Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Political Irony

There’s a strange phenomenon happening worldwide (in the Western world, at least) whereby centrist politics is not working, or should I say: not winning. Politics naturally divides itself into 2 because the population naturally divides itself into 2: right leaning and left leaning, though there’s a broad spectrum.

There is evidence that our genetic makeup contributes to which way we lean, possibly even more than environmental factors, which would explain why there seems to be roughly an even divide and why almost all societies seem to be split between the two. It comes down to personality traits as I’ve discussed once before, albeit a long time ago. Basically, conservatives are more conscientious, arguably less impulsive and more resistant to change. I know that’s being a bit stereotypical but studies pretty well support that view. Liberal-minded individuals are more open to change and diverse ideas. The thing is that it would seem functional societies need both types: people to challenge the status quo and people to maintain the status quo.

But recent events in Britain, America, parts of Europe, and here in Australia, indicate that politics is becoming more polarised, virtually worldwide, with people on both sides of the political divide becoming disenchanted with the status quo. The status quo has been to go for the centre in order to grab the highest number of people on both sides, but we’ve seen a clear desertion of the centre when it comes to polling and actual elections.

I’m not an economist or a political commentator, but I am a participant in the process and an observer. I should say at the outset, something that I don’t hide, which is my political leanings are definitely towards the left, so that will have a subjective influence on my particular interpretation of events.

I don’t believe that there is a single factor, but a confluence of factors, some of which I’ll try and elaborate on. However, I think that we are going through a socio-economic change not unlike the one that must have been experienced during the industrial revolution, only this time it’s a technological revolution caused by automation. Basically, automation is putting people out of jobs in the Western world, and I would suggest that this is only the beginning. I know this, partly because I work in the industry where it’s taking place: industrial engineering. But I can remember Barry Jones, Australia’s first science minister, foretelling this coming ‘revolution’ some 30 or more years ago. Barry Jones was most unusual in that he was probably more scientist than politician; certainly, he was a scholar of the highest calibre, which made him something of an oddity in politics.

I would argue that our economic paradigms are yet to catch up with what’s happening in the workplace, not that I’m claiming to have any solutions. But if things stay as they are then the divide between those with jobs and those without is going to become greater as technological advances in robotics and data management become more ubiquitous. So what about all the jobs going offshore? Yes, cheap labour is being exploited in countries with lax OHS regulations and where the cost of living is cheap. But, despite what Donald Trump told his voters, manufacturing has increased in America, not decreased (over the last decade) while unemployment has gone up. How do I know this? Chas Licciardello, the nerd on Planet America showed the graphics on one of the shows he co-hosted with John Barron, explaining that this was due to automation and not offshore labour, otherwise the manufacturing graphic would have declined with the employment graphic.

But, as I alluded to earlier in my discourse, there are other factors involved, not least the still lingering effects of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), which, need I remind anyone, actually started in America with the sub-prime mortgage debacle. So that also had its biggest impact on the least affluent in society, or most economically vulnerable, and they are the ones who are having the biggest say in our collective democracies. We should not be surprised that they feel betrayed by the political system and that they want to turn back the clock to a time when jobs weren’t so scarce and they weren’t at the mercy of the banks.

Someone once said (no idea who it was) that when times get tough, economically, societies have a tendency to turn against their fellows. People look for someone to blame and we have witch-hunts (which actually were the consequence of dire circumstances in medieval times). One only has to look at pre-war Europe when Jews were demonised and blamed for everyone else’s economic plight. John Maynard Keynes warned after the armistice deal at the end of World War 1, that it would bankrupt Germany and start another war, which, of course, we now all know it did.

And now we are in similar, if not exactly the same, circumstances where an election candidate can gain substantial ‘populist’ votes for promising to stop immigrants from taking our jobs and undermining our society with un-Western cultural mores. Protectionism and isolationism is suddenly attractive when globalism has never been more lucrative. And it is the right wing of politics, and often, the far right, in whatever country, that has had the most appeal to those who feel disenfranchised and essentially cheated by the system. No where is this more apparent, than in Donald Trump’s recent win in the American presidential election. He has demonstrated just how divided America currently is and the division is largely between the big cities and the rural areas, just like it is in Australia and also England with the recent Brexit vote. It’s the people in outlying regions that feel most affected by the economic crisis – this is a worldwide phenomenon in the Western world. It’s a wakeup call to all mainstream political parties that they can’t leave these people behind or think they can win elections just by appealing to city voters.

However, as alluded to in the title, there is an irony here – in fact, there are a few ironies. Firstly, all politicians know, including the ones who don’t admit it, that immigration, in the long term, is good for the economy. Countries like Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand are dependent on immigration for their continued economic growth. There is a limit to economic growth by population growth - and whilst that’s another issue which will need to be addressed some time before this century is over - it’s not what the current political climate is about. The other irony, particularly in America, is that Trump will promote deregulation of commerce, which is what created the financial crisis, which is what spawned the disenfranchised and unemployed workers, who voted him into office.

There is a further irony in that many of these populist leaders – certainly in Australia and America – have an almost virulent opposition to science when it doesn’t suit their ideological agenda. This is particularly true when it comes to climate science. Why is this ironic? Because science has created all the affluence, the infrastructure and the extraordinary communication convenience that everyone in the West considers their birthright.

A recent article in New Scientist (3Dec16, pp.29-32) claimed that people on both sides of an ideological divide will use whatever science they believe to bolster their position. This is called confirmation bias, and we are all guilty. But the issue with climate science is that many on the right believe that it’s a conspiracy by scientists to keep themselves in a job. Most people find this ludicrous, but anyone who is a climate-change sceptic (at least in Australia) believes this with absolute conviction. One Australian politician (recently elected into the Senate) claimed: “I know science fiction when I see it”. How could you argue with that? Not with ‘science facts’, obviously.

Somehow, all these issues get tied to the opposition of gay rights and gay marriage, which one can understand in the classic conservative versus liberal political arena. What this has in common is that it’s a desire to turn back the clock to when things were simpler: men were men and women were women; and marriage was between sexes and not with same sexes. So Trump’s slogan: “Let’s make America great again”; is also a call to turn back the clock by bringing in protectionism and stopping immigration from taking jobs and losing jobs offshore. When Americans made American cars for Americans to drive and didn’t import them from Japan or Europe because they were more fuel-efficient. In fact, he’d love to go back to when fossil fuels were easy to access and there was no limit on their supply. Addiction to oil is arguably the hardest addiction for Western nations to overcome, and, until we do, we really will be living in the past.

But the gay marriage issue is like a marker in the political sand, because one day, like abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage, it will become the status quo and it will be valued and defended equally by both sides of politics. We are in a transition: politically, culturally, technologically and economically.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

How algebra turned mathematics into a language

A little while ago I wrote a post arguing that mathematics as language was just a metaphor. I’ve since taken the post down, though those who subscribe may still have a copy. In the almost 10 years I’ve been writing this blog it’s only the second time I’ve deleted a post. The other occasion was very early in its life when I posted an essay on existentialism (from memory) only to post something more relevant.

The reason I took the post down was because I thought I was being a bit petty in criticising some guy on YouTube who was probably actually doing some good in the world, even if I disagreed with him on a philosophical level. Instead, I wrote a comment on his video, challenging the premise of his talk that the reason mathematics is ‘difficult’ for many people is because it’s not taught as a language. I would still challenge the validity of that premise, but I would now change my own approach by acknowledging that there is a sense in which mathematics is a language, but not in a lingua franca sense.

In my last post – the review of Arrival – language and communication are major themes, and I make mention of a piece of expositional dialogue that I thought very insightful and stuck in my brain as a revelatory thought. To remind everyone: it was the realisation that language determines the limits of what we can think because we all think in a language. In other words, if a language doesn’t define the specific concepts we are trying to comprehend then we struggle to conjure up those concepts, and mathematics provides a good example.

The reason that mathematics is best not construed as a language is because mathematics, as it’s generally practiced, has its own language and that language is algebra. As I’ve said before: mathematics is not so much about numbers as the relationship between numbers, and the efficacy of algebra is that it allows one to see the relationships without the numbers.

And this is the thing, because some people find it easier to think in algebra than others. I will illustrate with examples.

A = k/B then B = k/A

If k is a constant (can’t change) and A and B are variables then there is an inverse relationship between A and B. In other words, if A gets larger then B must get smaller and vice versa. This can be written as A ∝ 1/B or B ∝ 1/A, where ∝ (in this context) means ‘is proportional to’. Note that if the number on the bottom gets smaller then the whole term must get larger and, of course, the converse is also true: if the number on the bottom gets larger then the whole term must get smaller.

People who are familiar with these concepts think this automatically. They also know that if you move a term from one side of an equation to the other, then you either invert it or take its negative. So if you have a language that captures these concepts, then you can think in these concepts with no great effort. It also means that you are not easily intimidated by equations.

To give another common example: the distributive rule, which is arguably the most commonly used rule in algebra.

A = B(C + D) is the same as A = BC + BD

And if A = -B(C - D) then A = BD – BC

(Note that multiplying by minus changes the sign: from + to - and - to +)

We could have done this differently because –(C – D) = D – C and B(D – C) = BD –BC   (So same answer)

This is all very simple stuff and it can be extended to include square roots (including square roots of -1), logarithms, trig functions and so on. Even calculus is just algebra with numbers disappearing into zero with the inverse of infinity.

One of the problems in learning mathematics is that we are trying to learn new concepts and simultaneously a new ‘language’ of symbols. But if the language of algebra allows one to think in new concepts, then a hurdle becomes a springboard to new knowledge.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Arrival; a masterclass in storytelling

Four movie reviews in one year; maybe I should change the title of my blog – no, just kidding. Someone (either Jake Wilson or Paul Byrnes from The Age) gave it the ultimate accolade: ‘At last, a science fiction movie with a brain.’ They also gave it 3.5 stars but ended their review with: ‘[the leads: Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner] have the chops to keep us watching even when the narrative starts to wobble.’ So they probably wouldn’t agree with me calling it a masterclass.

It’s certainly not perfect – I’m not sure I’ve seen the perfect movie yet – but it’s clever on more than one level. I’m always drawn to good writing in a movie, which is something most people are not even aware of. It was based on a book, whose author escaped me as a couple in front of me got up to leave just as the name came up on the screen. But I have Google, so I can tell you that the screenplay was written by Eric Heisserer, and Ted Chiang wrote the novella, “Story of Your Life”, upon which it is based. French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve has also made Prisoners and Sicario, neither of which I’ve seen, but Sicario is highly acclaimed.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the music and soundscape, which really adds another dimension to this movie. I noticed that beginning and end scores were by Max Richter, whom I admire in the contemporary classical music scene. Though the overall music score is credited to Johann Johannsson. Some of the music reminded of Tibetan music with its almost subterranean tones. Australia also gets a bit of 'coverage', if that's the right word, though not always in a flattering manner. Forest Whitaker's character reminds us how we all but committed genocide against the Aboriginal people.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m willing to give credit to both writers for producing a ‘science fiction story with a brain’. Science fiction has a number of subgenres: the human diaspora into interstellar space; time travel; alien worlds; parallel universes; artificial intelligence; dystopian fiction, utopian fiction and the list goes on, with various combinations. The title alone tells us that this is an Alien encounter on Earth, but the movie keeps us guessing as to whether it’s an invasion or just a curious interloper or something else altogether.

I’ve written elsewhere that narrative tension is one of the essential writing skills and this story has it on many levels. To give one example without giving the plot away, there is a sequence of narrative events where we think we know what’s going to happen, with the suspense ramping up while we wait for what we expect to happen to happen, then something completely unexpected happens, which is totally within the bounds of possibility, therefore believable. In some respects this sums up the whole movie because all through it we are led to believe one thing only to learn we are witnessing something else. It’s called a reversal, which I’m not always a fan of, but this one is more than just a clever twist for the sake of being clever. Maybe that’s what the reviewer meant by ‘…when the narrative starts to wobble’. I don’t know. I have to confess I wasn’t completely sold, yet it was essential to the story and it works within the context of the story, so it’s part of the masterclass.

One of the things that struck me right from the beginning is that we see the movie almost in first person – though, not totally, as at least one cutaway scene requires the absence of the protagonist. I would not be surprised if Ted Chiang wrote his short story in the first person. I don’t know what nationality Ted Chiang is, but I assume he is of Chinese extraction, and the Chinese are major players in this movie.

Communication is at the core of this film, both plot and subplot, and Amy Adams’ character (Louise Banks) makes the pertinent point in a bit of expositional dialogue that was both relevant to the story and relevant to what makes us human: that language, to a large extent, determines how we think because, by the very nature of our brains, we are limited in what we can think by the language that we think in. That’s not what she said but that was the lesson I took from it.

I’ve made the point before, though possibly not on this blog, that science fiction invariably has something to say about the era in which it was written and this movie is no exception. Basically, we see how paranoia can be a dangerous contagion, as if we need reminding. We are also reminded how wars and conflicts bring out the best and worst in humanity with the worst often being the predominant player.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

When evolution is not evolution

No, I’m not talking about creationism (a subject I’ve discussed many times on this blog) but a rather esoteric argument produced by Donald D Hoffman and Chetan Prakash in an academic paper titled Objects of Consciousness. Their discussion on evolution is almost a side issue, and came up in their responses to the many objections they’ve fielded. I read the paper when I was sent a link by someone who knows I’m interested in this stuff.

Donald Hoffman is a cognitive scientist with a Ph.D. in Computational Psychology and is now a full professor at University of California, Irvine. Chetan Prakash is a Professor Emeritus at California State University, San Bernardino and has a Master of Science in Physics and a Master of Science in Applied Mathematics.

I should point out at the outset, that their thesis is so out there, that I seriously wondered if it was a hoax. But given their academic credentials and the many academic citations and references in their paper, I assume that the authors really believe in what they’re arguing. And what they’re arguing, in a nutshell, is that everyone’s (and I mean every person’s) perception of the world is false, because, aside from conscious agents, every thing else, including spacetime, is impermanent.

Their paper is 20 pages long (including 5-6 pages of objections and replies) most of which are densely worded interspersed with some diagrams and equations. To distil someone’s treatise into a single paragraph is always a tad unfair, so I’ll rely heavily on direct quotations and references to impart their arguments. Besides, you can always read the entire paper for yourself. Basically, they argue that ‘interacting conscious agents’ are the only reality and that nothing else exists ‘unperceived’. They formulate a mathematical model of consciousness, from which they derive a wave function that is the bedrock of quantum mechanics (which I’ll refer to as QM for brevity). In other words, they argue that the Copenhagen interpretation of QM requires consciousness to bring objects into reality (except consciousness) which are all impermanent.

It’s a well known philosophical conundrum that you can’t prove that you’re not a ‘brain-in-a-vat’, and theirs is a similar point of view in that it can’t be proved that they’re wrong, even though, as they point out themselves, we mostly all believe their view is wrong. I don’t know of anyone (other than the authors) who think that the world ceases to exist when they’re not looking. This is known as solipsism and there is a very good argument against solipsism even though it can’t be proved it’s wrong. In fact, solipsism is absolutely true when you’re in a dream, so it’s not always wrong. The point is that when we’re in a dream, despite all its inconsistencies, we actually don’t know we’re in a dream, so how can you be sure you’re not in a dream when you’re consciously awake? The argument against solipsism is that it can only be held by one person: it’s impossible to believe that everyone else is a solipsist too.

In the objections, item 6, they ‘reject solipsism’, yet ‘also reject permanence, viz., the doctrine that 3D space and physical objects exist when they are not perceived [but not conscious agents]. To claim that conscious agents exist unperceived differs from the claim that unconscious objects and space-time exist unperceived.’ In other words, consciousness is the only reality, a point they make in response to Objection 19: ‘reality consists of interacting conscious agents.’ But if one takes this seriously, then even the bodies that we take for granted don’t exist ‘unperceived’ whilst our consciousness does. It’s utter nonsense, except in a dream. What they are describing is exactly the reality one perceives in a dream, so their theory is effectively that the reality we all believe we inhabit is, in fact, a dream. Which is effectively a variation on solipsism. The only difference is that we all inhabit the same dream together. So we’re all brains in a vat, only connected. The authors, I’m sure, would reject this interpretation, yet it fits exactly with what they’re arguing. Only in a dream do objects, including our own bodies, cease to exist unperceived.

Evolution comes up a lot in their paper because one of the centrepieces of their thesis is that evolution by natural selection produces perceptions that favour ‘fitness’ over ‘truth’. They claim to run 'genetic algorithms’ that show that evolution by natural selection benefits perception for ‘fitness’ over ‘accuracy’. The point is that we must take this assertion on face value, because we don’t know what algorithms they’re using or how they even define fitness, perceptions and truth. In fact, Objection 12 asks this very question. Part of the authors' response goes: ‘For the sake of brevity, we omitted our definition of truth and perception… But they are defined precisely in Monte Carlo simulations of evolutionary games and genetic algorithms…’

In particular, the authors use vision to make their case. It’s well known that the brain creates a facsimile of what we see in ways that we are still trying to understand, and to which, to date, we’ve failed to engineer to the same degree of accuracy in artificial intelligence (AI). But theoretical algorithms and Monte Carlo simulations aside, we have the means to compare what we subjectively see with an objective representation.

It so happens that we have invented devices that create images (both stationary and dynamic) through chemical-electronic-mechanical means independently of the human brain and they show remarkable, but unsurprising, veracity with what our brain perceives subjectively. Now, you might say that the same brain perceives this simulated vision, so one would expect it to provide the same image. I think this is a long bow to draw, because the image effectively gets ‘processed’ twice: once through the device and once through the brain, yet the result is unequivocally the same without the interim process. In fact, the interim process can show what we miss, like the famous example of a gorilla moving through a room while you are concentrating on a thrown ball. But, in the context of their thesis, the camera is not a conscious entity yet it captures an image that is supposedly nonexistent when unperceived. And cameras can be set up to capture images without the interaction of so-called ‘conscious agents’.

Now the authors are correct when they point out that colour, for example, is a completely psychological phenomenon – it only exists in some creature’s mind, and it varies from species to species – this is well known and well understood. We also know that it’s caused by reflected light which can be scientifically explained by Richard Feynman’s (I know it’s not his alone) QED (Quantum Electrodynamics) and that the subjective experience of colour is a direct consequence of the frequency of electromagnetic radiation.  But the fact that colour is subjective doesn’t make the objects, from which the effect is consequential, subjective as well.

Regarding the other mathematical contribution to their thesis, the authors have created a mathematical model of consciousness, from which they derive the wave function for QM. I’m not a logician, so I can’t say one way or another how valid this is. However, it should be pointed out that Erwin Schrodinger, who originally proposed the wave function, in his famous eponymous equation, didn’t derive it from anything. So the authors claim they’ve done something that the original creator of the wave function couldn’t do himself. As Richard Feynman once said: ‘Schrodinger’s equation can’t be derived from anything we know.’ However, the authors claim it can be derived from consciousness. I’m sceptical.

You may wonder what all this has to do with the title of this post. Well, in response to objection 19, the authors propose to come up with a ‘new theory of evolution’ based on their theory of conscious agents. To quote: ‘When the new evolutionary theory is projected onto the spacetime perceptual interface of H. Sapiens we must get back the standard evolutionary theory.’ This means that the DNA, and the molecules that make the DNA, that allowed consciousness to evolve are actually dependent on said consciousness, so the ‘new theory of evolution’ must logically contradict the ‘standard theory of evolution’.

As part of their thesis, the authors make an analogy between a computer desktop and spacetime, only, the way they describe it, it appears to be more than an analogy to them.

Space and time are the desktop of our personal interface, and three-dimensional objects are icons on the desktop. Our interface gives the impression that it reveals true cause and effect… But this appearance of cause and effect is simply a useful fiction, just as it is for the icons on the computer desktop.

(The interface, to which they refer, is a ‘species-specific interface’, which means it’s a human consciousness interface. They don’t say if this interface applies to other sentient creatures, or just us.)

The issue of cause and effect being a ‘useful fiction’ was taken up by someone (authors of objections are not given) in objection 17, to which the authors of the theory responded thus:

Our views on causality are consistent with interpretations of quantum theory that abandon microphysical causality… The burden of proof is surely on one who would abandon microphysical causation but still cling to macrophysical causation.

I could respond to this challenge, but it’s not relevant to my argument. The point is that the authors obviously don’t ‘cling to macrophysical causation’, which I would contend creates a problem when discussing evolutionary theory. The point is that according to every discussion on biological evolution I’ve read, extant species are consequentially dependent on earlier species, which means there is a causal chain going back to the first eukaryota. If this causal chain is a ‘useful fiction’ then it is hard to see how any theory of evolution that excludes it could be called evolutionary. With or without this useful fiction, the authors ‘new theory’ turns evolution on its head, with conscious agents taking precedence over physical objects, including species, all of which are impermanent. In spite of this ontological difficulty, the authors believe that when they ‘project’ their ‘new theory’ onto the ‘species-specific interface’ of impermanent spacetime (which doesn’t exist unperceived), the old ‘standard theory of evolution’ will be found.

I’ve left a comment on the bottom of the web page (link given in intro above) which challenges this specific aspect of their theory (using different words). If I get a response I’ll update this post accordingly.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Dr Strange; a surprisingly philosophical movie

I have to admit I wouldn’t have gone to see this based on the trailer, as it just appeared to be a special effects spectacular, which is what you expect from superhero movies. And it seemed very formulaic - an apprentice, a mentor, a villain who wants to destroy the world - you know the script. What changed my mind was a review by Stephen Romei in the Australian Weekend Review (29-30 Oct. 2016), who gave it 3.5 stars, and re-reading it, gives a lot of the plot away. I’ll try not to do that here, but I’m not promising.

Dr Stephen Strange is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is much better cast here than in The Imitation Game, which I thought was a travesty. As an aside, The Imitation Game was an insult to the real Alan Turing, but I don’t believe that was Cumberbatch’s fault. I blame the director, writers and producers, who, knowing the audience’s ignorance, gave them the caricature of genius that they expected the audience wanted to see.

Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange is a self-obsessed, egotistical, unapologetically self-promoting brain surgeon. He’s never known failure and that’s an important psychological point in my view. The first subliminal philosophical reference in this movie is the well-worn trope: the unexamined life is not worth living. This is pretty much the theme or premise of every story ever told. The point is that no one examines their life until they experience failure, and, of course, Strange faces failure of a catastrophic kind. Otherwise, there’d be no movie.

He then goes on a mystical journey, which many of us may have done at an intellectual level, but can only be done viscerally in the world of fiction. I should point out that I went through a prolonged ‘Eastern philosophy’ phase, which more or less followed on from the ‘Christian’ phase of my childhood. I’m now going through a mathematical phase, as anyone reading this blog could not have failed to notice.

Anyway, Strange’s journey is distinctly Eastern, which is the antithesis of his medical-science background. But he is introduced to an ‘astral’ or ‘spirit’ dimension, and there is a reference to the multiverse, which is a current scientific trope, if I may re-use that term in a different context. I don’t mind that ‘comic book’ movies allude to religious ideas or even that they mix them with science, because one can do that in fiction. I’ve done it myself. The multiverse is an allusion to everything that we don’t know scientifically (even in science) and is the current bulwark against metaphysics. Employing it in a fantasy movie to enhance the fantasy element is just clever storytelling. It embodies the idea, that is still very current in the East, that science cannot tell us everything.

There are 2 mythological references in the movie, including one biblical one. At one point the villain, Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelsen) attempts to seduce Strange to the ‘dark side’, which is very reminiscent of Satan’s attempt to seduce Jesus in the desert. I’ve always liked that particular biblical story, because it represents the corruption of power and status over the need to serve a disenfranchised public. In other words, it is an appeal to ego over the need to subordinate one’s ego for a greater good.

One of the themes of the story is mortality and immortality; something I’ve explored in my own fiction, possibly more explicitly. We live in a time where, as Woody Allen once explained in literary terms, we ‘suspend disbelief’ that we are going to live forever. We tend to avoid, in Western culture, any reference to mortality, yet it is an intrinsic part of life. We all eventually get there but refuse to face it until forced to. This is actually addressed in this movie, quite unexpectedly, as we don’t expect lessons in philosophy in a superhero movie.

Last but not least, there is a subtle but clever allusion to Camus’ famous retelling of the Greek Sisyphus myth (look it up), not something your average cinema audience member would be expected to know. It is embedded in one of those plot devices that I love: where the hero uses an unexpected ‘twist’, both literally and figuratively, and where brain defeats overwhelming force.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Penrose's 3 Worlds Philosophy






This is the not-so-well-known 3 worlds philosophy of Roger Penrose, who is a physicist, cosmologist, mathematician and author. I’ve depicted them pretty well as Penrose himself would, though his graphics (in his books) are far superior to mine (and they don’t run off the page). I know it doesn’t quite fit, but if I made it fit it wouldn’t be readable.

Penrose is best known for his books, The Emperor’s New Mind and Road to Reality; the former being far more accessible than the latter. In fact, I’d recommend The Emperor’s New Mind to anyone who wants a readable book that introduces them to the esoteric world of physics without too many equations and lots of exposition about things like relativity, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics and cosmology. Road to Reality is for the really serious physics student and I have to admit that it defeated me.

The controversial or contentious part of Penrose’s diagram is the ‘Platonic World’ (Mathematics) and its relationship to the other two. The ‘Physical World’ (Universe) and the ‘Mental World’ (Consciousness) are not the least bit contentious - you would think - as everyone reading this is obviously conscious and we all believe that we inhabit a physical universe (unless you are a solipsist). Solipsism, by the way, sounds nonsensical but is absolutely true when you are in a dream.

I’ve mentioned this triumvirate before in previous posts (without the diagram), but what prompted me to re-visit it was when I realised that many people don’t appreciate the subtle yet significant difference between mathematical equations (like Pythagoras’s Theorem or Euler’s equation, for example) and physics equations (like Einstein’s E = mc2 or Schrodinger’s equation). I’ll return to this specific point later, but first I should explain what the arrows signify in the graphic.

I deliberately placed the Physical World at the top of the diagram, because that is the intuitive starting point. The arrows signify that a very small part of the Universe has created the whole of consciousness (Penrose allows that it might not be all of consciousness, but I would contend that it is). Then a very small part of Consciousness has produced the whole of mathematics (that we know about) and here I would concede that we haven’t produced it all because there is still more to learn.

By analogy, according to the diagram, a small part of the Platonic (mathematical) world  ‘created’ the physical universe. Whilst this is implied, I don’t believe it’s true and I’m not sure Penrose believes it’s true either. Numbers and equations, of themselves, don’t create anything. However, the Universe, to all appearances and scientific investigations, is a consequence of ‘natural’ laws, which are all mathematical in principle if not actual fact. In other words, the Universe obeys mathematical rules or laws to an extraordinarily accurate degree that appear to underpin its entire evolution and even its birth. There is a good argument that these laws pre-exist the Universe (as Paul Davies has proposed) and therefore that mathematics pre-existed the Universe, hence its place in the diagram.

So there are at least 2 ways of looking at the diagram: one where the Universe comes first and Mathematics comes last, or alternatively, Mathematics comes first and Consciousness comes last; the latter being more contentious.

I should point out that, for many philosophers and scientists, this entire symbolic representation is misleading. For them, there are not even 2 worlds, let alone 3. They would argue that consciousness should not be considered separately to the physical world; it is simply a manifestation of the physical world and eventually we will create it artificially. I am not so sure on that last point, but, certainly, most scientists seem to be of the view that artificial intelligence (AI) is inevitable and if it’s indistinguishable from human intelligence then it will be conscious. In fact, I’ve read arguments (in New Scientist) that because we can’t tell if someone else has consciousness like we do (notice that I sabotaged the argument by using ‘we’) then we won’t know if AI has consciousness and therefore we will have to assume it does.

But aside from that whole other argument, consciousness plays a very significant role, independently of the Universe itself, in providing reality. Now bear with me, because I contend that consciousness provides an answer to that oft asked fundamentally existential question: why is there something rather than nothing? Without consciousness there might as well be nothing. Think about it: before you were born there was nothing and after you die there will be nothing. Without consciousness, there is no reality (at least, for you).

Also, without consciousness, the concepts of past, present and future have no relevance. In fact, it’s possible that consciousness is the only thing in the Universe that exists in a continuous present, which means that without memory (short term or long term) we wouldn’t even know we were conscious. I’ve made this point in another post (What is now?) where I discuss the possibility that quantum mechanics is in the future and so-called Classical physics is always in the past. I elaborate on a quote by Nobel laureate, William Lawrence Bragg, who effectively says just that.

Not to get too far off the track, I think consciousness deserves its ‘special place’ in the scheme of things, even though I concede that many would disagree.

So what about mathematics: does it also deserve a special place in the scheme of things? Most would say no, but again, I would say yes. Let me return briefly to the point I alluded to earlier: that mathematical equations have a different status to physics equations. Physics equations, like E = mc2, only have meaning in reference to the physical world, whereas a mathematical equation, like Euler’s equation, eix = cos x + i sin x, or his more famous identity, eiπ + 1 = 0, have a meaning that’s independent of the Universe. In other words, Euler’s identity is an expression of a mathematical relationship that would still be true even if the Universe didn't exist.

Again, not everyone agrees, including Stephen Wolfram, who created Mathematica, so certainly much more clever than me. Wolfram argues, in an interview (see below) that mathematics is a cultural artefact, and I’ve come across that argument before. Wolfram has also suggested, if my memory serves me correctly, that the Universe could be all algorithms, which would make mathematics unnecessary, but I can’t see how you could have one without the other. Gregory Chaitin, quotes Wolfram (in Thinking about Godel and Turing) that the Universe could be pseudo-random, meaning that it only appears random, which would be consistent with the view that the Universe is all algorithms. Personally, I think he’s wrong on both counts: the Universe doesn’t run on algorithms and it is genuinely random, which I’ve argued elsewhere.

The problem I have with mathematics being a cultural artefact is that the more you investigate it the more it takes on a life of its own, metaphorically speaking. Besides, we know from Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem that mathematics will always contain truths that we cannot prove, no matter how much we have proved already, which implies that mathematics is a never-ending endeavour. And that implies that there must exist mathematical ‘truths’ that we are yet to discover and some that we will never know.

Godel’s Theorem seems to apply in practice as well as theory, when one considers that famous conjectures (like Fermat’s Last Theorem and Riemann’s Hypothesis) take centuries to solve because the required mathematics wasn’t known at the time they were proposed. For example, Riemann first presented his conjecture in 1859 (the same year Darwin published The Origin of Species), yet it has found connections with Hermitian matrices, used in quantum mechanics. Riemann’s Hypothesis is the most famous unsolved mathematical problem at the time of writing.

The connection between mathematics and humanity is that it is an epistemological bridge between our intellect and the physical world at all scales. The connection between mathematics and the Universe is more direct. There are dimensionless numbers, like the fine-structure constant, the mass ratio between protons and neutrons and the ratio of matter to anti-matter, all of which affect the Universe's fundamental capacity to produce sentient life. I wrote about this not so long ago. There is the inverse square law, which is a mathematical consequence of the Universe existing in 3 spatial dimensions that allows for extraordinarily stable orbits over astronomical time frames. Then there is quantum mechanics, which appears to underpin all of physical reality and can only be revealed in the language of mathematics.

Footnote 1: Stephen Wolfram's argument that mathematics is a cultural artefact and that there is no Platonic realm. Curiously, he uses the same examples I do to come up with a counter-argument to mine. I mostly agree with what he says; we just start and arrive at different philosophical positions.

Footnote 2: This is Roger Penrose being interviewed by the same person on the same topic, and giving the antithetical argument to Wolfram's. You can see that he and I are pretty well in agreement on this subject.

Footnote 3: This is Penrose's own take on his 3 worlds.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The relationship between science and philosophy

I’ve written on this before, but recent reading has made me revisit it, because I think it’s a lot closer and interrelated than people think, especially among scientists. I’m referring to the fact that more than one ‘famous’ scientist has been dismissive of philosophy and its contribution to our knowledge. I’m thinking Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Peter Atkins and, of course, Richard Feynman, whom I particularly admire.

In the Western epistemic canon, if I can use that term, philosophy and science have a common origin, as we all know, with the Ancient Greeks. There was a time when they were inseparable, and certainly up to Newton’s time, science was considered, if not actually called, ‘natural philosophy’. In some circles, it still is. This is to distinguish it from metaphysics, and I think that division is still relevant, though some may argue that metaphysics has no relevance in the modern world.

Plato argued that ‘Metaphysics… holds that what exists lies beyond experience’ (my on-board computer dictionary definition) which in the Platonic tradition would include mathematics, oddly enough. But in the Kantian and Hume tradition: ‘…objects of experience constitute the only reality’ (from the same source).  I would suggest that this difference still exists in practice if not in theory. In other words, science is based on empirical evidence, though mathematics increasingly plays a role. Mathematics, by the way, does not constitute empirical evidence, but mathematics constitutes a source of ‘truth’ that can’t be ignored in any assessment of a scientific theory.

I find I’m already heading down a path I didn’t intend to follow, but maybe I can join it to the one I intended to follow further down the track. So let me backtrack and start again.

Most scientific theories start off in the realm of philosophy, though they may be informed by limited physical evidence. Think, for example, of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Both he and Alfred Wallace (independently) came to the same conclusion, when they traveled to little-known parts of the world and saw creatures that were not only exotic but strange and unexpected. Most significantly, they realised how geography and relative isolation drove species’ diversity. This led them both to develop an unpopular and unproven philosophy called evolution. Evidence came much later in the form of fossils, genetics and, eventually, DNA, which is the clincher. Evidence can turn philosophy into science and theories into facts.

As anyone, who has any exposure to American culture, knows, the philosophical side of this debate still rages. And, to some extent, this is the very reason that some scientists would argue that philosophy is irrelevant or, at the very least, subordinate to science. This point alone is worth elaborating on. There is a dialectic between science and philosophy and the dominant discipline, for want of a better term, is simply dependent on our level of knowledge, or, more importantly perhaps, our level of ignorance. By dialectic I mean a to-ing and fro-ing, so that one informs the other in a continual and constructive dialogue, which leads to an evolvement which we call a theory.

Going back to the example of the theory of evolution, which, after 150 years, is both more fraught with difficulties and more cemented in evidence than either Darwin or Wallace could have imagined. In other words, and this is true in every branch of science, the more we learn about something the more mysteries we uncover. For example, DNA reveals in extraordinary relief how every species is related and how all life on Earth had a common origin, yet the origin and evolution of DNA itself, whilst not doubted, poses mysteries of its own. And while mysteries will always exist, anti-science proponents will find a foothold to sow scepticism and disbelief.

But my point is that the philosophy of evolutionary biology is strengthened by science to the extent that it is considered a fact by everyone except those who argue that the Bible has more credibility than science. Again, I’m getting off-track, but it illustrates why scientists have a tendency to demote philosophy, when it is used to promote ignorance over what is already known and accepted in mainstream science.

On a completely different tack, it’s well known that Einstein held a deep scepticism about the validity and long-term scientific legacy of quantum mechanics. What is lesser known is his philosophical belief in determinism that led him to be so intractable in his dissent. Einstein’s special theory of relativity led to some counter-intuitive ideas about time. Specifically, that simultaneity is subjective, not objective, if events are spatially separated (refer my post on Now). Einstein came to the philosophical conclusion that the Universe is determinant, where space and time are no longer separate but intrinsically combined in space-time. Mathematically, this is resolved by treating time as a fourth dimension, and, in Einstein’s universe, the future is just as fixed as the past, in the same way that a spatial dimension is fixed. This is a philosophical viewpoint that arose from his special theory of relativity and thus informed his worldview to the point that it contradicted the inherent philosophy of quantum mechanics that tells us, at a fundamental level, everything is random.

And this brings me full circle, because it was reading about the current, increasingly popular, many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics that led me to contemplate the metaphorically and unavoidably incestuous relationship between philosophy and science. In particular, adherents to this ‘theory’ have to contend with their belief that every action they do in this universe affects their counterparts in parallel universes. I’ve expressed my dissent for the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics elsewhere, so I won’t discuss it here. However, I would like to address this specific consequence of this specific philosophy. You have a stream of consciousness that is really the only thing you have that gives you a reality. So, even if there are an infinite and continual branching of your current universe into parallel universes, your stream of consciousness only follows one and axiomatically that’s the only reality you know.

And now, to rejoin the path that led me astray, let's talk about mathematics. Mathematics has followed its own historical path in Western thought alongside science and philosophy with its own origins in Plato’s Academy. In fact, Plato adopted the curriculum or quadrivium from Pythagoras’s best student, Archytas (after specifically seeking him out), which was arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. Mathematics is obviously the common denominator in all these.

Mathematics also has philosophical ‘schools’ which I’ve written about elsewhere, so I won’t dwell on that here. Personally, I think mathematics contains truths that transcend humanity and the universe itself, but it’s the pervasive and seemingly ineluctable intrusion into science that has given it its special epistemological status. String Theory or M Theory is the latest, most popular contender for a so-called Theory of Everything (TOE) yet it’s more philosophy than scientific theory. It’s only mathematics that gives it epistemic status, and it’s arguably the best example of the dialect I was talking about. I’ve written in another post (based on Noson Yanofsky’s excellent book) that we will never know everything there is to know in both science and mathematics. This means that our endeavours in attempting to understand the Universe (or multiverse) will be never-ending, and thus the dialectic between science and philosophy will also be never-ending.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

How xenophobia is undermining our democracy

Today, in Australia, we are having a Federal election and there is a very large elephant in the room.  Tony Abbott (former conservative Prime Minister, who was ousted by his own party) made the point, a couple of days out from polling day (today) that there were 2 issues that were never discussed or debated in the election campaign. One was so-called ‘border protection’ and the other was something I’ve since forgotten, so obviously not as important to me as it was to Tony. In a perverse sort of way, he is right: border protection is all about how we treat asylum seekers. It’s a euphemism for offshore detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The reason that it was never raised is because both of the major parties are too ashamed to mention it and, besides, everyone knows that refugees can’t vote. As a consequence, for the first time in my life I refuse to vote for either of the major parties.

It’s a pity we can’t time travel - Dr Who style into the future - so we can see how future generations judge Australia in this page of our history. I’m pretty sure it won’t be flattering.  Pauline Hanson’s political skills are rudimentary at best and her political party has floundered, imploded and all but self-destructed, yet her influence on Australian refugee policy will go down in history as an example of how democracy can bring out the worst characteristics of humanity and conquer compassion, tolerance and charitable instincts. Her ego must be currently inflated beyond the bounds of all reason when she looks to America and sees that one of the contenders for the most powerful position in the free world holds the same contempt for outsiders as she does.

Not that Australia is in any position to admonish Trump when we have the most draconian, morally bankrupt, human rights-defying, democracy-eroding policy towards asylum seekers in the Western world. Why democracy-eroding, you may ask. Journalistic freedom is the measure of any democracy anywhere in the world. When we hide activities, involving human rights, from the media under the guise of national security, democracy is weakened. The Government does not want us to know what’s happening on Manus Island or Nauru and have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the Australian public in the dark. It’s a human rights catastrophe, and if I’m wrong then let the media report on it. Where else in the so-called free world can health professionals be threatened with jail for reporting on human rights abuses by agents of their own government. This is not democracy. What makes this law so perverse is that health professionals have a legal obligation to do the exact opposite when it comes to abuses on mainland Australia.

How have both major parties found themselves stranded in this moral wasteland called offshore detention? Some believe it started with Tampa (see links below) some 15 years ago under Prime Minister John Howard. Tim Costello, a Baptist minister and head of World Vision, made the point on a television panel a few months ago that the last 15 years politicisation of asylum seekers in Australia has been ‘toxic’. Tim’s brother, Peter, of course was Treasurer of that same government. Tim quipped that dinner table conversations could be awkward.

But detention of asylum seekers started under a Labor government before Howard's time, under Prime Minister Hawke (if memory serves me right) with refugees from Cambodia when it was trying to recover from the Khmer Rouge.

Former conservative Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, was so disgusted with Howard’s policies on this matter that he took the unprecedented step of resigning from the party. This is what happens when the masses lead the government instead of the government showing leadership. In my lifetime I’ve seen 3 waves of refugee immigration and it always creates insecurity and lends itself to some degree of intolerance, but in the past, governments appreciated the economic benefit that immigration can bring. We have an immigration policy that goes largely unnoticed, but the demonisation of ‘boat people’ allows the government to practice policies that are unconscionable, unconstitutional and that would be rejected in a heartbeat if they were practiced on anyone we cared for.


A more detailed analysis of this policy, within its historical and political context can be found here and here.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Homage to my Old Man; a generation gone

I read an interesting article by Christos Tsiolkas (an Australian celebrated author) in Saturday’s Spectrum (The Age, 21 May 2016) discussing the films and characters of Martin Scorcese and their influence on Tsiolkas. He remarked that they shared something in common. Both are sons of immigrants: Scorsese’s Italian to America and Tsiolkas’ Greek to Australia; both post-war, I expect.

I was born in the aftermath of WW2, so I’ve seen over half a century of change. The relevance to Tsiolkas’ commentary is that the characters in Scorcese’s early films, represent for Tsiolkas, an inability to deal with a changing world, where issues of angst are resolved violently, though not necessarily satisfactorily. He gives special mention to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, both collaborations of filmmaker Scorcese, writer Paul Schrader and actor Robert de Niro. In my own way, I started to think how the world had changed in my time from my father’s time.

I also read an interview with Lang Lang in The Weekend Australian Review (21-22 May 2016) who talked candidly about the tumultuous relationship he had with his father, who even suggested once that his son commit suicide because he was unhappy with his pianistic progress.

Well, my father never told me to commit suicide but our relationship was volatile to say the least and never really gained a satisfactory denouement until after his death. He often appears in my dreams, but it’s as if I’m time travelling into our past, because I’m never surprised that he’s alive and everything is pretty well normal.

My father grew up in the depression, left school at 14, despite having a good brain for both literature and numeracy. He ran away from one school, run by Catholic brothers, to avoid getting a caning. From what I can understand he used to resolve arguments with his fists, even against bigger boys, and he became a boxer, probably after the war but before I knew him. In the war he was captured by the Germans on Crete after he volunteered to stay and look after the wounded, and spent 2.5 years as a prisoner of war, escaping 3 times before they sent him home as an exchange prisoner. He told me it was only Red Cross parcels that kept him alive, and strangely he held no animosity towards the Germans in all the years I knew him.

My father was a non-combatant; he was in the Field Ambulance Corp as the assistant, not the driver. He was not a hero, but he made sacrifices. He once dragged a wounded man behind a tree while they were being strafed, and then dragged him around the other side while the plane turned to make another run. I once had a dream of being strafed by a plane and I was terrified. He voluntarily put himself in danger to save another; I’m not sure I could do that.

On Crete, after the occupation, it’s well known there was a resistance movement who paid dearly. My father was once involved in an escape attempt with another. He said it was always the women who organised these things. They were sprung by an armed German, but he didn’t know how many there were. My father gave himself up so the others could escape. The escapee managed to get word to my grandmother that he was alive. Up to then she only knew that he was ‘missing in action’.

I knew him, of course, in the decades after he returned and he was not someone you crossed. My father was very scary at times; we all walked around on eggshells for most of my upbringing. He and my mother had terrible fights but he never hit her. He hit us kids, which was the norm in his day, and I grew a psychological skin so I stopped feeling the pain, but stopped feeling in other ways as well. I don’t blame him or hate him nor do I really forgive him, but I don’t judge him either. I’ve never lived what he lived through and I can’t imagine that if I did I would have survived. He and I fought almost up to his dying days such was our strange relationship.

And what of my mother? Well, she’s still alive and at 95 she can beat me at scrabble. Seriously. I think she’s a saint to be honest and that’s all I’ll say; at least while she’s alive.

As for me, I couldn’t fight to save myself and I was bullied at school when fighting between boys was still considered a healthy activity. I’ve never resolved a fight with my fists and can’t imagine even being tempted to.

In my one and only novel, I wrote a dedication to my father: To Blue. Because he would have enjoyed it. My father loved a good story of any genre and he would have genuinely enjoyed it. Sadly, he never saw it.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Is morality objective?

This is another 'Question of the Month' from Philosophy Now (Issue 113, April/May 2016).

There is a constraint on length (400 words) otherwise I'd elaborate more. I have addressed this issue before regarding a specific case, which I cite in my essay below.


There are two types of morality that co-exist virtually everywhere and at all times, yet they are, for the most part, poles apart. They are morality in theory and morality in practice and they align with objective morality and subjective morality respectively. I will demonstrate what I mean by example, but first I will elaborate on morality as it is practiced. For most people morality stems from cultural norms.

Many people rely on their conscience to determine their moral compass but one’s conscience is a social construct largely determined by one’s upbringing in whatever society one was born into. For example, in some societies, one can be made to feel guilty about the most natural impulses, like masturbation. Guilt and sex have been associated over generations but it is usually one-sided. Women are often forced to carry the greater burden of guilt and homosexuals can be forced to feel criminal. Both these examples illustrate how cultural norms determine the morality one was inculcated with from childhood.

In some societies there are cultural clashes, usually generational, where the same moral issue can inflame antithetical attitudes. For example, in India in December 2012, a young woman, Jyoti Singh, a recently graduated medical student, was raped and murdered on a bus after she went and saw a movie with her boyfriend. A documentary by British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, revealed the cultural schism that exists in India over this issue. Some believed (including the lawyers representing the gang who committed the crime) that the girl was responsible for her own fate, whereas others campaigned to have rape laws strengthened. This demonstrates most starkly how culture determines moral values that become normative and then intransigent.

In many cultures it is taught that God determines moral values, and these are often the most prescriptive, oppressive, misogynistic and sometimes brutal examples of enforced cultural mores. People who practice this often claim that theirs is the only true objective morality, but, in truth, when one invokes God to rationalise one’s morality, anything, including the most savage actions, can be justified.

On the other hand, morality in theory is very simple: it is to treat everyone the same and give everyone the same rights, be they men, women, homosexuals, people of different faith or different skin colour. One only has to look at the treatment of refugees to realise how even the most liberal societies struggle with this precept.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Eye in the Sky

Two movie reviews in a row – but quite different – one arguably the latest incarnation of my generation’s best known comic book icons, and the other a serious intellectual debate on the moral dimension of  modern warfare.

This is a really good movie: one where you can’t leave the cinema without internally debating the pros and cons of a military operation, where you know the consequences are real for those who take part in this very new ‘theatre of war’ involving drone strikes, electronic intelligence surveillance and high tech Western military powers versus third world terrorist enclaves. This is one of those movies where you ask yourself: What would I do? Only many times over.

You insert yourself in so many points of view; a credit to the filmmakers and the actors who create them for you. Only 2 of the actors are known to me: Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman; but they all acquit themselves well, with events taking place simultaneously in 3 geographically separate parts of the world. Such is the nature of modern warfare and communications availability that one can imagine the co-operation of 3 different countries’ governments and military personnel performing one tactically precise operation.

A British production, Colin Firth is one of the producers, which is how it came to Helen Mirren (according to an interview with her) and you wonder why he’s not in it. One can imagine him playing any one of the British roles, such is his versatility. Apparently, the Mirren character was written for a man, so it’s a master stroke giving it to her. Sadly, it’s Alan Rickman’s last film, so it seems fitting to me that he has arguably the best line in the movie: “Never tell a soldier that he doesn’t know the cost of war.” Seeing ‘In Loving Memory of Alan Rickman’ in the credits was as emotional for me as any moment in the movie itself. And the movie certainly has its moments.

I’m not giving anything away by telling you the premise: a drone strike on a house in Nairobi is compromised by the presence of a young innocent girl (just watch the trailer). And it was the trailer that compelled me to go and see this film.  In some respects this is a perfectly realistic and believable recasting of Mills’ famous trolley thought experiment: would you sacrifice the life of 1 innocent man to save the lives of 4 others? In this case, do you sacrifice the life of 1 innocent girl to save the potential 80+ lives from a suicide bomber? Really, that’s it in a nutshell. You empathise with everyone in the so-called chain of command, but, in particular, with the young drone pilots, who must perform the actual kill, one of whom is a woman on her very first operation.

Like the military personnel (played by Rickman and Mirren) you get frustrated by the Public Service mentality of avoiding a decision for fear of yet-to-be realised consequences. But what struck me was that the entire decision-making process was driven purely by legal and political considerations, not moral ones. I’ve never been in a war so I really can’t judge. The truth is that in a war, one’s moral compass is changed, not least because you are trained to kill; something you’ve been taught never to do for your entire life. The other truth is that the more one side escalates atrocities so does the opposing side. Concepts of right and wrong that seem so solid and dependable in civilian life can suddenly become slippery and even obsolete. I’ve never been there but I can imagine.

A few years back I wrote a post on drone warfare after reading an article that cited David Kilcullen (in the Weekend Australian) who opposed it, arguing that it would recruit terrorists. One of the many arguments that takes place in the movie is about winning the propaganda war. At the time, watching the scene, I thought: who cares? But at the end of the movie, I realised that collateral damage is always a propaganda win for the opponent. This is the biggest risk of drone warfare. There is another side to this as well. Someone once pointed out (no, I don’t remember who) that when one side of a conflict is technically superior to the other, the other side invariably uses tactics that are considered unethical by the superior side, but the inferior side know that such tactics are their only advantage. This is the case in the so-called ‘War on Terror’, where the technological might of Western military power is thwarted by suicide bomber attacks in public places.

In movies, it’s not difficult to create a character whom the audience roots for, and in this case, it’s the young girl. Alongside that is the imperative to stop terrorist attacks by ideologues whose stated aim is to eradicate Western political and educational norms in whichever way they can. The film makes it clear that the young girl represents the future that these ideologues oppose.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Superheroes for adults – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This is not the first movie review I’ve written on this blog; not even the first about superheroes. I wrote a review of Watchmen in Oct., 2009, which is an exceptional movie in my view, based on an exceptional graphic novel by Alan Moore, which I have to confess I read some years after I saw the movie.

One really shouldn’t reference other reviewers when writing a review (an unwritten rule of reviewing) but Stephen Romei, writing in the Weekend Australian Review (26-27 Mar., 2016) makes the pertinent point of how our superheroes have evolved over the best part of a century (the ones in this movie were all created pre-WW2). As someone who was born immediately post-WW2, I grew up with these heroes in the form that they were born in, comic books. Like many of my generation (including Romie, I suspect) they are imbedded in my psyche, especially Superman.

Romei makes the point that he’s glad he didn’t take his 10 year old son (so maybe not my generation) because the movie is long and the characters' relationships complex. But the truth is that when you see Lois in a bath you know this isn’t a movie for kids. And no, it’s not a gratuitous nude scene – it’s a very clever way of demonstrating her relationship with Clark without showing them in bed. Our superheroes have become grown up – they have sex. It’s a bit like the point in your life when you realise your parents have been at it for at least as long as you’ve been alive. Bruce Wayne has someone in his bed as well, but we never meet her. In fact, she’s so unobtrusive that I now wonder if I imagined her.

This is a very noirish film, and not only in subtext. The first thing that struck me about this movie was the cinematography: it’s darkly lit, even the outdoor shots. But what makes this film worthy of a blog post is that it has a moral dimension that reflects the current world we live in. It’s about fear and trust and how we are manipulated by politicians and media. Our heroes are flawed, suffer doubt and have to deal with real moral dilemmas. All of these factors are dealt with a level of authenticity that we would not expect from a superhero movie. It’s also about being judged by association; very relevant in the current global environment.

One of the themes of this movie, which is spelt out in some of the dialogue, as well as in gestures, is that these heroes are effectively gods. Bryan Singer brought this home to us as well in Superman Returns (a movie that you either loved or hated; it’s one my favourites, I confess). This is a point I’ve raised myself (when I discussed Watchmen): the superheroes are our ‘Greek Gods’. And like the Greek Gods of literature, they exhibit human traits, dabble in human affairs and even have human lovers. I am a storyteller by nature, and the whole point of storytelling is to be able to stretch our imaginations to worlds and beings that only exist in that realm. But that storytelling only resonates with us when it deals with human affairs, not only of the heart, but of politics and moral crises.

Chris Nolan’s second Dark Knight movie is a case in point, where Heath Ledger’s Joker makes Christian Bale’s Batman become, albeit fleetingly, as morally compromised as he is. This is the lesson: do we have to become as bad as our enemies in order to defeat them. Consider the Republicans’ current leading contender for the White House saying on national television that in order to defeat ISIS we need to attack their families. Cringeworthy doesn’t cover it.

And this movie, in its own way, challenges our prejudices, our inherent distrust in anyone who is ‘not one of us’, especially when we can associate them with atrocities occurring in remote locations and on our doorstep. We are tribal – it’s our strength and our downfall. And this fear and mistrust is manipulated blatantly (in the movie) which is why it is relevant and meaningful to the present day. Science fiction stories, always set in the future, always have something relevant to say about the time in which they are written.

And this brings me to the introduction of Wonder Woman, who has very little screen time, yet promises much for the future. I have a particular interest in her character, because she influenced one of my own creations, albeit subconsciously (I wasn’t aware of the obvious references until after I’d written it). I have to confess I was worried that she would come across as a lightweight, but Gal Gadot gives the role the gravitas it deserves. Gadot is a former Miss Israeli and the fact that she’s served in the military is maybe why she convinces us that she is a genuine warrior and not just someone who looks good in tight-fitting clothes.

Remember that Sean Connery was a Mr Universe contender before he became the first and (50 years later) still the most iconic James Bond. But the reason for her relevance is that female superheroes have been historically in short supply, but there is a sense that their time has come. Looking on the Internet, the biggest concern seemed to be if her boobs were big enough. And, in fact, a radio interviewer asked her that very question. She pointed out that the real Amazonians only had one breast, which may have made the role ‘problematic if one really wanted authenticity’. (I remember being told that as a kid: that they cut off their left breast so they could draw and release a bow string. It seemed plausible to me then and it sounds plausible to me now.) That slightly irrelevant point aside, the original Wonder Woman was based on Greek mythology; she is Hellenic, so possibly more in common with the Greek Gods than any other 20th Century fictional creation. Anyway, I think Gadot perfect for the role, and I only hope the scriptwriters have done her justice in her own story.

Just one bit of trivia: there is a piece of dialogue by Alfred (played pitch-perfect by Jeremy Irons) that has been lifted straight out of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) of which I still have a copy. A subtle but respectful salute.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Argument, reason and belief

Recently in New Scientist (5 March 2016) there was a review of a book, The Persuaders: The Hidden Industry that Wants to Change Your Mind by James Garvey (which I must read), which tackles the issue of why argument by reason often fails. I’ve experienced this first hand on this blog, which has led me to the conclusion that you can’t explain something to someone who doesn’t want it explained. The book referenced above is more about how propaganda works, apparently, but that is not what I wish to discuss.

In the same vein, I’ve recently watched a number of YouTube videos covering excerpts from debates and interviews with scientists on the apparent conflict between science and religion. I say apparent because not all scientists are atheists and not all theologians are creationists, yet that is the impression one often gets from watching these.

The scientists I’ve been watching include Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye (aka the science guy) and Michio Kaku. I think Tyson presents the best arguments (from the small sample I watched) but Michio Kaku comes closest to presenting my own philosophical point of view. In one debate (see links at bottom) he says the ‘God question’ is ‘undecidable’ and predicts that, unlike many scientific questions of today, the God question will be no further advanced in 100 years time than it is in the current debate.

The issue, from my perspective, is that science and religion deal with completely different things. Science is an epistemology – it’s a study of the natural world in all its manifestations. Religion is something deeply personal and totally subjective, and that includes God. God is something people find inside themselves which is why said God has so many different personalities and prejudices depending on who the believer is. I’ve argued this before, so I won’t repeat myself.

At least 2 of the scientists I reference above (Dawkins and Tyson) point out something I’ve said myself: once you bring God into epistemology to explain some phenomenon that science can’t currently explain, you are saying we have come to the end of science. History has revealed many times over that something that was inexplicable in the past becomes explicable in the future. As I’ve said more than once on this blog: only people from the future can tell us how ignorant we are in the present. Tyson made the point that the apposite titled God-of-the-Gaps is actually a representation of our ignorance – a point I’ve made myself.

This does not mean that God does not exist; it means that God can’t help us with our science. People who argue that science can be replaced with Scripture are effectively arguing that science should be replaced by ignorance. The Old Testament was written by people who wanted to tell a story of their origins and it evolved into a text to scare people into believing that they are born intrinsically evil. At least that’s how it was presented to me as a child.

Of all the videos I watched, the most telling was an excerpt from a debate between Bill Nye (the science guy) and Ken Ham (the architect of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky). Ham effectively argued that science can only be done in the present. So-called historical science, giving the age of the Earth or the Universe, or its origins, cannot be determined using the same methods we use for current scientific investigations. When asked if any evidence could change his beliefs, he said there was no such evidence and the Bible was the sole criterion for his beliefs.

And this segues back into my introduction: you cannot explain something to someone who doesn’t want it explained. When I argue with someone or even present an argument on this blog, I don’t expect to change people’s points of view to mine; I expect to make them think. Hence the little aphorism in the blog’s title block.

One of the points made in the New Scientist review, referenced in my opening, is that people rarely if ever change their point of view even when presented with indisputable evidence or a proof. This is true even among scientists. We all try to hang on to our pet theories for as long as possible until they are no longer tenable. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, even though I’m not a scientist.

One of the things that helps perpetuate our stubbornness is confirmation bias (mentioned by New Scientist) whereby we tend to only read or listen to people whom we agree with. We do this with politics all the time. But I have read contrary points of view, usually given to me by people who think I’m biased. I’ve even read C.S. Lewis. What I find myself doing in these instances is arguing in my head with the authors. To give another example, I once read a book by Colin McGinn (Basic Structures of Reality) that only affirmed for me that people who don’t understand science shouldn’t write books about it, yet I still read it and even wrote a review of it on Amazon UK.

There is a thing called philosophy and it’s been married to science for many centuries. Despite what some people claim (Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking to mention 2) I can’t see a divorce any time soon. To use a visual metaphor, our knowledge is like an island surrounded by a sea of unsolved mysteries. The island keeps expanding but the sea is infinite. The island is science and the shoreline is philosophy. To extend the metaphor, our pet theories reside on the beach.

Noson Yanofsky, a Professor of Computer and Information Science in New York, wrote an excellent book called The Outer Limits of Reason, whereby he explained how we will never know everything – it’s cognitively and physically impossible. History has demonstrated that every generation believes that we almost know everything that science can reveal, yet every revelation only reveals new mysteries.

This is a video of Michio Kaku and Richard Dawkins, amongst others, giving their views on science, God and religion.

This is a short video of Leonard Susskind explaining 2 types of agnosticism, one of which he seems to concur with.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

In Nature, paradox is the norm, not the exception

I’ve just read Marcus Chown’s outstanding book for people wanting their science served without equations, Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You. As the title suggests, half the book covers QM and half the book covers relativity. Chown is a regular contributor to New Scientist, and this book reflects his journalistic ease at discussing esoteric topics in physics. He says, right at the beginning, that he brings his own interpretation to these topics but it’s an erudite and well informed one.

No where is Nature’s paradoxical nature more apparent than the constant speed of light, which was predicted by Maxwell’s equations, not empirical evidence. Of course this paradox was resolved by Einstein’s theories of relativity; both of them (the special theory and the general theory). Other paradoxes that seem built into the Universe are not so easily resolved, but I will come to them.

As Chown explicates, the constant speed of light has the same psychological effect as if it was infinite and the Lorentz transformation, which is the mathematical device used to describe relativistic effects, tends to infinity at its limit (the limit being the speed of light). If one could travel at the speed of light, a light beam would appear stationary and time would literally stand still. In fact, this is what Einstein imagined in one of his famous thought experiments that led him to his epiphanic theory.

The paradox is easily demonstrated if one imagines a spacecraft travelling at very high speed, which could be measured as a fraction of the speed of light. This craft transmits a laser both in front of it and behind it. Intuition tells us that someone ahead of the craft who is stationary relative to the craft (say on Earth) receives the signal at the speed of light plus the fraction that it is travelling relative to Earth. On the other hand, if the spacecraft was travelling away from Earth at the same relative speed, one would expect to measure the laser as being the speed of light minus the relative speed of the craft. However, contrary to intuition, the speed of light is exactly the same in both cases which is the same as measured by anyone on the spacecraft itself. The paradox is resolved by Einstein’s theory of special relativity that tells us that whilst the speed of light is constant for both observers (one on the spacecraft and one on Earth) their measurements of time and length will not be the same, which is entirely counter-intuitive. This is not only revealed in the mathematics but has been demonstrated by comparing clocks in real spacecraft compared to Earth. In fact, the Sat-Nav you use in your car or on your phone, takes relativistic effects into account to give you the accuracy you’ve become acquainted with.

However, there are other paradoxes associated with relativity that have not been resolved, including time itself. Chown touches on this and so did I, not so long ago, in a post titled, What is now? According to relativity, there is no objective now, and Chown goes so far as to say: ‘”now” is a fictitious concept’ (quotation marks in the original). He quotes Einstein: “For us physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an Illusion.” And Chown calls it ‘one of [Nature’s] great unsolved mysteries.’

Reading this, one may consider that Nature’s paradoxes are simply a consequence of the contradiction between our subjective perceptions and the reality that physics reveals. However, there are paradoxes within the physics itself. For example, we give an age to the Universe which does suggest that there is a universal “now”, and quantum entanglement (which Chown discusses separately) implies that simultaneity can occur over any distance in the Universe.

Quantum mechanics, of course, is so paradoxical that no one can agree on what it really means. Do we live in a multiverse, where every possibility predicted mathematically by QM exists, of which we experience only one? Or do things only exist when they are ‘observed’? Or is there a ‘hidden reality’ which the so-called real ‘classical’ world interacts with? I discussed this quite recently, so I will keep this discussion brief. If there is a multiverse (which many claim is the only ‘logical’ explanation) then they interfere with each other (as Chown points out) and some even cancel each other out completely, for every single quantum event. But another paradox, which goes to the heart of modern physics, is that quantum theory and Einstein’s general theory of relativity cannot be reconciled in their current forms. As Chown points out, String Theory is seen as the best bet but it requires 10 dimensions of which all but 3 cannot be detected with current technology.

Now I’m going to talk about something completely different, which everyone experiences, but which is also a paradox when analysed scientifically. I’m referring to free will, and like many of the topics I’ve touched on above, I discussed this recently as well. The latest issue of Philosophy Now (Issue 112, February / March 2016) has ‘Free Will’ as its theme. There is a very good editorial by Grant Bartley who discusses on one page all the various schools of thought on this issue. He makes the point, that I’ve made many times myself: ‘Why would consciousness evolve if it didn’t do anything?’ He also makes this statement: ‘So if there is free will, then there must be some way for a mind to direct the state of its brain.’ However, all the science tells us that the ‘mind’ is completely dependent on the ‘state of its brain’ so the reverse effect must be an illusion.

This interpretation would be consistent with the notion I mooted earlier that paradoxes are simply the consequence of our subjective experience contradicting the physical reality. However, as I pointed out in my above-referenced post, there are examples of the mind affecting states of the brain. In New Scientist (13 February 2016) Anil Ananthaswamy reviews Eliezer Sternberg’s Neurologic: The brain’s hidden rationale behind our irrational behaviour (which I haven’t read). According to Ananthaswamy, Sternberg discusses in depth the roles of the conscious and subconscious and concludes that the unconscious ‘can get things wrong’. He then asks the question: ‘Can the conscious right some of these wrongs? Can it influence the unconscious? Yes, says Sternberg.’ He gives the example of British athlete, Steve Backley ‘imagining the perfect [javelin] throw over and over again’ even though a sprained ankle stopped him from practicing, and he won Silver in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

My point is that paradoxes are a regular feature of the Universe at many levels, from quantum mechanics to time to consciousness. In fact, consciousness is arguably the least understood phenomenon in the entire Universe, yet, without it, the Universe’s existence would be truly meaningless. Consciousness is subjectivity incarnate yet we attempt to explain it with complete objectivity. Does that make it a paradox or an illusion?


Addendum: Since writing this post, I came across this video of John Searle discussing the paradox of free will. He introduces the subject by saying that no progress has been made on this topic in the last 100 years. Unlike my argument, he discusses the apparent contradiction between free will and cause and effect.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Creation Science: a non sequitur

A friend of mine – someone whom I’d go to for help – leant me a ‘Creation’ magazine to prove that there are creationists who are real scientists. And, I have to admit, my friend was right: the magazine was full of contributors who had degrees in science, including one who has a PhD and honours and works at a run-of-the-mill university; but who wrote the following howler: ‘Cosmology is unscientific because you can’t do an experiment in cosmology.’ I wonder if said writer would be willing to say that to Australian Nobel Prize winner, Brian Schmidt. Only humans can be living contradictions.

Creation science is an epistemological contradiction – there’s no such thing – by definition. Science does not include magic – I can’t imagine anyone who would disagree with that, but I might be wrong. Replacing a scientific theory with supernaturally enhanced magic is anti-science, yet creationists call it science – as the Americans like to say: go figure.

The magazine was enlightening in that the sole criterion for these ‘scientists’ as to the validity of any scientific knowledge was whether or not it agreed with the Bible. If this was literally true, we would still be believing that the Sun goes round the Earth, rather than the other way round. After all, the Book of Joshua tells us how God stopped the Sun moving in the sky. It doesn’t say that God stopped the Earth spinning, which is what he would have had to do.

One contributor to the magazine even allows for ‘evolution’ after ‘creation’, because God programmed ‘subroutines’ into DNA, but was quick to point out that this does ‘not contradict the Bible’. Interesting to note that DNA wouldn’t even have been discovered if all scientists were creationists (like the author).

Why do you think the ‘Dark Ages’ are called the dark ages? Because science, otherwise known as ‘natural philosophy’, was considered pagan, as the Greeks’ neo-Platonist philosophy upon which it was based was pagan. Someone once pointed out that Hypatia’s murder by a Christian mob (around 400AD) signalled the start of the dark ages, which lasted until around 1200, when Fibonacci introduced the West to the Hindu-Arabic system of numbers. In fact, it is the Muslims who kept that knowledge in the interim, otherwise it may well have been lost to us forever.

So science and Christianity have a long history of contention that goes back centuries before Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin. If anything, the gap has got wider, not closer; they’ve only managed to co-exist by staying out of each other’s way.

There are many religious texts in the world, a part of our collective cultural and literary legacy, but none of them are scientific or mathematical texts, which also boast diverse cultural origins. It is an intellectual conceit (even deceit) to substitute religious teaching for scientifically gained knowledge. Of course scientifically gained knowledge is always changing, advancing, being overtaken and is never over. In fact, I would contend that science will never be complete, as history has demonstrated, so there will always be arguments for supernatural intervention, otherwise known as the ‘God-of-the-Gaps’. Godel’s Incompleteness theorem infers that mathematics is a never-ending epistemological mine, and I believe that the same goes for science.

Did I hear someone say: what about Intelligent Design (ID)? Well, it’s still supernatural intervention, isn’t it? Same scenario, different description.

Religion is not an epistemology, it’s a way of life. Whichever way you look at it, it’s completely subjective. Religion is part of your inner world, and that includes God. So the idea that the God you’ve found within yourself is also the Creator of the entire Universe is a non sequitur. Because everyone’s idea of God is unique to them.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Is this the God equation?

Yes, this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but like most things tongue-in-cheek it just might contain an element of truth. I’m not a cosmologist or even a physicist, so this is just me being playful yet serious in as much as anyone can be philosophically serious about the origins of Everything, otherwise known as the Universe.

Now I must make a qualification, lest people think I’m leading them down the garden path. When people think of ‘God’s equation’, they most likely think of some succinct equation or set of equations (like Maxwell’s equations) from which everything we know about the Universe can be derived mathematically. For many people this is a desired outcome, founded on the belief that one day we will have a TOE (Theory Of Everything) – itself a misnomer – which will incorporate all the known laws of the Universe in one succinct theory. Specifically, said theory will unite the Electromagnetic force, the so-called Weak force, the so-called Strong force and Gravity as all being derived from a common ‘field’. Personally, I think that’s a chimera, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Many physicists believe some version of String Theory or M Theory will eventually give us that goal. I should point out that the Weak force has already been united with the Electromagnetic force.

So what do I mean by the sobriquet, God’s equation? Last week I watched a lecture by Allan Adams as part of MIT Open Courseware (8.04, Spring 2013) titled Lecture 6: Time Evolution and the Schrodinger Equation, in which Adams made a number of pertinent points that led me to consider that perhaps Schrodinger’s Equation (SE) deserved such a title. Firstly, I need to point out that Adams himself makes no such claim, and I don’t expect many others would concur.

Many of you may already know that I wrote a post on Schrodinger’s Equation nearly 5 years ago and it has become, by far, the most popular post I’ve written. Of course Schrodinger’s Equation is not the last word in quantum mechanics –more like a starting point. By incorporating relativity we have Dirac’s equation, which predicted anti-matter – in fact, it’s a direct consequence of relativity and SE. In fact, Schrodinger himself, followed by Klein-Gordon, also had a go at it and rejected it because it gave answers with negative energy. But Richard Feynman (and independently, Ernst Stuckelberg) pointed out that this was mathematically equivalent to ordinary particles travelling backwards in time. Backwards in time, is not an impossibility in the quantum world, and Feynman even incorporated it into his famous QED (Quantum Electro-Dynamics) which won him a joint Nobel Prize with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga in 1965. QED, by the way, incorporates SE (just read Feynman’s book on the subject).

This allows me to segue back into Adams’ lecture, which, as the title suggests, discusses the role of time in SE and quantum mechanics generally. You see ‘time’ is a bit of an enigma in QM.

Adams’ lecture, in his own words, is to provide a ‘grounding’ so he doesn’t go into details (mathematically) and this suited me. Nevertheless, he throws terms around like eigenstates, operators and wave functions, so familiarity with these terms would be essential to following him. Of those terms, the only one I will use is wave function, because it is the key to SE and arguably the key to all of QM.

Right at the start of the lecture (his Point 1), Adams makes the salient point that the Wave function, Ψ, contains ‘everything you need to know about the system’. Only a little further into his lecture (his Point 6) he asserts that SE is ‘not derived, it’s posited’. Yet it’s completely ‘deterministic’ and experimentally accurate. Now (as discussed by some of the students in the comments) to say it’s ‘deterministic’ is a touch misleading given that it only gives us probabilities which are empirically accurate (more on that later). But it’s a remarkable find that Schrodinger formulated a mathematical expression based on a hunch that all quantum objects, be they light or matter, should obey a wave function.

But it’s at the 50-55min stage (of his 1hr 22min lecture) that Adams delivers his most salient point when he explains so-called ‘stationary states’. Basically, they’re called stationary states because time remains invariant (doesn’t change) for SE which is what gives us ‘superposition’. As Adams points out, the only thing that changes in time in SE is the phase of the wave function, which allows us to derive the probability of finding the particle in ‘classical’ space and time. Classical space and time is the real physical world that we are all familiar with. Now this is what QM is all about, so I will elaborate.

Adams effectively confirmed for me something I had already deduced: superposition (the weird QM property that something can exist simultaneously in various positions prior to being ‘observed’) is a direct consequence of time being invariant or existing ‘outside’ of QM (which is how it’s usually explained). Now Adams makes the specific point that these ‘stationary states’ only exist in QM and never exist in the ‘Real’ world that we all experience. We never experience superposition in ‘classical physics’ (which is the scientific pseudonym for ‘real world’). This highlights for me that QM and the physical world are complementary, not just versions of each other. And this is incorporated in SE, because, as Adams shows on his blackboard, superposition can be derived from SE, and when we make a measurement or observation, superposition and SE both disappear. In other words, the quantum state and the classical state do not co-exist: either you have a wave function in Hilbert space or you have a physical interaction called a ‘wave collapse’ or, as Adams prefers to call it, ‘decoherence’. (Hilbert space is a theoretical space of possibly infinite dimensions where the wave function theoretically exists in its superpositional manifestation.)

Adams calls the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of QM the “Cop Out” interpretation which he wrote on the board and underlined. He prefers ‘decoherence’ which is how he describes the interaction of the QM wave function with the physical world. My own view is that the QM wave function represents all the future possibilities, only one of which will be realised. Therefore the wave function is a description of the future yet to exist, except as probabilities; hence the God equation.

As I’ve expounded in previous posts, the most popular interpretation at present seems to be the so-called ‘many worlds’ interpretation where all superpositional states exist in parallel universes. The most vigorous advocate of this view is David Deutsch, who wrote about it in a not-so-recent issue of New Scientist (3 Oct 2015, pp.30-31). I also reviewed his book, Fabric of Reality, in September 2012. In New Scientist, Deutsch advocated for a non-probabilistic version of QM, because he knows that reconciling the many worlds interpretation with probabilities is troublesome, especially if there are an infinite number of them. However, without probabilities, SE becomes totally ineffective in making predictions about the real world. It was Max Born who postulated the ingenious innovation of squaring the modulus of the wave function (actually multiplying it with its complex conjugate, as I explain here) which provides the probabilities that make SE relevant to the physical world.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, the world is fundamentally indeterministic due to asymmetries in time caused by both QM and chaos theory. Events become irreversible after QM decoherence, and also in chaos theory because the initial conditions are indeterminable. Now Deutsch argues that chaos theory can be explained by his many worlds view of QM, and mathematician, Ian Stewart, suggests that maybe QM can be explained by chaos theory as I expound here. Both these men are intellectual giants compared to me, yet I think they’re both wrong. As I’ve explained above, I think that the quantum world and the classical world are complementary. The logical extension of Deutch’s view, by his own admission, requires the elimination of probabilities, making SE ineffectual. And Stewart’s circuitous argument to explain QM probabilities with chaos theory eliminates superposition, for which we have indirect empirical evidence.

If I’m right in stating that QM and classical physics are complementary (and Adams seems to make the same point, albeit not so explicitly) then a TOE may be impossible.