Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Dr. Bee says diff-eqs imply determinism

Sabine Hossenfelder is a superdeterminism, and she made a new video saying that the concept of free will makes no sense:
But first, let me tell you what’s wrong with this intuitive idea that we can somehow select among possible futures.

Last week, I explained what differential equations are, and that all laws of nature which we currently know work with those differential equations. These laws have the common property that if you have an initial condition at one moment in time, for example the exact details of the particles in your brain and all your brain’s inputs, then you can calculate what happens at any other moment in time from those initial conditions. This means in a nutshell that the whole story of the universe in every single detail was determined already at the big bang. We are just watching it play out.

These deterministic laws of nature apply to you and your brain because you are made of particles, and what happens with you is a consequence of what happens with those particles.

She makes it clear that she is no relying on neuroscience or any other scientific knowledge. She also explicitly rejects philosophical rationalizations of free will, like compatibilism.

In other words, she is a full believer in Laplace's Demon.

Free will is mostly a philosophical question. Superdeterminism cannot be disproven, just as the simulation hypothesis cannot be.

So I am criticizing her reasoning, more than her conclusion.

First, the brain is not made of particles. It is made of quantum fields.

2nd, differential equations are only approximations, and do not predict peoples' choices.

3rd, differential equations are often used with stochastic processes, and are not determinist.

I can predict that some people who didn’t actually watch this video will leave a comment saying they had no other choice than leaving their comment and think they are terribly original.
Ha, ha, but she did not leave the post open for comments, so her prediction turned out wrong.

Here is my biggest disagreement:

What about quantum mechanics? In quantum mechanics some events are truly random and cannot be predicted. Does this mean that quantum mechanics is where you can find free will? Sorry, but no, this makes no sense. These random events in quantum mechanics are not influenced by you, regardless of exactly what you mean by “you”, because they are not influenced by anything. That’s the whole point of saying they are fundamentally random. Nothing determines their outcome. There is no “will” in this. Not yours and not anybody else’s. Taken together we therefore have determinism with the occasional, random quantum jump, and no combination of these two types of laws allows for anything resembling this intuitive idea that we can somehow choose which possible future becomes real. The reason this idea of free will turns out to be incompatible with the laws of nature is that it never made sense in the first place. You see, that thing you call “free will” should in some sense allow you to choose what you want. But then it’s either determined by what you want, in which case it’s not free, or it’s not determined, in which case it’s not a will.
No, this is completely wrong. Random just means that it is not predicted by the available data and theory. It says nothing about whether something else might be determining the outcome.

If I have a Schroedinger cat in a box, then it appears random to me whether the cat is alive or dead. But someone else may have peeked, and know the answer. The randomness just applies to my knowledge. Likewise, your decision making may seem random to me, because I cannot predict it, but to you it is driven by your free will.

She seems to have some very strange idea about what "fundamentally random" means. It does not mean that there can be no free will involved. There has never been any scientific work to support that.

That being said, a lot of people are brainwashed, or otherwise fail to show much free will. There is even evidence that drugs can be used to alter political beliefs:

Increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarian political views after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression ...

This pilot study suggests that psilocybin with psychological support might produce lasting changes in attitudes and beliefs. Although it would be premature to infer causality from this small study, the possibility of drug-induced changes in belief systems seems sufficiently intriguing and timely to deserve further investigation.

The way the entire academic establishment has lined up politically this year, leads me to believe that they do not have free will.

Update: Scott Aaronson says it doesn't matter if we are living in a simulation, as we would not know. I do think that believing the world is a simulation, or a dream, or a superdetermined scenario, are all about the same belief. They are all just denying reality and pretending that everything is some sort of fiction.

1 comment:

  1. Roger,
    I for one believe Dr. Hossenfelder is correct... but only as far as concerning herself. If she does not believe she has free will, I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a self fulfilling prophecy. If Dr. Hossenfelder had been a scientist a few years prior to the Wright Brother's airplane, she would of most likely have determined heaver than air travel as impossible as well, as it was the 'informed' academic position, it took a couple of non-expert bicycle repairmen to prove the experts wrong, largely because they didn't subscribe to the belief that what they were doing wasn't possible.

    It has been shown for quite some time that people who have been conditioned not to question, or to accept what they are told have a diminished capacity for self governance. I think Dr. Hossenfelder goes off the track however when she equates having one's decision affected by experiences to be indication of a lack of free will. Of course decisions are affected by experiences, they wouldn't be decisions if they weren't, you perceive something, and then come to a decision of what to do in response. Bee's definition of free will would seem to revolve around the idea that making a rational decision based on evidence is somehow an indication of a lack of the ability to choose. The abundance of people who choose incredibly poorly to their own detriment would seem to be at odds with her 'informed' opinion however. If two people are asked if they would prefer to jump off a cliff or climb down, and they both decide to climb down, it doesn't indicate a lack of free will, only that they aren't stupid and don't wish to harm themselves. We live in a universe that we must contend with and usually accomodate, that is going to shape our decisions. That doesn't mean we don't have the ability to decide for ourselves.

    Dr. Bee thinks free will is some kind of cosmic statement at odds with determinism. It isn't, it is merely the ability to choose for one's self. If Bee thinks she doesn't have this ability, that is her choice, but she doesn't get to make that decision for me.