Friday, January 10, 2014

A Boltzmann Brain walks into a bar

Have you ever pondered what it would feel like to fall into a black hole? Or wondered, as you observe a black cat turn the same corner twice, whether reality is really all it's cracked up to be? If consciousness involves such high innate latency (around 100ms), how do musicians play so perfectly, without a seeming conscious effort? How much can we really know about the world and ourselves and how much do we have to assume in order to begin to contemplate answering these questions?

An observable Cat {Wikipedia}

These and other questions were discussed at this year's FQXi (The Foundational Questions Institute) conference on the physic of information, held at the impossibly distracting Vieques Island (Puerto Rico). As a layman who's been exposed to a few snippets of it, I can regrettably say I understand very little of what was discussed. Quantum Physics, a known buzzword, now commonly weaved into the vocabulary of charlatans and quacks, is a mystery. As the great Richard Feynman put it, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't". And yet, it seems to be governing our existence in scales and ways we can barely imagine and produce ridiculously accurate test results.

The title of this post references an issue within physics about the possible emergence, through quantum fluctuations (in which particles seemingly spontaneously come in and out of existence), of something so complex as a brain, with its own unique thought patterns (see Wikipedia here and more advanced stuff here). This is similar, to some extant, to the idea of a room full of monkeys that randomly type the entirety of Hamlet. While extremely unlikely, it's not impossible that over a great length of time (longer than the average queue at the local post office, some say), such an endeavor can be completed. In this year's conference, however, it's been suggested that the underlying physics may not be so supportive of the emanation of floating disembodied brains in the vastness of space after all.

Whether we are brains-in-a-vat, souls trapped inside a frail body, a part of the greater consciousness of the universe or simply our bodies, we need to make sure to include in our basic assumptions, other than that that we can make sense of the world, that we want to. As we live and die we affect one another in more than the observable way. But sometimes, it seems, it would be easier to understand quantum physics than to understand your next door neighbor.

On the music front, and not completely unrelated, I've been listening to quite a bit of Johnny Flynn, whom I mentioned before. Flynn is about to start a big tour encompassing the US, Canada and Europe in support of his latest album, Country Mile (recommended).

Johnny Flynn - Einstein's Idea {from Country Mile}

Johnny Flynn - The Ghost of O'Donahue (Live)

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