Saturday, April 8

A Streetcar Named Desire - "I can smell the sea air" - Renee Fleming

Famed operatic soprano Renée Fleming, who has in my opinion one of the finest  soprano voices, (apart from late Joan Sutherland) of the modern era, has announced her retirement from opera. She will however continue to  give concert performances. 

A Streetcar Named Desire is an opera composed by Andrew Previn and is based on the play by Tennessee Williams. The Opera was created specifically with Fleming in mind whose exquisite upper register and final pianissimo is evident in the above aria" I can smell the sea air". The aria speaks to the final moment when Blanche is to be removed to an institution. The words are taken directly from the play but Fleming aptly portray her emotional fragility in her performance on stage.  Although Blanche has withdrawn to a inner world of make believe there is also the hint of inner strength and hope for the future to sustain herself encouraged by a memory of the sweet fragrance of the sea air.      

Saturday, March 25

A New Kind of thinking

"A New Kind of Science," by Stephen Wolfram was a book I read over ten years ago just after it was first published.    
Stephen Wolfram is an interesting person who was born in London and educated at Oxford, who gained a Ph.D. in theoretical physics at only 20 years of age. In the 1980’s he made a series of discoveries that he posited yielded new insights into physics, mathematics, computer science, and biology to shed new light on how everything tends to work in our universe. Although his work did initially attract some criticism  within the scientific community it seems his work ultimately has provided food for thought on conceptual  puzzles and longstanding issues in philosophy. 

In 1986 he founded Mathematica, which has become one of the world’s leading software systems for technical and symbolic programs.

The book represented 10 years of research and would be of interest to both scientists and non-scientists alike. The use of graphics further enhances the presentation and a reader’s easy grasp of his conclusions.  
The basis of his experiments are in the observance of behavioural output of simple program instructions or rules. By way of example we are all familiar with the operation of software that produces our pay, invoicing records or keeps vast quantities of information stored in virtual reality in what is described as the “cloud”.

 Wolfram wrote simple programs to observe their outputs. He used black and white squares but you could use any items –blue and white shaped beads if they took your fancy, since it was only the output behaviours of those cells that is the subject of the experiment. Hence he calls the output cellular automata.

His early experiments yielded results markedly different to what he had anticipated so he became interested in this phenomena which is encapsulated within the pages of this book.
To reiterate however these computer programs can be described more accurately simply as rules. The programs tell the computer to carry out some instructions for a specified interval. There is no intention to achieve a result other than to see what happens. He begins with basic programming rules and builds up to a very mildly complex instruction.

E.g. the so-called rule 30.

An elaboration is as follows: Start with a single black square, and repeat the rule line by line e.g. first, look at each cell and its right hand neighbour. If both of these were white on the previous step, then take the new colour of the cell to be whatever the previous colour of its left-hand neighbour was, otherwise, make the new colour the opposite of that.

Your intuition would tell you if you followed such a programming rule there should be some sort of repetitive pattern to appear in the cellular data output, since the same rule is being applied over and over again.

The effect of this program after 1,500 steps involving 2 million cells is there are no signs of any regularity and the pattern obtained seem to continue to evolve.

 Hence the book of 800 pages involves hundreds of experiments demonstrating this principle. The subject of cellular-automata and its principles has been debated in a variety of forums from philosophy to how better to sustain ecology systems to their existing prior condition before global warming. For a reference to how it is applied to Ecological Modelling click on the reference as per below: . 

Application to eco systems.   

From a philosophical stance a paper from Stanford University introduces the idea of the “Hat experiment” to explain how it works.   

Reference : Bert, Francesco and Tagliabue, Jacopo, "Cellular Automata", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zlatan (ed.), URL =

An example of cellular automata as in Think of Fig. 1 as standing for the front row of a high school classroom. Each box represents a student wearing (black) or not wearing (white) a hat. Let us make the two following assumptions:

Hat rule: a student will wear the hat in the following class if one or the other—but not both—of the two classmates sitting immediately on her left and on her right has the hat in the current class (let us say that if nobody wears the hat, then a hat is out of fashion; but if both neighbors wear it, it is too popular to be trendy).

Initial class: during the first class in the morning, only one student in the middle is wearing the hat
What happens as time goes by (consecutive rows represent the evolution in time through subsequent classes):
What happens is surprising. The complex evolutionary pattern displayed contrasts with the simplicity of the underlying law (the “Hat rule”) and ontology (for in terms of object and properties, we only need to take into account simple atoms and two states. In a sense, though, the global, emergent behaviour of the system supervenes upon its local, simple features. The scale at which the decision to wear the hat is made (immediate neighbours) is not the scale at which the interesting patterns become manifest.
While somewhat artificial, this example is a paradigmatic illustration of what makes CA appealing to a vast range of researchers: “even perfect knowledge of individual decision rules does not always allow us to predict macroscopic structure. We get macro-surprises despite complete micro-knowledge” (Epstein 1999, p. 48). Since the notion of emergence and the micro-macro interplay play such an important role in science and philosophy (see the entries on supervenience and emergent properties; for a sample of scientific applications, see Mitchell 2009, pp. 2–13, Gell-Mann 1994, Ch. 9), it has been suggested that many scientific as well as conceptual puzzles can be addressed by adopting the CA perspective. One of the leading thinkers in the field, Stephen Wolfram, has gone as far as claiming that CA may help us to solve longstanding issues in philosophy:

Hence Wolfram’s experiments show very complex systems can be built up from very basic underlying instructions or beginnings. During the course of the book he shows the implications to many fields of current knowledge.

Fast forward to Wolfram’ s blog and you get further insight into more recent thinking which I have reproduced here. 
A Short Talk on AI Ethics

Click on the link for graphical examples of cellular automata.  
October 17, 2016

Last week I gave a talk (and did a panel discussion) at a conference entitled “Ethics of Artificial Intelligence” held at the NYU Philosophy Department’s Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness. Here’s the video and a transcript:
Thanks for inviting me here today.
You know, it’s funny to be here. My mother was a philosophy professor in Oxford. And when I was a kid I always said the one thing I’d never do was do or talk about philosophy. But, well, here I am.
Before I really get into AI, I think I should say a little bit about my worldview. I’ve basically spent my life alternating between doing basic science and building technology. I’ve been interested in AI for about as long as I can remember. But as a kid I started out doing physics and cosmology and things. That got me into building technology to automate stuff like math. And that worked so well that I started thinking about, like, how to really know and compute everything about everything. That was in about 1980—and at first I thought I had to build something like a brain, and I was studying neural nets and so on. But I didn’t get too far.
And meanwhile I got interested in an even bigger problem in science: how to make the most general possible theories of things. The dominant idea for 300 years had been to use math and equations. But I wanted to go beyond them. And the big thing I realized was that the way to do that was to think about programs, and the whole computational universe of possible programs.

And that led to my personal Galileo-like moment. I just pointed my “computational telescope” at these simplest possible programs, and I saw this amazing one I called rule 30—that just seemed to go on producing complexity forever from essentially nothing.
Well, after I’d seen this, I realized this is actually something that happens all over the computational universe—and all over nature. It’s really the secret that lets nature make all the complicated stuff we see. But it’s something else too: it’s a window into what raw, unfettered computation is like. At least traditionally when we do engineering we’re always building things that are simple enough that we can foresee what they’ll do.
But if we just go out into the computational universe, things can be much wilder. Our company has done a lot of mining out there, finding programs that are useful for different purposes, like rule 30 is for randomness. And modern machine learning is kind of part way from traditional engineering to this kind of free-range mining.
But, OK, what can one say in general about the computational universe? Well, all these programs can be thought of as doing computations. And years ago I came up with what I call the Principle of Computational Equivalence—that says that if behavior isn’t obviously simple, it typically corresponds to a computation that’s maximally sophisticated. There are lots of predictions and implications of this. Like that universal computation should be ubiquitous. As should undesirability. And as should what I call computational irreducibility.

Can you predict what it’s going to do? Well, it’s probably computationally irreducible, which means you can’t figure out what it’s going to do without effectively tracing every step and going through the same computational effort it does. It’s completely deterministic. But to us it’s got what seems like free will—because we can never know what it’s going to do.

Here’s another thing: what’s intelligence? Well, our big unifying principle says that everything—from a tiny program, to our brains, is computationally equivalent. There’s no bright line between intelligence and mere computation. The weather really does have a mind of its own: it’s doing computations just as sophisticated as our brains. To us, though, it’s pretty alien computation. Because it’s not connected to our human goals and experiences. It’s just raw computation that happens to be going on.

So how do we tame computation? We have to mold it to our goals. And the first step there is to describe our goals. And for the past 30 years what I’ve basically been doing is creating a way to do that.
I’ve been building a language—that’s now called the Wolfram Language—that allows us to express what we want to do. It’s a computer language. But it’s not really like other computer languages. Because instead of telling a computer what to do in its terms, it builds in as much knowledge as possible about computation and the world, so that we humans can describe in our terms what we want, and then it’s up to the language to get it done as automatically as possible.

This basic idea has worked really well, and in the form of Mathematica it’s been used to make endless inventions and discoveries over the years. It’s also what’s inside Wolfram Alpha. Where the idea is to take pure natural language questions, understand them, and use the kind of curated knowledge and algorithms of our civilization to answer them. And, yes, it’s a very classic Alisha thing. And of course it’s computed answers to billions and billions of questions from humans, for example inside Siri.
I had an interesting experience recently, figuring out how to use what we’ve built to teach computational thinking to kids. I was writing exercises for a book. At the beginning, it was easy: “make a program to do X”. But later on, it was like “I know what to say in the Wolfram Language, but it’s really hard to express in English”. And of course that’s why I just spent 30 years building the Wolfram Language.

English has maybe 25,000 common words; the Wolfram Language has about 5000 carefully designed built-in constructs—including all the latest machine learning—together with millions of things based on curated data. And the idea is that once one can think about something in the world computationally, it should be as easy as possible to express it in the Wolfram Language. And the cool thing is, it really works. Humans, including kids, can read and write the language. And so can computers. It’s a kind of high-level bridge between human thinking, in its cultural context, and computation.
OK, so what about AI? Technology has always been about finding things that exist, and then taming them to automate the achievement of particular human goals. And in AI the things we’re taming exist in the computational universe. Now, there’s a lot of raw computation seething around out there—just as there’s a lot going on in nature. But what we’re interested in is computation that somehow relates to human goals.
So what about ethics? Well, maybe we want to constrain the computation, the AI, to only do things we consider ethical. But somehow we have to find a way to describe what we mean by that.
Well, in the human world, one way we do this is with laws. But so how do we connect laws to computations? We may call them “legal codes”, but today laws and contracts are basically written in natural language. There’ve been simple computable contracts in areas like financial derivatives. And now one’s talking about smart contracts around cryptocurrencies.

But what about the vast mass of law? Well, Leibniz—who died 300 years ago next month—was always talking about making a universal language to, as we would say now, express it all in a computable way. He was a few centuries too early, but I think now we’re finally in a position to do this.
I just posted a long blog about all this last week, but let me try to summarize. With the Wolfram Language we’ve managed to express a lot of kinds of things in the world—like the ones people ask Siri about. And I think we’re now within sight of what Leibniz wanted: to have a general symbolic discourse language that represents everything involved in human affairs.
I see it basically as a language design problem. Yes, we can use natural language to get clues, but ultimately we have to build our own symbolic language. It’s actually the same kind of thing I’ve done for decades in the Wolfram Language. Take even a word like “plus”. Well, in the Wolfram Language there’s a function called Plus, but it doesn’t mean the same thing as the word. It’s a very specific version that has to do with adding things mathematically. And as we design a symbolic discourse language, it’s the same thing. The word “eat” in English can mean lots of things. But we need a concept—that we’ll probably refer to as “eat”—that’s a specific version that we can compute with.
So let’s say we’ve got a contract written in natural language. One way to get a symbolic version is to use natural language understanding—just like we do for billions of Wolfram Alpha inputs, asking humans about ambiguities. Another way might be to get machine learning to describe a picture. But the best way is just to write in symbolic form in the first place, and actually I’m guessing that’s what lawyers will be doing before too long.
And of course once you have a contract in symbolic form, you can start to compute about it, automatically seeing if it’s satisfied, simulating different outcomes, automatically aggregating it in bundles, and so on. Ultimately the contract has to get input from the real world. Maybe that input is “born digital”, like data about accessing a computer system, or transferring bitcoin. Often it’ll come from sensors and measurements—and it’ll take machine learning to turn into something symbolic.
Well, if we can express laws in computable form maybe we can start telling AIs how we want them to act. Of course it might be better if we could boil everything down to simple principles, like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, or utilitarianism or something.
But I don’t think anything like that is going to work. What we’re ultimately trying to do is to find perfect constraints on computation, but computation is something that’s in some sense infinitely wild. The issue already shows up in Gödel’s Theorem. Like let’s say we’re looking at integers and we’re trying to set up axioms to constrain them to just work the way we think they do. Well, what Gödel showed is that no finite set of axioms can ever achieve this. With any set of axioms you choose, there won’t just be the ordinary integers; there’ll also be other wild things.
And the phenomenon of computational irreducibility implies a much more general version of this. Basically, given any set of laws or constraints, there’ll always be “unintended consequences”. This isn’t particularly surprising if one looks at the evolution of human law. But the point is that there’s theoretically no way around it. It’s ubiquitous in the computational universe.
Now I think it’s pretty clear that AI is going to get more and more important in the world—and is going to eventually control much of the infrastructure of human affairs, a bit like governments do now. And like with governments, perhaps the thing to do is to create an AI Constitution that defines what AIs should do.
What should the constitution be like? Well, it’s got to be based on a model of the world, and inevitably an imperfect one, and then it’s got to say what to do in lots of different circumstances. And ultimately what it’s got to do is provide a way of constraining the computations that happen to be ones that align with our goals. But what should those goals be? I don’t think there’s any ultimate right answer. In fact, one can enumerate goals just like one can enumerate programs out in the computational universe. And there’s no abstract way to choose between them.
But for us there’s a way to choose. Because we have particular biology, and we have a particular history of our culture and civilization. It’s taken us a lot of irreducible computation to get here. But now we’re just at some point in the computational universe that corresponds to the goals that we have.
Human goals have clearly evolved through the course of history. And I suspect they’re about to evolve a lot more. I think it’s pretty inevitable that our consciousness will increasingly merge with technology. And eventually maybe our whole civilization will end up as something like a box of a trillion uploaded human souls.
But then the big question is: “what will they choose to do?” Well, maybe we don’t even have the language yet to describe the answer. If we look back even to Leibniz’s time, we can see all sorts of modern concepts that hadn’t formed yet. And when we look inside a modern machine learning or theorem proving system, it’s humbling to see how many concepts it effectively forms—that we haven’t yet absorbed in our culture.
Maybe looked at from our current point of view, it’ll just seem like those disembodied virtual souls are playing videogames for the rest of eternity. At first maybe they’ll operate in a simulation of our actual universe. Then maybe they’ll start exploring the computational universe of all possible universes.
But at some level all they’ll be doing is computation—and the Principle of Computational Equivalence says it’s computation that’s fundamentally equivalent to all other computation. It’s a bit of a letdown. Our proud future ending up being computationally equivalent just too plain physics, or to little rule 30.
Of course, that’s just an extension of the long story of science showing us that we’re not fundamentally special. We can’t look for ultimate meaning in where we’ve reached. We can’t define an ultimate purpose. Or ultimate ethics. And in a sense we have to embrace the details of our existence and our history.
There won’t be a simple principle that encapsulates what we want in our AI Constitution. There’ll be lots of details that reflect the details of our existence and history. And the first step is just to understand how to represent those things. Which is what I think we can do with a symbolic discourse language.
And, yes, conveniently I happen to have just spent 30 years building the framework to create such a thing. And I’m keen to understand how we can really use it to create an AI Constitution.
So I’d better stop talking about philosophy, and try to answer some questions.

After the talk there was a lively Q&A (followed by a panel discussion), included on the video.  Some questions were:

I have inserted my own brief answer to the following philosophical questions but it would be interesting to know what others think.

When will AI reach human-level intelligence?
My own view is although I concede such things as quantum computers may reach the same speed of computation I don’t believe AI can ever reach the human brain level of intelligence.
:       Do we live in a deterministic universe?
In big scale physics yes, but concurrent to that I believe there exists a causality at the smaller end of the scale as is evident in a certain creative freedom.
·        Is our present reality a simulation?
To some degree yes, but I also think we share the reality of our existence with its creator in some small way.  
·        Does free will exist, and how does consciousness arise from computation?
Yes. Consciousness arises from factors outside of the computation because of the ultimate interdependability of all things.  
Can we separate rules and principles in a way that is computable for AI?
No – we need human check points along the way.
·        How can AI navigate contradictions in human ethical systems?
It can’t- the best we can do is to have human check points along the way.

See what you think

Sunday, March 19

9 - Strange Music: Song of Norway Full Quality Recording

The song "Strange Music" is from the "Song of Norway" which captures the beauty of the music composed by Edward Grieg.  It was common place for many operetta's of that era to be based on the musical compositions of prior famous composers. 

The operetta is the story about Grieg and his love for his childhood sweetheart, Nina, but the scheming opera diva Louisa Giovanni is besotted by Grieg and is determined to keep him away from Nina. So she insists on him accompanying her as her pianist on world tours. But only through the love of his friends does he come to realize that Norway is where he will find true happiness. Grieg's role in this recording is sung by British operatic baritone Donald Maxwell. Maxwell has performed with all of the leading opera companies and additionally he has given many outstanding concert recitals and has been widely broadcast on radio and TV. If you don't like this recording you don't like icecream.        

Tuesday, March 7

Tipping point

Good news continues to emerge on energy use and we may be reaching a tipping point where world CO2 emissions globally start to decline. Although too early to be sure the signs are very encouraging. 

One pleasing aspect is China, which experienced the largest increase in energy productivity - by 133%. This means for the 15 year period from 1990 to 2015 the amount of energy used per unit of GDP (Note 1) has been rapidly declining. Put another way total emissions can reduce notwithstanding continuing increases in GDP. In other words China can simultaneously drastically reduce total carbon emissions yet still grow at a decent clip.   

China presently accounts for 30 per cent of global carbon emissions, but pledged to cap its emissions by 2030 at the Paris summit. 
But according to more recent data from Earth Systems Science, indicative of far less coal usage, the likelihood is this cap may already have occurred. 

This study published by Earth System Science Data contends global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry is projected to grow by just 0.2 per cent this year. What their more recent data shows is that world emissions remained constant at 36 billion metric tonnes over the past 2 years despite increases in GDP.

Hence the worrying nexus between economic gains, (more particularly in China) and inevitable emissions growth has been severed. Another important point to note is that regardless of government policies both individuals and business alike are increasingly moving to carbon abatement or it's elimination. 
In fact for most boards of directors of larger entities there is concern over the sustainability of any investments reliant or supportive of fossil fuels. The fear is of a future class action by shareholders.

It doesn't mean one can become complacent, since the build up in CO2 continues, but it does mean we may have reached a tipping point to the extent total emissions could  fall heavily in the decades ahead to avoid the catastrophic outcomes predicted.     

Global energy intensity continues to decline
graph of world energy intensity, as explained in the article text
Source: EIA, International Energy Outlook 2016, International Energy Statistics, and Oxford Economics
Note: OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1) GDP is gross domestic product . In other words all the goods and services produced in an economy.    

Tuesday, February 28

The 7 new Planets

Given NASA has discovered 7 potential Earth-similar planets orbiting a star only 40 light-years away I have posted Gustav Holst - The Planets, which was first composed in 1914. It was highly controversial then with its evocative blend of mystery, majesty, terror and serenity, just as it continues to enthrall todays appreciative audiences.        
I have also composed a poem about the universe as per below:

Whispering Spheres
As red rays of sunset cast their fading light
Surrender to the stars that shimmer at night, 
From planets far beyond our Saturn’s ring    
Are we from the stars, our eternal spring?               

Whispering spheres of a neo light form
Spiritual heavens in explosion and storm
May peace be your energy from the dreamtime? 

May the moon beams caress your delicate skin
Formed first from star dust, planets next of kin?   
Why ponder a fear, like a child in distress   
When the infinite holds no need for redress        

Whispering spheres of a neo light form
Spiritual heavens in explosion and storm
Peace be your energy from the dreamtime ? 

The dawn approaches, tis our daybreak
Birds in their chorus, a new day awake
Refreshed, now, on their merry way
Pray open thinking, for all to- day

Whispering spheres of a neo light form
Spiritual heavens in explosion and storm
Peace be our energy from the dreamtime ?  

Thursday, February 23

A February jaunt through space and time

I remain mindful of the words of one of the great religious philosophers Thomas Aquinas who said ‘All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly'.

His quote is a salutary reminder of our limitations and the need for humility. His likable philosophical style always argues the for’s and againsts before listing his numerous conclusions. He cautions making bold statements based purely on religious texts. Instead, he recommends relevant and or scientific knowledge to be studied beforehand to avoid making a fool of oneself.

Aquinas’ philosophy coincided with the emergence of modern day science when all philosophy was based upon science.
Interestingly enough it is only in more recent times once the volume of scientific knowledge expanded exponentially that we chose to separate the two.

My intention in this essay is to take a stroll through the mysterious realm of space-time to ponder its impact, if any, on traditional religious philosophy. The journey begins with the discovery of the incredible speed of light, I then examine its influence in the special theory of relativity and conclude with the quantum mystery. Along the way I will talk about how such provisional discoveries have shaped our views and/or influenced beliefs.

The speed of light and the special theory of relativity.
Danish astronomer Ole Rømer (1) in 1675 was the first to posit the incredible speed of light from observation of the moons of Jupiter.  
Remarkably he did manage to come up with a speed of 225,000 km/s per second, against the actual speed of 300,000 km/s.  
But it was Faraday (2) who discovered the influence of magnetic fields on polarized light in 1846. Later the Michelson-Morley (3) experiments of 1887, stumbled on the amazing counter intuitive discovery that light always travels at the same speed, regardless of where the measurement is taken. This applies only of course when light travels through a vacuum as if it were to encounter any resistance such as when moving from air to glass, the speed of course would change according to the new medium's index of refraction. Hence you can have the “bending” of light as is the case in understanding how lenses work.  

But in 1905, Einstein (and also the French mathematician Henri Poincaré, both reached the same conclusion: Einstein also realized  ‘that Maxwell’s equations led to an apparent paradox or inconsistency in the laws of physics, because it suggested that if one could catch up to a beam of light one would see a stationary electromagnetic wave, which is an impossibility. Einstein hypothesized, therefore, that the speed of light actually plays the role of infinite speed in our universe, and that in fact nothing can ever travel faster than light (and certainly that nothing in the universe could ever travel at anything like infinite speed). It should be noted that Einstein did not actually PROVE the constancy of the speed of light in all frames of reference. Rather, it is an axiom (an underlying assumption) from which he derived the rest of his theory. The axiom can be experimentally verified, but it is not proven in any theoretic sense.’
This constant in relation to the speed of light and the principle of relativity (mechanical laws of physics are the same for every inertial observer) are the two principal planks to the Special Theory of Relativity. When Einstein combined the principle of relativity with the constant speed of light, it became clear to him the speed of light was also independent of the speed of the observer (as well as of the speed of the source of the light), and that everyone in the universe, no matter how fast they were moving, would always measure the speed of light at exactly the same 300,000 km/s.

By way of a down to earth example we are all familiar with the concept of a game of table tennis noting it takes the same time for the ball to pass over the net when playing a game in a fast moving train as it does if the game was played on the platform. However for an observer located on the station looking into the fast moving train this is not the case since the trains speed plus the speed of the ball will equal the total speed of the ball as far he is concerned. So you can see the actual speed of the ball is the same for both scenarios,   just as it is for all observers, but the important point is it is relative to motion. On the other hand light for any observer anywhere will always only be seen as the same absolute speed of light.
Hence we can understand all the laws of science are the same to all observers regardless of their location in space after allowing for gravitational effects. Just to reiterate Einstein’ discovery paved the way for this conclusion (which however will be challenged later on) that our observations are relative to our motion and we can only think of time in the context of space-time.
After discovering the special theory of relativity Einstein incorporated the gravitational field effects which cause warping within his general theory of relativity.

A brief excursion into the slippery concept of time differences.
The obvious conclusion following on from the theory of special relativity is that any movement through space reduces our time in space to the point theoretically once you have reached the absolute speed of light, time becomes frozen.

This idea of course in reality is quite farcical since any object travelling through space at that speed would develop such an unimaginative amount of mass as it would approach the equivalent of all matter already present in the entire universe.
However there is a relative difference for all of us depending on our motion through space but the miniscule differences on planet earth can effectively be ignored and we can feel comfortable with our outdated Newtonian view of time. We can have no doubt however as to the soundness of the theory since it is has been independently verified by extremely accurate atomic clocks stationed on board aircraft. Spend your entire life flying in planes and you will be younger than your comparable walker but the differences are so small that on your death bed the flyer would scarcely have the additional time to think about even saying a few ‘Hail Mary’s’.
However in the vast distances of space the effects can be calculated to show huge disparities.
Imagine one in a spacecraft in the future when we have discovered a way to travel at close to the speed of light to find some remarkable consequences. Since our motion at close to the speed of light this drastically reduces our time in space for any prolonged space journey requiring us to wind forward our clocks hundreds of thousands of years on reentry into planet earth.
But our stay at home earthlings have long since perished as those who welcome us home are thousands of generations later than those present when we left. That is because time has not slowed for them as it has for the space travelers whilst the biological aging is no different for either group. In attempting to explain the outcomes using simple numbers consider the following:

Spacecraft intrepid travelers take up a most of space time with motion so that time is only a tiny fraction of (.1) with motion at 99.9. The opposite effect applies to the stay at home earthlings whose time makes up 99.8 plus motion at a tiny slither (.2)
These are simply arbitrary numbers I have chosen to help illustrate my point.
At this point can we draw any religious philosophical conclusions?
Since the universe is subject to unique laws which unfolded miraculously in exact sequences to allow life to form one can posit that we are the product of a creation in an evolving mystery which I think can only leave us in state of wonderment.
For me there is abundant evidence around us everywhere to indicate that all life and nature itself is simply miraculous. By virtue of the laws of science we might also posit we live in the most probable of many possible universes which leads us to reasonably suggest within those predestined routes there only exists causality for freedom of thought or actions or choice. That causality I see as an evolved creation gift which gives us the sense of freedom or free will within the determinism arising from constraints of those (but only big picture if you will) predetermined laws.
Although we can measure time we cannot say what it is and can only better understand time by combining time with space for the absolute concept of space-time.
But even this concept may turn out to be fatally flawed since it only works in the application of large scale physics. However if we accept the idea for the moment then for a creator GOD both past present and future becomes irrelevant. That is to accept the proposition we remain trapped within what seems to be to us our enclosed universe.

And so it does seem necessary for our existence time does always indicate an arrow always moving forward except for possibilities inherent in extreme warping effects of gravity.
But so far we have only barely scratched the surface to already reveal our rather tenuous grip on reality and our brief sojourn into space -time.

Understanding classical physics through the time application of the quantum.
So far we have viewed the universe through the time prism of classical physics (a jaunt confined to seeing only big pictures) which confidently predict planetary movements and space travel to the extent we can have confidence in these evidence based outcomes. But if we attempt to understand classical physics on the micro scale the picture becomes blurred and all our well tested notions seem to be turned on their head as if a dark cloak was thrown over the picture we are attempting to view. At the outset the applications of the quantum (the subatomic level of particles present in the universe) you begin to question the veracity of previously adopted universal laws. Indeed the general theory of relativity barely clings on to its integrity when you begin to contemplate the bizarre behaviors of the smallest of those fragile tiny particles known within our universe and what ultimately comprises that remarkable you or me. Einstein’s explanation for quantum mechanics (the probabilities and uncertainties of sub atomic particles known as quantum laws) where particles split into respective waves or particles to mimic behaviors as if they were still one, regardless of their distances apart, was to say those correlations were due to the underlying properties already present prior to and after disentanglement. In other words these 'spin characteristics' were integral to the separated particle and its wave function before and after they became separated.
Once again Einstein’s elegant theory seemed plausible enough but other physicists were doubtful. The matter was settled once and for all when Einstein and other brilliant physicists that followed him were all proven to be wrong half a century later.
There is now overwhelming evidence for this so called quantum entanglement. (See Brian Greene – 'The Fabric of the Cosmos – Space, time, and the texture of reality').
The search in modernity continues.  

So the quest continues as I attempt to meander along on our space jaunt to now ask an intriguing question: can quantum theory underpin the idea of the mind and our consciousness to posit an afterlife?
There seems to be at least some anecdotal evidence to support the dualists (Cartesian mind – brain dualism) in that it is plausible for there to be a non-material or “none locally” (a soul if you will) identity to the brain itself. What we can deduce is a pair of separated electrons each of opposite spin and from the same source retain their entangled state until such time as one is observed.  What happens is they exhibit retaining knowledge of one to the other instantly on observation regardless of the immense distance they may be apart. This invalidates Einstein’s theory that nothing can exceed the speed of light. 

This has led to an explosion of ideas to what seems to be an intractable mystery. There are many axioms such as the proposition that if you believe knowledge is reality (which can’t be proven or disproven) it could be we simply do not have sufficient knowledge about the particles since that knowledge is hidden from us. Others posit information may be stored in another dimension upon which we are not privy.
Dualists (those embrace the idea of a spirt separate to the mind) point to the possibility this provides food for thought for the existence of some form of a soul not subject to the laws of the universe. 

The Hammeroff/Penrose school (4) of thought posit quantum information exists at every point in space – time.  Bits are entangled throughout the universe, just as they form part of the human brain. Suffice to say we do not know what space is really made up of other than what we can theoretically calculate and observe, being what was necessary for our existence.   
So at the most fundamental level we still do not have concrete evidence or experience about the reality that underpins the universe. Even the time distortions in our imaginary spacecraft in the future when we have discovered a way to travel at close to the speed of light may not yield the remarkable consequences predicted. In that sense we can return finally to a religious philosophical view and conclude that hardnosed materialistic evidence based science is now leading us to the view our ultimate reality remains a mystery that cannot be explained by science, which may well always be the case. So that trust which is so important in our relationships with others, but so often can be misplaced, is also analogous to the universe, since human experience is not always a good barometer in understanding her rich fabric, bearing in mind ‘ All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.’
So that all we can do is to have trust in the human spirit and for those who have a religious leaning, an ultimate trust - we need not fear our mortality for in death it seems plausible we return home from whence we came. References