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Kary Mullis

That’s sort of a test tube proof of the principle. The principle is almost like a tautology, in a sense, that, once you see it, you don’t feel like you need proof for it. You say, well, of course that would happen. How else could it happen?

David: What about the possibility of a strange attractor, like we find in the dynamic systems of chaos mathematics? When I interviewed Terence McKenna he suggested that something at the end of time may be pulling us through evolution.

Kary: There may be something pulling us, and if so, that’s going to be scary. (laughter) We’re going to have to say, well, where the hell did that come from? (laughter) I like the idea that we have an independent existence that depends on nothing at all, except for the properties of matter and time. I like that because that’s something we know about.

If there’s some strange attractor driving us towards some particular evolution, then some people might feel more comfortable with that, but I wouldn’t. I like that cold, clean feeling on the far side of the moon, where there’s nothing but us– just us and the chickens. (laughter)

David: Terence McKenna also told me that he thought that time was a type of wave, having a beginning point and an end point. What is your perspective on time?

Kary: It’s clearly nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. (laughter) It may be that it flows along in a straight line, or it may be that it has a lot of curlicue things in it. It might be that it’s got a shape that we have no idea what that would even look like.

I enjoy fractal geometry as a sort of hobby. Fractal geometry does not have any straight lines in it. It doesn’t have any edges, any background or foreground, and yet it’s really pleasant to look at.

David: Just like nature.

Kary: Yes. I think nature is more like fractal geometry, than it is like Euclidian geometry. Euclidian geometry says there is such a thing as a line– except a line is an infinitesimally thin thing. It’s not a pencil line–that’s a sort of an approximation to a line. But a real line doesn’t have any thickness. A real point doesn’t have any volume. A real square doesn’t exist anywhere I’ve ever seen on the planet. No triangles either. Everything is an approximation to that, and the finer you look at it, the less of an approximation it is.

Let’s say you ask, what is the perimeter of England? You could take a map of England, draw a circle around it, and say that is the perimeter. But if you get down really close, it becomes more difficult. How do you measure the perimeter of England? Let’s say you take a rod and you see how many times it takes to walk around England with this rod end-over-end, and the rod is ten meters long. Then you say, well, it took me a million times, so it must be ten million meters around England.

But now if you get a smaller rod, perhaps five meters long, and do the same thing, it will turn out that you’ll measure a larger perimeter of England, because that will work itself in and out better. The smaller the rod, the longer the perimeter of England gets. You finally have to conclude that it doesn’t have a perimeter. (laughter)

David: Or that it has an infinite perimeter.

Kary: A perimeter is a practical word that we use to approximately measure something that we think about, like skin surface. But it’s the same as with the perimeter of England. It goes in and out, and in and out. There’s not really an edge of you. You really stick out into everything, and it sticks into you.

David: So, in other words, the boundaries that we perceive in the world are merely arbitrary creations of our own minds?

Kary: Yes. I think that the Buddhists have a name for that. It’s the inter-penetrability of things–like when you close your fingers together like this. (Kary intertwines his fingers together) That’s how you are with the universe. That’s another thing, just like evolution, that you don’t really need to prove to yourself. You just look at the principle and you say, yeah, that’s got to be true.

David: From a psychological point of view, sometimes it seems as though time is composed of all these little discreet moments, like the stills of a movie, and we string them together somehow through our memories.

Kary: Yes, there do seem to be moments. I’ve experienced that, and I go through the moment concept also. It’s as if there are moments, and then there is space between them somehow. It’s a subjective feeling that I get that probably relates to something, but I don’t know how to set up a scientific experiment to measure a moment.

In the physicist’s view, until the Twentieth Century, time was a continuous function. There weren’t any punctate parts of it. It didn’t stop and start–it was always there and it was running smoothly. Maybe the cogs and the gears of the clocks that we made were discreet–they made little movements, and you had seconds–but it was considered that those were due to our limitations, because we didn’t have anything that would just totally and continuously measure time. We still don’t.

But now, in our physics, it’s not really clear that that is what is happening. The moment concept might be much more like what modern physics would say. Things do not run completely smoothly and even sometimes get ahead of themselves, in the sense that the cause of something happens after the effect of it.

David: That seems to run completely counter to the entire way that we perceive the flow of time. How do you think that happens?

Kary: I don’t know. In quantum mechanics there’s a fuzziness about precisely locating anything in time or space, so it is possible that the cause of some phenomenon occurs after the phenomenon has already happened. I mean “after” in tiny little increments like tiny fractions of picoseconds, or something like that.

The probability that the cause of something occurs after the effect decreases with the size and complexity of the thing that’s happening, and with how much later you’re talking about. But it’s always there. It’s always finite. It is not absolutely impossible for the cause to happen a long time after the effect. It’s just a matter of some little mathematical function that drops off exponentially. So there’s really no “now” ever, anywhere.

David: Of course the Buddhists would say that there’s nothing else except “now”.

Kary: It’s almost the same thing when you get down to it. (laughter) When you say there is absolutely not a “now”, then everything is “now” in a way.

There are parts of your brain that do not respond to time. In other parts, for example emotional areas, everything is happening now. There’s no saying, well, that’s over, so I don’t feel sorry about it anymore. You keep it. One of my favorite quotes in my book was that there was a particular part of your brain that deals with the melancholy of things past, and, as you age, it grows and prospers, until finally, against your better judgment, you listen to country music. (laughter)

David: When I interviewed parapsychologist Dean Radin he described experiments that he did showing people images on a video screen that were either pleasant or shocking, while a galvanic skin response system continuously monitored the people’s reactions. A computer randomly chose the image five seconds before displaying it. The fascinating thing was that there was a significant change in the electrical conductivity of people’s skin five seconds prior to their seeing a shocking image.

Kary: I sat wired up in front of Radin’s machine myself one morning. I was intrigued. My skin conductivity could respond, not every time, but a statistically significant percentage of the time, to what sort of stimulus his absolutely random machine was going to present to me. I don’t know what it means, but five seconds is almost an infinity compared to fractions of a picosecond, so I don’t think that what Radin is investigating is the same thing as what Heisenberg is suggesting with the Uncertainty Principle and the fuzziness of time over ultra-short intervals. Both are weird from the standpoint of our normal sense of reality, but in a very different way. Picoseconds are not in our personal reality. Radin is addressing something to do with human minds on our time scale; whether our minds are really localized in space and time, like we normally think of them. He is not presenting a theory about things almost incomprehensibly small. He is demonstrating an empirical fact, a strange

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