Introduction – Virtual Reality and Lucid Dreaming

reality-media-Alice-matrix-loThis blog is an exploration into how new forms of immersive media such as virtual reality might affect our minds. Forms of media that could be considered immersive, creating a feeling of ‘presence’, have been around for a while. Film has always done a good job of that for me. The current wave of VR technology though, has the potential to create a truly immersive experience. The job of making this happen in a beneficial way is now in the hands of the developers. At one end of the spectrum lies computer generated VR with the ability to move around and interact with a virtual environment. At the other is the new breed of 360 spherical video allowing much less interactivity though a high degree of visual realism. There seems to be a threshold at which our mind is ‘tricked’ into perceiving the reality presented as real. When this happens, a curious sensation occurs. Part of us takes the experience as real while part of us is aware that it is not real. This is a sensation similar to that attained in lucid dreaming. Where in dreams, attaining lucidity is the struggle to be consciously aware of the illusion, virtual reality comes from the opposite direction, deliberately ‘tricking’ the mind into believing the illusion. They end up in a similar place. Allowing the mind to suspend disbelief and buy in to the seeming reality of the experience. There is often a slight shock when waking from a lucid dream or taking off a VR headset. When believing an experience to be real a deeper psychological and emotional impact can happen. Our unconscious mind seems fundamentally unable to differentiate between a perceived experience and one that actually happens. Techniques such as hypnosis have long been using this to create changes in the mind. This could also occur in a vivid virtual reality experience. We are exposing ourselves to an experience and emotional state that our mind fundamentally believes is real. As in hypnosis this has potential for positive change though we could also be exposing ourselves to psychological damage. The closer we get to a believable virtual reality the higher the stakes become. I believe filmmakers and VR developers have a responsibility to lead humanity on a positive journey with this.

Lucid Dreaming – a simulation

I’ve been running the London video production company Promo Video for the past 10 years and a practitioner of lucid dreaming and out of body experience (OBE) for 20. The two things are coinciding in a virtual reality production to simulate the lucid dream/OBE experience. The key to lucid dreaming is to recognise the dream from within the dream. Our rational mind is quite ineffectual in the dream state making this difficult. There are many techniques, mostly involving recognising physical impossibilities or sensations associated with the dream. There is also the possibility of maintaining awareness throughout the onset of sleep leading to ‘out of body experience’ (OBE) type sensations and then lucid dreaming. Our aim is to simulate the sensations and reality testing so as to instigate a moment of recognition while asleep.

One of the effects of being completely immersed in a dream yet aware of the illusion is that waking reality can feel illusionary. From this perspective come paradigm shattering notions on the nature of reality. The idea that reality is an illusion created by our consciousness has been the core of practices like Dzogchen Buddhism for thousands of years. To what extent we can take our material universe as a kind of ‘virtual reality’ or ‘simulation’ is also being explored on the fringes of physics and philosophy. As the technology and media we experience on a daily basis become more immersive we may find our perspective on reality changing. This blog is an exploration into this fascinating though precarious time in human evolution. Not an examination of different theories and view points to ascertain credibility but more to see how learning about and viewing the world from different perspectives can affect our experience of reality.

The History of Virtual Reality

The History of Virtual Reality



Although the term was popularised in the 1980s, the idea of VR has been around for a while. The first recorded mention was by Antonin Artaud in 1938 in a collection of essays discussing the illusory nature of characters and objects in theatre. The first primitive headsets and computer based flight simulators began in the late 60s. An attempt at consumer VR began in the early 90s aimed at the games industry though it never gathered momentum. This time, things look different. The technology has advanced and some of the worlds biggest companies are investing billions. At the 2016 K8 developers conference in April, Facebook announced their 10 year roadmap. To connect the world largely through video and virtual reality. Mobile VR will likely be what propels it into the mainstream. Smart phones with Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard being the two ends of the spectrum at the moment. VR has traditionally been the domain of computer generated graphics though recent developments in 360 spherical video technology has brought the film and video industry on board. If the technology continues to evolve rapidly we could expect the two to converge in the future. The mindbending potential future of virtual reality is discussed over the next few posts.

The Future of Virtual Reality

The Future of Virtual Reality



If the technology continues to develop can we envisage a matrix level of presence and immersiveness in the future? Some of the research at Oculus is suggesting a point at which we’d find it difficult to distinguish video from reality. This doesn’t seem too far in the future, high frame rates and high resolution 16K video recording. Creating an interactive video realistic environment could be on the horizon with technologies such as light field rendering. The brain is quick to spot discrepancies between body movement and perception though advances are already being made with body tracking suits. If we are ever able to feed sensory information directly into the brain we’ll likely have a convincing simulation. The question is whether we will continue toward the ultimate immersive technology or whether we decide that it’s a novelty with limited practical application. There may also be physical and psychological risks. At the moment though, we seem happy to explore further. I’m intrigued to see how augmented reality merges with VR and what applications this ‘mixed reality’ offers. I’ve yet to be convinced that traditional filmmaking will find a place in VR though I can see gaming and interactive films merging. Consuming film and video using a VR headset requires a very different approach to filmmaking. I can see VR films working best when more experiential rather than heavy drama laden stories. Documentary is an interesting field emerging from 360 video. The sense of presence and empathy with the characters can surpass 2D video. Where I imagine VR will particularly shine is in training and education. When the mind believes it has experienced something, a deep imprint is made. This has been used for years in hypnosis, therapy and visualisation. VR could take this to another level and allow us to design our own minds, personalities and behaviours.


The Simulation Hypothesis Part 1 – Nick Bostrom’s ‘Simulation Argument’

 The Simulation Hypothesis



All this talk of the future brings us nicely to the simulation hypothesis. This is the idea that we live in a form of virtual reality. That our universe and experience of space time is a simulation run from outside space time (extrinsic simulation) or from within it (intrinsic simulation).  Odd though it may seem, it’s hard to disprove and in fact seems to support much of what we see in physics. This is an overview of the current thinking on the subject along with my own meanderings.

The simulation argument

Nick Bostrom’s paper
in 2003 introduced the simulation argument. A logical speculation on our future possibilities with virtual reality technology. He refers to the idea of ‘ancestor simulations’. Completely immersive virtual realities based on the world and evolutionary history, familiar to the beings that create them. The argument assumes that a post-human civilisation of the future would have enormous computing power. This seems reasonable when projecting indefinitely into the future given the exponential growth in computer technology today. It also assumes substrate independence. This is the idea in philosophy jargon that ‘mental states can supervene on any of a broad class of physical substrates’. In other words, consciousness is not confined to carbon based neural networks like the brain but can also be implemented in other forms like a suitably powerful computer. This is a controversial assumption that opens up discussion on the nature of consciousness. He describes a post-human civilisation where we have merged with technology and have enormous computer power and intelligence. Using temporal Logic, he then argues that at least one of these three possibilities MUST be true.
1. Human level civilisations never reach this post-human technologically mature state because they go extinct before reaching it.
2. Post-human technologically mature civilisations do exist though they lose interest in developing ancestor simulations for whatever reason.
3. We are most likely in such a simulation.

• Possibility number one is of immediate concern. Averting extinction in the midst of the existential risks posed by our advancing technology seems like a long shot. Molecular nanotechnology is one of many likely candidates among existential risk speculators. A kind of mechanical bacteria that developed for malicious ends or by accident could very quickly wipeout most life on the planet. Unless our psychological and ethical evolution can keep pace with the technology we’ll be hard pushed to make the right decisions in the precarious world of the future. For the purposes of the argument though, possibility 1 doesn’t need to be quite so catastrophic. Civilisation would just need to collapse, locking humanity into a continual primitive state, preventing it from reaching technically advanced post-humanity.  This would also assume that most human level civilisations in existence would likely evolve the same way.

• Possibility 2 assumes that we will decide not to run ancestors simulations and that all intelligent civilisations in existence would likely converge in this way. Maybe due to ethical considerations, law or simply that our post-human descendants have no interest in it. It will be interesting over the coming decades to see if our desire to create virtual reality experiences continues.

• If we ever develop a convincing virtual reality simulation and still have the desire to run it, the chances that number 3 is correct would increase. We would likely already be in a simulation ourselves. The converse is also true. If we’re not in a simulation it’s unlikely that our descendants will ever run one. If we do reach the point of creating a simulation we can safely assume we are in one ourselves and that the creators of it were also simulated. Nested simulations created within other simulations. Some have likened this to virtual computing that we see today. Java script and web-applets for instance, run on a simulated computer inside a physical one. Nick Bostrom then goes on to postulate on the amount of computing power required to build a sufficiently convincing simulation. Given our lack of knowledge at present he considers it reasonable to attribute even proportions to the three possibilities.


reality media godthefather

This starts to sound something like the idea of God. The philosopher David Pearce said in relation to Nick Bostrum’s paper
The simulation argument is perhaps the first interesting argument for the existence of a creator in 2000 years
An ancestor simulation in the style of Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument would require a creator. Presumably one nostalgic for the world it knows and recognises. In this case, if we are in a simulation ourselves we might assume that the creator programmed evolution according to the evolutionary laws by which it itself knew and evolved by. Such a creator is in accordance with the regular view of evolution and requires no existence of an eternal God. This seems like a more palatable idea to atheists. It seems equally possible though that the creator of a simulation would have no likeness to us whatsoever. A simulation could be created and then evolve according to its own intrinsic laws. There needs to be no mastermind overseeing it as it progresses. Although the simulation hypothesis suggests a creator it does nothing to speculate on the starting point of consciousness. Consciousness would still require an initial material universe in which to evolve if the assumption is that consciousness has indeed evolved from a pre-existing material universe. Another perspective is that consciousness is not a product of an external universe but is in fact the creator of it. More on that later.

On the 3 possibilities laid out in the simulation argument.

It seems to me that in order to survive and navigate the complex and potentially dangerous technology of the future, we would need to develop a consciousness very different from that which we have at present. We would need a much greater understanding of reality and be able to act as a cohesive group. With greater cohesion among sentient beings comes empathy and ethical maturity. Without this, extinction seems certain. I can’t envisage a midway point where advanced, intelligent civilisations race around the galaxy fighting each other. I’d expect future technology to advance so fast that conflict would result in extinction very quickly. So assuming we do evolve into some kind of enlightened civilisation, tempering conflict and attaining a high level of foresight and awareness, would we run such a simulation if capable of doing so? I can’t see any advanced post-human civilisation having any desire to maintain a Truman Show style of virtual reality on sentient beings. I think the idea of maintaining and overseeing a simulation would be considered pointless by any civilisation intelligent enough to survive that far into technological maturity. I could however see an interest in cultivating life and consciousness. If at some point in the distant future we manage to program a universe out of some kind of big bang and evolve life and consciousness according to some predetermined set of rules could this be considered a simulation? This might not require the astronomical computing power of maintaining a simulation as outlined in Nick Bostrom’s argument. A relatively simple set of rules could then potentially create an intricate universe like that which we see around us. A simple example might be Conway’s game of life.  A cellular automation mathematical game whereby ‘it’s evolution is determined by it’s initial state, requiring no further input’. There are only a few initial rules though the possibilities are huge, creating highly intricate patterns. If a universe was creatable by some future technology then we’d presumably go on to create many. We would most likely be in one of these ourselves. It seems feasible to me that the underlying physics of the universe could have been programmed by a consciousness such as our future selves. If we were able to ‘grow’ sentient life by creating a material universe, each universe would then spawn more universes ad infinitum. Future speculations aside, there is a growing school of thought that our own consciousness does in some way creates our reality and perception of a material universe. From this perspective all reality might be considered virtual. This is considered in the next post.

The Simulation Hypothesis Part 2 – Physics and Tom Campbell’s virtual reality model

Support in physics

The debate between materialism and consciousness has been going on for a while. Democratus in 400 BC popularised the theory of the atomic universe. That it exists in and of itself and needs nothing else to explain it. Plato’s philosophy of idealism however assumed that the basic underlying structure of everything was not the atom but ‘abstract mental forms that determine the object’s properties’. Most science until relatively recently has explored the material, atomic model of the universe. Einstein despite many achievements in life spent his final  28 years in vain searching for the theory of everything based on an atomic universe. Although his early discoveries led to the field of quantum mechanics he was uneasy with it and found it ‘spooky’. He desperately wanted to find a way to ‘complete’ quantum mechanics it so it made sense.

Quantum Mechanics

Double slit experiment
The famous double slit experiment exposes the dual properties of light – that it can manifest as both a wave and a particle.  Light shone at a barrier containing two slits produces a diffraction pattern behind it as would be expected of a wave as in (b). Einstein however, in studying the photoelectric effect realised that light exhibited momentum as would a particle. When conducting the double slit experiment by firing individual ‘particles’ of light or photons at the barrier one might expect each particle to pass through one of the two slits and create the pattern as in (a) where the particles bunch up behind each slit. The actual pattern observed is still (b). Schrödinger came up with the concept of a probability wave to describe the effect. Each particle has equal probability of passing through either slit and these two probable paths interfere with each other on the other side of the barrier to create the interference pattern. However, if a detector is placed at the slits to determine which slit a particle passes through, the probability wave collapses and the photons behave like particles and the pattern in (a) is observed. If the detectors are left in place but no measurement is taken, the wave pattern in B is still observed. The act of measurement and collecting data seems to change the way light works. The same effect is seen when firing electrons at the slits. A molecule composed of 381 atoms is the biggest particle successfully tested so far. Eugene Wigner, a Nobel prize winning physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics said ‘it will remain remarkable in what ever way our future concepts may develop that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality.’

The quantum eraser variation on this experiment is even more intriguing. The photons are fired at the two slits as usual and have equal probability of taking either path. When detectors are placed at the slits observing which path they take, the probability wave breaks down and as expected, the interference pattern is not observed. However if the ‘which path’ information is then erased, the interference pattern resumes. This suggests that the collapse of the probability wave is not simply due to the measurement but rather whether the information exists.

The delayed choice quantum eraser variation on this first conducted in 1999, gets weirder. 3-delayed-choice-quantum-eraserPhotons are fired at the double slits and then separated into their quantum entangled pairs. The idea of ‘quantum entanglement’ and non-locality in physics puzzled even Einstein who dubbed it ‘spooky action at a distance’. It describes the apparent ability of ‘entangled’ particles to instantaneously ‘know’ about each other’s quantum state, even when separated by large distances – even light years.  The path to the detector of one half of the pair is delayed relative to the other via a series of reflections. The interference pattern exhibited by each twin in the entangled pair is the same even though one is delayed in time relative to the other. The twin taking the shorter path appears to ‘know’ whether it’s other twin is being detected (and therefore whether it will appear as a wave or a particle) even though it happens in the future. Almost as if the universe instantaneously arranges it’s particles in anticipation of future events.

Physicist Tom Campbell interprets the results of these experiments as evidence of a virtual reality. He proposes that along with the 3-D universe we perceive, there exists a meta-layer of pure information, information being the underlying building blocks of reality and manipulatable by consciousness.  When a measurement is made, information then exists and affects the behaviour of the physical universe. The ‘spooky action at a distance’ and the seeming ability to move and ‘communicate’ in time makes sense from the perspective of the information exchange taking place within a meta-layer rather than the space time constraints of the physical universe.


Theories of a virtual reality model such as Tom Campbell’s information layer or a computer simulation programmed by an entity other than ourselves suggest this and other phenomena in physics as evidence.
• We appear to exist in a digital universe (rather than analogue) composed of discrete ‘things’. Things in each class seem to have the same properties. All electrons, for example have the same properties. This would be consistent with a digital universe that was computable.
• A maximum speed (the speed of light) is a curiosity explainable by a pixelated universe. It could be seen as the time taken to transfer information from one ‘pixel’ to another.
• The warping of space time by dense mass such as a black hole (extremely dense information) as predicted by general relativity might be likened to a slow data bottleneck in computing.
• The paradox of the big bang might be explainable in terms of a ‘computer program’ that would have had a start point or boot up.
The way observation appears to affect physical behaviour as in the double slit experiment is sometimes likened to the way a computer generated VR game only renders the complex graphics when the gamer is looking at them. Outside the game’s field of view, the information exists though isn’t rendered until observed. This is to suggest that reality doesn’t actually manifest unless it is being observed (although the information does exist such as in Campbell’s meta-layer)

Are we living in a virtual reality?
The idea of living in a simulation or virtual reality seems to create an adverse reaction in us. It suggests that the reality we experience is some pale comparison to a real reality that exists elsewhere. This might just be an existential crisis driven by our ego. The idea of differentiating between a real and virtual reality might just be a product of our limited understanding. Consciousness and perception might be all that really exists. On some level, the universe certainly looks like an elaborate computer program. What then do we mean by the term simulation? Something that has been programmed from the outside or some reality being programmed on the fly by our own consciousness in accordance with the anthropic principle?  Are we post-human lifeforms living in some kind of matrix style pod perceiving a simulated world? Or are we virtual entities running some kind of artificial intelligence? Are we programmed by a consciousness derived from our descendants, some completely other class of being or our own selves? If reality is really just information and the material universe merely a reflection created by our consciousness, we are in a sense, living in virtual reality. The important thing maybe, is not whether we are in the simulation or not or whether consciousness proceeds matter or vice versa. All theories and ideas are just models. What interests me and what I think is of most beneficial to us is that exploring our experience of reality from these differing perspectives opens our minds and can give great insights into consciousness and the nature of reality. Spend a day or two interacting with the world on the assumption that it’s a simulation or that our consciousness is producing it. Simply shifting our perspective can be enough to loosen the grip that our habitual thinking has on us and experience the world in a different way.

Virtual Immortality

Virtual Immortality


Medicine may at some point reach a runway point where every year we manage to extend lifespan by more than a year, giving some degree of immortality as long as medical technology keeps up the pace. At the other end of the immortality quest, there is the idea of uploading our minds to computers. This is a wild card. Research is mostly in the direction of developing high resolution brain scans to the point where one day we could map an entire human brain and run it on a computer. Whether this could produce any kind of continuity of consciousness between the donor and the simulated consciousness is debatable. It would be an interesting experiment to undertake. A simulated brain might contain memories and patterns but I see no reason to assume it would have any sense of self and ego in the way I experience it. Some research with patients suffering from brain haemorrhage suggests that the self may be related to a particular part of the brain. When this part of the brain goes down, the patient can experience a sense of selflessness and oneness like that experienced in mystical states. When the haemorrhage stops, the sense of self returns. My simulated brain might then have some sort of ego though I don’t imagine I’d feel any sense of being that self or perceiving another consciousness. We might be able to induce consciousness in machines though I don’t know that we’d automatically feel that we were that consciousness. Which isn’t to say though that mind uploading wouldn’t be useful. Allowing a mind to retain its memory and understanding and continue to evolve in another form could be hugely beneficial for our evolution. We may find that through spiritual work or introducing computer technology into our brains we may see a dissolving of the self. With less attachment to the ego we might see the idea of retaining a sense of self after death, pointless. My experience and intuition leads me to think that the brain is not the producer of consciousness but a kind of receiver. I feel consciousness could be implemented in a form other than a biological brain as suggested by the substrate independence assumption of the simulation argument. To get any sense of subjective transference of consciousness though I’m not sure simple brain scanning or programming is enough. I could envisage a future where we combine technology with projecting consciousness in the way that some use remote viewing and out of body experience now. If we are ever able to upload our minds to a computer we’d presumably require a virtual reality to live in, whether an ancestor simulation or some completely new form of reality.


Is time real? Lee Smolin and cosmological natural selection

Is Time Real?


is time real

Is space an arena where things happen or is space simply an aspect of reality that grows out of a network of causal relationships. If the universe was moved slightly to the left would it make any difference? Classical Newtonian physics would say yes but the modern approach to relativity theory is suggesting that it would be exactly the same universe. The time taken for light to travel between events in the universe makes time an implicit factor governing the causal relationships between everything that happens in the universe. The big question is; is time an emergent phenomena or is time fundamental, from which everything else is a derivative?

Laws of physics

The curious thing about the laws of physics is that they appear to be very specific.  Why these laws and not some other laws, say some? The anthropic principle (a philosophical consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the consciousness that observes it) seems a bit of a cop out for some scientists as it isn’t falsifiable. Biology has evolution and natural selection to give it’s laws reason. The laws are such as to optimise survival, reproduction and growth.  The laws of physics have no such luxury.  They describe a universe that is subject to unchanging rules. The only thing that makes any sense of the incredible specificity of the physical laws, says theoretical physicist Lee Smolin is that they evolved that way through a process of natural selection.

Can the laws of physics change?

Relativity theory, our most successful model in describing the universe on a cosmological scale makes the assumption that  the laws are the same at any point in space and time. This is an assumption that some feel we are unjustified in making. A paper in 2010 claimed evidence that the fine structure constant, also known as alpha, a number that determines the strength of interactions between light and matter is subject to variation. It appears not to vary in time but space. It also appears to vary in a particular direction through the universe, like a bar magnet. Our part of the universe appears to be about midway along this axis. With too much variance in the strength of alpha, biochemistry such as the production of carbon might be impossible suggesting that our part of the universe might be finely tuned for carbon based life. In his book the science delusion, Rupert Sheldrake cites evidence suggesting that universal constants such as the speed of light and the gravitational constant are in fact fluctuating and maybe subject to evolution. If the laws of physics can change in time or space, what then is the mechanism guiding that?

Cosmological natural selection


If the laws of nature could be said to evolve in some way what then is the ‘meta-law’ guiding this evolution? We could still ask why this meta-law and not some other. If the meta-law was itself subject to evolution or some initial conditions we might also ask why those particular initial conditions? In the quest to find some mechanism for evolution such as reproduction in biology, Lee Smolin has revisited some earlier ideas on black holes as a reproductive agent. He proposes that there are a population of universes all with fixed physical parameters though variable over the population. Some universes produce black holes, regions of such extreme density and gravity that even light cannot escape. ‘Child’ universes are born and exist within the event horizons of these black holes. The physical laws of some universes will be conducive to producing black holes and some won’t. A successful universe, one which produces many ‘children’ therefore, will be optimised to maximise the production of black holes. ‘Children’ of such a universe would also more likely ‘inherit’  physical laws of the parent universe and have physical parameters conducive to the production of black holes. This optimisation could occur through incremental changes in the laws of physics through each incarnation. Smolin also indicates that a universe optimised for the production of black holes will also be optimised for the existence of life.

Is time fundamental or emergent from some deeper concept?

The idea of the laws of physics evolving in some way through time suggests the flow of time to be something real and fundamental. Although our experience of the flow of time seems obvious it’s presence in physics is ambiguous. The classical physics of Isaac Newton in the 18th century viewed time as we observe it, moving steadily in one direction from one moment to another. These theories of time and motion do a great job in describing the world we see around us. At the extremes however, the subatomic or the larger cosmological scale, Newtonian mechanics breaks down. In his relativity theories, Einstein discovered that time was not absolute and was in fact relative to both motion and gravity. In simplistic terms a clock will run slower when moving relative to an observer. A clock will also run slower when subject to a gravitational field. With the past and future spread out in time as a dimension like space, the present moment has no particular relevance to the incredibly successful predictions made by relativity theory. Einstein once quoted ‘people like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion’. He was also reported to be uncomfortable with the idea that his theory was so at odds with our experience of time. HG Wells once wrote ‘there is no difference between time and any of the three dimensions of space except that our consciousness moves along it’. This suggestion that the flow of time is an illusion, maybe a product of our biology, suggests a deterministic universe. In his play Arcadia, Tom Stoppard summarises this view: ‘if you could stop every atom in it’s position and direction, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra, you could write the formula for all the future: and although nobody can be so clever as to do it, the formula must exist as if one could’. The last phrase is a far reaching statement on the philosophy of science.

Determinism and free will

A model of the universe where the future is in theory knowable by projecting forward in time from some initial state suggests time to be nonfundamental, a derivative of something deeper. It also eradicates the possibility of free will. Quantum physics, our model of the sub atomic universe however, suggests time to be a more fundamental concept. Relativity and quantum mechanics though both very successful at describing the universe, are at odds with each other in their handling of time. For a century we have failed to find a theory that unites these two and describes the whole universe. Lee Smolin in his book ‘a time reborn’ calls for Physics to treat time as fundamental, with the present moment centrestage. He even suggests that time is maybe the only thing that is fundamental with space, matter and the laws of physics a derivative  of it. The present moment is where our consciousness seems to take place and seems directly related to the flow of time

If the idea of black holes giving birth to new universes doesn’t fly for you, don’t worry, Lee Smolin has another theory for the evolution of the laws of physics. The universe may not be acting upon laws but rather on a precedence of what has happened before. The laws are simply a description of the tendencies of things to happen based on what has happened before. This habit based universe is known as the principle of precedence by Lee Smolin in describing quantum phenomena and morphic resonance by Rupert sheldrake in more general terms. From this perspective, the present moment contains a high probability for things to happen a certain way but also contains the possibility for spontaneity. If time is not an illusion of biology and is a fundamental truth of reality, then the potential of free will becomes a possibility. 


A universe based on habit – morphic resonance and the principle of precedence

Morphic resonance and the principle of precedence

Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin’s recent work on quantum gravity has led to an idea called the principle of precedence. This is a universe based on habit seen from the perspective of quantum mechanics. The quantum world is understood by probability theory and he proposes that the outcome of quantum systems are governed by a probability based on what has happened before. In this way the laws of quantum physics might evolve as the universe evolves.

Similar to this idea is the ‘morphic resonance’ proposed by Rupert Sheldrake in the 1980’s to describe a habit based universe. Things happen the way they do because they happened like that before. The inherent memory in nature, he believes, structures the way the universe evolves according to ‘morphic fields’.
The name comes from morphogenetic fields, an area of developmental biology that began in the early 20th century to study the way groups of cells develop according to ‘fields’. When geneticists in the 1930s revealed the importance of chromosomes and genes for controlling development the idea of fields became less fashionable. In the past few decades, interest in morphogenetic fields has returned. Sheldrake extends the idea into ‘morphic fields’ that affect everything from evolution to the laws of physics. From this perspective, the constants in physics are just very old habits and subject to evolution. The implication of morphic field theory is that when something happens, the likelihood of it happening again increases. This likelihood can be thought of as a field, something like a magnetic field that creates a tendency for things to happen in a certain way. It’s an intriguing though controversial idea that has put Sheldrake firmly on the fringes of science. Experimental evidence is non-conclusive though interesting. In crystallography for example, one might expect particular crystals to form more readily when crystals of that type have already formed before. One might also expect animals of a particular species to learn behaviours quicker when animals of that same species have learnt those behaviours previously. Sheldrakes experimental evidence gathering suggests that this is indeed the case and cites morphic resonance as the principal behind it.

Field theory and virtual reality

In the post on the physics of the simulation hypothesis, physicist Tom Campbell  proposes that reality is made up of an information layer and cites the double slit quantum eraser experiment as evidence. Phenomena occur as a result of this information interacting with consciousness like a virtual reality model. If reality exists as an accumulation of information as a result of occurrences and experiences might this also be thought of as a field or generate momentum like a field?  With the theory of Morphic resonance, the likelihood of something happening is because it ‘resonates’ with something that has happened before. This suggests that the information about everything that has happened is in someway stored.  Sheldrake believes that the influence of this stored information on potential occurrences is by way of a morphic field where like resonates with like.  Tom Campbell sees our material bodies as an avatar connected to this information layer by consciousness. We might then understand consciousness to be something like a field.


Rupert Sheldrake – Consciousness as a ‘field’


Where does perception occur?

The traditional view of perception is that light reflected on an object travels to our eye and creates an inverted image on our retina. Impulses then travel up the optic nerve activating certain areas of the brain. If perception and mental activity is purely a function of the brain then it would seem that our nervous system is projecting a kind of virtual reality in the brain which we take as real and external to us. Sheldrake’s view however, is that our vision is actually where we think it is, outside of our bodies. Our minds create the image and then project it out onto the world that it is perceiving. The influence of the mind projecting vision out onto the world is like that of a field which Sheldrake terms a perceptual field, a type of ‘morphic field‘. If the mind projects a field like influence one might wonder whether this influence is measurable and can affect the world it perceives. Sheldrake has searched for the evidence that this might be the case and has gathered vast quantities of research data on the phenomena of knowing when you’re being stared at. He ascertains that people can feel the effect of somebody looking at them at a level well above what you would expect by coincidence. Such an ability, if possible, would have massive evolutionary advantage in the animal kingdom in the dynamic between hunters and prey and would be encouraged by natural selection.

Remote viewing and telepathy

Another effect of perception occurring as a kind of morphic field is that one might expect telepathy and remote perception. Sheldrake’s research suggests that this is so in the animal kingdom particularly among family groups and animal collectives.  He suggests that the intricate movement patterns by starling murmurations and swarms of fish could be a result of a kind of telepathic field phenomena.  He has conducted extensive experimental research into the phenomena of pets such as dogs and cats knowing when their owners are about to return. Human telepathy seems relatively muted compare to that in the animal kingdom. It seems that telepathy in humans is more a result of us being animals than anything particular to human consciousness. Research into remote viewing (the ability to perceive information at remote locations) has so far not produced any scientifically credible evidence. The US military funded Stargate project between 1975 and 1995 was eventually discarded as it failed to produce anything of military usefullness. Mental states such as dreaming and out of body experience seem to be most conducive to any potential of remote viewing. The difficulty in observing any externally identifiable phenomena in these states is that any objective perception seems to be overlaid by a layer of subjective fantasy and imagination. The out of body experience is often considered to be a more objective state than a lucid dream for example and some practitioners have reported a high degree of remote viewing accuracy. These states are quite difficult to attain for most people and experimental research is scanty. The subject matter also carries a scientific taboo leaving any serious research on the fringes of science and pseudoscience.