Part I – Reality is made up by our brains
Sir Roger Penrose, Oxford University
Is he the most brilliant man ever?
Here is the series on Roger Penrose and Reality:
Let’s start here. Daniel was a chemist working at the NIST (National Institute of Standards). He was a bright kid but apparently didn’t impress his boss. He was looking in his microscope and he noticed that the sample in view had many properties of crystals but also appeared irregular under the microscope. He remembered from some textbook or something that it was possible for structures to be tiled by irregular patterns. He told his boss that the structure could be a crystal even though it was not a regular structure. His boss pulled a paper that said crystals had to be composed of regular structures. After Daniel insisted that it was possible, his boss fired him. Twenty-five years later Daniel Schechtman was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering Quasicrystals. I can’t find the name of his boss. I have a feeling that is someone who wouldn’t want to be remembered for firing a Nobel prize winning scientist who discovered Quasicrystals which turns out to be useful in semiconductors and other applications. Sir Roger Penrose, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Oxford didn’t share that Nobel prize even though his mathematics is the basis for the discovery that Danny had.
Science and Math are intimately tied. We don’t know why but it seems indisputable
It is a fact that if Einstein hadn’t had non-euclidean geometry he would never have been able to create General Relativity. It turns out many scientists in Chemistry, Physics and possibly even biology can point to Roger Penrose for having made the math advances that made the science they did possible. So, if Roger was simply a good mathematician I might find him impressive but Roger has done way more than some cool mathematics.
As you will discover in these blogs Roger Penrose has discovered the true universe we live in not the one we see. I will show you incontrovertible proof that the universe you think you “see” (What is called the Minkowski Universe) cannot be the actual universe we live in. I will explain the universe that Roger Penrose has postulated called the Twistor Universe that is our real reality.
He has NOT gotten a Nobel Prize
He has contributed in substantial ways to algebraic geometry, Spinors, Twistors, Mandelbrot curves, Fractal Geometry, Cohomology and impossible figures, Relativity theory, Cosmology, Black Holes, the Big Bang, Particle Physics, String Theory, Loop Quantum Gravity, Quantum Mechanics, Brain Science, Penrose diagrams, Penrose Triangle the tri-bar. There are many many such references to original work and yet curiously he has never won or been listed as a contributor on a nobel prize. I find that bizarre.
Most brilliant people find mathematics difficult enough and if you took a fraction of Roger’s contributions in math it would be impressive and leave him immortal as a genius.
Physics is pretty hard stuff even for physicists. The math in modern physics is incredibly complicated. Just learning the math let alone the physics is a huge burden for even the smartest person.
Most people limit themselves to a specialty within Physics or Math. It would simply be too hard to know enough to be intelligent in several topics. Roger has impacted a dozen branches of each field, has inspired artists to paint his ideas, has inspired biologists all over the world to work on his ideas as well as hundreds / thousands of the best physicists and mathematicians from every major science institution in the world. His work is the basis for much of current physics and lots of modern mathematics and he is still contributing major things at 83 years old.
Roger is also a controversial and contrary making bold claims about the brain as quantum computer, that inflation is a fantasy and even more claiming that things the brain does proves that quantum physics is incomplete. Most scientists aren’t making earth-shattering discoveries in their 80s as Penrose did last year at 83 years old!!
There are many brilliant physicists and mathematicians but this is not a biography of Roger Penrose or an elaboration of his entire career. I am telling you all this and writing it to convince you he is not a lightweight who has some controversial idea.
What we see is not reality. We have known this for a while
Our senses give us a view of the world interpreted by our brains as a 4 dimensional universe of 3 space dimensions and 1 time dimension.
We know that at the small scale of quantum mechanics the universe “looks” vastly different. If our senses were tuned to that world we would see the universe vastly differently than the billiard balls we see at our level. At the level of the electron or particle, time changes speed or even freezes, particles appear out of space and disappear constantly as if by magic.
There are many current theories of physicists which postulate we live in a Universe of different dimensions than we see but the Universe of Twistor theory is different than the String Theory Universe or the Holographic Universe.
Roger’s Universe is composed of multiple “complex” dimensions. I will explain this. However, none of the axis in Rogers Universe is the time and space dimensions we are used to. Further there is not a 1:1 mapping from Twistor Universe to our mind’s eye Universe, the Minkowski Universe. For example, a light ray which consists of a particle moving at the speed of light and goes from here to there in our universe actually is simply a point in Twistor Universe. I understand this is hard to grapple with.
Our space and time dimensions emerge as “calculations” on the underlying fundamental geometry of discrete space. Time and space as we perceive them have no intrinsic reality and are merely calculated from Twistor space. As a result time and space can jump arbitrarily depending on the mapping. They are simply calculated results.
Another way to think of this is that when we “view” Twistor space with our eyes and senses our eyes and brain do the calculations to map Twistors to Minkowsi objects. Why do they do this? How do they do that? That takes some explaining too. It is not mystical. Our brain and eyes and senses do this for the same reason they fool us about lots of things. They want to make our life predictable, easy to navigate so we can get the food and things we need to be successful. Our brain and senses fool us to enable us to do things like walk and run, catch a ball, run after an animal to capture and eat it, They work in conspiracy to make this world predictable to us at the macro level we are.
Our brain and eyes and senses are not built to provide us with an accurate picture of true reality. For instance, your eyeballs are flitting around constantly taking in only a fraction of the visual field. Our nervous system constructs the view that we have a continuous camera that is looking at a wide panorama of data. It pieces together information and where it doesn’t have the information it fabricates it. It presents us with a false image of reality. I will show this is true on numerous dimensions and levels.
Here is proof that we don’t live in the 4-dimensional universe we see
There is a lot of “quirky physics behavior” that makes you doubt that we live in this 4-dimensional universe we are accustomed to seeing. In Part 2 I talk about those problems. One that really bugs me is how time and space contract so rapidly during special relativity, how inflation could happen. These things hint that there is something really odd with this universe that seem to allow time and space to contract and expand willy-nilly. I think this is why most physicists also think that Minkowski space should be emergent not fundamental. That’s fine as circumstantial evidence but there are 2 things that I think are effectively proofs that Minkowski space time that we have believed in is ultimately a false image of the real world.
I will show you that it is logically impossible for our universe to be what we think we see.
1) Nature cannot be both local and non-local
All the laws of physics are local. They all prescribe that nothing effects anything else unless in close proximity. Not only that but there is a fundamental speed limit in the universe, the speed of light. Therefore the universe has to be local. Things affect things next to them and they can only do so at the speed of light. End of story, right? This is what Einstein believed and is the basis for much of his physics still in use today and considered to be one of the main pillars of physics.
We know through experiment that unbelievably non-local quantum phenomenon happen. With quantum entanglement which I will explain shortly we demonstrate in experiments that have been carried out millions of times that in fact nature acts non-locally or alternately that information between 2 particles travels in excess of 1,000,000 times the speed of light which violates the speed limit of the universe. Either way our Universe cannot both be local, i.e. have space and time dimensions that are smooth and have non-local phenomenon.
People have tried to prove that these non-local effects aren’t really non-local. John Stewart Bell came up with an experiment that proves if space is non-local and the experiment has been tested over and over and shows consistently that the universe is non-local. Recently tests have been done that eliminate almost all doubt. Physicists and we are forced to accept that things can happen instantly in different parts of the universe that are connected without any limitations of speed.
So, we have a logical contradiction that is impossible to escape. The universe cannot be simultaneously local and non-local. The Minkowski view depends on the idea that things move along these axis of time and space we perceive. If things can jump instantly over those axis then the Minkowski view is not fundamental.
Roger Penrose himself discusses this by using the simplest way we think of a particle as spread over space in a wavelike pattern. The problem that he points out that is fundamentally impossible to reconcile is that when we measure that particle it appears somewhere. In so doing it cancels itself from everywhere else. This cannot be the right model of the particle and wavefunction because its just ridiculous to imagine that everytime a measurement is made the particles go about withdrawing from all of space and then reasserting themselves later. In a wave of the ocean if you feel the wave one place it doesn’t cancel the wave at all other places. This is unimaginable way for stuff to operate in a 3 dimensional world and therefore something is fundamentally wrong with thinking of particles as existing in 4 dimensional minkowski spacetime. It simply doesn’t make any sense to imagine the world works by every particle doing this ridiculous dance of appearing and disappearing.
We have done experiments that show that the measurement problem is truly deeper than anyone imagined.
This is harder to follow so I have simplified it. I hope you can understand this. It really is quite simple.
We do these physics experiments all the time where we send particles through devices which can detect them and readout something about the particles that go through them. The biggest bizarre thing we’ve discovered is nature seems to know we are looking at the particles or NOT because it acts differently if we are looking and if we are not looking. I will explain more later. This particular experiment was done recently and will surprise you.
We send particles through 1 or 2 “devices”. We can predict how nature will react because we know if we are looking or not and therefore know which rule to apply, the one for when we are looking and the one for when we are not looking. It is bizarre it knows we are looking but we can predict exactly what it will do when we look and when we don’t look. Great.
The trick with this version of the experiment is we will generate a random number which will determine whether we will look or not in the second device. The additional part of this experiment is we will generate this number only after the particle has gone through the first device. So, even we do not know whether we will look.
Quantum physics says the particle will act differently in the first device if it knows we will detect it later in the second device. The first device scatters the particle or creates a wave but it will only do so if the second experiment is not in place.
In this experiment we have set it up so WE don’t know if we will put up the second device until after it has gone through the first device. The particle behaves as if it KNEW in advance what the random number generator would generate because it acts differently in the first device if the second device would be there even though there is no way for it to know that because even we don’t know that. Of course this seems impossible.
This experiment repeated millions of times demonstrates that the particle seems to be able to foretell if the random number generator will put the second device there in advance which implies a causal break. It cannot know before it has happened. It is perfect in this knowledge and never misses.
A similar experiment carried out several years ago demonstrated the same causality break with entangled particles. It showed that two particles could behave as entangled or not entangled based on information not known by anyone, not even computed yet.
What these experiments tell us is that the universe has decided how to act at the endpoints of our observation, i.e. the beginning and the end and taking into account everything that happens between without actually “doing” the between things we think it is doing. The universe can’t be doing the things between in a time sequential way the way we think it does because it seems to be able to look ahead in time.
It’s easier to understand that the time between observations simply doesn’t exist the way we think it does. No particle is going through these gyrations between our measurements. That is the figment of our Minkowski model that is fooling us. We imagine this particle moving and then try to figure out how it could travel to accomplish what we see but the fact is it never does all this stuff in our made up universe.
The particle is here, then it is there. Everything we set up between simply becomes part of the step from here to there but the particle only exists when we observe it. Time only exists at the points at either end of the calculation. Space only is visible to us at the boundary points of our observations.
What we have is: We saw the particle when we generated it. We saw it after the journey. How we think of the particle between is irrelevant. All that matters is when we see the particle at the end it will have incorporated all the information about what happened regardless of when those events happened.
This kind of causal break implies something is deeply wrong with our idea that space and time are the true bottom level reality. These experiments are telling us that our “model” of what is happening with the particle is false. The real underlying universe cannot have these causal problems and our attempts to force a view that the particle is moving along some space axis or time axis is simply untrue. Our universe is one that we perceive but not the real universe.
For instance, imagine that I have a wall that is actually a TV screen. I place a video on that wall of a person removing their arm and attaching it to their leg. Since you don’t know about TV and video editing tools your only conclusion is that humans have detachable organs that can be reattached at other places. I keep showing you videos of people stretching their limbs to incredible dimensions or shrinking them. I show you video of people performing super feats. You conclude humans can do all kinds of amazing things. You try to work out the biology of that. It’s pretty complicated. Along the way you run into problems that seem to defy common sense. You trudge on believing everything you see on that TV is real when in fact it is simply explained as video editing.
In this analogy the same way the naive viewer of the television is trying to build a reality from what they see on the TV and imagine how that could really work in fact those things are just the emergent images from a video editing machine.
We have the problem that causality and locality are very tied into our conception of the Minkowski universe. When these things are broken we can assume that when we are viewing these particles doing these things its because in reality we’re watching a TV of a fabricated world. In the real fundamental world there is locality and causality but because we are looking at the TV we see things which look impossible. In fact in the real world I am moving images around perfectly logically and operating in a perfectly linear causal way but the images on the screen don’t look like that.
So, our model of time/space is wrong or logic doesn’t work which is just as serious a problem.
Since 1915 or so there has been a notion in physics of what is called the “fuzzy state” and the measured states of things. When we measure something it all looks very precise and like Newton described. Things look like small billiard balls for instance. However, when we aren’t looking things are in well, for lack of a better term, the “fuzzy state.” The fuzzy state is such that everything is a probability. Your particles are spread out simultaneously over a wide space in a fuzzy way as a probability distribution. Importantly according to physics your particles are actually simultaneously in all these positions evolving. However, experiment 2 says that it is unlikely there is any fuzzy state.
We have struggled (and me particularly with understanding the quantum fuzzy state, the wave state of matter. Problem solved. This experiment essentially says that there is no reality during the fuzzy state. There is no fuzzy state. Problem solved. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a probabilistic universe with all the possibilities. It is just saying that there can be no reality between observed states because for reality to exist it would have to know things which it can’t know in advance (i.e. the 2nd experiment above).
Is consciousness the fundamental force in nature?
Some have interpreted this “non-existence” of between as proof for “consciousness” in the universe. According to the theory we have today the universe only “appears” to exist at points we observe it. Therefore, consciousness is a fundamental part of reality because it is consciousness itself that brings reality into existence. There is no reality if there is no consciousness therefore the only reality is one where there is consciousness and consciousness is one of the very root characteristics of the universe because without it the universe wouldn’t exist.
Unfortunately, it is not clear to me that it is consciousness is the only thing that makes reality. According to Twistor theory reality is created by any possibilities that generate enough energy to be equal to or greater than the energy of one graviton particle. It turns out that when we observe things we always generate at least one graviton of energy variance and therefore reality “happens” simultaneously with our observation but according to this theory lots of reality exists simply as things jostle around.
The trick is that when things jostle around and there is this one graviton of energy all possible things that can happen DO happen. All of them.
However, these experiments explain to me why we can’t observe the quantum fuzzy state. Why we can’t see the decoherence or re-coherence events. The only thing we can see are the measurements of the real world we make when we jump from one discrete point in space to another. This is simply a reflection of the discreteness of time and space. It’s like asking if you were to have 1 1/2 bits of information. Bits are not divisible. There is no 1/2 bit. It means nothing to ask such a question because a bit is simply 0 or 1. There is nothing more discrete than 0 and 1. The universe is apparently discrete. There is 0 and 1 and it is pointless to ask what is between 0 and 1.
One of the interpretations of quantum decoherence is called Many Worlds. In this theory which I was a strong believer in for a while and most physicists according to a poll believed in every possible world does exist that represents a decision point related to these “decoherence events” I speak about. The worlds appear in proportion to their probability according to the Schroedinger wave equation. Thus if at one point there was a 10% chance of going path A, 1% path B, C, D, 0.01% E, F, … 0.0000001% chance path XXXASDS etc all these possibilities of worlds would appear instantly at the point of decision. This was a difficult thing to imagine. I believe one reason that this idea of a fuzzy state cannot exist in reality is that we know that some possibilities have probabilities of 1 in 10 ^ 12 or less probability yet when we run experiments in the LHC and other experiments which depend on these very remote probabilities we see them occasionally in exact proportion expected. So, we are asked to believe at each decision point essentially an infinite number of universes is created not just the different possibilities and some of those universes created are exactly the same in proportion to the probability so that an infinite exactly duplicate universes is created as well. This seems ridiculous and impossible so I have given up this theory. If the universe at each point were to calculate a billion universes or 10 universes it might as well calculate 1. Therefore the universe is calculating at each point the probability of the next step. This seems hard because the number of possibilities is staggering possibly infinite. One of the amazing accomplishments of Twistor theory is a figure called the Amplituhedron which when you calculate the surface of different parts tells you the probability of each possible result. This is a huge computational improvement and is one of the great reasons Twistor theory is being taken so seriously now. Not only does the Amplituhedron allow you to calculate these probabilities within finite time but it also shows that many times the infinite calculations we were doing previously were adding identical solutions that add up to a single number. The amplituhedron allows us to see these symmetries we never saw before and therefore to give us a possible view that the universe doesn’t have to calculate infinite possibilities at each “decoherence” event but may be a physical thing based on this amplituhedron. This seems infinitely more likely a real world than the world we previously believed in that requires us and the universe to do an infinite amount of work each point in time.
It’s important to note the Amplituhedron doesn’t give us the end of probability or the end of the infinite possibilities of quantum mechanics.
If you think this is just not relevant to you think again.
I know this is hard to conceptualize and to be motivated to accept. You may think that these logical impossibilities have no impact on me or you and even our normal level reality so maybe these things are true but you’d prefer to keep believing that in almost every way we will never have to deal with the difference between the real world and the world we create.
The fact is that quantum physics is becoming more and more mainstream. We are dealing with a world that utilizes quantum mechanics to solve thorny problems nature couldn’t find a better way to do. More and more we are going to utilize those tricks in our own science and reality. I talk about this in another blog here.
Over the next century use of quantum mechanical phenomenon to operate in the real world will be essential and commonplace. I believe your kids and your kids kids will need to understand this stuff. They will not be able to understand physics the way it is taught today as “Minkowski” space physics. More and more people will need to understand the real reality to be able to understand the basic operation of devices we will depend on.
So, It’s pretty clear that space-time as we know it is kaput.
How is it possible we are seeing something that doesn’t actually exist?
It was Plato who talked about how we see the world through cave drawings. He was prescient enough to understand that there was no reason to believe that what we “see” is reality. Everything that is brought to us goes through our senses and we construct in our brains a “vision” of the world based on those inputs. Our eyes see a spectrum of electromagnetic vibrations that is very small, our ears hear a small frequency of vibrations of matter.
We’ve known for some time that we perceive a world vastly different than some in the animal kingdom do. Some animals can “hear” vibrations at very low frequencies that correspond to vibrations in the earth that allow them to identify earthquakes sooner than us but also to geolocate with amazing precision. Some animals can smell and identify particles in the air with uncanny precision following a trail so tiny it’s almost unbelievable. Some animals see electromagnetic signals far outside our range enabling them to see at night or different things than we see.
This idea of our brains processing input signals has been really taken home by the movie Matrix where humans actually lived inside liquid filled pods where our bodies were harvested for energy production but our brains received signals from computers that made us think we lived in the world we see. However, in all these the possibility was not discussed that we actually lived in a 6 or 10 dimensional world that the physical world might in fact be dramatically different from the perceived world our brains give to us, that for instance there was no time dimension.
It’s actually easy to see the deception our brain is giving us. It’s not just doing it by giving us a false impression of the number of dimensions or how space is actually organized in those dimensions. It’s doing it in all kinds of ways.
It is abundantly clear that we can and do construct a picture of the world that is different than reality. The simple demonstration of how our eyes hide the blind spot from us as we look around is available here. Our brain fills in the details it assumes are there, it predicts what should be there and fills it in. It hides the flitting of our eyeballs and produces a smooth seamless image of the world.
We see a gorgeous sunset of vivid colors and smell orange blossoms or a breeze blowing across our bodies but the amazing thing is that light is not split into colors. What we perceive as blue or yellow does not exist in reality. This has come home to us as we started to build televisions and realized that you couldn’t just spit out a frequency from the TV to hit your eyes. You wouldn’t see color.
Physics says that light particles are distinguished entirely by their frequency. A photon has a frequency but this frequency which we associate with color in fact is not the same thing as what we call color. When there are multiple wavelengths with different frequencies we observe they are categorized by our eyes into 3 groups. All light in a certain range is combined into a hit on a particular eye receptor sensitive to that frequency. Our brains take the responses from these and combine them in a way that is kind of magical producing the “color” that we see.
If your brain was a “perfect light sensor” it would perceive a smattering of frequencies but there is no sense of chartreuse. Our brains fabricate this. So, in this example you see how our brains are fooling us about the world. This is one reason why making cameras and TVs has been so hard through the years.
Your nose detects vibrations in the outer shells of some molecules. Some 3,000 of our 25,000 genes are specifically designed to recognize these vibrational patterns of certain molecules. The matching of these vibrational patterns is thought to be done with a quantum mechanical mechanism because it is not clear how a classical molecular level system could be designed to recognize molecules in the way we smell them. Evolution has considered smell as crucial because it has dedicated fully 12% of our entire DNA machine taxonomy just for this purpose. What’s important to understand is that these proteins detect vibrational signature of a particular molecule, there is no sweetness or musky or floral scent. These are vibrational patterns and it is not clear why one set of vibrations would produce a heavy musky smell and another a sickly sweet smell.
Our bodies have a complex set of nerves internally and externally to detect the heat and the presence of other molecules next to us. Turning this information into the “reality” we see is an amazing thing but it is a collective fantasy. There is an infinite amount of stuff going on around us our senses could perceive. Through evolution we have selectively chosen which stimuli to be sensitive to and what ranges of those stimuli would be effective for us to survive and boxed those stimuli into compartments. That is our reality. Other creatures have a different set of senses which pick up different sense of the world.
For some reason our brains and evolution have designed these senses to give us at times a startling beautiful sensual or harsh world. We interpret these particular sensory patterns with pleasure or beauty. It is a mystery why our senses are designed exactly the way they are but they are giving us a highly edited version of reality. Sometimes these sensory inputs are associated with beauty or pleasantness. Why is not entirely clear but our brains produce these qualia for some purpose.
Our brains construct reality as the simplest way of understanding the macro motions of things that seem important
Through thousands, millions of years our senses have been fine tuned to provide the information we need. It is now clear that many of these senses use quantum mechanics trickery to be as sensitive as they are. I have an article on some of this trickery in another blog here. When we are born our brains process the signals coming from our nerves and start to assemble the world we see. It has to categorize and systematize the sensations from these nerves to create “patterns” that repeat, that become predictable, so that the brain can make generalizations. It is helped by the fact the senses conveniently categorize many of these external realities so that we can abstract them into a common vision we have of the world.
These generalizations are our “understanding” and understanding means our brains are able to predict things based on this which means we can find sustenance and pleasure and reproduce.
Somebody has described the brain as a pattern matching machine. It is constantly matching current sensory input against past recorded input and predicting patterns. When those patterns match the brain is in a familiar mode. It doesn’t remember things that follow the same pattern. That is why our perception of time can vary dramatically and why as we get older time seems to go faster. If we don’t constantly learn our brains will find no reason to continue to remember.
We see a ball traveling in a path because our brains can make a “prediction” about the path of the ball, can make sense of the ball and its motion by creating 3 dimensional world and time. So, our brains construct this reality we see but it is NOT reality. It is simply the simplest way our brains can perceive and predict what is happening at this macro level.
The more you study this the more you realize that the brain is performing some amazing feats by giving us a an image of this pleasant wonderful and beautiful colorful aromatic sensual world when in fact from a purely physical physics perspective the world has no color, there is no objective reality to smell or beauty.
These are “abstractions” the brain has created so that we can get along. They are things that have proven useful for humans to survive and get the next meal, to procreate. Maybe there is a deeper meaning but looking at the raw data whatever the reason the brain creates the world we perceive there is very little objective reality to the perception we have.
Evolution has been busy in clear conspiracy with the brain to produce a “reality” from the world which is a false image but good enough image to allow us to get by and succeed. There is a conspiracy of purposes to deceive and hide from us irrelevant information, accentuate other information, fill in information. We have a vision which is clearly different but nobody thought until recently seriously that this “impression” we get could be so imaginary that our brains construct an entirely different dimensional view than exists but also to be a Twistor calculating machine that does the mapping of Twistor space to our minds Minkowski vision in real time.
At our size of 10^23 particles the Twistor transformations that take you between the two realities essentially produce an almost perfect Minkowski analogue. In other words the results of mapping the Twistor space mappings to large objects is easily mappable to a Minkowski model at the dimensions of large objects. The Minkowski model is much easier to conceptualize and to do predictions and calculations in. It is much more deterministic making the brain able to construct generalizations easily and to find food.
I believe Roger Penrose has uncovered the true reality of our universe.
It wasn’t an accident. He’s actually been very purposeful in doing so. I am going to attempt to explain in as simple a way as I understand it what our universe really is, what reality really looks like.