Particles and Swarms

Does anyone know about particle swarm theory? It seems close to a unified theory of everything. Or at least like a pebble whose waves ripple through everything – biology and computer science, quantum physics and relativity, metaphysics and religion.

Basically, it says that independent particles form swarms, wherein each particle spontaneously takes advantage of the experience of the entire swarm. Examples in the natural world include fish schooling, bird flocking, and ant colonies. Swarm intelligence (SI) has apparently (I’m no expert) become increasingly important in artificial intelligence and robotics.

Can this bridge the persistent gap between the predictions of relativity and those of quantum physics? The problem as I see it is that relativity assumes a universe with physical matter of determinate location and mass. Quantum theory says that when you get down to the building block elements in the atom, units of matter no longer have such determinate values, but can only be described in terms of clouds of probability.

The relativity/quantum theory discrepancy has been scrutinized lately by “oil drop experiments” and “pilot waves.” It seems that you can drop oil on a liquid surface and as it bounces along, it interacts with its own ripple waves, creating a pilot wave that resembles the blur that quantum physicists see when they look at an electron or elemental particle – this would mean (I think) that underneath quantum physics is a stable physical reality after all.

So what if you looked at all the fundamental particles (or waves or whatever units you prefer) of the universe together as a swarm, all those pilot waves interacting, the every move of each affected by the every move of all the others, all one singular pattern of vibration? Do you get a 21st-century physics that recapitulates Leibniz’s 17th-century metaphysics of the indivisible unit, the monad? To wit, Leibniz:

“Each monad … adapts itself to all the others outside itself … This connection of all created things … the connection and adaptation of every single thing to all others, has the result that every single substance [every monad] stands in relations which express all the others. Whence every single substance is a perpetual living mirror of the universe … They are but perspectives of a single universe, varied according to the points of view which differ in each monad.”

From Leibniz, it is an easy step to the world view of the Eastern religions. This connectedness of all things, objective or subjective, expressed as material or expressed as Soul – is particle swarm theory the underpinning here also? And in that swarm lies an immanent intelligence, transcendent and mysterious to the individual, but not requiring any external or anthropomorphic god.

To shift from this synchronic view (how the swarm functions across the space of the many particles) to a diachronic view (how the swarm functions across time), the swarm is the intelligence that drives the trajectories of evolution, terrestrial and cosmic, or, more viscerally, all a singular shudder in some vast cosmic orgasm. A fifteen billion year–old orgasm, you say? Why not? From what I know of Einstein and Hawking, the universe may be one minute old from some other reference point, but only seem fifteen billion years old to us because we are near the event horizon of some black hole, where time becomes stretched toward infinity.

I am no expert in these fields, but I hope that my lateral thinking about them can stimulate a few thoughts. Even if I do nothing but stimulate streams of imagination, I hope that that in itself is no mean accomplishment.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” (Albert Einstein)


A small concession on intelligent design

Let me put it this way. I do believe, e.g., that the human body has enormous intelligence inscribed within it – thousands of times more so than the medical establishment (which may have mapped 1/10 of 1% of the body’s operating intelligence) can fathom. The same for the seahorse, the butterfly, and the praying mantis. How does the fertilized egg know what it has to do to become a fully elaborated starfish? What intelligence drives a species of cactus to develop just these kinds of thorns?

My concession is that I believe there is enormous intelligence driving through these processes. But I disagree with “intelligent design” people on probably everything else. I see this enormous intelligence first of all as evolved intelligence, and certainly not the result of an anthropomorphic god deciding in an anthropomorphic way on what features he will give each species (and then jealously demanding acknowledgment from said creatures).  Does this make me a materialist? Not really. I believe the physical universe is one abstraction of reality, and hence I believe that there are transcendental layers to reality (or other abstractions of reality) as well. And I believe that the intelligence we see infused in physical reality may be tangled up in that transcendental manifold.

That said, I am absolutely opposed to intelligent design being taught alongside evolution as if it too were science. I would, however, be in favor of teaching philosophy to kids at early ages, and intelligent design might have an appropriate place there, so long as it doesn’t become too normative and kids are allowed to think critically about the issues, attacking as well as embracing various ideas of God.