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Quantum gravity and afterlife

Afterlife in quantum gravity might be a natural topic for this year's Christmas Eve, a blog post that follows one on the elixir of youth. ;-)

Even though the combination of the quantum gravity and afterlife keywords returns over 350,000 Google hits, it's a topic that hasn't been discussed on the part of the blogosphere we know, not even by the "most audacious" commenters.

This guy (just another Jew, as I was taught by my PhD adviser) was or wasn't resurrected 1980 or 1983 years ago. Just to be sure, he was born during Christmas – exactly 2014-2019 years ago – and died during Easter.

Perhaps, I decided to partially legitimize these topics under the influence of various fiction movies I saw on TV in recent days – including Inception (2010) where Leonardo DiCaprio (the same actor who starred as myself in The String Kings) has to do some job in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream to get rid of the attachment of his wife who is dead in the level-0 but who wants to drag him back from level-minus-two to level-minus three.

(Time goes 20 times faster at each level than at the parent level; two days spent at level-0 give you 50 years of fun at level-minus-three. I didn't quite follow the storylines at each level; you must be a Milner Prize winner to follow them.)

Don't get me wrong. My basic attitude – at least when it comes to the science I would call substantiated and working – is as materialist and atheist that you can get. There is a "real spacetime" with some phenomena whose events we essentially share and all our dreams and perceptions that disagree with the "objective" events within this spacetime are artifacts of our brains' not preserving their full contact with the reality. Quantum mechanics forces us to formulate the fundamental laws of physics in a subjective way but this subjectivity seems like a "temporary fluke" whose final purpose is to make predictions about facts that may be treated as objective or classical facts.

However, I am sometimes worried – or tempted to think (depending on one's mood and emotional attitude) – that the subjectivity in quantum mechanics could be able to run deeper and it could legitimize some of the themes that sound decidedly spiritual or religious to a scientifically trained ear.

In particular, I can imagine that the properly understood fundamental laws of physics give the "full reality status" to various kinds of dreams – and near-death experiences. In other words, it's plausible that according to the fundamental laws, it is not possible to prove that the "real lives" we are experiencing are fundamentally more real than some of our dreams and related perceptions and signs of consciousness. Their being "real" could be just a quantitative issue or a convention.

Again, I am surely not saying that I have a proof. I don't have a proof by contradiction, either. Of course that I am sane so I appreciate that the general picture with one reality and "dreams as signs of malfunctioning or relaxing brains" is perfectly consistent with all the empirical facts we know about Nature and with the general physical principles we've been able to induce by looking at patterns in our empirical observations.

However, it's also plausible that the fundamental rules are different. And I am not talking about some old uninformed debates between science and religion. I am talking about some of the newest technical developments in theoretical physics.

In January 2009, I would provoke the dear readers by a text about the reincarnation of the infalling observer. The basic claim was that the usual "objective" sorting of the facts (outcomes of measurements) applies to the regions outside black holes. But the infalling observer who is going to die may require a much more subjective framework, one in which his or her soul gets reincarnated as the information is being nonlocally transferred from the black hole interior.

The wording – and especially the title – was deliberately provocative and spiritual from a writer like myself (be sure that over 99% of the people on Earth would count me as a stronger atheist than themselves) – but I would claim that

the basic idea of reincarnation of the infalling observer was quantitatively expressed by Maldacena's and Susskind's ER-EPR correspondence.
According to the usual picture of the spacetime, the life of an infalling observer has to end in the black hole interior where the existence of the singularity (a region where the curvature invariants diverge or approach the huge Planckian values) is unavoidable. However, the information carried by the infalling observer doesn't get lost at the singularity. No information is ever lost so we may imagine that there are nonlocal processes that transfer the information from the black hole interior to the exterior. And this nonlocal transfer of the information may be interpreted as a sign of a "soul travelling somewhere".

The point of my provoking title in 2009 was that the abrupt end of the spacetime in the middle of the black hole depends on a particular reconstruction of the spacetime geometry. In the usual diagram (the Penrose diagram above), the region near the singularity seems to be disconnected from the regions outside the black hole. They are very far. But if the information gets transferred from one place to another, there must be a sense in which these two places are very close – an alternative picture of the spacetime geometry where the region near the singularity (where the infalling observer is going to die) is connected to some regions outside the black hole by a thin connection. Well, that's what Maldacena and Susskind concluded; they are connected by the Einstein-Rosen bridge, a non-traversable wormhole.

The existence of entangled degrees of freedom may be interpreted as a geometric bridge of a sort.

The ER-EPR correspondence leads us to a "less dogmatic" picture of the spacetime geometry, its topology, and especially its connectivity. The existence or non-existence of such a bridge is no longer a good observable in quantum gravity. Instead, the reconstruction of connections and wormholes between two places in the spacetime (or spacetimes) is determined at an information-theoretic basis: the bridges are there [and/or they are thick and smooth] if the degree of entanglement between these two places is nonzero [and/or high].

As I wrote previously, the ER-EPR correspondence makes the choice of the spacetime background (even its topology) dynamical or convention-dependent and some topologies are just more convenient for certain purposes (but not more fundamental) than others.

In the basic pictures of Maldacena and Susskind, it's being assumed that the entangled objects are spacelike-separated objects in the same spacetime. But in fact, one may think about the possibility that they are timelike-separated; and they may live in different spacetimes, too.

For example, the ER-EPR picture offers a new possible perspective on the Poincaré recurrences (for example in a de Sitter space). After an exponentially long time, the events in any physical system with finitely many degrees of freedom (finite maximum entropy) inevitably start to repeat themselves. I think that because the periodicity obeys the mathematical definition of an entanglement, the ER-EPR paradigm allows us to say that the time is literally periodic in such a situation. This conclusion about the "literal periodicity" is consistent with an old lore that there are no global symmetries in quantum gravity. The discrete time-translational symmetry would be a global symmetry but this "enhanced ER-EPR interpretation" turns it into a gauge symmetry because the "copies" of the history of the Universe are literally identified.

The ER-EPR picture may also have conceptual implications for the status of "soulmates". If two objects are quantum entangled, they are connected through a wormhole of a sort. (This is only possible for pairs of objects – triplets or greater groups of objects can't be entangled in the usual way, essentially due to the monogamy of the entanglement, but there of course exist generalizations of entanglement for triplets of objects, too. They could have other geometric visualizations.)

The information carried by our brains is probably classical; intrinsically quantum entanglement is probably not sustainable and our brains aren't quantum computers. But if you ignore this "detail", the Maldacena-Susskind picture may invite you into imagining that your brain is "literally" i.e. "geometrically" connected with the brain of your soulmate(s). And you may even suggest that such a connection is important even if you die very far from any black hole singularity. Any kind of death – e.g. erroneous death of a living person in the crematorium – may be interpreted similarly to the Hawking-radiation-vs-interior wormholes. The soul may be transferred elsewhere, perhaps even to a different universe.

The ER-EPR picture may have "opposite" implications, too. For example, eternal inflation in cosmology often requires some extreme processes (like the tunneling through the configuration space) that impose so brutal conditions upon the spacetime that any living object is inevitably destroyed. Eternal inflation theorists never cared. It doesn't matter whether all the organisms are inevitably killed and the degrees of freedom are brutally reshuffled; they would still believe that it makes a complete sense to connect the two different universes into a multiverse just like you would connect them in the absence of an extreme tunneling event.

I was always feeling uncomfortable about these "connections through Hell" (and therefore about the multiverse's being physically meaningful in general). I have had several reasons to doubt this simple-minded connectivity. One of them was that the "fabric of space" in a different vacuum is really a "different material" than the original "fabric" – much like a dimension and its T-dual dimension are made of a "different stuff" – and by the Lorentz symmetry in both spacetimes, the two time coordinates should be thought of as "different things", too.

Another reason for doubts was closer to the ER-EPR logic. My feeling was that the question whether the spacetime is smoothly continuing should be decided by some operational procedures – the degrees of freedom "before" should be similar to (highly entangled with) the degrees of freedom "after". The spacetime is smooth and connected iff the actual observables that depend on the location – the quantum fields – are continuously and slowly enough changing functions of the spacetime. But if all the observers are killed and all the low-energy (and other) data are hopelessly reshuffled in the extreme environment of Planckian curvature invariants and Planckian gradients of scalar fields, it means that there is no good operational way to show that the region "after" is really connected to the region "before" the quantum tunneling event. My positivist upbringing told me that if the hypothetical connection of the "before" world with the "after" world has no empirical consequences, even in principle, it's at least conceivable that this connection is physically meaningless and an accurate description of Nature denies it.

Now, I believe that the ER-EPR correspondence provides us with a more rigorous edition of the argument I would be making. Just like a wormhole connection is created in the presence of quantum entanglement, an extreme transition similar to quantum tunneling destroys any simple entanglement between "before" and "after" which means that the continuity of the spacetime becomes less genuine or useful. In fact, when your world is decaying due to quantum tunneling, it may be more "true" to continue or extrapolate the spacetime elsewhere, to a region (perhaps in a "completely different" universe) where the degrees of freedom are assembled more similarly to those before you were killed – you may want to believe that your universe is connected to a realm of your soulmates.

Sheldon's Christmas. I've watched all 146 TBBT episodes so far, about 3 times in average, but the Christmas hug episode may still be my most favorite one.

Now, we may ask: May it ever be legitimate to "tunnel your soul" into the mind of someone else whose brain is highly entangled with yours but who lives in a different environment? I am not sure whether those developments in quantum gravity that we already know about may justify such a far-reaching conclusion. The main problem is that it still seems to me that "a soul shouldn't be allowed to fake its environment". Leonardo DiCaprio (and his wife and his colleague) was creating his skyscrapers at all negative levels but I still think that the fabrication of the skyscrapers "by pure thought" should contradict the laws of physics at any level (unless we are thinking about a Tegmark-like "anything goes" world of all mathematical possibilities which seems vacuous to me).

Many sentences above were deliberately provoking and "somewhat surpassing" the claims that may actually be defended by the existing scientific insights. And I do believe that the predictions for "doable experiments", even in the presence of quantum gravity contributions, are unlikely to change relatively to the existing picture. Be sure that I am as conservative as you may get. But I can imagine that a future understanding of quantum gravity will profoundly change our understanding of the reality vs dreams, our understanding of our connections with our dreams and fantasies and with the creatures in this world and other worlds who are similar to us, and perhaps our ways to think about the spiritual issues connected with death. To put it more modestly, they may provide us with shocking alternative but "equally correct" ways to think about these issues.

While I find it extremely unlikely that any particular religious or science-fiction story will be confirmed including the finest details, it's conceivable that some of the profoundly new ways to think about the reality, dreams, and death will be much more similar to the spiritual pictures than what stubborn, prejudiced materialists will find comfortable.

Stay tuned and Merry Christmas.

P.S.: The Czech media just reported that the Norwegian Christmas revolves around the 1973 Czech fairy-tale, Three Nuts for Cinderella, co-starring some East German actors. It's not dubbed – all movies are professionally dubbed in Czechia (I do believe that the Czech dubbing of most movies sounds better than the original). It is aired as a voice-over that you know from amateurish early VHS and that you may watch. The tradition to air this movie – on Christmas Eve morning, 11 am – began in 1975 and a million of Norwegians (the most watched TV program on that day) have adjusted their daily schedule according to the TV schedule. In 1993, the TV attempted to eliminate the movie from the program. They shouldn't have done that! A million of citizens demanded "their Cinderella" to be returned and they asked the responsible TV managers to *beep* their *beep* *beep*. So the fairy-tale was returned to the schedule – more or less permanently. This year, the Norwegian press claimed that the actors starring as the prince and the Cinderella fell in love with one another in the real world, too. I didn't know. ;-)

Try my Christmas playlist but many songs have been deleted. Damn copyrights.

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reader Pablo said...

4 years since I discovered this blog and I really keep enjoying and following it much like the very first day. Lots of congratulations and Merry Christmas Lubos

reader Rene Henc said...

Yes, for me The Reference Frame is probably the best science-focused blog - greetings from Prague to Pilsen and of course, Merry Christmas, Luboš!

reader Dilaton said...

Merry Christmas to Lumo and the TRF community :-)!

I look foreward to reading this Christmas story, which seems much more interesting than the conventional one ... :-D


reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Dilaton, and Merry Christmas, Saturnalia, and/or post-Hannukah or whatever you celebrate. ;-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Great to hear about a blog-inspired contact within our homeland! ;-) Merry Christmas to the capital, Rene.

reader Giotis said...

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to Lubos and to the rest of the guys…

This blog is an invaluable unique source of high quality posts in the physics I’m interested in.

And for the New Year, does anyone know when LHC will open up for business again?

I want to order some Sushi :-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Giotis, merry Christmas! If you mean the new LHC collisions, they will only begin after the Two Years' Vacation (combined with an upgrade to 13 TeV) in April 2015.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Dear Lubos:

Merry X-mas and Happy New Year. Keep up the good work in the New Year.
I cannot believe my eyes, what I am reading today in your blog!!!
“While I find it extremely unlikely that any particular
religious or science-fiction story will be confirmed including the finest details, it's conceivable that some of the profoundly new ways to think about
the reality, dreams, and death will be much more similar to the spiritual pictures than what stubborn, prejudiced materialists will find comfortable.”
Let me say something which may be called pseudoscience today. In a sense you might be moving towards eastern (Hindu) concepts of soul and afterlife, consciousness and rebirth.
Most of the brain is surely classical, but the soul (if there is such a thing) is not. The law of karma says in modern language that “information about you is never lost” It is preserved somewhere!

reader David Brown said...

"... whatever you celebrate ..." Does the following have any meaning?
On 12/20/13 5:17 AM, David Brown wrote:
Prof. Witten: Do you have an opinion concerning the comments posted for?
— D. Brown
On Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 3:54 AM, Edward
Witten wrote:
I am generally sympathetic with these observations
Edward Witten

reader Angular said...

Maybe other people have dreams that are more sophisticated than I have, but as someone who experiences lucid dreams quite often I can assure you that there are no hints whatsoever that my dreams are not rooted in our reality or that they are in any way connected to a universe different from our own.

That said the positivists' reality is nothing more than a good working hypothesis and should be treated as such.

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, Kashyap, I have never moved "infinitely far" from them, either. It started on the high school shortly after the fall of communism when we were visited by the disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I almost started to meditate with them, under the influence of "unified field theory" booklets that were written - as I know today - but John Hagelin, originally a very good particle physicists.

Well, I always saw some limitations of those things in science. But I have some friends who believe similar things and I am not among those who are trying to do everything they can to be irreligious. ;-) I don't need any such extra twist - the truth seems irreligious enough to me but if the natural evidence will point to a more religious direction, well, we will have to accept it.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Right, they are rooted, but the differences are still enough to see that the dreams are not happening in the reality, aren't they? A question is whether it makes sense to imagine that the world of the dreams follows or has to follow some laws of physics. Of course, a sane materialist answer is that this is not necessary in any way - the dream world is man-made or brain-made and the brain i.e. the creator isn't directly controlled by the laws of physics. But maybe the ideas about the arrangement of things in a spacetime has to be organized by some constraints which we don't understand and which betray a hidden layer of laws of physics.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear David, thanks for your comment. I didn't understand what Witten was generally sympathetic with.

I may add a disclaimer - my comments on QG and physics in general don't necessarily reflect Edward Witten's views - it's just extremely likely that they do. ;-)

reader John H. said...

I haven't bothered to read the accounts but there are now books available documenting children in particular who claim to know a place they have lived in a past life and if the accounts are true there is no way to discount their descriptions as chance. When science oriented people hear these accounts they immediately dismiss them whereas I sometimes wonder if perhaps a more thorough investigation is required, if only to settle the matter once and for all.
There currently is a scientific study on near death experiences, the results should be published early next year. Long study, over 5 years. Instigated by some doctors because they were consistently surprised how "dead" patients could recount so much of what happened. While neurological explanations may go some way to explaining NDE's these are not really scientific explanations. A striking feature is how these experiences can so fundamentally change a person's attitude to life whereas a near death accident doesn't.
At a personal level I can't be bothered spending too much time on these issues. If something is going on beyond what we know, and given the history of science it would seem prudent that we assume we don't know a great deal, then I'll find out when I'm dead but at present I assume I won't find out anything when I'm dead because I will no longer be. I do find it striking that human beings who embrace a purpose larger than themselves are generally happier and healthier than people who are doing it for themselves, as if there is a "higher calling" to being human. "Selfish genes"(hate that concept) that created beings who are better off not being selfish? I will be interested in the results of that NDE study. I don't have the details to hand and don't need to have those because if the results are striking I'm sure we'll be hearing about it.
Thanks for your blog and thoughts Lubos. Keep it up. It is already Xmas here on the Gold Coast, Australia. 2.00 am and I'm still awake, probably til sunrise as usual. Xmas-bah humbug.

reader john said...

Dear Lubos,
This is off topic, but it seemed to appropriate to post it here. There is an article here : http://owl-sowa.blogspot.com/2013/07/guessing-who-will-get-fields-medals.html?m=1

He or she claims that witten's contributions to mathematics not very original for physicist (that is if you can use feynman integral) and he doesn't deserve fields medal. What are your (and other mathematicians that you know) thoughts ? I don't imply anything, those things are very above my current level.

Merry Christmas :)

reader David Brown said...

MILGROM, MILGROM, MILGROM !!! YES, YES, YES!!! If Milgrom were wrong, he could never have convinced McGaugh and Kroupa. Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology — ACCORDING TO EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE!

reader borman said...

Old scientists never die. They just fade into another dual.

reader Eclectikus said...

Yes, Lubos, Maldacena is Christian (Catholic, for being precise).

Translated from here:


- Are you a practicing Catholic?

Yes, I am.

- And do not live like a contradiction of science evidence on the origin of the universe and the story of religion?

As that you learns science, one is changing how you see the role of religion. But each one have to find how to make them compatible.


I have always thought that Religion and Science (or Physics) are perfectly compatible, is a fact (just consider the long list of christians and jews with scientific contributions to various fields of science). But approaching religion through science is a very dangerous road and at high risk of ridicule (see Hawking or Penrose).

Merry Christmas to everyone! (And thanks Lubos for your exquisite work in this blog).

reader BenVorlich said...

Why the Kogi chose to speak about their perception of dark energy with a Caltech astronomer, rather than your good self, is quite frankly beyond me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6kHddVWg6o

reader NumCracker said...

Actually it is not a wormhole it is a dark matter link connecting different, but correlated, braneworlds ... something was already mentioned in esoteric literature http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_cord ... but scientific measurements will just come by "Magnetoencephalography" of so-called chanceleres. I believe such kind of study has not tried yet ;-) Merry X-mass

reader NumCrackers said...

Sic ... channelers ... :-)

reader Rehbock said...


reader Uncle Al said...

If you wanted the days to grow longer, you grabbed your honey on the solstice and got busy. Nothing has changed. One day not enough people will do this. Day length will drift to zero, dooming the Earth to wistful tales of global warming as everybody dies.

1) Christ died for your sins.
2) If you do not sin, Christ died in vain.
3) Get on with it. Sin like you mean it!

reader lukelea said...

And a very merry Christmas to you too, dear Lubos! I've always assumed that claims about "life-after-death" were at best metaphorically true -- especially the "after" part: "eternity in a grain of sand" and all that -- and that in any case we would never live to tell about it (talk about the arrow of time!)

Which is why I wonder whether the actual experience of dying mightn't be the promising (or threatening) thing.

Pretty soon you'll be talking like an old man too. Happy New Year to you and all your readers!

reader lucretius said...

As a mathematician I think any claim that Witten's mathematical work lacks originality is ridiculous and very ignorant (although I also notice that the author of the article you link does not make any such claim!)
In fact, judging by the originality of his contributions to mathematics Witten deserved the Fields medal several times over. Probably the most surprising of his many contributions was the discovery of the Seiberg-Witten invariants. This was one of the greatest mathematical events of the early 1990. To appreciate the scale of that achievement one has only to know that Simon Donaldson discovery of the connection between the space of instantons (anti-self dual connections in principal bundles over 4 dimensional Riemannian manifolds) and the topology of 4 manifolds, was one of the biggest achievements in topology in the 1980s. Donaldson was a student of Atiyah and according to Atiyah’s own testimony that I heard myself when he described his proposed approach to Atiyah, the latter told him that “it was a nice idea but impossible to carry out”. Yet Donaldson did carry it out and in doing so (again in Atiyah’s words) “stunned the mathematical world”. For this he received the Field’s medal.

Then in the 1990s Witten came along and, casually “trivialised” Donaldson’s enormous achievement (I remember Taubes using the word “trivialize” in this context). What Witten and Seiberg did was to use physical intuition (from quantum field theory) to produce a new set of invariants, which were dual to Donaldson’s invariants but vastly easier to work with. Actually, the duality itself has never been rigorously proved mathematically, but one could use the new invariants to prove all the theorems that had been proved with the old ones (some of the proofs become 1000 times shorter when the Seiberg-Witten theory is used instead of Donaldson’s one) and solve almost all the big problems that could not be solved using Donaldson’s methods. Although the new invariants bear the name of Seiberg and Witten, from the start there was little doubt that Witten was the main figure in the partnership. I remember hearing people say that Clifford Taubes, a great mathematician in his own right, was in awe of the power of Witten’s intuition.

Of course the Seiberg-Witten invariants were only one of many of Witten’s contributions (I mention them first because that is what I understand best myself). In addition, Witten made huge contributions to knot theory through the development of topological quantum field theory (in which my former supervisor also played a major role). Then there is the Morse-Smale-Witten complex and beautiful reformulation of Morse theory, which played a big role in Floer’s discovery of an infinite-dimensional version of that theory. There are also other things that I can’t say anything about because I don’t understand them, like the “positive energy theorem” and String Theory.

Anyway, I have never heard any serious mathematician express any doubt about Witten’s originality - in fact, from the point of view of mathematicians all his discoveries are sensational and sensational surely implies original. The only doubts that I have ever heard raised about Witten’s work by mathematicians concern not its originality but supposed “lack of mathematical rigor”. But that is Witten is regarded (and indeed considers himself) a physicist.

Merry Christmas.

reader lucretius said...

I know that Hawking likes to make, from time to time, the claim that physics (with his help) has at last made God redundant (the claim made originally with much greater eloquence by Laplace, see http://www.eoht.info/page/Napoleon+Laplace+anecdote ), to great joy of Richard Dawkins (who has repeatedly shown that he is quite incapable of understanding even rudimentary physics) but I have always viewed it as an example of his great desire to attract attention and stay in the limelight. Penrose, on the other hand, in my experience, has always tended to avoid this issue so I wonder what in particular you have in mind?

reader lucretius said...

Well, I know Roger Penrose is extremely interested in consciousness and psychology (I actually talked about this with him last year). His father was a famous psychologist and they even wrote some papers on the subject (and invented "impossible objects" used later by Esscher in some of his artworks). I also know that Penrose generally avoids any mention of God or religion in his work (but he also avoids claims of having "disproved" anything about them). I would not call this an example of "approaching religion through science" but rather "ignoring religion in science" - which is, in my opinion the right thing to do. I also see this attitude as metaphysically non-committal, because science and religion exist on a different plane and should not be competitors. I am pretty sure that this is also Maldacena's view.

reader Eclectikus said...

I can not agree more, and that is the fundamental point: "science and religion exist on a different plane and should not be competitors". And that is the point that skips Hawking, and still in a more coarsely manner Richard Dawkins. And I thought that Penrose was also falling into the same error, I'm glad that is not the case, but I still think that quantum mechanics and spirituality, even through psychology, make very bad epistemological partner. Of course mine is a review as spectator, an unauthorized impression.

reader lucretius said...

Well, I actually agree with Laplace, that “Science does not need God” and not because “God does not exists” but because God is a too powerful explanation and once you admit this explanation, a great deal of science becomes unnecessary. Of course this is not “progress from theological point of view” but Laplace was not trying to do theology. He was opposed to admitting God into Science, not (unlike Dawkins) disproving the existence of God. Science should try to proceed without this “hypothesis” - that is in fact a fundamental requirement and it applies both to scientists who are atheists and those who are believers (such as Newton or Planck or Pauli, none of whom tried to introduce God into Science).

I think Penrose adopts the same approach as Laplace, in fact he has said this more or less openly on several occasions (not that “God does not exist” but that “there is no room for God in Science”). This is quite different from Hawking (or Dawkins) who actually has claimed that science has “disproved” God.

reader john said...

Dear lucretius,
Thanks for your well written response. Of course what matters is reality not someone's thoughts but I think that in the sentence

"There is no doubt that his ideas are highly original from the point of view of a mathematician (and much less so from the point of view of someone using Feynman’s integrals daily)..."

author implied by the phrase in the parenthesis that what witten did were not very original for someone who know feynman integrals. I think what author had meant is clear. Also if you are interested there is a long interview with atiyah, which includes many insights on adacemic life (one of them about donaldson he tells what you have said above):


Best wishes.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Well. I essentially agree with you and I do not want to fill Lubos’ blog with talks
about God and religion!! However, the concept of God (called Brahman) is
completely different in Hinduism from that in Judeo-Christian religions.
Brahman is pretty much synonymous with laws of nature. It is the ultimate super consciousness. Hinduism has no conflict whatsoever with science. Thus as a retired physics professor, I have best of both the worlds! I can participate in physics
blogs and at the same time in temple activity to get comfort, inspiration and
help to manage my life.

reader Dilaton said...

I like these bold and somehow cute and fascinating applications of the ER-EPR correspondance described in this article, they are exactly the right things to think about at midnight mass time, which is what I just did ... ;-P


reader Peter F. said...

Dear all you Lumo's friends,
You who, unlike me, have a PhD in physics (or one in theology - or ideally one of each) and/or have accumulated a status and kudoses commensurate with depositions of papers * their citations in the {less hip than the hEP-Th} 'hep-th repository:

PLEASE DON'T FORGET and HURRY to nominate Lumo for the Templeton Prize while you are still in a configuration of energy [i.e. a configuration probabilistically coded/instructed by indestructible and platonically stored stringy quantum information] which is physically capable of doing so!
That is, please do so before the evil energy in you descend into the inner sanctum=maximal depth of a black (hell-) hole, and the holYgraphically stored eternal bits of you are left hanging on to the Schwarzschild horizon! ;-)

P.S. I could not imagine a nicer (and also to me intensely pleasing) Xmas-present (or Anytime-present) for you, Lumo! :-)

reader CIPig said...

Merry Christmas, Lubos.

Your blog was not only my inspiration but has been a valuable resource since I first discovered it - despite our many disagreements.

reader Jitter said...

Lubos, why such the doubt about the brain not being a quantum system? It's got phosphorus in it and it's quite coherant in silicon. Maybe phosphorus is coherant in other chemical systems.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Jitter, just to be sure, my statement wasn't meant to say that quantum mechanics is irrelevant for the understanding of anything in the brain. Indeed, everything - even the very existence of atoms in the brain or elsewhere - depends on QM.

I just meant that the information processed in the brain is classical information for which the quantum interference and non-classical entanglement are negligible; a model of the brain that neglects these intrinsically quantum features of the information in the brain works as well as the real brain.

This is true simply because the brain is too warm and strongly interacting to guarantee that decoherence etc. is fast enough and the classical approximation is OK.

The article you linked to isn't a counterexample because the quantum information whose coherence they could preserve was really carried by nuclear spins whose interactions are really weak, and therefore make the decoherence slow enough. However, this weakness is a double-edged sword. While it slows the decoherence down, it also makes it extremely hard to measure this information, and indeed, there can't be fine enough gadgets within the brain that would be able to measure the nuclear spins, I think. So if such quantum information stored in nuclear spins exists in the brain, it still has no consequences for our behavior - it is not a part of the information that the brain is actually processing.

Feel free to prove me wrong.

reader anna v said...

Merry Christmas Lubos :

Wow, what an unexpected post ! :) .

Back in the 1980s I spent quite a lot of time reading up on metaphysical set ups, on after death experiences, on reincarnation stories ( my experimentalist's need for the last two). The holographic principle is a good description of the Akashik records of Casey, who said he could read them off in trance.

I was attracted strongly by the theory of the world put forth by Seth, ( Jane Robert's channeling) because it looked so "physics like":
"everything is composed by units of consciousness" . At the time strings were new to me, and these units of consciousness were lovely models for cosmic strings ( and vice versa) as they are supposed to exist "everywhere and every-when" like god. Ensembles of these units build up from quarks to the universe, in hierarchical order.

With age came wisdom and agnosticism : the great experiment is not far and one will know one way or another (not if we disappear completely), whats the hurry?

On a serious note the experiments designed to show telepathy precognition and what not are badly designed .

In my next reincarnation I will maybe design better ones :) .

Glad to see you have an open mind on the stuff.


reader AntiTheist said...

"The information carried by our brains is probably classical;
intrinsically quantum entanglement is probably not sustainable and our
brains aren't quantum computers."
But then I really don't get the point. If we die and the brain decays, we are gone because the structure is gone. What should remain ?

"For example, the ER-EPR picture offers a new possible perspective on the Poincaré recurrences"
Aren't we still facing the infinite number of dof of QFT? Why should EPR have any relevance if the brain is wet and noisy ?

reader NikFromNYC said...

Does your sober rejoinder apply identically to the Penrose paper above? Both us empiricists and biology itself are always searching for inventive loopholes, often successfully. Your claim of working classical models of the brain is a mere rhetorical device, minus actual models of higher function.

reader Dilaton said...

Hi Anna,

Merry Christmas to you too :-) !

Sorry for asking you here, but could you help us to reopen this question I have improved?


It has already 4 of the 5 reopen votes needed and it would be a pitty if they decay useless ...

Cheers !

reader CentralCharge15 said...

Ok, I got very scared when I first read the title, was thinking that your account got hacked!

Thankfully, that's not the case. I will read this soon, and happy christmass.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

@ Lucretius and Eclectikus and perhaps others : One more comment about “science and God” and then I promise I will shut up!! The fact that “science does not need (and should not need, my words) God “has been known for centuries. If you bring in concept of God while doing science, you are
defeating the main purpose of science, i.e. natural phenomena should have
natural explanations. But the place where many scientists go wrong is that scientific method has its limitations, just has religion has its
limitations. Some ideas are not subject to scientific investigations, at least
currently. Once you recognize this then all the conflicts are resolved.

reader Jitter said...

I'll leave that proof for someone smarter than me. If a plant's life only exists because of quantum mecanics then it makes me wonder if the same is true for other living kingdoms. Maybe some day even the dimension of consciousness maybe proven to be a curled up string.
Merry xmas and a happy festivus from the rest of us ;-)

reader Gordon said...

Hmmm, Seth etc...that explains the belief in crystals and homeopathy.

reader Gordon said...

Let's see--- Seth etc...that explains the belief in crystals and homeopathy...

reader Gordon said...

Of course, "trivial" is the most used word by mathematicians concerning other mathematicians' work :)
When John Nash explained his equilibrium idea to John von Neumann, von Neumann brushed him off with "That's trivial, you know. That's just a fixed point theorem."

reader Gordon said...

--> Lubos: Hmmm, I see you are channeling material from Brian Greene's next book :) Merry Christmas to all on TRF. (One of the PC flakes on CBC radio was saying that in order not to offend anyone, we should all just be wishing others "happy December time"---This was not a comedy show. The interviewer nearly choked :)

reader Jitter said...

I tend to wonder what happens to all the photons that are interacting with the out of body consciousness. Is there a shadow from the eyes of consciousness?

reader lukelea said...

Lucretius -- the Hebraic conception of God is a historical idea and should be approached in those terms, not as a metaphysical idea. Miracles, creator of heaven and earth, etc., is just so much window dressing intended to lend a cloak of authority. The God of the Hebrews was (and is) a God of History and is easily the most important idea in Western intellectual history. You seem well equipped to be able to appreciate this fact. Don't be distracted by the Dawkins's of this world. And a merry Christmas to you!

reader SteveBrooklineMA said...

Merry Christmas to Lubos et al.!

reader scooby said...

Merry Christmas Lubos. Interesting (wildly speculating) post, which could serve as a theoretical basis for some of the ideas exposed in a science fiction novel I read a while ago - The Reality Dysfunction by Peter Hamilton.
Let's build the LSC (Large Soul Collider). Put a few EU bureaucrats in it, see if they tunnel/reincarnate into something more useful.

reader Eugene S said...

Dear Robert, I think it's unconscionable that you won't start a Youtube channel for your little buddy so that he can show off to his heart's content.

Happy happy, etc.

reader Dilaton said...

Would that reaction be possible by a techically feasable collider?
I thought bureaucrats turning into something harmless or even useful can only take place above the string or even Planck scale, if it can happen at all ;-)?

reader Dilaton said...

Oh yes please :-D !

reader Soylent Green said...

Merry Christmas, Lubos.

reader anna v said...

hope you have had a joyful Xmas too, Dilaton.

I think your cold storage period is over at SE. Are you becoming active again?

reader anna v said...

Gordon, can you not let go even during the holidays of your need to impose your world view on others?

And for the record the only contact/study of crystals I have had was for used in table top particle accelerators, and that just as a reader.

reader Gordon said...

Sorry, I couldn't resist when I saw
the reference to Seth. And I am not imposing my world views on anyone.
Every person is free to be deluded in their own ways. It was a cheap shot :)

reader Gordon said...

Sorry, I couldn't resist when I saw the reference to Seth. And I am not imposing my world views on anyone.
Every person is free to be deluded in his/her own ways. It was a cheap shot :)

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reader MarkusM said...

I just want to make one remark about dreams:
I find it quite stunning that people who are born blind do not have visual but auditory dreams. I doubt therefore that dreams have anything to do with a deeper level of reality, rather I looks to me that they are the result of the way we interact with the outside world.

reader lucretius said...

In that case I should make it clear that the statement that that the Sieberg-Witten theory “trivialised” Donaldson’s theory (theory of “instantons”) was not meant as any kind of “put-down”. Of course the theory of the Sieberg-Witten invariants is far from trivial: it only seems so by comparison with the immense difficulty of the Donaldson theory. The relationship between the two is one of the greatest “duality” miracles in all of mathematics. Technically “the miracle” amounts to replacing a theory dealing with principle bundles with structure group SU(2) (which is non-abelian) with one dealing with bundles with structure group the circle. The result is that proofs based on the Sieberg-Witten invariants are usually enormously simpler than proofs of the same theorems that use Donaldson’s ones and sometimes even are really trivial. In that comparative sense the Sieberg-Witten theory may be said to “trivialise” the Donaldson theory, but of course objectively it is still highly non-trivial and Donaldson’s theory remains immensely difficult. It is worth again noting that the duality of the two approaches is based on arguments from physics and sill has not been proved mathematically (or “rigorously”) although it has been verified in many special cases. In any case, the Sieberg-Witten theory can be used quite independently of the Donaldson theory for solving the same problems with much greater ease.

reader lucretius said...

This is just one of many examples which illustrate that TRF, in addition to being the best site on the Internet where serious science is discussed without dumbing down or a hidden agenda, is also an oasis of freedom, truth and sanity. Like the others, I am hugely grateful to Lubos for all of this.
Now that Christmass is over, best wishes for the New Year, Heisei 26 ;-)

reader Dilaton said...

Probably a bit but not too much, I will see ...
I had enough time to acknowledge that conversely to how it has been on TP.SE, Physics SE is now dominated and run mostly by people who are not knowledgeable about advanced topics to express it politely, even though some good folks are still there.

reader John H. said...

Just as the grin is a property of a cat, polarization is a property of a photon. In their paper, the physicists explain how, "in the curious way of quantum mechanics, photon polarization may exist where there is no photon at all."

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-11-physicists-quantum-cheshire-cats-paradoxes.html#jCp

reader Pablo said...

HI Markus,
well, blind people who have got near-death experiences have reported very accurate visual perceptions...

reader MarkusM said...

Hi Pablo,
are they really born blind ? If so, that would be highly interesting.
Do you have any references where you found that?

I should have added that:

reader Anders I said...

As a psychologist who regrets not getting into physics in large part due to reading The Reference Frame (Thanks Lubos!) once in a while, please allow me to link to the work of neuroscientist Steven Lehar who attempts bridging perception, consciousness and dreaming. This he achieves by considering the perceptual space to be curved. The non-euclidian nature of this inner space in my opinion implies the working of the gravitational field of the earth in setting up the formal qualities of perception. No quantum there as of yet, but a stunningly fresh perspective on some old dead end issues in psychology and philosophy presented with quite a few of that rare thing in psychology - equations. Check the cartoon epistemology for fun (and to see if you belong amongst the Milner Winners) or the article on Gestalt Isomorphism.


Merry Christmas everybody and a happy new year. Yours sincerely
Anders I.

reader Anders I said...

As a psychologist who primarily because of The Reference Frame now regrets not getting into physics (Thanks Lubos!) allow me to link to the work of neuroscientist Steven Lehar who works on bridging perception, consciousness and dreaming. This he achieves by considering the perceptual space to be curved, the non-euclidian nature of this inner space in my opinion implies the working of the gravitational field of the earth in establishing the formal qualities of perception. No quantum there yet though, but a stunningly fresh perspective on some old issues presented with quite a few of that rare thing in psychology - equations. Check the cartoon epistemology for fun (and to see if you belong amongst the Milner Winners) or the article on Gestalt Isomorphism.


Merry Christmas everybody and a happy new year. Yours sincerely Anders I.

reader john said...

I asked the question in part to learn whether the applications of physics to mathematics is based mainly on feynman integral. The author I linked says something like that in another article.

reader lucretius said...

Unfortunately I do not know anything about the physical origins of these ideas, except that they lie in Seiberg-Witten gauge theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiberg–Witten_gauge_theory ). I don't think this has anything directly to do with the feynman integral (?). However, another of Witten's famous contributions to mathematics (especially knot theory) is based on "topological quantum field theory" and this does have something to do with the feynman path integral (namely, one needs it to formulate a field theory with zero Hamiltonian) but that is all I know about this topic. Perhaps someone else can explain more. In any case, these things seem to me far from obvious either to mathematicians or to physicists.

reader lucretius said...

You are right, of course, that the Jewish religion as represented by the Torah was, and still is, essentially History of the Jews, which is what makes it easier for Jews than for members of other religions to remain religious and secular at the same time. Nevertheless, this is only one aspect and I don’t think it is fair to describe the cosmological and mystical aspects of Judaism as “so much window dressing”. The latter (mystical) aspect is central to East European (essentially Polish) orthodox Judaism, especially Hasidism, where it is actually considerably more important than the historical one. The cosmological and moral aspect (in particular, the concept of evil as represented by the figure of Satan) is much older and almost certainly derived from Zoroastrism, during the time of Cyrus the Great.

(It is usually forgotten that the present day hostility of Iran to Israel is entirely due to the Islamist regime in power in Iran and not to any national conflict between Jews and Persians. In fact, Zoroastrian Persia was traditionally sympathetic to the Jews, who along with the Persians were the only monotheistic people in the ancient world, and the Jews viewed Persia as a ally and a protector. All of this changed drastically after the Muslim conquest of Persia, with the brief interlude during the rule of the last Shah, when Iran and Israel were allies).

It seems to me that it was this cosmological and moral aspect rather than the historical one that had the biggest impact on Christianity and hence on the history of the West. This influence is not just miracles and such stuff. For example it is also includes such fundamental ideas of the universe being created out of nothing, of man being made “in the image of God”, of all human beings independent of race or social class, being descended from Adam and Eve, etc. These ideas had a profound impact on the history of the West, including the development of science. Sometimes the impact was very direct, like, for example, when Roman emperor Constantine the Great after converting to Christianity banned punishments that disfigured the face of the victim because “the human face was an image of God’s”. More profound was the idea of the common origin of all men (which was later justified by science).

As for myself, although I am always reluctant to call myself an atheist (much preferring the more accurate “agnostic”) I am probably as much one as Lubos. However, unlike Dawkins and his kind, I am neither proud of my deeply inability to believe in anything not based on empirical evidence and reason nor do I think that it is the kind of thing that makes human beings or societies happier. In fact, I suspect that irreligion is unnatural for humans and in the majority (but certainly not in all) cases has a detrimental effect on them from the point of view of their own personal happiness and the benefit of the community. Dawkins’ idea that one can make a better world by eradicating religion seems not only misguided but also foolish in someone who claims to be a scientist, since all the empirical evidence suggests that atheistic societies are replace religion by a vicious and ruthless utopian ideology (communism, nazism) or become hopelessly individualistic, selfish and incapable of sacrifice (hence weak), like the Western liberal societies of today. Thus anti-religious propagandists in the West today have no discernible impact on Islam but successfully weaken Christianity and thus open the way to materially incredibly weak and backward but spiritually strong and determined islamists.

Since it is now to reciprocate the Christmas wishes, have a very happy New Year!

reader Gene Day said...

Well said, lucretius, and I would add a note of appreciation for your insightful contributions to TRF.
Is English a second language for you? Your mastery of writing good English is remarkable.

reader Gordon said...

You took the words out of my mouth, Cynthia.

reader Gordon said...

Do you really believe that it is better to have religion because it makes people happier and benefits the community? Religion encourages people to actively deny evidence and believe in fantastic dogma without reason. It denies reality. It may lead to a more stable community of zealots, and a cozy feeling of belonging, but that is the characteristic of a cult. Read Huxley's "The Devils of Loudun" to see the results. In the search to probe the structure and laws of the universe, I see (fundamentalist, theistic) religion not as a benign stabilising force, but as an active mind virus fighting against this search. Maldacena, I am sure, compartmentalises his rational and his religious sides just like a computer virus program like Norton quarantines viruses that it cannot eliminate. When using the word, religion, I am talking about various theisms, not deistic views like Spinoza's or Einstein's, which I think are compatible with scientific modes of thought. I think, however that Stephen J Gould's essay calling religion and science,
two "Non-overlapping magisteria" was gross politically-correct nonsense.

reader anna v said...

"rather I looks to me that they are the result of the way we interact with the outside world"

Well, it might be that their data bank and translation-of-dreams program to waking reality does not have visual references to translate the dream. It can only translate in the language it knows. It does not mean that this excludes a deeper level of reality.

reader cynholt said...

Whether a chicken can comprehend it or not, we live in a quantum physics
universe. Religions require us to believe that we live in a
deterministic universe. Deterministic universes are simpler to
understand but less realistic models of the universe than those based on
probabilities instead of absolutes. We see good people of all
religions, including none, tapping into the so-called "light" as having
"a higher intuition" to do brave and noble deeds. I don't think atheists
are saying this is bunk. I think what they are saying that religious
beliefs don't have much to do with the positive effects of embracing the
so-called "light" without obsessing over some particular points on the

reader cynholt said...

December 25th or 3 days after the Winter Solstice is the first day that
the sun can be easily observed moving northward from its southern most
point in the sky. Hence, it came to be celebrated as the return of the
sun by many ancient peoples and also was the date given as the birthday
of many deities. Christmas is just the latest iteration.

reader cynholt said...

Religion is simply a "glorified" team sport, Gordon. Males of the
species and races seek dominance over other species or races, through
numbers and the opportunity to amaze and astound the females of the species with their power and control. They do this because they lack the pretty feathers of male birds.

The rest of us fall for the hollow promise of eternal salvation and the protections that come with belonging to a group. We don't experience much charity or consideration in our current lives individually, so the promise of something better in return for our current sacrifices is really attractive.

When my dog starts going to church, I'll consider it. Until then, I'll seek a sunny spot in the afternoon like her, to recharge my sense of oneness with the universe.

reader Eugene S said...

Lucky speaks so many languages, he has forgotten whether he ever had a first one... and which it was ;)

reader lucretius said...

True. Only second and third languages now.

reader cynholt said...

As a nonbeliever, I prefer Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" as a more relevant moral narrative on the essence of what Christmas has to tell us as human beings. The commercialization of Christmas I liken to the
potlatch traditions of the native North American cultures of the northwest of the continent as an economic driver, but without the overall redistribution of wealth that was banned by earlier whites as being morally repugnant to give one's wealth away. The potlatch must have been a great party as a communal gathering with much festivity.

As for the rhetoric of leaders of nations or religions to the citizenon the street, talk is cheap while action is the true mark of anyone's real testament. Those persons at the apex of the world economies are
without God or any other moral directive. They no doubt rationalize their positions and their use of power and wealth under some Darwinian and leadership "burden" theories to self deceive the cold hard fact of naked greed as they visit the four horsemen on the rest of humanity to those ends. They are under the illusion that all of their new-found
redemption would transform the world
within a very short period of time. Under the potlatch tradition, a man's greatness was calculated on how much he was able to give away. This makes me think of the recent lotto winner who has given his entire winnings, 40 million I believe, to cancer research foundations in memory of his wife who died from that disease. I wish him a Merry Christmas indeed as a great example to us all.

reader Eugene S said...

The golden age of communistic native American society, before the evil white man arrived to destroy it!

An alternative view is that potlatch was a form of (ostensibly bloodless) economic warfare. One tribe invited its neighbors to a potlatch where they were treated to such a cornucopia of food, drink, and presents that they never could hope to match. Custom, however, said they had to reciprocate! But they couldn't. Their reputation in tatters, the poorer tribe had to go into slavery, or move away (ceding space and natural resources to the richer tribe). Or they took up arms against the potlatch-aggressor.

reader BlackRoseML said...

Well, since you are a Christian Lubos, what do you have to say it?

reader BlackRoseML said...

So what is Christmas like for a Christian atheist?

reader MarkusM said...

Good point !

reader Shannon said...