I’ve always loved space opera, but when I was growing up, as I learned more about science, I discovered that a lot of the tropes in space opera are problematic. Space operas, to tell adventure stories among the stars, often have to make compromises. One of the earliest and most pervasive is FTL (faster than light) travel.
Interestingly, the earliest interstellar space opera stories in the late 1920s largely ignored relativity. E.E. “Doc” Smith and Edmond Hamilton simply had their adventurers accelerate away at thousands of times the speed of light. If relativity was mentioned, it was just as a superseded or wrong theory.
But by the early 1930s, authors found a way to seemingly avoid outright ignoring Einstein by simply hand waving technologies that bypassed the laws of physics. One of the earliest and most enduring was hyperspace, a separate realm that a spaceship could enter to either travel faster than light, or where distances were compressed. Over the decades, hyperspace came in a wide variety of fashions and with a lot of different names: subspace, u-space, slipstream, etc.
One variant, popularized by Isaac Asimov in his Robot and Foundation series, has hyperspace as a realm where ships jump through it to instantly move light years away. (I’ll be using this version in an example below.)
There are a wide variety of other FTL technologies that often show up in science fiction. An interesting example is the ansible, a device that allows instant communication across interstellar distances. Often the ansible shows up in stories where actual FTL travel is impossible, but an interstellar community is enabled by the instant communications.
I’ve written before that there are lots of problems with all of these ideas. Generally they’re not based on actual science. They’re just plot gimmicks to enable the type of stories authors want to tell. And the few that are somewhat based on science, such as wormholes or Alcubierre drives, involve speculative concepts that haven’t been observed in nature.
But FTL has another issue, one that I only started appreciating a few years ago. FTL, no matter how you accomplish it, opens the door to time travel. Most FTL concepts are conceptualized within a Newtonian understanding of the universe. In that universe, there is an absolute now which exists throughout all of space. If we imagine a two dimensional diagram with space as the horizontal axis and time as the vertical, then now, or the absolute plane of simultaneity, exists as a flat line throughout the universe.
But that’s not the universe we live in. We live in a universe governed by special and general relativity (or at least one where those theories are much more predictive than Newton’s laws). In our universe, there is no single plane of simultaneity, no universal version of now. In this universe, talking about what is happening “right now” for cosmically distant locations is a meaningless exercise.
Most people are aware that, under special relativity, time flows slower for a traveler at speeds approaching the speed of light. But not everyone is aware that, from the traveler’s perspective, it’s the rest of the universe that is traveling near the speed of light and experiencing slower time. How can both see the other as having slower time than themselves? Because simultaneity is relative.
As this image animation shows (which I grabbed from the Wikipedia article on the relativity of simultaneity), under relativity, whether certain events occur simultaneously is no longer an absolute thing, but a relative one. If B is stationary, then events A, B, and C all happen simultaneously. However, if B is moving toward C, B’s plane of simultaneity slopes upward, leaving C in its past. On the other hand, if B is moving toward A, C is now in its future. (Note: this never allows information to influence the past because, in normal physics, such information can only travel at the speed of light.)
An important point here is that these effects do not only happen at speeds approaching the speed of light. They happen with any motion. However, in normal everyday life, the effect is too small to notice, which is why Newton’s laws work effectively for relatively slow speeds and short distances.
Crucially, the upward or downward slope of simultaneity still happens at slow speeds, but the angle of difference is small, and again we don’t notice. However, while a small angle of deviation may not be noticeable for everyday distances (say between New York and Sydney), or even for distances within the solar system, when the distances start expanding to thousands, millions, or even billions of light years, then even minute angle deviations grow to significant variances.
So imagine we have a spaceship heading out of the solar system at 1% of c (the speed of light). Using the Asmovian version of hyperspace, the spaceship jumps to a destination 1000 light years away.
Which plane of simultaneity, which version of now, does the ship’s instant jump happen in? The plane associated with stationary observers back on Earth? Or the plane associated with the ship traveling at 1% c? If it’s the ship’s plane, then when the ship exits hyperspace 1000 light years away, it will do so 18 days in the future of the stationary Earth observers.
That is true if the spaceship’s hyperspace jump is in the direction of its 1% c velocity. But if the 1000 light year jump is in the direction opposite the one of it’s velocity, it will arrive 18 days in the stationary observer’s past.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see how this technology could be used to travel to arbitrary points in the past or future. All a ship would need to do is jump in circles either in the direction of their rate of travel or opposite it to travel forward or backward in time.
We encounter exactly the same issue with other versions of FTL, such as warp drives or versions of hyperspace that take time to travel through, it’s just more of gradual than sharp jump in time.
In the case of ansibles, which version of simultaneity are the communications happening over? The chances that the two correspondents happen to be traveling at the same speeds are nil. The variances in the speeds of their star’s movement around the galaxy, the orbits of the planets, etc, will all conspire to ensure that their various planes of simultaneity are out of sync with and constantly changing in relation to each other. An ansible accelerated to relativistic speeds could be used to communicate with the past or future.
Even wormholes would be an issue. The wormholes in fiction always connect distant points together in the same now, but wormholes are connections between two points in spacetime. There’s no particular reason it would be limited to some arbitrary version of now. Indeed, a natural wormhole, like the one in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, would be more likely to open to some distant point in future, long after the heat death of the universe, than somewhere along the Bajoran plane of simultaneity.
We might imagine that if the FTL technology allowed us to choose which plane of simultaneity we moved under, maybe everyone would just agree on some standard, albeit an arbitrary one. But that only makes the time travel capability more pronounced. Orson Scott Card made the point years ago that if you’re going to introduce a technology into your fictional universe, you should account for all the ways that technology might be used, or abused.
It’s often said that the absence of tourists from the future probably indicates that time travel is impossible. Even if future societies have strict taboos against interfering with the past, the idea that such taboos would hold for all societies until the end of time seems unsustainable. Since FTL is also time travel, the same observation would seem to rule out most forms of it. (Star gates or wormholes where a destination version has to be built might be the only ones that avoid this issue.)
Unless of course there’s something I’m missing about this?
173 thoughts on “Why faster than light travel is inevitably also time travel”
Well done! Of course, when reading speculative fiction, the last thing we wants is for someone to poke holes in the fascinating bits. But, on the flip side, it seems all too likely that a poorly informed public is likely to believe such fictions are either true or partially true. (Oops!)
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That’s true. Often a lot that is commonly accepted as science fiction is actually more fantasy. Of course, fantasy can still be enjoyable. Despite understanding this issue, I still enjoyed Neal Asher’s latest book and many others where the authors either don’t understand or ignore these issues.
But I also really enjoy the rare gem that does get these things right!
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Very well written. An enjoyable and instructive read for me. You might want to check out my four science fiction novels, The Rational Series (“Why Is Unit 142857 Sad” or “The Tin Man’s Heart”, “The Rats and the Saps”, “Whirlpool”, and “Out of Time”). Click my Amazon author’s page: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Stone/e/B006VCWBE4.
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Thanks Mike! I didn’t realize your Rational Series was in space!
So “now” is unquestionably subjective. And I think the relativity of simultaneity can be seen without vast distances involved. Note that “clocks in strong gravity tick slower than clocks in weak gravity. Because gravity is weaker on the ISS than at Earth’s surface, PARCS [a laser-cooled clock] should [does, because PARCS is on the ISS since 2005] accumulate an extra second every 10,000 years compared to clocks ticking on the planet below.”
(From a 2002 article at https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2002/08apr_atomicclock)
But … wait a minute Mike! You’re an instrumentalist! What is Time? On what grounds do you believe in Time?
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And, of course, there’s the example of the GPS system which has to take GR into account to remain accurate.
What is time? I have to admit that, other than the obvious answers, I don’t know. It appears to be a dimension along which events and states exist, that processes happen in, and where entropy develops.
I accept time as a useful concept, an aspect of our understanding of reality. I realize some physicists question its existence, but that doesn’t seem productive to me. I could see it potentially being emergent, but then I think emergent things are just as real as the things they emerge from, at least in the sense of being productive aspects of our models.
If all else fails, the fact that all my experiences don’t happen together, that they seem separated into some kind of sequence, makes time a useful concept.
I took Davies’ About Time off the shelf yesterday. It’s been a few years since I first read it. Thought you’d enjoy comparing your answer to the question “What is Time” with a couple others. It’s an opportunity to see how far we’ve come … 😉
St. Augustine of Hippo:
“If no one asks me, I know, but if any Person should require me to tell him, I cannot.”
The Roman poet-philosopher Lucretius in the first-century:
“And likewise time cannot itself exist
But from the flight of things we get a sense of time
No man, we must confess, feels time itself,
But only knows of time from flight or rest of things.”
Apparently we haven’t come very far at all … 😉
Your last remark reminds me of John Archibald Wheeler’s:
Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.”
Davies’ book, if you get around to it, is dated in a few places where astronomy and physics have matured since 1995 … gravity wave detection for example, but it’s a great read. The “Prologue” indicates that our belief in flowing time is cultural, but that’s difficult to discern these days since Western perspectives have spread worldwide.
“The “Prologue” indicates that our belief in flowing time is cultural,”
That’s an interesting proposition. Does he discuss any examples of cultures that don’t have a concept of time? It seems difficult to get through the day without at least some kind of time concept. Or is he referring specifically to flowing time, and if so, what does “flowing” specifically mean?
Here’s the PDF …
Perhaps “cultural” isn’t correct—religious/philosophical traditions are often rooted in Timelessness. Rather than the Prologue, see Chapter 1. starting on page 23. Here’s some Interesting ERL-like poetry though by Angelus Silesius:
“Time is of your own making,
it’s clock ticks in your head
The moment you stop thought
Time too stops dead.
For such temporal relativists, true reality is vested in a realm that transcends time: the Land Beyond Time. Europeans call it “eternity,” Hindus refer to it as “moksha” and Buddhists as “nirvana.” For the Australian aborigines it is the Dream Time.”
In our struggle to come to terms with mental and physical reality, nothing vexes us more than the nature of time. The paradoxical conjunction of temporality and eternity has troubled Man through the ages. Plato concluded that the fleeting world of daily experience is only half real, an ephemeral reflection of a timeless domain of pure and perfect Forms, which occupy the realm of eternity. Time itself is but an imperfect ‘moving image of Eternity which remains forever at one,’ but which we human beings incorrigibly reify: ‘The past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence’”
Wowsers! The Block Universe! 😉
If you download the PDF you can read the rest.
Check me here to see if I’ve got this right.
It seems to me that before we go directly into FTL travel and science fiction, we should also get into the normal stuff. My understanding has been that the clock for something that is traveling will tick slower than a clock that it’s moving away from. Thus effective time travel when we get to a reasonable percentage of the velocity c. Not only will I age slower on a fast space ship off to some star, but I’ll also age slower coming back and so will return to an Earth that has aged more than I had. And the same could be said if I were simply going around our planet fast enough. Then if I were instead going around our sun but not our planet, it seems to me that I wouldn’t get the full aging tonic of my speed. Here I’d effectively be slowing down dramatically at my furthest and closest arcs in relation to the Earth in general.
(Here’s an apparent paradox that you might relieve me of: If I were flying around the Earth at a constant radius, then it seems to me that a clock at the center would tick at the same rate as mine does given our constant distance. But it should also tick at the same rate as a surface clock more/less given its constant distance from the center as well. It obviously can’t tick at two different rates, so what gives?)
Regardless, in all of these standard scenarios there are only clocks that can slow for something with velocity, thus facilitating time travel into the future. There is never time travel into the past as far as I know here.
So now for your sci-fi hyperspace jump into the past, let me know if I’ve got this right. As normal a fast spaceship will have a slower clock in relation to what its traveling away from, and so will time travel into the future in that regard. But are you saying that the hyperspace jump could nevertheless put the ship in the opposite direction of its travel path, thus facilitating sci-fi time travel into the past?
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I think you’ve got the basics right, but possibly except for one. If I were traveling at a substantial portion of c, then from the perspective of someone on Earth, my clock would be moving slower. But from my perspective, the clocks on Earth would be the ones that would be moving slower.
Also, from the person on Earth’s perspective, the length of my ship would be contracted in the direction of travel. But from my perspective, it would be the length of the Earth and the rest of the universe, in the direction of travel, that appears compressed. This is so because from my point of view, it’s the rest of the universe that is traveling at a high speed.
This seeming contradiction is resolved when we remember that my plane of simultaneity, essentially my plane of now, is skewed in relation to the plane for someone on Earth. Our versions of now going out into the universe no longer lines up. Something in the person on Earth’s past might be in my future, and vice-versa. (If this doesn’t make sense, take a look again at the image animation in the post. If you listened to the post, you might want to look at it instead.)
So, the question for the ship making the instant hyperspace jump is, which plane of simultaneity does it take place on? If it happens along ship’s plane, then it will come out of hyperspace in its present, but in the future or past of an observer on Earth. If the hyperspace jump is in the direction opposite to the one ship is moving in, it will come out of the jump in the past of the stationary observer.
There is no universal now. Special relativity took it away. (Or more accurately, revealed that it was never there.)
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Oh, and I stepped over your flying around the Earth scenario because it introduces lots of complexities and I’m too wimpy in my understanding of this stuff to deal with them. 🙂
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It’s good to hear that I had the hyperspace jump idea about right. But then this does seem a bit, well… lame. Here velocity causes the past to be present somewhere else from that perspective (which is solid I guess), and then the ship also gets to that past by appearing in the opposite direction of its movement (which seems magic).
Then regarding the apparent paradox that I’ve noted, hopefully someone else here can straighten this out. I suppose the ship circling above should have angular velocity in relation to its axis, though that shouldn’t effectively be the velocity associated with these relativity effects. And yes circling a clock on the Earth surface at .5c will reflect far less velocity than going away or coming back from it. But unlike for the axis of the orbit this should register some velocity nonetheless.
Your comment about the motion and hyperspace jump makes me thing you still might not quite grasp it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure where you don’t grasp it. But the hyperspace jump itself is effectively magic since hyperspace isn’t a scientific concept and no one has any idea how to do an instantaneous jump like that. Nevertheless, it’s a staple of space opera.
On your paradox, if you were somehow flying around the Earth at relativistic speeds, the same clock relationships I described above would apply. To an observer on the ground, your clock would be moving slower. To you in the ship, the observer’s clock would be slower. Where things get bizarre in that scenario is because you’re flying in a circle, from your perspective, the Earth and universe would be constantly contracting and expanding as your direction of travel changed and the planes of simultaneity would be all over the place.
It’s worth noting that the energy requirements to do this would be cosmological, and the centrifugal forces would smear you into the sides of the craft. So I guess, technically, your perspective in that scenario would be very brief 🙂
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Well if we’re talking magic then it would seem that I do have the hyperspace part about right then Mike. (You know that I’ve got to at least give you a bit of grief for the “fi” part of this hobby. 🙂 )
Then on my proposed paradox, which I doubt actually is one, in case anyone out there can put this straight for me then I’ll try to state the situation more plainly:
Imagine clock 1 out in space, as well as clock 2 that’s 1 billion meters away. There is no movement between them and therefore things occur simultaneously from each clock perspective (as in the neutral case of the moving diagram). Now imagine clock 3 that spins around clock 1 it at a speed of .5c such that it always remains exactly 2 billion meters away. As I understand it, even though there will be angular velocity between them, each clock will tick the same and things will occur simultaneously from each perspective since there will be no associated velocity. But now consider the relationship between clocks 2 and 3. There will be velocity between these clocks as their distance fluctuates between 1 and 3 billion meters per orbit. As I understand it the clock in the spinning orbit should tick slower, which we’d see if they were to rendezvous.
So how can clock 1 tick the same as the other two clocks, if clock 2 and 3 tick differently from each other? Where is my error?
I think clock 1 and 3 would still see relativistic effects between them. Yes, the distance is constant, but only because 3 is constantly undergoing insane acceleration to remain in its circular path. Likewise 3 and 2 would also see relativistic effects.
Which is to say that I think the premise of your question is mistaken. From clock1’s perspective, clock 3 would be moving at 87% of clock 1’s rate. But from clock 3’s perspective, it would be clock 1 moving at 87% of clock 3’s rate.
Clock 3’s plane of simultaneity would be sloped relative to clock 1 and 2’s, but rotating as it went around its circle. This would mean that for clock 3, clock 2 would be gyrating wildly between its future and past. A wild ride.
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Both of you have been watching too many science programs. A clock is an instrument which itself is defined by a duration of change. The atomic clock is that reference, it has the SI unit of seconds, 1 second is defined to be exactly 9 192 631 770 oscillations of the isotope Cesium-133. This definition refers to a caesium atom at rest at a temperature of 0 Kelvin. As a practical reference point, the second measured for any atomic clock is also corrected to mean sea level.
As long as there are no variables which influence the oscillations of the isotope cesium-133 of either clock 1, clock 2, or clock 3, the measurement made by the instruments would be a constant. That measurement is not contingent upon the velocity or position of each clock in relationship to each other regardless of their distance or velocities. It’s bullshit stories like the ones both of you have been duped into believing that turns me off to the church of science… A church by any other name is still a church just the same.
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Lee, I appreciate your passion, but dial it down a bit.
@Lee: The cesium clock is measured at rest relative to the measuring equipment. If such a clock were compared with a cesium passing by at high speed, the passing clock is seen to tick slower. This is verified to great precision by many, many experiments.
Things get a lot more complicated when rotation is involved, because we’re no longer in the domain of SR. With rotation, you have to use the math of GR, because rotation is acceleration. Clock 3 would experience both SR and GR effects.
Your first comment is in reference to what is known as “kinematic time dilation”. Your conclusion is incomplete and therefore a misrepresentation of the facts, facts which are gathered by the many, many experiments.
Your second comments is a non-starter. The only variable which directly affects the oscillation of cesium-133 is referred to as gravitational potential. Both gravitational potential and velocity effects (in the context of kinematic time dilations) are, for example, routinely incorporated into the calculations used for the Global Positioning System.
@Lee: You seem to be agreeing with me, so I’m not sure what you think I have wrong.
Do you dispute Special Relativity?
Ah, thanks. I knew the acceleration part complicated things (which was why I initially tried to evade it), but forgot that acceleration puts us into GR territory.
Considering how many things move in curved paths, GR infects everything. Plus gravity (same thing as acceleration) brings in GR, too.
It still blows my mind that the center of the Earth is younger than the surface, because clocks tick relatively slower.
On a big planet, like Jupiter, the effect is even more pronounced, and in the Sun, all the more.
On a fine scale, spacetime is probably warped like smoke or open water waves… something really complex and chaotic with zillions of small inputs.
The latest clock, the strontium lattice clock, can detect the GR effect of, IIRC, just centimeters of height difference.
So I guess simultaneity is similarly skewed in GR. Meaning that the plane of now for the core of the Earth is different than the plane of now for us on the surface. Of course, your plane of now at a different latitude is different than mine. Reality is absurd.
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Our rotation speeds would differ due to latitude, but we’re at roughly the same point in the gravity well. (Unless one of us lives in Denver. 🙂 )
@Wyrd.. “It still blows my mind that the center of the Earth is younger than the surface, because clocks tick relatively slower.”
This statement explains your misrepresentation Wyrd. It’s the same type of misrepresentation that occurs on every science program I’ve ever seen, including NOVA. It’s not your fault dude, but you need to study your own statement and see if you can solve the paradox yourself…
Here’s a clue: Just because the oscillations of cesium-133 are slower at the center of the earth doesn’t make the center of the earth older. The only thing that model proves is that cesium-133 oscillates slower at the center of the earth then it does on the surface.
@Lee: “Just because the oscillations of cesium-133 are slower at the center of the earth doesn’t make the center of the earth older.”
Well, no. As I said, it makes it younger.
If you agree atomic processes are slower due to GR, how it is possible the center of the Earth isn’t younger (by some four years, IIRC, over the nearly five-billion year lifespan)?
@Wyrd… “If you agree atomic processes are slower due to GR, how it is possible the center of the Earth isn’t younger (by some four years, IIRC, over the nearly five-billion year lifespan)?”
We have no tools at our disposal with which to make that determination other than conjecture. The point has been made Wyrd, and please don’t deflect; just because atomic processes are slower due to gravitational potential only proves that atomic processes are slower due to gravitational potential, period. Nothing else can be proven utilizing this model. The construct of time is a derivative of human imagination, albeit an ingenious, admirable and useful invention indeed.
H’okay, if you say so.
Mike and Wyrd,
So beyond all the complex calculations I presume that clock3 ticks slower than the clock1 it spins around given its accelerated mass (rather than ticks the same given no velocity between them as I proposed before). Sounds good. Clocks 1 and 2 still tick the same as each other given that they’re motionless. If clock3 ticks slower still in relation to clock2 because it not only has its accelerated mass, but velocity in relation to clock2, then that would seem paradoxical. Clock3 can’t read slower than clock1 but even more slow still than an equal clock2. So if there is relativistic velocity between clock2 and clock3, perhaps this doesn’t contribute? Any further thoughts about these two motionless clocks that one spins around?
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Sorry Eric, I’m tapped out. Wyrd might have some additional analyses, but we’ve hit the limit of what I can offer.
What matters is that clock 3 is traveling in the frame shared by clocks 1 and 2. It does not matter that clock 2 is offset. Both clocks 1 and 2 see clock 3 moving in a circular orbit at 0.5c in their shared frame.
Clock 2 does see clock 3’s relative velocity slow down slightly as it moves away, but it speeds up as it as it moves toward. Overall those cancel.
On a moment to moment basis, clock 2 would see that slight oscillation whereas clock 1 wouldn’t, but there’s no paradox. You could replicate the effect with sound. A circling siren would have no Doppler shift to someone in the center of the circle, but would to someone near the edge.
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So Wyrd, you’re saying that clock3 ticks slower given its accelerated mass than the other two, and those two tick exactly the same given that all three are in a shared reference frame? Thus no paradox? Works for me.
My follow up question was going to be to ask how a physicist would define such a frame from one that’s not shared. Light cone? Apparently not. I see that Wikipedia covers it, not that it’s simple. Thanks! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_of_reference
“So Wyrd, you’re saying that clock3 ticks slower given its accelerated mass than the other two,…”
Because of its velocity, yes. (Its mass is not relevant here.)
“…and those two tick exactly the same given that all three are in a shared reference frame?”
Clocks 1 and 2 share a frame and will keep sync.
Clock 3 does not share their frame. It’s 0.5c velocity makes it tick 86.6% slower relative to clocks 1 and 2. I don’t know how to calculate the GR effect of the radial acceleration due to the circular orbit, but I assume it would slow the ticks further.
Clock 3 has a very complicated frame due to that acceleration, parts of which (orientation) are constantly changing. Its dynamics fall under GR, which is a whole other fish kettle.
“…how a physicist would define such a frame…”
Its done in terms of velocity and acceleration vectors. If relative velocity is constant, it’s easy to do in 4D Minkowski space; it’s just geometry. Acceleration complicates things. You need tensors to describe curved motion in gravity-warped space. They’re beyond me.
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I hate to rain on everybody’s parade, but it’s clear from the comments that everyone has been watching too many science programs and have been duped into believing the outright deception contained within the dogmatism which is intrinsic to the church of science. I’ve watched the same programs on Nova, etc., and it’s all bullshit Time is not a “thing-in-itself”, time is a useful construct and that’s all there is to it. To be concise and succinct: “Time is a unit to measure a duration of change.”
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Time being a unit to measure a duration of change is fine. But a model that sees time as absolute isn’t predictive of observations. Those observations force us to view it as something where the rate of change is dependent on where you are and how fast you’re moving.
If general and special relativity aren’t reality (and I’m always agnostic on that), they are highly predictive of observations. Any new theory will have to account for the same observations.
You’ve got the tail wagging the dog. Change is the only absolute; and because change is a continuum, what we do is build models to measure a duration of that change. Time is the model which we construct to measure that duration, any duration.
The rate of change is not another variable in the equation as such, the rate of change is a derivative of that continuum of change. Models in and of themselves are not the problem Mike, what’s problematic is the intrinsic dogmatism which are an inherent feature of those models, including but not limited to general and special relativity. Both are useful for making highly predictive observations, but in the context of the true nature of reality, both are bullshit just like the model of time itself.
On the true nature of reality, I can see your point. But the point the post makes only seems reliant on the predictions. (Unless I’m missing something?)
So I guess the question is, given that time dilation and other Lorentz transformations have been experimentally confirmed a number of times (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_relativity#Status ), are you saying that the relativity of simultaneity is not an accurate prediction?
Time dilation is a model that is only relative to the “instrument” that is used to measure a duration of change, and that instrument is not absolute. The instrument itself is not time, and the instrument does not measure time. The instrument is dependent upon many variables for its own accuracy as an instrument, which simply means that the tick tock of the clock can change depending upon those variables.
Of course, those variables which affect the measurement instrument must be taken into account in order to make accurate predictions, and those variables are instrumental in making predictions where the constant of the clock changes. None of this has to do with time being a “thing-in-itself” and yes, relativity of simultaneity is an effective tool for making accurate predictions, but that’s all it is, a predictive tool which has nothing to do with the true nature of reality.
This whole business of time travel, all of which is propagated by the church of science is predicated upon a false paradigm, and that paradigm is that time is a “thing-in-itself”, which it clearly is not…
Actually, I think most science is skeptical of time travel, and FTL. Pointing out that they’re linked only reduces the plausibility of FTL.
My understanding of “time” in physics is that it’s the temporal dimension of spacetime that, along with the three spatial dimensions yields our 4-dimensional spacetime. We measure distances along the spatial dimensions with a ruler and along the temporal dimension with a clock.
The upshot of the Relativity of Simultaneity (RoS) after we finish discussing clocks-1, -2 through clock-n is that, for the usual experimental individuals scattered distantly throughout the universe, Alice’s “now” is co-real with a moment in Bob’s “past” and Bob’s “now” is co-real with Charlotte’s “future”, each of which are also co-real with others’ “pasts” and “futures” which, by logical extension, means that all instants of time that we regard as “past” or “future” exist “all at once” in an unchanging and timeless Block Universe.
If RoS “… is an effective tool for making accurate predictions, but that’s all it is, a predictive tool which has nothing to do with the true nature of reality” then the above “co-reality” predictions would seem to contradict that “nothing to do with … reality” part. Is it impossible for us to know the geometry of our universe?
There is no “now” or moving, flowing time in the universe or in the laws of physics—now is a feeling that can be correlated with a clock time—it’s not a time. Newton’s assumption that “… absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.” was an assumption. I think the growing differences in the earth-bound and GPS-satellite clocks is sufficient proof that his “equably” assumption is false, as does RoS.
If Alice and Bob are very long-lived with Alice on the ground and Bob orbiting in a GPS satellite and each correlates their subjective “now” with a cesium clock then, after 10,000 or so years couldn’t we say that Alice’s “now” will be correlated with a different clock time than Bob’s “now” (and vice-versa, of course) so that “now” of one is in the “past” of the other?
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“Is it impossible for us to know the geometry of our universe?”
I think it’s possible for us to have geometric models that are increasingly accurate, but we can never know if we’ve found the final model. A new observation could always force us to fine tune, or in severe cases, come up with an entirely new model. (Think of the precession of Mercury under Newtonian laws, ultimately resolved with GR.)
But I’m okay with defining “know” as possession of these predictive models, since that really is the only version of “know ” we ever get.
Quite true, we can never never know if we’ve found the final model or the ultimate truth but each generation has the scientific information available to it and must make do with just that and no more. I think it’s noteworthy that newer physics doesn’t replace or obsolete the old—Newtonian mechanics is still with us and still valid, but we’ve learned the limitations of its application. And Relativity physics being repeatedly confirmed for over a century inclines me to believe it won’t be replaced either, but perhaps it will also be found to have quantum level or other limitations of application. Stuckey’s Relational Blockworld physics, however, works the other way around, finding quantum level clarity in Relativity’s block universe, so who knows?
I think the BU is the only model of the universe that incorporates time though. If you or anyone know of others, I’d like to learn about them. I can’t imagine a flowing time model because it essentially poses a zero length slice of time where the universe exists and change happens, surrounded ahead and behind by non-existence, both future and past, with no suggested or comprehensible mechanism to drive the moving slice of change that’s fundamental to Presentism.
I’m fascinated by the hints that Einstein left in a handful of quotes as noted in “Breadcrumbs” such as “It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity” and I’m quite surprised at the consistent inattention paid thereafter to the consideration of consciousness in the BU. Many physicists have explained the RoS and the BU but Brian Greene is the only one since Einstein to seriously probe the subject in Chapter 5, “The Frozen River” of The Fabric of the Universe—strongly recommended if you haven’t read it.
Life is short, as they say, and an overarching agnosticism may be logically persuasive and shielded from error but I find it emotionally and scientifically unsatisfying. I’m fascinated by the insights of an “Eternal Unchanging One” that we find throughout history though. And sometimes contemplation of the greatest puzzles has led to some of our most powerful insights, so it seems to me that the stunning contrast between the static and unchanging BU and our ever-present flowing experience may point the way to a fundamental new understanding of reality and the human condition.
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“I think the BU is the only model of the universe that incorporates time though. If you or anyone know of others, I’d like to learn about them.”
Not quite sure if I understand what you’re asking for here. I do know that most physics theories incorporate time only in a symmetrical sense, that is, they don’t distinguish what direction things are moving in. The only exceptions appear to be the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy) and certain interpretations of quantum mechanics that posit the wave function collapse as an objective event.
But how could a model of the universe exist that doesn’t incorporate time?
“Life is short, as they say, and an overarching agnosticism may be logically persuasive and shielded from error but I find it emotionally and scientifically unsatisfying.”
I can see that. As I noted before, emotionally, I’m a scientific realist. What draws me to science is the quest for truth. I never sit around at night pondering what kind of predictive frameworks can be developed. No. I ponder what is or what might be.
Yet, intellectually, I think the lessons of the past shouldn’t be ignored. The way I reconcile it is to allow myself to get excited by the ontology, but always with an asterisk for parts that haven’t been tested yet. I think it’s those untested parts where new breakthroughs are hiding, waiting for us to uncover them.
BTW, I am currently working my way through Greene’s The Fabric of the Universe. I was bothered by the fact that I’d misunderstood the relation between dark energy and gravity, realized that I hadn’t read a basic book covering this stuff since before dark energy was discovered, and recalled how phenomenal of a communicator Greene was. I’m currently in chapter 8.
I sketched the essentials of a Presentism, or “flowing time” model above starting with “… a zero length slice of time …”. It’s the best description I can produce of a dynamical Newtonian model of a 3-dimensional universe that includes time as “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself and from its own nature, [that] flows equably without relation to anything external.” I can easily imagine the BU model but not the NU (Newtonian Universe) one. What do you suppose he meant by his reference to “anything external”—to time itself? Beats me, but perhaps you can see what I meant by “model of the universe” with those two examples.
Good to hear you’re reading Greene’s Fabric …. if you recall, I quoted a few passages from Chapter 5 in “Breadcrumbs” and stated my suspicion that Greene might himself believe in ERL but indicated so only metaphorically. Along with Einstein’s statements, Greene’s Chapter 5 was a significant inspiration for my own ERL thinking.
As an interesting tidbit, the Einstein quote about “… conscious life perpetuating itself …” appeared in 1931 in the book Living Philosophies from Simon and Schuster, but was reprinted in the Einstein obituary in The New York Times dated April 19, 1955. So we know that Einstein was thinking about his “eternity of life” for at least 25 years. Knowing that newspapers produce obituaries of famous people years in advance of their deaths so they’ll have them on file when the death occurs, I’ve wondered how and why that particular quotation made it into the obituary—it’s the only Einstein quote in the entire obit. Did they ask Einstein to select one? I have several books of Einstein quotations and many of those are noteworthy and appropriate for an obituary. Almost 65 years later though, I’m sure we’ll never know, but is it possible that Einstein chose that in order to draw attention to a Big Hint? In all the ERL-related research I did, no one has ever written about what he might have been referring to. Absolutely no one.
Just some thoughts …
On presentism, I see what you meant now. Given Einstein’s discoveries, I can see the case for now not being an objective concept. Relativity certainly seems to demolish any possibility of a universal now. But does it demolish even a relative version?
The problem is that there certainly seems to be something different about the current instant. The outside world has causal effects which impinge on our mind. Our current mental state seems like a culmination of all our past experiences. Our knowledge of the past is never as solid as we might imagine, but it seems far more substantial than our predictions of the future. For better or worse, our conscious experience seems to include an inescapable now concept. It also seems hopelessly tangled up with a core self concept.
I can’t speak to Greene’s belief in the ERL, but I found his descriptions more equivocal than you did. I did think his bread loaf metaphor, where instances of “now” are prospective slices that could be perpendicular to the axis of the loaf, such for a stationary observer, or angled to it as in the case where someone is moving, to be brilliant. Greene repeatedly impresses me with his ability to convey complex concepts.
Einstein was definitely as much a philosopher as a scientist.
As you might recall, Greene notes a Rudolph Carnap conversation with Einstein who was troubled by the “now” business as well: “… the problem of the now worried him seriously. He explained that the experience of the now means something special for man, something essentially different from the past and the future, but that this important difference does not and cannot occur within physics.” Note the phrase used—”the experience of the now.”
The explanation of the “now” lies within psychology/neuroscience I suppose rather than physics but serious scientific attention to consciousness didn’t exist even in the mid-50s when Einstein died. I discussed the “now” concept in “Breadcrumbs” and, although far from the first to do so, I concluded that “now” is wholly subjective and is a feeling of the immediacy of conscious experience. So “now” is not a time, it’s a feeling, but one that can be correlated with a clock time to produce the common usage of the word “now” that means “this very moment”.
In the closing paragraphs of Chapter 5, Greene makes the case that all of our conscious moments in the BU are always “illuminated”—always conscious: “… every moment is illuminated, and every moment remains illuminated. Every moment is.” Those moments as they are experienced are all “now’s”. The crucial realization that Greene misses, or at least never mentions, is that we don’t experience individual “now” moments as such—we instead experience all of our conscious moments as fleeting components of a stream/flow of consciousness. Given that idea, instead of seeing moments of consciousness persisting in our worldtubes, we can envision a series of persisting conscious streams “like moving beads on a string.” Therein lies ERL, so Greene comes very close.
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One final comment Mike:
Predictive models are not a measure of “truth” by any stretch of the imagination, and the entire premise needs to be revisited. Predictive models are only useful tools; and that useful-ness is contingent upon the objective of that particular predictive model. The most effective predictive model every devised by any institution was during the reign of the Pharaohs, a model which stated that the Pharaoh was a God. Clearly, this model could make predictions with a precision that no scientific model can match. The only distinction between a predictive scientific model and the predictive Egyptian model is a matter of scope…
I think you may be reifying when you say time measures “duration.”
just my 2¢
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Would the wormhole still be a problem if you had to create both ends in the same time close together, before sending off one of them to somewhere else at relativistic speeds?
I suppose since hyperspace jumps are fictional, you could just handwave it by saying the drive always kicks the spaceship out back into the original plane it entered it from, just displaced in distance.
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If you had to create the other end, then it would stop you from traveling to arbitrary points in the past. Although if you accelerated one of the ends to near c in the process of moving it to its destination, it would experience relativistic effects and would, from the standpoint of the other end, now be in the future, and from the remote end, the original would be in the past.
“you could just handwave it by saying the drive always kicks the spaceship out back into the original plane it entered it from,”
The problem is that the spaceship is not changing planes in the jump. Its plane before and after the jump are identical. It’s just skewed in relation to the one on the planet it left, and on the planet it’s going to. So which plane is the “original”? The one it had before it left the original planet? The one it had just prior to the jump? Or the one it will have when it reaches the destination planet? None of them agree and whichever one chosen will result in it being at a different time than now according to the other planes.
The overall issue is that there’s no universal now that the ship can be kicked back to. For anyone who understands that (which admittedly is not most readers), the hand waving won’t work.
“a natural wormhole, like the one in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, would be more likely to open to some distant point in future, long after the heat death of the universe”
That depends on how they get formed. If they were formed only in stellar-rich environments, or black hole collisions, for examples, then no. Or better, our SF authors could follow Brett’s suggestion, and add that all wormholes are engineered, none natural.
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From what I’ve read, black holes will be around for about 10100 years, so collisions between might still be a thing for a long time. (Assuming of course that cosmology doesn’t get heavily revised, as seems possible if dark energy is increasing in strength.)
This reminds me of discussions we had back when I wrote my Special Relativity series! I think the bottom line here is that FTL travel is impossible.
(Back in my series I posited the possibility of ansibles working if both ends were in the same frame of reference, but a kind soul on the internet set me straight. That can’t work, either.)
Recent work seems to suggest wormholes are impossible, too. For one thing, it seems they need negative mass, and one belief is that there’s no such thing. (Not everything has a sign.)
So, what happens to a ship moving at an appreciable fraction of c that jumps into a wormhole? I think it dpends on what the ship’s speed translates to in the wormhole, and how the dynamics of SR and GR behave inside the wormhole.
One possibility is that entering the wormhole represents a new frame of reference, so the surface of simultaneity would shift to whatever is right in the wormhole. Or it may have no meaning in the wormhole, and meaning only returns once the ship leaves.
I suspect the ship would be bound by the time of the wormhole mouths, but since we’re talking about something that probably can’t exist, who knows how it behaves.
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“[F]rom the traveler’s perspective, it’s the rest of the universe that is traveling near the speed of light and experiencing slower time.”
And the traveler is seeing space contract in the direction of travel. For example, to the muons created high in the atmosphere due to cosmic ray collisions, the Earth’s surface is only meters away because of their speed. Hence they are able to reach the ground before they decay.
(I did some charts once illustrating the effect. I always meant to post them. Maybe I should.)
One very pedantic note: In 4D spacetime, we all have a 3D volume of simultaneity.
I imagine most of us are sitting in a room reading this. You’re at rest relative to the room, and the room (and everything not moving beyond it) is in your volume of simultaneity.
Something that moves through your volume rapidly enough is “twisted” in spacetime. It’s entire volume is progressively skewed with respect to yours. (It would think the same of you.)
That’s why the fast train fits in the short tunnel, that skewing of volume. A useful analogy is to hold a ruler lengthwise in front of you. You see the entire length of the ruler. Now turn the ruler so it appears foreshortened. Now it looks shorter to you (of course the ruler is unchanged).
That’s literally what’s happening with something moving relative to you, but the twist is in 4D spacetime.
As you say, just walking past someone who’s not moving is enough to make you both have different “now” perspectives of the Andromeda galaxy. (It takes many light years to notice the difference!)
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I learned a lot from your relativity series. I definitely recommend it for anyone who’d like a serious primer on special relativity.
On the ansible, the problem of course is actually getting into the same frame. The relative motions of the respective stars and planets make that effectively impossible. You might be able to attempt a conversation, but depending on the distance involved and differences between the frames, it might not be a very linear one.
On wormhole possibility, that matches what I’ve heard too. Supposedly they instantly collapse unless you have negative mass to keep them open. The thing I wonder is, just how much negative mass is necessary? And what would be the consequences for anything trying to traverse the wormhole?
Good question on what happens if a relativistic ship traverses a wormhole. I tend to think it would be the same as normal spacetime, although all the energy involved in keeping the wormhole in place and open might make a major difference at the GR level. Beyond my current level of comprehension.
“One very pedantic note: In 4D spacetime, we all have a 3D volume of simultaneity.”
Definitely. But even physicists (such as Brian Greene) use the phrase “plane of simultaneity”, so I feel okay doing it.
“It takes many light years to notice the difference!”
Greene uses the example of Chewbacca sitting in his living room 10 billion light years away. If Chewie goes for a walk at 5 mph, his plane of simultaneity relative to us shifts 150 years!
Of course, for closer distances, like within our galaxy, you need to be moving faster for the effect to be noticeable. But even the relative motions of planets will lead to several seconds or minutes across thousands of light years.
“The relative motions of the respective stars and planets make [getting into the same frame of reference] effectively impossible.”
That would definitely be a major challenge. My thought at the time was it would involve some zeroing in on the right vector. Maybe the signal got stronger or more coherent as you got closer to exact. It ought to be possible in principle.
But ansibles — FTL radio — aren’t possible under any circumstance, even in principle, that’s the part I didn’t get. They would also allow time travel (of information). (I’ve been meaning to write an update post; I should get on that.) It takes four parties to demonstrate…
Imagine A and B in Frame #1, separated by light years, using ansibles to communicate, and C and D in Frame #2, also separated by light years, also in communication with ansibles. Frame #1 and Frame 2 are in relative motion.
If C passes A, and D passes B, allowing brief message exchange, information can exchanged such that it passes into the past of one of the frames.
SR, FTL, causality: pick one. 😀
“The thing I wonder is, just how much negative mass is necessary?”
😀 I don’t believe in negative mass, so I couldn’t even begin to say!
(If mass is a ‘something,’ I can see having ‘nothing’ or ‘something,’ but the idea of a “negative” ‘something’ seems incoherent to me. Just because you can put a minus sign in front of ‘something’ doesn’t mean it’s real.)
Apparently, related to dark energy, negative pressure is actually a thing. I wonder if you had sufficient negative pressure if that wouldn’t create the repulsive gravity necessary to keep the wormhole open. (I probably just revealed my ignorance at multiple levels.)
Everyone is pretty ignorant when it comes to dark energy. That one is still very much a blank page. (With a bunch of pencil marks in the margins. 😀 )
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In defense of Deep Space Nine, the aliens who lived inside the wormhole did apparently experience time in a different way than the rest of us. I always thought that was a nice nod to the actual science, even if it was only a trivial nod.
In my own science fiction universe, I always wanted time travel to feature prominently anyway. So I’m sort of taking an “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” attitude about FTL. FTL technology paved the way for the first time machines.
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I only picked on DS9 because it’s well known. But those aliens were a nice touch. And they apparently were the source of Bajoran religion, which was kinda cool.
For your universe, I like the sound of treating it like a feature instead of just ignoring, as most sci-fi does. The trick is then explaining why people don’t just travel to whatever historical events they want to and make changes. As I recall, you had a mechanism to ensure someone couldn’t mess with their own history.
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I do have a mechanism like that. It’s sort of like trying to push the matching poles of magnets together: they automatically repel each other. In universe, this repulsive force works against both spacecraft and communications that might mess with the timeline.
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That’s a pretty cool mechanism.
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Thank you. I have a lot of respect for your opinion on these matters, so that means a lot to me.
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I strongly recommend About Time – Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution by physicist Paul Davies from 1995. Most Excellent! Used paperbacks from amazon for a measly five bucks.
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Thanks for the recommendation!
I always viewed the speed of light as moving one quanta of space per one quanta of time. Not knowing the fundamental mechanisms that allow for this change in position, I can imagine space as a checkerboard or honeycomb through which matter is vibrated /jostled a maximum of one cell (space unit) at a time. The wavelength of the vibration (since waves and particles have a level of interchangeable duality) could equal one subatomic particle that conveys a unit of change (not charge) perhaps some neutrino I will call a chronoton particle.
While faster than light travel does seem impossible to me overall – in the long run, there must be conservation and the speed limit of one unit space per unit of time must apply overall – I am not so sure that chronotons could not be gathered in some version of a “flux capacitor” and allow a ship to use years’ worth of chronotons in mere seconds. Much like damming a river only to release a flood later, I suspect we just might be able to save time in a bottle and then use it up quickly.
In my early science fiction stories (I have focused on non-fiction topics recently – though my books about prophecies or a POLE SHIFT book are viewed by many as nonsense anyway) a ship could lay dormant, store up chronotons, occasionally re-enter the normal flow of time again to assess their region for danger (from the perspective of their contemporaries outside the ship – they would be appearing from nowhere after a long gap of non-existence) and turn on the flux capacitor/timeshield again to store more chronotons until needed. If, on one of their many reawakenings/re-emergences into normal spacetime – they would detect an enemy fleet approaching – they could intercept it and activate weapons against it millions of times faster than the speed of light – but only because they had stored up unused time already. They can only experience one year per year, but from the perspective of those outside their ship, they might not exist 99.99999% of the year, then use that year in one second.
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Your description of quantized space is similar to how I’ve thought it could work. The trick, of course, for physicists is coming up with a mathematics for it that are consistent and that predict or at least match observations.
Interesting idea on essentially banking time. The thing is, while time is being banked, wouldn’t the people on the ship be in a frozen state? It doesn’t seem like they could decide to pop back into time to see how things are going. Maybe they could decide beforehand how long they’ll be outside. The other thing that pops in my head is that how could the banking mechanism work without time?
So if I understand correctly, once they’ve banked the time, they could use it to jump over all the distance that would normally take that amount of time to jump? You mentioned bottling it, so presumably you could have thousands of units banking time, then with all that stored in a bottle, a ship could use it all in one large jump.
Of course, the act of doing that would be equivalent to the hyperspace jump I describe in the post, with all the associated simultaneity issues. But it’s an interesting idea!
Banking all the time would cause permanent disappearance. I view it more like a curtain blocking most light or a dimmer switch reducing light output. Store up MOST but not all chronotons – or I agree, you’d never experience any time with which to experience anything else and pop back into normal reality.
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Interesting article got my brain juices flowing. I seem to have reached a problem:
If both the traveler and an observer accelerate away from each other why does the twin-paradox occur i.e. one twin is younger than the other on re-uniting when they moved away and then came back together at high speeds ?
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It’s only a problem if you buy into the notion of the twin-paradox. The twin-paradox has no more credence than the idea that the center of the earth is younger than the surface, or that a mountain peak is older than both the surface and center of the earth. Reality is not that type of weird, what’s weird are the constructs that we naively buy into.
Question something, question everything…
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I have to admit that the twin paradox used to have me tied in knots. The secret is to work it out using spacetime diagrams. If you do it right, it always works out. (Google “twin paradox spacetime diagram” for numerous examples.)
In the absence of that, if the twins accelerate away from each other, then from each of their perspectives, the other’s clock is running slower. However, if they then simultaneously* turn around and start decelerating, they’ll see each other’s clocks “catch up” until they’re back in the same frame.
*Note that “simultaneously” here would be from the perspective of a stationary third party. From the perspective of each twin, they would have to turn around before the other twin even if they had previously decided to turn at a pre-arranged time, since from their perspective the other twin’s time had slowed down.
This makes a little more sense if you consider what’s happening if each twin sends a running commentary to the other. From a particular twin’s perspective, the other’s reports slow down as they accelerate, then speed up again as they decelerate, but in their local frame, it’s just how the radio signals arrive. The simultaneity weirdism only arrives as they try to figure out when each report was made based on the travel time of the communication.
You stated — “It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see how this technology could be used to travel to arbitrary points in the past or future.”
My response — How would anyone ever know? No form of communication could reach back to them and provide evidence of arrival without taking the same amount of time that was displaced getting there. If they return using FTL then very little if any time is lost.
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I’m not catching your point. Would you mind elaborating?
My point was that they could return to their destination earlier than they departed. (With all the associated paradoxes.) But if I’m missing something, I’d love to know it.
Let’s break it down:
The first challenge: If you travel using FTL (18 years difference) how would anyone know you did? They can’t communicate with you?
The people at the source couldn’t know when you arrived at the destination. The people at the destination could (assuming anyone is at the destination yet).
Of course, if you immediately jumped back (without changing your velocity), you’d immediately jump back in space and time to where and when you’d just left.
However, if before jumping back, you decelerated, reversed course and accelerated toward home, and then jumped, you’d arrive back 36 days after you left.
But if you do the whole sequence jumping in the direction opposite of your speed both ways, you’d arrive back home 36 days before you’d left.
(A sci-fi writer, of course, could simply posit that the technology doesn’t allow you jump in a different direction than your actual motion. The crew still has to think about which plane of simultaneity they want to use, but it prevents them going back in time. This won’t work for the Alcubierre drive though.)
You stated — “However, if before jumping back, you decelerated, reversed course and accelerated toward home, and then jumped, you’d arrive back 36 days after you left.”
My response — This would’t prove time travel just a delay in the amount of time needed to return.
You stated — “But if you do the whole sequence jumping in the direction opposite of your speed both ways, you’d arrive back home 36 days before you’d left.”
My response — This would not be true since each time you use FTL you move further into the future since time for you is moving increasingly slower (due to mass) while back on Earth it is still moving at the same pace.
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Ah, okay, you may not quite understand the plane of simultaneity concept. (Or if you do, then I don’t 🙂 )
When you are still, the plane of simultaneity is flat relative to other stationary observers. But when you’re traveling, the plane slopes upward in the direction of travel. That means that things in front of you that are in your now, are in the future for a stationary observer.
But the plane sloping upward in the direction of travel means it slopes downward in the other direction, meaning that something behind you that is in your now is in the past for a stationary observer.
So if you hyperspace jump in the direction opposite the one you’re traveling in, even if you emerge instantly from your point of view, you’ll emerge in the past as far as a stationary observer is concerned.
Take another look at the animation in the post, or the wikipedia article. It’s not an easy concept to grasp.
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You stated — “Ah, okay, you may not quite understand the plane of simultaneity concept.”
My response — The concept of simultaneity can’t be applied to FTL since they are not happening within the same frame of reference. This is due solely to the amount of mass applied from FTL.
To put it another way, the frame of reference is changed do to a stretching of space time from the mass obtained in FTL.
You don’t need to travel from one location to another to cause this, all you need is mass. The same thing happens to satellites in space, it’s the reason GPS systems have different references to time that need to be corrected between earth and earth orbit.
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IANAP, but this seems like an answerable question. If I’m not mistaken, the propagation of the collapse of a wave function for two entangled particles has a speed greater than c. We can’t use that to transmit information, but it does have a when associated. If we move one of a pair of entangled particles relative to the other at a speed where we can measure relativistic effects, then collapse the wave function, the difference will tell us which when the FTL effect occurs in, right?
Again, not a physicist, please be gentle in correcting my child-like understanding of the field.
Appreciate your comment! I’m not a physicist either, so don’t worry. I don’t have any authoritative answer.
How the wave function collapse of entangled particles figures into this is an interesting question. It’s one of the reasons Einstein had so many problems with it. It does preserve the letter of relativity, but not the spirit. As I understand it, special relativity and quantum mechanics have been reconciled under quantum field theory. So someone might have the answer to which plane of simultaneity it takes place under, but I sure don’t know it.
It’s worth noting that the non-locality issue doesn’t arise in every interpretation of quantum mechanics. John Bell showed that it definitely does in Copenhagen. But as I understand it, under the Many Worlds interpretation, locality is preserved, since there is no wave function collapse. Measuring just tell us which branch of the universal wave function (i.e. universe) we’re in.
“As I understand it, special relativity and quantum mechanics have been reconciled under quantum field theory.”
That reconciliation has mainly to do with observations of a given particle from different frames of reference where the particle appears to have a different momentum or energy to different observers.
“But as I understand it, under the Many Worlds interpretation, locality is preserved,”
Interesting; I wasn’t aware of that. How does MWI explain the 100% correlation between entangled particles?
As to the original question, it’s only when comparing results (which requires exchanging information in the universal light limit) that the correlation is revealed. The tests of the particles themselves are entirely random during the measurements.
So I’m not sure one measurement moving with respect to the other would produce anything noticeable. Keep in mind a key aspect of SR is that both frames of reference appear at rest to those in the frame and physics is required to be the same within a frame.
That said, I, too, have wondered just what “simultaneous collapse” means when one measurement is moving with respect to the other. The flip side is that it’s not clear there is any way to find out. Nature preserves certain secrets.
“How does MWI explain the 100% correlation between entangled particles?”
If you mean, how is it compatible with Bell’s theorem, I have to admit I’m not sure. I’m going off things Sean Carroll said in his interview of Adam Becker.
Bell’s theorem has to do with the statistics of measured states if they’d all been established with the initial particle interaction vs not being established until the measurement. Those statistics are different. Having all the values determined ahead of time constrains the combinations they can occur in and the probability of those occurrences. Various experiments seem to favor the ones where the state isn’t established until the measurement.
But according to Carroll, that’s assuming one unified reality. Introduce wave functions that never collapse, that only spread, and the statistics remain compatible with the state being determined at that initial interaction. Maybe because all the combinations are spread out over multiple branches of the wavefunction?
He’s got a book coming out soon, where I’m hoping he gives a layperson explanation. But I’ve heard other physicists make the point that Bell’s theorem isn’t a problem for the MWI. (Admittedly, these were other pro-MWI physicists.) But more broadly, the MWI is usually described as an interpretation that preserves locality.
“The flip side is that it’s not clear there is any way to find out.”
That always seems to be the end result with these quantum foundation questions. It’s why this dilemma has been around for close to a century now. You said something interesting the other day that I thought was interesting, that maybe a theory of quantum gravity will bring insight.
“Bell’s theorem has to do with the statistics of measured states if they’d all been established with the initial particle interaction vs not being established until the measurement. Those statistics are different.”
I’m not sure if our understand matches or not, since that’s not how I would state it. But maybe how I would amounts to the same thing?
I’d say that Bell’s is about quantum statistics versus the statistics that would occur if the idea of hidden variables was true.
We know that when particles are entangled their properties are correlated in a specific way. If, for instance, we measure spin in the vertical direction, then if one particle is found to have up spin, then the other always has down spin.
Each individual measurement of either particle shows a completely random distribution (in this case 50/50) as to whether spin is up or down. It’s only when comparing the results of measuring both that the correlation emerges.
Where it gets interesting is when you measure spin of one at, say, zero degrees, and you measure the other at 120 degrees (one-third of a rotation).
If there were hidden variables giving the particles definite spin, then ordinary probably provides a linear curve as to the correlation between measuring at zero and 120. But quantum statistics are different (they involve the square of the wave-function probability for the measurement and I think there’s even a cosine term in there).
So far every experiment confirms the quantum stats. Most of the various refinements involve eliminating the weird loopholes critics see. (I just read about an experiment using photons from different stars at least 11 light years away to determine which measurements to make on the entangled particles. The idea is to push the decision-making into the past at least 11 years.)
Anyway, that’s my understanding, FWIW.
“Introduce wave functions that never collapse, that only spread, and the statistics remain compatible with the state being determined at that initial interaction.”
But we always end up in a branch where the particles are correlated per the SM?
I would definitely be interested in knowing more!
“You said something interesting the other day that I thought was interesting, that maybe a theory of quantum gravity will bring insight.”
There’s the issue of when does quantum behavior become the macro behavior we know. What exactly causes a quantum system to decohere? It seems to have something to do with size, but what kind of math tells us anything about that? (None.)
One thought is that when enough particles are together to have some gravity, it’s that gravity that is responsible for the decoherence. It struck me that, given the disconnect between GR and QFT, that this might be the link between them.
Actually, morning brain, rereading what you wrote, we are saying the same thing.
I was broadly saying the same thing, but you added details I didn’t know. Thanks!
I wish I could wake up late enough have morning brain at 11:30!
“I would definitely be interested in knowing more!”
I would too. I plan to read Carroll’s book. I’ll let you know if it has an explanation. In the meantime, there’s this paper (which I don’t think is paywalled (I’m on my university network right now)):
“I wish I could wake up late enough have morning brain at 11:30!”
I’ve been in a high-stress personal situation since Saturday afternoon, and yesterday early evening things got resolved in a good way considering. Haven’t really slept well in the duration, and last night I crashed early and slept for ten hours (I normally only need five).
So, yeah, definite morning brain.
“In the meantime, there’s this paper…”
A 2001 paper by Mark A. Rubin… who, if you Google the name, mostly turns up hits for a medical doctor with the same name. But there’s also a Mark A. Rubin who apparently teaches at MIT. I did grab the PDF of the paper (arXiv usually does allow access) and may even get around to reading it. 😀
“The conceptual problem of nonlocality is thus replaced with a conceptual problem of proliferating labels,”
Which kinda hits at the heart of my problems with MWI: proliferation beyond all reason.
Considering it took a Big Bang to create one universe, how is it that, for example, a two-slit experiment can casually create millions of universes that, as I understand MWI, have the same ontological reality as ours. I can’t reconcile that contradiction.
A Big Bang to create one, but throw a photon through a half-silvered mirror and create a whole new one? (And the new ones are huge!) Every explanation of how this is possible seems like a lot of hand-waving to me.
Color me beyond skeptical about MWI.
Sorry to hear about the high-stress situation. Hope everything turned out okay. I’ve had a number of stressful situations myself lately. No fun.
In terms on the MWI, I think it’s wrong to think of entire new universes being created by the photon going through a half-silvered mirror. Or more precisely, it’s wrong to think of them being created in total right then. It’s more like the embryo of a new universe gets started, but gradually grows through the spreading superposition. Although I think even calling it a new “universe” is misleading. It’s just a new branch of the universal wavefunction.
That may not make it any more palatable, but it does indicate that there isn’t an entire big bang scale even happening with every quantum interaction.
“I’ve had a number of stressful situations myself lately.”
Seems like the whole world is stressed out these days.
“It’s more like the embryo of a new universe gets started, but gradually grows through the spreading superposition.”
Okay,… I don’t even know what to say about that. (In part because I just don’t know that much about MWI, and in part because, huh?! 😀 )
“It’s just a new branch of the universal wavefunction.”
Long ago I did flirt with an interpretation of MWI that included the universal wavefunction, but which had only one extant reality — but that reality was affected by the interference from the other possible realities just like how photons interfere with themselves.
But MWI supporters keep saying the other realities really do exist, and I just can’t wrap my head around how that could be possible.
“That may not make it any more palatable, but it does indicate that there isn’t an entire big bang scale even happening with every quantum interaction.”
I guess I’d like to know what Sean Carroll thinks happens every time he uses that reality-splitting app he has. The few times I’ve heard him talk about it, he seems to be saying a whole new reality comes into existence.
I’ve never heard anything about it starting small and getting bigger, but as I said, I’m not that well-read when it comes to MWI.
Based on the beginning of that paper, there are physicists who think an entire universe pops into being (although many others are cited as disagreeing). But that seems inherently and utterly non-local. For the MWI to be a local theory, the new “universe” must begin small. And for me, the explanation of spreading superpositions, of new branches of the wavefunction coming into being, fits that.
But I know what you mean about Carroll’s way of describing this. I’m not sure which camp he fits in. But if he’s going to assert, as he did on his podcast, that MWI is local, then it has to start small. You can’t say it preserves locality then assert that it instantly brings an entire cosmos, tens of billions of light years wide, into being.
Adam Becker also mentioned something that I’ve thought about before, but since I didn’t see any physicists discussing it figured must have been just amateurish speculation, that maybe the MWI and cosmic inflation are different aspects of the same phenomenon, that maybe when inflation ended, it did really end, it just changed the way it was manifesting.
I just happened to get around to reading Peter Woit’s 8/20 post reviewing Carroll’s book. He includes this quote:
Which almost makes it sound like the version of MWI I found interesting.
Woit doesn’t seem to like Becker’s book (he reviewed it back in March), and I generally consider multiverse theories to be science fiction.
Woit also quotes a Carroll Tweet:
And then adds:
To which I would agree.
No surprise I’m in the Woit camp… I tend to agree with most of what he says.
Woit’s review of Carroll’s book is surprisingly positive. I’m not surprised he has issues with Becker’s book. Woit is probably the type of person Becker has in mind when criticizing what he sees as overly constrained conceptions of physics. And Becker is what Woit has in mind when criticizing how much physics has lost its way.
In general, I’m far closer to Woit than Becker. While I do think scientists need intellectual space to speculate, as Sabine Hossenfelder pointed out, if they’re not under pressure to eventually make testable predictions, then they’re claim to be doing science becomes increasingly untenable.
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Mike and Wyrd,
Maybe I have too simple a conception of the quantum situation, but it just doesn’t bug me that much. Let me know if the following seems misguided.
The more precisely that we measure stuff that we’ve come to call “particles”, the more confounded that we become with properties of stuff that we’ve come to call “waves”. The same happens when we try to measure waves more precisely — particle characteristics confound us there as well. And why might this be case? Surely because at an extremity it’s not effective to put matter under one of these headings, but rather both. If so, though we can only measure each in separate ways, then shouldn’t we expect uncertainty in our measurements? And shouldn’t this demonstrate yet another example of human ignorance? To me this seems like both a humble and sensible QM interpretation. Is it not?
From here it seems to me that either “God” does play dice, in which case causality itself fails in an ontological sense, or humans simply do not quite grasp associated causal dynamics.
Mike I’ve heard you mention wondering if Einstein would have supported many worlds interpretations of QM, which is a possibility that disturbs me. I perceive Einstein to have been a humble man. But what could be more arrogant that taking apparent uncertainty associated with human measurement, and proposing that extra “universes” exist for iterations that aren’t realized here? I haven’t read much about MWI, or even listened to Sean Carrol’s associated podcasts, but here’s dichotomy anyway. Either MWI is somehow sensible, or the popularity of MWI is another demonstration of science failing given its lack of effective principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology from which to work.
I often wonder if quantum physics isn’t simply on the edge of, or beyond, the reality that our minds can cope with. Our minds evolved to model reality at a certain level. Symbolic thought allows us to conceptualize things beyond those default scales, but quantum physics may represent the limit of that ability.
And there’s no doubt that we have a theory and mathematics that is predictive. The “shut up and calculate” attitude has enabled all kinds of technology since World War II.
On the other hand, the situation seems deeply unsatisfying. The wave / particle duality never made sense to me, even as a boy in elementary school when I first heard about it. The way the textbook presented it, it was no big deal. Knowing what I now know about the history of this concept, those textbooks seemed to be papering over the issue.
So, it may be that QM lies at the boundary of what it is possible for us to know. But I hope people keep trying, because that boundary doesn’t feel satisfying at all, at least not to me.
On Einstein, one thing I do feel fairly comfortable saying is that he would have supported Everett’s exploration since he did support David Bohm’s work, even if he wasn’t enthusiastic about Bohm’s particular conclusions. I think Everett would have gotten at least that level of support from him.
Yes, what Everett posited is bizarre and absurd. But we have to remember that what Einstein posited with special and general relativity were also bizarre and absurd. And in 1905, when he first posited special relativity, the ability to test it was still several years away.
I don’t know whether the MWI is reality or not. No one’s yet found a way to test it over the other interpretations. But I also know all the other interpretations are also absurd, each in their own way. Rejecting any of them only on the basis of their absurdity strikes me as a risky move, since over the history of science, reality has repeatedly shown that it is absurd.
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“But I also know all the other interpretations are also absurd, each in their own way.”
It’s like philosophy where everyone agrees much of it is nonsense… but no one can agree on which parts are nonsense. In QM, no one agrees on which interpretations are more absurd than others.
For instance, I find MWI highly absurd, but proponents see it as the least absurd. The frequent claim is they’re just taking the wave-function seriously and not introducing anything “absurd” like collapse.
I do often think there lurks some major discovery about the way things really are that awaits us… we need the next Newton or Einstein to change our conception of reality. Because how is it that our two most well-tested theories are in conflict?
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In elementary school I can see how you might have been very unsatisfied with a duality in matter that makes it both “particle” and “wave” at the Planck scale. Back then you shouldn’t have had enough experience to grasp that each of these terms are merely rough models that generally seem useful — not “truth”. My impression is that children tend to begin as platonist. As a full nominalist today however, I wouldn’t think that you’d be nearly so bothered.
The interesting thing about Einstein is that he both presented radical ideas, as well as ways to test them. Of course as a human he must have hoped that his radical ideas would be found useful. I don’t get the sense that he actually believe them until experimentally validated however.
So what can we say about physicists who believe radical things (and to me MWI seems ridiculously so), though sans evidence? Here’s where things move from the realm of “reason”, and into the realm of “faith”. That so many physicists today believe things on the basis of zero corroborating evidence, suggests to me that the field now suffers from the sorts of malaise that soft sciences have always suffered from. In essence the institution of science needs explicit rather than just implicit rules from which to work.
And how might science acquire such rules? We’d simply need a respected group of professional to develop agreed upon principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and hopefully even axiology, from which to do science. Surely Sabine Hossenfelder and Peter Woit could be among these professional, though I’m beginning to think that even philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel might help build such a community. With just a bit of momentum I suspect that Massimo Pigliucci would get off the fence and so leave his good friend Daniel Kaufman to tend philosophy as “art to appreciate”. If science had formal rules, I doubt that goofy faith based ideas such as MWI would be considered quite as favorably, and even by Sean Carrol.
You support Woit and Hossenfelder, as well as consider MWI ridiculous. Furthermore you note frustration that professionals are unable to decide which parts of philosophy are worthy. So wouldn’t you support the creation of such a community in at least a conceptual sense?)
Quantum mechanics concerns three of the four rules that I propose. The first is metaphysical, or “ To the extent that causality fails, nothing exists to discover”. Physicists who believe that there is an ontological void in causality here (or “God plays dice”), may in this sense be referred to as “supernaturalists”.
Next there is my first principle of epistemology, or that there are no true definitions for any of the our terms. Thus let’s not get too upset when the stuff that we call “particles”, are observed to function more like “waves” at the Planck scale.
Most critical however is my second principle of epistemology, or a rule which takes the longstanding implicit scientific method to a far higher explicit standard. “There is only one process by which anything conscious, consciously figures anything out. It takes what it thinks it knows (evidence), and uses this to assess what it’s not so sure about (a model). It is with such correspondence that models tend to become believed, or ‘reason’ rather than ‘faith’.”
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“In elementary school I can see how you might have been very unsatisfied with a duality in matter that makes it both ‘particle’ and ‘wave’ at the Planck scale.”
This is incorrect; matter has particle and wave properties at all scales. You have a wave-function, but it’s utterly undetectable. (One of the games in physics is finding larger and larger molecules to do the two-slit experiment with, and the interference pattern is always present.)
In fact, philosophically I lean towards ontological antirealism — that is, for many philosophical questions, there is no correct answer, just answers that appeal to one intuition or another. But in terms of science I lean towards realism and the belief that the physical world is real and objective (and therefore does have, at least in theory, correct answers).
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Wyrd, you might enjoy P. M. S. Hacker’s paper “Philosophy—A Contribution, Not To Human Knowledge, But To Human Understanding” in which he substantiates your view of Philosophy as an endeavor that does not produce knowledge. That paper is available at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9add/52ea621201dc23f1c78288525973cfa858dd.pdf.
By the way, I have run headlong at a double-slit apparatus and can confirm that I consistently interfere with myself … 😉
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What I’m proposing however is to leave that society to continue on in its traditional roll. I’m saying that given the failure of science (which Woit and Hossenfelder observe in physics, and everyone should be able to observe in soft sciences), that this institution is going to need some explicit rules in order to do a better job than it does today. It just so happens that we humans have placed the rules of science under a separate category, or “philosophy”. (I sometimes wish that we could eliminate the “science” and “philosophy” terms altogether. In the end there is simply human exploration of reality. We need a word for the two combined.)
I’ll join your ontological anti-realist position regarding traditional philosophy. But given your realist position regarding science, shouldn’t the institution try to develop various explicit rules from which to do science? Or should Woit and Hossenfelder finally get with the program — “Ivory Towers” work just fine?
“But given your realist position regarding science, shouldn’t the institution try to develop various explicit rules from which to do science?”
[shrug] From my perspective they do. The key ones involving repeatable evidence from experiments.
I disagree that the issues of theoretical physics are the same as issues in “soft” sciences. I see those as very different situations. The problem with the former is they’ve become too imaginary, often based on philosophical analysis. The problem with the latter is vast number of variables involved.
For instance, I was just reading about how they’ve announced there is no such thing as a “gay gene.” To the extent that genetics does affect sexuality (and it does), the effects appear to come from lots and lots of separate genetic influences — each contributing a tiny effect.
Put it this way: Soft science issues can probably be resolved once we know enough and get a handle on all the variables involved. Multiverse theories and the like are sheer science fiction that will likely never afford resolution.
I blame the original Star Wars movie for making SF mainstream. 😀
(J/K— mostly. I do divide the world into B.L. and Anno Stella Bella, though.)
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I can see how Star Wars might have harmed sci-fi by making it mainstream. As a kid the movie utterly blew me away! I guess I was 9. I’d read some sci-fi or fantasy here and there. I loved the Dune trilogy! Ultimately I had other things on my mind however. Now at 50 I read non-fiction exclusively and don’t watch many movies (though lately I will sit through them on Netflix with my wife a couple time a week when she finds something interesting). Did sci-fi get so popular that sci-sci started going that way as well? Correlation doesn’t equate with causation, but the correlations do seem stunning!
We certainly agree that hard science has become too imaginary, and surely somewhat because particle colliders and such cost so much (and are probably hopeless anyway). Thus the push for “beauty” has natural impetus. But what might sensible people do when the system produces charming intellectuals such as Sean Carrol? Even Mike seems charmed by him. Or Max Tegmark and his popular “Mathematical Universe Hypothesis”? Shall we continue to fight the products of the disease rather than the disease itself?
Science has cancer, and truth be told, I’m happy that it’s finally become so obvious in its hard parts. Today physics is mostly for fun anyway. So it could be that it will take hard nosed hard scientists who thus aren’t so accustomed with such nonsense to finally develop rules from which to fight this cancer. Yes soft sciences need to get a handle on the variables, but let’s also add some sensible explicit rules by which all scientists are expected to work. Thus soft scientists should finally develop the sorts of understandings which Newton brought hard sciences, and then let’s see what they can do!
“I can see how Star Wars might have harmed sci-fi by making it mainstream.”
It’s a mixed bag. SW showed the bean counters that science fiction was profitable, so one result is that us fans get a lot more content. The downside is that so much of it is pop schlock for the groundlings.
But there have been some wonderful gems that we might not otherwise have ever seen.
“Did sci-fi get so popular that sci-sci started going that way as well?”
Different phenomenon. What I’m saying (only half-seriously) is that a world in which SF is so common may have some scientists thinking funny ideas — science fictional ideas not well grounded in physical reality. (Way too many seem to take warp drive seriously, for instance.)
I’m not saying they shouldn’t explore fanciful ideas: just keep in mind they are fanciful is all.
“We certainly agree that hard science has become too imaginary, and surely somewhat because particle colliders and such cost so much (and are probably hopeless anyway).”
No, we don’t agree on that. Hard science, in general, is doing just fine. Material sciences are proceeding brilliantly. Most sectors of science are. It’s just theoretical physics (and theories of consciousness) that get a bit out there. It has to do, I think, with the lack of hard data.
BTW: I fully support building bigger colliders, because you can’t not look — which is what I perceive detractors to be saying. Sorry, that’s just plain wrong. Science always looks!
We knows what we might find around the corner.
“Science has cancer,…”
No, sorry, I disagree with that. The wonderful thing about science is that it proceeds despite scientists. It’s just that what some theoretical physicists are doing isn’t really science so much as philosophy (or science fiction)… which is to say: mental masturbation.
Which isn’t wrong, per se (it’s even fun), but doesn’t really contribute to anything substantial.
As for the soft sciences, it may turn out like weather prediction or orbital calculations. In both cases (albeit for somewhat different reasons), the only way to truly model the system is with the system itself.
I suspect there are real world situations (perhaps the brain is one) where no simplified model can ever achieve what the system itself does. Reality is unbelievably complex and intricate, and it tends to be holistic.
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“Even Mike seems charmed by him.”
Really Eric? Because I don’t share in your vehement dismissal of the MWI, it can only be because I’m charmed by Carroll? (Never mind that I’m actually far from Carroll’s position.) Here’s an alternative narrative. You can’t muster logical arguments for your biases, so you’re resorting to ad hominem.
Well okay Wyrd, I guess I’m more skeptical that things are generally fine in science. It’s actually the holistic thing that I’m talking about. Without generally accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology, science should thus have associated problems. We can’t exclude the mechanisms from which to do science from science (which is to say, no such agreement), and expect it to nevertheless work as well as it otherwise might.
To me weather prediction is a great example of a hard science with too many variables which thus render it impossible for us to predict very far out. Conversely human models don’t have anything approaching modern weather predictability. This may be because it’s us modeling us — we’re inherently close to what we’re modeling. I suspect that anyone who does “objectively” face up to human nature, may thus be accused of being “immoral”. The weather however, yes that’s something that we should be reasonably objective about.
I agree that science advances despite scientists. I’d simply like to there to be rules from which to do science which cause scientists do their jobs better than they do today. Perhaps chemists and such would review such rules and have absolutely no conflict — business as usual. Conversely fields such as theoretical physics, cognitive science, and psychology, may need to do things very differently in order to comply. Given their problems, certain generally accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology, should help such fields function better.
“I guess I’m more skeptical that things are generally fine in science.”
What exactly is it that you think is so broken to the point of being a “cancer”?
“To me weather prediction is a great example of a hard science with too many variables which thus render it impossible for us to predict very far out.”
There’s more to it than that. We are confounded by the difficulty of collecting data at high resolution (amounting to having data on, say, every cubic mile or every cubic meter).
An greater problem is chaos mathematics (which is also a problem in orbital mechanics). Calculating with numbers necessarily means rounding off those numbers, and the moment we do that we break the ability of the calculation to be accurate long term. That’s a big reason why weather forecasts are short term.
As I said, there seem to be systems that can only be accurately modeled by a sufficiently similar system. It may never be possible to effectively computationally model some complex systems.
The problem with many “soft” sciences is that we don’t even know what variables are involved. We don’t have good models.
When it comes to weather, our models are much better because weather isn’t as complex as people or society (it’s mostly just fluid dynamics). Or compare with orbital mechanics where we fully understand the model but actually calculating it runs into chaos mathematics issues.
“This may be because it’s us modeling us…”
I think it’s more the complexity of the system (us).
“I suspect that anyone who does ‘objectively’ face up to human nature, may thus be accused of being ‘immoral’. “
Doesn’t Mike (and many others, including myself) regularly post about objectively facing up to human nature? Are those posts “immoral” to anyone?
“I’d simply like to there to be rules from which to do science which cause scientists do their jobs better than they do today.”
Well, what specific rules would you like to see?
“Given their problems, certain generally accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology, should help such fields function better.”
I don’t see how. I’d say metaphysics has no place in physics, almost by definition. They’re kind of a Yin-Yang thing. And I don’t really see where epistemology has much value for science experiments.
I see axiology is a social-cultural-political concern. Is learning to exploit the atom a “good thing” or a “bad thing”? Atomic power, correctly done, seems like a huge win for the species (and it’s powered most of our spacecraft). Even the atomic bomb isn’t all “bad” if it can divert asteroids. [Apparently P45 thinks they can stop hurricanes.]
And mathematics is full of things its inventors explicitly said had no value, but which later turned out to be key to something real. Science is about finding out how reality works — value judgements come after the science.
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I was wrong to say that Mike, but it will not happen again. This was a quick, stupid, easy shot at a good friend. You’re of course right on all counts.
Thanks Eric. Sorry for snapping at you.
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Your weather prediction conception sounds right to me. And I suppose that my “cancer” characterization should be considered more rhetoric than legitimate analogy. I’m saying that the affliction hinders science, not that it will kill it off like a cancer might. You’ve asked for my own rule suggestions for science, so I’ll run through them in the attempt to better explain what I’m talking about.
On metaphysics, I’ve encountered conceptions similar to yours over at Sabine’s, so I guess this is normal. http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2019/04/yes-scientific-theories-have-to-be.html?showComment=1556278245743&m=0#c1929901861821281542
Regardless apparently physicists can’t do physics without at least an implicit metaphysical stance. Note that if things function magically rather than causally, then this should hinder our ability to figure out physical dynamics. Thus my single principle of metaphysics: “To the extent that causality fails, nothing exists to discover.”
If this were a basic principle of science today, then I believe that scientists would effectively split themselves up into two separate varieties. First there would be a fully causal side which would never seriously entertain supernatural notions given its brand of metaphysics. Then there would also be a side that permits itself to go both ways, and even though (theoretically) nothing exists to grasp beyond causal dynamics. Conversely today in science both sides are mixed together (which I consider to unnecessarily waste the time of full naturalists, and should tend to present them with unnecessary temptations).
My first principle of epistemology states: “There are no true or false definitions for the terms that we use, but rather simply more and less useful definitions from the context of a given argument”.
I believe that this would help scientists stop unproductively looking for what our various terms “truly mean”. No longer should they ask, “What is time?” or “What is consciousness?”. Instead they should try to define such terms as usefully as they can. Furthermore it should become more natural to try to grasp whatever implicit definitions that a given person seems to be using in the attempt to understand. My EP1 may be contrasted with “ordinary language” positions, such as that of the late Ludwig Wittgenstein.
My second principle of epistemology (or EP2) essentially formalizes the existing implicit scientific method, and also adds some specifics. It reads: “There is only one process by which anything conscious, consciously figures anything out. It takes what it thinks it knows (or evidence), and uses this to assess what it’s not so sure about (or a model). As a given model continues to remain consistent with evidence, it tends to become progressively more believed.” Earlier I mentioned this as “reason over faith”.
When I state this principle people tend to presume that I must be mistaken. Surely I haven’t been able to reduced things back to just one unique way for anything conscious, to consciously figure anything out? But is any skeptic able to come up with a reasonable alternative? I’m still searching for exceptions.
Then finally there is my single principle of axiology. Though all of science should suffer from the above, without the following understanding I suspect that soft sciences can only remain soft.
The idea is that the brain outputs a dynamic by which something other than it, experiences “valence”, “sentience”, “qualia”, “subjective experience”, or similar. I define this created entity as “conscious”. While the brain is fueled by means of neuron function, consciousness is fueled by means of this, or something which feels anywhere from horrible to wonderful. Apparently it is only this form of motivation which is able to provide sufficient autonomy under more open environments.
The main reason that science has had so much difficulty grasping this premise, I think, is because it violates what I call “the human morality paradigm”. If (as my theory suggests) ones own happiness is ultimately all that matters to this entity, is it effective for someone to openly state that to be the case? I don’t think so. Instead we should find it helpful to portray that we consider what’s good for them to also be what’s good for us. Here we display that we’re “moral” to them. Thus others should tend to help us out in the quest to help themselves out. I see this as the bread and butter of salesmanship. It seems to run so deep in us that we often shouldn’t even realize how we placate others or are so placated.
Regardless, if we must display that we’re not self interested products of our circumstances in order to better get what we want, then this may be why the basic science of psychology has not yet been able to acknowledge a formal purpose regarding conscious function. Thus this field should remain blind in this very basic regard.
(Interestingly however the “side science” of economics does acknowledge the motivation which I speak of. Apparently this field is far enough outside of core of human function to not sufficiently threaten the human morality paradigm.)
“I’m saying that the affliction hinders science, not that it will kill it off like a cancer might.”
But you haven’t said how. (Unless I missed it?)
“On metaphysics, I’ve encountered conceptions similar to yours over at Sabine’s, so I guess this is normal.”
I would say it’s the mainstream view, yes, and for good reason.
“Thus my single principle of metaphysics: ‘To the extent that causality fails, nothing exists to discover.'”
That phrase is meaningless to me. Scientists, almost by definition, believe in causality. Science is, at its root, the belief the universe operates according to causes.
People who don’t believe in causality are either philosophers with strange ideas they can’t prove or those deluded souls who believe in actual magic (and even many of them believe in magical causality).
“Conversely today in science both sides are mixed together”
Can you point to a single scientist who doesn’t believe in causality?
If you’re talking about things like multiverse theories, MWI, or supersymmetry, those things are based on causal principles. No one involved that I know of thinks there’s any magic.
“My first principle of epistemology states: ‘There are no true or false definitions for the terms that we use, but rather simply more and less useful definitions from the context of a given argument’.”
The labels themselves are arbitrary (a matter of language), but the definitions behind them are necessarily true by fiat.
Here’s the thing: Science cannot proceed without agreed upon definitions. (Just look at all the confusion in the field of consciousness because everyone has their own definition of what it means.)
Civilization cannot proceed without agreed upon definitions. Even personal relationships cannot proceed without agree upon definitions. Communication requires agreeing on definitions, pure and simple.
“Furthermore it should become more natural to try to grasp whatever implicit definitions that a given person seems to be using in the attempt to understand.”
No, no, no, a thousand times no. That way lies madness. I reject that notion with prejudice.
“My second principle of epistemology (or EP2) essentially formalizes the existing implicit scientific method,”
What’s wrong with the scientific method itself, then? It’s worked pretty well for very long. Your “extension” of it adds nothing, since that’s what scientists have always thought.
It’s well known that no theory is ever proven true. They can be proven false, but never true. It is always the case the theories gain credence through testing and consistent results.
“Then finally there is my single principle of axiology.”
I confess I have no idea what you’re talking about here. You seem to be invoking your pet valence theory, but I don’t see what that has to do with science.
Science is our attempt to understand reality, nothing more.
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So you don’t perceive there to be any substance dualist scientists out there? Hmm…. I must admit that Wikipedia doesn’t really mention them in its dualism discussion — essentially just philosophers. I guess that I’ve mainly been frustrated by how poorly the physics community has treated Einstein’s QM interpretation. As mentioned in Wikipedia “Albert Einstein believed that randomness is a reflection of our ignorance of some fundamental property of reality…,” [which I consider to be a sensible and naturalistic interpretation] “…while Niels Bohr believed that the probability distributions are fundamental and irreducible, and depend on which measurements we choose to perform.” [Conversely I see this as an arrogant and supernatural interpretation].
It’s of course fine with me if it’s true that science is already quite healthy in this regard. In that case my only metaphysical principle would mainly exist to keep philosophers in line as well, not to mention humanity in general. Regardless, that’s my only metaphysical position.
On definition, it sounds like you’re a fan of the “ordinary language” philosophers. But notice that this is the status quo today and things are still quite a mess. For example we generally speak as if we need to finally figure out what consciousness truly is — as if science has not been able to discover that truth. To me this is flat out wrong. There are no true or false definitions for this term or any other. Instead I consider there to be more and less useful definitions in the context of a given argument. Usefulness brings acceptance.
Consider modern panpsychists. They seem able to exploit this situation by pumping out papers which suggest that there is some kind of “phi” integration stuff associated with nature itself, and that this defines what consciousness truly is. Many seem to be swayed!
Conversely from my own convention the panpsychist is free to directly define consciousness as something inherent to matter, but must also demonstrate a general usefulness for adoption. Why is it useful to say that the computer that I’m typing on is sort of conscious, or to the level of an associated phi score? Why is it useful to say that a person’s phi score drops given sedation, or perhaps death (I presume)? Of course there’s nothing useful regarding the way that they define “consciousness”, so I suspect that my convention would do great harm to this movement.
At the end of the day I believe that the theorist must be given freedom to define speculative terms in any manner at all, and so that others can try to grasp and assess their ideas. Standard “ordinary language” epistemology hinders this, and yet what benefit does this provide? People commonly still seem to discuss things by means of conflicting definitions, and so talk past each other.
As for my second principle of epistemology, modern particle physics is my go to example that an implicit scientific method isn’t always sufficient. Here phenomenal evidence has been replaced by notions of “beauty”. I doubt that Peter Woit and Sabine Hossenfelder alone will be sufficient to fight the big money interests which corrupt their field. If however a sensible explicit principle from which to figure things out we generally accepted, then the tide should change in their favor.
I see that you haven’t proposed any exceptions to my EP2….
Then regarding axiology, I’m adding another way to take this at the current end of the comments.
“I guess that I’ve mainly been frustrated by how poorly the physics community has treated Einstein’s QM interpretation.”
He remains one of the most revered names in science. He’s one of those scientists everyone has heard of. He is so revered people constantly claim he said things he didn’t just to make their quote sound smarter.
But he was human and just as capable of being wrong as anyone.
Your emotional issues, or the emotional issues of others, aren’t what science is about. They are social and emotional matters.
“On definition, it sounds like you’re a fan of the ‘ordinary language’ philosophers.”
Well, I am, but that has nothing to do with my position on definitions.
We’ve gone over this before, and it seems you’re either unwilling or unable to understand what I am saying, so I won’t waste the time of either of us on old ground.
“For example we generally speak as if we need to finally figure out what consciousness truly is — as if science has not been able to discover that truth.”
We do. And it hasn’t (so far).
The same could once be said of everything science has figured out.
“Consider modern panpsychists. They seem able to exploit this situation by pumping out papers which suggest that there is some kind of “phi” integration stuff associated with nature itself, and that this defines what consciousness truly is.”
Well, I view both panpsychism and IIT as non-starters, so I’m not super well-read on the two, but I believe Phi is a measure of interconnections and isn’t about panpsychism, per se.
“Conversely from my own convention the panpsychist is free to directly define consciousness as something inherent to matter, but must also demonstrate a general usefulness for adoption.”
I disagree with that on every level. In fact, what you’re describing is, in my book, crackpottery.
No, you are not free to define consciousness as inherent to matter if that’s not the reality of the matter. You are free to hypothesize it, but then it’s on you to prove it.
Science isn’t philosophy. You don’t get to make up crap. You have to prove crap.
“I see that you haven’t proposed any exceptions to my EP2…”
No, because as I said, it’s a tautology, but if you really want me to address it, fine, I will…
“There is only one process by which anything conscious, consciously figures anything out.”
As opposed to what? Something non-conscious figuring something out? The only thing that can “figure something out” is a conscious system. So this sentence means nothing.
As for the rest of it, as I said, that’s basic science. Nothing is ever proved, only disproved. There’s a well-known way of stating it:
This can never be proven without examining every swan that was, is, and will be. But it can be disproved the moment we find a non-white swan.
“Then regarding axiology, I’m adding another way to take this at the current end of the comments.”
Please don’t do it for my sake. I’m just not interested.
Sorry to butt into this lengthy two-way, but I’d like to contribute a few comments: The various “Philosophies of Consciousness” are all garbage, except for Philosopher Searle’s Biological Naturalism, which simply says that consciousness is a biological phenomenon and there’s no reason to believe that science in principle cannot eventually identify the details of its production. Couple that with Neuroscientist Damasio’s identification of consciousness as a feeling (read his The Feeling of What Happens), with core/creature consciousness being the feeling of being an organism centered in a world and you’re getting somewhere. Core consciousness is clearly a felt simulation of “organism centered in a world.” Damasio refers to ours as extended consciousness, which is core consciousness overlaid with complex symbolic and story processing capability.
Panpsychism and neutral monism (both upwardly abstracted dodges for the embarrassment of mind-body dualism), IIT, “what-its-likeness” and the like are all philosophical gibberish that completely ignores the biological nature of consciousness—biological consciousness is the only kind of consciousness there is. I suspect that proponents of those indefensible philosophical proposals appear to be using the word consciousness because of its current cachet. IIT is either Philomatics or Mathosophy but has nothing to do with organic consciousness either. Ditto every HOT I’ve encountered. Crackpottery indeed, of the philosophic kind that appeals to the hopelessly multisyllable-addicted. Consciousness-gaga.
I’m only familiar with Axe-ology, the study of the relationship of sharp-bladed tools to a line of men’s grooming products. 😉
Any comments regarding these perspectives might be better placed at a root level … it’s pretty indented in here … 😉
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One question: Is “wetware” (biology) the only way to make a functioning brain? Would a “Positronic” brain — where all brain components identical but are constructed of plastic, metal, or silicon — a viable idea? (Say it might even have to be “grown” something akin to how crystals grow.)
One can also view it as the end point of David Chalmers’ “fading and dancing qualia” argument.
I have a strong suspicion such a thing might work. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t.
Well, Sir Smythe, the wetware implementation of a functioning brain is the only known implementation. Searle’s response to your question would probably be “No” in that alternate substrates would, at best, be computational models of the brain and, as is the case of computational models of digestion that are incapable of digestion, wouldn’t result in the felt simulation that is consciousness.
The glaring omission in nearly all philosophical theories of consciousness is the missing embodiment. Understandably, I suppose, philosophers tend to believe that the brain’s core mission is to think but, in fact, the feeling of embodiment centered in a world is, I would guess, upwards of 99% of our experience. As regards consciousness as a feeling, although most people conceive of feelings as being physical (body associated) feelings such as pain, touch, temperature (cold/hot) and the like, all of the contents of consciousness are feelings, including sight, hearing and, indeed, thought itself. Rather than the usual conception of thought as some airy, ghostly thing (hence body-mind dualism), the embodied characteristic of thought is obvious when we consider that thinking in words is vocalization-inhibited speech—physical subvocalizations that can be detected by the way—and thinking in pictures, as autist Temple Grandin reports, is, similarly, sight-inhibited vision.
Descartes’ realization should have been,”I feel, therefore I am”—straight-up physicalism.
“Descartes’ realization should have been, ‘I feel, therefore I am’ — straight-up physicalism.”
A cogent point (although I’m fond of cognition, too 😉 ).
“…in that alternate substrates would, at best, be computational models of the brain…”
We haven’t talked much, so you might not be aware of my strong stance opposing computationalism (lots of blog posts, lots of comment threads 😀 ). That said, it’s not on my non-starters list, like IIT or panpsychism is, because it’s possible (in my mind) that computationalism might be true.
I just don’t think so.
That said, what I’m proposing here is expressly not computationalism. I’m wondering if a constructed brain — physically and functionally identical to a human one — would feel the same embodiment that we do.
It would need to be constructed with artificial neurons that functioned like biological ones (that is, they are signal processing devices, not computational devices). There would be constructed analogues of all aspects of the human brain. Cellular biology replaced with something constructed.
Still think “No”? Its biology or bust?
Hope this reply ends up in the right place …
Wyrd, as a fan of cognition, per Lakoff and Johnson in Philosophy in the Flesh (and still not contradicted) you’d be interested in the fact that upwards of 95% (probably 98%) of the brain’s cognitive operations are unconscious and not available to consciousness in any way. We just get to be aware of the skim. Great book, by the way, although they should’ve consulted with some physicists for their discussion of Time.
“I’m wondering if a constructed brain [with artificial neurons]—physically and functionally identical to a human one—would feel the same embodiment that we do.”
Of course, the easiest and most enjoyable way to create a consciousness is by having reproductive sex … 😉 But your mention of neurons suggests that you might not have been disabused of a belief in cortical consciousness which, in spite of its popularity, is a completely evidence-free hypothesis—no one has been able to cite any evidence for it whatsoever. For an alternate hypothesis with compelling evolutionary, observational and experimental evidence, check out Damasio’s (with Parvizi) “Consciousness and the brainstem” from:
… and other PDF’s of Damasio’s most interesting writings are Google’able as well. Then read “Consciousness Without a Cerebral Cortex” by Bjorn Merker for more evidence of the story, from:
In short, “… all aspects of the human brain …” is vastly more than the cortical connectome and I seriously doubt that every cell of every brain structure will ever be successfully mapped, or their functionality precisely understood, both those that produce consciousness and those that contribute to it. And then there’s the complex biochemical interplay to consider. Additionally, we can’t neglect the possible interactions with the vast cellular assemblies of the brain that are responsible for the “automatic” processes that sustain life.
So I still think “No”. The incomprehensible complexity of the effort makes reproductive sex seem the most agreeable approach, in which case the “bust” in “biology or bust” takes on a delightful new meaning … 😉
If we ever were to create something that experienced a single artificial feeling though, I would be very concerned about the moral hazards because that feeling might be unrelievable pain and we might have no way to know.
“We just get to be aware of the skim.”
“But your mention of neurons suggests…”
As you mention later:
“In short, “… all aspects of the human brain …” is vastly more than the cortical connectome…”
Yes, exactly, which is why I said “all brain components identical” as well as “physically and functionally identical to a human one” and “constructed analogues of all aspects of the human brain.” 🙂
“I seriously doubt that every cell of every brain structure will ever be successfully mapped…”
I’m also not talking about recreating an existing brain. If such a thing is possible, it’s much further in our future than constructing a new virgin brain.
The thing is, we humans casually create about 350,000 new units per day, so I don’t think it’s out of question that we’ll also figure out how to create (or perhaps grow) an artificial one. It might be necessary to train it as we do our own brains — myelin, for example, continues to form until almost 30 (and I believe never fully stops).
(Myelin turns out to be crucial to signaling. In fact, it’s growth during our early years is thought to be why world-class expertise in many areas requires starting in childhood. It may also be a factor in why learning a new language is harder as one ages.)
But unless one posits some special magic in biology that cannot be replicated in any other way, I don’t see why a functionally identical system — one that takes into account the totally of brain operation — couldn’t work.
“If we ever were to create something that experienced a single artificial feeling though, I would be very concerned about the moral hazards because that feeling might be unrelievable pain and we might have no way to know.”
Why couldn’t we just ask it? (You know, once we got it to stop screaming.)
Mike, I’ve avoided your blog since you went all emotional on the evidence-free cortical consciousness hypothesis … your grasping nonsense remark that “All of neuroscience is the evidence.” But I keep getting these recent posts because of my initial contributions last February, so I thought I’d pop in briefly.
Did you ever bother to read Davies’ About Time?
You don’t believe in relativity physics because you reject the relativity of simultaneity, which is a fundamental component, as well as its direct implications. You continue to believe in your illusion of a flowing time also, as witnessed by your inexplicable “Consciousness needs time to happen in …” assertion—not an exact quote perhaps but I believe it captures your position. Einstein stated that, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Your statements indicate that you’re not one of those “people like us.” But, referring to the notion of a flowing time, Einstein also said to Henri Bergson, “The time of the philosophers does not exist”—so perhaps you’re a philosopher.
At any rate, quantum events do not “happen” because nothing happens in the block universe. I refer you to W. M. Stuckey’s Beyond the Dynamical Universe for a compelling discussion. Although chapters 7 and beyond by philosopher Michael Silberstein are pure philosophical nonsense, as he absurdly “solves” his dualism with Wm. James’ neutral monism, the Relational Block Universe physics of the first six chapters is most interesting.
Since ours is a block universe, Everett’s MWI makes sense if the existence of innumerable block universes “parallel” to ours is assumed—they already exist in their totality as with ours. That way, the unobserved quantum “outcomes” can be seen as events in another block universe, instead of the absurd dynamic-view notion of an entire universe being somehow “spawned” as each wave function collapses. Viewed in this most credible way, Everett’s MWI is not at all “bizarre and absurd.”
Have a nice day.
Well, I’ll certainly agree that someone got emotional in that discussion 🙂
“Did you ever bother to read Davies’ About Time?”
I haven’t. Sorry. Too many competing interests.
“You don’t believe in relativity physics because you reject the relativity of simultaneity,”
I think you’ve lost track of the point I made in the post this discussion is associated with, where the relativity of simultaneity is a central part of the argument. I accept the relativity of simultaneity; the model is too predictive. And I also accept the block universe, although with less certitude than you.
On the point about the experience of consciousness needing time, I do think that’s correct. Consciousness and the block universe exist at different levels of organization, different levels of abstraction. Which is to say, we may exist in a block universe, but the nature of consciousness, the level at which it exists, means we can’t ever actually experience it as a block universe, just as, if we were characters in a video game, we’d never be able to experience the video game itself as anything other than our reality.
So, saying nothing ever happens in the block universe is, I think, a mismatch in levels of abstraction. Which is to say, it’s relative to your perspective. Insisting that it isn’t doesn’t seem, well, relative, but absolutist in thought. And as structures inside the block universe, the only perspective we can ever truly take is the one as one those structures. We can imagine the block universe, conceptualize it, but in and of itself, it’s beyond our ability to experience it as the static timeless block posited.
On the existence of innumerable block universes, that seems similar to a variant of the MWI I’ve sometimes seen called the Many Interacting Worlds interpretation, where the universes all already exist, but just interact with each other. Another way of viewing MWI compatible with the block universe model is as the growing multiverse as a static structure that branches out along the time dimension. In that view, what we perceive of as our universe is just one of the branches.
For everyone’s enjoyment and edification, I’ve temporarily made the chapter “Relational Blockworld and Quantum Mechanics” from Stuckey’s Beyond the Dynamical Universe available at:
I’ll be removing it soon, so fetch it quickly! Although I suspect Stuckey wouldn’t mind the limited sharing (the book is $70), you didn’t get it from me … 😉
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Folks, if you’ve had the opportunity to read Stuckey’s chapter 4, you’ve come t understand that we’re not stuck with either the mysterious Copenhagen Interpretation or the Many Worlds Interpretation, both of which are dynamical views. Instead, Stuckey describes the explanatory power of the block universe in understanding quantum observations and shows that “spooky action at a distance” and the like can be dispensed with.
Here’s a related exposition by Vesselin Petkov of the Minkowski Institute (yes, that Minkowski of four-dimensional spacetime fame) that offers another, most interesting explanation. From the Minkowski Institute book Space and Time – Minkowski’s Papers on Relativity, page 18:
“Despite Feynman’s desperate appeal to regard Nature as absurd the history of science teaches us that all apparent paradoxes are caused by some implicit assumptions. A consistent conceptual analysis of only one of those quantum mechanical paradoxes – say, the famous double-slit experiment, discussed by Feynman—almost immediately identifies an implicit assumption—we have been taking for granted that quantum objects exist continuously in time although there has been nothing either in the experimental evidence or in the theory that compels us to do so. Just imagine—a fundamental continuity (continuous existence in time) at the heart of quantum physics. And no wonder that such an implicit assumption leads to a paradox—an electron, for example, which is always registered as a pointlike entity and which exists continuously in time, is a classical particle (i.e. a world-line in spacetime) that cannot go simultaneously through both slits in the double-slit experiment to form an interference pattern.
However, if we abandon the implicit assumption and replace it explicitly with its alternative—discontinuous existence in time—the paradox disappears. Then an electron is, in the ordinary three-dimensional language, an ensemble of constituents which appear-disappear ∼ 1020 times per second (the Compton frequency). Such a quantum object can pass simultaneously through all slits at its disposal.
In Minkowski’s four-dimensional language (trying to extract more from his treasure), an electron is not a worldline but a ‘disintegrated’ worldline whose worldpoints are scattered all over the spacetime region where the electron wavefunction is different from zero. Such a model of the quantum object and quantum phenomena in general provides a surprising insight into the physical meaning of probabilistic phenomena in spacetime—an electron is a probabilistic distribution of worldpoints which is forever given in spacetime.
Had Minkowski lived longer he might have described such a spacetime picture by the mystical expression ‘predetermined probabilistic phenomena.’ And, I guess, Einstein would be also satisfied—God would not play dice since a probabilistic distribution in spacetime exists eternally there.”
That’s an interesting idea. But I’m not sure it’s any less bizarre than the other interpretations. Although like all interpretations, maybe its particular bizarreness is less objectionable to some than the ones in the other interpretations.
My question is, what determines where the object exists or doesn’t exist? And what narrows its locations after measurement? (Or what gives us the impression that it does?) How does it scale up to classical mechanics?
Mike, it appears that you continue to grant existence to the dynamic-view of the block universe. I’ll first address your comment of August 30th before this latest one, so please refer back to that for context.
Regarding your belief about “consciousness needing time”—once again, there is no flowing time in the universe. No experiments to test for it have ever been proposed and there is no evidence whatsoever that it exists. Your statement to the contrary—your “needing time”—is as evidence-free as the cortical consciousness hypothesis you support.
You’re correct that we cannot directly experience the block universe. We also cannot directly experience the curvature of spacetime. Therefore, consistent with your position, we must believe in another “level of organization”—perhaps the reality of Newtonian gravity, which your logic would maintain is “… the only perspective we can ever truly take …”. Your logic would compel us to believe in a force that’s exerted by mass that propagates through space instantaneously, in spite of that inconvenient speed of light limitation. Since that is provably not the case, your another “level of organization” perspective must be ruled out.
Our dynamic-view of the block universe is rooted in the stream of consciousness, but the dynamic-view does not exist in the world—it is instead a consciousness-enabled perception of the block universe. The dynamic-view is not a competing reality at another “level of organization” and, were consciousness to vanish from the universe, the dynamic-view would vanish along with it. Saying that nothing ever happens in the block universe is not a mismatch in levels of abstraction, it’s a descriptive fact about spacetime. So your continued insistence on the existence of flowing time, a “stubbornly persistent illusion” to be sure, once again demonstrates your commitment to defending the evidence-free indefensible.
Petkov’s explanation is not at all bizarre, especially compared with the truly bizarre implications of both the Copenhagen and Many Worlds Interpretations. To answer your questions, as Petkov explains, the electron exists as “… a ‘disintegrated’ worldline whose worldpoints are scattered all over the spacetime region where the electron wavefunction is different from zero.” The spacetime locations of the individual worldpoints may be discovered through measurement, but are not in any sense “narrowed.” Those worldpoints are permanent features of spacetime, where everything that we consider “past” and “future” exists all-at-once. Spacetime doesn’t change and nothing in spacetime ever “happens” or has happened. Classical mechanics is not a “scale-up” of a dynamically conceived quantum reality but is, rather, a description of the regularities in the dynamic-view which is, once again, an artifact of consciousness.
Regarding my claim that the cortical consciousness proposal is evidence-free, it is simply incorrect to cite “all of neuroscience” as evidence, as you have done, which erroneously includes the neuroscientific evidence for sub-cortical consciousness. If you know of supporting evidence for cortical consciousness, or any hypothesis, you should be able to cite that evidence and direct us to the source documents and/or the credible publications that have reported it.
Mike, I’d truly like to learn what grounds your strong opinions about cortical consciousness, your “levels of organization” and “consciousness needing time.” I can only imagine that you’re swayed by majority opinion in the cortical consciousness case, as if the issue were decided by a vote. And I’m left to imagine that, in the block universe case, you might be deeply dismayed by the implication that you’ve had nothing at all to do with directing your life—that you are, instead, repeatedly experiencing the eternally fixed construction that is your worldtube in spacetime. For those of us reared in the Western tradition, this realization represents a severe blow to the Ego and is a denial of Self and self-determination that far transcends the trivial realization of the absence of free will.
As I said, those are guesses on my part. But I’d be interested in learning the reasons why you, as an obviously thoughtful and apparently rational person who is well schooled in scientific methodology, persist in supporting these evidence-free propositions.
(By the way, and most trivially as well, in your comment about an MWI compatible with the block universe model, I believe that a “growing multiverse as a static structure” is a self contradiction incompatible with the fixed block universe reality.)
Here’s an excellent review of Beyond the Dynamical Universe by Karen Crowther:
A very good read that provide an overview of Stuckey’s entire thesis.
As I’ve mentioned before, philosopher Silberstein’s adoption of neutral monism is ridiculous. Among other things, he never defines consciousness and dismisses Searle’s Biological Naturalism with the absurd statement that the Neural Correlates of Consciousness haven’t been found, so BN is false. Huh? His (and apparently other philosophers’) phrase “Time as Experienced” makes no sense in a block universe where there is no flowing time and we have no sensory organ responsive to time of any sort, a biological fact he mentions but then ignores. He is obviously a dualist and adopts Wm. James’ neutral monism as an upward abstraction that accounts for his dualism. He spends many, many pages ripping panpsychism to shreds, which it truly deserves, but he does so because he sees panpsychism as philosophical competition for neutral monism in resolving his dualist embarrassment.
Also, panpsychists and neutral monists never offer an explanation of how their undefined and non-biological version of consciousness manages to make it into brains but not John Deere tractors or Dell Latitude laptops. I’d really enjoy reading their explanations …
On the levels of abstraction, I’m having trouble seeing if you don’t understand this concept, or are simply rejecting it. In the end, it might not matter. I accept the block universe (provisionally), but I also reserve the right to discuss dynamics when not talking in the context of the entire universe. The article you link to mentions the “ant’s view” vs “The God’s eye view”, which gets at a similar concept. The ant can make use of many theories that are predictive of its experiences in its view, even if the dynamics of those theories are ultimately just patterns in the overall block universe.
Which view or context we use depends on which is productive for the moment. If switching the the God’s eye view provides insights, then well and good. But often that view won’t be productive. We are structures embedded within the block universe and have to work with how we perceive things to work.
On the quantum explanation, Crowther mentions a slogan that seems to encapsulate the stance I perceive in that explanation: “everything is the way it is because everything is the way it is”. Some may see this as useful, but I find it unsatisfying. It doesn’t seem like a productive insight. More of an admonition to stop asking questions. But maybe I’m missing something?
On consciousness and the brainstem, I think we have to just agree to disagree on this. Anything I say would just be a repeat of past points we’ve litigated many times.
On me being dismayed by the block universe, I don’t believe we have contra-causal free will, although I do think, operating at a completely different level of abstraction, that social responsibility remains a coherent and productive concept. I’ve encountered lots of people who insist that it’s incorrect to ever speak of making decisions or choices since we don’t have metaphysical free will. I choose not follow their advice. 🙂
(When a statement is trivially easy to knock down, it usually means you’ve strawmanned it. Without interpretational charity, interesting philosophical discussions are not possible.)
“I accept the block universe (provisionally),…”
Just to weigh in on an interesting conversation, I file the block universe under “probably not the case” and I also file contra-causal free will as “possibly actually the case (maybe).” 😀
Mike and Wyrd, as to your accepting the block universe “provisionally” or, more emphatically, “probably not,” the issue is squarely in the domain of physics. Neither of you have claimed to be physicists, but if you are, please advise forthwith and register your professional perspectives.
I would guess that the percentage of physicists who accept the block universe is greater than the percentage, about 97 percent I believe, of climate scientists who believe in anthropogenic climate change which, I assume, you accept. After a professional lifetime of belief in the block universe, physicist Lee Smolin became very upset as he grew old about not having free will, as are both of you, I expect— I don’t mean the “old” part but the “free will” part” 😉 —and began to search for a replacement for relativity physics, which he discusses in his Time Reborn, where he includes a clear description of the relativity of simultaneity (RoS). Smolin writes, “… Einstein’s theories of relativity are the strongest arguments we have for time being an illusion masking a truer, timeless universe.” In About Time Paul Davies wrote that “… most physicists accept without question the concept of the timescape, i.e., the block universe.
If you claim at all to adhere to the findings of repeatedly confirmed physics, your lack of belief in the block universe is simply insupportable. You do have some intriguing alternatives, though. First among them is to invalidate the repeatedly performed and confirmed Michelson-Morley speed of light experiment that conclusively rules out the existence of the aether, putting the kibosh on Lorentz aEther Theory (LET). If you have trouble doing that, you might cast doubt on the speed of light in some other way that no one is currently aware of, or you might join Smolin in his efforts or, as I’ve mentioned previously, you could experimentally demonstrate the existence of flowing time. Most sincerely, I say to all of these options—Good Luck with That! 😉
I’ve been intensively researching this very issue for over three years now in my investigation of Consciousness in the Block Universe and I’m nearing completion of the (hopefully) final version of my paper “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” that fully discusses the results of my investigation. “Breadcrumbs” refers to a handful of Einstein’s quotes referring to a belief in what he called the “eternity of life,” among them this Einstein quote from the book Living Philosophies that was reprinted in The New York Times Einstein obituary in 1955:
“It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.”
From a rich abundance of Einstein quotations, how this particular quote managed to make it into that obituary is unknown. Since obituaries for the famous are composed in advance, perhaps he was asked in advance to volunteer his preference. We’ll never know.
“Neither of you have claimed to be physicists, but if you are, please advise forthwith and register your professional perspectives.”
Damn. I guess I’m disqualified. 😦
Mike, let me add a bit more about the dynamic-view, which is surely not a new idea and is, as I’ve said, wholly an artifact of consciousness. If you’re a poetry fan, here’s 16th century poet Angelus Silesius saying the same thing:
Time is of your own making,
it’s clock ticks in your head
The moment you stop thought
Time too stops dead.
[BTW, I find Stuckey’s use of the “God’s-eye” and “ant’s-eye” terminology unfortunate, but he makes it clear early on that God’s-eye in no way implies a religious context any more than ant’s-eye implies insectuality. I much prefer the terms “block-view” and “dynamic-view.”]
Perhaps you’ve gotten the impression that I’m denying the validity of the dynamic-view, but I’m certainly not. The dynamic-view is all that’s available to us. It’s clear that the flow of consciousness animates the stories embedded in the static block universe. In The Fabric of the Cosmos Brian Greene writes, “The flowing sensation from one moment to the next arises from our conscious recognition of change in our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. And the sequence of change seems to have a continuous motion; it seems to unfold into a coherent story.”
Greene’s remark, “it seems to unfold into a coherent story” hints at an organizational insight about the brain’s functioning—the Story. We think in stories rooted in embodied metaphors which are themselves stories. Our “Self” is a story composed of innumerable stories. We understand ourselves and the external world in stories—all of our sciences are stories. In fact, viewing the brain as a Story Engine reveals the block universe to be full of stories, at all levels, in every discipline and wherever we look (talk about an Anthropic Principle!). The scientific stories reveal a consistency in implementation without which science would be impossible.
But physics has found a crack in the curtain—the apparently unavoidable RoS—that reveals the true nature of the universe underlying our dynamic-view: the unchanging block universe. And we cannot truly understand the dynamic-view without understanding that it’s rooted in the block-view and we must evaluate and adjust our beliefs accordingly. That’s how we can see that free will, however conceived, is an impossibility—there’s no radical freedom of any kind in the block universe. We are considered responsible for our actions because that’s a social convention learned from a very early age. In this regard, your use of the phrase “social responsibility” is telling and shows that the responsibility is not a consequence of an inborn characteristic or capability of the brain.
Regarding cortical vs. sub-cortical consciousness and “agree[ing] to disagree”, the disagreeable fact from your viewpoint is that the cortical consciousness hypothesis is evidence free. Additionally it’s not sensible evolutionarily, since it implies that consciousness somehow migrated from its original structures to a newly evolved one which would be, as far as I know, an unheard of evolutionary strategy for any other organ. Adding to that evidence-free deficiency is the fact that you have never responded to the cortical consciousness quandaries I presented: how a unified consciousness results from distributed cortical processing, how to account for Libet’s timing results and so on. Given all these deficiencies, I believe it’s appropriate to classify the cortical consciousness hypothesis as a faith-based belief and, although the Internet abounds with faith-based blogs, I don’t think you intend for SelfAwarePatterns to be one of those.
Most intriguing for me, in regards the very credible view that the cortex resolves the contents of consciousness, its functionality can easily be seen as that of the Story Engine I discussed above.
Philosopher Eric said: “I’d simply like to there to be rules from which to do science which ’cause’ scientists do their jobs better than they do today.”
It’s quite an insight to realize that the “rule of law” is the secret sauce of causation. If only reality was that simple; now the chorus from Five Man Electric Band:
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?”
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You imply that it’s insightful to associate the rule of law with causation, and so presumably if science doesn’t have explicit rules from which to work, associated problems should arise. But you’ve also suggested that it isn’t quite this simple. Is my quest for there to be a community of respected professionals with generally accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology, misguided? Or simply hopeless? Or perhaps you have a better plan?
Eric, I get the impression that your knowledge of science is sourced from what is best termed “popular science” as epitomized by PBS shows narrated by the likes of Morgan Freeman and William Shatner. For some actual science, in this case a real physicist doing real physics, please read Stuckey’s “Relational Blockworld and Quantum Mechanics”. Although the mathematics in Stuckey’s chapter is inaccessible to all but physics/mathematics professionals, much of what he writes can be understood by the lay reader. For an example of a real philosopher doing real philosophy, try P. M. S. Hacker’s “Philosophy—A Contribution, Not To Human Knowledge, But To Human Understanding.” I’ve provided links to both above. Lastly, for a serious analysis of the subject at hand, I recommend The Emergent Multiverse: Quantum Theory According To The Everett Interpretation by David Wallace.
After you’ve read and understood, to the extent possible, the contents of Stuckey’s chapter, Hacker’s paper and Wallace’s book, I trust you’ll get back to us with some possibly revised commentary about axiology.
Characterizing the educations of others in terms of PBS documentaries, doesn’t fly around here. If you’d like to have a discussion with me, you’ll first need to be polite.
Eric, there’s a considerable difference between an impression and a statement of fact. An impression is a feeling or idea. You respond as if I had omitted the phrase “I get the impression that” …
A community of respected professionals with generally accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology is not the answer. What you are proposing is simply another priesthood, an order which by design requires a high priest. And who will reign in your respected community as high priest? So is it misguided and hopeless? Yes. Is there a better plan? Yes, one has to go it alone and not rely upon an institution for answers, because meaningful change only occurs one person at a time.
In another note, the institution of science is working, all one has to do is view the landscape and take in all of the contributions the church has made, be them good, bad or indifferent. Theoretical physics is a troubled discipline simply because material reductionism has reached the limits of what can be known through observation. I listen to the likes of Sabine Hossenfelder trying to explain black holes, Sean Carrol’s many worlds interpretations and Donald Hoffman’s interface theory. They all remind me of a Catholic priest trying to explain the trinity, hopelessly lost in the arbitrary world of justification.
Did you ever finish my book?
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You’re reminding my why it’s difficult for us to have discussions. I’m perfectly happy with my solipsistic existence, where the only Truth that I can ever have, is that I exist in some manner. All else shall always remain stronger and weaker belief. It is from here I’d nevertheless like to improve the fallible institution of science, and so help this institution develop stronger beliefs about what exists.
Conversely you believe that you have certainty beyond your own existence, or Kant’s noumena. The interesting thing is that you hint about your understanding, but ultimately say that you won’t give it away unless someone pays you for it sight unseen.
No I didn’t quite make it through your book. Of course I could understand the motorcycle trip parts, but not the theory parts.
Eric, why would a solipsist desire discussions with people that don’t exist?
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Right Stephen, I’ve noticed confusion about the term. Technically there is an arrogant form of solipsism where something believes that it is all that exists. This is the ontological variety, and to me seems quite ridiculous. Then there is a modest epistemic version. Here all that can ever be known with perfect certainty about what ultimately exists, is one’s own existence. From here presumably all sorts of other things exist as well, though they can only be believed with various levels of confidence. I believe that my son exists (who just walked by) with more certainty than I believe that you exist, but I’d bet good money that you also exist.
That “… all that can ever be known with perfect certainty about what ultimately exists, is one’s own existence” must be a purely philosophical belief. Believing in all sorts of other things with only various levels of confidence would make for a harrowing experience when speeding down a busy freeway. I have to believe that you’re 100% certain in your gut that your car and all those other cars and drivers exist, not to mention the freeway itself … 😉
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Yes I know the freeways well Stephen, and driving them can indeed be a harrowing experience! For me it’s mostly done non-consciously while I’m hooking up to a podcast or copying latest blog comments to my “Speechify” app. It doesn’t help that I drive reasonably fast in heavy traffic. No issues so far however.
The thing about “100%”, is that I speak of it literally while most people speak of it colloquially. I use the term as the great Rene Descartes did. Furthermore this age of science explains quite clearly that everything that I perceive is some kind of cartoon representation of noumena. Yes I do believe that there is a reality beyond me with associated implications, though the only thing which I can ever be certain of regarding what truly Exists, is me. Like Rene, in the end I acknowledge the possibility that I’m actually being toyed with by some evil demon.
“I do believe that there is a reality beyond me with associated implications, though the only thing which I can ever be certain of regarding what truly Exists, is me.”
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Hey Wyrd … Word! 😉
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By the way, Eric, what anchors your certainty and your “certain” belief in your own existence? What is it that keeps your certainty itself from being illusory … and where does your certainty in that come from? [Insert endless regress here …]
Over at https://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_solipsism.html, Epistemological Solipsism is defined as “… a type of Idealism according to which only the directly accessible mental contents of an individual can be known. The existence of an external world is regarded as an unresolvable question or an unnecessary hypothesis, rather than actually false.”
Your foundational solipsism (with its unsupportable assumption of the certainty of one’s own experience) is, then, completely at odds with realism of any kind, so it’s difficult to understand why you should concern yourself with science at all, let alone critique it, given that you must consider everything about science—an attempt to understand the world—an unresolvable question. That being the case, I believe your position to be, at a minimum, incoherent.
Any form of solipsism is a dead end, Eric. The “great” Rene Descartes would still be in the oven doubting everything (even the oven) had it not been for Descartes’ inexplicable assumption of a compassionate God, Who was, most conveniently, a pretty nice Guy and not given to deception or practical jokes.
I hope there’s an app that can show the GPS of your car when you’re driving the freeways, Eric. Although non-conscious freeway driving, possibly assisted by some evil demon, may not be troubling to a solipsist, the rest of us would be eager to avoid you, regardless of your level of uncertainty about our existence. 😉
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For what it’s worth, I’ve always been attracted to you because of your momentary flashes of brilliance and genius. The following quote is one of those examples:
“Furthermore it should become more natural to try to grasp whatever implicit definitions that a given person seems to be using in the attempt to understand.”
The messy, chaotic sorting of competing definitions which can be perceived as madness is an absolutely essential component in the process of reaching an agreed upon definition from which to work. This principle is true whether it is a personal relationship between two individuals or the community of science. That is of course, unless one is willing to accept the definitions handed to us by the High Priest, then only compliance is required.
I disagree that definitions are true by fiat. Definitions themselves like the words that represent them are arbitrary. A circle of mutual definition and agreement is reached, and the definition is cast in stone. The negative side of this process is that those agreed upon definitions which are now cast in stone can be the very things that hold us hostage. So yeah, a crazy man’s perspective might add an intuitive insight that would never be considered by a so-called normal individual, and that insight might just lead to a breakthrough that moves the community of science forward…
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Here’s to us crazy passionate bastards Lee!
For axiology, let’s try this approach. (Mike, you might want to get in here as well.) I’ve been discussing the Chinese room with others lately, and like where it’s been going.
John Searle is in a room with huge sets of files associated with speaking Chinese, which is a language that he doesn’t speak. Written messages in Chinese come in, and he looks up answers from the files and so provides written Chinese messages out. If a non-sentient computer were to pass the Turing test, it is my contention that in principle an associated “Chinese room” could as well. But I wouldn’t say that either computer “understands” Chinese as a Chinese person does. Chinese people do so by means of a sentience based consciousness. These machines do not.
Now let’s say that we do create a sentient machine somehow (and I see that John believes that sentient machines are possible, since he considers the brain to be such a machine). In most regards it’s a normal computer, though for this one there’s a key that can be pressed which causes a pain that we might associate with getting smacked hard in the thumb. Ouch!
It is my position that all of the non-sentient computation of this computer, could in principle be done by John in the room looking up answers from the files. For example when a letter is pressed on its keyboard, this will provide input information for it to process. Thus if associated input notes were passed to John, he could then process them given the files and so provide associated output notes. For the normal computer we might see a letter on a screen, and obviously John doesn’t produce that. But his output notes should still correlate with the information by which the screen becomes animated. So we’d need another screen which is set up to accept such written note information in order to actually produce something like the original computer’s output. (Earlier letter key pressing information was converted to written notes on the input side of things, so it’s the same on the back end too).
What happens however, when the “thumb pain” key is pressed? Many people seem to believe that this pain will exist as nothing more than processed information itself. Thus John looking up these answers would in itself cause there to be pain associated with this Chinese room.
I however suspect that experiences such as pain exist as something more like an output of computation, as a screen image is, not just computation itself. So when we hit the “pain” key for the computer, it will do some associated processing, and this processing will animate a pain making machine that’s in there as well. Here an associated conscious entity which doesn’t otherwise exist, will now suffer the experience.
So back to the Chinese room, we pass written notes associated with the thumb pain key to John. He looks up responses and provides output notes just as he did for the auxiliary screen computation, though no pain yet exists. Then these notes go to a sentience producing machine which is set up to translate such information, and it’s this machine that creates an entity which thus suffers the noted experience.
We all know that brains are complex. But who is confident that brains effectively function as information processors exclusively, and so sentience shall exist as nothing more than the very stuff which John produces in the form of notes? Or does it seem more likely that in our heads, there may exist mechanisms from which to output our sentience, and thus processed information will tend to animate such mechanisms?
Regardless, for anyone who would like to grasp the nature of the brain architecture which I’ve developed, it will be imperative that they momentarily consider sentience as something more than information processing alone, which is to say as an output of certain mechanisms in the brain. And if anyone would like to share some brain architecture with me in which valence exists as information exclusively, I promise to grant them the required condition in my own attempt to understand and assess the nature of such a model.
I think you know my views on this. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, it’s all information processing.
The experience of pain can be extinguished by cutting certain connections to the anterior cingulate cortex. Bilateral cingulotomy is sometimes used as a treatment for severe chronic pain. Reportedly the person afterward still feels the interoceptive sensations, but without any discomfort.
There’s nothing magical about the neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex. The neural spikes going in and out are the same as in the rest of the brain. The region, due to its connections, just ends up performing certain types of evaluations, whether a particular sensation should be taken as a sign of actual or potential tissue damage.
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Okay Mike, you have a belief that “pain” for example exists as nothing more than processed information itself. And you consider this counterintuitive given that you can’t fault John Searle’s thought experiment — theoretically “pain” could thus exist by means of nothing more strange than a person with a vast set of files, properly processing input information. Two things about this however.
Firstly as a skeptic, can you really be that certain that what’s supposedly the most complex thing ever known, works essentially as you imagine? Note that my own model is also able to address why cutting certain connections to the anterior cingulate cortex might extinguish pain. It could be that valence production thus becomes disrupted just as processed output information to a computer screen can be disrupted. Or it could be that it’s more effective to consider this connection to sever input information before there is the required processing.
Secondly even if you’re pretty certain that you’re right and I’m wrong, is it a good idea to not give a competing idea the benefit of the doubt and so potentially grasp the working intricacies of such a model? You and I happen to have very similar beliefs in a great number of ways. Thus I think it behooves each of us to try to get into the mindset of the others’ model, that is just in case one or both of us are missing some things that the other is not. I do like my new “computer screen” analogy regarding valence production, but all I’m really saying here is that I’d like each of us to consider the others’ model from the proper premise.
I actually think Searle’s thought experiment is nonsense. If you approach it with the presupposition that the room as a system can’t understand Chinese, then you’ll find exactly what you want there. But if you don’t approach it with that presupposition, then it’s meaningless. Like so many philosophical thought experiments, it just reinforces people’s pre-existing biases.
“Firstly as a skeptic, can you really be that certain that what’s supposedly the most complex thing ever known, works essentially as you imagine?”
I leave substantial room for many different theories to be true: HOT, GWT, AST, etc. But they’re all inherently neural information processing theories. Is it possible there’s something else going on? Sure, but until there’s some kind of evidence for it, it’s just ungrounded speculation. The theories above are consistent with the available data.
“is it a good idea to not give a competing idea the benefit of the doubt and so potentially grasp the working intricacies of such a model?”
The problem is that theories of consciousness are a dime a dozen. Everyone and their brother has one. They’re everywhere. We have no choice but to pick and choose which ones to invest time on. I think the ones grounded in neuroscience and informed by the latest research are most likely to be fruitful, although as I’ve said before, I suspect it’s going to take many different theories, akin to how vitalism was replaced by a complex galaxy of biochemical models.
And Eric, it’s not like I haven’t spent a lot of time discussing your model.
This seems to be what the physicist Carlo Rovelli is currently working on. In this FXQI essay he shows (I think) how “meaning” is derived from the mutual information (a Shannon information concept) between the sensing mechanism and the environment and the evolutionary advantage associated with that mutual information, said evolutionary advantage being “valence”.
The way I would put it, some process (could be evolution, could be intentional) creates a mechanism for a purpose. That mechanism takes input and generates output. If the input “represents” (in quotes because this use has a specific definition) a state of affairs or a concept, and the output constitutes a valuable response relative to the purpose, i.e., the output is a valuable response to the meaning/intentional object/reference of the input, then that process (an information process) is a sentient/consciousness process.
So if the input “represents” thumb pain, and the output is a valuable response to “thumb pain”, like maybe the exclamation “Ouch!”, that entire process (input->mechanism->output) is an experience of thumb pain. And you don’t need anything more.
Note: the Chinese Room could experience thumb pain.
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[hmmm, bad link. Try googling “Meaning and Intentionality = Information + Evolution”]
Alright James, I’ve had a run through that paper. So another stray physicist? Okay. Anyway I’m going to begin from the conception that information processing itself, if done right, can indeed create a sentient entity as you and Mike suspect. Thus it’s quite different from a computer producing a screen image. Conversely that processing itself doesn’t effectively do anything, that is until the information animates an applicable screen. And really most of my ideas don’t depend upon the source of valence anyway. Thus from your model I’d like to see if you’re okay taking valence to the places that I do. So beyond that “Chinese rooms” and such can feel pain, tell me some things about your model….
Yikes. Where to start? My model is pretty much a model of process philosophy. Everything that happens is a process and can be described as input —>[mechanism]—> output. What is included in [mechanism] is relatively arbitrary but is usually chosen to aid explanation of something, like say, Consciousness.
In general, it’s not useful to ask whether a specific entity, like the Chinese room, is conscious. It is better to specify what types of processes are conscious-type processes, and then determine which conscious-type processes a given entity can perform.
So what is a conscious-type process? That was in my response above, but I’ll repeat it here: a conscious-type process is one where the input “represents” (in quotes because this use has a specific definition) a state of affairs or a concept, and the output constitutes a valuable response relative to the purpose, i.e., the output is a valuable response to the meaning/intentional object/reference of the input.
Note: a conscious-type process requires some kind of coordination between the input and the mechanism. While the input “represents” some concept, that feature is not inherent in the input. The represented concept is determined at the time of the creation of the mechanism. The mechanism is created for the purpose of interpreting that input as representing the concept and responding appropriately. A different mechanism can interpret the same input differently. To the mouse, the cat is the grim reaper. To the coyote, the cat is lunch.
So that’s a start. Let me know where it should go from here.
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That should get things going James. In the past I remember thinking that your “input —>[mechanism]—> output” description sounds quite like causality itself. So I’d think that if this were your main thrust then some would say “Come on man, we already know that. So give us your reductions? Tell us some useful new things about specific ‘input —>[mechanism]—> output’ stuff”. So make sure that you’ve got some of that as well!
One thing that troubles me about the paper that your shared, and many papers in academia actually, is that they seem so clinically devoted to nothing more than species survival. Of course I realize that I was designed to survive, and wouldn’t otherwise exist, but that’s beyond me. I’m about me, not my gene line. I consider this to be the case for conscious entities in general. It’s like many have no use for psychological function. So I wonder if any of your ideas get into what’s “good” for the individual beyond genetic proliferation?
Apparently from your model a conscious input “represents” stuff and an output is valuable to the purpose. So here the “represent” term becomes crucial. Let’s take that hypothetical machine which I mentioned that has a key which creates “thumb pain”. We sinisterly press the key, and so something now feels horrible. But I didn’t set this up so that it can effectively “do” anything about being in pain except feel it. So under your model does it have “conscious” type processes? Note that there is something it is like to have thumb pain, though this is your model so obviously take it where you like.
As the man said, there is nothing new under the sun. Lots of folks have been talking about this model. They just didn’t know it. For example, (conscious-type events marked by asterisk *)
input —> [final cause] —> [efficient cause]
material cause —> [efficient cause] —> Formal cause
input —> [neumenon] —> output
*input —> [dasein] —> output
Charles S. Peirce:
*Sign vehicle for object x —> [interpreter?] —> interpretant
*Chinese question —> [Chinese Room] —> Chinese answer
[Chinese Room] =
*Chinese question —> [Searle + notebook] —> English instructions
*English instructions —> [Searle] —> Chinese answer
Input1 —> [cooperator1] —> representor of x
Input2 —> [cooperator2] —> [interpreter of x]
*representor of x —> [interpreter of x] —> valuable response to x
x = feeling/phenomenon/what it’s like
*Input(x1,x2,x3) —> [mechanism] —> output (integration of x1 and x2 and x3)
Global Workspace Theory:
Input —> [mechanism] —> Global workspace in state of representing input
*Global workspace in state of representing input —>[mechanism]—>output
Higher Order Thought:
Input —> [mechanism] —> output (something in state of representing input)
*something in state of representing input —> [mechanism] —>output
*Input(conscious agent1, conscious agent2, …)—> [conscious agent] —> Output(conscious agent a, conscious agent b, …)
[responding to other parts separately]
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Me too. But hey, he’s just starting. That’s where I started. And this is the teleonomy /teleology distinction.
Input —> [mechanism] —> Output describes everything, including light bouncing off planets. So how do you get function, i.e., mechanisms like eyeballs that perform functions for a purpose? The answer is you start with a physical system that tends to direct the environment towards a given state. If that system meets certain requirements (for example: reproduction, variation, selection) it creates mechanisms that have a (teleonomic) purpose.
At some point you may get a mechanism which serves its purpose by interpreting its input as “representing” something else. You may also get a separate mechanism whose output has the sole purpose of “representing” that its input happened. This is how you get neurons, and once you have that you’re off to the races.
The next step is probably mechanisms that combine inputs and generate outputs that represent the combination, which we can call a concept. So a series of inputs representing pixels can be combined into one output which represents a line. Then you can generate a mechanism that combines several concepts like lines and circles in a particular pattern and outputs something that represents the combined pattern, say, a face. Ultimately you can create mechanisms whose outputs represent any concept, including time, motion, relations, math, etc.
And now we get meta. One of the abstract concepts that might get represented could be a goal. What is a goal? It’s a plan or intention or a tendency to direct the environment towards a given state. Sound familiar? So there can be mechanisms whose input includes a conceptual goal and whose output is other mechanisms which have the purpose of moving the environment toward the specified goal. In this case we call it teleological purpose, because it begins with a conceptual goal.
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Thanks James. Let me also explicitly state my own intentions here. It is my goal to gain a “working level” grasp of your model, which is to say not simply be able to recite various lecture points about it. We’ll be able to assess my progress by observing the extent to which I’m able to answer practical questions (such as Chinese room types of scenarios) in the way that its inventor (you) would answer them. Furthermore in order to succeed it should be crucial for me to not let my own positions interfere with yours.
It seems to me that you place all of reality under an “input —>[mechanism]—> output” dynamic. I consider your perspective naturalistic since if there were elements of our world that functioned beyond that sort of thing, then there’d be more than our world’s causal function at work. Like Einstein and I, I’d say that this renders you a determinist. I’ll call this stage 1.
My perception is that what I’ll call stage 2 exists as “teleonomy”. But instead of defining this as the standard “illusion of purpose associated with living function”, you’re saying that there can indeed be purpose here even without consciously constructed intent. Thus this concerns both the various life forms which evolution creates, and the stuff that it creates such as my computer or a cocoon for a caterpillar, but my current perception is that this stage also addresses weather systems and things in general that can be said to “do stuff”. I perceive that a fire be assess as teleonomic as well. Regardless, where would you put a cut off? What would you classify under stage 1 but not under stage 2?
I perceive stage 3 to indeed get particular. Here a mechanism serves its purpose, not by doing most anything, but rather by interpreting inputs as “representing” something else. So in general I think of this as “computation”, though apparently for this stage 3 mechanism, it doesn’t do this exclusively. Can you give me some practical examples of things which exist at this stage? Or perhaps it’s just a conceptual path to development though living things don’t effectively dwell here?
They I perceive a stage 4 which is about representation exclusively, and since you’ve mentioned neurons here I presume that you’re talking about brain function at a broad level. Ants for example have such machines in their heads. But my perception is that it’s not until a stage 5 that individual “concepts” may be combined so that full “pictures” emerge, for example. Regardless it may be that an ant brain exists here or even higher. Note that the computer that I’m typing on uses pixel information to represent things like lines, so it seems stage 5. Anyway I perceive nascent computation at stage three which gives way to standard computation by stage 5. And perhaps you didn’t mean for me to divide it up this far? But beyond various humanly fabricated machines, I perceive that life with neuron based computation “represents” the exterior world in order to better survive.
(A side question here would be your thoughts about genetic material. Could associated computational factories be considered to “represent”, and thus function at 3, 4, or 5 at such a micro scale?)
Now that we have a mechanism whose outputs could theoretically represent any concept, including time, motion, relations, math, etc, we get to the final stage. If a mechanism at level 5 represents “a plan or intention or a tendency to direct the environment towards a given state”, then that could be taken as a goal. Your point however is that this will create teleological purpose, and for the reason that a conceptual goal exists. Is that right? Or have I missed something and gotten too circular here? And how am I doing so far in general?
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Eric, you’re doing awesome so far, and thanks for engaging. This helps me a lot.
As prologue to what follows, I want to point out that any given [mechanism] referred to is potentially a compound mechanism made of sub mechanisms. Thus, “the United States”, or a colony of ants, or some subset of those (the U.S. Senate?) can be a mechanism.
Like you say, stage 1 is everything. Literally. To exist is to be a mechanism for at least one event. (This definition excludes abstractions from “existence” but not from “reality”.)
I haven’t finished thinking about stage 2, so some of this is new thought prompted by this conversation. Stage 2 is a tale of two mechanisms (at least). The first mechanism, which we can call a type A mechanism, is a physical system that creates other mechanisms. More specifically, it’s a system which creates type B mechanisms that direct some feature of the world towards a specific state. So “natural selection” is one such type A mechanism. A river could be another example. A river generates a trough/canal/canyon/bed. This river bed is a type B mechanism that keeps the water together instead of letting it spread out. It’s possible that a vortex or fire might fit this model, but I’m not sure. I don’t see how that would work right now.
Stage 3 requires reference to yet a third mechanism. This third mechanism doesn’t generate mechanisms, but it generates signals. This third mechanism is also a type B mechanism, and so it was generated by a type A mechanism, and the generation of the signal serves the purpose associated with the type A mechanism. This signal is only useful if there is a second type B mechanism which takes the signal as input and generates the output which directs the world toward a given state. Hormones would be a classic example of this kind of signal.
Stage 4 is when you get a mechanism that takes signals (created by other mechanisms) as input and generates signals (intended for subsequent mechanisms) as outputs. That’s your basic neuron. A simple chain of these is what generates the standard “knee jerk” reflex.
Stage 5 is, like you say, where you get the combination of signals to form concepts. Regarding ants, it’s possible that this happens within a single ant brain, but it’s also possible that it happens when a collection of ants interact in a particular way. I definitely think any computer is at this level.
So as you say, with stage 5 we have the ability to represent any concept, including goals. So now we can talk about stage 6, which requires yet a new mechanism we can call a type C mechanism. This is a mechanism that can take goal-signals as inputs and generate new mechanisms. These new mechanisms would tend to direct the world toward the conceptuailzed goal state.
Note: I haven’t spent a lot of time figuring out how this last part would work, so I’m going to go cogitate a bit, but I’m thinking about memory, analogy, and perceptual feedback. As an aside, when people talk about the brain being “predictive”, I translate that as creating a mechanism that responds to particular input, thus “predicting” the proper response to that input. I haven’t yet verified that it is the proper translation.
[are we having fun yet?]
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Yes James, I’m definitely having fun! This is part of a new strategy that I began a couple months ago. Beyond me there isn’t anyone who yet has a “working level” grasp of my ideas. Given that I’ve been blogging heavily with the same essential position for 6+ years, I find this quite troubling! But it could be that I also haven’t given the ideas of many enough “road testing”. So now instead of getting to a point where I disagree with someone’s position and thus move on, I’ve decided to accept the disputed point as hypothetically true in the quest to better test out their positions anyway. (Well at least when they don’t seem too misguided!)
For example, I suspect that brain processing in both its ancient and modern parts, may be conditioned to produce valence. This would be somewhat like the information processing of a technological computer that animates a screen. Just as no screen image will be produced by any computer that is not hooked up to a screen, no valence will be produced without associated mechanisms for producing it. Conversely you, Mike, and one other theorist friend that I’ve been talking with, are some of the people who suspect that valence occurs by means of information processing alone. Thus I’ve decided to go with that position in an attempt to gain a working level grasp of your models. If someone were to understand the model that you’ve developed nearly as well as you do, wouldn’t you thus be more interested in their opinions about it? Furthermore wouldn’t you thus have more incentive to demonstrate that you could gain a working level grasp of a model that they’ve developed, and even using a hypothetical contingency? I’d think so. So that’s been the focus of my efforts for the past couple of months.
Yes I did presume that you meant that mechanisms can exist within mechanisms. As I like to delineate this it’s all filed under “causality”, or something which I consider to function continuously rather than discretely in the end. But I also appreciate your exception regarding abstractions. I find it helpful to classify them entirely as potential products of conscious function that don’t otherwise “exist” (pace Max Tegmark and platonists in general of course!).
I’ve been doing some thinking about how it might be best to mark a distinction between your first and second stages as well. One way to go would be to say that stage 1 is ontological or “god’s eye”, while stage 2 is merely epistemic, or “human eye”. At the merely epistemic stage we can note mechanisms which produce others of “A”, “B”, “C”,… varieties for whatever terms we find useful to create in reductive or emergent capacities — rivers, riverbeds, molecules, and so on. But back at the first stage no such individual distinctions shall exist. As I see it, here there is simply a continuous fluctuation of perfectly determined monistic dynamics.
So given a god’s eye stage 1 and a human eye stage 2, then there is stage 3. For this I perceive you to be saying that a stage 2 mechanism creates a “signal” type of mechanism which constitutes “purpose” for the greater entity. You’ve provided hormones as a classic example, or as I understand it, stuff that moves through fluids in organisms that tend to alter cell function. Thus the altered function would be stage 2’s purpose for such stage 3 function.
I perceive stage 4 to represent something that both accepts signals as well as produces signals, such as a neuron. While the purpose of hormones may be to alter the function of cells, the purpose of neurons may be to provide associated signaling to other neurons.
Then I perceive stage 5 to concern a composite set of stage 4 function. Examples would be both brains and technological computers. Furthermore I’d agree that individual ants or bees can have stage 4 properties, and thus colonies or hives of them might function at a stage 5 level.
As for stage 6, we may first note that from stage 5 we have a full functional computer that can thus represent any concept that it’s been set up to represent — goals like eating certain foods, building certain shelters, and so on. Our robots have such goals programmed into them. But I perceive you to be saying that such a machine might be set up to accept such goal signals in themselves as inputs that thus generate new mechanisms associated with those goals. So I guess that here information processing itself creates phenomenal experience, and thus the conscious form of computation (or at least as most commonly defined) emerges. My “hunger” would exist, for example, because my brain’s goal for body nourishment (stage 5) becomes manifested in new processing mechanisms which the provide me with such phenomena (stage 6).
To me it doesn’t yet seem crucial from your model that phenomenal experience would need to only exist as information processing itself. Couldn’t the mechanism here be one that’s “hard” rather than exclusively “soft”? So I guess if you do see good reason in your model for a stipulation that such a mechanism must concern information processing alone, then let’s talk about that. And of course I’d like to know your current thoughts on this stuff in general!
Eric, sentience is defined as “feeling” and is not “information processing” or “intelligence” as it’s so often misused, even by science fiction authors. Feelings are, of course, a biological phenomenon, so a “sentient machine” is extremely unlikely. A computer can process it’s bits to the silicone and will never, ever, have a feeling. Even Commander Data is not sentient. No one has any idea how to create non-biological feelings or is even thinking about it.
As to your “… I see that John [Searle] believes that sentient machines are possible …”, consider this excerpt from his Scientific American (January 1990)article “Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?”:
”… the brain does not merely instantiate a formal pattern or program (it does that, too), but it also causes mental events by virtue of specific neurobiological processes. Brains are specific biological organs, and their specific biochemical properties enable them to cause consciousness and other sorts of mental phenomena. Computer simulations of brain processes provide models of the formal aspects of these processes. But the simulation should not be confused with duplication. The computational model of mental processes is no more real than the computational model of any other natural phenomenon.”
”… people have inherited a residue of behaviorist psychological theories of the past generation. The Turing test enshrines the temptation to think that if something behaves as if it had certain mental processes, then it must actually have those mental processes. And this is part of the behaviorists’ mistaken assumption that in order to be scientific, psychology must confine its study to externally observable behavior. Paradoxically, this residual behaviorism is tied to a residual dualism. Nobody thinks that a computer simulation of digestion would actually digest anything, but where cognition is concerned, people are willing to believe in such a miracle because they fail to recognize that the mind is just as much a biological phenomenon as digestion.”
Also this from Searle’s “Is the Brain a Digital Computer” (March 1990):
“… you could not discover that the brain or anything else was intrinsically a digital computer, although you could assign a computational interpretation to it as you could to anything else. The point is not that the claim ‘The brain is a digital computer’ is false. Rather it does not get up to the level of falsehood. It does not have a clear sense. You will have misunderstood my account if you think that I am arguing that it is simply false that the brain is a digital computer. The question ‘Is the brain a digital computer?’ is as ill defined as the questions ‘Is it an abacus?’, ‘Is it a book?’, ‘Is it a set of symbols?’, ‘Is it a set of mathematical formulae?’”
“The brain, as far as its intrinsic operations are concerned, does no information processing. It is a specific biological organ and its specific neurobiological processes cause specific forms of intentionality. In the brain, intrinsically, there are neurobiological processes and sometimes they cause consciousness. But that is the end of the story.”
I hope these quotes clarify Searle’s position.
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Sounds good Stephen, well that is except for the last one. He’d rather not define the “and”, “or”, and “not” function of neurons, as “information processing”? And unlike virtually all professionals which consider brain function? I guess that puts him in line with Wyrd.
I was going off a quick line in Wikipedia where it was stated that Searle considers the human brain to be a machine, and so he implied something like “Of course it’s possible for machines to function as brains, since brains are machines.” Anyway I also consider life to function well beyond the machines that we build.
Here he and I aren’t talking about simulations of brains, like a simulation of a hurricane doesn’t do what a hurricane does. We’re talking about solving the hard problem of consciousness and all the rest. I’m not optimistic about it, though I’ll take what comes.
I just wanted to point out that Eric is correct when he says that Searle has stated that certain machines could theoretically be conscious. The quotes given by Stephen are Searle saying that a digital computer cannot be such a machine.
Unfortunately, Searle’s logic in making this second statement is faulty. When he says “The brain, as far as its intrinsic operations are concerned, does no information processing”, he is either simply mistaken or is using a concept of “information processing” so unlike the standard concept of information processing as to constitute a straw man. Information processing is not identical to general purpose digital computing. Analog computing is real information processing.
Eric and James, Wikipedia defines Information Processing, correctly I believe, as “the change processing of information in any manner detectable by an observer. As such, it is a process that describes everything that happens (changes) in the universe.”
The emboldening is theirs; the italics are mine. Per that definition, there’s nothing to discuss without discussing everything, which I don’t have time for, at least not today … 😉
Eric, the “Hard Problem” of consciousness is only a problem for mind-body dualists, who rightly cannot envision how their ghostly version of consciousness can be produced by the obviously physical brain.
Neurons don’t have AND, OR and NOT functions—integrated circuits do.
“Neurons don’t have AND, OR and NOT functions—integrated circuits do.”
The comparison isn’t entirely inappropriate, though. The mistake is in thinking logic gates are “computational” — they aren’t. Logic gates are signal processing devices. They are operated in a saturated mode so the only possible signals are “0” and “1” but they are just signal processors.
There is a great deal of Searle that is very much after my own heart and mind!