Friday, April 21, 2017

Avoid the March for Science

From Saturday's March for Science web site:
Q: How is the march integrating inclusion, diversity, equity, and access?

A: Inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility are integral to our mission and to our overall goals and principles. We cannot ignore issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, or any other form of discrimination in the discussion and implementation of science. Nor can we ignore the ways in which science has been misused to harm marginalized communities. The lack of inclusivity and diversity in STEM thwarts scientific advancements not only by limiting who conducts the research, but also by influencing what topics are studied, who participates in the research, and who will benefit from or be harmed by it. We are actively working with partner organizations and experts on these issues and march organizers come from and stand in solidarity with historically underrepresented scientists, science advocates, and communities impacted by attacks on science.
This is a leftist political action.

Some scientists have the attitude of just seeking truth, and leaving the social consequences to policymakers. Not these leftist organizers. Their idea of science is promoting what they see as the common good, and they have a leftist view of what that is.

Jerry Coyne is a leftist scientist who is disgusted by the regressive left. He says he is not participating in the March for Science, and badmouthing it on NPR Radio Science Friday.

Monday, April 17, 2017

There is no quantum world

Physicist N. David Mermin
If you ask Google to search for “no quantum world,” you will get nearly 300 hits. They all give the following quotation (or recognizable corruptions of it):
There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.
Over 90% of them attribute the statement to Niels Bohr, with phrases like “Bohr’s dictum ...,” “Bohr insisted that ...,” “Bohr proclaimed ...,” “Niels Bohr said, in a frequently quoted passage ...,” “Niels Bohr wrote [my emphasis] ...,” and even “Explain and evaluate Bohr’s philosophy of quantum theory with reference to his assertion ... .”
Mermin is unable to confirm that Bohr said exactly those words, and gets conflicting opinions about whether it correctly reflects what Bohr did say.

The respected philosophy professor Harvey R. Brown writes in a new paper:
Of course, for the post-1927 Einstein the wavefunction is, as we have seen, essentially a probability distribution over hidden ontic states; it is (at least) these ontic states that correspond to a "concept" that is "independent of experience", if we are "thinking physically". According to Einstein, orthodox quantum mechanics is incomplete precisely because it does not specify what such ontic states are. The idea that quantum physics can do without them altogether seems to me to be antithetical to Einstein’s program, metaphysically shy though it is.
Brown goes on to criticize those who claim to have some interpretation of quantum mechanics consistent with the above Einsteinian realism, such as the version of QBism by Fuchs.

Lubos Motl has a new rant against John Preskill largely for having some of those same Einsteinian views about quantum reality.

Bohr's quote that there is no quantum world means that there are no Einsteinian hidden ontic states. It is a firmly positivist view. The XX century has proved the Bohr view to be correct (whether he said it exactly that way or not).

Update: A comment says of Bohr:
He invariably made ontologically neutral statements, such as "The formalism is to be regarded as a tool for deriving predictions, of definite or statistical character...".
That is how I interpreted "there is no quantum world", but I guess two views are possible: (1) there is no underlying ontology; or (2) quantum mechanics does not rely on an underlying ontology. The latter is the more positivist view, and presumably Bohr's view as well.

The possibility of these two interpretations may explain why Mermin had trouble confirming the quote.

Positivism means talking about what the theory can do for you. Positivists avoid metaphysical speculations. So a positivist would not say that there can be no other description of the world. I take Bohr's statement as a statement about quantum theory, and not a denial that other theories are possible. Quantum mechanics does not have a world of hidden variables with values for unobserved physical quantities.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Poincare discovered relativistic gravity

Marco Mamone-capria ·writes in a new paper:
Looking back at the origins of the relativity revolution, it is interesting to note that the main reason given at the Saint-Louis conference of 24 September 1904 by Poincare for hesitating at a full endorsement of the principle of relativity was that celestial mechanics had suggested that the speed of the gravitational interaction exceeded that of light by at least six orders of magnitude ([45], p. 312, [46], p. 134; cit. in [37], pp.779-80).

A few months later Poincare changed his mind, if tentatively, when he discovered what, in our terms, are the first Poincare-invariant formulations of gravitation. He announced and, respectively, described in detail these findings (among many others) in his two famous articles of 1905 and 1906 ([47], [48]). Historians of physics have often taxed Poincare with not being bold enough to espouse the new theory of relativity in the trenchant way adopted a few weeks later by a young patent office clerk, who nonchalantly disposed of the aether as “superfluous”.27

At an historical distance of more than a century Poincare’s hesitancy is worth our admiration for its methodological wisdom.
This is correct. Poincare was many years ahead of Einstein in relativistic analysis of gravitation and causality.

Yes, some authors are impressed by Einstein calling the aether superfluous, but he was just echoing what Poincare had been saying for many years. As early as 1889, Poincare predicted that “the day will doubtless come when the ether will be rejected as useless”. He repeated this in his widely-read 1902 book.

Capria has a lot of excellent detail on the history of special relativity in his 2011 paper. I had not seen this early, and it partially explains the bias against Poincare.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why worry about black hole info?

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, aka B, answers:
Dear Dr. B,

Why do physicists worry so much about the black hole information paradox, since it looks like there are several, more mundane processes that are also not reversible? One obvious example is the increase of the entropy in an isolated system and another one is performing a measurement according to quantum mechanics. ...

B: ... This problem has attracted so much attention because the mathematics is so clear-cut and the implications are so deep. ...

Excuse the cynicism, but that’s my take on the situation. I’ll even admit having contributed to the paper pile because that’s how academia works. I too have to make a living somehow.

So that’s the other reason why physicists worry so much about the black hole information loss problem: Because it’s speculation unconstrained by data, it’s easy to write papers about it, and there are so many people working on it that citations aren’t hard to come by either.
She gives more of an explanation, but as you can see, there is no good answer.

Burning a book destroys information. It is an irreversible process. Some theoretical physicists have a quasi-religious belief in reversibility, so they do not accept the information loss. But instead of arguing about what happens to a burning book, they argue about what happens when you toss a book into a black hole. That way they can say whatever they want, and no one can prove them wrong.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Quantum supremacy and Nazis

Steve Flammia writes:
The term “quantum supremacy” is the fashionable name for the quantum experiments attempting to beat classical computers at some given task, not necessarily a useful one. According to current usage, the term (strangely) only applies to computational problems. The theoretical and experimental work towards demonstrating this is wonderful. But the term itself, as any native English speaker can tell you, has the unfortunate feature that it immediately calls to mind “white supremacy”. ...

The humor surrounding this term has always been in bad taste — talking about “quantum supremacists” and jokes about disavowing their support — but it was perhaps tolerable before the US election in November. Given that there are several viable alternatives, for example “quantum advantage” or even “quantum superiority”, can we please agree as a community to abandon this awful term? ...

Update: Ashley Montanaro points out that “advantage” should potentially be reserved for a slight advantage. I maintain that “superiority” is still a good choice, and I also offer “dominance” as another alternative.
A leading dictionary defines:
Definition of white supremacist

: a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races
What does this have to do with the November election? Almost nothing, except that the NY Times and others have been trying to expand usage of the term, such as in this:
Let us pause. Not even two years ago, white supremacists like Mr. Schoep would rant from the fringe of the fringe, their attention-desperate events rarely worth mention. Today, though, the Schoeps of America are undergoing a rebranding, as part of the so-called alt-right: a grab bag of far-right groups generally united by the belief that white identity has become endangered in what they deride as this era of dangerous diversity and political correctness.
So if someone says that political correctness has become hostile to white identity, then he might be called a white supremacist.

The term "quantum supremacy" has become common, and the quantum computing advocates do appear to believe in the inherent superiority of such computers, and that such computers should computationally dominate others.

Before the term became popular, I used terms like "super-Turing". We need some such term, because the interesting thing about quantum computers is that they promise to outperform a Turing machine and expand computational possibilities.

I think that the term was coined or popularized by this 2012 John Preskill paper:
Quantum computing and the entanglement frontier

Quantum information science explores the frontier of highly complex quantum states, the "entanglement frontier." This study is motivated by the observation (widely believed but unproven) that classical systems cannot simulate highly entangled quantum systems efficiently, and we hope to hasten the day when well controlled quantum systems can perform tasks surpassing what can be done in the classical world. One way to achieve such "quantum supremacy" would be to run an algorithm on a quantum computer which solves a problem with a super-polynomial speedup relative to classical computers,
He followed with this 2014 paper:
The technology for controlling quantum systems is advancing rapidly, fuelling the hope that in a few decades human civilization will enter an age of quantum supremacy, in which quantum computers solve problems that are beyond the reach of classical digital computers, such as factoring large numbers and simulating the physics of complex molecules. But to realize that dream, we must overcome a formidable obstacle: that of “decoherence”, which ordinarily makes large quantum systems behave classically. Entanglement among the qubits in a quantum computer is the source of its power, but entanglement between the computer and its unobserved environment is our enemy, driving decoherence.
Does this sound like white supremacy to you? If I change a few words, I get:
The technology for controlling modern systems is advancing rapidly, fuelling the hope that in a few decades human civilization will enter an age of white supremacy, in which white men solve problems that are beyond the reach of non-whites and women, such as managing large nations and simulating the sex habits of Jewish perverts. But to realize that dream, we must overcome a formidable obstacle: that of “black lives matter”, which ordinarily makes large diverse systems behave like animals. The secret handshake among the elites in a white-dominated nation is the source of its power, but integration between the whites and its unobserved environment is our enemy, driving desegregation.
No, I pretty sure that Preskill is not a Nazi writing in code.

Google might be run by Nazis. It appears to be on a mission to destroy our privacy, and building a computer to factor large numbers would be a step towards that goal.

There is something creepy about quantum computing, like Nazi eugenics. It is very ambitious, technologically hopeless, and immediately harmful to most ppl. I do not think that we need to try to stop it because it will fail anyway.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Philosophers deny scientific method

Philosophy of Pseudoscience professor Massimo Pigliucci writes:
Another factor that conjures in hiding the role of human judgment in science is the fiction that there is such thing as a quasi algorithm-like thing called “the scientific method.” While philosophers of the early part of the 20th century kept searching for it, the consensus nowadays is that it doesn’t exist. Yet scientists themselves help perpetuate the myth, both in references to the phantomatic method in introductory textbooks, and also by creating “the false impression of a regular, orderly method by writing up their findings in ways which gloss over the real messiness of discovery.” ...

Here is one gem from the chapter: “Another of Einstein’s remarks is extremely revealing. He once said, ‘I find the idea quite intolerable that an electron exposed to radiation should choose of its own free will, not only its moment to jump off, but also its direction. In that case, I would rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming-house, than a physicist.'” This is an expression of a strongly emotionally held aesthetic judgment. Nothing to do with physics or mathematics as ordinarily understood, or the quest for truth, for that matter.
I post this to show how anti-science modern philosophers are. They have a consensus that there is no scientific method!

The Einstein example is particularly revealing. Einstein is famous for allowing his quasi-religious prejudices to reject quantum mechanics. Mainstream physicists all accepted quantum mechanics, and considered Einstein to be intellectually senile.

Yes, Einstein used emotional and aesthetic opinions to reject a perfectly good. How does this disprove the scientific method? The quantum theory was accepted on the merits, and Einstein's unscientific objections were not.

Here is another silly argument:
My favorite example among those cited by Julian is Boyle, who was “persistent in holding to his theory when observation refused to confirm it. On 49 occasions he tested his hypothesis that smooth bodies that stuck together in air would come apart in a vacuum, without success, yet succeeded on the 50th attempt.”
I would assume that he had some good reasons for his persistance. Pigliucci assumes that he was unscientific, or not following a scientific method.

I might attempt to run a marathon 49 times, and finally succeed on my 50th attempt. Does that mean that I am stupid, or unscientific, or failing to learn from my experience? Of course not.

If there is a common thread in philosophy today, it is that they do everything they can to deny truth, to deny knowledge, and to deny science.
As in the case of a poll Baggini cites from 1999: when 90 leading physicists were asked which interpretation of quantum mechanics they thought was best, 4 voted for Copenhagen, 30 for Many Worlds, and 50 said either none of the above or undecided. ...

Scientists — below the surface, mostly in private or informal exchanges — even disagree on major issues of epistemology and metaphysics. For instance, “Bohr … completely rejected scientific realism. ‘There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum mechanical description,’ he said. ‘It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.'” Needless to say, a number of his colleagues disagreed vehemently, thus unwittingly engaging in philosophical debates about the nature and scope of their discipline.
It is embarrassing that so many physicists subscribe to Many Worlds, as that is an unscientific idea. But Bohr was simply being a logical positivist, and his view is what was adopted by the textbooks. It was only rejected by a few cranks like Einstein, Bohm, Bell, and a bunch of modern philosophers.

Modern philosophers hate positivism because they hate the idea of scientific truth.
And of course beauty and aesthetics are not, in fact, guarantors of truth: “As George Ellis and Joe Silk point out, ‘Experiments have proved many beautiful and simple theories wrong, from the steady-state theory of cosmology to the SU(5) Grand Unified Theory of particle physics, which aimed to unify the electroweak force and the strong force.'”
No, those theories are not beautiful or simple. A steady-state cosmology requires strange forces for counteracting gravity, something for making an equilibrium, some way of creating stars, etc. It is a mess. The SU(5) theory is much more complicated than the Standard Model, as it requires about twice as many bosons, and many more free parameters that would have to be determined by experiment.

For all this, philosophers reject the scientific method? Weird.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quantum mechanics causes cancer

NPR Radio reports:
Vogelstein, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, explained how he and Tomasetti have refined that question. He notes that every time a perfectly normal cell divides, it makes several mistakes when it copies its DNA. These are naturally occurring mutations.

Most of the time, those mutations are in unimportant bits of DNA. That's good luck. "But occasionally they occur in a cancer driver gene. That's bad luck," Vogelstein says.

After two or three of these driver genes get mutated in the same cell, they can transform that healthy cell into a cancer cell.

In their new paper in Science, the researchers set out to quantify how often those random errors are an inevitable part of cell division, how often they're caused by nasty chemicals like tobacco smoke and how often they're inherited.

The answer: 66 percent of the total mutations are random, about 29 percent are due to the environment and the remaining five percent are due to heredity.

These numbers vary depending on the type of cancer, they found.

Lung cancer is largely the result of environmental causes, while the vast majority of childhood cancer is a result of these bad-luck mutations, they found.
The study is behind a paywall. The journal has this editorial comment:
It is a human trait to search for explanations for catastrophic events and rule out mere “chance” or “bad luck.” When it comes to human cancer, the issue of natural causes versus bad luck was raised by Tomasetti and Vogelstein about 2 years ago (1). Their study, which was widely misinterpreted as saying that most cancers are due neither to genetic inheritance nor environmental factors but simply bad luck, sparked controversy. To date, a few hundred papers have been written in response, including (2–6), with some [e.g., (2)] coming to opposite conclusions. What is this controversy about? Tomasetti and Vogelstein concluded that 65% of the differences in the risk of certain cancers is linked to stem cell divisions in the various cancerous tissues examined (1). On page 1330 of this issue, Tomasetti et al. (7) provide further evidence that this is not specific to the United States.
The research is interesting, but I question whether it makes any sense to say that something is "caused by luck".

What percentage of coin tosses are caused by classical mechanics, and what by luck?

What percentage of car accidents are caused by bad luck?

A lot of researchers have dropped the word "accident" just because of the dubious implication that no one is at fault, or that bad luck is the cause, or that nothing could have been done to prevent it.

Luck is usually a euphemism for unknown cause.

Here, luck is a euphemism for quantum mechanics. The researchers are trying to say that most cancers are caused by quantum mechanics. That sounds silly because quantum mechanics is the cause of all chemical reactions, so one could say that on the atomic level, quantum mechanics explains all cancers and biochemical processes and everything else.

There is a belief that quantum mechanics is grounded in some underlying quantum weirdness that will never be understood by humans. That quantum weirdness is causing the mutations, and hence the cancers. Other cancers can be understood at some higher level, such as cigarette smoking causing lung cancer.

In other words, we say the cell-division mutation cancers are caused by bad luck because they are caused by a quantum weirdness that will never be understood.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Dissecting Human Social Purpose

I submitted the following essay to the FQXi annual essay contest.

The concept of purpose used to be central to science, but has faded away because of the successes of materialist reductionism and of the failures to understand consciousness and freedom. The concept is still important, and new technology, data, and social developments present opportunities to make progress.

Science is remarkably successful on many fronts, but has failed miserably on matters of freedom, consciousness, and purpose. Maybe these matters are outside the scope of science, but they are essential to finding meaning in our lives, so we ought to look seriously at what science can do. Perhaps science can help explain how individual agents can contribute to collective purpose, and in particular how personal decisions can lead to human social purpose.

Science is remarkably successful on many fronts, but has failed miserably on matters of freedom, consciousness, and purpose. Maybe these matters are outside the scope of science, but they are essential to finding meaning in our lives, so we ought to look seriously at what science can do. Perhaps science can help explain how individual agents can contribute to collective purpose, and in particular how personal decisions can lead to human social purpose.

Reductionism cannot explain freedom
The importance of purpose
There is a place for nonlocal physics
Human social purpose
The truth is out there
Opportunity for digital decomposition

Consciousness and social purpose are emergent phenomena that resist analysis. We need to examine political and religious movements to make progress. Scientists are in denial about the Trump phenomenon. We can use big data to help restore our national purpose.

The essay was summarily rejected, and not allowed into the essay competition.

Here are some recent FQXi articles:
Bohemian Reality: Searching for a Quantum Connection to Consciousness
Is there are sweet spot where artificial intelligence systems could have the maximum amount of consciousness while retaining powerful quantum properties?

The Spacetime Revolutionary
Carlo Rovelli describes how black holes may transition to "white holes," according to loop quantum gravity, a radical rewrite of fundamental physics.

The Quantum Reality Paradox
How the search for God’s limits led to the discovery of quantum contextuality—a weird phenomenon that could provide the 'magic' needed for super-fast computing.

Rescuing Reality
A "retrocausal" rewrite of physics, in which influences from the future can affect the past, could solve some quantum quandaries—saving Einstein's view of reality along the way.

Does Quantum Weirdness Arise When Parallel Classical Worlds Repel?
Quantum mechanics could derive from subtle interactions among unseen neighboring universes
That is what FQXi has published. If you look at essay contest contributions, most of them are much wackier than these.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Opportunity for digital decomposition

Perhaps modern tools can be brought to bear on problems that Aristotle could not solve. We have Facebook, Google, and Amazon spying on billions of people and recording their desires. We have massive cloud computers for processing big data. We have deep learning and artificial intelligence to mimic and predict buying habits and political and religious opinions. We have companies making billions of dollars in profits from these systems, so they are fully invested in perfecting them. We have big data brokers who make sure that your innermost thoughts are available to whoever can exploit them.

Soon freedom can be defined as defying the expectations of the big data processors. The data marketers will know who has it and who does not.

Political campaigns will tailor their messages to the free men, and to those who can be controlled by triggering a programmed response. Perhaps this has already happened. Clinton’s 2016 campaign was almost entirely directed at demographic groups who could be relied on to have knee-jerk responses to slurs against Trump.

Trump’s campaign was in a higher dimension. He appealed to fully conscious voters who had the freedom to realize that we needed a realignment of our political parties in order to renew American social purpose and to drain the swamp in Washington. Furthermore, he understood that the news media were infiltrated by lizard people who could be trolled with Twitter. They were not conscious enough to realize that they were being trolled, so they could be kept distracted while he gets his real message out to those who accept his purpose.

We are also sequencing everyone’s DNA, and soon this will be integrated with the other databases. When Trump makes America great again, we have the potential to learn which genes contribute to greatness, and which do not. Perhaps we will finally have an understanding of how molecules lead to consciousness, and how millions of conscious beings lead to a national purpose.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The truth is out there

The botanist tries to understand trees by studying cells. That works well, but the tree has a purpose over and above the purposes of the individual cells.

In human societies, genes make the man, and men make the nation, but the mechanism is not understood. If you randomly replace genes, the man will malfunction, and if you randomly replace men, the nation will malfunction.

California is a state that once had a healthy middle class, but it is being re-populated with foreigners, and is devolving into rich and poor classes. The rich are profiting from the modern equivalent of the slave trade, and the state has lost its sense of purpose as the modern robber barons have sold out.

Economics has long used the metaphor of the “invisible hand” to describe markets. When scrutinizing individual trades, free markets in economic goods and services look like just businessmen making a few bucks for their own personal purposes. In the large, markets appear to have a purpose, guided by an invisible hand toward efficiency.

Likewise, gases look like just random motion at the molecular level. No purpose is evident, except that the molecules just want to be free like the businessman just wants to make a buck. On a larger scale, gases seem to have purposes of filling the available volume and reaching thermal equilibrium.

We have pretty good theories for how markets and gases reach equilibriums, so we ought to be able to explain how individual human consciousness can contribute to a collective social purpose.

Human social purpose appears to operate on multiple scales. At the molecular level, there are DNA SNPs that correlate with personality. At a larger scale, there is neuron function in the brain. Then there is the individual, the family, the community, and the nation.

A popular TV show in the 1990s was The X-Files. It featured FBI agents pursuing unusual cases. A recurring theme was that Earth was dominated by secretive elites that had sold out to extraterrestrial colonists. It was as if we were ruled by lizard people with a doomsday plan.

The show was a subtle way of addressing the disconnect between the purposes of our leaders and our citizens. Our money and our constitution are under the control of unelected elites, and Europeans have also ceded power to unelected bureaucrats. Our major news media falls into line with their agenda, and so does Hollywood entertainment.

We have unelected judges who are dictating who can get married, and who can enter the USA. Their reasoning shows no respect for common social purposes that have been accepted for centuries. They pretend that the issue is the individual rights of those most directly affected by the orders, while they ignore the much broader and more important questions about what is beneficial or detrimental to the interests of the nation. They are sabotaging what could be crucial to the human spirit.

Our society had a sense of noble purpose when it was known as Christendom, or Western Civilization. Now these terms seem quaint, as our leftist elites hate what our society once stood for. I don’t think that they are lizard people conspiring with space aliens, as that would be the rich explanation. It is more likely that they have just lost their souls.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Human social purpose

How can goals be amenable to reductionist scientific analysis? Maybe we can find it in animals, and do controlled studies on them. Maybe neuroscience and brain scans will find a mechanism in the brain.

Another approach might be to look at human societies with goals, and analyze them in terms of individuals and their personal goals. Religions, political empires, corporations, and social groups have group character/consciousness/goal that seems greater than the sum of the individual purposes.

The two most striking and poorly understand human characteristics are consciousness and collective social purpose.
Ants and bees seem to have social purpose because colonies cooperate to build nests and retrieve food. But these are programmed instincts to propagate their genes. Humans will cooperate with unrelated strangers, and work towards other goals.

Aristotle said that man is by nature a social animal. An individual who can escape the common purposes of our society must be either a beast (if fully programmed) or a god (if free and conscious).

Studying human social purpose presents an opportunity to analyze what purpose is, because it can be divided into the intentions and actions of individuals.

Religions give good examples of social purpose. The Catholic Church has a purpose. So do the Mormons, and the Israeli Jews. Their purposes are written in books, and are also evidenced by the collective behavior of the members.

Academic critics of these religions often point to peculiarities in their sacred books, and wonder whether the followers really believe the official doctrines. They miss the point. The followers have gained a purpose to their lives.

One of the biggest selling books of recent decades was The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It has an inspirational Christian message. It is also incomprehensible to the atheist professors who believe that science has shown that life has no purpose.

The Islamic world has a purpose also. Unfortunately it does not believe in free will, and it is incompatible with western civilization.

Political movements provide more examples of social purpose. Donald Trump just won the American Presidency by redefining the purpose of the office to represent Americans first. He had a coherent and principled vision, and he restored a sense of purpose to conservative Republicans.

Trump’s candidacy was a big mystery to the leftists who dominate universities and news media. They still cannot accept it, and blame the election on fake news and Russian hacking. The problem is that they have all been brainwashed by Marxist thinking about the inevitability of historical trends. They do not believe in Christian ideals, and they do not believe in an American national character and purpose. They are like the people who see the metronome demonstration and still do not believe it.

Libertarians are similarly blinded. They believe in freedom, not Marxism, but they deny that any social purpose is worth defending.

Some leftists are like the Borg on the TV show Star Trek (The Next Generation). They don’t really have any character or purpose, except to parasitically assimilate and equalize everyone else. They only tolerate what they subjugate, and freedom is meaningless to them.

To the Left, their political progress follows a Marxist inevitability, just as increasing entropy follows a thermodynamic law. They see no sense in fighting it.

For those with a sense of purpose on the political Right, leftist progressivism is the symptom of a dying and decaying society. Yes, everyone accepts the laws of thermodynamics, but one of the purposes of life is to exploit low past entropy, not to hasten thermal equilibrium. The leftist is like someone who says death is inevitable, so we should just let it happen.

Currently we have an irreconcilable political divide between what some call the Alt-Right and the Ctrl-Left. They are opposite like the keys on your keyboard. The Alt-Right has a nationalist purpose, and is like those who tried to save the Roman Empire from barbarian invaders. The Ctrl-Left is fatalist, and seeks group-think conformity with their decadent views. The Alt-Right seeks freedom and righteousness, while the Alt-Left seeks assimilation and sublimation. Trolling is the tool of the Alt-Right, while shaming is the tool of the Alt-Left.

Under the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, our world occasionally splits into worlds that are mutually invisible and incomprehensible to each other. Maybe the USA is currently going through such a splitting between the Alt-Right and the Alt-Left. The Alt-Right is the living Schrödinger cat, and the Alt-Left is the dead cat.
Whether you live in the Right world or the Left world, it should be possible to analyze cultures and movements that really do have a social purpose, and figure out how that purpose arises.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

There is a place for nonlocal physics

Any discussion of consciousness or purpose makes physicists worry that mysticism has crept into science. Physics is all about local analysis.

There is no proof that there is any action-at-a-distance, but there are many phenomena that are more easily understood with nonlocal explanations. For examples in quantum mechanics, the double slit experiment and spin entanglement experiments have nonlocal explanations.

There are many other useful nonlocal explanations, even in elementary classical mechanics. For example, a simple pendulum problem is often best explained using center-of-mass, gravitational potential, and energy conservation, and these explanations are often nonlocal.

Presumably all these experiments have purely local explanations also, even if they involve exchanging virtual gravitons at the speed of light.

For another striking example, you can put dozens of metronomes on a slightly wobbly table, and in a few minutes they will all self-synchronize. Watching this will give you the impression that the purpose of a metronome is to synchronize, and that they are nonlocally conspiring to behave in an orderly manner.

The metronome behavior can also be explained in terms of each one causing tiny vibrations in the table that alter the timing of nearby metronomes. Nobody truly thinks that there is any action-at-a-distance here. But the local theory is so much more difficult and tedious that I doubt that anyone has detailed it.

Scientists, who see the metronome demonstration for the first time, usually think that it is some sort of magic trick. It looks as if inanimate objects are communicating with each other to coordinate their activities. This violates their sense of what is scientifically possible, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. They do not want to believe that objects can have a purpose.

The concept of (Lagrangian or Hamiltonian) action also gives nonlocal explanations. The evolution of a system is a stationary point of the action integral. Minimizing the action relies on a nonlocal analysis.

Thermodynamics also makes use of nonlocal explanations. It is based on local theories of heat energy, but then predicts that the entropy of the system increases. Sometimes a system will seem to have a mind of its own as components conspire to reach thermal equilibrium.

You might say that the purpose of inanimate objects is to conserve energy. At the simplest level, motion can often be explained as objects doing what they can to conserve energy. Likewise, you can say that the purpose of life is to exploit past low entropy. The entropy of a system is always increasing, and living beings, if present, are always searching out low entropy and making use of it. Life can be seen as an attempt to postpone thermal equilibrium by finding sources of low entropy and extracting useful energy. When an organism dies, its purpose also dies, and it decays towards equilibrium conditions.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The importance of purpose

The notion of purpose is crucial to our civilization. It is central to how we understand people and things.
I buy a clock because a clock has a purpose of telling time. I buy a phone because a phone has a purpose of communication. I work for the purpose of making money. My employer hires me to fill a purpose stated in the job description. You read this essay for the purpose of improving your mind.

Money exists for the purpose of enabling commerce. Government has the purpose of allowing millions of people to live together. Police have the purpose of keeping us safe.

Our system of criminal justice assesses purpose all the time. To be convicted of some serious crime, like murder, a jury has to decide that you had the required mens rea, or criminal purpose.

Informal judgments of another’s character often hinge on purpose. If someone has a good purpose, then he usually gets a free pass on whatever harm he causes.

Science used to explain things in terms of purpose. Aristotle described the natural world in terms of causes and purpose. He might say that the purpose of a rock is to go in a straight line or fall to the Earth, or the purpose of a celestial object is to travel in circles. A tree’s purpose is to get more light and water.

Aristotle’s view took a beating in the Newtonian era, but Darwin revived the use of purpose for natural explanation. He would say that a bird has wings for the purpose of flying, and has eyes for seeing. A woman’s purpose was to bear children, and to obey her man. Natural slaves also served a purpose. He did not know the specifics of how wings or eyes grow or evolve, but clearly saw the bigger picture where the vast majority of observable traits of plants and animals have a recognizable purpose.

Today evolutionary biology professors like Jerry Coyne commonly “teach that natural selection, and evolution in general, are material processes, blind, mindless, and purposeless.” The late Stephen Jay Gould said similar things.

Purpose has been whittled away by reductionism. It is no longer fashionable to say that the purpose of wings is to fly, because that leaves atheistic scientists with the queasy suggestion that God has a purpose for birds.

To many, this is progress. Science is all about eliminating supernatural causes, and replacing them with down-to-earth mechanisms that can be analyzed step by step.

The notion of purpose is still useful informally. Neuroscientists ask, “what is the purpose of sleep?” This question is clearly understood, even if purposes are denied.

Analyzing purpose scientifically is notoriously difficult. For example, dog behavior is very well understood, but researchers hotly debate whether dogs have a theory of mind. A dog will do tricks to get food, and apparently to please its master, but does it really form a mental image of what its master is thinking, and behavior accordingly? Some researchers say dogs, chimps, monkeys, and ravens do, but others doubt it.

There are lots of clever animal experiments, but there are usually rich and lean explanations for the animal behavior. Sometimes researchers will give some rich explanation as the animal having its own theory of mind and sense of moral justice, and others will give a lean explanation in terms of the animal just doing what seems likely to get a treat. Humans seem to have evolved to have a preference for rich explanations. Leftists are especially prone to concocting fanciful theories for the motives of others.

There used to be a popular branch of psychology called behaviorism, which minimized considerations of consciousness and purpose. Humans were just like a rat in a maze, only a little smarter. While this view has fallen out of favor, it was taken seriously by Harvard professors and other intellectuals. If it was so difficult to convince professors that humans are free and conscious beings, then it is more difficult to convince them about dogs and monkeys.

Even in humans, such judgments are tricky. There is a world-famous moral philosophy professor who has done ground-breaking global justice work on inventing new arguments for blaming white people for various perceived ills. He is a white European himself, so what is his purpose in this work? Is he a self-hating white? Is he a profound and honest moral thinker? Is he just doing what he is paid to do? Is this his way of satisfying his craving for professional status and respect? He is also well-known for seducing his non-white female philosophy grad students, so is it all just a ploy to fuel his extramarital affairs? It is impossible to say.

Bill Gates has put most of his vast fortune into a foundation whose motto is “Guided by the belief that every life has equal value.” Does he really believe that, or is that just a way of buying respect from leftists? He recently got the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but the award did not even mention his accomplishments at Microsoft.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Believing in SUSY, with no evidence

Lawrence M. Krauss is out plugging a new book, and he nicely summarizes how physicists of the past 40 years got sucked into a grand unified theory ideology, and on supersymmetry as a tool toward that end. The theoretical progress made them all very happy, but the big problem was that supersymmetry has failed every experimental test. But the advocates were unfazed, as he explains:
The absence of clear experimental direction or confirmation of super-symmetry has thus far not bothered one group of theoretical physicists. ...

However, the theory requires a host of new spacetime dimensions to exist, none of which has been, as yet, observed. Also, the theory makes no other predictions that are yet testable with currently conceived experiments. And the theory has recently gotten a lot more complicated so that it now seems that strings themselves are probably not even the central dynamical variables in the theory.

None of this dampened the enthusiasm of a hard core of dedicated and highly talented physicists who have continued to work on superstring theory, now called M-theory, over the 30 years since its heyday in the mid-1980s. Great successes are periodically claimed, but so far M-theory lacks the key element that makes the Standard Model such a triumph of the scientific enterprise: the ability to make contact with the world we can measure, resolve otherwise inexplicable puzzles, and provide fundamental explanations of how our world has arisen as it has.
This is the sorry state of physics today. They just march ahead and ignore negative experiments, like astrologers.

This could continue for another 20 years. So could the search for quantum supremacy, as repeated failures are unlikely to deter the advocates.

Some physicists at least admit that experiments should be done to test strange ideas like supersymmetry (SUSY) and proton decay. There are other theories, such as multiverse and black hole theories, that have no hope of ever being tested.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Reductionism cannot explain freedom

Scientific reductionism has made dramatic progress in nearly all areas of study, but it has failed to explain human personal freedom. Most people believe that they are rational beings with the agency to make personal choices in their daily lives.

Science has sometimes shown that personal choices are constrained by non-obvious factors, or are misinformed, or are correlated in unexpected ways. Physics predicts the future by setting up time-dependent differential equations. But ultimately people make decisions that do not feel like just the time evolution of the solution to a differential equation.

A barrier to understanding human decisions is consciousness. People collect data through their senses, and we can analyze that. The data enters the brain, and there is some progress in understanding that. But at some point the data enters into a human conscious awareness of possible choices, and the conscious brain makes a decision on its own. How that happens is a total mystery to science.

There is not even a good definition of consciousness, nor any agreement over whether animals and computers are ever conscious. They certainly do not appear to be conscious in the way that humans are, but without a sharp definition, we cannot say.

Maybe some day there will be artificially intelligent computers that are obviously conscious, and maybe there will be a good understanding of what makes a computer conscious, but maybe not. We are not even sure that other people are fully conscious.

Is Hillary Clinton conscious? She was widely regarded by intellectuals as being the most qualified person for the most important job in the world. Surely a top requirement would be for a fully conscious person who can make good decisions. And yet she also appeared fully programmed and predictable, and there was no way to be sure that she ever made any conscious decisions.

It is not even clear that it makes any sense to have a scientific explanation of freedom. Science is all about reducing observations to deterministic sequences of events. Scientific ideas are demonstrated by doing repeatable experiments.
Freedom is all about not being determined by previous events. Freedom is demonstrated by doing something that no one can predict.

Some people respond to this dilemma by denying that freedom exists. They might say, “I have a rational scientific outlook, and freedom cannot have a scientific explanation, so therefore there is no such thing.”

Or they might argue as follows. There is no god or human soul, so the brain is just a wet computer following the laws of physics. We don’t know how the brain works, but just knowing that it obeys the laws of physics tells us that it is a programmed automaton with no free will of its own because the laws of physics are deterministic.

The laws of physics are not even really deterministic, because of uncertainties from chaos, quantum mechanics, and unknown effects, but that does not faze the people making the anti-freedom argument. Their conception of science and freedom are mutually exclusive, and they would say that freedom is unscientific no matter what the laws of physics are.
Thus explaining freedom is completely intractable. Those who believe in freedom get stuck on the problem of consciousness, and the others get stuck on the problem of scientific repeatability.

Freedom is experienced by everyone who gives a rating to this essay. You can readily find detailed explanations on video display, internet communications, muscle contraction, digital computer processing, electrical power transmission, optics, and everything else related. But when it comes to actually deciding on a rating, science has almost nothing to say.