Deutsch over Rovelli and Carroll

Recent reads of Carlo Rovelli and Sean Carroll have been ultimately disappointing, but don’t get me wrong …

Helgoland (2021) – by Carlo Rovelli

and, The Big Picture (2015) – by Sean Carroll

… are both informed & informative, deep & wide, well-written reads. I got a lot out of both. Creative new restatements as well as entirely new leads from my perspective. Greatly recommended.

Disappointments are – that despite apparent openness to philosophical & metaphysical thinking, between ways of talking & ontological reality, of causation & emergence, weak & strong, with information<>entropy & dynamic-process driven perspectives of life, consciousness & everything – an ideological certainty that “Core Theory” (Standard model plus general-relativistic gravity) remains the final word in physics and yet that physicalism will suffice to represent all of reality.

Not so much a god of the gaps as the physics of of the gaps. Science is only human, and physics is only a word. Mulling over these thoughts led me back to my readings of David Deutsch.

I’d be as happy as anyone extending the word physics as the foundation for a naturalist scientific explanation of the whole of reality, but not with the condition that there can be no (so far mysterious) defect requiring any Core Theory update. Physicists and physicalists can’t have it both ways. Can they?

Ways of talking and emergence are fine, but with only weak emergence as merely useful ways of talking, this leaves even seeming fundamentals as time and causation as merely anthropic perspectives. Surely some aspect of the quality of our explanations has to lead us to the ontological commitment that what we are describing is what we believe reality to be, even if that description remains best (ie contingent) human endeavours. Not even Core Theory can be exempt from such contingency?

Surely, …

Core Theory (now)
= Standard Model
+ General Relativistic Gravity

… must evolve to become:

Core Theory (future)
= Core Theory (now)
+ specific force / particle additions

+ (something like) “Emergent Causality Theory”

Last time I did a riff on this was back here in May 2018. (I do have a more formal metaphysical thesis too, but this is not the place.)

Fundamentally, What Do I Know?

Reminded me that one thing Carroll does get right is the idea that emergent “levels” in reality are in some sense like phase-changes. The aspect I could not reconcile with Carroll after much positive talk about “ways of talking” and the possibilities of “strong-emergence” – where this phase-shift metaphor comes in handy, is that ultimately – the last 10 or so chapters – his language switches to just or merely “ways of talking” implying only “weak-emergence”. Even if phase-change is being used metaphorically, we must be using it to refer to some aspect of reality. Some ontological commitment, please.

“Physics becomes the epistemological question
of what can we know about the world.”
(Me, in the above.)

“fundamental physics remains incomplete until hypothetical rubber hits the road of reality.”
(Rebecca Goldstein on “ontological commitment”)

It’s the difference between accepting that there can be many valid “ways of talking” when describing the world from our anthropic perspectives (clearly true) and having a particular way of talking that describes the world according to our chosen Core Theory of Everything (clearly necessary for that ontological completeness).


[Post Note, here a discussion on the state of the Standard Model, with Sabine Hossenfelder, Sam Henry and Bjørn Ekeberg chaired by Philip Ball at HTLGI.

Sabine makes the point that we’re really talking about the Standard Model (of particle physics) AND General Relativistic Gravity (of cosmology).

Do we really know?
Maybe we should talk to more philosophers of science?
Divergence between simply describing and actually explaining.]

4 thoughts on “Deutsch over Rovelli and Carroll”

  1. Thanks for linking to my recent post.

    It turns out that Rovelli has contributed a short article to the Oct 21 Journal of Consciousness Studies. The article, entitled, “Relations and Panpsychism”, is available online as a PDF.

    In it, he concedes that “relationalism can be seen as a very mild form of panpsychism.” On closer inspection, the victory is Pyrrhic. I hope to blog about it soon.

  2. (Sorry kept adding to that post whilst you were commenting).

    Yes, that special edition of JCS is the one where many intellectuals contributed feedback to Philip Goff’s pan-psychism.
    I’ve referred to it / them a few times not least here:

    Lots of these people are closet “pan-proto-psychists” …. just VERY hard for physicalist scientists to admit publicly 🙂

  3. I’ve posted some additional thoughts about Rovelli’s Helgoland at my blog:

    As for his article in the Oct 2021 Journal of Consciousness Studies, Rovelli is willing to describe his “relationalism” as “a very mild form of panpsychism,” in which the “reality of physical systems manifests itself to other physical systems,” or less formally, “‘appear to one another’.” He seems to view any stronger version as a clumsy attempt to link mind and matter through what Koestler called “the ghost in the machine,” although Rovelli doesn’t evoke the phrase; rather, here as in Helgoland, he uses the analogy of a thunderstorm and the anger of Odin.

    I think this is a misunderstanding, and I still hope to comment on the article. But the misunderstanding runs so deep that it’s hard to unpack.

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