Peter Russell Gets It

Peter Russell was a dual major.  Halfway through theoretical physics, he bailed and decided to study theoretical psychology.  He makes a compelling argument that consciousness precedes reality.  He is well aware of the difficulties inherent in the use of the word “consciousness.”  He uses it synonymously with the way I use the term “information,” depending on the context.  A couple of important points.

One way of looking at reality is that we live in a space of four dimensions, where the fourth dimension is time.  The problem is, “reality” is relative.  There are certain perspectives on reality where time is a dimension, and others where time seems to have a life of its own.  Even in those perspectives where time seems to be a dimension of space, I think it actually makes a bit more sense to look at the speed of light as the fourth dimension, rather than time.  Time and speed-of-light are related, so we are saying more or less the same thing.  I see two advantages of using speed-of-light.

One, is it allows you to draw a Minkowski diagram, which is a pretty cool just-so story that gets us a tad closer to the truth.  The concept of a Minkowski world-line is valid, with considerable scientific evidence to back it up.  In the Minkowski world, time becomes a projection artifact; something that arises when you try to cram a 4-dimensional object into a 3-dimensional model.

The other thing I like about using the speed-of-light as the fourth dimension of space is that it sets up a symmetry between space and matter.  Einstein uses the constant “c” to refer to the speed-of-light in his famous equation E=Mc^2, which shows the relationship between matter and energy:

  1. Matter can be converted into energy.  A lot.
  2. Energy could, theoretically, be converted into matter.
  3. There is an ambiguity between matter and energy.  They are basically the same thing.

“C” — the speed-of-light — regulates two seemingly different things.  The relationship between time and space, and the relationship between matter and energy.  Now.  Time, space, matter and energy: add those things up, and you have the post-modernist world.  To an atheist or agnostic, that’s all there is to reality.  “C” means something, and the meaning is unsettling.

Russell is famous for pointing out that light doesn’t technically exist in the post-modernist world.  Einstein’s theory of special relativity — the one that says we live in four dimensions of space-time — is based on the insight that distance and velocity are related.  They are sort of on a sliding scale.  When you go really fast, space sort of scrunches together.  Faster you go, the shorter distances become.  As you approach the speed of light, space scrunches way, way down.  The visible universe looks really tiny when you’re going 99% of the speed of light.  And the cool thing is, if you could actually go the speed of light, distance disappears altogether.

That’s right.  If you’re going at the speed of light, you aren’t going anywhere in space or time.

We tend to think of space as a box.  Add in Minkowsky light-cones at every point, and you have a model of space-time.  That’s not what space-time really looks like.  If you want to know what space-time really looks like, go outside and look around.  It actually looks like a azimuth_elevation.gifround fish-bowl, with you in the exact center.  The three dimensions of space are:

  1. Azimuth.  Right-left.
  2. Elevation.  Up-down.
  3. Distance, which is a function of space and time.  When you look off into the distance, you are also looking back into time.  The faster you are travelling, the shorter the distance to the wall of your fishbowl.

To someone on the outside, the diameter of the fishbowl is zero.  Each individual observer makes his own fishbowl, by cleaving “c” — the speed-of-light — into two dimensions of space and time.  For every 286,000 miles you spot yourself, you get one second of time.

It gets a little confusing, because it seems we ran out of words. It’s like they way we use the term “consciousness” to refer to everything from “awake” to “explicit” to “self-aware” to “mind of God.”  Or the way we use “depression” to refer to “teen angst,” “brain chemical disorder,” and “existential anguish.”

“Time” means:

  1. Hawking’s thermodynamic arrow.  The idea that life is the process of dying. How many times you can say “banana,” how many heartbeats you have in you.  How many sunrises you will get to see.
  2. What you have to remove from the great multi-dimensional whatever to make a three-dimensional world of space, with objects floating around in it.
  3. The shared delusion we call “history.”

In my post on time, I play with the idea that time is a projection artifact of trying to cram a space of four dimensions into a mind that is only capable of perceiving three.  I’ll post up an example later, in which I imagine what it’s like to wander through a four-dimensional house, or tesseract.  It’s probably the easiest way to express what I’m thinking about; to think of spacetime as being a four-dimensional space, being experienced by three-dimensional objects.

Thing is, that’s not what physicists are saying any more about the visible universe.  It’s home-multiple-d-branes-jpg.jpgpretty much the other way around.  Now they are saying the visible universe really is three-dimensional.  It’s a 3-d matrix with matter and energy stuck to it; something they call a “brane.”

We can still look at time as a projection artifact, we just have to flip it around.  Instead of a three-dimensional being trying to experience four-dimensional space, it’s probably more like a multi-dimensional being trying to experience three-dimensional space.

That’s what we are, I think.  Multi-dimensional beings.  We aren’t made out of matter and energy; that stuff is stuck to the brane.  We can partially, but not completely manifest ourselves in matter and energy.  What are we made out of?  I say “information.”  Russell says “consciousness.”  We’re both talking about the same thing.

Regardless.  Know how you make fun of people who don’t believe in global warming?  Who refuse to accept the settled science?  The people who are living in an 18th century fantasy world?  The ones who need to wake up?  The ones whom you feel sorry for?

If you think you’re a physical, three-dimensional object slowly leaking heat into three-dimensional space — that’s you.  Your concept of self is simply not supported by the facts as we know them.

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