Section 1 from The Pressure of Light by Malcolm
“It is certainly true that Maxwell’s equations for empty space, taken by themselves, do not say anything, that they only represent an intermediary construct; but, as is well known, exactly the same could be said about Newton’s equations of motion, as well as about any theory that needs to be supplemented by other theories in order to yield a picture for a complex of phenomena.”
– Albert Einstein, from his 1909 paper The Radiation Problem, describing how a set of remembered-thinking-events, when remembered as contextually connected, can approximate the nature of the universe-external in a useful way, even if that internal-approximation is nevertheless the product of human imagination.
“If the magnet is moved, there exists in space a magnetic field variable with time, which, according to Maxwell, forms closed lines of an electric force…However, no electric field arises if the magnet is at rest and the circuit is moved; instead, the current in the conductor is created because the electricities moving with it due to the (mechanically forced) movement relative to the magnetic field suffer an electromotive force, which Lorentz introduced hypothetically. The idea that these two cases should essentially be different was unbearable to me.”
– Albert Einstein, 1920 paper Ideas and Methods, relaying his memory of experiencing unbearableness that he connects with his memories of visualizing himself moving with electric and magnetic fields in Maxwell’s empty space.
“The special theory of relativity has crystallised out from the Maxwell-Lorentz theory of electromagnetic phenomena.”
– Albert Einstein, 1916 book Special and General Relativity, describing how the remembered-thinking-events relayed by Maxwell, Lorentz, and then himself have crystalized into a conceptual framework for understanding the universe.
“All problems in the optics of moving bodies can be solved by the method employed here. The essential point is that the electric and magnetic forces of light, which is influenced by a moving body, are transformed to a coordinate system that is at rest relative to that body. This reduces every problem in the optics of moving bodies to a series of problems in the optics of bodies at rest.”
– Albert Einstein remembering, in his 1905 paper that introduced Special Relativity, the theory’s crucial thinking-event – imagining himself moving with a magnetic field in such a way that he sees it simply as an electric field in motion – which subsequently led to the resolution of all conceptual problems related to magnetically and electrically charged bodies in motion.
“The more electromagnetic theory advanced, the more the question of whether electromagnetic processes can be reduced to mechanical ones retreated into the background; one became used to considering the concepts of electric and magnetic field strength, electric space density, etc., as elementary concepts that are not in need of mechanistic interpretation…The pressure of light, which has only recently been established experimentally, and which plays such an important role in the theory of radiation, proved to be a consequence of the theory.”
– Albert Einstein, on James Clark Maxwell’s equations, and the crystallization of knowledge they seeded (1909 presentation, On the Constitution of Radiation)
What happens in my mind happens in the universe. I am, after all, just another physical body spinning through the galaxy, riding the expanding wave of the big-bang, comfortably seated on the arrow-of-time. The imagination has a place, and every imagination moves at least a few thousand kilometers a second in this fast spinning Galaxy. My imagination, where I’ve time-warped across the universe, flown kilometers above the earth, and played carelessly with my past and future, is much easier to see as something quite separate from the body that spins around the galaxy for real. It’s as if what I imagine appears in a bubble that pops off my head, a piece of consciousness attached, and drifts away guided by nothing but its own laws of physics. This is perfectly fine to believe, it won’t threaten the true nature of time and space in the universe, because those time and space distorted bubbles are nothing but the very expected outcomes of human-imaginations. What’s far more interesting to the universe about conscious-minds is the evolved structure that patterns the development of knowledge in the brain, the part that’s spinning through the galaxy for real, carrying forth that knowledge-accumulation, crossing paths with other bodies, sometimes colliding and bursting into pieces that form their own little worlds.
In 2020, I thought a lot about thinking. For the first half of the year I ran through a forested trail for an hour every morning, intending the run to be a meditation where, against the backdrop of repetition, I would explore more deeply the act of reflecting on my memories-of-thinking, feeling, and experiences-of-awareness. The typically calming effect of my run instead started fueling a hyperspeed looping through memories-of-remembered-thinking and memories-of-remembered-feelings as they all jumped, erratically, as I flashed, randomly, people and events from life to entice reactions in my mind to analyze. As my cardio-strength increased and allowed for faster charges up and down steep dirt trails, mercifully beneath the shade of old-growth hard-woods, it started to feel like I was turning my internal world into a particle accelerator for neurological activity.
During this exercise I let up a bit on my life-long-pursuit to create stillness in my verbal thinking and associated physical habits. Instead, I allowed the verbage to run, and in the wake of these events I investigated more closely the hypothesis that a verbal thought inevitably has a non-verbal predecessor. I expanded the practice beyond verbal thinking, smashing my memories of all types of thought against each other so that I could attempt a hard, deep look at that wall of nothing just one notch in time past my thoughts. Unlike in CERN, the raw, objective-as-possible images I returned with always came out black and featureless.
I would frequently follow up these runs with some fast typing into my info-diary, my name for a living document where I brainstorm ideas, experiment with creative writing, write about what I’m reading, and write actual diary entries. On one such occasion I surprised myself with the realization that I couldn’t answer a fairly simple question: how do I really know that I experienced the thinking event that I remember having? Might the brain simply write in the memory of the thinking event without bothering with the thinking in the first place? In a system that is forever concerned with efficiency, sometimes decommissioning evolved abilities for efficiency’s sake, why not? What would be lost? Even if this seems unlikely, what about my memory of how long the thought occurred for, when it happened, and in what order compared to other internal-information-processing-events I can remember? Most importantly, if I can’t confirm the timing or even existence of the thinking-events I remember, who can?
These questions are what led me to write this essay. They’re all questions I could ask about my memory of real life events as well, but my memories of life-external would not lead me to question the nature of my mind’s place in time. Human minds have the benefit of knowing, through collective agreement, that real life events do happen somewhere on the measurable and unidirectional arrow-of-time. In the external world, we believe in the arrow-of-time, that march along the path. Sometimes that path does muddy the mind’s perception of the steady walk forward with events that contextually connect to other events, or events that repeat in a series scattered over normal-time’s continuous journey, but in all moments the mind can still feel anchored to the arrow-of-time because in all moments normal-time retains some recognizable level of unpredictability.
No matter how much is learned about life in this universe, the path forward through time is still recognizably heterogeneous. If anyone has ever felt the universe has imprisoned them in a time loop, or distorted their normally steady walk forward, if they ever felt that time is not what they thought but more like a house of mirrors, all they had to do was discuss event distribution along the arrow-of-time with others, and so far the strength of truth that comes from mutual agreement has been enough to set the arrow-of-time straight. But while mutual agreement is epistemologically important to knowledge, the knowledge-sets that accumulate in human minds do not come solely from multi-mind-development. Understanding knowledge in the human mind means understanding how the mind in part develops knowledge in the brain all on its own.
Section 2: As I Walk the Straight and Measurable Arrow-of-Time