Thursday, September 14, 2017

tHooft advocates super-determinism

Gerard 't Hooft was the top theoretical physicist behind the Standard Model of elementary particles. He proved that gauge theories were renormalizable, so then everyone worked on gauge theories.

He just posted Free Will in the Theory of Everything:
Today, no prototype, or toy model, of any socalled Theory of Everything exists, because the demands required of such a theory appear to be conflicting. ...

Finally, it seems to be obvious that this solution will give room neither for “Divine Intervention”, nor for “Free Will”, an observation that, all by itself, can be used as a clue. We claim that this reflects on our understanding of the deeper logic underlying quantum mechanics. ...

Is it ‘Superstring Theory’? The problem here is that this theory hinges largely on ‘conjectures’. Typically, it is not understood how most of these conjectures should be proven, and many researchers are more interested in producing more, new conjectures rather than proving old ones, as this seems to be all but impossible. When trying to do so, one discovers that the logical basis of such theories is still quite weak. ...

Is humanity smart enough to fathom the complexities of the laws of Nature? If history can serve as a clue, the answer is: perhaps; we are equipped with brains that have evolved a little bit since we descended from the apes, hardly more than a million years ago, and we have managed to unravel some of Nature’s secrets way beyond what is needed to build our houses, hunt for food, fight off our enemies and copulate. ...

Our conclusion will be that our world may well be super-deterministic, so that, in a formal sense, free will and divine intervention are both outlawed. In daily life, nobody will suffer from the consequences of this.
I guess he is trying to say that we will sill be able to copulate, even if we have no free will.

It is rare to see any intelligent man advocate super-determinism. This is an extreme form of determinism where things like randomized clinical trials are believed to be bogus. That is, God carefully planned the world at the Big Bang in such detail that when you think that you are making random choices for the purpose of doing a controlled experiment, God has actually forced those choices on you so that your experiment will work according to the plan.

Super-determinism is as goofy as Many Worlds theory. It is something you might expect to hear in a philosophy class, where the professor is listing hypothetical tenable beliefs, to which no sane person would subscribe.

I don't want to call anyone insane. If I did, the list would be too long.

'tHooft attempts to detail how Alice and Bob can do a simple polarization experiment, and think that they are making random choices, but their choices are forced by the initial state of the universe, and also by God or some natural conspiracy to make sure that the experimental outcomes do not contradict the theory:
The only way to describe a conceivable model of “what really happens”, is to admit that the two photons emitted by this atom, know in advance what Bob’s and Alice’s settings will be, or that, when doing the experiment, Bob and/or Alice, know something about the photon or about the other observer. Phrased more precisely, the model asserts that the photon’s polarisation is correlated with the filter settings later to be chosen by Alice and Bob. ...

How can our model force the late observer, Alice, or Bob, to choose the correct angles for their polarisation filters? The answer to this question is that we should turn the question around. ... We must accept that the ontological variables in nature are all strongly correlated, because they have a common past. We can only change the filters if we make some modifications in the initial state of the universe.
This argument cannot be refuted. You can believe in it, just as you can believe in zillions of unobservable parallel universes.

These arguments are usually rejected for psychological reasons. Why believe in anything so silly? What could this belief possibly do for you?

How do you reconcile this with common-sense views of the world? How do you interact with others who do not share such eccentric beliefs?

Here is what I am imagining:
Gerard, why did you write this paper?

The initial state of the universe required that I persuade people to not make so many choices, so I had to tell them that their choices are pre-determined to give the outcomes predicted by quantum mechanics.
His error, as with string theorists and other unified field theorists, is that he wants one set of rules from which everything can be deduced:
Rule #6: God must tell his computer what the initial state is.

Again, efficiency and simplicity will demand that the simplest possible choice is made
here. This is an example of Occam’s rule. Perhaps the simplest possible initial state is a
single particle inside an infinitesimally small universe.

Final step:
Rule #7: Combine all these rules into one computer program to calculate
how this universe evolves.

So we’re done. God’s work is finished. Just push the button. However, we reached a level
where our monkey branes are at a loss.
I do not know whether he is trying to make a pun with "monkey branes". Monkeys have brains, while string theory has branes.

Most of the grand unified field theorists are happy with a non-deterministic theory, as they say that Bell's theorem proved non-determinism. But 't Hooft likes the super-determinism loophole to Bell's theorem:
Demand # 1: Our rules must be unambiguous.

At every instant, the rules lead to one single, unambiguous prescription as to what will happen next.

Here, most physicists will already object: What about quantum mechanics? Our favoured theory for the sub-atomic, atomic and molecular interactions dictates that these respond according to chance. The probabilities are dictated precisely by the theory, but there is no single, unambiguous response.

I have three points to be made here. One: This would be a natural demand for our God. As soon as He admits ambiguities in the prescribed motion, he would be thrown back to the position where gigantic amounts of administration is needed: what will be the `actual' events when particles collide? Or alternatively, this God would have to do the administration for infinitely many universes all at once. This would be extremely inefficient, and when you think of it, quite unnecessary. This God would strongly prefer one single outcome for any of His calculations. This, by the way, would also entail that his computer will have to be a classical computer, not a quantum computer, see Refs. [1, 2, 3].

Second point: look at the universe we live in. The ambiguities we have are in the theoretical predictions as to what happens when particles collide. What actually happens is that every particle involved chooses exactly one path. So God's administrator must be using a rule for making up His mind when subatomic particles collide.

Third point: There are ways around this problem. Mathematically, it is quite conceivable that a theory exists that underlies Quantum Mechanics.[4] This theory will only allow single, unambiguous outcomes. The only problem is that, at present, we do not know how to calculate these outcomes. I am aware of the large numbers of baboons around me whose brains have arrived at different conclusions: they proved that hidden variables do not exist. But the theorems applied in these proofs contain small print. It is not taken into account that the particles and all other objects in our aquarium will tend to be strongly correlated. They howl at me that this is `super-determinism', and would lead to `conspiracy'. Yet I see no objections against super-determinism, while `conspiracy' is an ill-defined concept, which only exists in the eyes of the beholder.
I have posted here many times that hidden variable theories have been disproved, so 'tHooft is calling me a baboon.

To summarize, he has a theological belief that an all-knowing all-powerful God created a mathematically deterministic universe. Because our best theories of quantum mechanics seem to allow for free will, at both the level of human choice and electron paths, they must be wrong. There must be some underlying super-deterministic theory.

No, this is wacky stuff. If common sense and human consciousness and experiences convince us that we have free will, and if our best physics theories of the last century leave open the possibility of free will at a fundamental level, and if all efforts to construct a reasonable theory to eliminate free will have failed, then the sensible conclusion is to believe in free will. 't Hooft's view is at odds with everything we know.


  1. "It is rare to see any intelligent man advocate super-determinism."

    And I'm still waiting for that to happen.

    1. The demonic nature of logic is the ability to be exactly wrong ALL the time. That's why mathematicians and physicists have stupid politics and air-headed beliefs. It's all about sensitive initial conditions when pointing your useful idiot in some direction. It's usually not good enough to tell them to stop when they hear glass.