Saturday, February 08, 2020

Philosophers should talk more about climate change. Yes, philosophers.

I never cease to be shocked – shocked! – how many scientists don’t know how science works and, worse, don’t seem to care about it. Most of those I have to deal with still think Popper was right when he claimed falsifiability is both necessary and sufficient to make a theory scientific, even though this position has logical consequences they’d strongly object to.

Trouble is, if falsifiability was all it took, then arbitrary statements about the future would be scientific. I should, for example, be able to publish a paper predicting that tomorrow the sky will be pink and next Wednesday my cat will speak French. That’s totally falsifiable, yet I hope we all agree that if we’d let such nonsense pass as scientific, science would be entirely useless. I don’t even have a cat.

As the contemporary philosopher Larry Laudan politely put it, Popper’s idea of telling science from non-science by falsifiability “has the untoward consequence of countenancing as `scientific’ every crank claim which makes ascertainably false assertions.” Which is why the world’s cranks love Popper.

But you are not a crank, oh no, not you. And so you surely know that almost all of today’s philosophers of science agree that falsification is not a sufficient criterion of demarcation (though they disagree on whether it is necessary). Luckily, you don’t need to know anything about these philosophers to understand today’s post because I will not attempt to solve the demarcation problem (which, for the record, I don’t think is a philosophical question). I merely want to clarify just when it is scientifically justified to amend a theory whose predictions ran into tension with new data. And the only thing you need to know to understand this is that science cannot work without Occam’s razor.

Occam’s razor tells you that among two theories that describe nature equally well you should take the simpler one. Roughly speaking it means you must discard superfluous assumptions. Occam’s razor is important because without it we were allowed to add all kinds of unnecessary clutter to a theory just because we like it. We would be permitted, for example, to add the assumption “all particles were made by god” to the standard model of particle physics. You see right away how this isn’t going well for science.

Now, the phrase that two theories “describe nature equally well” and you should “take the simpler one” are somewhat vague. To make this prescription operationally useful you’d have to quantify just what it means by suitable statistical measures. We can then quibble about just which statistical measure is the best, but that’s somewhat beside the point here, so let me instead come back to the relevance of Occam’s razor.

We just saw that it’s unscientific to make assumptions which are unnecessary to explain observation and don’t make a theory any simpler. But physicists get this wrong all the time and some have made a business out of it getting it wrong. They invent particles which make theories more complicated and are of no help to explain existing data. They claim this is science because these theories are falsifiable. But the new particles were unnecessary in the first place, so their ideas are dead on arrival, killed by Occam’s razor.

If you still have trouble seeing why adding unnecessary details to established theories is unsound scientific methodology, imagine that scientists of other disciplines would proceed the way that particle physicists do. We’d have biologists writing papers about flying pigs and then hold conferences debating how flying pigs poop because, who knows, we might discover flying pigs tomorrow. Sounds ridiculous? Well, it is ridiculous. But that’s the same “scientific methodology” which has become common in the foundations of physics. The only difference between elaborating on flying pigs and supersymmetric particles is the amount of mathematics. And math certainly comes in handy for particle physicists because it prevents mere mortals from understanding just what the physicists are up to.

But I am not telling you this to bitch about supersymmetry; that would be beating a dead horse. I am telling you this because I have recently had to deal with a lot of climate change deniers (thanks so much, Tim). And many of these deniers, believe that or not, think I must be a denier too because, drums please, I am an outspoken critic of inventing superfluous particles.

Huh, you say. I hear you. It took me a while to figure out what’s with these people, but I believe I now understand where they’re coming from.

You have probably heard the common deniers’ complaint that climate scientists adapt models when new data comes in. That is supposedly unscientific because, here it comes, it’s exactly the same thing that all these physicists do each time their hypothetical particles are not observed! They just fiddle with the parameters of the theory to evade experimental constraints and to keep their pet theories alive. But Popper already said you shouldn’t do that. Then someone yells “Epicycles!” And so, the deniers conclude, climate scientists are as wrong as particle physicists and clearly one shouldn’t listen to either.

But the deniers’ argument merely demonstrates they know even less about scientific methodology than particle physicists. Revising a hypothesis when new data comes in is perfectly fine. In fact, it is what you expect good scientists to do.

The more and the better data you have, the higher the demands on your theory. Sometimes this means you actually need a new theory. Sometimes you have to adjust one or the other parameter. Sometimes you find an actual mistake and have to correct it. But more often than not it just means you neglected something that better measurements are sensitive to and you must add details to your theory. And this is perfectly fine as long as adding details results in a model that explains the data better than before, and does so not just because you now have more parameters. Again, there are statistical measures to quantify in which cases adding parameters actually makes a better fit to data.

Indeed, adding epicycles to make the geocentric model of the solar system fit with observations was entirely proper scientific methodology. It was correcting a hypothesis that ran into conflict with increasingly better observations. Astronomers of the time could have proceeded this way until they’d have noticed there is a simpler way to calculate the same curves, which is by using elliptic motions around the sun rather than cycles around cycles around the Earth. Of course this is not what historically happened, but epicycles in and by themselves are not unscientific, they’re merely parametrically clumsy.

What scientists should not do, however, is to adjust details of a theory that were unnecessary in the first place. Kepler for example also thought that the planets play melodies on their orbits around the sun, an idea that was rightfully abandoned because it explains nothing.

To name another example, adding dark matter and dark energy to the cosmological standard model in order to explain observations is sound scientific practice. These are both simple explanations that vastly improve the fit of the theory to observation. What is not sound scientific methodology is then making these theories more complicated than needs to be, eg by replacing dark energy with complicated scalar fields even though there is no observation that calls for it, or by inventing details about particles that make up dark matter even though these details are irrelevant to fit existing data.

But let me come back to the climate change deniers. You may call me naïve, and I’ll take that, but I believe most of these people are genuinely confused about how science works. It’s of little use to throw evidence at people who don’t understand how scientists make evidence-based predictions. When it comes to climate change, therefore, I think we would all benefit if philosophers of science were given more airtime.


  1. Well written, Sabine. It is a point that I made also in my blog in Italian when I discussed how to falsify climate science and how Popper's just don't work with climate science -- not the way deniers use them, anyway. If you can read Italian, you may be interested in reading it here:

    1. The google translated version to Portuguese works very well (If I were not so lazy, I would be able to read the original). A very original and clear explanation of Poper's falsifiability.

  2. Thank you for this very good text.

  3. I'd add that even the scientists who bring up Popper typically only bring up the most naïve form of falsificationism. Popper himself realized that the simplistic notion of falsification being necessary and sufficient was not workable, and had a more sophisticated view, especially later in his career, than many appreciate. Imre Lakatos did a great job of taking Popper and Kuhn further and distinguishing between research programmes that are useful for advancing our knowledge of the world and those that aren't.

    I'm curious which statistical tests you're referring to which can distinguish between useful and superfluous parameters. From my reading, it isn't generally possible to tell which ad-hoc fixes to a model are appropriate with a single test, although it may be possible in limited cases—Lakatos' contribution was that some research programmes may be successful for a while, then suplanted by another, but then come back around again. There isn't in general a clean and permanent demarcation that can be made.

    Lakatos' "Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes" is a great analysis of these issues.

    1. dhawk,

      Yes, you are right about Popper, but I am not sure that's worth going on about. I am myself not a big fan of the falsification criterion because in practice it's inapplicable in all cases except for a rare few. As to Lakatos, I don't have big problems with his theses and I appreciate he's much more careful than Popper in explaining what he is talking about to begin with (eg with the research programs that you name) but as I said I don't think that the demarcation problem can be solved by philosophy.

      About statistical measures, these will not tell you of course which parameters are superfluous, but just give you a weight for how relevant they are. You'll have to draw a boundary somewhere yourself and there is arguably some ambiguity in just exactly where you draw the line. I was thinking of variants of Pearson's goodness-of-fit, depending on whether you are a Bayesian or frequentist you may want to take on the question differently. The reason I brought this up was merely to say that it isn't just about how well you can fit data per se because more parameters tend to generally give you a better fit. Best,


    2. For a start, a basic example of a parsimony rule for adding and subtracting model parameters I've used is the Akaike information criterion.

    3. Are you aware of Pirsig's Zen and the art of motorcycle management? It's a long discussion about the pitfalls of falsifyability. I guess it missed the point of falsifiable and probable also. Great read, anyway.

    4. "Are you aware of Pirsig's Zen and the art of motorcycle management? It's a long discussion about the pitfalls of falsifyability. I guess it missed the point of falsifiable and probable also. Great read, anyway."

      One of the few books which I've read more than once, and one of only a couple I've read three times. Yes, great book, but falsifiability is not its main topic. I also recommend the sequel, Lila, but read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance first. (As Pirsig notes in his preface, it is not about Zen and only a bit about motorcycles.)

    5. "Popper himself realized that the simplistic notion of falsification being necessary and sufficient was not workable, and had a more sophisticated view, especially later in his career, than many appreciate"

      I'd be curious to know what you refer to here. Popper's later view was "corroboration," which was a train wreck. Lakatos did not, in my experience, merely take Popper "further"-- he left Popper behind. Lakatos and Kuhn were interested in what scientists actually do - a question of history and sociology - while Popper was a fairly doctrinaire philosopher who seemed oddly unaware of how science actually was/is conducted, and focused on how science ought to be.

    6. Good to see (other) fans of Lakatos here!

      As DKP notes, one thing which marks (demarks? ;-)) Lakatos' work (from Popper's) is careful attention to empirical evidence, i.e. what real scientists actually do. At first glance that's what Kuhn seems to do too; however IMHO he fails badly when it comes to a vital corollary, namely testing his hypotheses against new empirical evidence. For example, "revolutions" in science are not binary but form a continuum or a cline.

  4. Do you consider that David Deutsch's concept of "good explanations", the ones that can't be easily varied, while still explaining the phenomena, is somehow equivalent to Occam’s razor?

    1. Fernando,

      This is a very good question and one I have been thinking about recently. (I spoke with David Deutsch some months ago about this.) I haven't really come to a good conclusion yet, but will write about this if and when I have.

    2. Isn't this the guy who thinks the multiverse makes quantum computers work?

    3. The guy who *invented quantum computation* and explained how they work by observing that there is insufficient matter in a single universe to do the computations.

    4. In The Beginning of Infinity, Deutsch says Occam's Razor is a misconception. I am not a scientist but I can see how a simple explanation might be as daft as a complex one. I wonder if in the end we make a judgment of what is plausible based on our existing knowledge. It's obviously limited and subjective, but that's just the way the human mind is.

    5. "The guy who *invented quantum computation*":

      With a to-this-day useless algorithm...

      I think I am gonna go invent a useless algorithm to prove quantum suprem... Ops!

      IBM been there, done that!

      (In other useless news, from last year to this, did anyone else notice the massive move of HEP bullshit to quantum computation bullshit in the news?)

    6. Fernando, I never heard of the guy and googled the subject, ended up here (with link to video worth watching):

      His "good explanation" is superdeterministic.

      Since Lorraine made a soup of "superdeterminism", "determinism", and "predetermined", I would like to add something here.

      1--It is Absolutely Superdeterminist that a Hungry Tiger will eat you. No ifs, ands or buts.

      How come you are still alive and not eaten by a tiger?

      Oh, 6-inch glass separating you from the tiger?

      2--It's Absolutely Deterministic that the removal of the glass will make you Hungry Tiger lunch.

      Unless you are armed and are a good shot.

      3--It's Absolutely Pre-determined that the Hungry Tiger will not accept the fantastic garland of roses you tried to hang on its neck, that is why you definitely became Hungry Tiger's sushi and we are all crying for your death.

      (I could have used "barbecued koalas" too, but was never the winner of any first prize in the all of the "Non-Seq of the Du Jour of the Year Contests" I entered.)

      The point of the point(!!!) --the barbecued koalas tasted wonderful-- is that the first numbered point above doesn't accept reduction, the second introduces a caveat, and the third rests on your shoulders alone. That is why if you analyze them in terms of stupidity alone, you get an increasing order from first to last.

      That is why Deutsch is superdeterministic and doesn't even know it.

      When deciding, take the less-stupid way out.

    7. Sabine and readers, i truly apologize. The link didn't enter:

      (And it's WORTH WATCHING!!!)

    8. Many philosophers like
      The Principle of Sufficient Reason.

      Always a good rule of thumb.

  5. I love it when idiots yell "Epicycles!". It gives me a chane gently to point out to them that epicycles were and are perfectly sound -- they are simply the second term of Fourier decomposition of elliptical orbits. When observational techniques get good enough so that the higher order terms could not longer be ignored, one can choose between adding the next term (and the next... ad infinitum), or realise that the series converges to an ellipse and, by Occam's razor... Which does not make epicycles "wrong" -- merely inadequate.

    1. Not sure of that. Yes, Epicycles were a correct geometric description to a certain level of precision, and people could improve precision by adding terms. It was cumbersome, but having many variables or only an approximate level of precision were not the main problems with the theory.

      The much bigger problem is that Epicycles had very little predictive value. It only predicted the evolution of the system to which data was fitted (the actual Solar system) and said nothing about any other part of physics. That's a very trivial kind of theory, or perhaps one should use the word model.

      Occam's razor is not so much about reducing variables or keeping angels out of theories, it's a test of predictive power. It's a statement that if you have incompatible descriptions of two different patches of theory space, and you find a unified description that covers those patches, that unified description is likely to cover much more of theory space beyond.

  6. I've never encountered a climate denier citing Popper. Quite impressive the level of the ones you deal with.

    On the suggestion of having more philosophers talk about climate change, I'm not so impressed with the two I've heard so far:


    1. I have a vague idea what "climate" is, but it may not be the same as yours. That might make either of us a "climate denier". Can you please provide a good definition? But that's only a side show. Do you believe that the [climate] "science is settled"? For me, it is an extremely arrogant statement.

    2. It's settled and it's not a matter of your personal believe. What's "extremely arrogant" is to put future generations at risk by sowing doubt.

  7. Somebody might have done some of this! I highly recommend this book. ;)

  8. "I've never encountered a climate denier citing Popper"
    Peter Hitchins did exactly this onon twitter recently, and quite a few people chimed in saying climate scientists aren't doing any "real science" as a result

  9. The philosophy of science is rich with ideas along these lines. The problem we have is that different areas of science have different natures. Many physicists have a very lab-oriented view; what is physically real is anything measured in the lab and anything not so measured is then nonexistent or irrelevant. This is close in ways to a Popper view of science. However, there are other sciences with different approaches. A paleontologist has as their laboratory the outdoors and rock layers. They unearth fossils that are time capsules of the past and from these they attempt to reconstruct life in the past geological history. This is not about laboratory measurements, except for some techniques such as radiometric dating.

    It is interesting to compare cosmology with climate change. In both there is only one subject. We do not have a sort of ergodic principle at work where we can repeat experiments. There is only one observable universe, where even in the context of a multiverse we can’t directly observe these others internally. Climate change deals with one subject as well; there is only one Earth and we humans are performing an uncontrolled experiment with CO_2. I have read people who say this makes either of these not scientific. Cosmology is sometimes claimed to be a sort of theology and climate science is claimed to be some political campaign to destroy the economy.

    There are three ideas of knowledge. These are science, philosophy and religion. With science we have a discipline that offers a reasonably firm understanding of nature. A theory that is backed up by a decent body of evidence is at least tentatively true or true within some domain of observation. Of course this can be incomplete, such as Newtonian or classical physics as a good understanding of the macroscopic world that fails for atomic scales or for extreme speeds and gravitation. Philosophy is not so much a system of knowledge as it is an attempt to devise a self-consistent linguistic system that frames how we might go about understanding. This is with science particularly with metaphysics and existentialism. Ethics and political philosophy not so much. Then there is religion, which offers a sort of idea of Truth, but no way of verifying much.

    These have some overlap. Even religion does, particularly with mysticism. The Tao Te Ching has may parts about the paradox of nothingness. Can nothingness exist? If it exists, then it is not nothingness. If nothingness does not exist, then it is something other than nothingness and is something. We find in physics a curious parallel with the instability of the vacuum that generates cosmologies. Nothingness is paradoxical or in a physical sense unstable.

    The game of proposing more particles is based on the past. Hadron physics was made complete by Gel Mann who proposed quarks and gluons with SU(3) symmetry. The twisted bundle unification of electromagnetism and weak interactions (quantum flavor dynamics) required the Higgs field and particle. As a result, precedence has prevailed in theory, and now we have these very complex theories with up to 256 particles, or more modestly the E6 with 27 fermions and so forth. The paradox here is that if we are to unify gravitation and particle physics and if the universe is to have an extremal minimum of quantum entropy then these large models might contradict that. At best something like the large number of particles from the heterotic E8×E8 or SO(32), which as 496 dimensions = 480 roots plus 16 weights for particle states, manifest themselves then as some degeneracy breaking. Maybe something far more simple is at work.

  10. continued due to space limit:

    With climate change denial we have at work a huge amount of money being used to promote this. The fossil fuel industry does not want to see their business curtailed. Curiously it is a bit like the Washington state flap over the spotted owl, where with only 10% of its habitat still left if industry were to log that out it would be gone in a few years anyway. Climate change denialism might just by a coal executive an added 20 years of life of extreme wealth. There is a prospect that at some point all of us will have our goose cooked in a few decades.

    Sadly, the promise of more education and enlightenment through electronics, communications and computer-based internet has not entirely worked out. Television and radio are a commercialized industry that has promoted the most stripped down pop-culture at the expense of deeper cultural experiences. The internet has had some aspect of being a global public library, but by and large most of it is pure rubbish. We have never lived in a time where there is such an avalanche of mendacity and nonsense that barrages us. The recent political shift is one effect of this. The power of climate change as a pop-sci ideology and that it is held by many politicians today is a sad realization of how badly predictions about a world library for learning turned out.

  11. My caution about Occam's razor (covered by your caveats) is that often it is used, almost unconsciously, to simplify the phenomena to suit the theory.

    I suspect the problem lies with the use of generalised first principles. It seems to result from the logicians' and philosophers' desire that one only has to sift through and amalgamate theories in order to render an account of the world. Hidden here is an evasion and contempt for the real.

  12. "To name another example, adding dark matter and dark energy to the cosmological standard model in order to explain observations is sound scientific practice. These are both simple explanations that vastly improve the fit of the theory to observation. What is not sound scientific methodology is then making these theories more complicated than needs to be, eg by replacing dark energy with complicated scalar fields even though there is no observation that calls for it, or by inventing details about particles that make up dark matter even though these details are irrelevant to fit existing data. "

    so what are the specific physics of dark matter particles, and specific physics of dark energy?

    doesn't physics require details

  13. The epicycle model of the solar system was an elaborate mathematical description of the past, with the highly plausible presumption that the past patterns would persist into the future. But is was not scientific. (1). Any set of motions can be approximated by enough epicycles to within the error-bars of the data, but the only motivation for them is the assumption that extraterrestrial objects must move on circles, an assumption that was never needed and never used for motion on the Earth. (2). It gave no explanation of how or why the planets were constrained to the epicycles, or how they had come about. (3). It said nothing about changes: What happens to Mars' orbit when a stray molecule collides with it at 1 kph? How about something bigger & faster?

  14. Sabine Hossenfelder wrote:
    “But let me come back to the climate change deniers. You may call me naïve, and I’ll take that, but I believe most of these people are genuinely confused about how science works. It’s of little use to throw evidence at people who don’t understand how scientists make evidence-based predictions.”
    Sabine, forgive me for invoking a tired old cliché, but can’t your frustration be summed-up under the title: “You can lead a horse to water, but...”?

    I mean, considering the fact that here we are in the year 2020 where there are people who actually believe that the earth is flat, can we really be surprised when it comes to the extent of human idiocy?

    Now regardless of who may actually be right or wrong in this contentious debate,...

    ...the truly frightening thing about climate change deniers is that the only thing that would convince them that it is they who are wrong would be the arrival of the catastrophic climatic conditions that, once in place, would be too late to do anything about.

    Apparently, the idea of "erring on the side of caution" for the sake of our children and grandchildren has no meaning to these people.


  15. “You may call me naïve, and I’ll take that, but I believe most of these people are genuinely confused about how science works.”

    Respectfully, yes, you're too generous. Those people, or at least the ones who lead them by the nose, are implacable enemies of science and understand exactly what they’re doing. They will enable their capitalist allies to extract the last gram of fossil fuel and then convince themselves that we’re going extinct because it’s god’s will. They want to repeal the Enlightenment. Science is not the enemy of religion, but their version of religion is the enemy of science.

    “next Wednesday my cat will speak French. That’s totally falsifiable, yet I hope we all agree that if we’d let such nonsense pass as scientific, science would be entirely useless. I don’t even have a cat.”

    I forget – if you don’t have a cat, is the statement that it will speak French false, falsifiable, or just meaningless?

    1. I guess it would count as "not even wrong".

    2. In standard predicate logic, the statement "I have a cat AND the cat speaks French" would evaluate to False, while the statement "IF I have a cat, THEN it speaks French" evaluates to True given Prof Sabine's current situation.

    3. But, but. I never said the cat speaks French. I said it would start speaking French next Wednesday.

  16. Popper's falsification rule seems to self-distruct. How would one falsify it? The same is true of Occam’s razor. These are just rules-of-thumb. If that is the case, why are they used? The answer must lie in the motives of the users, in which case one has to delve into their biases, self-interest, and delusions; in a recent post you stressed these factors in scientific research. I'm a social scientist, and it seems likely that the main reason is that falsification and axmen's razor make life simplier. One can use the Fisher test to falisify a hypothesis through, say, regression analysis. But that can never work because a lack of significance could be due to missing parameters. Occam’s razor then provides a (false) rationale for ignoring such complications.
    In general, it is necessary to look at scientists' motives. The climate change deniers argue that tinkering with the models suggests that climatologists are governed by unseemly motives, such as attracting research money and magnifying the importance of their discipline. It's legitimate to bring up such concerns, but they work in the opposite direction as well. For some time there have been suspicions, reinforcd by studies in the past few months, that the climatologists have greatly underestimated the impact of CO2 on warming. What might be the climatologists' motives for underestimating the impact? Critics have presented two possibilities: climateologists are worried that if they paint too dire a picture, the public will loose hope and become less inclined to support CO2 reduction. Secondly, they fear that they would not be invited on conferences and would loose funding if they are seen as extreme alarmists.

    1. Falsification is a rule about science, not philosophy. The point is not to figure out how to devise experiments to refute ideas in morality or philosophy. Falsification is for use in science and science alone. That’s why it’s a criterion of demarcation (between science and other things like mathematics). It’s about experimental testing.

    2. Why is it a rule; why is it a rule just rule about science? It comes from philosophy, where it self-destructs. Again, it is only a rule-of-thumb - a convenient rule to suit the personal needs of scientists. A big part of these needs is a search for "truth" and the thrill of discovery, but as Hossenfelder has posted, you have to take into account other possible motives.
      For the researcher, this requires a lot of difficult introspection.
      Another rule-of-thumb that bothers me is the primacy of mathematics, which I see taking over in economics as it has in physics. Math does not always work, such as where there is instantaneous simultaneity (causation in both directions). There is a self-serving tendency to believe that it does not exist, that nothing is instantaneous, without proof.

  17. Good exposition! I would like to remark on two things though.

    First, I consider the Occam's Razor a bit dated idea. A better one, which I read somewhere that someone called it Einstein's Razor, is an improvement on Occam's Razor: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." One must take care to not make it too simple.

    Second, I find it a constant battle with various people who just won't use logic. A good example: Evolution. There are a lot of evidence for this, etc. and yet some people won't accept it at all. I'm afraid we will continue to have climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers and the like due to their stubbornness. Any idea on how to deal with them (short of simply walking away from them)?

    1. Wizard,

      I don't see what distinction you are trying to draw with the two razors, it seems to me these are identical statements.

      As to how to deal with deniers. I am afraid I am the wrong person to ask because I have no patience for dealing with people who refuse to look at evidence. The hallmark of deniers is that they keep repeating statements that have been proved wrong over and over again, and the relevant explanations can be found quickly and easily online (the most common example I seem to encounter is that climate change is caused by cosmic rays).

      If they were remotely interested in getting it right, they easily could, so I do not see the point in wasting my time looking up references for them because their claims already demonstrate that they are not interested in an answer.

      In many cases I suspect what has happened is that they've occupied a position on human-caused climate change long ago which was not evidence-based, at a time when one could rightfully have said the evidence was indeed not particularly convincing. Now they feel like it would hurt their pride to change their mind.

      Basically, I consider these people lost causes. But I also think we tend to overestimate their numbers because they're aggressive and very vocal (and seem to have a lot of time). Most people I know are genuinely looking for information and try to get it right. So I'd say we're investing our time better focusing on the people who will actually listen.

      Incidentally, a lot of the physics cranks who I have to endure also seem to be climate change deniers. I am not entirely sure why that is, but I suspect it both comes from vastly overestimating their own expertise on a subject they know very little about.

    2. (If this a repeat, don't post. I am rewriting a comment from memory due to tab bug that made original comment disappear, I don't know if it entered or not)

      "I don't see what distinction you are trying to draw with the two razors, it seems to me these are identical statements":

      Dr., TheBlueWizzard maybe have a good point here! I have thought about it for days. By using my "Hungry Tiger" toy model at: 12:16 PM, February 09, 2020 -a few posts above and warning that I am tautological in essence:

      The superdeterministic case shows a case where the Hungry Tiger is already modelled and so is the softness of our flesh: it's a certainty that a Hungry Tiger will eat you.

      The deterministic case shows that IT doesn't know what you will chose. It's YOU and YOUR choices that ain't modelled right.

      And then the crown of the jewel:

      The pre-determined case... don't remember song name, ever heard "Karma is a bitch... she keeps receipts?" It goes right in here right now! I would pay real money to see you made up as the Borg Queen singing that. (You are the Borg Queen, you just dunno it yet. Uh... that was a compliment!)

      The third case is the one you are faced with your terminal choices. That's Occam's razor. In this sense, and this sense alone, Occam's razor is predetermined, therefore bottom- of- the- barrel. Karma.

      In this very strict scenario alone, Occam's razor is the least-possible of the choices: you are left to deal with the "predetermined bitch" who keeps receipts.

      Sometimes you know there is something wrong with your choices and don't even know how to explain what it is. My crystal ball tells me that this is the differentiation TheBlueWizzard is trying to show you. I will have to ask my turban if it disagrees!

      (Yes. I have thinking about it for days now!)

  18. In Lyall Watson's book 'The gift of unknown things', he talks about people in Indonesia who could bring rain at will. Science uses outward techniques; psychic healing is an inward technique, but both are techniques. How do we scientifically approach the problem of psychic healing. Let us take a simple example: swimming. Swimming is a technique as much as cycling is, but they are altogether psychosomatic techniques rather than mechanical techniques. To master the technique of walking on water or flying in the air, the biological program will take millions of years. Then it would be evolution rather than a technique. Instead, if nature found a way to shrink time not biologically but psychologically by advancing the equipment of the brain then instead of a psychosomatic technique, the brain because of its advanced and evolved psychological mechanism can now invent a mechanical body like a boat or an airplane that can float or fly.

    We see that biological limitations are overcome by the inventive capacity of the brain. And more importantly, science makes these mechanical techniques available to everybody; the boat and the airplane are for everybody. Where as a psychosomatic technique like psychic healing is only for the very few. Now, if science can get to psychic healing, and make psychic healing available as a mechanical device then it is for everybody. It is no longer an inward biological technique, rather it is an outward mechanical technique. Science can also make rain at will possible as a mechanical outward technique. Then anybody can make rain.

  19. Hey! I can't belive it! Soon after my comment on making rain, it is now raining at my place, honestly, and raining in my area. WHAT'S GOING ON?! IT VERY, VERY, VERY RARELY RAINS DURING THIS PART OF THE YEAR IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD?!

  20. "... that climate scientists adapt models when new data comes in ..."

    I hear something different: The climate "scientists" adjust the data to fit their theories.

  21. Don't have data on this. But it seems that there are non neglible amount of theoretical physicists in the active denialist community.

    I wonder what to make of it

    1. Drevney,

      I am not sure what you mean by "non negligible". I have certainly noticed that some theoretical physicists have been given space in the media for voicing rather uninformed opinions, but I find it difficult to say how common this is.

      The vast majority of physicists I personally know (theoretical or not) understand perfectly well that their expertise tends to be strongly specialized and wouldn't go about making bold claims about research they haven't studied themselves.

      Having said that, I have also personally encountered "skeptical" theoretical physicists whose misgivings about climate models were taken apart by actual climate scientists in about zero time. Interesting experience, that. Also, I learned a lot from it.

      On the risk of contradicting what I wrote in another comment, responding to skeptics and deniers may be useful just because it creates teachable moments for onlookers.

  22. Most people don't care about scientific predictions, and they certainly don't care about philosophy of science. What they first and foremost seem to care about is how to best escape their existential anxiety, by being engaged in restless physical activities, projects, travel, etc. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is all over the place.

    Even people that do acknowledge that climate change is real just invent their own ideas (apparently managing quite well to operate with cognitive dissonans) or engage in what I call 'sci-fi-masturbation' (the fantasy that technology is going to save us), in order to keep carrying on with their life styles. I even personal know a physicist operating in this manner.

    If climate change is to be mitigated, it requires, I believe, first and foremost that this extrovert activity is being slowed down decisively, which in turn will require some serious mental maturation of modern man. And, frankly speaking, I have lost hope that the latter is going to happen, at least in due time.

    If consumers keep insisting that they should keep having access to all the opportunities that modern life has to offer, then, I believe, that the destruction of our current civilisation in the cause of the current century is a near mathematical certainty.

  23. Popper can be hard to understand, but look what happens with he is not followed. Sean Carrol complained about the Popperazzi to defend string theory and the multiverse. You were there in that workshop. Having studied Popper in a physics course I think he is misinterpreted. The basic issue of science is the future is largely unknown. In quantum mechanics the future is partly random and uncertain. Because of this randomness science uses the null hypothesis to refute a proposed hypothesis. That is, the objective is *not* to disprove or falsify the hypothesis. It is to try to prove the hypothesis is random, which is something different.
    Popper himself said this, he did not believe in probability in science at all. That seems absurd in the scientific world of p values, but many now claim half of all medical papers cannot be replicated. The book Rigor Mortis is an example. Teams of scientists work on the same experiment and one randomly gets an effect, then publishes. This is what Popper meant. It’s the same with string theory, random correlations in math make it look plausible. But often this is just predicting the past and calling it the future, readjusting models over and over claiming they would have worked. It’s like adding planetary alignments to astrology and updating their meanings constantly.
    Popper also said he didn’t care if scientists worked on what they thought might work, or what seemed probable. He just said they shouldn’t call it science. The answer then is to pass into pseudoscience if researchers want, then try to claw their way back over the demarcation boundary if their testable predictions succeed. String theory is pseudoscience now, but one day it may regain respectability.
    The null hypothesis will always randomly make some hypotheses look plausible for some scientists. Then they will work for a while with a decreasing fraction of them. Everything you complain about in physics is like this, people deciding what the future is like without really knowing. Then sooner or later the null hypothesis reasserts itself, because they never really knew what was probable at all. Only testable predictions advance science, because only they overcome the null hypothesis if true.
    People think global warming is probable as well. But consider this new research in Nature. According to this 1/3 of global warming is from refrigerant gases and half the Arctic melting as well. The week before so many “knew” what the future was, if someone had suggested this result then they would have been dismissed as deniers or cranks. Scientists shouldn’t be like the poem below, but they often are.
    He watched the stars and noted birds in flight;
    A river flooded or a fortress fell:
    He made predictions that were sometimes right;
    His lucky guesses were rewarded well.
    —W. H. AUDEN

  24. Sabine,

    Its a pity I cannot find the reference but I saw recently in a talk by Alain Connes explaining the need for philosophers in a way very similar to yours. I think it was related to the concept of truth in the context of Topoi and how nowadays we deal with truth.

    That being said, in relation with the problem of climate change denial,or on how science is made, I do not think the main problem is the need for philosophers to study and debate how science is made or discussed. I am not saying it is not important because it is: every tool at our disposal should be used. The problem is how people are educated to think. There is no more critical judgement. People are not trained anymore to think critically, to maintain a critical distance between their thoughts, their beliefs or intuitions. This is true not only for the layman but also for scientists. That is for me the really worrying part. Philosophers will not help you with that. Its a consequence of the decadence of our educative systems. Its consequence of the decadence of our systems for financing science: good researchers are the one that are the best in researching fundings...

    Nowadays Bias has invaded all aspects of our societies. Including science.

    On a side note, I have seen the effects of philosophers on science: most noticably on the question of the interpretations of quantum mechanics. You do not want people bullshitting their way through an area they have no clue about.

  25. It is all again bright and sunny after my comment on rain in my locality.

    Every published paper in science that is substantiated with experimental evidence is a philosophy on the subject. And that is why they confer the degree Phd i.e., doctorate in the philosophy of physics etc.

  26. The problem is also caused by schools not teaching much about how science works in practice. So, while children in school do learn about math, physics, biology etc., they don't learn about the procedural side of conducting science, like the peer review process, the fact that scientists also write review articles and that these review articles also get peer reviewed.

    In contrast children do learn about how the political system works, how the legal system works etc. etc. What you then get are adults who can doubt the results of climate science even when these are published in tertiary scientific reports with hundreds of independent scientific research results backing that all up.

    Compare this to a controversial criminal case. Someone has been convicted of murder, but new evidence points to a miscarriage of justice. Then the attitude of most people will be that the case needs to be investigated and then an appeal based on any newly discovered findings must start. Few people will have the attitude that the defendant should be freed without a court order. So, people will respect the legal system, even if it sometimes doesn't yield the correct outcome. And this is so because people understand how it works.

    But when it comes to science, most people have the flawed idea that the path from a new idea to what passes as a solid scientific result is strongly dependent on the opinions of cleaver professors. They totally underestimate the enormous amount of review and reproduction of the results by independent groups.

    In case of climate change, you then have part of the population who think that because the professors working in the field tend to have left wing political opinions that this can cause the scientific results to get biased.

    This also means that climate skeptics can exploit the lack of knowledge about the way science works. They use bogus arguments that only work because people don't know about the rigorous review processes scientific results go through.

  27. 09-FEB-2020

    What is human intelligence, that it can be both cause and correction of global climate change? Consider for a moment, how all this may have begun without competent supervision:

    Start with a biosphere, naturally perturbed by earth-sun connection effects, eruptive solar, geo-space and terrestrial atmospheric phenomena. Include the dynamics driving the ebb and flow of terrestrial bio-mass (flora, fauna and organic waste) and yield to evolution.

    Six million years ago, give or take, hominid evolution emerges as "not forbidden." Compulsory (evolutionarily convergent?) and possibly humble bi-pedal explorations begin, guided by a primitive mode of intelligence and the inherited trauma of existence.

    This first hominid operating system was PMA-0.1a;
    "Paleo-Mammalian Algorithm version 0.1a."

    Simple requirements specifications:

    1. Follow the leader (alpha; stands in grass holding club with beautiful mate).
    2. Stay ignorant (per rule 1.)

    The OS was upgraded to PMA-1.0 (behavioral modernity), about 100,000 years ago:

    New requirements specifications:

    1. Follow the leader (no changes)
    2. Stay ignorant (per rule 1.)
    3. Pursue illusions of free-will and sanctuary (per rule 2.)
    4. Avoid pain, odor and death (default human fixations).

    Note the invariant lack of correlation between alpha-leadership and intellect.

    I'm guessing we need another OS upgrade (or at least a patch) to include
    some form of situational awareness.

    In my opinion (worth zero in the absence of data), the paleo-mammalian human agenda has run its course. I wonder if transcendent thinking can be self-induced, in advance of nature's less considerate forms of wake-up call.

    "It's not what you don't know that gets you into trouble, but what you believe to be true that just aint so." -- Mark Twain

    "Don't add anything to the narrative that doesn't advance the story."
    -- Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

    mj horn

  28. I can't disagree more with your title. We live in an over-stressed information age whereby any none-con-formal view on climate changed will get rejected. A bit like the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. The philosophers will then become the inquisisioners and or they will diffuse the matter even more.

    1. I agree with you but I think it is even worse than that: there are no more philosophers only communication specialist, community managers et cetera. Communication nowadays is all about the about the form instead of the substance.

    2. Thinking is technology. Philosophy is not "information", but a methodology.

      Sabine's pointing out how the lack of thinking technology on the the climate-warrior side could improve.

  29. I think we have to assume that climate science is correct, and that human beings are putting way too much CO2 etc. into the atmosphere, and that this is causing global warming and climate extremes. I trust and believe climate science. The problem is physics.

    Physics has only 2 causes of outcomes: laws of nature and randomness. Only by turning logic inside out can this state of affairs be described as human beings causing climate outcomes. So physics has only 2 genuine causes of global warming: laws of nature and randomness. Physicists are contradicting the physics if they say that human beings contributed to global warming.

    I agree with climate science. But clearly physics is wrong: physics has no way for human beings or other living things to cause or have any genuine affect over outcomes. Clearly, physics is missing something important about the world.

    1. Lorraine,

      You are not making any sense. Human beings are part of nature and therefore, needless to say, act according to the laws of nature. There is absolutely nothing contradictory in that. You are also wrong in separating the laws of nature and randomness because randomness is part of the laws of nature. Frankly your comments (here and on previous posts) document an egregious misunderstanding of physics and its role for human behavior. Why don't you go and do some reading on the matter before making more ill-informed comments, thanks.

      While I am at it, what's with that shit of copying comments from my blog to Tim's FQXi thread? If you have a problem with what I am saying then take it out on me and don't complain to my co-authors about it, thank you.

    2. Lorraine Ford, I see your intellectual anguish in your comments and I wish I could alleviate it. This should be possible, since I think I have all the same facts and feel instead of your anguish a sense of awe for a universe which allows us to exist and to learn physics, and I have tried to explain that here and at other blogs, but my efforts don't seem to have any good result.

      I ask you again to consider AlphaGoZero and its variants, how it is able to learn from experience and is deemed responsible for its actions by the number of wins and loses it achieves. How every circuit that it uses for its computations obeys the laws of physics (including the AND and OR and other logic gates which allow it to process IF-THEN conditionals), as does your own brain and nervous system. That the implications of complex laws are often not obvious until they emerge. That the climate effects you acknowledge were predicted long ago by physicists based on the laws of physics.

      Is there more to learn about physics, including important things? Of course! However, things that are allowed by the laws of physics, such as animal brains and computers, may evolve, using trial-and-error plus memory, if they are lucky enough to survive long enough to do so. Things that aren't, can't. That is enough for me to understand (in a general and perhaps simplistic sense) everything I see around me. But you need more? I hope you find it some day. For myself, I am grateful that we have as much knowledge of physics as we do.

    3. Sabine,

      Physics only has outcomes due to fixed relationships (laws of nature) and randomness. Physics does not have outcomes due to living things having done a logical analysis of their personal situation (and the wider situation in the world). Logical analysis of situation is a totally different thing to fixed relationships and randomness.

      Importantly, you can’t derive logical analysis (of the numbers that apply to the variables that represent a situation) from fixed relationships (between the numbers that apply to the variables) and randomness (assigning numbers randomly to the variables). I.e. you can’t derive IF…THEN… logical analysis from equations and randomness.

      I agree with climate science that says that human beings genuinely have the ability to affect climate outcomes. All physics can honestly say is that laws of nature and randomness cause climate outcomes: physics has no way for human beings to genuinely cause outcomes; for physicists to say that human beings are causing outcomes is just playing word games.

      Clearly physics is missing something because physics has no way for human beings to have any genuine affect over outcomes. What’s missing from physics is logical analysis of situation i.e. IF…THEN… logical analysis of situation is a fundamentally important aspect of the world that is not explainable by current physics.

      I studied physics as one of my subjects at university: I know more about physics and its implications than you realise. Re “what's with that shit…”: I’m very upset about the koala deaths, and the disrespectful idea that every single koala burning was in effect pre-ordained/ determined/ superdetermined. What you and Tim are saying is no better than what my fundamentalist Christian sister is saying about the climate: you and Tim say laws of nature, my sister says God.

    4. Lorraine,

      "I studied physics as one of my subjects at university: I know more about physics and its implications than you realise."

      You know what, I have a PhD in physics and have worked in the field for 20 years. I am telling you that you fundamentally misunderstand how physics works and your above comments are incoherent and wrong. I do not think arguments from authority are any good, but if you want to go down that road, then clearly I am the authority and not you.

      "Re “what's with that shit…”: I’m very upset about the koala deaths, and the disrespectful idea that every single koala burning was in effect pre-ordained/ determined/ superdetermined. What you and Tim are saying is no better than what my fundamentalist Christian sister is saying about the climate: you and Tim say laws of nature, my sister says God."

      I am sorry about the koalas but I don't make the laws of nature. The difference between the laws of nature and God is that the laws are based on scientific evidence. You clearly do not like to hear it, but physics does as a matter of fact determine human behavior. If you think it is "disrespectful" to tell the truth, then I will continue to be disrespectful.

    5. Sabine,

      I think I have enough of an idea of what physics is about: I studied maths and physics for more than 2 years at school and 2 years at university. I don’t have to be an actual physicist to know that physics describes the world using fixed mathematical relationships between variables, even the bits where it tries to mathematically cover “random” outcomes.

      I’m charging that physics, with its deterministic and superdeterministic ideas, completely underestimates the nature of what people and other living things are doing in the world. This is because you can’t derive IF…THEN… logical analysis of the numbers that apply to the variables that represent a situation (i.e. what people and other living things in effect do all the time) from the fixed mathematical relationships of physics. I’m charging that physics wrongly assumes that a world ruled by fixed relationships allows people to make logical decisions, and act on logical decisions (e.g. decisions about climate change). A world ruled by fixed relationships does not allow people to (in effect) logically analyse the numbers, or act on the basis of this logical analysis. So you are wrong: the fixed relationships of physics do NOT “as a matter of fact” completely “determine human behaviour”.

      I’m not the physicist. It’s up to physicists to try to demonstrate that IF…THEN… logical analysis of situations (i.e. what people and other living things do all the time) can be derived solely from fixed mathematical relationships. This means that it’s up to physicists to derive IF…THEN… logical analysis without themselves using logical analysis. Until that time, physicists have no justification for claiming that the world is deterministic and/or superdeterministic i.e. that each and every koala burning was determined since the beginning of time.

    6. JimV,
      You are wrong about the nature of computers and “AIs”. You need to analyse what’s really going on “behind the scenes” with computers and “AIs”: completely anonymous high and low voltages being fed into transistors or vacuum tubes does not constitute logical analysis. High and low voltages do not represent anything at all except from the point of view of human beings, who use sets of high and low voltages to represent words and numbers etc.

    7. Lorraine, I do not know where you got the idea that physicists think that the world is deterministic. Some of our models are and others are not.

      If I was to share a wild guess, our world is probably NOT deterministic but what we are able to observe is: and that includes theories that deal with random phenomena (those are deterministic by nature).

      Physicists only assume the hypothesis needed for their models to work (i.e to be experimentally tested).

      As for "human behaviour" we are still to this day unable to precisely define what "conscience" or "intelligence" mean. That being said that does not mean we are not studying those caracteristics: proof of that being the recent breakthrough in I.A.

    8. Lorraine,

      The tiny nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans has 302 neurons in its entire nervous system. These have been exactly mapped. Moreover the connectome has been reproduced on a silicone chip. This chip was then embedded in a wormlike structure. When exposed to the external stimula a real worm gets, this structure started to behave like the real worm. Is there any fundamental difference between the real worm and its artificial copy in terms of 'logically analyzing' its world?

    9. "physicists have no justification for claiming that the world is deterministic and/or superdeterministic i.e. that each and every koala burning was (pre-) determined since the beginning of time:

      Lorraine, I am sorry but you continue to make an indigestible soup of "superdeterminism", "determinism", and "pre-dedetermined". It's very obvious you have no idea what you are talking about.

      You also repeatedly mix "climate change physics" with Physics as if they were the same, but you abuse Physics insistently because you have not the remotest idea of what it is.

      You are making a fool of yourself.

    10. Bourbaki,
      I’m asking how you get from A to B. Can you derive something representable by algorithmic steps (representing logical analysis of a numeric situation, by a living thing) from something representable by equations?

      You yourself ought to know that there is a big difference between a thing and a symbolic representation of a thing.

      Ivan from Union,
      That’s a funny thing to say, for a person with a picture of himself with his tongue poked right out!

    11. (Off-topic) "I Thought to My Selfie", one of a series I sent my daughter when she was out of the country; there were also "I Touch My Selfie" -fake nose pick- and "I Crapped My Selfie" -toilet disassembled for parts fixing- among others.)

    12. I am asking whether there is a fundamental difference between the real worm and its artificial copy in terms of 'logically analyzing' its world.

      I am not asking for de difference between a thing and a symbolic representation of a thing.

    13. Lorraine Ford, in my opinion, logical analysis is done by computation and memory--a combination of Boolean Algebra and calculations of outcomes and memory of past outcomes. We think we have figured out (at least mechanistically) how neural networks do it in animal brains (as evidenced by Martien's excellent example and others which you can google), and simulated it in computer programs such as AlphaGoZero and several other examples. These examples are self-taught, other than being given the rules of a game, and do better at analysing game situations than human grand-masters. What other evidence do you need? Or will you not accept or consider this evidence?

      The link between physics (laws of nature) and this method of logical analysis is that physics allows it. Neurons in animals and circuits in computers obey the laws of nature.

      Not long after Einstein developed the equations of General Relativity, as you know, another physicist noticed that black holes were a consequence of those equations. The equations did not state this directly in human language, but as matter moved in accordance with the equations, black holes could form. Similarly (though at a greater remove), given physics as we know it, neurons can form.

      Physics as we currently know it says that within about five billion years, our sun will expand into a Red Giant, engulfing the Earth, and ending all life here. Perhaps however, we can use the logical analysis our neurons are capable of to develop the technological tools to move life somewhere else first. If we do, and if we solve the climate problems, we will have physics to thank for it.

      So yes, physics says that certain things are bound to happen, whether we like it or not, but physics also gives us the ability to analyse what is going to happen and look for solutions; and anyway, physics is what allowed us to exist at all, along with koalas.

      (You seem to be blaming physics and/or physicists for the burning of koalas so perhaps now you will blame them for the Sun expanding and incinerating the Earth, those ruthless physicists and their deterministic laws--I hope not. It seems unreasonable to me.) (I found the WIRES website online, which is doing wild life rescues in Australian, and donated to it.)

    14. "I am asking whether there is a fundamental difference between the real worm and its artificial copy in terms of 'logically analyzing' its world.

      I am not asking for de difference between a thing and a symbolic representation of a thing."

      Martien, you can't simultaneously "ask whether there is a fundamental (analytic) difference between the real worm and its artificial copy" and "NOT ask for de difference between a thing and a symbolic representation of a thing."

      That is the issue of "thought addressing", one of the most unimaginably difficult subjects in the history of Mind: "When is the map the actual road and when is it not?"

      I will return to the subject later, but not here (Wrong crowd, wrong audience). ASAP, as chance allows it, I will comment on youtube.

    15. Martien,

      Computers/AIs symbolically represent what is information from our point of view: i.e. our words, sentences, numbers, equations and algorithms are broken down into, not zeroes and ones, but high and low voltages. From our point of view, a set of these voltages represents words and numbers etc. From the computers “point of view” there is only individual anonymous high and/or low voltages going into individual transistors. Naturally, there are quantum events going on. But if a transistor could be said to be logically analysing anything, it would be logically analysing individual “highs” and “lows”. An individual transistor can’t know that a set of these highs and lows are meant to represent something else from the point of view of human beings; and the transistor can’t know that what the set of highs and lows represents varies all the time. There are no real “sets of transistors” except from our point of view. But if there were “sets of transistors”, then they too would not know that the ever-changing sets of input and output highs and lows were meant to represent something else, from the point of view of human beings.

      With the actual nematode worm, it is not true that it’s “connectome has been reproduced on a silicone chip”. The correct interpretation is that its “connectome has been symbolically represented using symbols that mean something from the point of view of human beings on a silicon chip”. And as described above, the transistors on the silicon chip don’t know that sets of high and low voltages are meant to represent information from the point of view of human beings. And if a transistor could be said to be logically analysing anything, it would be logically analysing individual high and low voltages, where sets of such voltages mean something from the point of view of human beings.

      With an actual nematode worm, all information necessarily exists from the point of view of the nematode worm itself. All information a nematode worm processes is not a symbolic representation of information from someone else’s point of view. This is the fundamental difference between the real worm and its artificial copy: 1) a nematode worm is processing actual raw incoming information from the environment, not incoming information that has been symbolically re-represented as sets of high and low voltages; and 2) a nematode worm has its own information point of view, but the sets of high and low voltages symbolically represent information from the point of view of human beings.

    16. JimV,

      The beauty of computers and AIs is that NOTHING BUT low-level law-of-nature information processing is going on in the voltages and electrical circuits, yet at the same time the voltages and circuits have been highly organised (by human beings) so that they can symbolically REPRESENT high-level IF…THEN… information processing. Computers are operating on 2 levels!! Actual high-level IF…THEN… information processing only occurs in living things. Mere symbolic representations of high-level information processing occurs in computers and AIs.

      The use of written, spoken and physical symbolic representations (e.g. words, sentences, equations, numbers, binary digits, high and low voltages in computers, electrical circuits that can be used to simulate logical analysis) is what has allowed human progress in science, maths, communication and everything else.

      These man-made symbols never miraculously spring into life. “Self-taught” is merely a way of describing what some computer programs do, a description that gives the wrong impression: an impression that the computer or the computer program has a life of its own. It doesn’t.

    17. Thanks Lorraine for your thoughtful answer. If I interprete it correctly you define the worm as a "living being", an identity by itself, or maybe with a complex system that has an identity.

      The structure on the silicone chip are a bunch of processors dealing with high and low voltages.

      My argument is that it is possible to see the neurons of the nematode worm also as 302 processors dealing with input signals.

      In the same time I think it is justified to see a complex system of interacting artificial processors on a chip as one system, and from our perspective endow it with identity.

      If we succeed with the worm, the next step is the articifial honeybee and so on. Is there a treshold (apart from the complexity and difficulty in doing so) for us to create artificial human beings?

      Ivan, yes I belief my question implies the question what is the difference between a thing and a representation of a thing, but the comparison with a road ans a map is not valid. In the case of the worm and artificial worm one could wonder at a certain stage whether the "representation of the thing" becomes a thing on its own, which in our perception has a lot in common with the real or original thing. In that case it is no longer only a representation of something, but we are likely to give its it own identity.

    18. In the spirit of the Turing Test: if the nematode has life, its artificial copy has as well.

      Probably Lorrains questions boils down to the 'soul' or consciousness. At the moment there is, I think, no scientific reason to belief that men in future would not be able to endow machines with a certain forms of self-awareness and/or consciousness. It is probably complicated but not extremely so.

    19. JimV,

      Re “You seem to be blaming physics and/or physicists…”:

      My criticism of physics is that physics does not have any theoretical basis that would allow people to logically analyse information about the climate (i.e. do an IF…THEN… logical analysis of the numbers associated with the variables representing a situation), and act on the conclusions of the logical analysis. This is the ONLY scenario in which it would be possible to truthfully say that people’s actions have contributed to causing climate change.

      Physics only has fixed lawful relationships between variables ruling the universe: i.e. according to physics, it’s not people acting, its 100% the fixed lawful relationships causing both people’s actions, climate change and everything else. Physicists seem incapable of facing the truth about what the physics is saying about the cause of climate change.

      I’m saying that physics is missing something, and that people (and other living things) CAN logically analyse the numbers and act on the basis of this logical analysis.

    20. L. Ford, to the perhaps limited extent that I understand what you are writing, it seems like a form of the "no true scotsman" argument.

      I would argue that similar electro-magnetic processes are going on in your brain and nervous system, and that the reason you can do more things with those processes than any AI program so far is the effect of scale: you have 70-100 billion neurons and quadrillions of synapses connecting them in your nanotech brain, and no super-computer yet built can come close to matching that. I have spent an hour or so trying to find the exact number of tree nodes AlphaGo Zero uses and have so far failed, but have found the previous general statement.

      Flat worms, with their 302 neurons can memorize a maze placed between them and a food source. Martien's artificial flatworm can do the same, and everything else the flatworm can do (behaviorally). The flatworm is alive. All this means to me is that the flatworm was a product of natural, biological evolution, and neural networks are a product of human idea evolution (both being essentially trial and error plus memory, in my view).

      (This includes I think the various symbolic representations that have evolved and been taught from village to child.)

      It seems to me the concept (logical analysis capability is a consequence of the equations of physics) is demonstrated, and only the effects of scale remain. And how do you know what the processing of AlphaGo, or Windows 7, or me feels like?

      When I click on an Excel icon on my laptop, Windows 7 (no, I will never "upgrade" to W10; you can't make me!) experiences that input and knows to start Excel, send subsequent inputs to it, and display Excel results on the screen. If it didn't have any experience/sensation when I clicked, how would know the click occurred? When I touch something hot unexpectedly, my hand quickly jerks away, with no symbolic analysis on my part. What is the difference?

      I don't know, but I think the scientific attitude is to judge things on an empirical basis, not by feelings. It seems to me that on that basis, logical analysis can be done on computers or in animal brains, better or worse depending on the number of equivalent neurons (and their previous training) used for the task. (Dogs have many more neurons than flatworms, and can do much better thinking; not as good as most humans, though, since humans have many more again.) (We use most of them for basic tasks such as vision, walking and chewing gum, though, not all of them on playing Go.)

      (Last comment on this issue by me, with a big fine to be paid to the site for the persistence.)

    21. Lorraine, I literally cringe at the thought of reading your next "according to physics" and "physics says"...

    22. Martien and JimV,

      Re your religious beliefs in miraculous emergence of life ex electricae ex computatrum:

      Sorry, but you’ve got to this unhappy state of affairs because I can see that you both fail to really understand the difference between a thing and a symbolic representation of a thing.

      Writing, reading, speaking, listening: human beings, starting at the age of a couple of months old, are using symbolic representations almost all the time. The use of symbolic representations in human life is so ubiquitous and automatic that it is often quite difficult to mentally separate out “a symbolic representation” from something that is not a symbolic representation.

      Computers process symbols, rarified symbolic representations of human ideas: computers are not processing actual ideas, actual information.

    23. Ivan from Union,

      Cringe away, because I don’t care if you cringe. Rather than cringing, a better idea would be for you to gather your ideas and concisely explain any problem that you see with what I am saying.

    24. "concisely explain any problem that you see with what I am saying":

      Other than your teaching of physics to physicists in a physics blog?

    25. Lorrain,

      "Computers process symbols, rarified symbolic representations of human ideas: computers are not processing actual ideas, actual information."

      To be able to respond in a way that makes sense to us both: can you define from your point of view what is an 'idea' and what is 'information'?

      Thanks and be blessed,


    26. Or do mean to ask: are we ever able to 'breath life into a machine?"

    27. Lorraine Ford writes, "Writing, reading, speaking, listening: human beings, starting at the age of a couple of months old, are using symbolic representations almost all the time."

      According to the Wikipedia article "Feral Child" this is not true. Most of the children actually (there have been fraudulent cases) raised in the wild by wild animals from an earlier age and for several years never learn human speech or behavioral patterns after being rescued. It appears the neurons used for these activities most be trained at an early age or they become dedicated to other animal behaviors, such as sniffing for food. As I mentioned previously, it seems to me that human symbolic representations, such as language, evolved by trial and error over time and are taught from village to child.

      (I felt obligated to respond with conflicting facts to an assertion so readers can judge for themselves based on evidence, despite the double fine thus incurred. As they say in courts of law, please harken to the evidence.)

      I might as well get my money's worth, although I think we could all agree on this: the money would be better spent on trying to alleviate the problems of Australia's brush fires and I remain happy to contribute to any site LF will suggest for this purpose.

      I might well have a problem distinquishing some things from their symbolic representations, although I do know the difference between a map and a territory, because if I did, I would be the last person to know, making the hypothesis unfalsifiable. It seems to me however, that my views as expressed here are ones I learned over time, based on a lot of evidence, some of which I have mentioned, and I have not yet seen any conflicting evidence. Look how well the neural-net training hypothesis fits both AlphaGo Zero and feral children (unfortunately), for example. When a particular model fits several kinds of evidence well, I find it convincing and almost the opposite of a religion. That's the whole point of symbolic representation, isn't it, to draw general conclusions from specific data?

    28. Ivan from Union,

      Am I really “teaching … physics to physicists”? I think what you are really trying to say is that: 1) you think I shouldn’t make single-sentence generalisations or overviews; and 2) you think I shouldn’t mix up similar concepts like predetermined, determined and superdetermined. But I disagree, in the interests of separating the forest from the trees, and not getting bogged down amongst the trees. By the way, I DID study physics and maths and computer science at university.

    29. Martien,

      Living things (human beings) thought about, made and use the symbols. It’s not the other way around: living things do not emerge from these symbols. You can add electricity and miniaturisation to the mix, but it’s still nothing but symbols. These symbols are bits of physical matter whose pattern and arrangement means something from the point of view of human beings, or more correctly some human beings. Written and spoken languages show that symbols only mean something from the point of view of some human beings.

      In computers, symbols like words are re-represented as sets of high and low voltages, and the voltages behave according to the laws of nature. But the pattern and arrangement and logical “behaviour” of the voltages was determined by human beings via the physical structure of the computer and the computer program. Computers themselves are not spending their time analysing the patterns in the high and low voltages to glean what human beings meant by these patterns: human beings set up the structure and the patterns and plugged in the electricity so that all that is happening inside a computer is that electricity is running from point A to point B. Computers simulate analysis, but they aren’t actually doing any analysis.

      Symbols of what? Human ideas. High-level information and ideas in human consciousness are ultimately derived from human beings (genuinely) analysing low-level information coming from particle interactions in the human sense organs.

    30. JimV,

      I was not talking about the special case of feral children: if every special case was discussed, I’m sure I’d be writing a book! So: I was assuming that children can make sounds and hear sounds, and see, and that children don’t have some developmental difficulty, and that parents are interacting with their children, and that children are interacting with their parents and the world around them etc.

      Human language and human use of symbolic representation, like any human invention, was created by specific people in specific environments responding to perceived necessity: it cannot be written off and dismissed as merely random trial and error that had no context and occurred for no reason at all.

      Re Australia’s bush fires (and currently, torrential rain!): I would donate to and . Because extinction is forever, and human beings are not about to become extinct any time soon. Thanks.

      Re symbolic representation: My reply to Martien might be of some help.

    31. Leave it to Lorraine to come up with yet another unending series of breathless, breathtaking non sequiturs, the most sordid of which -so far- was the "burning koalas"... also known as a "conspiracy theory", the matter was dealt with here:

      14th and 15th paragraphs. You don't get the chance to comment there and 8 months later throw burning koalas "since the beginning of time" on people's faces with impunity. That is simply sordid.

    32. Lorraine Ford, my point about the feral children is that we need an explanation for why they cannot learn human language or behavior after being rescued for many years, and your viewpoint that symbolic representation is a capability of humans which is not deterministically explained by physics has not provided one, whereas the consistency of those results implies determinism (as in, condition A gives result B). For that matter, developmentally-disabled children also seem better explainable with physics than without it, and it seems inconsistent to admit that years of human contact and training are necessary to develop human capabilites but are invalidating when it comes to computer achievements. Also, if there was no randomness involved in the development of human language, why are there so many different sounds used to say the same thing around the world? (We agree however that there was a reason for the trial-and-error evolution of language; the same reason for all evolution, to improve the chances of survival and reproduction. Ants and bees also have forms of communication.)

      My meaning of randomness with respect to evolution is that when you don't have any way of telling which of a large set of choices will be the best, your choice is functionally random within that set, and there are many such choices in evolution; nevertheless, a particular choice can have a particular effect, discoverable after the fact. You seem to be asserting there (against randomness in the evolution of human symbols) that there is some sort of deterministic choice available for humans outside of physics? A new deterministic law?

      Thanks for the websites. I have donated ten times my standard fine to both. (Since my next linearly-increasing fine would be approaching that range, I hope this is finally my last comment.)

    33. Thanks Lorrain, for the effort explaining me. As it seems not to be compatible with evolution (at a certain time our ancestors had 302 neurons and before that even less), I consider yours a creationist view. I wish you a long and healthy life, an eternal afterlife, and a few days more.

    34. Ivan from Union,

      You seem to be abnormally obsessed with Lorraine Ford’s disembodied words and ideas over the internet. At the same time, you seem able to explain why you think what I say is wrong. I think you need to gather your thoughts and make a better case against what I have said. I’m not sure how you came up with "breathless", "breathtaking", "non sequiturs", "conspiracy theory", "burning koalas since the beginning of time" “throw…on people's faces with impunity” or "sordid".

    35. Correction: unable:
      Ivan from Union,

      You seem to be abnormally obsessed with Lorraine Ford’s disembodied words and ideas over the internet. At the same time, you seem unable to explain why you think what I say is wrong. I think you need to gather your thoughts and make a better case against what I have said. I’m not sure how you came up with "breathless", "breathtaking", "non sequiturs", "conspiracy theory", "burning koalas since the beginning of time" “throw…on people's faces with impunity” or "sordid".

    36. "gather your thoughts and make a better case against what I have said"

      How many blunders are you able to squeeze per square millimiter?

      --I don't need to gather thoughts, they show up ready for consumption.

      -I wasn't "making a case against" anything, I was mopping the floor. Sorry about those dead roaches on your hair.

      --You didn't say anything.

      --Finally, who entitled you to ask what you think you asked, never mind to the answer?

      Not you, certainly.

      Go GIF someone else, walking clichee.

    37. Martien,

      You are the one that believes in miracles of emergence i.e. a form of creationism, not me, because you seem to believe in fuzzy stuff, not mechanisms. I can see that you haven’t noticed the detail of the actual issues involved. The issue is categories:

      As I commented to Sabine [1], you need to explain how “lower-level” information (light and sound waves, which physics would represent as variables/categories of information and numbers) gets analysed by human beings [2], resulting in “higher-level” information (e.g. categories like tiger, tree, car). The mathematics of the situation is that you need to explain how you could get entirely new categories of information in the human brain like “mobile phone”, categories that never existed until recently. “Mobile phone” is a higher-level category, as opposed to mass and energy which can be seen as lower-level categories of information. You can only derive a higher-level category via logical analysis of the numbers applying to lower-level categories (representable by IF…THEN… algorithmic steps), but the mathematical problem is that you can’t derive such IF…THEN… logical analysis/logical steps from fixed mathematical relationships (e.g. laws of nature are fixed mathematical relationships).

      1. Lorraine Ford 2:14 AM, February 10, 2020
      2. Clearly, the same sort of thing is happening in other living things.

    38. JimV,

      A category like “tiger” is an example of the content of the human mind, which has different written and spoken symbolic representations in different languages. Words in a particular language are high-level symbols that allow communication of ideas between people that speak and understand the language. Do you or don’t you agree that written and spoken words in a particular language are symbolic representations of human ideas?

      Do you or don’t you agree that the “binary digits” concept is about re-representing these words (e.g. tiger) and other symbols as zeroes and ones (note that even here, there are various binary digit “languages” or forms of representation).

      Do you or don’t you agree that a computer cannot derive a category like tiger from a set of high and low voltages (thought of as zeroes and ones)?

    39. Ivan from Union,

      You seem to be getting very worked up about something or other. But you haven’t really identified what it is that is upsetting you: sometimes it is difficult to know. What do you mean by “blunders”, “mopping the floor”, “roaches”, “entitled”, “walking clichee”?

    40. Lorraine Ford asks, "Do you or don’t you agree that a computer cannot derive a category like tiger from a set of high and low voltages (thought of as zeroes and ones)?"

      It certainly can be and has been done. Recall that a computer program, using combinations of zero and one and logical/arithmatic operations with those numbers won a Jeopardy (quiz show) competition against human experts.

      There are an infinite number of numbers, so we can first enumerate categories, such as "terrestial animal", say 4451927, and then number all such entities, giving the tiger, say 23350974, and then the combination 4451927,23350974 (in binary form with zeroes and ones) designates the tiger. Further series of numbers can designate various properties which a tiger has.

      You may wish to say that humans had to provide at least some structure, plus neural networks, after which computer programs could use trial and error (provided they had external sensory devices) to fill the structure with the designating information. True, but also true in the case of feral children.

      It seems to me that whether information is stored as numbers, or voltages, or neuron settings, or words in a dictionary, or marks on sticks (from which Icelandic runes evolved), or beads on abacuses makes no difference as long as the processing devices are compatible with those forms.

      The norse Icelanders probably had no rune for tiger, but they did for bear. If marks on a stick can designate a bear, why not voltages in a computer?

      The more relevant question is, why do you insist that the chemical and electro-magnetic settings in your brain are not also symbolic representations? (You do not have an actual tiger inside your head when you think about tigers.)

      The symbolic representation of my old friend Mario inside my head would have long since said, "Hey, believe whatever you have to believe to get you through the night!" (Your fractured latin "emergence of life ex electricae" reminded me of him; he once said to me at GE, "Jim, they are not going to listen to us. We are persona non existum." With a flourish on the "exis-TUM" that came from his Catholic heritage, I imagine.) Since now I owe the site a 50-euro fine for continuing a private discussion here, I wish I had thought of that symbolic representation earlier.

    41. "What do you mean by “blunders”, “mopping the floor”, “roaches”, “entitled”, “walking clichee”?"

      I meant unstoppable blunder machine on autopilot.

    42. JimV,

      The computer/ AI is merely processing "zeroes" and "ones" (where "zeroes" and "ones" are represented by high and low voltages). That is all. The zeroes and ones in a computer have no relationship structure which would make it possible for a computer to backtrack and decide that this or that set of zeroes and ones is meant to represent the word “tiger”.

      The computer/ AI merely does what it is programmed to do: a computer is not independent; a computer has no ability to independently investigate what a particular set of zeroes and ones was meant to mean; and in any case the computer has no way of knowing that the high and low voltages were meant to represent zeroes and ones. Three things determine every single zero and one: 1) the computer program written by the computer programmers; 2) the built-in computer hardware and software; and 3) the inputs to the system.

      On the other hand, it is clear that living things categorise e.g. "tiger" is a category, not a Platonic category, a personal subjective category, an information relationship that only exists in the context of a network of other information relationships, a category that can be symbolically represented by the shared word "tiger" when communicating with other people. But the zeroes and ones in a computer have no category i.e. no appropriate relationship structure. Whereas living things categorise, computers have no categories. The MOST significant fact about numbers (e.g. your “4451927”) is that, by themselves, they have NO category.

      (By the way, I have no Catholic heritage. “Ex electricae ex computatrum” seemed more appropriate than “ex nihilo” :-) )

    43. Hi Lorrain,

      Sorry to say, but what you say is not true. Computers are well able do gain information from data and divide information into categories.

      Kind regards,


    44. Neurons are similar. Action potential can activate or suppress action potentials in another neuron depending on junction conditions. Neural networks are a sort of stochastic system that involves binary operations or "on" and "off." It is not entirely clear what the qualitative difference is between brains or neurons and switching circuits in computers. The only clear difference is that neurons are biological and a flip-flop in a computer circuit is not. It is though not clear whether that is a clear difference that would render for ever any AI as conscious as a rock.

      It is not clear to me whether AI can ever be conscious or not. In fact even if we ever did develop such we may never know. There is a sort of Pinocchio problem.

      When it comes to numbers, there are categories of numbers. There are even and odd numbers, there are prime numbers, there are numbers such as 12 and 248 with deep connections to group theory, there exists a wide range of numbers based on computational differences.

    45. Consciosness is not required for imformation. First one has to define information. Information is processed data into a higher level. Example. A row of figures showing the max temp on a number of sequential 3,650 days in a given location is data. Calculating to what extent the average annual temperature in that place has been rising or declining is information. Computers can do that.

    46. We don't know whether butterflies are conscious. Or nematodes. Or bats. Or fellow human beings. We most of the time assume so. Later we might assume so as well for certain types of AI, for instance for systems which are very much organized as our brains and bodies are, and produce similar behaviour.

    47. Martien and Lawrence,

      Categories like mass have an intrinsic (mathematical) relationship structure: mass is not a stand-alone thing – it only exists as part of a relationship. Similarly, it is clear that a personal subjective category (e.g. a category represented by the word “tiger”) can only exist within a structure of other identifying categories (maybe like “yellow” , “black” and “striped”) linked by IF…THEN… logical analysis. Categories have an intrinsic relationship structure.

      The word “tiger” is not a category, but it symbolises a category. And numbers (e.g. 4451927 or 4 ) are not categories, they are stand-alone things because they do not necessarily exist in relationship to anything else. Similarly, high and low voltages (representing zeroes and ones) in computers are not categories, but voltage itself is a category. A number is not a category, but voltage is a category. In computers, any category (e.g. the “tiger” category) would be represented by a set of zeroes and ones, but zeroes and ones are numbers, and numbers are not categories.

    48. Lorraine Ford, re cathtolicism or lack thereof, I am pretty sure (because similar things have already been done), that the AlphaGo Zero program could be repurposed and retrained to parse my comment and answer the following question correctly: Does this comment imply that the person to whom it is addressed has a Catholic heritage?

      We all misread things, but maybe someday AI programs will help us prevent doing so.

      Similarl to a computer's voltages, there are voltages and chemicals in your brain which store visual images (colored stripes), characteristics (carnivore), and everything else you know about tigers. Remove certain regions of your brain containing those physical attributes and you would lose all knowledge of the concept. This is not theoretical, neuro-scientists have documented many cases of loss of memories and skills due to physical brain injuries. Similarly, remove the voltages from a computer and it loses its information.

      "The zeroes and ones in a computer have no relationship structure which would make it possible for a computer to backtrack and decide that this or that set of zeroes and ones is meant to represent the word tiger."--LF. Neither does a feral child. Humans can supply that framework, or give the computer the tools to develop things for themselves, the way ALphGo Zero developed a a relationship between Go board arrangments and winning moves. Without such help, a computer is as helpless as a lost infant, agreed.

      As to how humans developed such relationships themselves, here is an example which I think is relevant. Human archeological traces (bone structures the same as modern humans) go back around 200,000 years; archeological traces of the wheel and axle go back only 6000 years. It took a very long time for humans to develop the wheel, but with the wheel you can make pottery wheels, chariots, windlasses, pulleys, gears, waterwheels, windmills, ..., magnetic tape reels for computers, disk storage drives, hard drives ... Electonic computers have had less than 100 years of development. Perhaps it is too soon to decide what they will never be capable of, since that could have been said of humans and the wheel for over 100,000 years.

      Unsolicited thoughts on consciousness:

      We do not know directly if other things perceive and feel things the same way we do. We associate "consciousness" with the abilities to sense (some of) the environment, store information (memory), and do computations (think), so most of us tend to agree that a rock is not conscious, since it lacks any known mechanisms for these activities, but we extend the courtesy to things very like ourselves (other people) to assume they are conscious. I see no reason why consciousness cannot apply further, to things which can do what our brains can do but with different mechanisms. How these other things (e.g., aliens) feel might well be different than how I feel, but I don't see that as important and anyway not knowable.

      Tell me why a rose smells as it does to me, and I will tell you why my consciousness feels as it does--I see these as the same "problem" with the same answer: a rose smells the way I perceive it because in this universe, with the molecules the rose exudes and the molecular arrangement which makes up my nervous system, that is the sensation I feel; in a different universe, the same causes might have a different effect. As long as the rose molecules always affect me the same way (as long as don't have a cold), I can always tell when there are roses in my vicinity. Determinism--long may it rule!

      And just as I know some things about why it is useful for flowers have a scent (to attract pollinators), and how my nervous system detects scents, I think I can list some of the purposes of consciousness and why it is useful, although I won't further bore readers (if any) with them here. I think that is all we can know about it, and all we need to know.

      (Thanks to Martien and Lawrence Crowell for their useful (to me) comments on this issue; and ka-ching goes a 60-euro fine.)

    49. JimV,

      As I have previously pointed out, the relevant issue is categories. Computers/ AIs don’t have categories, they only have numbers: numbers (represented by high and low voltages, representing binary digits) are used to symbolically represent categories and numbers and everything else in computers.

      But in real life as opposed to inside computers, categories are very different things to numbers: categories like mass and the personal category “tiger” only exist within relationships, but numbers do not. Genuine categories, as opposed to the pseudo-categories within computers, are the reason that computers/ AIs are very different to living things.

      The personal category “tiger” can only exist as part of a network of logical relationships with other categories (maybe like “yellow” and “black”) which are necessary to identify a tiger: without those relationships, there is no “tiger”. Similarly, the category mass only exists within (lawful, mathematical) relationships.

      In real life, categories are relationships, and only exist within a network of relationships. In computers, categories are represented by numbers. This is why computers/ AIs can never be like living things: they can only simulate aspects of the world.

    50. Lorrain,

      Do I understand your statements correctly:

      - A category is something with more than one attribute
      - A pseudo category is a category in a computer
      - A genuine category exists in a subjective experience

      If so that boils down to: machines have no soul (and will never have one), no self awareness, no consciousness and no subjective experiences. There is no way to know whether that statement is true of false. We differ in our beliefs. Mo point to discuss further.

    51. Martien,

      Mass (or charge or momentum etc.) is a genuine category which exists in relationships with other such categories; if envisaged as a transposed equation, mass is a law of nature. Equations, a symbol, a word and numbers merely represent the mass category: the symbolic representations have no power because they are not laws of nature. Binary digits can be used to re-represent the equations, symbols, words and numbers: the binary digit representations have no power because they are not laws of nature. The genuine mass category has attributes that the symbolic representations don’t have.

      A personal subjective category represented by the word “tiger” is also a genuine category. Based on already categorised input coming from the senses, a personal category cannot be separated from a structure of IF…THEN… logical relationships between categories which a human being or other living thing must necessarily have used to identify “tiger”. The personal subjective category only exists as some sort of structure: after the person dies the structure breaks down, and there are no personal subjective categories at all. But the category structure, based on genuine natural lawful categories, necessarily exists whether or not the living thing is able to label it with a word.

      A personal subjective category can be symbolically represented by a word, and it can be symbolically represented (on paper, or in a computer) by something that represents the structure of IF…THEN… logical relationships between categories in a living thing. But these are all symbols of the actual thing, they are not the actual thing. Any symbolic category structure can only ever be based on symbolic representations of genuine natural lawful categories: it can never escape being a symbolic representation. So I’m saying that the actual logical category structure in a living thing has attributes that a symbolic representation of a logical category structure doesn’t have.

      (I might add that you are the one with the illogical beliefs, not me :-) )

    52. Lorrian,

      Not sure I can still follow this. Are you saying:

      - A pseudo category is a category in a computer (or represented through symbols)
      - A genuine category exists in a subjective experience or in the real world (something with mass).

      There seems to be three 'realities' you are referring to:

      1 - the 'real world'(particles and fields, objects if you like)
      2 - the 'platonion world' (where numbers and mathematical structures according to some 'belong')
      3 - Subjective experiences

      According to you computers and my artificial worm are related to 1 and 2, and humans and the real worm to 1 and 3?

      It boils down again to our beliefs (I mean the part of our opinions which cannot be proven), which are I think by definition illogical. If not, these stop to become beliefs.

    53. Martien,

      I have had decades of experience analysing and programming computers. I don’t have beliefs about computers, I only have the cold hard facts: there is no way that computers/ AIs are going to become conscious. I have been trying to explain to you the actual facts about symbolic representation and about computers (they merely process symbolic representations). But your head seems to be filled with science-fiction dreams instead facing the cold, hard facts about symbolic representation.

      I have tried to explain to you why real life has attributes that are missing from its symbolic representation. All day, every day, people almost unconsciously use and understand symbolic representations when speaking, writing, reading and listening: the symbolic representations do not have the attributes of life or consciousness and cannot miraculously acquire the attributes of life or consciousness. Converting symbolic representations into binary digits and adding an electric current makes no difference: binary digit symbolic representations do not have the attributes of life or consciousness and cannot miraculously acquire the attributes of life or consciousness.

    54. Unstoppable Blunder Machine on autopilot:

      1- do you have an "off" switch?

      You have derailed multiple threads with your off topics as well as Dr. Palmer's thread at FQXI.
      2- do you have anything to say about the topic of this post?

      3- do you have an "off" switch?

    55. Ivan from Union,

      You seem to have not noticed that Sabine is in charge of the “off” switch, and in charge of deciding whether or not a comment is “off topic” or inappropriate.

    56. Lorrain,

      "binary digit symbolic representations ... cannot ... acquire the attributes of life or consciousness"

      That is your belief, as this cannot be proven for sure. Keep in mind that binary symbolic representations can be organized in categories and information.

    57. I grew up on a farm in a small village in the South of The Netherlands. When I was 17 years young or so, on a Sunday morning the door bell rung. I opened the frontdoor and there stood a Yehova witness. For the next three hours I argued with him on religion and the existence of God (I had and still have an anthropological view). The discussion did not go anywhere, because he would all the time open the bible, and point at some absolute truths, because these were the Words of God Himself. On that day I decided never again waste so much time on trying to convince people who have 'absolute truths', for whatever reason. I quit.

    58. So what are “symbolic representations”? Letters, words and sentences that a person has written on paper (i.e. the black squiggles on the white paper) are symbolic representations e.g. of a person’s thoughts about climate change. Spoken words (i.e. variations in the sound waves that a person makes when speaking) would be another way of symbolically representing the person’s thoughts. The question is: does life and consciousness emerge out of squiggles on paper or variations in sound waves? Obviously not.

      For those that know binary code, the person’s thoughts about climate change could just as easily have been symbolically represented as 0 squiggles and 1 squiggles on the paper; or the person’s thoughts could have been symbolically represented via a binary code of a series of loud and soft sounds. The question is: does life and consciousness emerge out of 0 squiggles and 1 squiggles on a piece of paper, or emerge out of the loud and soft sounds? Obviously not.

      But what if, instead of loud and soft sounds, or 0 squiggles and 1 squiggles on a piece of paper, we had the bright idea of using high and low voltages instead? Aha! says Martien. NOW, we have a situation where life and consciousness can emerge from the symbolic representations!

    59. What always amazes me is that so many people get fooled by computers/ AIs. From the point of view of a computer/ AI (not that computers/ AIs actually have a point of view) binary digits are an uncrackable code: several layers of an uncrackable code. And the computer is not devoting resources to cracking the code, it is merely following the path determined by the computer programmer’s program. How do these people think that a computer can decode the code? It is purely a matter of logic that computers cannot decode the code.

  30. A thoughtful exchange regards philosophy and physics can be found in the conference book "The Rise of the Standard Model: Particle Physics in the 1960s and 1970"s. There are pertinent discussions authored by Paul Teller and Michael redhead.
    Steven Weinberg says something worth reiterating: "The history of Science is usually told in terms of experiments and the theories and their interaction. But, there is a deeper level to the story--a slow change in the attitudes that define what we take as plausible and implausible in scientific theories." (Ibid, page 36).
    Freeman Dyson wrote (2007): "As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions. Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science." ( thoughts about science and society).

  31. When defining science, I like to refer to it simply as the (1) search for the simplest explanation for *reliable* and *valid* observations of the natural world, and the storage of the resulting theories and heuristics in a (2) shared knowledge base.

    No search for Big Truth, no eternally inviolate rules, results eminently open to revision. Physical laws are descriptions of things so basic and so regular as to make it impossible to imagine their working any other way. But they, too, are subject to permanent examination for validity and reliability.

  32. Climate change denial goes beyond bad science or misunderstanding of science for many people. They are the ones who will tell you "God is on his throne", which seems to mean that everything is copacetic because ultimately whatever happens happens because their god wills it. I know of no way to reach such people. And there are a lot of them running around voting, and even writing laws. That is scary.

  33. People who deny climate change (or evolution, or the Holocaust, etc.) have very specific agendas and motivations.

    Any appeals they make to science are disingenuous.

    Does smoking cause cancer? No one knows!

  34. started Euclid in school days. . . 1989 got distracted this starting and stopping went on right through college days until driven to desperation and into a corner where there are only 10 days to go before the college exam. . . forced to abandon Euclid, and then cramming, cramming, cramming to pass the exams... pattern continues until I clear all the exams learning only a little of Euclid and the major subject. Is this phenomenon an inward psychic technique or outward scientific technique. . I am only wondering aloud.

  35. I agree that philosophy should be discussed as well. It seems to be a one sided argument right now. So many masters and PhD students are making wild predictions about what will happen to the world, section by section when it is impossible to make specific projections. All we know is that there will be warming, on average, and change on average. After this, no one is discussing how bad it would be if the world was 2000 years into another ice age. Virtually no one discusses how great it is that we won't be going into another ice age and what a great benefit that is, to have prevented it accidentally.

  36. Now again the same pattern, after delay, delay, delay , delay, delay... driven to desperation to find a job in Dotnet abandoning math and physics. . . but my heart is in AI and machine learning because there is a lot of theory and math in it . . .

  37. Your are just beating a dead horse yourself.

    "And so, the deniers conclude, climate scientists are as wrong as particle physicists and clearly one shouldn’t listen to either."

    Other call this raising a straw man.

    Yes, there are a number of people on the world which are claiming dumb, illogical things. That's something new?

    Why not pointing at mainstream-dumbness? For me you seem to have made a 180 degree turnaround since your "Lost in Math".

    (I'm not expecting that you should public that opinion from me.)

    1. weristdas,

      You continuously make stupid comments that contain absolutely no information and you have herewith reached the end of my patience. That's the last comment which will appear from you on this blog, good bye.

  38. There is no PhD
    who can guarantee
    a better climate change
    for you or me.

  39. I think Popper's falsifiability is a useful demarcation criteria because of what it allows to discard as unscientific, despite the fact that as you mention it allows to label all kind of unsubstantiated yet falsifiable claims as science.

    Also, I think it's important to point out that Occam's Razor isn't the Sword of Omen, the simplest explanation is not necessarily the right answer.

  40. No need for philosophical musings to believe in climate change in the form of a warming planet, at least not here in New Hampshire’s Monadnock region, and elsewhere in New England. Four decades ago I clearly remember swinging gently 50 feet above the ground in a lift chair at 20 below zero Fahrenheit (-29 C), at a local ski resort, as the operator repaired the drive mechanism. My friends, who I would ski with, told me back then that they had an entire week when the daily highs never exceeded 0 Fahrenheit (-18 C), and the region was covered in deep snow. Now, in case anyone thinks this was due to altitude, the ski resort in question has a peak elevation of only 2064 feet (629 m). Further back in time, in the mid 60’s, Bedford, Massachusetts at an elevation of 135 feet (41 m), dipped to -20 Fahrenheit one night, according to my sister who then lived there.

    Such extreme temperatures just aren’t happening anymore. Sure, we get some bitter cold spells, but they are fairly brief. Despite today’s miserable, snowy weather covering up a sheet of ice on my driveway, formed from single digit Fahrenheit temps following a rainstorm, our local climate is decidedly warmer than in the recent past. December and January were both well above average, the latter month running 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. And, it’s not just here. A check of weather around the world reveals the same pattern; consistently higher temperatures than in the past. It’s all rather alarming, but hopefully the long sought dream of controlled nuclear fusion can be realized in the not too distant future, weaning us off our fossil fuel dependence.

  41. I want to second Eric's recommendation of his own book, Philosophy and Climate Science (CUP)

    On Ockham's razor, if there's one book I wish scientists would read by philosophers of science, it would be Elliott Sober _Ockham's Razors: a user's manual_. True, Sober's focus has been on evolutionary biology, but there is a ton of useful stuff comparing different ways of using different statistical frameworks to try to justify the scope and limits of the razor. He also has a nice introductory history of its use in astronomy and physics.

  42. Do you still consider yourself a practicing physicist, or more of a philosopher? Books, blog, YouTube, podcast(?) - when do you have time for all these? And now you branch into environmental issues? As a private individual or as an expert? Thanks,

    1. My full time job is in research. People tend to be confused about this because I rarely if ever write about my own research. I work in astrophysics, not in philosophy.

      I have for many years been partly working as a freelance science writer. I write about many topics that I do not myself work on. As most science writers I am not an expert on these topics but I do the necessary research and interviews to produce correct, informative, and hopefully entertaining articles.

      You could easily have figured that out just by looking at my Wikipedia entry, so I think you did not ask this question because you actually wanted an answer.

  43. The question was about your time management skills, not about Wikipedia. At some point, either part time becomes full time or both areas suffer. Frankly, I don't think you're adding any value to the environmental debate ...or to the philosophy/religion debates. In your place, I would either keep much closer to astrophysics, or quit that and invest the time needed to familiarize myself with the intricacies of these other [vast] domains of interest.

    1. What I do with my time is none of your business and I don't give a shit what you think I should be doing.

  44. "next Wednesday my cat will speak French" is untestable and unfalsifiable, forever ... when Wednesday arrives, it will be "this Wednesday", and "next Wednesday" will be days away ... ;-)

    Such semantic (or linguistic) sleights of hand can indeed be found in the writings of climate change deniers (and many other pseudo- and anti-science aficionados to boot), though they are not always obvious.

  45. Lawrence,
    Thank you for your clarification. The oddest thing is that it can be clarifying to say that something is not clear. Sometimes the things that are not clear are the most interesting.

  46. At the risk of drawing this blog even further off topic, I would like to be the first to comment on cats, categories, and consciousness. House cats have twice the visual frame rate that we do, their color perception is different, their distance vision is not as good as ours, but their ability to detect movement is better than humans. Smell and hearing are a bigger part of their perception of reality than ours, and their behavior is more instinctive than ours.

    All of this puts their perception of reality and their consciousness in a different framework and different category than human intelligence.

    I suspect that at some future technological point there will have to be a separate category for machine consciousness. Who can say how different or how much like human consciousness that will be. What I find surprising is that there doesn't seem to be much effort on the part of philosophers to categorize consciousness. (no intentional puns were made in this post)

    1. " What I find surprising is that there doesn't seem to be much effort on the part of philosophers to categorize consciousness""

      That is a clueless confession that you are way out of your depth commenting on the subject as the efforts are thousands of years old.

    2. Ivan,
      Thank you for your response. I take no offense as I am sure none was intended. I frequently prefer being in over my head where things are unclear as that is when things are most interesting.

      so it might be helpful to say a bit more about what I was driving at.

      First, the reference to philosophers not categorizing consciousness was an attempt to refer back to the original topic of this blog.

      Second, I was also referencing the posts in this blog about consciousness since the posts were only indirectly related to the original topic. Plus, no attempt had been made to categorize consciousness other than to deny that computers are conscious.

      Third, I was thinking mainly about animal consciousness which is why I wrote about cats. There does not seem to be much work on categorizing animal consciousness by species, partly I suppose because we have no access to their internal monologs. However, if you know of any such work I would appreciate the reference.

      Fourth, I used cats as a rhetorical device to set up the idea of categorization in the following paragraph. I have to admit however that I liked the alliteration of cats, categories, and consciousness.

      Fifth, I though that discussion about computer consciousness might be short sighted since technological advances could lead further into the question of machine consciousness. I think it might be premature to say that machines could never be conscious.

      Sixth, I prefer to write short posts, with many short paragraphs as that seems to work better in blogs. I also like to leave things a bit open ended to give readers different ways of thinking about what I write. I realize this might be aggravating for someone with scientific training, I am sorry therefore that you misunderstood what I had written.

    3. Steven, without hesitation I apologize.

      I have read your comments before and really enjoyed all of them.

      "I frequently prefer being in over my head where things are unclear as that is when things are most interesting."

      That is just what i just blasted you with, guess I am guiltier than you.

      Re, last graph, last sentence, I didn't meant to imply that my second year of high school somehow provided me with "cientific training" either. In fact in, in fact... I never fooled anyone. Nor tried.

      I messed it and apologize.

  47. Ivan,
    No apology necessary , its a nice gesture nevertheless.

  48. It's not that updating models to take into account new data is intrinsically unscientific, it's just that continually having to do so should surely invalidate the original argument. If Einstein had come out with "information cannot travel quicker than the speed of light....oh, hang on, make that 1.25 times the speed of light....ooh wait on, new data in, it's 1.5 times the speed of light" someone would surely want a quiet word that perhaps his theory could do with a fundamental review. But in the world of climate change all of this goes unchallenged. You would think that the fact that proponents of climate change make predictions on future climates that are continually incorrect it would be enough for us to ask them exactly what is it about their theory that we should believe and why. But the majority just go on believing. That doesn't seem particularly scientific to me.

  49. Tommorow the sky will be pink is a perfectly valid theory. It is silly of course, but it is a testable statement.


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