Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quantum Biology

The mathematical machinery of quantum mechanics 
became that of spectral analysis…  ~Steen

“Leading thinkers in the emerging field of quantum biology explored the hidden hand of quantum physics on the scales of everyday life.”

This is clearly an introductory look at the subject, and so we don’t explore quantum theory to any real depth, here, but … At this date, do we really need to have Penrose dismissed with a superior smile? As though that were an argument of some kind? And not simply a not-so-subtle appeal to the hive mind? Similarly, the little joke about “consciousness” being the “C word” may have lost its bloom after several decades of repetition.

I have my differences with Sir Roger, but he did what no one else had been able to do when he argued for a quantum basis for mind — and that required balls, back then. Stapp, Lockwood, and I had made the case for a quantum approach before he came along, as had several of the founders of QM and a number of philosophers. Penrose put us on the map, however, owing to his great prestige. Moreover, he gave us a fairly clear picture to argue against — itself an important contribution, as a glance at the history of science will attest.

The smirking humor concerning consciousness is a fig leaf tasked with covering a vast ignorance. Yes, consciousness is mysterious, but science is commonly supposed to be about exploring mysteries, or so I seem to recall. How can we lift the veil?

Perception is a large part of consciousness and perception is quite mechanical. Thus, we get up in the morning and the world looks, sounds, tastes and feels the way it usually does. Where there are differences, those differences can be traced to physical causes.

Helmholtz observed that “Similar light produces, under like conditions, a like sensation of color.” Color is, of course, one of Locke’s “secondary qualities.” Generalizing with a view to Heisenberg’s formulation of quantum mechanics, we can say that:

The same state vector, acted upon by the same operators A, B, C … produces the same spectrum of secondary qualities.

On this view, our sensory organs act as projection operators when they resonate with the state vector. In the case of color vision, our photopigments act like pieces of stained glass, where red glass, e.g., appears red because it absorbs the other colors but transmits red.

The fact that the world looks, sounds, tastes and feels the way it usually does from day to day stems from the fact that the secondary qualities respect important physical symmetries of the kind embodied in gauge theory. Moreover, we know that the appearance of color and sound is reliably related to the phase behavior of the related waves/vectors.

A little thought reveals that these “secondary” variables are only “hidden” in plain sight and so solves a mystery common to “hidden variables” theories and Kaluza-Klein theories — i.e., if these extra variables or dimensions exist, why do we not “see” them? It is as Wittgenstein observed: “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.”

Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Whores & thieves

 Elsevier, Springer and the monstrous farce of scientific publishing

SOMETIMES it takes but a single pebble to start an avalanche. On January 21st Timothy Gowers, a mathematician at Cambridge University, wrote a blog post outlining the reasons for his longstanding boycott of research journals published by Elsevier. This firm, which is based in the Netherlands, owns more than 2,000 journals, including such top-ranking titles as Cell and the Lancet. However Dr Gowers, who won the Fields medal, mathematics’s equivalent of a Nobel prize, in 1998, is not happy with it, and he hoped his post might embolden others to do something similar.
It did. More than 2,700 researchers from around the world have so far signed an online pledge set up by Tyler Neylon, a fellow-mathematician who was inspired by Dr Gowers’s post, promising not to submit their work to Elsevier’s journals, or to referee or edit papers appearing in them. That number seems, to borrow a mathematical term, to be growing exponentially. If it really takes off, established academic publishers might find they have a revolution on their hands.

This situation has been simmering for years. In 2006, for example, the entire editorial board of Topology, a mathematics journal published by Elsevier, resigned, citing similar worries about high prices choking off access. And the board of K-theory, a maths journal owned by Springer, a German publishing firm, quit in 2007.
To many, it is surprising things have taken so long to boil over.

 Springer offered to publish my book on Quanta & Consciousness, recently. It rapidly became clear that they were bent on swindling me, however. I won't repeat my colorful reply to them here, but believe me when I say it was the kind of thing normally reserved for cleaning the hull of a battleship.