I find it a good thing to read when I'm feeling a little cocky. Have fun.
"The greatest pity of today's world is that intellectualism is regarded as the sole property of intellectuals. Ask the average Westerner (or Easterner) about anything more profound than the contents of his breakfast, and he will tell you that it is above his head. If he does not say this, most likely he believes it, and is lying to you."
"The irony lies in the fact that it is not true."
Fit the First: Bases.
Fit the Second: Is History?
Fit the Third: Time and Why it Probably Isn't.
Fit the Fourth: Epic Fantasy.
Fit the Fifth: Of Mind and Movies.
Fit the Sixth: Thought and Free Will.
Fit the Seventh: Hello the Tape Recorder.
Fit the Eighth: Where Are You?
Epilogue: The Epiplectic Bicycle.
(Already I hear your angry denials. I will not argue definitions with anyone. If you wish to call yourself a philosopher whose goals are attainable, go ahead. But be aware that if I use the term "scientist", I am talking to you.)
This is a work of science. It will draw conclusions from accepted science and clear logic. If you cannot understand it, it is because your mind will not let go of its prejudices about what is "really" true.
(I know we have too many first laws around already, but this is my book and I'm going to call that the first law throughout. So there!)
It has been said that solipsism is the only logically defensible religion. Solipsism is the belief that the universe exists only as a product of one's own mind. All you know are the sensations that enter your mind. The sensations you receive are all consistent with an external universe that follows certain physical laws, but that is no proof that the universe is independent of your mind.
This is what is meant by the first law. If a question cannot be resolved between two alternatives by any measurement or distinction you can sense, the answer is both alternatives, and neither - they are effectively the same. It can make no difference to your view of the world.
This statement is curiously paralleled in modern physics. It is summed up in the thought-experiment of Schroedinger's Cat:
In an airtight room with one shuttered window is placed a radiation meter. In the meter's detector is a small quantity of radium - just enough that the probability of one or more atoms decaying in a ten-minute period is 50 percent, and the probability of no atoms decaying in that period is 50 percent. The meter is connected to a phial of cyanide gas; if a decaying atom is registered, the phial will open. Also in the room is a cat. Turn on the radiation meter by remote control, wait ten minutes, and turn it off. What is the status of the cat?
According to quantum physics, low-level events such as the decay of an individual atom are inherently unpredictable. Therefore, according to the mathematics of quantum physics, the status of the radium is neither decayed nor un-decayed - until it is observed, at which time it becomes definitely one or the other. Such uncertainty about a single atom does not disturb us, but here uncertainty has been magnified into the fate of a living being. The cat is neither alive nor dead - the difference makes no difference - until an observer opens the shutter and looks.
Of course, someone always asks the question: "Who counts as an observer?" Do you? Does a fellow scientist? A child? A rat? An insect? The cat itself?
This question is easily resolved. If another being looks in the window, nothing has changed for you. It could be said that the other knows the cat's status, but you are then as uncertain of the other's knowledge as of the cat's life itself. The mathematical expression of the cat does not resolve for you until you observe. The state of the universe depends on your consciousness - solipsism.
Of course, for all practical purposes a solipsistic universe behaves the same as a classical external universe. It makes no difference to you which is real, and so, by the first law, there is no difference between them. Is not logic wonderful?
How do you know your memory is true?
If you cannot tell the difference between true memory and false, is there a difference?
Another result of quantum physics is the statement that the law of conservation of matter and energy can be violated, briefly. Mass/energy can appear out of nowhere, as long as it disappears soon. (Very soon. The amount of mass/energy appearing, in joules, multiplied by the number of seconds it exists, must be less than about 10(-35).) (This is another example of the first law. There is no way to detect such a minute event, so it makes no difference whether or not it happens, so it might as well happen - so it can.)
Although this appearing matter is temporary, there is no limit to the number of times it can appear, even continuously. It can appear in any form, or appear in one form and disappear from another. Anything can happen, anything can change --- a one-in-a-trillion chance, to be sure, but it is possible. There is no way to be sure of what the future will be, or even what the past was. What assurance do you have that you did not appear out of nowhere a half-second ago, complete with memories and a social security number? None (other than the assurance that you'll never know the difference, so it doesn't matter.)
Even this paranoid view of the universe is not quite accurate. If the universe has meaning only in relation to your mind, how could physical laws have created you? This confusion stems from the use of quantum laws as applied to a universe which exists externally, even if it is not perfectly measurable. It cannot be resolved; the universe, whether real or relative, contains (gives the sensations of?) many physicists (figments?) who have found evidence supporting these laws.
The Buddhist allegory of Indra's Net may illustrate this point. An infinite net of threads runs through the universe. At each intersection is a being, and each being is a crystal bead. The Light of Existence shines through all, each bead reflecting all the others.
To adapt the story slightly, consider each bead to be a different arrangement of matter and energy in the universe. There are infinitely many of these. The threads show the passage of time; a universe-state is connected by a strong thread to a universe-state it is likely to change to in the next instant. For example, if the universe contained nothing but two iron spheres a foot apart, gravity would slowly pull the spheres together. So the bead representing that universe would be strongly connected to the bead representing the universe with the spheres slightly closer together.
Since there is a small chance that random molecular motion will move the spheres apart, the first bead would be weakly connected to the bead representing the spheres farther apart.
Notice that this net is still. All of time is represented in it all at once; there is no "spark" that flows along the threads as time passes.
But we have proven that any universe-state can lead to any other. Every bead is connected to every other bead, by a weaker or stronger thread.
So time connects everything to everything. There is a most probable path of time, certainly, but probability is not certainty. An absolute, definite flow of time is a useless concept.
The gut reaction now is to say: "Even if we can't know what the past was, wasn't there still a definite past?" Indeed there is (was) not. Remember the first law, and Schoedinger's Cat. What you see is what you get. What you know is what is; what you do not know is not.
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth," Sherlock Holmes said. If time is an illusion, a true sense of time is impossible, so the flowing of time we all sense is an illusion, however improbable that seems to you.
And what does that sense consist of, anyway? You remember things changing, you see them moving, so you insist time is real. But is it not true that you see only one instant at any given time? The scene you saw an instant before is only in your memory, however real it may seem, and memory is static. You cannot see motion or change – you can only deduce them from fixed memories. Motion deduced from fixedness – does this not sound strange?
In fact, at any given instant, you are only a set of fixed memories. "Thought," as you know it, is the progression of memories interacting through time; if time is an illusion, what is "thought"?
The classic argument between believers in free will and proponents of determinism is now easily resolved. Of course, the patterns of nerve impulses are determined by the laws of physics, although those laws do include the unpredictability of quantum randomness. But free will is also included, for what is free will but the ability of mind to act by itself, under its own influence, based on what it knows? Certainly the nerve impulses, chasing around the fibers of the brain, are influenced by nothing but each other and the input of the senses.
I have, on occasion, heard a theory stating that while physical laws determine the nerve-impulse patterns of the brain, the mind can still have free will, because the mind influences the random factors of quantum mechanics, causing the nerve impulses to go where it wills. I do not know whether this theory was conceived out of a fanatic need to believe in a "soul" separate from the body, or simply an inability to tell cause from effect.
Now remember the many roles of probability in the universe. Even if you are talking with a voice over a telephone, how can you be sure the voice is not a lucky tape recorder -- one that just happens to say the right thing at the right time? The probability of this goes down exponentially as the conversation goes on, but the possibility is always there. Recalling the first law and Schroedinger's cat, you can only say that the object you are talking to is 99.999 percent human and 0.001 percent tape recorder -- or, equivalently, that in 99.999 percent of the universes branching from yours, you are talking to a human, and in 0.001 percent, you are talking to a tape recorder.
("Universes branching from yours" is used in the common (sort of) sense, of the time-paths of highest probability leading away from your bead in the Net. Don't try to use my own arguments against me.)
A tape recorder is an object that does not respond to anything that it hears at all, and a human responds (hopefully) to everything -- are there other possibilities? What about a dog? A catatonic human? An ELIZA program? A deaf human? All these have different levels of responsiveness; clearly there is some sort of ranking we use in determining whether there is an intelligent mind behind the voice. But any ranking can be extended, in both directions. Certainly one's own mind is the one whose responses are easiest to feel, and one's own mind is most clearly perceived.
Now extend the ranking downwards. An insect barely responds at all to anything, so we consider it unintelligent. What of a chair? No response at all, certainly? Look into the tiny vibrations and ripples in its structure -- surely some of those could be interpreted as a response in Morse code. They are, of course, drowned in a flood of Morse gibberish, but you might say that a tiny portion of the chair is responding intelligently.
The point here is that intelligence, like reality, is what the viewer makes of it; the closer you look, the more likely you are to find anything you want. A lucky tape recorder is an artificial intelligence (although hardly practical, if you have to wait trillions of years to get appropriately lucky.)
Consider that there are an infinite number of "timelines" which contain versions of you. Some of them even contain versions of you thinking exactly the same thoughts you yourself are thinking. Say, for example, that a thug cuts your throat... now. You die in seconds. But there is, somewhere, a version of you -- healthy -- with exactly the same memories, up to the point of death, followed by normal conciousness. Is that person, in some sense, a reincarnation of you? She would certainly think so. But would your mind actually move into her body? As usual, it makes no difference; the effect is the same.
And the same effect takes place even if the thug doesn't cut cut your throat. (As, presumably, he didn't.) There is a version of you sitting on the shore of the Ganges, with exactly the same memories as you, wondering how she got there. She is as much a reincarnation of you as the one with the uncut throat. Reincarnation before death -- an odd thought, no?
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