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).

Friday, October 23, 2015

prakriyA-s (Ways and Means) in Understanding Advaita

prakriyA-s (Ways and Means) in Understanding Advaita

Advaita teaches us that all the things that we perceive in the world arise in Consciousness, are made up of Consciousness and dissolve back into Consciousness. There is no other substance. and what we call 'matter' has no reality.

In our normal day to day life, we locate the sentient quality, our capacity to perceive the things out there, inside our body-mind and in doing so we identify ourselves with the body-mind. Whatever is seen by me is automatically assumed to be external to my body-mind. We express our experience through formulations like "I see a man there."

When viewed through the mind and sensory organs, the background (i.e. Consciousness) in which everything arises takes the shape of Space-time.

In order to find out the truth in what we experience through our perception, the "Reality," a 2-step process is recommended.
In the Step-1, we differentiate the observer from the observed.
We are asked to notice that, just as we observe the outside people, trees, colorful flowers etc., we observe our own body too.
Through this process, we learn to differentiate the "observing capacity (the sentient quality)" from our body. So our body also becomes "the observed." 
The observing capacity is given the name "Witness Consciousness (sAkshi chaitanya)."

So when you observe the people etc. in the park and you are not conscious of your own body as the one observing, you have already shifted to the position of being and functioning as the Witness Consciousness.

Let this way of perceiving/experiencing things be stabilized in you until it becomes a habit, a natural way you act.

Of course, it is simple to position ourselves as Witness Consciousness and view things from a neutral place under non-stressful conditions like visiting a park etc.
Let this way of looking be extended while involved in a little more complex situations - e.g. when someone talks or behaves rudely. Do I view that insult also from a neutral position, as Witness Consciousness?
If a judgment of like/dislike pops up, clearly, mind is the one which is positioning itself as the "seer," the subject, and I am not anymore the neutral "Witness Consciousness."

Next we move on to the Step 2.
But it does not mean that the Step-1 is a course which I have to compulsorily complete before moving on to Step-2. This model comprising two steps is given just to clarify the mechanics of the process. Step-1 and 2 may run concurrently or one after other  in different situations and with different people.
The Step-2 is to finally arrive at the understanding that there is. in fact, no difference between the sAkshi chaitanya (the subject) and what is observed (the object). When the subject and object become One losing the sense of separation between them, what remains then is only the action. That is the end of tripuTi - the triad of observer observing the observed. The ending of the triad is itself Advaita.

By perceiving the things as the sAkshi chaitanya and viewing them on the screen of 3-D space and time, the things viewed gradually lose the solidity and density which we were accustomed to attribute to them earlier. They look wooly-wooly and dreamlike. This is the stage when the mind becomes tenuous (tanumAnasa) - the third stage in the Seven-fold Knowledge Path (jnAna mArga).


An accomplished Vedantin, Shri V. Subrahmanian writes that the entire Vedanta shāstra is a means, a prakriyA, to help us to realize the Absolute Truth, brahman.  He further adds:

"One might say that the creation delineated in the Veda/Upanishad is a doctrinal aspect.  But according to Gaudapadacharya, these creation shruti-s are only 'upAya', a means, to know the Creator-consciousness.  Whatever is told about the jiva, avidya, karma, shravana, vairagya, etc. is a means. A prakriyA is a pratikalpanA (device).  Since we have a svAbhAvika kalpanA (a natural assumption)  about what we are, what the world is, etc., the shāstra comes to remove that fiction through a counter-fiction.  The counter-fiction is called a prakriyA.  When the original kalpanA goes, with it goes the pratikalpanA too.  That is the meaning of adhyAropa-apavAda nyAya (The Doctrine of Superimposition and Sublation).

If various Acharyas (Teachers) offer divergent 'views', sometimes appearing to be contradicting, we have to appreciate that all those views are only pratikalpanA-s.  For,  the ultimate reality is not anything but the Advaitic brahman and the jIva is not  different from brahman and the world is not anything but, mithyA, (illusory appearance)."

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Source of Synchronicity By Sky Nelson

The Source of Synchronicity
By Sky Nelson

[Sky Nelson is a physicist, speaker and musician studying the natural laws of synchronicity. He is currently a post-Graduate scholar in Physics at the San Francisco State University. He is a lifelong student of disciplined spiritual practices. Having trained from childhood with the late Sri Swami Satchidananda and studied physics at UC Berkeley, he now speaks, writes and studies the connection between scientific and spiritual principles. He delivered an interesting Talk at SAND-14 on Deriving Special Relativity and QuantumMechanics from Consciousness . His book “What Are the Chances? Science, Serendipity, and Seizing the Moment” will be published by ICRL Press in the upcoming year.
I am grateful to Sky for readily agreeing to make this short contribution for our Blog and look forward to closer interaction with him in the future -- ramesam]

The Source of Synchronicity
By Sky Nelson

As conscious beings in a physical world, we would be forgiven if we find ourselves believing that physical reality is the ultimate “reality.” The illusion of definiteness that physical reality provides is so carefully woven that there are very few seams to give it away.

Yet there are seams that hold it together, and if you look carefully you can see them. Synchronicities can illuminate these seams where the illusion of the permanence of physical reality is not perfect. Synchronicity is an experience of meaningful coincidence where the events of the external world reflect the meaning in your internal world. Synchronicities are profoundly personal, in that they are typically meaningful for you but not for everyone. For this reason, they are elusive and hard to pin down. They don’t have many objective properties that can (as yet) be scientifically measured.

Consider this example: At the hardware store the other day, I was looking for a piece to plug one of my sprinklers at home. My six year old daughter was with me, and asked what I was looking for. At first I ignored her, but then I decided to open it up to the universe. After describing what I needed, she handed me a piece she had found. It was a sprinkler head, not a plug, so I smiled condescendingly and went to put it back. Then suddenly I gave it another thought. The piece she found was a better solution than my original plan. Thanks to a synchronistic idea from my innocent daughter, we found the best result.

Because synchronicities have to do with events in the external world, such as my daughter handing me something she had found on the shelf, we are again forgiven if we forget that the source of these synchronicitous events is inside ourselves. The “world out there” is a reflection of the “world in here”---the Self is the source of synchronicity.

What does this mean? We look out on a world that we feel has objective reality to it, independent of us. Yet we know from well-established scientific experiments that events do not have definite values in and of themselves, without some kind of interaction. Quantum mechanics is essentially the study of “what are things doing when we are not looking at them?” And the answer is: we can’t know. There is no definite state of things, before we come along and take a look. Immediately before you look, the world is a massive sea of possibility.

Where does that sea of possibility reside? I would say that it resides within the realm of consciousness---in other words, within the Self.

When a meaningful coincidence happens, how should one respond? Is it a message from God? Is it direction that tells us what we should do? Not exactly. The world is a reflection of our beliefs and actions. Synchronicities reflect the meaning that we are currently seeking in our lives. As such, they can serve as guidance to keep us on the path that we have chosen. Yet I think we should remember, it is the path we have chosen, not one appointed to us by an external higher being.

I like to say “Fate follows free will.” You set the direction by taking actions in your life, which define the meaning that you seek to manifest in your life. This meaning then creates the synchronicity. This can be done from conscious choices or unconscious choices, but it always comes from you.

So when that guidance comes in the form of a synchronistic event, examine it gently, and take it with a grain of salt. The universe (a.k.a. our inner Self) does not command us to go here and there. Rather, it trains us to think wisely and to see opportunities around us. A synchronicity can help us see the next step on our path---the path we have defined for ourselves. If we choose to change direction, the “world out there” says “yes” and brings us synchronicities that support that choice.

Two important features arise out of this. Firstly, since the world is a reflection of ourselves, we should not follow the world blindly. Rather we must find a balanced process of will and surrender, lead and follow, to elicit out the most beneficial of experiences. Secondly, we should not become immobilized by indecision.

Indecision is different from “not-knowing.” Whereas “not-knowing” is an important quality that allows us to see the world without our subconscious filters, indecision is the inability to act because we are looking around us for answers that really reside within. We should first look inside of ourselves for direction. Then synchronicity becomes an amusing sideshow that supports and empowers our actions. We remain above it because we are driven internally, not externally. Then, if we lose direction inside and cannot see our next step, we can turn momentarily to the outside world and look for the synchronicities that are guiding us. If we look carefully, there are probably events that have happened to us recently which we can examine to help us get back on our path. And once we have done so, we should once again follow our own internal guidance.

After all, the “world out there” is a mirror of the “world in here.” If we want something new to happen in the “world out there,” we must focus on the source that is creating it. Our inner Self is that source.

Swami Satchidananda

Friday, August 21, 2015

Physics of Reality - 2

Physics of Reality - 2  

Anyone can follow when we speak about a 'thing,' whether the thing is a tangible object or an intangible 'something.' In contrast, the word ‘nothing’ indicates to us the absence of a thing.  That means we understand 'nothing' only in relation to 'something.' But what is 'nothing' actually? How does one define ‘nothing'?
Wenner Gefter, a Radiologist and a Zen aficionado, throws this question as a challenge to his teenage daughter, Amanda.
Thus starts an interesting saga of a father-daughter duo in finding out “the meaning of nothing — and, by extension, the secrets about the origin of the universe and whether an observer-independent reality exists.” Helpfully, Wenner defines “nothing” as an "infinite, unbounded homogeneity," similar to what Advaita would say brahman is. How can something like a world with a form evolve from such a ‘nothing’?
Wenner and Amanda begin their quest with an inspiring interaction with the legendary Physicist Prof. J.A. Wheeler. They pour over through his highly insightful diaries and also interview many of leading Physicists for possible answers. They attempt to understand the highly complex modern developments in Particle and Theoretical Physics as well as Cosmology in terms of simple physical models by providing flesh and blood to the dry theories of the specialists. “Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn” (Bantam Books, 2014, pp: 419) is a record of  their  discoveries  penned  by  Amanda. Some excerpts from the book follow:

You can get something from nothing. Because, in a way, the something is always there. It’s like if you build a sandcastle at the beach and then knock it down – where does the castle go? The castle’s ‘thingness’ was defined by its form, by the boundaries that differentiated it from the rest of the beach. The castle and the beach, the something and the nothing, are just two different patterns.
John Wheeler suggested that the very posing of [a] question creates a bit of information, and that such bits were the fundamental building blocks of reality. “The universe and all that it contains (‘it’) may arise from the myriad yes-no choices of measurement (the ‘bits’),” Wheeler wrote, “Information may not be what we learn about the world. It may be what makes the world.”

If measurement built the universe bit by bit, as Wheeler suspected, then observers somehow implicated in the creation of reality – a radical picture that, if true, would mean that ours was a participatory universe. As the Physicist Paul Davies wrote, "Wheeler seeks to... Turn the conventional explanatory relationship: matter -> information -> observers on its head, and place observership at the base of the explanatory chain: observers -> information -> matter.”
Warren Gefter: If observers create reality, where do the observers come from?
John Wheeler: From Physics. From the universe. I like to say that the universe is a self-excited circuit.
Is the objective world the ultimate reality, independent of observers? Is the world “out there,” as it exists in and of itself regardless of how we perceive it? The answer has proven far thornier than one might think. In the early 20th century, Einstein found that space and time were not fundamentally real but are observer- dependent. The founders of the quantum mechanics were coming to grips with the realization that observers play a far more profound role than anyone had imagined. But what few people knew is that in recent years, things have gotten a whole lot weirder. Today, cutting-edge physics is forcing us to completely rethink the nature of reality and our place in the cosmos. In studying the physics of black holes, physicists have found that particles are observer dependent; in exploring the consequences of the holographic principle they have found that even 4-D spacetime – which has been left intact by Einstein’s theories – is also observer-dependent, introducing what Leonard Susskind has called “a new kind of relativity.”
Space, time, gravity, particles, spacetime, dimensions, the gauge forces, strings – all would inevitably and profoundly turn out to be observer-dependent Boojums, culminating in a total rethink of cosmology itself.
These are the conclusions that boggle the mind. The things we have long believed to be the most fundamental features of reality have turned out to be nothing more than mirages. One by one we see that the seemingly solid building blocks of the universe are consequences of our own point of view – and that the universe itself is a strange kind of fiction. It seems the more deeply we look into the nature of reality, the more clearly we find only a reflection of ourselves.
We are stuck inside the universe – which means we can’t give a consistent description of the universe without also describing ourselves. But Godel’s theorem showed that self-referential statements can’t be proven from within the system that’s stating them. In physics “proven” means “measured,” and measurements are about gathering information.  The Godelian incompleteness of the universe seemed to place fundamental limits on the amount of information we can access. If self-referential statements can’t be proven by physical measurements, then observers can’t measure themselves.
As Rovelli had confirmed, “the whole relational view [of quantum mechanics] is somehow related to the impossibility of total self-measurement. The entire structure of the quantum mechanics tells us that our information is always limited.”
In relativity, the finite speed of light, long believed to be infinite, rendered space and time observer 
dependent. In quantum theory, Planck’s finite constant was long held to be zero; it rendered all physical features connected by uncertainty relations observer-dependent. Most recently, the discovery that the entropy of a region of spacetime, which everyone had assumed to be infinite, was actually finite, made spacetime itself observer-dependent. The speed of light, Planck’s constant, entropy – they all represented nature’s most fundamental limits. The limits were the clues. If we could find the limits, we could find the reality. Or the lack thereof.
We never see simultaneously-alive-and-dead cats because superpositions represent a multiplicity of points of view, and, by definition, a given observer has only one. … And the key thing was that if reality weren’t observer–dependent, we wouldn’t see interference. Interference, the physical manifestation of non-Boolean logic, exists because nothing is real or because reality is nothing.
Physics is now telling us that we can’t talk about yes/no truth assignments (based on Boolean logic) at once. They are non-commuting gauge copies. As Susskind had said, it all came down to the misuse of the word and. Not dead and alive.  It is dead or alive. “Quantum gravity may not admit a single, objective, and complete description of the universe,” Bousso had written. “Rather, its laws may have to be formulated with reference to an observer – no more than one at a time.”
[A state of infinite, unbounded homogeneity – otherwise known as ‘nothing’] couldn’t change because it has no outside. But here on the inside, it could appear to change, as if something is just what nothing looks like from the inside. Here on the inside, with a finite speed of light, observers can’t see the whole thing. Their perspective is bounded. But when you put a boundary on the [nothing], it’s no longer the [nothing] state. It’s something.
Consider whatever you want, like color, a form, an object, a mass, a particle, and put yourself into it, in the interior of the thing, then the thing disappears. In the color there is no color …. What makes the color is the wavelength. If you are smaller than the wavelength, the concept of color does not even exist. It disappears completely. If you are in light, participating in its motion, light and time disappear (this is what Einstein understood when he was fifteen). Therefore, in motion, there is no motion, in position, there is no position, in particle, no particle.
From my point of view, the light leaving a star 5 million light-years away takes 5 million years to reach my eye. But from the light’s point of view, its journey is instantaneous. From the light’s POV, the speed of light is not the speed of light. It has no speed. It is everywhere at once in a single instant. A photon doesn’t see the universe. A photon sees a singularity.
Here’s the reality test. If you can find one frame of reference in which the thing disappears, then it’s not invariant, it’s observer-dependent. Nottale had pointed out the one frame in which the speed of light disappears: the frame of the light.
Now I was beginning to understand what information really was: asymmetry.  To register a bit of information, you need two distinguishable states: black or white, spin up or spin down, 0 or 1. You need twoness. After all, entropy was a measure of missing information, and with entropy comes symmetry. A smoothly distributed gas, the epitome of high entropy looks pretty much the same everywhere – it’s highly symmetric. And what is symmetry? It’s redundancy of description, a redundancy of information. The [nothing] state is a state of perfect symmetry, which makes sense considering it was nothing. So how do you get information from the [nothing] state, turning nothing into something? You put a boundary on it. The boundary breaks the symmetry, creating information. But the boundary is observer-dependent, and so is the information it creates.
The message was clear: having finite frame of reference creates the illusion of a world, but even the reference frame itself is an illusion. Observers create reality, but observers aren’t real. There is nothing ontologically distinct about an observer, because you can always find a frame in which that observer disappears: the frame of the frame itself, the boundary of the boundary.
Spacetime, gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear forces, mass, energy, momentum, angular momentum, charge, dimensions, particles, fields, the vacuum, strings, the universe, the multiverse, the speed of light – one by one they had been downgraded to illusion.
Physics isn’t the machinery behind the working of the world; physics is the machinery behind the illusion that there is a world.

(To Continue -- Physics of Reality - 3)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Physics of Reality - 1

 Physics of Reality - 1

Faced with uncertain futures, and distressed by unconquerable disease, decay and death, Man has been in pursuit of an eternal, immutable and unbounded “something,” ever since, perhaps, he has become aware of his own capability to think abstractly. The ultimate quest has been the same whether the investigating men followed a predominantly philosophical path or adopted an analytical approach.  The Scientific method, however, splurged the society in general with a bounty of little goodies, the by-products of its analytical search, that could at least tentatively alleviate the suffering and bring about a degree of amelioration to the people at large.
Clarity in thought and precision in expression are the hallmarks of the method of scientific investigation. The former helped in evolving a well-defined standard terminology  and the latter contributed to the achievement of accuracy in measurement and freedom from bias in observation. Of all the various branches of Science, Physics excels itself in both clarity and precision. So it is interesting to ask, ‘What does Modern Physics tell us with respect to the most ancient question that man has raised?’
Quantum Mechanics says that ‘our observations influence the universe at the most fundamental levels, because the boundary between an objective "world out there" and our own subjective consciousness blurs at those levels.’ As Tim Folgers put it, “When physicists look at the basic constituents of reality— atoms and their innards, or the particles of light called photons— what they see depends on how they have set up their experiment. A physicist's observations determine whether an atom, say, behaves like a fluid wave or a hard particle, or which path it follows in traveling from one point to another. From the quantum perspective the universe is an extremely interactive place.”
Prof. John Wheeler, ‘one of the last of the towering figures of 20th-century physics, after a lifetime of fundamental contributions in fields ranging from atomic physics to cosmology, suggested that our observations  might actually contribute to the creation of physical reality.' To Wheeler "we are not simply bystanders on a cosmic stage; we are shapers and creators living in a participatory universe. Wheeler's hunch is that the universe is built like an enormous feedback loop, a loop in which we contribute to the ongoing creation of not just the present and the future but the past as well.”

Self-excited Universe (Wheeler)
Tim Folgers continues: “Wheeler conjectures we are part of a universe that is a work in progress; we are tiny patches of the universe looking at itself — and building itself. It's not only the future that is still undetermined but the past as well. And by peering back into time, even all the way back to the Big Bang, our present observations select one out of many possible quantum histories for the universe.

Does this mean humans are necessary to the existence of the universe? While conscious observers certainly partake in the creation of the participatory universe envisioned by Wheeler, they are not the only, or even primary, way by which quantum potentials become real. Ordinary matter and radiation play the dominant roles. Wheeler likes to use the example of a high-energy particle released by a radioactive element like radium in Earth's crust. The particle, as with the photons in the two-slit experiment, exists in many possible states at once, traveling in every possible direction, not quite real and solid until it interacts with something, say a piece of mica in Earth's crust. When that happens, one of those many different probable outcomes becomes real. In this case the mica, not a conscious being, is the object that transforms what might happen into what does happen. The trail of disrupted atoms left in the mica by the high-energy particle becomes part of the real world.

At every moment, in Wheeler's view, the entire universe is filled with such events, where the possible outcomes of countless interactions become real, where the infinite variety inherent in quantum mechanics manifests as a physical cosmos. And we see only a tiny portion of that cosmos. Wheeler suspects that most of the universe consists of huge clouds of uncertainty that have not yet interacted either with a conscious observer or even with some lump of inanimate matter. He sees the universe as a vast arena containing realms where the past is not yet fixed.”

If we ask whether Physics will be able to at all find answers to the fundamental questions like ‘why the universe came into being?,’   Wheeler feels that whereas the fundamental “Why?” questions may be a bit tricky, we may be able to answer at least “How?” part.
Andrei Linde who contributed to the theory of Inflationary universe is confident that Physics may be able to find an answer someday to the fundamental questions we ask, though we do not have a surefire answer as of now. He says encouragingly, “You know, if you say that we're smart enough to figure everything out, that is a very arrogant thought. If you say that we're not smart enough, that is a very humiliating thought. I come from Russia, where there is a fairy tale about two frogs in a can of sour cream. The frogs were drowning in the cream. There was nothing solid there; they could not jump from the can. One of the frogs understood there was no hope, and he stopped beating the sour cream with his legs. He just died. He drowned in sour cream. The other one did not want to give up. There was absolutely no way it could change anything, but it just kept kicking and kicking and kicking. And then all of a sudden, the sour cream was churned into butter. Then the frog stood on the butter and jumped out of the can. So you look at the sour cream and you think, 'There is no way I can do anything with that.' But sometimes, unexpected things happen.”
Let us return now to the question whether the universe is really participatory? It maybe 'participatory,' yes; but is it a universe? No!  We can only talk in terms of a participatory universe per a reference frame -- one at a time. We create a universe every instant. We shall take up in our next Post how it is so.
(To Continue ... Physics of Reality - 2)