Friday, December 20, 2013

The Universe as Hologram - Or Not

Many news sites such as Huffington Post are touting a new simulation that apparently shows the universe "could be a hologram." At the same time, I've come across a couple of esoteric sites that are already taking the idea and running with it, claiming that it proves "matter is an illusion" or some other nonsensical variation on that point. The problem is, first of all, that New Age commenters jump on this stuff all the time in an attempt to justify concepts like that put forth in "The Secret," an updated version of "New Thought" cosmology in which the way in which you think determines every single thing that happens to you. Second of all, they are completely misunderstanding the use of the term hologram. The scientists publishing their findings are in no way arguing that the material world is an illusion - in fact, they're actually trying to understand it better.

Before explaining further I'm going to rant a little more about the whole "illusion" thing, because I think the way it gets used in some esoteric circles is so utterly wrong. I was looking through this stuff a couple of days ago and came across a site proclaiming that matter is an illusion because it's made of energy. That's just stupid. We've known that matter is made of energy since Einstein's relativity theory. It's true that when you touch an object what you're feeling is not a solid surface but rather electromagnetic repulsion at the atomic level - but so what? If you play with neodymium magnets carelessly you're going to get your fingers pinched by a magnetic field, and it's certainly real enough to damage your skin.

Now the idea is based on a valid point, that the way in which our minds mediate the world is "illusion" in the sense that it is basically an internal construction based on sensory data, and brain scans show that imagining something and experiencing it are similar mental processes. It is also true that advanced meditators gain the ability to manipulate this process to a degree that untrained people find incredible, even to the point of being able to control some autonomic body functions by thought alone. But extending this truism into the physical worlds leads to all sorts of incorrect assumptions. If you're about to be hit by a bus, for example, you need to jump out of the way - I'm quite convinced that even the most advanced practitioner in the world couldn't just think the bus out of existence.

This misunderstanding also extends to those magical practitioners who don't understand the basics of the "blogosphere school" of magick, which teaches that the best results are obtained through a combination of magical and mundane actions. Matter resists change because it is not solely a mental creation, and therefore the probability shifts that magical operations produce are limited. Thus, it is necessary to take all of the mundane steps you can towards your goal in order to bring the likelihood of success into a reasonable range in addition to working on the magical level to shift the probabilities. Occultists who imagine that they can get every material thing they want by doing nothing but rituals because "matter is an illusion" wind up broke and ineffectual - because the physical world just doesn't work that way.

Now on to the simulation. One of the biggest puzzles left in cosmology is the creation of a unified field theory, a model that reconciles gravitation with the other three physical forces of nature. The most heavily worked of these is called string theory, and is based on the idea that at the most basic level particles are made up of "strings" of energy that vibrate at particular frequencies. The frequency and structure of the "string" determines the behavior of the resulting particle. It seems like a straightforward idea, but as you delve into the underlying mathematics it becomes extremely complex. In order to make it work, cosmologists originally concluded that you need at least ten dimensions, which is both unwieldy and counter-intuitive.

We experience the world in three dimensions, four if you include time. The big counter-intuitive thing about string theory is that if the universe is indeed a ten-dimensional structure, why can't we move in all ten directions? The explanation there has always been that the dimensions are "compressed" in some fashion and the only movement along them is at the subatomic level, but I've always found that explanation unsatisfactory. In the past I've proposed that treating the structure of the universe as a fractal with the "compressed" dimensions treated as fractional might make more sense, but this new simulation goes further, attempting to model string theory by treating the "strings" as coupled oscillators running along a single dimension. What they found was that, in fact, this one-dimensional model could produce the same predictions as the old ten-dimensional one.

A hologram in the usual sense is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. It is created by passing the light of a laser over a three-dimensional object and onto a plate of glass that receives the image. But in describing the universe as a hologram what these scientists mean is that the universe may in effect be a three-dimensional representation of a ten-dimensional structure. This is kind of an odd use of the term - it's a neat metaphor, but in fact what these scientists may have discovered is that the ten-dimensional model itself is the illusion that never existed except in the world of mathematics. The possible elimination of the extra dimensions from string theory is a big deal and probably gets us a lot closer to a unified theory - but it doesn't mean we're all living in The Matrix or something.

In 1993, Gerard t’Hooft proposed what is now known as the holographic principle, which argued that the information contained within a region of space can be determined by the information at the surface that contains it. Mathematically, the space can be represented as a hologram of the surface that contains it.

That idea is not as wild as it sounds. For example, suppose there is a road 10 miles long, and its is “contained” by a start line and a finish line. Suppose the speed limit on this road is 60 mph, and I want to determine if a car has been speeding. One way I could do this is to watch a car the whole length of the road, measuring its speed the whole time. But another way is to simply measure when a car crosses the start line and finish line. At a speed of 60 mph, a car travels a mile a minute, so if the time between start and finish is less than 10 minutes, I know the car was speeding.

The holographic principle applies that idea to string theory. Just as its much easier to measure the start and finish times than constantly measure the speed of the car, it is much easier to do physics on the surface hologram than it is to do physics in the whole volume. The idea really took off when Juan Martín Maldacena derived what is known as the AdS/CFT correspondence (an arxiv version of his paper is here ), which uses the holographic principle to connect the strings of particle physics string theory with the geometry of general relativity.

While Maldacena made a compelling argument, it was a conjecture, not a formal proof. So there has been a lot of theoretical work trying to find such a proof. Now, two papers have come out (here and here) demonstrating that the conjecture works for a particular theoretical case. Of course the situation they examined was for a hypothetical universe, not a universe like ours. So this new work is really a mathematical test that proves the AdS/CFT correspondence for a particular situation.

Looking at the data I would suggest that cosmologists see if there might be a way to combine this coupled oscillator model with the recently discovered amplutihedron, a mathematical object that lets quantum wavefunctions be mapped into three-dimensional space. If we can, say, build a mathematical model out of coupled amplutihedron oscillators, we might be able to bring the whole thing back in line with the standard quantum model. And if the oscillators themselves are sufficient for explaining gravitation, we might even be done - map the three other forces to the structure of the amplutihedron for their corresponding particles and gravity to the oscillations of said structure. I'm not enough of a mathematician to tell you if that would work or not, but if I'm reading the data right this new simulation suggests it might be possible.

Where this touches on magical work is that as I mentioned in my previous article on the amplutihedron, we're getting closer all the time to determining whether or not Rupert Sheldrake's probability structures might have a underlying, measurable physical basis. Those structures are to my way of thinking the best candidates for isolating magical influences on physical events and conditions created by the deliberate cultivation of particular states of consciousness in conjunction with the basic principles of similarity and contagion. It's not that "quantum physics proves magick," as some ignorant folks out there like to proclaim, but rather that if magick can indeed influence the physical world that influence must start at the quantum level and with advanced enough instruments should be measurable there.

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Nerd said...

"The World as Will and Representation" by Arthur Schopenhauer. Since he could arguably be said to have been exoterically cribbing Buddhism, we can say also The Daimond Sutra. The Sutra of Hui-Neng is also good on this topic as well.

Heidegger and the phenomenologists call it "phenomenalism." That's what Buddhist ontology is as well. The "brain" exists in the universe, not vice versa.

Yes, you need to jump out of the way of the bus, because you cannot wish the bus away. But then, you don't HAVE to. After all, your body is just as "illusory" as anything.

Is this a forest or a set of trees? Well, either way your body is just as "real" as whatever you decide there. But I agree, it is no more or less real than the bus.

As for "unified field theory," the only real one is in aether physics. Or "process physics" as they say nowadays.

I knew a dude who wrote his phd thesis on Ruppert Sheldrake. Wasn't bad, but imo, Sheldrake's theories could use some background in metaphysics.

If you want to see how magick can change "physical" reality, you should check out the qigong schools in China. They use "first person" methods of course, so their empirical methods is advanced beyond ours. They say that "reality" does boil down to quanta of experience, when you withdraw into conscioiusness and "slow down time."

But to get your phd in qigong in China, you have to do stuff like, without touching it, remove the alcohol content from a glass of wine and put it into another glass. There are five of these tests, I can't remember them, because I'm tired. lol. Hold your hand over an x-ray film, covered by a towel, and cause your hand to be imprinted on the film. I'll look them up if you want.

This is in Chinese Medical QiGong Therapy by Jerry Allen Johnson.

Scott Stenwick said...

Granted, you can put forth a philosophical framework in which everything is "illusion," both your body and the bus, but I'm of the opinion that doing so leads to, as Crowley put it, "a stupid kind of mischief." In effect, it mixes the planes in a way that leads to a lot of confusion.

When Buddhism texts discuss "emptiness" they're not referring to nothingness. In Buddhism, things that are "empty" are impermanent. That is, they have a beginning and an end. This is so different from the early western interpretations such as New Thought and its variants that it's hard to believe they had any influence on each other.

I'm of the opinion that one of the advantages Western esotericism has over Buddhism is that its delineation of microcosm and macrocosm is cleaner and better-defined. It's not that either is necessarily any more or less real, but rather that for the most part they exist on separate "planes" - and imaginary (microcosmic) wall is not going to stop a physical (macrocosmic) bus, for example.

Chinese Qigong research is fascinating. One of the reasons I prefer Qigong to the yogic energy work methods that Crowley taught is that it's been subjected to much more experimentation, since in China it's just part of regular medical treatment.