Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Mysteries of Quantum Mechanics

Lent 2018: Day 15

Two weeks gone, no meat, no alcohol, lots of exercise (managed nine chin-ups to the bar yesterday morning). I'm also reading Stuart A. Kauffman's Humans in a Creative Universe; I'm almost half-way through. It's an outstanding book for me; here is a scientist telling me that my spiritual search for that middle way between religion and science is essentially correct. The book provides a basis of belief in panpsychism (consciousness distributed across the universe), and questions the reductionist materialism that since Isaac Newton has suggested to us that we have no bearing on how the universe evolves.

This is no New Age wishy-washy touchy-feely twaddle, but the profound contemplations of a scientist and thinker with a solid grounding in the history of science and philosophy, and an understanding of what happens at the subatomic level. The result of his pondering is a theory that we are participating in the creation of new possibilities, which then become actual. And our role in willing those possibilities to become actualities.

Key to this is to understand that which science, as yet, does not understand - the 'known unknowns', as it were. I have touched more than once on this blog the notion of Dark Energy, the mysterious force that makes up over 68% of the universe. (Dark Matter makes up another 27%.) Science has no explanation for either. [Here's an interesting and readable article on Dark Energy and Dark Matter from NASA.] We don't know what it is, how it interacts with visible matter.

Dark Energy and Dark Matter are thought to fill the universe, existing within and between galaxies. Telescope stuff (except you can't see or detect them). But at the microscope - electron microscope - level, there's the strange world of quantum mechanics, with its own set of mysteries that science cannot (at present) answer. Kauffman lists the main four.

Not wishing to get too technical, I fear I may lose some scientific accuracy in my description of them. At the heart of quantum mechanics is the measurement of the physical properties of subatomic particles - such as position, momentum, spin, and polarisation.

The first mystery is Nonlocality.

When the spin of two entangled but distant (no, I don't get this) electrons are measured, the outcome is always symmetrical (if one is observed to spin up, the other will always be observed to spin down, or vice versa). How two entangled electrons can be so far is apart is beyond me, but this has been proven to be true over decades of experimentation. Observations can be up to 190km apart (the record to date); this happens simultaneously - that is, faster than the speed of light.  How can that be? Science cannot answer. This is Einstein's "spooky action at a distance".

The second mystery is the instantaneous change in wave function on measurement.

Back to Schrodinger's famous cat. An independent particle is in superposition (you can only work out the probability of where it might be) until such time as you observe it. And then, on measurement, instantly, a single wave function is created (again, I don't get, but please follow). So the cat is alive and dead at the same time until the very instant you open the box - and then you see the result. "If n particles are entangled and one is measured, instantaneously the entangled wave function of the remaining n-1 changes!" This, says Kauffman remains unexplained, despite having been seen to be true since the early 1990s.

The third mystery is 'which-way information'.

Are photons waves or particles? I wrote about this earlier; the double-slit experiment (Thomas Young, 1801) showed that letting light through a single slit gives the scattered points suggesting particles, while letting it in through two slits gives interference patterns suggesting waves. 'Which-way information' says that they cannot be observed as both waves, and as particles, at the same time. The observer sees either one, or the other.

The fourth and final mystery: there is no deductive mechanism for measurement.

There are two or more possibilities as to the position of a particle, but there is no deductive mechanism, no algorithm or robot, that can work out the measurement outcomes - a conscious observer is needed to actually peer into the box. Is the cat alive or dead? A robot won't be able to tell, infers Kauffman. The cat remains in superposition - alive and dead, while the robot opens the box and applies its sensors to check on its health. It is only when a human looks at the data collected by the robot do we learn about the cat's status.

It is incredibly difficult to get one's mind into the atom, to understand beyond the basic notion of the nucleus (formed by neutrons and protons) surrounded by a shell of electrons which are either waves or particles - or indeed both waves and particles, except we can't tell which until we observe them. And then they to strange things, spooky things - affecting one another at great distances, faster than the speed of light, except we don't know that until we observe them.

What's all this got to do with religion? Kauffman is suggesting that we have the power to make the difference between different possibilities and turn one of them into something actual.

This we shall get to in coming chapters... More soon.

This time last year:
Lent starts tomorrow

This time two years ago:
Coincidence and survival

This time five years ago
The Book of Revelations

This time six years ago:
Strong late-winter sunshine

This time seven years ago:
Best pics from February 2011

This time eight years ago:

This time ten years ago:
End of the line

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Mid-winter in late Feb

Work and duties have slowed down my Lenten reading and writing. The paces, however, keep on keeping on (average of over 12,000 this week). Temperatures have plummeted; overnight low was -15C, daytime high today -7C. The ponds have frozen over.

Below: a sight humans rarely get to see - when one can wander across to where the herons nest (the trees to the left). The pond by the top end of ul. Trombity.

Below: the pond on ul. Pozytywki - also solidly frozen after nearly a week of sub-zero temperatures. Rare for it to get so cold in late February

Below: out in Jakubowizna, another Eric Ravilious-style landscape.

Below: outside the domek on the działka. Bathroom's done, kitchen next, once the frosts ease.

This time last year:
Ten years of digital photography

This two years ago:
Between atheism and creationism

This time three years ago:
A peek into the Afterlife
[the best piece I've written about my spiritual quest]

This time four years ago:
The new dupes of Moscow

This time five years ago:
Late-winter commuting, Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
My Nikon D80 five years on

This time seven years ago:
My Nikon D80 four years on

This time nine years ago:
Nikon D80 two years on

This time ten years ago:
Nikon D80 one year on

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Of Consciousness and Will within the Universe

Lent 2018: Day Nine

Stuart A. Kauffman throws us a philosophical challenge. "Are We Zombies with, at Best, Witnessing Minds?" This is what the deterministic physics of reductive materialism would boil us down to.

Kauffman's answer is that we are not. We have the will, the consciousness, to turn the Possible into the Actual. His reasoning is new - this is not Aristotelian, nor Newtonian nor Darwinian - this is post-quantum thinking. Here goes...

"I will propose a new Triad: Actuals, Possibles, and Mind, where mind acausally observes mediating quantum measurement, transforming Possibles to new Actuals, which then acausally enable new Possibles for mind to observe again, hence in a continuous status nascendi. This Triad, I will propose, includes quantum variables, such as electrons exchanging protons, consciously observing and measuring one another, and acting with free will, and human conscious, free-willed mind. This will lead to a radical panpsychism; wherever measurement occurs so do consciousness and free will... [T]he proposal that mind acausally 'mediates' measurement is in principle testable. One way would be to show that human conscious attention nonlocally, hence acausally, can alter the outcome of measurement."

Wow. Strong stuff... many scientists might indeed argue - flaky stuff, bordering on paranormal studies. Especially in that Dean Radin, who Kauffman quotes several times in this book, is not someone that conventional science takes all that seriously (from Wikipedia: "Radin's ideas and work have been criticized by scientists and philosophers skeptical of paranormal claims.") But let's move on. Kauffman also quotes Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff who associate quantum measurement with flashes of consciousness and choice. "If this is testable... and confirmed... we will have to consider that consciousness and free will did not emerge with life, but as part of the universe, like pressure and temperature, was used as life evolved, possibly sentient and acting from the start, and that consciousness became ever more integrated and refined and diversified, as we ourselves experience."

Let that sink in for a while. Consciousness - not something that came as a result of an evolving biosphere, but predating any form of life, out there from the very beginnings of the universe.

Panpsychism. The notion that consciousness pervades the entire universe. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.

I kind of came to this conclusion myself, last September, my copy of Stuart A. Kauffman's Humanity in a Creative Universe by my bedside, unread beyond the prologue. I wrote (here) in an entirely unscientific manner, that I see "consciousness as a part of the universe, along with matter and energy".

That was just my instinct, something I felt, not a hypothesis observed, measured, tested repeatedly and peer-reviewed. Gut feeling. But here's another scientific voice... Adam Frank puts it thus: "Consciousness might, for example, be an example of the emergence of a new entity in the universe not contained in the laws of particles. There is also the more radical possibility that some rudimentary form of consciousness must be added to the list of things, such as mass or electric charge, that the world is built of. "

This suggests that science is moving into areas hitherto considered flaky because conventional Newtonian explanations fail to hold water at either the subatomic level nor at the cosmological level. What is this Dark Energy that makes up nearly 68.3% of the energy in the known universe? How many more subatomic particles are there for us to discover? It is this stalemate of classical physics that Kauffman and others are attempting to break through. This would change our view of the universe and its ultimate purpose.

This time two years ago:
The Devil is indeed Doubt

This time three years ago:
Are you aware of your consciousness?

This time four years ago:
"Why are all the good historians British?"

This time six years ago:
Central Warsaw, evening rush-hour

This time seven years ago:
Cold and getting colder

This time nine years ago:
Uwaga! Sople!

This time ten years ago:
Ul. Poloneza at its worst

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

From the world of science to the social world

Lent 2018: Day Eight

From the world of Newtonian physics (working out trajectories of planets) and quantum mechanics (working out positions of subatomic particles), Stuart A. Kauffman moves on through the non-entailing, unprestatable laws of biological evolution, to the human world of economics, politics - art even.

Newton is prestatable. We know where Venus and Mars are tonight, and where they'll be ten years from now (although all those tonnes added to these planets' mass by Mankind might have some detectable long-term effect). We can observe the positions of those subatomic particles (but only if we actually do the observation - otherwise all we can do is speculate). The future evolution of the biosphere - entirely unprestatable.

The human world is not bound by entailing laws. Take economic theory. As we all know, the global financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 was not something that economists forecast. Yes, some individual economists got it broadly right, but there was no consensus, such as that among astronomers who can forecast the next Transit of Venus in just under 100 years' time to within a day's accuracy. "We cannot mathematize... the evolution of the economy," says Kauffman. The same goes for political polling, or for seeing what uses we will find for a newly developed technology.

He touches on game theory, citing the famous prisoner's dilemma - cooperate or defect. Here, I'd take issue with Kauffman - over millions of rounds of playing this game, there is an optimal outcome. Cooperate with them that will cooperate with you, but defect on those that defect on you the very moment they do so - and continue to do so until the very moment they return to cooperation. [I wrote about this here in the context of international relations.] While the rule has been proven, what is difficult to define is 'defect' (A colleague leaves a mess on your desk? A friend insults you. A neighbour throws a brick through your window? A criminal steals your car? Murders your family?) and to define the response (Measured? Proportional?) Games have rules, but those are not the same rules as those that govern the motion of a body in space.

Unexpected consequences intrigue Kauffman as they show just unprestatable is the unfolding of human society. Every new law will have a loophole that the legislators did not expect. That is what lawyers are for. "Unprestatable new loopholes open unprestatable new opportunities and thus enable, but do not cause, new actions, strategies and behaviours. Laws both constrain some actions, yet enable other, often unforeseen, actions with unforeseeable payoffs. "No one designed English common law," he says. It evolved.

Kauffman shows how the chain of Actual->Possible->Actual->Possible unfolded from Alan Turing's first mathematization of 'mechanical computation' in 1933, to the world's first computer, ENIAC (1946), to mainframe computers; the invention of the microchip enabled computers to shrink in size and increase in power; word processing came along as the 'killer app' that would make the personal computer a household product; file sharing enabled - but did not cause - the world-wide web; the possibility of selling goods on the web enabled eBay and Amazon; the web also enabled social media to come into existence, and the increased power of mobile telephone allowed browsers to to move to smartphones.

"History unfolds into the possibilities it creates, new Actuals enabling new Possibles, enabling new Actuals." But this process is messy, sprawling, interwoven, confused. "We must live into the future and make it, structured by our past, yet not fully knowing what it is that we enable as we enable it," says Kauffman.

This time two years ago:
Music, mysticism and the human spirit

This time three year:
My first Pendolino journey 

This time four years ago:
Poland's universal panacea

This time five years ago:
Of taxis, deflation, crisis and strikes

This time six years ago:
Lent starts again

This time  seven years ago:
Art Quiz

This time eigh years ago:
A month before Spring Equinox

This time nine years ago:
The beauty of winter
[some of my finest winter photos]

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The evolution of the biosphere cannot be predicted

Lent 2018: Day Five

Stuart A. Kauffman is keen to show that biology and physics observe different laws - so different in fact, that any attempt at a final theory, as dreamt of by Steven Weinberg, will forever remain an impossible dream.

Whereas the Newtonian worldview works fine on an idealised, friction-free billiard table, or in an entirely abiotic solar system in which barren rocks orbit a ball of thermonuclear plasma, it breaks down once life is born. And once that life begins to evolve, it ceases to have any sway.

The outcome, says Kauffman, is no longer entailed by any natural law. It is unprestatable. You cannot state it in advance.

"The biosphere becomes complex and diverse because it can; it becomes into those very possibilities that it creates," he says. As I wrote towards the end of my previous post, those possibilities are so vast as to be unrepeatable - in a battle between eternity and infinity, infinity wins. As the biosphere evolves, whole series of accidental happenings affect individual members of each living species, which unfold in future generations, wave after wave, driving evolution in paths than cannot be prestated.

Kauffman gives an example of the lungfish, which at some point in its evolutionary history, evolved a swim bladder, a sac in which the fish can regulate the ratio of water and air to alter its buoyancy. Without that evolutionary adaptation, he says, the microscopic worms and bacteria that live within the lungfish's swim bladder would never have evolved. Now, who could have considered that possibility as the ancestors of the lungfish first made tentative hops from one puddle to another? New biological functions are evolving constantly. New adaptations. "Life is a miracle of largely unprestatable becoming."

This, suggests Kauffman, supports the view that the Universe is antientropic. It's not winding down, nor cooling off like a glass of tea on your desk. Not only is it physically expanding at an accelerating rate, pushed outward by a mysterious dark energy that science cannot see nor even define, but biologically is is evolving in directions that we could have never guessed.

These 'unfoldings' of what is Actual create new possibilities for the biosphere to evolve further, as those possibilities then become actuals that create more new possibilities, and so on. Unlike those Newtonian billiard balls whose future trajectory can be worked out precisely, life is entirely too complex, too diverse, for any law to be able to determine how it will continue to unfold. "The swim bladder enables, but does not cause the bacterial or worm species to evolve to live in it." It is random mutations in their DNA that cause them to adapt to life inside the lungfish's swim bladder.

"No laws entail the evolution of the most complex system we know in the universe. We are beyond entailing laws, so beyond Newton, Einstein, Schrodinger and even Darwin," says Kauffman. "We can still get to the moon using Newton. But no laws at all entail the specific evolution of the biosphere." This, he says, is where reductive materialism fails. "The biosphere does not fit the Pythagorean dream that all that is has foundation, preferably mathematical."

More soon!

This time last year:
Jeziorki meltdown in the fog

This time two years ago:
Health, happiness and wholeness

This time three years ago:
Kicking off Lent again 

This time four years ago:
Improving the procurement of Poland's infrastructure 

This time five years ago:
Wait to spend or save lives now? An infrastructure quandry

This time nine years ago:
It's not rich countries that build roads, its roads that build rich countries

This time ten years ago:
Snow that was doomed to melt

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Entropy and anti-entropy in a constant-ruled Universe

Lent 2018: Day Four

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is concerned with the direction of natural processes. It asserts that a natural process runs only in one sense, and is not reversible. For example, heat always flows spontaneously from hotter to colder bodies, and never the reverse, unless external work is performed on the system.

Place a mug of hot tea on your desk, leave it for long enough, and it will cool to room temperature. Energy runs down. This is entropy. We age, we die. A freshly picked strawberry eventually rots. It's a one-way process. All of this suggests that our Universe is winding down.

Yet it isn't. The Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate (something scientists only discovered 20 years ago). This is due to something we've not been able to prove or quantify - something that science calls 'mysterious' - dark energy. It comprises 68.3% of all the energy in the entire universe.

Stuart A. Kauffman makes the connection. "The implication of this accelerating expansion is that we do not have to worry about enough free energy. As the universe becomes larger, its maximum entropy increases faster than the loss of free energy by the second law, so there is always more than enough free energy to do work."

Since the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe has become vastly complex - never mind the fact that it spawned us - marvellous, sentient, creative creatures capable of abstract thought - the observable Universe contains some two trillion galaxies, containing more stars than there are grains of sand on earth. [How much life could be out there! How much of it sentient! How much of it more advanced than us!]

Kauffman points out that this complex Universe is ruled by constants. "The laws of physics, general relativity, and the standard model, have about twenty-three constants of nature, such as the speed of light, the ratio of proton to electron mass, and so on. Were any of these constants very different, we could not get a complex universe with stars, galaxies, complex chemistry, and life. This is called the 'fine tuning of the constants'." [Do read this Wikipedia entry - it really is mind-blowing!]

So we are not living in a Universe that's winding down. Indeed, the opposite is happening, Kaufman says: "As more complex things and linked processes are created, and can combine with one another in ever more new ways to make yet more complex amalgams of things and processes, the space of possible things and linked processes becomes vastly larger and the universe has not had time to make all the possibilities."

Our Universe, expanding at an accelerating rate, is powered by dark energy, growing in complexity, complex systems are spawning even more complex systems - this is not entropy, this is anti-entropy. "The Possible becomes Actual, and this enables what next becomes Possible," and so on.

The mathematics of those possibilities, ponders Kauffman, boggles the mind. Let us consider all the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur atoms in the Universe, and all  the possible combinations of molecules, forming amino acids, then proteins. How many times would we need to repeat the history of the Universe to form all possible proteins up to 200 amino acids in length, asks Kauffman. (His answer - ten to the power of 39 times).This all suggests that our Universe is non-repeating.

That's a mind-blowing thought. Repeat Big Bang billions upon billions of times - and there will not be another Universe like this one - ever!

This time last year:
Truth, spin, bullshit and lies

This time two years ago:
How much spirituality do we need?

This time five years ago:
The Chosen Ones

This time six years ago:
Fixies in the snow

This time nine years ago:
Just the ticket

Friday, 16 February 2018

Before and after Isaac Newton

Lent 2018: Day Three

"With Newton, we became disenchanted, and entered modernity," writes Stuart A. Kauffman, quoting sociologist Max Weber. The Enlightenment was indeed a hinge of history. It led directly to the Industrial Revolution (which couldn't have happened without Science, empirical, repeatable, objective) and the modern age. A modern age offering modern man more than we need.

Isaac Newton's thinking did not emerge from a vacuum. It was based on the observations and measurements of Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, Plato, (then after a pause for the Dark Ages) Copernicus, Galileo and Descartes. The Newtonian revolution was the birth of classical physics. "The conceptual framework invented by Newton is stunning in its brilliance, for its pervasive brilliance and for the hold it retains over our minds. Newton remains our dominant model for how to do science.

Defining the universal law of gravity, Newton used differential equations of motion, allowing scientists to deduce the forward trajectories of moving bodies such as planets and their satellites. Newtonian physics holds that the the Universe is causally closed. Taken further, French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace postulated a 'demon' who knew the positions and momenta of all particles in the universe. Such a demon could calculate, on the basis on Newton's differential equations, the entire future and past history of the Universe.

Fundamental laws, standing outside the Universe, that "just are."

This changed Mankind's view of God. From a deity that intervenes in our day-to-day lives, sending hurricanes, pestilence, earthquakes or other tribulations to try us, God became the Creator that wound up the Universe, set its immutable laws... and stood back.

For the Church, the birth of modern science was a challenge to its authority. I have written about this in my 2013 Lenten series of essays (Tischner-Żakowski, click for link). As  Kauffman puts it: "With Newton, all that changed: we are entirely law governed." Fundamental laws, that can be scientifically measured, determine how things are, were and will be - not a God with a long white beard. This is what Alexander Pope had in mind when he wrote "God said let there be Newton, And all was Light."

But the deterministic Newtonian world view would begin to fracture within a couple of centuries. The uncertainty inherent in quantum mechanics denied Laplace's demon the ability of calculate anything at all in the sub-atomic world. And not long before the birth of quantum physics, Henri Poincaré developed the chaos theory in mathematics - dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. The weather is one such example of a chaotic system. "Two 'infinitely close' initial positions and momenta can follow trajectories that veer apart becoming 'exponentially' more distant with time... determinism no longer implies predictability, for we cannot measure initial conditions to infinite accuracy," explains Kauffman.

And so although the Newtonian order was already being undermined in mathematics and in physics, Newton's reductive materialism maintained a powerful hold on our minds "by the mid-20th century, we found ourselves in a meaningless universe. Consider Steven Weinberg, Nobel physicist, who wrote not long ago, "The more we know of the universe, the more meaningless it appears"," says Kauffman, pointing out that Weinberg's Dream of a Final Theory shows him to be a believer in the triumph (one day) of reductive materialism in which everything is entailed by natural laws." In philosophy, the mid-20th century existentialism of Sartre and Camus depended on a meaningless Universe.

Along came quantum mechanics. Kauffman explains the concept of light - photons - being waves and particles at the same time, something first shown in Thomas Young's double-slit experiment (1801!). This is sufficiently important to be expanded over five pages. I, however, would merely suggest you have a look at the Wikipedia page about the experiment - the notion that photons, particles which can be waves have no mass and move at the speed of light is quite amazing to ponder over.

Quantum mechanics also gave us Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (1927), which states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. And the similar Observer Effect, which posits that simply observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon - in other words, that measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the system.

Now, if uncertainty reigns in the subatomic world - how does that square with the determinism of Newton's reductive materialism?

Wikipedia warns us against going too far in rejecting Newtonian determinism: "[the uncertainty principle and observer effect] findings have led to a popular misconception that observation by a conscious mind can directly affect reality, though this has been rejected by mainstream science. This misconception is rooted in a poor understanding of the quantum wave function ψ and the quantum measurement process."  Despite him quoting parapsychologist Dean Radin, Kauffman is not going to let himself go down the road of New Age mysticism. Kauffman's aim is rather to question the "rampant scientism that plagues us and blinds us", railing against "'the hard-headed realist' stance in a world now devoid of mystery... I admire reductive materialism; I seek... not to deny it, but to destroy its hegemony over our minds and set  us free."

More soon!

This time last year:
Historical turning point: which way now?

This time two years ago:
Coincidence and consciousness 

This time four years ago years ago:
North-east of Warsaw West revisited

This time five years ago:
Looking for answers

This time six years ago:
Fresh powder in Warsaw's parks

This time eight years ago:
Another Lent starts

This time ten years ago:
Okęcie dusk

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Bending the laws of physics with your will

Lent 2018, Day Two

Stuart A. Kauffman intends to upset the hegemony of reductive materialism (the science of reducing everything around us down to a set of equations that empirically prove how things are). Accepting classical physics as the basis of our worldview, he suggests, tends to make us feel that we are but helpless automatons in a pre-ordained universe. We chase the illusory goal of endless economic growth, buying things we don't need, despoiling the environment because we have lost contact with art, with poetry, with that which lies beyond scientific law.

The mechanistic, rationally scientific way of looking at life has blinkered us. We are fully alive, a messy part of a confused and confusing biosphere that we are co-creating.

Science is continually searching for a final theory, a grand unifying theory, a foundational law, outside of the Universe, that will perfectly explain why everything is as it is, its origin and its ultimate end. Kauffman does not believe we will ever find a final theory... "...efforts to unite quantum mechanics with general relativity have all failed since 1927."

What we will find, he suggests, will be ever-changing, a Universe of continually shifting possibilities.

Isaac Newton's third-person objective science allowed Mankind to calculate the elliptical orbit of Mars with great precision. Knowing its precise mass, we could have once be sure that the planet would continue along that orbit forever more, in a steady-state Universe.

But, says Kauffman, Newton did not reckon with the will of mankind. From 1971 to the present, sentient primates on Planet Earth have steadily been increasing the mass of Mars; human intervention has resulted in Mars gaining over six tonnes (a variety of landers and rovers, some crashed; others are long-defunct, their missions over; Curiosity still roves and sends us data).

Those six tonnes may be a tiny fraction of the planet's overall mass, but Newtonian physics insists that they would influence Mars's orbit. And so the silent billiard ball, obeying the initial and the boundary conditions of its motion, will be ever so slightly deflected, altering the dynamics of the entire solar system... because of Man's will.

Returning to quantum mechanics, Kauffman mentions the experimental evidence by Dean Radin from 2013 that conscious human attention can alter the outcome of quantum measurement - even at a distance.

So not only is Schrodinger's cat alive and dead at the same time until the observer opens the box - but there is now the suggestion is that the observer can will the cat alive (or dead). "Radin's experiments are a first hint that we can show how human consciousness can 'mediate' measurement, perhaps even nonlocally."

The implications are huge. "This all leads to a vast panpsychism, in which all quantum measurement is mediated by Mind, conscious and free-willed, as part of the furniture of the entire universe!" says Kauffman. He sets out the triad of Mind, Possibles and Actuals, in which Mind measures Possibles to yield new Actuals, which in turn yield new Possibles which the Mind can measure.

Panpsychism suggests that Consciousness and Will are distributed throughout the Universe. "[They] have evolved at the origin of and with life," says Kauffman, who points out that the single-celled E. coli bacterium "gives signs of emotions ranging from fear to disgust and anger".

Wow. Flaky science or a new pathway? As Isaac Newton says, he was standing on the shoulders of giants - Einstein standing on Newton's shoulders, but in terms of looking at matter and the Universe, it is clear we still are a long, long way off full understanding.

More tomorrow!

This time two years ago:
Giving it up for Lent

This time four years ago:
North-east of Warsaw West revisited

This time five years ago:
Looking for answers

This time six years ago:
Fresh powder in Warsaw's parks

This time eight years ago:
Another Lent starts

This time ten years ago:
Okęcie dusk

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Becoming and the magic that'll re-enchant us

Lent 2018, Day 1 - Ash Wednesday

As I wrote yesterday, this Lent I will be drawing on Stuart A. Kauffman's book Humanity in a Creative Universe. The book's basic premise is that scientific reductionism has killed off mankind's capacity for wonder, by reducing everything to a series of mathematical equations which prove that things are as they are because that's how they are. He considers Isaac Newton (1643-1727) as the father of this revolution, tying together the mathematics of Pythagoras and Euclid with the astronomical observations of Copernicus and Galileo.

From man's ability to predict the elliptical paths of the planets, to the 'equal and opposite' reaction about which we learnt at school, Newton's thinking brought on the Enlightenment, the end of alchemy and the beginnings of modern science. The Church lost influence as science began to rationally explain more and more natural phenomena. At the same time, John Locke was arguing that governance was about checks and balances and not the divine right of kings; Adam Smith then explained economics, while 83 years later Darwin gave us evolution. These four great thinkers brought about the End of Magic, suggests Kauffman.

Everything around us could be explained, and if it couldn't, it would only be a matter of time before it could - scientifically. Reductive materialism reigned.

But then along came quantum mechanics. The position of the electron in an atom's shell. Hardly something worth being curious about, one would think - not something that remotely impinges on our day-to-day life.

From 1909 to 1927, physicists and mathematicians had cracked the theory behind it - as Kauffman points out - to eleven decimal places. Using scientific method, examining the results of experiments repeated over and over in many different labs, it was proved that the strange world of quantum mechanics is not a flaky theory, but an incontrovertible fact. An electron can indeed be in two places at one time, until someone detects its actual position - pinning it down by observation. Until an observer has observed it, the electron is said to be in 'superposition' - this is Schroedinger's famous cat - alive and dead at the same time until someone peers into the box.

Quantum mechanics has overturned Newton's neat world of atoms bouncing off one another equally and oppositely, like billiard balls. Suddenly, an event that happens in one place (an electron moves from one shell to another), can happen somewhere else at the same time - simultaneously, faster than the speed of light. Suddenly, the presence of a conscious observer is needed to determine the outcome.

So cause and effect are no longer necessarily linked, and with that change, the determinism that had reduced us to the status of meat robots in a steady-state universe, is starting to change...

But many people still consider that life, consciousness, is a mere accident of chance, caused by random atoms bumping into one another over billions of years. For them, God is dead, the magic has gone and will not return.

Even more people, however, are still living with a pre-Enlightenment mindset, that an omnipotent, omnipresent God reigns over the world and is here to punish or reward us. Some people stumble between the two, subscribing to a religion because one ought to, while not really believing in anything. A post-post-modern world view is emerging, one in which our presence is central to a Universe that is fulfilling itself.

Kauffman's book is spiritually optimistic yet based on firm scientific grounding. He asks us not to be over-reliant on reason, not to be materialistically driven by a desire for endlessly growing GDP, and to be aware of our role as a creative part of a Universe that is Becoming.

More tomorrow...

This time last year
Short-haul musings 

This time two years ago:
Mind, matter and life

This time three years ago:
Compositions in blue and white

This time six years ago:
Waiting for the change to come

This time seven years ago
A wetter Poland?

This time nine years ago:
Heavy overnight snow

This time ten years ago:
Changing Jeziorki skyline

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Preparations for Lent

It starts tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, and lasts 46 days until Easter Saturday (31 March). Today I shall empty the last of the Merlot, eat a hamburger with French fries - and as from tomorrow there will be no meat or alcohol, not to mention fast food, salt snacks, confectionery (cakes and biscuits I tend not to eat anyway). Exercising will be stepped up. Yes - and a focused cut in my salt intake (stuff like anchovies and oyster sauce, piri-piri or sambak oel).

That's the 'body' bit of Lent. But of increased importance to me over the years has been the spiritual side; here I will make the most of the coming 46 days to explore further my beliefs and how they are evolving over the course of my lifetime. Since 2013, my Lents have become more than just a record of how many sit-ups I can do, but have become a more structured time of spiritual exploration. [If you are here mainly for my photos, there won't be many between now and Easter.]

My guide in this process this year will be Stuart A. Kauffman's Humanity in a Creative Universe (Oxford University Press, 2016). I received the book from my brother the previous Christmas, but could not get past the introduction on account of the complexity of the physics (a bit like my abortive assault on Fr Michał Heller's Filozofia przypadku). I understand the dead cat. But you can't really understand the physics without understanding the maths. Filozofia przypadku had a lot of maths in it - something I could only deal with up to O-level - quadratic equations were beyond my non-scientific mind.

Yet science and religion should be brought closer together. Reductionist scientists like Richard Dawkins, who posit that we are just meat robots that somehow just happened in an accidental universe are, to me, just as wrong as fundamentalist Christians who persist in believing that God made the world in seven days.

Over the next 46 days, with the aid of Humanity in a Creative Universe, I shall attempt to move further in my understanding of the universe, where it's heading and why we exist.

As Kauffman points out, the word 'religion' comes from the Latin 're' and 'ligo' - literally, I tie together. Tying together the physical world and the spiritual world into one.

How much spirituality do we need in our lives? Certainly more than most of us currently experience. Not just random moments of awe, but a structured search for meaning. This requires as much effort as daily exercise or staying off foodstuffs that harm. A bit of self-discipline, but something more than just going through the motions of Sunday Mass. Why do we need it? Meaning, purpose, direction, order.

The unfolding (or 'becoming' or 'entailing' - two words used by Kauffman) of the Universe is something we are all a part of; we can either be a conscious part of that process, or we can choose to say it's all been an accident, a meaningless coincidence, of no consequence. Shutting our minds to the beautiful creation that is our Universe, billions of galaxies composed of billions stars, is dangerous. Our destiny is to evolve spiritually, away from the beastly, towards the angelic. Seeing the Universe as meaningless is a first step to a return to barbarism, allowing the beast to roam unfettered.

This year's journey, a few short steps on the infinitely long road from Zero to One, this years Pilgrimage of the Lenten Mind, starts tomorrow - join me for it.

This time two years ago:
Religion and Spiritual Growth

This time four years ago:
When trams break down

This time six years ago: 
Who are the thickies of Europe?

This time seven years ago:
Oldschool Photochallenge: Response No. 2

This time eight years ago:
Oligocene water from Jeziorki 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

War and the absence of war

My generation was born in the shadow of war. It affected our parents in their youth terribly. It was a common topic of conversation among our elders - the 1960s were as close to WW2 as we are today to the mid-1990s.

My childhood was immersed in the memorabilia of war - war comics like Commando, War Picture Library - Airfix Spitfires, Lancasters and Sherman tanks, toy soldiers in 1/76th and 1/32nd scale - photo albums of the Warsaw Uprising, books borrowed from the library about D-Day, El Alamein, Stalingrad; books about those same tanks and planes and battleships that I stuck together in miniature form. Even today I can tell you from memory the horsepower of the Mk I Hurricane, the bomb load carried by a Vickers Wellington, the guns on the ORP Błyskawica, the calibre of a Lee Enfield rifle. All useless information for a boy growing up in West London, but I soaked it up nevertheless.

A boy who grew up into a man who - unlike his father, his grandfather, or indeed a long line of ancestors - never knew war.

The notion that someone could point a rifle or load a mortar with the intention of putting a piece of metal into the body of another human being to sort out differences between nations and ideologies, has  here in Europe become defunct.

Is war the natural condition for mankind? Are we doomed to engage in armed conflict with one another because such is our biology?

For the whole of my life there has been no war in the core European countries. Yes, the Balkans saw a dreadful conflict that they have not totally gotten over. And yes, there's a war going on in eastern Ukraine, stoked by Russia, fought by Russian troops, killing Ukrainians with bullets and shells and rockets. But between the Atlantic and the Dnieper - peace has prevailed.

For four and half of those seven decades, the Cold War meant the risk of bullets and shrapnel was high. But the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction kept war away from the North Atlantic. In 1990, we felt it was all over, history had been won by the good guys and that was that.

As I wrote last month, there are today ever fewer people who remember what it was like to have seen combat in WW2. You'd have to be over 91 today to have been called up to the His Majesty's Armed Forces on your 18th birthday some time in early 1945. If you are in your late 70s today, you'd remember the war from your childhood. But if you are 72 or younger - WW2 would not have affected you. Of course, there was Korea (1950-53); Americans had Vietnam. These conflicts affected drafted men as well as volunteers.

I've spent my entire life in peace, no one shooting at me like the German soldiers who shot at my father, no one rounding me up at gunpoint into a cattle-truck as the Russians did to my mother exactly 78 years ago today. Sixty years old and I've not been to war - how rare is that in the perspective of history? I'm too old to bear arms now - though I'd still willingly volunteer to do so should Polish soil ever be invaded. Would today's young do so?

Across the border, our neighbour Ukraine is being invaded - a seeping pustulent war concocted by Putin as a 'frozen conflict' that's to fester on, unresolved. Young Ukrainians are faced with the dilemma of staying to fight or moving west to find work in the labour-hungry economies of the EU.

Does the fact that Europe has experienced peace for so long mean that it is about to come to an end - or are we in the fragile infancy of a new era where shooting wars have become consigned to history? If Putin can see that investing in troll farms, cyber warriors and state-sponsored hackers is more beneficial - and far less risky - than invading Estonia or Latvia - maybe he'll stick to that. The European Union can be split asunder by stoking the differences inherent in Western society. We should all be aware of that risk and guard against it.

This time two years ago:
Sensitivity to spiritual evolution

This time three years ago:
'Peak car' - in Western Europe, at least 

This time five years ago:
Pavement for Karczunkowska NOW!
[We still don't have one... I walk home in fear of my life.]

This time six years ago:
Until the Vistula freezes over 

This time seven years ago:
Of sunshine, birdsong and wet socks

This time ten years ago:
Dziadzio Tadeusz at 90

Friday, 9 February 2018

Polish beer cans - new stuff has come to light

Back in Ealing, enjoying the sunshine and earliest intimations of spring while walking around Pitshanger Park, up towards St Mary's church, Perivale, along the footpaths that cross Ealing golf club and back to my father's house. I notice something new (and I've lived here since 1970) - rats. Rats along the riverbank, rats on the golf course footpath, rats in the park. Great big, plump rats - the size of squirrels - much bigger than pet rats one can buy. "Did you realise this gaff's overrun with rodents?" Bit of a shock - at first sight, I thought it was indeed a grey squirrel with a a bad case of ogonopsypsypoza - but no man, this was more like a large grey rat. Will the council react? Or has the natural ecosystem of the banks of the River Brent been altered for good? I repeat - I've been coming here for 47 and a bit years and I've never - not once - seen a rat. Today - five sightings. (Having said that, my father says he has seen rats around here, many times.)

This is but a preamble. Litter, food remains - rats being feral, are attracted to the stuff. While walking the golf course footpaths, I came across many discarded beer cans. Nothing unusual, there have always been a great many here. Last summer there was a big tidy-up courtesy of the golf club, on whose property the cans tend to be tossed. But they are returning. And to my eye, what grates the most is the ubiquitous presence of Lech, Tyskie, Żywiec and Warka cans - Polish brands representing about two-thirds of all the beer cans strewn around this picturesque walk.

Before you accuse me of slandering the Polish nation, let me share with you a few observations.

Last December, I was in West Ealing, and walking down Melbourne Avenue I saw a group of inebriates, two men and one woman, hammering down the Warka Strong outside the library. Time - around 10:30 am. I assumed they were my fellow countrymen. They were not. I heard guttural accents from Glasgow; I was surprised by their choice of tipple.

A few days later, I was in Lublin, where I was in meetings with two of Poland's largest wholesalers of food to the 800 or so Polski skleps across the UK. Very successful and dynamically growing businesses. But there were two areas of trade that neither would touch - alcohol and tobacco. The owners of both firms told me that smuggling of both into the UK was rife, and that honest businesses (these guys are both way too big to attract the wrong kind of attention from HMRC) avoid cigarettes and beer.

But these commodities make their way into Britain's retail networks - via family-owned convenience stores, where low price works its magic. Brands that were once the exclusive preserve of Pan Heniek and Pan Ziutek, Sebek and Franek, have now made their way into the wider substance-abuse community across Britain.

My assumption - that the only people in the UK who drink tins of Polish beer are Poles - is wrong.

I have heard several times - in Manchester, in Derby, in Edinburgh - that for British teenagers, Polish beer is an attractive choice because it is a) strong, b) sweet and c) cheap. Cheap if it has come into the UK via an illegal route, cheap if excise duty is not paid on it, cheap if it's bought cash-in-hand from a dodgy outlet.

The Polish wholesalers in Lublin said that today many Polski skleps are owned by non-Poles, who bought out the original Polish entrepreneurs who founded the business, based on a supply chain out of Poland and loyal local shoppers. Greek Cypriots, Turks, Kurds, Indians, Pakistanis - there's a wide range of nationalities who today run shops serving the large central and eastern European populations of the UK. Indeed, last summer, I popped into Jay's Superstore off Northfields Avenue, ('Newsagents, Groceries, Off Licence, Polski Sklep') to buy my father some Polish bread, and discovered that it was owned by a Sikh. Full range of Polish products. Now, not being a fan of Lech, Żywiec, Warka or Tyskie (why drink any of these when Poland has become a centre of high-quality craft brewing), I can't say whether these particular brands were being offered by Jay.

[UPDATE 01.03.2018: The explosion in Leicester which killed five people last Sunday happened at a Polski sklep, a Żabka,owned by Aram Kurd. None of the people who died in the blast were Polish.]

My point is this. Polish beer can only compete with local brews if the cost of transporting it a thousand miles is countered by a competitive price at point of sale. This is why excise duty levied on beer makes sense - to prevent the futile transportation of a low-value, high-volume commodity to a country with higher production costs from one with lower production costs. But avoid paying that duty... and the consumer will find you.

The corollary to this is that because you see a discarded Polish beer can in the gutter on a park bench or in a school garden, there is no reason to automatically assume that if was left there by a Polish migrant. So there.

This time two years ago:
Lent, a time to cleanse and reflect

This time four years ago:
It was 50 years ago today... Beatles arrive in New York

This time five years ago:
Adventures in the Screen Trade - the truth about Hollywood

This time six years ago:
The sad end of Andrzej J.

This time eight years ago:
Today's dose of wintery gorgeousness

This time ten years ago:
First intimations of spring

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Plane disappears while smog lingers

What goes up without planning permission must come down; the Ilyushin Il-14 that appeared on the corner of ul. Marszałkowska and Świętokrzyska last summer was yesterday removed by the authorities. As I was coming to work, around half past eight, a small group of workmen and police were busy dismantling the vestigial wings and tail, ready to take the fuselage away.

And by this morning there was no sign of it. Rather sad, I must say, but on the other hand as a restaurant it failed. The small cluster of Middle- and Far Eastern restaurants on this corner of the crossroads could not compete with Ming Wok to the north (13zł for copious amounts of pork fried rice - hold the surówka) and the Scottish Restaurant to the east. Plus two really good kebab places to the north-east of the busy crossroads.

I can honestly say, that passing by it daily, neither was I ever tempted inside, nor did I ever see anyone actually dine within its fuselage. As a tourist attraction - it worked, so many people taking selfies with it in the background - but as a dining experience - failure. Below: how it looked in September. My office window clearly visible in both shots.

Meanwhile, the smog stands over Warsaw; as soon as there's high pressure, no wind and a frost, out it comes, out of the fireplaces and chimneys of old homes around the suburbs and out of the exhaust pipes of short-distance, one-per car commuters. The rest of us are having our health endangered. The city authorities - which took eight months to dismantle a plane that was doing no one any harm - will have to act quickly because anger is growing.

By way of contrast - photo below taken in December 2016 shows what I then considered to be a smoggy day.... The chimney at Kawęczyn relatively clear. Visible at least.

The face of the smog - a cyclist in a Warsaw office building yesterday. It is outrageous that the very people whose transport habits are making the air cleaner should imperil their lungs because of the stupidity and selfishness of a small percentage of Varsovians.

This time last year:
Walker's London

This time last year:
Deconstructing political graffiti - London and Warsaw 

This time four years ago:
Europe's peripheral woes

This time five years ago:
Winter returns to Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Babcia vs. Roma action, Centrum 

This time seven years ago:
Reasons to be cheerful

This time eight years ago:
Skiing in the Beskid Wyspowy

This time nine years ago:
What's to be done about Warsaw's unmade roads?

This time ten years ago:
Jeziorki in the fog