Amir Aczel interview on Deepak Chopra Wellness Radio-Sirius XM September 19, 2009
Deepak Chopra: My guest today is Dr. Amir Aczel. Dr. Aczel received a Master of Science in Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley and then earned a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Oregon. He has taught mathematics at universities in California, Alaska, Italy, and Greece. He holds a professorship at Bentley College in Massachusetts where he taught classes on the history of science and the history of mathematics. He wrote the New York Times bestseller Fermat’s Last Theorem, and has written a new book called The Collider.
Amir Aczel: Happy to be on the show.
DC: Thanks so much for joining us. You probably heard that we had Michio Kaku a little while ago. So you’re an appropriate follow up. I have so many questions to ask you, but as he was leaving I said, I asked him, is string theory verifiable, experimentally? And as he was leaving he mentioned that we might be seeing some data emerging from the Large Hadron Collider which is the subject of your book which is published by Harmony which is also my publisher and it’s coming out in March 2010. It is about the Large Hadron correct?
AA: Absolutely. It’s called The Collider.
DC: So, tell our audience a little bit about the Collider. The Collider is biggest machine ever made. It’s in a tunnel that 26 kilometers in circumference, 16 miles in the French-Swiss border region. It stars around Geneva and it goes around, 70 percent of it is in France and 30 percent in Switzerland and it’s just huge. It’s just huge, it’s the biggest machine and I just visited it. Since I had a good connection there they allowed me to go into the machine itself where they don’t allow visitors. They gave me a white helmet instead of a red one which the visitors have. So, I got to put my head where the protons will collide in a few months.
AA: And what I’ve done for the book is I interviewed 13 Nobel Prize Winners and they all told me what they expect will happen. So we can compare it with what Dr. Kaku told you.
DC: Well I think you are suggesting that we’ll find evidence for String Theory and dark matter and dark energy and what scientists called antimatter. Tell us a little bit about what these entities are. Because now we’re being told that 96% of the universe is made up of this dark matter.
AA: Right. There’s a hierarchy of things that are expected to come out of the LHC collisions and String Theory is actually the last one because it requires a lot more energy than is generally available for the LHC. So, the one aspect of String Theory which may come out is the hidden dimensions of space, but that’s low on the scale of probable things. The most probable thing that will happen is the discovery of the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is called the “God particle,” the one particle that endows all other particles with their mass. Which is a very strange concept. How come there’s a particle that gives all other particle’s their mass?
I can give you some examples if you want, but you wanted to know the other thing. So, the next most probable outcome of the LHC is super symmetry. Virtually everyone I spoke to at CERN, I spoke to about 40 different physicists including these Nobel Prize winners and they all think that some aspect of super symmetry will be discovered. Super symmetry is a theory that uses a very high level of symmetry, symmetry of the human face, symmetry of the pentagon or something like that but extended to a more abstract sense, mathematically. Super symmetry says that for every particle that we know there’s another super-symmetrical partner that exists somewhere and these particles are the best candidates for the dark matter. As you mentioned 96% of the universe is not seen and in fact out of the 4% that is matter only .4% is matter that emits light which is stars and so on.
The rest is dust and gas between stars, so 4% is matter the rest is 20 something percent that is dark matter and the rest is the dark energy and that’s something that no one really understands. It has to do with Einstein’s lambda, the cosmological constant which Einstein added to his equations in 1917. The equations of the universe, of cosmology. Trying to keep this universe from expanding because astronomers thought that the universe was static. They didn’t know at the time that it was expanding now. In the 20’s, Hubble and some other astronomers discovered the expansion of space so Einstein said “Oh, away with the cosmological constant,” and never wanted to talk about it again and now in 1998 when the discovery was made that the universe is expanding faster all the time, lambda came back because mathematically the same type of constant, which is called lambda can make the universe expand faster. But, other than what I’m telling you now nobody knows what it is. It’s called dark energy; it’s some kind of energy in space that’s pushing it to expand faster all the time. So, dark energy is not a likely candidate to be found at CERN, but dark energy is. I’m sorry. Dark matter is, but dark energy is not. Dark matter is very likely to be found in one of these strains, super symmetric particles.
Now the last thing you mentioned is anti-matter and that’s probably the most dramatic one because of the Dan Brown novel and movie and indeed they do make anti-matter at CERN. The movie actually starts with a picture of the Large Hadron Collider and the anti-matter is not produced directly in the LHC, it’s produced in another location there at CERN. It’s a very complicated procedure in which they try to make anti-atoms. They start with anti-electrons. Nuclear processes called beta-decay emits positrons. These are anti-electrons. They’re like electrons with a positive instead of a negative charge and they annihilate immediately with something and then garment (?) because of their anti-particles. But, they are emitted naturally and beta-decay. Now, anti-protons occur when very high particles called cosmic waves impact our atmosphere. One of the decay products are anti-protons, but again they decay quickly because they annihilate when they meet normal matter. So the drama is really there when anti-matter meets matter they annihilate. What they try to do in CERN is get a very strong magnetic field that contains the charged particles inside so they don’t touch anything. They’re in vacuums so they can stay without annihilating. But the minute you’re creating atoms that are not charged anymore, they’re neutral and then the drift to the walls of the container and they annihilate anyway. But they do manage to keep them for some time, study them. What they’re trying to find out is why our universe is made of matter and not anti-matter? Because the theories of the Big Bang maintain that both matter and anti-matter were produced in equal amounts.
DC: I’m speaking with Dr. Amir Aczel who is the author of the forthcoming book called The Collider and in this book he discusses everything we’ve been talking about, but he goes further into the relationship between physics and the mind. Dr. Aczel I have a question to ask you as a mathematician. You are obviously very familiar with the relationship between physical laws of the universe and mathematics. Now mathematics is an activity in human consciousness. How is it that this activity in human consciousness corresponds to the laws of nature out there? Does that mean that consciousness is in a sense inherent in nature? Does it also mean that there’s creativity in nature because some of the things that we can talk about including entanglement, uncertainty, or observer effect, all kind of show a deep connection between consciousness and what happens out there in nature.
AA: Well this is the biggest question in all of science and one that all mathematicians ponder all the time. Physicists too, but physicists and mathematicians have differing approaches to this very very big question. Now most mathematicians I’ve talked to and as you know I’ve written a lot about pure mathematics, are Platonic in their thinking which means that they believe mathematics is an existent that transcends the universe, it transcends the physical universe. Now if you’re not a mathematician you say, “Now what does that mean?”
DC: No, I totally get it. I love where you’re going, please go on.
AA: (laughs) Okay. When I actually just talked to a pure mathematician over the weekend and I asked him a similar question. He said, “What do you mean?, the universe just approximates mathematics. Mathematics is an existence that is much greater than anything physical.” Now having dealt with a lot of physicists since doing pure mathematics, I came to see that physicists don’t think that way. To them obviously the universe is number one and nature and what’s around us and mathematics is only a tool. I’ve talked to great mathematical physicists who actually get great, big awards in pure mathematics and yet they think as physicists and therefore their mathematics is a servant to our understanding of the physical world. To answer your question, there are two approaches as we basically see here. One is to think that mathematics is independent of everything and the other is to think that our minds use mathematics in order to understand the universe. If you go in this direction of course you can link mathematics to the connections between money, between body and mind or between soul and physics. Between processes that happen inside our heads and what happens in the physical world. So, mathematics from that point of view can be viewed as a tool that allows us to understand the universe. That obviously goes into what you mentioned, entanglement. This is a mystery that has been uncovered in a sense that we know it happens and we know the mathematics of why it happens. And that’s how the three meet: the mind, physics, and mathematics.
Processes that are using mathematics can be proven to be affected by the mind or affected by the environment or affected by outside processes. So let me give you a specific example so we’re not talking very generally. There’s a kind of experiment I don’t know if you talked in your show about the Double Slit experiment?
DC: No, we did not but go ahead.
AA: Sure, that’s the typical example of the physics experiment which looks at the particle/wave duality. So when you have lights going though two slits many people know that the light will interfere and cause an interference pattern which is a dark and bright, dark and bright because it’s like a wave. Now if you have particles going through there it shouldn’t do it. But it has been proven by de Broglie in France in the early part of the 20th century and then by Schrodinger that all particles actually have wave nature. So both particles and waves at the same time, which is very strange, but that’s how quantum mechanics works. It works with this duality.
DC: So before the act of observation, it’s neither a particle or a wave. It’s just a probability cloud and the way you set up the experiment or how you ask the question determines its behavior.
AA: Exactly and that’s the connection with the mind. If you can see the results of the experiment, if you can watch the particle it’s not going to behave as a wave. Even if you can observe it without actually observing it it won’t behave as a wave. It will behave as a particle which means it will go through one slit of the two slits available. Two slits available, so it will choose one. But if you can’t see where it will go it will go through both and interfere with itself which is very strange here. This is the typical example here and there are many others in which a physics process in quantum mechanics interact with a mind in some sense and nobody knows why it happens. There’s a guy…
DC: David Bohm is somebody who suggested that our mind has both wave-like and particle-like qualities. When we examine the content of the mind it’s almost like behaving like particles when we look at the stream of consciousness, then it’s a wave. Something like that?
AA: I think you’re right and in fact some people have suggested that your mind is a quantum computer. So, so basically that’s what he said. You have these processes in the mind that are particle and wave. They’re quantum processes. They have that weirdness. In fact, every time you have a single electron doing anything or a single particle of light photon doing something you get this quantum weirdness. Rather than a big stream of these particles then they behave more in general like macro objects. When you have a single one. So a single electron in your brain obviously acts as a quantum particle. Then you have that particle/wave duality which basically mimics the process of you observing in the lab.
DC: This is such an interesting and fascinating discussion that I would love to have you back again, but before you go I read something in your notes that you met the Schrodinger’s Cat at Schrodinger’s daughters house in Tyrol, Austria. Tell me about that.
AA: Well this is amazing. I wrote a book called Entanglement a few years ago and she read it. She’s his daughter and she didn’t like the fact that I mentioned her father had several girlfriends. I was using a biography.
DC: Didn’t he come up with the Schrodinger equation on some trip that he went to with his wife and some mistress?
AA: Absolutely. That’s what I wrote, so the daughter who was the daughter of the girlfriend, she didn’t like that.
AA: But, she was very nice and she said “Why don’t you come and meet me?” I thought well maybe she’ll kill me but I’m going to go. I went and I visited her in Tyrol and it was very nice and she had a cat and I said “Schrodinger’s Cat?” and she said “Yes, of course this is Schrodinger’s Cat,” and she didn’t laugh. I went to bed at night and this cat jumped on my bed and I had this dream that I am both the particle and the wave, that was the story of Schrodinger’s Cat. Schrodinger’s Cat is both dead and alive at the same time, the same way that the particles and the wave are the same or quantum particles can be here or there at the same time which is so bizarre.
DC: Such an amazing discussion and I would love to have you back. We will feature your book Entanglement on our website and I would love to have you back when your new book The Collider starts to come out and feature that as well because there’s so much to talk about.. Where does intentionality, where does creativity, where does insight, where does choice, fit into this? I have always wondered that even some of the simplest things in life cannot be explained by our regular reductionist science. Let me ask you a question that has been troubling me a little bit because we started about mathematics existing in a transcendent realm of possibilities. This morning I was exercising on my treadmill and I was running at three miles an hour and then I decided to start to run at five miles an hour. So in other words I had the intention to increase my activity in the body and that intention of course resulted in the muscles in my whole body going into a completely different expenditure of energy. But the intention to run three miles and the intention to run five miles an hour that didn’t cost anymore in terms of energy expenditure or did it?
DC: Do you understand the question?
AA: I think so. An example that comes to mind is when people lose limbs and they put an artificial hand for example and then your intention to move it actually does move it even though you don’t actually have the muscles and normal nerves there anymore. And I wonder if that’s related to your intention to run faster and how…
DC: What I am saying though is that the intention must exist in a non-local, transcendent realm because the intention doesn’t use more energy.
AA: Right, right.
DC: Once you have the intention then a whole series of events happens in a local domain.
DC: Intention comes from a non-local domain. That was what I was trying to suggest.
AA: Right and non-locality which is in the quantum world, right.
DC: Well, we have to discuss all this because the more we understand non-locality, entanglement, quantum leaps, uncertainty. The more these are the qualities of our consciousness.
AA: Right, absolutely.
DC: Well Dr. Aczel thanks very much for coming on the show it’s been a great privilege to have you. I hope you’ll come back.
AA: I hope so too. Thank you so much.
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