The Unreal Universe – Reviewed

Anonymous Readers

Some readers who wish to remain anonymous express their opinions as follows.

“Leo” says, “I’ve begun to read it and I like very much the depth at which you look at the world.” He continues, “You’ve astounded me once more with your insight! Who knows how many more phenomena could be explained with LTT effects? The amount of a dozen such demonstrations would make your point totally convincing for science.”

“Mark” says, “I really like your idea on our sense of the speed of light and your explanation is simple and effective with no fancy tricks or made up forces, but with a common sense understanding. Right or wrong your idea opens up many possible theories that may have been overlooked due to our stubbornness to conform to long-standing ideas and assumptions.” And he continues, “I find your ideas very interesting and like the way you look at things from different angles. I agree philosophy plays a big part in our understanding of nature and the universe.”


I also got your book and as I am down with the cold was able to read it right away. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as we share similar strong influences on our thinking, namely Physics and spirituality. As you can imagine, I find some parts of the book more compelling and thought provoking than others. And ideally we would be able to sit over a few pots of tee and talk about the book and exchange thoughts and ideas. Maybe one day I visit S’Pore again (or you are in NYC…)…

In the meantime, for what its worth, below are some immediate thoughts on the chapters. They are obviously not halve as thorough and well thought out as yours, so please regard them as simple musings of a captivated reader a hence might have little or no value.

Chapter 1-3
Having read some books about neuroscience and being inatly driven since a very early age by the question “Why?” in each and every aspect of life, I found these chapters very interesting and thought provoking. As you mentioned, the distinction between an absolute reality and the sensed reality is an age old conundrum. A few thoughts with regards to the evidence cited in regards to the source of our concepts of time and space

  1. Time – I’m not sure that our ‘sense’ of time is directly linked to either language or the knowledge of our demise. One might argue that a 2year old has a pretty keen sense of time (especially the difference between ice cream ‘NOW!” and ‘later’) but is not necessarily aware of its own demise. One thought model of ‘time’ I developed early when reading about SR is that it is constant movement along a 4th dimension. A 2-dim picture could be a emulsion of little bacteria that slowly sink to the bottom based on gravity. They can not ‘measure’ gravity or move against its flow (assuming they they do not have flagella to move up and down. They would have a similar sense of ‘causality’ in the sense that they always have to pass an object ‘above’ them before an object ‘below’ them etc. So one way to think about time is, that it is simply another dimension in which direction we can not move (we lag ‘flagella’ to move along this direction’ but are subject to a uniform ‘force’ that drags us/everything along its dimension. Clearly there can be things that are able to move along that fourth dimension etc. So my suggestion is more that there indeed is a fourth dimension which we call ‘time’ and which is different from the other three dimensions due to limitations of our ability to interact with it (we can not).
  2. Space as an outcome of our sight sense. I’m not sure that I was able to follow this line of argument 100%. For example, I would say that we actually get the true sense of depth and volume through our haptic sense. For example, I would argue that blind people have most definitely a sense of space. Also, as kids we tend to experience our worlds mostly through the haptic sense in the early days, by taking things into our mouth. They become ‘real’ through touch. Something that stays with us for a long time I would say, as we tend to always want to touch things, especially if they are hard to ‘believe’. I think we trust our sense of touch more than our sense of sight when it comes to experiencing the space around us, investigating new phenomenons, etc.
  3. The BIV paradox. One thing interesting to note here is the following. It is true that I, as a single individual, can not decide if I am a BIV or not. So one could argue that my ‘reality’ is not real at all. However, we do get some corroborating information from a multitude of other sensors around us in the form of other people and/or measurement instruments as to the ‘features’ of an object, say a chair. So the possible options are not necessarily I am a BIV or not, but ALL of mankind and animal-kind and simply everything is a BIV OR I am a BIV and EVERYTHING around me is a simulation, so no other being exists in my ‘reality’. I dimly remember a similar question in physics (Wien’s paradox or something) where the question is if a bucket of water hanging from a string is rotating or if the whole universe is rotating around the bucket. Anyway, I am personally a big fan of Occam’s razor and while I can see that we either all could be BIV or that all and everything around me is simply a simulation (i.e. you do not exist but are simply a program) it does not appear to be the simplest of explanations. And then there is even more important question – does it matter? If we are all BIV and can’t decide either way, does it matter?
  4. I am getting more fond of the power of evolution. There are many links between evolution and eastern philosophy that are starting to emerge for me. Maybe more on this another time. For the discussion at hand, I’d just like to throw in two points. If the distinction between the absolute reality and the sense reality would be relevant for the survival of our species (or any species for that matter!), I’m pretty sure that evolution would have equipped us with ir over the course of millions of years. Lets not forget that all live on earth has been wiped out almost completely (defined as >80% of all species) from earth at least 4 times. And there is no reason to believe that over the next couple bn of years the sun will provide proper energy to earth, this will happen a few more times. As far as we can tell, none of the reigning species on this planet had a sense different to ours or superior to ours. Does this mean there is none? No (this is the black swan argument from Nassim Taleb). However there are some indications based on our current ‘view’ of the physics of the universe (I admit that I do not know if there is a circularity here in the argument). Namely that there are 4 forces that describe all interactions between things in our universe. Two of them act only over very small distances (strong & weak), two over large distances. So from a simple pragmatic point of view, for objects roughly our size, we can’t use the first two. From the latter two, one is absolutely minuscule, making it virtually impossible (one could even try to calculate if Heisenberg would allow the measure the difference) between a Tyrannosaurus Rex running towards us or a mosquito. Clearly one has vastly different implications to our survival (actually quick and sudden demise) than the other and so any sense based on gravity would not provide very useful in surviving. This leaves EM as the most powerful choice in ensuring our survival, which, amazingly enough, nature has chose. Actually, it has chosen it long before humans, as all multi-cell organisms use some form or EM sense (through translation) to interact with their environment. Does this exclude the existence of other forces, universes etc that could exist in the vast amount of ‘space’ that there is? No. But why would I care about a parallel universe that exists but can’t interact with me?

Chapter 4

  1. Consciousness and language: More as a humorous comment I would argue that a kids ‘NO!’ to any suggestion at a certain age is a ‘conversation’ or use of language without any thought or conscious awareness. Or the reflexory ‘What was that?” question from certain people when they tune out of conversations is also a use of language without much consciousness…
  2. Loved the movie the 13th floor. Brilliant concept, at least as interesting as the Matrix, but much less known.
  3. While the Koan of ‘the sound of one hand clapping’ makes sense to me, I’m not as enthralled by the ‘sound of a tree falling in a remote forest. We could have a detector there that records the sound and we could or could not listen to the recording at a later point in time. But it always will be discernible if there was a tree falling at a certain point in time, independent of us listening and being there or not. Or, we could even have the detector do something, like shoot a rocket to the moon, if it hears a tree falling. So now one has to exclude any recording device, including any animal in the vicinity etc. I just think it does not pose a serious question if we distinguish between the cause of the experience of sound in our head and the experience in our head. Clearly there is no experience if we are not there. So what?
  4. Helen Keller – I had a slightly different reading of the account. It seems that she definitely has a reality before language. She clearly describes that she felt ‘happy’ at the prospect of going outside, ‘impatient’ with repeated attempts of the teacher to explain something to her, etc. So I’m not sure that I would agree with the notion that in the absence of language there is no consciousness. But it ‘surely is a pickle’ as the Oracle would say…
  5. Love the chapter on what the brain does with conflicting input and the McGurk effect. However, I’m not sure that it is a convincing case for dispelling our sense of reality. A program that is broken (for example because a subroutine went missing or delivers wrong results) will certainly deliver stupid outcomes. The same for the brain when certain parts are broken or certain assumptions (sensory input has to agree with each other) are violated. That is not surprising, quite the contrary, it is expected. For the McGurk experiment, we could use a detector that listens to the video which would tell us that what we hear is not what is said. It would detect the ‘audio illusion’. The same was as a ruler can detect some widely known optical illusions.So one could say that we think of combined experiential reality of many people and instruments as the absolute reality and not our own experienced reality (well, some very stubborn or arrogant people do actually…) In the example of the McGurk experiment, we clearly decide that what we hear is not(!) the actual reality but a fault in our detector (ears+brain) that can be remedied by a superior detector supplementing us.

Chapter 5

  1. The book repeatedly makes the point that we hear as sound is in ‘reality’ something completely different. Yes, and what we ‘see’ is also something very different. We do not ‘see’ the photons, reflexions etc but the aggregate effect of photons interacting with other matter. So the underlying process in sight is just as ‘invisible’ as the underlying process in sound. But that does not make it ‘wrong’
  2. For what its worth, i think that the spiritual teachings which move from ‘there is a difference between our sensed reality and the absolute reality’ to ‘our sensed reality is wrong, useless and needs to be abandoned’ are throwing the baby out with the bath-water. It is similar to saying Newton is bad, wrong and needs to be abandoned everywhere. Not true. We can do many a useful thing using Newton and have no need for SR. There are areas where Newton is not useful and actually wrong, but this is not a useful tenet to work by in all aspects of life. So only if one needs a world where there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong, this distinction can be made. But I am driven more by what serves life well, and in that respect the sensed reality is as good a representation of the absolute reality as is necessary for life. Once we push the boundaries, this might not be true anymore. But we normally push the boundaries by also increasing the ‘strength’ (quality, reach, resolution ) of our senses. However, there clearly are boundaries where this extension of our ‘reality’ is not relevant anymore and hence wrong. So I think that the concept of ‘sensed reality = absolute reality’ is very useful and accurate for our lives, it might not be for questions way beyond the scope of our live, for example astrophysics.

This is in the same vein as the paragraph on page 68 which says that ‘the validity of the models lies in their ability to predict verifiable results […] Beyond that, the questions about the absolute reality are pointless. I would agree with that quite wholeheartedly.

Chapter 6

I find the statement (p106. 3 paragraph) that ‘if we did not have senses that respond to EM interaction, there would be no reality’ a bit strange. There is no ‘we’ without EM interaction as EM interaction is a crucial part of ‘our’ universe. There could be no ‘life’ in any form we know or can think of without EM interaction. I know that this is very antrophosophical argument (the universe is the way it is because if it were any other way, we would not be here to talk about it) and when looking at how precise certain physical processes and interactions have to be so that there is a universe to observe (e.g. interaction coefficients for the higher elements in stars, r^-2.0000000000000… rule for EM etc)

Chapter 7

This is one of the most thought provoking chapters and I clearly need some time to work through it. I have a hunch that bats for example could sense wind and I’ll have to work through how they would perceive objects moving faster than sound and how causality would look them and I think they might be able to ‘see’ reversed cause and effect things and actually experience them and hence would not have a ’cause-effect’ reality. Also, even though they use sonar to navigate, they still use EM interaction in their brains to process it. It is an interesting thought experiment how we would analyze and describe our brain if we would use only sonar to ‘look’ at it. I think it would display some very strange features that one would have to try to figure out…

Love Chapters 8&9. Very thought provoking!!!

Chapter 10 has some great summaries in its first few paragraphs

Chapter 11

The test worked quite well for me. I’m 11… And I love all the points about Evolution. I think one could write a very interesting book bridging evolution and eastern spirituality similarly as you have done for physics and eastern spirituality.

Chapter A.1

I’ll have to work through the math, but I don’t quite get the same result if I start with a pic A.3 where the object is flying away from me at say 2c. And lets say we have a racetrac which has sensing units every distance c and sends me a signal when the object passes by. I think I would get signals intervals which would indicate a speed of 2c contradictory to your derivation. So I’ll have to dig and find my error. I do get your result that it would appear to by flying away from me if it were to come towards me at 2c, though…

Really a great book with lots of very thought-provoking ideas. Some projects at the end seem interesting and doable as a hobby-endeavor (for someone as smart and knowledgeable as you I mean, not for an amateur like myself!)

So thanks again for a great read, I know that I will read it a few more times. And it provides for many hours of thinking and chatting!!!