Quantum Foam & Consciousness

Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd

This blog is part of a series entitled Secrets of Eternal Youth.

Secrets of Eternal Youth

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Secrets of Eternal Youth is a Kerouacian road trip through the mental universe with a merry prankster at the wheel. Lloyd is Coyote, the Trickster, who brings us the fire of imagination that is able to see the quantum foam of the universe in the dancing of Jackson Pollack—that allows us to feel the wild excitement of being alive. Secrets is an explosion of metaphor that reprograms our synapses, stretches our minds, and reminds us that we are all youthful poets.

All photographs by Harvey Lloyd, Copyright © 2016


The quantum age opened a new and enigmatic window on the hidden workings of the universe and our connection to its “machinery.” It is a virtual cosmic quantum computer, a omniscient machine made of simultaneous superposition of infinite probabilistic waves of light. Upon observation the light waves collapse into matter or inhabit an infinity of universes. Vast indeterminate, entangled and uncertain crystal clouds of probabilistic light waves, called “quantum foam” by physicist John Wheeler, fill the vast regions of space on into infinity.

John Wheeler was a visionary physicist and teacher who helped invent the theory of nuclear fission, gave black holes to the public and argued about the nature of reality with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Noble Laureate for Quantum Electrodynamics, Richard Feynman, said that nobody including himself understood quantum mechanics, was his student.


Feynman’s hilarious sense of humor encompassed the invisible world of quanta, measured in invisible femtoseconds, femtometers, .the wreckage of space time and Einstein’s Relativity, Feynam was brilliant, always grinning, iconoclastic and too subtle for academia. He rode the Four Horsemen of the Quantum Apocalypse into glory.


One might think that the ideas of quantum physics are too counter-intuitive for young minds to grasp. Yet students have no trouble comprehending the even more counter-intuitive classical idea that the solid chairs upon which they sit are mostly empty space. Children and students who, through their computers, deal all the time with the physical world conceived of as a repository and transmitter of information should grasp far more easily the quantum concept of the physical world as a storehouse and conveyor of information, than the classical concept of physical reality as a horde of unseen particles that can somehow be human experience.


A thoroughly rational concept into which one’s everyday experiences fit neatly should be easier to comprehend than a seventeenth-century concoction that has no place for one’s own being as an active agent with efficacious thoughts, a concoction that has consequently confounded philosophers from the day it was invented, and which has now pushed some philosophers to the extremity of trying to convince us that consciousness, as we intuitively understand it, does not exist, or is an illusion, and other philosophers to the point of making truth a purely social construct.
–HENRY STAPP, Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics.


Eternal youths, guys and gals, our plastic brains need to mull that over because like quantum mechanics itself, it is a hydra headed monster whose meaning is ineffable, obscure, and it is a very rich meal for our plastic brains. Who curses if we, like Richard Feynman have little use for archaic logic, simplistic order, refined chaos in a wobbly universe ruled by a mad intelligent designer. We are intelligent, and we know nothing!

“The old order changeth yielding place to new /And God fulfills himself in many ways /Lest one good custom should corrupt the world . . .” wrote Tennyson in Idylls of the King. Newton’s “good custom,” his profound PRINCIPIA: The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in a sense corrupted the world of science until Einstein’s Relativity, quanta, and theories of space-time blew much of it away.


Suddenly, two hundred years of classical physics was blindingly revealed to stand on shaky ground. Einstein had triumphed until the advent of quantum mechanics which he helped discover, hated, and said“God does not play dice.”Neils Bohr replied, “Who are you Einstein, to tell God what to do?” Einstein never accepted it. He was as stubborn as he was brilliant, and fought like hell, right or wrong.

Albert’s E=Mc^2 was the beginning of the new wisdom and of nuclear terror. Einstein believed there was a “real world” beneath the idea of the world being made of quantum foam. He tried to prove it, never succeeded and wrote, “All these fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no nearer to the answer to the question, ‘What are light quanta?’ Nowadays every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he knows it, but he is mistaken.” (Albert Einstein, 1954)


Eternal youths,, guys and gals, we Tom, Dick and Harry’s don’t know nuttin and what’s coming will shred the darkness of the invisible quanta and throw us into a stew of mystery, which we need to digest for our plastic brains. It’s as bad as Henry Stapp. De ideas of quanta is magic, and dey don’t have any witches, just harpies, de stingers of de gods dat drive everybody nuts.

Wikipedia writes: “Quantum foam (also referred to as space-time foam)is a concept in quantum mechanics devised by physicist John Wheeler in 1955. The foam is supposed to be conceptualized as the foundation of the fabric of the universe. Additionally, quantum foam can be used as a qualitative description of subatomic space-time turbulence at extremely small distances (on the order of the Planck length). At such small scales of time and space, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows energy to briefly decay into particles and antiparticles and then annihilate without violating physical conservation laws. As the scale of time and space being discussed shrinks, the energy of the virtual particles increases. (Now dats de way de scientists talk and dey don’t give a damn for de rest of us!)

According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, energy curves space-time. This suggests that—at sufficiently small scales—the energy of these fluctuations would be large enough to cause significant departures from the smooth space-time seen at larger scales, giving space-time a “foamy” character.
With an (as yet) incomplete theory of quantum gravity, it is impossible to be certain what space-time would look like at these small scales.


Eternal youths, brothers and sisters, part of de fun of thinking about quantum physics and quantum foam is it ain’t dere in any way discernible by physicists no matter how powerful dere microscopes because photons gotta hit something for it to be seen. When photons hit quantum particles of any infinitely tiny size, what emerges is not in our quarter of the universe where space-time can be measured. (Where de hell is it!) Dat infuriated Einstein. Genius’s gets short tempered when de smart asses try to overturn der
precious damn theories.

Here’s my layman’s smart aleck take. We eternal youths gotta shove our grubby paws into the sticky miasma of quantum mechanics. Figuring dis is like running de Iron Man every day. I don’t know nuttin’ about quantum foam and quantum mechanics theory, but our brains need de exercise and de harder the better.


John Wheeler Redux

“John Wheeler (1911-2008) was an idiosyncratic demon of an American theoretical physicist.” De great Feynman physicist who said nubuddy, nubuddy, get it, including him undastood da quanta, was Wheeler’s most brilliant student.

Wheeler was largely responsible for reviving interest in Einstein’s general relativity in the United States after World War II. Wheeler also worked with Niels Bohr in explaining the basic principles behind nuclear fission. One of the later collaborators of Albert Einstein, he tried to achieve Einstein’s vision of a unified field theory. Together with Gregory Breit, Wheeler developed the concept of Breit–Wheeler process. He is also known for popularizing the term “black hole”, for coining the terms “neutron moderator”, “quantum foam”, “wormhole”, and “it from bit,” and for hypothesizing the “one-electron universe.


Chew on dat, no force feeding! Wheeler was a hyperactive energized eternal youth, de best kind, eternal youths, gals, and guys. He carried on his scientific investigations and breakthroughs long after most ran dry. Wheeler speculated dat reality is created by us observers in the universe. “How does something arise from nothing?” he asked about the existence of space and time. He also coined the term “Participatory Anthropic Principle” (PAP), a version of a Strong Anthropic Principle. From a transcript of a radio interview on “The Anthropic Universe” we read:

Wheeler: We are participators in bringing into being not only the near and here but the far away and long ago. We are in this sense, participators in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past and if we have one explanation for what’s happening in the distant past why should we need more?
 Martin Redfern: “Many don’t agree with John Wheeler, but if he’s right then we and presumably other conscious observers throughout the universe, are the creators — or at least the minds that make the universe manifest.


Dat’s what we need to think guys and gals, we make de universe, whatever dat means. We may shy away from dis bizarre and nearly incomprehensible anthropic truth that de universe is here because we are here. Who de hell are we to make universes? Who de hell is anyone else, de so-called intelligent designer, or anybodaddy’s god to make universes, especially if dey turn out bad, the way some parts of our own crazy quantum world work or don’t work?

To de devil wit dull cosmology and theology. Eternal youth, guys and gals, comes from opening our minds to de enigmatic and irritating new ideas that defy our ideas of a material “reality.” We are not just de world, we idiot savants, big brained apes dat came down from de trees, are de universe!


The Anthropic Principle, Hallelujah!

In the discoveries of science the harmony of the spheres is also now the harmony of life. And as the eerie illumination of science penetrates evermore deeply into the order of nature, the cosmos appears increasingly to be a vast system finely tuned to generate life and organisms of biology very similar, perhaps identical, to ourselves. All the evidence available in the biological sciences supports the core proposition of traditional natural theology – that the cosmos is a specially designed whole with life and mankind as a fundamental goal and purpose . . .
–MICHAEL DENTON, Nature’s Destiny

So who de hell designed it, and who cares? Evolution labored for five billion years to create our outrageously oversized brains with hundreds of billions of neurons, infinite quantum processing, and countless trillions, quintillions or googleplexes of connections. (Googleplex, an infinite or virtually infinite number which is made by number 1 with as many zeros after it as you can write before you are exhausted.) The term was coined in 1920 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta (1911 – 1981), nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner. Evolution and GAIA, our Earth Mother did not make us to live short, unawakened lives. We are here because our dream factories created the cosmos. Like it! You can’t leave it!


We are progeny of the gods that rule the cosmos, and their daughter Necessity, (Atropos, the fate who cannot be turned even by the gods). We possess unimaginable power in each of us. Our immortality turns the gigantic clockwork of the cosmos. Quantum mechanics hides this clockwork in an infinitely tiny region where space and time vanish into invisible realms of quantum indeterminacy. Now dat sounds like fun, like de Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland slowly fading away.Eternal youths, sisters and brothers, we ain’t fading away, and we are forever!

However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.

Why do we want to know de mind of de creator of de chaos dat rules de universe? De great men, Hawking and Einstein and other scientists want to know the unknowable. Quantum uncertainty and indeterminacy is de barrier to knowing de mind of God long enough to know anything about it. Like de speed of light in our universe of light fills and roils the quantum foam which is translucent, never transparent. We see de universe in dis giant clockwork Coney Island fun house distorted mirror. Dat’s de mind of God, Stephen.



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