Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at Springer.com

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Thought Experiment



Dear Asha, Ajay, Ravi, Ariana, Roma,

This is the second and the final section of the idea I wrote about in the previous blog. I hope you will read this when you are older and think hard. May be, you will find an unifying principle which our human mind can grasp.

During my walking meditation, I was reflecting on a statement in a book written by a Norwegian philosophy teacher. The name of the book is Sophie’s World. Those of you who want to learn western philosophy without too much effort should read this book. You can always go deeper if you wish. (A good source to get the original writings in western philosophy is a website from Stanford University – plato.stanford.edu)

Here is a thought experiment. Suppose there is a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy and it supports intelligent life. Suppose that one of those life-units ( it may not resemble humans at all; but “man”  is all our imagination can conjure up) just invented a machine that can “see” deep into space. Suppose that life-unit (let us call IT by a name: LU) stumbles upon earth while looking through the scope.  What will LU see?

Since the distance between our galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy is 2 million light years away, the image LU sees has to be 2 million years old! That means LU is not seeing the present world. That will take 2 million more years to happen.

The first fact then is the lack of concordance of time. There is no simultaneity. My present is LU’s future.  LU’s present is “my” past. In fact, even within short distance, your time is not the same as mine. By the time I type these words, my thoughts that initiated these words are a few seconds old. The sun we see is 8 minutes old!

If what LU sees is 2 million years old, will he be seeing a world full of Neanderthals? Using the same logic, if LU were in a galaxy 5 billion light years away, will he not see the world at all since it  had not come into existence!  Or, may be , he will see “pangea”.

That is spooky enough. Imagine LU’s machine able to generate details similar to the images we get from the GPS or from the Hubble Telescope. If so, LU must be able see the Neanderthals. Why not? We can see tiny pebbles from the surface of the moon and the mars. LU is receiving image signals from 2 million light years away. But, the puzzle is that the neanderthals died millions of years ago. How can you see them “now”?

It is possible because the photons generated 2 million years back are still travelling in space. Why not? We see through Hubble Telescope events that occurred millions of light-years back. We are still receiving radio signals from events from the early moments of the “big bang” which occurred billions of years back.

There are photon signals from several TV stations all around me. There are radio signals from several AM and FM stations all around me. I just need a device to capture those waves for me to see them or hear them, as the case may be. Those images from 2 million years must be there in space. Those images should, at the least, carry the gross image of the world as it was 2 million years back, if not the details of every life form on earth. That is the spookier part.

Am I saying that even after the Neanderthals have died, their “form” is still floating in space in the form of photons.  Yes, that is my conjecture.  However, those forms are not real. They are only in a potential form. They cannot be actualized into form unless there is AN OBSERVER at a distance! If there is no observer with an instrument, there will be an “appearance” of “ nothing”.

This goes into both philosophical and scientific speculations. In Philosophy, some have argued that what we observe is not as reliable as what we can reason with and imagine. In the scientific field, quantum principles suggest that an observer makes a particle take a definitive position and form by the act of observation. Without an observer and a measurement, particles are indeterminate.

Physicists say that matter and energy can be converted but do not perish. Quantum scientists also say that information created cannot perish. It will be there in another form for ever, somewhere. They just are. They become realities once there is an observer.

If I believe this idea, I have to believe the Indian philosophy which defines all animate objects of this world, including man by their three components - gross body, subtle body and causal body. Indian philosophy also says that it is only the gross body that dies. Subtle body stays on till the energizing principle (atman) merges with the primordial source (Brahman). Isn’t that possible?

My head is spinning. We will never know. It is a mystery. What a delightful mystery-drama the Universe is! I am getting curious. What does the last page of this book of mystery say?