Poetic Naturalism Meets Fine Tuning

This is just a placeholder for something I should write based on my reading of Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” particularly chapter 36 on Fine Tuning. I’m still reading and almost finished, having posted 2 or 3 reflections so far. Whether I ever do a full review or not, it is very good despite many details of disagreement on “Life, Meaning and the Universe“.

I really do like his poetic naturalism taking seriously “Ways of Talking” around emergence – as I wrote already – and his Bayesian “valuing your priors” logic throughout – the Wittgensteinian thought of “which idea does it make most sense to believe”. There are however, the usual problems for me when it comes to “consciousness” – ignoring 30+ years of Dennett after “Consciousness Explained” (1991) and the “Intentional Stance” (1987). For a physicist he has as open a take on consciousness and free-will as any, and stays close to the information<>entropy<>fitness-landscape thinking, though I’m not sure he makes a lot of progress on consciousness itself. I will come back to this once I’ve finished.

What did catch my eye was his discussion on Fine Tuning, the Anthropic Principle(s) and the Multiverse(s) in Chapter 36. A good elaboration clarifying the distinction between the multiverse and many-worlds ideas but feel he misses the “Anthropic Perspective”. Eye-catching because as I already mentioned, it was the political denial of anthropic problems with our fundamental view of physics – after Rick “Island” Ryals – that first drew me to Carroll. And incidentally it was Island gave me my best understanding of multiple sequential (real) universes, driven by cosmological constant and boundary conditions thinking. [Also in parallel our anthropic (psychological) perspective(s) in how we see and interact with the world is at the core of Iain McGilchrist’s work, mentioned in the previous post. It’s all connected.]

Anyway, for now, the Anthropic issues are worth some analysis … at some point.


Post Notes:

Here Carroll in 3 hours of dialogue with Goff and Frankish has a section on Fine Tuning (as well as emergence generally):

And here, completely left-field, Hossenfelder finds Krauss “fun”. Connected because of the mention of “science ideology” – progress in itself!

And even “lefter” field?
Woke is when naivety is mistaken for wisdom.

The Matter With Things – Iain McGilchrist

[Latest Updates:

Iain McGilchrist’s new 2-volume book was published earlier this week – I’ve not yet received my copy and was unable to attend any of the launch events either online or in person – but here is Iain with Jonathan Rowson of the publisher Perspectiva:

I’ve referred to McGilchrist and his “Master and Emissary” over 50 times in my work and had the pleasure of meeting him at one of the “How The Light Gets In” events. Here I’m just collecting a few key pieces before I receive his latest. First the RSA-Animate that Jonathan refers to:

And here the full-length The Divided Brain – Film.

And let’s add previews on his latest:

And finally “Channel McGilchrist” for all future updates.

Follow The Money?

Or does the money follow them?

The “TERF War” has been topical here because it exemplifies the “woke” culture wars that have totally disfigured public discourse. Essentially that wider rationality has been “captured” by a simplistic, selective, PC, polarising and sloganising objectification of facts and rights that squeeze out all care for individuals, nuance and complexity.

The irony is that free-thinking “intellectuals” would traditionally side with left-leaning, “liberal” politics and yet it is the left-liberal institutions and media that get most “captured” and paralysed by the simplistic PC versions of the wokery. We get a “culture war” between narrow “ideological” rationalities instead of a wider rational integration of the true complexities experienced by human individuals. Free-thinking intellectuals become constrained – even unwelcome and attacked – at the institutions where they are most needed and inevitably seek alternatives that provide them the freedom and security. Resources that require funding beyond the traditional left-liberal context.

Alice Dreger already left academia to set-up her own self-sufficient “on a shoe-string” local media operation.

Of course, that’s a reference to yesterday’s announcement of the new “University of Austin” (UAT) not to be confused with the UT@A and all the other Austin universities.

Jonathan Haidt had already set up his “Heterodox Academy” and he’s one of the “board of advisors” at UAT. Quite a roll of founders and advisors: Niall Ferguson, Bari Weis, Steven Pinker, Haidt, Vicky Sullivan, Deirdre McCloskey and more. Actual staff – Peter Boghossian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and …

Kathleen Stock, who must have had the UAT proposition put to her when she needed a way out of her Sussex harassment.

And because the UAT venture is funded by … the Koch Brothers … a lot of Left-Liberal academics are now tarred / smeared by the Right-Libertarian brush. Ho hum. This one will run and run. (It’s why I started the Liberal<>Libertarian thread last week.)


Post Note: And talking about true complexity and “capitalist” funding of free academic thought:

Several academics associated with SFI Complex Systems considered intellectual friends here on Psybertron, including Jessica Flack, justifying her net-good position re the funding (thread):

Trans “Debate” Optimism

Promised myself I wouldn’t post anymore about the “TERF War” since it seemed that at last common sense was starting to prevail, and I could shift my attention to the wider issues of identity politics in philosophy and science (and hence “science-led” politics) generally.

ie There’s an even bigger issue than the “TERF War” even though that already affects over 50% of the world’s population directly and who deserve our support and defence (Women and Trans and LGB and Children).

But, the Doc Stock interview with Julie Bindel is so positively uplifting and filled with unmitigated common sense around all the issues involved that it needs to be shared and experienced by everyone who “cares”.

“Kathleen Stock – I Won’t Be Silenced”
with Julie Bindel on Unherd.

Highly recommended.

(Retweeted and commented several highlights from the interview, and the transcript is only highlights too, but there are so many good points in there. An exemplary resource for anyone who cares.)


Post Note: and the best outcome for me? Adding Doc Stock to my list of philosophy resources generally – beyond this one issue. She’s a keeper.

Post Note: And the common sense reaches the mainstream. Hat Tip to Lorraine Kelly:

Henri Bergson, Julian Huxley’s Seed Crystal?

Bergson scholar Emily Herring 2017 piece in the Annals of Science is worth a read for the Bergsonian influence on the modern evolutionary synthesis.

I was struck early on by the sentence quoted below, a recurring theme for me of the idea that one’s own supersaturated (dense and incoherent) thoughts often crystalize (cohere) around a recognisable seed crystal event involving one individual. For Robert Pirsig it was Sarah Vinke’s “quality” question. For me it was retrospectively recognising Pirsig’s coming together of Zen and Engineering when Nobel physicist Brian Josephson mentioned (with Henry Stapp) the weird parallel’s between fundamental physics and Eastern philosophies.

For Huxley, encountering Henri Bergson shortly after the 1909 Darwin 50th event in Oxford was:

… not so much a turning point in my career
as a crystallization of my ideas.

Whatever the precise sequence of events, the remembered event pinpoints a significant step in the development of thought.

Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring #COP26

Pointing out that hypocrisy has become the standard of all political discourse rather than addressing substantive content. Great post from Jamie Bartlett earlier today:

(And actually a good thread of comments reinforcing the point that “taking sides” against opponents is generally destroying all political decision-making nuance.)

In fact as I frequently point out (after Brunsson) hypocrisy is an essential political skill – being able to hold conflicting positions in different contexts over different times. Anyone who can’t is a simpleton and shouldn’t be allowed near a difficult decision.

The rest of this post is just a dump of thoughts I really can’t be bothered to append to every social-media post or response.

So much in the opening COP26 speeches by national premiers and treasures “out-rhetoricking” each other in how close to midnight / extinction / crisis / emergency / rebellion / time-bomb / now-or-never / last-chance we are on climate change. It just ramps up the political stakes – rallies “troops” – without adding anything to any solutions. Indeed it simply leaves more meaningless hostages-to-fortune lying around for hypocritical hypocrites to pick over next time round. All it does it make future rational action much harder and in the meantime increases the risk of taking dumb counter-productive actions because they are populist vote-catchers.

And in a similar vein from Tom Chivers too:

Some specifics:

The new Workington coal mine? How can the UK claim climate leadership whilst building a new coal-mine. Quite simple really:

And now after commitments to net-zero carbon-equivalent footprints and fossil-fuel usage, driven by global-warming calculations we have a methane commitment. We keep setting targets based on simple single numbers. Tunnel vision on a few easy tangibles, ignoring the ecosystem as a whole:

Teli Chinelis (on LinkedIn)
Once again they left out noise pollution. The second biggest environmental health risk after air pollution (according to WHO). Whoever deals with Net zero etc assessments is laughing all the way to the bank!!!”

a close up of text on a white background

Me in reply:
“It shows *that* some things are connected, but nothing about *how*. Anything this complex needs a level of abstraction – and systems thinking and complexity as explicit subjects in their own right. As soon as one tries to be specific, any list (eg of emissions or pollutions – air, water, noise, light, …) will be incomplete. But I agree with the thrust of the post. The “tunnel vision” comes from focussing on the specific countable things. Carbon equivalent, average temperature, … ‘one species loss is a tragedy’ anyone?”

Matthew West, further reply:
“I think the mistake here is to think that focusing on one thing means not focusing on something else, that somehow these things are mutually exclusive. Personally, I’d go for the UN sustainability goals. We need to address all of them, and addressing one does not mean not addressing the others. https://sdgs.un.org/goals – 17 distinct goals.”

Yet again the UN itself has high-quality content. Just like with human rights from freedom of expression of thought and belief downwards, it has sustainability well covered as a complex interdependent system.

Which leaves a few things for now.

The Biodiversity angle of terrestrial sustainability? A huge amount of focus is put on individual species and mutations, but there are zillions of them. The way I see it we should obviously avoid artificial mono-cultures, at least ones without more natural ecosystems joining them up. BUT at any given point in time (roughly) 1/3 of those zillions of species are going extinct quite naturally, 1/3 enjoy stability and 1/3 are still finding their secure niches. Sure, the gene-pool might lose a potentially valuable gene somewhere at some point (it’s losing 1/3 zillions of them quite naturally) but we can’t “focus” on every individual gene.

(Same as we can’t focus on counting individual Covid deaths in a pandemic.)

And as I also often point out hydrocarbons, fossil and living, in the soil and deeper in the earth are themselves entirely natural, methane included. There are places where they bubble to the surface entirely naturally.

Forest fires too. Recent years we are actually having fewer fires over smaller areas than has historically been the case quite naturally. They’re just hitting the media more (a) because it’s fashionable and (b) because thanks to more human habitation closer to less managed wild forests more humans are being affected directly. (Trump – the fuckwit – was actually right on this one. See Jamie’s “finding hypocrisy” post at the top.)

And finally for now – I really must get someone to answer this question directly. We’ve got very focused on global-warming and carbon-dioxide (and methane) as greenhouse gases as the primary mechanism to deal with. (And I know there’s an ongoing controversy about sabotaging the hockey-stick data from East Anglia Uni – where coincidentally Rupert Read is employed.) BUT Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) has been an issue for me throughout the industrial age. Surely a large part of the AGW simply comes from the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – energy<>entropy / order<>disorder. We are filling our ecosystem with low-grade heat faster than any previous species, simply due to our energetic activity?

My pet hate – a real trigger – “young” people suggesting “old” people don’t care about their future. How little they know.

We really ought to be spreading our sustainability concerns and actions over a much broader and joined-up range of human activities and at the same time being realistic about which are natural features where we need to work with mitigations rather than fool ourselves into imagining we can reverse or even stop.

The catchy rhetoric of “No more X by <date>” is bollox.
For the birds. (For the voters actually.)

[Climate previously on Psybertron.]

Nolan Chart Political Compass

Having some debate with (apparently / claimed) “Libertarian” colleagues about the relationship to a “Liberal Democrat” position. Obviously quite different things, but what exactly? Are we talking the same language?

The Nolan Chart has been around since Hans Eysenck described it in 1954. David Nolan published his standard diamond representation in 1971, but he has partisan US Libertarian motives from the start.

Despite Eysenck developing the idea in a UK context, almost all development since Nolan has a US focus. (The people I’m in debate with are neither UK nor US, just to complicate matters. Basically I’m not believing they’re as Libertarian as they claim – a matter of perspective of lived experience vs ideals.)

The so-called “Simplified Nolan Chart” at least has “Left” where the UK experience would expect it, what the US would call Liberal (though confusingly in this square version the left<>right axis is not horizontal):

Like all 2D diagrams of the human world – thank Boston Consulting Group for their “Grid” meme – there are many other dimensions and some developments have attempted 3D and more, with or without time. The best developed version I’ve found in web-searches is from “Atheist Republic” who clearly, as well as being pointedly atheist, are aligned with US republicanism, but so far as I can tell it only exists on their social-media pages and I can’t see who to credit for its creation. (The even weirder thing about this version – although the real-world positions map very well imho – is that it is flipped, with Libertarianism towards the bottom and Authoritarianism / Totalitarianism at the top. Doesn’t affect the ability to map, but may reflect political bias on whoever created it. It is in fact very close to the simplified version – apart from the flip – but with the “extreme” variants peppered around it.)

Donde te encuentras en el compás político? - Política, historia y ciencia

Whether good or bad, this version also maps Liberalism onto Centrism, which at least fits UK experience. The confusion with Left / Liberal is just one part of the modern shift that – unless you are one of the more extreme positions – Left<>Right is no longer really dominant and the question is more one of Freedom<>Authority.

Easy to see a Nolan-diamond un-flipped version of the above?

Anyway …

a holding post to be developed into a longer conversation.


Post Notes:

Thought … maybe the Cynefin idea (Complicated<>Complex) might free us from the BCG 2×2 Grid?

Oh wow, the new “Libertarians” that this dialogue was intended for are now promoting Ayn Rand as their hero. Looking more like extreme US Right Libertarianism by the day!:

Poetic Naturalism – Sean Carroll

I’ve been racking my brains for a day or two as to how I came to be reading Sean Carroll’s 2016 “The Big Picture – On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself”, indeed how I came to buy it in the Spring of this year?

I can’t read every book by every credible scientist and science communicator. There are just so many of them and only so many times you can read summaries of the evolution of science from the big bang to Copenhagen and beyond.

I’m only 1/4 to 1/3 through as I type, and in a sense 98% nothing new to me, and yet the way it’s ordered is fascinating, so much so, that the chapter headings are very tempting to skip forward to see where we’re headed. But in fact I’m reading slowly, sequentially and annotating profusely as I go.

I’ve been “following” Carroll (CalTech theoretical physicist) since before this book was written, without actually reading any of his books. On-line friend and physicist Rick Ryals, since deceased, had a lot of time for dialogue with Carroll, eg on his Facebook page. Rick (Island) was for me an influential proponent of the idea that Einstein was right by virtue of changing his mind about his cosmological constant being wrong. The fact that most of science failed to heed his change of mind about what he’d initially characterised as a “blunder” is a kind of anthropic blind-spot, a denial that has persisted to this day, thanks to the success of the “shut up and calculate” approach post-Copenhagen. (See @skdh piece in the previous post).

Already Carroll, in discussing gravitational anomalies, eg in the pattern of cosmic microwave background radiation, has suggested:

“There is a very obvious and robust candidate for what the culprit might be: vacuum energy, which Einstein invented and called the cosmological constant.”

Anyway so far, what’s new and fascinating about Carroll’s 2016 book are two things:

Firstly, the realisation that what we have is “poetic naturalism“. An acceptance that whilst all sorts of wackier simulation, illusion, multiverse ideas are possible, it makes most sense (after Wittgenstein) to accept that everything we experience and detect is real and has a “natural” explanation, even if that explanation might be uncertain. And “poetic” because many different “ways of talking” about such explanations can be valid.

Which leads to, secondly, the importance of emergence and the significance of different ways of talking as maybe different levels of reality? Whether “weak emergence” where higher levels still may have lower level causal explanations in principle even where it makes sense to talk in terms of higher levels, or whether “strong emergence” where a higher level may not necessarily have causal explanations in terms of (existing) lower. [In fact, quite a lot on older models of 4 (or 5) levels that would appeal to Pirsigians – Physics > Chemistry (still physical) > Biology > Mental > Social – as a given in many independent sources.] Even space (or is that time?) is emergent. And a recognition that deterministic reductionism is a kind of dogma against the possibility of any strong emergence (al la Dennett re consciousness and free-will etc).

“Let’s note that memories are of the past but not the future and note that causes precede their effects for now, postponing for the moment the contentious issues of choice and free-will. We will get there (I predict).”

Lots more on understanding causation, more on information and on entropy as the direction of time and the complement to information. Contra Marletto previously, strong support for Boltzmann and statistical thermodynamics as one of those valid emergent levels. It made a big impression on me back in 1973 when Bronowski visited the inscription of  Boltzmann’s formula on his gravestone.

Who are the most unfortunate scientists of all time? - Quora

In fact I notice that S=k.LogW (a detail from this or a similar image) is the header graphic on Carroll’s own blog pages.