Back to: The coming retail apocalypse: some axioms | Forward to: Rudy #5. Gnarly Power Chords

Rudy #4. More on The Big Aha.

As I mentioned in my "Rudy #3" post a few days ago, I'm working towards a certain conception of a mind amplification process that I call the Big Aha. Remember that I'm not looking for something that's inarguably true, I'm looking for something that I'd find artistically congenial for use in my next science-fiction novel. And I'm planning to relate my notion to quantum computation.


[Transreal painting of my wife in analog mode and me in digital mode, dancing in (I wish) the Riviera.]

The fundamental mental distinction I want to make is that my mind, or any person's mind, functions in two distinct modes: (a) the continuous, somewhat analog, wave-function mode, and (b) the discontinuous, somewhat digital, collapsing mode. The mode (a) is when you gaze idly at a menu, and (b) is when you decide what to order.

A few commenters wanted to argue that this is a false distinction, and that wave functions never collapse. From introspection, I don't feel that this lack of distinction is true. I do feel the continuous and the discrete modes of thought within my mind.

I do know about Hugh Everett's many-universe interpretation of quantum mechanics, under which there are no collapses because the timeline is continually branching, or, more accurately, there are continuum of parallel worlds--the multiverse.

But I have an aesthetic revulsion towards multiverse stories. In a nutshell, my problem is this: If everything happens, then nothing matters. I prefer to think that we live in a single and unique universe that is somehow in an optimal form--one might think of an external godlike crafter or one might equally well think of something like a bent wire that holds a soap film that has settled into a surface of minimal area.

So today I'll say a little more about my still-evolving notions, and I'll be doing this in the light of the numerous interesting comments that I got on my earlier post. When I quote a comment, I'll put it in italics, preceded by the name of the commenter.


Paths Not Taken

Scentofviolets: Go with the premise that the Platonic realm of mathematical forms is real and that different people can more or less directly perceive it through some QM hand-waving.

I like this approach and I've written about it in at least one story (which appears as a chapter spacer in my tome, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul). But for this new Big Aha trip, I don't think I'll go with is that of having a mind amplification that's connected with a platonic perception of higher mathematics.

Markham: Maybe we'll discover chess grand-masters actually do a bit of quantum superposition to figure the best move, versus pruning leaf-nodes as a computer might do.

This is another angle I don't think I'll use. The idea is that one internally goes into parallel worlds, and then picks the best one. Too multiverse for me.

Jib: Imagine that you can run infinite simulations but the skill comes in when you try to execute one of the simulations. Try to get the waves to collapse in just the right way to get what you want.

This is an interesting angle, similar to the chess-master approach, but with an extra fillip of controlling the world. You use your powerful mind to simulate a variety of possible outcomes, perhaps by splitting your attention up to many parallel inner selves. And then you somehow "actualize" the best one. But, again, this isn't a route I want to take. Too close to the multiverse.

Malcolm: "This reminds me of Greg Egan's "Quarantine" where the protagonist, with his brain in a non-wave-function-collapsed state, conducts a house to house search of an entire city. All at once.

That Egan gimmick is a cute idea--he's saying that one might somehow be able to split into numerous parallel instances, with the instances present in the same world. But I don't want to take that route, nor am I sure it's scientifically coherent. Again, this feels like a step towards a parallelization route in which someone might in fact split up and live in several parallel worlds at once, or even onwards a full multiverse route where our characters hop from timeline to timeline. Don't want that.

An Aside: In Defense of Hylozoism

Time for a few side-remarks about a pet topic of mine, hylozoism. Note that I recently wrote two novels relating to this theme, Postsingular and Hyolozoic.

Matt: This rock on my shelf can only execute Room Temperature Lump of Granite 1.0 in its current environment.

I've been a hylozoist for many years now--believing that every object is at some level alive and conscious. I'm used to the dismissive type of objection raised by Matt. But I've written up a formal note that in some (weak) sense proves that hylozoism is true.

It feels good to accept that a rock or a chair is alive and conscious. And then we're not lonely fireflies of mind in a vast dark warehouse of dead machinery.

How do you really know, after all, what the internal life of that rock is like? The rock might be thought of as a fully ascended Zen master! Maybe it can in fact simulate my presence by using quantum computation and entanglement. But we don't need, as another commenter warned, to burden the rock with a quirky personality.

A Promising Approach

Greg Tingey: What QC add-ons to humanity might/would do is give us extra senses and heightened perceptions. That in itself would open a lot of closed or only-just openable doors.

I like very much the idea that there could be new senses that we haven't been aware of. I've often wanted to put this idea into a story, and I might well use this as a part of the Big Aha effect.

One way to go here would be to have the new sense be a very highly developed sense of empathy which emerges, one might suppose, from a conscious awareness of quantum entanglement, or awareness of the overarching wave function that includes both you and me as subsystems.

Grokking, in other words.

Heterometes: The idea is that God is the observer in the quantum interaction. God is also the observer in our lives. We have problems with this notion because we spend much of our lives getting socialized that there's this entity called "you" that's doing all this.

Heterometes pushes the notion of the universal wave function a but further. I can grok you if we both merge into the One. It doesn't have to be a religious god, of course. It can be the Big Aha.

In conversation, my friend Nick Herbert made two related remarks about contact with the universal wave.

(1) The soul might perhaps be given a scientific meaning as one's immediate perception of one's coherent uncollapsed wave function, particularly as it is entangled with the uncollapsed universal wave function of the cosmos.

(2) Synchronicity might be evidence that we're all parts of some higher being. And the higher mind's ideas filter down into remote links.

Alex Tolley: I'm reminded of one of Jill Bolte's famous TED talk, "Stroke of Insight." Talking about her damaged brain, she said that she couldn't sense where her body ended and everything else began.

This is indeed an interesting talk, also kind of heart-breaking to watch, as Bolte seems still a bit damaged, but ecstatic, and tearful with her voice cracking and trembling with emotion. Impressive and touching, but it's not a place where I want to be.

This said, it's definitely interesting to suppose that you can, by some physical change, get your brain into a state where you are in fact in a continuous-mode, uncollapsed all-is-one, highly entangled, super-empathy mind state.

But, again for aesthetic purposes, I'd like my characters to get into this state without taking drugs and without any kind of traumatic changes to the brain.

So how do we get there?

Amarxer: Transcendental meditation and yoga are age old techniques to accomplish [a big aha]. In fact the reported siddhis of accomplished masters hint at the possibilities of access to the uncollapsed wave function.

Certainly it's true that an advanced meditation technique might get you there. And I might draw on that notion. But for an SF novel, I want something with a little more bling to it.

Graygaffer: I have often wondered about the physics of the neuron - there are nanometer sized structures critical to their functioning, but this size is within the limits where quantum effects are significant, effects such as tunneling.

Yes, I agree with this. And, as I'm saying, I'm really looking for is a way to take advantage of this in a non-invasive way.

Brucecohenpdx: I kind of like the idea of a coprocessor for the brain (and you can see how this would work for AI too). So you build this quantum computing gadget that fits in a small case attached to a head band, and the band has TMS circuitry in it that entangles the gadget and some part of the brain.

This is a good one, Brucecohenpdx. The head band makes me think of the "brain toys" they used to advertise in the pages of magazines like Mondo 2000. What if someone made one of these that really works?

I'm thinking in terms of, why not, the old strobe approach--a brain toy headband that pulses lights into your eyes, getting your brain into an unusual state. The SF gimmick I'd use would be that some rather sophisticated kind of computation would be used to key the pulsation rates.

Maybe a biocomputation, to make it cool. A cunning cuttlefish pet sits on your shoulder, directing the pulsations. Maybe you don't have any old-school LED lights, and the cuttle pal simply flickers at a nice rate in the tips of two tentacles.

Even better, the tentacle tips are suckered right over your cornea till you achieve lift-off. Users might be called squidders.

26 Comments

1:

"But I have an aesthetic revulsion towards multiverse stories. In a nutshell, my problem is this: If everything happens, then nothing matters."

That's far from true once you take a look at the multiverse from a subjective POV where one can never die. It means that we migrate into more and more bizarre worlds suitable for maintaining our conscious awareness.

2:

" The SF gimmick I'd use would be that some rather sophisticated kind of computation would be used to key the pulsation rates."

Then why not take one more step and extrapolate the work of Persinger on weak magnetic fields modulated with neural burst patterns? The "God Helmet" Mk 2?

3:

BTW, once you accept that the wavefunction collapse can be engineered to a particular value by Mind, or vice versa, you are well inside the territory of parapsychology. Not to mention PEAR and the Global Consciousness Project

4:

Nice, interesting.

However, just to be boring and repetitive ...
"The Platonic Realm" is a figment.
AND "The wave-function" DOES NOT COLLAPSE!
The wave-function is a useful mathematical modelling trick, and photons can/do show wavelike properties.
But they are particles.
Just like electrons - and I used to fly an electron microscope, as well, once upon a day.

I used to work in an area where huge sums were at commercial stake in terms of sales (Largest corp in that field on planet) which depended entirely upon the activation of it's products being QM and not "classical" or "collapse-of-function".
Your required FOUR photons to hit a silver halide speck to get a developable centre in photographic film.
Really sensitive CCD's can now trigger on ONE photon.
Note: a photon, or multiples, no magic collapsing.
No body "observed" it, it happened - and the chemical process of development came along later, and worked on the energy-trap inside the AgHal Xtals.

(Magic collapsing is better done with products from Scotland, actually)

5:

"No body "observed" it, it happened"

Obviously someone did observe it, or you would not know about it - Wigner's Friend

6:

Dirk
Stop it.
It was observed at a much later date - did the wave-function wait to collapse all that time?
Does a tree falling in an empty forest make no sound?
Please grow up.

7:

"It was observed at a much later date - did the wave-function wait to collapse all that time?"

That's what the Wigner's Friend reference was about

8:

If you think it's all so obvious, why do you suppose generations of physicists have come up with numerous differing interpretations?

9:

"A little more bling to it" - why stick to the visual route? Why not posit a musical route to the Big Aha, perhaps using feedback from a bio-engineered quantum wave state monitor to fine-tune the increasingly complex, involute, baroque cascades of sound delivered through astonishingly high-fidelity headphones into our awakener's auditory nerve? And at what point do those shifting layers of sound fade over from quantized and discrete to continuous and encompassing?

And here's another question: is the Big Aha a stable phenomenon, or does it fade over time? "Limitless" used the well-worn metaphors of addiction and withdrawal to deal with temporary expanded mental states, but what if the Aha state is more like the emotional high produced by a really good concert? You can listen to your iThing every day, but only rarely will you reach to the mountaintop of musical ecstasy. What if the mechanism for producing the Big Aha is similarly unreliable?

10:

I don't really want to see an endless thread of yes/no/yes/no bickering regarding the notion of wave function collapse here. If you want to continue, Dirk and Greg, please take your argument somewhere else.

Let's assume, just for the sake of sociability, that I know what I'm talking about and that there is a real phenomenon where the states of some objects do collapse from a spread out probability wave into a fairly sharp and precise eigenstate. And from there they spread out again into smooth quantum uncertainty.

Suppose we don't want a branching universe or a multiverse. So we have various objects whose wave functions are either spread out or collapsed, not at all in synchronization with each other.

And then I get a visual image of something like a macrame. A tapestry made up of state functions that I see as being at some moments like spread-out ribbons and at other moments like narrowed down threads.

Although you may be in some peculiar eigenstate, I might be spaced out and mellow. But then it may be that one of us changes. A dance of pulsating wave function ribbons.

11:
the cuttle pal simply flickers at a nice rate in the tips of two tentacles.

I like this idea. Many cephalopods dedicate large parts of their nervous systems to controlling the chromatophores. That much processing power could perhaps be repurposed to mediating between quantum states and visual patterns that could affect a human brain. Now most zoologists believe that octopi and squid are fairly smart but don't have a theory of mind or consciousness, so being connected in some way to a squid's nervous system wouldn't be like telepathy, it would be more like having new senses suddenly turned on.

12:

I would at least semi-seriously expect a mind amplifier for the analog wave-function mode to come out of competitive professional/Olympic sports research. Anything that would allow athletes to become "in the zone" on demand would be a tremendous advantage.

(And since it's also such an enjoyable sensation, wait for the price to drop...)

13:

A few commenters wanted to argue that this is a false distinction, and that wave functions never collapse. From introspection, I don't feel that this lack of distinction is true. I do feel the continuous and the discrete modes of thought within my mind.

Nice series of posts. You are correct about the analogous/discrete duality of thought and there is a brain hypothesis (somewhat similar to Jeff Hawkins' hierarchical temporal memory) that explains why. The idea is that there is a tree of knowledge (hierarchical memory) and that only one branch of the tree is active at any one time. The branch represents whatever the brain is focusing on at a given time. In humans, a branch can only stay active for a short period, about 12 seconds, after which another branch must rise up to take its place.

Within an activated branch, everything moves/changes analogically in response to changes in the environment. However, changing one's attention from one subject to another is a discrete, near-instantaneous phenomenon.

14:
But I have an aesthetic revulsion towards multiverse stories. In a nutshell, my problem is this: If everything happens, then nothing matters. I prefer to think that we live in a single and unique universe that is somehow in an optimal form

I have yet to see any argument which explains why physics cares about your preferences. Everett branches may be the correct explanation, or maybe they are not. But either way, the fact of the matter does not depend upon your aesthetic revulsions.

Likewise, a rock is not a self-aware computing device merely because you would like it to be.

15:

"One way to go here would be to have the new sense be a very highly developed sense of empathy which emerges, one might suppose, from a conscious awareness of quantum entanglement, or awareness of the overarching wave function that includes both you and me as subsystems."

But then the corollary (or one of the corollaries) would be "schadenfreude" as a new sense. Yes?

16:

Education theory characterizes the state of mind that leads to an "a-hah" moment as a "liminal space." Only tangentially relevant, but it's a great term.

17:

Jon, you seem to be losing sight of the fact that in this post I'm talking about finding appealing ideas for an SF novel.

No, physics doesn't care about my preferences. But I'm not trying to publish a physics paper, nor to write an article on the philosophy of science.

The idea is to find some ideas that are fun and appealing enough to me to want to spend a year or so sitting alone in a room writing a story involving them.

18:

Matt --- Ya, mon, including music in the squiddy Big Aha stimulation biodevice is a good idea. The more senses you tickle the more vivid is a fictional scene.

And the idea of a Big Aha routine not continuing to work unless you somehow keep tweaking it is a good idea, too.

19:

Well, if our wave functions are spread out...and there's no real limit to how far they've spread out...how do you know you're living in your own head?

If "consciousness" and a sense of self emerges as a being develops, but doesn't necessarily correspond with the physical being, then the perceived set of actors (people, rocks, fish, trees, stars, goats, etc) might be different than the actual actors.
Say we have Bob, George, Alice, three goats and the star Arcturus. Bob thinks he's Bob, George George, etc- because to deal with the infinite possible locations and states of an uncollapsed quantum consciousness they just assumed they were, maybe based on the first bits of sensory information they got (Hmm...I'm picking up hay...I must be a goat)
Now, what if something causes the waves to collapse- Bob finds his consciousness resident in Arcturus, Alice turns out to be an egregore of a small herd of goats, Arcturus and George turn out to be the same consciousness and are upset that Bob's collapsed into that physical state...

20:

I also dislike the multiverse answer but not entirely for the same reason. One reason is as an engineer the degree of near infinite split seems to be a bit energy profligate (I know all diff unreachable universes and such) but come on... where does all that energy come from? Another reason to dislike is philosophical, invoking Occam as: lex parsimoniae; so an infinite spectrum of slightly different universes seems a bit uneconomical.

One concept for novelization might be the recent use of 'transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS)' caps, where your character has the monitoring and stimulation of appropriate sections of the brain to trigger selected brain states: In the zone, meditative states, intense focus, etc.. I picked DC brain stimulation merely because it seems an easier method for specific results, however magnetic and AC stimulation also exist. Ultimately you would want a device that monitors brain states and with appropriate stimulation invokes the states.

ref: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110413/full/472156a.html

For extra punch you could include chemical mods at the same time such as the previously mentioned LSD, or even magic mushrooms with their newly discovered personality changes:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110929074205.htm

Makes me curious what permanent effects one might engender with brain stimulation while under a dose of magic shrooms..

21:

If you want a technique for SF, then group synchronization of brainwaves can produce some interesting effects. I describe several methods in my book. Sort of like a "psychic laser".You should also look up work that was done on the various Russian and US remote viewing projects

22:

As a chemist, I had a practical, quantitative approach to quantum mechanics drilled into me. As a result, I have a serious negative reaction whenever I see a writer using the word "quantum" when "magic" would be more appropriate. It's just going to bug some people, including me.

On the other hand, there are all sorts of plausible-enough ways to make people smarter. An artificial neurotransmitter that works 3x better than the old ones, a chemical that increases the density of neural connections being formed; a computerized upgrade that was meant to replace a specific part of a damaged brain but wound up unclogging a major bottleneck of natural brain function &c. The idea that it will also work on digital devices is a lot harder to justify with any kind of rigor.

23:

"I have yet to see any argument which explains why physics cares about your preferences."

If Mind can collapse the wavefunction to a specific predetermined (by Mind) value, then the universe might be forced to care.

24:

Louis Savain, that's an intriguing bit of cognitive science you mention. Do you have a link for this?

25:

To push the hypothesis a little further (P: quantum effects are significan contributors to the elcectrical behaviour of neurons), consider that we characterize the wave function as a probability of outcome distribution. The typical argument against non-mechanical influences is that there is no apparent spurce of energy to drive the strange behavior. But with quantum style involvement, some mechanism that tweaks the shape of the wave fumction would not require any E = mc^2 inputs.

Open: where would such effects sit relative to noise floor? How does state of consciousness affect noise floor? Is something like TM + music a door-opener to this level?

Oh, yes, please put away your woo-detectors, I am pursuing this as an SF trope, not as a reality hack. Or am I? ...

26:

I got exactly the opposite view of the multiverse. Everything happens, but my consciousness chooses to follow this branch of events, ie i am exactly in the most interesting spot i can be. Guess its more of a religion than a good sf idea though ;-)

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rudy Rucker published on December 27, 2011 6:36 PM.

The coming retail apocalypse: some axioms was the previous entry in this blog.

Rudy #5. Gnarly Power Chords is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda