Month: October 2020

How to Make a Dream Recording Machine

I’ve read that, when you dream, the things you perceive both visually and audially effect the same patterns in your occipital and temporal lobes, respectively, as would be effected if you were awake and physically saw and heard them. (I heard about the visual component and the audial component separately at different times.) If this is the case, then one should be able to record dreams by reading these patterns in the brain and then interpreting them correctly.

Of course, there are a couple of problems with this approach.

1. How can you record the neural impulses without opening the brain? And even if you opened it how would you measure action in all 3 dimensions?

2. Once you had that data, how could you possibly figure out how to properly interpret it? It’s probably even different for each individual.

The answer to (1) lies in the fact that neural impulses are electrical: as such, each impulse emits a tiny electromagnetic pulse. This electromagnetic wave must extend all the way to outside the brain, even if only very weakly, because electromagnetic waves attenuate when they propagate but never reach zero intensity (unless it’s so far away that the likelihood of receiving a single photon is slim), and because of the existence of EEGs we know that EM waves can make it through the skull. So, the trick would be to put many, many (very, very sensitive) sensors all around the head of the person sleeping.

But how do you determine which synapse a given impulse came from? The answer is triangulation. Arrange the sensors in a dense, 3D pattern around the head and then resolve the slew of differently timed stimulations of different sensors into individual impulses and their locations. Any given three sensors (the minimum number required to triangulate the source of a signal) would be receiving signals from many different synapses at once, so the data from all sensors really needs to be processed and resolved as a whole.

This would take massive computing power—much more than we currently have—but fortunately computing power has been roughly doubling every 18 months since the invention of computers. We also might have completely new computing technologies on the horizon, such as quantum computers and optical computers.

Also, it’s not necessarily true that we need to actually calculate the triangulations of the signals. We’re going to use artificial neural networks (as described below), and the neural networks may figure out themselves how to properly process the data, with or without inventing its own intermediary triangulation processing step.

The answer to (2) is to use an artificial neural network. ANNs learn through being subjected to many instances of input and their preferred outputs. For example, to train optical character recognition, you’d show it many different pictures of an A and “tell it” that the ASCII or Unicode representation of “A” is what you want it to output, for each input “A,” and do the same for all other letters, numbers, punctuation, etc.

Similarly, we can show our subject particular visuals and audio, record the brain’s activity via the above method, and then feed the ANN the occipital and temporal lobes’ activities as the input, with the images shown and sounds played as the expected results for their respective lobes’ activity. (This would of course require the use of an eye tracking device.) That way, when you feed it the EM pulses coming from the subject while they’re dreaming, it automatically knows from its training how to interpret it. And you can create and store as many new training models as you want for multiple individuals.

So, that’s the idea—now we just have to wait for the technology to catch up..

See also: Until the End of the World (1991)

3D Julia Blobs: An Idea

Since the Julia Set depends on the function fc(z) = z2 + c, where z and c are complex numbers, it’s therefore four-dimensional, and we can thus create 3D shapes from the Julia Set by taking hyperplanes of the form u∙Re(z)+v∙Im(z)+w∙Re(c)+x∙Im(c)=y where they intersect the hypercuboid (-2,-1,-2,-1) – (2,1,2,1). (Or is it the hypercube (-2,-2,-2,-2) – (2,2,2,2)? I don’t remember my reasoning behind those 1’s.) Our 4D viewing angle should obviously be perpendicular to the hyperplane so that the image doesn’t appear stretched. I’ve only experimented with hyperplanes where u = v = 0, or in other words, stacks of normal Julia fractals where c traverses some line through the complex plane. Other such hyperplanes might not work so well, since I think that fractals along w = x = 0 might just be rough circles. 

We could have controls for manipulating the hyperplane’s rotations on all six 4D axes and manipulating the 3D viewing of the hyperplane on all three 3D axes. We could show the results on a computer monitor using a voxel/point-cloud rendering library. We could also turn these 3D shapes into physical objects by using solid freeform fabrication of some sort, such as 3D printers. Some shapes may contain disconnected discrete parts. In those cases we can (a) connect parts together using thin metal or clear rods; (b) fabricate the inverse of a shape using a clear material within its bounding polyhedron; (c) fabricate the polyhedron in two colors, clear for outside of the Julia Set and some opaque or semitransparent color for inside of it; or (d) use a laser-etched crystal/glass block, or ideally, not a block but the shape of the intersection of the hyperplane through the bounding hypercuboid. For a more artistic look we can smooth out the shape by using a small number of iterations. 

If we don’t need closed shapes, then we can explore/fabricate the 3-d boundaries of Julia Set hyperplanes at arbitrary scales. We can also do this with closed shapes in the limited ranges where our hyperplane only intersects the very edge of the Julia Set.

I’ve actually tried to make programs to do this a number of times, but I failed because I couldn’t figure out how to use any of the available voxel rendering libraries.

Here are the libraries I’ve found: GVDB Voxels, GigaVoxels, Volpak, Visualization Toolkit, and Point Cloud Library. I think there might have been another one that I couldn’t install that I may have forgotten the name of.

Since I can’t do this, I hope somebody else does.

How Many Coincidences Are Enough?

Today the phone rang, and, rather oddly, the phone that happened to be right next to me was dead.  So I took it back to its base in my parents’ room (the fact that my parents’ phone was out of their room and the one right next to me was also unusual.) While I was there, the phone rang again.  Even though it seemed to be working fine on the charger, I answered using the fax machine just in case it would have died during the phone conversation. The call was from my dad.  He wanted me to go to his room and tell him the model number of his fax machine. An unusual request. Obviously, since I was standing in front of it, I didn’t have to so much as turn my head. I use the fax machine’s phone probably much less than once a year. 

Not that it’s a stupendous coincidence, but the point is this: how would we calculate the odds of this coincidence?

We could take the odds that I would have bothered to answer at all (a), and multiply by the odds that the nearest phone would have been my parents’ (b), and multiply that by the odds that it would have been dead (c), and assume that I would have put it back on its base and assume that my dad would have tried calling again and multiply that by the odds that I would have answered with the fax machine instead of the better phone that seemed to have been working fine (d). How would we determine a, b and c and d? Perhaps we don’t know how often I answer. Or perhaps we do, but I answer more often at different times of the day. Do we consider what time of day my dad called? If so, do we also consider the likelihood that he would have called at that time, or is his calling at that time a given? Do we consider what I was doing at the time? How would we possibly quantify that? Or do we could just replace all that with what percentage of phone calls I answer with the fax machine?

So now we have the other part of the coincidence: the probability of my dad wanting to see the model number of the fax machine. Do we start with the probability that it would be my dad? Or is it a given that it’s my dad because if he didn’t call there would have been no phone call? Which is primary? Getting a phone call, or my dad wanting to know the model number? How do we even approach computing the probability that he would want to know the model number?

Or is the coincidence just about me not having to move from that spot or turn my head to do something I needed to at that moment? What if I only had to turn my head a little, and/or step a little bit in some direction? According to what functions would we translate that into a probability? And then we have to compute the probabilities of all the things that could happen in which I’d need to…read some piece of information? Or should it be more general, including, e.g., pushing a button? But in that case, what if it’s just a conversation? That doesn’t require turning my head at all­! That notwithstanding, do we allow for the coincidence to be anywhere in the house? What if I had happened to answer it in the family room and someone needed to know something about that thing in the family room? And the probability that I would have been in the family room is a completely different value…

Or is the essential thing to compute not the improbability that what I needed was right there, but the improbability of the convenience itself more generally? Then we’d have to know the probabilities of every possible thing that could happen of the same or lower general convenience level, in order to calculate the improbability of one of them happening…one of them happening in what period of time? That day? That year? My life? Everyone’s life? If you were looking for a convenience in my life for that day, then you’d need the probability that such a thing would happen to me that day. But what time period are we really looking at? Am I amazed because it happened at that moment? Or because it happened out of my entire life? Or something in between? (The coincidence cited above isn’t quite amazing, but it’s just a random example. The same general flavor of ambiguity applies to most kinds of coincidences.) We’d have to compare the numbers of the occurrences of every type of convenience that happened during some undefined time period to the frequencies at which they would happen by chance.

Or if I am conveying the story to another, to know the amazingness-level (that’s what we’re really trying to measure here) of the coincidence happening, he has to compare it to the likelihood of it happening, or to anything of similar likelihood happening, during some undefined time period to…anyone he knows? Anyone who would have told him about it? Anyone he knows multiplied by the probability of the given person telling him about it? What does he do if someone tells him about it happening to someone else? What if he’s reading about the occurrence on the Internet? Does he consider how much he reads, what things he’s looks for, what types of things people usually put on the internet, what he was looking for at that moment, how many people use the internet, etc.? So, what would he consider, and how would he formalize/quantify those things, let alone find out their values?

And let’s not forget that convenience is just one type of possible coincidence. Let’s say that there are X different types of possible coincidences that could have happened to me that day. Then the wonderment of a coincidence of convenience happening seems somewhat minified, so one would think that should be considered. But then we need to know X, and the likelihoods of coincidences of the same caliber of every possible type. But isn’t the categorization system itself arbitrary, thus calling for a continuum of possible events in a space of an undefined number of dimensions to compare this event to? Then how would we calculate the likelihood of this coincidence? More to the point, the question devours itself, since we’re left trying to calculate the unlikelihood of an unlikelihood happening (remember, this is about amazement per se), and statistics requires parameters. It can only determine the unlikelihood of something within a greater uniformity.

Now enter the skeptics’ assumption that synchronicity only seems to be a real thing because we forget all the times something coincidental doesn’t happen and remember the times it does. To know if that’s true, one would have to know whether the degrees and frequencies at which apparent synchronicities actually occur are objectively much higher than would be determined by pure chance. But as I have just shown, it is completely impractical, if not technically impossible, to calculate those things. Even if one could, one wouldn’t because it would be too difficult and involved. So, that particular proffering of disenchantment by the skeptics can at best be a theory, but skeptics take it to be the truth. It is therefore an assumption, reflecting only their own biases. It makes one wonder what other things self-proclaimed “skeptics” baselessly assume…

I wrote more on this subject here:

Also related:

Meandering Thoughts On Physical Dimensionality, String Theory, Quantum Mechanics, the Theory of Everything, etc.

A 1-dimensional object can’t exist because if you multiply its length times its width, which is zero, and times its depth, which is 0, you get a volume of 0. An object with 0 volume is a non-existent object, just like a car with 0 gallons of gas does not have gas.  Yet once you count to three dimensions, objects apparently exist despite (presumably) having no 4th-dimensional depth. It would seem more coherent or consistent, or at least simpler, metaphysically, to assume that objects we see have length, width, depth, and some amount of 4th-D depth to exist at all, lest their 4-D volumes be 0, hence making them not exist. Yet this same principle must then be re-applied to include 5th-D depth, 6th-D depth, 7th-D depth, and so on and on, ad infinitum. And that’s just what I’m arguing for: an infinite number of spatial dimensions.

And string theory posits just that. The common conception is that string theory holds for 10, 11 or 26 dimensions, but Paul Davies said in Superstrings: A theory of Everything? that that’s only for purposes of a simplified approximation, that string theory holds for an infinite number of dimensions.

The depth of these extra spatial dimensions is very small, or else reality wouldn’t behave as it does such that our reality appears 3-dimensional. But how would you possibly constrain a spatial dimension? In string theory, this is done by way of the extra dimensions being “curled up.” By analogy, imagine a one-dimensional world, only instead of existing on a line, it actually exists within the perimeter of a very thin tube. Because the tube is so microscopically thin compared to the macroscopic scale of its one-dimensional physical life, the effects of the second dimension aren’t noticed except through the experiments and models of their physics. In string theory, all the dimensions above the third are tightly curled in an analogous but higher-dimensional manner.

I’m still ambivalent about string theory though. It’s very complex and constantly growing, and yet it makes almost no predictions (I’ve only heard of one, and we don’t have the technology to test it yet). This pretty much makes it unfalsifiable and seemingly an ivory-tower endeavor. Not only that, but the strings it reduces things to are unintuitive, unobservable, as small as as small gets, and apparently made out of nothing but math. And I think that for a “thing” to ultimately lead to a sensory experience, it must have some substance to it, as in a property, that is somehow commensurate with that experience. Math is all just numerical values and abstract relationships between them. It’s like measurements of real things without the real things/substances being measured. For reality, experience and qualia to occur, you need actual substances.

Using math is great for modeling and predicting physical reality, but reducing the universe to mathematics is going too far. It lacks substance so it couldn’t give rise to reality/experience, and mathematics is purely abstract (see also, so it can’t be the basis of anything extant. Abstractions are strictly derivative of extant substances/phenomena/whatever.

Moreover, string theory is said to be not one theory, but a set of numerous possible theories, that figuring out which one is correct would take more computing power than we remotely have in this age. It seems not very coincidental, to me, that the theory poised to be the first Theory Of Everything is actually a statement that “one of a large subset of all possible theories is correct.” In what dimensions this set extrudes or does not extrude into the set of all possible or feasible theories is a subject worthy of notice, and beyond my knowledge of physics.  

That leads me to another thought, though. In much the same way that any possible series of points on a graph can also be traced by a sufficiently complex polynomial equation, I wonder if there’s a possible universal formula in which every possible physics theory, or every possible TOE, is expressed as a series of parameters to that formula. That would be a beautiful generalization and simplification for the search for the ultimate physical theory.

When I say “possible theories,” of course I mean mathematically constructible theories. But I think that the real theory of everything—the only one possible, or at least the only one actually satisfying—might not be mathematical at all. It could be, for example, something more like a new-age principle. Perhaps that could capture the more living, less mechanical aspects of cause and effect that physicists don’t even dream of. Scientism supposes science to be all-reaching, while the things that physics can’t predict, particularly things within quantum mechanics, are thought of as “absolute randomness.” (Some interpretations of quantum mechanics are deterministic, but as long as they can’t actually predict any particular instances of the randomness in question, they’re just weak conjectures.)

And speaking of prediction, that’s the one thing all physics is based on. A physical theory is merely a mathematical relationship that’s validated by, and only by, prediction. Physics doesn’t actually purport to be doing anything other than creating useful models of phenomena. So physics isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of what’s going on metaphysically/”under the hood,” so to speak. That’s where interpretation comes in, and some theories have many interpretations. That space-time is curved is just one interpretation of the General Relativity, for example. We can’t even measure space as a thing-in-itself; how can we say that it’s curved? It’s just a mathematical convenience that we use.

Quantum mechanics has a few interpretations, such as Many Worlds theory, but on a deeper level perhaps it has none…Richard P. Feynman said, “It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics,” and also, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” All QM has are equations that work in mind-blowingly counterintuitive ways, and they only predict things on a statistical level. This must be why Albert Einstein said, “if [quantum theory] is correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science.” Maybe we’re still waiting for the ricochet…

If the ultimate TOE is a mystical principle, it makes me wonder: how complex should the principle be? Surely, if not on a technical level then on an abstract level, it could accommodate both QM and GTR. They’re so foundational and all-encompassing that, even if physics merely makes useful models, the information of those two overarching theories should fit into our mystical TOE somewhere…but, a fundamental basis of physics is that you can predict/explain anything from the vantage point of “the view from nowhere,” that is, independently of any subject. This constrains physics to theories that are only ultimately work insofar as we live in an impersonal universe full of objective facts, which I don’t think is the case. Some questions arise:

  • Should we incorporate physical theories, on the mathematical level, into our mystical TOE at all?­
  • If we do, how complex should the mathematical part of the TOE be?
  • How would we integrate the mathematical parts of the TOE with the spiritual/mystical parts?
  • How complex should the spiritual parts be?
  • Would the mathematical part of the TOE necessarily be relegated to ”the view from nowhere”?
  • What restrictions does the paradigm of causality impose on physics that mathematics and measurability themselves don’t? (I don’t remember why I asked this.)

In answering the first question, we should first ask (a) what it is in the universe that warrants a particular amount of complexity in an all-encompassing theory, and (b) what do we mean by all-encompassing, in that we don’t actually predict everything (for example, a practitioner of the ultimate TOE probably wouldn’t predict that a fly is about to land on their face)?  Perhaps the amount of data we predict is commensurate with the amount of data we gather, for example, we can’t predict the weather presumably because we can’t measure the position and velocity of every air molecule, not counting the issue of computational limitations. 

But if there is any amount of data we could gather by which to predict quantum randomness, we don’t know how much it is nor where to gather the data from. I don’t believe it’s the case that quantum randomness can be predicted with sufficient physical data, though. I also suspect that, since the so-called laws of the universe and its data are two aspects of the same whole, and it is only in human understanding that things are discretely divided, we’ll find more and more complexity to our “laws” as long as we’re looking for them. Hence physical law is unlimited in complexity, and probably ever-changing, just as the data they “operate on” is.

I say so-called laws because I don’t believe the universe behaves according to laws as such. Laws require energy to enforce, so the universe would constantly be drained of energy. Also, as I mentioned in ‘Notes on Freewill,’ if physical laws were restraining, constraining, or otherwise enactors of some sort, then you’d need further/more-meta laws to enforce or constrain those laws (because why else would they continue to consistently do what they do otherwise; and if they would just naturally continue to do as they do, then it’s equally plausible that the physical “laws” are just things naturally doing what they do rather than being laws as such), and further laws to enforce those laws, etc., to infinite regression.

By the way, I said that the ultimate TOE probably wouldn’t allow you to predict that a fly is about to land on your face, but perhaps if it were really the ultimate TOE then it would predict absolutely everything, or at least everything in one’s immediate environment. All theories ultimately describe the universe as we perceive it, even if that perception involves looking at measurements by scientific instruments. We do the best we can designing theories that try to explain things from arbitrary hypothetical perspectives that trivialize individual frames of reference, we draw an ultimately arbitrary line between the “rules” or “laws” of the universe and the “stuff” that the rules “act upon,”, and we then try to discover laws that work within those artificially constructed modalities, but it still comes down to explaining qualia in the end. So, perhaps if there were actually an ultimate TOE that perfectly encapsulated the essence of the workings of the universe, it would tell you exactly what you’ll see or hear at any given time.

As for the second question, there is beauty in mystical principles, while physical law, on the other hand, is a plethora of arbitrary constants relevant only to lifeless, labyrinthine, and ultimately unaccountable equations. Beauty is truth and truth is beauty, or so I’ve read, so spiritual/mystical maxims are likely more fundamental and universal than the laws of physics. See also

Perhaps somewhere else in the universe, or in the multiverse, the gravitational constant is different, or there are more than three spatial dimensions, etc. Given that the variables are apparently set just right for physical life where we are, it must be that, unless this universe was specifically designed by God, the strong anthropic principle accounts for all of that. The strong anthropic principle requires the existence of many worlds/places with different physics varying in many dimensions. Thus a mystical-principle TOE might potentially tell you what is always so, while physical theories are a way of describing “where you are” currently in the all, or perhaps more accurately, what the nature of your current body is…

If, as the strong anthropic principle suggests, the universe is precisely that which is necessary to support your physical life as someone who would ask “what is the universe like?,” then the whole corpus of physics is fundamentally nothing more than a reflection of the nature of your own, current body. It’s actually a little more complex than that, because the question also depends on your current body living within what you would deem a universe and because it’s actually a question being asked, and answered by, the whole of humanity. And there are probably also other species living in the universe who are asking the same question, who are quite different anatomically, but whose bodies work on the same physical principles.

To the last question, I would point out that quantum mechanics apparently establishes correlations that uphold outside of causal time, as you might notice in Wheeler’s delayed choice quantum eraser experiment. It’s often said that the reason QM and GTR are incompatible is that they treat time differently. A theory that connects relativity with quantum mechanics is probably one that has a basis beyond time (such as the one in Julian Barbour’s books), or is at least one that’s not bound by the idea of prediction in causal time.