标记档案: 虚幻

虚幻宇宙 — Seeing Light in Science and Spirituality

我们知道,我们的宇宙是一个有点不真实. 星星,我们在夜空中看到, 例如, 是不是真的有. 他们可能已移动,甚至通过我们能看到他们的死亡时间. 这种延迟是由于需要为光从遥远的恒星和星系的时间到达我们. 我们知道这种延迟.

The same delay in seeing has a lesser known manifestation in the way we perceive moving objects. It distorts our perception such that something coming towards us would look as though it is coming in faster. Strange as it may sound, this effect has been observed in astrophysical studies. Some of the heavenly bodies do look as though they are moving several times the speed of light, while their “实” speed is probably a lot lower.

现在, 这种效应引发了一个有趣的问题–是什么 “实” speed? 如果眼见为实, the speed we see should be the real speed. 然后再, 我们知道光出行时间效应. So we should correct the speed we see before believing it. 那么是什么呢 “看” 意思? 当我们说我们看到的东西, 什么我们真正的意思?

Light in Physics

眼看涉及光, 显然. The finite speed of light influences and distorts the way we see things. This fact should hardly come as a surprise because we do know that things are not as we see them. The sun that we see is already eight minutes old by the time we see it. 这种延迟并不是什么大不了的事; 如果我们想知道现在是怎么回事太阳, 所有我们需要做的就是等待八分钟. We, nonetheless, have to “正确” 对于因光线的有限速度的扭曲,我们的看法,我们才可以相信我们所看到的.

令人惊讶 (而很少强调) 是当涉及到​​敏感的议案, 我们不能后台计算看不到太阳,我们采取了拖延的方式相同. 如果我们看到一个天体运动以罢课高速, 我们无法弄清楚它是如何快速和方向 “真” 移动未做进一步的假设,. 处理这种困难的一种方法是归于我们感知的扭曲物理学竞技场的基本性质 — 空间和时间. 另一个途径是接受我们的感知和底层之间的断线 “现实” 并处理它以某种方式.

Einstein chose the first route. In his groundbreaking paper over a hundred years ago, he introduced the special theory of relativity, in which he attributed the manifestations of the finite speed of light to the fundamental properties of space and time. One core idea in special relativity (SR) is that the notion of simultaneity needs to be redefined because it takes some time for light from an event at a distant place to reach us, and we become aware of the event. The concept of “现在” doesn’t make much sense, as we saw, when we speak of an event happening in the sun, 例如. 同时性是相对的.

Einstein defined simultaneity using the instants in time we detect the event. 检测, 他将其定义, involves a round-trip travel of light similar to Radar detection. We send out light, and look at the reflection. If the reflected light from two events reaches us at the same instant, they are simultaneous.
Another way of defining simultaneity is using sensing — we can call two events simultaneous if the light from them reaches us at the same instant. 换句话说, we can use the light generated by the objects under observation rather than sending light to them and looking at the reflection.

这种差异可能听起来像一个吹毛求疵的技术性, but it does make an enormous difference in the predictions we can make. 爱因斯坦的选择,导致有许多理想特性的数学图片, thereby making further development elegant.

The other possibility has an advantage when it comes to describing objects in motion because it corresponds better with how we measure them. We don’t use Radar to see the stars in motion; 我们仅仅感测的光 (或其他辐射) 他们来了. But this choice of using a sensory paradigm, rather than Radar-like detection, to describe the universe results in a slightly uglier mathematical picture.

在数学上的差异派生不同的哲学立场, 这反过来渗透到现实我们的物理图像的理解. 作为例证的, let us look at an example from astrophysics. Suppose we observe (通过射电望远镜, 例如) 在天空中的两个对象, roughly of the same shape and properties. The only thing we know for sure is that the radio waves from two different points in the sky reach the radio telescope at the same instant in time. We can guess that the waves started their journey quite a while ago.

For symmetric objects, if we assume (因为我们经常做的) 该波开始的旅程大致在同一时刻, we end up with a picture of two “实” 对称的叶片或多或少的方式看到它们.

But there is different possibility that the waves originated from the same object (这是在运动) 在两个时间不同的时刻, 在同一时刻到达望远镜. This possibility explains some spectral and temporal properties of such symmetric radio sources, which is what I mathematically described in a recent physics article. 现在, which of these two pictures should we take as real? 两个对称的物体,因为我们看到他们或一个物体以这样的方式移动,就好像给我们的印象? Does it really matter which one is “实”? Does “实” 意味着在这方面的任何?

The philosophical stance in implied in special relativity answers this question unequivocally. There is an unambiguous physical reality from which we get the two symmetric radio sources, although it takes a bit of mathematical work to get to it. 数学排除了移动以这样的方式单一对象的可能性,以模拟的两个对象. 从本质, 我们看到的是什么就在那里.

另一方面, if we define simultaneity using concurrent arrival of light, we will be forced to admit the exact opposite. What we see is pretty far from what is out there. We will confess that we cannot unambiguously decouple the distortions due to the constraints in perception (the finite speed of light being the constraint of interest here) from what we see. There are multiple physical realities that can result in the same perceptual picture. The only philosophical stance that makes sense is the one that disconnects the sensed reality and the causes behind what is being sensed.

这种脱节的情况并不少见思想的哲学流派. 现象学, 例如, 认为,空间和时间是不客观的现实. 他们只是我们的感知中. 所有这一切发生在时间和空间的现象仅仅是捆绑了我们的看法. 换句话说, 空间和时间是从知觉所产生的认知结构. 因此,, 所有我们所归诸于空间和时间的物理特性只适用于以惊人的现实 (当我们感觉到它的现实). 本体的现实 (持有我们的感知的物理原因), 相比之下, 仍超出了我们的认知范围.

The ramifications of the two different philosophical stances described above are tremendous. Since modern physics seems to embrace a non-phenomenalistic view of space and time, 它发现自己不符合哲学的一个分支,. 哲学和物理学之间的鸿沟已经发展到这种程度,诺贝尔得奖物理学家, 史蒂芬温伯格, 想知道 (在他的书 “终极理论之梦”) 为什么从哲学到物理学的贡献一直这么小得惊人. 这也提示哲学家做出类似声明, “无论是“本体的现实导致惊人的现实’ 还是“本体的现实是独立于我们的感知它’ 还是“我们感觉到现实的本体,’ 问题仍然是本体现实的概念,是一个完全冗余的概念,科学的分析。”

一, 几乎是偶然, 很难重新定义为光的空间和时间属性的有限速度的影响是,我们明白任何影响被迅速转移到光幻想的境界. 例如, 在看到太阳的八分钟的延迟, because we readily understand it and disassociate from our perception using simple arithmetic, 被认为是单纯的错觉. 然而, 在我们的观念中快速移动的物体扭曲, 尽管源自同一源被认为是空间和时间的属性,因为它们是更复杂.

We have to come to terms with the fact that when it comes to seeing the universe, 有没有这样的事,作为一个错觉, 这也许正是歌德指出,当他说, “错觉是光的真理。”

的区别 (或缺乏) 光学幻觉和真实之间,在哲学最古老的话题之一. 毕竟, 它是关于知识与现实之间的区别. 知识被认为是我们认为对的东西,, 在现实中, 是 “其实并非如此。” 换句话说, 知识是一种体现, 或外部的东西精神的形象, 如下面的图中.
Commonsense view of reality
在这张照片, 黑色箭头表示创造知识的过程, 其中包括感知, 认知活动, 并实行纯粹理性. 这是图片物理学已经接受.
Alternate view of reality
虽然承认了我们的看法可能是不完美的, 物理学假设,我们可以打通越来越精细的实验密切的外部现实, 和, 更重要的是, 通过更好的理论化. 相对论的特殊和一般的理论是这一观点的现实的辉煌应用例子,简单的物理原理是使用纯粹理性强大的机器的逻辑必然的结论,不懈地追求.

但还有另一种, 知识与现实的另一种观点认为已经存在了很长一段时间. 这是关于感知的现实,我们的感官输入的内部认知表示看法, 如下图所示.

在此视图中, 知识和感知的现实是内部认知结构, 虽然我们都来把它们作为单独的. 什么是外部并不现实,因为我们认为它, 但一个不可知的实体后面感觉输入的物理原因引起. 在图示的例子, 第一个箭头表示的感测的过程, 和第二箭头表示认知和逻辑推理步骤. 为了应用这一观点的现实和知识, 大家纷纷猜测绝对现实的本质, 不可知的,因为它是. 一个可能的候选人绝对现实是牛顿力学, 这给出了一个合理的预测为我们感知的现实.

总结, 当我们试图处理由于认知的扭曲, 我们有两个选择, 两个可能的哲学立场. 一种是接受的失真作为我们的空间和时间的一部分, as SR does. The other option is to assume that there is a “更高” 实际上从我们检测到的现实截然不同, 其属性,我们只能猜想. 换句话说, 一种选择是住在一起的失真, 而另一种是提出​​的猜测为更高的现实. Neither of these options is particularly attractive. 但猜测路径是相似的接受现象论的观点. 这也导致自然如何现实认知神经科学观察, 它研究的认知背后的生物学机制.

In my view, the two options are not inherently distinct. The philosophical stance of SR can be thought of as coming from a deep understanding that space is merely a phenomenal construct. If the sense modality introduces distortions in the phenomenal picture, we may argue that one sensible way of handling it is to redefine the properties of the phenomenal reality.

Role of Light in Our Reality

从认知神经科学的角度, 我们看到的一切, 感, 感受和思考,是我们大脑中的神经元相互联系和微小的电信号在他们的结果. 这种观点一定是正确的. 还有什么? 我们所有的思念与牵挂, 知识和信仰, 自我与现实, 生死 — 一切都在一个仅仅纹状体神经元半公斤糊糊, 我们称我们的大脑的灰色物质. 有没有别的. 无!

事实上, 这种观点实际上在神经科学的现象主义的确切回音, 它认为一切都感觉或心理构造的包. 空间和时间也认知结构在我们的大脑, 和其他事物一样. 他们是精神的图片我们的大脑编造出来的,我们的感官接收感觉输入. 从我们的感官知觉产生,我们的认知过程制造, 时空连续体是物理学的舞台. 我们所有的感官, 眼前是目前占主导地位. 感官输入映入眼帘的是光. 在由大脑创造出来的光落在我们的视网膜空间 (或在哈勃望远镜的光传感器), 这是一个惊喜,没有什么能比光速?

这个哲学立场是我的书的基础, 虚幻宇宙, 它探讨了共同的线索结合物理学和哲学. 这样的哲学沉思通常会得到来自美国物理学家一个坏名声. 物理学家, 哲学是一个完全不同的领域, 知识的另一种筒仓. 我们需要改变这个信念,欣赏不同的知识孤岛之间的重叠. It is in this overlap that we can expect to find breakthroughs in human thought.

This philosophical grand-standing may sound presumptuous and the veiled self-admonition of physicists understandably unwelcome; but I am holding a trump card. Based on this philosophical stance, I have come up with a radically new model for two astrophysical phenomena, and published it in an article titled, “为无线电源和伽玛射线暴管腔围油栏?” in the well-known International Journal of Modern Physics D in June 2007. This article, which soon became one of the top accessed articles of the journal by Jan 2008, is a direct application of the view that the finite speed of light distorts the way we perceive motion. Because of these distortions, the way we see things is a far cry from the way they are.

We may be tempted to think that we can escape such perceptual constraints by using technological extensions to our senses such as radio telescopes, electron microscopes or spectroscopic speed measurements. 毕竟, these instruments do not have “感悟” per se and should be immune to the human weaknesses we suffer from. But these soulless instruments also measure our universe using information carriers limited to the speed of light. We, 因此, cannot escape the basic constraints of our perception even when we use modern instruments. 换句话说, the Hubble telescope may see a billion light years farther than our naked eyes, but what it sees is still a billion years older than what our eyes see.

Our reality, whether technologically enhanced or built upon direct sensory inputs, is the end result of our perceptual process. To the extent that our long range perception is based on light (and is therefore limited to its speed), we get only a distorted picture of the universe.

Light in Philosophy and Spirituality

扭曲光线和现实的故事是,我们似乎已经知道这一切很长一段时间. Classical philosophical schools seem to have thought along lines very similar to Einstein’s thought experiment.

Once we appreciate the special place accorded to light in modern science, we have to ask ourselves how different our universe would have been in the absence of light. 当然, light is only a label we attach to a sensory experience. 因此,, to be more accurate, we have to ask a different question: if we did not have any senses that responded to what we call light, would that affect the form of the universe?

The immediate answer from any normal (就是说, non-philosophical) person is that it is obvious. If everybody is blind, everybody is blind. But the existence of the universe is independent of whether we can see it or not. Is it though? What does it mean to say the universe exists if we cannot sense it? Ah… the age-old conundrum of the falling tree in a deserted forest. Remember, the universe is a cognitive construct or a mental representation of the light input to our eyes. It is not “out there,” but in the neurons of our brain, as everything else is. In the absence of light in our eyes, there is no input to be represented, ergo no universe.

If we had sensed the universe using modalities that operated at other speeds (echolocation, 例如), it is those speeds that would have figured in the fundamental properties of space and time. This is the inescapable conclusion from phenomenalism.

光在创造我们的现实,还是宇宙中的角色是西方宗教思想的心脏. 宇宙缺乏光线的不只是您已经关掉了灯的世界. 这的确是一个宇宙缺乏自身, 一个不存在的宇宙. 正是在这种背景下,我们必须明白的声明背后的智慧 “该地是, 和无效的” 直到神使光线是, 说 “要有光。”

可兰经也说, “真主是天地之光,” 这是反映在古印度的著作之一: “从黑暗走向光明带领我, 从虚幻到真实带领我。” 光从虚幻的虚空把我们的角色 (虚无) 以现实确实理解了很长, 很久. 难道古代的圣人和先知知道的事情,我们现在才开始发现我们所有的知识应该进步?

我知道我可能会急于在天使不敢涉足, 对于重新诠释经文是一个危险的游戏. Such foreign interpretations are seldom welcome in the theological circles. 不过,我投靠的是,我要找同意灵性哲学的形而上学的观点, without diminishing their mystical or theological value.

The parallels between the noumenal-phenomenal distinction in phenomenalism and the Brahman-Maya distinction in Advaita are hard to ignore. This time-tested wisdom on the nature of reality from the repertoire of spirituality is now reinvented in modern neuroscience, 它把现实,由大脑产生一种认知表征. 大脑使用感觉输入, 内存, 意识, 甚至语言成分在炮制我们的​​现实感. 这种观点的现实, 然而,, 是物理的东西是没有来的条款. 但是在某种程度上,它的舞台 (空间和时间) 是现实的一部分, 物理学是不能幸免的哲学.

由于我们的知识的界限推向越走越, 我们开始发现人类努力的不同分支之间迄今没有料​​到,常常令人惊讶的互连. 在最后的分析, 怎么能对我们知识的不同领域是相互独立的,当我们所有的知识存在于我们的大脑? 知识是我们的经验认知表征. 但随后, 这样的现实; 这是我们的感官投入认知表征. 这是一个谬论认为知识是一个外部的现实我们的内部表示, 因此,与此不同的. 知识和现实是内部认知结构, 虽然我们都来把它们作为单独的.

Recognizing and making use of the interconnections among the different domains of human endeavour may be the catalyst for the next breakthrough in our collective wisdom that we have been waiting for.

不确定性原理

不确定性原理是物理学中的第二件事情已经引起了公众的想象力. (第一个是 E=mc^2.) 它说,一些看似简单的 — 可以测量系统的两个互补的属性只能在一定的精度. 例如, 如果你试图找出其中一个电子是 (测量其位置, 就是说) 更多和更精确地, 它的速度逐渐变得更加不确定 (或, 动量测量变得不精确).

哪里这个原则来自? 之前,我们可以问这个问题, 我们要研究一下原理真正说. 这里有几个可能的解释:

  1. 一个粒子的位置和动量本质上是相互关联的. 正如我们更精确地测量动量, 粒子种 “向外扩散,” 乔治·伽莫夫的性格, 先生. 汤普金斯, 把它. 换句话说, 这只是其中的一件事情; 世界的运作方式.
  2. 当我们衡量的位置, 我们打​​扰势头. 我们的测量探头 “太胖,” 因为它是. 当我们提高位置精度 (由波长较短的光闪耀, 例如), 我们打​​扰的势头越来越多 (因为较短波长的光具有更高的能量/动量).
  3. 与此密切相关的解释是认为测不准原理是一个感性的限制.
  4. 我们也可以想到的不确定性原理的认知极限,如果我们考虑到未来的理论可能超越这些限制.

行, 最后两种解释都是我自己, 所以我们不会详细讨论这里.

第一种观点是目前比较流行的,它与量子力学的所谓哥本哈根解释. 这是一种像印度教的封闭声明 — “这样是绝对的性质,” 例如. 准确, 可能是. 但没有什么实际用途. 让我们忽略它,因为这是不讨论过于开放.

第二种解释通常被理解为一个实验困难. 但是,如果实验装置的概念被扩展到包括不可避免人类观察者, 我们在感性限制的第三种观点到货. 在此视图中, 它实际上是可能的 “派生” 测不准原理.

让我们假定,我们使用的是光的波长的光束 \lambda 观察粒子. 在位置的精度,我们希望能做到的是顺序 \lambda. 换句话说, \Delta x \approx \lambda. 在量子力学, 在光束的每个光子的动量成反比的波长. 至少有一个光子被反射粒子,让我们可以看到它. 所以, 由经典守恒定律, 粒子的动量具有至少改变由 \Delta p \approx 不变\lambda 从什么是测量前. 因此,, 通过感性论据, 我们得到类似海森堡测不准原理的东西 \Delta x \Delta p = 不变.

我们可以使这种说法更严格, 并获得恒定的值的估计. 显微镜的分辨率由经验式给出 0.61\lambda/NA, 哪里 NA 是数值孔径, 其中有一个的最大值. 因此,, 最好的空间分辨率 0.61\lambda. 在光束的每个光子具有动量 2\pi\hbar/\lambda, 这是在粒子动量的不确定性. 所以我们得到 \Delta x \Delta p = (0.61\lambda)(2\pi\hbar) \approx 4\hbar, 震级大于量子力学极限大约订单. 通过更严格的统计参数, 相关的空间分辨率和预期的动量转移, 它可能可以通过这种推理得出的海森堡不确定原理.

如果我们考虑的哲学观点,即我们的现实是我们的知觉刺激认知模型 (这是有道理的我只能查看), 不确定性原理是一个认知的限制也是我第四次演绎持有一点水.

参考

这篇文章的后半部分是从我的书的摘录, 虚幻宇宙.

禅与摩托车维修艺术

一旦, I had some doubts about my sanity. 毕竟, if you find yourself questioning the realness of reality, you have to wonder — is it reality that is unreal, or your sanity?

When I shared my concerns with this philosophically inclined friend of mine, she reassured me, “Sanity is overrated.” After reading 禅与摩托车维修艺术, I think she was right. Perhaps she didn’t go far enough — may be insanity is way underrated.

禅与摩托车维修艺术 defines insanity as the process of stepping outside mythos; mythos being the sum total of our combined knowledge passed down over the generations, 该 “commonsense” that precedes logic. If reality is not commonsense, what is? And doubting the realness of reality, 几乎从定义, is stepping outside the bounds of mythos. So it fits; my concerns were indeed well-founded.

But a good fit is no guarantee of the “rightness” of a hypothesis, 如 禅与摩托车维修艺术 teaches us. Given enough time, we can always come up with a hypothesis that fits our observations. The process of hypothesizing from observations and experiences is like trying to guess the nature of an object from the shadow it projects. And a projection is precisely what our reality is — a projection of unknown forms and processes into our sensory and cognitive space, into our mythos and logos. But here, I may be pushing my own agenda rather than the theme of the book. But it does fit, 不会吧? That is why I found myself muttering “Exactly!” over and over during my three reads of the book, and why I will read it many more times in the future. Let’s remind ourselves again, a good fit says nothing about the rightness of a hypothesis.

One such reasonable hypothesis of ours is about continuity We all assume the continuity of our personality or selfhood, which is a bit strange. I know that I am the same person I was twenty years ago — older certainly, wiser perhaps, but still the same person. But from science, I also know for a fact that every cell, every atom and every little fundamental particle in my body now is different from what constituted my body then. The potassium in the banana I ate two weeks ago is, for instance, what may be controlling the neuronal firing behind the thought process helping me write this essay. But it is still me, not the banana. We all assume this continuity because it fits.

Losing this continuity of personality is a scary thought. How scary it is is what Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance tells you. As usual, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

In order to write a decent review of this book, it is necessary to summarize the “story” (which is believed to be based on the author’s life). Like most great works of literature, the story flows inwards and outwards. Outwardly, it is a story of a father and son (Pirsig and Chris) across the vast open spaces of America on a motorbike. Inwardly, it is a spiritual journey of self-discovery and surprising realizations. At an even deeper level, it is a journey towards possible enlightenment rediscovered.

The story begins with Pirsig and Chris riding with John and Sylvia. Right at the first unpretentious sentence, “I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning,” it hit me that this was no ordinary book — the story is happening in the present tense. It is here and now — the underlying Zen-ness flows from the first short opening line and never stops.

The story slowly develops into the alienation between Chris and his father. The “father” comes across as a “selfish bastard,” as one of my friends observed.

The explanation for this disconnect between the father and the son soon follows. The narrator is not the father. He has the father’s body all right, but the real father had his personality erased through involuntary shock treatments. The doctor had reassured him that he had a new personality — not that he was a new personality.

The subtle difference makes ample sense once we realize that “he” and his “personality” are not two. And, to those of us how believe in the continuity of things like self-hood, it is a very scary statement. Personality is not something you have and wear, like a suit or a dress; it is what you are. If it can change, and you can get a new one, what does it say about what you think you are?

In Pirsig’s case, the annihilation of the old personality was not perfect. Besides, Chris was tagging along waiting for that personality to wake up. But awakening a personality is very different from waking a person up. It means waking up all the associated thoughts and ideas, insights and enlightenment. And wake up it does in this story — Phaedrus is back by the time we reach the last pages of the book.

What makes this book such a resounding success, (not merely in the market, but as an intellectual endeavor) are the notions and insights from Phaedrus that Pirsig manages to elicit. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is nothing short of a new way of looking at reality. It is a battle for the minds, yours and mine, and those yet to come.

Such a battle was waged and won ages ago, and the victors were not gracious and noble enough to let the defeated worldview survive. They used a deadly dialectical knife and sliced up our worldview into an unwieldy duality. The right schism, according to Phaedrus and/or Pirsig, would have been a trinity.

The trinity managed to survive, albeit feebly, as a vanquished hero, timid and self-effacing. We see it in the Bible, for instance, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We see it Hinduism, as its three main gods, and in Vedanta, a line of thought I am more at home with, as Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram — the Truth, ???, the Beauty. The reason why I don’t know what exactly Shivam means indicates how the battle for the future minds was won by the dualists.

It matters little that the experts in Vedanta and the Indian philosophical schools may know precisely what Shivam signifies. I for one, and the countless millions like me, will never know it with the clarity with which we know the other two terms — Sundaram and Satyam, beauty and truth, Maya and Brahman, aesthetics and metaphysics, mind and matter. The dualists have so completely annihilated the third entity that it does not even make sense now to ask what it is. They have won.

Phaedrus did ask the question, and found the answer to be Quality — something that sits in between mind and matter, between a romantic and a classical understanding of the world. Something that we have to and do experience before our intellect has a chance to process and analyze it. Zen.

However, in doing so, Phaedrus steps outside our mythos, and is hence insane.

If insanity is Zen, then my old friend was right. Sanity is way overrated.

Photo by MonsieurLui

Perception, Physics and the Role of Light in Philosophy

Reality, as we sense it, is not quite real. The stars we see in the night sky, for instance, are not really there. They may have moved or even died by the time we get to see them. This unreality is due to the time it takes for light from the distant stars and galaxies to reach us. We know of this delay.

Even the sun that we know so well is already eight minutes old by the time we see it. This fact does not seem to present particularly grave epistemological problems – if we want to know what is going on at the sun now, all we have to do is to wait for eight minutes. We only have to ‘correct’ for the distortions in our perception due to the finite speed of light before we can trust what we see. The same phenomenon in seeing has a lesser-known manifestation in the way we perceive moving objects. Some heavenly bodies appear as though they are moving several times the speed of light, whereas their ‘real’ speed must be a lot less than that.

What is surprising (and seldom highlighted) is that when it comes to sensing motion, we cannot back-calculate in the same kind of way as we can to correct for the delay in observation of the sun. If we see a celestial body moving at an improbably high speed, we cannot calculate how fast or even in what direction it is ‘really’ moving without first having to make certain further assumptions.

Einstein chose to resolve the problem by treating perception as distorted and inventing new fundamental properties in the arena of physics – in the description of space and time. One core idea of the Special Theory of Relativity is that the human notion of an orderly sequence of events in time needs to be abandoned. In fact, since it takes time for light from an event at a distant place to reach us, and for us to become aware of it, the concept of ‘now’ no longer makes any sense, for example, when we speak of a sunspot appearing on the surface of the sun just at the moment that the astronomer was trying to photograph it. Simultaneity is relative.

Einstein instead redefined simultaneity by using the instants in time we detect the event. Detection, as he defined it, involves a round-trip travel of light similar to radar detection. We send out a signal travelling at the speed of light, and wait for the reflection. If the reflected pulse from two events reaches us at the same instant, then they are simultaneous. But another way of looking at it is simply to call two events ‘simultaneous’ if the light from them reaches us at the same instant. In other words, we can use the light generated by the objects under observation rather than sending signals to them and looking at the reflection.

This difference may sound like a hair-splitting technicality, but it does make an enormous difference to the predictions we can make. Einstein’s choice results in a mathematical picture that has many desirable properties, including that of making further theoretical development more elegant. But then, Einstein believed, as a matter of faith it would seem, that the rules governing the universe must be ‘elegant.’ However, the other approach has an advantage when it comes to describing objects in motion. Because, of course, we don’t use radar to see the stars in motion; we merely sense the light (or other radiation) coming from them. Yet using this kind of sensory paradigm, rather than ‘radar-like detection,’ to describe the universe results in an uglier mathematical picture. Einstein would not approve!

The mathematical difference spawns different philosophical stances, which in turn percolate to the understanding of our physical picture of reality. As an illustration, suppose we observe, through a radio telescope, two objects in the sky, with roughly the same shape, size and properties. The only thing we know for sure is that the radio waves from these two different points in the sky reach us at the same instant in time. We can only guess when the waves started their journeys.

If we assume (as we routinely do) that the waves started the journey roughly at the same instant in time, we end up with a picture of two ‘real’ symmetric lobes more or less the way see them. But there is another, different possibility and that is that the waves originated from the same object (which is in motion) at two different instants in time, reaching the telescope at the same instant. This possibility would additionally explain some spectral and temporal properties of such symmetric radio sources. So which of these two pictures should we take as real? Two symmetric objects as we see them or one object moving in such a way as to give us that impression? Does it really matter which one is ‘real’? Does ‘real’ mean anything in this context?

Special Relativity gives an unambiguous answer to this question. The mathematics rules out the possibility of a single object moving in such a fashion as to mimic two objects. Essentially, what we see is what is out there. Yet, if we define events by what we perceive, the only philosophical stance that makes sense is the one that disconnects the sensed reality from the causes lying behind what is being sensed.

This disconnect is not uncommon in philosophical schools of thought. Phenomenalism, for instance, holds the view that space and time are not objective realities. They are merely the medium of our perception. All the phenomena that happen in space and time are merely bundles of our perception. In other words, space and time are cognitive constructs arising from perception. Thus, all the physical properties that we ascribe to space and time can only apply to the phenomenal reality (the reality of ‘things-in-the-world’ as we sense it. The underlying reality (which holds the physical causes of our perception), by contrast, remains beyond our cognitive reach.

Yet there is a chasm between the views of philosophy and modern physics. Not for nothing did the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Steven Weinberg, wonder, in his book Dreams of a Final Theory, why the contribution from philosophy to physics had been so surprisingly small. Perhaps it is because physics has yet to come to terms with the fact that when it comes to seeing the universe, there is no such thing as an optical illusion – which is probably what Goethe meant when he said, ‘Optical illusion is optical truth.’

The distinction (or lack thereof) between optical illusion and truth is one of the oldest debates in philosophy. After all, it is about the distinction between knowledge and reality. Knowledge is considered our view about something that, in reality, is ‘actually the case.’ In other words, knowledge is a reflection, or a mental image of something external, as shown in the figure below.

ExternalToBrain

In this picture, the black arrow represents the process of creating knowledge, which includes perception, cognitive activities, and the exercise of pure reason. This is the picture that physics has come to accept. While acknowledging that our perception may be imperfect, physics assumes that we can get closer and closer to the external reality through increasingly finer experimentation, and, more importantly, through better theorization. The Special and General Theories of Relativity are examples of brilliant applications of this view of reality where simple physical principles are relentlessly pursued using formidable machine of pure reason to their logically inevitable conclusions.

But there is another, alternative view of knowledge and reality that has been around for a long time. This is the view that regards perceived reality as an internal cognitive representation of our sensory inputs, as illustrated below.

AbsolutelToBrain

In this view, knowledge and perceived reality are both internal cognitive constructs, although we have come to think of them as separate. What is external is not the reality as we perceive it, but an unknowable entity giving rise to the physical causes behind sensory inputs. In the illustration, the first arrow represents the process of sensing, and the second arrow represents the cognitive and logical reasoning steps. In order to apply this view of reality and knowledge, we have to guess the nature of the absolute reality, unknowable as it is. One possible candidate for the absolute reality is Newtonian mechanics, which gives a reasonable prediction for our perceived reality.

To summarize, when we try to handle the distortions due to perception, we have two options, or two possible philosophical stances. One is to accept the distortions as part of our space and time, as Special Relativity does. The other option is to assume that there is a ‘higher’ reality distinct from our sensed reality, whose properties we can only conjecture. In other words, one option is to live with the distortion, while the other is to propose educated guesses for the higher reality. Neither of these choices is particularly attractive. But the guessing path is similar to the view accepted in phenomenalism. It also leads naturally to how reality is viewed in cognitive neuroscience, which studies the biological mechanisms behind cognition.

The twist to this story of light and reality is that we seem to have known all this for a long time. The role of light in creating our reality or universe is at the heart of Western religious thinking. A universe devoid of light is not simply a world where you have switched off the lights. It is indeed a universe devoid of itself, a universe that doesn’t exist. It is in this context that we have to understand the wisdom behind the statement that ‘the earth was without form, and void’ until God caused light to be, by saying ‘Let there be light.’

The Koran also says, ‘Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth,’ which is mirrored in one of the ancient Hindu writings: ‘Lead me from darkness to light, lead me from the unreal to the real.’ The role of light in taking us from the unreal void (the nothingness) to a reality was indeed understood for a long, long time. Is it possible that the ancient saints and prophets knew things that we are only now beginning to uncover with all our supposed advances in knowledge?

There are parallels between the noumenal-phenomenal distinction of Kant and the phenomenalists later, and the Brahman-Maya distinction in Advaita. Wisdom on the nature of reality from the repertoire of spirituality is reinvented in modern neuroscience, which treats reality as a cognitive representation created by the brain. The brain uses the sensory inputs, memory, consciousness, and even language as ingredients in concocting our sense of reality. This view of reality, however, is something physics is still unable to come to terms with. But to the extent that its arena (space and time) is a part of reality, physics is not immune to philosophy.

In fact, as we push the boundaries of our knowledge further and further, we are discovering hitherto unsuspected and often surprising interconnections between different branches of human efforts. Yet, how can the diverse domains of our knowledge be independent of each other if all knowledge is subjective? If knowledge is merely the cognitive representation of our experiences? But then, it is the modern fallacy to think that knowledge is our internal representation of an external reality, and therefore distinct from it. Instead, recognising and making use of the interconnections among the different domains of human endeavour may be the essential prerequisite for the next stage in developing our collective wisdom.

Box: Einstein’s TrainOne of Einstein’s famous thought experiments illustrates the need to rethink what we mean by simultaneous events. It describes a high-speed train rushing along a straight track past a small station as a man stands on the station platform watching it speed by. To his amazement, as the train passes him, two lightening bolts strike the track next to either end of the train! (Conveniently, for later investigators, they leave burn marks both on the train and on the ground.)

To the man, it seems that the two lightening bolts strike at exactly the same moment. Later, the marks on the ground by the train track reveal that the spots where the lightening struck were exactly equidistant from him. Since then the lightening bolts travelled the same distance towards him, and since they appeared to the man to happen at exactly the same moment, he has no reason not to conclude that the lightening bolts struck at exactly the same moment. They were simultaneous.

However, suppose a little later, the man meets a lady passenger who happened to be sitting in the buffet car, exactly at the centre of the train, and looking out of the window at the time the lightening bolts struck. This passenger tells him that she saw the first lightening bolt hit the ground near the engine at the front of the train slightly ahead of when the second one hit the ground next to the luggage car at the rear of the train.

The effect has nothing to do with the distance the light had to travel, as both the woman and the man were equidistant between the two points that the lightening hit. Yet they observed the sequence of events quite differently.

This disagreement of the timing of the events is inevitable, Einstein says, as the woman is in effect moving towards the point where the flash of lightening hit near the engine -and away from the point where the flash of lightening hit next to the luggage car. In the tiny amount of time it takes for the light rays to reach the lady, because the train moves, the distance the first flash must travel to her shrinks, and the distance the second flash must travel grows.

This fact may not be noticed in the case of trains and aeroplanes, but when it comes to cosmological distances, simultaneity really doesn’t make any sense. For instance, the explosion of two distant supernovae, seen as simultaneous from our vantage point on the earth, will appear to occur in different time combinations from other perspectives.

In Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1920), Einstein put it this way:

‘Every reference-body (co-ordinate system) has its own particular time; unless we are told the reference-body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.’

The Story So Far …

In the early sixties, Santa Kumari Amma decided to move to the High Ranges. She had recently started working with KSEB which was building a hydro-electric project there.The place was generically called the High Ranges, even though the ranges weren’t all that high. People told her that the rough and tough High Ranges were no place for a country girl like her, but she wanted to go anyways, prompted mainly by the fact that there was some project allowance involved and she could use any little bit that came her way. Her family was quite poor. She came from a small village called Murani (near a larger village called Mallappalli.)

Around the same time B. Thulasidas (better known as Appu) also came to the High Ranges. His familty wasn’t all that poor and he didn’t really need the extra money. But he thought, hey rowdy place anyway, what the heck? Well, to make a long story short, they fell in love and decided to get married. This was some time in September 1962. A year later Sandya was born in Nov 63. And a little over another year and I came to be! (This whole stroy, by the way, is taking place in the state of Kerala in India. Well, that sentence was added just to put the links there, just in case you are interested.) There is a gorgeous hill resort called Munnar (meaning three rivers) where my parents were employed at that time and that’s where I was born.

 [casual picture] Just before 1970, they (and me, which makes it we I guess) moved to Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. I lived in Trivandrum till I was 17. Lots of things happened in those years, but since this post is still (and always will be) work in progress, I can’t tell you all about it now.

In 1983, I moved to Madras, to do my BTech in Electronics and Communication at IIT, Madras. (They call the IITs the MIT of India, only much harder to get in. In my batch, there were about 75,000 students competing for about 2000 places. I was ranked 63 among them. I’m quite smart academically, you see.) And as you can imagine, lots of things happened in those four years as well. But despite all that, I graduated in August 1987 and got my BTech degree.

In 1987, after finishing my BTech, I did what most IITians are supposed to do. I moved to the states. Upstate New York was my destination. I joined the Physics Department of Syracuse University to do my PhD in High Energy Physics. And boy, did a lot of things happen during those 6 years! Half of those 6 years were spent at Cornell University in Ithaca.

That was in Aug. 1987. Then in 1993 Sept, the prestigious French national research organization ( CNRS – “Centre national de la recherche scientifique”) hired me. I moved to France to continue my research work at ALEPH, CERN. My destination in France was the provencal city of Marseilles. My home institute was “Centre de Physique des Particules de Marseille” or CPPM. Of course, I didn’t speak a word of French, but that didn’t bother me much. (Before going to the US in 1987, I didn’t speak much English/Americanese either.)

End of 1995, on the 29th of Dec, I got married to Kavita. In early 1996, Kavita also moved to France. Kavita wasn’t too happy in France because she felt she could do much more in Singapore. She was right. Kavita is now an accomplished entrepreneur with two boutiques in Singapore and more business ideas than is good for her. She has won many awards and is a minor celebrity with the Singapore media. [Wedding picture]

In 1998, I got a good offer from what is now the Institute for Infocomm Research and we decided to move to Singapore. Among the various personal reasons for the move, I should mention that the smell of racisim in the Marseilles air was one. Although every individual I personally met in France was great, I always had a nagging feeling that every one I did not meet wanted me out of there. This feeling was further confirmed by the immigration clerks at the Marignane airport constantly asking me to “Mettez-vous a cote, monsieur” and occassionally murmuring “les francais d’abord.”  [Anita Smiles]

A week after I moved to Singapore, on the 24rth of July 1998, Anita was born. Incredibly cute and happy, Anita rearranged our priorities and put things in perspective. Five years later, on the 2nd of May 2003, Neil was born. He proved to be even more full of smiles.  [Neil Smiles more!]

In Singapore, I worked on a lot of various body-based measurements generating several patents and papers. Towards the end of my career with A-Star, I worked on brain signals, worrying about how to make sense of them and make them talk directly to a computer. This research direction influenced my thinking tremendously, though not in a way my employer would’ve liked. I started thinking about the role of perception in our world view and, consequently, in the theories of physics. I also realized how these ideas were not isolated musings, but were atriculated in various schools of philosophy. This line of thinking eventually ended up in my book, The Unreal Universe.

Towards the second half of 2005, I decided to chuck research and get into quantitative finance, which is an ideal domain for a cash-strapped physicist. It turned out that I had some skills and aptitudes that were mutually lucrative to my employers and myself. My first job was as the head of the quantitative analyst team at OCBC, a regional bank in Singapore. This middle office job, involving risk management and curtailing ebullient traders, gave me a thorough overview of pricing models and, perhaps more importantly, perfect understanding of the conflict-driven implementation of the risk appetite of the bank.

 [Dad] Later on, in 2007, I moved to Standard Chartered Bank, as a senior quantitative professional taking care of their in-house trading platform, which further enhanced my "big picture" outlook and inspired me to write Principles of Quantitative Development. I am rather well recognized in my field, and as a regular columnist for the Wilmott Magazine, I have published several articles on a variety of topics related to quants and quantitative finance, which is probably why John Wiley & Sons Ltd. asked me to write this book.

Despite these professional successes, on the personal front, 2008 has been a year of sadness. I lost my father on the 22nd of October. The death of a parent is a rude wake-up call. It brings about feelings of loss and pain that are hard to understand, and impossible to communicate. And for those of us with little gift of easy self-expression, they linger for longer than they perhaps should.