Thursday, April 23, 2020

Aaronson's world is crashing

I am afraid Scott Aaronson is losing it:
But I didn’t bash Devs. I watched a show that doesn’t merely get a few details wrong, but that’s entirely about taking a steaming dump on everything that I’ve spent my entire life trying to get through people’s heads—e.g., that quantum computers are not magic oracles, that they’re interesting because the stock sci-fi plots that you already knew don’t map onto them, because they illustrate how the actual world is more imaginative than our tropes, and also, that the people who work on these topics are something like the characters on “The Big Bang Theory” but nothing whatsoever like the characters on spooky dramas — and I described the show on my blog as “not that bad” (because it wasn’t). Do you have any idea what an effort of will that took? 🙂

Look, I’m going through a deep depression right now. Indeed, I’m finding it hard to understand anyone who isn’t depressed, given the terrifying state of the world, the morgues running out of room for more corpses, the collapse of people’s plans for their lives, the food deliveries that ominously no longer show up as the machinery of the world starts groaning to a halt, the clowns running wild in the control room, how easily this all could’ve been prevented but wasn’t, one’s own personal failure to foresee it. Why were we fated to be alive right now, to try to raise children now, right when the music of civilization finally stopped?
He is referring to Devs, a fictional TV show on Hulu. The clowns are Donald Trump and his associates in the White House. The collapse is the Wuhan virus lockdown.

Aaronson is a respected computer complexity theory professor, and it known to the wider public for his stereotypical nerdiness, and his futile attempts to both hype quantum computing as the greatest advance in the history of civilization, along debunking nearly everyone else's explanation of how it might possibly do something useful.

I watched a few episodes of Devs, and I am not sure why it is any more aggravating than The Big Bang Theory. In one scene, a professor explains the von Neumann Wigner interpretation of quantum mechanics, while the know-it-all student shouts obscenities in favor of Everett many-worlds. Okay, it is a caricature, but it is TV fiction, and the real-life physicists are as ridiculous as some of the TV explanations.

Update: Aaronson posted again, with weird paranoid beliefs. He also said the leader of Google's quantum computing effort has quit, apparently over disagreements over what can be done. My guess is that management was pressuring him to get results, and he saw that the hype could not be continued indefinitely. Some careers could go south when the project fizzles.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

John Horton Conway dies

NY Times obituary:
John Horton Conway, the English-born Princeton mathematician whose body of work ranged from the rigorously highbrow to the frivolously fun, earning him prizes and a reputation as a creative, iconoclastic and even magical genius, died on Saturday in New Brunswick, N.J. He was 82.

His wife, Diana Conway, said his death, at a nursing home, was caused by Covid-19. ...

One of Dr. Conway’s favorite accomplishments was the Free Will Theorem, conceptualized casually over the course of a decade with his friend and fellow Princeton mathematician Simon Kochen and first published in 2006 (and later revised).

The theorem, simply put, is this: If physicists have free will while performing experiments, then elementary particles possess free will as well. And this, Dr. Conway and Dr. Kochen reckoned, probably explains why and how humans have free will in the first place.
I think this theorem is an important insight, but others downplay it, such as Scott Aaronson:
Closest to my wheelhouse, Conway together with Simon Kochen waded into the foundations of quantum mechanics in 2006, with their “Free Will Theorem”—a result Conway liked to summarize provocatively as “if human experimenters have free will, then so do the elementary particles they measure.” I confess that I wasn’t a fan at the time—partly because Conway and Kochen’s theorem was really about “freshly-generated randomness,” rather than free will in any sense related to agency, but also partly because I’d already known the conceptual point at issue, but had considered it folklore (see, e.g., my 2002 review of Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science). Over time, though, the “Free Will Theorem” packaging grew on me. Much like with the No-Cloning Theorem and other simple enormities, sometimes it’s worth making a bit of folklore so memorable and compelling that it will never be folklore again.
Really? Free will is just freshly-generated randomness?

In a sense, that is right. If I make decisions out of my free choice, they appear to be freshly-generated randomness to someone else who cannot predict what I do.

If he can predict what I do, then I don't have free will. So yes, you can say free will is nothing but freshly-generated randomness, but that is just a linguistic trick for devaluing it.

(Off-topic, a comment says about the corona virus, "This is going to be on the order of a standard flu season." Scott compares this to "Holocaust denial". Wow, a lot of smart people have gone mad. It does appear that the COVID-19 death total will be comparable to a bad flu season. Yes, Conway is reported to have died of COVID-19, but he was age 82 and living in a nursing home. Most of those who die of COVID-19 have multiple other health issues contributing to the death.)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Reductionism is firmly established

Dr. Bee defends reductionism:
A lot of people seem to think that reductionism is a philosophy. But it most definitely is not. That reductionism is correct is a hypothesis about the properties of nature and it is a hypothesis that has so far been supported by every single experiment that has ever been done. I cannot think of *any scientific fact that is better established than that the properties of the constituents of a system determine how the system works. ...

Indeed, the whole history of science until now has been a success story of reductionism. Biology can be reduced to chemistry, chemistry can be reduced to atomic physics, and atoms are made of elementary particles. This is why we have computers today.
I agree with this, but see this recent paper:
The relationship between the chemical picture of an isolated molecule and ttuff.hat arising from the eiegenfunctions of the Schrodinger Coulomb Hamiltonian [for] the isolated molecule are examined and discussed.
Apparently the program to reduce chemistry to atomic physics has run into some problems. We still need chemistry, because the atomic physicists cannot explain some basic stuff.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Dr. Quantum Supremacy goes full panic

The Wuhan China virus is driving a lot of people batty, and now it has driven Scott Aaronson over the edge:
If the pandemic has radicalized you, I won’t think that makes you crazy. It’s radicalized me, noticeably shifted my worldview. And in some sense, I no more apologize for that, than I apologize for my worldview presumably differing from what it would’ve been in some parallel universe with no WWII.
Meanwhile, Lubos Motl thinks that he is our last sane man.

Hope you all are well. These guys seem to be living in parallel universes. This is the best argument for many-worlds I have seen yet!

My gut feeling that when this crisis is all over, it will be clear that everyone overreacted.

Monday, April 6, 2020

What is Mathematics?

A Math blog asks what is mathematics, and only provides silly answers:
Any argument carried out with sufficient precision.

Using arguments with more than two steps.

Mathematics is what mathematicians do.

Mathematics is the branch of natural philosophy that concerns itself with only making true statements.

Mathematics ought to be considered as a set of precise, symbolic, languages that serves as a lingua franca for the physical sciences.
All of these answers are unsatisfactory.

Mathematics is knowledge obtained by logical proofs.

Saying that mathematics is a language is like saying music or philosophy is a language. Sure they use language to communicate, but so does everyone else.

Using phrases like "sufficient precision" ignores the fact that some arguments are proofs, and some are not. Math demands proofs.

Saying "true statements" comes the closest to describing math, but of course many other fields claim to be finding truth. Only math finds it with logical proofs.