At Hay on Wye HTLGI festival again for the final weekend:
My late arrival and changes to programme meant Friday pm didn’t quite go according to my pre-planning, but got to see and hear;
Denis Noble, Anne Bowcock and Rupert Sheldrake chaired by David Malone, talking on the promissory hype of the Human Genome project – The Emperor’s New Genes. Obviously successful as a project and undoubtedly delivering benefits to bio-medical sciences for rarer conditions with clearer genetic dependencies, but the point of Noble and Sheldrake is that the biological systems have much greater complexities and dependencies on many different layers of abstraction, with two-way processes of causation, than the focus on (ill-defined) genes and some kind of one-way predictable determined causation.
Chiara Marletto, Massimo Pigliucci & Bernard Carr, chaired by Tara Shears discussing A Goldilocks World. The seemingly unlikeliness of (our) being in any given universe. Calling this an Anthropic effect gives egotistical “special” focus on us humans, but question applies to complex outcomes like intelligent life (and created artifacts) generally. Type 2 multiverse interpretation seems to rule. How laws and constants – inc the cosmological and gravitational constants – come to be is part of “creation” of current universe. But views of probabalistic models always flawed by absence of any starting case on the population distribution of possibilities before staring conditions. Denial of free will and problem for physics actually modelling choice at all (See also Chiara in “Playing Dice” later.) (Brandon Carter and Martin Rees much referenced – see video recording now published.)
[Missed Frank Wilczek and Laura Mersini-Houghton on Gravity and Massimo Pigliucci on After Evidence and Missing Evidence with Rupert Sheldrake. See recordings.]
Peter Cameron, Michael Duff and Chiara Marletto chaired by Tara Shears Playing Dice with the Universe. Problem with probabalistic theories of physical behaviour is having any base case for the potential event population distribution in the design space. Chiara focussing on quantum theories (Chiara working with David Deutsch on Constructor Theory). Michael; thought experiments of supposed repeatable cases with particular sets of possible outcomes – Copenhagen / Schroedinger et al. Pragmatically it works – it it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Everett’s bifurcation into many worlds makes people uneasy (I’ll say). Peter; random events previously seen as the works of the gods – Dante “for luck your science finds no measuring rods”. Probability tools work. QM & Chaos (& global economics & insurance business, etc.) But can these functional tools for populations really apply at any fundamental level – without “populations” of possibilities? Chiara agrees, must be able to decompose probable outcomes into individually deterministic effects. Michael; Why … regresses back to some first cause(s) – big bang creating physics – laws of nature – itself. Only point of determination – things happen to be that way from some point such as that. Change, time and causation problematic even at fundamental mechanistic levels of dynamical laws. Physicists don’t like dualism – good. How consciousness interacts with (quantum) physics remains “mystical”. Bernard Carr asks – probabilitistic partial predictability not actually “random” – think directed creativity, in art or otherwise? So some “top down” causation (Bernard) – preparation in higher levels (Peter) even when creative moment is a bolt from the blue (Gauss, et al).
[To be continued …]
John Searle (via link), Opheila Deroy and Rupert Sheldrake (standing in for Markus Gabriel) hosted by David Malone (standing in for Oliver Burkeman) on Matter, Mind and Mystery. Can our material view of the world explain consciousness? Ophelia – wrong question, really suggests our view of natural materialism is itself flawed and our view of consciousness is hides many different elements. Agreed. Not even see distinction between material objects and “thoughts” other than levels of interaction. Rupert – same, but fields (obviously) for these interactions – extensible systems of fields, extensible in both space and time (two way) are testable physics, despite tabo nature of these ideas. Searle – categories in the question not worth a damn (all agreed). Consciousness is a biological (physical) process – inside a brain. No evidence of fields beyond the brain. Entirely biological, but agrees problem is multiple levels of description, even though he priviledges the biological. Theme – ontological problem of “matter” at root? Clearly it’s the stuff of physics, even when it’s biological, but it’s actual ontological description cannot be limited by physicists current model at any given time. What is too dogmatic is that consciousness is just a process of the physically material. Systems are more complex, multi-level and multi-directional. The meaningful concepts are fields in this (whole) medium. One-way reductionist causation is the dogma behind the taboo. Panpsychism is not new to the taboo. But even Searle accepts as wrong, matter as component pieces of matter down to indivisible “atoms”; the components are “points of energy” (but not fields, fields which support and are influenced by attractors?). Searles problem (with Sheldrake) is that bringing in multi-dimensional and directional causation is the incoherent element. I say that’s the reductionist dogma. Searle of course is not anti any research, just certain how we need to base coherence on “what we know” – but isn’t this the dogma that leads to the taboos. Sheldrake is strictly testable empirical science, as we’ve noted before, even though much parapsychological (ESP) research has proven bogus. Proving consciousness exists in something we might accept as an otherwise “inanimate object” is hard, but it’s not actually possible to prove it in another conscious being without their conscious cooperation. (Searle – behaviour and mechanisms, not just behaviour. But isn’t this just circular on a particular predetermined view of what is conscious.) (Ophelia Deroy’s own IAI video here.)
Chiara Marletto on The Limits to Certainty in lunch conversation over new computable predictability of the universe from her work on constructor theory, with David Deutsch. In looking at questions about why certain constants and laws happen to be the way they happen to be, the idea of principles or meta-laws constraining current actual states from within all conceivable possibilities is attractive. Interesting addition to debate on alternatives to greedy reductionism is the concept that impossible states in discrete component systems can be possible in another level of compound system, It’s not just the complexity or any suggestions of reverse causality, simply a principle that such states can be computed. [Also – error correction in computability seems to be complement to mutation in evolution?] Consequences for basic ontology and for causation as the world unfolds seems inescapable, even if the world as a universal quantum computer seems far fetched. Says a lot about fabric of universe as information and about consciousness – and will – as part of that.
[Terry Eagleton on The Swindle of the New. Traditional conservatism and acceptance of history and inevitable aspects of a future based on history mediated by the now are far from bad … innovation is not good in and of itself.]