So far, I have only looked at pieces of this 75-minute-long August 2014 talk by John Hagelin at Stanford
which was enough to get convinced that I want to watch it carefully tonight. John Hagelin has not only co-authored numerous top-cited papers in high-energy physics but he has also been recognized as a guru by the Indian meditating folks, he has run for the Natural Law Party in the U.S. presidential elections, he has acted in movies, and so on. He seems to be intriguing speaker to me, too.
Sometimes in 1990, shortly after students like myself (or led by people including myself) defeated communism (along with some unpopular teachers LOL), a group of Indian disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, some updated but otherwise totally traditional believers in India, came to our high school to hunt for new souls. They looked perfectly traditional – all the superficial data, outfits etc. were fully compatible with the idea that they have spent the previous centuries by meditation in a cave in India.
However, they also gave us booklets that were full of "unified field theory", perhaps also supergravity and/or string theory, and lots of diagrams, many of which appear in the talk above in one way or another. They have found the most important spiritual things in the Universe, they announced, and that also allowed them to find a theory of everything in physics, and so on. And if you do their OM exercises (perhaps according to the diagram with the ever denser waves converging at the tip of the infinite triangle), you may understand everything, too.
For days, I was highly tempted to believe them because the message was so good – too good to be true. At least I think that it's not true today! ;-)
It took me many years before I learned that a brilliant physicist, John Hagelin, was actually behind all the high tech stuff in their otherwise ancient superstitious documents of these Indian folks. And because he has spent lots of time by thinking about these matters and he is really smart, I believe it may be fun to listen to him despite his opinions' being potentially highly heterodox – or maybe even because of that. I suspect that he will still be constrained by the preconceptions of his less brilliant meditating colleagues in faith which may reduce the scientific depth of the talk but the remaining depth may still deserve our time, especially because many of us found our recent debates on consciousness fascinating (113 comments are in that comment thread right now).
This blog post should be significantly expanded tonight but you are encouraged to watch the talk before I do and leave your comments and impressions before I hopefully do so.
About the content of the talk
At the beginning, the instructor who hosts Hagelin is introducing the guest and talking about some student formalities. Hagelin begins to talk about the size of the Universe and the number of stars and galaxies before he moves to the microscopic world and some kind of effective-theory talk about the relationship between the fundamental and the superficial (BTW a good word), between the microscopic and macroscopic.
Quantum mechanics is mentioned as a key topic after 12:30. We may get deeper to describe the nuclei etc., and use quantum field theory, and since the time when superstring revolution swept through here, we have had a unified field theory, Hagelin says, while understating the age of both supergravity and string theory by one or two decades.
He says that the theory describe everything and the fundamental nature is extremely simple but the technology looks extremely complex. He describes the spiritual content of the fundamental theory or the unified field as "absolute silence" combined with "infinite dynamism". That's a great union of opposites and while I agree it captures some extreme abilities of physics, it also looks like somewhat vacuous and ill-defined. After all, when "dynamism" is defined operationally, it's bound to be finite, and "silence" is a word that is usually restricted to acoustics or slightly beyond it – so in a much more general context, "silence" is pretty much guaranteed to be just poetry or religious marketing. It can make the listeners feel in a certain way but these feelings are largely irrational.
The dark energy and the zero-point energy activity of the quantum fields are identified by Hagelin. Well, from some viewpoint, they are the same thing; from others, they are not. The cosmological constant may also have "classical" contributions and dark energy is primarily important in cosmology where its origin (partially) in quantum fluctuations doesn't seem to play a role. On the other hand, the quantum fluctuations exist even if the cosmological constant exactly cancels, e.g. in highly supersymmetric vacua. So this identification is oversimplifying things.
Pictures of superstrings are shown, in unnatural nearly exactly circular shapes. After centuries of searching for the deepest thing, we discovered the rubber band: what a disappointment. But it's the unified field capable of making consciousness etc. that is at the core of the discoveries. Well, at this point, I find it a bit demagogic, too. The rubber band with the rubber-bandy laws describing their oscillations and splitting/joining interactions are literally complete descriptions of everything that is observable about the unified field – let me assume that he means some string field in a string field theory description of the fundamental theory. In this sense, fundamental physicists haven't discovered anything else than the rubber bands! What is added is either some emergent science, or some spiritual interpretation that is likely to be disconnected from the empirical evidence.
Mass eigenstates of vibrating relativistic superstrings are presented using the standard musical analogy – except that the intonation is a bit more religious than we are used to. ;-) This intonation explodes to a big difference after 20:10 when he links five musical eigenstates of the string with the... five ancient elements. Nice. There's something that is analogous, something that is not, and something that is really opposite in the two cases. You could argue that the five ancient elements were more analogous to the different elementary particle species in a quantum field theory – while string theory really requires the existence of one element only. Moreover, the number of vibrations in string theory is infinite, not five.
You may listen to the sentences assuming that they are a rather standard popular sketch of string theory. But it gets combined with somewhat surprising shockers such as "that the strings live in the immortality, i.e. pure being". Could you please be a little bit more specific about these two steps, Dr Hagelin? How does strings' immortality differ from the immortality of quantum fields or other concepts in science? In what sense is the being "pure"?
Spacetime quantum foam is combined with inflation. This is a rather unusual way to present the two concepts but I think that morally speaking, it is correct and novel. The bubbles in inflation are usually thought of in the framework of quantum field theory on fixed curved spacetime backgrounds. But at the end, the correct theory demands the geometry to be fluctuating as well, and even the topology may change, so the conditions that produce the seeds of a new inflating Universe "may be" the topological bubbles we know from the spacetime quantum foam.
However, the background indifference principle – with the advances that support it, like the ER-EPR correspondence – recommend us to think that it's perfectly consistent to assume that the topology of a region of space, including the region where the inflating bubble is born, is not changing. We may also assume that it is changing, and with the right choice of the possible objects that may exist on top of the background we chose, there will always be a valid and exact description of the physical phenomena.
Multiverse. He doesn't like it but it seems to be imposed upon us. Many of us often describe the situation in a similar way.
Consciousness and meditation begin around 22:22. What are they? Physics is over at this point. We're promised that we will be told important truths mostly hiding from the Western psychological science.
Minutes are dedicated to the essence of mathematics, different number systems and the expansion from integers to whole numbers etc. Not controversial or revealing. The expansions – while one needs to make things more abstract – allow us to prove things, the system becomes more comprehensive and more ready to do physics. We need irrational numbers, too. And complex numbers are necessary for quantum mechanics. Holism and abstractness go up together. These comments are totally OK with me – but I am not learning anything new, either.
Suddenly, the yogistic tradition or early Buddhism is described in almost the same sentence. Deeper levelsof mind and the thinking process. Now, different kinds of rest and relaxation are described. It may be affected by the meditation goals but I still view these comments as technical. Stress affects diseases etc. BTW I am skeptical about most of these comments about "soul influences physical health". It's not that the influence is nonzero but sometimes the psychological state only changes the perception of the physical condition, not the essence of the condition itself. He claims that heart diseases drop. Oh sure, most heart diseases may be caused or help by high pressure and meditation probably lowers it, but that's it.
Coherence of the brain is higher during meditation etc. More so than during some other conditions. Great – this looks like some normal neuroscience. I cannot quite see why those things are important. Some advertisements about improving intelligence, maturity etc. by this orderly functioning. I would only believe if I saw some significant data that make it clear. And I would say he hasn't talked about consciousness itself yet; it's neuroscience of a sort focusing on mental health. I think Hagelin knows a lot about these things – but I am simply not too interested in these technicalities. Some parts of brain are sometimes working more etc. – I don't care...
After 57:00, he finally mentions "the" consciousness through which we experience the world but that is hidden itself. He said something new for me but I couldn't understand it. I still didn't get what were the somati that appeared in every other sentence. Now I see that it is "samadhi" which explains why I don't know the conceptLOL. It's the absorption by meditation. OK, another redundant word. Coherence, everything is great, you are awake but enjoy everything from the sleep, too, and so on. It's so funny for this guy says all these highly spiritual things about detached brains when he actually sounds as a completely matter-of-fact pragmatic man. ;-)
Well, maybe it is the reason why I find these remarks boring: they are actually too practical for me! It looks like getting his mind into the best constructive shape is the most important goal. I don't believe it can make too much difference and even if it can, I am just not too interested in it. I am more keen on learning the truth.
Wow, he sketches a one-to-one correspondence between classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and quantum field theory on one side; and three terms in the Indian religious jargon on the other side. OK, I don't buy this except as a good prank. Good sounding words but I am not the typical audience.
So far, I have only looked at pieces of this 75-minute-long August 2014 talk by John Hagelin at Stanford