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Philosophy & Science / The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow
« on: August 15, 2019, 12:42:41 pm »
The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow

This gradual spreading of matter and energy, called “thermalization,” aims the arrow of time. But the fact that time’s arrow is irreversible, so that hot coffee cools down but never spontaneously heats up, isn’t written into the underlying laws that govern the motion of the molecules in the coffee. Rather, thermalization is a statistical outcome: The coffee’s heat is far more likely to spread into the air than the cold air molecules are to concentrate energy into the coffee, just as shuffling a new deck of cards randomizes the cards’ order, and repeat shuffles will practically never re-sort them by suit and rank. Once coffee, cup and air reach thermal equilibrium, no more energy flows between them, and no further change occurs. Thus thermal equilibrium on a cosmic scale is dubbed the “heat death of the universe.”

But while it’s easy to see where thermalization leads (to tepid coffee and eventual heat death), it’s less obvious how the process begins. “If you start far from equilibrium, like in the early universe, how does the arrow of time emerge, starting from first principles?” said Jürgen Berges, a theoretical physicist at Heidelberg University in Germany who has studied this problem for more than a decade.

These conditions would have occurred right after “cosmic inflation” — the explosive expansion of space thought by many cosmologists to have jump-started the Big Bang. Inflation would have blasted away any existing particles, leaving only the uniform energy of space itself: a perfectly smooth, dense, oscillating field of energy known as a “condensate.” Berges modeled this condensate in 2008 with collaborators Alexander Rothkopf and Jonas Schmidt, and they discovered that the first stages of its evolution should have exhibited fractal-like universal scaling. “You find that when this big condensate decayed into the particles that we observe today, that this process can be very elegantly described by a few numbers,” he said.

It seems that as a system begins to evolve, key details, like its symmetries, are retained and become encoded in the scaling exponents dictating its fractal evolution, while other details, like the initial configuration of its particles or the interactions between them, become irrelevant to its behavior, scrambled among its particles.

And this scrambling process happens very early indeed. In their papers this spring, Berges, Gasenzer and their collaborators independently described prescaling for the first time, a period before universal scaling that their papers predicted for nuclear collisions and ultracold atoms, respectively. Prescaling suggests that when a system first evolves from its initial, far-from-equilibrium condition, scaling exponents don’t yet perfectly describe it. The system retains some of its previous structure — remnants of its initial configuration. But as prescaling progresses, the system assumes a more universal form in space and time, essentially obscuring irrelevant information about its own past. If this idea is borne out by future experiments, prescaling may be the nocking of time’s arrow onto the bowstring.

Philosophy & Science / Is the Cell Really a Machine?
« on: August 12, 2019, 06:40:39 pm »
Is the Cell Really a Machine?

It has become customary to conceptualize the living cell as an intricate piece of machinery, different to a man-made machine only in terms of its superior complexity. This familiar understanding grounds the conviction that a cell's organization can be explained reductionistically, as well as the idea that its molecular pathways can be construed as deterministic circuits. The machine conception of the cell owes a great deal of its success to the methods traditionally used in molecular biology.

However, the recent introduction of novel experimental techniques capable of tracking individual molecules within cells in real time is leading to the rapid accumulation of data that are inconsistent with an engineering view of the cell. This paper examines four major domains of current research in which the challenges to the machine conception of the cell are particularly pronounced: cellular architecture, protein complexes, intracellular transport, and cellular behaviour. It argues that a new theoretical understanding of the cell is emerging from the study of these phenomena which emphasizes the dynamic, self-organizing nature of its constitution, the fluidity and plasticity of its components, and the stochasticity and non-linearity of its underlying processes.

RPG Discussion / Eclipse Phase 2nd Edition
« on: August 10, 2019, 10:22:39 pm »
It's under CCL, so here's a copy.

But if you want to buy a copy to support the RPG, go to DriveThruRPG.

Philosophy & Science / Would an uploaded mind have value?
« on: August 10, 2019, 09:41:08 pm »
While I don't think it's possible - a discussion for another thread - let's say you could upload a mind in the sense that the mind becomes software - is there a good reason for anyone besides the uploadee to think of such a mind as valuable?

Is it valuable because it's easier to replicate the physical structure of a brain in simulated space rather than trying to create a mind from scratch?

I suppose if it's the structural aspects that ensure successful uploads one might be able to upload minds but have no idea how to create true AI?

Philosophy & Science / Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?
« on: August 10, 2019, 11:39:49 am »
Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?

For example, if machines continue to grow exponentially in speed and sophistication, they will one day be able to decode the staggering complexity of the living world, from its atoms and molecules all the way up to entire planetary biomes. Presumably life doesn’t have to be made of atoms and molecules, but could be assembled from any set of building blocks with the requisite complexity. If so, a civilization could then transcribe itself and its entire physical realm into new forms. Indeed, perhaps our universe is one of the new forms into which some other civilization transcribed its world.

These possibilities might seem wholly untestable, because part of the conceit is that sufficiently advanced life will not just be unrecognizable as such, but will blend completely into the fabric of what we’ve thought of as nature. But viewed through the warped bottom of a beer glass, we can pick out a few cosmic phenomena that—at crazy as it sounds—might fit the requirements.

In that case, dark matter could contain real complexity, and perhaps it is where all technologically advanced life ends up or where most life has always been. What better way to escape the nasty vagaries of supernova and gamma-ray bursts than to adopt a form that is immune to electromagnetic radiation? Upload your world to the huge amount of real estate on the dark side and be done with it.

If you’re a civilization that has learned how to encode living systems in different substrates, all you need to do is build a normal-matter-to-dark-matter data-transfer system: a dark-matter 3D printer. Perhaps the mismatch of astronomical models and observations is evidence not just of self-interacting dark matter, but of dark matter that is being artificially manipulated.

Or to take this a step further, perhaps the behavior of normal cosmic matter that we attribute to dark matter is brought on by something else altogether: a living state that manipulates luminous matter for its own purposes. Consider that at present we have neither identified the dark-matter particles nor come up with a compelling alternative to our laws of physics that would account for the behavior of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Would an explanation in terms of life be any less plausible than a failure of established laws?

 The universe does other funky and unexpected stuff. Notably, it began to expand at an accelerated rate about 5 billion years ago. This acceleration is conventionally chalked up to dark energy. But cosmologists don’t know why the cosmic acceleration began when it did. In fact, one explanation with a modicum of traction is that the timing has to do with life—an anthropic argument. The dark energy didn’t become significant until enough time had gone by for life to take hold on Earth. For many cosmologists, that means our universe must be part of a vast multiverse where the strength of dark energy varies from place to place. We live in one of the places suitable for life like us. Elsewhere, dark energy is stronger and blows the universe apart too quickly for cosmic structures to form and life to take root.

But perhaps there is another reason for the timing coincidence: that dark energy is related to the activities of living things. After all, any very early life in the universe would have already experienced 8 billion years of evolutionary time by the time expansion began to accelerate. It’s a stretch, but maybe there’s something about life itself that affects the cosmos, or maybe those well-evolved denizens decided to tinker with the expansion.

There are even possible motivations for that action...

A species can mitigate risk by spreading, decentralizing, and seeding as much real estate as possible. In this context, hyper-advanced life is going to look for ways to get rid of physical locality and to maximize redundancy and flexibility. The quantum realm offers good options. The cosmos is already packed with electromagnetic energy. Today, at any instant, about 400 photons of cosmic microwave radiation are streaming through any cubic centimeter of free space. They collectively have less energy than ordinary particles such as protons and electrons, but vastly outnumber them. That’s a lot of potential data carriers. Furthermore, we could imagine that these photons are cleverly quantum-mechanically entangled to help with error control.

By storing its essential data in photons, life could give itself a distributed backup system...

Toward the end of Carl Sagan’s 1985 science-fiction novel Contact, the protagonist follows the suggestion of an extraterrestrial to study transcendental numbers. After computing to 1020 places, she finds a clearly artificial message embedded in the digits of this fundamental number. In other words, part of the fabric of the universe is a product of intelligence or is perhaps even life itself.

It’s a great mind-bending twist for a book. Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn’t just external. Perhaps it’s already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence.

In other words, life might not just be in the equations. It might be the equations.

Philosophy & Science / Do you know the mushroom man?
« on: August 06, 2019, 09:09:58 pm »
Do you know the mushroom man?

Chris Taylor

Stamets has been credited with discovering four new mushroom species and holds eight patents. One of them, for a mushroom-based pesticide, could reportedly upend Monsanto's business model. He has worked with the Pentagon (on mushrooms that cure tuberculosis) and rocked the mic at TED (a 2008 TED talk, viewed more than 5 million times, is the reason Star Trek producers called him in the first place). He's a character in a bestselling book, an author of five books himself, and an old friend of “Optimum Health” guru Dr. Andrew Weil.

At the conclusion of the talk, Stamets unveils the recent discovery that male cicadas fly around with their asses covered in mushroom spores. The mushroom in question isn't psychedelic, but it does seem to manufacture both psilocybin and an amphetamine when it's on a cicada butt. We don’t know why or how, exactly, and when you follow the research it's pretty terrifying. The spores turn the cicadas into sex-crazed zombies while simultaneously castrating them. Their butts literally fall off, spreading spores far and wide in the process.

But Stamets digs out a fascinating detail — the infected cicadas imitate the female mating call, causing more male-on-male mating — and quickly pivots to the point that psilocybin simultaneously makes us friendlier, more "feminized," less aggressive and more courageous, desirable qualities both in a mate and in a leader. He gets a standing ovation from his tatooed, pierced, dreadlocked audience.

If this all makes Stamets sound like the Timothy Leary of 'shrooms, “crashing around America selling consciousness expansion for three bucks a hit,” to use Hunter S. Thompson’s famous put down of the LSD-pushing former Harvard psychologist — well, that’s not really the case. First of all, Stamets will never give you a dose of psilocybin himself. He’s still wired by paranoia from his days as a DEA-licensed mushroom researcher, worried that anyone could be a potential undercover DEA agent.

He’ll just tell you what parts of the forest in which to find it, how not to mistake it for poisonous mushrooms, and how to store it. His current favorite system involves crushed mushroom juice in ice. (“Ice cubes are great for Burning Man,” he says, deadpan.)


Secondly, a big portion of Stamets’ spiel, even here among a highly receptive crowd, is about telling people that it’s a profoundly good thing to treat mushrooms as sacred — and thus severely curtail the amount they ingest. He will note that psilocybin has proven effective in the treatment of PTSD, but will also point to a study that shows mice recover from traumatic experiences faster if they take a smaller dose. He will strongly suggest that anyone disposed to take it should “stack” it, in the terminology of drug makers, with the B vitamin known as niacin — partly because it helps unlock the effects, partly because niacin makes your skin flush at high doses, so you don’t want to take too much.

Stamets’ cautious approach to his wonder drug has also infected the movement now pushing for its decriminalization — when it, too, could have gone in the Timothy Leary direction. (He also hates the word 'shrooms.)

In October 2018, a former chief of staff to the Oakland City Council president named Carlos Plazola, unaware of Stamets’ advice, took what he calls a “heroic dose” of psilocybin mushrooms, then asked his cousin to lock him in his bedroom for five hours.

Luckily, Plazola had the best possible outcome: a life-changing trip. “There was before, and there was after,” he says now. His immediate epiphany: “This needs to be available to people who suffer from trauma and self-annihilating thoughts.” Unlike most ‘shroomers, he had City Hall connections.

More lucky still, then, that last December Plazola hooked up with a so-called “sacred garden,” a 'shroom-friendly group in Oakland that included some old friends of Stamets’. Together, they talked about how they would pitch decriminalization to the City Council. Caution, Stamets-style small doses and education were emphasized. Plazola read up on Stamets.

In January, Plazola became co-founder of a new pressure group, Decriminalize Nature Oakland. The same month Stamets spoke at Lightning in a Bottle they swayed city officials during a hearing at City Hall, winning the attention of a packed house.

A Defence of the Possibility of Experiential Combination

Luke Roelofs

This thesis explores the possibility of composite consciousness: phenomenally conscious states  belonging to a composite being in virtue of the consciousness of,and relations among,its parts.We have no trouble accepting that a composite being has physical properties entirely in virtue of the  physical properties of, and relations among, its parts.

But a long-standing intuition holds that consciousness is different: my consciousness cannot be understood as a complex of interacting component consciousnesses belonging to parts of me.

I ask why: what is it about consciousness that makes us think it so different from matter? And should we accept this apparent difference?

The Way into Transcendental Philosophy from the Argument in Suhrawardī's Philosophy of Illumination

Olga Louchakova-Schwartz

This paper presents a phenomenological analysis of the argument in The First Discourse of Part 2 of Suhrawardī’s Philosophy of Illumination. Specifically, this argument is considered with regard to temporal extension of its logos,  i.e., the succession of logical steps. Contrary to traditional views of Suhrawardī as a Neoplatonizing proponent of the primacy of essence over existence, the steps of his argument convey a much more nuanced picture in which  light  emerges as the main metaphysical principle. First, Suhrawardī explicates full evidentiality in visible light (which is the most patent,  ’aẓhar, from the Arabic root ẓ-h-r = ‘to appear, be [made] manifest’): this light  gives us the world as “this-there”;  and second, as self-evidentiality (ẓuhūru-hu, ‘being obvious to itself by itself’) in the first-person consciousness of the knower.  Suhrawardī accesses these modes by reduction(s) which liberate the transcendental character of light.  The correlation in evidential mode of light between the knower and the objects  serves as a ground for the claims of transcendental unity of the self and the world,  and as a condition of possibility for knowledge. A juxtaposition of this approach with the phenomenological philosophy suggests that in Suhrawardī’s analysis, evidentiality of visual light plays a role of a new universal a priori. I show that under the phenomenological reduction, this a priori participates in constitution of ontological validities; and within the transcendental empiricism of the physics of light, this a priori underlies  the construction of causality. Thereby, the Philosophy of Illumination suggests a new horizon of entry into the transcendental phenomenological philosophy. The paper also contains a justification of a phenomenological reading of Suhrawardī’s work, including explanation of the historical reduction.

Philosophy & Science / In Measure Began Our Might
« on: July 30, 2019, 12:20:18 pm »
In Measure Began Our Might

Because measurement is ubiquitous in science – and, in a world where science is the dominant cultural fact, also in our everyday life – it’s hard to see just how strange it is that we are able to dismount from the flow of ordinary unsolicited experience to make a space for disciplined, quality-controlled active observations. What’s more, only a small part of what is experienced during the course of any measurement counts as the measurement. My experiences of the laboratory in which the measurement is made, what I am feeling, my reasons for making the measurement, and so on, are irrelevant. Equally irrelevant are the exact appearance of the measuring tool, and all but one parameter of the object that is being measured. The overwhelming majority of the experienced properties of the ruler, for example, and of the measured object are incidental and excluded from the result. As for the result, it doesn’t matter whether it’s recorded in black or blue ink or pencil, or as a number or dot on a screen. A measurement, in short, extracts from a complex situation with at least three elements (person, measuring tool, measured object) an item of supreme simplicity: a number attached to a unit. Everything else has been stripped off. The idea of a data point, featureless and vanishingly small, takes the stripped-down nature of the measurement to a limit. Consequently, neither the number nor the unit tells us much about the object. If I say of something that it is twenty-four inches, you would not be able to attach any meaning or significance to that statement, not even whether it was long or short, unless you already knew what the object was – a caterpillar or a tree.

The use of units to express results is the most obvious marker of the special nature of measurement and its distance from ordinary experience. Inches and pounds do not exist in nature: they are imported from the further reaches of a form of discourse made possible by the shared experiences of many thousands of individuals, most of whom will be unknown to those making the measurement. This is a reminder of how far ‘results’ are from the unregulated flow of moment-to-moment experience. When we cooperate to measure something, it is not comparable to looking at something together. Indeed, each of us might have quite different experiences of the act of measurement and of what is measured, but those differences are not (or should not be) of any importance. It will be evident that whether it involves several thousands of people in the hunt for the Higg’s Boson, or two people holding a tape to measure the size of a room, measurement requires shared consciousness of a kind quite different from that seen elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

To get a clearer idea of the extraordinary nature of the journey from the pell-mell of experience towards measurement and thence to quantitative science, it helps to think about the most primitive units. They depend upon a curious transformation of our relationship to our own bodies, in which we see our bodies as a source of standardized units, or at least of the idea of such units. The use of forearms (for a cubit), hands (a span), thumbs (an inch), and ‘feet’, as measures of length, is an egregious instrumentalization of the flesh of which we are made. When our ancestors deployed a measure based on their forearms to quantify the length of a building in cubits, bit of their bodies were reduced to objects that were further reduced to lengths. As ‘a cubit’, my forearm loses the privileged standing it has in my own life of being an intrinsic part of me, and becomes any(one’s) forearm. And this democratization is taken further. The forearm is downgraded to an object ontologically on a par with the very objects whose lengths it is used to measure: it is a mere object among other objects. (The compliment is returned much later when a measuring tape, an item whose role is simply to be its own length, is applied to the forearm to determine its size.)

Measurement is a vital step in the process of getting ourselves out of the way en route to objective science. The result, the ‘reading’, is stripped of the qualitative aspects of sensation, and moreover, does not rely on particular accidents of experience. For these reasons it is particularly amenable to sharing with, and corroboration by, others. You do not have to have replicate my experiences in order for both of us to arrive at the conclusion that the object we have been measuring is ten feet high.

This applies with even more force when what is in question is not a single time-dependent data point but a timeless impersonal fact, such as that Manchester is 200 miles from London, the Moon is 250,000 miles from Earth, or the Sun is 4,000,000,000 years old. The data which form the staple of science and underpin its laws and principles, not to speak of the wall-to-wall technology that is based on them, are even more obviously independent of individuals and their personal history. They belong to no-one, and float freely of all bodies.

Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the falsity of the claim by the otherwise brilliant nineteenth century physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach that “there is no break in continuity between science… and modes of behaviour characteristic of the entire animal world.” On the contrary, dismounting from the flow of experience to seek out a particular experience remote from appetites is hardly the way of the beast.

Measurement, a voluntary interruption in the spontaneous flow of experience that has vastly extended our power to predict and control the material world, is a manifestation of our individual and collective unwiring from nature and a driver to further unwiring. This unwiring is the reward for the increasingly active nature of our perceptual engagement with the world, as we move from gawping to scrutinizing and thence to making quantitative observations. Measurements which do not merely happen but are made, often building on the efforts of others, are a long way from passive bedazzlement by sensory experiences.

But they are, irreducibly, theoretically self-sufficient entities, because they are inseparable from human beings with their points of view, who provide those frames of reference that are necessary for measurements.

Quantitative measurements cannot be accommodated in the world-picture of natural science which rests on them. If, as physicists would have it, the most faithful portrait of the universe really were that it was a ‘system of magnitudes’, there would be no place for the elucidation of those magnitudes. The expectation of Mach, whose philosophy inspired the young Einstein, “That the foundations of science as a whole, and of physics in particular, await their next greatest elucidations from the side of biology, and especially from the analysis of sensations” seems a forlorn hope.

So there we have it: measurement underpins a world picture that seems to support naturalism; naturalism, however, cannot support measurement. This takes us back to the fundamental fact that natural science cannot make sense of the human consciousness upon which it depends. It cannot, therefore, explain how it is possible that, while all entities are in time and have length, there have emerged creatures who tell the time and measure their length. In doing so, they express a unique human capacity to get themselves out of the way by privileging shared, quality-controlled observations over immediate experience. Most striking among the many things science cannot accommodate, is the existence of a scientific world picture.

Some of the meaning that’s lost as science progresses is recovered when we reflect on the capacity of science to further one version of the comprehensibility of the universe. Reminding ourselves of the scientific path to disenchantment may re-enchant the world.

Philosophy & Science / Can Panpsychism be Tested and Does It Matter?
« on: July 26, 2019, 05:47:20 pm »
Can Panpsychism be Tested and Does It Matter?

Last week I had a twitter argument with Barry Smith about panpsychism and this week I had a twitter argument with Massimo Pigliucci about panpsychism. A similar issue came up in both, so I thought I’d write a post about it. Actually, it concerns an objection that is often raised against panpsychism, which goes as follows:

(A) We don’t have any evidence that consciousness exists outside of brains.

We need to be careful about how exactly we’re understanding this statement, and what exactly it’s being taken to show. Let us initially interpret it to mean:

(B) We have never observed consciousness outside of living brains.

This is certainly true, and you might think at first that this gives us strong reason to doubt panpsychism. But appreciating the following might make you think again:

(C) We have never observed consciousness inside a living brain.

The simple reason for both (B) and (C) is that consciousness is unobservable. You can’t look inside an electron to see if it has experiences, but neither can you look inside a brain and see a person’s feelings and experiences. We know about consciousness not because of any observation or experiment, but because each of us is immediately aware of her or his own experiences.

The following slogan is often thrown around

(D) Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Is (D) anything more than a slogan? The truth is that sometimes (D) is true and sometimes it’s false. It counts as evidence against a theory if the theory implies that we should expect to find a certain entity in certain circumstances, and it turns out we don’t (this fits with a Bayesian way of thinking about evidence). If a theory tells us that we would expect to find a certain particle in certain experimental circumstances, and we run the experiment and don’t find the particle, this gives us grounds for doubting the theory.

Returning to the case of panpsychism, (B) would be evidence against panpsychism only if panpsychism implies that we should expect to observe consciousness outside of brains. But this is clearly not the case. Consciousness is unobservable, and hence, whether or not panpsychism is true, we’re not going to be able to see consciousness in rocks or particles or anything else. It follows that (B) does not constitute evidence against panpsychism.

One might concede that (B) doesn’t give us reason to doubt panpsychism, but nonetheless take it to show that we don’t have any reason to accept panpsychism. The following principle might be offered in support of this:

(E) We should believe in the existence of something only if we can observe it, or if its existence is supported by what we can observe.

I accept that if (E) is true, then we shouldn’t believe panpsychism. But if (E) is true, we shouldn’t believe in consciousness either. As we noted above, consciousness cannot be observed either in or out of brains. If we rigidly follow (E), we will have no cause to postulate consciousness at all. Much simpler to believe that humans are just complicated mechanisms. Daniel Dennett is one of the few who is admirably consistent on this point.

The problem with Dennett’s position is that (E) is false. Despite being unobservable, consciousness is something we know to be exist. Our principle should really be not (E) but:

(F) We should only believe in the existence of something only if its existence is supported by observation, or if its existence is better known than what is known on the basis of observation.

As Descartes appreciated over 300 years ago, the existence of our consciousness is known with greater certainty than anything else. The reality of consciousness is a datum in its own right, over and above the data of observation and experiment.

Observational evidence is crucial, but it’s not the full story. If we’re working with observational evidence alone we would have no reason to believe panpsychism, but only because we’d have no reason to believe in consciousness. The case for panpsychism is built not on the basis that it provides a good explanation of observational data, but on the basis that it provides the best explanation of how observational data and consciousness data fit together in a single, unified worldview. A large part of that case involves arguing that rival accounts of materialism and dualism face serious problems (some empirical, some conceptual) that panpsychism avoids. I have not made that case in this blog post. But I hope to have shown that merely pointing out that panpsychism is not supported by observational evidence alone is not to the point. Nobody would claim otherwise.

What If Consciousness Comes First?

...Some researchers hold on to the hope that, if we just continue to investigate the brain’s physical properties, we will eventually be able to explain why conscious experience exists and why it has the intrinsic qualities it does. But the problem is more intractable than that.

The issue is that physical properties are by their nature relational, dispositional properties. That is, they describe the way that something is related to other things and/or has the disposition to affect or be affected by those other things. Most notably, physical properties describe the way that something affects an outside observer of that thing. But there is something going on in conscious experience that goes beyond how that conscious experience affects people looking at it from the outside. For this reason, the “what it’s like” to be a conscious mind can’t be described in the purely relational, dispositional terms accessible to science. There’s just no way to get there from here.

This explanatory gap is what is now commonly referred to as the “hard problem” of consciousness, thanks to a paper and book written by philosopher of mind David Chalmers some 20 years ago (1995, 1996). The decades since Chalmers’ statement of the problem have seen plenty of solutions proposed (Weisberg n.d.), but none of them has dealt satisfactorily with the core issue outlined above: that no physical property or set of properties can explain what it’s like to be conscious.

There is, however, one elegant solution to the riddle of how to explain the relationship between consciousness and physical properties. Many illustrious philosophers throughout history have held to this view, and if it is rarely considered today, this is likely because it requires such a radical shift in perspective. Nevertheless, if we are ever going to understand consciousness and its relationship to the physical world, I believe this is a shift we are going to have to make.

The key to resolving the hard problem of consciousness lies in the following observation. While physical properties cannot explain consciousness, consciousness is needed to explain physical properties.

As previously noted, physical properties are purely relational/dispositional. They don’t tell us what physical things are in themselves, only how they are related to other things (and how they are disposed to be related to them in the future). However, if all we ever have is relational/dispositional properties—that is, if everything is only defined in terms of other things—then, ultimately, we have defined nothing at all.

It’s as though someone created a very elaborate spreadsheet and carefully defined how the values in every cell would be related to the values in all of the other cells. However, if no one enters a definite value for at least one of these cells, then none of the cells will have values.

In the same way, if the universe is to actually exist, its properties can’t be exclusively relational/dispositional. Something in the universe has to have some kind of quality in and of itself to give all the other relational/dispositional properties any meaning. Something has to get the ball rolling.

That something (at least in our universe) is consciousness...

How to Understand the Universe When You’re Stuck Inside of It

Smolin often finds himself inspired by conversations with biologists, economists, sculptors, playwrights, musicians and political theorists. But he finds his biggest inspiration, perhaps, in philosophy — particularly in the work of the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, active in the 17th and 18th centuries, who along with Isaac Newton invented calculus. Leibniz argued (against Newton) that there’s no fixed backdrop to the universe, no “stuff” of space; space is just a handy way of describing relationships. This relational framework captured Smolin’s imagination, as did Leibniz’s enigmatic text The Monadology, in which Leibniz suggests that the world’s fundamental ingredient is the “monad,” a kind of atom of reality, with each monad representing a unique view of the whole universe. It’s a concept that informs Smolin’s latest work as he attempts to build reality out of viewpoints, each one a partial perspective on a dynamically evolving universe. A universe as seen from the inside.

You have a slogan: “The first principle of cosmology must be: There is nothing outside the universe.”

In different formulations of the laws of physics, like Newtonian mechanics or quantum mechanics, there is background structure — structure which has to be specified and is fixed. It’s not subject to evolution, it’s not influenced by anything that happens. It’s structure outside the system being modeled. It’s the framework on which we hang observables — the observer, a clock and so forth. The statement that there’s nothing outside the universe — there’s no observer outside the universe — implies that we need a formulation of physics without background structure. All the theories of physics we have, in one way or another, apply only to subsystems of the universe. They don’t apply to the universe as a whole, because they require this background structure.

You’ve recently proposed such a theory — one in which, as you put it, “the history of the universe is constituted of different views of itself.” What does that mean?

It’s a theory about processes, about the sequences and causal relations among things that happen, not the inherent properties of things that are. The fundamental ingredient is what we call an “event.” Events are things that happen at a single place and time; at each event there’s some momentum, energy, charge or other various physical quantity that’s measurable. The event has relations with the rest of the universe, and that set of relations constitutes its “view” of the universe. Rather than describing an isolated system in terms of things that are measured from the outside, we’re taking the universe as constituted of relations among events. The idea is to try to reformulate physics in terms of these views from the inside, what it looks like from inside the universe.

I know from your book that you’re a realist at heart — you believe strongly in a reality independent of our knowledge of it — and therefore, like Einstein, you think quantum mechanics is incomplete. Does this theory of views help complete what you think is missing in quantum theory?

Einstein — as well as someone called Leslie Ballentine — advocated an “ensemble interpretation” of the wave function [the mathematical object that represents a quantum system]. The idea was that the wave function describes an ensemble of possible states. But one day, I was sitting in a cafe working and suddenly I thought: What if the ensemble is real? What if, when you have a wave function describing a single water molecule, it’s actually describing the ensemble of every water molecule in the universe?

So whereas normally we would think that there’s one water molecule but an uncertainty of states, you’re saying that the uncertainty of states is actually the ensemble of all the water molecules in the universe?

Yes. They form an ensemble because they have very similar views. They all interact with one another, because the probability of interaction is determined by the similarity of views, not necessarily their proximity in space.

Quantum Darwinism, an Idea to Explain Objective Reality, Passes First Tests

One of the most remarkable ideas in this theoretical framework is that the definite properties of objects that we associate with classical physics — position and speed, say — are selected from a menu of quantum possibilities in a process loosely analogous to natural selection in evolution: The properties that survive are in some sense the “fittest.” As in natural selection, the survivors are those that make the most copies of themselves. This means that many independent observers can make measurements of a quantum system and agree on the outcome — a hallmark of classical behavior.

This idea, called quantum Darwinism (QD), explains a lot about why we experience the world the way we do rather than in the peculiar way it manifests at the scale of atoms and fundamental particles. Although aspects of the puzzle remain unresolved, QD helps heal the apparent rift between quantum and classical physics.

About a decade ago, while Riedel was working as a graduate student with Zurek, the two showed theoretically that information from some simple, idealized quantum systems is “copied prolifically into the environment,” Riedel said, “so that it’s necessary to access only a small amount of the environment to infer the value of the variables.” They calculated that a grain of dust one micrometer across, after being illuminated by the sun for just one microsecond, will have its location imprinted about 100 million times in the scattered photons.

It’s because of this redundancy that objective, classical-like properties exist at all. Ten observers can each measure the position of a dust grain and find that it’s in the same location, because each can access a distinct replica of the information. In this view, we can assign an objective “position” to the speck not because it “has” such a position (whatever that means) but because its position state can imprint many identical replicas in the environment, so that different observers can reach a consensus.

Horodecki and other theorists have also sought to embed QD in a theoretical framework that doesn’t demand any arbitrary division of the world into a system and its environment, but just considers how classical reality can emerge from interactions between various quantum systems. Paternostro says it might be challenging to find experimental methods capable of identifying the rather subtle distinctions between the predictions of these theories.

Still, researchers are trying, and the very attempt should refine our ability to probe the workings of the quantum realm. “The best argument for performing these experiments probably is that they are good exercise,” Riedel said. “Directly illustrating QD can require some very difficult measurements that will push the boundaries of existing laboratory techniques.” The only way we can find out what measurement really means, it seems, is by making better measurements.

Philosophy & Science / Chaos Makes the Multiverse Unnecessary?
« on: July 20, 2019, 07:37:16 pm »
Chaos Makes the Multiverse Unnecessary

Platonism leaves a lot to be desired. The main problem is that Platonism is metaphysics, not science. However, even if we were to accept it as true, many questions remain. Why does this Platonic world have these laws, that bring intelligent life into the universe, rather than other laws? How was this Platonic attic set up? Why does our physical universe follow these ethereal rules? How do scientists and mathematicians get access to Plato’s little treasure chest of exact ideals?

The multiverse is another answer that has recently become quite fashionable. This theory is an attempt to explain why our universe has the life-giving laws that it does. One who believes in a multiverse maintains that our universe is just one of many universes. Each universe has its own set of rules and its own possible structures that come along with those rules. Physicists who push the multiverse theory believe that the laws in each universe are somewhat arbitrary. The reason we see structures fit for life in our universe is that we happen to live in one of very few universes that have such laws. While the multiverse explains some of the structure that we see, there are questions that are left open. Rather than asking why the universe has the structure it does, we can push the question back and ask why the multiverse has the structure it does. Another problem is that while the multiverse would answer some of the questions we posed if it existed, who says it actually exists? Since most believe that we have no contact with possible other universes, the question of the existence of the multiverse is essentially metaphysics.

There is another, more interesting, explanation for the structure of the laws of nature. Rather than saying that the universe is very structured, say that the universe is mostly chaotic and for the most part lacks structure. The reason why we see the structure we do is that scientists act like a sieve and focus only on those phenomena that have structure and are predictable. They do not take into account all phenomena; rather, they select those phenomena they can deal with.

Some people say that science studies all physical phenomena. This is simply not true...

One possible conclusion would be that if we look at the universe in totality and not bracket any subset of phenomena, the mathematics we would need would have no axioms at all. That is, the universe in totality is devoid of structure and needs no axioms to describe it. Total lawlessness! The mathematics are just plain sets without structure. This would finally eliminate all metaphysics when dealing with the laws of nature and mathematical structure. It is only the way we look at the universe that gives us the illusion of structure.

With this view of physics we come to even more profound questions.

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