Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Discovering My Dog Nature

Every now and then, our 'girls', three miniature dachshunds, seem to be staring at something or someone we can't see. Sometimes they even bark at 'it'. The idea that they are aware of something that I am not doesn't surprise me. Their sense of smell is very different and their hearing is very likely much better than mine - why not their eyesight too?

The ghosts that surround me are very different. Unlike the ones that cause the girls to react, these ghosts are neither seen nor heard. They haunt me nevertheless. Decades of taking everything to heart and wanting things to be good for everyone else (and failing miserably it seems for the most part) have left me with regrets*. Slowly, however, with much help from friends and my dear K, I am letting them pass by when they visit. Frustrated with my newfound indifference, they come to visit less frequently.

The girls are doing their best, I think, to teach me dog nature. Dogs never live in the past and they rarely seem to anticipate beyond the next meal. The girls and all of their kin live in the moment. They give other creatures (well, maybe not squirrels) the benefit of the doubt, until they are shown to be best avoided, or eaten.

There is good evidence that the domestication of wolves and the domestication of humans happened in parallel. Some even suggest friendly wolves domesticated us! At the very least, they are more than our best friends; they have the capacity to change us for the better.

*Regrets are silly things, and if you don't have them, think nothing more of it. You are much better off. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Harder Than Rocket Science?

When one has ideas that they might understand how the universe works, they should probably take a pill and lie down until it goes away. But no, I have continued to dive in.

It seems my focus has finally narrowed to one suspect who raises her ugly head too often; Quantum Mechanics. A warning - what follows will not include mathematical formulae, but it might as well for all the sense it makes in the real world. As some early twentieth century scientists were variously quoted:

"Reality is not only stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can possibly think."

Here goes:

A fellow by the name of Einstein got it started with his General Theory of Relativity, published in 1916, by inspiring others to consider that classical theories of space and time had got it wrong. Space and time were instead connected into a continuum he called space-time.

In the 1920s a fan of Einstein's named Schrodinger, who famously seemed to dislike cats, developed his Probability Wave Function which has been used successfully in many applications since to describe our world. It is not a formula that tells you everything, but instead it is used to tell you the probability of things being a certain way at the atomic level.

We used to think the world is solid right down to the tiniest things, but we now know that all there is, way down there, is a cloud of possible things that might be. Fortunately, the probabilities work at that tiny level, and at the macroscopic level where we live, a table, chair, or the floor are all quite solid because all those possible-things-that-might-be cooperate to keep us from noticing that the chair is, in fact, a cloud of seemingly uncountable non-existent atoms.

In a thought experiment designed, some say, to illustrate how preposterous this situation is, Schrodinger described a situation in which a cat was confined in a box where poison would be released if a detector recorded the decay of a particle of radioactive material. According to the wave equations, there was a certain probability that the cat would be alive when the box was opened. In order to satisfy those who wanted the world to be "normal", it was postulated that until an observation occurred, the cat existed simultaneously in those two quite different states; alive and dead. However, (and this is the concession to the fans of 'normal') since we assume the observer lives in only one world, the probability wave was suggested to "collapse" when an observation was made, and from then on, the cat was either dead or alive but no longer both.

The whole thing begs questions, including "What is so special about the act of looking?" and "What if a hyena had looked inside instead, then either had eaten or not eaten the cat? Is a hyena's power of observation good enough to collapse the wave function, or maybe, (and this is important) would the hyena have then lived in two parallel universes with the cat, having either eating the carrion, or wandering off looking for a meal?" And the best question of all, "what if ... everything obeys those probability equations of Schrodinger's and we also live in a set of parallel universes where either we saw a dead cat or a live one?" That would mean that we are conscious of only one of a multitude of universes that exist, since these sub-atomic this-or-that decisions are constantly being made. An idea referred to as Quantum Entanglement suggests that we are conscious of only one of those universes at a time, because we become entangled with only one at a time.

These ideas came into current thought as a result of a paper written by a graduate student, Hugh Everett in 1957, (rejected by the physics community of that time, but since accepted) referred to as the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. To emphasize, it says that everything obeys the probability equations, not just the sub-atomic particles in the cat box but every bit of matter. We are all existing in a multitude of universes, but are entangled with only one.

Further to this, consider that our brains are part of the physical structure of the universe(s) we live in, and so, our thought process is entangled as well.

I have often asked where ideas come from. Perhaps what all of this means is that all ideas exist but I have only become entangled with a few of them.

Wouldn't it be interesting to find a way to observe those other roads not travelled?