An Ode to Consciousness

What makes us think we’re so different?

What makes us think we’re supreme?

Why do we feel that we rule the world?

As God’s creatures, we’re part of his dream.

**

We’re not alone in being aware

Of ourselves and of being alive.

Elephants, apes, even octopi, too,

They know ‘self’, have the will to survive.

**

Scientists, chemists, the ‘-Ology’ Kings,

Search for the secrets of life.

Try as they might, they have no success.

We’re safe from their digital strife.

**

‘Intelligence’ – that gift we know well.

That deepens and changes with time –

Part of our make-up, the sum of our traits,

A route up that mountain we climb.

**

“Cogitùr ergo sum,” the philosopher’s words,

Descarte’s – disputed by Hume.

Behind those fine words lay christian belief,

Not blind faith. No death will consume.

**

“I think, so I am.” When I don’t, am I not?

But machines just don’t think, they process

Info, facts, data – you know, all that stuff –

Bytes of binary – M-G-T back to nano- or less.

**

No one likes in these times to talk about ‘soul’.

Even ‘spirit’ ‘s anathema to most.

Consciousness dwells in the mind – don’t ask where –

Does it matter? You’re its transient host.

**

Consciousness, soul – I know what they mean.

I know I am I, me, moi, ich ­– never you.

The energy source that drives my ‘self’ on.

Life’s spark that survives – passing through.

**

‘MC2’ equals E, indestructible ‘me’.

Sparks grow to flame, then dim to a glow.

When you die that spark must migrate,

Re-kindle its fire; mine will, I know.

**

‘Reincarnation’ – the wrong word to use –

This me I’ve passed on to my young.

A new me won’t remember what I was, what I did,

Won’t recall all the flings I have flung.

**

Man-made life is way out of reach.

Machine is machine is machine.

Talk of transhumans – the Borg is so close –

“Resistance is futile!” they mean.

**

Implants, prosthetics, add this, renew that.

Evolution’s too slow for us now.

Expectation is all – satisfaction’s the word.

Today’s ‘must-have’. Go do! Don’t ask ‘How?’

***

JWT, Bean, 25 March 2015

CONSCIOUSNESS

EVERY MAN, WOMAN and child on earth is completely individual. We may share characteristics that are physical – skin, eye, hair colour, shape of features (racial, coincidence, breeding). We may share cultural, educational, and linguistic similarities and so on ad infinitum, but the odds against any single person being identical to anyone else are impossibly large. The same goes for virtually every living, breathing thing on earth, animal or vegetable. The same goes for all inorganic substances – take every snowflake that ever fell or will fall. It is reliably claimed that no two are ever the same. The same applies to every crystal form known to mankind.

Mathematicians and Physicists worldwide still seek The Theory of Everything as if life on earth depended on an answer. Reputations certainly seem to. The man most frequently identified with this search is one of the most revered academics in the world, whose name springs to everyone’s lips every time the subject is mentioned – Stephen Hawking. For many reasons, not least the superiority of his brainpower, SH is a man worthy of huge respect. Most people know him from his characteristic computer-synthesised voice issuing from the apparatus on his withered, wheelchair-bound frame. They know him as the man who, through sheer determination, has defeated a terrible wasting disease and gone on to excel far beyond the prognostications of eminent doctors, all of whom expected him to be dead long since. For his survival alone he deserves our respect; like all human beings he has his faults that have been pitilessly and frankly revealed to the world.

A mid-twentieth century philosopher Kurt Gödel postulated, basing his theory on the Liar Paradox, that no Theory of Everything (or anything) can possibly be proven – ever. It will always remain a hypothesis, since – like everything else in the universe – truth is relative. Now even Professor Hawking says that ToE doesn’t exist. His latest cooperative publication proposes five complementary theories to explain how the world works. That said for what it’s worth, even if it were provable, what benefit could it possibly bring us that scientists cannot eventually achieve following well-established (and almost exponentially advancing) technology and scientific principles?

Fantasy writers would have us believe that time travel is a desirable aim, that the ability to launch ourselves into the depths of the universe at ‘warp’ speed, many times the speed of light, is a realistically achievable aim. They – we – dream of being able to teleport ourselves from place to place but it can only ever be a dream. It has been proven beyond doubt that individual subatomic particles can indeed be transported from place to place over very small distances (centimetres, if not millimetres). Even such less than mind-blowing feats require huge amounts of electrical energy to perform. To replicate such ‘teleportation’ of any visible, single-element object, let alone a whole human being, would require impossibly large amounts of energy and a suspension of all laws of probability.

No, we have to be content in the knowledge that we aren’t and never will be gods, who perform miracles at the wave of our hands, however well we may ever come to ‘understanding’ the laws of physics and advanced quantum mechanics. Better and cleverer men than I can explain why with great clarity and authority.* We have our dreams, our adult fairy stories otherwise known as science fiction.

A recent discovery in experimental psychology has shown that it is possible to expand the brain’s power to use telepathy, a gift pooh-poohed by most conventional psychologists and psychiatrists who consider it to be a brain function deep in the backwater of parapsychology, the realm of shamans, wizards and witches, to say nothing of confidence tricksters. Having recently written a sci-fi trilogy on the subject of the discovery of the ‘reality’ of parapsychological powers, using equipment not very far removed from that used by the real-life scientists in their latest experiments, I feel somewhat vindicated, although the real research team have got a long way to go to catch up with mine.

Developing my theme, I delved in to the far reaches of parapsychology, exploring the benefits that could be achieved if psychokinesis could be added to telepathy, giving ‘adepts’ in the practice of these powers the ability to harness them for the good of others. My researchers, benefiting from the luxury of unlimited electrical energy available from nuclear fusion and the use of artificial general intelligence controlled quantum supercomputers discover how mankind can use the powers once used by ancient priesthoods to manipulate the lives of the people they controlled through their physically rich and powerful leaders.

In their exploration of these fascinating powers my fictional research team realises how easy it would be to use them for evil purposes as well as good. They go to great lengths to ensure that what they discover can never be harnessed by the underworld. However, on the way they find that even they are not totally free from the temptation to misuse their powers, especially when they find that their ability to combine telepathy and psychokinesis gives them – amongst other things – the power to transport themselves in avatar form wherever they will.

This is, of course, the long-claimed power of the shaman/witchdoctor and any other practitioner of parapsychological powers you can think of down through the ages. It is the stuff of fairytales, including sci-fi ones such as Star Trek and its many imitators, and may even be behind the recent research designed to prove that it is possible to remove matter from one place and make it rematerialise in another, using the known laws of physics.

It is probably the case that self-proclaimed shamans self-hypnotise themselves into a trance-like state and ‘fly’ in their imaginations, awakening with tales of their fantasy travels, invisible to the eyes of the peoples they visit. The usefulness of such abilities has obvious limitations.

The Star trek version of teleportation envisages physical objects, including human beings, being transported lock stock and barrel from place to place, i.e. removing them completely from A and depositing them unchanged at B, complete with all their existing faculties. By contrast, my sci-fi version of moving from place to place using only the powers of the mind has the limitation that the body stays put, while the mind travels in avatar form. The ‘host’ body, like the shaman’s, remains discoverable and therefore vulnerable. It is not a power that can be used to escape from real life disaster situations. Once ‘out-of-body’ the avatar is, however, able to escape from danger by returning to its host body, hopefully safely concealed on home territory.

Perhaps there is more scope for scientific achievement in the field of parapsychology than there is in the (to the layman) equally fantasy realms of quantum mechanics and the transience and dubious usefulness of bosons and weird and wonderful energy fields that hold the atoms and molecules of all things together – unless scientists really are searching for the alchemists’ dream of turning lead into gold (possible, even if the cost is prohibitive).

 

Parapsychology – Is It Still a Subject of Suspicion and Ridicule?

DESPITE THE FACT that parapsychology has been recognised as a subject worthy of study and research by some universities in the UK:

  • Liverpool Hope University (department now closed)
  • Goldsmiths – University of London
  • Coventry University
  • Edinburgh University
  • University College Northampton

superficial research indicates that most diploma/degree courses (both here and elsewhere around the world) are designed to help psychologists dismiss psi as the fantasy of deluded minds. There appears to be very little effort being made to establish whether or not the hidden powers attributed to parapsychology really do exist. Studies that were carried out by psychology departments in the past dismissed the subject as a pseudo science.

Diploma courses in the subject do exist but do little more than educate interested parties about the claims made for the twenty plus ‘powers’ that come within its purlieu. They do not attempt to teach students how to access such powers and they certainly do not try to enhance them in any who claim to be able to exercise them. Even Wikipedia, that most open source of liberal opinion, goes out of its way to pooh-pooh any thoughts of there being any chance of discovering a scientific basis for the reality of parapsychology. Psi is a fairytale, a myth – one that has survived for thousands of years.

However, some quite recent research of the possible beneficial uses of telepathy (if it were shown to exist) has been pursued in research at Cambridge University and in India, which indicates that there might just be a possibility that it does exist and that it can be enhanced. All seems to have gone quiet since the initial announcement in 2014. Was it an error or have the claims made been laughed out of court by academia? I suspect the latter.

And yet…

No one with access to modern means of communication (i.e. radio and television, computers and the internet) can be ignorant of the fact that medical science, especially neurosurgery, is making spectacular progress in its discoveries of how the brain works and how, for instance, to repair or replace damaged nerves to enable it to control physical actions of, say, damaged limbs, including fingers and thumbs, much of it, sadly, on the back of charitable efforts to help soldiers with horrific war wounds from the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Cambridge team looking at the use of telepathy to enable brain-damaged individuals to communicate with their doctors or carers claim to have succeeded in passing very basic code over thousands of miles (between India and the UK?) by enhancing the brains of their patients using tMS – transcranial Magnetic Stimulation –procedures, established treatment for psychiatric patients suffering with depression.

Work is proceeding in research of how to translate brain signals into speech, with some success. (It’s to hoped that the speech will sound better than poor Stephen Hawking’s signature computer output.)

It is maintained by physicists everywhere that the next most touted psi ‘power’ – psychokinesis (or telekinesis) – is totally impossible and that its existence would contravene all the long-established laws of physics. If such a power did exist, they claim, its energy level would be so weak that it could never be of any use or it would have been revealed to the world by modern experiments long since.

Such denials have the ring of mediaeval Vatican denials that the Earth goes round the Sun, once so vehemently proclaimed.

The brain contains billions of neurons each connected via trillions of synapses in a maze so complicated that even the finest brain surgeons and neuroscientists find it difficult to explain how it all works. So far they have, with the use of the most up-to-the-minute brain scanners, only managed to recognise some of the more common electrical reactions within the lobes of the brain itself – they know which areas ‘light up’ when we experience certain emotions or physical urges – a step in the right direction. No one’s suggesting it’s easy! Progress in research is inevitably slower than science fiction would have us believe.

The sci-fi writer has a huge advantage. He is not working in real time. He can work out for himself all the hurdles on the way to the perceived objective and situate his fiction suitably far ahead in time for all those hurdles to have been overcome. Need quantum supercomputers to work out your solutions? Everyone’s got one! Need a limitless source of electrical power to run them? No problem –scientists have learnt how to tap the Sun’s energy with little or no loss. Who needs nuclear fusion machines, when our Sun (and all the others around the universe) is already one gigantic and ever-present fusion reactor? Indeed, who needs people with the brainpower we attribute to brain surgeons, when we have Artificial General Intelligence-controlled quantum supercomputers, with the combined knowledge of the world of science at their ‘fingertips’?

Most sci-fi writers still prefer to have human heroes and tend to use rogue androids as their villains/anti-heroes – it’s something to do with the market they serve. AGIs are unlikely to amuse themselves by reading fiction, even if they are aware of its existence and can present their sponsors with light reading material on demand. That said, it is fascinating to explore a future scenario, where a few super-intelligent people control a word run by AGIs and robots with the help of a myriad of robots, android or otherwise.

I believe that attempts to create and introduce androids that can service all man’s desires will continue to be made in the real world, UNLESS psi powers really are found to exist. If they do, it will not be necessary to create expensive and potentially dangerous ’droids. Humans using psi teleportation will be able to travel through the ether as ‘avatars’ capable of instantly materialising and de-materialising wherever they please. If they do, it is almost certain that holographic AGI interfaces will take the place of ’droids and be able to replace human avatars when and if required.*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Such a developing scenario is envisaged in my sci-fi trilogy, Think Freedom, available on Amazon Kindle only.

Consciousness IV

IT IS DANGEROUS to say or write that anything in the world of consciousness studies is categorically proven or disproven these days. Hardly are the words out of your mouth or the ink dry on the page, than some clever-clogs will appear on U-Tube to prove that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

It’s the same throughout the world of advanced science. Even such brilliant mathematicians as Stephen Hawking have had to retract/revise their words of wisdom in recent years and months, particularly on the subject of the Theory of Everything and its foundation stones, String Theory/Superstring Theory and M(Meta)-Theory.

‘Hardcore’ mathematicians and scientists pin their faith firmly on the continuing research into particle science and the maths underlying it, happy in the certainty that nobody outside their tiny eclectic circle can possibly begin to understand what the hell they’re talking about. They are perfectly safe (in their view) in verbally putting down anyone who dares to challenge their beliefs that (some day) a method of proving their claim that superstrings that can only be defined by acceptance of 10 dimensions (7 of which cannot be seen) + time really do exist and will ultimately bring together Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and the mysteries of Quantum Mechanics. It is a matter of huge relief that these people do not have the power of a latter-day pope with the inquisition at his beck and call. We simple folk who dare to cry ‘Rubbish’ would all be burnt at their stake.

There is, however, another school of thought out there that is beginning to gain a toe-hold in the ‘race’ to explain the universe and how man perceives it. This school agrees with all the explanations of particle theories. Some of its members can even claim to understand the quantum mathematics involved. They depart from their hardcore colleagues insofar as they are not prepared to accept that superstrings as such will ever be observable (even if they do exist) and therefore there must be another explanation for the origin of our universe in The Big Bang that even they seem to accept as the only possible Truth behind our very existence.

This school accepts that beneath the chaotic mass of sub-sub-sub particles made up of superstrings there has to be an infinite well of calm all-knowing Consciousness that transcends everything. If this is beginning to sound like recognition of some kind of metaphysical entity, then there is plenty of proof of that. Most of the explanations I have seen tend to compare ideas with eastern religion (primarily Buddhism). Those who profess to have academic qualifications from established Asian universities in the validity and practice of the Buddhist belief system are as convinced that this Consciousness is knowable through deep meditation as practised by the highest degrees of Yoga masters (or whatever they call themselves) as are the particle theorists that only continued research into quantum mechanical explanations will ever reveal how the universe works.

Both schools call on the services of distinguished philosophers to help bring substance to their claims to have all the answers. For the layman it is difficult to choose which side to believe or even to decide if there is any substance to either case. Will the world suddenly cease to follow its daily path around the sun, if we refuse to believe in the tenets of the superstring theory (or should I say faith)? Should we all be turning to Buddhism and learning how to meditate? (I suspect learning to meditate might be more beneficial to one’s health than trying to learn how to manipulate the 7 fudge factors of quantum mechanical mathematics).

For all practical purposes mankind will be better served by developing inter-religious understanding and following the known laws of physics defined thus far in our human evolution. As science has developed more and more complex theories about the origins of our universe (or universes), the more religion of all kinds tends to be sidelined as people the world over embrace the selfish, materialistic and hedonistic attractions of of the modern Western mindset.

Thankfully, most scientists and engineers with their feet firmly anchored in reality recognise their duty to direct their skills towards perfecting cures for the ills that have afflicted animal life in all its diversity since it emerged from the perpetual slime of creation. Flights of fancy there are a-plenty. The ultimate goal of an anti-gravity force that will allow us to defy Newton’s laws and fly around in weightless machines or rebuild the pyramids without ramps and cranes (or millions of slaves) is unlikely to be gained any time soon. Talk of quantum supercomputers appears to be wildly optimistic even amongs people who ought to know better, while the search for sources of electrical power to run such machines that must, of course, be both renewable and sustainable as well as limitless (fusion?) is as controversial as it is disorganised.

The science of electromagnetics and the development of materials that opitimise the ever more practical devices that emerge from the innovations of brilliant engineers is still expanding and enabling them to satisfy the thirst for better and better definition of the microworld of biology and genetics, allowing the medical world to advance its understanding of disease and its techniques to deal with it on all fronts from cancer research to alzheimer’s disease, from neurosurgery to prosthetic orthopaedic surgery, not to mention the elimination of blindness and deafness – and the rest.

The brilliance of our more grounded electrical, electronics, mechanical and civil engineers is propelling research into materials of ever-increasing strength and adaptability that can only be of ultimate benefit to the world at large. Geophycicists are surging ahead with technology that will allow them at least to predict if not counter the more terrifying disaster scenarios (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and so on) that cause so much damage to the world.

There are areas of scientific research that are disturbing as well as being fiendishly expensive. These range from particle research focussed on the Hadron Collider and other such worldwide projects, to the search for extraterrestrial contacts, the funding for which is not quite so astronomic (pun intended). The ultimate scam is that perpetrated by the International Panel for Climate Change, a phenomenon which has been proven to be mere cyclical change in weather patterns caused by the earth’s journey around the sun and the sun’s journey around the galaxy. The fortunes being exacted from taxpayers around the western world to combat this so-called threat are being channeled into the pockets of both politicians and ‘weather scientists’, both doing very nicely thank you on the proceeds and who have no intention of owning up to their colossal deceit.

A worrying development comes in talk of transhumans. This should be ringing alarm bells. It has all the appearance of a modern version of eugenics that led to the birth and ultimate acceptance of Hitler’s Nazism. It is, of course, an off-shoot of fascinating research into advanced robotics and its sister science, artificial intelligence. Why spend fortunes on developing androids (which will assuredly arrive on the scene in our lifetime), when it will be perfectly possible to ‘develop’ human capacities, both mental and physical?

The World Transhumanist Association wishes to produce a super race of human beings that has access to genius-level intelligence across the board with physical attributes that will place them on a par with the gods of old. The ethical barriers to such development are, to be fair, recognised, but so were they in early talk of eugenics at the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth century. Be careful what you wish for is a good maxim!

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

Today the four seasons we use are defined by the Meteorological Office (and Wikipaedia) as starting at the solar events of the year, spring at the vernal equinox in March, summer at the June solstice, autumn at the September equinox and winter at the December solstice. All these events occur around the 21st of the month, although they vary slightly from year to year.

However, the ancients being far wiser and more dependent than us on the effects the seasons had on their lives, knew full well that the sun events marked the middle of each season, NOT the beginning. Thus Midsummer Night (as it is still called) falls on or about the 21st June, not sometime in August. The Midwinter feast was marked at Christmas, NOT sometime in February.

When did this idiotic idea used by modern meteorologists come into being? Are they incapable of reading a simple graph? The sun’s path through the heavens executes a sine wave from peak to trough and back again. The solstices and equinoxes indicate the highs and lows – the middle of each graphic representation of the sun’s movements and consequently the middle of the sun’s capacity to affect the earth it is shining on. It is logical to expect earth to lag behind the sun’s effects by anything up to a week or two. Ground will retain the heat of the sun for some time after it has reached its highest point at the summer solstice; it will continue to lose heat after the winter solstice. However, these facts do not of themselves alter the duration of the sun-determined seasons. The first couple of weeks of autumn may continue to feel warm – our best harvests occur in a good autumn. The coldest part of winter is often in its closing stages and can still bring frost and snow in spring.

One can have little faith in the modern definitions. The ancients – specifically the Romans – considered spring to start on 1st March, their New Year’s Day. Their ten-month year started on that day, leaving it up to the experts (their priests) to decide when to declare it had arrived. They actually left the period between the end of the tenth month (December) and the priest-announced first day of March, unnamed and undefined, winter being a period that many would not survive, because of either the miserable, cold weather conditions or starvation through lack of food.

By the time of the Roman Republic (c.300 BC) the months of January and February had come into being, acknowledging the 365-day year used by the wise men of Egypt and the orient but also accepting the fact that their own priests were an ignorant bunch and couldn’t be trusted to pick the right day for the beginning of spring. Their subsequent definition of the seasons simply split the year up into four three-month periods: spring = March, April and May; summer = June, July and August; autumn = September, October and November; winter = December, January and February. (Unfortunately, until Julius Caesar introduced his calendar in 46 BC, the Romans still got things wrong by using a 364 day year, which – over time – threw the seasons out of kilter.)

Since they had defined 1st March as being the best day for planting the crops needed to see their population through the next winter, (i.e. the day the soil temperature had reached a priestly gardner’s estimate of warm enough for planting) their three-month periods filled the expectations of their people most of the time. They accepted – as do we still – that weather happens. There were going to be variations in seasons and sometimes weather would not fit those expectations.

Is their any chance that the meteorologists could be kicked into touch along with their foolish beliefs in this non-materialising climate change?