Why I Wrote “Fields of Color”

Rodney BrooksThis book started from a chapter in a book I once intended to write, called “Can Robots Have Orgasms?” Here is how that title came about. In my earlier years if I thought about consciousness at all, I probably believed that the mind operates according to the laws of physics and chemistry, like any other organ of the body. But then one day I thought about pain – that strong searing sensation that can make one scream and yell. Pain, I thought, surely cannot be explained by fields or particles or relativity or quantum mechanics or even quantum field theory. It is something that is quite apart, quite different from what happens in a computer or in any other machine. Then I thought about all the other things that computers can’t feel, one of which is the intense pleasure of an orgasm.

Then one day we had a visitor – a bright young computer hot shot. I asked him as we were sitting down for dinner “Do you think a computer can ever experience a sexual orgasm?” Well this young fellow began to tell me how you could create an orgasm by putting the right 0’s and 1’s into the right memory banks. Of course this was ridiculous nonsense, so I told him he had flunked the test and couldn’t have any dinner.

I didn’t really. We fed him, but he did give me the idea for the title: “Can Robots Have Orgasms?” As it happened, I eventually abandoned the book because I figured that a book that boiled down to just one word (“No”) wouldn’t sell. However I had already written or sketched chapters that I called “dead ends” about three explanations that have been proposed for consciousness: Artificial Intelligence, Religion, and Quantum Mechanics. To my way of thinking these all fail to provide an answer, or any hope of an answer. However, as I worked on the chapter entitled “Quantum Mechanics”, I realized that all the quantum mechanical explanations ignored Quantum Field Theory. And then I realized that QFT is ignored everywhere, as if it never existed. And that’s why I wrote the book that I wrote…

Why Quantum Field Theory is Ignored

Given all its successes, you must surely wonder why QFT has remained an unwanted child. For one thing, there is no physical evidence to compel us to believe in fields, or for that matter, to believe in anything. Philosophers tell us that we can’t prove what is real, or even that there is a reality. I cannot prove that my entire life has not been a dream in the mind of some alien being. All that we can do is try to find a theory that explains our observations; and then, if we choose – and only if we choose, – we can believe that the theory represents reality.

So the choice is yours. You can believe that reality consists of particles – tiny spheres or point particles – despite the many inconsistencies and absurdities, not to mention questions like how big the particles are and what are they made of. Or you may choose to believe in wave-particle duality, which is neither fish nor fowl. Or you may want to join those physicists, like Steven Hawking, who don’t worry about reality.

The choice was described this way by Robert Oerter:

Wave or particle? The answer: Both, and neither. You could think of the electron or the photon as a particle, but only if you were willing to let particles behave in the bizarre way described by Feynman: appearing again, interfering with each other and cancelling out. You could also think of it as a field, or wave, but you had to remember that the detector always registers one electron, or none – never half an electron, no matter how much the field has been split up or spread out. In the end, is the field just a calculational tool to tell you where the particle will be, or are the particles just calculational tools to tell you what the field values are? Take your pick.

And when you take your pick, dear reader, I hope you won’t choose the picture of nature that doesn’t make sense – that even its proponents call “bizarre”. I hope that, like Schwinger, Weinberg, Wilczek (and me), you will choose to believe in a reality made of quantum fields – properties of space that are described by the equations of QFT. This is a picture that resolves all three of Einstein’s enigmas (see Appendices), a picture that solves the action-at-a-distance problem that even Newton found unacceptable, a picture based on simple and elegant equations (take my word for that), a picture that explains or is consistent with all the data known to date. And on top of that, QFT provides the most philosophically acceptable picture of nature that I can imagine…. The choice is now up to you.

Choose Quantum Field Theory.