read / discuss / question

Links / Related: Bibliophil / Cool: Sluggy Freelance

Login:    Password:      Don't have a username? Register!

Discussion > Off-Topic > Science News

Science News

cruise (June 28th, 2002, 3:49 pm)

Couple of interesting articles from recent New Scientists, that might be interesting for us sci-fi writers...

First up, "Conciousness is an illusion."

Basically, there is no such thing as "a stream of conciousness." You aren't constantly aware of things...your perception of the world is only constructed when you need it.

Apparently,tapping someone's arm a few times on the wrist, then elbow, then shoulder, to them it feels like the taps are spread out along the length of the arm. Obviously, it requires all the taps to be completed before that mental picture is what were you thinking before then?

Effectively, when you think about something, all known information is processed into a "world view," but before then, you are not conciously aware of anything.

Secondly, the universe is not necessarily quantum after all, it just looks like it. The new theory suggests that the quantam stuff we see is simply "fuzz" above a more classical underneath. The illustration was off lots chess games. Look close enough, you see the individual determinstic moves...look at the statistics, you can only guess the result.

Originally, the universe was less quantam-mechanical, but it has settled down to it's "averaged" state much like heat in a closed system equalises.

The upshot of all this is that it makes faster-than light communication possible, because you can study particles states with better precision without disturbing that state, effectively getting round the uncertainty principle.

Figure those might be useful as the basis for some hard sci-fi stories...which is getting to be a real tempting idea now I mention it... :P

Science News

Eldritch (June 28th, 2002, 4:08 pm)

I'll keep my super-soldier story for the time being.

Science News

Ben (June 28th, 2002, 6:10 pm)

Cool stuff. I take issue with one statement, however:

Effectively, when you think about something, all known information is processed into a "world view," but before then, you are not conciously aware of anything.

It seems to me that one would be continually aware of something, just not the particular thing that has yet to be built into a comprehensive worldview.

Science News

cruise (June 29th, 2002, 12:46 am)

not if you're asleep :P

The basic idea is conciousness is something that is only there when you look for yeah, while you're looking, you're concious of something.


Semirrahge (June 29th, 2002, 3:25 am)

I'd developed that very same idea about conciousness awhile back... It's basically the whole premise of the mind trap games- where you look at something and miss the real point simply because you are stuck in a traditional logic path.

The mind sees things in "shapes"... Take a sofa, for instance. We all know what a sofa looks like, and when we think of one we can see it - or at least the standard shape.

But what if we see a sofa that is built into a wall, or designed in such a way that we don't see it as a seat? Now, granted that's a poor example because a sofa is as much a designation of design as function, but I think you can catch my drift.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks this way, but I'm more interested in it for the psychological value.

And about that quantum physics stuff - I'm afraid I totally lost you there... Could you re-explain? The problem is that I did not "get" the chess game analogy.


Narainsbrain (June 29th, 2002, 5:47 am)

consciousness, apparently, is only constructed in retrospect.

while you are reading this line of text, it seems to you that your eye is moving smoothly across the screen. in reality, the eye flits from word to word, resting momentarily then jumping to the next in a very jerky motion. stop, jump, stop, jump, like a spastic kangaroo. but you don't notice this, think you're reading smoothly in a continuous flow, only stopping rarely to do a double-take on a particularly awful metaphor.

maybe that didn't quite get the point across, but i'm on a roll here, so get out of the way.

some mischievous scientists did an experiment where they monitored a person's brain while doing funny things to him, the details of which i don't remember. what they found, apparently, was that the part of the brain responsible for reasoning was activated only after the the person had reacted to the stimulus. this seems to indicate that people act without thinking, and rationalise whatever they've done afterward. bosh to free will and consciousness.

(...say, what does bosh mean, anyway?)

now to attack quantum theory! the thing with the current theory of quantum physics (called the copenhagen interpretation, or CHI) is, it says that nothing exists until you look for it. a quantum particle has no proper position, no velocity, only a set of possible states it 'could be' in, called a probability wave. now, it's not that we can't know where it is, the theory goes, but that the universe itself doesn't know where it is, because it really isn't anywhere. if you start looking for it as a particle with a definite position, then - and only then - the probability wave will 'collapse' and it will appear as a proper particle in one of the states that until then were just possible and not real. nothing is real until you look at it, and once you stop looking, it goes back to not being there. creepy.

to carry the chess-game analogy the other way, in CHI chess, if you stopped looking at the chess game it would degenerate into a fuzzy probability wave including all the possibilities of how the game could go from there... and when you looked at it again, it would crystallise into one of the possibilites and become a real chess match with pieces in actual positions again.

it's not a very philosophically satisfying theory, but it gives all the right answers to the experiments. or rather, the mathematics does. the math is not in doubt. but CHI is just one way to interpret the mathematics, and there are others. the many-worlds theory, for one, and now apparently the new chess-game theory.

if the chess-game theory is correct, einstein would be very pleased. he never could stand CHI - "God does not play dice with the Universe," he liked to say. he kept trying to figure out a way to give a proper, non-probabilistic spin to the whole uncertainty thing, but he never could manage it, and died unhappy with the quantum theory he had initially helped build.

but why am i saying all this? i'm too much of a science geek. right, to explain the chess theory to semi: from what i can tell, it says that all the uncertainty in the quantum world isn't the scary nothing-exists sort of thing of CHI but the standard everyday probabilites of the sort "80% chance of rain today" or "5 to 1 on germany winning". basically, they're just 'cause we don't know enough, and there is an underlying reality to the quantum 'fuzz' of probabilities, and if we look deep enough the quantum world is deterministic after all.

all nice and cozy, but i'd like to know how it explains the single-photon double slit experiment. so any links to an online article about it would be much appreciated. i don't know about you guys, but i'm extremely interested in science, even more than i am in science fiction.

edit: forget the link, i checked the new scientist website and they say the cover story's exclusive to the print edition. but some more detail on how the theory worked would be good.


cruise (July 1st, 2002, 10:57 am)

I'll reread the article and see if it gives me some more details...I have to say I didn't entirely follow it the first time through myself...

But here's some more impressions/illustrations from what I remember:

Quantam-ness is a variable quality for a particle. Most of the particles we see behave in the usual CHI manner, but there could be particles that are more "deterministic" (the dark matter, perhaps) left over from the Big Bang. Passing these particles through a double-slit wouldn't give the interference pattern you get from the more familiar particles.

I know that seems to be different from what I said earlier, but don't blame me, I'm just the messenger...I'll try and put a more coherent version out (or hell, type in the entire article... :P) tonight.

bah, humbug...

Narainsbrain (July 2nd, 2002, 6:18 am)

so it doesn't overturn CHI like i'd hoped it would. poor einstein.

bah, humbug...

cruise (July 2nd, 2002, 9:28 am)

Well, it sort of does. It allows things like faster-than-light transmission, and as someone said, underneath the quantam-ness, there's proper classical behaviour...we just can't see it.

My brain hurts...

Hellkeepa (July 3rd, 2002, 12:01 am)


Auch... :-(

Happy fraggin'!

heh heh... mission accomplished =p

Narainsbrain (July 3rd, 2002, 3:43 am)

admittedly, CHI is definitely crazy, but it's the best we knew of... until now, possibly. in hindsight, that was a huge post i wrote! man, i was really on a roll there. don't nobody get me started on science again!

and well, faster-than-light transmission is good, definitely... until now we had to warp spacetime drastically for that. wormholes. ;)

i guess nobody else is interested in this discussion anymore - me having sent everybody's heads into a spin, probably - so i have the feeling i should shut up now.

it ain't over 'til...

cruise (July 3rd, 2002, 12:50 pm)

I post this :P Finally got my New Scientist mag near my here's the relavent bits of the article, verbatim:

Some physicists are beginning to suspect that there's another level of reality beneath the quantam world....

The reason for believing in a deeper level is that quantam theory merely predicts the possible outcomes of measurements, not certainties. It's a bit like an actuary predicting the probability that a man will die at a particular age. This does preclude a deeper level of cause and effect, which could be used to predict precisely when a given man dies.

...Whereas in quantam mechanics the wave function is nothing more than a mathematical convience for calculating the probability that a particle will be found at a particular point in space, in pilot-wave theory the wave is real. It's an invisible but physical wave that guides particles along, and has a current that drives the precise motion of the particle. This theory reproduces all the statistical predictions of quantam mechanics....

...While it's possible to think of non-locality as a quirk of quantam mechanics, the same can't be said for pilot-wave theory. Pilot-wave theory says that a pair of entangled particles we see moving about in three-dimensional space is actually the projection of a single system that exists in six-dimensional "configuration space". The two particles are connected because they are really a single, higher-dimensional system....

...If you could zoom in and observe events that last just 10^-43 seconds, in an area no more than 10^-35 metres across, you would find a classically predictable theory with no need for probabilities and uncertainties....

...In convential quantam mechanics, a "suspicious coincidence" obscures non-locality. For example, you might think that by using a pair of entangled electrons, you could create an instantaneous communication system that defied the rule against anything travelling faster than light. But, frustratingly, that's impossible, because you can never know before a measurement which way an electron is spinning. So if one direction of spin codes for "1" and the other "0" and you want to send a "1", you can only be 50% sure of sending a "1" - a level of noise or uncertainty that scrambles any message. Although non-locality is a fundemental feature of quantam theory, nature provides precisely the amount of quantam noise necessary to make it unusable.

Quantam theory may merely describe a particular state of the Universe in which quantam noise makes non-locality unusable and effectively preventing messages being sent faster than light. In this special state, we are unable to observe non-local signals because they cancel out at the statistical level.

If we could somehow get hold of non-quantam matte, we could violate Heisenburg's uncertainty principle, which puts a limit on how accurately we measure things such as the location of a particle. To locate a particle, it has to interact with something else, for example when a photon bounces off it in a detector. The problem is that there is an uncertainty even in the position of the photon. However, if we had photons obeying a probability distrubution sharper than that of standard photons, we could locate things with greater certainty.


IS that any better...I've edited it a lot, because Iwould have been here for days otherwise :P

much better

Ben (July 3rd, 2002, 10:38 pm)

That's some really cool, intersting stuff. I'll have to get a copy of the magazine.

much better

Narainsbrain (July 4th, 2002, 6:40 am)

thanks, man! all this is really interesting. i wanna be a scientist... =)

Discussion > Off-Topic > Science News

Register to post.