Mathemagician Ralph Abraham: We Need Another Miracle

A little wind here, and the atmosphere interacts with the geosphere interacts with the biosphere interacts with the noosphere interacts with culture politics and society, and eventually back into the atmosphere. Huge nonlinear feedback loops. You, Ralph and I are part of a whole system that can’t be reduced to separate parts but must be understood as a whole.

by Giulio Prisco

I missed Mondo 2000. The internet wasn’t a thing in the late eighties, and I lived in Europe (still do). I didn’t miss Wired — I immediately subscribed after stumbling upon the first printed issue — but I didn’t realize that it was a watered-down commercial version of something more interesting.

Now our esteemed host is bringing Mondo back, and I hope this new online magazine will be as epoch-making as the original printed Mondo. In the meantime, we can find PDFs of some old Mondo issue collected in the Mondo 2000 History Project and other archives.

Had I been a Mondo reader in the late eighties and early nineties, I would have loved finding chaos and complexity prophet Ralph Abraham there as a frequent contributor.

I knew of Ralph as the mathematician who wrote “Foundations of Mechanics,” which I loved to read instead of my boring college textbooks to try and understand some of the magic of differential geometry and its applications to Einstein’s cosmology. I understood maybe ten percent, but that ten percent was useful.

Ralph seems to consider his life as a square university professor as a boring prelude to his real and very unsquare life as a cyberculture icon and explorer of the wildest fringes of mathematics, physics, history, society, life, the universe and everything.

“There was a period of six or seven years that included psychedelics, traveling in Europe, sleeping in the street, traveling to India and living in a cave, and so on – these were all parts of what I call my ‘walkabout’,” said Ralph in a 1991 interview published in Mondo 3. “It was between my first, more prosaic period of mathematical work and all that has followed in the past fifteen years.”

Chaos makes our world rich, complex, unpredictable, interesting, and a fun place to live. Terrifying, too. Ever done a little casual thing that caused big unpredictable change, for the good or for the bad? That’s chaos for you. We can’t model people and societies yet, but we can see chaos in the natural world (they say a little wind here and now can result in a tornado anywhere in the world next month, and there’s no way to tell), and we can analyze chaotic systems with mathematics.

Some calculations would take a planet-sized supercomputer longer than the lifetime of the universe to produce accurate results but, interestingly, we can often reach qualitative conclusions even if we can’t follow through all the maths. A little wind here, and the atmosphere interacts with the geosphere interacts with the biosphere interacts with the noosphere interacts with culture politics and society, and eventually back into the atmosphere. Huge nonlinear feedback loops. You, Ralph and I are part of a whole system that can’t be reduced to separate parts but must be understood as a whole.

“We need to understand whole systems, and whole systems can’t be understood by reduction — though the terrific gains in understanding made by the reductionist scientist will have a role to play in understanding whole systems,” explained Ralph in Mondo. “The technology for modeling whole systems is on the frontier of science at the moment. It’s the crucial frontier for solving our crisis.”

I would very much like bringing Ralph back to Mondo and hearing more about our crisis, which seems worse now than in 1991. In fact, today’s world seems a sad place compared to the late eighties and early nineties. Where is that wild enthusiastic optimism? What the fuck happened? 9/11? The financial crash? Terrorism? Can we do something to get out of range of the damning attractor (read Ralph’s math books) that keeps us in a dystopia?

“By 1990 I had essentially given up on the fate of the biosphere and noosphere,” Ralph tells me. “We had all done our best, nothing seemed to work. Then, in 1994, I became aware of the innovation of the World Wide Web. This seemed to give us new hope, as the connectivity of the noosphere was getting this major bump. I poured all my creative energy into cyberspace. My optimism lasted a decade or so, until it seemed the forces of evil were once again pulling ahead. Now it seems we need another miracle.”

Stay tuned for what the next needed miracle could be, I’ll keep pestering Ralph until I get his answer. I guess the miracle could be some advanced brain-interfacing technology to connect the brain directly to cyberspace, like Elon Musk wants to develop and Ramez Naam has described in his Nexus science fiction trilogy.

In Nexus, set in 2040, neuroscientists build software on top of the drinkable, neuroactive, and very illegal street nano-drug Nexus, and program Nexus nanobots to wirelessly link the brain to the net and other brains. The United Luddites of the world try to suppress Nexus, but eventually the specs are posted to the P2P networks and all hell breaks loose.

Something like Nexus could be the next LSD. Ralph says LSD was one of the miracles of the past, but he hasn’t done drugs since thirty or forty years.

But then how could Ralph conceive of his recent quantum Akashic field theories? It seems to me that one really needs to be on drugs to think of that. Perhaps Ralph is just smarter.

In Demystifying the Akasha: Consciousness and the Quantum Vacuum (2010), Ralph and co-author Sisir Roy, a physicist interested in the geometry of quantum space-time near the Planck scale, cover a huge territory including Western and Eastern philosophies and religions, the foundations of quantum physics, recent advances in quantum gravity theories, and the digital physics of discrete space-times.

The book suggests a cosmic memory field — the Akashic field — that stores permanent records of everything that ever happens in the universe. The proposed mathematical model for the Akashic field is based on a graph beyond space and time, with a huge number of nodes and internal dynamics similar to cellular automata, from which the geometry of spacetime is derived. Ordinary space and time emerge from the graph, which fluctuates in an internal time-like dimension (not to be confused with ordinary time) and contains all times. It’s worth noting that Stephen Wolfram has similar ideas.

Akashic physics blends current scientific speculations and ancient spiritual intuitions. “Whether located in the astral plane, between the mental and the etheric, or surrounding them all, the atomic model of the akasha developed in our book, Demystifying the Akasha, supports the idea of the akashic record, including the future as well as the past in a mammoth mathematical system,” says Ralph.

If science could re-enchant our dull world by showing us glimpses of infinite possibilities beyond the veil of our limited perceptions, in other incredibly complex realities above and below reality as-we-know, that would be a miracle in itself.

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist, cosmist, and transhumanist. He lives in Budapest, Hungary, but his workplace is the internet.

4 thoughts on “Mathemagician Ralph Abraham: We Need Another Miracle”

    1. @callmebob – not in five years for sure, but I am reasonably confident we’ll have full hugh-bandwidth brain interfacing tech in fifty years or so.

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