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8.7.12

I Am What I Am

What is consciousness?

This is one of those Sunday ponders to twist your noodle in a knot.  Science, and especially physics, will never find the Grand Unified Theory of Everything until it can come up with a formula that explains how atoms, molecules and chemical soups can generate a very simple statement: I am.

For all our self-congratulatory technology, our robots and computers and kitchen appliances, we can't create one fundamental thing: self-awareness.  Oh sure, we can teach machines to run and dance and hold conversations that seem spontaneous, but at the very foundation of these creations, there is nothing by algorithms and calculations.  We can simulate consciousness to varying degrees of eye-poppingness, but ultimately, we can't cause it.

The basic problem is our understanding of the Universe.  We like to strut around talking about quantum mechanics and string theories, but in reality we always bump into, what we used to call in fortran programming, do-loops.  All our efforts end up chasing their own tails, with things like 'black holes' resulting from mathematical dead-ends, where math fails and all the rules get thrown out the window.

Nowhere in all our wizardry does the math reach a point where the individual pops into existence.  And here's the real noodle bake...is everything we think we know being created by our own expectations of finding it?  In other words, did we find the Higgs boson because we created the environment in which it could exist?

Here's the fundamental problem with current particle physics.  We calculate that a certain particle must exist in order for the solutions to be valid.  We set up experiments to find those things.  Thus, we have created the things by establishing the right environment for them to be found.  In other words, these are completely reflexive exercises.

Another example is the periodic table.  In nature, we only find elements up to uranium.  After that, they are all man-made, and most don't exist for more than a millisecond or two before crumbling into more mundane pieces.  Everything from #93 to #120 (and beyond) is simply us tinkering with what is, not finding some aspect of reality.

Another problem with things like CERN and other particle smashers is that we are artificially creating things that are not found by themselves in Nature.  It's as if we are accelerating two panes of glass to near the speed of light and then smashing them into each other.  Then we pick up the pieces and try to extrapolate the whys and wherefores of how the glass was made and what purpose it served by sifting through the pieces.  Are we really finding things that are there, or are we creating them in an artificial environment that doesn't exist in the 'wild'?

According to some theories of the Universe, we will ultimately build a telescope so powerful that we will eventually see the back of our head.  In the other direction, we will finally find that the most minute processes of the Universe are little more than fractal echoes of the macro world.  Ultimately, we are looking in the wrong places for the wrong things, because none of what we have or will find answers the basic question at the heart of all science...who am I?

When Moses asked the Burning Bush, "Who is it that I should tell them sent me?"  The Voice responded, "Ahjeh asher ahyeh."  I am who I am, tell them "I am" sent you.  Basically, Moses was talking to himself, for if we repeat the phrase, either to ourself or to others, we are saying that "I am" is the penultimate meaning and force of Creation.  In other words, we come full circle back to our own consciousness and our understanding of our individual place in the Universe.

All of the machines and computations and sub-atomic particles and proto-galaxies mean absolutely nothing until we can answer one simple question, "Who is 'I am'?"  Until we can answer with certainty what it is that causes us to be able to look at ourselves and call ourselves 'individual', then all the rest is just icing with no cake.

Once we understand consciousness, all the rest will fall into place.  Bigger, better telescopes won't find it.  More powerful microscopes won't find it.  More massive particle smashers won't uncover it.  These efforts will always end up back where we started with n/0, a mathematical absurdity...a 'black hole'.

There is a logic to all of this.  We sense it from the moment we can say, "I am."  We know there is a reason and structure to everything around us, but we can't put our finger on it.  We have come upon a puzzle with infinite pieces and we are smashing it to bits trying to figure how and why it made a picture when it was all assembled.  It's a futile, empty exercise whose results are always more pieces, but still no understanding of how they all came together in the first place.

The foundation of all science is the question, "Who is 'I am'?"  Yet, it is the proverbial elephant in the living room that everyone knows about but refuses to acknowledge.  All our hubris over finding bosons and leptons and fermions does nothing to solve the Great Riddle.  It doesn't even bring us closer to defining the question, much less the answer.  The nature of the Universe will remain an elusive prize until we start to ask the right questions.  Sure, we can make wildly speculative statements like, "Cogito ergo sum," but what is the sum of sum?

How is it we can say "I am"?  What is the nature and cause of consciousness?  What's more, does the Universe exist because we are aware of it?  Or do we exist because the Universe is aware of us?

The answers to those questions are not found in bosons, they are found in the logical absurdities that no one wants to deal with.  We paper over those absurdities and refuse to look them in the Eye.  Yet it is when we contemplate infinity that we start to ask the right questions.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha answered all the questions that quantum physics is just now rediscovering, and he did it with pure reason and logic.  He didn't need atom smashers and supercomputers.  He only needed to stare into the Abyss of consciousness and the rest became self-evident. Whether it's Buddha's cosmic foam or quantum physics' flux, that is where we will find the answer to Creation itself, because Creation doesn't exist without 'I am'.

I think, therefore 'I am'.

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Today's Sunday funnies is a classic Darwin Award from 1999.  Since we're on the topic of absurdities, I thought this one fit just perfectly.  The more I picture it, the funnier it gets...


A fellow from Michigan buys himself a brand-new $30,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee for Christmas. He goes down to his favorite bar and celebrates by tossing down a few too many brews with his buddies. In one of those male-bonding rituals, five of them decide to take his new vehicle for a test drive on a duck hunting expedition. They load up the Jeep with the dog, the guns, the decoys, and the beer, and head out to a nearby lake.
Now, it's the dead of winter, and of course the lake is frozen, so they need to make a hole in the ice to create a natural landing area for the ducks and decoys. It is common practice in Michigan to drive your vehicle out onto the frozen lake, and it is also common (if slightly illegal) to make a hole in the ice using dynamite. Our fellows have nothing to worry about on that score, because one member of the party works for a construction team, and happens to have brought some dynamite along. The stick has a short 20-second fuse.
The group is ready for some action. They're all set up. Their shotguns are loaded with duck pellets, and they have beer, warm clothes and a hunting dog. Still chugging down a seemingly bottomless supply of six-packs, the group considers how to safely dynamite a hole through the ice. One of these rocket scientists points out that the dynamite should explode at a location far from where they are standing. Another notes the risk of slipping on the ice when running away from a burning fuse. So they eventually settle on a plan to light the fuse and throw the dynamite out onto the ice.
There is a bit of contention over who has the best throwing arm, and eventually the owner of the Jeep wins that honor. Once that question is settled, he walks about 20 feet further out onto the ice and holds the stick of dynamite at the ready while one of his companions lights the fuse with a Zippo. As soon as he hears the fuse sizzle, he hurls it across the ice at a great velocity and runs in the other direction.
Unfortunately, a member of another species spots his master's arm motions and comes to an instinctive decision. Remember a couple of paragraphs back when I mentioned the vehicle, the beer, the guns and the dog? Yes, the dog: a trained Black Labrador, born and bred for retrieving, especially things thrown by his owner. As soon as the stick leaves his hand, the dog sprints across the ice, hell-bent on wrapping his jaws around the enticing stick-shaped object.
Five frantic fellows immediately begin hollering at the dog, trying to get him to stop chasing the dynamite. Their cries fall on deaf ears. Before you know it, the retriever is headed back to his owner, proudly carrying the stick of dynamite with the burning 20-second fuse. The group continues to yell and wave their arms while the happy dog trots towards them. In a desperate act, its master grabs his shotgun and fires at his own dog.
The gun is loaded with duck shot, and confuses the dog more than it hurts him. Bewildered, he continues towards his master, who shoots at man's best friend again. Finally comprehending that his owner has become insane, the dog runs for cover with his tail between his legs. And the nearest cover is right under the brand-new Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Boom! The dog and the Jeep are blown to bits, and sink to the bottom of the lake, leaving a large ice hole in their wake. The stranded men stand staring at the water with stupid looks on their faces, and the owner of the Jeep is left to explain the misadventure to his insurance company. Needless to say, they determined that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is not covered under their policy, and the owner is still making $400 monthly payments on his brand-new Jeep at the bottom of the lake.