Friday, April 22, 2016

Physics of Reality - 8: Prof. Basil Hiley's Views

Physics of Reality - 8: Prof. Basil Hiley's Views

[Basil Hiley, David Bohm’s longtime collaborator and co-author of his final book,The Undivided Universe is a theoretical physicist at Birkbeck College of the University of London.  Reproduced below are a few excerpts from an abridged transcript of his chat in 2013 with Dr. George Musser of the Scientific American. Sourced from here – ramesam]

Physics of Reality - 8: Prof. Basil Hiley's Views

We were interested in undivided whole. How do you describe wholeness without breaking it up into pieces? Bohr said you can’t analyze any further: don’t make the division between the subject and the observing apparatus, because everything is a whole, and as soon as you break it into pieces, you’ve lost it; you’ve changed the phenomenon. I took a lot of insight from Bohr. If you read our book, we never say Bohr was wrong, whereas most other people say Copenhagen is nonsense. What we disagreed with Bohr about is that he couldn’t analyze it further. What we’ve been trying to do is analyze it further.
Our idea was to say, yes, you can do it. You can talk about the individual, but it’s the quantum potential which puts in what you’ve left out. So it brings the information of the environmental conditions, the boundary conditions, and feeds it to this local entity–so this local entity knows that it’s part of the whole.

How this does it, I don’t know. But what David and I suggested was that the quantum potential is actually an information potential, and we introduced the idea of active information. I was very worried about using the word “information” because everybody would immediately go to Shannon information. Shannon information is not information; it’s just information capacity. There’s no meaning there, and the whole point was to get meaning into this and that this was information for theparticle.

Then, of course, they thought we’d gone mystically East. But I mean the quantum potential is not a classical force. It’s not a classical potential. It’s something extraordinary, very strange. It doesn’t get propagated, as far as we can find out. But that was the way I reconciled wholeness with divisibility. If we divide, we must have something to put it all back together again.

Nature is more organic than we think it is. And then you can understand why life arose, because if nature is organic, it has the possibility of life in it.
Let’s start this way. You’re looking for a fundamental particle. So you divide the material into atoms and think: this is where the real essence lies. Rutherford divided the atom and found the nucleus. OK. The nucleus is where matter resides. And then you look inside the nucleus and you find neutrons. OK, now we’re there. But then there’s quarks and we’ve never got a hold of a quark. We take a proton, an anti-proton, and it goes, poof, into radiation. So where is the solidity of matter? Where does it lie? Because wherever we look at it … [it falls through our fingers.]

Suppose we start with something likeprocess–no particles, just activity, just energy. Then the first battle was: what the hell do you mean?
I started reading. I read Grassmann, for example, and Grassmann was saying that mathematics was not about things in space and time, but it was about thought–it was about the order of thought. And he obtained his Grassmann algebra from that kind of consideration. And I readClifford‘s original books, original papers, and it was all about process. Two times three is equal to six–it’s not two objects times three. It’s the doubling of three objects. It’s a process.

We’re not used to thinking about process. We communicate with an object-based language. David invented a thing called “rheomode“–language in which we speak to each other in a flowing mode. There are some ancient languages which do this–Hopi Indian and some others. In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, you’ll find a chapter on language, in which he discusses this rheomode. It didn’t work, because we were still thinking of objects.

Every day in our life, we always have to be careful of the order. You’ve got a cup in the cupboard. You’ve got to open the cupboard door before you can the cup out. All our experience is doing things in the right order, so our activity is noncommutative. It comes into quantum mechanics because Heisenberg sought to explain atomic energy levels and what he found was he had to make his objects into things that didn’t commute with each other. The order was vital. There was a difference between first measuring the momentum and then measuring the position, from measuring the position and then measuring the momentum. That became the basis of his Uncertainty Principle.
It seemed to me that he was actually discussing a process. He was talking about how something goes from one to the other, and he called that a momentum transition, and a position from one position to another.

You’re creating your space and time, People say, “Well, what do you mean we’re creating space and time?” Well, the world out there, there’s not a geometry which you somehow just discover by looking at it. You actually use physical processes to describe that geometry. How do we get the geometry of space? With a radar set and a clock. We send the light signal out, send it back again, and we construct the Lorentz transformation by what matter is doing.

Why would we expect the fundamentals of nature to be the same as we experience in the macroscopic world? This idea is to say, no, the real world is not. If you look behind it, it’s a mirage in a way. The algebra is the implicate order. It’s the structure that’s there. Properties are given by the whole, but we’re taking them out and we are making an explicate order.

[The explicate order is what we perceive.]

And it’s not everything. What the old classical physics said was that we just want to stand god-like outside and just look at everything without us being in there. We can’t. We’re in there, whether we like it or not. We’re inside looking out, not outside looking in. What the implicate is, you can’t explicate, but you must have different views because you’re inside it. You can’t stand outside it. You only get a partial view.

When I lecture on this, I always use the old lady/young lady–the gestalt. The lines are there, but what they mean depends how you explicate one order over the other. Because a lot of things are based on things that you can’t explicate at the same time. Nature is such that you cannot actually explicate the position space and the momentum space.

So instead having just a trajectory, you have an unfolding and enfolding process. The past actively works in the present. It reverberates in the present to produce the future. What looks like a particle tracking across, isn’t a particle tracking across. It’s just an explication.

[One shouldn’t think of this particle as a persistent entity drifting through a void?]

You’ve got to think of your entity not as billiard ball. Its properties are not independent of the underlying process. Change the underlying process, and the properties of this thing change. Don’t treat it as being separate. Because its properties depend upon the environment. You’re making objects out of things which continuously transform, but always into themselves. It takes a bit of getting used to!

Do we create what we see? Maybe we do. I know people say, “Oh, it’s all subjective.” But there are only certain things you can do with it. You can’t magic things up. You can reorder things. You can rearrange things when you are making your reality. We’re rearranging the processes. We are part of the process.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Physics of Reality – 7: Are We Living in a Hologram?

Physics of Reality – 7: Are We Living in a Hologram?
by Charles Phelan

[Intro about Charles at Part 4]

Part 1    

In prior segments reviewing the work of Leonard Susskind on Black Hole Complementarity, we saw how modern physics is pointing toward an observer-dependent reality rather than a single objective universe. In discussing the black hole information loss paradox first identified by Stephen Hawking in the 1970s, and the subsequent battle in physics eventually won by Susskind, I omitted an important development that happened along the way, and will return to it now. This is the Holographic Principle, first proposed by Susskind in the 1990s as a consequence of his work on string theory.

One of the weirdest results of all the research on black hole entropy and information loss was a mathematical calculation that determined how much "information" could be stored in a black hole. If the event horizon – the point of no return – can be visualized as the surface of a hollow sphere surrounding the singularity at the center, then logically we would expect the calculation to yield a volume result since any sphere is three dimensional. However, the bizarre outcome was that the information capacity of a black hole is limited to the area of the surface of the event horizon, a two-dimensional result instead of three-dimensional! It is difficult to convey how truly strange this is!

Think of it this way. Let's say the Earth was hollow except for a tiny diamond at the center, so the surface of the Earth is like the event horizon, and the diamond takes the place of the singularity at the center. Let's be quaint and take information in the form of computer printouts filled with ones and zeroes, and then use all that paper to fill up the hollow sphere between the crust and the center. If you were to calculate how much paper (information) could be held inside of the hollow sphere, the result would be based on a volume calculation for a sphere the size of Earth, taking into account the size and thickness of the paper used for printing the data and how much information could fit on one sheet.

Yet the result calculated by Jacob Bekenstein – work that Susskind later built on to develop his Holographic Principle – showed that it doesn't work that way for black holes. Again, instead of a volume result, the equations produce an area result. It's as though no matter how many sheets of paper with information on them are poured into the sphere, the result for maximum information capacity will always be the surface of the sphere and not its volume. It would be like dumping papers into the hollow sphere but never being able to fit more than would cover the surface of the Earth. For all practical purposes, an entire dimension is lost, and 3D becomes 2D.

Translating this astonishing finding back to black holes, it is as though there is no “inside” of the event horizon, that as far as anything outside the event horizon is concerned, nothing on the other side actually exists. So from the view outside the horizon, the information available is limited to the area of the surface of the horizon's sphere. If this does not boggle your mind, then you're not quite grasping the strangeness of it.

So far I haven't touched on the issue of how information capacity could actually be calculated in the first place, as this leads into difficult territory like Shannon entropy and the Planck length limitation, which are beyond the scope of this article. But the short version is that there is a smallest possible size for a single bit of information, which allows an immense but finite amount of information to be stored on the surface of a black hole's event horizon. But why only an area? Why not a volume? Susskind's answer is the Holographic Principle. Consider a simple hologram, where three-dimensional information is inscribed in two dimensions on the surface of a plastic card or other material. A three-dimensional projection appears at a distance from the two-dimensional substrate and any one portion of the substrate contains information about the whole.

Susskind's work involved analyzing the mathematics of a special type of theoretical universe called an anti deSitter universe. Anti de-Sitter space has a negative curvature, which results in strange anomalies compared to a universe like our own, which is flat and positively curved  by comparison. For example, an object thrown with sufficient velocity along a straight line in anti de-Sitter space would eventually return to its original starting point!

As it happens, a universe made from anti de-Sitter space is an ideal universe in which to do certain complex calculations. Within the specific framework of the anti deSitter space, Susskind was able to show that the total information capacity was equivalent to the area of the cosmic boundary, and this led to his application of the term “holographic." It is as though any apparent 3D events are really just projections from the distant 2D information field encoded on the cosmic boundary.

It has not been proven yet that our universe is holographic, but there has been considerable momentum in that direction, in terms of thousands of physics papers supporting the principle, and not just for anti deSitter space but also for regular space like our own. At this point in the progress of modern theoretical physics, there are still critics taking aim at potential flaws in the Holographic Principle. But it remains a solid theory that probably deserves to be called a consensus. It really does appear that our apparently 3D universe is just a projection from a 2D information matrix encoded on the distant cosmic boundary horizon.

How does the Holographic Principle pertain to Advaita, or further our understanding of the nondual perspective? Advaita teaches that the apparent creation is not actually real, that it is mithyA, a dependent reality. The Upanishads teach that the apparent reality we observe with our senses, and even the mental world we observe with our minds, is all just a trick by mAyA. It is all just a magic show where things appear to be one way but are not actually as we observe. Science is beginning to tease out how some of mAyA's tricks work. Drill down into matter with a microscope and mathematics, and the result is nothing. Molecules contain atoms, which contain particles like electrons or protons, which in turn contain quarks and other members of the quantum zoo of particles, which contain – what? Tiny one-dimensional vibrating strings that change depending on one's frame of reference?

Drill down far enough and there is only speculative mathematics and nothing more, nothing that is ever unchanging or actually solid. I believe we can fairly describe all of this as mithyA, the snake in the rope, or the ghost in the post. If it can ultimately be proven with certainty that our 3D universe is actually just a hologram projected from a distant 2D cosmic horizon, this would mean that the mithyA nature of creation, known to Vedic sages for millennia, had actually been demonstrated and accepted by modern science.

Further from the perspective of the student of Advaita, it is fascinating to observe that modern physicists often dance very close to discussing the role of Consciousness, but never quite go there. Yet if reality is observer dependent, then where does the observer come from? This is not a question addressed by physics, let alone answered by it. Yet in result after result, modern physics seems to be converging to a view that reality is indeed observer dependent. No observer means no universe. If we jettison the God's eye view of reality and accept that each so-called individual has their own reality cone, then the apparent paradoxes drop away and all becomes much clearer. So perhaps it is only a matter of time before some young physicist gets the bright idea to propose that Consciousness is primary and that all else arises within it!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Actor Is Action

Actor Is Action 

In our day to day world the "Doer" of any deed is the subject. She/he is the 'agent' of the action taken.  In other words, no action can happen without the actor.

The Advaita holds that the Actor is non-different from the Action. The Actor and Action are not two.

Here is a short excerpt on the above matter taken from Chapter 3: Origination (utpatti prakaraNa) of Yogavasishta (being serialized at Advaita Vision).


(From sarga 95, utpatti prakaraNayogavAsiShTha):

Sage Vasishta: A flower bloomed. Fragrance spread. Which is born first? It is not possible to say which originated first. Both are born simultaneously. Similarly the doer and the action are not born separately. They are born at the same time. Both have their roots in ignorance. Individual beings also have their origin in ignorance.


Mind is the result of ignorance. The action is the effect of mind. Ignorance is like the branch (of a tree).  Mind is a flower. Action is the fragrance. People normally say that the flower has come out of the branch and the fragrance has come out of the flower. This formulation is true in some sense, but it is not the whole truth. Both the flower and the fragrance have come out of the branch and they have come at the same time. This is the actual truth.

Similarly, mind has come out of ignorance. Mind is the doer. The actions have sprung out of the mind. So the sequence ‘ignorance -- mind -- action’ is the understanding in common parlance. It is like the sequence ‘clay powder -- lump of clay --  pot.’  

In a sense the pot is clay and the clay is pot. Likewise, mind is action and action is mind. Or actor is action and action is the actor. But what I proposed is still subtler than that.

There is a time lag between the lump of clay and its appearance as a pot. But there is no such time gap between the flower and its fragrance. Fragrance does not have a distinct form of its own different from the flower. Hence we are bound to accept that flower and fragrance are born out of the branch simultaneously and that the flower and fragrance are not two entities.

The position with respect to the mind and action is also exactly the same. Both manifest simultaneously from ignorance and are identical.  The real cause for the emergence of a sense of separate self is ignorance. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Physics of Reality – 6: Entanglement, Wormholes, and Firewalls by Charles Phelan

Physics of Reality – 6

Quantum Entanglement, Wormholes, and the Firewall Problem
by Charles Phelan

[Intro about Charles at Part 4]

Part 1    

In the previous two articles, we reviewed Leonard Susskind's mind-blowing theory of Black Hole Complementarity (BHC), which tells us that two completely contradictory observations are both true for their respective observers. We also noted that BHC is purely theoretical, not yet settled science. In this article, we'll examine a recent challenge to the theory of BHC called the “firewall paradox,” as well as Susskind's brilliant response to it.

Let's start with a quick review on Black Hole Complementarity. At the center of a black hole is a singularity, where matter has been squeezed to an infinitesimally small point. The gravitational force of a singularity is so strong that nothing can escape it, not even light itself. Hence the phrase “black hole,” originally coined by physicist John Wheeler. The point of no return where an object falling toward the black hole can no longer escape is called the event horizon.

According to BHC as well as Einstein's Equivalence Principle, our intrepid explorer Alice will experience nothing unusual as she passes through the event horizon. She will only become human “spaghetti” when she hits the singularity later, which could take anywhere from less than a second to many years, depending on the size of the black hole.

Meanwhile, Alice's partner Bob has remained behind to observe what happens to her, and he sees a completely different picture. Bob sees Alice move toward the event horizon but never reach it due to the time dilation effect described by Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Both stories are true for their respective observers, with the catch being that they cannot communicate with one another (i.e. pass information back and forth).

This lands us squarely in an observer-dependent universe, and leads to reality-bending ambiguities in the bargain. For example, a particle may be either a microscopically small object or a smeared out probability distribution that covers the entire event horizon of an enormous black hole, with both views being “true” depending on the observer's frame of reference!

Clearly, if BHC is valid, then it forces us to change our thinking about an objective reality “out there” that is reliably the same for all observers. While Susskind's BHC proposal was initially not widely accepted, after advances in String Theory and other related subfields of physics, it did come to be accepted by most physicists. There remain vocal critics, of course, and papers challenging the math and logic behind Susskind's theory.

The most significant attack came in 2012, when four physicists (Almheiri, Marolf, Polchinski, and Sully) published a paper proposing a solution to a perceived inconsistency in BHC theory. The solution proposed was called the “firewall phenomenon,” and the proposal became known as the “AMPS firewall,” AMPS being an acronym for the authors' last names.

In order to understand the AMPS firewall, we first need to discuss the concept of quantum entanglement. When pairs of particles are entangled, there can be no independent description of the separate particles. Essentially, quantum entanglement tells us that such particle pairs are a whole and must be described as a system, rather than as separate entities. While this may not seem like such a big deal, it leads to some astonishing conclusions that completely defy logic. For example, measurements on entangled particle pairs are always correlated, no matter how far apart physically the pairs have been separated. If we measure the “spin” property of a particle, it's counterpart will always measure with an opposite spin, even if the entangled particles are split to opposite sides of the universe before they are measured!

At first glance, quantum entanglement appears to violate Einstein's discovery that nothing whatsoever can exceed the speed of light. If information is somehow transmitted between a pair of entangled particles instantaneously, that would constitute a violation of General Relativity, a theory that has been proven over and over again via astronomical and other physical observations. In fact, Einstein, together with his colleagues Boris Podolosky and Nathan Rosen, published a paper critical of QM theory that became known as the EPR paradox. The popular phrase used by Einstein to describe such instantaneous transmission was “spooky action at a distance.”

Another term for this is nonlocality, where particles are considered as a whole rather than a discrete system of two separate entities. It's a proven fact of physics that Einstein was wrong about this issue. Nonlocality has been successfully demonstrated in entangled particle pairs, beginning with the ground-breaking experimental work of Alain Aspect in 1982, and continuing with many independent confirmations since. At least within the context of quantum particle pairs, the universe is indeed nonlocal.

Is nonlocality not suggestive of nonduality as conceived by Advaita? To be precise, we must note that “quantum entanglement” refers specifically to the description of a theoretical particle-pair, and we should not leap to conclusions that “QM proves nonduality.” That caveat notwithstanding, nonlocality does look like one of Maya's magic tricks. Measure the spin of a particle, and its companion will collapse to the other spin state, even if the two particles are in a condition of space-like separation that would entail transmission of information faster than light-speed. Due to QM being based on probabilities rather than certainties, all this happens without violating General Relativity. Nothing can travel faster than light, and yet particle pairs are apparently linked across vast stretches of spacetime. Such phenomena appear to show us the "footprints" of nonduality, stamped squarely on such paradoxes as wave-particle duality and quantum nonlocality.

Returning to the AMPS paper's rebuttal to Black Hole Complementarity, the authors showed that there is a potential flaw in the theory. To understand this criticism, we first need to know that highly entangled particle pairs may only be party to “monogamous” entanglements. This means that one particle is entangled with another, and cannot be the subject of multiple entanglements. Yet there are at least two potential entanglements if all the assumptions inherent in BHC are maintained.

Recalling our previous discussion on information loss in black holes, we know information is reflected off the event horizon in the form of Hawking radiation. So we have information falling into the black hole entangled with information coming out of it, and also entangled with prior Hawking radiation particles, leaving one entanglement too many. Their solution demonstrated that a break of entanglement at the event horizon would lead to a buildup of energy, hence the term “firewall.”

The AMPS paper skillfully argued that some key assumption must give way to resolve the inconsistency of multiple entanglements. Joe Polchinski, the “P” in AMPS, argued that the Equivalence Principle must fail at the event horizon, and that instead of “No Drama” scenario experienced by Alice, she will burn up when she hits the wall of energy there. The AMPS paper, if correct, would resolve the apparent inconsistency in BHC where Bob and Alice experience contradictory stories that are both true. And it would do so by breaking the entanglement of particles at the event horizon. In effect, the authors were saying there is no “inside” to a black hole, as nothing can get past the event horizon.

How did Susskind respond? Working with Juan Maldacena, a fellow physicist from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, Susskind published a paper titled, “Cool Horizons for Entangled Black Holes,” in which he proposed an answer to the firewall problem as proposed by AMPS. The short version of their response was:


This means that entangled pairs are linked through wormholes that tunnel outside the event horizon, thus resolving the apparent identification of one too many entanglements by AMPS.

The above explanation is very compact, so let's break it down and elaborate a bit further. We've already touched on EPR above, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox of non-locality, or “spooky action at a distance.” The “ER” in ER=EPR stands for Einstein-Rosen bridges, and refers to a paper the two men published about wormholes connecting black holes across distant regions of space.

Einstein and his colleagues did not link the two concepts, but Susskind and Maldacena did. The idea is that entangled particles (EPR) are connected by wormhole bridges with their counterparts outside the event horizon (ER). One of the their key arguments was that the AMPS authors had assumed there could be no connection between space inside and outside the event horizon. The ER = EPR solution provides for particles inside the event horizon to remain entangled with their counterparts in the cloud of Hawking radiation particles previously leaving the black hole. Thus there is no need to break entanglement at the event horizon, and therefore no firewall. This is why Susskind and Maldacena used the phrase “cool horizons” in the title of their paper. ER = EPR preserves the “No Drama” interpretation of BHC, Alice feels nothing at the event horizon, and she still turns into spaghetti when she hits the singularity later.

As so often happens with cutting edge research, however, this proposal implies much more significant possibilities than a resolution to the AMPS firewall paradox. The ER = EPR theory points to a deep connectedness underlying all of spacetime. We have already seen this with nonlocal entanglement, and also with the wormhole idea. This approach says that ER and EPR are two sides of the same phenomenon, the same thing viewed from different angles. This is precisely why there is an equals sign in the equation! And the “spooky action at a distance” that gave Einstein fits may actually be what literally stitches together spacetime. As Maldacena put it, “... the solid and reliable structure of spacetime is due to the ghostly features of entanglement.” Further, the long-term physics project of uniting the conflicting theories of gravity between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics may be facilitated by approaches such as ER = EPR.

As we have seen over and over again in these articles, modern physics is converging to an understanding of reality as observer-dependent. It seems we are coming closer to a scientific view that supports the ancient Advaita perspective that “perception creates the world.” We will never be able to say that science or physics has “proved” nonduality conclusively, simply because any such knowledge or proof must always be less than the Whole. But it certainly appears that we are starting to understanding some of Maya's tricks. Look out to the extremes of the universe, at both macro and micro levels, and it's possible to notice some of the rough edges. Quantum foam that allows something to come from nothing, entangled particles, wormholes, and black holes are some of those edges.

It seems there is no limit to the bizarreness of some of the new proposals in physics. Could science actually prove that the entire empirical universe is nothing more than a snake-in-the-rope illusion, as Adi Shankara advised us 1,200 years ago? Perhaps so! 

( QM, 2015)

(To Continue .... Physics of Reality - 7
In the next article, we'll talk about the Holographic Principle, which says that we are living in a hologram).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Physics of Reality – 5: Black Hole Complementarity by Charles Phelan

Physics of Reality – 5: Black Hole Complementarity 
by Charles Phelan

[Intro about Charles at Part - 4]

Part 1    Part 4

We can better understand just how astounding Black Hole Complementarity is by taking a trip with Bob and Alice to a black hole. Bob and Alice are the favorite veterans of many thought experiments pertaining to extreme physics, and they are also stand-ins for a quantum entangled pair of particles. When they near the black hole, Alice (usually the more brash of the pair) ignores Bob's warnings and jumps down toward the event horizon. Bob remains behind and watches Alice's progress from a safe vantage point far outside the event horizon. 

What do Alice and Bob observe respectively? Alice observes nothing much at all. She crosses the event horizon without even noticing it or feeling anything special. We're in Einstein territory here, with the Equivalence Principle coming into play. (The Equivalence Principle tells us there is no difference between how gravity "feels" compared to an identical force that has nothing to do with gravity, such as constant acceleration. And in the context of freefall, the laws of physics operate as though there is no gravity at all, which directly brings in Special Relativity and its strange effects.) Alice is in free fall, and free fall in a vacuum doesn't feel like motion at all. So she feels nothing special when she moves across the event horizon, passing the point of no return on her way toward the singularity.

Alice most definitely will feel something when she approaches the singularity! However, depending on the mass of the black hole, which determines its radius and therefore the distance between horizon and singularity, that could be anywhere from seconds to days, perhaps even a lifetime for a super massive black hole.

What does Bob observe? As Alice falls toward the event horizon of the black hole, her voice sounds deeper and deeper until it drops below his range of hearing. Due to the relativistic effects of time dilation, the gap between her signals grows longer and longer. Eventually it takes years for her signals to arrive. Bob could literally wait an infinite time and still not observe Alice actually reach the event horizon! 

Which story is true? Does Alice drop through the event horizon and feel nothing until she hits the singularity later? Or is she trapped in space-time, moving ever more slowly toward the event horizon, taking an infinite amount of time to reach it? Black Hole Complementarity says that both stories are true! For Alice, it's true that she falls through the event horizon and goes on to become human spaghetti later on, and for Bob, it's true that Alice never reaches the event horizon. 

While this seems impossible at first glance, there is an all important catch. They cannot communicate back and forth to confirm both observations at the same time. (There is a technical reason for this restriction, the No Cloning rule of QM.) So we are forced to choose the perspective of one observer or the other, with each story being true relative to its own observer perspective

With this background in mind we can more easily understand why Susskind named it Black Hole Complementarity. This is a direct reference to the complementarity proposed by Niels Bohr relative to the paradox of wave-particle duality. He said these two descriptions were the complement of one another, and that both must therefore be accepted as applicable within their respective domains. 

BHC is another kind of complementarity, one that forces us to abandon any notion of a single objective reality that holds valid for both observers at the same time. If BHC is correct, then “reality,” at least as it pertains in the extreme environment of black holes, is observer-dependent. It also forces some very strange conclusions about particles. Here is Susskind himself on how bizarre BHC is:

To most physicists, especially those who specialized in the General theory of Relativity, Black Hole Complementarity seemed too crazy to be true. It was not that they were uncomfortable with quantum ambiguity; ambiguity at the Planck scale was entirely acceptable. But Black Hole Complementarity was proposing something far more radical. Depending on the state of motion of the observer, an atom might remain a tiny microscopic object, or it might spread out over the entire horizon of an enormous black hole. This degree of ambiguity was too much to swallow. It seemed strange even to me.” Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War, p. 354.

Recalling the discussion in Part 3 of the series on QBism and the work of Dr. Christopher Fuchs, we saw that some of the deepest paradoxes of Quantum Mechanics may only be resolved by jettisoning any notion of a single objective reality shared by all. The wave function describes the observer, not an objective universe as had been supposed. So it seems we have a convergence to this understanding from multiple researchers at the cutting edge of modern physics. And the consequences are dizzying.

It appears there is no longer any solid ground to stand upon anywhere. Ghostly virtual particles pop into and out of existence on a foam of quantum probabilities, while photons behave as either waves or particles depending on how we measure them. Matter is composed mostly of empty space, yet at the tiniest possible interstices of that “empty space” there may still be information in the form of vibrating one-dimensional strings. It seems the more we learn about our universe, the farther away we get from our everyday view of reality. 

Yet is not this the essence of what Advaita has told us all along? That the measurable objective universe we think we see is actually an illusion born of Ignorance? What can be more mithyA than two contradictory stories being simultaneously true at the same time? According to Advaita, what do we see but nAmarUpa, name and form? What is name and form if not information? The very word “information” breaks down to in-form-ation. If nAmarUpa = information, then physics is describing the apparent “creation.” Science began from the position that it was possible to separate the observer from the observed, but that view has receded and now we see highly suggestive confirmation that “objective reality” is actually personal rather than truly objective. 

Further, the commonsense view of reality is that the creation/universe was there first, and then we came along to see it. In Advaita terms, this would be sRRiShTi dRRiShTi vAda, meaning creation first and then the perception of it. But this theory is later sublated and replaced with dRRiShTI sRRiShTi vAda, giving perception the priority. There is only an apparent creation there because we are perceiving it, and more, that perception still doesn't make that apparent creation real (anymore than dream perceptions make the dream-world real). 

It seems to this writer that a theory like BHC points clearly to dRRiShTI sRRiShTi vAda rather than sRRiShTi dRRiShTi vAda, i.e., perception creating the apparent world rather than the other way around. But we must note that BHC is not settled science yet, and may never be. After all, it is impossible to directly conduct experiments on black holes, so the entire discussion must take place via mathematics and thought experiments. 

Further, it is all theoretical -- simply because no actual existing black hole will even start to evaporate until the universe is vastly older than it is today. All extant black holes are still growing and will continue to grow for hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of years to come. So we are clearly in speculative territory here. Still, it is fascinating to see a theory like BHC make essentially the same point some Advaita thinkers had already been making for centuries. 

(To Continue …….. Physics of Reality – 6)

In the next article, we'll review a recent important challenge to the validity of Black Hole Complementarity and Susskind's amazing response to it, and also explore some other fascinating new ideas at the frontier of physics. 

Wishing All Our Readers

Season’s Greetings and
Best Wishes For a Happy And Prosperous
New Year

Friday, December 18, 2015

Physics of Reality - 4: Black Hole Complementarity by Charles Phelan

Physics of Reality – 4: Black Hole Complementarity 
by Charles Phelan

[Charles Phelan is a fellow Blogger at the popular Advaita Vision web site. He is a financial consultant by profession but has a wide range of interests with the rare quality of clarity and in-depth understanding in the fields of physics, consciousness research, philosophy, the Western esoteric tradition, and Advaita Vedanta. He is presenting here for our Readers a series of Posts highlighting the similarities in the thought process of the modern physicists at the cutting edge and what the ancient Advaita knowledge says.

I am grateful to him for readily agreeing to my request and sparing his time for contributing to our Blog. Charles can be reached at  -- ramesam.] 

The previous articles in this series explored the relevance to Advaita of some of the latest research in theoretical physics. Science is converging to a view that no description of reality can be complete without the observer, and that so-called “objective reality” is really more of a holographic illusion than anything truly solid or substantial. Today's scientists are busy trying to tease apart Maya's tricks to see how this illusion works. Leonard Susskind's theory of Black Hole Complementarity (BHC) -- the topic of this article -- provides a good example of this driving curiosity in action. 

Dr. L. Susskind
BHC is another breakthrough that forces us to dispense with any view of a single objectively real universe, and demonstrates yet again that “reality” is observer-dependent. Susskind developed BHC during his decades-long battle with Stephen Hawking. The disagreement was about a quantum loophole identified by Hawking, which became known as the paradox of information loss in black holes, and Susskind's theory was his proposed solution to the paradox.

Before we get further into the physics of black holes and information loss, let's briefly touch on a few points from Advaita. The Vedas speak of in terms of vast cosmological time scales, immense epochs (kalpas -- each but one day in the life of the creator Brahma), and the entire cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution, sRiShTi-sthiti-laya.

If we are to take seriously the Advaita teachings on the accrual of puNya and pApa (i.e., karmic merit or demerit) to the jIva, then we can legitimately ask: What happens to the karmic "information" during the period of dissolution between kalpas? Does it somehow get "recorded" and carried over to the next cycle? Or does it get destroyed in the pralaya phase? Asking such questions is essentially no different from asking whether information is conserved or destroyed when it enters a black hole.

Just what is a black hole anyway? When a star collapses at the end of its life, completely spent of fuel and no longer able to produce fusion, it may shrink by orders of magnitude and become a white or brown dwarf or a neutron star, depending on its original size. Given sufficiently large mass, a star will collapse all the way to what is called a singularity, a point where the equations of physics break down and begin producing infinities. (Perhaps we can think of pralaya as a form of singularity?)

Black hole
Physicists call this singularity a black hole, simply because its gravitational force is so strong that even light cannot escape. No form of matter or energy that falls into the clutches of a black hole can ever get free again. To get out of Earth’s gravity well and into orbit, one must reach velocities exceeding 40,000 kilometers per hour, something we do routinely with chemical rocketry. With a black hole, even the speed of light is insufficient. For all practical purposes, the escape velocity of a black hole is infinite. There are no rockets, chemical, nuclear, or otherwise, that can possibly escape a black hole. (Sorry, Star Trek fans!) 

The point at which an object falling toward the singularity passes the point of no return is called the event horizon. Anything passing through the event horizon is doomed to eventually hit the singularity, where the force of gravity is so strong that a human being gets stretched into a piece of spaghetti thousands of miles long, most certainly not an enjoyable experience!

Dr. John Wheeler, a key 20th century figure in theoretical physics, and mentioned previously in this series, was also a pioneer in the study of black holes. In fact, he is the physicist who originally coined that term. One of Wheeler's early quips was, “Black holes have no hair.” By “no hair,” he meant they are completely smooth and featureless, without any apparent irregularities, essentially all the same as one another except for size. This, of course, was just Wheeler's poetic phrasing for what the equations of General Relativity were telling him about the structure of black holes. 

Along came Stephen Hawking, who proved that black holes are not entirely bald after all. Hawking discovered that there was more going on with black holes than had previously been assumed, and through a rigorous mathematical analysis he showed that they gradually evaporate and fade away to nothing. The reason for this evaporation has to do with the quantum entanglement of virtual particle pairs, with one part of the entangled pair falling inside the event horizon and the other outside, i.e., “hair." Theoretically, via this quantum mechanical process, photons are emitted as Hawking radiation, causing the black hole to eventually evaporate and then completely vanish. 

Hawking's analysis was rigorous and solid, and it left physicists like Leonard Susskind scratching their heads. If Hawking was correct, then objects falling into the black hole would carry information beyond the event horizon and into the singularity where it could never be recovered. That, of and by itself, does not represent a problem for physics. However, if the black hole were to fully evaporate later, then the information would be lost forever. This is a gross violation of the most fundamental understanding of physics, which firmly denies the possibility of any such information loss. It would be the equivalent of taking a safe and locking some valuables inside it, only to then watch the safe evaporate and vanish, along with the valuables. It seemed more a magic trick than science! 

Many physicists were intuitively convinced there was something wrong with Hawking's approach, but a solution remained elusive for decades. What it took to resolve the paradox of information loss was a series of advances in the physics of black hole entropy and String Theory. Combining several such breakthroughs, Leonard Susskind's proposed solution was Black Hole Complementarity.

What BHC states is that information falling into a black hole is reflected off a "stretched" hot horizon, and could theoretically be recovered from the Hawking radiation, AND that information also passes the event horizon and is eventually destroyed when it reaches the singularity. The catch is that both observations cannot be made at the same time, meaning that an observer outside the event horizon could confirm that information is reflected off the event horizon, and an observer inside could confirm information loss, but never both at the same time.

Stephen Hawking ultimately conceded the bets he had made about information loss in black holes. It had been proven to his satisfaction that the information going into a black hole could come back out via the evaporative Hawking radiation itself, rather than being lost permanently as he originally proposed. By 2008, Leonard Susskind published his book, “The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics.” The battle was over, but Hawking's brilliant challenge had stimulated an entire new wave of research leading to some truly astounding results.

(To Continue ….. Physics of Reality – 5:  will be posted on Dec 28, 2015)

Wishing All Our Readers

Season’s Greetings and
Best Wishes For a Happy And Prosperous
New Year

Friday, November 20, 2015

Physics of Reality - 3

Physics of Reality - 3

Part - 1                      Part - 2 ]

The Newtonian Laws of Physics gave way to the concepts of Quantum Physics with the dawn of the twentieth century. With that our belief in the time-space dimensions as a reality existing out there external to us got shattered. The probabilistic nature of the world and the observer being a part of the observed have come to be accepted replacing the classical notions of an absolute world outside the observer. Erwin Schrodinger gave us the wave function, "which was said to completely describe the state of a physical system out in the world. The shape of the wave function encodes the probabilities for the outcomes of any measurements an observer might perform on it." The equations so developed proved very helpful to the Physicists in estimating the probability of an event happening.

The paradigm shift in viewing the world of matter from being absolute to probabilistic excited the philosophers especially with an oriental bent of mind, for the philosophies in the East held for long that the world of matter lacked real 'beingness.' The Non-dual philosophers even held that the apparent world that we see in our wakeful life is akin to our dream. The implied view that just as the dreams cannot be said to have any set laws and theories, the wakeful world too cannot have fixed laws of Physics was deemed to be untenable. Moreover, in contrast to the dreams which are private to each individual, we all seem to share one single world wherein an outcome of an event was predictable within reasonable confidence limits, thanks to the Schrodinger equations.

But now comes along Dr.Christopher Fuchs throwing a spanner into the very fundamental beliefs that  underpin the Quantum Laws. He is inclined to go with the views of Dr. J. A. Wheeler, his mentor, who held that “In the end, the only law is that there is no law. There’s no ultimate law of physics. All the laws of physics are mutable and that mutability itself is a principle of physics." Attesting to this fact, Dr. Fuchs and his colleagues developed the concept of "QBism" in interpreting the physical reality that Quantum Laws represent. They say that "the wave function does not describe the world — it describes the observer." They tell us that “Quantum mechanics is a law of thought. It is a reflection of our ignorance.

Excerpts on this subject from a recent article in the Quanta Magazine follow:

Dr. C. Fuchs
[T]he wave function’s probabilities [are] Bayesian probabilities — that is, [they are] subjective degrees of belief about the system.


[T]he wave function does not describe the world — it describes the observer. 

According to QBism, the wave function’s “collapse” is simply the observer updating his or her beliefs after making a measurement. Spooky action at a distance, wherein one observer’s measurement of a particle right here collapses the wave function of a particle way over there, turns out not to be so spooky — the measurement here simply provides information that the observer can use to bet on the state of the distant particle, should she come into contact with it. But how, we might ask, does her measurement here affect the outcome of a measurement a second observer will make over there? In fact, it doesn’t. Since the wavefunction doesn’t belong to the system itself, each observer has her own. My wavefunction doesn’t have to align with yours.


[The Copenhagen and other interpretations of Quantum theory] treat the wave function as a description of an objective reality shared by multiple observers. QBism, on the other hand, treats the wave function as a description of a single observer’s subjective knowledge. It resolves all of the quantum paradoxes, but at the not insignificant cost of anything we might call “reality.” Then again, maybe that’s what quantum mechanics has been trying to tell us all along — that a single objective reality is an illusion.


QBism [says] that quantum mechanics is not about how the world is without us; instead it’s precisely about us in the world. The subject matter of the theory is not the world or us but us-within-the-world, the interface between the two.


One way to look at it is that the laws of physics aren’t about the stuff “out there.” Rather, they are our best expressions, our most inclusive statements, of what our own limitations are. When we say the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit, we’re saying that we can’t go beyond the speed of light.  


Bruno de Finetti [] says there’s no reason whatsoever for my probabilities and yours to match, because mine are based on my experience and yours are based on your experience. The best we can do, in that case, if we think of probabilities as gambling attitudes, is try to make all of our personal gambling attitudes internally consistent. I should do that with mine, and you with yours, but that’s the best we can do. That’s what de Finetti meant when he said probability does not exist.


As QBism understands a quantum measurement outcome, it’s personal. No one else can see it. I see it or you see it. There’s no transformation that takes the one personal experience to the other personal experience. 


There are, however some problems that QBism has to still find a way out. For example: 

QBism also raises a host of new and equally mysterious questions. If the wave function describes an observer, does the observer have to be human? Does that observer have to have consciousness? Could it be a dog? 


For more details, please see:


(Physics of Reality - 4, the next Article in the Series, will deal with The  Black hole Complementarity and Information Loss at the Event Horizon).