The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Symmetry and Chaos

Humans have always assumed that Nature must be fundamentally elegant. This was the guiding principle for Galileo, Newton, Maxwell and Einstein, who in fact came up with elegant equations. “Elegant” in Physics does not mean what it means in art and fashion: it ultimately means “symmetric”.  The idea is that the universe must have been created symmetric from the beginning, and Physics is really just about discovering the original symmetry from which our highly un-symmetric universe arose. Einstein’s General Relativity was, ultimately, about general covariance, the most general kind of symmetry: the equations must have the same form in any system of coordinates.

Therefore it is not surprising that scientific theories were reformulated in terms of symmetries.  A symmetry was easy to find in the electromagnetic force because there are both positive and negative electrical charges. A similar symmetry was found in the strong force. Both are of the “mirror” kind. Within these forces an experiment cannot be distinguished from its mirror image. The weak force, however, refuses to comply: a mirror image behaves differently. The three forces were eventually unified by abandoning the requirement of mirror symmetry: it turns out that the mirror symmetry of those two forces was a sheer accident of nature.  Nonetheless the unified theory of those three forces prescribed a broader kind of symmetry. This higher-level symmetry is “spontaneously broken” to yield the more limited electromagnetic symmetry which does not apply to the weak force.

This became a general idea. There must be a supersymmetry that encompasses everything in the universe, and all the limited symmetries that we encounter must be due to some kind of “spontaneous symmetry breakdown”.

Unfortunately, the higher-level symmetry predicts the existence of a number of mass-less particles that turn out to have mass. Hence, spontaneous symmetry breaking is not enough to explain the oddities of our universe. A mechanism must also assign mass to these particles, and that’s Peter Higg’s hypothesis of a particle (the Higgs boson) that bestows mass on other particles. The Higgs field is supposed to pervade every corner of the universe. Without the Higgs field, all particles would have no mass and travel at the speed of light. One could imagine that, instead of a Big Bang, the universe as we know it was created when a swarm of particles, traveling at the speed of light, entered the Higgs field and was slowed down by it, thereby acquiring masses and becoming the galaxies, planets, rivers, trees and insects that we are familiar with.

Andrei Linde’s chaotic inflation provides a credible model. Linde’s starting point is a completely chaotic universe: there is no symmetry at all. It was only by accident that some regions of the universe ended up being uniform enough that a positive feedback within them caused them to expand rapidly and create uniform universes. The inhabitants of each of these universes observe regular (symmetric) laws of nature, their symmetry due to the accidental orientation that started its expansion. The more each universe expands, the “smoother” it appears to be, just like a deflated balloon appears to be a contorted shape but it becomes a perfect sphere when inflated. We live in one such universe that appears to us to have uniform, symmetric laws of nature, while in reality that symmetry is a mere accident, a mere illusion. No wonder therefore that it is “broken”.

Another path to the similar conclusions was presented by the British physicist Frank Close. He viewed the quantum vacuum (filled with zero-point energy and countless “virtual” particles) as a medium. Just like any other medium (say, water) it undergoes phase changes. The life of the vacuum then becomes the essential driving force for everything that we observe in our macroscopic lives. The history of the universe than becomes the history of the vacuum. One property to emerge from the vacuum during such a phase transition is the Higgs field, which gave and still gives mass to particles. The universe is one giant quantum fluctuation of the vacuum. And, of course, this is just one such fluctuation. There might be many others that yielded many other universes.

The one law that all these universes have in common is Einstein’s field equation: it is that equation that drives their expansion. That equation describes the ultimate layer of reality.



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