Showing posts with label random. Show all posts
Showing posts with label random. Show all posts

Monday, February 8, 2021

Bitcoin, Speculation, and Legal Tender Laws

Note: I took Banking Law, and received one of only two As, at Georgetown University Law Center under Prof. Daniel Tarullo who, from 2009 to 2017, was a Governor of the Federal Reserve Board.

Bitcoin is currently at $43,389.

And everything you need to know about Bitcoin is contained in that one sentence.  In other words, beyond its cost, there is nothing interesting about Bitcoin (or any other electronic “currency”).

Oh, there are interesting facts about where it comes from (and the monumental waste in “producing” it), as well as the utility of block chain technology (which is actually independent of electronic currencies).  But there is nothing interesting about a Bitcoin itself, which is just a seemingly random string of bits.  This isn’t true of gold or silver or wine or emeralds or cars or real estate.  Sure, one of my rental houses might have a market value of $150,000, but there are lots of interesting facts about it other than its “exchange rate” in dollars.  For example, it provides my tenant shelter, modern plumbing, electric conveniences, a big back yard, etc.  And we can debate all day about the intrinsic value of gold, but it is a good electrical conductor and people like wearing it as jewelry.  At least it does something. 

In sharp contrast, Bitcoin doesn’t do anything.  And it’s not because it’s a string of bits.  Hell, software is just a string of bits and so is the information in your favorite movie or Netflix show.  Unlike these, 1BTC is literally a useless string of bits that is simply recognized as “one Bitcoin” by the open-source Bitcoin algorithm.  Its only value is that ascribed by those who own it and/or want it.

“OK, so what?” asks the enthusiast.  “That’s also true of fiat money like the U.S. dollar.”

My three-word answer: LEGAL TENDER LAWS.

Look, there are a thousand reasons to hate Bitcoin, so I’m not going to mention any of them except the one that no one else seems to be talking about – namely, the fact that governments extract wealth from their citizens in the form of taxation, and taxes will always be payable in the governments’ chosen currency.

There is a common fear among Bitcoin enthusiasts that the government will eventually act to shut down electronic currencies.  Sure, that’s a possibility, but that’s not the main problem with Bitcoin.  The real problem – which almost no one seems to realize – is that the government is never going to accept Bitcoin in payment for taxes.  There is no government on Earth that accepts Bitcoin as payment or as legal tender.  Why?  Because accepting payment in an alternative currency devalues their own state-sanctioned currency.  Historically, there are a few shitty rogue governments that have been so incompetent with their own monopoly over currency issuance that their economies are either effectively or legally dollarized.  Zimbabwe springs to mind with its moronic (and fascinating!) $100 trillion bills.  Within the states and territories of the United States, the U.S. dollar is legal tender, which means that all debts, particularly debts to local, state, and federal governments, are payable in this currency and nothing else. 

You cannot pay your New York property taxes in British Pounds.  You must pay it in U.S. dollars or else the state will foreclose on your property.  If you happen to have a bunch of British Pounds, luckily there are 67 million people on an island across the Atlantic who need British Pounds to pay their property taxes to their government.  The meeting of supply with demand creates an exchange rate.  You cannot pay your U.S. income taxes in Indian Rupees.  If you happen to find yourself awash in Rupees, there are 1.4 billion people who need Rupees to pay taxes to their government, and the resulting currency market will allow you to exchange your Rupees for Dollars so you can pay your income tax bill.  The government has a monopoly on the use of force, and it will ultimately use that force to collect taxes on income, sales, property, value-added, etc.

So let’s say you use 2BTC, which you bought ten years ago for a nickel (or whatever) to buy a Tesla automobile, as Tesla apparently plans to start accepting it in payment.  Under the Internal Revenue Code, that is a realization event that makes you liable for taxes on $86,778 in gains.  But you cannot pay this tax in Bitcoin, nor will you ever be able to.  (The Federal Reserve owns the planet.  OK, it sort of shares it with a few other central banks, like the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, etc.)  And since no other government forces its citizens to pay taxes in Bitcoin, there is no “exchange rate” for Bitcoin.  To pay your taxes, you have to get U.S. dollars either by earning them or selling more Bitcoin, which means that the value of Bitcoin must always be denominated in some other country’s currency.

In other words, because Bitcoin is not and never will be legal tender in any country, it will never stand on its own.  The question will always – always, always, always, always, always – be “How much is Bitcoin today?” 

And that’s a problem... an insurmountable problem for Bitcoin enthusiasts.  When you are about to make a purchase in a store in Paris, the clerk doesn’t have to ask, “How much is the Euro today?”  In fact, to most Europeans, that question wouldn’t even make sense.  After all, 1 Euro is 1 Euro!  The store clerk does not need to look up the “value” of the Euro in terms of other currencies or commodities.  She doesn’t care.  She knows she needs Euros to pay her rent, her bills, and – most importantly – her taxes.  But Bitcoin is different.  A price will NEVER be fixed in Bitcoin... every transaction involving Bitcoin will ultimately involve some person or computer asking the question, “How much is Bitcoin today?”

I don’t want Bitcoin because it has no intrinsic value or use.  Governments don’t want Bitcoin because it devalues their monopoly on currency issuance.  And here’s the thing.  Even Bitcoin owners and enthusiasts don’t want Bitcoin. 

“Andrew, shut up.  Of course they do – that’s why they bought it!” 

Wrong.  They bought it because they think others want it.  (Conversely: if they did not think others wanted it, then no one would buy it.)

I used to collect old U.S. coins because I thought they were fascinating and I loved the history.  When I would share my collection with other numismatists, occasionally one of us would say something like, “Can you believe how much this coin is worth?!”  But that wasn’t the focus of our conversation.  We talked about minting, and history, and coin material and condition, and fascinating mint errors like double-struck coins, etc.  The point is that there was substance to the conversation because we actually enjoyed and valued and appreciated the asset, with “dollar exchange rate” a secondary consideration.

Not so with Bitcoin.  After countless conversations with Bitcoin enthusiasts (who tend to show up in droves at Libertarian conventions), I have learned that conversations revolve almost entirely around these two general topics:

* “The price of Bitcoin is $_____... can you believe it?!”  (Sometimes it’s way up, sometimes it’s way down – the only apparent consistency in the Bitcoin price is its volatility.)

* “Death to the Dollar (or Pound or Yen or Transnistrian Ruble)!”

In other words, even Bitcoin owners and enthusiasts don’t value Bitcoin per se – of course they don’t!  It’s just a useless string of bits!  Rather, they value it in terms of its selling price in dollars.

Let that sink in.  Bitcoin enthusiasts hate the U.S. dollar so much that they purchase a useless string of bits whose value – as judged by their own conversations – is determined by the number of those hated U.S. dollars they can sell it for.  That is madness.

The last thing I want to mention is speculation.  If I can pick a booger and manage, through suave argumentation, to convince a handful of people that it is worth a million dollars – is it actually worth a million dollars?  Value is a very subjective thing and the phrase “market value” only has meaning in an efficient and rational market.  The fact that Bitcoin is at $43,389 is exciting to a lot of people.  There are people who will pay this amount and more for 1BTC.  There may very well be people who, under the right conditions, would pay $1 million for 1BTC.  Just keep in mind that it is pure speculation.  Unlike a tulip, which at least offers the tiny subjective value of being easy on the eyes, Bitcoin’s only “value” is its price as denominated in fiat currencies.

And as much as one might despise the U.S. dollar for its lack of intrinsic value, it at least has the ability to prevent IRS agents from confiscating one's property.  Bitcoin cannot do that.  It cannot do anything.

Bitcoin is currently at $43,389.

And that’s all there is to say. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Fucking COVID

First, let me say that there are many, many, many, many people in the world who are suffering far worse than I am.  But invalidating my own feelings just makes my suffering worse.  Here are some ways I am suffering and feeling frustrated, irritated, and disconnected as a direct result of this virus.

I am sick of decisionmakers only considering the fatality rate of the actual virus when making strong pronouncements, rules, and/or edicts.  I made this point back in April in my only Facebook post on this topic.  There are lots of other factors that should be considered in the analysis, such as:

·         People who are dying of starvation because the slowdown in the world economy, thanks in part to shutdown orders, is literally depriving the millions of people in the world who already can barely feed themselves.  Even among those who aren’t literally dying of starvation, there are untold millions who are dying from otherwise preventable or treatable diseases and problems because of their falling real incomes.

·         People who are dying of suicide, alcoholism, drug overdoses, and complications of depression and poor physical and mental health brought on or exacerbated by this crisis.

·         The overall decrease in happiness (“utility”) in the world, linked to economic slowdowns, physical and emotional isolation, etc., etc.

I hate that it has only recently become somewhat socially acceptable to mention these other factors.  Yes, public policy must consider lives potentially lost to COVID, but it should not ignore lives and livelihoods that may be lost as a direct result of these policies. 

I am sick of being told what to do by authoritarians acting unilaterally.  Yes, governors and mayors (as heads of their respective executive departments) have short-term emergency powers, but this situation is no longer short-term.  Long-term legal solutions should be effected by legislatures and tempered by courts.  There is absolutely no good reason or explanation for why, a year after the virus first hit U.S. soil, decisions about which New York City restaurants can open and at what capacity are still being decided at the arbitrary whim of a single person.

I am sick of the fatigue and the ever-changing goal post.  In March of last year, we were told that shutdowns and closures were temporary so that we can “flatten the curve” so as to not overwhelm the healthcare industry.  We did that.  And then the curve started dropping.  But then the goal changed to something like, “We need to stay locked down until we reduce the positivity rate below X%.”  Where did that come from?  More importantly, such a number is absolutely meaningless unless there is consistency in the rate at which people are tested.  If New York’s positivity rate is 3%, for example, and South Dakota’s is 30%, does that imply that South Dakota is far worse off than New York?  Of course not.  If New York freely tests anyone and everyone (and if people’s jobs there depend, as they often do, on regular testing), then a 3% positivity rate might actually mean that, say, 1% of the population has the virus... while if South Dakota only tests people who are hospitalized and who have COVID symptoms, then their 30% positivity rate might actually correspond to, say, 0.1% of the population having the virus.  (On a recent trip to Florida, I discovered just how complicated, expensive, and inconvenient it was to get a COVID test, while in NYC I can easily get a free test any day of the week just a couple blocks from my apartment.)  The fact that I have to explain this very simple example to show how statistics can deceive – and which no one seems to be talking about, including the condescending intellectual elite who have weaponized the word “science” – is irritating and mind-boggling.  (As a side note, the weaponization of the word “science” is especially infuriating when scientists whom we should trust, like Dr. Fauci, simply make up numbers to manipulate public perception.  I think his intention was good, but that’s irrelevant – it makes him lose credibility as a scientist.)

I am sick of masks.  I hate wearing them.  They are not just uncomfortable, but I hate that they impede communication.  They muffle voices and hide facial expressions and moving lips, all of which are used in human communication.  I hate having to speak more loudly to people because of the muffling of my mask, and I hate that my facial expressions are similarly muffled.  It just makes me less likely to interact and communicate with people at all.  It makes me not want to go anywhere or do anything, which is fine because there is nowhere to go and nothing to do anyway.

I am sick of never knowing what is required, legally or socially, and I am sick of feeling pressured to act in ways that I know are baseless or even irrational.  Are we supposed to wear a mask AND “socially distance”?  What is the protocol for inside versus outside?  No one suggests (I don’t think!) that spouses should wear masks around each other, but what if my wife works closely with a small group of people who eat together out of necessity?  Does that mean she can invite them and their spouses over to our house for a mask-free game night... or must we play an awkward game of cards in which we’re all separated by six feet and breathing through N95 masks?  Literally the social fear of not knowing all the rules (because there is no consistent set of rules) is enough to want to avoid gatherings at all, no matter how desperately we might need them for our emotional survival.  I can’t even imagine being a single college student today and being told to wear a mask and not kiss while having sex.  No normal human would do this, right?  It sometimes makes me wonder if those in charge are playing a massive prank to see just how far they can push the rules.  (“Do you think we could get restaurants to agree to a 6% maximum occupancy and serve only pureed entrées that are sucked through a straw attached to their mask?”  “Yeah!  And all male patrons should be required to wear N95 condoms!”)

Moreover... Do these rules arise from a responsibility to others or to myself?  For example, the virus is spread by saliva and mucus, so if I don’t talk or even open my mouth... if I cover my face when I sneeze... then how can I spread it to anyone, particularly if I’m already standing six feet away?  This issue has come up a few times when I was wearing a mask over my mouth but not my nose.  (Apparently I have a big nose, which makes a mask even more uncomfortable.)  If I have to sneeze, I pull my mask up – which is disgusting, of course, but I guess that’s what others have to deal with.  Beyond sneezing, there is essentially no risk of me spreading a virus to others from my nose, yet I’ve been ordered by various people out in public to cover my nose.  I usually do, to avoid a confrontation, but why should I?  One might reply, “Because you can get the virus with your nose exposed, and you have a responsibility not to get the virus that you can then spread to others.”  But that doesn’t make sense.  If I’m already careful about not spreading germs to others, then what right does anyone have to tell me that I can’t assume a risk to myself?  Do I have the right to acquire the virus if I want?  If I decided that I just wanted to get the virus for, say, the antibodies it would provide, and I knew someone infected who was happy to provide the requisite saliva, is it my right to choose?  I think the answer in a genuinely free country is obviously yes, but I can hear the protests already!  Anyway, my point is that there is room for actual debate about the pros and cons of each rule and how they depend on situation, but what actually happens – at least in my case – is that the social complications and awkwardness of trying to balance my own comfort with my aversion to offending people with my attempt to read social cues with my unwillingness to let bullies dictate rules for everyone else with my efforts to prevent spreading COVID to my older relatives and friends with my desire to actually have fun while other people have fun... ugh... all this just makes me say “Fuck it” and stay at home.

I am sick of the phrase “socially distance.”  Whoever coined it was either a complete idiot who doesn’t know what the word “social” means, because the requirement is actually to physically distance, or was brilliant, because they knew that the constant physical distancing would, over time, emotionally wear people down and cause them to socially isolate from others.

I am sick of the polarized extremes that force people to pick a “team” and prevent them from thinking for themselves.  Do I really have to choose being either a condescending elitist mask nazi or a confederate-flag-toting anarchist?  Can’t I just say that this forced economic shutdown and physical isolation must end soon without being accused of wanting people to die of the virus?

Personally, here is how I am suffering from COVID... and I am suffering:

My primary hobby is travel.  I’ve been to 96 countries.  I canceled three trips last year, including a six-week round-the-world trip with my wife who had just finished a grueling four-year physician residency during which I barely spent any time with her.  Not only have I not traveled anywhere in the past year, but there appears to be no end in sight to this “pandemic” (another word I am sick of), with prospects of returning to any semblance of normalcy diminishing by the day.  I can’t plan anything.  The rules keep changing.  Do I need to wait until after I’m vaccinated?  At this rate, it might not be until summer, and by then, will there be a hundred new vaccine-resistant variants/mutations?  Will I be traveling in some country that was “open” when their government suddenly closes their borders?  Will I be walking around some foreign city but all its museums and restaurants are closed and I’m staying in an otherwise deserted hotel?  This all just makes me feel very hopeless and depressed.

This “virtual” learning is a disaster.  I don’t learn well this way and I suspect that few others do.  I have absolutely no idea how kids are dealing with this.  Oh, that’s right – they’re not.  I started a graduate physics program at NYU specifically for the opportunity to make friends, collaborate with colleagues, have interesting discussions, and learn with others.  The in-person time with professors and fellow students has always helped me to learn and to feel connected, but there is NONE of that now.  Death to Zoom.  Yes, some classes are offered “in-person” (or “hybrid,” which is almost worse than just plain “virtual”) and I took General Relativity last semester in part because it was in-person.  To do so, I satisfied all the requirements but what was the reward?  On average, there was only one other student in class, and even if there were more, there were no rooms or areas in which we could actually collaborate, so what was the point?  I am taking one class this semester, in part to keep my affiliation with NYU, but if normal in-person learning does not resume by Fall (and by “normal” I mean being able to go through one fucking day without thinking about masks, socially distancing, vaccines, nasal swabs, reduced capacity, etc., etc.), then I don’t see the point of continuing in the program. 

I am not connecting with people.  As an INTJ, I can certainly enjoy plenty of alone time, but I need connection, as do all humans.  It is depressingly ironic that I am calling and emailing people less now that I am connecting with them less in person.  That’s due to several factors:

·         We need in-person connection, in part because of body language and other nonverbal communication; spontaneous ideas and adventures happen when people are physically together that can’t happen when we’re staring at each other over Zoom; and we experience new things together that are actually worth talking about later!

·         In-person connection inspires deeper connection and a desire for follow-up phone calls and emails.

·         Right now, we aren’t, as a society, doing much, so there’s not much to talk about.  I have little interest in talking to a friend over the phone about COVID, my lack of connection in physics, my lack of traveling... my lack of anything!

Setting aside my dearth of social connection, I am experiencing the additional detriment of lack of connection in physics.  A little over two years ago, I started working essentially full-time in the field of the foundations of physics and the physics of consciousness, etc.  I have made significant and rewarding progress, both in learning as well as innovating and contributing.  Not only do I now have a relatively deep understanding of the foundations of quantum mechanics that has allowed me to make several contributions, I’ve also come to a deeper understanding of the relationship between physics and consciousness, free will, and other deep philosophical issues.  So that’s good.  However, it’s hard to do anything alone for a long time.  Even Henry David Thoreau eventually had to leave Walden Pond and rejoin society.

And in large part I’ve been working on physics entirely alone.  I’ve tried really, really, really hard to connect with people.  I started two different physics masters programs (ECU and NYU); I prepared to attend two conferences (one canceled and the other almost uselessly virtual); I’ve reached out directly to hundreds of professors, paper authors, graduate students, etc.; I’ve written and posted my own papers and YouTube videos; yada yada yada.  Despite these efforts, I feel almost completely disconnected and alone in this field.  Almost no one understands me, what I’m working on, or what I’ve figured out.  Among my friends and family, this work is far beyond the understanding and interest of anyone I know, although my wife and a couple other people certainly try!  Among people in the actual field – people with whom I’ve been trying to connect for several years now – maybe 1% of these contacts have actually resulted in any meaningful connection.  I am profoundly thankful for and humbled by these few contacts, and several of them have been both intellectually and emotionally supportive.  Ironically, among the tiny handful who have both understood and validated my work, a few of them happen to be the top of the top.  For instance, as I mention in this post, this paper was rejected by referees until the journal’s chief editor, Carlo Rovelli himself, took the extremely unusual step of publishing it despite the reviews because it raises “an interesting and well-argued point.”  I won’t give further details in this post, but as it turns out the reviewer I described in this post – who was one of the only people to actually understand and validate the argument I made in this paper – is one of the most intelligent, original, and influential thinkers in the field.  So I certainly am thankful for the few genuinely positive connections I’ve made, although it’s just not enough (at least right now) to emotionally and intellectually sustain me.  I need to go to conferences and attend classes and have in-person connections to keep me feeling stimulated, inspired, and connected.  Right now – and in the foreseeable future – that is simply impossible. 

So my suffering comes down to this: I am just not looking forward to anything.  I feel like my life is perpetually on hold with every day undetectably bleeding into the next.  I am sick of constantly waiting for normalcy.  I am sick of not knowing when, or even if, I will be able to travel, to efficiently learn about the physics of consciousness, to emotionally connect with friends, to intellectually connect with colleagues.  I am sick of not knowing when I will again feel engaged, inspired, in flow.

Pain is usually a sign that something’s wrong.  If I feel my hand burning, it might be because of some miswired neurons or something wrong with my skin, in which case medication might be appropriate.  But it might also be because my hand is in a fire, in which case the best solution is to pull it out!  Poor mental health – depression, anxiety, etc. – presumably evolved in humans to help us identify and fix problems and to ultimately thrive.  Sometimes, poor mental health is due to chemical imbalances that can be addressed with medication.  Sometimes it’s due to emotional trauma that can be addressed with counseling.  Sometimes it’s due to poor physical health that can be addressed with diet and exercise.  To the extent that poor mental health is the body reacting inappropriately to the world, then by all means let’s address the symptoms.  No sense in feeling the pain of anxiety when there’s nothing to feel anxious about... take a pill for crying out loud!

But sometimes, poor mental health is a direct result of circumstance and it’s the body’s appropriate response to dangerous or unhealthy surroundings.  Dulling that pain with a pill might only serve to increase one’s tolerance to what is, or should be, an intolerable situation.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but it is clear to me that the world I live in is currently intolerable.  Not that I can’t tolerate it, but that I shouldn’t. 

I don’t know what the solution is.  Like many others, fatigue is setting in.  If I knew for certain that normalcy would return by, say, July, then I could wait it out.  But if I am honest with myself, I am having growing doubts that normalcy will return at all, much less by summer.  Maybe it’s time to accept that the world I grew up in is gone forever: one in which everyone had more-or-less the same source of news and people didn’t choose their news media based on the “facts” they want to believe; one in which people could go to parties, dance clubs, restaurants, and theaters without constantly worrying about viruses; one in which human connection was almost exclusively in-person; one in which I might have 20 close friends who know my good and bad sides and with whom I can be vulnerable, instead of 2000 Facebook “friends” or 200,000 Instagram “followers” who envy my beautiful and successful life but know nothing about my doubts or sadness or despair because I only post the enviable stuff.

Maybe it’s time to mourn the loss of that world and move on.  (I suppose with such low expectations, I can only be pleasantly surprised if normalcy actually does return later this year...)  I don’t know what to do, but I know I have to do something differently.  Maybe it’s time to abandon physics for awhile and take a road trip with my dog to some national parks.  Maybe I need to build something – maybe not quite the scale of the Agora Grand, but nevertheless interesting and useful and creative.  Who knows?  Suggestions welcome! 

Thank God for my wonderful wife and my friends and family, even if I don’t connect with them as often as I should.  Thank God that I am well fed and live in a nice apartment with amenities that Cleopatra could only dream about.   Thank God I can still think with clarity.

 

God – please give me the grace and peace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage and strength to change the things I should, and the clarity and wisdom to know the difference.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Don't Fear the Label

I am a crackpot. 

In 7th grade, at the first county-wide math competition I’d ever attended, I surprised myself and my teacher by winning first place.  I’d certainly been called a nerd before then, but that event precipitated a level of academic and intellectual distinction that could ultimately have been a source of debilitating bullying.  So I simply owned it.  I replaced my backpack with a briefcase and crowned myself Illustrious Nerd of newly-formed Nerds of America, an exclusive club whose only other member was my best friend, Marcus.  I swear I am not making this up.  Somehow I figured out that reappropriating an epithet robbed it of its sting and – even more importantly – its ability to control and manipulate.  And it worked.  

On a seemingly unrelated note: in this post, written in preparation of starting a physics graduate program at NYU, I discussed a couple of issues:

A) Feeling gaslit/crazy-made by journal referees who couldn’t seem to understand the fundamental argument in my first paper (current version here); and

B) Trying to get heard by the physics and philosophy academies – that is, convincing them that I’m a competent maverick, not a crackpot.

Regarding A), I celebrated in my most recent post that I’d finally gotten a very positive response from a reputable journal.  For the first time, a referee fully understood my argument and, in recommending publication after various (reasonable) revisions, paid me perhaps the highest compliment I have so far received: “[T]his paper crystallized the issue for me in a way that I found helpful and thought-provoking.”  After nearly two weeks’ effort, I submitted a revised version on Nov. 30. 

Today I received a new “revise and resubmit” response from the journal.  The good news is that the original referee was happy with the changes: “This paper now looks ready to publish!”  The bad news is that the journal included a response from a new referee, detailing four pages worth of random and irrelevant but significant changes.  The problem isn’t so much the length of the response... minor corrections or clarifications would certainly be fine.  But it’s clear from the response that the referee – like nearly all prior referees – simply didn’t understand the fundamental argument in the paper.  There simply is no way to respond in a way that will satisfy the new referee.  The only reasonable response at this point is either to ask the journal for a new referee (a strategy that worked in this article published in Foundations of Physics, as I describe in this post), to submit elsewhere, or just stop trying to get it published.

And that brings me to B)... trying to get heard.  Here’s my question: why should I be trying so damn hard to get published?  Why should I be spending so much time, energy, and effort to convince people?  Why does it matter whether I am seen as a brilliant renegade or instead as a crackpot (if I am even seen at all)?

There clearly are benefits to my being heard.  Not as many, of course, as to professional academics who need publication to further their careers, but there are still some.  However, there are also costs, and at some point a line is crossed in which the costs outweigh the benefits. 

Let me use as an example the subject of the article in question, in which I show that Special Relativity prevents the existence of multiple physical copies of a conscious state.  Here’s the thing... I had that insight in March 2018, almost three years ago!  I wrote and submitted a paper on that topic to a journal in July 2018.  Since then, I have spent countless hours revising, rewriting, and resubmitting that paper to a total of eight journals, as well as presenting it at two conferences and producing related YouTube videos.  While the revisions have certainly improved the paper to some degree, I should emphasize that the fundamental argument of the paper has never changed; it has always reflected my original insight of March 2018.  In other words, all I seem to have accomplished from the many hundreds of hours spent on this paper is clarifying and tightening the argument for the benefit of others.  I have learned little or nothing new in the process, and the time and energy I spent, which came at the expense of other fundamental insights and discoveries that I could have made, had the additional detriment of discouraging, confusing, and emotionally draining me.  Why should I keep trying to get heard? 

I am reminded of a particularly poignant passage (p. 328) in Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics, in which he discusses people whom he calls “seers,” scientists who are “creative rebels with [the] rare talent” of recognizing wrong assumptions and asking new questions: “It is a cliché to ask whether a young Einstein would now be hired by a university.  The answer is obviously no; he wasn’t even hired then... If we have the contributions of [seers], it is because of their generosity – or maybe their stubbornness – in continuing to work without the support the academic world normally gives to scientists.”

I don’t know for certain that I am contributing, but if I am, it is absolutely without the support of the academic world – or any support other than that of my wife, friends, and family.  Consequently, to the extent that I have discovered new facts about consciousness and the universe, I disclaim any responsibility to convince anyone of them.  Of course, maybe I haven’t discovered any new facts – either because I’m wrong or because they’re not new.  And that was in large part my motivation for getting heard/published: to find collaborators, to get help, to share, to contribute, to discover which paths are promising and which are dead ends.  But after almost three years’ worth of effort, I have found this mission to be essentially fruitless. 

In the last few years, I’ve had other interesting and important insights.  I discuss in this paper how conscious correlations to quantum events in underlying physical states ensure that consciousness cannot be algorithmic or uploaded to a computer.  I discuss in this paper what seems to be a new interpretation of quantum mechanics, which ultimately led me to realize that macroscopic quantum superpositions (notably Schrodinger’s Cat and Wigner’s Friend) can never be experimentally verified, which I discuss in this paper and this paper.  (Most of these are also discussed in previous blog posts and YouTube videos, such as this.)  These insights have fascinating implications, including solving the measurement problem and falsifying the consciousness-causes-collapse hypothesis, among others.

I could certainly be wrong about any of these ideas and am quite open to that possibility.  Here’s a post in which I readily admit that I’d been going down the wrong path.  I have no agenda other than the search for truth.  However, despite my efforts to collaborate, publish, or just get useful feedback on my arguments, very few of my interactions with others (with a couple of notable exceptions) have been especially helpful in figuring out whether any of these ideas are fundamentally correct.  In sharp contrast, most interactions have had the exclusive effect of confusing and discouraging me.  As a result of these sunk costs, I haven’t spent much time doing the fun, interesting, and important stuff like thinking about the logical implications of my various insights.  Trying to get heard frankly seems like a bad investment at this point.

I understand this post may sound arrogant.  How can I claim to be smarter or more insightful than the thousands of brilliant scientists who have been studying these foundational issues for the past century?  I don’t.  What I claim is this: more than 95% of people with whom I’ve corresponded over the past three years (including referees of academic journals) have been either intellectually incapable or, more likely, simply unwilling to try to understand the arguments I’ve made in these various papers.  I can’t tell you how many people have bluntly told me I’m wrong after reading the abstract or quickly glancing at a figure or equation in one of my papers.   That’s arrogance.  My insights may very well be incorrect but I’m sophisticated enough now to know that the errors won’t be quickly spotted, especially by physicists whom I’ve found to be particularly bad at logic (e.g., papers here and here).  Significantly, my insights have led me independently to conclusions that seem to be near the cutting edge of foundational physics, so it's especially jarring to be so quickly and summarily dismissed.

It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.  I can’t seem to get the help and mentorship I need because I am unknown and (essentially) unpublished and many of my ideas are unorthodox.  If I had well-cited publications on unorthodox ideas, then I could get help and mentorship – but by then I wouldn’t need it. 

I have put in significant time and effort trying – and getting very, very close! – to publish on important new ideas, but at this point it’s clear that the costs of trying to get heard have significantly outweighed any potential advantages.  I will continue to post on this blog (and potentially on preprint servers), but will stop trying, at least for now, to publish, speak at conferences, or connect or collaborate with others.

More to the point: I am going to try to figure out the answers to the hard foundational questions in physics and philosophy without trying to convince anyone that I’m right, that I’m credible, or that I deserve to be heard.  Others have the right to listen or ignore, to praise me as a creative rebel or to disparage me as a crackpot.  But I will no longer be controlled or manipulated by labels.  I will no longer fear the epithet.

I am a seer.  I am a creative rebel.  I am a self-made maverick. 

I am a crackpot.

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Preparing for a Second Publication

The impossible has happened.

In early 2018, I realized that special relativity would cause problems for copying or repeating conscious states, so in July, 2018, I wrote and submitted a paper to a journal.  (Its current iteration is in this preprint.)  Since then, it has been rejected by seven journals (or I’ve been asked to “revise and resubmit” in a way that was either incompatible with or irrelevant to the paper’s argument), ultimately because not a single reviewer understood the logic of my argument.  A rehash of the crazymaking rejections I've experienced is in this blog post.

Today, over two years after writing the paper, I received a “Revise and resubmit” response from the 8th journal to which I submitted it, a very highly ranked journal that should have been my first or second submission.  There were two reviewers.  The first one rejected the paper for the typical reasons about identity – i.e., s/he didn’t understand my argument.  But the second one not only understood it, but called the logic "sound," and both complimented the paper and recommended it for publication.  I suspect the second reviewer is someone influential in the field, as the Editor invited me to revise and resubmit despite the first reviewer.  (The reviewer’s suggestions for revision are completely reasonable, even helpful, and will certainly improve the paper.)

So while this is no guarantee that this paper will ultimately be published, today I am celebrating that I’ve been heard, understood, and validated.  My arguments are original, sound, and – most of all – not crazy!

In the meantime, I am also working on a sort of semi-comprehensive treatise on the problems of Schrodinger's Cat, Wigner's Friend, macroscopic quantum superpositions, and the (assumed) universality of quantum mechanics.  I'm not sure if that will turn into one cohesive document, or several blog posts, or several (attempted) journal article publications.  But what is obvious to me at this point is that I have new ideas about the foundations of quantum mechanics that derive from both creativity as well as application of logic to various assumptions, and they may as well be articulated in the Internet.  (As it turns out, most of my contributions in consciousness and the foundations of physics so far derive from the identification of intrinsic contradictions/inconsistencies.)

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Updates

Further to my blog post about finally getting published, my first physics publication posted a couple of days ago in the Foundations of Physics regarding a common misperception in quantum mechanics.

Also, I made the following presentation ("Refuting Algorithmic Consciousness: Why Mind Uploading and Conscious Computers are Impossible") in a concurrent session at the 2020 Science of Consciousness conference on Tuesday.  


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Acknowledged!

In a constant uphill battle in which I struggle to be published, understood, or even heard, any acknowledgement feels good.

Today I discovered the first published paper (to my knowledge) that specifically acknowledges me.  Paul Tappenden, himself a bit of a renegade who seems to be searching for the truth without trying so hard to climb the academic ladder, thanked me (alongside several biggies in this field like David Deutsch, Simon Saunders, and David Wallace) in a recent article in Synthese, a very respected journal on the philosophy of science. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Join Me or Don't -- But You Won't Beat Me

In my most recent post, I describe my current understanding of quantum mechanics, which makes use of a couple of ideas that I derived independently such as the notion of information about events being manifested in the correlations between entangled objects.  I also discuss how correlating facts between systems must be transitive, so that facts relating systems A and B, along with facts relating systems B and C, would relate systems A and C.  This notion logically implies the “relativity of quantum superpositions,” which I also derived separately from an exciting insight described in this post

Well, as it turns out, I am almost certainly correct, and the reason I hadn’t previously learned about it (or been taught about it) is that it is apparently cutting edge.  Here are three articles (here, here, and here), the earliest of which was published in 2017, that are among the first to describe quantum superpositions as relative to each other, so that neither is a preferred reference frame.  (This contrasts with other “relational” concepts, including Rovelli’s Relational Interpretation.)  In fact, Fig. 3 from “Quantum Mechanics and the Covariance of Physical Laws in Quantum Reference Frames,” published in Nature, is so fantastically clear that it’s worth reprinting here:

 

This excites me because:

·         It underscores that I am going down the right path despite being generally ignored and/or discouraged.

·         I am clearly learning and understanding the foundations of physics almost entirely through independent analysis, logic, and reason.

·         Not only have I independently figured out features of the physical world that lots of other physicists don’t know, I may actually be at or near the state-of-the-art, which means it’s just a matter of time before I contribute new concepts to the field (if I haven’t already here, here, here, and here).

However, this also scares me because in May I had a long and very encouraging phone conversation with Igor Pikovsky, who has worked closely with several of the authors of the above papers (particularly Caslav Brukner), regarding the effects of gravitational decoherence on Schrodinger’s Cat.  He invited me to join his discussion group when he returned to his faculty post at Stevens Institute of Technology, not far from where I will be studying at NYU.  However, I’ve attempted to follow up with him several times; either my emails have hit his spam box or he has ghosted me.  Sadly, I think the latter is much more likely.  Further, I emailed Brukner himself in June and received a very dismissive email.

I think that at many times in human history, people have been genuinely curious about the world and interested in collaborating for the purpose of deeper understanding.  This might surprise you, but Einstein’s “miracle year,” in which he published several groundbreaking papers (including Special Relativity and the photoelectric effect, on which he eventually won the Nobel Prize), happened at a time in history (1905) in which there was so little competition for prizes or publications that he was able to get these papers published with essentially zero peer review.  (Can you even imagine the arrogance of a referee who would claim to be Einstein’s intellectual “peer”?!)  In other words, he and other scientists published research more-or-less for the love of knowledge and the hope of collaboration and scientific advancement, not accolades.  In sharp contrast, today all that matters in the academy is publish-, win-grants-, and get-tenure-or-perish.  No matter what I do, I am constantly (and involuntarily) in competition with thousands of physicists who don’t give two shits about knowledge or understanding but do give several shits about getting another notch on their publication belt.  (If you are yet another physicist who doesn’t understand logic and thus took offense to the last statement, I did not say that no physicists care about knowledge or understanding, but rather that I am competing against a massive population who don’t.)

This is a very long way of saying that while I sincerely hope that neither Brukner nor Pikovsky intended to exclude me because I might be trespassing on their turf of potential grants, publications, maybe even (in their minds) a Nobel Prize... it would not surprise me if they did.  I will reach out to them again in the next week.  I really hope that they (and others) will recognize that I am genuinely interested in learning and collaborating so we can, as a human species, figure out the nature of the physical world.  Nevertheless, I won’t be surprised if I have to proceed, as I have for over two years now, almost entirely on my own.  But if I have to, I will.  It took me only two years to independently understand quantum mechanics at the cutting edge.  It is just a matter of time, if I haven’t already, before I learn and explain facts about physics and consciousness that no one else has.

To those who would ignore, dismiss, discourage, or patronize me: You can collaborate with me or not.  Collaboration will accelerate our progress.  But if you don’t – perhaps because you are being a petty, recognition-obsessed turd – I will still beat you in the long run.  Do not underestimate the power of an intelligent, curious, innovative, hardworking, highly educated, financially independent maverick. 

I will figure out the nature of the physical world.  Join me or don’t.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Finally Published!

The physics academy is a tough egg to crack.  I offered several reasons in this post why my entrance into the field has been and will continue to be an uphill battle, but it’s truly astounding how much resistance I’ve experienced in getting published.  Rejection after rejection, my confidence continued to drop, until eventually I realized that those who had reviewed my papers weren’t really understanding my points.  Perhaps I wasn’t wrong after all.

In this post, I addressed a fundamental and important error in an article that had been cited far too many times.  Like all my other papers, it was rejected.  But this time I decided to fight back.  I knew that I was right.  I appealed the rejection and made a very clear case to the editor, who eventually took my appeal to the Editor-in-Chief: a badass in the field named Carlo Rovelli, whom I referenced in this post.  Two days ago the editor let me know that Rovelli had overruled the referees and decided to publish my article.  Finally, some good news.  Finally, some validation.  Finally, some confirmation that I actually understand something about the foundations of physics.

Onward and upward.  In this post, I explained why macroscopic quantum superpositions are simply not possible.  Today I finished and posted a formal article elaborating on this and, I hope, ultimately proving that Schrodinger’s Cat and Wigner’s Friend are absolutely, completely, totally impossible, even in principle.  I’ll soon submit it to a journal. 

But this time, I’m not going to take rejection sitting down.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

COVID Madness: How Onerous Requirements Incentivize Lying

NYU is requiring essentially all non-New York students to: quarantine for 14 days; take a COVID-19 test before travel; take a test upon arrival; and take a THIRD test a week after arrival. (This is on top of requirements to wear face masks, socially distance, and fill out a form every day on campus attesting that you don't have any symptoms, haven't been in contact with anyone "suspected" of having the virus, etc., etc.) This defies common sense. The problem with catering to the most fearful is that eventually the people who engage in the riskiest behaviors will just lie. "Yeah, I've been tested." "Yeah, I quarantined." Here is my letter to NYU's VP for Student Affairs:


I am an incoming physics graduate student. My wife, a physician, will be joining the faculty at Columbia's Allen hospital. She and I both moved up here from North Carolina in mid-July. I have serious concerns about this email and the requirements of NYU.


NYU is requiring "out-of-tristate" students to quarantine for 14 days and get TWO tests and "strongly recommends" another test prior to travel. These mandates exceed legal requirements and defy both scientific recommendations and common sense, particularly given that everyone in NYU buildings will be required to: wear face masks; socially distance; and complete a daily COVID-19 "screener." These onerous requirements are obviously the result of fear, CYA culture, and litigation prevention, instead of rational thinking.


The main problem with overuse of caution is not the inconvenience and cost (in time and money) to everyone involved. That certainly is a problem, whether or not it is socially acceptable or politically correct to say so. The main problem is that there are many people who strongly disagree with the extremes to which authorities are willing to curtail personal freedoms to address COVID-19, and at some point these people may feel a line has been crossed and are no longer willing to cooperate.


The biggest red flag in your email is the statement that those who do not quarantine on campus "will be required to attest to having quarantined." Those who care about not spreading the virus to others are already acting responsibly. However, those who are more reckless in their interactions with others, faced with requirements to quarantine for 14 days (in a very expensive city) and get tested multiple times, will simply be more incentivized to lie and falsely "attest to having quarantined" or been tested multiple times. At some point, your requirements, and those of the city, state, and federal government, may become so onerous that people will simply "check the box" and say whatever they need to say to get through their day (which may include going to class, going to and getting paid for their employment, etc.).


Caring about the NYU community does not mean catering to the most fearful and litigious among them. At some point, the demands become so ridiculous that they become ineffective, ultimately resulting (ironically) in increased risk to the NYU community. Please don't let it get to that point.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

How Science Brought Me To God

This post was inspired by my sister, who has been struggling recently with questions about God, purpose, meaning, and many other big philosophical questions.

Let me start by saying that I’m not a Christian (or a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Jew or a Rastafarian blah blah blah), and never will be.  Christianity is a set of very specific stories and beliefs, of which the belief in a Creator is a tiny subset.  Belief in God does not imply belief in Christianity or any other religion.  It is truly astonishing how many scientists (and physicists in particular) don’t seem to understand that last sentence.  It’s incredible how often physicists will say something like: “When I was in Sunday School, I learned about Jesus walking on water.  But as a scientist, I learned that walking on water violates the laws of physics.  Therefore god does not exist.”  The conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premises.

In my own progress in physics, I am finding much of the academic literature infested with bad logic and unsound arguments.  One of my more recent posts points to a heavily cited article that claimed to empirically refute the consciousness-causes-consciousness hypothesis (“CCCH”).  The authors started by characterizing CCCH as an if-then statement in the form of AàB (read “A implies B” or “if A, then B”), which was essentially correct.  (The actual statements are irrelevant to the point I’m making in this post, but my actual paper can be found here.)  Then, without explanation, they re-characterized CCCH as AàC, but this would only be true if BàC.  Setting aside the fact that BàC blatantly contradicts quantum mechanics, the authors didn’t even seem to notice the unfounded logical jump they had made.  Simply having taken graduate-level philosophical logic has already provided me a surprising leg-up in the study and analysis of physics.

Why do I take such pains to explain that my belief in God does not imply belief in any particular religion or set of stories?  Because my search for a physical explanation of consciousness, and my pursuit of some of the hard foundational questions in physics, already puts me on potentially thin ice in the physics academy, and mentioning God (with a capital G) may very well put me over the edge into the realm of “crackpot.”  Luckily, I’m in the position of not needing to seek anyone’s approval; having said that, I would ultimately like to collaborate with and influence other like-minded physicists and don’t want to immediately turn them off with any suggestion that I’m a Christian.  I also don’t intend to turn off any Christian readers... my wife and one of my best friends are Christians.  My point is that Christianity includes a very specific set of concepts and stories that far exceed mere theism and may be understandably off-putting to physicists.

With all the caveats in place, here’s the meat of this blog post: Science has in fact brought me to God, in large part via the Goldilocks Enigma, better known as the “fine-tuning” problem in physics.

Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State, wrote a fascinating book called The Goldilocks Enigma.  Essentially, there are more than a dozen independent parameters, based in part on the Standard Model of particle physics, that had to be “fine-tuned” to within 1% or so in order to create a universe that could create life.  (The phrase “fine-tuned” itself suggests a Creator, but that’s not how Davies means it.)  One example might be the ratio of the gravitational force to the electromagnetic force.  A star produces energy via the fusion of positively charged nuclei, primarily hydrogen nuclei.  Electrostatic repulsion makes it difficult to bring two fusible nuclei sufficiently close, but gravity solves this problem if the object is really massive, like a star.  The core of a star then experiences the quasi-equilibrium condition of gravity squeezing lots of hydrogen nuclei together counterbalanced by the outward pressure of an extremely high-temperature gas, thus producing fusion energy at more-or-less constant rate.  This balance in our Sun gives it a lifetime of something like 10 billion years before its fuel will be mostly spent.

Here’s the problem: if the gravitational force had been 1% higher than it is, then the Sun would have burned up far too quickly for life to evolve, while if the force had been 1% less than it is, the Sun would have produced far too little radiation for life to evolve.  (It is generally thought that liquid water, which exists in the narrow range of 273-373K, is a requirement for life, although this is not necessary for the current argument.)  In other words, the ratio of gravity to electric repulsion had to be in the “Goldilocks” zone: not too big, not too small... just right.

The likelihood of that ratio being “just right” is very small.  And you might think this is just a coincidence.  That’s certainly what a lot of physicists will say.  But remember that there are at least 26 such free parameters in nature that happen to be “just right” in the same way, and (small probability)^26 = (really freaking unbelievably tiny probability).  The probability is so tiny as to be effectively zero.

If you have already dismissed any possibility of a Creator, then one way – perhaps the only way – to explain away such a fantastically tiny probability is to posit the existence of infinitely many universes and then invoke the so-called “Anthropic Principle” to conclude that such an unlikely event must be possible because, if it weren’t, we wouldn’t exist to notice!  After all, if everything that is possible actually exists somewhere, then extremely unlikely events, even events whose probability is actually zero, will occur.  In other words, (infinitesimal) * (infinity) = 1.  Said another way:  0 * ∞ = 1.

For the record, I made the same argument in a book I wrote at age 13, called Knight’s Null Algebra, which claimed to “disprove” algebra.  Just as anything logically follows from a contradiction (“If up is down, then my name is Bob” is a true statement), anything follows from infinity.  Infinity makes the impossible possible.  But this is philosophical nonsense.  Infinity doesn’t exist in nature.  Nevertheless, many physicists and cosmologists with (as far as I know) functioning cerebrums actually believe in the existence of infinitely many universes, although they give it a fancy name: the Multiverse.

Here are my problems with the Multiverse:
·         There is not a shred of empirical evidence that there is such a thing.
·         Because the Multiverse includes universes that are beyond our cosmological horizon and are forever inaccessible to us, no empirical evidence ever can exist to test the concept.
·         Any concept or hypothesis that cannot be tested is not in the realm of science.
·         Any scientist who endorses the Multiverse concept is not speaking scientifically or as a scientist (even though s/he may pretend to).

Setting aside all these problems with the Multiverse concept, it should be pointed out that anyone who dismisses any possibility of a Creator, and thus desperately embraces infinity to dismiss the Goldilocks enigma, is not being scientific anyway.  One can make arguments for or against the existence of God; one can lean toward theism or atheism; but anyone who states with certainty that God does or does not exist is not speaking scientifically.  And that’s OK.  There’s nothing wrong with a scientist having opinions one way or another or with making arguments one way or another, just as I’ve done in this post.  But it is a problem when scientists speak from the academic pulpit, intimidating people with their scientific degrees and credentials, to bully people into accepting their philosophical opinions as if they were scientific facts.  (Richard Dawkins should have lost his membership to the scientific academy long ago, now that he spews untestable pseudoscientific gibberish, but has in fact been celebrated instead of ostracized by the academy.)

My point is this: I believe that the Goldilocks Enigma is a very strong reason to believe in a Creator, while the Multiverse counterargument is an untestable and nonscientific theory usually uttered by people (scientists or otherwise) who are not speaking scientifically.

I am truly and utterly amazed and overwhelmed by the vastness, beauty, and unlikeliness of the Universe.  And the more I learn about physics, the more awed I become.  For instance, if the information in the universe is related to universal entanglement, then every object is entangled with essentially every other object in the universe in ways that correlate their positions and momenta to within quantum uncertainty.  That is absolutely, utterly, incomprehensively amazing.  The more I learn about physics, the closer I come to God.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Into the Lion's Den

Two years ago, I sold my businesses and “retired” so that I could focus full-time on learning about, addressing, and attempting to solve some of the fundamental questions in physics and philosophy of mind... things like the physical nature of consciousness, whether we have free will, the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, etc.  What gave me the audacity to think I might be able to tackle these problems where so many have failed before?  Well, first, tackling a problem only requires desire.  I find these big-picture questions fascinating and looked forward to learning, analyzing, and at least trying.  But I did think I had a reasonable shot at actually solving some of these mysteries.  Why?

While I don’t (yet) have a degree in physics or philosophy, I do have an undergraduate and master’s degree in nuclear engineering as well as a law degree (which is certainly applicable to philosophical reasoning), and have taken lots of physics and philosophy classes along the way.  As an example, I’ve taken graduate-level quantum mechanics, or a course closely related or heavily dependent on QM, at UF, MIT, Princeton, and ECU, and even a fascinating course called Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics.  In other words, I’m no expert – and I plan to continue graduate studies in physics – but I certainly have more than a superficial understanding of physics.

It takes more than education to solve problems; it also takes creativity and a willingness to say or try things that others won’t.  As the sole inventor of 17 U.S. patents on a wide variety of inventions, from rocket engines to software to pumps to consumer products, I’ve always felt confident in my ability to solve problems creatively.  As for independence – let’s just say I’ve always been a maverick.  As an example, while in law school I realized that a loophole in American patent law allowed for the patenting of fictional storylines, so I published an article to that effect.  Over the next couple years, at least six law review articles were published specifically to argue that I was full of shit: great evidence that I was actually on to something!  (Since then the courts closed the loophole.)  I’m not trying to list my CV – just to explain my state of mind when I started this process.  I had plenty of free time, an independent spirit, a history of creativity in solving problems, and a strong and relevant educational foundation.  This gave me confidence that I was in a better position than most to actually solve an important riddle.  I also figured, perhaps naively, that the field of physics was one place where novel approaches, critical thinking, and objective analysis would be rewarded.

I jumped right in.  After extraordinary amounts of research and independent thought, I soon realized that special relativity would cause problems for copying or repeating conscious states.  I wrote my first paper on the topic; the most recent iteration is here.  Not long after that, I realized that QM would also, independently of relativity, cause problems for copying or repeating conscious states, and wrote my second paper; the most recent iteration is here.  In July, 2018, I sent my first paper to the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science; it was summarily rejected without comments or review.  Fuck them.  Over the next year and a half, I submitted it to four more journals, and despite getting close to publication with one, the paper was ultimately rejected by all.  Over the same period, I submitted my second paper to three journals and, again, despite getting close to publication with one, the paper was ultimately rejected.  What had gone wrong?  Was I in over my head? 

Regarding the first paper, the same objection kept coming up over and over: that copying the physical state of a person does not necessarily copy that person’s identity.  Without getting too technical, my argument was that whether or not a person’s identity depends on their underlying physical state, special relativity implied the same conclusion.  But no matter how I replied, the conversation always felt like this:
Them: “How do you know that copying a person’s physical state would copy their identity?” 
Me: “I don’t.  But if it does, then copying that state violates special relativity.  If it doesn’t, then there is nothing to copy.  Either way, we can’t copy a person’s identity.”
Them: “But wait.  First you need to show that copying a person’s physical state would copy their identity.”
Me: “No, I don’t.  Consider statements A and B.  If AàB, and also ¬AàB, then B is true, and we don’t need to figure out if A is true.”
Them: “Hold on.  How can you be so sure that statement A is true?...”
Me: [Banging head against wall]

It’s literally crazymaking.  No one seemed to have a problem with the physics or the implications of special relativity.  Instead, their problem almost always boiled down to the concept of identity and its relationship to physical reality.  I suspect that what’s happening is that people find a conclusion they’re uncomfortable with – such as “mind uploading is impossible” or “consciousness is not algorithmic” – and then work backward to find something they can argue with... and that something always happens to be some variation on “How do you know that statement A is true?”  I don’t know if it’s a case of intentional gaslighting or unintentional cognitive dissonance, but either way it took me a long time to finally rebuild my confidence, realize I’m not crazy, completely rewrite the paper to address the identity issue head-on, and submit it to a new journal.

Regarding the second paper, the referee of the third journal brought up what I believed, at the time, was a correct and fatal objection.  But by then, I had experienced 18 continuous months of essentially nothing but rejection, criticism, or being ignored (which is sometimes worse).  Prior to that, I’d spent so much of my life feeling confident about my ability to think clearly and rationally, to solve problems creatively, to analyze arguments skeptically, and to eventually arrive at correct conclusions.  So by the time I received that final rejection, I threw the paper aside and basically forgot about it – until about two weeks ago.  Somehow the human spirit can reawaken.  I took a look at the paper with fresh eyes, fully expecting to confirm the fatal error, but found exactly the opposite.  I (and the journal referee) had been wrong about my being wrong.  In other words, the error that had been pointed out, as it turns out, was not an error.  That isn’t to say that my reasoning and conclusions in the paper are ultimately correct – there could still be other errors – but the referee had been wrong.  What I argued in my second paper is original and it just may be right.  If so, its implications are important and potentially groundbreaking.  The paper needs to be rewritten, the physics tightened, and the arguments cleaned up: a project for another day.

As for now, here’s the problem I face.  On one hand, answers to some of the deepest and most important questions plaguing humanity for millennia are finally starting to become accessible via science, particularly physics.  On the other hand, it has become, for whatever reason, out of vogue in the physics community to research or even discuss these issues, which is odd for many reasons.  First, many of the giants of physics, even in modern history, routinely debated them, including Einstein, Bohr, Wigner, and Feynman.  Second, physics has itself produced several of these hard questions (like the QM measurement problem and the inconsistency between QM and general relativity).  But because physicists rarely talk about these big-picture and foundational questions, and because there’s essentially no funding to research them, the conversations are typically left to: a) self-made or retired mavericks who don’t need funding (e.g., Roger Penrose); b) writers who profit on popular viewpoints (e.g., Sean Carroll and Deepak Chopra); c) academic philosophers who may or may not (but typically don’t) have any formal training in physics; and d) crackpots, nutjobs, and wackadoodles.  And there are a LOT of wackadoodles; category d) might dwarf the others by a factor of 100, and occasionally even includes members of the other categories.  The Internet is teeming with “amateur physicists” with their own solutions to quantum gravity, theories about “quantum consciousness” (whatever the hell that is), yada yada.

I am in category a), but I understand, if on statistics alone, why I’d be assumed to be in category d).  The thing is, maybe I am a little crazy.  But the solutions to the big problems in physics, cosmology, and philosophy of mind are not going to come from tweaking the same old shit we’ve been tweaking for the past century.  They are going to require truly revolutionary ideas, and those ideas, when first proposed, WILL seem crazy.  I want to be openminded, diligent, and creative enough to explore the crazy, revolutionary ideas that ultimately lead to the correct solutions.  Still, the hardest challenge of all will be maintaining my confidence throughout the process.  Not only will I be continually discouraged by incorrect solutions, but I suspect that my journey will be somewhat lonely.

Blogger and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder points out that stagnation in physics is in large part due to a feedback mechanism in which those who pull the strings – journal editors, those who award grant funding, members of academic tenure committees, etc. – tend to reward what is most familiar to them and popular with their peers.  This has the effect of stifling innovation.  Her solution: “Stop rewarding scientists for working on what is popular with their colleagues.”  Lee Smolin made a similar point in his article, “Why No ‘New Einstein’?”  He says that the current system of academic promotion and publication has “the unintended side effect of putting people of unusual creativity and independence at a disadvantage.”   Despite the current publish-or-perish system that incentivizes scientists to do “superficial work that ignores hard problems,” the field of physics is actually “most often advanced by those who ignore established research programs to invent their own ideas and forge their own directions.”

In other words, even though I didn’t know it when I began this process two years ago, it was a foregone conclusion that my intention to independently and creatively attack some of the hard foundational problems in science would be met with contempt, condescension, and unresponsiveness.

I am planning to begin a master’s program in physics at NYU in the fall.  NYU has some of the world’s best (or at least most academically well regarded) faculty in the fields of cosmology, the foundations of physics, the philosophy of physics, and the philosophy of mind.  But I will be entering with eyes wide open: into the lion’s den.  I certainly hope some of the faculty will be legitimately interested in answering some of the big questions – and will be responsive to and encouraging of original approaches – but I won’t expect it.  Instead, I will enter with low expectations, understanding clearly that any progress I make in answering the big questions may be despite, not because of, the physics academy.  I will hope to remain guided by a burning curiosity, a passion to learn and understand, and a confidence in my abilities to think, analyze, and create.  Please wish me luck.