Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On deja vus

So I was watching Fringe, and there was an interesting explanation of deja vu, which I felt was flawed, but it set me to thinking. In Fringe, a character explains that we feel we have done things before because there is a parallel universe that is very similar to this one, in which we actually have done the things we deja vu. However, there was no explanation why these universes should be out of phase, and as far as I can make out, they are not, at least not significantly.

But I think there's a way deja vu can be real. I've never been terrifically convinced by the standard explanation, which is I believe that your brain effectively interprets the same information twice, with a very slight lag, so that you have a "memory" that is formed twice in rapid succession, and you confuse yourself into believing you had previously experienced the thing memorised. Given the haziness of memory, this does work, I suppose, and we're aware that we confuse ourselves in perception all the time. I have another way of explaining it though that I like.

The problem with time is that it is effectively a fourth dimension of space, not really something separate. Among other things, this should make it directionless (in the same way that up is relative to where your feet are, not an absolute direction, and your left is my right). Time should not be seen as "flowing" in any real sense. I won't go any further into discussing why this is true; let's just take it that it is.

The problem of time can be resolved somewhat by the notion of the block universe. In this conception, everything that is, was and will be in the universe exists at the same "time", an eternal present, and we experience time because our consciousness navigates through it, translating a static universe into a dynamic experience, in a similar way to a film, where static frames--pictures--are run one after the other to give the sensation of action. With a film, all the frames exist before you watch the first one. You could in principle reassemble them in any order, and the number of combinations of frames would be very high (I don't know how many ways you can assemble two hundred thousand frames, say, but it must be a very large number, and isn't that the number of frames in a movie of about a couple of hours?). Even though most of those combinations would not make sense, very many would, even though they aren't the "correct" combination.

It's plain that in the block universe, at least in principle, we could "foresee" events simply because they are already there to be seen. We have deja vu because we get a glimpse of another part of the block universe. I have no idea what the mechanism would be.

But wait, there's more. Quantum theory has led many scientists to believe that we live in a multiverse, that at each moment of "decision" for a particle, the particle takes both paths that are possible for it, and two new universes come into being. So there are infinite universes in which everything that could happen does happen. So your deja vu does not need to be quite accurate, because you may be able to see a "wrong" part of the block multiverse.


One reason I like the block universe concept is that it makes a lot of sense in connection with the concept of God. God is supposed to be omniscient and transcendent. The latter means that he is not contained within space and time, which implies that all of time exists for him simultaneously. If God was positioned outside a block multiverse, he would be able to "see" everything in this way. (This does not imply that God must only be outside the multiverse. He may also be immanent; in other words, he can be within the multiverse too--being transcendent does not necessitate only being outside the multiverse, only that one must be outside it in some sense--however, my understanding is that Muslim theology struggles with this notion and has held that Allah is only transcendental, because he is not material: this gives him the problem that he cannot create anything because he has no means of engaging with the material--a technical problem because of course he can create by his will, he just cannot physically perform the creation.)

I say multiverse because if the universe were unitary, we could not have free will. I have been thinking about how human beings could have free will when God is omniscient. He clearly would know what choices you would make at the moment of creation, so could not fairly punish you for choosing wrongly. I am not sure how having a multiverse makes a difference, but it at least has potential.

Here's a possibility. See what you think. God chose not to know what his creation would be like and limited his ability to see the multiverse. Now he only permits himself to see his own creation through our consciousness, which is why he created us. Maybe he likes surprises? This makes humans satisfyingly central to God's plan.

It also allows him to make moral judgements, which are otherwise rather difficult. Fundamentally, God made us the way we are, with full knowledge of what we consist in, so he can hardly blame us for being "bad". We are doomed to be. But if he chose to limit his ability to see how we would be, he can then disapprove.


On that note, this gets me to thinking about Stephen Hawking. In his most recent book, Hawking embraces the multiple worlds interpretation of quantum theory and then handwaves that into an explanation of how the universe is the way it is. But here's the thing. A multiverse contains every possible universe. Hawking likes this hypothesis because he believes that we no longer need a god to have created the finely balanced universe we see, which is incredibly improbable, because with approaching infinite universes, even the incredibly improbable is inevitable.

But wait, what arrogance does Prof Hawking display here! If everything, even the incredibly improbable, is inevitable, then surely within the multiverse, there must be universes with God? Hawking must be saying that not only is there no God, but that God is literally impossible. But somewhere in the multiverse will be talking fish, right? Because fish could have evolved the ability to speak, they just didn't, at least not on this planet in this universe. It's very close to impossible, definitely incredibly improbable, but not absolutely inconceivable. So Hawking will have us believe that God is less likely than a talking fish?

If God is possible in some universes, of course, he can be possible in any of them. We couldn't know which he was in and which not a priori.

So there you have it. Not only did I just explain deja vus, but I proved that either God exists or he's less likely than a talking fish. If you're not convinced, don't blame me. I got it from Prof Hawking and apparently, he's a very smart guy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

First mistake Fringe is a fantasy, ignore the science most of it is nonsense.

"In this conception, everything that is, was and will be in the universe exists at the same "time"

For it to exist in the "same time" time would have to be a constant throughout the universe and it isn't.
Velocity and Gravity both influence the passage of time.

Fish can not speak they do not have the anatomy to enable speech, if they could speak they would no longer be fish, they will have evolved into an entirely new species, perhaps Human.

Now forget deja vu, lets hear your theory on where God came from, where it got its wisdom(LOL) and knowledge to enable it to create. May be you will find the answer by watching Fringe.

Where are you up to Series 3 EP 8 here.

December 14, 2010 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

1/ Did I say it wasn't nonsense? The careful reader will have noted that I labelled the show "hokey". The science in Fringe is consistently and reliably rubbish, but I was not discussing Fringe per se.

2/ Please note the quotation marks around "time". Please read my third paragraph, where I give a brief discussion of time. Nowhere do I suggest that it's constant and it's quite immaterial what qualities it has in this context. I am clearly using it in the common sense here, and I use quotation marks so that this is clear.

3/ Fish cannot speak in this universe. It's not impossible that they could have evolved the ability to speak and remain fish in a broad sense. Fish do not have a unitary anatomy, I'm sure you're aware. Some fish are impressively large, and contain a brain large enough for the complexity speech would require. Their mostly living underwater of course makes speech, as such, difficult, but I was careful to use the word "talking", not to imply they could speak in the way we speak.

4/ God is a philosophical entity and does not have to "come from" anywhere, in pretty much the same way quantum fluctuations don't. I don't find the existence of God any more or less credible a priori than the existence of something rather than nothing. My understanding of quantum theory and cosmology is limited, but as far as it goes, I am only seeing "it just does" as the bottom line.

Why does God have to have received its wisdom and knowledge? Do you think that because you had to be trained, God had to be too? I ask myself this: how does a rock learn to be a rock? How does a tree learn to have leaves? These are essentially meaningless questions because they simply don't apply to rocks and trees. God simply has the attributes of wisdom and knowledge. Why is a proton a proton? We will never be able to answer that because our reductionist approach to knowledge reaches a boundary beyond which it can't drill down. (And the answer is not "because it's made up of this and that and the other quark" or "because it's a piece of string that vibrates in a particular way" because these are just descriptions, not explanations.

I understand and accept that science describes and does not explain. You seem to want too much from it.

5/ I have only watched series 1 on DVD because I wasn't around when it began here and I am not organised enough to keep up with regular TV shows. I think we're on series 3 too, but I'm pretty vague on what they're up to. I enjoyed it, although I found it slipped into a formula fairly quickly. The sideplots are pretty engaging though.

Thanks for playing, btw. Please bring more ammunition next time though.

December 14, 2010 at 11:16 PM  
Blogger Paula Light said...

I love this. Wish you could reach more readers, Z.

December 15, 2010 at 12:22 AM  
Blogger Looney said...

I coulda sworn I read this before...

December 16, 2010 at 6:02 PM  

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