Can the present shape the past? And other questions in physics. A conversation with Bernard Carr

An audio version of this talk is at my podcast, Talks and Thoughts, available via podcast feeds.

Bernard Carr is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London. He has worked on black holes with Stephen Hawking, alongside other aspects of cosmology, and has also been president of the Society for Psychical Research.

I begin this conversation by asking about Owen Barfield’s questioning the principle of uniformitarianism in science, the assumption that the laws of physics, as well as space and time, are the same in all times and places.

I also raise the thought of another physicist, John Wheeler: “We are in this sense, participators in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past”

Bernard carefully unpacks the various ways to address these matters. The conversation ranges from how physics might be extended to link materiality and mind, the significance of different experiences of time, whether Dante’s experience can inspire physical insight, and how language and everyday experience offers clues to the nature of reality which any theory of everything must embrace.

0:00 Did Stephen Hawking enjoy The Theory of Everything movie?
3:30 Why the theory of everything in physics really isnt’
6:15 What do we see looking back across space and time?
10:30 What relativity tells us about the relationship between observer and observed?
14:40 Awe and wonder, the beauty of the universe
15:17 The relationship between the outside world and our experience of it
18:31 To what extent do observations change reality itself?
21:08 Is the universe fuzzy before observers?
25:30 The link between consciousness and cosmological constants
29:35 The two slit and delayed choice experiments
31:48 John Wheeler and the choice of light from quasars
40:08 The pyramid of complexity and the fine-tuning
41:35 Is consciousness excreted by the brain?
42:39 Consciousness as fundamental
46:52 Evidence for the brain as a filter of consciousness
48:54 Dante’s experience of dimensions of consciousness unfolding
52:01 The essence of mystical experience
53:03 The hierarchy of consciousness and the specious present
57:31 The significance of self-consciousness and navigating scales of consciousness
1:00:53 Why am I me and not you?
1:05:40 Unity and separation in ordinary experiences of time
1:07:34 Hints of connection, telepathy and non-locality
1:10:37 Beauty and the experience of cosmic union
1:12:30 The history of physics and the demolition of common sense
1:15:44 Four-dimensional reality and the end of “out there”
1:21:00 Extra dimensions after Einstein
1:24:40 The significance of branes and bulks and the ubiquity of space
1:29:15 The heart of Bernard’s approach: phenomenal dimensions and higher dimensions
1:33:34 A flash of perception in early life
1:34:55 Barfield and the evolution of human perception
1:38:19 Meaning, connection and spiritual experience in science
1:40:27 Hints from language and the origins of language
1:44:05 Physics must expand to accommodate mind