Superhuman: Book Review and Special Podcast
10 September 2018 | 8:48 pm

In the quantum realm, the act of observing something--a photon, or an electron, say--can disturb or change its properties. In a very real, physical sense, we construct reality just by looking it.

This quantum quirk came to mind while I was reading [i]Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity[/i], by evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper. I learned that biologists can now visualise the physical form of memories in the brain--yes, you should think of the wispy, tendrilous structures that Dumbledore extracts from Harry Potter's mind, says Hooper--and that the act of remembering degrades the accuracy of our memories each time we try to look back and recall a past event. Hooper also explains that we have evolved a flawed memory as a kind of defence mechanism that allows us to edit out the bad parts of our personal history, subconsciously reconstructing reality to make it more palatable, day by day.

By pointing out this poetic resonance between quantum physics and memory, I do not mean to suggest that we should expect to find that consciousness and intelligence are directly controlled by quantum processes in the brain (although just how these higher-level properties emerge from mindless physical laws are exactly the kinds of issues that FQXi researchers may soon be tackling as part of our Agency in the Physical World program). In fact, Hooper, who joins me on a special edition of the podcast, warns against looking for genetic building blocks for complex traits, in an overly simplistic way. But these are just some of the fascinating facts about the workings of our minds and bodies that I pulled from Hooper's treasure trove of a book, which skilfully combines conversations with some of the most extraordinary people alive with meticulously researched ideas from the frontiers of genetics, in an effort to unpick what makes the best of us excel.

On the podcast, Hooper chats about his hunt for the intangible roots of intelligence. Is it in our genes? Or our upbringing? He's chosen some pretty smart people to help him examine these questions: math prodigy and chess grandmaster John Nunn, (double) Booker-prize winning author of the historical novels [i]Wolf Hall[/i] and [i]Bring Up the Bodies[/i], Hilary Mantel, and Nobel laureate and (appropriately enough) geneticist, Paul Nurse. Hooper quickly dismisses the "bogus" nature-v-nurture conflict often promoted in the media, stating that both undoubtedly play a role in fostering intellectual achievement. ...

Superhuman (September 10, 2018 podcast)
10 September 2018 | 12:00 am

Evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper discusses his new book, which examines the extremes of mental and physical ability. He discusses encounters with some of the world's cleverest people, investigates the role of genetics in intelligence, memory, drive and focus, and describes people whose immense resilience has seen them come through terrible adversity. Hooper also describes lessons we can take from human evolution when programming AI.

Space-time from Collapse of the Wave-function
9 September 2018 | 6:40 pm

The world of large things such as tables, planets, stars and galaxies, is extremely different from the world of small things such as electrons, protons, atoms, and photons. The most striking difference is that a table is never found in more than one place at the same time, whereas as electron or an atom can be in many places at the same time. Why should there be this difference? After all, a table is nothing but a collection of an extremely large number of atoms. Why is it that when a lot of atoms are put together to make a large object, the property of being in more than one place is

In physics, simple sounding questions sometimes have far-reaching consequences, when their answers are found. That seems to be the case here too. [i]When we understand why a table cannot be in more than one place at the same time, we also understand where space and time come from![/i] We have recently shown that a remarkable new physical mechanism, known as spontaneous localization, is at play, and is responsible for the emergence of space-time, and also for the aforementioned property of large objects (Tejinder P. Singh, "Space and time as a consequence of GRW quantum jumps," arXiv:1806.01297 [gr-qc] (2018), to appear in [i]Zeitschrift fur Naturforschung A[/i]).

Quantum theory, which gives the rules for the motion of microscopic objects such as electrons, does not provide an explanation for this difference between a table and an electron. This is all the more surprising considering that the theory is extremely successful in explaining a great variety of phenomena, and is not contradicted by any experiment. The motion of large objects is described by Newtonian mechanics, which is generally assumed to be a limiting case of quantum mechanics. There is however a catch here: Newtonian mechanics can be derived as a limiting case of quantum mechanics only if we additionally assume that large objects are localized, and cannot be in more than one place simultaneously. The unexplained difference between large and small remains unexplained; it has been with us ever since the birth of quantum mechanics. It is also at the heart of the so-called quantum measurement problem, and has been immortalized by the so-called Schrodinger's cat paradox.

Could it be that apart from quantum mechanics and Newtonian mechanics, there is a new mechanics, to which the former two are approximations? This new mechanics will have a built-in mechanism such that while any object can indeed be in a superpos...


More News from this Feed See Full Web Site