Science & Religion #10: Strings and Spirits

By: Mike S
December 28, 2010
Last time we talked about Flatland and 4-dimensional angels.  Now, we move on to 10-dimensions, finer matter, and more.  It might seem a bit daunting, but it will all make sense.  To start with, though, if you haven’t read the last post in this series (or Flatland itself), it will be easier to start there.  Go ahead – we’ll wait.

To get where we’re going in today’s post, picture Flatland as an extremely large piece of paper on which A Square could travel in any direction essentially forever.  Now picture that same piece of paper curved back on itself in a 3rd dimension to make a very large tube.  If the tube is big enough, it will still seem to A Square as if it is a 2-dimensional world which still goes on forever.  Now picture the tube getting smaller, like a straw.  Now, if A Square traveled in one direction, he could end up back where he started.  Because he lived in a 2-dimensional world and couldn’t perceive the 3rd-dimension in which things “curled”, it would seem improbable and hard to explain, but his world would still be 2-dimensional.  Now, picture the tube getting smaller and smaller still.  Picture it so small that the radius of the tube is extremely tiny.  Instead of appearing to be a tube, Flatland would now become Lineland.  A Square would instead be A Line.  Interestingly, all of the other varied inhabitants of Flatland would appear similar.  A Triangle and A Circle would also appear to be lines, very similar to A Square.  This is quite simplified, but hopefully it makes sense.  Now, hang on to this thought.

Next, picture a journey home from Great-great-great-grandma’s for Christmas (she lived as long as some of the Old Testament patriarchs).  You might walk around the corner.  You might travel even faster and drive home.  Or you might go a lot faster and fly.  These are all normal experiences in today’s world.  But if you go really, really fast, strange things happen.  We’ll cover them in much more detail in a future post, but as you go closer to the speed of light, time slows down and mass increases.  Gravity warps things on the massive cosmic scales we encounter in the universe.  There are equations in General Relativity that show how this happens, which have been tested and found to be very accurate.

Now picture your inheritance from Great-great-great-grandma.  You come from a very large Utah family.  As things got divided more and more through the generations, your portion got smaller and smaller.  But you still knew where that penny was in your pocket.  But if things kept going and got really, really small, strange things also happen there.  We’ll also go through this in a future post, but when things get down to the atomic level, quantum effects take over.  On a simple level, this means that we don’t really know where anything is, but just where it “probably” is.  Equations for Quantum Mechanics have also been defined and tested, and are also very accurate.

Now, picture the guitar that you got as a gift from Great-great-great-grandma.  When you pluck a string, it makes a note that is related to the length of the string.  There are also harmonics that correspond to higher notes.  Only certain harmonics can exist – ones that divide the string into an integer number of divisions.  For example, the note ‘A’ is 220 Hz.  On the ‘A’ string, the higher harmonics are 440 Hz, 660 Hz, 880 Hz, etc., formed by essentially dividing the string in half, in thirds, in quarters, etc.  Different combinations of these harmonics are what determine sounds of a guitar vs an oboe vs an organ, etc (plus other transients, but that makes things too complex).  But the important point is that only defined harmonics are possible, and that the different combinations of harmonics make the unique and different sounds.

For a final concept before we combine all of these points, scientists like to simplify explanations.  People knew about electricity for a long time, and people also knew about magnetism.  Eventually, scientists found that these two forces were intimately related, a fact that made possible motors, generators, and most of modern life as we know it.  We know about forces that work at the very, very small quantum level to hold atoms together.  And we know about gravity, that works at the very, very large cosmic level to hold stars and solar systems and galaxies together.  For nearly a century, brilliant minds from Einstein on down have tried to find a theory that accounts for all of this.  Can there be a theory that works for daily life, for the very big, AND the very small?

Enter string theory.  Explaining this could take books, but to start, lets go back to the example at the beginning of this post where A Square turned into A Line.  While he is a line, each point can be seen as, in reality, a tiny circle.  But if the circle was so small that it was below the level that he could even measure it, it would seem to be just a point.  Now, imagine that each little circle started vibrating.  Just like a guitar string, it could only vibrate at certain frequencies.  The interesting thing is that the nature of the “particle” at each “point” could be determined by the frequency at which the “circle” vibrated.  For purely illustrative example, imagine that a vibration at 220 Hz meant that point was an electron, 440 Hz was a proton, and 660 Hz was a neutron.

Whew.  Hanging in there?  Quick intermission.

So, here’s the essence of String Theory.  String theory was created to have one set of equations that combines quantum mechanics with general relativity, and everything else in between.  It relates all forces and particles to each other, from the very small to the very big, from the subatomic world to the universe, from quantum effects to general relativity.  To do it, it suggests that our world is essentially a 4-dimensional (3 dimensions of space & the dimension of time) representation of a 10-dimensional space (or 11-dimensions in some versions).  The 6 dimensions that we can’t perceive are, like in the example above, compacted down into a special shape.  So every single “point” in our universe is actually a “curled up” 6-dimensional shape.  And as in the example above, there are certain allowable “vibrations” of this shape.  The particle or force that exists at any given point is determined by the vibrations at that point.

It goes into much, much more, and this is a very brief summary of a complex theory, but that’s it in a nutshell.  At this point, string theory is just that, a theory.  So far it fits with observations, but so do many other things that are “retro-fitted”.  Its true power will be if it can be used to make predictions that are confirmed, which is the basis of the scientific method.  There are suggestions that the LHC may generate energies high enough that string theory can be confirmed.  There are also experiments being suggested that can see echoes left over from the Big Bang that could also confirm string theory’s predictions.  For now, it’s a generally accepted but not confirmed Theory of Everything.

So, what does this have to do with anything and why is this on a religious blog?

What do we know about Matter from a religious sense?  We talk about intelligences and spirits and physical bodies.  We are told that the earth has a spirit.  We learn about spiritual creations and physical creations.  Joseph Smith taught about spirits being made of finer matter and bodies made of coarser matter.  We are told that the natural eye can never see the spiritual world.  We suggest that our spirits are “inside” us.  We hold up gloves on hands to our Primary classes.  But what does all of this REALLY mean?

Back to the beginning.  In Abraham 3, we are told about Intelligences.  These are organized into Spirits.  As spirits, I assume that we were multi-dimensional beings because we are told that we met with each other and had councils and developed in intelligence.  In Ether, we are told that the spirit of Christ had the same form as His physical body would one day have.  We are told that the earth and animals and everything were created spiritually.  And this spiritual creation somehow influenced the physical world in which we live.

So now imagine spirits as information.  This posting, for example, is really just bits of information.  In reality, it has no physical form.  This post may be stored as bits of magnetism on a server somewhere.  It may exist as changing signals in a wire or broadcast over the air.  A microprocessor in your computer or phone may translate the information into video memory.  And a video processor may physically turn on or off different pieces of your screen so you can read it.  So the information influences what you see on a physical screen, but you can’t technically see the information.  It is “software”.

Perhaps spirits exist in some of these “higher” dimensions.  When we enter mortality, spirits are  “compressed” into these curled up 6-dimensions in some process we don’t understand.  This allows for many things to make sense:

  • Spirits can be “inside” us: Given this theory, spirits are inside us and can subtly influence us.  We can have different spirits yet all appear similar in a human form.  As in Flatland, a circle, a triangle and a square all appear to be “just” lines in Lineland, but the curled up shapes still retain the information from the higher dimensions and affect the “vibrations” at each point.  Seen this way, our spirits could be “inside” our physical bodies by influencing the “vibrations” at each point.
  • Everything, including the earth, can been seen to have a spirit: If EVERYTHING in the universe is determined by vibrations of underlying strings (including all particles and all forces), and if spirit/intelligence is seen as the information contained in these vibrations, then everything can been seen as having a “spirit”.
  • Fine & coarse matter: At the current time, we cannot see these strings.  They are so small they are beyond detection.  We can only see the results of their vibrations as represented in the physical world we perceive.  This can easily be seen as “fine” and “coarse” matter (see for example, D&C 131)
  • Natural eye can’t perceive: See point above
  • Spiritual creation / physical creation: A software analogy works well here.  Creating things spiritually involves organizing information/intelligences into a rough blueprint.  It is kind of like writing the code for a program.  The code might be written in different languages.  Different people might work on various subroutines.  But it can all be organized.  Eventually, the code has to be “run”.  This could correspond to the physical creation.  The physical creation wasn’t exact.  We are told that the Gods would work on something, and then watch to see that things were working properly before going on to the next step.  This sounds a lot like debugging.  And the physical universe in which we live is the running program.  The information contained in the spiritual world defines the vibrations of strings in our physical world, which influences everything.

Whew again.  A lot to chew on, but I couldn’t break it down into smaller parts.

This is obviously non-testable but it is very fascinating.  Given the basic assumption that we are getting closer to a knowledge of “truth” rather than further away suggests that something like string theory may be a description of reality.  And while the role of religious leaders throughout the ages isn’t necessarily to reveal scientific truths, there are some fascinating hints on this topic.  Over 150 years ago, Joseph Smith talked about finer and coarser matter, intelligences, organized intelligence as spirits, etc.  Several millennia ago, the Bible talked about physical and spiritual creations.  In Hinduism, the most ancient religion still around, the universe is said to be woven out of vibrations entering string, with God making the universe vibrate.  In Buddhism from 500 years before Christ, there is talk about 10 dimensions.  In Kabbalah, there are teachings that God emanated in 10 dimensions, with all 10 dimensions represented in the “point-string” of the letter yud.  These are all brief glimpses, but it is fascinating that they all correlate with string theory.

In summary, according to this theory, the spirit world is in a different set of dimensions that we cannot see.  Our spirits existed in these dimensions where we developed, learned, and interacted.  As a part of mortality, the dimensions in which our spirits exist are “curled up” to enter physical bodies constrained to our physical world with its 3 physical dimensions plus time.  While we cannot see our spirits, they do influence the “vibrations” of the curled-up dimensions and therefore influence us in mortality.  There is some uncertainty in mortality by definition, so the role of spirits being here is to learn how to control things.  When we die, we return to the spirit world outside these physical dimensions.  And finally, exaltation is becoming a full, higher dimensional being that we cannot fathom, describe or even conceive.  In an exalted world, the “curled-up” dimensions uncurl and we exist in a glorious existence, beyond comprehension.

Questions:

  • Does this explanation of String Theory make any sense?

  • Are there better ways of describing spirits “inside” us than this?

  • If not in a different dimension(s), where do you picture the spirit world as existing?

  • How else do you see the earth as “having a spirit”?

  • Isn’t it interesting that hints of “reality” from all of these different faith traditions point toward what we are now starting to “discover”?

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33 Responses to Science & Religion #10: Strings and Spirits

  1. Syphax on December 28, 2010 at 4:40 PM

    Great post. I’m a Psychology student, but I have a great interest in consciousness studies. A theory like this seems to work well with the problem of free will or volition. Specifically, that it is not logical that free will can emerge from deterministic classical machines, but if there is an indeterministic entry point into matter, then free will can be said to exist. Some people like Stuart Hameroff at Arizona believe that conscious volition might be tied to wave-function collapse, that somehow microtubules in the brain are little processors of wave-function collapse, and communicate information to larger systems in the brain.

    This way of looking at matter seems like it opens up another possibility for “coarse” matter to be influenced by higher realms or dimensions.

    I’ve thought about this a lot. For instance, humans seem very influenced by mathematical and Platonic ideas. In our minds, we have a very clear picture of what a “straight line” is, despite the fact that an ACTUAL straight line doesn’t exist in our Universe. It’s just a mathematical abstract entity. And yet the idea of a straight line influences our geometry and mathematics and architecture and art, etc. The same thing goes with concepts like “justice,” “mercy,” “beauty,” “charity,” etc., which are ineffable qualities that may or may not actually exist in an ideal form here in the natural world of matter. So I have always wondered why these concepts are in our minds despite the fact that they seem purely abstract. It’s almost as if they’re in a different realm, but it’s a realm that influences and interacts with this realm.

    What do you think? I’m not smart enough to get any further than that unfortunately.

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  2. prometheus on December 28, 2010 at 7:47 PM

    Hmm. String theory begins to make some sense to me now. It is a very intriguing set of parallels you draw there, Mike, especially the connection with ancient wisdom.

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  3. Stan on December 29, 2010 at 1:43 AM

    String theory is internally and mathematically consistent and coherent. It is an alternate theory to the standard model and explains, in part, the observable universe. Some variations of the theory recently took a blow due to the lack of predicted microscopic black holes in experiments performed at the LHC.

    I think to answer any question raised by your idea, several things need to be defined in terms of string theory without losing any cohesion or consistency. For example, what exactly is refined matter? In terms of strings, how does it differ from unrefined matter? What is pure matter? How is a spirit defined in terms of pure and refined matter? How are things like a human or a planet created spiritually?

    Your premise is interesting, but without at least attempting to define some basic properties in terms of the more rigorous string theory, it’s just another far out idea trying to cozy up to legitimate science.

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  4. Mike S on December 29, 2010 at 7:19 AM

    Syphax:

    Unfortunately, I haven’t studied much about consciousness so don’t know how much I can contribute there.

    Regarding free will, etc., there does need to be something beyond pure Newtonian physics involved. Several centuries ago, when that was the primary theory, debates did occur in this area. Theoretically, if everything was determined and we were purely made of atoms, etc., would there really be “free will”?

    With the uncertainty now accepted as a part of modern physics, there is “wiggle room”. This allows for more “free will”.

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  5. Mike S on December 29, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    Stan:

    I absolutely agree with what you said. Several points:

    1) This post was getting fairly long so I didn’t cover some of the things you mentioned. It is also designed to be at a “Time Magazine+” level of background needed, given the readership of this site.

    2) As you mentioned, string theory is still unconfirmed. It is a theory that not everyone accepts. But it does answer a number of questions. Hopefully, we will one day know for sure if it is or is not right.

    3) Regarding your last two paragraphs, you are also right. I don’t have answers to the questions you posed in a rigorous solution. The post is based on the premise that most religions have of a “soul”. We talk about spirits and refined matter, etc. Christianity talks about spirits. Islam suggests something lives on after this life. Hinduism has a “soul” that transmigrates from life to life. And while it is not an organized “soul” per se, even Buddhism suggests that there is a life force that is reincarnated.

    The question I have always had is where IS this soul. We teach our kids that the soul is “inside” our body. We teach that our “premortal” existence and traits can influence our mortal lives. We teach that at death, our spirit and bodies are separated.

    So, where is this “spirit”? As far down into matter as we can “see” (ie. quarks, etc.), there isn’t any “room” for a spirit. People have done experiments where they measure dying people’s weights exactly, and nothing changes when they die (morbid, eh?) So, given that billions and billions of people believe in a soul, how does that fit into what science has shown us.

    To me, it is interesting that string theory has 6 (or 7) dimensions wrapped up into a minute structure. It is also interesting that these dimensions essentially contain “information” defining that as vibrations or harmonics, which also define matter.

    Again, this is just a “far out” idea, but it is my best attempt to try to reconcile science and religion when it comes to spirits. It may change over the years as time passes and more information comes along. It is certainly NOT as rigorous from a scientific basis as some other things we will cover (ie. a 7000 year old earth theory vs actual scientific data). It is admittedly “flimsy”, but it is a better description of the relationship of spirits and matter than any others I have heard. At the same time, if someone has a better description, I’d be willing to accept that as well.

    But I still think it’s cool.

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  6. Stephen Marsh on December 29, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    I’ve been a believer in string theory since 1972. I’ve had some times I’ve strayed, but I keep coming back, though I liked the 12 dimensional models for a while.

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  7. Stan on December 29, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    “But I still think it’s cool.”

    It truly is. I hope some day someone with expertise in both fields can perform the rigor of at least an attempt to define these spiritual components.

    One thing that bothers me though is the assumption that there is a soul at all. Having looked for one in terms of matter (weight change at death) consciousness (dual vs. monist views) and physical space, there is no sign of it. We are finding more and more evidence that the mind and indeed consciousness are the result of electrochemical processes and nothing more. We can take the point of view that we just don’t understand enough about spirit and the soul to begin explaining them, in which case trying to explain them in terms of science is futile. If one does attempt to explain spiritual matter scientifically, as you have done, then the case of there being no soul whatsoever must be accepted as not only possible but much more likely given that no sign of it has be found. Those who simply assume the soul exists are usually very uncomfortable with the possibility that it may not exist and their thought process is heavily biased to the point of self deception. Mysterious and difficult to understand aspects of science, such as quantum theory and string theory, become fertile ground for explaining the unexplainable and the non-existent.

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  8. FireTag on December 29, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    A very good post on a difficult subject to explain. I guess the post might be a little optimistic about string theory, because no string theory has actually matched up to ANY particle or force we see in our real world. That’s not necessarily fatal to string theory, because there are something like 10 to the 500th power (the number 1 followed by 500 consecutive zeros) different ways to “compactify” those extra spatial dimensions, and every one of those ways would produce a different physics. We have no clue as to how to pick which scheme would be favored or why, and many even argue that all of the physical possibilities form a “landscape” of worlds. We’re just the kind of life that arises in this compactification scheme.

    I like the idea of the importance of information in these questions about spirit, although things from the Book of Abraham do not carry canonical weight in the CofChrist as they do in the LDS. So I’ve always seen spirit as more an analogue to consciousness, and never thought about the idea of spirit matter.

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  9. FireTag on December 29, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    Stan:

    It is because of concerns like those you expressed in 7 that I’ve given up the idea of a one spirit to one body correspondence. On the kind of quantum level Mike is discussing where there are discrete time steps quadrillions of times each second, we can all be said to have new bodies “resurrected” at each time step. Our conception of the soul somehow implies our spirit stays associated with all of these bodies. So why not give up the one spirit – one body correspondence entirely?

    I’ve come to believe that a person’s spirit is an emergent, collective property of an ensemble of a person’s bodies. Cosmology now suggests that we have copies (and variations) of our world occurring throughout space time.

    Our spirits “pre-existed” our current physical lives, they will continue to exist after the death of this physical copy. You can no more detect the presenmce or absence of spirit by looking at a single human body than you can detect wetness by looking at a single molecule of water.

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  10. Syphax on December 29, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    Stan: I wonder about it when you say, “We are finding more and more evidence that the mind and indeed consciousness are the result of electrochemical processes and nothing more.” I wonder who told you that? Because I’ve been studying consciousness for 10 years and I see absolutely no evidence that consciousness is a result of electrochemical process.

    In fact, I know plenty of psychologists who have simply given up on that hypothesis because it lacks sufficient explanatory power. I know atheist philosophers of mind (Chalmers being a perfect example) who have to postulate that the Universe itself is conscious, or that matter has a conscious element (panpsychism). Others (Churchland and Dennett) actually explain consciousness by saying it doesn’t actually exist. I’ve seen certain Mormon-materialist scientists who embrace Dennett’s views on consciousness and it just shocks me. Dennett and Churchland are forced to take that position due to their materialists beliefs, despite it being wholly insufficient, so I always cringe when I see otherwise very rational Mormons accept them when we’re not necessarily bound by strict materialist views.

    The statement “We are finding more and more evidence that the mind and indeed consciousness are the result of electrochemical processes and nothing more” is one of the biggest lies of 20th century psychology, and many young (and brave, given the scientific climate in academia) psychologists and philosophers of mind these days are once again exploring dualist theories of mind. In 50 years I predict a resurgence of dualist thinking, plus a healthy group of pure materialists who still think we’re getting closer to a tenable materialist theory of consciousness.

    Consciousness is absolutely unexplained. Period. We have not gotten any closer now than we were 1000 years ago.

    Now, believe it or not, I would be far, far more willing to embrace monism if and only if consciousness is what actually exists and not matter (Berkeleyan Idealism of some sort), or if both emerge from a third, as of yet unheard of, substance.

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  11. Stan on December 29, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    “I see absolutely no evidence that consciousness is a result of electrochemical process.”

    Is there something else you see at work? Please explain what else there is that we can measure and observe that would explain consciousness. No woo aloud.

    I am talking about studies in neuroscience which have given us fascinating insight on brain function. These studies are systematically explaining aspects of behavior that have previously been attributed to a mysterious soul.

    “and many young (and brave, given the scientific climate in academia) psychologists and philosophers of mind these days are once again exploring dualist theories of mind.”

    “In 50 years I predict a resurgence of dualist thinking”

    Both of these statements admit that the current thinking is not dualism and that you hope it one day will be. I’m talking about here and now, what is, not what I wish to be.

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  12. Syphax on December 29, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    Yes, I see qualia at work. Consciousness is composed of qualia. But no, we can’t measure and observe it, and that’s the point. If we could measure and observe it, it would be “material.” You can’t ask me to show the possibility of something immaterial, as long as it has material properties.

    Here’s a nice summary from a physicist/philosopher/psychologist: http://cogprints.org/6613/1/Dualism0409.pdf

    “Brain function” is different than consciousness. Brain function could be simply computational, but then no consciousness would be required at all.

    And no, the current thinking is not dualism, but the psychological community actively suppresses dualist research. This is one thing Imants Baruss has revealed in his research up in Ontario. I would recommend any of his books or Irreducible Mind by Ed Kelly if you want to know the future of consciousness research, and why it has been institutionally repressed over the last century.

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  13. Mike S on December 29, 2010 at 11:01 PM

    Syphax/Stan:

    Re: consciousness: I think the problem is in defining what that actually means.

    - Is it emotion? Many emotions are found to relate to specific structures in the brain.
    - Is it self-awareness? There are suggestions that this can be found in some animals.
    - Is it responses to stimuli? Found throughout plant and animal kingdom.

    So, what is consciousness? Perhaps I read too much hard science fiction, but can a machine have consciousness. I recently reread The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Does Mike, the computer, have consciousness?

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  14. Stan on December 29, 2010 at 11:04 PM

    ” But no, we can’t measure and observe it, and that’s the point.”

    Woo.

    “You can’t ask me to show the possibility of something immaterial”

    Then why take the default position that it exists? From a spiritual view point, that’s fine. From a scientific view, it’s woo. It’s an interesting philosophical question and does lead to interesting questions about reality that in the end provide no answers.

    “but the psychological community actively suppresses dualist research. ”

    Why? Is there a scientific conspiracy afoot? Perhaps it has been examined and dismissed in favor of a theory that better fits the data. Perhaps the psychological community is trying to enhance their image, respectability and research funding by discouraging cranks from perusing woo.

    ““Brain function” is different than consciousness.”

    Now that sounds like something that can be defined and defended…

    “We have not gotten any closer now than we were 1000 years ago.”

    …But I’m not waiting that long.

    ” In 50 years I predict…”

    …or that long either.

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  15. Syphax on December 29, 2010 at 11:20 PM

    Is this the sort of conversation I should expect at Wheat & Tares?

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  16. Mike S on December 29, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    FireTag:

    I agree that “spirit” is hard to define. What makes us “us”. The atoms in my body completely turn over every seven years, so I’m literally NOT the person I was back then.

    I do think that at a fundamental level, we are all much more interconnected than is readily apparent in LDS teachings. Just like wave functions extending to the ends of the universe, I think everything we do and are affects literally everything else in the universe. It is a very Eastern philosophy, but makes sense.

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  17. Mike S on December 29, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    Syphax:

    I’m not sure what type of conversations we have at Wheat & Tares, to be honest. The posts are about a wide variety of subjects, generally at least somewhat related to “Mormonism”, or generally of interest to that crowd. The comments are basically unfiltered, unedited, and uncensored (it takes a lot to get deleted), so the conversations go all over the place. It’s somewhat organic and depends somewhat on who shows up for any given topic.

    Personally, I find all points-of-view very fascinating and interesting. There are many with which I disagree, but that’s fine. Sometimes I change what I think. Sometimes I can express more succinctly what I think after going up against a “foil”. And sometimes I’m just befuddled.

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  18. Syphax on December 29, 2010 at 11:46 PM

    It’s okay. I was mostly joking. I am a former Mormon Matters blogger, just so you know.

    Stan, considering it doesn’t seem like you actually read the link I gave you, nor will you probably look any deeper into those books I referenced, nor have you linked for me any of these fascinating studies you seem to be going on about that seem to show that the mind is the result of electrochemical processes (which I actually would have read and enjoyed, considering I am a researcher at a psychological lab at a university), and also because you haven’t really said exactly what it is you disagree with other than just the simple use of a disparaging umbrella term for anything that you don’t wish to properly address… I’m going to bed.

    Great original post, though. I will check back for the upcoming sequels, when they come.

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  19. Mike S on December 29, 2010 at 11:46 PM

    As far as the original post, it does come back to the fact that essentially all religions believe in a “soul” or some sort that transcends our human bodies. We may call it different things, we may disagree on whether mortality is a one-shot experience or in reincarnation, we may quibble over whether the “essence” of a person stays intact or if it’s part of a larger whole; but most religions believe in a “soul”.

    The interesting thing to me is how this “soul” interacts with physical matter. How does it do that? Where is the “soul”? How does it influence us?

    I think much of what we ultimately do is on a physical, neurochemical level, mediated by genetics and environmental things. But maybe I’m biased by my engineering and medical backgrounds. At the same time, I think that string theory offers an interesting way for our “soul” to potentially influence this process. While the “soul” perhaps cannot “force” the body to do something, perhaps there are resonant sweet spots. When we do something that resonates with our “soul”, be it doing good or encountering someone with a connection from a “past life” or hearing truth, we feel “right”. Perhaps our “souls”, existing on a higher dimension, can influence the vibrations of the strings that literally make us up.

    Any thoughts?

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  20. Stan on December 30, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    “Is this the sort of conversation I should expect at Wheat & Tares?”

    Sorry to nudge you out of your comfort zone. My point is, essentially, that string theory and the souls hiding therein make no sense whatsoever when there is no scientific notion of a soul to begin with. I’ve perhaps been too harsh as I know Mike is just expressing an interesting idea. These ideas latch on and get passed on too easily by those who use them to justify their belief. In the end, that does them a disservice. Faith cannot be found in science. Science cannot justify faith. I’ve taken it upon myself to point that out in no uncertain terms.

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  21. Michael on December 30, 2010 at 4:17 AM

    A very nice blog post, with lots of interesting points to ponder. What most people simply miss though is that we *can* be aware of spirit and multiple dimensions. We already exist in them, so seeing and experiencing is just a matter of letting go of what blocks our perception. Oh, and letting go of fears too.

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  22. Stephen Marsh on December 30, 2010 at 5:52 AM

    Mike S — that animals have awareness, and therefore spirit is consistent with LDS theology (if not the theology of other groups that think of only humans having souls).

    Stan — it is always the point, some make, that whatever they are blind to is universal. Though from what I read in neuroscience, faith can indeed be found in science as it defines how we become certain. ;)

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  23. FireTag on December 30, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    Syphax:

    I did go through your linked paper on qualia last night, but didn’t finish until after you signed off. It was a fascinating read and gave me some fresh things to think about. My own view comes from a published approach I reported on in a post here a couple of months ago:

    http://www.wheatandtares.org/2010/10/08/the-spirit-of-the-earth/

    After reading your link, I must probably conclude that it is mandatory that zombies do have qualia, and even spirits are baffled by THEIR qualia, implying by the reasoning of the paper you linked that there may be an aspect of reality that is beyond either physical or spiritual.

    I love this stuff.

    Mike S.:

    The subversive idea of string theory the way you’re viewing it is that if the 6-D spaces were ever to uncompactify as you mention, the connection between the physical and spiritual would be utterly changed — and probably not in a good way. Makes one wonder about the stress on the connection between the physical and spiritual “for the fullness of joy” in Restoration theology in the first place.

    I hope there will be a future post about why there are three dimensions in the first place.

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  24. Syphax on December 30, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    WHEW! I’m glad somebody read it and got something out of it. I was starting to suspect that the paper was gibberish and everyone was being too nice to tell me.

    FireTag: your posts continue to amaze me. Keep it up.

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  25. Mike S on December 31, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    FireTag:

    While the connection between physical and spiritual is changed if the 6-D spaces were to uncompactify, I don’t think it would be “bad”. It would likely be magnificent.

    It does seem to be beyond comprehension, but go back again to Flatland examples. If a square was compactified into a line, the line might go through it’s life in a 1-D world, influenced by things from it’s true 2-D nature. At some point after “death”, it might be made back into a 2-D being, or maybe even 3-D+. Granted, it’s 1-D line no longer exists, per se, but lines would exist as a subset of the 2-D being.

    Perhaps in the same way, these 3D bodies as just a subset of a higher being. We call the non-3D dimensions the “spirit” world because we can’t perceive them directly, but they are still there influencing us. Perhaps death is a “breaking” of the bond between a spirit being in different dimensions and the 3D that make up our physical bodies. And eventually we will be a fully dimensional being.

    This longing for being “fully” dimensional must be quite strong. We were willing to go through this plan to achieve that. “Evil” spirits were willing to enter pigs to experience it momentarily. And it would certainly be beyond comprehension to explain to us as mortals.

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  26. FireTag on December 31, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Mike: Your last paragraph starts to get at the point I was hinting at, but obviously not very clearly.

    The goal seems to be to INTEGRATE eternally (i.e., a-temporal) existing spirits into a temporal, physical realm. Mormon theology, unlike many theologies, is the OPPOSITE of escaping the physical plane: it’s about adding the physical to the already-existing spiritual to receive a fullness of joy.

    SO, think about the implications of the physics from that point of view. The structure of our physical laws has a one-to-one correspondence to the shapes and folds and connections and radii of the Calabi-Yau space we inhabit. Alter any properties of the 6D CY spaces in any way (certainly in uncurling it) and you blow up our physics. If you think about it, that’s a little like destroying the village in order to save it. It defeats the purpose for which Mormonism says the physical world exists.

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  27. jmb275 on December 31, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    Awesome post Mike S. Loved it!

    So, given that billions and billions of people believe in a soul, how does that fit into what science has shown us.

    This is a really interesting question. In today’s age, I have no idea why on earth one would conclude there is some soul-like thing inside us just by observation. It seems to be largely legacy.

    In support of Syphax, there are certainly things that can’t be explained by science and the material world (currently anyway). It’s not clear to me, however, that we should automatically conclude there is a soul.

    In 50 years I predict a resurgence of dualist thinking, plus a healthy group of pure materialists who still think we’re getting closer to a tenable materialist theory of consciousness.

    That would be great! I hope it’s based on more than Cartesian thought experiments, but actually has some solid evidence behind it (not that Decartes wasn’t brilliant, just that he wasn’t scientific about his dualist conclusions).

    Re: consciousness: I think the problem is in defining what that actually means…So, what is consciousness? Perhaps I read too much hard science fiction, but can a machine have consciousness.

    You took the words right out of my mouth Mike S. To me, the discussion of a soul can’t even really get off the ground because we have no idea what it is, what it does, where it is, or anything else. As Stan has said, some things previously thought to be a manifestation of a soul, have turned out to be purely material.

    For me personally, life after death, souls, and spirits are in the “highly uncertain and speculative” category of my mind. I have some inner emotional hope/belief that they exist, and it would be, in some sense comforting if Mormonism has is right, but it’s not something I can claim to “know” without a much more solid foundation.

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  28. Mike S on December 31, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    FireTag:

    I agree that our particular universe is defined by the particular 6-D space we inhabit. There are innumerable other ones. When the 6-D space is uncurled, it will absolutely blow up our physics by definition.

    However, isn’t this essentially what Mormon theology teaches. Don’t we teach that the earth will someday become “Celestialized”, whatever that means? If the earth stays where it is, it will eventually get swallowed up by our sun when it reaches the end of its life, so staying here doesn’t work.

    And the theories about the earth somehow getting transported through space on a thousands or millions-long year journey to go to the “Celestial” center of our galaxy makes no sense either, especially since our galaxy is going to collide with the Andromeda galaxy at some point – so whose “center” is the “real” center.

    So, according to Mormon theology, this earth, life, us, etc. are here only temporally to serve a purpose. When we are resurrected, we won’t actually be in this 3D physical universe anymore. The matter in this universe will still exist, but the temporary integration of particular atoms with a specific spirit to make a temporary physical body won’t be needed.

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  29. Mike S on December 31, 2010 at 3:14 PM

    Syphax:

    I actually read the link about qualia. I don’t know absolutely what to make of it because, as stated above, I don’t know how to define consciousness.

    Interestingly, perhaps the biggest help to me in this is Buddhist literature. I have only barely scratched the surface with meditation, but you can almost “watch” your mind work, just like you can “watch” the world around us. Advanced practitioners have a much deeper level of understanding.

    According to people who have explored this deeply (and for several millennia BTW) behind our “consciousness” or mind is nothing. Yet at the same time, it is everything. Everything is linked at a very basic and fundamental level.

    I still need to work out the implications of this, and am somewhat stunted as I come to it with a Mormon background with all that implies, but my gut tells me there is something very powerful there. I also feel that this is all leading to a great awakening, but that’s starting to sound New Agey.

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  30. Syphax on December 31, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    I agree with you. And yes, you’re right about sounding New Agey. But the original New Agers are going away, I think, as well as the generation that dismissed anything it didn’t like as “woo.” I’m not saying that people like Randi and Michael Shermer don’t have their place. They have been called science’s “bulldog on a chain”, because they protect science from people like Uri Geller who deceive for money.

    That having been said, there is an awakening coming. People are releasing themselves of the bondage of religion that doesn’t evolve. If religion is to succeed in the upcoming centuries, it must be able to adapt to new scientific knowledge, and be ready to accept new revelations in the form of science. Quantum mechanics and physics have already begun to postulate more dimensions, vibrating strings, unseen worlds, etc. Psychology is reaching a critical point as I’ve mentioned. We’ll see what happens.

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  31. Mike S on December 31, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    Syphax:

    It is an exciting time with all that’s happening. With Sam Harris’s recent book, there is even a proposed scientific basis for morality. Very interesting.

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  32. FireTag on December 31, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    You’re gonna need wilder physics, Mike. :D

    You need the ability to recreate earth in every imformational detail (including its people) as often as necessary — but the Book of Moses says you’ve already got that, and QM says its pretty much mandatory in an infinite spacetime.

    The gaps to be filled for starters are an understanding of the relationship between information and spacetime as well as an understanding of consciousness.

    Should have that wrapped up by next month, max. :D

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  33. Mike S on January 2, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    FireTag:

    It gets really wild, with parallel universes, multiverses, etc.

    For now, though, I think we’ll probably hold off on those topics and stick to “safer” things for the Science & Religion series – things like time dilation, Kolob, world-wide floods, Adam’s belly button, the origin of man in the United States, sharing 99+% of our DNA with chimpanzees, vegetarianism, etc.

    Should be fun… :-)

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