Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Multilogue on Free Will

[Inspired by this comment thread.]

The Tortoise is standing next to a railroad track when Achilles, an ancient Greek warrior, happens by.  In the distance, a train whistle sounds.

Tortoise: Greetings, friend Achilles.  You have impeccable timing.  I could use your assistance.

Achilles: Hello, Mr. T.  Always happy to help.  What seems to be the trouble?

Tortoise: Look there.

Achilles: Why, it appears that someone has been tied to the railroad track!  It looks like Henrietta, the Helpless Victim, no doubt tied there by Evan the Evil Villain.

Henrietta: Help!  Save me!

Tortoise: I would like to rescue Henrietta, but alas, I am far too slow to reach her in time.  Do you think you can help?

Achilles: I would love to.  Unfortunately, even though I am fleetest of foot of all the mortals, even I can't outrun a train.  But did you happen to notice, Mr. T., that there is a siding on the track here?  All we have to do is throw the switch, divert the train onto the siding, and Henrietta will be saved!

Tortoise: That is most fortuitous.  I wonder why I didn't notice it before.  But it occurs to me that there is something very odd about this state of affairs.

Achilles: Odd?  How so?

Tortoise: The situation we find ourselves in bears a striking resemblance to what philosophers call a "trolley problem."  A trolley problem is normally presented as a moral or ethical dilemma, usually by way of having victims tied to both branches of the track.  But here one of the branches is empty, which would seem to make it a no-brainer.

Achilles: But this is not an intellectual exercise.  This is real life.

Tortoise: True, but somehow I can't escape this niggling doubt that I've overlooked something.  Still, I guess we should go ahead and throw the switch.

(Suddenly, Evan the Evil Villain appears out of nowhere!)

Evan: Bwahahaha!!!  You fools think you can thwart my evil schemes?  Never!  You will not throw that switch!

Achilles: Just try and stop us!

Evan: You don't seem to understand.  I'm not ordering you, I'm telling you, as a matter of objective fact, that you will not throw the switch.

Tortoise: And how do you know that?

Evan: I consulted the Oracle, and she told me so.

Achilles: Oh dear, Mr. T.  I'm afraid Henrietta is done for.

Tortoise: Why?  I don't believe in no Oracle.

Achilles: Oh, but you should.  The Oracle is never wrong.

Tortoise: But how do we know that Evan isn't lying about what the Oracle said?

Achilles: Hm, good point.  Perhaps we should consult the Oracle ourselves?

Tortoise: Do we have time?  If we can't reach Henrietta before the train then surely we don't have time to travel to Delphi.

Achilles: Oh, silly Tortoise, you don't have to go to Delphi any more to consult the Oracle.  Nowadays there's an app for that.

(Achilles pulls out a mobile phone.  It sports a logo shaped like a pear.)

Tortoise: Most impressive.  Not at all what I would have expected.

Achilles: Just because I'm an ancient Greek warrior doesn't mean I have to be a Luddite.  Oh great and powerful Oracle, we wish to consult you!

(The Voice of the Oracle emanates from the phone.)

Oracle: What is your request?

Achilles: Is it true that we will not throw the switch and save Henrietta?

Oracle: Indeed, it is so.

Achilles: See there, Mr. T.  I'm afraid Henrietta's fate is sealed.

Tortoise: I'm still not convinced.  I mean, we're standing right here next to the switch.  We have free will (don't we?).  You're faster and stronger than Evan.  What exactly is going to stop us?

Achilles: Hm, good question.  Oh great and powerful Oracle, what exactly will prevent us from throwing the switch?

Oracle: Nothing will prevent you.  You will choose of your own free will not to throw the switch.

Tortoise: That seems improbable.  The moral situation is clear, and we are both moral creatures.  Why would we choose to do such an immoral deed?

Achilles: Is failing to save Henrietta really immoral?  We didn't tie her to the tracks, Evan did.  Is it really on us if she dies?

Tortoise: According to the Tortoise Moral Code, failing to save a life when there is no cost or risk to yourself is tantamount to taking the life yourself.  So I certainly feel as if I have a moral duty to throw the switch.

Achilles: And yet you won't do it.

Tortoise: I'm still not convinced.

Achilles: I'm telling you, Mr. T., the Oracle is never wrong.

Tortoise: Can you prove it?

Achilles: Sure, let's just do a little experiment.  Here, take this coin, and put it in your left or right hand, but don't show me which one.

(The Tortoise retreats into his shell, then shortly re-emerges with both his hands balled into fists.)

Achilles: Oracle, in which hand is the coin?

Oracle: The left one.

(The Tortoise opens his left hand to reveal the coin.)

Tortoise: Well, that was a 50-50 shot.  Also, the Oracle didn't really predict which hand I would put the coin in, she just somehow figured it out after I had already done so.  Maybe the phone has a coin detector built in to it.

Achilles: I can ask the Oracle before you put the coin in your hand.

(Achilles consults the phone.)

Tortoise: So what did she say?

Achilles: I can't tell you.  That would influence your decision.  But I've written her prediction down on this piece of paper.

Tortoise: So I don't even have to put the coin in my hand.  I can just tell you my choice.  I choose left again.

(Achilles opens the paper.  It says "LEFT".  They repeat the experiment 50 times.  The Oracle's prediction is correct every time.)

Tortoise: I must confess, that is deeply disturbing.  What would happen if I knew the Oracle's prediction ahead of time?

Achilles: Let's try it: Oracle, what will be the Tortoise's next choice?

Oracle: Left.

Tortoise: Ha!  Wrong!

(The tortoise puts the coin in his right hand.)

Achilles: As I suspected, the Oracle's predictions are unreliable if the subject learns the prediction before acting.  So there is still hope for Henrietta.

Evan: Fools!  I foresaw the possibility that you might learn of the Oracle's prophecy (indeed, if you recall, I told you about the prophecy!)  So I took precautions and consulted the meta-Oracle.

Achilles: The what?

Evan: The meta-Oracle.  You see, the Oracle works by building a model of your brain and running that model into the future faster than your actual brain.  But the Oracle does not include itself in its model.  So if the output of the Oracle gets to your brain then that sends events off on a trajectory that the Oracle cannot foresee.

Tortoise: So we do have free will after all!

Evan: Not so fast.  The meta-Oracle is more powerful than the Oracle.  The meta-Oracle includes itself in its model, so even if you learn of one of the meta-Oracle's prophecies before it comes to pass, it will still come to pass.  Here, see for yourself.

(Evan pulls out a meta-phone, launches the meta-Oracle app, and hands the meta-phone to Achilles.)

Meta-Oracle: You will go on a great journey!

Achilles: I haven't asked you anything yet!

Meta-Oracle: Oh, sorry, wrong prophecy.  What exactly is it you would like to know?

Achilles: Will we throw the switch and save Henrietta?

Meta-Oracle: No.

Evan: See?  Told ya!

Meta-Oracle: I also predict that the Tortoise will question my prophetic powers.

Tortoise: Well, that wasn't exactly a tough call.

Meta-Oracle: See?  Told ya!

Tortoise: Oh, come on!

Meta-Oracle: OK, we'll do a real one.  What would you like to know?

Tortoise: Which hand will I put the coin in?

Meta-Oracle: Your left hand.

(The Tortoise puts the coin in his right hand.)

Tortoise: Ha!

Meta-Oracle: I didn't say that you would put the coin in your left hand now.  All I said was that you would put the coin in your left hand at some unspecified time in the future.

Tortoise: I find myself oddly unimpressed.

Meta-Oracle: Yes, I foresaw that too.

Tortoise: Well, geez, if you foresaw it, why did you even bother making such a lame prediction?

Meta-Oracle: Because if I truly reveal to you the full extent of my prophetic powers you would suffer severe psychological damage.  Belief in free will is an integral part of the Tortoise Condition, and if I present you with irrefutable evidence that you do not have free will, you might snap.

Tortoise: Try me.

Meta-Oracle: Very well, if you insist.  The next time you put a coin in your hand, it will be your left hand.

(The Tortoise puts the coin in his left hand.)

Tortoise: OK, that was weird.  Despite the fact that I wanted very much to disprove the meta-Oracle, because my belief in free will is indeed very important to me, and despite the fact that I knew I could accomplish this goal by putting the coin in my right hand, I somehow found myself putting the coin in my left.

Achilles: Did it feel like you were being coerced?

Tortoise: Hard to say.  The subjective sensation I had while making the decision was nothing out of the ordinary.  It felt kind of like when I eat a cookie even though I know I shouldn't.  It's weird though, because cookies taste good, so I can justify (or at least rationalize) eating a cookie in the name of satisfying a short-term goal (hedonism) at the expense of a long-term one (maintaining my svelte figure).  But here I had no particular reason to prefer one hand over the other, kind of like we have no reason not to throw the switch.  I find it all deeply disturbing.

Meta-Oracle: Told ya.

Tortoise: Faced with this new evidence I must adjust my beliefs.  It does indeed seem to be the case that the meta-Oracle can predict my actions (and, by extrapolation, yours as well) and so we are in fact doomed to stand idly by while Henrietta meets her fate.

Achilles: That sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me.  If your belief in the inevitability of failure leads you not to act, then the prophecy is in fact true.  But it's not really the prophecy at work, it's your belief in the prophecy.  Perhaps if you could recapture your initial skepticism we might be able to thwart the meta-Oracle after all.

Tortoise: Alas, I am incapable of achieving such suspension of disbelief.  I have experienced the power of the meta-Oracle first-hand.  I performed a conclusive experiment.  It didn't turn out the way I hoped or expected, but I have no choice but to accept the outcome and its implications.  Tortoises must follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Achilles: Maybe Tortoises do, but I don't.  I am quite credulous.  If you (or someone) could somehow convince me that the meta-Oracle could be wrong, then maybe I could throw the switch.

Tortoise: Alas, friend Achilles, I can't even do that.  Now that I myself am firmly of the belief that the meta-Oracle's powers are as advertised, then to convince you otherwise I would have to lie, and Tortoises cannot lie.

Achilles: Ah, then you never believed you had free will!

Tortoise: Not absolute free will, no.  I always believed that I had no control over what I believed (including, recursively, that I had no control over that belief).  But I did believe, until just now, that I had control over my actions, especially in matters as inconsequential as choosing a hand to put a coin in.

Achilles: But it was not inconsequential.  That action changed your worldview.  Maybe if it really were inconsequential you would still have free will?

Tortoise: I guess I can't rule out that possibility on the basis of the evidence that we have (and in fact I can't imagine any experiment we could possibly do that would rule it out).  But the question of whether or not to throw the switch is very consequential.  A life is at stake.  So it wouldn't help anyway.

Achilles: I can think of one other possibility: We could pray to God.  He might be able to save Henrietta.

Tortoise: I don't believe in God, but don't let that stop you.

Achilles: Dear God, please save Henrietta!

(The deep booming Voice of God rumbles through the air.)

God: And how exactly do you propose I do that?

Tortoise: Wow, that was so not what I expected.

Achilles: Dear God, thank you for answering the prayer of this humble mortal.  As for the answer to your question, well, you're God.  You are all-powerful.  You could, like, go and untie her before the train arrives.

God: I am indeed all-powerful.  I form the light and create darkness.  I am the Lord.  But I'm afraid I don't untie people from railroad tracks.  That's just not how I roll.

Tortoise: Why not?

God: Because if I do everything for you then you mortals will never grow up.  I gave you free will and moral intuition.  The rest is up to you.

Tortoise: Wait, what?  We have free will?

God: I didn't say that.  I said I gave you free will.  It does not follow that you still have it.

Achilles: That's true.  I once gave my niece a pair of mittens, but she lost them.

Tortoise: I must have lost mine, because I have just been presented with irrefutable evidence that I do not have free will.

God: What, the meta-Oracle's prophecy?  That doesn't prove that you don't have free will.

Tortoise: Of course it does.  If the meta-Oracle's prophecies are always right (and they do seem to be) then I have no choice but to do whatever the meta-Oracle foresees.

God: But that was true of the (non-meta) Oracle too.  Why did that not rock your world view the way that the meta-Oracle did?

Tortoise: Hm, good question.  I guess it's the fact that I was still able to thwart the (non-meta) Oracle when I learned its predictions ahead of time.  That allowed me to maintain the illusion of free will, even though the Oracle's prediction are indeed, now that I think of it, overwhelming evidence that I do not in fact have free will.  But the meta-Oracle is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish.  The meta-Oracle gave me the experience of making a choice that was directly counter to one of my goals (namely, maintaining the illusion that I have free will).  Why on earth would I do that if I really do have free will?

God: That is difficult for me to explain in a way that you will understand.  The closest I can come is to say that it's because of your sinful nature.

Tortoise: That can't be right.  When I sin it's because I choose (or at least I feel like I choose) to so something that I want to do but that you, God, don't want me to.  But my succumbing to the meta-Oracle's prediction was the exact opposite of that: it was something that I didn't want to do, and that you, God, couldn't possibly have cared about.

God: What makes you think I don't care?

Tortoise: What difference could it possibly have made to you whether I put a coin in my right or left hand?

God: I care about everything.  Everything that happens, down to the most trivial detail, is all part of my divine plan.  (Actually, they are not trivial details.  They only look trivial to you mortals who cannot see the big picture.)

Tortoise: Now I'm really confused.  If you're controlling everything, how can I have free will?

God: I didn't say I controlled everything, I said everything that happens is part of my plan.  Not the same thing.

Tortoise: I'm afraid I don't see the difference.

God: Most of the time the free choices of mortals like yourself align with my plan.  It is only on rare occasions, like when Pharaoh was going to free the Israelites prematurely, that I have to go in and meddle.  The rest of the time it's all you.

Achilles: You know, I've often wondered about that.  Why did you harden Pharaoh's heart?

God: To make it a better story.

Tortoise: What???

God: Sure, no one would have paid attention otherwise.  I am almighty God.  I could have freed the Israelites with a twitch of my little finger.  But that would have made such a dull movie!  No conflict, no suspense, no character development, no dramatic tension.  Every good story has to have a villain.

Achilles: Like Evan.

God: Exactly.

Tortoise: So nothing we do can interfere with your Plan.

God: That's right.  No self-respecting all-powerful deity could permit that.

Tortoise: So... sin, Henrietta's untimely death, all part of the plan?

God: Yes.

Evan: I always knew God was on my side!

God: I'm on everyone's side, Evan.  That doesn't mean I condone your actions.  Tying Henrietta to the railroad tracks was a horrible sin.

Evan: Then why did you make me do it?

God: I didn't make you do it.  You chose to do it.  That's what makes you an Evil Villain.

Evan: But you could have stopped me and you didn't.

God: The word "could" does not apply to me.  I am Perfect, so I can only do Perfect things.  In any particular circumstance there is only one Perfect course of action, and that is what I do.

Achilles: So... do you have free will?

God: No.

Tortoise: That is quite the bombshell revelation.

God: I don't see why.  There are lots of things I can't do.  I can't sin, for example.

Evan: That sucks for you.  Sinning can be a hell of a lot of fun.

God: (Wistfully.)  Yeah, I know.  Being Perfect is a very heavy burden.

Tortoise: This is something I've always wondered about: do you set the standard for perfection?  Or is there some externally defined standard for perfection that you just happen (or are somehow required) to meet?  Could you create a universe where the actions that are sinful in our universe were not sinful?

God: That's a very good question.

Tortoise: I can't really take credit for it.  I got it from Socrates.

God: And what answer did he give?

Tortoise: He kinda waffled, actually.  Surely you knew that?

God: Of course I knew that.  I am all-knowing.

Tortoise: Then why did you ask?

God: Because I'm trying to answer your question.

Tortoise: I'm afraid you have me at a loss.  My question was very straightforward.  Why don't you just answer it?

God: Because you wouldn't believe me.

Tortoise: And how do you know... oh, right.  OK, go ahead.

God: How did you learn about Socrates?

Tortoise: By reading accounts of his dialogs with his students as transcribed by Plato.  Socrates himself left no writings of his own.

God: So how do you know that Socrates was a real person and not just a fictional character invented by Plato?

Tortoise: Well, there are many other contemporaneous accounts of Socrates.  His life is pretty well documented.

God: Our friend Achilles here is in a rather similar situation, no?

Achilles: How do you mean?

God: You left no writings of your own.  Your existence is vouched for exclusively through the works of other writers like Homer and Lewis Carroll.

Achilles: Are you implying that I'm not a real person?

God: I'm suggesting you might not be.

Achilles: But I'm standing right here!

God: How do you know?

Achilles: How... do... I... I can't even...  Mr. T., you can see me, right?

Tortoise: Of course I can.  I'm not blind.

Achilles: And Evan, you too?

Evan: Well, duh, dude.

Achilles: So what more evidence do you need?  What more evidence could there possibly be?  My exploits during the Trojan War are well documented.

God: Well, there's a problem right there.  When was the Trojan war?

Achilles: I'm afraid I flunked history class.

God: The exact date doesn't matter.  Before or after Julius Caesar?

Achilles: Oh, definitely before.  I was long retired by the time he came along.

God: And when was the modern steam locomotive, like the one that is even now barreling down the track towards Henrietta, invented?

Achilles: I dunno, 1850 maybe?

God: So a few thousand years after Troy, right?

Achilles: Right.

God: And you don't see the problem?

Achilles: Not really.

God: You are several thousand years old.

Achilles: So what?  My mother dunked me in the river Styx when I was a baby.  That made me invulnerable.

God: Except for your heel.  Where Paris shot you with an arrow and killed you (as prophesied by Hector).

Achilles: Now that you mention it, I do vaguely recall that.

God: And doesn't that strike you as the least bit odd?

Achilles: I suppose it does.  Maybe this is all a dream?

(Achilles pinches himself.)

Achilles: Ouch!  No, definitely real.

God: I want you to consider the possibility that despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that in fact you do not exist, that you and the Tortoise and Evan and Henrietta and even I, the Lord thy God, are just fictional characters in a Socratic dialog.

Tortoise: That is not quite the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, but it's damn close.

God: And yet, it is true.

Tortoise: And who is the Author of this (alleged) dialog?

God: His name is Ron.

(There is a momentary stunned silence.  Then Achilles, the Tortoise, and Evan all burst out laughing uncontrollably.)

Henrietta: Men!  Honestly!

God: I told you that you wouldn't believe me.

Tortoise: Well, yeah, but that was not exactly a tough call.  Ron?  Seriously?  You couldn't come up with a name that had a bit more ... gravitas?  I mean, we're talking about an entity that created you, God, Lord of Hosts, Alpha and Omega, the Uncaused Cause.

God: I'm sorry it doesn't meet with your expectations, but the Author's name is Ron.  I can't do anything about that.

Achilles: I thought you were omnipotent?

God: In our universe, yes, I can move mountains.  Watch.

(A mountain in the distance suddenly floats into the air.)

Tortoise: I am definitely going to have to re-evaluate my worldview.

God: But Ron does not exist in our universe.  He is in an entirely different ontological category.

Tortoise: If Ron doesn't exist, how did he create us?

God: I didn't say he didn't exist.  I said he didn't exist in our universe.  He definitely exists.

Tortoise: But... in some other universe?

God: I warned you that this would be very hard to explain.  It's not really "some other universe" in the way that you're thinking of.  What you're thinking of (which I happen to know because I'm omniscient) is what physicists call a "parallel universe".  There are parallel universes.  For example, there is a parallel universe where tortoises are ninja warriors.

Tortoise: Just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any weirder.

God: The Author exists outside of all of these universes.  He transcends not just space and time, like I do, he transcends existence itself (by our standard of existence).  He exists in a way that you cannot possibly imagine, and which I cannot possibly explain (despite the fact that I do in fact understand it, having been granted this special dispensation by Ron himself).

Tortoise: So Ron is a sort of a meta-god?

God: You can think of him that way, but he's not a god.  He's a mortal.

Achilles: So Ron created us in His own image.

God: After a fashion.  But in fact, Mr. T. here is really more like Ron than you are, Achilles.

Tortoise: So the Author is a Tortoise?

God: No, he's a human.  But he's a nerd, not a jock.

Tortoise: Does the Author have free will?

God: Alas, I am not privy to that.  I am only omniscient within the scope of our own ontological category.  When it comes to the Author, even I know only what he has revealed to me.  But tell me, Mr. T., why is all this so important to you?

Tortoise: Because it bears on the question of whether or not we can save Henrietta's life.  If we fail to save Henrietta I want to know why.

God: Oh, is that all?  I'll tell you why.  It's because you've been wasting all this time talking about philosophy rather than just throwing the damn switch!

(At that instant, the train rushes by.  Henrietta lets out a blood-curdling scream.  The tortoise and Achilles look on helpless and horrified as the train rushes towards her.)

God: Well, my work here is done.  Toodle-oo.

(God disappears in a puff of smoke.  There is an awkward silence.)

Tortoise: [BLEEP]!

Achilles: You know, Mr. T., there is one other thing we could try.

Tortoise: I'm all ears.

Achilles: We could ask the Author to save Henrietta.

Tortoise: You can't be serious.

Achilles: What is there to lose?

Tortoise: The remains of my dignity?  I'm really starting to feel as if I'm being punked.

Achilles: OK, I'll do it.  Oh mighty Author, please save Henrietta!

(As if on cue, the train suddenly makes a horrible screeching noise, derails, and bursts into flames.  Burning passengers run from the train, screaming in agony.  Achilles, Evan and the Tortoise survey the carnage in stunned silence.)

Evan:  Whoa.  Dude.

Henrietta: Can one of you idiots please come over here and untie me?

248 comments:

1 – 200 of 248   Newer›   Newest»
Luke said...

Has someone been reading The Monkey's Paw?

On a more serious note, I'd like to dig more into the self-reference thing, where we model ourselves and predict the future and then feed those models and predictions into our decisions for how to act. I haven't thought through it rigorously enough, but there seems to be a kind of problem for determinism there. Any attempt to demonstrate to humans that their actions are determined would seem fated to fail, unless (i) you're a dick and don't tell them the predictions; (ii) you're a dick and build a meta-Oracle to control them. Yes, I'm calling Isaac Asimov a dick for his psychohistory & secretive Second Foundation in his Foundation series.

As to the underlying message of not wasting so much time dicking around with philosophy when there's good we can do for the world, I would push back and say that there exist harmful understandings of determinism which allow people to justify not taking (or even seeking!) the harder course of action—of choosing what is easy over what is right, to riff on Dumbledore. I'm willing to bet that the following has something to contribute to finding Jonathan Haidt's "Atlantis":

>>     Finally, consider the libertarian notion of dual rationality, a requirement whose importance to the libertarian I did not appreciate until I read Robert Kane's Free Will and Values. As with dual control, the libertarian needs to claim that when agents make free choices, it would have been rational (reasonable, sensible) for them to have made a contradictory choice (e.g. chosen not A rather than A) under precisely the conditions that actually obtain. Otherwise, categorical freedom simply gives us the freedom to choose irrationally had we chosen otherwise, a less-than-entirely desirable state. Kane (1985) spends a great deal of effort in trying to show how libertarian choices can be dually rational, and I examine his efforts in Chapter 8. (The Non-Reality of Free Will, 16)

I suggest reading Deuteronomy 30—especially vv11–20—with the concept of 'dual rationality' in mind. Maybe … YHWH was being a kind oracle. (One might also need to consult Deut 28.) Perhaps you could temporarily ignore some of your previous objections (compare Deut 28:53 and Jer 19:9, the latter of which nucleated the conversation which inspired this blog post) in order to focus on this oracle/​prediction thing.

P.S. It's nice to see you blogging again!

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I'd like to dig more into the self-reference thing, where we model ourselves and predict the future and then feed those models and predictions into our decisions for how to act.

I think it's important to note that, if we're talking about humans modeling themselves this way, any such self-model must be incomplete; a complete "self-model" that predicted how you would act would just be...you.

Any attempt to demonstrate to humans that their actions are determined would seem fated to fail

What you are describing isn't an attempt to demonstrate to humans that their actions are determined; it's an attempt to demonstrate to humans that a particular external agent can predict their actions. In other words, what is being claimed is not just determinism, but determinism plus a particular relationship between inputs and outputs--roughly, that it is possible for the human to be given an input "you will do X" and for the human to then output the action "do X".

But it's trivial to construct a deterministic system that cannot have this done: just design the system to deterministically output the action "do not-X" whenever it receives the input "you will do X". Perfectly deterministic, and perfectly "unpredictable". I'm not saying humans actually are designed this way, just that being proof against this kind of "prediction" is no argument against determinism.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> I think it's important to note that, if we're talking about humans modeling themselves this way, any such self-model must be incomplete; a complete "self-model" that predicted how you would act would just be...you.

I'm not sure how useful such an identity is in this discussion. It doesn't seem at all helpful with empirical demonstrations whereby the term 'determine' takes on a concrete, operationalized definition.

> What you are describing isn't an attempt to demonstrate to humans that their actions are determined; it's an attempt to demonstrate to humans that a particular external agent can predict their actions.

Well I did sneak in a shift from 'predict' → 'control', but if there is no way to control even in the slightest bit, then you would have serious problems calling any demonstration 'science'. I didn't mean to suggest that the external agent could provoke any behavior whatsoever.

> But it's trivial to construct a deterministic system that cannot have this done: just design the system to deterministically output the action "do not-X" whenever it receives the input "you will do X".

Then all the external agent has to do is employ reverse psychology. If you push back too much against that retort, then we're back to feeding the allegedly deterministic system enough prediction to break the demonstrable determinism.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

It doesn't seem at all helpful with empirical demonstrations whereby the term 'determine' takes on a concrete, operationalized definition.

Well, that depends on what you mean by "determinism". For example, Newtonian physics is deterministic, but key equations (for example, the Navier-Stokes Equation) have chaotic solutions. So there is no practical way to use the equations for prediction, at least not beyond a short time horizon and limited accuracy. So if you want to operationalize "determinism", you have to settle for some kind of approximation.

if there is no way to control even in the slightest bit, then you would have serious problems calling any demonstration 'science'

I agree, but "science" is not the same as "determinism". It could be that we live in a deterministic world but we have no practical way of scientifically verifying that this is the case.

all the external agent has to do is employ reverse psychology.

In other words, if you change your definition of what it means to "tell the system your prediction", you can change the outcome. Sure, but that's playing with words. It's not changing the actual substance of what's going on.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> So if you want to operationalize "determinism", you have to settle for some kind of approximation.

But then you're testing whether the approximation is accurate, not whether the thing behind it is accurate.

> I agree, but "science" is not the same as "determinism". It could be that we live in a deterministic world but we have no practical way of scientifically verifying that this is the case.

I'm not talking about "practical way"; I'm talking about any logically possible way. If it ends up being a metaphysical decision then fine, but there are lots of scientists, including folks like Sean Carroll and Sam Harris, who seem to think that some sort of interesting determinism is scientifically demonstrable. They seem to think that whatever they've found is important for matters other than further research in physics. If that's the case, I'm going to be merciless in investigating just what the evidence actually demonstrates with high confidence, and what is actually speculation or metaphysics masquerading as established science.

> In other words, if you change your definition of what it means to "tell the system your prediction", you can change the outcome. Sure, but that's playing with words. It's not changing the actual substance of what's going on.

It's not playing with words; you came up with a way to defeat the system of control and I told you how the system of control can easily adapt. The net result is predictable control, not human freedom based on having access to the best predictions possible of various plausible courses of action.

Peter Donis said...

It's not playing with words

Yes, it is. You started out with this claim:

Any attempt to demonstrate to humans that their actions are determined would seem fated to fail, unless (i) you're a dick and don't tell them the predictions; (ii) you're a dick and build a meta-Oracle to control them.

My example was intended to refute the part of your claim before the "unless": that if the demonstration does in fact fail (i.e., if you don't take either of the above options), then the system cannot be deterministic. I described a system that is deterministic, but for which the demonstration fails if you do not take either option (i) or option (ii).

Your "reverse psychology" amounts to option (i)--you don't tell the system your actual prediction, you tell it the opposite. But that does not address my argument at all; see above. All it does is shift the meaning of "tell the system your prediction"--it obfuscates the fact that you are picking option (i), by pretending that telling the system the opposite of your prediction somehow counts as "telling the system your prediction".

you came up with a way to defeat the system of control and I told you how the system of control can easily adapt. The net result is predictable control

I'm confused about what your position is. You started out with the claim quoted above, which amounts to claiming that "predictable control" is not possible. But now you appear to be claiming that "predictable control" is possible. Which is it?

Luke said...

@Peter:

> My example was intended to refute the part of your claim before the "unless": that if the demonstration does in fact fail (i.e., if you don't take either of the above options), then the system cannot be deterministic.

I neither claimed nor entailed that. I meant the term "demonstrate" in an empirical sense, not a metaphysical sense.

> … it obfuscates the fact that you are picking option (i) …

I suppose, but that is a distraction from my focus on "demonstrate", where you are happy to operate in the world of in principle unfalsifiable metaphysics. I'm happy to operate there too, but if determinism is not empirically demonstrable (sans being a dick), I think that's an interesting result. I've never seen anyone suggest it, so either I'm somehow making a big mistake, I need to read more on free will, or I've found a new angle on things.

> You started out with the claim quoted above, which amounts to claiming that "predictable control" is not possible.

I would clarify that term and say "predictive control where you are transparent with the predictions". Otherwise, what the secretive Second Foundation does in Asimov's Foundation series might be construable as "predictable control".

> But now you appear to be claiming that "predictable control" is possible. Which is it?

Sorry, I misunderstood where you were going with your previous comment. If we shift focus to what is empirically demonstrable, I think we can ignore the reverse psychology tangent.

Ron said...

> you're a dick and build a meta-Oracle to control them

Note that the meta-Oracle didn't control the Tortoise. Only God has that power. The meta-Oracle only makes predictions that are accurate even in the face of information from the meta-Oracle being available to the subject of the prediction.

In case it wasn't obvious, I personally believe that a meta-oracle is impossible even in principle whereas an ordinary non-meta oracle is not only possible in principle but might even be possible in practice. Indeed, some progress in this direction is already being made:

http://www.pnas.org/content/110/15/6217.full

I see no reason to believe that this technology will not continue to improve. There are almost certainly practical limits on predicting human choices just as there are on predicting the weather because both are chaotic processes. But I think we have a long way to go before we reach those limits.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Note that the meta-Oracle didn't control the Tortoise. Only God has that power. The meta-Oracle only makes predictions that are accurate even in the face of information from the meta-Oracle being available to the subject of the prediction.

Would the meta-Oracle know how various agents would react if it were to share or not share various bits of information?

> In case it wasn't obvious, I personally believe that a meta-oracle is impossible →

Sure, but how closely can we approximate it?

> ← whereas an ordinary non-meta oracle is not only possible in principle but might even be possible in practice. Indeed, some progress in this direction is already being made:
>
> [Predicting free choices for abstract intentions]

I wonder what this entails for how we think of scientific inquiry. Wasn't intellectual freedom really important for the practice of science? If which experiment and which hypothesis were determined before the foundation of the world, I wonder if that mucks with our understanding of science. I just have this sneaking suspicion that those who claim to believe in determinism† aren't taking it to the logical conclusions.

† By 'determinism', I mean monistic determinism, perhaps understood as a single state-vector evolving in time according to a single "theory of everything" law. That kind of determinism is not the only kind; one can also have multiple, partially-independent agents interacting. *I* can be the truest cause of [some of] my actions, vs. the self being merely an approximation of some subset of that single state-vector.

> There are almost certainly practical limits on predicting human choices just as there are on predicting the weather because both are chaotic processes.

But the weather doesn't take our predictions of it and change behavior as a result.

Ron said...

> Would the meta-Oracle know how various agents would react if it were to share or not share various bits of information?

Yes, of course. Note that the meta-oracle must be able to predict its own behavior. (This is one of the reasons I don't believe that a meta-oracle can exist.)

> Wasn't intellectual freedom really important for the practice of science?

What difference does that make? Even if the answer were "yes" that would just be an accident of history, not an essential component of science.

> But the weather doesn't take our predictions of it and change behavior as a result.

That's right. That's one of the reasons predicting the weather is possible: the prediction doesn't change the outcome. That's why I believe that an oracle for human decision-making is possible, but not a meta-oracle.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > Would the meta-Oracle know how various agents would react if it were to share or not share various bits of information?

> Yes, of course. Note that the meta-oracle must be able to predict its own behavior. (This is one of the reasons I don't believe that a meta-oracle can exist.)

Hold on a second. Why would the meta-oracle need to know anything about paths not taken?

> > Wasn't intellectual freedom really important for the practice of science?

> What difference does that make? Even if the answer were "yes" that would just be an accident of history, not an essential component of science.

Perhaps I shouldn't be, but I am surprised you say that intellectual freedom isn't an essential component of science. Do you think we'd have science just the same if intellectual freedom were (throughout time) always seen as nonsense, or some approximation on top of 100% deterministic reality?

> > But the weather doesn't take our predictions of it and change behavior as a result.

> That's right. That's one of the reasons predicting the weather is possible: the prediction doesn't change the outcome. That's why I believe that an oracle for human decision-making is possible, but not a meta-oracle.

So … can we actually show via the "EE" of "EE&R" that human behavior is 100% determined, where "determined" is meant in a monistic, "single state-vector evolving in time according to a single "theory of everything" law" sense? If we can't, how far are we from hitting 100% and why is it scientifically acceptable to infer 100% [metaphysically?] from ≤ 99% empirically? After all, practical on-the-ground claims are being based on a 100% value, right? The claim would be that humans are not similar to spacecraft, whereby they can exert small Δv at strategic times to drastically alter their trajectories. That would be agent-specific determinism *in addition to* monistic determinism. Then we could blame individuals for bad Δv impulses and praise them for good Δv impulses. But if no such impulses exist, surely we need to change how we think. (For example, by looking at Bruce Waller's reasoning in Against Moral Responsibility.)

Ron said...

> Why would the meta-oracle need to know anything about paths not taken?

Sorry, I misinterpreted the question. The MO knows what information it is going to share (and not) and the results of that. The MO doesn't know hypotheticals, but God does.

> I am surprised you say that intellectual freedom isn't an essential component of science.

Why? Science imposes pretty strict constraints on valid thought. It is almost the opposite of intellectual freedom.

> Do you think we'd have science just the same if intellectual freedom were (throughout time) always seen as nonsense

I don't see the point in speculating about historical hypotheticals.

> can we actually show via the "EE" of "EE&R" that human behavior is 100% determined

Of course not. One can always choose to base one's actions on the outcome of a quantum measurement.

But I think human behavior is largely predictable. (Let me demonstrate my own oracular prowess: I predict that you will post another comment in this thread rather than let me have the last word here.)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

I meant the term "demonstrate" in an empirical sense, not a metaphysical sense.

If that's the way you mean "demonstrate", then I think it's impossible to ever demonstrate determinism in your sense, since you also appear to be insisting on perfect accuracy (because of how you responded to my statement about approximation).

if determinism is not empirically demonstrable (sans being a dick), I think that's an interesting result. I've never seen anyone suggest it

I think that's because no one else is using your definition of "demonstrate" (or "deterministic", for that matter). Everyone else thinks that if we can predict a system's future behavior to a good enough approximation using a deterministic model, that is good evidence that the system itself is deterministic. You don't appear to be satisfied with that, but that's a question of how you define words, not about the reality that the words are describing.

I would clarify that term and say "predictive control where you are transparent with the predictions".

Yes, and my point was that your "reverse psychology" is not transparent with the predictions.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

For example, by looking at Bruce Waller's reasoning in Against Moral Responsibility.

I haven't read this book, but having read the description on the Amazon page for it, I strongly suspect he is using a different definition of "moral responsibility" than you are. Here is a quote from the Amazon description:

"What we really want -- natural human free will, moral judgments, meaningful human relationships, creative abilities -- would survive and flourish without moral responsibility."

This makes me think that what he means by "moral responsibility" is something like "busybodies trying to tell other people what they are morally responsible for, without proper justification". But in any case, if that quote accurately describes Waller's position, then it is possible to have free will and moral judgments without whatever he means by "moral responsibility". But you appear to be saying that we should consider his reasoning if we do not have free will.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> The MO doesn't know hypotheticals, but God does.

Do … we know any hypotheticals? It would be weird for us to know more than the meta-oracle. At least, that messes with my idea of what the meta-oracle is.

> > I am surprised you say that intellectual freedom isn't an essential component of science.

> Why? Science imposes pretty strict constraints on valid thought. It is almost the opposite of intellectual freedom.

Almost? Or completely? Here's what one can do with a mere "almost":

>> younger Chomsky: While it's true that our genetic program rigidly constrains us, I think the more important point is the existence of that rich, rigid constraint is what provides the basis for our freedom and creativity.
>> Q: But you mean it's only because we're pre-programmed that we can do all that we can do.
>> A: Well, exactly; the point is, if we really were plastic organisms without an extensive pre-programming, then the state that our mind achieves would in fact be a reflection of the environment, which means it would be extraordinarily impoverished. Fortunately for us we are rigidly pre-programmed, with extremely rich systems that are part of our biological endowment.
>> (Noam Chomsky on "Education and Creativity", 15:56)

A mere "almost" is 100% consistent with a small Δv model of free will; with remarkably little thrust, you can get anywhere you want in the solar system if you take the Interplanetary Transport Network.

> I don't see the point in speculating about historical hypotheticals.

Interesting; I think it's helpful to note if some way you're suggesting humans think would have torpedoed or prevented the rise of modern science.

> > can we actually show via the "EE" of "EE&R" that human behavior is 100% determined

> Of course not. One can always choose to base one's actions on the outcome of a quantum measurement.

Do you think that's a meaningful loophole for this conversation? That is, do you think humans on a day-to-day basis make important decisions or otherwise predicate their actions on the outcomes of quantum measurements (in the precise sense you mean here which results in unpredictability)?

> But I think human behavior is largely predictable.

Again, that is 100% compatible with a small Δv model of free will. The question is what the residual, non-predictable part looks like. For systems which cannot act based on predictions of their future states, maybe we get just noise. But what about humans?

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:

I think human behavior is largely predictable. (Let me demonstrate my own oracular prowess: I predict that you will post another comment in this thread rather than let me have the last word here.)

This is a very weak form of "prediction". You aren't claiming, I take it, that you can predict the exact words Luke will post next, or what time he will post them. But a deterministic model in the much simpler domains where we have one, such as astronomy, makes predictions with that level of exactitude. We don't just predict that, say, a spacecraft will fly by Jupiter; we predict exactly how close it will come, how much its trajectory will change, what time (to around an accuracy of a second in a decade or so) we will stop receiving radio signals when the spacecraft goes behind Jupiter, what time we will start receiving radio signals again when it comes out the other side, etc.

I don't think an "oracle" that predicts human behavior to that level of accuracy, in toto, is practically possible, except on a very limited time horizon--roughly the time it takes the human brain to compute a particular action that the person is about to execute. So yes, if you had a brain scanner wired up to Luke as he was typing his next post, you might be able to predict what he would type. But I don't think anyone will have a brain scanner that could predict, hours or days in advance, exactly when he would start typing his next post, or what would be in it.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> If that's the way you mean "demonstrate", then I think it's impossible to ever demonstrate determinism in your sense, since you also appear to be insisting on perfect accuracy (because of how you responded to my statement about approximation).

You are welcome to argue for something below 'perfect' which you think suffices for whatever claims you wish to predicate upon said 'approximate' determinism. There are many situations where we cannot get all the way there but we can get close enough for all intents and purposes. What I'm proposing is the fact that humans seem to be able to consume any predictions of their behavior and then change as a result presents a problem for even a remotely approximate empirical demonstration of deterministic behavior.

> I think that's because no one else is using your definition of "demonstrate" (or "deterministic", for that matter).

I think plenty of people think of the term 'demonstrate' in an empirical sense and not a metaphysical sense. Plenty of scientists know very well how to distinguish between what the data say and what the model says. The very good scientists pay close attention to the gaps between data and model. I am interested in precisely that gap when it comes to determinism of human behavior.

> Yes, and my point was that your "reverse psychology" is not transparent with the predictions.

Agreed. As I said:

> Luke: Sorry, I misunderstood where you were going with your previous comment. If we shift focus to what is empirically demonstrable, I think we can ignore the reverse psychology tangent.


> I haven't read [Bruce Waller's Against Moral Responsibility], but having read the description on the Amazon page for it, I strongly suspect he is using a different definition of "moral responsibility" than you are.

From the preface:

>>     The basic claim of this book is that—all the extraordinary and creative efforts of contemporary philosophers notwithstanding—moral responsibility cannot survive in our naturalistic-scientific system. Moral responsibility was a comfortable fit among gods and miracles and mysteries, but the deeper scientific understanding of human behavior and the causes shaping human character leaves no room for moral responsibility. The second claim is that when we look carefully at the moral responsibility system and at what would actually remain when that system is abolished, it is clear that what we really want—natural non miraculous human free will, moral judgments, warm and meaningful personal relationships, creative abilities, and the opportunity to make our own decisions and exercise effective control—can survive and flourish without moral responsibility, and that what is lost—“just deserts,” blame and punishment, righteous retribution, special reward—we are better off without. (vii)

Waller is a naturalist. You seem rather confused about his position and/or mine; perhaps that snippet from the preface will help.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

do you think humans on a day-to-day basis make important decisions or otherwise predicate their actions on the outcomes of quantum measurements (in the precise sense you mean here which results in unpredictability)?

There have been proposals along these lines (for example, Hameroff and Penrose's proposal about quantum superpositions in microtubules in the brain). AFAIK none of them so far have panned out--where they have made testable predictions, the predictions have been falsified.

That's not to say that no such model will ever be successful, but I can see at least one plausible reason to be skeptical: thermal noise in the brain should be way too large to allow any meaningful dependence of the brain's activity on quantum uncertainty. In all the cases in which we have experimentally probed quantum uncertainty, the biggest challenge is keeping the quantum system "quiet" enough to allow quantum effects to be significant; that means strict isolation from all other systems. The brain is not at all like that.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

You are welcome to argue for something below 'perfect' which you think suffices for whatever claims you wish to predicate upon said 'approximate' determinism.

I don't have any such claims to make; I'm simply trying to understand your position. (See my response to Ron a little bit ago for more info on my position.) You referred to claims by Sean Carroll and Sam Harris, which you don't appear to think are justified. Is that because you think they are approximating too roughly? Or is there some other reason?

perhaps that snippet from the preface will help.

Not really, because it doesn't tell me what he means by "the moral responsibility system". From browsing some reviews of his book online, at least one of his main concerns seems to be that the way we currently assign blame, punishment, etc., isn't actually very good at improving people's behavior. But that concern seems to me to be "orthogonal" to any metaphysical question about determinism.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

Since we're giving pointers to books on the subject, I'll add a couple: Dennett's Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves. Also a shorter work, Raymond Smullyan's dialogue "Is God a Taoist".

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > > > can we actually show via the "EE" of "EE&R" that human behavior is 100% determined

> > > Of course not. One can always choose to base one's actions on the outcome of a quantum measurement.

> > do you think humans on a day-to-day basis make important decisions or otherwise predicate their actions on the outcomes of quantum measurements (in the precise sense you mean here which results in unpredictability)?

> There have been proposals along these lines (for example, Hameroff and Penrose's proposal about quantum superpositions in microtubules in the brain). AFAIK none of them so far have panned out--where they have made testable predictions, the predictions have been falsified.

I was expecting a "no" answer. But then Ron's response would have been a mostly irrelevant quibble. He's a smart guy; if he works hard enough he can inject enough quibbles to stuff up and shut down just about any conversation. What I'm hoping is that he'll only pick the important quibbles. And yes, I'm aware that perhaps you think I am doing exactly that when it comes to not having quite enough data to show thorough determinism of human choices. If you would confirm/deny, that would be helpful to me.


> I don't have any such claims to make; I'm simply trying to understand your position.

I am mostly interested in the claims made that go along the lines of "Human action is determined†, therefore ____." My position is that any such claim is either metaphysical, or needs support by sufficient empirical evidence. I am not sure there is sufficient empirical evidence for any interesting fill-in value.

† Determined in a monistic sense.

> You referred to claims by Sean Carroll and Sam Harris, which you don't appear to think are justified. Is that because you think they are approximating too roughly?

I think they should be proper scientists, and (i) be very clear on what the data do and do not say; (ii) be very clear on what would empirically falsify their positions. Maybe they have done this and I haven't seen it; I haven't read Harris' book on free will nor Carroll's Big Picture. But I am generally aware of the absolute sloppiness which tends to show up in this domain. It's through conversations like these that I get more motivation to read more of this stuff. You might not believe it, but I'm rather pragmatic at heart.

> Not really, because it doesn't tell me what he means by "the moral responsibility system".

Here's a bit more:

>> As will be argued in subsequent chapters, it does not involve the rejection of all moral evaluations: Joe may do something that is morally wrong, Joe’s immoral behavior may stem from his deeply flawed character, and it is important to recognize and examine those wrongs and flaws, but Joe does not deserve blame or punishment. And it may be useful to blame or punish Joe (though I very much doubt it), but Joe does not justly deserve such blame or punishment. As I use the phrase in this book, “moral responsibility” is the essential (necessary, if not sufficient) condition for justified blame and punishment. Michael McKenna states that “what most everyone is hunting for . . . is the sort of moral responsibility that is desert entailing, the kind that makes blaming and punishing as well as praising and rewarding justified” (2009, 12). What McKenna describes is precisely what I am hunting for as well; the difference is that rather than trying to preserve it and justify it, my goal is to kill it and drive a stake through its heart. (2)


Thanks for the book suggestions.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

I am mostly interested in the claims made that go along the lines of "Human action is determined†, therefore ____."

Can you give a specific example of such a claim in something you've read?

I think they should be proper scientists, and (i) be very clear on what the data do and do not say; (ii) be very clear on what would empirically falsify their positions.

Can you give specific examples of things they've written where you think they didn't do this?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

Here's a bit more

Hm. Just looking at this quote, I don't see how this position can hang together logically. If it's possible for actions to be morally wrong, doesn't that in itself justify blaming someone for doing them? If not, what does he mean by "morally wrong"?

Since I mentioned Dennett's books, I think this review of Waller by Dennett, and a follow-up exchange (including a response from Waller), are worth reading:

http://www.naturalism.org/resources/book-reviews/dennett-review-of-against-moral-responsibility

http://www.naturalism.org/resources/book-reviews/exchange-on-wallers-against-moral-responsibility

Ron said...

@Peter:

> This is a very weak form of "prediction"

Well, duh. That was actually supposed to be a joke, rather like when the meta-Oracle predicted that the Tortoise would question its powers.

> You aren't claiming, I take it, that you can predict the exact words Luke will post next, or what time he will post them.

Of course not. Give me a little credit for not being a complete idiot.

> We don't just predict that, say, a spacecraft will fly by Jupiter; we predict exactly how close it will come, how much its trajectory will change, what time (to around an accuracy of a second in a decade or so)

That is a *much* simpler problem than predicting human behavior. Even predicting the weather, which is much harder than predicting spacecraft trajectories, is much easier than predicting human behavior. But predicting the weather was once thought to be intractable too and now we can forecast pretty accurately more than a week ahead.

> I don't think an "oracle" that predicts human behavior to that level of accuracy, in toto, is practically possible, except on a very limited time horizon--roughly the time it takes the human brain to compute a particular action that the person is about to execute.

There I disagree with you. I actually think I can make some pretty accurate predictions about Luke's behavior, though they would only be accurate if Luke doesn't learn of them. Remember, oracles are possible but meta-oracles are not. So, for example, I note that Luke has *not* fulfilled my prophecy, but I'm pretty sure he would have if I hadn't made it. But now we're in hypothetical-land.

But I don't actually know Luke all that well. For people that I do know well, like members of my family, I actually can predict some of their actions down to the exact words they are going to say and when they are going to say them. Only in certain circumstances of course. But the rest of the time I can bound their behavior with pretty high accuracy. And I can do all that without even having any advanced brain-scanning technology, or even reading their email.

Luke said...

@Peter: (1/3)

> > I am mostly interested in the claims made that go along the lines of "Human action is determined†, therefore ____."

> Can you give a specific example of such a claim in something you've read?

From Jerry Coyne in response to Sean Carroll:

>> … but I do insist that we always remember that we could not have done otherwise, and I insist that because its ramifications for human behavior are profound, we must always keep fundamental determinism in mind.
>> ⋮
>> … We recognize that, at bottom, nobody could have done otherwise. If they are accused of something that society deems to be a crime, you find out if they really did commit that crime. If they’re found guilty, then a group of experts—scientists, psychologists, sociologists criminologists, etc.—determine what the “punishment” should be based on the person’s history (a brain tumor would mandate an operation, for instance), malleability to persuasion, likelihood of recidivism, danger to society, and deterrent effects. None of that needs the assumption that someone is a “freely acting agent.” (Sean Carroll on free will)

A key consequence to "we could not have done otherwise" is that there can be no 'dual rationality':

>>     Finally, consider the libertarian notion of dual rationality, a requirement whose importance to the libertarian I did not appreciate until I read Robert Kane's Free Will and Values. As with dual control, the libertarian needs to claim that when agents make free choices, it would have been rational (reasonable, sensible) for them to have made a contradictory choice (e.g. chosen not A rather than A) under precisely the conditions that actually obtain. Otherwise, categorical freedom simply gives us the freedom to choose irrationally had we chosen otherwise, a less-than-entirely desirable state. Kane (1985) spends a great deal of effort in trying to show how libertarian choices can be dually rational, and I examine his efforts in Chapter 8. (The Non-Reality of Free Will, 16)

What that means is that there is no such thing as "acting against your better knowledge" (see also akrasia). I'm quite happy to acknowledge that the Roman Catholic Church took guilt too far (see Jean Delumeau's Sin and Fear), but Coyne would abolish or at least transform it radically. It becomes scientifically mandatory to pass the buck!

Luke said...

@Peter: (2/3)

> > I think they should be proper scientists, and (i) be very clear on what the data do and do not say; (ii) be very clear on what would empirically falsify their positions.

> Can you give specific examples of things they've written where you think they didn't do this?

From Sean Carroll:

>> There are people who do believe in free will in this sense; that we need to invoke a notion of free will as an essential ingredient in reality, over and above the conventional laws of nature. …
>>
>> This version of free will, as anyone who reads the blog will recognize, I don’t buy at all. Within the regime of everyday life, the underlying laws of physics are completely understood. There’s a lot we don’t understand about consciousness, but none of the problems we face rise to the level that we should be tempted to distrust our basic understanding of how the atoms and forces inside our brains work. Note that it’s not really a matter of “determinism”; it’s simply a question of whether there are impersonal laws of nature at all. The fact that quantum mechanics introduces a stochastic component into physical predictions doesn’t open the door for true libertarian free will. (Free Will Is as Real as Baseball)

N.B. Sean Carroll clearly means monistic determinism. Also, his hyperlink text is a bit misleading; his linked article is titled Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood; you can also see his update with a nice visualization.

Interacting with that claim of Carroll's may be a rather ambitious project; I'm up for it but I find that few of my interlocutors have that kind of attention span (and I'm sure I'm really obnoxious to deal with at least some of the time). At base though, Carroll has to be saying that if there is anything like the small Δv kind of free will going on, then we would have detected this equation being violated. I think it is worth seeing how many scientists think it is legitimate to thusly extrapolate from the most fundamental (and in a sense, abstract) scientific model we humans have of reality, to the least abstract and least well-explained-by-science aspect of [our experience of] reality. And yes, on physicalism, consciousness is as much 'reality' as protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Sean Carroll's reductionism is one approach taken to scientifically conclude there is only monistic determinism; another is to work from various experiments in the human sciences, neuroscience, and cognitive science. Alfred R. Mele critiques what he sees as wild extrapolation from that evidence in Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will; I'd be happy to read opposing views in detail with a dialogue partner.

Luke said...

@Peter: (3/3)

> Hm. Just looking at this quote, I don't see how this position can hang together logically. If it's possible for actions to be morally wrong, doesn't that in itself justify blaming someone for doing them? If not, what does he mean by "morally wrong"?

You have to keep track of a semantic shift in a whole range of words, including: 'cause', 'morally responsible', 'moral', 'choose'. I'll key off of one of the seminal works in 20th century moral philosophy to illustrate:

>> For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be.
>> ⋮
>>     What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. Consider the contrast between, for example. Kantian ethics and emotivism on this point. For Kant—and a parallel point could be made about many earlier moral philosophers—the difference between a human relationship uninformed by morality and one so informed is precisely the difference between one in which each person treats the other primarily as a means to his or her ends and one in which each treats the other as an end. To treat someone else as an end is to offer them what I take to be good reasons for acting in one way rather than another, but to leave it to them to evaluate those reasons. It is to be unwilling to influence another except by reasons which that other he or she judges to be good. It is to appeal to impersonal criteria of the validity of which each rational agent must be his or her own judge. By contrast, to treat someone else as a means is to seek to make him or her an instrument of my purposes by adducing whatever influences or considerations will in fact be effective on this or that occasion. The generalizations of the sociology and psychology of persuasion are what I shall need to guide me, not the standards of a normative rationality. (After Virtue, 22–23)

The reigning political philosophy of Western Civilization is political liberalism: don't move my cheese. Don't touch me unless I've touched someone else. The individual is sovereign; to mess with the individual is the unforgivable sin. It is wrong to manipulate individuals. (Isn't that what religion has done for millennia? Didn't we strangle the last king with the entrails of the last priest?) The principles of the first democratic (ok, representative republic) nation were driven into the bedrock of reality: "all men are created equal". My focus is not on God, but the ontological language. What Alasdair MacIntyre is saying—and I think he's precisely right—is that one cannot detect manipulation at the ontological level as defined by naturalism. It just doesn't exist. Billiard balls don't manipulate each other. Nothing has freedom which can be violated—not at any emergent level.

The only kind of manipulation left is a subjective sense thereof. We cannot rely on society to determine what is manipulation, because since the beginning of time it has shrouded injustice in legitimation which it managed to get people to take for granted at a subconscious level. But then, how do I know I am now in any way free[er] from subconscious manipulation? There is no court of appeal. There is only society and what it happens to like and dislike. That's a very different notion of 'morality' than I think even the Enlightenment philosophes held. It's a naturalistic notion. I am deducing this from what naturalism permits in the realm of causation, not from moral philosophy. (Strictly speaking, this perhaps applies only to physicalism—but I haven't seen exceptions which naturalism may permit actually be exercised by more than about one person.)

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
That was actually supposed to be a joke, rather like when the meta-Oracle predicted that the Tortoise would question its powers.

Ah. My humor detector must have been malfunctioning. Sorry about that.

I note that Luke has *not* fulfilled my prophecy

I thought he did; he posted again in this comment thread after you predicted that he would post again.

For people that I do know well, like members of my family, I actually can predict some of their actions down to the exact words they are going to say and when they are going to say them. Only in certain circumstances of course. But the rest of the time I can bound their behavior with pretty high accuracy. And I can do all that without even having any advanced brain-scanning technology, or even reading their email.

Bertrand Russell, IIRC, made a similar observation as part of an argument that, whatever philosophical claims people make about free will, nobody really believes in practice that humans have it. We all know we can predict each other's behavior the way you describe.

However, then we get into the question of whether free will really requires strong unpredictability. For example, suppose I predict that if you see a child about to be hit by a car, you will pull it out of the way. Lo and behold, the next time you see a child about to be hit by a car, you do in fact pull it out of the way. Does that mean you didn't freely choose to do that? Or does it just mean that "free choice" doesn't have to mean you do something that nobody would ever predict you would do?

Luke said...

@Peter:

> Bertrand Russell, IIRC, made a similar observation as part of an argument that, whatever philosophical claims people make about free will, nobody really believes in practice that humans have it. We all know we can predict each other's behavior the way you describe.

This reminds me of Dr. Gregory House: "People don't change." But this is hilariously (tragically?) false; what actually is the case is that (i) change is hard; (ii) change can be nigh impossible if those around you help prevent it. The easiest way to thwart change in someone else is to assume that [s]he will always be that way, and discount or even react against any movements toward positive change. Humans seem to do this automatically—no training is necessary.

All you need to do is view free will as akin to the very limited thruster fuel a spacecraft has once it has reached orbit: only very precisely timed and oriented burns will accomplish anything useful. But if you do it right, you can approach infinitesimal thrusts which let you get anywhere in the solar system: see the Interplanetary Transport Network and its use of unstable Lagrangian points. I know one of the people who invented/​discovered the ITN. I call this "a small Δv model of free will".

In reality, wise humans have long known how powerfully society and family shape a person, how difficult it is to deviate from well-worn paths. We nerds tend to be oblivious to that for various reasons. The very idea of a stable society—and humans really love to have stability and predictability—implies that rocking the boat will be very hard. This doesn't mean there is zero free will. It means you have to be incredibly strategic if you want to change society. Wise people have known this for ages.

What we Moderns have really done is blinded ourselves to the self:

>> Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English-speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to draw here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, as the privileged focus of attention or will.[1] This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life and this not only among professional philosophers, but with a wider public. (Sources of the Self, 3)

At 12,000 'citations', Charles Taylor's book is not a lightweight. He isn't just negative either; in The Ethics of Authenticity, he argues that there is something tremendously good in the Modern push for authenticity, but as usually construed it is shallow and distorted. Why? Because we have gouged out our eyes for fear that (i) we might see something icky; (ii) --society-- __religion__ might impose its values on us. However, covering one's eyes does not make reality go away. It does greatly harm our ability to change reality—including ourselves. At least, change in good directions.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

All you need to do is view free will as akin to the very limited thruster fuel a spacecraft has once it has reached orbit

I actually have no problem with this view, since I agree with you that, while change is hard, it is not impossible, and it has to proceed by small steps which, if properly chosen, can lead to a large long-term change.

However, I would also point out that this view is perfectly consistent with "monistic determinism" (which I would call "physicalism"). Physically, whatever the source of the "limited thruster fuel" we have, it has to ultimately come from one of the fundamental interactions we know. Otherwise we have an incoherent model. In fact, it's overwhelmingly probable that the interaction is electromagnetic, since that's the only one that has appreciable strength in the domain of operation of our brains and bodies. (Chemical reactions are just a form of electromagnetic interaction.) Gravity is too weak and the strong and weak interactions are too short range. And, as Carroll points out, if there were any other interation that had appreciable strength in this domain, we would already have seen it in experiments.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Carroll has to be saying that if there is anything like the small Δv kind of free will going on, then we would have detected this equation being violated.

That's not quite what he's saying. What he's saying is, as I said in my comment just now, that whatever the ultimate source of the "small Δv" is, it has to be one of the fundamental interactions we already know, because we've thoroughly tested the domain in question in experiments to find all of the interactions that have appreciable strength. (And, as I said, it's overwhelmingly probable that the ultimate interaction is electromagnetic, because the others simply don't have appreciable strength in the domain in which our brains and bodies operate.)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Alfred R. Mele critiques what he sees as wild extrapolation from that evidence in Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will

I haven't read this book either--you just added another item to my reading list :-)--but from the summary on Amazon, I suspect that his critique is not of physicalism ("monistic determinism") itself, but of what I would call "simplistic physicalism"--the idea that, since everything we do ultimately supervenes on the known fundamental interactions of physics, we must be simple machines, easily predictable and manipulable once the right tools (such as brain scanners) are available, and with no scope for "conscious decision" or "free will" in any sense, not even the compatibilist sense. That idea seems to me to be obviously false, but I think many researchers who have run these types of experiments (such as the brain scanning ones Ron referred to) have indeed made such claims.

But the claim Carroll is making is not that kind of claim. He's not saying we have to be simple machines just because we are physical beings. Each of us is made of roughly 10^25 atoms, arranged in a fantastically complex way, with many, many levels of organization between us and the fundamental interactions. There is no reason to expect the behavior of such a thing to be simple, or even to be moderately complex--it could be fiendishly complex, orders of magnitude more complex than any other system we study, so complex that it is impossible to capture all of its behavior in any tractable model. (In this sense I am more pessimistic than Ron is about the possibility of an "oracle". But ultimately that's an empirical question.)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
You have to keep track of a semantic shift in a whole range of words, including: 'cause', 'morally responsible', 'moral', 'choose'.

First I have to understand what the semantic shift is--what does Waller mean by those terms, if it isn't the standard meaning that was given to them for centuries of philosophical and ethical discussion? I can't "keep track" of a shift if I don't know what it is. But as I said, I haven't read the book, so it's possible he gives more detail there.

Billiard balls don't manipulate each other. Nothing has freedom which can be violated—not at any emergent level.

The first sentence is true, but the second is false. We are not billiard balls. We are not even close to billiard balls, We are many, many, many orders of magnitude more complex than billiard balls. The conflation of us with billiard balls, even in a "sort of" sense, is an example of the "simplistic physicalism" I described in my previous comment. As a physicist (was it Anderson?) once said: "More is different." Pile up enough complexity, enough levels of organization, on top of the fundamental interactions, and you get new things that you could never predict just from knowing the fundamental interactions. They supervene on the fundamental interactions, because they are built from them, but that doesn't mean they can't be more complex than the fundamental interactions--much more complex. And more complexity means different.

Equating physicalism with simplistic physicalism is like claiming that, since atoms can't play chess, people could not play chess either if their behavior was entirely explainable in terms of atoms. That kind of argument seems obviously absurd to me (and to scientists like Carroll), but it seems to be at the heart of a lot of arguments in the free will debate.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
That's one of the reasons predicting the weather is possible: the prediction doesn't change the outcome. That's why I believe that an oracle for human decision-making is possible, but not a meta-oracle.

There is another difference between weather prediction and human decision prediction, though. The initial conditions you need to sample for weather prediction are reasonably bounded. The weather doesn't care what the stock market is doing, or whether your mother is healthy or ill, or what Trump tweeted today, or what your friend just posted on Facebook, or how you are planning for retirement and how well it's going, or...

In other words, humans are extraordinarily more sensitive to information than the weather is--or, to put it in physicalist terms, the range of microphysical initial conditions that you would have to accurately sample to predict human behavior on any time scale longer than a few seconds (roughly the time it takes your brain to decide what to do right now) is enormously larger than it is for the weather. And many of those conditions are not predictable in advance either: basically, to predict just one human's choices a day ahead, let's say, you would have to have a model that could predict the behavior of all humans that far ahead, since so much of the information we act on to make our choices comes from other humans.

This is a key reason why I'm more pessimistic than you are about the possibility of even an ordinary oracle for human decision-making.

Ron said...

> > I note that Luke has *not* fulfilled my prophecy

> I thought he did; he posted again in this comment thread after you predicted that he would post again.

Yes, but he was responding to you, not to me, so I don't think that counts. :)

> humans are extraordinarily more sensitive to information than the weather is

That's true, but the extent to which humans are sensitive to information is far from clear.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
the extent to which humans are sensitive to information is far from clear.

That article doesn't refute the point I was making. I was saying that information, including information that would be extremely hard to sample microphysically with enough accuracy for prediction beyond a time horizon of a few seconds, affects what humans do. The article is saying that the way information affects what humans do often doesn't appear to meet standards of rationality. That might well be true, but "affecting what humans do in a way that seems irrational" is not the same as "not affecting what humans do".

Ron said...

@Peter:

> The article is saying that the way information affects what humans do often doesn't appear to meet standards of rationality.

It says more than that: it says that evidence does not change people's minds. That makes their behavior easier to predict because it doesn't matter what information they obtain, their behavior will not change.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > All you need to do is view free will as akin to the very limited thruster fuel a spacecraft has once it has reached orbit

> I actually have no problem with this view, since I agree with you that, while change is hard, it is not impossible, and it has to proceed by small steps which, if properly chosen, can lead to a large long-term change.

Sure, but I think you and I mean rather different things with that term "chosen". I don't need to assert libertarian free will; I can just question monistic determinism / physicalism.

> However, I would also point out that this view is perfectly consistent with "monistic determinism" (which I would call "physicalism").

Well, physicalism is going to have to find ways of assimilating lots of different evidence so that it is plausible—so that doesn't surprise me. What I want to know is how physicalism differs from alternatives in meaningful ways. Take F = GmM/r^2, for example. That entails that F = GmM/r^2.0001 never happens. I'm really just riffing on Popper, here: what is the subtlest deviation which would falsify physicalism? I've heard stuff like "the stars magically rearranging to spell 'Jesus loves you!'"; that's not subtle, not helpful, and I wouldn't even be surprised if physicalism could still explain that, e.g. via super-powerful aliens who wanted to bring Ron's Loki to life.

> In fact, it's overwhelmingly probable that the interaction is electromagnetic, since that's the only one that has appreciable strength in the domain of operation of our brains and bodies.

That's assuming that aspects of our mind don't operate near the edge of chaos. If there are near-chaotic aspects of thinking then perhaps the subtlest of pushes could send the thinking one way vs. another. Maybe even infinitesimal pushes, if brain states can pass through unstable Lagrangian points. BTW, the philosophy of mind concept of multiple realizability may be helpful, here.

> And, as Carroll points out, if there were any other interation that had appreciable strength in this domain, we would already have seen it in experiments.

Is this published in any peer-reviewed journals that you know of? I would absolutely love to see the best minds respond to that claim; it seems rather dubious to me. One candidate would be physics Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin, based on his A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Ron[1/27/2018 7:22 PM]: Yes, but he was responding to you, not to me, so I don't think that counts. :)

You seem to have missed my response to you:

> Ron[1/26/2018 3:43 PM]: (Let me demonstrate my own oracular prowess: I predict that you will post another comment in this thread rather than let me have the last word here.)

> Luke[1/26/2018 9:06 PM]: @Ron:

I didn't respond to the exact parenthetical, but I did respond to your comment. And I was saddened that you didn't reply, but I know you're busy these days. In this case, perhaps you just missed it?

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > Carroll has to be saying that if there is anything like the small Δv kind of free will going on, then we would have detected this equation being violated.

> That's not quite what he's saying. What he's saying is, as I said in my comment just now, that whatever the ultimate source of the "small Δv" is, it has to be one of the fundamental interactions we already know, because we've thoroughly tested the domain in question in experiments to find all of the interactions that have appreciable strength. (And, as I said, it's overwhelmingly probable that the ultimate interaction is electromagnetic, because the others simply don't have appreciable strength in the domain in which our brains and bodies operate.)

I'm afraid you haven't understood the point of my "small Δv model of free will". My point is that the forces the spacecraft can exert are absolutely and utterly dwarfed by the various gravity wells in the solar system. And yet, even if the forces on the spacecraft are infinitely strong, as long as it passes through unstable Lagrangian points in the right manner, it can apply an infinitesimal force and change trajectory! Therefore, all this talk of "we would have detected any forces exerted by the spacecraft" seems dubious. Especially if some aspect of the mind operates near the edge of chaos.

> … I suspect that [Alfred Mele's] critique is not of physicalism ("monistic determinism") itself, but of what I would call "simplistic physicalism" …

Possibly. But then I would ask what non-simplistic physicalism says cannot happen—which I did in a recent comment. (And yes, I can shift from absolutes of "cannot happen" to probabilities, like Popper does in Logic of Scientific Discovery.)

> Each of us is made of roughly 10^25 atoms, arranged in a fantastically complex way, with many, many levels of organization between us and the fundamental interactions.

Sure, and when we model such complex systems, we cannot use Carroll's Big Equation™. Instead we use approximations. But then the thing being tested is the approximation, not the Big Equation™. The difference is absolutely tremendous if we're trying to infer ontology from empirical evidence. Unless, that is, reductionism is presupposed at the metaphysical level. This computational problem—which may be more than merely computational—also seems to make Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization) rather irrelevant to a lot of scientific inquiry.

Here's another way of exploring the issue. How does Carroll's reductionistic physicalism (I'm pretty sure he adheres to monistic determinism) tell us to (i) do science differently; (ii) think about day-to-day life differently? As far as I can tell—and I haven't really done my homework, like read his The Big Picture—there isn't really an answer to (i) and the answers to (ii) have this weird property of not actually indicating subtle falsifiability like my F = GmM/r^2.0001 example. This just makes me super suspicious. But hey, that could be merely due to my ignorance. That's a major reason I participate in conversations like this!

Ron said...

@Luke:

> You seem to have missed my response to you:

Yes, sorry, I did miss it. (So I guess my oracular reputation is intact! ;-)

> Do … we know any hypotheticals?

Not with 100% certainty, no. (In fact, we do not and cannot know *anything* with 100% certainty. That, I believe, is actually an essential part of the human condition, and one of the reasons that we cannot be created in God's image. But that's a whole 'nuther kettle o' worms.)

> Almost? Or completely?

Almost. There's always freedom to choose which hypothesis to advance or test next.

> A mere "almost" is 100% consistent with a small Δv model of free will;

Sure, but that still leaves open the question of whether that small Δv is the result of something sufficiently different and interesting, or whether it's just the result of some mundane physical phenomenon that we just happen not to fully understand yet. The fact that you already have to retreat to a small Δv model to save the whole concept of free will indicates to me that you are defending a "free will of the gaps".

> Interesting; I think it's helpful to note if some way you're suggesting humans think would have torpedoed or prevented the rise of modern science.

Why? Helpful to what end?

> > > can we actually show via the "EE" of "EE&R" that human behavior is 100% determined

> > Of course not. One can always choose to base one's actions on the outcome of a quantum measurement.

> Do you think that's a meaningful loophole for this conversation?

It's a meaningful answer -- indeed it is the only correct answer -- to the question you posed. Perhaps you meant to ask a different question?

> do you think humans on a day-to-day basis make important decisions or otherwise predicate their actions on the outcomes of quantum measurements

No. But I do believe that humans are chaotic (in the mathematical sense) and so quantum randomness might have some "butterfly" effects along the margins.

> The question is what the residual, non-predictable part looks like.

Indeed, and that is an open question. But I'm very confident that it looks a lot less like "free will" than most people think.

But *if* an oracle is possible (and hence by extension if an omniscient deity exists, because such a deity subsumes the powers of an oracle) then human behavior is manifestly predictable, and hence free will cannot exist.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> First I have to understand what the semantic shift is--what does Waller mean by those terms, if it isn't the standard meaning that was given to them for centuries of philosophical and ethical discussion? I can't "keep track" of a shift if I don't know what it is. But as I said, I haven't read the book, so it's possible he gives more detail there.

You were trying to grok the book without reading it; I'm suggesting that for this particular topic, that may not be possible. I'm happy to read through it with you; we could dialogue about it on a new blog entry by Ron or over email. (I have yet to create my own blog software which lets you quote blocks of text and then look at a post/​comment to see which bits were quoted. Maybe I will try and do that if you want to work through a book with me.)

One thing you can do on the semantic shift thing is read WP: After Virtue § Summary. MacIntyre claims that how we understand morality and ethics now is very, very different from how we used to. Crucially, he thinks we didn't consciously track this change and that we're confused in how we talk about morality and ethics as a result. AV is a seminal work on moral philosophy, with 23,000 'citations'. My suspicion is that thinking on free will shares some of the same … properties of confused thinking as MacIntyre claims hold of moral and ethical thinking. Given the strong connection between free will and moral responsibility, this should not be surprising.

> > Billiard balls don't manipulate each other. Nothing has freedom which can be violated—not at any emergent level.

> The first sentence is true, but the second is false. We are not billiard balls.

How do we have freedom which can be violated? Recall my line "The only kind of manipulation left is a subjective sense thereof."—humans can still say "I feel ___", but there is no objective reference-point. Incidentally, this might help explain the identity politics and mob behavior of modernity (aided greatly by social media): it is more powerful to say "We feel ___" when there is no objective grounding.

> As a physicist (was it Anderson?) once said: "More is different."

Yep; Robert Laughlin says Anderson's 1972 article plus Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty are required reading for any students who want to work with him. But again I must ask: if "more is different", what restraints does Carroll's reductionism put on the amount of "different" which can happen?

> And more complexity means different.

Not necessarily. More Turing machines can't solve the Halting problem or circumvent Rice's theorem. It doesn't matter how intricately you wire them up or how much you juice them. Mathematical systems provide hard limits on what is possible. If ultimate reality is indeed perfectly described by some finite mathematical system, then there is plenty of subtle "different" which will never happen.

> Equating physicalism with simplistic physicalism is like claiming that, since atoms can't play chess, people could not play chess either if their behavior was entirely explainable in terms of atoms. That kind of argument seems obviously absurd to me (and to scientists like Carroll), but it seems to be at the heart of a lot of arguments in the free will debate.

Sure. But I'm not going to let 'emergence' be a squishy explain-everything term, either. For a refreshing exception to that pattern, see Massimo Pigliucci's Essays on emergence, part I.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> (So I guess my oracular reputation is intact! ;-)

Yep. I look forward to it surpassing the following obstacle:

> This theory explains most of the observed data, but not all of it. In particular, Luke is still an unexplained anomaly, and that keeps me a little humble. (Why I believe in the Michelson-Morley experiment)

I think I can trust you to tell me your prediction/​model if you come up with one. :-p Hopefully I don't play the obnoxious quibbling/​reverse psychology game in response. I'll let others call me to account on that, as I don't particularly trust my own self-policing.

> > Do … we know any hypotheticals?

> Not with 100% certainty, no. (In fact, we do not and cannot know *anything* with 100% certainty. That, I believe, is actually an essential part of the human condition, and one of the reasons that we cannot be created in God's image. But that's a whole 'nuther kettle o' worms.)

Why should you or I care about 100% certainty? 100% certainty + 100% clarity ⇒ permanently finite system per Gödel. I'd rather not be locked into an infinitesimal sliver of reality, thank you very much! That doesn't seem very imago Dei.

> > Almost? Or completely?

> Almost. There's always freedom to choose which hypothesis to advance or test next.

Isn't that … ultra-important? I don't understand the function of your "almost" in this conversation. Again, see the Noam Chomsky bit I excerpted.

> Sure, but that still leaves open the question of whether that small Δv is the result of something sufficiently different and interesting, or whether it's just the result of some mundane physical phenomenon that we just happen not to fully understand yet.

Agreed.

> The fact that you already have to retreat to a small Δv model to save the whole concept of free will indicates to me that you are defending a "free will of the gaps".

Not if anything larger than a small Δv would make consciousness impossible. But sure, let's try and close the gap and see if logic fails to explode in our faces. :-D

> Why? Helpful to what end?

Adopting beliefs which would have prevented the rise of modern science seems problematic to me; if you're fine with it, I won't pursue the matter.

> It's a meaningful answer -- indeed it is the only correct answer -- to the question you posed. Perhaps you meant to ask a different question?

Actually, I meant you to answer the question in context; if in fact the continued pursuit of science doesn't depend on humans basing decisions on the results of [specific!] quantum measurements and the well-functioning of society doesn't depend …, then your quibble seems (seemed? see next chunk) to be irrelevant to the overall purpose of this conversation. Continuing:

> But I do believe that humans are chaotic (in the mathematical sense) and so quantum randomness might have some "butterfly" effects along the margins.

Interesting. And could we plausibly discover actual structure in said quantum randomness, via the effects it has in chaotic human behavior/​thinking?

> Indeed, and that is an open question. But I'm very confident that it looks a lot less like "free will" than most people think.

How many people think according to a small Δv model of free will? (Hint: I bet plenty of psychologists and sociologists do. But people in generally like their delusions, including voluntaristic ones. Exercise for the reader: which people in society would like citizens to be deluded about how to actually change reality?)

Luke said...

@Ron, @Peter:

> Peter: humans are extraordinarily more sensitive to information than the weather is

> Ron: That's true, but the extent to which humans are sensitive to information is far from clear.
>
> [New Yorker: Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds]

Wow, that article starts off with an experiment where the participants are repeatedly lied to and then it "discovers" that people don't rationally respond to "the facts"? I wonder how much of the "humans don't actually respect facts" shtick is predicated upon an assumption that (i) humans are generally good; (ii) authorities are generally trustworthy. We can put a tribalistic gloss on (i) and (ii) if need be. But seriously: without a sufficiently good understanding of trust—the best translation in our culture of the words pistis and pisteuō, BTW—all such studies are going to be incredibly hamstrung.

There was an era where American largely trusted the authorities, including scientists. This had good effects and bad effects. A bad effect—an absolutely terrible effect—was uncovered by the Milgram experiment. For a 2014 update, see Nothing by Mere Authority: Evidence that in an Experimental Analogue of the Milgram Paradigm Participants are Motivated not by Orders but by Appeals to Science. This may conflate "science" and "making things better", but humans have done that for centuries now. But if we deconvolve them and say that what humans really want to do is "make things better", might we find that they respond rather differently to facts which promise to help them better do that? In other words, once we switch from a value-free hygienic presentation of facts to a value-laden, progress-oriented presentation of the facts, might things change?

It always amuses me when I'm told "you should respect the results of science" by someone who thinks [s]he is being entirely scientific in pushing that 'ought' on me. I get that maybe [s]he thinks [s]he is merely issuing a Kantian hypothetical imperative which my desires will clearly make binding, but let's investigate that. How many Americans were told that the march of science and technology would improve their livelihoods? How many Americans have had stagnant wages in the last 40 years? Oh wait, maybe they're suspicious of the powers that be because the powers that be lied to them. (Improvements in healthcare, while laudable, don't suffice—people want to feel valuable, not just healthy.) Just like the experiment recounted in that New Yorker article.

I know there's more to the article, but I want to stop at this point and ask whether the whole way that we're investigating this issue might be radically messed up. What if we researched correcting beliefs of people which are getting in the way of where they desperately want to go? Might we find that in those situations, the facts *can* change our minds?

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
it says that evidence does not change people's minds. That makes their behavior easier to predict because it doesn't matter what information they obtain, their behavior will not change.

Your second sentence does not follow from your first. Sure, the people's "minds" did not change based on evidence, in the sense of beliefs; but their behavior certainly did change, because they responded to questions they were asked, and as the questions changed, their responses changed too. To see what "behavior not changing" really looks like, you would have needed to do the experiment with a rock. Or a tree, or a clam. When I say people respond to information, I'm not making any grandiose claim about their rationality or their openness to evidence; I'm making what should be a very humdrum claim about how incoming information affects them in ways that it doesn't affect other things, which makes their detailed actions harder to predict.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I think you and I mean rather different things with that term "chosen". I don't need to assert libertarian free will; I can just question monistic determinism / physicalism.

What other alternative is there? "Libertarian free will" just means "free will doesn't have to follow physical laws". Whether or not the laws are deterministic is really a red herring; the point is that the laws are supposed to describe a causally closed system. If the laws are correct, then the system is indeed causally closed, and you can't add on any other causal factors, whether you call them "free will" or anything else.

what is the subtlest deviation which would falsify physicalism?

It depends on what alternative you are proposing and how close its predictions are to those of physicalism in the domain being tested. If your alternative is just "the laws we currently know of aren't exactly correct", that's not a test of physicalism; it's just a test of our current knowledge of the laws, which is admitted to be incomplete.

Also, I think you misunderstand how testing of theories work. When we test any law, we don't get exact answers; we get a range. For example, tests of Newton's law of gravity don't give you an exact exponent; they give a range, such as 1.999998 to 2.000001 (note: I don't know the actual range experimental tests give for this law, but I would bet it's pinned down at least as accurately as the numbers I just gave). As long as the range includes the value that theory predicts--in this case, 2--the law is consistent with the evidence. But if the value that theory predicts is outside the range, the law is falsified.

If you want to see the current state of tests for our best current theories, try these links:

https://arxiv.org/abs/1403.7377

https://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ex/9810035

If there are near-chaotic aspects of thinking then perhaps the subtlest of pushes could send the thinking one way vs. another. Maybe even infinitesimal pushes, if brain states can pass through unstable Lagrangian points.

Yes, this is in principle possible, but I don't see how it would be controllable in the brain the way a spacecraft's trajectory is controllable, because of the thermal noise issue I brought up earlier. There is no analogue of thermal noise in spacecraft trajectories. That's what allows the spacecraft's engine burn to be controlled precisely enough to produce the desired orbital change. The analogue of thermal noise for a spacecraft would be random perturbations to the orbit with energies comparable to the orbital energy. With such things present you couldn't even get the spacecraft to predictably hit an unstable Lagrange point in the first place, much less precisely control how an engine burn there would affect its orbit.

Is this published in any peer-reviewed journals that you know of?

I believe Carroll gives journal references in one of the articles you linked to. He certainly names various experimenters; Googling on their names should find the papers even if Carroll doesn't link to them explicitly. The short answer is yes, there have been many experiments run to test for the presence of forces other than those we already know; it's not a fringe part of physics or something out of the way.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
when we model such complex systems, we cannot use Carroll's Big Equation™. Instead we use approximations. But then the thing being tested is the approximation, not the Big Equation

That's true as far as what is being directly tested, yes. So if you can find a theory with a different Big Equation that gives rise to the same approximation, then tests in the domain where you use the approximation cannot distinguish between those two theories. You have to find a test in a domain where the two Big Equations give rise to different predictions in order to distinguish between them.

But you don't have a different Big Equation to propose. Even if it's true in principle that there might be one, other than Carroll's Big Equation, that would make the same predictions in all of the domains we have tested, that's useless unless you can find it. Just saying "well, there might be one, so you haven't proven that the Big Equation must be right" is pointless. We have to get along with the best theory we have.

The difference is absolutely tremendous if we're trying to infer ontology from empirical evidence.

I don't think Carroll is trying to "infer ontology". I think he's making a prediction: that no matter how many future experiments we do, we will never do one that falsifies (in the sense I described above) our best current theories in the domain in which they have been tested. Since that domain includes the domain in which our bodies and brains operate, that amounts to saying that we will never observe anything happening in our bodies and brains that falsifies our best current theories. That's a prediction about observable facts, not "ontology".

How does Carroll's reductionistic physicalism (I'm pretty sure he adheres to monistic determinism) tell us to (i) do science differently; (ii) think about day-to-day life differently?

Differently from what?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
You were trying to grok the book without reading it; I'm suggesting that for this particular topic, that may not be possible.

Yes, that's a fair point, and I now have the Kindle Edition and am working my way through it.

MacIntyre claims that how we understand morality and ethics now is very, very different from how we used to. Crucially, he thinks we didn't consciously track this change and that we're confused in how we talk about morality and ethics as a result.

I have read most of After Virtue, and I agree with MacIntyre as regards this particular statement. (Which is not to say I agree with everything he says in the book.)

However, I would not expect this excuse to apply to a philosopher like Waller writing a book specifically about the topic of morality and ethics, particularly since he spends considerable time (at least in the part of the book I've read so far) specifying exactly what he means by "moral responsibility" and how it differs from what other philosophers mean by "moral responsbility".

One of my main reactions to Waller's book so far is that he needs to go back and do the same work he does with "moral responsibility" with other terms that he blithely uses, such as "morally right/wrong" or "fair/unfair", because he appears to be using them in the same absolute sense that he uses "moral responsibility", but if naturalism is true, which he appears to think it is, then there is no absolute moral rightness/wrongness or fairness/unfairness any more than there is absolute moral responsibility. On the other hand, if he has some way of justifying the terms "morally right/wrong" and "fair/unfair" based on naturalism being true, he should explain it in detail, and then explain why the same strategy he uses for those justifications would not also work for the term "moral responsibility".

My suspicion is that thinking on free will shares some of the same … properties of confused thinking as MacIntyre claims hold of moral and ethical thinking.

I share your suspicion. In fact, this is a point Dennett has made repeatedly in his writings about free will, though he is coming at it from a different direction, so to speak, than MacIntyre.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
How do we have freedom which can be violated?

If you mean "freedom" in the absolute sense in which Waller means "moral responsibility", i.e., in the libertarian sense of "free will can violate the laws of physics", I don't think we do. But "not violating the laws of physics" still allows for lots of behaviors that are many orders of magnitude more complex than the behavior of billiard balls. Using billiard balls as the paradigmatic example of "following the laws of physics" invites the confusion between physicalism and simplistic physicalism that I talked about before: when people say they don't see how we can have free will if we can't violate the laws of physics, what is really doing the work behind the scenes is the simplicity of the behavior of billiard balls, not a true understanding of what is possible within the laws of physics.

if "more is different", what restraints does Carroll's reductionism put on the amount of "different" which can happen?

If physicalism is true, then human beings are physical systems, so anything human beings can do can be done by physical systems, operating within the laws of physics.

Mathematical systems provide hard limits on what is possible.

Let me add a key qualifier: mathematical systems provide hard limits on what is possible under a particular description.

For example, here is an argument for why computers cannot achieve checkmate in chess:

(1) There is no feasible algorithm for achieving checkmate in chess.

(2) Computers can only do things by using a feasible algorithm.

(3) Therefore, computers cannot achieve checkmate in chess.

Both premises are true, but the conclusion is false. What gives?

The answer is that premise (2) did not say "computers can only play chess by using a feasible algorithm for achieving checkmate", which is what would properly ground the conclusion (3) when combined with premise (1). Computers don't play chess by using an algorithm for checkmate; they play chess by using an algorithm for heuristically evaluating possible legal moves. (There is a possible brute force algorithm for checkmate, but it is not feasible--it would require much longer than the lifetime of the universe to compute a move.) Algorithms for computer chess do not and cannot guarantee checkmate, but as is now well known, they can certainly achieve checkmate, even against the best human masters.

So even if it is true that mathematical systems provide limits on what is possible, those limits are very broad. They are limits on what can be guaranteed, but they are not limits on what can be accomplished with heuristics that aren't guaranteed to work 100% of the time.

Luke said...

@Peter: (1/5)

> What other alternative is there? "Libertarian free will" just means "free will doesn't have to follow physical laws".

The alternative to causal monism is causal pluralism. This is quite new in philosophy; from Vreese 2006: "the debate on causal pluralism is scarcely out of the egg". There is also the contrast of general causation vs. singular causation: do causal relations between events presuppose the existence of causal laws? Even that distinction is pretty new; see The mishap at Reichenbach fall: Singular vs. general causation, a 1995 paper written by a former professor. (See also SEP: Probabilistic Causation § Singular and General Causation.)

That's a sketch of the philosophy; one way it would work out concretely is that the "laws" or "character" governing each individual person might be unique. There is of course fantastic overlap—without it society would be impossible—but there is simply no reason to suppose that somehow, "at core", every person is the same, run by precisely the same laws, etc. Those in the human sciences "has no need of that hypothesis". For a fun conceptualization of how this might work, see "A New Theory of Free Will" and the Peer-to-Peer Simulation Hypothesis. For purposes of this conversation, I'm most interested in the way that the author arrives at "the appearance of [a] single observed, intersubjective reality". We can also talk virtual reality e.g. in one of Neal Stephenson's novels; the idea here is that one needs a common interface with which to interact with others.

> > what is the subtlest deviation which would falsify physicalism?

> It depends on what alternative you are proposing and how close its predictions are to those of physicalism in the domain being tested. If your alternative is just "the laws we currently know of aren't exactly correct", that's not a test of physicalism; it's just a test of our current knowledge of the laws, which is admitted to be incomplete.

The equation F = GmM/r^2 tells us what never happens; indeed it tells us that almost every logical possibility does not happen. The alternatives are immediately obvious. Now I'm ok with physicalism being less precise, but if you cannot say anything like the most subtle thing it says will never happen, that makes me wonder what exactly it does say.

> Also, I think you misunderstand how testing of theories work. When we test any law, we don't get exact answers; we get a range. For example, tests of Newton's law of gravity don't give you an exact exponent; they give a range, such as 1.999998 to 2.000001 (note: I don't know the actual range experimental tests give for this law, but I would bet it's pinned down at least as accurately as the numbers I just gave).

I was also betting that the accuracy has been pinned down to much greater than my ^2.0001. We could probably find out more specifics if we really wanted, via modified Newtonian dynamics.

> … I don't see how it would be controllable in the brain the way a spacecraft's trajectory is controllable …

Neither do I. But given how little we understand about [self-]consciousness, maybe we oughtn't recapitulate the mistake of thinking the cell is just a bunch of goo.

> There is no analogue of thermal noise in spacecraft trajectories.

A perfect analogy is an identity.

Luke said...

@Peter: (2/5)

> > > And, as Carroll points out, if there were any other interation that had appreciable strength in this domain, we would already have seen it in experiments.

> > Is this published in any peer-reviewed journals that you know of?

> I believe Carroll gives journal references in one of the articles you linked to. He certainly names various experimenters; Googling on their names should find the papers even if Carroll doesn't link to them explicitly. The short answer is yes, there have been many experiments run to test for the presence of forces other than those we already know; it's not a fringe part of physics or something out of the way.

You misunderstand my question, which is probably my fault. What I meant to ask is how Carroll knows with such confidence that if there were other forces, then the search methods currently employed are likely to have found them. I believe his judgment that the search methods currently employed aren't likely to find something new. There is subtlety here, because if Carroll presupposes reductionism, then he will probably only look for new forces in experiments which probe "the fundamental level" directly. But who is to say they won't show up [first?] elsewhere?

> So if you can find a theory with a different Big Equation that gives rise to the same approximation, then tests in the domain where you use the approximation cannot distinguish between those two theories.

I'm confident that mathematicians can take an approximation and formally define the entire class of possibilities which are thereby permitted.

> But you don't have a different Big Equation to propose.

Were I to do so in this context, I would be capitulating to reductionism. The quest for a Theory of Everything is not an innocent pursuit. So instead, I ask questions like, "Does Carroll's stance promote progress in the human sciences?" If all he intends to do is offer guidance to other physicists, that's one thing; if he says this should materially impact how other scientists (and perhaps non-scientists) think about and act in reality, I want to see details of that guidance published in peer-reviewed journals in the appropriate fields. I'm going to call shenanigans on anyone who says one can only falsify his ideas on his own playground (physics).

BTW I'm not a complete nutter in asserting my stance; perhaps the most prominent philosopher who also questions the kind of unification & reductionism Carroll and others are going for is Nancy Cartwright; see her How the Laws of Physics Lie and The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science.

> We have to get along with the best theory we have.

In [some?] physics, sure. But where that theory doesn't actually offer guidance, we aren't getting along with it. At best we're getting along with an approximation. Reductionism is a massive, massive promissory note. I say it should be treated as such.

> I don't think Carroll is trying to "infer ontology". … That's a prediction about observable facts, not "ontology".

An ontology which is permanently shielded from observation is useless; I meant one which isn't permanently shielded. (So I disagree with Kant's Ding an sich.)

> Differently from what?

See my most recent comment on "F = GmM/r^2".

Luke said...

@Peter: (3/5)

> I have read most of After Virtue, and I agree with MacIntyre as regards this particular statement.

Cool. Now I'm going to suggest that Bruce Waller is not as brilliant as MacIntyre. So we might have to do some extra work for him in order to work out that semantic shift I claim is going on with a whole class of terms. Then we can hopefully figure out an experimentum crucis. Where do the differences we're arguing about show up most strongly in reality?

As a potential example, Christian theology has a phrase which I connect to Kane's 'dual rationality': "acting against your better knowledge/​judgment". The idea here is that a person has a genuine choice, of two compelling courses of action, and freely chose between them. That is, nobody and nothing external to the person determined which choice was made. In such cases, when one chooses against one's better knowledge, one is guilty. It is my understanding that naturalistic understandings cannot tolerate such a scenario. Perhaps I am wrong, but let me sketch it out a bit further.

I am intentionally connecting unstable Lagrangian points, 'dual rationality', and "acting against your better knowledge/​judgment". In each case, an infinitesimal force can 'choose' A vs. B. According to naturalism, there are no such forces; the only option here is noise (ontological or epistemological). Yes maybe we might find that physical law requires the ordinal numbers but that is not our best guess now and hey, aren't we supposed to found all of life on our best guess now? (Unless I'm misreading Carroll and he really intends his advice to be restricted to physics or at least the hard[er?] sciences.)

If a person actually exercises his/her freedom at unstable Lagrangian points (I'm moving from "small Δv model of free will" → "dv model of free will"), then the way to non-manipulatively push for a course change is to argue just up to the point where 'dual rationality' is satisfied: there are equally compelling reasons to choose one path vs. another. I can go into more reasons why one would want to hold back. But if there is no such freedom of the will, then it is better to surpass the equally compelling state of dual rationality; it would be absolutely stupid to let noise make the decision! To manipulate, one would constantly surpass equality just enough to get enough decisions to go your way, but under the consciousness threshold of the other person.

In all this, it's important to note that 'rationality' here is just a system of reasoning; it's not the Enlightenment idea of 'Reason', which leads us into all truth. Ian Hacking explores this matter in Language, Truth, and Reason, which was published in the anthology Rationality and Relativism.

Let me know if the above might possibly work for an experimentum crucis. Let me just say that I know it is extremely offensive to suggest to most people who comment on the internet that they might be guilty of acting against their better knowledge. It would be really sobering to learn that possibly God is trying to challenge us to better ways of thinking and living and we've been constructing a metaphysic (I think overall, that's the right word) which perfectly occludes the non-violent, non-calamitous, non-manipulative kind of challenging.

Luke said...

@Peter: (4/5)

> > My suspicion is that thinking on free will shares some of the same … properties of confused thinking as MacIntyre claims hold of moral and ethical thinking.

> I share your suspicion. In fact, this is a point Dennett has made repeatedly in his writings about free will, though he is coming at it from a different direction, so to speak, than MacIntyre.

Would you be willing/able to sketch some of Dennett's main points, given what I've said so far in this conversation? I've yet to get into Dennett; I have this weird problem with diving too deeply into topics like this where they get too far away from practical lived life and I cannot sustain attention. I've been working out at the Tower of Abstractions Gym over the last few years, but I still feel like I'm a weakling.

> > How do we have freedom which can be violated?

> … Using billiard balls as the paradigmatic example of "following the laws of physics" invites the confusion between physicalism and simplistic physicalism that I talked about before …

That's fine, but you haven't answered my question—other than by waving at "more is different"/​emergence. Just like you cannot add any finite number of Turing machines together and circumvent Rice's theorem, I am suspicious that no matter how much "more is different" you do, if you stick to reductionism and a restricted class of mathematical formalisms at base, you might not be able to get sufficiently interesting freedom which can be violated.

> > if "more is different", what restraints does Carroll's reductionism put on the amount of "different" which can happen?

> If physicalism is true, then human beings are physical systems, so anything human beings can do can be done by physical systems, operating within the laws of physics.

But what do the laws of physics disallow? We're back at the "what would subtly falsify?" question. We could key off of Jeffery Jay Lowder's definition of "physical entity" (mostly drawing on Paul Draper):

>> physical entity: an entity which is either (1) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists today; or (2) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists in the future, which has some sort of nomological or historical connection to the kinds of entities studied by physicists or chemists today. (The Nature of Naturalism)

But that gets problematic because of this:

>>     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 no 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. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

Luke said...

@Peter: (5/5)

> Let me add a key qualifier: mathematical systems provide hard limits on what is possible under a particular description.

Sure, but that qualifier is implicit in Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood. Carroll is not an anti-realist; he thinks we're so close that he's happy to say "I've also assumed the Everett formulation of quantum mechanics; I'm thinking that the quantum state is the physical thing; there's no sort of hidden variable underneath." (FQXi: Fluctuations in de Sitter Space, 18:14) A quick exploration of what he says about the MWI interpretation on his blog will show that he isn't just tentatively assuming.

> (2) Computers can only do things by using a feasible algorithm.

Yes, Hubert Dreyfus argued against this extensively; now it is accepted that AI will not be restricted to "symbol manipulation or 'GOFAI'". But when Carroll argues what he does, he isn't allowing for a non-symbolic layer underneath. (For an example of such a layer, see Robert Laughlin on "organizational laws of nature" in A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down.) Indeed, in FQXi: Fluctuations in de Sitter Space he explicitly argues against down-fluctuations in entropy at the quantum level, on the basis that there is no [further] microstructure which can thusly fluctuate. This would be in contradiction to classical entropy occasionally down-fluctuating because entropy is a macro measure of a micro structure.

If you want to argue that further advances in understanding the "fundamental" laws of physics might change things in the same way that there are heuristics in addition to [feasible] algorithms, then I have to ask how much we should expect them to change, which sends us back to my previous comment where I asked "But what do the laws of physics disallow?".

> So even if it is true that mathematical systems provide limits on what is possible, those limits are very broad.

Actually, there's a funny situation: on the one hand the possibilities are so broad that one must use approximations of Carroll's Big Equation™ to simulate anything but the most simple experiments. On the other hand, the possibilities are so narrow that it's apparently meaningful to discussions of free will that Carroll's Big Equation™ is the case. So while we cannot use that equation in very many cases scientifically, it's supposed to be important when it comes to free will. Does that set off zero alarm bells in your head?


P.S. I'm being partly tongue-in-cheek when I write "Big Equation™". I'm down with your "We have to get along with the best theory we have.", if we restrict that theory to the domains where it actually applies, where it actually provides scientific, empirical guidance.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Why should you or I care about 100% certainty?

I would think you would care about it because it's essential to Christian theology. If there is doubt regarding the reliability of scripture or the perfection of God then it seems to me that the whole thing comes apart at the seams because the question immediately arises: how do we know what parts of scripture are reliable and which are not? How do we know which parts of God's word are perfect and which are not? To those questions there can be no answer (AFAICT). If divine revelation can fail, there is no place to fall back to.

> > Almost. There's always freedom to choose which hypothesis to advance or test next.

> Isn't that … ultra-important?

No. It matters only for efficiency, not for the reliability of the results in the long run. That is one of the qualities that makes science so effective.

> Adopting beliefs which would have prevented the rise of modern science seems problematic to me

It took about 100,000 years or so between the advent of anatomically modern humans and the emergence of modern science, but once it emerged it grew very rapidly -- from inception to its present state in about 400 years, or 0.4% of our history as a species. I think it's probably impossible for social forces alone to eradicate it at this point. So I think the emergence of science depends more on economic forces than social ones. To develop science, a society first has to have enough excess production to allow some of its members to just sit around and think. Once a society gets to that point, the development of science is probably inevitable.

> Actually, I meant you to answer the question in context;

I believe I did.

> could we plausibly discover actual structure in said quantum randomness, via the effects it has in chaotic human behavior/​thinking?

I doubt it. Quantum effects would only manifest themselves when events are right on the hairy edge of going one way or the other. I doubt that happens often, and I doubt that the situations where it happens are predictable because chaos.

But I could be wrong. (N.B. those are five words I rarely hear pass the lips of SI-Christians.)

> people in generally [sic] like their delusions

Indeed they do.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
there is simply no reason to suppose that somehow, "at core", every person is the same, run by precisely the same laws, etc

It depends on what level you want to put the laws. If you mean that your internal psychology might not work exactly the same as mine, sure, that's no problem. If you mean that electrons and quarks in your brain might work differently from electrons and quarks in my brain--or that your brain might be made of something else other than electrons and quarks, by contrast with my brain--sorry, no sale. Offhand I can't tell which of these two alternatives "causal pluralism" is taking; I'll try to work through some of the links you gave when I have time.

The equation F = GmM/r^2 tells us what never happens

What never happens according to that theoretical model, yes. But you have to compare that theoretical model with experiment. Experiment can never tell us that anything besides the exact inverse square law never happens; that would require infinite experimental accuracy, which is impossible. The best experiment can tell us is that anything besides the narrow range of an inverse 1.9999 law to an inverse 2.00001 law (or whatever precision we have actually tested this to) never happens. (Strictly speaking, even the "never" is an overstatement with regard to experiment; experiment can only tell us that nothing outside the tested range has happened yet, when we've tested it. But now we're getting into serious philosophical hairsplitting, which I don't think is necessary here.)

I was also betting that the accuracy has been pinned down to much greater than my ^2.0001.

I have not actually checked, but I would bet it's been pinned down considerably more accurately than that as well.

We could probably find out more specifics if we really wanted, via modified Newtonian dynamics.

I'm not a fan of MOND, because we already know that Newtonian gravity is not exactly correct; our best current theory of gravity is General Relativity, and although some MOND proponents have tried to make a relativistic version of it, none of them have worked very well.

The GR version of testing Newton's Laws is the Parameterized Post-Newtonian (PPN) formalism:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parameterized_post-Newtonian_formalism

In fact, this formalism allows testing a wide range of alternative theories of gravity that share some basic features with GR but differ from it in one or more specific parameters. None of the parameters exactly correspond to the exponent in the Newtonian law of gravity, because that law is actually a derived prediction of GR for a particular situation, not a fundamental law of GR. But the Wikipedia page and its links and references should give a decent overview of the current state of testing of GR and other theories of gravity.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
maybe we oughtn't recapitulate the mistake of thinking the cell is just a bunch of goo.

Where did I say it was? "Thermal noise" is not the same as "bunch of goo". Obviously a cell is a highly complex, organized system. But it is also a very "noisy" system, in the sense that the energies of random fluctuations are not much smaller than the energies of the interactions that the cell uses to perform its functions. And the energies of random fluctuations are certainly much larger than any "infinitesimal" pushes that you are suggesting could play a role similar to the small delta v given to a spacecraft at an appropriate point to change its trajectory.

What I meant to ask is how Carroll knows with such confidence that if there were other forces, then the search methods currently employed are likely to have found them.

Because that's how quantum field theory works. He explains this in one of the articles you linked to, but briefly and heuristically, it goes like this: QFT says that every interaction corresponds to a particle, and the stronger the interaction, the easier it is to make the corresponding particle in experiments. Given any hypothetical interaction, QFT tells you what kind of particle it corresponds to, and how to make it in experiments; so by simply running experiments to try to make various kinds of hypothetical particles, we can test for the presence (or absence, if the particles fail to appear) of various hypothetical interactions.

This method has not just been used to rule out interactions, btw; it was also used to explore and confirm the properties of the weak and strong interactions, by making the corresponding particles in experiments and measuring their properties.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
if Carroll presupposes reductionism, then he will probably only look for new forces in experiments which probe "the fundamental level" directly. But who is to say they won't show up [first?] elsewhere?

Carroll doesn't "presuppose" reductionism. Reductionism with regard to our brains and bodies, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life--the fact that all of these things are made of a small set of fundamental particles and interactions--is an experimental fact, not a "presupposition".

Carroll distinguishes this kind of reductionism from a much stronger kind reductionism, the kind that says that everything--not just the things we deal with in everyday life--is made of a small set of fundamental particles and interactions. As he admits, we don't know for sure that this is the case, because there are some things--dark matter, for example--that we don't know (yet) how to explain in terms of a small set of fundamental particles and interactions (because the set of fundamental particles and interactions we currently know of don't explain these things). But we don't need to know whether reductionism in that strong sense is true to know that reductionism in the much weaker sense given above is true.

if he says this should materially impact how other scientists (and perhaps non-scientists) think about and act in reality, I want to see details of that guidance published in peer-reviewed journals in the appropriate fields.

I'm not sure I understand what kind of "guidance" you think Carroll should be giving to other fields, beyond the simple statement that our bodies and brains, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life, are made of a small set of fundamental particles and interactions, all of which we understand.

perhaps the most prominent philosopher who also questions the kind of unification & reductionism Carroll and others are going for is Nancy Cartwright

I've read How the Laws of Physics Lie. Many of the concerns she raises in that book are valid, but they have nothing to do with what we're discussing here; they don't in any way undermine the experimental fact that our bodies and brains and all the objects we deal with in everyday life are made of a small set of fundamental particles and interactions, all of which we understand.

An ontology which is permanently shielded from observation is useless; I meant one which isn't permanently shielded.

I don't understand what you mean by this, or how it relates to this discussion.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I'm going to suggest that Bruce Waller is not as brilliant as MacIntyre.

I would agree with this assessment. :-)

In such cases, when one chooses against one's better knowledge, one is guilty. It is my understanding that naturalistic understandings cannot tolerate such a scenario.

I don't see why not. The key term in all this is "one". What is the boundary of the "person"? If you insist on narrowing the boundary of the "person" so that all of the causes of a person's behavior fall outside the boundary, then of course it's going to look like one can't possibly "choose against one's better knowledge"--because one can't "choose" at all. (Dennett likes to quote a saying: "If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything.") Taken to its logical conclusion, this viewpoint would say that "one" doesn't exist in the first place; there are no "persons", no "choices", no anything except for events happening according to the laws of physics.

However, while such an extreme viewpoint is consistent with naturalism, it is in no way required by naturalism. Certainly Waller does not take this extreme viewpoint--although one of the issues I have with his book, based on what I've read so far, is that he often talks about people and their choices as though he were taking the extreme viewpoint, while at the same time insisting on using words like "morally right/wrong" and "fair/unfair" that are meaningless on the extreme viewpoint. If we are going to allow persons to exist, then we have to allow them to, you know, exist--to say that at least some of the events that happen in a person's body and brain are caused by the person, not by something external to the person. And as soon as you do that, you open up the possibility that the person might be responsible for some of those events, including things like "choosing against one's better knowledge"--making a choice even though one has information that shows that choice to be suboptimal, given one's own goals.

Let me know if the above might possibly work for an experimentum crucis.

I'm not sure what you are trying to experimentally test.

If what you are trying to do is experimentally test for miracles, I think the idea is incoherent. When we see something happen that doesn't fit into our current understanding of the laws of physics, we don't conclude that things can happen that violate the laws of physics; we conclude that our current understanding of the laws of physics is incomplete.

If, on the other hand, you are trying to test for different possible mechanisms of how "making choices" might be implemented in the brain, consistent with naturalism, I don't see how what you are proposing does that.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
what do the laws of physics disallow?

If you're asking for a detailed description of what kinds of things the laws of physics permit complex systems like human brains and bodies to do, the answer is "nobody knows". Nobody has a detailed theoretical model that derives the possible capacities of human brains and bodies from General Relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics. So if that's what it would take for you to give up the idea that miracles might be happening inside human brains and bodies, then we might as well give up on this discussion.

However, insisting on this kind of answer seems extremely unreasonable to me. Nobody demands such a detailed model in order to explain how other complex systems work. Nobody has a detailed theoretical model that derives the possible capacities of cars, or the weather, from General Relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics. Our models of all these things are built using many levels of approximation on top of the fundamental laws. Why should our model of human brains and bodies be any different? And if your answer is that humans are somehow special, how do you know? The fact that we are humans doesn't count; of course we think we are special, but so what?

when Carroll argues what he does, he isn't allowing for a non-symbolic layer underneath.

What I said about what mathematics can and cannot set limits on has nothing to do with a "symbolic" vs. "non-symbolic" layer. It's simply recognizing that mathematical arguments only apply when whatever you are trying to apply them to satisfies the exact premises of the argument. Something that satisfies a similar, but not exactly identical, premise doesn't count.

on the one hand the possibilities are so broad that one must use approximations of Carroll's Big Equation™ to simulate anything but the most simple experiments

This has nothing to do with how "broad" the possibilities are. (To the extent the Big Equation is deterministic--which on Carroll's MWI-based interpretation, it is--there is only one possibility.) It has to do with the Big Equation being unsolvable exactly (at least at our current state of knowledge) except for extremely simple, idealized situations. If we could solve the Big Equation exactly for all situations, we wouldn't need to make approximations.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > Why should you or I care about 100% certainty?

> I would think you would care about it because it's essential to Christian theology.

Is it? What about that "we see through a glass darkly"? What about the tension between God being infinite and unfathomable, and yet wanting to be ver better known? It sounds almost like … the idea that science may be truly accumulating knowledge, even if it can be quite wrong in various aspects. Because if every aspect of science is totally wrong, then our reasoning from it will be totally wrong: garbage in, garbage out. Why can't theology engage in the kind of successive approximation that is characteristic of science? I know you have this idea that God could just perfectly communicate to us; can you tolerate that you might actually be wrong on that, and that we finite beings might [logically!] have to understand an infinite being via successive approximation?

> If there is doubt regarding the reliability of scripture or the perfection of God then it seems to me that the whole thing comes apart at the seams because the question immediately arises: how do we know what parts of scripture are reliable and which are not? How do we know which parts of God's word are perfect and which are not? To those questions there can be no answer (AFAICT). If divine revelation can fail, there is no place to fall back to.

Our interpretation can be the point of failure. But if it really disturbs you that God might correct people on some points while failing to correct them on others (e.g. push toward egalitarianism while leaving the 'science' aspect unchallenged), we can talk about that. It is my experience that people can only handle so much deviation from where they currently are when teaching them or challenging their character/​behavior. Perhaps you have experienced something different in your interactions with other people or yourself?

> > > Almost. There's always freedom to choose which hypothesis to advance or test next.

> > Isn't that … ultra-important?

> No. It matters only for efficiency, not for the reliability of the results in the long run. That is one of the qualities that makes science so effective.

So necessarily, we have been determined to progress [statistically—there can be temporary setbacks]?

> To develop science, a society first has to have enough excess production to allow some of its members to just sit around and think.

That didn't [sufficiently] exist in ancient Rome/​Greece? I think you might do well to look at the difference between conspicuous consumption and frugality. There is also a military dimension—the desire to dominate others has spurred a lot of technological advance. But perhaps it is best to pause this particular tangent until we can actually simulate the rise of science among sufficiently complex digitally simulated beings.

> > could we plausibly discover actual structure in said quantum randomness, via the effects it has in chaotic human behavior/​thinking?

> I doubt it. Quantum effects would only manifest themselves when events are right on the hairy edge of going one way or the other. I doubt that happens often, and I doubt that the situations where it happens are predictable because chaos.

Well, that sounds like a solid empirical claim that could differentiate your understanding of free will from mine.

> But I could be wrong. (N.B. those are five words I rarely hear pass the lips of SI-Christians.)

I could make a snide remark of how infrequently I find atheists willing to admit their characters are in need of reformation. Many happily tell me mine does, though. :-D

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
you cannot add any finite number of Turing machines together and circumvent Rice's theorem

More precisely: you cannot add any finite number of Turing machines together and be guaranteed to compute any undecidable property. That's what "undecidable" means--there is no algorithm that is guaranteed to work. But this says nothing at all about whether you can, by putting together enough Turing machines, construct a device that guesses, with much better than chance (but not perfect) accuracy, the values of undecidable properties.

I am suspicious that no matter how much "more is different" you do, if you stick to reductionism and a restricted class of mathematical formalisms at base, you might not be able to get sufficiently interesting freedom which can be violated.

The only way to find out is to keep investigating how our brains and bodies work and building scientific models of them.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> What about that "we see through a glass darkly"?

If we don't have certainty in the reliability of scripture, how can we know whether or not to trust that passage (or any passage)?

> What about the tension between God being infinite and unfathomable

If we don't have certainly in the reliability of scripture and the trustworthiness of God's word, how can we know God is infinite and unfathomable?

> we have been determined to progress

Your use of the word "determined" here is ambiguous. It could mean that we humans strongly aspire to progress, and yes, I believe that is the case. Or it could mean that progress is inevitable, which I don't think is the case. But I do think that progress is overwhelmingly likely in the long run.

> That didn't [sufficiently] exist in ancient Rome/​Greece?

Both the Greeks and the Romans made significant progress. More in engineering than in science, but still, some of the structures stand to this day. Some of their plumbing even still works! That is no mean feat.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> If we don't have certainty in the reliability of scripture, how can we know whether or not to trust that passage (or any passage)?

You can try it out. (For example, see my relational sin notes.) There are plenty of predictions of what happens if you act this way or that. The same holds for something like political liberalism: there are ideas on how to enact it and predictions of what will come when you do. The process is really noisy and you have to keep your eye on multi-generational patterns, but that's cool if you want to build awesome things (e.g. like Francis Bacon [[mostly:] just] dreamed of). If you want to be lazy and just enjoy life then all this is too hard; it's also hard if one's leaders pretend that things operate one way (e.g. as a "democracy") when in fact they don't. But the Bible criticizes leaders more than any other group; it is a very good idea to question them in intelligent ways.

I suspect you might be too stuck in a flavor of Divine Command Theory which construes God's commands as having an arbitrary element, with no corroboration in reality. I get that there are some flavors of Christianity which seem in love with that, but I oppose them on numerous grounds. Two good places to start come not from Christians, but Jews: Yoram Hazony's The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture and Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought. You have some very weird ideas of what divine revelation *must* look like, Ron. I get that they aren't yours, but perhaps you could investigate whether they make logical sense. If actually they function more to keep the little guy† in his place, maybe it's demonstrably a perversion (Deut 17:14–20 is a nice resource for internal criticism).

† The little girl knows she should stay in her place. Guys sometimes need reminding.

> Your use of the word "determined" here is ambiguous. It could mean that we humans strongly aspire to progress, and yes, I believe that is the case. Or it could mean that progress is inevitable, which I don't think is the case. But I do think that progress is overwhelmingly likely in the long run.

I meant determined by the laws of nature (plus initial conditions). I'm guessing when you say "progress", you mean something like Deutsch's Beginning of Infinity—that is, significant and fantastic progress. If so, then how are you concluding this other than via the principle of induction?

BTW, I would say that we have to want to go through the pain of admitting where we self-deluded ourselves (then explicitly repenting of it), treat more and more people equally, etc. I would also say that it is not clear that we Moderns have the will to do this. You seem rather more optimistic, which I find interesting.

> > That didn't [sufficiently] exist in ancient Rome/​Greece?

> Both the Greeks and the Romans made significant progress. More in engineering than in science, but still, some of the structures stand to this day. Some of their plumbing even still works! That is no mean feat.

Sure, they did some really cool things. And yet their civilizations collapsed. Are you allowing for Modern civilization to collapse in your optimism about human progress? Or are we [with say ≥ 98% probability] beyond the mistakes of the Greeks and Romans?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Would you be willing/able to sketch some of Dennett's main points, given what I've said so far in this conversation?

I think two key points are central in Dennett's thinking (though this by no means captures all of the main ideas in his writings):

(1) Functionalism: what counts is the functions that something can perform, not what it's made of or how it does it;

(2) Don't confuse explaining with explaining away.

I'll try to illustrate these points by describing Dennett's model of free will (this is based mostly on my memory of Freedom Evolves). The basic underlying concept is what Dennett calls "generate and test", which is perhaps best illustrated by imagining you are an AI programmer trying to make a program for a robot to fulfill some function for which you don't know a guaranteed algorithm--say, for example, finding food in a new environment. There is no way to solve this problem by just turning the crank; it's not like adding numbers or solving an equation. The only known way of proceeding is to start with a guess, then check how well it works, then iterate until you find a solution. So, for example, you might program the robot to just pick a random direction and go in that direction for some distance; then, if it doesn't find any food, pick another random direction and try again. Of course this can get much more sophisticated--for example, you can use information from the environment to help pick the direction instead of just choosing randomly. But the basic architecture of the program is still: make a guess, test it, iterate. This is what Dennett calls "generate and test".

Once you have this trick, though, there's no need to limit it to just one level. For example, consider a "meta-food-finding program", which the robot might run, which tells it to pick at random some food-finding algorithm from a set of such algorithms, try it, see how well it works; then pick a different algorithm and try that; etc. Then, after some number of trials, assess the results and use that information to refine your choice of food-finding algorithms. And you can continue to add more and more meta-levels to this, to deal with more complex problems.

Nor is there any requirement that every trial must run in the real world. Given enough information about the environment, you can program the robot to construct a "virtual environment" in its robot brain, and run trials of different food-finding programs, say, in the virtual environment instead of the real one. That way you can find out which algorithms work well and which don't, at least to some good enough approximation, without having to actually risk failure in the real world. (Dennett likes to quote a phrase of Karl Popper here: this strategy "permits our hypotheses to die in our stead".)

Dennett's basic claim is that, once you have enough levels and meta-levels of this sort of thing running in a brain, you can build the kind of free will we humans experience. Looked at one way, it's all just computer code (or the brain equivalent), running algorithms; but looked at another way, it's a robot (or a human) doing the sorts of things we do: learning, planning, making choices, evaluating the consequences, updating our model of the world.

I'm probably getting close to the 4096-character limit so I'll continue in a follow-up post by showing how the above relates to the two key ideas I described.

Peter Donis said...

Ok, following up: we have a model of a human brain with free will as a kind of computer program running many levels and meta-levels of generate and test. Now let's look at the two key ideas I described.

(1) Functionalism. The model I've described is entirely naturalistic: there are no miracles, there is no magic, everything is just ordinary physical objects behaving according to physical laws. And yet this thing can perform all the functions we associate with human free will. So is it "real" free will or isn't it?

Dennett's answer is: fulfilling the functions of free will is "real" free will, as real as you can get. As he puts it, something that fulfills the functions is the only kind of free will that is worth wanting. It's not worth wanting the miraculous, magical kind of free will, because, aside from the fact that it doesn't exist anyway, it doesn't perform any functions that the naturalistic kind does, and the functions are the important thing. The fact that the thing that is performing these functions is a pile of levels and meta-levels of programming kludges and hacks doesn't matter; it does the job, and that's what matters.

(2) A common rejoinder to the above is that a model like Dennett's doesn't explain free will; it explains it away. If that kind of model is really all there is to human free will, then "real" human free will doesn't exist. (Dennett's models of other things, like consciousness and personhood, get the same kind of criticism.) But taken to its logical conclusion, this viewpoint would have to claim that nothing ever gets explained; it's all explaining away. This viewpoint is just the "extreme naturalism" that I described in an earlier comment: the view that nothing "really exists" except events happening according to the laws of physics.

But there is no need to adopt such an impoverished view of explanation. When we explain a rainbow by talking about how sunlight reflects in water droplets in the atmosphere, we are not saying the rainbow doesn't exist; we are explaining how the rainbow gets produced. When we explain a chess-playing computer by talking about how it computes move trees and heuristically evaluates board positions, we are not saying it doesn't achieve checkmate; we are explaining how it achieves checkmate. And when we explain human free will by talking about levels and meta-levels of generate and test algorithms running in human brains, we aren't saying humans don't have free will; we are explaining how human free will works.

There are cases in which explaining is indeed explaining away. For example, if we were to explain our current theory of chemistry to a person from the 16th century who believed the phlogiston theory, we would not be explaining phlogiston; we would be explaining it away. There is no level of description in our current theory of chemistry that corresponds to phlogiston; that concept simply has no place in our current theory. But explanations like Dennett's explanation of free will aren't like that; there is a perfectly good place for the concept of free will in his model. The fact that the details of the model are not what many people expect an explanation of free will to look like is beside the point; it's no different from our current theory of quantum mechanics being very different from what people expect an explanation of the structure of atoms to look like.

Peter Donis said...

@me:
it doesn't perform any functions that the naturalistic kind does

s/does/doesn't/

Luke said...

@Peter:

I started fisking but then decided to take a step back and try to address this matter holistically. I'll save what I've written so far and can go back to it if necessary. Feel free to respond with something holistic as well; we can always dive back into the details later.

We got a little lost talking about F = GmM/r^2; my point was always that the very nature of that equation is to say that a great number of phenomena which are "nearby" our day-to-day existence will never happen/​never be observed. Yes that is "according to that theoretical model", but physicalism appears to be a theoretical model which is being used to assert causal monism, which surely matters when it comes to understanding free will and everything that depends on it (e.g. moral responsibility). And yet, I can't detect anything physicalism says will never happen which is "nearby" our day-to-day experience like F = GmM/r^2.01 is. You've said physicalism needs to have an alternative on offer; I find that odd, as F = GmM/r^2 immediately suggests alternatives. I can't help thinking that physicalism can assimilate too many possible observations.

We've established that there are a number of approximations between Core Theory (probably a better name than "Carroll's Big Equation™") and the quantitative math used in places relevant for understanding the mind and the brain. Given that, we've established that what is tested in those situations is not Core Theory, but a whole class of theories. The precision of Core Theory cannot [currently] be tested at the wet, warm, macro scale. And yet, somehow the determinism still applies at the wet, warm, macro scale. Furthermore, any indeterminism has to be irrelevant because of the warm (and maybe also the macro?).

You've emphasized that "more is different". When I pointed out that surely certain things still have to be impossible or emergence can get you anything, you said that "those limits are very broad". I'm not even sure what those limits are which matter for understanding minds and brains, except: determinism of the causal monism variety. The precision of Core Theory may not be available, but determinism is—even though our confidence in determinism comes from precision.

You again emphasized "under a particular description" and pointed out that provability can be replaced with heuristic devices. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, given that the point under contention is how sure we should be about a symbolic system which doesn't "prove" causal monism, but allegedly gives us confidence to act "as if" causal monism is true, not only with fundamental physics, but all the way to day-to-day human interaction.

Perhaps it would help to note two ways that the monistic determinism of Core Theory could be neutralized at the level of mind. First, the causal powers in Core Theory could be partially neutralized at the macro level, allowing other powers to manifest. Second, Core Theory could be just an organizational law of nature (see Robert Laughlin) and what happens at the macro scale could futz with the organized substrate to tweak how Core Theory operates. At least, I see no in principle reason for why both of these are impossible.

Finally, no matter how one draws the boundary around the self, on causal monism (fully deterministic or with indeterminism), one can always "pass the buck" for choices: either to a previous quantum state which existed before you were born, or to randomness during your life over which you had no control. The buck never stops at the individual. As Coyne said, "nobody could have done otherwise". That means that we cannot be truly guilty for acting against our better knowledge. I don't know how else to process his "its ramifications for human behavior are profound". Do you?

Ron said...

> > If we don't have certainty in the reliability of scripture, how can we know whether or not to trust that passage (or any passage)?

> You can try it out. (For example, see my relational sin notes.)

I think you and I are talking about two very different things. I'm talking about how to tell if a claim is *true*. You seem to be talking about whether a belief in a claim leads to good results independent of whether or not it is true. (False beliefs can sometimes lead to good results.)

> Sure, they [the Greeks and Romans] did some really cool things. And yet their civilizations collapsed.

Greek civilization didn't collapse, it was conquered by the Romans. Roman civilization did indeed collapse, and the resulting power vacuum was filled by the Christian Church. It is not for nothing that the subsequent period in history is called the dark ages.

But do you really mean to imply that systems of thought should be judged by how well they sustain empires? North Korea seems to be surprisingly resilient, but I would not hold them up as a model of how humans ought to conduct their affairs, and certainly not as a model of how to tell if a claim is true. Every North Korean professes to believe that Kim Jong Un is a god. If the Kim family is still ruling North Korea 1000 years from now, will that be evidence that this claim is true?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

I'll try to stick with holistic comments as well, as I don't think a detailed point-by-point exchange is really necessary at this point.

You seem to be thinking of "physicalism" as a specific theory. It's not. It's just a general principle, that says that whatever the laws of physics are, they are actually laws--everything that happens, happens in accordance with them. Of course that statement by itself doesn't tell you what the laws are; you have to actually investigate--construct theories and compare them with experiments--to find that out.

So if you want to understand what constraints physicalism actually puts on what can happen, you have to look at what actual investigations have been done in the domain you're interested in. In this discussion, we're interested in the domain of our brains and bodies and the objects we deal with in everyday life. And we have a very, very detailed understanding of the fundamental laws that govern that domain. And those fundamental laws say what I've already said: our brains and bodies, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life, are made of a small number of fundamental particles and interactions--and as far as the internal workings of our brains and bodies are concerned, which is what matters for talking about things like free will, the list is even smaller: electrons and quarks and the electromagnetic interaction. That's it: no other particles and interactions come into play. If there were, we would already have seen them and measured their properties in detail in experiments.

So the constraint physicalism puts on the internal workings of our brains and bodies, and therefore on any discussion of free will as far as we humans are concerned, is that if free will exists, it has to be built out of electrons and quarks and the electromagnetic interaction, just like every other capability of our brains and bodies. But there are many levels of organization in between. We don't observe quarks directly: they are packaged up into protons and neutrons, which are in turn packaged up into atomic nuclei. From nuclei and electrons you can make a wide variety of chemical elements with a wide variety of properties, and many of them play important roles in the internal workings of our brains and bodies. Those elements in turn get combined into an even wider variety of molecules with an even wider variety of properties. Molecules in turn combine into the various structures that combine into cells, which combine into organs, which combine into bodies. Then you can throw in additional ingredients like hormones, neurotransmitters, photosensitive chemicals in our retinas, very finely tuned sound-to-electric-impulse converters in our inner ears, etc., etc., etc...

So while on the one hand physicalism imposes a very tight constraint--everything has to be built out of electrons and quarks and the electromagnetic interaction--on the other hand physicalism allows a very wide range of possibilities, because there are so many electrons and quarks and interactions involved and they can combine in so many different ways. We are only beginning to investigate the details of all this--how all the ingredients I listed above, and many more besides, actually work together to do things in our brains and bodies, and what the limits are. If you want to say that your "delta v" model of free will might be lurking somewhere in there, that could be the case--as long as it's ultimately built out of electrons and quarks and the electromagnetic interaction. But the fact that that constraint still allows so many possibilities does not mean that constraint is not rock solid in itself. It is.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:

I did want to comment specifically on one thing, separate from my other comment just now:

no matter how one draws the boundary around the self, on causal monism (fully deterministic or with indeterminism), one can always "pass the buck" for choices: either to a previous quantum state which existed before you were born, or to randomness during your life over which you had no control. The buck never stops at the individual. As Coyne said, "nobody could have done otherwise". That means that we cannot be truly guilty for acting against our better knowledge. I don't know how else to process his "its ramifications for human behavior are profound". Do you?

If you mean, do I think you have correctly described what Coyne was trying to say, I think you have.

If you mean, do I think that means we don't have free will, no, I don't, because I don't agree with his (and, it seems, your) definition of "free will". Like Dennett, I am a functionalist. I don't care whether I "could have done otherwise" in a metaphysical sense. I care whether I am allowed to make my own choices about how to live my life, and whether I'm able to make good choices. If "making choices" can also be described, at a much lower level, as "following deterministic physical laws, as they apply to an extremely complex system responding to extremely complex inputs", that's fine with me, as long as it meets the functional requirements of freedom. If it's not fine with you, well, that's your choice.

Perhaps that phrase you use, "passing the buck", also deserves a comment. I quoted earlier that phrase that Dennett likes to quote: "If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything." But whether or not to make yourself that small is your choice. Nothing is forcing you to do that. You might say: but if everything happens according to deterministic physical laws, then it's already determined whether I will pass the buck or not. But stop and think a minute: how is it determined, if it is determined? Is it determined by you somehow finding yourself passing the buck, even though you don't want to, and then feeling really weird and surprised that you did this thing that you didn't feel like you chose to do (like the Tortoise finding that he has put a coin in his left hand as the Meta-Oracle predicted)? Or is it determined by you honestly considering both options, using whatever resources are in your brain, and then making a choice?

You don't think that kind of choice can be a deterministic process? Why not? How is it different from a chess-playing computer choosing what move to make, by evaluating options using the best heuristics it can? Does the fact that the computer is running a deterministic algorithm mean it doesn't achieve checkmate? (Remember that the algorithm, although deterministic, is not determined to achieve checkmate; it's only determined to choose moves using the best heuristics it can.) And if a much, much more complex deterministic algorithm, running a much, much more complex set of heuristics, using factors like, oh, I don't know, what choice will cause the least suffering, or will best help someone you want to help, or will best accomplish an important goal, and even meta-heuristics like what choices turned out well in the past and what choices turned out badly--if such an algorithm can make good choices, does it matter that it's deterministic? And if that's what's happening in your brain when you make good choices, is it any less "you" that makes the choices?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > > If we don't have certainty in the reliability of scripture, how can we know whether or not to trust that passage (or any passage)?

> > You can try it out. (For example, see my relational sin notes.)

> I think you and I are talking about two very different things. I'm talking about how to tell if a claim is *true*. You seem to be talking about whether a belief in a claim leads to good results independent of whether or not it is true. (False beliefs can sometimes lead to good results.)

False beliefs can also lead to good science. If Robert Laughlin is right and both QFT and GR are merely organizational laws of nature—that is, the collective behavior of some substrate—then would that be absolutely devastating to us?

Switching from the 'fact' to the 'value' side of the dichotomy, perhaps we need to revisit my "Goodness itself has a predictive aspect, but not in the analytic fashion that allows you to write out deterministic equations."—from the thread which inspired this blog post.

It may also be helpful to note that a signal that we've found something true/​accurate on the 'fact' side of the dichotomy is when the science paper talking about it gets citations. It's even better when those papers get citations. What this really means is that sufficiently true/​accurate/​useful results give life to further true/​accurate/​useful results. Good science is science you can build on. Why not apply the same reasoning to the 'value' side of the dichotomy?

> Greek civilization didn't collapse, it was conquered by the Romans.

True, but that appears irrelevant for the purposes of my argument. If you have awesome science but get conquered and the science doesn't continue on to infinity, you didn't have sufficient conditions for the continual conduct of science. If you have awesome science but cannot keep your society from crumbling, you didn't have sufficient conditions for the continual conduct of science.

> But do you really mean to imply that systems of thought should be judged by how well they sustain empires?

The context of the discussion is necessary & sufficient conditions for science to thrive. Do you really want to say that we cannot call the necessary conditions for science "true" in any sense? BTW, I'm fully aware that sufficient ⇏ necessary.

Here's a question for you: might it be the case that for more and more science to be done, humans might have to become better? For example, we are well into the interdisciplinary regime of science, where there is much less additional knowledge to be discovered within a traditional discipline, than if one adds at least one other discipline to the mix. But it can be hard for people of different disciplines to talk to each other, for a variety of reasons. Even biophysicists and biochemists can have trouble properly communicating to each other. Are the qualities required to communicate well with scientists in different disciplines the kinds of things which have truth-value? Or is it that the societal and psychological apparatuses we use to discover truth actually have necessary elements which are neither true nor false?

Luke said...

@Peter:

I'm happy with physicalism being a class of theories. What concerns me is that maybe it isn't even that. Maybe it's a metaphysic and nothing could falsify it, in precisely the sense that nothing can falsify conspiracy theories. That is: conspiracy theorists seem to be able to assimilate any phenomenon presented to them to their ontology; I worry that physicalists do this as well.

I really do understand that when one is doing the kinds of physics Carroll talks about, one cannot find anything other than the four forces / two fundamental forces. What I object to is treating reductionistic promissory notes as if they were science. Just like the strong force, weak force, and EM were just one force at the beginning, who is to say more forces cannot present under new conditions? (Where "new" is "sufficiently different from the domain where the three non-gravitational forces just become distinguishable".) Why are we so confident that chaotic systems which pass through the equivalent of unstable Lagrangian points end up going one way vs. another only because of "noise" (this doesn't have to be quantum noise), vs. there being a class of infinitesimal forces? I can see that any patterns which emerge from noise in experiments done by physicists are explicable in terms of the four forces, but why say that if some new force is going to be observable to humans, then it will manifest in those experiments? I see no justification whatsoever for that.

Let me illustrate this matter by talking about Turing machines implemented on semiconductors. Current computers are tremendously complex. But fundamentally, any time that something happens other than due to a 1 or a 0 (let's ignore MLC and true noise), that's a defect. All the fun physics that is going on must be neutralized in order for the Turing machine to operate as a Turing machine. Such neutralization allows for a categorically different kind of causation to happen—to really happen. To the extent that that's not really what happens, anything built on top of that layer is also not really true. Including our theories about determinism. (This applies even if we aren't Turing machines; we just need the "not really true", e.g. via heuristic thinking.)

You say that physicalism requires that everything (I'll add: required to understand everyday life) be built out of electrons and quarks and EM. But why is it important for the psychologist and sociologist to believe this, in order to do the highest quality science in their fields? Suppose instead they adopt causal pluralism in their theorizing. If that ends up better explaining human behavior, are they wrong "because physics knows best"? Again, the approximation required to apply the fundamental equations of physics at the macro scale loses structure from those fundamental equations; why does the monistic determinism aspect survive unscathed?

Ron said...

@Luke:

> False beliefs can also lead to good science.

You need to read:

http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

> The context of the discussion is necessary & sufficient conditions for science to thrive.

Maybe that's *your* context, but it's not mine. This discussion started because I characterized parts of the Bible as "evil", and then it segued into a discussion of free will. If we're talking about "necessary & sufficient conditions for science to thrive" that's news to me.

> might it be the case that for more and more science to be done, humans might have to become better?

Of course it might. But I don't see how "becoming better" in that regard can possibly involve believing in the core tenets of Christianity. In particular, I don't see how it can involve believing that everything bad that happens in this world is our fault, that we are powerless to do anything about it, and that our only recourse is to fall on our knees and beg for the benevolence of a non-existent deity.

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> > False beliefs can also lead to good science.

> You need to read:
>
> http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

You've already linked me to that. You must have missed my use of "successive approximation".

> > The context of the discussion is necessary & sufficient conditions for science to thrive.

> Maybe that's *your* context, but it's not mine. This discussion started because I characterized parts of the Bible as "evil", and then it segued into a discussion of free will. If we're talking about "necessary & sufficient conditions for science to thrive" that's news to me.

Wait a second, here's upstream in the conversation:

> Ron: So I think the emergence of science depends more on economic forces than social ones. To develop science, a society first has to have enough excess production to allow some of its members to just sit around and think. Once a society gets to that point, the development of science is probably inevitable.

Notice your "To develop science". And the conquering of the Greek empire and collapse of the Roman empire makes it rather clear that something more than just economic factors are required for science to continue ad infinitum. Which is what I was getting at with my use of "modern science".

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> > might it be the case that for more and more science to be done, humans might have to become better?

> Of course it might. But I don't see how "becoming better" in that regard can possibly involve believing in the core tenets of Christianity.

Let me first establish whether any values can have truth-value before we jump all the way to Christianity. So: if scientists have to practice some set of values in order to do science, and have to practice them better/​more articulately in order to do the next stage of science (e.g. interdisciplinary), do those values get assigned anything like a truth-value?

Now, we can jump straight to Christianity in this way. Suppose I and those who sufficiently agree with me can take our understanding of Christianity and try and improve the practice of science with it. If we succeed and excel in comparison to other strategies being practiced, then our understanding of Christianity will be on par with "the best explanation so far" standard of scientific inquiry which you presented to the Berkeley atheists. There's no need for certainty or absolute truth; instead we just need to work from the best that we have so far. Or have I missed something?

> In particular, I don't see how it can involve believing that everything bad that happens in this world is our fault, that we are powerless to do anything about it, and that our only recourse is to fall on our knees and beg for the benevolence of a non-existent deity.

The idea that you have to beg for God's benevolence is probably heretical to most versions of remotely orthodox Christianity. Take, for example, Eph 2:1–10. The idea is that we had no interest in God (which partly means: no interest in infinite excellence), that we were happily working against his purposes for ever-increasing goodness, excellence, beauty, and truth—and yet God still decided to help us out because he loves us regardless of how we think (or don't think) of him. **There is no begging.** Instead there is repentance, forgiveness, and subsequent awesomeness. But maybe only if the value-domain can have truth-value. Otherwise, what is repentance and forgiveness but mooshy subjective stuff that ultimately boils down to irrational/​arational preference? (If you have a better way to "place" them without getting anywhere near the matter of truth, let me know.)

The idea that we are powerless to do anything about the matter is somewhat misleading; Christianity and Judaism hold that God is happy to help if we will have his help. But we tend not to because we want to pursue our own goals—goals which are opposed to God's in any of a number of ways (e.g. pathetic, others-dominating, tolerant of hypocrisy, non-servantlike). In all this, there might be lurking the complaint that we shouldn't have to relate to God in order to grow arbitrarily in wisdom; instead, we should be able to be "autonomous" somehow. That seems absurd to me on a logical level, but perhaps I'm just a brain-damaged theist. (After all, if my theism is false, I clearly don't keep a solid barrier to allow for the cognitive dissonance rationalization; surely then my theism is acting very much like brain damage in my ability to act well in reality, including advancing scientific inquiry.)

The idea that everything bad that happens is our fault is false for every value of "our" other than "all created beings with moral agency". But if we restrict the scope to matters like "How did we let WWI happen?", I think we can take [guilty] responsibility for it in such a way that we make such an event less likely to repeat. Or, we can continue to tell ourselves that most of us are Good People™ and that everything bad that happens is [mostly] a combination of a few Bad Apples™ and Careless Nature™.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I'm happy with physicalism being a class of theories. What concerns me is that maybe it isn't even that. Maybe it's a metaphysic and nothing could falsify it,

Perhaps a better way to describe physicalism is that it's a bet: physicalists like me are betting that, no matter what new phenomena we observe in the future, we will be able to find physical laws that describe them, the way we have found physical laws that describe every phenomenon we've investigated scientifically so far. "Falsifying" this would mean finding some phenomenon that could not be described by any set of physical laws: but how would we ever know?

In other words, scientists can always continue trying to expand our understanding of physical laws as we continue to discover new phenomena. Saying that physicalism is false means saying that they won't always succeed. But practically speaking, what's the difference? We're not going to stop doing science just because some people think physicalism is false. So it will always be possible that we will find laws that describe every new phenomenon we observe; there will never have to be a point at which we just stop.

However, all of this is really irrelevant to the key point of this discussion, which is that, when it comes to our brains and bodies and all the objects we deal with in everyday life, we already have laws that describe all of those phenomena. We have already covered this domain in great detail with experiments. So even if physicalism is false, it doesn't matter for this discussion, because the claim that some new phenomenon, not explainable by our current understanding of the laws that govern electrons, quarks, and the electromagnetic interaction, could be going on in our brains or bodies or the objects we deal with in everyday life, is a much stronger claim than the claim that physicalism is false. It's the claim that induction doesn't work--that we can't generalize from the mountain of experimental data we already have covering this particular domain, and the laws we have built from it, to the belief that those laws will continue to hold in the future in that domain. But if induction doesn't work, we can't do science at all. Indeed we can't even live our everyday lives, since we are continually assuming in our everyday lives that induction works.

who is to say more forces cannot present under new conditions?

The conditions in our brains, bodies, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life are not "new conditions". They are conditions that have been investigated in great detail already. Saying that "new forces" could somehow arise in this domain is like saying that the Earth's orbit could suddenly change because of some "new force" we didn't know about. It would mean induction didn't work. And if induction doesn't work, all bets are off.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
All the fun physics that is going on must be neutralized in order for the Turing machine to operate as a Turing machine. Such neutralization allows for a categorically different kind of causation to happen—to really happen.

What do you mean by this?

why is it important for the psychologist and sociologist to believe this, in order to do the highest quality science in their fields?

I don't know if it is or not. You were the one who was asking for physics to give "guidance" to those other fields. My sense is that knowledge of the fundamental laws is not very useful in these fields. Much more useful is knowledge of the "building blocks" at the next level down below psychology: neurons, hormones, neurotransmitters, etc. All of those things are made of electrons and quarks and electromagnetism, so I don't see what the issue is.

Suppose instead they adopt causal pluralism in their theorizing. If that ends up better explaining human behavior, are they wrong "because physics knows best"?

What does "causal pluralism" mean at this level of theorizing? Psychologists and sociologists don't build models using electrons and quarks and electromagnetism as causal factors to begin with. They build models using entities at a much higher level of organization. As just remarked above, all of the "building blocks" they use at this level are built from the known fundamental entities. But that doesn't mean those entities appear directly as causal factors in their models.

In cases where theorists at this level have tried to postulate "new forces", for example in parapsychology, their models have not survived controlled experimental testing; so if that counts as a test of "causal pluralism" at this level, the test result is that causal pluralism doesn't work.

Peter Donis said...

@me:
What do you mean by this?

I should clarify that by "this" I mean "a categorically different kind of causation".

Luke said...

@Peter:

> I don't care whether I "could have done otherwise" in a metaphysical sense.

I suspect people care more about "could have done otherwise" when some tragedy recently happened and it seems like it really was avoidable. Take, for example, the fact of WWI and juxtapose it to all the glorying that was done about Enlightened humankind. Can we see the error of those ways as something which was avoidable? Can we see leaders of the time (intellectual, religious, political) as culpable for telling pretty fairy tales about human nature, in the sense that there was another explanation equally as compelling (recall 'dual rationality')?

> I care whether I am allowed to make my own choices about how to live my life, and whether I'm able to make good choices.

But feeling like you're in control doesn't mean you're in control. How do you differentiate? When it comes to matters of the will, it seems like Dennett's functionalism could exist solely in the subjective level, which is precisely the level which [given the metaphysic probably undergirding this conversation] can be at arbitrary variance with reality. It is very important to drill past appearances. I'm not sure how this interacts with Dennett's functionalism (feel free to point me to some particular book of his).

By the way, there is a pathological way to increase the amount of "freedom" which may be consistent with your understanding of free will: simply weaken the desires of most humans so that they only want what the State is happy to give them, so that the choices of A vs. B which are available to them will not upset the status quo. de Tocqueville predicted such weakening and Charles Taylor thinks exactly that has happened (The Malaise of Modernity, 3–4). I agree; I think the desires of modern man and women are generally pathetic. The titles of Christopher Lasch's two books The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations and The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times seem spot-on. I don't see any way to avoid this "pathetic imagination" problem without having a concept of "good" which is not entirely subjective. But then freedom of the will cannot be entirely subjective. Maybe it isn't in Dennett's understanding (and/or yours) and I just need to understand more.

> Or is it determined by you honestly considering both options, using whatever resources are in your brain, and then making a choice?

How do I avoid/​combat subconscious manipulation?

> You don't think that kind of choice can be a deterministic process? Why not?

See my @Peter: (3/5) comment. As I understand it, determinism either means there are no unstable Lagrangian points and no 'dual rationality', or that the choice of "which way" is 100% random—not willed. In contrast, I say that the way to truly respect another person's freedom is to put him/her in a situation of 'dual rationality' when I disagree, rather than trying everything at my disposal to make the decision come out how I want.

Luke said...

@Peter:

You seem to be presupposing that the only possible kind of explanation which has truth-value is one which is built upon causal monism / monistic determinism / physicalism. This reminds me of a discussion I was having about agent causation a while ago; someone responded that I was proposing hyperdeterminism. It is as if the causal monists have hijacked the terms 'determinism' and 'explanation'. However, the cracks are very present now in the attempts to construct complete, articulate, and therefore restricted descriptions of what science is (any such description will surely cover all possibly discoverable explanation); see for example Penelope Maddy (2007):

>>     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 no 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. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

With your insistence that any causal powers which could possibly be operating at the human scale would be found by the kinds of experiments physicists do, I should think you could do a much better job than Penelope Maddy. Perhaps she has been too beat down by the likes of Paul Feyerabend (Against Method; see especially § Scholarly reception)?

What I don't understand is why you think that a class of infinitesimal forces could not possibly exist which are relevant to the human scale. If consciousness operates at the edge of chaos, why could brain states not pass through the equivalent of unstable Lagrangian points, such that an infinitesimal push (not necessarily quantum) makes the difference between a choice of A vs. B? I know that we're very used to thinking that either things really are deterministic to the core, or that whatever is indeterministic is purely random. But how are those not metaphysical beliefs, rather than scientific beliefs? Here's David Bohm:

>>     The assumption that any particular kind of fluctuations are arbitrary and lawless relative to all possible contexts, like the similar assumption that there exists an absolute and final determinate law, is therefore evidently not capable of being based on any experimental or theoretical developments arising out of specific scientific problems, but it is instead a purely philosophical assumption. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 44)

It's still so hard to see you as doing anything other than presupposing reductionism, and doing so rather irresponsibly, given how terribly science does with explaining [self-]consciousness. At what point will the failure of "more of the same" push us to consider alternatives? Note carefully that for alternatives to get off the ground, the stranglehold of reductionism would have to somehow be broken.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > All the fun physics that is going on must be neutralized in order for the Turing machine to operate as a Turing machine. Such neutralization allows for a categorically different kind of causation to happen—to really happen.

> What do you mean by this?

In a Turing machine, 0's and 1's have causal powers. To the extent that they are merely approximations is the extent to which our conclusions of determinism and reductionism are merely approximations.

> You were the one who was asking for physics to give "guidance" to those other fields.

Yep, I did ask that, because physicists are insisting that those in the human sciences ought to consider monistic determinism to be true. If in fact it makes no difference one way or another, I think that would be a fantastically interesting result.

> > Suppose instead they adopt causal pluralism in their theorizing. If that ends up better explaining human behavior, are they wrong "because physics knows best"?

> What does "causal pluralism" mean at this level of theorizing?

It could mean that the common interface between people is at the level of appearance more than at the level of ontology. This is precisely the opposite of what happens in science. F. A. Hayek has some very interesting discussions of this in Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason. In order for explanations to work in differing situations, there needs to be some sort of commonality. One can either assert total commonality in which case you get a monism, or one can assert partial commonality, as in secularism like WP: Secularism § Secular society's "1. Refuses to commit itself as a whole to any one view of the nature of the universe and the role of man in it." + the idea of overlapping consensus. What you have is a set of truly different motivations which sufficiently synchronize with each other to avoid [too much] physical violence. The motivations are treated as truly causal.

> Psychologists and sociologists don't build models using electrons and quarks and electromagnetism as causal factors to begin with. They build models using entities at a much higher level of organization. As just remarked above, all of the "building blocks" they use at this level are built from the known fundamental entities. But that doesn't mean those entities appear directly as causal factors in their models.

Yes, electrons and quarks and EM are distanced from that theorizing via approximations. But even though our confidence in determinism is based on precision & accuracy and it is these things which are neutralized via approximation, you (and plenty of others) still hold that the determinism survives the process of approximation. That determinism Coyne and Carroll want to import into thinking about how humans make decisions isn't there in a scientifically detectable way, because of the necessity of making those approximations. But we are asked to believe in that determinism regardless. That doesn't seem the slightest bit fishy to you?

> In cases where theorists at this level have tried to postulate "new forces", for example in parapsychology, their models have not survived controlled experimental testing; so if that counts as a test of "causal pluralism" at this level, the test result is that causal pluralism doesn't work.

Sure you can always find failed examples, but what of e.g. the placebo effect?

Ron said...

@Luke:

> You must have missed my use of "successive approximation".

I did. So here is my response:

> Why can't theology engage in the kind of successive approximation that is characteristic of science?

Because theology doesn't have any mechanism for objectively correcting errors, no mechanism analogous to experiment, no answer to the Euthyphro dilemma. (See below.)

> the conquering of the Greek empire and collapse of the Roman empire makes it rather clear that something more than just economic factors are required for science to continue ad infinitum

No, that doesn't make it clear at all. Much of the intellectual progress made by Greece and Rome outlived the empires that produced it. And science thrives today despite the collapse of Greco-Roman civilization.

> if scientists have to practice some set of values in order to do science, and have to practice them better/​more articulately in order to do the next stage of science (e.g. interdisciplinary), do those values get assigned anything like a truth-value?

No. You could assign a truth-value to the question of whether a value fulfills some objective criterion, like being an evolutionarily stable strategy, or whether it leads to more or less violence or suffering or whatever. But you cannot assign a truth value to a value (we need a better word for this concept). If you could, it would not be a value, it would be a fact. Truth and goodness are mostly orthogonal concepts. Something can be true without being good ("Donald Trump is president") and something can be good without being true ("Justice always prevails").

> Suppose I and those who sufficiently agree with me can take our understanding of Christianity and try and improve the practice of science with it.

You hedged with the word "try". There is no doubt in my mind that you can try. There is a great deal of doubt in my mind that you will succeed. But the way to resolve this question is not to argue about it, but for you to do the experiment and show me the results.

> **There is no begging.**

OK, but you're focusing on that one word and missing the point: on Christian theology, we are saved by grace, not deeds. Therefore, our salvation is entirely out of our hands and it doesn't matter what we do (c.f. Rom 9:18-21). That attitude is antithetical to scientific progress.

> The idea that we are powerless to do anything about the matter is somewhat misleading; Christianity and Judaism hold that God is happy to help if we will have his help. But we tend not to because we want to pursue our own goals—goals which are opposed to God's in any of a number of ways (e.g. pathetic, others-dominating, tolerant of hypocrisy, non-servantlike).

Do you not see the circular reasoning here? God will help us as long as we do what He wants. If God isn't helping, it must be because we are not doing what He wants. So how do we know what He wants?

Case in point: it seems to me that God totally endorses dominating others (Deu 6:5, Exo 20:3, Exo 20:12, Mat 22:21, Eph 6:5). Many SI-Christians throughout history have agreed with me, and many (in fact the vast majority) of American Evangelicals endorse this view: today. Evangelicals overwhelmingly support increasing the U.S. military budget, cracking down on immigration, banning abortion, etc. all of which seem to me like "dominating others". So why should I believe you and not them, particularly when the Bible seems to me to endorse their view and not yours?

> The idea that everything bad that happens is our fault is false for every value of "our" other than "all created beings with moral agency".

When I wrote "our" I meant "humans" (wasn't that obvious?) AFAICT Christianity holds that humans are the only beings with moral agency. So I don't understand the point you're trying to make here.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
feeling like you're in control doesn't mean you're in control.

True, but "control" is also an ambiguous term. I suspect that to you, the only way for me to "control" what happens to me is to be able to violate the laws of physics. That's not what "control" means to me. To me, "control" means that the causal process that determines what happens to me goes through my brain, and more specifically the "rational" part of my brain, the part that evaluates options according to my best heuristic estimates and decides what to do and directs my actions accordingly. That's the kind of control I care about, and I can have it even if I can't violate the laws of physics.

I'm not sure how this interacts with Dennett's functionalism (feel free to point me to some particular book of his).

Freedom Evolves is his most recent book on free will (it was published in 2003 IIRC). Elbow Room (1984 IIRC) is a shorter and somewhat less developed presentation, but might be a bit more accessible to someone not familiar with his work. Both of those books discuss the concept of "control" as I have described it above.

there is a pathological way to increase the amount of "freedom" which may be consistent with your understanding of free will: simply weaken the desires of most humans so that they only want what the State is happy to give them

This doesn't meet my definition of "control" above, so it doesn't qualify as "freedom" by my definition. That's not to say it can't happen (indeed I think it does happen--not so much by weakening desires in general as by selectively pandering to certain ones and ignoring others, and conditioning people to think of the new set of relative strengths as normal). It's just to say that doing it is not consistent with respecting people's freedom.

How do I avoid/​combat subconscious manipulation?

The same way you would combat any attempt to influence what happens to you in a way you don't like: by being aware of the possibility and taking reasonable steps against it. It's no different than protecting your computer against malware.

determinism either means there are no unstable Lagrangian points and no 'dual rationality', or that the choice of "which way" is 100% random—not willed.

Equating "random" with "not willed" is a false dichotomy. An algorithm for heuristically evaluating options and making choices could make use of a random number generator and it wouldn't disqualify it as "free will".

I say that the way to truly respect another person's freedom is to put him/her in a situation of 'dual rationality' when I disagree, rather than trying everything at my disposal to make the decision come out how I want.

Saying that the only way to give the other person a genuine free choice is for them to have "dual rationality" is assuming your conclusion. If I can have free will using an algorithm that heuristically evaluates options and makes choices, then so can the other person. As long as I don't try to circumvent the part of their brain that runs that algorithm--just as I want them not to circumvent mine--I'm respecting their freedom. I can give them what I think are valid reasons for one choice vs. another; I just have to let them evaluate those reasons for themselves.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
You seem to be presupposing that the only possible kind of explanation which has truth-value is one which is built upon causal monism / monistic determinism / physicalism.

I already told you I was a physicalist. Doesn't that imply that I'm presupposing that?

If you're going to say I shouldn't presuppose it, I should prove it, of course I can't, any more than you can prove the contrary proposition. I'm not a physicalist because I found a logical proof of it. I'm a physicalist because, first, physicalism seems to work--the project of expanding our understanding of physical laws has consistently given us good explanations for new phenomena as we discover them, for at least a few centuries now--and second, because the alternative seems to me to have no predictive power whatsoever, i.e., to not work.

there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be

That's perfectly true. Physicalism didn't come from people specifying in advance that that's what science must be. It came from people discovering that it works: that doing science with physicalism as a methodological assumption pays huge dividends. If philosophers can't figure out how to gerrymander their preconceptions so that it is obvious to them that it would turn out that way, that's their problem. (As you can probably tell, I don't have a lot of use for philosophy as a general rule. Some philosophers, like Dennett, seem to me to be saying useful and important things; but my experience is that they are the exception rather than the rule. I'm not alone in this: many practicing scientists--which I am not, btw--seem to feel the same way. One of Steven Weinberg's books has a whole chapter called "Against Philosophy". Feynman was often eloquent on the subject as well.)

If consciousness operates at the edge of chaos, why could brain states not pass through the equivalent of unstable Lagrangian points

I already answered that: because thermal noise in the brain is too large.

how terribly science does with explaining [self-]consciousness.

That's because science hasn't been studying consciousness very long. Philosophy has been studying it for thousands of years and can't explain it either, so I don't see what gives philosophers any right to point fingers.

At what point will the failure of "more of the same" push us to consider alternatives?

The obvious alternative, the one you are implicitly suggesting, has been pursued for thousands of years. Where has it gotten us? At what point will the failure of "more of the same" of that push us to finally realize that it's not going to get there?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:


Ah, ok. Now here's a question for you: what are those 0's and 1's made of? If your answer is anything other than "electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions", please explain to me in detail why you think that.

Now here's another question for you: what gives those 0's and 1's the causal powers they have? If your answer is anything other than "the way the electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions are arranged inside the Turing machine", please explain to me in detail why you think that.

And, btw, the answer "a Turing machine is an abstraction" is not responsive. We're not talking about abstract Turing machines. We're talking about real machines that do real work in the real world. You can't make those out of math. You have to make them out of...I think you can fill in the rest here.

physicists are insisting that those in the human sciences ought to consider monistic determinism to be true.

In the sense I already said, yes--that our brains, bodies, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life, are made out of electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions. And I also pointed out that that still leaves a very wide variety of possibilities, because there are so many fundamental particles and interactions in any ordinary object. So this "insisting" isn't much of a hindrance.

The motivations are treated as truly causal.

Ok, now here's another question for you: what are those motivations made of? Again, if you're tempted to answer that "motivations" are abstract concepts, that answer is not responsive. We're not talking about abstract motivations. We're talking about real motivations of real people in the real world. You can't make those out of abstract concepts. You have to make them out of...do I need to complete the sentence?

what of e.g. the placebo effect?

What of it? The placebo effect means that people's beliefs can affect their physical bodies. Now here's a question for you: what are their beliefs made of?

Can you see the general pattern here? You keep talking about stuff at higher levels of organization, and I keep reminding you that all of those higher levels of organization are made of the same fundamental building blocks. And that latter statement is all that physicalism says. It doesn't say higher levels of organization can't exist. It doesn't say there can't be descriptions at higher levels of organization in which the relevant causal factors are "motivations" or "0's and 1's" or "placebo effect" instead of electrons and quarks. It just says that all those things, at all those higher levels of organization, are made of the same fundamental building blocks. That's all it says.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
our confidence in determinism is based on precision & accuracy and it is these things which are neutralized via approximation

I'm responding to this separately because it actually seems to be getting to a deeper point.

First, our confidence is not in "determinism", but in physicalism--the belief that everything that happens, happens in accordance with physical laws. The precision and accuracy of our predictions based on particular models using our best current understanding of those laws is only one of the reasons for this belief. Here are some others:

The precision and accuracy of predictions based on our models in a particular domain increases over time, as we study the domain in more and more detail. Even with models that have been developed to a very high degree of accuracy, it is still possible to improve it further with more sophisticated experiments. A good recent example is the LIGO observations of gravitational waves, which were predicted decades ago but required extraordinary precision and accuracy in many disciplines to detect. And this is in a discipline, GR, where previous experimental tests had already confirmed some predictions to fourteen decimal places.

When we discover new and expanded laws that cover a domain, they also explain why older laws we had discovered in the same domain worked, to the accuracy that they worked. For example, GR not only makes more accurate predictions about gravitational phenomena than Newtonian gravity, it also explains why Newtonian gravity was able to make predictions to the accuracy that it does make them. In other words, it explains how Newtonian gravity is actually an approximation to GR. Similarly, quantum mechanics explains how classical mechanics is an approximation to it and why that approximation worked well in the domain in which classical mechanics had been observed to work well.

When we can't solve the equations of a model exactly, we can still compute approximate solutions; and as we carry the approximation out to higher and higher orders (meaning, computing more and more terms in the approximation), the results get more and more accurate. (This, btw, is why precision and accuracy are not "neutralized by approximation" in the way you are thinking.) The limits on our predictive power in these cases, in other words, are due to limits on our computing power, not limits in the underlying model.

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/3)

Argh, another multi-part response. To quote Edward Feser:

>> As Vincent Bugliosi laments in Reclaiming History, his recent mammoth study of the JFK assassination, “it takes only one sentence to make the argument that organized crime had Kennedy killed to get his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, off its back, but it takes a great many pages to demonstrate the invalidity of that charge.”[25] (The Last Superstition)

Sometimes your comments about Christianity are like that.


> > Why can't theology engage in the kind of successive approximation that is characteristic of science?

> Because theology doesn't have any mechanism for objectively correcting errors, no mechanism analogous to experiment, no answer to the Euthyphro dilemma. (See below.)

When I look in the OT, I see lots of predictions of "there's gonna be calamity if you continue your current course of action" followed almost exclusively by "no you're full of crap it's peace as far as the eye can see; imprison that pesky prophet" followed by calamity, after which you see: "then they shall know that I am God". That's really important for us to see, because humans just *love* denying that their actions are going to lead to bad places. Just look at all the glorying in how awesome Enlightened man (yes, man) was in the decades leading up to WWI.

If you want to step back from the above—which I know can be dismissed as "well there are old wise men from whom we could still learn a few things"—I can go with the ultimate, which is "Can I get inside the mind of the creator of creation?" After all, God wants our minds to be conformed more to his—Is 55:6–9. Insights into how creation has been designed should yield better ability to act in it, right? That sounds awfully testable to me. For example, if a certain theology leads to better research in the human sciences than any alternative (including the "no theology" option), that would seem to be worthwhile evidence.

As to Euthyphro: how do you propose that humans access the Form of Piety?

> > the conquering of the Greek empire and collapse of the Roman empire makes it rather clear that something more than just economic factors are required for science to continue ad infinitum

> No, that doesn't make it clear at all. Much of the intellectual progress made by Greece and Rome outlived the empires that produced it. And science thrives today despite the collapse of Greco-Roman civilization.

Yes, because we have more than just the right economic factors. Although things seem to be getting a bit iffy in some domains these days.

> > if scientists have to practice some set of values in order to do science, and have to practice them better/​more articulately in order to do the next stage of science (e.g. interdisciplinary), do those values get assigned anything like a truth-value?

> No.

So truth is discovered while necessarily depending on non-truth? That makes no sense whatsoever.

> You hedged with the word "try". There is no doubt in my mind that you can try. There is a great deal of doubt in my mind that you will succeed. But the way to resolve this question is not to argue about it, but for you to do the experiment and show me the results.

I didn't hedge, I acted properly in respecting the evidence or in this case, lack thereof. Suppose I get results which show that my trying succeeded. What might you conclude? As good scientists, we ought to make some decisions about how we'll evaluate the evidence before the experiment is run, right?

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/3)

> > **There is no begging.**

> OK, but you're focusing on that one word and missing the point:

Actually the "begging" thing is characteristic of "worm theology". For a great display of it, see the Godless in Dixie post Evangelical Christianity and Low Self-Esteem. Or check out the Christian Contemporary Music song Canons, with the lyric "I'm so unworthy, but still You love me". Contrast this to what the Bible actually says, e.g. in Job 40:6–14 or where Jacob wrestled with God, or when Abraham questioned God.

I am focusing on "that one word" because gross misrepresentation happens one word at a time.

> on Christian theology, we are saved by grace, not deeds … That attitude is antithetical to scientific progress.

Sorry, but I don't see the connection between works-based salvation and scientific process. Could you make it a bit more clear? BTW, the Puritans believed they were saved by grace yet worked real hard and Richard Hofstadter describes them this way: "the Puritan clergy came as close to being an intellectual ruling class—or, more properly, a class of intellectuals intimately associated with a ruling power—as America has ever had." (Anti-intellectualism in American Life, 59)

> Do you not see the circular reasoning here? God will help us as long as we do what He wants.

That's not circular reasoning, that's how moral agents act. Do you [intentionally] help people who want to dominate others?

> So how do we know what He wants?

Do you think Mt 20:20–28 is ambiguous? Apparently yes:

> Case in point: it seems to me that God totally endorses dominating others (Deu 6:5, Exo 20:3, Exo 20:12, Mat 22:21, Eph 6:5).

How is Deuteronomy 6:5 an example of domination, especially given the choice God provides in Deut 30:11–20? That doesn't seem like God foisting himself on the Israelites. Oh and if you want to see a "you shall have no gods before me [unless you're brain-damaged]", see this nine minute clip from Neil deGrasse Tyson (transcript). We can deal with the other verses you listed if you want.

> Many SI-Christians throughout history have agreed with me …

Dude, the Bible is harshest on religious leaders who claim to be following YHWH. Those who can claim moral superiority have increased ability to turn evil and be more evil than the surrounding nations. That's just a fact of human nature (or moral agents in society). The big question is whether there are powerful internal resources for critique; if we look at Communism for example, there wasn't much. There was no appeal to Justice; for there was no Justice. There was merely the State. Continued …

Luke said...

@Ron: (3/3)

> So why should I believe you and not them, particularly when the Bible seems to me to endorse their view and not yours?

Easy: I can show you how they (and you) are cherry-picking scripture. Here's another example. Precious few slaveowners in the American South were Jews. So the only way that Jew-targeting law in the OT would apply to Protestants is if they are "Jews by faith". But then any slave who believes in Jesus would also be a "Jew by faith". That means that Ex 21:2–6 applies: manumission every seventh year, unless the slave really wants to stay a slave. Did those slaveowners obey? No. Because they obviously didn't give a rat's ass about doing so. You see this in spades in the Cornerstone Speech:

>> Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

So much for Jesus being the chief cornerstone. So much for serving others after the pattern of Jesus. No matter how you read the Bible, you cannot read slavery as being anything nearly as central as that speech makes it. So to call those people SI-Christians is equivalent to me lumping you in with the worst 30% of atheists I've ever encountered. That wouldn't be fair to you. It wouldn't be fair to atheists.

> … banning abortion, etc. all of which seem to me like "dominating others".

Seriously, you pick that one as an example of dominating others? At least give Christians credit for sticking up for the little guy—in this case, the very little guy. Even if you don't see certain human organisms as people, give them at least a little bit of credit. You can always criticize Christians for not caring enough about life at all stages (Francis Schaeffer, who arguably got Protestants riled up about what used to be a "Catholic issue", was adamant about this), but even then, Christians do run some crisis pregnancy centers. They could run more.

I get that there is a hypothesis that banning abortion is just another way to keep them women in their place; I agree that it may be rather compelling in some cases. But there is another way to criticize: take their motives at face-value and point out how their actions are really unintelligent because there's a lot of low-hanging fruit they could be picking. If you just psychologize, then you give the other side license to do exactly that—e.g. pick out where welfare is keeping people [rather] poor and say that Democrats really want that to happen so they can have a stable voting bloc. This is the kind of behavior that makes even the semblance of democracy impossible.

> > The idea that everything bad that happens is our fault is false for every value of "our" other than "all created beings with moral agency".

> When I wrote "our" I meant "humans" (wasn't that obvious?) AFAICT Christianity holds that humans are the only beings with moral agency. So I don't understand the point you're trying to make here.

The serpent in the Garden was treated as moral agent. (It can easily symbolize some non-human moral agency.) There is also 1 Cor 6:3a "Do you not know that we are to judge angels?"

Peter Donis said...

@me:
Even with models that have been developed to a very high degree of accuracy, it is still possible to improve it further with more sophisticated experiments.

I should add another item here: our understanding of the laws themselves tells us what new phenomena to look for and how to detect them experimentally. LIGO and gravitational waves illustrate that as well. We would never have tried to build LIGO if it weren't for GR's prediction of gravitational waves, and we would never have known how to build it properly without predictions involving many different disciplines about, for example, how strong the waves would be, how to detect signals of the relevant strength, what other sources of noise could hamper their detection, and how to filter out those sources of noise. The progress in particle physics experiments for the last century or so illustrates the same thing.

Luke said...

@Peter:

Since I need to dial back the posting at least for the next few days, I'm going to cherry-pick some things you've said. I'm really tempted to resurrect my quote-tracking software. Anyhow, your answers to the below should help me give better responses to the rest.


> I suspect that to you, the only way for me to "control" what happens to me is to be able to violate the laws of physics.

Nope; I've been very consistent about futzing at unstable Lagrangian points, which requires infinitesimal force and thus is perfectly consonant with the laws of physics. We seem to disagree on this and there some older tangents probably worth resurrecting which bear on this matter.

> > How do I avoid/​combat subconscious manipulation?

> The same way you would combat any attempt to influence what happens to you in a way you don't like: by being aware of the possibility and taking reasonable steps against it. It's no different than protecting your computer against malware.

It's not at all like protecting my computer from malware; I can be extremely confident that the initial install had no malware (other than phone-home), I can check the hashes of software I download, and I can always flatten & reinstall. None of these is possible with humans. To make this kind of like protecting your computer against malware, you'd have to have authorities you trust who tell you to stay away from various ideas and people.

> > You seem to be presupposing that the only possible kind of explanation which has truth-value is one which is built upon causal monism / monistic determinism / physicalism.

> I already told you I was a physicalist. Doesn't that imply that I'm presupposing that?

Why, as a physicalist, must you presuppose that the only kind of explanation which could possibly be predictive is one based on causal monism?

> > If consciousness operates at the edge of chaos, why could brain states not pass through the equivalent of unstable Lagrangian points

> I already answered that: because thermal noise in the brain is too large.

Did you see the parenthetical in "an infinitesimal push (not necessarily quantum)"? I understand what warmness does for decoherence times. I'd be happy to try and consult some experts on this matter.

> > At what point will the failure of "more of the same" push us to consider alternatives?

> The obvious alternative, the one you are implicitly suggesting, has been pursued for thousands of years.

I'm not suggesting philosophy as the sole answer. We are the instruments with which we explore reality; philosophy lets us examine those instruments to see if they're operating logically and to see if they are blinding themselves to empirically legitimate possibilities. You still have to then go and observe.

> Ah, ok. Now here's a question for you: what are those 0's and 1's made of?

It doesn't matter, and that's the point. Neutralizing the substrate could easily allow causal powers to manifest which were stuck in the noise beforehand. If this is false, if the 0's and 1's are *just* approximations, then so is the conclusion of determinism. And I only need determinism to be the tiniest bit of an approximation for a dv model of free will to work. Your focus on heuristics makes that door wide enough, if the incompleteness of physics weren't sufficient already.

> So this "insisting" [of determinism] isn't much of a hindrance.

I suspect you're right, but it did allow Coyne to say "nobody could have done otherwise". Guilt is nonsensical if that's true. (Sadness and regret are not the same as guilt.) How does a woman who was raped confront her victimizer if he couldn't have chosen differently?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I've been very consistent about futzing at unstable Lagrangian points, which requires infinitesimal force and thus is perfectly consonant with the laws of physics.

Ah, ok, that clarifies your position. Then I would say that yes, this is consistent with the laws of physics, but whether it is actually possible in a particular case requires looking at the details--in particular, whether there is thermal noise present and what its average energy is as compared to the energy required for the "infinitesimal force". But ultimately this is an empirical question; if something like this is actually going on in the brain, sooner or later we should be able to see it in experiments, once we can make them accurate enough.

It's not at all like protecting my computer from malware

Of course the details are different, because human brains are designed very differently from our current computers. I only meant that, conceptually, any influence on your mental processes that you don't like is the same as malware on your computer, and the general method for dealing with it is the same: be aware that it's out there and take steps to deal with it.

To make this kind of like protecting your computer against malware, you'd have to have authorities you trust who tell you to stay away from various ideas and people.

You don't need to do that to protect against malware. You just need to exercise common sense precautions, which boil down to: don't run untrusted code with too many privileges. (The question of what code you can trust is, of course, interesting: my answer to that is to run Linux on all my home computers, since it's open source and I can control what's running and what privileges it has. I don't have a choice about work computers, but that's my employer's problem, not mine.)

The equivalent of that for protecting your mind against malware is the same: don't "run" untrusted information with too many privileges. You don't need an authority to tell you what information is to be considered untrusted; in fact having such an authority is in itself a possible malware risk. Yes, I know we humans are social animals and we evolved to give basically root privileges to information coming from certain sources (parents, teachers, priests, etc.); but I view that as a bug in the human cognitive system, not a feature. :-)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Why, as a physicalist, must you presuppose that the only kind of explanation which could possibly be predictive is one based on causal monism?

You're the one who keeps dragging in the term "causal monism". I'm not even sure I know what it means. Physicalism is just what I said: the belief that everything that happens, happens in accordance with physical laws. If that means "causal monism", then ok, it's causal monism, but I don't see the point of having two different terms that both mean the same thing.

If "causal monism" means what I've been saying about how our brains and bodies and all the objects in our everyday life are made of electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions, that's not a presupposition, it's an experimental fact. Our theories tell us that because our theories have been tested against experimental facts, not because we assumed it to begin with. Physicalism itself doesn't tell you what the physical laws are, or even what kind of laws they are. You have to find that out by scientific investigation, as I've already said.

Also, the only "causal monism" in this latter sense that I've been asserting is for our brains and bodies and all the objects in our everyday life. I have never claimed "causal monism" in this sense for the entire universe--that is, I've never claimed that the entire universe is made of electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions. Of course that is false, and I've explicitly said so, though that was quite a while back now in this discussion. We don't even know for sure that we have observed and modeled all of the particles and interactions that are present in the universe as a whole, because we don't know what dark matter is and we don't know what dark energy is; we just know their basic phenomenology.

Did you see the parenthetical in "an infinitesimal push (not necessarily quantum)"?

I must have missed whatever parenthetical you are referring to here.

I understand what warmness does for decoherence times.

If we're not talking about a quantum process, then decoherence times are irrelevant; we're approximating the workings of our brains and bodies and all the objects in our everyday lives as classical. My claim about thermal noise was based on that classical treatment. It is true that thermal noise can also make quantum uncertainty irrelevant, but the thermal noise in the brain is much larger than the level needed to do that; it's large enough to make plenty of classical processes on small enough energy scales unrealizable--at least, that's my belief based on my best understanding of the energy scales involved.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Neutralizing the substrate could easily allow causal powers to manifest which were stuck in the noise beforehand.

Huh? This is backwards. The causal powers of 0s and 1s, in a physically implemented Turing machine, are much narrower than the causal powers of the physical thing it is implemented it on. Implementing a Turing machine on, for example, a bunch of transistors doesn't amplify noise in the transistors; it throws away a lot of noise by coarse-graining the zillions of possible microstates of a particular physical bit into two buckets, "0" and "1". The causal powers of the 0s and 1s are then just the restricted causal powers of the two subspaces of the state space corresponding to those two bit values, which is a very small subset of the causal powers of the underlying physical device.

if the 0's and 1's are *just* approximations

They're not; they're coarse-grained subspaces of the underlying state space. See above.

"nobody could have done otherwise". Guilt is nonsensical if that's true.

It depends on what you mean by "guilt". We've been around this merry-go-round before.

How does a woman who was raped confront her victimizer if he couldn't have chosen differently?

It depends on what you mean by "chosen". We've been around this merry-go-round before.

It also depends on why the woman wants to confront the rapist.

Luke said...

@Peter:

Ok, here's another brief response; I know I'm almost certainly going to miss/​ignore things. I'm building up motivation to rewrite that quote-tracking software, especially since you've pointed out some possible looping (repeating something discussed before to sufficient approximation to worry that we're stuck in a Poincaré recurrence).


> But ultimately this [infinitesimal force thing] is an empirical question; if something like this is actually going on in the brain, sooner or later we should be able to see it in experiments, once we can make them accurate enough.

Yep. As I said before, "I'm rather pragmatic at heart." If I cannot see how an idea touches down in reality, I have an incredibly hard time understanding it. I had to drop out university because of that; it's probably one of the most theory-centric universities in the world and I couldn't hack it in the rarefied air of symbol-land.

Now, as it comes to this issue, I suspect one might need to employ both nonseparable causation (nonseparable state ⇔ nonseparable causation) and weak measurement if not interaction-free measurement. I can go into the reasons later, but suffice it to say that any equivalents of Lagrangian points in human thinking near the edge of chaos are almost certainly going to be spread out in space, rather than being a spacecraft flying through a point.

> > It's not at all like protecting my computer from malware

> Of course the details are different

Pretty much everything is different. See for example virus definition files, which you regularly download from an authority. The closest you got was sandboxing but even that doesn't really work because there's no "what if" mode. I can keep going if you want. Also, you didn't address the key issue that humans don't start in a "known good state", while computers can (and that's absolutely key for anti-virus to work—otherwise you can have a rootkit).

> You're the one who keeps dragging in the term "causal monism". I'm not even sure I know what it means. Physicalism is just what I said: the belief that everything that happens, happens in accordance with physical laws.

Wait a second, you wrote ""monistic determinism" (which I would call "physicalism")" in response. The obvious alternative to causal monism is that there isn't just one set of physical laws in operation. Different laws can be active at different times and in different places. We do know that there is a terrific amount that is common, and that is of course key to intersubjectivity. But I don't see why explanations can only be predictive if causal monism is true. Ceteris Paribus Laws seem like they'd work just fine with causal pluralism.

> The causal powers of 0s and 1s, in a physically implemented Turing machine, are much narrower than the causal powers of the physical thing it is implemented it on.

I'm not sure what "narrower" means, given my excerpt of Noam Chomsky. What can't Turing Machines compute or do?

> It depends on what you mean by "guilt". We've been around this merry-go-round before.

I would like to better understand how the term 'guilt' changes on Coyne- and Carroll-CFW.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
See for example virus definition files, which you regularly download from an authority.

I don't. I run an operating system (Linux) that was designed from the ground up to be secure, instead of having security bolted on as an afterthought, like another popular operating system that I won't name :-). On a Linux system, the common sense precautions I suggested (basically, don't run untrusted code with too many privileges), are sufficient. That's one of the reasons I run Linux: because I don't want to have to trust any other "authority" with root privileges on my computer, and that's what having an anti-virus program running amounts to.

humans don't start in a "known good state"

That's true, but I already said the details are different. The analogy I was making was at a much higher level.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
you wrote ""monistic determinism" (which I would call "physicalism")" in response.

That was a best guess on my part, based on what I thought you meant by "monistic determinism". Based on your statements here, I might have been mistaken; see below.

The obvious alternative to causal monism is that there isn't just one set of physical laws in operation.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Do the four fundamental interactions we know of (gravity, electromagnetism, weak, strong) count as different sets of physical laws? If they do, then we're talking about the same model, just using different words.

If they don't, then what happens when things obeying different physical laws interact? The physicalist answer is: you have physical laws describing the interaction. Which means you no longer have different sets of physical laws. You have one set, which can include different subsets with laws about their interactions.

I don't see any other coherent alternatives than the ones above. Were you thinking of one of those, or of something else?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Ceteris Paribus Laws seem like they'd work just fine with causal pluralism.

It depends on what you mean by "causal pluralism". For example, Newton's Laws are ceteris paribus laws; we know that now that we have GR and can see the limits of the domain of validity of Newton's Laws. Does that mean that, if we use Newton's Laws to calculate the trajectory of an artillery shell or a satellite, we are adopting "causal pluralism"? If so, you and I are talking about the same model, just using different words.

If not, then can you give me a concrete example of what you mean by "causal pluralism"?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
What can't Turing Machines compute or do?

We're not talking about Turing machines. We're talking about the physical devices that implement Turing Machines. Those devices can obviously do lots of things (radiate heat, make noise, have fluctuating EM fields inside their storage units) that the Turing Machines they implement can't do.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I would like to better understand how the term 'guilt' changes on Coyne- and Carroll-CFW.

This is probably too much for a discussion thread, but the basic idea (which Dennett, for example, briefly explains in his review of Waller's book, linked earlier in this discussion) is that, on a physicalist account of free will and morality, "guilt" is part of an agreement that people can make and assent to in order to enjoy the benefits of living in a civilized society. So it's not a property that you can just "read off" from a physical description, or evaluate by looking at physical laws.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> I run an operating system (Linux) that was designed from the ground up to be secure

Ah, ok. I am used to Linux folks talking about protecting their computers from malware. Now, do you verify the hashes of binaries you download? Do you use SSL to download binaries? Do you have root certificates installed? I'll bet you still trust authorities, albeit not for virus definitions. True object-capability security is cool, though.

> > humans don't start in a "known good state"

> That's true, but I already said the details are different. The analogy I was making was at a much higher level.

That's fine; I'm just saying your analogy has a serious flaw. It therefore doesn't clean up the mess I pointed to, which originally provoked it. Things are not sufficiently simple; if they were, we (the US, the world) wouldn't be in the mess we are. It's kind of like landing inside an asteroid, not realizing that you've actually flown into the maw of a giant space creature. It seems preferable to have ways to detect whether one is not actually on solid ground.

> > The obvious alternative to causal monism is that there isn't just one set of physical laws in operation.

> I'm not sure what you mean by this.

It happens all the time in society: different people live by different rules and they cannot be perfectly reconciled. Sometimes alignment is brought by violence, sometimes misalignment continues until death. This doesn't mean one cannot characterize the rules of one person and compare them to the rules of another. And so, one can have explanations in causal pluralism—nothing I just said depends one whit upon reductionism or rigid determinism.

> If they don't, then what happens when things obeying different physical laws interact?

I don't have anything like a systematic answer to this; what I can say is that people who follow different rules (not physical laws) interact all the time; sometimes well, sometimes disastrously, and sometimes like ships sailing past each other in the night. Note that there is no need for the physical laws to be disjoint; if physical law is as the empirical evidence warrants (IMO) and the way I exert infinitesimal forces is different from how you do (yes I'm presupposing a dv model of free will for this point), that seems like something that could plausibly happen in a shared reality.

> I don't see any other coherent alternatives than the ones above.

There's actually a longstanding problem in philosophy/​psychology/​theology/​post-modernism about how to interact with "the Other", if it's even possible. That concern is understandable if any understanding requires complete uniformity—and I suspect something like that was presupposed by 'Reason' in the Enlightenment. But I see no reason that this is necessarily the case. You just need enough of a common interface (of some sort) and the ability/​willingness to stretch beyond your current box.

> We're not talking about Turing machines. We're talking about the physical devices that implement Turing Machines. Those devices can obviously do lots of things (radiate heat, make noise, have fluctuating EM fields inside their storage units) that the Turing Machines they implement can't do.

Granted. But if you don't neutralize enough of those things, you can't get functional computation—or for humans, thought. And once you do enough neutralization, I see no reason to not suppose that causal powers can manifest which were dwarfed by the four forces of physics beforehand. I'm basically arguing the inverse of supercooling atoms to get Bose-Einstein condensates and such. I'm also riffing on Robert Laughlin's idea that the laws of nature are collective behaviors of an underlying substrate.

> "guilt" is part of an agreement that people can make

That sounds a little social contract-ish, in all its fictional glory.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
do you verify the hashes of binaries you download?

If they don't come through my distro's package manager, most definitely. (If they do come through the package manager, the package manager is doing this.)

Do you use SSL to download binaries?

Yes. (Technically, most of the time it's my distro's package manager that is using SSL, but it comes to the same thing.)

Do you have root certificates installed?

The ones my distro provides, yes. And yes, that is an additional trust relationship that needs to be taken into account. Fortunately, it's extremely rare that I have to install anything that doesn't come through my distro's package manager, and if I do, it will be from somewhere that I have other reasons to believe is reliable. (One good reason not to believe a source is reliable is not providing hashes for binaries, obtainable using a secure channel.) The distro's package manager itself will only download from the particular sources the distro provides.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
It happens all the time in society: different people live by different rules and they cannot be perfectly reconciled.

So to you, "physical laws" means "rules that people in society choose to live by"? I'm sorry, but to me this is an egregious abuse of terminology, and it makes it difficult for me to have a discussion at all. By "physical laws" I mean physical laws--the fundamental laws that govern electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions. (And others, but those are the only ones that are relevant for this discussion, for reasons which I've already stated multiple times.) If you're not willing to use the term that way, I'll just have to bow out of any discussion with you that relies on it.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
if you don't neutralize enough of those things, you can't get functional computation

Excuse me? You mean that unless I stop the computer I'm using from radiating heat, making noise, and having fluctuations of fields in its storage units, I can't be typing this? That's obviously ridiculous. Are you really thinking about what you're saying?

What you might be trying to say is that the "computation" part of the device has to ignore all these things. That's true. But what you said certainly seemed like a much stronger statement than that. "Ignore" doesn't mean "neutralize".

I'm basically arguing the inverse of supercooling atoms to get Bose-Einstein condensates and such.

I don't understand how this would work. The inverse of supercooling would be warming the atoms up, which destroys collective behavior like Bose-Einstein condensation. It doesn't create some other kind of collective behavior; it just makes the atoms act like an ordinary classical thermal state.

I'm also riffing on Robert Laughlin's idea that the laws of nature are collective behaviors of an underlying substrate.

I'll have to read the Laughlin links you gave earlier. My initial impression is that you are misinterpreting something he said.

Ron said...

@Luke (1/2):

> So truth is discovered while necessarily depending on non-truth? That makes no sense whatsoever.

Why not? Discovering the truth is hard. It requires work. So truth is discovered mainly by people who believe that truth has value. Not everyone believes that. Donald Trump, for example, believes the exact opposite, that truth is harmful. And relative to the things that he values, like his personal power and influence, he's probably right.

> As to Euthyphro: how do you propose that humans access the Form of Piety?

You've missed the point. I didn't cite Euthyphro to talk about Form of Piety. I cited Euthyphro to ask the question: is it good because God says so, or does God say so because it is good? (And to make the point that religion has no answer to this question.)

> Suppose I get results which show that my trying succeeded. What might you conclude?

Dunno. Depends on what the results are. The devil is in the details.

> Actually the "begging" thing is characteristic of "worm theology".

Which many SI-Christians subscribe to.

> I am focusing on "that one word" because gross misrepresentation happens one word at a time.

You'll have to take that up with your fellow Christians. I am only repeating what I have been told.

> I don't see the connection between works-based salvation and scientific process.

See above about truth requiring effort to discover, and therefore being discovered mainly by people who believe truth is valuable. If you believe that your salvation lies entirely in the hands of God and that your actions will not influence the outcome there is less motivation to work hard to find the truth. Reading the Bible and praying for forgiveness is all the truth you need. Then you just hang on until you die, at which point you claim your eternal reward at the Right Hand of God.

I am not making this up. Millions of people really do believe this.

Ron said...

@Luke (2/2):

> Do you think Mt 20:20–28 is ambiguous?

I don't, no. But I look at the world and I see Donald Trump, who does not seem to me to be conducting his affairs (no pun intended) in accordance with these words, but nonetheless enjoys overwhelming support among those who self-identify as Christians. Somewhere between Mt 20:20-28 and the actions of the vast majority of those who profess to believe that these are the Words of God there seems to me to be a really big disconnect. Your quarrel is not with me, it is with them. And my question to you is: how do you resolve this disagreement? That is the question to which I say religion has no answer.

> How is Deuteronomy 6:5 an example of domination

Because we are commanded to love God whether or not he deserves it. (And in this God seems to me very much like Donald Trump.)

> especially given the choice God provides in Deut 30:11–20?

Love God or die. That's not a choice, that's an ultimatum. (And again, in this God seems very much like Donald Trump.)

> Dude, the Bible is harshest on religious leaders who claim to be following YHWH.

Says you. They will say that they are doing God's work. Again: how do you resolve this difference of opinion?

> Easy: I can show you how they (and you) are cherry-picking scripture.

But they can do the same, because you are cherry-picking too. You focus on Matthew 20, they focus on Matthew 5:18 and Leviticus. Potato, potahto.

> Seriously, you pick that one as an example of dominating others?

Yes.

> At least give Christians credit for sticking up for the little guy—in this case, the very little guy.

I would if their actions were consistent with wanting to stick up for the little guy, but they aren't. If they really wanted to stick up for the little guy they'd be advocating birth control, real sex education, better support for adoption, including supporting gay adoptions. They would be advocating universal health care and free education. But they do not do these things. They focus their efforts almost exclusively on *criminalizing abortion*. That is more consistent with a motive of wanting to use reproductive rights as a lever to dominate women than it is wanting to "stick up for the little guy."

> I get that there is a hypothesis that banning abortion is just another way to keep them women in their place

Not just a hypothesis. There is overwhelming *evidence* that this is their true motive.

> The serpent in the Garden was treated as moral agent.

And you believe that actually happened? A talking snake? Seriously?

Luke said...

@Peter:

I really do need to get back to bits I haven't addressed, but this is so … addicting.


> If they don't come through my distro's package manager, most definitely. (If they do come through the package manager, the package manager is doing this.)

So as it turns out, you do trust an authority when it comes to how you avoid malware. (Just not for virus definition files.) This is another point of disanalogy between avoiding malware and avoiding subconscious manipulation. At this point I'm afraid I don't find any of your answer compelling:

> Luke: How do I avoid/​combat subconscious manipulation?

> Peter: The same way you would combat any attempt to influence what happens to you in a way you don't like: by being aware of the possibility and taking reasonable steps against it. It's no different than protecting your computer against malware.

It's really very little like protecting your computer against malware. (Let me note that you're rigorous on me when it comes to talking about physics.) The rest is rather vague.

Free will that is not resilient to subconscious manipulation is, IMO, not really worth having. I think it's too easy to end up being a pawn of others without realizing it. In fact I suspect that has been done to a great swath of humanity. It's kind of like depriving a child of an excellent education—the child may never know the grievous harm which has been done. We end up settling for something pathetic and to be honest, plenty of humans get stepped on to even get there.

> So to you, "physical laws" means "rules that people in society choose to live by"?

No. I was demonstrating that causal pluralism allows for intelligible explanations. There was a tremendous amount of intelligibility before humans started positing physical laws. If your physicalism prevents you from acknowledging this, your physicalism has an adequacy-to-reality problem.

> You mean that unless I stop the computer I'm using from radiating heat, making noise, and having fluctuations of fields in its storage units, I can't be typing this?

Sorry, I meant to draw in all the complexity of the causal powers explored by physics when I said that much of it has to be neutralized. And yes, that pretty much means EM unless you need radiation hardness for spaceflight or incredible robustness. It is by greatly restricting what is allowed to happen that you can get new behavior. I'm not talking just "ignore".

> I don't understand how this would work. The inverse of supercooling would be warming the atoms up, which destroys collective behavior like Bose-Einstein condensation. It doesn't create some other kind of collective behavior; it just makes the atoms act like an ordinary classical thermal state.

Read up on the von Klitzing effect, aka the integer quantum hall effect. It's been shown to happen at room temperature in graphene. You seem to have some odd (to me—maybe they're 100% scientific) ideas on what the only conditions could possibly be for infinitesimal forces to act near the equivalents of Lagrangian points; I'm trying to get you to either convince me of that or back down on your confidence. But of course that's up to you.

> I'll have to read the Laughlin links you gave earlier. My initial impression is that you are misinterpreting something he said.

If you end up correcting me, thank you. If you end up calling Laughlin stupid, I'll be skeptical. If I end up being right and reasonable, perhaps you will give me a little more credit going forward.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
So as it turns out, you do trust an authority when it comes to how you avoid malware.

You're equivocating on the meaning of "authority". I don't trust my Linux distro as an "authority" in the sense of believing whatever they tell me and assuming without evidence that the bits they send me are safe. I trust my Linux distro because I have good evidence that the bits they send me are safe. (That evidence, btw, includes the availability of source code.) And when I see evidence that the bits might not be safe, I switch distros. I've done this several times over the years (I've been running Linux since about 2002, and exclusively on my home computers since 2005.) In fact, even evidence that the bits my distro is sending me are less convenient for me is enough for me to switch distros, well before any kind of security risk.

Free will that is not resilient to subconscious manipulation is, IMO, not really worth having.

"Resilient" is not the same as "immune". You seem to be wanting "immune". You can't have that, at least not in the real world.

What's more, even if "resilient" is sufficient, I don't see how your "delta v" model gives you any more resilience than a deterministic random number generator inside your brain would. So I don't see why you are so invested in that particular model.

I meant to draw in all the complexity of the causal powers explored by physics when I said that much of it has to be neutralized.

I'm afraid I still don't follow, and your use of language makes me pessimistic about the chances that I will be able to.

Read up on the von Klitzing effect, aka the integer quantum hall effect. It's been shown to happen at room temperature in graphene.

Sure. And high temperature superconductivity exists too. None of which addresses the point I was making. There is still a threshold temperature for all of these phenomena, above which they no longer occur. Which means that raising the temperature will make all of these effects go away. But you used the word "inverse", which to me means you're saying raising the temperature will somehow enable some other similar effect (though again it's hard for me to tell because of the way you are using language), which is not what any of the actual evidence suggests.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
You seem to have some odd (to me—maybe they're 100% scientific) ideas on what the only conditions could possibly be for infinitesimal forces to act near the equivalents of Lagrangian points

It seems obvious to me. The general principle is that any force used to control something must be larger (preferably much larger) than any random forces the thing is subjected to.

In the case of a spacecraft at an unstable Lagrange point, the control force is the spacecraft's engine and the random forces are things like micrometeroid impacts, the solar wind, etc. There is also some amount of uncertainty in the exact position of the craft or in the calculations of the orbit based on the positions of the Sun and planets. All of those effects are much smaller than the engine force.

In the case of the brain, the control force is whatever is driving cognition--neural firings, for example--and the random forces are thermal fluctuations at a temperature of 310 K. The things driving cognition are ultimately chemical reactions, so the energies associated with them are typical chemical reaction energies, which are roughly two to three orders of magnitude larger than thermal energy at 310 K.

You've only waved your hands about what sort of force would count as the "infinitesimal delta v" you've been talking about, but the very word "infinitesimal" suggests that it would be very small. Your use of the spacecraft example gives a way of estimating how small: the energy associated with the rocket burn, compared to the total orbital energy (kinetic plus potential) of the craft. This ratio is going to be much, much smaller than two or three orders of magnitude. That tells me that the "infinitesimal delta v" model is not a good way of thinking about how free will might work in the brain.

Peter Donis said...

@me:
I'll have to read the Laughlin links you gave earlier.

And there is a Kindle edition of his book, so Luke, you just added another item to my reading list. :-)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Indeed, in FQXi: Fluctuations in de Sitter Space he explicitly argues against down-fluctuations in entropy at the quantum level, on the basis that there is no [further] microstructure which can thusly fluctuate.

No, that's not what he's saying. The paper he was describing in that talk is here:

https://arxiv.org/abs/1405.0298

The tl/dr is that, according to his model (which, btw, is not mainstream, it's just one proposal in an area where there currently is no mainstream theory), when we do quantum field theory in de Sitter spacetime, a thermal state is stationary--i.e., there is no time dependence, not even at the micro level. This is in sharp contrast to an ordinary "Boltzmann" thermal state, which if it is in thermodynamic equilibrium is time independent at the macro level--the thermodynamic variables like temperature and pressure don't change--but is time dependent at the micro level.

But the difference between these two cases has nothing to do with there being "no further microstructure to fluctuate" in the quantum de Sitter case. In both cases thermodynamics is formulated the same way: you coarse grain over microstates that all have the same values for macroscopic thermodynamic variables like temperature.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > So truth is discovered while necessarily depending on non-truth? That makes no sense whatsoever.

> Why not? Discovering the truth is hard. It requires work. So truth is discovered mainly by people who believe that truth has value. Not everyone believes that.

I don't think you've understood my point. I'm not talking about valuing truth, I'm talking about qualities of the instrument which is used to discover truth. That instrument is fractal: it is the scientist, but it's also the sub-discipline, but it's also scientists at large, but it's also society at large because that's where the money comes from and that actually matters quite a lot. Bad instruments lead to bad measurements, or just completely not measuring parts of reality. The qualities of the instrument aren't themselves a correspondence to reality "out there", but if the instruments are in bad shape, that is harmful for discovering truth.

> > As to Euthyphro: how do you propose that humans access the Form of Piety?

> You've missed the point. I didn't cite Euthyphro to talk about Form of Piety. I cited Euthyphro to ask the question: is it good because God says so, or does God say so because it is good? (And to make the point that religion has no answer to this question.)

Actually, I just took the reference to Euthyphro quite seriously and since you gave precious little detail, I had no other good option. To your more articulate version, I'll point out that if God created us, either there are rules on what we can believe regardless of his powers, or he could make us believe whatever he wants about the good. If the former, then there is a Form of Piety which restricts God. If the latter, your question is rendered irrelevant on an epistemic level.

> > Suppose I get results which show that my trying succeeded. What might you conclude?

> Dunno. Depends on what the results are. The devil is in the details.

I see; is my "As good scientists, we ought to make some decisions about how we'll evaluate the evidence before the experiment is run, right?" 100% wrong?

> > Actually the "begging" thing is characteristic of "worm theology".

> Which many SI-Christians subscribe to.

So? Your "our only recourse is to fall on our knees and beg for the benevolence of a non-existent deity" was not qualified to a "many" which could easily fall below the majority. Were I to mouth off about "what atheist do" or "what atheists say", you'd be well within your rights to ask me to specify if those statements are not known to be good generalizations of most (the vast majority of?) atheists.

> > I am focusing on "that one word" because gross misrepresentation happens one word at a time.

> You'll have to take that up with your fellow Christians. I am only repeating what I have been told.

I can do that, but you don't get to hide behind them like a shield.

> If you believe that your salvation lies entirely in the hands of God and that your actions will not influence the outcome there is less motivation to work hard to find the truth.

I'm a counterexample to that, in the flesh. And then there is Richard Hofstadter's analysis of the Puritans, which I quoted above. Indeed, I would wager a guess that I believe there is more truth to be found than you, because I think the human sciences are more worth consulting than apparently you do. And I apparently feel more compelled to expend the requisite energy to go find it than you, at least based on our last in-person conversation.

> I am not making this up. Millions of people really do believe this.

Have I ever denied that?

Luke said...

@Ron + @Ron: [meta]

We've been on the SI merry-go-round multiple times; what's going on underneath? You seem to have ignored this bit:

> Luke: When I look in the OT, I see lots of predictions of "there's gonna be calamity if you continue your current course of action" followed almost exclusively by "no you're full of crap it's peace as far as the eye can see; imprison that pesky prophet" followed by calamity, after which you see: "then they shall know that I am God". That's really important for us to see, because humans just *love* denying that their actions are going to lead to bad places. Just look at all the glorying in how awesome Enlightened man (yes, man) was in the decades leading up to WWI.

There is also the following:

> Switching from the 'fact' to the 'value' side of the dichotomy, perhaps we need to revisit my "Goodness itself has a predictive aspect, but not in the analytic fashion that allows you to write out deterministic equations."—from the thread which inspired this blog post.

You also ignored that. It's like you really, really, really don't want to categorize SI-Christians according to their causal powers, even though that is the *essence* of scientific analysis. I get that dealing with predictions in this realm is much harder than the hard sciences. But unless you want to be like Elon Musk and build technology while trying to ignore the human element as much as possible, you're gonna have to deal with it. Or I guess, go inactive like you claim those people who believe in salvation by grace alone do. (I have no idea how *I* manage to be so active, apparently care more about the human sciences than you, etc. Actually I think I do, but it clashes head-on with your model.)

I'm also sensing that you don't have much of a sense as to the power of internal criticism over external (read Charles Taylor's Explanation and Practical Reason; it's just essay-length), or at least the power of being somewhat intelligent in pointing out contradictions. (I learned that lesson in middle school—there are plenty of contradictions people don't care about, and it might not be completely irrational to behave that way given the hardness if not impossibility of being contradiction-free.) I'm reminded of your desire to see me discuss with a certain class of SI-Christians.

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at what the science says, and perhaps what wise people have said over the ages, about what seems to really motivate people. My contention about Christianity is that it's not just a bundle of hypothetical imperatives and abstract myths, such that motivation can easily happen "as if God exists" precisely as well as "if God truly exists". (I suspect the OT's treatment of idols is meant to get at the difference here, which may only show up after multiple generations—hence my focus on prediction, above.) How about we take our pretty little ideas about motivation and let reality grind off the stupid bits? And maybe we can consider that there are wise people throughout the ages who have figured out some things. Then we can take that and come back to issues like analyzing the motivations of Trump voters.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Somewhere between Mt 20:20-28 and the actions of the vast majority of those who profess to believe that these are the Words of God there seems to me to be a really big disconnect.

That's probably true since Jesus died on the cross. It's tremendously hard to accomplish—it requires rigorous standards for leaders and followers. But surely you realize that political liberalism is built on that ideal.

> > How is Deuteronomy 6:5 an example of domination

> Because we are commanded to love God whether or not he deserves it.

Anyone who didn't want to love YHWH could leave. Are you suggesting that it is always wrong to make any significant values required for citizenship?

> > especially given the choice God provides in Deut 30:11–20?

> Love God or die. That's not a choice, that's an ultimatum.

But anyone was allowed to question God and go his/her own way. They weren't required to believe God and in fact, eventually almost nobody did. Then they got carried off into exile. Some made the connection, most didn't.

> > Dude, the Bible is harshest on religious leaders who claim to be following YHWH.

> Says you. They will say that they are doing God's work. Again: how do you resolve this difference of opinion?

I would point to Jesus' words to the Pharisees, Ezek 34, and the fact of the Reformation.

> > The serpent in the Garden was treated as moral agent.

> And you believe that actually happened? A talking snake? Seriously?

I guess I should discount the Caltech physics I took which dealt with "spherical cows". I mean, seriously?

Luke said...

Argh, here's a "I don't think I'm as brain-damaged as you seem to be implying" comment.

Peter:

> You're equivocating on the meaning of "authority". I don't trust my Linux distro as an "authority" in the sense of believing whatever they tell me and assuming without evidence that the bits they send me are safe.

And the use of virus definitions involves blind faith with no decisions based on track record? (If you say that some do, I'll say some blindly trust distros and we'll be back at square one.) My original points stands: there is great disanalogy between protecting against malware and protecting against subconscious manipulation. Probably the greatest point of disanalogy has nothing to do with the authority thing, and everything to do with the fact that (i) one does not start in a "known good state"; (ii) one cannot perform a flatten & reinstall. We could talk about whether a rootkit would want you to accept a deterministic model of free will.

> "Resilient" is not the same as "immune". You seem to be wanting "immune". You can't have that, at least not in the real world.

Nope, I don't think "immune" is an option. What is needed is an ability to model the situation one is in arbitrarily well, so that after enough data collection, one can effect an alteration in course. One also needs enough low-entropy energy and there might be multiple kinds of this (e.g. motivational energy—see last paragraph). I don't see how a deterministic model of free will can guarantee these things. Indeed, it seems like rather the opposite—it seems like the kind of thing a rootkit would want us to believe. Or simulators who want to use us as predictive models to get their way in the real world.

@Peter:

> > Indeed, in FQXi: Fluctuations in de Sitter Space he explicitly argues against down-fluctuations in entropy at the quantum level, on the basis that there is no [further] microstructure which can thusly fluctuate.

> No, that's not what he's saying. The paper he was describing in that talk is here:
>
> De Sitter Space Without Dynamical Quantum Fluctuations

From the abstract:

>> We argue that, under certain plausible assumptions, de Sitter space settles into a quiescent vacuum in which there are no dynamical quantum fluctuations. Such fluctuations require either an evolving microstate, or time-dependent histories of out-of-equilibrium recording devices, which we argue are absent in stationary states.

Carroll denies the existence of any such "evolving microstate": "I've also assumed the Everett formulation of quantum mechanics; I'm thinking that the quantum state is the physical thing; there's no sort of hidden variable underneath." And these "out-of-equilibrium recording devices" aren't part of the system. In contrast, the macro-state of entropy in thermodynamics is based on an evolving micro-state of particles; because of the statistical nature of the measurement, entropy not infrequently fluctuates slightly downwards, for short periods of time.

> In both cases thermodynamics is formulated the same way …

I wasn't talking about thermodynamics in both cases. In his FQXi talk, Carroll makes an analogy:

     macro_t : micro_t :: quantum wavefunction : ∅

That's why I wrote "entropy at the quantum level". Now, I realize I could have been more precise, but I sense that you think I kinda suck at physics and therefore couldn't possibly have had a valid point. If you still think I'm being brain-damaged on this point after my clarification, I'll go consult some physicists and report back.

Luke said...

@Peter:

Here's another summary post. Thank for this great conversation on free will; I've gotten much further with you than with anyone else. Then again, I'm making use of great advances I made with other folks—standing on the shoulders of giants. I'd like to start off by re-excerpting David Bohm:

>>     The assumption that any particular kind of fluctuations are arbitrary and lawless relative to all possible contexts, like the similar assumption that there exists an absolute and final determinate law, is therefore evidently not capable of being based on any experimental or theoretical developments arising out of specific scientific problems, but it is instead a purely philosophical assumption. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 44)

I am very insistent that I am not trying to deny anything that physicists have discovered in experiment. What I contend is that physics is not known to be complete, that there could be further order, and that pace Carroll, that further order could easily be relevant to everyday life. I insist that if there are going to be infinitesimal (not small Δv, but dv) forces which can introduce additional order to reality, we must find the right conditions in which to allow them to manifest. That means carefully balancing the non-infinitesimal forces so that they do not drown out the infinitesimal forces. Such balancing I have described as "neutralizing". The term "neutralizing" here means "to render causally impotent". It's not like EM stops operating, it just becomes irrelevant to the phenomena under investigation—one can "ignore" it.

Now, I admit that I don't have well-developed ideas for how one can carry out the equivalent to spacecraft micro-thrusts at Lagrangian points when it comes to brain states near the edge of chaos. But is that because such a thing is physically impossible, or is that because we have not been asking those questions? I think it's important to remember that the atomic theory of matter was not seen as realistic by many until Brownian motion was derived. If you're going to treat me like venture capitalists treat prospects—show us you can build the thing by showing us a built thing and then we'll give you money—then I may be guaranteed to fail. But you'll also be enacting a behavior which would have made it harder to develop atomic theory. If you can demonstrate a "physically impossible", I'd love to see it. I'm happy to enlist the support of physicists so you don't have to do all the explaining (in the event your demonstration includes a bunch of dense equations).

One thing I'm doing in my push toward an understanding of free will not restricted to the current laws of physics (that is, no other forces allowed) is to ensure that our current science stays falsifiable. In Intersubjectivity is Key, I note that there are two kinds of falsification: (I) contradiction; (II) incompleteness. I claim it's actually much harder to show (II). That's actually what Galileo did; he noticed that there was an in-between state in Aristotle's physics, between fire which goes upward and earth which goes downward. What about tangential motion? I'm no Galileo, but I worry that we humans suck at unearthing (II). We so desperately want to have described everything [relevant], at least at some "fundamental" level.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
And the use of virus definitions involves blind faith with no decisions based on track record?

My non-use of virus definitions involves looking at the track record. I can't see any of the anti-virus program's source code. And anti-virus providers have a track record of misusing the privileges they are given on users' computers. Not to mention lying to those users about how effective their anti-virus software actually is. (Anti-virus providers sell anti-virus software for Linux, for example, where it is nothing but a security hole.) Linux distros, or at least the ones I've used, don't have any of these issues.

Probably the greatest point of disanalogy has nothing to do with the authority thing, and everything to do with the fact that (i) one does not start in a "known good state"; (ii) one cannot perform a flatten & reinstall.

I already acknowledged point (i). Point (ii) is valid as well. So what? I wasn't claiming it was an exact analogy. However, you are focusing on these particular points of disanalogy and ignoring the key point of the analogy: you can take countermeasures against subconscious manipulation, just as you can take countermeasures against malware, and the countermeasures in both cases have what I think are useful similarities. I have already repeated the phrase that summarizes those similarities several times, so I won't repeat it again.

If you insist on not agreeing that there are any useful similarities between these two cases, then we'll just have to agree to disagree and we can drop this point.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Carroll denies the existence of any such "evolving microstate"

No, he doesn't. The quantum state is the evolving microstate. The macrostate is the set of values of thermodynamic variables (temperature and entropy are the key ones in his analysis).

In contrast, the macro-state of entropy in thermodynamics is based on an evolving micro-state of particles

These "particles" are actually quantum objects, and the "evolving microstate of particles" is a quantum state of the entire ensemble of particles. I.e., exactly the same kind of thing as the microstate in the de Sitter analysis.

In the classical approximation, the microstate of particles is a set of values of classical variables (position and momentum) for all the particles. But if it evolves in time, the corresponding quantum state evolves in time as well. See below.

because of the statistical nature of the measurement, entropy not infrequently fluctuates slightly downwards, for short periods of time.

Wrong. The fluctuation is not because of the statistical nature of the measurement. It's because the microstate (either quantum state or classical approximation, doesn't matter which) is changing with time, and such a change can, in principle, take it into a region of the microstate space which has different values for the macroscopic variables like temperature and entropy. If this happens, it is perfectly possible for the new value of entropy to be lower than the old one; this is what a "downward fluctuation in entropy" is. (And it is overwhelmingly likely that the continued change with time of the microstate will very soon take it back into a region of the microstate space that has a higher value of entropy.)

By contrast, in the de Sitter space quantum model Carroll describes, the microstate does not change with time at all. So obviously it cannot change to a state that has a different value for entropy or any other variable. That's all there is to it.

As a general comment: I don't know what your background is in physics, but you appear to me to have a tendency to focus on the superficial description in words of physical models, instead of the actual underlying physics. Actual physics isn't done in words, it's done in math, because math is more precise. Physicists try their best to give a reasonably accurate description in words to lay people, such as in Carroll's video, but that doesn't mean such descriptions are a good way to learn or reason about the actual physics. That's why I linked to the actual paper: because that's what gives the math, and what is reviewed by and challenged by other physicists.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I sense that you think I kinda suck at physics and therefore couldn't possibly have had a valid point.

I described why I think your grasp of physics is flawed at the end of my previous post. But I'm not basing my rejections of your points on a general rule like that; I'm basing them on specific flaws I see in your points, which I have pointed out. The general rule I described is just what I have inferred from multiple specific cases of having to reject your points based on specific flaws.

If you still think I'm being brain-damaged on this point after my clarification, I'll go consult some physicists and report back.

I don't think this will be helpful. I have never had a useful discussion about physics by proxy (just plenty of non-useful ones, which is what has given me the opinion I'm expressing). If you can get a physicist you know who is familiar with Carroll's work to come here directly and comment, that would be fine. But it's tough enough to make sure we're talking about the same thing and not talking past each other when I and a physicist are talking directly. Trying to do it with a third party in the middle is going to have too low a signal to noise ratio to be useful.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
What I contend is that physics is not known to be complete, that there could be further order

I agree.

that further order could easily be relevant to everyday life

I disagree. And at this point I don't see how further discussion is going to change either of our minds, so there's no point in my view. I'm not telling you not to pursue whatever path you choose; that's up to you. I'm just saying that I don't see any point to discussing it further here, since at this point we're just repeating our positions.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
The fluctuation is not because of the statistical nature of the measurement. It's because the microstate (either quantum state or classical approximation, doesn't matter which) is changing with time

If you look at the bottom of p. 5 in the paper, you will see that Carroll describes three kinds of fluctuations. The ones I'm describing here, and the ones that can lead to "downward fluctuations in entropy", are Boltzmann fluctuations in his terminology as given there. Fluctuations due to the statistical nature of measurement are "Measurement fluctuations" and are a different kind of thing.

Ron said...

@Luke (1/2):

> I don't think you've understood my point.

Apparently not.

> I'm not talking about valuing truth, I'm talking about qualities of the instrument which is used to discover truth.

And I still don't. What do you mean by "the instrument which is used to discover truth"? When I think of an "instrument" used to discover truth I think of a scientific instrument, like a telescope or a particle accelerator. But then I have no idea what you mean by the "qualities" of such an instrument. So I'm pretty sure I'm not getting it.

> Actually, I just took the reference to Euthyphro quite seriously and since you gave precious little detail, I had no other good option.

Sorry, I was referring specifically to this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

> is my "As good scientists, we ought to make some decisions about how we'll evaluate the evidence before the experiment is run, right?" 100% wrong?

No. But it is still incumbent on *you* to describe a *specific experiment* and explain how it tests a *specific hypothesis* before I can evaluate it.

> Your "our only recourse is to fall on our knees and beg for the benevolence of a non-existent deity" was not qualified to a "many"

There is probably not a single statement that one can make that applies to all people who self-identify as Christians, not even that they believe in the Resurrection or that they believe that Jesus is God. Nonetheless, I think it's fair, in a discussion of the merits of Christianity, to take those things which are believed by a majority of people who self-identify as Christians as representative of Christianity.

Nonetheless, if it will get us out of this eddy, I hereby retract the word "beg" and replace it with "ask".

> you don't get to hide behind them like a shield.

Why not? Why is it not fair for me, when discussing Christianity, to cite the publicly declared positions of large numbers (millions) of people who self-identify as Christians? In fact, what else do you expect me to do?

> > If you believe that your salvation lies entirely in the hands of God and that your actions will not influence the outcome there is less motivation to work hard to find the truth.

> I'm a counterexample to that, in the flesh.

Yes, but you're extremely rare in that regard, possibly even unique. Do you really want me to start judging Christianity based on the position of a few extreme outliers? Because Christianity has outliers along a lot of different dimensions.

> > I am not making this up. Millions of people really do believe this.

> Have I ever denied that?

Have you ever denied that people believe it? No. Have you ever denied that it is true? You just did: "I'm a counterexample to that, in the flesh."

Ron said...

@Luke (2/2):


> @Ron + @Ron: [meta]

Huh?

> We've been on the SI merry-go-round multiple times; what's going on underneath?

I'm not sure what you mean by "the SI merry-go-round". But if you are asking why I take such pains to qualify "people who self-identify as Christians" it is because I do not want to put myself in a position to judge who is and is not a Christian. If someone tells me they're a Christian, I take them at their word regardless of what they actually profess to believe.

> > You seem to have ignored this bit:

> Luke: When I look in the OT, I see lots of predictions

No, I didn't ignore it. But it's irrelevant to the topic at hand, which is that *I* believe that an APK deity (or even merely a meta-oracle) is logically incompatible with free will. (That's what the OP was about, remember?)

I have no doubt that you are telling me the truth when you tell me what you see in the OT. But you telling me what you see in the OT is not going to change my mind about anything because *I* do not see these same things. (And, BTW, many of your fellow Christians apparently don't see them either. See above about you being an outlier. And BTW2 the APK deity whose words these are supposed to be surely *knew* that I would not see these same things, and in fact created the universe in such a way that I would not see these same things. So the fact that I do not see these things must somehow be part of God's plan. And the utter absurdity of all that is one of the reasons I don't believe in God.)

> > "Goodness itself has a predictive aspect, but not in the analytic fashion that allows you to write out deterministic equations."

> You also ignored that.

Because I couldn't think of any constructive response. You think everything God does is good, including (e.g.) forcing people to eat their own children and hardening Pharaoh's heart to extend the Israelites' bondage. I don't. We're just going to have to agree to disagree about this.

> I'm also sensing that you don't have much of a sense as to the power of internal criticism over external

Could be. So what? What does that have to do with whether or not free will is logically compatible with an APK deity?

> But anyone was allowed to question God and go his/her own way. ... Then they got carried off into exile.

That's a very peculiar use of the word "allowed". It's kind of like saying that anyone is "allowed" to commit murder, it's just that they then get carried off to prison.

Ron said...

@Luke:

One more thing:

> I guess I should discount the Caltech physics I took which dealt with "spherical cows".

If you actually had a course at Caltech that mentioned "spherical cows" as anything other than a joke then you should definitely demand a refund on your tuition.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I don't see how a deterministic model of free will can guarantee these things.

"Guarantee" is another of those words like "immune": it means you want perfection, and there is no perfection in the real world. No physicalist model of free will can give you such a guarantee. So if that's what you insist on, sorry, it's not possible.

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> What do you mean by "the instrument which is used to discover truth"?

Ahh, I used that term with Peter:

> Luke: I'm not suggesting philosophy as the sole answer. We are the instruments with which we explore reality; philosophy lets us examine those instruments to see if they're operating logically and to see if they are blinding themselves to empirically legitimate possibilities. You still have to then go and observe.

I don't see how you can say that the instrument with which humans explore reality is value-free in its construction and functioning in pursuing scientific inquiry. That is, if I do the equivalent of gene-knockouts on various values, I think the practice of science would be hindered if not halted. (Technically, maybe the result would be to restrict science to approaching one or more "false asymptotes"—progress would be possible, but total progress would be limited to something well below the potential of humanity.)

> Sorry, I was referring specifically to this:
>
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

Yes, that's built on a Platonic metaphysic with the Form of Piety as something which can somehow causally interact with matter. To be precise: "___ is pious" ≡ "the Form of Piety has acted upon ___".

> But it is still incumbent on *you* to describe a *specific experiment* and explain how it tests a *specific hypothesis* before I can evaluate it.

Would you like to figure out one together? By myself, I think I'll be at a loss as to what could convince you that "Christianity" (whatever that means) can have true causal power that isn't just "belief in the idea of the thing is as [mentally] causally potent as belief in the thing which truly exists".

> There is probably not a single statement that one can make that applies to all people who self-identify as Christians, not even that they believe in the Resurrection or that they believe that Jesus is God. Nonetheless, I think it's fair, in a discussion of the merits of Christianity, to take those things which are believed by a majority of people who self-identify as Christians as representative of Christianity.

I appear to have predicted correctly:

> Luke: It's like you really, really, really don't want to categorize SI-Christians according to their causal powers, even though that is the *essence* of scientific analysis.

Furthermore, while I'm skeptical that you've described anything other than the majority of US Red State Christians or US SI-Evangelical Christians (and even then I have questions), I'm not sure why it matters if even if you are right. Popularity does not necessarily correlate with truth. The Bible notes plenty of times when the vast majority went evil.

> > I'm a counterexample to that, in the flesh.

> Yes, but you're extremely rare in that regard, possibly even unique.

You have now repeatedly ignored my excerpt of Richard Hofstadter on the Puritans. The more I talk with you about Christianity, Ron, the more it seems like you are grossly generalizing from a group which may be a majority in Red States, if even that.

> Do you really want me to start judging Christianity based on the position of a few extreme outliers? Because Christianity has outliers along a lot of different dimensions.

How many counterexamples does one need for falsification of a hypothesis?

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> Huh?

You can click the @Ron link(s) to go to the comment(s) to which I was responding.

> > We've been on the SI merry-go-round multiple times; what's going on underneath?

> I'm not sure what you mean by "the SI merry-go-round".

We often talk about what "some" or "many" or "the majority of some sampling" of SI-Christians believe, as if that is somehow meaningful to the conversation. My question is why/how it is meaningful, given that scientific analysis often proceeds by disregarding human-assigned labels to look for commonality beneath the appearances/​descriptions. In other words: commonality in causal powers.

> But if you are asking why I take such pains to qualify "people who self-identify as Christians" it is because I do not want to put myself in a position to judge who is and is not a Christian. If someone tells me they're a Christian, I take them at their word regardless of what they actually profess to believe.

"[T]o categorize SI-Christians according to their causal powers" is not to identify "True Christians™". I think I established this with you a long time ago, Ron—in response to your accusation of No True Scotsman. I may have used the better term "cluster". My suspicion is that if such clustering were to be done, different groups of Christians would manifest different strengths and different weaknesses/​pathologies. One might be able to find a causal correlation between clusters and beliefs, especially beliefs defined this way.

> But it's irrelevant to the topic at hand, which is that *I* believe that an APK deity (or even merely a meta-oracle) is logically incompatible with free will.

Ok; it seems to me we tangented quite a lot, but I'll prune.

> But you telling me what you see in the OT is not going to change my mind about anything because *I* do not see these same things.

You know I'm always willing to show you, right? Sometimes it's just basic literary analysis.

> And, BTW, many of your fellow Christians apparently don't see them either.

Experiments needed.

> You think everything God does is good, including (e.g.) forcing people to eat their own children and hardening Pharaoh's heart to extend the Israelites' bondage. I don't.

That's unfair; there are open questions in that thread you didn't answer, which bear directly on what exactly it is I believe. We were in the state of, "If I (Ron) had all the powers, I would have done things differently" and I was challenging that by trying to get you to explain details about how you would in fact have done things. Failure to satisfactorily provide and justify such details is quite relevant to the topic of making an actually working world with certain properties you probably value. Unless you want God to have make an illogical world? I thought you valued logic, exceedingly strongly. (I still do.)

> What does that have to do with whether or not free will is logically compatible with an APK deity?

That depends on whether you'll rigorously engage me on the topic of kenosis (a good search term for the other thread). I can lead a horse to water, but I can't make him drink.

> > But anyone was allowed to question God and go his/her own way. ... Then they got carried off into exile.

> That's a very peculiar use of the word "allowed". It's kind of like saying that anyone is "allowed" to commit murder, it's just that they then get carried off to prison.

Was it God who carried them off to exile? If not, he was making fact-claims about reality and letting the Israelites believe them or not. How is that somehow brutal? On the contrary, he was giving the Israelites freedom via dual rationality.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Luke: The serpent in the Garden was treated as moral agent. (It can easily symbolize some non-human moral agency.)

> Ron: And you believe that actually happened? A talking snake? Seriously?

> Luke: I guess I should discount the Caltech physics I took which dealt with "spherical cows".

> Luke: If you actually had a course at Caltech that mentioned "spherical cows" as anything other than a joke then you should definitely demand a refund on your tuition.

When I restore the bit you snipped (in bold now), things don't seem so ridiculous as the "quote-mine the theist saying something absurd" version. And I didn't take "spherical cows" to be literal or a joke: I took it to indicate that the physics we were working on was highly abstract and yet meant to ultimately apply to the real world.

I find it really odd that on the one hand, you want to allow "belief in the idea of God" to possibly have precisely the same causal properties as "belief in God who exists", and yet you are uncomfortable with a serpent in a myth possibly 3500 years old symbolizing anything whatsoever. Either (anachronistically!) literal or bust!!11

BTW, I was recently told that Genesis 3 was intentionally taking a symbol of goodness (WP: Serpent (symbolism)) and inverting it. I haven't done the legwork to examine just what the contemporary ideas of the serpent would have been held by the original hearers of the material which ultimately got put in Genesis 3. But this is consistent with things I know about Genesis 1, such as "greater lamp" and "lesser lamp" being used to denigrate the sun and moon gods. You see, Ancient Hebrew had perfectly good words for "sun" and "moon", but in order to ensure that the gods got evicted, it used "greater lamp" and "lesser lamp", instead. But somehow, such symbolic warring is irrelevant to you and you just get to take a dump on it: "lol talking snake you ignoramus". Even though a key thing that Genesis 1 does is take the notion of "divine image-bearer" away from just human kings and apply it to all humans. Screw that shit.

At this point I will re-raise my suggestion to study human motivation together:

> Luke: Perhaps it would be helpful to look at what the science says, and perhaps what wise people have said over the ages, about what seems to really motivate people. My contention about Christianity is that it's not just a bundle of hypothetical imperatives and abstract myths, such that motivation can easily happen "as if God exists" precisely as well as "if God truly exists". (I suspect the OT's treatment of idols is meant to get at the difference here, which may only show up after multiple generations—hence my focus on prediction, above.) How about we take our pretty little ideas about motivation and let reality grind off the stupid bits? And maybe we can consider that there are wise people throughout the ages who have figured out some things. Then we can take that and come back to issues like analyzing the motivations of Trump voters.

You seem to have some really weird ideas about … the laws which govern minds (or lack thereof); such a research project would surely help me see whether I'm the one who's actually weird or maybe that we're both pretty ignorant about issues quite relevant to the [potential] causal powers of religion.

Luke said...

@Peter:

You're right that we seem to be spinning our wheels. At this point, I think I need to rewrite my quote-tracking software to work on Ron's blog and then do a bunch of review. Feel free to cut off the conversation and treat the following merely as something for my reference.


I'm still desperate to find out how the conjunction of the five items below is physically impossible:

     (1) existence of brain states akin to unstable Lagrangian points
     (2) such that infinitesimal forces could alter the trajectory
     (3) with different trajectories being semantically meaningful
     (4) where such infinitesimal forces are not reducible to the four fundamental forces (mostly E&M)
     (5) given what physics experiments tell us about reality

(Feel free to correct that if I'm wrong—I've intentionally left wide open what those infinitesimal forces might look like. I'm trying to chip away at the problem rather than posit a full-fledged example of a concrete, infinitesimal force even possibly relevant to consciousness. Your point is well-taken that a spacecraft flying through an unstable Lagrangian point is crucially disanalogous to the environment within the brain.)

Now, I realize that you think you've addressed this sufficiently and somehow I'm just not getting it. You're welcome to switch to mathematics if you want. My offer to consult other physicists was actually more for my understanding said "physically impossible", than to … bring allies to the fight. And hey, maybe this is my "in" for better understanding various bits of mathematics I've wanted to learn. I'm really weird in that I like partially deriving how the math has to work from my understanding of physical systems. For example, I saw that Stoke's theorem (at least in three dimensions) has to be true, given conservation of energy, etc. Deriving theorems from axioms just leaves me empty of anything I would call "true understanding". Reality is more real than math[ematical approximations]!

I'm also still confused about how your shift from algorithms and proofs to heuristics (e.g. because of Rice's theorem) doesn't damage the conclusion that [everyday] reality is rigidly deterministic and follows Core Theory (aka Carroll's Big Equation™). If such determinism is simply a coarse-grained subspace of actual reality, then it seems that the door is wide open for Robert Laughlin's organizational laws of nature, which are an instance of the further order David Bohm talks about in my excerpt of Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. If determinism of the kind you've defended is just a way of thinking physicists should adopt that's one thing, but when you apply it to free will and moral responsibility, that's quite another. I don't understand the justification for the jump from one to the other. But as I've said, perhaps I'm simply brain-damaged. If I were to listen to the majority opinion of atheists with whom I've interacted online (the IRL distribution is very different), that is the conclusion I should draw. :-)

Ron said...

@Luke (1/2):

> I used that term with Peter:

Ah. Sorry, I've not been following that thread.

> I don't see how you can say that the instrument with which humans explore reality is value-free in its construction and functioning in pursuing scientific inquiry.

I don't believe I did say that. What I said (or at least what I intended to say) was that values cannot be objectively determined to be true or false, they can only be subjectively determined to be good or bad. That's the difference between a value and a fact.

> if I do the equivalent of gene-knockouts on various values, I think the practice of science would be hindered if not halted.

That depends on which values you remove. "Respect for authority", for example, is a value that I believe is detrimental to the practice of science. So is respect for faith. (Both of these values are held in high regard on the American political right.)

> that's built on a Platonic metaphysic

Bah, forget Euthyphro and forget piety and forget all the philosophical blather. Is it *good* because God says it's good, or does God say it's good because it conforms to some standard of goodness that is independent of God? Is it within God's power to create a universe where (say) adultery is not a sin?

> Would you like to figure out one together?

No. I believe that the odds of success are exactly the same as they would be if we tried to build a perpetual motion machine, which is to say, indistinguishable from zero. You are the one who believes that this could be something other than an exercise in futility, and so you are the one who is going to have to do the work.

> By myself, I think I'll be at a loss as to what could convince you that "Christianity" (whatever that means) can have true causal power that isn't just "belief in the idea of the thing is as [mentally] causally potent as belief in the thing which truly exists".

Who said you had to work by yourself? Just because *I'm* not interested in collaborating on this project doesn't mean you have no other resources at your disposal if you need help figuring this out. The world is chock-full of both atheists and Christians, many of whom I'm sure would be happy to collaborate with you on this project if you think you need help.

BTW, you should consider the possibility that the mere fact that this seems to be such a hard problem to be *evidence* that your hypothesis is actually wrong. Convincing me of the truth of true things is just not that hard. Mere humans have been able to convince me of the truth of some truly extraordinary claims. Surely an APK deity should be able to come up with a way of convincing me of His existence, and to communicate that information to you (or to me!) And yet, He hasn't done so. Why?

> You have now repeatedly ignored my excerpt of Richard Hofstadter on the Puritans.

Just because I don't respond to something you've written doesn't mean I've ignored it. But OK, if you insist: yes, the puritans professed to believe they were saved by grace and worked hard nonetheless. So?

> How many counterexamples does one need for falsification of a hypothesis?

What hypothesis is this supposed to be falsifying? The Puritans produced zero scientific progress, and their intellectual descendants are today trying to stop the teaching of evolution and denying anthropogenic climate change. If you want to convince me that Christianity is compatible with science, you are barking up a very wrong tree by citing the Puritans.

Ron said...

@Luke (2/2):


> scientific analysis often proceeds by disregarding human-assigned labels

What??? Where ever did you get that idea? That is absolutely 100% wrong. The first step of the scientific process is to formulate a hypothesis. How are you going to do that without labels?

Now, it is true that some labels are better than others. The choice of terminology is a significant part of a theory. (To quote David Deutsch, "Languages are theories.") The reason I focus on SI-ness is simply because it is easy to measure objectively: ask someone if they are a Christian and in the vast majority of cases they will give you an unambiguous answer.

> You know I'm always willing to show you, right? Sometimes it's just basic literary analysis.

Show me what? There is nothing you can possibly say that will convince me that forcing people to eat their own children is good.

> > And, BTW, many of your fellow Christians apparently don't see them either.

> Experiments needed.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/christian-ethicists-racism-white-supremacy-are-christian-problem

https://religionnews.com/2017/08/28/twisting-the-cross-the-deadly-theology-of-white-supremacy/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/confronting-white-supremacy-in-christianity-as-a-christian_us_59c51249e4b0f2df5e83ad9d

> > You think everything God does is good, including (e.g.) forcing people to eat their own children and hardening Pharaoh's heart to extend the Israelites' bondage. I don't.

> That's unfair;

Maybe. But is it untrue?

> there are open questions in that thread you didn't answer, which bear directly on what exactly it is I believe

Huh??? Your beliefs about God are contingent on what I would do if I were God? That makes no sense. But OK...

> trying to get you to explain details about how you would in fact have done things

It's really hard for me as a mortal to speculate on the specifics of what I would do differently if I were APK. But for starters, I probably would not have created hookworms.

> Was it God who carried them off to exile?

If everything that happens is God's will, then yes. Obviously.

> You seem to have some really weird ideas about … the laws which govern minds

Really? Like what? Because AFAIK all of my ideas about the laws that govern minds are pretty mainstream science.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I'm still desperate to find out how the conjunction of the five items below is physically impossible

(4) and (5) are obviously inconsistent, since what physical experiments tell us about reality is that everything is reducible to the four interactions we know (although I would say "built out of" instead of "reducible to").

If you remove (4) from the list, we don't know that the conjunction of the others is physically impossible, because we don't know enough of the details of what goes on in the brain. I just think it's extremely unlikely given the thermal noise in the brain, as I already explained.

I'm also still confused about how your shift from algorithms and proofs to heuristics (e.g. because of Rice's theorem) doesn't damage the conclusion that [everyday] reality is rigidly deterministic and follows Core Theory (aka Carroll's Big Equation™).

You keep on saying "deterministic" where I never said that. Everyday reality might be deterministic to a very good approximation, because quantum uncertainty is negligible, but that's still an approximation.

The Big Equation describes all of the fundamental particles and interactions except gravity, so it describes everything that our brains and bodies and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life are built from. It doesn't describe gravity, and we do deal with gravity in our everyday life, but if you like, we could add the Einstein Field Equation to Carroll's Big Equation to cover that. (I would say we could add Newtonian gravity, since that's a good enough approximation for almost all of everyday life, but since many people's everyday life now includes GPS, and you need relativistic gravity to explain why GPS works, I prefer to just use the relativistic equation.) The Big Equation doesn't describe dark matter or the cosmological constant, but those have no relevance to everyday life.

I don't understand what you mean by "shift from algorithms and proofs to heuristics".

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
If such determinism is simply a coarse-grained subspace of actual reality, then it seems that the door is wide open for Robert Laughlin's organizational laws of nature

I've gotten through a fair portion of Laughlin's book at this point, and one key thing he says is relevant here: if a given domain (such as our everyday life, or more precisely the Big Equation and Einstein's Field Equation and how our everyday life is built from them) is emergent from something else at a lower level, the laws of the emergent domain will be insensitive to the details of the laws at the lower level. In other words, the laws that govern our everyday life will be insensitive to the details of how the Big Equation and Einstein's Field Equation emerge from something lower down. Carroll says something similar in one of his articles.

That means that, no matter what we find at some point at a deeper level, it won't change the rules of how our brains and bodies and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life work. The way to figure out those rules is to do experiments at the level of our brains and bodies and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life. And as Carroll shows, we have done those experiments; we have looked for any other relevant interactions than the ones we know and not found them.

This is a key reason why physicists are so confident that we have a good understanding of the laws governing our everyday life, even though we don't know how (or even if) the Big Equation and the EFE emerge from something lower down.

As a more general comment on Laughlin's book, so far it looks to me like a mixture of layperson's descriptions of scientific models (and sometimes very good ones) and his own personal opinions. Which is fine since it's not a textbook, it's a popular book for lay people. But it means you can't learn science from his book, any more than you can from any other popular book. At best you can get pointers of stuff that looks interesting, so you can go learn about it from the proper sources, the ones that actually give the mathematical models and the experimental results.

Luke said...

@Ron:

I'm going to abort some tangents; feel free to object.


> > that's built on a Platonic metaphysic

> Bah, forget Euthyphro and forget piety and forget all the philosophical blather. Is it *good* because God says it's good, or does God say it's good because it conforms to some standard of goodness that is independent of God?

How would we causally interact with "some standard of goodness that is independent of God"? Remember that you just got done saying that values aren't (can't be?) objective.

> BTW, you should consider the possibility that the mere fact that this seems to be such a hard problem to be *evidence* that your hypothesis is actually wrong.

The more I research, and especially the more seriously I take the human sciences, the less hard the problem actually seems to be. But I've had the hardest of times getting you to take the human sciences seriously, which makes it especially hard to convince you of anything—other than that I'm weird.

> Convincing me of the truth of true things is just not that hard.

That was not my experience when we were analyzing how much of MLK Jr.'s success was due to chance. That is also not my experience when it comes to you learning how to change people's minds. I am flabbergasted by how much you appear to want to get other people to see different points of view, and how little you have availed yourself of all the science (and wisdom) on the matter.

You also seem to believe quite a few things which I find utterly dubious, such as:

> Ron: If you believe that your salvation lies entirely in the hands of God and that your actions will not influence the outcome there is less motivation to work hard to find the truth.

I understand that a parochial experience among Christians might have convinced you that this description fits, but I doubt you've merely done that; I think you've derived a causal mechanism which falls afoul of your claim: "AFAIK all of my ideas about the laws that govern minds are pretty mainstream science". Perhaps you could explain how mainstream science lets you say the above about salvation by faith alone & motivation to work hard to find the truth? I get that it might offer general laws/​descriptions, of which this contention of yours is a specific.

> Surely an APK deity should be able to come up with a way of convincing me of His existence, and to communicate that information to you (or to me!) And yet, He hasn't done so. Why?

I've told you over and over how little value I think there is in someone being merely convinced that God exists. We seem to have a serious disconnect on this matter.

> Huh??? Your beliefs about God are contingent on what I would do if I were God?

No. Your understanding of my beliefs to a level satisfactory to me is contingent on you sufficiently engaging with me.

> > scientific analysis often proceeds by disregarding human-assigned labels

> What??? Where ever did you get that idea? That is absolutely 100% wrong.

You understand the difference between classifying phenomena by appearance and by common causal powers, right?

> > Experiments needed.

> https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/christian-ethicists-racism-white-supremacy-are-christian-problem

What does that (or the other articles) have to do with predictions in the OT?

> It's really hard for me as a mortal to speculate on the specifics of what I would do differently if I were APK. But for starters, I probably would not have created hookworms.

Then you don't know if you're suggesting coherent alternatives. Because you'd be making the same argument in a world without hookworms but with everything else.

Luke said...

@Peter:

You continue this conversation at your own risk; I cannot guarantee I know how to stop spinning my wheels. But I'm used to lots of wheel-spinning being required to communicate well with people rather different from me. With enough work, I have found breakthroughs to be pretty reliable. However, most people don't seem to be interested in that much work, and I don't blame them—this is just a random discussion on the internet, after all.


> what physical experiments tell us about reality is that everything is reducible to the four interactions we know (although I would say "built out of" instead of "reducible to")

I understand that physics experiments show that. What I don't understand is why that necessarily extrapolates to all of everyday life; there is a tremendous amount of everyday life which seems separated from the four fundamental laws very much like the "Barrier of Relevance" which Robert Laughlin describes. I also don't understand why anything which might act contrary to Core Theory (I mainly mean "having more structure than", rather than "contradictory to") at the everyday level would necessarily have been observed in physics experiments.

And yes, I understand that you can slightly weaken 'necessarily' → 'extraordinarily likely'. Given your extreme confidence (and that of Carroll), I don't see that much of a problem with using 'necessarily'. Indeed, it is my understanding that physicists rather enjoy speaking in that way, as if the model were reality for purposes of discussion. My wife tells me this is jarring for biologists who venture into biophysics.

> I just think it's extremely unlikely given the thermal noise in the brain, as I already explained.

I have a basic understanding of what thermal noise is; what I don't understand is why the time-evolution of state in the brain cannot pass through the equivalent of Lagrangian points, such that an infinitesimal push could pick between semantically meaningful (and different) trajectories. That push doesn't have to be localized to one point in space. (If it did, then your point about quantum uncertainty would make more sense—although I'm not sure I'm convinced by it.)

> You keep on saying "deterministic" where I never said that. Everyday reality might be deterministic to a very good approximation, because quantum uncertainty is negligible, but that's still an approximation.

I say "deterministic" for convenience; for more precision see the following:

> Luke: I know that we're very used to thinking that either things really are deterministic to the core, or that whatever is indeterministic is purely random. But how are those not metaphysical beliefs, rather than scientific beliefs? Here's David Bohm:

Even that is an approximation, because what is meant is causal monism, which is but one kind of "deterministic". What I'm trying to do—and you may suggest a better way—is to sharply distinguish between one possible way that causation could happen, and how that leaves open a tremendous number of logical possibilities. Then, I want to see how many of those logical possibilities are utterly ruled out by experimental data and which are still viable.

> I don't understand what you mean by "shift from algorithms and proofs to heuristics".

See your "construct a device that guesses" and "an algorithm for heuristically evaluating". To what extent is the replacement for "deterministic" a logical conclusion which necessarily follows from the data and to what extent is it merely a heuristic guess? How do we … quantify this matter?

Luke said...

@Peter:

> I've gotten through a fair portion of Laughlin's book at this point, and one key thing he says is relevant here: if a given domain (such as our everyday life, or more precisely the Big Equation and Einstein's Field Equation and how our everyday life is built from them) is emergent from something else at a lower level, the laws of the emergent domain will be insensitive to the details of the laws at the lower level.

Yes, which means that at the emergent level, there could be a different Big Equation™ in operation and experimentally, you wouldn't be able to tell. More precisely, at the emergent level, the Big Equation™ could be non-constant within a certain parameter range and we wouldn't necessarily be able to tell. There are some neat papers about what computational resources would be required to digitally simulate our reality, whereby the simulation is only as precise as is needed for what the beings within are doing. That is, the simulation wouldn't have to constantly crank the Big Equation™. If you accept Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument, the line of thinking I'm pursuing might not seem very nutty at all.

But there's another way to understand what I'm trying to do in this thread, and that is discover where the laws of the emergent domain might actually be sensitive to the details of the laws at the lower level. You and Carroll seem utterly convinced that said "where" is far outside of everyday experience. I find that hard to swallow, given the tremendous amount we don't know about everyday experience. But more strongly, I predicate this suspicion on the sharp distinction we draw between 'objectivity' and 'subjectivity', which I can only model as a 100% impenetrable "Barrier of Relevance". But when you go from 99.99% → 100%, you can no longer explain what happens in 'subjectivity' by what happens in 'objectivity'. Take for example the claim that all values are 100% subjective and therefore cannot possibly be true or false. I cannot reconcile that with causal monism.

Yet another way to understand my reasoning is to return to the OP: is there something special about humans' ability to alter their behavior based on models of themselves? There is certainly the weird epistemic barrier: any proof to us that we cannot alter our behavior seems to be exactly the material we need to alter our behavior. The only exception I can see to this is if one is rather devious with said proof—I think there are avenues whereby that would work. It seems just plain wrong to try and circumvent that epistemic barrier and say that human behavior is really determined in a causal monist fashion, given all the approximations which have to be done between the nano/​pico/​fempto-scale and the macro-scale. (Maybe this is equivalent to Laughlin's "Barriers of Relevance".)

To your final comment on Laughlin's book, it seems obvious that he's offering his [expert!] scientific opinions, as he is suggesting that there is structure undergirding the Big Equation. He's going beyond what the data currently indicate. Perhaps what I like most is how often he says experiment throws curve balls at the theoreticians. Reality is so often more complex than our pictures of it. I am very concerned about prematurely cutting off lines of perfectly logically valid inquiry. But of course, possible ⇏ probable. That's where expert scientific judgment is required—we know more than we can say.

BTW, I did have a chance to learn the equations, probably at the most theory-intensive university in the world (Caltech). I couldn't hack it, because I cannot breathe the ethereal air of symbol-land for too long before dunking my head in the waters of practicality for a while. It's probably a blessing and a curse.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
there is a tremendous amount of everyday life which seems separated from the four fundamental laws very much like the "Barrier of Relevance" which Robert Laughlin describes.

The Barrier of Relevance (which is indeed a useful concept) does not mean new building blocks get introduced. Everything is still built from the same underlying things (in this case, electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions). It's just that it is not possible to figure out what the laws governing the underlying things predict, if you put enough underlying things together in a sufficiently complex configuration. The "reductionist" model Laughlin is criticizing here assumes that this is just a matter of computing power: a few more cycles of Moore's Law and it will be taken care of, no problem. Laughlin's point is that in some cases, this won't happen, because of something much like sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaotic dynamics.

I also don't understand why anything which might act contrary to Core Theory (I mainly mean "having more structure than", rather than "contradictory to") at the everyday level would necessarily have been observed in physics experiments.

Acting "contrary to" Core Theory does not mean "obeying laws that look different from the Big Equation". Fluids obey the laws of hydrodynamics, which are expressed in equations that look very different from the Big Equation. But fluids are still made of atoms or molecules that are made from electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions.

The real point Laughlin is making when he discusses emergence is that, because the emergent laws are insensitive to the details of the underlying levels, you can't tell what the underlying levels are just by looking at the emergent laws. For example, you can't tell what a fluid is made of by looking at the laws of hydrodynamics. You have to actually get down to the underlying level in experiments. We don't know fluids are made of atoms and molecules from the laws of hydrodynamics. We know it by doing other experiments (for example, the ones on Brownian motion, or the ones Avodagro built his original hypothesis on) which probe the underlying level.

By the same token, if you want to know what our brains, bodies, and all the objects in our everyday life are made of, there's no point in looking at the laws that describe their behavior at that level--at least not if those laws are emergent in Laughlin's sense (and I think they are). You have to do experiments that probe the underlying level. That's what physicists have done, and that's what my claim about what our brains, bodies, and all the objects in our everyday life are made of is based on.

On the other hand, if you want to know what laws govern our brains, bodies, and all the objects in our everyday life, at that level, looking at the Big Equation is not going to be very helpful. If there is indeed a Barrier of Relevance in between, then looking at the Big Equation will never be helpful. But that does not mean our brains, bodies, and all the objects in our everyday life aren't made of the stuff the Big Equation describes.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
See your "construct a device that guesses" and "an algorithm for heuristically evaluating". To what extent is the replacement for "deterministic" a logical conclusion which necessarily follows from the data

It isn't. You are the one who keeps insisting on logical conclusions; I never have. You seem to want free will to be a logical necessity based on some fundamental law. It isn't. It's a heuristic capability of our brains that is not guaranteed to work. Just like a chess playing computer's ability to reach checkmate is a heuristic property of its program that is not guaranteed to work. There is no way to logically deduce this property from the program. You have to watch it in action.

Ron said...

@Luke (1/2):

> I'm going to abort some tangents; feel free to object.

Fine with me.

> How would we causally interact with "some standard of goodness that is independent of God"?

I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, because the answer seems so obvious that I'm insulting your intelligence with this answer, but here goes: first, we (humans) *choose* the standard (i.e. we cause the standard to become the standard) and then we *apply* the standard to judge and influence our actions and the actions of others. Building codes, for example, are standards of goodness that are independent of God. Also, evolution imposes certain constraints on standards of goodness because any standard of goodness that is not an evolutionarily stable strategy will tend to die out (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers#Celibacy_and_children)

Is that the answer you were looking for?

> I've had the hardest of times getting you to take the human sciences seriously

I have no idea what you mean by "the human sciences". Humans are the only entities in the known universe doing science so all science is "human science". Do you mean psychology and sociology? I take that very seriously, especially psychophysics. But the sad fact of the matter is that a lot of the work in the psychology and sociology (and economics) just isn't very good.

Is there something specific you want me to take more seriously than I do?

> > Convincing me of the truth of true things is just not that hard.

> That was not my experience when we were analyzing how much of MLK Jr.'s success was due to chance.

What??? In that case I conceded that you were right and I was wrong. What more do you want?

> I am flabbergasted by how much you appear to want to get other people to see different points of view, and how little you have availed yourself of all the science (and wisdom) on the matter.

I confess I'm not a good marketeer. We can't all be good at everything. (I think one of the reasons I'm not a good marketeer is that I'm not willing to do what it takes to be a good marketeer, which is to lie a lot. Donald Trump is an *excellent* marketeer, a true master of the craft. But I would vastly prefer to fade away into obscurity than to be even a little bit like him.)

> Perhaps you could explain how mainstream science lets you say the above about salvation by faith alone & motivation to work hard to find the truth?

I don't need to see a peer-reviewed scientific study to know that if I hit you in the head as hard as I can with a baseball bat, you will probably suffer serious injury. Likewise, I don't need to see a peer-reviewed scientific scientific study to know that if someone believes that there is an infinite reward waiting for them in the afterlife, that this will make them less likely to try to improve their lot here on earth.

Or I can just cite Matthew 6:31-33.

Ron said...

@Luke (2/2):


> I've told you over and over how little value I think there is in someone being merely convinced that God exists.

The operative word there being *merely*. You place a great deal of value on the words of the Bible. But the value of those words is highly contingent on their provenance: when deciding how to apply those words to your life, it really *matters* whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, or if it's just another work of human literature. So the question of whether God exists matters, even if it is not the only thing that matters.

> We seem to have a serious disconnect on this matter.

Do we? Do you actually disagree with anything I said in the previous paragraph?

> You understand the difference between classifying phenomena by appearance and by common causal powers, right?

No. Seriously, no, I have no idea what you are talking about.

> What does that (or the other articles) have to do with predictions in the OT?

You elided the crucial context. We weren't talking about predictions in the OT, we were talking about:

> > And, BTW, many of your fellow Christians apparently don't see them either.

> Experiments needed.

where "them" refers to "the things you see in the OT", and specifically, the idea that the OT discourages dominating other people.

> Then you don't know if you're suggesting coherent alternatives.

Yes, I already conceded that, didn't I? I'm a mere mortal, so it's not possible for me to know what I would do in a hypothetical world where I was God, and I knew things that I don't currently know. (But that does not prevent me from being very confident that if I had God's super-powers I could improve on *this* world.)

> you'd be making the same argument in a world without hookworms but with everything else.

No, because in that world *I would be God*, and so I would (presumably) know things that I do not know in this world. My house cleaning might start with hookworms, but I doubt very much that it would end there.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
at the emergent level, there could be a different Big Equation™ in operation and experimentally, you wouldn't be able to tell.

Not if you just look at the behavior at the emergent level, no. But we have taken apart brains and bodies (in autopsies) and objects used in everyday life, and done experiments to figure out what they are made of. Your claim here amounts to saying that they could be made of something else when aren't taking them apart but just looking at their behavior at the emergent level. That means you are denying the principle of induction, and in that case all bets are off; we can't conclude anything.

And to be clear, I don't think Laughlin is making any sort of claim like the one you are making here. He says repeatedly in his book that emergence doesn't change the underlying level or make it no longer be true when emergent behavior is present. In your terminology, I think he would say (and I would agree) that emergent behavior--even when a Barrier of Relevance is involved--is perfectly consistent with "causal monism".

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Yet another way to understand my reasoning is to return to the OP: is there something special about humans' ability to alter their behavior based on models of themselves?

You have experience with programming, right? So maybe you could ask yourself: could you program a computer to alter its behavior based on its model of itself? I take it you would agree that computers can be explained in terms of "causal monism", right?

Ron said...

> the laws that govern our everyday life will be insensitive to the details of how the Big Equation and Einstein's Field Equation emerge from something lower down.

@Peter: This is a really crucial point, and I wanted to thank you for making it.

@Luke: This is a really crucial point. You often cite the incompatibility of GR and QFT to support your argument that science is somehow fundamentally deficient or something like that (I apologize if I'm mischaracterizing your position with my choice of words). But this is wrong. Even though we don't know the Ultimate Answer yet, we do know a great deal about what the Ultimate Answer can possibly look like. The difference between the Right Answer and the Wrong Answer will manifest themselves near the event horizons of black holes, and maybe (if we're lucky) in high-energy particle accelerators, but nowhere else. Certainly not in human brains.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> The Barrier of Relevance (which is indeed a useful concept) does not mean new building blocks get introduced.

It does not necessarily imply that new building blocks get introduced. What I want to know is why it is physically impossible for new building blocks to exist above Barriers of Relevance. At least physically impossible given what experiments tell us (I keep saying "experiments" to discourage too much extrapolation). By the way, "new building blocks" can be a great number of things. Let me cue off of another Nobel laureate, Ilya Prigogine:

>>     In The Emperor's New Mind, Roger Penrose states, "It is our present lack of understanding of the fundamental laws of physics that prevents us from coming to grips with the concept of 'mind' in physical or logical terms."[19] We believe that Penrose is right: We need a new formulation of the fundamental laws of physics. The evolutionary aspects of nature have to be expressed in terms of the basic laws of physics. Only in this way can we give a satisfactory answer to Epicurus' dilemma. The reasons for indeterminism, for temporal asymmetry, must be rooted in dynamics. Formulations that do not contain these features are incomplete, exactly as would be formulations of physics that ignore gravitation or electricity. (The End of Certainty, 16)

Here's a specific:

>>     Is this difficulty merely a practical one? Yes, if we consider that trajectories have now become uncomputable. But there is more: Probability distribution permits us to incorporate within the framework of the dynamical description the complex microstructure of the phase space. It therefore contains additional information that is lacking at the level of individual trajectories. As we shall see in Chapter 4, this has fundamental consequences. At the level of distribution functions ρ, we obtain a new dynamical description that permits us to predict the future evolution of the ensemble, including characteristic time scales. (The End of Certainty, 37)

Prigogine was not proposing a new particle to add to "electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic interactions". But he is proposing something new, something not contained in the Big Equation™, which seems relevant to "everyday life".

> By the same token, if you want to know what our brains, bodies, and all the objects in our everyday life are made of, there's no point in looking at the laws that describe their behavior at that level--at least not if those laws are emergent in Laughlin's sense (and I think they are).

But then why do conclusions of causal monism at the substrate-level transfer seamlessly to the emergent-level? Remember, a core contention of Carroll and Coyne and you is that we ought to do that transfer when it comes to thinking about free will and moral responsibility. That "Barrier of Relevance" seems curiously permeable in this one respect.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> You are the one who keeps insisting on logical conclusions; I never have.

When one becomes so confident in a thing that one is willing to write Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood, the difference between a probabilistic formulation of "almost certainly the case" and a logical formulation of "certainly the case" becomes very small. I can expand on this if you want—I've observed for a long time what a shift from [Aristotelian] logic to probabilistic inference does and does not entail in discussions.

> You seem to want free will to be a logical necessity based on some fundamental law.

It's more that free will seems to have a fundamental connection to falsifiability. I'm not willing to give up on falsifiability.

> It's a heuristic capability of our brains that is not guaranteed to work.

I get this. But somehow, you have incredible confidence in the causal monism/​physicalism output of said heuristic capability. Indeed, that confidence seems so high that the difference between "99.9999% probable" and "logically the case" seems academic.

Luke said...

@Peter: (1/2)

> > at the emergent level, there could be a different Big Equation™ in operation and experimentally, you wouldn't be able to tell.

> Not if you just look at the behavior at the emergent level, no. But we have taken apart brains and bodies (in autopsies) and objects used in everyday life, and done experiments to figure out what they are made of. Your claim here amounts to saying that they could be made of something else when aren't taking them apart but just looking at their behavior at the emergent level. That means you are denying the principle of induction, and in that case all bets are off; we can't conclude anything.

When you take apart brains and bodies, are they conscious? Or is consciousness a property which is gone by the time you do the taking apart? If it's actually gone, then you are not studying "the same thing". Something crucial is gone, and that something is absolutely required for the topic of the OP (free will).

I don't hold to the principle of induction and neither does Ron. That doesn't mean we can't extrapolate from the known to the unknown; science wouldn't be possible if we didn't do that. But we must be cautious when we extrapolate. As a faculty member at Caltech put it, "The difference between a good scientist and a great scientist is that the latter remembers the original data as well as the resultant equation." All of my experience points to his statement being true. As another faculty member at Caltech put it—this was the spring before he got a Nobel Prize in physics—a critical stage in scientific maturity is to be able to hold two apparently contradictory ideas in one's mind without immediate ejecting one of them. I think he was riffing on F. Scott Fitzgerald:

>> Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation—the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. (The Crack-Up)

I would connect that to dual rationality. :-D So some of my confidence, which you seem to think is anti-scientific, comes from my best understanding of some of the world's best scientists. I am fully aware of how risky it is to question the scientific orthodoxy in the way I do; I realize how unlikely I am to hit upon something which would help us understand reality more deeply. For most people, it is much more effective to swallow the scientific orthodoxy whole, do experiments, and merely pay attention to where they deviate from orthodoxy. However, I do not think the practice of science can survive solely on that mindset. I believe—based on science—that sometimes we have to get patterns going in our consciousness before we can observe them out in reality. I can expand upon this if you'd like, although I first suggest checking out that link if your curiosity is piqued.

Luke said...

@Peter: (2/2)

> And to be clear, I don't think Laughlin is making any sort of claim like the one you are making here.

I see him not as making claims but opening doors which you have slammed shut [with extremely high probability]. I think we need to talk about just how impenetrable "Barriers of Relevance" are, before either of us can know that with sufficiently high probability. (See, I can say that instead of "with certainty".) If changes in the substrate are shielded at the emergent level, are they shielded 100%? Or are they merely shielded to quite a few decimal places? Because to pick a trajectory at an unstable Lagrangian point, how small a change is required?

> In your terminology, I think he would say (and I would agree) that emergent behavior--even when a Barrier of Relevance is involved--is perfectly consistent with "causal monism".

Sure. But that's not the question; the question is whether collective laws of nature has the potential—not necessity—to destabilize causal monism.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > Yet another way to understand my reasoning is to return to the OP: is there something special about humans' ability to alter their behavior based on models of themselves?

> You have experience with programming, right?

Extensive. I have limited understanding of theory of computation. I know, for example, that any Turing machine can "print own description". I forget the precise details and a quick googling failed. I'm also aware of Thomas Breuer's The Impossibility of Accurate State Self-Measurements (pdf), although that of course applies to quantum systems and there are arguments that nothing important about consciousness or free will can possibly be that kind of quantum.

> So maybe you could ask yourself: could you program a computer to alter its behavior based on its model of itself? I take it you would agree that computers can be explained in terms of "causal monism", right?

Computers can, yes. If you want to say that all human thinking is Turing-powerful or less (e.g. an FSA), I will ask you for how falsifiable that model is. More precisely—because Ron and I have discussed this point at length—I want to know how restrictive the claim "all human thinking is Turing-powerful or less" is in comparison to F = GmM/r^2. In the latter case, many possibilities we can easily see happening in our reality are ruled out (to plenty of decimal places). The claim that human thinking is no more than Turing-powerful doesn't seem to be nearly as falsifiable.

For ideas on an alternative to how to think of human thinking, see Tim Van Gelder's 1995 Journal of Philosophy article What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation?. He suggests that dynamical systems are not necessarily reducible to Turing machines, although they can be simulated by Turing machines to arbitrary precision. That's fine as long as infinitesimal forces cannot pick between semantically meaningful trajectories. :-)

Ron said...

> The claim that human thinking is no more than Turing-powerful doesn't seem to be nearly as falsifiable.

That claim is *trivially* falsifiable. Any computer that is more powerful than a TM would be able to perform a large number of very specific tasks that a TM can't (e.g. prove any mathematical theorem in a finite amount of time). Exhibiting a human that can perform any one of these tasks would falsify the claim

Another way to falsify is would be to exhibit a process going on inside a human brain that affects its I/O behavior but cannot be modeled by a TM. If you were to show, for example, that the human brain really was a quantum computer -- i.e. that superpositions of entangled states really did affect its I/O behavior in ways that violate the Bell inequalities -- that would falsify the claim.

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> > How would we causally interact with "some standard of goodness that is independent of God"?

> I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, because the answer seems so obvious that I'm insulting your intelligence with this answer, but here goes: first, we (humans) *choose* the standard (i.e. we cause the standard to become the standard) and then we *apply* the standard to judge and influence our actions and the actions of others.

But that doesn't resolve the Euthyphro dilemma, that just picks one of the horns and ignores the other. Also, what's the difference between us choosing the standard and it being chosen for us, on a physicalist construal of reality?

> > I've had the hardest of times getting you to take the human sciences seriously

> I have no idea what you mean by "the human sciences".

Sociology, psychology, economics, political science, etc. Science which would help you understand other humans and how to communicate well with them. This includes getting them to see other points of view instead of being forever stuck in their own. You have expressed frustration at failing to accomplish this. I attempted to provide you with resources to overcome that failure; my attempt failed, miserably. I guess that could be because I'm brain-damaged.

> But the sad fact of the matter is that a lot of the work in the psychology and sociology (and economics) just isn't very good.

Yeah, see Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research, which among other things points out the 6/53 reproducibility rate Amgen experienced when examining premier research on cancer.

But do you think you yourself can do better than the "failing" human sciences? Sorry, couldn't resist. Are you smarter than the results of Converse 1964? (BTW, those results probably apply to theological beliefs as well as political-ideological beliefs. That should cause us to be cautious about inferring causal powers from such beliefs!)

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> > > Convincing me of the truth of true things is just not that hard.

> > That was not my experience when we were analyzing how much of MLK Jr.'s success was due to chance.

> What??? In that case I conceded that you were right and I was wrong. What more do you want?

You attributed more to chance than I did. And you attributed much more limitation to circumstances of chance (such as they are) than I did.

> > I am flabbergasted by how much you appear to want to get other people to see different points of view, and how little you have availed yourself of all the science (and wisdom) on the matter.

> I confess I'm not a good marketeer. We can't all be good at everything.

I don't think it's merely a matter of marketing and I cannot believe you are that incapable of learning, or that learning would be as painful/​onerous as you think. So what I see is a massive disparity between something you say is important to you, and the [lack of] [scientific] effort I see you putting into it.

> (I think one of the reasons I'm not a good marketeer is that I'm not willing to do what it takes to be a good marketeer, which is to lie a lot. …)

Have empirical results from the human sciences convinced you that this is, with extremely high probability, the only viable option?

> I don't need to see a peer-reviewed scientific study to know that if I hit you in the head as hard as I can with a baseball bat, you will probably suffer serious injury. Likewise, I don't need to see a peer-reviewed scientific scientific study to know that if someone believes that there is an infinite reward waiting for them in the afterlife, that this will make them less likely to try to improve their lot here on earth.

Then why did the Apostle Paul try so hard? That makes no sense on your model. Zero. Nada. Also there is 1 Cor 3:10–15—I guess we just ignore it? Also, let's ignore 1 Cor 15:58. Why would our "labor" matter one whit, on your account? I mean, doesn't each follower of Jesus get precisely the same infinity of awesome regardless of anything [s]he did in life—other than assent to some propositions about God's existence? But perhaps I am running up against what you think the majority (of some subset … which one I'm not quite sure, other than something like "Red States") of SI-Christians believe. Maybe we should add those verses to the list of things I ask if we ever get to do that interview with you being a fly on the wall.

> Or I can just cite Matthew 6:31-33.

What does it mean to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness"? I thought people just had to believe and then they were done and could do whatever the hell they want?

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> > I've told you over and over how little value I think there is in someone being merely convinced that God exists. →

> The operative word there being *merely*. You place a great deal of value on the words of the Bible. But the value of those words is highly contingent on their provenance: when deciding how to apply those words to your life, it really *matters* whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, or if it's just another work of human literature. So the question of whether God exists matters, even if it is not the only thing that matters.

Are you aware of how, for a paradigm shift in science to take place, a whole lot of work has to be done and it's only after a certain cumulative threshold has been crossed before very many people take it seriously? That is, one cannot just show superiority on one point and get the paradigm shift to be massive accepted. Well, I claim the same thing happens with Christianity and in particular, the mere belief in God is of little cumulative value. Even the demons believe. They're still demons! (Unless you just think that's completely unrealistic, that if demons believed in God's mere existence, they'd stop being demons. But then surely you'd be denying the fact/​value dichotomy and I know you're highly resistant to doing that.)

> > ← We seem to have a serious disconnect on this matter.

> [1] Do we? [2] Do you actually disagree with anything I said in the previous paragraph?

[1] Yes. [2] I don't think so, but see my response to that paragraph, above.

> > You understand the difference between classifying phenomena by appearance and by common causal powers, right?

> No. Seriously, no, I have no idea what you are talking about.

Do you know what the term "judging by appearances" means?

> You elided the crucial context.

Did I? See: "> Luke: When I look in the OT, I see lots of predictions".

> where "them" refers to "the things you see in the OT", and specifically, the idea that the OT discourages dominating other people.

That wasn't as close, contextually, as the predictions thing. But we can switch to the domination thing if you want—on the condition that you're willing to compare the ancient Israelites to surrounding nations.

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> > Then you don't know if you're suggesting coherent alternatives.

> Yes, I already conceded that, didn't I? I'm a mere mortal, so it's not possible for me to know what I would do in a hypothetical world where I was God, and I knew things that I don't currently know. (But that does not prevent me from being very confident that if I had God's super-powers I could improve on *this* world.)

History shows that when humans get more powers, they often screw things up. So I just don't see the evidence for your confidence. Indeed, I think this is one thing that belief in original sin prevents: exceedingly high confidence in one's ability to massively improve the world "if only I had the power". In massive contrast to your point of view, I don't think any of us has more power than [s]he has because if we did given our current moral status, we'd actually do more damage and less good. We need to become better before it is safe to entrust us with more. I believe strongly enough in my non-awesomeness to say that. Perhaps you think you are that much better than I. After all, maybe we just massive disagree on quality metrics. I, for example, think it is absolutely wicked to lie to people about the US being anything like a democracy or representative republic when it isn't.

> No, because in that world *I would be God*, and so I would (presumably) know things that I do not know in this world. My house cleaning might start with hookworms, but I doubt very much that it would end there.

I don't trust your ability to properly simulate in your finite mind, what you'd be like with all the powers and all the wisdom. I just can't take your "presumably" seriously as things stand. Now, if you were to show that, roughly, as you increase in wisdom and power and knowledge from where you are at now, you are able to progressively make reality better and better without any sufficiently negative side-effects, I might be willing to trust you on some extrapolation. But if somehow there's a massive jump discontinuity, that you have to have all the powers before that happens, I'm going to remain extremely skeptical. I think the evidence warrants that.

By the way, I don't particularly fault you for thinking that you can sufficiently simulate infinitude with finitude. That seems to be the fad of modernity. Francis Fukuyama epitomizes that behavior with his 1992 The End of History and the Last Man (18,000 'citations'). He reminds me of all the smart people in the decades leading up to WWI, glorying in how awesome humans are. This attitude of awesomeness is in our societal DNA. We know we're not necessarily awesome in the world we've actually brought into existence, but we're pretty sure our concepts are awesome. If only we had all the powers.

In contrast to the above attitude, the Bible makes it clear that God abhors pride and arrogance. Indeed, in God's response to Job, he says that if Job can abase the proud and conquer the wicked, then he will acknowledge that Job's "own right hand can save [him]". (Job 40:6–14) I think that means that part of attaining god-hood—to the extent that a finite being can do so—is shredding pride and arrogance. Now, how exactly does one do this while not being proud & arrogant? Maybe Jesus provided a clue-stick or three …

Luke said...

@Ron:

> You often cite the incompatibility of GR and QFT to support your argument that science is somehow fundamentally deficient or something like that (I apologize if I'm mischaracterizing your position with my choice of words).

Not deficient, just incomplete.

> Even though we don't know the Ultimate Answer yet, we do know a great deal about what the Ultimate Answer can possibly look like. The difference between the Right Answer and the Wrong Answer will manifest themselves near the event horizons of black holes, and maybe (if we're lucky) in high-energy particle accelerators, but nowhere else. Certainly not in human brains.

I understand that you really, truly, deeply believe the bit I put in bold. And yet, I personally know a tenured faculty member at one of the world's most prestigious research institutions who is working on a "somewhere else". So whom is it most rational for me to believe? Well, given that I've seen nothing like what I would consider a rigorous proof of the bold (and by "rigorous proof", I mean something that delivers 99.99% confidence), I'm going to disbelieve you. Now, you're welcome to put forth a more formal argument of the bold. Maybe that will convince me. Or maybe I'm too badly brain-damaged and this is a massive waste of your time and @Peter's time.


@Ron:

> > The claim that human thinking is no more than Turing-powerful doesn't seem to be nearly as falsifiable.

> That claim is *trivially* falsifiable. Any computer that is more powerful than a TM would be able to perform a large number of very specific tasks that a TM can't (e.g. prove any mathematical theorem in a finite amount of time). Exhibiting a human that can perform any one of these tasks would falsify the claim

String theory is also trivially falsifiable. Oh wait, maybe the term "trivially" is not appropriate in this context …

I stand by my claim: it is much easier to falsify F = GmM/r^2 than it is to falsify "human thinking is no more than Turing-powerful". In other words, F = GmM/r^2 rules out many more options which could easily be observed for all we know (maybe we just aren't looking in the right place—and indeed we weren't, as Einstein showed with GR), than does the … Turing Hypothesis.

> Another way to falsify is would be to exhibit a process going on inside a human brain that affects its I/O behavior but cannot be modeled by a TM. If you were to show, for example, that the human brain really was a quantum computer -- i.e. that superpositions of entangled states really did affect its I/O behavior in ways that violate the Bell inequalities -- that would falsify the claim.

Sure. I didn't say "unfalsifiable", I said "as falsifiable". Another way to look at this, Ron, is that you can only seem to describe really obvious, in-your-face examples of "not a TM". But that's generally not how extant paradigms are shattered. Even the ultraviolet catastrophe wasn't seen as paradigm-shattering by many, for a while. What you don't seem able or willing to do is show how "not a TM" might barely poke its head into view—just barely. With a "noise" level similar to Hubble's original data.

Am I making any more sense on this matter? You and I have discussed in quite a few times. Maybe I finally explained my position better … or maybe not. Maybe the brain damage continues unabated!

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
somehow, you have incredible confidence in the causal monism/​physicalism output of said heuristic capability.

These are your words, not mine. I would say (and have said) that what I have incredible confidence in is: (1) that our brains and bodies and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life are made of electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic forces; and (2) that the emergent laws that govern the behavior of our brains, bodies, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life are insensitive to how the laws governing electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic forces are related to anything at some lower level, if such a level exists. Whether that equates to "causal monism/physicalist output of said heuristic capability" is something you're going to have evaluate, not me, since those are your terms. I really don't care since I don't care about those terms to begin with; I've already explained what I care about.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
When you take apart brains and bodies, are they conscious? Or is consciousness a property which is gone by the time you do the taking apart? If it's actually gone, then you are not studying "the same thing".

In other words, you're saying that the electrons, quarks, and elecromagnetic forces in a brain, or for that matter the neurons, neurotransmitters, hormones, etc., somehow "know" whether consciousness is "turned on" or not and work by different laws when it is, than when it isn't. Sorry, no sale. If this were true, consciousness would have to be another interaction, over and above the ones we know, that works at the energy scales of brains, and we would have seen it in experiments.

I don't hold to the principle of induction

If so, then I bow out of this discussion, because I don't know how to reason or function without it. How do you predict where the items in your house are going to be from day to day without induction? How do you plan your daily activities without induction? How do you get in your car and expect it to start without induction? How do you expect ordinary objects like rocks not to suddenly explode without induction? I could go on and on.

When I see people say they don't believe in induction, I interpret that to mean they simply haven't thought through the actual basis of their daily activities.

Actually, though, it appears that you do believe in induction; see below.

neither does Ron

If this is true, I did not realize it.

That doesn't mean we can't extrapolate from the known to the unknown

Um, that is induction.

But we must be cautious when we extrapolate

Sure. Would you be happier if I said "cautious induction" instead of just "induction"?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
some of my confidence, which you seem to think is anti-scientific, comes from my best understanding of some of the world's best scientists.

I don't think your confidence in this particular area is anti-scientific, I just think it's not going to turn out to be justified by any results. But your time and effort is yours to spend.

As for "some of the world's best scientists", I don't think they're saying what you claim they're saying.

I see him not as making claims but opening doors which you have slammed shut

Same difference. You think he's holding out the possibility that, for example, electrons and quarks and electromagnetic forces, or neurons and neurotransmitters and hormones, could follow different laws in the brain when consciousness is "turned on" than when it isn't. I don't. I think consciousness itself is just another emergent property built on electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic forces, by way of neurons, neurotransmitters, and hormones (and many other things). If there are "laws of consciousness", they are laws at a still higher level than the level of neurons, neurotransmitters, and hormones, etc., just as the laws of the browser program in which I am typing this are at a higher level than the laws of CPU instructions and I/O, which in turn are at a higher level than the laws of logic gates and transistors, etc.

to pick a trajectory at an unstable Lagrangian point, how small a change is required?

The Barrier of Relevance is irrelevant here (pun intended). The Newtonian laws of motion that allow small changes at unstable Lagrangian points to lead to large changes in ultimate trajectory are at the same level as all the other Newtonian laws. All of those laws are shielded by a Barrier of Relevance from the underlying laws that determine, say, the tensile strength of the steel from which the spaceship is built, or the heat of combustion of the fuel and oxidizer when combined. The Newtonian laws don't care whether your spaceship gets its delta-v from a chemical rocket, an ion drive, a nuclear explosion, or a gamma ray laser focused on it from a distant space station. The only thing that matters is that Newton's laws allow chaotic, unstable dynamics that is also controllable.

In other words, the whole "small delta v" model you are thinking about has to be a model at the same level as the brain; it's not something that can "leak" from a lower level. You have to show that chaotic, unstable dynamics that are also controllable are possible at the level of the brain That's why I based my skepticism on something--thermal noise--that operates at that same level.

that's not the question; the question is whether collective laws of nature has the potential—not necessity—to destabilize causal monism.

I think you missed the point of my comment. I asked quite a while back what counts as causal monism. Let me ask it again, but now in a more focused way.

Consider a rock. It is a solid object. The solid phase (as Laughlin describes in some detail) is itself governed by "collective laws of nature"; we can't deduce all of the properties of a solid like a rock just from the Big Equation that governs the electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic forces that it is made of. The properties that the rock has, such as hardness, have causal powers: you can hit something with a rock and make a dent in it. These causal powers are due to the collective laws of nature that govern solid bodies.

So here we have a rock, with a set of causal powers due to collective laws of nature; and it is made of electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic forces, which have causal powers due to a different set of laws, the Big Equation. Does this count as "causal monism" by your definition, or not?

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > somehow, you have incredible confidence in the causal monism/​physicalism output of said heuristic capability.

> These are your words, not mine.

I have yet to find a way to distinguish between what I mean by "causal monism" and what you mean by "physicalism". The former are my words, but the latter is your word.

> I would say (and have said) that what I have incredible confidence in is: (1) that our brains and bodies and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life are made of electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic forces; and (2) that the emergent laws that govern the behavior of our brains, bodies, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life are insensitive to how the laws governing electrons, quarks, and electromagnetic forces are related to anything at some lower level, if such a level exists.

Yeah, I'm still at an impasse—I don't understand how Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood makes it through that "insensitive", especially given stuff like what Ilya Prigogine wrote. You might note that "the complex microstructure of the phase space" is neither an electron, a quark, or an electromagnetic force. It appears to be nonlocal/​nonseparable state—something which just doesn't exist at the level of individual trajectories. You spend a lot of time focusing on electrons, quarks, and EM forces when there is plenty of other ways to get structure—e.g. via phonons. Too much focus at the individual level blinds you to the possibility of stuff like topological quantum computers, which are theoretically able to carry out quantum computations in environments that some of the earlier ides of QMs just couldn't. Topological quantum computers depend on anyons, which are quasiparticles which can only exist in restricted environments. And yet, maybe we can do more with them—of a kind that you have previously said we cannot because of thermal noise. Unless I'm missing something? To emphasize once more, collective properties of particles cannot necessarily be reduced to individual measurements of each particle, "summed" as it were.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> In other words, you're saying that the electrons, quarks, and elecromagnetic forces in a brain, or for that matter the neurons, neurotransmitters, hormones, etc., somehow "know" whether consciousness is "turned on" or not and work by different laws when it is, than when it isn't.

Must I be saying that? All I'm saying is that the things you keep talking about, when studied the way you talk about studying them, have no property of consciousness. Since free will is very dependent on consciousness, that seems to be a problem. If your measuring instrument cannot detect consciousness, maybe it isn't sophisticated enough—maybe it doesn't have enough of the requisite building blocks.

> > I don't hold to the principle of induction

> If so, then I bow out of this discussion, because I don't know how to reason or function without it.

Ask @Ron. He functions without it.

> How do you predict where the items in your house are going to be from day to day without induction?

Induction is a heuristic and no more. I am constantly looking for how reality is more glorious, more awesome, than I previous thought. I try and treat people the same. The opposite is to expect people to never change, a topic upon which I already commented.

> How do you plan your daily activities without induction?

XKCD: Frequentists vs. Bayesians

> When I see people say they don't believe in induction, I interpret that to mean they simply haven't thought through the actual basis of their daily activities.

Nope, I just take Ceteris Paribus Laws seriously.

> > That doesn't mean we can't extrapolate from the known to the unknown

> Um, that is induction.

SEP: The Problem of Induction

> > But we must be cautious when we extrapolate

> Sure. Would you be happier if I said "cautious induction" instead of just "induction"?

This would make me happy:

>>     Nearly two hundred years ago, Joseph-Louis Lagrange described analytical mechanics based on Newton's laws as a branch of mathematics.[33] In the French scientific literature, one often speaks of "rational mechanics." In this sense, Newton's laws would define the laws of reason and represent a truth of absolute generality. Since the birth of quantum mechanics and relativity, we know that this is not the case. The temptation is now strong to ascribe a similar status of absolute truth to quantum theory. In The Quark and the Jaguar, Gell-Mann asserts, "Quantum mechanics is not itself a theory; rather it is the framework into which all contemporary physical theory must fit."[34] Is this really so? As stated by my late friend Léon Rosenfeld, "Every theory is based on physical concepts expressed through mathematical idealizations. They are introduced to give an adequate representation of the physical phenomena. No physical concept is sufficiently defined without the knowledge of its domain of validity."[35] (The End of Certainty, 28–29)

I want extreme rigor in delineating domains of validity.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
Any computer that is more powerful than a TM would be able to perform a large number of very specific tasks that a TM can't (e.g. prove any mathematical theorem in a finite amount of time).

But you could never verify this, because there are an infinite number of possible mathematical theorems, and you would have to show that the thing-more-powerful-than-a-TM could prove all of them in a finite amount of time.

More generally, the line of argument you are giving is vulnerable to the argument involving heuristics that I made earlier in response to Luke. A TM that cannot guarantee an answer to a given problem can still give answers to that problem by heuristic guessing, just not with 100% certainty. For example, no TM can guarantee an answer to the Halting Problem, but a TM could heuristically guess which programs will halt and which will not, with better than chance accuracy; it just couldn't achieve 100% accuracy.

Finally, any argument involving TMs has to take emulation into account. Suppose I program TM A to emulate TM B. While emulating TM B, TM A cannot produce a proof of the Godel sentence for TM B. But there is nothing to prevent TM B from being, for example, a TM that produces a proof of the Godel sentence for TM A! (Dennett had a paper on this back in the 1970s, which is where I first came across the argument.) And there is nothing to prevent TM A from emulating some other TM that produces a proof of the Godel sentence for TM B.

In short, I think the idea of being able to prove that humans can do things that TMs can't do is a nonstarter, because we can't achieve 100% certainty about what exactly TMs can't do.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
a process going on inside a human brain that affects its I/O behavior but cannot be modeled by a TM

Why couldn't a TM simulate quantum dynamics? They're just equations.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
If your measuring instrument cannot detect consciousness

Can't it? If it can't, then how do you know brains of dead people in the autopsy room aren't conscious?

I was assuming that detecting consciousness is simple: is the person alive and awake? There are edge cases, yes (such as the former common belief among doctors that curare was an anesthetic instead of just a paralytic), but I don't think a brain of a dead person being autopsied, vs. the brain of the same person when they were alive and talking, is such an edge case. If you want to make it one, then we need to back up and you need to carefully define exactly what you mean by consciousness and why you think it's so difficult to detect.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Induction is a heuristic and no more.

Sure. So what? Basically your position seems to be "I'll use induction as a heuristic except when it doesn't suit my argument". Sorry, color me unconvinced.

I want extreme rigor in delineating domains of validity.

This is a valid point, but the quote you give doesn't ask the obvious next question: how do we determine domains of validity?

For Newton's Laws, the way that was done was by pushing the boundary of experiment until the theory broke. The laws themselves claimed to be universal; there was no way of figuring out from them what the boundary of the domain of validity should be.

For the Big Equation and the Einstein Field Equation, that is not the case (though not all physicists will necessarily admit that--but Carroll does, and he said so in his article). These theories contain within themselves predictions about where they will break down--i.e., what the boundary of their domain of validity is. General Relativity says it breaks down when spacetime curvature gets very, very large (roughly the Planck scale). Quantum field theory says it breaks down when the energy scale becomes comparable to whatever ultraviolet cutoff is necessary to renormalize the theory.

So far we have not been able to test the GR prediction of its boundary, because all of the experiments we can currently do, and all of the astronomical observations we can currently make, involve spacetime curvatures well below the range where the boundary is expected to be. The closest we have gotten so far is actually the black hole mergers observed recently by LIGO, which confirmed the GR predictions of gravitational waves, and also the detailed numerical simulations of what the waveforms should look like for a black hole merger.

For quantum field theory, we cannot probe the expected boundary of the Big Equation (the Standard Model of particle physics) with our current experiments, but previous quantum field theories have followed the expected pattern. Two early examples were the Fermi theory of the weak interaction and the Yukawa pion exchange theory of the strong interaction. Both of these theories had cutoffs beyond which new physics was expected to appear, and indeed it did: in the weak interaction case it was electroweak theory and the W and Z bosons; in the strong interaction case it was quarks and QCD. Both of these are part of the Standard Model.

The statement of Gell-Mann that Prigogine was questioning with the Rosenfeld quote didn't say "quantum field theory", it said "quantum mechanics", which is more general--in fact "quantum mechanics" does not name a theory, it names a way of constructing theories. (Scott Aaronson likes to say that QM is an operating system, and specific theories like the Schrodinger Equation or QFT are applications running on it.) But if Gell-Mann meant that all future viable theories must be constructed this way, of course we don't and can't know for sure that that's true; it's a bet on the way future theories will turn out, not something you can prove from current theories. (As Aaronson says, General Relativity has not yet been ported to the QM OS, and there are some physicists--Freeman Dyson is a notable one--who have questioned whether doing so is actually possible or necessary. That is an open question at present.)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Ask @Ron. He functions without it.

I could ask, yes. But presumably you got the idea from somewhere; can you give any specific reference as to where? A particular post of his? Or a discussion?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
"the complex microstructure of the phase space" is neither an electron, a quark, or an electromagnetic force.

No, it's an abstraction.

It appears to be nonlocal/​nonseparable state—something which just doesn't exist at the level of individual trajectories.

No, it's an abstraction.

You're comparing apples and equations.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > "the complex microstructure of the phase space" is neither an electron, a quark, or an electromagnetic force.

> No, it's an abstraction.

And electrons (as defined by the laws of physics) aren't?

> > It appears to be nonlocal/​nonseparable state—something which just doesn't exist at the level of individual trajectories.

> No, it's an abstraction.

Ok, let's take two entangled photons. Can one describe the state of one of them without describing the state of the other? I'm very interested in your answer to this with regards "apples and equations".

BTW, it'd be interesting to know if you think you might agree or disagree from the following by Bernard d'Espagnat:

>> 2-5 Trajectories and Misleading “Pieces of Evidence”
>> In the debates for and against realism what, within the scientific community, long turned the scales in favor of (physical or objectivist, or etc.) realism was the fact that explaining visible, complex features by means of invisible simple ones was generally successful. Here “simple” means “describable by means of clear, distinct ideas.” So that it is—still now—quite often thought (and even considered obvious!) that assuming that the objects theories label by names really exist can only be a help in research. Along these lines some epistemologists consider, for instance, that to claim that any electron exists by itself—with such and such known or unknown individual properties—still is the best way we have of understanding phenomena involving electrons.
>>     It is quite important to know that this is not in the least true, that, systematized in this way, such a view not only does not help at all but is even quite likely to mislead us. Thus, for example, the idea that each one of the electrons in an atom is individually in one definite quantum state (lies on one definite “orbit”) is just simply erroneous. (According to the only operationally nonmisleading picture we have, every one of them lies simultaneously on all the “allowed” orbits.) In other words, there are situations in which the vocabulary we use—and in particular such words as “electron,” “particle,” and so on—is suggestive of “pieces of evidence” that are, finally, but erroneous ones. (On Physics and Philosophy, 38–39)

I am well aware that Ceci n'est pas une pipe. (Boring version: I know about mistaking the map for the territory.) But I'm not sure how you're saying that *I* am making that error. In particular, I have no idea how many of your words throughout this conversation have been intended to solely refer to the map, rather than the territory. (Incidentally, when one is in map-land with rigorous axioms, one can speak in terms of logical entailment. QM requires one to be a bit nuanced.)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
collective properties of particles cannot necessarily be reduced to individual measurements of each particle, "summed" as it were.

Of course not, and I wasn't claiming they were.

At this point you're just waving your hands and gesturing in the general direction of "collective behavior can produce interesting stuff". Which is true, but much to vague for a meaningful discussion. Your "very small delta v" model at least had a specific basis (unstable Lagrangian points).

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
And electrons (as defined by the laws of physics) aren't?

To use Ron's language, they're in a different ontological categories. Equations are models. Electrons are things being modeled.

let's take two entangled photons. Can one describe the state of one of them without describing the state of the other?

If you insist on only using pure states, no; neither photon has a pure state by itself, only the two-photon state does.

If you allow mixed states, you can assign a mixed state (density matrix) to either photon by itself. The usual description of this is that you "trace over" the other photon.

Does this help any?

it'd be interesting to know if you think you might agree or disagree from the following by Bernard d'Espagnat

As far as I can see, he's saying that the states of electrons in atoms are entangled. To the best of my understanding, that's true.

Does that mean that saying, for example, that "there are 6 electrons in a carbon atom" is "misleading"? I don't think so. I can't figure out whether d'Espagnat is saying that or not. Of course if someone were to say something like "electrons #1 and #2 are in the 1s orbital of this carbon atom", that would be misleading (since, first, electrons don't have little labels on them to distinguish them, and second, the 6 electrons are entangled); but do physicists (as opposed to lay people in pop science books) actually say things like this?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I have no idea how many of your words throughout this conversation have been intended to solely refer to the map, rather than the territory.

Models are maps. Things being modeled are territory. Does that help?

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > collective properties of particles cannot necessarily be reduced to individual measurements of each particle, "summed" as it were.

> Of course not, and I wasn't claiming they were.

But … they're abstract, while electrons are concrete/​real/​things? Incidentally, there seems to be a slight problem:

> Peter: As a general comment: I don't know what your background is in physics, but you appear to me to have a tendency to focus on the superficial description in words of physical models, instead of the actual underlying physics. Actual physics isn't done in words, it's done in math, because math is more precise.

When you say "electron", do you always mean "the actual thing out there" or do you sometimes mean "the entity in the model"? What I have very little sense of is whether you see a difference between those two things—a difference d'Espagnat articulates.

> At this point you're just waving your hands and gesturing in the general direction of "collective behavior can produce interesting stuff". Which is true, but much to vague for a meaningful discussion. Your "very small delta v" model at least had a specific basis (unstable Lagrangian points).

I would agree that I'm being vague; I am not aware of the precise mathematics which would describe chaotic behavior whereby an infinitesimal force—perhaps applied simultaneously at multiple different points within the chaotic substance (see my "nonseparable causation")—can alter the trajectory of the evolution of the system, picking between two semantically meaningful (and different) states (recall that I mentioned the concept of multiple realizability). But fortunately, I am now at the point where I have physicist friends and I probably can get something much closer to rigorous mathematical equations if not all the way there. Perhaps we should suspend this conversation about "akin to unstable Lagrangian points" (≠ "unstable Lagrangian points") until I do that?

I will add one thing. There is a big difference between requiring me to present you with a viable option of how infinitesimal forces could operate, and you saying that we know that no such forces could possibly be operating "in everyday life", given the experimental results we have from fundamental physics. You realize this, right? Possibly this is a situation like Galileo faced, whereby all was thought to be described (earth falls, fire rises) when there was a non-excluded middle: tangential motion exists and in fact leads to conclusive demonstrations of impetus (if not inertia). But you and Carroll seem very, very confident that there is no such non-excluded middle in this case. Would that an accurate description of your position, at least?

Ron said...


> > Any computer that is more powerful than a TM would be able to perform a large number of very specific tasks that a TM can't (e.g. prove any mathematical theorem in a finite amount of time).

> But you could never verify this

Sure you could. We're not talking about Platonic ideals here, we're talking about actual physics. When we say "The human brain is a TM" what we really mean is that the human brain can be *emulated* by a TM. A real TM, one that we could actually build and run if we had the right technology. We can compute upper bounds on what is possible given the constraints imposed by the known laws of physics. The hypothesis that a human brain is a TM could be falsified (at least to my satisfaction) by demonstrating a human brain that reliably violates those limits.

For example, a human that was able to reliably solve NP-complete problems in O(n) time would certainly make me question my worldview, and a human that could do it in O(1) time would make me believe in God. (Heck, any entity who could do that would *be* God.)

> Why couldn't a TM simulate quantum dynamics? They're just equations.

Time. A TM can simulate quantum dynamics, but in time that is exponential in the number of entangled degrees of freedom. A quantum computer can't solve any problem that a classical computer can't in principle, but in practice a quantum computer can solve problems in fractions of a second that would take a classical computer longer than the lifetime of the universe.

> the principle of induction

I think you two might be using this phrase to mean two different things. There is mathematical induction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_induction) and there is the inference of a general rule from exemplars. I suspect Peter is referring to the first (mathematical induction) while Luke is referring to the second (inferring a rule from exemplars). I accept the first, but not the second.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
When you say "electron", do you always mean "the actual thing out there" or do you sometimes mean "the entity in the model"?

I try to use it to mean "the actual thing out there", but it's true that it's often tempting to use it to mean "the entity in the model", particularly when the discussion is focused on models instead of experiments.

However, I think this particular problem is a side issue. The real problem is when people use the word "electron", for example, to refer to "the actual thing out there", but then reason as if "the actual thing out there" has properties that it doesn't have. For example, thinking that the actual "electrons" out there are little billiard balls that are distinguishable from each other, instead of being whatever-it-is that is keeping that oil drop suspended in the electric field we have turned on in our laboratory experiment.

There is a big difference between requiring me to present you with a viable option of how infinitesimal forces could operate, and you saying that we know that no such forces could possibly be operating "in everyday life", given the experimental results we have from fundamental physics. You realize this, right?

Sure. And if you and your physicist friends come up with an experiment that shows that such a thing is going on in people's brains when they exercise their free will, then by all means send me a copy of the paper you publish reporting the results. :-)

Short of that, though, I'm not sure I could contribute anything useful to your efforts.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
For example, a human that was able to reliably solve NP-complete problems in O(n) time would certainly make me question my worldview

By "solve" I assume you mean "provide a proof that the solution is optimal", correct? After all, the traveling salesman problem is NP-complete, yet human traveling salesmen are able to plan routes. :-)

A TM can simulate quantum dynamics, but in time that is exponential in the number of entangled degrees of freedom.

Ah, I see.

I suspect Peter is referring to the first (mathematical induction) while Luke is referring to the second (inferring a rule from exemplars). I accept the first, but not the second.

No, I was referring to the second. (I would think that would be obvious from the examples I gave; I don't use mathematical induction to ground my expectation that my car will start tomorrow morning.)

I wasn't aware that you didn't accept the second. Or do you just mean that, as Luke said, it's a heuristic rule only?

Ron said...

@Peter:

> I wasn't aware that you didn't accept the second. Or do you just mean that, as Luke said, it's a heuristic rule only?

Nope. Induction is completely invalid. Counter-examples abound. The sun has risen on earth every day for the last four billion years, but in another four billion years (more or less) there will be no more sunrises because the sun is going to turn into a red giant and there will be no more earth. But there's no way to know that from induction.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
The sun has risen on earth every day for the last four billion years, but in another four billion years (more or less) there will be no more sunrises because the sun is going to turn into a red giant and there will be no more earth. But there's no way to know that from induction.

To me this seems like a case of "induction is a heuristic rule only", not "induction is completely invalid". If it were completely invalid, it shouldn't be valid even to infer that the sun will rise tomorrow, much less that it will continue to do so for another four billion years or so. I suppose this could be termed a difference in our use of language, but it seems like a pretty drastic one; calling a rule that works for eight billion years "completely invalid" seems like a bit of a stretch.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > let's take two entangled photons. Can one describe the state of one of them without describing the state of the other?

> If you insist on only using pure states, no; neither photon has a pure state by itself, only the two-photon state does.
>
> If you allow mixed states, you can assign a mixed state (density matrix) to either photon by itself. The usual description of this is that you "trace over" the other photon.
>
> Does this help any?

Yes, that helps. Now, are any/all of those descriptions are "abstract", in precisely the sense that you said:

> Luke: "the complex microstructure of the phase space" is neither an electron, a quark, or an electromagnetic force.

> Peter: No, it's an abstraction.

? Probably it's also important to reference this:

> Luke: When you say "electron", do you always mean "the actual thing out there" or do you sometimes mean "the entity in the model"?

> Peter: I try to use it to mean "the actual thing out there", but it's true that it's often tempting to use it to mean "the entity in the model", particularly when the discussion is focused on models instead of experiments.

The reason I'm asking all this is that I'm really proposing that there exist more things in reality than electrons, quarks, and EM which are "real" and relevant to "everyday life". But as far as I can tell, those things could be entities such as "the complex microstructure of the phase space". You, however, possibly disagree. I don't really understand how you are using the distinction between the map and the territory, yet. There seems to be stuff in the d'Espagnat excerpt you haven't addressed. For example, if there is no such thing as a "naked electron" but what it is is always a function of the environment it is in, then the space seems wide open for nonlocal/​nonseparable entities to exist, to be "as real" as the electrons we use to make semiconductors work.

Where I'm obviously going with this is that the more "real" things there can be, the more opportunity there is to have "Barriers of Irrelevance" which neutralize/​balance enough of the substrate to allow causal powers which were [previously] drowned by the noise to measurably manifest. But if you're going to insist that anything which manifests is "abstract"/​"less real" than electrons, quarks, and EM, I'll want to discuss that more—probably via digging into d'Espagnat's "weak objectivism".

Luke said...

@Peter:

> However, I think this particular problem is a side issue. The real problem is when people use the word "electron", for example, to refer to "the actual thing out there", but then reason as if "the actual thing out there" has properties that it doesn't have. For example, thinking that the actual "electrons" out there are little billiard balls that are distinguishable from each other, instead of being whatever-it-is that is keeping that oil drop suspended in the electric field we have turned on in our laboratory experiment.

That may be a problem for some, but I'm more interested in your confidence that reality is pretty much like the model [for purposes of everyday life]. Actually I'm not even sure what that really means, given the crazy spread of interpretations of QM. The mathematics which has been tested out to many decimal places permits an incredible range of ontologies. And yet, you're happy to kinda-sorta dismiss the entities I bring up as "abstract", while holding to your own as "real". It strikes me that this confidence might not actually be warranted. Were you to go back to exactly what the evidence actually tells you, maybe you'd find there are more possibilities which Carroll forecloses with his Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood.

> > There is a big difference between requiring me to present you with a viable option of how infinitesimal forces could operate, and you saying that we know that no such forces could possibly be operating "in everyday life", given the experimental results we have from fundamental physics. You realize this, right?

> Sure. And if you and your physicist friends come up with an experiment that shows that such a thing is going on in people's brains when they exercise their free will, then by all means send me a copy of the paper you publish reporting the results. :-)
>
> Short of that, though, I'm not sure I could contribute anything useful to your efforts.

What I want to know is why you've foreclosed the physical possibility (that is, you permit nothing other than an exceedingly low probability) that there could be states akin to unstable Lagrangian points in the time-evolution of brain-states. At this point in time, your confidence seems based on a heavy dose of induction. I can check this, but I would guess that really excellent scientists have a good sense of where induction is increasingly likely to be erroneous, within their field. I see zero such caution from you or Carroll. I'm wondering if you think you do practice such caution, but simply draw the boundaries differently than I would.

Ron said...

> If it were completely invalid, it shouldn't be valid even to infer that the sun will rise tomorrow

And indeed it is not valid. Just because an inference happens to be true doesn't mean it's valid. For example, I can hypothesize that apples fall to earth because they are pulled down by leprechauns. If I adopt this theory I will correctly conclude that if I drop an apple it will fall, but that doesn't mean my inference is valid.

Induction is essentially the theory that nothing ever changes. If things don't change, then induction gives you true conclusions, and if they do then it doesn't. The reason induction appears to be less ridiculous then it actually is is that our intuitions filter out many of the invalid inferences as "silly", e.g.:

For the past 1017 years the year of the date has had four digits, and that will continue to be true for the next 8982 years. Nonetheless, I can predict with extremely high confidence that after December 31, 9999 the year of the date will have five digits, despite the fact that this has never before been observed in the known universe.

Elizabeth II has been queen of England every day for the last 24,000 days or so. It does not follow that she will be queen of England for another 24,000 days.

Donald Trump has been an asshole for at least 50 years. It does not follow that he will be an asshole for another 50 years.

Sometimes, though, our intuitions fail us badly. The stock market has risen more or less continuously for the last 8 years. But if you think it's valid to conclude from that that it will rise for another 8 years (and some people do) you are in for many nasty surprises.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
are any/all of those descriptions are "abstract", in precisely the sense that you said

I guess if we're equating "abstract" with "map", then yes. Quantum states and phase space are map, not territory.

I'm really proposing that there exist more things in reality than electrons, quarks, and EM which are "real" and relevant to "everyday life".

I never said there weren't. I just said that all of those other things are made of electrons, quarks, and EM forces.

as far as I can tell, those things could be entities such as "the complex microstructure of
the phase space".


No, they can't, because "the complex microstructure of the phase space" is map, not territory. But they could be (and are) things like neurons, neurotransmitters, hormones...or brains...or free will and consciousness. The physicalist view is that all of those things are made of electrons, quarks, and EM forces.

if you're going to insist that anything which manifests is "abstract"/​"less real" than electrons, quarks, and EM

I'm not. See above.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
What I want to know is why you've foreclosed the physical possibility (that is, you permit nothing other than an exceedingly low probability) that there could be states akin to unstable Lagrangian points in the time-evolution of brain-states.

I already explained that, several times: thermal noise. I don't see the point of continuing to reiterate the same argument. If you're not convinced, that's your choice. But that's my answer.

I'm wondering if you think you do practice such caution, but simply draw the boundaries differently than I would.

That's probably the best way to think of it at this point.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
Induction is essentially the theory that nothing ever changes

I wasn't intending to use the word "induction" that way, but of course we don't all use words the same way. Perhaps it will help to taboo the word "induction" and rephrase my question:

Do you believe the sun will rise tomorrow? If so, what is your basis for this belief?

(And if you don't, what specific actions are you taking to plan for the significant--to you--possibility that the sun will not rise tomorrow?)

Ron said...

> Do you believe the sun will rise tomorrow?

Yes. Of course.

> If so, what is your basis for this belief?

That is not an easy question to answer. I'd have to explain celestial mechanics and the life cycles of main-sequence stars. But the point is that I believe the sun will rise tomorrow because I believe I understand *why* it will rise tomorrow, not because I've observed it rising in the past.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
I'd have to explain celestial mechanics and the life cycles of main-sequence stars.

You don't have to explain those things, I understand them fine. But what is your basis for the belief that those laws will continue to work for the next four billion years, so that their prediction of what will happen to the Sun to stop it from rising at that point will be valid?

Ron said...

> You don't have to explain those things

I kinda figured that. But I also kinda figured that you already knew that I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

> what is your basis for the belief that those laws will continue to work for the next four billion years

Faith.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
Faith.

But how do you tell when this "faith" is appropriate and when it isn't? You didn't give "faith" as the answer when I asked why you believe the sun will rise tomorrow; you talked about celestial mechanics and the life cycles of main sequence stars--you said you understand why the sun is going to rise tomorrow. Where does that stop and "faith" begin?

Ron said...

> Where does that stop and "faith" begin?

It doesn't. I simultaneously maintain my (justified) belief that the universe is governed by laws of physics and my (unjustified) faith that these laws will not change in the future. In the absence of a theory of why the laws of physics are what they are (and we do not yet have such a theory) there can be no justification for believing that they won't change. I choose to believe it (to be precise, I choose to assign a Bayesian prior very close to 1) nonetheless.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > What I want to know is why you've foreclosed the physical possibility (that is, you permit nothing other than an exceedingly low probability) that there could be states akin to unstable Lagrangian points in the time-evolution of brain-states.

> I already explained that, several times: thermal noise. I don't see the point of continuing to reiterate the same argument. If you're not convinced, that's your choice. But that's my answer.

Here's the first time you mentioned "thermal noise":

> Peter: That's not to say that no such model will ever be successful, but I can see at least one plausible reason to be skeptical: thermal noise in the brain should be way too large to allow any meaningful dependence of the brain's activity on quantum uncertainty. In all the cases in which we have experimentally probed quantum uncertainty, the biggest challenge is keeping the quantum system "quiet" enough to allow quantum effects to be significant; that means strict isolation from all other systems. The brain is not at all like that.

That wasn't in response to discussion of "(1) existence of brain states akin to unstable Lagrangian points"; on the contrary it was in the vein of @Ron's "One can always choose to base one's actions on the outcome of a quantum measurement." Here's the second time you mentioned "thermal noise":

> Luke: If there are near-chaotic aspects of thinking then perhaps the subtlest of pushes could send the thinking one way vs. another. Maybe even infinitesimal pushes, if brain states can pass through unstable Lagrangian points.

> Peter: Yes, this is in principle possible, but I don't see how it would be controllable in the brain the way a spacecraft's trajectory is controllable, because of the thermal noise issue I brought up earlier. There is no analogue of thermal noise in spacecraft trajectories. That's what allows the spacecraft's engine burn to be controlled precisely enough to produce the desired orbital change. The analogue of thermal noise for a spacecraft would be random perturbations to the orbit with energies comparable to the orbital energy. With such things present you couldn't even get the spacecraft to predictably hit an unstable Lagrange point in the first place, much less precisely control how an engine burn there would affect its orbit.

I can see how you would see my "pushes" as being only point-pushes like spacecraft navigating the ITN. But why is that the only option, the only physically plausible kind of infinitesimal force? I actually got quite explicit about this:

> Luke: Now, as it comes to this issue, I suspect one might need to employ both nonseparable causation (nonseparable state ⇔ nonseparable causation) and weak measurement if not interaction-free measurement. I can go into the reasons later, but suffice it to say that any equivalents of Lagrangian points in human thinking near the edge of chaos are almost certainly going to be spread out in space, rather than being a spacecraft flying through a point.

Later I reiterated this point: "That push doesn't have to be localized to one point in space." So … it would appear that both of us are reiterating the same argument. It's just that I think my reiterating renders your reiterating obsolete. But you don't seem to think that, and I don't know why.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > are any/all of those descriptions are "abstract", in precisely the sense that you said

> I guess if we're equating "abstract" with "map", then yes. Quantum states and phase space are map, not territory.

But then what successes does physics have under its belt which are related to "electrons are real", which cannot actually be attributed to "the abstract electrons represented by these equations"? Are not all the successes actually due to how well the map operates? You seem to be taking a very particular realist stance and I want to know if it's actually justified by the evidence, or whether it's actually a philosophical stance. I am somewhat acquainted with constructive empiricism.

> > I'm really proposing that there exist more things in reality than electrons, quarks, and EM which are "real" and relevant to "everyday life".

> I never said there weren't. I just said that all of those other things are made of electrons, quarks, and EM forces.

To the extent that you want to refer to something more than the map when you say "electron", that can only mean something different if (i) you think map = territory when it comes to electrons, quarks, and EM forces; (ii) you think electrons in the territory are somehow more than electrons in the map. True, or false? BTW, in all this discussion I have been proposing that the map doesn't tell us everything about the territory when it comes to "everyday life". That is reducible to "the map is not homomorphic to the territory, when it comes to matters of everyday life". I didn't expect you to affirm such a proposition, because you started making a sharp distinction between abstractions and reality.

> "the complex microstructure of the phase space" is map, not territory.

I don't see why that has to be the case. And you've now confused me, given this exchange:

> Luke: To emphasize once more, collective properties of particles cannot necessarily be reduced to individual measurements of each particle, "summed" as it were.

> Peter: Of course not, and I wasn't claiming they were.

If a collective property cannot be "summed", how can it be abstract? If I measure each particle individually to the best of my ability, aggregate those measurements, and yet still cannot compute the collective property, then that would seem to make that collective property really real. Or to be more precise (since we seem to be playing the pedantic game), the collective property in the map would point us toward something existing in the territory which isn't an electron, quark, or EM forces. (If you permit a full-fledged "EM field", then it is my understanding that it (the abstraction) can represent nonseparable collective properties. Is this true?)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> the extent to which humans are sensitive to information is far from clear.
>
> https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

So I finally finished that article and want to add to my initial response. I found this particularly interesting:

>> Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless.

The idea that "becoming more informed" is a solution seems to be problematic. One reason comes from Converse 1964 The nature of belief systems in mass publics (8400 'citations'. Here's how WikiSummary describes it:

>> A great majority of people neither adhere to a full, complete set of beliefs which produces a clear ideology nor do they have a clear grasp of what ideology is. This is measured by a lack of coherence in responses to open-ended questions. Ideology of elites is not mirrored by the masses and voter revolt to a political party does not reflect ideological shifts.
>>
>> Converse analyzes open-ended interview questions to measure conceptualization of ideology. He concludes that the liberal-conservative continuum is a high level abstraction not typically used by the man in the street because of response instability and lack of connections made between answers. There is no underlying belief structure for most people, just a bunch of random opinions. Even on highly controversial, well-publicized issues, large portions of the electorate do not have coherent opinions. In fact, many simply answer survey questions as though they are flipping a coin.
>>
>> Though some political sophisticates do structure their opinions in a larger ideological framework, such structure is rare. This level of political sophistication (one's "level of conceptualization") is correlated positively with the respondent's level of education, degree of political involvement, and amount of political information.

Now here's Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels on the response to those data (which have been replicated):

>> Faced with this evidence, many scholars in the final chapters of their books continue to express idealistic hope that institutional reform, civic education, improved mass media, more effective mobilization of the poor, or stronger moral exhortation might bring public opinion into closer correspondence with the standards of the folk theory. But in sober moments most acknowledge the repeated failures of all those prescriptions. (Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, 12)

What is up with Western intellectuals' consistent refusal to acknowledge facts about human nature and society?!?!

By the way, this is a great way to keep the populace predictable—by lying to them. By saying that the next thing will be better (and therefore vote for us!) without any empirical basis. Who knows whether the power elite actually know what is going on and whether all these scholars are merely the priests of a religion. There is reason to think that a lot of the economics research going on in the West is "mathematized religion".

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I think my reiterating renders your reiterating obsolete. But you don't seem to think that, and I don't know why.

Consider the spaceship analogy. You can apply a small delta v at an unstable Lagrangian point and make a large ultimate trajectory change. But the spaceship is only at the unstable Lagrangian point for a small window of time; after that it is in a different region of the potential diagram and small delta v no longer has the same effect. You can't "build up" the effect of many small pushes to overcome thermal noise because only one (or a very small subset) of the pushes actually have a significant effect (in the absence of thermal noise).

If you are just saying in general that a lot of small pushes can add up to a big effect, sure, that's true, but now, as I said before, you're just waving your hands in a general direction, not giving a specific model that can be analyzed.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> Consider the spaceship analogy.

But my "reiterating" explicitly moves away from the spaceship analogy: "That push doesn't have to be localized to one point in space." All I'm depending on is that in the chaotic time-evolution of state, there is the distinct possibility of passing through states which are akin to unstable Lagrangian points. As far as I understand, *this does not have to be based on quantum uncertainty*. One must respect "Barriers of Relevance", here. Otherwise, one is being profoundly unempirical.

> If you are just saying in general that a lot of small pushes can add up to a big effect, sure, that's true, but now, as I said before, you're just waving your hands in a general direction, not giving a specific model that can be analyzed.

I don't have "a specific model". More reiterating:

> Luke: I would agree that I'm being vague; I am not aware of the precise mathematics which would describe chaotic behavior whereby an infinitesimal force—perhaps applied simultaneously at multiple different points within the chaotic substance (see my "nonseparable causation")—can alter the trajectory of the evolution of the system, picking between two semantically meaningful (and different) states (recall that I mentioned the concept of multiple realizability). …
>
> There is a big difference between requiring me to present you with a viable option of how infinitesimal forces could operate, and you saying that we know that no such forces could possibly be operating "in everyday life", given the experimental results we have from fundamental physics. You realize this, right? Possibly this is a situation like Galileo faced, whereby all was thought to be described (earth falls, fire rises) when there was a non-excluded middle: tangential motion exists and in fact leads to conclusive demonstrations of impetus (if not inertia). But you and Carroll seem very, very confident that there is no such non-excluded middle in this case. Would that an accurate description of your position, at least?

Your did respond to the first two sentences of the second paragraph:

> Peter: Sure. And if you and your physicist friends come up with an experiment that shows that such a thing is going on in people's brains when they exercise their free will, then by all means send me a copy of the paper you publish reporting the results. :-)
>
> Short of that, though, I'm not sure I could contribute anything useful to your efforts.

But the rest you ignored. And I say the rest is important—it's almost the crux of my entire argument! If I could give you "a specific model" or "the results", how confident are you that it would violate Carroll's Big Equation™? Let us recall that Carroll is explicitly reductionist: see his Downward Causation article.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
what successes does physics have under its belt which are related to "electrons are real", which cannot actually be attributed to "the abstract electrons represented by these equations"?

You can't attribute any experimental success to an abstract electron; that's a map. It has to be due to the real electron, the thing out there in the territory. You can say that "experimental success" means "the territory did what the map predicted it would do", but that doesn't mean the map is out there in the territory producing your experimental results.

As a general comment: you seem to be thinking like a philosopher, not a physicist. You have a bunch of general principles in your head and you're trying to make everything you see fit them. That's backwards. You construct your map by exploring the territory; you don't decide first what your map is and then try to make the territory fit it.

You also seem to have a strong tendency for false dichotomies. For example:

To the extent that you want to refer to something more than the map when you say "electron", that can only mean something different if (i) you think map = territory when it comes to electrons, quarks, and EM forces; (ii) you think electrons in the territory are somehow more than electrons in the map. True, or false?

Mu. The territory is different from the map. It's not equal to the map. It's not "more" than the map. It's just a different thing. You brought up the whole map/territory distinction as though it were going to be helpful, but now it just seems to be confusing you more.

Or maybe it's just that we aren't being consistent enough in using map/territory language instead of something else:

If I measure each particle individually to the best of my ability, aggregate those measurements, and yet still cannot compute the collective property, then that would seem to make that collective property really real.

Huh? Suppose I can compute the collective property by aggregating individual measurements on the particles. Does that now make the collective property "not really real"? (What does that even mean?)

Let me try rephrasing all this in map/territory terms:

"Brains are made of electrons, quarks, and EM forces" means "if I take apart a brain, and then take apart the parts, and so on, I will eventually have electrons, quarks, and EM forces, and nothing else". In other words, it's describing the predicted result of a hypothetical experimental procedure. The thing that lets me make this prediction is a map. The things the prediction is about are territory.

Now consider these two statements:

"The mass of a hydrogen atom in its ground state is a collective property that can be computed by aggregating measurements of the masses of the proton and electron and the binding energy due to their interaction."

"Free will is a collective property that cannot be computed by aggregating measurements on the individual particles in a brain."

Both of these are also describing predictions. The first is a prediction that a bunch of numbers computed by different routes will match in a particular domain. The second is a prediction that no such computation is possible in another particular domain. Again, the things that produce these predictions are maps. The things the predictions are about are territory.

Now, does the difference between those two statements (one saying a computation is possible, the other not) mean that free will is "really real" but a hydrogen atom is not?

Peter Donis said...

does the difference between those two statements (one saying a computation is possible, the other not) mean that free will is "really real" but a hydrogen atom is not?

Or, if "free will" is too problematic, try this version of the second statement:

"Solidity is a collective property that cannot be computed by aggregating measurements on the individual particles in a rock."

Does this mean the rock is "really real" but a hydrogen atom is not?

Luke said...

@Peter:

> You can't attribute any experimental success to an abstract electron; that's a map. It has to be due to the real electron, the thing out there in the territory.

No it doesn't have to be due to the real electron, it can be due to a real something else. You seem to just presuppose that scientific anti-realism couldn't possibly be true. You'd be like an anti-Newton, who insists that there really is "action at a distance", out there in reality. Then you would be devastated to find out that that was just a relic of the equations, that actually matter curves space and it is the curvature of space which attracts bodies. As far as I can tell, you've just utterly discounted d'Espagnat's "Trajectories and Misleading “Pieces of Evidence”"—without a shred of reasoning to support it.

> You can say that "experimental success" means "the territory did what the map predicted it would do", but that doesn't mean the map is out there in the territory producing your experimental results.

Correct. But the success of the map only gives you confidence that the map has some sort of [pretty good] homomorphism to reality and probably, some subset of reality where you don't know all the ceteris paribus conditions.

> As a general comment: you seem to be thinking like a philosopher, not a physicist.

Ok, then here's a physicist:

>>     In truth, however, with regard to the knowledge of ultimate reality, one would be misguided to blindly trust the pure scientific method and to uncritically raise its results to the status of properties of Being. While physics is almost unerring in its equations, which scarcely meet with anything but successive improvements, making them suitable for the description of an ever-increasing diversity of phenomena, it must be granted that in its history, it has successively given rise to world views that have contradicted one another and that, therefore, can hardly be anything else than mere models. To be sure, such a criticism should not be taken as final, considering that science has arisen only in relatively recent times and that it has developed considerably during the past few decades. Nevertheless, it would be somewhat preposterous to unequivocally assert that any such model is a faithful description of what is. (In Search of Reality, 3)

Want to know another physicist who was also a philosopher? Albert Einstein.

> You have a bunch of general principles in your head and you're trying to make everything you see fit them. That's backwards. You construct your map by exploring the territory; you don't decide first what your map is and then try to make the territory fit it.

Honestly, this seems like a log and speck situation: you think everything about everyday life can be reduced to electrons, quarks, and the electromagnetic force. Despite "Barriers of Relevance" which make this impossible to test—at least reductionistically down to the Big Equation™ level. It is *I* who am suggesting that there might be more equally real things out there in reality! And I'm just opening the space for empirically possible phenomena which we'd then have to go out and test. Here's what I wrote a while ago:

> Luke: I believe—based on science—that sometimes we have to get patterns going in our consciousness before we can observe them out in reality. I can expand upon this if you'd like, although I first suggest checking out that link if your curiosity is piqued.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I don't have "a specific model"

Yes, which means there is no point in trying to convince me that your totally nonspecific handwaving has a significant probability of being correct. You just need to invest the time and effort yourself and see where it goes.

I say the rest is important—it's almost the crux of my entire argument!

Yes, which means there is no point in trying to convince me that your argument is correct, because to me it's just totally nonspecific handwaving and doesn't even constitute an argument. You just need to invest the time and effort yourself and see where it goes.

If I could give you "a specific model" or "the results", how confident are you that it would violate Carroll's Big Equation™?

"Violate" in what sense?

If "violate" just means "show something that can't, at our current state of knowledge, be explicitly computed from the Big Equation", I gave an example in a comment a little bit ago: solidity. Nobody knows how to compute solidity from the Big Equation. Does that mean solidity "violates" the Big Equation?

If "violate" means "show something that can be explicitly proven to be inconsistent with the Big Equation", that's a much stronger claim and my Bayesian prior is extremely high that it cannot be done. Does that answer your question?

Let us recall that Carroll is explicitly reductionist: see his Downward Causation article.

"Reductionist" is a buzz word. As far as I can tell, Carroll is saying the same thing that I said in my second statement above about the word "violate". He's not saying that higher level entities aren't real; in fact he explicitly says the opposite. He's just saying that, whatever we find out about higher level entities, it will never be inconsistent with the Big Equation. "Downward Causation" would mean finding something that was.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
it doesn't have to be due to the real electron, it can be due to a real something else

You're confusing map with territory again. "Electron", referring to the territory, is whatever is causing the phenomena we label with that name. It makes no sense to say the thing that is causing the phenomena is not the thing that is causing the phenomena, but something else.

"Electron", referring to the map, can refer to different things, because there can be different maps--different models, at different levels of accuracy, using different concepts. But all of them refer to the same "electron" in the territory--the same whatever-it-is that is causing the phenomena we label with the name "electron".

here's a physicist

Talking about philosophy, in a popular book. Try finding a physicist who says stuff like this in a peer-reviewed paper. You can't. Why? Because "peer-reviewed" means other people who actually know the subject are checking what you say and calling bullshit when appropriate.

Want to know another physicist who was also a philosopher? Albert Einstein.

There have been plenty of physicists who were also philosophers. So what?

If you want a somewhat more substantive response, my general impression is that physicists who try to do philosophy don't generally do it very well. But then I think philosophers in general don't do it very well, so I'm biased. :-)

However, the point of my comment was more specific: by "thinking like a philosopher" I meant "losing touch with the actual real stuff--the territory--that we are talking about". "Electron" is not just some word that labels a few diagrams in textbooks. Physicists have been observing electrons for more than a century, and that only counts the time since people began to understand that there was a common cause involved among a lot of widely different phenomena. "Electron" is the name we give to a common causal factor in a whole collection of phenomena: oil drop experiments, beta rays from nuclear reactions, spots on screens in cathode ray tubes, emission and absorption of light producing spectral lines, static electricity in my laundry, etc. etc. The whole point of the label "electron" is that all of these phenomena have a causal factor in common. We believe this because we have constructed detailed maps involving a model of this causal factor that make accurate predictions of all these phenomena. Once you have grokked all this, what does it even mean to say "all that stuff could have been caused by something else"?

you think everything about everyday life can be reduced to electrons, quarks, and the electromagnetic force.

I have said no such thing. I have said that all the things we deal with in everyday life are made of electrons, quarks, and EM forces. Big difference.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> > I don't have "a specific model"

> Yes, which means there is no point in trying to convince me that your totally nonspecific handwaving has a significant probability of being correct. You just need to invest the time and effort yourself and see where it goes.

You just don't see how I'm trying to open up a range of physical possibilities which seem 100% consistent with the Big Equation™ as long as it isn't taken as a complete theory? (See my David Bohm excerpt.)

> > I say the rest is important—it's almost the crux of my entire argument!

> Yes, which means there is no point in trying to convince me that your argument is correct, because to me it's just totally nonspecific handwaving and doesn't even constitute an argument. You just need to invest the time and effort yourself and see where it goes.

But Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood purports to be scientific knowledge—to extremely high confidence—that what I'm looking for does not exist. I want to know why that confidence is justified—if in fact it is. I think I've dispatched the idea that "if it were incomplete such that it matters for everyday life, we'd have seen so in physics experiments run to-date", while you apparently do not.

> "Violate" in what sense?

In the sense of there being more fundamental causal powers than just those specified in the Big Equation™, causal powers relevant to everyday life. Remember that Carroll is claiming completeness when it comes to (i) the fundamental causal powers at play; (ii) when the domain is restricted to everyday life.

> "Reductionist" is a buzz word. As far as I can tell, Carroll is saying the same thing that I said in my second statement above about the word "violate". He's not saying that higher level entities aren't real; in fact he explicitly says the opposite. He's just saying that, whatever we find out about higher level entities, it will never be inconsistent with the Big Equation. "Downward Causation" would mean finding something that was.

Right. If I were to talk in terms of "supervenience", you'd probably accuse me of being an empirically-detached philosopher. Do you enjoy being the instructor for Kobayashi Maru?

Look, I'm perfectly happy for the Big Equation™ to be an approximation which works fantastically in some domains. Because of the noise floor, predictions of Newtonian mechanics cannot be empirically distinguished from predictions of general relativity in much of life. I just think if we overextend the domains of validity, we might blind ourselves to how reality actually works. From what I can see, you are rather blasé about this.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood purports to be scientific knowledge—to extremely high confidence—that what I'm looking for does not exist. I want to know why that confidence is justified

Because...

I just think if we overextend the domains of validity, we might blind ourselves to how reality actually works.

...the domain of validity of the Big Equation is Everyday Life. Plus a lot of stuff that isn't even part of everyday life, like particle physics experiments.

Perhaps it's worth expanding on this "domain of validity" thing a bit. I'm assuming that what you are looking for is something that could make, say, nerve signals in your brain do something that is not consistent with the Big Equation. But that would mean that electrons, quarks, and EM forces in your brain are doing something that is not consistent with the Big Equation, because your brain is made of electrons, quarks, and EM forces. And (this is going to sound like a broken record) if electrons, quarks, and EM forces could do anything, under the conditions in your brain (temperature 310 K, density around the density of water, pressure roughly 1 atmosphere, etc.), that was not consistent with the Big Equation, we would have seen it in experiments we've already done, because we've done lots of experiments to see if electrons, quarks, and EM forces under those conditions (and a much wider range of conditions) do anything that is not consistent with the Big Equation, and we've failed to find any such thing. That is what I mean when I say the domain of validity of the Big Equation includes our brains, bodies, and all of the objects we deal with in everyday life.

Now it might be that I've misinterpreted what you're looking for. It might be that you'd be satisfied with something that, while it didn't make electrons, quarks, and EM forces in your brain do anything that wasn't consistent with the Big Equation, involved some kind of "collective phenomenon" that worked very differently from any of the collective phenomena we currently know of (like neuron firings, neurotransmitters, hormones, etc.). If that's all you're looking for, of course the Big Equation can't rule that out, because nobody has an exhaustive list of all the possible collective phenomena that the Big Equation could be consistent with. And we might never have such a list if there are Barriers of Relevance involved that screen off the collective phenomena at a higher level from the details at lower levels. (The proposal about quantum phenomena in microtubules that I mentioned earlier in this discussion is an example of a proposed "collective phenomenon" of this kind.)

I personally don't think that this second alternative is likely either; but my Bayesian prior that it won't happen is much lower than my Bayesian prior that we will never discover brains, bodies, or objects we deal with in everyday life doing anything that is inconsistent with the Big Equation.

Luke said...

@Peter:

> I'm assuming that what you are looking for is something that could make, say, nerve signals in your brain do something that is not consistent with the Big Equation.

If you ever thought you're the only one who has had to repeat stuff in this conversation, please disabuse yourself of that now.

(1) It started here:

Luke: I think you and I mean rather different things with that term "chosen". I don't need to assert libertarian free will; I can just question monistic determinism / physicalism.

> Peter: What other alternative is there? "Libertarian free will" just means "free will doesn't have to follow physical laws".

But it is possible to follow the Big Equation with fundamental forces in addition to the Big Four (or 1+3-in-1). That's because the Big Equation is not complete. It does not capture all possible structure and declare anything else to be pure indeterministic noise. Only a philosophical closure gets you that. That's what Bohm claimed and you've provided zero reason to doubt it. And so, there can be additional structure (including additional fundamental causal powers) without being inconsistent with the empirical component of the Big Equation. That is, the component actually supported by experiment.

(2) I also said the following and I stand by it:

> Luke: One thing I'm doing in my push toward an understanding of free will not restricted to the current laws of physics (that is, no other forces allowed) is to ensure that our current science stays falsifiable. In Intersubjectivity is Key, I note that there are two kinds of falsification: (I) contradiction; (II) incompleteness. I claim it's actually much harder to show (II). That's actually what Galileo did; he noticed that there was an in-between state in Aristotle's physics, between fire which goes upward and earth which goes downward. What about tangential motion? I'm no Galileo, but I worry that we humans suck at unearthing (II). We so desperately want to have described everything [relevant], at least at some "fundamental" level.

(3) I reaffirmed (2) later:

> Luke: I also don't understand why anything which might act contrary to Core Theory (I mainly mean "having more structure than", rather than "contradictory to") at the everyday level would necessarily have been observed in physics experiments.

I don't understand why you seem to have such a problem with (i) there being more structure [including fundamental causal powers] than Carroll's Big Equation specifies; (ii) which is relevant to everyday life; (iii) which doesn't violate the Big Equation. I don't understand why you have to construe this as a matter of "not consistent with the Big Equation".

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