Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Conscious Universe

This was written in response to a Facebook post about the universe being explainable -- as it is, at least in its physical aspect -- in terms of forces.  That post expressed bewilderment as to why theists do not accept this.  Without wishing to get into that debate with the theists -- and also with the proselytizing atheists -- I offered instead, for whatever they are worth, these personal viewpoints, found over the years.

The Conscious Universe

I studied, worked in and taught physics, in the past, for  thirty three years, and so had my fill of learning about, working with and teaching about forces of all kinds.  After a while, I realized, however, that instead of just thinking of objects exerting forces on one another, we can also think of different parts of the universe (from electrons to galaxies) talking to one another -- in languages of their own.

Of course, they rarely use Spanish or Swahili.  At the fundamental levels, the parts of the universe use, instead, the languages that we call fields or interactions -- gravitational, electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear.

When I speak to an English-speaking student in my class to say, "Jie Wen, please come here." and she complies, or ask another, "Rafael, could you take this to the attendance office?" and he does that, then I could describe their actions, crudely, in terms of forces of attraction and repulsion. And in human interactions, we do have elements of compulsion.

But we could also describe this, perhaps more accurately, as I have done, as communication and considered response.

So also, when I push on a board eraser and it moves, I could describe this in terms of (electromagnetic) forces that I exert on the eraser, causing it to press and slide across the board -- or I could visualize electrons on the surface of my hand "speaking to" their counterparts on the surface of the eraser and saying, "Sisters, could you move along? We are coming through."

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds, because each electron is, in fact, communicating with other electrons (and protons, etc.) via photons, which carry information back and forth, and there is a processing of this information going on in each cell of space-time.

In addition to this information-processing ability of the physical universe, there seems to be also an aspect of the universe that is not physical -- not measurable. The universe, as we experience it, has not only quantities, like wavelengths, but also qualities, like colors. These exist in a mental dimension or sphere that parallels, to some extent, physical phenomena, but is distinct from these.

I do not think, personally, that consciousness "evolved" and is accessible only to humans and "higher animals". It seems more reasonable to think of it, as we do of the measurable or physical aspects of the universe (such as space-time, information, mass, energy, electric charge, etc.), as elemental, already present.

This consciousness manifests itself in our mental processes (which again need our bodies to appear, but are distinct from them).

To give an analogy, one needs to buy or build a radio or TV set to hear or view broadcasts, but no one would claim that the radio or TV set is producing these -- they were already there, in the form of electromagnetic waves that spread out from the station.  In our case, there is no separate station out there -- no heavenly broadcaster, I don't think.  The universe itself is alive and conscious.  We are part of that. 

At the "lowest" level, we are nodes or routers in the network.  But we, along with atoms and octopi, may be more than that.

-- Arjun

 2014 March 19th, Wed.
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY

Saturday, March 8, 2014

On Fascists and Socialists

On Fascists and Socialists

In this country (the U.S.A.), the terms "fascism" and "socialism" appear to carry roughly equal negative weight among those who are better educated.  Among the general populace, the latter term is by far the more pejorative -- and frightening.

This is understandable in view of the propaganda that has been carried out here for so long.  But this might not be the only country in which these two terms are being conflated.  So it may be worthwhile to try to distinguish between the two.

In Europe, especially in Central, Southern and Eastern Europe, the genuine socialists and fascists have been at war for close to a century, perhaps much longer if one loosens the definitions.

Although fascism and socialism as we know them started in Europe, they have since spread all over the world.  They manifest themselves in many ways in the systems of government that are in place, including what we have in this country.  And the conflict, often violent, between these ideologies continues, all over the world.

The choice between them has always been stark. Although both fascists and socialists may be regarded as "statists", believing in the power of government, they differ as to who should be in control of the government and for whose purposes the government should work.

The fascists typically believe that government should be controlled by an elite that is either emerging or in place, typically drawn from the landlord, industrial and financial hierarchies, which are often interwoven.  Anything that threatens this, they seek to extinguish, usually brutally and completely.

To do this, they appeal to nationalism, often of either the narrowest or the imperial kind, and they thrive on ethnic strife, seeking to divide the populace, and so also the workers, along ethnic lines. They attempt to villianize ethnic groups as well as unions and other alliances of workers. For the woes suffered by the populace and the country, they blame these groups and alliances as well as perceived external threats, seeking to link all of these together in people's minds. Constant propaganda, utilizing both commercial and governmental outlets, is used for this.

They then carry out programs of extermination and expulsion, both via paramilitary organizations and, once they have seized power over government, via the police and military, working both within and outside of the usual spheres of the legislatures, courts and executive offices.  Highly discriminatory and oppressive laws are enacted and enforced.  Slayings of union leaders, terror campaigns aimed at cowing villagers and workers, imprisonment and slaughter of opposition leaders and students, campaigns of ethnic cleansing and more are the hallmarks of the fascists. 

The socialists believe that the workers (and peasants, in agrarian countries) should have greater influence and power over government and be entitled to a greater share of the wealth generated by the work they do. So anything that divides workers and peasants is something they consider pernicious and fight against. In doing this, they run up against the structures that have been historically established in most regions of the world -- structures in which peasants and workers are at the bottom of the feeding chains, with laws and force being used to keep them there.

So socialists typically find themselves in conflict with the affluent and typically blame certain sections of these for much of the ills of the populace and country.  When they are able to wield some power themselves, true socialists attempt to undermine and take away the power accrued by the affluent elite.

I could go on and list some of the successes and failures of both fascist and socialist ventures. But that would take too long -- and so I'll let others have their say.

-- Arjun