Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Consciousness and Creation

James Hopwood Jeans
from Wikimedia Commons
By Aaron Sherman

Tonight I was browsing Google Plus and came across a post by Kevin Clift of a lecture by Richard Feynman as a video clip. The lecture itself is well worth watching. However, at about 7 minutes, 30 seconds he says, "I would use the words of Jeans ... 'The Great Architect seems to be a mathematician.'" That phrase struck me as kind of interesting, but I didn't recognize the name, so I googled for Jeans... not terribly useful. Then I googled that phrase, which lead me to the specific Jeans: James Hopwood Jeans.

Among the many fascinating things that this man said and did, I found this quote:
"I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe... In general the universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine. It may well be, it seems to me, that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a universal mind."

Quasi-self similarity in the Mandelbrot Set
from Wikimedia Commons
There's an awful lot to take in, there, but at its heart is an idea that consciousness is fundamental to the nature of our universe. His statement also reminds me of the mathematical systems that seem to best emulate the natural world around me—fractals—specifically their repetition of themes in nested scopes such as the simple recursion of the Sierpinski Gasket or the subtly repeating themes of the Mandelbrot Set (see image, above). If consciousness is a theme at the scope that I'm aware of, thenif our universe is fractal in nature, a big "if"I would expect something like it (perhaps not recognizable to me) to exist at a higher scope as well as lower.

This hypothesis is a confounding one because it suggests the possibility of a vastly more "aware" consciousness in which we would be but cells as Jeans puts it—likely far smaller elements—but it makes no assertions about the origins of the system that comprises our frame of reference, the greater frame and a potentially infinite series of others. Even if we accept this view, the Architect is elusive. Did some ultimate frame of reference will itself into existence along with every frame within it? Is the universe simply the Platonic expression of an abstract set of principles of which consciousness is one? Those are the hard questions that, for now, must remain the realm of speculation alone.

But this picture of the universe as a manifestation of a repeating pattern of consciousness is appealing to me and my "seat of the pants feeling" (a phrase you'll encounter if you watch the start of the Feynman video) about how the universe works. That doesn't mean that it's anything more than aesthetically pleasing to me, but there it is. A hypothesis about part of the nature of creation that, though we lack the tools today, is actually falsifiable.


Random side-notes

In researching this post, I found some fun tidbits:

  • A link between the Steady State Cosmological Hypothesis and the horror film, Dead of Night. Apparently several scientists who revised the theory in 1948 were inspired to do so by the film. Have to admit, I didn't see that one coming...
  • An essay about why liberal thought doesn't have its equivalent of Ayn Rand.
  • Werner Gitt wrote a book that touched on some of these topics called, In the Beginning was Information. Interestingly, he uses this as a leaping-off point for a creationist (specifically, young-Earth creationist) view while I see this view as entirely neutral to the concept of origin.