Wednesday, February 18, 2015

31 Flavors of Ontology

Ontology is the study of existence, or, to put it in philosophy-speak, it is "the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality..." yada yada yada.  You can go read the wikipedia article if you like.  It can all be summarized in a pithy slogan: existence is not a boolean value.  And because it's not a boolean value, people get themselves wrapped around the axle arguing over whether something (like God or the quantum wave function) exists or does not exist.  It is simply not the case that it must be one or the other.  Existence comes in different flavors, and arguments about existence are often isomorphic to, "Ice cream is good because it tastes like vanilla!  No, ice cream is bad because it tastes like pistachios!"  (Serious philosophers actually wrestle with questions that are essentially the same as, "Does imaginary ice cream taste good?")

It's incredibly easy to sink into semantic quicksand when talking about this stuff.  This is because the universe has played a trick on you by supplying you with a continual stream of overwhelming evidence that the universe is populated by material objects that exist in particular places at particular times, and that have a continuity of identity such that it makes sense to say things like, "The vase on that table exists."  The reason that continuity of identity matters is that it's required to make sense of the phrase, "The vase on that table."  For that phrase to make sense, the vase that is on the table now has to be the same vase that is there a microsecond from now.  If this were not so, then the vase on the table at time T0 might have existed at T0, but at time T0+epsilon it no longer exists.  Instead, it's a different vase that exists at T0+epsilon (and a different one yet again at time T0+2epsilon).

This probably sounds like I'm being pedantic, because it's just obvious that material objects like vases do have continuity of identity.  The evidence for it is just overwhelming.  But despite the overwhelming evidence, it is in fact not true.  And you don't even have to get into quantum mechanics to see that it is not the case.  All you have to do is to try to define what "the same thing" actually means.  When you do this, you run headlong into the "ship of Theseus" problem, which is so-called because of the manner in which it was first described by Plutarch around the time of Christ:

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned [from Crete] had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
Replace the word "planks" with "atoms" and you have a modern version of this puzzle: if you replace every atom in an object with a different but identical atom, do you end up with the same object or a different object?  The collection of atoms you end up with after the replacement process will be completely indistinguishable from the collection you started with, so on what possible basis could you call the new collection "different"?

This is not an academic question.  The atoms in your own body are continually being replaced in exactly this way.  None of the atoms in your body today are the same as the atoms in your body when you were born.  In fact, even the arrangement of atoms in your body changes.  So in what sense can you say that you are "the same person" that you were when you were born?  Or even last year?  Or yesterday?  Or a minute ago?

Or consider this: suppose I take a tree and cut it down.  Is it still a tree?  Suppose I mill it into lumber and build a house out of it.  At what point did it stop being a tree and start being a house?

OK, OK, I hear you saying, the temporal and spatial boundaries of the identities of things referred to by words are fuzzy, but surely that does not cast doubt on the proposition that while a collection of atoms is arranged as a tree or a house or whatever, that that tree or that house actually exists in point of metaphysical fact, does it?  Well, yes, it does.  Why?  Because atoms themselves are just arrangements of sub-atomic "particles".  (And, of course, I put "particles" in scare quotes because sub-atomic particles are not really particles, but I don't want to get lost in the quantum weeds.)

To take an example that is prosaic to the modern mind but would have been every bit as esoteric as quantum mechanics to a person living a mere 100 years ago, consider the question, "Does software exist?"  Surely the answer is "yes".  Surely humanity has not built a multi-billion-dollar industry on a delusions.  Surely there is some salient difference between software and (say) leprechauns.  But if you try to get a handle on what software actually is you will find it to be every bit as elusive as a leprechaun.  What is software made out of?  What is its mass?  What color is it?  (Notice that we can actually give a meaningful answer to that last question for leprechauns: they are green!)

No sane modern person can deny the existence of software.  And yet it is clear that the manner in which software exists is very different from the manner in which trees and houses exist.  They obey very different laws of physics.  Trees and houses are made of atoms which obey conservation laws.  Software is made of bits, which don't obey conservation laws.

But the manner-of-existence of trees and houses shares one very important feature with the manner-of-existence of software: both depend on arrangements.  What determines if a particular collection of atoms is a tree or a house is their arrangement.  What determines whether a particular collection of bits is Microsoft Word or Mozilla Firefox is their arrangement.

Arrangement is everything.  Planet earth has had more or less the same repertoire of atoms since it was formed four billion years ago (modulo the odd asteroid) but an endless variety of different kinds of things that consisted of nothing more than those same old atoms arranging and re-arranging themselves into different patterns.  (And, of course, the atoms themselves are just different arrangements (scientists call them "states") of the quantum wave function.)

However: just because arrangement is everything (or everything is an arrangement) doesn't mean that there aren't useful distinctions to be made between different kinds of arrangements.  Atoms are arrangements (states -- same thing) of the quantum wave function, but the kinds of phenomena that the wave function can directly produce are very limited: a dozen or so fundamental particles that arrange themselves into a hundred or so (depending on how you count) different kinds of atoms.  That's it.  That's all quantum mechanics does on its own.  Not really very interesting.

But once you get to atoms, something fundamentally new happens: you get chemistry.  Atoms interact with each other in ways that are fundamentally different from the way in which the quantum wave function arranges itself to produce atoms.  Of course, the behavior of atoms are still constrained by quantum mechanics.  Nothing magic happens when atoms produce chemistry.  But the level of complexity rises by orders of magnitude.  This is what is meant by the slogan "classical reality emerges from the quantum wave function."

To get to us humans, you have to go through at least two more of these "quantum leaps" (no pun intended): you have to go from chemistry to life, and you have to go from life to brains.  Each of these transitions introduces fundamentally new kinds of behavior which "emerge" each from the level before.  Again, no magic, no suspension of the laws of physics, just ever increasing levels of complexity.

Brains are not the final step in this process, however.  Mice have brains, but they can't do math.  Eventually you get to brains that are big enough that they can emulate Turing machines and do math and other symbolic computations.  Somewhere along that path they invent language as well.  Once they've done that, multiple brains can arrange themselves into villages, city-states, corporations...

Arrangement is everything!

So... do you exist?  Do atoms exist?  Does life exist?  Do corporations exist?  Does music exist?  Do leprechauns exist?  Yes.  All of these things exist.  They all exist as arrangements of something.  Leprechauns exist as ideas, as fiction, as arrangements of thoughts in people's brains.  Brains exist as arrangements of atoms.  Atoms exist as arrangements (states) of the wave function.

Each of these "levels" is an ontological category.  The right question to ask is not, "Does X exist."  The answer is always "yes".  The right question is, "What is the nature of X's existence?" or "To which ontological category does X belong?"

So let us ask the right question: to which ontological category do you, the thing that is reading these words, belong?  Most people think that they belong to the ontological category of material objects, that is, the same ontological category as trees and houses.  But that is wrong.  Your body belongs to that ontological category, but you -- the thing that is reading these words -- do not.  The thing that is reading these words is not your body: if (and please pardon the gruesome imagery) someone amputated all of your limbs and replaced all of your internal organs with artificial equivalents, you would still be you.  But if someone deprived you of oxygen long enough to render you brain-dead, you wouldn't.  (That's why we talk about "kidney failure" but not "kidney death", "brain death" not "brain failure.")  You are a computational process, reified as an arrangement of electrical impulses in a human brain.  Because we do not yet know how to copy software out of brains the way we can out of computers, you (the software process) are tightly bound to your brain.  And because we do not yet know how to replace all other parts of the human body, your brain is tightly bound to your body, and that is why you (the computational process) feel a particular kinship with your body.  But nonetheless, you and your body are not only distinct, they exist in different ontological categories.  Your body is a material object.  You (the thing that is reading these words) aren't.

Some important things to note about ontological categories: once you get beyond the basics (QM -> atoms -> chemistry -> life -> brains) things get very complicated.  It is not clear how many ontological categories there are beyond brains.  Music, fiction, math, law and language are five different OCs that I can come up with just off the top of my head.  There are probably more.  The boundaries between them are not crisp, and they don't form a hierarchy.  All of them fall into the meta-OC of "mental construct".

So, my claim about God is: God belongs in the ontological category of "myth" with is a subset of the ontological category of "fiction" which is a subset of the ontological category of "mental construct".  And if any of that sounds at all like I'm being pejorative or dismissive about God then you have not understood a single word I've said.

This is not to say that you can't disagree with me.  There are two ways you could do this:

1.  You could argue that God belongs in a different ontological category.  In which case you have to tell me which ontological category you think He belongs to.

2.  You could argue that God transcends ontological categories, or that He is the sum total of all ontological categories.  But if you want to take that position, then you will have to explain to me how that statement contains any information, because defined that way "God" seems to be nothing more than a synonym for "everything".  (And so my next question will be: how can the Bible and Jesus -- or anything else for that matter -- possibly have any kind of privileged status with respect to "everything"?)

Let the games begin.

286 comments:

1 – 200 of 286   Newer›   Newest»
Publius said...

You are a computational process, reified as an arrangement of electrical impulses in a human brain. Because we do not yet know how to copy software out of brains the way we can out of computers, you (the software process) are tightly bound to your brain. And because we do not yet know how to replace all other parts of the human body, your brain is tightly bound to your body, and that is why you (the computational process) feel a particular kinship with your body. But nonetheless, you and your body are not only distinct, they exist in different ontological categories. Your body is a material object. You (the thing that is reading these words) aren't.

So the brain has physical properties (structure, blood flow, temperature,...) and mental properties (thinking, memory, intentionality, imagination,...)?

Ron said...

> So the brain has physical properties (structure, blood flow, temperature,...) and mental properties (thinking, memory, intentionality, imagination,...)?

Yes.

wrf3 said...

Ron asked: What is software made out of?

That's easy. A vast interconnected network of physical devices that combine two things into one by one or more static rules (only one rule is actually needed).

What is its mass? What color is it?

Not relevant. It's just the sequence of combinations. It doesn't matter what is combined as long as it satisfies one or more of 16 combinatorial properties.

They obey very different laws of physics.

Different from what? The laws of physics are descriptions of the way objects (particles, strings, fields, whatever) interact. You cannot have a description without a network of combinatorial "devices". You can't have the laws of physics without combination.

Your body is a material object. You (the thing that is reading these words) aren't.

One is an arrangement by additive combination; the other is an arrangement by additive and reductive combination: it's the composition (an additive arrangement) of reductive/selective devices.

Arrangement is everything.

Indeed. And this brings us right back to our prior argument. Brain arrangement controls how individuals evaluate evidence -- not logic, not reason, not evidence -- but brain arrangement. And science shows that atheists and theists have different brain arrangements.

wrf3 said...

BTW, Ron, I'm curious as to your ontological classification of the quantum wave function. Is it solely a mental construct (since descriptions of things are mental) or does it exist apart from minds?

Luke said...

> But the manner-of-existence of trees and houses shares one very important feature with the manner-of-existence of software: both depend on arrangements. What determines if a particular collection of atoms is a tree or a house is their arrangement. What determines whether a particular collection of bits is Microsoft Word or Mozilla Firefox is their arrangement.

Welcome to Platonic Forms. (This is only partly tongue-in-cheek.) There's also Aristotle's "formal cause", one of his Four Causes. One might also say that the "final cause" captures change in arrangements in a rational manner (that is, allowing there to be continuity amidst discontinuity in change).

> Again, no magic, no suspension of the laws of physics, just ever increasing levels of complexity.

Actually, unless you massively equivocate on "the laws of physics" or expand the term to cover all lawfulness, all rationality, is it not possible for those laws to be neutralized, such that they cancel out, and thus a new set of laws emerges? In fact, this might be precisely what Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin argues in A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. I don't have the book with me and haven't completed it, but he argues strongly for laws merely being emergent properties.

Causation is really tricky stuff, yo. Folks like Sean Carroll don't even like to use it at the fundamental level; he prefers the term "unbreakable pattern". Edward Feser offers a philosophical critique of Carroll's metaphysics of causation. I first learned about the tricksiness in detail via Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles. Gregory W. Dawes also talks about it in Theism and Explanation, although in less detail.

> You are a computational process [...]

Ehhh, this is not for sure. Were it, you would get the philosophical equivalent of the Fields medal for solving the problem of intentionality. If you really want to claim this, you've got to produce experiments which would attempt to ingeniously falsify this claim. You can't cite ridiculous phenomena we would never expect to see; that isn't in the spirit of Popper's falsification. Instead, you need to do the equivalent of saying that if the time-evolution of quantum state were observed to be even the slightest bit nonlinear—a very believable phenomenon one could surely observe—then falsification would have happened. Such an observation is entirely consonant with what we've observed in the past. Having humans immediately do massively undecidable operations is dicey as an instance of "ingenious falsification" (I believe you've mentioned such tests in the past).

The picture of the thing is not the thing. Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

Ron said...

> does it exist apart from minds?

Do furious green ideas sleep furiously apart from minds? Appending "apart from minds" to a non-sensical question does not change its status as a non-sensical question. You really need to learn to pay more attention, and to ask better question. Go back and search the original post for the string "Does X exist". And also pay attention to Publius. He's asking good questions.

Now, my guess is that the question you *meant* to ask is something more like: does the quantum wave function "emerge" from some other "lower level" ontological category. The answer is: no, not as far as we can tell. We can't rule it out, but there is no evidence for it. Definitively settling this question one way or another would be one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs ever. And it could happen. For example, someone might discover that the Quran is encoded in the numeric expansion of some fundamental physical constant. But I'll give you very long odds against it.

Ron said...

> Welcome to Platonic Forms. (This is only partly tongue-in-cheek.)

Yeah, kinda, but not really. Socrates didn't know about quantum mechanics or the theory of computation.

> is it not possible for those laws to be neutralized, such that they cancel out, and thus a new set of laws emerges?

Of course, anything is possible. But (cue the broken record) there is no evidence that this actually happens.

> If you really want to claim this, you've got to produce experiments which would attempt to ingeniously falsify this claim.

Didn't I do exactly that? They are thought experiments, but no one ever actually built Einstein's train either.

> solving the problem of intentionality

The article you linked to talks about a whole slew of problems, all of which have very straightforward solutions. So if you tell me what you consider *the* problem of intentionality I will tell you what the answer is.

Or you could just read my masters thesis.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Appending "apart from minds" to a non-sensical question does not change its status as a non-sensical question.

This might be a bit harsh. When it comes to the laws of nature, we believe that they exist timelessly and omnipresently. They are "true everywhere". One can ask whether there are values which, despite emerging in the ontological category of minds, are nevertheless "true everywhere". Or do you deny that this is a valid conception? If you instead will allow it, may I suggest that perhaps @wrf3 was trying to get at the "true everywhere" concept?

> Now, my guess is that the question you *meant* to ask is something more like: does the quantum wave function "emerge" from some other "lower level" ontological category. The answer is: no, not as far as we can tell. We can't rule it out, but there is no evidence for it.

I am suspicious of this reasoning. If we repeatedly find that apparent randomness is explainable by deeper laws, then why not expect this to continue? David Bohm makes precisely this argument in Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. Robert B. Laughlin may make it as well in A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. The idea here is that merely not having evidence is not sufficient reason to think that you won't find a thing. Using induction is always dangerous, but that does not mean it is never rational.

Don't forget that the evidence isn't the only thing which primes you to believe or not believe things: your prior probability does as well. To believe that nothing exists more than the evidence warrants, or make this a methodological maxim, is not necessarily what is most rational. Of course, one must find some way to define 'rational'; I would do so via telos. Sometimes it seems like you shield your prior probability from rationale examination, by always demanding evidence.

> For example, someone might discover that the Quran is encoded in the numeric expansion of some fundamental physical constant.

What would this mean? I'm very skeptical that this would provide rational basis for believing in the value judgments presented by the Quran. Likewise, the stars magically realigning to say "Jesus loves you" is not necessarily evidence for anything in the value-domain.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: Do furious green ideas sleep furiously apart from minds?

You, and Don, are awfully quick to use this label when it isn't applicable.

A water wave exists apart from minds. It isn't (at least in your world) a mental construct. The description of the water wave (which you recently wrote a post about) is a mental construct.

A "quantum wave" is a description of the way quantum observables behave. The description is mental; does the thing it describes exist, like a water wave exists? I've heard arguments both ways.

Ron said...

> A water wave exists apart from minds

Are you sure about that? What is a water wave made out of? Hint: it's not made out of water. If you think otherwise, consider the following experiment: take the water that (you think) makes up a wave at some time T. Add some red dye to it. Advance time forward by some amount that is substantially greater than the period of the wave. You will find that the water that (you think) makes up the wave is no longer red. How did that happen?

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: Were it, you would get the philosophical equivalent of the Fields medal for solving the problem of intentionality.

In your own words, with no links, what is "intentionality" and why is it a problem?

wrf3 said...

Ron asked: Are you sure about that?

It's your blog post, you tell me. Do you exist apart from me, or are you just a figment of my imagination?

You will find that the water that (you think) makes up the wave is no longer red. How did that happen?

The molecules in a wave are in motion in a fluid medium. Replace "water wave" with a waving flag.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: The picture of the thing is not the thing.

Substitute "description" for "picture". Is that ok, for the general case?

If so, is it possible that intelligence is that where the description of the thing is the thing?

Don Geddis said...

Ron mentioned that QM (so far) seems "fundamental", not based on some deeper (esp. non-random) theory.

@Luke asked: "If we repeatedly find that apparent randomness is explainable by deeper laws, then why not expect this to continue? ... The idea here is that merely not having evidence is not sufficient reason to think that you won't find a thing."

Because we have much, much stronger evidence that randomness is fundamental to QM, than merely the fact that we haven't yet managed to find deeper laws.

You may find it enlightening to explore how QM claims that electrons are indistinguishable in principle, not just in practice.

Pay particular attention to the posed question: "What kind of universe could you possibly live in, where a simple experiment can tell you whether it's possible in principle to tell two things apart?"

This question violates essentially everyone's (initial) intuition about science, when they first encounter it. And yet, that actually is the conclusion that QM makes. Pay attention to the very plausible philosophical reasoning that (incorrectly) claims "You just haven't figured out yet how to distinguish elections; perhaps science in the future will know more."

That logical-sounding argument is very compelling ... yet wrong. When you understand why it is wrong, I believe you'll have the answer to your question of "why not expect [randomness to be explained by deeper laws] to continue".

Ron said...

Don has hit the nail on the head. And as a clue, consider this similar question: How do we know that, when you make a copy of digital data, that you can't tell which is the original and which is the copy? Maybe it is possible to tell but we just haven't figured out how yet.

Luke said...

@Don:

First, from Interference between two indistinguishable electrons from independent sources, it seems like indistinguishability and entanglement may go hand-in-hand.

Second, from An Entanglement-Enhanced Microscope, it seems entanglement can enhance observation precision.

Third, from NOON state, which is based on indistinguishability, we see an even better enhancement in observation precision.

So, using this as an argument for fundamental randomness seems a bit weird.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: I'm not sure that you got the point. It wasn't about whether you can do interesting engineering because of indistinguishable electrons. Or even much about QM itself.

I was trying to make a philosophical point about epistemology. Namely: what kind of experiment could you possibly run, where the result would be that you conclude, not just that you aren't currently able to distinguish between individual electrons, but instead that you thereby make a strong prediction that no future experiment will ever distinguish between electrons?

At first glance, it doesn't seem possible that any experiment could ever result in such a prediction about the future progress of science.

Yet QM theory does indeed make that prediction. Why? What could they possibly have observed, that would lead them to make such a strong prediction about future experiments, even experiments they can't yet imagine?

And yet, QM does indeed make predictions about the outcomes of future experiments that have not yet been imagined. It's shocking, and seems almost against logic, that such a thing could be valid reasoning.

Luke said...

@Don:

I'm sorry, but I just don't see how you have rigorously demonstrated:

> When you understand why it is wrong, I believe you'll have the answer to your question of "why not expect [randomness to be explained by deeper laws] to continue".

Instead, I think you're merely waving suggestively. What you're trying to suggest is that there are fundamental limits to how much order we can find in reality, right?

Incidentally, have you any interest in reading Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down? I'm about halfway through, and will probably need to re-read it a second time. He threatens to challenge your philosophical position, if I understand it well enough.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: BTW, I'm not trying to be annoyingly Socratic here. The answer to my own questions is basically: the QM theory itself postulates indistinguishability of fundamental particles as a critical part of the theory. It's not a theory that says: here's how electrons work, and oh by the way it happens that our current instruments don't distinguish them. It's much, much deeper than that. It says: particles that are indistinguishable behave in this one way, whereas particles than can be distinguished behave in this different way. Ways that are experimentally observable. Whether electrons (or photons, or ...) are identical or not, has experimental consequences in the theory itself.

In the same way, a kind of randomness is fundamental to QM theory. It's not just, "we don't yet know the deeper theory that would be more precise". QM, instead, requires that the randomness remain forever unknowable. The randomness itself is a critical part of the theory.

Now, maybe QM is "wrong" in some way, and a later, more complete theory will subsume it. But it would be no small change to remove indistinguishability and randomness from QM. You can't just add that on to the existing theory. Those elements are such a core part of QM, that a new theory which removed them would be on the order of Einstein making "small corrections" to Newton's mechanics, by completely revolutionizing the entire conception of space and time.

This is hard to understand, if you don't go through the thinking yourself, look at the experimental data, and come reluctantly to the bizarre conclusions that the original quantum physicists did. That's why I hoped you would actually study my reference to can you prove two particles are identical? Can you? I suspect you can't (yet).

Re: "A Different Universe". From the description, I don't disagree at all. And I suspect neither would Ron, since it seems right in line with this very post. E.g. even though life is implemented on top of chemistry, the theory of evolution is not derived or understood from a physics or chemistry foundation. Evolution is properly a theory of biology. There are lots of interesting, complex theories at many different layers of abstraction.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> > For example, someone might discover that the Quran is encoded in the numeric expansion of some fundamental physical constant.
> What would this mean? I'm very skeptical that this would provide rational basis for believing in the value judgments presented by the Quran.

I didn't say it would provide a rational basis for *believing* the Quran. It's just one possible thing I could think of that would provide evidence of an ontological category "below" the quantum wave function.

> seems like indistinguishability and entanglement may go hand-in-hand

Enlightenment begins to dawn. Did you ever read my QM paper?

@wrf3

> Do you exist apart from me

Still asking the wrong questions. How many times do I have to tell you that questions of the form "Does X exist..." are not well-formed? You think it's a yes-no question, but you are wrong about that.

>>You will find that the water that (you think) makes up the wave is no longer red. How did that happen?
>The molecules in a wave are in motion in a fluid medium. Replace "water wave" with a waving flag.

No, you can't wriggle off the hook that easily. Describe to me how the molecules that comprise the wave move in such a way that they are able to detach themselves from the red dye. After all, separating water from dye is general not an easy thing to do (2nd law of thermodynamics and all that). How does a wave manage it?

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: Still asking the wrong questions. How many times do I have to tell you that questions of the form "Does X exist..." are not well-formed?

And yet, you wrote: No sane modern person can deny the existence of software. So if I were to ask you, "does software exist?", you'd have to say "yes". Or claim insanity. Or both.

How does a wave manage it?

It's irrelevant to my question which is whether or not the (classical water) wave exists outside of the mental description of its behavior. How these things interact is orthogonal to where they interact.

And that was my question. Not "does X exist", but "where does X exist"? You claim that God exists solely as a mental construct. God does not exist outside of our minds. I disagree, but fine. We knew that. Where, in your worldview, does the quantum wave function exist?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I didn't say it would provide a rational basis for *believing* the Quran. It's just one possible thing I could think of that would provide evidence of an ontological category "below" the quantum wave function.

Roger that. I'm a bit touchy about when atheists talk about what would provide evidence for the Bible or the Quran or whatever. Too often, the reasoning there is absolutely atrocious. It's like the person's imagination got fried and is now operating in TILT mode. Anyhow, as with all touchy instruments, sometimes they trigger when they oughtn't!

> Enlightenment begins to dawn. Did you ever read my QM paper?

I've skimmed it; you know I found you through your Google Tech talk, right? I'm still not sure how these arguments are supposed to convince me that we have solid reason to think that QM is fundamental. Robert B. Laughlin provides much more compelling arguments that we have no good reason to suppose that "all fundamental things are now known" in A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (xiii). I'm afraid that when it's a Nobel laureate vs. someone who hasn't published in physics, the burden of proof is quite high for the latter. Furthermore, you ought to know that I always keep Lord Kelvin's "Two Clouds" speech in mind in these discussions. He thought everything [fundamental] was about figured out, except for a few small niggling problems. He was so, so wrong.

Perhaps I sound intransigent here, but I do tend to do that in the face of people who put up the appearance of absolute certainty that they've really Figured Things Out. Rarely do I find that the appearance matches the reality. Instead, I find that people who are able to carefully tell me what they're more and less certain about are the ones who tend to have really deep understanding. I get that it's sometimes just a cultural thing to appear all confident (I hear it's quite bad in physics, and that this is extra-harsh on women, on average), but it's frustrating to someone who tries quite hard to know what he knows, with how much confidence, and what he really does not know.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "all fundamental things are now known" Who do you think was making that claim? Not Ron or me, I'm pretty sure.

"convince me that we have solid reason to think that QM is fundamental" That's not quite the same thing. You seemed to be viewing uncertainty in QM, kind of like how thermodynamics is a theory of averages (heat is average kinetic energy, etc.). Thermodynamics is only "correct" in a statistical sense. But the probabilities and uncertainties in thermodynamics, are only a result of our lack of knowledge. As you know, there is a deeper, more exact theory: molecular physics. All the "average" results in thermodynamics, are merely generalized consequences of the specific results from molecular theory.

You seemed to have the same impression of quantum mechanics. That it was something like thermodynamics, and that the fact that it can't make specific predictions, but only probabilistic ones, surely means (like with thermodynamics) that there is a more detailed, deeper theory (like molecular physics) waiting to be discovered.

QM isn't like that. The probabilities are fundamental to the theory, not accidental. No deeper, exact, theory will have QM as the approximate, larger-scale case.

Maybe QM will someday be superseded by a deeper theory. (Almost certainly true, since it conflicts with General Relativity.) But the deeper theory won't be anything as simple as the molecular explanation of thermodynamics. Uncertainty is far, far more core to the QM theory than you seem to imagine.

wrf3 said...

Luke noted: I'm still not sure how these arguments are supposed to convince me that we have solid reason to think that QM is fundamental.

Well, this just popped up via Y Combinator: You’ve suggested a new way to teach quantum mechanics. How?. A paper version is here. If your blood pressure can take the hit, you can always peruse The Reference Frame.

QM is simple, it explains the double-slit experiment, and classical mechanics falls out of it, and experimental evidence, like Bell's inequalities, shows you can't get rid of the randomness (unless you flip over to super determinism)

Luke said...

@Don:

> You seemed to have the same impression of quantum mechanics.

No. I'm largely working off of David Bohm's criticism of the alleged fundamental nature of the uncertainty principle (better translation: 'unsharpness relation') in Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. Given that Bohm should arguably have gotten the Nobel Prize as well, I give him the benefit of the doubt on this matter.

> The probabilities are fundamental to the theory, not accidental.

Yep, and if you refuse to talk about how much information can be stored in nonlocal state and accessed, then it seems like there's a lot of randomness. But we can have hidden variables; they just have to be nonlocal. A fun example of nonlocality can be found at Back From the Future. Maybe there is less randomness if one is less reductionistic in one's thinking! And perhaps further examination of materials science and phenomena like weak measurement will blast open new vistas—including more fundamental ones.

> Uncertainty is far, far more core to the QM theory than you seem to imagine.

You have run awfully far with what I "seem to imagine". Perhaps it would help to know that I've read some or all of:

• Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy
• Bernard d'Espagnat's In Search of Reality
• John D. Barrow's New Theories of Everything
• Tim Maudlin's Quantum Non-Locality & Relativity
• David Bohm's Causality and Chance in Modern Physics
• Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down

I'm not a complete noob, here.

wrf3 said...

Don wrote: Maybe QM will someday be superseded by a deeper theory. (Almost certainly true, since it conflicts with General Relativity.)

No, it doesn't:

Moreover, there is no contradiction between quantum mechanics and relativity. Their union is even more constraining than each of these two foundations of modern physics separately but the constraints admit solutions, anyway, and they're beautifully consistent. In fact, the full-fledged quantum (probabilistic, non-realist, and so on) character of the laws of physics is the only way how to reconcile the empirically verified violations of Bell-like inequalities with the principles of relativity. The principles of (special) relativity, which were extracted from many experimental situations, along with several additional very specific experimental facts (about entanglement etc.), may be used to directly prove some postulates of quantum mechanics. ...

Right, there are no contradictions between (special) relativity and quantum mechanics and quantum field theories (and string theory) are explicit proofs of that. ...

The correct statement is that classical general relativity and general quantum mechanics don't immediately tell us what phenomena occur in extreme conditions, such as the Planckian distance scales, where both quantum mechanics and strong gravitational fields become relevant. When it comes to the principles themselves, those of quantum mechanics and those of general relativity aren't incompatible. Their union is just subtle enough so that we can't immediately derive their implications for the world in which the quantum phenomena and strong-gravity GR phenomena overlap. But that's it. The overlapping region ultimately is described by a consistent theory; and the regimes controlled by GR only or QM only can even be described by a theory that was understood before people started to reconcile GR and QM.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: But we can have hidden variables; they just have to be nonlocal.

Which means you want to throw out general relativity. Now you have two problems, instead of one alleged one.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

How many Nobel Laureates in physics disagree with Luboš Motl's claim? You seem to give him more credence that is perhaps warranted, and you have a habit of not being aware of conflicting interpretations.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> Which means you want to throw out general relativity.

Do elaborate!

wrf3 said...

Luke requested: Do elaborate!

Most of research of "nonlocality" is pseudoscience:

As this blog has discussed many times, locality is an inevitable consequence of the special theory of relativity. The Lorentz symmetry underlying this theoretical framework implies that an action that would be faster than light in the vacuum would be equivalent, by a Lorentz transformation (a change of the reference frame), to an action that influences your past.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

I was looking for a specific critique of the very idea of "nonlocal state". Do you have one? BTW, you might like Back From the Future.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: How many Nobel Laureates in physics disagree with Luboš Motl's claim?

Irrelevant. Science isn't about consensus. You know that, right?

You seem to give him more credence that is perhaps warranted,

Two can play at this game. Turn it around and tell yourself that you seem to give him less credence than is perhaps warranted.

and you have a habit of not being aware of conflicting interpretations.

And you have a habit of thinking you know what I know. I am aware of the conflicting interpretations. Good grief, why do you think I'm asking Ron about the ontological classification of the quantum wave function? If he'll actually answer the question, I think I can guarantee that it will go somewhere interesting.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: BTW, you might like Back From the Future.

Been there, read it, seen it flayed alive: "Pseudoscience hiding behind "weak measurements".

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> > How many Nobel Laureates in physics disagree with Luboš Motl's claim?

> Irrelevant. Science isn't about consensus. You know that, right?

Science cares a lot about consensus. However, consensus is indicative, not definitive. One does need a way to figure out probable nuts, especially when one is not an expert. How can one do this, other than to trust those who have shown that they really can do profound science?

> Two can play at this game. Turn it around and tell yourself that you seem to give him less credence than is perhaps warranted.

If I see you weighing his views vs. others in a way that seems to indicate understanding, I will know that you've considered other options and found Luboš Motl's to be good. But if you cannot do such comparisons, it makes me think that you don't really understand the issues at hand.

> And you have a habit of thinking you know what I know. I am aware of the conflicting interpretations.

My apologies. Would you please do a better job of displaying this awareness? It helps one to judge whether you have solid reason to believe something, or whether you just have a favorite guy and are espousing his views. If you don't want me to be able to so-judge, then do continue as you were, but don't expect me to pay much attention to things you say where I have little to no expertise.

> Been there, read it, seen it flayed alive: "Pseudoscience hiding behind "weak measurements".

Ummm, Back From the Future doesn't violate the uncertainty principle. And I took a class from Caltech's John P. Preskill, in which he taught about the Elitzur–Vaidman bomb tester, which is an example of interaction-free measurement. So I really don't have a whole lot of reason to trust Luboš Motl.

Perhaps you could enumerate some of the best advances Luboš Motl has contributed to physics? Let's see what this guy has done, besides write on what would falsify string theory.

Don Geddis said...

I said: "QM ... conflicts with General Relativity."

wrf3 said: "No, it doesn't", and then linked to (yet another!) Motl post. Except that then the very quote you decide to include, instead of contradicting my claim as you promise, turns out to support it! "classical general relativity and general quantum mechanics don't ... tell us what phenomena occur [when] both quantum mechanics and strong gravitational fields become relevant"

Is that not essentially what I said? You can easily use either general relativity or QM in isolation. But if you're in a situation where both apply, we have no coherent way (yet) of combining the theories in order to get a consistent story. Since the universe itself is consistent, that surely means that our two best physics theories are certainly incomplete. For sure, there will someday be a more comprehensive theory of physics, that encompasses both QM and GR as special cases.

Very odd of you, wrf3, to proclaim confidently "no, it doesn't", but then include evidence showing the opposite of your claim.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: So I really don't have a whole lot of reason to trust Luboš Motl.

I'm sure Ron doesn't, either (scroll down to the P.S.). You'll note that Lubos' biggest objection to Ron's presentation is Ron's ontological categorization of the quantum wave function. Go figure. I wonder how Lubos and I independently came to the same conclusion?

wrf3 said...

Don wrote: Is that not essentially what I said?

No. You said that that "QM .. conflicts with General Relativity."

What Lubos said is that QM and GR don't conflict, even though we don't yet know how to work some of the calculations.

"we can't immediately derive their implications"(Lubos) doesn't mean "a serious disagreement or argument." (Don, substituting dictionary definition for "conflict").

Luke said...

@wrf3:

I'm finding it hard to believe that you're actually trying to build anyone up in this conversation anymore, per 1 Cor 10:23–24. Do you know what's required to do this? Perhaps a watch of Randal Rauser's Healthy dialogue in a polarized world (put on by Bold Cup of Coffee) would behoove you. Or perhaps a read of Michael P. Nichols' The Lost Art of Listening.

I do want to learn from you, but if you make it hard enough, I will choose to learn from other sources. Maybe you don't care. All I really challenge you to do is articulate precisely what your goals are, be honest with your interlocutors about them, and then rigorously test to see whether your behavior is anything close to the optimal way of achieving those goals. Be scientific with how you interact with others.

Good day.

Don Geddis said...

wrf3: "What Lubos said is that QM and GR don't conflict, even though we don't yet know how to work some of the calculations."

Sorry, that doesn't pass the laugh test. "don't yet know how to work the calculations", is something that might be said of looking for exact solutions to various interesting cases in general relativity. We're pretty sure we have the general equation right, but we don't yet have the math tools to solve it exactly, for a number of interesting cases.

That's not what's going on with QM/GR. The standard form of both of those theories, make implicit assumptions about how the universe is structured, that the other theory explicitly denies. We all agree that there will eventually be a consistent way to view them simultaneously. But in their original form, "we don't know how to do the calculations" is a horribly misleading description of the theoretical situation.

The way you describe it, it's like "well, we can't get an exact answer right now, but maybe we can do a numerical approximation and get a close answer." That's just not the situation, and you shouldn't pretend that it is.

wrf3 said...

Don wrote: The standard form of both of those theories, make implicit assumptions about how the universe is structured, that the other theory explicitly denies.

If that's true, then of course Motls' characterization of "not in conflict" is wrong and your characterization of "in conflict" is right.

What is/are those assumptions that one makes that the other denies? I think I know what you'll say, but I don't want to guess.

And, since you're a proponent of MWI, it seems to me that your ontological classification of the quantum wave function is the same as Ron's and that if one of you would draw a picture, it might look something like:

(reality/quantum wave function) -> strings -> quarks/leptons -> protons/neutrons/electrons -> atoms -> molecules ... -> people -> mental constructs

But others would draw it as:

(reality) -> strings -> quarks/leptons -> protons/neutrons/electrons -> atoms -> molecules ... -> people -> mental constructs -> quantum wave function

Is there any way to tell which of these is right? Or is this another case of "not even wrong"?

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: ... per 1 Cor 10:23–24

Well, in that spirit, exactly what was it I said that resulted in this reaction? What caused the trigger to fire the gun?

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> Well, in that spirit, exactly what was it I said that resulted in this reaction? What caused the trigger to fire the gun?

It was an overall response to the accumulation of various behaviors. Shall I attempt to do a full analysis for you? If you request this, I do expect you to make a promise to God (not to me) that you'll take it seriously and try hard to see things from a point of view which is not your own. If you do not wish to do this, then I do not wish to go to the effort.

You're starting to act very similarly to internet trolls, and I want the tiniest bit of guarantee that further effort on my part will possibly be worth the requisite time, effort, and emotional energy.

Don Geddis said...

wrf3: "your ontological classification of the quantum wave function is the same as Ron's"

I don't want to speak for Ron. I also don't know string theory, so I'm not sure where to place that compared to QM in your hierarchy.

But the question you're asking seems much easier and more broad than that. Namely, is (or rather, do I view) the quantum wave function as something that only "exists" as long as minds contemplate it -- much like justice, truth, fairness, good, and evil? In other words, just a description of our knowledge and ignorance, in the way that Bayesian probability theory offers statements about our current state of knowledge, not statements about the external world? Or, is the quantum wave function a fundamental element of the universe, such that it was already there even before life began on earth, when there were just gasses and stars and rocks?

Answer: yes, the wave function is an actual part of objective reality. It isn't "just" a mental construct. It's a description of what is "out there", not a description of how minds model things. So I choose (something like) your first "picture", exactly as you supposed.

wrf3 said...

Don wrote: It's a description of what is "out there", not a description of how minds model things. So I choose (something like) your first "picture", exactly as you supposed.

Thanks. So now we have a really interesting situation. Luke says, The picture of the thing is not the thing. Ceci n'est pas une pipe. The Copenhagen interpretation is based on this ontological classification (the description isn't the thing; the description is higher in the ontological hierarchy than the thing described; ignoring the case where mental things are described). You have the description farther down in the ontological hierarchy.

Is there any way that we can resolve this mismatch in ontological classification?

Don Geddis said...

wrf3: "The picture of the thing is not the thing. ... the description isn't the thing; the description is higher in the ontological hierarchy than the thing described"

Just to clarify your question ... of course there's a difference between a description of something, and the thing itself. I understand all about referents.

Leaving that aside, I thought you were trying to distinguish among the things referred to; do the referents require the presence of minds, or not?

"Fairness" isn't a concept that applies out in the dead rocks of the asteroid belt. When Bayesian probability says that the chance of a coin coming up heads is 50%, that's actually a statement about our knowledge of the coin, and isn't really meaningful without people making a prediction, if there were only the coin itself but no minds.

In contrast, gold atoms, and granite rocks, and tornadoes, all have existence that persists even if there are no minds around.

It's still the case that there's a difference between a description/theory of a gold atom, and the actual gold atom out in the world.

So yes, while I completely agree that the picture of the thing is not the thing, at the same time I would say that the quantum wave function is in the category of things like atoms, rocks, and tornadoes, different from the category of fairness and justice and Bayesian probability.

You may still have a question, but I want to be sure I would be addressing the right one.

wrf3 said...

Don wrote: So yes, while I completely agree that the picture of the thing is not the thing, at the same time I would say that the quantum wave function is in the category of things like atoms, rocks, and tornadoes, different from the category of fairness and justice and Bayesian probability.

Right. But the Copenhagen interpretation says that the quantum wave function, which is a description, exists in the category of fairness, justice, and Bayesian probability. That's why they are adamant that there is no physical wave function collapse.

So how do we resolve this? Can it be resolved?

Ron said...

I don't know what you think needs to be resolved, but the question of whether or not the wave function "really" collapses has been settled: it doesn't.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_function_collapse

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I don't know what you think needs to be resolved, but the question of whether or not the wave function "really" collapses has been settled: it doesn't.
>
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_function_collapse

Hold your horses. Has any successful science been done as a result of no-collapse theories, which could not be done with yes-collapse theories? Because what strikes me very poignantly is the idea of nonlinear time-evolution of quantum state. We currently don't know how this could work that doesn't reduce to linear (unitary) time-evolution, but I do know that collapse is nonlinear time evolution.

I get that no-collapse is considered mathematically more beautiful, and that this is pragmatically useful: In Search of Beauty. What I want to know is how no-collapse vs. yes-collapse produce different predictions of what we would find in reality, and which has more promise of provoking new experiments which will tell us more about how reality works.

Don Geddis said...

wrf3: Motl refers to wikipedia: "Heisenberg spoke of the wavefunction as representing available knowledge of a system, and did not use the term "collapse" per se, but instead termed it "reduction" of the wavefunction to a new state representing the change in available knowledge which occurs once a particular phenomenon is registered by the apparatus (often called "measurement")"

Well, first, even this is incoherent, because "measurement" and "observer" are just assumed to be intuitive and obvious, but aren't actually precisely defined in QM theory. Secondly, if you're not going to provide an explanation of what is "really" happening out there, then you're not really offering a complete theory.

If you honestly believe that "Copenhagen" is only about our knowledge of the system, but makes no claims at all about what is actually happening, then that's a huge hole in the explanation. The MWI then isn't an "alternative" to Copenhagen; instead, it's an attempt to provide a real explanation to QM theory, in a way that the Copenhagen people (according to you) were unwilling to address.

If the wavefunction is not supposed to be real, then what is? If the only answer is "we don't know, and we're not interested in the question" ... well, it's fine to opt out, but then those people should stop commenting on discussions of people who are interested in the question.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: I don't know what you think needs to be resolved, but the question of whether or not the wave function "really" collapses has been settled: it doesn't.

What needs to be resolved is the ontological classification of the quantum wave function. From the Wikipedia article you cited:

The significance ascribed to the wave function varies from interpretation to interpretation, and varies even within an interpretation (such as the Copenhagen Interpretation). If the wave function merely encodes an observer's knowledge of the universe then the wave function collapse corresponds to the receipt of new information. This is somewhat analogous to the situation in classical physics, except that the classical "wave function" does not necessarily obey a wave equation. If the wave function is physically real, in some sense and to some extent, then the collapse of the wave function is also seen as a real process, to the same extent.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Has any successful science been done as a result of no-collapse theories, which could not be done with yes-collapse theories?

I don't know what you consider to be "successful science" but if collapse were a real physical phenomenon then that, together with entanglement, would lead to faster-than-light communications.

(BTW, the argument that shows this to be true is the one that leads Motl to label me a "category 5 loon". I claim that this merely demonstrates that Motl has not actually understood my argument. But you can (re-)read my paper and decide for yourself.)

(BTW2, there are other ways to debunk collapse, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renninger_negative-result_experiment. But the FTL argument will always have a special place in my heart ;-)

Ron said...

@wrf3:

> What needs to be resolved is the ontological classification of the quantum wave function.

OK, that's easy: the quantum wave function exists in its own ontological category, distinct from both mental constructs and (classical) physical reality.

The reason that it appears that there is something to resolve is that the question is usually ill-posed: is the wave function physically real, or it is a "mere encoding" of an observer's knowledge? The answer is: it is simply not the case that it must be one or the other. There are many ontological categories besides (classical) physical reality and (mere) knowledge.

And, BTW, water waves are one such category. The manner in which water waves exist is fundamentally different from the manner in which water exists.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: OK, that's easy: the quantum wave function exists in its own ontological category, distinct from both mental constructs and (classical) physical reality.

Can you clarify this? If one were to delete the "(classical)" from "(classical)" physical reality, would that change your statement?

In any case, how do you know that it is distinct from "mental construct"? Could you prove it scientifically to a quantum agnostic (agnostic to the classification of the wave function -- not agnostic to Schrödinger's equation and double-slit weirdness).

wrf3 said...

Don wrote: Secondly, if you're not going to provide an explanation of what is "really" happening out there, then you're not really offering a complete theory.

That a priori assumes that there is a complete theory that we can actually discover. Maybe reality is more mysterious than our neural nets can handle. Maybe it isn't. I don't know. What I do know is that just because something is incomplete doesn't mean that a theory proposed to complete it is true. It may just be the result of an overly constrained neural network.

Note that I'm not advocating the truth of one ontological classification over another. I'm explaining why I'm skeptical. I'm looking for scientific proof for the claim that the quantum wave function is more than just a mental construct.

If you honestly believe that "Copenhagen" is only about our knowledge of the system...

I'm reminded of Rick Blaine's response to the question, "What nationality are you?" "I'm a drunkard," he replied. The point is I'm agnostic and I'm asking you to prove your position. And I want scientific proof, not appeals to value judgements such as "completeness" or "beauty". "Chaos" and "mystery" have their charms, too.

... in a way that the Copenhagen people (according to you) were unwilling to address.

I don't think that they were unwilling to address it, I think they have a different ontological view of reality.

If the wavefunction is not supposed to be real, then what is?

It's simply the mental construct we make that models whatever reality really is.

If the only answer is "we don't know, and we're not interested in the question"...

But that's not the answer. The answer is that the quantum wave function is purely a description -- a mental construct.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I don't know what you consider to be "successful science" but if collapse were a real physical phenomenon then that, together with entanglement, would lead to faster-than-light communications.

Yeah, this reminds me precisely of the ultraviolet catastrophe. I'm very suspicious of mathematical kung fu which hasn't led to further actual science—you know, predicting things our old theories could not predict. Now, sometimes reducing mathematical ugliness is a good thing, but that is proven to be a good thing because progress is ultimately provoked. And yet, I don't see any real, empirical progress.

> (BTW2, there are other ways to debunk collapse, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renninger_negative-result_experiment. But the FTL argument will always have a special place in my heart ;-)

Does that actually debunk every serious form of collapse which has been presented? This does remind me of the quantum Zeno effect, and this random paper: Quantum Zeno dynamics: mathematical and physical aspects.

> The reason that it appears that there is something to resolve is that the question is usually ill-posed: is the wave function physically real, or it is a "mere encoding" of an observer's knowledge? The answer is: it is simply not the case that it must be one or the other. There are many ontological categories besides (classical) physical reality and (mere) knowledge.

By the way, who else (preferably: scientists) talks like this? You're actually the first one I've encountered who has, and that has me suspicious. Have I been missing others who have done this? If so, where are they? If you're fairly unique in doing this, then why? If there are people who talk like this, but use different terminology, what does it look like?

Ron said...

> Can you clarify this?

I'm trying, but for me to succeed you will have to pay more careful attention to what I'm saying. In particular, think about the distinction between water and water waves. Or, even better, consider the question of whether *sound* exists. Sound is also a wave, but it's a better example because it has its own word that doesn't include the name of its substrate. Does sound exist? Is it part of physical reality, or is it a mental construct?

> If one were to delete the "(classical)" from "(classical)" physical reality, would that change your statement?

Yes, it would render it meaningless. "Reality" with no qualification is vacuous. It is a synonym for "everything". The question to "does X exist as part of reality" is "yes" for every possible value of X. That is why you have to qualify the word in order to get a meaningful question to which the answer could possibly be no.

> In any case, how do you know that it is distinct from "mental construct"? Could you prove it scientifically to a quantum agnostic

Sure. If you accept that QM is real then it's easy to demonstrate that the wave function cannot be a (human) mental construct. (I can't prove to you that the universe it not a figment of God's imagination, but since I see no evidence for the existence of God I usually don't consider that possibility. But you probably do, so I mention it here just to be complete.) I can think of any number of ways to prove it, but here's the most concise argument I can think of: human brains are (at best) Turing machines. But the wave function is a quantum computer, which cannot be efficiently emulated by a Turing machine, and so could not be generated by human brains.

Ron said...

> Yeah, this reminds me precisely of the ultraviolet catastrophe. I'm very suspicious of mathematical kung fu which hasn't led to further actual science

What can I say? If you don't consider decoherence theory and quantum computing to be "actual science" then I am at a loss.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> What can I say? If you don't consider decoherence theory and quantum computing to be "actual science" then I am at a loss.

Tell me, do you consider string theory to be "actual science"?

There may be quite a bit of irony here, where you are arguing for a change in interpretation of precisely the same evidence, and yet when I suggest that perhaps a change in interpretation may be a good idea, you ask me for the evidence. Examples:

Ron: I don't know that it can't, I just know that it doesn't. How do I know? The same way I know everything that I know: evidence.

+

Luke: why are you confident that "what truly goes on" has no purpose, no telos?
Ron: Because I see no evidence for it. (Really, have we not gotten to the point where you could predict that that would be my answer?)

Now, perhaps there's an explanation for this, but it strikes me that you're resistant to me when I suggest that perhaps a different interpretation would help you view the evidence differently (or even see different things as evidence—Kuhn showed that precisely this happens when paradigms shift), but you're happy to switch interpretations if the result is aesthetically pleasing, but with no proven pragmatic advance. Not the focus on 'value' over result, here!

Luke said...

> Not the focus on 'value' over result, here!

should be

> Note the focus on 'value' over result, here!

Seriously, no editing of comments in the year 2015? I really need to get on that forum + blog software I've been meaning to write.

wrf3 said...

Ron asked: Does sound exist? Is it part of physical reality, or is it a mental construct?

Sound exists (when someone is listening, otherwise it's like the moon), it is a part of classical reality. The description of the motion of the particles that effect sound is a mental construct and is therefore a part of classical reality.

Before I address the rest of your post, in your view, what is the ontological classification of i, the square root of -1?

Ron said...

> do you consider string theory to be "actual science"?

Not yet. But I don't really understand string theory all that well, so weight my assessment accordingly. I also don't know why you ask. Do you really think that quantum computing and string theory are comparable? Quantum computing has made some definite falsifiable predictions. String theory, AFAICT, hasn't.

> it strikes me that you're resistant to me when I suggest that perhaps a different interpretation would help you view the evidence differently (or even see different things as evidence—Kuhn showed that precisely this happens when paradigms shift)

Specifics, man! What different interpretation do you suggest I use? What do you suggest I accept as evidence that I currently do not? How would the world be different if telos were real? I'm not resisting you, it's just that you're being so vague I have no idea what you're really trying to get at.

> you're happy to switch interpretations if the result is aesthetically pleasing

No, I switch interpretations when the one I've been using is no longer consistent with the evidence. This has happened only once in my life, when I realized that collapse+entanglement=FTL. That happened twenty-five years ago, and it took me another ten years before I found someone who actually knew the right answer to that puzzle, but my thinking has been pretty consistent ever since then.

> Seriously, no editing of comments in the year 2015?

You can delete and repost. But yeah, it's pretty annoying.

Ron said...

> what is the ontological classification of i, the square root of -1?

Like the rest of math, it's a mental construct. You can also usefully put math in the sub-category of "mental construct" known as "formal systems." The cool thing about formal systems is that we already know how to build machines that manipulate formal systems, and so we can build machines that can do math. Math started out as a human mental construct, but it has since branched out so that it can exist in non-human information processing systems as well.

> Sound exists

OK. What is it made of?

> when someone is listening,

What about when no one is listening? What if a dog is listening? What if no animate object is listening, but a recording device is listening?

wrf3 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: Like the rest of math, it's (the square root of -1) a mental construct.

The quantum wave function is composed of complex probability amplitudes. So the wave function must be a mental construct. There is no other ontological status.

What is sound made of?
Particles moving in certain classical ways.

What about when no one is listening...?
It's a classical wave. So we know it exists via prior knowledge. And entanglement happens with humans, dogs, and recording devices.

Quantum objects do not exist until observed (never forgetting that the universe doesn't forget prior entanglement). That's one difference between quantum and classical.

I still need to answer your proof via quantum computer but, based on the ontological nature of i, the proof cannot be right. But this is enough for tonight.

Don Geddis said...

wrf3 wrote: "Quantum objects do not exist until observed"

Seriously? That's your model of the universe? Can you define for me what an "observation" is, technically? What is an "observer"? What do you think was going on, on Earth, for the 2+ billion years before life first formed?

I suspect you know that essentially any plausible "observer" you come up with, is going to be made out of quantum stuff too. What's special about "observer" quantum stuff, different from all the other quantum stuff that the wavefunction interacts with?

If I have a black box with some stuff inside, is there an objective test that you can have me run, so that we can agree whether the black box contains any "observers" or not?

I'm thrilled to see where you're going to go with this. Sounds hopeless to me.

Luke said...

@Don:

> Seriously? That's your model of the universe? Can you define for me what an "observation" is, technically? What is an "observer"?

Just to throw a chunk of meat into the pot, here's Sean Carroll's observer:

>> Ben– It has nothing to do with consciousness or intelligence (of course). An “observation” in quantum mechanics happens whenever any out-of-equilibrium macroscopic system becomes entangled with the quantum system being measured. It will then decohere (become entangled with the wider environment), which causes a splitting of the wave function into separate branches.
>>
>> It’s key that the macroscopic device in question starts out far from equilibrium. Otherwise it would already be entangled with everything, and the measurement/splitting process couldn’t occur.

Don Geddis said...

wrf3: "just because something is incomplete doesn't mean that a theory proposed to complete it is true." Of course! I don't think anyone meant to imply that.

MWI probably isn't the last word in QM interpretations. (Among other things, it provides no justification for the Born probabilities.)

The point is, that at any given point in time, you look at the best evidence you have, and you come up with the best explanation you can, for what you observe.

"I'm looking for scientific proof for the claim that the quantum wave function is more than just a mental construct."

(Of course, science never "proves" anything, but let's leave that aside.) It occurs to me that we've actually been discussing three QM interpretations, but under only two names, so it's confusing. The usual labels are: (1) "Shut up and calculate" [= just predict the outcomes of experiments, but don't think about what is "really" happening]; (2) "Copenhagen" [= "collapse" of the wavefunction upon "observation"]; (3) MWI [= the wavefunction really exists]

Your buddy Motl seems to use the label "Copenhagen", but he seems to be talking about (1) "Shut up and calculate". He refers to what Heisenberg actually wrote. But we already know that he's hugely wrong about what MWI is about, and he doesn't seem to care about the common usage of these labels. And in the interpretation that he (and you) like, there is no collapse, but also the wavefunction isn't real. Most people who discuss these things call that (1) "Shut up and calculate". And it doesn't provide any model at all of reality.

If we ask the question, what is the model of reality?, the only two models we've been discussing is collapse (usually called "Copenhagen", although apparently not by Motl), or MWI. (Or maybe Ron's thing.) And between those two, MWI is a much, much better model of reality than collapse is.

"Not having a model of reality" isn't a feasible alternative. You have to come up with the best model you can, given what you know today.

That's why "the quantum wave function is more than just a mental construct". Because the explanation that the wavefunction is real, is a far better model of reality, than any competing explanation we have today.

Ron said...

> The quantum wave function is composed of complex probability amplitudes.

No, it isn't. That is confusing the map with the territory (to use Eliezer Yudkowski's metahpor.) The mathematical model of the wave function involves complex numbers. That doesn't mean that the wave function is "composed of" complex numbers, any more than that your brain is "composed of" real numbers just because the mathematical model of the classical world involves real numbers.

>> What is sound made of?
> Particles moving in certain classical ways.

Good. That's right.

Now, does heat exist? What is heat made of?

> Quantum objects do not exist until observed

Actually, they don't exist even when they are observed. To be strictly correct, the ontological status of quantum objects does not change as the result of an observation. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves. Answer my question about heat first.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "here's Sean Carroll's observer"

Yes, of course. I totally agree (and I'm sure Ron would too) that "observation" is just a synonym for "entanglement". But note that Sean Carroll in your reference explicitly states that he's using an MWI interpretation. And you'd never get from "observation is entanglement" to wrf3's strange claim that "quantum objects do not exist until observed".

So that doesn't help answer the question of what wrf3 thinks an observer is. Because he doesn't believe in MWI, or the reality of the wavefunction. So he surely has some other idea of "observer" in mind.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Or you could just read my masters thesis.

It is quite fascinating! It covers quite a few philosophical topics which are of deep interest to me:

     • knowing properties vs. essences
     • objects vs. concepts
     • relationships between bits of knowledge
     • link to Russell's theory of descriptions
     • similarity (at least to me) to RDF
     • kennen vs. wissen
     • importance of time
     • intension vs. extension

What, to your knowledge, has been built on this work? At some point I want to get into knowledge representation (I have Jakob Voß's Describing Data Patterns: A general deconstruction of metadata standards, and am told I should read The Art of the Metaobject Protocol) at some point.

That being said, I'm not sure this solves the problem of change over time toward a possibly infinite (defined by non-RE axioms) concept, which is what I think a telos can be. If humans can be directed at such concepts, then there might be more work to be done! I'm also not sure precisely how this deals with intentionality, but I think you've given me enough to study the matter some more before further discussion.

Ron said...

> It is quite fascinating!

Thanks!

> What, to your knowledge, has been built on this work?

Nothing. In academia, a willingness to play politics and market one's work turns out to be more influential than the actual merits of the work in terms of how much it gets noticed. But in 1987 I had not yet figured that out.

> change over time toward a possibly infinite (defined by non-RE axioms) concept

I have no idea what that could possibly mean. The classical universe is (almost certainly) finite.

Luke said...

> Nothing. In academia, a willingness to play politics and market one's work turns out to be more influential than the actual merits of the work in terms of how much it gets noticed. But in 1987 I had not yet figured that out.

Tell me about it. Two good friends of my wife and mine are Christians: one is a physicist and the other a philosopher. They thought long and hard about how to play that politics game while staying consistent to Christianity. (The Christianity they believe and practice is probably closer to mine than the vast majority of Christians out there.) Part of the reason I want to do a 'social' protocol sharing project is because politics screws over certain communications channels, stunting the progress of science. It's absolutely ridiculous, but humans will be humans.

> > change over time toward a possibly infinite (defined by non-RE axioms) concept
> I have no idea what that could possibly mean. The classical universe is (almost certainly) finite.

It isn't necessarily different if the limit-value is orders of magnitude larger than we will ever have access to in one lifetime, or indeed infinite. Much stays the same in analysis.

The idea is that one is successively approximating a 'thing' which is orders of magnitude more complex than your current representations. How do you know that each successive approximation is really a successive approximation of something which actually exists [in the appropriate ontological category]? For example, how do you know if one system of justice is "more just" than another? What is it that establishes that golden standard of convergence which we discussed?

Note that some people would say that one system isn't more just than the next, that there's no continuity. Kuhn did this with science! He said that one paradigm isn't necessarily an improvement on the one before. At this point in time many disagree with him (e.g. Intertheory Relations in Physics), but my point is that when he wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, this was an open question.

Now, I would argue that there is both an element of discontinuity and continuity, and that Alasdair MacIntyre captures it fantastically in Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy Of Science. But the question remains: how do you know that you're actually converging? I'm not sure this has a simple answer—it seems pretty easy in science, but what about in other areas of life?

This gets particularly interesting when we deal with the more abstract ontological categories, such as justice. Is there a Platonic Form, of Justice? This is an extremely important question, because most people want to have a way to say that there are better laws which could be written. We have this built-in sense of "better". Well, doesn't "better" produce a partial ordering, if not a total ordering?

Perhaps one could say that it all depends on how you define "better" (in various circumstances). Could you keep on finding better, and better, and better approximations? If so, then I say you may be in contact with what I am calling an "infinite concept", or if you absolutely insist, a "Really Big concept".

wrf3 said...

Don wrote: Seriously? That's your model of the universe?

It's a model of the universe. I'm quantum agnostic, remember? It makes no difference to me if I'm Copenhagen or MWI, or switch between them depending on the day of the week. I'm pleading with you to convince me, using only reasoning from scientific evidence, that your model of QM is true.

I can argue that this model is correct from the electron indistinguishability argument you presented earlier. But let me also offer this quote from a past President of the Royal Society:

"In the beginning there were only probabilities. The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The universe exists because we are aware of it."

Now, maybe he's a lunatic. I certainly cringe when Christians say really stupid things about Christianity. But from the same page, Heisenberg said:

"[T]he atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts."

Don: What's special about "observer" quantum stuff, different from all the other quantum stuff that the wavefunction interacts with?

I know, I know! Because I read Ron's post. It's the arrangement of the quantum stuff.

If I have a black box with some stuff inside, is there an objective test that you can have me run, so that we can agree whether the black box contains any "observers" or not?

Well, there's the Puppy in a Box test. Although it requires a priori knowledge about the type of thing that might be in the box to work. Is that what you're asking for, or did I not get your question?

I'm thrilled to see where you're going to go with this. Sounds hopeless to me.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I don't know how one can scientifically conclude that a TOE is possible.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: We have this built-in sense of "better".

We just don't know when it stops, except by the vagaries of our neural nets. As McCarthy said, "everything is improvable."

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: Well, doesn't "better" produce a partial ordering, if not a total ordering?

It can. A goal plus a small state space can result in a total ordering (e.g. the moves in the game of Tic-Tac-Toe). A goal plus a larger state space can result in a partial ordering (e.g. the moves in a game of Chess). The 'game' of life has multiple shifting goals (i.e. we aren't fixed-goal creatures) in a mind-boggingly huge state space. It's a formidable problem in artificial intelligence.

Publius said...

6507809288

@Ron
For example, someone might discover that the Quran is encoded in the numeric expansion of some fundamental physical constant.

Why didn't you say so months ago!

The fingerprints of God are found in the circumference of a circle divided by it's diameter - the constant pi - a transcendental number. Use 5 bit encoding for the roman alphabet (a = 00001, b=00010, etc.)

"yhwh" (יְהֹוָה (11001010001011101000 is found at binary index 2 408 267 404.

"jesus" (0101000101100111010110011) is found at binary index 514 534 284.

"christ" (000110100010010010011001110100) is found at binary index 1 892 002 453.

"faith" (0011000001010011010001000) is at binary index 1 668 258 196.

It even contains a personal message to you:

"ron" (100100111101110) is at binary index 1 578 973 868.

"garret" (001110000110010100100010110100) is at binary index 3 532 260 508.

"believe" (00010001010110001001001011011000101) is at binary index 3 971 617 659.

How do we know the Ron Garret in pi refers to you, and not some other Ron Garret? It also has your old phone number:

7809288 occurs at decimal position 14 908 645 (indexed starting at the first digit after the decimal point). Here it is in context:

67631108538769880810 7809288 32238242118902037359

Now that's settled, be informed that Sunday masses at St. Pius are at 8:00 AM, 9:15 AM, and 12:15 PM.

What? Not convinced? Let's try another transcendental number:

"jesus" (0101000101100111010110011 --> 10669747) is also in e at decimal index 207 949 842.
"christ" (109651572) is in e at decimal index 760 726 901.
"alpha" (1458433) is in e at decimal index 3 872 888.
"omega" (16159969) is in e at decimal index 48 856 422.

But wait ... there's more

"jesus" is in sqrt(2) at decimal index 1 336 305.
"christ" is in sqrt(2) at decimal index 554 421 075.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

I do find you interesting, but it seems like you're more interested in plowing ahead with the stuff you specifically want to discuss, and not really stopping to engage what others want to discuss. For example, I left at least two comments on your blog: on your The No Free Will Theorem and on your Modeling Morality. No response so far; ought I ever expect one?

I get that you're a busy guy. But if I feel like I'm just being used to advance your own purposes—and I do—then I'm sadly going to not engage you. And I really do mean: sadly.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: No response so far; ought I ever expect one?

Absolutely. But let me let you in on a little secret. I don't have the fastest brain in the world. A lot of the stuff I'm responding to here I've thought about for years. Yet I still have to think furiously about some of this. I'm also not a great wordsmith (I've already spent 15 minutes on this reply and still counting).

Couple that with the fact that, as much as I wish I could, I can't do this all day. I haven't yet retired. Then add that this is very, very enervating both physically and mentally. So I have to juggle -- and I know I'm dropping things.

then I'm sadly going to not engage you.
I would be likewise sorry to see that happen. I was actually hoping you'd weigh in on your definition of intentionality and why it's a problem. I know you're not happy with me. As much as I'd like to explore more, I just haven't yet found the time.

Let me just mention one more thing which can be perceived to be a problem. I don't agree with anybody. Well, it's not quite that bad, but I agree with people in the wrong places. You and I are Christians, but I'm a Calvinist and you aren't. That means that we aren't going to agree on the nature of free will, among other things. I think that people are, in fact, Turing machines (well, actually finite state -- there aren't any infinite tapes). So Ron and I agree on this, but I don't think you do. On the other hand, Ron has been silent on the topic of free will, even though logically he should agree with me. Then again, I agree with almost everything Ron wrote in his post, except for his ontological classification of God and the quantum wave function. That's not your typical Christian viewpoint. If we're Turing machines then there is an algorithmic explanation for good and evil. I claim that McCarthy provided the basis for understanding this, even though he didn't see it himself. That's certainly not the Christian viewpoint, even though it agrees with and, IMO, explains the Christian viewpoint. And all of this stuff loops together. So I'm a mess in that I don't follow conventional labels. But I am enjoying reading Vinge's "Fire Upon the Deep", since Don recommended it and I like science fiction. Haven't had time to read it in three nights, however.

I do wish I could buy you a beer...

Publius said...

Previously, on the Brain

@Ron
>Your body is a material object. You (the thing that is reading these words) aren't.

So the brain has physical properties (structure, blood flow, temperature,...) and mental properties (thinking, memory, intentionality, imagination,...)?

>Yes.

How do the mental properties control the physical properties (brain) and the rest of the body. For example, I decide to raise my arm and my left arm lifts up.

Publius said...

Multiple Brains, Multiple Truths?

@wrf3
Brain arrangement controls how individuals evaluate evidence -- not logic, not reason, not evidence -- but brain arrangement. And science shows that atheists and theists have different brain arrangements.

Now this is an interesting point.

"Brains" are similar between people, yet each is also significantly different. Brain structure has been identified in fMRI studies [1] as determining the preference for cooperation vs. competition. Brain decision making is also profoundly affected by . . . hormones, oxytocin, sleep deprivation, . . . , male/female anatomy differences.

So can one recommend a single strategy by which to structure one's life? Some brain structures and body chemistry may make "congruence to the evidence-based truth" the rational strategy, whereas others may make "loyalty to kin" as the rational strategy.

[1] For those who prefer video, Robert Salpolsky (Stanford) briefly discussing these studies.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> At this point in time many disagree with him

Yeah. I'm one of them :-) So you're not going to sway be by citing Kuhn.

> For example, how do you know if one system of justice is "more just" than another?

By arguing about it. Seriously. Justice is a purely mental construct, so the only way to measure it is to ask people what they think it just. So you have competing systems of justice duke it out for mindshare. With luck, this process will some day converge to a system that everyone agrees is just. We're making pretty good progress in this regard. In the U.S. for example we don't have violent uprisings, and we don't have people trying to flee. To the contrary, we have people taking enormous risks to get in. That's a good indication that the system we have here is better than what they have in, say, Syria. You can even formalize the process of measuring mindshare through polls and elections (though this has its limits, so you always have to be willing to fall back to arguing).

> Perhaps one could say that it all depends on how you define "better"

Yes, this is one of the challenges, that different people have different quality metrics. This is one of the reasons free markets are such a powerful force for good, because they actually take advantage of differing quality metrics to produce actual value (as measured by people with different quality metrics) out of nothing by means of trade. It's truly white magic.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> Absolutely. But let me let you in on a little secret. I don't have the fastest brain in the world. A lot of the stuff I'm responding to here I've thought about for years. Yet I still have to think furiously about some of this. I'm also not a great wordsmith (I've already spent 15 minutes on this reply and still counting).

Alright.

> I would be likewise sorry to see that happen. I was actually hoping you'd weigh in on your definition of intentionality and why it's a problem.

Yep, I've been working on understanding it better so I could do a really good job in responding. My infinite concept idea may well play an important part, in hindsight. Indeed, this might actually turn into an argument for the existence of God (!), because it may turn into a question of how I know I can be connected to and heading toward a being much greater than I. More strictly speaking, how can I know, with my small finite mind, anything about a much bigger mind (whether finite or infinite)? After all, I cannot represent the bigger mind in any more clarity than I can represent myself! So how do I know that this bigger mind is, indeed, bigger than my own? There might be some interesting places to go in exploring this matter. I am reminded of Phil 3:12–16.

> That means that we aren't going to agree on the nature of free will [...]

I would need to see what would falsify determinism. As far as I can tell, it isn't falsifiable in the slightest. Therefore, what precisely does it mean? You've also got to deal with the question of whether God has free will; if free will for humans is logically impossible, then does God just break all logic? That gets weird with the imago Dei, especially with the enfleshment of Jesus. There's a lot of jiggery on this issue that may only work if you pretend that you're omniscient, or at least have current access to an end-of-time perspective—which you don't.

> I think that people are, in fact, Turing machines [...]

I just want to see the experiment that would be an ingenious attempt to falsify this statement. I have never seen such an experiment proposed. See, falsification attempts are supposed to conceive of situations very close to actually perceived reality. But all I've seen are wacko attempts. One might go somewhere interesting with the fact that Kolmogorov complexity is uncomputable, perhaps combining that with Solomonoff's theory of inductive inference.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Yeah. I'm one of them :-) So you're not going to sway be by citing Kuhn.

I may just have to amass the historical evidence to challenge this view. Many philosophers of science have attenuated Kuhn's claims, but my general impression is that most believe there is still some validity to what he said. The 'R' in your EE&R really does change over time. That was a crucial claim of Kuhn's. More precisely: the lower-case 'reason' which is actually implemented by humans changes over time; we can debate whether the Platonic Form of 'Reason' exists. But then you get near my "infinite concepts" idea. :-p

> Justice is a purely mental construct,

What is the function of 'just', here? I thought we agreed that one can have [non-'ice cream'] truths in the mental ontological category just like in the ontological category which contains the quantum wavefunction?

> so the only way to measure it is to ask people what they think it just.

Suppose I ask them about mathematical truths. Then yes, you have to ask of systems able to both work with mathematical truths and communicate with you, but the mathematical truths aren't made true by the mind. They are merely discovered.

> With luck, this process will some day converge to a system that everyone agrees is just. We're making pretty good progress in this regard.

Sometime, we will have to discuss this. We have the Patriot Act, the US assassinating US citizens abroad with no trial on the most dubious of grounds, and gross privacy violations going on more and more, with news that the NSA and British intelligences services hacked into corporations to steal SIM card encryption keys, and perhaps smartcard keys as well. We have NSA greatly overreaching on its data collection. We have differential justice applied, based on whether you have lots of money or little. We have so many laws that you and I are probably both technically in violation somehow. And our prison system in the US is atrocious.

> In the U.S. for example we don't have violent uprisings, and we don't have people trying to flee.

True. But we would have to talk about how much of a person's identity is based on his/her body, and how much is based on his/her mind. One can attack the mind without attacking the body. One can mass-manipulate people psychologically, with no shedding of blood. To say that one is better than the other—I think that merits discussion, not assumption. I think I've said that I read somewhere Freud speculating that psychological suffering can be 100x physical suffering. If that is true, oughtn't we snap to attention and think deeply?

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: One can attack the mind without attacking the body.

No, you can't. All software is hardware. It's just different arrangements of quantum "stuff".

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> > One can attack the mind without attacking the body.

> No, you can't. All software is hardware. It's just different arrangements of quantum "stuff".

Then I challenge you to make sense of the following, from Jacques Ellul's Hope in Time of Abandonment:

>>     We have to try to understand the meaning of this inhuman insanity. To scorn is to condemn the other person to complete and final sterility, to expect nothing more from him and to put him in such circumstances that he will never again have anything to give. It is to negate him in his possibilities, in his gifts, in the development of his experience. To scorn him is to rip his fingernails out by the roots so that they will never grow back again. The person who is physically maimed, or overwhelmed by mourning or hunger, can regain his strength, can live again as a person as long as he retains his honor and dignity, but to destroy the honor and dignity of a person is to cancel his future, to condemn him to sterility forever. In other words, to scorn is to put an end to the other person's hope and to one's hope for the other person, to hope for nothing more from him and also to stop his having any hope for himself. (47)

No blood need be shed in doing this.

Perhaps Ron's ontological categories can be helpful: an attack at one level isn't necessarily an 'attack' at another. Both may be causally impacted, but that does not mean both are attacked.

wrf3 said...

Ron said: Answer my question about heat first.

Now, does heat exist?

I think it does.

What is heat made of?

Since heat is thermal energy being transferred in the direction of lesser temperature, it's mechanical energy (the motion of microscopic things) moving in a particular direction.

Energy, motion, gradients.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: Then I challenge you to make sense of the following...

It's trivially easy. Trivial.

Hope and dignity are concepts in the human brain (based on it's internal goal seeking mechanism and it's associative memory), so they are fundamentally matter in motion in certain arrangements. We share those concepts because our brains have similar structures.

To destroy hope and dignity means that some agent (perhaps external, perhaps internal, for example, chemical imbalance) means that the matter in your head not only moves a different way but, because the brain is malleable, may achieve a re-wiring of the brain which way, or may not, be irreversible.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> To destroy hope and dignity means that some agent (perhaps external, perhaps internal, for example, chemical imbalance) means that the matter in your head not only moves a different way but, because the brain is malleable, may achieve a re-wiring of the brain which way, or may not, be irreversible.

By this reasoning, perception constitutes an attack on your physical body. I suggest you revisit:

> > Perhaps Ron's ontological categories can be helpful: an attack at one level isn't necessarily an 'attack' at another. Both may be causally impacted, but that does not mean both are attacked.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: I would need to see what would falsify ...

Why? Do you need to see what would falsify the statement: for natural numbers x, y, z, and n, there are no values for x, y, or z such that x^n + y^n = z^n when n is greater than 2.

Once you have the constructive proof, you're done. At that point, the only recourse is to attack the axioms.

How is your claim any different, in principle, from Ron's where he needs to see repeatable evidence to know something is true?

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: By this reasoning, perception constitutes an attack on your physical body.

Perception is a physical process, like everything else. Whether or not it is labelled "attack" depends solely on my internal evaluation of it, which is mediated on the arrangement of my neural net.

The bird chirping outside at 3am in the midst of a thunderstorm is either an attack on my sleep or a reminder that beauty can be found in the darkest times.

It all depends which way the electrons flow.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> Why?

Because these claims say that reality is this way and not that way. If you aren't actually make such a claim, then I have to work at what it is you are saying. Note that I can accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason, but let some reasons be that I chose X, instead of accepting some sort of block universe. (For more on rejecting the block universe, see growing block universe and Michael Tooley's Time, Tense, and Causation.)

> Once you have the constructive proof, you're done. At that point, the only recourse is to attack the axioms.

Then let's look at those axioms! Specifically, I want to see what your concept of causation is. You know that it's extremely complicated and philosophers are nowhere near to a consensus on it, right? A nice short treatment of this can be found in Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles. Gregory W. Dawes also talks about it in Theism and Explanation. His treatment is very interesting, because he works with reason not following the same kind of laws as are generally attributed to nature.

BTW, one of my favorite quotations is from Feynman: "What I cannot create, I cannot understand." I am somewhat enamored of intuitionistic logic, although I don't understand it all that well. But you'll get a problem with it: not all things that actually can be constructed, can be constructed with your particular logic. How can you think of those things, within a given logic?

> How is your claim any different, in principle, from Ron's where he needs to see repeatable evidence to know something is true?

You'll have to draw out the similarity you see between these two positions, and how your own contrasts with it.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> Whether or not it is labelled "attack" depends solely on my internal evaluation of it, which is mediated on the arrangement of my neural net.

Well, that is very voluntaristic of you. Since I'm not a nominalist though, I claim you cannot arbitrarily attach concepts to things. Concepts need to approach being natural kinds. Otherwise, you get actual lawlessness, anomia.

> It all depends which way the electrons flow.

I can't make any sense out of this. Does this statement so-depend?

Ron said...

@wrf3:

> All software is hardware.

Really? What is the mass of Linux?

>> Now, does heat exist?
>I think it does.

Good! Right again.

>>What is heat made of?
> heat is ... the motion of microscopic things

Three in a row!

Now, recall your (correct) answer about what sound is made of:

> [Sound is made of] Particles moving in certain classical ways.

So sound is particles moving in certain ways and heat is particles moving in certain ways.

To save time, I'm going to ask you the next three questions all at once, but please consider them in the order presented:

1. Since sounds and heat are both movement of particles, what distinguishes sound from heat?

2. Do "traffic jams" exist? What are they made of?

3. Do radio waves exist? What are they made of?

Ron said...

@Luke:

> > > Q: Are emotions "memes"? Fear, Anger, Love, ... ?

> > No. These are hard-wired into our brains by evolution. They are not transmitted from one brain to another. You don't learn these.

> What do you mean by "not transmitted"?

I mean you can be afraid, get angry, and fall in love without having anyone show you how.

> I'm really skeptical of this restriction of memes to what you mean by 'information'. How would you know if this is a good or bad restriction?

Only information can undergo Darwinian evolution. This is why your genes are encoded in digital form, in DNA.

> The 'R' in your EE&R really does change over time.

Of course it does, but not radically. The halting problem will always be undecidable.

Like I said, if you gave me a SPECIFIC example of something you think I should be doing differently, some specific example of something I should take as evidence but I don't, then I could take you more seriously. But you just seem to be engaging in frantic hand-waving about this.

> Suppose I ask them about mathematical truths.

Not all mental constructs are created equal. Justice and math are both mental constructs, but they are grounded in two different things. Justice is grounded in an instinct, an emotion, like anger and fear and love. Monkeys have a sense of justice. Math is not grounded in an emotion, it's grounded in a desire to formalize reasoning, and to develop a system that is free from contradictions. It's not that we couldn't teach computers to reason about justice -- we could. What we can't do (or at least don't know how to do) is to give computers the instincts about justice that are wired into our brains. But we *can* give computers the ability to distinguish mathematical truths.

> But we would have to talk about how much of a person's identity is based on his/her body, and how much is based on his/her mind. One can attack the mind without attacking the body. One can mass-manipulate people psychologically, with no shedding of blood. To say that one is better than the other—I think that merits discussion, not assumption.

Absolutely. And it is being discussed. Cyber-bullying, for example, is being taken very seriously in some quarters.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I mean you can be afraid, get angry, and fall in love without having anyone show you how.

It is very likely that some emotions do require learning from others; shall I excerpt from Paul E. Griffiths' What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories?

> Only information can undergo Darwinian evolution. This is why your genes are encoded in digital form, in DNA.

Does epigenetics threaten this idea in any way?

> Like I said, if you gave me a SPECIFIC example of something you think I should be doing differently, some specific example of something I should take as evidence but I don't, then I could take you more seriously. But you just seem to be engaging in frantic hand-waving about this.

What you call "frantic hand-waving", I call "data collection". If I were really full of nonsense, then you wouldn't find me an interesting person. The less able you are to find some area where I'm spouting absolute nonsense, the less confident I claim you ought to be that I'm spouting absolute nonsense anywhere. And yes, "frantic hand-waving" is strongly linked to "absolute nonsense" in my mind; if you meant something else, please spell it out.

I do want to find you "a SPECIFIC example", but I'm not quite sure what it would be yet. Just as you are puzzled about me, I am puzzled about you!

> Justice is grounded in an instinct, an emotion, like anger and fear and love.

Emotions are likely sense perception of the body's physical state (somatic marker hypothesis), and the body is the instrument with which we explore reality. And yet, you seem to be saying that because justice is merely grounded in "an instinct", it therefore has different kinds of truth-values than mathematics and in particular, truth-values closer to 'ice cream' subjectivity. Is this incorrect? I am beginning to get your "different ontological categories" thing, but there still seems to be 'ice cream' subjectivity going on, and that concerns me.

> Absolutely. And it is being discussed. Cyber-bullying, for example, is being taken very seriously in some quarters.

Yep. And so I wonder whether the amount of actual harm that humans are doing to other humans is going down. It's just that psychological harm is much harder to measure, and therefore much easier to deny. Furthermore, you can deprive people of the opportunity to have very interesting dreams and goals in life, which is yet another kind of violence. Hilary Putnam discusses this (he calls it 'cruelty') as an excellent example of a "thick" ethical concept in The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Like I said, if you gave me a SPECIFIC example of something you think I should be doing differently, some specific example of something I should take as evidence but I don't, then I could take you more seriously. But you just seem to be engaging in frantic hand-waving about this.

Let's see if you can make any sense out of something I posted (oops, twice!) in "Free will and moral agency". From chapter 8 of Richard M. Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences called "The Power of the Word":

>>     In recognizing that words have power to define and to compel, the semanticists are actually testifying to the philosophic quality of language which is the source of their vexation. In an attempt to get rid of that quality, they are looking for some neutral means which will be a nonconductor of the current called “emotion” and its concomitant of evaluation. They are introducing into language, in the course of their prescriptions, exactly the same atomization which we have deplored in other fields. They are trying to strip words of all meaning that shows tendency, or they are trying to isolate language from the noumenal world by ridding speech of tropes. (152

>>     The point at issue is explained by a fundamental proposition of Aquinas: “Every form is accompanied by an inclination.” Now language is a system of forms, which both singly and collectively have this inclination or intention. The aim of semantics is to dissolve form and thereby destroy inclination in the belief that the result will enable a scientific manipulation. Our argument is that the removal of inclination destroys the essence of language. (153)

As far as I can tell, your conception of memes does not have the aspect of "compel" or "inclination", of which Weaver speaks. They do not have values, they do not deal with emotion. I wonder how your thinking were to change if you utterly gave up this fact–value dichotomy, this dualism whereby information is 'neutral' in a way that values, evaluation, emotions, and goals simply aren't neutral.

Is this specific enough? I could try and go through your master's thesis and see how this would change it, but that might be a huge undertaking! It might even require looking through wrf3's work on goal-seeking. :-)

Ron said...

> Is this specific enough?

Well, sort of. It's hard to sort out what you're actually getting at through all your cross-references and quoting of Aquinas and whatnot. Like wrf3, I can't keep up with you in terms of being well-read. But AFAICT, this is the nub of the matter:

> I wonder how your thinking were to change if you utterly gave up this fact–value dichotomy, this dualism whereby information is 'neutral' in a way that values, evaluation, emotions, and goals simply aren't neutral.

I have no idea how I could possibly "give up" the fact-value dichotomy. To me it is just obvious that there is a useful distinction between facts and values: there are legitimate irreconcilable disagreements about values but not about facts. Picasso may or may not be a great artist, but the moon really does exist (whether or not anybody looks). So to "give up the fact-value dichotomy" would be to give up a part of the truth (and a very useful part besides). I can't do that. I don't know how, just as I don't know how to believe that the sky is green when I can clearly see that it is blue.

I have a counter-suggestion for you: why don't you tentatively accept the fact-value dichotomy and see where that leads you?

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: Because these claims say that reality is this way and not that way.

Right. The claim is that x^n + y^n ≠ z^n, for all whole numbers x, y, z, n where n ≥ 3, how would you falsify that? Why would you even ask for a way to falsify it?

Then let's look at those axioms!

It's really simple.
1. There is a reality that is external to my mind. I'm not sure that I actually need this is an axiom, but it doesn't hurt to use it.
2. In this reality there are different objects. The only way to disagree with this is to argue that bees and bears and oranges and people are all the same thing.

That's it. Everything else is constructive, starting with the observation that there are 16 ways to combine two different objects into one of those two objects.

Specifically, I want to see what your concept of causation is. You know that it's extremely complicated and philosophers are nowhere near to a consensus on it, right?

It isn't extremely complicated. In fact, it's dirt simple. The universe is fundamentally random. It doesn't matter if you get this from quantum mechanics or ancient middle eastern creation stories. At the bottom is chaos. At the top is the law of large numbers. In the middle are the laws of physics. Order out of chaos. Easy peasy. Everything else is unfounded speculation based on the brain's desire to think that it is in control.

Gregory W. Dawes also talks about it in Theism and Explanation. His treatment is very interesting, because he works with reason not following the same kind of laws as are generally attributed to nature.

Then not only is he wrong, he is demonstrably wrote. Nature has the built-in ability to combine two things into one of those two things. All of the laws of logic are based on that. A nand gate (or a neuron, or any other such combinatorial device) is where logic and physics meet. They are parallel, yet inseperable.

But you'll get a problem with it: not all things that actually can be constructed, can be constructed with your particular logic.

Then give me one example that I can't rebut. Just one. Please. That would make all of this worth it.

How can you think of those things, within a given logic?

Every time I see this trotted out, it's usually caused by a failure to distinguish between description and referent. I can describe (and description is just a computation) a Busy Beaver number. I cannot compute most Busy Beaver numbers. I can describe Chaitin's Omega. I can't compute Chaitin's Omega.

[wrf3]: How is your claim any different, in principle, from Ron's where he needs to see repeatable evidence to know something is true?

You'll have to draw out the similarity you see between these two positions, and how your own contrasts with it.


You are asking for the ability to falsify something before you will accept it as being true. But you don't do that for everything you hold to be true.
Ron is asking for the ability to repeatedly examine something before he will accept it as being true. But he doesn't do that for everything he holds to be true.

So the similarity is that you are both asking for specific kinds of evidence for particular claims without first asking whether or not that's the right kind of evidence to ask for.

"Everything is improvable." The brain is remarkably adept at shying away from anything external that would put limits on knowledge, and it's even better at rejecting anything that would put limits on behavior. (And, as a Christian, you should recognize this as basic Christian dogma. That there is a secular explanation for it should make you stand up and shout, "Eureka!").

wrf3 said...

Ron asked: Really? What is the mass of Linux?

I was all ready to make a snarky answer along the lines of "much less than BSD, since Linux has always been a little light in the shorts", but then my Mac laptop crashed after I had spent 30 minutes working on a reply to Luke.

But, seriously, I already dealt with this in my post tagged 8:15 AM. Just search for "mass". It will be the very first hit in the third comment to your post. See also my reply to Luke tagged "11:28 AM", or search for neuron. It's the first hit.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: Three in a row!

I hate to admit it, but every once in a while it's nice to know that I'm not a complete idiot. But, see below.

To save time, I'm going to ask you the next three questions all at once, but please consider them in the order presented:

1. Since sounds and heat are both movement of particles, what distinguishes sound from heat?


I don't know. That wasn't covered in my physics classes at UVa. Since you're a Tech Turkey, here's your chance. Make the best of it. ;-)

I could answer "my sense perception of it". I could also answer the arrangement of the motion. Sound is a compression wave (at least depending on the medium through which it travels). Heat is mostly chaotic motion, that's given "direction" by the conservation of momentum and the law of large numbers.

2. Do "traffic jams" exist? What are they made of?

I think they do. They are made of objects that cannot move in certain ways.

3. Do radio waves exist? What are they made of?

I think they do. Electromagnetic radiation, which is a transverse wave of electric and magnetic fields.

Ron said...

@wrf3:

> I already dealt with this

No, you didn't. You dodged the question:

>> What is its mass? What color is it?
> Not relevant.

Well, I claim it is relevant. I claim there are many useful distinctions to be made between software and hardware, and that one of those many useful distinctions is that hardware has mass (and thus obeys certain conservation laws) while software doesn't. And I think there is a broad enough consensus on the utility of this distinction that anyone who denies it is either trolling or mentally ill. My money is on trolling, but I don't want to leap to conclusions. In any case, I call on you to either mount an actual argument for your position, repent your evil trolling ways or seek professional help. Life is too short for this kind of bullshit.

Ron said...

>> what distinguishes sound from heat?
> I don't know.

Oh, but you do! You gave the right answer:

> I could answer "my sense perception of it". I could also answer the arrangement of the motion.

Both of those are correct answers!

>> 2. Do "traffic jams" exist? What are they made of?
> I think they do. They are made of objects that cannot move in certain ways.

Right again! Are you noticing any useful patterns in this sequence of answers?

>>3. Do radio waves exist? What are they made of?
>I think they do. Electromagnetic radiation, which is a transverse wave of electric and magnetic fields.

Give the man a kewpie doll!

Next question: do electric and magnetic fields exist? What are they made of?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I have no idea how I could possibly "give up" the fact-value dichotomy. To me it is just obvious that there is a useful distinction between facts and values: there are legitimate irreconcilable disagreements about values but not about facts.

If there are legitimate disagreements about interpretation of the facts, there are legitimate disagreements about the facts. Facts are only facts with reference to some system of understanding.

> Picasso may or may not be a great artist, but the moon really does exist (whether or not anybody looks).

This is just code for saying, "If you disbelieve that hte moon exists, you will be unable to achieve this wide variety of goals." After all, if some flat-earthers don't want anything that requires them to admit the earth is round, what can you possibly say to convince them that it is round? Reason is fundamentally telos-dependent.

If you want more of a certain kind of art, you need to say that Picasso was a great artist. Likewise, if you want to do more physics, you need to appreciate certain "epistemic values", an idea explored a little bit in In Search of Beauty. Science is absolutely permeated with values; see for example Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge. And remember the Kolmogorov complexity is uncomputable.

Keep in mind when there are implicit oughts: "This is how you ought to interpret your sense percepts, such that these facts fall out of the interpretation."

You even admit that there are multiple interpretations when it comes to interpretations of QM. And these interpretations fundamentally impact what one thinks is real!!!! Surely you get the import of this? If "the facts" are supposed to be about "what is real", and yet different interpretations vary on what they think is real...

> So to "give up the fact-value dichotomy" would be to give up a part of the truth (and a very useful part besides). I can't do that. I don't know how, just as I don't know how to believe that the sky is green when I can clearly see that it is blue.

You know how you keep telling me to read David Deutsch? I suggest Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy for you. He goes through how the fact/value dichotomy is grounded—the analytic/synthetic dichotomy—and show how that relic of logical positivism is simply wrong.

> I have a counter-suggestion for you: why don't you tentatively accept the fact-value dichotomy and see where that leads you?

One place I think it leads me is a conception of memes so bad that one might not be able to do much of anything useful with it. You have a lot of faith in memes, for not being able to do much with them.

Oh, it is useful to make a distinction between fact and value, but that doesn't mean a full-blown dichotomy or dualism. It's also good to make a distinction betwene 'individual' and 'relationship', even though they mutually define each other. Likewise, between 'particle' and 'field'.

wrf3 said...

Ron observed: No, you didn't. You dodged the question: [what is the mass of software]

Do color green ideas sleep furiously? Although, actually, I much prefer Mona Lisa Vito's correct response: "It's a **** question." I need to re-watch that movie.

I claim there are many useful distinctions to be made between software and hardware

And I won't gainsay them. Eval has useful properties. Apply has useful properties. The "problem" is that eval makes use of apply, and apply makes use of eval. At one level they're separable. At another, they aren't. You're focusing on the separable properties. I'm pointing to the fundamental interlocking relationship. If you have a device that can input a bee and a bear and output a bee or a bear, then there are 16 ways to construct that device. Anyone can simply enumerate them. Arrange them certain ways and you have a Turing machine (and let's not be pedantic about a TM's infinite tape but the finiteness of the universe. Big enough is big enough). The amount of mass isn't relevant. That there is mass, appears to be. Now, maybe there's a way to combine two massless things into one of those two things, but I don't know how to combine a photon and a gluon or a gluon and a gauge boson and get one of those things out. This is the first I've thought about having to think about this particular question. Or, since there are photonic gates, maybe I can look at the combination of polarized photons. But E is still mc^2. How do you separate "two becoming one" from the things themselves? "Two becoming one" is software. "Two"and "one" are hardware.

If find it utterly baffling that you're advocating that everything is just different arrangements of quantum fields and I come along and say, "software is an arrangement of quantum fields and oh, by the way, here's how it's done at one level" and you're arguing against me. Maybe I am insane because I can't handle that contradiction.

wrf3 said...

Ron asked: Next question: do electric and magnetic fields exist? What are they made of?

I think they do. An electric field is generated by a static charge. A magnetic field is produced by a moving charge.

I suspect that, eventually, we're going to get to the physical equivalent of eval and apply.

Ron said...

>>I claim there are many useful distinctions to be made between software and hardware
>And I won't gainsay them.

But you did! You said the mass of software was "not relevant."

> you're advocating that everything is just different arrangements of quantum fields

No. Not *just*. Certain kinds of arrangements of quantum fields differ in ways that matter from other kinds of arrangements of quantum fields. Saying "but it's all just fields" is technically true but badly misses the point.

>> Next question: do electric and magnetic fields exist?
> I think they do.

Good. Right again.

>> What are they made of?
> An electric field is generated by a static charge. A magnetic field is produced by a moving charge.

Oooh! We were on such a roll there for a while. No, this is not right. Your answer tells me how magnetic and electric fields are produced. It doesn't tell me what they are *made of*. Try again. Here's a hint: the answer to the question will start with the words "Electric fields are made of...", not "Electric fields are generated by..."

> I suspect that, eventually, we're going to get to the physical equivalent of eval and apply.

No, we won't. (Question for you to ponder but not answer yet: how do I know that?)

> If you have a device that can input a bee and a bear and output a bee or a bear, then there are 16 ways to construct that device. Anyone can simply enumerate them.

Statements like this only serve as evidence that you don't really understand quantum mechanics. Your statement is true only for classical objects, not quantum objects. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves. We need to take this one step at a time if we're not going to get tangled in the weeds. So before you do anything else, answer my question about what electric and magnetic fields are made of.

Luke said...

@wrf3:

> Right. The claim is that x^n + y^n ≠ z^n, for all whole numbers x, y, z, n where n ≥ 3, how would you falsify that? Why would you even ask for a way to falsify it?

You're talking about a finite formal system; falsification happens when one is comparing finite formal systems to actual reality. As long as you want to stay inside math, one worries about logic, not falsification. But when one is attempting to use a mathematical map to match up with reality, then one asks how one knows whether it well-matches reality or not.

> It's really simple.
> 1. There is a reality that is external to my mind. I'm not sure that I actually need this is an axiom, but it doesn't hurt to use it.
> 2. In this reality there are different objects. The only way to disagree with this is to argue that bees and bears and oranges and people are all the same thing.

There are no universals, I see. Are you a nominalist?

> The universe is fundamentally random.

How do you know this?

I find it curious, by the way, that a perfectly rational being (God) would create a perfectly random universe. But perhaps you don't think God is "perfection rational". I just don't see how you could discover anything about God from looking at the universe, if the universe is "fundamentally random".

> Then not only is he wrong, he is demonstrably wrote. Nature has the built-in ability to combine two things into one of those two things. All of the laws of logic are based on that.

So if you cannot construct it with atoms/bits, it does not exist? For example, real computation couldn't possibly exist? Everything must be at its core, a Turing machine? It strikes me that you are assuming these things, not concluding them. I suggest pondering the difference between these two statements:

     (1) What I cannot create, I cannot understand.
     (2) What I cannot create, I may be able to perceive.

> Every time I see this trotted out, it's usually caused by a failure to distinguish between description and referent. I can describe (and description is just a computation) a Busy Beaver number. I cannot compute most Busy Beaver numbers. I can describe Chaitin's Omega. I can't compute Chaitin's Omega.

Heh, I wrote my (1) and (2) before reading this. Now, how do you know that you've described something sensible, if you have no idea how to make it? The only way I can think of doing this is a teleological fashion, but something tells me that violates what I perceive as atomism on your part. How does one represent a telos in your logical system?

Luke said...

@wrf3, cont.:

> Then give me one example that I can't rebut. Just one. Please. That would make all of this worth it.

Organic logic, which must exist if atomism has failed, which I claim it has (e.g. Wittgenstein's Logical Atomism). If the "atoms" are always splittable, then we need to talk about the operation of splitting them. Your logic won't do that.

Another way to get at the above is to ask how human language can grow. The logic you've presented would generate structuralism; here are two commentaries on it:

>>     From the interpretive point of view what is most striking about structuralism is not its difference from but its continuity with the older reductionism. That massive continuous theme is the priority and independence of logical structures and rules of inference from the contexts of ordinary understanding. As Lévi-Strauss puts it, one must avoid the "shop-grip's web of subjectivity" or the "swamps of experience" to arrive at structure and science. The ideal or "hope" of the intrinsic intelligibility of structures apart from "all sorts of extraneous elements" is the same animus that propelled the Vienna Circle. Ricoeur, in several of his essays, has drawn the clearest implications of this position. For him, the goals of structuralism can be accomplished, in fact already have been, but at a price the structuralists ignore. The conditions which make the enterprise possible—the establishment of operations and elements, and an algebra of their combinations—assure from the beginning and by definition that one is working on a body of material which is reconstituted, stopped, closed, and in a certain sense, dead.[19] The very success of structuralism leaves behind the "understanding of action, operations and process, all of which are constitutive of meaningful discourse. Structuralism seals its formalized language off from discourse, and therefore from the human world.[20]" (Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, 12)
>> [19] See Paul Ricoeur, "Structure, Word, Event" in Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), 79.
>> [20] Ibid.

From that [19]:

>>     2. I next wish to show that the very success of this undertaking entails (as a counterpart) an elimination from structural thinking of any understanding of the acts, operations, and processes that constitute discourse. Structuralism leads to thinking in an antinomic way about the relation between language and speech. I will make the sentence or utterance [énoncé] the pivot of this second investigation. I will call semantics the model which governs our understanding of the sentence. (Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, 79)

Ron said...

@Luke:

> If there are legitimate disagreements about interpretation of the facts, there are legitimate disagreements about the facts.

Yes. But you have yet to give me an EXAMPLE of a legitimate disagreement.

> After all, if some flat-earthers don't want anything that requires them to admit the earth is round, what can you possibly say to convince them that it is round?

Seriously? You want to cast your lot with the flat-earthers as your poster children for "legitimate disagreement"? At least go with the YECs or the lunar landing conspiracy theorists. They have much better developed arguments.

> Science is absolutely permeated with values

No, science is permeated with ONE value: that evidence, experiment and reason are the ultimate arbiters of truth. The actual human practice of science may be permeated with other values, but science itself is not. We've been through this. Judging science by what scientist do is like judging Christianity by what Catholic priests do.

> You have a lot of faith in memes, for not being able to do much with them.

Not sure I understand what you mean here. The Bible is a meme. (A tremendously successful one!) So it's odd to hear you say (or at least imply) that "you can't do much with memes."

BTW, I don't have faith in *memes*, I have *evidence* that memes exist, that they do the things that they are purported to do, that they evolve according to Darwinian evolution, that they have phenotypes (like Christians)... What I have *faith* in (or at least hope for) is that some day the idea-ism meme will thrive and bring about world peace as a result.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: But you did! You said the mass of software was "not relevant."

Can a Turing machine be built out of water and other parts? (Hint: yes). Can a Turing machine be built out of bowling balls and marbles? (Hint: yes). Will they give the same results? Yes. The mass is irrelevant to the result of the calculation, but it's necessary for the calculation to happen. Non-physical Turing machines can't exist in our universe.

Saying "but it's all just fields" is technically true but badly misses the point.

Maybe we're trying to make different points. And that point is that mental things are inextricably bound to physical things and that we can show what the binding is. Now we can apply this to various philosophical schools.

One school wants to say that mental things exist independently from physical things (and some go so far as to say that mental things preceded physical things). That may be true, but we cannot prove it.
Another school wants to say that physical things exist independently from mental things. That may be true, but we cannot prove it.

Statements like this only serve as evidence that you don't really understand quantum mechanics. Your statement is true only for classical objects, not quantum objects.

Why do you think that I was talking about anything other than classical objects?

In any case, do you take exception to my statement "two becoming one" (in a certain sense) is software while "two" and "one" are hardware and the the process of "two becoming one" is a physical process?

If so, what? I can understand why Luke might vehemently resist it (I'm not saying he does, but I can guess why he might), but I don't fully understand your reaction. What point do you think I'm badly missing? Why is it important to you?

And I'm going to go offline for several hours. Dinner with the kids.

Publius said...

Software Has Mass

Consider software that consumes 4 GeB of DRAM storage. DRAMs store bits using stacked capacitors.

4 GeB software (4 294 967 296 bytes)
= (4 GB)/(8 bits/byte) = 34 359 738 368 bits
stacked capacitor capacitance 25 fF
operating voltage 1 V

Q = CV
= (25 x 10^-15 F)*(1 V)
= 2.5 x 10^-14 coulombs

Total Q = (34 359 738 368)*(2.5 x 10^-14 C)
= 0.000860 C

1 coulomb = 6.241 x 10^18 electrons

Total electrons = (0.000860 C)*(6.241 x 10^18)
= 5.36 x 10^15 electrons

mass of 1 electron = 9.109 x 10^-31 kg

The mass of 4 GeB of software is then
(5.36 x 10^15)*(9.109 x 10^-31)
= 4.88 x 10^-15 kg

This mass is about 1.5 times the mass of DNA in the human genome and about 7.3 times the mass of an E. coli bacterium.

Now, that would be for 100% of the bits at '1'. Multiply the result by the fraction of bits that in the '1' state for the particular software. If the software had a bit bias of 0.5 (i.e., half the bits were 1, half 0), multiply by 0.5.

Ron said...

@wrf3:

> Non-physical Turing machines can't exist in our universe.

Of course they can. Here's an example:

http://www.virtualapple.org

> One school wants to say that mental things exist independently from physical things (and some go so far as to say that mental things preceded physical things). That may be true, but we cannot prove it.

A better way to say it: we have no extant examples of mental things that do not emerge from physical things. That's true.

> physical things exist independently from mental things. That may be true, but we cannot prove it.

No, this is wrong. There is overwhelming evidence that physical things can exist even if no mental things exist.

> Why do you think that I was talking about anything other than classical objects?

Because of the context. We're talking about ontological categories, and whether the quantum wave function "really exists". I was doing you the courtesy of assuming that you were not just throwing in a complete non-sequitur. (Maybe that was a mistake on my part. The jury is still out on you being a troll.)

> In any case, do you take exception to my statement "two becoming one" (in a certain sense) is software while "two" and "one" are hardware and the the process of "two becoming one" is a physical process?

It's not that I take exception to it, it's that I don't understand it. It's not even grammatically correct. "Two becoming one" is not a statement. (And yes, I did go back and re-read the antecedent comment, and it was every bit as incoherent and unintelligible as your summary.)

> And I'm going to go offline for several hours. Dinner with the kids.

OK, gotta keep one's priorities straight. When you come back, tell me what electric and magnetic fields are made of.

Ron said...

@Publius:

Michelangelo's Pieta is beautiful, and it has mass. It does not follow that beauty has mass. Just because software can be encoded in a way that requires energy (and hence "has mass") it does not follow that software has mass. It is possible to encode bits in such a way that the energy content of a 0 and 1 are the same.

Publius said...

> How do the mental properties control the physical properties (brain) and the rest of the body. For example, I decide to raise my arm and my left arm lifts up.

In broad brushstrokes: neurons fire, and they cause muscles to contract. We don't know all the details yet. That's the frontier of neuroscience.

One can trace it backwards
In my left arm, we can measure the nerves triggering the muscles. We can then trace those nerves back to the spinal cord. The arm-lifting signal can then be traced back up into the brain, where one can measure activation of specific brain structures and even the neural pathways of intent to move my arm.

One can trace it forward
One can use fMRI to measure intention, action planning and motor prepartion, activation of the motor cortex, which generates neural impulses than pass down to the spinal cord, then to the arm, then to the arm muscles, causing them to contract and release such that my arm is raised.

Therefore, when I raise my arm, the sequence of neuron firings, neurotransmitters, and muscle contractions is entirely sufficient to account for the movement of my arm.

How, then, can you say that mental properties function causally?
1. If the physical universe is causally closed (seems reasonable), then nothing outside it, nothing non-physical, could ever have causal effects inside the physical universe. If this is so, and mental properties are not a physical property, then mental properties must be an illusion.
2. If one assumes, however, than the physical universe is not causally closed, then mental properties can function causally in producing physical behavior. Yet the physical properties (neuron firings, neurotransmitters, ...) are sufficient to account for the movement of my arm. If we suppose the mental states also functions in the movement of my arm, then you have two distinct causal stories, neither reducible to the other. In short, my arm movement has too many causes - the causes are overdetermined.

How do you resolve this causation problem if the brain has physical properties (structure, blood flow, temperature,...) and mental properties (thinking, memory, intentionality, imagination,...)?

Publius said...

@Ron
Just because software can be encoded in a way that requires energy (and hence "has mass") it does not follow that software has mass. It is possible to encode bits in such a way that the energy content of a 0 and 1 are the same.

If it uses energy, it has mass.
The minimum possible amount of energy to represent one bit is

kT ln 2

At room temperature, this works out to approximately 0.0172 eV.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Yes. But you have yet to give me an EXAMPLE of a legitimate disagreement.

Yes I have, your interpretation of QM vs. others. We've talked about this. There is no empirical advantage to your preferred interpretation, but you still choose it over other interpretations for reasons, or dare I say, values. If you want to go all God without Parts, I mean Value without parts, then you can switch 'values' → 'Value'.

> Seriously? You want to cast your lot with the flat-earthers as your poster children for "legitimate disagreement"? At least go with the YECs or the lunar landing conspiracy theorists. They have much better developed arguments.

No, I wasn't going for "legitimate disagreement" with the flat-earthers. I was going with whether you have the ability to convince them otherwise. You don't, if their goals and desires are certain ways. If you tell them that their way of looking at reality is wrong, how are they to believe you? It's not like you're helping them do anything they wish to do. And so, they see different facts than you. There is real, true disagreement.

Want a better example? Well, I would have to find disagreements between scientists on either side of a paradigm shift. I've read a bit about Einstein talking to Mach about whether atoms exist; that might suffice. Perhaps something about emergence would work? I think I've linked you Massimo Pigliucci's Essays on emergence, part I before. There's disagreement "on the facts" in that.

> No, science is permeated with ONE value: that evidence, experiment and reason are the ultimate arbiters of truth. The actual human practice of science may be permeated with other values, but science itself is not. We've been through this. Judging science by what scientist do is like judging Christianity by what Catholic priests do.

The only way I know how to come up with a valid conception of the Platonic Form of 'Science' is to see where the actual practice of science is pointing, by looking at change over time. This is deeply related to finding a good definition of 'better' with respect to my 'infinite concepts'. So, what is the value of:

    lim (science(t))
    as t → ∞

? If that is indeed converging on your EE&R, then great. But if it isn't, then I'm going to suspect that your EE&R doesn't actually map to reality! Furthermore, I will begin to find it unintelligible!

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> So it's odd to hear you say (or at least imply) that "you can't do much with memes."

When I say "can't do much", I am referring to the fact there is little to no active research on memes. Right now, memes are more just-so stories than an actual scientific theory which has explanatory and predictive power. Hence: "you can't do much with memes". I suppose there's the folk psychology version of memes?

> BTW, I don't have faith in *memes*, I have *evidence* that memes exist, [...]

Ummmm...:

> > @Ron, are you aware of any active research being done on memes?

> Nope. I am a lone voice in the wilderness at the moment. But I have faith ;-)

I'm not sure we're actually in disagreement. There are two kinds of 'faith':

     (1) faith in propositions
     (2) faith in future fruitfulness

I tend to prefer the second. That's the kind of faith I have in Jesus. Jesus is not a bag of propositions. You have (2)-type faith in memes. What can you actually do with memes, now? How can you differentiate that doing from just-so-storying?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > physical things exist independently from mental things. That may be true, but we cannot prove it.

> No, this is wrong. There is overwhelming evidence that physical things can exist even if no mental things exist.

Evidence, please. Remember that the MWI does not have counterfactual definiteness.

Ron said...

@publius:

> How, then, can you say that mental properties function causally?

By looking at the temporal sequence. The firings in your brain precede the movement of your arm. (in fact, the firings in your brain precede the conscious awareness of having made the decision to move your arm! This is evidence that consciousness is a result of neural firings.)

You can also do intervention studies by stimulating neurons artificially. Stimulate the right neurons and your arm moves.

> If it uses energy, it has mass.

But software doesn't use energy. *Computation* uses energy, but computation and software are not synonyms.

@Luke:

> > Yes. But you have yet to give me an EXAMPLE of a legitimate disagreement.
> Yes I have, your interpretation of QM vs. others.

That depends a little on what "others" you have in mind. If by "others" you mean Copenhagen (by which I mean the interpretation that holds that collapse is a real physical phenomenon) then this is not a legitimate disagreement. The matter has been settled. If by "others" you mean MWI then it's not really a disagreement, just two different ways of expressing the same idea. It's a disagreement about marketing, not about science.

> Want a better example?

Absolutely! Bring it on! This is how progress gets made.

> Well, I would have to find disagreements between scientists on either side of a paradigm shift.

Yeah, good luck with that.

> I've read a bit about Einstein talking to Mach about whether atoms exist

That was a legitimate disagreement, but it had nothing to do with *values*. It had to do with the limits of the experimental evidence and theoretical frameworks available at the time.

> Jesus is not a bag of propositions.

He might not be a "bag", but I am given to understand that Jesus is intimately bound to a set of propositions, the most important of which seems to be that he was crucified and rose on the third day to save us from our sins. Do you not believe that?

>> There is overwhelming evidence that physical things can exist even if no mental things exist.
> Evidence, please.

Common sense actually does apply in the classical universe. The box containing Shroedinger's cat weighs the same even while it is closed. If everyone were to stop looking at the moon, the tides would not stop. Your car keys really are wherever they were last put even if no one knows where that is.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: Of course they [non-physical Turing machines] can [exist in our universe]. Here's an example: http://www.virtualapple.org

I took a look at it on my phone while waiting for a table at dinner. The last I looked, my phone wasn't non-physical. Do you have a non-physical device I can use to look at that URL and run one of the emulators?

There is overwhelming evidence that physical things can exist even if no mental things exist.

There is overwhelming evidence that the Collatz Conjecture is true, too. So what?

All that is needed for your evidence to not exist is to snip a few wires in your head. All of your evidence depends on that wiring. It's why dogs don't discuss Kierkegaard.

All of your evidence is based on an accident.

Tomorrow, field theory, and responding to Luke.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: It's not that I take exception to it, it's that I don't understand it.

What does a NAND gate do? Two inputs become one output.

Ron said...

@wrf3:

> my phone wasn't non-physical

I'm sorry, but if you can't (or won't) understand the difference between a real Apple II and an emulated one then you are beyond my ability to help.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: I'm sorry, but if you can't (or won't) understand the difference between a real Apple II and an emulated one then you are beyond my ability to help.

Considering that, in the dark ages, I wrote an HP 2100 assembler/emulator in BASIC running on an HP 2100, I think I do know the difference between a real machine and an emulated one.

The point is that an emulated Turing machine is still a Turing machine. It's a particular arrangement of quantum stuff. You can't separate the Turing machine from the quantum stuff out of which it is made.

Don't know why this is causing such a problem between us, since it's just a simple -- and obvious -- statement of what has to be true in your worldview.

wrf3 said...

Ron asked: ... tell me what electric and magnetic fields are made of.

A field is the description we use to predict the force that will be exerted on something by something else. What Nature has is the exchange of force carriers between two objects; we create a mathematical description of what we expect if we put one thing near another.

Ron said...

> A field is the description

Bzzt, wrong again. A thing is not the same as its description. Also, you ignored my admonition that the correct answer to the question, "What is an electric field made of?" will start with the words, "An electric field is made of..." not "An electric field is..."

That's two strikes. One more and you're out.

wrf3 said...

Luke wrote: But when one is attempting to use a mathematical map to match up with reality, then one asks how one knows whether it well-matches reality or not.

Right. And the whole numbers are the labels we give to the crests of a wave. That they can label other things is just a bonus. Waves exhibit constructive interference (addition) and destructive interference (subtraction). And so on. We can tell that it matches reality by looking. We don't have any other choice.

Nature exhibits logic, because logic is what you get when you combine things into fewer things.
Nature puts logic in physical devices, because a neuron is a device that sums inputs and fires if the sum is above a certain threshold. Neurons wired a certain way can do boolean logic; boolean logic devices wired another way can do neurons.

All you have to do is look.

There are no universals, I see. Are you a nominalist?

You're jumping ahead. I don't need universals to construct brains. All I need is a little bit of what Nature provides. How nature provides that is a completely different issue. In fact, Nature doesn't say whether or not universals exist. Their existence (or non-existence) is a result of the pattern matcher in our brains trying to fill in a blank space. Furthermore, Nature is so constructed that you can prove that the question of the existence, or non-existence, of universals cannot be decided.

I'm not a nominalist, because I happen to believe that the λογος precedes all things. But I cannot prove it, any more than the nominalist position can be proved.

How do you know [that the universe is fundamentally random]?

Quantum mechanics. Bell's inequalities shows that Nature is either (local, non-real) or (non-local, real). General relativity rules out the (non-local, real) form. Therefore, Nature is non-real and what would be observed, if one looks, is described by a probability wave.

I find it curious, by the way, that a perfectly rational being (God) would create a perfectly random universe

That's not what I said. What I said is that at the bottom is randomness and probabilities; in the middle is the laws of physics, and at the top is the law of large numbers. The law of large numbers says that, while we cannot say anything about individual random events, we can say non-random things about collections of random events.

So if you cannot construct it with atoms/bits, it does not exist?

Again, that's not what I said. What I said is that descriptions of things are based on computations, and computations are just networks of combinatorial devices arranged in certain ways. Ron's right -- it's all about the arrangement. Don't confuse the construction of the description with the construction of the thing described.

Now, how do you know that you've described something sensible, if you have no idea how to make it?

I know how to describe π. I know how to calculate π to any arbitrary precision. I know how to describe a Busy Beaver (Σ) number. I can tell you what Σ(0)..Σ(4) are. I can't tell you what the others are.

How does one represent a telos in your logical system?

The arrangement of the stuff.

wrf3 said...

Ron wrote: That's two strikes. One more and you're out.

Then why don't you just save us all the trouble and provide the answer you're looking for. I have no problem appearing stupid if it will move the conversation forward.

Ron said...

> Then why don't you just save us all the trouble and provide the answer you're looking for.

Because I am not trying to make you look stupid. I am trying to show you a different way of looking at the world. And simply explaining it to you hasn't worked (that's what I tried to do with the original post). So I'm trying a socratic approach now instead. Knowing the answer to this question is not what will make you achieve enlightenment. It is the *process of trying to come up with the answer on your own* that will do it. (And here's a big hint: how do I know this?)

Publius said...

>But software doesn't use energy. *Computation* uses energy, but computation and software are not synonyms.

Your stored software is going to need energy input at some point to prevent it from dissipating into randomness. It also took some energy to store it in the first place.

On the question of why my arm moves
>By looking at the temporal sequence. The firings in your brain precede the movement of your arm. (in fact, the firings in your brain precede the conscious awareness of having made the decision to move your arm! This is evidence that consciousness is a result of neural firings.)

>You can also do intervention studies by stimulating neurons artificially. Stimulate the right neurons and your arm moves.

Great. The above are 100% physical explanations of why my left arm moves.

Given this new evidence, would you like to revise your hypothesis that brains have both "physical properties" and "mental properties"?

Luke said...

@Publius, you might like my argument over here—feel free to skip to the 1.–8. I may have stumbled upon an argument for why reason cannot be derivable from natural laws, on pain of destroying the distinction between truth and falsehood. It needs some firming up, though.

Don Geddis said...

@Publius: "The above are 100% physical explanations of why my left arm moves. ... would you like to revise your hypothesis that brains have both "physical properties" and "mental properties"?"

A physical explanation of why your arm moves, and a mental explanation, are not in conflict. They can simultaneously describe the same observation, and both be simultaneously correct. They're simply explanations at different levels of abstraction.

It's essentially the same as describing some life process -- e.g. photosynthesis -- at the level of either biology, chemistry, or physics. All of the descriptions are correct, and they don't conflict with each other.

Luke said...

@Don:

> A physical explanation of why your arm moves, and a mental explanation, are not in conflict. They can simultaneously describe the same observation, and both be simultaneously correct. They're simply explanations at different levels of abstraction.

How well-read are you on multiple realizability, e.g. IEP's Mind and Multiple Realizability § Multiple Realizability and Nonreductive Physicalism? It's not clear that your "simply" is necessarily correct. There appears to be room for it to be wrong. (And if there isn't, that is its own problem.)

Publius said...

Ron's Axioms

Since Ron really enjoys other people telling him what he believes, I thought I would summarize his axioms of life for him. Of course these are inferred from his writing - if they're in error, I'm sure he'll correct them ("I'm right here - why don't you just ask me!" - hey, we like puzzles).

@Ron
science is permeated with ONE value: that evidence, experiment and reason are the ultimate arbiters of truth.

Axiom 1: One should order one's life to be congruent to the truth; science (via evidence, experiment, and reason) is the most efficient method to determine and share truth.

Axiom 2: Ron doesn't like being bored. One way to avoid boredom is to continually learn new knowledge and skills.

On Evidence and Reason

It strikes me that "reason alone" is sometimes sufficient for scientific beliefs. Let me give two examples:

1. The Oort cloud: In 1950, astronomer Jan Oort investigated long period comets. After correcting their motion to account for the movement of the solar system through the galaxy, he found that many long period comets have a common aphelia at 20,000 AU. One then reasons that there is a reservoir of icy bodies in a dispersed, spherical cloud around the Sun. No direct observation of the Oort cloud have ever been made.

2. The Universe. The Universe is the totality of existence. From Earth, however, we can only see the observable universe. The observable universe is presently about 91 billion light years in diameter. The universe is estimated to be 250 to 3x10^23 times larger than the observable universe.

Publius said...

@Don
>A physical explanation of why your arm moves, and a mental explanation, are not in conflict.

Then the cause of my arm moving is overdetermined. It has two causes.

Ron said...

@Publius:

> Your stored software is going to need energy input at some point to prevent it from dissipating into randomness. It also took some energy to store it in the first place.

Congratulations on rediscovering the second law of thermodynamics. That doesn't change the fact that software and computation are not synonyms.

> Given this new evidence, would you like to revise your hypothesis that brains have both "physical properties" and "mental properties"?

Nope. There is no bright line between physical and mental. Mental processes are a proper subset of physical processes.

> Axiom 1: One should order one's life to be congruent to the truth;

I would say "consistent" rather than congruent, but yes, I'd agree with that.

> science (via evidence, experiment, and reason) is the most efficient method to determine and share truth.

I would say "effective" rather than "efficient." Divine revelation is actually much more efficient than science, I just don't think it's very effective.

> Axiom 2: Ron doesn't like being bored. One way to avoid boredom is to continually learn new knowledge and skills.

That's definitely true.

> It strikes me that "reason alone" is sometimes sufficient for scientific beliefs. Let me give two examples:

> 1. The Oort cloud: In 1950, astronomer Jan Oort investigated long period comets.

You just undermined your own position. The Oort cloud was not discovered by reason alone. It was discovered because long period comets are *evidence* for the existence of the Oort cloud.

> 2. The Universe. The Universe is the totality of existence. From Earth, however, we can only see the observable universe. The observable universe is presently about 91 billion light years in diameter. The universe is estimated to be 250 to 3x10^23 times larger than the observable universe.

That's true, but the observable part of the universe is evidence for the existence of the (presently) unobservable part.

Ron said...

As long as I'm leaving comments on this thread, and in case @wrf3 is still tuned in, here's a hint for your homework assignment: Suppose that the correct answer to the question, "What are electric and magnetic fields made of?" is something of the form "Electric fields are made of X and magnetic fields are made of Y." My next question to you will be, "What are X and Y made of?" Think about what the end-game for this line of questioning would have to look like.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Mental processes are a proper subset of physical processes.

I'd like to dive into this a bit. We know that physical processes can produce mental states which are "more true" and mental states which are "less true". I'm going to elide the "more" and "less" for concision.

What I want to know is what causes a mental state to be more likely to be true than false. The answer cannot take the form of "because I obey the laws of nature". It strikes me that it has to take the form of "because I obey [the laws of] Reason". And yet, by your statement we have that the laws of Reason supervene on the laws of nature.

Surely we cannot have it be random that your particular consciousness happens upon truth more often than falsehood (at least in comparison to fellow minds). So there has to be some cause which is responsible. But what is that cause, and why did it benefit you over others? It's not like you have some sort of ability to choose to act against the laws of nature. Your mental processes are caused, ultimately, by the laws of nature (through however many emergent layers).

It is tempting to say that it is because I follow some method that I am good at happening upon the truth, but Paul Feyerabend's Against Method strikes that down, and this strike has been so well accepted that it shows up in Penelope Maddy's 2007 Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method:

>>     A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has not theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (1)

So, I'm trying to figure out what this 'Reason' thing is, taking as an assumption that "Mental processes are a proper subset of physical processes." I'm trying to take very small steps at every point in the argumentation, so that I don't skip over a big yawning gap that has nothing to put in it. I'm having trouble seeing a proper cause for why I would have a higher frequency of happening on the truth. Randomness (luck) seems to be the only option, unless I question the bit from you I have quoted.

Perhaps I have missed something?

Publius said...

@Ron
>Congratulations on rediscovering the second law of thermodynamics. That doesn't change the fact that software and computation are not synonyms.

"Computation and software are not synonyms" was your tangent to the question of whether software has mass.

>But software doesn't use energy. *Computation* uses energy, but computation and software are not synonyms.

Your original statement was:

I claim there are many useful distinctions to be made between software and hardware, and that one of those many useful distinctions is that hardware has mass (and thus obeys certain conservation laws) while software doesn't.

I responded that software has mass. I also provided calculations of software mass. I also provided the minimum energy for 1 bit of information.

Now that you are informed that software has mass, you can include software as being bound by the "certain conservation laws" that hardware "obeys."

Publius said...

> 1. The Oort cloud: In 1950, astronomer Jan Oort investigated long period comets.

You just undermined your own position. The Oort cloud was not discovered by reason alone. It was discovered because long period comets are *evidence* for the existence of the Oort cloud.

You're reversing the antecedent and the consequent

Jan Oort did not:
1. Hypothesize the existence of a huge spherical cloud of icy bodies weakly tied to the Sun's gravity.
2. Find long period comets as evidence of #1
3. Confirm the hypothesis in #1

This is what Jan Oort actually did:
1. Observe that there are long period comets
2. Calculate their aphelia, after correcting for the movement of the solar system through the galaxy
3. This lead to the discovery that many of them have a common aphelia near 20,000 AU
4. Reason that there must be a huge spherical cloud of icy bodies, weakly tied to the Sun's gravity, at about 20,000
AU (and farther).

No direct observation of the Oort cloud have ever been made.
Astronomers believe it exists based on Oort's calculation and reasoning, plus later research [say, computer simulations of the formation of the solar system].

The Universe

@Ron
That's true, but the observable part of the universe is evidence for the existence of the (presently) unobservable part.

Observable part + theory + reason --> a large unobservable universe beyond the observable universe. The unobservable part is not causally connected to the observable part, so all scientists have is theory+reason to deduce a belief in its existence.

Luke said...

@Publius:

You can sharpen up the bit about the Oort cloud and say that from Ron's EE&R, the middle E, Experiment, was not done. I would say from here, that we ought to be extremely careful of what we do with claims that don't have that middle E. (And yes, I realize the theological implications for this and embrace them. Alētheia for the win!)

Ron said...

@Publius:

> I responded that software has mass. I also provided calculations of software mass. I also provided the minimum energy for 1 bit of information.

No, you didn't. You calculated the minimum energy to store one bit of information in a particular physical embodiment (DRAM) given current technological limitations. But it is easy to invent schemes for storing information where the energy content of different states are identical.

In fact, you can even encode information in DRAM such that the energy content of different states is identical. Figuring out how is left as an (easy) exercise.

> Now that you are informed that software has mass

I have been informed that the earth is 6000 years old too (and frankly, the YEC's arguments are better than yours). Do you really want to see which of us can our-snark the other?

> No direct observation of the Oort cloud have ever been made.

That's true, but that again is simply due to current technological limitations. Planets orbiting other stars were predicted (based on evidence) long before they could actually be observed.

@Luke:

> You can sharpen up the bit about the Oort cloud and say that from Ron's EE&R, the middle E, Experiment, was not done.

There's a subtle difference between "was not done" and "has not been done yet." The latter is a more accurate description of the current state of affairs.

I am at a loss to see what point the two of you are trying to make here.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> There's a subtle difference between "was not done" and "has not been done yet." The latter is a more accurate description of the current state of affairs.

> I am at a loss to see what point the two of you are trying to make here.

I can only guess at Publius' purpose. My own is to note that when the middle E of EE&R is missing, the character of the resultant thought is different, and I think importantly different. You can no longer really test whatever it is that comes out of E_&R. You run into the problem of the Underdetermination of Scientific Theory.

What really characterizes truth, as far as I can tell, is that it leads to more truth. Another way to state the same thing is that for certain values of 'wrong', it is the case that 'wrong' → 'less wrong' can happen. But when you cannot run any experiments, you have no idea whether the thing you're thinking about will lead to more truth. It'd be like publishing a scientific paper (call it 'X'), and never having a paper cite it which refers to any data collected or analyzed after the publication date of X.

It seems to me that the "escape hatch" you're using, to distinguish E_&R from e.g. religion, is something like low complexity. Would that be a decent guess?

Ron said...

> It seems to me that the "escape hatch" you're using, to distinguish E_&R from e.g. religion, is something like low complexity. Would that be a decent guess?

It's a decent guess, but it's wrong. The main thing that distinguishes science from religion is the *primacy* of data. If the data are inconsistent with a given hypothesis, that hypothesis is (eventually) rejected, no matter how well established it was, no matter how highly regarded or politically powerful its proponents are.

In religion (at least in the Abrahamic relgions) divine revelation is primary. If reasoning from data leads to a conflict with divine revelation then it is not the divine revelation that is discarded, it is the data or the reasoning. This is why Galileo was condemned. This is why apologetics is a thing. This is why religious people try so hard to find flaws in science, and why their general inability to do so causes them so much cognitive dissonance.

This is the fundamental difference: in science, finding a real flaw in the reasoning, or a real disconnect between the best accepted theories and data is a celebrated achievement. In religion, it is generally treated at best as a challenge to be overcome, and at worst an existential threat.

> What really characterizes truth, as far as I can tell, is that it leads to more truth.

Yes, that's true, but you can't use that to distinguish truth from falsehood, because falsehood also leads to more falsehood. This is Loki's stock in trade.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> It's a decent guess, but it's wrong. The main thing that distinguishes science from religion is the *primacy* of data. If the data are inconsistent with a given hypothesis, that hypothesis is (eventually) rejected, no matter how well established it was, no matter how highly regarded or politically powerful its proponents are.

Why does the first E take primacy over the R? (Is this even a coherent position?) There's some deep debate about whether we even perceive without predetermined concepts. What if those predetemrined concepts are kinda bad? Then giving the first E primacy doesn't seem like it would challenge the R. It strikes me that it might be better to more equally weight E, E, and R.

> In religion (at least in the Abrahamic relgions) divine revelation is primary. If reasoning from data leads to a conflict with divine revelation then it is not the divine revelation that is discarded, it is the data or the reasoning. This is why Galileo was condemned.

I'm concerned that the stories you have about the Galileo affair are pretty bad. I read some in Deutsch and it looks like he's somewhat detached from the best evidence available. So, can we examine your conceptions of the relevant history to see if they actually match up with the known historical matter? I worry that you're predicating a lot on a fairly unexamined view. It would be helpful to know what you know of, that has influenced your picture of the Galileo affair and surrounding events.

> This is why apologetics is a thing.

I caution you against (1) making apologetics monolithic in this time period; (2) assuming that there is an essence called 'apologetics' which is recognizable through the ages. In particular, the bit about "divine revelation is primary" hints of foundationalism, which was mostly new as of Descartes. Furthermore, if you're going to find out about the person of God instead of just his habits, you're going to have to have actual words from him, mediated somehow. Right? I believe I talked about this at the last Dialogos meeting.

> This is the fundamental difference: in science, finding a real flaw in the reasoning, or a real disconnect between the best accepted theories and data is a celebrated achievement.

Then much talk among atheists about the history of science and religion is not "science", and it is not "history" as any respectable historian would understand "history". Furthermore, a good chunk of the "human sciences" isn't science, as well. Furthermore, I challenge you to show that the ultraviolet catastrophe was particularly celebrated, vs. downplayed, e.g. as it was in Lord Kelvin's "Two Clouds" speech.

> Yes, that's true, but you can't use that to distinguish truth from falsehood, because falsehood also leads to more falsehood. This is Loki's stock in trade.

You aren't claiming that there's a nice symmetry, here, are you? It strikes me that falsehood really does tend to peter out, to disintegrate, or at least to explode and then disintegrate as a result of the explosion.

Ron said...

> Why does the first E take primacy over the R?

Because reason by itself can't get you to truth. You can apply reason to non-truths just as easily as you can to truths. For example, here is someone applying reason to the question of whether the military forces of the Star Trek universe would beat the military forces of the Star Wars universe:

http://gizmodo.com/who-would-win-in-an-all-out-battle-star-wars-or-star-t-1676075613

Evidence is what grounds reason in reality, and that is what leads you to truth.

> (Is this even a coherent position?)

Of course. Why would you doubt it?

> There's some deep debate about whether we even perceive without predetermined concepts.

There is no question that our perceptions are biased. Evolution built us primarily to survive, not to do science (though doing science can help us survive). Overcoming this built-in bias is hard, but doable. We do our measurement with instruments rather than trust our senses. We do double-blind studies. We apply statistical tests. All of these things are designed to help overcome our built-in biases.

> What if those predetemrined concepts are kinda bad?

They *are* bad. That's why science works so hard to overcome them.

> Then giving the first E primacy doesn't seem like it would challenge the R. It strikes me that it might be better to more equally weight E, E, and R.

Better how?

> I'm concerned that the stories you have about the Galileo affair are pretty bad.

Does it really matter? Do you really want to challenge my claim that divine revelation is primary in Abrahamic religions? That the Bible and the Quran are axiomatically taken to have some privileged epistemological status over other texts?

> I caution you against (1) making apologetics monolithic in this time period; (2) assuming that there is an essence called 'apologetics' which is recognizable through the ages.

I didn't. All I said about apologetics was that it was a thing. That is, that the word "apologetics" has some meaningful referent. I said nothing at all about its nature, except to imply that it had something to do with defending divine revelation. Do you really want to dispute that?

> if you're going to find out about the person of God instead of just his habits, you're going to have to have actual words from him, mediated somehow. Right?

That question assumes facts not in evidence. To find out about the person of God there has to *be* a person of God to find out about. And, as I would hope I would not have to remind you any more at this stage, I see no evidence for the existence of such a thing.

But even if I suspend disbelief and suppose for the sake of argument that there is a God, the answer to your question is still "no". A God of the sort that @wrf3 imagines, for example, could create us with built-in knowledge of His existence and His nature. I don't see any reason to think that "actual words" are needed.

> I challenge you to show that the ultraviolet catastrophe was particularly celebrated

It led to the discovery of quantum mechanics, which is one of the two pillars on which all of science currently rests (the other being GR). You can't get much more celebrated than that. (And note that I did hedge with "eventually".)

> You aren't claiming that there's a nice symmetry, here, are you? It strikes me that falsehood really does tend to peter out, to disintegrate, or at least to explode and then disintegrate as a result of the explosion.

I wouldn't say it's a "nice" symmetry. And yes, most falsehoods do tend to get filtered out by reality. But some don't. The God meme, for example, seems to be extraordinarily impervious to both reason and evidence.

Luke said...

> > Why does the first E take primacy over the R?

> Because reason by itself can't get you to truth.

I'm confused; I never claimed this.

> > (Is this even a coherent position?)

> Of course. Why would you doubt it?

For one, because of Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness, which suggests that you only become conscious of patterns in your short-term (perceptual) memory if they match up with patterns in your longer-term (less plastic) memory. That is, you only see what you have categories to see. This hearkens back to Kant's Transcendental Arguments, in which he argues against Hume's model of sense perception. From Charles Taylor:

>> Plainly we couldn't have experience of the world at all if we had to start with a swirl of uninterpreted data. Indeed, there would be no "data," because even this minimal description depends on our distinguishing what is given by some objective source from what we merely supply ourselves.[17] (Philosophical Arguments, 11)

If you want even more argumentation, I can bring in the built-in conceptual structure that psychologists are pretty sure children have, drawing on Paul E. Griffiths' What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories. Or I could talk about the "subjective point of view" and how that is critical for navigating and perceiving reality, and what that means for preconceived notions per Colin McGinn's The Subjective View.

This is a very interesting topic to me; phrased in terms of your EE&R, how does that R start, and how does it grow? To what extent does R influence the E's, and what is even considered evidence? I will note that Popper was also very interested in the growth of knowledge. From Popper:

>>     Thus I see the problem of knowledge in a way different from that of my predecessors. Security and justification of claims to knowledge are not my problem. Instead, my problem is the growth of knowledge: in which sense can we speak of the growth or the progress of knowledge, and how can we achieve it? (Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, 37)

Can you see what I'm getting at, Ron? We've been circling this issue for quite some time.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > What if those predetemrined concepts are kinda bad?

> They *are* bad. That's why science works so hard to overcome them.

Do you think all predetermined concepts can be "overcome"? All of them? What makes this a curious question to me is that whenever you are critiquing something, you're holding constant that system of thought which is participating in the critiquing. And so, not everything can be under critique at once. From here, you have three options, dictated by Agrippa's trilemma. You can claim your foundation is rock-solid, you can insist on mere consistency of all your beliefs, or you can go into an infinite regress. Which do you choose, Ron?

P.S. You might find Neurath's boat to be of help, here.

> > Then giving the first E primacy doesn't seem like it would challenge the R. It strikes me that it might be better to more equally weight E, E, and R.

> Better how?

For the goal of understanding reality better, or as I like to say it, "better navigate reality". I like the word 'navigate' because I am then an actor, instead of a mere perceiver. I am the instrument I use to explore reality. Right? (As are other humans.) Yoram Hazony says it this way, in Newtonian Explanatory Reduction and Hume's System of the Sciences:

>> It is this “dependence” of the other sciences on the science of human nature, and especially of the human mind, that underwrites Hume’s claim, quoted above, that there is “no question of importance, whose decision is not compriz’d in the science of man.” Similarly, when Hume writes that his system will be built on “a foundation almost entirely new, and the only one upon which [the sciences] can stand with any security”; and when he writes, a little later, that “[T]he science of man is the only solid foundation for the other sciences”—he is suggesting an architectural metaphor in which the science of human nature serves as the foundation for a structure that is made up of the other sciences.11 Just as the higher reaches of the building stand secure only if they are built atop firm foundations, so too in the sciences: the other sciences are to be seen as being built up on top of the science of human nature, which alone can provide the “solid foundation” that is “the only one upon which they can stand with any security.” (141)

Better tools mean better navigation of reality, right?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > I'm concerned that the stories you have about the Galileo affair are pretty bad.

> Does it really matter?

If you're going to predicate thinking on bad history, yes? How could the answer not possibly be "yes"? Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

> Do you really want to challenge my claim that divine revelation is primary in Abrahamic religions?

No, I want to challenge your [apparent] idea that it could be otherwise. You understand that what you can find out about a human is pretty limited if you can never hear the human speak or read about what the human has spoken, right? There's a lot going on inside the mind that you'd have no access to. Now imagine a religion where God never speaks. How much could really be known about God? And yet, the only way for God to speak is "divine revelation", by definition.

> That the Bible and the Quran are axiomatically taken to have some privileged epistemological status over other texts?

I'm not sure I do this. What I do do, is note that I've had a lot of success with using the Bible as a grid through which to navigate reality. See for example relational sin, judgment, and gentleness. It requires quite a bit of finagling at times, because a lot of Christians seem to have a lot of stupid ideas, these days. Take, for example, forgiveness. Does it mean I can walk up to a preacher's car as he and his congregation are walking out of the church, smash it with a sledgehammer, ask for forgiveness, and walk away? And yet, much teaching on Christianity reduces to that inanity. And so, I have to do my own derivations and read scholarly work like Forgiveness and Truth. The inclusion of "Truth" in the title was to combat stupid-ass conceptions of forgiveness from the get-go.

So, you'll have to tell me why doing the above is not 100% rational. I'm very curious to see you try, because by all measures, doing the above helps me better navigate reality. What better test could there be? And as I've noted, I am constantly on the lookout for a failure as judged by Thagard's #1 and #2. What better standard is there?

> I didn't. All I said about apologetics was that it was a thing. That is, that the word "apologetics" has some meaningful referent. I said nothing at all about its nature, except to imply that it had something to do with defending divine revelation. Do you really want to dispute that?

No, but what I'm saying is that what is called 'apologetics' now is perhaps so different from what it would be called 500 years ago, that one really oughtn't use the same word. For example, the very fact that you used the word "axiomatically" above reveals that you probably accept one of the Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification. Except, that class of epistemologies is having serious problems. Foundationalism, our gift from Descartes, is sick and needs to be put down.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> That question assumes facts not in evidence. To find out about the person of God there has to *be* a person of God to find out about. And, as I would hope I would not have to remind you any more at this stage, I see no evidence for the existence of such a thing.

Here's the rub: you seem to think that if God existed, you would know, given your current life-trajectory. But let's weaken this, and say that if God existed, I should at least be able to introduce you to him somehow. Is this necessarily a coherent idea?

The answer could easily be "no", if Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness is sufficiently accurate. It could be that if you don't have the right conceptions (patterns in LTM), you could not perceive the pattern that is objectively there. Do you accept this, or deny it?

> But even if I suspend disbelief and suppose for the sake of argument that there is a God, the answer to your question is still "no". A God of the sort that @wrf3 imagines, for example, could create us with built-in knowledge of His existence and His nature. I don't see any reason to think that "actual words" are needed.

The Bible says God is just. NYT's The Moral Life of Babies strongly suggests that babies are inclined to believe in and/or enforce fairness. Could this possibly constitute "build-in knowledge"?

Now, if God is truly infinite-in-description, could you explain to me how perfect knowledge could be "built-in knowledge"? I expect you to say that of course you don't demand "perfect knowledge", but I did want to head this one off at the pass in the event that you will not concede that. (Incidentally, we are headed toward chapter 1 of Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments, in which he analyses Plato's anamnesis and offers an alternative.)

I also wonder how you expect that God could have a relationship with us without talking to us. Surely you can see some value of a dialogue, over there solely being a built-in "knowledge base", as it were?

> It led to the discovery of quantum mechanics, which is one of the two pillars on which all of science currently rests (the other being GR). You can't get much more celebrated than that. (And note that I did hedge with "eventually".)

I'm sorry, I meant: when Lord Kelvin gave his "Two Clouds" speech, was the ultraviolet catastrophe "celebrated"? Or was perhaps there an interesting delay? Remember, if there is a way to speed up science (such as reducing such delays), that would be beneficial and worth exploring.

> I wouldn't say it's a "nice" symmetry. And yes, most falsehoods do tend to get filtered out by reality. But some don't. The God meme, for example, seems to be extraordinarily impervious to both reason and evidence.

Can you think of other falsehoods which also won't go away, despite much stamping of feet and wringing of hands?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "you'll have to tell me why doing the above is not 100% rational. ... doing the above helps me better navigate reality. What better test could there be?"

Haven't we already been over this ground, many many times? Why do you pretend that you can't even imagine an alternative, when it's already been explicitly given to you?

Seeking truth is different than seeking happiness, or utility. Lots of false illusions can have positive practical utility. "Better navigate reality" is already known to be not a good test for maintaining "rational" thinking (i.e., for leading closer to truth).

"Can you think of other falsehoods which also won't go away, despite much stamping of feet and wringing of hands?"

Easily. All you need are questions of little immediate import, where people have a vested interest in the answer due to personality or social signalling reasons.

Anti-vaccine quacks. Conspiracy theorists for the JFK assassination, or the moon landings, or 9/11. Global warming deniers. "Austrian" (internet-)economists. Racial or national exceptionalism. Racial discrimination. Etc. etc. etc.

Strong beliefs, impervious to reason or evidence.

Luke said...

@Don:

> Haven't we already been over this ground, many many times? Why do you pretend that you can't even imagine an alternative, when it's already been explicitly given to you?

How about you link to such instances? The timestamps are links when there isn't a "Leave your comment" textbox. I've been around the block a few times, and I don't recall you offering something compelling as an alternative. But perhaps you have, and I missed it. I am only human.

> Seeking truth is different than seeking happiness, or utility. Lots of false illusions can have positive practical utility.

I know these things. But how do you know you are "seeking truth", if it doesn't (i) give you more power over reality; (ii) allow you to represent reality more simply, more compactly, more elegantly? I am reminded of Francis Bacon's redefinition of "knowledge":

>>     Francis Bacon, whose startlingly original mind was so influential in bringing about the scientific revolution, was very frank about this. Not only did he maintain that knowledge was to be valued for the power it gives man over nature; but he practically made success in this aim a part of his definition of knowledge. The key words he uses to distinguish the knowledge he exalts from the knowledge pursued by the Schoolmen are 'fruit' and 'operation'. In other words, not only 'science' but knowledge itself, that is, the only knowledge that is not mere trifling, is, for him—technology. Knowledge (for which Bacon, when he wrote in Latin, of course used the word scientia) is that which enables us to make nature do our bidding. (Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 56)

Do you disagree with Bacon, or at least this characterization of Bacon? Can you think of a (iii), to contrast to my (i) and (ii)?

> "Better navigate reality" is already known to be not a good test for maintaining "rational" thinking (i.e., for leading closer to truth).

Then tell me what you would put in place of "better navigate reality", please. Let's see how rigorously you can state it. I've tried to be more rigorous, and I've failed. But perhaps you are a better philosopher than I!

> Anti-vaccine quacks. Conspiracy theorists for the JFK assassination, or the moon landings, or 9/11. Global warming deniers. "Austrian" (internet-)economists. Racial or national exceptionalism. Racial discrimination. Etc. etc. etc.

So basically, the continued existence of flat earthers? Perhaps you can see how their small number is important to this conversation, and militates against the spirit of your response?

> Strong beliefs, impervious to reason or evidence.

Like reductionism, philosophical atomism, and the mechanical philosophy? (e.g. see Enlightenment thinker Julien Offray de La Mettrie's 1748 Man a Machine)

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "How about you link to such instances?"

Well, just for one example, this comment, where I said "There is no necessary connection between truth, and happiness."

"But how do you know you are "seeking truth", if it doesn't (i) give you more power over reality"

Again, we've already covered this: "Science and truth-seeking can also lead to advances in human thriving. But it's the opposite direction you were asking about"

You've repeated the same mistake here. (To be specific: you've accidentally reversed the direction of the implication. Truth leads to power over reality. But power over reality doesn't necessarily imply truth.) If you replace the goal "seeking truth", with the different goal, "better navigate reality", you'll be drawn to the many successful non-truth methods of navigating reality (such as religion).

"So basically, the continued existence of flat earthers? Perhaps you can see how their small number"

I was mentioning specific exemplars from a large set (and I didn't mention flat earth at all). I completely disagree that this is a small number. Most people exhibit this kind of irrational thinking, most of the time, on most subjects. Cognitive biases are very, very common, and very hard to eradicate. (That's why doing successful science is so difficult.)

"Like reductionism, philosophical atomism, and the mechanical philosophy?"

No, not like those at all. Those are tentative conclusions, always open to revision in the face of sufficient evidence and reasoning.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Can you think of other falsehoods which also won't go away, despite much stamping of feet and wringing of hands? ... Perhaps you can see how their small number is important to this conversation, and militates against the spirit of your response?"

Oh, so now you demand highly popular, long-lived falsehoods? I think I can help you, there! You're a Christian, right? You believe the Christian god is the "truth" in some form?

Christians only seem to have about 2.2B believers, out of a world population of about 7B. (Let's leave out that those labeling themselves "Christian" don't necessarily agree on all that much, as a single body.)

I see that the world also contains 1.6B Islamic believers, 1.1B Hindus, ~500M Buddhists, etc. Billions of people, who -- for 500 to 1000 years or so (or many thousands, in the case of Jews) -- seem to persist in strongly believing the "wrong" thing.

You and I agree on that, right? Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jewish religion ... these are falsehoods, right? Are billions of people not a sufficiently large number? Are centuries or millennia not enough time?

Or have I now sufficiently answered your question, to identify very popular, very long-lived, falsehoods?

Luke said...

@Don, you didn't tell me what it means, to you, to "seek the truth". Furthermore, you've read a lot into my term, "better navigate reality". You didn't offer a replacement that avoids your criticism. What does it mean for you to "seek the truth"?

> Truth leads to power over reality.

Does it, necessarily? (I'm guessing "no", but I wanted to check.)

> But power over reality doesn't necessarily imply truth.

I agree. I doubt you can actually find something I have said which explicitly or implicitly asserts the negation of this statement ("power over reality necessarily implies truth"). You are indeed interpreting my words, and I worry that you're inserting a bit of yourself into those interpretations, a part of yourself which does not match up with what I believe.

> No, not like those at all. Those are tentative conclusions, always open to revision in the face of sufficient evidence and reasoning.

Do you really believe Popper's ideal about tentatively holding onto everything? (But apparently not "the idea that you must tentatively hold onto everything". Oops!) Michael Polanyi blew that out of the water with his Personal Knowledge. Scientists are passionate creatures with deep convictions and science would not be possible otherwise.

Plenty of scientists have taken their beliefs about reductionism, atomism, and the mechanical philosophy to their graves. All you can really say is that some future scientist might take a different position on the matter, but precisely the same is true of future theologians. What Max Planck said is true of scientists and theologians (for example):

>> A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

That is not a 100% hyperbole. Let's be careful, shall we, between the ideal of science—which we may not be approaching—and science-as-practiced? Ron and I recently had this discussion.

Luke said...

@Don, cont:

> I completely disagree that this is a small number. Most people exhibit this kind of irrational thinking, most of the time, on most subjects.

Wrong measure. You need to see if, for a given idea, whether it stays popular, or whether it always decays. That people are constantly believing some stupid thing is irrelevant, unless it's the same stupid thing. Otherwise, one can establish that falsehoods really do decay with time.

> Oh, so now you demand highly popular, long-lived falsehoods?

Ummm, see Ron's "And yes, most falsehoods do tend to get filtered out by reality." and my comment beforehand. Maybe be a little more careful when you jump into a conversation between two other people?

> I think I can help you, there! You're a Christian, right? You believe the Christian god is the "truth" in some form?

I asked for beliefs other than in God:

> > I wouldn't say it's a "nice" symmetry. And yes, most falsehoods do tend to get filtered out by reality. But some don't. The God meme, for example, seems to be extraordinarily impervious to both reason and evidence.

> Can you think of other falsehoods which also won't go away, despite much stamping of feet and wringing of hands?

Seriously, it's obnoxious when you treat me like a dumbass when it's you who isn't properly following the conversation.

Ron said...

> Do you think all predetermined concepts can be "overcome"? All of them?

I don't know what it means to "overcome a predetermined concept." Some of my "predetermined concepts" are what give my life meaning. The subjective experience of eating chocolate, for example, is (arguably) a "predetermined concept" but I wouldn't want to "overcome" it.

> Here's the rub: you seem to think that if God existed, you would know, given your current life-trajectory.

No. I think if God existed, and if it was important to Him that I believe in His existence, and if He were all-powerful, and if He were not a complete jerk, then He would make it possible for me to believe. That means that he would either provide me with evidence of His existence, or He would have created me in a way that would make me capable of believing in Him without evidence.

> > That the Bible and the Quran are axiomatically taken to have some privileged epistemological status over other texts?

> I'm not sure I do this. What I do do, is note that I've had a lot of success with using the Bible as a grid through which to navigate reality.

I don't doubt that you get a lot of value from the Bible. In between the bronze-age morality and the bad cosmology is the occasional nugget of accumulated human wisdom. The Bible would not have survived as long as it has if this were not the case.

> a lot of Christians seem to have a lot of stupid ideas

Indeed. And this is exactly the problem. How can you tell if it's *them* who have the stupid ideas, or if it's you?

There are only three options: You can take the Bible (or some other holy text) as your ultimate arbiter of truth (this is what the fundamentalists do). You can take something other than the Bible (like evidence, or your own intuitions -- fundamentalists call this "worshipping yourself") as your ultimate arbiter of truth. Or you can give up on trying to find the truth. There are no other possibilities.

Ron said...

Before this spins too far out of control:

> Can you think of other falsehoods [other than God] which also won't go away, despite much stamping of feet and wringing of hands?

"Anthropomorphic climate change is a myth" seems to be having a pretty good run at the moment.

"The earth is 6000 years old."

"The moon landings were a conspiracy."

"Obama is a Muslim. And he wasn't born in the U.S."

"Lowering taxes on rich people helps create jobs."

Is that enough?

Ron said...

Oooh! Almost forgot my favorite one!

"Wave function collapse is a real physical phenomenon, distinct from unitary evolution."

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I don't know what it means to "overcome a predetermined concept."

I'm confused:

Luke: What if those predetemrined concepts are kinda bad?

Ron: They *are* bad. That's why science works so hard to overcome them.

You seemed to think that you can overcome a predetermined concept. Now you can't make sense of it?

> No. I think if God existed, and if it was important to Him that I believe in His existence, and if He were all-powerful, and if He were not a complete jerk, then He would make it possible for me to believe.

What if your free choice is important to him? N.B. In my experience, you have this tendency to only allow God to have "the possibility to have chosen otherwise". But if you can grant that to God, why not to people? And how can you falsify that "people don't have that ability"? If you cannot, then it isn't a scientific statement to assert it. It'd be closer to a dogma!

> I don't doubt that you get a lot of value from the Bible. In between the bronze-age morality and the bad cosmology is the occasional nugget of accumulated human wisdom.

Hmmm, it seems like I've found a lot more than "the occasional nugget". Perhaps you can quantify, so I can have the opportunity to falsify your very empirical claim?

> Indeed. And this is exactly the problem. How can you tell if it's *them* who have the stupid ideas, or if it's you?

Because truth keeps leading to more truth, and more truth, and more truth (of ever subtler and surprising kind—Robert Laughlin emphasizes this aspect of scientific discovery in A Different Universe). Falsehood may proliferate in a sort of cancerous fashion (reproduce mostly the same thing, excessively), but really it decays and dies.

To find stupid ideas, one can test the idea internally to its own system (this sometimes works), or you can outcompete it (accomplish its purpose better), or you can claim that the purpose behind the idea is stupid and convince people to think and want different things.

> There are only three options: You can take the Bible (or some other holy text) as your ultimate arbiter of truth (this is what the fundamentalists do). You can take something other than the Bible (like evidence, or your own intuitions -- fundamentalists call this "worshipping yourself") as your ultimate arbiter of truth. Or you can give up on trying to find the truth. There are no other possibilities.

I suggest you read my Intersubjectivity is Key and Si enim fallor, sum. There are other possibilities.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> "Anthropomorphic climate change is a myth" seems to be having a pretty good run at the moment.

Yep, and how long-lived will that be? Surely you accept that there are bad fads which can last in science for decades? (Do I really need to provide examples?)

> "The earth is 6000 years old."

After Lyell, the 6000 year number was rekindled by The Genesis Flood, published in 1961. I suggest a read of Ronald Numbers' The Creationists for details. Again, this hasn't been alive for very long in the anti-science form. (Contrast to before much of anyone thought the earth was all that old.)

> "The moon landings were a conspiracy."

Yes, there are some flat-earthers, too.

> "Obama is a Muslim. And he wasn't born in the U.S."

And how long will this last?

> "Lowering taxes on rich people helps create jobs."

How long has this been around? I know the least about this one.

> Is that enough?

Actually, I don't think so, not even close. Don't you understand the spirit behind my question? Of course falsehoods can last a few decades, even a few generations. But they grow cancerous, atrophy, and die, for many, many falsehoods. Who cares if there are a few flat earthers around? That doesn't offer really any refutation to my position, does it? See my Planck quotation.

> "Wave function collapse is a real physical phenomenon, distinct from unitary evolution."

Tell me when your different stance on this leads to more truth, please. Until then, you just don't know if it's correct.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "you didn't tell me what it means, to you, to "seek the truth""

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." -- Philip K. Dick

I've told you before, that truth is having an internal model which has a correspondence to external reality. Unfortunately, you have a frustratingly bad habit of responding to many arguments here merely with links to huge external texts. Your implication is, "you're just ignorant, and if you were as well read as I am, you wouldn't believe the wrong things you believe." But I don't believe you, and I think you're using a form of argument that allows you to claim victory without actually showing anything.

To be precise: I generally don't believe that your references prove the point that you think they do, and even if they did, I don't accept something just because someone wrote it in a book. I wish you'd lay out your own arguments directly, if you have them, rather than pretend this is all settled philosophy and you don't need to bother to defend your position.

"Does [truth lead to power], necessarily?"

No, it doesn't necessarily. You're correct about that.

"I doubt you can actually find something I have said which explicitly or implicitly asserts the negation of this statement ("power over reality necessarily implies truth")."

OK. You said: "What I do do, is note that I've had a lot of success with using the Bible as a grid through which to navigate reality. ... So, you'll have to tell me why doing the above is not 100% rational. ... by all measures, doing the above helps me better navigate reality. What better test could there be?"

So it's clear that you're claiming that having a goal of "better navigate reality", is "100% rational". You challenged us to show that your actions were not rational.

My response was: rationality is about logic and truth; you self-admit to seeking a different goal; "navigate reality" is not the same as "seek truth"; that's why your actions are not rational.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke [continued]: "Do you really believe Popper's ideal about tentatively holding onto everything?"

Yes.

"Scientists are passionate creatures with deep convictions"

I'm not talking about how human scientists do in fact act. I'm talking about what philosophical position is intellectually defensible.

"All you can really say is that some future scientist might take a different position on the matter, but precisely the same is true of future theologians."

Not at all parallel. The consensus of the scientific community, at any given moment, is generally overwhelming. Across decades and centuries, that overwhelming consensus can change (with new information). When the change happens, you have approximately no supporters of the old theories, in the future. Everyone accepts the new understanding.

Theology doesn't "progress" like that. There are large groups of people today who hold essentially the same views of theology that they did centuries or thousands of years ago. There may be new ideas in theology, but there is no consensus "progress".

"I asked for beliefs other than in God"

Yes, I'm curious: why did you do that? You seem to be cheating. Why isn't the great long-lived success of Islam, a perfect example for you of a popular enduring falsehood? Why are you artificially restricting the discussion to not consider that?

"it's obnoxious when you treat me like a dumbass"

Fair point, but notice that I answered you directly first: "Anti-vaccine quacks. Conspiracy theorists for the JFK assassination, or the moon landings, or 9/11. Global warming deniers. "Austrian" (internet-)economists. Racial or national exceptionalism. Racial discrimination." And you chose to not engage, and instead just dismiss it with "So basically, the continued existence of flat earthers?"

I think the anti-vaccine movement involves significant numbers of people, and has lasted for decades. I think national and racial exceptionalism is deeply rooted in the human psyche (and it has positive impact on local society!), and has lasted for tens of thousands of years.

For you to dismiss it with "Perhaps you can see how their small number is important to this conversation, and militates against the spirit of your response?", I will respond: no, I absolutely reject your interpretation. You asked for examples, and I gave them to you, and now you're just rationalizing why you don't need to deal with the evidence.

Ron said...

> I'm confused:

Apparently, so was I. (It was late.)

I guess I had not fully taken on board your introduction of the phrase "predetermined concept", switching it instead in my mind to "cognitive bias." Is it fair to make that substitution? Or did you mean something different by "predetermined concept"?

In any case, to take another whack at your question:

> Do you think all predetermined concepts can be "overcome"?

I don't know. What difference does it make? I think the ones that matter can be overcome. I don't think it matters if I can't find a rational argument for enjoying chocolate.

> What if your free choice is important to him?

Then He should have given me a free choice. But He didn't. He created a universe that contains overwhelming evidence that it operates according to natural laws.

> N.B. In my experience, you have this tendency to only allow God to have "the possibility to have chosen otherwise". But if you can grant that to God, why not to people? And how can you falsify that "people don't have that ability"?

I never claimed that people don't have that ability. Clearly many people do. I claim that *I* don't have that ability. I do not have free will with respect to many things. I cannot choose to believe that chocolate tastes bad. I cannot choose to believe the sky is green.

Now, I could be lying about that. I have no idea how I could prove to you that I'm not. But if you're not willing to accept me as an honest reporter of my own subjective experience I think we're at an impasse.

> Hmmm, it seems like I've found a lot more than "the occasional nugget". Perhaps you can quantify, so I can have the opportunity to falsify your very empirical claim?

I dunno, I'd guess on the order of 10%? But what difference does it make what the number is? Let's say it's 50%, 80%, I don't care: if it's anything less than 100% then you still need (assuming you care about truth) some extra-Biblical filter for separating the wheat from the chaff. *That* is what matters.

> > Indeed. And this is exactly the problem. How can you tell if it's *them* who have the stupid ideas, or if it's you?

> Because truth keeps leading to more truth

And falsehoods keep leading to more falsehoods. Truth can contribute to the reproductive fitness of a meme, but the converse is not true: just because a meme has reproductive fitness doesn't mean it's true.

> or you can outcompete it (accomplish its purpose better)

I think this is really the heart of our disagreement. You seem to be equating "truth" and "effectiveness with regards to some goal". I don't. I think lies can be very, very effective. Again, this is Loki's stock in trade.

> I suggest you read my Intersubjectivity is Key and Si enim fallor, sum.

I did. The reasoning there is:

1. I don't know everything about the universe
2. Therefore, for any X, X might be true, even if it might not seem to be true to me at this moment
3. Therefore God might exist

or something like that. And all that is true. The problem is that you can substitute *any* X. It is equally valid to conclude that Loki might exist.

I'm all for maintaining some humility with respect to what we know, but that only gets you so far.

> There are other possibilities.

What are they?

BTW, your essays refer to the philosophical concept of truth-makers, which indicates that you might have misinterpreted what I mean by the phrase, "the ultimate arbiter of truth." By that I do not mean truth-maker. I mean the criteria by which one decides what one accepts as truth. You can choose a holy text, you can choose something other than a holy text, or you can punt on the whole question of truth. But those really are the only possibilities.

Luke said...

@Don:

> "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." -- Philip K. Dick

When you say "doesn't go away", does that mean you keep bumping into it? This sounds like what happens with impersonal reality. If you treat actual people badly enough, they will in fact retract from causal contact with you, and you may not encounter them ever again. And so I wonder whether you are presupposing that ultimate reality is impersonal, vs. personal. Regardless of the word 'presupposition', I wonder if this idea is so deeply embedded in your thought that you don't even notice it, and thus intuitively agree with statements like the above.

> I've told you before, that truth is having an internal model which has a correspondence to external reality. Unfortunately, you have a frustratingly bad habit of responding to many arguments here merely with links to huge external texts.

Have you ever looked at possible problems with this way of looking at truth and how you come to know truth? My linking to The Correspondence Theory of Truth was meant to give you the right search term, and to jog your memory. You can always ask me to explain a term in my own words.


> Your implication is, "you're just ignorant, and if you were as well read as I am, you wouldn't believe the wrong things you believe."

Please stop projecting, or applying the wrong stereotype to me. Maybe if you were to merely post a link, then this would be your intention. Or maybe you've seen this done elsewhere. It is not my own strategy. I would have thought that my willingness to extensively discuss things would have rendered said "implication" hilariously wrong.

> To be precise: I generally don't believe that your references prove the point that you think they do, and even if they did, I don't accept something just because someone wrote it in a book. I wish you'd lay out your own arguments directly, if you have them, rather than pretend this is all settled philosophy and you don't need to bother to defend your position.

Is this the first time making this request, or have you made it before? I think you fundamentally misunderstand my purpose in linking. I don't appeal to authority, but I do try not to ramble on and on when someone else probably said it better, and furthermore I like to give people the proper search terms, so that they can find where lots of people have talked about a given thing. Is this wrong? I should think it is the opposite!

> So it's clear that you're claiming that having a goal of "better navigate reality", is "100% rational".

Wait a second, if I want to ever-better navigate reality, why would I not supremely value truth? Falsehood will ultimately fail me; at the best, it'll present me with a glass ceiling, or worse, a finite philosophical dome which I cannot detect. Perhaps I should have said "ever-better navigate ever-more of reality"?

> My response was: rationality is about logic and truth [...]

If you really believe this, then let's dive deeply into The Correspondence Theory of Truth and Foundationalism, but using my own words. Are you up for this? I can adapt my conversation style arbitrarily well to your requirements/​demands.

Luke said...

@Don:

> I'm not talking about how human scientists do in fact act. I'm talking about what philosophical position is intellectually defensible.

Well, to the extent that you say humans should act in a way that they do not (and are not converging on), and yet humans end up successfully achieving goals you say are best achieved in your unrealistic way, I'm going to discard your idealism in favor of [critical] realism, or perhaps 'optimism'. I'm not interested in idealisms that do not well-model reality, and that cannot be used to draw reality closer to them. This seems 100% rational to me; does it seem irrational to you?

> The consensus of the scientific community, at any given moment, is generally overwhelming.

False. Look at psychology, look at sociology, look at interpretations of quantum physics. Where you see consensus is on the very, very basic stuff. Don't project this consensus where it does not belong, please.

> There are large groups of people today who hold essentially the same views of theology that they did centuries or thousands of years ago.

Evidence, please. I am most well-acquainted with Protestant thought, and less-well with Roman Catholic thought, and not very well acquainted with anything else. I will point out, by the way, that Aristotle and Plato did get some things right. So the fact that we still agree in part with them is not necessarily a bad thing. And yet, your statement here possibly carries that implication. And so I say this, just in case—preemptively, you might say.

> Yes, I'm curious: why did you do that? You seem to be cheating. Why isn't the great long-lived success of Islam, a perfect example for you of a popular enduring falsehood? Why are you artificially restricting the discussion to not consider that?

Because I am attempting to characterize the problem as best I can. If it is actually the case that the only falsehoods which have more than a few centuries' lifetime have to do with religion, my curiosity will be piqued. BTW I was hesitant to use the word 'religion' here, given the following from William T. Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict:

>> In the second chapter, I give evidence for two conclusions. The first conclusion is that there is no such thing as a transhistorical or transcultural “religion” that is essentially separate from politics. Religion has a history, and what counts as religion and what does not in any given context depends on different configurations of power and authority. The second conclusion is that the attempt to say that there is a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion that is separable from secular phenomena is itself part of a particular configuration of power, that of the modern, liberal nation-state as it developed in the West. In this context, religion is constructed as transhistorical, transcultural, essentially interior, and essentially distinct from public, secular rationality. (9)

(more quotations)

Luke said...

@Don, cont.:

> Fair point, but notice that I answered you directly first: "Anti-vaccine quacks. Conspiracy theorists for the JFK assassination, or the moon landings, or 9/11. Global warming deniers. "Austrian" (internet-)economists. Racial or national exceptionalism. Racial discrimination." And you chose to not engage, and instead just dismiss it with "So basically, the continued existence of flat earthers?"

Can you see yet how I wasn't "just dismiss[ing]", or do I need to explain it at length? Briefly, what matters is how long the falsehood was maintained, and whether the numbers of those who maintain it dwindle to irrelevant status (e.g. flat earthers).

> I think the anti-vaccine movement involves significant numbers of people, and has lasted for decades.

Plenty of terrible scientific dogma "has lasted for decades". We need longer timescales than that.

> I think national and racial exceptionalism is deeply rooted in the human psyche (and it has positive impact on local society!), and has lasted for tens of thousands of years.

Do you believe this has to do with truth vs. falsehood, or some other dimension (like good vs. evil)?

> For you to dismiss it with "Perhaps you can see how their small number is important to this conversation, and militates against the spirit of your response?", I will respond: no, I absolutely reject your interpretation. You asked for examples, and I gave them to you, and now you're just rationalizing why you don't need to deal with the evidence.

So you're not going to let me explicate what my intent was for bringing up this topic and pursuing it? You're going to stamp your purposes and intent all over what I was doing, even though you weren't even my original dialogue partner? What the hell, dude?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Is this the first time making this request, or have you made it before?"

You have a valid point. I have been annoyed by your responding to a claim via "just read this link", and then proceeding as though the matter were settled. But I suspect you're right, that I haven't explicitly said that to you before.

"if I want to ever-better navigate reality, why would I not supremely value truth?"

Perhaps in the long-run. In the moment though, you always find yourself in a particular state of knowledge and understanding, and you try to "hill-climb" to a "better" state. You need some metric of what "better" means.

My assertion is that a short-term goal of "better navigate reality" leads you to hill-climb to a local maximum, in a different direction than a short-term goal of "closer to the truth". I agree with you, that truth may eventually lead to a higher global maximum, in the far distant future. But you may have to go through some valleys before you get there.

As Ron says, lies can be effective.

"let's dive deeply into The Correspondence Theory of Truth and Foundationalism, but using my own words. Are you up for this?"

Go for it!

"I can adapt my conversation style arbitrarily well to your requirements/​demands."

I appreciate your flexibility, and apologize for my earlier tone.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I guess I had not fully taken on board your introduction of the phrase "predetermined concept", switching it instead in my mind to "cognitive bias." Is it fair to make that substitution? Or did you mean something different by "predetermined concept"?

I think it would be better to keep the two things distinct, at least for now. I will say one thing. Per Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness, "confirmation bias" might be a required aspect of consciousness. If it is, then some of the connotation behind "cognitive bias" is actually wrong, when applied to "confirmation bias". Do you see how that could be the case? This would substantially alter the way some atheists like to use the term "cognitive bias". I don't yet know enough of what you fully mean by the term, so perhaps this applies less-well to you.

Perhaps I should post a few pages from Paul E. Griffiths' What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories, on how children categorize the world and how those categorizations change over time. There is strong evidence that there is a good deal of pre-built machinery for doing this categorization. One fascinating bit is this:

>> Children do not create concepts simply by grouping particulars on the basis of overall similarity. Instead, they create causal explanatory theories of particular domains and cluster instances according to their possession of theoretically significant properties in the these schemes of explanation (Keil 1989). (6)

Perhaps you can see that this line of investigation may be important for developing AI. If we cannot do it from first principles, at least we should be able to copy actual, biological systems! (But I also just find this whole matter fascinating, apart from developing AI. If anything, I hope some of my software projects contribute to making AI easier to ultimately build.)

> > Do you think all predetermined concepts can be "overcome"?

> I don't know. What difference does it make? I think the ones that matter can be overcome. I don't think it matters if I can't find a rational argument for enjoying chocolate.

Let's bracket 'ice cream'-subjectivity, for now. This makes a very big difference, because I suspect that you have ideas of what God would do and how he would interact, if he did exist. That is, it seems that you have predetermined concepts in this realm. Do you deny this? If you do not deny it, then perhaps it would be interesting, and relevant to your own purposes, to explore these predetermined concepts. Couldn't it be possible that errors in them (or them being underdeveloped) might prevent you from seeing God's actions as God's actions?

> > What if your free choice is important to him?

> Then He should have given me a free choice. But He didn't. He created a universe that contains overwhelming evidence that it operates according to natural laws.

What would falsify your interpretation of this "overwhelming evidence"? I am very curious about your answer to this question. You know the difference between spurious, crazy-example falsification and ingenious falsification, right? The crazier reality has to be to falsify your interpretation, the less falsifiable your interpretation it is. I can quote some Popper if you'd like.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> I never claimed that people don't have that ability. Clearly many people do. I claim that *I* don't have that ability. I do not have free will with respect to many things. I cannot choose to believe that chocolate tastes bad. I cannot choose to believe the sky is green.

Here, I think you need my "small ∆v model of free will", which I explicated at the last Dialogos meeting via analogy to the Interplanetary Transport Network. To get a space vehicle to some point (orbit) in the solar system, with finite fuel, requires a lot of careful charting of course, with very strategic burns. You know this. Now, you probably also know about Lagrangian points, and how if you navigate through those properly, it no longer takes a ∆v, but instead a dv, to change course. (A friend of mine has research on making practical use of this dv, if you'd be interested.)

So, perhaps you are trying to get to certain points in the solar system with the wrong strategy, not knowing that if you have finite fuel, you have to be strategic. Doxastic Voluntarism is very likely false, but it's also not needed.

> Now, I could be lying about that. I have no idea how I could prove to you that I'm not. But if you're not willing to accept me as an honest reporter of my own subjective experience I think we're at an impasse.

You wouldn't have to be lying; you could simply have errors in introspection. See, for example Eric Schwitzgebel's The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. But in this case, I just think you're not reasoning with small enough ∆vs.

> I dunno, I'd guess on the order of 10%? But what difference does it make what the number is? Let's say it's 50%, 80%, I don't care: if it's anything less than 100% then you still need (assuming you care about truth) some extra-Biblical filter for separating the wheat from the chaff. *That* is what matters.

Are you using the model of theory choice and applying it to choice of biblical interpretation? What confuses me is that I can only know what the word 'horse' means if I've seen it out in reality. And so, there seems to be this necessary connection between knowledge of reality and understanding of the Bible. The two can even feed back on each other. What I don't fully understand is your insistence on that "100%", in this case. It seems like you're somehow rejecting Fallibilism, "the epistemological thesis that no belief (theory, view, thesis, and so on) can ever be rationally supported or justified in a conclusive way."

Perhaps you are saying that even given Fallibilism, you still have to trust someone or something above all others? I'm finding a lot of interesting things in exploring the matter of trust; as it turns out, the word pistis, frequently translated as 'faith' in the NT, is probably better translated as 'trust', given contemporary understandings of the words 'faith' and 'trust'.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "to the extent that you say humans should act in a way that they do not (and are not converging on), and yet humans end up successfully achieving goals you say are best achieved in your unrealistic way, I'm going to discard your idealism"

I'm talking about a process that leads to truth. Very few humans act this way, at least for extended lengths of time. But every once in awhile, a lucky human here or there, for a short time, does follow the process. And progress is then made. The beauty of science is that humanity can build and compound the work over time. It doesn't matter if "getting closer to truth" is a rare thing, as long as it happens sometimes (and the resulting hard-won knowledge can be preserved). Humanity as a whole makes progress, even though most humans don't contribute to it.

"Don't project this consensus where it does not belong"

Human knowledge is an expanding sphere. At any given moment, there is a frontier between the known and the unknown, and that is where the scientific community has current arguments. But I think you radically underestimate how large the sphere of consensus is, and how quickly it has grown in the last centuries (post-Enlightenment).

"the only falsehoods which have more than a few centuries' lifetime"

It's hard for any meme to survive for centuries, and religion is one of the very most effective ones. If you're just observing that "no meme other than religion survives as effectively as religion", well sure, I can agree with that.

I don't draw any strong conclusion from that. There are plenty of other memes that are not quite as effective as religion, that occupy smaller groups of people for shorter amounts of time. It seems like a smooth spectrum to me. But sure, religion may well be on one extreme end of that spectrum of ideas.

"Plenty of terrible scientific dogma "has lasted for decades"."

I actually totally agree. The real-world practice of science is very far from the ideal. Women in the 70's were advised to bottle-feed instead of breast-feed their babies. Diets were recommended with limited fat and chlolesterol intake. Quantum wave function "collapse". Lots of very bad reasoning, unsupported by data, has lasted for decades as consensus in various parts of science.

It only shows that it's very very difficult for humans to escape their cognitive traps. We need to study these failures, and learn why the people at the time formed strong but erroneous beliefs, and if there is any way to improve our process so we don't make the same kinds of mistakes in the future.

"Do you believe [tribal exceptionalism] has to do with truth vs. falsehood"

Yes. I think it's false that "we're inherently superior people" is a good explanation for the success of certain tribes over others, during regular conflict in world history.

But it's sure fulfilling for the winners to think that way about themselves.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> And falsehoods keep leading to more falsehoods. Truth can contribute to the reproductive fitness of a meme, but the converse is not true: just because a meme has reproductive fitness doesn't mean it's true.

Again, I'm looking for asymmetries. Are there characterizable asymmetries between the reproduction of falsehoods and the reproduction of truths? My own guess is that one can usefully apply the concept 'healthy life' to the reproduction of truths, while the reproduction of falsehoods looks more like cancer, like disease.

> I think this is really the heart of our disagreement. You seem to be equating "truth" and "effectiveness with regards to some goal". I don't. I think lies can be very, very effective. Again, this is Loki's stock in trade.

Nope; go back to this quotation of Alasdair MacIntyre, of which you requested i "translate it into English". I'll quote the last bit of it:

> > It's really dense, but his point here is that there are two radically different ways to go about structuring a society:

> > 1. Based on the pragmatic. (individual interests reign)
> > 2. Based on the excellent. (the common good reigns)

> > Are you aware of this sort of difference?

Note that MacIntyre contrasts the "goods of excellence" against the "goods of effectiveness". And here, you've used the word 'effectiveness'. Coincidence? I think not! Perhaps that conversation makes more sense, now? This might be a good time to further explicate that matter. You are saying that I ought not depend too much on what is 'effectiveness'; I agree. I want to better explore what you mean by ¬'effectiveness'.

> I did. The reasoning there is:

No, I never intended #3 from that post. The post was about trusting others' viewpoints, when they conflict with my own. It is a matter of trust, about which I just commented.

> What are they?

One, which I am picking out, is "Trusting other people." There is a crucial difference between trusting and agreeing. Your options were (i) trust the Bible; (ii) trust yourself; (iii) give up on the truth. I say no, there is (iv) trust other people in addition to myself.

Luke said...

@Don:

> You have a valid point. I have been annoyed by your responding to a claim via "just read this link", and then proceeding as though the matter were settled. But I suspect you're right, that I haven't explicitly said that to you before.

FYI, I am terrible at intuiting the right social conventions. I am also very bad at detecting irritation via text. Part of this is probably that for a long time, nobody gave a flying fuck about whether I was irritated. And thus, I never learned to articulate a model of irritation, and thus I never learned to intuit others irritation when the signal is small.

> > if I want to ever-better navigate reality, why would I not supremely value truth?

> Perhaps in the long-run.

Bingo! The Bible is all about contrasting the appearances of the short term and the truth which comes out in the long term. This is a huge, huge lesson. It is possible to lie and deceive, but only for a time. I would describe this as saying that God has designed reality so that falsehood is ultimately exposed for what it is. It can simply take multiple generations to die before this happens. I don't think it takes too many, though. One interpretation of "the sins of the father will be visited on the descendants down to the third and fourth generation" is that errors in belief and action manifest pretty quickly, in the scheme of things. Perhaps this helps better-illustrate the discussion about the "erosion of belief in falsehood" that we were having.

> In the moment though, you always find yourself in a particular state of knowledge and understanding, and you try to "hill-climb" to a "better" state. You need some metric of what "better" means.

Ahhh, you remind me of my dynamic hill-climbing work at JPL, working with a MEMS gyroscope. The system was barely functional when I arrived, with basically no ability to see what the internal state of the system was. The goal was to set capacitor voltages just right so that the resonant frequency along one axis was the same as the resonant frequency along the other axis. This is required for rotation to result in maximal energy transfer between one axis and the other; maximum energy transfer means maximum sensitivity and minimum drift.

I learned a lot about "fitness space" doing that project. The algorithm used is well-described as dynamic hill-climbing. In the paper, it is described as an "evolutionary computation", but that's not really the case—there aren't digital genes that get recombined. Anyhow, one thing you had to worry about in tuning the gyroscope is that the fitness landscape is sufficiently well-behaved (technically: that one is sufficiently likely to find a good fit via a simulated annealing algorithm). So I have a nice technical grasp on the problem of false maxima, as well as the need for "some metric of what "better" means"!

> As Ron says, lies can be effective.

Did you know that the Bible teaches this very fact?

> Go for it!

Ok; it might take a few days. I think I'm on the cusp of really grasping this issue, and you may well drive me over the edge. :-)

> I appreciate your flexibility, and apologize for my earlier tone.

No worries; I care about this stuff too much to insist on my own discussion protocol.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "My own guess is that one can usefully apply the concept 'healthy life' to the reproduction of truths, while the reproduction of falsehoods looks more like cancer, like disease."

I completely disagree. The search for truth is very difficult, and the development of the scientific process is an attempt to correct for all the very many ways humans can fool themselves that they've actually gotten closer to the truth.

You seem to be looking for a shortcut, like that you should be able to avoid the scientific process, but still wind up at truth, because you hope that the results of truth will have some other quality ("healthy life" vs "cancer / disease") which you could measure directly.

It doesn't work like that. There is no shortcut route to identifying truth, no easily-observed final quality that lets you distinguish truth from falsehood.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "It is possible to lie and deceive, but only for a time. ... falsehood is ultimately exposed for what it is. It can simply take multiple generations to die before this happens. I don't think it takes too many, though."

I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that I believe the robustness of religion throughout history is evidence that falsehoods can survive for thousands of years across billions of people.

I do indeed expect science to eventually overwhelm religion (much as it so far has been slowly winning the "god of the gaps" battles) -- but not for centuries. I don't at all share your intuition that "a few generations" should be enough to expose falsehoods.

Luke said...

@Don:

> I completely disagree.

I think you have your time interval set too short. I'm thinking multiple generations.

> The search for truth is very difficult, [...]

Tell me about it. I could regale you with how much I have been verbally abused while attempting to search for truth. Rom 8:16–17 well-models reality.

> You seem to be looking for a shortcut, like that you should be able to avoid the scientific process, [...]

No, I am not looking for this.

> I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that I believe the robustness of religion throughout history is evidence that falsehoods can survive for thousands of years across billions of people.

Ahh, but if religion is really the only form of belief which does not erode over enough generations (as flat-earthism has eroded), then perhaps it isn't so false as you claim. Note that it can contain a mix of falsehoods and truth, and that the truth can "carry along the falsehoods for the ride". I believe this is a pretty common phenomenon.

> I don't at all share your intuition that "a few generations" should be enough to expose falsehoods.

Can you think of anything other than religion where my intuition fails?

Ron said...

> I suspect that you have ideas of what God would do and how he would interact, if he did exist. That is, it seems that you have predetermined concepts in this realm. Do you deny this?

I do deny it. All of my conceptions of God come from what I have been told by other people. I no more have predetermined concepts of God than I have of Santa Claus or Harry Potter. None of those ideas would have ever occurred to me on my own. All of those ideas got into my head the exact same way, by reading human literature or listening to what other people have to say.

Now, having gotten into my head, I can't help but ponder the implications of what I have been told about God and reach some tentative conclusions. *If* God is as Christians describe Him, then I would expect to see X, Y and Z. On the other hand, if God is a myth, then I would expect to see P, Q and R. I look at the world and I do not see X, Y and Z. Instead I see P, Q and R. Hence I conclude that God, if he exists, is not as Christians describe Him.

But none of that is "predetermined." None of it was wired into my brain by evolution (except for the bit about drawing conclusions based on how well the logical entailments of a hypothesis match up with my observations. The limits on my ability to suspend disbelief do seem to be hard-wired.)

> What would falsify your interpretation of this "overwhelming evidence"?

Different evidence. Specifically, evidence that the Universe cannot be understood in terms of physical laws with very low information content (Kolmogorov complexity) relative to holy texts.

(BTW, we keep going around in circles on this. You keep asking me the same questions, and I keep giving you the same answers. You were getting annoyed with Don for treating you like an idiot. I am starting to get a little annoyed with you for acting like one.)

> Here, I think you need my "small ∆v model of free will"

Small ∆v only works *after* you have gotten into orbit. To get into orbit in the first place you need a big ∆v.

> You wouldn't have to be lying; you could simply have errors in introspection.

I suppose I might have some Jason-Bourne-like hidden ability to suspend disbelief that I am not consciously aware of. I don't see how that makes a difference. If I'm unable to access this ability that is effectively the same as not having it.

> One, which I am picking out, is "Trusting other people." There is a crucial difference between trusting and agreeing. Your options were (i) trust the Bible; (ii) trust yourself; (iii) give up on the truth. I say no, there is (iv) trust other people in addition to myself.

No, my option #2 was to trust something other than the Bible. Trusting yourself was just an example.

OK, so you want to trust other people. You yourself just pointed out why this doesn't work:

> a lot of Christians seem to have a lot of stupid ideas

How did you come to this conclusion? Surely not by trusting Christians.

It the risk of belaboring the obvious, the problem with trusting other people is that people say mutually contradictory things. So you need some way of deciding which people to trust.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I do deny it. All of my conceptions of God come from what I have been told by other people.

So you reject all the science saying that we're predisposed to believe in God? I haven't investigated said science myself, but I've certainly seen it pop up a few times.

> Now, having gotten into my head, I can't help but ponder the implications of what I have been told about God and reach some tentative conclusions. *If* God is as Christians describe Him, then I would expect to see X, Y and Z. On the other hand, if God is a myth, then I would expect to see P, Q and R. I look at the world and I do not see X, Y and Z. Instead I see P, Q and R. Hence I conclude that God, if he exists, is not as Christians describe Him.

I'm just not convinced that you did EE&R on this P, Q, and R. If you did, can you explain how you did it?

> None of it was wired into my brain by evolution [...]

What about the alleged "Hyperactive Agency Detection Device" (HADD)? some research on the matter (per another interlocutor of mine)

> > What would falsify your interpretation of this "overwhelming evidence"?

> Different evidence. Specifically, evidence that the Universe cannot be understood in terms of physical laws with very low information content (Kolmogorov complexity) relative to holy texts.

Fascinating. I was just reviewing my notes from Michael Tooley's Time, Tense, and Causation, and saw this:

>> Secondly, it is a singularist account, according to which causal relations between events do not presuppose the existence of causal laws. (3)

Furthermore, there is this from Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation:

>>     There is a second, and more serious objection to the idea that intentional explanations are testable. It arises from the claim that intentional explanations are "anomalous," in the sense that they do not rely on laws. If there are no laws connecting intentions and behaviour, or if intentional explanations do not rely on laws, then on what basis could we use such explanations to make testable predictions? And if such explanations do not appeal to laws, can the causal thesis be defended? Can we have a causal explanation that does not appeal to causal laws?[58] (161)

Finally, there is the fact that causation is notoriously hard philosophically, and the idea that you can understand the universe in the terms you lay out is highly contentious. Would you be interested in diving into this idea? You may recall that I've been badgering you about causation for a while. And so, when you write this:

> (BTW, we keep going around in circles on this. You keep asking me the same questions, and I keep giving you the same answers. You were getting annoyed with Don for treating you like an idiot. I am starting to get a little annoyed with you for acting like one.)

I wonder whether it's actually you who haven't respected some of the things I've brought up; I wonder if I've treated them as important and if you've overridden my judgment. Well, if you do that, I'm liking to repeat myself. How is this not 100% rational behavior on my part? Oftentimes you silently discount what I have said; how can I know whether you've discounted it vs. taken it into consideration? So let's be careful for where we place the blame for our little Poincaré recurrences, our Eternal Returns?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Small ∆v only works *after* you have gotten into orbit. To get into orbit in the first place you need a big ∆v.

The similarity between this and the need for Jesus to set one free from sin is eerie. :-D Also, the mystic Simone Weil wrote her book Gravity and Grace, choosing the word 'gravity' very carefully. Finally, I've been reading sociology (Christian Smith's Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture) on how the society acts on the person and how the person acts back on the society. As it turns out, society has many mechanisms to keep order, and resist persons altering it in any significant fashion. This seems nicely analogous to attempting to escape the gravity well of a planet.

> I suppose I might have some Jason-Bourne-like hidden ability to suspend disbelief that I am not consciously aware of. I don't see how that makes a difference. If I'm unable to access this ability that is effectively the same as not having it.

Ummmm... do you really think you have awesome access to your internal state? Psychologists have long studied this phenomenon, and concluded that there is a huge amount that goes on, of which you're not conscious. As to whether this "makes a difference", that's up to you—you're the one who stated that my words would possibly lead to the accusation that you're lying. I will say that the Bible is big on people deceiving themselves, but the extent that it is willful deception is very much up for debate. Al Barr and I have talked extensively about this, and my tendency to too quickly impute ill will instead of ignorance. Although, I think a lot of ignorance is actually gross negligence, but that's another matter...

> No, my option #2 was to trust something other than the Bible. Trusting yourself was just an example.

Specifically:

> > There are only three options: You can take the Bible (or some other holy text) as your ultimate arbiter of truth (this is what the fundamentalists do). You can take something other than the Bible (like evidence, or your own intuitions -- fundamentalists call this "worshipping yourself") as your ultimate arbiter of truth. Or you can give up on trying to find the truth. There are no other possibilities.

I stand corrected: I didn't see "us" as an option. It seemed to be either (i) holy text or principle; (ii) single person.

> OK, so you want to trust other people. You yourself just pointed out why this doesn't work:

> > a lot of Christians seem to have a lot of stupid ideas

> How did you come to this conclusion? Surely not by trusting Christians.

So you're saying that I must choose whom to trust? How does that eviscerate my point? I maintain that there is an important difference between 'agree with' and 'trust'. Did you want to know how I choose whom to trust?

> It the risk of belaboring the obvious, the problem with trusting other people is that people say mutually contradictory things.

Oh c'mon, you and I surely both believe contradictory things that we don't know about [hopefully: yet]. How are we more trustworthy than the people you describe? We seem to be back at Intersubjectivity is Key and Si enim fallor, sum. It would be helpful to see what you agree with and disagree with, in those two articles. That might clear up a lot of misunderstandings between the two of us.

Ron said...

> > I do deny it. All of my conceptions of God come from what I have been told by other people.

> So you reject all the science saying that we're predisposed to believe in God?

Not at all. Some (many?) people clearly are predisposed to believe in God. But I'm not one of them.

> I'm just not convinced that you did EE&R on this P, Q, and R. If you did, can you explain how you did it?

This is starting to feel an awful lot like trolling, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

The Bible is chock-full of contradiction. And yes, I am well aware of the fact that apologists can explain away every single one of them. They look like contradictions to me. Contradictions are unsurprising in a myth, very surprising in the work of a benevolent deity (which is why apologists feel the need to explain them away).

The Bible is chock full of bad cosmology and biology. Again, unsurprising in a pre-scientific myth, inconsistent with the work of a benevolent Creator.

The Bible is chock full of violence and misogyny. Unsurprising in a myth written in a patriarchal human society, inconsistent with the work of a benevolent deity.

The history of how the Bible came to be written and assembled is pretty well documented. Nothing there to indicate that it was anything other than the work of man.

Shall I go on? Because I can. But I thought you weren't a big fan of the stock atheist arguments.

> I wonder whether it's actually you who haven't respected some of the things I've brought up

That's possible. Like Don, I am often overwhelmed by your apparently endless supply of references. You should just take it as a given that there are going to be a lot of things that you have read that I have not and probably never will. But I still maintain that there's a salient difference between not having read everything you have, and asking the same questions (and getting the same answers) over and over again.

> > Small ∆v only works *after* you have gotten into orbit. To get into orbit in the first place you need a big ∆v.

> The similarity between this and the need for Jesus to set one free from sin is eerie.

No it's not. Some changes can be made with little effort, others require big effort. This basic fact manifests itself all over the place. There is nothing remotely eerie about it.

> Ummmm... do you really think you have awesome access to your internal state?

I don't know what "awesome access" is. I think my access to my own internal state is better than anyone else's access to my internal state, but I don't deny the existence (and significant influence) of the unconscious mind, or that some people might (probably do) have better access to their own internal states than I do to mine.

None of this changes the fact that I can't choose to believe that the sky is green.

> So you're saying that I must choose whom to trust?

Yes, of course. How could it be otherwise?

> How does that eviscerate my point? I maintain that there is an important difference between 'agree with' and 'trust'.

Then you're simply avoiding the question. How do you decide who you agree with?

> Oh c'mon, you and I surely both believe contradictory things that we don't know about [hopefully: yet]. How are we more trustworthy than the people you describe?

I have no idea what you mean here. I never said people were trustworthy. I never even claimed to be trustworthy myself. In fact, I've said the exact opposite. People are generally *not* trustworthy. That is why EE&R is a better choice for the ultimate arbiter of truth than trusting people, even than trusting yourself. Our intuitions can be (and often are) wrong.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> The Bible is chock full of bad cosmology and biology.

Is its purpose to have what you consider to be "good cosmology"? Have you ever done a compare & contrast of Genesis 1–3 and e.g. the Babylonian creation myth, Enûma Eliš? Have you ever considered that perhaps what made cosmology "good" vs. "bad", in the ANE, was something other than what you consider to be "good" vs. "bad"? For example, what if the cosmology was actually a way to legitimate social structure, and if the following was meant to contrast with available alternatives:

(1) the declaration of created reality as "good";
(2) humans as "very good";
(3) imago Dei being fractally applicable to human, man&woman, and humankind

? Have you considered that perhaps the goals of the people at the time weren't scientific, but instead social? For more on this matter, I suggest John H. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, and his more scholarly Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible.

> Shall I go on? Because I can. But I thought you weren't a big fan of the stock atheist arguments.

It depends on the argument. When you evaluate the cosmology of the Bible as "bad", that assumes a standard of "good" vs. "bad", and I claim that this standard is necessarily subjective, as in "objective with reference to a given telos". (When one removes the telos, you get 'objective' → 'subjective'.) If you get the purpose for a text wrong, then your evaluation of it is useless. And yet, you think you can conclude something true, from your stated analysis of the Bible's cosmology. I am challenging that. I think you are at cross-purposes with the authors of the biblical text, and thus your evaluation of it 100% misses the mark.

> But I still maintain that there's a salient difference between not having read everything you have, and asking the same questions (and getting the same answers) over and over again.

If you require, I can be more rigorous in how I interact with you. However, I claim that this puts more of the burden of work on me, and less on you. As it turns out, I am very used to this asymmetry—and I do claim it is an extraordinary asymmetry. It's actually part of the inspiration for some of my knowledge representation ideas. But I do resent the implication that the majority of the current situation is my fault. You imply that, by not taking on any appreciable fault, yourself.

> No it's not. Some changes can be made with little effort, others require big effort. This basic fact manifests itself all over the place. There is nothing remotely eerie about it.

True or false?: No amount of small ∆v will get you into orbit.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Yes, of course. How could it be otherwise?

Oh, I could just choose to trust myself and nobody else. I think some people are well-modeled as acting this way. I might agree with others, but I would never trust them.

> Then you're simply avoiding the question. How do you decide who you agree with?

Those I agree with are those with whom I can have confidence that my imagination on some topic matches theirs. Think of you imagining how to implement some algorithm. You and I could talk about it, and gain arbitrarily high confidence that we are imagining the same thing. Once we have high enough confidence, we are agreeing. Suppose, instead, that you really don't know how I would implement the algorithm. You can choose to trust me that I can (perhaps based on your perception of my general competence), or you can express skepticism. This is a simple example; coming up with a rigorous, more complex one would take some time. Shall I attempt it?

> I have no idea what you mean here. I never said people were trustworthy. I never even claimed to be trustworthy myself. In fact, I've said the exact opposite. People are generally *not* trustworthy. That is why EE&R is a better choice for the ultimate arbiter of truth than trusting people, even than trusting yourself. Our intuitions can be (and often are) wrong.

How can you trust EE&R, more than yourself?

Luke said...

@Ron:

I just noticed that pedantry threatens to void out the original version of what I said:

> > > > Small ∆v only works *after* you have gotten into orbit. To get into orbit in the first place you need a big ∆v.

> > > The similarity between this and the need for Jesus to set one free from sin is eerie.

> > No it's not. Some changes can be made with little effort, others require big effort. This basic fact manifests itself all over the place. There is nothing remotely eerie about it.

> True or false?: No amount of small ∆v will get you into orbit.

Technically, a constant dv/dt > g will indeed get you into orbit. But no human can give himself or herself that kind of dv/dt without tremendous help. That seemed to be the idea behind your "big ∆v". And so, I request that my "True or false?:" be interpreted and answered in the light of your "big ∆v".

Ron said...

> Have you considered that perhaps the goals of the people at the time weren't scientific, but instead social?

Yes, of course. The Bible makes perfect sense as a human invention, written by humans, to serve human needs.

> > Shall I go on?

> It depends on the argument.

You asked me to provide examples to demonstrate that I'd done my EE&R homework on the Bible. Have I convinced you that I have?

> True or false?: No amount of small ∆v will get you into orbit.

True.

> Technically, a constant dv/dt > g will indeed get you into orbit.

I think you may misunderstand the concept of delta-v. It's not the same thing as dv/dt, which is your acceleration. How fast you accelerate doesn't matter. The only thing that matters (as far as getting to orbit is concerned) is your final velocity.

But I think this metaphor has been pushed way beyond its breaking point.

> > Yes, of course. How could it be otherwise?

> Oh, I could just choose to trust myself and nobody else.

That's still a decision on who to trust.

> How can you trust EE&R, more than yourself?

Because EE&R is demonstrably more reliable than I am.

Luke said...

> > Have you considered that perhaps the goals of the people at the time weren't scientific, but instead social?

> Yes, of course. The Bible makes perfect sense as a human invention, written by humans, to serve human needs.

So if it's 'scientific', then it can be of the category of 'truth' such that it could possibly be related to God, but if it is 'social', then it is necessarily in a category (with truth values or not) which cannot be related to God?

I will note that humans, and groups of humans, are the instruments with which we explore reality. And so, facts about human nature and facts about humans working together (or not working together) are facts about instruments which we use to explore reality. And so, I should think there are actually social facts which are just as factual as hard science facts, except for the consideration that human psyches and social systems are fantastically more complicated than e.g. F = ma.

> You asked me to provide examples to demonstrate that I'd done my EE&R homework on the Bible. Have I convinced you that I have?

It is not yet clear, but I'm happy to table this while I explore the above issue in more detail.

> I think you may misunderstand the concept of delta-v. It's not the same thing as dv/dt, which is your acceleration. How fast you accelerate doesn't matter. The only thing that matters (as far as getting to orbit is concerned) is your final velocity.

Can you take my word for it that I actually don't misunderstand, or am I not yet trustworthy enough in your eyes? This is getting a little frustrating. I wonder how much I have to prove myself to you, before you jump to the conclusion (even with the qualifier "I think you may") that I am somehow stupid. I really do think through this stuff rigorously, and I'm not sure you respect that. I model this lack of respect as bogging down discourse and requiring me to be more verbose than I would like to be.

Argh, I will articulate. Calculus can be [partly] derived from the fact that df/dx =

    lim (f(x + ∆x) – f(x)) / ∆x
    ∆x → 0

Now, ∆v can be defined as (v1 – v0). Or: (v(t1) – v(t0)). And we can say that t1 = t0 + ∆t. From there, we have that dv/dt =

    lim (v(t0 + ∆t) – v(t0)) / ∆t
    ∆t → 0

The very concept of ∆v involves difference over a period of time. And so, it really has a ∆t, even though it is not explicit. So, the proper infinitesimal analogue of ∆v is dv/dt, and not merely dv. When I said "dv", I was really eliding the "/dt". Make sense?

Now, there is the conceptual problem that if you merely exert a dv/dt > g away from the center of Earth's gravity, you aren't guaranteed to escape its gravity well. Mathematically, you could always be accelerating away from earth just enough to avoid heading back toward it, while still be trapped in its gravitational well. I would have to add conditions to truly break orbit. I know this. Nobody actually accelerates directly away from the center of the earth in practice (for very long), and thus it is unintuitive to think in this manner. I can do further derivations based on gravitational potential energy, if you insist.

Sigh. (Preemptive: is this actually an overreaction? I'm just a little tired of being treated as a dumbass around here, and if I have to demonstrate it technically, I will.)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> That's still a decision on who to trust.

I agree. Shall we investigate the intricacies of how one decides who or what to trust? This might actually be a good Dialogos topic! It could even be construed as following logically from our last meeting about fundamental presuppositions ("foundational assumptions"?).

> Because EE&R is demonstrably more reliable than I am.

I've heard Christians say that "God is more reliable than I am". The parallels are weird, between your use of "EE&R", and uses of "God" I have seen.

Anyhow, didn't you choose to trust EE&R? Doesn't that mean you used resources internal to yourself, to dedicate yourself to EE&R? It seems that you have to trust your own judgment, in order to extend trust to EE&R. So I actually don't see how EE&R is more reliable than you. Are you perhaps comparing your own practice of EE&R, to the collective practice of EE&R? Were this to be true, the similarities between what you would be arguing and my Intersubjectivity is Key would seem to be strong. And so, I shall repeat myself (perhaps you haven't gotten around to it, but emphasis is sometimes still good):

> > We seem to be back at Intersubjectivity is Key and Si enim fallor, sum. It would be helpful to see what you agree with and disagree with, in those two articles. That might clear up a lot of misunderstandings between the two of us.

Ron said...

> Can you take my word for it that I actually don't misunderstand, or am I not yet trustworthy enough in your eyes?

It's not that you aren't trustworthy, it's that you are actually demonstrating that you don't understand. For example:

> if you merely exert a dv/dt > g away from the center of Earth's gravity, you aren't guaranteed to escape its gravity well.

I didn't say anything about escaping the gravity well, I was talking about going into orbit. Orbital velocity and escape velocity are two different things.

Now, I'm pretty sure that you actually did know this, but I can't be sure. Maybe you really don't understand the difference between orbital velocity and escape velocity. Many people don't, there's no shame in it. Or maybe you do understand the difference and you were just being sloppy. Or maybe you understand the difference and you were not being sloppy and you really did intent to talk about escape velocity instead of orbital velocity. Maybe you even understand this well enough that you realized that I had made a mistake, and that I *should* have talked about escape velocity instead of orbital velocity in order to make the point I was trying to make.

I don't know, and that is exactly the problem, because the one thing I *do* know is that you failed to communicate clearly. And since you are the one trying to make a point with this delta-v metaphor, the burden of clear communication is on you.

Case in point:

> So if it's 'scientific', then it can be of the category of 'truth' such that it could possibly be related to God, but if it is 'social', then it is necessarily in a category (with truth values or not) which cannot be related to God?

I can't even parse that question. The issue is not whether or not something can be "related to God", the issue is what ontological category God belongs in. (Maybe you need to back and re-read the OP.) I say God is mythological, a fictional character, a human invention. I presume you disagree, but I don't recall you ever actually saying so. So maybe I should just ask: what ontological category do you think God belongs in? Or do you think (as I mentioned in the OP) that He transcends ontological categorization?

> Anyhow, didn't you choose to trust EE&R?

No, I didn't. EE&R proves itself to me every day, every time I use a computer, or drive my car, or look at Jupiter through a telescope.

Maybe you should re-read this: http://blog.rongarret.info/2015/01/why-i-believe-in-michelson-morley.html

> I've heard Christians say that "God is more reliable than I am". The parallels are weird, between your use of "EE&R", and uses of "God" I have seen.

The difference is that I don't pray to EE&R. And EE&R does not reveal itself to me through holy texts, it reveals itself to me through evidence. But EE&R is close to what Einstein meant when he used the word God in e.g. God does not play dice. (Turns out this is the one thing Einstein was actually wrong about.)

Publius said...

@Ron
Do you really want to see which of us can our-snark the other?


I figure I hold the Snark Advantage™ at this point, whereas you have Jumped the Snark.

> I responded that software has mass. I also provided calculations of software mass. I also provided the minimum energy for 1 bit of information.

No, you didn't. You calculated the minimum energy to store one bit of information in a particular physical embodiment (DRAM) given current technological limitations.

Yes, I did.
First, I calculated the mass to store 4 GeB of 1's in a modern DRAM with trench capacitors (which worked out to 5.36 x 10^15 electrons, with mass 4.88 x 10^-15 kg). That provides a counterexample to your statement that "software does not have mass," as well, software held in the main memory of >99% of the worlds computers has mass. If software is held on a disk drive or optical storage, it has even higher mass. So we can conclude that 100% of the software on Earth has mass.

I further falsified your statement by presenting that the minimum amount of energy to represent 1 bit, is:

kT ln 2

At room temperature, this works out to approximately 0.0172 eV.
This is based on Landauer's principle and the thermodynamics of information processing. Regardless of how good technology advances, it cannot go below this limit.

But it is easy to invent schemes for storing information where the energy content of different states are identical.

When you plug in such a device, does it draw current?
An SRAM stores 1's and 0's using the same energy content - but this doubles the energy required to store the software, it does not cancel it out.
This retort also badly misses the point. Software just sitting in a memory has mass. It doesn't matter if the bit bias is equal, or if you implement some sort of regenerative system to reduce energy consumption upon reading/writing. Just sitting there the software has an energy state greater than zero.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I didn't say anything about escaping the gravity well, I was talking about going into orbit.

As it turns out, you subverted the train of thought in my mind! See:

> > Here, I think you need my "small ∆v model of free will", which I explicated at the last Dialogos meeting via analogy to the Interplanetary Transport Network. To get a space vehicle to some point (orbit) in the solar system, with finite fuel, requires a lot of careful charting of course, with very strategic burns. You know this. Now, you probably also know about Lagrangian points, and how if you navigate through those properly, it no longer takes a ∆v, but instead a dv, to change course. (A friend of mine has research on making practical use of this dv, if you'd be interested.)

I am clearly envisioning escape from the earth's gravity well, here. Single track mind...

> I don't know, and that is exactly the problem, because the one thing I *do* know is that you failed to communicate clearly.

Oh, I make no claims to be able to communicate perfectly. What I object to is the tentative conclusions you tend to prefer when I haven't communicated perfectly.

> Case in point:

> > So if it's 'scientific', then it can be of the category of 'truth' such that it could possibly be related to God, but if it is 'social', then it is necessarily in a category (with truth values or not) which cannot be related to God?

> I can't even parse that question.

Ironically, I phrased it that way so that you wouldn't, as a result, assume I'm an idiot. I know, it's kind of twisted, but I'm actually tired of the assumption being that I'm an idiot and don't know what I'm talking about. I'm a human being: I can only take so much of that before I develop defense mechanisms to lessen the cost.

> I say God is mythological, a fictional character, a human invention. I presume you disagree, but I don't recall you ever actually saying so.

Correct: I believe God is "more real" than we are, for some meaningful definition of "more real" which is not fully articulate in my mind (see unarticulated background). I don't know whether this puts God in an ontological category, whether he screws with all of them (this was a possibility I entertained earlier, with only some ontological categories able to support 'morality'—so God would have to futz with them when they emerge), or something else.

> > Anyhow, didn't you choose to trust EE&R?

> No, I didn't. EE&R proves itself to me every day, every time I use a computer, or drive my car, or look at Jupiter through a telescope.

Curious. Do you practice any kind of "trust"?

> And EE&R does not reveal itself to me through holy texts, it reveals itself to me through evidence.

I thought we were done with this. There is a tremendous amount about me that you could never know if I did not speak or write it to you. True, or false? If true, then it stands to reason that some things God would have to tell us. Some he would not; see The Computational Theory of the Laws of Nature, especially the last section.

Luke said...

@Publius, have you seen the Feynman Lectures On Computation? He has a section on physical aspects of computation, including quantum computation.

Publius said...

Oort Cloud

> No direct observation of the Oort cloud have ever been made.

That's true, but that again is simply due to current technological limitations. Planets orbiting other stars were predicted (based on evidence) long before they could actually be observed.

This brings you back to Luke's two kinds of 'faith':

(1) faith in propositions
(2) faith in future fruitfulness

Now moving over to another thread

Luke>I'm just not convinced that you did EE&R on this P, Q, and R. If you did, can you explain how you did it?

Ron:
This is starting to feel an awful lot like trolling, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

The Bible is chock-full of contradiction. And yes, I am well aware . . ..

[several items about the Bible listed]

I don't see any "experiment" in what you listed.

Let's now refer to a statement you made to wrf3:

So I'm trying a socratic approach now instead. Knowing the answer to this question is not what will make you achieve enlightenment. It is the *process of trying to come up with the answer on your own* that will do it. (And here's a big hint: how do I know this?)

Interesting that you advocate this approach for scientific knowledge, but when you're informed that the same approach is needed for religious knowledge, you reject it: "I have to see the evidence first." Yet there is not, nor will be, any scientific evidence of God's existence. You're like Doubting Thomas, but without the doubt.

Publius said...

@Luke

>you might like my argument over here—feel free to skip to the 1.–8.

I don't understand the reference to "1.-8." When I surf to the page, I see a short posting and 188 comments. Don't see "1.-8." in context?

Luke said...

@Publius:

Disqus is sometimes retarded. Clicking this link should take you to the comment, which starts off "This is the most interesting bit and I want to go to bed:". In the event that you aren't taken to the item, here's a trick that works, at least in Chrome.

1. Go to the URL.
2. Let the page load, and ensure the Disqus comments have loaded.
3. Sometimes you're taken to the proper comment, and that is that.
4. If not, note the last character in the URL.
5. Delete that character and hit [Enter].
6. Ensure the page did not reload—nothing should change after the [Enter].
7. Now restore the deleted character and hit [Enter] again.
8. Within 400ms, you should be scrolled to the appropriate comment.

If that doesn't work, I can dump the argument here.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> I believe God is "more real" than we are, for some meaningful definition of "more real" which is not fully articulate in my mind

Well, when you are able to articulate it, you let me know.

> Do you practice any kind of "trust"?

Yes, of course. But I don't practice *blind* trust.

> > And EE&R does not reveal itself to me through holy texts, it reveals itself to me through evidence.

> I thought we were done with this. There is a tremendous amount about me that you could never know if I did not speak or write it to you. True, or false?

True, of course. But the things you say are evidence. In particular, they are evidence of your internal mental state.

The Bible is evidence too. It's just not (AFAICT) evidence of a deity. It's evidence of humans being creative.

@publius

> there is not, nor will be, any scientific evidence of God's existence

Then God and I are at an impasse.

> Landauer's principle

Landauer's principle applies to *erasing* information. If you don't erase anything, you can have thermodynamically reversible computation.

But let me ask you a different question: do words exist? What are they made of? Do they have mass? What is the mass of the word "snark"?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Yes, of course. But I don't practice *blind* trust.

From what you know, do you have solid reason to believe that I, Luke Breuer, "practice *blind* trust"?

> True, of course. But the things you say are evidence. In particular, they are evidence of your internal mental state.

Ok, so if God has spoken, then the Bible is a possible way he did speak. And yet, you've been dismissive of the Bible in ways that indicate to me that you're not necessarily allowing God any avenue for actually speaking.

> The Bible is evidence too. It's just not (AFAICT) evidence of a deity. It's evidence of humans being creative.

Yep, that's your chosen interpretation. We've already established that you will switch interpretations based on zero new evidence, but instead based on epistemic values. What is that example? Your switch in interpretation of QM. And so, it seems to me that you ought to be open to switching your interpretation of reality, to open up the possibility that a single being with values (that is, a person with a will) had and has causal contact with that reality, without an additional shred of evidence. True, or false?

Part of the work in said switch of interpretation will be to examine stuff in your list, such as cosmology, which I critiqued. But I'm still confused, because after I said that the authors of Genesis almost certainly had purposes other than yours, you made an immediate switch of focus:

> Ron: Yes, of course. The Bible makes perfect sense as a human invention, written by humans, to serve human needs.

Let's return to what sparked this:

> Luke: I'm just not convinced that you did EE&R on this P, Q, and R. If you did, can you explain how you did it?

So I'm confused. We started off with a category I want to call 'truth'. Then you switch from 'truth' → "a human invention", because I talked about the purpose of cosmology not being your purpose. Why did we leave the realm of 'truth'? Perhaps we might say that you switched ontological categories on me. And yet, I should think that human nature is necessarily a more fundamental layer of ontology, for what human nature is determines what we can know. As I argued, we are the instruments with which we explore reality. True, or false?

If we are the instruments with which we explore reality, then the better we know ourselves, the better we will be able to (i) know what it is we can even explore; (ii) do a better job of exploring. And yet, somehow, the purpose of understanding personhood and society that I claim the ANE cosmologies are intended to address, is in a less fundamental ontological category than the one you meant when talking about "P, Q, and R". I'm confused. I'm so confused that I'm not sure I will be all that intelligible to you.

So, as a last ditch effort, would you please tell me if you switched ontological categories with your "The Bible makes perfect sense as a human invention"?

Ron said...

> From what you know, do you have solid reason to believe that I, Luke Breuer, "practice *blind* trust"?

Nope. But I think many Christians do. I think @wrf3 does.

> if God has spoken, then the Bible is a possible way he did speak

Of course. So is the Quran. And the Book of Mormon. And the Harry Potter novels.

> And yet, you've been dismissive of the Bible in ways that indicate to me that you're not necessarily allowing God any avenue for actually speaking.

Yes. Because the Bible appears to me clearly to be the work of man, not God, just like the Quran and the Book of Mormon and the Harry Potter novels. I have said this over and over and over. I don't understand why you seem to find this so difficult to grasp.

> Yep, that's your chosen interpretation.

Not just mine. A lot of people agree with me. In fact, I'm pretty sure you agree with me about the Quran and the Book of Mormon and the Harry Potter novels. (So you see, we really do agree more than we disagree :-)

> We've already established that you will switch interpretations based on zero new evidence, but instead based on epistemic values. What is that example? Your switch in interpretation of QM.

No, that is absolutely false. I switched my point of view in response to new evidence. My switch began when I first learned about entanglement and realized that the story I was being told about it was inconsistent with the Copenhagen interpretation (which always made me a little queasy, but which I accepted nonetheless because it was the best explanation I had for the evidence I had at the time.)

I spent ten years NOT HAVING an adequate explanation of QM. I asked dozens of card-carrying physicists to explain it to me, including Freeman Dyson. None of them knew the answer. I entertained wild fantasies of making a breakthrough myself and winning the Nobel prize. I got a U.S. patent on a gadget that would let you communicate faster than light if Copenhagen were true.

It was not until I got an audience with John Preskill that I finally learned the answer. Then, a few weeks later, I got to see Nick Cerf and Chris Adami give a presentation on quantum information theory and all the pieces finally fell into place. Nothing in QM has been mysterious since.

> Then you switch from 'truth' → "a human invention" Why did we leave the realm of 'truth'?

Why do you think we did? The truth (AFAICT) is that the Bible is a human invention, a work of fiction. Fiction can, and often does, contain deep truths. I have already conceded that the Bible contains human wisdom (mixed in with a bunch of other stuff, but it's there nonetheless.) I really don't see the problem.

> So, as a last ditch effort, would you please tell me if you switched ontological categories with your "The Bible makes perfect sense as a human invention"?

Your question is non-sensical, and indicates that you have not grasped the concept of ontological categories at all. One does not "switch ontological categories." One categorizes things into ontological categories as an alternative to categorizing them simply as existing or not-existing. My claim is that the categorization of things as existing or not-existing is not productive because it does not reflect reality, which is that there are different manners in which a thing can be usefully said to exist, and that it is useful to distinguish between them.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Nope. But I think many Christians do. I think @wrf3 does.

Yes, @wrf3 is a puzzle to me. It reminds me of a discussion I had with a Christian the other day about 'legitimate' vs. 'illegitimate' governments, in light of Rom 13:1–7 and 1 Pe 2:13–17. I worry that this person thinks that 'legitimate' governments really do define what is good and evil, instead of merely better approximate it than the 'illegitimate' governments. Scary stuff! (What I would most criticize of @wrf3 is his apparent lack of belief in fallibilism.)

> Of course. So is the Quran. And the Book of Mormon. And the Harry Potter novels.

Agreed.

> Yes. Because the Bible appears to me clearly to be the work of man, not God, just like the Quran and the Book of Mormon and the Harry Potter novels. I have said this over and over and over. I don't understand why you seem to find this so difficult to grasp.

It's not that I find it "so difficult to grasp", it's that I'm skeptical for some of your metrics. I gave an example of this skepticism by critiquing your criticism of the Bible's cosmology. Hopefully we can bring that tangent to completion; if I succeed in convincing you that you were evaluating the Bible badly in this one area, perhaps you will consider that you may have done the same in other areas, as well.

> Not just mine. A lot of people agree with me. In fact, I'm pretty sure you agree with me about the Quran and the Book of Mormon and the Harry Potter novels. (So you see, we really do agree more than we disagree :-)

I think God speaks through many, many avenues. One can, however, probably order them in terms of 'purity', for lack of a better term. There are some very strong Christian (probably some of them very Jewish) themes in Harry Potter; you know this, right? What would be interesting to do is look at where Harry Potter deviates from the Bible, and see which seems more correct via the 'contrast' portion of 'compare & contrast'.

> No, that is absolutely false. I switched my point of view in response to new evidence. My switch began when I first learned about entanglement and realized that the story I was being told about it was inconsistent with the Copenhagen interpretation (which always made me a little queasy, but which I accepted nonetheless because it was the best explanation I had for the evidence I had at the time.)

Point taken. Do I need to watch vigilantly for an example where you did switch interpretations of something based on zero new evidence? You seem to have claimed or implied that you never do this. One way to illustrate such a stance is that you never just sit down and reconsider how you interpreted a situation, to see if there's a better way to do it. You'd do this while in your armchair, not out while collecting more evidence.

> The truth (AFAICT) is that the Bible is a human invention, a work of fiction.

What would falsify this? You are not allowed to just say 'evidence'; a proper scientist always describes what kind of evidence would falsify. For example, unitary evolution of quantum state could be falsified by the observation of any and all statistically significant nonlinear evolution.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> One does not "switch ontological categories."

So it couldn't possibly be the case that I was operating under the assumption that X lies in ontological category A1, while you were operating under the assumption that X lies in ontological category A2, such that further discussion results in one of us "switching ontological categories", either from A1 → A2 or A2 → A1?

Ron said...

> Yes, @wrf3 is a puzzle to me

You do realize that his views are more representative of (what is normally called) Christianity than yours are, right?

> if I succeed in convincing you that you were evaluating the Bible badly in this one area, perhaps you will consider that you may have done the same in other areas, as well.

That depends on the area. Why don't you just try it and see what happens.

> > The truth (AFAICT) is that the Bible is a human invention, a work of fiction.

> What would falsify this? You are not allowed to just say 'evidence'; a proper scientist always describes what kind of evidence would falsify.

Yes, I already answered this previously: evidence of a repeatable physical phenomenon that could not be accounted for by laws of physics with low Kolmogorov complexity. For example, if one could reliably cause amputated limbs to regrow (in humans) by praying to Jesus (but not to Allah or Odin) that would probably make me reconsider my position.

> So it couldn't possibly be the case that I was operating under the assumption that X lies in ontological category A1, while you were operating under the assumption that X lies in ontological category A2, such that further discussion results in one of us "switching ontological categories", either from A1 → A2 or A2 → A1?

It's a phraseology issue, but given the delicacy of the matter I think it's important to be precise. It is not that one "switches ontological categories" it is that one "reassigns X from one ontological category to another." The reason this matters is that the value of X matters so you can't just drop it.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> You do realize that his views are more representative of (what is normally called) Christianity than yours are, right?

You might think that, but I'm not convinced. If you were right, I would expect more actual obedience to the following:

     • Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23
     • Mt 5:23–24, Mt 18:15–20, Eph 4:25–27
     • Mt 7:1–5, Mt 23:1–4, Gal 6:1–5
     • Mt 7:15–23, Mt 13:24–30, Mt 25:31–46

But I don't see such obedience. And I don't really see anything but the most ridiculously contorted explanations for how the behavior I observe could possibly match up with those passages. And so, I don't actually think that many are really consistent when it comes to @wrf3's approach. If they were, they would act differently. More specifically, they would pick more intelligent, more effective precedences of sin—that is, errors in behavior to work on with highest priority, then second-highest, etc.

Remember how Voldemort executed the "divide and conquer" approach in Harry Potter? Well, those triads are meant to fight this approach. And yet, what has been done to the American church? Divide and conquer. See also Os Guinness' The Gravedigger File; it is a sort of "Screwtape Letters targeting the church"; the plot is that an organization has been attacking the American church for centuries, and that the church does 90% of the digging of its own grave. If you want to understand religion in America, I highly suggest reading that book, or at least the updated version, The Last Christian on Earth.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> That depends on the area. Why don't you just try it and see what happens.

Well, the discussion of cosmology seems to have petered out; I wonder if it would be better to give it another shot in person. I can review the relevant bits in John H. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate and Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible before we meet up.

In particular, I am very interested that individual humans and societies are the instruments we use to explore reality. Surely facts about the instruments are absolutely critical for knowing what you can explore, among other things? Facts about human nature and humans in society seems logically anterior to discovered facts about non-persons. David Hume appears to have believed precisely this; see Yoram Hazony's Newtonian Explanatory Reduction and Hume's System of the Sciences.

> Yes, I already answered this previously: evidence of a repeatable physical phenomenon that could not be accounted for by laws of physics with low Kolmogorov complexity.

What if I show you that the very idea of explaining everything that exists with "laws of physics with low Kolmogorov complexity" is philosophically problematic? Furthermore, are you aware of C.S. Lewis' argument from reason? I inadvertently came up with a modified version of it which counters one of the criticisms listed at the Wikipedia page.

(You may have "already answered this previously", but you apparently ignored my attempt to continue that conversation. If I am in error for not remembering, aren't you in error for not responding? I'd prefer to simply round both errors to zero, but sometimes it seems like you're really attributing intellectual error to me in a way that is asymmetrical. I am always wary of having actually committed error, but it is also the case that people can exhibit Mt 7:1–5-syndrome.)

> It's a phraseology issue, but given the delicacy of the matter I think it's important to be precise. It is not that one "switches ontological categories" it is that one "reassigns X from one ontological category to another." The reason this matters is that the value of X matters so you can't just drop it.

But you said:

> Ron: Your question is non-sensical, and indicates that you have not grasped the concept of ontological categories at all.

Was this extreme hyperbole? Did we switch from "have not grasped the concept... at all" → "a phraseology issue"? Al Barr calls this "Caltech-speak"; I can work with it, but the exaggerations tend to slow down conversation, in my experience.

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