Thursday, May 30, 2019

QBism is similar to Copenhagen

QBism is a variant of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which has dominated textbooks for 90 years.

The proponents of QBism sometimes argue that quantum mechanics does not need an interpretation. They see QBism as a sort of minimalist interpretation. A new paper, Is Quantum Mechanics Self-Interpreting?, criticizes this claim.

Another new paper on QBism is "B" is for Bohr. It argues that Bohr would have agreed with QBism. The Copenhagen interpretation is supposed to be Bohr's view, so that should be the same also, but Bohr is widely misunderstood. The paper says:
Today, Bohr seems obscure to most physicists. Catherine Chevalley17 has identified three reasons why. The first is that Bohr's views have come to be equated with one variant or another of the Copenhagen interpretation, which only emerged in the mid-1950's, in response to David Bohm's hidden-variables theory and the Marxist critique of Bohr's alleged idealism, which had inspired Bohm.
The leading opponent to Bohr/Copenhagen was David Bohm, a Communist. Einstein also opposed it, and he was also a Communist sympathizer.

Is there some connection between Communist-Marxist political theory, and anti-positivist hidden-variables theory? They are both contrary to what I consider good rational thinking, but is there some more direct reason why an anti-positivist would go Communist, or a Communist would go anti-positivist? Maybe someone can explain it to me.

I am also trying to understand this NY Post story:
City Department of Education brass are targeting a “white-supremacy culture” among school administrators — by disparaging ideas like “individualism,” “objectivity” and “worship of the written word,” The Post has learned.
For details of this anti-White ideology, see this paper.

I always thought science should be objective, but is that a White supremacist thing? Would anti-White political activists seek to undermine objectivity in science? I dunno, but it appears that political ideology drives a lot of bad ideas in science.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Metaphor for bad science

What is the best metaphor for bad science? Usually, when someone wants to mock some idea as bad science, they compare it to flat Earth theory, geocentrism, or aether theory.

The trouble is that none of these comparisons work. The ancient Greeks understood that the Earth was round, and it is not true that Columbus was needed to disprove the flat Earthers.

Geocentrism is not really wrong, as relativity teaches that any frame of reference can be used. Aether theory is not really wrong either, as there are several physics concepts that can be legitimately presented as a modern aether.

Ancients said that everything was composed of earth, water, air, and fire. This is a gross oversimplification, but not necessarily an error. A combustible substance called phlogiston was also just an oversimplification.

The alchemist desire to turn lead into gold was fruitless, but it was not an error to speculate that lead and gold were made of the same ingredients. They are. We can't blame them for not knowing how large the nuclear forces are.

Aristotle is mocked for saying that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects, but he didn't really say that. Also, denser objects do fall faster if air resistance is significant.

Celestial epicycles are cited as a methodological error, but it is very hard to justify that view.

So what example should we be using for bad or erroneous science? Any suggestions?

Friday, May 24, 2019

Doctor Quark dies

From the NY Times obituary of Murray Gell-Mann:
As with strangeness, the Eightfold Way and quarks were independently discovered by other theorists, but the breadth of Dr. Gell-Mann’s accomplishments and his flare for nomenclature ensured that his would be the name most remembered.

His instincts weren’t infallible. At first he dismissed quarks as mathematical abstractions — an accounting device with no real correlate in the physical world. There was good reason for his skepticism: Quarks would have to have electrical charges measured in thirds, something that was never observed.

After quarks were confirmed indirectly in an experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, in Menlo Park, Calif., Dr. Gell-Mann denied that he had ever doubted their existence. He went on to help explain how the tiny particles are permanently stuck together, keeping their fractional charges hidden from view.
So Gell-Mann wasn't sure if the quarks were real, but he gets the credit because he gave them a good name!

This isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Coincidentally, Dr. Bee has an essay:
What do scientists mean when they say that something exists? Every time I give a public lecture, someone will come and inform me that black holes don’t exist, or quarks don’t exist, or time doesn’t exist. Last time someone asked me “Do you really believe that gravitational waves exist?” ...

When we say that these experiments measured “gravitational waves emitted in a black hole merger”, we really mean that specific equations led to correct predictions.

It is a similar story for the Higgs-boson and for quarks. The Higgs-boson and quarks are names that we have given to mathematical structures. In this case the structures are part of what is called the standard model of particle physics. We use this mathematics to make predictions. The predictions agree with measurements. That is what we mean when we say “quarks exist”: We mean that the predictions obtained with the hypothesis agrees with observations.
That's right. A quark is just a useful name for part of a mathematical model, it is not clear that it makes any sense to even talk about whether it is any more real than that.

The obituary does partially explain the hyphen in his name: His father was born Isidore Gellmann in Eastern Europe, and changed his name in New York to Arthur Gell-Mann.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Why science cannot prove or disprove free will

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist says that he was persuaded that he has no free will by this PNAS article:
The beauty of the mind of man has nothing to do with free will or any unique hold that biology has on select laws of physics or chemistry. This beauty lies in the complexity of the chemistry and cell biology of the brain, which enables a select few of us to compose like Mozart and Verdi, and the rest of us to appreciate listening to these compositions. The reality is, not only do we have no more free will than a fly or a bacterium, in actuality we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar. The laws of nature are uniform throughout, and these laws do not accommodate the concept of free will.
I mention Coyne's views here. That article yielded this rebuttal:
In his reply (1) to the letter by Anckarsäter (2) commenting on his original article (3), Anthony Cashmore expresses the view that a belief in free will would require at least a molecular model as a justification. However, such a model cannot exist, as I will explain in the following.

The behavior of an agent possessing free will is by definition unpredictable. In contrast to stochastic phenomena, it is not even possible to predict all observable statistical properties of the behavior of such an agent. A molecular model for free will, or in fact any scientific model for free will, would thus have to contain some property labeled as unpredictable.

However, the scientific method that we apply today, which is based on the formulation of hypotheses that are then tested by observation and experiment, cannot accommodate unpredictability. The statement that "property X is unpredictable" cannot be tested by observation and is thus not a scientific hypothesis. Moreover, even if property X itself is observable, its supposed unpredictability makes it impossible to formulate scientific hypotheses about it. As a consequence, free will cannot be integrated into any scientific model.

The only way in which the scientific method could resolve the question of the existence of free will is by showing its nonexistence. This would require a scientific model that permits a complete prediction of human behavior, or at least of all its observable statistical properties. However, as Anckarsäter pointed out (2), we are very far from having such a model.

Cashmore goes on to claim that in the absence of a good reason to believe in free will, we should believe in its nonexistence. A pragmatically minded person would counter that, in the absence of solid evidence to the contrary, we should trust our perception, which tells us that we do have free will. However, neither point of view can claim science as its justification. For a believer in the scientific method, the only coherent point of view is agnosticism about the existence of free will.
I agree that free will cannot be scientifically proved or disproved.

I also agree that our perception gives us good reason to believe in free will, even if it cannot be proved.

He says: "A molecular model for free will ... would thus have to contain some property labeled as unpredictable." Yes, that is right, and our best molecular models do indeed have properties labeled as unpredictable. All quantum systems do. Whether that unpredictability has anything to do with free will is an open question. The question may never be solved, for the reasons he gives. Maybe molecules have a tiny bit of free will, and human free will is derived from the collective free will of molecules.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Free will is indispensable for explaining our world

A podcast defends free will:
Unlike those who defend free will by giving up the idea that it requires alternative possibilities to choose from, Christian List retains this idea as central, resisting the tendency to defend free will by watering it down. He concedes that free will and its prerequisites — intentional agency, alternative possibilities, and causal control over our actions—cannot be found among the fundamental physical features of the natural world. But, he argues, that’s not where we should be looking. Free will is a “higher-level” phenomenon found at the level of psychology. It is like other phenomena that emerge from physical processes but are autonomous from them and not best understood in fundamental physical terms — like an ecosystem or the economy. When we discover it in its proper context, acknowledging that free will is real is not just scientifically respectable; it is indispensable for explaining our world.
List is correct about those last couple of points. Free will is not best understood in fundamental physical terms; acknowledging that it is real is not just scientifically respectable; and it is indispensable for explaining our world.

Even if you don't believe in free will, you still need to explain why some non-respectable concept is indispensable for explaining our world.

Jerry Coyne calls this incoherent:
In other word, some form of true libertarian free will arises mysteriously between the molecules that make up our brain and the behaviors that emanate from that brain.

Sadly, I cannot find anywhere in List’s spiel where he say how this emergent free will arises, or how it manages to defy the laws of physics. He uses weak analogies, like saying that while the “weather” arises from motions of molecules in the atmosphere, meterologists use models that abstract from the microphysical to the macrophysical and are indeterministic, giving probabilities of weather events. But that’s a bogus analogy, for the macro-“weather” is certainly consistent with, and arises from, lower-level phenomena. True, “rain” is an emergent property, but it is absolutely consistent with the laws of physics. List’s free will isn’t.
How is it that weather is any more consistent with the laws of physics than free will? There is no theory or experiment to substantiate this claim.

There is a long list of things that we cannot reduce to the motions of molecules. Weather is one, but many believe that is possible with sufficient info and computer resources. Consciousness is another, and no one knows how a computer would even start on that problem.

Coyne is right that no one can say how this emergent free will arises. I am not sure we can truly say how turbulence or phase transitions arise.

He is wrong to say free will (if it exists) must manage to defy the laws of physics. What laws are those? This is like people who say that the flying bumblebee defies the laws of physics.

Coyne elaborates on his opposition to libertarian free will, which he defines:
Libertarian free will means a form of free will independent of physical causality: a kind of free will that says, at any given moment when you face making a decision, you are not constrained to make a single decision. You could have done otherwise. ...
At a higher level of description, your decisions can be truly open. When you walk into a store and choose between Android and Apple, the outcome is not preordained. It really is on you.
If the outcome is not preordained, then it is a form of libertarian free will and not determinism. Period.
I agree with this, except that I am not sure what he means by "independent of physical causality". I believe in free will, I believe that I can choose between Android and Apple, and I also believe in physical causality. When I make that choice, it is a physical process, and my decision physically causes consequences.

Physical causality means that events are effected by what is inside the backward light cone. I include my mental processes as contributing to causality.

List argues:
One can have long debates about whether current AI systems are sufficiently advanced, but there is no conceptual reason why sophisticated AI systems could not qualify as bearers of free will. Much like corporate agents, which we also think should be held responsible for their actions, AI systems ideally should display a certain form of moral agency and not just rigid goal-seeking behavior in the interest of profit or whatever else their objective function might be. As we employ more and more AI systems in high-stakes settings, we would like those systems to make ethically acceptable decisions.
I may differ with him here. Those AI systems are nearly always deterministic. They may have ethical decision-making programmed in, but that is not free will.

There are those who think that the human mind is just a programmed Turing machine. There are others who believe that the mind is a window into the soul, separate from the body, and not constrained by physical law.

I think that there could be a middle ground, where the mind just functions according to material properties of the brain, but it is not a pre-programmed Turing machine either. It has consciousness, and the ability to make libertarian free choices.

Update: Coyne has a third rant against List, with a link to a technical 2014 List paper on the subject.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Astronomer writes book on Bell

A new book asserts:
The fastest route to the insight into the ultimate nature of reality revealed by quantum mechanics, Greenstein writes, is through Bell's Theorem, which concerns reality at the quantum level; and Bell's 1964 discovery drives Greenstein's quest. Greenstein recounts a scientific odyssey that begins with Einstein, continues with Bell, and culminates with today's push to develop an industry of quantum machines. Along the way, he discusses spin, entanglement, experimental metaphysics, and quantum teleportation, often with easy-to-grasp analogies. We have known for decades that the world of the quantum was strange, but, Greenstein says, not until John Bell came along did we know just how strange.
No. The essence of Bell's theorem is that quantum mechanics is not a classical theory. In particular, the quantum probabilities are not just hiding a lack of knowledge about classical physical variables.

Bell just confirmed what had been conventional wisdom for 40 years.

The author explains in SciAm:
For in truth I believe that it is the story of everyone who has encountered this bizarre world. The realm of the quantum is utterly unfamiliar, utterly strange and utterly incomprehensible. Nothing in it corresponds to everyday reality. And more than that: nothing in it can be comprehended in ordinary terms.

“How can an electron be in two places at once?” I had been asking for so many years. “How can something happen without a cause?” I have not answered these questions. But so what? At long last I have achieved what to me is a great victory. I have expressed to myself clearly what the mystery is.

And sometimes I wonder if it is a mystery. Perhaps it is just a fact. This is the way the world is. Do I like this new cosmos that we have stumbled into? Do I dislike it? Is it congenial to my thoughts, or utterly alien to them?

It makes no difference: this is the new world — get used to it. ...

George Greenstein is professor emeritus of astronomy at Amherst College. He is the author of the new book, Quantum Strangeness: Wrestling with Bell's Theorem and the Ultimate Nature of Reality (The MIT Press, 2019).
I haven't seen the book, but this does not sound helpful. Electrons are not really in two places at once.

The electron goes thru both slits of the double-slit experiment, but that is because the electron is a wave that is not localized to a point. To describe the electron as being localized to two different points in different locations is weird.

Denying causation is even weird. Nothing in quantum mechanics is inconsistent with causality. It may be that you can only give a probability for a radioactive decay, but something is still causing that decay, as far as we know.

Lubos Motl explains explains why he rejects reality in the quantum domain:
As an undergraduate freshman, I was already exposed to basic texts on string theory – a librarian generously xeroxed a textbook by Green, Schwarz, Witten for me (for free), she probably risked copyright infringements as well – and I knew something about T-duality soon afterwords (other dualities were only discovered in the mid 1990s and made the picture thicker). So even if I had some tendencies for "realism" at that time, I had to choose: T-duality or the realist prejudices? Clearly, I would have chosen T-dualities because they're beautiful. They are really local symmetries of string theory and a symmetry is always a great improvement of a theory that makes the theory more likely. There exists absolutely no reason why the symmetry should be fundamentally broken so it's almost certainly not broken. Arguments based on symmetries and other kinds of mathematical beauty always trump purely metaphysical prejudices – everyone who has at least some physical intuition agrees.
His reasoning is a little peculiar. He sounds like a medieval monk who bases his belief on a rare sacred text that was recently transcribed for him.

Realism, in this context, means believing in things and mechanisms that are not directly observed. It is okay to believe in the dark side of the Moon, because that is consistent with our best theories. But believing in local hidden variables controlling electrons is not.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Quantum Hype and Quantum Skepticism

Communications of the ACM has published a short article on Quantum Hype and Quantum Skepticism:
The first third of the 20th century saw the collapse of many absolutes. Albert Einstein's 1905 special relativity theory eliminated the notion of absolute time, while Kurt Gödel's 1931 incompleteness theorem questioned the notion of absolute mathematical truth. Most profoundly, however, quantum mechanics raised doubts on the notion of absolute objective reality. Is Schrödinger's cat dead or alive? Nearly 100 years after quantum mechanics was introduced, scientists still are not in full agreement on what it means.

The problem with objective reality stems from the superposition principle. In a nutshell, quantum systems can exist in a superposition of their possible observable states before measurement. While a classical bit has a unique value, 0 or 1, a quantum bit, or qubit, exists as a superposition of two classical bits.
This is wrong on many levels. Relativity did not eliminate absolute. It just clarified it. Einstein added nothing to our understanding of time. Goedel remained a firm believer in absolute mathematical truth.

Saying that Schroedinger's cat is dead and alive at the same time is just another bit of bad philosophy.

Superpositions do not really create a problem with objective reality. Just saying that two measurements are possible does not mean that none are real.
In fact, several quantum-computing researchers have expressed skepticism regarding the physical realizability of the quantum-computing dream.a Quantum skeptics agree that quantum computation does offer an exponential advantage of classical computation in theory, but they argue it is not physically possible to build scalable quantum computers. Gil Kalai is one of the most prominent quantum skeptics. All physical systems are noisy, he argues,b and qubits kept in highly sensitive superpositions will inevitably be corrupted by any interaction with the outside world. In contrast, quantum-skepticism skeptics, such as Scott Aaronson, view the realizability of quantum computing as an outstanding question in physics,c and regard the skeptical view as representing an implausible revolution in physics.
Aaronson is professionally invested in the possibility of quantum computing. There are good scientific reasons for skepticism about quantum computing, both in theory and in practice.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

NY Times joins the time reversal hype

The NY Times reports:
Using an IBM quantum computer, they managed to undo the aging of a single, simulated elementary particle by one millionth of a second.
The algorithm almost always worked. It succeeded in returning the qubits to their youthful states 85 percent of the time when the calculation involved two qubits, but only half the time when three qubits were used.
This result as already been overhyped elsewhere, and Scott Aaronson had debunked it:
Incredibly, the time-reversal claim has now gotten uncritical attention in Newsweek, Discover, Cosmopolitan, my Facebook feed, and elsewhere — hence this blog post, which has basically no content except “the claim to have ‘reversed time,’ by running a simulation backwards, is exactly as true and as earth-shattering as a layperson might think it is.”
Dennis Overbye gives this explanation of time reversal:
On paper, the basic laws of physics are reversible; they work mathematically whether time is running forward or backward. But if time is just another dimension of space-time, as Einstein said, it’s a strange one-way dimension. In the real world we can climb out of the subway and turn left or right, but we don’t have the choice of going forward or back in time. We are always headed toward the future. ...

But the arrow of time takes its direction not only from big numbers. According to quantum theory, that paradoxical body of rules governing the subatomic universe, not even a single particle can reverse its own course through time. ...

The wave function extends throughout space and time. The law describing its evolution, known as the Schrödinger equation, after Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger​, is equally valid running forward or backward. But getting a wave function to go in reverse is no small trick. ...

“It remains to be seen,” the team wrote in their paper posted online in February, “whether the irreversibility of time is a fundamental law of nature or whether, on the contrary, it might be circumvented.”
This is what a lot of physicists say, but it doesn't make much sense. How is it that the basic laws of physics are reversible, but you cannot actually reverse anything? I think it is more accurate to say that the basic laws of physics are not time reversible.

He gives this explanation of quantum computers:
Unlike regular computers, which process a series of zeros and ones, or bits, quantum computers are made of so-called qubits, each of which can be zero and one at the same time. A quantum computer can perform thousands or millions of calculations simultaneously, so long as nobody looks to see what the answer is until the end.

Many of the largest tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and IBM, are racing to build such machines, which eventually could solve problems that regular computers can’t, such as breaking currently unbreakable cryptographic codes. Some scientists argue that nature itself is a quantum computer, and that the greatest utility of such a computer will be in simulating and exploring the paradoxes of quantum weirdness. ...

The IBM computer they used represents a baby step in the direction of what theorists call “quantum supremacy.”
Aaronson would say that this explanation is wrong, because the power of quantum computers comes from probabilities being negative, not qubits being zero and one at the same time.

I think that it is more accurate to say that quantum computers get their power from time reversible operations. All of the quantum algorithms depend on qubits, and on electronic gates that do time reversible operations on qubits.

But we can't do any time reversible operations. Not significantly. According to the above paper, a state-of-the-art quantum computer can do it for a millionth of a second on two qubits 85% of the time.

This is like saying someone invented a perpetual motion machine that works for a millionth of a second 85% of the time.

Quantum supremacy has not been achieved. Everyone now acknowledges this. The above paper is supposed to be a baby step toward that end. On the contrary, it shows how difficult the task is.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Scaling back Quantum Computing Expectations

Christopher Monroe writes:
If you watch the technology headlines you might think something called quantum computing is the Next Big Thing. ...

We must be clear, however, about what is and isn’t happening next. The big quantum computing discoveries that will most impact society are still years away. In the meantime, we will see breathless announcements of records broken as the technology rapidly develops. ...

In 3-5 years, these machines will perform certain calculations that would not be possible using ordinary computers. But it may be 5-10 years before any of these machines have the capacity and accuracy to solve useful problems. Along the way, I worry that some who read about quantum computing being the next big thing will feel let down and lose interest. We can’t let that happen. Government needs to continue to support ...
This has the tone of a scammer who is trying to keep the money flowing while he manages expectations.

He is predicting quantum supremacy in 3-5 years. Okay, I will note that, if this blog is still around. For the past several years, experts from IBM, Google, and Microsoft have been saying to expect it in the next year.

They want continued funding, even if none of the promises are realized.

Scott Aaronson endorses this view, tho he has personally stopped commenting to the press. But he has commented to the press on the scientific accuracy of time travel in the new Marvel Avengers movie!

Update: I see Scott has commented to the press about using quantum computers for reversing time. I will post more on this later.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

How string theory changed Physics

Lubos Motl still defends string theory:
To make it brief, string theory has been rather essential to realize – and make explicit – all the ideas that we call the holography of quantum gravity.

There's no qualitative difference between elementary particles and black hole microstates

Black holes look like qualitatively different, large "beasts" that differ from the elementary particles. But string/M-theory has shown us that the black hole microstates – there are many microstates because the black hole entropy is large for a large black hole – are nothing else than the "very massive" counterparts of elementary particle species.

The qualitative difference between an electron and a black hole could have looked – and arguably did look to most people – "obvious" but we already know it's wrong. ...

The idea that physicists will "return" to an epoch in which string theory and its lessons may be ignored is as childish as the idea of a "return" to the Flat Earth. Science just doesn't work like that.
Wow, thanks to string theory we now know the difference between an electron and a black hole, and this knowledge cannot be unlearned. Because ... that's how science works!

I thought that science worked by testing hypotheses. The ancient Greeks disproved the Flat Earth hypothesis by watching ship go over the horizon, by watching lunar eclipses, and by measuring how the Sun was higher in the sky at lower latitudes.

Lubos is so ridiculous here that I wonder if he is just trolling us.

A century ago, the Bohr atom made some analogies between electron and larger objects. But the model made some testable quantitative predictions, and some of those were confirmed.

Analogizing an electron with a black hole has gone nowhere. Neither has quantum gravity holography or any of the other string theory nonsense.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

How Bee lives without free will

Sabine Hossenfelder argues:
Physics deals with the most fundamental laws of nature, those from which everything else derives. These laws are, to our best current knowledge, differential equations. Given those equations and the configuration of a system at one particular time, you can calculate what happens at all other times.

That is for what the universe without quantum mechanics is concerned. Add quantum mechanics, and you introduce a random element into some events. Importantly, this randomness in quantum mechanics is irreducible. It is not due to lack of information. In quantum mechanics, some things that happen are just not determined, and nothing you or I or anyone can do will determine them.

Taken together, this means that the part of your future which is not already determined is due to random chance. It therefore makes no sense to say that humans have free will.
I am amazed to see otherwise-intelligent physicists make this silly argument.

Her argument is that the world must be either deterministic or non-deterministic, by the law of the excluded middle. Determinisic is defined as caused by the dynamics of unconscious particles, and non-deterministic is defined as being not determined by anyone's conscious thoughts. So the possibility of free will is defined away in both cases.

The word "random" just means that someone does not know how to predict something. Free will appears to others as randomness, because a choice is being made that others cannot predict. So randomness does not refute free will. Randomness of just one of our descriptive terms for free will.

She says, "randomness in quantum mechanics ... is not due to lack of information." It has indeed been proved that quantum randomness is not due to our lack of info about local hidden variables in a classical theory. But that's all. If you drop the local hidden variable assumption, and assume we live in a non-classical world, then we no longer have any good reason to think that the randomness is due or not due to a lack of information. Quantum mechanics is silent on the issue.
Others try to interpret quantum randomness as a sign of free will, but this is in conflict with evidence. Quantum processes are not influenced by conscious thought. Chaos is deterministic, so it doesn’t help. Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, remarkable as it is, has no relevance for natural laws.

The most common form of denial that I encounter is to insist that reductionism must be wrong. But we have countless experiments that document humans are made of particles, and that these particles obey our equations. This means that also humans, as collections of those particles, obey these equations. If you try to make room for free will by claiming humans obey other equations (or maybe no equation at all), you are implicitly claiming that particle physics is wrong. And in this case, sorry, I cannot take you seriously.

These are the typical objections that I hear, and none of them makes much sense.
It is a little strange to use reductionism to make an argument about the limits of consciousness. Whatever consciousness is, reductionist arguments have told us nothing about it. More broadly, a comment says:
"Physics deals with the most fundamental laws of nature, those from which everything else derives." -This is utterly untrue, as well as the statement that differential equations are THE laws of nature. This is most clear in biology. In biology, nothing of importance (nothing general to ALL biological systems) can be derived from physics, or described with any set of differential equations, however complicated they are. Classical mechanics deals with context-independent "particles" obeying some "law" in a defined "boundary" (and initial conditions), whereas all in biology is context-dependent and has no defined boundary condition. This is what Schrodinger, Einstein, von Bertalanffy, Rashevsky, Rosen, Maturana, Kauffman, and many other serious scientists have been pointing out for a while now (that contemporary physics cannot deal with biology).
Saying that "Quantum processes are not influenced by conscious thought" is another verbal slight-of-hand. If you take the reductionist view that all biological processes can be derived from the laws of physics, then consciousness is a quantum process. What else could it be?

When your conscious mind makes a decision, a quantum process in your brain makes a measurement. Outside observers might be able to make some probabilistic predictions, but they will not know your decision for sure until they see it. That is how quantum mechanics works. It is bizarre to see a physicist say anything else.

A physicist in 1900 might well have said that it is hard to imagine a mathematical theory of everything that accommodates free will. Such a person, when confronted with quantum mechanics in 1930, might very well have declared that the theory is perfectly designed to defeat of his arguments.

A comment says:
I enjoyed reading this discussion of free will. It left me puzzled, however. I have had the same difficulty when members of my church wrote about free will. (I grew up Catholic, by the way.)

What is free will? I can't find in scriptures. Church sources affirm it, but do not explain clearly what it is. I have concluded that the consequences of good or bad actions are unavoidable, and that it is better to choose the good.

As an answer, I think, this is not completely satisfactory.
You can find a good Catholic explanation in the Catholic Encyclopedia. And yes, you can find it in Scripture, such as when Jesus said, "No go and sin no more." Other religions like Islam reject free will.

Some people consider freedom and choice essential to the human spirit. Others are happy to be slaves to their programming.

Bee concludes:
I have come to the conclusion that a large fraction of people are cognitively unable to question the existence of free will, and there is no argument that can change their mind. Therefore, the purpose of this blogpost is not to convince those who are resistant to rational arguments.
This is like saying most people are unable to cognitively question the claim that we all live in an artificial simulation.

No, it is not hard to understand the possibility of people being entirely pre-programmed. If Bee says that she is unable to make a decision on her own, I will take her word for it. Watching Trump-haters on CNN leads me to believe that they are all pre-programmed.

A reader points out:
You conclude there is no free will on the basis that the universe follows differential equations and quantum mechanics, so as I understand it its determinism plus randomness, which cannot add up to free will. Fair enough.

Presumably, we developed a system of differential equations to explain our observations of the universe, and then later developed a theory of quantum mechanics to explain other observations that could not be explained by the former. So an extra system was developed to address observations not covered by the previous system. On the correct basis that free will cannot be explained by these two systems, you reject it. However, what of the alternative possibility that there is yet another system that we have not yet considered that does allow for free will? Quantum mechanics was developed to explain observations that were unexplainable by determinism; we didn't just say that those observations were clearly wrong or somehow explained in a hitherto unknown way by the previous determinism-only paradigm.
Bee responds:
I wish to respectfully disagree that "it just can't be" sums up my position. I am pointing out it is in conflict with theories that are built on a huge amount of evidence.

Sure, free will deserves an explanation, but it's not difficult to explain. Free will is a consequence of our inability to predict our own actions with certainty. Ie, your brain arrives at decisions by evaluating the benefits of certain courses of action. You take the one that seems to suit your goals best. But since you are not able to predict what you will do before you actually do it (that being the purpose of the evaluation), you think the decision was "free".
No, this is backwards. Free will is evidenced by the failure of one person to predict the actions of another. I might make prediction of my own actions using the same mental processes that I use to make decisions.

There is no evidence against free will. None at all. She fudges this point by saying that there is evidence for theories that conflict with free will.

By this she means that there is evidence for Newtonian dynamics, and Newtonian dynamics is deterministic. But Newtonian dynamics is not truly deterministic. If you ask for positions of planets, moons, and asteroids a millennium from now, the theory can only make probabilistic predictions. Likewise, you can make probabilistic predictions about what decisions President Trump will make. There is no conflict.

Only philosophers, physicists, and other such people have any trouble with free will. Most people have no trouble understanding that they make decisions. It takes a lot of explanation to see how someone can deny it.

Update: I just spotted a blogger making this comment today in another context:
As Bertrand Russell said, this is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.
Brilliant. Denying free will is another of those views. So is many-worlds, or believing that we all live in a simulation.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Philosophy is now Feminist

Philosopher of pseudoscience Massimo Pigliucci wrote an essay with his opinions on the string wars. He quotes some physicists who put down current philosophers, and then goes into a rant in defense of philosophical thinking.

Those physicists were putting down philosophers, not philosophy.

He then complains that physicists talk about Popper instead of subsequent work on paradigm shifts.

Maybe that is because the work on paradigm shifts is just too stupid to discuss.

Finally he thinks that physicists should quit philosophizing about string theory, and join the fight against homeopaths and psychics.

I could get that criticism also -- why do I attack bogus physics when there are so many more bogus things to attack?

Sorry, I have no knowledge or interest in homeopaths and psychics.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a useful resource. It has articles by philosophers, as opposed to Wikipedia, which allows editing by anyone.

If you want to see how philosophy has degenerated, see this comment:
SEP articles devoted to feminism and feminist philosophy:

Feminist Philosophy

Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues
Feminist Perspectives on Rape
Latin American Feminism
Feminist Perspectives on Objectification
Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science
Feminist Moral Psychology
Feminist Bioethics
Feminist Philosophy of Law
*Feminist Perspectives on Science
Identity Politics
Feminist Perspectives on Sex Markets
Feminist Perspectives on the Body
Feminist Ethics
Feminist Perspectives on Disability
Feminist Philosophy of Religion
Feminist Philosophy of Language
Feminist Perspectives on the Self
Feminist Social Epistemology
*Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender
Feminist Metaphysics
Feminist Environmental Philosophy
Feminist Philosophy of Biology
Feminist Aesthetics
Feminist Perspectives on Class and Work
Feminist History of Philosophy
Feminist Perspectives on Globalization
Feminist Perspectives on Power
Feminist Political Philosophy
*The History of Feminism: Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet
Intersections Between Analytic and Continental Feminism
Intersections Between Pragmatist and Continental Feminism
Psychoanalytic Feminism
Continental Feminism
Pragmatist Feminism
Analytic Feminism
Liberal Feminism

There are a total of thirty-seven articles devoted to feminism and feminist issues in the SEP. I have omitted from the above list (complete) articles devoted to a number of significant feminist philosophers and thinkers.
The field is still mostly male, as opposed to some social sciences that are overrun with women.

There is no agreement in these articles on what term feminism means, nor is there any anti-feminism view described.