The BIG Infinite Fractal Onion Universe

This is a continuation of my previous post on quantum consciousness (or not), also inspired by Ben Goertzel’s “AGI, Consciousness, Life, the Universe and Everything” on H+ Magazine. In a comment, I wrote: “I am often thinking of a meta-[Theory of Everything]ToE (actually an anti-ToE) that we may call “The [BIG] Infinite Fractal Onion Universe” or something like that.” Here are some thoughts on something like that.

Ben has a Cosmist perspective and quotes the full text of the Ten Cosmist Convictions. He discusses the nature of physical reality and whether there is such a thing as physical reality, the universe as pure information, or perhaps as quantum information, vitalism, the possibility that human brains contain some kind of special quality, which lies outside the domain of empirical science and is responsible for some key aspects of human intelligence. He even mentions God and souls, and concludes with David Bohm‘s notion of “the “implicate order” — i.e. an aspect of the universe that implicitly underlies all things, but isn’t in itself scientifically measurable or sensorially perceptible. The explicate order that we can see and measure, in some sense emerges from the implicate order (and then folds back into it, contributing to it).” Then he says that Bohm’s theories may be related to panpsychism, the idea that mind is a fundamental feature of the universe and each of its parts, rather than something that is the exclusive property of specific kinds of systems like humans, other higher animals, intelligent computer programs, etc…

“I strongly gravitate toward some form of panpsychism,”Ben says, “but I’m not exactly sure what kind. When consciousness theorist Stuart Hameroff said to me “I don’t think an electron has consciousness but I think it has some kind of proto-consciousness”, I felt like I probably disagreed — but also wondered whether we were just getting tangled up in webs of language. I tend to agree with Charles Pierce, Spinoza, Galen Strawson and others that drawing a rigid distinction between mind and matter is ultimately logically incoherent.”

Speaking of Hameroff, one often hears comments like this: “The Hameroff-Penrose metaphysical ‘theory of consciousness’ has absolutely no evidential basis and is a speculation which can fairly be described as a mere exercise in pseudoscience.” My answer: “So did Einstein’s general relativity before Eddington found experimental evidence. And so did [I could write a long list]. This does not mean that I find Hameroff/Penrose’s arguments in support of their theory of consciousness persuasive (actually, I don’t), but dismissing new scientific theories as ‘pseudoscience’ is far too cheap.”

I don’t understand what “pseudoscience” means. Science already has a good rule to distinguish between useful theories and not useful theories: if the predictions of a theory agree with experimental results, the theory may be “right” (which means that it provides a useful model of reality in a given application scope), otherwise it is wrong.

Dismissing others’ theories as “pseudoscience” is not science but gossip, just like “he is a fag and therefore his scientific theory is wrong.” This gossip is typical of the dull “bureaucrats of science” who sadly dominate the scientific community and its broken “pee review” process (they dominate most other communities as well — dull bureaucrats and ass-kissing yes-men have a way to get to the top everywhere). Instead of insulting other scientists, real scientists follow the scientific method and let experiment decide.

In a recent Reality Sandwich interview, Rupert Sheldrake challenges the mechanistic dogma of contemporary mainstream science. “Materialists claim that we live in a little, unconscious universe. That, I think, is profoundly wrong. We live in a universe that’s alive and full of minds and consciousness,” he says. See also “Why Bad Science Is Like Bad Religion” on Huffington Post, and “How to make Cosmism appealing and popular.”

Many mystics believe in supernatural phenomena beyond the reach of science. Many ultra-rationalists believe in a soon-to-be-found Theory of Everything to explain all that happens in the universe with a few elegant formulas. I think they are both wrong: nothing is beyond the reach of science, but Shakespeare’s “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” may remain true forever.

You can count up to any number, and there will still be infinite numbers beyond. Similarly, our scientific understanding of the universe may grow without bonds, but always find new fractal depths of unexplained phenomena, to be explored by future scientists. Richard Feynman said: “If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything so be it. That would be very nice discovery. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we just sick and tired of looking at the layers then that’s the way it is!” And perhaps the onion with millions of layers is really an onion with an infinite number of layers, and we will always find new things to explore and understand.

The video below shows how you can zoom in a fractal like the Mandelbrot set forever, and always find new structures unlike those before. The Mandelbrot set itself can be described as a whole with a simple mathematical formula, but imagine an infinitely complex fractal without any finite description, one that you can explore forever and always find something new, and you may have a good model of reality.

The outer layer of the onion is the world of Newtonian mechanics, where stones thrown in the air move on understandable and predictable paths. It is a good enough framework for much of the physics of everyday life, but it does not explain why a compass does what it does. To understand the compass we must move to a deeper layer, the world of Maxwell, where charged particles create electromagnetic fields, which drive the motion of other charged particles, which in turn influence the fields. Maxwell’s layer explains more physics, but it cannot explain black body radiation. And why does light seem to propagate with the same speed to observers in relative motion?

To understand more physics, we must move to deeper layers: the worlds of Bohr and Einstein, where quantum and relativity play an important role. But it is difficult to put together relativity and quantum physics (that’s why we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity yet), so it seems that we need to go down to deeper layers, not explored yet. Probably the “mystery” of quantum entanglement, and the “mystery” of consciousness (here “mystery” just means something that we don’t understand yet) play important roles in deeper layers.

And then what? Perhaps we live in a quantum multiverse and we cannot describe a single branch without describing all other branches as well. Maybe there are extra dimensions besides three spatial dimensions and a single time dimension, and we cannot fully understand reality without understanding what goes on in these extra dimensions… but then we may find out that even five or six dimensions is not enough and we need to extend our reality model to ten, eleven… all the way up to infinite dimensions.

So perhaps the onion has really infinite layers (visualize a fractal onion with each layer half as wide as the outer layer), in which case the adventure of science will never end but, at any given moment, there will be an infinite ocean, infinitely larger than the known lands, that science hasn’t explored yet.

Gödel demonstrated that our understanding of even the simple world of natural numbers is and will remain incomplete, because there are truths that cannot be demonstrated from the axioms. We can extend the axioms to capture more and more truths, but Gödel’s theorem says that we cannot capture all truths with a finite set of axioms. I don’t know how to translate Gödel’s theorem to the physical world, but by analogy I find it plausible to think that there may always be phenomena that cannot be understood by current science (axioms). Besides finding an infinitely complex universe intellectually convincing, I also find it aesthetically and emotionally appealing — an entirely known universe would be a very boring place.

Big Infinite Fractal Onions: layers all the way down
  • I agree, Giulio, the quest for truth is as valuable as the truth.

  • Giulio Prisco

    Thanks Lincoln, and the quest for the truth is well defined even if the truth itself is not.