Monthly Archives: mei 2017

‘I cannot define the real problem, therefore I suspect there’s no real problem, but I’m not sure there’s no real problem.’ Richard Feynman.

By | Algemeen | No Comments

Past week: beach, walking, talking, thinking together. Pure bliss. Evening reading/study: a  further dive in to quantum biology. Quantum mind, life on the edge, Alexander Wendt, Feynman, Penrose and Hameroff, McFadden….and the pioneers of quantum physics such as Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Pauli (and others).

Some physicists suspect that, whether or not consciousness influences quantum mechanics, it might in fact arise because of it. Quantum theory might be needed to fully understand how the brain works. Rethinking from mainstream physics and toward the controversial and notoriously messy interface of biology, chemistry, neuroscience and quantum physics.

Taking the quantum revolution in physics seriously.

Until the early twentieth century, physicists subscribed to the Newtonian idea that all objects possess a mutually independent existence from one another, that each object is subject to the general causal laws of the material universe; and that, therefore, objects can only influence one another through direct contact mediated by material constraints. Quantum physics overturned these classic Newtonian assumptions. Work by Planck and Einstein revealed that light is a photon which sometimes behaves like waves and sometimes like particles. But photons did not behave as normal particles of matter were supposed to. Instead, their behavior depended upon the state of the field of which they were part. Stranger still, photons in the same field could be said to be in two contradictory positions at once, a phenomenon known as superposition. Within a few years, the French scientist Louis de Broglie realized that Einstein’s hypothesis had implications for matter too—that matter at the subatomic level of protons and electrons also acted with a similar wave-particle duality, and thus was prone to the same weird properties of superposition, nonseparability, and spontaneity. In short, quantum physics confounded the commonsense view of the basic building blocks of the universe—that brute matter is simple and separable all the way down. Another important ontological insight from quantum mechanics is the idea of entanglement. Entanglement is perhaps the keyword of quantum theory today. It refers to how particles continue to influence one another even after they have interacted with one another and moved apart. That non-local forms of connection exist and ‘travel faster than the speed of light is one of the best-confirmed findings of modern physics. More vexing still, space and time appear not to exist inside the atom, raising the intriguing possibility of retroactive influence or correlation. For the past century, therefore, modern physics has been grappling with the profound and disconcerting fact that the ontology of matter is far less obvious or lifeless than it once appeared to be.

Quantum theory introduced an element of randomness standing out against the previous deterministic worldview, in which randomness, if it occurred at all, simply indicated our ignorance of a more detailed description (as in statistical physics). In sharp contrast to such epistemic randomness, quantum randomness in processes such as spontaneous emission of light, radioactive decay, or other examples of state reduction was considered a fundamental feature of nature, independent of our ignorance or knowledge. To be precise, this feature refers to individual quantum events, whereas the behavior of ensembles of such events is statistically determined. The indeterminism of individual quantum events is constrained by statistical laws.

Other features of quantum theory, which were found attractive in discussing issues of consciousness, were the concepts of complementarity and entanglement. Pioneers of quantum physics such as Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Pauli (and others) emphasized the various possible roles of quantum theory in reconsidering the old conflict between physical determinism and conscious free will.

Might it be that, just as quantum objects can apparently be in two places at once, so a quantum brain can hold onto two mutually-exclusive ideas at the same time? These ideas are speculative, and it may turn out that quantum physics has no fundamental role either for or in the workings of the mind. But if nothing else, these possibilities show just how strangely quantum theory forces us to think.

Over the past decade growing evidence suggests that certain biological systems might employ quantum mechanics. In photosynthesis, for example, quantum effects help plants turn sunlight into fuel. Scientists have also proposed that migratory birds have a ‘quantum compass’ enabling them to exploit Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation, or that the human sense of smell could be rooted in quantum mechanics. From the intriguing hypothesis to actually demonstrating that quantum processing plays a role in the brain is a daunting challenge. The brain would need some mechanism for storing quantum information in qubits for sufficiently long times. There must be a mechanism for entangling multiple qubits, and that entanglement must then have some chemically feasible means of influencing how neurons fire in some way. There must also be some means of transporting quantum information stored in the qubits throughout the brain.

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how does it work? Even in this age of cloning and synthetic biology, the remarkable truth remains: nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. What if indeed life exists at the boundary between quantum and classical physics? After diving in the latest research the past week my excitement has grown of this explosive new field of quantum biology, with its potentially revolutionary applications, and also offer insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life?

Preparing the post industrial world

By | Algemeen | No Comments

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being driven by a staggering range of new technologies that are blurring the boundaries between people, the internet and the physical world. It’s a convergence of the digital, physical and biological spheres. Some call it the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0, but whatever you call it, it represents the combination of technological convergence, cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Systems.

It’s a transformation in the way we live, work and relate to one another in the coming years, affecting entire industries and economies, and even challenging our notion of what it means to be human. In this fourth revolution, we are facing a range of new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds. These new convergence between bio-, info-, nano- and cogno-  technologies technologies will impact all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human.

Our understanding of this postindustrial world is inadequate. The traditional job market is changing and so is the nation state. Solid economic and political structures of the past are deteriorating under the current technological development. In order for politics to be meaningful and for human rights and democracy to survive and thrive, we need to understand the greater patterns in this development.

Digital products and services, social media, mobile apps, etc., have changed our everyday lives in less than a decade. In fact, most of us use technologies on a daily basis that were wild science fiction 40-50 years ago when computer science first became established in Western universities. For most citizens and policymakers, the dramatic impact of the still exponentially growing information and communication technologies (ICT) is only starting to become apparent.

Today, a convergence between the bio-, info-, nano- and cogno-  technologies develops the living and intelligent technologies of tomorrow. Democracy, politics, rule of law, human rights, the market economy, capitalism, the creation of money, the banking system, and even our schools and local communities are products of the industrial age and its technologies. As individuals we have learned to navigate the industrial economy and as societies we can somewhat control and define it with politics and legislation. In the industrial economy, more was better – but now this is not always the case. The developed world is sick from overeating, while greater productivity leads to cheaper goods and greater consumption, which squanders Earth’s resources ever faster and fosters a wasteful, consumption-based economy. Instead, a future economy would strive to provide a world of plenty, with virtually no waste.

In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

Technological change is so rapid that it has out-stripped political and legal frameworks, changing the way the economy or even society works before the law can catch up. The converging technologies will accelerate this process into something we have difficulty imagining. And as yet there are no global institutions that can handle this transformation.

The grand narratives which used to keep societies together – religion, nation and class – are losing their power to guide and explain the world, and are sometimes used for the support of totalitarian regimes. In fact the only grand narrative that has survived is “the free market”: it can provide consumer goods efficiently, but it is incapable of solving any of our current problems. If anything, it fuels them.

Within and between the nations we see indicators of the current transition. Among these indicators are the working poor, under employment, lack of privacy due to abuse of big data, challenges concerning secure and sustainable energy systems, international taxation issues regarding corporations, a rapidly growing and mainly speculative financial market, increased consumption of psycho-pharmaceuticals, and a radically transforming and diminishing job market mainly due to automation and digitization.

To preserve sustainable economies, human dignity, Human Rights, democracy, and social calm these issues must be taken to the forefront of practical national and international politics. In a world were knowledge is viewed as an indisputable asset for economic growth, this same knowledge must be put to work to understand the current transformation of the global economy and community and to address and develop sustainable and desirable paths forwards. An underlying theme is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses and politics. A continued belief in the narrative that a free market and the nation state will resolve our current dilemmas is naïve. We need to recognize reality as it is and not as it once was.

With the right political, legal and economic structures and institutions and with the best possible implementation of the convergence between bio-, info-, nano- and cogno-  technologies technologies, we can shape the world to meet our highest hopes.   We have to develop visions for inclusive and sustainable societies, while recognizing how the new technologies are in the process of changing the very foundation of the human condition.