Free Will: Why We Should be Skeptical of the Skeptics

It has become quite popular lately to view the notion of free will as a misconception to be ‘debunked.’ To be sure, if we really do not have free will, we should be prepared to face that fact. But is it really a fact? I will argue here that key arguments against robust free will are seriously overrated. These are:

(1) Physical theory implies a block world (i.e. all events exist, including future events).

(2) Physical law, including indeterministic quantum physics, is inconsistent with free will.

Concerning (1), this very widespread misconception has been refuted in the literature. See, e.g., Sorkin (2007) and Kastner (2012), Chapter 8.

Concerning (2), it seems clear that if the world were fully deterministic, then all our actions would be fully determined by prior causes, so in that case there would be no room for a robust form of free will. (Caveat: there is an approach called ‘compatibilism’ that argues that free will is compatible with determinism; I find this approach decidedly unconvincing, but it’s something readers can look into.) However, in most interpretations, quantum theory implies that the world is genuinely indeterministic: given well-defined conditions, it is impossible to predict with certainty what will follow from those conditions. Nevertheless, free will skeptics such as Ted Sider (2005) have argued that free will must violate even the statistical laws of quantum theory. His argument basically assumes that a free agent, considered as a quantum system, would make choices that would violate the quantum statistical laws applying to the outcomes of his actions.

There are two serious problems with this argument. First, as noted by Clarke (2010),

“probabilistic laws of nature also do not require, for any finite number of trials, any precise distribution of outcomes. The probabilities involved…are the chances that events of one type will cause, or will be followed by, events of another type…These probabilities, we may assume, determine single-case, objective probabilities, or propensities. Actual distributions can diverge from proportions matching these probabilities.”

Thus, a statistical law is not ‘violated’ unless very large numbers of precisely repeated experimental runs yield statistically significant deviations from expected mean values, where even ‘statistically significant’ can be a matter of context and degree. Highly unlikely strings of outcomes may occur, and yet a statistical law may still not be violated. The point here is that the demonstration of a real violation of a statistical law requires a very high hurdle of empirical evidence.

The second problem is in trying to apply the quantum statistical law – the Born Rule – to human agents, which are macroscopic biological systems. In order to predict empirically useful probabilities of outcomes with the Born Rule, one must have a clearly defined system and a clearly defined observable being measured on that system. A definition of a system must specify how many degrees of freedom (usually considered as ‘particles’) are in play, and exactly what the initial state of that system is. A definition of an observable must specify exactly what forces are acting on the system and what sort of ‘detection’ constitutes each outcome of the observable being measured. These requirements may be straightforwardly met for microscopic systems in the laboratory, but it is a highly nontrivial matter as to whether they may be met under conditions obtaining in the context of human behavior.

Sider essentially argues that a human agent governed by the Born Rule should be able to make choices that would observably deviate from the Born Rule. But this assumes that one could set up repeatable experiments in which the agent could be precisely defined as a ‘quantum system’ whose applicable observable was so tightly defined as to allow detection of such deviations. It is only if such deviations were in principle detectable that there could be a violation from the statistical laws of quantum mechanics, as observed in Clarke’s remark quoted above. However, there are very good reasons to think that this is not the case.

For one thing, as noted above, one has to be able to perform precisely repeatable experiments. Does exposing a given human agent to repeated opportunities to make a choice constitute a precisely repeatable experiment of this type? Why should we think so? The human agent is an open system, continually exposed to variable influences from his or her environment: air currents, radiant energy, etc; as well to internal fluctuations (number of blood cells in the brain, number of activated neurons, etc.). Assuming the brain is the most relevant bodily system concerning the choice, the state(s) and the number of relevant degrees of freedom in the brain are in continual flux. No matter how tightly one might attempt to control the agent’s environment, one is dealing with an enormously sensitive, complex and ill-defined system, from a quantum-mechanical perspective.

At the level of individual instances, the Born Rule gives only propensities for outcomes. A human agent might instantaneously be subject to those propensities; yet, given quantum indeterminism, could still have room to make a free choice– one that would not violate any statistical law. This is because another instance outwardly presenting the same choice to the agent is in fact highly unlikely to constitute an identical repetition of the relevant initial conditions: i.e., the agent is almost certainly not in exactly the same state that he or she was just prior to the previous choice. Therefore, the Born Rule propensities are likely not really the same as in the previous instance. Even if the experiment is repeated many times, a resulting set of outcomes in which so many parameters are ill-defined and subject to change cannot be used to determine whether a statistical law is being violated.

Thus, it is a highly nontrivial matter to try to apply the Born Rule to macroscopic biological systems; yet claim (2) presumes without argument that one can straightforwardly do so. If this is not in principle possible due to the intrinsically ill-defined and/or ever-changing nature of the macroscopic physical system constituting the choosing agent, then there is no necessary violation of the Born Rule. This is so even if the agent’s choices are governed by the Born Rule, in terms of propensities, for each individual instance.

The bottom line: rather than see quantum theory as falling under yet under ‘physical law’ that is supposedly violated by free will, we can view quantum theory as being precisely the kind of physical law that allows for free will.

References

Clarke, R. (2010). “Are we free to obey the laws?”, American Philosophical Quarterly 47, pp. 389-401

Kastner, R. E. (2012). The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: The Reality of Possibility. Cambridge University Press.

Sider, T. (2005). “Free Will and Determinism,” in Riddles of Existence, by Earl Conee and Theodore Sider (Oxford: Clarendon Press), pp. 112-133.

Sorkin, R. D. (2007). “Relativity theory does not imply that the future already exists: a counterexample,” in Vesselin Petkov (editor), Relativity and the Dimensionality of the World. Springer. Preprint version: http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0703098

[1] The approach known as ‘compatibilism’ holds that free will is compatible with determinism. I will not address that here. However, I do think that compatibilism yields a very impoverished notion of free will.

207 thoughts on “Free Will: Why We Should be Skeptical of the Skeptics”

1. Even if we were to assume, for the sake of argument, that Sider is correct in saying that human behavior driven by free will would observably violate the Born Rule, it seems to me that it would still be illogical to conclude that free is an illusion. To find the violation of the Born Rule, wouldn’t we need to gather quantum measurement data from conscious human brains? I think it is safe to say that we have not done this. For all we know, conscious human brains do violate the Born Rule. This is completely untested, so any conclusion about free will based on this approach is wildly premature and speculative. We’ve only tested inanimate systems that, as you point out, are incredibly simple compared to a living human brain. I don’t know how we could ever test quantum statistics in the atoms of a conscious human brain, but I think this would be crucial data if you want to rule out free will. On the flip side, I’m trying to figure out a way to model free will (perhaps using something like cellular automata?) but I’m having trouble finding a way to do this that does not ultimately boil down to either determinism or randomness – neither of which gets us free will. Thus it can still be argued that the concept of free will is not well-enough defined to address scientifically. We may just have to accept that the mechanism of any given free choice is sub-empirical in the sense that you use the term.

1. Thanks. I certainly agree that Sider’s negative conclusion re QM and free will is “wildly premature and speculative”. Yet it seems to be getting a lot of currency among both ‘compatibilists’ and those who conclude we have no free will. This to me looks like cursory thinking and jumping to unwarranted conclusions. Philosophers can and should do better.
Re your concluding point: volition and intent must enter the explanatory picture, and that is not part of modern physical science. So it requires an additional metaphysical, mind-based ‘degree of freedom’. Since physicalist scientists and philosophers will not do that, they must resort to the linguistic maneuvers and deflecting of ‘compatibilism,’ or give up on free will.

2. Eric Hamilton says:

Please don’t consider this a refutation, because I agree with you about indeterminism, robust free will and a metaphysical component to consciousness. But I think you may have been a little too hard on compatibilism. I see it as a counterargument to the more nihilistic strain of determinism which (for ideological not scientific reasons) attempts to deconstruct both morality and the self. Compatibilism acknowledges such deconstruction is impossible, even in a deterministic world: the existence of decision-making, agents’ moral and psychological evolution and the fact that society works best when agents are held responsible (and especially when they hold themselves responsible) for their actions should be self-evident. Further, in MWI (which I don’t believe, of course, but mention because it’s become the most popular deterministic model), compatibilism (arguably) becomes libertarian free will. One can always do otherwise in MWI, and the statement that there is no reason one is in the branch one is in is the very definition of unfalsifiable. In the unlikely event MWI is ever proven, I think compatibilist arguments could be used to justify libertarian free will.
On block time–I have no problem with the growing universe picture, but I’ve often wondered whether a block universe would really preclude free will. The idea that it would seems to me to be applying presentist intuitions about free will to an eternalist model, or considering the 4-dimensional block world as a 3-D object. It seems natural to think that the future’s ‘already’ existing would constrain us, but as long as the quantum math says the world can be another way, maybe it can.
Sorry for the long windedness. Happy New Year!

1. Thanks Eric. But the problem is that if all our choices/actions are already out there in the block world, then we don’t have any option to ‘behave other than we will behave’. So the argument that ‘society will work better’ if we behave ‘as if’ we have live choices seems to me to be an outright inconsistency. It’s an argument that wants to have it both ways; i.e. to argue as if we have options for how to behave, when in fact there are no options if the future is already set.
Of course, I think we really do have options for how to behave, and I agree that society will work better if we exercise those moral options–but I don’t see how any of those options are really in play if all our future actions are already-determinate.

3. Eric Hamilton says:

I’ll admit, I thought compatibilism was a word game, too, when I first heard of it, and I still disagree with it. I guess my point is that, in the event that determinism is proven (though I’m an indeterminist, I doubt anything can be truly proven, one way or the other), compatabilism, for all its faults, would make more sense than hard determinism. I was thinking specifically of a piece by someone (I won’t name names), which ridiculed compatibilism from a hard-deterministic perspective. It was full of ridiculous paradoxes. Something like: ‘There is no reason for social optimism; society will be what it will be.’ Followed by: ‘Society will never be on the right track until we acknowledge we have no free will.’
On the block world question, I think there are good reasons to believe we’re in a growing universe, as well–particularly the apparent passage of time (I’ve always thought entropy seemed like a weak explanation.) And you’re right that the block world, as naively presented by determinists, would preclude free will. What I’ve always thought is that, in the event that we are living in a block world, it isn’t what we think it is. It shouldn’t be considered as a 3-D object, like a paperweight on a desk. Maybe all events are happening (though maybe “happening” isn’t the right word) in the time and place where they “happen”; maybe the universe, and we, are making free choices all along the timeline. I admit that’s really weird, and I don’t know how well it reconciles with the Wheeler DeWitt Equation, but then nobody really understands that equation anyway, do they? (Incidentally, I wonder, if we could somehow step outside the universe, would we see a complete block world, even if we’re in a growing universe? Maybe space-time is only incomplete inside space-time.)
Sorry if I got a bit long-winded. Thanks for the reply.
Eric.

1. Re the Wheeler-DeWitt eqn, I think that whole conundrum is based on an incorrect model. According to PTI, spacetime is an emergent structure in which events (once emergent) are NOT described by wave functions. So I would say that is is wrong to try to apply a wavefunction to the entire spacetime universe; it is only the pre-spacetime entities that are described by QM. There is no | Ψ> of the universe. That wavefunction applies only to the quantum substratum which is not parameterized by time–there is no temporal change in the QM substratum. So the Wheeler-DeWitt eqn describes only the ‘submerged portion of the iceberg’ in the metaphor I use in my book. It does not describe the large-scale cosmological spacetime level.

Re soft determinism: compatibilism has a chance of being non-contradictory in that picture. But it seems to me that in any block world view, if your actions exist in the future, then it is not up to you whether to engage in those actions. The ‘decision’ is ‘already made’ at the global level, which goes beyond any individual’s purview.

4. Eric Hamilton says:

Sorry to bother you again, Ruth, but I feel I should clarify that last post. I was suggesting that, in a block picture (in the unlikely event a block picture could be proven correct), all choices are being made tenselessly (so to speak) at every local moment in a complete timeline. This of course is bizarre and speculative and doesn’t really fit our experiences, but then the same can be said of the traditional representation of a block world. In any case it was more just a brainstorm than anything.
Have a great week!
Eric.

1. Thanks–feel free to post anytime, no apology necessary!

5. Eric Hamilton says:

I hadn’t seen the comment you made prior to my last comment when I made it, so I’ll add this. We seem to be having an interesting argument about not that much–because as I’ve said, I don’t actually believe the future is predetermined and I believe we have libertarian free will. But I also have this habit of putting myself inside arguments I feel to be worst-case scenarios for my beliefs, and then trying to salvage my beliefs “assuming the worst”–and block time could qualify as one of the worst cases for free will. One thing I do think about it, though–is that, if it should be true, we still can’t easily dismiss our perceptions of reality or the apparent indeterminism of the universe. The idea that our perception of entropy creates the illusion of time passing seems circular to me–it seems to assume that time is passing or that we are passing through it in order to “perceive” entropy. So if time isn’t actually passing, what on earth is going on? Something must be, even if it defies the usual logic. For instance, your logic on a block world–which is perfectly sound, and seems inescapable–might not apply, because the block world reality is just too weird to be described by our logic–which then leads to my odd suggestion that I am existing in every local moment of my life, making free decisions at each moment. There are maybe better suggestions than this that could be made, of course–the point is, I don’t think that the idea of a block world as traditionally presented by determinists would be a complete description of reality, even if true. Again, have a great week!
Eric.

1. Thanks–whatI think is ‘actually going on’ is described in my books–in less technical terms in my new book “Understanding Our Unseen Reality.” I think that Now is the eternal reality and what we continually experience, and that we make real choices in this eternal present. The past falls away from us (metaphorically, as a snake sheds its skin), and the future is just possibilities. So this is a version of the growing universe picture, but one in which the present doesn’t ‘move’ anywhere. There is no ‘flow’ of time–time is just how we quantify our experience of the ever-changing present.

6. Eric Hamilton says:

Of course, I didn’t mean to imply the present is literally “moving”, in any picture–it’s so easy to slip into metaphor. I just meant I don’t see how block time could account for our perception of time “passing”, even with entropy. This is obviously a strong argument against the block world. Yet if such a model happened to be correct, our perceptions of time might imply that something unexpected is “going on” (whatever that might mean), which I’ve always thought weakens the block world (even if it exists) as an argument against free will.
Oh, I meant to say–I never thought of Wheeler DeWitt as a potential description of your quantum substratum (which is a beautiful idea). I tend to think of the “wavefunction of the universe” in more Copenhagen-like terms (no offense)–meaning, not a physical thing, and so I thought the equation was kind of ontically ambiguous anyway–though I knew some cosmologists seem to think it tells us something, and seem to think it implies a block world (not that I agree with this), which is maybe why I mentioned it earlier. Your critique of Wheeler DeWitt from the PTI perspective makes more sense than the other critiques I’ve heard.
Thanks again.
Eric.

7. Eric Hamilton says:

Actually, there’s a reason I should be thanking you. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First, I should probably say, after all this quibbling, why I agree with you about free will. In my mind, there are two very strong arguments for it. The first I think was William James’: and that is, if there is no free will then conscious experience has no affect, so why did it evolve? One can, of course, say that it is metaphysical more than it is biological (though even then the evolutionary argument probably still applies)–yet if mind isn’t completely reducible to physics, why should physical laws prevent free will in the first place? The second argument is, of course, the “hard problem” of consciousness–I don’t think anything in physics explains why we have conscious experiences, which begs for a metaphysical variable that can’t be physically reduced. A third argument, for me, comes from the fact that I’m fairly religious (Presbyterian), and so I tend to want to look for purpose in reality, and free will, I think, brings more purpose to the universe. I suspect you don’t have a problem with such an argument, though I don’t know how popular (or appropriate) it would be in the sphere of philosophy of science.
Now, as to why I should be thanking you. This past year I’ve been researching a book–a novel (my 16th, actually). It’s not science fiction, exactly (more surrealist), but I needed to brush up on quantum mechanics issues. I ended up dividing much of my time between your blog and Florin Moldoveneau’s. In addition to having interesting ideas, the two of you make people like me (who have degrees in English) feel welcome. So, thanks.
Eric.

8. Eric Hamilton says:

Sorry to bug you yet again (because our discussion was over), but I realized a couple of my previous arguments might have implied something that even I think is bananas. When I said that in a block world we might be making free choices at every moment, I didn’t mean there is some overarching “global self” that chooses, tenselessly, for all its local parts. I just meant, maybe I’m making a free choice now, I’m also making a free choice at a moment in the past, and at a moment in the future…etc. As for “something else going on” in the block picture (regarding our perception of time), I was actually thinking of Qbism. I believe Mermin wrote an article on this, which implied that, if we are living in a block world, Qbism can best explain our experience of “the now” as a (metaphysical?) subjective experience. I also thought it could explain free will in this picture, because, though you can (theoretically) model the whole universe with a space-time diagram, you can’t model all the Qbist “subjective degrees of freedom”, so maybe the block world wouldn’t be as “fixed” as it appears. Now, I’m not arguing that the Copenhagen family is superior to your interpretation or that Qbism is even the best Copenhagen refinement (I’m certainly unqualified to make such an argument, anyway), but I do think Qbism poses some interesting ideas, particularly relating to the mind/body problem. As in your earlier post, when you mentioned a “mind-based degree of freedom”–there’s a conundrum there (a “true paradox” I think), because the mind seems completely dependent on the brain, yet there also seems no physical reason for the brain to result in mind. What Qbism does (I think) is take this paradox and extend it to all of nature: the subjective observer depends on “objective” reality, yet reality arises from observers’ subjectivity. Thus Qbism has some philosophical symmetry with non-reductionist pictures of the mind (though, as a realist, you might find the price to be paid for this symmetry unacceptable–and you might be right!) In any case, I think your growing universe model is a simpler (and therefore likely better) explanation for time “passing”.
Have a great weekend. Eric.

1. Thanks for the clarification. Re Qbism: I find this to be a moving target in terms of its definition. But as far as I understand it, I think it retreats too far into instrumentalism and subjectivism and therefore has nothing substantive to say about any physical reality described by QM. One thing Qbism tries to do is explain away ‘nonlocality,’ but Joe Henson has given a good reductio ad absurdum of this. Basically Henson showed that to the extent that Qbism gives a ‘local’ account of the Bell correlations, it also gives a ‘local’ account of full-blown, relativity-violating signal nonlocality. So if explicit nonlocality= locality then obviously this approach is useless. For Henson’s PPT, see http://carnap.umd.edu/philphysics/hensonslides.pptx

1. I should also say that in ‘hooking up’ the mind in PTI, it would be prior to the concrete spacetime brain. So it is the physical concrete brain that would result (manifest) from the quantum mind. This is like the software existing first and building itself the necessary hardware to express itself ;)

9. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks, Ruth. I assume when you refer to software building the hardware, you don’t mean I can actually choose my brain–only the physical manifestations of its (my) choices. Otherwise, I have some obsessive compulsive disorder I’m seriously ticked at myself about!!! In all seriousness, though, I think of free will as something that sometimes has to “push back” against nature (genetics, etc.). Sometimes it wins, sometimes it loses, often there’s a compromise–and sometimes our genes and free will are in lock-step. Regarding Qbism, I think it has some interesting philosophical implications, but as an interpretation I think it sounds kind of nuts (as do many interpretations). I really think, if the Copenhagen view turns out to be correct, it will be some refinement to be named later rather than any of the existing sub-interpretations. As for my own thoughts on what the mind is, I’ve never really thought of it as being quantum or classical. I tend to think of it as something comparable to (but also nothing like) the wavefunction in Copenhagen: not having an existence that could rigorously be called physical, yet never “collapsing” into physicality, instead “interfering” in some sense with the brain–maybe during quantum transitions, maybe in some other way. In your interpretation, I suppose it could be in the substratum, though I’ve never really been sure whether to consider it as being in space-time or not.
By the way (on the topic of quantum mind), I’ve noticed you don’t take part in much of the physics community’s hostility toward Deepak Chopra. Personally, I’m not that familiar with Dr. Chopra, but I thought some scientists’ hostility toward him seems kind of overblown. Thanks again.
Eric.

1. I don’t pretend to have a full theory of mind worked out, but I do think the ‘quantum mind’ is more fundamental than the brain. I take it to be the seat of consciousness. As to the kind of brain development that manifests, that is certainly a huge question! Here is where perhaps some insights of the Western Esotericists may be on target: that to the extend we let ourselves be ‘asleep’ or on ‘autopilot’ our development and behavior is mechanical and predictable, but when we are ‘awake’ (“mindful”) we are acting more creatively and in harmony with our broader quantum mind. Re Deepak: yes I do think the overt hostility of some scientists toward him is overblown. Some of the things he is accused of, such as taking improper liberties with the interpretation of quantum theory, are exaggerated. As I noted in a blog post there are plenty of credentialed physicists who bring in the mind and consciousness in connection with QM. It’s not like Deepak made this stuff up.

10. Eric Hamilton says:

Yeah, I read your post on QM and consciousness a few months ago–I liked it. To tell the truth, I don’t know what to think of consciousness causes collapse theories. Often it seems unnecessary or superfluous, except in Wheeler’s PAP–I find that really interesting, because it attempts to answer so many questions in an elegant (though crazy) way. I guess I do have a few “it from bit” sympathies (though of course, that doesn’t actually require consciousness). Re mind/body–I think our brains evolved, so in a sense the brain and genetics are fundamental, but conscious free will must also be fundamental, or in an evolutionary world consciousness wouldn’t be so prevalent. (In this I’m not exactly sure if my view differs from yours, or if so, how.) Probably I lean toward something like “substance dualism”–yet I’m perfectly willing to admit that any attempt to describe such theories sounds goofy. As for what you mentioned about sleep/waking–I was just thinking about that!!! Being a writer with insomnia & a sleep-phase disorder, I’ve spent some serious time on the border between awareness and unawareness: I’m mostly asleep, maybe dreaming or remembering a dream, and then suddenly it seems I’m writing (or editing) the dream–not sentient dreaming, because I’m not experiencing it (and I’m never sure it’s a dream in the first place). It’s more like a story in my head, under construction. Then, of course, when any of us are awake and our minds are seriously wandering (another hazard for the insomniac), how self-aware are we? Philosophers like Dennet seem to think this proves we aren’t actually aware, which to me seems like saying, ‘I see gaps in the wall; therefore there is no wall’. For my part, I think that the sense of self may never completely go away, even when we’re “unconscious” and when our brains record no memories. But none of this really resolves the question of where the metaphysical ends and the physical begins.
Sorry, again, for the long-windedness! Eric.

11. Eric Hamilton says:

A quick question–regarding the last question, of when the metaphysical ends and the physical begins. What’s your take on an altered state of consciousness induced by a drug that renders a person suggestible, so that they function in a zombie-like state? (Complex partial seizures may also do this.) This seems different than say, sentient dreaming, which is sentient, and hypnosis, which is participatory, and meditation, which is essentially self-induced hypnosis–and even different than garden variety dreams, which we may remember; yet people tend not to form memories of intensely suggestible states. There seems to be function without volition or experience here, and it could be taken as evidence of straightforward physicalism. On the other hand, who’s to say a person in this state isn’t having an experience of some kind that physics can’t explain, and who’s to say they are always entirely without volition?
I guess that wasn’t such a “quick” question after all–did I mention I have OCD?
Eric.

1. I think the simplest explanation for a this would be that the drug ‘hijacks’ the physical brain and bypasses the volitional, conscious component of the quantum mind usually underlying it and associated with it. This allows mechanized use of it by someone else.

12. Eric Hamilton says:

I think that’s a good answer–the problem with any answer to these questions, though, is that the lines are so blurry (it may even be misleading to think there’s a difference between “dualism” and “physicalism”). Questions that still seem relevant to me: “When I’m in this suggestible state, do I still experience more than a machine–say a phone with voice recognition software, which no one really thinks can ‘hear’–and is this experience a function of the brain or mind+brain?” Also: “While I am in a dreamless sleep, do I still have a sense of ‘being’, albeit one which can’t be expressed in words or thought (or even remembered afterward)?” I admit this one’s pretty weird, and may be the product of my seldom actually experiencing deep sleep.
By the way, I think I finally worked out what you meant about the software of the mind building the brain it needs. It was the word “building” that threw me–conjuring images of a mind building whatever brain it wants. But now I’m pretty sure you meant the quantum mind exists outside of space-time, in the brain’s wavefunction in the substratum, where it can choose among the possibilities for the physical representation (and subsequent actions) it wants at a given moment. Of course, it can’t change it’s wavefunction (DNA, etc.)–just choose which possibilities become actualized.
I’ve appreciated your thoughts on all of this. If you have any more, I’ll be glad to hear them; if not, that’s okay, too. Have a great week!
Eric.

1. Thanks Eric–you are exactly right about my intended meaning for the mind building the brain it needs :)

13. Eric Hamilton says:

One more thought on quantum mind: it may be accurate, may also provide a mechanism for free will. I think it’s a great idea. Yet the ultimate question: “Why is there a mind in the first place?” gets pushed from the classical to the quantum realm, from space-time to the substratum, without really being answered. It’s kind of like cosmological models that way, only murkier: because the laws of physics can explain the universe, but can physics explain, say, the smell of marigolds or the taste of chocolate (our experiences of them, I mean)? I don’t think it can, which is maybe why I tossed out the idea of “substance dualism”, which I know isn’t popular and probably just defers the question, too. (Maybe the proposal of some natural law we don’t know about yet would work better–or maybe that would just be doing the same thing, as well.) The way I see it, the really, really big question is, why does anything know or feel anything at all, either inside or outside of space-time? (Keep in mind, I’m not necessarily invoking religion here, though I happen to be religious. I just think it’s an interesting–and perhaps unanswerable–question.)
All the best,
Eric.

1. Good question, and that is why many philosophers opt for idealism–in which consciousness is primary and everything else arises from that. I’m currently agnostic on this question of ultimate substance.

14. Eric Hamilton says:

Idealism is interesting, but I’m not sure it answers the question of what consciousness is or where it comes from–just gives it a more fundamental role in the universe. As I’ve admitted, I sometimes think about things like substance dualism–I think there are maybe modern ways of looking at that. For instance, my idea of the mind being something mildly analogous to the Copenhagen wavefunction, carrying conscious information and “interfering” with the brain–wild speculation of course. Florin Moldoveneau has an idea that might be better (though I doubt he’d refer to it as dualism), which he mentioned indirectly in a blog post this year (and later in the comments section, in an argument with a determinist). He thinks of the mind as software, too–but not as being quantum mechanical or even necessarily a part of nature (in the physical sense). His argument was, more or less, that neural physics and chemistry are the hardware and consciousness is the software, and what separates the two is that consciousness isn’t conserved at birth or death. A lot of this seems to hinge on whether you believe QM always conserves information and whether or not you believe in an afterlife. Of course, I would prefer to believe in the latter, but I don’t think such a belief hurts his argument because consciousness clearly isn’t conserved by the known laws of physics. As for QM and information conservation, I guess that depends on how one defines wavefunction collapse, so I feel I don’t know enough to comment on that–yet I still think the overall idea is interesting. Yet both ideas–his and mine–may get no closer to answering the true question than idealism does.
Oh–one other question on quantum mind: I assume you’ve thought a lot about how our conscious experience of time arises if the true seat of consciousness is located outside of space-time. (That wasn’t really a question–because I’m certain you have thought about it. I guess the question is, ‘What are your thoughts on that?’)
Eric.

1. As noted in my book, I don’t think we ‘experience time’–rather, I think we experience *change*. “Time’ is just a way of parameterizing that change. If consciousness (awareness) is an aspect of the quantum substratum that contains and supports the emergent spacetime manifold, then that awareness is naturally aware of the changing nature of ‘Now’. As noted in my CUP book, ‘Now’ is defined only locally, with respect to specific perspectives instantiated by absorption events (and perhaps emission events too). So consciousness somehow separates itself into those different localized perspectives. (This is very reminiscent of Hindu philosophy: ‘atman’ vs ‘Brahman’! See eg http://www.world-religions-professor.com/atman-brahman.html)

15. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks for being patient with me on that question! I suppose my musings on dualism must have seemed bizarre–of course I wasn’t actually thinking of consciousness carrying information unrelated to the world, but information (experiential and volitional) about information in the brain. I think Dr. Moldoveneau’s idea could be compared to quantum information as well–except he claims it’s different because it isn’t conserved. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve studied Hinduism, but I know their philosophers have had some profound existential insights. I guess the one aspect of this that still confuses me a little (in quantum mind) is the relationship between the changeless substratum and ever-changing space-time world. Does our mind/brain experience existence as if it is only in the local space-time state, though the mind is also seated in the quantum realm? We never directly experience ‘changelessness’ or unrealized quantum possibilities–is that because our physical brains cannot? It would seem to be a complex interface. Thanks again.
Eric.

1. Re Florin’s formulation: I haven’t read this yet so can’t comment on it, but it does sound interesting.
But you say “We never directly experience ‘changelessness’ or unrealized quantum possibilities”–I would disagree with this. I think that many forms of meditation (e.g. TM and Zen) are about experiencing ‘pure awareness’ which would be the changeless aspect of consciousness. And surely thoughts, dreams, imagination, ideas–all those could be considered activities of the quantum substratum (aka mind), couldn’t they? So there is pure mind (eternal, changeless awareness) but then there are excitations/active modes of the mind (possibly these are the quantum states). Only the observable sensory phenomena correspond to the actualized, emergent spacetime events. Of course, I don’t pretend to be able to explain how or why the universal mind (“Brahman”) fractures into individually situated minds (“atman”). For that you’ll have to go to the Vedic sages ;)

16. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks, Ruth. Regarding Florin’s idea–I think it was in his “Is quantum mechanics unique?” post this past October; the fuller treatment is in the comments section. I’m not sure it’s a formulation (I don’t know if he’s actually written a paper on it) so much as it is just a really good idea he has. The whole post is interesting, though he takes his own shot at Deepak Chopra in it (you’ll have to forgive him for that). As for my own definition of mind, I think it’s whatever gives us the inexplicable experience of actual physical information–mind would be “information about information” so to speak, and volition would be a part of that. The idea of something “interfering” with the brain as it gathers (and produces) the actual information–external stimuli, emotions, etc.–is, of course, sketchy–though I guess metaphysics often is.
Regarding “changeless awareness”–I’m certainly not opposed to the idea. It brings to mind my earlier thoughts about lines being blurry when it comes to mind and brain, awareness and unawareness. It also reminds me of so-called ‘out-of-body’ experiences–not only those associated with near-death but also shock and general physical or emotional trauma: experiences where people say ‘I was looking at myself from outside,’ or ‘Time “slowed down”‘–and then of course there’s meditation, which I’ve never actually done (though perhaps I should try it); I pray, of course, but more than anything I’m a worrier!!! (OCD)
One question on Time. I find your eternal present interpretation interesting, but I’ve never really been a fan of, say, the pre-Relativity idea of presentism. I have no problem with your idea of the now being defined locally and the past “falling away”, but the idea of a local patch of space-time emerging and then instantly ceasing to exist, when space-time is a kind of structure and there may be quantum correlations between space-like-separated regions, doesn’t seem right to me. (Perhaps it’s because I’m nostalgic and just like to think of the dinosaurs or Beethoven “still” being somewhere in the universe.) Of course, I’m not sure that’s the kind of presentism you’re advocating. My apologies for the lack of brevity–I guess I just had a lot of ideas in my head.
Eric.

1. Several points that might clarify the situation:
(1) The past does not cease to exist; it emerges and remains part of the spacetime fabric which is ‘extruded’ from the present. But this ‘past’ is ALWAYS local to a ‘present’ defined by a particular absorption event; it is not defined wrt a ‘line of simultaneity’ which would single out a preferred frame.
(2) The QM correlations are always between not-yet-actualized quantum systems; so those are not really space-like separated because they are not part of spacetime. This is how you get ‘passion-at-a-distance’ or apparently superluminal correlations that don’t actually violate relativity. Because no real (actualized) energy travels between systems in these correlations.
Is all this difficult to visualize? Yes, indeed. But it is a consistent picture which fully preserves relativistic covariance. If you doubt that, check out Sorkin et al’s Causal Set approach. PTI provides the dynamics for the ‘sprinkling’ of new events into the set.

17. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks again. I hope you didn’t think I was being confrontational or trying to criticize your idea–your position is actually what I thought it was, from earlier pieces you’ve written; I just wanted to be sure. I’ve always thought lines of simultaneity were kind of problematic (though in some sense they might be considered ‘poetic’), so regarding them as non-ontological doesn’t seem so strange to me. As for visualizing the overall picture, I have a hopelessly non-spatial mind, which makes me terrible at billiards and actually envisioning stuff like this!!!–and I’ve always been a little confused, looking from interpretation to interpretation: some define correlations as local, some as non-local and some as explicitly non-local. I don’t need to tell you this, of course, but it probably accounts for some of my confusion about your model. As to our earlier discussion of changeless awareness, I thought of something new: I’ve always considered thoughts and imagination as dynamical things. ‘Being’, on the other hand, seems changeless, a sense of self existing as a background to all thoughts, actions and stimuli, which comes into the foreground during periods of both ‘absentmindedness’ and intense concentration. I believe Alzheimer’s patients have this same sense of self (the same self they always had) even after memory has decayed; I believe it is elemental, impossible to put into words, and I wonder if we have it even when we sleep. I think it gives definition to thoughts, imagination and experience–because how could we have any of these things without a sense of self? Maybe it is quantum mind; maybe it’s what monks access during meditation (I really don’t know, having never been a practitioner). In much of this, my view may not actually differ from yours, yet I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of thoughts themselves being changeless. (Of course, maybe I should be asking myself, ‘How does a thought become a thought?’) Again, sorry about the wordiness. Have a great night. Eric.

1. No problem! Just to clarify: I don’t mean to suggest that change is ONLY a property of spacetime events. I do think there is a form of change at the quantum level, too–and if thoughts are quantum processes then they can reflect that form of change. It’s just that what we call ‘time,’ as measured by concrete observable clocks, is the form of change that applies to spacetime events.

18. Eric Hamilton says:

I suppose ambiguity’s just the hazard of discussing complex subjects! Another cause of confusion for me last night was that, though I really like your substratum model, there are things I also like about Copenhagen-type models, so when I was thinking about correlations from your perspective I may have slipped back into Copenhagen thinking without knowing it, and there isn’t really a substratum there (though maybe there could be). Of course, I knew that nothing physical is usually thought to pass between the space-like separated areas. But mainly I was thinking about the weirdness of modern models of presentism (which isn’t what you’re advocating) where not much of the universe can be said to exist. Then, too, there’s the fact that, as I’ve said before–my degree’s in English!
Thanks again,
Eric.

19. Eric Hamilton says:

Hi, Ruth–another thing I wasn’t thinking of the other night (when I asked you about the past): I don’t see how one would have a transaction in a purely presentist picture, so of course you would believe the past exists. I feel kind of foolish for having asked. But the reason I’m writing is I thought of something else regarding our mind discussion. How much have you thought about everything at some level having some kind of proto-awareness? I think everybody who thinks about mind considers this sooner or later: the idea that everything might be conscious–not necessarily in the senses of Idealism or universal mind, just that consciousness might exist (in some form) in everything. This idea comes with its own puzzles, of course, but it also might be the only consistent way of dealing with the problem of why physics doesn’t describe subjective experience: it just exists everywhere, like C is the universal speed limit. The puzzle would then be when and how “proto-awareness” becomes awareness as we would recognize it–which reminds me of the philosophical question posed by Brahman v. Atman.
Incidentally, before I’d read this post, I’d thought about Ted Sider’s argument (in a much less sophisticated way than you have). I just imagined myself as a sentient electron! Yes, I’d be bound by statistical laws, but I would still be able to make choices (of a sort). Of course, I wouldn’t know about the laws restricting me, but then most of us don’t know all about our own DNA, either. Have a great day!
Eric.

1. Yes, I’ve been thinking about this issue of how a proto-awareness of individual quanta could evolve into a unified ‘atman’ associated with a macroscopic organism. Doug Marman (author) has in interesting take on this. He proposes that smaller proto-sentient units actually choose on some level to collaborate on building a higher-level sentience, in a hierarchical process. So that quantum systems would collaborate to build cells, cells would collaborate to build organs, organs collaborate for the sake of a human consciousness. (These remarks are not intended as an endorsement of everything Doug writes in his books, since I’m not sure I fully understand other aspects of what he proposes. But I found this idea interesting and viable.)

1. OK, with all pun absolutely intended, hardcore determinists would argue that the universe planned for me to find this blog :)
I regularly surf the web in search for other pople’s serius work which is in one way or another aligned with my views, and this discussion here alone is by far the best I ever came across. And given the topic this is highly refreshing.
As you might have guessed from the initial post I happen to believe that indeed there are fundamental inteligent, sentient, even feeling units which choose to collaborate to build higher-level “sentience”, all the way up to a human being, pretty much what you just said Dough Marman said (and of whom I never header before!).
There are some rather significant differences in the way I’d put it but that’s another story.

20. Eric Hamilton says:

Ideas like this are certainly relevant to the free will debate–because if there is a form of consciousness in everything, then indeterminism can no longer be dismissed as simply random. Of course, I don’t necessarily believe any of this, either–but I think it’s maybe the best explanation that could be referred to as “physicalist”–as opposed to most materialist explanations, which treat consciousness as if it doesn’t exist. Maybe the biggest mystery is ‘What is proto-awareness, as opposed to our awareness?’ Another interesting possibility is that some things which are ‘inanimate’ might have minds as sophisticated as ours. Might a star be thinking? That certainly sounds crazy, but who knows?
Have a great weekend. Eric.

21. Eric Hamilton says:

I’ve been wondering, what is your take on the Libet experiments–particularly the more complex recent versions that claim to predict a person’s actions before they are aware (the most recent was choosing whether to add or subtract numbers)? I actually find these more troubling than the issues you addressed in the post above (the many ambiguities of the tests notwithstanding). A few things I’ve thought of–just assuming, for the sake of argument, that subconscious processes are in charge, if they are zombie-like then either consciousness is coming out of thin air or it’s being physically produced for no reason (which would be like every higher animal species evolving the same vestigial organ); the more logical assumption would be that the underlying process is something like our experience of it. Also, couldn’t conscious experience (in this scenario) be akin to external stimuli–another form of information that folds back into (and affects) the underlying process? The problem with everything I’ve mentioned is that, while it maintains the self, it might not get us any further than compatibilism. I agree with you that there needs to be some “mind-based” component, and even philosophers like Alfred Mele, who dispute the findings of the tests, seem to think they rule out metaphysical elements (though perhaps this is because Mele was a materialist to begin with). So, if we are to believe in mind (quantum mind, dualism, etc.), is the interpretation of the tests that they are merely highlighting our autopilot function? (This could make sense.) Another possibility I’ve wondered about (beyond the usual argument made regarding the subjective judgment of time) involves degrees of awareness. Maybe the line between conscious and subconscious is not sharply defined enough to apply in this context–for instance, isn’t it possible to be aware of something without realizing it? Other thoughts–might there be a ‘pure mind’ but our experience of it in space-time is restricted to concrete physical events? And finally there’s the possibility of proto-awareness we just discussed, which could result in hierarchies of mind that might not always be ‘aware’ of each other. I apologize for the length of this–I’m not trying to showcase my own ideas. I’m more interested in yours on this topic and was just throwing mine out here as a place to start. Eric.

1. I’m dubious about the interpretation of that data. The ‘readiness potential’ activation just shows that the neurosystem is making a muscle ready to act. It doesn’t necessarily show that any decision to act has taken place without awareness.
Here is an apt criticism from http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/libet_experiments.html:
“Alfred Mele, in his 2009 book Effective Intentions, the Power of Conscious Will, criticized the interpretation of the Libet results on two grounds. First, the mere appearance of the RP a half-second or more before the action in no way makes the RP the cause of the action. It may simply mark the beginning of forming an intention to act. In our two-stage model, it is the considering of possible options.
Libet himself argued that there is enough time after the W moment (a window of opportunity) to veto the action, but Mele’s second criticism points out that such examples of “free won’t” would not be captured in Libet experiments, because the recording device is triggered by the action (typically flicking the wrist) itself.”
That is, the experiment throws out runs in which the RP may occur but does not result in the action. It is thus not an impartial experiment for the hypothesis considered (that we have no conscious free will), but artificially supports the hypothesis.

22. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks, Ruth. I’m actually quite familiar with the Information Philosopher site and like a lot of Bob Doyle’s ideas. Of course, as I understand it, his position (while far from being nihilistic) is essentially compatibilism + indeterminism–a fairly desirable position, though I would prefer to believe in more. It actually isn’t Libet’s experiments themselves that concern me, but the more complex variations of the past few years: Soon et. al., which claims to predict which of two buttons a subject will push up to 10 sec beforehand (though perhaps the 60% accuracy of the prediction is refutation enough). There’s also Fried’s deep electrode experiment that predicts with 80% accuracy 0.7 sec before (though, if it isn’t a choice between two buttons, the implications aren’t much different than Libet’s.) There was also a 2013 study by Haynes that claims to predict beforehand whether a subject will choose to add or subtract a set of numbers. Mele has addressed all but the last of these (so far as I know), but he is more of a compatibilist, so his viewpoint is easier to defend. My earlier question (and perhaps I asked too many at once) had to do with libertarian (particularly metaphysical) positions. I don’t really think these later studies overturn them, but they may make them more complicated–which, I guess, shouldn’t be surprising. I wonder what you thought of the suggestions I made for dealing with potential complications (from these studies) for the libertarian point of view; I find the idea of awareness itself being difficult to define and perhaps having hierarchies particularly interesting. Sorry, again, for all the verbosity tonight.
Eric.

23. Eric Hamilton says:

I just realized–I need to clarify a couple of my suggestions. When I referred to ‘pure mind’ above, I was thinking of mind as software and brain as hardware. The relationship between software and hardware would be complex–do we experience the software through the hardware (which could result in delays and ambiguities that might be described by Libet tests), or vice versa, or does experience flow in both directions? Re awareness being vaguely defined, I mean it is possible to be partially aware of something, to experience something on the periphery of consciousness when the mind is unfocused or focused on something else. Might this apply to many conscious choices (not just Libet experiments)? We are essentially aware of what we’re doing, but maybe we don’t realize it (or wouldn’t claim to realize it). I know I’ve made many choices (while writing a book) which were intuitive and seemed to leap directly from my subconscious without my even considering them, yet I would have said I was in a state of heightened awareness at the time. At the far end of the spectrum, while half-asleep I’ve decided to turn over in bed and was only fuzzily aware of it, yet I was aware. Sometimes maybe a memory didn’t even form, yet I may have had some awareness even then. Thanks again.
Eric.

1. One issue here is that what might be called ‘subconscious’ by experimenters could actually be a more subtle level of expanded awareness that is not yet engaged with the ‘individual ego’ part of the mind that triggers the detectable reporting of ‘being aware of the decision to act’. Reports of such an expanded mind are given in Dr. Jill Bolte’s account of her stroke, and in an account by an injured mountaineer being told to ‘get up’ seemingly by some other part of his awareness (I can find the reference if you need it). Then he’ saw’ his individual ego respond to that command by ‘choosing’ to get up.
In this circumstance, the ‘higher mind’ command would initiate the brain readiness potential, but the reported decision to get up would come later.
Dr. Eban Alexander also reported a seemingly instantaneous ‘automatic’ life-saving decision by a part of his mind ‘beyond’ his ordinary conscious ego-mind when something went wrong in a skydive. The decision involved something way beyond primitive bodily ‘instinct’ since it was a subtle and complicated technical maneuver–could not have been ‘programmed in’ at the lizard-brain wetware level. So it’s possible that volition originates on some ‘higher mental level’ that transcends the individual ego that reports the decision.

1. correction: ‘automatic’ is not the right word for this. It was just perceived as pre-empting his usual, slower, ego-mind processes.

24. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks, Ruth–these were just the sorts of things I was thinking of. I take them seriously, but as I’m not sure I’ve had such an experience myself, I was also referring to more mundane events, especially the creative process. For instance, when I write, I think very carefully about what I am going to write (sometimes over a period of hours; I also disconnect and think about other things, allowing my subconscious to process my plans–often this ‘subconscious’ or ‘procrastinating’ part seems to take up more time than actual ‘thinking’); then I tend to write very quickly, almost on autopilot (simultaneously editing with my ego). Sometimes the writing choices seem as if they were made before I was aware of them, yet I am consciously editing and thinking very quickly. Often what I have written ends up being different (at times very different) from what I had planned. I can see where someone might argue from this that I am a machine but I don’t think that’s correct–the process is far more complex than either mechanics or naïve interpretations of dualism. Interestingly, when I have writer’s block I can force myself to write (sometimes even to write well), yet it is a far more ego-bound process, involving much more ‘conscious’ thought and going much more slowly; moreover, this ego-bound type of writing was the only kind of writing I could do when I first decided to become a writer, nearly twenty years ago; I had to train myself to write ‘automatically’, and the training process wasn’t easy. I’m guessing some of this process might be familiar to you as a musician (personally, I prefer the 19th century composers, though I’ve heard some Thomas Tallis I thought was beautiful!) It may also resemble monastic meditation in some ways.
P.S.–When thinking of questions like this, I particularly like the idea of proto-sentient quanta we discussed above–it was something I’d considered secretly but dismissed as insane. It was kind of nice to hear that other people have thought of it, too!
Eric.

25. Eric Hamilton says:

Just realized how pompous I must’ve sounded describing the writing process to an accomplished author!!! In my defense, I was talking about MY process (no two are alike), and how it has affected my views on mind.
Best,
Eric.

1. Not at all! I’ve just been thinking about all this. I certainly don’t have any well-developed theory or even conceptual structure for these ideas. But the issue of “automatic writing” is interesting because it highlights the role of some other level of consciousness beyond the ‘ego’. Of course in the kind of writing I do, it can’t be automatic in that way. However at times (usually when I’m not physically writing) there definitely are moments of insight when ideas just come to me. The insight that the coupling amplitudes of standard QED are just amplitudes for offers and confirmations to be generated by the interacting currents was one of those. Of course I can’t prove that this idea is correct, but it certainly seems to work perfectly as a ‘missing link’ between the nonrelativistic and relativistic levels and makes TI a fully relativistic theory.
This seems to occur in many creative endeavors. For example, Wm. Byrd said of the composing process that when he meditated on certain scriptural texts, “the notes come running.” Where do these ideas come running from? Certainly not the mechanical playing out of deterministic physical laws.

26. Eric Hamilton says:

One thing I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about–it’s not Libet-type experiments themselves, but a deeper question: How do you get a thought without a neural signal–and if the neural signal comes first, how do you get free will? This question does not necessarily lead to the conclusion determinists want (though on the surface it would seem to). For one thing, quantum mind and proto-sentient quanta may both provide ways around it; for another, it leads to a paradox that’s not easily resolved. How can a mindless neural event lead to mind and subjectivity? If the underlying process is mindless, it shouldn’t be able to produce or explain our experience, which would seem to come out of thin air. So, either our experience has a metaphysical source or a deeper ontology within the brain (or both). I think our brains are aware in such a way that no part of the physical-cognitive process should be considered ‘mindless’ in the first place–and perhaps the ultimate source is metaphysical. Perhaps, too, the brain is at least sometimes (and perhaps always) aware before the ego. I think this is an odd paradox that’s worth studying but certainly doesn’t force the conclusion that there is no mind; certainly the idea that there may be a layer of awareness beneath the ego is no stranger than the idea that a zombie-brain produces a vibrant subjective experience for no reason! So my guess is that, in the end, the Libet experiments (even if they’re being properly interpreted, and even though they bother me when I’m in certain moods) are about as relevant to the existence of free will as the question of whether or not the universe began in space-time is relevant to the existence of God–in other words, not that much.
Have a great night,
Eric.

1. Well put. I tend to agree. In any case, as you point out, the ‘hard problem’ is to explain how conscious, subjective awareness supposedly arises as an ‘epiphenomenon’ of dumb, mindless matter. The short answer is: It doesn’t.

27. Eric Hamilton says:

By the way, since you’ve been thinking about the creative process–you might be interested in things Edgar Allan Poe had to say. Personally, I think the man was–how can I put this at a classy website?–distributing bovine excrement. I believe he claimed to have written entire stories and poems while unconscious in a drunken (or drug-induced) stupor (belief in that kind of ‘automatic’ writing is a stretch even for me). At the far end of the spectrum he also wrote an essay about how he wrote The Raven which is interesting precisely because it’s a misrepresentation: the process he describes is one utterly devoid of intuition or use of the subconscious. He claims to have considered every option systematically, beginning, naturally, with the idea of basing the poem on a parrot. If true, it would be an example of how overuse of the ego could result in ‘mechanical-sounding’ thought. I actually wrote a parody: “The Lost Drafts of The Raven” in college. Quoth the Parrot: “Wanna Cracker!”
Believe me, no artist–and certainly not one as great as Poe–creates that way! In my opinion, William Byrd described the process perfectly.
Eric.

28. Eric Hamilton says:

Tomfoolery–I like that! Not many people use that word anymore.
I hope you’ll forgive me, now, for describing something I’ve written–it’s not off-topic, given that we’ve been talking about both the self & the creative process. In 2012 I finished a book (which I haven’t published), that’s sort of a 1300+ pg. saga about a woman born in 1924, without the ‘aging’ or ‘death’ genes. She lives for 15,000 years and is still alive (and still apparently 17) at the end of the book. I really tried to explore what the self means here–I don’t think my heroine ever loses her sense of self, though she changes a great deal over time; she has both husbands and wives, pretends to be a man for part of her life, keeps taking the names of her dead children as aliases until eventually she forgets her own name. Sooner or later she practices every religion and spends some time as an atheist (also at one point she pretends to be a god); haunted by death & forgetting, she goes through a homicidal period, a suicidal period and an anti-social hermetic period, and during parts of the book loses all sense of time, unable to discern the difference between a day and a century, also unable to discern between dreaming, waking and memory. Interestingly, events from her early life keep resurfacing from deep in her subconscious, even more than 10,000 years later. This reminds me of your mention of atman vs. Brahman, though to be honest I wasn’t thinking of that when I wrote the book. Regarding what I might have been saying about free will & the self: they’re both incredibly complicated–I think that’s what I was saying.
Have a great night!
Eric.

1. Wow, please publish it! Sounds like an amazing story. I would love to read this and I think others would too.

1. Definitely count me in Eric! I wouldn’t be interested if it where unnecesary fiction, but considering what I’ve read so far, I know it isn’t.
Furthermore, perhaps in some near term future, if I manage to set a coneptual background deep enough, I might even tell you why I believe the story is likely to have much more insight than even you the driving author is aware of.

29. Eric Hamilton says:

Ah, therein lies the rub. I guess I should ask, ‘Know any good publishers?’ I’m the typical story of a starving author–I have this huge portfolio most of which hasn’t been seen. I have published 3 novels and am well known in my area for my comedic newspaper-pieces (in 2008, for instance, I wrote a gag story about then-candidate Obama’s tour bus colliding with Mike Huckabee’s tour bus, in which the only way the two men could be saved was by being sewn together; their personalities then merged and they became “Huckabama”). I think the biggest part of the problem, though (for my being widely published) is that when I first started trying to publish in the early 2000’s, the industry was in transition between the electronic & print ages, making it even harder for new authors to break in (and this was never easy). What’s frustrating is that my work has never really been rejected on its merits, because the publishing houses haven’t been willing to read it in the first place! I’ve even wondered if my difficulties might have something to do with where I live–a few miles south of Hannibal, MO (ironically, perhaps, the town most associated with Mark Twain), and there are no literary agents in Missouri. I probably should have worked harder at getting published, but I was actually working too hard at writing to do self-promotion–and then around the time I finished the book I described to you, I moved in with my (now late) grandfather during the late stages of his dementia; it’s something I would do again, in a heartbeat (it was very rewarding, and actually gave me time to write another book), yet left no time for book-signings. And then my father got very sick (he’s better now, though). I hope this doesn’t sound like a hard-luck story (I don’t intend it as such)–I guess I’m just trying to give an explanation. But, yes, I do fully intend to publish the book I described (and others).
Thanks for the encouragement (and sorry, again, for the verbosity)!
Eric.

30. Eric Hamilton says:

Sorry if I overshared a bit there. But I’ve been thinking–since you expressed interest in this particular book, whenever I publish it, I’ll send you a signed copy. It might not be right away, because there are currently several books I’m planning on publishing (and I still need to promote the ones that are already out there), but when this one comes out, I’ll let you know.
Thanks, again, for your kind thoughts.
Eric.
P.S.–I wasn’t trying to introduce any kind of political statement into this fine philosophy and physics site, when I mentioned “Huckabama”. I have nothing against either our president or the other gentleman in question, and when I so cruelly spliced them together in a newspaper article in ’08, it was simply because the joke was too zany to pass up!!!

1. Thanks, I’d love a copy! No problem re satire etc.–I have a healthy sense of humor. And all politicians are fair game as far as I’m concerned ;)

31. Eric Hamilton says:

Then this bit of satire might interest you, as it is QM-based. A few years ago I wrote another newspaper “story”, claiming that NASA had intercepted a broadcast of Face the Nation from a parallel universe in which everything was the same except for the fact that Man had evolved from Possum. Bob Schieffer was reporting that there were over a million casualties in the Iraq war, while a proponent of the war pointed out that almost none of them were actually hurt but merely in ‘defensive position’ (would that wars could be fought this way in our world!) The senator later appeared to drop dead when Schieffer’s grandfatherly questioning became too vigorous; then Bob Schieffer gave a folksy account of hanging upside-down from a tree-branch with his grandchildren as the Washington cherry-blossoms bloomed. Ultimately I didn’t publish this (you can see how it might have been construed as mocking the pain of military losses, though that was not the intent). It also reminds me of something you said in your piece on Quantum Darwinism: MWI is probably incorrect as a description of reality, yet sooner or later we writers can’t resist using it!
By the way–did you get a chance to look at Florin Moldoveanu’s proposal for mind that I mentioned above? (It’s actually quite brief–little more than a paragraph in the comments section.) I’ve never been quite sure what he meant (and the reason I’ve never asked him is that he doesn’t seem that interested in consciousness). Yet if it isn’t a libertarian argument, it is the most poetic compatibilist metaphor (word game?) I’ve ever seen.
Hope you liked the possum story. Eric.

32. Eric Hamilton says:

Hi, Ruth–I just remembered something I’ve thought about before but never mentioned in our discussion of consciousness. I sometimes wonder if some instinctive ‘animal’ behavior might be as mysterious as the ‘hard problem’. For instance, why are a broad range of species born ‘knowing’ that they should avoid the color pattern of a particular type of venomous snake? This isn’t learned behavior and doesn’t seem to be random or deterministic. It seems almost super-deterministic (conspiratorial), though I think the better explanation is that, like consciousness, it isn’t fully ‘mechanistic’, either, and that ideas like ‘ancestral memory’, whatever that means (and I don’t pretend to know the answer) might be considered. What do you think of this?
Another question (regarding PTI): I’ve noticed Florin has been writing in his blog about how classical measuring devices & mixed quantum-classical systems aren’t possible because then the classical devices can’t measure anything (no back-reaction). Am I right in assuming PTI escapes this puzzle (among other reasons) because it separates the world into quantum substratum and emergent (classical) spacetime?
Thanks,
Eric.

33. It appears that Florin is endorsing ‘Qbism,’ which is unfortunate, since it is an antirealist approach (or at most ‘weak realism’ a la Kant). I have had conversations with Qbism founder Chris Fuchs in which Fuchs said that all anyone can really say about quantum systems is that ‘we are moving through this stuff’. Well that’s because they assume that the ‘stuff’ has to be spacetime stuff, and that one can only talk about spacetime stuff. Talk about need for a ‘paradigm change’!
Florin also asserts that “all known solutions are incorrect/incomplete in one form or another”; I guess he does not know about PTI. As usual, he has a ground-rule assumption that he doesn’t question in assuming that non-unitary collapse must be ‘inconsistent’: that is that he assumes that anything ‘real’ must be a spacetime object that ‘evolves in time’.

34. Eric Hamilton says:

Whew–hope I didn’t just start an academic feud!
Actually, my question didn’t have to do with consistency, as PTI is consistent, but with Florin’s claim that ‘a classical device can’t measure a quantum event’ (this is the usual criticism of the quantum-classical measurements in standard Copenhagen). Am I right in assuming that PTI avoids this problem because there are no mixed classical-quantum systems–just the classical world emerging from the quantum substratum?
Re what I said about animal instinct–I’m certainly not doubting biology or evolution, just wondering how some instinctive behaviors evolve without any kind of ‘mind-based’ explanation. The idea that animals born with a ‘coincidental’ mindless response to a certain snake’s color-pattern more frequently survive to pass on their DNA, until this response is hard-wired in at birth, seems almost like cheating. Yet such responses are seldom learned by experience; organisms that ‘experience’ the snake’s venom do not live to tell the tale. That is why I’ve sometimes wondered if instinct has a source that can’t be entirely mechanistically explained–whether the explanation lies in ‘quantum mind’ or along some similar avenue. Have you ever thought about this?
Eric.

35. Can you point me to Florin’s post where he says ‘a classical device can’t measure a quantum event’ ? But yes, I think you’re right that PTI isn’t subject to such an objection, which appears to be based on the usual metaphysical assumptions (inside-the-box thinking).
Re animal instinct–that is very intriguing, and I have thought about it a bit, but not enough to say anything specific at this point ;) Basically, if mind comes in at the quantum level, then certainly there is room for ‘animal mind’ there!
Re feuding, I consider Florin a friend, but I also have to call out dogmatism when I see it –there’s far too much of that in physics these days ;)

36. Eric Hamilton says:

Florin’s claim was made most recently in his Dec 24 post: Can quantum mechanics coexist with classical physics? He cites an arvix paper by Debendranath Sahoo (hope I spelled that right) from 2003, which he claims proves that there can be no information transfer between quantum and classical systems; hence, he says, the measuring devices must be quantum, too. Florin, of course, gives a better description of his ideas than I do; he also gives the address of Sahoo’s paper. I was curious how your interpretation deals with this, or if it is even an issue, given your differing assumptions.
Eric.

1. Thanks, I will take a look. Of course a lot depends on how one defines ‘quantum’ vs ‘classical’ systems. But certainly, PTI takes the ‘measurement’ as occurring first at the quantum level: both emitters and absorbers are quantum systems and that’s where the measurement process begins. Completion of the measurement through ‘collapse’ to one of the incipient transactions gives rise to the classical realm of observability and experience as describable by a ‘spacetime’ construct.

37. Eric Hamilton says:

Of course, I defer to your expertise on this (as I have none!), but it sounds to me as if there’s no information transfer problem in PTI, because the transactions are essentially quantum. I think Florin’s criticism was meant to be applied within the Copenhagen format.
Something I forgot to mention on the topic of animal instinct–I’ve often wondered if, say, a bird’s inborn knowledge that a monarch butterfly has a foul taste, and the (4th generation) monarch’s knowledge to fly south for the winter, might be connected to parapsychology in humans. Now, if someone were to tell me they’re psychic I’d be instantly disinclined to believe them (this disinclination would redouble if they were to ask for money), yet said skepticism notwithstanding, I am far from certain that no such phenomena exist. And if psychic phenomena do exist, I’ve often thought they might be vestigial animal instincts–like the inborn knowledge that a particular snake is venomous…knowledge that is nonlocal in character?
Eric.
P.S. A joke you might like–I actually asked Florin this question:
How do you prepare electrons for the double slit experiment?
Do you break it to them gently? :)

1. Agreed that there is no info transfer problem in PTI. And I share your skepticism re paranormal phenomena, yet I can’t rule it out!

38. Eric Hamilton says:

Of course, many of the ideas we’ve suggested over the past month might be considered ‘paranormal’ by a number of physicists!
Re my argument above, that there must be free will, otherwise consciousness has no affect and evolved to no purpose–I thought of something new. Free will, in this sense, could undermine genetics–on the other hand, there is a huge potential advantage for an organism in its being able to ‘buck the genetic odds’. There is also a potential advantage for the species, for every time an individual ‘bucks the odds’, it broadens the genetic base, adds new diversity and complexity–so free will could serve an evolutionary purpose. (Of course, it could also be more fundamental than evolution, if all matter/energy is conscious.)
P.S.–I probably shouldn’t mention this, but since you expressed interest in my unpublished work, I have two books that are actually available: “Window in the Mirror” and “Buddy the Basset Hound Follows his Nose”–if you’re curious, you might find them on Amazon. “Window” is a novel about identical twin sisters who switch places without telling anyone when one is diagnosed with terminal cancer (the single twin takes the place of the dying, married twin and raises her children). I’ve been told this book is very good yet, frankly, I’d like to go back and rewrite it.
I highly recommend “Buddy” if you have young children in your family/extended family. The book’s a vocabulary-building exercise, a story for 3 to 10 year-olds written in an advanced style, and I explain what the words mean. Ideally, it should be read to very young, precocious children (and there are jokes in it I wrote specifically for the parents!).
Please forgive this shameless bit of self-promotion–my chance to make ‘the big buck’. :)
Best,
Eric.
P.P.S.–Buddy the hound is a real little fellow; I took him for a drive just this afternoon.

1. Thanks, maybe I’ll check out your novels. I should make time to read some fiction! It sounds fun. Re free will & evolution: the description by physicalists of evolution as a mechanical process just sounds so completely pointless. Why bother? So I tend to think that, as you suggested, free will and consciousness are more fundamental, and evolution is only what we can empirically observe, but not the whole story.

39. Eric Hamilton says:

Once again, thanks for the encouragement!! I feel I should clarify my remark about the novel, Window in the Mirror. My gut feeling is that it has the makings of a brilliant book, but only if I rewrite it. This, however, could be entirely due to my neurotic writer’s instinct; I often think one of my books is terrible as soon as I’ve finished it–then I show it to someone and say, ‘See why this needs to be rewritten?’ and they don’t know what I’m talking about. I wonder if your William Byrd felt that way about his music? (For instance, my favorite composer, Tchaikovsky, couldn’t stand many of his most popular pieces.) I will say this, though–I believe I’ve written four novels that are truly masterpieces, and none of them are published yet. The one about the immortal woman I described to you. I never mentioned its title, though: “The Life and Times of Ruth Sandborne”. Please don’t worry about this–when I finished the novel in 2012, I’d never heard of you or seen this website. The title was inspired by the biblical book of Ruth (my personal favorite); like the biblical Ruth, my novel’s 15,000 yr. old heroine becomes a woman ‘without a country’. Regarding the “Buddy” book: the basset hound on the cover is, in fact, the real-life Buddy.
Regarding evolution, I agree that consciousness is more fundamental, but I find it useful to think about evolution in relation to free will. I think that physicalists need to explain why consciousness would have evolved if there is no free will. I don’t think they can, any more than MWI supporters can explain probability.
Have a great night,
Eric.

1. I know what you mean…many writers, artists, composers, etc. are perfectionists and often dissatisfied with their own work while others love it. However, there always seem to be a few (eg Mozart) who just ‘take dictation from God’. Byrd seemed to be one of those, for the most part. I think he was generally pretty happy with his work ;)
I do hope you publish your currently unpublished work! It sounds fascinating. I’m going to look for Window…

40. Eric Hamilton says:

Hope you find (and enjoy) Window in the Mirror–but don’t discount the Buddy book, either! I’m not kidding when I say it could be entertaining, even for a highly intelligent adult such as yourself. :)
So, I have what’s probably a pretty elementary question about PTI–you have both micro and macro physics emerging from the same place (the substratum), so am I right in assuming the difference we observe between the two (in spacetime) is a result of averaging over? The micro events average out into classical physics? I had another question, re indeterminism in general. It may seem silly, but remember–English major. I’ve always been curious just how much is believed to be indeterministic–chaotic systems only, or ultimately everything? I know we seem to be able to predict things like the moon’s orbit perfectly–at least for all practical purposes. So are orbits considered determined–or is the thinking that even the moon, over the very, very, VERY long run (and after interacting with MANY variables) might yield a surprising result?
Eric.

1. According to PTI, ‘microscopic’ is not synonymous with ‘quantum’, since a very tiny object can be actualized in spacetime. Once that happens it becomes an element of the spacetime realm and therefore subject to classical physics. At that level, yes, the appearance of classicality emerges as an averaging (or ‘coarse-graining’) over those tiny actualized micro-events.
Re your 2nd question, the deterministic classical laws of motion emerge from a limit of the quantum laws. The limit is where the dimensions of the experiment are much larger than the dimensions of the deBroglie wavelength of the systems involved. Feynman’s QED book explains this very nicely, in layperson’s terms. The indeterminism applies only at the quantum level, and can only be experimentally revealed under special conditions. For photons, you have to have a very tiny electromagnetic field strength and a state of the field that has a precise number of photons (that’s not the state for a classical field).
But at the classical limit, the laws are deterministic. Chaotic systems are another matter of course–you can have bifurcation points where one input leads to 2 (or more!) possible outputs.

41. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks. I guess I was asking a more abstract philosophical question–it’s not like I actually believe the moon is going to swerve into the sun! I was thinking of how quantum indeterminism results in indeterminism for the universe. Systems that are complex, chaotic, self-organized etc. are thought (by we indeterminists, at least) to be sensitive to quantum events, the effects of which ramify outward–yet I’ve always been under the impression we aren’t exactly sure how far-reaching such ramifications are. For instance, could different quantum outcomes billions of years ago have resulted in this solar system not being here now? Or could other events happening right now result in the moon (though it follows Newton’s deterministic laws), having an ultimate fate which we could not deterministically predict? Also, is the sun’s ‘death-date’ (assuming complete classical knowledge) predictable only to within a window of time, rather than to a precise moment–because the sun, though very large, is powered by quantum processes? (In this case, I suppose I’m wondering whether Ted Sider’s statistical argument applies to the free will of the sun.) I’m guessing these are all open questions, but I obviously don’t know. What’s your take on this?
Eric.

1. Oh I see what you were getting at now. I think the distinction is with self-replicating, self-organizating systems that locally reduce entropy. These are far-from-equilibrium, complex organisms (unlike non-replicating, non-restructuring simple objects like planets or the Sun). If we suppose that the quantum level is the level of Mind, then any organism which actively uses the Mind resource (by being a local mind associated with a biological body) would be using quantum resources to do such things as exercise free will (be being creative, etc.). Of course, I don’t claim to have any sort of detailed theory of this. But the basic idea is that the quantum level is what gives rise to the impetus for life, and that only living systems are delicately balanced so as to be able to use those quantum resources.

42. Eric Hamilton says:

So your take on objects like the sun and planets seems more Laplacean–that makes sense. Yet still I wonder–I get the impression from some physicists that the future of the universe is open in a broader sense (even though classical mechanics still applies). For instance, though much of the universe is nearer-to-equilibrium than we are, might the universe as a whole be considered an exercise in chaos? Had a different sequence of quantum events been realized billions of years ago, might our solar system not exist today, or might it be in a different place? These were the sorts of ideas I was wondering about. Another interesting question–if (with the exception of microphysics) the non-biological universe is completely mapped out, doesn’t this make something like dualism seem more likely? Mind may exist at the quantum level, yet ultimately everything arises from that level; for instance, though it probably shouldn’t be compared to a brain, the sun depends on countless quantum events and is a huge source of negative entropy. If all energy has a proto-consciousness, why would the sun not have a mind? Obviously this is an open (and probably unanswerable) question, but I’d be interested in your take on it. Also on the previous question–is the non-biological future completely closed, or possibly open to some unknown degree?
Thanks,
Eric.

43. Eric Hamilton says:

My question regarding the solar system & whether or not it could have been otherwise probably best applies to how quantum events might have affected ‘initial conditions’, though the ‘initial conditions’ of the solar system as an individual system might be difficult to define. Regarding the question of the sun and mind–I suppose this must sound insane. Obviously, the sun doesn’t meet the criteria of ‘neural correlates’ of consciousness–but what if there are ‘solar correlates’? Moreover, whatever the sun’s ‘macro’ fate may be, its individual particles are indeterministic–it’s an understatement to say there’s a lot going on in there.
Eric.

1. Yes, but for non-living systems the quantum indeterminacy is effectively hidden, and all you get is an average classical behavior. In order to get quantum indeterminacy to be noticeable you really have to work hard to plumb those finer levels through sophisticated tools. It could be that living systems (through their internal complexity and far-from-equilibrium states) are the only macroscopic systems that can manifest quantum indeterminacy through volitional activity.

44. Eric Hamilton says:

I agree that this certainly might be the case–maybe even is very likely the case; mainly I was just wondering. Actually, I was thinking in part of weather–the conventional wisdom being that it is both fully deterministic and fundamentally unpredictable. Yet it is both far-from-equilibrium and extremely sensitive, and I’ve read about ionization due to solar rays playing a role in lightning (there seem to be several ‘theories of lightning’; granted, it’s mostly classical, yet we keep making unexpected discoveries…such as the fact that it sometimes strikes upward into outer space and may sometimes generate positrons). In any case, there are lots of quantum events in the air. One would think, of course, that they would all cancel out, yet depending on just how sensitive weather systems are, might even insignificant variations have an affect? (I’m also thinking of Prigogine, and how he was able to model chaos–including weather–in such a way that it appeared, at least according to his model, to be indeterministic independent of QM–though this is controversial.)
Being a writer, of course, I jumped from this wild speculation to another (which almost certainly shouldn’t be compared to weather, but what the hey?). I thought of the solar system before the sun formed and wondered, could quantum fluctuations have caused it to form another way? Of course it runs like a Swiss watch now, but might the watch have arranged itself differently in the beginning? I’m guessing most scientists would say ‘Probably not’ (or something even stronger), yet sometimes a part of me is rooting for the solar system itself to have free will.
Re my remarks on the sun–I know they sound crazy; yet you’ve observed, yourself, there doesn’t seem to be a real reason a neural spark should result in a vivid, subjective thought. Why, then, should the nuclear reactions in the sun not have the same result? Though the sun certainly appears to have no outward volition, who knows what might be subjectively going on inside?
I’m sorry for my verbosity tonight–also for the fact I may have been writing too often. I finished my latest novel on New Year’s Eve, and I guess you’ve been helping me with my post-project punchiness & depression. So, thanks!
Eric.

1. Initial conditions are definitely a big deal in cosmology, so that’s an open question! I do think (given the hard problem of consciousness) that there has to be some basic sentience at a fundamental level. But I think it only manifests as an individual mind in complex biological organisms that self-organize and self-replicate. Much as I’m a fan of “Our Mr. Sun” (one of my favorite school films as a kid), I don’t think he has a unified “Sun” awareness. But who knows? ;)

45. Eric Hamilton says:

“Our Mr. Sun”. I like that–but I’ve never heard of it. Most of my life, I’ve felt more like I was from the Baby-Boom generation than my own, but that reference is dating me. For some reason, I’m picturing a cartoon sun smiling down on an idyllic Technicolor landscape. :)
I know it’s a long shot–I just can’t resist the poetry of stars thinking!!
Eric.

46. Eric Hamilton says:

Another question–all this talk about classical mechanics inspired it. I’ve always been under the impression that you have many alternate macro histories embedded in the substratum (only one of which will be actualized, of course). Some of these histories might seem to violate classical mechanics (as I understand it), if there are many, many possibilities for large, non-living systems, and classical mechanics admits of only one possibility for these systems. Of course, I understand such histories (the universal wavefunction) would be outside space-time–I was just curious how you explain the appearance of the quantum-classical limit (i.e., Newton making only one prediction), if you have them.
Certain I’m showing my ignorance, here,
Eric.

1. Actually in PTI we don’t have complete histories. Events are actualized in pairs (emission/absorption) from the quantum level. There is no ‘universal wavefunction’ because wavefunctions only describe physical possibilities, any of which can be actualized (under the right conditions and indeterministically) to become part of a single classical spacetime set of events. Think again of the iceberg. Wavefunctions describe components of the submerged portion, while the observable universe is the actualized part of above the water, and that’s the classical part.

47. Eric Hamilton says:

Okay, thanks. That makes sense. I knew you didn’t have a universal (or in fact any) wavefunction inside spacetime, but I wasn’t sure about what was in the iceberg. I really should read your book (in addition to this site), but it’s kind of like what you said about yourself–you’d like to read more fiction. I’d like to read more non-fiction, but fiction is sort of my business–also I’m obsessive, so if I get to thinking about certain knotty issues for too long, then that’s ALL I think about…for months. You can imagine this creates a lot of mental tension for me–I want to read both for my own enjoyment and also for inspiration, but if I get too enthusiastic about what I’m reading, another writer’s style gets entangled with my own, I get blocked, etc. This past year I’ve been researching quantum issues because I was writing a novel about a man who wakes up one morning to find his wife & kids gone…then he slowly realizes that every single person on earth (except for him) has disappeared. I call it “The Vanishment”. (I actually started writing this before Fox aired the sitcom, “The Last Man on Earth”, which I don’t think bears any real resemblance to my novel, though the coincidence still annoyed me). Anyhow, you can see why my protagonist would have considered quantum interpretations as a possible explanation for his predicament–hence my research this summer; hence the torrent of internal philosophical debate I’ve been living with for over six months! Perhaps you can also imagine how OCD can cause a person who believes in free will to occasionally question it–I sometimes feel like a machine that’s broken!
Thanks again,
Eric.

1. You can read about the iceberg for free on amazon (they have the 1st chapter available). Yes, quantum physics makes for some interesting fictional scenarios–except that the ‘many worlds’ idea really doesn’t work scientifically. People are starting to realize that, I think.

48. Eric Hamilton says:

That depends on who you talk to. The MWI people seem VERY sure of themselves, and there’s been a lot of recent press that it’s becoming the “leading” interpretation. I really can’t understand why!!! Even if it weren’t for the various problems with it, the whole thing’s based on layers & layers of unverifiable, unlikely-sounding assumptions, all of which could be explained otherwise, and all of which have to be correct for MWI to have a chance. I wonder if some of its recent ‘popularity’ is media-hype.

1. They’re ignoring the fact that they have failed to solve the basis ambiguity problem (which they need for ‘splitting’ of world to make any sense). It’s unfortunate, but the new orthodoxy is that quantum mechanics only has unitary evolution (no real collapse), and that’s ‘the way it is’– even if that doesn’t get you classical ’emergence’ without putting that in at the beginning. I explain the problem in this post: https://transactionalinterpretation.org/2015/01/17/why-the-world-cannot-really-split-in-the-many-worlds-interpretation-2/
Wallace smuggles in classicality when he adds a ‘structure’ hypothesis to the so-called ‘bare theory’ in his 2012 book on p. 14. He presents that additional hypothesis as part of the basic formalism, but it is not. It’s an externally imposed condition based on what the world is like now.
So MWI advocates assume what they claim to demonstrate (that classicality ’emerges’ from the quantum level in unitary-only evolution). I have pointed this out in a published paper (http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/10757/) and it has not been refuted. Just disregarded (by many who are attached to MWI). However, to his credit, Schlosshauer, one of the pioneers of ‘quantum Darwinism’ that MWI relies on, now acknowledges the circularity problem and does not advocate MWI.

1. And yes there is a lot of hype out there, because it does make for fun science fiction. But it fails.

49. Eric Hamilton says:

I’ve read your piece on Quantum Darwinism–I think I mentioned that above. Makes perfect sense to me! The probabilities problem seems just as big, too. And then, you just have to assume everything else works the way they say it does: energy is really conserved by being smeared across universes; worlds can really share the same space without interacting; consciousness can really be split (they simply refuse to address this one). These three assumptions I suppose are all logically & mathematically possible, but only if MWI is true! Why make the assumptions if saner ones are available?
Yet I have to admit, I liked Michael Crichton’s Timeline, and that parallel world Star Trek where Captain Kirk was evil (but still couldn’t act). :)
Eric.

1. Yes, MWI makes for fun SF. But that’s all it is ;)
Coincidentally I am just writing a critical review of the MWI literature right now for the introductory chapter of a collected volume on the emergence of classicality from the quantum level. There are several logical fallacies involved in what they do. This is way more information than you wanted, but here is that section: (sorry about Latex characters):
Specifically, the idea that unitary-only dynamics can lead naturally to preferred observables such that decoherence suffices to explain emergence of classical phenomena seems to be inadequate. (The basic problem is laid out especially clearly in Bub et al, 1998.)
Such Quantum Darwinism’-type arguments depend on
assuming special initial conditions of separable degrees of freedom which amount to seeds’ of classicality from the outset, in which case the explanation of classical emergence becomes circular.
That is, the argument becomes:\\
1. If the quantum dynamics is unitary-only, and\\
2. If the universe has initially separable (localizable) degrees of freedom such as distinguishable atoms and photons, and\\
3. and if those degrees of freedom interact by Hamiltonians that do not re-entangle them, then\\
4. decoherence occurs and classicality emerges.\\

For decoherence to (even approximately) explain the emergence of classicality under the assumption of unitary-only evolution (henceforth abbreviated U-O), all three premises must hold.
However, classicality is implicitly contained in 2 and 3 through the partitioning of the universal degrees of freedom into separable, localized substructures interacting via Hamiltonians that do not re-entangle them, so (given U-O) one has to put in classicality to get classicality out.
Premises 2 and 3 are special initial conditions on the early universe that may not hold–certainly they are not
the most general case for a quantum-only initial universe. Yet it seems common for researchers assuming U-O to assert that 2, and 3 also \textit{must} hold without question; i.e., that they can (or should) be taken as axiomatic. This actually amounts to the fallacy of affirming the consequent, as follows: one observes that we have an apparently classical world (affirm 4), and then one asserts that 2 and 3 \textit{must} hold.

The insistence on 2 appears, for example, in Wallace’s invocation of “additional structure on the Hilbert Space” as ostensibly part of the basic formalism (Wallace 2012, p. 14-15). Such additional structure–preferred sets of basis vectors and/or a particular decomposition of the Hilbert space–is imposed when quantum theory is applied to specific situations in the laboratory. However, what we observe in the laboratory is the classical world in which classical physics describes our macroscopic measuring instruments and quantum physics is applied only to prepared quantum systems that are not already entangled with other degrees of freedom.
If the task is to explain how we got to this empirical situation from an initially quantum-only universe, then clearly we cannot
assume what amounts to the explanandum; i.e., that the universe began with quasi-localized quantum systems distinguishable from each other and their environment, as it appears to us today. Yet Wallace includes this auxiliary condition imposing structural separability under a section entitled “The Bare Formalism,”
by which he means U-O, even though he notes that we assign the relevant Hilbert space structures “in practice” to empirical laboratory situations.
Since the imposed structures are part of the application of the theory to a particular empirical situation, they are not properly regarded as part of the “bare formalism.” They are auxiliary hypotheses to which we cannot help ourselves, especially since the most general state of an early quantum universe is not one that comes with preferred basis vectors and/or distinguishable degrees of freedom.
Thus, the addition of this condition amounts to asserting (2), and becomes part of the circular reasoning used to support the claim that quasi-classical world `branches’ naturally appear in an Everettian (unitary-only) picture.

Now, of course unitary-only theorists assume that (1) is not subject to question and is just a background fact. If one insists on (1) in this way, then (2) and (3) are required in order to
arrive via a decoherence-type argument at our current apparently classical world.
Thus they assume that the logical structure of the argument is:\ 2 and 3 iff 4.\
So, rather than reject the argument based on its circularity, it is commonly assumed under U-O that the consequent is evidence for the truth of premises 2 and 3. The possibility that the dynamics may not be wholly unitary–the falsity of the unitary-only assumption–is not considered. However, it may be false.

50. Eric Hamilton says:

Whew–I think it’s safe to say I touched a nerve there…and safe to say we both dislike MWI. Something you might find interesting–I once read some Stack Exchange comments by Jess Riedel, of all people, in which he claimed preferred basis was still a big problem and that decoherence, in his words, didn’t completely solve it. He said the reason for this was (my words not his) that it is difficult to define a system using only decoherence–it sounds a little like your argument coming from an MWI supporter, though of course he doesn’t believe it to be fatal.
This reminds me–Florin did a piece on MWI around Christmas in which he demonstrated MWI attempts to explain probabilities and derive Born Rule are just as circular. In a debate with an MWI supporter he compared branch weights to toothfairyness (I love that word!) because they come out of thin air. The Many Worlder countered with the argument that, ‘of course, probabilities have nothing to do with outcomes–why should they?’
Just thought you might find that amusing.

1. It’s not about ‘nerves’–someone just has to clean up the mess ;)
And I happened to be working on that while you were posting about MWI. And yes, it’s all circular reasoning.

51. Eric Hamilton says:

Of course, when I made the comment about ‘touching a nerve’, I was just joking!
I think the takeaway from all of these issues we’ve been discussing is dogma, of the scientific variety. Personally, I think the worst example of scientific dogma is the idea that a scientist, in order to be a scientist, has to assume the universe is meaningless going in, and construct all his/her theories accordingly. It is no coincidence that scientists who embrace this idea always find meaninglessness.
Keep in mind, when I say this, I’m neither saying that all scientists should be religious nor assuming that none are–which would be dogma on my part! (For instance, I’m not sure Paul Davies would want to be called ‘religious’, but he seems to have a very spiritual view of science.) Also, I know that scientists who believe the universe to be meaningless have made great contributions, though I think their belief is ultimately unscientific and can, at times, lead them into the wrong scientific conclusions–and always into the wrong philosophical conclusions, including the conclusion that philosophy is dead!
I guess, if I have a question here, it’s this: is this dogma of meaninglessness getting more prevalent now, or is it about the same as it’s always been? Most of the issues, I know, have been around since the dawn of science–I suppose I’m asking if the zeitgeist has changed.
I’m guessing this question is right in your wheelhouse, as you’re a philosopher of science who also believes reality is not pointless–yet hopefully I’m not putting you on the spot! :)
Eric.

1. I agree with much of what you say here. The ‘mechanistic world view’ is a particular *metaphysical* world view. Since the advent of QM and its strong indications of fundamental indeterminism (and additional structure) at the heart of nature, it seems that there may be a lot more going on (unless one wants to just ‘shut up and calculate’ which means ‘give up and stop being a scientist’).
Of course, it’s not the job of science to find meaning. But personally I do believe there is plenty of meaning. I just don’t expect science to necessarily be able to find it–and that’s OK. We can’t expect physical science to be able to explain everything about our experiences. It has its limitations due to its restriction to the empirical realm, and subjective human experiences go beyond that.

52. Eric Hamilton says:

I, also, agree with pretty much all of what you just said. Incidentally, I didn’t mean to imply that science’s job is to prove either ultimate meaning or the existence of God–it probably can’t anyway; I just don’t like the assumption that meaninglessness is proven, and the only view an ‘enlightened’ person can have. And, interestingly, even the ‘mechanistic’ position, when viewed properly, doesn’t force the conclusion of meaninglessness; if my decision to brush my teeth this morning was something preordained 13.7 billion years ago, that could be either depressing or awe-inspiring, depending on how you look at it!
Another thing I thought of, on the topic of free will–I’m not sure what benefit there is in not believing in it. The main argument I see, from determinists, is that the justice system should not be ‘about vengeance’. Yet shouldn’t a hard-determinist justice system be operationally indistinguishable from a libertarian one? Aren’t compassion & rehabilitation at the heart of justice, whether we have free will or not? And, even in a deterministic universe, isn’t it true that deterrence is necessary, and also that some people can only be locked away for the protection of society? Moreover, it just seems to be part of having a conscience, to hold oneself responsible for one’s own actions, whatever society thinks–I believe this is a strong argument that libertarian free will exists. At the very least it’s proof that, even in a deterministic worldview, compatiblism should not be rejected.
But here I go again, with the wordiness! I should really just have said, ‘Have a nice weekend!’ :)
Eric.

1. good points. Arguments purporting to show that denial of free will is socially responsible are very weak in my view. It trivializes the concept of justice to say it’s about ‘vengeance’. And philosophers who advocate denial of free will seem to want to have it both ways, because they often talk as if people have choices about what to believe and how to behave. If they think none us has free will, then why talk as if one has options about what to think or do? There are no live options without free will.

53. Eric Hamilton says:

I agree, mostly–though I do see the point some compatibilists are making: and that is that the self and morality are fundamental things, perhaps even more so than libertarian free will; we should not deny them, even if the universe is proven deterministic (which I don’t think is an issue, but one never knows.) I suppose, if determinism were proven, we could see ourselves as links in a deterministic chain in which each part plays a genuine role, each part matters (though, like you, I would find such a view unsatisfying, it’s better than saying we’re robots). At the very least, the fact that holding oneself responsible for one’s actions is an important part of leading a moral life would indicate that many facts which are true of libertarianism should also be held true of compatibilism, if compatibilism is true–though I don’t believe that it is. In fact, if physics were ever proven deterministic, I would be inclined to look for ‘hidden variables’ in metaphysics–and consciousness may leave room for this.
Re free will deniers ‘wanting it both ways’–I can certainly see this! I’ve often wondered why hard determinists (not compatibilists, but people of the more zombie-like view) feel that their ideas matter. Of course, I believe their ideas matter & should have a fair hearing, but why do they? In this, they seem to be relying on circular logic.
Eric.

1. The only sense I can see in which ‘compatibilists’ can say we are better than robots is that we are sentient robots. But I don’t see how they can recover any moral responsibility, or genuine, live options concerning what to think or how to behave. I don’t think there’s any genuine difference between free will denial and compatibilism. Compatibilism essentially just redefines ‘free will’ as ‘not really free will, but that should be good enough for you’. So I agree that it’s equivocation — trying to have it both ways. Not taking the implications of their own arguments seriously.

54. Eric Hamilton says:

I don’t think I disagree with you about compatibilism with regard to free will. Maybe I appreciate it more in this sense: it’s a way of looking at determinism that isn’t nihilistic. Nihilism need not be forced by any viewpoint. Even if we’re part of a determined chain, one can say one’s actions are an expression of one’s self, and that those actions matter; if one were removed from the chain, the chain would be different. Is this as purposeful as true free will, or even an adequate description of reality?–I certainly don’t think so! But it’s a better way of looking at things than, say, the sort of view most associated with Sam Harris or naïve interpretations of the Libet experiments. That view is more like: there is no self; it’s just a movie I’m watching. That view, in my opinion, is insane! If there were a contest between only that view and compatibilism, I would pick compatibilism in a heartbeat; of course, I believe there are alternatives to both of these views!
Oh, I had one other question–regarding how there aren’t complete histories or macro wavefunctions in the substratum in PTI. I was still under the impression, from your description of quantum mind, that the brain has a more or less complete wavefunction, in which the mind makes choices. Is this the case, or are you really less specific than this? Do you simply assume the mind is seated in the substratum making use of quantum resources, whether there is a complete brain wavefunction or not? (I suppose either view would work, though I was wondering if there was a question of consistency if the brain has a complete wavefunction, and other brain-sized objects don’t.) Again, probably showing my ignorance here! :)

1. I can go along with your assessment that in this sense, compatibilism has more going for it than outright free will denial. But I think most compatibilists think they are presenting something stronger — literally, that free will is compatible with determinism. It isn’t unless you weaken ‘free will’ so much as to make it unrecognizable. A sentient domino might feel a sense of meaning in being part of a chain of falling dominoes (perhaps for some ‘higher purpose’), but that has nothing to do with whether he has free will. He doesn’t, even if his (involuntary) participation feels meaningful to him.
Re the brain: under PTI the brain is an actualized, macroscopic system, so it does not have a wavefunction. It is an interlocking set of actualized emission/absorption events. Somehow (I don’t claim to explain that), there is a quantum-level mind associated with each individual brain. So the brain is on the ‘tip of the iceberg’, while the mind is in the submerged portion. There is a dynamical connection between them.
One idea I’m exploring is that the mind can create and destroy field quanta through volitional activity. This would provide an account of how living systems maintain themselves in a local entropy-reducing process: i.e., the mind actively generates transactions resulting in continuation of the physical body (including the brain). These are just preliminary thoughts, of course!

55. Eric Hamilton says:

That sounds interesting–though I don’t pretend to be capable of fully understanding it! :) Sounds a bit like idealism, the mind creating and destroying quanta…which I’m okay with, calling it idealism is not meant as a criticism. One idea I’ve wondered about is this: could self-organization simply go all the way down? As sentient parts of a sentient whole, the quanta act cooperatively–that’s probably too simple and might or might not be limited by Ted Sider’s argument. Gaylen Moore, above, wondered if the brain always follows the Born Rule–perhaps, if it doesn’t, the macro-matter in the brain can be restructured through a process that begins at the quantum level; and perhaps this would even be possible if the brain follows the Born Rule. In either case, of course, volition would play the primary role.

1. Depending on how we define ‘mental substance’, we might call PTI a form of idealism. But I think the traditional mind/matter division is also subject to re-evaluation in light of modern physics. I think there is one basic substance, but it has different modes of existence. The quantum (‘abstract’, ‘unmanifest’) mode is mind-like, and the classical (concrete, manifest) mode is matter-like. But I think it’s all the same stuff. So that’s really how I see the ontology of PTI.
Re the brain/mind: yes, good questions. It is possible that the mind/brain system violates the Born Rule internally, but I don’t think that’s necessary to account for volition.

56. Eric Hamilton says:

To clarify my earlier comment–the brain would be continually emerging from the quantum realm (at least in PTI)–so my use of the word ‘restructuring’ might not be exactly right. I guess what I was wondering was, could different macro possibilities be realized in the brain simply because the particles (and ultimately the brain is made up entirely of indeterministic particles, whatever their status might be in spacetime) are cooperating?
Thanks,
Eric.

1. Possibly, yes. If quantum systems have elementary consciousness, they might decide to ‘collaborate’!

57. Eric Hamilton says:

Our comments have kind of been passing each other in cyberspace. Needless to say, you’ve answered most of my questions–insofar as such questions can be answered! I have to admit, the idea of the mind creating and destroying quanta, even in the substratum, seems odd to me–I hope it’s not the only way we can have free will (keep in mind, I’m not saying it’s wrong or a bad idea…it just seems odd to me, and this could be merely a reflection of my ignorance). Incidentally, I love your description of substance, being mind-like at some times, body-like at others; this is how I first came to understand reality in the Copenhagen Interpretation: unmeasured electron=mind; measured electron=body. Not playing favorites regarding interpretations, here–the substratum’s a great idea, too, and I’m the opposite of an authority!
Thanks,
Eric.

58. Eric Hamilton says:

I just realized–when you were referring to creating & destroying field quanta, you were referring to QFT, ‘virtual’ particles, weren’t you? That makes more sense to me–and it’s very interesting. But it took me this long to put it together because, you know…English major! :)
Eric.

1. Yes, QFT–but actually when you act on the vacuum state with a creation operator, you create a ‘real’ field quantum — that’s an offer wave (the terminology is a big ambiguous because a ‘real quantum’ could also refer to an actualized transaction; it’s a matter of context. This is discussed in note 7 on p. 100 of ‘Unseen Reality’ ).
This does go on all the time at the relativistic level, and it is consistent for a mind connected with a living organism to engage in this sort of activity, since life is locally entropy-reducing. In more elementary terms, life sucks in energy from the environment and pumps it into its own structure. Creating field quanta is certainly a way to do this!
See Chapters 4 and 5 of my book for the difference between virtual and real quanta.

59. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks!
Eric.

60. Eric Hamilton says:

Oh–I always meant to ask you. What is your take on the argument that ‘quantum mechanics may be indeterminate, but it just can’t have any affects on the brain’. (This is similar to the Ted Sider argument, but broader because it isn’t statistical–it just states effects from microphysics can’t ramify outward). I’ve never been impressed with this because it seems we have evidence that the quantum level seems to have an affect on things like photosynthesis and gene mutation, so why not the brain? Yet I’ve read that some experiments involving friction showed quantum effects to be restrained in the chaos there. Yet these aren’t the same kind of systems as the brain. What do you think?
Eric.

1. I’m not impressed with this either, because it presupposes a certain metaphysical view about the nature of biological systems–basically that they are no different from rocks or billiard balls. But rocks and billiard balls are not self-replicating, self-organizing, and (locally) entropy-reducing. As we discussed earlier, the brain (indeed an entire living organism) could be continually regenerating itself and growing/changing based on a creative impetus from the quantum level. So the argument dismissing a quantum role in brain functioning draws conclusions way beyond our current level of understanding of how the mind/brain works and how life itself works. That’s still a mystery.

61. Eric Hamilton says:

Sorry if my question seemed redundant; I was thinking about chaos from the traditional metaphysical point of view–because I kind of think that, once one takes QM into account, determinism fails even from that perspective.
There was something else I thought of–regarding compatibilist thinking. Obviously we both disagree with it, but I still think it has something to say. I actually think it’s a form (albeit a sadly weakened form) of free will, and not just the sentient domino analogy (though I understand why you believe this). In a way, I think compatibilists can tell us something about true free will–because of this: any freedom has to have limits on it in order to be free. We see this in government–democracy vs. anarchy–but in the case of mind it is will vs. randomness; you have to have a self in order to have will, but the self limits behavior. One’s choices are, to some extent, limited by one’s innate desires and inclinations–our choices would be meaningless without such limitations. The difference between a libertarian and compatibilist is that the libertarian believes that there are limits to the limits placed by innate character; the self is able to become something other than what it originally is (compatibilists deny this), yet in order to do so, it has to ‘overcome itself’ so to speak. I believe we can do this–overcome ourselves–but the struggle is so much more meaningful because of our limitations. Compatibilists remind us to consider those limitations. Incidentally, I think many of our decisions (but certainly not all) may be compatibilist-like, in the sense that they don’t override our inclinations–are they less free because they don’t?
On the other hand, compatibilists seem to think the only kind of ‘free will’ there is (and the only kind worth having) is the ability to choose what we’re inclined to do. I think this argument fails for many reasons. QM, for one–with its indication that multiple possible representations of a single entity is a fundamental part of nature. Another mistake compatibilists make is assuming a sharp distinction between desires that might be called innate and choices, with the latter following inevitably from the former; but I think our desires may sometimes (maybe even often) be acts of free will–just as some ‘subconscious’ decisions may be as free as fully ‘conscious’ ones. And then there’s morality–physicalists can’t write it off or call it subjective (not when they claim subjective elements have no effect); it may sometimes be ambiguous but it certainly exists. From a physicalist perspective, right and wrong must eventually have a source in the mathematical structure of the universe. They exist–and human beings are very much concerned with them. Yet, if compatibilism is true, personal responsibility of a sort may exist, but not in nearly as meaningful a sense (as in libertarianism). We can’t think about our past choices as if we could have done differently–where is our basis for self-reproach? Now, I think there may be a compatibilist answer to this question–namely, that a murderer is a murderer because he was, at least at some point, murderous–he may not have had a choice in the matter, but he was still wrong and should still feel guilt…and if it is in his nature to feel guilt and reform now, he will. This is a decent reply. That said, I still think it would be extremely peculiar if we don’t have live choices. Because the fundamental aspect of being a moral being is having a conscience, and the fundamental aspect of having a conscience is the ability to think about our actions as if we could have done otherwise and should be held responsible in the sense that we freely chose. People who don’t or can’t think about their actions in this way are typically psychopaths and horrendously immoral! Thus, since morality exists, it might be possible that true freedom doesn’t exist but that, in order to be moral, we need to pretend that it does…yet this state of affairs would be incredibly bizarre. I find it much more likely that the existence of morality is just further evidence of libertarian free will.
Sorry about the massive wordiness, here. It’s just it seems I’ve always found the relationship between compatibilism and libertarianism more interesting than you do, and I wanted to explain why. Ultimately, of course, I agree the compatibilists are on the wrong track!
Best,
Eric.

62. Eric Hamilton says:

Hi, Ruth. Sorry about the length (and pomposity?) of that last post–those were just some ideas that have been rattling around in my head. To clarify–what I said about desires: I meant that sometimes they may be un-predetermined acts of volition, even if we don’t ‘think’ about them, as opposed to compatibilists, who seem to think what we want is always carved in stone. Similarly, I think we can, through acts of will, re-wire our brains (to some extent) and, through epigenetics (also only to some extent), ‘reprogram’ our DNA. Of course, I think there are always some things, at some baseline level, which are out of our control–tendencies, or tendencies toward tendencies, with which we have to struggle.
I also wanted to say, in case I don’t have the chance to talk to you again, I’ve really enjoyed this discussion! I’ve learned a lot, to say the least. :)
I’ll let you know when I publish the novel we discussed–and if you find one of my current books on Amazon, I hope you enjoy it!
Best,
Eric.

1. Thanks, actually I agree with you that “freedom has to have limits on it in order to be free. We see this in government–democracy vs. anarchy–but in the case of mind it is will vs. randomness; you have to have a self in order to have will, but the self limits behavior.” Yes. And I think that the quantum probabilistic law accomplishes JUST THAT: it makes it harder to choose certain things under certain circumstances; all choices are NOT equally available, since they have different probabilistic weights. (See http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11893/ )
So this insight is not limited to compatibilism; and in fact I would argue that compatibilism doesn’t really get at this issue. Compatibilists simply redefine ‘free will’ to mean choices made in the absence of external constraints–the freedom to act in accordance with our desires. But such desires, beliefs, etc are all attributed to fully deterministic laws. In view of that, I don’t see how we can be different in any significant way from sentient dominoes under compatibilism. A domino is ‘free to act in accordance’ with the deterministic laws that determined whether it is going to fall or not. It’s a simpler system, yes, but I don’t see how it’s qualitatively any different from the compatiblist definition of human ‘free choices’.

63. Eric Hamilton says:

There seem (to me) to be lots of open questions about how to apply the quantum probabilistic law to mind, though–how, exactly, does the mind relate to QM; how, exactly, does QM relate to the concrete brain; is there dualism, idealism, quantum mind, a vast collaboration of proto-sentient quanta, or some combination of these ideas? Is Born Rule always followed by the brain? Could the self-organized classical brain be indeterminate even without QM?–and a lot of other questions, besides. I don’t think we have any basic disagreements on free will, though–and I didn’t mean to imply that you haven’t thought about the limits on freedom, or that compatibilists are the only ones who have–in fact, by turning the ‘limits’ into absolute laws, I think they’re really oversimplifying things! Yet I suppose I find compatibilism to be an interesting thought experiment–like a ‘toy model’ in physics–which I like to study even though I think it’s wrong. It’s an interesting question: how would we get morality, conscience, personal responsibility, a sense of agency, etc., if everything is determined? Asking these questions from the compatibilist perspective I think has helped me better see the holes in the determinist position–maybe clarified some of my thoughts on libertarian free will, as well. But I’ve also thought about it because I worry there might be a very remote possibility determinism could be correct (I’m neurotic, and worry all the time about worst-case scenarios!). The conclusion I’ve come to is that, in the event that determinism is true, there are many truly baffling phenomena about human beings that can’t reduce to amorality or meaninglessness–in fact, I think these phenomena actually prove free will. Yet if they don’t, and the universe were to turn out to be deterministic, I think that morality, conscience, etc. still can’t be denied. Of course, by insisting that their version of ‘free will’ is equal to traditional free will, I think compatibilists are (inadvertently) distorting the truth in an unhelpful fashion. They probably need to think more deeply about their core question: What do these fundamental experiences mean if they’re deterministic? I think I agree with them on this, though, if on little else: the experiences would still mean something.
Sorry, again, for the length of this post–I didn’t mean for it to be so long!
Eric.

1. Sure, the experiences might mean something, but that’s a different question than whether we have free will under compatibilism. I didn’t say that a sentient domino’s experiences didn’t mean anything ;)
I can imagine the existential angst of being a domino forever constrained to be set up and knocked down again! (In fact I think a lot of people feel that way. But then there are artists and inspirational leaders and various people who just say ‘no’ to the mechanistic press of large-scale forces of the world, like little photons that decide to actualize the really unlikely transaction.)
I don’t pretend to have any fully developed theory of the mind and volition, etc., and how it relates to the quantum probability law (Born Rule). The intent of my arguments re the Born Rule so far have just been to point out that quantum indeterminism’s loophole allowing for free will can’t be sweepingly dismissed the way it has been so far.
As for determinism, it’s very unlikely that quantum theory can really be interpreted in a fully deterministic way. The ‘Bohmian’ theory is the leading deterministic interpretation of QM and it has serious challenges. Bohm and his colleague Hiley actually abandoned it long ago. There is a relativistic form of the ‘Bohmian’ theory by Rod Sutherland, which amounts to a block world picture in which particle trajectories go backward in time and which invokes a particular inertial frame as a future boundary condition. So it adds things to the basic theory in order to retain the idea of classical determinacy for particles. The most natural and straightforward way to interpret QM is that is describing a fundamentally indeterministic physics. So I wouldn’t worry about ‘what if’ the world were deterministic. You only get a deterministic model if you add extra things to quantum theory that are not part of the theory.

64. Eric Hamilton says:

I agree completely about QM–in fact, I’ve always thought Bohm’s mechanics sound just about as insane as MWI. I guess what has concerned me is the possibility of the mechanistic view, which is not the same as determinism (and which I don’t believe either–in fact I detest the mechanistic view–but it’s something I think about sometimes). Can the quantum really affect the classical? What do Libet-type experiments mean? Those two questions, I think, are more compelling than the two you addressed in your original article–and, as we’ve discussed above, they need not be a threat to free will, either; I find them to be knottier questions though. I was never particularly impressed by Ted Sider’s argument, and, unlike you, I actually think libertarian free will could be reconciled with block time (which is not the same as saying I actually believe we’re living in a block world!). The physicist Aron Wall is someone who’s talked about this–block time + true free will. Now, he’s a very conservative Christian and I’m more of a liberal one, so I don’t agree with him about everything, but I find his thinking about time interesting. As for probabilities, I’ve always thought the limits on freedom come from classical DNA, the freedom comes from the quantum world–and the reason I wonder about Born Rule in the brain is maybe the quanta in the brain cooperate in a way that quanta in experiments don’t, relieving them of their obligation to follow the usual rules.
Re compatibilists, I guess I think they touch on some interesting ideas, while maybe still completely missing the point. For instance: we all choose to do what we want, yet how much do we choose WHAT we want? Compatibilists, of course, say never, and I think they’re wrong–yet even libertarians don’t have a well-defined answer to this question; it’s just too complex! Where does choice end and innate quality begin? Also, are there ever people who have very little choice? Are some people born psychopaths or pedophiles? We have ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ and this is actually a libertarian feature of the justice system, because a compatibilist believes EVERY criminal is eligible for the insanity defense…yet libertarians make an exception to the usual rule.
How much free will does the born psychopath have? This is an interesting question that gets even more complicated when you consider that some people have been found to have ‘psychopath’ brains or DNA, and yet they aren’t psychopaths. Of course, I have the brain and DNA of a longwinded writer, and look how much I just wrote!!! :)
Eric.

1. Yes, a huge number of really tough questions here–I’m looking into these issues right now as I consider the free will problem in more depth. You’re right that there is a lot that science does NOT know or even begin to understand–and that’s one of my problems with some of the hard-line stances people are taking either way. While some people assume I’m attached to the idea of free will, I’m not. I’m just trying to point out that our state of knowledge really does not qualify us to make definitive statements one way or another. And a lot depends on understanding the quantum/classical interface–which right now is deeply obscure (although I think that PTI has a fruitful way forward).

65. Eric Hamilton says:

It would be okay if you were attached to free will (I am)–though I can see the value in a professional philosopher’s wanting to avoid hardline stances as a general rule! Ultimately, though, I think free will might be like questions of ultimate meaning or God or, ‘Is solipsism true or false?’ (incidentally, I went to a solipsist speed-dating event once; there was nobody else there, just a bunch of empty tables :) ). The sad truth (if one is an empiricist) is that sooner or later EVERYTHING has to be taken on at least a little bit of faith, and free will is probably no exception. Personally, though, I think one argument that’s very convincing is that if more than one option were not open to us, then consciousness would be completely unnecessary. This reminds me of a documentary I saw recently on phosphorescence, how prevalent it is in nature–and in each instance of bioluminescence the documentary pointed out how the particular species benefitted from it, why it evolved. Well, consciousness is far more prevalent than glowing in the dark–if our futures are closed it would be like the majority of animals on earth (perhaps all) evolving the same vestigial organ. And if it’s more fundamental than evolution–I’m not sure any of the usual arguments against free will apply. However, the murkiness of the overall question is why I sometimes think about compatibilism. Where I think compatibilists are clearly wrong is when they say things like ‘You can’t have free will WITHOUT determinism,’ or ‘Libertarian free will was pointless anyway.’ On the other hand, if it turns out the quantum/classical interface doesn’t allow for multiple classical choices, they may be asking some of the right questions. Our experience of agency is so profound; morality, in my opinion, is undeniable; the existence of conscience is also undeniable and an essential part of functioning as a moral being–and at the very least the SENSE of personal responsibility is an essential part of conscience: I don’t think these phenomena reduce to the ‘sentient domino’ analogy, even assuming fulfilled, meaningful dominoes, and even if only one future is open to us. Of course, logically, we SHOULD reduce to dominoes in this scenario–your reasoning makes sense–but I don’t think we do. The phenomena I describe are just too mysterious for that view.
Sorry, again, for the wordiness,
Eric.

66. Eric Hamilton says:

I can let you know about where to find those solipsist societies. I always think they seem kind of lonely–then again, maybe it’s all just in my own head. :)

1. I agree that the human experience (and even the animal experience) isn’t reducible to sentient dominoes. For me that indicates that we do have genuine creativity, free will (the ability to ‘intervene’ in the apparently deterministic flow of events), and moral responsibility based on having the ‘ability to do otherwise’. For if humans really were subject to fully deterministic laws, we would just be complicated sentient dominoes.
Re solipsism: like skepticism, this is a logically consistent position. If someone latches on to either (or both), there is no purely logical way to persuade them otherwise. Re skepticism, Descartes established quite clearly that the only thing he could know for sure is that he was a thinking thing. If someone demands 100% certainty, they will never get beyond that. So I think you’re right that accepting (even provisionally) any other knowledge claim involves a ‘leap of faith’. For Descartes, it was ‘God is not a deceiver.’

67. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks, Ruth. Of course, when I mentioned solipsism, it’s just because this idea popped into my head once about a ‘solipsist society’ trying to organize a speed-dating event, and what it might look like–who would show up and why? It gave me a laugh, but I’ve never been able to tell that joke to anybody else–I figured, if I can’t tell a philosopher, who CAN I tell? All of this reminds me of two lines I’ve written in two of my unpublished books. The first is, ‘Doubt is the heartbeat of belief.’ I think doubt is best understood as a measure of how much a person cares about their beliefs; people who are indifferent don’t doubt or question themselves, and I’m not sure skeptics really doubt anything. Further, if there were no doubt, there would be no faith. The second line (a line from the book I just finished) is ‘Reality puts up a fight, if you’re paying attention.’ If one tries to believe in anything (including nothing) that belief will be tested grievously, assuming one keeps an open mind! Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to believe in–probably just the opposite!
Re sentient dominoes, I agree completely that subjective experience itself can be taken as very strong evidence for an open future. Yet, just for the sake of argument, if our futures are closed, how does one even explain conscience or the fact that we need a sense of personal responsibility? If the future is indeed closed one might need to look for different metaphysical assumptions about reality itself. Perhaps, on some idealistic level, we somehow choose who we are independently of any physical laws, even QM; modern science does indicate there are many possible sets of natural laws and many possible universes (without ever getting into MWI nonsense). Perhaps one causally closed universe emerges from an infinite array of possible immaterial universes, because everything in it chooses to be just the way that it is. That would be free will, yet, to those living inside the universe, reality would seem to be mechanistic. This is just one theory, of course–there are probably many others, including the rather unsatisfying argument compatibilists make, themselves.
And now, for one more horrendous philosophy joke. You’ve heard, of course, of eschatology. But did you know that Descartes also studied another discipline known as escatology, in which he made the statement, ‘I poop, therefore I am.’ I’m sorry–that was just awful!
Eric.

1. Actually, I think a full-blown skeptic doubts everything, and believes nothing, which seems to me to be no way to build any kind of productive life. Of course we can never be 100% sure of anything, and as you say, beliefs are always being tested. To me this means that the truth is just so large, multifaceted and amazing that it’s probably beyond mortal comprehension. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn more about the world and count our discoveries as genuine, even if partial and limited.
Your Solipsist Dating Society would be a great sketch for Saturday Night Live.
John meets Mary:
John: I’m perceiving what looks like a young lady.
Mary: I’m perceiving what looks like a young man.
John: Unfortunately she doesn’t really exist as an independent being, so I can’t be interested.
Mary. Ditto.

68. Eric Hamilton says:

Describing skepticism is tricky. A skeptic believes in nothing; in some extreme cases, one could say he/she becomes certain of meaninglessness, in which case, he/she never doubts. For me, doubt is the heartbeat of belief because I am a person of faith who is a skeptic by nature–I doubt constantly, and the more passionate my belief, the more frequently I doubt. This is very frustrating for me–yet I still believe. An example of this doubting nature–when I was eight years old I spent an entire summer vacation worrying that I didn’t exist. My father held a mirror in front of my face, had me breathe on it and asked, ‘See the fog?’ and I said, ‘What if the mirror isn’t real, either?’ Perhaps, now, you think I should be talking to Chris Fuchs, rather than you! :)
By the way, it’s always been a secret fantasy of mine to write for Saturday Night Live! I have a number of comedy sketches in my portfolio: ‘Praying mantis porno-movies’ (unfortunately, they’re always snuff films); I did a parody movie-trailer back in 2004–‘Home Alone 5, Left at the White House’ starring George W. Bush as the clueless little boy and Bill & Hillary Clinton as the clueless burglars. However, while the solipsist speed-dating thing might kill at a philosophy conference, I doubt SNL would air it–certainly not before Weekend Update, anyway.
Eric.

1. Hmm..my understanding is that a skeptic just doubts everything. But I guess it’s a matter of definition.
True that the Solipsism Dating Service might be a stretch for SNL! ;)

69. Eric Hamilton says:

I agree with you about the literal definition of skepticism, but I think many people call themselves skeptics who are actually nihilists. An example of how the definitions can get murky is in the title of this entry–the ‘skeptics we should be skeptical of’ tend to be free will deniers. It’s not a matter of doubt for many of them–they just believe we’re robots. Also, I was thinking of this–if you doubt everything, you’re certain you can’t trust anything; you don’t ‘believe in’ anything, so it could be said that you ‘believe in’ nothing–so can it really be said that you doubt?
But I’m not trying to pick an argument, here! (I also think there are some skeptics out there who are really good people–I just dislike their viewpoint.)
Glad you enjoyed my tasteless jokes!
Best,
Eric.

70. Eric Hamilton says:

Oh–I meant to say, I got a kick out of your dramatization of my Solipsist Dating Service–your, ‘John meets Mary’ scenario (glad you didn’t make them Alice and Bob–that would have been too quantum mechanical). I may have to use it if I ever turn the idea into a fleshed out sketch. Do you mind?
By the way, solipsist speed-dating popped into my head at the same time as another joke: a young earth atheist’s club. Imagine a man getting up behind a podium and saying, with a wild look in his eye, ‘All species emerged simultaneously and in their present state 6,000 years ago, as if by design, BUT THERE WAS NO DESIGNER! You see, we don’t believe in superstitious, unverifiable nonsense–this is just good science!!!’ To tell the truth, I really wish this club existed–I would love to attend a meeting, sit in one of the back rows, and die laughing!
Eric.

1. Actually I think I should have made them Alice & Bob….yes of course you can use it as long as I get co-author credit ;)
Love your Young Earth Atheist club!
How about a Flat Earth Society round-the-world sailing expedition?
First Mate: Captain, we seem to be approaching Los Angeles after having departed from Baltimore. How is that possible??
Captain: Obviously the magnetic field from the sun has folded the flat earth into a cylinder. You ask such stupid questions.

71. Eric Hamilton says:

LOL! I was thinking Flat Earth Society would have to come next, but I hadn’t thought of a punch-line–yours is excellent! :) If you ever get tired of doing trivial stuff, like philosophy that has groundbreaking implications for our understanding of reality, you might do something really important–like coauthor a philosophy-based sketch-comedy book with me. :)
Re the question of how much a skeptic doubts, I thought of something else–logical positivism (one of your pet peeves) could be taken as a form of skepticism, and logical positivists make dogmatic, faith-like statements about the unobservable all the time…usually that it doesn’t exist or is necessarily meaningless. Niels Bohr: ‘There is no quantum world.’ A faith-based statement–how much room does it leave for doubt?
This reminds me, I have a question for you, about PTI & delayed choice–I read your piece, awhile ago–the one where you compared Wheeler’s interpretation to TI’s. You talked about Wheeler’s view of the particle not having a defined position in the first part of the experiment as if his opinion is different from yours, but isn’t your position (PTI) actually similar, in that the unmeasured particle is in the substratum, and doesn’t have a position in space-time? I’m probably missing something here.
Eric.
P.S. I was only half-kidding about our co-authoring a comedy book. While I was writing this post, another idea popped into my head–‘The Logical Positivist School for the Blind.’ :)

72. Eric Hamilton says:

I just realized my question regarding delayed choice wasn’t specific enough. I was thinking of two possible ways of looking at it both from Copenhagen perspective and PTI. One way, in Copenhagen, the delayed choice literally reaches into the past and changes it; the other, nothing ever exists at the slits–even after delayed choice–only the information at the detector is relevant (at least this was what I thought). In PTI, the absorption event reaches into the past and defines an actualized particle if there is which-way information (though the past did not exist in space-time until the delayed choice?); if there is no which-way information the ‘particle’ is just an offer wave and does not exist in space-time, either before the delayed choice or after? Could the other interpretation also exist, though? Nothing exists in space-time at the slits, only becoming an actualized transaction at the detector behind the slits. I was thinking of your reply to Lewis over the Maudlin challenge, in which you also discussed delayed choice.
Oh, I hope I didn’t scare you when I mentioned a book–it really was more of a joke. In any case, SNL sketch comedy based on philosophy would be a niche market at best! Mainly, I just wanted to tell you how funny I thought your dramatizations were.
If I use any of those ideas, I’ll totally give you a co-author’s credit, though. :)
Eric.

1. I love the idea of SNL phil sketch comedy! Swamped right now–will think about your questions &report back.

2. First, re the skeptic: actually in a logical sense the burden is on the one making the existence claim, not the one choosing not to believe the existence claim. So a skeptic, like Descartes in his initial ‘doubting’ stage, can certainly deny the existence of anything that doesn’t rise to the level of certainty. That’s a logically consistent position, but of course it leads to solipsism.
Re delayed choice: you’re correct that in PTI the detection is what brings about the spacetime existence of the photon transferred from the emitter to the absorber. In a 2-slit delayed choice experiment, you’ll always get a detection, so you will always actualize a photon–which acts as a spacetime connection between emitter and absorber that defines their spacetime relationship. But the connection from the emitter to the absorber will be different depending on whether you did a ‘which slit’ setup or a ‘both slits’ setup. If both slits, then the connection is a both-slits detection, i.e both the OW and the CW interacted with both slits. In a which-slit detection, the CW only interacts with one OW component that went through only one slit.

73. Eric Hamilton says:

No problem. I thought I’d tell you–I’ve been thinking about what my next project should be, and my last few books have been too much about existential angst–been wanting to do some more comedy. You may have given me an idea: ‘Across the World in Eighty Days’–a comedic murder mystery set aboard a cruise liner chartered by the Flat Earth Society. You’d get a dedication out of it, of course. I suppose the ship could even be christened the S.S. Kastner.
We can talk about royalties after I write it. But in my experience–how do you calculate percentages of nothing?
This reminds me of The Producers.
Eric.

74. Eric Hamilton says:

I’ll send you an email, but I’m having terrible trouble with my email tonight–the message I had for you was all written and then my email crashed. I thought I might ask one question here that isn’t book-related–it was in the email but now that’s gone. I always had the impression, on delayed choice, that Copenhagen could, in true antirealist fashion, say that nothing is at either slit even after the delayed choice, that only the final measurement exists, whereas in PTI the photon does physically exist at one slit (if there is a which-slit measurement) after the delayed choice, because the delayed choice ‘reaches back in time’. Sorry I asked this here and not in the email, but I have to rewrite the email and my email may lock up again! I’ll send you an email as soon as the darn thing lets me!
Best,
Eric.

75. Eric Hamilton says:

I was able to send the email. I thought I’d let you know, here–because my own site gave me so much trouble, I thought it might not arrive. I used the email you list at this site: ruthkastner@gmail.com. I hope that’s right.
Oh, sorry if the above question was redundant–I think you already answered it. The problem for me is, Wheeler always confused me with his explanation! But I’m thinking that in positing an actualized photon at one slit (in the event of a which-slit measurement), this is where PTI differs from Copenhagen. (But then, as I said, Wheeler turns around and talks about the photon as if it’s real as well; hence my confusion).
Thanks for bearing with me, and feel free to email me with your thoughts on the comedy books. If I used an address for you which isn’t current, you’ll have to let me know. :)
Eric.

1. The email isn’t quite right…try rekastner (at) hotmail.com
Re Copenhagen: it’s not really a well-defined interpretation because Bohr and Heisenberg’s views continually shifted and they didn’t always agree. But it’s basically instrumentalism–the QM formalism is just about observations and the results of measurements.

76. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks. I sent the email to the correct address tonight–I think you need to update your ‘to contact me’ section here, because the address I mentioned above was the only one I could find. That’s not meant as a criticism, though–occasionally I forget my own email address; more often I forget my own password! I’ve been called the absentminded professor! :)
Hope the email gives you a laugh, and am interested to hear your thoughts.
Eric.

1. Thanks–I checked it and you just missed the ‘e’ in the middle–so feel free to use the gmail account too!

Date: Sat, 13 Feb 2016 23:55:48 +0000 To: rekastner@hotmail.com

77. Eric Hamilton says:

Thought of one last point for our discussion of compatibilism. You are right–and if I didn’t concede this already, I should have–that if the compatibilist view of reality is correct, we are operationally indistinguishable from sentient robots. Yet this may actually be at the heart of the compatibilist argument for free will (or their version of free will). It may not be possible to build a fully sentient robot, and it may also be impossible to program a robot that is not fully sentient to behave as if it is. Hence, fully sentient entities would behave differently from all other things, even if the world is macro-deterministic; hence there is a profound difference (going beyond mere complexity) between a traditional robot and a sentient being. I think a compatibilist would say here, ‘We can’t choose what we want, but we all choose to do what we want, and our choices and actions are representative of who we are–yet a robot can’t want anything, so its decisions can’t be called choices and aren’t expressive of anything.’ This is why I think compatibilism might be argued to be a weak form of free will. Yet, as I’ve said above, I don’t see why consciousness would exist if it doesn’t give us true live choices, and I don’t think mechanics explains any of us. So I’m definitely not a compatibilist!
Best,
Eric.

1. I would say to the compatibiist: how can we ‘choose to do what we want’ if the world is fully deterministic? Every input yields a specific output under deterministic laws, and all the inputs are specified. So there are no live options for how to act. Sorry, they are trying to have it both ways. They are just redefining ‘free will’ to mean being a sentient robot.

78. Eric Hamilton says:

I think sentient things behave differently because they actually have free will, and that this is in part why the world is indeterministic. I also agree that compatibilism doesn’t make any predictions that differ from hard determinism–it’s more a matter of perspective. If I found out compatibilists were actually right, I would be depressed. I think they have a couple of interesting arguments, though. The best is that, in a libertarian picture, we still often make choices which are in lock-step with our genetic predisposition. Now, I also believe we have the ability to ‘buck the odds’–but in the cases that we don’t, are those decisions less free? Are the only times that we make a free choice the times that we choose to do something we are disinclined to do? This is the argument compatibilists are making when they say libertarian free will isn’t worth having, and I think they’re ultimately wrong and oversimplifying things. For one thing, simply having the ability to ‘buck the odds’ makes every time we don’t a free choice as well. But still–this is a very complex, poorly defined area. I believe I have libertarian free will, but I never know just how broad my freedom is, just how much I’m limited by innate inclination (or, ultimately, how any of it works). This lends some small weight to the compatibilist argument that doing what you want is a form of freedom. But returning to the ‘sentient robot’ argument: a sentient robot is a contradiction in terms. In my heart of hearts, I think we’ll never build one–but if we do, it won’t be a robot anymore, but a sentient being (and we probably won’t know why it’s sentient any more than we know why we are.) Further, I believe that it will behave differently because it is a sentient being, even if it should be a deterministic one. Sentience seems to result in a whole different class of behavior, and this may not be simply because sentient beings are more complex. Thus, if sentient beings behave differently because they’re sentient, one might call their actions willed even if they can be perfectly predicted.
Of course, I believe sentient beings behave differently because sentience really gives them multiple options, so this argument really should be moot. (For instance, the argument that sentience results in behavior that differs from the behavior of non-sentient things, yet still is deterministic, is likely circular.) I’m not a compatibilist, either.
Eric.

79. Eric Hamilton says:

Just thought I’d add–I’m pretty sure my compatibilist argument IS circular. I say, sentience leads to a class of behavior unavailable to non-sentient entities; this, at least, is true. Then I say, that new class of sentient behavior does not allow for multiple outcomes. I suppose there is a remote possibility that this is true, but if it is, it raises a new question: ‘What makes sentient behavior different from non-sentient behavior?’ One can say, ‘Sentient behavior is “human”, or “animal”, or “alive”‘–but this isn’t an answer. What makes it different from non-sentient behavior if both are ultimately mechanistic?
Of course, the answer is, I think, that we ultimately have libertarian free will–THAT’S what makes us different. Yet, if someday we were to find out that we aren’t capable of reaching multiple outcomes, I think sentience still seems to be capable of things of which non-sentience is incapable, so the questions asked by compatibilists would, in this scenario, become relevant.
Sorry about all this excess thinking–sometimes the only way I can figure out what’s in my own mind is to write it all down! There may also be something pathological about me, that I enjoy having an argument with someone with whom I think I ultimately agree!
Best,
Eric.
P.S. I’ll let you know about the philosophy comedy via email when it develops further. :)

1. I tend to agree that ‘sentient robot’ is a contradiction. But I also think that quantum indeterminism goes ‘all the way’ down and exists (although sub-empirically) in apparently classical, deterministic behavior. I’m basically a monist, but I think the single substance could be proto-sentient and that it has two different manifestations, indeterministic and apparently deterministic at large scales. This is because quantum effects (indeterminism) can only be seen under special micro-conditions that are hard to create and require sophisticated lab equipment. But those sorts of conditions may in fact obtain internally in biological systems (through DNA, the nervous system, etc). If the fundamental substance is sentient and creative, it makes sense that it could be self-organizing and generate living organisms. In order to do so, the self-organizing part would need a specific sort of differentiated relationship with its environment, such that aspects of its environment would be the ‘raw materials’ for life and would appear to be relatively inert (like minerals). The self-organizing part would engage in locally entropy-reducing actions exploiting quantum indeterminism, while the raw materials would be subject to the large-scale classicality (and 2nd law of thermodynamics) that arises in the absence of the delicate conditions needed to maintain quantum effects.

80. Eric Hamilton says:

That’s pretty much the way I view quantum indeterminism as well–as going ‘all the way down’. When I think about compatibilism it’s more like a thought-experiment. As for the deeper questions of substance you just addressed–how it all actually works–I hope I keep an open mind. I doubt I would call myself a monist, though I think it’s possible the universe may work in a monistic fashion, even if it doesn’t ultimately reduce to monism. Ultimately, I think your iceberg analogy can be applied to lots of things: the universe, science, consciousness, truth, morality, religion. It’s sometimes way too easy to get too focused on the little patch of ice where one is standing–keep in mind I’m not talking about you, here, and I hope I’m not talking about myself. It’s an analogy I tend to apply to both full-blown skeptics and religious fundamentalists: they don’t like to consider vast expanses of unseen ice!
An interesting idea we discussed above that relates to all this–the phenomenon of ‘animal instinct’. I think it’s an aspect of mind to which we humans don’t have as much recourse. Why are many animals born ‘knowing’ complex information about predators, mating rituals, migration, etc., which can’t always be taught or simply learned from experience? We say, it’s hard-wired in, and don’t question it, but if I were to suddenly sit down and play Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto (I love that piece) without a lesson, simply because it was hard-wired in, people would think it was weird! Now, I’m not questioning evolution, but I, like you, think there are other elements simmering beneath the Darwinian surface.
This is just my pet idea, but I feel you could probably do it justice far better than I.
Eric.

1. I too have always been skeptical of the attribution of seemingly intelligent and tactical animal behavior to ‘instinct’. I think it’s a way of putting down animal intelligence and sentience to make humans feel superior. But anyone who has read Carl Sagan’s account of the experiment on macaques readily sees that the macaques are far more ethical than many humans (including the ones who devised the experient)! (http://ar.vegnews.org/macaques.html)

81. Eric Hamilton says:

I agree that animals are obviously sentient beings, but this wasn’t exactly what I was talking about. How does every fourth generation of monarch butterfly know to fly to Mexico? Their parents certainly can’t teach them, and they can’t learn the way by experience. I would probably get lost even if someone gave me directions! One can (and should) say that animals are conscious–yet some ‘instinct’ seems to be a kind of knowledge you and I don’t have! I think it could be compared to what we call ‘paranormal’, though, as you noted in a recent post, a better term would be ‘preternatural’.
Re ‘the paranormal’, I feel perfectly comfortable dismissing things like astrology, tarot cards, palm-reading, etc., as absolute balderdash–but whether people sometimes know things they ‘shouldn’t’ know is, in my opinion, a far more interesting question. If people ever have this sort of knowledge, I believe it is linked to the migration knowledge possessed by the monarch, and I suspect that knowledge is intensely ‘quantum’–meaning, above space and time…hence its seeming supernatural (or preternatural) character.

82. Eric Hamilton says:

Hope the above didn’t sound too ‘Shirley Maclaine’. :)
I visited your link on the macaque study, and, though I’m not sure I agree with its conclusion that eating meat is unethical (I love my little basset hound and I’ve seen him gobble up a baby rabbit before I could stop him, yet I don’t consider him unethical), I found the ‘ethics’ of the study itself kind of mind-boggling! Rather less cruel studies I’ve heard of involved dogs and chimps & the sense of fairness: dogs being obviously affronted when one is given 2 dog biscuits and another only one (which also proves that dogs can count). The most interesting was an experiment which showed that one chimp would deny a second chimp a reward simply because the first chimp wasn’t rewarded–for the denier, there was no benefit beyond the knowledge that his rival went unrewarded. This is far pettier behavior than that of the macaques, yet it still demonstrates a knowledge of egalitarian principles…and in any case the experiment was less appalling because no one was tortured or starved.
Personally, I’ve always thought there are two takeaways from these types of studies: 1) Morality is objectively real, even if test subjects and, especially, experimenters don’t always observe it; and 2) Living things aren’t machines.

1. Yes I agree that there’s more to the apparently intentional behavior such as the monarch migration than what is captured by ‘instinct’. And I confess to being a carnivore too, although I try to eat only humanely raised meat. Agreed with (1) and (2) above!

83. Eric Hamilton says:

I’m definitely a carnivore–probably more so than you–but I confess to ambivalence about it, because I love animals. I rationalize all this by telling myself meat-eating is a part of nature, which is true. I also grew up on a farm–in addition to being a writer, I raise Angus cattle with my father, and I showed cattle at the Missouri State Fair when I was younger. Some of the cattle I showed were more like pets than livestock, and though these animals were all breeding stock, such relationships can give one a more complex perspective with regard to one’s food!
I suppose, too, that one could argue that fruits and vegetables have an inner life that ought not be disturbed–we can’t know for SURE that an apple isn’t conscious, yet we eat them.
Best,
Eric.

1. Yes I too feel bad eating animals but I was a vegetarian for years and felt lousy all the time. I only started feeling better when I included meat in my diet.

84. Eric Hamilton says:

The Native Americans, I think, had a nice way of looking at meat-eating.
Oh–since we’ve been discussing animals and philosophy, I should probably ask, have you ever read the novel Watership Down? It’s quite amusing–though I suppose it’s more about philosophy of government and cultural anthropology with rabbits as stand-ins for humans than it is actually about animals. Yet I’m sometimes amused by the thought of what a fearsome creature my basset hound would be to the rabbits of Watership Down!

1. Yes, the Native Americans honored the animals and didn’t take them for granted. I’ve heard of Watership Down but have not read it–I’ll put it on my list of required reading ;)

85. Eric Hamilton says:

Most importantly, you will learn from Watership Down that rabbits cannot count beyond four. It goes like this: one, two, three, four…a thousand–or a lot–the technical term is ‘hrair’. And because rabbits have many, many more predators than four, they refer to their enemies as ‘The Thousand’.
When a rabbit dies, it is said (for obvious reasons) that he has ‘stopped running’.
A Rabbit Proverb: ‘My heart has joined The Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.’
Revisiting the question of ‘sentient robots’–I’ve always found it curious that some scientists seem to think that building one will somehow solve the hard problem of consciousness and prove that everything is mechanical. I think that if the robot is actually conscious and not just mimicking subjectivity, then there isn’t any more of an explanation for its consciousness than there is for ours, in which case, rather than solving the hard problem, the sentient robot has simply broadened it.
Of course, no matter how much I enjoyed the TV show ‘Person of Interest’, I don’t think we’ll actually build a sentient computer. And if we do, I doubt it will be classical.
Eric.

86. Eric Hamilton says:

In a few minutes, I’m going to email you a snippet I’ve been working on regarding Solipsist Speed-Dating. I thought I’d let you know here so you can let me know if you don’t receive the message–given the trouble I’ve been having with my email.

87. Eric Hamilton says:

Just wanted to be sure–did you get the email on Solipsist Speed-Dating? (It’s basically the 1st page of the prologue of a potential novel.) If not, I can always send it again.
Best,
Eric.

1. No sorry! remember it’s ruthekastner (at) gmail.com

88. Eric Hamilton says:

Sorry, I just sent it to you again. I don’t think I’ve been mistaking the name of your address; I think it’s just my own darned email!!

89. Eric Hamilton says:

Hi, Ruth–another quick question for you. I was wondering how PTI deals with larger super-positions, given it’s non-unitary character. Macro-molecules etc.–I think the largest was something the size of a human hair in 2010. I know it isn’t a problem for standard QM, but even most neo-Copenhagen people seem to think it implies that even large-scale objects are best described as quantum–yet PTI assumes any actualized object is classical, right? I’m pretty sure none of this is actually a problem for you–just curious.
Oh–something else on free will. I’ve always thought there’s a problem in philosophy of mind, in dividing mental processes into two neat, well-defined stages: usually subconscious and conscious; also quantum and classical. In the case of robotic interpretations of Libet experiments, they assume (quite wrongly, I think) that subconscious means UNCONSCIOUS, and has absolutely nothing to do with the later experience; they also seem to assume that conscious experience never folds back into the subconscious mind. Yet Libet experiments are not the only place such dichotomies are used. I recall you mentioned the information philosopher site; Bob Doyle has his two-stage model of free will, the first stage quantum (and largely subconscious), the second stage classical and deterministic. But if quantum events are happening constantly, why should the model be divided into two distinct time-phases? One might argue the process has two distinct components, but they’re more likely happening simultaneously. The other example of a dichotomy is the one used by compatibilists: they divide mind into innate, deterministic desires, followed inevitably by determined (and in their opinion, free) decisions. Yet I wonder, should it really be seen that way? If I fall in love on a first date or unexpectedly feel compassion for an enemy, a compatibilist would say these feelings are hard-wired in, and probably at least some feelings are, yet I think feelings are also more complicated than that. Just because I haven’t ‘consciously’ thought them through, my falling in love or unexpected compassion might not have been pre-determined; each might have been a form of decision. In all three of these cases (of dichotomies), I think it would be more helpful to view mind not as a two-stage process or a set of two sedimentary layers, but as a braided rope, conscious and subconscious, quantum and classical, twisted around and around and around each other.
Hope you don’t drop any plates!–the ones you say you’ve been spinning. :)
Eric.

90. Eric Hamilton says:

Re my question above, I guess I was thinking some experimental results show the quantum/classical divide to be variable or fuzzy and I wondered how PTI dealt with that–but I suppose it wasn’t a great question on my part because how classicality emerges is such an open question for all interpretations! Oh, the thing about the spinning plates was just a joke–I’ve got some china I’m juggling, myself! :)
Best,
Eric.

1. Thanks–traveling right now, interesting question, will reply soon!

91. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks! I now think you may have already answered my question in one of your other posts–‘The Quantum and the Preternatural’–in the comments section. You were discussing the very experiment I was thinking of and explaining how it reconciles with PTI.
Hope you liked my ‘braided rope’ analogy of mind. I think it’s more apt than a lot of the tidy, two-stage models.
Have a safe trip!
Eric.

1. Yes, that is the comment I was going to point you to. Glad you found it!
And I do agree that the accounts of the Libet experiments etc. have a particular model that they are working with that is oversimplified. We have no idea what the mind is or how it interacts with the physical brain–and those accounts assume a very simple one that supposedly acts in a well-defined time sequence. Also the identification of the RP as supposedly the trigger for a choice is just plain wrong, as other experiments showed the occurrence of an RP before the actual choice was provided. The RP is just that–readiness to make a choice.

92. Eric Hamilton says:

Yes, there are ample replies to the Libet experiments. Of course, I also think ‘consciousness’, independent of readiness potential, may lag behind some processes–and that’s okay. Because subconscious is not unconscious–I’m thinking of how my best writing seems to come from my subconscious mind, and of how my conscious mind trained my subconscious mind to write. I’m also thinking that I write the way most people converse–one doesn’t always know exactly what one is going to say before one says it; does this make speech ‘unconscious’? No! (Well, maybe this is the case in the various presidential primaries.) :) Yet the most interesting application of my braided rope analogy, I think, involves emotion. So many people–compatibilists, for instance–think we have no choice but to feel what we feel. Then they say ‘our choices flow from our emotions, so we really have no choice’. Yet maybe, sometimes, our ‘automatic’ emotional responses are as much a product of ‘submerged’ mental processes as purely physical ones–just as my ‘automated’ writing isn’t robotic. The evidence of this is that we can train ourselves, over time, to have different emotional responses, just as I trained myself to ‘automatically’ write.
Best,
Eric.

1. Yes, good points. The conventional approach has no place for what many spiritual traditions see as a form of ‘higher consciousness’ that is not at the ego-level of conscious awareness but probably plays a vital role in creativity. Did I mention the story of mountain climber Joe Simpson (Touching the Void) who was told to ‘get up’ by a ‘voice’ as he lay semi-conscious after a mountaineering accident? I think that voice came from some ‘higher’ consciousness that took charge when his ego-consciousness was not up to the job.

93. Eric Hamilton says:

Yes, you have mentioned that–and I take it seriously. I think there could also be a physical explanation–or, going in the other direction, possibly even more ‘wildly’ spiritual explanations than the ones you’ve proposed! It’s obviously an open question. (Yet before we even try to explain the voice Joe Simpson heard, we’ve got to explain why any of us EVER hears another voice–why do sound waves result in the subjective experience of hearing?) Of course, you know my pet theory, that animal ‘instinct’ may also be a higher order of consciousness comparable to ESP. It’s safe to say most physicalists would think we’re both believers in ‘woo’, yet I think the only thing that’s truly obvious is that, with regard to mind, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye!
In fact, I would say that consciousness is probably a bigger mystery than quantum gravity. With quantum gravity, science at least has a CHANCE of someday producing a verifiable, coherent, fully physical explanation–yet I think consciousness will always be the ‘hard problem’.
Oh–just thought I’d remind you–the page I sent you from my book is just a page–probably wouldn’t be too taxing. :) Don’t take this the wrong way–I know you’re traveling and busy at the moment!
Have a great weekend!
Eric.

1. Actually I don’t think we need quantum gravity if we have causal set emergence–i.e. we don’t need to ‘quantize gravity’. Gravity is just the structure of the emergent spacetime events. Now I’ll go look for the page you sent me ;)

94. Eric Hamilton says:

So, if you don’t think we need quantum gravity, I’m guessing you don’t think we need String Theory, either? Of course, as you’ve pointed out, Flat Earth String Theory, with its rolled up hidden longitude lines, is our best candidate for explaining how one can sail east from Baltimore to San Francisco across the flat earth. :)
P.S.–got a chance to read the Wikipedia entry on Our Mr. Sun–didn’t realize it was a Capra film!

1. Correct, we don’t need string theory either.
Yes Our Mr. Sun was an impressive production!
And BTW nice start on the novel :)

95. Eric Hamilton says:

I’ve got to admit, the first time I read anything about String Theory, I thought…’Huh??’ It seems like something that screams for Occam’s Razor (for whatever that’s worth) I’m guessing its popularity is due to the popularity of the block world, the string multiverse, and unitary-only QM?
Oh–I meant to ask you how Inflation and the recent discovery of gravitational waves fit into causal set emergence–I’m guessing the same way they do into other pictures?
Thanks for the encouragement on the novel! Whenever you want, I can send you another page or two–you can see my rendition of ‘Alice meets Bob’, which you inspired. :)
Re ‘Our Mr. Sun’–if he were to be real…if a star were to be a thinking entity, then someday full-blown consciousness will emerge in a classical computer. Of course, this is unlikely–but it would be interesting!

1. I’m skeptical of inflation because I think the problems it addresses are probably non-problems in the causal set approach–but I’d have to look more closely into that to be sure.
Re gravity waves: as oscillations in the spacetime metric this fits in just fine with growing causal set cosmology, because future actualized transactions depend on what went on before–sources of gravitational waves are conglomerations of emitters and absorbers that dictate the relative positions of future emitters and absorbers.

96. Eric Hamilton says:

This is interesting. As a layperson, I’ve never really known what to make, exactly, of some of these questions–though I thought it odd String Theory is accepted as doctrine by some scientists without any proof. But I always got the impression inflation was widely accepted & quantum gravity was universally acknowledged as ‘the big question’ in physics. I guess such ideas flow from the underlying assumptions one makes; and you avoid those puzzles by making different assumptions (and maybe have puzzles of your own you’re working on).
Oh, regarding metaphysical assumptions, I thought I might try to explain a little better why I think true free will could exist in a block world (keep in mind I’m not actually advocating for a block world, here). Basically, there are two statements that I think are wrong about a block world–the first I know you agree is false. It is, ‘We are moving through time.’ The second is, ‘Everything in the block world is fixed, as in a 3-D object.’ Now, I know the fact that I think this statement is false may seem wrong, but let me explain. The way block world fatalists describe the universe makes it sound like this little glass dome my grandmother kept on her coffee table when I was a kid–a dome with flowers embedded in it. In this metaphor, the glass is spacetime and we are the flowers–but as Doc Brown would say in Back to the Future, ‘We’re not thinking four-dimensionally’, here. (The dome, as I envision it, is only a 3-D object.) Now, it is true that events in the block world picture in a sense ARE fixed–we aren’t ‘moving through time’, but I think it’s also true that motion, that dynamism, are actually part of the fixed structure–so we’re not like the flowers at all–and in fact, whatever it is that we are can’t truly be observed–so why use the analogy of flowers embedded in glass to describe our behavior?
Now I would shift back to the emergent causal set narrative. Let’s assume it’s true and, just for the sake of argument, assume that the universe has both a beginning and an end. Now let’s assume the universe has ended, and an outside observer is trying to decide whether it was deterministic or not. It would look very much like a block world to him. Now, he could say, ‘It doesn’t matter whether it was deterministic or not, because it’s all determined now’; yet he could also do some calculations and find that every slice of spacetime is not computable from its past. What does THAT mean?
I guess what I’m saying here (hopefully without being too pompous or verbose) is that I think that to assert determinism because ‘everything has already happened’ is to make an unnecessary assumption. The better assumption–one that seems proven (at least most of the time)–is to say, ‘We can’t change the past.’ Yet to claim block world fatalism is to think of the block world (because it all ‘already’ exists) as if it is entirely in the past, and this is not the case. (In fact, block world fatalism contradicts my earlier ‘good’ assumption, by stating that the existence of the future, in a sense, determines the past.) Thus, I’ve always assumed that (if there is a block world) I am making a free choice in 1982; I am making a free choice in ’89; I’m making a free choice now; I’m making a free choice in 2046 (assuming I’m still alive). It all ‘already’ exists, but if the quantum math says it’s not causally determined, maybe it’s not. I know this idea is weird–but pretty much any assumption one could make about the block world is weird and unverifiable.
Whew! That was a mouthful–sorry I went on so long.
Eric.

1. Yes there is a way to preserve some sort of dynamism in a ‘block world’ if one allows for another ontological level of indeterminacy–some sort of domain in which the block world is “coming into being”. Then something real would correspond to the math saying it’s not causally determined at the point at which a given event is coming into being. And this is what would apply to the causal set picture after the universe had run its course from beginning to end–there had been a real process of becoming corresponding to the math.
But blockworlders don’t allow this. I.e. they take the quantum math as only epistemic–only a description of what we don’t know about the block world. And they also assert that the 4-D spacetime block is all there is. In that case according to their own assumptions, it has to be a static ‘glass globe’ that we are somehow ‘moving through,’ although that is never explained–it is simply taken as primitive that ‘creatures like us’ are ‘moving through’ the block world.
Slogans like ‘think 4-dimensionally’ do not solve the problems of alleged dynamism in a static picture . They are just science fiction ;) (Silberstein and Stuckey of the relational block world picture acknowledge that it is static and that there is no free will in such a picture)

97. Eric Hamilton says:

I guess I’m arguing that blockworlders are overstepping in their assumptions. Because we have to explain why ‘creatures like us’ (and in fact everything else) seem to be moving through the block; and we have to explain quantum indeterminism. This is why the block world probably fails! Yet if there is a block, the assumption that the indeterminism is merely epistemic is an added, unjustified assumption (the only way it would be justified would be to actually prove quantum determinism), and the idea that our experience of moving through the block doesn’t need to be explained is insane. Moreover, even a cannonball is ‘moving through the block’, so if it’s entire history already exists, we need to reconsider what ‘moving’ and ‘fixed’ even mean. That was what I meant by saying, ‘thinking four-dimensionally’, though perhaps I should have said, ‘Great Scott, this is weird!’ I think I meant that, if the block world is real, than reality is fixed, but dynamics are part of the fixedness–and I think this blows up the no-free-will assumptions blockworlders are making.
I think my argument about the causal set universe that has run its course actually holds, though. Of course you’re right it is ontologically very different from a block world, but epistemically, to the outside observer (unless that outside observer is God, and knows everything), I think it might be indistinguishable. That’s kind of the point–a block world can look as if it is deterministic, and a growing world can look like a block world in certain circumstances, yet maybe neither assumption is true.
Oh–on the question of ‘moving through a block world’, I actually discussed this in my book about the woman who lives forever. It’s not really an endorsement of block world cosmology so much as it is an expression of how my heroine feels about time: after living for centuries she begins to feel, at least at one point, as if she is a huge 4-D vessel, and I have this fictional theory of time emerge which sort of reflects how she feels: the idea that we (and all objects) are moving through ourselves–through past selves into future selves, etc.–in the block world, and that one’s total self is one’s entire history. I’m sure the theory (which makes many other loopy assumptions) is scientifically invalid–it’s more poetry & metaphor than anything else (though the novel presents it as if it’s true). It’s also a parody of scientific dogma, because the physicist who authors it (not my heroine) feels he has explained EVERYTHING, to the exclusion of all other theories, and that he has proven the universe to be meaningless. I would hope, if I ever publish this novel, and you ever read it, that this theory is something you could laugh at appreciatively, rather than disgustedly. :)
Eric.

1. Actually, in the ‘growing spacetime’ of PTI, the spacetime fabric is never the whole story. There are also the possibilities in Quantumland that uphold the growing spacetime. So I’m not sure it makes sense to speak of a ‘completed spacetime’ in the PTI picture. That would imply that the transactional processes ceases, and that would require an additional, external constraint of some sort.

98. Eric Hamilton says:

You probably don’t think we’re ‘ticking down’ to a heat death, then.
Hope you didn’t think the ideas about time I used in my novel were too insane for a work of fiction. There’s always a fine line between being creative and being a ‘bovine excrement artist’. :)

99. Eric Hamilton says:

Ruth–I just sent you a few more pages of the novel, to read at your convenience.
I enjoyed our discussion about time. Ultimately I think I agree with your position that the universe is emergent–I was just arguing that, if a block world should exist, it would be a thing so poorly understood that one should not use it (as relational blockworlders, etc. do) to deny free will.
I had another question re emergent causal set cosmology & PTI. You believe Quantumland essentially won’t let the universe end, but are skeptical of inflation. So do you favor some type of cyclical cosmology, or just propose that the universe began (at least in spacetime) and then never reaches a heat death? Obviously these are huge questions, so maybe you’re agnostic.
Best,
Eric.

1. I lean toward a cyclic cosmology, but I also don’t claim any particular expertise in that area. So I’m mostly agnostic. But I also think many of the assumptions in standard cosmology are based on the view that spacetime is ‘all there is’, and could lead to flawed cosmological theories for that reason.

100. Eric Hamilton says:

I thought you might favor something like Penrose’s Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (even though you differ from him on issues of Time, Mind, and QM), because in CCC there’s no ‘bounce’ to explain, and I don’t think you’d need quantum gravity. I’ve always thought it was a really interesting idea. From a purely poetic perspective, I think I prefer eternal inflation–I like the idea of creation being a never-ending process (though I have no idea whether this is actually going on!) Whatever is going on, I wonder if the universe would have had to have had a spacetime beginning at some point, because of entropy–but as you point out, a ‘spacetime’ beginning isn’t necessarily a true beginning. Your Quantumland is probably something which would have always been around!

1. Thanks. I haven’t studied many specific cosmologies because I’m dubious about the usual metaphysical presuppositions behind them. But I’ll check out the CCC.

101. Eric Hamilton says:

What would be a deal-breaker for you would be if CCC requires lines of simultaneity. Now, I know Penrose is a big believer in them, but I don’t know if they’re actually needed for CCC. As far as I can understand, the basic idea of CCC is that the universe is always expanding and whenever all matter/energy decays to light, time and distance become irrelevant and it’s the Big Bang all over again, no bounce required. What I think is so appealing about this is that the ‘bouncing models’ all have to rely on something we don’t know about in quantum gravity to explain the bounce, while in CCC there is no bounce and GR accounts for everything.
Hope you were able to sit back, have that beer, and enjoy the pages I sent you! :) Whenever you want, I can send a few more–the funniest pages of the prologue I saved for last!
Best,
Eric.

102. Eric Hamilton says:

Hi, Ruth–just thought of something else related to what we’ve been talking about. I was wondering how causal set theory (as opposed to the usual quantum gravity views) deals with the paradoxes of black holes and the Big Bang, and then this idea popped into my head. I’m guessing that either you’ve thought of it already or, if you haven’t, it’s because it isn’t viable and is merely the product of a cracked English major’s brain ;). But this is it: do all the space-time laws break down in black holes because the center of a black hole is actually inside the substratum? And could the black hole information paradox simply be the information punching a one-way ticket to Quantumland?

1. Yes I had thought about that (great minds think alike?)…but I also have wondered whether you really can have a spacetime singularity like that–i.e. whether there truly are black holes. Apparently the observations are fairly convincing that there are, but my skepticism arises from the fact that spacetime singularities are a prediction of a purely classical theory. So was the alleged instability of atomic orbits (and that was wrong).

103. Eric Hamilton says:

So what do you think the apparent black holes are–at the centers of galaxies, etc.? Are you thinking there really are objects we refer to as black holes, but they don’t reduce to true singularities–or that there are no such objects at all? (This is way above my pay-grade, by the way!!) Re ‘great minds thinking alike’ I assume you’re referring to the fact that you’re the noted physicist and I’m more like the precocious toddler who sometimes says the darndest things! Maybe if we were to have a discussion of line-by-line explication of poetry, we might reverse roles. :)
Now, if black holes DO exist, I think you may have at your fingertips a great possible solution to the information paradox, in the form of Quantumland. It’s much better than one of Hawking’s, for instance–‘there are many worlds, and in some of worlds there is no black hole, so the information is conserved there’–sounds like cheating to me, even if Many Worlds were true.
Oh, I meant to ask–did you ever see if lines of simultaneity are required for CCC? Another problem I thought it might have is the quantum field–all matter/energy can decay to light, but there’d still be particles and anti-particles boiling up everywhere, and wouldn’t space be defined by that?
Since you’ve been traveling, I thought you might appreciate this: I met a man at an airport baggage carousel once; he reached down and picked up a rotting possum carcass that looked as if it had been run over by a car. Maggots were squirming beneath the hide, and it stank. The man turned to me and said, ‘Don’t you just hate carrion luggage?’ :)

1. LOL! Who doesn’t hate carrion luggage?!!
But about the info paradox: actually in TI there would be no problem, because spacetime is emergent ONLY from actualized transactions, and that involves collapse and information loss anyway.
As to what’s really at the center of galaxies, I sure couldn’t answer that. Maybe I’ll ask my brother Joel (who is an astronomer at RIT)

104. Eric Hamilton says:

What’s worse than carrion luggage is this: when I was in elementary school no one would leave the classroom because our teacher kept a Komodo dragon just outside the door. It was the hall monitor. :)
Re black holes–I guess there’s only an info paradox if you buy into unitary-only interpretations. I’m thinking black holes exist (but remember, I’m an English major!) and invoking a substratum, and saying that’s where they are, might explain why the GR physics all turns to gobbledygook when you get there. I was actually a little surprised you think they might not exist (but I’m probably missing something, here!), because you think not everything needs to be quantized; thus, couldn’t the GR prediction of a black hole be taken at face value, as an actualized classical ‘object’? (if one can refer to a black hole as an ‘object’; again, I’m probably missing something in your reasoning).
Also on black holes: Did you see Stephen Colbert on the Late Show resolved a pressing question regarding them? He debated with Neil de Grasse Tyson over which was more powerful–the gravitation of the black hole at the center of our galaxy, or the obligation to be with your family at Thanksgiving. Ultimately the family won, but de Grasse Tyson maintained that everyone at Thanksgiving dinner would be spaghettified by the black hole. :)

1. The possible barrier I see to black hole formation is that it takes an exchange of energy in order to have actualized spacetime ‘fabric’,which always corresponds to at least a temporal displacement; but in the blackhole there is supposed to be a singularity in the spacetime fabric — i.e. no displacement. So that’s why it may not be possible to squeeze spacetime down to a tinier scale than the Planck length/time. Which would still be a gravitaionally very powerful object!

105. Eric Hamilton says:

Thanks for the clarification! I was thinking you actually believed there are collapsed stars & powerful objects at the centers of galaxies–just that they don’t form ‘singularities’…which makes sense (though I have no idea what’s correct). This all reminds me of that article last year claiming that black holes don’t exist because nothing can exist below the Planck length. It wasn’t well-received, but the guy who wrote it was using Rainbow Gravity and I think that’s why. I think he also subscribes to Bohmian Mechanics, so his ideas are NOT similar to yours!
Have a great night,
Eric.

106. Hello Ruth. I happen to be starting a book on free will, arguing FOR it, titled “Hierarchical Free Will Systems”. As I’m doing background research on the problem I came across this post (and others from you here in your blog) and I think we are somewhat on the same page. Seeing that you and Eric are debating this *just* right now, I really wanted to add my two cents. I will, but first I need to finish reading all the discussion here. For now I just wanted to touch base and ask you two to keep the interest… I’ll be back soon.
Best

1. OK, I haven’t finished reading all the discussion so far, but I think it’s time I start with my two cents :)

I would say that I am an incompatibilist that believes in free-will, but I don’t think the issue is as simple as “determinism is an illusion and we humans do have free will”. It’s way more complex than that, and the debate itself is even complicated by the very conceptions of both determinism and free-will.

For starters, I have the opinion that the scientific process (not necessarily Science itself as a methodology) often falls into some rather fatal mistakes. In particular…
We found nature to behave in an impressively ordered, patterned way, so we extrapolate from observation (or sometimes simply synthesize out of our own ideas, as is the case of string theory) *models of behavior* which not only tells us what nature does (or did, to be precise) but also what we expect it to do next. We use our models to make *predictions* about the future, and it is quite reasonable to size the effectiveness of the prediction as a validity value for the model in question. Indeed, the prediction power of a (natural) theory is–aside from the more basic “consistency and coherence requirement”–considered the one thing that gives the (natural) theory any certainty. When you *can* make predictions, it makes a lot of sense to use them to validate a theory, but I consider a mistake to think that predictions are all that matters. String theorists know better than to fall for that. Of course they have to, given that string theory is non-falsifiable :) For what is worth, I find the epistemological work they are doing on reshaping the way of science fantastic, and even if string theory never goes anywhere, or is even proved wrong. I think they paved the way for the paradigm shift we need in order to get past the (rather materialistic) Standard Model and really get to the bottom of reality. But in my opinion the predictability requirement is problematic not only because it unjustifiably constrains the domain of inquiry, but for something much more fundamental and subtle:

The extremely patterned behavior of nature at the atomic level and up allowed us to make predictive models, which is great, but also created the ontologically unjustified illusion of “permanent behavior”. The fact that we miss-name our models “LAWS of Physics” isn’t just a linguistic issue, is the expression of our (psychological?) necessity to take nature for granted. But our physical theories are descriptive, not *prescriptive*, and it seems to me that we are trying to apprehend nature much more than to comprehend it.

While I certainly don’t fear that tomorrow morning I’ll wake up to find 3 suns over the horizon, I don’t claim that’s impossible on the grounds that “it violates the laws of physics”. It is *extremely* improbable, I give you that, considering all inferences we can derive from the history of the universe as we know it, but who are we to tell nature what it can or cannot do??
Granted, Science as a method makes a perfectly clear distinction between “the laws of nature” and “the laws of physics”, the later referring strictly to our human representation of nature rather than to nature itself, but in my opinion, we humans do not see that so clearly and we really, deeply, *demand* LAWS to actually exist in nature. We don’t just take it for granted, we demand that nature will, unquestionably, follow next whatever rules it had followed all along.

In my opinion, that’s obviously wrong and hits at the very heart of determinism. One thing is to extrapolate from all observations a representation of behavior proposing a simplified linear path of cause and effect, that is, a “deterministic model”, or for that matter, a more elaborate path forest (as opposed to a single line) multiplexing cause and effect, still a “semi-deterministic model”, and quite another thing is to assume that nature itself is *bound* to follow such path or multiplexed paths.

While put like that what I just said might be evident, the fallacies that arise from mistaking description from prescription are subtle and get totally in the way of reasoning about fundamental things such as free will, consciousness, the mind, etc… Take relativistic space-time for example: by conflating time with space, the fundamental distinction between past, present and future are totally erased. Both observations and predictions are turned into a single *stationary representation* where you can render, for example, motion, such that the past can be revisited and the future is already played out. However, these time-travel adventures are perfectly valid only within the *representational frame* of relativistic spacetime. When we forget that models are just descriptive, not prescriptive, we fall for the fallacy of considering that the actual future might effectively be already established.

I completely agree with Ruth here in that, in my own words, the future doesn’t yet exist and the past is just history, with its current manifestation into the “eternal present” being its trace and the only thing about the past that can be truly accounted for (only the present effectively exists).

In my opinion, determinism, even soft, stochastic determinism, is a miss-interpretation of what our neccesarily simplified and representational understanding of reality can really tells about such reality.

Now…

What does any of that has to do with free will?

Another fallacy that we always fall into when considering free will is to think of it as a human characteristic. We humans do have free will in my humble opinion, but is not just us. In fact, is not just complex biological organisms. Not even just complex chemical systems like nucleotides, or just proteins or even just carbon chains. In my view, the very fabric of reality itself, or Ruth’s “quantum substratum”, is a composition of free will agents such that everything that we call Physical is emergent behavior from the actions and interactions freely taken by said fundamental agents. In other words, I believe that reality is a “free will system”

Furthermore, it isn’t just that, say, a human being is ultimately a bag of atoms as it is a bag of free-will agents. Those free will agents are organized into a hierarchy, with one and only one individual, distinct agent, at the apex. That “driver” is the *me* in myself.

There is a lot more to say here, because the concept of an *hierarchy* raises a number of questions whose answer cannot be simply deduced from the simplistic idea that all I’m saying is that fundamental particles, or super strings, or whatever is at very bottom of matter, has free will. It is not just that at all, but I’d need another post(s)

Best

107. Eric Hamilton says:

I think I’m finally beginning to understand a part (obviously not the only part) of what you’re doing as a philosopher. To some extent, you’re telling your colleagues they’re trying to solve puzzles that don’t exist: solving the black hole information ‘paradox’, ‘quantizing’ gravity, producing unitary-only evolution. I don’t mean to diminish your work by saying this: you’re presenting your own vast puzzles and awe-inspiring solutions as well (some of I which I doubt I can ever fully understand)–but maybe, in another time, you’d have been this annoying crackpot who said, ‘Hey, guys–we don’t need to figure out how luminiferous ether works; we don’t need to explain how flies are spontaneously generated from rotting meat!’ :)
I can only imagine how disheartening it would be to work on something like String Theory for most of one’s life and then suddenly discover it’s wrong (not that that has been proven yet); it really wouldn’t invalidate a person’s life or career, but it would certainly feel as if it had. I’m guessing it’s every scientist’s worst nightmare–discovering that the theory they’ve been working on their whole lives is wrong (even though the wrong theory itself might have been, in a way, a form of advance). It would be perfectly understandable if they wouldn’t want to contemplate it–which, I suppose, is how scientific dogma gets started.

1. Amen. ;) Yes when one has invested decades (and/or an entire career) in attacking a non-problem or exploring a blind alley, there is a lot of resistance to new information showing that there’s a better way! There’s a lot of inertia built up around the pursuit of certain dead ends.

108. Having made my introductory post, I feel I have to wrap up a concept that might have unintentionally been left “as an exercise for the reader” :)

Imagine if we humans have been doing physics for billions of years, not just a coupe of centuries. Further, imagine that each and every observation ever made perfectly matches each and every linear prediction about future events. Imagine that there is no quantum uncertainty, no probability distributions. For billions of years we observe a straightforward classical mechanical universe, no hidden variables, no mysterious interpretations of our own representations, none of that. Imagine that every single thing that we predicted will happen, for all those billions of years, did in fact happen.
Even pretend for the sake of the argument, to avoid any noise, that “we the scientists” are not even IN the Universe at all, that we can known everything there is to know about nature without interacting with nature, so there is not even the observer effect or the problem of the determinism or lack of it in own research actions.

Would that mean the Universe is perfectly deterministic??

From the POV of our understanding, that is, our *description* of it, the answer is a categorical yes. That Universe is deterministic for any reasonable and practical meaning of the concept.

Does that mean the Universe is perfectly *determined*??

If determined, as opposed to deterministic, means that the billions of years of perfect matching between actual and expected behavior necessarily translate into the proposition that nature did not *just happened* to follow a predicted path but it is effectively *bound* to do it, then the categorical answer is no. No matter to which extent our predictions could have matched reality, all we can claim is what nature did, not what nature will do next. Any such proposition cannot be logically justified by any statistical figure. We describe nature, not prescribe it.

If such a Universe would be perfectly deterministic, yet undecidably determined, does that mean that nature may have “the ability to do otherwise”?

Of course yes. We cannot tell whether it does, but is crystal clear that it might have such an ability. That’s precisely why I say that this would be a perfectly deterministic, not perfectly determined, Universe (it *could* be perfectly determined as well, and have zero ability to do otherwise, but we cannot tell that from observation alone)

Our real universe with its quantum uncertainty plus the fact that we do interact with the world we try to observe, means that the universe in which we humans live clearly not determined, even if somewhat deterministic, for even more reasons.

If the actual Universe can be reasoned (as I just did) to possibly have the ability to do otherwise, it follows (IMO) that it possibly has free-will (the universe itself, not (just) we humans)

Most of the arguments against this that I ever heard target the Bayesian improbability of having the ability to do otherwise but not actually do it. However, this argument is flawed in the exact same way it is the idea that it is nature itself, not our representation of it, that has laws. It is only in contrast with the very very particular way in which we make use of our free will, that we find it hard, or impossible, to do the same over and over and over having the ability to do otherwise, and we mistakenly see that as an indication of the lack of choices. The very fabric of the Universe is so significantly different from us humans that pretending we both share the same decision making is, to say the least, a stretch.

Best

1. Thanks for these remarks–I agree with a lot of what you say here. I certainly agree that if there is free will, it is not limited to humans. I will be exploring this idea in my next book.

1. That’s great because I often feel frustrated, even depressed, by the way most researchers and philosophers handle the problem.
Now, I usually wouldn’t praise someone’s work, at least not without caution, because I fear it might just led us into “the applause game”, which I try to avoid as I believe that humilty isn’t just nice to have but a fundamental requirement for scientific and philosophical inquiry (at the process level), and I know the size of my own ego :) But, I feel I do have to say this:

I’m a software engineer, not a scientist or philosopher (though I did study biochemistry in college), and I’ve been learning some of physics and philosophy on my own, with a very specific goal, and doing that I miss most of the extensive background actual physicists have. So for over a decade I figured QM was beyond my reach for not having any formal training, but, eventually, I started to think that what really happens (or at least, what also happens) is that QM itself (the CI, the MVI, even QBism as I see it) is effectively unreasonable all by itslef. I liked De Broglie’s Pilot Wave much better but then even Bohr himself destroyed it.

I haven’t yet read a single word of your PTI (I still have to buy the ebook), but as I read this loooong thread I’m getting bits of concepts here and there, and the model I’m building in my head about what you propose makes a ton more sense to me than anything else I learned about QM. Not only that, it matches very well a particular religious belief system (nothing you ever heard about I’m sure), I happen to have, and from which I base my views on all these subjects.

Of course, maybe I’m just getting it all wrong and really just understanding what I want to understand.

109. Eric Hamilton says:

Hi Ruth & Fernando
First I want to say, I like your two cents, Fernando. When you publish your book, I should probably read it! I think what you’re saying actually synchs up with some of the things I’ve been saying, and would refer you to what I think might be the best parts of the discussion above. The worst parts of the discussion are when I ask ‘babe in the woods’ questions because I’m an English major; the best parts, I think, are when Ruth and I discuss block time and compatibilism, if only for the fact we have (in my opinion very) mild differences of opinion here. I think compatibilists are wrong but interesting, while Ruth thinks they’re not even interesting–that’s right, isn’t it, Ruth? Regarding the block world, neither Ruth nor I are supporters, but I think free will might be possible even if it WERE to exist, while she thinks a block world would be incompatible with free will (again, correct me if I’m wrong, Ruth!). My position on the block world may resemble what you are saying concerning laws of nature: I think that, if the future already exists, it’s an unjustified, epistemic assumption based on our everyday intuitions to say that this would preclude free will. Further, I even suggested a way in which an apparently fully deterministic block world (one in which every outcome could be perfectly predicted, even by scientists living inside it) could actually be indeterministic. Imagine there is an infinite array of idealistic, unrealized potential universes in a substratum (though not necessarily the PTI substratum); now imagine that only one of them, through its universal free will and the free will of every inhabitant (and particle) within, emerges as a fully completed block. Any observer would assume (quite reasonably) that it’s completely causally closed, and in a sense it would be…yet it WOULDN’T BE, because it could have been otherwise. And I think there are other ways a block world could be free, including the idea that decisions are being ‘made’, not just ‘existing’, at every point in the timeline–does it really matter, then, if the timeline already exists? Of course, in the end, I don’t support the block world either, because I think it falls flat on its face as an explanation of our experience!!
I’d also recommend our discussion (Ruth’s and mine) about whether or not ‘non-biological’ systems might also have free will, or even full-blown consciousness–i.e., is the sun thinking, etc.? Also, might this solar system NOT have existed, or might it have existed in a different place (I admit THIS idea is much more normal than that of the sun thinking!)? I think I might be more open to these ideas of non-biological freedom than Ruth is (is that right Ruth?), but, of course, I don’t to pretend to have any answers! I will say this, though: if non-biological systems such as stars actually have minds as sophisticated (or even more sophisticated?) than ours, we’ll need to reconsider what the term ‘living’ means. Also–the whole debate about whether or not the universe is finely tuned for life (at the moment propped up by M-theory and the string multiverse) might fly out the window!
Best to all,
Eric.

1. Many thanks Fernando! I hope you enjoy the book.
And Eric, I have a feeling that the PTI picture is harmonious with the idea that there is a ‘creative intelligence’ at work at the most subtle levels, which of course would include non-biological systems. It’s just a question of which sorts of systems can be thought of as having an individual sense of identify–what would be called the ‘atman’ in Hindu thought.

110. Eric Hamilton says:

Oh, I wasn’t disputing your belief in that, Ruth, or implying PTI was inconsistent with such a view! I was just wondering whether maybe some non-biological systems have ‘atman’, too. I admit it doesn’t seem likely and is almost certainly unverifiable, even if true, but it’s kind of fun to think about all the same. :)

111. Eric Hamilton says:

Oh–something else for the whole consciousness & free will discussion, and it dovetails with our recent talk about black holes. When physicalists assume the brain is simply 3 pounds of ‘mindless goop’, they create the ‘consciousness information paradox’–which I think is bigger than the potential black hole info paradox, because it’s creation of a completely new kind of information, rather than information loss. Worse, I think it’s actually dualism–now, you know I don’t think dualism is a philosophical train-wreck, but it IS when it’s being smuggled into a belief-system that claims everything reduces to the physical! This is like your criticism of the circularity of Quantum Darwinism–people who believe we have zombie brains have to smuggle in a hidden assumption of dualism to explain our subjective experience. Now, as you’ve pointed out, there don’t have to be paradoxes–in the case of black holes, scrap the assumption of UO evolution; in the case of mind, just assume everything has at least a proto-consciousness, and the paradoxes go away.
BTW–I felt awkward saying ‘mindless goop’ just now. Goop was what I called my grandfather…my excuse is that I started talking at 5 months! :)

1. Yes indeed! That’s a good way of putting it.

112. OK, here are my next two cents, but before I get into free-will, allow me to express some opinions about the ways of Science in order to justify the presentation of a few “simply given believes” that are significantly instrumental (not to say required) in the development of the free-will propositions that follow. I’ll do my best to keep the believes to a minimum, and I hope I manage to justify the need for them in the following (not so short) discourse about Science. I know to you this is epistemology 101, but please bear with me:

The most significant property of scientific knowledge is the procedures we use to rationally, systematically, and most important, collectively, valuate the degree of certainty of any proposition. I may have a justified personal belief, even personal evidence for it, but unless I have a procedure by which anyone else can equally, validly, justify the belief, is not *scientific* knowledge even if, to me, is certain knowledge nonetheless. Being “scientific” isn’t so much about justified (sufficiently high) certainty as it is about social agreement on that certainty. When the domain of inquire is Nature, the basic building block for the construction of such an agreement is predictability and evidence. However, starting about two centuries ago (if I have the history right) scientific agreement demanded more that just a procedure to valuate the certainty of a proposition; it also prescribed how to validly obtain the proposition on the first place. In particular, when Bohr and his team started to find how impossible it was to match classical linear predictions with data, he decided to *restrain* the development of the emerging new physics to phenomena alone, intentionally dropping any attempt to discover something about the “nounmena” (what reality is aside from what it does).
It can be argued that, at large, the most significant by-product of Science is Technology, and from that, it can also be argued that Bohr was pragmatically effective and that quick swift of hand allowed quantum mechanics to advanced unprecedentedly. When all you try to do is to figure out how the elements of nature interact, not what they are, which is the kind of knowledge that most easily can be exploit into technology, then is only logical to restrain any proposition to those who refer to observation, for after all, the theory you would be developing is in fact a theory about what you observe, not about what underlies the observations. In this, Bohr was absolutely right. Unfortunately, he made a fatal mistake: although developing a theory of (only) observables (which “orthodox” QM is) is pragmatically effective and efficient, is not to be made a requirement for any other valid Natural scientific development. It is a way, not THE way, and Bohr fatally failed to realize that to the extent that at his time, he didn’t allow colleagues to even publish a paper that offered a different approach, specially any approach not coming from observation. The so-called Copenhagen interpretation was (and to a certain extent still is) plain, good old Dogma.

About a hundred years later, scientific agreement still requires that propositions about Nature originate from observation. This is the largest stone in the road for String theory and I would think too for TI or PTI or any other bottom-up approach. The justification for such a requirement is that using as postulate a proposition not based on observation is a much larger risk than a simply and directly falsifiable postulate. That is, the certainty of an observable proposition IS given a priory (even if the valuation turned out to be wrong, as it often happens), giving the theory under construction a certain stability. Whereas on the other hand, if we postulate a proposition that might or might not turn out to be true is like building a house near a close shore, if you later find out that the postulate was wrong, the whole theory could fall apart.

While is easy to see that, effectively, is better to build on solid concrete, making this a hard requirement only leads to constructions that will just never happen, and that, in my opinion, is not better at all.

That is, when I CAN make observations that leads me to reliable postulates, that’s the way to go. If, on the other hand, for a certain domain of nature is impossible or extremely hard to make any such observations (such as the paraphysical realm), or the observations we can make are limited and so would limit the extent of the theory under construction (such as the subatomic realm), it is still a reasonable procedure to postulate propositions that are justified by other means even if they do add risk to the theory.

I believe that physical theory construction should dynamically manage risk as oppose to naively attempt to avoid it (which the orthodox scientific method actually does in practice), and I think that this is what is effectively being done in bottom up theories such as PTI (or String theory for that matters) which just postulate a number of things for no other reason than they offer a really interesting block to build upon and are *formally* consistent and coherence. However, I would like to propose that we stretch this ideas even further and evolve the valuation of rationality, internal consistency and coherence from a simple boolean requirement to a form of Bayesian risk assessment (even if largely simplified)

That is, I propose that even postulates coming out of thin air and under-developed (which makes the basic valuation of rationality, internal consistency and coherence difficult) are nonetheless acceptable as building blocks for scientific theories, at known risk, whenever these building blocks allows for interesting and useful constructions otherwise unimagined. And, finally getting to the point, some such simply-given, informal and under-developed postulates might very well come from religious believes (though having said that I will do my best to formalize and develop said believes as much as I can)

… I’ll get to the first couple of believes I need for the free will ideas on a next post, this one ended up too large.

1. Interesting points. But I should clarify that the PTI approach is actually to ‘let the theory offer its own interpretation,” which was the intent of the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation’ (except that they neglect absorption so their approach doesn’t work). PTI just says ‘hey, the theory contains these strange mathematical objects (quantum states) that clearly don’t live in spacetime. So if they are referring to something real, then whatever they are referring to can’t live in spacetime either’. I’m letting the theory lead the way and just following it to the ontology that it suggests (if interpreted in a realist way). Essentially, this is Structural Realism (Worrall’s proposal).

1. Hi Ruth. From the abstract of the TI that is the only thing I read so far about your (and the original) work, I indeed gathered that “it offers its own interpretation”. Though I would rephrase that saying that “it does need an interpretation to begin with”, not in the ordinary sense of quantum interpretation. As far as I can tell, from what I know about the process by which quantum theory was initially developed, QM offers mathematical representations that can be used to predict the results of experiments because these representations are, ultimately, about the experiments themselves, not so much about the things that is supposed to cause the experimental results. That’s why it needs an interpretation, because it tells you what happens, not how. For instance, it tells you that the experiment can go either way, and it tells you that using a probability distribution over space and time, which itself is modeled as a “wave function” since waves are naturally extended over space and time. On the other hand, the wave function charts the probability of something *going to happen* this or that way, yet of course, when it does happens, it happened this or tha way. The very need for an interpretation then arises because we’d like to know how the thing actually went that specific way, which the QM theory itself (i.e. the way function) does not at all tell us, because the wave function is about the experiment, and the expected experimental results, which is something *about to* happen, so the best it can do is set forth probabilities.

I figured that PTI does try to say something about the *how* something goes this or that way, right there, in the very theory, so no interpretation is actually needed.
FWIW, I “feel” that this is because PTI is not so much concerned about experimental results only (which is the future) as it is with the actual objects that will effectively do this or that, even if we can only predict them to do whatever of those.
But, please remind me to stop making opinions about your work until after I actually read it!

113. Here comes some initial religious believes that I need as building blocks for the development of the free-will theory I plan to post about. I’ll put each “postulate” in bullet-list form to separate them from my personal opinions (which are also just personal believes).
Before you read this please have in mind that these are just things I believe in, not scientific propositions, I as such I don’t pretend them to be undeniably true, not even highly certain, just possible and sufficiently probably. I also know that mixing such believes with philosophical and scientific discussions is considered, at best, fruitless, but I tried to explain why these are justified in my previous post. Having said that, be aware that the following propositions are, like all simply-given religious believes, out of thin air (well, not really, that really is out of scope here), and I can’t make any attempt to justify these postulates.
Furthermore, please have in mind that I specifically selected only those believes that I consider useful for the development of free-will, so the “religious” or transcendental picture you could get from the following is largely incomplete, but mostly because I am leaving out quite a lot.

* God exists but he DID NOT create the Physical Universe

* Instead, God created a finite set of “intelligent, sentient, affective, individual, unique and distinct free will agents” named Spirits.

While God did not create the universe, I believe he did indirectly influenced on natural evolution (from the very Big Bang) just as he indirectly influences social evolution. But that’s another story.

* God and this finite set of spirits predate the Physical Universe, and they collectively populate the most fundamental objective reality. Let me call this the “primogenial realm” for the sake of exposition.

* God and spirits are dynamic entities. They interact with each other as well as “introact” with themselves (I just coined that up for lack a better word).

* Physical, relativistic spacetime doesn’t exist like that in that primogenial realm. However, their inter and intro acting implies an ordered sequence of events from which a basic form of time, specially of time *arrow*, emerges. Likewise, said events do determine some sort of location (two spirits are never in the same location, whatever that really means), so from their dynamics some form a basic space also emerges.

* God is considered eternal, while spirits are considered hemi-eternal. They have a point of origin but not an end.

* There is a “primogenial timeline”. That is, a line of events that comes from way before the physical universe started and will extend, eternally, way beyond the physical universe will cease to exist.

* Spirits have an associated “generalized volume”, or “self space”, whatever that means, not necessarily of geometric nature.

* A spirit is subject to breaking apart in parts such that each part gets a proportion of the “volume” or “self space” originally associated with the unit. A spirit fraction can itself break apart even further down.

While most propositions here more or less follow most religious/spiritual ideas, this concept of spiritual fractions is rather unheard of (and possibly a novel contribution of the particular religion I follow) and it’s at the very core of the “explanations” it can help to construct.

* A spirit fraction retains a proportion of the whatever essential attributes a unit spirit has. In particular, the attributes behind free-will, which we representationally decompose in volition, cognition, affection and motivation exist in proportion on a spirit fraction.

* There is a fractional limit at which a spirit fraction cannot break apart anymore.

* At that limit, the tiniest fraction is called “spirit particle” (and not just fraction)

* Each and every spirit, whether it is a whole unit, a fraction or even a particle, has a self-identity. That is, they are individual distinct free-will agents. Each (even individual spirit particles) is cognizant of its own existence, state and environment, each has motivation and affection, and each executes their own individual actions. However, all of that is in proportion to the fraction it is in the case of non whole spirits.

* In the primogenial realm there is a mix of spirits, spirit fractions and spirit particles.

* And within a “region” (so to speak) where the spirit particles are, the Physical Universe was formed (in whatever way that happened), being the Physical Universe a subset of the primogenial realm.

* It is the spirit particles, not the larger fractions or unit spirits which are at the very bottom of the fabric of the Universe.

A spirit particle, which is the “quantum substratum” of the universe, is a spirit fraction that broke apart all the way down to the fractional limit. While it still retains a very small proportion of whatever attributes spirits have, its will, however free, is proportionally restricted.

* A spirit particle CAN exert his free will, but having its attributes so severely fractioned, its “range of awarely choice making”, his “effective ability to do otherwise” is extremely limited.

Spirit particles, being spirits nonetheless, do interact and respond to larger fractions and unit spirits, but which much less awareness and range of action. This religion has it that in the primogenial timeline, unit spirits took advantage of the restricted awareness of the fractioned spirits to command them at their own will.

* The smaller the fraction, the more limited it is his awareness, his effective free-will if you like, and in consequence, the smaller the ability to consciously intra and inter-act, and the range of its actions.

This last proposition happens to be fundamental. According to the supposed primogenial timeline, unit spirits managed to impose their will on fractions, not in the classic materialistic way, but via influential power, much like a dictator forces multitudes to blindly follow him. But that caused even further fractioning, and that additional fractioning proportionally diminished the effective power over the fractions. At the fractional limit, the resulting spirit fractions cut loose, and the physical universe spawn, now free from any influence and command from unit spirits. If you followed that closely, you might be thinking that I just implied that Physicalism is right since I just said that the physical universe is made of spirit particles which, due to their severely fractioned attributes, are disconnected from the rest of the primogenial realm. That is, I basically just hinted at the reason for the division between the material and the spiritual realms even if the material world is nonetheless made of spiritual elements.

But, always according the the timeline proposed by this religion, the connection between both realms is progressively restored in a specific structural organization being a central part of natural evolution. More precisely: while a spirit particle has its “freewill” (for lack of the proper term) so fractioned that it can barely sustain any broad fruitful interaction with a much much “larger” unit spirit, it can, on the other hand interact more or less fruitfully with a spirit fraction larger but close in size. So, a “wild” collection of spirit particles (such as those building the primitive Universe) don’t have the level of awareness necessary to develop any stability, but, if they cluster and jointly associate with a larger fraction, not too large to be out of reach, by larger, then the resulting structure gets a “driver” (the larger fraction) which gives the whole structure better chances of being stable by orienting their free-will individual actions towards a goal, directed by the larger fraction.

This is our version of the so-called substance dualism: the “physical” building block of the fabric of the universe is composed of spirit-particles, but as evolution progresses, they cluster and associate with a “directing” larger spirit fraction. Evolution in turn builds a hierarchy in which directing fractions (not spirit particles which lie at the bottom of the pyramid) cluster and becomes themselves associated with even larger directing fractions, forming a “para-physical direction hierarchy” alongside the physical structure. Para-physical here refers to the class of elements (spirit fractions and units), which are not “physical” spirit particles, and so are much larger, much more aware, have a much broader range of free-will, and a more effective “ability to do otherwise” (which in a highly simplified and rather misleading way can be said to mean they are beyond the laws of physics).

According to these believes, even a single atom is associated with a non-trivial para-physical directing hierarchy. And a complex molecule like RNA, gets a rather sophisticated para-physical system.

This structured reconnection between spirit particles at the fabric of the universe (the physical substrate), and progressively complex para-physical directing systems, culminates with the one and only one system that makes a categorical difference: a human system, in which at the very top of the para-physical directing hierarchy, there is a *unit* spirit, not a fraction as in absolutely everything else.

Finally:

* “physical” spirit particles and the associated “para-physical” directing hierarchy of fractions are remain in the structure they build up for as long as the structure still exists. So, a single individual atom, *that* atom, “keeps” all spirit particles and fractions for as long as that atoms exists. Might be for as long as the Universe exists, or not (it could be that electrons, protons, etc aren’t persistent features after all). A more complex organism like a biological one has a life cycle and that cycle directly reflects for how long the para-physical directing hierarchy remains (strictly speaking, each individual part of even a single cell can be seen to have its own life cycle, but the principle remains

* When a cycle is over, all associated spirit fractions (and a unit in our case) get disassociated from the “material” system it was being a part of, after which, they just do whatever they do but now unrelated to the physical universe, which potentially includes associating with another physical structure next time.

Well, I apologize in advance for blatantly throwing out such a set of simply-given believes that come out of thin air and for which I have no other justification than the fact that I believe them to be quite probably true, lacking any formal evidence. I do hope that you see how they are instrumental in connecting the dots and building otherwise unimagined theories of free-will, consciousness and the spirit->mind->body problem.

1. Thanks for this–and for your comment in response to my reply above. Will think about it!