, provided the evidence that superposed quantum states can be found inside microtubulaes and their oscillations can be measured and stimulated in an in-vitro experiment.
With his work, Anirban Bandyopadhyay refuted the most important critics of the Orch OR theory who claimed that in the “hot and wet” environment of the brain those states could not exist. Today all of the proposed falsifications that have been tried have been in favor of the Orch OR theory.
 All this might be hard to swallow for many hardchore wiseguys, but this theory is for real. Many of the founders of quantum mechanics proposed philosophical consequences of QM quite similar to Orch OR like Hans Peter Dürr.
I find it interesting how much scathing criticism the Orch OR theory has provoked. The science of consciousness explores regions and answers questions where religion has had a monopoly for thousands of years. The Orch OR theory also attacks the quasi religious believes in many other fields of science. If the Orch OR theory is accepted, all the work that neuroscientists have done with functional MRI methods would lose its significance and the science of artificial intelligence “singularity” would be proven as nonsense.
The Human Brain Project, that is sponsored by the EU with 8 billion Euros, would become obsolete. Furthermore, as Orch OR formulates that consciousness is somehow related to the planck sphere and a fundamental proto-consciousness that we are all connected to, it breaches into the last domain of religion. The Orch OR theory has the potential to open up an ontology of “life after death” and “the soul”. I want to add here that these musings are not promoted by Penrose or Hammeroff and I also find them of lesser consequence.
What the Orch OR theory shows for me, is that there is a fundamental principle in consciousness that connects us with each other and the living universe. Consciousness is not some isolated part that only exists in us. We all tap into a well of consciousness that is fundamental in our universe. If we could accept this idea, that we are indeed fundamentally connected, it would change the way we see the world and our self and each other.

This theory also connects physics to the humanities in a profound way. Social science and anthropology has long stated, that we are the product of the interconnectedness in our society. We are what we are because we are not a singular being but a social animal. Human identity is only ever of consequence in a social context. Our consciousness is something we share with others. As I am part of this interconnectedness something of myself has entered this intersubjective sphere we call society. With the Orch OR theory, physics, pschiatry, psychology, neoroscience and medicine will have to accept this fundamental interconnectedness that is life.

As I see it, the only scientific field left that denies the social interconnected reality of humanity is the one we base our society on, economics.     

Dienstag, 26. Juli 2016

What is consciousness and where does it happen?

 Consciousness is one of the many yet unsolved mysteries of our universe. Why is it, that there is this inner movie playing in our head, feeding us information about the environment we live in, making us feel about this information as we interpret it, bringing it into context with the memories of previous events we perceived in our conscious mind? While it should be of great interest to know about consciousness to all of us, we did not have a science of consciousness until very recently. Also there are the questions, “what am I” and “what is the world” that are both very closely related to the question of what consciousness really is. How can we try to understand the universe if we don't understand understanding?

While there was no science of consciousness, there has been a philosophy of consciousness since the beginning of philosophy itself. The philosophy of consciousness tries to understand what consciousness means. It does so by trying to find a language with which we can describe this inner movie we experience. Philosophers ultimately came up with two classes of problems we need to solve if we try to understand consciousness. They defined those as the “easy problems” and “the hard problem” of consciousness. In short, the “easy problems” are all those problems that a deterministic machine could solve. Easy problems are functions of our brain like categorizing sensual input and evaluating it, or focusing the conscious self on a specific task or problem.

The hard problems are those functions of consciousness that are specific to our inner self. Why do we “feel” the color black as much as we see it and what do we “feel” when we recognize it. The hard problem concerns numerous qualitative associations we make when we communicate or perceive. Why is there a feeling of the color red in the evening sky that we just cant explain? Why is there a harmony we feel when listening to music that changes our consciousness? All those aspects of the human mind concerned with “how does something feel” are called qualia.

David chalmers is a prominent member of the circle of philosophers of consciousness and I recommend watching his TED lecture here:

For me the most important and hard questions are, what is free will? How does it happen? What is creativity? How do we invent? How do we understand?

For me those are the most obvious differences of a thinking mind and a machine.
Naturally those questions don't concern you, if you think that a machine could do those things. As described in the previous article, the idea that consciousness is actually an illusion has many prominent followers. Are there alternatives? 

Obviously consciousness can be tampered with or taken away on any number of ways, like too much alcohol or drugs or a hard hit on the head. It must therefore be some function in our brain that is based on chemical reactions, but where could that be?

Other than the "deterministic" theory of consciousness, that says that free will is just an illusion, two theories of consciousness are competing today. 

In the field neuroscience one theory of consciousness has established itself a few years ago. In the so called “phi theory of consciousness”, consciousness emerges whenever integrated information systems reach a certain complexity (phi). Giulio Tononi formulated this theory and its also called the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness. In his view consciousness could emerge anywhere a certain threshold of information and integration is reached. 

There is much good to be said about this theory. Emergent phenomena are quite commonplace in our universe. Wavelike behavior i.e. seems to emerge everywhere we look. Waves behave fundamentally similar regardless of where they emerge. Waves in water or air, or electromagnetic waves like radio- or light waves, they all share a common principle of behavior.

But as theories go, I still feel the IIT is not explaining very much. While it acknowledges the existence of the hard problem of consciousness by adding the “miracle” factor of emergence, in my opinion it falls short in explaining free will or understanding. For neuroscientists the brains function is a product of the neurons alone, and neurons behave just as deterministic as a computer. There is nothing in Tononis theory that prohibits Ray Kurzweil from downloading his mind into a computer soon.

In the IIT, there is no place where randomness and interaction with the rest of the universe comes in. How evolution could start the process of gradually developing consciousness with the Paramecium and reach the human mind is hard for me to see when looking at the problem with the IIT perspective. Only if consciousness is something that Paramecium already has, the evolution of human (or raven or dolphin) consciousness could be explained. A Parameccium has no neurons, as it is a single cell organism, how can the paramcium therefore have consciousness? On the other hand, if the Paramecium has consciousness, why not any of the systems that call themselves artificial intelligence today? Surely they are pretty integrated. What are the sophisticated AIs missing that unicellular living organisms, like a Paramecium, might have?

As mentioned in the previous article, I believe that factor to be a quantum behavior of the brain. The distinguished Oxford physicist Roger Penrose, the teacher of Stephen Hawking, is the author of another theory of consciousness that is discussed today. He published the idea that quantum behavior might be at the core of understanding consciousness in his provocative book “The emperors new mind”.

He also argued, that randomness alone would not be enough to explain the hard problems of consciousness, such as free will. He therefore proposed a very sophisticated theory of quantum mechanics that incorporates parts of relativity theory.

In the previous article I wrote, that nothing in quantum mechanics stops us from putting the results of the double slit experiment in a “safe” and wait for a hundred years until we decide to observe the wave pattern or the particle behavior of the experiment.

This is a version of the “Schrödinger Cat” thought experiment. It was formulated to express the incompleteness of quantum theory for wave functions of “large scale”. Basically, quantum behavior only ever is found in small scales. There is simply no wave function of cats that we can find, just as there is no wave function of planets or suns. As Penrose says:

In my own view, the non-existence of linearly superposed cricket balls actually is contrary evidence!... We know that at the sub-microscopic level of things the quantum laws do hold sway; but at the level of cricket balls, it is classical physics. Somewhere in between, I would maintain, we need to understand the new law, in order to see how the quantum world merges with the classical. I believe, also, that we shall need this new law if we are
ever to understand minds! For all this we must, I believe, look for new clues.”.

Therefore he proposes there is a principle we do not yet understand behind the collapse of these wave functions or “reduction”. Roger Penrose then went ahead and formulated a principle that collapses the wave function as a factor of the energy/mass displacement that a quantum state would produce. Whenever this displacement grows the chance of a spontaneous reduction of the wave function increases.

In the emperors new mind, he formulates the idea, that somewhere in a brain there is a part where this collapse of the wave functions happens not at random and not deterministic, but “orchestrated”. Somewhere in our brain the gap between the classical and the quantum world is closed.

His theory therefore basically says that, consciousness is a fundamental principle of the universe that we make use of, just like space and time. Not “the observer”, but “consciousness” is what collapses the wave function. Consciousness as a fundamental principle is not to be understood in a way that ascribes the universe with a thinking mind, but the other way round. We, as all life, make use of this fundamental principle to gain free will and understanding. 

I recommend this video of one of Roger Penroses lectures. He proposes a strictly mathematical argument for the non deterministic nature of the brain that is truly fascinating if you are inclined to find math fascinating. 

continued ... 

the politics of quantum mechanics, or why quantum mechanics matter

This is the first part of a series in which I want to explore the most important scientific theory of our time and the ultimately world changing effect it will have. Before I tell you what that might be, we will need to lay down some basics about the fundamental concepts involved. This first part will be an attempt to explain the main aspects of quantum mechanics and why they matter.

Quantum mechanics usually is conceived as a concept so weird and scientific that it virtually stands for everything that is so much over our head, that we need not bother our self with understanding it. Admittedly, figuring out the math behind quantum mechanics will be far beyond most people's experience and skills in math. Only a few people in this world can really claim to have this comprehension. On the other hand, the philosophical consequences of quantum mechanics for our understanding of how the universe works are not that hard to understand (I think). What I want to offer to my readers in this article is some insight into the workings of quantum mechanics and why it is important.

Physics in general, is the formulation of theories that translate the phenomena we observe in our natural world in a comprehensible language called math. All of physics is interactions and math is the language used to communicate models describing these interactions to others, and to formulate predictions that would follow from our models. We can however try to understand the implications of these models without the need to understand its math.

The first thing that is strange about quantum mechanics is, that the observer has a very important role in the interactions we try to explain. To understand this, lets start with the probably most often replicated physical experiment of all time, the double slit experiment. The essence of it is, that if you shoot a quantum particle, like a photon or an electron (or many of them), on a wall with two tiny slits, that are close enough together, something weird happens. On a screen behind the wall a pattern appears, that we can clearly identify as the result of an overlapping of two waves spreading from the two slits. Physics calls that refraction and it is something that all waves do.

This is puzzling, because we thought we shot only one particle on those slits at a time. Something must have happened to it that changed it into behaving like a wave. How can one particle be a wave and pass through both slits at the same time? Obviously it would be interesting to know where that particle really went. So we change the experiment and place a detector at both of the slits and start over. What now happens is, that the refraction pattern disappears and our screen shows us that the particle appears at one of two points on the screen behind the wall with the slits, just what we had expected if we shot a gun at the wall.

Ok, so what must have happened is, that our detectors somehow messed the whole thing up? It turns out this is not the case. If we leave the detectors totally operational, but just turn off any way to get the information from these detectors (like a counter of some sorts) the refraction pattern reemerges. This puzzled physicists to no end. Very clever physicists tried to trick that experiment and invented something that is the “delay choice quantum eraser”. Its build is really ingenious and you can look it up on wikipedia if you like, but it does something that is not too complicated but again very puzzling in its result.

The double slit experiment is changed in a way, that we get the information from the detector on the slit a few moments after the particle arrives at the screen to produce the wave pattern. The now totally confusing result is, that whenever we observe the result from the detector on the slits, the refraction pattern still disappears and if we turn it off, the pattern reappears as before. As the detector counts the particle after it arrived at the screen, the detector must have changed the outcome of the experiment by changing the past!

This now is absolutely against any intuition we have. The linear flow of time is a principle we very much take for granted. But somehow, the linearity of time does not apply in the quantum realm. How far would that go? Can we just put both the screen and the results of our detector in a safe for ten years and then take them out? Would the outcome of the experiment be defined by which of the measurements we took out first? If we would erase the detector data and then look at the screens, would we see refraction patterns? There is nothing in original quantum mechanics that says that this would not be the case. Its not the case though and classical QMs inability to model this behavior is one of the things physicists try to solve today.

Another strange quantum phenomena, that I will refer to in this series, is entanglement. Usually it describes a situation where something that is yet fuzzy and uncertain (is described by a “wave function”) concerns more than one quantum particle. These particles can share this uncertainty for a relatively long time over a relatively long distance. Whenever an observer causes the wave function to collapse, it does so for all entangled particles simultaneously, even if they are quite far from each other. In the quantum world this is not a rare phenomena. Theoretically entanglement is a form of connection where all quantum particles of the universe resonate with each other and the “exchange” of quantum state happens instantaneously.
So clearly, the observer has a very important role in quantum mechanics. Whenever something is part of the quantum world its characteristics like time, place, impulse etc. are somewhat fuzzy or “uncertain” and it behaves like a wave, trying to measure one of these fuzzy characteristics results in the wavelike behavior to vanish. In quantum mechanics this is called the collapse of the wave function or “reduction”. It is important to note that this process is not reversible. We can't burn the data from the detectors after looking at it and then hope that the refraction pattern reappears. Somehow the information has entered the universe forever now and something called “an observer” is responsible for it. Physics, by the way, is very unclear about what the hell “an observer” is. i.e. the role of the observer is something completely different in general relativity theory (but equally hard to comprehend).

All this might be very interesting, but why is it so important? Before the double slit experiment we had “classical physics”. In classical physics everything is very deterministic. If the universe was classical, its whole future would have been written the moment it came to existence. That this is a weird notion should be clear to anybody with some sense.
In our understanding, quantum effects are random at heart, so on a small scale everything is random and fuzzy and these random effects can theoretically have infinitely large effects in our universe. The randomness of where our particle ultimately ends after passing through one of the slits theoretically could be set up to trigger an atomic explosion that ends our world, or not.

Philosophically, the double slit experiment has therefore toppled a “Weltanschauung” that was at the center of our way of thinking since the times of Aristotle. The rule of cause and effect, that we adhered to since Aristotles, does not rule our cosmos. The cosmos is largely driven by chance. This fundamental principal of chance in our cosmos, as far as we can describe it, even led to the existence of our universe itself. There is no scientific way to describe this process of chance. We can not tell why a radioactive isotope will decay at a certain point in time. Saying that “it chose to do so” is as good a description of what happened, as any other.

We as humans have not really embraced this quantum world view. Many sciences are still locked up in the classical world view, with a huge impact on our society as a whole. One of the things we embrace is the computability of virtually everything. We tend to believe in the ability of programs to solve all of our decision making problems. Sadly, all computers behave “classical” and deterministic. Computers are unable to take into account the chaotic randomness of the complex world we live in. This inability to accept the randomness of our world is especially visible in the fields neuroscience and artificial intelligence, both of which are leading sciences of our time.

The European Commission spends billions on a project called “Human Brain Project”. This project will maybe come up with some relevant science, but at its heart, it promotes the idea of the human brain as being nothing more than a classical computer, a machine made of flesh. In the USA, important scientists in the field of computer science promote the idea of “singularity”. Scientists, like Marvin Minsky or Ray Kurzweil, have promoted the religious belief, that we might soon be immortal because we could download our brain into a computer.

We left classical physics behind us a century ago. As Richard Feynman said: “The universe is not classical, dammit!”. The notion, that a brain works like a computer, lacks any scientific evidence. In fact, there is lots of evidence today, that quantum behavior plays an important role all over biology. Life itself could be the result of quantum behavior in microbiology as far as we know. Core processes of life on earth, like photosynthesis, are quantum phenomena. Nature finds quantum behavior in its toolbox, and makes widespread us of it. The notion, that a complex structure as the human brain would be in essence describable by classical physics, is unscientific.

A deterministic brain would also be devoid of free will. We would be a zombie with the illusion of life, a mere observer of the thoughts, we were destined to have the moment we were born. Why would nature rely on randomness in reproduction and evolution, if there was a way to determine the most successful outcome of reproduction?

Why something like a deterministic brain would be worthwhile for evolution to create and how evolution without randomness happens at all, is never thought through by the promoters of a deterministic brain. How can social progress be made without the possibility of cultural evolutionary processes? Further, the idea of a classical physics computer brain degrades us all to mere objects. Its a paradox, that famous inventors like Ray Kurzweil would ultimately think that they are themselves just computers.

I sense that this worldview, that is objectifying people in the most literal sense, is an important part of the ideology that rules us. The struggle between determinism and free will has been at the core of the struggle between the rulers and the ruled in all our history. The rulers love determinism, ruling is in fact the notion that control over people is possible. Power strives to take away the exacting of free will as much as possible. 

Interestingly, objectification is what Michel Foucault describes as the the practice that we use to exercise power over others. Power, in Michel Foucaults theory, is the action/practice that determines the actions/pratice of others. In intersubjective relations, power forms subjects to be something that ideology wants them to be by objectifying them. By accepting the formation of our identity as an image of the template that society forces on us, we subjugate to power and willingly suppress ourselves.

The idea  of a deterministic brain also seems to tell us, that we all are little automatons of “homo oeconomicus”, disconnected from each other and our environment. Devoid of all connections with each others and the living universe, we seek only our own profit on the expense of others. We mere objects are only interested in adding more to ourselves, like little black holes, aimlessly drifting in a cold and dark universe and devouring anything in our way. With this worldview, it is no wonder we destroyed our planet.

The reasoning behind this worldview, and of the ideology that forces it upon us, ostensibly is “science”. We are to accept this worldview, because “science says so”. The truth is, that “science”, does not say so, the opposite is true. The double slit experiment tells us, that deterministic and reductionist theories are simply wrong.

We have consciousness. This consciousness, the ability to “observe” and to understand, to be the cause of the creation of something new is something very special. We are the source of new ideas that shape the universe and we do that interconnected with each other. Human intelligence, consciousness and understanding could not exist without free will. The source of this free will can only be a connection with the quantum world and thus with the living universe.

continued ...

Samstag, 9. Juli 2016

Chris Hedges bei RT

Der US Journalist, Autor und Dissident Chris Hedges, einer der wenigen aufrechten linken Stimmen in den USA, hat seit Juni eine eigene Sendung bei Russia Today die wöchentlich ausgestrahlt wird.

Chris Hedges hat eine lange Karriere bei der NY Times hinter sich und wurde dafür mit dem Pulitzer Preis ausgezeichnet. Heute ist er einer der wichtigsten kritischen linken Denker und Autoren in den USA. Seine Sendung, On Contact ist absolut empfehlenswert.

Russia Today der Putinsender?

Da hier Russia Today als Propagandasender Putins verschrieen ist, möchte ich dazu kurz Stellung nehmen.

Propaganda wird heute vor allem durch Auslassung paraktiziert. Die Legende von der "Lügenpresse" ist sowohl für Deutsche Medien wie auch für Russia Today völliger unsinn. Wie schon häufig beschrieben versucht kluge Propaganda heute die Deutungshoheit über Begriffe zu erlangen. Nicht in den Inhalten sondern in ihrer Selektion und im Gebrauch der Sprache findet Propaganda vor allem statt

Eine kritische Betrachtung aller Medien ist daher immer angebracht. Wer Medien kritisch hinterfragen will sollte sich immer darüber im klaren sein, dass er wahrscheinlich manipuliert wird. Häufig ist diese Manipulation nicht einmal ein bewusster Akt des Journalisten. Durch Selektion unter dem journalistischen Nachwuchs wird sichergestellt, dass in unseren Medien vor allem eine bestimmte Perspektive vorherrscht. Diese Perspektive ist männlich, weis, westlich-europäisch und "bildungsbürgerlich". Sie ist ausserdem weit häufiger neoliberal als links oder (extrem) rechts.

Russia today hat oft eine völlig andere Perspektive. Diese Perspektive mag durchaus "Pro Russisch" sein. Die Selektion der Inhalte und der Sprachgebrauch die sich daraus ergeben sind daher völlig andere als in den deutschen Medien. Inhalte sind aber ebensowenig "erlogen" wie in der Deutschen Presse. (Ausnahme ist die "Bild", da sind Lügen ganz normal). Daraus ergibt sich automatisch, dass Russia Today (für den kritischen Medienkonsumenten) eine sehr wertvolle Ergänzung zu den deutschen (oder westlichen) Medien darstellt, ebenso wie al-jazheera und andere verglichbare Sender.

Vor allem aber gibt Russia today heute extrem kritischen Journalisten wie Chris Hedges eine Stimme in den USA. Eine Sendung wie On-Contact ist in den mainstream US-Medien unvorstellbar. Daher erfüllt Russia Today hier eine wichtige Rolle in der Medienlandschaft. Man könnte auch sagen, dass Russland von den Westmächten gelernt hat und das Prinzip Radio Free Europe heute selbst nutzt.

Freitag, 8. Juli 2016

The complete collapse of everything?

Michael Krieger is a former Wall street analyst. He says: "In my writings, when I first came out of Wall Street, I focused on debt, I focused on economics and I focused on financial markets. I did all of that stuff, but I stopped doing that for one simple reason. It was obvious to me . . . that this thing had only one way to go, which is a complete collapse of everything."

Watch this interview: