Recently, I was recollecting the day I was struck by lightning. Actually, I experienced a shock on my arm when a lightning bolt struck very nearby. This clarification is significant to what I want to talk about.
I don’t recall the date when this happened. I can’t even remember the month, the year, or even the decade it occurred. The best I can say is that it was during a season when the trees were green with leaves.
It was a pleasant day. Warm but neither hot nor humid. As I was relaxing in a park, my attention drew to the clouds. It was one of those days of a bright blue sky where clouds would appear and then evaporate as they passed overhead. Some where more shadowy than others, but not dark to the point of being threatening, or at least not at first. As the day wore on, the clouds did get heftier but they remained short lived, either drifting away or evaporating to reveal the clear sky they only briefly obscured.
At some point, a cloud produced some rain drops. I was laying in the grass. There were only just some sprinkles so I didn’t move, enjoying the sensation and sounds of the drops. The cloud moved on, as did the others. A cloud followed without any rain, and moved on, like the others.
Eventually a cloud arrived where there was a more steady rain, but light enough to convince me that retreating under the shade of a tree would keep the rain off. The rain increased in intensity but the tree’s canopy was still pretty effective in keeping the rain off, especially as I moved closer to the trunk. The tree’s canopy remained an effective umbrella even as the rain fell harder. What caused me to get wet was a river of water pouring down from the fork in the trunk above me. I was wet, but I was convinced that the cloud would be brief and that what would follow would dry me off quick enough.
At some point a lightning struck in the distance. I recall being surprised because I didn’t expect thunder from this cloud. The cloud was not very dark and it was small enough that I can see the sky off to all the sides. Although I remained convinced the cloud would soon pass, I did convince myself to find someplace other than near a tree. I may have decided to walk to a public building with a covered entrance that would be an adequate shelter. The walk would have taken no more than a couple minutes, but within a few seconds, there were multiple lightning strikes nearby and the rain fell harder.
Again, this was a small cloud. The area affected was probably only a few city blocks. The lightning strikes hit the ground in just that area. I fled to the nearest shelter, a utility shed for the park with just enough of an overhang to provide some shelter. The shed was concrete block in construction but it had a metal roof.
From the vantage point of this shelter, I marveled at the intensity of lightning strikes. I don’t recall seeing such a rapid succession of lightning strikes, and certainly where all were striking the ground very near by. I saw multiple strikes where I can see where they touched the ground, mostly in the street in the distance. It was a marvelous sight until there was a crack of thunder that seemed to precede a very bright flash of lightning. At that point, I felt the shock from the wall of the shed.
That’s the extent of my being struck by lightning. It did not alarm me. I recall a mindset of being entertained by the spectacle, not only of the oddness of the storm but also of my being where I was.
The storm stopped shortly after that shocking experience. Maybe there were a couple more lightning strikes near by, but I doubt it lasted more than a minute longer. The storm did not move to the next neighborhood, it simply shut off. The cloud dissipated and the blue sky returned. The only evidence of a storm was the wet grass and a few puddles.
While this is a pedestrian-sounding story, it has some elements that suggest I may have embellished some of the details. I may be minimizing what was actually a larger storm, or I may be exaggerating how much lightning was present or fantasizing about the shock coinciding with a nearby flash of lightning.
I’m reciting a story from memory. It was a first hand account of something I witnessed, but such accounts are inevitably subject to errors, either deliberate or mistaken. Further diminishing the trustworthiness of this account is that it occurred a long time ago, on a date I can’t remember.
I mention this story as an illustration of two different dimensions of time.
The first dimension I’ll mention is one that matches my background in science and engineering. This is the dimension of time that science addresses. It is the dimension of time that allows us to recognize causality. The day started with a morning, it had a noon and an afternoon, and an evening, all determined by the rotation of the Earth. This dimension of time built the clouds to the point of producing rain and lightning. It was the dimension of time that drenched my clothes.
I was always fascinated by how successful human science and mathematics has been in describing behavior over time. This dimension of time is very well behaved so that we can describe it with relatively simple mathematics even if it involves differential calculus. I always felt some suspicion that time is too analytic, to easily expressed as an independent variable that can be differentiated or integrated in terms that are either deterministic or probabilistic.
Time has multiple dimensions. One of those dimensions is analytic and this is the part that science and mathematics exploit. I use the term dimension in the sense of being perpendicular or orthogonal to each other. The other dimensions of time would necessarily be outside of analytic science, since any aspect of time that science can treat would be dependent on that same dimension of analytic time.
The first orthogonal dimension is history as illustrated in my above story. Did the events really occur as I described them? Was any part of the story true?
When I was thinking about this topic, I kept wanting to draw diagrams to illustrate my thoughts. The natural diagram is a timeline. The events, if they occurred, would have appeared on the same timeline that included events that certainly occurred such as there being a day with a morning, noon, evening, and night.
These are different concepts of the past.
A causal concept of the past is one where we have confidence the conditions of one point of time was the inevitable consequence of the conditions of a prior point of time. This allows us to extrapolate backwards to figure out what must have occurred earlier. An example of backward projects is the theory of evolution that says that each creature must be born from a prior generation, and at some point in the past, the current kind did not exist, so there must have been some kind of ancestry from a very different kind of creature. This causal concept also allows us to project into to the future such as in the example of climate debate that extrapolates consequences of changing compositions of the atmosphere.
Evolution and Climate change are both controversial. Sometimes we describe people who challenge these causally grounded explanations as anti-science. Sometimes such claims are unjustified because the contrary arguments do have some degree of contrary evidence or alternative causal mechanisms. However, many times the anti-science label is appropriate because the argument is about a different dimension of time.
One such anti-science dimension of time is history. While analytic time has a past, its past is qualitatively different from the past that history addresses. In particular, history separates from past analytic time events by the passage of time that introduces new challenges to the events recorded from the analytic time.
As events recede into the past, there are more opportunities to challenge the record.
Data science field frequently confronts challenges to the record as consequence of obtaining conflicting information or of failing to find collaborating evidence. In my story above, I can’t identify a precise time and date of the event. Even if I did, the storm was so brief and so localized that it is unlikely to have been recorded in weather records. While I don’t recall the date, I’m confident it occurred long before the modern era with abundant Internet-connected personal weather stations. It was too small and brief to be recorded at the distant airport. It also didn’t result in any damage that would be news worthy and it certainly did not injure me or even ruin my clothes.
The analogy of evolution is the lack of clear record of the lineage that traces my ancestry to individuals living at the time of the Roman empire, let alone the time when my ancestors lacked the anatomy to walk upright. We can reasonably assume that my ancestors must have had ancestors and there was a time when none of my ancestors were of my species, but the actual record of that ancestry is lost.
The lost record is an opening to challenge the story.
The other challenge offered by the passage of time with history is the acquisition of contrary information. In my story, someone may track down people who knew me at the time and they would report that I never mentioned this story. While the story was not that extraordinary, it could easily have come up in casual conversations and I could have told it in a memorable way. There may also be some park records that show that the tree I described was not arranged in a way that would have resulted in water channeling down the trunk in the way I described.
The scientific realm of analytic time often consists of conditions where all of the relevant observations are available immediately. This is especially true during scientific experiments. History contrasts with science in that contemporary observations take time to accumulate. Historians of human history have the endless task of reevaluating assessments of even ancient history when new evidence is uncovered such as the discovery of some artifact that doesn’t belong in the existing narrative.
Both history and science deal with time, but there is something very different about the nature of time that they study.
Scientific time is purified for the optimization of causative explanations, where the causes are completely natural, where all events are inevitable outcomes of preconditions and the relevant laws of nature.
In practice, the time that historians study includes the scientific time, but it includes an aspect of time that science excludes. I propose decomposing the time of historians into the scientific part and the left-over non-scientific part: the latter being a pure version of historian’s time, independent of scientist’s time. Again, in practice, historians work with both, but I think the non-scientific time is something that can be separated from the scientific time (time of causation and mathematically analytical).
The historian’s time is one where there are increasing opportunities to challenge the explanation as the event becomes older. The challenges come from the obtaining of additional evidence that was impractical to retrieve earlier. This later-discovered evidence supports alternative explanations for the recorded events, or it undermines the original explanation, even if that explanation was well documented under scientifically controlled experiments. In addition, as the event receded into history, there original evidence can become lost or corrupted so that there is less confidence that the contemporary evidence was correct.
The pure version of scientific time makes possible causative explanations. The pure version of historian’s time makes possible argumentation challenging the recorded events.
I find it helpful to decompose time into these two parts to understand the world. Scientific time provides knowledge (knowledge coming from the scientific method). Historian’s time is the domain of intelligence that discovers new explanations that account for the changing state of the available evidence.
From scientific time, we come up with a deterministic world (including randomness with stable distributions and correlations). A consequence of the purification process for this form of time is that it undermines the concepts of free will, consciousness, qualia, intelligence itself, and especially supernatural (soul, spirits, gods, etc). The highest standard for a scientific explanation is one that is inevitable given the state of everything at the time. Scientific excludes everything except the mechanistic determinism.
Within historic time (after separating out the scientific aspects) we experience the world with consciousness, experience, contemplation, and intelligence. I described this in earlier posts. One of my ideas was that our experiences exist separated from the physical world by the passage of time. Our experiences lag behind the mechanisms we are observing. To some extent, this is already excepted: we acknowledge that living things have reaction times, a substantial lag between the occurrence of an event and the living being’s response to the event. For humans we can measure the time to recognize the observation and the additional time required to get the muscles to act upon that information. That delay is on the order of milliseconds, far too late to have any influence on the event that already occurred.
I suspect the same occurs within the processes within the brain. Modern science can measure electrical and metabolic activities within the brain in real time and these activities match with different experiences reported by the subject. While this may be true, I suspect there remains a delay between the physically measured conditions in the brain and the mental awareness, consciousness, or intelligent interpretation experienced by the subject. The delay may be short, but it is not zero. Our consciousness lags behind the physical world.
Similarly, general intelligence lags behind the physical world, both the physical events stimulating our senses and the physical activities within the brain. For every day experiences, this lag is very short, but it is significant. The lag is when we experience the world, consciously, intelligently. Perhaps an alternative theory to IQ is to measure intelligence by how much lag the consciousness exists, where the longer the lag the higher the intelligence. Consciousness that works with a very short lag does not have time to consider information that will occur later (or has occurred earlier) and thus the conclusions are less abstract and less skeptical. Consciousness that operates on a longer delay from the physical world would be capable of more abstractions, better pattern recognition, and more innovations.
Historian time is a magnification of this lag, made possible through language and written records. As an event recedes into history, we have more time to collect more evidence that allows us (collectively) to come to a deeper understanding of the topic.
Historian’s gradually improving of the understanding of a past event or condition leads to intelligence. This intelligence is ineffectual in terms of having any influence on what actually happened. There is no expectation that a historian has free will over a historic event. The only practical goal is to better understand the event. It is not practical to change a historic event.
Shrinking the lag back to human consciousness, the same limitation exists. The intelligence provides a better understanding of what just happened without offering any method to influence what already had occurred.
Consciousness may be an illusion, a consequence of mechanisms processes occurring within the brain. Alternatively, it may be real but separated by time from the processes within the body. The result is the same, there is no free will because the intelligence has no influence on the historic event.
I believe in free will. I also believe in a theory of intelligence that grants more intelligent power to the ability to take more time thinking about something. The above discussion of dividing time into two components: an analytic component suitable to scientific discovery of causative processes, and an historic component suitable for incorporating additional and often conflicting evidence into better understanding what happened. Neither of these components of time offers intelligence any influence on the physical world.
Free will is about experiences of an individual interacting with his environment. Similar to my extrapolation of human response-time to historian’s time for the same purpose of better understanding of the world, there is a similar relationship between the individual’s interaction with the environment and the broader social/political processes of human persuasion.
Free will requires a connection between the time-lagged intelligence of past events with the mechanistic processes involving the physical world including the physical processes within the human brain and body. The connection may be the same as the connection between leaders and followers when trying to enact the leader’s vision: that connection is persuasion.
Persuasion occurs over time, but it is a form of time that is distinct from scientific time or historian’s time. Persuasion involves a variety of activities over time to convince the follower that the leader is worthy of being followed, that the leader has a convincing vision with a credibly beneficial outcome. The persuasion may involve a variety of techniques ranging from rhetorical devices to authoritarian approaches, but each of these require the passage of time to get the outcome desired. This passage of time is the persuasion element of time.
Just as a leader can enact his will through the persuasion of followers, the individual free will can be expressed through persuasion at the timescales of human present-tense experiences.
In earlier posts, I described a supply-chain model of intelligence involving a succession of intelligent processes to present intelligible information to human consciousness that presumably resides in a specific portion of the brain. The supply-chain is an analogy to industrial supply chains where each stage involves a provider and a consumer that later becomes a provider for a down-stream consumer. Industrial supply-chains use persuasion (in the form of negotiated contracts) to enact changed desired by the consumer.
A supply chain for intelligence could involve a similar chain of persuasion. The free will of consciousness is not able to persuade the physical world of the scientific time (where everything is deterministic). It may instead persuade a preceding level of intelligence that is closer to the physical world. The process iterates until the most fundamental level of intelligence exists with the least possible lag from the physical world.
The propagation of persuasion upstream of a supply-chain of intelligible information gives the conscious some form of free will: it is able to persuade a level of intelligence that is consciousness can not experience. Just as for industrial supply chains, the upstream chain eventually ends with the physical world. The first step in the industrial supply chain is the mining of raw materials from the Earth. That first step can not negotiate with the planet to deliver the raw materials to fulfill the miner’s obligations. The miner may have the option to seek locations where the material may be found, or optimize the processes to extract this material, but it can’t persuade the Earth to deliver what is not naturally available.
In this analogy, industrial supply chains do not have free will. Our choices for what we can make is ultimately constrained by preexisting resources of the planet. Something like vibranium may be very useful, but the will to use it will be frustrated by the fact it doesn’t exist anywhere to be mined. Despite this inherent limitation, modern industrial supply chains are able to deliver a seemingly endless variety of products that satisfy an ever expanding range of desires. The industrial supply chain is able to deliver a satisfactory approximation to free will of the marketplace.
A similar situation may occur within life (all living beings, not just humans). There is a propagation of persuasion down a chain of intelligence where the first step has the minimum possible lag from the physical world as life can possibly get. Like the raw-material miner in the industrial model, at this most fundamental level of intelligence it lacks any persuasive influence on the physical world: it lacks a free will. However, like the mining example, this base intelligence is distributed with a lot of different options for what can be mined and where. The downstream consumer has the choice of picking the upstream provider that best meets its needs, and at each stage there are a lot of competing providers to choose from.
The free will of the consciousness comes from the choice of endless configurations of supply chains. Free will is the selection of the broad range of options made available even though each of these options lack any free will to influence the physical world governed by scientific time.
The third component of time is that what enabled persuasion to occur.
Time, as we experience it, has different components sharing a common unit (such as seconds). There is the scientific time that is analytic in a way that makes possible mechanistic models that are very successful at modeling the physical world. There is the historic time that allows for growing intelligence made possible by the additional evidence that comes inevitably from the passage of time. For intelligence to act upon the physical (mechanistic) world to exercise a free will, there is a component of time required for persuasion through some process that allows for selecting the opportunities presented by the otherwise indifferent physical world.
A recurring discomfort I have had about human history is this problem. Why is it that the modern scientific revolution started just a few hundred years ago despite the fact that modern humans have resided on this planet for many tens of thousands of years, and have resided in sophisticated civilizations for thousands of years. I imagine that the people living in ancient Egypt (for example) had the requisite intelligence to produce a similar industrial revolution. Perhaps the reason that held humanity back for this long is that we originally understood time to be the conglomeration of analytic time, historian’s time, and the time for persuasion. The true innovation of the scientific revolution was to break time apart into its component parts, allowing it to focus entirely on the part that is outside of the challenges of historians and outside the influence of persuasion. By separating time this way, we have enjoyed the benefits of science. However, science ignores the other aspects of time, the aspects of time that give rise to intelligence and free will. This exclusion leads us to believe that consciousness and free will are illusions because the world is completely mechanistic. The world is mechanistic when time is reduced to a line, a single component that it mathematically analytic. Time may have other components that are independent of the analytic component.
The ancients worked with a notion of time the swept out a volume that simultaneously included the scientific element of time and the historian and persuasion elements. Because they lacked the innovation to separate these components, they were unable to enjoy a scientific revolution. However, I think we may be missing something by focusing on time as a line instead of a volume. The multidimensional nature of time can help to understand consciousness, intelligence, free will, and perhaps even God.