May 25, 2017

We are just spending time writing words that make our worlds comfortable

Dear John,
Your post seems to have been cut short. Nevertheless, can i just ask what you, and maybe Bruno, mean by ‘mechanism’. I have not come across a broad metaphysical usage of the term before reading posts on this list. What is it and what is the alternative? 

In general I do not think we need to be looking for differences in empirical data that test predictions to test our theories. I agree with Popper that the first thing to do is make sure your theory adds up on its own terms. My feeling is that most don’t, so choosing a metaphysics is fairly simple - like sorting the garbage from the recycling!


On 25 May 2017, at 04:47, john.kineman wrote:
Hello Bruno and Chris,

I've been looking for a good entry point into this discussion of physics, qualia, and mechanism. I made some foundational arguments in earlier quotes which I think are not generally accepted, or at least not evidently so in the responses and ongoing defense of mechanism as a potentially holistic paradigm. I want to continue to argue why I am convinced it is not a viable candidate, and I can see that Bruno has the opposite view. So the question is, what kind of evidence would be convincing either way? Otherwise, we are just spending time writing words that make our worlds comfortable.

If we can agree to address the question in a critical fashion, in which we look for the key deciding factor, this forum could make some significant progress. So, I will make some points here about what that criterion should be, and why I think it argues for a realist view of qualia and a qualified acceptance of mechanism. I'll number so the points can be easily referenced.

1. First, we are writing electronic posts off the cuff on perhaps the most fundamental subject in science. There is little technical detail shared that could change minds. Mostly we end up sharing personal opinions. This should be resisted as much as possible, and we should cite criterion - completely aside from citing entire papers or books everyone should read in order to be swayed into a given philosophical camp (although I am guilty of advocating that myself, with Rosen's work - even here a cheap plug). 

2. Let's next recognize that such deep questions are a discussion of world view and epistemology. Thus we need to know the epistemological criteria being used to defend one position or another.

3.We cannot reduce the key arguments to a positivist rejectability because world views are not rejectable in that way. They are the foundations of thought, not the rejectable outputs of thought. For example, I have eyes so I describe and explain my world in terms of what I see. I assume the visible and then propose theories in those terms. I can test the theory against other things I can see. If I were in the ultimate movie theatre of the future, however, I might never discover the flaw in my starting assumption, that the sights are real. And I might never know about the projector or the screen because what is stated in those terms, assumes those terms as reality. However, there are still some criteria, that if carefully applied, could tell me in this theater that something is wrong with my world view and I could begin to try other ideas about reality, testing them by these criteria.

4. The only criteria that we can't use in this test of world view, is the one we would like to use and are comfortable using when testing theories WITHIN a world view. We would like to compare predictions of the theory to actual data. But the meta-theory that reality is composed of the images I see in this hypothetical theater does not predict which images should appear next, it is the generator of theories about how those images are related to each other, assuming they are real. The derived theory then makes testable predictions and we can accept or reject the theories, but not the foundation on that evidence. So, what can be used?

5. There are epistemological requirements we more or less have agreed to in science and philosophy, even spirituality, when examined. I'll list these. There are six that I am aware of from the best known philosophers of science (which may not include a lot of Eastern philosophers, but so far I've found that at this level the criteria are in agreement). In no special order:

I agree with what you say. 

My point is twofold. 1) Mechanism is incompatible with Physicalism. 2) if we keep Mechanism, physics is reduced to machine self-reference, and this makes Mechanism testable: just compare physics extracted from machine self-reference with the physics inferred from observation. (the I extracted the logic of the observable, and it obeys already to a quantum logic, so things fit nicely, up to now).


My comments (John Kineman):
I gave Rosen's definition and proof of incompleteness, which some challenged, defending Church-Turing and saying Rosen misunderstood, but not giving details of his supposed error. I would like to know that precisely because I don't think he was in error, and I have not seen any valid counter-claim...

I can only make some points about this that hopefully will be troubling, because present mainstream reasoning does not accept it. It is entertained in some complexity circles and in Eastern philosophy from the Veda, but the level of mathematical rigor to nail it down as a working scientific methodology is not there to counter the tremendous power of calculation from this "standard" view. Here's my attempt to make some relevant points. I'll number them so they can be referenced.

1. First, we are discussing worldview assumptions about nature and/or reality, something we cannot define aside from our view of it. Modern and Post-modern science took the position of accepting a 'prior' assumption and working from there. It is rooted in the "reality" of the senses. The Veda took the assumption that our theory of nature should be rooted in pure experience, and that sensory information might be illusory. Descartes actually agreed with Eastern philosophy in saying that of all that can be known, only direct experience can be considered a certainty, and that mainly because there is no alternative if we consider anything. All else, i.e. what may lie behind such immediate percepts, requires experimental confirmation.  And yet, science developed from his idea of method in which experimental confirmation employed sensory data to infer physical objects, and eventually we accepted a sensory foundation. We conflated measurement with experience, whereas I think Descartes was referring to the experience of a percept -- on this discussion list it is referred to as the experience of "redness" vs a measurement of wavelength, and that sort of thing. Descartes' Discourse on Method and inspiration from what he called a deep personal meditation (of which he said he rarely was inclined to share), was presented as a final proof of God. In other words, he was saying that if I can ask a question about reality, then I must exist and therefore some ultimate "I"-ness, or identity (assign the undefinable term "God" to this ultimate) must also exist. This recapitulated the Easter metaphysicians conclusions which were confirmed in 1000's of years of such meditations on inner experience. The unfettered conclusion is that we need a concept of identity in knowledge, and thus in science.  This is the reason some look at Category theory as a, probably inadequate, way of formalizing an identity. Cat. theory has the identity relation and thus can represent it.

2. If we accept, at least, that we are discussing such worldview assumptions, then we need criteria for deciding what is a valid scientific worldview. These are different from positivistic criteria in deciding if a theory is true or false. A theory is tested within a worldview -- its confirmation or rejection is not a confirmation or rejection of the basic assumptions. We all know this from the well-worn story of Ptolemy's circles and Newton's forces. Newton's theory was more parsimonious, not more correct. We can still calculate orbits in terms of Ptolemy's circles if we want, but it gets horribly complicated with arbitrary precision. Whereas Newton's forces make it easy. Same with replacing Newton's forces with relativity - we would have to invent many fanciful forces to duplicate the elegant explanation of relativity. In Quantum we hit a wall. There was not consistent way of simply adding a more elegant way of calculating unless we admitted two complements to the calculation, and implicitly the reality (Copenhagen Convention). We are still divided on that point - is it the calculation that has uncertainty or the reality? Einstein and Scrodinger were not comfortable with blaming nature, but most agreed with Bohr and went that way. It was probably the right decision because nobody had a workable alternative.

3. We thus have six epistemological criteria for evaluating a worldview. They are (in no particular order): 

(1) Parsimony --  "thou shalt not do with more, what can be done with less". It is really elegance of explanatory ability, the ability to explain more than another theory with fewer assumptions and less analytical procedure, but it should not discard any experience as a result of the simplification; in fact, it should expand the kinds of experiences that can thus be understood.

(2) Generality -- the new view should apply as broadly as possible, or if meant to be instrumental, one should state what kind of systems it is good for. If heuristic, then it is not being proposed as a theory of nature, so that is a separate matter.

(3) Necessity -- We should reach the new set of assumptions through a process of testing previous assumptions to their exhaustion - in other words, for practical reasons in science we try to get as much out of a worldview as it has in it. Every worldview (some claim) will have a limit in its explanatory power. We have to definitively and conclusively reach this limit in the old view before jumping to the new one. Otherwise we will know clearly what kind of jump is needed and we will land in incomprehensible territory. This is essential for Khun's revolutions. It explains most of work-a-day science, plodding away at an explanatory paradigm even knowing it may be limited. Our aim is to explain things, yes, but also and ultimately to find that limit.  A caveat is appropriate here, and presages my conclusion. It was stated by the eminent philosopher Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain - actually a humorist), who said: "One should not learn more from an experience than it has in it: for example, a cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. But it will never sit on a cold one either".

(4) Consistency -- This goes with Necessity. To demonstrate necessity we essentially find the paradox in the previous theory - the thing it can't provide any logic for. The new view provides that logic and jumps us to a new level of comprehensive explanation, without losing any explanatory ability of the old theory. It charts new territory, it does not revise the old except in various assumptions and presumptions that are not really confirmed in the old theory. In other words, confirmation is confirmation of what has been confirmed, in the terms in which it was confirmed, nothing more and nothing less.

(5) Formality  --  This is merely the ability to provide the logical syntax for doing science and stating knowledge. If we can't say anything sensible in the new view, it has no value in science. I assume this requires and necessitates some kind of logic as well as semiotics. Science uses symbols that make sense and by applying that sense to those symbols we explain things.

(6) Productivity (aka Fruitfulness) -- The new view must be able to spawn new theories that have value for the things we want to explain or construct. Worldviews can be dead-ends, e.g., the universe is composed of jellybeans, so explain everything in terms of the dynamics of jellybeans (I think I did that as a child). Since they can't be tested directly on logical and evidentiary grounds, (as the theory of jellybeans eventually could be, when I grew up), they must be tested on circumstantial grounds - how "useful" are they? Do they actually solve problems? This could also be called "Utility", I suppose. The biggest caveat and problem with this criterion is that it requires (a) understanding the new view thoroughly enough to use it, (b) many years of using it in case studies, (c) reformulating previous theories to be sure the same conclusions are reached, or that the differences are understood. Our great problem right now is that nearly everyone on this list has a different way of getting the new theory. And each track requires their full attention to make progress with it. Bruno must spend his time developing Combinator theory. I have to spend my time developing Relational Holon theory. Who has the time to actual learn and apply each one to see which comes out 'best' on these six criteria? This implies maybe centuries of work, but we may not have centuries.

4. Actually, all of these criteria apply to theories as well, since theories come from worldviews, but without the additional tool for theories, of direct experimental testing via elegant experiments. For example, and I'll take a guess here, there is probably no experiment that can confirm or reject the idea of "dark energy" that counters gravitational collapse at nearly exactly the opposite effect than is predicted by standard theory (thus requiring about 2/3 dark vs 1/3 normal to cancel and reverse the direction). This is probably a heuristic patch on standard theory, which has most likely missed something fundamental (probably something Machian) in its original idea about mass and gravity. But if we don't change the local idea about mass/gravity, and keep all the hard work done on calculating that, we have to invoke this non-local effect to explain the evidence, and we also get an apparently super-luminal velocity of expansion that is implied if we stick to local observations of it. What the heck is super-luminal velocity? Nobody knows. Call it inflation. Like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) if we give it a name people will assume you know something about it. In other words, we are in the same boat that Ptolemy was in before Newton - the patches start to get untenable.

5. To not write too much in one post I'll make only a few more points and wait for the critique. This point is about qualia. The necessary new worldview seems to be one in which we must reify qualia in order to simplify the previous way of calculating nature while explaining the "more" that we are all aware of in nature (which includes us). It is obvious from many comments and agreements on this list that we accept qualia in what the scientist must do to perform science. That's a start. And in the extremely appropriate question (which initially attracted me to this list) "does science explain the scientist", it is clear that standard science today does not and cannot without reifying qualia. Nothing could be more obvious, except that we don't have that answer collectively, so it is very troubling to many. I claim there is an answer available, one that meets all six criteria above; but of course it is profoundly revolutionary and so requires many decades or centuries of use to decide the sixth criteria, Fruitfulness, unless we suddenly have a collective epiphany. Currently one or two people are using it.

6. I want to indicate some cracks in the armor of mechanism and computation. There are many, but which point will have an impact? Probably none - we can always imagine a computational way around it. But again the question is not if it can be done computationally, but is that the best way to do it? The most parsimonious? ...

Rosen, certainly recognized as a brilliant mathematician and biologist, wrote "there is nothing more abstract than a number". Nothing that can be counted in discrete numbers can thus be foundational. It is an abstraction, and a fraction of the whole.


Dear Shanta,

I never said I accept the authority of biologists. But not being a biologist I am in no position to challenge their authority. Since you are very much involved in biology you are in the right position to challenge their authority. I do repeat though that challenging a theory does not necessarily lead to the rejection of the theory and replacing it with whatever one wants. It may actually lead to the revision of the theory. I stick by that though I may be terribly wrong about it.

As for what you said in the past and the censoring of my email, let us just forget about it for now. I do feel though, not just from you but from some other Bhakti Vedanta scholars I have encountered that there is a confident finality, immune to criticism, that comes out in the way you speak and write. This is what I challenge as an argumentative Indian and the Indian tradition of debate. Vedanta has various interpretations. Each Upanishad is open to multiple interpretations. These must be debated and worked out and one must not accept the authority of anyone including the Bhakti Vedanta proponents.

May 25, 2017

Savitri Era: Life is a mystery but a language has some certainty #SriAurobindo

Tweets by Tusar Sir @SavitriEraParty
(Tusar Nath Mohapatra)
Finitude and Philosophy

Sadhu-Sanga mulls over consciousness
From pigs to piano, quantum and qualia
Taking a tour from Turing to Penrose and Rosen
Leibniz to Gödel

Machines can know their incompleteness
Numbers conspire to spur consciousness
Notions from Nagasena to Chaitanya
Tug of war over physicalism

From eight-limbs Yoga to eight-bends Gita
Mails flying to and fro throughout eight praharas
Weaving web of words on world wide web
To comfort

Theories don't compare, domains vary
Pushing names a political game
Leibniz is lionised, Gödel waiting for Godot
TM and Vedic Unified-Field

Investigating consciousness via science
And mathematics can never be satisfying
Because of the subjective nature
Of the object of observation.

It's agreed that we are far away
From any semblance of a solution
This should mean as a very sobering attitude
In the face of human finitude.

Tweets by @SavitriEraParty

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