Quantum Afterlives

Quantum Afterlives

An article caught my eye on social feeds today, though it was published back on Christmas Day. Quantum Theory Proves That Consciousness Moves to Another Universe After Death is Awescience’s summary of a bit of recent chatter around a new book by a biologist named Robert Lanza. Other articles about Lanza’s book are titled things like:

Articles about quantum afterlives tend to have images like this.

Articles about quantum afterlives tend to have images like this.

The articles all follow basically the same pattern, especially repeating the quote “death cannot exist in any real sense”, and suggesting that when one dies, one simply “wakes up” in a parallel universe. Because… of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

A look at what Lanza has to say about it himself at least doesn’t quite say that. Rather, he says that because there’s an infinite number of possible worlds, if you die in one, you’re still alive in another. And then he likens that to watching different characters on TV shows on DVD.

That’s not an afterlife by any usual use of the word. I doubt many Daily Mail readers would actually be relieved by this quantum afterlife if they understood it clearly, any more than they would be outraged to learn that every day they’re not murdered in this universe is another day they’re murdered in another.

Lanza’s theory of “biocentrism“, which posits that we create the universe rather than the other way around, is a good strong argument for the teaching of philosophy in high schools – his great revelation appears to be basically his discovery of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. (A bit harsh. I’m sure there’s more to his book than rehashing Kant, and it actually sounds really interesting.)

Robert Lanza, in a black polo shirt and standing next to a microscope.

I actually think it’s awesome that a kick-ass genetic biologist is getting interdisciplinary and thinking big.

I haven’t read his book. Maybe reading it would make his article “What is it like after you die?” seem less misconceived. But he seems to be making a mistake that is common to almost everyone on the planet: mistaking “consciousness” for a “thing”.

The “me” feeling is just energy operating in the brain. But energy never dies; it cannot be destroyed.

Consciousness is not a thing; it is an event, or a series of events. It doesn’t have to go anywhere; it just has to stop occurring – the universe just has to stop doing it. It is not “energy”, and saying that it “never dies” and “cannot be destroyed” is as meaningless as saying that a tune cannot be destroyed and has to go somewhere after the guitar has been put away in its case.

However, if I was to give Lanza the benefit of the doubt and assume that he understands this, his thinking would have some interesting connotations. For example, he says “death cannot exist”, which is true, but by the same token, life cannot exist either. Dying and then waking up in another universe may be one way of describing one’s particular pattern of consciousness being performed by a parallel universe, but by the same token waking up this morning in bed is precisely what it feels like to have died the night before in a parallel universe.

It’s almost as if there were no self persisting from moment to moment at all.

But if you’re interested in the idea of immortality through events of consciousness arising across the infinite possibilities of parallel universes, you could do a lot worse than reading Greg Egan’s brilliant science-fiction Permutation City.

The Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect

The following image is neither funny nor clever.

Nor is it illegal. (But don’t let that distract you from the real story.)

You know that thing where you fail the “attitude test” if you ask a police officer if they have something better to be doing with their time? Well.

(As Idiot/Savant said: ‘this poster isn’t quite how I’d make the point. “…and we did nothing” would probably have been better. But the police don’t want you to see it and are threatening people for posting it, and I think that trumps my taste here.’)


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Cartoon: Palaeo Diet

Cartoon: Palaeo Diet

I’m not very good at drawing, but after chatting with my cousin this past weekend, this got stuck in my head.


In Vino Veritas in Vanuatu

In Vino Veritas in Vanuatu

The flight to Vanuatu was uneventful, as statistics would dictate. The peculiar arrogance of the individual – combined with the power of imagination – dictates that I spend all flights certain that, somehow, this one is different, this one is doomed to a forced water landing or perhaps just going down in flames, no survivors. Seeing David Cunliffe on the same flight both helped and hindered – of course a prominent MP would survive a holiday flight, so surely I would too, but on the other hand if something did happen and we were all annihilated, our own deaths would be footnotes to his.

So, Vanuatu. We’re staying at a nice place, in the middle of summer, which naturally means it’s rained constantly today. Thunder here is somehow more impressive. Perhaps at home, thunder is muted by topography – all of those hills and buildings to get through. Not so much here, where the thunder kicks off like an explosion, rumbles for a full 30 seconds before getting its breath back and roaring almost as loud again.

The rain is more or less inoffensive, almost warm. Just makes it hard to read my new Iain M. Banks book in the sun. That and the absence of sun.

We’ve swum in the pool and swum in the ocean, and it’s hard to say which is warmer. There are bright silver and blue fish always around, and Diana discovered a three-legged crab living under wooden steps leading down to the water, which she has named “Our Buddy”, expressing concern for its well-being while the tide is out. It leaps from place to place with agility I found surprising in a crab in general, let alone one operating with only half of its legs.

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Yesterday I met an American named Frank, and I have resolved to ask him, if we meet again, if I can be frank with him. He’s a staffer for the Peace Corps, and has the endurable job of flying from gorgeous location to gorgeous location around the world assisting needy locals in basic medical, literacy and numeracy skills.

Vanuatu seems to be, on the whole, sponsored by ANZ. My beer has an ANZ insulatey holder thingee, is one example.

We have on our list of things to do a few items suggested by Frank, including a snorkeling spot and a walk up a series of waterfalls. At the top, there is a waterfall that mainly only locals know there is a cave behind, and I intend to scout it out as a possible location for some kind of supervillain lair – if not for me, then perhaps for a friend.

Yoko Ono, Jim Henson, Ayn Rand and Sidney Nolan walk into a bar…

This transcript is the shiniest gem the internet has offered me in a long time.

17 April 1976 – The transcript presented here records a conversation between four figures from the broad spectrum of culture: puppeteer Jim Henson; Russian-American writer, philosopher and playwright Ayn Rand; painter Sidney Nolan; and artist and musician Yoko Ono. A few months after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, The Agency’s tests with the ARPANET convened these four individuals, each with a distinct sense of, as well as the potential means for, a competing world-view.

It’s like one of those imaginary conversations in Heaven, but it actually occurred. You can click the link for the full transcript, but here are some of my favourites.

JIM HENSON: Each character is special for me they represent different aspects of myself. Kermit the frog is perhaps closest to me. An alter ego of sorts.

AYN RAND: What does that say about you.

SIDNEY NOLAN: Big laughs. He is exceptional.

JIM HENSON: I dont know. I don’t think too much about it.

YOKO ONO: My favourite is Big Bird. He is so tall and gentle.

AYN RAND: To be honest I find it to be senseless entertainment. I prefer the celebration of men and what they can achieve.

JIM HENSON: Do you have children Ms Rand.

AYN RAND: What do children have to do with what I prefer.

JIM HENSON: But there is always conflict.

YOKO ONO: But it does not have to be this way. Does your work Mr Henson not try to prove this?

JIM HENSON: No. Conflict is what defines my characters in many ways and how they respond to it.

YOKO ONO: I am surprised to be in such a conversation. It feels like a deliberate test.

SIDNEY NOLAN: I agree Jim. We should work together on a puppet saga about Ned Kelly. Sometime maybe. Who knows.

Willful Ignorance: A Literary Drinking Game

Willful Ignorance: A Literary Drinking Game

Back in the heady days of my Craccum editorship, I was surrounded by some of the cleverest, most talented people I’ve ever met. Tama Boyle, Matthew Backhouse, Jess Ralph, Alec Hutchinson, Joe Nunweek, the list goes on. And we spent a lot of time on the balcony of Shadows (RIP), drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and playing cards (Asshole, mainly).

However, at one point, we invented a drinking game that went down quite well with these clever folk. I’ve introduced it to a few people since, and they’ve all quite enjoyed it, and I’ve been meaning to share it here for a while.

The game is called Willful Ignorance. It’s based on the old name game, where you say the name of someone famous – say, Michael Jackson – and the next person has to come up with a name where the first name begins with the second initial of the previous name. Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Naomi Campbell, Charles Barkley, etc. And if someone says a double-initial name (Janis Joplin, Chris Carter, etc.) or a one-word name (Madonna, for example), the order is reversed.

But with Willful Ignorance, you’re not saying names. You’re saying two words that…

  • Are so often used together that the majority of people at the table recognise the cliche, and….
  • Are not so often used together that the combination is in any dictionary.

So, for example, willful ignorance. Instant dismissal. Dire circumstances. Certain death…

Now, you couldn’t follow “certain death” with “diminishing returns” or “dental care” or “data entry”. Those are all the sort of thing that would turn up in a dictionary, because they’re sort of… things all by themselves. What you’re looking for are those combinations of words, usually an adjective and a noun (but not always), that are over-used in combination, but not terms for identifiable things (which tend to turn up in dictionaries, medical dictionaries, legal dictionaries, etc.)

It sounds a bit fuzzy, and it is, so any time there’s confusion (“I’ve never heard that before” or “I’m pretty sure that’s a thing”), you just put it to a table vote. If the majority agree, it’s accepted and you move on.

Oh, and you drink while you think.

After a while, everyone gets into the groove of it. It’s very intuitive for a lot of people.

If you get stuck, here’s an example for each letter of the alphabet. Almost.

  • Arrogant prick.
  • Broken spirit.
  • Callous disregard.
  • Dramatic flair.
  • Extraordinary circumstances.
  • Fighting fit.
  • Gotcha journalism.
  • Happy accident.
  • Iconic Kiwi.
  • Journalistic integrity.
  • Kill switch.
  • Light relief.
  • Martial prowess.
  • Nuclear option.
  • Opportune moment.
  • Pointed remark.
  • Quite interesting.
  • Rightful heir.
  • Serious business.
  • Trace amount.
  • Ulterior motive.
  • Vicious circle (that might be in the dictionary, actually).
  • Waking nightmare.
  • X… Um… Okay, okay, I’m drinking, I’m drinking…
  • Young love.
  • Z… You might be fucked if you get Z, too.

Play it with your friends. Hell, play it in the comments. I’ll start it off: total annihilation.