Very difficult to have conversations at the limits of fundamental physics.
Physicists are obviously very attached to which parts of fundamental physics – and deep understanding thereof – are considered “fixed” in their firmament. And that’s true even if they appear open-minded on philosophical discussions. It’s impossible for all of us to have the same depth of understanding – or even the same kind of understanding – of all the sub-topics as conversations dot all over this map – of life, the universe and everything – for me that’s a given, the reason for the dialogue.
All too often however, you get to the “turtles all the way down” lower limit to whatever we choose to name “physics” and when you are prepared to admit you’re really talking metaphysics – and more to the point being comfortable doing it. However, when the caricature becomes
Physics= real, whereas
Metaphysics = anything goes, flights of fancy, etc.
The dialogue has ended, at least temporarily.
In metaphysics, andat the lower reaches of the physics that interface with it, the idea that objective, empirical falsifiability is the sole test of an idea is an obvious flaw. It’s about what indirect predictions, including empirically falsifiable ones higher-up in the observable stack, can create the best, most consistent stack with the leastreasons to doubt, the bestreasons to take as true. The bestchances of fixing existing problems, the leastchances of introducing new ones. I mentioned this in the previous post – Whitehead and Wittgenstein at the very least. Even within the canon of accepted physical science, there are many methods and processes for assessing truth and validity other than direct falsification: Bayes, Occam, etc.
Choosing a single test is fine as a boundary condition – a working definition – for any given discourse, but is ideology if it is seen to set a fundamental limit on what things exist in reality.
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 ourfundamental 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.
Here Carroll in 3 hours of dialogue with Goff and Frankish has a section on Fine Tuning (as well as emergence generally):
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:
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.
I think @UTAustin should invite me to give a talk in which I run down all of the supposedly “FORBIDDEN!” topics actually being taught there and in other conventional U’s. And then I segue into following the money @uaustinorg. Yeah.
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:
Wonderful news! SFI Trustee @B3_MillerValue just gave us the largest donation in the Institute’s history â€”Â possibly the largest single contribution to complex systems research ever â€”Â which he calls “a bet on the future of humanity.”
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”.
Fantastic interview, and so much more optimistic tone than the @BBCWomansHour interview, where she looked and sounded “crushed”. Here we can see the release into a new phase of campaigning with a less restricted platform. Onward and upward. Well done @bindelj
(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:
‘I don’t agree with everything that you’re saying at all, but that’s okay because we can talk about it’@reallorraine speaks exclusively to Professor Kathleen Stock who left her position at Sussex University after she was accused of transphobia.
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.
(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.
It’s the crying wolf that will do for us.
Climate change is real enough without basing our lives on stupidly exaggerated over-simplifications. https://t.co/h7LjLC3Aov
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!!!”
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 angleof 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. BUTat 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.)
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.)
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?
… a holding post to be developed into a longer conversation.
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!: