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IEET > Life > Innovation > Vision > Futurism > Directors > Giulio Prisco

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The BIG Infinite Fractal Onion Universe


Giulio Prisco
By Giulio Prisco
Turing Church

Posted: Dec 6, 2012

This is a continuation of my previous post on quantum consciousness (or not), also inspired by Ben Goertzel’s “AGI, Consciousness, Life, the Universe and Everything” on H+ Magazine. In a comment, I wrote: “I am often thinking of a meta-[Theory of Everything]ToE (actually an anti-ToE) that we may call “The [BIG] Infinite Fractal Onion Universe” or something like that.” Here are some thoughts on something like that.

blueonions

Ben has a Cosmist perspective and quotes the full text of the Ten Cosmist Convictions. He discusses the nature of physical reality and whether there is such a thing as physical reality, the universe as pure information, or perhaps as quantum information, vitalism, the possibility that human brains contain some kind of special quality, which lies outside the domain of empirical science and is responsible for some key aspects of human intelligence. He even mentions God and souls, and concludes with David Bohm‘s notion of “the “implicate order” — i.e. an aspect of the universe that implicitly underlies all things, but isn’t in itself scientifically measurable or sensorially perceptible. The explicate order that we can see and measure, in some sense emerges from the implicate order (and then folds back into it, contributing to it).” Then he says that Bohm’s theories may be related to panpsychism, the idea that mind is a fundamental feature of the universe and each of its parts, rather than something that is the exclusive property of specific kinds of systems like humans, other higher animals, intelligent computer programs, etc…

“I strongly gravitate toward some form of panpsychism,”Ben says, “but I’m not exactly sure what kind. When consciousness theorist Stuart Hameroff said to me “I don’t think an electron has consciousness but I think it has some kind of proto-consciousness”, I felt like I probably disagreed — but also wondered whether we were just getting tangled up in webs of language. I tend to agree with Charles Pierce, Spinoza, Galen Strawson and others that drawing a rigid distinction between mind and matter is ultimately logically incoherent.”

Speaking of Hameroff, one often hears comments like this: “The Hameroff-Penrose metaphysical ‘theory of consciousness’ has absolutely no evidential basis and is a speculation which can fairly be described as a mere exercise in pseudoscience.” My answer: “So did Einstein’s general relativity before Eddington found experimental evidence. And so did [I could write a long list]. This does not mean that I find Hameroff/Penrose’s arguments in support of their theory of consciousness persuasive (actually, I don’t), but dismissing new scientific theories as ‘pseudoscience’ is far too cheap.”

I don’t understand what “pseudoscience” means. Science already has a good rule to distinguish between useful theories and not useful theories: if the predictions of a theory agree with experimental results, the theory may be “right” (which means that it provides a useful model of reality in a given application scope), otherwise it is wrong.

Dismissing others’ theories as “pseudoscience” is not science but gossip, just like “he is a fag and therefore his scientific theory is wrong.” This gossip is typical of the dull “bureaucrats of science” who sadly dominate the scientific community and its broken “pee review” process (they dominate most other communities as well — dull bureaucrats and ass-kissing yes-men have a way to get to the top everywhere). Instead of insulting other scientists, real scientists follow the scientific method and let experiment decide.

In a recent Reality Sandwich interview, Rupert Sheldrake challenges the mechanistic dogma of contemporary mainstream science. “Materialists claim that we live in a little, unconscious universe. That, I think, is profoundly wrong. We live in a universe that’s alive and full of minds and consciousness,” he says. See also “Why Bad Science Is Like Bad Religion” on Huffington Post, and “How to make Cosmism appealing and popular.”

Many mystics believe in supernatural phenomena beyond the reach of science. Many ultra-rationalists believe in a soon-to-be-found Theory of Everything to explain all that happens in the universe with a few elegant formulas. I think they are both wrong: nothing is beyond the reach of science, but Shakespeare’s “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” may remain true forever.

You can count up to any number, and there will still be infinite numbers beyond. Similarly, our scientific understanding of the universe may grow without bonds, but always find new fractal depths of unexplained phenomena, to be explored by future scientists. Richard Feynman said: “If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything so be it. That would be very nice discovery. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we just sick and tired of looking at the layers then that’s the way it is!” And perhaps the onion with millions of layers is really an onion with an infinite number of layers, and we will always find new things to explore and understand.

The video below shows how you can zoom in a fractal like the Mandelbrot set forever, and always find new structures unlike those before. The Mandelbrot set itself can be described as a whole with a simple mathematical formula, but imagine an infinitely complex fractal without any finite description, one that you can explore forever and always find something new, and you may have a good model of reality.

The outer layer of the onion is the world of Newtonian mechanics, where stones thrown in the air move on understandable and predictable paths. It is a good enough framework for much of the physics of everyday life, but it does not explain why a compass does what it does. To understand the compass we must move to a deeper layer, the world of Maxwell, where charged particles create electromagnetic fields, which drive the motion of other charged particles, which in turn influence the fields. Maxwell’s layer explains more physics, but it cannot explain black body radiation. And why does light seem to propagate with the same speed to observers in relative motion?

To understand more physics, we must move to deeper layers: the worlds of Bohr and Einstein, where quantum and relativity play an important role. But it is difficult to put together relativity and quantum physics (that’s why we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity yet), so it seems that we need to go down to deeper layers, not explored yet. Probably the “mystery” of quantum entanglement, and the “mystery” of consciousness (here “mystery” just means something that we don’t understand yet) play important roles in deeper layers.

And then what? Perhaps we live in a quantum multiverse and we cannot describe a single branch without describing all other branches as well. Maybe there are extra dimensions besides three spatial dimensions and a single time dimension, and we cannot fully understand reality without understanding what goes on in these extra dimensions… but then we may find out that even five or six dimensions is not enough and we need to extend our reality model to ten, eleven… all the way up to infinite dimensions.

So perhaps the onion has really infinite layers (visualize a fractal onion with each layer half as wide as the outer layer), in which case the adventure of science will never end but, at any given moment, there will be an infinite ocean, infinitely larger than the known lands, that science hasn’t explored yet.

Gödel demonstrated that our understanding of even the simple world of natural numbers is and will remain incomplete, because there are truths that cannot be demonstrated from the axioms. We can extend the axioms to capture more and more truths, but Gödel’s theorem says that we cannot capture all truths with a finite set of axioms. I don’t know how to translate Gödel’s theorem to the physical world, but by analogy I find it plausible to think that there may always be phenomena that cannot be understood by current science (axioms). Besides finding an infinitely complex universe intellectually convincing, I also find it aesthetically and emotionally appealing — an entirely known universe would be a very boring place.

blueonions

Big Infinite Fractal Onions: layers all the way down


Giulio Prisco is a physicist and computer scientist, and former senior manager in the European space administration. Giulio works as a consultant and contributes to several science and technology magazines. In 2002-2008 he served on the Board of Directors of Humanity Plus, of which he was Executive Director, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Italian Transhumanist Association. He is often in Hungary, Italy and Spain. You can find more about Giulio at his Turing Church, RSS feed and skefi'a science/fiction, RSS feed.
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COMMENTS


“Gödel demonstrated that our understanding of even the simple world of natural numbers is and will remain incomplete, because there are truths that cannot be demonstrated from the axioms. We can extend the axioms to capture more and more truths, but Gödel’s theorem says that we cannot capture all truths with a finite set of axioms.”


Gödel’s theorem tells us for any consistent formal system powerful to do a certain form of arithmetic, there will be a true sentence—the system’s Gödel’s sentence—that the system cannot prove…
—Applications, Strong Artificial Intelligence





“And then what? Perhaps we live in a quantum multiverse and we cannot describe a single branch without describing all other branches as well. Maybe there are extra dimensions besides three spatial dimensions and a single time dimension, and we cannot fully understand reality without understanding what goes on in these extra dimensions… but then we may find out that even five or six dimensions is not enough and we need to extend our reality model to ten, eleven… all the way up to infinite dimensions.”

How can time be a dimension? This is simply a classical analogy, and relativity has dispelled with a classical countdown clock?

The measure of time is a human construct, and is merely the “measure of rate of change of motion”. As the entire Cosmos/Universe is in a constant state of motion, more precisely time is a “measure of rate of change”, (anicca)?

Although time is classed as a dimension in string theory so I believe. String theory proposes ten dimensions doesn’t it?

Without change there is no measure of time - something to think about? A quantum state of non-change, where there is no reason or motive for wave collapse. Perhaps this describes the heat death of the Universe, a timeless era of stagnant and static potential? (Although I do not believe myself that any particle/string will be that disassociated from it’s surroundings as not to be aware of it’s nearest neighbour, and therefore interact - However, the Universe may be very chilly and very still none-the-less?)

A funda-mental truth is that you cannot separate any scientific experiment, or physical interaction, from Consciousness or “awareness”. So as those wise Hindu’s would profess, we are all an integral part of the “sea of Consciousness”, subjectivity is an illusion, and in the same manner as the Buddha professed also.

The dual slit experiment is a “mystery”. How does the particle entity react according to your observations of it? How does an observer collapse the wave function alone? Answer must be, it takes “two to tango”? Fundamental attribute is…. (place your answer here)

You may rationalize also, that there are no rule(s) of mathematics for the Universe/Cosmos, thus no ToE to be found. It just so happens that Humans favour base 10, but you should be able to mathematically propose a model for creation from any number base, even a prime? (I wonder if Feynman contemplated that? I bet he did?) This would suggest that creation is infinitely complex, and that complexity is the “miracle” that provides for all possibilities.

The “potential” for creation exists, and always will exist. Maya is transformed, created, destroyed in the eternal dance of impermanence and change, (anicca).





Per Godel’s theorem, no formal system can represent all knowledge. However, could we combine distinct systems, each covering partially overlapping domains (like we currently do with science as a whole) to eventually represent all knowledge? Or would this intersystemic coherence itself be considered one big metasystem and thus subject to the same Godelian limitation?





Alternatively.. Do we really want to know “everything”? Like Feynman & Giulio intimate, without further “mystery” the Universe/Cosmos will be a “cold and sterile” place?

It’s miraculous and awesome that Humans can manipulate forms and matter, and now life itself, without really understanding any ToE? Such like Victorians utilising electricity before any sound theory was understood?

The Universe has evolved emergent “mind” to not only ask questions of it-Self, but to enable the manipulation of forms and energy?

God was made in the image of man? Past, present and future are unavoidable, entangled?





“God was made in the image of man?”


That’s the problem: if God had been made in the image of woman, it wouldn’t be quite so bad.





@SHaGGGz re “could we combine distinct systems, each covering partially overlapping domains (like we currently do with science as a whole) to eventually represent all knowledge? Or would this intersystemic coherence itself be considered one big metasystem and thus subject to the same Godelian limitation?”

As you say, this is what we do in practice with science as a whole, and I guess we will continue to do so, because it is an approach that works.

Of course, there is no waterproof way to ensure the consistency of different models in overlapping domains. I guess if we had a way to make different models always consistent, we would fall back into the Godelian trap.

I see nothing wrong with having different models. I don’t think science is about finding The Truth, whatever that is, but rather about finding models that work, and I don’t see why there must be only one model. A good worker has many tools in his toolbox, and knows how to choose the best one for the task at hand.





@Intomorrow re “if God had been made in the image of woman, it wouldn’t be quite so bad”

Oh my god, PC feminist nonsense again. Look, the 70s are over, or at least they should be.

There are great/smart men and great/smart women, there are bad/stupid men and bad/stupid women, there are saints and assholes in both genders, and no gender is intrinsically better than the other.





“Look, the 70s are over, or at least they should be.”


If one can remember the ‘70s, one wasn’t there!

 

“There are great/smart men and great/smart women, there are bad/stupid men and bad/stupid women, there are saints and assholes in both genders, and no gender is intrinsically better than the other.”

 

The veracity of this is, as you well know, a matter of opinion. We two are about the same age; my experience in those decades led me to conclude women are slightly superior to men: say 10 percent to throw out a number. For argument’s sake a wonk might say more feminised Scandinavia—the only place in Europe I’ve explored—is also about 10 percent ‘superior’ in the progressive sociological sense. But who says sociology is a hard science? Men treat women (IMO of course) worse than vice versa and women need an outlet for the pressure; and that isn’t a hydraulic theory of gender pressure, you can see it all around you if you pay close attention. Giulio, it doesn’t take much to see the writing on the wall.
Now you attempt to falsify what I’ve written in this comment and we’ll see where it goes…





...wait, it’s far off-topic. Best thing to do is if you have the time write a piece on fallacious ‘70s gender hypotheses.





@Intomorrow re “Now you attempt to falsify what I’ve written in this comment and we’ll see where it goes…”

As you say, it is a matter of opinion, and my opinion is different from yours.

Also, I still believe in the old-fashioned idea of the fundamental equality of all persons.





Yes, or to re-phrase Lincoln,

“all men (we presume women as well) are not actually created equal yet we work towards equality because we are dedicated to a proposition”

Re consciousness, I do not grasp it as it eventually becomes too metaphysical—eventually leading to the origins of the cosmos and then to God; at least that is the direction it tends to move towards in my mind. And what of String Theory?: is there much to it? Can it be related to your discussion of consciousness? I like the hypothesis of ghostly remnants of previous universes which might still exist in our present universe; it may possibly be linked to consciousness.





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