Monday, May 3, 2021

Does Quantum AI have Free Will?

A new paper argues that a quantum computer could be conscious, and have free will.

Since I am skeptical that quantum computer will ever achieve quantum supremacy, you probably think that I dismiss this as nuts. Actually I don't.

Turing machines are deterministic, and do not have free will. But I believe humans do. The mechanism is not understood, and may involve quantum mechanics. So maybe a quantum computer can do that, even if cannot factor large numbers.

The London Guardian has a good essay on the arguments about free will. It says:

Harris argues that if we fully grasped the case against free will, it would be difficult to hate other people: how can you hate someone you don’t blame for their actions? Yet love would survive largely unscathed, ...

I personally can’t claim to find the case against free will ultimately persuasive; it’s just at odds with too much else that seems obviously true about life.

I agree with that last sentence. A lot of intellectuals reject free will, but in the process they also reject a lot of things that seem obviously true.

I do not agree with the love/hate analysis. If I believe that someone has no free will, and is merely a preprogrammed robot to do evil things, then sure, that is a good reason to hate him. He would be a sub-human evil nuisance. A puppet of the devil. As for love, try telling your wife that you only love her because the chemicals in your body have made that illusion. Some psychologists say that, and I don't think it helps.

The article says that philosophers have gotten death threats over such issues.

Jerry Coyne endorses most of the essay, but argues:

Contracausal free will is the bedrock of Abrahamic religions, which of course have many adherents.
No. Islam doesn't accept free will. Moslems are always talking about God's will being carried out, as if no one can do anything about it. Jews have mixed views. Catholics believe strongly in free will, and so do many Protestants, but some, such as Calvinists, do not.

A previous Guardian essay by historian Yuval Noah Harari said:
Unfortunately, “free will” isn’t a scientific reality. It is a myth inherited from Christian theology. Theologians developed the idea of “free will” to explain why God is right to punish sinners for their bad choices and reward saints for their good choices. If our choices aren’t made freely, why should God punish or reward us for them? ...

You cannot decide what desires you have. You don’t decide to be introvert or extrovert, easy-going or anxious, gay or straight. Humans make choices – but they are never independent choices. ...

But now the belief in “free will” suddenly becomes dangerous. If governments and corporations succeed in hacking the human animal, the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will.

He is gay Israeli Jewish atheist. Perhaps he is a slave to his programming, but others are not.

Theologians did not invent free will. The Gospels use phrases like "go and sin no more". This assumes that you can choose to sin, or not sin.

You can decide to be an introvert or extravert. Change is not easy, but people do it.

No, the easiest to manipulate are those who think that they are already slaves.

Coyne argues:

Free will skepticism (sometimes called “hard determinism”). As you must know, this is the view to which I adhere. Though it’s often called “determinism”, with the implication that the laws of physics have already determined the entire future of the universe, including what you will do, that’s not my view. There is, if quantum mechanics be right, a fundamental form of indeterminism that is unpredictable, like when a given atom in a radioactive compound will decay. It’s unclear to what extent this fundamental unpredictability affects our actions or their predictability, but I’m sure it’s played some role in evolution (via mutation) or in the Big Bang (as Sean Carroll tells me). Thus I prefer to use the term “naturalism” rather than “determinism.” But, at any rate, fundamental quantum unpredictability cannot give us free will, for it has nothing to do with either “will” or “freedom”.
I call this argument: Only God has Free Will.

Coyne is an atheist, but he seems to believe in some sort of Spinoza God. Humans have no freedom or free will. We are just puppets being controlled. God is not a predictable robot, and can make choices for us and the world. God even guides evolution of biological species by directing mutations.

The phrase "fundamental quantum unpredictability" means that the human observer can only predict probabilities. It always leaves open the possibility that someone with more info could make a better prediction. If Coyne wants to believe that it is some sort of God making all our choices for us, I guess that possibility is allowed.

For example, a quantum mechanics textbook might say that a uranium atom has a certain probability of radioactive decay in the next hour. And maybe that is all that can be said with the info available. But nowhere will it say that it is impossible to make a better prediction, if the state of the atom could be more precisely determined. As a practical matter, it is hopeless to get the wavefunctions of all the quarks in a uranium nucleus, but the point remains that better info might give a better prediction.

In my opinion, attributing all the decisions in the world to a Spinoza God is contrary to common sense and experience, and does not really solve anything. It is like a turtle argument that atheists like to mock. In fact, I worry about the mental health of anyone who believes that, as it is similar to schizophrenics who say that they are obeying voices in their heads.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Feynman quote on Leftist Groupthink

...There was a special dinner at some point, and the head of the theology place, a very nice, very Jewish man, gave a speech. It was a good speech, and he was a very good speaker, so while it sounds crazy now, when I’m telling about it, at that time his main idea sounded completely obvious and true. He talked about the big differences in the welfare of various countries, which cause jealousy, which leads to conflict, and now that we have atomic weapons, any war and we’re doomed, so therefore the right way out is to strive for peace by making sure there are no great differences from place to place, and since we have so much in the United States, we should give up nearly everything to the other countries until we’re all even. Everybody was listening to this, and we were all full of sacrificial feeling, and all thinking we ought to do this. But I came back to my senses on the way home. The next day one of the guys in our group said, “I think that speech last night was so good that we should all endorse it, and it should be the summary of our conference.” I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries—that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time. The conference made me so nervous that a girl I knew in New York had to calm me down. “Look,” she said, “you’re shaking!..."

Thursday, April 22, 2021

New book on Free Will Debate

Philosophers Dan Dennett and Greg Caruso wrote a a 2018 debate on free will, and now they have expanded it into a book. From a review, they agree more than they disagree:
Both are naturalists (JD p.171) who see no supernatural interference in the workings of the world. That leaves both men accepting general determinism in the universe (JD p.33), which simply means all events and behaviours have prior causes. Therefore, the libertarian version of free will is out. Any hope that humans can generate an uncaused action is deemed a “non-starter” by Gregg (JD p.41) and “panicky metaphysics” by Dan (JD p.53). Nonetheless, both agree that “determinism does not prevent you from making choices” (JD p.36), and some of those choices are hotly debated because of “the importance of morality” (JD p.104). Laws are written to define which choices are criminal offenses. But both acknowledge that “criminal behaviour is often the result of social determinants” (JD p.110) and “among human beings, many are extremely unlucky in their initial circumstances, to say nothing of the plights that befall them later in life” (JD p.111). Therefore “our current system of punishment is obscenely cruel and unjust” (JD p.113), and both share “concern for social justice and attention to the well-being of criminals” (JD p.131).
Their hair-splitting philosophical differences are not that interesting. What interests me is how they could both have such a screwed-up view of life, and still think that they are on opposite sides of a big issue.

Caruso says we have no free will. Dennett says that we think that we do, and it is useful to maintain the illusion, but it is not real.

Without free will, there ia no consciousness. Our systems of law, ethics, morality, and politics depend on free will. Christianity is based on it. So is the scientific method. It is hard to imagine how modern civilization could even exist without free will.

These philosophers discard it all based on a belief that all events have prior causes.

When a uranium nucleus decays, is it determined by prior causes? Our best scientists cannot answer this question. But somehow these philosophers can get the answer by playing silly word games? No, it is all nonsense.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Trans Ideology and the New Ptolemaism

The social sciences often make cosmological analogies, and screw them up so badly that I cannot even tell what point they are making.

Here is a new scholarly paper on an academic dispute:

Trans Ideology and the New Ptolemaism in the Academy ...

Ptolemy constructed an inordinately complex model of the universe in order to make all of the empirical data conform to a central, organizing false assumption, namely, that the earth was at the center.

Foucault’s influence in the academy is at least as often lamented as celebrated, and I will not attempt in what follows a comprehensive critique of his work. Instead, I will focus on one tendency his example has encouraged, which, using Rockhill’s analogy, I will call the “new Ptolemaism.” This is a push for scholarship to be insistently insular and to be much less interested in the study of the world than in the study of the study of the world. This kind of work, which is by now very common in the social sciences and humanities, performs the same neat trick every time. It turns out, in every such analysis, that the framing of inquiry turns out to be more significant than the object of inquiry. ... ...

Consider present day calls to remake the academy. There should be more soft sociology of the hard sciences; there should be more women in male dominated disciplines; we should “indigenize” the university. There are two terms in each case; we should reverse the conventional hierarchy of those terms; and the results will be profoundly liberatory, because, Ptolemaically, the university rather than the world is the most important locus of struggle. ...

Gender critical feminists like me notice, of course, that one infinitely more often sees and hears the slogan “transwomen are women” than its counterpart “transmen are men.” To understand why this is the case, you’d have to pay attention to patterns of power in the world rather than to Ptolemaic valence-flipping. One of the signs on my office door that most infuriated feminist academic women colleagues on social media described the parallels between men’s rights activism and trans rights activism. Many feminist academic women clearly saw it as their moral and intellectual duty to decry this assertion.

The Foucealt here has nothing to do with the Foucault pendulum, which helped prove Ptolemy wrong about the motion of the Earth. No, it is a French post-modernist and pedophile rapist.

The author might have some valid points about feminism and trans ideology, but the Ptolemy stuff is nonsense, and the Foucealt stuff probably is also.

Ptolemy did not construct an inordinately complex model of the universe. It was not any more complicated that any other model achieving similar accuracy. He did assume that the Earth was at the center, but the model is not really any different or more complicated from that. He descibed the stars, Sun, planets, and Moon as seen from Earth, so he would have to include the calculations needed for that whether the Earth moved or not. It was not really a false assumption that the Earth was at the center, but a way of defining an Earth-centered coordinate system that is a completely legitimate way of recording observations.

The motion of the Earth was one of the great scientific issues in the history of mankind, but it is nearly always misrepresented.

This Babylon Bee parody is a lot more entertaining on the subject. To understand it, it helps to have seen the November 3, 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Israeli prize nominee is quantum skeptic

Scott Aaronson write:
Oded Goldreich is a theoretical computer scientist at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. He’s best known for helping to lay the rigorous foundations of cryptography in the 1980s, ... Since then, I’ve interacted with Oded from time to time, partly around his firm belief that quantum computing is impossible.

Last month a committee in Israel voted to award Goldreich the Israel Prize (roughly analogous to the US National Medal of Science), for which I’d say Goldreich had been a plausible candidate for decades. But alas, Yoav Gallant, Netanyahu’s Education Minister, then rather non-gallantly blocked the award, solely because he objected to Goldreich’s far-left political views (and apparently because of various statements Goldreich signed, including in support of a boycott of Ariel University, which is in the West Bank). ...

[Nick] Is there any kind of correlation between leftist political views and QC skepticism?

Nick #33: I can’t say I’ve noticed any such correlation. On the other hand, maybe not surprisingly, I have noticed a strong correlation between QC skepticism and just general contrarianism, about politics, climate science, high-energy physics, or whatever else.

Some people just don't go along with the program for what everyone is supposed to believe, I guess.

Most of Aaronson's post and comments have to do with whether professors should be denied academic prizes because of their political opinions. This is how far we have gone. No bright young ambitious academic researcher expresses a politically incorrect opinion anymore.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Philosophers try to discredit Realism

John Horgan writes in SciAm:
Although my realism has been wobbling lately, I remain a realist. ...

Filmmaker Errol Morris, who studied under Kuhn in the 1970s and ended up loathing him, contends that Kuhnian-style postmodernism makes it easier for politicians and other powerful figures to lie. Philosopher Timothy Williamson makes a similar point in “In defence of realism.” “Imagine a future,” Williamson writes, “where a dictator or would-be dictator, accused of spreading falsehoods, can reply: ‘You are relying on obsolescent realist ideas of truth and falsity; realism has been discredited in philosophy.’”

I agree with methat, but I am afraid it is a losing battle.

Not only are philosohers denying realism, so are physicists, increasingly. And even those who agree with me on interpretations of quantum mechanics have conceded the term realism. That is, they will say that Copenhagen is not a realist interpretation, because we cannot simultaneously say the electron's position and momentum are.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Good videos about Quantum Mechanics

I have criticized popular accounts of quantum mechanics, but they are not all bad.

Lubos Motl praises a series of 3 elementary videos.

I also recommend Quantum Mechanics Isn’t Weird, We’re Just Too Big | Qiskit Seminar Series with Phillip Ball. Ball is a well-known science writer.

I am sure that there are many others. There have been good textbooks since 1930. Just be wary of anything talking about cats, parallel universes, and nonlocality.

There are lots of good videos on relativity, but I have a quibble with this one on general relativity mishaps. Most of it is about distinguishing the time dilation from velocity, which it calls special relativity, from the time dilations from gravity, which it calls general relativity.

He says that if the GPS satellites were the right height, the the effects would cancel out.

All that is correct, except that both time dilations are part of what used to be called special relativity. You don't need any metric geometry, and Einstein derived the gravity time dilation from just special relativity.

Some people say that special relativity is just about constant velocities (ie, uniform motion), but it was applied to accelating objects from the very start. The GPS satellite is just an accelating object. So is the ground receiver, if you figure in the acceleration of gravity.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Civilization was inspired by Astronomy

Thought experiment:
Imagine that over the last 11 thousand years (that is, the period of stable climate following upon the last ice age which allowed the human civilisation to develop)the atmospheric conditions on Earth were different: the skies were always covered, even in the absence of clouds, by a very light haze, not preventing the developmentof agriculture, but obscuring the stars and turning the sun and the moon into amorphous light spots. Would mathematics have had a chance to develop beyond basic arithmetic and geometry sufficient for measuring fields and keeping records of harvest? I doubt that. Civilisations which developed serious mathematics also had serious astronomy (it was an equivalent of our theoretical physics). But I claim even more: the movement of stars in the sky was the paradigm of precision andreproducibility, the two characteristic features of mathematics. Where else could humans learn the concept of absolute precision?
I agree with that. Without astronomy, we would not have much civilization today.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Trusting CDC to be science-based

From a Time magazine article, a year ago:
As the new coronavirus COVID-19 spreads in the U.S., people who are well want to stay that way. But since no vaccines are currently available, the strongest weapons Americans have are basic preventive measures like hand-washing and sanitizing surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The simplicity of those recommendations is likely unsettling to people anxious to do more to protect themselves, so it’s no surprise that face masks are in short supply—despite the CDC specifically not recommending them for healthy people trying to protect against COVID-19. “It seems kind of intuitively obvious that if you put something — whether it’s a scarf or a mask — in front of your nose and mouth, that will filter out some of these viruses that are floating around out there,” says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University. The only problem: that’s not effective against respiratory illnesses like the flu and COVID-19. If it were, “the CDC would have recommended it years ago,” he says. “It doesn’t, because it makes science-based recommendations.”

The science, according to the CDC, says that surgical masks won’t stop the wearer from inhaling small airborne particles, which can cause infection.

Remember this, next time you are told to trust the experts at the CDC.

Maybe the CDC was right that the masks were useless. The evidence for masks is dubious. I am not sure myself. But the official CDC recommendations don't seem to be any better than common-sense judgments from the average person.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Hard Science Journals have gone Leftist

Respected publications that used to stick to hard science are increasingly politicized.

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) published:

Gun violence rises in TV dramas over two decades, paralleling US gun homicide trends
. Historian Clayton Cramer points out that US gun homicides did not increase over the same period.

Scientific American currently has articles on Human Genetics Needs an Antiracism Plan and Trans Girls Belong on Girls’ Sports Teams. These articles advocate extreme leftist political positions that even most leftists would have rejected several years ago.

I would not mind this so much if the journals would occasionally publish right-wing views. But they do not. It is all Leftism, all the time.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Cashing in on the Quantum Hype

A quantum computing company is going public:
IonQ has entered into a definitive merger agreement with dMY Technology Group III (NYSE: DMYI.U)
IonQ To Become The First Publicly Traded Pure-Play Quantum Computing Company
Scott Aaronson is getting concerned about the unbound money and enthusiasm compromising the legitimate science:
What’s new is that millions of dollars are now potentially available to quantum computing researchers, along with equity, stock options, and whatever else causes “ka-ching” sound effects and bulging eyes with dollar signs. And in many cases, to have a shot at such riches, all an expert needs to do is profess optimism that quantum computing will have revolutionary, world-changing applications and have them soon. ...

As some of you might’ve seen already, IonQ, the trapped-ion QC startup that originated from the University of Maryland, is poised to have the first-ever quantum computing IPO — a so-called “SPAC IPO,” which while I’m a financial ignoramus, apparently involves merging with a shell company and thereby bypassing the SEC’s normal IPO rules. Supposedly they’re seeking $650 million in new funding and a $2 billion market cap. If you want to see what IonQ is saying about QC to prospective investors, click here. Lacking any choice in the matter, I’ll probably say more about these developments in a future post.

Meanwhile, PsiQuantum, the Palo-Alto-based optical QC startup, has said that it’s soon going to leave “stealth mode.” And Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Honeywell, and other big players continue making large investments in QC—treating it, at least rhetorically, not at all like blue-sky basic research, but like a central part of their future business plans.

I think that this is obviously a bubble, as none of these efforts have any reasonable chance of making money in the foreseeable future. But when it might burst, I cannot say.

Tesla Motors and GameStop also seem like bubbles. But they at least sell products successfully.

In June 2019, quantum computing progress was said to be doubly exponential. That is, the exponent is another exponent. If that were true, then these companies would be cashing in already.

Aaronson hints that he might be selling out himself. I would say that he is a fool if he does not cash in somehow. These bubbles/opportunities do not come often.

Update: The Aaronson blog generated these comments:

[Tamas V] I teach intro-level courses on QC, and once a participant mentioned that quantum computers could be used by fortune tellers. You can create a nice story, e.g. “nobody in the universe knows what the result of measuring a |+⟩ state in the computational basis will be… so it must be God’s way of giving you advice when I run this and that quantum program, because God is beyond our universe…”. And this can be done even with today’s devices, but not with pseudo- or classical randomness! Now it’s your part to convince the believers that God has nothing to do with the results

This example made me think that there might be some early unexpected commercial applications of QC, it’s only a matter of imagination…

[Scott] The problem with the fortune-telling “application” is not what you think it is. It’s that there a quantum random-number generator (let’s say, a Geiger counter next to a chunk of uranium) is all you need, and that’s been available for more than a century. A quantum computer simply isn’t needed for this.

[Tamas V] OMG, don’t approach it from the scientific side, it’s all about marketing.

1. You cannot *sell* such an idea with Geiger counters. Quantum computers are absolutely necessary, and they also allow the fortune teller to program more complicated/obscure “predictions”.
2. One cannot easily access and program a bunch of radioactive atoms via the cloud.

That could be a metaphor for the whole field. You cannot find anything useful, or sell anything honestly. The whole trick is to present something useless as magical.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Defining Mathematics

New Yorker magazine essay tries to define mathematics:
Mathematicians know what mathematics is but have difficulty saying it. I have heard: Mathematics is the craft of creating new knowledge from old, using deductive logic and abstraction. The theory of formal patterns. Mathematics is the study of quantity. A discipline that includes the natural numbers and plane and solid geometry. The science that draws necessary conclusions. Symbolic logic. The study of structures. The account we give of the timeless architecture of the cosmos. The poetry of logical ideas. Statements related by very strict rules of deduction. A means of seeking a deductive pathway from a set of axioms to a set of propositions or their denials. A science involving things you can’t see, whose presence is confined to the imagination. A proto-text whose existence is only postulated. A precise conceptual apparatus. The study of ideas that can be handled as if they were real things. The manipulation of the meaningless symbols of a first-order language according to explicit, syntactical rules. A field in which the properties and interactions of idealized objects are examined. The science of skillful operations with concepts and rules invented for the purpose. Conjectures, questions, intelligent guesses, and heuristic arguments about what is probably true. The longest continuous human thought. Laboriously constructed intuition. The thing that scientific ideas, as they grow toward perfection, become. An ideal reality. A story that has been written for thousands of years, is always being added to, and might never be finished. The largest coherent artifact that’s been built by civilization. Only a formal game. What mathematicians do, the way musicians do music.
Those are good, but this gets to the heart of the matter:
Mathematicians live within a world that is essentially certain. The rest of us, even other scientists, live within one where what represents certainty is so-far-as-we-can-tell-this-result-occurs-almost-all-of-the-time. Because of mathematics’ insistence on proof, it can tell us, within the range of what it knows, what happens time after time.
I will have to ponder this:
In Book 7 of the Republic, Plato has Socrates say that mathematicians are people who dream that they are awake.
Denyse O'Leary writes:
The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently encouraged teachers to register for training that encourages “ethnomathematics,” an education trend that argues, “among other things, that White supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer”:
“The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so,” the document for the “Equitable Math” toolkit reads. “Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict.” …

An associated “Dismantling Racism” workbook, linked within the toolkit, similarly identifies “objectivity” — described as “the belief that there is such a thing as being objective or ‘neutral'” — as a characteristic of White supremacy.

Instead of focusing on one right answer, the toolkit encourages teachers to “come up with at least two answers that might solve this problem.”

Sam Dorman, “Oregon promotes teacher program that seeks to undo ‘racism in mathematics’” at Fox News (February 11, 2021)

Opponents of the new trend offer varying accounts of its origin — perhaps it results from in changes in overall philosophy of life or perhaps from the practical need to placate teachers’ unions, which may have various objectives apart from enabling numeracy in students. No matter, not only are x and y under attack but so is 2 + 2 = 4.
It is embarrassing how many respected scientists allow this nonsense to persist without saying anything. I am happy to see that physicist Lawrence Krauss wrote a Quillette essay denouncing some of the leftist propaganda:
Social justice activists have been arguing for some time that scientific societies and institutions need to address systemic sexism and racism in STEM disciplines. However, their rationale is often anything but scientific. For example, whenever percentages in faculty positions, test scores, or grant recipients in various disciplines do not match percentages of national average populations, racism or sexism is generally said to be the cause. This is in spite of the fact that no explicit examples of racism or sexism generally accompany the statistics. Correlation, after all, is not causation. Without some underlying mechanism or independent evidence to explain a correlation of observed outcomes with population statistics, inferring racism or sexism in academia as the cause is inappropriate.

One might have hoped for more rigor from the leadership of scientific societies and research institutions. Alas, this has not been the case.

My guess is that other scientists are afraid to say this out of fear that they will be canceled. Krauss only dares because he has already been canceled. His enemies tried to get him fired, based on gossip. I don't know if they succeeded or not.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Anti-free-will pitch from Sam Harris

I posted on the errors of solipsum, including criticism of the free will deniers.

The leading spokesman against free will and religion today is probably Sam Harris. He has been refining his free will argument for about ten years, as he wrote a 2012 book on the subject. He has now posted a podcast with his best argument against free will. If you prefer to read, it is summarized here.

He has a few omissions.

Religion. Harris was a Jewish atheist who converted to Buddhism, and is very negative about Christianity and Islam. This colors everything he says, even though he does not directly mention the Christian notion of free will.

Drugs. Harris spent his college years taking hallucinogenic drugs, and these seem to have permanently altered his brain. He talks about it in other podcasts. The drugs appears to have robbed him of some mental abilities.

Hypnosis. About 5% of the public is highly suggestible to hypnosis, and Harris has described himself as being one of those. That means that he is the type of person that stage hypnotists use to perform silly stunts to show off a lack of will. Harris is also a big believer in using his podcasts to hypnotize his listeners to follow his thinking. He does this in both his "Making Sense" podcast, where he advocates political and other opinions, and his "Waking Up" podcasts, where he more directly asks the listener to meditate on what he says.

Politics. His political views can best be described as Trumpism while denouncing Trump personally and pretending to be a leftist. Harris is anti-Islam, anti-immigration, pro-gun, pro-police, and most all, vigorously against the excesses of the Left. But he seems to lack the free will to say he supports Trump, and has had many podcast guests who severely denounce Trump personally. He appears to mainly associate with Leftists, and not understand right-wingers at all.

Science. Harris denies that is just making a philosophical argument, but he omits any arguments for or against free will from physics, biology, or neuroscience.

Harris's main argument is that when he appears to make a choice, such as naming a favorite movie, he does not feel as he is freely making the choice. It is all determined by voices in his head, or some such mechanism. He feels no sense of self, and always feels like a slave to external forces.

Of course he ends with a pitch for money, and a promise for more enlightenment if you send money. He denies that he is contradicting himself by asking us to choose to donate, because he says that we will have no choice but to do what is right. Furthermore, he says that it is liberating to a slave to reason and logical persuasion, because then you will be a rational being all the time.

If you are still reading this, and had not heard of Sam Harris, you must think that he is some sort of con man.

I believe him. I think he genuinely lacks the free will that most people have. I don't know if he lost it from drugs, or Buddhism, or Leftism, hypnosis, or what. Maybe he never had it. Listening to him is like listening to an advanced AI automaton.

The closest he comes to a scientific argument is where he repeatedly refers to randomness. He has an extremely determinist world view, but obviously someone told him that quantum mechanics is an exception. So he qualifies himself by saying things are determined except for quantum randomness. But he strenuously argues that free will is supposed to come from the self, and a pre-programmed computer cannot be the self, and the random actions of some quantum particles cannot be the self either.

Being a determinist is tough, because we have no scientific theories that are 100% determinist. There are zillions of scientific papers where the outcomes are 95% explained by the data, but never 100%. A determinist might argue that the papers might get 100%, but for experimental error. If determinism were really false, and assuming reductionism, then it ought to be possible to find experiments with purely unpredictable outcomes. Quantum mechanics provides exactly that.

So Harris's argument is like saying human consciousness does not exist because it depends on an autonomous mind, and the brain is made of atoms, and atoms are not conscious. Not much of an argument.

The physics argument is not his main argument. I mention it here because it is the only part that relates to science.

Harris has mostly made his reputation attacking Islam and Christianity, and espousing atheistic rationality. He talks about morals a lot, and pretends that he is taking the scientific rational approach.

I think that attitudes towards free will explain a lot. To most of us, free will is the most directly observable fact about the natural world. And yet our leading Physics popularizers have abandoned it. Scott Aaronson was one of the last holdouts. But now that he has adopted many-worlds theory, he has implicitly dropped free will. After all, a choice causes the world to branch, and each parallel world is equally real, with each copy thinking it made a choice. So no one ever really makes a choice.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Rejecting probability is worthless

As more professors fall for nonsense like many-worlds, I explain the biggest problem. This applies to many-worlds, superdeterminism, multiverse, simulation, and similar theories.

The problem is the same as for solipsism, and were identified two millennia ago.

Nearly all of science works like this. Collect some data, form a hypothesis, collect more data, and construct a theory that makes predictions. The prediction is that, for a set of given conditions, a particular measurement will be observed, with some confidence. The prediction might be: The displacement will be 95% likely to be between 1.4 and 1.5 meters.

There is nearly always a probability involved, even in a supposedly deterministic field like celestial mechanics. It is hard to think of examples that do not fit this pattern. Reader Andrei suggests quantum mechanics predicting that the H2O molecule is stable. Maybe also Darwin's "survival of the fittest". But 99+% of all scientific work involves probabilities.

Many-worlds theory rejects all probabilities. They have no notion of some worlds being more likely than others. Your branch of the wave function is all that is real to you, and all possibilities happen in parallel worlds. The seemingly unlikely possibilities are just as real. Some researchers have arguments for why we might subjectively perceive probabilities, but these arguments are not widely accepted, and do not function as real probabilities anyway.

Superdeterminism also rejects probabilites, for different reasons. It denies that you can even set up a controlled experiment. You might toss a coin 100 times and get 50 heads, and that is no indication of a fair coin. The coin could be weighted to come up heads 90% of the time, but a conspiracy of forces going back to the Big Bang might have forced a misleading statistical outcome. In short, probabilities are meaningless.

Gerard ’t Hooft was one of the top geniuses being the Standard Model, and he has been sucked into superdeterminism. To show how twisted his thinking has become, his latest paper says:

A complete answer to the question ‘what happens in an EPR-Bell experiment?’, is not given here, but we do summarise what, according to this author, the principal weaknesses are in Bell’s argument, which is not the mathematical calculations but the general assumptions, in particular those connected with causality and ‘free will’. ...

All this implies for instance that Alice and Bob have no free will. Not in a deterministic world. For unfathomable reasons, many experienced scientists have difficulties with that.[15]

Really, he cannot fathom why scientists believe in free will? I don't think he is joking, as he has written papers against free will, such as this one. And sure enough, he shows no clue to understanding why anyone would believe in it.

He is so eager to abolish free will that he also abolishes probabilities.

Sean M. Carroll and Scott Aaronson back many-worlds theory, and hence also reject probabilities.

Scott Aaronson writes:

The original papers by Gerard ‘t Hooft on “superdeterminism” were shockingly blase about the absurd implications I mentioned — implications that would mean you could explain basically anything (telepathy, superluminal signaling, etc.) via similar devices, and that physics would be over — and (to their credit) were also clear enough that there was no possible other way to interpret them. None of the other papers I saw about “superdeterminism” showed any inkling of appreciating the enormity of the problem. And none of them contained what I saw as the slightest hint of a promising idea to balance the absurdity.

By the usual standards I apply to anything else, this would be more than enough reason for me to ignore the topic thereafter.

That is all true, but the same is true about many-worlds. Because anything can happen in the parallel worlds and there is no way to say how unlikely those things are, the theory can explain basically anything. And the proponents show no inkling of appreciating that they are rejecting 99% of all modern science, and offering nothing in return.

And I mean literally nothing. There is no paper on many-worlds or superdeterminism that has ever contributed anything to modern science. No paper has made a successful prediction, or even explained how a prediction could be made. No paper has explained anything that we don't already know.

It is as if some smart person announced: Maybe 99% of all science is wrong, and it only seems right because God is performing miracles to trick us.

I cannot disprove such a statement, just as I cannot disprove solipsism. But what is the point? There is no evidence for such thinking. The view has no benefits. It cannot predict or explain anything. And it discards most of the best of human knowledge.

I am flabbergasted at the sloppy thinking of our intellectual leaders.

Update: Andrei writes:

Superdeterminism is a generic concept like “field theory”. Is it possible for a field theory to predict telepathy? Yes. Does it mean that all field theories are non-scientific? Not really. General relativity or electrodynamics are field theories and are universally accepted as science. ... the superdeterministic theory that reproduces QM would not predict telepathy either.
His argument is that someone might construct a superdeterministic theory that reproduces known physics, and so that would be scientific.

No. He could say the same about solipsism, simulation, or anything else that denies reality. Under those theories, no one can do any experiments to test the theory, so there cannot be anything scientific about them.

Scott writes:

Yes, I really believe that belief or disbelief in MWI should have no bearing whatsoever on what risks you’re willing to take in your life. Or to put it differently: whatever about MWI causes you to think it would bear on that, that’s precisely the part you need to discard in order to continue along the Zen path.
He is also denying reality. Under MWI, he has no ability to take risks. If, say, he goes skydiving, he will crash in some branches and land safely in others. MWI has no way of saying which branches are more likely. The concept makes no sense in MWI, as the copy of him that survives will think that he is the real Scott, and nothing bad happened. He also has no free will in MWI, as every apparent choice puts him in a branch, but the opposite choice puts him in another branch and that Scott will think that he made that opposite choice.

All these forms of solipsism are unscientific, and nothing in life makes any sense if you believe in them. Andrei and Scott both pretend that you can adopt these beliefs, and go on with life just as before. You cannot.

Update: Scott responds:

My argument is simply that the superdeterministic theory that does all these wonderful things — e.g., naturally reproduce QM while not superluminal signaling or telepathy — is a nonexistent construct. I personally see no reason why anything like it should exist; at any rate it doesn’t exist at present. But it’s more than that: I don’t accept the framing that this is a “promising research program that just needs more time to succeed.” I’ve seen nothing — nothing — of the slightest scientific interest ever come out of it. I don’t see why anything would, given that

(1) its original motivation was a terrible one (basically, people who didn’t understand the Bell inequality, and then after it was finally explained to them, searched for some arbitrarily exotic way in which they might still be right), and

(2) the “mechanism” they decided on is effectively indistinguishable from magic — it’s just that you arbitrarily declare that this magic is only for violating the Bell inequality, and not for any of the more interesting things that magic would seem able to do once you introduce it into the universe.

I agree with all that, but the same could be said for many-worlds and the other solipsist theories. In particular (1) MWI was motivated by people with a philosophical objection to Copenhagen QM, and searched for an exotic way to avoid measurements; and (2) the mechanism is a form of magic that defies all scientific analysis.

Scott does not agree with that, of course, as he has joined the MWI cult. He just brushes aside the magic by calling it Zen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

World's fastest random number generator

Nature/SciAm reports:
Researchers have built the fastest random-number generator ever made, using a simple laser. It exploits fluctuations in the intensity of light to generate randomness—a coveted resource in applications such as data encryption and scientific simulations—and could lead to devices that are small enough to fit on a single computer chip.

True randomness is surprisingly difficult to come by. Algorithms in conventional computers can produce sequences of numbers that seem random at first, but over time these tend to display patterns. This makes them at least partially predictable, and therefore vulnerable to being decoded.

To make encryption safer, researchers have turned to quantum mechanics, where the laws of physics guarantee that the results of certain measurements — such as when a radioactive atom decays — are genuinely random. ...

They recorded the light output of 254 independent pixels, which together produced random bits at a rate of around 250 terabits per second, or 250 terahertz. That’s several orders of magnitude faster than previous such devices, which recorded only one pixel at a time. ...

These could have useful applications, such as encryption technology on mobile phones.

No, there are no useful applications to having terabits of random numbers. You can do all the encryption that you would ever want to do, with a mere 256 random bits.

I wonder if they were trying to do something constructive, got garbage, and then decided to repackage their research as a random number generator.

They say "true randomness" and "genuinely random", but these phrases are meaningless.

First, there are physicists who believe in determinism. They are probably wrong, but surely they object to anything being truly random. If anything could ever be shown to be truly random, then determinism would be settled once and for all. That apparently has not happened, as the determinists are still trying to hold their ground.

Second, there are 50-cent chips that generate random numbers from thermal noise or something similar. See this article. There is not really any good reason to think that a quantum generator is better than a non-quantum one.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Quantum supremacy claims are disproved

Scott Aaronson now admits that a new paper has swung an axe at Google's claims of quantum supremacy. He had endorsed those claims as proving that a quantum computed did a computation that was not feasible on a classical.

Now a pair of Chinese researchers have show that the computation can be done fairly easily on a classical computer.

Aaronson has bet his career on quantum computing, and he is not giving up. He says that the quantum computer might be tweaked to make it supreme again. We shall see.

Update: Aaronson also now admits that the Microsoft quantum computing research has failed. I previously reported the Microsoft retraction in February.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Copenhagen is not about fire-breathing

Scott Aaronson responds:
Why isn’t the fact you’re saying “A quantum state is a wave-function that evolves according to the Schrodinger equation; the rest is commentary” makes you simply a many-worlder (albeit in denial….)?
Don’t you agree that this is the claim to fame of the Everettians? All other interpretations suggest that something is missing in the theory (whether the wave-functions are an incomplete description of the physical reality, or the Schrodinger equation is an incomplete description of the way they’re evolving).

If I’m just an Everettian in denial, then by the same standard, almost every informed person nowadays is likewise just an Everettian in denial! Besides Penrose and GRW, I don’t know anyone today who thinks of “collapse” as an actual physical thing. Certainly not the Copenhagenists or QBists! The way they’d put it is that for them, quantum states are personal, “collapse” is just Bayesian updating, and there’s no such thing as the “quantum state of the universe.” The way I’d put it is that, if you force them (kicking and screaming) to write down a quantum state that includes human beings, they’ll simply deny that the fire of experience gets breathed into more than one of its branches.

No, this is a straw man attack on Copenhagen/QBism.

The Copenhagenists do not believe that the wave function is a actual physical thing. It is a mathematical tool for predicting measurements.

To the extent that it is the best tool we have, it certainly does collapse. The collapse is real. Saying that the collapse is real is another way of saying that a measurement on an entangled state yields a single value.

They also believe that quantum mechanics can be used for everything, including stars, human beings, and the universe at large. There is no such notion of breathing fire of experience into a wave function. Aaronson just made that up.

The many-worlds/Everett folks would rather say that the measurement causes a branch of the wave function to become irrelevant. Okay, that is another way of expressing the collapse. The difference is that the many-worlders go a step further and say that the irrelevant branches continue on in a parallel universe. That is the kooky part that is the heart of the theory.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Aaronson joins the many-worlds cult

Scott Aaronson is one of the more sane popularizers of quantum mechanics. Or he used to be. Now he comes out of the closet as a many-worlder:
I have tenure, and anyone who doesn’t like it can close their broswer tab. ...

I’ve dodged the question of which interpretation (if any) I really believe myself. Today, at last, I’ll emerge from the shadows and tell you precisely where I stand.

I hold that all interpretations of QM are just crutches that are better or worse at helping you along to the Zen realization that QM is what it is and doesn’t need an interpretation.  ...

If you had to, you could call even me a “Many-Worlder,” but only in the following limited sense: that in fifteen years of teaching quantum information, my experience has consistently been that for most students, Everett’s crutch is the best currently on the market. At any rate, it’s the one that’s most like a straightforward picture of the equations, and least like a wobbly tower of words that might collapse if you utter the wrong ones.  Unlike Bohr, Everett will never make you feel stupid for asking the questions an inquisitive child would; he’ll simply tell you answers that are as clear, logical, and internally consistent as they are metaphysically extravagant. That’s a start.

This is pathetic. Many-worlds does not answer any questions. It cannot explain why some outcomes are more probable than others, or how the worlds split, or anything else you might ask.
Why are there probabilities in QM? Because QM is a (the?) generalization of probability theory to involve complex numbers, whose squared absolute values are probabilities. It includes probability as a special case.
No, QM is not probability with complex numbers. Probabilities only range from 0 to 1, as real numbers. Furthermore, many-worlds loses the probabilities altogether.
If you start with a quantum state for the early universe and then time-evolve it forward, then yes, you’ll get not only “our” branch but also a proliferation of other branches, in the overwhelming majority of which Donald Trump was never president and civilization didn’t grind to a halt because of a bat near Wuhan.  But how could we possibly know whether anything “breathes fire” into the other branches and makes them real, when we have no idea what breathes fire into this branch and makes it real?
This is just nonsense. No one has ever been able to demonstrate a statement about the majority of branches in many-worlds theory. Nor is there any concept of breathing fire into a branch and making it real.

Aaronson used to talk about writing a new book. His view of QM has not become a hopeless muddle.

You might think that I am being harsh on Aaronson, for merely choosing an interpretation. I don't think so. First, he doesn't describe his view that way. Second, the probabilities make no sense. Let me quote Wikipedia:

To address the quantitative [probability] problem, Everett proposed a derivation of the Born rule based on the properties that a measure on the branches of the wavefunction should have.[4]:70–72 His derivation has been criticized as relying on unmotivated assumptions.[35] Since then several other derivations of the Born rule in the many-worlds framework have been proposed. There is no consensus on whether this has been successful.[36][37][38]
The three references for saying "no consensus" actually argue that probabilities are meaningless in many-worlds. The last says "no plausible set of axioms exists for an MWI that describes known physics."

Even if you think that it might be possible to reconcile many-worlds with probability theory, it is clear that no one has done. There is no published paper that uses many-worlds to derive a probability for anything.

You can find advocates who speak in probabilistic terms. For example, that Wikipedia article says:

DeWitt has stated that "[Everett, Wheeler and Graham] do not in the end exclude any element of the superposition. All the worlds are there, even those in which everything goes wrong and all the statistical laws break down."[87]

Max Tegmark has affirmed that absurd or highly unlikely events are inevitable but rare under the MWI. To quote Tegmark, "Things inconsistent with the laws of physics will never happen — everything else will... it's important to keep track of the statistics, since even if everything conceivable happens somewhere, really freak events happen only exponentially rarely."[88]

But there is no published paper with computations to back up any of those claims. Nobody can say that freak events happen only rarely, because no one can say that any branch is any more probable than any other branch.

The whole field is a big con, and Aaronson just joined it.

He writes:

The many-worlders love to use the example of Copernicus and Galileo, who introduced a bizarre and extravagant hypothesis — that the earth, far from being stationary, circles the sun at unimaginable speed — but then argued that, starting from that hypothesis, you could derive that our experience on earth would be just like it actually is, and this time with no need to postulate epicycles.

There are sophisticated arguments against many-worlds, but I think that a good first step along the Zen path, for someone who already knows QM, would be to understand the strength of the case in many-worlds’ favor.

The history is a little strange, because Copernicus used epicycles, and Galileo did not have a mathematical model of the solar system.

But the argument makes no sense anyway, because many-worlds cannot derive our experience on Earth.

The elephant in the room here is quantum computing. That is Aaronson's chief academic field of interest. His essay on many-worlds says nothing about quantum computing. For some in the field, such as David Deutsch, many-worlds is the main reason for believing in quantum computing. Or maybe quantum computing is the main reason for believing in many-worlds, I am not sure. At any rate, they are related. But Aaronson says nothing. What goes?

And what is all this Zen stuff? Is he conceding that this is all a set of religious views? Is this knowledge that is only available to enlightened geniuses like himself, and not accessible from logic, empiricism, and reasoned argument? Apparently yes.

Update: Commenter Andrei gives arguments for superdeterminism, both below and on Aaronson's blog, and Aaronson responds:

The original papers by Gerard ‘t Hooft on “superdeterminism” were shockingly blase about the absurd implications I mentioned — implications that would mean you could explain basically anything (telepathy, superluminal signaling, etc.) via similar devices, and that physics would be over — and (to their credit) were also clear enough that there was no possible other way to interpret them. None of the other papers I saw about “superdeterminism” showed any inkling of appreciating the enormity of the problem. And none of them contained what I saw as the slightest hint of a promising idea to balance the absurdity.

By the usual standards I apply to anything else, this would be more than enough reason for me to ignore the topic thereafter.

I agree with that. Superdeterminism is essentially the same as rejecting all of modern physics, and adopting solipsism. No one has explained how it is any better. It does not help with any theoretical or experimental problem in physics.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dr. Bee on the Quantum Cat

Dr. Bee's latest video is on Schroedinger's Cat, and she concludes:
What this means is that one of the following three assumptions must be wrong:

1. No Superdeterminism.
2. Measurements have definite outcomes.
3. No spooky action at a distance.

The absence of superdeterminism is sometimes called “Free choice” or “Free will”, but really it has nothing to do with free will. Needless to say, I think what’s wrong is rejecting superdeterminism.

No, all three assumptions are completely consistent with textbook treatments of quantum mechanics.

Superdeterminism says that all of your choices have been completely determined since the Big Bang. Yes, it is directly contrary to free will. There are philosophical compatibilists who are that you can think of yourself as having free will, even tho you don't. But that is not free will. It is just the illusion of free will.

One such philosopher is Daniel Dennett who argues that all your choices are determined, but that it would be irresponsible to tell people that they have no free will. He makes a good argument that disbelief in free will is destructive.

Everyone says measurements have definite outcomes, except the many-worlds advocates. As I have argued else, many-worlds is unscientific nonsense. So is superdeterminism. I criticized her superdeterminism, and also here, here, and here.

That leaves spooky action. There is no experiment showing spooky action, and it is foolish to believe in it. They only show spooky action if make another assumption, namely hidden variables, and that assumption was properly rejected decades ago.

Hossenfelder says "physicists would rather throw up objective reality". That is true, if objective reality means that every electron has a precise position and momentum, whether measured or not. That is impossible, by the uncertainty principle. But the measurements are definite, and objectively real.

Update: Commenter Andrei, probably the same one who comments below, asks:

Are the measured spins predetermined or not? If not how do you think the results are anticorrelated?
I guess he is suggesting that the spins are predetermined by a superdeterminism. Aaronson answers:
The Bell inequality shows that the measured spins cannot be “predetermined,” under minimal assumptions of no superluminal signalling and no insane cosmic conspiracies. ...

More broadly, the idea that there are only two possibilities,

(1) local hidden variables or
(2) superluminal signalling,

with nothing intermediate between the two, is a perfect example of the “classical baggage” that the Zen anti-interpretation of quantum mechanics counsels us to discard.

Here, "predetermined" is the opposite of "random". A lot of people take the Bell test experiments as proof of randomness. A lot of others believe in determinism. A very small number believe in superdeterminism.

I do not think that the experiments can tell us whether the spins are predetermined.

I do agree with Aaronson that local hidden variables and superlumninal signaling are the only possibilities. In fact, I would say that both of those have been ruled out.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Philosopher compares humans to squirrels

Philosophy professor Crispin Sartwell writes in the NY Times:
Humans Are Animals. Let’s Get Over It.
It’s astonishing how relentlessly Western philosophy has strained to prove we are not squirrels.

Rationality and self-control, as philosophers underline again and again, give humans a value that squirrels lack (let’s just stick with this species for the time being), a moral status unique to us. We are conscious, and squirrels, allegedly, are not; we are rational, and squirrels are not; we are free, and squirrels are not.

So he is puzzled that philosophers have struggled to show that we have a moral status superior to squirrels.
Our resemblance to squirrels doesn’t have to be interpreted as a threat to our self-image. Instead, it could be seen as a hopeful sign that we will someday be better at tree leaping.
I guess he thinks that philosophers have failed, and we are no better than squirrels.

I have heard many evolutionary biologists make similar arguments. That squirrels have evolved to fit their ecological niche just as well as anything else, and that it is wrong to say that humans are at all morally superior to cockroaches.

I just post this to show the sorry state of philosophy. Aristotle and other ancient thinkers clearly understood that humans were superior to other animals.

Apparently because they also thought that they were superior to slaves, and we now reject slavery, we are supposed to reject all of their analysis. To reject it, one has to claim that it is bigoted to human consciousness, rationality, and free thinking over whatever squirrels do.

If Aristotle were alive today, he would be very impressed with our science and technology, but likely to think that much of what else goes on in universities is garbage.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The main weaknesses of Many-Worlds theory

A new short video, Tim Maudlin - Many Worlds of Quantum Theory, was posted. A philosopher of science comments, and was surprisingly sensible.

He refuses to dismiss Many-Worlds theory because it seems like nonsense. Okay, fair enough.

He does point out that probabilities make no sense in the theory. You might think that a probable event is one that occurs in most of the worlds, but the proponents of Many-Worlds adamantly deny that.

I don't think most people appreciate what a devastating critique this is. A lot of smart people take Many-Worlds seriously, so you would think that they have some explanation for probabilities, but they really don't. They have no way to make sense out of the idea that some events are more probable than others. They just give up on the concept.

Giving up on probability means giving up on the whole scientific enterprise. What is science, if not to predict some events as being more probable than others?

Just to repeat, Many-Worlds theory is worthless because it is unable to ever say that one event is any more probable than any other.

Maudlin also explains that decoherence does not solve the measurement problem that bugged Schroedinger and others. Wasn't that the main point of Many-Worlds theory? If the theory does not do that, then what is the point?

Supposedly the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics is deficient because it does not explain how the wave function collapses when a measurement is made. The Many-Worlds theory says that the wave function never really collapses, but appears to collapse because of interaction with the observer's wave function and decoherence. The other possible outcomes show up as parallel universes. The Many-Worlds advocates say we need to accept the parallel universes in order to correct this Copenhagen deficiency. But they don't solve the measurement problem anyway.

So Maudlin destroys Many-Worlds in about 5 minutes. But being a good philosopher, he does not reject it. Believe it if you want. Philosophers say it is just fine to believe in theories that have no theoretical advantages or practical utility.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Sapolsky denies free will

Here is the latest Sean M. Carroll podcast: Mindscape 134 | Robert Sapolsky on Why We Behave the Way We Do.

Sapolsky is a hard determinist who likes to list all the biological causes for our actions, such as genes, germs, and culture. He is firmly convinced that we are robots with no ability to choose anything.

I believe he has a depressing view of life.

SciAm columnist John Horgan disagrees:

To be honest, I have a problem with all these treatments of free will, pro and con. They examine free will within the narrow, reductionistic framework of physics and mathematics, and they equate free will with randomness and unpredictability. My choices, at least important ones, are not random, and they are all too predictable, at least for those who know me.

For example, here I am arguing for free will once again. I do so not because physical processes in my brain compel me to do so. I defend free will because the idea of free will matters to me, and I want it to matter to others. I am committed to free will for philosophical, ethical and even political reasons. I believe, for example, that deterministic views of human nature make us more likely to accept sexism, racism and militarism. No physics model — not even the most complex, nonlocal cellular automaton -- can capture my rational and, yes, emotional motives for believing in free will, but that doesn’t mean these motives lack causal power.

Just as it cannot prove or disprove God’s existence, science will never decisively confirm or deny free will. In fact, ‘t Hooft might be right. I might be just a mortal, 3-D, analog version of the Speed Demonoid, plodding from square to square, my thoughts and actions dictated by hidden, superdeterministic rules far beyond my ken. But I can’t accept that grim worldview. Without free will, life lacks meaning, and hope. Especially in dark times, my faith in free will consoles me, and makes me feel less bullied by the deadly Game of Life.

I agree with much of that, except where he says that his choices are predictable to those who know him, and not random.

To me, free will means that I can makes choices that surprise those who know me. If my friends can predict everything I do, then I am acting like a robot. Making choices that seem random to others is the essence of free will.

If I toss coins to make my decisions, then my choices are really the coin's choices. Then my free will hinges on the free will of the coin. That is being bullied by a coin, instead of being bullied by an automaton. No, free will is being able to make the choices myself.

Sapolsky may be right that genes and other unseen factors influence us more than we realize. I can accept that. But it is hard to understand how he can think that he never makes a decision.

It has become politically incorrect to be a genetic determinist, so Sapolsky denies being that. But he does say that a millennium of rice farming has turned Chinese people into collectivists. Another popular theory says that centuries of Christian feudalism turned Europeans into individualists. Whether these changes can be attributed to specific genes is unknown, but regardless, this appears to be preprogrammed behavior that could persist for centuries.

Carroll says he is a compatibilist. That is, he is a determinist who believes we have no free will, but we have an illusion of free will so we can act as if we do. He says no one should believe in true free will, which he calls libertarian free will.

It is hard to find any respected academic who believes in free will. It is like finding one who openly professes Christianity, or support for Donald Trump. They probably exist, but they keep a low profile.

Monday, February 15, 2021

History of the 4th dimension

New paper, by some Brazilians:
The Fourth Dimension: From its spatial nature in Euclidean geometry to a time-like component of non-Euclidean manifolds
José Maria Filardo Bassalo, Francisco Caruso, Vitor Oguri

In this article, the evolution of the ideas about the fourth spatial dimension is presented, starting from those which come out within classical Euclidean geometry and going through those arose in the framework of non-Euclidean geometries, like those of Riemann and Minkowski. Particular attention is given to the moment when real time is effectively considered as a fourth dimension, as introduced by Einstein.

This is a nice history of attempts to go beyond three dimensions.

Like other such historical works:

1. There is no mention of Poincare, or the fact that he was the first one to treat time as the fourth dimension, in the context of relativity.

2. The authors go out of their way to attribute credit to Einstein. It is always "Einstein’s Special Relativity".

3. It cites Lorentz, but always to badmouth his conceptual understandings somehow.

I don't want to pick on this paper, as it is just doing what everyone else does. The authors are from Brazil, so there is no good reason for them to be partial to Einstein. But they are.

This is so bizarre. There is no necessity for a historical discussion to get bogged down with issues of credit, but the relativity stories always do, and always give nonsensical reasons for crediting Einstein.

In this case, it says that Lorentz did not understand that the "local time" of an electron he invented in 1895 was really just the time that is local to the electron.

Huh? Isn't that what Lorentz called it?

Lorentz won a Nobel Prize in 1902, in part for his electromagnetic relativity theory, and in part because Poincare recommended that he get it for his ingenious invention of local time. Poincare certainly understood it at the time, even if Lorentz did not fully. Poincare used it as the fourth dimension in 1905.

Einstein adopted the concept of Lorentz's time in 1905, but not as the fourth dimension. He only did that after Minkowski and everyone else used it in 1908. Einstein did not really have any understanding of relativity that was any better than Lorentz's, until he learned Minkowski's in 1908.

I wrote a book about this, but never really found a good explanation for this Einstein worship. Obviously these Brazilians are educated enough that they know the story. They could just read Wikipedia, and see that nearly everything is due to Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski. If they were unsure, they could have avoided giving credit to anyone. I don't know why they insist on crediting Einstein for what Lorentz and Poincare published earlier.

One thing I learned from the above paper is that the Italian artist Giotto discovered that the sky was blue about 700 years ago. Byzantine art portrayed a golden sky. Apparently gold symbolized heaven, and the symbolism was more important than the chromatic accuracy. Many older books tell about the sky, but never mention that it is blue.

I don't know what to make of this. Did the sky change color 700 years ago? Did ancient men never bother to look up and notice the sky? Did they not have any blue pigments for making paint? Was it cloudy all the time? I have heard also that ancient men did not notice that the ocean is blue, and described it as other colors. Did they have some mental refusal to accept the color blue? I have no idea.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Mathematician Isadore Singer dies

Erik Verlinde tweets:
I am very sad to learn about the passing of Isadore Singer. He was not only one of the greatest mathematician of the last half century, but also one of the friendliest people I have met. In my view, he was the only mathematician with a deep understanding of theoretical physics.
NY Times obituary.

Math genealogy, where you can trace him back to Gauss, Leibniz, and others.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Microsoft quantum research retracted

Microsoft is spending the big bucks in research chasing quantum computers, but a key paper just collapsed.

Wired magazine reports:

Microsoft’s Big Win in Quantum Computing Was an ‘Error’ After All
In a 2018 paper, researchers said they found evidence of an elusive theorized particle. A closer look now suggests otherwise.

In March 2018, Dutch physicist and Microsoft employee Leo Kouwenhoven published headline-grabbing new evidence that he had observed an elusive particle called a Majorana fermion.

Microsoft hoped to harness Majorana particles to build a quantum computer, which promises unprecedented power by tapping quirky physics. Rivals IBM and Google had already built impressive prototypes using more established technology. Kouwenhoven’s discovery buoyed Microsoft’s chance to catch up. The company’s director of quantum computing business development, Julie Love, told the BBC that Microsoft would have a commercial quantum computer “within five years.”

Three years later, Microsoft’s 2018 physics fillip has fizzled. Late last month, Kouwenhoven and his 21 coauthors released a new paper including more data from their experiments. It concludes that they did not find the prized particle after all. An attached note from the authors said the original paper, in the prestigious journal Nature, would be retracted, citing “technical errors.”

I guess it is going to take more than 5 years. Are they giving up? Of course not.
Microsoft provided a statement attributed to Kouwenhoven saying he could not comment, because the new paper that reinterprets his group’s results is undergoing peer review. “We are confident that scaled quantum computing will help solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges, and we remain committed to our investments in quantum computing,” he said. Nature added an “editorial expression of concern” to the 2018 paper in April last year, and a spokesperson said this week that the journal is “working with the authors to resolve the matter.” A spokesperson for Delft Technical University said an investigation by its research integrity committee, started in May 2020, is not complete. A person familiar with the process says the final report will likely find that researchers at Delft made mistakes but did not intend to mislead.

Whatever happened, the Majorana drama is a setback for Microsoft’s ambitions to compete in quantum computing. Leading computing companies say the technology will define the future by enabling new breakthroughs in science and engineering.

This seems like a big scam to me. I am supposed to believe that they are building a quantum computer out of Majorana fermions, when their paper showing the existence of Majorana fermions was erroneous and had to be retracted?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Science denial that races exist

AAAS Science is our leading science organization, and here is its weekly news podcast, on genomics this week:
0:21:16.1 SC: I'm good. How come we're not celebrating 20 years of no longer looking for race in genomes? Are people still trying to find genes for race in this day and age?

0:21:26.0 DR: Yes. There are a lot of genomic scientists who are still trying to figure out the best way to identify races genetically and there are also a lot who are looking for race-based genetic difference to explain inequities of health and some even other kinds of inequities, like in education and in violence, even.

0:21:52.2 SC: There isn't really any evidence for this happening. Why do you think people are still looking for this?

0:21:56.7 DR: Well, first of all, even though human beings are very, very similar genetically, there's only a tiny percentage of difference between human beings, there still is a lot of genetic variation in the human species. But what some scientists then do is say, "Well, we're going to look for the racial differences in that amount of variation." The problem is that all of that genetic diversity isn't grouped by race, because race isn't a biological category. Now, why do we continue to do that? I think race is just such an embedded idea in Western science, in our culture, in our society. It's useful. It was invented because it was useful for political reasons and it continues to be useful politically to explain why we have so much inequality in our society. ...

0:24:57.6 SC: What are the recommendations now? What should a scientist be doing instead if theyare collecting demographic data on a person and they care about ancestry?

0:25:08.2 DR: I think the most important first step is for scientists to be clear that race is not a biological category. It is purely an invented social or political category. It's not a natural division of human beings that some aspect of nature created, whether we say God created it or nature created it or evolution created it. That's all false. So if scientists could understand that it is a way of managing racialized populations for political reasons, then they can use it in the right way. ...

0:26:31.3 DR: There are a whole host of studies that have been conducted since the time of slavery that assume that black people, for example, are a biologically distinct group and categorically different from other human beings. I can give you the example of the estimated glomerular filtration rate, which is a very important indicator of kidney function, ...

So when Blacks get their kidneys tested, the results are compared against what is normal for Blacks, instead of Whites. Sounds reasonable to me.

She says this is racist, and should not be done.

It is a fact that there are race-based genetic differences, and it is entirely appropriate for geneticists to look for them.

I post this to show how politicized the scientific establishment has become. George Floyd dies of a fentanyl overdose, Donald Trump gets removed from the White House, and now race is not a biological category.

Of course there are genes for race. You can sign up to or, and it will identify your race from the DNA in the spit that you send in.

People sometimes say that right-wingers are anti-science. But the Left denies much of genetics.

Monday, February 8, 2021

IBM shutters female blockchain team

I posted in April 2018
I have criticized IBM for over-hyping the potential for quantum computing and related technologies, but what it is doing with the Bitcoin blockchain is even worse. reports:

In the male-dominated world of cryptocurrency, IBM is going against the grain. The company's 1,500 member blockchain team is led by Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of global industries, platforms and blockchain.

The IBM CEO was a women, and so was most of the blockchain management.

It was all a scam. Coindesk reports:

IBM has cut its blockchain team down to almost nothing, according to four people familiar with the situation.

Job losses at IBM (NYSE: IBM) escalated as the company failed to meet its revenue targets for the once-fêted technology by 90% this year, according to one of the sources.

“IBM is doing a major reorganization,” said a source at a startup that has been interviewing former IBM blockchain staffers. “There is not really going to be a blockchain team any longer. Most of the blockchain people at IBM have left.”

How long before another reorganization shuts down the quantum computing research?

Maybe not for a couple of more years. It is hyping its latest advance:

As much as quantum computers have improved, they’re far from taking the reins from conventional computers in some situations. IBM might have made them more practical, however. The tech pioneer has found a way to combine a new program execution environment, Qiskit, with a balance of “classical” and quantum computing to deliver a 100 times speedup for tasks that depend on iterative circuit execution. Computations that take months now will take mere hours, IBM said. ...

IBM expects to release Qiskit sometime in 2021. Its roadmap also has quantum systems handling a wider range of circuits, and thus a wider range of computing challenges, by 2022. New control systems and libraries in 2023 will help IBM reach its goal of running systems with 1,000 or more qubits, taking the company closer to a “quantum advantage” where the technology can handle at least some tasks more efficiently or cost-effectively than traditional hardware.

I don't understand this, but it appears that there is still no quantum advantage on any real problem, so what is the point?

The decline of IBM is sad. Amazon just reported $100B in sales for the quarter, with the computer server services boss being promoted to CEO. IBM once owned the market for computer server services, and now it is declining while the other players are growing rapidly.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Qubit is one and zero at the same time

quotes about quantum computing made in Finnish TV news watched by ~1.5 million people:

“Qubits are the quantum computing equivalent of normal computers bits, which are ones and zeros. Unlike a bit, qubit is not just one or zero, instead it can be both one and zero at the same time.”

“-This is a device that makes the impossible possible. Even if all supercomputers of the world would do something together for years, they could not solve things that quantum computer will at some point solve in a snap of fingers.”

“-Here we are learning how to build a quantum computer, learn to develop different parts, learn to write software and to apply them for different tasks. The real benefits will certainly come in the next phases at the end of 2020’s.”

The context of this was the announcement of 20 million euro funding to build Finland’s first quantum computer.

The commenter thinks that this is a distortion, but how would any non-physicist think anything else?

Wikipedia explains:

In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment that illustrates an apparent paradox of quantum superposition. In the thought experiment, a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both alive and dead as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.
So a cat can be alive and dead at the same time. If you believe that, then a qubit can be one and zero at the same time.

If you think this is nutty, and I do, then get the Physics popularizers to stop saying that a cat can be simultaneously alive and dead.

The story also over-hypes what quantum computers will do for us, but again, it is just parroting what physicists say. In June 2019 I noted that experts were saying that quantum computing capabilities were growing doubly exponentially. If that were really true, then quantum computers would be doing useful things by now. But that could be decades away, or never happen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Energy is conserved

Sean M. Carroll claims that energy is not conserved in quantum mechanics, and Lubos Motl explains his errors:
OK, they claim that the only meaningful conservation of energy in quantum mechanics is the conservation of the expectation value of the Hamiltonian; that this is violated; that this violation can be arbitrarily large; that this violation cannot be attributed to the energy of the observer or the apparatus; and that the "many-worlds interpretation" makes all these questions more controllable. Each of the five statements is absolutely and fundamentally wrong.
Okay, I don't need to belabor the point. Obviously Carroll is not going to be making any perpetual motion machines. I just want to comment on how Carroll believes in Many-Worlds, and that everything makes more sense there. He says:
In the Many-Worlds formulation of quantum mechanics, the energy of the wave function of the universe is perfectly conserved. It doesn’t “require energy to make new universes,” so that is not a respectable objection to Many-Worlds. ...

The first point here is well-accepted and completely obvious to anyone who understands Many-Worlds.

The way he sees it, energy might be lost to our universe, and slip into a parallel universe so that the total evergy is conserved. Millions of new parallel universes are created all around you every second, but these do not require any additional energy, so again, energy is conserved.

This stuff doesn't make any sense. Sure, it is obvious that energy is not used to create new universes, because no new universes are created, and it doesn't even make sense to talk about unobservable universes. But now he says that energy is needed in the new universe to make up for energy losses in our universe? I give up. It makes no sense to me.

Monday, February 1, 2021

7 Sister stars reduced to 6

Why do faraway cultures have similar names for constellations in the night sky, and similar myths also?

New research tries to trace one myth:

Many cultures around the world refer to the Pleiades as “seven sisters”, and also tell quite similar stories about them. After studying the motion of the stars very closely, we believe these stories may date back 100,000 years to a time when the constellation looked quite different.

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas. He was forced to hold up the sky for eternity, and was therefore unable to protect his daughters. To save the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus transformed them into stars. But the story says one sister fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is why we only see six stars.

If so, this would be the oldest story on Earth.

They argue in their paper:

From 50,000 BC onwards the Aboriginal people enjoyeda continuous, unbroken culture, with very little contact without outsiders, other than annual visits from Macassan trepang-collectors to the far north of Australia over the last few hun-dred years. Aboriginal culture evolved continuously, withno discontinuities or significant outside influences, until thearrival of the British in 1788, making Aboriginal Australiansamong the oldest continuous cultures in the world (McNiven& Russell, 2005).

When the Australians and Europeans were last together, in 100,000 BC, the Pleiades would have appeared as seven stars. Given that both cultures refer to them as “Seven Sisters”,and that their stories about them are so similar, the evidenceseems to support the hypothesis that the “Seven Sisters” story predates the departure of the Australians and Europeans from Africa in 100,000 BC.

Maybe Orion just looks like a hunter, and multiple cultures independently came to that conclusion? That is hard to believe, but it is also hard to see how one story could travel the whole Earth and persist for 1000s of years, without anyone ever writing it down.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Persuasive argument for space aliens

NY Magazine reports on an Israeli-American physicist pushing a new book:
In November 2017, an object passed by our planet that was unlike anything astronomers had ever seen. Spotted by a telescope in Hawaii, this strange thing was dubbed ‘Oumuamua. It moved too fast for it to have come from our solar system, its orbit was unusual, and it didn’t have any of the traditional markings of an asteroid or comet. All this led Dr. Avi Loeb to hypothesize that ‘Oumuamua was artificially made, perhaps a piece of technology or some debris from a faraway alien civilization. Before you discount Loeb, you should know that he isn’t the average UFO-spotting kook you might see on a rerun of Unsolved Mysteries. He’s an astrophysicist who has been teaching astronomy at Harvard since 1993, and chaired its astronomy department for nine years. In his new book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, which comes out on January 26, Loeb makes a persuasive scientific argument about ‘Oumuamua’s otherworldly origins, and delves into why his peers have been so hostile to the idea of life outside of Earth.
No, it is not a persuasive scientific argument.

Remember the big story about the discovery of phosphine on Venus, as a sign of life? The discovery was not reproduced, and is probably bogus.

This belief in extraterrestial intelligent life is just another religious belief. Some people really want it to be true. It would validate their worldview somehow. I don't know why. It is one of many bizarre beliefs that are fashionable among academic physicists.

They are all atheists. They would never admit to believing in God, or Trumpism, or the soul. But tell some goofy story about a rock being sent to our solar system by space explorers from another planet, and they eat it up.

In interviews, Loeb aggressively argues that Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for teaching about the logical necessity of human life on other planet, and that Bruno was right. No, Bruno was a nut, and he was convicted of religious heresy.

Some physicists are not content with dreaming up alien beings in this universe. They want others too. A new Quanta magazine article starts:

What lies beyond all we can see? The question may seem unanswerable. Nevertheless, some cosmologists have a response: Our universe is a swelling bubble. Outside it, more bubble universes exist, all immersed in an eternally expanding and energized sea — the multiverse.
Too bad these modern cosmologists cannot be put on trial for heresy.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Biden appoints new science advisor

SciAm op-ed:
Nominations that reflect America’s diversity of backgrounds and experiences should be the norm. That we are now celebrating so many firsts speaks to how far we still have to go to make society equitable and just.

Despite this slate of diverse leadership, we can’t help but notice that the recently announced nomination of presidential science adviser Eric Lander fails to meet the moment. His nomination does not fill us with hope that he will shepherd the kind of transformation in science we need if we are to ensure science delivers equity and justice for all. ...

Lander, an MIT geneticist and former co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) — exemplifies the status quo.

The complaint is that Lander is a white male. More precisely, he is a Jewish man. Most of Biden's important cabinet appointments have been to Jewish men.

BuzzFeed also trashes him:

Lander, then at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, first argued that Celera’s whole genome shotgun wouldn’t work, then allegedly tried to strike a deal to collaborate with Celera, and later resumed his attacks on the company when the two projects finally published the human genome sequence in February 2001. Lander claimed that Celera couldn’t have completed its sequence without using mapping information from the public project and told a Nature reporter that the whole genome shotgun had delivered a “tossed genome salad” rather than an accurate readout of the human genome.

Still, Lander quietly retooled his lab to adopt Celera’s whole genome shotgun method when tackling the mouse genome, which he and others published in 2002.

Lander’s attacks stung Venter, who later revealed that Celera staff referred to their nemesis as “Eric Slander.”

It also cites this opinion:
There is something mesmerizing about an evil genius at the height of their craft, and Eric Lander is an evil genius at the height of his craft. ...

This paper [on the history of Crispr] is the latest entry in Lander’s decades long assault on the truth. During his rise from math prodigy to economist to the de facto head of the public human genome project to member of Obama’s council of science advisors to director of the powerful Broad Institute, he has shown an unfortunate tendency to treat the truth as an obstacle that must be overcome on his way to global scientific domination.

I went to college with Lander, and I think he is a good guy. I have far more objection to Biden's other appointments.

The Trump administration was generally pro-science, without being shrill about it. So far, the Biden administration says that it is pro-science, but issued an executive order that seems to abolish girls sports on the theory that sex is a social construct. We shall see how things work out. Maybe Biden will advise Biden that there really are differences between men and women.