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You Should Never Be Bored

February 1, 2011

I can remember as a child always being bored.  Each year during summer vacation, I remember spending hours and hours just wandering around the neighborhood, riding my bicycle, bored out of my mind.  Nowadays I’m never bored.  I can’t really remember the last time I was bored.  Today, I have such a deep fascination with the universe and our world that there’s always something to study and figure out.

I think to be bored is to be disconnected from reality and our universe.  If you find life boring and mundane, I think you have no insight into what’s really going on in the world around you.  I simply find it impossible that someone who has realized the strangeness and beauty of the world around us can actually sit around and have nothing to do.  I have to assume that you’re living in a box reality, disconnected from everything around you.  I’m not picking on anybody though.  From what I observe, our world is filled with mental cages and their priests cajoling others to immerse their minds in fictional “bubble” realities.

The other day I attended a student laboratory session and two women were talking about physics.  One said, “Physics is counter-intuitive.  It’s so difficult to grasp.”  The other agreed.  They started talking about Newton’s three laws of motion and found it extraordinarily difficult.  They hated their physics classes.  I felt like jumping into their conversation but I stayed silent.  I did find their way of viewing things odd and “counter-intuitive”.  I wanted to ask them this, “Would the world be more interesting if it were simplistic or complicated?  Isn’t it better that the world is interesting and filled with mystery and wonder?”  The way they think about the world and understanding it robs them of the pleasures of finding things out.  They have a mindset that physics, mathematics and other sciences are boring and unnecessarily difficult.

But once again, why?  We don’t feel that way about the difficulties inherent in learning to play an instrument.  We don’t look at a guitar and say, “This guitar is too complicated.  Think of all the chords it can play and all the different musical styles it’s capable of emitting.  Who would want to learn all of that?”  So why say that about mathematics?  Mathematics is no different.  Mathematics can not only model every possible sound wave that guitar can generate, but it can tell you about tensions in each string, the average velocities of the air particles zipping around the room, different harmonics and why they work together, and the list goes on and on.

And you know, the more mathematics you do, the less intimidating it becomes.  Once you start getting over the first hurdles you begin to think of mathematics and physics more like the physicist Ernst Mach did.  He left us with a wonderful quote about mathematics.

“Strange as it may seem, the power of mathematics rests on its evasion of all unnecessary thought, and on its wonderful saving of mental operations.”

– Ernest Mach

In different physical situations, understanding what objects will do is pretty much impossible without physics and mathematics.  Something with so many interrelated parts, all changing in varied ways, can be modeled very simply using equations and variables to represent each change.  You sum them up and lo and behold it all behaves just as the equations predict.  The fact that our universe can be understood at such a deep level by such simplistic equations that we can understand will baffle any thinking person.

But all of that aside, the universe of ours is not boring and understanding it is far from boring.  The most everyday “mundane” events in your life are more complicated than you’ll ever be able to imagine.  I could go into all the things your brain is doing, or talk about how crazy the light is which is bouncing around the room, but I don’t feel like talking about that.  I talk about those sorts of things all the time because that’s what I find most interesting.  There is so much more science and research going on to blow people’s minds.  I’m going to just start talking about kinds of things which should blow your mind if you just sit and think about them.

Everything around you is composed of atoms of different elemental types.  All that distinguishes one atom from another is the number of protons in its nucleus.  Inside those atoms are protons, electrons, and neutrons.  For now we’ll ignore talking about quarks which compose the protons and neutrons.  Try to wrap your brain around this:  Why is every electron identical to every other electron?  Why do all these protons and neutrons behave just like the others?  What makes them do so?  Why are they all clones, countless copies of these same physical entities? Is every universe like this?

Isn’t it just kind of weird that that’s the case?  You may say, “I don’t care”, but you know, you’re made of atoms.  The brain generating your consciousness is made of atoms.  They whiz around and do their thing and I suppose you can go about your life never thinking about how any of that works, but you know what?  It’s all there, even if you never take the time to think about it.  If you peel back the hood of this reality and stare closely at it, you’ll see it’s made of these tiny little atoms and they’re strange!

Have these atoms always existed?  Are they indestructible or can they be dissected?  How about the atomic parts?  Can they be taken apart?  Can I keep taking these things apart indefinitely?  Is an electron some infinitely complicated thing, composed of infinitely many parts, or is it some ultimately simple thing which can’t be dissected?

How about the space in which these atoms exist.  We walk across the room.  What’s so complicated about it?  Did you know that if you shoot off in a rocket ship at near light speed, make a short run around in space, and then loop around and return, while maybe six months may go by for you, thousands of years may have gone by for the rest of us on Earth.  I’m serious.  Just stop for a moment and think, “Is that real?  How does that work?  What does that even mean?  What is this world I live in?”  Take some time out of your busy life and learn about space-time.  You won’t regret it.  It’ll change how you see everything.

I personally love to study neuroscience and think about how brains work, both in us and in different animals.  I’m sure there’s millions of people who have sat back and thought, “I wonder what my cat is thinking.”  You should study neuroscience and figure out!  Learn and do experiments and figure out how much a cat really understands.  Learn how brains work and see the similarities between each species’ brain and how they differ.  You quickly start seeing patterns and evolutionary trends.  Then it dawns on you, “This cat of mine really sees me, just like I see it.  When I rub its belly, it feels me giving it a massage.  It’s conscious and alive.”  Then you pause, take a deep breath, and start thinking, “What else is conscious around me?”  You stare at a fly crawling about on your kitchen table.  Does it see and smell?  You’re telling me there’s consciousness operating inside that fly?  Probably so.

A lot of people won’t believe in evolution.  It’s a shame because it completely disconnects them from how life works.  Think about what’s in this next clip.

These aren’t party tricks.  If you research it out you find that a Bonobo understands language at about the same level as a child, say an eight year old.  Is it just a random coincidence that the Bonobo is very closely related to us genetically, has a body type almost identical to ours, comes from the same common ancestor, and understands language a lot like we do?  Is it just a coincidence that we can open up different ape and monkey skulls and see that their brain is laid out very similarly to ours?  In fact, many neuroscientists studying vision science do research on monkeys and their brains because they’re so similar.  None of this is coincidence.  They’re a closely related cousin, as are chimpanzees as well.

I’m convinced that monkeys and apes out in the forest see and feel just as we do.  They wake up in the forest and experience an entire life just as you’re experiencing yours.  They’re not soulless zombies.  Neither is your cat.  Our belief systems, such as our religions, have disconnected us from these sorts of truths.  We think, “Well does my cat go to heaven?”  There is no heaven.  Get out of your religious bubble.  None of it makes sense because it was all made up in the first place.  Life is much deeper in complexity.

Without thought we destroy animal habitats not even thinking about the torture we’re causing conscious beings of all sorts.  Most of the time it’s hard enough to get people to consider the feelings of other human beings, much less other living creatures.  We’re finally starting to get animal rights for dogs and cats but animal rights need to be extended to more and more species, including cows and pigs whose treatment in animal farms is abhorrent.  And if we can’t support our population without torturing and destroying all the other life around us, then we need to decrease our population and be more considerate.

My personal journey trying to figure this world out has led me to such strange things.  It’s made life so much more fascinating and interesting.  Richard Dawkins gave an entire lecture on this subject.  I can tell his life has been a similar sort of journey.  The way he vividly describes the problems shows how much he’s thought about it all.

And I’m sure you’ve looked in the mirror and asked yourself, “What am I?”  You had to have.  I do all the time.  You’ll probably think, “Oh, I’m this physical body.  That’s what I am.”  And people even seem to think that scientists think this.  They claim that those who believe in evolution think we’re nothing but this physical body.  That’s not what I read or hear.  Listen to Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist talk about the virtual world we live within in our heads.  He talks about how we’re NOT our physical bodies; the physical matter of which our body is composed changes all the time.  We’re constantly losing material, cells die and are rebuilt and so on.  That’s why we’re always needing to eat new food and get our vitamins.

To quote Richard Dawkins himself from this lecture,

“Steve Grand points out that you and I are more like a wave than a permanent thing.  He invites us to think of an experience from your childhood.  Something you remember clearly.  Something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there.  After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you?  How else would you remember it?  But here is the bombshell, you weren’t there.  Not a single atom that is within your body today was there when that event took place.  Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you.  Whatever you are therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made.  If that doesn’t make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does because it is important.”

– Richard Dawkins

I’ve said before that I feel strongly that the evidence suggests that matter temporarily forms into various patterns generating waves which then somehow generate consciousness in us – possibly in a spirit of some sort.  I normally use “spirit” as a sort of container word to the receiver of these waves, the impressions on which give us conscious experience.  That’s not to say our spirit is anything like our physical body – they have nothing in common.  When you die, your memories, thoughts, and experiences all die with you.  But, that’s not to say you won’t “wake up” as something else after you die, when matter once again starts transmitting the proper waves which your spirit then receives.  I don’t see any reason to fear death, or even that absolute death exists.  Matter is never destroyed, the energy only changes forms.  And what’s stopping the matter from once again coming into the patterns of my current brain and me living my entire life over again?  I’m not a skilled enough physicist to say on that matter, but I don’t think we die and I’m feel pretty certain we aren’t sent to hell or even heaven.

There seems to be a constant struggle for different forms to keep their existence within this world where matter is ever flowing from place to place.  With life on planet Earth, these self-replicating cells, using DNA, build up these complicated bodies (which is what we currently are), which then hold onto their form for a brief time before returning to the dust.  Then those components are all reused for different life-forms.  Your rotting body may then be used by a tree, your atoms essentially becoming tree leaves.

I find it pointless to desire “eternal life”.  Why won’t you move on to what’s next?  Why do you cling to your human form and wish to be it for all eternity?  Everything points toward our universe being infinite.  Who knows what else the universe has in store for all of us.  Move on and bravely step into the void to what’s next.

I find this worldview wonderful, and not only that, the evidence seems to suggest it as true.  There’s no reason to regret ever having made mistakes.  It’s not the end of the world, as they say.  Maybe I’ll get the chance to relive this same life an infinite number of times.  If the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is true, all possibilities exist and have always existed.  Somehow our consciousness is moving through various possibilities and giving us different experiences.  I have a very strong hunch that even though things are always changing, in another sense, every possibility, including the past I remember, will continue to exist in some way, either as a possibility or actually existing in some parallel dimension of some sort.

I hope one day we can come a deeper understanding of this problem and prove for certain something like this.  I wish people would let go of that idea that, “This is my one life.  I better live it to the fullest.”  Then once life doesn’t seem to give them everything they think it should they start stepping on everyone around them, climbing to the top of the greasy pole.  If this worldview I’m advocating is true, then life isn’t unfair.  You’re currently experiencing something different FOR NOW, but that’s not to say you won’t experience all the other things as well.  This view gets rid of envy and jealousy, and worry about all those sorts of things in this life.  But then again, maybe someone would argue that I created this worldview to comfort myself because not everything in my life has played out like I’ve wanted it to.  *Shrugs*  I’ll be studying more quantum mechanics and physics and seeing where that all leads me, but from what I can tell, this worldview has a pretty strong backing with the evidence.

There’s a lot more I want to say but this entry is getting long enough as it is.

Topics: Personal, Philosophy, Physics | 11 Comments »

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