Friday, 26 August 2016

The "cultural heritage" group neurosis 16: Acausality

We are going to have to deal with some weird stuff in this episode so I have included the above video in an attempt to make it just a little bit less weird. Now you could just read what I have to say here, but...

In yesterday's episode, we were talking about looting and ISIS and various knee-jerk reactions about banning collecting while keeping much "cultural property" away from any personal interactions with the individuals who, allegedly, it belongs to. In the episode before that I presented a model of cultural transmission that depended on such personal interactions and how culture either avoids or does not avoid the effect of entropy and how it must constantly change by gaining new elements or run a very real danger of becoming extinct. In an entirely neurotic fashion, people who are promoting a truth as they see it are resorting to lies to get there. This is enantiodromia. All of that did not require us to leave the world of classical physics. Everything was very cause and effect and mechanical like clockwork.

Nothing represents the "cultural heritage" neurosis better than Lord Renfrew's statement "Collectors are the real looters". In this model, if there were no collectors then no one would be raiding archaeological sites to find stuff to sell them. In the same manner, child abuse could be easily prevented through absolute and global birth control. But ignoring human extinction as any sensible method to use. Is Renfrew's statement even right? Actually, it is not. because quite a number of metal antiquities had been excavated, recorded, and then sent off to the melting pots to profit on the metal. This activity took place in the nineteenth century and earlier and was not restricted to just gold objects. Copper alloys also received the same treatment. You can go back to Iron Age Hengistbury where cupelation hearths were used to extract silver from cultural objects such as Coriosolite coins with rich cultural iconography to make Durotriges coins with far less richer iconography. It is very difficult to find anything that has no economic value: we pay for water, for gravel, and even sometimes for clean air. When a very profitable market dries up, a less profitable one takes its place and balances the bottom lines by doing more of it. Instead of selling one object to the collector to get $10 a dozen are sold to the scrap dealer to get the same amount. When silver prices were high, I saw lots of Victorian and even some Georgian silver being melted down for the silver, Not to mention coins of an even earlier date. I have bought worn William III and Charles II five shilling pieces from a box of scrap silver awaiting the melting pot and long ago, I bought an Elizabeth 1st gold half pound for scrap value as it had a hole in it.

I have also made it clear (hopefully) that "cultural property" regulations are made by people who care nothing at all for the subject but know that those who do will willingly sacrifice other things, and it is those other things that are really desired. "So, here's the deal: we will send you back all that cultural junk that is coming into our country from yours, and in return, you won't start to regulate our Monsanto operations in your country too heavily, Oh! and by the way, don't breathe a word of your side of the deal as our public might get upset about all that genetic engineering stuff. We wouldn't want to lose any votes for our side in the next election, right?"

Now, ask yourself if there was no objections, anywhere, to ISIS destroying cultural monuments and selling off cultural objects (the value of which has been found to be orders of magnitude less than what was  believed at first) would they be doing that at all? Is it really a religious issue or is religion something that can get mass-support. We know for a fact that there were really economic motives for the Crusades, but the common foot soldier would have been less likely to sacrifice his life for the sake of the wealthy traders than for a good chance to enter Heaven. Mark Twain is reported to have said "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes".

We have both a positive and negative situation with ISIS and cultural property preservationists. We cannot fully believe either side because they lie a lot and have motives other than what is presented. Does one cause the other? If so, which one is the "real looter". Perhaps we have a Schrodinger's cat sort of situation instead. Each side is simultaneously cause and not cause. The situations emerge, acausally, through potentialities.

Let's take what Jim Al-Khalili says about the double slit experiments and the process of photo synthesis in the video: a photon leaves the sun and hits a leaf. Deep inside that leaf there is a molecule that transforms the energy of that photon to the work that the plant needs to prosper, but the photon does not know the route to that molecule and thus would have to explore all potential avenues and bounce off various barriers along the way. Unfortunately, it would lose too much of its energy in this process to do the plant much good when it finally arrives at the molecule. So what it does is to act like a wave and this wave permeates everywhere, setting up all sorts of interference patterns without losing energy as it does so. When one part of this probability wave touches that molecule, pop! it becomes a fully charged photon again and the plant gets the goods.

Einstein had a problem with the active role of the observer in processes and said that just because he did not look at the moon at some moment, it did not mean that the moon did not exist at that time. We get a little spooked about being part of the creation of the universe; about taking an necessary role in what happens to particles. Perhaps we are placing too much importance on the word "observer" and are getting a bit too psychologically inflated by it all. What happens to to the human observer in the double slit experiment is also happening inside the leaf. We do know that, left alone with no one watching them, plants continue to grow. Either that, or they instantly get bigger anytime someone looks at them. But we also know that plants were around a long time before we came into existence (unless we are also magically creating fossils too). All in all, it seems far more likely that the plant is also an observer.

But, you say, when a detection device is set up in the double slit experiment, it also seems to act like an observer, but the detection device is not alive is it? The answer to that is "No, but we are". The plant has built this molecule over aeons through evolution, but we have evolved to a point where we actually can build things, for ourselves, and at will. We are not alone in this, even crows use tools when they need to:

While we have an advantage in having fingers and opposable thumbs, my very clever coyote hybrid cannot do anything as complicated as that crow did and we must wonder if the crow had our fingers and thumbs instead of just claws and a beak whether it would start building all sorts of things after more generations of accumulated knowledge. Perhaps we should look at sentience as something not just in present time, but as something also manifested during the evolutionary process. The plant then has evolutionary sentience. It can make tools, it just takes many generations to realize that potential. Because of this, the plant is also an observer. We make the detection device that stops the photon, but when we switch off the power, it is no longer really a detection device because part of that device is the electricity that is running through it. We make that electricity, too.

So let's replace the word "observer" with "active receptor". A non-active receptor like the screen at the back of the double slit experiment does nothing but stop the electron as a particle, but where it hits is dependent on the wave property. We are, or have, active receptors just like the plant. It is just that our active receptors are quite a bit freed from the time restraints of evolution and can be used through the will of an individual, whenever, rather than just as a species with a combination of evolutionary features and accumulated knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge to others. We have all that evolutionary and learning stuff, too, but we have gone just a bit further.

This brings us to the current Big Mystery in quantum physics: consciousness. Is not the photon exhibiting some sort of consciousness with quantum entanglement? Einstein was right. it is spooky. The photon in the plant has to act as a wave to get to the active receptor in time. Perhaps we should think about particles and waves evolving in a similar way to organic life, but it is just that this sort of evolution would have taken place in an infinitesimal amount of time (by our perception) sometime around the time of the Big Bang. Our words are inadequate to explain this properly. A non active receptor does not have to be alive, but an observer does and it is the observer that creates the active receptor, whether through evolution, in the case of our eyes that we use in the double slit experiment, or in our ears that hears the beep from the active receptor we have deliberately built.

Perhaps we should stop thinking about life in a purely organic form, and start thinking about life as an integral part of the universe that has been here from the start and has evolved organic forms which allows it to experience itself better. In other words, it is, indeed, a psychophysical universe and it always has been. We cannot find the cause of life within its products, but we might understand the products as being acausal manifestations of life. And that, too, will explain the acausal manifestations of cultural monuments being destroyed by ISIS. It's all about potentialities.

Have a spooky weekend.

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