Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Ineffable Soul and Emergence

     Here is something I wrote in June of this year:


     Mostly everyone else accepts that souls exist, yet I reject the notion. A word that can be used to describe me is iconoclastic, which essentially means I have no interest in the belief systems that have been invented by other people. I make my own. By my reasoning, some other person, now very unknown, came up with the idea of a soul. It turned out to be a cool idea because many people have accepted it, but just because something “rings true” does not mean it’s true.
    My suspicion is that people are confusing the soul with consciousness. What is consciousness? It is an emergent property of densely packed neurons that cannot be found by looking at the neurons, or, inside the brain. It has been said that if the brain were expanded and we were to walk around inside, we would not find consciousness. Is there a better way to explain this? Yes.
    We humans are made of atoms*. It is only when many atoms come together that humans are apparent. Thus, a human can be called an emergent property of atoms. You will not find a human by looking at atoms, any more than you will find consciousness by looking at neurons. Furthermore, we function very differently from atoms. Atoms do not eat, have sex, go to sleep, etc. This indicates that the stuff of which things are made does not have to bear any resemblance to its function. As a further example, we can think, but our brain cells, the neurons, cannot. It’s not until many neurons collect together that something new emerges, such as cognition.
    So, what happens when we die? Since consciousness requires an operating collection of neurons, this indicates that consciousness will stop when the neurons die. In other words, we will not know when we die. Anyone that has an ‘after-death’ experience is remembering something, which indicates they still had a consciousness, even though medical science may say otherwise. If the brain was removed and each neuron was destroyed and the person still remembered something, then that would indicate there might be a soul. But that has never been observed.
    *What is an atom? Imagine an empty football stadium with a fly in the center. What have you got? About 99% empty space. That’s an atom. It’s hard enough to imagine the emptiness of which we are constructed, and even more puzzling that we do not pass through one another. But it gets worse. The components of the nucleus, the proton and neutron, are even emptier. We’re here mainly because of forces. The matter of which we are constructed is ineffable, like souls.

     I wrote this in March of this year:


    Although it is reasonable to assume that I am a walking encyclopedia, that is not the case. The amount of information in my head is really not much, but it appears to be significant because I spend a lot of time reading. Somehow, when I was 5 years old, I learned how to read. I do not remember how, because, I could not read and then I suddenly could read. Reading turned out to be pretty useful because I no longer had to guess what was happening in the pictures, nor did I have to ask someone else to read for me. So, I’ve been busily reading for the past 27 years and have learned an important fact. Few people care about the fact they have reading ability and they try very hard to not use it. This explains why some people think I’m smart. Since they don’t read, all the facts I know seem impressive. But those facts are not secrets - any damn fool can read the same books I read and know the exact same things I know. All of it. If I have a secret, then I’d like to know about it. But why did I not stop reading, like most people?
    Generally, people learn how to read and go to great lengths to ignore their ability by spending time watching TV or playing video games. The advantage of continuing to read is that knowledge accumulates and learning more becomes easier, but this does not mean that one can know everything, nor even come close. I quickly discovered that through reading, I could access information that school did not provide. For example, I read about dinosaurs when I was 5 years old, which was not part of the curriculum. It didn’t take me long to realize that in order to get educated I would need some source other than school. I’ve always been curious about reality and school offers no courses on that topic. Have you ever heard of an Introduction to Reality course?
    What is reality? Most people consider it to be what they consciously experience, such as rising from bed, going to work, watching TV, listening to music, going to restaurants, etc. But a conscious experience has many deficiencies, since we see a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, hear a narrow range of sounds, and can touch neither a plasma nor objects with most of the heat removed. The amount of information that we can extract from our surroundings without using technology is quite pitiful. For example, our eyes gather a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which we call “visible light”. But we are completely missing out on gamma rays, x-rays, ultra-violet, infra-red, microwaves, and radio waves unless we use technology. So, when we look at objects, we are getting one interpretation of their appearance. Those same objects look different under x-rays or radio waves, for example.
    I view reality as confinement. Analogously, this can understood by imagining sitting in a jail cell. If one is freely ambulating upon the surface of the earth, how can that possibly bear any resemblance to being trapped in a cell? Consider for a moment what is required to escape from a cell and you will see there is little difference. If one wishes to leave, then one may try any of the four forces. While sitting in the cell, you decide to try gravity first. You know that gravity is really strong, because it makes things fall. But the floor of the cell is not falling very far, since the ground is stopping it. So gravity is not that strong. It will not help you. The next force is electromagnetism, which powers your muscles and holds groups of atoms together. After a short while, it becomes apparent that electromagnetism will not help you either. The atomic bonds in concrete and steel are stronger than those in your skin and muscles and thus you tire and get many bruises. After several days of rest you decide to try the third force, the weak nuclear, which is responsible for radiation, or particle decay. Nothing happens for a while and then you start throwing up and become very weak. Weak nuclear decays seem to be more harmful than helpful. Surely, the fourth force will work, you think. After a month of recuperation, you begin to use the strongest force known - the strong nuclear. But nothing happens. You remain in the cell until your very bones turn to particles smaller than dust motes.
    I think of reality in terms of the forces. Gravity is actually the weakest force, by many orders of magnitude. An “order of magnitude” means 10 times. If something is 2 orders of magnitude weaker than something else, then it is 100 times weaker, for example. Gravity is roughly 30 orders of magnitude weaker than the other forces. This only becomes apparent when one conducts a very simple experiment. Just pick up a paperclip. The entire mass of the earth is holding the paperclip down, yet you are able to pick it up. Thus, your arm is able to defy the entire mass of the earth. Electromagnetism is responsible for all of chemical activity, since it moderates the behavior of electrons, through photons. Photons are commonly known as “visible light”, but they move through space like a wave, and have differing amounts of energy, like waves on the surface of the ocean. This is why photons can kill in the form of x-rays; they carry more energy. The last two forces are less common because we can’t directly see what they do; they operate at distances that are smaller than atoms. The weak nuclear force is responsible for radiation, or the decay of particles. The strong nuclear force holds the nuclei of atoms together and can only be broken at very high temperatures, usually exceeding one trillion degrees.
    Back to confinement, it is easy to see that gravity confines us to the Earth, electromagnetism confines our atoms to one place in the form of a body, the weak nuclear confines many particles to a short amount of time (since they decay), and the strong nuclear confines the cores of atoms. Through the notion of confinement, it becomes apparent that life exists in a cell, while life itself is made of cells. It’s not until many things that are similar collect in large numbers that new properties emerge. As an example, many of the cells in our bodies look the same, but they can form objects that look different and have different properties. At even lower levels, all electrons look the same, yet, through interactions with protons and neutrons, are responsible for all of the matter we can see. It’s not until many electrons interact together with many protons and neutrons that something different emerges.
    Emergence is thus a new hot topic in science. This can be extended rather easily to human behavior. While all humans look relatively the same, it’s not until many of them function together that a new property emerges. Just like one atom cannot make a cell, one human cannot make a prison. Atoms took many billions of years to finally form collections with the emergent property of thought. So, one can argue that a human is now the new particle. What will happen after many trillions of humans function together, for many billions of years? What new property will emerge?

     Here are my responses to some responses I received:

Grassie wrote:

From my viewpoint, reality is a biological construct which is here to aid survival and reproductive fitness. We will die if we don't perceive heat, struggles breathing - seeing colors aids our survival. If we stretch it further, seeing a gun will make us afraid. Reality is that guns are dangerous. Reality is, I think, whatever biological and social constructs which (if we were perfectly built,) would aid us taking the right discussions.
         I wrote:

     DNA is the program for biological structures and I feel it's contained within reality and is not a defining factor. Electrons are also in reality, but DNA does not describe their behavior, which means that biology cannot be the final word. However, DNA has the code that builds our brains, which we use to interpret reality. That code is ultimately constructed of fermions, which obey the laws of quantum mechanics. This does not mean that our brains are quantum mechanical, any more than ants are quantum mechanical (the laws of quantum mechanics stop working somewhere between 1 nm to 1000 nm). I'm able to see that you are more interested in a macro-reality, while I am more interested in a micro-reality. I'm more concerned with what I cannot see.

     I disagree that guns are dangerous. While they may be perceived as dangerous, it is ultimately the electromagnetic force that is dangerous. A bullet has enough energy to destroy the atomic bonds in your skin (both entrance and exit). The solution is to either engineer skin that has atomic bonds strong enough to repel bullets or to shoot the other guy first.

Grassie wrote:

From another perspective, as reality is a human construct, it's nothing "real", or "transcendent". It is nothing and everything, like a great paradox. This perspective can also be "mixed" with the one above, to make a kind of spiritual-materialistic duality which creates a feeling of being a solid human being with feet on the ground and a purpose in life (no comment about what that purpose is), and not only a fleeting schiup of nothing-somethingness.
      I wrote:

     The purpose of life is to survive. You intimated that yourself, when you wrote that reality is a biological construct which is here to aid survival. Therefore, we are here to survive. I find that very reasonable, because dying is the alternative.

Grassie wrote:

As we CAN perceive and be affected by all the physical forces you describe, they certainly are a part of reality, but they aren't any more "real" than everything else that we perceive, and the physicist's way of seeing things isn't more "correct" than our everyday way. It's all about how we view it... Think about sound waves. The most correct way to perceive sound is for some reason to visualize it, to see it as waves moving through air. Mass and weight should be measured in numbers. Why shouldn't they be translated to "smell" instead? If we made a system for it, we could've measured the altitude from the sun to the moon in taste instead of visual-auditory numbers.

I guess this doesn't make any sense. :p
     I wrote:

     It does make sense. Perfect sense. It's just that it doesn't make any sense for us to make distance measurements using taste. An alien race might do that very thing, so it could make sense somewhere.

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