Thursday, July 06, 2017

What would amaze Newton? Not much

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those... moments... will be lost... in time, like... tears... in rain." (ref).
Did I mention that I am already bored with the future?

As an experiment, I mentally bring Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) back to life as a fully-formed adult, and ask what surprises him about three hundred and fifty years of progress. I don't mean surprised in any obvious sense, I mean stuff he'd discover that he genuinely could not have anticipated.

Our present-day culture and technology? I think that was all imaginable in the 17th century. I hesitated a bit at computers - the whole concept of hardware-software seems to depend on a post-Newton paradigm - but then I remembered Leibnitz.

So I think the only things which would truly amaze the brought-forward Newton are:
  1. Relativity
  2. Quantum Theory
  3. The neurobiological basis of mind.
The first two violate his Galilean worldview; the third his strong religious beliefs.


Today we know the universe - spatially and temporally - pretty well: from 10-32 seconds at startup out to about 100 billion years ahead.

We also know what the universe is macroscopically made of: galaxies, black holes, stars, planets, space-boulders, dust & gas clouds. The known laws of physics apply to virtually all of the phenomenology of these objects - we can predict with high accuracy what it would be like to visit.

No real surprises there.


Life is bounded by physics, chemistry and thermodynamics. We have a reasonable theory of biogenesis ('The Vital Question') and the transition to eukaryotic and multicellular life.

I wouldn't be surprised to find we are the only technological society in this galaxy (evidence) and I think we have a reasonable idea about the kinds of aliens that might exist - once we peel off those rose-coloured spectacles.

If I were to achieve an unwanted immortality, I just don't see where future history could differ much surprise-wise from that space which science-fiction has already massively, redundantly charted.

I would be interested - but I don't see myself massively amazed.


Note: there really isn't that much room for reality to out-weird our imagination when a leading paradigm to understand the spacetime in which we live is described thus:
"The zeroth order phenomena [in quantum gravity] is locality itself. This must be the case if, as is sometimes hypothesized, locality is emergent in the classical or continuum limit of a fundamental quantum theory of gravity, whose states are networks living in no space, perhaps spin networks or records of entanglement.

The first order departures from locality are quantum phenomena, especially entanglement. Indeed one version of this proposal is that spatial relations are emergent from entanglement. ... "
From Lee Smolin's paper, "What are we missing in our search for quantum gravity?".

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