A lot of ground is covered in “The Secrets of Consciousness” but for many who are interested in the subject, little new is revealed.
Many articles and books have been written about the easy and hard part of the theory of consciousness.
The easy part is knowledge of the physical characteristics and mechanics of brain function–the “how and where” of information that is stored and transmitted by the brain.
The hard part remains the explanation of what consciousness means, particularly the “whys”. Why are living things aware of themselves, others, and the world from information transmission within a brain. Why do humans get angry? Why do we love? Why do we hate? Why are we sad or happy? Is everything in the universe conscious?
(It is somewhat surprising that “A Thousand Brains” theory is not revealed in “The Secrets…” but it may be timing of publication. Or it may be scientist’s discounting of an engineer’s qualification for understanding consciousness.)
Consciousness is explained as an all-encompassing part of nature. There is an avenue for consciousness in A.I., once the mechanics of consciousness are fully understood. The focus of first chapters are on scientific experiments showing all living things exhibit consciousness through their actions.
For example, bees show consciousness by seeing red and in choosing the site of their nests with an ability to consciously navigate the world.
Following chapters explain parts of the brain and the mechanics of brain function. They explore the complexity and interconnections of the brain and how different parts of the brain have specific functions. This is the easy part of understanding consciousness because it is something that can be physically measured through brain scans and experiments that correlate actions with brain stimuli.
Next, there are explanations of how experiments with brain stimuli offers potential for reading one’s mind without verbal communication.
It opens the door for a consciousness meter that may allow some level of predictability and mind control. In a positive sense, stimulus experiments might hold a key to reawakening consciousness in comatose patients. The negative sense is the potential for brain washing a non-conforming human being.
Section 4 of these “Scientific American” articles is about “Altered States of Reality”.
A particularly bizarre and threatening chapter suggests someone who sleepwalks can murder another person without being legally guilty of murder.
The last two sections of articles deal with psychoactive drugs, spiritual belief, and their effects on brain function. A listener might view these articles as incentive to experiment with consciousness in two fundamentally different ways. One is with the use of psychedelic’s. The other is to join a monastery or convent.
The last article deals with the end of life. It reveals a possible explanation of why some see a white light just before dying.
Science argues the end of life is the end of consciousness. There is nothing after death–no heaven, no hell, just nothingness.
As an introduction to consciousness, this compendium is interesting. However, after completion, the hard part of consciousness remains a secret.
It’s difficult to believe but it has been nine years since the Higgs Boson particle was discovered. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, Switzerland bombarded atoms with protons to reveal a new fundamental particle of atoms known as Higgs Boson.
Alex Boyles offers an excellent narration of several “Scientific American” articles written by scientists about the significance and limitations of the Higgs Boson’ discovery.
Higgs Boson is an elementary particle produced by excitation in what is called the Higg’s field. It is a particle that decays into other particles which makes it difficult to identify. It was theorized by Peter Higgs with five other scientists in 1964. It is a particle that gives mass to what we see in the world. One of the articles cited in this narration suggests the particle that was discovered had less weight than was expected which led to speculation that another, different Higgs Boson, will be found in the future.
As of this date, though many particles have been seen, no new elementary particles have been confirmed by an improved higher velocity LHC at Cern, Switzerland.
One broad category of scientists is defined as reductionist. Scientist’s pursuit of fundamental particles of atoms like the Higgs Boson falls into the reductionist scientist’ category. This category of scientists believes the door to a better understanding of physics can only be opened with the use of fundamental particles in experiments that reliably predict the same results.
Reductionist’ thought is that more fundamental particle discovery will provide an experimental base upon which a provable “theory of everything” can be developed.
Albert Einstein, and other scientists, offer many scientific theories that have been proven by reproducible experiments, either later in their lives or after their deaths.
Without discovery of the fundamental particles of nature, reductionists argue it is impossible to create repeatable experimental results. They believe repeatable experimental results are the heart of truth. However, reproducible experiment is no guarantee of truth. There is the threat of science bias to confirm theories. There is error in experimental set-up. There is the lure of money, power, and prestige of science experimenters that deny or confirm test results.
However, whether denied or confirmed, reproducible experimental results give weight to knowledge, if not absolute truth.
Einstein’s E=mc2 theorized energy and mass are equivalent. The theory is proven by experimentally repeatable destruction by atomic bomb detonations. To discover a “theory of everything” requires proof. Einstein unsuccessfully searched for a “theory of everything” to the end of his life. He theorized there is a “theory of everything”, but he never discovers why quantum mechanics, and the principle of gravity would not fit into a predictable equation like E=mc2.
To science reductionists, the answer lies in understanding the fundamental particles of nature and how they relate to each other. However, not all scientists are reductionists. Some suggest the atom and its electrons, protons, and neutrons are all that is needed to pursue the fundamental laws of nature. Some scientists suggest understanding atoms has little to do with understanding nature. To these scientists, Higgs Bosun is of little consequence.
A “theory of everything” is presumably something all scientists are interested in, but their theories range from invention by mind, to the thermodynamics of entropy, to God.
What seems relevant in listening to these “Scientific American” articles is –Different ways of looking for the truth is critical to the future of humanity. To many, pursuit of natural laws by scientists is key to human survival. Whether a science’ reductionist, entropic theorist, believer in God, or philosopher, a provable “theory of everything” offers growth to science and a possible future for humanity.
Jeffrey Hawkins (Author, electrical engineer, neuro-science researcher, business person.)
Jeff Hawkins presents an enlightening and, to some, frightening view of humanity’s current condition and future existence.
Enlightenment is in the explanation of how the brain works. Fear is in Hawkins explanation of how human beings make their own choices, with inference that humans have free will.
Jeff Hawkins explains a brain has two fundamental parts. One is a brain stem that extends from the limbic center of the brain. The new part is the neocortex.
The brain stem is the “old brain”, the seat of control for body function, with connection to the limbic mid-brain which contains emotion. The “new brain” is an evolutionary consequence of “old brain” origin. The neocortex surrounds and sits on top of the brain stem and constitutes approximately 70% of the human brain. The neocortex is Jeff Hawkins characterization as a “new brain”.
The remarkable insight of the author is that these two brains are interconnected by cortical columns that give humans superior intelligence. That insight opens the door to consciousness and the possibility of creating a dynamic relationship between man and machine.
Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, writes a laudatory forward to “A Thousand Brains”.
Richard Dawkins comments give listeners clues to the momentous potential of Jeffrey Hawkins experimentally reproducible theory of how the brain works. Richard Dawkins ground-breaking explanation of “The Selfish Gene” explains why Jeff Hawkins theory of “A Thousand Brains” has two fundamental parts, an “old brain” and a “new brain”. Both brains are made up with cells with genes that have a singular purpose. Genes purpose is to genetically replicate themselves. Jeffrey Dawkins implies genes in the cells of the “old brain” came first and the “new brain” came later through natural selection.
Genes are deeply imbedded in cells, the basic building blocks of life.
Jeff Dawkins argues an old brain is the seat of life sustaining action with direct connection to the mid-brain below the neocortex. To Jeff Dawkins, a new brain is an evolutionary change for humans to reach beyond emotions and action for gene survival. The purpose of survival evolves with interaction between old and new brains to accommodate social change. The new brain recognizes gene survival requires more than a “kill or be killed” mentality inherent in “old brain” evolution.
Jeff Dawkins experimentally proves there are synaptic connections between new and old brains within cortical columns that offer choices for change to ensure gene survival. That synaptic connection allows humans to draw on thousands of recorded memories from a person’s life. These memories are hundreds of thousands of models of everything a human brain experiences. As models they are only representations of reality, but humans make decisions based on those remembrances.
The flaw is that human decisions are made based on representations of reality, not necessarily true reality. Experience models in human’ memory can be completely wrong.
The implication of Jeff Hawkins’ research is two edged. One edge leads to fictional characters like Dr. Moreau and Dr. Strangelove. (Moreau is a mad scientist who creates “humanimals” and Strangelove is a fictional Nazi American advisor who wants to drop a nuclear bomb on the Soviet Union during the cold war.) The other edge may lead to a possible eternal future for humankind with travel to other worlds should this one become uninhabitable.
The first edge implies an “old brain” mad science geneticist who creates a software program for cortical columns to rule the world with an “old brain” use of force.
The second edge is a software program for cortical columns that provides rational control of the “old brain” by the “new brain”. Both are intended to make decisions based on perceived circumstances for survival. However, the “old brain” uses force, while the “new brain” uses memory of past experience and reasoned accommodation to circumstance. In either case, humans take advantage of genes survival imperative. That imperative reinforces Richard Dawkins’ theory of the immortal gene that will do whatever it takes to survive.
Though the Dr. Moreau and Strangelove future is obviously negative, there is a flaw in Hawkins second edge. It is the unreliability of human memory. Hawkins answer to this flaw is that a meld between human and machine mind can improve the accuracy of memory. If memories are quickly and accurately recalled, machine/human choice is more likely to preserve life, at least a form of human life.
Still, one wonders who wins when there is conflict between human and machine memory. Does the “old brain” overtake “new brain” cortical column software and respond with emotion and violence?
Jeff Hawkins endorses Richard Hawkins explanation of “The Selfish Gene”. Evolution is simply a reflection of a gene’s desire to survive. Jeff Hawkins infers a “new brain” uses a genetic survival meme that controls “old brain” inclinations. The question is—will the selfish gene of an “old brain” recognize this change as consistent with gene’s evolutionary imperative.
Jeff Hawkins believes A.I. research fails to follow the path of the “I” (intelligence) in A.I. Jeff Hawkins has significantly contributed to human understanding of how the brain works. His remarkable engineering perspective posits immense potential for artificial intelligence. However, if machines can truly be made to think and adapt, will they be allies or adversaries as their thinking evolves? Hawkins, to avoid that possibility, suggests human brains and machines might be integrated to avoid extinction. With Richard Hawkins’ theory of gene survival instinct, a meld between human and machine assures, if not guarantees, human survival.
With true A.I, constructive work can be done in inhospitable human environments like Mars. However, to unleash machine intelligence requires a leap of faith. Can humans trust machines without melding minds with machine technology?
Dawkins notes it is impossible for A.I., as it is presently being developed, to be capable of terra-forming another planet for human survival. Machines have to be able to think like humans in order to deal with the unknown difficulties of terra-forming another planet. Using cortical column programing to create thinking machines might offer the human race many worlds but nature has always gotten in the way of species immortality.
This is an easily understood book for non-scientists to appreciate where genetic science may lead humans. To some, it offers hope. To others, it denies existence of species demise (nature’s cycle of life and death), pre-destination, and belief in God.
CO-AUTHORS OF “ALBERT EINSTEIN, CREATOR AND REBEL”
The impact of extraordinary human beings is partly the result of chosen facts–there repetition, and future generations’ revisions of history. The best known are men, undoubtedly due to misogyny that reaches back to the earliest writings of history. Whether because of misogyny or other reason, mostly men have had the greatest influence on the course of politics, arts, and science. None more than Aristotle, Jesus Christ, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
Banesh Hoffman and Helen Dukas reveal why Einstein is among a select group of extraordinary human beings. Presumably, Hoffman (because he is a physicist) offers explanation of Einstein’s contribution to the world of science. However, in an equally revealing light (because Dukas is secretary to Einstein), one presumes she offers understanding of Einstein’s personal correspondence and innate humanity. To we who are not scientists, Dukas is the star of the book. Whether searching for understanding of E=mc2 or Einstein’s humanity, this book is worth reading and re-reading.
Newton versus quantum mechanics.
Einstein did not overturn the physics of Isaac Newton, just as he did not deny the validity of quantum mechanics.
Einstein added to Newton’s understanding of physics by confirming belief in quantum mechanics with the caveat that quantum mechanics does not reveal everything about physics of the universe. Einstein argues to his last days–their remains an unrevealed fundamental truth about physics. He believes physics will explain why things exist and why manifestation of things is predictable. Like the inviolate speed of light, Einstein insists there is a physics law that gives predictability rather than probabilistic answers for ways of the world.
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677, Dutch philosopher of the Enlightenment, biblical critic.)
Einstein believes in God but it is the God of Spinoza. Einstein believes God is not a corporeal being but a principle.
To Spinoza, God is everything in nature. Religions look at Einstein and Spinoza as heretics, and as some argue, atheists. However, Einstein suggests “God does not play with dice”. He is saying there is a fundamental cause for everything in the world. That fundamental cause is God. However, that God is nature which, like energy and mass, has equivalence. Einstein believes there is an unknown fundamental law that explains life’s predictable existence which will prove God is real because, in his view, nature is real and predictable.
Einstein clearly identifies himself as a Jew but in the sense of ethnic association, not religion. Part of Einstein’s self-identity comes from his disgust with Germany and its systemic murder of Jews in the holocaust.
Dukas reveals Einstein’s sponsorship of Jews who wish to escape Nazi Germany. She notes that Israel asks Einstein to serve as President of Israel. He is deeply honored but chooses not to accept because his life experience is as a scientist, not a politician.
Dukas explains Einstein has an implacable belief in scientific predictability and an unstoppable drive for proof. Both authors make it clear that Einstein’s greatest discoveries come in his early twenties. He doggedly pursues intuitive truth, even when faced with experiments that fail to support his beliefs. Einstein does not become discouraged. He casts failed experiment and mathematical calculation aside and re-doubles his effort to confirm his intuitive beliefs.
Einstein did not initially realize the potential of E=mc2 as a weapon because he thought too much energy would be required to create nuclear fission that would change mass into energy.
With the discovery of neutrons by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in 1938, Einstein realizes there is destructive potential in his discovery of mass and energy equivalence. Neutrons used to bombard particular fundamental atoms demonstrate transmutation of mass into energy. That transmutation unleashes a cataclysmic force.
Einstein is shown to be an avid pacifist, but atrocities perpetrated by Germany in WWII leads him to recommend early efforts of America to create a nuclear bomb. However, he is appalled by the bombs use in Japan.
The thought among Allied forces is that Germany would develop a nuclear bomb before Allied forces could end the war. There is the suggestion by some that Germany’s last-ditch effort at the Battle of the Bulge was a desperate attempt to delay defeat to have time to develop a nuclear bomb.
It is clear in this biography that Einstein’s contribution to science is as immeasurable as aforementioned luminaries of politics, arts, and science. Einstein, and Newton stand as the elite of the elite in science. One hopes there are others in this century.
“Black Holes” is a brief compilation of 21st century “Scientific American” articles narrated in Audiobooks by Alex Boyles. At the least, these articles stimulate interest in finding out more about the history of black holes.
When were they discovered? Why is their discovery important? Why do they seem to contradict the experimentally proven theory of Quantum Mechanics? Why should we care?
Karl Schwarzschild (1873-1916, German physicist, astronomer, and mathematician.)
The idea of black holes dates to research done by scientists in the early 20th century. The first black hole is discovered by Karl Schwarzschild. Schwarzschild was the director of the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam, Germany.
In correspondence, Schwarzschild confirms Einstein’s mathematical theory of gravity as a form of matter that reinforces the famous equation E=mc2.
John Wheeler (1911-2008, American theoretical physicist.)
Much later in the century, fellow physicist John Wheeler explains “Space-time tells matter how to move; matter tells space-time how to curve”.
The elemental particles of gravity are not clearly understood because they are too small for current scientific observation. Black holes are evidence of gravity, but the evidence seems to conflict with experimentally proven theories of quantum mechanics.
The discovery of black holes is important because it may hold the secrets of gravity. Gravity makes planets and objects within and on planets attract and repel. Einstein explains how gravity distorts the fabric of the universe.
Einstein’s equation indicates that energy and mass are equivalent and therefor never lost.
Black holes absorb all things that fall within their gravitational field at their “event horizon”.
However, astronomical observation shows that black holes seem to disappear without any information, residual mass. or energy remaining. This defies the current theory of quantum mechanics and seemingly Einstein’s belief that mass and energy are equivalent and never lost.
Why should we care? Quantum mechanics is a theory that defies certainty. However, Einstein believed God did not play with dice. He believed a future discovery will give humankind an all-encompassing understanding of nature, just as Einstein’s “energy and mass equivalence” offers a limited theory of nature. Black hole existence and disappearance may hold the answer to an all-encompassing fundamental law of nature that explains everything about everything.
Maybe Einstein’s E=mc2 is confirmed (not denied) by the existence of black holes. Maybe, black holes do not violate the equivalence of energy and mass even though information appears to be lost when a black hole disappears.
Could all black holes in a universe act as though they are connected at a distance? Maybe energy and mass equivalence is not lost but spookily transmitted to other black holes. Einstein may yet be confirmed. Maybe there is a missed fundamental law of physics that offers a Newtonian order to the universe.
Anthony Aguirre (Author, theoretical cosmologist, Presidential Chair for the Physics of Infomration at U of C. in Santa Cruz)
Anthony Aquirre offers a modicum of insight (enlightenment) to the concept of quantum reality. The use of the word modicum is not to suggest Aquirre’a effort is insignificant but understanding quantum reality remains fragmentary and obscure.
The title of the book is a clue to Aquirre’s fragmentary insight. To begin with, one must know the definition of koan. A koan is “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning with the intent of provoking enlightenment”.
Aquirre tells a story of a wanderer whose peregrination leads to a meeting with a Jinn who explains life is pre-ordained and cannot be changed because of the laws of quantum reality.
The Jinn tells the wanderer he can see the wanderer’s future because fundamental quantum particles of his being are known to the Jinn. The Jinn can see how each particle interacts with the wanderer’s thoughts and action to determine what will happen in the wanderer’s future. Though there are billions of interactions the Jinn can calculate probabilities of every action the wanderer will take in the future.
Quantum physics is a science of probability that examines the fabric of space-time. Experiment confirms that infinitesimal quantum particles can be in two places at the same time.
However, the particles cannot be both measured and located without effecting their path. If the particles cannot be both measured and located, how can a future be precisely predicted? Putting aside complexity and the problem of measurement and location to predict the future, Aquirre argues quantum physics has opened a new door to the nature of reality.
Schrodinger’s cat in the box is either dead or alive but you cannot know without opening the box.
Aquirre notes humans may see the world as fictive because reality is trapped in one’s mind which cannot see the fundamental particles of nature.
The example would be “green” as a figment of an interaction of one’s mind with what the eye sees; not the essence of what is identified as color because there is no fundamental particle that is the color “green”.
Aquirre explains the arrow of time can only move forward. Time travel to the past is science fiction. Traveling to the past cannot happen based on quantum theory because the past is fixed.
Aquirre is a cosmologist. He discusses the ideas of a created and expanding universe. He refers to the science of Gallio, Newton, Schrodinger, and Einstein. There is a past and a present, but the past can never be relived, and the present is past as soon as it becomes present.
There is only a present with a probabilistic future. The future can theoretically be predicted based on fundamental particles of a quantum universe, but it requires the capacity of a mythical Jinn who can compute an infinite number of variables.
Aquirre leaves listeners in Plato’s cave that shows only shadows of reality.
One comes away from “Cosmological Koans” with the belief that reality remains unknown. Complete understanding of life’s truth (if there is one) rests in the future of science and mathematics, a supercomputer like a Jinn, or God.
Lanier’s memoir illustrates how refinement of virtual reality is as groundbreaking as Da Vinci’s understanding of light. History will not likely view Lanier as the Da Vinci of our era but there are interesting similarities.
Not to carry the comparison too far, Lanier magnifies the value of imagination without limiting its potential for both human good and evil.
Da Vinci designs weapons of war that purposely fed the ambitions of his era’s tyrants.
Lanier is one of the pioneers of facial recognition. Facial recognition is a tool that can be used by humanities’ tyrants as well as benefactors. In conjunction with digitizing the lives of everyone, facial recognition implies a “Brave New World” as eminently realizable.
A visit to China reinforces potential loss of privacy and human volition with the advance of a digitized and monitored population.
One comes away from Lanier’s memoir with an appreciation for his candor about life and his unshaken belief in the value of technology. He recognizes his personal imperfection while maintaining an optimistic view for the world’s rescue by AI as a tool rather than controller of human life. There is some comfort in his opinion, but a listener reserves judgement based on the life Lanier has led. He is undoubtedly a polymath but his memoir focuses more on pleasures than the reality of most people’s lives.
The principle of virtual reality lends itself to Lanier’s obsession with music and entertainment.
Lanier is a musician, among many other talents. He spends some of his time collecting and mastering abstruse musical instruments.
One comes away from “Dawn of the New Everything” with the feeling that VR has greater potential for distraction than humanity’s betterment. There is respite from this perception with Lanier’s explanation of how VR is used for education and training. It is a virtual tool for medical and science education.
On the other hand, VR is a tool for remote murder by a person guiding a drone.
B.F. Skinner, American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher.
Lanier also notes that VR has the potential of making life conform to other’s interest.
The “Dawn of Everything” gives a clearer picture of what it was and is like to become a part of the Silicon Valley. He candidly recounts his rise as a tech mogul, failure, and gadfly.
Facebook and Twitter addiction are influencers with WMD potential.
Lanier’s memoir is at once enlightening and disheartening. He offers a virtual picture of modern life that is influencing, but not yet controlling. Lanier is optimistic. Many listeners will leave his memoir skeptical.
Jordan Ellenberg (Author, American mathematician, Professor of mathematics at University of Wisconsin-Madison).
Like listening to Brian Greene (a theoretical physicist), Jordan Ellenberg reminds one of what it must be like to be the smartest person in the room. One feels better from the experience of listening to “How Not to Be Wrong”, but understanding will be a struggle for most non-mathematicians. A non-mathematician leaves Ellenberg’s book better informed, if not entirely enlightened.
A non-mathematician may be hesitant to take Ellenberg’s book in hand. Ellenberg does not convince one that mathematics will always help one “…Not…Be Wrong”. However, Ellenberg convincingly argues mathematics will offer a better chance of being right.
Ellenberg is a professor of mathematics. He capsulizes mathematics as the language of science. He reveals how mathematics offers a qualified understanding of reality.
It is impossible to deny the validity of Ellenberg’s claim that mathematics is the language of science.
It is difficult to conceive of truth without mathematics because it provides a basis for repeatable experimental results. However, we live in a world of probabilities according to quantum mechanics. That implies mathematics cannot be the sole determinate of truth.
Ellenberg shows how “right” is qualified by mathematical proof. Like Brian Greene, Ellenberg shows how mathematics brings one closer to truth but only to the point of a “null hypothesis”. A null hypothesis is a repeatable experiment where there is zero (null) difference in results. Being right is dependent upon the same results from population samplings and relevant repeatable experiments.
What strikes at the heart of Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is human natures tendency to make events conform to plan. Human beings can lie to themselves.
Lying to oneself is the source of conspiracy theories based on the human strength and weakness of seeing patterns in nature. Perceived patterns from observation may or may not meet the criteria of a “null hypothesis”. Ellenberg suggests one should be skeptical of observed patterns that defy common sense.
What is disturbing about Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is that probability enters into the equation of truth.
This is the same fundamental law noted by theoretical physicists like Brian Greene. With the use of mathematics as the language of science, one can only expect a probability of truth: not certainty.
Ellenberg notes one must keep in mind–not being wrong is entirely different from being right. Determination of whether one is right or wrong is two-edged where one edge offers a probability of being right while the other implies possibility of being wrong. The uncertainty of probability is a lighted match that can burn down a forest of science.
That match is fanned into a flame by those who disparage all of science because of revised theories based on newly discovered facts. As an example–our recent experience with the former President of the United States who discredited the science of masking and distancing during the Covid 19 pandemic.
Ellenberg gives numerous examples of people who are misled by population sampling and the concept of correlation. Human nature often misleads people to see patterns where cause is unrelated to effect. Ellenberg argues that better understanding of mathematics can teach humans “How Not to Be Wrong”.
Being right is always qualified by some level of probability. Ellenberg explains repeatable experiment, with a level of consistency in mathematical proofs, is our way of not being wrong. Good to know, but daunting to achieve when mathematics is the only avenue for understanding.
Don’t we all want to know “How Not to Be Wrong”? Is the language of mathematics the only avenue for understanding? Therein lies the fear of realizing you are not the smartest person in the room.
There is a great deal to unpack in Brian Greene’s “Until the End of Time”. As is true of many of Greene’s scientific observations, much of his self-effacing intelligence and science-based opinion is lost in the ignorance of his listeners (more specifically, this listener). However, where Greene’s beliefs intersect with one’s limited knowledge, his theory of the ending of time and life is immensely rewarding and enlightening.
Greene does not argue there is no God. However, he suggests modern science shows there is no reason for God to exist to create life.
To Greene, there is more verifiable proof of life in science than verifiable proof of God in either science or religion.
In Greene’s thought, God and religion may have a great deal to do with sustaining human life, but in ways more sociological than religious. Weather one is a believer, atheist, or agnostic makes no difference to Greene. He carefully constructs an explanation of how science shows life may have come into existence, why stories of life may explain belief in God, and why humans are fundamentally different from other forms of life. The fundamental point of “…the End of Time” has to do with human mortality. Human mortality lies at the core of Greene’s view of time and life.
Greene suggests the laws of physics founded by luminaries like Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger offer evidence for the basis for life on earth, with or without God. Greene explains the principle of thermodynamics, the fundamental science of energy that creates and sustains life.
Greene explains–the physics of energy (thermodynamics) ensures eventual death. All life is pre-determined by the fundamental law of entropy. The fate of time and life began with a bang. This singular event disbursed tightly organized atomistic particles into a continually less organized space.
Greene notes that all forms of life are subject to entropy, a gradual decline from order to disorder. Greene argues that entropy acts at an atomistic level to determine the fate of all living things. Greene suggest laws of quantum mechanics determine the course of life for all “living” things.
To Greene, humankind is free to make choices. However, he argues humankind does not have free will. The physics of science show that all living things cannot choose to live forever. Humans can choose how to live, what to think, who to love, who to hate but they cannot choose one Nano second longer than what is dictated by the fundamental law of entropy.
Greene notes the science of Darwinian evolution and genetic inheritance is a relevant reinforcement of his argument for the inevitable extinction of life. The entropy accompanying human habitation is evident in pollution of the air we breath and the water we drink. (Though Greene does not address advances in genetic inheritance through gene manipulation, genetic manipulation does not negate Greene’s overriding concept of entropy.)
Just as earth’s environment slowly degrades, genetic inheritance as a process will eventually lead to extinction. Humans, just as dinosaur’s, sabre tooth tigers, and Dodo birds will disappear. All life adapts to change until the speed of environmental change becomes greater than the speed of evolutionary adaptation.
Greene agues humankind’s recognition of mortality shapes lives as consequentially as evolution. The significance of Greene’s argument is that religion is founded on acknowledgement of eventual death. Knowing that one cannot live forever, creates the desire for something beyond death. Greene elaborates by arguing that human lack of control over natural events compels creation of stories about a Supreme Being. *
The big picture in “Until the End of Time” is that the world and life is heading for an end. Based on the science of physics, there is an “…End of Time” for humankind, based on the immutable and experimentally proven laws of thermodynamics. Entropy is evident in the science of quantum mechanics (the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles), and the science of a continually expanding universe.
What does this mean to us? Humans still make their own choices on how to live, love, and hate in their lifetimes. The singer, Bobby McFerrin, suggests “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. Others suggest the meaning of life is to live in the moment. Brian Greene suggests it is up to you. Our lives and death may be pre-determined, but we have freedom to choose how we live, love, and work.
In re-thinking Greene’s belief in the physics of entropy, one wonders about the concept of energy never being destroyed. Einstein’s formula of E=MC2 implies our corporal bodies may die but atoms transmogrify. What does that suggest about the entropy of human life?
* Greene acknowledges the slim possibility of Devine existence but considers it much less probable based on the discipline of science and the existence of entropy. Greene does not discount the comfort religion offers humankind, including the rituals that help one cope with life and the passing of loved ones.
Bruce E. Fleury (Professor of Practice in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University)
“Mysteries of the Microscopic World” is a reflection on the “The Invisible Realm”, the world of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.
It is somewhat dated because of today’s history of Covid19. However, Fleury offers a modern understanding of pandemics and the role germs play in human life.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)
Fleury explores a world unseen until the 17th century. Antony van Leeuwenhoek is identified as the first to see the “…Microscopic World” in 1683.
However, the microscopic world was not considered important until the 19th century when puerperal fever was found to be caused by germs. A germ theory of disease originated with Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician in the 1840s. Many babies were dying from puerperal fever because doctors were going straight from deceased patients’ autopsies to delivery operating rooms.
An interesting side note by Fleury is Semmelweis’s germ theory required careful hand washing before delivering babies. Washing hands is still not carefully followed, even by the medical profession. Fleury suggests only 50% of doctors and nurses properly wash their hands.
In the late 1850s Louis Pasteur suggested the spread of microorganisms (germs) could explain infectious disease. Pasteur, and later Robert Koch, began to isolate bacteria of diseases like anthrax, TB, and cholera. The race for understanding the microscopic world’s relationship to disease is launched.
Fleury explains this microscopic world is not only a disease producer. It also aids human existence by offering microorganisms that get rid of wastes and remove toxic chemicals from the body. Fleury notes some humans die from microorganisms, but they cannot live without them.
Fleury explains how the microscopic world follows the same Darwinian evolutionary path as the macroscopic world. The microscopic world, like the animal world, evolves with random adaptation that sustains all life.
The two edges of this microscopic world can cure or kill. Fleury explains how this unseen world evolves in the same way the animal kingdom evolves. Today’s Covid19 virus changes to preserve itself. Covid19 evolves like any life force to become resistant to current drug treatment. Pfizer and other drug manufacturers are tasked with modification of their drug formulas to defeat viral and bacterial evolution.
In Fleury’s history of pandemics, listeners/readers will find interesting facts that parallel today’s Covid19’ experience. A striking parallel is the 1918 Flu pandemic. It killed an estimated 50-100 million people.
Today the world has lost over 2.5 million people from Covid19, but it pales against the 1918 pandemic’ loss of an estimated 50 to 100 million people.
The 1918 world population is estimated at 1.8 billion. The world’s population today is at 7.674 billion, over a six-fold increase. Today’s 2.5 million people lost from Covid19 could become several times greater based on today’s population.
This reminds one of the Texas and Mississippi governors’ choice to return to business as usual with no mask mandates and reopened businesses.
It may be that medical science and vaccination is so much better today than in 1918, but these governors are gambling with American lives. Covid19 may kill many more.
Fleury reminds reader/listeners of the history of wars and how the microscopic world of poisons, and disease-producing germs were used to defeat combatants. He notes how small armies were able to defeat large armies. Fleury tells stories of smaller military forces throwing bags filled with poisonous snakes into enemy camps to create chaos and death, lethal gas use in explosive devices that are thrown into enemy foxholes, and deadly smallpox impregnated blankets given to native Americans by American settlers. He notes how small expeditionary invasions decimated empires by introducing germs that came from their home countries. Explorers and soldiers were carriers of germs that had never been seen in the new world. Millions have died from this newly weaponized unseen world. Fleury notes that biological research and warfare are ongoing threats to the human race.
In the Sunday NYT’s on 3/7/21, an article criticizes the use of public funds to stockpile an Anthrax vaccine when so many problems have arisen in the fight against Covid19. The complaint largely revolves around one company’s high profitability and government influence in preparing an anthrax antidote stockpile to protect against biological attack by terrorists.
Fleury notes that anthrax bacterium is “…a perennial favorite in every nation’s biological arsenal.” Anthrax causes a rapid and painful death within 12-24 hours and the bacterium can last for 40-80 years in soil.
One has to wonder why can’t government “chew gum and walk” at the same time. Stockpiling an Anthrax antidote and being prepared for a Covid19 type of pandemic could be done at the same time. After all, America is the richest nation in the world.
Many presume Aids has been cured because it is not in the press like it used to be. Something not widely known is that Aids has no known cure. It remains a killer. Only palliative treatment has been found to extend life and Fleury notes the treatment is quite expensive. Aids is caused by a germ that attacks the immune system. It is introduced through sexual contact or re-use of hypodermic needles.
Aids eventually kills nearly all Aids carriers, either from cancer or some other disease that takes advantage of a carrier’s compromised immune system. Fleury notes an exception is a small minority of carriers with a genetic variation that allows them to live a long life.
Fleury explains there is a race between microbes and humans. As antibiotic treatment improves, microbes mutate into strains that resist treatment. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Fleury implies there is a natural balance among all living things. Humans may be destined for extinction, but Fleury reminds us of the myth of Pandora. She left hope in the bottom of the box when all the evils were unloosed on the world.