Rebooting Reality, part 1

Written by peterkienle on September 11, 2009

I have often wondered what would happen if we could start over with something. For example language. Let’s say we wind back time to the beginning of the development of language – assuming, for the moment, there is such a thing as a starting point. If we let it run again from that moment how would it develop? Would it develop pretty much along the same lines? Totally different?

Now, take something like Mathematics. Push the RESET button. Do we expect the exact science of Mathematics to develop the same way it did? Maybe it will develop along different ways but still end up with the same formulas, constants, rules, etc. One would expect the latter if Mathematics is as universal as it is usually made out to be. Wouldn’t we feel utterly betrayed if somehow these RESET mathematicians came up with a consistent, workable and applicable system that is totally different from ours?

Think of a house. Over its lifetime the owner will put on a new roof. Floors might be ripped out, walls torn down. Additions might be built. A second floor added on. When you get to the thought of adding passive and active energy savings measures such as insulation, windows that reflect the sunlight at just the right time of the year and let the light through at other times, solar panels? geothermal heating & cooling? – you get the idea – one might find that the original dwelling was built at a very odd angle to the sun that doesn’t allow easy usage of sunlight. You might find out that there is not enough room to run the water pipes from a roof installation of solar hot water panels – the rafters might be too weak to carry the weight anyhow. There comes a point when the owner realizes that if she really wants go ahead with all the upgrades it would be much more efficient to start over. Tear the old house down and build a new one – doing it right this time.

Another interesting target for such speculations is the wide field of Physics. Especially Theoretical Physics. This is a field which interests me tremendously yet I must admit my actual understanding of the whole thing is pitiful. I tend to read these really cool articles in Scientific American and various other magazines. While I read I go “Yeah, right. I get it this time. Makes total sense.” But as soon as I am supposed to tell somebody else in my own words what the article was about I can’t put it back together. What is probably the most outlandish aspect of it is that it’s all so small. Not only can’t we see any of the quarks, leptons, let alone force carriers such as photons. Somehow all of that seems so removed and irrelevant to our everyday lives. And yet the interactions between all these different forces and particles produce our reality. What if we press RESET for Theoretical Physics? One would imagine that while we don’t know how, when and by whom various effects would be discovered and what language would be used to express this knowledge there still would be someone to figure out the theory behind electromagnetism (James Clerk Maxwell did it in our reality). You would think that somebody would eventually uncover E=mc squared although we don’t know what mathematics she would use to describe it. Could it be that the building of Theoretical Physics might be constructed in a different order and thereby would actually come out differently? Impossible, you say, physics describes the underlying rules of reality but maybe our physics only describe the tip of a huge iceberg. RESET physics and another tip of the iceberg might be sticking out of the water.

One subject of interest to me is music. How could music develop differently after a total RESET? (Assuming of course that music would actually develop in the first place.) Since music is a subject I have a bit more expertise I want to offer an idea I have been elaborating on for a few years now. Assuming a piece of music – for the moment this could be one of the simpler, shorter and clearly structured compositions of J. S. Bach – we know what theoretical background it comes from. We know the key, the meter, how the melody relates to the bass notes, how the notes in between create a harmonic movement. We know how, through the circle of fifths, the major and minor keys relate to each other. Seemingly the composition of the piece is more or less an application of general rules mixed with personal preferences on the musical raw material which has been fine-tuned and formalized over hundreds of years. So, now assume that some alien digs out a recording of that piece. No other materials are found. No reference points to what culture that music came from. The piece of music clearly has structure. It clearly works according to certain rules. But which rules? Can the alien figure out by that piece of music alone what the underlying system of rules and customs that led to its composition were? Could it actually be that this alien might come up with a totally different underlying system for the creation of the piece? I guess if these aliens find more music they will develop a better and better handle on what concepts it’s based upon. Or really? Maybe after a piece of music has been composed or created in some way it’s roots are best forgotten. On the other hand I wonder if it could stand all by itself, apart from the culture that brought it forth.

Finally, for part 1 of this train of thought, think how science actually developed over thousands of years from mythology, religion, superstition, etc. People wanted to know. What knowledge they didn’t have they filled in – by connecting the visible dots, consequently ignoring countless little details in between. Obviously nowadays we know much more about the details in between the dots. And much of it actually seems to be correct since we can use the theories we came up with and reliably predict how certain things in reality will behave. We use these theories to work out what will happen if we put together two chemicals in specific quantities We use them to calculate how to construct rockets to deliver satellites into space and figure out where to put them so they appear to stay over the same geographical location all the time. We use them to program the algorithms that let our GPS navigation systems use these satellites to guide us through big city jungles of one-way streets. So the theories we have work on various chunks of reality. None so far seems to pull it all together. There are still dots hidden and one wonders if in a RESET reality other dots might be found first.

Copyright © by Peter Kienle