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Christmas Lights & Thought Experiments




Merry Christmas! The joyful Christmas adornments are shining so brightly up and down Ava’s streets and lasts week’s ice storm has already melted into memory.


In science it’s said that everything in existence emits light, infrared light. If something vibrates, moves, or even thinks about it when the temp is above absolute zero, then its emitting light. The whole universe is one great body of light.


If you are a new Herald reader and wondering what the SM@L column is all about, there’s no better time to get introduced. All sorts of topics troop through this space but today you’ve joined us in hot pursuit of a pressing cosmological problem that suddenly flared up in Walmart’s parking lot around Thanksgiving.


Ever since, I’ve been looking for signs of extraterrestrials and planting motion detectors in the intellectual wilderness within a half-tank radius. I don’t do selfies, so you can substitute some improbably telegenic explorer baring his teeth to the wind and finding eddies in the spacewash. Think National Geographic channel.


And some of the rumors are true. Albert Einstein and I share a noteworthy career track overlap. Penniless, he was forced to visualize things in his mind… he called them thought experiments. This became his fundamental approach for understanding physical issues and explaining his concepts to others.


He mentally chased beams of light, moving trains and flashing of lightning to explain his most penetrating insights. My own epiphany came as I backed out of a parking lot and saw the reflected image of the American flag moving across a fender. Instantly, the reflection began to slide along the chrome, flash-collapsed to a point, then raced away for a short distance and just disappeared.


The flag’s image performed exactly like a hovering UFO that suddenly accelerates, changes direction at impossible speeds, and then just disappears. But this also describes how a body of information behaves in certain spatial systems and raises profound questions about the nature of the mind and thought itself.


Forget climate change! Bowling for Impeachment can wait! Physicists have revealed that their Big Bang models can’t find enough regular matter to account for all this gravitas. The missing mass can’t be locked in clandestine black holes because we’d see its gravity bending background starlight, but it doesn’t bend enough. Not nearly enough bending going on around here. Here’s what NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (Share the Science) says about this emerging crises:


“No one expected that the expansion of the universe had not been slowing due to gravity, as everyone had thought, it has been accelerating. No one has a clue what it is or how to explain it, but something is causing it. Eventually, theorists came up with 3 sorts of explanations.”


“Eventually theorists came up with three sorts of explanations. Maybe it was a result of a long-discarded version of Einstein's theory of gravity, one that contained what was called a "cosmological constant." Maybe there was some strange kind of energy-fluid that filled space. Maybe there is something wrong with Einstein's theory of gravity and a new theory could include some kind of field that creates this cosmic acceleration. Theorists still don't know what the correct explanation is, but they have given the solution a name. It is called dark energy.”


“What is dark energy? More is unknown than known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest- everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all our instruments, all normal matter- adds up to less than 5% of the universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn’t be called “normal” matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the universe.” Key words: dark energy/Science Mission Directorate.


Accordingly, some researchers have created gravity-only models, featuring gravitationally interacting particles (GIMPS). Or sterile neutrinos, a hypothesized new type, or flavor, of neutrino. Or strongly interacting massive particles (SIMPS).


Mainly because my own Large Hadron Collider (CERN) is stuck in the shop, I propose that dark matter is not made of any particle at all, nor of many, whether wispy weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS) or massively heavy axions. Not even a gravity-only model of the dark stuff, proposed as a gravitationally interacting massive particle, will explain what’s going on.


So today, as we go from simple to more complex aspects of our search, we engage in vaguer and vaguer territory whereby our everyday terms become more difficult to travel with. “Thinking” is certainly one of these. Where do thoughts take place?


“Well,” we reply “in my head!” This is because when we introspect, we seem to look inward on an inner space somewhere between our eyes. But what on earth do we mean by ‘look’? We may even close our eyes to introspect even more clearly. Upon what? Its spatial character seems unquestionable. Moreover, said psychologist Julian Jaynes, whose work I’m tastefully bending today, “we seem to move or at least ‘look’ in different directions.”


“And if we press ourselves too strongly,” he continues, “to further characterize this space (apart from its imagined contents), we feel a vague irritation, as if there were something that did not want to be known, some quality which to question was somehow ungrateful, like rudeness in a friendly place.”


“We not only locate this space of consciousness inside our own head . . . we are always assuming a space behind our companion’s eyes when we are talking, similar to the space we imagine inside our own heads where we are talking from. And this is the very heartbeat of the matter. For we all know there is nothing inside my head or yours except physiological tissue of one sort or another. And the fact that it is predominantly neurological tissue is irrelevant.”


Now this thought takes a little thinking to get used to. It means that we, and not just the House of Representatives, are empowered to continually invent these spaces in our own and other people’s heads. These spaces don’t exist automatically and the location of these ‘spaces’ is quite arbitrary. We continuously create bubbles in mind-space because there is no phenomenal necessity in locating consciousness in the brain. It is a habit so ingrained that it’s difficult to think that our consciousness could be located otherwise.


But dreams, first dates, and politicians are proof beyond all reasonable doubt that locating consciousness can be arbitrary. This isn’t a theory or metaphysical affair. While flipping through this very newspaper you can look down and “see” yourself doing this from a position in space you don’t, in fact, occupy. In reality, consciousness has no location at all except as we imagine it.


Let’s be clear. There are very good reasons why it is better to imagine the mind-space inside of you. When we are conscious, we are always and definitely using parts of our brain inside our heads. But it’s the same brain riding a bike and the bike riding does not go on inside of our heads. In reality, where consciousness might be located makes little difference to a lot of our activities.


This is the important and in some ways upsetting notion that frames our search for the scientist’s missing force or active field. Modern physicists like Krennikov, Conte, and Aerts have recognized the importance of the transition from states of potentiality to their actualization as the “basic mechanism of our reality.”


So the question “where do thoughts occur and what are they made of?” is not trivial. Aristotle is given credit to the idea that actualities are the origin of potentialities which in turn generate new activities. Flash forward to bodies of information in quantum systems where forms of potentiality coexist with forms of actuality. This is exactly what happens with our pedestrian thought-stuff and I say it’s time - high time!- this mind matter be assigned some mass, if not a little more respect, in its potential or probabilistic form in addition to its actual form.


But rest assured. If quantum entanglement itself is what keeps weighing down the universe, and if potential information itself acts as a cosmological constant, then enquiring Herald readers will be the first to know.

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