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Substance Dualism, Interactionism, & Occam’s razor

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Recently I got into a discussion with Gordon Hawkes on A Philosopher’s Take about the arguments and objections for substance dualism, that is, the position that there are actually two ontological substances that exist in the world: physical substances and mental (or non-physical) substances.  Here’s the link to part 1, and part 2 of that author’s post series (I recommend taking a look at this group blog and see what he and others have written over there on various interesting topics).  Many dualists would identify or liken this supposed second substance as a soul or the like, but I’m not going to delve into that particular detail within this post.  I’d prefer to focus on the basics of the arguments presented rather than those kinds of details.  Before I dive into the topic, I want to mention that Hawkes was by no means making an argument for substance dualism, but rather he was merely pointing out some flaws in common arguments against substance dualism.  Now that that’s been said, I’m going to get to the heart of the topic, but I will also be providing evidence and arguments against substance dualism.  The primary point raised in the first part of that series was the fact that just because neuroscience is continuously finding correlations between particular physical brain states and particular mental states, this doesn’t mean that these empirical findings show that dualism is necessarily false — since some forms of dualism seem to be entirely compatible with these empirical findings (e.g. interactionist dualism).  So the question ultimately boils down to whether or not mental processes are identical with, or metaphysically supervenient upon, the physical processes of the brain (if so, then substance dualism is necessarily false).

Hawkes talks about how the argument from neuroscience (as it is sometimes referred to) is fallacious because it is based on the mistaken belief that correlation (between mental states and brain states) is equivalent with identity or supervenience of mental and physical states.  Since this isn’t the case, then one can’t rationally use the neurological correlation to disprove (all forms of) substance dualism.  While I agree with this, that is, that the argument from neuroscience can’t be used to disprove (all forms of) substance dualism, it is nevertheless strong evidence that a physical foundation exists for the mind and it also provides evidence against all forms of substance dualism that posit that the mind can exist independently of the physical brain.  At the very least, it shows that the prior probability of minds existing without brains is highly unlikely.  This would seem to suggest that any supposed mental substance is necessarily dependent on a physical substance (so disembodied minds would be out of the question for the minimal substance dualist position).  Even more damning for substance dualists though, is the fact that since the argument from neuroscience suggests that minds can’t exist without physical brains, this would mean that prior to brains evolving in any living organisms within our universe, at some point in the past there weren’t any minds at all.  This in turn would suggest that the second substance posited by dualists isn’t at all conserved like the physical substances we know about are conserved (as per the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy).  Rather, this second substance would have presumably had to have come into existence ex nihilo once some subset of the universe’s physical substances took on a particular configuration (i.e. living organisms that eventually evolved a brain complex enough to afford mental experiences/consciousness/properties).  Once all the brains in the universe disappear in the future (after the heat death of the universe guarantees such a fate), then this second substance will once again disappear from our universe.

The only way around this (as far as I can tell) is to posit that the supposed mental substance had always existed and/or will always continue to exist, but in an entirely undetectable way somehow detached from any physical substance (which is a position that seems hardly defensible given the correlation argument from neuroscience).  Since our prior probabilities of any hypothesis are based on all our background knowledge, and since the only substance we can be sure of exists (a physical substance) has been shown to consistently abide by conservation laws (within the constraints of general relativity and quantum mechanics), it is more plausible that any other ontological substance would likewise be conserved rather than not conserved.  If we had evidence to the contrary, that would change the overall consequent probability, but without such evidence, we only have data points from one ontological substance, and it appears to follow conservation laws.  For this reason alone, it is less likely that a second substance exists at all, if it isn’t itself conserved as that of the physical.

Beyond that, the argument from neuroscience also provides at least some evidence against interactionism (the idea that the mind and brain can causally interact with each other in both causal directions), and interactionism is something that substance dualists would likely need in order to have any reasonable defense of their position at all.  To see why this is true, one need only recognize the fact that the correlates of consciousness found within neuroscience consist of instances of physical brain activity that are observed prior to the person’s conscious awareness of any experience, intentions, or willed actions produced by said brain activity.  For example, studies have shown that when a person makes a conscious decision to do something (say, to press one of two possible buttons placed in front of them), there are neurological patterns that can be detected prior to their awareness of having made a decision and so these patterns can be used to correctly predict which choice the person will make even before they do!  I would say that this is definitely evidence against interactionism, because we have yet to find any cases of mental experiences occurring prior to the brain activity that is correlated with it.  We’ve only found evidence of brain activity preceding mental experiences, never the other way around.  If the mind was made from a different substance, existing independently of the physical brain (even if correlated with it), and able to causally interact with the physical brain, then it seems reasonable to expect that we should be able to detect and confirm instances of mental processes/experiences occurring prior to correlated changes in physical brain states.  Since this hasn’t been found yet in the plethora of brain studies performed thus far, the prior probability of interactionism being true is exceedingly low.  Additionally, the conservation of mass and energy that we observe (as well as the laws of physics in general) in our universe also challenges the possibility of any means of causal energy transfer between a mind to a brain or vice versa.  For the only means of causal interaction we’ve observed thus far in our universe is by way of energy/momentum transfer from one physical particle/system to another.  If a mind is non-physical, then by what means can it interact at all with a brain or vice versa?

The second part of the post series from Hawkes talked about Occam’s razor and how it’s been applied in arguments against dualism.  Hawkes argues that even though one ontological substance is less complex and otherwise preferred over two substances (when all else is equal), Occam’s razor apparently isn’t applicable in this case because physicalism has been unable to adequately address what we call a mind, mental properties, etc.  My rebuttal to this point is that dualism doesn’t adequately address what we call a mind, mental properties, etc., either.  In fact it offers no additional explanatory power than physicalism does because nobody has proposed how it could do so.  That is, nobody has yet demonstrated (as far as I know) what any possible mechanisms would be for this new substance to instantiate a mind, how this non-physical substance could possibly interact with the physical brain, etc.  Rather it seems to have been posited out of an argument from ignorance and incredulity, which is a logical fallacy.  Since physicalism hasn’t yet provided a satisfactory explanation for what some call the mind and mental properties, it is therefore supposed by dualists that a second ontological substance must exist that does explain it or account for it adequately.

Unfortunately, because of the lack of any proposed mechanism for the second substance to adequately account for the phenomena, one could simply replace the term “second substance” with “magic” and be on the same epistemic footing.  It is therefore an argument from ignorance to presume that a second substance exists, for the sole reason that nobody has yet demonstrated how the first substance can fully explain what we call mind and mental phenomena.  Just as we’ve seen throughout history where an unknown phenomena is attributed to magic or the supernatural and later found to be accounted for by a physical explanation, this means that the prior probability that this will also be the case for the phenomena of the mind and mental properties is extraordinarily high.  As a result, I think that Occam’s razor is applicable in this case, because I believe it is always applicable to an argument from ignorance that’s compared to an (even incomplete) argument from evidence.  Since physicalism accounts for many aspects of mental phenomena (such as the neuroscience correlations, etc.), dualism needs to be supported by at least some proposed mechanism (that is falsifiable) in order to nullify the application of Occam’s razor.

Those are my thoughts on the topic for now.  I did think that Hawkes made some valid points in his post series — such as the fact that correlation doesn’t equal identity or supervenience and also the fact that Occam’s razor is only applicable under particular circumstances (such as when both hypotheses explain the phenomena equally, good or bad, with one containing a more superfluous ontology).  However, I think that overall the arguments and evidence against substance dualism are strong enough to eliminate any reasonable justification for supposing that dualism is true (not that Hawkes was defending dualism as he made clear at the beginning of his post) and I also believe that both physicalism and dualism explain the phenomena equally well such that Occam’s razor is applicable (since dualism doesn’t seem to add any explanatory power to that already provided by physicalism).  So even though correlation doesn’t equal identity or supervenience, the arguments and evidence from neuroscience and physics challenge the possibility of any interactionism between the physical and supposed non-physical substance, and it challenges the existence of the second substance in general (due to it’s apparent lack of conservation over time among other reasons).

The Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence

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Previously, I’ve written briefly about some of the cosmological arguments for God.  I’d like to expand on this topic, and I’ll begin doing so in this post by analyzing the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), since it is arguably the most well known version of the argument, which can be described with the following syllogism:

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause;

(2) The universe began to exist;

Therefore,

(3) The universe has a cause.

The conclusion of this argument is often expanded by theists to suggest that the cause must be supernaturally transcendent, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and perhaps most importantly, this cause must itself be uncaused, in order to avoid the causal infinite regress implied by the KCA’s first premise.

Unfortunately this argument fails for a number of reasons.  The first thing that needs to be clarified is the definitions of terms used in these premises.  What is meant by “everything”, or “begins to exist”?  “Everything” in this context does imply that there are more than one of these things, which means that we are referring to a set of things, indeed the set of all things in this case.  The set of all things implied here apparently refers to all matter and energy in the universe, specifically the configuration of any subset of all matter and/or energy.  Then we have the second element in the first premise, “begins to exist”, which would thus refer to when the configuration of some set of matter and/or energy changes to a new configuration.  So we could rewrite the first premise as “any configuration of matter and/or energy that exists at time T and which didn’t exist at the time immediately prior to time T (which we could call T’), was a result of some cause”.  If we want to specify how “immediately prior” T’ is to T, we could use the smallest unit of time that carries any meaning per the laws of physics which would be the Planck time (roughly 10^-43 seconds), which is the time it takes the fastest entity in the universe (light) to traverse the shortest distance in the universe (the Planck length).

Does Everything Have a Cause?

Now that we’ve more clearly defined what is meant by the first premise, we can address whether or not that premise is sound.  It seems perfectly reasonable based on the nature of causality that we currently understand that there is indeed some cause that drives the changes in the configurations of sets of matter and energy that we observe in the universe, most especially in the everyday world that we observe.  On a most fundamental physical level, we would typically say that the cause of these configuration changes is described as the laws of physics.  Particles and waves all behave as they do, very predictably changing from one form into another based on these physical laws or consistent patterns that we’ve discovered.  However, depending on the interpretation of quantum mechanics used, there may be acausal quantum processes happening, for example, as virtual particle/anti-particle pairs pop into existence without any apparent deterministic path.  That is, unless there are non-local hidden variables that we are unaware of which guide/cause these events, there don’t appear to be any deterministic or causal driving forces behind certain quantum phenomena.  At best, the science is inconclusive as to whether all phenomena have causes, and thus one can’t claim certainty to the first premise of the KCA.  Unless we find a way to determine that quantum mechanics is entirely deterministic, we simply don’t know that matter and energy are fundamentally causally connected as are objects that we observe at much larger scales.

The bottom line here is that quantum indeterminism carries with it the possibility of acausality until proven otherwise, thus undermining premise one of the KCA with the empirical evidence found within the field of quantum physics.  As such, it is entirely plausible that if the apparent quantum acausal processes are fundamental to our physical world, the universe itself may have arisen from said acausal processes, thus undermining premise two as well as the conclusion of the KCA.  We can’t conclude that this is the case, but it is entirely possible and is in fact plausible given the peculiar quantum phenomena we’ve observed thus far.

As for the second premise, if we apply our clarified definition of “began to exist” introduced in the first premise to the second, then “the universe began to exist” would mean more specifically that “there was once a time (T’) when the universe didn’t exist and then at time T, the universe did exist.”  This is the most obviously problematic premise, at least according to the evidence we’ve found within cosmology.  The Big Bang Theory as most people are familiar with, which is the prevailing cosmological model for the earliest known moment of the universe, implies that spacetime itself had it’s earliest moment roughly 13.8 billion years ago, and continued to expand and transform over 13.8 billion years until reaching the state that we see it in today.  Many theists try to use this as evidence for the universe being created by God.  However, since time itself was non-existent prior to the Big Bang, it is not sensible to speak of any creation event happening prior to this moment, since there was no time for such an event to happen within.  This presents a big problem for the second premise in the KCA, because in order for the universe to “begin to exist”, it is implied that there was a time prior in which it didn’t exist, and this goes against the Big Bang model in which time never existed prior to that point.

Is Simultaneous Causation Tenable?

One way that theologians and some philosophers have attempted to circumvent this problem is to invoke the concept of simultaneous causation, that is, that (at least some) causes and effects can happen simultaneously.  Thus, if the cause of the universe happened at the same time as the effect (the Big Bang), then the cause of the universe (possibly “creation”) did happen in time, and thus the problem is said to be circumvented.

The concept of simultaneous causation has been proposed for some time by philosophers, most notably Immanuel Kant and others since.  However, there are a few problems with simultaneous causation that I’ll point out briefly.  For one, there don’t appear to be any actual examples in our universe of simultaneous causation occurring.  Kant did propose what he believed to be a couple examples of simultaneous causation to support the idea.  One example he gave was a scenario where the effect of a heated room supposedly occurs simultaneously with a fire in a fireplace that caused it.  Unfortunately, this example fails, because it actually takes time for thermal energy to make its way from the fire in the fireplace to any air molecules in the room (even those that are closest to the fire).  As combustion is occurring and oxygen is combining with hydrocarbon fuels in the wood to produce carbon dioxide and a lot of heat, that heat takes time to propagate.  As the carbon dioxide is being formed, and the molecule is assuming an energetically favorable state, there is still a lag between this event and any heat given off to nearby molecules in the room.  In fact, no physical processes can occur faster than the speed of light by the principles of Relativity, so this refutes any other example analogous to this one.  The fastest way a fire can propagate heat is through radiation (as opposed to conduction or convection), and we know that the propagation of radiation is limited by the speed of light.  Even pulling a solid object causes it to stretch (at least temporarily) so the end of the object farthest away from where it is being pulled will actually remain at rest for a short time while the other end of the object is first pulled in a particular direction.  It isn’t until a short time lag, that the rest of the object “catches up” with the end being pulled, so even with mechanical processes involving solid materials, we never see instantaneous speeds of causal interactions.

Another example Kant gave was one in which a lead ball lies on a cushion and simultaneously causes the effect of an indentation or “hollow” in the cushion.  Again, in order for the ball to cause a dent in the cushion in the first place it had to be moved into the cushion which took some finite amount of time.  Likewise with the previous example, Relativity prevents any simultaneous causation of this sort.  We can see this by noting that at the molecular level, as the electron orbitals from the lead ball approach those of the cushion, the change in the strength of the electric field between the electron orbitals of the two objects can’t travel faster than the speed of light, and thus as the ball moves toward the cushion and eventually “touches” it, the increased strength of the repulsion takes some amount of time to be realized.

One last example I’ve seen given by defenders of simultaneous causation is that of a man sitting down, thus forming a lap.  That is, as the man sits down, and his knees bend, a lap is created in the process, and we’re told that the man sitting down is the cause and the formation of the lap is the simultaneous effect.  Unfortunately, this example also fails because the man sitting down and the lap being formed are really nothing more than two different descriptions of the same event.  One could say that the man formed a lap, or one could say that the man sat down.  Clearly the intentions behind the man were most likely to sit down rather than to form a lap, but nevertheless forming a lap was incidental in the process of sitting down.  Both are describing different aspects of the same event, and thus there aren’t two distinct causal relatum in this example.  In the previous examples mentioned (the fire and heated room or ball denting a cushion), if there are states described that occur simultaneously even after taking Relativity into account, they can likewise be shown to be merely two different aspects or descriptions of the same event.  Even if we could grant that simultaneous causation were possible (which so far, we haven’t seen any defensible examples in the real world), how can we assign causal priority to determine which was the cause and which was the effect?  In terms of the KCA, one could ask, if the cause (C) of the universe occurred at the same time as the effect (E) or existence of the universe, how could one determine if C caused E rather than the other way around?  One has to employ circular argumentation in order to do so, by invoking other metaphysical assumptions in the terms that are being defined which simply begs the question.

Set Theory & Causal Relations

Another problem with the second premise of the KCA is that even if we ignore the cosmological models that refute it, and even ignore the problematic concept of simultaneous causation altogether, there is an implicit assumption that the causal properties of the “things” in the universe also apply to the universe as a whole.  This is fallacious because one can’t assume that the properties of members of a set or system necessarily apply to the system or entire set as a whole.  Much work has been done within set theory to show that this is the case, and thus while some properties of the members or subsets of a system can apply to the whole system, not all properties necessarily do (in fact some properties applying to both members of a set and to the set as a whole can lead to logical contradictions or paradoxes).  One of the properties that is being misapplied here involves the concept of “things” in general.  If we try to consider the universe as a “thing” we can see how this is problematic by noting that we seem to define and conceptualize “things” with causal properties as entities or objects that are located in time and space (that’s an ontology that I think is pretty basic and universal).  However, the universe as a whole is the entirety of space and time (i.e. spacetime), and thus the universe as a whole contains all space and time, and thus can’t itself (as a whole) be located in space or time.

Since the universe appears to be composed of all the things we know about, one might say that the universe is located within “nothing” at all, if that’s at all intelligible to think of.  Either way, the universe as a whole doesn’t appear to be located in time or space, and thus it isn’t located anywhere at all.  Thus, it technically isn’t a “thing” at all, or at the very least, it is not a thing that has any causal properties of its own, since it isn’t located in time or space in order to have causal relations with other things.  Even if one insists on calling it a thing, despite the problems listed here, we are still left with the problem that we can’t assume that causal principles found within the universe apply to the universe as a whole.  So for a number of reasons, premise two of the KCA fails.  Since both premises fail for a number of reasons, the conclusion no longer follows.  So even if the universe does in fact have a cause, in some way unknown to us, the KCA doesn’t successfully support such a claim with its premises.

Is the Kalam Circular?

Yet another problem that Dan Barker and others have pointed out involves the language used in the first premise of the KCA.  The clause, “everything that begins to exist”, implies that reality can be divided into two sets: items that begin to exist (BE) and items that do not begin to exist (NBE).  In order for the KCA to work in arguing for God’s existence, the NBE set can’t be empty.  Even more importantly, it must accommodate more than one item to avoid simply being a synonym for God, for if God is the only object or item within NBE, then the premise “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is equivalent to “everything except God has a cause”.  This simply puts God into the definition of the premise of the argument that is supposed to be used to prove God’s existence, and thus would simply beg the question.  It should be noted that just because the NBE set must accommodate more than one possible item, this doesn’t entail that the NBE set must contain more than one item.  This specific problem with the KCA could be resolved if one could first show that there are multiple possible NBE candidates, followed by showing that of the multiple possible candidates within NBE, only one candidate is valid, and finally by showing that this candidate is in fact some personal creator, i.e., God.  If it can’t be shown that NBE can accommodate more than one item, then the argument is circular.  Moreover, if the only candidate for NBE is God, then the second premise “The universe began to exist” simply reduces to “The universe is not God”, which simply assumes what the argument is trying to prove.  Thus if the NBE set is simply synonymous with God, then the Kalam can be reduced to:

(1) Everything except God has a cause;

(2) The universe is not God;

Therefore,

(3) The universe has a cause.

As we can see, this syllogism is perfectly logical (though the conclusion only follows if the premises are true which is open to debate), but this syllogism is entirely useless as an argument for God’s existence.  Furthermore, regarding the NBE set, one must ask, where do theists obtain the idea that this NBE set exists?  That is, by what observations and/or arguments is the possibility of beginningless objects justified?  We don’t find any such observations in science, although it is certainly possible that the universe itself never began (we just don’t have observations to support this, at least, not at this time) and the concept of a “beginningless universe” is in fact entirely consistent with many eternal cosmological models that have been proposed, in which case the KCA would still be invalidated by refuting premise two in yet another way.  Other than the universe itself potentially being an NBE (which is plausible, though not empirically demonstrated as of yet), there don’t appear to be any other possible NBEs, and there don’t appear to be any observations and/or arguments to justify proposing that any NBEs exist at all (other than perhaps the universe itself, which would be consistent with the law of conservation of mass and energy and/or the Quantum Eternity Theorem).

The KCA Fails

As we can see, the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails for a number of reasons, and thus is unsuccessful in arguing for the existence of God.  Thus, even though it may very well be the case that some god exists and did in fact create the universe, the KCA fails to support such a claim.

Here’s an excellent debate between the cosmologist Sean Carroll and the Christian apologist William Lane Craig which illustrates some of the problems with the KCA, specifically in terms of evidence found within cosmology (or lack thereof).  It goes without saying that Carroll won the debate by far, though he could certainly have raised more points in his rebuttals than he did.  Nevertheless, it was entertaining and a nice civil debate with good points presented on both sides.  Here’s another link to Carroll’s post debate reflections on his blog.

More Misconceptions about Evolution: “Scientific facts” that prove evolution is false — DE-BUNKED

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Many months ago my sister pointed out a blog post on a particular website (abovetopsecret.com) which was titled “Top Ten Scientific Facts : Evolution is False and Impossible“, written by “edsinger”, and she asked me what my thoughts were.  I decided to take a look to see what anti-evolutionary mis-information was being propagated to the masses.  In the interest of setting the record straight, I decided to de-bunk the aforementioned post as it was based on large misconceptions about evolution and how natural selection operates (not surprisingly).  With the mountain of evidence that supports the theory of evolution, specifically the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, I was extremely skeptical of every “scientific fact” proposed (which not surprisingly were anything but “facts”).  I want to start by pointing out that when I use the expression “the organism evolved”, I am implying that the gene pool is changing for a particular population with a new sub-population created in the process.  I don’t want those reading this to assume I am implying a Lamarckian evolution.  Now that I’ve provided that clarification, let’s begin.

“Scientific Fact” No. 1 – Birds Prove Natural Selection is Naturally Wrong

The idea of natural selection sounds great when considering deer. The deer that can sense danger the quickest and run the fastest are able to escape the predator on a more consistent basis. However, other examples on the evolutionary tree have many laughable flaws. One of the best is the thought that a bird began to evolve a wing. Why this would occur is not answered by evolutionists. The wing stub did not make the bird more adaptable in his environment. The wing was much too small for the bird to fly. Why would a bird evolve a wing that was useless? This is backwards from the evolutionary natural selection concept that birds adapt and change in order to survive better in their environment.

Alright, where to begin?  First off the idea that “a bird began to evolve a wing” needs clarification.  Edsinger implies that it started as a “stub” which would “not make the bird more adaptable in his environment“.  Evolutionary biologists aren’t positive how the wing evolved but some likely possibilities are that it either started as a fin or flipper (before life adapted from the aquatic environment to that of the terrestrial), and either grew feathers on them, or after flippers or fins evolved into fully formed terrestrially-suited arms, some animals grew feathers on those arms.  For some animals, the exact opposite may have occurred, that is, animals with wings may have evolved into certain sub-populations with arms or flippers.  If we look at the Penguin, we can see a similar case where natural selection pressured a previously flying bird into a sub-population of flightless birds with vestigial wings.  If we can imagine animals with wings evolving into animals with flippers over time, it is no more difficult to imagine the opposite case, that is, a sub-population of birds (or bird-like animals) with flippers evolving into a population of birds (or bird-like animals) with wings.

There are some more general misconceptions on Edsinger’s part regarding how natural selection operates as seen in this first excerpt of his, namely his assumption that natural selection only allows favorable traits to evolve or exist in some population within a specific type of environment.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  To illustrate this point, let’s consider the author’s assumption that wings evolved from useless “stubs” (which is less likely, but still possible).  Even in this extreme case, if we had an animal with stubs that were “useless”, we would need to know what other attributes and traits this animal has to see if they outweigh the disadvantages of their useless “stubs”.  What if the animal compensated for this shortcoming by: being covered in some type of armor (like an armadillo or porcupine), by being able to run very fast (like an ostrich does to evade its predators; another example of a flightless bird that found a way to more than compensate for its vestigial wings), or even by having incredibly sharp teeth (like a Tyrannosaurus Rex; a predatory animal at the top of the food chain despite having incredibly small and seemingly “useless” arms)?

What’s important to note here is that animals can evolve with both disadvantageous and beneficial traits as long as the benefits outweigh the disadvantages enough such that the organism lives long enough to reproduce (and such that the rates of reproduction are high enough to avoid extinction).  What’s kind of funny is that Edsinger’s line of reasoning suggests that everything is “designed” for a reason (which is true from a creationist or intelligent design point of view).  Since when have evolutionary biologists suggested that evolution has to fall within this line of reasoning?  If anything, proponents of evolution (myself included) suggest that physical traits (i.e. phenotypes) are random in the sense that they are a result of mutation and changes in gene frequency due to a changing environment.  This is why proponents of evolution have a way of explaining why “useless” phenotypes exist (whether its a human appendix, etc.).  Natural selection which operates on benefits outweighing disadvantages is a perfect explanation.  Proponents of intelligent design or creationism (i.e. not theistic evolution) have no way of explaining these “imperfections” or “design flaws” which further negates the arguments against evolution and natural selection.  In the case of a bird (or “pre-bird”) with a useless stub, as long as it had other traits that compensated for the stub, it would have an evolutionary “breathing space” for genetic mutations and other changes in gene frequency such that a wing could eventually co-evolve with the organism over time.  There is a theory that birds (some if not all) evolved from dinosaurs and the example I gave above of the T-Rex illustrates how animals can have the necessary evolutionary “breathing space” (e.g. being at the top of the food chain) for wings to eventually evolve (even from successive changes to previously useless features).  Let’s move on to number two.

“Scientific Fact” No. 2 – Species Without a Link Proves Evolution is Wrong

The evolutionist will claim that the presence of many individual species proves evolution. This shallow statement is devoid of reason, logic and scientific proof. Evolutionists line up pictures of similar looking species and claim they evolved one to another. Humans are a great example. There are hundreds of species of extinct monkeys and apes. Petrified skulls and bones exist from these creatures. Evolutionists line up the most promising choices to present a gradual progression from monkey to modern man. They simply fill in the big gaps with make-believe creatures to fit the picture. This procedure can be done with humans only because there are many extinct monkey and ape species. They never do this with giraffes and elephants. These pictures are placed in all evolutionists’ text books to teach kids this nonsense. The picture is simply a grouping of individual species that does not prove evolution.

Ugh.  I want to start by saying that Paleontologists have quite a difficult job to do.  One thing that Edsinger may not realize is that we are only able to find an incredibly small fraction of fossilized animals because it takes very special conditions in order to preserve the animal, let alone for so many millions of years.  Paleontologists have to find an area that has not been recycled into liquid hot magma via plate tectonic motion, volcanic activity, etc.  This means that any fossilized remains near converging plate tectonic boundaries are going to contain little if any remains, as much of those remains have been pushed back under the crust of the Earth and recycled into magma.  Any animals that weren’t buried by some material (e.g. preserved in a tar pit, covered in volcanic ash, etc.) will disintegrate due to weathering, decompose due to fungi (or otherwise), or be eaten by other animal scavengers.  Any animals that died near bodies of water are even less likely to have their remains found (due to our limited access of the bottom of the ocean) and less likely to be preserved (due to increased rates of dissolution, decomposition, etc.).  The idea I’m trying to illustrate here is that Paleontologists are only able to find a fraction of the fossil record due to the narrow range of conditions that allow fossil creation to take place.  This is why there are gaps that exist and are filled in with educated guesses.  Gaps aside, the conclusive evidence that we do have demonstrates how organisms have changed over time by looking at what did exist long ago and what we know exists in the animal kingdom today.  “Species without a link” is nothing more than a by-product of fossilization limitations.  What we do know is that the fossils that we do find are somewhat statistically representative of the population that existed long ago.  When we look at the fossil record however, and fail to find the majority of animals that exist today, we can safely infer that there are animals that exist today that didn’t exist long ago and vice versa.  This further implies that evolution has indeed occurred.

Another misconception that many have is that all evolution is equally gradual, that is, that all evolutionary changes proceed at the same or similar rates.  The Modern Evolutionary Synthesis suggests that there could have been several abrupt changes to the gene pool as a result of major climate changes, or other environmental factors, which would cause short and quick bursts of change to the gene pool.  This would make sense as the environment doesn’t always gradually change over time.  There are many extinction events or large environmental changes that can occur due to asteroids hitting the Earth (and the resulting dust clouds or tidal waves that ensue), volcanic eruptions (and the resulting pyroclastic flow, dust, and lava that follow), changes in solar output (resulting in ice ages or global warming), bacterial or viral epidemics, etc.  There are a number of things that can cause large abrupt environmental changes and thus large changes in gene frequency.  In cases like this, it makes sense that transitional fossils wouldn’t always exist with a consistent level of graduation over time.  The fossilization limitations I mentioned earlier would create circumstances where the level of transition would seem even more abrupt simply because we aren’t able to collect enough fossils to accurately represent the entirety of evolutionary changes.

“Scientific Fact” No. 3 – Single Cell Complexity Proves Evolution is Wrong

Scientists a century ago believed the smallest single living cell was a simple life form. The theory developed that perhaps lightning struck a pond of water causing several molecules to combine in a random way which by chance resulted in a living cell. The cell then divided and evolved into higher life forms. This view is now proven to be immature to the degree of being ridiculous. The most modern laboratory is unable to create a living cell. In fact, scientists have been unable to create a single left-hand protein molecule as found in all animals.

Are we really supposed to believe that scientists should be able to recreate the initial conditions that led to the emergence of life (i.e. abiotic synthesis or abiogenesis).  I’d be incredibly amazed if we were able to.  Our failure to know what the conditions were (even if we knew what conditions best support life AFTER life has been established), let alone the fact that our experiments are not able to run on the time scales that we believe were needed to create life (on the order of millions or billions of years), only points out our experimental and epistemological limitations.  Theoretically, the Earth underwent changes over the course of several billion years whereby Brownian motion and energy from the sun, electricity (e.g. lightning, etc.) led to the synthesis of simple compounds, more complex compounds (amino acids), and eventually DNA.  We can think of this as a several billion year experiment where random motion and enough time statistically led to stable compounds including DNA, proteins, etc.  If it was random motion, favorable chemical bonds, and enough time that led to life, how can we possibly expect to recreate this in a laboratory?  Our failure to do so is far from surprising and Edsinger seems to think that science is perfectly capable of doing such a laborious and near-impossible (if not impossible) task.  If Edsinger really has this much faith in the capabilities of science, then he should be a proponent of evolution, rather than arguing against it.  Clearly these arguments from Edsinger are a result of a lack of education in evolutionary biology, and a lack of reasoning in general.

“Scientific Fact” No. 4 – Human Egg and Sperm Proves Evolution is Wrong

The evolutionist ignores the problem surrounding the human female egg and the male sperm in the evolutionary theory. The female egg contains the X-chromosome and the male sperm contains either an X-chromosome for the reproduction of a male or a Y-chromosome for the reproduction of a female. The female eggs all develop within the ovaries while she is a baby (fetus) within her mother’s womb. Evolutionists claim environmental factors cause small changes in the offspring in the evolutionary chain. However, the environmental experience of the female cannot change the chromosomes within her eggs and cannot have any effect upon her offspring. Her body cannot go into the eggs contained within her ovaries at her birth to make an intelligent change. Females cannot be a part of the evolutionary theory for these reasons.

First Edsinger points out that it is the male that determines the sex of any future offspring.  Edsinger mentions that the female develops all of her eggs prior to reproduction and implies that this somehow prevents an intelligent change from being made by her such that her future offspring can better adapt to the environment.  What Edsinger has suggested here is that Lamarckism is false, which is perfectly in line with the Modern Evolutionary synthesis.  Evolutionists stay away from Lamarckism because there is little or no evidence to support it.  Edsinger assumed that evolutionists are proponents of Lamarckism but this is most certainly not the case.  Edsinger then goes on to say that females can’t ” be a part of the evolutionary theory for these reasons”.  This is not true at all.  The male and the female each provide one half of the resulting offspring’s DNA which means that she is the source of half of the genes that are perpetuated in the gene pool.  Upon mixing with the father’s DNA in a number of possible combinations, the resultant offspring can vary quite a bit.  Also, there are random genetic changes that can occur during or after the production of her eggs such that they do not perfectly correlate with the female’s original genes.  In other words, DNA is never copied perfectly and undergoes random mutations from time to time (including the DNA within her eggs) providing several mechanisms for changes to the gene pool.  While the imperfections and mutations are not a result of some intelligent attempt to match the changing environment, they indirectly do so (albeit un-intelligently) when natural selection takes place on the future offspring.  That is, the imperfections made while copying DNA for the production of her eggs and the random mutations that may occur to that DNA any moment after the eggs are produced, result in future offspring that are more or less suited for the changing environment.  So yes, females definitely play a role and are thus a part of the evolutionary theory.

“Scientific Fact” No. 5 – DNA Error Checking Proves Evolution is Wrong

The scientific fact that DNA replication includes a built-in error checking method and a DNA repair process proves the evolutionary theory is wrong. The fact is that any attempt by the DNA to change is stopped and reversed.

As I mentioned in my last paragraph, DNA does not copy itself perfectly.  There are certainly mechanisms that allow DNA to check for errors during copying, as this is needed in order to preserve any beneficial traits resulting from particular genes.  It makes sense that natural selection would support the evolution of DNA that performed this function.  While DNA does have this error checking capability, it is not perfect.  Even if it is imperfect by a tiny percentage of the genome, it provides enough “wiggle room” for evolution to occur.  Edsinger assumed that DNA error-checking was 100% full-proof, which is most definitely not the case.  No credible biologist believes this nor has provided evidence to support this assumption of Edsinger.  We do however have evidence that DNA copying results in at least SOME errors (which is all you need in order to demonstrate that evolution is possible).

“Scientific Fact” No. 6 – Chaos From Organization Proves Evolution is Wrong

The second law of thermodynamics proves that organization cannot flow from chaos. Complex live organisms cannot rearrange themselves into an organism of a higher form as claimed by evolutionists. This is scientifically backwards according to the second law of thermodynamics that has never been proven wrong. Scientists cannot have it both ways. The second law of thermodynamics is proven to be correct. Evolution lacks any scientific proof. Evolution is simply an empty theory.

This is perhaps one of my favorite myths to de-bunk.  I’ve heard Creationists try and use this argument time and time again (with no success).  Edsinger clearly does not even know what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is, for if he did, he would know that it states that entropy (chaos) statistically increases over time in a closed or isolated system.  Unforunately for Edsinger, the Earth is not a closed system.  We obtain all energy that both drives evolution and allows life to exist from the Sun!  It turns out that the amount of entropy that the Sun produces during nuclear fusion more than compensates for the decrease in entropy needed for life to exist and evolution to occur, so the Second Law of Thermodynamics is preserved.  I want to add that in general, evolutionists do not claim that organisms are evolving to “higher forms”.  What is claimed is that evolution is occurring in response to a changing environment.  Even if all intelligent life became extinct such that bacteria once again monopolized the gene pool, evolution would be the mechanism.  So to say that evolution requires higher order is inherently flawed.  It is true that a larger organism or one with more complex systems results in a decrease in entropy, but not all organisms evolve this way.  Some organisms may evolve into smaller organisms and some evolve into those with less complicated systems, as long as it is more beneficial for the new environment under consideration.

“Scientific Fact” No. 7 – Chromosome Count Proves Evolution is Wrong

There is no scientific evidence that a species can change the number of chromosomes within the DNA. The chromosome count within each species is fixed. This is the reason a male from one species cannot mate successfully with a female of another species. Man could not evolve from a monkey. Each species is locked into its chromosome count that cannot change. If an animal developed an extra chromosome or lost a chromosome because of some deformity, it could not successfully mate. The defect could not be passed along to the next generation. Evolving a new species is scientifically impossible. Evolutionists prove that getting a college education does not impart wisdom.

It has been shown that species with a particular number of chromosomes within its DNA can mate with another species with a different number of chromosomes.  A few months ago, I read about a sheep that mated with a goat and produced fertile offspring (with the average number of chromosomes between the two parents).  As rare as this is to encounter in our lifetimes, when we are talking about time scales on the order of millions and billions of years, it seems quite likely that this has happened quite a few times in the past.  The case of the goat and the sheep is merely one example to refute this claim of Edsinger.  Random mutations over time can change chromosome count even if they are incredibly rare.  Humans have only known about chromosomes for so many decades, and evolution has been occurring for millions or years.  It’s easy to see why we fail to see so many facets of evolution during our investigations (especially processes that may occur once every several thousand years or less).

“Scientific Fact” No. 8 – Origin of Matter and Stars Proves Evolution is Wrong

Evolutionists just throw up their hands at the question of the origin of matter because they know something cannot evolve from nothing. They stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem. The fact that matter exists in outrageously large quantities simply proves evolution is wrong. The “Big Bang” theory doesn’t solve the problem either. Matter and energy have to come from somewhere.

Clearly Edsinger never considered that matter and energy may have ALWAYS existed, rather than were created.  The Big Bang Theory merely illustrates what the scientific evidence suggests as the earliest time with which we can talk about.  In other words, it would be pure speculation to assume what may have happened PRIOR to the Big Bang, but this does not mean that all scientists believe that nothing happened prior to the Big Bang.  Some speculate (myself included) that the universe undergoes a cyclical Big Bang followed by a Big Crunch; a cycle which has been going on for an infinite amount of time.  For those that want to suggest that the cosmological constant implies that the universe is expanding and could not ever lead to a Big Crunch, they haven’t considered that the expansion of space may be analogous to how Pangea spread out on the spherical surface of the Earth, whereby all the continents started to separate, and may eventually (on the other side of the Earth) come back together.  Alternatively, we could speculate that the cosmological constant is changing and will one day reverse itself.  Either way, the fact that we don’t know what happened prior to the Big Bang, is irrelevant to the theory of evolution.  Creationists think they’ve solved the problem by saying that a “God” created the universe, and this “God” always existed beforehand.  We can easily eliminate the “God” from the equation and just say that the universe has always existed.  On top of this, for Edsinger to say that we need to uphold the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, this means that his alternative explanation (whatever that may be) couldn’t have some “God” create the mass or energy either.  So what is Edsinger’s alternative explanation?

“Scientific Fact” No. 9 – Lack of Life on Mars Proves Evolution is Wrong

Two NASA two land rovers named Spirit and Opportunity explored Mars during 2004. The topography shows obvious signs of past liquid rivers flowing in numerous places. The rovers have proven that water was once abundant on the surface of Mars, but they have not been able to find any signs of life or any signs of past life on the planet. Mars has a proven history of flowing water on the surface and an atmosphere suitable to support life forms. The planet has had all of the conditions necessary to provide the “spark” of life according to the evolutionary theory, yet there is no life on Mars. The river beds and river banks show no signs of vegetation or trees. The ground has no fossils and no organisms. The place is absolutely sterile.

As I mentioned in response to “scientific fact” No. 3, the conditions needed to support life are different from those that are needed for abiogenesis.  We do not know what conditions are necessary for abiogenesis to occur.  Just because Mars has a source of water or other compounds similar to Earth doesn’t mean that Mars has all the ideal conditions necessary for life to emerge.  It has a different elemental composition that that of Earth, and is located at a different distance from the Sun than the Earth is.  There are many differences between Earth and Mars, so trying to argue that a planet which has SOME features similar to that of the Earth, yet doesn’t have ONE particular feature (e.g. life), somehow disproves evolution, is ridiculous.

“Scientific Fact” No. 10 – Radio Silence from Space Proves Evolution is Wrong

Mars is not the only place that shows no signs of life. The entire universe lacks any sign of life. There are no radio signals that can be related to intelligent life forms. None of the billions of galaxies has been found to emit any intelligent radio signals. Scientists have been pointing every type of radio telescope possible into space for several decades in hopes of finding an intelligent signal. No signs of life beyond Earth have been found. We are alone.

This is an example of what many people call the Fermi Paradox.  Let’s examine our particular situation of life on Earth.  If it took billions of years for life to form from a combination of Brownian (random) motion, specific favorable chemical bonds, and energy, it’s easy to see why life isn’t present on every planet in the solar system, let alone every planet in the galaxy.  Abiogenesis could only have occurred in a narrow range of conditions, and it was largely a result of statistical probability.  Likewise, statistically, with all the millions and billions of planets, countless solar systems and galaxies in the universe, it is also statistically probable that life DOES exist in many other parts of the universe (although we would expect the concentration of intelligent life to be small overall).  The fact that the observable universe seems to be somewhat homogenous further suggests this.  Radio silence from space doesn’t prove a darn thing other than that we have yet to be contacted by any radio signals that have been sent (if any have been sent).  If we expected to receive intelligent radio signals from outer space, we would not only have to assume that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere (that knows how to transmit Shannon information via radio signals or some other form of EM radiation), but that their planet was within range for their signal to reach us unaffected.  There are solar systems that are millions of light years away, and thus would prevent any signals from reaching us for millions of years (and that’s IF the signals managed to make it to us without being reflected or absorbed by other objects in the signal’s several million light-year path of travel).  This line of reasoning on Edsinger’s part is based on so many false assumptions, its ridiculous.  As for Edsinger’s “We are alone” comment, what a dark and depressing conclusion based on these assumptions.  I wrote a separate post about this addressing the Fermi Paradox in more detail.

There are many misconceptions about evolution, and these were merely a few I wanted to address.  What’s worse is that this person attempted to propagate these claims as “scientific facts” which all turned out to be completely false (not facts at all).  Needless to say, I was not surprised at all.

Essay on Time – Part III: Time Travel and its Limitations

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Time travel and the Laws of Physics

As the “Twin Paradox” and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity implied, time travel to the future is possible if enough energy is available.  As for time travel to the past, while it seems to be the most envied hypothetical time-travel capability, it also seems to be the only one that is impossible (in my opinion).  I will discuss why I believe this to be the case, specifically how it pertains to certain physical laws and theories including: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, The Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, and The Law of Causality.

One method proposed by some, in order to be able to travel back in time, is to utilize Einstein’s theory of relativity to take time dilation “one step further”, that is, by traveling faster than the speed of light the time dilation may theoretically reverse the arrow of time.  To better picture this, recall that traveling closer to the speed of light slowed down the passage of time, and reaching the speed of light appeared to stop it.  If time dilation or the deceleration of time were to continue in the direction implied (slowing down to a stop), then continuing this deceleration by traveling faster than light would cause the arrow of time to reverse, thus making time travel to the past possible.  Unfortunately this “faster than light-speed” travel would violate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, as one of the primary elements of the theory is the assertion that the speed of light is the fastest speed that can be attained by anything moving in space.  Furthermore, Relativity asserts mathematically that it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a mass (e.g. a time traveler) to the speed of light, which implies that it would take even more energy to accelerate a mass to a speed higher than that of light.  Since you can’t have an infinite amount of energy, let alone more than an infinite amount of energy, traveling at or faster than the speed of light is impossible.

Relativity aside, if we found some other way to travel back in time and were to able to exist in a previous “version” of the universe, I think that we would violate the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, because we as the time traveler would be adding our own mass to a previous version of the universe which should have a fixed amount of mass and energy over time.  The only way around this would be to somehow sacrifice matter in the previous version of the universe that one travels to, that is, the time traveler’s body would have to be assembled out of matter already located in the past version of the universe.  If this occurred however, we would no longer exist in a previous version of the universe and would by definition have failed to time travel to “the past”.  It would appear to be close to matching the past, but it would be a moment in time that had never existed, and the causal chain would be altered beyond what we can possibly comprehend.  So time travel to the past appears to be impossible even if this particular law of physics was upheld, as we would be forced to alter the past (in order to satisfy the law) thus preventing us from traveling to a real moment of the past.

Finally, if we were to find a way to travel back in time and somehow solve the aforementioned issues, we’d still have a problem with causality.  If a time traveler were to go back to the past, and actually exist in that causal chain, the “Butterfly Effect” would immediately change the course of history such that the “present” time from which the time traveler came from would no longer exist.  If this was the case, then it seems unreasonable to assume that the time traveler would still have time traveled in the first place.  Let’s take a look at a simple causal diagram to appreciate this scenario.

From this diagram, we can see that time traveling to the past would create a new causal chain up to and including a new “present”.  This new causal chain would no longer be causally connected to the old “present”.  This would mean that the time from which the time traveler initially left (i.e. the old present) would no longer exist.  Wouldn’t this imply that the time traveler (their sense of self, the “I”, the “me”, etc.) as well as the trip itself never would have been?  I see no way around this dilemma.

So it appears that time travel to the past is physically impossible for a number of reasons.  At least time travel to the future has some promise as it doesn’t appear to violate any of these physical laws and is implied as a possibility due to consequences of Relativity.  This type of time travel seems to only be limited by the energy requirements needed to accelerate the time traveling matter to a high enough velocity for a long enough period of time, and return the time traveler back to the previous frame of reference (e.g. Earth).  Or if the time traveler utilized the effect of gravitational time dilation, their time travel would be limited by the gravitational field of the celestial body they chose to travel to as well as the time it would take them to get back to the previous frame of reference (e.g. Earth).  Either way, time travel to the future is possible simply by moving through space in a particular way.

Final thoughts

Regarding temporal experiences, it appears to me that memory is the most important of the mental requirements in order to have a mental frame of reference, that is, to make an experience of the past and present possible (as well as a concept of the future).  I think that how this memory is stored and retrieved in the brain, the amount or types of memory available as well as the psycho-pharmacological substance-induced or otherwise caused physiological changes to this memory no doubt affect our temporal experiences in profound ways.  Memory also appears to transcend physical time by providing a means for experiencing an ever-changing temporal rate.

The Theory of Relativity suggests that physical time does not exist for entities moving at the speed of light because entities moving at the speed of light (which is a constant in all frames of reference) have no physical frame of reference, and have an infinite time dilation between themselves and all inertial frames of reference.  All physical time for entities that are not moving at the speed of light would be relative to one another based on relative velocity, acceleration, and gravity.  Time also appears to pop in and out of existence due to Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence, as matter is converted into energy and vice versa.

Thus, both mental and physical frames of reference are needed in order for a temporal experience to exist.

As for time travel, it appears to be possible but only if traveling into the future, if we are to uphold the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the Law of Causality.

Essay on Time – Part II: Temporal Experience and Space-time

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Physical Frame of Reference

Relativity

Memory may be one of several mental requirements for any experience of the temporal dimension, but how exactly is time objectively related to the physical universe (i.e. 3D-space)?  As I mentioned in the first post, I believe that we can consider time to be a dimension if we find a proper way to relate time to the existing dimensions, such that we have a foundation to work off of.  To begin, let’s consider an inductive definition of a dimension so we can at least see one foundation we have for defining our three spatial dimensions.

If we start out with an empty space and place one discrete point in it, we can refer to that point as a zero-dimensional object.  If we take this object and drag it in any direction, the path it takes can be collectively described as a one-dimensional object (e.g. line, ray, or segment).  By dragging this object in a new direction, the path it takes can be collectively described as a two-dimensional object (i.e. a plane).  Finally, by dragging this object in yet another direction, the path it takes can be collectively described as a three-dimensional object (e.g. polyhedron, ellipsoid, etc.).  In general, we can drag an n-dimensional object in a new direction and collectively describe the path this object takes as an (n+1)-dimensional object.

So this is one foundation for our three spatial dimensions.  It doesn’t appear to be possible to take this induction one step further, as we have trouble even trying to conceptualize a four-dimensional (or higher dimensional) object.  So we can assume for now that our spatial dimensions are limited to a quantity of three.  Now this begs the question:  How can we reconcile these spatial dimensions with time?  Isn’t time independent of space?  Not exactly.

I believe that time has been reconciled with the three spatial dimensions in at least one way, most notably within Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Within this theory, Einstein suggested that these four dimensions were unified, and were thus eventually referred to as “space-time”.  Up until relativity was discovered, all physical motion and causality in space were seen to operate or progress uni-directionally along an arrow of time (i.e. from past-to-present-to-future) and presumed to elapse at a fixed rate throughout the entire universe.  The three extensions of space were our physical universe and the rate of all motion within that space was, or was mediated by, time.

So classical physics (i.e. “pre-relativistic” physics) implied that there was indeed an “absolute time” or “absolute present” that existed.  It was believed that if a person experienced one minute of time (and even confirmed it with an extremely precise atomic clock), that everyone else in the world (let alone any location throughout the universe) also experienced or underwent one minute of time elapse.  To put it another way, it was believed that “clock time” or “proper time” was a 100% objective attribute that was also constant in any frame of reference.  Once relativity was discovered, the intuitive concept of an objective (and constant) time was replaced with the much less intuitive concept of a relative time (albeit still objective in some ways).  This relativity is demonstrated in several bizarre phenomena including relative velocity time-dilation, gravitational (and other non-inertial) time-dilation, and length contraction.  I plan to discuss the first two of these phenomena.

Relativity and the speed of light

It should be noted that one of the main reasons for this physical/temporal relativity and the resultant phenomena is the fact that the speed of light is the fastest speed that anything can travel in space and is also a constant speed measured by all frames of reference.  To illustrate the importance of this, consider the following example.

If a driver were in a race-car driving at 200 m.p.h. and a bullet was traveling head-on toward the car also moving at 200 m.p.h., a stationary bystander would measure the speed of the bullet to be 200 m.p.h., but the driver would measure the bullet to be traveling at 400 m.p.h.  This is because the race-car is moving toward the bullet and thus the velocities (car and bullet) are additive from the driver’s inertial frame of reference.  The impact on the car would be the same (ignoring wind resistance) if the car was stationary with the bullet moving towards it at 400 m.p.h., or if the car and bullet were traveling towards each other at the same speed of 200 m.p.h.  If we replace the bullet in this example with a pulse of light, this additive property of velocities disappears.  Both the race-car driver and the stationary bystander would measure the light pulse traveling at the speed of light (roughly 300,000 km/s), although the frequency of the light pulse would be measured to be higher for the driver in the race-car.  It is the time dilation that compensates for this, that is, time appears to pass by more slowly for any frame of reference in motion relative to the observer, such that the “additive velocity” paradox is resolved.  If both the driver and the stationary bystander were holding clocks that the other person could see, both would see the other person’s clock as ticking more slowly than their own.  It makes no difference whether we say that the driver or the bystander is the frame of reference that is “moving”.  The point is that there is motion relative to one another.  If we start the observations after the driver has reached a constant speed, we could just as easily assume that the race-car driver is “stationary” and it is the bystander, race track, and earth that are “moving” relative to the driver.

Motion is relative, and thus time is relative as well.  This temporal relativity is a concept that goes completely against all common sense and everyday experience, but has been empirically verified to be true many times over.  As opposed to the example with the race-car driver traveling at a constant speed of 200 m.p.h., the consequences of relativity are dramatically different when any of the frames of reference under consideration are non-inertial frames of reference, that is, if the frame of reference is accelerating (i.e. non-inertial) relative to any other.  When non-inertial frames of reference are considered, relativity has much more bizarre consequences.

Space-time and the “Twin Paradox”

The most bizarre example of non-inertial frames of reference, coinciding with the Theory of Relativity, is that of the supposed “Twin Paradox” or “Traveling Twin”.  There are two basic versions of this story, so I’ll start with the most commonly used.

Let’s imagine that there are two 20-year old identical twin sisters, Mary and Alice, where one twin travels into outer space (e.g. Mary) at near light speed and the other remains on Earth (e.g. Alice).  It just so happens that the speed that Mary was traveling at, in combination with her non-inertial motion (i.e. acceleration) when leaving and when returning to Earth, caused a permanent time dilation such that she aged less when she finally returns to Earth (faster travel speed creates a more noticeable effect).  Let’s say that at some point Mary stops her journey in outer space, turns around, and eventually makes it back to Earth with Alice having waited for 50 years.  We can also assume that Mary traveled at a speed such that she has only aged 1 year by the time she returns to Earth.  Alice is now 70 years old, but Mary steps off of the space shuttle and is only 21 years old!  It is worth noting that both twins experienced their time elapsing in a normal fashion (i.e. neither of them would experience a feeling of time moving in slow-motion).  To both Mary and Alice, nothing strange is going on as they wait.  Mary ages one year and Alice ages 50 years.  We can define the “time” that Mary experiences (or observes passing by on her clock) during her space travel as the “proper time”, while the “time” that Alice experiences (or observes passing by on her clock) on Earth as the “coordinate time” (the “proper time” within a defined stationary frame of reference).  It is the relative difference between these two times that is the measured time dilation.  This time dilation is one of the consequences of relativity and it demonstrates a very clear relationship between space and time.  What I find most amazing is that the only requirement to accomplish this “time-travel” to the future was the ability to move through space at high enough speeds (and return back to the stationary reference frame).  This would require large amounts of energy, but the point is that it is physically possible nevertheless.  It should be noted that this same result could have been accomplished if the traveling twin (i.e. Mary) simply went to a planet that had a significantly larger gravitational potential than that of Earth.  Any non-inertial frame of reference, whether due to a changing velocity or due to gravity, produces this time dilation (and future time travel) phenomenon relative to any inertial frame of reference.

Time is not independent of the entities in the universe

The “Traveling Twin” scenario illustrates several interesting things about our universe.  It shows that physical time as well as temporal experiences are elapsing at different rates across the entire universe as a consequence of Relativity.  It also suggests that rather than existing independent of us, time actually “travels with us” in a way because it is unified with the space we are moving through (and how we move through it) as well as the curvature of that space due to gravity.  In my opinion, since the time dilation is infinite if the velocity of an entity is equal to the speed of light, this suggests that no time exists for anything moving at light-speed, that is, the proper time is zero even if the coordinate time (of a sub-light-speed frame of reference) is infinite.  This may imply that all bosons (e.g. photons, gluons, gravitons, etc.) exist with no proper time even though an infinite amount of time may have passed for all inertial frames of reference.  So time does not appear to exist for all entities, only for matter (e.g. fermions, hadrons, etc.).

Time creation and destruction

For those that are familiar with Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence, we can see that photons with sufficient energy can give rise to matter/anti-matter pair production.  For example, two gamma ray photons can combine to form an electron-positron pair.  This means that particles traveling at the speed of light (e.g. photons) can combine to form matter which travels much slower than light.  If this is true, then particles that exist with a proper time of zero can change to particles that exist with a non-zero proper-time, that is, due to the pair production, the proper time becomes non-zero and thus time is created (due to a reference frame being definable at sub-light-speed) as soon as bosons are transformed into matter.  If proper time is limited to matter, then temporal experiences must also be limited to matter, as no processes or experience can exist if there is no proper time elapsed for that experience.

There is a flip side to this coin however.  Let’s say we take the aforementioned electron-positron pair that was produced and they are re-combined within a certain range of momentum, etc.  They will collide, annihilate each other, and two gamma ray photons will be produced.  So, as matter is transformed into energy (e.g. photons, etc.), time is destroyed in a sense (due to the absence of a reference frame at light-speed).  Thus, matter and photons are interchangeable and that means that proper time (a requirement for temporal experiences) can “pop” in and out of existence for the entities considered.  Thus there appears to be no conservation of proper time (unlike mass and energy which must be conserved in a closed system).  If we imagine all matter transforming into a form of bosonic energy, and thus all proper time disappearing, this lack of conservation of time becomes quite clear.

Here is the link for Part III: Time Travel and its Limitations

Essay on Time – Part I: Temporal Experience and Memory

with 2 comments

In this post, I will consider some of the objective and subjective elements of time, including some requirements, and how they relate to temporal experiences.  I think that it’s safe to say that time involves both a mental and physical component which is evident when we recognize the lack of consistency between our subjective or mental experience of time relative to an external objective standard (i.e. “clock time”). It is this objective standard that most people call “time”, although there are quite a few people that consider the subjective experience of time to be the only “time” there is.  Some believe that time is an illusion, that is, that time itself or the arrow of time that we experience is nothing more than an experience and doesn’t exist outside of consciousness or otherwise.  I’d rather simply focus on what we experience and how it appears to relate to the physical universe.  For the purposes of this post, we can assume that time exists in some objective way and we are able to experience it in a subjective way.

Time is often thought of as a dimension and I think that it’s reasonable to consider time to be a dimension as long as there is an appropriate relationship between said time and the existing physical spatial dimensions, for without this relationship, I can’t see any foundation to build off of such that we can justify time as being a dimension per se.  One theory that demonstrates this type of relationship is well-established within the field of physics, namely Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  I plan to discuss this theory of time and space as well as some of its implications.  I find it interesting due in part to the paradoxical temporal phenomena it manifests as well as its unique relationship with 3D-space.  I think that this theory also demonstrates that time travel to the future is possible if enough energy is available.  I also plan to discuss time travel and what I believe its limitations are in order to satisfy some laws of physics.  All of these various elements are relevant to a temporal experience and, needless to say, time in general.  I decided to separate this post into three parts:

1) Temporal Experience & Memory

2) Temporal Experience & Space-time

3) Time Travel and its Limitations

Keep in mind that these posts are just some of my recent thoughts on time based on what I’ve read as well as my own two cents on the matter.  Anyways, here begins part 1 of this essay.

Requirements for temporal experience

I think that the most important mental requirement for a temporal experience is memory (storage and retrieval).  I think that memory provides a mental frame of reference, which seems to be necessary in order to have some concept of the past, present, as well as a concept of the future (albeit through inferences made from the past).  In addition to a mental frame of reference, I also think that a physical frame of reference is necessary for a temporal experience since “clock time” or “proper time“, which appears to govern the speed of all processes (including mental processes), is dependent on this reference frame.  It is these physical and mental frames of reference that allow time to exist both objectively and subjectively.  Together these two frames of reference appear to be what mediates a temporal experience.

Mental frame of reference

Memory Requirement

If an entity had no memory, I don’t think it could have any experience of time because there would be no way to relate one moment of thought, sensation, perception, etc., to a previous moment, that is, there would be no “mental relativity”.  It is memory that serves as a mental frame of reference from each moment of time to the next, thus allowing a sense of causality or change, that is, a sense of time.  Can a temporal experience occur with out a sense of change?  I don’t think it can, but if I hear a compelling argument that suggests otherwise, I may reconsider.  As for how much memory is required, I don’t think that there is any minimum amount of memory needed, so any arbitrary amount should suffice.  After all, some insects may only have a 30 second memory span (or less), but I see no reason to believe that even with a memory span as short as this (or shorter) that the insect is incapable of any kind of temporal experience at all.  Thus, it seems reasonable to believe that there should be no minimum amount of memory required for this experience, as long as there is at least some memory.

If memory is truly required for a temporal experience, then it should be clear that different temporal experiences can result from storing, retrieving, or processing those memories in various ways as well as increasing the amount (or type) of memory that an entity possesses.  For simplicity, I will limit my use of the term “memory” to that which is present in brain-utilizing living organisms (as opposed to that of A.I.).

Memory storage, retrieval, and processing

If memory is stored and/or retrieved differently (e.g. method used, rate, etc.), it may lead to the experience of time passing by or having passed by at different rates.  I think that this subjective temporal “rate” is another important feature of the mental frame of reference that memory seems to produce, and I also think that this temporal rate is at least partially a function of change in some kind of a temporal baseline over time.  I’ll explain more about this theory in the points that follow.

Psycho-pharmacological substance-induced or otherwise caused physiological changes to a brain could very well be associated with a change in this “mental relativity” or “temporal baseline” and thus could produce a far from normal temporal experience.  When I use the term “normal” to describe a temporal experience, I am defining it to be the feeling of time passing by at a normal rate, that is, there is not a significant change made to the previously established temporal baseline (which I’ll explain shortly).  I want to point out that while someone may feel that time isn’t passing by at the same rate that it once did years ago, I want to distinguish any short-term temporal rate changes from the long-term temporal rate changes.  For now I also want to focus on the idea of a temporal baseline and how it relates to short-term, or working, memory.

I believe that we establish this temporal “baseline” (i.e. “mental clock”) over time based on our duration of physiological constancy (and most importantly the memory or record of it), and thus is more easily defined when physiological changes are relatively small for extended periods of time.  One could analogize a well defined temporal baseline as a mental clock that has been synchronized such that the temporal experience feels normal.  When the physiology of memory and other brain processes are changing less over time, this rate of resynchronization slows down until it approaches a state of synchronicity (a point in time after the absolute-value derivative of physiological change falls below some threshold similar to the “Just Noticeable Difference” or JND).  To illustrate this idea, let’s assume that the following graph represents a physiological change over some interval of time.

As you can see in the graph above, a physiological change is shown over a time interval of one second.  I omitted labeling the y-axis with any metrics or units since physiological changes can be quantified in numerous ways.  If one were so inclined, the concentrations of certain chemicals in the brain or the speed of certain mental faculties could be measured and used as a quantifiable metric.  Regardless of the units or metrics used, the idea here is that a physiological change in the brain starts to occur at some rate (which may be seen as the start of a temporal incoherency or baseline shift), gradually increasing to a maximum rate (when t = 0.5 in the graph above) and finally slowing down until the new physiological state is established (coinciding with a temporal baseline re-synchronization).  My theory is that as the rate of physiological change starts to decrease, the temporal baseline starts to re-synchronize.  Even though the physiological state is not what it used to be, as long as the amount of change is decreasing, the new physiological state will eventually feel “normal” as the previous state did.

So we could say that during the time interval where the absolute-value derivative of the physiological change curve is above some “Just Noticeable Difference” (JND) threshold, we experience an abnormal temporal rate and vice versa.  The derivative of this curve, f ‘(x), might look something like what is displayed in the graph below.

We could say that a y-value of zero (on the graph above) defines a perfectly synchronized baseline.  Either way, when the absolute-value derivative of the baseline synchronization is some value below the JND threshold, we start to have a feeling of normalcy.  Once we have a well defined baseline, we should be able to say that as one minute of time passes by on a clock, that we also feel approximately one minute of time passing by.  During a physiological change to memory however (where the absolute-value derivative is above this JND threshold), one minute of time passing by on a clock could feel as long as many minutes or hours.  This leads me to believe that memory transcends physical time in at least two ways:

1) A temporal experience provided by memory is not fixed as the physical or objective passage of time is (i.e. “clock time”), that is, an entity’s temporal baseline is always changing (resynchronizing after a physiological change to memory occurs in order to return the temporal experience to a state of “normality”) which means that we don’t experience time elapsing at a constant rate, even if it is a constant rate according to a physical clock.

2) Memory can store certain aspects of an event such that they are accessible in the future whereas physical time passes such that certain aspects of “the present” are eventually and inevitably inaccessible as “the past”.

I think that number one (listed above) seems reasonable based on our experience.  If you’ve ever ingested a mind-altering drug (e.g. caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, THC, psilocybin/psilocin, etc.) or felt extremely tired or hungry, you may remember how time did not pass by in a normal fashion.  Stimulants have been known to increase our estimation of time intervals (i.e. increase our subjective temporal rate), whereas depressants have the opposite effect.  It has even been shown that by simply increasing the temperature of our brain (even unintentionally with a fever), that we tend to over-estimate the rate of time elapse, presumably due to the fact that the speed of all chemical reactions remain proportional to temperature.  However, if one was in a particular physiological state for a long enough time, it may start to feel increasingly normal.  If one returns to a previous physiological state (e.g. after the drug wore off, after sleeping, after eating, etc.), more than likely time passed by in an abnormal fashion once again until you adjusted to that new physiological state (re-synchronized your temporal baseline).

I should note that for number two (listed above), in theory, we may have some access to the past by inferring it based on reversing the deterministic causal chain we are aware of.  However, we are only aware of a limited portion of that causal chain and memory provides the possibility to instantly retrieve aspects of the past which are otherwise not easily (if at all) accessible to us.  On top of this, the implied randomness that exists within the quantum realm suggests that we can’t predict a reversed causal chain beyond some level of determinism.

Matters become even more complicated when we take into account the fact that our bodies are trying to restore some sense of equilibrium and respond to physiological changes in the brain by taking chemical compensatory measures.  The important point here is that if one is in a new physiological state that is not changing much (i.e. minimum compensatory measures taken by the body, intake versus metabolism of a chemical/drug is nearly constant, etc.), we can start to feel normal, even if our new state is not the physiological state that we previously identified as “normal”.

While our temporal experience may vary due to physiological changes, physical and mental (i.e. subjective) elements of time are definitely correlated with one another.  If you double the rate of physical time elapsing (i.e. “clock time”), it should also double the subjective duration of the temporal experience, even if that subjective duration (which I believe may be mediated by some temporal baseline) can never be quantified or measured.  For example, if a human brain produces a temporal experience that feels like one hour but in actuality only one minute of “clock time” has elapsed (based on the entity’s temporal baseline), then two minutes of elapsed “clock time” should be correlated with a temporal experience that feels like two hours (assuming the baseline hasn’t changed significantly during this time).  While this may seem obvious, I think it’s important to note this correlation.

Amount of memory

Increasing the amount of memory an entity possesses, that is, by increasing the range between the earliest accessible memory and the most recent and/or increasing the amount of information stored within that range should also be correlated with a unique temporal experience.  If we compare humans that have lived for different lengths of time, we can see how the amount of long term memory acquired suggests that they are having different long term temporal experiences.

The number of long term memories would vary from individual to individual, and it would seem that by living longer, one would also increase the range between the earliest accessible memory and the most recent.  I would expect this to be associated with differences in their temporal experiences.

For a 100 year old individual, one year passing by would only be another 1% of the total objective time experienced, where in the case of a 1 year old infant, one year passing by would be another 100%, or an effective doubling, of the total objective time experienced.  In other words, as we age, each day that passes by becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of the total number of experiences.  This suggests to me that subjective time probably passes by more slowly when there have been a smaller number of memories accrued and vice versa.  I’ve heard many times before that as you age, time flies by, and I think that this is at least one factor involved.  For those that have doubts about subjective time passing by at different rates as you age, try to think back to when you were a child and you thought that it would take “forever” to turn 18 years old.  Once you became an adult however, more than likely your experience of time began to speed up a little.

There are certainly other factors involved with this age-related change in subjective temporal rate.  For example, in the case of humans there seems to be a decrease in the amount of day-to-day change as we age due to the routines that we start to follow as well as the decrease in exposure to new information and novel experiences, thus making one day harder to distinguish from another.  If this is true then memories may somehow begin to “blend” together or compress into a representative albeit truncated temporal chunk, or it could also be the case that less memories are stored altogether due to the lack of novelty within the redundant experiences.  If a novel experience somehow tags an event such that it is remembered better, this may be analogous to looking at our mental clock more frequently (e.g. t = 1, t = 2, t = 3, t = 4, t = 5, etc.).  When an experience is redundant, there is little or no tagging involved and this is analogous to infrequently looking at our mental clock (e.g. t = 1, t = 5, etc.).  This would mean that over time our attention to time based on memories decreases.

There is also a decrease in the number of age-related goals since an adult is no longer age-restricted from drug and alcohol consumption, driving privileges, watching R-rated movies, etc.  In this last example, it seems reasonable to assume (based on our experience) that when we are expecting a positive stimulus at some known time in the future (e.g. an age-related privilege, positive reinforcement, etc.), that the rate of time passing by feels reduced.  On the flip side, when we are expecting an unpleasant event to occur at some known time in the future (e.g. an obligation, negative reinforcement, etc.) we may expect to feel an increase in the rate of time passing by.  So how we mentally or emotionally tag events appears to affect our temporal experience as well.

Here is the link for Part II: Temporal Experience and Space-time