Curving Spacetime Inside the Human Brain: Holographs, Spacetime Curvature, and Quantum Intensivity
We normally think of things being inside space and time. But what if space and time could be inside certain phenomenon? In fact, this happens all the time. This post will explain what it might mean to think of spacetime intensively, as well as extensively, and why space and time curve into phenomenon all the time, and not just in the strange examples described in Einsteinian relativity theory or quantum mechanics, but in concrete ways in our everyday lives, and in fact, whenever we think, feel, or experience.
Relativity Theory: Curved Space, Intrinsic Curvature, and Intension
Objects in our everyday experience extend over space and time. That is, a stone takes up a certain amount of space, and it does so over a period of time. We can displace the stone by pushing it out of the way, and two stones can’t be in exactly the same place, simply because matter displaces other matter. This turns out not to be the case with electricity, which simply gets more intense the more is pushed into the same general location in space. The distances, along the x, y, and z axes, the ‘three dimensions’ of space, can be used to measure the degree of extension, and from these distances, we could calculate the volume that the stone ‘takes up’ in space. Time, similarly, can be measured as distance, for example, by measuring how far the hand of a clock has moved. I can therefore say that the stone extends a certain volume, in three dimensions, but if we consider time as fourth dimension, we can say that it extends in four dimensions, as what mathematicians call a hypersolid, or a four dimensional shape that ‘moves’ through spacetime, even when the object ‘sits still.’
The notion of extension in space and time described above is that used by physicists and mathematicians, and its various permutations can be calculated in various ways. For example, when a line curves in this sort of spacetime, the degree of the curvature can be measured, and this is known as its extrinsic curvature. But mathematicians also realized that they had to come up with a notion of intrinsic curvature in order to speak about, for example, the “curved” spaces described in relativity theory. The notion of “curved space” is notoriously difficult to describe, but I think the best way to think of it is as “scrunched” or “squished” space. Think of a piece of squishy foam. They even make toys out of this stuff, under the brand name “Nerf.” Nerf toys can be squished in all sorts of ways. A Nerf dinosaur, for example, can be squished into a much smaller container, one which doesn’t fit the shape of the foam, but of the container, such as that of a cube. When you take it out of the container, however, it resumes its normal shape, due to its elasticity.
Curved space, as described in relativity theory, is like Nerf space. Picture a cube of Nerf material. Now squish it in various ways. The degree of the squishing in a given direction is the degree to which you’ve “curved” that Nerf cube from that direction. But why not just call this squishing? The reason is because of what it would be like to fly a space-ship through squished space. If you fly through a portion of space that was squished in the direction perpendicular to the direction of your flight, you’d find that space seemed to curve and stretch around you as you flew through the squished section, and then returned to normal afterwards. And though even the space around you seemed normal, that to cover distances relative to this newly stretched surroundings, takes more time.
Really, however, it wasn’t the universe that curved and stretched, it was the space you’re in that squished. And to those looking at you from the outside, your ship appeared to get smaller, as if it were getting further away and squished down, in a manner inversely proportional to that in which space appeared to curve around those of us in the spaceship. And likewise, it took the ship a lot more time to cover this ground relative to you.
In fact, to those of us watching the spaceship go through squished space of this sort, it’s as if that ship curved away from us in space, even though it perceived itself as moving in a straight line. Likewise, it seemed as if all space around that ship curved away from it in the same way, even as those observing that ship were right where they were all along. But the curving here doesn’t seem to be in one of the ordinary spatial dimensions, but rather, it’s as if space curved away and towards us, even though space would need another dimension of sorts in which to do this, even though it doesn’t really have one.
What really happened is that space go squished, compressed, in a particular direction. Now in one dimension, like on a line, this would be the equivalent of pulling on a rubber band. If an ant is crawling along a flat rubber band, it will cover the distance of that rubber band faster than if you curve the rubber band by pulling it up in the middle. “Curved” spacetime does the same thing, only it curves not outward, but “inward,” as if you scrunched the rubber band rather than extended it. And since spacetime has four total dimensions, it can do this in multiple directions at once, in ways that mess with time and space. Since all spacetime is relative, however, the way this is perceived by those in the spaceship, and those observing them from a distance, aren’t the same, and are in fact, inversely proportional on all the relevant axes.
What physicists and mathematicians call “intrinsic” curvature measures precisely this sort of scrunching or squishing. What’s being measured is the intensity of the squishing, in a given direction, as opposed to the intensity of extension. That is, what’s being measured can be though of as the direct opposite of extension. Just as stretching a rubber band is extending it, or, in other terms, increasing the intensity of its extension in a given direction, so squishing something like Nerf is the opposite of extending it, which is to say, increasing the intensity of the opposite of extension, which is intension. This is why we can say, in a sense, and that spacetime curves intensively when it scrunches, and extensively when it expands.
Quantum Spacetime Smearing
Most of us likely think that this sort of stretching only happens in the strange examples we see in Einstein’s thought experiments, or quantum mechanics. And it is certainly the case that these issues apply to quantum mechanics, and it’s worth explaining how, in order to see how this applies back to everyday life.
There are many ways to describe quantum phenomenon, all of them strange, and all of them correct in their own way. The reason why multiple descriptions exist in this manner is because quantum phenomenon and those of the everyday, macroscopic universe simply don’t operate according to the same rules, and so creativity is required to translate what it’s like to see the world with one set of rules, then another.
One of the popular metaphors to describe how quantum phenomenon relate to the sort of everyday spacetime humans inhabit is to say that quantum phenomenon “smear” the spacetime we live in. Without more explanation, however, this doesn’t really help most folks. But it does once properly explained.
For example, most of us remember from our High School chemistry class that electrons aren’t really particles, but ‘clouds.’ Likely we were told to remember that, saw a picture of a cloud, and left it at that. But what this really means is that electrons don’t take up one particular position in space or time, but many at once, within a given patch of spacetime as we experience it. This still is likely to sound confusing until a concrete experiment is thrown into the mix. Let’s say I throw a proton at where I think an electron is. As it approaches the cloud, it is more likely to “hit” an electron. At the densest point in this cloud, it is most likely to hit this electron, and at the thinnest point, less likely. That said, this cloud isn’t quite “there,” its really a cloud of probability. No-one sees these clouds, because they aren’t made of matter, they are fictions. And since no-one sees anything when things are this small, simply because light particles are themselves quantum phenomenon, it’s all about when things bounce into other things. After multiple trials, scientists have found out that there’s greater probability for an electron to show up in one place rather than another. And so scientists diagram this as a cloud.
But where is the electron before a proton disturbs it? Well, it’s spread out, across the area in our spacetime which we designate as a cloud at a particular stretch of time. And the electron is more likely to “materialize” at certain parts of that cloud than others. That is, it’s more intensively present within particular locations of our spacetime than others.
The result is similar to what we generally call a holograph. A holograph is a special type of image produced with lasers which is able to produce more than a 2D image on a 2D surface. We all know that holographic images have a ‘depth’ to them, such that when we move in relation to them, we can see the object captured in the 2D surface from more than one side. This is different from regular photographs, which only give us one angle upon which to look at what they capture. This is because holographs are more than 2D surfaces, they are in a sense between 2 and 3D surfaces. It is as if some extra space were scrunched up behind the holographic image, even though it is in fact flat.
This sort of “virtual space” we in fact encounter all the time, with mirrors. When I look in a mirror, my image moves in relation to my movements, and it seems as if there’s more spacetime curved into the mirror, so to speak, even though I know it’s flat. This is because the light rays bounce off the mirror. But a mirror doesn’t hold its image the way a holograph does, and in this sense, holographs have space stretched into them even when none is presented to them. How do they do this, how do they stretch a particular image over intensive spacetime?
If you examine a photograph under a microscope, you will see a pattern of pixels, pixels of light if the image is digital, or of ink of some sort if the photo is analog. Each of these pixels is a tiny section of the image, and corresponds to the section of which it is a part. For example, if I’m examining a patch of sky in a photograph, the pixel under a microscope is likely to be blue. If you look at a holograph under a microscope, however, you won’t see anything like this. There’s absolutely no correspondance between the microscopic and macroscopic levels of the image.
This is because what is captured on the microlevel of the image is in fact a pattern which refracts light images in a particular way. To make a photograph, light is bounced off an object, and the light which reflects off the object from one direction is captured on a photographic plate which records the particular way the light impacts it in a particular location on the plate. To make a holograph, light is bounced off an object from many sides, and this cacophony of light is bounced off a laser, in which light flows in only one direction. This creates a pattern of more and less intense interference. These patterns are etched by the laser into the holograph’s surface. When new light hits the holograph, it refracts off the plate, recreating this pattern of interference between light bouncing off that image from many directions. in this sense, one could say that any micro-component of a holograph records the relation between the whole image and its part, and stores that as information. The relation between this an the angle of an observer is then computed, by a computer of light, so to speak, recreating the image stored anew each time it is seen.
This is similar to the way in which quantum phenomenon are “smeared” across spacetime. An electron isn’t in any of the spacetimes diagrammed by a probability cloud, but it is in all of these, spread out, yet more likely to actualize in one of these locations. Once the electron actualizes, it isn’t smeared, and this is because it never was smeared, space and time were smeared, in a sense, within it, and more intensely in some places than others. Rather than the way a stone spreads out, extensively, in spacetime, an electron has spacetime, intensively, spread out within it. As such, it is present in all the spacetimes in question, but more intensively in some than others, as if it squished more of itself into those spacetimes, just as we saw spacetime curved and squished inside itself in relativity theory.
In fact, this is precisely the inverse of what we saw in relativity theory. Viewed from the outside, it is the spaceship that squishes into sections of spacetime, spacetime seems pretty normal, unless it’s right by the spaceship. But in regard to the electron, it’s as if space and time extended wherever the electron touches, as if the electron is able to be in many spacetimes at once, and some more than others. This is all from our perspective. But what about from the perspective of the electron, assuming it could report back to us what it “sees”?
Just as with the spaceship in relativity theory, it would be the inverse of what we experience from the outside. The spacehip saw its exterior observers stretch around it. And if the electron seems to spread out in our spacetime, at least until it actualizes into a particle, then the electron would experience spacetime as spread out, but within it.
Thought, Feeling, and Experience as Intensive Curvature
But perhaps we don’t have to imagine what electrons feel like. Perhaps all we need is to realize that this is what it feels like to be human and experience the world. For in a sense, the world of extension, of space and time, is extended inside each of our experiences. When I experience my world from inside, it feels like the whole world stretches out from me in many directions. But to my friend, space and time stretch out from THEIR center of experience, their bodies. My experience of spacetime only exists, for my friend, “inside my head.” My head, of course, contains my brain, which is a complex, dynamic network. When I see the world from a particular perspective, various activations happen in this network, which is to say, certain parts of it are more intensively active than others.
In a sense, this is like saying that the spacetime around me were smeared accross my brain, not extensively, but intensively, for the image of this spacetime, from a particular perspective, is present, more instensively in some places in my brain than others, if holographically so. For if I change the activation of one particular part of my brain, the feedback patterns are likely to cascade, altering the whole. This is why it’s so hard to study the brain, it’s a holographically structured network, with its macro qualities and micro states refracting off each other in the manner of a holograph rather than photograph. That is, the state of the whole brain and that of its individual parts mediate each other, just like in a holograph. And so, when I see a portion of spacetime, from my perspective on it, for example, like looking at a tree in a park outside my house, this sensation exists “inside my head,” but not in the manner of a photograph, but rather, holographically. I, however, experience the inverse, which is to say, that same landscape as stretched out in front of me.
And this is why I’m able to project certain affects onto the landscape as a whole. The landscape can “feel” sad, because in fact, the landscape is spread out within my brain and hence experience. And in fact, my experience is this smearing. Just as an electron is in many spacetimes as once, smeared over them, so my experience is at once localized in my body, yet also smeared out over all I see, remember, touch, hear, etc. If an electron could “feel” it’s cloud, it would feel something like this. Just as my attention is captured more in some spacetimes of my awareness than others, so is an electron’s existence more intensely present in some spacetimes than others. But where exactly “is” the scene I see of this landscape “contained” in my brain? Well, in all of it, and each part, and none of it. It’s in the relation between part and whole, like in a holograph, or in the manner in which it’s impossible to say where an electron “is” in spacetime, since it is in all, none, and to differing degrees, depending on how you interact with the whole.
Brains, of course, aren’t actually in multiple places or times at once, for like mirrors, they are actual physical things, and just if you remove what you hold in front of a mirror the spacetime opened within it vanishes, so it is with a brain, in that if you remove sensations of extended spacetime from in front of it, spacetime is no longer ‘actually’ extended in it. Like a holograph, however, the brain is able to recreate these in memory. And as with holographs, the data stored in memory isn’t in a particular location, but in the relation between that location and the whole, the pattern of refraction it creates when parts and wholes are reactivated in particular ways. The brain, in a certain sense, is like a massive holograph or virtual reality machine, like the holodeck in Star Trek.
In some sense, quantum particles are more “real” in their intensive smearing of this sort, precisely because they smear with their being, rather than virtually like mirrors, holographs, or human brains. But on another level, the human brain smears with its being as well, because each smearing of external spacetime “into” it comes about because of a particular state of itself, a physical pattern of flows, feedbacks, activations, etc. That is, some parts of it activate more intensively than others, and the result is that a section of extended spacetime feels as if extended within it from the inside, and from the outside, it appears as if it can be in more than one place at once, if more intensely in some than others. This takes on a dual structure in regard to brains. On the one hand, the spacetime is holographed by an activation pattern of intensivity in the physical brain, as if the spacetime were folded into the brain as intensity, as if spacetime scrunched into other spacetime, not extensively, but intensively. The result, however, is the experience of extension from wtihin our brains in our experience.
Viewed from outside, however, it is as if spacetime extended “inside” our heads as experience which has a certain depth, one which folds out into physical spacetime in an odd, virtual sense. That is, I can imagine I am across the park, or back in time yesterday with a friend, even as I am sitting in my chair in my house. When my dog barks, he jolts me back into the present, here and now. I have “spread” myself over multiple spacetimes, even as my body has remained in the same place. It is as if extended spacetime extended into my brain, as intension, and the result were the experience of expansion.
This is exactly what it would feel like to be an electron if an electron could feel. Electrons are virtually in multiple spacetimes at once, until disturbed, then they actualize in one. Likewise when I am imagining, and then an yanked back to “reality” in one spacetime. Quantum phenomenon, within small locations of our spacetime, are liberated from the constraints of space and time. The problem is that they can’t cooperate with others without taking up positions, because they jolt each other into taking up specific positions.
But it is as if the universe wanted the freedom of quantum virtuality, but in actuality. And so it evolved brains, and human brains, in particular, which have created things like languages and novels and films and virtual worlds of all sorts, are the result. And yet, we are still so limited. Language is a sort of collective brain, and the internet truly producing collective intelligence. But just as particles, molecules, cells, and organs had to evolve to work together to produce the freedom from constraint which is the virtual reality machine of the brain, so human societies have to learn to cooperate if we are to evolve to higher levels of complexity, and with this, freedom for any and all. Only when parts and whole interpenetrate, and work as systems which exceed the sums of their parts, is the emergence of complexity, and with this, the evolution of something like the brain, possible. There are ethical lessons to be learned from studying the emergence of complexity, the evolution of life and thought, and the seeming attempt to bring freedom into matter, from quantum to the brain and beyond.