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Let’s Get Metaphysical: How our ongoing existence could appear increasingly absurd
George Dvorsky   Nov 12, 2009   Sentient Developments  

So the Large Hadron Collider has been shut down yet again – this time on account of a bird dropping a piece of a bagel onto some sensitive outdoor machinery. The incident is not expected to keep the LHC out of commission for too much longer, but it represents yet another strange event that has kept the world’s most infamous particle accelerator out of service. In fact, the LHC has yet to function at full operational capacity since its completion over a year ago.

What makes this all the more interesting is that the Hadron Collider has been dubbed by some observers as a doomsday device on account of its unprecedented size and power. A minority of scientists and philosophers believe that the collider could produce a tiny black hole or a strangelet that would convert Earth to a shrunken mass of strange matter.

It’s worth re-stating, however, that this is a fringe opinion. Several years ago, Max Tegmark and Nick Bostrom wrote a piece for Nature in which they concluded that a civilization destroys itself by a particle accelerator experiment once every billion years.

Okay, admittedly, one in a billion seems excruciatingly improbable. But not impossible. And it’s this ‘shadow of doubt’ that has got so many people in a tizzy—especially when considering that this so-called doomsday machine keeps breaking down. Seems awfully convenient, doesn’t it? Are we to believe that this is mere co-incidence? Or is there something more to what’s going on?

Now, I’m not talking about conspiracies or sabotage, here. Rather, a number of philosophers are making the case that something more metaphysical is going on.


Take, for example, the quantum immortality theory, which argues that you as an observer cannot observe your non-existence, so you will keep on observing your ongoing existence—no matter how absurd. Aside from a large grain of salt, you also have to buy into the Everett Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics for this to work. As the universe splinters into probability trees, there are new trajectories that are forced into existence by your ongoing presence; in an infinite universe all observations must be made, no matter how improbable.

Now, at any given time we have to assume that we are living in the most probable of all possible habitable worlds. But that doesn’t mean it’s true—it’s just an assumption given the absence of sampling data. As quantum probability trees diverge, those that tread into more improbable spaces will begin to splinter with less and less frequency and diversity; there will be a limited number of escape routes given absurd and highly complex (but survivable) existence spaces.

All this can lead to some rather bizarre conclusions—including the thought experiment in which you attempt to obliterate yourself with an atom bomb, only to have some kind of force majeure get in the way that prevents you from acting on your suicide.

It’s important to remember that this only works for your ongoing existence. The rest of the world can burn around you; what matters is that you continue to observe the universe.

Okay, back to Hadron. Let’s assume for a moment that quantum immortality is in effect and that the LHC is in fact the apocalypt-o-matic. It can therefore be argued that, because we are all collectively put into peril by this thing, we will never get to observe it working properly. There will always be something that prevents the device from doing what it’s supposed to be doing—everything from mechanical failures through to birds dropping bagels on it.

What’s even more disturbing, however, is that these interventions could get increasingly absurd and improbable. It may eventually get to the point where we have to sit back and question the rationality of our existence. The world may get progressively screwed up and surreal in order for our personal existence to continue into the future.

One could already make the case that our collective existence is already absurd on account of our possession of apocalyptic weapons, namely the nuclear bomb.  We’ve already come alarmingly close to apocalypse, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the infamous Stanislav Petrov incident. Would it be unfair of me to suggest that we should probably have destroyed ourselves by now? I would argue that the most probable of Everett Many World Earths have destroyed themselves through nuclear armageddon, but we happen to observe a version of Earth that has not.

This said, our ongoing existence does not seem ridiculously absurd. There are rational and believable reasons that account for our ongoing existence, namely self-preservation and a rigid safety-check system that has prevented a nuclear accident from happening.

But will the same thing be said a few years from now if the Hadron Collider keeps shutting down? What will happen to our sense of reality if stranger and stranger things start to intervene?

And what about the more distant future when we have even more apocalyptic devices, including molecular assembling nanotechnology and advanced biotechnologies (not to mention artificial superintelligence)? It’s been said that we are unlikely to survive the 21st Century on account of these pending technologies. But given that there are some probability trees that require our ongoing existence, what kind of future modes will that entail? Will it make sense, or will the succession of improbably survivable events result in a completely surreal existence? Or will our ongoing presence seem rational in the face of a radically altered existence mode—like totalitarian repression or the onset of an all-controlling artificial superintelligence?

Hopefully I don’t need to remind my readers that this is pure philosophical speculation. Metaphysics is often fun (or disturbing as in this case), but it is no substitute for science. I think we should think about these possibilities, but not to the point where it impacts on our daily life and sense of reality.

But I’m sure we’ll all want to keep a close eye on that rather interesting particle accelerator in Switzerland.
George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.



COMMENTS

God’s particle if any will be the black hole, which balances the Universe converting electroweak energy (ours) into mass, according to Einstein’s first equation: M=e/c2. Since in the fractal paradigm (5th age of science) we model black holes as top quark stars and top quarks as per nambu, last year nobel prize, are Higgs particle (same mass, self similar equations) what lhc WILL DO is a massive number of top quarks, which will deconfine, form an Einstein-Bose condensate and create a top quark black hole, which will absorbb the mass of this planet and clean up the human species, whose arrogance and ingorance of the true laws of this Universe is apalling. This sad end to mankind however is avoidable, and in infinite other planets where the game of history is played, the LHC will never be comissioned because humans will advance their minds farther than their machines of self-destruction. In those other worlds a magnificent beautiful age of knowledge opens with the discovery of the fractal structures of space and time, with the underrstanding of the self-generative processes of the Universe, its deterministic forms, its ultimate meaning, which is the process of creation of fractal, poli-dimensional in-form-ation, not the process of flattening and energetic death of the big-bang ‘Physicists are only interested in the canvas, not in the painting and the painter’Nietzsche ‘physicsts never have to ask why’ Feynmann ‘2 things I deem infinite the Universe and the stupidity of physicists, and I am not sure of the latter’ Einstein ‘Physicists are often wrong but never in doubt’ Landau
http://www.lhcdefence.org
This machine is a relic of the cold war, appropiately cancelled by Clinton and now when we have privatized our wars and market them so well, this ‘quark cannon’, is marketed as an instrument of research. The human mind is the ultimate instrument of research and no longer needs to prove false outdated theories of the XX century obsolete quantum paradigm…

You could go crazy thinking about all the metaphysical possibilities. No doubt we all question the rationality of what we call reality from time to time… but it seems absurd in itself that we should make assumptions without having all the necessary ‘data’ of reality to hand. Our evolution and continued survival as a species has depended on us working at a need-to-know level. And we have been able get this far without knowing much of what is going on around us, for better or worse.

It may be that we have caused our own collective death (and re-birth) many times over… but that should not stop us from progressing and trying to do the best with the data we have right now.

A bird did not drop bread on the collider.

A bird WILL drop bread on the collider.

Y’see, the bird is/was a TIME-TRAVELLING bird:

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1937370,00.html

Yes, that’s Time, not ZanyScientists.com

“What will happen to our sense of reality if stranger and stranger things start to intervene?”  George. . .you’re a very good writer and I would certainly like to have you on my side in an important debate.  Nevertheless, my soon to be closer aquaintence, the human animal has not any sense of reality in more than 50 years.  That’s one of the reasons we live in Hurly-Burly, circus crazy, loopy-loop land and mostly no one seems to notice or even care actually.  Social ‘Circular Causality’ began to come into existence within the human psyche around the mid 20th century. 

As one remembers, the initiation of the purpose of ‘art’ was to simulate, imitate, to one degree or another, ‘reality’.  An artist would, for example, look at a tree and attempt to put to canvas his/her perception/understanding of that authentic tree.  In the total spectrum of things, it didn’t really matter how closely the ‘drawing/painting’ actually looked like the tree.  It only mattered that the finished product take it’s initial template from the ‘real’ tree.  The particular variations from artist to artist was/is simple a matter of perception.  Human life and thought and mindset continued along this obvious and logical path for a long time; up until about fifty years ago.  Then came the advent and introduction of a scientific and mechanistic wonder called ‘television’.  Television became the most contemporary type of ‘art’.  That is, TV got all of its ideas, programs and all other presentations from exactly the same place ‘art’ did; actual, real, tangible. understandable ‘life’.  Writers, directors and producers all looked at any and/or all particular parts of the human everyday experience…and formulated their version of that experience on to the TV film which was then beamed out for observation on the TV set to the real people from which the template had arisen.  The ‘real’ people would watch and realize one to another; that what they were viewing looked in some form or fashion, at least to one degree or another - like ‘actual’ life.  It may be funnier or darker or sweeter, or more dangerous or more wonderful than any ones ‘real’ life - or it may be almost exactly or very similar to the actual ‘living experience”.  The important point being, in all of its broadcast manifestations, the viewer at least was able to recognize a seed of the ‘actual’ real life from which the production had sprung.  Here, at this point, about twenty years into the TV experience is where a seminal shift in human perception and understanding began to take shape.  As stated earlier, the initial designation of ‘art’ is that it reproduces existence. i.e., ‘art imitates life’.  However, here’s where we need to pay close attention. . .TV [art] imitated life; then that particular ‘imitation was beamed back to ‘real’ people for their viewing pleasure.  They saw themselves [but not really themselves] -  understood that - and were entertained to one degree or another.  But then, about 12 to 15 years in to this TV experience; ‘cracks’ in actual human perception began to take place without any notice or warning at all.  Initially art imitated life, then slowly but surely life ‘real actual living experiences’ began to imitate ‘art’.  We saw any and numerous particular day to day experiences taking place on TV and began to emulate those experiences to one degree or another.  The definitive line between what was real [life] and what was TV [art]’ began to fade away; began to become blurred and unrecognizable. The uncontrollable and undeniable results are enmeshed upon our society today.  The “circle grew as such > art imitated life, beamed it back to reality in a distorted formulation. Reality [actual people] took these sounds and images into their brainpan, initially discerned what was ‘real’ and what was not ‘real’ and went on from there.  The linear experience continued > art imitates life; we view it, digest it and go on. However, the huge cerebral slippage begins to take place due to the fact that our brains, our human cerebral formulations are no different now than they were 50 thousand years ago. No - not one iota of difference in tangible and/or endemic structure.  Evolution at its most expeditious takes much longer than that to develop even into something slightly different than it was before. 
The human brain of “caveman’”, so to speak, has the same exact ability to comprehend, all context taken into consideration, as does the human brain of ‘stock broker’ man, ‘mayor’ man ‘corporate manager’ man or any other contemporary human being.  What this means is, after being bombarded with TV [quasi-reality - life imitations - restructuring of the ‘actual’] - a great many of us simply and categorically are unable to tell the difference. Art began to imitate life which began to imitate art which began to imitate life ‘altered’, which began to imitate art ‘altered’ which began to imitate life ‘more severely altered’ and around and around and more altered and around and around and more ambiguous and around and around and further non-distinction i.e., the more circling the more changing.  This is what is now known as “Circular Causality”©  Homo Sapiens may very well turn out to be the most unsuccessful organism ever to to have inhabited the earth.  What is generally referred to as “modern man” has been around for only about 100,000 years.  This is by far the shortest period of time for anything, any living creature, to have evolved, developed, and lived on this planet.  The possibility that we may be around for another 100.000 years, which would still be a small fraction of time compared to all other life, is quite remote indeed. In fact, the generally educated proposition that the human race will cease to exist as we know it even before the end of this current century is an ‘even money’ probability.

This stunning prognosis has absolutely nothing to do with a potential nuclear holocaust or some similar such doomsday situation [although that too is still a real possibility.] However, even if we are lucky enough not to blow ourselves to bits - or have someone else do it - We continue to be headed toward annihilation in a much more purposeful and calculated way.  Century, by century, generation by generation, we are ever most swiftly moving ourselves headlong toward the scrap heap of nature’s failed experiments.  If, in fact, there is other life in our galaxy, or the universe itself [and the probability via mathematics alone relates to an almost certainty] and they are the truly intelligent ones; we may simply turn out to be only a memory to them; a pitiful, insignificant blip, mostly forgotten and certainly not comparable to the total spectrum of developed and developing life forms. 

“Yes, I understand some sort of life once existed on that small blue marble down there; however, having been given only 2 pages in our current history books, mainly we can glean. . .it had potential; it even had promise, the older historians say that little planet down there really could have been something to be proud of, but, of course, as you can see it’s just a cinder now; completely uninhabitable.  The creatures who lived down there, they were called Homo sapein, they worked hard, they were strong and they didn’t give in easily.  B ut it seems undeniable now. . .they seemed to have a ‘terminal blind spot’ within there brain pan.  They simply didn’t evolve intellectually as quickly as they needed to and the result of that small oversight by nature was that they had more than 50 years to prepare to ‘save themselves from themselves’.  But mostly what they did when the ‘end-time’ was coming toward them was to mull around talking to themselves and others about the truth of the science involved in all these government ‘scare tactics.  They simply had no actual awareness of how things work…so the last few months simply amounted to millions of people just standing around until they literally could’t stand any longer; then they fell down and died;  And that’s just about the way it was a 100,000 years ago.

@ William

Wow!

Whilst I may not agree with your views regarding premature demise, I understand your views on art imitating life imitating art. Why do you think we as humans have a tendency towards these inquisitions concerning ourselves? Is it because we cannot handle our own gift, (curse), of intellect? Or is it merely a need to define ourselves through our surroundings, through our art?

Q.- When you watch TV, (Satan’s evil contrivance?), do you project yourself into the drama of scenarios? Do you rally with the hero? Empathise with the victims? Hope that the wildebeest crosses the crocodile filled river? I know I do. It’s only a natural thing to project oneself into each scenario - that’s why it’s entertaining.

It’s the same when we look at the painting of the tree. We view it, tilt our head, understand the context and the motive of the artist, yet we ultimately compare it to our own subjective understandings : scrutinise for the minute details that support our own experiences, and to support our own existence, our own reality?

Yet why do we do it? I would propose it is because we have a need to constantly define ourselves, define who we are through our outward conscious perceptions of reality, and then reflect with the single question, “who am I?” My brain, my mind is complex, “I” am intelligent, but “who the hell am I?”

Existentialism, (personal responsibility), in all its forms may be the saviour of humanity, yet it is precisely this philosophy that supports science and experiment and discoveries : of Higg’s and nuclear fission and various other possible means to our own demise. Yet what is the other option to this? Are we to give up the adventure into the metaphysical and the exploration of “who we are”, and “how we got here”?

Spock - “Logically captain, man was not born with wings, so why attempt to fly? Yet he builds himself aeroplanes and spaceships and begins to fly : fascinating”. But really, if we applied pure logic to everything, would we in fact get anything done at all? What would the Buddha do? Sit and meditate maybe, yet even the Buddha reasoned and investigated his own being and origins, so he was not at all lazy.

Perhaps we are on the brink of disaster, or perhaps we are on the brink of a new horizon. If we could only get our heads around the machinations of our own minds, and evolve, I believe, to pursue greater connections with each other, with nature, with the Universe : connectedness : a sort of spiritual or philosophical evolution is at hand if we try a little harder to understand ourselves?

Anyway, your points of refection highlighting human confusion and delusion are already enough to ultimately prevent early demise, because you realise the potential of this accidental empire the idea is now out there > in the connected consciousness that will now prevent it from becoming reality.

Interesting factoid:

The LHC tunnel has a circumference of 27km.  Wikipedia factoids:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lhc
 
They’re going to try firing it to full power briefly on Dec 1st:

‘LHC atom smasher ready to fire up…again’
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/technology/news/article.cfm?c_id=5&objectid=10610015&pnum=2

Let’s watch this carefully shall we?  Look for odd references to the number ‘27’.  😉

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