terça-feira, julho 31, 2018

Ilsa, 1999.08.08-2018.07.31 (19 years)

(Ilsa helping me stay focused on the task at hand...)

With my wife: Ilsa used to wait until she fell asleep every night, then creep up onto my wife's pillow and bat her face with her paw. Repeatedly. Until she would pet her, when she'd settle and purr and wait until my wife had fallen asleep to start again.  She also liked to sleep under the covers snuggled to my wife. Obviously love.

(Ilsa basking in the sun in the garden)

With me: Ilsa'd open the closed bathroom door while I was on the loo when she was but a wee kitten. She'd come padding up to me while I yelled at her to go out, completely fruitlessly of course because my wishes weren't particularly her concern. She stood there, looking at me with her head on one side as if trying to figure out what I was doing, then strolled over next to me, between the loo and the wall, where she'd proceed to have a pee, looking up at me proudly as if to say, 'Look at me! Aren't I awesome! Just like you!' When she became an adult cat she never forgot this. Sometimes we'd forget to empty the litter box, and she still would go to the bathroom to do her business in the shower cabinet. Now that she was sick, she was no longer able to go to the litter box on her own.

(Ilsa hiding on a sun-lounger in my garden)

(Ilsa on my tummy, both on the sun-lounger in my garden basking in the sun)

(Ilsa and my baby boy sleeping)

(Ilsa sleeping in my diving bag)

(Ilsa by the fireplace)

(Ilsa throwing things on the floor)

All my three kids played with her no end. 

Cats are just fantastically unbelievable, right?

She'll be sorely missed. I'm feeling fucking down...

NB: It was me who named her after my favourite movie female character.

segunda-feira, julho 30, 2018

The Roman Way: "How to Grow Old - Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life" by Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero was full of shit.

Though I did some Classics in the 80s, I barely read any Cicero. (This was out of personal indolence, not the fault of my courses...) He is one of the people from the Graeco-Roman world I really would like to read a bit more of than I did back then - probably in translation on a long National Express coach journey, or something. The impression I retain of Cicero is attractive: someone vain, voluble, companionable, and - crucially - warm; somewhat larger than life, volcanic by temperament, capable of being quite formidable. I think he was like some figures in the performing arts up and down my lifetime, certain directors - I can't even name names right now - rather than politicians I can think of who are active now. I'm sure I've met something of him in a number of people. I dare say the bar still accommodates people with his talents and personality and virtues - I have just known very few people who work there.

Any number of people have compromised their expressed ideals when they've made it up the ladder of public or professional life and into a realm of powerful pressures and temptations they very likely didn't foresee. It wouldn't surprise me if Cicero did. As far as I'm aware Claudius was a villainous toe-rag and I wouldn't blame Cicero for being glad he was out of the way. Top-level prosecutions seem to have been part and parcel of political life in Republican Rome in contrast to their separation in our system. When a barrister spins a story for the prosecution or the defence in a Portuguese court (for that is essentially what he does - subject to his rules of practice), it is just a job: it is not a statement of his own principles, or a manifesto of his to be heard by the wider world. Cicero, spinning his court speeches in cases he took on one after another for one reason and another, was right in the public eye speaking and being assessed as a politician also. He was bound to say things that were, or could be held to be, inconsistent with other things he said or did, and to be picked up on it. Or so it strikes me, anyway.

The Portuguese did it the same way Romans did, i.e., settled large numbers of barbarian federations on its borders and allowed them to enjoy the rights of citizenship in exchange for military service. One of the most attractive things about the Romans is that anybody could become a Roman, if you were free and civilised. The Romans admired themselves so much that they wanted everybody to be one of them. Not like the Greeks, who as a rule were jealously protective of their citizen status and highly distrusting of foreigners. When all the butchery and genocide is put aside, that is one of the reasons why empires may sometimes be more open and more inclusive than nation states. That perhaps is one lesson to learn from the Romans, anyway. In theory this was no different from The Portuguese Colonial Empire (off the top of my head: Nova Scotia, Portuguese India, Cape Verde, Maldives, Labrador, Angola, Tangier, Newfoundland, Uruguay, Zanzibar, São Tomé and Príncipe, Qatar, Timor, Mozambique, Barbados, Portuguese Guinea, Macau, Goa, Bahrain, Ceylon, Brasil, Ceuta, etc.) . We had soldiers from across the empire who fought for us in large number - particularly in India. They were told they were Portuguese citizens but the reality was of course different.

If there is one thing we should remember about the Romans is how sometimes it is important to exert ones self righteousness. The Romans were self righteous about having a superior culture in the same way that Galileo was self righteous about the world being round. Both these views contributed to the betterment of humanity. I say this at a time when the flat earthers seem to be making a roaring comeback whilst Europe seems to shrivel under the lack of its own self importance. I read articles everyday in the Portuguese press about how we should be ashamed of our history and how we are the culprits of misdeeds committed by others. Nothing could be further from the truth but this bullshit is still peddled to us anyway.

Also the Romans dared to dream and see big...It's amazing to think that many of their architectural marvels were built by successive generations who died before completion but who still believed in the glory of their culture. It shows that they were optimistic about the future. I look at us today and the only thing we can think of is building as fast and as cheap as possible despite having all the time, manpower and resources in the world. Everything is being forced to move faster today despite the fact we live longer. Nobody stops to think about how great our civilisation could be if we stopped and took the time to make things right. The Romans did get some things staggeringly wrong like slavery but they did believe in elevating themselves in a way which is sorely lacking today. It teaches us something that is interesting and unlikely to have known already. Ancient Rome impacts upon our laws, our freedoms, our architecture, our language and our conception of ourselves and our place in the world. It was the greatest, the most powerful and majestic empire the world has ever seen and, as Gibbons said, the end of the world was believed to have arrived when its grandeur collapsed in the face of barbarian assaults. One of the most astonishing things in Gibbon, by the way, is his relevance today. I mean like his asides about how extremes of wealth and poverty create instability. And how unsustainable in the long term is an empire which depends on constant expansion. Excellent stuff about the early Christians too. And all this in the 1770s must have been pretty epoch-making, wasn't it?

Yes, Cicero was clever, witty, rhetorically smart -- my dream dinner companion from the ancient world. All that! But a role model? That's quite another thing. No need to go through all of the less than glorious episodes in his career. As Bochi writes, his execution of the Catilinarian conspirators is enough. What was this? It was the misuse of a dodgy prevention of terrorism act to execute Roman citizens without trial. The last thing that we want dangled as a model before political leaders. The politics of antiquity is challenging, 'good to think with' and exciting -- but there's no 'model' for us in it! And all that crap about on how good it's to grow old and not having sex drive: “Sophocles, when he was already an old man, gave a great answer to someone who asked if he still enjoyed sex. ‘Good gods, no!’ he said. ‘ I have gladly escaped that cruel and savage master.. I much prefer MaximianusElegies; Maximianus does not sugarcoat it...Cicero is always on about how it gets better when you retire! Which you must now do asap. Then grow a beard and look like all of us old gits. Then you can go on and on about how things aren't like they used to be. You know you are thought to be old when youngsters hold the door open for you or offer to let you off the bus first. Downhill all the way from here on. Enjoy it while you can. Now....Oh hell, I can't remember why I am here or what I am doing...I think you go through life thinking "when I'm going to be 30, I'll be past it". Then you get there and it's not so bad. So it becomes 40. Then 50. Then 60. It's not so much that you get old - it's than everybody gets so young. You make reference to something that happened in the 70s and everybody looks at you blankly. I sit next to a girl at work who was born in 1992. I have a coat older than that.

PS. One thing I discovered in recent years, something I hadn't foreseen, was that as you get older, the world seems to become more stupid. But of course, it's not any more stupid than when I was a kid. What's going on is that the collective intelligence and maturity of the human race seems to be, permanently, stuck at around the level attained by your average 15 year old. When reading the news I almost always find myself perplexed and dismayed, asking myself, "How can people possibly still be doing, thinking, believing X?? Haven't we learned anything??" The answer is no, 'we' haven't. The human collective immortal mind of the endless now moment is forever young, everything is forever new and fresh. Which is a good thing. I guess.

When I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius I was struck by the fixation he had on time being limited and having to get a lot done. But I'm rebellious about thinking and getting despondent about the passage of time and the inevitable end of all things. So I decided to waste my time doing whatever I like and watch those golden straws fly out of my hands in the wind as I go laughing.

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento -
haec tibi erunt artes - pacique inponere morem,
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.

Virgil, Aeneid, VI, 851

domingo, julho 29, 2018

Mesmeric Slow-core Soundscapes: "Scuba Diving"

When I was a small boy I loved everything deep-space-related. And then came SF: Space 1999, Blakes 7, Star Trek, Star Wars, the Moonshots...As soon as I realised that wherever you are in my Lisbon you're no more than around 10km from a completely alien planet that I could explore myself in my own "space suit". I was utterly hooked and have been ever since. I discovered Scuba Diving many eons ago, with a couple of discovery dives in Republica Dominicana. After that I was so taken with Scuba Diving that I got my BSAK qualification right afterwards. And then my Nitrox certification. 

When I go Scuba Diving I'm always anticipating enjoying the sea-life; it's always a wonder when the hypnotic, floating, slo-mo world temporarily changes my sense of existence. Some talk about the supposed "silence"; I disagree though; one of the biggest surprises for me is always the mesmeric slow-core soundscape: my own breathing, waves, and other more enigmatic sounds. Or perhaps it's just ear wax. Off rocky shores, the underwater echoes of the booming of surf against coast are also wonderful. On one dive I was just content to sit on the seabed at around dinner time and just let it all soak it. The sealife weren't peturbed at all, they came and had a sniff and a look then wandered off; beautiful.

I particularly loved night dives. Try no lights at 20 meters, apart from the abundant bio-luminescence, neutral buoyancy and you might be in space. The only way you can tell "up" is to feel where the bubbles are going. I once fell asleep whilst parked on the bottom during a dive, (woops!) It really is a calming environment. My comprehensive BSAK and Nitrox training included breathing from "leaking" hoses and regulators, buddy breathing, taking off and putting on all equipment including mask at depth and surfacing from depth under various conditions. Oh, and chasing stingrays is like self-nominating for the Darwin Awards.

NB: All pictures taken by me.

sexta-feira, julho 27, 2018

The-George-R-R-Martin-that-also-wrote-stuff-other-than-the-famigerated-GoT: “Tuf Voyaging” by George R. R. Martin

“I will sit here in the coolness and talk my thoughts to this crystal and I will drink my wine and watch the flyers, the few who still live, as they dance and soar against the night. Far off, they look so like shadowgulls above my living sea. I will drink my wine and remember how that sea sounded when I was but a Budakhar boy who dreamed of stars, and when the wine is gone I will use the flamer.
(Long silence)
I can think of no more words to say. Janeel knew many words and many names, but I buried her this morning.
(Long silence)
If my voice is ever found . . .
(Short pause)
If this is found after the plague star has waned, as the night-hunters say it will, do not be deceived. This is no fair world, no world for life. Here is death, and plagues beyond numbering. The plague star will shine again.
(Long silence)
My wine is gone.
(End of recording)”

In “Tuf Voyaging” by George R. R. Martin

I sometimes need to learn to relax a bit and don't think of reading as always something that always has to be deep and meaningful. I try to think of genres in the same way one may think of food. One day I might go to the trouble or expense of a chateaubriand, and the next day I really, really fancy cheese on toast. Some days I want to be moved, the next have my head twisted inside out only to follow that with a bit of Jeeves. My advice: (1) don’t get your knickers in a twist about it. The authors all have different intentions and audiences, or maybe that should be audiences in a particular mood and frame of mind that day. For me, SF is my escape from the feeling I really should appreciate, analyse and be critical, and instead just float along happily in a haze of sun, sea and alcohol, or cold medicine, whatever the case may be. Like a secret stash of chocolates to relax with on my own; (2) Don't make reading into a chore. You don't always have to learn something. Sometimes it's just pure fun and recreation. SF allows you to make your own rules and set them in your own invented history. You can place it all in a universe where up is down if you wish and certainly on a world where they have a pink sky and two cooperating suns at one time. The author is truly omnipotent. But the prose doesn't need to be creaky. There are master craftsmen writing in this genre, for instance the-George-R-R-Martin-that-also-wrote-stuff-other-than-the-famigerated-GoT. I'm thinking about this particular little gem called "Tuf Voyaging". Who would have thought Martin had it in him to write stuff like this? As for all this stuff re genres and validity at literature, all genres have dross and have gems. Not seeing that also applies to SF is as dumb as not seeing in this in historical novels or biographies. I accept that for some genre of SF may not be their cup of tea, though maybe this often because they have not been exposed to gems from the genre and have seen some prejudice affirmed from what they have read. Which is a shame, for them. Creaky prose, preposterous characterisation, racist attitudes and all? In fact, if the dilemmas of impoverished middle-class young women in Regency England, or idealistic bootleggers in 1920s New York or ambitious young Irish politicians in late nineteenth century England are not necessarily escapist now, then nor are those of noblemen in an island torn by civil war with the prospect of others crossing the Wall and rumours of dragons overseas. This George-R-R-Martin-that-also-wrote-stuff-other-than-the-famigerated-GoT is as fine a set of SF stories as I have ever read, dealing with the problems and relationships of humanity and their technology, bound up with fascinating characters and plots. It also deals in a cautionary way with the problems of unrestrained population growth. Finally, it explores the consequences that result when a single human being gains the ultimate power of life and death. Go and read “Tuf Voyaging”. It’s that good.

SF = Speculative Fiction.

NB: Peter Tillman brought this book to my attention. I'm glad he did.

quinta-feira, julho 12, 2018

Epiphenomenal Consciousness: “Blindsight” by Peter Watts

“I am the bridge between the bleeding edge and the dead center. I stand between the Wizard of Oz and the man behind the curtain. I am the curtain.” 

In “Blindsight” by Peter Watts 

What if: There is only one consciousness that we all share? (Universal Consciousness) 
What if: People are caught in the illusion of separation? (Encouraged by the limitations of the five senses) 
What if: Fear and insecurity give rise to the need to think of ourselves as the creators of our consciousness? (Perhaps we tune into consciousness like a radio tunes into a station).

"Consciousness" is body-mind. It is implied in the very meaning of the word "consciousness", the "con-" or "com-" signifying "together" or "altogether". What this "together" refers to is the senses and sense impressions. Body-mind is sensate consciousness, and is called therefore "mortal self in time" or "ego-nature". It is particularistic and therefore associated with "point-of-view" or perspectivising consciousness, like a searchlight or the beam of a flashlight stuck in one direction. This, and its self-understanding, is reflected in the famous symbol of the Enlightenment of a pyramid surmounted by the all-seeing eye such as symbolised still on the Great Seal of the United States, but is called by Blake "Single Vision & Newtons sleep" or "Urizen" or Urizenic Man. This is the "point-of-view" consciousness structure and is typically what we call "consciousness" or "mind". It is the perspectivising eye of da Vinci, but it is sensate. To be stuck in sensate consciousness is the human condition of narcissism. There is yet the awareness "before", "behind", "beyond", or "beneath", or implicit or tacit or however you want to describe it. The body consciousness, or mind, is only a function of the greater awareness. It is not sensate and is not dependent upon the body organisation for its function. By contrast with "point-of-view", it is "overview". In contrast to particularism, it is holistic, and perceives wholes rather than parts, and is often characterised as "oceanic feeling" or "oceanic awareness" and with non-locality. It is the “itself” that is referenced in the Zen Koan "show me your face before you were born". It is called by the neurologist Iain McGilchrist, "the Master", while the body-mind or body-consciousness, which is point-of-view and ego-nature, is called "Emissary". In those terms, the so-called "measurement problem" in physics is associated with the consciousness, which is body-mind, while the issue of "non-locality" (or synchronous effect or transluminal effect) is associated with the Awareness. In traditional Hermetic philosophy (alchemy), the body-mind was called "lead", and the awareness was called "gold". And the idea was to transmute the former into the latter through certain exercises, performances, or operations of a symbolic or metaphorical nature. 

Most scientists explicitly abandoned Cartesian Dualism centuries ago. But as John Searle pointed out 25 years ago, most of them still implicitly accept a Cartesian distinction and are hung up on trying reconcile two things are not two. So materialists tend to separate the world into two kinds of phenomena and assign one of them to reality and the other to illusion. When we eliminate the ontological difference that is implied in this account, things become a lot clearer. Similarly for forms of idealism. Consciousness is subjective in exactly the same way that digestion is. The nutrients in the food we eat are only available to us because the processes that extract them are internal to our bodies. Similarly the brain is internal to us and thus its processes are only directly accessible to us. 

The confusion about consciousness arises from two sources. The crypto-Cartesianism that still prevails and see mental and physical phenomena as ontologically different when in fact they are only epistemologically different. The problem of materialism is that it ignores the reality of structure. Clearly, the universe is made of one kind of stuff, but that stuff is made into a load of different things with many layers of complexity, with each layer displaying emergent properties. The only way to deal with this is to accept structure anti-reductionism alongside substance reductionism. In other words, structure is real. 

The second source is the insistence on dealing with conscious states in the abstract form "consciousness". Of course we are still arguing about the features of this abstraction. We have the same problem with all abstractions. Digestion becomes incomprehensible if we treat it as an abstraction as well. Conscious states are defined by David Chalmers as easy problems. His Hard Problem simply doesn't exist because its based on an abstraction mistaken for an entity. There is no "consciousness" there is only a sequence of conscious states. And these are wholly generated by the brain - whose substance can be reduced, but whose structure cannot. 

Searle also showed how we can have epistemically objective knowledge of ontologically subjective domains. The value of money is entirely subjective, for example, but objectively to anyone versed in European money, a 5 counts as money of a certain value. This is an epistemically objective fact that has no basis in reality, only in the collective intentionality of people who use European money. Conscious states are ontologically subjective, but this does not preclude us from having epistemically objective knowledge about them. 

These are problems for which there have been solutions available for a generation. The solutions are by no means simple, I'm just referencing the main ideas here, and the resulting philosophy although largely settled is far more open to possibility, changed, and the unexpected that any form of scientific materialism. The trouble is that philosophers are more interested in arguments than in solutions. If they solve problems then they are out of a job, so they continue to generate arguments. Douglas Adams summed this up very nicely when he lampooned them in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. 

The conceptual impasse of Watts really only arises because he refuses to abandon Descartes. That's the first step to a better worldview. Blindsight” was, for me, equal parts brilliance and frustration. Watts obviously spent a huge amount of time with his investigation, and brings these details together relatively seamlessly SF-wise (which is no mean feat with so much crap being published in the SF area nowadays), but the overarching theme (consciousness is, evolutionarily speaking, epiphenomenal) left me puzzled. The tone of Watts' novel is resonant with a certain philosophical emptiness and the accuracy of his scientific extrapolation is stunning; unfortunately, the central hypotheses of the book strained my credulity. In this sense, my beef may be more with the premise than the book itself, which is no fault of Watts. A requisite for consciousness is a matrix, or form, or pattern, upon which consciousness can build. Curiously that necessary maquette seems quite arbitrary, and is usually wrong. It is a genetically inherited assumption about the nature of reality. But once encumbered with that genetically-installed assumption, there is no pathway to an intellectual breakthrough.   

To recap, an individual’s consciousness is simply one of the many Brain Operating Systems, based upon genetically-installed assumptions about the nature of reality. And is usually, and always wrong. The free book on the internet explaining it all runs to nearly a million words. It is tough going for those not familiar with the problems, and involves learning new concepts. The problem of consciousness is mostly down to a semantic error in the use of the word 'conscious'. If someone is hit over the head and is knocked out they may on recovering announce that they are now 'conscious'. It is clear that that's an empirical statement with a clear biological meaning. Descartes introduced an error in separating mind from body and gave rise to use of the word 'conscious' in a completely different (and I would argue meaningless) sense. So we have discussions about whether advances in AI will produce consciousness - utter nonsense of course, you might as well be arguing about whether a robot can have a pulse. The word conscious in this sense doesn't have a meaning. 

Bottom-line: “Blindsight is a work of Hard SF of the highest caliber worthy of the capital H (even with its flaws). Those who lament the lack of hard sf being published (especially deep, broad, quality, hard SF) in the last few years will find sweet relief here. 

SF = Speculative Fiction. 

segunda-feira, julho 09, 2018

Ana and Kata: “Summerland” by Hannu Rajaniemi

“Yet the longer you lived in Summerland, the stranger things became. Your hypersight grew more acute, and little by little, you developed an awareness of two additional directions that were invisible to the living. One was the ana direction, four-up. Towards ana lay the world of the living, in its own thin slice of the aether. It was the direction of the Unseen, the mysterious source of hyperlight and soul. Luz stones fell from ana, lodged themselves in dense aetheric configurations like brains at birth. Upon death, the luz detached and fell below the plane of the living world in the kata direction – the equivalent of down in the fourth [spatial] dimension.”

In “Summerland” by Hannu Rajaniemi

I don’t know how much physics people reading this post know. So, here’s a very, very, very brief synopsis on how objects in 1D, 2D, 3D, 4D space move:

Dimensional space         Movement that can be made in that space
1D         Forward, backward
2D         Forward, backward, right, left
3D         Forward, backward, right, left, up, down
4D        Forward, backward, right, left, up, down, ana (imagine the object coming down from heaven), kata (imagine the object going up from hell)

As you can see, in 4D space we’ve got two additional directions: ana and kata. If want more than this by way of explanation, you’ve got to look elsewhere.

Rachel White and Peter Bloom, the main protagonists of Rajaniemi’s novel, live literally on different planes of existence: life vs. the afterlive. I’ve been told that if one found themselves in a higher dimensional space they would flop and fold in very much the same way that a piece of paper (nearly 2D) does in our 3-D world. In higher dimensions we’re all surface. However a 4-D person sticking their hand in our 3-D space would reveal an internal cross section in the same way our 3D hand crossing through a 2-D Universe would be a cross section. Could our hand be physically cut by the 2D plane? So lower beings going in reverse to higher dimensions would then reveal their entire internal and external surfaces? In essence are they ripped into one flat piece of meat? If they ended up in 5D hyperspace devoid of any laws of physics would they flop around helplessly, and at least stay together in that one flat piece?

The problem with extra dimensions is that our brains have specifically evolved, or adapted if you prefer, to recognise 3D space. If when we try think of 1 & 2D our mind sees them embedded in 3D. 2D animals might exist if they didn’t have a digestive/colon tract because it is this that would separate the 2 halves of the animal. We might be embedded in 4D. However, dimensions don’t have to be macro and might exist on the quantum level as in Superstring theory and compactification. However, we are never likely to be able to prove this since there is no known way to probe at this level.

Here’s a way to visualise the “innards” of a 2D person. Take a piece of paper to be the 2 dimensional world; we will create a person to live in it. First draw a basic outline of a person on the paper. In order to “live” the 2-D person will have to have organs: draw a brain in its head, heart and lungs in its chest, a stomach in its belly and pipes connecting its mouth to the lungs and stomach (note that the mouth has to be on the side of its head so that it opens up into the rest of the paper), as much detail as you feel like. This 2D person lives only in the piece of paper. It therefore considers the organs you just drew to be its innards, since the only way to get to them from the edge of the paper is to pass through its “skin” (the outline of your drawing). However you have a 3D perspective, so you can touch the organs without passing through the skin. This means that what it considers to be innards, the 3-D universe does not, so they would fall out if you ever able to lift the person of the paper.

There would be a few problems for 3D matter existing within 4D space, let alone a human surviving within 4 dimensional space! The first problem is that 4D matter as we understand it would be very unlikely, simply because orbits (or the 4D equivalent) are unstable in 4D space. So, electrons could not remain in orbit around a nucleus, likewise planets would not remain in orbit around a star (or again, their 4d equivalents). The reason for this is, (in the case of a planet) the way gravity falls-off much more rapidly in 4D. (Being proportional to 1/r^3 rather than 1/r^2). So, gravity would be unable to ‘balance’ centripetal force and the slightest perturbation of the orbit would result in the planet either flying-off into ‘space’, or spiralling into the star. Likewise, the force holding the electron in orbit around the nucleus would behave in much the same way, so if electrons & proton/neutron nuclei exist in 4D, they would do so as a 4d soup of charged particles.

The other rather major problem is that a 3D object in 4D space would have no substance, exactly like a 2D ‘object’ in 3 space. A 2D object would extend over only 2 dimensions, much like a sheet of paper with no thickness, it would simply not exist. That fact that a 3D object has no 4D component means that it simply could not exist in 4 space. It would be exactly analogous to the infinitely thin sheet of paper (representing a 2D object) in 3D space.

Question: As I understand it, the compactification scale within 3D space is a similar order of magnitude to the Plank length? Answer: the plank length would be greater in 4D space, (by several orders of magnitude?) so it should follow that the compactification scale in higher dimensional space is also increased (for the remaining 9, 10 or 25 dimensions, as one of the previously compactified dimensions in 3D space in now BIG in 4D space!). However, wouldn’t it be true to say that the scale is still sub-micro, i.e.: the dimensions still being many orders of magnitude smaller than any 4D subatomic particle and also so small that gravitational effect would be negligible to non-existent? I suppose I have also ‘conveniently’ ignored the recollection I have that ‘G’ in 4D space is quite a bit larger than in 3D space. I don’t think that changes the suggestion that ‘orbits’ (both of them!) are unstable in 4D.

I have a different idea of time and although I have worked some equations I still have problems so it remains an idea and not a theory. The idea is that time as we use it (‘arrow of’, sequence of events, progression of change, etc.) is a manifestation of something more fundamental which I refer to as Component Time. In this, C.T. is multidimensional and I’m considering 4D C.T. where one of those is the part we recognise. However, it needs to be an evolving system and what I call ‘repeatable relative function’ as the math to describe it. The nearest analogy would be a ‘time gene’. Certain numbers appear to be constants some of which, coincidentally, are very close to what we use in space/rocket science. If such an idea was applied to macro extra D then each 3D instant might be a ‘patch’ on an expanding 4D (or 4+xD) surface. This could mean that the past still exists as ‘patch’ and that opens the flood gates doesn’t it. I have posted some of these ideas but they remain just ideas.

I’ve always wondered something. If 3D beings can place objects in 2D space, and that 2D space beings would have no conception of how it got there or what it’s for, couldn’t we argue that a 4 dimensional “being” may have placed something in our 3D space at the beginning of the universe thus solving the mystery of how something (our universe and the big bang) came from nothing? I say this because we have no concept of how it’s even possible to make something of nothing like how 2D beings have no concept of a 3D object placed in there space, even though us as 3D beings have full understanding of how it’s possible (for example, picture your life as a dot on a piece of paper and a 3D being set down a coffee mug. What would you see? You would see nothing but a flat plane in front of you, but even though there is still something there).Could different higher level dimensions create other lower dimensions? If a 4D “object” was placed in our 3D universe it would have to have mass based on the theory of relativity, otherwise it would just be traveling at the speed of light. So assuming this object has mass it would HAVE to have energy (gravitational potential) thus making something come from nothing (from a 3D beings perspective of course). Are these “objects” from a 4D world being placed in our dimension, dark matter? Dark matter, of course, is not observable from a 3D perspective (does not absorb or reflect light) but we know it has to exist because it alters gravitational pulls in our observable universe. A final question to leave with would be… could a 4D being see dark matter as we see the very coffee cup we placed on the piece of paper? How can we say a 2D object cannot exist in a world with three dimensions? Maybe they can exist here, but due to their lack of a third dimension and therefore volume we simply cannot observe them. Perhaps it works in the same way for 3D objects in a world with four dimensions. The 3D object can exist there, but will simply be unobservable to a being living in that world with four dimensions, due to it lacking that fourth dimension.

I tend to think the concept of wormholes or the like are linked with the fourth dimension. The idea that you can take a 2D object in a 2D world and move it into the third dimension (think having a 2D picture on a page and you pull a piece of that picture off the page) and then back into the 2D world at a different location (think placing that object back on the page in a different spot), this object, to an observer in the 2D world, would appear to have ‘teleported’ (because the 2D observer cannot see what is occurring in the third dimension). This might also hold true in our three-dimensional world. An object is pulled into the fourth dimension and is then returned to the three-dimensional world in a different location. This would give to us (the observer in the three-dimensional world) the appearance that that object ‘teleported’.

The earliest conception of “modern” space-time by Minkowski in his space-time diagrams was that objects (including us) are all really examples of a four dimensional manifold, the world-lines of their particles stretching from the Big Bang to an unknown distant future. We as 4-manifolds do not experience all the events of our lives simultaneously, but as successive moments of time — successive 3-d “slices” of the 4-manifold. This is probably because causality has a speed limit — the speed of light — which essentially fragments what our consciousness can perceive into the enormous number of “frames” (3D cross-sections or individual moments) of our lives. This is because of relativity of simultaneity demanded by Einstein’s Special Relativity, which makes successive moments possible. The mystery is how our “conscious selves” at each one of these moments experiences a transition from one “frame” (3D slice) to the next. The perceived “Arrow of Time.” It is what physicist David Park called “the fallacy of the animated Minkowski diagram.” I am not a single conscious entity aware of my entire life, but something resembling a train of boxcars, with each boxcar a conscious self-observing an instant at a time, with each boxcar moving forward. Some thinkers use this as an argument for consciousness being not an emergent property but rather something “outside” of the material world.

Rajaniemi constructed a wonderful world wherein the existence of higher dimensional creatures ‘a la H.P. Lovecraft would explain certain phenomena, such as so-called poltergeist manifestations, where, for example, objects sometimes disappear from locked cupboards or safes, only to reappear after a time back there or somewhere else. It is as if some mischievous 4D creature reaches down into our 3D world and grabs something. I thought hard about what Rajaniemi is trying to tell us in a fictionalized way and I too ask the question as follows: if energy (in our case it’s matter in space and time) never dies, could it change its form in a dimension beyond ours?  But I am grappling right now with how our notion of “energy” might have to be changed. In 1926 Sir Arthur Eddington said on the verge of the astonishing realization of quantum physics, “something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” I think we’re in the same place here. Who knows what other dimensions there are because as mere mortals we do not really know for sure; however, some people believe in ghosts or spirits, and some people claim evidence of such. If this is true then the realm they live in could be another dimension of existence. Everything is happening at once. Different aspects of ourselves do exist in other dimensions and I believe that certain energies can indeed be allowed entrance (this is what my SFional self wants to believe…). As Rajaniemi says: "The material world was invisible, except for electricity and the soul-sparks of the living."

Bottom-line: 4D space has an extra spatial ‘direction’ at right angles to the other three. (So, in addition to up/down, left/right and back/forth, there’s ana/kata as Rajaniemi uses in his book – see quote above). We don’t live in a ‘dimension;’ we live in a three dimensional space, with time being considered to be analogous to a 4th dimension. Stating that we live in our ‘dimension’ is not really correct, it’s simply convenient shorthand for saying the ‘3 dimensional space’ we live within. Whether beings are entering our 3D space from a space with more dimensions (= a higher dimension, in this case!) as ‘spirits’ is really a matter for pseudo-scientific speculation. It might turn out to be the case, but somehow I very much doubt it…

Sorry for this long review. Hannu Rajaniemi and Greg Egan are two of the most extraordinary SF writers of the hard stance kind of tone. You should read them for the science. Not so much for the stories. Incidentally, Summerland’s spy story is a little bonkers…5 stars for the physics, 1 star for the story: 3 stars altogether.

NB: SF = Speculative Fiction.