Paul Davies Quotes
“Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient "coincidences" and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if "a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics".
To see the problem, imagine playing God with the cosmos. Before you is a designer machine that lets you tinker with the basics of physics. Twiddle this knob and you make all electrons a bit lighter, twiddle that one and you make gravity a bit stronger, and so on. It happens that you need to set thirtysomething knobs to fully describe the world about us. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile.
Example: neutrons are just a tad heavier than protons. If it were the other way around, atoms couldn't exist, because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang. No protons, then no atomic nucleuses and no atoms. No atoms, no chemistry, no life. Like Baby Bear's porridge in the story of Goldilocks, the universe seems to be just right for life.”
“When I was a child, I often used to lie awake at night, in fearful anticipation of some unpleasant event the following day, such as a visit to the dentist, and wish I could press some sort of button that would have the effect of instantly transporting me twenty-four hours into the future. The following night, I would wonder whether that magic button was in fact real, and that the trick had indeed worked. After all, it was twenty-four hours later, and though I could remember the visit to the dentist, it was, at that time, only a memory of an experience, not an experience.”
“Until now, I've been writing about "now" as if it were literally an instant of time, but of course human faculties are not infinitely precise. It is simplistic to suppose that physical events and mental events march along exactly in step, with the stream of "actual moments" in the outside world and the stream of conscious awareness of them perfectly synchronized. The cinema industry depends on the phenomenon that what seems to us a movie is really a succession of still pictures, running at twenty-five [sic] frames per second. We don't notice the joins. Evidently the "now" of our conscious awareness stretches over at least 1/25 of a second.
In fact, psychologists are convinced it can last a lot longer than that. Take he familiar "tick-tock" of the clock. Well, the clock doesn't go "tick-tock" at all; it goes "tick-tick," every tick producing the same sound. It's just that our consciousness runs two successive ticks into a singe "tick-tock" experience—but only if the duration between ticks is less than about three seconds. A really bug pendulum clock just goes "tock . . . tock . . . tock," whereas a bedside clock chatters away: "ticktockticktock..." Two to three seconds seems to be the duration over which our minds integrate sense data into a unitary experience, a fact reflected in the structure of human music and poetry.”
“The living cell is the most complex system of its size known to mankind. Its host of specialized molecules, many found nowhere else but within living material, are themselves already enormously complex. They execute a dance of exquisite fidelity, orchestrated with breathtaking precision. Vastly more elaborate than the most complicated ballet, the dance of life encompasses countless molecular performers in synergetic coordination. Yet this is a dance with no sign of a choreographer. No intelligent supervisor, no mystic force, no conscious controlling agency swings the molecules into place at the right time, chooses the appropriate players, closes the links, uncouples the partners, moves them on. The dance of life is spontaneous, self-sustaining, and self-creating.”
“Psychologists have devised some ingenious ways to help unpack the human "now." Consider how we run those jerky movie frames together into a smooth and continuous stream. This is known as the "phi phenomenon." The essence of phi shows up in experiments in a darkened room where two small spots are briefly lit in quick succession, at slightly separated locations. What the subjects report seeing is not a succession of spots, but a single spot moving continuously back and forth. Typically, the spots are illuminated for 150 milliseconds separated by an interval of fifty milliseconds. Evidently the brain somehow "fills in" the fifty-millisecond gap. Presumably this "hallucination" or embellishment occurs after the event, because until the second light flashes the subject cannot know the light is "supposed" to move. This hints that the human now is not simultaneous with the visual stimulus, but a bit delayed, allowing time for the brain to reconstruct a plausible fiction of what has happened a few milliseconds before.
In a fascinating refinement of the experiment, the first spot is colored red, the second green. This clearly presents the brain with a problem. How will it join together the two discontinuous experiences—red spot, green spot—smoothly? By blending the colors seamlessly into one another? Or something else? In fact, subjects report seeing the spot change color abruptly in the middle of the imagined trajectory, and are even able to indicate exactly where using a pointer. This result leaves us wondering how the subject can apparently experience the "correct" color sensation before the green spot lights up. Is it a type of precognition? Commenting on this eerie phenomenon, the philosopher Nelson Goodman wrote suggestively: "The intervening motion is produced retrospectively, built only after the second flash occurs and projected backwards in time." In his book Consciousness Explained , philosopher Daniel Dennett points out that the illusion of color switch cannot actually be created by the brain until after the green spot appears. "But if the second spot is already 'in conscious experience,' wouldn't it be too late to interpose the illusory content between the conscious experience of the red spot and the conscious experience of the green spot?”
“Perhaps there are many "nows" of varying duration, depending on just what it is we are doing. We must face up to the fact that, at least in the case of humans, the subject experiencing subjective time is not a perfect, structureless observer, but a complex, multilayered, multifaceted psyche. Different levels of our consciousness may experience time in quite different ways. This is evidently the case in terms of response time. You have probably had the slightly unnerving experience of jumping at the sound of a telephone a moment or two before you actually hear it ring. The shrill noise induces a reflex response through the nervous system much faster than the time it takes to create the conscious experience of the sound.
It is fashionable to attribute certain qualities, such as speech ability, to the left side of the brain, whereas others, such as musical appreciation, belong to processes occurring on the right side. But why should both hemispheres experience a common time? And why should the subconscious use the same mental clock as the conscious?”
“David Park is a physicist and philosopher at Williams College in Massachusetts with a lifelong interest in a time which he too thinks doesn't pass. For Park, the passage of time is not so much an illusion as a myth, "because it involves no deception of the senses.... One cannot perform any experiment to tell unambiguously whether time passes or not." This is certainly a telling argument. After all, what reality can be attached to a phenomenon that can never be demonstrated experimentally? In fact, it is not even clear how to think about demonstrating the flow of time experimentally. As the apparatus, laboratory, experimenter, technicians, humanity generally and the universe as a whole are apparently caught up in the same inescapable flow, how can any bit of the universe be "stopped in time" in order to register the flow going on in the rest of it? It is analogous to claiming that the whole universe is moving through space at the same speed—or, to make the analogy closer, that space is moving through space. How can such a claim ever be tested?”
“At the root of all physical reality is not “primary matter” or little atoms of “stuff.” Relativity theory in cosmology and the complementarity thesis in quantum physics suggest that the basic reality is some sort of hybrid “matter–energy.” Quantum field theory and string theory (if it survives as a physical theory, which now seems unlikely) suggest the even more radical idea that this reality is more energy-like than matter-like. Either result is sufficient to falsify materialism in anything like the form that dominated the first 300 years of modern science.”
“God is a pure mathematician!' declared British astronomer Sir James Jeans. The physical Universe does seem to be organised around elegant mathematical relationships. And one number above all others has exercised an enduring fascination for physicists: 137.0359991.... It is known as the fine-structure constant and is denoted by the Greek letter alpha (?).”
“Each person who understands him- or herself in this way, as a spark of the divine, with some small part of the divine power, integrally interwoven into the process of the creation of the psycho-physical universe, will be encouraged to participate in the process of plumbing the potentialities of, and shaping the form of, the unfolding quantum reality that it is his or her birthright to help create.”
“No attempt to explain the world, either scientifically or theologically, can be considered successful until it accounts for the paradoxical conjunction of the temporal and the atemporal, of being and becoming. And no subject conforms this paradoical conjuction more starkly than the origin of the universe.”
“Reality, according to Heisenberg, is built not out of matter, as matter was conceived of in classical physics, but out of psycho-physical events – events with certain aspects that are described in the language of psychology and with other aspects that are described in the mathematical language of physics – and out of objective tendencies for such events to occur. ‘The probability function…represents a tendency for events and our knowledge of events’ (Heisenberg, 1958, p. 46).”
“Network theory confirms the view that information can take on 'a life of its own'. In the yeast network my colleagues found that 40 per cent of node pairs that are correlated via information transfer are not in fact physically connected; there is no direct chemical interaction. Conversely, about 35 per cent of node pairs transfer no information between them even though they are causally connected via a 'chemical wire' (edge). Patterns of information traversing the system may appear to be flowing down the 'wires' (along the edges of the graph) even when they are not. For some reason, 'correlation without causation' seems to be amplified in the biological case relative to random networks.”
“The deepest human intuition is not the immediate grasping of the classical-physics-type character of the external world. It is rather that one's own conscious subjective efforts can influence the experiences that follow. Any conception of nature that makes this deep intuition an illusion is counterintuitive. Any conception of reality that cannot explain how our conscious efforts influence our bodily actions is problematic. What is actually deeply intuitive is the continually reconfirmed fact that our conscious efforts can influence certain kinds of experiential feedback. A putatively rational scientific theory needs at the very least to explain this connection in a rational way to be in line with intuition.”
“By virtue of this filling of the causal gap, the most important demand of intuition – namely that one's conscious efforts have the capacity to affect one's own bodily actions – is beautifully met by the quantum ontology. And in this age of computers, and information, and flashing pixels there is nothing counterintuitive about the ontological idea that nature is built – not out of ponderous classically conceived matter but – out of events, and out of informational waves and signals that create tendencies for these events to occur.”
“Perhaps the main basis for the claim that quantum mechanics is weird is the existence of what Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’. These effects are not only ‘spooky’ but are also absolutely impossible to achieve within the framework of classical physics. However, if the conception of the physical world is changed from one made out of tiny rock-like entities to a holistic global informational structure that represents tendencies to real events to occur, and in which the choice of which potentiality will be actualized in various places is in the hands of human agents, there is no spookiness about the occurring transfers of information. The postulated global informational structure called the quantum state of the universe is the ‘spook’ that does the job. But it does so in a completely specified and understandable way, and this renders it basically non-spooky.”