Communion Of Dreams

A state of matter, or a state of mind?

From page six of Communion of Dreams:

His expert was one of best, one of only a few hundred based on the new semifluid CPU technology that surpassed the best thin-film computers made by the Israelis. But it was a quirky technology, just a few years old, subject to problems that conventional computers didn’t have, and still not entirely understood. Even less settled was whether the experts based on this technology could finally be considered to be true AI. The superconducting gel that was the basis of the semifluid CPU was more alive than not, and the computer was largely self-determining once the projected energy matrix surrounding the gel was initiated by another computer. Building on the initial subsistence program, the computer would learn how to refine and control the matrix to improve its own ‘thinking’. The thin-film computers had long since passed the Turing test, and these semifluid systems seemed to be almost human. But did that constitute sentience? Jon considered it to be a moot point, of interest only to philosophers and ethicists.


And, perhaps, physicists:

And while the problem of consciousness is far from being solved, it is finally being formulated mathematically as a set of problems that researchers can understand, explore and discuss.

Today, Max Tegmark, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, sets out the fundamental problems that this new way of thinking raises. He shows how these problems can be formulated in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory. And he explains how thinking about consciousness in this way leads to precise questions about the nature of reality that the scientific process of experiment might help to tease apart.

Tegmark’s approach is to think of consciousness as a state of matter, like a solid, a liquid or a gas. “I conjecture that consciousness can be understood as yet another state of matter. Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness,” he says.


Good article. Read the whole thing.


Jim Downey

Via MetaFilter.

This is a big deal.

Short paragraph. Big implications:


Realizing robust quantum information transfer between long-lived qubit registers is a key challenge for quantum information science and technology. Here, we demonstrate unconditional teleportation of arbitrary quantum states between diamond spin qubits separated by 3 m. We prepare the teleporter through photon-mediated heralded entanglement between two distant electron spins and subsequently encode the source qubit in a single nuclear spin. By realizing a fully deterministic Bell-state measurement combined with real-time feed-forward quantum teleportation is achieved upon each attempt with an average state fidelity exceeding the classical limit. These results establish diamond spin qubits as a prime candidate for the realization of quantum networks for quantum communication and network-based quantum computing.


Decent explanation (at least from what I know) in this article. Excerpt:

Scientists in the Netherlands have moved a step closer to overriding one of Albert Einstein’s most famous objections to the implications of quantum mechanics, which he described as “spooky action at a distance.”

In a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science, physicists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Delft University of Technology reported that they were able to reliably teleport information between two quantum bits separated by three meters, or about 10 feet.


Ten feet may not sound like much, but it is a huge increase — previously, reliable teleportation of information was on the scale of just billionths of a meter. This change opens the door to functional quantum computing, which would have the same relation to current computing power that current computing power has to mechanical calculating machines of about the WWII era.


Jim Downey

All things are possible.*

This article is … surprisingly relevant to one of the main themes of St Cybi’s Well. Near the end:

Infinity gets us tangled up in knots. How are we to establish what is normal when, in the realm of the infinite, everything is possible? It is a mind-twisting notion that an infinite multiverse would have infinitely many copies of this and every other possible kind of universe.

A quick note on the two-day promo: there were very few additional downloads of Her Final Year yesterday, for a grand total worldwide of 56 copies. A bit surprising, a little disappointing. Communion of Dreams fared much better, with a total of 1092 downloads around the world. Thanks, everyone!


Jim Downey


Limits of perception.

From the beginning of Chapter 18 of Communion of Dreams:

“But there’s something else going on. Perhaps I was being too hasty in considering this to be just a four-dimensional problem.”

“Sorry? You lost me there,” said Jon.

Gish ignored him, his attention turning in on itself. “Yes. Clearly there’s a proximity effect. Perhaps anyone who touches the artifact becomes somehow connected to the outer surface of the bubble.”

“Wait, you mean that the artifact is some kind of doorway to another dimension?”

Gish looked at Jon, annoyed. “What? Doorway? No, just that the surface of the isolation field may not conform to our simple space-time geometry.”

Not too surprising that Robert Gish was aware of this recent theory, since he’s some 39 years in our future:

A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

“This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.

The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.

It’s an absolutely fascinating article & theory, and deserves consideration: that many of the observational problems with quantum mechanics may be due to our limited perspective from this space-time, just as our perspective from one reference point gave rise to the notion that there is something which could be considered a “universal time” — a notion which a certain Mr. Einstein dealt with.

Which, while all the math is completely beyond me, makes a certain amount of intuitive sense from the history of science. Which is: the slow progression of realization that none of our privileged positions are true. That the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth. That humankind isn’t different from all the other animals. That our perception of time isn’t the only one. So why should this set of spacial dimensions be the basis for reality?

Which is why I felt comfortable coming up with the “theoretical discovery” at the heart of Communion of Dreams, as discussed in this passage from Chapter 3:

Apparent Gravity was the third major application of the theories set forth in Hawking’s Conundrum, the great opus of Stephen Hawking which was not published until after his death in the earlier part of the century. He hadn’t released the work because evidently even he couldn’t really believe that it made any sense. It was, essentially, both too simple and too complex. And since he had died just shortly before the Fire-flu, with the chaos that brought, there had been a lag in his theory being fully understood and starting to be applied.

But it did account for all the established data, including much of the stuff that seemed valid but didn’t fit inside the previous paradigms. Using his theories, scientists and engineers learned that the structure of space itself could be manipulated. The first major application led to practical, safe, and efficient fusion power. Rather than forcing high-energy particles together, the forces keeping them apart were just removed. Or, more accurately, the manifestation of space between them was inverted. It took very little energy, was easy to control, but only worked in a very localized fashion.

And just for fun, here’s a little hint from my work on St. Cybi’s Well: there’s a character in there who has something of the perspective of the people working on the “amplituhedron theory” and applies it in his own way to explain the dark matter/dark energy problem. Well, it amuses me, anyway.

And I should get back to work on that.


Jim Downey

Via MeFi and elsewhere. The MeFi link has a lot of other links in both the post and the following discussion, if you would like more information and … perspective. 😉

Oh, and this seems entirely appropriate – start at 35 seconds:

“He dreams of stopping the wave.”

“I think he actually plans that ahead.”

* * * * * * *

Interesting news item:

Study broadens understanding of quantum mechanics

(—Former and current USC Dornsife physicists have led a study that represents the first, quantitative account of the universal features of disordered bosons—or quantum particles—in magnetic materials.

The study published in the Sept. 20 edition of Nature magazine broadens our understanding of quantum mechanics and challenges the accepted predication in quantum theory.

“It’s remarkable to find such universality in disordered quantum systems,” said co-author Stephan Haas, professor of physics and astronomy and vice dean for research in USC Dornsife. “And it’s even more amazing that we may have finally identified a real-life example for one of the most elusive quantum glasses in nature.”

Yeah, OK, so? What’s that actually mean?

Potentially, a lot. Quantum particles are thought of as wave-forms, operating in a range of space/states (this is known as quantum superposition). This characterization leads to such particles being ‘trapped’ — unable to escape a given space/state due to interference — what is termed ‘localization.’ Having a way to control localization is the key to much finer control over quantum effects, and helps to turn it from a theoretical physical problem almost to an engineering one.  From the above article:

Quantum magnets and other occurrences in quantum mechanics could set the stage for the next big breakthroughs in computing, alternative energy and transportation technologies such as magnetic levitating trains.

* * * * * * * *

“He dreams of stopping the wave.”

Who? Gorodish:

Gods, I love that movie.

* * * * * * *

“Alwyn, wait up, bud,” said my wife, as our dog trotted past us on our morning walk.

He went a couple more paces, but stopped before he got to the entrance of a care facility. That entrance comes off a busy street, and we only want him to cross it with us so as to keep him safe.

“I think he actually plans that ahead,” I said. “He trots ahead here so that he can sniff that bush for messages.”

Jim Downey

Perhaps it is (was) a Liquid Sky* after all.

An item in the news the other day caught my attention: that scientists at the LHC had managed to create the “hottest temperature” ever, purportedly of some “5.5 trillion degrees.”

It was meant to be one of NPR’s little funny quips, so there wasn’t much detail, as you can see from the transcript in the link above. But that’s not really how scientists really talk about results from the LHC, so I filed away the news and figured I’d look it up when I had a chance.

Well, I just did. And I was right — the actual results weren’t really explained in terms of “temperature.” Rather, it was put in terms of energy (MeV), and more important than some abstract conversion into temperatures was what was achieved: the production of a quark-gluon plasma.

Why is this important?

Because it is a glimpse into conditions during the earliest moments of the Big Bang, and may explain *why* there is matter at all. Here’s an excerpt about earlier research conducted at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) which first glimpsed a quark-gluon plamsa:

Predictions made prior to RHIC’s initial operations in 2000 expected that the quark-gluon plasma would exist as a gas. But RHIC’s first three years of operation showed that the matter produced at RHIC behaves as a liquid, whose constituent particles interact very strongly among themselves. This liquid matter has been described as nearly “perfect” in the sense that it flows with almost no frictional resistance, or viscosity. Such a “perfect” liquid doesn’t fit with the picture of “free” quarks and gluons physicists had previously used to describe the quark-gluon plasma.

Essentially, this was just confirmed by the LHC, using a slightly different protocol which achieved very similar results:

Collisions of lead ions in the LHC, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, recreate for a fleeting moment conditions similar to those of the early universe. By examining a billion or so of these collisions, the experiments have been able to make more precise measurements of the properties of matter under these extreme conditions.

“The field of heavy-ion physics is crucial for probing the properties of matter in the primordial universe, one of the key questions of fundamental physics that the LHC and its experiments are designed to address. It illustrates how in addition to the investigation of the recently discovered Higgs-like boson, physicists at the LHC are studying many other important phenomena in both proton-proton and lead-lead collisions,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer.

The upshot of this is not just more experimental data, but an interesting new theory: that our universe is, in some sense, what happened when that quark-gluon plasma cooled and became ‘crystallized’, so to speak, complete with the fractures and imperfections common to all crystals. Here’s the abstract of the theory:

Quantum graphity offers the intriguing notion that space emerges in the low-energy states of the spatial degrees of freedom of a dynamical lattice. Here we investigate metastable domain structures which are likely to exist in the low-energy phase of lattice evolution. Through an annealing process we explore the formation of metastable defects at domain boundaries and the effects of domain structures on the propagation of bosons. We show that these structures should have observable background-independent consequences including scattering, double imaging, and gravitational lensing-like effects.

And here’s an excerpt from the press release which may make a little more sense to people like me:

“A new theory, known as Quantum Graphity, suggests that space may be made up of indivisible building blocks, like tiny atoms. These indivisible blocks can be thought about as similar to pixels that make up an image on a screen. The challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly.”

However James Quach and his colleagues believe they may have figured out a way to see them indirectly.

“Think of the early universe as being like a liquid,” he said. “Then as the universe cools, it ‘crystallises’ into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorised this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice.”


Jim Downey

*Playing off the old and somewhat forgotten movie, of course, which was mind-blowing, not unlike the possibilities posed by this theory.


Zombie particles, bad animation, and a free book.

Confused about what the announcement of the “Higgs Boson” means? Did the Wikipedia article about the theoretical properties of the Higgs make your eyes glaze over? Then, my friend, you should check out this explanation using Zombie particles: Closing in on the God(damn it, Jim! I’m a physicist, not a priest!) particle

(Seriously, it’s a good explanation for the non-sciency folks.)

OK, now, here’s a little reminder of something:

Yup, it’s my birthday. And that means it is time for you to get a gift. A wonderful gift. A momentous gift. The gift of a much larger universe than you ever thought possible. In other words, it is time for you to go download the Kindle edition of my novel, Communion of Dreams. For free. Yup. Absolutely free. You don’t even need a Kindle to enjoy it, because there is a free Kindle emulator/app for just about every computer/tablet/mobile device out there.

Oh, and if you want to give me a little something in return? Just tell others to download the book. Seriously, that helps a huge amount. It gives me a better ranking. Builds mass and momentum. Gathers Zombie particles to me, as it were. And we all know how popular Zombies are, right?


Jim Downey

Various and sundry.

Bits and pieces this morning.

Phil Plait has Ten things you don’t know about the Earth.  A couple in there I didn’t know, or only knew incompletely.

The LHC goes online tomorrow.  You can play with a cool simulation here.  This is actually a very big deal, something on the order of the Apollo program in terms of size, complexity, and being a threshold event.

Play with your brain: Mighty Optical Illusions.

Be afraid, courtesy of Pharyngula.

Perhaps more later.

Jim Downey


Some little servings this morning.

Excellent large collection of images from the Large Hadron Collider at the Boston Globe’s site, via MeFi.

Via just about everywhere: the ‘Collector’s Edition‘ of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling.  I suppose if you sell as many books as Rowling does, an edition of 100,000 can be considered ‘limited for collectors’.   If anyone spends $100.00 on this book for me I will kick them.  Oh, I’ve written about Beedle before.

Got an Alice fixation?

Perhaps I should consider this idea – selling ‘shares’ of my future royalties for Communion of Dreams.  Think I can get a buck each for a couple dozen?  Also via MeFi.

All for now.  More later.

Jim Downey


Reality is what happens to you while you’re busy coming up with other theories.*

*Apologies to both John Lennon and Philip K. Dick.

Last Saturday, my sister and her husband came to town, and we celebrated Thanksgiving.  Yes, about six months late.

* * * * * * *

About two weeks ago Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance had a teaser post up about a new article of his in Scientific American.  Carroll has long been one of my favorite reads in cosmology, and his discussion of the cosmological basis for time’s arrow was delightful.  From the opening of the article:

Among the unnatural aspects of the universe, one stands out: time asymmetry. The microscopic laws of physics that underlie the behavior of the universe do not distinguish between past and future, yet the early universe—hot, dense, homogeneous—is completely different from today’s—cool, dilute, lumpy. The universe started off orderly and has been getting increasingly disorderly ever since. The asymmetry of time, the arrow that points from past to future, plays an unmistakable role in our everyday lives: it accounts for why we cannot turn an omelet into an egg, why ice cubes never spontaneously unmelt in a glass of water, and why we remember the past but not the future. And the origin of the asymmetry we experience can be traced all the way back to the orderliness of the universe near the big bang. Every time you break an egg, you are doing observational cosmology.

The arrow of time is arguably the most blatant feature of the universe that cosmologists are currently at an utter loss to explain. Increasingly, however, this puzzle about the universe we observe hints at the existence of a much larger spacetime we do not observe. It adds support to the notion that we are part of a multiverse whose dynamics help to explain the seemingly unnatural features of our local vicinity.

Carroll goes on to explore what those hints (and the implications of same) are in some detail, though all of it is suitable for a non-scientist.  The basic idea of how to reconcile the evident asymmetry is to consider our universe, as vast and ancient as it is, as only one small part of a greater whole.  We are living, as it were, in a quantum flux of the froth of spacetime of a larger multiverse:

Emit fo Worra
This scenario, proposed in 2004 by Jennifer Chen of the University of Chicago and me, provides a provocative solution to the origin of time asymmetry in our observable universe: we see only a tiny patch of the big picture, and this larger arena is fully time-symmetric. Entropy can increase without limit through the creation of new baby universes.

Best of all, this story can be told backward and forward in time. Imagine that we start with empty space at some particular moment and watch it evolve into the future and into the past. (It goes both ways because we are not presuming a unidirectional arrow of time.) Baby universes fluctuate into existence in both directions of time, eventually emptying out and giving birth to babies of their own. On ultralarge scales, such a multiverse would look statistically symmetric with respect to time—both the past and the future would feature new universes fluctuating into life and proliferating without bound. Each of them would experience an arrow of time, but half would have an arrow that was reversed with respect to that in the others.

A tantalizing hint of a larger picture, indeed.

* * * * * * *

Philip K. Dick, tormented mad genius that he was, said something that has become something of a touchstone for me:  “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

It is, in fact, a large part of the basis for my skeptical attitude towards life.  But it also leaves open the idea of examining and incorporating new information which might be contrary to my beliefs.  It is this idea which I explored over the 132,000 words of Communion of Dreams, though not everyone realizes this at first reading.

But what if reality only exists if you believe in it?

That’s a question discussed in another longish piece of science writing in the current issue of Seed Magazine, titled The Reality Tests:

Most of us would agree that there exists a world outside our minds. At the classical level of our perceptions, this belief is almost certainly correct. If your couch is blue, you will observe it as such whether drunk, in high spirits, or depressed; the color is surely independent of the majority of your mental states. If you discovered your couch were suddenly red, you could be sure there was a cause. The classical world is real, and not only in your head. Solipsism hasn’t really been a viable philosophical doctrine for decades, if not centuries.

But that reality goes right up against one of the basic notions of quantum mechanics: the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  Or does it?  For decades, the understanding of quantum effects was that it was applicable at the atomic-and-smaller level.  Only in such rare phenomenon as a Bose-Einstein Condensate (which in Communion is the basis for some of the long-range sensors being used to search for habitable planets outside our solar system) were quantum effects seen at a macroscopic scale.  But in theory, maybe our whole reality operates at a quantum level, regardless of scale:

Brukner and Kofler had a simple idea. They wanted to find out what would happen if they assumed that a reality similar to the one we experience is true—every large object has only one value for each measurable property that does not change. In other words, you know your couch is blue, and you don’t expect to be able to alter it just by looking. This form of realism, “macrorealism,” was first posited by Leggett in the 1980s.

Late last year Brukner and Kofler showed that it does not matter how many particles are around, or how large an object is, quantum mechanics always holds true. The reason we see our world as we do is because of what we use to observe it. The human body is a just barely adequate measuring device. Quantum mechanics does not always wash itself out, but to observe its effects for larger and larger objects we would need more and more accurate measurement devices. We just do not have the sensitivity to observe the quantum effects around us. In essence we do create the classical world we perceive, and as Brukner said, “There could be other classical worlds completely different from ours.”


* * * * * * *

Last Saturday, my sister and her husband came to town, and we celebrated Thanksgiving.  Yes, about six months late.   Because last year, going in to the usual Thanksgiving holiday, we had our hands full caring for Martha Sr and didn’t want to subject her to the disconcerting effect of having ‘strangers’ in the house.  Following Martha Sr’s death in February, other aspects of life had kept either my sister or us busy and unable to schedule a time to get together.

Until last weekend.  And that’s OK.  Because life is what we make of it.  Whether that applies to cosmology or not I’ll leave up to the scientists and philosophers for now (though I have weighed in on the matter as mentioned above and reserve the right to do so again in other books).  This I can tell you – it was good to see my sister and her husband, and the turkey dinner we ate was delicious.

Jim Downey