Monday, 24 January 2011

OK, so if you really take Quantum Theory to its extreme, there should be a multitude of universes where the laws of physics are different to ours. But since the laws of physics conform strictly to mathematical rules, this means that at least one of these universes would have different mathematical laws to us.

But how can the laws of mathematics be different? For example, surely 2+2=4 everywhere? How can we conceive of a universe where 2+2 didn’t equal 4 but equalled, for example, 5?

Well we could. Look at that equation above. 2+2=5. How can we prove that isn’t correct? OK, well don’t we look at the sum of the whole and compare it with the result? In other words, we count how many there are before, then how many there are after. But we have based those sums on what we observe. We could see that when 2 and 2 were brought together, the result was 4. So we created a rule to predict the result, to confirm the result, but not to ultimately know why that was the result.

If we lived in a world where 2+2 did equal 5, how would we know the reason why this was happening? We would add together two 2’s, count the result, and the answer would be 5. The only way you can determine changes like this in amounts, is by comparing before and after. Even describing an addition of this kind as units moving over one at a time, so we can see the increase in numbers, doesn’t work. We can’t see a flaw, because a) we have to use the same mathematical laws to count, and the result is always the same and b) why would there be a flaw? The maths works.

You see that’s the point of the laws of mathematics being different. They still work. Adding 2 and 2 always produces 5, but nothing goes wrong as the computations get bigger and wider, because everything works. You put 200 and 200 together, you add up the result, and it’s 500. But if you add 100 and 100 together, you get 250. It all works. It looks completely illogical from “our” side, but to “them”, our mathematics would look incomprehensible. To them, 2+2=4 would seem absurd, impossible, because in their universe it doesn’t work...because their laws of maths are different.

Of course, what’s to say that our universe of 2+2=4 is the “correct” one? Of course it isn’t. Quantum physics in our universe conforms to this equation, and Quantum physics is surely the same through all of creation, regardless of what “universe”? Well no, because any change in the laws of mathematics will directly affect Quantum physics, and make it slightly different. So our Quantum physics only applies to (and therefore describes...or is it the other way round?) our universe. Our physics cannot therefore predict what will happen in a universe with different mathematical laws.

Let’s take an extreme example.

A different universe exists where a particle took a quantum decision, say 60% probable. In our universe our Quantum Physics says this particle would be only 48% likely to take the same decision. That’s because that different universe says that 2+2=5. It is determined by, proven by, and conforms to the actual result observed each time.

Therefore there are an infinite number of these universes according to our Quantum physics. But in the 2+2=5 universe, their Quantum Physics gives a different answer, one that our Quantum physics can’t even understand. Their answer may that there are a different infinite number of universes...but unfortunately that number does not include us.

However our Quantum Physics will tell us that their universe can’t exist, because it doesn’t conform to our laws. Since there is no overall multi-universe yardstick for determining which law of mathematics is “correct”, therefore none of them are any more or less correct than any other. Because each universe can only use it’s own laws to investigate anything, and because the 2+2=5 universe can’t be described by our maths, how could we ever observe it, or even determine where it is and how to get to it?

To find their universe we would have to live in a universe where their laws already applied. In which case we would already be living in that universe, so we couldn’t find it or observe it elsewhere. Because how would we determine if another universe we could see that was identical...actually was another universe, and not our own? We couldn’t, since only by it being different could we determine it was not us, but if it was not identical then we couldn’t observe it anyway.

Oh I know what you’re thinking. Surely we could observe universes where things were slightly different, but the physical and mathematical laws were identical to our own? Yes, but those are changes in the world through the mathematics of our Quantum Physics, and since our Quantum Physics is the same as theirs, what happens is from the same set of laws. So they live in a universe where an electron went that way, and we live where it went this way? No I don’t mean that. I mean that another universe can’t have different mathematical laws than we have, and be observable by us. Our physical and mathematical laws predict that kind of universe can’t exist. But their universe’s physical and mathematical laws might predict that they can exist, and that our universe can’t!

So is there no way we can ever reach, or communicate with, these universes? No. We could reach a universe where President Kennedy was never assassinated, or the Gulf War never happened, or even where the US never landed on the moon...because although certain events would be different, they conform to the same physical laws as in our universe.

But the others? We can never get to them, for in order to exist, they have to be completely unreachable by us, because the laws of our universe will not provide us with a way to reach them.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Theory

A long long time ago, humans evolved the ability to form generalisations from small amounts of information. This probably started as a survival trait – tube-like thing that hisses equals “snake”, avoid it! The individuals that were most successful at avoiding hissing things in the grass stayed alive the longest, and now the world is populated with their descendents.

As time went on, this trait has become better and better defined, slowly but surely evolving into the ability to deduce meaningful patterns in the world around us, from very little raw information. I believe that this is the single-most defining facet of our intelligence.

Why? Because from this ability stems almost everything that makes humans human. For example, we see shapes in the clouds. In fact it’s almost impossible for us not to. Show us a curly line, we either see the letter S, or the number 2, or maybe even a swan.

However, just to have evolved this ability isn't the whole story. The animal brain appears to work on a very sophisticated "reward" mechanism, and humans (being animals) are no exception. The human brain (for all its supposed sophistication) is at heart nothing more than a very complex conglomeration of simple processes. In order for this simple brain to do what is best for it, animals have evolved a very complicated system of chemical reward. That's what dopamine is. You do something good, the brain rewards itself with a burst of dopamine. You get a buzz.

This is a very handy way of ensuring an individual actively seeks out things that do it good (eating food is pleasurable) whilst avoiding things that don't (pain is bad). Of course, now that the human mind is such a complicated beast it deals with far more esoteric and abstract things than mere food & water. Socialization for a start has been a major development in the human species, so much so that our entire mode of communication (including our body language) is geared almost exclusively to social interaction.

However, let's not forget that for all our sophistication, we are still creatures driven by simple animal processes, and as such we need simple animal drives to make us do anything. Learning to be a social animal may well be the best way to ensure our personal survival in human society, but we still need simple rewards to make it work. For example, competitive instinct is very prevalent in human society, and our athletes often describe how much they enjoy the act of winning.

But hang on, isn't that because winning gives you a buzz? Yup, it's our old friend dopamine again. Surely this is the underlying mechanism behind almost every human endeavour, from climbing Mount Everest to reaching down the back of the sofa to retrieve a dropped pencil. Try it yourself. You're looking for something you’ve mislaid. You don't know where it is, but you have a general idea (gained from using your highly-developed pattern-recognising ability). And you're right! You find what you're looking for. Now didn't that make you feel good?

Let's take it a step further and really see this mechanism in action. Listen to some music. Something popular and repetitive. You're tapping your foot. Why? Because music exercises your pattern-recognition system wonderfully. In the space of 2 or 3 seconds you listen to the beat, extrapolate what's coming next...BLAM! you're right! Buzz! Listen, tap foot, Buzz!

Welcome to music - the ultimate quick dopamine fix!

As an aside, this would probably explain why Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (he says, showing his age) is probably much more popular with the General Public than anything by Chopin or Mozart. You can listen to Relax and start mainlining dopamine within a few seconds. But Mozart? Well you have to listen to it a few times before you can start recognising what comes next. This is possibly why it takes a while for most people to “get into” classical music.

Now then. Here's where it gets amusing. This wonderful brain reward system probably works for everything we do. Hand in hand with Pattern Recognition, we have a very powerful tool for manipulating our personal world, and it can even be used for more abstract endeavours, like thought, or scientific theory. In fact, let's have a look at Scientific Theory...or even just Theory (notice I’m capitalizing here)..

What is a Theory? At its simplest it is an invented explanation that fits all the observable facts in a particular situation. It may not be right, but that's not what our brains are interested in. All our brains care about is whether it fits the facts, and that there are no loopholes. Because if our Theory works...Buzz!!

Put your hands together once more for dopamine, rewarding us yet again for successfully extrapolating a scenario from a jumble of evidence.

So we've got our Theory, and it makes us buzz every time we think about it. So we tell other people our Theory. They listen, but they don't get the same kick as we do, because they didn't come up with the theory themselves (we don’t care. Just the fact of telling them is enough).

However they want that buzz too, so what do they do? They take the facts and concoct a different theory, giving them their own dopamine buzz.

Now there's a downside to this as well. Ever been unable to reach that pencil? Came second in the race? Had your theory blown away? Not a nice feeling is it? Nope, it's not. It's an anti-buzz. It makes us feel bad, and takes away our dopamine flush. This drives us to a) look for the pencil harder b) run faster next time c) defend our Theory.

Maybe it even results in us distorting the facts to fit our Theory. Who can honestly say they haven't lied to protect themselves? The News is full of scientists and politicians who have been caught out hiding the facts, or distorting (even fabricating) the evidence.

I believe the human brain's reward system is that powerful that it drives more than the will to succeed. It drives the will to succeed at all costs.

The bottom line is that because of my brain's chemistry I will fight to the death to defend my Theory from all who seek to disprove, deride, or undermine it. Not only that, but I will also endeavour to persuade others of the validity of my Theory, including searching for further evidence to back it up...even discarding or altering evidence that contradicts my Theory.

And you know the beauty of this Theory? It perfectly explains the reasons behind the Theory itself. This little piece of puff that you are reading now is a Self-Validating Theory. The fact that I am working so hard to explain and defend this Theory...proves the Theory itself!

And nothing you can say will ever disprove this.