Thoughts in parallel with the exhibition "God is Meditating: Still" 

Edy Fung, January 2022, Belfast

God is Meditating: Still examines our desire to predict the future in times of uncertainty.

Today we are so used to our smart technology to accurately forecast 14 days of weather in advance. Only just more than a century ago, weather prediction was perceived as a mystical prophecy which would be an act against God. Admiral Robert Fitzroy, the meteorological Statist (later head of MET office) came up with plentiful inventions to detect atmospheric changes which advanced immensely weather forecasting and gave form to data analytics. His inventions include the Storm Glass [1], referenced in the work ‘Climate Change in a Tea Cup’.

In 1814, Laplace postulated a super-intelligence that could know the positions, velocities, and forces of all the particles in the universe at one time, and for all times.[2] Artificial neural network is a very close example of this super-intelligence within our society today.

Our current digital technology is based entirely on binary signals. Today machine learning is continuing to master its predictive analytics on any type of complex system, for example, meteorology, sports, gambling, and politics. What is the implication of Laplace’s belief in causal determinism as predictions become accurate? What does it mean for humanity as we increasingly depend on these deterministic machines?

Science is reductionist; the nature of science can push abstractionism to its limit and also provokes the increasing possibility of deterministic beliefs. Our society is motivated by an obsession to make the uncertain certain; to untangle and map causalities. While I was writing this, I was interested in what quantum indeterminacy might offer in terms of an alternative solution to the merely on/off-ness of digital signals. This symbol of discreteness, polarity, and binary state is captured in the work “Bit”, which depicts the sequential circuit that is used to create the past and the future of a unit of information.

Imagine a scenario where we can predict the future and another scenario where we can influence this predicted future; these are two states that can co-exist in terms of what we understand as quantum superposition.

Yet Gerard t’Hooft argues that once we prove beable exists [3], then quantum superposition will just collapse into classical distinguishable states. That means Schrödinger’s cat will definitely emerge either dead or alive, and never in a superposition. Still in this exhibition, I have referenced the observer’s effect in the work ‘The Super-intelligent Angle’, hoping that it is just the abstractionism in theoretical physics being at play.

Anyhow, a quantum computer demonstrates the vast capacity of the information it can calculate and store. It provides a glimpse into the idea that if the universe is as extensive as the quantum computer—if not more; the almost infinite amount of probabilities of cause-and-effect that a change in our decision impacts can exist at the same time in different multiverses. Like in the work ‘Parallel Rainverses’, I always have this feeling that after I relocate to a different place, part of me still goes on living in the city I’ve left. In a different universe, perhaps I am still in Hong Kong. Our free will is just one of the universes that we picked and drifted into for the moment of time, until the next decision is to be made.

When making works for this exhibition, I was reminded to play with open interpretations. Inspired by Cornelius Cardew’s graphic scores and the Fluxus sound poems, ‘Negotiating Laplace’s Demon’ aims to explore similar ideas with open rules for performers. Renewed with the language that links humans with machines, the ‘instructions’ and ‘notations’ are written to fall in the spectrum between open and close, improvisation and control, randomness and sequence. The scores also narrate the points of interest in information history—how digital language has evolved, and key discoveries that support or disprove determinism.

[1]  The inventor is unknown but the device became popular in the 1860s after being promoted by Admiral Robert FitzRoy.

[2]  Pierre-Simon Laplace, Essai philosophique sur les probabilités, 1814.

[3]  Gerard t’Hooft coined the term ‘beable’ in The Cellular Automaton Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.