. April 08 . May 08 . June 08 . July 08 . August 08
. September 08 . October 08 . November 08 . December 08 .
. Top 100 Blog Entries of 2008 . May 09 . June 09 . July 09
. August 09 . September 09 . October 09 . November 09 .
. December 09 . Top 100 Blog Entries of 2009 .
. January 10 . February 10 . March 10 . April 10 . May 10 .
. June 10 . July 10 . August 10 . September 10 . October 10 .
. November 10 . December 10 . Top 100 Entries of 2010 .
. January 11 .
Based upon number of views, here are the top blogs for the last thirty days.
1. Neurons and Extra Dimensions
2. Evidence for Seeing the Future?
4. Living in a Simulation
5. At Right Angles to Spacetime
6. Photons and Free Will
7. Top 100 Entries of 2010
8. Time's Illusions
9. Timelike Entanglement
10. Is Spacetime Flat or Curved?
And as of February 26th, 2011, here are the twenty-six Imagining the Tenth Dimension blog entries that have attracted the most visits of all time. Items marked in bold are new or have risen since last month.
1. Jumping Jesus (1)
2. What's Around the Corner? (2)
3. Mandelbulbs (3)
4. An Expanding 4D Sphere (4)
5. Just Six Things: The I Ching (5)
6. Roger Ebert on Quantum Reincarnation (6)
7. The 5th-Dimensional Camera Project (8)
8. Creativity and the Quantum Universe (7)
9. How to Time Travel (9)
10. Vibrations and Fractals (10)
11. Light Has No Speed (11)
12. Dancing on the Timeline (12)
13. Our Universe Within the Omniverse (14)
14. Poll 44 - The Biocentric Universe Theory (13)
15. Monkeys Love Metallica (15)
16. Magnets and Morality (16)
17. 10-10-10 Look Before You Leap (17)
18. Consciousness in Frames per Second (18)
19. Simultaneous Inspiration (19)
20. Polls Archive 54 - Is Time Moving Faster? (22)
21. Poll 43 - Is the Multiverse Real? (20)
22. Alien Mathematics (21)
23. Seeing Time, Feeling Colors, Tasting Light (23)
24. When's a Knot Not a Knot? (24)
25. Flow (25)
26. Complexity from Simplicity (new)
Which means that this worthy submission is leaving our top 26 of all time list this month.
The Quantum Solution to Time's Arrow (26)
By the way, if you're new to this project, you might want to check out the Tenth Dimension FAQ, as it provides a road map to a lot of the discussions and different materials that have been created for this project. If you are interested in the 26 songs attached to this project, this blog shows a video for each of the songs and provides more links with lyrics and discussion. The Annotated Tenth Dimension Video provides another cornucopia of discussion topics to be connected to over at YouTube. And as always, here's a reminder that the Tenth Dimension Forum is a good place to converse with other people about these ideas.
Enjoy the journey!
Next: Alcohol and Other Drugs
Monday, February 28, 2011
Posted by Rob Bryanton at 2:20 AM
Friday, February 25, 2011
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_ANS2k97IM
Novelty. Is the desire for change the basic craving that drives life forward?
In his marvelous book "This is Your Brain on Music", Daniel Levitin makes the point that even eight month old babies have a well-developed sense of melody and rhythm, and enjoy predictable music (read "pop" music here if you like), but they are particularly likely to notice predictable music which then breaks out of the established mode of what their sense of melody will lead them to predict. Regular readers of this blog know that I became a grandfather last year, and little Cadence turned one last week. Whether you're playing peekaboo, or watching her laugh at a musical game where an established pattern is changed, you can see the joy she takes from moment to moment in what happens next.
This is a phrase I've used before in my book and my blog: "life is any process which is interested in what happens next". This applies so nicely to the idea of music as opposed to random noise: in fact, our brains tend to suppress noise, as we talked about in Ringing in the Brain. Sure, you could say music is noise, but it's noise that has been organized in certain ways: and most of us like music which has repeating patterns which allow us to predict at least somewhat what is going to happen next. But the most interesting music of all is the music which solidly sets up an expectation, and then takes us someplace else instead - that's the musical events that we remember, that's the music that we're more likely to fall in love with. This relates very easily to the memory-creation processes we discussed last year in Entangled Neurons.
"What happens next": we like novelty, we prefer pleasant surprises over boredom (and the ongoing popularity of horror films would indicate that a number of us crave any kind of surprises, pleasant or not!). In this blog we've talked a number of times about writer/philosopher/psychedelics activist Terence McKenna, who died in April 2000. His "Novelty Theory" (also known as "Timewave Zero") project suggested that our planet regularly sees repeating cycles of higher and lower novelty, but that we will be approaching a point in 2012 where the number of novelty events climbs exponentially, eventually causing some sort of a tipping point and transition to a new form of worldwide consciousness. This year we've been talking about how light is at right angles to spacetime - this exponential curve that McKenna (along with many others) envisions could be another way of thinking about a new quantum observer system which is at "right angles" to our current existence. How much more novel can we get than that?
This month, there was a New Scientist article written by Katharine Sanderson about a new experiment with the lofty goal of creating "Life, but Not as We Know It". The experiment is being conducted by a team at the University of Glasgow under the supervision of Lee Cronin. Here's a quote from Dr. Cronin that relates nicely to our discussion:
Stripped down to its barest essentials, life can be seen as a struggle against thermodynamics and its drive towards ever more featureless uniformity.
Life is what makes us more than just a set of thermodynamic chemical processes. Life is engaged with spacetime in a way that keeps it wanting to move forward in our 4D hyperspace, not just through its own life, but through nurturing the generations that come afterwards. And ultimately, life is part of patterns which exist outside the narrow limits of our 4D reality. This has been a running theme through a number of the 26 songs I attached to this project, including Burn the Candle Brightly, What Was Done Today, Change and Renewal, See No Future, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, Connections, and Thankful.
Speaking of songs, I've talked before about how for me Imagining the Tenth Dimension really started out as a "concept album", a collection of songs about the nature of reality. Coming up, I'd like to show you some of the songs from a somewhat-related concept album I released way back in 1983: "Alcohol and Other Drugs".
Enjoy the journey!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO-F3OVWO4k
"Research has been uncovering how language shapes even the most fundamental dimensions of human experience: space, time, causality and relationships to others."
Last time, in Changing Your Brain, we explored whether it's possible for Imagining the Tenth Dimension's "new way of thinking about time and space" to actually re-wire people's brains. This time, let's explore the idea of how each of us have brain structures that make us unique individuals, and how those structures are influenced by our experiences, and by our language.
In entries like The Map and the Territory, Jumping Jesus, and Nothing is Real, we've looked at the ideas of Alfred Korzybski, who developed the science of General Semantics, which explores the relationship between our observed reality and the abstract constructs of language. There have been a number of articles I've come across which show some interesting tie-ins to these ideas, today we'll be looking at some of those links.
First, here's an article published last summer in the Wall Street Journal, about how different languages cause people to see the world differently: for instance, people who speak Japanese versus Spanish have a different sense of the concept of "blame".
A New Scientist article from around the same time talks about the notion advanced by Noam Chomsky in the 1960s that the brain is naturally wired for communication, and that language works as an extension of that ability. After five decades of pursuing that paradigm, researchers are now coming to terms with the fact that the opposite is true: language shapes the way the brain communicates, and different languages create different connections within the brain.
The current issue of Scientific American has an article on this subject as well, "How Language Shapes Thought", and that's where the illustration and quote that started off today's entry come from. Here's the opening paragraphs from that article, which was written by Lera Boroditsky (Lera is an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Stanford University and editor in chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology. Her lab conducts research around the world, focusing on mental representation and the effects of language on cognition).
Reading these articles makes one appreciate the gargantuan task Google Translate is attempting to tackle - being able to correctly translate one language to another, interpreting and even using idiomatic phrases, is so much more than just saying "this word in this language equals that word in that language". And yet, here's an article published last month about the latest demonstrations of Google Translate's "Conversation Mode", which will allow a person to speak into their phone and have the phone speak their words in another language, or to have the other person they want to speak with be able to use the device to translate their sentences into English.I am standing next to a five-year old girl in pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York in northern Australia. When I ask her to point north, she points precisely and without hesitation. My compass says she is right. Later, back in a lecture hall at Stanford University, I make the same request of an audience of distinguished scholars—winners of science medals and genius prizes. Some of them have come to this very room to hear lectures for more than 40 years. I ask them to close their eyes (so they don’t cheat) and point north. Many refuse; they do not know the answer. Those who do point take a while to think about it and then aim in all possible directions. I have repeated this exercise at Harvard and Princeton and in Moscow, London and Beijing, always with the same results.
A five-year-old in one culture can do something with ease that eminent scientists in other cultures struggle with. This is a big difference in cognitive ability. What could explain it? The surprising answer, it turns out, may be language.
Discussions of what happens when the brain is damaged add to the texture of this conversation. Here's a news article from a few years ago about people who suffer brain traumas and suddenly start speaking their native language with an accent. I've remarked before (in You Have a Shape and a Trajectory) that I thought it was interesting to watch my son Mark learning to speak different languages - the timbre of his voice changes, even his face changes somewhat, because of the different ways he positions his mouth and tongue whether he's speaking English, French, or Serbian. In a sense, he becomes a different person as he speaks these different languages.
Respected neuroscientist Dr. Adrian Owen, formerly of Cambridge and recently recruited to the University of Western Ontario (along with five of his research staff), headed up a team who were the first to communicate with patients in a persistent vegetative state using brain imaging. He also made a stir last year when he published a study showing that the popular "brain training videogames" do not, in fact, make people smarter. Dr. Owen is one of the most respected neuroscientists in the world, please keep that in mind as you watch him in this video called "Science of the Soul".
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fD7Pu40qeI
So. Becoming fluent in another language gives us a window into another way of interfacing with reality, a different one from our own. Learning new things isn't just about broadening our horizons: it's about re-awakening our sense of wonder, which enhances our enjoyment of life. We're going to talk more about this next time with an entry called Novelty.
Enjoy the journey!
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAXzPIjvhUA
I hear from people every day who say the tenth dimension animation has "blown their mind", or words to that effect. I also hear from people who say they've watched the video many times, and that it has changed the way they think about the world. Could my unique approach to visualizing the dimensions really be capable of re-wiring people's neurons?
This is not as far-fetched as you might think. In entries like Changing Your Genes and Changing Your Genes - part 2, we've looked at the startling research showing that changes in lifestyle and attitude can affect not just the way your own genes are expressed, but even what genes you pass on to your offspring. This news flies in the face of the standard twentieth century approach which taught us that the genetic hand of cards we'd been dealt was locked in at conception, putting us on a specific train track defined by whatever genes we had inherited from our parents.
In Placebos Becoming More Effective?, we looked at the difficulties the pharmaceutical industry is encountering, as the placebo effect appears to be becoming stronger over the last twenty years, to the point where even successful drugs such as Prozac (approved by the FDA in 1987), would have difficulty getting approval today. As it said in the Wired Magazine article about Placebos:
I've been suggesting that there could be something about these modern times that is re-wiring people's brains in ways to give them a feeling of greater control over their observed reality (see last entry, The Quantum Observer), and hence the enhanced placebo effect. What do you think is causing this shift?Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent follow-up tests. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.
With Changing Your Brain, part of what we're talking about here is the concept of neuroplasticity: the brain is very adaptable, constantly making new connections. There was a BBC article published last year about how singing rewires damaged brains that relates nicely to this discussion. And Science Daily recently published an article about a new study with far-reaching implications. The title of the article really says it all: Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks.
With all that in mind, let's return to my new diagram we've been looking at lately and do a little creative meditation on it. As I've said before, if you click on this image it takes you to a higher-resolution version. If you'd like, print the image out and follow along, or just do the following exercise in your mind.
1. In Einstein's view of the universe, gravity is pictured as a bending of the "rubber sheet" of our spacetime. If our "sheet" was a 2D plane, similar to the piece of paper you've printed your image out on, we'd see this bending as being through the 3rd dimension. But since the "rubber sheet" of our spacetime is four-dimensional, my assertion is that this shows us gravity comes from the 5th dimension.
2. In Light Has No Speed, we looked at physicist Peter Russell's persuasive argument for why, from a photon's point of view, it takes no time or distance for light from a distant star to reach our eye. We can help to visualize this by folding our piece of paper horizontally, so that the upper half and lower half of the image are now touching. Now, the vertical line representing "light" in this diagram has converged, so that any point on the line is in direct contact with any other point. From light's point of view, past, present and future are one and the same.
3. Stephen Hawking has said "there's another kind of time, at right angles to real time, in which the universe has no beginning or end". If our paper image represents 4D spacetime, then when we folded it we were folding it through a space which is at "right angles to spacetime": the fifth dimension, which would be where Hawking's "another kind of time" resides. Since, as Peter Russell says, a photon experiences itself traveling no distance in no time, and its birth and death are the same moment, this also leads me to say that "light is at right angles to spacetime".
4. Spread your paper out flat again. Now, fold the paper the other way, vertically, so that all points on the horizontal line are touching. This is the quantum point of view, where any particle can have an instantaneous effect on another, no matter how far apart they are from each other in the universe. But again, because these effects defy the logic of our observed reality, they are usually portrayed as being unimaginably strange. I would say that imagining how these effects come from the additional degree of freedom afforded by the fifth dimension shows how these "spooky" quantum effects occur.
5. So which is it? Which fold represents the fifth dimension? Well, they both do. And if there was a way to fold our paper so that both folds are happening simultaneously, in the same way that Schrödinger's Cat is both alive and dead, then we would be visualizing the fifth dimension: where Kaluza proved to Einstein that the field effects for gravity and light are resolved.
WHEN Max Planck came up with the notion of the quantum at the turn of the 20th century, he couldn't justify it. Nevertheless, the idea that energy couldn't be split infinitely many times - that there was an indivisible quantum of energy - was the only way he could fit the observed spectrum of radiation from a hot body to a mathematical law. This ruse was, he later said, "an act of despair".
- editorial from January 24 2011 edition of New Scientist Magazine
Does that understanding change our brains? It certainly has changed mine. Next time, we're going to look at how language changes our brains: the entry will be called Language and the Mind.
Enjoy the journey!
Saturday, February 12, 2011
There's a conference happening May 3rd to 7th this year, in Stockholm, Sweden, that looks like it will be very good to keep an eye on. Here's a link to a page promoting the event, which is called Toward a Science of Consciousness: Brain, Mind and Reality.
Toward a Science of ConsciousnessThere are also workshops in the days leading up to the event. This is huge! Leading edge research on the latest developments in understanding how quantum effects, once thought to be impossible to manifest in the "warm and wet" environment of living creatures, are a basic part of our experience of reality.
Brain, Mind, Reality
May 3-7, 2011
Aula Magna Hall, Stockholm University
Tuesday May 3
Plenary 1, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Brain Electromagnetic Fields and Consciousness
McCormick D, Yale, Endogenous Electric Fields Guide Cortical Network Activity
Pockett S, Auckland, Electromagnetic Field Theory Of Consciousness: The Shape Of
McFadden J, Surrey, The Continuous Electromagnetic Information (CEMI) Field
Theory of Consciousness
Plenary 2, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Time and Consciousness I
Atmanspacher H, Freiberg, Temporal Nonlocality In Bistable Perception
Gonzalez-Andino S, Geneva, Backward Time Referral in the Amygdala of Primates
Plenary 3, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Consciousness and Reality I
Chopra D, Chopra Foundation Vedic Approaches To Consciousness And Reality
Mlodinow L, Pasadena, Grand Design
Zizzi P, Padua, Consciousness In The Early Universe
Wednesday May 4
Plenary 4, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Wassermann E, NIH, Transcranial Stimulation and Consciousness
Snyder A, Sydney, Accessing Information Normally Beyond Conscious Awareness by
Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation
Tyler WJ, Arizona State, Transcranial Ultrasound Therapy for Brain Injury
Plenary 5, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Neural correlates of consciousness I
Malach R., Weizman, Local Neuronal Ignitions And The Emergence Of Perceptual Awareness
Plenz D, NIH, Neuronal Avalanches, Coherence Potentials, And Cooperativity:
Dynamical Aspects That Define Mammalian Cortex
Plenary 6, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Consciousness and Reality II
Kafatos M, Chapman, Consciousness and The Universe: Non-local, Entangled, Probabilistic and Complementary Reality
Kallio Tamminem K, Helsinki, Quantum physics and Eastern philosophy
Pylkkanen P, Helsinki, Bohmian view of consciousness and reality
Thursday May 5
Plenary 7, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Varieties of Religious Experience
Beauregard M, Montreal, Neuroscience of Transcendent Experiences
Moreira-Almeida, A., Juiz De Fora, Differential Diagnosis Between Spiritual Experiences and Mental Disorders
Roberto, Padr. Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Sacred Plants of Amazonia
Plenary 8, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Time and consciousness II
Bierman D, Amsterdam, Presentiment
Cerf M, NYU, Time effects in human cortical neuronal firings
Plenary 9, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Quantum Biology I
KEYNOTE: Luc Montagnier, Nobel Laureate, Pasteur Institute, The Transfer of Biological
Information Through Electromagnetic Waves and Water.
Giuseppe Vitiello, Salerno, DNA: On the Wave of Coherence
Bernroider/Summerhammer, Salzburg, Quantum Properties in Ion Channel Proteins
CONFERENCE DINNER CRUISE
Friday May 6
Plenary 10, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Tuszynski JA., Edmonton, Information Processing Within Dendritic Cytoskeleton
Bandyopadhyay, A , NIMS, Tsukuba, Direct Experimental Evidence for Quantum
States in Microtubules and Topological Invariance
Tanzi R , Harvard, Zinc link between aBeta and microtubule instability in
Plenary 11, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Sir Roger Penrose
Plenary 12, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Neural correlates of consciousness II
Hesslow G, Lund, The Inner World As Simulated Interaction With The Environment
Ehrsson H, Karolinska, How We Come To Experience That We Own Our Body: The Cognitive
Neuroscience of Body Self-Perception
Ullen F, Karolinska, The Psychological Flow Experience: From Phenomenology to
Saturday May 7
Plenary 13, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Anesthesia and consciousness
Hudetz A, Milwaukee, Anesthetics and Gamma Synchrony
Franks N, London, Molecular Actions of Anesthetics
Hameroff S, Tucson, Meyer-Overton Meets Quantum Physics
Plenary 14, 11:10 to 1:20 pm
End of life brain activity
Chawla L, GWU, Surges of Electroencephalogram Activity at the Time of Death. A
Van Lommel P. , Amsterdam, Nonlocal Consciousness: A Concept on the Continuity
of our Consciousness
Here's another couple of links for you:
At the end of January, a great round table discussion featuring some of the experts who will be at the above conference occurred, go to the Philoctetes Center's Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination webpage and view the video. There are also some great comments on that page, including additional links provided by some of the participants in the round table discussion.
That same video is also on youtube at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEQeRBZcScY. Embedding has been disabled for the video so I can't paste it here, but there is some thoughtful and stimulating debate in this presentation, which is almost 107 minutes long. Enjoy the journey!
Next: Changing Your Brain
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
My friend Jeff Hall pointed me to a new BBC Horizon episode called What Is Reality? that's really worth a look. In particular, part 4 looks at the Many Worlds Theory, and part 5 deals with the Holographic Universe Theory (and the new Holometer experiment we mentioned a couple of months ago in Is Reality an Illusion?). As you know, these are favorite topics of mine. This is an hour well spent!
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO1UJXS2o34
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiXtTcZSw2M
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_LtB2hRyD8
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHxLGCYxo_Y
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq9lJBc9YMc
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_JDIalVkdo
Next entry is called The Quantum Mind. Till then, enjoy the journey!
Friday, February 4, 2011
A direct link to the above video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgw3Lv7R1w0
When Hugh Everett III first came up with his Many Worlds interpretation in 1957, he made an important distinction: when we observe one outcome or another, we are not really collapsing the quantum wave function, we are merely observing it in a particular state. The other potential states continue to exist, just as real as the one we're observing. Whether we call it "observing" or "collapsing" doesn't change what we see, but it can change the implications of whether there are actually other equally real parallel universe versions of our reality, or whether those parallel universes are just an imaginary outcome of a thought experiment.
Everett's thesis, despite support from John Wheeler (one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century) was met with indifference and in some cases derision from the physics community. So, instead of becoming a physicist upon his graduation, Everett took a job as a defense analyst with the Pentagon. Hugh Everett III has been credited with developing the infamous Cold War policy of Mutual Assured Destruction: the idea that if every nuclear power has enough atomic bombs to destroy the world, then no one should be tempted to start a war. Isn't it interesting to think about this policy, abbreviated appropriately enough as MAD, in the context of the Many Worlds Interpretation?
I've just come across a new book I'm going to order, pictured here, which is about this man's life: The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family.
So. If each of us is observing the wave function of the universe in a particular state, we are each a unique Quantum Observer. Should that make each of us feel isolated, or connected? Gevin Giorbran called this the Quantum Isolation Problem. With my 2011 entries I've been showing a way of thinking about how our quantum world is connected to the fourth dimension, and our "duration" is in the fifth, but how really both are interchangeable: this means that which label you assign to any particular spatial dimension depends upon your frame of reference established by the previous ones.
Last time, in Timelike Entanglement, I quoted a paragraph from my book and mentioned that the next paragraph was about The Quantum Observer, a topic that comes up a number of times with this project. Here's that paragraph now:
Some of those ramifications get quite metaphysical, but this time let's look at some new articles that have come out recently to show how the quantum world connects to the fourth dimension, birds as quantum observers, and life as a subset of a quantum wave function.A particular meme-set, when it is attached to a physical body, is the quantum observer for that person, collapsing the wave of possibilities along the arrow of time and experiencing life as we know it. However, since that set of memes can also be thought of as existing completely separately from a physical body, there are many other ramifications to this.
Here's a link to a paper published at Cornell University Library's arXiv.org demonstrating the math behind Quantum Mechanics in Four Dimensions. Then, check out this new article at New Scientist magazine, "Quantum States Last Longer in Birds' Eyes". It reveals that birds are able to maintain electrons in an entangled state longer at the back of their eyes than any scientist working in a lab under carefully controlled conditions has been able to do so far. The birds, it appears are able to use the information gleaned from these entangled electrons to aid in their navigation abilities.
Finally, Micheal Brooks published a wonderful summation of the many interpretations of what it means to be a quantum observer last week in New Scientist: the article is called "Quantum Reality: The Many Meanings of Life". Here's some paragraphs from that article:
A CENTURY, it seems, is not enough. One hundred years ago this year, the first world physics conference took place in Brussels, Belgium. The topic under discussion was how to deal with the strange new quantum theory and whether it would ever be possible to marry it to our everyday experience, leaving us with one coherent description of the world.It is a question physicists are still wrestling with today. Quantum particles such as atoms and molecules have an uncanny ability to appear in two places at once, spin clockwise and anticlockwise at the same time, or instantaneously influence each other when they are half a universe apart. The thing is, we are made of atoms and molecules, and we can't do any of that. Why? "At what point does quantum mechanics cease to apply?" asks Harvey Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Oxford.Although an answer has yet to emerge, the struggle to come up with one is proving to be its own reward. It has, for instance, given birth to the new field of quantum information that has gained the attention of high-tech industries and government spies. It is giving us a new angle of attack on the problem of finding the ultimate theory of physics, and it might even tell us where the universe came from. Not bad for a pursuit that a quantum cynic - one Albert Einstein - dismissed as a "gentle pillow" that lulls good physicists to sleep.Unfortunately for Einstein quantum theory has turned out to be a masterpiece. No experiment has ever disagreed with its predictions, and we can be confident that it is a good way to describe how the universe works on the smallest scales. Which leaves us with only one problem: what does it mean?Physicists try to answer this with "interpretations" - philosophical speculations, fully compliant with experiments, of what lies beneath quantum theory. "There is a zoo of interpretations," says Vlatko Vedral, who divides his time between the University of Oxford and the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore.No other theory in science has so many different ways of looking at it. How so? And will any one win out over the others?Take what is now known as the Copenhagen interpretation, for example, introduced by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. It says that any attempt to talk about an electron's location within an atom, for instance, is meaningless without making a measurement of it. Only when we interact with an electron by trying to observe it with a non-quantum, or "classical", device does it take on any attribute that we would call a physical property and therefore become part of reality.Then there is the "many worlds" interpretation, where quantum strangeness is explained by everything having multiple existences in myriad parallel universes. Or you might prefer the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation, where quantum theory is considered incomplete: we are lacking some hidden properties that, if we knew them, would make sense of everything.There are plenty more, such as the Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber interpretation, the transactional interpretation (which has particles travelling backwards in time), Roger Penrose's gravity-induced collapse interpretation, the modal interpretation... in the last 100 years, the quantum zoo has become a crowded and noisy place.
Considering the nature of things on the scale of the universe has also provided Copenhagen's critics with ammunition. If the process of measurement by a classical observer is fundamental to creating the reality we observe, what performed the observations that brought the contents of the universe into existence? "You really need to have an observer outside the system to make sense - but there's nothing outside the universe by definition," says Brown.
That's why, Brown says, cosmologists now tend to be more sympathetic to an interpretation created in the late 1950s by Princeton University physicist Hugh Everett. His "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics says that reality is not bound to a concept of measurement.Instead, the myriad different possibilities inherent in a quantum system each manifest in their own universe. David Deutsch, a physicist at the University of Oxford and the person who drew up the blueprint for the first quantum computer, says he can now only think of the computer's operation in terms of these multiple universes. To him, no other interpretation makes sense.He and Brown both claim that many worlds is already gaining traction among cosmologists. Arguments from string theory, cosmology and observational astronomy have led some cosmologists to suggest we live in one of many universes. Last year, Anthony Aguirre of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and David Layzer of Harvard University laid out a scheme that ties together ideas from cosmology and many worlds (New Scientist, 28 August 2010, p 6).
So, if we're each moving through a probability space of possible universes, are we causing reality to occur, or is reality simply happening to us as we helplessly observe one outcome after another? We'll return to this ongoing discussion of how much control do we really have as we navigate through the information that becomes reality, with an entry next week called Changing Your Brain. But right before that, let's look at this question: "What Is Reality?".
Enjoy the journey!