April 4, 2015
At times I’ve told friends that I believe, in the deepest sense, we’re all one and the same ‘thing’, though I don’t know for sure what this ‘thing’ is. All conceptions we have of “selves” is an illusion. Sure, I’m Jason and I’m a human male, and you’re Jimmy Joe, a blog reader, but deeper down there’s some universal ‘thing’ connecting us. In the past, I didn’t have a name for it, but now I’ve come to use the word ‘consciousness’, and believe we’re all manifestations of it. Let me explain this.
If you’re willing, give me a few minutes of your time and I’ll use a medical case from neuroscience to explain this to you. Let’s consider the story of a young girl named Jody. She suffered from epileptic seizures as a little girl, so neurosurgeons completely removed half of her brain. Half of her skull is completely empty. Even still, she functions like any other little girl. It hasn’t impaired her at all.
You might be surprised to learn that a person can function with half a brain. It’s pretty fascinating. Let’s use this and devise a stranger scenario.
As you all know, I’m a bit of a mad scientist. Well, not really, but I like considering strange thought experiments! I’ll let my scientific curiosity get the best of me and imagine kidnapping one of you for research. I’m going to put you under anesthetic for a special surgery. While you’re asleep, I’ll divide your brain into two halves and transfer them both to different bodies made specifically for your brain.
Now we come to the big question: when “you” awaken from this surgery, which one of these new people will you be? Both? Neither? Only one of them? From what I know of neuroscience, I’d have two duplicate copies of you. Both of these “new” people would open their eyes, look at me, and tell me they’re “you”, but how could that possibly be true?
Surely you can’t be both of them. If you think this over, it seems impossible to imagine controlling both bodies, experiencing life from two bodies simultaneously. You’d be able to send one of your bodies to buy groceries while you use the other to do laundry. That can’t be right. It seems more plausible that you’d wake up as one of the people and that another “new” person was created out of thin air. A new “soul” if you will. We have two separate people.
Now we can go even further. If we’re able to take your brain and turn you into two people, surely we can go the other way. We could take the two hemispheres and properly connect them again in a single body. We’ve fused two “souls” and made them a single person. Two people become one and the same person.
You may be thinking that this couldn’t be done with two very dissimilar people, like one half of a car-mechanic’s brain with half of an elegant ballerina’s brain. It’d be a bit more difficult, sure, but not impossible. The brain halves would have to undergo some adjustment and learn the situation, but it could be done with enough technical skill.
We’re all made of the same stuff and are all aspects of the same ‘thing’. If it helps you, you can think of this “pool” of consciousness which can bend itself into separate pockets temporarily before bouncing back to a single ‘thing’. I sometimes think of it like soap bubbles on the surface of pool of water.
At other times, I wonder if matter has some sort of “proto-consciousness”, and based on what patterns matter takes, patterns of consciousness emerge. Is matter fundamental and does consciousness emerge from it, or does consciousness manifest matter? I don’t know, but I think there’s a deep relation between the two. There is some relation that connects matter and consciousness, and we’re all connected and the same ‘thing’ within that medium.
“What you are basically, deep deep down, far far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself, only there’s a conspiracy that you mustn’t let on about that, because everybody is.”
– Alan Watts
April 2, 2015
Not too long ago I said that I was going to finish my last load of “crap courses” this next semester and be off to finish some final classes in graduate school. Well, there’s been a change in plans. Come this next semester, I’ll be taking more physics courses. I met with my adviser and it turns out that I can take courses outside my university online and receive credits. They’re not credits that will help me graduate (only undergraduate credits I need are humanities and other things), but I honestly don’t care right now.
I’m not married and probably never will be. I have no responsibilities. I don’t have any debts to worry about and pay off. I might as well study everything I’ve ever wondered about and just keep going as far as I can with it all. That’s what my parents have been telling me to do as well. My mother sat with me one evening and said, “Why are you worried about graduating? Why does that matter to you?” Other than wanting to get deeply involved in research I’m interested in, there really isn’t a reason. When I think about it, my curiosity to study all the different areas of physics is more important to me than specializing and doing research.
But anyway, I’ll be taking courses on cosmology and general relativity. That and I’ll be studying tensor calculus. So, so much for the plans. When do I ever follow a plan anyway? It’s back to thinking about the expansion of the universe, black holes, and galaxy formation!
I’ve been excited to see MIT Opencourseware posting their graduate school lectures online. All of their quantum field theory courses, particle physics, general relativity, and all the rest. That’s amazing. In today’s world, pretty much anyone has access to the best lectures in the world, and with these online options for students, you can take courses at different universities online and have your exams taken where you are. It’s exciting.
March 25, 2015
This short video captures the history of the entire universe and the evolution of life on Earth in ten minutes.
March 22, 2015
Are women held back in science because of sexism? A recently published paper from Cornell researchers proves this isn’t the case. When carefully examining the hiring, salary, promotion, productivity, and job satisfaction of men and women in these fields, there is no evidence of sexism.
PhD women are as likely as men to be invited to interview for a tenure-track job, to be offered such a job; to receive comparable salaries and be promoted as often to assistant professor. Their rates of grant funding rates are comparable with men. They work similar hours; and express similar levels of career satisfaction. Against this backdrop, there was an interesting pattern in publication rate.
For women without children , the rate was the same as that of men without children –but women with children published at the lowest rate. Men with children are the most productive. Now, the data from childless men and childless women suggests that there are not sexist barriers to women’s success, but what about women with children– The ones with the lowest publication rate? While research is needed to fill in the picture, but you could speculate that this disparity exists because fathers are more likely to have a spouse caring full-time for their children than mothers. It’s not rocket science: it is easier to have kids and a career if someone else is doing the lion’s share of the child care. This reflects cultural conventions, not sexism. Even so, it appears that these differences in publication did not affect promotion to asst prof.”
Whenever you hear internet feminists vilifying males in the math-based sciences, boldly declaring that we’re a “men’s club” who create a misogynistic work environment, keep in mind that the women who actually work with us report similar levels of job satisfaction and are just as successful.
March 22, 2015
If you’re looking for a brief historical overview of the discussions and issues of consciousness, I’d highly recommend this article to you.