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A Universe Debate

Subject: Re: inconstanr constants; dawn of symbolic thinking
Date: Thu, 09 Jun 2005 11:27:08 +0100
From: Ray Dickenson

"T. Peter ****" wrote:
> "Inconstant Constants," by John D. Barrow and John K. Webb (pp. 56-63),
> suggested that paradoxically, the physical constants (like the speed of
> light) that define how nature works might have changed over billions of
> years, with profound effects on the state of the universe.
> "The Morning of the Modern Mind," by Kate Wong (pp. 86-95) argued that
> controversial discoveries hint that symbolic thought, usually
> considered to have emerged in our species 40,000 years ago, arose far
> earlier.

Hi, T. Peter,
Coincidentally, those two subjects might be connected.

V.A. Firsoff in `Life Among the Stars' and later Roger Penrose - `Emperors New Mind' and `Road to Reality' - suggest quantum processes in the human brain as root of "consciousness".

[BTW Many are trying to decide why the human brain is now "conscious".  Because, whereas humans have definitely been structurally `here in body' for maybe half a million years or even (much?) longer, archeologists give no evidence for self-consciousness or grasp of symbolism until "recently" (within last few hundred Kyrs).  Think we can probably include Kate Wong in there (but must get the book).]

[BTW2 John WcWhorter's `The Power of Babel', after examining archeological (and linguistic) evidence, plumps for a minimum 150,000 years of structured human language.]

Barrows' previous `The Constants of Nature' considers evidence for the "changing constants" scenario (which I have to support, for other reasons).

Here's the link - quantum processes are enabled by thresholds of physical size, of the "fine-structure-constant" and by other as-yet-unknown structural parameters such as the intensities and ratios of dark energy (vacuum energy / zero-point energy) and of "dark matter".  If the Universe is indeed slowly mutating through thresholds (changing `constants') it could be that self-consciousness in the human brain was actually _switched-on_ or enabled by the Universe itself, at a very specific point in time.

That somewhat startling scenario could fit with speculation that "local" effects on human consciousness are caused by - "cyclic" - rearrangements of local masses.  I.e. in the Solar System (plus maybe one or two associated stars).  Hence - maybe - "Dark Ages" and perhaps even those mythic "Great Zodiacal Ages".

An even more local example is the small (but noticeable) monthly effect of the Moon - which, incidentally has just begun "waxing", so you should all be feeling better.  [Unless on other side of `stability', in which case beware 22 June.]

Ray D

Later (May 2007) addition

From: "William J"
Sent: Thursday, April 27, 2006 7:36 PM
Subject: RE: Physical constants changing over time, experiment suggests

> From here this evolves into discussions of the various levels of
> the anthropic principle.  I recommend the hour special the ABC's
> Science Show did on the topic back in February.  The audio is no
> longer available, but here's a transcript:

From: "Ray D"
Date: Fri, 12 May 2006 12:51:01 +0100
Subject: RE: Physical constants changing over time, experiment suggests

Thanks Bill,

wanted that. - been (slowly) following `constants' thing by way of John D Barrow's reports and need to get a handle on when to apply any anthropic's.

Because, in some cases anthropicism is only saying "we are here" - but in others it _might_ be putting some hard limits on the past, future and maybe, what's just over the horizon.

Interestingly, and seemingly not yet considered, there might be a case for one constant or force, with all others being dependent upon it - like several unmoving yo-yos hanging from _one_ support, which might itself be a slow mover, like a piston - or pendulum.  One version of that would mean we couldn't measure any changes inside the universe while the dependent "constants" maintain their relative ratios.

That might seem a bit dull but not so.  If the one force _is_ changing then `thresholds' might exist - and the universe might well change consistency (of matter, say) at each threshold.

Let's hypothesize a threshold was crossed 14 billion yrs ago (approx).  How close is the next?

Ray D

From: "Steve B"
Date: Fri, 12 May 2006 14:06:17 +0100
Subject: Re: RE: Physical constants changing over time, experiment suggests

String theory sort of works like this.  The 'one constant' in this case is the geometry of the 11 dimensions which make up the universe; everything else depends on that (not that anyone has yet managed to do the calculations to derive the other constants).

So if the geometry of the universe were slowly changing, so would other constants.

And as always with slow geometric change, there can come a sudden 'flip point' where the system suddenly changes to a new meta-stable state with different properties.

That might explain the big bang; or it might all be complete nonsense.

One thing for sure - if we do ever get to another flip point, we won't be around enough to notice.

From: "Ray D"
Subject: RE: Physical constants changing over time, experiment suggests
Date: Fri, 12 May 2006 22:53:56 +0100

Yeah well, have problems with `string theory'

a) don't believe a word of it, think it smacks of the same un-grounded escapist math that gave rise to "black hole" delusions (ha!);

b) all the`adapting' they've had to do to even keep any putative `string theory' (not actually even theories) alive as hypotheses, leaves them, to me, as badly damaged (and untenable) as the `standard model';

c) there seems to be a basic relationship, first noticed by Kant, between number of physical dimensions and the acting-ratio of gravity - in three dimensional universe, gravity acts as inverse square, in 4 dimensions it would act as the inverse cube.

So, from action of gravity it seems the universe has 3 physical dimensions

d) some analysts of `anthropic' outcomes have investigated consequences of other-numbered dimensional regimes - turns out that more than 3 [physical] dimensions leads to `unpredictability' - the past not determining the future, or inherently unstable atoms _and_ unstable planetary orbits, while less than 3 means things are too simple to connect usefully - no cells, no neurons, no brains;

and the situation's about the same or worse for other-numbered time dimensions not already considered - being all `unpredictable' again.

There's a good `chequer-board' diagram of the situation in Barrow's "The Constants of Nature" p. 222.

I know the `stringies' say the extra dimensions are either "hidden" (on another dimension?) or "coiled-up really really small" but it doesn't carry conviction and adds to my feelings in (b)

Feel that, as we approach the truth, actions get simpler, and necessary causes decrease (to one eventually); but, as Planck implied, that doesn't mean we'll be able to "see" it.  It might be out of reach of most - or even all - human minds.

Except fortean ones of course.

cheers Ray D

Since found that Kant, though more known as a philosopher and moralist, was also the first person to speculate that some nebulae were `island universes' (that we now call galaxies), as well as advancing the `Theories of Light and Color'.

From: "Steve B"
Sent: Monday, May 15, 2006 9:57 AM
Subject: Re: RE: Physical constants changing over time, experiment suggests

One of the attractions of string theory is that it explains why gravity is so much weaker than the other 3 forces (by a factor of 10^10 or thereabouts).

The theory is that gravity, unlike the other forces, extends outside our familiar 3 space dimensions, and is therefore diluted.

As far as I know, that is still the only explanation for the huge imbalance between the other 3 forces (electromagnetic, strong, weak) and gravity.  Kan'ts observation would only apply if:

a) Gravity were a classical force, which it clearly isn't
b) All the dimensions had the same properties, which they clearly don't.

I agree that string theory has some pretty big gaps - and the problem that the maths is so hard it may be insoluble, which would make the theory useless for predicting anything.  However, it is also the only theory to explain certain things at all.  I'm certainly of the opinion that if there were a simple 'theory of everything' someone would have found it by now.  So any such theory is going to be complicated.

I'm also of the opinion that the universe is under no obligation to be explicable by any theory, simple or otherwise.

From: "Ray D"
Subject: RE: Physical constants changing over time, experiment suggests
Date: Mon, 15 May 2006 17:50:41 +0100

Got full sympathy with your feelings, Steve - seems that Feynman, after Einstein of course, famously shared that frustration -

a) that `gravity' is unaccountably weaker by large amount - suspiciously close to one of two universal large numbers: 1040 [below unity]; (other one is 1080);
b) that `gravity' is not quantized - or susceptible to quantum calculation.

Think both those should be clues that `gravity' is not a "Force" - and actually think the others aren't "forces" either, just quantized effects - but further that gravity is only a `shadow' in an effect: the inertial / mass effect.

Did you ever see that `black ball suspended in center of illuminating sphere / room experiment'?

Although the light is coming from all around, and shining fully, from all angles, onto the black ball, there is an (invisible) spherical shadow extending outwards from the black ball, getting weaker going outwards in line with "radiation law" - inverse square of distance.

That's how (I think) `gravity' works.  Obvious really isn't it?

cheers Ray D

PS you're not alone on `explicable theories':-

"Of course, what is both wonderful and terrifying is that there is absolutely no reason that nature at its deepest level must have anything to do with mathematics.
Like mathematics itself, the faith in this shared mysticism of the mathematical scientist is an invention of human beings ...  I have never heard a good a priori argument that the world must be organized according to mathematical principles."

- Lee Smolin in `The Life of the Cosmos' - ISBN 0-297-81727-2

Later developments - May 2007

Date: Fri, 4 May 2007 21:10:54 -0500 (CDT)
From: Ray Dickenson

Replying [above] I suggested we look at that book's arguments in light of Roger Penrose's view that human `consciousness' might be a quantum thing, possibly enabled by `micro-tubules' in the brain.

As the brain's major quantum attributes would be due mainly to size / density / position of organs, if universal constants _are_ changing then at some time in the past we probably didn't have fully self-conscious minds, merely `instinctive' or algorithmic * brains such as we ascribe to more primitive life (yes I realize many humans might still qualify).

So the suggestion was that the universe might have _enabled_ human consciousness at a particular time, by allowing our brains to assume the right density / size of organs.
[Before anyone asks - no "intent" or "design" implied]

Now let's go further - from art and science:-
i) Around two and a half thousand years ago something strange happened -
- the Ionians in the Aegean started measuring, calculating and theorizing correctly;
- the Egyptian pharaoh Necho caused Africa to be circumnavigated;
- Zoroaster, in Persia, founded his school of science, morality and philosophy;
- Confucius and Lao-tsu taught in China; - Jewish prophets spoke from Egypt to Babylon in mid-East;
- and Gautama Buddha reappraised reality in India.
Carl Sagan mused - "It is hard to think these activities altogether unrelated" (p. 206 - "Cosmos")

ii) a younger friend / fellow-student recently made a presentation to us on a p.g. course in which she got across quite forcibly (to me for the first time) how early and medieval artists couldn't or wouldn't paint representative or `natural' views - their eyes (or their market) had to have everything formally `labelled' by size, position and colour.

I.e. a King (say) had to be in a particular position, and unrealistically much bigger than everybody else, and wearing bold symbolic colours (and maybe crowned with that glowing nimbus / `halo' depending on context).  Can't remember if she gave a date when this weird way of seeing / representing the world eventually progressed towards naturalism, maybe I was too absorbed in the slide-show;

iii) last night, re-reading thoughts of a couple of scientists (Stewart & Cohen), found their reference to the interesting fact that around 1800 (or maybe a bit earlier, S & C opine) artists suddenly went a step beyond naturalism, being intent on changing the view of the observer - `seeing the world in a new light'.

Is it possible that these apparent `advancements' of consciousness were also mediated by changes in the Universal constants?

If so - what's next?


Date: Fri May 4, 2007 12:38 am
From: "Thomas D***"

>The mechanisms in mammals are very different. We are able to act
>against instinct and to decide to do things that do not benefit
>us in any way. Insects never operate at random. There is always
>a reason for them doing what they do. The best explanation I
>have seen for this is instinct. It is an old excuse, admittedly,
>but it still fits the evidence.

I'm distressed whenever people use the word `instinct'.  To me it's a meaningless cheat - a transfer of a mystery (like "find the lady").  We know that nest/hive insects can vary their behavior in an apparently `conscious' way - termites for instance will build below ground _if_ humans have been attacking their above-ground nests.

However, If insects truly operate under some algorithm * or `instinct' - i.e in a `non-conscious' way, then that algorithm would seem to need the existence of fellow hive members to work properly, and in fairly close proximity at that.  Otherwise the lone, lost communal insect will be observed to act in an un-co-ordinated manner - no `instinct'.

So the evidence could equally be said to favor the idea of a `group consciousness' - which might even be extended to `individual consciousness' or `character' in the case of a few larger-brained insects like bumble-bees.

Ray D

Date: Fri May 4, 2007 12:38 am
From: "York Dobyns"
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2007 1:23 AM
Subject: Re: neurocognitive factors

>But this is exactly what we would expect if social insects
>operate algorithmically. Since their own hives and fellows are
>the dominant part of their environment, the social context is
>what they're programmed for; an isolated social bee is outside
>its programming parameters, and therefore behaves as
>nonsensically as (for example) the old DOS "type" utility when
>you feed it a binary file instead of text.

<snip - Sphex wasps>

>Strong-AI types like Hofstadter would argue that it is certainly
>possible in principle for a hive to be a conscious being even
>though no bee within it has even the slightest degree of
>consciousness. The analogy being with the human brain, which we
>believe to be conscious even though we don't think any
>individual neuron can be conscious. Extending the analogy, the
>literal "hive-mind" would almost certainly not notice or care
>about the the behavior, or even the demise, of any individual
>bee, just a human being doesn't notice the death of any
>individual neuron in his or her brain.

>York D***

Right, that seems a pretty good summary of the `consciousness vs. algorithm' * discussion.  Personally feel it leaves both sides with about equal probability - if we limit ourselves to present day evidence on the ground.

But if we consider the necessarily step-by-step workings of algorithms, that would seem to present us with a problem for the probable or even possible `emergence' and / or `evolution' of an algorithm that simulates consciousness.

i) how likely is it that a complex algorithm could just spring into being or even evolve, in many cases with built-in provisions for rare sudden eventualities and even rarer but slower changes of environment?

ii) how could such a highly complex algorithm (which would presumably be claimed to be embodied physically - either `in the DNA' or in actual neuron patterns), survive even one mutation event?  The likelihood that a small random change of `bits' in a computer program could actually _improve_ the performance of the program seems to be vanishingly small.

Ray D

You can see I've shot myself in the foot there!

First - way above - saying that early humans maybe had "merely `instinctive' or algorithmic brains such as we ascribe to more primitive life",  but later coming to doubt that any algorithm could work in living, evolving beings!

That leaves me thinking that there have to be different types of non-algorithmic consciousness that operate in all Earth life.

Maybe a `life-consciousness' for all life, no matter how primitive, which could help explain those complex plant-animal reactions and then predator-prey `knowledge', which is otherwise put down to `instinct'.

Then there's going to have to be a `self-consciousness' - which we won't restrict to humans.  Many folk will agree that a lot of mammals and birds have a well developed sense-of-self, sometimes to the point of vanity or insecurity and even humor.

Thirdly we might say (most) humans have a genuine concern for others (maybe shared by a few mammals and birds again) which would mean that those who do care for others have an `other-consciousness'.

Can't help thinking there's at least one more degree to go - maybe more?  Any suggestions?

And we now have the intriguing probability that all life most likely has access to the quantum field that seems to enable `consciousness' of all kinds.

Some recent info on bees and on plants.
Later:  more indications of `consciousness' - Fruit flies display rudimentary free will.

Back to `Probable Problems'

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