June 15, 2017

All the popular science stuff about interpretations of QM is empty nonsense

On Tue, Jun 13, 2017 Edwards, Jonathan wrote: 
"I do not understand what ‘doing things consciously’ means. Maybe you could clarify that. I have given my alternative account of being conscious of downstream effects of output in repeated cycles."

Assuming your good faith in asking that question -- and why not? -- it should be an interesting exercise to proffer an answer. There's an old concept that awareness can bring with it its own clarity of action -- an idea that shows up in as varied places as an interview with Jack Nicholson about his acting technique, and the lectures of J. Krishnamurti. Leaving aside my earlier mention of the non-identity of awareness and consciousness, they certainly overlap. So this can be a first approximation of a commonly recognized difference between doing things more and less consciously -- the question of whether ones acts spring from attentive awareness, or are more conducted based on habits and stray thoughts, in a sort of unaware daze.

As a second approximation, consider the electron in the classic double slit experiment. Its possibilities of transit through the slits are both so real that we can photograph them. Yes, it obviously can and does often "collapse" so that we get just one of them. My focus here isn't on the collapse event -- however characterized -- but on the objective existence of possibilities.

I do believe the objective existence of possibilities scales up. I'm not committed to Henry Stapp's full model (nor qualified to be), but clearly he holds that too, so it's not beyond the imagination of a good physicist that this should be so. "Many worlds" interpretations also obviously appreciate possibilities' objective nature, though I find them unplausible.

"Doing things consciously," for me, is a blend of those two orientations: on the one hand, maximizing present sense of place and situation; on the other, maximizing the imaginative awareness of the possibilities inherent here now. This in practice requires, for me, a sort of neo-Freudian regard for the way in which the availability of word-representations, and how we take them, gates -- and can "neurotically" constrain -- the arising of inspirations and insights. In any case, the conscious mind is not self-contained, but requires cultivation.

I admit in my youth I was taken with fashionable ideas of "no self." It is only from experience in cultivating consciousness that I've come to appreciate how seriously real the self is. Carl Jung had a pretty good model on the alchemy of self; although I'm hardly a Jungian either. There's a stage in individual development where one realizes that ones persona is a bit of social artifice. So we get on the one hand many myths of a false self and a true self; and on the other myths where there's only a false self and "no self."

Some of the truth may best be found in the dialog between those positions, rather than either in itself. There may be a complimentarity here. Still, as a New England pragmatist by culture, I find the assumption that self is real, and can be cultured, far more productive than an attempt to realize "no self" -- beautiful as that can be. I may have retreated somewhat from
the city to the mountains, but I'm a householder with family, and find having a real self, and the pragmatic actions and effects of cultivating that self, far the advantage over attempting to treat it as illusion.

On the other hand, whatever I'm to make of your particular "no self" approach, it looks like it works for you. Meanwhile I take "free will" quite literally. What I will do I will freely consider, with every expectancy that the consideration is causal in the eventual action. This consideration counts as cultivation of consciousness, whether consideration of the present scene, as richly sensed as possible, or of the prospects latent there for a human imagination to steer towards. If we had no capacity to steer, to freely go where we will, what would be the evolved purpose of our conscious efforts -- which after all involve a quite real expenditure of energy by our bodies?

Whit Blauvelt
14 June 2017
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I agree very much. Without consciousness and free will, there would be no atomic bomb. Curiosity and the spirit of exploration is needed to find the deep principle, and the ugly fear, partially founded, of the humans by the humans, together with the unavoidable free merchandising are needed to exploit the beautiful deep principle in the making of a terrifying self destruction device.

Everything which moves itself has to learn the ability to anticipate, and consciousness is a sort of belief that there is a Reality to believe about, hopefully correctly. Consciousness is the root of many thing, including free-will, which speed us the anticipation process, making possible to the self-moving entity to speed itself, even if that is again a wall.

About the self, computer science and mathematical logic have many interesting things to say. We can write program able to mirror itself, to reproduce like an amoeba, or to imagine itself in different situation. The so called second recursion theorem by Stephen Cole Kleene makes this utterly clear, and allows many generalisations. That notion of self is a 3p notion of self, and I usually, to make the reasoning simpler, identify it to its (local/here-and-now) set of beliefs.

I say that a machine believes a proposition, when the machine asserts the proposition. Then, I restrict myself mathematically to the arithmetically correct machine (a provably non constructive notion). A machine knows a proposition/fact when the machine asserts correctly that proposition. The correct machine cannot see the (non constructive) equivalence between the two, and indeed, cannot even name or describe by anything 3p that second notion (mainly due to Theaetetus, but studied in arithmetic by American, Italian, New-Zealanders, Dutch, Polish, Georgian and Russian logicians, notably, but they seem unaware of Theaetetus and Plato). That second self is an handy candidate for the 1p self, which has no name, and looks similar to Plotinus "World-Soul".

The modal logic of the 3p-self beliefs has been shown captured by two modal logics of self-reference, known as GL and GLS, or G and G*. GL is for Gödel Löb and S if for Solovay who proved G complete and sound with respect to the *provable* machine principles on its own provability and consistency issues, and G* axiomatized completely and soundly with respect to the *true*  machine principles on its own provability and consistency issues. Incompleteness explains the gap between G and G*

Incompleteness makes provability into a belief, not a knowledge, usually formalized by a S4 logic. We get it by defining (meta-defining) knowledge by true belief, and the logic of this give modal logic S4Grz, which describes an intuitionist thinkers confusing truth and its mental space, and this correctly from its 1p own view.

Adding the consistency at the place, or with, truth, and restricting the proposition to the computably accessible one (meta-Mechanism), gives a classical and an intutionist quantum logic, at the place apparently foreseen by Plato/Parmenides, Moderatus of Gades (First century) and Plotinus (Fifth century).
If Moderatus is right, we get the 5 hypostases (Parmenidian affirmative hypothesis) by the nuances brought by incompleteness between

p    (truth, the One)
Bp   (justifiable/rational  belief, science)
Bp & p  (knowledge)
Bp& Dt   (intelligible matter)
Bp & Dt & p  (sensible matter).

With t = "1=1", B = Gödel's Beweisbar (provability) predicate, Dt = ~B ~t = ~Bf = not provable false = consistency).

That gives eight hypostases, not five!, because three of them (Bp, Bp & Dt, Bp & Dt & p) inherit the splitting of G and G*. the qualia theory should be in the Bp & p hypostase, which does not split, and in the Bp & Dt & p, seen in G*.

Mechanism justifies the limitation of "p" to the sigma_1 arithmetical sentences, which have the shape "it exists n such that P(n, m, r, ...)", with P(n, m, r, ...) decidable.

Then we have the "blaspheme" (a proposition in G* \ G, true but not rationally justifiable): for p sigma_1

G* proves p <-> Bp <-> (Bp & p) <-> (Bp & Dt) <-> (Bp & Dt & p)

But G does not prove any of those equivalences. This makes the machine born schizophrenic, seeing the same truth, in 8 quite different types of modes, which defines somehow different consciousness flux in the arithmetical reality.

The use by Penrose and Lucas of Gödel's theorem against Mechanism can be seen as a confusion between Bp and Bp & p.

The 3p self is a relative notion. A universal number has a self relative to a universal number. It is even "universal" only with respect to some universal number. The 1p-self is an absolute notion. It is sustained by the infinity of all universal numbers, which compete for the sub-substitution level computations bringing your current mental state.

The Gödel-Löbian machines have a rich theology (G*), and the physical reality, at least its non-geographico-historical core, is part of it, making that theology partially testable, and somehow, quantum mechanics without collapse fits well with it, until now.

Space-time-gravity-forces is more difficult, but there are clues that it should be highly symmetrical, admit reversible evolution, may be "just" a rotation of some kind.

Show quoted text

Dear Peter,
I had nearly given up on Whit, for not reading what I wrote, but now he has begun to see what I was saying and come back with some cogent questions again so I will respond in due course. But you seem to be in the not reading mode still.

Of course Descartes’s model was interactive, but all subsequent physics has been interactive. Descartes distinguished spirit or action or motive force from inert matter. Spirit came in two forms, a general form called God, which was responsible for all motion of matter with the exception of human bodies, which also derived motion from a separate action unit, the soul. Within forty years of Descartes death this useful action/matter dichotomy had been clarified by Hooke, Huygens and Wren and it became clear that all matter had spirit or action within it in the form of elasticity. Various reformulations have occurred over the centuries but we now have a dichotomy of action and matter very much as Leibniz conceived it in 1690. All individual elements are essentially pure action. To simplify, some of those actions aggregate to form matter (Fermions) and some remain nan action form (Bosons, as per light).

Descartes’s soul was not ‘outside his physics’. The word physics is used only once in the Meditations - in the context of God. Physics for Descartes was the study of the regularity of God’s actions - as it obviously would be for a true believer. Physics is only separate from God if you want God to be some sort of unpredictable magic.

So, if my view follows Leibniz how can I possibly be denying a causal role of a conscious self. All causation is the action of conscious entities. Where did I deny the existence of them? I prefer not to use the term self because it is used for various things that do not necessarily correspond to each other. But I am talking about whatever has consciousness and also whatever has action.

And if you had read you would see that I do not treat consciousness as a property of matter because I do not think we need the concept of matter much any more - except perhaps to describe aggregation. Why should the fundamental units that underlie our naive idea of matter be conscious? Surely the ancient Hindu texts would support that? How can consciousness be completely different from anything if all there is is consciousness? You seem be much more of a believer in matter than I am.

And the identity bit is central to the view I share with Leibniz. It is the recognition of identity of sentient individuals that underpins the Discourse on Metaphysics long before he applies that to physics in New System. However, I do differ from Leibniz, in denying that we have any evidence for a single self for each human body that persists through time, in the sense of some real entity. We have a story of self but as John Locke pointed out that can be explained purely on the basis of passing down memories over the years. The continuity of self is the continuity of a story, or a story of continuity. There is not a scrap of evidence for it being an enduring entity in any other sense.

You demonstrate the strong emotional attachment that many people have to the idea of a continuing self. That is readily explained in Darwinian terms by a brain organisation that has evolved to maintain the integrity of a multicellular colony. A very cleverly done illusion. But the intellectual pursuit of seeking after truth requires that we lay aside such emotional attachments at least while we are pursuing truth.

It is hard. The one time director of the Wellcome Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and now Dean of Life Sciences here said exactly the same thing to me - he KNEW he had a single subjective self. But he had no evidence. I would seriously suggest you read my book ‘How Many People Are There In My Head, And in Hers? It explores the disturbing fact that there are no persons there; it seems likely that there are many perceiving souls. I am sorry to shatter illusions, but the Bishop of Oxford had the same problem some years ago.

Best wishes


I don’t have time to respond to this one as well, Whit, but just one small comment.

I do not think electrons go through slits at all. That is a classical metaphor. Nothing goes anywhere at the quantum level. Nothing ‘collapses’ down. This is a childish analogy put up by von Neumann that has no basis in the theory. Quantum, or monadic, dynamics are completely unenvisageable and indivisible (for them to be envisageable would require them to have subcomponents in space and time). All the popular science stuff about interpretations of QM is empty nonsense as far as I can see.


Dear Whit,
I don’t think the water freezing is relevant but yes, I think Leibniz understood emergence way back and got it right. Nobody noticed so they keep getting it wrong. As the philosopher John Heil has said, most discussions of emergence look for emergent properties but what we are actually interested in is emergent entities or dynamic units, which have novel properties.

The wetness of water is unhelpful because the dynamic aspects are predicted from what we know of the molecules. The sense of wetness is mostly to do with a trick of temperature receptors and various other such things. Moreover, the quantity noun ‘water’ is not an entity that has properties. Wetness is a sort of pattern of properties of molecules. So no entity actually has a new property. This might seem like philosophical nitpicking but it ends up being very relevant to the property of some soul, self or X being conscious. I avoid self because it brings too many presuppositions. I rather prefer the old term soul.

The application of field theory to condensed matter provides us with new entities - new modes of action. And they have properties quite unrelated to the properties of the constituents of the associated material aggregate. They are massless Bose modes rather than Fermi modes and so on. I am quite open to the possibility that there is something very peculiar about their dynamics that makes them the only modes that can have a consciousness even remotely like that we discuss. There is actually a specific reason to think this the case but it is too technical for now.

The human body will indeed have new dynamic entities associated with it. All reasonably self-cohering material objects do. But the first problem is that there will be several such new entities, arising from different organisational levels. The second is that we can be confident that they will be very boring. The most obvious new dynamic entity associated with human body is the mode of spinning perfected by Jean Torville and Christopher Dean as ice skaters. The trouble is that if Torville was wearing a rucksack containing six chapatis the new dynamic unit would be the spinning of Torville plus rucksack and chapatis - which none of us thinks is a person. Human bodies can also support acoustic modes but very highly damped and boring ones.

Leibniz understood all this. He was stuck because he was sure, from his faith, that there was one dominant mode that was the soulful each person. He saw that this mode would be focused on the body but also that, because thinking clearly mostly went on in the head, it would be even more specifically focused on some part of the brain. He had seen cells and he knew that human beings grew from spermatozoa (OK he was a male chauvinist). So he suggests that the soul of the spermatozoan, having had the luck of being nurtured in a womb and grown to form a full body, continues to inhabit the body but mostly a small part of the brain and although it is not clear that he is specific on this, maybe some special cell in the brain. So when William James discusses a pontifical cell he traces the idea to Leibniz. The most specific he gets is in New Essays where he indicates the soul interacts and perceives chiefly through a folded vibrating membrane in the brain presumably too small to show anatomically.

So Leibniz very much believed in your person, but makes at a mode very focused within. Acoustic modes can be like this. The note of a violin is mostly a dynamic pattern in the soundbox but it also reflects importantly the string being bowed, the bridge without mute, and in fact the whole violin body. So he is uncannily close to something now understood. The trouble is that acoustic modes always come in families. Every time one looks at the practicalities of this it is clear that there are going to be lots of these new modes.

I am a bit unhappy with some of your physics. Quantum randomness is very much part of classical physics, either as radioactivity or the classical appearance of a silver grain in a Young’s slit experiment with very little light. The only difference between quantum and classical is that quantum is the account of individual units and classical is the account of aggregates. Aggregates tend to behave in a non random average way but if individual units interact with aggregates in a carefully designed apparatus the aggregate will show up the randomness. There is no contradiction or inconsistency.

I think ‘causal closure’ is an unhelpful term. As far as I am concerned all causes are causes. Physics tries to study all causes and has accounts for a lot but not all. So all causes fall under physics, so it has to be ‘causally closed’. The mistake is to think physics only deals with billiard balls, which it has not for a long time. The laws of physics have to have a random element at the individual unit level because of symmetry. Leibniz seems to have understood that too. Nothing here is difficult if one starts from clear rational premises.

Leibniz’s monadic dynamic units exist at any scale you like. As I indicated the problem with finding a unit that relates to a whole human body is not scale, it is that the units we can find are boring and trivial. The consciousness we discuss has to be that of a unit where the action is - in the brain where the signals are coming in thick and fast in complex ordered arrays. And the dynamic units we can find in the brain are, firstly, massively multiple, and, secondly, almost certainly rather evanescent. A Bose mode in a neuronal dendritic tree is likely to be wipeout at each action potential. So, as my book suggests, there are probably millions of ‘persons’ in our head, each lasting about 20milliseconds. That might be wrong but those are roughly the limiting conditions that I derived from looking at all the neurobiological options.

So my denial of a single self rests on simple kitchen sink physiological considerations of the sort I used all my life in immunology. There is no laziness here. I have devoted fifteen years of my life treading millions of words in half a dozen disciplines searching for what might be a viable solution. I have taught myself or taken courses in three disciplines entirely new to me.

I am nowhere near autistic. I recognise all the ideas you raise and the emotional pull they have, but I have a mistrust of such pulls when searching for the truth. I see something very similar in current politics. Those who see themselves as most ecofriendly, humanitarian and liberal may be the ones most likely to destroy the planet. Good intentions are not enough. They need to be intelligently informed if they are to achieve their goal.

Best wishes
To view this discussion on the web visit

Instead of Wittgenstein, here is an excerpt from an analysis of Whitehead, his contemporary:

[One of Whitehead’s projects is the rehabilitation of all Forms, or “eternal objects” – both qualitative and quantitative. Whitehead envisions the eternal objects as functioning in the creative advance in two different ways. First, they exist as potentials, possibilities, lures for feeling, or ideals. In this mode, each eternal object is a potential form of definiteness that might, given the proper motivation and the proper circumstances, become an element in the character of a new occasion of experience. In their second mode of functioning, eternal objects do in fact characterize occasions that have become fully actual and are now in the settled past. Thus eternal objects are both shapes of possibility and shapes of settled fact. Part of the purpose of this particular chapter is to show how thoughts concerning both quality and quantity are amenable to systematic thought and also relevant to the structure of the world.

It is important, in this context, to understand how Whitehead envisions the relationship between potentiality and actuality. The situation, or world, out of which actual occasions arise never fully determines the character that those occasions will have. This is the truth of indeterminacy which quantum mechanics has so forcibly brought to the attention of modern thought. Every event, or actual occasion, grows out of a field of possibilities many of which are contraries, so that it is impossible to realize all of them at the same time and in the same place. In its coming to be, each event must choose among incompatible possibilities so that it grows towards a coherent, complete and fully definite “aesthetic synthesis of possibilities.”  This growth towards definiteness is governed by both logical and aesthetic criteria, and it strives towards the maximization of value in itself and in its relevant future.]

The whole paper can be read at:

Hi Bruno

Joseph Campbell was quoting the Upanishads "Beyond names and forms. No tongue has soiled it, no word has reached it".

Jed McKenna defines "Done" as "No Further". This is the part we can't conceptualize. When you reach "Infinity" there is "no further". How can you go beyond infinity? The concept of "dissolution into infinity" is the best I've got. :)

June 15, 2017

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