The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

The Time Eye: Nuts and Bolts of a Biological Future Detector

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Rubbing my temples and squinting, I foresee that no less a science writer than James Gleick will very shortly be publishing a book called Time Travel. Unlike his most famous book, Chaos, which was incredibly forward looking—introducing a whole generation to a really cool new concept, “the butterfly effect” (i.e., the way a butterfly flapping its wings in Hong Kong influences the weather in New York a week later)—Time Travel is … er, will be … oddly backward looking, a retrospective view of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi trope and its impact on our culture. It will only barely, glancingly, remark on the emerging science that is destined to make time travel, or at least time-traveling information, a reality.

I foresee that despite brief obligatory musings on John Wheeler and wormholes, Gleick will use the word “retrocausation” only once in the book: “Retrocausation is now a topic,” he will say, and leave it at that. Mostly, he will reiterate again and again how time travel is obviously impossible, and that it’s only a meme, a literary device, a metaphor for our increasingly sped-up and time-obsessed society. Causes precede effects, and that’s that.

God really doesn’t play dice; he’s truly a master archer instead, a divine Legolas who can swiftly turn and shoot causal arrows in both directions.

I’m a big admirer of Gleick, but this will be a pretty unfortunate oversight on his part. Retrocausation is indeed a topic, one that is about to sweep over our culture like a tidal wave. How did he miss it?

The idea has been there from the beginning in modern physics’ upper echelons: Effects can theoretically precede their causes. But only in the past decade or so has the technology finally existed to test the idea. An increasing number of truly mind-blowing experiments are now confirming what Yakir Aharonov, for example, intuited already in the 1960s—that every single causal event in our world, every single interaction between two particles, is not only propogating an influence “forward” in the intuitive billiard-ball fashion but also carrying channels of influence backward from the future to the present and from the present to the past.

Until now, physicists have misinterpreted this whole half of causation as “randomness”—quantum indeterminacy. But Einstein never liked randomness as an inherent property of nature, and Aharonov wasn’t satisfied either. Newly developed experiments utilizing methods to “weakly measure” particles at one point in time and then conventionally measure a subset of them at a second, later point in time—or “post-selection”—are showing Aharonov was right and that Einstein’s intuitions were on the mark: God really doesn’t play dice; he’s truly a master archer instead, a divine Legolas who can swiftly turn and shoot causal arrows in both directions. Every interaction a particle has with its environment or with an experimental measurement apparatus perturbs seemingly “random” aspects of its behavior, such as its spin, at earlier points in its history. In 2009, a team at Rochester University actually used measurement of a portion of a laser beam at time point B (post-selection) to deviate those photons when measured, weakly enough to not disturb them too much, at an earlier time point A—retrocausation, in other words.

legolasOther hints of causality’s two-faced-ness have been staring physicists in their one-way faces for a long time. Take for example the curious phenomenon known as “frustrated spontaneous emission.” It sounds like an embarrassing sexual complaint that psychotherapy might help with; actually it is a funny thing that happens to light-emitting atoms when they are put in surroundings that cannot absorb light. Ordinarily, atoms decay at a predictably random rate; but when there is nothing to receive their emitted photons, they get, well, frustrated, and withhold their photons. How do they “know” there is nowhere for their photons to go? According to physicist Ken Wharton, the answer is, again, retrocausation: The “random” decay of an atom is really determined retrocausally by the receiver of the photon it will emit. No receiver, then no decay. As in the Rochester experiment, some information is being passed, via that emitted photon (whenever there eventually is one), backward in time.

Or consider entanglement, every anomalist’s favorite quantum quirk. When particles are created together or interact in some way, their characteristics become correlated such that they cannot be described independently of each other; they become part of a single entangled state. If you then send these two particles—photons, say—way far away from each other, even to the ends of the universe, they will behave identically when one of them is measured. If you measure photon A and find that it has certain spin or polarity, the other one is guaranteed to have an identical or corresponding value, as if they somehow communicated with each other long-distance to get their stories straight. This phenomenon was originally a prediction made by Einstein and two of his colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (collectively known as “EPR”), as a way to show that quantum physics must be incomplete. Entanglement seemed paradoxical, and thus impossible, because somehow it would involve information traveling between those particles at a speed faster than light (i.e., instantaneously), thus violating the theory of Relativity. Yet in 1964, a CERN physicist named John Bell published a theorem proving that the EPR prediction actually held; subsequent experiments supported the existence of such states.

As told by David Kaiser in his fascinating book How the Hippies Saved Physics, Bell’s theorem lies at the heart of today’s revolutions in quantum computing, telecommunications, and cryptography. However, no one has ever been able to explain how entanglement works; it is just another of those many quantum bizarreries that are supposed to be just taken on faith. But Cambridge University philosopher and specialist in the physics of time, Huw Price, thinks the answer is to be found, once again, in retrocausality: The measurement that affects one of the two entangled particles sends information back in time to the point when they became entangled in the first place; thus that future event in the life of one of the particles became part of the destiny of the other particle—a kind of zig-zagging causal path.

Every time a photon bumps into another photon, that bump doesn’t just alter or nudge the properties of those particles in a forward direction; it is a transformation and an exchange of information in both directions. To shift to the quantum computing idiom of someone like Seth Lloyd, it “flips bits,” correlating the measurable properties of those photons and sending information also into the past of both photons, to influence how each behaved the last time it interacted with another particle, and how those other particles behaved in their previous interactions … and so on, back to the beginning of the universe.

It is really important to think about all this correctly. It does not mean that, tucked away safely in a few laboratories there are funny, exceptional situations where trivial eensy weensy effects precede trivial eensy weensy causes. No, the entire “way things go” is a compromise or handshake agreement between the ordinary, easy-to-understand “one thing after another” behavior of things that Newton said was all there is, and another opposite vector of influence interweaving with and deflecting and giving shape to events, a vector of influence that Newton’s brilliantly persuasive Laws effectively hid from our view for three whole centuries. It took the first generation of quantum physicists to detect that Newton’s Laws were flawed, that there was something else going on; it took nearly a century more of research and theorizing to begin to confirm that maybe this thing they had been calling “indeterminacy” all along was hiding the missing retrocausal link to our understandings of cause and effect.

A Future Detector

Now, if it is possible to detect the future in apparatuses in laboratories, you can bet that life, too, has found a way to build a future detector on the same principles, and that it is possibly even basic to life’s functioning. Post-selection, as Paul Davies has suggested, is possibly the basis for the arising of life; I argued in a previous post that it is responsible for the basic skewing or “queering” function of life, the way it “tunnels” toward order and complexity more often than bare chance of randomly jostling chemicals would predict. A biological future detector using weak measurement and post-selection would have been the first sense, the basis of all later organismic guidance systems.

Conceptually, a future detector is not unlike a simple eye, but in the time dimension instead of space.

Consider: A single-celled paramecium can hunt and learn from its experience without anything we would recognize as sense organs or a nervous system. Humble slime molds too can learn and solve mazes—their behavior is nonrandom, yet they lack a “brain” or any complex sense organs to give them information. You can bet that in both these cases there is some more basic intelligence at work than mere trial and error, and that it is precisely the cellular pre-sense I have proposed. Indeed, as if to confirm my speculations, a study reported by Fernando Alvarez in the Journal of Scientific Exploration shows that our friends the planarian worms are actually precognitive of noxious stimuli up to a minute in advance. If this is the case, they are truly little prophets.

The microtubules that were long thought to be just structural features in cells have for a few decades been suspected by forward-thinking biologists to be somehow the basis for a cellular nervous system, and although the quantum computing processes outlined by Stuart Hameroff in his publications with Roger Penrose are above my pay grade, I’ll wager the cellular pre-sense I’m proposing is subserved by these structures. Microtubules are perfect tubes of molecular proteins, each shaped like a pocket able to hold an electron at distances that would enable entanglement. Recent research has confirmed that these constantly expanding and contracting tubes, which form star-like, possibly brain-like “centrosomes” at the heart of single-celled organisms, do transport energy (which is just information) within cells according to quantum principles. It is surely no accident that they are especially abundant and complexly arrayed in neurons.

quantumcomputerlatticeBasically, a quantum computer is a lattice or matrix of quantum-coherent atoms or particles. The most famous property of quantum computers is their greatly enhanced capacity for complex calculation by using the magic of superposition; the computer can simultaneously take multiple paths to the right answer to a problem. But increasingly it is becoming clear that quantum coherence is the same thing as entanglement; and one property of entanglement is that, insofar as entangled particles are sequestered from outside interference, time is irrelevant to the system: A measurement of one particle or atom affects its entangled partners instantaneously. Theoretically, using post-selection and weak measurement, you can even send information into a quantum computer’s past. In a previous post I described one method for doing this devised by Seth Lloyd, using quantum teleportation—essentially a version of “quantum tunneling” in the temporal rather than spatial dimension. But there may be even simpler ways of achieving this, along the lines of the Rochester experiment.

Conceptually, it is not unlike a simple eye, but in the time dimension instead of space.

Imaging the Future

Consider the most basic type of eye in the animal kingdom: an enclosed pit with a photoreceptive retina at the bottom. In the absence of such a pit, there is very little a photoreceptor array can determine about the environment: It can tell you the presence of light and its intensity or frequency, but it cannot “image” the environment. This is a bit analogous to how the back-flowing influence of future interactions is interpreted by us as randomness or chance—generally we can’t say anything more specific about it, so it appears as a kind of noise that, at most, can be quantified (i.e., probability).

No grandfathers were harmed in the making of this precognitive biological guidance system.

But when you do what evolution gradually did (many, many independent times), which is set photoreceptors inside a recess that is mostly enclosed except for a small pupil-like opening overhead, akin to the aperture in a camera, you actually gain much more information from the in-falling light even though you have eliminated most of that light in doing so. Even in the absence of a magnifying lens (which came later and improves the photon-gathering capacity), a narrow aperture acts as a pinhole camera to project an inverted image onto the photoreceptive cells. All the sudden, you have the ability to capture a picture, a re-presentation, of what is outside in the environment, such as a predator or prey.

haliotis_pinhole_eyeThe pupil, the aperture, is a “selector” of light rays—by selecting only a small bundle of rays, it generates much more coherent information about energetic events unfolding in space, facilitating what Alfred Korzybski called space- and energy-binding (i.e., finding food). The basic pre-sense subserved by intracellular quantum computing would be, in contrast, a temporal sense, a time eye, which amounts to an ability to skew behavioral options in the direction of a “right answer”—a reward that lies ahead of the organism in time. It is a “right answer detector”—in other words, a post-selector, and thus a time-binder. To understand how it works, just turn the simple optical eye sideways, along the x-axis of time instead of the y-axis of space. Instead of a rain of light being constrained by a narrow aperture to form a coherent image on the surface below it, the rain of future causal influence in a sensitive quantum computer needs to be constrained at time point B to form a coherent “image” at the earlier time point A. Suddenly that random noise of future influence becomes coherent and carries information that is meaningful for the organism.

In other words, to create a time eye, evolution needed to do do exactly what the experimenters at Rochester did: create a system that weakly measures some particles and then measures a subset of them a second time. This requires the system to have a “measuring presence” at two points in time, not just one, the same way a primitive eye requires bodily tissue at two different distances from the external “seen” object (the retina and the pupil). That is no problem at all for an organism that is continuous in time just as it has extension in space.

Most minimally, the constraint, the “aperture” in this system, would be another measurement at a later time point, which is only possible if the organism has survived that long. Survival at time point B causes a detectable perturbation or deviation of a particle’s behavior at a prior time point A inside a microtubule quantum computer. A single such temporal “circuit” would not provide much useful information; but an array of such circuits representing multiple options in a decision-space, operating in tandem, would be a meaningful guidance system, orienting the organism toward that positive outcome: for instance, moving to the left versus moving to the right. If a move to the left sends an “I survived” message back a few microseconds in time, by causing a detectable perturbation or deviation in an electron’s spin, whereas a move to the right causes no such a deviation, and the organism is wired to automatically favor the option with the deviation, then this system—multiple precognitive circuits or “future eyes” linked together to guide behavior—will tend to produce “the correct answer” at a greater than statistically random frequency.

My guess is this is probably (at the crudest level) how microtubules are working as a cellular guidance system. All later “precognitive” systems, such as in the planarian brain or the human brain, are built on this basic platform. It is the basis of all intuition, for instance, and as I’ve suggested, the real nature of the unconscious: The brain, via 86 billion classically linked neurons, each controlled by myriad little quantum computers, is a mega-quantum computer that computes literally four-dimensionally, across its timespan, detecting (faintly) the future at multiple temporal distances out from the present, via post-selection. The “future” that each neuron is detecting is its own future behavior, nothing more—or, perhaps, those microtubules are conditioning the signaling at specific synapses, such that it is really individual synaptic connections that either tend to “survive” (by being potentiated/reinforced) or not. In either case, when assembled into a complex array of interlinked neurons, whole “representations” of future emotions and cognitive states can potentially be projected into the past—or at the very least, the behavior of neural circuits can be mildly conditioned or perturbed by those circuits’ future behavior in response to external stimuli, just as they are strongly conditioned or perturbed by past behavior in the form of the long-term potentiation that subserves memory.

In a complex brain where countless circuits compete for influence in various opponent systems, “reward” has replaced “survival” as the most relevant signal. Right neuronal/synaptic answers are rewarded. This basic orientation toward reward, coupled with its largely unconscious functioning, is why time paradoxes are not an issue for this future detector: There is no tendency to act to foreclose an unconsciously “foreseen” or fore-sensed outcome. Also, as in the experimental systems using weak measurement, the future signal remains noisy, more a “majority report” than anything coherent and unmistakeable. There is lots of room for error, and thus no grandfathers were harmed in the making of this precognitive biological guidance system.

The Planarian Effect

Although this theory has its hand-wavy elements—we still don’t know exactly how quantum computing works in microtubules—it is a lot less hand-wavy than “syntropy” and “morphic resonance” as accounts of how complex systems orient toward orderly future outcomes. We need not imagine anything intrinsic in the fabric of space, time, and causality that gives rise to “attractors” in the future. Order and complexity are mediated by precognitive cellular intelligence, and at higher levels, by brains. The already unimaginably complex classical interconnection of neurons that we can crudely study with today’s imaging tools is just one level of information processing, but it is built over a more fundamental level of quantum computing that we still have not even begun to map.

Peering into my future-scope, I can see that “post-selection” is going to be the concept du jour of the next decade.

And if I am right, we will no longer need to appeal to even hand-wavier notions of “transcendent mind” or “extended consciousness” to explain our basic pre-sense. As I’ve said again and again on this blog, consciousness (whatever it is or isn’t) is a big maguffin, the fake rabbit all the dogs are chasing around the racetrack. But we should applaud the chase, and even place bets, because the search for quantum consciousness will, as an unintended byproduct, fill in the nitty-gritty details of how the basic biological future-detector, the time eye, works … and thus make all the psi-skeptics eat crow.

planarianPeering into my future-scope, I can see that “post-selection,” the causal Darwinism that makes the time eye possible without paradox, is going to be the concept du jour of the next decade, the way Gleick’s “butterfly effect” was the concept du jour of the late 1980s. Maybe they will call it the “planarian effect,” for the way a loud noise at 3:00 PM affects the waggle of a worm at 2:59.*

NOTE:

*The previous most interesting discovery about planarian worms was made by memory researcher James McConnell back in the 1960s: If you subject one planarian worm to conditioned learning, then grind it up and feed it to another unconditioned worm, the cannibal worm acquires the first worm’s memories (see “Memory Transfer Through Cannibalism in Planarians“). Don’t try this at home. Unfortunately, McConnell’s methods and findings were subsequently criticized, but recent studies do show that decapitated planarians can grow new heads with their old memories intact, suggesting that their memories may indeed somehow be chemically rather than neuronally encoded, and not entirely in their wee brains.

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I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at] gmail.com.

15 Responses to “The Time Eye: Nuts and Bolts of a Biological Future Detector”

  • Suppose we look at it this way. Two plus two was always four, before anyone did math. Likewise, vinegar and baking soda reacted before anyone mixed them. Logically, all math and science must be similarly preexisting. Like a movie DVD. We are caught in a groove. It’s a great illusion though!

  • Interesting piece.

    We seem to have a new (time-) binding problem, but I’m not necessarily convinced we can dispense with the old one so easily. If all this is true at such a basic cellular level, we almost certainly have no idea what the brain as an organ ‘does.’ Perhaps this is all just what consciousness is and does; it’s primary; it navigates/orders the material world. Or in Hameroff’s view, as I understand it, it’s a co-creator. In some ways it seems that the evidence from quantum mechanics & parapsychology makes it more likely that the ‘material’ world, for all its vaunted ontological undeniability, is really the maguffin. In any case, Hameroff has a long & interesting interview on New Thinking Allowed on Youtube that’s worth a look (not sure how much he publishes), in which he also goes into the parapsychological evidence.

    Perhaps we equally have no idea ‘time’ really is either. Philosophizing seems somewhat premature before we know what kind of a ‘thing’ (what a statement!) retrocausality is. ‘Coming events cast their shadows before.’ That is, ‘before’ to us, looking ‘forward.’ Are events just an interlocking matrix woven into time, with ‘causality’ the red herring? I don’t have the confidence to pretend I know the answers.

    Regarding future rewards, Manilius in his Astronomica says that if the universe were devoid of purpose, we would (if we were here) observe an equal distribution of matter, which we do not. Why draw the line at cells, i.e., what was there before them?

  • Thanks, MD. I suspect strongly that once we understand precognition/time binding at the intracellular level, we will have a better understanding of consciousness, not vice versa. The notion that consciousness is somehow something other than brain (or somatic) functioning, while a nice/appealing idea, just is not supported by any evidence. But I have a feeling it’s more complex than the Orch-OR theory too, and that it really involves retrocausality.

    As for what preceded cells — theoretically, some sort of proto-life based on tubulin or some protein with similar properties as a natural quantum computer. That’s my guess, anyway!

    Cheers,
    Eric

  • Hi Vortex,
    It’s funny how eager the Skeptiko crowd is to dismiss or minimize the importance of the brain. The LSD study is being spun wildly by people who have no idea how neuroimaging works. The best anyone can tell with magnetoencephalography is activity of individual groups of at least 50,000 neurons, and only in the cortex, not what is happening in subcortical circuits, let alone the kinds of intracellular activity that is probably where the real action (i.e., “computation”) is occurring. The fact that most of the cortex seems calm during a hallucinogen experience that may be experientially rich says very little about what is actually happening in the brain at a level that really matters.

    The same criticism holds for the near-death stuff: The notion that “there is no brain activity” when people are having NDEs is preposterous if you know anything about how limited our current tools like fMRI are for measuring brain activity. All those can tell you is when oxygen is being delivered, not what signaling is actually continuing to happen at the neuronal level and what “computation” is most likely occurring at smaller scales. The brain is UNBELIEVABLY complex, and current neuroscience is only scratching the surface of that complexity.

    The French guy with massive hydrocephalus is interesting … but for every case like that there are probably thousands of people whose lesions or diminished cortical volume produce real and often tragic deficits (and that guy had an IQ of 75, let’s not forget). Again, selecting a VERY exceptional case and making any kind of argument about how unnecessary the brain is to mental functioning or consciousness, based on that, is absurd. The intense desire for the physical brain to be unnecessary to consciousness is blatantly obvious here. I desire that too, but in the absence of real evidence, it has to remain a wish/spiritual belief, not any kind of scientific argument.

    As for somaticism versus neuralism — I think you are right, at least to a degree. All cells are computing and they may (who knows) participate in “mental” activity — in fact I have my suspicions that some kind of “quantum coherence” involving the whole body could be involved in OOBEs and NDEs. (I say that very tentatively, because it is very hand-wavey … but the association of OOBE states with whole-body “electric” sensations/kundalini suggests to me something like coherence … although could also just be a brain-generated illusion too.) Also, the more we learn about glial cells, the more they seem to play an important role in the brain, and there are as many of them as there are neurons. But, that said, there is still no reason to doubt that the central nervous system is exponentially more central in what we understand as mental experience than other bodily tissues, my guess is because neurons have a lot more microtubules. The brain is an organ dedicated to processing huge, huge quantities of information, vastly more than the rest of the body’s systems.

    As for OOBEs, as I said in my “Psi’s Big Guns” article, I am undeniably intrigued by the possible reality of some kind of transcendent consciousness. I have not given up hope, and would certainly love these things to be evidence of the possibility of survival. But nothing I have read or experienced has convinced me, and ultimately I think it is important to be super-rigorous on this question … especially because everyone else seems to be running through the streets shouting “materialism is dead! Viva nonlocal consciousness!” based on stuff like that LSD study. After the big guns article I had some similar experiences which also were, yes, precognitive — thus my money is still on misdiagnosed precognition, not genuinely leaving the body. I’d love to be proved wrong, though!

    Cheers,
    Eric

  • Hello again, Eric,

    Thanks for a quick and detailed response for my rather hasty – and not well-worked, as you may see by some tautologies – comment. Now, I took my time to write a proper reply to you.

    From the start, let me say: despite my strong immaterialist (even a bit anti-materialist) leanings, I’m not as adamant about it as many people from Skeptiko (including Alex Tsakiris). Here and now, immaterialism is the position which I chose to support because, in my judgement, the preponderance of empirical data, rational argument and moral weight is on its side, rather than on the side of its rival stance – materialism. Yet I also recognise that preponderance does not provide one with decisiveness – rather than with a justified preference. And, no matter how strongly the preference is justified, there is always a chance that it will turn out to be wrong in the end.

    I will try to make a kind of a short list of facts and arguments which I include in the supportive case for immaterialism.

    I. The empirical observations pointing to the possibility of immaterial existence may be classified as four types: 1) psychosomatic effects (including exceptionally strong ones), 2) savantism and other anomalous skill acquisition, such as xenoglossy; 3) persistence of personal psyche during and/or afterwards brain damage and/or dysfunction, 4) distant mental influence.

    1) It is a well-known fact that our mentations can affect our organisms both positively and negatively, and sometimes very powerfully. Placebo and nocebo, psychosomatic illness and recovery, biofeedback and neurofeedback, organic change due to strong suggestion, self-directed neuroplastity – all these phenomena reminds us how our thoughts can affect our tissues, and seem to point us to the idea that our thoughts may be something more that the products of the tissues they affect. Of course, it is possible to claim, as some materialists did in the case of neuroplastity, that “brain rewires itself and its body”, yet intensity, complexity and persistence of the changes which both brain/body and psyche undergo – which are, however, combined with preservation of the overall neural/physical and mental structure – seem to suggest some kind of stable organising and orchestrating agent (or, at least, force) of non-physical nature.

    2) And what about the savants? There are many cases of people who had the complex skills in some area, be it music, mathematics or painting, without any learning and teaching at all: they just knew how to do it, but from where such detailed practical knowledge appeared? It was not just some piece of information which might be obtained precognitively; it was a whole ability to do something hard and unusual, obtained without a long training.

    Funnily, I, definitely not being a gifted savant genius of any kind, still can provide an example from my own life that does sound a bit “savant-like”: in the age of three, I learned how to read – entirely by myself, without any help from the adults. And the word “learned” is not entirely correct here, since I had not deliberately trained myself in such a young age; I hadn’t been sitting near a pile of books, trying to understand that these signs of their pages mean. One day, I just suddenly understood the texts – without any incremental steps leading me towards it. It just happened. So, from where did I acquire the knowledge as complex and difficult as a comprehension of a written language? What let me read whole lengthy books as a preschooler, while other kids were still slowly learning letters and simple words with their parents? I still wonder whether, and how, it could be explained materialistically.

    3) Sometimes, as I have already said in my previous post, human minds remain either undamaged or empowered during or after neural damages and dysfunctions. This category include the conditions which I have mentioned – near-death states, psychedelic states, brain damage cases – as well as some which I haven’t, such as terminal lucidity. Your objection was understandable – with our relatively undeveloped neural measurement devices and techniques, we indeed know too little about the brain to make ultimate conclusions. Yet, even today, such events are still quite impressive to me.

    For example, take near-death conditions: one thing that we do know is that blood flow is absent – it is pretty hard to have one when your heart isn’t working! Consequently, no new sustenance for the brain cells and tissues; and it hard to imagine how such deprivation of feeding would lead to an intensified activity, whether in the cortex or in the deeper brain regions. Such activity may not be entirely absent, yet, as you have yourself admitted, it would be on smaller scale, not on a larger one. So, it is still quite paradoxical – from the materialistic point of view – that such reduction of activity, even without being a complete cessation, would lead to uncannily lucid, coherent, memorable and transformative experiences.

    As for apparent decrease of cortex activity via psychedelic usage (and, if I remember correctly, also via non-chemical spiritual practice like deep meditation), I can myself propose a putative response from a materialist opponent – some kind of physicalistic reinterpretation of “filter theory”, in which “surface” cortex regions works not as a place where most higher mental activity occurs (as modern neuroscience currently maintain), but as a suppressing valve which limits the higher activity of a deeper brain regions; a kind of neuro-mysticism. Yet such theory would be both highly speculative and contradictory to the current mainstream ideas in neuroscience, that, as far as I know, localise higher mentations in a cortex.

    Or take the cases of terminal lucidity: why – and how – some people, being badly deteriorated neutrally and psychologically for a long time, sometimes suddenly recover their mental functioning for a very short period just before their death? One could issue some neuro-speculation here, of course, but no definitive – or even plausible – answer.

    As for the cases of brain damage with preservation of the psyche: no matter how exceptionally rare they are, they do exist and therefore provide an additional difficulty for materialist models; since, as William James rightfully noted, one need to demonstrate only a single white crow to refute the proposition that all crows are black. And, being able to recall cases of an adolescent boy who lost almost a whole hemisphere due to a shotgun blast, and a man whose brain was pierced through with a big hunting knife – and both had their mental faculties untouched – I wonder what kind of materialistic explanation could be for these specific events. The highly unusual localisation of most intercellular circuits in brain regions, which kept them away from the damaged brain areas? Seems badly implausible to me; what is the chance that this boy hadn’t been using one of his brain hemispheres (almost) at all before the shooting incident, so its loss left his psyche untouched? Or, in a case of a heavy knife crushing through several regions of the brain at once – is it plausible that no noticeable information was stored there, no necessary functioning happened?

    4) And there is probably the very hardest obstacle for a materialist position – distant mental influence, such as psychokinesis (PK), including bio-PK and macro-PK and – probably – telepathy. Even if we do remove telepathy from this list, in an attempt to reinterpret it as either precognition, or bio-PK, or some combination of them, PK effects would still remain – and still will be the most sordid pain for a materialist trying to explain them. The problem with bio- and macro-PK is their explicit, unequivocal violation of our current physical theory: unlike other – less spectacular – psychic effects, they simply cannot be reconciled with our current understanding of the “laws of physics”, not even tentatively. That’s why Stephen Braude maintains that PK is the most powerful empirical counter-argument against materialism. That’s why the well-documented levitations of St. Joseph was so important for Charles Tart and Michael Grosso. That’s why the experimentally validated levitations and other psychokinetic manifestations of Daniel Dunglas Home have turned William Crookes, once a staunch skeptic, into a psi proponent and one of the founders of the psychic research. That’s why Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair were so impressed by the Enfield Poltergeist, which they had investigated. That’s why Soviet scientists were so shocked by the psychokinetic abilities of Nina Kulagina. There is no way to explain such events materialistically without proposing some kind of a radical “new physics”. No surprise that such events were a special target of skeptics’ ire and persistent attempts to explain them away as hoaxes, no matter how well-attested the events were. They are the materialist’s damnation.

    A truly staunch materialist would probably say here: “A radical new physics? So be it; it is still better than giving up the prospect of an exhaustive explanation of the world in the framework of physical science. While we have no answer this day, we will have it some day, in the future”. Doesn’t it sound promissory? It is, since one statement about the modern materialism that is pretty certain is its promissory and speculative nature. It has no immediate explanation for the whole range of phenomena, yet its defenders promise that one day they will find it.

    But doesn’t the same thing can be said about immaterialism? Isn’t it promissory as well, always trying immaterialist explanation where materialist one is not yet given, insisting that materialists would not be able to fulfill their intellectual projects? Yes, it is.

    So, what we have here and now is the conflict between two equally speculative notions – promissory materialism and promissory immaterialism. Both are trying to give us a general interpretation of reality and of ourselves which rises above the very small amount of knowledge humanity has for now, tries to provide us with a preliminary comprehension of something we have not yet fully grasped. It is worth remembering that our knowledge is still miniscule and our ignorance is grandiose; while we love to indulge ourselves in self-adulatory claims of having definite answers to the mysteries of existence, of certain understanding what is possible and what is not, in fact we just have scratched the surface of the unknown (in case of neuroscience, we are literally scratching the surface of the brain with our relatively undeveloped measurement instruments, without much indication what is happening deeper).

    Yet, for me, the promise of immaterialism sounds much more powerful, and much more persuasive, than the one of its rival. There is two reasons for that.

    II. The first reason is the theoretical and intellectual weakness – if not total unviability – of materialist worldview. Philosophical arguments against materialism as ontological notion is numerous and strong, from the Hard Problem and Explanatory Gap to Binding Problem and Incomputability; but I’ll explain apparent ontological failure of materialism short and simple. The “matter” is a permanent fiction. It is an intellectual fantasy, a proposition which cannot be validated or invalidated by experience, since imaginary “material reality” which it postulates is forever inaccessible from the actual experiential reality we all live in. We can only believe in it, but we cannot check whether this belief is justified. And when materialists try to explain our undeniable phenomenal existence with appeals to irredeemably dubious material essence, they always fail to produce even a speculative answer, since they cannot propose some initial step from which the speculation can start.

    III. And the second reason I would describe as moral or ethical: materialism, if taken really seriously, as a genuine and ultimate explanation of all there is, will either eradicate – or, at least, completely devaluate – the whole reality. And by whole reality I mean literally EVERYTHING: from social values and cultural meanings to the whole existential, phenomenal world we live in. Materialism will literally deprive anyone of their lives, since, according to its tenets, all life – all direct experience – is an illusion produced by ever-intangible bits of neural matter. And this illusion cannot even be genuinely shared, since everyone is doomed to a life-long solitary confinement within one’s own brain, with irreversible annihilation as its only ending. So, materialism, being pulled to the final conclusions resulting from its premises, is simply all-encompassing eliminative nihilism, one of the two most inhuman notions produced by human intellection, with eternal hellish damnation as its only counterpart.

    Of course, it does not automatically mean that an idea of materialism, as well as idea of endless torment, is false – but it does mean that we should demand the most decisive evidence and argumentation to accept it. And, as yet, all what we have are permanently unverifiable metaphysical propositions backed by speculative promises to explain the loads of apparently contradictory evidence.

    So, this is the reasons why I chose the promise of immaterialism over the one of materialism. My choice is, certainly, not infallible; it is a bet I made, a bet which, in my opinion, is empirically, rationally and morally justified. You, and anyone else, are free to disagree!

  • Eric, I just want to add here a relevant comment made by David Bailey from Skeptiko Forum:

    http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/new-book-self-doesnt-die.3413/page-14#post-101005

    ________________________

    One particular insight I have got from the book, is that many NDE’s involve long periods of cardiac arrest that would normally be expected to cause extreme brain damage. The suggestion is that this may be akin to the small number of NDE’s in which the NDE’er is healed of some severe illness as well as experiencing an NDE.

    I realised that that was one of the features of many NDE accounts that had always puzzled me – four minutes is supposed to be the maximum time before the brain suffers damage, and yet many NDE accounts obviously involve much longer periods of time.

    David

    ________________________

    So, Eric, what do you think of this observation in partcular? It is indeed seems to be quite common (yet not necessary) for NDEs to involve LONG-TERM deprivation of blood feed for the brain, yet NDErs are not usually physically or mentally damaged – some of them even undergone “micraculous healings” (or “exeptionally effective psychosomatic recoveries”, to express it in a more sciency-sounding way).

    Eric, I understand you probably have no time for replying to my lengthy posts, and do not blame you for it. Yet, I hope, you may share your thoughts just on this specific NDE-related issue. I would love to read your response!

  • I think I didn’t read this essay until today because today was the day I needed to read it.

  • Hi Vortex,
    My response is what it has always been: We know way too little about the brain or what it is capable of, at this point, to make claims about what is or is not possible during a period of cardiac arrest. And there are multiple ways of interpreting people’s NDE experiences. Not saying these aren’t really interesting altered states, or that something paranormal isn’t going on — I think there is — but just that we can’t at this point use them to draw any claims about consciousness and its (in)dependence on matter.
    Eric

  • Eric, have you watched the new sci-fi movie “Arrival”?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2543164/

    If you haven’t, I recommend you to do it, since you like to fill your posts with allusions to and examples from the works of fiction, be it books or movies. And “Arrival” is the movie which seems to echo, even to illustrate a bit, many of your ideas.

    Who knows – maybe it would inspire you enough to make a new blog post, or a write a new book chapter…

  • Hi Vortex,
    Yes, Arrival is excellent, and it does illustrate my themes really well. The main character’s “psi” solutions are a result of reaching into her own future (albeit unknowingly), such as reading a book she will write, or my favorite scene, telling the Chinese General his wife’s dying words based on meeting him at the gala later. This is exactly how mediumship works, I think.
    If I were to make a minor quibble, I’d say she would not have been able to know so much about her daughter. That would not be the kind of information that could be passed back with that kind of clarity — it would be much more oblique and obscure.
    But that’s petty niggling — it’s a great movie, one of the best SF films in years.
    Eric

  • I sent Eric Wargo an email.

    I’ve had lots of precognition. It is always a trip. I recorded a dream that was more real than being awake and so I thought it would come true. Very detailed dream. Three years later I got this uncanny feeling looking at a newspaper article photo. It was my activist friends standing on the roof of a house with Native American activists, holding a banner, to protect a sacred forest. I had forgotten about my dream, drove up to my parents where my journal was, and discovered my journal entry, exactly the same as the newspaper photo. I had gotten arrested doing civil disobedience for that issue that was featured in the EArth First! Journal in 1998 – Minnehaha Free State in Minnesota. I was the EArth First! contact in the journal in 1995 when I had the dream. Strange but true. Then I was listening to Coasttocoastam and this caller said they had a dream that came true in detail 3 years later! So what does that tell us about the current reality – it is a holographic waking dream indeed. I have a blog with books, articles, interviews, and training from 10 years of research after I finished my master’s degree. I know qigong masters that can leave their body at will – this stuff is real. haha.

  • I’m wondering if any of the metrics gathered by Helmholtz to support his “prediction machine” hypothesis is salient here (regardless of what Helmholtz himself thought underpinned the process).

  • Hi Eric,
    Yes, everything in the field of computational neuroscience would need to be revisited and reassessed if this hypothesis at all bears fruit. It’s an area I have only started delving into.
    On the one hand it is easy (for me) to say that the organism must be reaching into the future to respond so well to its environment; on the other hand, I look at recent videos of AI drones doing astonishingly fast maneuvers, like insects, without the benefit of precognition and it reminds me that these arguments can’t be based on what we imagine is or isn’t possible for a classically computational brain. Sets a high bar for the hypothesis!
    Eric

  • Eric – thanks for the comment about Helmholtz. Stuart Hameroff has a recent article explaining how precognition works. Although he limits the example to milliseconds (i.e. when Michael Jordan is in the “zone” and therefore external perception slows down while his internal perception speeds up). So Hameroff says retrocausality is really – I think this is essentially the quantum Zeno Effect but also explained by de Broglie’s Law of Phase Harmony.

    The reason Helmholtz and Western science in general is lacking – is now being discovered – it’s called “noncommutative phase-space” or as Gerard ‘t Hooft calls it in his latest essay, “a timelike mobius strip.”

    So ‘t Hooft argues we exist within virtual quantum black holes that are created from this “timelike moebius strip.” In other words noncommutative phase-space.

    So astrophysicist Paul S. Wesson also discovered this truth – he said that we exist in a five dimensional black hole and so the superluminal de Broglie phase waves are very real, explaining telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, etc.

    So what this means is light, as a photon, is inherently non-local, from its own reference frame. In “special relativity” it has no reference frame and zero mass, but in fact “light is heavy” meaning light has relativized momentum – the “hidden momentum” of light. ‘t Hooft has an essay on this “light is heavy” secret.

    So this “hidden momentum” is the superluminal force – what quantum physicist B.J. Hiley calls the “novel” self force that is non-local. Or physicist Raymond Chiao states – if you experience the speed of light, then you would experience being in two places at the same time.

    In Taoist Alchemy this is called “movement in non-doing” by the “original spirit.” So when “light is turned around” – this means light becomes “heavy” in that it creates qi or hidden momentum energy – what Erik Verlinde calls the negative entropy phonons that reverse spacetime.

    So mathematician Alain Connes specifies the simplest universal scaling system is noncommutative time-frequency as (2,3, infinity) and this unifies quantum mechanics and relativity.

    It’s that simple! But it got covered up by Plato and Archytas when Western science was created. It is quite amazing that this got covered up. Math professor Luigi Borzacchini calls the secret nonwestern music origins of the Greek Miracle of the “continuum” and “incommensurability” to be “shocking” and “really astonishing.”

    So Western harmonics has relied on symmetric math that had to ignore the fact that 2/3 is C to F as the subharmonic while 3/2 is C to G as the overtone harmonic. That is the noncommutative phase space of being in two places simultaneously – or what the Taoist alchemists call the “Unending Spiral of Fifths.”

    My blog website has more details but when time is zero then entanglement is infinite as proto-consciousness that is this non-local noncommutative phase-space or “proto-consciousness” of the universe. But it is actually time-like and so in constant motion, relative to the light that perceives it – we exist within noncommutative phase-space. Paul S. Wesson said it explains spirituality. So 4D spacetime arises from 5D as noncommutative phase-space.

    Actually Hameroff says music best explains his quantum consciousness model – based on a “noncommutative scalar” field that is not based on Western music theory, but Indian music theory. Just as with Taoism, Indian music theory is also based on the Perfect Fifth/Perfect Fourth as noncommutative time-frequency resonance, the natural harmonics.