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

Saturday, April 16, 2022

YOLO, Midlife Crisis, and Meaning

Either consciousness is eternal or it’s not.  If it’s not, then there will be a point in time at which the only remaining/lasting legacy of our existence, our decisions and choices, our pleasure and pain, will be nothing more than the distribution of atoms, in one way versus another, throughout a cold, lifeless, quiet universe.  How could that matter?  If there is no one to whom it could matter, then it truly is meaningless.

**********************************************

I am having an existential crisis.  I’m 44, so you might just say that this a midlife crisis, and maybe it is.  Not to minimize a midlife crisis, but I also think I’m in a fundamentally different situation from most people my age.  I am financially independent and don’t have children, so already I have significantly more time than most to wonder about purpose and meaning.  Add to that the fact I’ve spent the last few years thinking deeply about some of the hardest and deepest problems in philosophy and physics. 

It’s very hard to ruminate on deep questions about the universe without also contemplating the nature of existence itself.  For example, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years contemplating whether the physical world is deterministic or reversible, whether quantum mechanics implies the creation of new information, whether we have free will and how free will might relate to quantum mechanics, whether a conscious state is entirely determined by the physical state within a local volume (like within a skull), whether consciousness can be physically duplicated or instantiated on a computer, and so forth.  It’s hard to do these things nearly full time, without the distractions of children and debt, at an age that many would regard as midlife, without also staring down the barrel of my own mortality.

There are times when I envy my friends who have children and jobs and debt and never-ending to-do lists.  These constant distractions are, in some sense, a luxury that allows people to divert their attention away from the ticking clock.  But I stare at it.  And it’s terrifying, particularly when I mindlessly accept this overarching and pervasive societal message: you have to live meaningfully but you have very limited time in which to do it.  Life matters, but you only have a few years.  That irritating acronym “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) may not come up much in polite conversation anymore, but its message is everywhere.  Change the world.  Leave a legacy.  Do what matters.  And do it now because you’re running out of time. 

No wonder the world is anxious.  I, for one, am experiencing incredible anxiety and insecurity about how I should spend my time.  After all, now that I know my time on Earth is (at best) half over, and that what I’m capable of will likely decay with time, it’s hard not to freak out about how to live most meaningfully in the time I have left.

But the YOLO message is actually a contradiction, and all contradictions are false.  Let’s break the message into Premises 1 and 2:

1)     You have limited time; consciousness permanently ends at death.[1]  (Logically, it could end at some time other than physical death, which wouldn’t affect the following argument.  But most people who believe Premise 1 believe that the human brain is entirely responsible for creating consciousness[2], in which case death of one’s brain would bring about an end to his consciousness.)

2)     What you do matters; how you spend your time matters.

I will argue that these two premises are contradictory.  Either or both are wrong.

Certainly most people want to believe Premise 2; I don’t know anyone who wants to believe that life is pointless.  Many people who believe Premise 1 and want to believe (or do believe) Premise 2 give this line of reasoning: “Sure, the things I do on Earth won’t matter to me after I’m dead, since I won’t exist anymore.  But they still matter to other people, and that’s what gave them meaning while I was alive.” 

In other words: “My life matters because it matters to others.”  This is the notion of legacy that people like to leave, such as through descendants, lasting impacts on the world, and so forth.  The problem is that there’s a circularity to the logic (and circular arguments are not valid).  The life of A has meaning, even after A is dead, because of his impact on B.  But why does B’s life matter?  Well, it matters, of course, because of B’s impact on C.  And C’s life matters because of her impact on D, and so on down the line.  But what if D’s life in fact does not matter?  Then neither can A’s, B’s, or C’s, because their meaning all depended on the meaning of D’s.

If one’s life is only meaningful to the extent of one’s impact on others, and if the lives of those others are only meaningful to the extent of their impact on still others, and on and on, then meaning is a metaphysical Ponzi scheme.  If true, the meaning of life would depend on an eternally unbroken chain of consciousness – that is, there must always be something conscious in the universe that is impacted by the previous lives of other conscious beings to justify the meaning in their lives.

The problem here is that physicists (who overwhelmingly believe Premise 1) would nearly unanimously agree that at some point in time the very last conscious being will die – i.e., that there cannot always be consciousness in the universe because the universe will not remain hospitable to life indefinitely.  Specifically, even if the “Big Crunch” or the “Big Rip” don’t kill off everything, the eventual heat death of the universe will.

So if no one’s life has meaning in and of itself – if any given person’s life matters only to the extent of his impact on others – then all life is indeed meaningless.  I’m certainly not saying that one’s children, or the process of leaving one’s legacy, can’t be deeply meaningful to a person.  I’m simply saying that that can’t be the entire source of life’s meaning, otherwise no life could have meaning at all.  If life does have meaning, it must have meaning at least to some extent for its own sake.  A person who believes in Premise 1 and really wants to believe Premise 2 cannot make them compatible simply by claiming that “My life matters because it matters to others.”  That won’t work.

In many ways, I’ve said something far simpler.  If the net result of all of our lives and decisions is just the scattering of dust in a cold, lifeless universe, then what’s the point of it all?  (Cue Kansas’ Dust in the Wind…)  In other words, if Premise 1 is true, then there is no meaning to life and nothing matters.  You cannot bootstrap meaning in your own life by mattering to others, because, if Premise 1 is true, there is also no meaning to their lives.  It doesn’t matter that you matter to others who don’t matter. 

Here’s my point.  Either what I do matters or it doesn’t.  Premise 1 implies that it doesn’t, which is in direct contradiction with Premise 2.  They cannot both be true. 

So if Premise 2 is true then Premise 1 is false.  If what I do matters, then my consciousness will not permanently end at death (or at all), in which case I have plenty of time to do what matters.  But if Premise 2 is false – if what I do doesn’t matter – then why the fuck am I so worried about running out of time?

As it turns out, I believe that my consciousness is eternal, but I have been very much acting as if everything I want to do or experience must be done in the short term.  That’s irrational.

I have not tried to be precise in this post with my language or argumentation.  What it means for something to “matter” or “be meaningful” is subjective, and I certainly don’t claim that this line of reasoning proves the existence of an afterlife or eternal consciousness.  I believe I have, in papers and previous posts, proven some important and very relevant facts, such as that a conscious state cannot be copied or instantiated on a computer and that a conscious state cannot be entirely determined by the information in a local volume (such as a brain), among other things.  For instance, if the information that physically produces a conscious state is not (and cannot be) contained entirely in the brain, then already there is good reason to doubt the zealotry of scientists who claim, with arrogant certainty, that brain death permanently erases consciousness.  They don’t know.  Nevertheless, though I believe my consciousness is eternal, my goal here is not to prove it, if such a proof were even possible.

Rather, my goal here is to point out that the YOLO dogma is bullshit.  We are told from every angle that we must amount to something, we must live fully and meaningfully, we must make a difference and leave a legacy – AND that we only have one lifetime in which to do it before the lights go out for eternity.  But that makes no sense.  Those messages are contradictory.  Because if my lights go out for eternity, then what I did on Earth certainly won’t matter to me, and if your lights go out for eternity, then they won’t matter to you either.  If there’s no me to regret having failed to make a difference and leave a legacy, then why put in all the effort to make a difference and leave a legacy?  Why worry about not having enough time to do everything I want to do?  Either I have plenty of time (because my consciousness survives death) or, when I die, I’ll no longer be conscious and capable of regretting.  If death is an eternal lack of existence, then any impact I leave on other people will necessarily be lost, enduring legacies are impossible, and nothing I do matters.  But if death is not an eternal lack of existence, then I’m not running out of time to live meaningfully!

That’s not entirely the end of the story.  First, I still don’t know whether or not what I do matters (or how much it matters).  Eternal consciousness does not tell me much about how much meaning my life and decisions have, just that meaning is possible.  For example, maybe free will is an illusion, in which case I cannot do anything meaningful because I cannot choose to do anything at all.  I think much more likely is that some of what I do is meaningful, but I vastly overinflate the importance of most of it.

Second, even if (as I believe) consciousness is eternal, physical death certainly happens and at that time I don’t know what I’ll perceive or experience, but it’s unlikely I will experience consciousness through a human body on Earth.  There probably are a lot of opportunities that will be foreclosed at that time, so if I want to make a positive difference on Earth, then I should do it now, while I’m here.  I also have no idea whether I will be able to continue my relationships with people in the afterlife, so I would want to enjoy those relationships now while I can.



[1] Note: Most people who believe Premise 1 don’t believe in God, and most who believe in God don’t believe Premise 1.

[2] I have shown this is false, but no one listens to me anyway.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Is Time Travel Possible? Part 3

In the last post, I continued a discussion of time travel and pointed out that any time travel into the past would result in facts/events that become permanently embedded in the information structure of the universe.  I’ve had several more insights since then about the (im)possibility of time travel.  Here they are in random order:

Traveling into the Future

The examples I gave were all about changing the “rate” of travel into the future, such as with drugs and relativistic time dilation.  I should be clear that it is impossible to “skip” to some time in the future, such as with Doc Brown’s Delorean time machine.  You can’t instantaneously skip to the future because determinism is false, so you have to just wait it out for random/quantum events to actually occur.  In other words, there is no way for the universe to know what the year 3000 looks like until it actually goes through the (time-consuming! haha) effort of evolving through that time.  Lots and lots of new information has to be created through, for example, quantum events, and the universe doesn’t “know” what quantum possibilities exist in the year 3000 until the events of the year 2999 have happened, and the quantum possibilities in the year 2999 depend on the events of the year 2998, and so forth.  Of course, you can consciously skip over time (by sleeping, etc.), but there will still be evidence in the universe of time passage, including in your own body.

Traveling into the Past

The explanations/arguments I have in my last post about why time travel to the past is impossible relate to how changes will affect the present (or the future of the past), which is problematic for reasons I’ll explain more momentarily.  But someone might say, “I don’t need to actually travel to the past if that’s impossible.  A simulation would be fine.”  Obviously, simulations are possible to some degree.  Setting aside that a realistic simulation would itself require enormous computational resources, any simulation would be limited to a tiny selection of information.  There is no way to recreate or accurately simulate the past because the vast majority of the information in the universe (correlations/entanglements) is fundamentally inaccessible.  No matter how many experiments you do, the vast majority of the information in the universe cannot, even in principle, be known.  (The reason for this is related to quantum no-cloning.)

Free Will

I made the mistake in the last post of confusing the analysis with questions about free will.  After all, imagine I don’t have free will and instead whether I travel into the past in my time machine depends on some quantum event 10 minutes from now.  The same problems arise because, at this moment, there is no fact about whether or not I’ll travel into the past, which means that whether or not I traveled into the past cannot already be embedded in the information structure of the universe.

Bad Terminology

The word “change,” particularly when philosophers and physicists discuss time travel, is misused, abused, and confused.  The word “change” itself is always relative to a particular time.  “Yesterday, I changed my mind.”  “Last week, I changed my haircut.”  “At time t0, the particle’s trajectory changed.”  But people who discuss time travel often say things like, “Tomorrow, I will change what happened last year,” or “At time t2, what happened at time t1 was changed.”  This is nonsense.  When was the event changed?  At t1 or t2??  Use of the word “change” in this fashion is inherently contradictory.

Quantum Indeterminism

But here is a much bigger problem with the notion of time travel into the past: it assumes that the universe evolves deterministically.  We tend to think that if we were to change the past just a little bit, then the present would also change only a little bit.  Or maybe it would change a lot (thanks to chaos) but we assume that the changes to the present depend only on the changes to the past.  Similarly, if we could manage not to change the past at all, then the present would remain exactly the same.  This is a natural assumption – in fact, it was one that I hadn’t even questioned until today – but it is wrong.

That’s because the information content of the universe is increasing over time, thanks to the indeterminism caused by random/quantum events.  So if we were able to travel to the past, then the past we would experience would have less information and there is no guarantee that it would evolve into the present that we actually currently experience.  In fact, it would almost certainly NOT evolve into the actual present.  And if you changed something about the past – anything at all – then different quantum information must be created because different quantum possibilities would arise. 

Here's a simplified example showing the problem, in which I am somehow able to travel back to time t0.  Assume:

·       A speck of dust went in direction A at time t0 but if I time travel to t0 then it will/would/did[1] go in direction B. 

·       In a nearby quantum experiment, an object in quantum superposition state x|X> + y|Y> could be detected at location X or Y (where x and y are complex amplitudes).  Then, at time t1, it was actually detected at location X.

Problems & Questions:

·       Is there any good reason to think that, if I time travel to t0, the object will still be detected at X at t1? 

o   No, because if there was, then that means the object was already in state |X>, not a superposition.

o   Similarly, the outcomes of every possible quantum event in the universe could be different.  There is essentially zero chance that the universe I currently experience, or anything like it, will evolve if the embedded information of events since time t0 is erased. 

·       If I am right about universal entanglement (i.e., the speck and object are already well correlated), wouldn’t the changing of direction A to B also affect the amplitudes x and y, even if only slightly?

o   If so, then there certainly would be no reason to think that the object would be detected at X at t1.  Further, correlation information with objects and fields throughout the universe would instantaneously (nonlocally) change.  Event outcomes would change, new possibilities would arise while others would be foreclosed, and so on. 

·       What does locality have to do with this?  Locality doesn’t matter regarding universal entanglement, because quantum correlations are nonlocal.  But even setting that aside, if the speck goes in direction B instead of A, then new (quantum) possibilities for creations of photons are created, and those new photons could affect the experiment, which clearly would affect the amplitudes x and y.



[1] This is more linguistic evidence of the contradiction inherent in backward time travel.  If I time travel to time t0, do I say that the speck of dust will go in direction B?  Would go?  Did go?  WHEN did I change its direction?  Now or at time t0?

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Is Time Travel Possible? Part 2

In the last post, I introduced the notion of time travel into the past and pointed out that the potential for a temporal paradox would prevent time travel that allowed changes to the past.  Is it possible, as some have argued, to affect, influence, or participate in the past without changing the past?

No.

First, there is the Butterfly Effect.  You can get the general idea by watching the movie of the same name, but the idea is simple: small events get amplified over time into much larger consequences.  The Butterfly Effect is actually a mathematical result of chaos theory, whereby nonlinear relationships cause effects that seem to be entirely unpredictable over a long enough time period.  Perhaps one of the most fascinating papers I ever read was this one (“Gargantuan chaotic gravitational three-body systems and their irreversibility to the Planck length”), in which the authors show that even the largest objects in the universe are fundamentally unpredictable over a long enough time period.  They analyze initial conditions that are precise down to the Planck length, because that length, according to physicists, is the smallest length that has any possible physical meaning in the universe.  So if precision down to the Planck length can’t predict the motions of supermassive black holes, then nothing can.

The Butterfly Effect is a problem for time travel into the past, and here’s why.  You certainly can’t go back in time to kill one of your ancestors, as that would prevent your own existence and cause a temporal paradox.  But what if instead you did something seemingly inconsequential, but that event caused another event that caused another event… that prevented your own existence.  In the first installment of Back to the Future, Marty pushes his future father out of the road so that he didn’t get hit by a car, but of course that caused a chain of events that led to Marty’s future mother falling for him instead of his future father.

But what about something more subtle?  Say you want to go back in time just to observe your ancestors – you have no intention of killing or even interacting with them.  Say you’re just walking around and watching from a distance.  A malarial mosquito starts buzzing around you and you swat it away.  If you hadn’t been there, it would have just fed on some nearby rat.  But your swatting at it stimulates it; angry and hungry, it flies in the direction of your ancestors and stings one.  Maybe that ancestor dies from malaria before he reproduces.  Maybe he just gets sick and misses his opportunity to mate with the woman who would have been your ancestor.  Or maybe nothing serious happens at all.  Maybe he was already in the middle of having sex with her when he gets stung by the mosquito, and the brief moment he spends smacking the mosquito is enough to change which sperm cell ultimately fertilizes her egg.  That alone would be enough to change the identity of their descendants, and it would (arguably) prevent YOU from existing.

Physicists and philosophers who argue that time travel into the past is possible usually understand the Butterfly Effect and might retort something like, “Time travel into the past is possible as long as you don’t do anything, even something small that could chaotically amplify, that would change the facts of the present.”

Here’s the problem: THERE IS NO EVENT, NO MATTER HOW SMALL OR SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT, THAT WOULD SATISFY THAT REQUIREMENT.

As I discuss in this paper, information in the universe is embedded in the relationships, correlations, and entanglements among and between all the particles and fields throughout the universe.  Whether the amount of information in the universe is constant or changing is a fundamental question.  Those who believe in the assumption of U (that quantum wave states always and universally evolve linearly) believe that the information content of the universe is fixed.  As you know if you read this blog or my papers (such as this or this), I have shown that U is false and that the information content of the universe is increasing – specifically, collapse of the quantum wave state upon irreversible correlation events is what produces new information.  Nevertheless, whether the information content of the universe is constant or changing, we can all agree that at the present moment there is a certain amount of information in the universe (and it is a staggeringly large amount).

In other words, there are a huge number of “facts of the present,” and every one of them correlates to some event in the past.  Every single event in the past gets embedded as a fact in the information structure of the universe.  (Those who believe in U would say that every event in the past is already embedded in the information structure of the universe, both past and future, in a block universe.)

What does this all mean?  Imagine a speck of dust a million years ago that might have flown in direction A or direction B depending, for example, on some quantum event.  There is necessarily some physical experiment that can be done today whose outcome would depend on whether that speck of dust went in direction A or B, whether or not anyone could figure out which experiment to perform.  In other words, that seemingly insignificant event from a million years ago is currently embedded in the information structure of the universe, which means that there is some feature of the universe today that depends on that event.  That feature may (or may not) be small, depending on the extent to which it was chaotically amplified, and it may not even be possible to know what kind of experiment would differentiate that feature.  But the point is that the happening of that event a million years ago MUST be physically embedded in the universe today.  (If it wasn’t, then it didn’t happen – which is the point I’ve been trying to make over and over regarding measurement and physical irreversibility.)

So here’s the problem.  If it was possible for you to travel back in time, even if you tried your best not to change the past, your mere physical presence would be a fact that gets embedded in the future information structure of the universe.  The universe, after all, is constantly measuring you and everything about you.  Trillions of air molecules are bouncing off your body every second.  Infrared radiation (heat) is constantly being emitted and absorbed by your skin.  Even your own minuscule gravitational field causes changes around you that constantly provide evidence of your presence.

Even if all you wanted to do was watch your ancestors in the past, and you were somehow able to send back just your eyeballs (or, even better, a tiny camera[1]), your eyes work by focusing and absorbing photons on your retina, and the FACTS about whether or not particular photons in the past got absorbed get permanently embedded in the universe.  At a bare minimum, in order to see something, you have to change the trajectory and/or presence of photons.  These would constitute events, the occurrence of which would forever affect the universe.

Therefore, there is no way to send anything physical to the past, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant – and thus there is no way to directly observe the past – without affecting the present.  If, for example, it was possible to travel to the past in some kind of super-insulated vehicle that managed to affect nothing in the past, except that it allowed a few photons to be absorbed by your retinas so that you could see something, the facts about the absorption of those few photons would be embedded in the universe in a way that would reveal measurably distinct outcomes at any time after, including the present. 

So here’s what I’ve pointed out so far:

·       You can’t travel back in time to kill an ancestor because this would cause a temporal paradox.

·       You can’t travel back in time to do much at all because, thanks to the Butterfly Effect, almost anything you do will get chaotically amplified over time in a way that somehow prevents your existence or your ability or willingness to travel back in time.

·       Nevertheless, if you did travel back in time (or sent something back in time), even if you did nothing, your very presence in the past would get embedded as permanent facts of the universe.  The way the universe is right now (or 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago) depends on whether you travel back in time.

The last point is key.

Imagine that there is some conscious experience you had 10 minutes ago (at time T) that depended, at least to some small extent, on whether you time traveled to the past.  Assume for simplicity that you observed something as blue – i.e., there is a fact, embedded in the universe, about your conscious experience of seeing blue at time T.  However, if you travel into the past, your mere existence gets embedded in the universe in such a way that, at time T, you instead experience seeing red.  So what did you actually experience?

Some may reply that this is just a case of memory erasure or modification, but in these papers (here and here) I argue that retroactive modification of conscious states is impossible.  I’m not saying someone can’t misremember something.  I’m saying that conscious states are history dependent, that the facts of past conscious states get embedded in future states much as past physical events get embedded in future states of the universe.  If there is indeed a fact about what I am consciously experiencing now, then it evidences facts about previous conscious states.  It is therefore impossible for me to experience my present conscious state (which, indeed, I am experiencing) if my past conscious states are not facts and can instead be retroactively changed.  And because time travel into the past implies the ability to retroactively change my own past conscious states, then it would imply that there is no fact about my current conscious state (and also no fact about the current physical state of the universe).  This is false.

Therefore, time travel into the past in any form, even just to observe it, is impossible.

One nagging objection to the above analysis is this: it all hinges on one’s ability to choose whether to travel into the past.  If there’s no free will, then it is either true or false that I’ve already traveled into the past.  But if I have, then that fact is already embedded in the present universe and there is nothing I can do to prevent myself from traveling into the past.  Of course, I believe that we have free will, but it remains one of the problems I am currently working on.

I’ve said enough for this post.  What other objections or thoughts do you have?



[1] But then where would the image information be sent?  On that note, if you were able to send back just your eyeballs to the past without the rest of your body and brain to consciously experience it, then what’s the point?

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Is Time Travel Possible? Part 1

Traveling into the Future

We can certainly travel into the future, which is what we are doing right now at the rate of 1 minute per minute.  We can even change that rate.  With drugs or alcohol, we can change the perceived rate in which we travel into the future.  But we can also change the actual rate, relative to others, thanks to Einstein’s relativity.  This is called relativistic time dilation and it is caused by two physical phenomena. 

The first is relative motion (characterized by Einstein’s “special” relativity).  Imagine you and a friend are wearing really accurate and precise watches.  If your friend is moving toward you or away from you at some speed, her watch will tick slower than yours.  However, the effect in our normal everyday world is very, very tiny.  Take the person’s speed, divide it by the speed of light, then square that result, and that’s the approximate effect.

For example, let’s say your friend is jogging toward you at 3 meters per second (which is almost 7 miles per hour).  Divide that by the speed of light (about 300,000,000 meters per second), and then square that result, and you get 10-16, or 0.0000000000000001.  So for every second your watch ticks, your friend’s watch will tick 100 billionths of a billionth of a second slower.  Imperceptible.  However, if your friend could approach the speed of light relative to you, then her watch would slow down significantly relative to yours.  In fact, if she zoomed away at near the speed of light for long enough, then turned around and returned to Earth, she might have aged only a few months while you aged a few years or longer.

The second phenomenon is gravity (characterized by Einstein’s “general” relativity).  Time slows inside a gravitational potential well.  For example, time ticks slightly slower on the surface of the earth than in outer space, which is why GPS satellites must account for this tiny effect to stay accurate.  The stronger the gravity field, the stronger the time dilation.  A great example was in the movie Interstellar in which the crew lands on a planet closely orbiting a supermassive black hole, leaving one crew member in the mother ship much further from the black hole.  The crew on the planet felt time passing normally, but when they returned to the mother ship, they realized that their hour on the planet had corresponded to many years passing for the crew member on the mother ship.

These things are certainly interesting to think about, but the technology does not exist – and may not ever exist – that will allow humans to experience significant time dilation.  Yes, time dilation is real and we have to account for it in GPS satellites, nuclear reactors, and particle accelerators, but will we ever have the technology to accelerate a human to near the speed of light (relative to another human)?  Probably not.  So while possible in principle, time travel into the future through use of relativistic effects will probably remain science fiction.

Traveling into the Past

The far more interesting question, and the one that most people wonder regarding time travel, is whether it’s possible to travel into the past.  We all want to be Marty McFly (or Doc Brown, depending on your personality), with the freedom to see the past, experience the past, and even change the past.

Lots of reputable physicists, like Nobel Prize winner Kip Thorne (author of Black Holes & Time Warps), claim that the laws of physics allow for time travel into the past, and even suggest fascinating ways of doing so, like stretching open and passing through wormholes.  (Note: wormholes are theoretical predictions and there is exactly zero empirical evidence that they exist.  Even if they could exist, there is no good reason to believe that we could ever create them at will, engineer them to specifications, choose their endpoints in spacetime, stretch them open, or pass matter through them.  They are, purely and simply, science fiction.)

The obvious problem with time travel into the past is the risk of a temporal paradox.  For example, what would happen if you killed your ancestors?  If you did, then you couldn’t be born, which means you couldn’t go back in time to kill your ancestors.  Doesn’t that problem by itself rule out time travel into the past? 

Some say that there’s no problem as long as there’s no possibility of actually changing the past, a concept called the self-consistency principle.  For example, maybe you can travel to the past, but as soon as you try to kill one of your ancestors, some mystical force prevents you from following through.  This statement, which comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, highlights the point: “We should note the crucial distinction between changing the past and participating in (aka affecting or influencing) the past.” 

So what do you think?  Is it possible to affect, influence, or participate in the past without changing the past?

If time travel into the past was possible, what kinds of things could you do without causing a temporal paradox?

In the next post, I’ll dig into this a little more. 

Monday, April 4, 2022

Shameless Self-Promotion: Who is Andrew Knight?

Yesterday a neighbor asked me, “Oh, you’re a physicist?  So what do you do?”

I hemmed and hawed and gave her a really half-assed answer that didn’t reflect the meaning or magnitude of what I’m doing.  So despite the risk of being a shameless self-promoter, let me clearly and confidently answer a few questions.

Who am I?

·       A philosopher of physics and mind.  This is my most recent identity, starting in 2018 when I began pursuing, full-time, answers to the hardest unsolved problems in physics and philosophy.

·       A rocket scientist.  I invented the Rotating Spindle Pump™, a rocket engine liquid propellant pump that is lighter and less expensive than traditional turbopumps.  It was recognized as a Modern Marvel of The History Channel Invent NowTM Challenge.  I am the sole inventor on ten U.S. patents covering RSP and other rocket engines and pumps.

·       An inventor.  I am the sole inventor on an additional seven U.S. patents on a variety of technologies including software, information compression, and consumer products.

·       A teacher.  I taught high school physics (including AP physics) as well as mathematics at several colleges, including the University of Georgia.

·       An eternal student.  I am currently taking graduate physics courses at East Carolina University, the 10th university I’ve attended.  Others include UF (B.S.), MIT (S.M.), Georgetown (J.D.), Princeton, NYU, Shenandoah U, Universidad de Guadalajara, USF, and UAH.

·       A nuclear engineer.  I received my undergraduate and master’s degrees in nuclear engineering.

·       An entrepreneur.  I started two small hospitality businesses in Maine: the Inn at the Agora and the Agora Grand Event Center, which I sold in 2018.

·       A world traveler.  When my wife and I returned from our travels this past summer, I had traveled to my 101st country.

What am I currently doing?

·       Pondering and solving hard problems about consciousness and the physical universe

·       Documenting, publishing, and explaining this progress via this blog, my channel on YouTube, and papers (especially this, this, this, and this).

What problems have I solved?

·       Is quantum computing possible or scalable?

·       Is Schrodinger’s Cat (or Wigner’s Friend or macroscopic quantum superpositions in general) possible?

·       Does the brain cause consciousness?

·       If the brain produces conscious identity, can the brain be copied?

·       Can conscious states be copied?

·       Is mind uploading possible?

·       Will artificial intelligence (AI) ever be conscious?

·       Is consciousness algorithmic?

·       Is the physical world reversible?  Is it deterministic?

·       Does consciousness cause collapse of the quantum wave function?

·       Do quantum waves always evolve linearly (i.e., unitarily and reversibly)? 

·       Is the above assumption (“U” or “universality”) a valid inference?

·       What are quantum superpositions?  Are they relative?

·       What does conscious identity imply about the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics?

·       The measurement problem

·       The black hole information paradox

·       Did the Afshar experiment demonstrate a paradox in wave-particle duality?

·       What is the role of gravity in decohering quantum superpositions?

·       Is time travel possible?

·       What scientific evidence is there for the existence of God?

·       Does infinity exist?

What problems am I working on?

·       Is there an afterlife?

·       Are conscious states history dependent?

·       Are there more possible conscious states than can be produced by the brain?

·       Do we have free will?

·       Information creation: Is Planck’s constant (ℏ) actually decreasing?  If quantum uncertainty is decreasing with time, what does that tell us about the past?  Can we extrapolate backward in time to the Big Bang?

·       Are thoughts private?

·       Why is it always now?

·       What causes the arrow of time?

What I have already accomplished is significant and important, whether or not anyone else recognizes or validates the results.  I am excited to have the time, energy, and mental capacity to continue working on these fascinating, difficult, and very meaningful problems.

FYI: Here is a selected portion of my current CV (curriculum vitae).

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Andrew Knight is Qualified to Endorse

The universe is more unpredictable than I had imagined. 

As I discussed here, I was certain I had been blacklisted from the arXiv.  I have submitted ten papers to it, five of which question the assumption of U (the assumption that quantum wave states universally evolve linearly/reversibly).  Exactly five of those ten papers were rejected… can you guess which ones?

Two days ago, I submitted my new paper (“Wigner’s Friend Depends on Self-Contradictory Quantum Amplification”) to several preprint archives, as well as the arXiv just for the hell of it.  As with most of my submissions to arXiv, it immediately went “on hold” and I fully expected it to be rejected.  Amazingly, it was published last night and can be accessed here.

I don’t get it.  This new paper is not all that different from several others I’ve submitted.  The argument is somewhat different, and it’s shorter and clearer.  It also directly responds to an article that was published last year in Physical Review Letters that essentially shows that reversible measurements are a logical contradiction.  But, like my other articles that have been rejected by arXiv on the indefensible basis that they were “unrefereeable,” this article bluntly rejects U – and the physical possibilities of Schrodinger’s Cat and Wigner’s Friend – on a purely logical basis.

What’s even more amazing is that I submitted it under the subtopic physics.hist-ph (history and philosophy of physics), but some anonymous arXiv moderator moved it to quant-ph (quantum physics), which makes it my third arXiv publication in that topic.

Here’s why that’s amazing.  You can’t submit to arXiv unless someone, who is already regarded as sufficiently competent on a particular topic, endorses you in that topic.  This is one way that arXiv tries to keep out the crackpots.  (As it turns out, Scott Aaronson was the person who originally endorsed me for the quant-ph topic years ago.  He also sent me a snarky email this morning adamantly opposing the argument in this new paper.)  So how do you become an arXiv “expert” on a particular topic?  By getting three articles on arXiv in that topic.  I had already had three articles in the physics.hist-ph topic, but I only had two in quant-ph.  Indeed, I submitted the current article to the physics.hist-ph topic. 

But not only was my article published on arXiv, someone intentionally reclassified it as quant-ph, which makes it my third article in that topic.  I am now “qualified to endorse” in the quant-ph topic on arXiv.  In other words, by arXiv’s own standards, I am now, due to the reclassifying and publishing of an article that rejects the assumption of U, sufficiently competent in quantum physics to help screen out other crackpots.

WTF.  Seriously, WTF.  Either I'm finally getting heard, or someone at arXiv made a huge mistake.  Smart money's on the latter.

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.