Coming Soon: Seeking Delphi, The Podcast.

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”–Thomas Jefferson

www.cartoonstock.com Used with permission

http://www.cartoonstock.com
Used with permission

It’s not likely that Thomas Jefferson meant to disparage study of the past, it’s just, like Albert Einstein’s missive that imagination is more important than knowledge, he meant that it is our dreams of the future that enable us to build a better world.

I’ve been dreaming about the future since I was a kid.  Daydreaming, my parents would have said, and my wife certainly would say.  But that’s OK.  Somebody has to do it.  If humankind is going to survive the the challenges that lie ahead, somebody needs to be thinking further ahead than the next pay check, the next quarter’s profit, and the next election.   Let’s do it together.

On Seeking Delphi, the podcast, I’ll address many of the myriad uncertainties that lie ahead, some of them with existential consequences.  Some of them just for fun. But all of them the stuff that imagination–and dreams–are made of.

Premiere date:  January 25, 2017.

 

 

 

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R.I.P.–Alvin Toffler

“The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order.”–Alvin Toffler

Alvin Toffler

Alvin Toffler

The world lost its foremost futurist in the past week,  a man who was one of my heroes.   Alvin Toffler taught the world how to think about the future some 45 years ago.  It’s a lesson the world should relearn.   I read Future Shock way back in 1973–and have been thinking about it–and the future–ever since.

The quote above describes the cause of the disease–the human psychological malady–he calls future shock.  He made me think about the implications of a future that comes too fast and too hard for most people to comprehend or tolerate.  It made me think about the dangers of thinking improperly about the future–or avoiding the thought of it at all.  I’ll go into detail on these issues–and the potential remedies thereof–in future posts.  In the meantime, I take off my virtual digital hat to the man who just may have been the foremost futurist of all time.

Writing in the New York Times on July 6, Farhad Manjoo lays out clearly and concisely why Toffler’s ideas are so relevant today.  I highly urge you to read this piece, and to read Future Shock if you’ve never done so.  I intend to reread it now.  We have never needed foresight more than we do today.

For (mostly) lighter fare,  visit my other blog,  The Millennium Conjectures.

 

Physics and The Future (Part two)

Note: This is the second part of an article originally posted in 2012 on my first blog, The Millennium Conjectures™.  Now, it’s time to invent a future in which I figure out what to post next.

I Conjecture:  Every Possible Future Exists

Part Two: Quantum Mechanics and The Future

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”–Alan Kay

Note: In case you had not surmised it, the most literal title for this conjecture would be “Every Physically Possible Future of Our Universe Exists.”   There is probably not a future in our universe where the laws of physics will change to allow Harry Potter to cast a patronus spell on demontors.

Inventing the quantum future at NASA

Alan Kay’s proposition suggests a philosophical viewpoint that emerges from this conjecture.  But for a better quote to describing its why and wherefore, I harken back to the E.B. White words from Conjecture #2Everything that is not forbidden is mandatory.  It all boils down to Quantum Mechanics.   Many physicists have latched on to this notion;  given enough time, every physically possible combination of matter and energy is bound to occur.  It’s all just a matter of probability.  That said, there are clearly at least two distinct ways of looking at it, depending on which interpretation of quantum mechanics you ascribe to:  Copenhagen or Many Worlds.  Although there are other interpretations, these two have garnered the lions share of advocates in the scientific community, and the notion that every possible future exists can emerge from either one of them.  (See Quantum Weirdness 102 and 103 in The Millennium Conjectures™ for an explanation of both ideas.)

The difference between the two as pertains to the future can easily be stated as virtual vs. actual.  The Many Worlds interpretation asserts that every physical possibility will become an actual reality in an infinitely expanding sea of parallel universes.  Every possible future is, or at least becomes, physically real.  On the other hand, Copenhagen implies that there is no absolute physical reality until the quantum wave function breaks down, that there is only probability on the sub-atomic level until we observe it. From this we can infer that every possible future exists only as a statistical  probability, and only the one we ultimately experience will actually exist.

So what’s the difference?  There isn’t any.  It makes no difference, from the practical experience of entities conscious in a single one of them, whether the futures are real or virtual; we can’t tell the difference.  Every one of those physical realities is still a real possibility.  The good news?   There most certainly is a future out there where you win the lottery!  The bad news?  The only sure way to “invent” that future is to buy every possible number combination.  I don’t recommend quitting your day job.  😦

 

Physics and the Future: Every Possible Future Exists

This two part post originally appeared in my first blog, The Millennium Conjectures™ in 2012.   Some background on the basic concepts of quantum mechanics discussed in these posts is available by reading the Quantum Weirdness Primer thread in that blog.  The entire Millennium Conjectures thread provides a fairly comprehensive view of my philosophical views on science, reality and the future.  In this conjecture, I put forth the notion that every possible future exists.

Part One: The Post-Newtonian Wordview

“The Future ain’t what it used to be.”–Yogi Berra

Yogi

Yogi, philosopher extraordinaire, deep in thought

Yogi was right. Literally.

He had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but he was right nonetheless.  For the way we view the future must, of necessity, be directly related to how we view physical reality. Ergo, as our understanding of physical reality changes, so changes how we think about the future and how we understand what it might turn out to be.   An entire graduate level lecture could probably be based on this conjecture.  I’ll condense the basic idea to a few paragraphs.

Before Apple, the company, there was apple, the fruit.  And before that fateful day when one of those red orbs conked one Isaac Newton on the noggin, worldviews were simplistic and not generally  based on science.   They were mostly mystical or religious.  Supernatural forces ruled the world and what they had in store for mankind was up to them; it was not to be known by us.  But when the soon-to-be “Sir” Isaac set forth his rules of motion and gravity classical physics was born.  Every action had an equal and opposite reaction, every force and its interaction with mass was theoretically calculable, and therefore predictable.  Newton’s laws ruled physics, and indeed, most science based worldviews for nearly 250 years.

Then two guys named Einstein and Planck came along and screwed up the whole thing.  They were followed by the likes of Heisenberg and Bohr and Schrodinger, who threw the monkey wrenches of quantum mechanics, and most disturbingly, quantum uncertainty, into the mechanisms of physics.  Nothing was ever the same again.**

Just how did these 20th century scientific revolutions, along with chaos and complexity theories, alter the Newtonian worldview?

The Newtonian worldview was deterministic, the post-Newtonian worldview is not.  It was theorized, under Newton’s classical laws, that if one could know the position and momentum of every particle of matter and energy in the universe, then one could know everything that has ever happened and could predict everything that ever would happen in the future.   Quantum mechanics and uncertainty skewered that notion; it killed it stone dead.  As explained in my Quantum Weirdness primers, it is not possible to simultaneously know the exact position and momentum of quantum objects, and interactions of quanta with their environment are only calculable as probabilities. 

In other words, the Newtonian worldview asserted that we could calculate exactly where any particle of matter or energy would be at any time.  The post-Newtonian worldview states that we can only calculate the probability of finding it in a given position at a given time.  The disconcerting part of that last statement is the “finding” part.  For it asserts exactly that, the probability of finding it if we look for it; it does not predict where it is, for until we look it is effectively in every possible position at once.

How does this affect our view of the future and my conjecture that every possible future exists?  In the Newtonian worldview, there is no free will; everything is determined by the existing state of the universe and there is therefore only one possible future.  That would be the one that follows from applying Newton’s laws to the current state of every bit of matter and energy in the universe.  But in the post-Newtonian world, those rules do not work on a quantum level.  Position and momentum are uncertain and results of interactions can only be stated as probabilities.  In a non-deterministic world, free will is enabled and the totality of the future is unpredictable no matter how much data we have to crunch.

Does this future exist?

OK.  Many futures are possible.  But how can I assert that every possible future exists?   I’ll take that up in Part Two of this post.

**It should be noted that while Albert  Einstein, along with Max Planck, laid the foundations of quantum mechanics, he never believed its predictions of uncertainty and randomness.  Perhaps his most famous quotation, “god does not play dice,” refers to this very matter.  He spent much of the last thirty years of his life attempting to find a deeper meaning–hidden variables–that would give the lie to these notions.  He failed and was ultimately proven wrong.  

Text in this post © Mark Sackler, 2012, 2016