Monday, April 12, 2021

Talk at Google -- Livestream 6pm CET today


  1. Hi Sabine,

    Near the end of the presentation, you said that issues like god and parallel universes can't be disproven, so you can believe it. It's just that there isn't evidence one way or another.

    Wouldn't the scientific position be to reserve judgement on issues where there is no evidence one way or another?

    1. Hi Colin,

      But that's what I am saying. Not sure if we disagree or not. Science doesn't say multiverses/god exist, but it doesn't say they don't exist either. So you can believe in them if you wish, just don't claim that science said they do exist.

    2. Dr. H.

      Congrats on the talk!

      " but it doesn't say they don't exist either"

      What does Physics say on the question of whether the observable universe has a beginning or not? (I think it says it is an open question, possibly even an unscientific question at the moment).

      What does Biology say on the question of human offspring? I presume it says that human babies are the offspring of an adult male and adult female (excluding recent scientific dabbling).

      So the 2 main tenets of Christianity ("God" "created" the Universe and "asexually fathered" the "demi-god" Jesus (all in quotes because we have no idea what any of it means)) are scientifically untenable in the first case and wrong in the second. The same can be done for any actual human religion - the main tenets will be contradicted or be untenable based on scientific evidence.

      Of course, one could accept all natural scientific evidence and just metaphysically add something called "God" or "Bob" or whatever, but, as an example of "religion", Christians' actual beliefs are scientifically untenable or plain wrong. Scientifically, we would describe strong belief in imaginings which are contradicted by evidence as a mental delusion, by definition.

      Probably, wise not to say that in the US where the religious love their guns as much as the Bible, but those are the facts of the matter.

    3. @Steven Evans
      Proclaiming religious faith as 'just plain wrong' is like someone with greyscale vision declaring everyone else is mistaken and colour doesn't exist.
      Just because you and I don't have religious faith or beliefs, doesn't mean other people don't experience that as real and true.
      My atheism us not merely accepting facts, it was a process of empowering myself as well. Others are enriched and empowered by religion and I won't take that away from them. Their sanity and intellect are reflected in their compassion and thoughtfulness, belief alone isn't worth much.

    4. Note:I added in 'just' to 'plain wrong' when it wasn't in the original comment.

    5. C Thompson7:52 AM, April 13, 2021

      I didn't say it was "just plain wrong". Your reading comprehension is failing you.

      Religious beliefs are superstitious nonsense, and despite what Dr. H. claims, have been clearly shown to be so by science, not that it wasn't clear anyway that it was made up. And organised religions are essentially autocratic tyrannies.

      This is related to Dr. H.'s thesis that being guided by naturalness and mathematical beauty in physical theory is a mistake as only evidence is relevant. And it's a mistake that leads to waste of resources and slows progress in Physics. The same for religion. It's an even bigger waste of time and money.

    6. Steven Evans,

      I did note that I added 'just' myself erroneously. If I could've corrected that, I would have.

      One can disprove religion scientifically and say so but that does not suffice to eradicate others' faith.

      I agree that religious explanations need to be kept out of scientific work; if one is going to attempt to justify religious belief using science or bend science to include religious concepts, they are going into pseudo-science. (There are indeed pseudo-scientific explanations for some phenomena to 'prove' God exists, but that's chaff added after the fact. Anyone who cares to be better-informed can find that out too.)
      That's how I also interpret what Dr. H has said.

      The problem with naturalness is that it relies on aesthetic judgements and opinion for direction, so the scientists' research and work is blinkered and hobbled.

      There are huge variations in religious thought in faiths and sects/denominations, as well as between individuals. Many religious people are quite capable of accepting scientific knowledge.

      I agree that many institutions are a waste of money but I'm talking about those hoarding resources and power, which is as far as the Biblical Jesus Christ was concerned, against God anyway. He had a lot to say against the leaders of the Jewish faith that he dealt with. Religious tyranny is antithetical to faith.

      Dr. H's stance on religion is pretty fair, I feel. She's not set out to prove or disprove anything that I can see regarding religious faith.

      You can insist otherwise, but then you're being closed-minded yourself.

    7. C Thompson4:07 AM, April 14, 2021

      *I'm* closed-minded because I reject 2,000 year-old beliefs and ways of living as obviously silly? You're right. Let's bring back child sacrifice.
      I made a specific point: in Physics it is not known that the universe had a beginning. Mathematical models that are topologically closed and finite are easy to build. Neither you nor Dr. H. have addressed the point (not that you are obliged to).

      It is the one thing that I think Dr. H. has got wrong on this blog . Science clearly refutes the main tenets of the various primitive superstitions known as "religions". E.g. Anyone claiming that the universe had a beginning has no evidence to support the claim.

    8. Steven, I don't say this intending to insult you, but yes, that is closed-minded. I assume you have limited experience of how faith operates, I lived it.
      I'm the outlier of my immediate family; they and many members of my extended family are Christians, including 2 clergy members. They are not autocratic and stiff-minded.
      The autocratic ones are those who blame society's ills on immorality and not following God/Allah whoever as they imagine Him/them and cherry-pick from their holy scriptures of choice to justify their shit-f_ckery and opression, they are *the worst*.
      (Nobody wants child-sacrifice, that's hyperbole.)

      I don't disagree that religion is not supported by science but I'm told that there are those who went to disprove the existence or the resurrection of Jesus Christ and came away believing in Him so neither of us are going to convince anyone otherwise easily, I reckon.
      Also, your previous insults and abuse showed you as closed and insufferable as the worst, literal-minded hellfire bigot; that is not a good look if you want to improve someone's reasoning.

      That Dr. Hossenfelder can consider a topic that at first seems ripe for ridicule but consider how and why people got there and explain that is one of her strengths as a communicator- one of the first videos of hers I watched was of her explaining how flat-earthers are wrong but not stupid.

      I need to remember to be as fair-minded myself. It's fair for you to disagree with her but looking at religion and spirituality in that light opens the way for useful discussions.

    9. Also, there are no Christians in Western society, or Muslims for that matter, or anyone else (as far as I'm aware) that insist on living exactly as Jesus and his contemporaries did.
      People take scripture from the Old Testament and the Epistles and conflate them with what Jesus meant from what he was attributed to having said in the Gospels. There are certainly Christians who realise that, including relatives and friends of mine.

    10. C Thompson10:37 AM, April 14, 2021

      "That Dr. Hossenfelder can consider a topic that at first seems ripe for ridicule but consider how and why people got there and explain that is one of her strengths as a communicator- "

      The topics of Dr. H.'s blog posts are empirically confirmed or speculative but scientifically motivated physics.

      She has previously provided scientific arguments against evidence-free nonsense like panpsychism.

      The holographic principle, for example, is a physically motivated mathematically coherent speculative idea, so not worthy of ridicule. Dreams predicting the future, meanwhile, is evidence-free nonsense wholly deserving of ridicule - because it's literally ridiculous.

      I have never seen her write any blog posts in support of clairvoyance or telepathy or dreams predicting the future or reincarnation or any other of the nonsense you seem eager to entertain. Because she's not insane.

      I don't know whether you are using drugs or are mentally deluded, but you need to get medical help. What you believe is completely at odds with reality.

  2. Dr. Hossenfelder, thank heck you were 'stupid and dumb' 20 years ago because if you'd convinced yourself to stick with the status quo, both science and the world at large would've lost out on what you've been building since.
    The world needs iconoclasts fighting for the status quo to shift; in that regard you're quite inspiring.
    I'm looking forward to your new book being published.

    1. C Thompson,

      Thanks for the feedback. But I can't honestly recommend it to anyone, for I full well know I've made my life more complicated than necessary. And for that I feel stupid in and by itself.

    2. Hah. Your 'stupid' is my 'omg genius', lol.
      I had a personal development mentor tell me that I 'make things complicated' and so I do. Glad I'm not the only one.
      My speciality is arguing on Facebook. I hope to get a few people to do better and that society ends up in a bit better shape than I found it but I probably have had too much time on my hands. At the least, I'm learning things at your blog.

    3. @Sabine Eastern yogi would not think so. In Eastern ascetic traditions (which are beyond any kind of religion or beliefs) there is this idea of work (tapas). What does it mean? An ascetic takes on himself some vow (a traditional set called five major vows contains: non-harm, truth, non-stealing, chastity, non-possession) And he does it not because he "should", according to some religion (at this stage he is supposed to be beyond morals), rules, etc. but as a sport, as a challenge, "because he wants".

      In simple words, he finds adventures on his own ass. But not "because of", in a way, simply because he wants and can do it. Justification goes as, "Not satisfied with his state of consciousness and wants to change it". So it's always a positive movement, not because person lost all his money, health, or was unsuccessful in life, but because he was moved deeply to do something other than what he was doing all his life.

      Ascetic is just a word which conveniently presents the function. In that sense any person - scientist, athlete, game developer, architect, cook, parent, whoever - who takes up some challenge on himself (by himself, not out of necessity, it was considered that necessity moves it from positive movement to compulsory, and makes it "as any other") has chosen some work to do. And more, something that was not necessary. And only that 'not-necessariness' moved it into a category of a noble practice (as it was not out of compulsion, not for any goal as such).

      It was even considered that only such work has a real potential for a person to change his habitual cognitive models, i.e. his thinking modes, and consciousness.

      At the moment, I am reading Ethics by Aristotle and find the same very idea in his words. What usually is translated as habit (hexis), a good translator translates as being-at-work, i.e. virtue is not some static thing but an active dynamic process in the result of which we come to the stable equilibrium (êthos). So the ethics is not something that can be taught, memorized or moralized but is based on work that a person went through (and which he himself has chosen).

      It's interesting that many among AI community do not seem to grasp that ethics is not some fancy, or negotiation to reach shared goals. As it would be like blind leading blind. Although, it's not easily defined, it does not make it intangible and unapproachable. And there is always work that was done by a person that in fact developed his ethics (otherwise, it stays as a potential). It's almost a proof-of-work thing. One has to compute a proper amount of data to dig some gold.

      There is also a brilliant video game designer Jane McGonigal ("Reality is Broken", "SuperBetter") who expressed this idea in terms of games and how we can gamify our life. Exactly same idea of challenge.

      In that light an expression "made my life more complicated than necessary" would sound entirely rational, almost routine, and made perfect sense to a yogi proper, a game designer, or Aristotle. They indeed considered that nothing of value is ever done, understood or developed, unless someone gets his life more complicated than necessary. The only trouble is not to overdo it and drive oneself into burnout, so in finding a proper balance.

    4. Hi Vadim

      Thanks, that was very interesting. I'll have to think about this.

    5. @Vadim:

      I like Aristotle. He gets a bad press ever since people found he got some things wrong and Aristotle-bashing has become a sport practised by generations of working physicists since Galileo.

      But Newton got things wrong with gravity (action at a distance, corpuscules) and so did Einstein with non-local entanglement. It's not enough to bash people for what they got wrong but also to take into account what they also got right.

      I recently learnt that the Aristotelian school came up with the vector law of addition of velocities/forces. I think thats pretty impressive. And they influenced Archimedes with his law of the lever, the nucleus of the notion if torque.

      But I also admire his sheer range. What physicist today would also write on poetry, theatre, politics and ethics? I'm sure there must be a space in the world for that broad-brush approach. A more holistoc approach to the intellectual sciences. Here, I'm using science in the archaic sense of being a body of knowledge. People talk about inter-disciplinarity and trans-disciplinarity but to my mind, there's precious little of it and what there is, doesn't stretch very far.

    6. Aristotle also thought that the reason menstrual blood was red is because women don't have souls. I'm sticking with Epicurus.

    7. @DougOnBlogger:

      As souls are a Christian concept and Aristotle wasn't a Christian, I very much doubt he meant that.

      To him, the female menstrual blood was the 'material cause' and the male semen the 'efficient cause'. This is what he means by 'soul' here - it's the animating principle. This means in his theory, men are wholly made of a *female* 'clot' of blood. This is what is meant by the *material* cause - it is the matter from which it is made of.

      I termed it a 'clot' of blood, as that is also the Qu'ranic description of how men originated from:

      >Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clot.

      It's actually part of the first verse revealed to the the Prophet Muhammed. I only spotted that now, it hadn't occured to me before.

      He doesn't mean that "women don't have souls".

      Your confusion is understandable given that later translators from his Greek, undoubtedly Christian, used the term 'soul' to translate what he means by animating or active principle. It's a common mistake when reading archaic writers to read in modern presuppositions. Instead, we have to realise they lived in a different thought-world.

      Given that Aristotle lived in the 5th BCE and was thinking on how conception occurred without the use of microscopes, it's not a bad theory.

      I'd also add, that this theory is likely to have been influenced by his theory of change in his *physics* (and *metaphysics*) where he elaborates on what is to be understood as force (the animating/active/efficient principle again). It's the same principle from which Newtons laws descended from.


    8. Newton was not wrong, he just described gravitation in a very weak limit. With the Schwarzschild metric the g_{tt} = 1 - 2GM/rc^2 in the weak limit, with no spatial curvature, embed the spatial manifold in such a way that clocks closest to the gravitating tick more slowly. This defines Newton's lines of force.

      Aristotle got a few things rights. Aristotle's physics involved 4 causes: initial cause, final cause, material cause and formal cause. In some ways we do operate in that way. Extremal principles and path integrals have initial and final states. A formal cause might be compared to a symmetry and material cause is a bit more nebulous, but these might be compared to the idea of observables.

      The rest of Aristotle's physics is basically nonsense. He had there being a center to the universe, center of the Earth etc, and all things had this almost teleological need to seek the center.

      Aristtotle's big achievement was to formulate the nature of logical syllogisms. For the 3rd century BCE Aristotle was a prety ground breaking guy.

    9. @Lawrence Crowell:

      Newton himself said that philosophically speaking that he couldn't countenance his theory of gravity acting at a distance. It's not quite wrong, but an *aporia* - a hole in the theory.

      Carlo Rovelli actually states in his book, Quantum Gravity, that the principle of locality is one of the great principles of physics. But he awards it's discovery to Descartes. It wasn't Descarte, it was Aristotle. It's how he framed his theory of force: a force cannot move something unless it is in contact with it. In fact, he qualifies it by saying that the object it is in contact with must be capable of change, and that it must also change. To my mind, it's these qualifications that signal him out from Plato as the more scientific thinker. I mean who else would make these kind of fine distinctions? Plato was happy to speculate without qualification.

      Given that people had actually thought that the earth was flat, actually having the earth hanging in space was actually progress. Likewise, we see things we pick up fall down, so its an obvious extrapolation to say that they fall to the centre. It's the beginning of a theory of gravity.

      We all have to begin somewhere, and in beginnings, mistakes are often made. Newton was wrong with his corpuscular theory of light (though he was later vindicated with Einstein's notion of the photon).

      One other thing I learnt recently is that he had the water cycle right.

      The early greeks were a lot more sophisticated in their thinking of space, time & matter than they are generally given credit for - apart from the specialists.

      For ecample, Aristotle asked the question whether place itself had a place. He didn't dismiss the question out of hand but said it was a hard question. Conventionally speaking we would only say that things, that is objects have a place. Thus to treat place as having a place would mean treating place as an object. That's a fundamental change of view about space which we don't get until Einstein's GR when space itself has ontological being.

      I'm not saying that Aristotle made that move - but he left it open - in the same way Newton left open the question of how to turn gravity into a local theory.

      Aristotle gets a lot of credit for his syllogisms, but in my own personal view, he deserves just as much credit for his physics, if not more.

      The reason, by the way, why I'm defending Aristotle was just after I finished school I discovered in one of Asimov's short stories that it was Leucippus & Democritus that came up with the notion of the atom and not Dalton - who we were told was the 'father' of the atom. Anyway, I told myself one day I'd pick up Aristotle to see what he had to say himself. When I eventually got round to keeping that promise to myself I was shocked by just how *scientific* he was given everything thats been said against him - as you just listed. It's a common trope ever simce Galileo. Never mind that European academia had fermented in Greek thought since the renaissance. It wasn't called the renaissance for no reason.

      The other reason why I picked up Aristotle as well as Plato is that I've always admired Raphaels painting of The School of Athens with the two as the cebtral figures. I thought, they must be worth something to be painted in such a great fashion.

    10. @Lawrence Crowell:

      ... I'd also add, I'm not the only one trying to rescue Aristotles reputation. The great algebraic topologist, Rene Thom, wrote a whole book Semiophysics on his rediscovery of Aristotle. He called him the only thinker of note on continuity in the entire two millenia of Western thought.

      One last point, Anaximander was a pre-Socratic philosopher who theorised the *apeiron*, otherwise known as the boundless, the unlimited, and also - crucially, at least for me - the indefinite. He called this the underlying *arche*, or principle of the world, from which new things come into being. When we think of this substance as ontologically *indefinite* from which *definite* things come into being, it's not a million miles away from the ontology of QM - as disputed as it is - where we have value indefiniteness.

      Like I said, the early Greeks are much more sophisticated thinkers than they are given credit for - especially by physicists.

      And Aristotle wasn't just innovative in logic ...

      Sorry for the length of the reply, but I hear so much tosh about Aristotelian physics, I wanted to make a detailed reply.

    11. @Mozibur
      Don't worry, I can translate my own Greek.

      Aristotle is very far from a 'separate but equal' type of thinking (as is anyone who has ever claimed that.) He makes a very clear value judgment, the female is deformed, marred, mutilated. (I'm looking specifically at Generation of Animals II 737.)

    12. @Mozibur What I attempted to convey was a bit different.

      Considering Aristotle's works I cannot say anything apart from a partially read Ethics. I opened Aristotle as I was interested about the roots of ethics (and seeing a strange confusion and commotion around this topic in AI community), opened etymological dictionary, and - voila. So I decided to read it as it is a topic of personal interest.

      I was surprised by his approach. And whether or not all what a man said had sense, whether his considerations were confirmed or denied, one thing is sure - he was a real deal. And what I mean by a real deal? He was thinking in relations (yes, available to him at the time, and many of which he himself proposed or discovered, which to me doesn't put a man into a bin of 'lunatic' at all) and he attempted to develop structured approach. And if only in that way, he is head and shoulders above anyone who straw-mans him (from a perspective of todays knowledge) and attempts to 'disproof' him.

      Philosophy as I take it is a serious consideration on a topic, when a man attempted to approach some difficult question, unknown by definition, and invited his readers to think about it in structure he developed. So it's that consideration in itself that is important. Not some random facts or even the proposed relations. But the approach itself - how to consider something unknown? How to even think about it? Is what I enjoy.

      As well as the message itself (so far). I am considering the structure itself to be a vehicle in order to build proper scaffolding and lead a reader to his own discovery, his own understanding. As I know full well how difficult it is to convey 'simple things'. So I don't understand pretenses of people attempting to question the scaffolding.

      Having said that, I do not find his thinking trivial at all. And that's considering the fact that I am not a big fan of goal-oriented approach or value-based systems, e.g. I positively don's support Maslow's pyramids type theories and similar Simonov-like interpretations in physiology (albeit, I understand those are the default models). In short, where the context is set as there is a need, a value, means to reach it, and an active agent.

      One can take it as a model or interpretation. But it doesn't work that way in thinking. In short, it's more like, an interaction happens and it leads to springing of functions based on previously worked out configuration (usually unavailable and felt as emotions, feelings, etc.). Those functions may be said to solidify into a value and an agent (btw, different for different contexts) but are provisional. Which you may notice is very Buddhistic. And this situation attempts to reach a closure (like scratching an itch), while brain provides its commentary.

      What about choice? On a level of a risen agent there is no choice. Only a correlation between a commentary (which can be changed or turned off at all) and a reinforcing feeling. But that configuration in which thinking operates does a computation and notifies the conscious part. So it goes well with Aristotle's considerations, i.e. choice exists as a processed and transformed desire, otherwise it's just an illusion ('I do what I want when I want!'). But it must be worked out.

      Overall I enjoy Aristotle's arguing towards the first principles and expressing it explicitly. Basically, it's an open investigation of unknown.

    13. @Doug on Blogger:

      Given that you are so taken by the representation of the female in Aristotelian thought, then perhaps you might have a look at Sophie Connell's *Aristotle on Female Animals*, where she says:

      >The usual feminist critique argues that Aristotle regards the female as contributing nothing positive to geberation, no movement or ability, being like passive or empty matter. This characterisation of the female role is then combined with the idea that the female is not a 'real' or trie parent of offspring and the female himan is not fully human.

      >I will argue against these intertwined ideas by first exposing the persistent and entrenched habit in many of these commentaries of getting crucial details wrong about Aristotle's theory of reproduction. In particular, in Generation of Animals, Aristotle offers positive views of the female role. She contributes very specific materials yo generation: materials that contain movements ensuring resemblence to herself and her ancestors (of both sexes). When analysing Aristotle's biology the fact that his theory of sexes is 'sexist' ought not to obscure sound scholarship which hopes to capture an accurate account of his theory of the female role.

      She also confirms that Aristotle:

      >Aristotelianism, especially in its medieval guise, [is thought to have] given us systematic sexism ... denying women an equal role in society, on the basis of reproductive incapacity. However, a close analysis of key texts it becomes clear that Aristotle himself did not have such a system in place; crucially, he did not form a justificatory arguments as later thinkers did.

      In other words, we shouldn't charge Aristotle with sexism.

      Aristotle describes the 'female is like a deformity of the male' as simply meaning that the female is *formed* out of the male. The term 'deformed' does not have the connotation of judgement that you are taken it to be. It means *reformed*, that is *remade* from.

      It also, notably contradicts what Aristotle establishes already, that the matter of the human is taken from the female; so, if we think of the matter of the human as clay, the male is formed out of the female clay. But given that Aristotle is a careful writer, we should not so readily jump to the conclusion that Aristotle is contradicting himself. So a closer look at the term 'deform' is in order. The 'form' of an object comes partly from Plato's theory of form; a form is molded out of the clay, or as they term it, the 'timber' of the object; so when he says the female is a 'deformity' he is saying, the 'form' of the female is taken from the 'form' of the male.

      When we also recall that Aristotle in his *Metaphysics* also afforms that the principles of things, their *arche*, come from contraries, that is the conbination of opposites, then what we see is that Aristotle is simply theorising the human is a blend of opposites.

      Had Aristotle taken the female as primarily form and the male as primarily matter, he would have said the male was a 'deformity' of the female and that the clay or timber of the female was taken from the male.

      This latter take is what is by the way in the biblical Genesis where the female is fashioned from the male.

      The point is Aristotle had to make a choice in what to associate the male and female with in terms of his metaphysics.

      There is no 'sexism' in his thought as we modernly concieve it. To see where it has come from in the West, we need to look elsewhere than Aristotle.

    14. @Vadim:

      I more or less stumbled on Aristotle, given the way philosophy and in particular, Aristotle, is treated in physics. He's the whipping boy of how not to think.

      However, I think it is important to see Aristotle not as simply writing as Aristotle but also as the fruit of Greek enquiry since Parmenides - and earlier.

      For example, in chapter II of the Nichomeachean Ethics, the title shows that it is dedicated to his son, by the way, he writes:

      >Knowledge of the good would seem to be the concern of the most authoritative science, the highest master science. And thos is obviously the science of politics, because it lays down which of the scoences there should be in cities, and which each class of person should learn and upto what level.


      >For while the good of the individual is a desirable thing, what is good for a people or a city, is a nobler and more godlike thing. Our enquiry is then, a kind of political science, since these are the aims it is aimimg at.

      This shows that Aristotle is a student of Plato, because the above is simply a precis of Plato's Republic. Like Newton said, and we so often forget in our culture of individual enterpreneurship, individualism and pleasure-seeking, we stand upon the shoulders of giants.

      Personally, I think science as a collective endeavour should be emphasised more in physics education. Because, we so often here a litany of great names: Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein ... that we forget that physics is a collective endeavour. Certainly it was a shock for me, being brought up on the tales of these scientists to discover what science is actually like. Like Aristotle said, a collective endeavour is a greater endeavour than a singular and particular endeavour and certainly Aristotle would have seen himself as standing in the midst of, and continuing a tradition.

      By the way, when Aristotle mentions politics, he means it more than the spectacle of what we read in newspapers. For example, the great global effort to mitigate the effects of climate change is politics of the order he has in mind: and this runs the register from all the way from the Paris Agreement to the efforts of Extinction Rebellion, to those looking at Wind and Solar Power to those looking at better ways of storing energy.

    15. The weak field limit of GR for a central gravitating source recovers Newton's gravity law. In effect clocks at different radii mark time at different rates. and this is an extrinsic curvature that measures how a flat spatial region is embedded in spacetime. Of course, Newton had no concept of this and had lines of force instead. Remember, Newton did not work with the concept of energy or potential energy. Everything was on the F = ma level of description.

      The dominance of Aristotle and Plato in Hellenic philosophy was in part due to the eclipsing of other academes in other places Leucippus and Democritus was in the Thracian tradition. Philip II hired Aristotle to teach his son Alexander, who went off to do spectacular military feats.

      As I said Aristotle got some things right. The idea of locality in this early sense might be seen as the idea of a contact force. In some ways this is maybe a good idea, but then again an impediment. One objection to Newtonian gravity was that it produced a force based on action at a distance, not a contact force.

    16. I've noticed Plato's references to, at least, Gorgias and Republic, but taken from a different perspective.

      I've also noticed that politics in terms of Plato was basically software for polis, i.e. organization of life in order. In fact, Greek's name of the work is politeia, or a consideration on politics, or a consideration on how to organize polis.

      In nowadays parlor it usually means - ways of power and influence. And people even split those functions - management and influence of opinions (which is more like marketing in light cases and bullying in heavy). A good manager is usually (as any good professional) a horrible influencer and marketer, i.e. not a politician. And what is currently a politician I don't have any clue (well, in some countries it is as it always was - bullying, wars and cutting heads, in more civilized societies it's kind of maneuvering between those). I think they will one day just find themselves redundant in comparison with power of YouTube :-)

    17. @Lawrence Crowell:

      It wasn't Newton that dreamt up 'lines of force', but Faraday. It was Maxwell that acclaimed Faraday for this as well as Heaviside.

      Whilst Newton came up with a quantitative theory of gravity, it was Kepler that understood gravity to be a universal attraction. But again, this goes back to Aristotle. He wrote:

      >But the truth is that neither the form can yearn for itself, since it is in need of nothing, nor can its opposite yearn for it, since opposites are mutually destructive but it is matter that does the yearning.

      He also said about motion:

      >This is why movement is the actualisation of the moveable insofar as it is moveable, and this happens by *contact* with what is capable of moving it, so that the latter is affected by it at the same time.

      This by the way is the locus of the usual confusion that Aristotle is said not to understand what motion is. He is said to have said that an object doesn't move unless there is a force incident to the object.

      In fact, recalling that spacetime is not the void but is something, and that an object in spacetime is obviously in contact with spacetime, it is spacetime that is the cause of its motion and since spacetime is locally everywhere the same we should always expect the object to move in the same way.

      And so it does - on geodesics and at constant speed.

      The reverse, as to whether matter has a backreaction on spacetime was answered by Clifford and then Einstein. Tge back reaction is the curvature of spacetime.

      Aristotle theorised on Anaximeses apeiron too, he wrote:

      >Of the unlimited [the apeiron], there is no starting point, since, if there were, it would have a limit. Further, it is incapable of coming to be or passing away ... that is why we say that there is no starting point of the unlimited, but it is rather the unlimited that seems to be the starting point of the orher things, and to encompass everything and steer everything (as it is said by those who do not posit other causes beyond the unlimited, such as Understanding and Love) and is divine. For it is immortal and indestructible, as Anaximander says as well as most of the physicists.

      Like I have already mentioned, this apeiron or the unlimited is what we understand roughly as quantum reality since Bells experiments and the EPR paradox shows that quantum reality in some sense is value indefinite.

      It's also not so very different from dependent arising in Buddhist philosophy which posits something very similar.

      The point I'm making is not that Aristotle got a few things right or not in physics but that he is the *main* source that modern physics derived from. And really by that, I mean the classical Greek tradition - it's not just Aristotle. It's tied to it by an umbilical cord. Unfortunately, for some reason, most likely the arrogance of the modern age, they have forgotten this link and disparage it. The greats, like Newton and Heisenberg never did.

      Personally, I believe along with Paolo Budinich who helped set up the Trieste Institute of Physics with Abdus Salam, that physics should heal it's breach with philosophy and one good start would be with a history and philosophy of physics that is a real history and not merely a Eurocentric mythology that begins physics with say Galileo.

    18. @Vadim:

      The Georgias is where Plato has Socrates take up cudgels against the rhetoricians. In this, he is paying homage to his master Parmenides who said the way of truth was not opinion, that is rhetoric.

      It's a lesson we would do well to learn again today when truth has gone missing in action and misinformation, disinformation, fake news and sensationalist science is the order of the day.

      Politics in Plato means also education for an informed citizenry and the mixing up of the classes to avoid clannishness. This is a lesson that Europe has taken to heart with good free mass education and not just reserved for a tiny elite and also the free movement of the peoples of Europe to avoid exactly the same problem that Plato identified - nationalism.

      Of course with neoliberalism in the UK, we have expensive higher education -stalling social mobility as well as burdening the young, when they are just starting out in life, with huge financial burdens. It's a hugely retrogade step and a really bad idea.

    19. > The term 'deformed' does not have the connotation of judgement that you are taken it to be. It means *reformed*, that is *remade* from.

      It most certainly does not. In Liddell and Scott:

    20. @DougOnBlogger:

      The term 'deformed' is said there to mean 'maimed'. This is certainly true. However, this is the only meaning that is referenced, and in this it is wrong.

      Aristotle himself is fond of pointing out that terms are often 'said in many ways' meaning that they are used in many ways and often it is the context that clues us in how it is to be interpreted.

      In Liddell & Scott's lexicon there is no context. If on the other hand, we turn to book 4 of Aristotles *Metaphysics* (1004b), he writes:

      >For just as number qua number has its peculiar *modifications*, eg oddness and eveness, commensurability and equality, excess and *defect* ... similarly other peculiar *modifications* are inherent in the solid and the immoveable, the weightless and the moveable ... so Being qua Being has certain peculiar *modifications* ...

      Here, he uses *defect* in numbers to mean *less* and *excess* to mean *greater*; and he says directly that they are to be understood as *modifications*. Now *deformed* is akin to *defect* and again he is simply using a technical term from his philosophical lexicon to explain in what way woman is a *modification* of man. He is saying stuff is taken away, in the same way we take stuff away from a block of marble in order to carve a statue.

      You can see the extract for yourself in:

    21. I'm confused as to the arc of your argument. You're saying this is a technical term in his philosophy, but the actual term he's using in the Metaphysics is elleipsis. Surely you'll forgive Liddell & Scott for not citing this passage as an alternative usage or context for pephrwmenon? They're quite thorough, but even they have limits.

      But look, if you think I'm missing some ethical nuance in how thinks of women, we could just table them and try slavery?

    22. @DougOnBlogger:

      Philosophers, unlike mathematicians, don't have the luxury of inventing new symbols to denote their philosophical concepts. They have to use ordinary language. Thus you have to watch out for what they really mean.

      I'm not acquainted with Liddell & Scott, however, the link that you pointed to on Perseus had only the single meaning.

      Sure you can try Aristotles thoughts on slavery - what have you got?

  3. I enjoyed this format. It was more as a conversation and less formal.

    It was also an epiphany to me (a little bit earlier) that physicists are apparently taking some words like 'naturalness' or 'beauty' and make some very specific guide-like constructs of them, so they have very specific pattern-like meaning to direct construction of models. And that's what you were bringing up, those specific patterns. I presume that's what the book covers in details.

    JFYI, the video is unlisted.

    1. @Vadim Hi.
      It's thanks to Dr. H mostly that I'm learning that Physics is almost like its own dialect, the way words are used. That's a bit of a learning curve, even without the equasions. Then there's all the words to describe all the manifolds and dimensions, etc. It's like finding an entire new country.

    2. PS I keep spelling 'equations' incorrectly.

  4. @Dr Hossenfelder, Vadim
    Being 'prophet of the dark' and shining light into that darkness is bound to be complicated, but it takes guts to *keep* doing that. The humour helps too. :)

  5. Dr. H.,

    Have you seen this from those 2 comedians , Lewis and Barnes?

    I have never read such unscientific drivel in all my life, and they are claiming to speak for Physics. Can you not put these 2 straight? They are even quoting as a reference their own silly book, "A Fortunate Universe", which bizarrely Nobel laureate, Brian Schmidt wrote the foreword for.

    My criticisms of their work carry no clout, but yours would.

    1. Well, my new book has a chapter on the topic. Also, I did this debate with Barnes in January. It is scheduled to appear on YouTube sometime in June I think.

    2. I see. I was wondering what happened to that debate.
      "A Fortunate Universe" is significant as a pop sci book because it has the imprimatur of a Nobel Laureate and presents "God" as a physical concept, on top of wrong claims of evidence for 2 pure speculations. Yet, it has never had a proper review - Physics Today used a Templeton-funded religious fundamentalist to review it, who unsurprisingly gave it the thumbs up, and Philip Helbig's review in the Observatory was largely positive.
      It's crazy. The review should be: the multiverse and universal fine-tuning are completely speculative and without physical evidence, and "God" doesn't mean anything in Physics. How has this book escaped the pummeling and ridicule it deserves?

    3. Dr. H., Here are my comments on the arxiv paper. Do you want to give it the once over and joint publish a response? ;)) All the references could be covered by links to your blog posts here.

      Summary: There's only 1 known physically possible universe and we are in it. It appears to obey certain fundamental laws up to a certain level of observational precision, and nobody has any idea why.

      Dirac's coincidence is simply an expression that carbon-based life must appear after the first generation of stars - a trivial tautology with no scientific consequences.

      "It was found that slight deviations in these fundamental properties often result in dead and sterile universes"

      This statement is not known to have anything to do with what is physically possible. We don't know that "slight deviations" are physically possible. "Often" cannot even be justified in the context of the models, since the number of possible model universes are endless. As far as we know there is only ONE physically possible universe - the one we observe.

      "the fine-tuning for life is really the fine-tuning for the complexity required for life"

      But we still know of only 1 physically possible universe.

      " These other, life-prohibiting universes are perfectly mathematically consistent."

      They are not physical universes, but are simple models based on what has been observed to be fundamental to the one physical universe we know of.

      " So who took the knobs away? A deeper physical law? Great! What is it?"

      So who put the knobs there? A deeper physical law? Great! What is it?

      "And why is it a physical law that allows life forms, rather than one that doesn’t"

      We don't know. But that doesn't mean there are other physically possible universes.

      " Carr and Rees (1979), “even if all apparently anthropic coincidences could be explained would still be remarkable that the relationships dictated by physical theories happened also to be those propitious for life.”

      There is no basis for the word "remarkable" here. Our universe may be the only physically possible one. That it admits complexity may simply be a fact of this universe. Unless L&B can show otherwise.

      "Perhaps something deeper than the laws of nature took the knobs away, like a metaphysical principle? Great! What is it"

      Perhaps something deeper put the knobs there. Great! What is it? Baby Jesus' daddy? He really is omniscient - he knew if he set the knob to exactly 4.185463×10^-23, then baby Jesus would be born.

      "Although our situation is not necessarily central, it is inevitably privileged to some extent"

      "Not necessarily central"??? There are 100 billion galaxies each containing an average of 1 trillion stars! Earth is completely inconsequential in the cosmos. That life can only exist in a universe that allows its existence is an uninteresting tautology from which NOT ONE interesting scientific fact has been derived.

    4. 2/2
      "The Universe .. must be as to admit the creation of observers within it ..."

      i.e. If it were not possible for observers to appear in the Universe, then observers would not appear in the universe. Well, yes. Another uninteresting tautology. It does not mean that observers were bound to appear in this universe, though, as we only know of 1 example of intelligent life forms, on Earth.

      "The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirement that the Universe be old enough .."

      We don't know the probabilities of physical quantities. The observed quantities are the only ones know to be physically possible.

      "Given that we exist at all, we should not be surprised that life-sustaining environments exist, even though the majority of the universe is inhospitable to human life"

      We only know of 1 life-sustaining solar system and 1 physically possible universe.

      " There could have been a completely dead universe: perhaps one that lasts for 1 second .."

      Pure speculation. Not Physics.

      "What explains the match between what our universe does and what life requires?"

      It is not known that there is an explanation currently. The fact remains there is only one known physically possible universe and it allows life.

      "“perhaps a solution exists.”Well, OK, sure, thanks for that, but what could that solution be?"

      And this paper doesn't show that the universe is fine-tuned for complexity as there may be only 1 physically possible universe. So thanks for that. A paper that is completely irrelevant to Physics.

      "Maybe you could go one step further by filling in the blank in the following claim:a universe permits the possible existence of life because___________"

      Maybe you could stop speculating endlessly and fill in the blank:
      It is not possible for there to be only 1 physically possible universe because __________

      "; we want to understand fine-tuning for life"
      You have not provided any evidence that any universe other than the one we observe is physically possible, so you have illustrated no "fine-tuning for life" in the first place.

      " The puzzle is: why does a universe with theability to support life exist at all?"

      And the current answer is that we have extrapolated back 13.7 billion years to a tiny dense quark-gluon soup and we know nothing about what happened before that. So we don't know the answer to this question. We don't even know it is a question that makes sense.

      "Some invoke a divine mind, a “fine-tuner” who configured the universe to allow us to be here."

      There is no such thing in Physics as a "divine mind".

      " Perhaps ours is a synthetic universe, whose conditions were chosenby a programmer who wants to simulate an interesting universe."

      There is reason to think that the physical laws as currently known may not be simulatable by algorithm.

      "Another live option is the multiverse, the notion that our universe is one of many, each with their own physical laws and conditions"

      There is no physical evidence of a multiverse and there is no physical evidence that physical laws can be different to those observed in the 1 universe we know of. Pure speculation. Not Physics.

      " the multiverse is a rough sketch of a scientific theory"

      It is not a scientific claim as there is no known observation to check it.It is pure speculation.

      "Just as importantly, we could ask: are life-permitting universe generators as fine-tuned as life-permitting universes?"

      There's only 1 known life-permitting universe. "Life-permitting universe generators" are not a known concept in Physics.

    5. Sabine Hossenfelder3:17 AM, April 14, 2021

      "Also, I did this debate with Barnes in January."

      Btw, in the debate did crazy Luke repeat his fantasy, stated on this site, of killing all the critics of his mentally deranged book?

      Is that now a valid method of proof in Physics: accept fine-tuning and "God" as physical concepts without any evidence or I'll kill you?

      There's a guy who should definitely be teaching young people in universities.

    6. I don't know what you are talking about. I found him to be both interesting and reasonable. But, well, you'll soon be able to find out yourself.

    7. Sabine Hossenfelder3:47 AM, April 16, 2021

      "I found him to be both interesting and reasonable. "

      It's reasonable to respond to valid criticism of a nonsensical book by fantasising in public about killing critics of the book?

      Are you sure?

      He has presented no reasons to support his crazy claims that the universe is fine-tuned nor that "God", a fictional character from a primitive fairy tale, is a physical concept.

      Though he has made these claims in published books, to newspapers, on TV programs, etc., where he presents himself as a representative of Physics, though his whacko claims have nothing to do with Physics.

      In fact, this is all he does. He got a PhD, published a few very, very minor papers in Physics journals which won't be read, and now his output is largely concerned with his mental delusions about a primitive fairy tale.

      By definition he is not reasonable, because he provides no reasons. By definition he is a mentally deluded lunatic.

    8. Steven,

      I have no idea what he's supposed to have said about killing his critics.

      In any case, I just got another complaint about you and so I'll no longer approve your comments. You've been warned often enough.

    9. @Dr. Hossenfelder
      Thank you again. I'm sorry Mr. Evans didn't take your directive more seriously.
      I'm interested to see what this Luke Barnes person is actually like when the debate is published.

  6. A possible contributing factor to the buttressing and reinforcement of religious belief, at least for some people, are claims of supernatural phenomena like reincarnation. There was the case of James Leininger, a boy of 2 in the Spring of 2000 then living with his family in southern Louisiana. His parents were baffled when young James began having nightmares in his sleep talking out loud about being trapped in a burning plane that had been hit with anti-aircraft fire. Remarkably he was able to name the ship that he flew off of – “the Natoma”, and, in fact, there was a ship called the Natoma Bay that served in the Pacific theater in WW2. He even knew the name of the aircraft he was flying “a Corsair”. Even more amazing he named a fellow pilot who was his best friend in his supposed past life “Jack Larsen”. At that point his parents, according to the story, began to wonder if he there son was a reincarnated WW2 pilot who died in combat. Bruce Leininger, the father, began researching WW2 battles and discovered that the Natoma Bay served in the battle of Iwo Jima. Finally, he attended a reunion of veterans who served on the Natoma Bay. There he found out that Jack Larsen was indeed a former pilot and the best friend of pilot, James Huston, who had been shot down in combat at the battle of Iwo Jima.

    I have to confess I’m on the fence on this one. If it’s a hoax it must have involved a collaborative effort between the former veterans and James Leininger’s parents, the motive being shared profit from the publication of a book. But that seems rather unlikely. On the other hand if this story is real it creates a rather quixotic situation. We know that complex life evolved on this planet from primitive single celled organisms; it’s written in the geological record all the way back to the Precambrian some 4 billion years ago. At first glance this doesn’t square at all with the notion of reincarnation of “souls”, as that certainly has a religious connotation and we know that religions had their nascent beginnings in the pre-scientific, superstitious period of human history. But in an evolutionary context for an organism, be it simple or complex, to acquire knowledge from previous generations could conceivably have a survival advantage. On the other hand my brother-in-law several months ago had a heart attack while climbing into his truck in a parking lot in North Dakota. He tumbled out of the cab and lay for a time unconscious on the pavement at 26 below zero Fahrenheit wind chill. A co-worker came to his rescue. On recovering he told his daughter that he saw all his relatives who had passed before. This is all very strange and makes you wonder.

    1. David Schroeder8:22 AM, April 14, 2021

      Yeah, and that is 100% true. That kid was definitely a reincarnated pilot, because reincarnation is a thing. His parents didn't just make it up for attention. Good grief.

    2. @David Shroeder, Steven Evans

      There are several cases like this over several decades in different countries.

      This article looks at such a case, including raising and discussing questions of the credibility of past lives that are reported.

    3. @Steven Evans:

      You may have read the piece on this case “The Boy Who Thought He Was Reincarnated”, by Brian Dunning, that I just read over at Skeptoid, as I noticed that you used the phrase “…is a thing”, as that phrase is also in the article “…as if that’s a thing” about 17 paragraphs down. The key to whether or not this is an elaborate hoax hinges on whether the parents are being truthful with the timeline of what their son was saying in his dreams, or perhaps when he was awake and responding to enquiries from his parents. If James stated the name of his best friend, in his alleged earlier life, prior to his father attending the reunion of the Natoma Bay fighter pilots group, and he didn’t find this info in a book, then that would be a solid data point in favor of reincarnation. I read about this case years ago and recall that the kid also knew the nicknames of one or more of the other pilots, which is pretty personal information. Supposedly, that info was not available in any book, and could perhaps only be picked up from the Natoma Bay veterans. So, the bottom line is the truthfulness of the parents in reporting on the timeline of what their son said, and what books he had access to, and the information contained therein.

    4. @ David
      Hi, I don't think it was a deliberate hoax, but that Carol Bowman lacked credibility and misled the family.
      I would say that her and James' parents' input into the reincarnation scenario makes it apparent that James was led to believe in it, and that his parents further convinced themselves that he was a dead fighter pilot.

    5. David Schroeder12:16 PM, April 14, 2021

      There's no serious evidence to support this. It's laughable. More incredible than the claimed story (frauds are ten a penny, there's one in the Vatican running a worldwide fraud on 1.5 bn people) is the fact that you would entertain such nonsense.

  7. Wow, I must have missed something interesting. I take it Sabine did a live talk for Google on Monday 12 April 2021, that it was posted, but now has been pulled from public view? Will it be available again in the future?

    1. Yes, I've been told it'll be published on April 27th. (I don't know why.)

  8. C Thompson11:02 AM, April 14, 2021

    "including raising and discussing questions of the credibility of past lives that are reported."

    The credibility?? Of reincarnation?? Are you people for real?
    This is utter, utter drivel. Anyone who believes nonsense like this is completely insane. I don't believe anyone can be so completely brain dead as to believe this drivel.

    1. You didn't even read the article. Not what I meant at all. Thankfully, your belief or not doesn't matter.

  9. C. Thompson:

    Thanks for the link, it was an interesting read. I don’t know if you read the Skeptoid article, which I didn’t post a link to for compliance with blog rules. But since you provided a link to a similar article, I think it’s probably OK to provide a link: I agree that the kid was being led to believe he was a reincarnated aviator by Carol Bowman and his parents, as Dunning points out in his article. But, as I see it little James’ coming up with the word “Natoma” for the escort carrier Natoma Bay, and nicknames for some of the pilots is the crux of the case. If he came up with this information before any exposure to a book discussing this particular ship, or when he was taken to a reunion of the ship’s aviators, that would be pretty hard if not impossible to explain.

    Now science is agnostic on such things as reincarnation, ghosts, parallel universes, etc, so I’d like to toss in my own two cents on these things. I’ve personally had three rather vivid ‘ghost’ sightings. The first of these was in my parent’s home in Teaneck, New Jersey, while attending night school at a local college and working days. In that room was a television set that my brothers had retrieved from the apartment of a deceased individual, who worked at a company that one of my brothers and myself had also worked at, so I knew this individual at least in a casual sense. One night I woke up to see a point of light near the ceiling opposite my bed. This light point suddenly rushed towards me expanding into a human face that resembled the deceased co-worker. I screamed in terror! That was sighting one.

    Moving to Cape Cod I rented a home for the 8 month winter season through a real estate agency that had a contract with the widow homeowner, whose husband had recently died. On sleeping in the master bedroom on the first night I awoke in the wee hours to see a phantom figure of a man, dressed in a suit and tie, looking at me from the side of the bed about 7 feet away. I left the lights on the rest of the night! That was sighting two. The third sighting was in an apartment that was a converted carriage house dating to the 19th century, part of an estate dating to the 18th century. The apartment was on the 2nd floor and was accessed by stairs leading up to a porch that was built perhaps a decade before I rented the place. A sliding glass door provided entry. Originally, the only access to the apartment was by a doorway on the opposite side, which had been covered up, and the stairway removed. I was completely unaware of this, and placed my bed next to this former doorway. The first night sleeping there I awoke to see the figure of a man dressed in turn of the century garb (19th to 20th century) right where the doorway used to be. Thinking he was an intruder I screamed and began kicking at him with my legs, upon which he vanished. Continued below...

  10. Now, in the billions of years that life has evolved on this planet information about where to find food, how to avoid danger, etc., was vital to the survival of every organism be it a microbe or sabre tooth tiger in the Pleistocene. Selection pressure would enhance the survivability of those organisms that possessed maximal information about their environment, by whatever means, smell, taste, touch, hearing, and quantum level information, such as the polarization of sunlight that bumblebees utilize for navigation. So how might this connect to ghost sightings and young children being apparently privy to knowledge of the previous lives of deceased individuals? Both of those phenomena involve information. In the case of ghosts it is in the form of 2 or 3 dimensional images, while in alleged past life recollections it is in the form of personal experiences and also images, as the children in these cases report memories of their former environments and close relatives.

    Conceivably such paranormal experiences are a legacy of life’s long evolutionary history on this planet where information was of paramount importance. But how does such information reach the human individual or other lifeform; cat, dog, etc? It’s been established over the years that quantum phenomena are utilized by living things, such as the aforementioned light polarization. Photosynthesis in plants also comes to mind as this involves quantum level processes. But the information we are talking about here is from the past. How could contemporary living things ‘sense’ this past information? According to the “no-hiding theorem” quantum information cannot be lost, only transformed. This theorem has been experimentally verified, according to a 7 March 2011 article in titled: “Quantum no-hiding theorem experimentally confirmed for first time”. So if living things exploit quantum based phenomena for navigation and chemical processing, perhaps in some unknown way they avail themselves of past information stored in the quantum realm.

    1. I think all your cases contain one important detail. You were in-between states of sleeping and being awake. This state is a bit funky (especially, if a person is not accustomed to it). It seems brain virtualizes many functions during sleep (for obvious reasons). But in some people motor cortex areas are active, so they are sleepwalking (my case during childhood). And in later development it may turn into a state where some functions of perception are already awake and others are still virtualized. In many people it's manifested as inability to move for some period of time (again, my case) or even seeing some figures near the bed, consequently panic for many (phenomenon is known as "night hag" or sleep paralysis, which may be responsible for many "abduction cases").

      Basically, in some states the brain may run dreams and awake state at the same time. Or, actually, as awake state is also not so trivial (it runs 'dreams' in parallel), so it just de-prioritizes focusing processes. I think, limiting cases are day-dreaming, suggestible people, lucid dreams, visions, and possibly schizophrenia in limiting cases (when it's not possible to separate anymore). It may also have something to do with synesthesia (sense-mappings are linked, there are many types of this, there are even colors not ordinarily seen by the eyes) or even eidetic memory in some (as in many religions people who have visions are often either eidetics, or use drugs to induce special types of trances, as a rule of thumb). All this stuff may also come up in sensory deprivation tanks or meditation. And the instruction is the same for all - calm down and let go.

      There was an interesting site with stories of people recovering after brain injuries (which I could not find anymore, unfortunately) and describing how their brain recovered. It showed that in many cases brain just cooks the most plausible model based on data it has (not necessarily that we can actively remember). In one case a person was sure that he went to work (during recovery) and had a meeting where a boss told him off, so he was anxious about it. When checked by relatives, nothing really happened and his boss was friendly in general. He recovered well. There are many interesting cases in Penfield accounts, who used to stimulate different areas of the brain during surgery.

    2. David Schroeder11:09 AM, April 15, 2021

      "So how might this connect to ghost sightings and young children being apparently privy to knowledge of the previous lives of deceased individuals?"

      There have been no confirmed "ghost" sightings and no evidence of children inexplicably providing information about earlier lives.

      The only people who believe this kind of nonsense are you and C. Thompson and you are both insane. Go and get medical treatment for your mental delusions.

    3. @Vadim:

      Yes, I was aware that in every single perception of a ‘ghost’ figure that I was on the boundary between the conscious and unconscious states. On the flip side the local environment in each incident had (some) material – building structure, TV, which would have been in close proximity to the (apparent) identity of the ‘ghost’ in each case. So one might argue that ‘information’ about a living organism, and presumably also non-living, inanimate matter, is somehow (mutually) encoded among all the atoms making up the various objects/structures in a given environment. A sort of physical analogy I was thinking of last night was a glass hologram, where imagery of 3D objects are encoded all throughout the glass plate. When the plate is shattered different viewpoints of the 3D objects are still present on each shard of the originally intact holographic glass plate. As far as a mechanism for a (hypothetical) ‘information sharing’ process among the atoms and molecules of nearby objects, the only thing I can think of is electromagnetic radiation, in the infrared band, given off by warm objects (living organisms) or warm structures, ground, rocks, etc. in summertime. These infrared photons absorbed by other nearby atoms or molecules within centimeters, meters, etc., would (I assume) transfer quantum bits of information on a pretty much continuous basis.

    4. I don't doubt your personal experiences. But external explanations hit the wall of thermodynamics (or information theoretic, however one likes to approach it) or energy dispersion. In order to organize phenomena of specific complexity it requires some form of oscillating processes going on and such patterns are generally inertial enough to leave traces or measure them, which was never accomplished (if memory serves me correctly Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World touches on it and James Randi had a lot to say about all similar cases). Otherwise people who are working with quantum computers went ghost hunting. Basically, too much noise to be plausible.

  11. Somewhere lost in my collection is a book of humorous essays by someone whose name I don't recall, written I think in the 1950's or earlier. Several of them made fun of various notions of Aristotle. I read that book as a teenager, and later saw other references to Aristotle's misconceptions, such as: an object in motion wants to be at rest, and only remains in motion as long as something is pushing it (corrected by Newton). So my impression was that Aristotle was a brilliant man, but one who, in the words of my friend Mario, "believed his own resume'", and therefore trusted in his own reasoning without always applying all the checks and balances of evidence. (Which is a natural tendency we all have to guard against.)

    Well, thanks to the discussions here, I now have a better view: some of the things he has been criticized for are misunderstandings; and more generally, we all work by trial and error plus memory, and it is not fair to judge the errors of people who did not have the knowledge we now have in the light of that knowledge. Without their trials and errors, we would not have that knowledge. Our own insistence on controlled experiments and peer review and high statistical standards was developed over time by trial and error.

    The other issue which sparked this comment, is the idea that this universe is remarkable because it allows for "life" to develop. It seems to me (probably because I read a lot of science-fiction) that such an argument should start with a definition of "life". Human life? DNA life? Viruses? Tape worms? In science-fiction there are proposed forms of "life" which live in the atmospheres of gas-giant planets, inside stars, on the surface of neutron stars (in effectively two spacial dimensions), in black holes, and in the vacuum of space. There are minds in robots, computers, and glaciers of mixed crystals. With that perspective of possibilities, how could any complex set of universe laws be considered absolutely certain to rule out any sort of "life"? Aren't such proponents being like Aristotle (where he was wrong), making errors of speculation on limited data?

    1. @JimV "how could any complex set of universe laws be considered absolutely certain to rule out any sort of "life"?"

      It cannot be ruled out. We just overestimate specialty of our consciousness (what is usually meant by it, i.e. emerging local observer). But estimates that a planet or a nebula would have something that can possess similar consciousness can be ruled out by means of models based on estimation of levels of feedback loops that are necessary to approximate our perception and frequency of interactions (that we know of). Basically, it's too few interactions for too long distances in order to organize something feasible.

      Currently there is this information theoretic idea of formalizing different levels of life in terms of complex enough systems (e.g.
      But I don't enjoy their implementation (paper) as it cuts (with addition) what is called tacit knowledge of the environment into pre-configured objects as defined by our perception, i.e. considers agent and world, then considers combinations like "agent+tacit knowledge" and "world+agent knowledge". Which is a very heavy-handed approach as it will lead to nuisances.

      There are better approaches in AGI community. But I don't share their sentiments about many things (yet, I'm not working with this in the lab, nor program robots, and they do, so just some random blabbering).

      I do think that AGI is much more difficult than considered even by the brightest brains there, as what is termed tacit knowledge is not separate from organism with hard boundaries we are used to. Our perception of the skin bag is just that - good enough not to jump from the cliffs or get burnt by the fire. But not everything that our organism processes.

      The easiest example is atmospheric pressure. Some people know very well how atmospheric pressure affects not only overall well-being, but can see repeated patterns in thinking and emotions during some changes. Some don't notice that but are affected by it anyway (in lesser ways, w/o headaches, etc.) So that environmental change does modulate behavior. How? As far as I know, nobody knows, it's either difficult to study or wasn't seriously considered. That is, we are only aware of the tip of the iceberg of computations that the organism is really doing all the time.

      Having said that, I think that some useful AGI applications are feasible and vast. But we seriously underestimate how little do we really know what any living system is doing.

      PS A cool example of optimal computations done by a bacteria!

    2. JimV11:24 AM, April 15, 2021

      "It seems to me (probably because I read a lot of science-fiction) that such an argument should start with a definition of "life". "

      The cranks Lewis and Barnes respond to this point in their latest crank paper. If a model universe only lasts a second and doesn't get past quarks, say, then they consider it obvious that the complexity required for "life" will not emerge, without having to provide an exact definition.

      But in all the reams of nonsensical speculation about this, including from the UK Astronomer Royal, for God's sake, there are only 2 relevant points:
      (1) There is only 1 known physically possible universe and we are in it. So we cannot comment on how remarkable or otherwise it is.

      (2) And, as you point out, the space of imaginable universes, even of mathematically described universes is endless. Whereas the cranks are usually considering tweaks to the observed physical constants of our universe, because these are the only cases where they can do the analysis. Though the results of the analysis are only known to apply to the model, and are absolutely not known to be physically relevant.

    3. @jimV:

      Here's one quote from Aristotle:

      >Zeus does not send the rain in order to make the corn grow: it comes of neccessity. The stuff which has been drawn up is bound to cool, and having cooled, turns to water and comes down. It is merely concurrent that this having happened, the corn grows.

      As you can see he had the water cycle spot on, he was avoiding divine intervention as well as affirming determinism. The whole story is more complex than this. For sure he made mistakes, but then we all do.

      Wigner is famous for observing the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics. Aristotle notes something similar:

      >The neccessary appears in mathematics and the things which come to be in accordance with nature, in a parallel fashion.

      But this is before mathematics showed its usefulness in nature.

    4. Thanks for all the thoughtful replies. I appreciated them all, but one thing bothered me in a nitpicky-way: "It is merely concurrent that this having happened, the corn grows."

      This seems to imply that there is no cause and effect relationship between rain and corn growing, they just happen to coincide. The rest of the quote is quite brilliant for its time, but again I see the tendency to go a bit too far in grasping for conclusions. Which again is a tendency which plagues all of us; and may be more apt to plague the most brilliant.

      Previously I have provided references to "The Reasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics", a reply by a person with a doctorate in Electrical Engineering, which gives a counter view to Dr. Wigner. In my own view, math is thinking (problem-solving, decision-making thinking), thinking is math, so if it didn't work at least some of the time, nothing would. Of course Dr. Wigner's point is that mathematical topics which were developed for other reasons turn out to have practical applications. My vague notion, which I should not follow too far out on its limb, is that again this is not just concurrent but has specific reasons in specific cases.

    5. I personally think that we should not interpret too much what those texts are saying in terms of existing knowledge. Can we read something and just enjoy it? As a play, a comic book or a food for reflection. Sure, the text may bring some interesting questions, but that's a different matter.

      Causality is a difficult abstraction. Physicists know experimental stuff better than anyone else, so their word is most weighty. But when we consider such topics in terms of macro phenomena, we often mix things. Basically, it gets down to context or model in terms of which thinking operates.

      So when you mention,
      "not just concurrent but has specific reasons."
      One has to be sure himself what he talks about. As if careless, one may not notice a tendency to look for 'sole single reason for all', and implied concepts of beginning and end. On the other hand 'reasons' might mean a configuration of forces, described by relations (enough for an occasion), that produce a particular pattern.

      So, basically, one can certainly say phenomena are connected or (inter)related in some way. We further specify those relations. If we choose a framework, where we reduce everything to single cause, single effect, beginning, and end, we just *have to be aware of that*, i.e. that we are concerned with some particular statement, like, "Too many clouds - it must rain soon," enough to express relevant information, but we implicitly set a single cause 'many clouds', a single effect 'must rain soon', and more philosophical (or insidious) abstractions of beginning and end of an act.

      In such case, when we are conscious of such model of abstractions (as 'beginning', 'end', 'cause' and 'effect' are all abstractions, basically terms of some thinking structure which operates in thinking, of which we are usually not consciously aware) we used to express something - all is good and well.

      When the trouble begins? When we [w/o being aware that we are operating in that single cause-single effect, beginning-end model] start to generalize it further and further. That is, even generalization itself is not a problem. Unawareness of the fact of a chosen model of thinking is.

      That unawareness leads us to certain conclusions, which also those Greeks are doing based on their own propositions. Those conclusions are very often seem paradoxical. But in fact just conceal the fact that we missed the model we began with.

      In that sense. Clouds do not cause rain. Those complex phenomena (which are also represented by processes, not 'things' we ontologized them into) may only be expressed by the proper structure of relations. So more accurate sentences would be like, "when that happens... this happens". Not identified or defined as A is B.

      E.g. gravity is curvature of spacetime (like that would explain anything!) We may only say things in terms of relations, like, "Space-time tells matter how to move; matter tells space-time how to curve." Basically it is like mathematical formula only in words (verbs, actions). But that *does not define* what gravity is in its implied 'nature' (essence, being, or whatever).

      So that's where we have to re-train ourselves (no matter who - laymen, physicists, etc.) to keep that in mind. As it may be ok to say whatever one wants (also arguable) when he understands relations behind phenomena, but not ok to learn things and leads to confusion.

      In that sense there are no primary reasons and no single causes-effects but only how phenomena relate to each other, flows.

    6. @JimV:

      He's using the term 'concurrent' to emphasise the difference of 'Zeus did not send the rain in order for the corn to grow'. Although it does rather sound like coinciding and not cause and effect, elsewhere he does establish that water, that is rain, is the 'efficient' cause for the corn to grow. Here, 'efficient cause' has got nothing to do with how we understand efficiency but is to be understood as 'the main reason'.

  12. @Dr. Hossenfelder:

    This is a moderation request rather than a comment - our friend Steven Evans has taken to insulting myself and others who he deems to have ridiculous opinions by calling us deluded, insane, etc. and telling us to get treatment for mental illness.
    This is the same derision he has displayed in previous comments over the last several weeks, albeit in different language.
    It's ignorant ableism on his part. He is belittling those who suffer mental health issues. Such derision makes participating in discussions here unnecessarily unpleasant. It's disheartening to read his insults as I'm re-checking threads and reading his nasty responses to comments both directed to him and to ones not.

    You've apologised to me for his insulting manner already which I appreciated, so I request that you not approve his insulting comments please.
    Regards and thank you.

  13. There have been several times after reading one of Steven Evan's comments, when I thought, "this comment should not have been allowed", or, "I wish all the insults could be removed from SE's comments". (While understanding that level of moderation would be too labor-intensive for a busy person.) I have to say however, now that he is banned, that I did learn some things from him and thought he had some cogent arguments.

    I am writing this comment in Notepad (text editor) so I can go back over it and see if I can improve it before submitting it. Sometimes I just delete what I have written without pasting it. I suppose many people do this. To me, SE's comments read as hot (very hot) off the press without any self-censorship (except briefly after his warning). If he could learn to do more self-censorship he could be a more valuable contributor. We learn from our peers, however, and perhaps that sort of style is encouraged on some other websites.

    I am reminded of comments between Dr. Sean Carroll and Dr. PZ Myers which I saw years ago on "Cosmic Variance" (blog). Dr. Carroll was reminding people to be civil in comments and that he would enforce it. Dr. Myers responded, something like, "I would like to be able to moderate-out [my clumsy term, not his] incivility but not passion on my blog, and I can't tell the difference." Dr. Carroll replied, "I can."

    1. @JimV:

      Self-censorship is not the same as civilised and thought out discourse ...

    2. Hi JimV, I don't know if he's banned. I just got rather sick of seeing his nastiness. Like, he would be civil for a little while then go back to the same crap. He does contribute otherwise, but one shouldn't need to be reminded to behave.
      I also wasn't doing great either by responding in kind to him. If one wants to pick a fight, there's plenty of actual nonsense to attack online.

      Heck knows I've made some daft comments here, I'm glad there's a delete button but unfortunately I can't edit myself afterwards.

    3. Edit: I just saw Dr. H cancelled him. Nice! :D

  14. Talking of Google, Sabine, will email subscriptions to your blog still work, after they have replaced FeedBurner with whatever less-capable tool they have in mind?

    1. Hi Tony,

      No, it'll just go away and that's that. Sorry about that. Google doesn't care much about Blogger, which is one of the reasons I've been moving to YouTube. I suppose I'll have to think of moving this whole blog to a private platform at some point or discontinue it entirely.

    2. I wouldn't say they don't care, Sabine. I think it's more a case of the "ivory tower syndrome", and that they are out of touch with who accesses blogs and what type of content authors want to put on them ... which leads nicely into the subject of cognitive bias :-)

  15. Good morning Sabine,

    Interesting conversation.

    Interesting tool you have presented.
    You prefer single-author articles?!
    I can understand that.

    But most interesting was your comment:"... or superdeterminism, there are maybe 3 people working on it worldwide..."

    If I understand you correctly, superdeterminism is the only way out
    to match local theories with experiments on entangled objects.

    So if superdeterminism is the basis of all local theories
    and if the people you are surrounded by are as intelligent as you believe them to be
    or at least how they think about themselves,
    then why are there only three of you???

    You have a beautiful mind.

    I often think you have been very unlucky three times in your life:
    You have never left the mainstream for more than 8 hours.
    But 8 months would be appropriate.

    Have a nice day

  16. Guten Morgen Sabine,
    da ist es :
    Viele Grüße



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