Brian Josephson (2012) - The Real M-Theory

Thank you very much. Well now for something completely different as they say. Earlier on this morning you heard a commercial by Professor Gross, a commercial for quantum mechanics. I think he must have had some point in his career done some selling of encyclopaedias or used cars. But anyway towards the end he admitted that there were some things which were not yet very well understood. And I think what I'm about to say may help to fill in these gaps. Ok, you will notice incidentally that of this great list of things which quantum theory could do very well biology wasn't one of them. And in fact there are problems with biology. Around about 1990 I had a paper in the journal, Foundations of Physics which is called "Limitations to the Universality of Quantum Mechanics". And nobody has yet said there's anything wrong with the arguments. But anyway physics is based on mathematical descriptions and these are themselves limited. One problem is that the usual approach involves some equation for time variation. And that implies that you take a snap shot of a system at some very precise time and you then use some mathematics to follow it forwards. Well, if there are these fluctuations which are in fact infinite and have to be fiddled away, then taking a snap shot is meaningless. And in fact has led to a series of problems. So there's an alternative point of view I'm going to talk about which perhaps one should associate mainly with the ideas of John Wheeler which I'll talk about in a moment. But the approach I've taken has been influenced by a collaborator, Ilexa Yardley, who has written up something called circular theory. And I have been largely putting this into more rigorous form. But first of all, well the question anyway is whether we should ground physics on mathematics which is the usual assumption in physics or something which one might call creative observation which I'll come to in a moment. It was Wheeler who introduced the idea of creative observation. Now, let me just say what problems the mathematical path has run into. It started off...The mathematical enterprise as you could say started off with Newton, his mechanics, laws, mathematical laws which described all sorts of things like the planetary orbits. Then Maxwell did the same for electromagnetism. That however wasn't entirely satisfactory and had to be replaced by quantum theory about 100 years ago. Then this was boosted by quantum electrodynamics which took the fields into consideration. Then standard model which applied... which worked quite well with many... describing a large number of particles. Now the problem was integrating that with gravity because this started not being finitely renormalisable. But people did fix this eventually. There was a multidimensional fix with things like strings and supersymmetry. However, then the mathematics started to get disconnected from the physics. Elegant mathematics and this dreaming of a final theory. But that didn't quite work out the way people expected and one problem David Gross didn't mention is that there are an infinite number of, well not infinite, 10^520 different universes you get by folding up your extra dimensions in different ways. So, there's a bit of a problem there. Quite apart from a question of how do you mathematise biology and so on which I won't go into here. Ok, well, then around about 1990 John Wheeler wrote this amazing article "Law without Law". You can find it with a search "Wheeler, Law without Law" and download it. Now what I have on this page is a synthesis of a number of remarks made in that paper. He said: "The scope of physics is greater than we once realised." as I'll come to in a moment, If the views we are exploring here are correct, one principle observer participant suffices to build everything". So, quite a dramatic claim. So let me say what his idea was. Well, it was based on quantum observation. The theory of observation is part of quantum mechanics and says we... through every observation there's a certain observable and we collapse away function into an eigenstate around observable. So this is kind of intervention in the world when we observe it. And it's something that can't be reduced to passive observation because, roughly because, different kinds of observations do different kinds of things to a system. And so a classic example is if you have a beam of particles and you have a detector which observes where that particle is, then suddenly the beam collapses into a point. Whereas if instead you do some other observation like interference experiments, that cannot be explained as a point particle but only as a wave. So there's something strange there. You sort of suddenly put a constraint on a system when you observe it. So he thought perhaps that's all you needed to explain everything. But he didn't have a well defined theory to explain that. In fact to get anywhere with this you have to think in terms of organised observation. A disorganised observation is not going to do anything like make, create some special kind of system. In fact Hameroff and Penrose introduced the idea of orchestrated collapse. They had the brain doing it. Whereas Henry Stapp had the idea that mind is not contained within quantum mechanics and mind can do various interesting things. So, in the next slide I have the quotes of Hameroff and Penrose first of all. Henry Stapp had a much more esoteric idea. which then automatically exercises top level control over the flow of neutral excitations in the brain through action of the laws of nature..." etc, etc. And unity of conscious thought he thought came into it selecting a single code. So he has a more information theoretic approach. Now, I think this needs to be extended a little further but let me go through the sequence as it were. Traditional quantum mechanical observation deals with an isolated measurement and specified measurement or instrument. Now we have technical devices which exert more control on nature. And they're using an organised set of measurements and they are interactive. So any kind of gadget we have which like a robot controlling something, that's making a lot of observations and it's using these measurements in an organised sort of way. But those are not natural phenomena. So I turn now to biology and talk about biological systems which do things like being adaptive. Also what's very important, biological systems can aggregate together and join in activity. And this aggregation is very important in the theory I'm talking about. They made also use of representations and use information. Ok, now, this is at the moment a qualitative theory. I'll later on be describing 2 more rigorous things we've done, though not applied to this specific theory. But I'm going to introduce the kind of metaphor which interestingly enough links to string theory. A metaphor... Sorry, I haven't got the dance metaphor yet. Ok, I talked about systems self-organising themselves to do things. And I realised when I produced this title, slide title, organisation through activity, that it was very similar to Prigogine's "Order through fluctuations". Prigogine noted that when you get far from equilibrium or in a fluctuation you tended to get interesting kinds of organisation. And biological systems are doing the same kind of thing. They organise themselves through doing things. If say, you learn to walk then an organised structure gradually forms. And the way this does basically is that you add new possibilities and if the new possibilities support that action you join them to your system. And you ignore something you do which doesn't fit in with that activity. So, in fact biological systems naturally do have a system, this business of creating a unit which performs particular actions. So, this is a kind of thing which we want to put into our model as being something fundamental. So systems engage or disengage from actions as skills develop. So you get organised collections. An example of an organised collection with various models are flocking birds. And a student of mine did a similar thing through learning a skill of balance. And you might say roughly that the activity is a kind of reference frame to decide what should join in. And you produce a kind of condensate. But this is a different kind of system to the physical condensate where you condense lots of versions of the same. In biology you collect together things which cooperate together. So now I'm going to make my grand assumption that there is a biological phase of reality where roughly speaking biological things happen. Now one way to envisage this is to say that it's something on the border between 2 regimes that physicists think about. Say, a collection of gas particles where these move in a pretty random way, that's one extreme. And the solid where you have a rigid structure is a different kind of situation. In between you can have a system where there's constraints combined with movement. And this seems to be the key thing. So, the idea roughly is that a thing which we haven't yet studied very much in physics. Well, there's a field of study called order of chaos which studies some of this, but I think is missing out on the biological aspect. So you imagine things are moving about and they form groups and they disintegrate. And that's the kind of situation which is really a new situation with potentially new physics. You think of it in terms of a dance if you like. That's people moving in a way that's constrained by the fact that they mustn't glide into each other. Some dances have this feature of joining together and splitting up, complicated choreography. Subgroups form but exhibit organised movement. And Yardley's theory proposes 2 things circling around each other. But also you might see David Gross's video of a moving string as being a kind of dance. Just to show you this business of... Let's see if this is going to work. These are Chinese motorbikes going around in organised patterns. It's just about a minute here. They change their form and then a new object is introduced into the system. You'll see in a moment. They got up to 4 but I'm only going to show you 3 of them. Right here we are, the third, this becomes a free body system. And you have to find a new way in which the systems can move together. And they start off in a simple circling mode but then it becomes more complicated. I introduced the odd jump in editing. So here there's a more complicated regime. I'll go on to the next slide. This illustrates a kind of new physics which I'm proposing. Coordinated action, there's also resonance. There wasn't really resonance in that illustration but you can have 2 systems, each oscillating and sometimes they lock into resonance. So this is a new kind of thing that can happen which is interesting because it means that it's both 2 systems and 1. You can picture systems as being a unit with a particular joint behaviour. But in some situations you can... it's a useful model to think of separate systems. So in Yardley's theory you get some groups forming and reforming. And the point is that this kind of thing can evolve. It will evolve if some systems have survived better than others or have greater value than others. Now this is if this develops, if this biological aspect develops and I'll say a little bit about how it develops in a moment. So really we're talking about new phenomena and a new perspective in things which when people have done a lot more work on it, should give rise to new physics. And this I believe is what will fill the gap that David talked about this morning. And it's worth considering. It's a new concept and doesn't really have anything artificial in it, like extra dimensions. It's just a thing that happens naturally when you have things that are moving movements are constrained and units form and can dissolve. Well now, the critical thing which makes biology different is evolution. More and more advanced structures appear through evolution. That's where complexes form. And I just thought of a nice example of this particular patterns forming is a chess game where you could say it's a kind of dance of the pieces. But particular forms like the pin and the fork have survival value. Similarly in this biological world particular patterns have survival value. Things like feeding and reproduction. Those are natural things that happen in the biological realm. So what I'm proposing is that there are units which can form, as they form and reform will become more complicated forms. And eventually will be the explanation for physics. We'll get back to physics eventually, this isn't just biology. So now, we usually think of life as being something with a lot of complicated apparatus, DNA, molecules with specific properties and so on. What I'm proposing is that this at some level beyond the standard model say we have something similar happen, a subtle biosphere. So this raises the question of what is actually needed to get biology under way. And in a way it's like something lighting a fire. If biology can get going, then you can get these more and more complicated forms. And I believe all that's needed basically is structures forming and dissolving and a code and a supportive environment. One thing that's equivalent to DNA is... Well, you can think of DNA as being mutual templates. One of the strands is a template in which you form the complementary strand. Then they split up. The complimentary strand is something, a template on which the first strand can form again. In other words, you don't really need very much to get replication. There just needs to be these complementary structures will provide one mechanism for it. Then you'll get cumulative developments as happens with software. And now here's an idea as to what... how you might get more and more complicated things developing. Well, first of all there are signals. A signal is basically something which can connect with something else. So that's a simple 1 structure, well 2 structures interacting that allows signals. And that includes semantics, what a signal means. Syntax and language systems, well, that's one development where things can get complex. And the philosopher Susanne Langer noted that symbols can work in 2 ways. One is more associated with science where you use symbols to refer to something. Whereas in art you have symbols which have particular affects. And I'll get into this because one of the things you get from this which you don't get in conventional approach is music. Well ok, you can combine symbols to make propositions. So the idea of things being true and false occurs. From that there's logic which is a relationship between propositions. Then you can go to formal systems and mathematics. Then things which satisfy mathematical laws and universes. And these universes can contain matter and life. So I'm fairly sure each of these steps could be studied with models. We did a model with one simple thing. So the idea is you find a system which can do something like deal with propositions. And then some combination of such systems might be able to do something useful like logic which would be selected out. So, just this making more complicated systems with selection of those which are useful is going to give you in principle mathematics. And then you say... What actually happens in culture is you develop mathematics and then mathematical models to describe the surroundings. And then you can get to the work of designing things. And you design things on the basis of mathematical laws. And the universe is just a technology, you could call it, based on the subtle life. And this incidentally will account for the universe being supportive of life because naturally this subtle life is going to make things which have value to it. And presumably some forms of life could have value. So this is a bit like the Penrose triangle. I think in one of his books, "Shadows of a Mind", I believe it's the end of the book where he notes: "Physicals systems... Mind is based on physical systems and mathematics originates, mathematics and physics are both mathematical laws." Well, he didn't quite have that right because Hameroff and Penrose thought that the only kind of mind you can get is a brain whereas one can perfectly well have these biological developments in more subtle systems. So locating mind initially in the subtle biosphere clarifies a Penrose triangle idea. In fact Wheeler's article assumes that the universe starts off as something which doesn't have life, whereas it has observers and observers can then work away shaping the universe. So this is essentially the same kind of idea. Ok so, I say this is real M-theory and may help to take us beyond where we are now. And now a little bit of controversy before I close. Well, I won't go into that. Oh, now I'll just mention space and music. Well, as in the modern approach space is not something fixed, it may change dimensions and so on. So if we have an observer which can look at space, it can do some shaping on it. And so the idea is we don't get to our universe by some arbitrary folding up mechanism. But it's an organised process with a mind that went before space. Music, well, let me simply say that there are various things which I believe cannot properly be explained in terms of regular theory. I did a collaboration with a musicologist, Tethys Carpenter; you can find our paper on our web pages if you follow the publications list. Well, a quote from our paper is: Psychologists who say this is what goes on in music do not explain things like that. But the kind of explanations we have been talking about will fit in with that. That's because you know a code which can be functional. Now, I said we have some things along these lines. There's a paper by myself and Hermann Hauser called "Multi stage acquisition of intelligent behaviour" that explained the logic of developments in terms of a picture like this. And George Osborne did a thesis on cognitive mechanisms of guiding psychological developments. And this was an actual computer program which took structures and assembled them, observed the way these structures behaved and was able to begin cognitive developments. And that was going nicely until the powers that be declared that he couldn't go on with this if he wanted to continue as a student, weird business. Templates, well this is a concept which is useful for explaining how things develop. Your simple structures act to organise complicated behaviour. So, I think this is the real M-theory. Now getting on to the more controversial bits. Back in 1987 I wrote a paper for the Journal of Physics Education where I proposed that eventually physics and spirituality would be unified. As you will see it's quite similar to this but it's taken quite a time to put that into... to clarify what was going on. That we've a subtle level. And then I said this would actually connect with religion. So scientists might have problems with this. Various things, eastern philosophy which was really my starting point. That mind is the basis of everything. I read a book by a theologian Keith Ward which actually explained creation in terms that matched very well the view that I was getting from my own approach. Then there's intelligent design. Now, that's very strange and political because to be a scientist you have to take as an axiom that intelligent design is wrong and expend all your efforts on one side. Now, in fact admittedly the creationist people are interested in this. But they made a decision to see what could be got from science. And intelligent design is in fact an entirely scientific enterprise. Stephen Meyer is a philosopher with an impeccable pedigree, mainly a PhD from Cambridge. He has written this book "Signature in a Cell" which discusses the science. He's saying how cells have a remarkably complicated structure and it's hard to see how these could be produced. Whereas in my picture the subtle level is able to experiment with designs and get better and better ones. It's not constrained by the universe. Now I see that my time is almost done which is good because this last slide is the end. I'm the sheep that is separated from the other sheep, as shown in this painting by my wife. Thank you very much.

Brian Josephson (2012)

The Real M-Theory

Brian Josephson (2012)

The Real M-Theory

Abstract

How can one advance a working hypothesis that will not be wrong tomorrow and ridiculous the day after? (Wheeler [1])

Beyond the Standard Model we find uncertainty and confusion, with both unclarity as to which might be the correct theory, as well as little in the way of connections between theory and experiment. But, even in less exotic contexts, issues such as non-locality and entanglement, and the role of the observer, point to the existence of something not, as yet, clearly understood. The missing factor, it will be suggested, is the process of ‘observer-participancy’, or more simply agency, that Wheeler [1] hypothesised might ‘[suffice] to build everything’.

Wheeler’s hypothesis was an intuitive leap based on the idea that an elementary quantum observation to some degree imposes a corresponding form on reality but this, from the present perspective, misses the point. Minds more generally impose form on reality, suggesting (cf. Stapp [2]) that in quantum observation we see some kind of mind at work. It is then logical to suggest that whereas mind or agency is involved in processes such as particle detection in some limited form, a less limited form might be involved in more dramatic manifestations of reality, such as our universe.

Wheeler did not make such a suggestion explicitly, though he may well have had it in his mind. It was wise for him to use unemotional terminology such as observer-participancy, rather than some term such as agency which might arouse ‘attack dogs’ (as has happened to those who have proposed this kind of ideas using terms such as agency or intelligence [3]). But to rule out ideas a priori is unscientific.

What was missing from Wheeler’s analysis was a clear understanding of what is involved in being a subject. This belongs more to the field of study known as cognitive science, from which it follows that cognitive models represent the direction from which Wheeler’s ideas should be approached in order to develop them further. Networks that evolve to optimise their collective functioning, including especially the development of inter-system cooperation, appear to have a crucial role to play. We hypothesise that ‘the real M-theory’ involves networks functioning as minds, with both quantum mechanics and space-time geometry emerging as the behaviour of systems of this kind in particular situations, rather than being fundamental. Models based on such principles should reveal the extent to which such a picture is valid.

[1] Wheeler, J.A.: Law without Law. In: Wheeler, J.A.: and Zurek W.H. (eds.) Quantum Theory and Measurement pp. 182–213. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1983).
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/pdfs/wheeler_law_without_law.pdf

[2] H. P. Stapp, Found. Phys. 12, 363-99, 1982; 15, 35-47, 1985

[3] Expelled: no intelligence allowed. http://youtu.be/obqWnzAcWWA

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