Father of the Big Bang

Georges Lemaître died fifty years ago today, on 20 June 1966. If anyone deserves the title “Father of the Big Bang,” it would be him. Both because he investigated and popularized the Big Bang model, and because he was an actual Father, in the sense of being a Roman Catholic priest. (Which presumably excludes him from being an actual small-f father, but okay.)

John Farrell, author of a biography of Lemaître, has put together a nice video commemoration: “The Greatest Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of.” I of course have heard of him, but I agree that Lemaître isn’t as famous as he deserves.

The Greatest Scientist You've Never Heard Of from Farrellmedia on Vimeo.

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150 Responses to Father of the Big Bang

  1. Ben Goren says:

    zarzuelazen:

    Human observers aren’t required, because consciousness is everywhere!

    Will you please demonstrate to us how to observe the consciousness in a brick wall, or barbershop clippings?

    b&

  2. Ben Goren says:

    You could certainly try to quantify who extends themselves most in regard to the poor and needy and how much self-sacrifice they put in to those areas.

    It’s been done, repeatedly. Why don’t you look up some of the studies, rather than rely on the very limited perspective of your personal collection of anecdotes?

    There are different Covenants and dispensations in the Bible, and the Israelites were operating under the Sinai Covenant. The two main covenants in the Bible are Sinai and the New Covenant.

    Right — moral relativism, and the very, very, very bad kind.

    The good kind of moral relativism says that it’s nearly always bad to cut a person’s beating heart out of his chest, but it can be a good thing when a surgeon does it as part of an heart transplant operation. The bad kind says that it was good for the time and culture of the Aztecs to sacrifice humans that way, but it’s bad in our time and culture — except maybe it would be good if Neo-Aztecs decided to start doing it again.

    And it’s a theologically self-defeating moral relativism, too. For Christians, the entire Hebrew Bible becomes suspect if not outright rejected…yet the Jesus character is quoted as emphatically stating that not one jot nor tittle of the Mosaic Law is rescinded. Worse, it establishes that divine concepts of morality are relative to specific times and cultures…and how is any sane human supposed to make sense of that? YHWH gave one Covenant to Abraham and later gave ten Commandments and hundreds of laws to Moses. YHWH then had a son who gave a new Covenant to Christians, one that superseded the one YHWH gave to the Jews. Several hundred years later, Muhammad received the final prophesy, only this time from Allah rather than YHWH. Another baker’s dozen centuries later, the Angel Moroni gave yet another new Covenant and some Doctrines to Mormons, this one once again superseding all previous ones.

    And even if you restrict yourself to just one of the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of divine covenants, it’s still guaranteed you’re going to pick and choose…as evidenced by the fact that you (presumably) haven’t plucked your eyes out as commanded in the opening for the Sermon on the Mount.

    I’ll give you a modicum of credit for trying to convince yourself that Moses and his Merry Men wouldn’t have had their way with the Midianite girls, but the text is quite explicit on the matter:

    Numbers 31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

    There seem to have been peoples around at that time who were beyond repentance and for whom pity would have been inappropriate.

    So much for Christian claims of infinite divine mercy, I guess. Pity is always appropriate. Once you have effectively stopped somebody from perpetrating horrors, it is never excusable to perpetrate horrors unto that person. Vengeance is abhorrent, even if it’s a lord claiming it as a divine right.

    Cheers,

    b&

  3. zarzuelazen says:

    “Will you please demonstrate to us how to observe the consciousness in a brick wall, or barbershop clippings?

    b&”

    The formula for Phi given in the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of Tononi and Koch gives you a precise mathematical way of calculating the degree of consciousness in anything (brick walls etc.) I’m not saying IIT is the right theory, I’m just giving you an example of how a scientific theory can be compatible with panpsychism.

    Get with the times man! The fact of the matter is, materialism is now under serious pressure on two separate fronts:

    (1) Information Theory and Quantum physics: Please read my precious posts about this, all attempts to find a physical reality behind the wave functions fail, because they conflict with Einstein’s relativity theory. (See Bells theorems). The only way to save materialism is to allow faster-than-light signalling, which is not a sensible proposition. Sensible realism can only be saved by giving up materialism and taking ‘information’ as fundamental:

    “All this fits with a growing conviction among many physicists that quantum mechanics is at root a theory not of tiny particles, but of information. ” – Philip Ball, ‘The Atlantic’

    Once you’ve accepted that information is fundamental, ‘poetic naturalism’ has been seriously wounded. If there’s one fundamental non-physical property, the suspicion is, there have to be others:

    (2) The ideas of David Chalmers and Koch and Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory on consciousness:

    “Panpsychism is sometimes dismissed as a crazy view, but this reaction on its own is not a serious objection. While the view is counterintuitive to some, there is good reason to think that any view of consciousness must embrace some counterintuitive conclusions… there are indirect reasons, of a broadly theoretical character, for taking the view seriously.” – David Chalmers

  4. zarzuelazen says:

    Ben:

    “Math is the most effective descriptive language humans have yet invented, and its descriptive power is such that you can, best we know, completely describe humans using math — but that is not to say that humans are math.”

    Yes, it *is* to say! If math perfectly describes humans (by giving a perfect description as ‘information’), then there is no reason to favour a physical explanation over an informational one. Both modes of explanation are on an equal footing. It is perfectly valid to describe humans as physical *or* as pure information. And in fact, if, as I suspect, there’s a third mode of explanation that also gives a perfect description (in terms of mental properties), then that too is equally valid.

    As I keep trying to explain, the physical, mathematical and mental modes of explanation are all on an equal footing. You can’t just pick one and ‘reduce’ the other two to that. You keep trying to ‘reduce’ everything to the physical mode, and I keep pointing out that there’s no reason to favour that mode over the other two. I could equally well try to ‘reduce’ the physical world to the mathematical one, or even try to ‘reduce’ the physical world to the mental.

    It’s true that informational, material and mental properties seem to be very closely related, and there’s a great deal of overlap – you can’t easily separate them. But careful analysis shows that they are coming apart under sufficiently extreme conditions.

    Each one of them individually ‘falls apart’ and degenerates into incoherence if you try to reduce every-thing to that. The physical mode of explanation falls to pieces just like the other two if you push it to the limit (see my previous posts about QM). It seems that you need all three to get a coherent explanation of reality.

  5. zarzuelazen says:

    Ben:

    “Maybe you mistyped, but “matter” isn’t even remotely fundamental, no matter how you want to slice and dice it.”

    Yes, poor choice of wording on my part there. I just meant the basic unit (or element) for the physical mode of explanation. I think ‘fields’ would be more accurate. So the 3 elements are:

    Physical – Fields
    Mental – Consciousness
    Mathematical – Information

    Ben:

    “If you wish to claim that consciousness is essential to your perception of reality — obviously, of course. But to extrapolate beyond yourself can only be the result of the most impressive possible feat of hubris, or, at most generous, to suggest that you’re proposing an equivalent of the brain-in-a-vat scenario”

    The rationale for postulating panpsychism is to make quantum mechanics fully consistent. The Copenhagen interpretation had an important insight that you can’t really make sense of ‘wave function collapse’ if you assume it’s something physical – so it must have something to do with conscious perception. That’s where the idea of the importance of the ‘observer’ comes from. But as many people (including yourself) have pointed out, this part about needing ‘observers’ doesn’t really make any sense, since the universe has been around a lot longer than humans.

    Panpsychism rescues the Copenhagen insight, since it does away with the need for observers (the little bit of consciousness in the measuring device is enough to do the trick).

  6. Simon Packer says:

    Ben

    Even at the human level, to say all people deserve pity, in the sense of being completely spared consequence, is an absurdity. Concerning Hitler, would you say, ‘Poor Adolf. He had such a troubled childhood. Better let him express his bitterness and anger as he sees fit. He has felt so powerless in the past. Let him become our leader, as he so wants to be.’? Not in retrospect, though many effectively did at the time.

    Secular humanism and its scientific arm both assume man can sort himself out satisfactorily. Christianity says man cannot sort himself out and needs fundamental help. It also says that God’s idea of what is satisfactory will prevail.

    Really what you are doing is trying to deny the reality of God’s judgments and decide for yourself. This was predicted in Genesis 3. We ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now we have our own ideas.

    Christianity has not thrown away the Hebrew Bible. It has contextualized it. Islam is not truly part of the same tradition as it has a fundamentally different take on Biblical characters, in particular Christ, and the manner in which its God seeks to relate to mankind.

  7. Ben Goren says:

    zarauelazen:

    The formula for Phi given in the Integrated Information Theory (ITT) of Tononi and Koch gives you a precise mathematical way of calculating the degree of consciousness in anything (brick walls etc.)

    Sean spends some time on Tononi and Koch in The Big Picture. The short version is that we have experimental evidence that elementary particles only have the degrees of freedom described by the Core Model — spin, charge, etc. To postulate even the most basic form of consciousness to them would require at least one additional degree of freedom. Sean used “happy” vs “sad” as an example, but the particular axis doesn’t matter. The problem is, were there an additional such degree of freedom, it would have been experimentally observed. If it exists, then the Core Theory isn’t merely incomplete, it is as worng as worng gets — akin to if apples sometimes fell from the ground to reattach themselves to trees.

    Further, the Wikipedia page on IIT is enough to dismiss it outright, as it is not at all consistent with well-known psychological phenomena. For example:

    For example, the experience of seeing the word “BECAUSE” written in the middle of a blank page is irreducible to an experience of seeing “BE” on the left plus an experience of seeing “CAUSE” on the right. Similarly, seeing a blue book is irreducible to seeing a book without the color blue, plus the color blue without the book.

    Yet that ignores the reality of split-brain patients, Capgras syndrome, and so much more.

    Information Theory and Quantum physics

    Working physicists go to great pains to outright reject any role of consciousness in Quantum Mechanics, and bemoan the quacks who get rich off of scams that play off of it.

    And if you want to bring Information Theory into it…well, you’ve just ended the discussion right there. You can’t even get your toe wet in the subject without Claude Shannon, and he’s about nothing but establishing the hard, physics-defined limits to communication.

    Yes, it *is* to say! If math perfectly describes humans (by giving a perfect description as ‘information’), then there is no reason to favour a physical explanation over an informational one.

    Again, mistraking the map for the territory. And even if you’ve created a perfect dynamic map of the territory and want to invoke the equivalence principle…well, at best, you’ve created a copy of the territory.

    And where is the manifestation of your math? If your math is on a chalkboard, ignoring questions of dynamics, it’s still a copy. If your math is in the execution of a super-duper-ultra-mega-hypercomputer, it’s again a copy. And without a manifestation of your math…you’ve nothing.

    Yes, poor choice of wording on my part there. I just meant the basic unit (or element) for the physical mode of explanation. I think ‘fields’ would be more accurate.

    But, as I explained in the bit you were replying to, fields themselves are not believed to be fundamental. If string theory prevails, then the fields would be composed of strings. And while there’s good reason to suspect that we’d be fast approaching limits of what collections of fermions could do to even indirectly probe such regions, there’s also no reason to have confidence that strings themselves would be fundamental —

    — but with a caveat.

    If you want to know what’s fundamental to humans, it’d be cellular biology. If you want to know what’s fundamental to cellular biology, it’s chemistry. If you want to know what’s fundamental to chemistry, it’s atoms — and so on.

    The rationale for postulating panpsychism is to make quantum mechanics fully consistent.

    Then the fact that basically no working physicist takes panpsychism seriously should tell you that the odds of it being useful in the quest to reconcile gravity with both Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics are very low, indeed.

    Panpsychism rescues the Copenhagen insight, since it does away with the need for observers (the little bit of consciousness in the measuring device is enough to do the trick).

    Physicists haven’t worried about the observer problem in the sense you’re using it for over half a century, and experimental observation has overwhelmingly demonstrated that no consciousness nor anything remotely like it is involved in the phenomenon often described as the collapse of the wave function.

    Cheers,

    b&

  8. Ben Goren says:

    Simon Packer:

    Even at the human level, to say all people deserve pity, in the sense of being completely spared consequence, is an absurdity.

    By using the phrase, “spared consequence,” you demonstrate a vengeful bloodlust that is neither justifiable nor compatible with modern civilization.

    ‘Poor Adolf. He had such a troubled childhood. Better let him express his bitterness and anger as he sees fit. He has felt so powerless in the past. Let him become our leader, as he so wants to be.’

    What an absurd non-sequitur!

    No, in the case of Hitler and others like him, the first concern should be to stop him from continuing to commit atrocities. If the only way to do so is to kill him in an indiscriminate attack on his headquarters, so be it. If an assassin can kill him and leave his surroundings undisturbed, so much the better — but, of course, his compatriots also pose a serious threat to others. Ideal would be to capture him, unharmed, grant him a free and fair trial, and, assuming conviction, treat him as any other criminal. And as with any other criminal, that should mean the first concern should be protecting the society from recidivist actions — preventing escape or release so long as such a threat is significant, perhaps for the rest of the person’s life. After that, the focus should be on rehabilitation with a goal of eventual release, even if that goal is unlikely to ever be realized. The convict doesn’t need to be swaddled in luxury, but a basic standard of living should be provided for, with restrictions only made when necessary for safety reasons. Think, “college dorm.”

    Secular humanism and its scientific arm both assume man can sort himself out satisfactorily. Christianity says man cannot sort himself out and needs fundamental help.

    If you think that the appropriate response to horror is more horror, I can certainly appreciate why you don’t think you’re responsible enough to function without help. But, as Steven Pinker has so well documented, we’ve made vast improvements in the human condition over the millennia, and with nary a god in sight to help us.

    Really what you are doing is trying to deny the reality of God’s judgments and decide for yourself.

    Which god? Which judgements? I no more fear your Jesus and his Hell than you fear being trodden into the mud by the Valkyries as they ride to escort the fallen heroes to Valhalla.

    This was predicted in Genesis 3. We ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

    Yes…well, there’s no polite way to put this, but I just can’t take seriously a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard.

    Christianity has not thrown away the Hebrew Bible. It has contextualized it.

    Morally relativized it…without defanging it — and replaced it with infinite torture, a dramatic step backwards.

    b&

  9. Simon Packer says:

    Ben

    It all depends, as far as I can see, on who has the final say on righteousness. The rhetoric of Hitchens and Dawkins and the like are saying ‘I am more righteous than God, or the idea of God I have picked up’. I am just about completely sure they were/are self-deluded. While I think there are strong rational pointers, I concede that it is a matter of faith. We’ll find out who was right one day.

    I don’t see God as wanting to torture anyone, merely giving themselves over to what they and others like them have become. To be in an irredeemable tormented state is a corollary of the unredeemed human condition. I do not see bloodlust as a good thing. I don’t think God does either. I simply think you are projecting what humanity has become and blaming it on God.

    I concede that I lack the strength to live right and to take full responsibility for my life without God. I see this as an inevitability for everyone. I am called to take responsibility for that truth, rather than to try and put it right by myself. Stephen Pinker I would think has a very North American outlook on life. Things look very different here, as I said before. Material prosperity and seeming security is a bit like the control rods in a reactor. It often takes the heat out of minor discontent and disagreement before society gets really unruly. Things could change pretty quickly, even in the West. Islamic fundamentalism, nuclear weapons, climate change, etc etc. The human prospensity to bloodlust is well illustrated by Westerners playing violent video games and watching violent films. Again, if God knows the latent condition of our nature, then there is no point in denying it.

    A bunch of Western academics like Harris and Pinker has aligned around an agenda I believe to be hopelessly misguided. Time, whatever that turns out to be, will tell.

  10. zarzuelazen says:

    Ben:

    “Again, mistraking the map for the territory. And even if you’ve created a perfect dynamic map of the territory and want to invoke the equivalence principle…well, at best, you’ve created a copy of the territory.”

    We don’t know what the ‘territory’ is! How do we know there’s a ‘physical’ world out there? We only receive the information through our senses and extrapolate.

    I can perfectly well refine the ‘physical world’ as a ‘map’ and not a ‘territory’. Just think about the brain-in-a-vat and computer simulation arguments (reality as a ‘matrix’). Or go back to the examples I gave of watching a movie or playing a computer game in ‘virtual reality’ – clearly the ‘physical reality’ you see is a ‘map’ constructed from flicking lights on a screen.

    So the situation with respect to the mathematical and physical modes of explanation is perfectly symmetrical.

    Ben:

    “And where is the manifestation of your math? If your math is on a chalkboard, ignoring questions of dynamics, it’s still a copy. If your math is in the execution of a super-duper-ultra-mega-hypercomputer, it’s again a copy. And without a manifestation of your math…you’ve nothing.”

    I told you – the manifestation of math is ‘information’ (the basic element of the mathematical mode). In information theory, mathematics is clearly being used as a ‘territory’ not just a map. It’s perfectly objectively definable. Any information theorist will tell you – ‘information’ can perfectly well be defined as an objective ‘thing’ out there in reality.

    So again, the situation with respect to the mathematical and physical worlds is perfectly symmetrical. Either one can be consistently defined as either a map *or* a territory. So there is no reason to say that one is more fundamental than the other.

  11. Ben Goren says:

    zarzuelazen:

    We don’t know what the ‘territory’ is!

    My point exactly. And, even more to the point, we know that the territory we can survey itself rests upon unknown foundations.

    Just think about the brain-in-a-vat and computer simulation arguments (reality as a ‘matrix’).

    …neither of which, of course, an be disproven. Which is why they’re conspiracy theories…as are all the variations on the “universal mind” concept.

    Again, with the very inconvenient problem that we know that “consciousness” cannot possibly be a property of elementary physics as we understand it; either all our experiments to and theories to date are hopelessly worng, or consciousness is an emergent property of brains and, perhaps, similar objects.

    It really does come down to that. If you would have us believe that, say, photons have consciousness, then you’re telling us that they have more degrees of freedom than has been observed, and you’re also telling us that our theories that say they have exactly the degrees of freedom they do is fundamentally flawed. Might as well tell us that apples fall up.

    In information theory, mathematics is clearly being used as a ‘territory’ not just a map.

    No. Not even close.

    The Wikipedia article is a good introduction:

    Information theory studies the transmission, processing, utilization, and extraction of information. Abstractly, information can be thought of as the resolution of uncertainty. In the case of communication of information over a noisy channel, this abstract concept was made concrete in 1948 by Claude Shannon in his paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication”, in which “information” is thought of as a set of possible messages, where the goal is to send these messages over a noisy channel, and then to have the receiver reconstruct the message with low probability of error, in spite of the channel noise. Shannon’s main result, the noisy-channel coding theorem showed that, in the limit of many channel uses, the rate of information that is asymptotically achievable is equal to the channel capacity, a quantity dependent merely on the statistics of the channel over which the messages are sent.

    From there, you quickly get into relationships between photon wavelength and maximum bandwidth and that sort of thing. No permanent recording of information can be more dense than the lattice of the most dense crystal you might care to propose using for your storage medium — and are you starting to get the point? No matter, no information, not even hypothetically.

    So again, the situation with respect to the mathematical and physical worlds is perfectly symmetrical. Either one can be consistently defined as either a map *or* a territory.

    There is no “mathematical world,” else we’d have measured it by now and it would be part of the Core Theory. There’s only the natural world, and the only bits relevant to you and me in our everyday lives are, overwhelmingly, electrons, photons, electromagnetism, and gravity (with a few footnotes here and there).

    Cheers,

    b&

  12. zarzuelazen says:

    “Physicists haven’t worried about the observer problem in the sense you’re using it for over half a century, and experimental observation has overwhelmingly demonstrated that no consciousness nor anything remotely like it is involved in the phenomenon often described as the collapse of the wave function.

    Cheers,

    b&”

    I’m not sure why you think you can so confidently speak on behalf of all ‘physicists’ 😉 The fact of the matter is that the controversy over the interpretation of QM hasn’t been resolved, and there are plenty of physicists who are supporters of the ‘Copenhagen’ view where mental or subjective elements play an essential role.

    The Many-Worlds-Interpretation (MWI) is a good interpretation, and personally, I think it’s the best one myself. But I still think the Copenhagen people have a good point that MWI hasn’t really removed the subjective elements , just redefined the problem without really solving it.

    MWI needs to talk about ‘probabilities’, but the problem is that there are no ‘probabilities’ in reality! The evolution of the wave-function is entirely deterministic. You can’t even define ‘probabilities’ without a theory of mind – so ‘observer’ has again been slipped in through the back door. And indeed, the ‘Born Rule’ (that physicists use to calculate the probabilities of seeing different possible outcomes ) can’t be derived from physics at all – it is just something that got ‘added on’ in order to get useful predictions out of QM.

  13. zarzuelazen says:

    Ben:

    “— and are you starting to get the point? No matter, no information, not even hypothetically.”

    Sean Carroll’s own work starts from the premise of wave-functions (information) without matter and tries to derive the physical universe from the information. So I can just as easily reverse the above statement and say ‘no information, no matter’. I’m telling you again, the mathematical and physical modes of description are perfectly symmetrical.

    Ben:

    “There is no “mathematical world,” else we’d have measured it by now and it would be part of the Core Theory”

    But we *have* measured it – I’m telling you again, mathematics manifests itself as ‘information’, and there are perfectly objective measures of that.

    As for Core Theory, it’s written in mathematical equations, and it would not even be comprehensible unless we first understood the mathematical concepts being used in the theory. So Core Theory actually relies on the existence of the mathematical world.

  14. Simon Packer says:

    Ben/Zarzuelazen

    Information as defined by Shannon has the meaning of reducing the number of possible message states. It is essentially an exercise analogous to measuring the entropy reduction of a message, normally with a known context. It’s operational space is digital data packets rather than particles. It is inherently dependant on other processes in order to mean anything about physical reality and yes, it needs something physical to represent the digital data. This may be magnetic domains, phase coherent electromagnetic waves, semiconductor potential wells, ink on paper, etc.

    Digital information in the sense analysed by Shannon usually is, in practice, a simplified, encoded and coarse-grained representation of some physical reality, or a representation of some human intent. It makes sense because we have keypads or transducers/arrays mapping reality into a signal which is then encoded and decoded digitally and returned to a physical representation. Before the information is in its final digitised form, it is normally encoded by several other layers, for example to allow frame alignment or error detection/correction. Compression may be used if the requirement for precision of physical representation is further relaxed beyond the resolution of the sensor/ADC, e.g. JPEG, MPEG. Information at this level is therefore a message. A message needs a context to make sense. Here the context is the physical systems coding and decoding it, plus the human interface and the conscious human expectation and analysis associated with whatever the system is supposed to do.

    Information may also be not a message but, in principle, a rigorously complete and deterministic direct representation of reality itself. This is what Sean’s core equation attempts to be, or to at least approach.

    I am not sure, in the case of the Core equation, if it is a rigorously complete representation of reality, even in the everyday. I think it is a QFT type path integral equation operating in a time slice way, and therefore incapable of representing spacetime correctly. I do not know what its implications are for CPT or entropy. In addition, is there not an aspect to QM that is at root still statistical? Complex vector space calculations allow us to know what can be known about a quantum system with deterministic precision, but only that; what can be known. There are conjugate variables, the clear potential for hidden variables and uncertainty in there.

    Reality can be mapped with a certain precision onto maths. But there is also reasonably self-consistent maths that as far as we know has no real world manifestation, at least yet.

    In view of the above, I can see no clear-cut delineation of matter, mind and maths. Or information, reality and consciousness. I’m back to the Penrose picture.

  15. zarzuelazen says:

    Simon:

    “In view of the above, I can see no clear-cut delineation of matter, mind and maths. Or information, reality and consciousness. I’m back to the Penrose picture.”

    Indeed. The longer I think about it, the more profound I think that ‘3 Worlds’ diagram of Penrose’s really is! I would strongly urge readers who haven’t done so to look up the Penrose diagram of the ‘3 Worlds’ (Ben?)

    Of course, the point I’ve been trying to get across is that there isn’t literally ‘3 Worlds’, there’s only one world, but three different complementary modes of explanation (physical, mental, mathematical).

    The mistake I think everyone has been making is to try to pick only *one* of the three modes of explanation and attempt to ‘reduce’ everything to just that. But rather just pick one as ‘fundamental’, I’m suggesting a hugely radical viewpoint – I’m suggesting that all three modes are on an *equal* footing!

    I think the three modes of explanation complement and support each other…each alone collapses into incoherence, but *together* they explain reality- each can compensate for the weaknesses in the others.

    Here’s an analogy: imagine having three different carpets for a room. Each carpet alone doesn’t cover the whole floor…almost, but not quite. No matter how hard you try, you find you just can’t quite cover the whole floor with each individual carpet. But what happens if each carpet can cover for the gaps in the others? Then all three carpets *together* will cover that floor!

    Suppose then that physics (fields), mathematics (information) and panpsychism (consciousness) are each *almost* coherent, but not quite – each individually breaks down somewhere. But that all three working together *can* fully explain reality (i.e., all three *together* can ‘cover the floor’ of reality coherently).

  16. Ben Goren says:

    zarzuelazen:

    MWI needs to talk about ‘probabilities’, but the problem is that there are no ‘probabilities’ in reality!

    Exactly correct — and this gets to the heart of the matter!

    Probabilities are themselves not fundamental; you are absolutely correct. They are information that describes the state of a system in situations where knowledge of the system is incomplete.

    Toss a coin into your palm and immediately cover it. Without looking at the coin yourself, show the coin to a friend.

    You can and should describe the probability that you’ll see the coin heads-up as 50%. But for your friend, there isn’t any probability in which side of the coin is up; her knowledge if the system is complete, and she knows with absolute certainty (or as close as it gets) that the coin is, in fact, tails-up. As such, it is simultaneously true that there’s a 50% chance that the coin is heads-up and no probability whatsoever because the coin is tails-up — and this is not a contradiction nor a paradox. It’s just an incomplete statement; for you, the probability is 50% that the coin is heads, and, for your friend, there is no probability involved whatsoever.

    If you’re cool with that description, then it should be equally obvious that all the information the two of you have about the state of the coin is purely descriptive of the system, mere language describing a mapping between your brain states and the external system — with your brain states a similar descriptive analogue.

    You can’t even define ‘probabilities’ without a theory of mind – so ‘observer’ has again been slipped in through the back door.

    No, the observer is you yourself, right there at the front door. And it’s why I’ve been suggesting that your error lies in seeing yourself in every mirror you’ve ever looked in and therefore concluded that you’re always in all mirrors everywhere whether or not you’re looking in them.

    Yes, for Laplace’s Daemon, the concept of probability is meaningless — exactly as it is for your friend to whom you’ve shown the coin. But your knowledge is far more limited, and thus your internal mental map of reality is much fuzzier. Probability is simply a description of how fuzzy your map is. It’s your error bars, the precision (as contrasted with accuracy) of your measurement.

    Sean Carroll’s own work starts from the premise of wave-functions (information) without matter and tries to derive the physical universe from the information.

    If you can get Sean on the record as agreeing that the wave functions are fundamental to all reality, not simply fundamental to the expression of the particles we observe; and also agreeing that the wave functions are themselves Platonically reified information…

    …if you can get Sean to agree with that, I’ll eat my hat and quietly contemplate how I’m supposed to reconcile this with everything else I’ve learned from Sean.

    So Core Theory actually relies on the existence of the mathematical world.

    It might help you to take a trip back in time a few millennia to the development of geometry. You’re clearly thinking that the Pythagorean Theorem has a Platonic mathematical real existence that we express in the form of a^2 + b^2 = c^2. But such couldn’t be more wornger! In reality, there is an observation that, if you draw a right triangle and then draw squares on each of the sides of the triangle, the areas of the two smaller squares add up to the same total area as that of the one larger square. Of course, such is only an approximation valid only for reasonably flat surfaces — and we know that the world isn’t even close to flat. Nevertheless, for many things we do, it’s close enough to flat that we can make assumptions pretending as if it actually is flat and get good results extrapolating from the assumptions.

    There no more exists a Platonically Ideally Real Pythagorean Theorem than there exists a Platonically Ideally Real right triangle or trio of squares with which you could demonstrate it — any more than there exists a Platonically Ideally Real gas that obeys the Ideal Gas Law. Real-world gasses are similar to each other and the margin of error is “good enough” that the Ideal Gas Law is extremely useful — but there aren’t any actual Ideal Gasses in existence anywhere.

    Cheers,

    b&

  17. Ben Goren says:

    Simon Packer:

    It all depends, as far as I can see, on who has the final say on righteousness.

    You’re presupposing an entire boatload of stuff with that statement, and in a way precisely calibrated to conclude the existence of your pantheon. Were I to ask you when you stopped beating your wife, how would you answer without implicitly acknowledging that you’re an abusive husband? If you’re not even married, how then should you respond?

    The rhetoric of Hitchens and Dawkins and the like are saying ‘I am more righteous than God, or the idea of God I have picked up’.

    The typical New Atheist engages in literary criticism, rightly concluding that the characters in the Bible are as nasty as any you’ll find in literature. Whatever gods you yourself have in mind are either true to the text of the Bible and are really nasty, or are as divorced from the Bible as the Bible itself is divorced from reality.

    I am just about completely sure they were/are self-deluded.

    And what of the Valkyries who will trample you into the mud as they escort the fallen heroes to Valhalla? Are you sure that you’re not deluded about them, as well?

    I don’t see God as wanting to torture anyone, merely giving themselves over to what they and others like them have become.

    That’s the perfect example of the abusive spouse who blames the victim. “I didn’t want to knock her teeth out. I gave her a choice. She could stop nagging me and bring me my beer or I’d hit her. I just gave her her wish when she brought me more nags and no beer.”

    Stephen Pinker I would think has a very North American outlook on life.

    No, he’s fully aware that there’s some really nasty stuff going on all over the world, as he is that there’s unprecedented potential for global catastrophe. But there’s always been nasty stuff going on, and we’ve always been plagued with civilization-spanning catastrophes. The Black Plague and the Flu Pandemics of the past, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Han conquest, the Crusades…all-consuming horror is unquestionably part of the human condition today and as far in the past as we can peer.

    But, if you objectively tally it all up, you’ll see that, amidst the ups-and-downs…the high points are always reaching new highs, and the low points never get quite as low. And the average in the middle is constantly climbing.

    Past performance is no guarantee of future results, of course. But, when we examine the reasons underlying the general trend, there is good reason to hope for continued extrapolation for some time to come, even as the ride continues to be bumpy.

    We’d now be veering very far off topic…but the big challenges we face today are the end of bountiful deposits of cheap high-quality petroleum and the pollution resulting from our past and present use of the same. There’s lots of oil left in the ground, but, for obvious reasons, we started with the good stuff that was easy to get to…now leaving us with the not-so-good stuff that’s hard to get to. Our entire civilization is built using the energy from petroleum — and that includes the very food we eat, considering the energy input from petroleum-derived fertilizers and the machinery used to plant, grow, harvest, refine, and deliver our crops. We’ll either transition away from petroleum sooner rather than later or our civilization will collapse even more spectacularly than the Roman Empire did. And we are transitioning to solar-generated electricity…but slowly enough to guarantee problems, though it’s not yet clear if it’s so slow that we’ll collapse.

    Cheers,

    b&

  18. zarzuelazen says:

    “If you’re cool with that description, then it should be equally obvious that all the information the two of you have about the state of the coin is purely descriptive of the system, mere language describing a mapping between your brain states and the external system — with your brain states a similar descriptive analogue.”

    There’s no mystery in the case of the ‘coin’ in classical physics, since coins are always in definite states (either ‘H’ or ‘T’) regardless of whether someone is looking or not.

    In quantum mechanics however, objects are described as being in ‘superpositions’ where they are not actually in definite states until a ‘measurement’ is performed. This would be rather like a coin that isn’t showing either ‘H’ or ‘T’, but is oscillating wildly between the two and doesn’t settle into a fixed state until a ‘measurement’ is performed. So the actual states of objects themselves is somewhat tied to the perceptions of observers (and ‘Many Worlds Interpretation’ doesn’t get around this)

    I’d be interested in seeing Sean do a book tackling quantum mechanics. I think there is a way to make sense of QM and clear up all the mystery, but in my view that would be exactly the radical new ontology I’ve suggested – granting fundamental reality not just to physical properties but also mathematical and mental ones (information and consciousness).

    “If you can get Sean on the record as agreeing that the wave functions are fundamental to all reality, not simply fundamental to the expression of the particles we observe; and also agreeing that the wave functions are themselves Platonically reified information…”

    Really, if you think about, it just has to be this way if you want to have any chance of explaining the origin of the physical universe. You simply can’t explain why ‘physical properties’ (taken in totality) exist without appealing to other (non-physical) ones.

    “It might help you to take a trip back in time a few millennia to the development of geometry.”

    It’s pretty easy to see how the branches of math known as ‘geometry’ could possibly just be ways of talking about the physical world. Indeed, I think you can make a good case that something being ‘geometrical’ is the very definition of ‘physical’. Far harder to see how something like ‘infinite sets’ could possibly fit into the physical world…. 😉

  19. Simon Packer says:

    Ben

    Yes, we’re well off topic. There is little more to be said. IMO you are shuffling the symptoms without seeing the cause. If you, Sean and others are right about atheism, and man only has this life, and you like life the way it is, you will probably continue as you are. I don’t think you are right and I don’t like the way this world without God works. I have put my faith elsewhere. I have done so because I believe God is fundamentally love. His love though will not be overlooked and exploited for ever without consequence; we are not that important. If you ever think you might have been wrong, I have given you a few places to look. Parting shots, 1 Corinthians 3v19,20, Psalm 14v1, John 3v16-21.

    Cheers, in the Isaiah 55v1 sense.

  20. Ben Goren says:

    zarzuelazen:

    Really, if you think about, it just has to be this way if you want to have any chance of explaining the origin of the physical universe.

    And, yet, that’s not how those whose day jobs include attempting to explicate cosmogenesis think about it. Shouldn’t that tell you something? Clearly, it’s either the case that they’re missing that which is blindly obvious to you, or you’re enamored with something they’ve no reason to take seriously.

    As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, experiments have repeatedly been done that are more than adequate to address the question of panpsychism and related proposals; all have emphatically and overwhelmingly demonstrated that it’s not a theory consistent with observation. Sean explicitly gives the example of the degrees of freedom for fundamental particles…we’ve measured and accounted for all such, with no room left over for consciousness or anything similar. As Sean puts it, you could propose two universes, one with conscious photons and one with “zombie” photons that had all the same attributes claimed of conscious photons but without the consciousness. If the experimental results from the two are identical, Occam’s Razor tells you to run with the zombies.

    t’s pretty easy to see how the branches of math known as ‘geometry’ could possibly just be ways of talking about the physical world.

    I’m glad you agree!

    Because, you see, it’s instantly obvious that Newton simply took Euclid’s geometry and expanded it to three dimensions plus mass plus time…and then Einstein made that explicit. And once you realize that Relativity is simply a more-thorough description of the geometry of the actual universe we find ourselves in as opposed to the geometry of Flatland…well, it again follows that Quantum Mechanics itself must be nothing but the geometry of small scales.

    Even if you don’t buy into that, you’re coming to realize that at least some math is descriptive as opposed to Platonically Ideally Real. Which means that now your job is to differentiate between descriptive and Platonic math. Chew on that for some time, and you’ll discover that there’s no way to distinguish.

    Far harder to see how something like ‘infinite sets’ could possibly fit into the physical world…. 😉

    Why should you, an intelligent person in the modern age, be hung up with the ancient abhorrence of the infinite?

    Xeno couldn’t figure out how you could cover a finite distance because the distance is infinitely divisible. But Newton and Leibniz invented The Calculus, showing us how to (for example) sum an infinite number of infinitesimals in the series 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 […] to get the exact result of 1. Take a pizza, cut it in half, cut the one half in quarters, one of the quarters in half and so on. There’s your infinite set, sitting right there in front of you, just waiting for you to stop playing with it and eat!

    Again, of course, this particular infinite set is descriptive. There’s a finite number of atoms (quarks + electrons or whatever) in the pizza, so you can’t actually carve an infinite number of slices out of it. But that’s okay; you can’t actually make a ruler of infinite precision out of the pizza’s radius in order to measure an infinite number of digits of π (or, considering that today is 6/28, an infinite number of digits of τ).

    Indeed, a tangent…rounding to one significant figure, there’s about an hundred orders of magnitude between Planck scale and the observable universe. That means that you don’t need more than about an hundred digits of whichever circle constant you prefer to measure the universe to Planck scale…so what possible “real” reality could the umpteenth brazilian digit mean? There aren’t any circles that big that have pieces that small.

    But the great thing about language is that it’s so flexible in its descriptive ability that it can describe (ideally!) everything that’s real, plus everything that’s not real that we can think of. Neverland, Camelot, Tatooine, Platform 4 3/4…none of those places and their oh-so-familiar residents are real, but that doesn’t stop us from describing them. And the fact that we can describe them in such vivid detail doesn’t make us think that they must therefore have some sort of actual, real existence.

    Math is unquestionably the best descriptive language we’ve come up with when it comes to empirical systems. But why should it be surprising that we can use it to describe fantasy worlds as well as we can describe the actual world? And why should we be surprised that a language so painstakingly honed over the millennia for effectiveness should be so effective? I mean, you can instantly express things in English that were fantastical if not inconceivable in Shakespeare’s time (smartphones, GPS, lasers, fMRI), so wouldn’t you expect us to also be able to do the same with math? Especially considering the much-more-intense and directed development effort put into math?

    Cheers,

    b&

  21. Ben Goren says:

    Simon Packer:

    I have done so because I believe God is fundamentally love. His love though will not be overlooked and exploited for ever without consequence; we are not that important.

    That’s not love; that’s the archetypal textbook example of an abusive relationship. You’re displaying all the classic symptoms of what’s colloquially described as “battered spouse syndrome.” “If only I loved him more and did a better job doing what he wants me to do, he’d stop hitting me.”

    If you ever think you might have been wrong, I have given you a few places to look.

    When you understand why you don’t fear the Valkyries, why verses from the Q’ran are so much gibberish to you, why it’s incomprehensible to you how anybody could take seriously a pantheon of blue-skinned multi-armed elephant-headed gods…then you will understand why I don’t fear your Jesus and his Hell, why Bible babble doesn’t impress me, and why I’ve no clue how you can take seriously a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard. (Or talking plants on fire(!) that give magic wand lessons to reluctant heroes, or….)

    That’s really what it comes down to. For whatever reason, you see some sort of transcendental truth in a book that everybody else sees as an ancient faery tale anthology. You seem unable to recognize its transparently and unapologetically fictional nature even as you have no trouble recognizing indistinguishable fiction as such.

    When you understand how you know all the other holy texts are fiction, you’ll understand why your Bible is, too.

    Cheers,

    b&

  22. Antone says:

    My Creator would have endowed the Universe with all the necessary physics, chemistry and whatever else is needed to produce and sustain life wherever possible throughout the Universe. No need to magically initiate it in any place and at any time.

  23. Ben Goren says:

    Antone:

    My Creator would have endowed the Universe with all the necessary physics, chemistry and whatever else is needed to produce and sustain life wherever possible throughout the Universe. No need to magically initiate it in any place and at any time.

    The second sentence contradicts the first, of course; it would have been necessary to have magically initiated the requisite conditions at some point, even if that point was prior to or integral with the Big Bang.

    And the first sentence carries some very specific and testable implications with it. If nothing else, it posits that life is the desired, perhaps ultimate, goal of creation. Consequently, any consideration of the breadth and scope of the Universe contrasted with life as we know it leads to some very obvious conclusions. In particular, there’s far more to the Universe than is actually necessary for life. Indeed, the Milky Way is unimaginably vast overkill, with our insignificant Solar System being far more than is needed. When it comes right down to it, the Biblical-era cosmology of a flat Earth with a metal dome for the sky really is a perfectly good fit for the task.

    So, either the claim is directly contradicted because we’re not even an afterthought of an afterthought, or else we’re led to pre-Copernican modes of thought whereby we’re supposed to be proud that all this huge vastness was created simply to amaze and entertain poor little us. Or, there could be a third option: the goal was an universe teeming with life, but some form of incompetence rendered, within any reasonable degree of precision, 100% of it utterly inhospitable to life — a miscalculation of such preposterous scale as to again falsify the premise.

    Doug Adams summarized the situation neatly with his analogy of a self-aware puddle that concluded that, because it fit the hole it found itself in so perfectly, the hole must have been intelligently designed expressly for the purpose of the puddle’s enjoyment. In reality, of course, puddles can only form in holes so, if you’re a puddle, you should hardly be surprised to find yourself in a perfectly-fiting hole, no matter how rare puddle-friendly holes actually are.

    Cheers,

    b&

  24. Antone says:

    Perhaps Ben, the universe was not created for our enjoyment alone. Maybe God put a little of Himself into it as well.

  25. zarzuelazen says:

    Ben:

    “…well, it again follows that Quantum Mechanics itself must be nothing but the geometry of small scales.”

    QM is nothing remotely like a physical geometry – in fact, as I keep telling you, it can’t be described in physical terms at all. The wave functions are not physical at all, they live in a wholly abstract thing called ‘Hilbert Space’. All attempts to find a physical interpretation for the wave functions have failed, and I’ve told you why multiple times – all physical interpretations conflict with relativity theory and would need faster-than-light-signalling to work, which is why no physicist takes these interpretations of QM seriously (see ‘Bell theorems’).

    The fact of the matter is, QM is the point where materialism has broken down. The proper interpretation of wave-functions is that they are ‘pure information’. And since they are objectively real, this proves that some forms of math really are a territory and not just a descriptive language.