Thursday, April 09, 2020

What is Reductionism?

Last week, we spoke about emergence, this week, we will speak about the opposite: Reductionism. Reductionism, loosely speaking, is the idea that you can understand things by taking them apart into smaller things. This definition of reductionism, as we will see, is not quite correct, but it’s not too far off. Before we get to the details, however, a few words about how enormously important reductionism is for scientific understanding.


A lot of people seem to think that reductionism is a philosophy. But it most definitely is not. That reductionism is correct is a hypothesis about the properties of nature and it is a hypothesis that has so far been supported by every single experiment that has ever been done. I cannot think of *any scientific fact that is better established than that the properties of the constituents of a system determine how the system works.

To be sure, taking things apart into pieces to understand how they work is not always a good idea. Even leaving aside that taking apart a living organism typically kills it, the problem is that the connection between the theory for the constituents and the theory for the whole system may just be too complicated to be useful. Indeed, this is more often the case than not, which is why figuring out how an organism works from studying its components is not a fruitful strategy. Studying the living organism as a whole is dramatically more useful, so this is what scientists normally do in practice.

But if you really want to *understand what an organism does and how it does it, you will look for an explanation on the level of constituents. Like this part sends a signal to that part. This part stores and releases energy. This piece produces something and does this to another piece, and so on. If we want to really understand something, we look for a reductionist theory. Why? Because we know from experience that reductionist theories have more explanatory power. They lead to new predictions rather than just allowing us to reproduce already observed regularities.

Indeed, the whole history of science until now has been a success story of reductionism. Biology can be reduced to chemistry, chemistry can be reduced to atomic physics, and atoms are made of elementary particles. This is why we have computers today. But, again, this does not mean it is always practical to use a theory for the constituents to describe the composite system. For example, you would not use the standard model of particle physics to predict election outcomes. And why not? Because that would not be useful. The computation would take too long. So what’s the use of reductionism then? The use is that at each level of reduction that scientists have discovered, they gained new insights about how nature works and that has enabled us to make both intellectual and technological progress.

But here is the important point. There are two different types of reductionism. One is called methodological reductionism, the other one theory reductionism. Methodological reductionism is about the properties of the real world. It’s about taking things apart into smaller things and finding that the smaller things determine the behavior of the whole. Theory reductionism on the other hand means that you have levels of theories where the higher – emergent – levels can be derived from the lower – more fundamental – levels. But in this case, a high level does not necessary mean the theory is about large things, and a low level does not necessarily mean it’s about small things.

So what type of reductionism is it that has been so successful in the history of science? The funny thing is that it’s a combination of both. Methodological reductionism has so far gone hand in hand with theory reductionism. As we have looked at smaller things we have found more fundamental theories.

But this does not necessarily have to remain this way. There is no reason to think that the next better theory of nature will be found by studying shorter distances. Just because the two types of reductionism have been tied together for a while does not mean it will remain this way.

Indeed, some of the biggest currently open problems in physics manifest themselves on large scales, not on small scales. Besides dark energy and dark matter there is also the measurement problem in quantum mechanics. I have told you about those problems in some earlier videos. They are not in any obvious way short-distance phenomena.

So the next time a particle physicist tries to tell you that we need higher energies to probe shorter distances because that’s where progress will come from, remind them that methodological reductionism is not the same as theory reductionism.

235 comments:

  1. Typo: figuring how out => figuring out how

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  2. Excellent summery which echoes one of the points you emphasized in your book.
    One of the problems that remain to be investigated is the question of whether an adequate theory mathematically really reflect reality or simply our interpretation of the data.

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  3. Reductionism is usually accurate only "locally".

    The simple models and conditions in which reductionism always is based start to break down when large assemblies are present because "Complexity is a source of incompleteness" (2004 https://arxiv.org/abs/math/0408144) and this fact gets manifested not only in everyday phenomena but also in astronomical conditions.

    - The "classical limit" of Quantum Mechanics shows that when the number of quantum objects is large enough Classical Mechanics is an emergent limit, including the emergence of Identity, without identity measurements are not possible.

    - Large assemblies of stars as elliptical galaxies do not follow the "simple" Copernican laws of rotation around the galaxy center as planets on our solar system; this anomalous "rigid" rotational speed of galaxies was the genesis for the idea of "dark matter" following a reductionist approach but regularities had been found showing that galaxies rotational speeds can be considered as an emergent property of the galaxy as a whole. (http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2016/10/a-natural-law-for-rotating-galaxies.html?m=1)

    Large scales encompassing complex structures "break" reductionism because this complexity may give rise to new irreducible properties that are not explainable or reducible just by using the properties of simple elementary components.

    The "In principle" phrase used loosely by physicists is a code phrase for "we really don't know". Reality is a lot more than Physics.

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    Replies
    1. But physics isn't affected by such mathematical problems. Chaitin has pointed this out too when invoking statistical reasoning to explain why unprovability is the norm. In physics we use non-rigorous statistical reasoning all the time, rigorous proof is left for the mathematicians, who may end up failing due to unprovability.

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    2. Let me add that the minority position here is the one adopted by P. W. Anderson; the proponents of the universality of Reductionism(almost all physicists) are just following the "authority" of Newton, Galileo, Laplace or even Einstein; but these people were not aware of the new developments in formal Mathematics and the limitations of the axiomatic method implied by these results; and obviously the universality of Reductionism assumes the universality of the axiomatic method something not even true in Mathematics why then assume that Reality will have a "nicer" behavior and will follow physicists wishful thinking. Again Reality is a lot more than just Physics and new "fundamental" irreducible properties can be found at the many levels of Reality complex structures.

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    3. Typical example of physicists extremely naive reductionism:

      - Nobel Prize physicist Richard Feynman's Lectures on Physics, vol 2 chap 41 quote: "Today we cannot see whether Schrodinger's equation contains frogs, musical composers, or morality--or whether it does not."

      So physicists had considered the possibility that an equation may contain all information and complexity necessary to describe even a living being.
      This obviously ignores all layers of complexity between the Quantum Mechanics world and a living being and all emergent properties arising in between.

      Physics is not enough to fully describe Reality and not by chance there are other natural sciences beside Physics, but for the proponents of naive reductionism anything else besides Physics can be reduced "in principle" to Physics this is really a very simplistic, dogmatic and complacent position.

      Chaitin's heuristic principle is really a hint for physicists: The results of a theory can't be more "complex" than the theory itself.

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    4. If everything could be reduced to fundamental particles and a set of formulas; then all the particles that make up the planet Earth, with everything inside it, with all the movements it has, plus the things that move inside it; All this would have to calculate infinite mathematical operations at infinite speed in order to be in agreement with what we see; hard to believe. A free electron has many degrees of freedom; but bound to the atom it is no longer so free, and neither is the atom bound to the molecule, nor the bound molecule to a macroscopic body; there is such a subordination to that "everything" that a single particle cannot be independent of the modification of the space and the fields that this "everything" produces. The classical world emerges from quantum but it is powerful, and it can modify the initial hydrogen into heavier chemical elements, for example.

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    5. It is not clear at all, what is meant here by physics. Physics is not only particle physics or HEP, but also condensed matter physics and it extends in principal even to chemistry and biology and also neuro science is part of physical science.

      Human brains however are the most complex material in our universe. In order to understand human brains, reductionistic theories must fail completely, at least until you find an algorithm solving the turing test. ;-)

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    6. Jeremy Jr. Thomas keeps repeating:\
      >"Complexity is a source of incompleteness"

      without any understanding of what it means.

      Jeremy, can you ever learn from people who know more than you do?

      The mantra you keep mindlessly repeating refers to finitely-specified axiomatic theories in which one is interested in which theorems can be proven by finitistic means.

      That is not what physicists are talking about..

      At all.

      In general, solving the Schrödinger equation cannot be done by finitistic means. It is the limit of an infinite number of approximate calculations.

      That is completely beyond you and beyond the paper you keep citing.

      It is as if you were an alien from a strange other planet who just will not learn to read English and therefore cannot understand why we store our money at the side of rivers (I mean "bank" = "bank", right?).

      You did land here in a UFO, right?

      You have no idea what you are talking about, you are making a fool of yourself, and it is unseemly for someone your age.

      And, oh, I am so glad that you found the error in Feynman's book. I mean, think of what would happen if people thought that Feynman knew more about science than you do!

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    7. Luis wrote:
      >If everything could be reduced to fundamental particles and a set of formulas; then all the particles that make up the planet Earth, with everything inside it, with all the movements it has, plus the things that move inside it; All this would have to calculate infinite mathematical operations at infinite speed in order to be in agreement with what we see; hard to believe.

      "Hard to believe" only for those lacking in imagination.

      This seems to be what actually happens. It has been tested not millions, not billions, but an unimaginably large number of times.

      And ti works.

      This is the universe you live in, fella.

      Get used to it.

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    8. PhysicistDave:

      Dogmatic approaches as the one inferred by the idea that a simple equation or even a given set of principles already contains all "information" necessary to describe Reality contradicts the precedence of empirical evidence in Science; but that is an approach favored by theoreticians and armchair "experts".

      The very fact that always empirical evidence is a "guidance" for theoretical pursuits conforming to scientific practice is a strong indication that Reality is the unlimited source of irreducible properties incorporated later as "explanations".

      The claim that the Schrodinger equation may already contains all "complexity" needed to fully describe a living being is really ridiculous, independently of the "authority" claiming that; whenever real complexity is present the simplistic models used by simplistic/naive reductionist thinking fail miserably, because again "Complexity is a source of incompleteness(irreducible properties)".

      And the non redundant Natural Sciences beside Physics are studying these new irreducible emergent properties arising in the many layers of complexity in the natural world, irreducible properties only discoverable by studying Reality.

      Gregory Chaitin's heuristic principle it seems to be a boundary for the almost unlimited hubris of some physicists, the results of their theories will be no more "richer" than the theory itself; but we know that many of them are unable to see beyond their very narrow and strong preconceptions.

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    9. @PhysicistDave

      "Complexity is a source of incompleteness"

      This is obviously a completely true statement.
      If you don't believe it, pls. give me a complete and precise global weather forecast for next christmas! ;-)

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    10. Physicist dave; then using the quantum equations that each particle has intrinsically, deduce to me how the particles that make up a ball follow a single trajectory, unlike when those same particles move individually. So far what I know is that it jumps from the quantum form to the classical one without a strict demonstrative mathematical path.

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    11. One more comment on the complexity arising from "simple initial states" in MC generator software.

      If you start these simulation programs with the same random seed, they'll give you always the same final state. We once tried to do it the other way round and to conclude from the final state of the MC generator output on the initial [q,q_bar] pair. That's rather tricky, but after all it is possible, to identify the correct initial [q,q_bar] pair to some accuracy.

      But no one has tried so far, to recalculate the initial random seed from a given MC generator output.

      It's quite hopeless indeed. The complexity of even such simple programs is too large for getting an exact description of what happened during the process from a given final state.

      The complexity of "real world observations" make it impossible, to fully describe and understand them from any thinkable unified field theory - even if the correct boundary conditions would be available.

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    12. Jeremy Jr. Thomas wrote to me:
      >The claim that the Schrodinger equation may already contains all "complexity" needed to fully describe a living being is really ridiculous...

      Why? How do you know?

      How do you know that Schrödinger's equation cannot fully describe an amoeba?

      Seriously -- could be that it can't, but how do you know?

      The same way that you know you are smarter than Richard Feynman?

      Jeremy also wrote:
      >"Complexity is a source of incompleteness(irreducible properties)".

      Hmmm.... You put quotes around that, but Google cannot find anyone else who said this! You're just quoting the brilliant Jeremy yourself, right? (Yes, I know, you sort of "enhanced" something that some other guys did say. Naughty, naughty, Jeremy.)

      Jeremy also wrote:
      >Gregory Chaitin's heuristic principle it seems to be a boundary for the almost unlimited hubris of some physicists, the results of their theories will be no more "richer" than the theory itself...

      Does anyone except you think this? In particular, does Greg Chaitin think this?

      Jeremy also wrote:
      >Dogmatic approaches as the one inferred by the idea that a simple equation or even a given set of principles already contains all "information" necessary to describe Reality contradicts the precedence of empirical evidence in Science; but that is an approach favored by theoreticians and armchair "experts".

      You are simultaneously ignorant and presumptuous.

      I am not merely an "armchair expert." I am co-inventor on various patents making use of information theory, a subject of which you are woefully ignorant: if you had a hard drive back in the 1990s, you may have been using some of my work.

      I've worked on major, large-scale experiments: I developed the technique to determine the E-fields in a large experiment at SLAC.

      I was part of a team that won a "technical Emmy" from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for our technical contributions in the early days of television digital technology.

      And you've done what? Built a crystal radio and built a telescope out of a made-to-assemble kit? (Did your crystal radio work?)

      You are a nobody who feels entitled to hurl invective at people who are your vast intellectual and moral superiors. Let's be honest: you are not intelligent enough to understand Chaitin's work and certainly not intelligent enough to understand Gödel's work! (Quick: what does the Löwenheim–Skolem theorem assert and how is it relevant to a countable transitive model of ZFC? Don't know, do you? You would if you could understand Gödel.)

      Look: you may be a nice neighbor and a swell grandfather. But you would not pretend to possess the expertise of a brain surgeon or a fighter pilot. But because you honestly think that those of us who actually know a good deal of math and physics really are just "armchair experts," you think you can be just as much an "armchair expert" as we are.

      Except we are not and you will never be.

      Find some blog with a bunch of brain surgeons and pretend you are a brain surgeon! Wouldn't be any more silly than what you are doing here.

      Arrogantly bumptious pretentiousness can be cute in a ten-year-old.

      But you're too old for this, old fella.

      And you know it!

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    13. Regarding the discussion between Physicist Dave and Jeremy Jr. Thomas:

      I thought, backreaction is a blog for physics discussion!
      Obviously, "the Schrödinger equation" in its broadest meaning describes our observations in particle physics quite well, there is however not the slightest evidence, that it could also describe the properties and the behaviour of a living amoeba.

      If you really believe that this could be the case, you are welcome to join the church of the flying spaghetti monster. ;-)

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    14. PhysicistDave:

      The narrow mindset leading to think that an equation can describe a living being is the seed that have lead to many theoretical physicists to be "Lost in Math"(Sabine) or "the fact that string theory is the first science in hundreds of years to be pursued in pre-Baconian fashion, without any adequate experimental guidance. It proposes that Nature is the way we would like it to be rather than the way we see it to be; and it is improbable that Nature thinks the same way we do."( P. W. Anderson); and also that some of these theoretical physicists, infinitely convinced of the validity of their preconceptions, have promoted the post-empirical Science oxymoron.

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    15. A former LEP expermentalist [sic] wrote to me:
      >Obviously, "the Schrödinger equation" in its broadest meaning describes our observations in particle physics quite well, there is however not the slightest evidence, that it could also describe the properties and the behaviour of a living amoeba.

      I trust you do not actually have a physics degree. Right?

      You do know that the Schrödinger equation is the key to understanding chemistry -- molecular bonding and all that? Right?

      No, of course you don't, because you do not actually know physics!

      And you do know that a whole lot of chemistry -- molecular biology, biochemistry, etc. -- is what is going on in an amoeba, don't you?

      No, of course you don't, because you do not know anything about science!

      And you do know that there is no evidence at all that there is anything going on in an amoeba that is not based in chemistry which is in turn based in physics -- i.e., the Schrödinger equation?

      Look if you actually had any knowledge of science, even that of an intelligent layman, you would known that modern biology is based on chemistry and modern chemistry is simply complex physics -- specifically, the Schrödinger equation.

      Maybe we scientists are missing something: I've been arguing in the comments section on this blog that perhaps something else is happening with regard to consciousness.

      If you have some evidence that something is going on in an amoeba besides the Schrödinger equation, I'd be excited to hear that evidence. If you have real evidence, I am sure Sabine, and, indeed, any real scientist, would be excited to hear that evidence.

      But if you had it, you would already have said so.

      Yeah, you probably really are a " 'former' LEP expermentalist [sic]" -- maybe the guy who swept the floor around the experiment. But a competent scientist? Nah, you've proven you do not know what even bright high-school students know.

      Biology is based on chemistry which is based on the Schrödinger equation.

      And you don't know that.

      Game. Set. Match.

      Dave

      P.S. We all make spelling errors -- but you can't even spell your own screen name?? I think I'll start going as "FizzicistDaiv".

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    16. Jeremy Jr. Thomas wrote to me:
      >The narrow mindset leading to think that an equation can describe a living being is the seed that have lead to many theoretical physicists to be "Lost in Math"...

      Do you really understand how goofy that sounds?

      I urge anyone still following this discussion to google Jeremy's screen name and to look at his blogs.

      Let's just say that you will find that Jeremy has some... interesting obsessions, and that this seems to explain his hatred of natural science and natural scientists, since very few of us take his obsessions seriously.

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    17. Greg Feild wrote:
      >Welcome to The Dave Show!

      Nah, it's the Sabine show.

      I'm merely the guy who comes around afterwards to clean up the trash and put it in a dumpster.

      If anyone wants to know why Greg is not fond of me, it is because of this exchange where Greg claimed to have disproved the Standard Model in favor of his own model in which he claimed to have shown, "Microscopic systems are quantized because particle interactions, decays, etc., are due to the absorption and emission of photons" and nothing else.

      I pointed out to him that if he had really done this he would best serve not only the physics community but also his own self-interest by making publicly available on the Web the elements of his theory.

      His response:
      >I have worked it all out.
      >I can only refer you to my books...

      books which we can buy on amazon.

      I made clear that only a fool would fall for this.

      I'm afraid that warning the marks that they are about to be conned makes some people angry.

      And so this made Greg mad at me.

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    18. No one denies the inherent quantum physics of everything that exists in nature; but the world that emerges from it has physical laws with classical determinism that is real. If you manage to reduce the quantum probabilities to a single classical probability, without each particle ceasing to possess a single quantum probability, without being able to use an external resource that comes from the rest of the other particles and that modifies the quantum equations; then you can establish as true what is implicit. After I find the explanation I have a question: An iron block moves like everything that exists on Earth in space, my question, According to the Schodinger equation, What is the probability that an atom that is at one end appears on the other, if it is moving in space?

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    19. PsychologistDave,

      All systems are quantized because angular momentum is quantized.

      The photon is one unit of angular momentum.

      Reductionism !

      Available wherever Fine Books Are Sold.


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    20. PhysicistDave:

      Nobody can show that the Shrodinger equation is enough to fully describe a living being, more generally nobody can show that from a fixed set of principles you can build a theory able to fully describe a living being, nobody will ever be able to do that; P. W. Anderson knew that as expressed in "More is different", his experience with real complex systems gave him an insight that many theoreticians lacked and still lack, that conclusion is supported not only by the work of physicists as Anderson's but also by the results of Chaitin and others in Algorithmic Information Theory, results showing that complexity is a source of unpredictability, randomness, incompleteness. People with some knowledge of scientific problems will sense intuitively the "truth" of such claims.

      Departure from objectivity in some branches of today's theoretical Physics had been a recurring topic in this blog, and that departure many times is rooted in the precedence given by some theoreticians to their pet theories over empirical evidence, or assuming the "universality" of their theories that only had been validated in very constrained ranges, or that everything can be "reduced" to a certain set of principles(naive reductionism).

      Any tool has limitations and in scientific practice Mathematics is just a tool with intrinsic limitations; the conclusions reached by any model will be not "better" than its assumptions(Chaitin heuristic principle), and as in simple interpolation the precision of your predictions/explanations will be decreasing as you move away from your assumptions range of applicability, and does not matter how "perfect" or "beautiful" are your assumptions, they will never be universally valid in the real world because complexity is a reality that can't be ignored.

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    21. @"Physicist"Dave

      Hi Dave,

      I can assure you that I not only have a diploma in physics but I also made my PhD within the Delphi collaboration at CERN. My doctoral thesis was about the comparison of perturbative QCD predictions in e+e- annihilation at the Z_0 Resonance in 2nd order perturbation theory in combination with an extraordinary precise determination of the strong coupling in second order perturbation theory. This was achieved by applying individually optimized renormalization schemes for each of our measured observables. I introduced my results on behalf the DELPHI collaboration as an invited speaker on several international HEP conferences.

      So pls. stop this bullshitting game, telling me that I would not know too much about physics!

      It seems to me that you yourself are not a physicist at all but more a chemist, trying to understand physics - since you like the Schrödinger equation so much instead of applying e.g. the Dirac equation or solving field theory.

      Have you ever tried to describe the chemistry of ultra heavy nuclei by solving the Schrödinger equation? Poor boy! Amoeba? No chance!

      Perhaps you should better start describing viruses using the Schrödinger equation! :-) Viruses are far less complex than Amoeba and currently of much more relevance wrt. the corona pandemics. HaHaHa! ;-)

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    22. Greg Feild wrote to me:
      >All systems are quantized because angular momentum is quantized.

      >The photon is one unit of angular momentum.

      In case that is not clear, from Greg's own summary of one of his books on amazon:

      >In this study, we find the massive gauge bosons (W,Z) are unnecessary to explain the weak interaction.

      >We conclude there is one massless gauge boson responsible for all particle interactions; the 'photon'.

      If anyone is tempted to swallow this, ask yourself: if Greg really could show this, why hasn't he published his basic ideas someplace where we can see them without shelling out cash? If there is any value to his ideas at all, all of us physicists would, after seeing the validity of his basic ideas, rush to buy his books, Harvard would offer him a full professorship, and he would be on his way to Stockholm!

      Or is it just possible that Greg knows his ideas are nonsense and that no physicist would take him seriously and so he hopes to pull in a few bucks from people who are foolish enough to buy his books rather like buying the proverbial pig in a poke?

      And ask yourself what this shows about Greg's honesty and integrity or lack thereof.

      "A fool and his money are soon parted."

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    23. Jeremy:

      "Nobody can show that the Shrodinger equation is enough to fully describe a living being, more generally nobody can show that from a fixed set of principles you can build a theory able to fully describe a living being, nobody will ever be able to do that; P. W. Anderson knew that as expressed in "More is different", his experience with real complex systems gave him an insight that many theoreticians lacked and still lack, that conclusion is supported not only by the work of physicists as Anderson's but also by the results of Chaitin and others in Algorithmic Information Theory, results showing that complexity is a source of unpredictability, randomness, incompleteness. People with some knowledge of scientific problems will sense intuitively the "truth" of such claims."

      Whenever someone "intuitively senses truth" you should be especially careful. As I have said, evidently to no avail, if you claim that our currently fundamental theories do not describe living beings, you are claiming that these theories are wrong. This is a big claim and it requires evidence. Where is your evidence? Or Anderson's evidence? You have no evidence. None whatsoever. There is loads and loads of evidence, however, that our fundamental theories are correct.

      Why is this so hard to understand? You are throwing out standard scientific methodology simply because you dislike the logical consequences.

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    24. Dave,

      Sorry, I shouldn't have approved this nonsense comment from Greg. I wasn't paying attention.

      Delete
    25. A former LEP expermentalist [sic] wrote to me:
      >It seems to me that you yourself are not a physicist at all but more a chemist, trying to understand physics - since you like the Schrödinger equation so much instead of applying e.g. the Dirac equation or solving field theory.

      Nope, not a chemist at all (just ask my Chem Lab TA!), but I do know that chemists work with the Schrödinger equation to try to solve molecular structure, etc. -- have you ever heard of MO theory, LCAO, etc.?

      I myself took QM and Intro to HEP from Dick Feynman when I was an undergrad at Caltech and QFT from Steve Weinberg when he was visiting at Stanford. And, yes, I know how to work with the Dirac equation -- my thesis was on the tau lepton (it should come up via Google).

      But you are the one who wrote the bizarrely foolish statement that:
      >Obviously, "the Schrödinger equation" in its broadest meaning describes our observations in particle physics quite well, there is however not the slightest evidence, that it could also describe the properties and the behaviour of a living amoeba.

      That is just weird.

      Neither I nor anyone else here ever said that anyone can or ever will actually solve the Schrödinger equation for an amoeba: that is obviously computationally impossible.

      But, we understand an amoeba by using chemistry, and chemists believe that ultimately chemical phenomena are governed by Schrödinger's equation. That does mean that what happens in an amoeba is ultimately described by Schrödinger's equation.

      I have never met a natural scientist who denies that.

      Now, if you have real evidence to the contrary, by all means let us know! You'll be famous.

      The funny thing is that, as you intimated, in HEP and QFT, we tend not to think in terms of the Schrödinger equation: the Heisenberg picture is generally preferred.

      But you do not need the Dirac equation or QFT to understand ordinary chemistry or an amoeba. The Schrödinger equation should be accurate enough.

      Again, the mistake you and many others here seem to be making is that when real physicists say that actual scientists claim that the Schrödinger equation describes an amoeba, we do not mean that anyone can get an exact solution. Almost no QM problems have exact solutions (yes, I know: SHO, Coulmob, and a few others): almost all uses of QM involve finding adequately approximate solutions.

      And, we also know that when biochemists try to understand an amoeba they are not constantly saying< "Oh, if only I could solve Schrödinger's equation!"

      Nonetheless, most biochemists and most physicists and most cell biologists believe that, in principle, Schrödinger's equation rules the roost.

      I have admitted that it is conceivable there is something more than Schrödinger's equation. Sabine has made clear that it is logically possible that there is some sort of "strong emergence." But I know of no actual scientist who believes there is evidence for any of that with an amoeba.

      Perhaps your English is as bad as your spelling and you just cannot follow the discussion!

      But this idea of "described in principle by the Schrödinger equation" is basic to modern science. It is, for example, basic to solid-state physics as well as nuclear physics.

      And, if you do not grasp that, as you seem not to, well, I just hope they restricted you to sweeping the floor at CERN and did not let you touch the equipment!

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    26. Sabine wrote to me:
      >Sorry, I shouldn't have approved this nonsense comment from Greg. I wasn't paying attention.

      Oh, I would have let Greg's comment through on my own blog: laissez parler.

      Part of what intrigues me is why some people on Web forums say things that can easily be shown to be dishonest. I have had intense disagreements with Jay Yabon and Andrei, but both really did believe what they said and took criticisms seriously. And our friend Jeremy certainly does believe what he says!

      But Greg knows what he is doing and knows others can see through it. Is he just looking for a few people dumb enough to fall for it? Or is it just a fun game for him to deceive others?

      I'm genuinely curious.

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    27. @Sabine and Jeremy

      IMHO, there is more consensus than difference between your views. It is obviously clear that the Schrödinger Equation is not able to describe Schrödingers Cat! And I'm very much in doubt, that neither any unified field theory named TOE nor the final M-Theory will ever be able do that.

      That does not mean, that our theories are "wrong", but they are obviously incomplete! One needs e.g, both the Standard Model and General Relativity in order to describe our observations. Both theories do not fit together. i.e. they are incomplete, neither false nor true.

      "People with some knowledge of scientific problems will sense intuitively the "truth" of such claims."

      All scientists and in particular physicists need a "special sixth sense" for "smelling the truth" in order to make significant contributions to the development science.

      A good scientist must be able to interpret real world measurements and observations in a new and genious way and must have an intuition where the established theories fail. There is nothing wrong with it!

      Before Einstein and Planck, the common believe was, that physics is almost complete apart from some minor problems to be solved. Nowadays it is clear that this was just a believe...

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    28. @Physicist Dave!

      Jeremy Jr. Thomas wrote to me:
      >The claim that the Schrodinger equation may already contains all "complexity" needed to fully describe a living being is really ridiculous...

      Why? How do you know?

      How do you know that Schrödinger's equation cannot fully describe an amoeba?"

      The above are your own words!

      "Neither I nor anyone else here ever said that anyone can or ever will actually solve the Schrödinger equation for an amoeba: that is obviously computationally impossible."

      This are your own words too.

      I hope for you, that you are able see the contradiction between these statements.

      "It is obviously computationally impossible to describe an amobea."

      There is clear evidence for this statement! Anything else is religion, until you have some arguments supporting your ideas!

      It seemed too me that your complete knowledge on physics comes from applying the Schrödinger Equation for studying chemistry. "The Schrödiger Equation in its broadest sense" should simply mean that quantum physics is much more than just applying the Schrödinger Equation to some molecules ;-)

      Delete
    29. @PhysicistDave

      The study of biomolecules and protein folding structures on one side and the study of the of the cell internal "communication language" of these biomolecules on the other side are two different subjects.

      The first one is physics. The second one is about communication and information exchange.

      There is no reason to assume that the same equations can be applied to both problems.

      Delete
    30. @Jeremy

      "The narrow mindset leading to think that an equation can describe a living being is the seed that have lead to many theoretical physicists to be "Lost in Math"(Sabine) or "the fact that string theory is the first science in hundreds of years to be pursued in pre-Baconian fashion, without any adequate experimental guidance. It proposes that Nature is the way we would like it to be rather than the way we see it to be; and it is improbable that Nature thinks the same way we do."( P. W. Anderson); and also that some of these theoretical physicists, infinitely convinced of the validity of their preconceptions, have promoted the post-empirical Science oxymoron."

      I completely agree with this point of view!

      Delete
    31. It doesn't matter how many people agree on a point of view if there is no argument in favor of it.

      Delete
    32. Jeremy Jr. Thomas wrote to me:
      >Nobody can show that the Shrodinger equation is enough to fully describe a living being, more generally nobody can show that from a fixed set of principles you can build a theory able to fully describe a living being, nobody will ever be able to do that...

      Look, Jeremy: you might be right. And you might not be.

      But what we are trying to get across to you is that just asserting your point again and again does not prove you are right.

      Furthermore, anyone familiar with the progress of science in the last one hundred years -- the explanation of the chemical bond by Schrödinger's equation, the explanation of heredity via the physical behavior of DNA, the success in explaining the inner structure of stars via nuclear physics, the explanation of the structure and behavior of solids, and all the rest -- has occurred because scientists assumed you are wrong.

      That is, the assumption that it is elementary particles, all the way down, has worked fantastically, almost unbelievably, well.

      Your belief to the contrary has not worked at all: there is no evidence that there is something going on besides electrons, protons, neutrons, etc. doing their thing according to the laws of fundamental physics.

      You do not like this? The Universe does not seem to care that you do not like this!

      You want to claim that maybe, just maybe, we are missing something where reductionism does not work. Maybe so. I myself have argued that it is possible (possible, not certain) that consciousness is such an example.

      But, rather than simply claiming this is possible, you insist that it is absolutely certain and you deride all of us scientists who know beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no evidence so far for what you wish to believe.

      And you therefore make yourself appear foolish to anyone familiar with modern science.

      Do you see the point? Just ranting and raving against reductionism may work in a sermon in a fundamentalist church, but it does not work with people who are scientifically literate.

      Sabine has written a paper about the possibility of "strong emergence." I have argued that consciousness might be a case where reductionism fails.

      People here are willing to consider the possibility that reductionism will not always succeed.

      But so far it has.

      And when you deny that simple fact... well, you will not be taken seriously by educated people.

      Delete
    33. @Sabine

      "It doesn't matter how many people agree on a point of view if there is no argument in favor of it."

      You are right! I have no argument to provide here!
      But I can somehow "smell the truth" of this statement.

      Delete
    34. @Sabine

      "It doesn't matter how many people agree on a point of view if there is no argument in favor of it."

      How do you decide, what does matter and what doesn't matter?

      I guess, that there will never be a physical theory be able to give you an appropriate answer to this question!

      "The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42" (Douglas Adams)

      Delete
    35. A former LEP expermentalist [sic] wrote to me:
      >It seemed too me that your complete knowledge on physics comes from applying the Schrödinger Equation for studying chemistry.

      You are just being silly now. You can find my PhD thesis online: my name is Dave Miller and my thesis was, as I said above, on the tau lepton. I did my doctoral work at SLAC.

      If you are too lazy to google it, well, it shows what and who you are.

      Yes, and all the words you cited by me are true and clearly consistent.

      You seem to suffer from the delusion that an equation can only describe some phenomenon if we can get an exact solution to that equation.

      We can almost never get an exact solution to any equation!

      We cannot even get an exact solution to Newton's gravitational equation for the solar system if we take into account the gravitational effects of the planets on each other: we have to get an approximate solution via perturbation theory.

      Indeed, we cannot even solve the hydrogen atom exactly, taking exact account of the proton size, proton charge distribution, etc.

      By your criterion, there is no physics.

      You seem mentally incapable of grasping the idea that an equation can describe some system in principle even though we cannot solve that equation exactly.

      I think you are truly ineducable.

      I'm willing to leave it at this: I am not interested in discussing science with someone who is so mentally limited that they are unwilling to grasp the simple idea that an equation may describe some system even though we cannot solve that equation exactly. Some people are not worth taking seriously.

      If any university really did grant you a degree in physics despite your inability to grasp this simple fact, then the academic system is in even worse shape than I had thought.

      Why don't you tell us how to find your PhD thesis: I've told you how to find mine.

      And I certainly do hope they kept you away from the equipment at CERN!

      Delete
    36. PhysicistDave,

      I think the essence of the difficulty in describing living things is that logical analysis (what living things do when they are thinking; what livings use as a basis for their actions) can’t be reduced to or derived from equations (laws of nature). You can’t reduce IF…THEN… to equations; you can derive IF…THEN… from equations. IF…THEN… is a genuine aspect of the world, an aspect that is not covered by physics.

      Delete
    37. Lorraine Ford wrote to me:
      >I think the essence of the difficulty in describing living things is that logical analysis (what living things do when they are thinking; what livings use as a basis for their actions) can’t be reduced to or derived from equations (laws of nature).

      Well, I think what you are discussing is what philosophers call the problem of "intentionality." I have not gotten into that because, as you know, it is highly contentious: our materialist friends will argue that a thermostat exhibits intentionality, and, since there is no mystery about how a thermostat works, there is no issue here at all.

      Personally, I think John Searle's "Chinese room" argument does show that there is an issue here, but our hard-core materialist friends will disagree.

      More broadly, there are really two issue here:

      First, for beings that are conscious, there is an obvious issue of self-reports, interior "experience," subjectivity, qualia, or whatever you want to call it. Materialists may deny that this is an issue, but quite obviously it is a very real subject of dispute among contemporary human beings (and, as we are all seeing, it gets a whole lot of people really riled up!).

      The second question is whether non-conscious living things -- presumably plants, amoebas, etc. -- present any problem for materialists. That too is arguable, of course, but it seems to make sense to say that plants and amoebas do not really have intentionality any more than a thermostat does. Of course, plants and amoebas appear to have purposes, but I think most scientists believe that this is an illusion: evolution has designed plants, etc. to appear to have purposes, just as humans have designed thermostats to appear to have purposes.

      Now of course this view might be wrong, but I am trying to get across to our spiritualist friends that it seems to make sense to most scientists and that it seems to accord with the very extensive observational data we have.

      I think the shocked outrage we are seeing from our spiritualist friends is due to the fact that science teaching is so poor that most ordinary people (i.e., non-scientists) just assume that this position is obvious nonsense and that the claim that this view is widespread among scientists simply must be a lie.

      But it's not.

      It's very hard to have a civil discussion when both sides believe that the other side cannot possibly believe what they claim to believe!

      Most materialists, for example, are perfectly well aware that they have "inner thoughts" that they often do not share with others, and that neuroscientists (at least today) certainly cannot simply read out all of these inner thoughts by making electrical measurements on neurons.

      But to our spiritualist friends, it often seems as if materialists are denying that they are ever aware of their own thoughts, which would of course be insanity.

      Similarly, materialists seem to think that spiritualists have never noticed that all the minds that we all agree exist do happen to be connected to brains, as if spiritualists are constantly perceiving disembodied minds floating around the room.

      And, too often, neither side is actually willing to read or even listen to presentations by the more thoughtful people on the other side.

      So human beings cannot talk to each other about the one thing we know most directly -- our own minds.

      All very, very strange.

      All the best,

      Dave

      Delete
    38. @Physicist Dave

      You are the one being silly.
      My name is Siegfried Hahn. Since Hahn is a very common name in Germany, you should do a search with S.Hahn and DELPHI collab. to find my own publications within the work on this field.

      Currently, I don't know any URL where my PhD is published, this is not relevant for me any more. You could look on the DELPHI experiment homepage or under University of Wuppertal, Germany.

      If you prefer, I could send you my PhD also via e-mail.

      Best regards

      Delete
    39. @PhysicistDave

      "We cannot even get an exact solution to Newton's gravitational equation for the solar system if we take into account the gravitational effects of the planets on each other: we have to get an approximate solution via perturbation theory."

      You are completely right with this statement!

      I know very well about that, because I have been working on solving computational hard optimization problems by applying genetic algorithms and evolutionary strategies.

      Congratulations that you got it after all our discussions!

      Delete
    40. @Lorraine Ford

      "I think the essence of the difficulty in describing living things is that logical analysis (what living things do when they are thinking; what livings use as a basis for their actions) can’t be reduced to or derived from equations (laws of nature). You can’t reduce IF…THEN… to equations; you can derive IF…THEN… from equations. IF…THEN… is a genuine aspect of the world, an aspect that is not covered by physics."

      There is another problem, why it is impossible, to describe living organisms by logical analysis and by applying algorithms based on conventional logic.

      First of all, higher living organisms like apes and human beeings are not acting always on a logical basis. We have the ability of being irrational.

      The second point is, that axiomatic logical systems are irreparably incomplete. This has been worked out by Kurt Gödel within his famous theorems.

      Any incomplete logical system can be enlarged by adding additional axioms. But this does not solve the principal problem of incompleteness. By doing so, you'll end up in an infinite regression.

      Delete
    41. @PhysicistDave

      "And, too often, neither side is actually willing to read or even listen to presentations by the more thoughtful people on the other side."

      I agree with you wrt. this observation. But this does not mean, that it is always a problem. Sometimes it's indeed a very good solution to our personal problems.

      Even Albert Einstein knew about this. ;-)

      He told us "„Der Hauptgrund für Stress ist der tägliche Kontakt mit Idioten.“ which translates to "The main reason for stress is the daily contact with idiots" :-)

      Delete
    42. A former LEP expermentalist [sic] wrote to me:
      >My name is Siegfried Hahn.

      Hey, Sieg! Much better to call you "Siegfried" than "expermentalist [sic]", don't you think? See, we're becoming friends already!

      Siegfried wrote:
      >The study of biomolecules and protein folding structures on one side and the study of the of the [sic] cell internal "communication language" of these biomolecules on the other side are two different subjects.

      >The first one is physics. The second one is about communication and information exchange.

      My wife has a PhD in cell biology (also Stanford), so I've known a lot of people in biology and medicine. And they do not think as you claim, at least not the competent ones!

      The internal "communication language," to use your phrase, is simply an abstraction to simplify our understanding of what is happening: any biologist worth her salt does not forget what is really going on -- physical molecules banging into each other according to the laws of physics (i.e., statistical mechanics and, of course, Schrödinger's equation).

      I.e., there is nothing there except elementary particles interacting according to statistical mechanics and Schrödinger's equation.

      But, we humans are too dumb (lack the computational ability) to solve those equations exactly, so we make various approximations. Those approximations are not part of nature -- they are just due to our intellectual limitations.

      That is "weak emergence." Surprising to us humans because, well, we're kinda dumb. But nothing new for nature.

      What is happening in our discussion is that you are confusing the fact that we cannot solve Schrödinger's equation in its full glory for complicated systems, due to our own human limits, with the fact that, still, in terms of what nature is actually doing, there is nothing there governing what is happening except Schrödinger's equation.

      In fact, applying words such as "communication" and "information" to natural processes is just to employ metaphors, and it was not common to use these particular metaphors in science until the late twentieth century. Literally speaking, "information" involves the process in which humans "inform" other humans, and similarly for "communication."

      Now, as it happens, I myself am co-inventor on various patents applying "information theory" to communication systems. And, yes, given that we cannot model or mentally grasp the whole of the communication system in its entirety, these can be useful approximations to use for us limited humans in thinking about such systems.

      But woe to the engineer who forgets that what he is really dealing with are electrons in wires or electromagnetic fields in space! All the fun little equations in information theory and communication-systems theory are just approximations to the true equations governing the system (basically Maxwell's equations, along with some solid-state equations -- ultimately statistical mechanics and, of course, Schrödinger's equation).

      I assure you that engineers who forget this are likely to create a system that will fail!

      Siegfried also wrote:
      >There is no reason to assume that the same equations can be applied to both problems.

      Well... you are mixing what humans can in fact do and what is possible in principle, and that is causing you to fail to grasp my and Sabine's points.

      Yeah, we humans are dumb and so we have to use grossly over-simplified equations to understand computationally difficult problems.

      But, if we forget that these are approximations, often really bad approximations, to what is actually going on, we are really going to blow it. And, as far as we know, a very good approximation to what is really going on is... statistical mechanics and, of course, Schrödinger's equation!

      See?

      Re-read my and Sabine's comments with this in mind, and I think you might understand, Sieg.

      Dave

      Delete
    43. PhysicistDave6:56 AM, April 16, 2020

      Dave, obviously you are right about the Schrodinger equation stuff (like I know;)

      But yet again you are misrepresenting what you call the materialist position on conscious thought:

      "Similarly, materialists seem to think that spiritualists have never noticed that all the minds that we all agree exist do happen to be connected to brains"

      The issues with the spiritualist position are:
      (i) Spiritualists think because they personally cannot see how conscious thought can wholly be a brain activity that this is some sort of argument. It isn't.
      (ii) Spiritualists think because *in their heads* they can mentally abstract the concept of consciousness from conscious thoughts/experiences, that this is an argument that "just consciousness" can exist in reality. It isn't.

      So the spiritualists don't have a position. They are simply claiming that a mental abstraction is reality with no evidence. And unfortunately that just brings us back to the definition of, yes, you guessed it, delusional insanity.

      Unless spiritualists can explain why they think random mental abstractions can be real, they will be forever considered nuts.

      Delete
    44. Sabine Hossenfelder, A former LEP expermentalist, PhysicistDave:

      First let me thanks Dr. Sabine for allowing an open discussion on this topic, some people simply will react irrationally and consider different positions as "hatred of Science", resort to personal attacks or even worst, the all too common suppression of minority views and the imposition of orthodoxy as the "only game in town".

      It is really ironic that many theoreticians use the axiomatic method in a regular basis but then are unable to consider the limitations of such method, their use of reductionist approaches had not changed a bit since Newton, and for Newton Euclidean geometry was the model to follow. But a lot had changed in the foundation of Mathematics since that time, but mainstream theoretical physicists seem oblivious to that.

      The history of Science clearly shows that Naive Reductionism lead to complacency: many renowned physicists had proclaimed at different times that nothing else was there to discover in Physics; their assumption obviously was that once you know "the" fundamental principles nothing really fundamental was there to discover, everything else was a matter of Reductionism; obviously they have been proved wrong over and over again, but that had not stopped others from falling in the same complacency trap over and over again.

      Accepting that Reductionism is intrinsically flawed is a more general position than the opposite, and that position is clearly not in contradiction with current actionable scientific results. Naive Reductionism is really a dogmatic position and lacking objectivity because, as we have seen in these discussions, it denies anything that may contradict it, including empirical evidence and theoretical results showing its limitations.

      As mentioned before the precision of predictions/explanations of any given theory will decrease when we move away from the theory's assumptions range of applicability, and the range of applicability of any assumption never is universal, not in the least because it is impossible to validate assumptions empirically in all their range but also because complexity is ever present in the real world. Weather models are just a popular example showing the unavoidable effects of complexity.

      Simplicity only exist in the platonic world of Mathematics, or in the imaginary world of some theoreticians, as in the "Merchants of Hype"(Sabine), or Neil Turok's "The Astonishing Simplicity of Everything".

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfURQeCYs80

      Delete
    45. @Jeremy

      "It is really ironic that many theoreticians use the axiomatic method in a regular basis but then are unable to consider the limitations of such method, their use of reductionist approaches had not changed a bit since Newton, and for Newton Euclidean geometry was the model to follow. But a lot had changed in the foundation of Mathematics since that time, but mainstream theoretical physicists seem oblivious to that."

      You may overlook, that reductionism was a true success story for many centuries. Nowadays reductionism is still quite useful for a large number of applikations.

      Reductionism is closely related to the classical physics approach. Nowadays, most physicists are aware, that everything is correlated and that it is absolutely impossible, to take all the correlations correctly into account. Our knowledge about the world is ultimately limited due to Heisenbergs uncertainty principle.

      Thus, the predictive power of basic field theoretical calculations is quite limited. Until today it is still impossible to calculate even such quite easy measurable values like the decay time of a free neutron into a proton by the means of basic theoretical (i.e. lattice) calculations.

      In solid state physics, many experts are aware on this limitations. Almost all discoveries in this field have not been predicted by theory but have been made just by serendipity.

      Taking quantum mechanics seriously, it could be interpreted at the end of the reductionist philosophy in itself. But many physicists don't want to hear about this. The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics more or less gives the advise not to think about such things but "shut up and calculate" instead.

      Dick Feynman said "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."
      IMHO, that's perfectly true until today. But obviously it's hard to swallow.

      Delete
    46. Dave,
      Re PhysicistDave 4:20 AM, April 16, 2020:

      John Searle’s Chinese room argument is about the consequence of the symbolic representation of information: computers can never know what information their binary digits (= electrical voltages) are supposed to represent.

      I might add that similarly, computers don’t do logical analysis: the voltages merely follow a path determined by the inputs to the system, and the computer program written by the programmer.

      Only living things do genuine logical analysis of their situation. Whereas laws of nature don’t differentiate between light and sound waves coming from a tiger or a tabby cat, living things differentiate between tiger and tabby cat, and may act differently depending on whether a tiger or a tabby cat is in their vicinity. BUT, one can’t derive the ability to act differently depending on the situation (representable as IF tiger THEN…, IF tabby cat THEN…) from law of nature relationships (representable by equations).

      The ability to symbolically represent the world is what makes many things, including physics, possible. But something representable as IF…THEN… can’t be reduced to something representable by equations; and something representable as IF…THEN… can’t be derived from something representable by equations.

      Delete
    47. A former LEP expermentalist,
      Re A former LEP expermentalist 5:15 AM, April 16, 2020:

      I’m glad you raised this issue because logical analysis of a situation by living things is not the same as ideal, perfect Platonic logic.

      There is no such thing as ideal, perfect Platonic logical analysis of information; and there is no Platonically perfect set of information available for analysis anyway.

      Analysis is performed on a situation, i.e. a set of information represented by a set of variables and associated numbers; laws of nature are about relationships between information represented by variables and associated numbers, but laws of nature don’t do analysis of the information.

      Delete
    48. Lorraine Ford6:48 PM, April 16, 2020

      "laws of nature are about relationships between information represented by variables and associated numbers,"

      No. They are descriptions of generally observed real phenomena up to a certain level of finite precision. Forget variables and numbers, the phenomena of quantum fields are observed. The quantum field of the electron, whatever it is, is driving my PC based on its observed behaviour.

      "but laws of nature don’t do analysis of the information."
      The laws of nature are the currently most precise, most fundamental descriptions we have of all stuff. Logic, Pure Maths, information, all arise out of abstractions of Physics. They are based on abstractions of teeny-weeny bits of the fundamental, observed total reality of quantum field and general relativistic phenomena.

      Physics: Here is absolutely everything up to a certain level of precision.
      Everybody: Thank you, Physics. Amen.

      Delete
    49. PhysicistDave4:20 AM, April 16, 2020

      "when both sides believe that the other side cannot possibly believe what they claim to believe!"

      Dave,

      (Experiment 1) Inertial matter. When protons are fired round the LHC near the speed of light and collide in a chamber, a Higgs boson is produced which proves the existence of an inertia-causing Higgs field. So we can not only abstract the idea of inertia from inertial matter linguistically, there is actually a separately existing inertia-causing field.

      (Experiment 2) Conscious thought. If you fired Galen Strawson and Philip Goff round the LHC in opposite directions close to the speed of light while they are having conscious thoughts, when their heads collide in the Atlas chamber, would a consciousness boson be detected, so proving the existence of a consciousness-causing field?

      Delete
    50. Steve Evans wrote to me:
      >Dave, obviously you are right about the Schrodinger equation stuff (like I know;)

      Oh, actually, you probably do know: you're a reasonably intelligent person and the point does not require detailed technical knowledge.

      After all, the same point applies to classical physics: even if we suppose that that collisions among gas molecules obeyed the laws of classical physics, like billiard balls, it would still be true that, in practical terms, we could not calculate the behavior of a room full of gas molecules. Just way too many variables, far more than any computer could ever handle.

      But, of course, the fact that we could not handle such a problem calculationally is not evidence that molecules do not obey Newton's laws! Our limits do not constrain nature. We are not God. (Of course, we do have other evidence that compels us to use quantum mechanics to describe molecules rather than Newtonian theory.)

      Anyway, thanks.

      Steve also wrote:
      But yet again you are misrepresenting what you call the materialist position on conscious thought...

      Perhaps, but you then turn around and yourself characterize the views of our spiritualist friends in a manner that I very much doubt they would accept. You then announce:

      >So the spiritualists don't have a position. They are simply claiming that a mental abstraction is reality with no evidence. And unfortunately that just brings us back to the definition of, yes, you guessed it, delusional insanity.

      As far as they can see (and indeed as far as I can see!), you have no evidence for your position. Which then makes you a sufferer from insanity!

      Look: what is clearly going on here is that people disagree as to what counts for "evidence," and, more than anything else, who should bear the burden of proof. Both sides think the other side bears the burden of proof and that the other side fails to deal with that burden successfully.

      Are you old enough to remember the OJ Simpson trial? The vast majority of white Americans thought he was clearly guilty and the vast majority of blacks though he was innocent. A major reason for this is that whites thought the burden of proof lay upon anyone who wanted to claim the cops were so corrupt that they would fake the evidence. Lots of blacks, based on their own experience with cops, thought the burden of proof lay on anyone who claimed the cops were telling the truth.

      Is it really fair to accuse either blacks or whites of being "insane" because of these different perceptions?

      I'm a white guy, and, yes, I thought OJ was guilty. Over the years, however, what I have seen of police behavior has given me somewhat less confidence that most cops are honest. Assigning the "burden of proof" is inextricably contentious.

      Sometimes, one side in an argument is so obviously ignorant or just plain stupid (sometimes they proudly admit their ignorance!) that this is not an issue. This is the case with most of the people here who attack established physics.

      But some very, very bright scientifically literate people over the decades disagree with you on the mind-brain problem. They are certainly not stupid or ignorant, and for you to just label them "insane" is not reasonable.

      Dave

      Delete
    51. PhysicistDave 4:45 AM, April 17, 2020

      Dave,

      Good idea. Let's discuss this by analogy within the less explosive context of race relations between the LAPD and the black community of LA. Otherwise we might start a riot between panpsychists and materialists.

      "But some very, very bright scientifically literate people over the decades disagree with you on the mind-brain problem."

      They are disagreeing with the evidence then. There is no mind-body problem according to the evidence.

      "They are certainly not stupid or ignorant, and for you to just label them "insane" is not reasonable."
      Galen Strawson, Philip Goff and crazy Luke all claim that ideas that exist only in their minds are real. They are grade A nut jobs. There is no way around this conclusion.

      Delete
    52. Steven,
      Re Steven Evans 2:51 AM, April 17, 2020:

      1. Astronauts literally bet their lives that “laws of nature” are lawful/predictable relationships, and not just mere “descriptions of … phenomena” that have no intrinsic structure. The world is highly structured: information always comes in categories that are related to other such categories (where the categories are represented by variables and numbers). We might not be able to precisely measure the numbers, or precisely represent the relationships, but nevertheless it is clear that the world is structured into naturally existing categories.

      2. I’m waiting for you or anyone else to prove your assertion that logic could “arise out of” the equations of physics, or any equations at all.

      Delete
    53. Lorraine Ford10:46 AM, April 17, 2020

      Well they're lawful and precise up to whatever is shown in experiment.

      "I’m waiting for you or anyone else to prove your assertion that logic could “arise out of” the equations of physics,"

      13.7 billion years ago there was a soup of quarks - everything followed from that - Logic, Starbucks, etc. As JimV pointed out transistors obey the laws of physics and you can make logic gates out of them (Your beloved If A Then B is just Not A OR B - it can be made out of a few transistors exhibiting physical phenomena)

      Delete
    54. Which just goes to show how very little you know about computers and how they work, Steven.

      Delete
    55. @A former LEP expermentalist:

      It is obvious that Reductionism has been very successful, but perhaps that has been the reason why so many have been unable to see its limitations and have been "afflicted" by the hammer's syndrome: "for a hammer everything looks like a nail", for them Reductionism is universal.

      Expanding on "range of applicability":

      -Using an analogy: You can consider that the Real numbers in Mathematics are an emergent limit of the Rational numbers since each real number is a limit of a sequence of rational numbers, but that do not imply that Real numbers follow the same principles as Rational numbers, Real numbers have new irreducible properties that Rational numbers don't have. Real numbers are not Rational numbers.

      In similar fashion each classical object can be considered as an emergent limit of Quantum objects but that do not imply that classical objects "are" quantum objects.

      So it really does not have any meaning to talk about the "wavefunction" of a classical object, even less to talk about a "universal wavefunction". Quantum Mechanics is "limited" only to quantum objects, the Universe is not a quantum object.

      -Many people have assumed the universal validity of the assumptions of General Relativity, the rotational speed rigidity of galaxies is one of many indications showing that that may not be the case, "dark matter" was invented trying to "fix" this anomaly but that only have compounded the avalanche of anomalies/contradictions because now "dark matter" should be found everywhere, but dark matter is nowhere to be found. Ptolemy epicycles come to mind.

      Delete
    56. I’m surprised that there are no takers for the challenge I posed to Steven (and to everyone else):

      Is there any physics expert out there willing to hazard a guess as to how logic can be reduced to law of nature relationships, or how logic emerged from law of nature relationships? (Where logic is represented by IF…THEN… statements, and law of nature relationships are represented by equations.)

      I might add that clearly, an IF…THEN… logic was already there at the beginning of life.

      Delete
    57. Lorraine Ford12:02 PM, April 17, 2020

      "Which just goes to show how very little you know about computers and how they work"
      Always remember - show, don't tell.
      "A logic gate is an idealized or physical electronic device implementing a Boolean function "
      "Logic circuits include such devices as multiplexers, registers, arithmetic logic units (ALUs), and computer memory, all the way up through complete microprocessors, which may contain more than 100 million gates. "

      Delete
    58. Jeremy Jr. Thomas12:34 PM, April 17, 2020

      "that has been the reason why so many have been unable to see its limitations"
      Show us what you can do without using the hammer. Tell us a fact about the natural world that has been discovered taking the anti-reductionist stance. One fact will do.

      "Real numbers have new irreducible properties that Rational numbers don't have. Real numbers are not Rational numbers."

      You don't have to represent the Real numbers this way. It is the unique complete ordered field up to isomorphism. If you do represent reals by sequences of rationals, the rationals in those sequences are still all rationals.

      "In similar fashion each classical object can be considered as an emergent limit of Quantum objects but that do not imply that classical objects "are" quantum objects."
      Not in similar fashion, because a sequence of rationals is exactly a real number. But a classical object is the result of looking at quantum objects coarsely. A classical object is an approximation of how a mass of quantum objects behave.

      "So it really does not have any meaning to talk about the "wavefunction" of a classical object, "
      But it does make sense to talk about the wavefunctions of the quantum objects that actually make up the "classical object". (Just like it makes sense to talk about the ratio of integers representing a rational number in a sequence of rationals representing an irrational real.)

      "even less to talk about a "universal wavefunction". Quantum Mechanics is "limited" only to quantum objects, the Universe is not a quantum object."
      The universe is made up of quantum objects, though, and presumably the idea is that a universal wavefunction might represent the superposition(?) of all these wavefunctions(?).

      "Many people have assumed the universal validity of the assumptions of General Relativity,...because now "dark matter" should be found everywhere, but dark matter is nowhere to be found. Ptolemy epicycles come to mind."
      This was covered in the blog post on Dark Matter. The observations are clear, the model is not. It is not clear whether a modified gravity theory or Dark Matter or some combination is required to explain the observations. So Dark Matter is only one possible solution to the problem, and it is not being forced like Ptolemy's epicycles. (Although, granted, Dark Matter seems to be presented to the public as a fact by some physicists.)

      Delete
    59. Steven,
      Re Steven Evans 9:53 PM, April 17, 2020:

      As a former long-time computer analyst and programmer, I can tell you that computers don’t do logical analysis or make decisions. The voltages (that implement the binary digits concept) merely follow a path determined by the inputs to the system, and the computer program written by the programmer.

      All the necessary logical analysis and decisions about how to handle inputs to the system, and how to make the system work as required, was done beforehand by the computer analysts and programmers. All the analysis and decisions are contained in the computer programs: computers themselves do no analysis, and they make no decisions.

      Logic gates and circuits don’t do logic: they merely implement the logical analysis and decisions of the computer analysts and programmers.

      Delete
    60. Lorraine Ford8:20 PM, April 17, 2020

      " how logic can be reduced to law of nature relationships,"
      Logic gates in computer chips behave according to the rules of logic; they are literally made out of transistors which behave according to the laws of nature up to the precision confirmed by physical observation. The truth table of a gate is equivalent to the equations governing the behaviour of the transistors.

      " or how logic emerged from law of nature relationships? "
      Logic emerged in people's heads. They noticed that whenever it was raining it was also cloudy. So it arises out of causality.

      "I might add that clearly, an IF…THEN… logic was already there at the beginning of life."
      Not sure what you mean. The beginning of life on Earth a few billion years ago? Causality was around before then.

      Do you read the responses people write to you, or are you just going to go on about IF...THEN... forever?

      Delete
    61. Lorraine Ford4:58 AM, April 18, 2020

      "As a former long-time computer analyst and programmer, I can tell you"
      Gosh, that's impressive.

      You asked how logic could be reduced to physics. This is carried out in a computer where logic gates are built out of transistors which work according to the laws of nature.

      How did humans come up with the abstract concepts of logic? Presumably by abstracting observations of the physical world like causality. Every time it rained primitive people noticed it was cloudy. Thus; IF it's rainy THEN it's cloudy.

      Are we there yet?

      "computers themselves do no analysis, and they make no decisions."

      Computers are designed to produce output based on input. Just like the human brain evolved to produce output based on input. What do you think a decision is?

      "Logic gates and circuits don’t do logic: they merely implement the logical analysis and decisions of the computer analysts and programmers. "

      A NAND gate is a NAND gate is a NAND gate. It doesn't matter how it is implemented. A human can tell you the outputs of NAND based on the inputs and so can a NAND gate on a computer chip.

      What exactly is your point in all of this? Are you trying to say that quantum fields and general relativity aren't fundamental and exhaustive? Are you saying that you don't understand where logic came from? That it's some kind of magic?

      What exactly is your point?

      Delete
    62. "It is obvious that Reductionism has been very successful, but perhaps that has been the reason why so many have been unable to see its limitations and have been "afflicted" by the hammer's syndrome: "for a hammer everything looks like a nail", for them Reductionism is universal.

      In similar fashion each classical object can be considered as an emergent limit of Quantum objects but that do not imply that classical objects "are" quantum objects.

      So it really does not have any meaning to talk about the "wavefunction" of a classical object, even less to talk about a "universal wavefunction". Quantum Mechanics is "limited" only to quantum objects, the Universe is not a quantum object."

      ----------------------------

      After all, quantum mechanical descriptions are still very successful indeed. You may also think about possible conclusions on physical predictions like the freedom of will, even if you have no observational evidence at all, that your conclusions are true.

      But in this case you should not call your conclusions physics, it's pure fantasy or may be part of science fiction literature.

      Our universe is about "objects" (and also about "subjects" like human beings).

      Wave functions and field theoretical objects like bare particles etc. are not at real objects which could be observed in isolation like e.g. free quarks. They are mathematical constructs, which help us quite a lot to understand, how the real world objects are moving around.

      They are mathematical tools i.e. abstractions for describing our observed reality. But they also have some obvious limitations.

      IMHO it is really a stupid idea to think about the Multi World Interpretation of the universal wave function. If you try to apply the born rule to this multi-universal wave function, you'll really get lousy probabilities. ;-)

      The same holds for deterministic or even super-deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics. It is quite shure, that no one will ever get physical evidence. Whether God plays dice or not is simply beyond the scope of human knowledge.

      Apart from that it is also beyond the scope of mathematical logic, which has unavoidable loopholes, as Kurt Gödel has shown it within his famous theorems.

      Our conventional logic requires the principle of the excluded middle "tertium non datur". This cannot be supposed to be true for any application. In particular it can't be applied for the evolution of our universe since the "big bang" and to the so called conservation laws of "physical information".

      Thus, classical logic is an abstraction, not valid in any case of application. It must be expanded e.g. by the means of the intuistic logic of Brower et al.

      "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._E._J._Brouwer"

      Delete
    63. Steven,
      Re Steven Evans 8:22 AM, April 19, 2020:

      I’m telling you how computers work, only because you don’t know. You know nothing about how computers actually work, and you are not willing to listen when I tell you how they work. Nothing more needs to be said.

      Delete
    64. Lorraine Ford9:19 PM, April 19, 2020

      So you are saying that logic gates are not literally made of transistors? That will be news to the computing world.

      You are saying that ideas like logic were not abstracted from the physical world by humans, but were there from "the beginning of life"?
      I'm pretty sure Aristotle wasn't a single-celled organism.

      You cannot provide an argument because you are obviously and trivially wrong, and now you storm off in a huff like a child.

      Delete
    65. Dear Jeremy,

      "Reductionism is usually accurate only "locally".

      The simple models and conditions in which reductionism always is based start to break down when large assemblies are present because "Complexity is a source of incompleteness" (2004 https://arxiv.org/abs/math/0408144) and this fact gets manifested not only in everyday phenomena but also in astronomical conditions.

      - The "classical limit" of Quantum Mechanics shows that when the number of quantum objects is large enough Classical Mechanics is an emergent limit, including the emergence of Identity, without identity measurements are not possible.

      - Large assemblies of stars as elliptical galaxies do not follow the "simple" Copernican laws of rotation around the galaxy center as planets on our solar system; this anomalous "rigid" rotational speed of galaxies was the genesis for the idea of "dark matter" following a reductionist approach but regularities had been found showing that galaxies rotational speeds can be considered as an emergent property of the galaxy as a whole. (http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2016/10/a-natural-law-for-rotating-galaxies.html?m=1)

      Large scales encompassing complex structures "break" reductionism because this complexity may give rise to new irreducible properties that are not explainable or reducible just by using the properties of simple elementary components.

      The "In principle" phrase used loosely by physicists is a code phrase for "we really don't know". Reality is a lot more than Physics"

      I completely agree with what you say here, as one can easily understand by reading my other posts in this blog.

      "Let me add that the minority position here is the one adopted by P. W. Anderson; the proponents of the universality of Reductionism(almost all physicists) are just following the "authority" of Newton, Galileo, Laplace or even Einstein"

      I don't question your observation, but it is hard for me to believe, that this is still a minority position.

      Classical physics is completely deterministic, and even Einstein wasn't able to accept the quantum mechanical interpretation of our observations.

      Even Gerdardus t'Hooft, who made significant contributions in renormalizing field theoretical predictions has nowadays changed his mind and believes, that there should be an underlying completely deterministic theory below our level of perception.

      IMHO, it's obviously a religious view, even though his intrinsic motivation seems to be the elimination for the need of an creator god which should not be required in particular within the framework of a completely classical theory.

      This type of theory is also called super-deterministic. There is no room left for any random event, even if it is practically impossible to proof this claim. Our universe is exactly in the state it is because it couldn't have been in a different state.

      I.e. every single event observed at CERN's particle colliders has been observed exactly (!) the way it has been due to the underlying determinism. The evolution of our biosphere, our human culture, world war I and II - and everything else happening on our planet and the universe follows from this imagined underlying theory, provided someone would be able to evaluate its genuine predictions. A really fundamentalist view on our world! ;-)

      Delete
  4. Copy edit: "So what’s the use of reductionism them?"
    Should be "then?"

    Nice article!

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  5. I am not a big fan of reductionism because it is overused. A big example is if we had more teachers education would be better. Well if more people become teachers, then less people are scientists or nurses etc. So people who want to design society use reductionism to argue for their design, but society is not one aspect so one has to study the whole system. Studying the whole system is too complicated. This is why I always argue for a system that can evolve on its own more easily. Our culture is an example of this. It is an evolution of better survival of communities over time. Culture is still in its infancy as far as evolution goes, but everytime someone tries to use a reductionist argument to change a part of culture, it invariably makes the culture less stable until collapse. Collapse does not happen immediately, there are too many mechanisms that make a society stable. It happens gradually. This is why I always argue against science as a basis for making decisions for everyone. There is no science that can take into account all the factors for the evolution of society. I can't believe how many scientists who believe in evolution, which I believe in evolution, but then the scientists think they can be creators of society.

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    1. Michael John Sarnowski wrote:
      >I am not a big fan of reductionism because it is overused. A big example is if we had more teachers education would be better. Well if more people become teachers, then less people are scientists or nurses etc.

      Michael, what you are describing is not "reductionism" as used by scientists and philosophers of science. What you are describing is simply stupidity.

      Reductionism requires looking at each and every piece. Yes, saying society would be better if everyone became a schoolteacher is indeed stupid, but it is stupid simply because it ignores a lot of the other pieces that make up society -- farmers, nurses, etc.

      Michael also wrote:
      > This is why I always argue against science as a basis for making decisions for everyone. There is no science that can take into account all the factors for the evolution of society. I can't believe how many scientists who believe in evolution, which I believe in evolution, but then the scientists think they can be creators of society.

      Well... any scientist who says, "I'm so smart I should be dictator of the world!" is indeed a moron.

      But the reason can be given in simple reductionist terms. It takes a lot of thought and knowledge to run a human society: the knowledge of physicians as well as physicists, the knowledge of farmers as well as foresters, of civil engineers as well as electrical engineers, and so on. Indeed, even more than that, it requires the individualized, localized knowledge of the engineer who knows how to repair this particular piece of manufacturing equipment or that particular piece of mining equipment.

      And beyond technical knowledge, there is the localized knowledge of specific resources, specific consumer desires, and so on -- everything that makes a modern economy possible.

      But note that I am actually taking a "reductionist" approach here: I am pointing out that a modern society or modern economy is made up of a bunch of individual pieces, all interacting with each other. It is the anti-reductionist approach that treats a modern society as one big blob, one uniform whole, that is dangerous.

      It is the fact that knowledge, expertise, and information are all so widely dispersed across a society that makes the hubris of central control so crazy.

      The Nobel laureate in economics, Friedrich Hayek is famous for having emphasized this fact in his famous essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society".

      Any competent economist is well aware of this. As to other "social scientists"...

      Well, let's just say you should not blame natural scientists for the sins of "social scientists."

      In short, your complaints have some validity, but they do not impact "reductionism" as used by natural scientists and philosophers of natural science.

      Yeah, people who want to grind the human race up and produce one big cauldron of undifferentiated humanity are dangerous. But, what they need is more reductionism, more ability to look at the actual individual parts of human society -- that is, actual individual human beings.

      Dave

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    2. But Western society is based on capitalism, the economic output is an order of magnitude larger than what we really need. We're not in a situation where we need to choose between more teachers or more nurses. We're collectively working and producing so much more than we need, that we're poisoning the planet with our waste products.

      So, the system is actually evolving on its own, we are struggling to wrestle back just enough control over the system to allow us to avoid a climate disaster.

      Delete
    3. @Saibal Mitra

      "But Western society is based on capitalism, the economic output is an order of magnitude larger than what we really need. We're not in a situation where we need to choose between more teachers or more nurses. We're collectively working and producing so much more than we need, that we're poisoning the planet with our waste products."

      But that is really not a problem of physics. That is simply stupidity. :-)

      Delete
  6. In the small amount of time I have spent on 'reductionism', only this makes some sense to me:

    1. There is a correspondence between (scientific) theories and (scientific-domain-specific language) programs.

    For a theory x, P(x,L(x)) is the (scientific) program for x in terms of the (scientific-domain-specific) language of x, L(x).

    (This is a 'scientific' version of the Curry-Howard correspondence.)

    2. A theory y is said to be reduced to a theory x by providing a translation (via compiler or interpreter) from P(y,L(y)) to P(x,L(x)).

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  7. How does the division of a quantum experiment into two parts;
    1 the quantum system that is being measured and
    2 the apparatus that measures it,
    fit into your discussion of reductionism? Which of the two kinds of reductionism is it?
    It seems to be generally assumed that this division allows the theorist to ignore the details of the apparatus and develop a theory based only on the smaller part of the system. Some of your recent discussions with Tim Palmer seem to suggest that you now have doubts about whether this particular form of reductionism matches the way that nature really works.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Last sentence: them is him or her?


      Thinking about reductionism I am torn between the Emperor's clothes and the true source of gravity. I am afraid that reductionism and looking for the essence are not comparable.

      Delete
  9. Michael John Sarnowski: That is fallacious reasoning. If more people become teachers doesn't mean everyone becomes teachers. If more people become teachers doesn't mean anybody that would rather be a scientist or nurse becomes a teacher instead. In fact, if more people become teachers, that might increase the number of people that become scientists and nurses, because it increases the capacity and quality of the educational system so more people are able to pursue their desire of becoming scientists and nurses.

    "Society is not one aspect:" Of course it isn't, neither is quantum physics. But by reductionism and the scientific method, we can design rules for society that result in greater benefit than harm, as judged by the participants in the society.

    A lawless society will just follow natural law, the law of the jungle. Take what you can, kill if it serves your personal ends, and the hell with anything else. (Soon to be renamed the law of Trump.)

    Every societal law is an element of design. They can be good or bad for the society, and societies do evolve over time, but the evolution is still designed: Somebody has to come up with the ideas for an enforceable law, those get debated, perhaps tested, and adopted or rejected.

    Also, you cannot claim "everytime someone tries to use a reductionist argument to change a part of culture, it invariably makes the culture less stable until collapse."

    That's patently false. Ending slavery and racial discrimination, ending gender-discrimination, ending sexual orientation discrimination, are all justified by reductionist arguments. To the increasing extent to which these are accomplished, they are proof that those changes to culture have not led to collapse, and will not "invariably" lead to collapse, and will not "gradually" lead to collapse.

    "Science" is a means of understanding phenomena in a way that leads to more accurate forecasts of what will happen if various changes are made.

    That includes more than just the nearly perfect forecasts of quantum physics, it can include forecasts in the fields of psychology and sociology. Always arguing against science as a basis for making decisions for everyone is counter-productive. Guessing does not beat science.

    If a "scientist" is somebody that has studied a system and come to rational logic based insights about the behavior of the system and can predict how it might respond to changes with a success rate better than chance: Then ethical scientists that study sociology, economics and human psychology actually should be the ones designing the rules of society to improve the society, as measured by the well-being of the people in it, now and in the future.

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    1. I like the way the world works, but defining better can't be done. Lets say we found that the Mediterranean diet is better for making people live longer, less heart disease, less cancer, etc. Lets say it keeps inflammation down in the body and excess inflammation causes faster degradation of the body we even know why that happens. It creates people who are less violent, less mental illness. Is this good if we force everyone to take on this diet. Then we find out this diet allows humans to grow one percent in population a year. After 12000 years we have more mass of humans on the planet than the whole mass of the universe. Is this good. I don't think so. Or lets say the Mediterranean has all these good properties, we force everyone to follow it, but then a virus comes along and kills everyone that eats the Mediterranean diet. Then society falls apart. I like our system where we have nations that have their own cultures and we stop trying to change it based off of science. I like it that there is so much diversity. That nations and customs develop and survive because aspects of culture cause certain practices to survive. As simple as green tea in Japan, beer in Germany, or curcumin in India. No one could ever have the foreknowledge to figure this out ahead of time. There are too many variables. If something is good it survives over time. Our forms of government now, seem to be better than the forms of government 500 years ago. I like the system we have now, where there are many forms of society and forms of institutions, it mimics evolution, which has brought on species that are so complicated, that no one could have ever designed them, even with the millions of super intelligent people we have. Survival over time beats science everytime, because there are too many variables that can never be separated or foreseen.

      Delete
    2. Michael John Sarnowski wrote:
      > I like our system where we have nations that have their own cultures and we stop trying to change it based off of science.

      Michael, did you see my reply above?

      You clearly don't like "globalism." Fine. But why do you blame this on "science"?

      All the things you complain about may be good or they may be bad, but, again, why blame science?

      Physics is neither in favor of the European Union nor against it; physics is neither in favor of free trade nor against it; physics has no position on immigration or undocumented aliens.

      Same thing for biology, chemistry, geology, etc. And, for that matter, the same thing applies to ballet, Baroque music, modernist architecture, and a host of other fields and disciples.

      Thankfully, science, as well as most of the arts, has nothing to do with politics.

      I think your real argument is with some areas of social "science." Yes, much of social science is a joke.

      But, you will have trouble finding a natural scientist, whatever his or her political views, who really thinks sociology is part of science in the way that astronomy or chemistry is part of science.

      "Christian Science" is not part of science: it is a religion. The mere appropriation of the word "science" does not make something equivalent to the natural sciences.

      So please do not blame us physicists for aspects of the current world situation you dislike. Believe me, we physicists do not have a significant effect on global affairs, and, indeed, there is no consensus among us on global affairs anyway.

      There is no united effort by scientists to reshape the world in any particular direction, and I doubt we would succeed if we tried.

      Dave

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    3. Dr. A.M. Castaldo wrote:
      >If a "scientist" is somebody that has studied a system and come to rational logic based insights about the behavior of the system and can predict how it might respond to changes with a success rate better than chance: Then ethical scientists that study sociology, economics and human psychology actually should be the ones designing the rules of society to improve the society, as measured by the well-being of the people in it, now and in the future.

      Now, that is the sort of statement that quite rightly frightens fellows like our friend Michael John Sarnowski!

      How many economists predicted the crash of 2008? Or the dot-com crash? Or the stagflation of the 1970s? Or, for that matter, the crash of 1929?

      And economics is the most precise, most well-developed area of the social sciences!

      The idea of turning over the governance of the human race to social "scientists" makes about as much sense as turning over the future of the human race to Tarot card readers.

      They provably have no idea what they are doing.

      Which is why I prefer letting a country be governed by truckers, firemen, and farmers over social scientists.

      Maybe we need a new word for such a system -- how about "democracy"?

      Delete
  10. This is in response more to some of the comments on this blog.

    Causality is local. If the observable universe is an infinite R^3 space with a homogeneous distribution of material it is not possible to formulate a pure deterministic theory. The event horizon given by the cosmological constant Λ as r = 3/Λ. The Hubble parameter in natural units is H^2 = c/Λ, where this is a measure of the horizon. For the observable universe this is Λ = 10^{-52}m^{-2} and this gives the horizon scale as A = 4πr^2. This area gives the entropy of this horizon. The entropy is

    S = (πkc^3/4Għ)A = 4π K/H^2,

    K an easily deduced constant. The time derivative of entropy is

    dS/dt = KdH^{-2}/dt = -2K(dH/dt)H^{-2}

    This nonvanishing of this means information is being continually lost in any local region. Interestingly the second time derivative is

    d^2S/dt^2 = (S/H^2)[3(dS/dt)^2 - H(d^2H/dt^2)]

    The time derivative of entropy is positive. This physically means any observer is faced with a loss of information as matter crosses the cosmological event horizon.

    I was just now playing with this numerically and find the second order equation for what appears to be all, but a rather special set of conditions, leads to an asymptotic divergence. This is the phantom energy condition that results in a big rip. This leads either to questions on how this condition is avoided by physical sources such as field etc, or whether this big rip is a physical reality. The density evolution

    dρ/dt = -3H(ρ – p)

    results in a big rip for p > ρ or the condition w = p/ρ < -1.

    The upshot then is that causality is local, which then means reductionism can only be applied locally. It tends to go further and think that physical principles themselves are local. This also means the universe is an open world system. With black hole thermodynamics we have Hawking radiation emitted by a black hole that reduces its mass. The temperature of a black hole is T = 1/8πM in natural units. So if the mass is reduced the temperature increases which means it emits more photons. If the black hole absorbs a unit of mass-energy it is then cooler and emits fewer photons. Thus, if we consider a toy model where a black hole is placed in a region with a cosmic microwave background temperature equal to the horizon temperature, the black hole will emit or absorb photons stochastically. This then means the black hole will in a Langevin manner (drunkard’s walk) diverges from this apparent equilibrium. There is no equilibrium!

    Thermodynamics is usually worked for closed systems. The means the differential operators defined according to the boundary of the system are if they are exact dω = 0 are not closed ω = dχ, and so there are additional topological conditions. This may connect with the entropy of quantum states and fields, and this may have deep implications for quantum gravity and cosmology.

    A statement such as “reality is more than physics,” might be better stated as physics is more than reality. Reality is what is classical, at least if at the same time one has locality. With quantum systems it is not possible to have locality and reality, for the violations of the Bell inequalities preclude that possibility. Black hole thermodynamics appears to tell us that if one is observing a quantum system approach the black hole it will appear elsewhere as Hawking radiation. Quantum physics is not pinned to any locality. If one imposes some locality then one must face some uncertainty in defining reality.

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    1. Hi, I think you have a typo in r = 3/Λ? Do you mean r^2? Then I rather believe r^2 = 2π/3Λ .

      I think numbers fit better, but this is not why I think so.

      Delete
    2. You are right. I forgot the square root.

      Delete
  11. Dear Dr. Hossenfelder,

    You wright that we do not perform certain computations (like predicting election results from the Standard Model) because they take too long. It appears to me that there is more to it then length of time. Every step would rely on the outcome of a previous step that has employed some type of approximation or arbitrary truncation of an infinite series or something similar. As errors propagate the results of your computation will be reduced to nonsense. Futurists might reasonably forecast this week's events but as they propagate their predictions linearly they undergo what I have humorously called "The Insight to Bullshit Transition." And that still does not include "unforeseen events" (which of course you don't believe in because you adhere to superdeterminism).

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  12. Thank for mentioning evolution. Either our knowledge is limited by our cognition as biological organisms or it is not. What we experience as a narrative within our streams of consciousness is nothing more than an instance of qualia. Reductionists simply believe that their qualia corresponds with a truth biological organisms cannot possibly know.

    Hubris, arrogance, and rhetoric do not transform beliefs into truths. Kant had addressed epistemic limitation long before Goedel's incompleteness theorems imposed it upon naive views of mathematical import.

    The theory of evolution undermines the kind of argument presented here. Ultimately our science is comprised of speculations concerning truth. It carries significant force because of a coherence obtained through logic constrained by experimental data. Logic, however, is problematic. Philosophers who study the foundations of mathematics are squarely confronted with the possible reduction of mathematics to mere linguistic constructs.

    I have seen published statements in Science magazine insisting that science is not a human construct. If one takes evolution seriously, how could it be otherwise? From what I have seen, any answer to this question is littered with the useless expression "in principle" and no effective account whatsoever.

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  13. Sabine says:
    “Indeed, the whole history of science until now has been a success story of reductionism.”

    This is really true!

    A big step in the history of reductionism physics was the explanation of Kepler’s law by Newton’s laws of motion and of gravity. It replaced the concept of philosopher Plato that the world is built by structures (like the circuits of planets), which were understood as laws by themselves, so not deduced from something more fundamental.

    But this triumphal procession ended abruptly in the beginning of the 20th century with the creation of quantum mechanics and relativity. Explicitly stated by Werner Heisenberg when the physical community was confused about the observations of particles. Heisenberg stated that the only solution in this desperate situation could be to go back to the structure theory of Plato. Others like Schrödinger and de Broglie attempted to continue with reductionism but could not fight Heisenberg. The particle model of de Broglie for instance was reductionist in so far as it could explain the double slit experiment by the internal structure of the particle. John Bell investigated this discussion in his book “Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics” and concluded that the victory of Heisenberg’s direction was not the result of physical arguments but of Heisenberg’s stronger personality (Solvay conference 1927).
    So with Heisenberg (also Planck and others) the reductionism in physics ended.

    This was primarily a cultural result. The scientists of that time were educated in Germany in a special grammar school which was based on the ancient Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. (German: Humanistisches Gymnasium).

    Also Einstein visited this school type. He did not like it but was influenced. And the major promoter of Einstein in the first time, Max Planck, belonged to this direction. That was very influential in the development of relativity because Einstein’s relativity is based on the special way of abstraction once founded by Plato. And mainly by this reason it is explainable that the reductionist relativity of Lorentz did not have a chance.

    I have also visited this type of school, so I experienced the spirit of it.

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    1. And now physics is not much more than mythology, mysticism, and multiple worlds, dimensions, and universes.

      Perhaps, we need to reduce the number of Theoretical Physicists... or at least include a psychological screening as part of the entrance exams.

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    2. The question is what we can do now to get back on the path of reductionism. Historically there are two points of contact perceptible:

      o Schrödinger and de Broglie for quantum mechanics
      o Lorentz for relativity.

      But is the physical community willing to do this? Ideas deviating from main stream are usually blocked as also this discussion here shows.

      There exist appropriate proposals which yield quantitative results and which also offer solutions for the known open problems; but the spirit of main stream is not open yet for solutions. I know of several researchers in main stream (also professors) who do not dare to publish deviating ideas. They are aware of the fate of Louis de Broglie who just in the year of his Nobel Price for quantum mechanics was forced to convert to Heisenberg’s QM, he disagreed with, in order to get a job at a French university. I think that this is an indication of the degree of intellectual openness also in present physics.

      Maybe the situation has to degrade much further before the minds open a bit.

      Delete
  14. Good summary. Can folks point to good books on that is "for" Reductionism and ones that point "against" just to build by my own mental model.

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    1. You can find many ressources online, but a wonderful book (at least for me) about reductionism and emergence is the following :
      «Reductionism, Emergence and Levels of Reality », subtitled « the importance of being borderline »), 2014
      The book has been written by three physicists : Sergio Chibbaro, Lamberto Rondoni and Angelo Vulpiani. The authors claim that they are not writing a philosophy book, and they’re right, but the book is actually full of relevant and interesting philosophical points about reductionism and emergence.
      One important source of their inspiration is related to the concept of singular limits and the work of Michael Berry (who wrote the foreword of the book).
      Actually, I have found this notion of singular limits after having read a post published by Sabine some months ago (thanks Sabine!). I have found it fascinating so I had done some little research and finally found this book.
      Inter-theoretic transitions (theory reductionism, or emergence, depending on the direction you take) are a subtle and complicated topic. The book is sometimes a little technical for a non-scientist reader like me but for someone who have some background in physics it is very easy to read.
      It is a wonderful book because its scope is quite large, going from quantum mechanics to statistical mechnics to thermodynamics, chaos and complexity, all this in about 150 pages.
      The only problem with it is actually its price, it is ridiculously expensive and I was lucky to find a used copy coming from Japan (the book has been printed there). If interested, you can also probably find an e-version online. I guess other readers here might also be interested.

      Delete
    2. Falker, thanks for the reference ! The book "Emergence and Levels of Reality" can be located as a pdf-file. Here is the final line in the book, quote from Atkins: "Determining where mathematics ends and science begins is as difficult, and as pointless, as mapping the edge of the morning mist."
      Earlier, the authors quote V. Arnold: "Mathematics is a part of physics. Physics is an experimental science, a part of natural science. Mathematics is the part of physics where experiments are cheap" and write "his view contains a lot of truth."

      Delete
  15. Modern biologists have more clever ways of taking organisms apart than simply using a scalpel. One common technique is to create "knockout" versions of an organism missing a particular gene to try to figure out what that gene might do. A similar approach is to block a particular enzyme or receptor and watch what happens, but this is less precise.

    In reply to mls, I have never seen anything in Science that implies that science is not a human construct. The whole point of science is to increase our human understanding of the world. Reductionism has repeatedly proven itself to be a useful tool.


    ReplyDelete
  16. In physics, I think we can use the fundamental constants and a model to find out what the reduction is, but I don't think we have high enough energies to actually see the reduction to its fundamental level. For some reason, no matter how the universe is constructed the fundamental constants are the same everywhere. I think our existence on earth is similar in a way. No matter how much we change what is happening, it always looks the same as expected. I mean that if I walk through a crowd, it changes who will be born in the next year, which sperm fertilizes an egg, but no one can determine what that change was, and the next year does not look any different than expected. And yet it has changed.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Sabine

    Reductionism is obviously quite helpful for discovering some of the fundamental physical laws but emergent phenomena from collective behaviour of individual objects (and also subjects) is obviously quite important as well, if you think e.g. on super conducting states or other phenomena involving a phase transition.

    I think however, your distinction between weak and strong emergent phenomena is not too helpful. It suggests, that all basic physical laws are already known and their consequences are fully understood.

    Every observed phenomenon is of weak emergence by definition in this case. But this is just a believe if you don't accept the possibility of strong emergent phenomena, which may arise from physical laws which are not discovered so far.

    I have recently e.g. read an article in quanta magazine about the surprising individuality of genetically identical bacteria.

    "https://www.quantamagazine.org/bacterial-clones-show-surprising-individuality-20190904/"

    It seems to me, that this observation can't be explained by the means of reductionistic methods. Also it is actually pretty unclear, if it is a case of weak or of strong emergence. Or do you think I am wrong with my assumptions?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Former LEP:

      "It suggests, that all basic physical laws are already known and their consequences are fully understood."

      No, it does not suggest this and I do not know why you think it does.

      "Every observed phenomenon is of weak emergence by definition in this case. But this is just a believe if you don't accept the possibility of strong emergent phenomena, which may arise from physical laws which are not discovered so far."

      No, this is incorrect. Weak emergence is a *consequence* of empirically extremely well established theories. If you think that it fails -- which is necessary for strong emergence -- you are denying scientific fact.

      Delete
    2. Sabine,

      sorry that I have misunderstood your arguments. It seems to me, that strong emergence phenomena should better be defined as phenomena arising from less empirically established or even not well understood (so far unknown?) physical theories.

      They should be seen as a hint on incomplete scientific human knowledge!

      Delete
    3. Hi Sabine,

      I have chosen the quanta magazine article for a particular reason! The surprising individuality of genetically identical bacteria is obviously an emergent phenomenon, since it can't be observed from studying only a single bacterium. It can only be observed from studying a large population of genetically identical bacteria.

      Until now, there is also no Standard Model of Bacteria and Viruses explaining this strange observations.
      [HaHaHa! I just added a small joke wrt the current covid pandemics ;-)]

      Clearly, there might be good reasons for assuming that this observations are a consequence of our empirically extremely well established theories. But on the other hand, I'm quite sure, that currently there is no rigorous proof for this conjecture.

      If some scientists are not taking into account the possibility of strongly emergent phenomena, they are denying IMHO some of our well justified scientific traditions.

      Can you agree with me wrt this statement?

      Delete
    4. Quoting from the article, "The idea that microbial populations could evolve heterogeneity and control it using genetics is a really powerful concept."

      Therefore, in the opinion of those studying it, it is also a reductionistic concept, involving genetic evolution.

      An analog might be a computer program which takes external inputs (such as the time in CPU cycles between mouse clicks or mouse movements) to seed a psuedo-random number generator. Several identical copies of this program could display much different behaviors to their users.

      The key is that the environment while nominally the same is not identical to either the bacteria or the computer programs. The bacteria are sensing chemical gradients, which by definition vary from place to place, and also are affected by the stimuli which produce Brownian motion.

      Such a trait seems very evolutionarily-valuable to me, in fact it is a trait that I predicted years ago on PZ Myers' website, using the same computer program analogy. (I thought of an experiment to test for it using ants, whose workers from a single nest are all clones. Drop several into identical sandpiles, one per pile, and see if they all wander in the same direction.) Note that as the article states, it explains why some bacteria can randomly survive antibiotics and other dangers, rather than all jumping off the same cliff to oblivion. When such solutions to survival problems are possible but don't exist, evolution invents (finds) them, following the reductionist principle of survival of the fittest.

      (Sorry for the belated reply, for which I will pay a late fee.)

      Delete
  18. Physicist Dave, I see evidence of people using the idea of science to promote ideas all the time. At hospitals the buzz word is that we will use evidence based practice. But all it is, is a buzz word for we will find some literature to support what we are going to do. I love science. But I think it can be used by those in power just like any other mass movement in history. I like the way scientists and engineers are inventing so many ways to replace fossil fuels. Not because it is mandated, but because they feel in their heart, mind, and soul that it is the right thing to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael John Sarnowski wrote to me:
      >I see evidence of people using the idea of science to promote ideas all the time. At hospitals the buzz word is that we will use evidence based practice. But all it is, is a buzz word for we will find some literature to support what we are going to do. I love science. But I think it can be used by those in power just like any other mass movement in history.

      I don't think we are really disagreeing: both of us disapprove of using the word "science" for what is really propaganda (or just stupidity).

      Take "climate change." The planet has indeed warmed over the last two centuries, anthropogenic CO2 has contributed to that warming, and, other things being equal, more anthropogenic CO2 will produce more warming.

      However, too many people take these established results in science and use them to spout nonsense such as "The earth is going to end in twelve years (or is it eleven years now?)."

      Or, even worse, the claims in the IPCC report, echoed and defended by the late chair of the IPCC, Rajendra K. Pachauri, that:
      "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high."

      Yes, utter idiocy, as the IPCC eventually admitted: "Patchy" should have been drummed out of the scientific community as a total fraud and incompetent for that one!

      But I hope you agree with me that the misuse of the word "science" and the utter incompetence of some supposed scientists, such as "Patchy," should not reflect on legitimate science and real scientists.

      I hope you have viewed Sabine's interview with Tim Palmer: Tim honestly wants to understand the nature of climate and is quite open in discussing the very real difficulties in modeling climate -- most importantly, the crucial issue of sub-grid parametrization (think: clouds).

      So, I hope we agree that the problem is not science but the misuse of the word "science" as a "buzzword," as you say, and the occasional stupidity or misconduct of individual scientists.

      If you've been following Sabine's blog, you know that much of what she writes involves scientific issues on which she feels many of our colleagues are missing the boat.

      No scientist should be afraid to criticize errors by other scientists.

      But legitimate science does aim at understanding nature, not running con games as "Patchy" did or trying to take over the world!

      All the best,

      Dave

      (N.B. If anyone thinks I was insulting Dr.Pachauri by calling him "Patchy," the IPCC in its obit says he was "universally known as Patchy," just as Chandrasekhar was generally known as "Chandra" -- the difference of course being that Chandra was truly brilliant.)

      Delete
    2. Thank you PhysicistDave for exposing antooneo. I thought as much but I was apprehensive because antooneo is from my part of the world. I know this because his English and the "way(direction)" he twists the English Idiom betrays his linguistic nativity, India. Anything that touches antooneo seems to provoke Steven Evans... when ever he mentions "the battle of STALINGRAD", I know that I am not unduly apprehensive. Do you know why they flock to Dr. Sabine's blog? It is to prove that I am an ass; and if Dr. Sabine can encourage an ass like me to comment on her blog then why not them. This is thier argument. I don't consider them as competition. They are fiercely and aggressively competitive. What is the point of my talking about measurement, comparison etc., but then lead of life of measurement and comparison which is competition. It must be shown in the living.

      Delete
    3. One more word if I may in all my humbleness. Surely, Sirs, Madam this not a tale of woes. Where ever I go either blog or job, they land up there, and then orchestrate a smear campaign and besmear me; they make me look like an ass and most importantly like an under performer and finally shunt me out either blog or job. They have been doing this consistently since 2001 till date and kicking me out of every job. 2001 to 2003 company Madam does not seem to understand this.

      Let me tell you about the storm that was brewing in me for the past two days. I don't know why but I was angry with PhysicistDave and Prof. Hossenfelder for the past two days. Then I read the blog on Dark matter and Dark energy and antooneo's comments and counter points yesterday. Everything fell in its place. I was angry with Physicist and Prof. because they were using me to hit out at Physicist and Prof. through "mind bending" me. Gosh! I must confess that emotions were whipped up to such a pitch that I was about to spew vitriolic(figuratively) at Physicist and Prof. The heart prevailed over the mind, and I was kind.

      Now, the whole point of this is that during 2001 to 2003 the mind was provoked by an external agency and they used me very cruelly, without my knowledge, to hit out(figuratively) at 2001 and 2003 company Ma'am. If only she and her family understands this and let me off the hook.

      Delete
    4. @Gukul

      "Thank you PhysicistDave for exposing antooneo. I thought as much but I was apprehensive because antooneo is from my part of the world. I know this because his English and the "way(direction)" he twists the English Idiom betrays his linguistic nativity, India. Anything that touches antooneo seems to provoke Steven Evans... when ever he mentions "the battle of STALINGRAD", I know that I am not unduly apprehensive. Do you know why they flock to Dr. Sabine's blog? It is to prove that I am an ass; and if Dr. Sabine can encourage an ass like me to comment on her blog then why not them. This is thier argument. I don't consider them as competition. They are fiercely and aggressively competitive. What is the point of my talking about measurement, comparison etc., but then lead of life of measurement and comparison which is competition. It must be shown in the living."

      I did not know, that you are from India. It seems to be a clash of cultures!

      Delete
    5. That people from different cultures have a very different way of thinking about nature, is another example phenomena which can hardly be explained by the means of reductionism.

      It is obviously an emergent phenomenon. I have serious doubts that anyone can prove conclusively whether the emergence is weak or strong. Thus the differentiation between weak and strong emergence is rather artificial and quite meaningless.

      Delete
  19. A massive amount has been written on the subject and Sabine's post of necessity merely scratches the surfece. For excellent summaries and arguments both for and against, go to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and to Internet Enclopedia of Philosophy:

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-unity/
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-reduction
    https://www.iep.utm.edu/red-ism/

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thanks Sabine! "Theory Reductionism" is a great term for some of my (better) amateur rambles!!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Again I don't see the problem of reductionism. We use it all the time. Say my car won't start … mechanic might say it is due to a broken spring, a material scientist my suggest it is a flaw in the metal's crystal structure a social scientist might suggest the maintenance schedule is inadequate. Each has its place.

    As Sabine points a physicist going to basic fundamentals is not going to be terribly useful, in this case.

    Historians look into the factors that lead up to a particular event.

    Some level of reductionism is appropriate for understanding. While reducing everyday things to fundamental particles etc is not necessarily useful, reminding ourselves this is where existence comes from is.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Sabine, isnt there a 1 to 1 reciprocity here?

    In a minimal superdeterministic model "a hungry tiger will eat you" there a maximum definition of "tiger" as a object, which will be, ultimately a number. Not an algorithm.

    Whereas, verb to "eat" will never cease to be an algorithm.
    Is it any wonder I consider P= to NP?

    ReplyDelete
  23. "Biology can be reduced to chemistry, chemistry can be reduced to atomic physics, and atoms are made of elementary particles."

    ... which can be reduced to strings vibrating in extra dimensions...

    ReplyDelete
  24. How does knowing whether a scientific hypothesis (about experimentally or observationally accessible phenomena) is emergent, reductionist, strongly or weakly emergent help any more than classifying hypotheses as "red", "green" or "blue"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Classifying data is usual a useful first step towards adding meaning.

      Delete
    2. If the claim is that "Classifying scientific hypotheses" adds (useful) meaning to them, can you point to examples where this was the case?

      Here by "useful" I mean it helps in one or more of understanding the hypothesis, arriving at the hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, applying the hypothesis, and so on.

      Delete
  25. Any comment on Nicholas Gisin?
    https://arxiv.org/pdf/2002.01653.pdf

    Quote: "I believe that the notion of a deterministic and timeless world does not arise from the huge empirical success of physics, but from taking Platonistic mathematics to be the only language for physics."

    (via Natalie Wolchover, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/04/passage-of-time-relativity-physics/609841/ )

    ReplyDelete
  26. Very well. One consequence of reductionism is that our cognitive faculties are not reliable. The elementary particles of your brain do not care about behaving in a rational way. They just are. So if we are to be rational, we should distrust every belief our brain produces, which, of course, includes the very belief that reductionism is true.

    ReplyDelete
  27. 12-APR-2020

    Richard Feynman suggested that all physical problems
    can be reduced to a description of scattering processes.
    See, "Space-Time Approach to Quantum Electrodynamics"
    Physical Review, Vol 16, No. 6 September 15, 1949

    In the right hands, reductionism works.

    In the wrong it hands, reductionism teaches
    without mercy.

    mj horn

    ReplyDelete
  28. ||A lot of people seem to think that reductionism is a philosophy. But it most definitely is not.||

    Again, Sabine, you demonstrate your philosophical cluelessness. There again, what does one expect from a materialist..

    Reductionism is part of the mechanistic philosophy proposed in the 17th Century that led to the birth of modern science.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ian,

      A lot of topics that once where subject of philosophy have become science. Like, for example, consciousness. I have a section in my book dedicated to the topic. I would generally recommend that you try to understand what I am saying before attempting to insulting me. So far, you have merely made a fool of yourself.

      Delete
    2. Hello Sabine,

      I can't see that Ian Wardell is insulting you. Philosophy is the mother of all science and there is no fixed border between philosophy and serious science.

      Albert Einstein e.g. was not only a genius physicist but also an extraordinary philosopher. In fact, his philosophical work is of greater importance than his late work on the unified theory of forces.

      I would like to recommend you his book "Mein Weltbild". It's in german language, I actually don't know the title of the english language edition. It's very well suited for relaxing during the Easter holidays.

      Delete
    3. The Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel for example was not only excellent in math, he was also a brilliant philosopher. He made significant contributions to the so called Intuitionistic Logic.

      Until the present day, the consequences of these considerations are poorly understood by a quite a large number of the mathematicians and physicists.

      Delete
    4. LEP,

      He called me "clueless" because he is unable to comprehend that I know vastly more about the topic than he does. This is clearly an insult. I have read Einstein's book, thank you.

      Delete
    5. A former LEP expermentalist12:28 PM, April 13, 2020

      Einstein and Gödel are rightly revered for their brilliant ideas in Physics and Logic. But some of their off-the-record remarks show why arguments from authority are invalid and the objective system of peer-reviewed papers is the standard for knowledge, precisely because they were so brilliant at times.

      Einstein expressed interest in panpsychism at one point, but there is no evidence to support this idea and it's not clear even what it means. While Gödel was particularly interested in the phenomenalist ideas of Husserl and thought that Maths was real. Maths isn't real, it is an abstraction of coarse human perceptions of matter and space-time, and while expressed in this way there appears to be a phenomenalist flavour, it can all be expressed ultimately in terms of the physics of space-time, matter, human vision, the brain, etc. Everything at bottom is physics, even Maths.

      Philosophy can be seen as attempts to find useful mental abstractions. It has worked with Logic and Pure Maths for example. But thinking every mental abstraction is true, and writing it out in natural language and calling it a "proof" (see, e.g., Ed Feser's "5 Proofs of God") is a sign of delusional insanity.

      Delete
    6. @Steven Adams

      "But some of their off-the-record remarks show why arguments from authority are invalid and the objective system of peer-reviewed papers is the standard for knowledge"

      Do you really think, the standard of peer-reviewed papers is objective? IMHO, the current system is the cause for an inflation of publications with no significant content. Any statistical fluke from the LHC experiments gives rise to a flood of publications not worth to be read. The same holds for the flood of papers, arguing that super-symmetry is elementary for the convergence of standard model predictions and should to be discovered with the latest LHC upgrade. I remember myself, that during the LEP experiment there were "strong arguments" that super-symmetry will be discovered at LEP energies. Actually I'm glad, thgat I left CERN about 2000, and didn't waste my lifetime looking for super-symmetric particles at the LHC.

      "Einstein expressed interest in panpsychism at one point, but there is no evidence to support this idea and it's not clear even what it means."

      Clearly there is no "scientific evidence" for Einsteins ideas, but his ideas are very clear and can easily be understood if you are open minded. You do not have to share his opinion, it is just a subjective view on our world. But nevertheless it is worth to think about. Life is much more than scientific research. Our scientific knowledge is incomplete and may be incomplete for ever. You may ignore everything apart from scientific facts if you like. You are free to do whatever you want. But I tell you, that you are missing something very important and that I'm really sorry for you, if you see it like this.

      "Maths isn't real, it is an abstraction of coarse human perceptions of matter and space-time, and while expressed in this way there appears to be a phenomenalist flavour, it can all be expressed ultimately in terms of the physics of space-time, matter, human vision, the brain, etc. Everything at bottom is physics, even Maths...
      Philosophy can be seen as attempts to find useful mental abstractions. It has worked with Logic and Pure Maths for example. But thinking every mental abstraction is true, and writing it out in natural language and calling it a "proof" (see, e.g., Ed Feser's "5 Proofs of God") is a sign of delusional insanity."

      Wow Steven! You are really a wise guy! I really wonder why I haven't heard of you before. You should go ahead and publish your brilliant ideas. Your books will surely be very convincing and sell around the world!

      Delete
    7. Steven Evans wrote:
      >Einstein and Gödel are rightly revered for their brilliant ideas in Physics and Logic. But some of their off-the-record remarks show why arguments from authority are invalid and the objective system of peer-reviewed papers is the standard for knowledge, precisely because they were so brilliant at times.

      Steve, the statements by Einstein and Gödel you are criticizing are in areas that neither they nor anyone else believed they were authorities on.

      Even the most dogmatic Catholic does not believe the Pope is an authority on who will win the Superbowl!

      Arguments from authority can never be conclusive, but everyone does and must appeal to arguments from authority to get some sense of what deserves further investigation, what is obvious nonsense, etc.

      E.g., if your auto mechanic tells you that your brakes are failing and need to be replaced, you might not blindly believe him. But hopefully you will take his claim seriously enough to investigate the matter further --perhaps you can ask him what leads him to that conclusion, perhaps you can look at the brakes yourself, or perhaps you will take the car to another mechanic for a second opinion.

      On the other hand, if a Tarot card reader told you your brakes were failing, you would probably just laugh and rightly so.

      The real issue is how do we decide who is a legitimate authority who we should take seriously, at least seriously enough to further look into his claims.

      That is a complicated issue, but it is a serious one.

      By the way, our friend Siegried (the LEP experimenter) is correct about the peer-reviewed literature. You may recall that Jay Yablon got his stuff that was wildly wrong published in what looks like a serious journal.

      When I was a doctoral student, I saw a ludicrously wrong paper in Phys. Rev. Lett., the premier US physics journal. I talked to a couple professors about it: they just shrugged and indicated that it did not matter since most researchers would not take that paper or most of what was published seriously, anyway.

      So, I sent a note to the journal laying out the error -- basically a high-school algebra error that killed everything in the paper. Yep, the editors did not care.

      As far as I can tell, there are two problems:

      First, the referees do not get paid, gain nothing from doing the work, and so often do not take their task seriously. From what I hear, they basically glance over the paper to see if it has buzzwords that sound as if the author might be legit but rarely actually check the work in any detail at all. Their biggest concern seems to be whether the work would be important if it were true. Needless to say, there is also a general belief that referees tend to give the nod to their friends.

      Second, the editors also feel over-burdened and certainly do not take the time to check papers for correctness. In the case of the algebra error I mentioned above, any editor who understood physics should have been able to understand the error with a few minutes of work. They did not bother. Again they seem to focus merely on whether the work would be important if it were true and on whether it is too long.

      My observations are mainly on theory papers, not experimental ones.

      A big part of the problem here is that almost no credit is given to a physicist who points out serious errors. If anything, it may actually harm his career by creating personal enemies (that did happen in my case).

      So, unfortunately, I view the peer-reviewed literature as I view comments here: if it is interesting, I might follow up to see if it is true.

      Or, of course, if I know the author to be a competent person, I start out with a presumption that they are right, a presumption I may test by looking into the details for myself.

      Which brings us back to the argument from authority.

      Dave

      Delete
    8. A former LEP expermentalist5:18 AM, April 17, 2020

      The system of peer-review in journals is the best system we have presumably. LHC found the Higgs boson, one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever. Supersymmetry is speculation which has been heavily criticised. You are confusing confirmed science with speculation.


      "Clearly there is no "scientific evidence" for Einsteins ideas..",

      You said Einstein and Gödel made significant contributions to philosophy. They didn't, except indirectly through their published work in Physics and Logic.

      "Wow Steven! You are really a wise guy!"
      I was just pointing out that the philosopher Gödel was interested in, Husserl, was wrong. But Husserl was a philosopher so it's not a great surprise. You brought up Gödel and philosophy.

      Delete
    9. PhysicistDave7:21 AM, April 17, 2020

      "criticizing are in areas that neither they nor anyone else believed they were authorities on."
      Everyone except LEP, to whose comment I was responding.

      "everyone does and must appeal to arguments from authority"
      Sure. I would certainly never read anything by Galen Strawson again, which is sort of the reverse idea.

      "The real issue is how do we decide who is a legitimate authority"
      Easy. Galen Strawson, Philip Goff, crazy Luke - no. Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Dr. H. - yes.

      I'll take your word for it on peer-reviewed journals. It sounds quite political, but presumably it's still the most credible knowledge we have.

      Delete
    10. Ian Wardell9:19 AM, April 13, 2020

      Where has Ian Wardell gone? Is he out burning down 5G masts?

      Delete
    11. PhysicistDave7:21 AM, April 17, 2020

      "Even the most dogmatic Catholic does not believe the Pope is an authority on who will win the Superbowl!"

      Yes, it's a relief that Catholics don't mistakenly think the Pope is a football expert. Unfortunately, they do mistakenly think that he is a moral authority when he is simply running a multi-billion-dollar scam that supports a worldwide paedophile ring.

      Delete
    12. Dave,

      "criticizing are in areas that neither they nor anyone else believed they were authorities on."
      Everyone except LEP, to whose comment I was responding.

      That's complete nonsense, IMHO. There are plenty of examples in the history of science showing that the community of experts completely failed in acknowledging observable facts and taking appropriate conclusions.

      The most prominent example is Albert Einstein. He was member of the "Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften" in Germany and was considered to be a Crank by his German colleagues and already established physics experts. Luckily he was able to migrate into the USA.

      Another example is the German Nobel Prize winner Gerd Binnig. Long time ago, I met him personally at the Lindau Nobel laureate meetings. Against all odds, he invented the raster tunnel microscope. All experts in the field were convinced that it would be completely impossible to observe and measure individual atoms. He was lucky to get a research job at IBM allowing him to research on any topic of his personal interest without any further obligation.

      Like Einstein, he was an Enfant Terrible among his colleagues. Most of them were convinced that he would fail sooner or later. But after winning the Nobel Prize, most people claimed to have always been his best friend.

      Delete
    13. Dave,

      for further information on the failures of the so called "established knowledge" in the history of science I would like to recommend you Bill Brysons Book "A Short History of Nearly Everything"

      Delete
    14. A former LEP expermentalist7:22 AM, April 18, 2020

      "But after winning the Nobel Prize, most people claimed to have always been his best friend."

      Like you are now ;)

      Delete
  29. Sabine,

    “To lay his brain upon the board
    And pick the acrid colors out,

    To nail his thought across the door,
    Its wings spread wide to rain and snow,

    To strike his living hi and ho,
    To tick it, tock it, turn it true,”

    – Wallace Stevens, "The Man with the Blue Guitar"

    So, a little poetry to leaven logic here.
    And, what’s that line about, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy?”
    The word ‘rant’ comes from the Dutch ‘ranten’ – ‘talk nonsense, rave’.
    That tells you where it comes from, but not how it feels.
    The expression ‘non sequitur’ comes from the Latin – ‘it does not follow.’
    Yet, sometimes we may somehow find a thread in seemingly discontinuous declarations.
    Sonar engineers have found that adding noise to a weak source can boost its signal over the threshold of detection.
    So, hooray noise?
    And speaking of signals, as we are here, you can find the phenomes, take them apart and chart their elementals, but that does not speak to their making of a path.
    Dragging a stick in the dirt leaves a physical mark. What determines if the mark has meaning?
    If you Google, “pile of rocks to mark the trail,” you find, “a cairn is a human-made or stack of stones.”
    In a trackless country where distant cairns signal the way, you are lost if you only see stacks of stones.
    Words reduced to letters lose their meaning.
    How does a handful of red spectrum photons halt a loaded semi?
    If there is an arrangement of particles that may be identified as a ‘mother-in-law’ and another that may be identified as a ‘daughter-in-law,’ do the laws of particle physics really determine what happens next, in the moment, across a particular dining room table?
    My garden sunflower turns a massive array of leaves to follow the sun and thus illuminate a myriad of Maxwell’s molecular, chloroplastic demons, whistling while they work at five cycles per second.
    Meanwhile, the sunflower marches to a diurnal tempo and spends half its cycle as coded signal.
    Perhaps in a land of cycles, supervenience swallows its tail.
    In the land of handcrafts, maybe basketry, playing flute or carving wood, practitioners may come to believe that repetition improves rendition, that acquired skill has consequence.
    No matter how you come to know truth, there will be truth you do not recognize.
    The legend on the map warns, “The prudent mariner will not rely solely on any single aid to navigation.”
    A major portion of the motor cortex is devoted to controlling the mechanisms of speech.
    In a parsimonious universe, why such an investment?
    Words have deep roots.
    The word ‘conceive’ tracks back to the Proto-Indo-European root, ‘kap,’ meaning, ‘to grasp.’
    The word ‘empirical’ most succinctly means, ‘proven by use.’ It has roots that go back perhaps five thousand plus years to the Proto-Indo-European root ‘per-ya’ meaning, ‘to try, risk.’
    What was it that led the Proto-Indo-European language to spread to such different landscapes?
    The nature of the landscape through which we learn to navigate is largely proven by use.
    Reductionism is a tool proven by use. It has shaped our landscape.
    On the other hand, navigation through a landscape is, like meaning, an emergent phenomenon.

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  30. Dr. Hossenfelder;

    Much like emergence morphing into human consciousness, I am kind of at a loss to understand the morphing of physics with philosophy. If I may be so bold as to kind of try a little reductionism here, physics and philosophy are generally credited to the Greeks and their beginnings are close to the same time. From the Greeks; “The love of wisdom” is the general translation of the ancient Greek word for philosophy. In essence, the ancient Greeks were working on understanding the world through their intelligence and by gaining knowledge. While the word “Physics” in ancient Greek comes from the word “nature” and/or “natural science.” This in turn morphs into the study of nature, and then gives us the meaning we have today which is the science that studies nature and the properties of matter and energy.

    I believe that philosophical physics is incredibly important to physics today in the sense that it is here to ask questions and make sure we are moving forward rather than being stuck on the same thing going nowhere. In other words, using the foundations set by the Greeks, to make sure that we wisely use our time and resources when studying the nature and properties of matter and energy.

    As for Reductionism, I firmly believe it is valid from the simple standpoint that whenever I have run into a problem that I am having trouble working through, I go back to the basics, the beginning, and work my way up. But now, based on experiences and reading the posts, I am led to an observation about Reductionism that I am not sure is valid; could we not use Reductionism as a “test” for closure in our understanding of things?

    The final understanding of somethings is like a puzzle, all of the pieces of the puzzle are the basics. When we put all of the pieces together we have a clear understanding of the puzzle and what it means and/or shows us. In other words we have closure because all of our questions can be answered. But…. Sometimes we get impatient and start guessing at what the puzzle is telling us before we have all of the pieces in place. In this case I am thinking of the standard model and the Top Quark. The Top Quark is a complete outlier in many aspects, why? What is the purpose of the Top Quark in nature, what does it do, what is it responsible for, why does it exist?

    It seems to me that if we knew all of the basics associated with the standard model none of the questions I just asked would exist. In other words, if something is truly reduced to all of its basics, wouldn’t we be able to answer any question? Conversely, if we can ask questions that do not have answers, would that not indicate we do not have all of the basics?

    Wouldn’t these last questions be philosophical in nature and the answer would be physics in nature?

    As always, thanks Dr. Hossenfelder for another enlightening and post.

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  31. "The use is that at each level of reduction that scientists have discovered, they gained new insights about how nature works"

    Each level of reduction is a level of abstraction, and at each level of abstraction there is an observer, which means that at each level of reduction there is an observer. There cannot be reduction in the absence of the observer because it is the observer who reduces based on the level of abstraction or his frame of reference. This means that reductionism ends when the observer ends or in the absence of the observer. Bringing in the double slit experiment in Quantum mechanics, we see that when reductionism at any level ends there is the return of the interference pattern. Otherwise, why should we observe the interference pattern at the level of atoms which are much larger than electrons or photons, or observer it at a level even larger, that is, at the level of organic molecules? This implies that the interference pattern is the screen shot of the template of nature when the observer is absent.
    Interfering atoms: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg13017743-900-science-interfering-atoms-feel-a-sense-of-acceleration/#

    Quantum interference of large organic molecules: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms1263

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  32. Reductionism and abstraction are a particularity brought in by the introduction of the observer. Remove the observer, and reduction disappears. Reductionism is the virtue of the observer.

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  33. When you remove observer, reductionism disappears and what appears is the whole. That is the whole point: pointedness is the virtue of the observer.

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  34. Firstly, no hidden or double meaning intended, nor pun intended period. That said, let us consider three levels of abstraction or reduction: A, B, C. A is at the molecular level, B is at the level of atoms, and C is at the level of the constituents of an atom namely electrons; in addition, let us include photons at the level C.

    At these three levels of abstraction or reduction no measurement is made yet, that is, there no observer; it is measurement that introduces the observer. We can safely say that in the absence of the observer, at any of these three levels, there is the interference pattern. The moment I measure, that is, introduce the observer at any of the three levels, the interference pattern disappears. From this it is manifest, that only when there is measurement is a particular level manifest, that is, as long as there no measurement it is all interference. The interference pattern tells us that it is all at one level when there is no measurement. It is the observer or measurement that creates a distinct level.

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  35. You can't separate measurement from the observer. Measurement is an act of the observer.

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    1. No, it is not. You can do a measurement with a measurement apparatus even if no one ever observes the apparatus. How about you take a break and use the time to think.

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  36. Sorry Prof. Hossenfelder!! I think I have not made myself clear on what I mean by an observer. In Einstein's relativity, which is the most accurate description of the observer so far, the observer dwells within the frame of reference. What I am saying is the frame of reference itself is the observer.

    It is a veritable fact that there can be no measurement without comparison. What is being compared with is the standard, for example, the standard for length, time and mass. That standard is what I mean by the frame of reference. For sure, we cannot make a measurement without the frame of reference or the standard, which means measurement implies a frame of reference. Now, as a thought experiment. Let us measure the length of a line using the standard ruler; here, the ruler is the frame of reference. What if I am an unruly scientist, and I manipulate the standard ruler? The length of the line changes, doesn't it? So, measurement is the virtue of the standard ruler. The length of the line is the virtue of the standard ruler because any manipulation of the ruler is going to alter the length of the line. If I alter the frame of reference itself, then the observed or the measured changes though it is the same thing, for example, a line. It is the same line but it takes on different lengths because I am manipulating the standard ruler. In this way you cannot separate measurement from the frame of reference, in that, measurement is the virtue of the frame of reference. Let me put it this way, remove the frame of reference, that is standard ruler, then what happens to the line? Can you define the length of the line? You can because the paper on which you draw the line unconsciously becomes the frame of reference and the length of line gains some meaning. But what if I remove all inadvertent frames of references? Can you now define the length of the line? Certainly not. I am using the word observer to mean the frame of reference itself. Such a frame of reference where the observer does not dwell in the frame of reference but rather is the frame of reference itself is a subjective frame of reference though the frame of reference is a piece of hardware. All of Einstein's frames of reference are objective frames of reference, in that, there is an objective observer dwelling in the objective frame of reference: This is how we have understood relativity.

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  37. What I have been harping on all these months is that the apparatus in the double slit experiment, which we call the observer apparatus, is a subjective observer though it is a piece of hardware because it is employed in measurement and most importantly influences the outcome. The influence is an observer influence which is true of a subjective observer.

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  38. I will stop now and take a break. Thank you.

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    1. When dinosaurs existed, a ray of light passes through the branches of a mango bush and an interference image is projected onto a banana leaf, suddenly a mango falls and the interference breaks; The good thing about the phenomenon is that there are still 60 million years to go before man appears on earth. a greeting

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  39. Schrodinger presented lectures in 1943 and many have read the book which originated from these lectures: What is Life ? In a later lecture--1956-- he said: "the observer is never entirely replaced by instruments...all this information goes back ultimately to the sense perceptions of a living person...the observer's senses have to step in eventually." (Tarner Lectures, Mind and Matter). If you have not read these fascinating lectures they are available on archive.org. Schrodinger touches upon many issues, still relevant.

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  40. Sabine,

    "It doesn't matter how many people agree on a point of view if there is no argument in favor of it."

    Here, I should agree with you, however I am concerned with the third of Apple dictionary’s definitions:

    truth – the quality or state of being true
    – that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality
    – a fact or belief that is accepted as true

    I don’t know who to write to with complaint, but this does leave open the possibility of truth as a matter of public opinion – truth through advertising or some form of Orwellian propaganda. Lately, I have been troubled by the notion of alternative facts and the resurrection of the ‘memory hole’ as receptacle of inconvenient truth in matters governmental. We have a little ‘big brother’ wannabe taking up way too much headspace. It’s an epidemic of sorts.

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  41. "...logical analysis (what living things do when they are thinking; what livings use as a basis for their actions) can’t be reduced to or derived from equations (laws of nature). You can’t reduce IF…THEN… to equations."--Lorraine Ford 9:01 PM (EDT?) April 15--can't find a Reply button for it, sorry

    I don't think anyone said that equations are all there is to physics. Equations are just part of the language we use to describe and teach physcs, and they are an extremely short-hand version of language with a lot of background knowledge required, such as Calculus and matrix algebra, and so on. (Take F=d(mv)/dt; in addition to Calculus you have to have some understanding of force, mass, velocity, and time.) I think the real issue is, does the nature described and circumscribed by our knowledge of phyics permit IF-THEN's to exist. The answer is obviously yes. Computers perform IF-THENS all the time, using mechanical or electronic components which perform according to known physics. It also occurs in bacteria and other living creatures, again using mechanical and chemical and electronic components which obey the known laws of physics. That's all we mean by reductionism. No new forces or fields or equations are needed to understand how computer logic circuits work.

    Also, the laws of physics don't claim to explain why things exist (mass, time, etc.--unless and until they can be explained in terms of more fundamental concepts), just what things do exist and how they behave. Things do exist and can behave in such a way as to permit IF_THEN operations. That is all we know, and all we need to or can know.

    There may be new basic princples which we haven't discovered yet. When and if we do, they will be added to physics courses, and probably involve some new equations to summarize them.

    Another unsolicted opinion cluttering up the Internet, and another fine for me--but you started it, and as always, "Hey, believe whatever you have to believe to get you through the night"--Mario

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    1. JimV,

      I would have thought that it is important to differentiate between: 1) the set of equations that are pretty much supposed to represent how the world operates; and 2) stuff not included in the set of equations e.g. the actions of physicists, mathematicians and teachers, which are presumed to be mere consequences of the set of equations.

      Only if the actions of physicists, mathematicians and teachers are in any small way NOT a consequence of the set of equations, then this might involve something like “new basic principles”. However, these “principles” might not be representable by equations: they might only be representable by algorithms.

      Delete
    2. Lorraine Ford, thank you for your reply although we seem to be talking past each other. I claimed that physics is more (a lot more) than equations, and your first sentence seems to repeat your assertion that physics is just equations, and everything else is supposed to be a consequence of those equations.

      Open any physics book, or mathematics book, for that matter. You will see a lot more words than equations. That's my evidence. Where is your evidenc that physics is just equations? This is a physics blog. How big a role have equations played in it? Where is the equation in "survival of the fittest"? Where is the equation in Dr. Feynman's statement that the most relavatory thing we could pass on to another, primitive intelligent species as a starting point in a single sentence is that matter consists of different kinds of atoms that combine in ways that produce different properties (paraphrasing wildly from memory)? Is that not physics?

      New principles, such as Special Relativity, start as qualitative concepts, then if it is possible to make concrete predictions with them, the mathematics of that are developed. Newton's Law of Gravity supposedly started with the concept that what makes an apple fall from a tree is the same thing which holds the moon in its orbit with the Earth. His first Law of Motion was that things at rest tend to stay in rest and things in motion tend to stay in motion. Is that an equation? Not physics?

      Of course equations are an important part of any science, they indicate that a level of understanding has been reached that allows us to calculate things and make predictions. Off hand, I can't think of an calculation or quantitative algorithm that doesn't require equations (if only the implicit equation of a Fortran DO-loop that I_n (the nth value of the variable I) = I_n-1 + [loop increment]). So equations are necessary to go from qualitative to quantitative, and perform algorithms, but it is the qualitative concepts behind the equations that are the real physics to me; the equations are the mathematics. Both are important.

      If a new principle can never be developed mathematically so as to make predictions with it, so be it, but without numerical predictions it will be difficult to prove and not very useful. Newton proved the usefulness of his gravitational law by making thousands of calculations of planets and moons which matched astronomical observations, according the James Gleick's "Newton".

      You seem to be saying (if I understand you, probably not) that physics is just equations and although algorithms may imply equations, equations cannot imply algorithms. I'm saying that physics already has general concepts including algorithms, which it started with before the equations.

      It seems that our points of view are different and irreconcilable, since you will not consider my evidence and I have not seen the evidence on which yours rests.

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    3. P.S. "according the James Gleick ..." should be "according to ..."--sorry.

      Some IF-THEN's I learned from science:

      IF you chop matter up into finer and finer pieces, THEN in principle you will have to stop, having reached a point where the matter is no longer divisible.

      IF something is at rest, THEN it tends to remain at rest.

      IF something is in motion, THEN it tends to remain in motion.

      IF you measure the speed of light in a vacuum from an inertial frame, THEN you will always get the same result, within the limits of your experimental accuracy.

      IF you measure the wavelength of light from a very fast-moving source compared to the same source at rest relative to you, THEN you will see a difference in frequency between the measurements (of a specified amount depending on the velocity relative to the speed of light in a vacuum).

      IF you move electric charges through a conductor, THEN the conductor will produce a magnetic field.

      IF you move a magnet near a conductor, THEN electric charge will flow through the conductor.

      (My general reading about Quantum Mechanics always starts with this:) In the two-slit experiment, IF there is a measurement of which slit a photon goes through, THEN there will be no interference pattern; but IF there is no such measurement, THEN there will be an interference pattern.

      (General idea behind evolution): IF you try something and it makes things worse, THEN try something else.

      (Favorite saying from Einstein, mangled slightly): If you are a mathematician, THEN you will make mistakes. IF you are a good mathematician, THEN you will find the mistakes and correct them.

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    4. JimV,

      Re JimV 11:58 AM, April 17, 2020:

      You’ve got things very mixed up. Physics itself claims that a set of equations pretty much represents how the world works, and I agree that this is so. The only issue is any bits that are not covered by the equations. You are not going to find these missing bits of the puzzle (if any) with flowery equivocations about the nature of physics. The real issue is the nature of the world, not the nature of physics.

      Re JimV 3:05 PM, April 17, 2020:

      You don’t know what the IF…THEN… issue is about, and I don’t have the time to explain at the moment.

      Delete
    5. JimV,
      Re JimV 3:05 PM, April 17, 2020:

      How do you analyse a situation (just like the computer software in a self-driving car contains all the detailed methods for analysing a situation, in order to categorise it) and decide what to do (just like the computer software in a self-driving car contains all the decisions for what to do based on the categorisation of the situation)? (It doesn’t matter that the computer software uses machine learning techniques, it’s still the same principle.)

      The “inputs” to a living thing are light and sound waves that interact with the eyes and ears. The brain does quite a lot of analysis of this set of concurrent light and sound information, in order to decide whether the set of information can be categorised as tiger or tabby cat. There are many intermediate steps e.g. deciding on the type of sounds produced, and deciding on shapes, sizes and patterns. The brain necessarily does something like this with the set of concurrent information: “IF large AND striped AND roars THEN tiger, BUT IF small AND striped AND miaows THEN tabby cat”. Sometimes things are mis-categorised, like when a brown leaf moved by a breeze is mis-categorised as a scurrying mouse. Note that the categories of information are not necessarily associated with words, but things have to be pre-categorised before you can ever use words.

      Next, based on the categorisation (tiger or tabby cat), the living thing decides what to do, based on categorisations of the whole surrounding situation, where every situation will have unique elements, e.g. a safe protected place to the left of the living thing. Clearly, some responses to the categorisations are built-in to the body/brain; however, because every situation has unique elements, some aspects of the response will be creative in the sense that they are not built-in to the body/brain. The living thing necessarily does something like this with the categorised information: “IF tiger AND safe place to the left THEN run to the left”.

      But there is absolutely nothing like this in the equations that represent the laws of nature. In particular, the law of nature equations: 1) don’t use IF…THEN… ; 2) don’t use AND or OR; and 3) don’t use higher-level categorisations like “striped” or “tiger”.

      Delete
  42. Arguments from authority have the straight forward historical perspective that the authority came before the person making the argument. In assessing an argument from authority its helpful to understand the history of the authority. That's one reason I am glad to see Dr. H. going into physics history. I would like to see more.

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  43. JImV,

    You’ve got things very mixed up. Physics itself claims that a set of equations pretty much represents how the world works, and I agree that this is so. The only issue is any bits that are not covered by the equations. You are not going to find these missing bits of the puzzle (if any) with flowery equivocations about the nature of physics. The real issue is the nature of the world, not the nature of physics.

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    1. Lorraine Ford, are we in agreement that the programming of a computer is what causes its logic circuits to perform their operations so as to arrive at predicted conclusions, and that your issue is where did animals (of all kinds, to various degrees) get their programming (embedded in their brains and nervous systems)?

      If so there is a simple answer which you seem to be ignoring: trial and error, aka evolution as a start; at higher levels of complexity, self-programming (see AlphGoZero--sort of higher-level evolution), and a lot of training of the next generation by previous generations (e.g., cheetahs training their cubs to hunt, see BBC's "World" series, schools, "Feral Children" in Wikipedia).

      If you don't want to believe this in favor of some unexplained magic, that is of course your prerogative, but you are ignoring a whole lot of evidence. There was a brief article in "Scientific American" sometime in the early 1990's, I think, which said the algorithm NASA used to operate the steering jets in the space shuttle, to hold a set course and eliminate spins, was developed by pure trial and error with a genetic algorithm. It was a single, multiply-nested code statement, 256 characters long, and outperformed the best programs NASA enegineers wrote by 20% in fuel efficiency. At the time of the article, nobody at NASA could parse it to understand how it worked, but it wasn't magic, and followed the known laws of physics. Trial and error--I think of it as the universal algorithm.

      Again with the "Physics itself claims that a set of equation represents how the world works..". No, Physics claims that those equations plus an understanding of what they mean and how to apply them represents so-far valid knowledge of how the world works, and the plus-part includes some basic algorithms as I think I demonstrated above. IF there is an action, THEN there is an equal and opposite reaction being one of them. Try to use Newton's Laws to calculate collisions of oxide particles with turbine blades without that bit and see how far you get.

      I don't think I've said anything new that I haven't been saying all along. By induction, you won't consider it this time either. All I can attest to is that my world view which I've tried to explain satisfies me and explains in a general way everything I sense about this universe we're in. Which is not to say that I have a detailed understanding, just as those NASA engineers didn't fully undertand their steering-jet code (but it worked). IF I try something and it works, THEN it works; and IF I base my tries on the known laws of phyics, THEN I have a better chance of it working THEN IF I don't.

      (I keep thinking, this time she'll understand--it makes so much sense and accords with so much evidence. I see more every day. And so the fines pile up.)

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    2. P.S. Forgot to say thank-you for calling my plodding prose "flowery". That's one of the nicer things anyone has said to me on the Internet. Thank you.

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    3. JimV,

      You are talking about the nature of physics, but I am talking about the nature of the world. The natural world, including living things, existed long before physicists with their “equations plus an understanding of what they mean” arrived on the scene. The aim of physics should be to present an objective view of ALL the component parts that are necessary to make the world work. But are “understanding” and “knowledge” actual component parts of the world, or just 100% the consequence of laws of nature? Are “understanding” and “knowledge” pretty irrelevant in the scheme of things in the same sense that “temperature” is pretty irrelevant in the scheme of things because “temperature” is just a higher-level description of lower-level events?

      Your argument assumes that “understanding” and “knowledge” exist; but “understanding” and “knowledge” are the very aspects of the world whose nature we are questioning. So, you need to say whether you think “understanding” and “knowledge” are like temperature, or whether “understanding” and “knowledge” are actual component parts of the world that are necessary to make the world work. If “understanding” and “knowledge” are like temperature, then they are pretty irrelevant in the scheme of things.

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    4. JImV,

      I might add that the experience of the “understanding” and “knowledge” of information cannot be accounted for by the laws of nature. However, the content of the “understanding” and “knowledge” of information can be accounted for by physical infrastructure in living things.

      But this physical infrastructure can’t just be due to the laws of nature (represented by equations) because laws of nature don’t do logic. The laws of nature can’t account for the logical structure of the information, which can only be represented by the IF…THENs… and the ANDs and ORs that are required to derive higher-level information (like “striped” and “tiger”) out of the lower-level information coming from the eyes and ears.

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    5. JimV,
      Re JimV 12:50 PM April 19 2020, and JimV 3:05 PM April 17 2020:

      Your (mistaken) idea seems to be that IF…THEN… logical analysis is a mere higher-level description of the laws of nature, a mere higher-level description of mathematical relationships between categories of variable. E.g. “IF” you place a ball at the top of an incline, “THEN” it will roll down the incline.

      But in fact, IF…THEN… / AND/ OR logical analysis is like taking a time slice through the world created by the laws of nature, thereby obtaining a set of categorised numbers, and analysing this set of categorised numbers, and responding to this analysis. IF…THEN… is like something orthogonal to the law of nature equations, i.e. IF…THEN… is a separate component part of the world to the laws of nature component part.

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    6. "Your (mistaken) idea seems to be that IF…THEN"...

      DEFINE IF /THEN IN PHYSICAL TERMS. You wrote a thesis based on it without even defining it. I tied it directly to a flux of gravity on youtube: a time crystal.

      IF is an operator, so is THEN. Basing a thesis on IF…THEN is like basing an arithmetic on "++" without any operands.

      By definition a proto telepath is superdeterministic, this is how I would start: IF points to an input direction in time,a time TENSE, and THEN, to an output direction in time, a time TENSE.

      Now define technically what is between IF and THEN. There only one general definition in human language for that: a verb. Want Physics language? Try "atom".

      You can't derive human language from universal language the way you re thinking! YOU CAN DERIVE any lesser language.

      Your soup of concepts is the state of affairs in philosophy, Lorraine.

      For instance, understanding and knowledge are mutually exclusive. If you specialize in right answers you neither have nor need understanding. And vice versa.

      That is why a zero knowledge superdeterministic approach will get you to initial conditions... dizzyling fast to either or understanding or knowledge... Though not to the zoom level you want, necessarily.

      You haven’t even tried to do the homework.




      In other “great” news, I will continue to read and frequent the blog but declare myself permanently unable to write from now on: not worth the effort.

      Thank YOU a million times, Dr. Hossenfelder, for putting up with me. I needed the space.

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    7. Ivan,

      FOR…NEXT… and IF…THEN… (including AND and OR) are the types of statements that fill the computer programs written by computer programmers. These statements originated in the brains of trained computer programmers. Symbolic representations of these FOR…NEXT… and IF…THEN… concepts are used in computers to manipulate the electrical voltages that symbolically represent the binary digit concept. (There are no such things as actual “binary digits”: they are merely a useful concept.) The IF…THEN… way of looking at situations comes from the brains of people and other living things.

      The laws of nature are relationships which structure the world, but they are useless for analysing information, and they are useless for responding to the conclusions of this analysis. I am suggesting that something that can only be represented by IF…THEN… statements is required if the brain is to analyse incoming light and sound information from the eyes and ears. Obviously there is a lot going on in the brain, but to simplify it, the sort of thing I’m talking about is something like this: “(IF striped AND big AND roars THEN tiger) ELSE (IF striped AND small AND miaows THEN tabby cat) ELSE IF …); “(IF tiger AND barrier between self and tiger THEN do nothing) ELSE (IF tiger AND safe place to the left THEN run to the left) ELSE …”. It’s clear that 1) laws of nature can’t do this sort of thing; and 2) there are laws of nature that deal with mass, charge and wavelength, but there are no laws of nature that deal with tigers.

      The laws of nature (representable by equations) really somehow exist; we deduce that they somehow exist. But I am suggesting that IF…THEN… , also represents an aspect of the world (a logical aspect) that somehow exists; we can deduce that this logical aspect of the world must somehow exist.

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    8. Lorraine Ford7:54 PM, April 26, 2020

      "These statements originated in the brains of trained computer programmers"
      And there is no reason to think other than that those brains and all their functions are 100% Standard Model matter that evolved over hundreds of millions of years to be able to perform abstractions such as IF it's raining THEN it's cloudy.

      Are we there yet?

      Delete
    9. "I might add that the experience of the “understanding” and “knowledge” of information cannot be accounted for by the laws of nature."--Lorraine Ford

      I feel that I have covered this before. In order to experience something, there has to be an experience (sensation) of some sort. What produces those sensations (chemical and electro-magnetic processes) is fairly well understood due to the laws of physics. The specific existence of a particular sensation (rather than a different one) is ultimately just a given fact of this universe, the same as the existence of electrons and protons. Meanwhile, IF those chemical/EM processes occur, science tells us that THEN you will feel the sensation (provided the brain's receptors are not physically damaged).

      You seem to be asking physics to tell you something equivalent to why quarks exist. From inside this universe, there is no way physics or anything else can tell you that (except possibly by reference to something more fundamental, as yet undiscovered). If you want it to say there is an animating spirit which living things have, which allows them to process IF-THEN statements, it will have to say, no, there is no need for that hypothesis, unliving computers process IF-THEN quite well.

      ("But the computers got them from humans"--who got them from evolution, training, and personal trial and error, all of which would be possible for computers to emulate, given the same 200,000 years of species development that humans have had.)

      Note that IF-THEN is just another way of stating the principle of determinism, which physics is almost all about. Without determinism, there would be no IF-THEN's.

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    10. Steven Evans and JimV,

      IF…THEN… is how you classify and discriminate, and act in response to that classification:

      IF small AND black feathers AND yellow beak THEN blackbird
      ELSE IF large AND black feathers AND feather base is white THEN crow
      ELSE IF large AND black feathers AND feather base is grey THEN raven
      ELSE unknown bird.
      IF raven THEN feed it cheese
      ELSE IF crow THEN feed it meat
      ELSE shoo it away.

      In a similar manner, physicists classify elementary particles into leptons, baryons and mesons.

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    11. So, Steven Evans and JimV,

      Do I have to point out the obvious yet again?

      People, and other living things, classify information about the world. Examples of these classifications are: climate change, striped, tiger, mammal, bird, blackbird, crow, raven, lepton, baryon, meson. This classification of information, and any responses to the classifications, is ONLY representable as IF…THEN… ; it is NOT representable by equations.

      In addition, you can’t derive the classification of information (i.e. something representable by IF…THEN…) from the laws of nature (i.e. something representable by equations). I.e. the ability to classify information cannot emerge from the laws of nature, and is not an outcome of the laws of nature.

      Unlike you two, I don’t believe in miracles. The ability of living things to classify information indicates that there exists an entirely separate (logical/ analysing/ classifying) aspect of the world to the law of nature aspect.

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    12. Lorraine Ford,

      The guys that you are arguing with think that certain hardware/software systems -- deep learning neural networks, for example -- classify things just as humans do, and deep learning neural networks just obey the laws of physics.

      Now, I think you would say that deep learning neural networks are designed by us to imitate what we do when we classify things, just as we design computers to imitate what we do when we do arithmetic or carry out logical operations.

      But your opponents would claim that functionally it is the same -- and they think that functionality is all that matters.

      So, how can you get them to see your point? Is it that we humans have purposes of our own and the "purpose" of computers is only the purpose we impute to the computers? Or is it that we have subjective experiences which computers do not have?

      I am genuinely curious how you explain what you think those on the opposite side of the debate are missing.

      All the best,

      Dave

      Delete
    13. Dave,

      What I would say is that computers can symbolically represent real-world events, e.g. an atomic bomb explosion, without any explosion actually happening, and without anyone getting hurt. That is because information in the real world is not the same as the “information” that a computer is processing:

      Computers are operating on 2 levels: 1) the electrical voltages and the transistors in the computer obey the laws of nature, just like an atomic bomb explosion obeys the laws of nature; at the same time, 2) symbols of real world information are being processed.

      There is a long history of people using symbols to represent the real world and their inner thoughts, which started with written and spoken words and language, and mathematical symbols and numbers. A further development was when people (Leibniz, Bacon, and others) devised binary digit systems to represent letters of the alphabet and numbers. Also, propositional logic has an ancient history; and in the 1800s Boole devised a system of logic (Boolean algebra). More recently, Shannon noticed that people could use electric circuits to represent binary digits and Boolean algebra.

      The outcome is that people can use electrical voltages and transistors in computers to symbolically represent the real world (e.g. atomic bomb explosions, the weather), and to symbolically represent their inner thoughts and logical reasoning. Computers can do this because they are operating on 2 levels. There are no atomic bomb explosions, weather, thoughts, logical reasoning, or classifications actually happening inside computers.

      There are plenty of people who have illogical beliefs about computers because they have not really understood the facts about computers. But I am not sure that the above will convince these people because there is a lot of wishful thinking about computers, and I think a lot of people have read/ watched too much science fiction.

      Lorraine

      Delete
    14. Lorraine Ford9:26 PM, May 05, 2020

      " you can’t derive the classification of information (i.e. something representable by IF…THEN…) from the laws of nature"

      Except that's exactly what has been observed to happen.
      Everything that exists, including human brains and all their functions, derived by a process which is currently best described (up to a level of finite precision) by the laws of nature from what is currently best described (up to a certain level of finite precision) as a dense, soup of quarks that existed 13.7 billion years ago.
      The observations that support this idea will not disappear - just like apples still fell off trees after Einstein discovered GR - they will only get more precise. Presumably the Standard Model is a precise enough theory of matter to build on to describe the brain and all its functions.

      If you think something has appeared in the observable universe which did not derive from that soup of quarks 13.7 billion years ago according to the laws of nature, **then please let us know what it is, what its source is, and the process by which it developed**?

      Delete
    15. PhysicistDave4:47 AM, May 06, 2020

      "classify things just as humans do, and deep learning neural networks just obey the laws of physics."

      Dave, this has never been my point. Brains are made of Standard Model matter, and so all their functions can ultimately be described in terms of the Standard Model. A sperm and an egg are physical. They combine and grow according to the laws of physics ultimately, and this leads to a brain made of Standard Model matter that carries out conscious thought. The brain evolved over hundreds of millions of years so the fact that neuroscientists have not yet completed the reverse engineering job is not a surprise - the observations have not yet been made to complete the job, just like the observations have not yet been made to be able to describe the very early universe.

      At some point non-conscious AIs trained to research neuroscience will be able to describe conscious thought completely as a brain activity and finally we can close down the silly theology and philosophy departments where they cling to the nonsense that the mind and body are separate because they don't understand the power of evolution.

      Delete
    16. Steven Evans wrote:
      >At some point non-conscious AIs trained to research neuroscience will be able to describe conscious thought completely as a brain activity and finally we can close down the silly theology and philosophy departments where they cling to the nonsense that the mind and body are separate because they don't understand the power of evolution.

      Steve, I have not noticed that Lorraine claims that "mind and body are separate" in the sense that mind can exist independently of the body, nor have I.

      What is being debated here is whether physics as it now exists can explain things such as subjective experience, intentionality, etc.

      Certainly no one has yet shown that this can be done. It remains at least an interesting question.

      I think, frankly, you are engaged in the "fallacy of evolution." Evolution does not explain how anything happens: evolution is not an independent source of causality in the world.

      Concretely, the laws of nature that explain how birds fly are not the laws of evolution: rather, it is the laws of aerodynamics that explain how birds fly.

      "Evolution" is just a rough summary of how the laws of physics and chemistry that we already understand can lead to certain results.

      Which gets us back to the original topic of this thread: reductionism. Scientists believe that if only we humans were smart enough, then we could see how the whole path of evolution is just a playing out of the laws of quantum mechanics. But we have trouble grasping it all at once.

      So, we explain how QM explains chemical bonding, how chemistry explains DNA->RNA->protein and the internal operation of the cell, and so on.

      The idea that an amoeba is just electrons, protons, and neutrons doing their thing is hard for most humans to grasp (impossible for some of our friends here, it seems!), but there is nothing an amoeba does that seems alien to the laws of physics.

      I mean, an amoeba basically moves around and changes its shape as well as its internal chemical composition (and sometimes the chemical composition of stuff it comes into contact with AKA food). All physics or chemistry (and chem is just physics thanks to QM).

      But while one can obviously describe the motion of an amoeba or the flight of a bird via physics, how to explain subjective experience or intentionality via physics? No one has ever come up with even a semi-plausible explanation.

      As I recall, you have been willing to accept the possibility that there are just some basic laws of nature that say that matter arranged in certain ways, as, for example, in a mammalian brain, just happens as a brute fact to be accompanied by subjective experiences.

      And perhaps that is the final answer. Or perhaps not.

      You don't know, and I do not know, and Lorraine does not know.

      It seems to me that the difference is that Lorraine and I are interested in pointing out the fact of (current) human ignorance on this question. Whereas, you seem concerned that anyone who points this out is giving aid and comfort to your spiritualist/theist enemies!

      It is a little bit as if someone opposed any talk of exoplanets on the grounds that this gives aid and comfort to the kooky UFO enthusiasts. Which I suppose it does.

      But, still, the exoplanets are there. And, similarly, the question of how consciousness relates to the aspects of reality understood by physics is also there, even if that fact gives aid and comfort to theists.

      And that question is no more settled by the magic word "evolution" than the laws of aerodynamics that enable birds to fly are explained by the magic word "evolution."

      Yeah, birds evolved and so did we. But as far as we know, the laws of nature did not.

      Dave

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    17. Steven Evans,

      Re:
      IF small AND black feathers THEN blackbird
      ELSE IF large AND black feathers THEN raven
      ELSE unknown bird.
      IF raven THEN feed it cheese
      ELSE shoo it away.

      Please attempt to show us how laws of nature (equations) could lead to the classifications “blackbird”, “raven” and “unknown bird”; and attempt to show us how laws of nature (equations) could lead to the different responses “feed it cheese” and “shoo it away”. Perhaps start by describing what sort of information is acquired by a person’s eyes and ears.

      Delete
    18. Dave,

      We're going round in circles here. The original post states that the brain is made of Standard Model matter and therefore conscious experience is either weakly or strongly emergent from that Standard Model matter.
      All you are saying, repeatedly, is that you personally cannot see how conscious thought can be scientifically explained in terms of a material brain. But the brain has evolved into a complex form over hundreds of millions of years, and therefore it is no surprise that even someone taught by Feynman and Weinberg cannot reverse engineer the brain with just a few minutes' thought. The complexity of the brain due to its long evolution is the whole reason there was a mind-body problem in the first place, but we now know this problem is a non-problem.

      You have not yet provided a single argument against the position of the original post despite writing many comments. Do you have any arguments?

      Delete
    19. Lorraine Ford5:12 AM, May 07, 2020

      If you are saying that there is more in the observable universe than what is described in the Standard Model + GR (+ maybe Dark Matter and Dark Energy), then please, please tell us what it is. If you think the mind emerges from something additional to the material brain, then please, please tell us what it is. If you think that during the development of a foetus from sperm meeting egg that at some point it acquires non-physical attributes then please, please tell us what they are, their source and how they arise.

      If you think the idea of logic cannot arise in a purely physical brain than please, please explain how you know this. Because mountains of empirical evidence tells us logic did arise in a physical brain, but you have been claiming for several years now that that is impossible. So instead of repeating yourself for another few years, why don't you tell us how you know logic can't arise in a physical brain, despite the fact that is exactly what has been observed?

      We are done with the dogmatically parrotting "IF.. THEN.." stage.

      IF you have a reason for your claim THEN please, please provide it.

      Delete
    20. Steven Evans wrote to me:
      >We're going round in circles here. The original post states that the brain is made of Standard Model matter and therefore conscious experience is either weakly or strongly emergent from that Standard Model matter.

      Where, pray tell, is this stated in the "original post"?

      Seriously.

      I don't see it.

      And if it were stated, what difference would that make?

      The "original post" is not Gospel, y'know. I may disagree with it.

      Steve also wrote:
      >All you are saying, repeatedly, is that you personally cannot see how conscious thought can be scientifically explained in terms of a material brain.

      No, that is not at all what I am saying. I am saying that the Standard Model talks about things that can be observed from outside -- basically the positions of material objects (pointers, dots on oscilloscope screens, etc.).

      The Standard Model says nothing about what it is like to see things from the inside: the Standard Model says nothing about what it is like to be an electron from the inside.

      Now, of course, you and I and most ordinary people (everyone except panpsychists) think this is because there is nothing to what it feels like to be an electron from the inside. I.e., electrons are not conscious.

      But there is something it feels like to be a human -- we have an inside perspective on ourselves as well as an outside perspective.

      And that is odd. Very odd. No one has ever come up with even a semi-plausible explanation as to how this dual aspect to us humans can be explained by the Standard Model.

      Now, as we have discussed, perhaps it is just a brute fact of nature that when matter is arranged in certain ways -- as in mammalian brains, for example -- then you just happen to get these dual inside/outside perspectives.

      Perhaps so. Even so, that raises the question of exactly what arrangements of matter have this strange property -- mollusc brains? arthropod brains? silicon brains? plasma brains?

      There are serious, interesting questions here.

      In any case, there is an "explanatory gap" here analogous to Hume's famous is/ought gap.

      I assume you know Hume's famous argument that you cannot derive an "ought" from an "is." You can actually formalize that as a theorem in logic. In any normal axiomatic system, you cannot prove a non-trivial conclusion involving a property A unless that property A is present in some manner in at least one of the premises or axioms.

      The meaning of "non-trivial" can be given a precise and fairly obvious meaning: i.e., one can derive that a "tove" is either "slithy" or not "slithy" without "slithy" being in the premises, simply because this in tautological. But, unless "slithy" is present in one of the premises or axioms, one can only derive trivial results of this sort about slithiness. (With apologies to Lewis Carroll, of course, who, as a logician, would have appreciated the example.)

      I hope you can see why this meta-logical theorem is obvious and proves Hume's point just as well as the point about slithy toves.

      And because the terms that exist in the Standard Model refer only to the outside perspective, you cannot derive the existence of an inside perspective from the Standard Model, for the same reason. A logical gap.

      This need not upset your world-view that dramatically. Maybe there just are the additional brute facts about nature -- what I cal a "translation dictionary" -- that explains how inner and outer perspectives are connected.

      But logically you need at least that.

      I will leave it to Lorraine to draw a similar conclusion about the points she is making: I think she can do so easily if she wishes.

      Steve also wrote:
      >IF you have a reason for your claim THEN please, please provide it.

      I just gave more than a reason. I gave a proof.

      QED

      If you can grasp it.

      Dave

      Delete
    21. There is physics that is outside of general relativity and the standard model. We label this as dark matter. There is some source of spacetime curvature that form galactic halos that does not fit into the standard model. As far as we generally know or at least presume it fits within general relativity. If we presume dark matter is composed of particles then these particles are eigenstates of some extended group, equivalently an algebra of roots and weights, the standard model may be embedded within. There would then be some irreducible representation of weights that corresponds to a spectrum of elementary particles that includes these dark matter particles.

      A lot of this discussion revolves around the brain and consciousness. There was a statement I heard years ago something to the effect that physics would become a subset of psychology. There is this idealist concept that somehow mind is co-equal or maybe supreme to what we ordinarily think of as physical objects. As I see it this is not a scientific proposition, but metaphysical. The main difficulty is there is no operational definition of what consciousness is, or how measurable quantities associated with consciousness fits into some hypothesis or putative theory. In physics or science, we ordinarily want a minimum of metaphysical ideas behind theories or methods. That minimum then constitutes the postulates or physical axioms of a theory, and beyond that metaphysical thinking in effect ends.

      Consciousness does not exist in the standard model. The Dirac Lagrangian for fermions, the gauge field Lagrangian and the scalar Lagrangian for the Higgs field describe a sort of Ginsburg-Landau phase transition from high energy physics of electroweak interaction into a low energy phase where the electromagnetic and weak interaction fields are separate and the weak interaction gauge bosons have masses, as do fermions. This does within the parameters input into the system lead off to theories of nuclei and atoms, which further leads off into molecular physics and chemistry, then biology and so forth. There is nothing in the standard model that predicts the existence of bacteria or fungus, let alone consciousness. It is more of a cobbled together chain of domains of scientific understanding that have mutual overlaps.

      The only prospect for some inclusion of biology or consciousness into the foundations of physics is if there is some cosmological principle for maximal complexity. There is this multiverse concept, which has some interesting features, but most of these other cosmologies, or universes in a multiverse, are quirky oddities. Most have huge particle masses and collapse very shortly after inflation or big bang. The mass-energy of particles is determined by certain field fluxes across D-branes, and most of these are estimated to be far larger than the vacuum energy or mass-energy of fields we observe. We may then have a quantum cosmological setting where the vast majority of these spacetimes or called universes are off-shell, or similar construction, field configurations. There then may be a far fewer number of physical cosmologies, maybe in fact only the one we observe, such that cosmologies with far less possible complexity are then not physical real, say real as in classical. These then exist as quantum corrections.

      Delete
    22. Dave,

      There seems to be 2 aspects of consciousness: 1) feelings/ subjective experience of information (including colour, sound, heat and cold); and 2) the information content, the bit that can be represented by variables, numbers and relationships.

      As you say, if an inside perspective (i.e. feelings and subjective experience of information) is not trivial, then one can’t derive the existence of this inside perspective from no inside perspective. And for the same reason, if an inside perspective is not trivial, then one can’t say that an electron doesn’t have an inside perspective.

      Is an inside perspective necessary to make the world work? I would think it is more efficient to experience colour, than to have a look-up table in front of you with numbers representing field of view position matched with numbers representing light wavelength, and numbers representing strength of colour/number of photons. Nothing can be proved, but maybe one could say that subjective experience is efficient, and necessary to make the world work, and therefore non-trivial.

      IF, THEN, ELSE, AND and OR are about the information content of consciousness. The content of consciousness has clearly been derived from ordering and classifying “lower-level” information mainly coming from particle interactions in the eyes and ears. This lower-level light and sound information does not arrive pre-classified into “tiger”, “blackbird” and “raven”; and the lower-level information does not automatically self-organise into “tiger”, “blackbird” and “raven” categories: physical matter/ brains are needed to do the ordering and classifying.

      But I would say that it is impossible to organise and classify lower-level information using the laws of nature, because the laws of nature are represented by equations; you need something representable by IF, THEN, ELSE, AND and OR to organise and classify this information. That’s why I would like people to attempt to collate, order and classify using nothing but equations, to see where it gets them.

      Delete
    23. Lawrence,

      Re “The only prospect for some inclusion of biology or consciousness into the foundations of physics is if there is some cosmological principle for maximal complexity”:

      I think you have got it the wrong way round. Clearly, consciousness in living things collates, orders and classifies information, or at least experiences the result of this collating, ordering and classifying of information. Consciousness has got nothing to do with any grand, abstract “cosmological principle for maximal complexity”.

      Delete
    24. Steven Evans,

      Is it true that “mountains of empirical evidence tells us logic did arise in a physical brain”? Is it true that logic arising in a physical brain is “exactly what has been observed?”

      Delete
    25. Lorraine Ford and Steven Evans,

      An interesting fact about digital logic design illustrates Lorraine's contention that “IF... THEN” can never be embodied purely in a material substrate, such as a digital computer, but always depends on the interpretation of symbols by a human mind.

      Usually, in digital circuit design, we take a high voltage to count as a “1” or as “TRUE” and the opposite for a low voltage.

      But there is nothing in nature that compels us to so interpret the voltages. Specifically, we can, and sometimes do, interpret them the other way around.

      As this reference makes clear:

      > "In general, once the voltage levels are selected, the assignment of 1 and 0 to those levels can be arbitrary. In the so-called positive logic system, the higher of the two voltages denotes logic-1, and the lower value denotes logic-0. In the negative logic system, the designations are the opposite."

      You might ask, “Why ever use a 'negative-logic' convention?”

      There can be some good reasons. Digital logic is usually built around NAND or NOR gates. Depending on the technology you are using, one or the other of these may use less power, take up less space, more easily implement your needed functionality, be less noise sensitive, or whatever.

      So, suppose the simplest way to implement your design is to use mainly NOR gates. But, suppose that in the manufacturing technology you are using, NAND gates are, on the whole, preferable.

      Use negative logic!

      For the same physical circuitry that implements a NAND gate in positive logic implements a NOR gate in negative logic, and vice versa.

      Just by looking at the physical circuitry and physical voltages, you cannot tell if a given logic gate is a NAND gate or a NOR gate: it all depends on the intention of the design engineer: Is he intending the voltage levels to be interpreted as positive or negative logic?

      This is, by the way, connected to the well-known duality principle of Boolean algebra mathematically.

      How does this connect to “IF...THEN”?

      Suppose you have a logic gate that implements “IF p THEN q” in positive logic.

      The exact same physical structure, the exact same voltages, means something different in negative logic: (NOT p) AND q. XOR in positive logic become ↔ in negative logic, and so on.

      It is interesting to look at typical computer circuitry under this kind of transformation of interpretation: everything becomes a strange Bizarro World. And yet the computer behaves exactly as before, lighting up the same pixels on the screen, etc.

      You might say, “Well, surely, even if it is possible and sometimes useful to use 'negative logic,' surely it is a bit perverse: surely positive logic is more 'natural.' I mean, 1>0, and a high voltage is greater than a low voltage! The number one naturally goes with a high voltage and zero with a low voltage.”

      No: “high voltages” are not really high. That is an arbitrary human convention, and an extremely annoying and inconvenient convention for electronics design engineers (I speak from personal experience!)

      Electricity is carried by electrons, which, by convention, have a negative charge. It's Ben Franklin's fault, and electrical engineering would be a lot easier if Ben had made the other choice.

      So, if anything, “negative logic” is more natural than “positive logic.”

      So, why do all the people who claim that computers can implement human thought understand none of this?

      Because not a one of them knows how computers actually work?

      Can everyone see that Lorraine has a point?

      Dave

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    26. Lorraine Ford asserts: the ability to classify information cannot emerge from the laws of nature, and is not an outcome of the laws of nature. I assert that it can and did, and I have cited evidence.

      Once again I point her to AlphaGoZero which can analyze a huge number of possible Go-board settings and classify them as to where the next best moves are, using a large neural network tree which mimics animal neurons. This classification evolved by trial and error, thanks to the logic capability of electronic circuits which is natural and understood by science, and by the mechanics of evolution which is also a scientific theory. Again I try to explain that science is a huge collection of IF-THEN sequences observed in nature, compressed as far as we can into principles and equations. It does not and cannot (neither can anything else) explain why a particular IF-THEN sequence is bound to work in our universe (except by reference to more fundamental givens) but would not work in some hypothetical other universe. (This will seem obvious and condescending which is not my intention but I repeat it because to the limited extent I comprehend what LF's issue is, that seems to me to address it. I.e., the fact that there must be fundamental givens to start with does not mean that science is overlooking something.)

      And of course science's principles and equations can regurgitate the IF-THEN's they are based on.

      Then I go on to state that if such a useful (to Go-players) classification could evolve by trial and error in an unliving machine, that implies it could also evolve in "living" creatures (aka nano-tech biological machines). No additional "magic" is required. One is free to assume unneccessary things if it pleases one, but not to claim they are necessary to science.

      ("But how about how it feels"--I'm with Dr. Turing. If it looks like it thinks, acts like it thinks, and quacks like it thinks, it is a thinker.) (Afterall, my own feelings are not all that neuro-typical. I may be quacking up.)

      Another way of seeing this is to realize that any sophisticated program of IF-THEN's and data classifications which an expert like LF could write could in principle be assembled randomly, op-code by op-code, given enough time, by natural processes. Meanwhile, given a particular op-code and computer architecture, science can predict what each op-code will do. Such programs are enabling cars to park themselves (the bane of driving tests, in my day). They should also be able to drive an amoeba, I would think.

      Nature's principles and yes, equations, provide a tremendously large number of IF-THEN's which work in this universe. Trial and error can then sort through them and find useful applications, which will involve classifications (ultimately into the categories pro- and anti-survival). All of this depends on determinism and is facilitated by reductionism. Without those two describing our universe, we would not able to classify anything, and in fact would not be here at all--according to science as I understand it.

      All I can hope is that I have demonstrated there is a lot of evidence for my position (don't forget the feral children who can't do the abstract thinking or computer programming that LF can and seems to think magical (i.e., outside of nature's laws), due to lack of early neural training). Could there be some magic to the universe that we haven't discovered? Sure. Is it necessary to explain what we see around us? No.

      Delete
    27. Dave,

      Re PhysicistDave 4:50 AM, May 09, 2020:

      Very well explained Dave, as usual. I wish someone would write a book exploding, what seems to be, the worldwide mass delusion about computers/ AIs. I think the general issue is the difference between a thing and a representation of the thing. I think we are already so immersed in symbolic representation, i.e. written and spoken words and mathematical symbols, that we find it difficult to see the difference. I think that, if we are trying to understand the nature of the world, we need to start by getting this computer/ AI issue right.

      Unfortunately, I’ve tried and tried to explain how computers actually work to JimV, all to no avail.

      Delete
  44. @ PhysicistDave

    “We are talking about whether anything happens in some system that, in principle, cannot be determined by simply evolving the Schrödinger equation.”

    Sorry, not sure if your comment was made in discussing emergence or reductionism, but they seem to be flip sides of the same coin. The encompassing question is the notion of determinism in its various degrees of rigor and whether causality is continuous or discrete – that is knotted in some fashion that changes the causal equation.

    Given that the fundamental dynamical attractor of the universe seems to be cyclical, it is no surprise that, if you take the lid off any biological dissipative system, you will find a dense knit of cyclical processes that range spatiotemporally over many orders of magnitude and are organized in both heterarchical and deeply nested hierarchal relationships. Hence, one may ask: In the land of cycles, does causal supervenience simply swallow its tail and become an irrelevant guide to what happens next? Is this where chance may be given a chance?

    In biology, why does one find multiple solutions to the same question? Why do photosynthetic molecules akin to chlorophyll occur in such a variety of form across multiple species? Why do neurobiologists face a problem of determining motor neural pathways given their near-infinite degrees of freedom? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degrees_of_freedom_problem) Why are the hummingbird and the sphinx moth so easily mistaken at first glance? Why would a universe with an absolutely singular evolution evidence such an extensive internal diversity of form?

    All this may be simply a knot of misapprehension, but would appreciate your clarification.

    Regards…

    ReplyDelete
  45. @ PhysicistDave (again)

    “We are talking about whether anything happens in some system that, in principle, cannot be determined by simply evolving the Schrödinger equation.”

    Should you have time for this, I am trying to sort out the implications of the words, “some system,” as it applies to reductionism and further, how they apply within a superdeterministic view of the Schrödinger equation. Here are two general definitions:

    “A system is a portion of the universe that has been chosen for studying the changes that take place within it in response to varying conditions. A system may be complex, such as a planet, or relatively simple, as the liquid within a glass. Those portions of a system that are physically distinct and mechanically separable from other portions of the system are called phases.” – Wiki.

    “A quantum system is a portion of the whole Universe (environment or physical world) which is taken under consideration to make analysis or to study for quantum mechanics pertaining to the wave-particle duality in that system. Everything outside this system (i.e. environment) is studied only to observe its effects on the system. A quantum system involves the wave function and its constituents, such as the momentum and wavelength of the wave for which wave function is being defined.” – Wiki.

    Are these definitions viable within a possible superdeterministic universe? We find the phrase, “portion of the universe,” and the possibility of observable effects on the system by its surround. If there is actually only one grand system, an all-encompassing wave function progressing through a well-oiled time evolution to a certain end, then is the notion of there being separable sub-systems merely a chimera, an artifact of our previously limited understanding?

    Consider that path is the salient observable in determining causality. The general rationale is that if there is a change in the path, there is then an associated cause. If subsystems and the relations between them have no real effect on changing the path of an evolving SD universe, then are they in effect neutered, more of a constant than a variable, no longer an effective part of changing the casual equation that is named for Schrödinger?

    Yet, we have it on good authority that reducing the large and complex into its simpler and finally simplest constituent elementals is a valid and highly successful scientific methodology. So, it seems as though those elementals and their aggregate constructs must each have some integral and inter-systemic causal process.

    It would be useful to know if we can validly look at the relations between subsystems as a means of clarifying the nature of our if-this-then-that universe.

    And as to clarity, not sure I have done my part. I would appreciate your thoughts in any case.

    Regards.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Sabine,

    A question tangentially related to reductionism:

    How many degrees of freedom does a superdeterministic universe actually have?

    Curious.

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Merely saying that a theory is superdeterministic does not tell you anything about the degrees of freedom of the universe. You can have a superdeterministic theory for a universe with only two particles if you wish. It's just that this wouldn't describe what we see.

      Delete
  47. Sabine,

    Ah yes, my question was poorly formed. Let me try again:

    If our universe, assuming that we inhabit the same one, is superdeterministic, how many degrees of freedom does it actually have?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Depends on what your theory looks like. As I said, just saying that a theory is superdeterministic doesn't tell you anything about the details of the theory. Your question makes about as much sense as asking "If as dress is blue, what's its size?"

      Delete
    2. Sorry, I didn't say this very clearly. Of course it tells you something, namely that the theory is superdeterministic... The point is that this alone doesn't tell you what the degrees of freedom are, so you can't make a statement about how many there are.

      Delete
  48. Sabine,

    “Sorry, I didn't say this very clearly. Of course it tells you something, namely that the theory is superdeterministic... The point is that this alone doesn't tell you what the degrees of freedom are, so you can't make a statement about how many there are.”


    I appreciate your patience.

    Okay, say we don’t inhabit the same universe; the one through which you navigate is more complex. In so far as I am able, let’s talk about your universe, the one in which Dr. Palmer and yourself suggested revisiting superdeterminism as a potential balm for the measurement problem. How many degrees of freedom would that universe actually have?

    Again, thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don,

      Look, forget all about superdeterminism. How many degrees of freedom do you think the universe has?

      Delete
    2. Sabine.

      “Look, forget all about superdeterminism. How many degrees of freedom do you think the universe has?”

      Whoa, that hardly seems fair. I just want answers, don’t want put out a lot of effort.

      I read that neurobiologists complain of facing nearly infinite degrees of freedom in determining motor neurological pathways. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degrees_of_freedom_problem) Given that this is for one muscle group in one organism on one planet chock-full of organisms in a universe largely unknown, my conservative answer to your question would be 42. Or more fulsomely:
      (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrases_from_The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy)

      Okay, I have answered your question. Any clarity on mine?

      Thanks,

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    3. Don,

      I have tried to tell you several times that your question has no answer. It depends on what you think the fundamental theory of nature looks like. If you think that theory has an infinite number of degrees of freedom, it will still have an infinite number of degrees of freedom if it's superdeterministic. If you think the universe is made of a finite number of bits, then it will still have a finite number of degrees of freedom when it's superdeterministic. The mere statement that the theory is superdeterministic does not tell you what the number of degrees of freedom is.

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    4. Sabine,

      Well, feeling a bit of a pest here, but before you decide to declare social distancing I would like to try one more time.

      Upon re-reading your blogpost of Sunday, July 28, 2019, The Forgotten Solution: Superdeterminism, I find that you don’t espouse any particular theory, but do make the following statements:

      “And how to solve it? [the measurement problem] Collapse models solve the measurement problem, but they are hard to combine with quantum field theory which for me is a deal-breaker. Pilot wave theories also solve it, but they are non-local, which makes my hair stand up for much the same reason. This is why I think all these approaches are on the wrong track and instead side with superdeterminism.”

      “I find superdeterminism interesting because the most obvious class of hidden variables are the degrees of freedom of the detector. [Bell’s inequality experiments]” And the detector isn’t statistically independent of itself, so any such theory necessarily violates statistical independence.”

      “Rather, it’s that the detectors’ states aren’t independent of the system one tries to measure. There just isn’t any state the experimentalist could twiddle their knob to which would prevent a correlation.”

      “Where do these correlations ultimately come from? Well, they come from where everything ultimately comes from, that is from the initial state of the universe.”


      I have not done justice to your narrative by picking out these pieces, but do they serve as data points to sufficiently narrow the category of superdeterministic theory so that is meaningful to question the extent of their degrees of freedom?

      From the bleacher seats they seem to be describing a very singular universe, one in which its initial state fully determines each subsequent state together with all its quarky detail and so on through time ad infinitum. If this grand mechanism is bound to move in concert with all its parts along a single dynamical path, what then are its actual degrees of freedom?

      Thanks

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    5. Don,

      As I have said, that a theory is "superdeterministic" does not tell you what its degrees of freedom are. There are many different ways you can make superdeterministic theories.

      I can tell you what the degrees of freedom are in the superdeterministic model that I have been working with specifically. They are exactly the same degrees of freedom as in the standard model of particle physics.

      "From the bleacher seats they seem to be describing a very singular universe, one in which its initial state fully determines each subsequent state together with all its quarky detail and so on through time ad infinitum."

      This has nothing to do with superdeterminism in particular, this is just plain old determinism and it tells you nothing about the degrees of freedom.

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  49. Sabine,

    “I can tell you what the degrees of freedom are in the superdeterministic model that I have been working with specifically. They are exactly the same degrees of freedom as in the standard model of particle physics.”

    Thank you, this clarifies things. (Though secretly I was hoping you would say, “Oh gosh, I have forgotten about degrees of freedom, what will I do now?”)

    My problem with understanding this likely arises from an excess of metaphorical thinking. For example, reading about degrees of freedom in mechanics I find:

    “A train of rigid cars connected by hinges to an engine still has only one degree of freedom because the positions of the cars behind the engine are constrained by the shape of the track.” – Wiki.

    So, I make a perhaps inappropriate connection between that train and a superdeterministic universe. I see that in the latter there would be more degrees of freedom if the track could curve, but then, what would the track curve within and by what cause? And if this universe was like the train, how might it transform over time from a say coal train to perhaps a circus train with clowns and acrobats, lions and dancing horses? How would a universe in which the parts are so inexorably connected to the whole and hence governed by an absolutely singular evolution come to produce such an extensive internal diversity of form, produce a biology that habituates to every possible extreme of terrestrial environment and create things like opposable thumbs?

    Metaphorical thinking can clearly lead one astray, but how do you know?

    I appreciate your patience here, but in all fairness, I can’t ask you to unknot what may be an intractable tangle. So it goes.

    Best regards…

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    1. "How would a universe in which the parts are so inexorably connected to the whole and hence governed by an absolutely singular evolution come to produce such an extensive internal diversity of form, produce a biology that habituates to every possible extreme of terrestrial environment and create things like opposable thumbs?"--Don Foster

      If you are concerned about the extreme unlikelihood of what you see on Earth, extend your mental view to the observable universe with roughly 100-billion-squared solar systems, and so far not another known to have anything like what you see here. It seems to me that you may be committing the Lottery Fallacy (the odds against any specific individual winning are great, too great to be due to chance).

      As Dr. Hossenfelder mentioned, your objections seem to be to determinism, not super-determinism. Determinism is the clock-work universe of classical physics, with time-symmetric equations. Super-determinism would extend that to apparently random quantum events. Perhaps you feel some dice-shaking is necessary. I would tend to prefer that myself, but it is not logically necessary, particularly when quantum randomness (apparent or real) has statistical properties that cause it to have little influence on ordinary life.

      In any case, the diverse biology and opposable thumbs were produced by evolution, which is based on trial and error, which requires determinism. Suppose I have four different mutations, A-D, and at this instant A produces death, B has no effect, C makes the gene work a little better, and D makes the gene a little worse. Under determinism, they will always have the same effect they have now, and trial and error can find which one is best. Without determinism, their effects could change from instant to instant and trial and error could not work.

      This trial and error has been happening for billions of years on Earth, and the more genes it creates and spreads, the more natural laboratories it has to operate in. Extend your mental scope to that also.

      What insures that A-D will occur enough times that evolution can get its grip on the situation? Well, cosmic rays are hitting genes constantly, and even if they were preordained by the universe's initial conditions, there are enough of them hitting enough genes so that sooner or later all possibilities will occur, even in a totally deterministic universe, which is why I say randomess is not a logical necessity for what you see.

      As to degrees of freedom, they apply to calculations we make, such as how much energy it will take to accelerate one of your trains to a certain speed. To calculate where everything is now from a set of initial conditions at the Big Bang (assuming our physics applies that far back) would take more degrees of freedom than could be done. It doesn't mean the things we are calculating are actual "free"; just that they are unknown until we observe or calculate them.

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  50. Wheeler: It from bit. Otherwise put, every it — every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself — derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely — even if in some contexts indirectly — from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.[80]

    ReplyDelete

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