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Chapter 2 What is thought?

Chapter 2 What is thought?

All interactions between particles in the universe, Lloyd explains, convey not only energy but also information—in other words, particles not only collide, they compute. And what is the entire universe computing, ultimately? “Its own dynamical evolution,” he says. “As the computation proceeds, reality unfolds.”
Seth Lloyd in "Programming the Universe"

Let us answer this by starting with another question:
What is a computer?

 A computer has:
One or more inputs,
One or more outputs,
A memory defined by their current physical state.
and a central processing unit or CPU, the part that makes decisions

A particle has as one huge input, the rest of the Universe.
A particle has as an output the rest of the Universe how it affects the rest of the Universe.
A memory defined its current physical state, spin, weight, charge etc.
A decision making process called the Laws of Physics, which we do not as yet know and may never understand.

This is true of any sized particle from p-branes, the smallest measurable unit of space, and subatomic particles, atoms, molecules crystals and even black holes. Not to mention that odd branch recognized as living beings.

When two particles collide they have an effect on each other and depart with new physical attributes and that change is governed by the laws of physics, but it is not only a new physical state but a new  logical state.The two particles have learnt a little bit about the rest of the Universe. that there was a force applied to it and that it is now moving in a different direction. It the laws of physics which made those changes. While we think we have a good idea what those are we do not know how complex those laws could be.


However, for us the fact that these two particles changed logical state, it is not obvious to us yet that the particles are reasoning or what we would call thinking their is no obvious meaning associated with this state.   It is hard for us to think of a particle remembering the collision or doing things differently in the future because of it, except because it will be in a different place with a different state it will interact with a different part of the Universe in a different way.

Apart from that subtle difference the particles do not appear to purposefully use the information discovered to change their actions in the future.

However, some parts of existence do.  The animals and plants viruses and bacteria fungi and all life react to external events and change their behaviour because of them.  They react in some way to the external event. This "reaction" gets cleverer and cleverer until we have humans reacting and philosophising about thought this is what we call thinking.

But where is the border between two rocks hitting each other and a human philosopher thinking?

Where thinking becomes obvious is where parts of the Universe cooperate and communicate.  What parts of the Universe do that? The living ones.  I would define life not by reproduction but by the ability to cooperate and think.  Do women die when the pass the menopause?  Do men die when they have a hysterectomy? No.  They die when their body stops cooperating with itself and fails and falls over in a heap.  So I would define them to be alive while they can react and think.

Where is the Border between living things an inanimate things?

According to Seth LLoyd there isn't one, because we are all a part of the cosmos and parts of it think and the cosmos learns about itself.  Life goes all the way down to the quantum level through Quantum entanglement.  different quantum particles communicate through entanglement.

Communication continues down and down as far as we humans can see to below the quantum level.  Some expect it to go way beyond the limits of our quantum vision into p-branes.

Similarly if you have read Issac Asimov's Foundation's Edge he proposes a planet life form where the whole planet works as a single living being 'Gaia' and plans are made to form Galaxia, where the whole galaxy is brought together as a single life form. Where planets are galactic cells and humans the amino acids of this huge organism. This idea could be extended to the whole Universe and according to Seth Lloyd's ideas that is actually the case. Other scientist hypothesize of there being many Universe like bubbles on the foam of existence if that is the case there to be herds of Universes talking and communicating with each other.

At this stage it is all an intellectual discussion between theoretical physicists and we could not guarantee that any of this is true.  It is discussed here to show where some physicists are exploring the boundaries of thought and consciousness.

As a scientific aside:

According to Richard Feynman's Integral-Path formulation the probabilities of where the electron arrives during the The Double slit experiment is integrated over the whole of time and space.  Implying every electron is everywhere and every-when at the same time only with different probabilities.  Information can go backwards as well as forwards in time and the Universe can learn about itself.  Paraphrasing one amusing part time philosopher, Richard Bach, "If everywhere is here and every-when is now all that is left is here and now surely we will bump into each other once in a while."

In conclusion "Thought", for want of a better term, is the ability to cooperate and react at various levels of ability.  What is also a bit bizarre to our minds is that absolutely everything thinks or reacts  to some degree even if it is to our mind infinitesimally.

Lastly by this definition life is the ability to think and so everything is alive.