Category Archives: Science

Reality Gets an Unlikely Savior: Infinity

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas Kafatos, PhD

Infinity has been getting a bad reputation recently. It has become the sticking point in the story we tell ourselves about reality. The trouble begins with a split between what is real and what is unreal. If you send someone to the store to buy three apples, and they return with only one, it matches reality to say, “you only brought me a third of what I wanted.”  This statement matches the way numbers are meant to behave. Numbers are pure in the sense that they are abstractions, ever-existing and perfect as the ancient Greek philosophers thought. They cannot be disturbed by real-world events. Yet they are reliable because they allow us to engineer the real world, from building bridges and cathedrals to manufacturing microchips. They are rational because they strictly obey mathematical order and perfect logic.

These three virtues are wobbly when it comes to infinity, however. Getting one apple instead of three represents a one-third return, and when written in decimals, one-third is .33333 out to infinity. In other words, it is an endless number, and “endless” isn’t something we can actually conceive. There is a mismatch between the real world and mathematics, and when it comes to advanced mathematics, the kind applied by physicists and cosmologists, the misbehavior of infinity becomes serious. (Actually, this is one kind of well-behaved infinity, because rational numbers like 1/3 can be known to any order and predicted in advance—the repetition of three continues ad infinitum. An irrational number like pi (π) is a different kind of infinity, since its digits are unpredictable and do not repeat.)

The noted physicist Max Tegmark wrote an article for Discover magazine in Feb. 2015 titled, “Infinity Is a Beautiful Concept – And It’s Ruining Physics.” The ruination exists on two disturbing fronts. The first front is theoretical. Physicists need valid, provable theories to explain the biggest and smallest things in nature. As it turns out, the smallest things, subatomic particles, wink out of sight and vanish into the quantum vacuum. The biggest things, including galactic and intergalactic matter and the universes itself, emerge from the same vacuum, and our universe was set on a course of seemingly almost infinite inflation a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. The rub is that when calculating the behavior of cosmic inflation, infinity keeps intruding and destroying any reasonable prediction. To quote Tegmark, “. . .inflation always gives the same useless answer: infinity divided by infinity.”

The reasons for arriving at this useless calculation are technical, but the upshot isn’t: reality comes down to an inconceivable concept. Infinity also intrudes in the fashionable theory of the multiverse, which derives our universe by supposing that it is only one in an infinite, or nearly infinite, number of alternative universes. But for this to be true, there have to be reasonable calculations of the odds for producing our particular universe with all its vast number of stars and galaxies, and these don’t exist. There are infinite reasons for why the Big Bang produced the universe that led to life on Earth and infinite reasons why it might not have happened. This is surely a very unsatisfying situation. Continue reading

How to Get Reality Back on Track

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas Kafatos, PhD

Reality, that most important concept about everything that exists, has gotten out of kilter, and yet very few people have noticed or are paying attention. The problem goes deep into the heart of things, however, so deep that future generations may look back and wonder why this generation didn’t wake up. The reason isn’t mysterious, actually. It has to do with how much we have come to rely upon contemporary science and to trust it: science has been appointed to inform us about what is real and what isn’t. Myths, superstitions, personal prejudices, and obsessions are unreal, while facts, data, and measurements are real.

Nothing seems more secure than science in most people’s minds. As long as technology keeps progressing on all fronts, it’s commonly believed that the most intractable problems, such as curing cancer and reversing global climate change, are open to scientific solutions. But what if reality has something else in mind? Quite apparently it does, if you bother to look deep enough. Reality has decided to bring physics, for example, to a profound crisis, not on one front, which might be easily circumvented, but on almost all fronts. This sounds like a drastic statement, but it’s actually a foreshadowing.

Judging by the current state of affairs, certain difficulties are now at least forty years old without solution and sometimes a century or more.  To name the top seven dead ends that science faces,

  1. No one knows where the Big Bang came from.
  2. No one knows how life began.
  3. The origin of time, space, matter, and energy remain obscure.
  4. The relation of mind and brain is as up in the air as it was at the time of Plato and Aristotle.
  5. The nature of consciousness and how it evolved–if it evolved–cannot be agreed upon.
  6.  The process by which the brain creates a three-dimensional world of sight and sound using only chemical and electrical signals is totally mysterious.
  7. The two leading theories in physics, General Relativity (which explains how large objects work) and quantum mechanics (which explains how tiny things work) turn out to be completely incompatible.

In previous posts over the past five years we’ve gone into detail about each of these difficulties, and as much as mainstream science resists any crack in its armor, a host of leading thinkers acknowledges exactly what these problems are. But let’s back away from details to look at the big picture. If there are seven dead ends in our understanding of reality, isn’t something drastically off kilter? If the answer to that question is obviously yes, then why doesn’t science self-correct and change course? We emphasize “science as it is being currently practiced,” because quantum reality is drastically different from the outmoded assumptions of classical physics that still dominate in the everyday work of physicists. Why this gap exists is a complex issue, but let’s ignore the details once again and give a simple, workable answer: inertia. Science advances through the momentum built up over the decades, and like a car rolling downhill, inertia will keep things moving even if the engine is dead. Continue reading

How You Create the Universe  

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D.

 

We all identify with the physical world and would be shocked to discover that this is a mistake. Even in an age of faith like the Middle Ages, when people believed in miracles and attributed creation to an omnipotent God, the physicality of things was totally accepted. Rocks were hard and water was wet, no matter what faith you believed in. If you wandered the stacks of the Library of Congress and pulled books off the shelf at random, you’d discover no serious challenge to physicalism except for one book out of a million written by mystics, sages, Eastern philosophers, and other members of a motley crew who were detached from everyday reality.

Even so, it is undeniable that we’re mistaken when we identify with the physical world, and correcting the mistake has enormous implications–it would be like waking up from a dream. The fact that the dream of physicalism is supported by many modern scientists science gives it weight and authority, but scientists, with very few exceptions, promote physicalism because they haven’t really examined its faulty assumptions. Like the rest of us, they tacitly assume that the world “out there” is real and dependable. In last week’s post Deepak Chopra argued against that assumption; this follow-up will attempt to answer the inevitable question, “So what?” Unless the end of physicalism makes a difference in our everyday lives, arguing over it seems arcane and abstract. In fact, the very opposite is true.

If we stop accepting the basic tenet of physicalism–that everything in existence is explainable by exploring the matter and energy that compose the universe–a huge shift is possible. Already the role of mind is central in orthodox quantum mechanics, which does not accept a physical reality devoid of observation. Despite the obvious triumphs of science and technology, one has to abandon the traditional scientific worldview, expanding instead on what quantum theories state, if we want to explain the following mysteries:

Where did the Big Bang come from? Continue reading

 Will the “Real” Reality Please Stand Up?

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One peculiarity of our times is that people are so quick to accept the reality they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. We do this automatically, disregarding the fact that every preceding age was totally mystified by existence, to the point that mystics, poets, philosophers, sages, and spiritual teachers, without exception, insisted that there was an invisible, hidden dimension which constituted the “real” reality. In a hidden realm could be found God and the gods, heavens and hells, a domain of perfect forms (according to Plato), Nirvana (according to the Buddha), or some version of spirits, ancestors, shamanistic creatures, and so on.

Where did this “real” reality go? The easy answer was simple. The hidden dimension was extinguished by science. In a scientific age, nothing was considered real unless it was formed by bits of matter (molecules, atoms, subatomic particles) bound by elementary forces. On this foundation, which is often called physicalism, reality became consistent from top to bottom, from the farthest galaxies to the domain of the quantum, leaving everyday reality—rocks, people, trees, the Republican Party—sandwiched in between. Until very recently, physicalism provided a seamless picture of existence, minus all the gods and monsters relegated to the past.

But the easy answer has been unsatisfactory for over a century, even by the standards of science, and now physicalism hangs on by dint of scientific superstition, given that actually proving it is impossible. Without a doubt modern physics has revived a hidden, invisible, formless dimension that exists beyond time and space. This dimension preceded the Big Bang (with apologies for using “preceded,” since the word implies time, and there is strong evidence that time came into existence only with or even after the Big Bang.) Without going into detail, we can accept what modern cosmology asserts, that something came out of nothing, the something being our universe and the nothing a formless dimension we can dub the pre-created state (even though there are problems with any word assigned to describe it, since words are a creation in time and space also).

So the mystery of the “real” reality has returned with a vengeance. This poses an immediate intellectual challenge, to find a way to understand the pre-created state but also a second, more practical challenge, how to adjust our lives, if we need to, to a completely new reality. Let’s confront the first challenge now, with a future post devoted to the second. There are three routes to solving the mystery of the “real” reality: Continue reading

How the Universe Solved the “Hard Problem”

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

For some inexplicable reason the most common element in every possible experience–consciousness–has kept itself a secret. How the human brain produces consciousness–if it does–is an age-old question, currently traveling under the name of “the hard problem.” Philosopher David Chalmers, who coined the term, says, “There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain.” This is especially frustrating because we all depend upon consciousness for everything. If we were unconscious, the world would literally disappear in a puff of smoke. This obvious fact implies something that isn’t so obvious: Maybe consciousness and the world appeared at the same time.

A cosmos devoid of consciousness isn’t conceivable, and yet the reason for this exists completely out of sight. Think of sunlight. Obviously the sun can’t shine unless stars exist. There are few secrets left to discover about how stars form, what they are made of, and how light is produced in the incredibly hot cauldron at the core of a star. The secret lies elsewhere. As sunlight travels 93 million miles to Earth, it penetrates the atmosphere and lands somewhere on the planet. In this case, the only somewhere we’re interested in is our eye. Photons, the packets of energy that carry light, stimulate the retina at the back of the eye, starting a chain of events that leads to the part of the brain known as the visual cortex.

The difference between being blind and being able to see lies in the mechanics of how the brain processes sunlight—that much is clear. Yet the step in the process that matters the most, converting sunlight into vision, is totally mysterious. No matter what you see in the world—an apple, cloud, mountain, or tree—sunlight bouncing off the object makes it visible, but how? No one knows. The secret of sight is totally immersed in consciousness itself. Without being conscious of light, photons are invisible. Yet it is mistaken to say that light becomes bright in the brain through some physical process, because the brain has no brightness, either. It is as dark as outer space. Because there is no light in the brain, there are no pictures or images, either. When you imagine the face of a loved one, nowhere in the brain does that face exist like a photograph. Continue reading

How to Free Yourself from Your Brain

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

On many fronts people feel the urge to change their lives–so why don’t they succeed? We live in therapeutic times. Advice surrounds us about achieving success. Yet when we set our minds to do something seemingly simple–losing weight, giving up a bad habit, acting nicer to people, and so on–something intervenes between the intention and the goal. This “something” exists in the relationship between the mind, which issues a desire or intention, and the brain, which is the physical apparatus for carrying out desires and intentions.

If you assume that the brain is the mind, which is the working assumption in 99% of neuroscience research, there is little room for solving the problem. It’s as if you hear a piece of music you don’t like on the radio, so you try to rearrange the radio’s parts. Obviously a mistake is being made there, but the relationship between mind and brain is subtler. It’s like a conversation between two people, where one person is dominant one moment and the other person is dominant the next. In the dialogue between mind and brain, most of the time the mind is automatically dominant. If you want to raise your arm, the brain sends the appropriate signals without obstacle of interference.

But sometimes the brain interjects its own feedback, and then the signals become confused. In the last post we discussed how brain-trained responses can make us virtual robots obeying old conditioning, habits, memories, and so on. The mind trains the brain to do X, and then without benefit of new training, the brain does X all the time. If you look at your own life, you can find endless examples of how brain-training limits your freedom of choice. For example, Continue reading

Why the Physical Universe Needs Mental Glue

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Deepak Chopra, MD and Jennifer Nielsen, PhD candidate

 

Robber barons in the 19th century were so rich that they didn’t have to do things the way ordinary people do. If they wanted to live in a French chateau or an Italian palazzo, for example, they didn’t have to build one from scratch. Instead a chateau or palazzo could be dismantled in Europe, its parts carefully numbered and packed into crates, and then shipped to America to be reassembled on the spot.

If you wanted to ship the universe somewhere else, you could try to do something similar. You’d need four crates labeled time, space, matter, and energy—the basics for taking apart the universe. To save shipping costs, you could try to cut these down to their bare constituents at the quantum level. But when the Fed Ex man shows up, he would scratch his head. “I can’t ship this,” he’d says. “You squeezed everything down, too far. There’s no stuff in these crates.” This is a fanciful summary of the basic quandary created by the quantum revolution of a century ago. When space, time, matter and energy are studied at the very smallest level, they cease to behave as the familiar parts of reality that we think we know. Continue reading

How to See the Whole Universe: Nonlocality and Acausality

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Jennifer Nielsen, PhD Candidate

Whenever there’s a new breakthrough in science, a closer step is taken to seeing reality as a whole. Essentially science works on the jigsaw-puzzle principle: Having taken apart a picture of the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon, reassembling the pieces gives you the whole picture again. Applied to science, cancer research pursues a hundred clues in the hope of discovering what makes a cell suddenly turn cancerous. The whole picture (a tumor) is being broken down in the hope that a view can be gained of cancer itself. In physics, most people have heard of the Theory of Everything (TOE), which would combine the four fundamental forces in nature into a single picture of the universe.

But after almost a century of investigation, it is dawning on some prominent physicists, such as Stephen Hawking, that a TOE may be impossible. Instead of reassembling the whole universe out of its basic parts, something isn’t working, and that something goes right to the heart of what the quantum revolution did to science over a century ago. The common-sense world we live in, a world of solid objects that stay in place and only move if a force, or cause, makes them move, no longer suffices. Quantum objects, such as subatomic particles, aren’t solid. They don’t stay in one place, and their activity doesn’t obey simple cause-and-effect. In essence, pieces of the puzzle that refuse to fit together are why Hawking and others believe that perhaps physics will wind up like a country with dozens of regional rulers and no king to unite them. Instead of a TOE, the best we may do is a patchwork of specialized theories such as general relativity and quantum electrodynamics that explain parts of reality but never the whole. Continue reading

Sleep to Win! Seven Ways to Gain the Competitive Edge

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By Dr, James B. Maas and Haley A. Davis

Whether you’re a pro-athlete or haven’t run, or hit or touched a ball since your high school days, you have no idea how your abilities can dramatically improve overnight. And the best part is – it’ll be the easiest and most enjoyable change to your workout routine. All you need to do is get more sleep!

Most people don’t realize how significant a role sleep plays in daytime performance. Research regarding sleep and athletics is gaining more attention than ever and many new findings are coming to light. Here are seven ways to get the right quality and quantity of sleep to maintain your competitive advantage. Continue reading

If Science Is a Game, Here’s a Game-Changer

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By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, PhD

The quantum pioneer Erwin Schrödinger was one of the best thinkers about philosophy in a generation of physicists, around a century ago, that was rich in philosophers (a rare breed today). One of Schrödinger’s most intriguing statements has explosive implications for the future of science: “Science is a game—but a game with reality, a game with sharpened knives.”  It’s not immediately clear what he means, but the knives being referred to sit at the center of the scientific method, which Schrödinger compares to cutting a picture apart into a thousand pieces and then reassembling it again.

No one could argue that this is true. Big problems in science are solved by reducing them to smaller components that are more manageable, easier to quantify, and more available for experimentation. But why does Schrödinger call science a game? Being a mystic or an idealist (pick the term you prefer), he saw God as the player on the opposite side of the table, and he felt this was a necessary component because unlike a picture ready for cutting up into pieces, reality cannot be seen in advance as a whole. There is no look or shape to reality, no defined borders, no unnecessary elements that can be conveniently set aside or ignored.

What is God’s role in the game? “He has not only set the problem but also has devised the rules of the game. But they are not completely known; half of them are left for you to discover or to deduce.” Rationalists would balk at using God here, but if you substitute “nature” or “reality” instead, the game of science becomes clear.  It’s a game of deduction and inference where the so-called laws of nature and the latest theories generally work well but still we have no closure on a unified whole. In some sense, the ground rules are only half known, at best. Recent developments in physics have uncovered dark matter and energy that make the game even harder, since these obscure entities barely interact, if at all, with ordinary matter in the visible universe and yet account for the vast majority of created matter and energy. Continue reading

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