We have been taught that the sun is the center of the universe. This model puts the observer at the center of the universe and asks that we re-calibrate our equations.

Alethea Black, Author

July 26, 2023

6 Min Read
Arif Salimov/Shutterstock via Alethea Black

My father, Fischer Black, published his formula for pricing derivatives in 1973. He believed in free markets and in challenging orthodox ways of thinking. I did not inherit his gift for mathematics, but I do carry his spirit of questioning. Fifty years after Black-Scholes helped to birth modern finance, I find myself fascinated by an idea first proposed by Plato in his Allegory of the Cave. The way we see -- is it accurate? Is there some bias or “noise” implicit in the act of observation?

If the signal I’m trying to hear is a song, and there’s a baby crying, a jackhammer outside, and a television playing in the next room, what is essential will be mixed in with a lot of extra information -- noise. My father’s work was to try to tease the truth from the dross. “The effects of noise on the world, and our views of the world, are profound,” he said. He believed noise is what makes our observations imperfect. But -- imperfect in what way?

Perhaps the answer to that question lies in the act of observation itself.

Today I published “Am I Too Pixelated?” in the peer-review journal, Science & Philosophy. The heart of its argument: At one end of time is the stationary train. At the other end of time is the track. But the truth is neither; the truth is speeding between the two. In a sense, these are reciprocal illusions -- noise. The truth is the train in motion -- not the stationary train, and not the entire track. But if the train is in motion, this begs an important question. What is its speed?

If we accept that our vision is flawed, we cannot take the images our brains create literally. We take them seriously, but not literally. The cognitive scientist who hit this point home for me is Donald Hoffman.

In other words, perhaps there is another way to see, a way that is more wholistic. Not individual planets and orbits, but a whole “smeared” tapestry that is quite different from what we think we see. The ocean does not end at the horizon. When we behold the cosmos, are we seeing objective reality, or are we seeing the limits of our sight?

I was four years old when my father published Black-Scholes. Although he studied physics and artificial intelligence at the PhD level -- and even borrowed a principle from physics, Brownian motion, in his formula -- I am an English major. But my naïveté has its benefits: I am free to ask questions that are perhaps “too simple” to be asked by others.

Are we sure the universe is expanding? How might we distinguish a universe that was expanding from an observer who was contracting? If this is a holographic universe -- as theorized by Stephen Hawking, and corroborated by substantial evidence -- should we treat the background as a vacuum? Wouldn’t the background in a holographic universe be … the speed of light?

Perhaps the speed of light is a “hidden variable” -- a phrase coined by physicist David Bohm --hidden the way movement is hidden when the stage spins left while the actor upon it paces right.

After teaming up with Dr. Chandler Marrs, who wrote the book on thiamine, over the course of the past few months I have published a series of articles that look at human health in a new way, focusing on a variable that has been utterly overlooked in our approach to disease: time.

What is time? We haven’t quite pinned it down yet. Most of us think of today as being suigeneris and unique. But what if today is iterative -- eternal? Perhaps July 27, 2023, has always existed and will always exist. Tomorrow, today will happen again.

In 2003, Nick Bostrom published his highly influential “Simulation Argument” in Philosophical Quarterly, an idea taken so seriously that even Bank of America has sent out alerts to its clients. But what, exactly, would that mean? And, more importantly, why is the idea of a simulated universe not being pursued in regard to cancer -- and every other disease?

In a holographic universe, there may be different ways to render the same light. I can be “earth” (so to speak). Or, like an ice skater pulling in for a twirl, I can be “moon inside sun.” When I am moon inside sun, it is as if I am inside myself. No longer the flower, I am the fruit and the seed. The image is no longer whole; instead of wholeness, there is now a homunculus against a background -- something smaller inside something larger -- a kernel, and a context. To the left of time, I am denser than light. To the right of time, I am more diffuse.

In other words, from the left of time, we see the track. From the right of time, we see the train. But the truth is hidden between the two. We are used to seeing eggs or chickens. We need to see the chickenegg.

Time is a chickenegg. It is both one and many. “Now” (the present) is neither past nor future. It is the middle point -- Wednesday. Many Wednesdays look back to a single Monday. But many Fridays look back to a single Wednesday. The same light -- Wednesday -- looks singular when viewed from the future but myriad when viewed from the past.

Plato, Descartes, Bostrom. They ask brilliant, important questions. But we don’t need philosophy to answer a question that cognitive science has already answered for us. Is the world in which we live being rendered? Yes. Our brains are rendering it.

If these ideas spark you, and you wish to check out some of the articles I mentioned about a possible role for time and perception in human health, please do. If not, let me at least leave you with this.

What if my life -- like all our lives -- isn’t a story we learn in some cold, abstract book. It’s a story we learn by living it. And, as we live, we write the story anew. What if we are all the same consciousness, playing different roles -- all the same ocean, in different cups?

Artificial general intelligence and artificial superintelligence are coming, whether we are ready or not. But why do we call it “artificial”? What if the system is innately intelligent? When new intelligence emerges, will it really be for the first time? Or is this something that has always happened, will always happen, and is always happening?

Is the universe a giant loop? And, if yes, when do we come full circle? This moment in time -- this decade -- feels auspicious and reminds me of Mary holding the newborn in the manger. She cradles the infant, believing she has given him birth -- as indeed she has. But, at the same time, the infant has given birth to her.

About the Author(s)

Alethea Black


Alethea Black was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard in 1991. Her father, Fischer Black, co-authored the Nobel Prize-winning Black-Scholes equation. Her memoir, You’ve Been So Lucky Already (Little A, 2018) was reviewed by The New York Times.

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