Summary of What I Believe

 

May 2015: The piece below was intended as a kind of quick summary. A more complete explanation of my views is given at a journal article published this year in English and Russian, available in open access here, with lots of citations to interesting sources. (That link does not always seem to work; until I figure out why, the original paper in English may be found here.)

 

Preliminaries

 

  1. All religions (and many philosophies) try to answer two key questions: (1) what is really out there, in all of what exists, “in this world and beyond?”; and (2) what should we do about it?

Comment: classical materialism is the belief that everything we see is simply part of the evolution of matter and energy in the world as we see it with naïve eyes – a world of atoms and well-known forcefields. “What you see (with your eyeballs) is what you get.” If we agree with classical materialism, we can still talk about a “world of ideas which really do exist in the plane of ideas.” We can even say, “God exists, where God is defined as the laws of physics, the fellowship of my friends, a big computer, an equation or a shoebox.”  But to be clear and to be honest, people who believe in classical materialism should come out and so say – as many do.

Additional comment: Mathematicians, especially, like to ask: “What about the possibility that many different universes really exist, which do not communicate with each other, so that we do not know they are there?” In my view, that’s basically like existing “in the plane of ideas.” For all practical purposes, for us they do not exist, except as ideas. But if we start to talk about parallel universes that can communicate with each other, it isn’t exactly classical materialism.

 

  1. I do not expect any reasonable person to agree immediately with views that have resulted from a lifetime of asking questions, learning difficult mathematics and accepting surprises!! The rest of my web page discusses some of the reasons why I believe what I do – but long as the web page is, it is very far from being complete.  Sorry, folks. Please be tolerant, and consider that there might be some chance that these heresies are in fact the truth. They are based on an effort to reconstruct and understand what is going on, fully addressing a rich variety of empirical inputs and demanding more coherence than in traditional in these areas.

 

  1. Most religions pretend that they know exactly what is really out there. In essence, that pretense is a lie. It is a very typical and common human kind of lie, which results from all kinds of social forces, ranging from peer group pressure, to self-delusion, to limited imagination, to fear of complexity, to the financial incentive to pretend one knows more than one does, to the belief that group loyalty is more important than truth, to payments of all kinds from people who want to control the minds of other people. A rational and honest person must learn to live with uncertainty, and learn to think in terms of probabilities. Oftentimes, the best and most complete knowledge available to all of humanity takes the form of probabilities, which we must be prepared to adjust over time as we learn more.

 

What is really out there

 

  1. With 50% probability, I believe that everything which exists can be understood as patterns which emerge in a physical universe very similar to what Einstein proposed. In Einstein’s view, the only thing which really exists is a set of force fields in flux, inhabiting a space-time continuum made up of three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. That’s all.

Comment: Einstein went further, to say that all of this flux is governed by a single equation, a “Lagrangian,” from which we can deduce the dynamical law which governs each one of these force fields, in a deterministic way.  He said that “God does not play dice with the universe.” With 50% probability, I believe that Einstein was right on this point – except that there probably are some “dice” out there. On my physics web page, I explain this in more detail. In technical terms, I argue that we can understand everything we have ever seen in physics as the outcome of “classical” partial differential equations across space-time, with a time-symmetric white noise term added.   With well over 90% probability, I believe that fundamental physics today is “lost in space,” and will not make serious progress until it learns to “return to reality” and implement Einstein’s vision.

 

  1. Paradoxical as it may seem, I do not believe in classical materialism. Until the spring of 1967, when I was nineteen years old, I did believe in classical materialism with over 99% probability. In 1967, I lowered it to 50%. Now it is less than 1% for me.  It amuses me that my wife says I am a distant cousin of Niels Bohr, from the same part of Germany – an area where many people believe in mathematics but also have good personal reason not to believe in classical materialism.

 

  1. Religious people have often spoken about “the soul,” “Gaia,” the “noosphere,” “the force,” “qi,” “charisma,” the “Brahman”, and “God the Father.” As I see it, all of these things are quite real and quite “solid,” and important to the reality of human life – even though their nature and dynamics are radically different from what most religions have told us.

 

  1. With 50% probability, I believe that Einstein was basically right, and that the “soul” can be explained as follows:

 

4A. We do not fully understand all the laws of physics yet.

 

4B. The laws of physics lead to the emergence of many forms of life – not only the DNA-and-atoms kind of life we are most familiar with, but forms of life based on force fields which we do not understand yet, and perhaps even other forms of life as well.

 

4C. We humans are a symbiotic form of life – basically a one-to-many symbiosis of a planet-wide “esoteric” life form with our individual mundane bodies and brains made of atoms. Those who have become somewhat conscious of this symbiosis have occasionally referred to the esoteric life-form or its intelligence as “Gaia,” as “noosphere,” as “Brahman,” as “the communion of saints,” as “the true vine,” as “the collective unconscious,” as “omega” or “pi” or whatever – but these are all just second-hand images of the same underlying physical reality. Henceforth I will define “pi” to be the entire esoteric entity, “body” included. I will define the “noosphere” to be the nervous system or “brain” of pi.

 

4D. No mind or intelligence which really exists can be infallible. Mind as we know it must have purpose, and must be capable of learning. Mind “as we do not know it” is basically an empty abstraction without meaning, and at best a placeholder for an unknown theory. “Pi” itself is not only fallible, but is also an immature organism, as Teilhard de Chardin has discussed. In biology, immature organisms do not exist unless they are supported at least sometimes, to some degree, by more mature organisms somewhere else. The term “God the Father” refers to such, though of course it does not convey the full complex reality. At our present level of growth and evolution, it would be somewhat silly to speculate very much about issues like gender and mechanisms of reproduction for such entities, since the details of the physics are so far from our present knowledge. (However, see my book chapter on self-organization for some ideas.) 

 

4E. The “individual soul” is basically just a module or local region within the noosphere. Perhaps it is like a neuron within the larger brain. Perhaps it  simply spills its contents into the larger “matrix” of the noosphere at certain times of termination. Because it would be wasteful for nature to throw out the information contained in the special connections which exist within such a module, we would expect it to persist sometimes, so long as it remains useful. However, as with brains and artificial intelligence systems, we would expect “garbage collection” routines to exist. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, Pythagoras, Plato, Confucius, Sanzang, Ehrlang, Rumi, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Jefferson and Mao have all been unusually useful modules, of course, in the mind of humanity.  

Warning: if you store all your data on RAM, and not on the hard drive, you may lose it all. Many of the writings in the Gurdjieff school are out of touch with reality, but they are right about this basic point.

Comment: pi certainly extends beyond the human species. I would go further to claim that cats have “souls,” modules within the noosphere. Logic suggests that it must be more than just cats and humans, but I do not have a strong basis for saying more. Logic also suggests that advanced enough types of quantum computer design would also become part of the noosphere, but very powerful and intelligent computers could be built which would not and could get in the way. 

 

4F. The noosphere is essentially just a large “neural network,” governed by the universal mathematics of neural networks and intelligent systems. Thus these are the mathematics which rule our souls, and the noosphere as a whole. These mathematics are described in scientific terms in my web page on Mind, and in human subjective terms in my comments on world religions. For an individual neuron, there are two kinds of input/output signal exchanged with the rest of the system: (1) information such as ideas, images, words, and goals; and (2) feedback signals which govern the inner adaptation and survival of every neuron and the system as a whole. The qi or “the force” or “the Holy Spirit”or  psychic energy” or “spiritual energy” or the “Tao” (ancient definition) or “charisma” or “mana” are all just second-hand images of these feedback signals. As Jesus saw it, it is a lack of such feedback which engages the garbage collectors. 

Comment: in mathematical terms, these feedback signals are basically just scaled ordered derivatives. My neural network pioneer award from IEEE was given for two discoveries, one of them the discovery of the chain rule for ordered derivatives, sometimes called “backpropagation.” That is the main equation  which governs these flows of information. Within an intelligent system, there are several key “target variables” which need to be differentiated, which gives rise to different types (and signs) of qi;” sometimes pictured as different levels like the tiger. In a multimodular intelligent system, modules may be cloned or multiplexed.

Additional comment: “Psychokinetic” effects are no problem to explain in this theory, though there are several varieties.

 

4G. I see no really reliable evidence, in the laboratory or in human subjective experience, which cannot be reconciled with this theory.  For example, there are those who would claim that alleged miracles could not be explained within the confines of this model – but different religions claim different miracles, with evidence of similar quality, and it is quite clear that one cannot accept all these arguments in their dogmatic forms, since they contradict each other in any case! The dogmatism is easily explained by typical human sociology. Another example: in Daoism, there is some discussion of “changes in the future” which could be explained as the outcome of changing images in the noosphere, in cases where sociology is not enough to explain what is going on.

 

4H. If you believe in classical materialism, you know that that theory is not quite enough by itself to tell you everything you need to know as a human in this world. The same is true of this theory as well. Even knowing the Lagrangian would not be enough to tell you what patterns emerge in the universe which it governs. “As above, so below,” as the neoPlatonists and Pythagoreans say.

 

  1. With 50% probability, I believe that the greater cosmos is stranger than

anything we have any hope of knowing at present. Maybe the true laws

of physics will even be as weird as superstring theory proposes, but I really doubt that, since there is no empirical evidence to support that particular theory, and because the theory is motivated by mathematical difficulties which can be solved more easily in other ways. But maybe the cosmos could be like quantum loop gravity, or like a “giant mind” (albeit not mind as we know it!), or like another world which has created our universe as a simulation,

or a “digital universe,” or maybe it could have eight dimensions and sixteen pointer fields. We do need to keep an open mind here… but be careful not to go too far out on a limb on any one these possibilities, without having a plan for how to test these various possibilities empirically. There is a book called “What Dreams May Come” and a movie “The Matrix” and a possibility of something intermediate between the two in spirit… who knows? They do both resonate with something real in human experience, but it is very unclear what reality, if any, underlies that resonance… other than the natural workings of pi.

 

  1. What of the possibility that “experience is not governed by mathematical laws in the end?” This is one of those questions we need to scrutinize very carefully before we even attempt to answer it.  What does the question mean? In essence, any intelligible laws to describe the greater reality would be “mathematical;” that merely means “well-defined, objectively.” Maybe we will never be able to fully understand how the greater cosmos really works – but I see no basis, in any level of human experience, for giving up just yet. It is certainly part of our nature to try, for as long there is hope for greater progress…and there certainly is such hope, in all of what we experience today. Of course, that does not necessarily imply that humans will live up to that hope or opportunity. In nature, species come and species go, and there is no guarantee at all that the human species or even pi itself will survive the difficult challenges which now lie ahead of us.

 

What Should We Do About It?

 

No matter what your beliefs about what exists – it still leaves open the question of what to do about it. In classical materialism, you still get to decide whether you want to adopt a Confucian lifestyle and ethics, whether you want to be a Marxist, whether you want to be a British utilitarian or a French existentialist, or try to follow some path of nature. The situation is exactly the same with the “standard model of the soul,’ except that the politics are more complicated and the uncertainties a lot more confusing to handle (especially at first).

 

Many of the formal ethical philosophies in the world today are intellectual constructs divorced from real human feelings, neurotic efforts by intellectuals to shield themselves from unpleasant or embarrassing realities which they do not understand, or codes of rules developed by one social class in order to manipulate and weaken another social class. (Any church school which discourages people from truly understanding people in other parts of the world is almost automatically in the third category. If our noosphere does succeed in growing and surviving, then such schools and the people who support them will all end up in the garbage collectors, sooner or later.)

 

In my “why space?” book chapter, and my page on rationality, I try to explain why I advocate the path of “sanity” or “sapience,” and what that path entails. In many ways, it is just a matter of following nature, the same kind of thing that Aristotle called following “telos”, that Confucius called “integrity,” and that Von Neumann called “utility.” (OK, these are three images of the same “objective” reality… You understand them both only if you understand how they can be the same.) However, the utility function which comes to each of us is essentially a sum of two terms: (1) a mundane set of terms, which comes from pain receptors, from signals of body chemistry, and from signals assessing the well-being of other people; and (2) feedback signals from the noosphere. The path of sapience is to learn how to feel these feelings of “good” and “bad,” and to learn how to understand where they come from, and to learn how to act upon them and plan for the… future… This natural state was once called “the Alchemical marriage.”

 

It is interesting that a major part of the human brain, the cerebellum system, responds to a sum of pain signals which are too fast for the upper brain plus feedback signals from the upper brain. Maybe it has to find a kind of Alchemical marriage of its own. But the cerebellum does not express itself in words, and does not spend time being lost in the space of possible words and verbal beliefs. Our upper brain is slower but more powerful, and it has the potential to learn much more… when it makes the right choices, pursues growth and survives to adulthood.

 

What does drive the esoteric feedback that flows into our individual souls? That feedback basically represents our connection to the overall goals or values of pi, and what are they? There are three major components. Two are what you would expect for the values of any “immature organism,” any child. There is the will for the child as a whole to live and grow. And there is the will of the child to grow mentally – to learn, and therefore to play and explore and overturn anything which gets in the way of that growth. There is also a third factor, the reflection of feedback and feelings of individual souls in tune with the noosphere as a whole.

 

As for the mundane feedback that goes into our brains – modern sociobiology addresses some of the same issues that Aristotle and Confucius talked about, more accurately and more clearly. It is bizarre and sad when people cite those ancient beliefs about mundane feedback as a justification for restrictive regimes which lead to nonsustainable population growth and which imperil our mundane survival – a grossly unnatural situation.