A Mouthful of Unsalted Soup

Psybertron blog action has retreated to book / thesis drafting behind the scenes, as most of my life is taken over by planning for two summer events – the International Society for Systems Sciences (ISS) and the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) conferences in Washington DC in early June, and the Robert Pirsig 50th anniversary of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (#ZMM50th) events culminating in July with retracing the original 1968 motorcycle road-trip (#ZMM50thRide).

That said, I’m using available down time to read one book from my never ending reading list. “Leonard and Hungry Paul” by Rónán Hession (Mumblin’ Deaf Ro on X/Twitter), via small independent publisher Bluemoose Books. Been following them and a few other independents for a while, for obvious reasons, but remembered I really did need to buy and read one of their books. Support is more than “Retweeting”.

As usual, I’m feeling the need to capture some thoughts, only ~20% through, a kinda pre-review as I call them. It’s very good, and surprisingly relevant to my own agenda:

“the art of expression had not kept pace with technological developments”.

“the world was a complicated place, with people themselves being both the primary cause and chief victims of the complexity. He saw society as a sort of chemistry set, full of potentially explosive ingredients which, if handled correctly could be fascinating and educational, but which was best kept out of reach of those who did not know what they were doing.”

“He operated [the ‘Za’ rule in scrabble] with iron inflexibility, even though he himself was its most frequent victim”

Despite the fact the author is almost 20 years my junior, there’s a strong sense of northern spouse, parental, familial, sibling life, learning rules of the game of real life through cuts and scrapes in the schoolyard and board games in the home. Cultural references to Inspector Morse and Judy Sill as well as bookshops, and hard-backs as “special presents”. I can see why it resonates with me.

The language is beautiful, beautifully observed too:

“on the threshold between reflection and sleep, an idea came to him from the special place that ideas come from”

“[looking at] the first piece of asparagus loaded onto her fork [he spoke] through a mouthful of unsalted soup”

Excellent stuff. Guessing we will eventually find out why Paul is “Hungry” more than just that Grace is a slow eater 🙂 ? Reading on, with a reason to do so.


Serious Research?

Mentioned a couple of posts ago I was planning to read some Michael Gazzaniga after reading a couple of reviews that rang bells because he was one of the contributors to Iain McGilchrist’s Divided Brain film.

Wasn’t sure if I was ordering the right Gazzaniga book in his latest, so I’ve been digging. Basically, I wasn’t sure of he was worth reading from the philosophy of mind perspective, even though he’s clearly an eminent cognitive / brain / neuroscientist, philosophy being harder than either brain-surgery or rocket-science. There was already the suggestion in one of the reviews he was a more practical kind than one for abstractions. He’s written quite a few books in fact, as well of course, as many papers in the course of his scientific life. This from the front of his 2015 autobiography / memoir “Tales from Both Sides of the Brain”:

Still not sure, in fact, which to read. The autobiography already seems to cover much good ground – on brain and mind, on left and right brains – do I really want to read a later book by him on “Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind“? However, the earlier book being biographical, it also covers much of the politics of science. The latter being the main problem in most cutting edge science and/or philosophy as people protect convenient orthodoxies whilst promoting their own book sales under their pet “unraveling the mysteries of x” banner. Cynical, moi? Book sales confirm the basic memetic rule, they rarely equate to the quality of the content, more the fit with “what sells”.

Anyway, I digress. No sign of this with Gazzaniga yet, I haven’t actually read any other than the sub-title of his latest. Is that him or his publisher’s PR cashing-in?

Decisions, decisions.

Anyway, whilst deliberating, I went back to McGilchrist’s original book “The Master and his Emissary”. I’m always telling people that as well as being a convincing read on an unfashionable (ie non-PC) topic for a lay audience, it is based on decades of proper scientific research. Now, I’m the last to use numbers to support an argument (see memetics above) but I checked to see that McGilchrists book has 67 pages of bibliography on top of 55 pages of end-notes. Gazzaniga has 3 solo and 2 joint authored entries. That’s 5 amongst some 4000 individual references, only one of which is a book, the rest papers. I recall at the time being impressed with how well referenced Master and Emissary was, but I probably only skimmed the index looking for familiar sources, after reading the main text. Gazzaniga wasn’t familiar then. (No sign of Gazzaniga in Dennett so far as I can see, no reference in B2BnB for example.)

So is it

2017 – “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind”

2015 – “Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience”

2011 – “Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain”

That earliest title has the Master & Emissary allusion already in “who’s in charge?” and it dives straight into the instrumental reality of free-will. Blimey, I fancy all three.

No Possibility is Inconceivable

Been distracted by other housekeeping tasks for several days but reacted to this on Twitter last week, and now bring it forward here:

As a fan and regular attender at the IAI’s “How The Light Gets In” festivals, I’ve met and talked with Chiara Marletto, but I’m not sure if this course and outline of Constructor Theory is from May this year or from a couple of years ago. However the summary reflects exactly what I’ve picked-up along he way, especially Deutsch’s original focus on the conceivable (*) in my more recent fundamental information-based metaphysics.

“… information, they say, is missing in the modern conception of science, but it is essential to a proper understanding of our universe and the laws of nature … and … the benefits of understanding physics in terms of the possible and the impossible … [the need for] information needs to be a part of the laws of physics …

The Limits of Possibility – Is information fundamental to reality? How do bits, evolution and life fit with the laws of fundamental physics?”

Reconstructing Reality – How does abstract information take hold of the physical world?

This is exactly the point I was making in an epistemological ontology in the Huw Price piece. It’s not a matter of taking an epistemological or an ontological view, it’s a matter of ensuring knowledge is part of your ontology of the real world modelled by physics – a very fundamental part it turns out.

(*) (2005) “Didn’t I also recall something in both Chalmers and Deutsch (quite separate work in separate fields) about nothing being possible in a “virtual” world that wasn’t also possible (ie didn’t violate fundamental physics / metaphysics) in the real world ? As if impossible and inconceivable were really the same thing. Am I digressing ?”

Seems I wasn’t.

No possibility is inconceivable.
Fundamental reality is conceivable possibility.
Nothing in physics without information – the knowable.

Michael Gazzaniga

I’m reading up on Michael Gazzaniga in anticipation of receiving his latest book which I was thinking of ordering:

“The Consciousness Instinct:
Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind”

He narrowly missed out on the Nobel Prize for Physiology &  Medicine on his split-brain work from the 1960’s but he crossed my path as one of the neuroscientists involved in the film of Iain McGilchrist’s “Divided Brain”.

McGilchrist takes his theories beyond individual brain and mind behaviours to wider “western” cultural consequences but in that film Gazzaniga distances himself from that step whilst nevertheless supporting the rest of the left-right brain and mind story. Like all sensible scientists both pull back from the simplistic pop-psychology that divides function and behaviour between left and right, yet they both clearly identify the different roles of the two halves in overall behaviour. Interesting reading this review of his autobiography, that Gazzaniga definitely subscribes to the idea that, left to its own devices, the left brain does dominate mind behaviour, and that the right brain (when connected) has a more permissive moderating influence on the left. Exactly as McGilchrist. Exactly as my own summary.

The right brain has a view that understands why it needs to work with the left, but the left brain doesn’t know why it needs the right.

McGilchrist’s second step shows – as seems intuitively obvious – that if culture encourages left-brain views and behaviours, there is a tendency that reinforces that cultural drift to that left position of not appreciating and valuing the right. Master and emmisary, where the emmisary goes rogue.

Also by Douwe Draaisma, this review of Gazzaniga’s latest, starts with the oft quoted Cartesian position:

“How can soul and body affect each other, given their fundamental difference? Descartes pointed to the evidence that they do. The mystery lies in the mechanism, and this, Descartes confided, was perhaps best left to theologians.”

Descartes, like Newton back in the day, was deliberately leaving room for God in that dualism. It is much easier now to point out that mind and body are NOT fundamentally different. They are simply different aspects of the same fundamental monist reality. But that’s another story.

I shall be interested in Gazzaniga’s more general brain <> mind take.

Gender Dysphoria and Trans-Activism

This is my third piece in a month on these topics, and I’m still adding footnotes here, though my written interest goes back four years to Alice Dreger and her “Galileo’s Middle Finger”. It’s highly recommended as an introduction to the politically-motivated disfigurement of a very complex technical and cultural topic with serious consequences for the individuals affected. (Hence the Galilean analogy. Hence my more general interest in the corruption of discourse on even the most basic of scientific topics in public consciousness.)

[Not visible in my public writings are also private attempts to get some public education going involving UK expertise from The Tavistock, as recommended by Dreger, but so far unsuccessfully. (See their C4 documentary.) And in the footnotes, the saga continues … three so far and counting. There is no “right to be whoever you want to be”.]

In the original Dreger work, the disfigurement was one of politically interested attacks on the careers and livelihoods of erstwhile colleagues and collaborators over and above any technical issues with the content of the subject. Recently it’s become a one-dimensional binary transactivist vs transphobic / feminazi / terf trolling war of insults. Who gets to call who a bigot the loudest, and worse, career and personal threats.

I don’t take sides in such “extremism” – a pox on both their houses – I simply attempt enlightened dialogue towards solutions we can all accept.

The temperature rose last week when the UK Times published a story on “4000%” increases in gender dysphoria referrals to the Tavistock, the majority “girls” (misgendered say some). And also last week, Martina Navratilova aired her thoughtful documentary on the “fairness” of intersex and trans-women in competitive sports, where her conclusion was fairness is a complicated concept despite her original “anti” intuitions and public statements.

In the two previous posts my point is pretty straightforward – it’s not helpful to reduce the complex technical – scientific and cultural – topic to a question of whose individual rights trump whose.

Things took a turn on two counts this morning when I saw from a couple of days ago:

Firstly, above, Alice Dreger posted on the topic for the first time in a while, about a crowdfunding campaign by the “villain” of her original Galilean story. A scary project about sharing public identity of “transphobes”. Madness she called it. An orchestrated pile-on campaign of abuse I call it.

Secondly, in a number of exchanges, various threads originally commenting on the “4000%” story, I made an observation about the “extremism” of one transphobic (sic) campaign being in reaction to transactivist (sic) campaigns. @HPS_Vanessa took exception to my implied accusation of her being an extremist, and followed-it up with the suggestion that branding any “rights” campaign extremist was a nonsense.

The latter accusation I will continue to defend – here – but on implicitly accusing her, it’s a fair call. I apologise. She’s a professional with an interest here, that’s why she’s on my timeline, and she’s no more extreme than the binary campaign is itself extreme – the polarisation of a complex topic – in the terms I’ve already described.

My ears pricked-up when she also made a reference to Transactivism being a multi-billion dollar funded campaign (?!?). But having offended her, I’ve not got any elaboration on what she meant by that.

So, Transactivism vs Transphobia ? It’s what the social media discourse has (largely) become, but it’s not what gender-dysphoria, intersex and gender-reassignment are about.

Reducing any campaign
to a pro<>phobic rights caricature
is the extremist nonsense.

[The same being true incidentally with (say) Islamaphobia vs LGBT education “rights”, the same with freedoms of expression “rights” on (say) taboo topics in the context of potentially offensive humour, and so on.]

In that vein, as well as the “trans” topics we could unpick “phobia” accusations in general. Tends to be used to signify active “hatred” working against verbally and physically. I’ve never witnessed a “transphobe”. But we need to go back to it’s meaning as “fear” where only a small – but maybe significant – part can be rational. Also, however, see the evolutionary cultural assimilation footnote in the previous post.

[HOLD – more dialogue offerred.]


[Post Note #1:

I’ve said in pretty much all of these posts, including this one, that the problem is reducing a complex topic to an individual rights and freedoms issue. In fact it was my suggesting the idea of “rights extremism” that got branded as nonsense and me as a bigot for my efforts.

This key message is entirely counter-intuitive to “liberal” campaigners and abusing it is destructive to civil democracy. Hat tip to @nathanmladin for tweeting his summary of this John Gray piece in UnHerd.

“Cracking piece from John Gray
on how rights have swallowed up politics
and why this is bad news for democracy”

I had in fact already noticed the piece, but have to admit to some prejudice against UnHerd contributors and, although I am a fan of Gray, I hadn’t read it until now. He also leans on the same angle as this year’s BBC Reith lectures by High Court judge Jonathan Sumption, that resorting to law to uphold such rights is compounding our problems. These are such counter-intuitive messages to any kind of liberal democrat, that they really need shouting (and patiently explaining) from the rooftops.]

[Post Note #2 – this tweet counter to a thread with transactivist bent:

Good sense to notice the balance of unintended consequences. Always a question of timing and appropriateness – (exactly, as I said with the Muslim / LGBTQ+ Education case in Birmingham.) Seen many statements like the one above –  education about a topic inculcating misleading values for the content of the topic. Again the rights half of the story is always easy, the practical constraints and the complex reasoning behind them less so.

“What’s the harm … If it’s explained simply?” is the fallacy. It’s complex. If treated too simply we get the active <> phobic polarisation.]

[And, Post Note #3

To which I already replied:

I’m a big fan of Khan, but THERE IS NO “right to be whoever you want to be”. There is freedom of thought, but physical expression has physical and cultural constraints driving civil and legal arrangements in society. Need I go on?]

[Post Note #4 – Not properly read yet, but … in the Guardian “How can we end the current impasse over transgender athletes?” by Sean Ingle. Any side that thinks their argument trumps any others has missed several points.]

[Post Note #5 12 Aug 2019 – and also see this careful but impassioned take “Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Something Went Terribly Wrong” by Jesse de Wahls.]

[Post Note #6 13 Aug 2019 – another good one here:

Oh yes. It’s my point about extreme polarisation. If every discourse is a critical debate looking for definitive answers we get what we deserve – polarised extremism. What we really need is conversational dialogue where we listen and respect the other in the process.]

Realism at a Price?

I mentioned Huw Price in a footnote to my first recent post about Lee Smolin’s “Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution”, having mentioned Lee Smolin as an aside in blogging about a 2016 Huw Price article, where I’d noticed that quantum mechanics errors remaining unresolved post-Einstein was the key topic of both with time and causation being a common focus. Someone I ought to read more, I commented. So having bought and read Smolin’s latest, I had also ordered and now received Huw Price’s “Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism”, it being the book referred to in his bio against the Aeon article.


No, thought not. With a title comprising a mouthful of isms it’s clearly a technical text for professional philosophers rather than a popular text, like the Aeon article, for amateurs such as myself.

As ever, at this stage I’ve only read the introduction and earlier sections so far, but I’m already glad I did.

As well as being right smack in the middle of the age-old realism <> idealism debate that’s been concerning me and my writings for some time in the last year or so, it leads on some of the problems I have with isms generally.

Firstly that, except by agreement between experts using such terms in current genuine, constructive dialogue(*), it is all too easy to flip between narrow basic conceptions – almost tautological definitions – and broader conceptions – working definitions intended to be of practical value, and find yourself talking at cross-purposes. (* Obviously in critical adversarial debate as opposed to collaborative dialogue, it’s a standard deplorable tactic to misrepresent your “opponent’s” understanding, a kinda deliberately ad-hominem but plausibly-deniable-accidental strawman. “You know that’s not what I meant, but who cares, now that you’ve said it publicly?” style of political gamesmanship designed to confound and defeat. Think populism, think multiculuralism, say in today’s Trump / Putin exchanges! But I digress.)

Secondly, sticking with the meta topic, the rules of discourse, this is one of the reason’s for Dan Dennett’s “hold your definitions!” advice. Sure, declare your understanding of key terms at the outset, but don’t pretend, or accidentally presume, that these are hard and fast definitions throughout the dialogue. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat. The primary purpose of any dialogue is to increase knowledge, to permit definitions at the start to evolve into better understandings at the end – more useful knowledge. And, since all discourse has to fit in the available gaps of real life, rather than “agreeing to disagree” at inevitable pauses, instead “agree where we’ve got to with whatever it is we do understand” – mutual steelmen if you will.

I do like Huw Price’s writing. (And the other treat I’ve not reached yet is that this book involves four other thinkers / writers as well as Price, and one of those is Simon Blackburn another favourite of mine.)

OK, so we’ve not got to the Expressivism and Representationalism yet, but we’re right in the ontological reality of science space and its proper relationship to/with philosophy both ontolological and epistemological. Again, as ever, I’m finding myself jumping straight to my kind of naturalism: All of reality is natural, there is no supernatural. The objective “out there” physical and the subjective “in here” psychological are equally real and natural. The “problem” described here is resolved by accepting that science is not the only kind of knowledge, and it’s the true relationship between science and other knowledge that is at issue. Our ontology includes “places” for epistemology – in fact in my model the ontology is epistemological, even physics is about information (knowable, even when there’s no subjective knower involved).

This is the exact same sense I came to after Smolin, so it’s clearly no coincidence these two sources became linked for me. I wonder where Price and the rest end up in resolving the problems he’s set out so far. It’s great to be dealing with science-friendly philosophers and philosophy-friendly scientists. Reading on with interest.

A Second Kick in the Nads

[#2 Cut straight to he chase? There’s now a #3 post in this series.]

I keep finding myself in these gender / trans / terf threads on Twitter , and am constantly amazed by the range of misunderstandings and poorly conceived freedoms and rights agendas (and viscious discourse, do I need add?)

[Three or four weeks ago it was a short series of exchanges with Graham Linehan, but although I’ve only been watching from the sidelines it keeps erupting and I’ve interjected the odd comment into it again recently.]

Without any research, off the top of my head …

Sex is biological. Gender and sexual-orientation are physio-socio-cultural expression of the biological.

Sex, in sexually reproductive species, is about gonads producing eggs or  sperm primarily. Apart from neither or both possibilities, rare in humans, that’s pretty binary. BUT there are many other sex differences caused by individual development genetic, physical, hormonal and psychological, and many of these interact causally two-way with each other and with the primary sex features. These are sexual differences which individually may be indeterminate, ambiguous or intermediate, but they are NOT different sexes even if we classify the sets of cases with different names. By this biological convention, sex is binary (or ambiguous). Intersex isn’t a third sex.

That is already complicated enough beyond the normal binary cases(*1). Gender and sexual-orientation adds another layer of complexity, which cannot be done justice to in a single paragraph, let alone a tweet.

      • Sexual-orientation is about preferences for sexual relations between individuals, not about the sex or gender of the individual.
      • Gender “assignment” is about wider roles of sex and gender differences in society.

Suffice to say gender variations, fixed or fluid, trans or not are (a) not independent of sex differences, and (b) not unilaterally defined by some mythical right of individual self-identification. Society also cares about those differences, physiological and psychological and cares enough to have expert – biological and psycho-social – opinions as well as individual personal preference. It is asserting (b) that gets branded as extreme, that gets feminists of either sex or gender labelled as TERF’s by trans-political activists. But that’s to deny common sense.

The only real point in the current debate is that “trans” in either direction is far more complicated psycho-socio-culturally than the rights and freedoms of the individual’s choice or even their view of their own biology.

(I keep updating the sentence above, so that it couldn’t be a clearer statement. And the reason it even needs saying is that some trans people and their “supporters” continually abuse the culturally assimilated (*2) rights of women, gays and others, in asserting their own misconceived “rights”. And in doing so they knee-jerk malign and troll those of us pointing out their error. Capiche?)

(*1) We need to rehabilitate “normal” as a useful word. It’s not being normative to use it, it’s not a value judgement about individuals. It’s a classification and like all such we may need PC considerations where and when we use the term, but it’s real and useful. All variations and differences from the normal are to be respected and addressed accordingly.

[My go to on these issues is Alice Dreger “Galileo’s Middle Finger”. Though in recent days her focus is more family and local journalism, than fighting the big fight. She did her bit. Respect. See also identity-politics and single-issue-politics referenced and linked in that post.]


[Post Note:

(*2) The fact that all such classifications only work, that they’re only real in any practical sense, through cultural assimilation – then captured in law – means that most of the debate really needs to be about the processes that bring about evolution and change (my real interest here). Static “facts” and “assertions of rights” here and now – in anti-social / civil-disobedience sense – are only part of the political pressure in which others get hurt in their existing rights are trampled on. Typically change takes 3 generations (Kondratiev / Kuhn) though with ever faster communications technology cycles, generations are shortening from three score years and ten to maybe thirty.

Roughly:- one to understand the issues and create solutions, one to work through and embed implementation changes, one to forget it was ever an issue. Until then …]

A World With a View – A Kick in the Nads for Physics

As I complete his concluding chapters, I’m taking three themes from Lee Smolin’s “Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution” only one of which is the science.

Political Priorities:
Science is contingent and always evolving – that’s its main distinguishing feature. But the revolutionary (Kuhnian) and/or evolutionary (Darwinian) nature, as well as the pace and direction, of change in science matter to us all. So, I share in Smolin’s plea that more effort be spent on necessary alternatives than on digging ourselves in deeper with the orthodoxy of current “models”. And this requires some positive counter-balancing of what those alternatives are and could achieve. Smolin achieves this aim. There are activists within physics, like Sabine Hossenfelder, banging this drum to reign back on ever more energetic particle colliders and sensitive cosmic detectors testing current models and hypotheses if it displaces major resources from the alternatives, theoretical and empirical. This is a political – ie moral – rather than a scientific question. The human consequences of a revolution that digs us out of our potentially misguided orthodoxy is ever greater the longer and deeper we dig ourselves in.

So, don’t believe the hype.

Science Appreciation:
Science is a lot more complicated than its popular metaphors. Principles, models, theories, hypotheses, observations, interpretations, explanatory metaphors and complete theory interact constantly in many feedback loops on many different timescales. But they can be all too easily conflated in one catchy metaphor – an erstwhile thought experiment that comes to represent the whole, (naming no-one’s cat or god-particle in particular). So again, more a moral question of information and communication than the content of science per se. It’s at least partly about the memetics of communication within and beyond science – which is my own primary agenda. So not just about how imaginative scientists’ models and metaphors are and how explanatory and representative of reality they are, but their ever more ubiquitous, immediate and sophisticated rendition and distribution in electronic media. A virtual reality ever more virtual and ever more detached from reality, despite appearances. So much science news is fake news, like everything else, these days. But don’t take my word for it, read Smolin’s book. It’s complicated, that’s the point, but very readable for a lay audience. It can’t be fit into a single sound-bite.

The Fundamental Science:
What follows is neither a comprehensive summary nor a critical scientific review – of Smolin’s science. What I’m doing here is relating what I hear him saying to many things I’ve already come to believe.

(I’ve never read his “Trouble With Science” and, from his work with Roberto Unger “The Singular Universe”, I picked-up his view of time and causation as fundamental, with everything else, space, matter and physical laws included, evolving from there. But he covers a lot more here. Pre-empting later conclusions, I see our subjective view of time as psychological, but the reality of time – as causal relationships between states –  as fundamentally real, and the rest evolved, as he suggests. So I suspect I’m agreeing with him, despite some differences of preferred terminology.

Adding to the irony, it must be two decades since I concluded on my own epistemological journey, that time and causation as currently reflected in accepted scientific knowledge were “too weird” to possibly be real. They have always been “the problem” for me too. )

There are also several very important ironies in views communicated between the moral and political issues above and the scientific content. And when I say scientific content remember, at this level, this is inextricable from philosophical thinking and metaphysical choices inherent in fundamental scientific principles and models.

(And again, this is part of the hype infecting the political priorities and sales-pitches for funding and resources above; that orthodox science denies the value of philosophy and claims some privileged position in our quest for knowledge of the world.)

Technically, Smolin takes a real ensemble formulation of quantum level physics that nevertheless seeks to maintain a realist view of all the individual quanta – quantum particles and quantised events – we posit. Once we settle on an explanatory model of these elements, representing reality, we can’t then say it’s just a mathematical abstraction, that it’s not what’s really happening. The “view” in this sense is Smolin’s conscious subjective preference. Mine too. Too many accept “it’s just a model but it mostly works so far” as something other than a pragmatic statement of policy (which it is) but as an assertion that –  somehow – that’s just how things are. It can’t be so.

Smolin’s main thesis he calls “A Causal Theory of Views“. Although Smolin rejects more fundamental informational and computational models he is here in fact using “view” in exactly the way I and any computer scientist would. Clearly we don’t mean view in the subjective sense above. We mean a structured collection of information locally related to our current object of interest. A physical network view from that object. Nothing to do with anyone needing to be an observer of that view, even though our tools of analysis may include taking the intentional stance, to put ourselves as an intelligent agent in the place of that object. Asking ourselves what would the world look like from here. Again – like quantum mechanics itself – it’s about maintaining that distinction between reality and the tools we use to manipulate our understanding of it.

He starts with five fundamental principles to guide and test the consistency of all further steps in building his models, hypotheses and theories. In a world where empirical falsifiability is everything too many scientists might reject the validity of such a-priori reasoning. Usually this is a matter of honesty as Dennett often points out, there is no metaphysics-free science, just science that is in ignorant denial of its own implicit metaphysical choices.

No need for a spoiler that lists the five principles, the book needs to be read. I’m only going to dwell on one of them. What is especially encouraging, along the lines of this being a continuation of the project of fundamental physics reset back to Einstein’s doubts, is that the principles build on Leibniz, Mach and Maxwell, (and again without any reference getting very close to Boscovich ideas).

The principle I’m going to dwell on here is “The Identity of Discernables” which starts with a definition that states “any two objects with exactly the same properties are the same object”. There are several consequences, but one that interests me is a kind of corollary – “so what’s the smallest significant difference that would constitute something being an adjacent thing?” Smolin is inspired by Leibniz “Monads” to refer to these distinct things – with only their intrinsic properties and relations to others – as nads.

(Titter ye not, I know it’s common parlance for testicles, male gonads.)

So if we’re pursuing this Democritan atomic aim towards the smallest indivisible elements of reality, what is the least property / relation set, to be the smallest distinct nad? What if the smallest nad had no (significant) intrinsic properties and all was defined by its relations with the rest of the world. The network “view” seen from this nad, to all other nads via its neighbouring nads. What if closeness was simply a matter of first, second, third order relationships, and so on? Space (distance) is this emergent network property. Time is simply a matter of historical precedence in the changing states of this network view- the set of causal relations. The world is the set of relations up to this point in time.

There are many corollaries for other as aspects of physics as we currently appear to know them. Irreversibility (causal precedence) at the fundamental level (ie not just in thermal / entropic / probabalistic / non-ergodic ensembles) is but one example.

Smolin provides a single sentence statement of his Causal Theory of Views:

“The universe consists of
nothing but views of itself,
each from an event in its history …

… and laws act to make these views
as diverse as possible.”

Things that are not diverse are the same as themselves. Self-similarity in patterns of precedence are those things we typically call the laws of physics, but they are emergent and evolving according to the underlying meta-law(s).

That last quoted clause in Smolin’s summary is intriguing and takes me beyond the aspect I was focussing on here. Namely the world as a network of points (nads / events) whose sole property is the local and historical view of that network from that point. If we strip out all presumptions of what that nad might be in itself, other than the minimum conception of such a point in relation to all other such points in the universe, we get to my own earlier description:

The smallest conceivable significant difference between points – the smallest single bit of Shannon information – is one relation to one neighbouring point. Everything else is composed of these bits in networked historical patterns – views if you will. As with Kastrup’s idealist (as opposed to realist) conception it hardly matters what we call these fundamental points and their networked views, other than the baggage that comes with whichever name we choose. “Ideas” come with a lot of pan-psychic baggage.

But, points, nads … atoms ….
Democritan atoms that is …. ?

You choose.


Post Note:

Two social media quotes (both via Anita Leirfall):

“built bit-by-bit from relationships between events”

And yet informational metaphysics is anti-realist according to Smolin?

And, this from another journalistic summary of the same science story in Quanta Magazine which includes the line:

“Matter and energy themselves are less fundamental than the underlying relationships between them.”

Yay! say I.