Thursday, March 15, 2018

Follow-Up On The Follow-Up On Fake Deter-Minism

Ok -  WHY do I think that Classical Thermodynamics alone without the help of quantum indeterminism is sufficient to destroy the unfounded belief in a deterministic universe?

You will need to know a little bit of Physics to become fully persuaded by this line of reasoning.  No - I lie.  You will need to know a LOT of Physics.

But I will endeavour to make it understandable to the lay person who wants to understand at least what this line of reasoning consists of.

Could the Universe go backwards?
Classical Newtonian interactions - nay even Relativistic Newtonian interactions - are time-reversible.  Newtonian Mechanics consists essentially of conservation of all momentums for either elastic or inelastic collisions, which includes the famous F=Ma law that expands momentum conservation to account for forces and fields.  Running the video backwards of any experiment in which particles interact using Newtonian Mechanics does not produce any violations of Newtonian physics, or specifically the three Laws of Motion that are the foundation of classical physics.

Interactions of individual particles in a thermodynamic body, whether solid, liquid, gas, or plasma, are individually Newtonian and hence time-reversible.  Individually, you can run each collision backwards without violating any physics.  From strictly a Newtonian point of view, all processes in the universe should be totally reversible.  This is the very reason, when you think about it, why many people are wedded to the idea of Determinism and feel that all future states of the universe are pre-determined by the initial state.

However, Entropy destroys information.  This makes Thermodynamic processes basically irreversible.  A large collection of particles, each interacting in strictly Newtonian fashion, can only proceed in the forward direction of time without violating basic Thermodynamic physics.  Why is this?

The reason for this is fundamentally statistical: higher-entropy states are vastly, ridiculously more probable than lower-entropy states simply because there are so vastly many more of them.  (Entropy is essentially a statistic which measures the degree to which energy in a system is evenly distributed throughout the system.) The probability is overwhelmingly that in any given transition from one state to another through the cumulative effect of countless Newtonian interactions of countless particles, that transition will be from a relatively rare lower entropy state to a relatively more abundant higher entropy state.  Note also that many higher-entropy states are physically indistinguishable from one another.  Going backwards even one step is just so ridiculously improbable such that it literally could never happen in the entire lifetime of a universe.

So, putting these two concepts of physics together, if we start from some initial state and roll time forward, each collision, each trajectory, each vibration of each particle perfectly obeying reversible Newtonian physics, following the laws of Thermodynamics we inevitably reach states of higher and higher entropy.  At some point let us decide to stop the video and run time backwards, supposing we were able to magically do this - say perhaps in a simulation.

From that higher entropy state, if we attempt to run the clock backwards and get back to the initial state of the system, we find that the information about that state has been lost - destroyed actually - by Entropy, and we will not be able to find that initial state again.  Even if artificially forcing the system into impossibly lower and lower entropy states, what we find is that although we manage to wrangle the system back into some minimum-entropy state, it is not the SAME minimum-entropy state that we started out in.  We do not get the initial conditions back again - the initial conditions that were supposedly deterministic of all future states of the system.

If you can get to the same or an indistinguishable higher entropy state from any number of initial states, and if the individual interactions are time-reversible, and by reversing time we do not get back to the one initial state because the information about that state has been erased by entropy, then that means that either initial states of thermodynamic systems are NOT deterministic of all future states, or that Thermodynamics is wrong.

And Thermodynamics is demonstrably not wrong.

To summarize the case against Determinism by Physics:

  • The N-Body System is ultimately chaotic and any given future state is in no way inevitable whether by initial-state ambiguity or by non-inevitable system perturbations. By what means?  Perhaps ultimately by the stochastic Gravitational Wave noise from the Big Bang itself that permeates the universe.  Any infinitesimal perturbation of a chaotic system is all it takes to tip it into a wildly divergent state trajectory over time. 
  • Thermodynamic systems are never Deterministic on a microscopic scale because initial-state information is erased by Entropy and is thereafter irrelevant and non-determining of subsequent states.
  • Finally, at the Quantum level Determinism doesn't stand a chance; even Causality has issues and must be regarded as at best an emergent property of more complex, large-scale physics.   The initial state of the universe at the Big Bang cannot be understood without Quantum Physics plus some other stuff we don't even know about yet, meaning that the initial state itself must have been ambiguous and undetermined, and subsequent states were random rather than causal consequences of that state.
In the end, Determinism from Physics is a purely speculative nonsense concept and is not a real feature of this universe.  Do Not base anything you think, including any conclusions about Free Will, on the nonexistent error known as Determinism.  Nothing is inevitable here except perhaps Entropy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Follow-Up on Determinism: It's Still Fake News

The most well-reasoned objection to my demolition of Determinism was posited by none other than myself (who could be more qualified?) and is as follows:

Consider the example of the remarkable engineering masterpiece known as the Curta calculator, which was presented as having arithmetic competence as an emergent property possessed by none of its components individually.  Using the Curta to calculate the recursive formula X = R*X*(1-X) for R around 3.6 results in an essentially random (chaotic, technically) sequence of X's.  The evolution of values may not be apparently deterministic in the sense that values follow some consistent pattern; but if you started with the same seed value you would get the same sequence time after time; thus the sequence is determined and hence Deterministic.  

The Curta Type II Calculator
True enough, and fair enough.  Testing Determinism in this manner requires further exploration, since in practice as I pointed out to myself above, it does not seem to rule out Determinism.  However, when examined carefully, this procedure does not actually constitute a fair test of Determinism, because the calculator cannot handle infinity decimal places.

Chaos has the property that any infinitesimally insignificant variation in initial conditions or perturbation of subsequent states can produce an arbitrarily large divergence in outcomes at some future time less than infinity.  To contradict Determinism, we would have to show that with initial conditions specified with even infinity decimal places, the outcome is still not inevitable.    The Curta Type II (released in 1954) has 11 input digits, 8 counter digits, and 15 result digits. Alert Readers may notice that none of those numbers is infinity.  The effect of this is what we call quantization of the results, or in popular parlance, "round-off error."  This means that at every calculation, the result is forced artificially into one of a relatively few allowable values which are "rounded off" to the nearest decimal place retained by the mechanism.  Therefore the result does not accurately reflect the actual theoretical result of the algorithm.

The consequence of quantization is that at each step, the evolution of the process is reset to a fixed, known value.  There just isn't ever enough time for the true chaotic nature of the algorithm to evolve if it keeps getting reset to one of a relatively small number of possible values.  The only fair test of this form of non-determinism would be to see whether, with infinity decimal places, one result diverges from the result of previous experiments when the initial conditions are infinitely identical and infinite precision is retained at each step.

Why do I think that would be the case?  Purely mathematically it shouldn't happen in an idealized calculation.  But an infinity-digit version of the Curta calculator (the actual Universe, effectually) is a thermodynamic object, and those digits are represented by components which are thermodynamic bodies subject to entropy.  With infinity digits, the chances are good (100%, I'd say) that there will be random errors in the calculation eventually, making it impossible to obtain the same result twice in a physical process, thus making any given physical result not inevitable.  The evolution of the universe is essentially a physical (analog) calculation of the of states of the universe as time progresses.  While ultimately the states experience quantization similar to a 15-digit calculator's round-off error, this quantization is small enough to still allow plenty of uncertainty to creep in.  In addition, quantum uncertainty (à la Heisenberg) introduces its own bit-errors into the evolution of states.

Any limited calculator isn't a true representation of chaotic behaviour.  Only unlimited decimal places can accurately carry out a chaotic calculation, and when you have that many decimal places you will also have a meaningful probability of digit (or bit) errors.  These facts taken together essentially require that any two physical embodiments of a chaotic system must diverge from perfectly identical initial conditions and are thus in no way Deterministic.

An example of a non-deterministic calculation being carried out is human genetics.  The calculation is essentially, "let's combine two genomes and find out what happens, then combine that one with some other combination, and so on, generation after generation."  To do this calculation perfectly with the same result in any two hypothetical "runs" of this experiment starting from identical initial genomes requires that there be no computational errors.  Ever.  In reality, every human has something like 20 or 30 random errors (known as "mutations") in their genome.  Due to the thermodynamic nature of the mechanisms for encoding the genome and carrying out the replication, truly random, stochastic errors are inevitable and no result is ever "evitable" or assured, pre-determined, unavoidable, inescapable, or whatever the polar opposite of inevitable may be.

Notice that in a crowded cell where particles are constantly interacting with each other and with electromagnetic fields, quantum indeterminism does not really enter into it because quantum states are constantly being collapsed and re-formed at every interaction.  While others may, I do not think that randomness ultimately depends on quantum indeterminism, but that thermodynamic stochasticity is more than sufficient to provide for true in-principle and fundamental randomness in any physical system.

Therefore, it is inevitable that you are a Mutant; but what kind of mutant was in no way predetermined by physics.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Free Will Versus Determinism

Certain scientists who seem to have only recently discovered philosophy on wikipedia have announced that finally, at long last, they and they alone have solved the question of Free Will for good and all.  Popular thing-sayers such as Sam Harris have informed us that because of a thing they read about called Determinism, there can be no free will.  Meanwhile professional philosophers such as Daniel Dennett who have spent just a wee bit more time on the subject say "Bollocks! Determinism is entirely compatible with Free Will; although Free Will might not be quite what you thought it was."
A simple mechanism which, when assembled, produces the emergent competence of performing arithmetic calculations even though no one of its parts has this ability!  Curiously, if used to compute x = r*x*(1-x) repeatedly with r chosen to be around 3.6, this simple mechanical device cannot even be said to be deterministic.

I would like to point out at this juncture that the title of this post is an unadulterated lie.  It is a lying, lying lie in every possible way.  It is lying about Free Will, it is lying about Determinism, and it is lying about the Versus part, too.  Hopefully the remainder of this post will make up for these despicable lies by acquainting you with some small part of the truth.

We start with Determinism.  This is the idea that the universe proceeds like a clockwork, obeying physical laws such that given the initial conditions, all future states of the universe can at least in principle be predicted in advance or calculated in retrospect.  The very idea came to prominence in response to Newton's physics in the late 17th C when philosophers, impressed by slightly improved (but by no means perfect) predictions of planetary orbits, began asking, "What if someday the planet's positions really COULD be predicted accurately forever?  And what if everything in the universe also worked just like that? Would that not mean that everything, every future state of the universe including human behaviour, would be predictable and thus predetermined by the initial state of the universe?"

Well, yes, it might mean that IF the universe worked that way.  People forget that key word, "if," and make the mistake of assuming that rigid-body Newtonian physics applied to a handful of structureless bodies is all the physics that the universe has or needs.  But "Deterministic" Newtonian physics could not even predict the planets' positions very accurately over a few hundred years; and in the case of Mercury, hardly at all.  Determinism as we shall see is a complete lie and a fiction.  It never existed, even in Newton's day, and doesn't exist now.

First of all, there are WAAAAAY more than seven bodies in the universe.  With more and more interacting parts, even perfectly classical Newtonian systems become chaotic over shorter and shorter periods of time.  Even with as few as N=3 single rigid bodies interacting in a system, you need to have infinitely precise information  - 12^N measurements out to infinity decimal places each - on the initial state of the system in order to make accurate predictions of the system's state out to large timescales, still more for an infinite timescale.  The Universe itself is not large enough to contain that infinite amount of information nor does it have enough matter in which to encode that infinity of information.

But whether or not the information of the initial conditions is encoded in anything other than the initial universe itself, the precision required for long-term determination of a chaotic system cannot itself even exist given the known limitations of matter, space, energy or, well, universes themselves.

Therefore I assert that the existence of sufficient information to make a chaotic system predictable and therefore determined at all time is not a thing that can exist in the universe; or in other words, it's not a real thing even in this simplest case of a universe with an unreasonably small and boring number of rigid bodies obeying Newton's boring version of physics.  Even in that simplified universe, there is no such thing as Determinism.

It gets worse though.  With any more reasonable number of bodies in the universe (say, a few million) Newtonian physics is no longer a suitable representation of physics.  Mind, it still can be used to describe individual short-term interactions between particles and energy; but the cumulative state of the universe is now a statistical, stochastic thing which any one of countless initial conditions could equally well produce.  That universe has an average kinetic energy represented by Temperature, an average potential energy represented by Pressure, and average quantities for particle sizes and masses represented by density and an equation of state.  Trajectories of individual particles and the momentary interactions between individual particles are meaningless, unknowable, and at best short-term phenomena with no long-term influence on the future states of the universe; only cumulatively do they have any influence.  In this realm of Thermodynamics, there is no Determinism.

But it gets even worse than that.  Bodies in the universe are not, as assumed up to this point, individual rigid particles.  They are thermodynamic globs of particles - solids, liquids, gasses, plasmas.  They have practically infinite numbers of possible internal states that can have at best only statistical representations such as pressure, temperature, and average density.  These thermodynamic systems are the bodies that interact in approximately Newtonian ways.  Each of these bodies contains not merely a few thousands or millions of identical particles, but unimaginable numbers of great varieties of particles.  Practically a universe within itself, a single grain of sand contains more individual particles than the number of grains of sand on the beach from which it is plucked.  Even the external parameters (e.g. the mass and shape of a grain of sand) have an unknowable infinity of possibilities, not to mention internal configurations.  The universe is a thermodynamic universe of innumerable thermodynamic universes, thus increasing the indeterminism of the universe exponentially.  It is Random raised to the power of Random.  Determinism disintegrates in a single grain of sand, and still more so on the greater beach of existence which is an ever-shifting system of forces, matter and energy obeying mainly Newtonian laws.

But we're not done destroying Determinism yet.  This absurd idea needs to be obliterated right down to the level of the fundamental nature of matter, energy, and existence itself.  You've probably heard of Quantum Mechanics; and some small part of what you've heard might even be correct.  While Quantum Mechanics predicts and requires that bodies consisting of more than a few thousand individual particles must always obey Newtonian Mechanics to an absurdly high degree of precision, those individual particles themselves have entirely different rules of engagement.  In fact, at that scale the notion of a particle as a tiny pellet of matter is something of a convenient fiction - merely an efficient way of maintaining an accounting of quantum numbers for charge, mass, energy, spin, and other quantities which must obey certain strict rules in order to interact and transform.

Let us take an atomic nucleus as an example.  A nucleus is a particle which itself is an arrangement of protons and neutrons that are all stuck together.  Let's pick as an instructive example one having 55 protons and 75 neutrons, which by convention we know as a Caesium 130 nucleus.  Protons have a unit of positive electric charge each, and are thus in a continual state of repelling each other with tremendous force owing to how close together they are.  This repulsive force would ordinarily overwhelm the inherent contact stickiness that these particles have for each other, causing them to fly off in opposite directions at high velocity; but the additional 75 neutrons surrounding and embracing those protons provide almost enough extra adhesion to keep this nucleus together.  Just three more neutrons are all that would be needed to render this nucleus perfectly stable forever.  But as it stands the poor hapless Cs130 nucleus is always just on the verge of breaking apart.

When will it do so?  At what time?  In what fragments and in what directions?  These questions have fundamentally no answers within the universe, even in principle.  Even the "when" question for an individual Cs130 nucleus can only be answered with the evasive, "any moment now, or possibly never."  A large assemblage of Cs130 nuclei can at best be treated statistically: on average, half of those nuclei will blow up within the next 29.21 minutes, and the remaining half anywhere from then until the end of time.  There is not even any underlying mechanism at work which could in principle be used to predict and determine the time of decay.  Physicists have searched for such an internal mechanism for a century and have found instead only the opposite: more indeterminism at every level.

By using the word "Determinism" in the title of this post, I was lying to you by allowing you to think Determinism was even a real thing in physics.  It is not in any sense a real thing, as we have seen.  At best, simple machines of only a few moving parts isolated from the messy, noisy universe can be treated as deterministic for specific periods of time.   But liquids, gases, complex systems of solid objects, very large objects, very small objects, thermodynamic systems, chemical systems, and, most importantly, biological systems cannot even theoretically be regarded as deterministic for any length of time, much less from the beginning of time throughout eternity.

While in a sense physics determines chemistry, and chemistry determines biology, and biology determines you, this line of reasoning uses a subtly different definition of the word and is not what is meant by Determinism with a capital D.  The kind of Determinism that could potentially have any impact on Free Will is the kind that states that all future states of the universe are able to be perfectly predicted by and are thus determined by the initial conditions of the universe.  In other words, the present state of the universe was absolutely inevitable and pre-determined, as are all futures that ever will be observed. And that, says physics, is Bollocks.

However, it may not even matter that Determinism from Physics is a silly fiction, because I was also lying about the "Versus" part.  Free Will and Determinism, as Prof. Dennett, pointed out, really have nothing to do with one another.  So what if your actions are Determined by something?  You'd better hope they are, actually.  Where would we be if all our actions were the result of random coin-flips, dice-rolls, card shuffles, or noise-based stochastic random number generators?  I mean, other than in the midst of a D&D game.  Hard-core believers in the fiction of Determinism may still complain that such processes are (as they believe) the determined results of make-believe physics and initial conditions in their make-believe universe.  But even allowing for that, would a coin-flip make you feel any better about your self-determination than having your actions locked in by something like reason, reflex, habit, or animal instinct?

The point is that whether your actions are determined by physics (no way), by chemistry (hmm...), by biology (quite possibly), by reason (sometimes), or are merely random noise, you are still accountable as a morally competent agent, even if (or particularly since) that agent is not some supernatural entity.  Even if a moral agent is really just a complex process and not an entity as such, that agent could well meet the requirements of  Moral Competence:

  1. The agent must have something of significance to gain or lose - livelihood, freedom, security, any of the fundamental needs or problems of a perishable organism.
  2. The agent must have the in-principle ability to select among any of several actions and privacy of mind for concealing its intentions until advantageous to reveal them.
  3. The agent must have at least the competence to make a judgement in its own best interest, regardless of whether or not it chooses to do so.  
Just as chaos emerges from complexity as a system acquires more and more moving parts, and just as temperature and pressure emerge as a system acquires more and more particles and becomes a thermodynamic gas, and just as Design emerges from a large number of natural selections with evolutionary pressure, and as Competence emerges from assemblages of large number of individually incompetent parts, and just as what we might call "intelligence" emerges from a large number of dumb little neurons in a brain, why then is it so difficult to accept that "Free Will" emerges from a sufficiently large number of stimuli, needs, impulses, influences, memories, desires, fears, information, rationale, instincts, and yes, even the occasional coin flip?

This leads to the final lie I need to correct: Free Will.  By referring to it, I have dishonestly mislead you into thinking that both you and I knew what Free Will even was.  Well, what is it?  This question remains unexamined by the people who rush to condemn it as impossible on the basis of something else that is even less possible (i.e. Determinism).  In struggling through the largely incoherent Sam Harris thesis, I find myself wondering whether he thinks Free Will is by definition a supernatural force of some kind.  A form of magic consisting of a disembodied Mind-Without-Brain, a sort of Ghost With A Plan that makes choices and steers its Meat Machine through life in order to fulfill the plan.  

At any rate, that is explicitly what theists think Free Will is.  And gods have the most of it, presumably.  As an aside, one notes with mild disinterest that the numerous gods promulgated by the various abrahamic mythologies cannot be regarded as having any Free Will when taken as presented. These gods have nothing to gain or lose because they are "perfect" and "eternal." They lack nothing and thus can neither be rewarded for their rare good acts nor punished for their frequent evil. The gods have no choice nor privacy of mind if we listen to their backers who insist they know exactly what the gods like, dislike, want, or ever will do. We are often told for example that the gods "cannot lie" or must unavoidably reward or punish us, etc, effectively limiting their possible actions and freedom. Failing the first two criteria for Moral Competence, gods cannot be regarded as morally competent and thus cannot be regarded even as free agents, or possibly even as agents at all. But that is no surprise to those who already realized that gods are nothing more than fictional characters in a bronze-age comic book.  

At any rate, the debate about Free Will has become a proxy battleground, in my personal experience, for the war between Naturalism and Supernaturalism.  I have been accused of defending Supernaturalism for little more than explaining that Determinism does not actually follow from Physics!

To be clear, by explaining how Determinism fails, I have not left open the door to Supernaturalism.  Instead, all I have pointed out is that Physics does not produce Determinism, not even in Newton's time.  Very little in the universe is inevitable, particularly on the scale of the short lives of Meat Machines From Planet Earth (which by the way would be an excellent name for a rock band).  It was not inevitable that smart monkeys evolved to look like we do.  Neither was it inevitable that the continents and coastlines of Earth appear the way they do, nor that the craters on the moon are precisely in those positions.  Perhaps only black holes and heat death are inevitable in this universe and are thus pre-determined.  But none of the details, particularly the humans, monkeys, dogs, spiders, and even bacteria, are necessary, unavoidable, inevitable consequences of this universe, even in principle.  Aside from even existing, each can and does make choices.  Simple organisms make simple choices: Left or right? Up or down?  Eat or avoid?  How they produce or arrive at that competence is not relevant to the fact that they do posses that competence.  Complex organisms make complex, abstract choices:  Rook or Knight? Red tie or blue?  Spend or save?  Mac or Windows?

In the case of the intractable problem of defining "intelligence" we get much further by instead talking about Competencies.  Similarly, Free Will is best defined as just one more layer of competence that organisms have to one degree or another.  Free Will is not some magic Ghost With a Plan.  Free Will is merely the competence to engage with and navigate a complex world.  

However, there is another thing that could be meant by Free Will that is neither the opposite of physical predetermination nor demonic possession.  It rests on the idea that the Self makes choices according to some set of values.  We know that this isn't actually how decisions are made most of the time: usually the brain makes a decision calculated to stave off emotional discomfort and satisfy some need; and then the rational human uses the cognitive parts of the brain to make up a clever post-hoc excuse for doing whatever that is.  Some people say that is not Free Will, but just the organism making "you" do stuff, (as though "you" and the organism are different actors), and if choices are in any way influenced by society or psychology, then it ain't no free will.  Well, no, I say that is still the organism's Free Will at work; just that actions are once again not mere random noise undetermined by anything at all.

But if you want a "higher" level of free will such that your actions are not predetermined by your brain's conditioning or your automatic emotional responses to stimuli, then that's another thing entirely.  In that sense, most of us filthy monkey-men never develop a free will and are entirely at the mercy of our condition and conditioning.  By engaging in intentional manipulation of the cognition of the brain by tactics involving impulse control, momentary suspension of cognition, intentional management of emotional states, or other forms of "mindful" reflection as some describe it, individuals can and do develop the ability to exert higher degrees of rational determination of their actions and thus can better control the trajectories of their lives.  If this is what is meant by free will - determination exclusively by rational reflection -  then again we see it has nothing to do with either Determinism from physics or choice-determination by external stimuli, nor is it in any way a supernatural phenomenon. 

That augmented form of free will is yet another emergent property or competence of the brain, which in the case of a self-reflective, mindful individual, has been turned in to a sort of GPU that runs the individual's selected apps in place of the evolutionary default operating processes that even monkeys use to navigate the world in the execution of their Free Will. It is still not evidence of ghosts with plans, and it is even further removed from Determinism from Physics, Chemistry, Biology, or Ecology.  This kind of free will advances even to the level of non-determination from human society, and even ultimately from psychology. 

"Wah! But Determinism!  A computer executing code is Determinism!  Wah!"

Nope!  Even if the hardware is entirely Deterministic within the timeframe of the experiment (one hopes that it is), a software program running on a hardware platform does not absolutely inherit the property of Determinism from the hardware.   Of course software algorithms are a long way from being complex enough to exhibit emergent properties of "higher" competencies.  There is also the problem that a mere algorithm abstracted from any particular hardware will struggle to qualify as Morally Competent because it will always lack the problems or needs of a perishable organism.  But the whole point is that as a system becomes more complex, new (higher level) properties emerge and old (lower level) ones dissolve.  

You may be able to pre-determine the behaviour of a watch that is wound up and running perfectly; but you will never be able to predict the exact way in which that watch corrodes and decomposes if left unattended in a riverbed for a few decades.  And as any system becomes more complex than that watch (a very simple mechanism, really), then less and less can be pre-determined about it.  If a system becomes sufficiently complex to exhibit emerging competencies of choice, then predicting its behaviour using physics becomes wholly impossible, and new more complex models are required.  These must include models of biology, sociology, and psychology, but will never have the accuracy or precision of physics or even chemistry.  

Therefore what ever the definition of Free Will, and whatever kinds of Determinism you want to talk about, there simply is no vital connection between the two ideas, and one certainly does not preclude the other.  Also, while certain meanings of Determinism demonstrably do not exist as realities, in no way can it be said that Free Will does not exist, for most of the definitions applied to it, with one exception: 

There are no Magic Ghosts with Plans; we Meat Machines are free to do as we please.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Universal Consciousness - Destroyed Some More

One of the most prevalent arguments used to support the belief in a Universal Consciousness - a vaguely defined form of new-age religious deism - is the argument from Quantum Physics.  Frauds like Deepshit Choke-Ya are fond of making claims along the lines that quantum physics proves that the nature of reality is controlled by Consciousness or some shit.  Well, I am here to tell you that Quantum Physics has absolutely nothing to say on the subject of consciousness, and definitely does not support the nonsense notion of a universal consciousness.

Nobody knows what anyone really means by "universal consciousness" other than it is a kind of non-denominational substitute for gods or goddesses - universal magical powerful agencies that, like, do shit and stuff.  Allegedly.  But we do have a really good idea of what quantum physics is, which I will attempt to convey to you now.

Quantum physics (more properly Quantum Mechanics or QM) is a mathematical method of making very precise predictions about subatomic particles, their properties, their behavior, and their interactions.  The most important tool of QM is the Schroedinger Wave Equation (SWE), the solutions to which correspond to valid physical configurations of matter, energy, momentum, spin, and a number of other fundamental quantum numbers (i.e. quantitized physical values).  If you're not solving the Schroedinger Wave Equation, then you, my friend, are not "studying" Quantum Physics.

QM does make some astonishing predictions about the behavior of subatomic particles, however.  Less well known is the fact that QM makes some very boring predictions about every-day-sized objects.  QM predicts and requires that everyday objects like baseballs and people must behave exactly according to Newtonian mechanics.  That's right - QM says Newton was right!

Also, in QM an electron may go backwards in time as a positron.  But you, my friend, are not a single subatomic particle.  You are a thermodynamic Process involving large numbers of interacting particles, and as such YOU may only proceed forwards in time.  And you can also never enter a black hole either, except by having all your atoms ripped apart in the process.  So don't go getting any ideas.  This shit applies to individual subatomic particles only and to nothing else.

Among the more astonishing predictions made by QM is that a single particle can appear to be in several places at once.  This is not actually so, but it is a consequence of an interpretation of QM which insists on maintaining the fiction of particles as actual objects.  In reality, particles are merely conceptual collections of quantum numbers - energy, charge, momentum, spin etc - which must all follow rules of interactions that proceed from solutions to the SWE.  For example, energy may only enter or leave the electromagnetic field in whole quanta for a given wavelength of light.  Thus a photon (a quanta of light) is a very useful fiction, since it helps us keep track of energy and momentum being put into or removed from electromagnetism through interactions with matter.

When the object-permanence stumbling block is removed, then the prediction about propagating quanta being in more than one place at a time becomes less astonishing, and is actually what one would expect.   The famous two-slit experiment demonstrates that light actually does propagate in the form of waves, and also proves that electromagnetic energy is also quantitized.  The electromagnetic wave passes through both slits while a quanta of energy from the e/m field is deposited on a screen at a specific point on the other side.  No actual little ball of light called a "photon" magically passed through two places at once.  A photon does not exist in-transit.  It only "exists" at the point of production and again at the point of absorption (i.e. during any interaction) as an accounting fiction for keeping track of energy and other quantum numbers which must be conserved.

Another astonishing "prediction" of QM relates to the Observer Effect.  There is no Observer Effect.  Let me be clear on that.  The "Observer Effect" obtained its name from a mis-translation of a German research paper and is nothing more interesting than the fact that particles are affected by their interactions with other particles.  Duh!

The requirement that energy, momentum and other physical values must be quantitized has the effect that no measurement can ever be made without radically interfering with a particle, if not actually destroying the particle and turning is parts into something else.  Any measurement made on a particle requires that some form of particle interaction take place, and no interaction takes place without there being an effect on the particles involved.  Therefore the "Observer Effect" is really the interaction-measurement effect.

While philosophers wrongly argue that there can be no Observation without a Mind to do the observing, they missed the point that most interactions take place without any measurements being carried out; and most measurements are made without anyone even looking at or being aware of the data.  I guess they never heard of data acquisition electronics which operate just fine without human intervention.  The interaction-measurement effect therefore does not in any way imply or rely on the existence of a Mind.  Therefore the unsupported extension of this concept to the idea that Consciousness keeps the universe together is based on error and is completely wrong.  As Wolfgang Pauli would have said, "That's so far from being right, it's not even wrong!"  Meaning that there is no way to even fix the notion to make it a less wrong notion.

QM is only spooky and mysterious when one attempts to interpret it using overly-simplistic concepts like particles as little objects that bounce around like billiard balls.  A particle is not an object, but a collection of quantum numbers tied together by events and interactions.  They are mathematical, accounting objects, not little beads or pellets of matter.  When physicists properly think of them like this, then we do not have to invent outrageous and confusing analogies to the everyday world in order to understand or explain them, and fraudulent con-men cannot claim that modern physics empirically supports their new-age religion scams.

Universal Consciousness - Destroyed

In 1994, Nobel Laureate Francis Crick published a landmark book called The Astonishing Hypothesis in which he urged the scientific community to begin regarding human consciousness as a valid subject of scientific investigation. Until that point, the vast majority of people including scientists (myself included) felt that there was something not quite biological, physical, or scientifically reducible about human consciousness; or at least that this would always be an intractable problem.

Since that time, enormous advances in neuroscience have occurred, assisted by previously unimagined new capabilities in imaging technology and the computer technology that enables them. It is now mainstream, well-supported scientific consensus that consciousness is entirely biological in origin.

A specifically "conscious" part of the brain has never been identified, but consciousness is clearly exclusively associated with brain activity observed via fMRI.  There are also these things called drugs which, when you put them in your brain, alter consciousness and make you think and feel differently, almost like you're a different person.  Also it is well known that if the brain becomes injured, the way you think and feel and even your personality can completely change.  Finally, if the brain breaks down and stops, like, brainalyzing or whatever, then you aren't conscious at all anymore.

It is clear from all evidence that without a brain, there is no consciousness, even if scientists can't agree on exactly what consciousness is.   But an understanding is gradually emerging that consciousness may not be quite what we thought it was - an entity or an algorithm of some kind - but rather that it is really just a deep pile of competences layered upon one another from which the sense of being a Person emerges. As those competences are removed one by one, so fades the sense of Self and consciousness. Therefore it is less useful to ask, "what is consciousness?" and instead investigate neuro-biological competence, including the interesting question of what is required for Moral Competence.

Ants have about 250,000 neurons, and you can make them run around crazy by poking sticks at them. That is something they are competent at doing.  Dogs have about 2.2 billion neurons, and they can count to three, but they also eat their own poops. Humans have about 86 billion neurons - not just the ones that can do calculus, but also including the ones that purchase whole life insurance and are dumb.  It is therefore clearly not just the number of neurons, but how they are connected and how they function.  In other words, the brain requires conditioning in order to have high levels of competence and therefore consciousness.

As an aside, we might wonder what would happen if we had a lot more neurons.  Would we be super-duper intelligent?  Would we develop, like, telekinesis or something?  Well, elephants have about 250 billion neurons, about 3 times what we have.  While they have pretty good memory, they evidently do not posses the power of telekinesis, or even the power of instagram.  Although some of them are known to be exceptional artists.

So, we find that there is no single part of the brain that is "the consciousness." There are, however, specific parts, circuits, networks etc that are responsible for individual competencies.  Consciousness is what emerges when all these competencies are combined, and consciousness is a kind of measure of the number and diversity of our competencies.

Neither is there any sharp line between conscious and not conscious. Lots of neurons = lots of neural competence; a few neurons = a few competencies; zero neurons = zero competence. Ants have fewer competencies than dogs, which have fewer than humans. Plants have a few limited competencies, and so might possibly be regarded as having a minimal degree of consciousness, even though they have no actual neurons.  They do have some specialized cells called bundle sheath cells that behave somewhat like neurons.

Rocks have no competencies whatsoever, no internal functions or organized structure other than random crystallization grain structures, and are therefore in no way conscious at all by any measure or definition. Some may argue for the consciousness of ecosystems, but only to the extent that living systems have evolved any identifiable competencies.  But there is absolutely no question of there being anything remotely like a "universal" consciousness in the sense of rocks or other inanimate objects being self-aware or having feelings or opinions.

Only the highest levels of competence endow a very few mammal species (notably humans) with a competence for self-awareness and the level of consciousness we associate with that sense of Self. Why did other species not get that even with far more evolutionary time under their belts?  Well, they evidently did not need that particular competence for survival, or small evolutionary steps in that direction were of no advantage to them. Only humans are so physically regressive and degraded that we could only survive by being super aware, individual, and clever.

As early as 200,000 years ago, humans were basically physically as we are now, including our 86 billion neurons.  If 190,000 years wasn't enough for us to invent Porsches and Breguet wrist-watches and Apple eye-phones, then what was so special about the last 10,000 years?

Software.  It took a while, but once the ecosystem of human brains had become fertile enough ground for a new form of evolution to start taking place, bits and pieces of a new operating system began falling into place using a kind of fitness-for-survival driving force.  Social orders developed, and our brains gained that competence.  Language developed, and again 86 billion neurons were sufficiently large to accommodate languages.  Crafts developed, using language as a stepping stone so that skills could be transmitted virally.  Technologies developed which benefited success-driven software evolution by creating more human brains to infect.  These include agriculture and animal husbandry, larger social structures, writing, fighting, money, irrigation, housing, clothing, etc.  All these ideas form the suite of thinking tools that we use to think about ourselves - in other words, to be conscious.

Can there be consciousness without a brain? If you imagine seeing a ghost (that isn't actually there because you're hallucinating which is something brains are very competent at doing) and that ghost visibly has zero neurons in total because it's invisible and floating in the air, then what are the chances that the ghost is a conscious being that is super intelligent and has also magic ghost powers?

Zero. The answer is zero probability, to infinity decimal places.  If there are no functioning neurons (a necessary but insufficient condition), then there is no functional competence and hence zero consciousness.

"But what if the ghost has Ghost Neurons? Huh?"

Ok - you exponentially amp up the improbability of this nonsense by suggesting that it requires the further existence an even more improbable thing.

Sure - why not.

So - do these ghost neurons of yours also use ghost chemical neurotransmitters? What are they? How do they work? What are they made of? Can you murder a ghost by spraying lysol on it? Do your ghost neurons produce electrical impulses using actual electrical charge? Or is it some kind of never-before-detected form of ghost electricity? What keeps these ghost neurons together in a body? Ghost velcro? What is the source of the ghost neuron's energy? Does the ghost have a respiratory and circulatory system as well? Or does it run on ghost batteries?

Keep in mind that every time you have to propose some stop-gap ad-hoc new thing to keep the hypothesis from unraveling, you exponentially increase the improbability that some thing exists which has never been observed (actually, positively observed to not be there) and which would require the invalidation of mountains of established fact. And don't try hiding in the gaps of scientific knowledge - these are small and dwindling. The Argument from Ignorance is basically, "you don't know some minor detail, therefore vast swathes of my imaginary nonsense are proved conclusively." Can we hold you to that when that knowledge gap is eventually filled?  Or will you continually move the goalposts?

You've heard of Occam's Razor? Well - get ready for Newton's Flaming Laser Sword of Truth. It's just like Occam's razor, but way more dangerous and devastating to bullshit. It works like this. Anyone who asserts the existence of a Mind in the absence of a Brain is under the obligation to produce logical observable consequences of that assertion. If they fail to do so, the assertion must be dismissed as effectively proven false.

One such potential observable consequence of the existence of Mind without Brain is that dead people should be able to pass real information to the living. Also, that new, real, and accurate information should be able to be received by prophecy alone.

Unfortunately, no real, accurate, specific information has ever been received from the dead or from prophecy, at a rate distinguishable from random chance. All practitioners of "talking to the dead" have been proven to be frauds who use mere parlor tricks, and their "information" is so nonspecific it has become a generic cliche'.  "Does anyone in the room have, perhaps, an elderly relative who has died?"  Um, no - we're all AI robots here.

Also, no prophecy has ever produced reliable new information (not previously known), and "prophets" almost universally miss a lot of really important and obvious stuff. "Prophets" are also almost always known to be frauds and criminals, and are therefore most untrustworthy in the first place.

This state of affairs must be regarded as powerful positive evidence in condemning the notion of Mind without Brain. No brain, no mind. Of that we can be absolutely certain.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

In Defense of Dillahunty's Agnosticism

Matt Dillahunty has articulated what I consider to be the most lucid and reasoned explanation for why he should be an agnostic atheist as opposed to the "hard" variety.  He states that while there is no good evidence or argument that would compel him to accept the outrageous and absurd claims of religions, he also admits that he is unable to meet the burden of proof required of someone who claims to know with certainty that there are no gods or goddesses.

I happen to agree, from what I know of him, that in all likelihood Matt Dillahunty is not able to meet that burden of proof.  Most people on the planet would not be capable of meeting that burden of proof.  However I would not go so far as to claim that the burden of proof is impossible to meet, or that no one on the planet can now or ever do so.

So, hypothetically, what would it take to be able to definitively state as a matter of demonstrated fact that gods and goddesses are not real?  That there is definitively and provably no god?

Step one is to recognize that "god" is a word linked to a broad and poorly-defined category of nebulous, shape-shifting ideas. Attempting to connect such a word with any actual evidence is like trying to state anything definitive about Zlypph.  Who or what is Zlypph?  Not telling.  You have to figure it out and prove that it is or isn't real.  Well, this is a pointless task, unless we can attach some actual meaning to this worn-out placeholder.

We therefore go right ahead and do exactly that - attach some actual meaning to the word that is more than the vague bewildered gooey feeling ignorant people get in their brains when they are sad or can't comprehend something.  We must pin languages' most shape-shifting word to a specific meaning, such as "a universally powerful intelligent agent."  Even without all the adornments that various religions hang onto this definition or the numerous properties, characteristics, agendas, likes or dislikes that vary from one god to another, this, surprisingly, is enough for us to proceed.

Now, let's imagine that an individual has access to some unspecified but sufficiently large amount of reliable knowledge.  And by "reliable" I mean of course scientific knowledge.  Science as we know is the most reliable process for knowing things.  Compared to Science, every other way of knowing is no better than random guessing, and often considerably worse.  This is a direct result of the way Science always seeks disconfirmation rather than confirmation.  It is almost impossible for a false hypothesis to withstand skilled and determined efforts to disconfirm it using repeatable empirical evidence and unassailably rigorous analysis consisting of both logical and quantitative reasoning.  Only something that is reasonably true, that is, having a reasonable concordance with the real universe, can stand up to that kind of treatment.  And so, scientific knowledge is the only reliable knowledge.

Using unlimited access to this scientific knowledge along with the resulting comprehension of the natural laws, principles, processes, matter, objects, forces, fields, effects, or phenomena of the real universe, including the biosphere and its development on this planet, such a broadly informed person could be in a position to ask himself, "Is there some all-powerful (or nearly so) Agency at work in the universe?"

In order to answer in the affirmative, our polymath scientist would have to identify two enabling circumstances that are necessary but insufficient conditions.  In simple terms, these two things have to be found in order for gods to be real; but even then only producing an actual specimen would prove it beyond doubt.

Those circumstances are as follows:

1. We must see evidence that such an agency is or has been active.  We must observe objects, circumstances, processes or incidents that positively have no natural explanation or ordinary human or animal agency as their cause.  So far, all of the vast quantity of evidence that we have can be readily accounted for using natural processes or animal/human agency.   There is no evidence that the universe is or has been influenced in any way that only a powerful universal Agency could produce.

2. We must be able to identify specific processes or mechanisms by which this influence occurs or could occur.  That is, what is the entry point or point(s) of contact between this Agency and the physical universe?  We have thoroughly and meticulously scoured all of the possible physical interactions over a wide range of energy levels from the smallest weakest particles to the most powerful forces and objects in the cosmos. What we know is that there are three and only three forces operating on matter and energy: the strong nuclear force, the electromagnetic/weak nuclear force, and the gravitational pseudo-force.*  We know and it has been demonstrated that there are and can be no other forces operating in these regimes.  We know how those forces work and all the ways that matter and energy interact through those forces.  We know that, within the limits that can possibly affect objects ranging from electrons up to massive stars, there is no other way for the physical universe consisting of matter and energy to be influenced other than through these forces acting on these particles.

The absence of evidence where that evidence MUST exist is definitive evidence of absence.  Therefore there is positively no supernatural, no magic, no ghosts "outside" the universe sticking their hands in and tweaking or nudging it, or any such thing.  The mechanisms that would enable such influence to occur would have been evident exactly in the places we have been searching.

We also have zero evidence that such influence has been taking place, and certainly with nothing like the regularity that theists claim it is occurring.  Again, the absence of this evidence is the evidence.

If you have been paying close attention, you may now be objecting that we have actually been evaluating the claim that gods exist, rather than the claim that they do not.  We have actually assumed the burden of proof of the deists/theists.  But a careful examination of the scientific evidence allows a sufficiently informed individual to conclude that the evidences or lack thereof for one claim are the same as for the opposite claim.  In particular, that the singular absence of evidence for the claim made by deists is precisely all the positive evidence needed to meet the burden of proof required of the gnostic anti-deist.

Now, if theists propose an even more narrowly specified god having particular qualities, properties, likes and dislikes, taking specified actions at specified times, then it becomes even easier to locate the (lack of) evidence required to disqualify and dismiss such claims, again positively.  The positive presence of a big empty hole where the theists' evidence was supposed to be is itself the evidence.

Not everyone has access to a sufficiently deep and broad range of scientific evidence and knowledge sufficient to enable one to positively conclude that the theists' evidence is actually missing.  It's too easy for most people to not know for certain that the evidence is not in some other field with which they are unfamiliar.  Theists take advantage of this information segmentation or compartmentalization and deftly shift from one claim to another depending on what areas his debate opponent is least familiar with.  But it is not impossible for some generalists in the basic sciences with informed interests in a wide range of other fields in pure and applied sciences to actually be capable of synthesizing all the information necessary to positively, definitively conclude that there are no gods.

My perception is that there are typically more hard atheists among scientists than among other walks of life. But I do not fault Matt Dillehunty for remaining agnostic.  On the contrary, I applaud his honesty for refusing to claim that he can meet the hard atheist burden of proof.  But he should not also fallaciously conclude that since he cannot, no one can.

Nor do I call for Matt to change his position.  He should not, and I support him in his position.  For one thing, his acceptance of scientific evidence without actually understanding or evaluating that evidence would be nothing more than an appeal to authority, which is just one more of the unreliable ways of knowing things that rational people deplore.  But more importantly, Matt can do what few hard atheists can: connect and engage with people.  Matt can build bridges, whereas scientists like me are only good at being divisive and intolerant.  He is more gifted in that area than I can ever be, precisely because of his refusal to adopt the hard atheist position.  No, Matt, we need you where you are.  You're good.

*But what about dark matter/dark energy?  We don't know what those are yet, so there could still be gods and magic, right?  Wrong.  These effects are not observed except on objects the size of a galaxy or bigger.  So we ordinary people, stars, and planets are unaffected by these forces.  But Your Mama should be more careful.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Evidence versus Arguments: A Guide to Knowing with Greater Certainty

We've all heard of logical fallacies - those errors of reasoning that can lead to unreliable conclusions but which seem convincing to someone motivated to believe.  There is a complete taxonomy of fallacies, and some people rejoice in observing them in the wild, like bird watching.

Image result for ham subBut there are just three particular fallacies I want to discuss here.  One is a subset of  Red Herring fallacies, called the Fallacy of Relative Privation.  Red Herrings generally are a response to a position that instead of addressing the evidence for the position or the arguments that connect the evidence to the position's conclusion, simply changes the subject. For example:

"How about cancer, huh?  Pretty bad stuff, am I right?" 

"How DARE you minimize the suffering of people with heart disease!"

We've all seen exchanges like this in internet comments sections, and we can all recognize that the respondent is an irrational person.  The first person has evidence which leads him to conclude that cancer is a bad thing, and the second person disagrees on the basis that something else exists which they perceive as being just as bad or worse.  This Fallacy of Relative Privation leads the respondent to the unreliable conclusion that the first statement is somehow incorrect.

Another of my favourite fallacies is the Fallacy of Four Terms Via an Equivocation Error.  Cool name, huh?  The Four Terms refers to the fact that a classical syllogism has exactly three terms, not four; and slipping in a fourth (or fifth or sixth) term invalidates it.  Basically, it states:

If A = B, and if B = C, then A = C.  

But if we introduce a fourth term, we get:

If A = B, and C = D, then A = D.  Or A = E.  Or G = H.

This reasoning is clearly flawed.

What makes a Four Terms fallacy hard to spot is the addition of an Equivocation Error, i.e. you disguise the fact that B and C are not actually the same thing.   While almost impossible to do using mathematical notation, it's pretty easy using the good ol' English Language.  A great example is attributed to Lewis Carroll:

If we accept that nothing is better than Eternal Bliss, 
and that a Ham Sandwich is better than nothing, 
then a Ham Sandwich is better than Eternal Bliss. 

Clearly.  Fun Fact:  This syllogism was not found in an early draft of the Koran.

The equivocation error is that nothing is not the same thing as nothing.  Get it?  No?

Then let us rewrite the syllogism as follows:

Given: the set of things greater in value than Eternal Bliss is empty.
Given: a Ham Sandwich is greater in value than any Empty Set. 
Therefore, a Ham Sandwich is greater in value than the set of things that are greater than Eternal Bliss.  

This exposes the fallacy, since it is not Eternal Bliss that a Ham Sandwich is greater than, rather the set of things greater than Eternal Bliss, which happens to be an empty set, since we have accepted (without evidence as it turns out) that Eternal Bliss is the greatest possible thing.

Therefore, if someone offers you the choice of a Ham Sandwich, or Everything that is Greater than Eternal Bliss, you take the ham sandwich, without question.  Because the other thing is an empty set; in other words, nothing.

But if given the choice of a ham sandwich or Eternal Bliss, then you have to start asking for evidence of the existence of both Eternal Bliss AND this alleged ham sandwich.

This leads us to the relationship between arguments and evidence.  An argument is just a way of drawing a continuous line between the evidence and some conclusion.  A fallacious argument is like a broken line: the conclusion is not necessarily connected to that evidence.

But it should be recognized that there can be any number of lines (arguments) connecting the evidence to a conclusion.  If one line is broken, that does not exclude the possibility of some other solidly connected line

This leads me to the third fallacy I wished to discuss: the Fallacy Fallacy.  Just because an argument is fallacious doesn't mean that the conclusion is automatically wrong.  It just means that the argument is wrong.  In other words, the line is broken and the evidence and conclusion are not connected in that particular way.  Perhaps by some other way, but not that one.  The conclusion could still be right by some other unknown argument or on the back of some different evidence.

However, without at least some kind of evidence, all the greatest arguments in the world are meaningless.  The lines leading to a conclusion have to lead back to something.  They have to originate somewhere, from some kind of evidence.

I have seen a lot of different arguments for the existence of gods or goddesses.  Hell, I invented some of them myself.  The fact that I now find all of them in some way fallacious isn't even the most relevant point.

The real point is that there is no evidence that does not support some other, more concordant conclusion, or that does not require further baseless assumptions, e.g. invoking the supernatural.  In many cases, the arguments for theism lead back to nothing - no originating evidence whatsoever.

In spite of the Fallacy of Four Terms via Equivocation, if someone offers you the choice of a ham sandwich or eternal bliss, take the ham sandwich. Lewis Carroll's argument may be dodgy, but the conclusion was still sound: a (real) Ham Sandwich is infinitely better than (nonexistent) Eternal Bliss.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What Is Post-Intelligent Design

Recently, New Atlas posted this article about machine-optimized design engineering. I immediately recognized it as a manifestation of what Daniel Dennett refers to in this video (and many others) as Post-Intelligent Design.
That's a load bearing engine block, optimized using a generative design algoritm
Engine Block designed using generative algorithms (New Atlas)

Intelligence-Free design consists of natural processes such as evolution and natural selection which result in incredibly complex and highly optimized solutions. Bird bones for example are highly optimized for strength-to-weight, elasticity, and flexure. The process of natural selection is demonstrably purposeless and non-goal-oriented.

Intelligent Design is the deliberate arrangement of components or materials to achieve a specific set of performance goals. It typically results in highly simplistic, geometric regular forms, owing in part to the necessity of making things easy to produce, and in part to only simple forms being amenable to manual analytical methods. Cars and bridges represent intelligent design processes.

Image result for bird bone section
Cross-Section of a bird bone
Post-Intelligent Design (PID) means that the engineer allows unintelligent computer simulations to recursively modify a design to achieve optimal performance, typically the lowest weight or size that achieves a specified strength. It can also refer to self-learning computer algorithms or computer systems that develop their own optimized code or networks. In many ways this is Intelligence-Free Design revisited, but now with purpose and goals which we give it.

Intelligent design blends smoothly into PID; there is no crisp transitional line. For instance when I design something really critical, I use analytic techniques ranging from paper-and-pencil, formulas & a calculator, right up to 3D FEA on a computer, in order to identify areas that are critically stressed, and areas that are under-stressed. An optimal design under the maximum design load case should be uniformly stressed, indicting that every bit of material is fully contributing to the device's function. I will then remove material from under-stressed areas and add material to over-stressed areas, and do the analysis again. I may even make new material selections (carbon fibre, high-performance alloys etc) to get the required result.  This cycle repeats for as much time as I have or until the goals are achieved within a tolerated margin.  Post-intelligent Design simply automates this process and gives the computer wider latitude to come up with optimal designs that meet the given constraints and performance goals.

One of the enabling technologies for PID is 3D Printing. This removes one of the constraints faced by Intelligent Design: the need to make designs in simple geometric figures that are able to be produced in real life.

The final obstacle to overcome is that 3D-Printable materials are not the highest-performing materials that we have. The relatively poor specific performance of thermoplastics, sintered metals etc is a major problem that makes generative designs that can only be 3D printed actually less useful than intelligent design using simple geometric shapes.  Naturally, a lot of smart people are working on exactly that problem.

In a PID world, it may be that no one person or even group of people knows how a piece of technology works, what certain features are for, or why something looks the way it does.  One only knows that it is optimized for a specified purpose. In such a world we become literally the god-like Minds whose values and desires guide and direct the autonomous evolution of a technological ecosystem.

Also in such a world, it will be possible, easy in fact, to deduce what those values are, since they will be reflected in numerous ways. In that world of our creation, it becomes incredibly important that we decide upon those values and ensure that they are objectively good - by which I mean supportive of our long-term survival and quality of life.

In the Intelligence-Free natural world, there is absolutely no evidence of any sort of guiding values at work. One can see this in humanity's past.

The Intelligence-Free universe gave homo sapiens lives that were, to quote Hobbes, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Our happiness and comfort or the "sanctity " of life obviously are not values held by the universe. But at some point around 10,000 years ago, give or take, we developed culturally-transmitted and ever-evolving thinking tools (Dawkins' "Memes") and immediately began Intelligently Designing our lives and our world. Human population then exploded.

A few hundred years ago, those thinking tools underwent another growth spurt, and Science was born - the meme that suggests that the most powerful and efficient way to determine fact from fiction was to try to disconfirm the hypothesis. Not coincidentally, in that short time not only has humanity completely overrun the planet but individual lives are now twice as long with vastly more interesting things to do and marred by dramatically less suffering.  We are no longer nasty, brutish, or short.  Well, most of us anyway.

We did that.  We did that ourselves.  We did that by Intelligent Design.  And now, it may be time for Post-Intelligent Design to step in and take over.  But what will our new job be?  We get a promotion.  We become the ones who decide what is important and what isn't.  We need to start taking that job seriously.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I Have Been Evolving

A recent article published in BMC Biology presented evidence that 450 million years ago the common ancestor of present-day Spiders and Scorpions experienced a Whole Genome Duplication (WGD). 

A Whole Genome Duplication is when the offspring of an organism accidentally gets two complete copies of its genome, which its descendants then inherit.  While relatively rare, WGD's do occur from time to time, but usually don't lead to anything since by itself it provides no advantage to the individual.  However if the double genome hangs around for long enough before going extinct, it can provide twice the opportunity for evolution to test mutations while having a bit of a safety fallback in the form of the duplicate gene.  At least I think that's how it works.  

This pre-spider WGD seems to have been an advantageous one since probably all spiders and scorpions alive today are descended from it. WGD can essentially confer evolutionary superpowers on a line of organisms, enabling them to diversify rapidly and specialize dramatically. This is certainly true of spiders, of which there are an estimated 46,000 distinct living species, with many more yet to be discovered and classified. If you name any possible way to survive in nature, there's probably a spider that does it.

But that's nothing.  We vertebrates had TWO WGD's in our evolution. And look at us - we invented bug spray.  Take that, spiders.

I find evolution fascinating.  As Francis Crick put it, "Evolution is smarter than you."  Using nothing more than lots of time, lots of slightly imperfect gene duplication, and razor-sharp selective pressures, it results in incredibly subtle and clever solutions to the problem of survival.  

The turning point in our history was when we Eukaryotes decided it would be fun, instead of simply eating a bacteria, to adopt one as a pet and let it live inside our membrane. That's how we came to have things like chloroplasts, mitochondria, and golgi bodies inside us.

A similar thing happened to us again about 10,500 years ago when, instead of simply killing and eating an aurochs, we decided to try catching some and keeping them as pets. We would feed them, watch them mate, keep them alive, and then get lots of little baby aurochsen. That is the day we invented Veal. 

The lesson in all this is to never do anything exactly the same way always.  Change it up a bit.  Find what else works.

You Are Here: Humans are a tiny twig on one of the far right hand branches of the tree of life.

Failure to Communicate

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

When rationalists or humanists talk about Morality, they could be thinking of any number of specific things.

They might be thinking of how people treat each other generally.  They could also be thinking of the decisions or actions we make that could have wider implications, e.g. for the environment or society.

They might be thinking of one's obligation to protect and educate the young, rather than exploit or neglect them. They could even be thinking that Morality is that same thing applied to the Aged or Disabled.

Morality is often applied to thinking about the treatment of animals.  Morality could even mean the considerations for or against inter-nation conflict, economic policy, trade, or actions taken in response to human rights issues.

But when you talk to a christian about morality, they are basically thinking of one thing.  To a christian, Morality means basically this:

Not touching yourself.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Twenty-One Questions About God - Answered

There is one weird fact that solves every difficult theological problem that has ever been posed.  Once you know and understand this one crucial fact, you become a Maser Theologian and can answer every question about God easily and without contradiction.

1.  Is God a male, a female, or a gender-less oozy gastropod of some sort?

Answer:  Neither, because gods aren't actually real things at all.

2.   Did God create evil?

Answer:  No, because gods do not exist.

3.  Will God forgive me?

Answer: No, because God does not exist.  Forgive yourself and try to be a better person.

4.  How is it that God and Jesus are the same being?

Answer:  Because neither of those things exist.  Jesus was never a real person, and there never were any gods at all.

5.  Did God create our spirits and give us free will?

Answer:  No, because there never were any gods at all, and the evidence is strongly against the existence of spirits.

6.  Will I meet God when I die?

Answer:  No, because no gods exist, and neither do you after you die.

7.  Does God know everything?

Answer:  No, because the idea of an all-knowing god is a testable proposition that fails on the basis of evidence.

8.  Is God all-powerful?

Answer:  No, because an all-powerful god is a testable proposition that fails due to the proposition being inherently contradictory and therefore absurd and self-negating.

9.  Does God want me to believe in him?

Answer:  No, because there are affirmatively no such beings in existence.

10.  Didn't God give us the bible to tell us that he exists?

Answer:  No, because gods are not real things.  The bible is as much a proof of a god as Marvel Comics is proof of a Spiderman.

11.  Did God send the angel Gabriel to instruct Muhammad?

Answer: No, because there never were any gods or angels at all.

12.  Is not the Pope God's actual representative on the earth?

Answer:  No, because gods are not actually real things that exist.

13.  Which religion is the right one?

Answer: Religion is wrong.  Religion is entirely a wrong thing, period.  Religion is a wrong process reaching wrong conclusions, and is full of wrong ideas and wrong people.  Religion is wrong about every single thing that makes religion unique.

14.  Did God empower Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt?

Answer:  No, because there are no gods.  Also, Moses was a fictional character invented around 700 BC based unimaginatively on half a dozen previous fictional characters and popular stories known from antiquity.

15.  Did God create Adam and Eve?

Answer:  No, because there never were any gods at all.

16.  Does God prefer that we worship on Sunday, or on Saturday?  Which is the correct Sabbath?

Answer:  Neither, because god isn't a real thing and worship is a wrong thing to do, being based on demonstrably false assumptions.

17.  Why does it seem like God allows terrible things to happen?

Answer: Because there is no such thing as gods.   You might just as well agonize over why the underpants gnomes are allowing so many bad things to happen.

18.  Does God hear and answer prayers?

Answer:  No, because there never were any gods at all.  Also, telepathic communication is disproved bullshit.

19.  Golly gee whiz, I'm pretty sure there is a God. My feelings and my church says so.

Answer: There isn't.  Examine why you think that, and look critically at all the evidence.  Lots of people have walked away from those unfounded beliefs once they realized that there was nothing in it.   They're just fine, and you will be just fine, too.

20.  But what if you're wrong?  Huh?

So - you're a gambler, are you?  Pascal's Wager, is it?  OK - let's play that game.  Given all the evidence, the probability of any god existing is vanishingly small, and the probability of that god being precisely the one you think it is, is again vanishingly small out of the infinity of all possible gods that might exist.  Now then, of all the possible gods, how many would be offended and angry if you guessed the wrong god?  Therefore if any gods exist, there is a high probability that you will have disastrously picked the wrong one.

Or you could just not play silly games of chance and follow the evidence where it leads.

21.  But couldn't there be a something, somewhere, and you can't prove there isn't!

Is that what you believe in?  A vague notion of a "something, somewhere?"  A non-interfering god that refrains from modifying the universe in any measurable way so as to remain undetectable?  Such a being is indistinguishable from the wholly non-existent, so it makes no difference whether you believe in it or not.

But all the specific gods, who believers claim must always modify the universe early and often and in specific ways, expose themselves to objective, empirical examination through evidence.  All the evidence is concordant with the non-existence of magic, the supernatural, or of gods, devils, spirits, ghosts, fairies, or leprechauns.  Most of the evidence directly implicates these facts,  while some of the evidence (to which theists cling) merely bears multiple explanations.

But the simplest explanation that is consistent with all the evidence and which provides the simplest, most believable and coherent answers to all theological questions is that there never were any gods at all.