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Thinking “Thoreau”ly


“Perfect disease is as good as perfect health, where mind continuously confirms to your body.”- Henry David Thoreau

The quote strikes me for the tremendous wisdom wrapped in simplicity. No heavy words, no abstract terms, no fancy metaphors, no overly long convoluted sentence. In 15 words Thoreau puts forward a theory equivalent to theory of relativity for philosophy. Peace and joy can be found not only when the world confirms to your expectation, but also when your expectations confirm to the world.

On one of my walks, I wondered if this quote can be further extended. Perfect misfortune is as good as perfect fortune, because in face of overwhelming misfortune, you will let go of your struggle. Result? You will be left with less desires. Ergo, more fulfillment. I have seen proof. I used to volunteer at hospice facility and some of the patients who have end stage cancer indeed look peaceful. Yes, they have episodes of pain. But apart from that they have plenty of peaceful moments. Because there is no burden of struggle of survival. No conflict. No uncertainty. Only one thing to deal with – pain.

I remember a time when I was going to catch a flight. The time was getting close and I was rushing like crazy. Rushing, rushing, rushing and when I reach the airport, I realize that I am at the wrong terminal. The reality that I have missed the flight hit me and what followed was a sense of peace. My mind had just confirmed to the state of this world.

This way of thinking is hard to digest in the world we live in, which values pursuit above peace. Till that time, people like Thoreau who are way ahead of their times will be considered foolish. Because a perfect genius is often like a perfect fool, because both fail to do conventional thinking.




Quantum Identity

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Before some days I read about a quantum experiment. Scientists were able to separate a particle from it’s properties and send the particle via one route and the property via another route till they merged at some point again. The most commonly cited anology was that of a Cheshire cat from the story Alice in wonderland. In that story the cat vanishes but it’s smile remains visible.

Another poor anology was cited at some other places was that of an airline passenger being separated from his luggage. I don’t think that’s appropriate because luggage is not the property of the passenger.

I think the more appropriate example is, let’s say if someone was able to separate your height from you and pack it in a box. Until that box opened, no one would be able to know your height. You travel via some route and the box travels via another route. On the way, no one is able to measure your height until you are separated from the box. But once you reach the destination and the box arrives as well via different route, you open the box and voila! Now suddenly you and everyone around you can know your height.

That sounds bizzare, right? Welcome to the world of quantum mechanics.

Now that makes me think. What if we separate multiple properties of the particle. What if we separate all observable properties of the particle and send all the properties by route A and the particle without properties by route B. What is really traveling by route B? Does the particle have any existence without all it’s properties? What is a particle if it does not have mass, volume, density, speed, etc. etc.?

If I see one particle here and if I see another exactly same particle there, all I know is that they have same observable properties. But what is beyond these properties that is same or different?

Applying the same logic, if I see a friend pass me on my way to work, and if I see exactly the same person pass me again a little further down, I will conclude that the second one cannot be my friend. May be his look alike. Because my friends already passed by me some time back. But if I cannot rely on observable properties to be associated with their owner, what is really same in same things? And what is really different in different things? If a particle’s identity cannot be fixed, how can we fix the identity of things made of such particles?

I pin the external identity to observable properties. I pin the internal identity (which I am only able to experience for myself) on a state of consciousness that contains continuity of memories. Since I can never know anyone elses’ consciousness, what am I left with if I don’t have properties to rely on?

It’s just an identity crisis on a whole new dimension.

May be I understand quantum mechanics. Or may be I don’t. 🙂 🙂

Subjectivity Is The New Relativity

Every now and then I open “The Elegant Universe” and read a couple chapters. I like that book. If you don’t know, it’s a great book about string theory that explains other concepts of physics, like relativity and quantum mechanics quite well.

At first, a disclaimer. I am not a scientist. I just like to read about it and think. I may be completely off mark here. All I am saying is that this is what I ended up thinking.

Back to the topic. I was reading the chapter about Quantum theory and how Quantum theory predicts infinite probability of certain events in black holes. With the current mathematical understanding of probability, the probability of all the possible outcomes of an event should add up to 1. So what does any value of probability, may it be 2, 10 or infinity really mean? On the face it seems nonsense.

But if you think about probability a little differently, it does make sense.

When we think of events and their probability, one thing we always take for granted is presence of observer and the act of observation. So essentially we are not taking about events, but about “event-observations”. And what we call probability today is formed of two factors  -“happenabiliy” and “observability”. Observability is what we always take for granted.

When a event-observation occurs, there is some energy of the system under observation and there is some energy used to observe it. In most of the real life, the energy used to observe is so small compared to the energy of the system observed that it does not disturb the system that much.

Imagine a bag containing a black ball and white ball. If you take out a ball and it is black, the probability of the ball in the bag being white is 1. But that is provided the photons used for observation do not change the color of the ball.

If you used sufficiently high energy photons, you might significantly change the color of the balls while observing, may be by burning the surface of the ball or something. Thus, in spite of you using one black and one white balls, the probability of a ball being white or black will be smaller than 0.5 each. Thus the (probability of drawing white ball + probability of drawing black ball) will not be equal to 1. For sufficiently high energy photons, the combined probability (black and white) will be almost zero. This is a case where the observation has a high chance to disturb the system/event.

In other side extreme case, if it is impossible for observation to disturb the system, i.e. in case of black hole, where the amount of energy of system is infinite, making observation impossible, the probability should be infinite.

In scientific terms if I have to define observability, I will define it as the ratio of (enthalpy of the system-event / enthalpy of the observer). As this ratio starts approaching zero, observability goes to zero and the probability goes to infinity.

This brings us to the boundary of a very serious scientific issue. Even if you and I both are observing the same ball, we are using different photons. So in effect we have two event-observations. Or in another words, what you are watching is slightly different from what I am watching. That means every experience in reality is subjective. That literally threatens to pull the rug under the feet of science. Because we all agree that we don’t call it science unless it’s verifiable and it’s not verifiable unless it’s objective. No place for subjectivity.

Or is it? About a century back the world of physics was still Newtonian. Everything was absolute. Einstein shattered this world and introduced the concept of relativity. He postulated that the world looks different if you are in different frame of reference and and if there are discrepancies in different worlds as observed from different frames of reference, there is no way to reconcile. It’s just different experience.

May be we are at crossroads and need to make a decision. Science needs to be logical first or verifiable first? If it needs to be logical more than verifiable, then the natural logical development of the facts at our hand is subjectivity, the fact that your experience of an event and my experience of an event will be different and if there is an discrepancy, we will never be able to resolve it. If we really dig deep, we might find that the speed of light and other physics constants are slightly different for you and for me. Even in the same reference frame, the world relative to you is different from the world relative to me.

Thus, subjectivity might be the new relativity.