The following is a conversation with Roger Penrose, physicist, mathematician and philosopher, a University of Oxford. He has made fundamental contributions in many disciplines from the mathematical physics of general relativity and cosmology to the limitations of computational view of consciousness. In his book, The Emperor's New Mind, Roger writes that, quote, Children are not afraid to pose basic questions that may embarrass us as adults to ask in many ways. My goal with this podcast is embrace the inner child that is not constrained by how one should behave, speak and think in the adult world.
Roger is one of the most important minds of our time, so it's truly a pleasure and an honor to talk with him. This conversation was recorded before the outbreak of the pandemic for everyone feeling the medical, psychological and financial burden of the crisis. I'm sending love your way. Stay strong. We're in this together. Will beat this thing. This is the artificial intelligence podcast, if you enjoy it, subscribe on YouTube review of the Five Stars and Apple podcast supporter and patron or simply connect with me on Twitter.
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You mentioned in conversation with Eric Stein on the Portal podcast that 2001 A Space Odyssey is your favorite movie. Which aspect, if you can mention, of its representation of artificial intelligence, science, engineering connected with you?
There are all sorts of scenes there which is so amazing and how the science was so well done. I mean, people say, oh, no, Interstellar is this amazing movie, which is the most scientific movie. I thought, it's not a patch on 2001. I mean, 2001, they really went into all sorts of details and they got, you know, getting the Free-Fall well done and everything. I thought it was extremely well done.
So just the details were mesmerizing and also things like. The scene where at the beginning they have these sort of human ancestors, which is sort of right. Sort of namesake's becoming a monolith. Yes. And well, it's the one where he throws the bone up into the air and then it becomes this. I mean, that's an amazing sequence there. What do you make of the monolith? Does it have any scientific or philosophical meaning to you? This kind of thing sparks innovation?
Not really. That comes from Arthur C. Clarke. I was always a great fan of our city clerk. So it's just a plot device. Yeah, another plot is excellent. Yes.
So Hal 9000 decides to get rid of the astronauts because he it she believes that they will interfere with the mission. That's right. You say, oh, it's this view.
I don't know whether I disagree with that, because in a certain sense, he was telling you it's wrong to see the machine seem to think it was superior to the human. And so it was entitled to get rid of the human beings and run the show itself.
What do you think? How did the right thing, do you think, how flawed evil or if we think about systems like how would we want how to do the same thing in the future?
What was the flaw there? Well, you're basically touching on questions. You see, is one supposed to believe that Hal was actually conscious? I mean, it was played rather that way, as though how and was a conscious being because Hal showed some pain, some con Hal appeared to be cognizant of its of what it means to die.
Yeah. And therefore had an inkling of consciousness. Yeah. I mean I'm not sure that aspect of it was made completely clear whether Hal was really just a very sophisticated computer which really didn't actually have these feelings and somehow. But you're right, it didn't like the idea of being turned off. How does it change things if. How was it? Wasn't conscious. Well, it might say that it would be wrong to turn it off if it was actually conscious.
I mean, these questions arise if you think I mean, I one of the ideas it's not a mixture in a sense. You say if it's trying to do everything a human can do and if you take the view that consciousness is something which should come along when the computer is sufficiently complicated sufficiently, whatever criterion you use to characterize its consciousness in terms of some computational criterion.
So how does consciousness change our evaluation of the decision that Hal made, which I guess I was trying to say that people are a bit confused about this, because if they say these machines will become conscious, but just simply because it's the degree of computation and when you get beyond that certain degree of computation, it will become conscious. Then, of course, you have all these problems. I mean, you might say, well, one of the reasons you're doing A.I. is because you understand the device to some distant planet and you don't want to send a human out there because then you'd have to bring it back again.
And that cost you far more than just sending it there and leaving it there. But if this device is actually a conscious entity, then you have to face up to the fact that that's immoral. And so the mere fact that you're making some A.I. device and getting thinking that removes your responsibility to it would be incorrect. And so this is a sound of a flaw. And that kind of viewpoint, I'm not sure how, you know, people who take it very seriously.
I mean, I had this curious conversation with I'm going to forget names.
And I'm afraid because this is what happens to me from the moment Hofstetter, Douglas Hofstadter, the stuff that I had written this book got a I wish I liked.
I thought it was a fantastic book, but I didn't agree with his conclusion from girls there. And I think he got it wrong. I say, well, I just tell you my story because I'd never met him. And then I knew I was going to meet him. The occasion I was coming and you want to talk to me? And I said, that's fine. And I thought in my mind, well, I'm going to paint him into a corner.
You see, he used his arguments to convince him that certain numbers are conscious. You know, some integers large enough entities are actually conscious. And this was going to be my reductio ad absurdum. And so I started having this argument and he simply leapt into the corner. It didn't even need to be painted into it. He took the view that certain numbers were conscious. I thought that was the reductio ad absurdum, but he seemed to think that it was perfectly reasonable point of view without the absurd there.
Yes, interesting. But the thing you mention about how is the intuition that a lot of the people, at least in the artificial intelligence world, had and have, I think they don't make it explicit, but that if you increase the power of computation, naturally consciousness will emerge. Yes, I think that's what they think. But basically, that's because they can't think of anything else. Well, that's right. And so it's a reasonable thing. I mean, you think what the brain do with does do a lot of computation.
I think most of what you actually call computation is done by the cerebellum.
I mean, this is one of the things that people don't much mention, I mean, I come to this subject from the outside and certain things strike me, which you hardly ever hear mentioned.
I mean, here mentioned about the left-to-right business. They move your right arm that's on the left side of the brain and and so on and all that sort of stuff. And it's more than that. If you you have this lots of different parts of the brain. There are two of these these things called the Homunculi, which you see these pictures of a distorted human figure and showing different parts of the brain, controlling different parts of the body. And it's not simply things like, OK, the right hand is controlled.
And since both sensory and motor on the left side, left hand in the right side, it's more than that vision. Is that the back?
Basically your feet at the top.
So it's about the worst organisation you can imagine, right? Yeah. So it can't just be a mistake in nature. There's something going on there. And this is made more pronounced when you think of the cerebellum.
Cerebellum has when I was first thinking about these things, I was told it had half as many neurons or something that they're comparable and now they tell me it's got far more neurons than the cerebrum. The three room is this sort of convoluted thing at the top. People always talk about cerebellum is this thing. She looks a bit like a ball of wool right in the back underneath there.
Yeah, it's got more neurons.
It's got more connections computationally. It's got much more going on than this from the cerebrum.
But as far as we know, that's slightly controversial. The cerebellum is entirely unconscious to the actions.
You have a pianist who plays an incredible piece of music and think of any moves, this little finger. And this is key to get a hit it just the right moment.
Does he or she consciously will that movement? No. OK, the consciousness is coming in, it's probably to do with the feeling of the piece of music being performed and that sort of thing which is going on, but the details and what's going on are controlled.
I would think almost entirely by the cerebellum. That's where you have this precision.
And the really detailed once you get I mean, you think of a tennis player or something, does that tennis player think exactly how to which which muscle should be moved in what direction?
So, no, of course not. But he or she will maybe think, well, if the ball is angled in such a way and that corner, that will be tricky for the opponent. And the details of that are all done largely with the cerebellum.
That's where all the precise motions.
But it's unconscious. So why is it interesting to you that so much computation is done in the cerebellum and yet is unconscious?
Because it doesn't it's it's the view that somehow it's computation which is producing the consciousness and. Here you have an incredible amount of computation going on, and as far as we know, it's completely unconscious. So why what's the difference, and I think it's an important thing, what's the difference?
Why is the cerebrum at all this very peculiar stuff that very hard to see on a computational perspective, like having the everything have to cross over to the other side and do something which looks completely inefficient. And you've got funny things like the frontal lobe and the what do we call the lobes and the place where they come together. Mm hmm. You have the. Different parts, the control, if they want to do with motor and the other to do with sensory, and they're sort of opposite each other rather than being connected.
But it's not as though you got the electrical circuits. There's something else going on there.
So is it just the idea that it's like a complicated computer just seems to me to be. Completely missing the point, there must be a lot of computation going on, but the cerebellum seems to be much better at doing that than the cerebellum is, so for sure.
I think what explains it is as a half hope and half we don't know what's going on. And therefore, from the computer science perspective, you hope that a Turing machine can be perfectly can achieve general intelligence?
Well, you have this wonderful thing about during and girl and church and Carrie and various people, particularly Turing and I guess Post was the other one, these people who developed the idea of what a computation is.
And there were different ideas of what a company developed differently and church's way of doing it was very different from Turing's, but then they were shown to be equivalent. And so the view emerged that what we mean by a computation.
It's a very clear concept, and one of the wonderful things that Turing did was to show that you could have what we call the universal Turing machine. It's you just have to have a certain finite device. OK, it has to have an unlimited storage space which is accessible to it. But the actual computation, if you like, is performed by this one universal device. And so if you comes away, well, you have this universal Turing machine and maybe the brain is something like that, a universal Turing machine.
And it's got maybe not unlimited storage, but a huge storage accessible to it. And this model is one which is what's used in ordinary computation. That's a very powerful model. And the universal ness of computation is very useful. You can have some problem and you may not see immediately how to put it onto a computer, but if it is something of that nature, then there are all sorts of such programs and subroutines and all the I mean, I learned a little bit of computing when I was when I was a student, but not very much.
But it was enough to get the general idea.
And there's something really pleasant about a formal system like that. Yeah. Where you can start discussing about what's provable, what's not these kinds of things. And you've got a notion, which is an absolute notion, this notion of computability and ability to address when things are mathematical, problems are completely solvable and which aren't so that it's a very beautiful area of mathematics and it's a very powerful area of mathematics.
And it underlies the whole sort of once they have the principles of computing machines that we have today, could you say what is Gaydos and Completeness Theorem and how does it maybe also says that heartbreaking to you?
And how does it interfere with this notion of computation consciousness?
Sure. Where the idea is basically ideas, which I formulated in my first year as a graduate student in Cambridge. I did my undergraduate work in mathematics in London, and I had a colleague, Ian Percival. We used to discuss things like computational logical systems quite a lot. I'd heard about girls there. I'm a bit worried by the idea that it seemed to say there were things in mathematics that you could never prove. And so when I went to Cambridge as a graduate student, I went to various courses.
You see, I was doing pure mathematics.
I was doing algebra, geometry of a sort a little bit different from what my supervisor and people.
And I was interested I got particularly interested in three lecture courses that were nothing to do with what I was supposed to be doing. One was, of course, by Hermann Bondi on Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which is a beautiful Courcy with an amazing lecturer, brought these things alive. Absolutely. And that was a course on quantum mechanics given by the great physicist Paul Dirac. Very beautiful course in a completely different way.
He was he was very kind of organized and never got excited about anything, seemingly. And but it was extremely well put together. And I found that amazing to third course, that was nothing to do with what I should be doing was a course on mathematical logic.
And I got, as I said, my my discussions with Ian Percival was the incompleteness theorem already deeply within mathematical logic space was where you introduced. I was introduced to it in detail by the course, by Stephen.
And he it was two things he described which were very fundamental to my understanding. One was Turing machines and the whole idea of computability and all that.
So that was all very much part of the course. The other one was the girl of Theorem, and it wasn't what I was afraid it was to tell you there were things in mathematics you couldn't prove it was basically and he phrased it in a way which often people didn't. And if you read Douglas Hofstadter's book, he doesn't say. But Steve made it very clear and also in a sort of public lecture that he gave to a mathematical I think maybe the Adams Society, one of the mathematical undergraduate societies.
And he made this point again, very clearly that if you've got a formal system of proof, so suppose what you mean by proof is something which you could check with a computer.
So to say whether you got it right or not, you've got a lot of steps. Have you carried this computational procedure? Well, following the proof steps of the proof correctly, that can be checked.
By an algorithm, by a computer, so. That's the key thing. Now, what you have to know is, is this any good if you've got an algorithmic system which claims to say, yes, this is right, this you've proved it correctly, this is true.
If you've proved it, if you made a mistake, it doesn't say it's true or false. But you have you done it right? Then that conclusion you've come to is correct. Now you say, why do you believe it's correct?
Because you've looked at the rules and you said, well, OK, that one's all right. And that was all right. What about that? I'm not sure. Yeah, I see. I see what's all right. OK, you go through all the rules, you say yes. Following those rules. If it says yes, it's true. It is true.
They've got to make sure that these rules, the ones that you trust is if you follow the rules and it says it's a proof, is the result actually true? All right. And that your belief that's true depends upon looking at the rules and understanding them. Now, what girl shows that if you have such a system, then you can construct a statement of the very kind that it's supposed to look at a mathematical statement and you can see, by the way it's constructed and what it means that it's true.
But not provable by the rules that you've been given. And it depends on your trust in the rules, do you believe the rules only give you truths? If you believe the rules only give you truth, then you believe this other statement is also true. I found this absolutely mind blowing when I saw this.
It blew my mind that, my God, you can see that this statement is true. It's as good as any proof because it only depends on your belief in the reliability of the proof procedure. That's all it is. And understanding that the coding is done correctly and it enables you to transcend that system. So whatever system you have, as long as you can understand what it's doing and why you believe it only gives you truth, then you can see beyond that system.
The how do you see beyond it? What is it that enables you to transcend that system? Well, it's your understanding of what the system is actually saying and what the statement that you've constructed is actually staying. So it's this quality of understanding, whatever it is, which is not governed by rules, it's not a computational procedure.
So this idea of understanding is not going to be within the rules of the within the formal system.
Yes, that comes from US rules anyway, because you have understood them to be rules which only give you truths. There'd be no point in it otherwise. I mean, people say, well, OK, this is just one set of rules as good as any other. Well, that's not true. So you have to understand what the rules mean. And why does that understanding the mean give you something beyond the rules themselves? And that's that's what it was.
That's what blew my mind.
It's somehow outstanding. Why the rules give you truth, enables you to transcend the rules.
So that's where I mean, even at that time, that's already where the thought entered your mind, that the idea of understanding or we can start calling it things like intelligence or even consciousness is outside the rules? Yes.
Yes. I've always concentrated on understanding. You know, people say people from things where we know what our creativity. That's something a machine can't do. It's great. Well, I don't know what is creativity and I don't know. You know, somebody can put some funny things on a piece of paper and say that's creative and you could make a machine do that. Is it really creative? I don't know if I worry about that one. I sort of agree with it in a sense.
But it's so hard to do anything with that statement. But understanding. Yes, you can you can make go see that understanding, whatever it is.
And it's very hard to put your finger on it. That's absolutely true.
Can you try to define or maybe dance around a definition of understanding?
To some degree. But I don't I often wondered about this, but there is something there which is very slippery is something like standing back and it's got to be something you see.
It's also got to be something which was of value to our remote ancestors because I'm sometimes there's a cartoon which I drew sometimes showing you had all these in the foreground. You see this mathematician just doing some mathematical theorem. There's a little bit of a joke in that theorem, but let's not get into that. He's trying to prove some theorem and he's about to be eaten by sabertooth tiger, hiding in the undergrowth, you see.
And in the distance you see his his cousins building growing crops, building shelters, domesticating animals in the foreground, you see that built a mammoth trap. And this spiral mammoth is falling into a pit, you see, and all these people around him are about to grab him, you say. And well, you see, those are the ones who the quality of understanding which goes with all it's not just the mathematician doing the mathematics. This understanding quality is something else which has been of tremendous advantage to us, not just to us.
See, I don't think consciousness is limited to humans. Yeah, that's the interesting question. At which point, if it is indeed connected to the evolutionary process, at which point is we pick up this very hard question, it's certainly I don't think it's primates.
You know, you see these pictures of African hunting dogs and how they they can plan amongst themselves how to catch the antelopes in some of these. And David Attenborough films, I think this probably was one of them. And you could see the hunting dogs and they divide themselves into two groups and they go in two routes to different routes. One of them goes and they sort of hide next to the river. And the other group goes around and they start yelping at these, then embark, I guess, whatever nice hunting dogs do, the antelopes and they sort of round them up and they chase them in the direction of the river.
And they're the other ones just waiting for them just to get because when they get to the river, it slows them down and so they pounce on them. So they've obviously planned this all out somehow.
I have no idea how. And there is some element of conscious planning as far as I can say. I don't think it's just some kind of so much of these days it's done what they call bottom up systems, is it? Yeah, well, you have neural networks and they and you give them a zillion different things to look at.
And and then they sort of can choose one thing over another just because it seems so many examples and picks up a little signals which you may not even be conscious of. And that doesn't feel like understanding. There's no understand. And that was her. So while you're being a little bit human centric, so. Well, not with the dogs either, because. No, you're not saying it's not human centric, but I misspoke by biology centric. Is it possible that consciousness would just look slightly different?
Well, I'm not saying it's biological because we don't know. Right. I think other examples of the elephants is a wonderful example to really this was I think this was ATTENBOROUGH one where the elephants have to go from there, along with the two of them have to go long distances.
And the leader of a troupe is a female. They are apparently and this female that she had to go all the way from one part of the country to another. And a certain point she made a detour and they went off in this big detour. Well, the troupe came with her and this is where her sister had died. And they were her bones laying around. And they're going to pick up the bones and they hand it round and they caressed the bones and then they put them back and they will go back again.
What the hell are they doing that's so interesting. I mean, there's something going on.
There's no clear connection with natural selection. There's just some deep feeling going on there, which has to do with their conscious experience. And I think it's something that overall is advantageous, um, a natural selection, but not directly to do with natural selection.
Yes, I like that there's something going out and go on going on there.
Like I told you, I'm Russian, so I tend to romanticize all things of this nature that that it's not merely a cold, hard computation.
Perhaps I could just lightly answer your question. You were asking me, what is it? There's something about sort of standing back and thinking about your own thought processes. I mean, there is something like that in the girl thing because it's just you're not following the rules. You're standing back and thinking about the rules. And so there is something that you might say. You think about you're doing something, do you think, what the hell am I doing?
And you sort of stand back and think about what it is that's making you think in such a way.
Just take a step back outside the game you've been playing. Yeah.
You back up and you think about you're just not playing the game anymore. You're thinking about what the hell you're doing and playing this game.
And that's that's somehow it's it's not a very precise description, but somehow feels very true that that's somehow understanding this kind of reflection.
A reflection. Yes. Yeah, there is. It's a bit hard to put your finger on, but there is something there which I think maybe could be unearthed at some point and say this is really what's going on, why conscious beings have this advantage, what it is that gives them an advantage. And I think it goes way back. I don't think we're talking about the hunting dogs and the elephants. It's pretty clear that octopuses have the same sort of quality and we call it consciousness.
Seen enough examples of the way that they behave and the evolution route is completely different.
Does it go way back to some common ancestor or did it come separately? My hope is that something simple. But the hard question, if there's a hardware prerequisite, we have to develop. Some kind of hardware mechanisms in our computers, like basically, as you suggest, to get to in a second, we kind of have to throw away the computer. As we know today, the deterministic machines are know today to try to create it. I mean, my my hope, of course, is not.
But I should go really back to the story, which in a sense, I haven't finished because I went to these three courses, you see, when I was a graduate student.
And so I started to think, well, I'm really I'm a pretty what you might call a materialist in the sense of thinking that there's no kind of mystical or something or other which comes in from who knows where you still that you still throughout your life.
I don't like the word materialist because it's just we know what material is.
And that's that is a bad word because there's no mystical it's not some mystical something which is not not treatable by science. That's so beautifully put. Just a pause on that for a second. Your material materialist, but you acknowledge that we don't really know what the material is.
That's right. I mean, I like to call myself a scientist, I suppose, but it means that. Yes, but you see, the question goes on here. So I began thinking, OK, if consciousness or understanding is something which is not a computational process, what can it be?
And I knew enough from my undergraduate work. I knew about Newtonian mechanics and I knew how basically you could put it on a computer. There is a fundamental issue which is this important or not, that computation depends upon discrete things. So using discrete elements, whereas the physical laws depend on the continuum. Now, is this something to do with it? Is it the fact that we use the continuum in our physics and if we model our physical system, we use discrete systems like ordinary computers?
I came to the view that that's probably not it.
I might have to retract on that someday. But the view was, no, you can get close enough. It's not altogether clear, I have to say, but you can get close enough. And, you know, I went to this course on my body, on general relativity, and I thought, well, you can put that on a computer course. That was a long time before people. And I've sort of grown up with this, how people have done better and better calculations.
And they could work out black about black holes and they can then work out how black holes can interact with each other space around and what kind of gravitational waves can hurt.
And it's a very impressive piece of computational work, how you can actually work out the shapes of those signals. And now we have Lingoa seeing these signals and they say, yeah, those black holes spiral into each other.
This is just a vindication of the power of computation in describing Einstein's general activity.
So in that case, we can get close, but we do with computation. We can get close to our understanding of the physics. You can get very close now.
Is that close enough? You see, and then I went to this course by Dirac. They see I think it was the very first lecture that he gave and he was talking about the superposition principle. And he said, if you have a particle, you usually think of a particle can be over here or over there. But in quantum mechanics, it could be over here and over there at the same time. And you have these states which involve a superposition in some sense of it, different locations for that particle.
And then he got out his piece of chalk, some people say broke it in two as a kind of illustration of how the piece of chalk might be over here and over there at the same time. And he was talking about this and I my mind wandered. I don't remember what he said. Well, I can remember he just moved on to the next topic and something about energy he'd mentioned, which I had no idea what had to do with anything.
And so I'd been struck with this and worried about it ever since. It's probably just as well. I didn't hear his explanation because it was probably one of these things to calm me down and not worry about it anymore. Whereas in my case, I've worried about it ever since. So I thought maybe that's the catch. There is something in quantum mechanics where the positions become one or the other, and that's not part of quantum mechanics.
There's something missing in the theory. The theory is incomplete. It's not just incomplete. It's in a certain sense not quite right. Because if you follow the equation, the basic equation of quantum mechanics, that's the Schrodinger equation. You could put that on a computer, too. There are lots of difficulties about how many parameters you have to put in. So that can be very tricky. But nevertheless, it is a computational process modulo this question about the continuum as before.
It is not clear that makes any difference, so our theories of quantum mechanics may be missing the same element that the universe would turn machine is missing about consciousness.
Yes. Yeah, this is the view I held, is that you need a theory and that that what people call the reduction of the state or the collapse of the wavefunction which you have to have. Otherwise, quantum mechanics doesn't relate to the world we see to make it relate to the world.
We say you've got to break the quantum, you've got to break the Schrodinger equation. Schroeder himself was absolutely appalled by this idea. You know his own equation. I mean, that's why he introduced this famous Schrodinger's cat as a thought experiment. He's really saying, look, this is where my equation leads you into it. There's something wrong, something we haven't understood, which is basically fundamental. And so I was trying to put all these things together and said, well, it's got to be the noncommitted.
Could have been really comes in there. And I also can't quite remember when I thought this, but it it it's when gravity is involved in quantum mechanics. It's the combination of those two. And that's that point when the you have good, good reasons to believe this came much later.
But I have good reason to believe that the principles of general relativity and those of quantum mechanics, most particularly, it's the basic principle of equivalence which goes back to Galileo. If you fall Frehley, you eliminate the gravitational field so you can imagine Galileo drawing, dropping his big rock and his little rock from the Leaning Tower. Whether he actually ever did that or not, it's pretty irrelevant. And as the rocks fall to the ground, you have a little insect sitting on one of them looking at the other one.
And it seems to think, oh, there's no gravity here. Course it hits the ground and then you realize something different is going on. But when it's in freefall, the gravity has been eliminated. Galileo understood that very beautifully.
He gives these wonderful examples of fireworks and you see the fireworks and explode and you see the sphere of sparkling fireworks remains a sphere as it falls down, as though there were no gravity. So he understood that principle, but he couldn't make a theory out of it. Einstein came along, used exactly the same principle, and that's the basis of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Now there is a conflict. This is something I did much, much later. So this wasn't a process.
But much later, you can see there is a basic conflict between the principle of superposition.
I think that Dirac was talking about and the principle of general cover, well, principle of equivalence, gravitational field equivalent to an acceleration he for a second.
What is the principle of equivalence? It's this Galileo principle that we can eliminate, at least locally. You have to be in a small neighborhood because if you have people dropping rocks all around the world somewhere, you can't get rid of it all at once. But in the local neighborhood, you can eliminate the gravitational field by falling freely with it. And we now see it with astronauts and they don't. You know, the Earth is right there. You can see the great global the earth right beneath them, but they don't care about it.
They as far as they're concerned, there's no gravity.
They fall freely within the gravitational field and that gets rid of the gravitational field. And that's the principle of equivalence.
So what's the what's the contradiction? What's the tension in superposition and political what? So we just to backtrack for a second, just to see if we can have a thread through it all. Yes. So we were started to think about consciousness as potentially needing some of the same not mystical, but some of the same magic. It is a complicated story. So people think, oh, I'm drifting away from the point or something. But I think it is a complicated story.
So what I'm trying to say, I mean, I try to put it in a nutshell, it's not so easy. I'm trying to say that whatever consciousness is, it's not a computation. Yes. Or it's not a physical process which can be described by computation, but it nevertheless could be.
So one of the interesting models that you've proposed is the orchestrated objective reduction that's going from there. You say. So I say I have no idea. So I wrote this book through my scientific career. I thought, you know, when I'm retired, I'll have enough time to write a sort of popularist book, which I will explain my ideas and puzzles, what I like beautiful things about physics and mathematics and this puzzle about computability and consciousness and so on.
And in the process of writing this book, well, I thought I'd do it when I retired. I didn't actually I didn't wait that long because there was a radio discussion between Edward Friedkin and Marvin Minsky and they were talking about what computers could do and they were entering, entering a big room. And I imagined entering this big room with the other end of the room. Two computers were talking to each other. And as you walk up to the computers, they will have communicated to each other more ideas, concepts, things than the entire human race had ever done.
So I thought, well, I know where you're coming from, but I just don't believe you. There's something missing that's it's not that. So I thought, well, I should write my book. And so I did. It was roughly the same time Stephen Hawking was writing his brief history of time and 80s.
At some point, the book you're talking about is The Emperor's New New Mind. That's right. And both are an incredible books, The Brief History of Time in the Emperor's New Mind. Yes, it was quite interesting because he got he told me he had gotten Carl Sagan, I think, to write the forward go get the book to say, gosh, what am I going to do? I'm not going to get anywhere unless I get somebody. So I said, well, I know Martin Gardner, so I'm going to do it.
So he did. And he did a very nice forward.
So that's that's an incredible book.
And some of the same people you mentioned, Ed Franklin, which I guess of persistence, Feynman Minsky, of course, people know in the Arab world, but they represent the artificial intelligence that do hope and dream that I's intelligence.
Is that right? Well, it was my thinking. Well, you know, I see where they're coming from and from. I disagree. Yeah, you're right. But that's not my perspective. So I thought I had to say it. And as I was writing my book, I thought, well, I don't really know anything about neurophysiology. What am I doing writing this book? So I started reading up about neurophysiology and I read that I was trying to find out how it is that nerve signals could possibly preserve quantum coherence.
And all I read is that the electrical signals which go along the nerves create some effects through the brain. There's no chance you can isolate it. So this is hopeless. So I come to the end of the book and I'm more or less gave up and I just think of something which I didn't believe in. That's maybe this is the way around it a bit now. And then you say, I thought, well, maybe this book will at least stimulate young people to do science or something.
And I got all these letters from old retired people and said it's the only people who could have had time to read my book. So, I mean, except for Stuart. Namaroff, except for Stuart Hamrah, have a rough road to me, and he said, I think you're missing something you don't know about microtubules, do you? Didn't put it quite like that, but that was more or less it. And he said, this is what you really need to consider.
So I thought, oh, my God, yes, that's a much more promising structure.
So, I mean, fundamentally, you were searching for the source of non computable source of consciousness within the human brain. Yeah, in the biology. And so what are my if I may ask, what are microtubules? Well, you see, I was ignorant in what I had read. I never came across them in in the book. So I looked at perhaps I only read rather superficially, which is true. But I didn't know about microtubules. Stuart, I think one of the things I thought was interesting about them is when you see pictures of mitosis, that's a cell dividing and you see all the chromosomes and the chromosomes get all getline and then they get pulled apart.
And so as the cell divides, the half the chromosomes go, you know, how they divide into the two parts and they go to different ways.
And what is it that's pulling them apart? Well, the host of these little things called microtubules. And so he starts to get interested in them. And he formed The View. Well, he was at his day job or night job or whatever you call it, is to put people to sleep. Except he doesn't like calling to sleep because it's different general anaesthetics in a reversible way. So you want to make sure that they don't experience the pain that would otherwise be something that they feel.
And consciousness is turned off for a while and it can be turned back on again. So it's crucial that you can turn it off and turn it on. And what do you do when you're doing that? What did general anesthetic gas do?
And see how he formed the view that it's the microtubules that they effect and the details of why he formed that view is not, well, the climate clear to me. But but there's an interesting story he keeps talking about. But I found this very exciting because I thought these structures, these little tubes, which inhabit pretty well all cells, it's not just neurons apart from red blood cells, red blood cells, they inhabit pretty well all the other cells in the body, but they're not all the same kind.
You get different kinds of microtubules. And the ones that excited me the most, this is may still not be totally clear, but the ones that excited me most were the ones that the only ones that I knew about at the time, because they were they're very, very symmetrical structures.
And I had reason to believe that these very symmetrical structures would be much better at preserving a quantum state, quantum coherence, preserving the thing without, you just need to preserve certain degrees of freedom without them leaking into the environment once they leak into the environment you lost. So you have to preserve these quantum states at a level which the state reduction process comes in. And that's where I think the name computability comes in. And it's the measurement process in quantum mechanics.
What's going on? So something about, uh, the measure of what's going on, something about the structure of the microtubules. Yeah, your intuition says maybe there's something here. Maybe this kind of structure allows for the the mystery of the. There was a better chance. Yes. It just struck me that partly it was the symmetry because there is a feature of symmetry. You can preserve quantum coherence much better with symmetrical structures. There's that there's a good reason for that.
And that impressed me a lot. I didn't know the difference between the elites and Bilitis at that time, which could be important. Now, that could let's see, which isn't talked about much, but that's some in some sense details would take a step back just to say these people are not familiar. So this this this was called the orchestrated objective reduction. Idea or or or, which is a biological philosophy of mind, postulates that consciousness originates at the quantum level inside neurons.
So that has to do with your search for where where is it coming from? So that's counter to the notion that consciousness may arise from the computation performed by the synapses. Yes.
The key point here is sometimes people say it's because it's quantum mechanical. It's not just that. It's more outrageous than that. You see, this is one reason I think we're so far off from it because we don't even know the physics. Right. You see, it's not just quantum mechanics. People say, oh, in our quantum systems and biological structures, now we're starting to see that some basic biological systems does depend on quantum. I mean, look, you in first place, all of chemistry is quantum mechanics.
People have got used to that. So they don't count that. So let's not count quantum chemistry. We sort of got the hang of that, I think. But you have quantum effects which are not just chemical in photosynthesis. And this is one of the striking things in the last several years, that photosynthesis seems to be a basically quantum process, which is not simply a chemical. It's using quantum mechanics and a very basic way. So you can start saying, oh, well, with photosynthesis is based on quantum mechanics, why not behave?
You have neurons and things like that. Maybe there's something which is a bit like photosynthesis in that respect. But what I'm saying is even more outrageous than that because those things are talking about conventional quantum mechanics. Now, my argument says that conventional quantum mechanics, if you're just following the Schrodinger question, that's still computable. So you've got to go beyond that. So you've got to go to where? Quantum mechanics goes wrong in a certain sense, it's a little bit careful about that because the way people do quantum mechanics is a sort of.
Mixture of two different processes, one of them is the Schrodinger equation, which is an equation Schrodinger wrote down, and it tells you how the state of a system evolves and it evolves, according to this equation, completely deterministic. But as it evolves into ridiculous situations and this was what Schrodinger was very much pointing out with his cat. He said, you follow my equation. That's struggling with a question. And you could say that you have to eat your cat a cat which is dead and alive at the same time.
That would be the evolution of the Schrodinger equation will lead to a state which is the cat being dead and alive at the same time. And he's more or less saying this is an absurdity. People nowadays say, oh, well, Schrodinger said, you can have a cat, which then let's not say he was saying this is an absurdity. There's something missing and that the. Reduction of the state or the collapse of the wavefunction or whatever it is, is something which is has to be understood.
It's not following the Schrodinger question. It's not the way we conventionally do quantum mechanics.
There's something more than that.
And it's easy to quote authority here because Einstein, at least three of the greatest physicists of 20th century who were very fundamental in developing quantum mechanics, Einstein, one of them, Schrodinger another, Dirac, another, you have to look carefully at Durex writings. He didn't tend to say this out loud very much because he was very cautious about what he said. You find the right place and you see, he says, quantum mechanics is a provisional theory. We need something which explains the collapse of the wavefunction.
We need to go beyond the theory we have now. I happen to be one of the kinds of people. There are many. There is a whole group of people. They're all considered to be a bit, you know, but mavericks who believe that quantum mechanics needs to be modified, there's a small minority of those people which are already a minority, who think that the way in which it's modified has to be with gravity. And there is an even smaller minority of those people who think it's a particular way that I think it is, you think so?
So those are the quantum gravity folks.
But what we see, quantum gravity is already not this, because when you say quantum gravity, what you really mean is quantum mechanics applied to gravitational theory. So you say, let's take this wonderful formalism of quantum mechanics and make gravity fit into it. So that is what quantum gravity is meant to be. Now, I'm saying you've got to be more even handed that gravity affects the structure of quantum mechanics to it's not just you quantum gravity. You've got to gravity as quantum mechanics and it's a two way thing.
But then when you even get started, so that you're saying that we have to figure out a totally new ideas and exactly know you're stuck and have a theory, that's the trouble.
So this is a big problem. If you say, OK, well, what's the theory?
I don't know. So maybe in the very early days sort of. It is in the very early days. But just making this point. Yes, it is still at Hamara tends to be. Oh, Penrose says that it's that it's got to be a reduction at the state. And so so let's use it. The trouble is, Penrose doesn't say that. Penrose says, well, I think that we know now we have no experiments as yet, which shows that, yes, there are experiments which are being thought through and which I'm hoping will be performed.
There is an experiment which is being developed by Dirk Burmester, who I've known for a long time, who shares his time between Leiden in the Netherlands and Santa Barbara in the US. And he's been working on an experiment which could perhaps demonstrate that quantum mechanics, as we now understand it, if you don't bring in the gravitational effects, has to be modified.
And then there's also experiments that are underway that kind of look at the microtubules side of things to see if there's in the biology. You can see something like that. Could you briefly mentioned, because that's a really sort of one of the only experimental attempts in the very early days of even thinking about.
I think there's there's a very serious area here, which is what Stewart himself is doing. And I think it's very important. One of the few places that you can really get a bit of a handle on what consciousness is, is what turns it off.
And when you're thinking about general anaesthetics, it's very specific. These things turn consciousness off. What the hell do they do?
Well, Stuart and a number of people who work with him and others happen to believe that the general anaesthetics directly affect microtubules. And there is some evidence for this.
I don't know how strong it is and how watertight the case is, but I think there is some evidence pointing in that kind of direction. It's not just an ordinary chemical process.
There's something quite different about it. And one of the main candidates is that the anaesthetic gases do affect directly microtubules and how strong that evidence is. I wouldn't be in a position to say, but I think there is fairly impressive evidence. And the point is that the experiments are being undertaken, which, yes, I mean, that is experimental is this this is the very clear direction where you can think of experiments which could indicate whether or not it's really microtubules which the anaesthetic gases directly affect.
That's really exciting. One of the sad things is as far as from an outside perspective is not many people are working on this. So there's a very good steward in it. Feels like there's very few people carrying the flag forward on this.
I think it's it's not many in the sense it's a minority, but it's not zero anymore. You see, when you were originally it was you know, we were just just us and a few few of our friends. There weren't many people taking it, but it's grown into into it. One of the main viewpoints, there might be about four or five or six different views that people hold, and it's one of them.
So it's considered as one of the possible lines of thinking. Yes.
You describe physics theories as falling into one of three categories, the superb, the useful or the tentative. I like those words. It's a beautiful categorization. Do you think we'll ever have a superb theory of intelligence and of consciousness?
We might. We're a long way from it. I don't think we're even whether in the tentative scale, I mean, it's you don't think we've even entered the realm of tentative?
Probably no. Yeah, that's right. Know, when you see this so controversial, we don't have a clear view which which is accepted by a majority. I mean, you said you have people most views are computational in one form or another. They think it's some, but it's not very clear because even the liberty people who think think of them as computational.
But I've heard them say and they know consciousness is supposed to be not competent. I say, well, if it's not coming, what the hell is it? What's good? What's going on? But physical processes are going on. Which are that? What does it mean for something to be computational then, so is. Well, there has to be a process, which is it is very curious the way the history has developed in quantum mechanics, because very early on, people thought there was something to do with consciousness, but it was almost the other way around.
You see, you have to say the Schrodinger equation says all these different alternatives happen all at once. And then when is it that only one of them happens? Well, one of the views, which is quite commonly held by a few distinguished quantum physicists, this when a conscious being looks at the system or becomes aware of it, and at that point it becomes one or the other. That's a role where consciousness is somehow actively reducing the state. My view is almost the exact opposite of that is the state reduces itself in some way, which some non computational way, which we don't understand.
We don't have a proper theory of. And that is the building block of what consciousness is the consciousness? It's the other way around. It depends on that choice which nature makes all the time when the state becomes one or the other rather than the position of one and the other. And when that happens, there is what we're saying now, an element of proto consciousness takes place. Proto consciousness is, roughly speaking, the building block out of which actual consciousness is constructed.
So you have this proto conscious elements which are when the state decides to, won't do one thing or the other. And that's the thing which when organized together, that's the part in ACOA. But the Orch part, that's the part at least one can see where when driving as a theory, you can say it's the quantum choice of going this way or that way. But the org part, which is the orchestration of this, is much more mysterious.
And how does the brain somehow orchestrate all these individual processes into a generous, genuine, genuine, conscious experience?
And it might be something that's beautifully simple, but we're in completely in the dark about.
Yeah, I think at the moment that's the thing, you know, happily put the word OK down there to say orchestrated, perhaps even more unclear what that really means, just like the word material orchestrated.
And we've been dancing a little bit between the word intelligence or understanding in consciousness. Do you kind of see those as sitting in the same space of mystery as well?
Yes, I tend to say you have understanding and intelligence and awareness and somehow. Understanding is in the middle of it, you see, it's I like to say, could you say of an entity that is actually intelligent if it doesn't have the quality of understanding? I'm using terms I don't even know how to define, but who cares?
There's really there's somewhat poetic. So if I somehow understand them, yes, it's that they're not mathematical in nature. Yes. You see, as a mathematician, I don't know how to define any of them, but at least I can point to the connections. So the idea is intelligence is something which I believe needs understanding. Otherwise you wouldn't say it's really intelligence and understanding needs awareness. Otherwise you wouldn't really say it's understanding, do you say, of an entity that understands something and unless it's really aware of it, you know, normal usage.
So there's a three sort of awareness, understanding and intelligence. And I just tend to concentrate on understanding because that's where I can say something. Yeah. And that's the girl theory and things like that. But I wonder, what does it mean to be perceive the color blue or something? I mean, I guess that's much more difficult question. I mean, is it the same if I see a color blue and you see it if you're somebody with this condition wants to call them or you assign the sound to.
Yeah. Yeah, that's right. You got colors and sounds mixed up and that sort of thing. I mean, an interesting subject.
I mean, but from the physics perspective, from the fundamental perspective, we don't I think we're way off having much understanding what's going on there.
In your 2010 book, Cycles of Time, you suggest that another universe may have existed before the Big Bang. Can you describe this idea?
First of all, what is the big bang? Sounds like a funny word and what may have been there before it. Yes, just as a matter of terminology, I don't like to call it another universe, because when you have another universe, you think of it kind of quite separate from us. But these things, they're not separate. Now, the big bang conventional theory, I was actually brought up in the sense of when I started getting interested in cosmology, there was a thing called the steady state model, which was sort of philosophically very interesting.
And there wasn't a big bang in that theory. But somehow new material was created all the time in the form of hydrogen, and the universe kept on expanding, expanding, expanding, and there was room for more hydrogen.
It was a rather philosophically nice picture. It was disproved when the big bang.
Well, when I say the Big Bang, this was theoretically discovered by people trying to solve Einstein's equations and apply it to cosmology.
Einstein didn't like the idea. He'd like to know a universe which was there all the time, and he had a model which there was there all the time. But then there was this discovery, accidental discovery, a very important discovery of this microwave background.
And if you you know, there's the crackle in your television screen, which is already sensing this microwave background, which is coming at us from all directions. And you can trace it back and back and back and back. And it came from a very early stage of the universe. Well, it's part of the Big Bang Theory, the big Bang Theory was when people tried to solve Einstein's equations, they really found you have to have this initial state of the universe that was used to be called the primordial atom and things like this, this freed man and the mantra Freeman was a Russian mantra was the Belgians.
And they independently were basically Friedman's first. Matre talks about the initial state, which is a very, very concentrated initial state, which seemed to be the origin of the universe.
Primordial atom. Primordial atom, is what he called it. Yes. And then it became well, Fred Hoyle used the term Big Bang in a kind of derogatory sense.
He said, well, just like with the Schrodinger and the cat's right.
Yes. It's like sort of got picked up on it, whereas it wasn't his intention originally. But then the evidence piled up and piled up. And my one of my friends and I learned a lot from him when I was in Cambridge was Chelmer. He is a proponent of steady state. And then he got converted. He said, no, I'm sorry. I had a great respect for him. You went around lecturing, said I was wrong. The steady state model doesn't work.
There was this big bang and this microwave background that you see, OK, it's not actually quite the big bang when I said not quite. It's about three hundred and eighty thousand years after the Big Bang. But that's what you see. But then you have to have had this big bang before. It's in order to make the equations work.
And it works beautifully, except for one little thing, which is this thing called inflation, which people had to put into it to make it work. When I first heard of it, I didn't like it at all. Was inflation inflation? Is it in the first? I'm going to give you a very tiny number. Think of a second. That's not very long. Now I'm going to give you a fraction of a second one over a number. This number has 32 digits.
Between well, let's say between 36 and 32 digits, tiny, tiny time between those two tiny, ridiculous seconds, fraction of a second, the universe was supposed to have expanded in this exponential way, an enormous way for no apparent reason. You had to invent a particular thing called the inflating field to make it do it. And I thought, this is completely crazy. There are reasons why people stuck with this idea.
You see, the thing is that I formed my model for reasons which are very fundamental, if you like. It has to do with this very fundamental principle, which is known as the second law of thermodynamics. The second law third firm says more or less things get more and more random as time goes on. Now, in other words, say exactly the same thing. If things get less and less random as things go back, if you go back in time, they get less and less random.
Then they go back and back and back and back.
And the earliest thing you can directly say is this microwave background. What's one of the most striking features of it is that it's random. It has this what you call this spectrum of which is what's called the Planck spectrum of frequencies, different intensities for different frequencies. And it's this wonderful curve. Newton Max Planck. And what's the telling you? It's telling you that the entropy is a maximum started off at a maximum and it's going up ever since. I call that the mammoth in the room.
I mean, this is a paradox, Mother. Yeah, it is. It is. So people why don't cosmologists worry about this?
So I worried about it. And then I thought, well, it's not really a paradox because you're looking at matter and radiation at a maximum entropy state. What you're not seeing directly in that is the gravitation. It's gravitation, which is not thermals.
The gravitation was very, very low entropy, and it's low entropy by the uniformity. And you see that in the microwave, too. It's very uniform over the whole sky and compressing a long story into a very short fuse and doing a great job. So what I'm saying is that there's a huge puzzle. Why was gravity in this very low entropy state, very highly organized state, everything else was all random. And that to me is the biggest problem in cosmology, the biggest problem.
Nobody seems to worry about it. People say they solved all the problems and they don't even worry about it. They think inflation solves it.
It can't, because it's just it's just to clarify that that was your problem with the inflation describing some aspect of it. Yes. Was right after the Big Bang, inflation was supposed to stretch it out, make it all uniform.
You see, it doesn't do it because you can only do it if it's uniform already at the beginning. It's you just have to look, I can't go into the details, but it doesn't solve it. And it was completely clear to me it doesn't solve it.
But where does the conformal cosmology of. Yeah, well, starting to talk about something before. Yes.
That singularity I began, I was just thinking to myself how boring this universe is going to be. You've got this exponential expansion.
This was discovered early in the in this century.
Twenty, twenty first century people discovered that this supernova exploding stars showed that the universe is actually undergoing this exponential expansion. So it's a self similar expansion. And it seems to be a feature of this term that Einstein introduced into his cosmology for the wrong reason. He wanted a universe that was static. He put this new term into his cosmology to make it make sense. It's called the cosmological constant. And then when he got convinced that the universe had a big bang, he retracted it, complaining that this was his greatest blunder.
The trouble is, it wasn't a blunder. It was actually right. Very ironic. And so the universe seems to be behaving with this cosmological constant. OK, so this universe is expanding, expanding. What's going to happen in the future? Well, it gets more and more boring for a while. What's the most interesting thing in the universe? Well, there's black holes, the black holes, more or less gulp down entire clusters of galaxies that class it'll swallow up most of our galaxy.
We will run into Andromeda galaxies, black hole. That black hole will swallow our one. They'll get bigger and bigger and they'll basically swallow up the whole cluster of galaxies, gulp it all down pretty well. Most of it. Maybe not all. Most of it, OK. And then that'll happen, too. They'll be just these black holes were all pretty boring, but still not as boring as it's going to get. It's going to get more boring because these black holes, you wait, wait and wait and wait and wait an unbelievable length of time and Hawking's black hole evaporation starts to come in.
And the black holes, you just it's incredibly tedious. Finally evaporate away. Each one goes away and disappears with a pop in what could be more bought that it was boring then. Now this is really boring. There's nothing not even black holes.
Universe gets colder and colder and colder and colder ever. This is very, very boring.
Now, that's not science, is it? But it's it's emotional.
I thought, who's going to be bored by this universe? Not us. We won't be around. It'll be mostly photons running around. And what the photons do, they don't get bored because it's part of relativity. You see, it's not really that they don't experience anything. That's not the point that photons get right out to infinity without experience any time. It's the way where relativity works. And this is part of what I used to do in my old days when I was looking at gravitational radiation and how things behaved.
Infinity. Infinity is just like another place. You can squash it down as long as you don't have any mass in the world. Infinite is just another place. The photons get there, the gravitons get there. What do they get? They've run to infinity. They say, well, now I'm here. What do I there's something on the other side. Is there the usual view? It's just a mathematical notion. There's nothing on the other side.
That's just the boundary of it. A nice example is this beautiful series of pictures by the Dutch artist NCSA. You may know them, the ones called Circle, and it's the very famous one with the angels and the devils. And you can see them crowding and crowding and crowding up to the edge. Now, the kind of geometry that these angels and devils inhabit, that's their infinity. But from our perspective, infinity just a it's a place. OK, so can you just take a brief pause?
Yes. And just the word you're saying infinity is just a play. So I have, for the most part, infinity, sort of even just going back. Infinity is a mathematical concept. I think this is why you think there's an actual physical matter. In which way does infinity ever manifest itself in our physical universe?
Well, it does in various places. You see, it's the thing that if you're not a mathematician, you think, oh, Finizio can't think about that. Mathematicians think about infinity all the time. They get used to the idea and they just play around with different kinds of infinities and it becomes no problem. But yeah, you just have to take my word for it. Now, one of the things is, you see, you take a Euclidian geometry.
Well, it just keeps on keeps and keeps on going and it goes out to infinity. Now, there's other kinds of geometry. And this is a what's called hyperbolic geometry. It's a bit like Euclidean geometry. It's a little bit different. It's like what Escher was trying to describe in his angels and devils. And he learned about this from Coxiella. And he think that's a very nice thing. I try to represent this infinity to this kind of geometry, though it's not quite Euclidean geometry is a bit like it that the angels and the devils inhabit.
And their infinity by this nice transformation is squashed there.
They're infinity down, so you can draw it as this nice circle boundary to their universe. Now, from our outside perspective, we can see their infinity as this boundary.
Now, what I'm saying is that it's very like that. The infinity that we might experience, like those angels and devils in their world can be thought of as a boundary. Now, I found this a very useful way of talking about radiation, gravitational radiation and things like that.
It was a trick, mathematical trick. So now what I'm saying is that that mathematical trick becomes real, that somehow the photons, they need to go somewhere, because for that, from their perspective, infinity is just another place. Now, this is a difficult idea to get your mind around. So that's why because one of the reasons cosmologists are finding a lot of trouble taking this seriously. But to me, it's not such a wild idea what's on the other side of infinity.
You have to think, why am I allowed to think of this? Because photons don't have any mass. And we in physics have beautiful ways of measuring time. They're incredibly precise clocks, atomic and nuclear clocks, unbelievably precise. Why they're so precise because of the two most famous equations of 20th century physics. One of them is Einstein's equals EMC squared. What's that? Tell us. Energy and mass are equivalent. The other one is even older than that.
So 20th century only, just Max Planck equals H new nu is a frequency H is a constant again like c, e is energy. Energy and frequency are equivalent. But the two together. Energy and massive equipment and energy and frequency equipment, Max Planck put together mass and frequency, our equivalent, absolutely basic physical principle.
If you have a massive entity, a massive particle, it is a clock with a very, very precise frequency.
It's not you can't directly use it. You have to scale it down so your atomic and nuclear clocks. But that's the basic principle. You scale it down to something you can actually perceive. But it's the same principle.
If you have mass, you have beautiful clocks. But the other side of that coin is if you don't have mass, you don't have clocks. If you don't have clocks, you don't have rules, you don't have scale. So you don't have space and time. You don't have a measure of the scale of space of scale you have.
If you do have the structure was called the conformal structure. You see, it's what the angels devils have. If you look at the eye of the devil, no matter how close to the boundary it is, it has the same shape, but it has a different size.
So you can scale up and you can scale down, but you mustn't change the shape.
So it's basically the same idea. But apply to space time now in the very remote future, you have things which don't measure the scale, but the shape, if you like, is still there. Now that's in the remote future. Now I'm going to do the exact opposite. Now I'm going to go way back into the Big Bang.
Now, as you get there, things get hotter and hotter, denser and denser. What's the universe dominated by particles moving around almost with the speed of light when they get almost with the speed of light, OK, they begin to lose the mass to the for completely opposite reason. They lose the sense of scale as well. So my crazy idea is the big bang and the remote future. They seem completely different. One is extremely dense, extremely hot.
The other is very, very rarified and very, very cold.
But if you squash one down by this conformal scale and you get the other, so although they look and feel very different, they're really almost the same. The remote future on the other side and claiming is that one of the photons go they go into the next big bang. You're going to get your mind around that crazy idea, taking a step on the other side of the place.
That is infinity. Oh, yes.
But so I'm saying the other side of our Big Bang now I'm going back into the Big Bang, bang, bang.
That was the remote future of a previous eone. Previously on. And what I'm saying is that previously there are signals coming through to us which we can see and which we do see. And these are both signals. The two main signals are to do with black holes. One of them is the collisions between black holes. And as they spiral into each other, they release a lot of energy in the form of gravitational waves. Those gravitational waves get through in a certain form into the next year.
That's fascinating that there's some I mean, maybe maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong, but that means that some information can travel. Yes. From another eone. Exactly. That that is fascinating.
I mean, I've seen somewhere described as sort of the discussion of the Fermi paradox, you know, that if there's intelligent life, yes. Your communication immediately takes you there. So we have a paper.
I have my my colleague Vagos, a gentleman who I work with on these ideas for a while. We have a crazy paper on that. Yes. So looking at the family paradox. Yes. Right. So so if the universe is just taking over and over and over, punctuated by the punctuated the singularity of the Big Bang and then intelligent or any kind of intelligent systems can communicate through from E.A. on the why haven't we heard anything from our alien friends?
Because we don't know how to look. That's fundamentally the reason as we I don't know. It is speculation.
I mean, the safety program is a reasonable thing to do.
But still speculation is trying to say, OK, maybe not too far away, which is civilisation, which got there first before us early enough that they could send out signals. But how far away would you need to go before? I mean, I don't know. With so little knowledge about that, we haven't seen any signals yet. But it's worth looking. It's worth looking at what I'm trying to say. Here's another possible place we might look. Now, you're not looking at civilisation's which got there first.
You're looking at those civilizations which were so successful, probably a lot more successful.
And we're likely to be, by the looks of things which knew how to handle their own global warming or whatever it is, and to get through it all and to live to a ripe old age in the sense of a civilization, to the extent that they could harness signals that they could propagate through for some reason of their own desires, whatever we would know to to other civilizations which might be able to pick up the signals. But what kind of signals would they be focused?
Let me ask the question. Yes. What do you use the most beautiful idea in physics or mathematics or the art at the intersection of the two? I'm going to have to say complex analysis. I might have said Infinity is one of the most single based beautiful idea, I think was the fact that you can have an infinity of different sizes and so on. But that's in a way, I think complex analysis goes so much magic in it. It's a very simple idea.
You take these, you can also take numbers, you take integers, and then you fill them up into the fractions and the real numbers. You imagine you're trying to measure a continuous line and then you think of how you can solve equations. Then what about X squared equals minus one? Well, there's no real number which has to satisfy that. So you have to think of, well, there's a number called I. You think you invent it?
Well, in a certain sense it's there already. But this number, when you add that square root of minus one to it, you have what's called the complex numbers. And they're an incredible system, if you like. You put one little thing in, you put a square root of minus one in and you get how much benefit out of it, all sorts of things that you never imagined before. And it's that amazing or hiding there and putting that square root of minus one.
And so, in a sense, that's the most magical thing I've seen in mathematics or physics, and it's in quantum mechanics and quantum mechanics. It's there already, you might think. What's it doing there? OK, just a nice bit of a piece of mathematics. And then suddenly we say, nope, it's the very crucial basis of quantum mechanics. So on that area, the way the world works. So on the question of whether math is discovered or invented, it sounds like you may be suggesting that partially is possible.
The math is indeed discovered.
Oh, absolutely. Yes. No, it's more like archaeology than you might think. Yes. So let me ask the most ridiculous, maybe the most important question, what is the meaning of life? What gives your life purpose, happiness and meaning? Why do you think we're here on this, given all the Big Bang and the infinities of photons that we've told? I would say I think it's not a stupid question. I mean, there are some people, you know, many of my colleagues, scientists, and they say, well, that's a stupid question, meaning when we just hear because things came together and produce life.
And so what? I think there's more to it.
But what there is, that's more to it, really much idea. And it might be somehow connected to the mechanisms of consciousness that we're talking about, the mystery there.
Yeah, it's connected with all sorts of. Yeah, I think these things are tied up in ways which are you see, I tend to think the mystery of consciousness is tied up with the mystery of quantum mechanics and how it fits in with the classical world. And that's all to do with the mystery of quantum of complex numbers. And there are mysteries there which look like mathematical mysteries, but they seem to have a bearing on the way the physical world operates.
We're scratching the surface. We have a long, huge way to go before we really understand that.
And it's a beautiful idea that the the the depth, the mathematical depth could be discovered. And then there's tragedies of Gaydos incompleteness along the way. There will have to somehow figure out ways around. Yeah. So rather as a huge honor to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been my pleasure. Thank you. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Roger Penrose and thank you to presenting sponsor Kashyap. Please consider supporting this podcast by getting an VPN and express VPN dot com slash luks pod and downloading cash up and using collects podcast.
If you enjoy this podcast, subscribe on YouTube review of five stars and podcast support on Patrón or simply connect with me on Twitter at Lex Friedman. And now let me leave you with some words of wisdom that Roger Penrose wrote in his book The Emperor's New Mind. Beneath all this technicality is the feeling that it is indeed, quote unquote, obvious that the conscious mind cannot work like a computer, even though much of what is involved in mental activity might do so.
This is the kind of obviousness that a child can see, though the child may later in life become browbeaten into believing that the obvious problems are quote unquote, non problems to be argued into non-existence by careful reasoning and clever choices of definition. Children sometimes see things clearly that are obscured in later life, we often forget the wonder that we felt as children when the cares of the quote unquote, real world have begun to settle on our shoulders. Children are not afraid to pose basic questions that may embarrass us as adults to ask what happens to each of our streams of consciousness after we die.
Where was it before we were born? Might we become I have been someone else. Why do we perceive it all? Why are we here? Why is there a universe here at all in which we can actually be? These are puzzles that tend to come with the awakenings of awareness in any of us, and no doubt will the awakening of self-awareness within which every creature or other entity first came. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.