M.I.T. physicist Max Tegmark

Scientists have long pondered why it is that mathematics so effectively explain how the world works. M.I.T. physicist Max Tegmark has a theory — he argues that the universe is actually a mathematical structure. Tegmark joins us to discuss that theory, his belief in parallel universes and his book, “Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality.”

Physicist Argues Reality is Simply a Mathematical Structure 25 February,2014forum

Max Tegmark, associate professor of physics at M.I.T. and author of "Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality"

  • Guest

    Mathematical structures are concepts–they’re only held in the mind or expressed physically in a format a mind can understand, on paper for example.
    Reality is not a mathematical structure.
    Reality is real.
    For reality to be a mathematical structure, there would have to be a mind to hold it.

    But just as there is no Easter Bunny nor Santa Claus, there is no god to hold such a concept in its mind.
    Gods are inventions of people used to control people.

    • Martin Rogers

      I agree that the mathematical concepts in extension are not fundamentally explanatory to the universe, but to our interaction and understanding of the universe and its processes. While this doesn’t remove the ability of mathematics to improve our understanding of the universe, it ultimately is more telling about ourselves and our mental and physical processes that allow us to understand the universe. If we simply consider the personal human perspective, we would conclude that mathematics will ultimately explain the universe’s processes. If we consider the existential possibility of anything other than our personal perspective of the universe, we will have questions that can have no answer internally. Ultimately, the perspective of consideration is the foundation to what conclusion you will make. Any moral concepts (the why and what should we do?) is not understandable by process alone even though these concepts are born from our interaction with the universe.

      • Guest

        My basic point is that the author’s proposition is silly on its face. Math is just a tool. He’s conflating the tool and the product worked on with the tool i.e. matter.

        • Martin Rogers

          I am in agreement with you.

    • Thanks for raising this important question about whether mathematics is invented or discovered and merely in our heads (as concepts or a language) or not – a famous controversy among mathematicians and philosophers. As I mentioned earlier, you’re quite right we humans invent the *language* of mathematics (the symbols, our human names for the symbols, etc.), but it’s important not to confuse this language with the *structures* of mathematics that I focus on in the book ( http://mathematicaluniverse.org ). For example, any civilization interested in Platonic solids would discover that there are precisely 5 such structures (the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron). Whereas they’re free to invent whatever names they want for them, they’re *not* free to invent a 6th one – it simply doesn’t exist. It’s in the same sense that the mathematical structures that are popular in modern physics are discovered rather than invented, from 3+1-dimensional pseudo-Riemannian manifolds to Hilbert spaces.

      • Guest

        I see your point and that’s something that is appealing about mathematics, because we have the same math that other beings lightyears away have.

        However it is not only math that’s universal. Also logic is. A straw man argument is as bogus on Earth as it is near Alpha Centauri. And surely Existentialism has been invented and reinvented a million times across the many galaxies near ours over the billions of years after and before the so-called big bang.

        All of this is different from saying that electrons or quarks are math itself. We may never be able to examine the substructures that of which quarks are made, but to say they are mathematical is still I think an error of semantics, like saying energy is information.

  • Bob Fry

    Perhaps our universe is just a forgotten high-school science project of some super-race. The super-kid who made our world was great in math and physics, but kinda skipped the classes on biological health and sociology, so we’re stuck with aging, sickly bodies and eons of violent conflicts. Makes as much sense to me.

    A bit more seriously, who or what says our minds–even our best minds–are capable of understanding the universe? We evolved to survive and thrive in a very physical environment, not to understand math, physics, or the universe. The fact we’ve made astonishing progress in thinking about and understanding things that have no evolutionary benefit doesn’t mean we can continue past some point.

    Maybe only the species after The Singularity will understand.

    • Martin Rogers

      If you remember from Algebra how two equations with two variables would be necessary to solve for each variable (unless they are parallel), you can extend the same concept of mathematics to imagine that it would require more “variables” to understand the universe than are contained within this universe. So, a universe with a greater amount of variables could “understand” our universe, but because we are within our universe, we will be limited to understanding parts of it or universes that are less complex than our own only.

  • Chemist150

    I can’t stand this. This is too far off the deep end. When your search becomes just a number, you’ve lost meaning and direction. It’s time to refocus. Yes many particles were found due to a pattern in mathematics but those patterns were a result of interactions of charge, spin, parity, etc.

    General Relativity is a great example of math leading us down the wrong road and people ignore data. Yes it predict, on a relevant scale, what we’ll see our clocks do but it fails on large scale and the small scale. The most relevant piece is that direct measurements through projects like LIGO have continued to fail to yield results. Continuing to have zero signals points increasingly points to gravity not being “spacetime” based. Logically looking at gravity, it’s affect is at the speed of light which does not mean “spacetime”.

    We need to remember, we are part of the system. When you measure an electron, it’s from interaction with another electron or photon so we can get a effect that minimizes our influence. We can see the distortion in the field of a moving electron but the electron thinks it’s always stationary and it’s field is perfectly radial. We are in the same boat as the moving electron, we are bound by our own existence.

    Emotionally and mentally, you have to remove yourself from the system to truly see the whole and don’t get lost and misdirected by the mathematics that you can mimic nature with.


    • Robert Thomas

      Chemist150, your point that that scientific conclusions are always contingent is well-taken but you join Dr Tegmark in the “deep end” rejecting GR because of the present results of the LIGO experiment.

      Accepting that GR is only partly correct or incomplete isn’t the same as saying it’s misleading. As you know, QED provides a value for the magnetic moment of a free electron that agrees excruciatingly well with observation but few think that QED is a complete discussion of its objects.

      As I understand it, the number of events that have been observed at the LHC that correspond to the expected behavior of systems interacting with the Higgs boson is increasingly dispositive, but the machine that it took to create such events is very substantial. Whether GR must be reformed or discarded or adjusted has yet to be seen. You exaggerate the probability that it has lead us very far down a wrong path.

      • Chemist150

        We’ll have to agree to disagree.

        The Higgs is a result of manipulation of the standard model of particle physics, not General Relativity. General relativity is not consistent with Special Relativity but the Standard Model must be consistent with Special relativity.

        • Robert Thomas

          You write, “The Higgs is a result of manipulation of the standard model of particle physics, not General Relativity.”

          My point was that there are phenomena that require close inspection using elaborate tools to be detected; some of these have required more powerful tools than had been hoped.

          General relativity is consistent with special relativity.

          Quantum electrodynamics is the special relativistic quantum field theory of the Standard Model.

          I agree that we may have irreconcilable views.

    • Gi Chemist150: I agree with Robert Thomas that you’re overstating your case against general relativity, which as so far passed every experimental test we’ve ever subjected it to. How do you explain why the designers of your cell phone GPS have built in a general relativity correction for the gravitational time delay? The null results of LIGO so far are what we expected: the gravitational waves from colliding neutron stars and black holes are so faint that we’re only expecting to detect them in a few years when Advanced LIGO turns on.

      • Chemist150

        I do have my own specific answers that I cannot put here but I’ll respond.

        An interesting question because it’s easy to answer but a full defense is difficult like arguing against religion. The true answer is the only proof which my answer does not fit within the forums.

        The easy answer is that one can model smaller parts of a more complex equation with less complicated equations that are very accurate on a particular scale. Your accurate depiction does not represent the whole, thus it’s not valid to assume you have the correct depiction. You observe a curve, write an equation for it but does it go into a parabola? An ellipse? They’re different equations but you can write an equation to display the partial curve observed.

        Here the thought comes to me that there are limits that must be placed on the curve which would not necessarily be present on the full equation. GR is set within limits.

        You could be missing key components. Kinetics may be a good example here. You can model enzyme kinetics with a single substrate very well, but when you try to follow the full effect in vivo, you get a completely different result because it’s a multisubstrate result where non-enzymatic rates also come into play such as cooperative or competitive binding. You could take a snap shot and write an equation for the time that you took a picture of but when you look at the process over a larger time, it’s more complex. Thus, you don’t really know the kinetics of each individual piece but you still wrote an equation. Have you seen a result of a dominant rate or a collection of effects?

        In the case of GR, how do you make it a single substrate equivalent? We do know that GR has a limitation of not working on the full range of possibilities. Thus, “dark matter” and energy are invoked to explain the unexplained and remain unverified since GR is not proven.

        Thus, you can write an equation for what is observed, it does not imply that it’s the cause to what is observed. You’ve only modeled mathematically a piece of the full effect.

      • Chemist150

        To add: The assumption that gravity can be unified with QM points to GR being incomplete at best. With that, one cannot assume that it’s representative of the whole and thus cannot be taken as proof of cause.

        Since QM is consistent under Euclidean geometry and is a result of information transfer, GR can be reconciled with QM.

  • Allen Prattis

    Does the work of Mr. Tegmark support the Simulated Reality hypothesis? This hypothesis states that “Simulated reality is the hypothesis that reality could be simulated—for example by computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from “true” reality, and may in fact be such a simulation.”

    • Robert Thomas

      What value does this idea have? If a model of the world exists that is indistinguishable from the world, it is a mere copy of the world. What difference would it make to be part of one and not the other?

      • Allen Prattis

        The value comes from the idea that if we are living in a simulation then one day we could become the simulators, we could begin to manipulate the current laws of physics, a greater understanding of what we are and what the potential could be for the human race, and also perhaps explain the multiverse hypothesis as a series of simulations created by others, and also possibly explain the Fermi paradox. Either way it needs proof and that may be impossible. Also I do not believe nor am I advocating for “intelligent design” which is likely the way this will go if this is proven. (Lots of IF’s – but a fun thought experiment.)

        Tegmark did make an interesting point – if we could program self aware AGI that started to dig into their very nature then eventually they would arrive to 0’s and 1’s (binary code) and I think they would also come to the same conclusion that the “Universe” was mathematically based. 🙂

        • Robert Thomas

          Well, if the simulated world were indistinguishable from the world, any action taken in the world would be reflected in a reciprocal action in the simulation – any manipulation of the simulation by the world would be reflected in a manipulation of the world by the simulation.

          If a model of the world is indistinguishable from the world, it is a copy of the world and we can learn nothing from it distinct from what we can learn from observing the actual world.

          Scientific inquiry employs the reductive program – we use imperfect observations and our imperfect reason to build *reduced* models of verisimilitude with the world that deliberately ignore parts of the world (can I type “world”, or what?) in order to reveal more of its nature.

          Since our observations and our ability to reason are both imperfect, assertions about the physical, a posteriori world are contingent; scientific inquiry can’t be used to “prove” anything and mathematical tautology cannot assign truth value to a posteriori assertions. “Proof” is a quality of mathematical theorEMs. It is not a property of theorIEs, which are the objects considered by science.

    • I discuss this interesting possibility in chapter 12 of the book ( http://mathematicaluniverse.org ) and give an argument for why we’re *not* living in a simulation.

  • rplantz

    What is “reality”? Mathematics is an invention of our brains. At most, it seems that mathematics could only explain our brains’ perception of “reality.”

    • Allen Prattis

      Think that point is that Math is more than an “invention of our brains.” The description of math terms are made by us, but the hypothesis is that the math itself is the basis (I think).

      • rplantz

        That is sort of my point. I assert that the only things we can know come from the chemical processes going on in our brains. As such, I don’t think we can ever conclude that there is some sort of absolute truth, whether it be mathematics, god(s), etc.
        This leads me to conclude that we should keep our minds open to all sorts of possibilities.

        • Doug Meserve

          If there is any phenomenon in reality that is beyond what can ever be represented in the state of the neurons in our brains, then not only can we never know about it, but it can never affect us in any way — because if something affects us, then we will at least know about the effect, which means we will have information in our brains about the phenomenon.

          So, ok, there may be things in reality that can be beyond our ability to have any information about — where we can never prove or disprove its consistency with the observations we *can* make about reality — but… so what? We can never, ever know about them, and they can never, ever affect us. You can make up anything you want to in that realm (e.g. concepts of God), and all such ideas will have equal merit. The only point of discussing them is then for purposes other than pursuit of the “truth” — pursuit of emotional satisfaction, or maybe stability of society, etc.

          • rplantz

            I don’t think there is any way to prove that something that can never be represented in our neurons cannot affect us in any way.

          • Doug Meserve

            Uh, I think it’s definitional: if something can affect us in any way, then there is information to be had about it. That information can therefore, theoretically at least, be represented in our neurons.

            Certainly, it doesn’t mean we can know everything about the underlying phenomenon — but we can form a model that explains everything about it that could ever matter to us. Even if that model has to involve a degree of randomness.

          • Robert Thomas

            Certainly not by way of scientific inquiry, wich can’t be used to prove anything.

            I can prove something: the prime numbers comprise an infinite set.

            Let S be a finite-sized set of prime numbers.
            Consider P, the product of all members of S.
            Consider Q = P + 1.
            Q must be evenly divisible by a prime number.
            Q divided by any member of S must have remainder of 1.
            Ergo, there must be a prime number not a member of S.

          • Doug Meserve

            By the way, I don’t mean to say that pursuit of emotional satisfaction or stability of society are somehow useless endeavors, at all. But it seems best that we be clear about what we’re after…

          • zeitgeist2

            I think we are after ” reality” or” truth “, whatever they are, with the proviso that it should be all inclusive and not just applicable to matter and material physics. Mind is an inevitable part of our reLity and so long as mind cannot be mathematically derived from matter , we have to honestly conclude that mind is different from matter. We gave to concede that the sources of bio- energy are distinctly different from the sources of material or matter-based energies like gravitational or electromagnetic energies. Atomic energy and nuclear energies are inherent in every iota of matter but bio-energy is generated only by carbon based products or Ammonia along with oxygen and hydrogen and perhaps nitrogen too in the case of plants.
            Secondly tye characteristic defining quality of bio- energy is the presence of the “instinct of survival” not necessarily of the self , but of the race or the genes themselves.( a’la Dawkins in his “selfish genes” ) . Lumpen matter or even radioactive matter does not display this propensity which is very characteristic of life- energy. However for various reasons material physicists is diffident of entertaining the possibility of encountering a fifth independent energy, viz , life – energy or bio- energy which show no affiliation to either electromagnetic or nuclear or gravitational energy as life-energy ( or bio- energy ) operates on entirely different principles and contexts. The fact that in our material 3+1 dimensions life energy can manifest only through the scaffolding of matter ( flesh and blood , so to day ) physicists are misled to believe that life is an emergent phenomena . But they seem to forget that light is not an emergent phenomena but as fundamental as matter itself even though light can manifest itsellf only through matter or in the presence of matter.Also the fact that material experimental scientists with all their repository of tools , sensing devices, microscopes and their considerable skill could not so far produce anything resembling a life-form or forms, from entirely pollution- free raw chemicals, belie their claim that the quality we call ‘ life ,is an emergent phenomena.
            Material scientists have the characteristic quality that they all are in a hurry to “particlize ” or to “digitalize” to discontinuous or grainy proprtions , even continuities l Examples are , reducing continuity of electromagnetic
            waves to “photons” ( particles without mass ) or, trying to reduce the continuity of gravity into grainy ” gravitons”. With this kind of reductions of EM waves they have been able to concoct certain impressive gadgets which led them to erroneously believe that the entire universe itself is grainy .
            Anyhow,they are now grappling with quantum uncertainties and real- world phenomena like “quantum entanglements” , quantum vacuum which do not yield to digitalizing or rendering into grainy stuff. Besides all this they are forced to deal with their mathematical finding that 95% of cosmos is made of dark energy and dark matter and that the type of matter with which we are familiar with , like the stars and galaxies constitute just about 5% of matter in the universe.
            95% lie beyond our ken which is a final blow to the
            fundamentality of “matter ” , as we know it today . Mathematics which can model normal matter has bottomless limitations to describe realities of the univesrevand so serves a berry limited purpose only. There are mote things in heaven and earth than that can be described by matter or mathematics .

        • Robert Thomas

          This seems obviously wrong.

          I can conceive of a collection of three things and a separate collection of four things. I can conceive that collected together, it is true that the two initial collections include seven things and it is not true that together these two collections include fifteen things. If “truth” has any meaning, it includes these assertions. Else, “truth” is just a noise your mouth makes or a string of letters.

          • rplantz

            Precisely my point. “Truth” is just a noise that our mouths, under the control of chemical processes, makes.

          • Robert Thomas

            You are categorically wrong in claiming that the assertions in the example I gave have no truth value. You’ve made an error.

            Your distinction between “truth” and “absolute truth” in this context is vacant.

          • rplantz

            Please understand that I did not assert that your example has “no truth value.” I agree that within the mathematics that my brain understands, your example is true. I am just saying that there is no way to prove that there might be some sort of system somewhere in the universe where summing the number of things in two separate collections gives a different result from what you and I agree is, for all practical purposes, is truth.
            BTW, I am not arguing for the existence of god(s). I consider myself to be an agnostic with a bias toward atheism. I am simply saying that our brains have limitations and therefore may not be capable of understanding all phenomena in the universe. Mathematics seems to me like an excellent set of tools for expressing what our brains are capable of understanding, but it does not follow that all phenomena in the universe can be explained with these tools.

          • Robert Thomas

            This is a hard topic and I’m not an expert in these kinds of arguments. I think I agree entirely that true a priori assertions may not be reflected in the world of external experience.

            However when you wrote “…we can [never] conclude that there is some sort of absolute truth, whether it be mathematics…”, I took this to mean that your view was that mathematical propositions cannot be judged as to their truth value (accepting the limitations described by Gödel and so forth).

            It’s interesting to speak of there being no way to prove that reality elsewhere isn’t reflected by some other kind of symbolic calculus – I think this is what you mean; if so, I agree – I think that this is right. Since “proof” in this context (unlike the way in which it’s defined in courts of law, say, or in the way in which we use it to describe testing the viability of yeast) is a feature of mathematical tautology and not a feature of scientific inquiry, it can never be a quality assigned to meaningful assertions about the world. We *can* meaningfully assign the quality “proved” to mathematical theorEMs but never to theorIEs of scientific inquiry. Scientific conclusions are interim, tentative and contingent. Agree?

          • rplantz

            Yes, I definitely agree with you here. Neither am I an expert in these kinds of arguments. I was trained as an engineer, which is very roughly the practical application of science. And the language of science is mathematics. So my actual experience is several levels removed from these arguments.
            Now that I’m retired, I have more time to think about these things. Actually, I’m spending most of my time reading about politics, economics, etc., essentially human nature, which is decidedly unscientific and non-mathematical. We are irrational beings — just very good at rationalizing our irrational thoughts and behaviors.
            Your last comment (interim, tentative and contingent) reminds me of a comment a friend made a few years ago about home ownership and foreclosures. “The bottom line is that we are all renters.”

    • Thanks rplantz for raising this important question about whether mathematics is invented or discovered – a famous controversy among mathematicians and philosophers. You’re quite right we humans invent the *language* of mathematics (the symbols, our human names for the symbols, etc.), but it’s important not to confuse this language with the *structures* of mathematics that I focus on in the book ( http://mathematicaluniverse.org ). For example, any civilization interested in Platonic solids would discover that there are precisely 5 such structures (the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron). Whereas they’re free to invent whatever names they want for them, they’re *not* free to invent a 6th one – it simply doesn’t exist. It’s in the same sense that the mathematical structures that are popular in modern physics are discovered rather than invented, from 3+1-dimensional pseudo-Riemannian manifolds to Hilbert spaces.

      • Robert Thomas

        Dr Tegmark, your example of a common understanding of the platonic solids is a good one.

        However, an identical understanding between two worlds of an n-dimensional polytope doesn’t guaranty that such a polytope’s success in modeling objects in one world would be shared with the other world.

      • zeitgeist2

        The reasoning that Platonic solids are 5 in number is applicable to only our 3 dimensions of space in which we exist. Mathematically in higher dimensions of space more closed configurations ( which we call by the term ” solids” ) with the prperties of platonic solids might be possible.
        Maths is highly logical without self contradictions . Maths is devoid of the dimension of emotions or the instinct of survival which all life- forms are imbued with. Emotions or instinct of survival is as basic a characteristic of mind as mass is to matter . Mind is as basic a component of measurement by observation as both Observed matter, or the process of observation are. Nothing that cannot be measured is said to exist as per material physicists. What they forget is that this principle is valid only for material objects but not valid for mental concepts or for the products of the mind , like imagination for example.
        Imagination is more valuable, real and sought after than intellect as per Einstein himself .
        Imagination is the driving energy of life itself and of the production of all material goods too. Production of material world must start from the mind first. The very basis of material world is the mind . Mind is a continuous entity and cannot be digitalized. Hence it is that no unit of measurement of mind could be set or designed . Since mind cannot be quantified our current mathematical models cannot express mind .

        We have to design or invent newer “maths” logic and measurement techniques and devices to fix a unit of measurement to ” measure ” mind may be in terms of neurons ad thereby the quality of ” life” in terms of live cells . A unit of measurement for life could be a single living bio- cell like the unit of measurement of matter os on terms pf it’s atomic mass . Bio- science must come forward to set bio- units and also find newer paradigms radically different from the paradigms of material science to describe “life”.
        Recent researchers in Oxford university has put forward a valid theory that the basic components of the universe is NOT atoms, strings or super strings but it is INFORMATION, the units of which are Qbits, bits and bites . Information is NOT matter nor is it anything mAterial . It’s qualities are more consistent with mind than with matter with inertial mass. Mind consists of intellect and emotions and instincts , the defining qualities of ” life ” . Intellect consists of data storage , collation and data retrieval capabilities but not imagination or emotions which are cardinal elements of the mind which generates ” free will ” . Free will is more of a reality than matter is. Free will is another driver for the production of all material goods.

        Robotics and computers can be programmed to imitate intellect . But they cannot be programmed to generate imagination . Mathematics can be contingent by way of step by step reasoning but cannot take quantum jumps of thought like the living mind can .

        Mathematics can produce highly intelligent robots but not a single living cell or a complexity of senstient cells like a bird or fish or animal .
        The limitations of maths is too much and maths can never be the basis of cosmos . Yes, at best , we can understand and capture certain limited pattetns patterns of the universe ,manipulate very superficially certIn matter- based energies but never capture the fullness and richness and the infinite variety of cosmos .
        To claim that it can is either hubris or rank ignorance.

  • Ben Rawner

    If the universe is math, then can we use math to peer into other dimensions ? How can we use these ideas in a real way now?

    • Robert Thomas

      When Dr Tegmark and his colleagues use the word “dimension”, they refer to degrees of freedom with which objects are allowed to exist in the mechanics of their model of the world. They don’t mean alternate worlds where things are similar to, but different from. the world we experience (they use other terms for that idea).

      Some theories of the world (as I understand) offer explanations of its behavior that include mechanisms where certain degrees of freedom (six or seven or more of them) are extremely subtle, so that only careful use of instrumentation can be expected to reveal their consequences.

  • Doug Meserve

    I think what Mr Tegmark is saying is equivalent to what I’ve been thinking, only I use the term “information” rather than “math”. Basically, my thought boils down to the following chain of equivalence relations:

    matter = energy = information = mind

    We are creatures of information. As such, all that we can ever know about reality will be in the form of information. If there is anything about reality that is somehow not information, not only can we never know about it, but we can never be affected by it in any way — because if something affects us, it is conveying information to us.

    • Guest

      It’s a conflation sensation that’s sweeping the nation.

      The mind is an imperfect understanding/survival machine made of matter that holds representations of reality and fantasy.

      The only mind that’s influencing reality is that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, via his noodly appendages.

      • Doug Meserve

        Yes, the mind is an information machine, forming abstractions. Information flows in through inputs (senses), combines with the current internal state, and generates output (which is also information). Our indescribable sense of “self,” or what it is like to exist, or “soul”, is really just part of what information *is*, in my view.

        • Guest

          But energy is not information. Energy is used to represent information, either as electrical signals, chemical signals, or smoke signals. The lack of energy is also used to represent information.

          • Doug Meserve

            In what way are chemical signals or smoke signals not energy phenomena?

          • Doug Meserve

            Sorry, I misread your comment. Can you state why energy is not information, other than as a starting assumption?

          • Doug Meserve

            Maybe look at it this way: what is the definition of energy, and of information? Energy has to do with the state of some system, according to the various rules, force fields, and positions. Information is a pattern in a medium. Are those definitions really so different?

          • Guest

            Energy is what is happening, information is what is established, at the next level up.
            Information is made of energy but is not energy.
            I can write 1+1=2 but the ink I write it in is not the information itself. It’s the shapes and preexisting understanding of those shapes that is the information.

          • Doug Meserve

            The information of “1+1=2” written on paper is the state of the system that contains the paper, the ink, the light transmitting to your eyes, your eyes & optic nerves themselves, and your brain. You’re saying, instead, that only a small subset of that state (the shape of the ink pattern, and some of the state of the neurons in the brain) is the only part of the system that is “information”. I don’t see any fundamental reason for such restriction.

          • Doug Meserve

            Oh, also, your notion of what constitutes “the next level up” applies within information as well. For example, let’s take my name “Doug” — a string of letters. A common operation done in computing is to “hash” a string, in order to store it in a fast-lookup data structure called a “hash table”. “Hashing” a string basically means to look at the information embedded in the string — typically, the ASCII value of each of the characters — and perform some operation on it to boil that information down into a single number (say, add the ASCII values together — so “Doug” becomes 68+111+117+103=399). This a transformation of information from a more-detailed level to the “next level up”, which is more abstract. Such abstraction operations can be applied to already-abstracted information indefinitely.

            So what’s the fundamental distinction between that kind of abstraction, and the kind that involves taking the structure of the atoms that form the paper & ink of “1+1=2” and relaying it into the states of various neurons in a human brain?

          • Guest

            You can’t take the checksum of a shoe or a planet. You’re conflating the physical with the cognitive. These are on different planes.

            Just look at what happened when theists decided they were on the same plane: They believed in spirits and witchcraft, that a thought and a rock where on the same plane. It’s nonsense.

          • Doug Meserve

            “You can’t take the checksum of a shoe or a planet.”

            Let’s say a sizeable asteroid hits a planet, causing substantial waves to reverberate around to the far side, leaving a new mountain range at the far point as a result. That mountain range contains some information sampled from all throughout the planet, and in that sense is a “checksum”.

            Let’s say you take an x-ray of a shoe. That photographic image contains a lossy sampling of information from the atoms in the shoe, so it could be considered a “checksum” too.

          • Robert Thomas

            There are lots of discussions – lay and technical – about the relationship of information, entropy and energy. The investigation of the question goes back to the nineteenth century (Carnot, Shannon et. al.) Leo Szilard explored it with his “engine”:


            Recently, Stephen Hawking reawakened his thirty-year-old information / energy controversy with his “gray hole”, “fuzzy hole” remarks.

            At CalTech physicist Sean Carroll’s very readable _Preposterous Universe_ blog, he recorded an interesting illustration of Szilard’s engine in this entry:


          • Doug Meserve


          • Guest

            I still think you’re straining to prove a falsehood. Energy only becomes information (not the same as knowledge) when it is encoding the knowledge of thinking beings.

            Measurements of the physical world are information, but the things measured are not.

          • Guest

            Then you’re redefining information so broadly that it encompasses everything, which is useless.

          • Doug Meserve

            Well, you’re certainly entitled to the opinion that it’s useless, but, yes, that was my original assertion in “matter = energy = information” — that “information” constitutes much more than we habitually tend to think. My point in saying this is to say that information-based things like thoughts, emotions, or mathematics don’t have any fundamental separation from the universe we live in. Some people seem to think that they do, which limits their ability to understand the universe, and ourselves, I think.

          • Guest

            I don’t know they’re separate at all, but if you conflate them and put them on the same plane, that takes you down the same path that in medieval Europe and even today in some places (Africa etc) made people think that having a bad thought about Joe could make Joe have a bad day.

          • Doug Meserve

            Well, perhaps people that don’t understand how information & physics work could think such things, but people prone to such misconceptions are going to behave in a rather medieval manner anyways…

          • Guest

            Yeah but again information has to have a meaning that’s useful, like cognitive representations, or else the term can’t be used for much. If I redefine “taco” to mean “all edible things” then it becomes useless.

          • Doug Meserve

            I don’t see why it has to be restricted to cognitive representation to be useful. As a programmer, I’m shuttling information around within a computer all the time; quite often I don’t comprehend every detail of what’s happening with the data transforms I’m commanding — e.g. if I take one gigabyte-size data table and form a more-abstract, megabyte-size table from it, I don’t directly comprehend in my brain what’s going on with every byte in the process; I only comprehend further abstractions of what is going on. Does that mean that the megabyte of results, or the gigabyte of data it came from, should not be called “information”? Is everything just “data” before it enters a human mind, whereupon it becomes “information”? What is the value in placing such a heavy restriction on the definition?

          • Doug Meserve

            To me, the usefulness of the word “information” comes partly from the associated concept of “abstraction”. Abstraction is not a product only of human thought; it can happen in any physical process. Applying as a tool the concept of

            (more information) –> abstraction –> (less information)

            to any level of reality is extremely useful, I think.

            Maybe you want to call the same thing

            data –> abstraction –> information

            but then “information” and “data” become interchangeable terms, since you can take the result of one abstraction and apply more abstractions to it.

          • Doug Meserve

            Oh, right, I tend to use the word “knowledge” to refer to abstractions stored in a human brain — and in other areas where I’m sort of anthropomorphizing.

            For example, in the statement “the baseball knows that it’s been hit by the bat” is anthropomorphizing the baseball, but to say that the baseball contains information about the strike of the bat is just describing the reality of the ball.

          • Guest

            The existence of a random puddle of sulfur compounds (matter/energy) does not communicate anything from a thinking entity to another thinking entity, unless it was made to exist in order to do so.

  • Bo

    I thought the topic of the intangibles of life in relation to mathmatics was intriguing. A thought that came to me is that two people can receive the same stimulus and have two totally different intangible phycological /emotional/visceral sensations. Could there be a way to find a mathmatical relation by measuring some type of communication between particles, and what might be that communication?

    • Thanks Bo for bringing up intangibles. You’re certainly right that consciousness is currently not understood through mathematics – or by any other scientific approach, for that matter. Whether it ever will be is a very interesting question. I co-organized a conference on the Physics of Information a few weeks ago where we invited the neuroscientists Giulio Tononi, Christoph Koch and Larissa Albantakis to speak, and intriguingly, they *do* think that the subjective feeling of the color red, the feeling of love, etc, can be understood as complex mathematical shapes related to information processing in the brain. I explore this in chapter 11 of my book (http://mathematicaluniverse.org). We obviously don’t yet know whether their ideas will ultimately prove to be correct or not, but the fact that their research is taken seriously in the neuroscience community means that we can’t be 100% sure that consciousness can’t ultimately be understood mathematically.

  • Louisla4

    The “greater” consciousness (non-physical – to our understanding) can be proven – just look at all the metaphysical writings – Jane Roberts, Benjamin Creme, “Conversations with God” trance channellings of Kevin Ryerson/ Lazarus/Ecton….. and on and on.and on…. -they all say the same thing. “We create our own reality.” What is more likely: 1) that our minds evolved an explanation of reality through millenia of wondering about it and it’s purely physical and pours out through automatic writing and other ways…or 2) that it is what it says it is (Occam’s razor) and consciousness forms reality and not the other way around…?

    • Guest

      Mind forms representations of reality, it doesn’t form reality itself.

      • Louisla4

        Yes, the “we” creating reality is not the individual but the whole (whatever that is?)

        • Guest

          Yes, that’s anthropology though. Group A has a different reality and value system than does Group B.

  • Bo

    in other words, could the way the particles/electrons communicate and the energy in that communication be measured? Wouldn,t that be a kind of dynamic mathmatics that evolve with stimulus from other mathmatic communications recieved and transmitted by other electrons according to the interpretation of each electron? Spooky> San Francisco, CA

  • Robert Thomas

    Physicists have a hard time on the one hand moving forward trying to describe the behavior of the world with a completely dismissive attitude to the philosophy of science and then on the other hand trying to communicate their ideas to the general public using homely, naive philosophical language.

    The world is shaped in thus and such a way and proceeds to change in thus and such a way, presumably due to the nature of its constituent parts and how they relate to one another.

    Look, mathematics has well been understood for *centuries* to be some kind of set of a priori ideas that can organize our observations but it’s meaningless to say that the world *is* mathematics.

    Just because the world appears to have three spacial dimensions with conventional extent doesn’t mean that “space” is “three” (or that conventional “Minkowski spacetime” is “four”).

    • Thanks Robert for raising this important point about the distinction between the description and what is described, which I explore in great detail in chapters 11 and 12 of the book ( http://mathematicaluniverse.org ). This distinction is crucial *both* in physics and in mathematics.

      Our *language* for describing the planet Neptune (which we obviously invent – we invented a different word for it in Swedish) is of course distinct from the planet itself.

      Similarly, as I mentioned above we humans invent the *language* of mathematics (the symbols, our human names for the symbols, etc.), but it’s important not to confuse this language with the *structures* of mathematics. For example, any civilization interested in Platonic solids would discover that there are precisely 5 such structures (the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron). Whereas they’re free to invent whatever names they want for them, they’re *not* free to invent a 6th one – it simply doesn’t exist. It’s in the same sense that the mathematical structures that are popular in modern physics are discovered rather than invented, from 3+1-dimensional pseudo-Riemannian manifolds to Hilbert spaces. The possibility that I explore in the book is that one of the *structures* of mathematics (which we can discover but not invent) corresponds to the physical world (which we also discover rather than invent).

      I agree with you that we must not be dismissive towards philosophy of science – we’re all playing on the same team!

      • Robert Thomas

        I think I understand your point and am interested in reading your book – treatment of this subject for the general public is a favorite topic of mine and among many commenters here.

        Your example of the platonic solids is a delightful one for me, since as a boy having read _Mathematical Models_ by H. Martyn Cundy an A.P. Rollett (1954) lead me to construct (some more successfully than others) a number of the regular polytopes. This is a wonderful book for young people.

        Interesting, too, is your choice of these objects in light of the ancient discussion Plato provides of the distinction between form and substance.

        • Robert Thomas

          I should say “devoured” rather than “read”, as the junior high school library copy I had fell to pieces on me.

  • Steve

    Professor Tegmark, if you are still reading these comments: what implications would your idea of a mathematical universe have for the issue of free will versus determinism in human behavior?

    • Guest

      None. Even if he is right, and I don’t think he is, the influences of math at the sub-quark level would be too many orders of magnitude too small to influence whether you decide to eat a ham sandwich today versus chicken.

    • Thanks for bringing up the fun topic of free will! The free will issue becomes very interesting as soon as you assume that our universe is purely *physical*, regardless of whether you also assume that it’s totally *mathematical*. If your decisions are made by computations in your brain that correspond to elementary particles moving around according to the deterministic laws of physics (and making you feel conscious in the process), then how can be understand why it feels like we have free will?

      Philosophers have of course argued over this famous question for ages without reaching consensus. Quantum physicist Seth Lloyd has made the interesting argument that a brain (or computer) will feel that it has free will if it can’t figure out what it will do a minute later in less than a minute, i.e., if there’s no “shortcut” way of getting to the answer of the decision-making computation without actually making the whole computation. This agrees well with how I feel when I decide: I consider the consequences of my various options, weigh the pros and cons, etc., and don’t know what I’m going to decide until I’ve finished thinking it all through.

  • Robert Thomas

    Thank you, Dr Tegmark for your thoughtful responses to the comments here.

    • Doug Meserve

      Seconded. 🙂

      • My pleasure – thanks to all of you for bringing up so many interesting points! 🙂

        • Karen Baumann

          Dr. Tegmark’s accessibility to the public is one of the reasons he is so popular with his followers; plus the sheer joy and enthusiasm he expresses in addressing the topic is infectious.

  • Mark Lin

    Simple and straight forward is beauty of using match to model the universe. The complexity, in reality, it might lead to uses of multiple models with math to explain our world.


  • anonyBR

    Reality can be a mathematical structure, but how can a “static” structure cause a ilusion of time passing for a self referent sub-structure (like humans) within this larger structure?

  • zeitgeist2

    When Max claims that universe is mathematics , probably what he means is that we are measuring only the mathematical aspects of the universe. Mathematical aspects means the quantifiable qualities of the universe that are palpable by our senses . But to hold the view that the universe consists of only measurables or quantifiables would be too narrow a view of the universe . The finding of dark matter and dark energy is an example of the truth that there are components in the universe that transcends our senses. The phenomena of quantum entanglement reveals to us the truth that there are connecting components of the universe which we can’t mathematically express . The wiggly lines in Feynman diagrams in quantum electro dynamics bear proof to the fact that there are areas in the universe into which we cannot enter with our maths . Strict Mathematica logic and mathematical calculations yield results that the summation upto infinity of the divergent infinite series 1+2+3+4+ 5 + to infinity is = -1/12 , (wide page 22 , chapter 1 , of the book ” String Theory ” by Polchinski published in 1998 ), we realize the limitations of the logic of mathematics to describe reality . Mathematics , at best is just a small net cast in the domain of reality which captures some features of the universe that gets caught in the net of maths . We can discern certain material relationships in our palpable dimensions that confirm to these mathematical relationships too , are not sufficient justifications for us to conclude that the whole of cosmos could be described by our limited Mathematica logic

  • zeitgeist2

    That to which we cannot assign a number physicists have the habit of sweeping it under the carpet , and act as if it does not matter or make light of it or if nothing else works stamp it as ” immaterial” and relegate the phenomena into the realm of metaphysics ,refusing to enlist the phenomena as an item in material physics . But non materials constitute substantial portions of the cosmos . In fact the matter that physics is capable of dealing with their mathematical tool is only 4% of the entire universe .
    A cardinal component of the universe is “life” of which material physics has no clue about. Life involves more of mind than of matter . Matter is only a scaffolding for the mind to function. Mind deals with relationships which is definitely not any palpable matter . And, cosmos is nothing but ” relationships” . Relationship between matter and mind . A small minor portion of these relationships where “free will” , “emotions”and “instincts” are not involved could be expressed by mathematical ( quantifiable ) equations . But the major important component, mind ( consisting of free will , emotions and instincts ) is left out . Only certain aspects of the mind viz, data storage and retrieval and data processing in an algorithmic routine , a process we describe by the term “intellect” , is copied by robots in a strictly emotion-less mathematical relationships. But then we can only say that robots are mathematical but we cannot say that cosmos is mathematical. Humans are not mathematical , human transactions like Love, hate , stock market fluctuations , weather are NOT mathematical , chaos is not mathematical , the evolution in time over extended periods also not mathematical

  • zeitgeist2

    Universe is NOT AT ALL objective. There is no objective universe . Universe is subjective. This is how quantum science describes the universe, and , quantum science has proved its worth in science more than any other theory . This is how quantum science explains away the experimental observations in the famous “double slit” experiment in material physics . It holds the view that all observations have three basic components to it . 1. The observed matter, phenomena or event 2, The observer who observes be it an instrument, physical senses or feeling and 3. The process of observation . In the absence of any one of these components the observation cannot take place or in other words the observation does not exist implying that there exists no “observed”. Double slit experiment proved beyond doubt that the intention of the observer matters in selecting the equipment, the procedure of observation , the purpose of the observation to find whether one is looking for the effects of wave nature or the particle-nature of the phenomena of light as no observer can see both these natures of light simultaneously . Quantum physicists , brave seekers that they are , even had to go to the extend of arriving at an inevitable conclusion that we are not observing any event or phenomena but our act of observation / measuring , CREATES the very phenomena that we observe , thereby squashing out observer independent reality or phenomena . It is we that are creating our reality .Objective reality just does NOT exist. Every thing is in the mind including the matter you think you see Nd measure . Outside of the mind nothing exists . Mathematics is what is created by the mind , is the logic of the mind . This would lead us to the conclusion that what we can express through mathematical relationships only exists .Hence universe as we know it is mathematical .
    Since we haven’t yet made a yard stick or unit of measurement to measure in quantifiable terms emotions, instincts and free will they don’t exist as per quantum science , the most successful physical theory!

  • zeitgeist2

    Planet Neptune had been discovered by mathematics first before observation of it. That shows thelawyer of maths , so argues Max. May be he might argue that certain elements in the periodical table too were mathematical discoveries. But they are all what concerns the behaviour pattern of ” matter” . But they are not all that matters in life .The phenomena of life and the act of living are components of the universe as much important as matter , if not more so. But may I humbly ask what emotions or instincts were discovered by maths ? What form of life or species were discovered by mathematical calculations? What mathematical formula is there to plot the curve to traverse from rags to riches ? Except for the wishful longing that one day maths will be able to derive instinctive behavior out of a conglomeration of living cells , there is nothing substantial in the horizon for now to indicate even an iota of chance that maths can do it . Physicistsmight claim that lumpen cells or raw chemicals might have to reach a critical mass or critical configuration to be reached by random processes to get it quickened with life imbued with its characteristic quality of the ” instinct of survival ” .
    Of course that’s one way of thinking . But perhaps an easier route to reality is to postulate that while electromagnetic energy is dissipative or entropic , gravitational and another type of energy ( let us tentatively call it bio- energy , distinct from chemical energy or any other type of energy ) is kind of an “organizing energy”not subject to entropy

  • zeitgeist2

    The behavior pattern of bio- energy is unpredictable since one of its component is ” free will ” , organisms capable of responding to their own subjective perception of objective environments . In the case of ” matter ” there is no element of subjectivity involved . Its only in the bio- perception or in the process of observation that subjectivity creeps in . But then quantum science tells us that objective qualities cannot be observed or measured . But even quantum science does not say that there are no objective entities . All that it says is that if there were any then they stay outside the benchmark of ” observation” or scope of ” measurement ” ie, it cannot be quantified. Cosmos therefore consists of both subjective and objective entities. Mathematics can capture only the subjective elements of cosmos . Ergo, maths cannot describe all the elements of cosmos.
    Secondly, in the case of matter imbued with bio- energy , the most important components in their make up and organization are “instincts” and “free will”that sets living and the non- living. How and when does lumpen mass get quickened with life is as yet unknown and not derivavable through maths ,as it exists today. Bio- energy is not even rendered measurable as there are no ” units of measurement ” designed for it so far. On the other hand, material physicists are trying to fit in their electromagnetic relationships to get into bio- energy and find a way to express bio- energy formed relationships to no avail so far. Still they refuse mulishly to entertain bio- energy with radically different ways of functioning and operating from Electromagnetic, nuclear or gravitational energies that has no bearing only on mass and matter .

  • zeitgeist2

    I would like to comment on the question whether mathematics is an invention or a discovery . Firstly lets consider what is mathematics ? Maths is a way of expressing natural “relationships” between objects and events in a coherently logical non- self contradictory form . We model to quite some extent ( if not wholly ) material reality ( whatever our perception of it is ) in mathematical symbols and equations . This enable us
    to study ,manipulate and maneuver reality on paper ; to play with various configurations ,try out different combinations and to copy and manufacture reality in shapes, sizes and qualities as we desire.

    The entire range of Phenomena is nothing but the result of the RELATIONSHIP between “Objects” and “Events” netted by our mind ( the intellect , in this context.) . Much hat it is , but our mind ( intellect in this context ) can capture a very small portion of cosmos.

    These however pertain to phenomena created by the “observable” inertial mass or the “measurable” time -dependent or space- dependent “frequency spectrum ” only ie relationship between matter and matter but, does not pertain to the relationship between mind and mind . Relationship between mind and mind go by the names “emotions ” and ” noumena ” .
    Relationship between mind and matter go by the names ” instinctive behavior ” and “biological necessities ” .
    ” Free will ” and “imagination” are the “freedom” of the mind to act upon matter in any which way it pleases .
    The result of the freedom of mind to act upon matter in a systematic way is “mathematics” or pattern recognition and expression .

    The term ,”Objects” need further clarification. “Objects ” of a certain dimension only ,say up to plank dimensions and, ” frequencies “up to certain limited frequency range are only included by the terms . Beyond these limits the relation ships are expressed mainly by extrapolation based on mathematical reasoning which works again within limits of 8 to10 decimal places of accuracy. But even the relationship between matter and matter persists in a continuous or discrete scale even beyond these limits of mathematical exploration.
    Even chaos can be determined within certain limits beyond which events lie in the region of indeterministic chaos.
    Phenomena like “quantum entanglement” ( a’la EPR thought experiment ) , “advance waves” ( a’la double slit experiment ) are mathematical postulates that are controversial still , till we find another “reasonable” explanation.
    Till we came across the phenomena of Interference patterns in double slit experiment , maths had not predicted it in advance . Even the “explanations” of these are based on our own imaginative “interpretations ” of the results of mathematical equations which we concocted up.
    Today some maths equations exist for which we have yet to find meaning in our dimensions or concoct universes in multidimensions to give some meaning to our mathematical equations.

    Maths take us forward sometimes , at other times maths lags behind experimental findings like it happened In the case of inventing flying machines or gravity.

    Some phenomena exists within our perception for which we yet have to find maths to express them for example, our emotions for which there is as yet no mathematical formulation.
    It does not make emotions unreal because it is very real and its influence on human affairs and actions
    substantial , but make us realize the deficiency of maths .
    Cosmos exist as perceivable relationships , as well as non- perceivables .
    Without forming relationships cosmos is all vacuum nothingness .
    But even theoretically, nothingness is a kind of relationship which maths can represent by the symbol of zero . Transcendental relationships like Pi and “e” the base of natural logarithms have also expressions in maths . But in the case of divergent infinite series maths have no expressions or symbols other than a generalized symbol “infinity ” ( a’la Immanuel Kant ) .

    The unpluggable limitations and imperfections of maths reasoning is exposed amply and
    convincingly by Kurt Goedel .

    As we go along we are trying to match maths logic to phenomena that are observable and measurable.
    Note that nothing can be measured to the perfection that’s created by nature .
    This fact is etched unmistakably into our psyche by Heisenberg employing maths itself !

    So, maths does not exist to cover all of even material phenomena leave alone noumena which is as real part of cosmos as material phenomena is , of not more .
    But physicists have a way of sweeping noumena under the carpet just because they have not designed
    any Units of measurement to quantify and measure non- material portions of cosmos.

    Maths , therefore is a useful invention as we invent the logic (invented logic ), of maths to express logically the observed phenomena within the limits of that logic . The act of observation involves mental activity and not just physical activity and devices alone. Mental activity means the action of mind, a non- material entity. The action of mind over matter is observation. Mind is subjective even if one holds to the controversial tenet that matter is objective . ( There is a school of thought among main stream hard core scientists that matter is but the creation of the mind or, rather mind is more fundamental entity than matter and that matter is an emergent phenomena . But more of that in another article ) ,
    In whichever way you take it , every observation is subjective or, in other words phenomena is subjective . There is no objective phenomena , a happy mix of mind and matter . Observable phenomena is nothing but the way mind interpret natural perceivable relationships between matter and matter.

    Matter and mind have no stand alone existence or meaning . Its only ” relationships” between them that are meaningful . Relationships or patterns are formed on mature as per the observer’s mental faculties .
    which are therefore inventions of the mind , or how mind perceives or conceives natural relationship or configurations .

    Since maths comes into being only as expressions of relationships as we perceive it , maths is an invention and not a discovery . Patterns do not exist independent of relationships . The observed does not exist before an observation is made.

    Mind and matter are like the waft and woof that weaves the fabric of phenomena .
    Mind has other dimensions than causative logic .
    Its only causative logic that’s involved in the creation of patterns or mathematical logic.
    Mathematics do not come into play before a quantitative observation is made .

    But the major portion of Cosmos lie behind the screen of measurability in the region of the
    Immeasurable , beyond the reach of the limitations of the logic of mathematics .

    Maths has no formula or equation that copies or represent a bird or even a microbe in its entirety .
    No maths equation can become alive , but material structure of insects and perhaps of birds , for example , might find mathematical expressions . But not the quintessence of birds or insects with their instincts .

    The instinct of survival cannot be predicted by maths equations ; so also ” free will ” or ” Emotions” which come pre- packed with living beings in their mental kit.

    All this make any reasonable person believe that the universe is not made up of mathematical logic mwhich
    Is not a fundamental entity but one of those derived phenomena derived from the relationship between matter and matter as perceived by the mind and therefore varies in texture from species to species .
    Each species have to invent their own logic to interpret phenomena as perceived by them .
    Mathematical logic is an approximate net of reference points thrown over phenomena to enable us to
    measure and quantify the measurable and the quantifiable.
    The net slips away from the immeasurable and non- quantifiable aspects and ranges and scales of Cosmos .
    Maths is useful tool and has achieved much , but cannot tackle or cover even certain most vital aspects of cosmos .

  • zeitgeist2

    The talk was interesting and thought provoking too.

    But , I do not agree with Tegmark in the view that the universe is a mathematical structure for the following reasons .

    What’s not right with his postulate .?

    Tegmark should have amplified what he meant by the term ” universe ” in this context.
    Tegmark would have been right if he had qualified universe as the “Universe of matter ” .
    (But he did not do that).

    The logic of maths is perhaps applicable to describe and perhaps to even predict a little bit the relationship between matter and matter only.

    But Tegmark seems to ignore the point that there are more things in the universe than matter .
    For example , the phenomena of ” Mind” associated with ” Instinct” “Emotion” , ” Free-Will” etc is as much components of the universe, a cosmic reality as matter is , if not more so.
    Mind is the real driving energy of all actions of bio- life.
    Ignoring bio- life is ignoring a whole dimension of cosmos.

    Mathematical logic cannot describe relationship that exist between matter and mind ( matter and intellect in this context ) or ,
    between mind and mind ( matter and emotions, instincts, free – will , in this context)

    I would like Tegmark to give me mathematical models for these entities .
    And also for birds , bees , fish , insects and microbes or even of a single living cell .
    The best he would be able to do , I am sure would be to mathematically model the physical structure of these lively things , but then they won’t be infused with life and lively behavior patterns.

    Let him derive , “mind & emotions” from matter except repeating the oft repeated fallacy that mind is an “emergent property ” of matter . Such a postulate pre- supposes without any rhyme or reason that if you assemble randomly some type of matter and keep it under certain temperature and pressure environments mixed in some specific combination and ways , the chemistry will cause mind to blossom out of it like a tree from its seed , in due course of time , may be in a couple of billion years or so.

    Once the first live-cell “somehow” emerges out of matter , from thence on, the cell characteristics will kick in to get complex life-forms with all its attributes like the mind ,instincts,emotions etc. This baseless theory has been repeated by physicists for so long that they have started believing it themselves and propagating it trying to brain- wash the uninitiated .unfortunately ,Life- scientists and Bio- scientists ,who are the right people to object to this blatant lie has so far been lying low .The main reasons for this could be two .
    (a) that physicists have so far achieved in making impressive amounts of military applications which have won important wars and material physicists have produced many commercial consumerables ,and devices and so many laboratory equipments to conduct physical experiments that has been truly remarkable and overwhelming to submerge all dissenting voices that feel in their guts that there are more things in heaven and earth than just matter , viz , mind , the software input for production of material goods and prosperity .
    (b) Overbearing physical scientists have been garnering lion’s share of government and commercial research funding and grants that has cowed down even the most daring bio- scientists .Bio or , life-scientists literally are side- lined . Only those life- scientists who contribute to the view that life is indeed an emergent phenomena ( as physicists consider ) and that, matter that is manifest to us in our three dimensions of space is the one and only one truly fundamental entity , the be-all and the end- all of everything , the source energy of the universe .
    this all- consuming errenous concept , they then extrapolated into the entire Cosmos.

    The unpluggable holes in this physicists view are,
    (A) despite the best attempts of physicists , bio- scientists , environmentalists , they have not so far produced a single living cell from raw chemicals, in their experimental labs or outside of it , though Nature produces so prolifically life all around .which means that the physicists have not been able to walk their talk.
    (B) physicists and mathematicians have not yet been able to set up any mathematical model for life , nor have they been able to derive life from any of their maths models of physical material objects. Its as if life transcends mathematics or mathematical reasoning .
    (C) physicists themselves seem to have reached the end of their tether where their traditional or classic physics and the maths of of materials which they have been churning out does not in any way describe non- physical , non- material phenomena which has baffled material scientists.
    . The evidence lies in their inability to reconcile quantum theory ( the theory of the smallest of the small in micro universe of matter ) and of relativity ( the theory of the macro universe of matter ) .
    Such phenomena include,
    (i) entities , ( I cant call them “objects ” with its material connotations ), like quantum field ( where neither Einstein’s relativity theory or Newton’s gravitational theories , the two corner stones of material physics, works )

    .(ii) phenomena like Dark energy or Dark matter which have nothing in common with normal matter in our 4-D space-time , but which are pervading 96 % of the universe , our own familiar matter only occupying a meager 4% of the universe which we can sense with our senses or physical instruments or techniques.

    (Iii) phenomena such as “quantum entanglements” with which action at a distance occurs faster than the speed of light , violating the cornerstone belief of physical material scientists which made Einstein qualify it as
    ” spooky” .

    (Iv) another corner stone of material physicists viz, the uncertainty principle has displaced all certainties of physics . Instead all occurrences of events and possibilities are found based on randomness and on probabilities . This has rendered the universe split up into multiverses in which every probability has a reality of its own in different universes which are as real as that of ours . We ourselves and all our relations with each other is just the manifestation of chance events with non- zero probability . Other branches of this tree of probabilities exist as real in other parallel universes simultaneously with us ! And, so on .

    (V) the fact that mind cannot be “sensed” independent of matter has mislead material physicists to mistakenly believe that mind does not therefore ” exist ” independent of matter. Ergo, mind and matter are the same .One simple example alone should help to dispel this belief viz, the fact that its not given to us to sense light independent of matter does not make light and matter the same , nor light a derivative of matter or vice- versa. From Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetic energy all that we can derive is that light propagates at the same speed ( whatever that is ) as that of electromagnetic waves in our space-time dimensions . From that model , since the mid-20th century, it has been understood that Maxwell’s equations are not exact laws of the universe, but are a classical approximation of electrodynamics. Various definitions and dimensions are changed by absorbing dimensionfull factors like the speed of light “c”. This makes constants come out differently. In other words its the interpretation of mathematical models that make it compatible or fit with the physically sensible behavior of matter with respect to time in our universe .
    (Vi) Cosmos is nothing but the result of interactions between mind and matter or RELATIONSHIP between mind and matter mainly in the following three ways.

    1.Mind and Matter, ( maths , the perception of patterns in phenomena etc are manifestations of this relationship between mind and matter)
    2.Matter and Matter , ( the concept of space- time fabric , the behavior of matter in the universe, concept of speed , force , electromagnetic energy , nuclear energy, gravitational energy etc are all manifestation of this kind of relationship) and,
    3.Mind and Mind ( Consciousness, emotions, instincts and free-will are some of the manifestations of this interaction. Noumena is another product of this kind or relationship )

    Bio- life is the product of all these three relationships occurring simultaneously .
    Behaviour of Matter in space- time is the product of matter to matter
    Relationship .
    All observation of events and phenomena is the product of mind- matter relationship .

    Maths have not yet been able to measure or quantify the relationship between mind and mind . This relationship lie outside the realm of measurability or quantifiability or digitilizability by discretizing.
    Material physicists have the common strategy of relegating all immeasurable s to the realm of meta- physics a meat trick to deflect the attention of the uninitiated by sweeping immeasurable s under the carpet and hiding it away with the label of meta- physics stuck to it .

    Maths cannot cover the entirety of cosmos . Hence in no way we can say that the universe is a mathematical structure.

    The view of this MIT professor is too narrow for my appreciation and I find his arguments too lame .
    He had ignored richer dimensions of Cosmos and narrowed down to confining cosmos into the straightjacket of its maths aspects only and committed the grave error of identifying the whole of cosmos with a part of it. ( not even covering the matter part fully ) .

    Perhaps I could have agreed with a view that “the Cosmos is a mental structure “because mind , cosmic consciousness , is fundamental entity of cosmos and , matter is the emergent phenomena.

  • geraldfnord

    I don’t know, it smacks of neo-Platonism to me, and I think shares its vice of seeing forms in the Universe that exist merely as patters in our heads.

  • wizardofx

    *BOOM!* There goes my head.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor