The Ideal World: Is Science Going to Create it?

In an ideal world we would learn from the past and create a future that is based on the progress of science. Adolfo Plasencia talks with some of the biggest names in scientific research to shed more light on big questions like Is there a planet besides Earth where we could live on? What if robots became intelligent? and Are we able to touch the soul of Michelangelo?

A Mindfunda Book review of Is the Universe a Hologram? And Other Questions. Scientists Answer the Most Provocative Questions.
By Adolfo Plasencia
MIT, 2017, Hardcover $26.87 ebook $22.21 ISBN-10: 0262036010 ISBN-13: 978-0262036016
Reviewed by Drs. Susanne van Doorn

 

 

ideal world
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Ideal World: Will Science save Humanity?

It is no surprise among lovers of mythology that one of the most modern mythological concepts is that science will safe humanity. In a lot of series you see a hacker that hacks into government and police data and gets the real villains arrested and the true heroes out of prison.

I think that the film the Matrix was the most explicit about it. In this film you saw both sides. The danger of a fully computerised world and how a hacker could turn this world aside so humanity could “wake up” to reality.

Morpheus and Neo Fighting
Matrix

In Is the Universe a Hologram? And Other Questions. Scientists Answer the Most Provocative Questions revolves around three themes:

  • The Physical World;
  • Information;
  • Intelligence.

And almost all of the scientists interviewed have connections to MIT: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its mission (I have copy pasted it from their website): “The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century”.

Adolfo Plasencia, Spanish presenter of Tecnópolis and blogger on science interviewed 33 people about these subjects. By transcribing those interviews in book – form, you get an easy digestible book that covers very interesting topics.

Ideal World and Physical Reality

The first chapter of the book starts with an interesting discussion about the possibility of free will. The Western Culture assumes we act out of free will and therefore are accountable for our actions. This created a whole profitable range of Self help books ass well. But we like that idea. The comfortable thought that we determine our future.

ideal world
Cartoon found on Buzzfeed.com

Determinism is the believe that things follow laws, and are therefore predefined. Quantum mechanics challenges that idea:

“Usually when you observe something, we see that it exists and is well defined. Whenever we see a yellow object, we think that this is on ‘objective’ property the object has, which doesn’t depend on me. That is, when I am not watching it, the object still remains yellow. Now quantum physics, according to you, says, no: it says that some properties of the microscopic objects in the movement are not defined when they aren’t being observed and ably become defined when we watch it” (page 9).

ideal world
Cartoon Tom Swanson

Now that is a cliffhanger isn’t it? The book triggers your curiosity like that. You just want to know what people who understand much more of quantum mechanics as you and me do, say about the possibility of free will.

And what does the book say? That science does not know yet: “The fact that physiologically we still have not found and perhaps never will be able to see, evidence of free will and voluntary decision-making doesn’t mean that those things don’t exist” (page 277).

Of course there are many issues that are discussed in this first part of the book. How Moore’s law has come to an end. Moore’s law says that the number of transistors in a circuit doubles every two years.

How there is energy in a vacuum: the Casimir forces, how satellites help us to locate where we are and where we are headed, if there are other planets that facilitate human life.

Ideal World and Information

Part two of Is the Universe a Hologram revolves around information. The world is filled with data. In 1987, when I went to University, my professors carefully explained that information is data that you attribute meaning to. And back than, there was already a worry that we as human beings were flooded with data.

ideal world
Cartoon: Jef Stahler

In an ideal world you would only get the information you want to and be protected from data. Reading this book I found out that the brain works this way. A large part of the energy that the brain requires is used for inhibition. It means that the brain does not receive all data.

This part of the book focusses on the digital world we have created. Some use this world to escape the planet earth and create alter ego’s on social media. Other people come alive when using social media to connect with friends. Did you know for example that there are more smartphones that there are people on the planet?

ideal world
Cartoon: Mark Parisi

Tim O’Reilly (yes, the guy of the open source software) describes the alchemy needed in the present between the knowledge  of the past and the expectations of the future.

“As I said earlier, i think chance is natural and good. And I think there is a stress in modern life from the pace of change, and certainly there are people throughout history who have looked back to times when in theory, at least, the world was more stable and peaceful. If you want to be stable and peaceful, you can opt out of a technology society. There is nothing stopping you from doing so. However, I actually think that the excitement of having come to grips with the future is a good thing. For me, it’s a fabulous intellectual challenge” (page 215).

So in the ideal world we embrace the new challenges technology produces. Are we as human beings up for that challenge? The next part of the book tries to answer that question.

Ideal World and Intelligence

I have to tell you dear reader that this part was my favourite part of the book. With my training as psychologist I drool when a chapter is searching for the I in the brain.

I always have the notion ether is a little I in my brain that guides me whenever my blood sugar is low (diabetic type 1). I can do crazy things but at certain point in time a voice in my head says: “You need to test your blood sugar level, because you are acting strange”.

Did you know that science can perform magic? In the chapter where Adolfo Plasencia talks with Alvaro Pascual-Leone he talks about Transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS technique where the brain (an electricity device in our body) can be charged with electricity without opening the skull.

 

ideal world

 

William James, the father of psychology is mentioned several times in the book as a source of inspiration. And dreams! Yes dreams are also mentioned. the Spanish researcher Javier Echeverria uses the analogy of Plato’s Cave to introduce the way that internet has changed reality.

He tells us that the binary number system is based on the I Ching. Leibniz, its creator was fascinated by how the I Ching was a binary system and he got motivated to create a binary system.

“He discovered the binary number system some years previously during his correspondence with Joachim Bouvet, french Jesuit missionary who worked in China. They had sent him the I Ching, a system of symbols with various functions but which Leibniz realized had a strong formal relationship with his binary system” (page 317).

Javier Echeverria explains how not everything can be digitalized. He has tried working with dreams and even wrote a book about it:

“So digitilization is a mathematicization of everything intelligible?
On that, I have to say no. I’ll give you a very clear example of how digitisation does not mathematizice everything: so far it can not mathematize dreams. I tried to do it, many years ago in another book. Trying to mathemitize dreams was one of the things I’ve done in my life, but there are enormous difficulties. We all dream practically every day, but not all thought processes are digitizable, at least not yet” (page 318).

In the ideal world we could hook ourselves up to a dream-machine, record our dreams and look back in the morning. It will remain a utopia.

 

Conclusion

PRO

Pouring the content of this book in an interview format makes the content digestible and relatively easy to read.

It is a very informative and intelligent book about intelligence, consciousness, global warming, technology, matter an other things you and I are worried about.

You will learn a lot about a variety of interesting subjects, never a dull moment.

I like the mixture of technology, philosophy and psychology. This book has all the ingredients to become a classic, an encyclopaedia of the twenties of the twenty-first century,

CON

Only three women are in this book. I am not certain why this decision was made. I think the female vision on problems facing the world today might make the world a better place. Female researchers deserve more than a contribution of merely 10 percent in this book.

The promotion of the MIT Institute becomes a little dreary from time to time.

The subjects of the book are not for everyone. A reader has to have an explicit hunger for knowledge about the alchemy between technology, its limits and how it can affect the world around us.

I felt that the title was a bit misleading: I had expected to learn much more about the Universe as a hologram: the idea that while the world seems to have three dimensions in reality there are only two.

Mindfunda verdict:

7/10

Click here to buy Is the Universe a Hologram? and support Mindfunda.

Evan Thompson: Waking, Dreaming, Being

Susanne van Doorn from Mindfunda interviewed philosopher Evan Thompson about his book ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being’. Evan Thompson builds a bridge between Western science: neurology and the oldest map of consciousness, Upanishad.

A big thanks to Christian Gerike for alerting me to this book, and to Christoph Grassmann, for sharing his presentation about the self in dreaming with me so I could prepare questions for this interview.

Evan Thompson talks to Mindfunda about:

  • How his father William Irwin Thompson founder of Lindisfarne Association, as well as his wife, neurologist Rebecca Todd, influenced the ideas he proposes in this book.
  • The waking state as a stream of consciousness with gaps in-between.
  • The dreaming state and especially lucid dreaming is a special kind of awareness.
  • Dreaming as more than random neurological chatter of the brain.
  • A state of pure awareness.
  • And finally Evan Thompson tells us why he picked up the pen to write Waking, Dreaming, Being.

I got aware of ‘Dreaming, Waking, Being’ because of a quote colleague Christian Gerike put on Facebook. It was this quote:

The first quarter is the waking state. Here consciousness turns outward and experiences the physical body as the self. Waking consciousness takes enjoyment in the ‘gross’ objects of sense perception, yet no object holds its interest for long, because attention, motivated by desire, constantly flits from one thing to another. Consciousness in the waking state is restless, dissatisfied, and constantly on the move.

~ Evan Thompson. ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and consciousness in neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy.’ 2015, p. 9. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Evan Thompson
Waking, Dreaming, Being
Evan Thompson

Needless to say I was fascinated. I got myself a copy of the book and enjoyed the book very much. Being diabetic, and having experienced a coma when I was a young child I always have had a fascination about consciousness. What had happened to “me” in that coma? I was not there but I still had flashes of memory.
I considered the voice in my head as my I, my concept of self. That little voice that whispers to me when my blood sugar is low: “Susanne you are not seeing well, it is time to measure your blood sugar level”.

Reading ‘Waking, Sleeping, Being’ and talking to Evan Thompson gave me a new framework for my concept of self. Evan suggests that there are four states of awareness: the waking state, the dreaming state, dreamless sleep and a state of pure awareness.

Waking State

William James was one of the first psychologists and he coined the term “stream of consciousness”. The latest neurological research indicates that this stream is not continuous. it is filled with gaps. Evan talks about what could happen during such a gap and why understanding this is an important step towards understanding consciousness.

The waking state is a creator of the concept of self. Phenomenologists call them the “self-as-object”: a third person perspective, and the “self-as-subject”: me being aware of myself.  This I and Me perspective carry over to dreaming.

Dreaming state

Christoph Grassmann wrote a very interesting presentation about this for one of the psiberconferences organized by the IASD. Christoph was so kind to give me his presentation to prepare for this interview and that is why I asked Evan Thompson the question how his own sense of self had evolved during the process of writing the book. Evan told me that he had become more experienced in lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming had made him able to change his perspective on his sense of self because he was able to change processes and experiment in lucid dreams. In fact, a lucid dream inspired him to dive into the poems of the Upanishad and compare them with the latest scientific research about consciousness. He had that dream in Dharmsala, where he was invited to speak for a Mind and Life Institute conference with the Dalai Lama and Western neuroscientists on how experience can change the brain.

“I’ve always wanted, since I was a kid, to catch the exact moment when sleep arrives and notice when I begin to dream. With the rising and falling of my breath, colored shapes start to float on the inside of my eyelids. They hover just beyond my gaze, turning into cows and shacks and mules, like the ones I saw this morning on the bus ride up the mountain. As I watch these images, trying not to tamper with them so they don’t fall apart, I find myself thinking of how Jean Paul Sartre explains pre sleep in his book The Imaginary, which we read in my philosophy class a week before I left for India. When we are conscious of drifting of to sleep, Sartre says, we delay the process and create a peculiar state of consciousness, and from them we fashion images -but these shift with each eye movement and refuse to settle into dreams.
The next thing I know, I’m flying over a large, tree-filled valley. I must be dreaming, I tell myself. From the memory of trying to watch myself fall asleep –  still fresh in the dream- and the lack of memory for what came after, I realize I must have lost awareness during my drowsy reverie and reawakened in the dream. I’m having a lucid dream -the kind of dream where you know that you are dreaming. Indian and Tibetan traditions say that meditating in the lucid dream state can make it easier to see the consciousness beneath waking and dreaming, so I try to sit cross-legged and meditate. But my intention to sit this way won’t translate into action and I wind up kneeling instead. Then I lose the intention entirely and I am flying again, still aware that I am dreaming…”

Evan Thompson – ‘Waking Dreaming Being’  p 108

DReaming as more than neurological chatter

After all his research Evan Thompson is convinced that dreaming is more than random neurological firing from the brain. ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being’ gives us a framework to sharpen our mind. The framework that is handed to you as reader provokes your mind to think and rethink about your concept of self, your dreaming self and your memories. Any book that can do that is worth reading.
The science combined with the magic we all crave, magic that seems to be lost in our rational worlds is just what the doctor ordered.

 

watch the interview with Evan Thompson
Watch the interview with Evan Thompson (YouTube – 30min)

Watch the interview (30 min)

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Please sign up for my YouTube channel to enjoy all the beautiful Mindfunda interviews with inspiring people. People like Jean Benedict Raffa, Anne Baring, Connie Kaplan, Ralph Metzner, Stanley Krippner and P.M.H. Atwater, Catherine Wikholm about her book the Buddha Pill and Justina Lasley about her book Wake Up to Your Dreams: Transform Your Relationships, Career, and Health While You Sleep! Evan Thompson about his book Waking Sleeping Being.

Soon I will be interviewing Kate Adams and Bart Koet about their book Dreams and Spirituality.

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