What Is All The Weirdness About?

So, what weirdness am I talking about? Wee-ah-ooo—quantum weirdness. For anybody who knows just a little bit about quantum physics they should feel there is some strangeness going on down there in the quantum world. This world is the realm of the atom and below (particles and sub-particles).


[Disclaimer: what I have to say in this blog is my own view of quantum physics, some of what others would agree with, and some of what others would not agree with. Or, I could be wrong, but so could they.]

I think the beginning of all this quantum weirdness is that there is no cause and effect in the quantum realm as there is in all other levels of existence above the atomic. We cannot tell when a quantum event is going to take place, where a particle may be, what a particle’s momentum (a combination of velocity and direction of movement) is, or how much energy a particle has. There are other forms of indeterminism in quantum mechanics as well, but I think you can see what is going on or not going on here.

What makes for the transition from the quantum level to higher levels of the universe (with the possible exception of black holes)? Physicists have yet to figure it out. My take is that it involves macro (above the quantum level) interactions. Once these interactions occur cause and effect is turned on so to speak. One such interaction that gets lots of attention is measurement, which makes for its own weirdness (more below).

Because of the lack of cause and effect in the quantum world the only way we (physicists really) can predict what is going on is in a statistical manner (called quantum mechanics). This is not the same statistical explanation such as what heat is. With heat all the particles are behaving in a normal manner, but we can only describe this behavior statistically. With quantum mechanics it is different. Here nothing is normal as far as cause and effect is concerned.

In our everyday world if you drop a ball it falls to the ground. We now know this is due to the force of gravity. If you let go of a atomic particle you do not know where, how, or why it does anything. Where, because any path it might travel is indeterminate; how, because in quantum mechanics it follows all possible paths; why, because there is no cause and effect.

I will add that the lack of causal relationships in the quantum world shows that the universe itself needs no cause for its existence. This is because when the universe began its expansion it began it from a size at or below the size of the quantum. Because of this there is no need for any type of god, deist or theist, for the universe to begin to exist.¹

I left out pantheism because with this type of god—god is the universe. If this type of god has an eternal existence, than the universe would have no beginning. There is one more possibility here. It is that a pantheist god created itself. How that would work I am not sure. Also, in regards to polytheism it could be utterly confusing who created who, or who created what.²

I mentioned above the phenomenon of measurement. Or, as I have heard it put, the measurement problem. I do not see that there is an actual problem here, though. I mean physicists have no problem making even very accurate measurements (possibly the most accurate) or calculating the statistical spread of possible results. The problem is a conceptual one or an interpretational one, not a pracitible one.

The issue at hand is that there is no way to know the exact value of any quantum state (e.g. position, momentum, energy) before a measurement is made. There is no exact prediction as with macro level measurement. Well, this maybe considered normal for any measurement, except for in the act of measurement experimenters actually affect the state of the quantum system in the experiment. You might ask how this is so or why this situation comes about? As for the how I will attempt to explain in a moment; as for the why that is the major problem as I see it.

The how can best be seen through what is called the two slit experiment. In this experiment there is a screen with two slits in it. On one side there is a particle gun, which shoots one, say an electron, at a time. On the other side is a detection screen which measures where the electron is when it arrives at the screen. Well, lets say you attempt to measure which slit the electron goes through. When this is done the pattern on the screen is a set of clustered marks. However, if there is no measurement of which slit the electron went through, the pattern on the screen is a diffraction pattern as if a wave went through both slits.

You might ask are these electrons particles or waves? The answer depends on if a measurement is made of which slit the electron went through. If a measurement is made to detected the electron going through one of the slits, then it acts as a particle; if no measurement is made, then the electron acts as a wave. So what is the problem here? Remember, only one electron is fired at a time. So, how can there be a wave pattern on the screen if no detection is made? A proposed solution to this conundrum is the electron goes through both slits behaving wavelike.

Now this situation is certainly weird, or would be if we were observing a macro size object, but this is the norm for a quantum size object. Why this weirdness at the atomic level? Again, physicists do not know, and some do not care. They just do their experiments and except the results. But, the physicist outside the lab, or a philosopher, or the person on the street wants to understand why? Remember, there is no apparent cause and effect in the quantum world. This is why we cannot understand why. Because when we ask why, we are asking for the cause. So, sorry you are out of luck if you seek an answer to why this weirdness is happening in these experiments.

So, what is the electron (any particle really) a particle or a wave? The often hard to accept answer is that it is both, and physicists are only able to definitively answer the question when a measurement is made. This whole situation is known as wave/particle duality. I will have more to say about this later on.

Another aspect of the measurement problem is found in what is called the Schodinger’s box experiment. It is really a thought experiment because to my knowledge nobody has attempted to run it. The experimental situation is this. You put an animal in a box with a vial of some poisonous substance that will be broken if a radioactive particle decays, which is a fifty-fifty proposition. So, before you open the box (the measurement) is the animal dead or alive? The answer is neither or both. What, surely an animal is either alive or dead? An exception might possibly be suspended animation, but there is no way of telling if the particle decayed before the opening of the box (the measurement). So, when you open the box (the measurement), you determine whether the animal is alive or died. In this way, to bring in a bit of ethics, it is you that has either saved or killed the animal when you open the box (the measurement). Of course, the whole experiment could be seen as unethical. By the way, in the original experiment it is a cat in the box. I am using the generic animal here as not to upset Baxter, if he were to read this blog.

Sorry Baxter

There are two main philosophical approaches to attempting to solve the measurement problem with its weirdness, one of which is even weirder than the original problem in the first place.

One is called complementarity. It was proposed by Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum physics, who played both a theoretical and a mentorship role in the founding of quantum mechanics. Complementarity, as I see it, is the view that both aspects of a particle (its waviness or its particleness) have an equal standing; it all depends on your interest or purpose. I suppose this makes it a pragmatic stance. Pragmatism is the philosophical approach to truth where what is true is to be found in what is useful or in what works. So, as a deep answer, or as an exact solution to the wave/particle duality issue, it is not very satisfying to me. This could be considered a personal weirdness because as far as personal action is concerned I often think that pragmatism is the best approach. But, after all, I am not a quantum object. You could say in deciding what to do pragmatism is in its true element.

The other solution was offered up by Hugh Everett III. It addresses the measurement problem more directly. It is called the many worlds solution, and it maybe crazy enough to be true, but who knows.* This solution maintains that when a measurement is made both or all outcomes occur. The world in effect splits up. In one world the animal is alive, in the  other its dead. So, in this solution there is no weirdness going on in either world. But, and this is a big but, in my mind it spreads the weirdness to all worlds combined together.

There is one more thing I would like to say on the measurement problem. There are some, scientists among them, that believe it is human consciousness that determines what has and will occur in the universe because of the attempt to interpret the Schodinger thought experiment. To them, if I understand it right, it is the human act of measurement that actually determines or gives an exact solution to any quantum event, and since there are a great many of these, it ends up that without human consciousness to observe (make measurements) nothing would occur at all, so humans are necessary for the universe to have a determinate existence.

This, in my opinion, is just human hubris. Can we really say we are necessary for the universe’s existence? It seems unlikely in the extreme. I am not aware of any experiment that could possibly tell if this were so. I also think it is unnecessary that consciousness needs to enter the picture at all. This is because the interactions, including a measurement, above the quantum level is what determines the outcome of any quantum event. I could be wrong, but I have not heard anything to the contrary.

Okay, enough of all these measurement issues. Spooks anyone? Albert Einstein, known for special and general relativity theories, was one of the originators of quantum physics, and worried a lot about the spookiness of quantum physics. He could not except that certain quantum systems implied” spooky” action at a distance, thereby bypassing the rule that no signal can travel faster than the speed of light. He purposed, along with two other scientists (Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen), what is called, after their initials, the EPR thought experiment. In this experiment two quantum particles are entangled, basically meaning that if one were to spin in one direction, the other one would be spinning in the other direction. The original EPR experiment I believed used polarization, but particle spin works just as well or better for understanding it. Actually, particles do not spin the same way macro objects spin, but that does not matter here. Anyway, after the particles are entangled they go off in different directions, and after the distance between them would not allow for any signal faster than the speed of light, a measurement is made of one of the particles. If the spin is say down, then it is determined at once that the other particle’s spin is up. How could this be done without gaining information of the particle’s spin faster than the speed of light. Einstein and his colleagues said this could not be right, and there had to be something wrong with quantum theory because of it.

In the 1960s a theorist named Eric Bell developed an inequality that showed if the EPR experiment was correct than there had to be that spookiness at a distance. It so happen in the 1980s an experimental physics, Alain Aspect, carried out the experiment and the results confirmed Bell’s inequality. So, Einstein and his gang of three were wrong and quantum theory stands without change to this day.

Einstein just could not bring himself to fully except quantum physics, despite his early contribution. He stated, “God does not place dice with the universe” This was not a declaration of his belief in god, whatever that might have been. One thing is certain he was not a theist—a person who believes in a personal god. He appeared to believed that the act of doing science (probably meaning the theoretic side) was equivalent to an act of spirituality. Anyway, he made this statement because he could not believe that there was indeterminism deep down in reality. However this may be, the equations used in quantum mechanics are deterministic as are all mathematical equations. This includes probabilistic equations. You plug in the numbers and out come a determinate result. The answers are the same every time you plug in the same exact numbers. I say exact (and I mean exact) to avoid computational chaos.

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I want to address another issue about the indeterministic aspects of quantum mechanics. Some people argue that this provides a way for free will to be active in human decision making. The major strike against this idea is that indeterminism does not grant a free choice; it grants a random choice, so that free will becomes willy-nilly. Another strike against it is once the macro level is reached it is cause and effect all the way up.

I will very briefly mention that I think there is a role for free will to play, but instead of some kind of strange decider, it is an emotion or feeling. In this role it is the initiator of all our caused actions.³

Is there any more weirdness about in the quantum world? Oh, yeah. There is what is arguably the most famous of all quantum principles. It involves measurement too. It is the uncertainty principle, discovered by Werner Heisenberg, who worked with Niels Bohr. It states that one cannot measure two link quantities at the same time with absolute precision. The most common mentioned example concerns the quantities position and momentum. In this example if you measure the position of a particle with exactness you cannot measure its momentum at all and vice-versa. The reason for this is that when you measure a particle you cannot help but disturb it. By measuring the position you disturb the momentum. When you measure something at the macro level you do indeed disturb it, but it is so minute it does not matter for all practical purposes. A few other link quantities are time and energy, electric field and polarization density, and magnetic potential and electric current. Position and momentum are the most commonly discussed quantities because with them it is easier to comprehend the quantum effects of the uncertainty principle.

Where is it? “I cannot be in two places at the same time” is a common answer to a request. Well if you are a quantum particle you can. This aspect of quantum physics is being used to explore the creation of quantum computers. All normal (non-weird) computers operate serially. They only carry out one operation at a time. However, because a particle can be in multiple positions before a measurement is made, a quantum computer should be able to carry out a great many operations at the same time. This increases the speed of operation massively (reverse pun), so instead of carrying out one operation at a time, a quantum computer would go through all operations at once.

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There are a number of problems that we currently are not able to solve. One important problem involves factoring a very large number into two prime numbers. The reason why this is important is that modern computer security that protects information that you want to exclude others from accessing, such as bank accounts and health data, is based on this factoring. When (most researchers do not think it is a question of if) a quantum computer is fully developed to carry out such an operation this type of security will be compromised, and the protection we now enjoy will be gone. Hopefully, by the time this occurs there will be a newer and improved version of security that will not depend on prime factoring of very large numbers.

Is reality continuous or discrete? Well, our world certainly looks smooth—but. At the quantum level the weirdness continues; at this level the world appears discrete. There is a lot of quantum jumpiness going on. Niels Bohr (mention above) found that in a hydrogen atom, the simplest of atoms to work with, electrons are found only at certain energy levels, never at any level in between. They jump between energy levels. Naively, these energy states are called electron orbits, but that is particle talk. Remember, the electron is both particle and wave or neither.

There are a bunch of discrete aspects to the quantum world. These aspects were discovered by the physicist Max Planck, the first to discover anything about quantum physics. These aspects are all connected with Planck’s constant, which is the basic unit of energy that a particle can carry. These energy units only come in discrete measures. You could say that they represent packets of energy, or quanta, which is where quantum physics gets its name. It is because a particle’s energy only comes in these packets that the energy levels of an electron in an atom are found only in particular levels and at no other levels in between.

There are also, based on Planck’s constant, the Planck length and the Planck time. With the Planck length there can be no smaller length than this length. This means that there will always be gaps at the quantum level. We think of length as being continuous, but this only applies at the macro level, not at quantum sizes. As with the Planck length, the same is true of time. The Planck time is the smallest unit of time possible. Again, we think of time as continuous, but this is only apparent above the quantum level.

Are you feeling jittery now that you know things are not as smooth as they appear? Why can we not detect all this discreteness? It is because we are not ourselves quantum size beings. I suspect if we were, we would feel time as jumpy, length as broken up into pieces, and energy only coming in bits. If you were the size of an electron you would probably find nothing weird going on. As Richard Dawkins has expressed it, if we evolved to operate under quantum level conditions, than we would find it is the normal way of things. We would probably think the macro level is where all the weirdness is occurring. So, you could say the weirdness is a matter of viewpoint, literally.

Because of quantum discreteness, I think it is wrong to think of the origin of the universe as the “big bang”. After all, this label was given by Fred Hoyle, an opponent of expansionism in cosmology. He was for a steady state universe. I think it is because of this discreteness that to say the universe started from an infinite point of energy, size, and time is not correct. There had to be a smallest energy state to start with, as well as, a smallest size and no smaller and a shortest period of time and no shorter.

So, the beginning of the universe because of quantum effects at that time is even weirder than if it all started from an infinite point of energy, time, and size. This means that even the beginning, if you can speak of a beginning, is just plain weird. But, this I feel also eliminates the need of some cause outside of the universe. No god need apply—the job has been eliminated.¹ It appears, but is not certain that the universe began in a quantum event of virtual particles interacting in a vacuum.

Should we be concerned about all this quantum weirdness? And as a reminder, I have not covered it all or in much detail. Well, I for one am not. Jim Morrision may have been right: “People Are Strange.” Personifying the universe, it is strange, but it may not be strange enough, so any replacement theory if it ever appears maybe even stranger.* Of course, people are strange enough without all this quantum weirdness going on.

My major reason for not staying up all night in a state of angst actually involves the weirdness of the EPR experiment. This is because once the particles have the interaction that occurs between them (become entangled) their states are fix until there is some further interaction, such as a measurement or an encounter with another particle. So, it is because of quantum entanglement that I can leave all the weirdness where it belongs—at the quantum level—and live my life as if it did not matter.

It is also my feeling that there is plenty of weirdness for the macro world to play with. People are strange. I am strange. Baxter is strange. Okay, Baxter may not be a person, but morally he should be accorded personhood up to a point. Maybe personhood will be the topic of a future blog. Does it come in degrees, so other animals other than the human kind, for instance, have some of the properties of personhood?

I will leave you with a non-quantum weirdness I think about from time to time. Are bodies are made up of individual cells, grouped together into organs. Most of the organs besides the skin (yes the skin is an organ) we are hardly aware of unless there is something wrong (e.g. heart attack, heavy breathing, or tummy ache), but we are never aware of the individual actions of any of our cells. After all, there would be plenty of action to be aware of. Cells are so busy, it puts the average (maybe even are most advanced) factory to shame. For even more weirdness at the cellular level we have more bacterial cells on and in our bodies than actual cells we are composed of. Wee-ah-ooo.

Just plain weird

¹ For a bit more on deism see my blog – Why Deism Is Not the Answer?

² For more on polytheism see my blog – What If There Were a Virtual Infinity of Gods?

³ For more on free will as an emotion see my blog – Why Are People Afraid of Their Brain?

* Niels Bohr once supposedly said: “Your theory is crazy, but it’s not crazy enough to be true.”


89 thoughts on “What Is All The Weirdness About?

    1. Thank you for nice comment.

      I feel like I have done a good job when what I write causes some to think. Maybe, once you have thought about it some more you might make further comment.


  1. From Rick from a private message with his permission:

    Dear Steven,

    please find a couple of comments that I have with regards to you excellent blog post:

    – overall, it is really, really good and it contains lots of very important concepts explained in a concise and clear way. There are just a couple of points where I would like to make a couple of comments.

    – CAUSATION: one aspect that I would like to make a couple of comments is the concept of causality as treated by quantum mechanics. I actually quite strongly disagree with the claim that quantum mechanics negates causality, or with the claim that there is a lack of causal relationships in the quantum world.
    Let me elaborate this point: QFT (Quantum Field Theory, which is the modern, relativistic evolution of the “old” quantum mechanics theories) is constructed in such a way to explicitly preserve causality as defined in special relativity. Actually, this was one of the reasons why QFT was developed in the first place (as “old” quantum mechanics can violate causality). One of the major tenets of special relativity is that the speed of causality, c (speed of light, or better the speed of massless “particles” in the vacuum), is observer-independent, and this is fully respected by QFT. Special relativity does explicitly preserve causality, even when “relativizing” other aspects such as simultaneity of events (which is frame of reference-dependent). Two events that are in a “space-like” relationship to each other (outside the light cone of each other) can not influence each other. QFT agrees and is compatible with relativity.
    Let’s now discuss the point of “probabilistic” versus “deterministic” causal relationship. I disagree with the fact that a probabilistic model necessarily entails lack of causal relationship.
    In QM/QFT, the only difference to the “classical” world is that the math is probabilistic rather than deterministic. But, as you know, you can use the Schrödinger equation to make extremely accurate, deterministic computations concerning the time evolution of a the probabilistic structure of a system. Actually, we are not even sure that QM is probabilistic – this depends on the actual “interpretation” of quantum mechanics, and Bohm’s interpretation (which is the one I personally tend to favor) might be right. Even assuming that QM/QFT is truly non-deterministic, is it appropriate to say that things are happening “without causes”? We may not know when a single particular radioactive atom will decay but we can use sets of atoms to accurately perform radiometric dating.
    Some of the founders of quantum mechanics, notably Born among them, stated that there are
    two kinds of causation: “nomic” or “generic/probabilistic” causation, and singular causation. Nomic causality means that cause and effect are linked by probabilistic general laws covering many possible or potential instances, while individual casuation pertains to individual specific events. We may still state that nomic causation is not causation, but if in general by causation we mean specific mathematical laws explaining the behavior of a physical system, then QFT does not negate causation. We may not know the specific time when a particle will decay, but we still know the “reason” (mathematical law) why it will, sooner or later, decay, with a decay time distributed according to a well-defined probabilistic distribution, and we will also know the precise probability distribution defining into what resulting particles it will decay into.

    Historically, the uncertainty principle has been very often confused with the observer effect, which highlights that measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the systems themselves. Heisenberg himself fell into this confusion when he used the observer effect as an explanation of the uncertainty principle.
    This is actually incorrect: the uncertainty principle is inherent in the properties of all “wave-like” systems – it is a fundamental property of quantum systems, as it is intrinsic to the mathematics of the theory, it is not caused by interactions. The fundamental reason is that “waves” cannot be described by a single position, as they are fundamentally delocalized. So a particle (which by the way in QFT is just a quantum of excitation of the corresponding field) does not physically have a localized position, it is not that it has a localized position which we would “disturb” with a measurement process.

    Please do not hesitate to ask me if of you any questions. Overall, a very good blog post with plenty of food for thought.


  2. Thank you Rick for you well-considered comments.

    I agree that probabilistic models do not necessarily imply a lack of causality. But, I am still not sure that there is causality involved with quantum physics (QM or QFT). I do believe that despite this determinism still reigns because of the mathematics. I did a perusal of some QFT and causality papers from a google search. Excluding the mathematics, which would take me years to decipher, some argued for causality, and some argue for noncausality in QFT. One who argues against causality is Fred Alan Wolf. Again, passing over the mathematics, he covers two versions of QFT, and for mathematical reasons the one that applies to the real world discounts causality. From what I gathered the rejected version needs localization. Does not localization go against Bell’s theorem and Aspects’s experiments showing nonlocality? Or, do I misunderstand this?

    So, I think there maybe some confusion here between causality and determinism. The mathematics that deciphers (word of the day I suppose) the universe is deterministic, hence the universe is fully determined. Nonlocality and other observations make the quantum world noncausal.

    As for Bohm, if it is interpretation we are talking about, can there be any experiments supporting his view versus others? That is the issue—interpretation. I believe I read his “Causality and Chance in Modern Physics” and “Wholeness and the Implicated Order”. This was back in the 1990s, so memory and lack of more acute thought back then, precludes me from fully knowing exactly what he said in those books. Did Bohm invoke the holographic universe, or was it some woo-woo commentator using him as back up? Ken Wilber comes to mind. Again this was back in the 1990s when I was less critical, unlike today.

    I accept your correction on the uncertainty principle for the reason you stated, that the particle is not in any particular position. However, I think a measurement still disturbs what is being measured. And, measurement still seems a problem in other respects.


    1. Dear Steven,
      many thanks for your insightful comment. I definitely agree that this issue of causality is far from being settled, however I must say that the scientific consensus (the large majority of physicists) do assign a fundamental role to causality in both QFT and relativity.
      Causality however is interpreted in the scientific world in a quite specific way,not as a general concept of causation intended as a metaphysical principle. What we are essentially talking about is:
      – spacetime events that, in order to influence each other, must be time-like separated rather than space-like separated – this is all special relativity is about, after all
      – specific laws that describe the behaviour of the system (probabilistic or not, it is not really relevant). We say that a law “causes” an event to happen, but in reality a law simply describes how a system behaves, and this behaviour determines specific outcomes. I am talking about “nomic” causality in this bullet point, but we should be careful to highlight that it is not what people commonly assume as causality
      – causality is actually assumed experimentally as a matter of fact, on a daily basis, in the world of quantum physics, in nuclear and particle physics with scattering experiments and similar. In order to generate specific events, you have to create specific input and environmental conditions – and this is perfectly the case in the subatomic world, regardless of the uncertainty in relation to the specific outcome

      As a general point, positing lack of causality would actually be in serious contradiction with the main tenets and structure of relativity and quantum field theory. Moreover, without causality, or just by assuming that causality can travel at speed higher than c, all sort of paradoxes and results contradictory to experimental evidence would ensue.

      The whole issue is however object of many discussions and of current research, so it is far from settled. I am not sure however how much weight I would give to Fred Alan Wolf, whose work has been defined “on the fringes of mainstream science” – the best science can be sometimes the one originally sitting at the fringes, but for example his work about the relationship between consciousness and quantum physics has been considered “crackpot” by quite a few scientists. The whole issue of causality and the closely connected concept of time and of the arrow of time are however far from settled and serious scientists are devoting much of their time to this. There are even very serious theories positing that time is not a primitive element of reality, but derive from other more primitive elements. Very reputable scientists such as Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff have, for example, even posited ideas of “backward causation,” sending information backward in time.

      You raised a very important and good point in relation to Bohm’s interpretation. Firstly, you are absolutely right and his interpretation is only one of the many available (and to be perfectly honest, it is not one of the most popular either!), and currently there is no way to distinguish experimentally between any of the interpretations. However the conclusions that we should derive, I think, is that we should not assume that the Copenhagen probabilistic interpretation is the correct one, as it has many very serious conceptual issues and most importantly it does not even begin to address the measurement problem (problem which is directly addressed by the Bohm’s interpretation, by the way). But until we can devise experiments to distinguish between these interpretations, I think that we should suspend judgment about the probabilistic or deterministic nature of reality (however the majority if scientists would currently probably subscribe to a probabilistic model, I suspect).

      You also raised the very important issue of non-locality. It is important to highlight that non-locality is not necessarily in contradiction with causation (but it is in fundamental tension with special relativity, I must say). Bohm’s theory, for example, is deterministic, causal and explicitly nonlocal (the velocity of any one particle depends on the value of the “guiding equation”, but it also depends on the boundary conditions of the system, which in principle may be the entire universe). If you want to have more details about the Bohm’s interpretation, please refer to https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-bohm/ – which is a beautiful article that approaches it from a philosophical, non-technical perspective. Again, I must say though that this interpretation is certainly not one of the most popular.

      The majority say that non-locality can be perfectly compatible with causality and special relativity, provided that no information (no signal) can be travel at speed > c to influence/generate a separate spacetime event. For example, phenomena such as entanglement and the EPR experiment do not necessarily conflict with causality. However even in this case not everybody agrees, and some see an unresolved tension with special relativity that has not been fully addressed.

      Talking about the EPR experiment, what this experiment demonstrates is that it is not possible to have at the same time local and deterministic/hidden-variable theory. But note that it still leaves perfectly open the door to a non-local, hidden-variable theory such as the one proposed by Bohm.

      Finally, you are absolutely correct, a measurement can disturb what is being measured – to probe the position of a particle, you have to send photons at a wavelength small enough to “see” it – and this will necessarily affect its momentum (photon are massless, but they do possess momentum, and the smaller the wavelength the higher the frequency, so the higher the momentum). Just please bear in mind that even if it was possible to determine the position of an electron without sending photons to it, so without disturbing it at all, you still would not be able to determine position and momentum at the same time (and this would apply to all conjugate variables such as angular orientation and angular momentum, and energy and time).


      1. Thank you again Rick for you well-considered comments. I only hope my reply does them justice.

        I think I see what you mean about the causality issue. But, is not the “nomic” version the same as determinism? Do you think that causality and determinism are the same thing? Maybe, I just naturally think in terms of “space-like” causality. Obviously, I need to learn more about the differing concepts of causality.

        I was not sure where Wolf stood in the mainstream, but the thought did occur to me that he might not be in line with other physicists working in QFT; I put his conclusion out there because it seemed to agree with my notions of causality at the quantum level. Consensus is certainly important in the acceptance of scientific theories. Among global warming researchers (those working directly in the field) the consensus is something like 97% that global warming is occurring, and it is mainly caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. While the maverick is sometimes correct, it is best to have due caution when accepting his or hers theories.

        I was not aware of Wolf’s view on consciousness. If I had, I probably would not have included his conclusion. I reject any claim that quantum level effects have anything to do with free will. Everything in its way has to have quantum doings at its the base, but how does this affect the work of neurons and their connections? I believe Penrose evokes quantum effects to explain consciousness as well with talk about microtubules, most prominent when cells divide.

        As for the interpretation of quantum physics, I remain agnostic on it. I just hope I am sitting on a comfortable fence. Thank you for the link. I often use this online source to either review or find a particular item within a topic area I am writing about.
        I hope I was not implying that nonlocality negates causality. That was not my intention here. As I said above there is probably confusion on my part on the connections between causality and determinism. I am firmly in the determinism camp. Without it I cannot see how the world would contain the regularity it does.

        I was aware of what the EPR experiment showed, and I do not think this came across in what I wrote.

        I am in agreement with the inability to determine both position and momentum with or without disturbing measurements.


  3. As a PS to my latest comment – please note that some literature talks about “violation of causality” but by doing so it does not mean that it negates the concept of causality itself – on the contrary, it does assume that causality exist, but that it has somewhat a character of “non-locality” (that it is not in general subject to relativistic constraints). Needless to say, this is highly controversial.
    In general, the majority of scientists do not assume any definite position in relation to the overall concept of causality, intended as an over-aching metaphysical concept – they frequently tend to treat the existence of causality as a working assumption or as an environmental factor, unless they are more or less directly involved in the subject as such.


    1. Rick, thank you for your further comments.

      As I said in the post, or hoped to imply, physicists at work do not usually worry about interpretational issues. And, I guess some could care less about it outside the experimenter’s bench too.


  4. “I cannot determine (discover) whether the reaction was determined (caused) by the increased pressure or the increased heat”. The word “determine” has two complimentary but distinct meanings. The problem in the quantum world is that it is too small to see what is really happening. We can use an electron microscope to get better resolution of details than we can with light, but what kind of microscope can we use to view something as small as an electron? Any string microscopes lying around? I suspect that our problem is not the lack of reliable causation, but rather the lack of non-invasive means of viewing/measuring what is happening.

    All of our “natural laws” that we use to predict the effect of a given cause are derived from observation of a given class of objects. We drop a bowling ball and a golf ball off the leaning tower of Pisa to discover that gravity causes acceleration of all objects at the same rate. That’s how Physics comes up with its natural laws. But Physics cannot predict what biological organisms will do. For that we need Biologists who observe the behavior of living organisms that defy gravity by climbing the banana tree to get something to eat. And for intelligent species, we need Psychologists and Sociologists observing the behavior of objects that create their own laws to make their behavior at a traffic light more predictable to each other.

    So, until we prove otherwise, we should assume that there are some reliable causes and effect that determine (cause) quantum effects, even if we are sized a little too large to be able to observe and determine (discover) what they are.

    After all, what is gravity if not another example of “spooky action at a distance”? Why should something over here have any effect at all on something else, over there?


    1. Marvin,

      Thank you for your comments.

      My claim of noncausality at the quantum level is now in question. At least in my mind. Please read Rick’s insightful comments for some of the reasons that I now question this. If there winds up being a difference between determinism and causality than noncausality may still remain. Unfortunately, you cannot just assume causality. Although according to Hume, all causality is called into question. Hume believed the best we can assert is regularity. Logically Hume maybe right, but logic does not necessarily rule the world. At least not in this case. There are other reasons to believe in causality. You brought up a number of good points in your blog – “Determinism ♥ Free Will”. You mention there that without causality there would not be any regularity. So without causality “all” things and events would be weird as I claimed for quantum physics.

      As for seeing an electron, they have been able to trap single electrons. Plus, most information (and sightings?) were done with cloud and bubble chambers which revealed the various tracks of different particles. Now, I think these chambers work in a different manner. Rick, if you read this, maybe you could briefly explain what they use today in particle accelerator experiments.

      Discovery of “natural laws” are not so simple. Certainly, the ultimate decider of the correctness of a theory is experimental confirmation. There are nuances here, but I will not go into them.

      In Newton’s day how gravity worked was a mystery, but with Einstein’s general relativity theory we now believe that gravity is determined by the shape of the universe. There is no action at a distance—spooky or otherwise.

      As for prediction in biology or psychology or any other complex systems, you are correct that physics will not provide this. However, we have so far have been unable to discover laws such as we have in physics that allow for prediction in complex systems. I am not a believer in emergent properties, if by emergent it is claimed that some other law is at work. Basic chemistry and biology work quite well under the assumption that it is the law of physics that determine the ultimate action at these levels. So I am a reductionist in the sense that things are determine from the level below. It is just the level of complexity increases at each level. But, I am not aware of any law that enables prediction of emergent properties for any level.

      Psychology and other human behavioral sciences do require other means of explanation, not because they are not reducible, but the level of explanation is different. I doubt it would mean much if someone worked out a reduction for my love for Bette. At this level we want explanations that are phenomenal. This is in human terms. Much more could be said on all of this, but since this is not the topic of this blog, I have already gone as far as I care to now. But, I could envision a blog about the concept of emergent properties, and what we want at different levels of description.


      1. I knew I had seen “pictures of atoms” somewhere and I thought it was via the electron microscope, but thanks to Rick I now know it is the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). Moving individual atoms…Wow!

        The philosophical definition of “free will” is “freedom from causal necessity/inevitability”. And if the philosophers and theologians would just call it “freedom from reliable cause and effect”, we could permanently end the paradox, and use “free will” to refer to a decision we make for ourselves free of coercion or undue influence. The latter is the only definition required to satisfy moral and legal responsibility. And it is the only definition that everyone normally uses and correctly applies in most practical matters.

        I’m not sure where you would differentiate between “determinism” and “causality”, but it may be that determinism refers specifically to the concept of universal causal necessity/inevitability, while causality may be the more limited view of a specific cause of a specific effect. If we presume that every event has reliable causes, and each of these causes is also an event with reliable causes, then everything that will ever happen is causally inevitable. Thus determinism would be the logical result of reliable causality.

        We can accept causal inevitability as a logical fact as long as we don’t make too much of it. The problem comes when we forget the other facts, like the fact that it is us making choices that actually determines what becomes inevitable. We remain the final responsible cause of our deliberate choices. Causes prior to us are insufficient. And all prior influences must first become part of who and what we are before they can have any impact upon what we do. So, it’s still us.

        I ran into “emergence” in Michael S. Gazzaniga’s “Who’s in Charge?” Wikipedia also has an article on the concept. Emergence is not such a spooky concept. Matter, when organized one way, will have certain properties and behaviors, when organized in a different way, it can have other properties and behaviors.

        For example, suppose I assemble a drone helicopter and include a program that maintains a specific altitude. When I turn it on, it will ascend to that altitude and hover. None of the parts will do that on their own. If I throw the parts into the air they will all fall to the ground.

        The drone itself will also fall to the ground if I turn it off. It’s ability to maintain altitude requires a “running process” that exists only while power is running through the hardware. And the behavior of the hardware is also controlled by a “decision making program” that detects altitude and increases or decreases rotator speed to maintain vertical position.

        So the behavior of this physical object is more than a product of it’s atoms obeying physical laws. It also depends upon its logic and the flow of electric energy.


  5. Regarding causality and also regarding visibility of quantum mechanical experiments, the microscopic reality is after all not so different to the “classical” world – see https://vixra.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/quark-gluon-plasma-seen-in-proton-collisions-maybe/ for an example, or look at http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-this-image-of-a-proton-photon-collision-was-obtained-with-a-bubble-103999013.html. If you search in the CERN website (https://home.cern/) you can see many such images everywhere.
    Some images (like this one, quite old probably from the 60’s – see https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/can-someone-translate-these-bubble-chamber-tracks.563628/) are quite aesthetically beautiful. Note that bubble chambers, allowing for real tracks left by particles to be seen and photographed by expanding liquid that has been heated to boiling point, have been introduced in 1952.

    In scattering experiments such as the ones done at the LHC, hadrons are prepared, accelerated along a loop so to make them collide, and then we use detectors to see the results. All perfectly sequential and causal, I may say, and not so conceptually different really from throwing two balls of glass against each other so that they shatter each other, and then we look at how the pieces look like.

    The only real differences are: the resulting showers of particles are not always the same, however the expected overall results, and the statistical distribution of the individual results, are completely determined (unless we are trying to discover new laws / new particles in a higher energy regime, of course, like the Higgs Boson recently) – and rather than using our receptors located in our eyes, we simply used other types of detectors/detection processes. But why should we give more importance to our eyes rather than to much more reliable detectors whose supporting software is by the way much more reliable than our human perceptive/ interpretative apparatus, I would ask.

    By the way, individual atoms can be “seen” individually (through STM), and even manipulated individually. This has been the case for a long time. I was working for IBM in California when this image was produced: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_(atoms) – while I did not participate myself in this, I saw how they designed the whole thing – and we are talking about 1989, so we are talking about 28 years ago.

    We should also bear in mind that there is no conceptual separation between the classical and the quantum world in terms of physical laws – they are exactly the same and they are governed by the same rules and laws. Newtonian mechanics is just a convenient approximation for low-speed, low-energy regimes. Many exclusively quantum phenomena are visible at our macroscopic level all the time – for example, like in the case of superconductivity, superfluids, and recently even effects such as superposition are virtually visible to the naked eye (see https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18669-first-quantum-effects-seen-in-visible-object/). Magnets are simply macroscopic quantum systems, and the very common MRI systems in hospital are just superconducting magnets in a macroscopic quantum state. Lasers are also the result of purely quantum mechanics aspects.

    Popular science also likes to highlight supposed contradictions between the macro and the micro world – like the example of Schrodinger’s cat. They tend to omit that there is actually a perfectly quantum mechanical explanation: every system, whether quantum or ‘classical’ (such as a life-sized cat), is in contact with an external environment, which is a noisy collection of atoms in different quantum mechanical states. This “coupling” between a quantum system in a superposition and the environment in which it is embedded leads the system to decay within an extremely short time into one state or another. This process is known as decoherence, and it would make the preparation of the Schrodinger’s cat.experiment a virtually impossible task (the rate of decoherence depends on the size of the quantum system. For a system as big as a cat, comprised of billions upon billions of atoms, decoherence happens virtually instantaneously).
    Decoherence can actually be a big pain in the arse, technologically speaking: this is one of the major problems facing the designers of the new quantum computing technology – we really struggle to do this with a few atoms, let alone with a whole cat! 🙂
    By the way, decoherence has also debunked claims that our mind can be compared to a quantum computer or that quantum superposition aspects can drive our consciousness – because the speed with which decoherence would destroy and such superposition is higher than the processing speed (neuron firing) of our brains. This article explains why this is the case https://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/9907009.


    1. Rick,

      Thank you for your further comments and links.

      I have nothing to add. In my reply to Marvin I was trying to emphasizes some of the things you wrote, but not quite so well.
      In that reply I asked if there is a more modern version of the bubble chamber in use now.


  6. Guys, I just wanted to highlight that I am really happy to participate in this discussion, as there are many high-level, insightful comments, and many very important points.
    Steven, I just wanted to acknowledge your request for more information about modern detectors – I will try my best to write down a non-technical short explanation, as my current documents/sources on the matter are extremely technical. Just give me a couple of days 🙂


  7. I wanted, in the meanwhile, to elaborate on the important concept of emergence that Marvin has correctly raised.

    Firstly, I must say that my views tend towards a moderate reductionism, so I still have serious doubts whether emergence is a genuine phenomenon, or just a convenient abstraction due to lack of deeper knowledge of the system being studied.

    Having said that, I must say that in physics there are several phenomena that are very difficult to explain by using purely the lowest (quantum mechanical) level:
    – entropy is not an observable in quantum mechanics. It is fundamentally a measurement of “disorder” which is a statistical concept that really only makes sense at aggregate level. Time-reversibility is characteristics of physical laws at atomic level, but this is not the case when we deal with processes at aggregate level (the typical example being made by popular literature is that you can’t see a cup of coffee re-assembling itself, after you have broken it).
    – friction comes immediately to mind when dealing with mechanics – friction is non-conservative but the forces between the individual elementary particles involved in the frictions are conservative! Friction really emerges only at aggregate level
    – in condensed matter quantum field theory, there are well-documented cases (see https://arxiv.org/abs/0809.0151) where “complex physical systems may exhibit behavior that cannot be understood only in terms of the laws governing their microscopic constituents (…) many macroscopic observable properties of a simple class of physical systems (the infinite periodic Ising lattice) cannot in general be derived from a microscopic description”
    – some contemporary physics (but this is still speculative, see https://sitp.stanford.edu/news/which-field-theories-give-emergent-space-time) posit that space-time is actually an emergent property, while other theories investigate time as an emergent property (see http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/626/1/012019)

    With all the above, what I am saying here is that emergence is a paradigm that has not been discounted at all, and that has been taken very seriously in many fields of contemporary physics, and also when it comes to the behaviour of complex systems characterized by non-linear feedback loops. When confronted with systems in which the whole appears to be greater than the sum of the parts, and you don’t even need to go to complex biological systems to see that, I find it very hard to maintain a rigid reductionist position.

    Note also that “collective” properties such as superconductivity, fractional quantum hall effect, etc start with the description of a many-body ground state, not from the microscopic interaction of the individual particles. So, even the most basic field theories do start at some form of aggregate level.

    The problem explodes further when you go at higher level – when you deal with chemistry and even more with biology – see https://prajwalk.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/reductionism-in-physics-and-chemistry/ – some even seriously question the reducibility of basic chemistry to quantum mechanics.

    Strict reductionism makes a very strong claim: that all patterns, behaviors, structures at any level of the hierarchy are reducible to a basic set of laws at the “smallest” level, through a very long unbroken logical chain that starts from the most complex systems down to the most elementary system. While I am very tempted to subscribe to this view, I think that this is far, far from being settled and that even my moderate reductionism might be proven wrong.


    1. Ironically, Gazzaniga uses the terms “strong emergence” and “weak emergence”. Weak emergence would be cases where the macro property can be traced back to micro properties. Strong emergence would be where they simply cannot be. Here, I’ll let him say it:

      “There are two schools of thought on emergence. In weak emergence, the new properties arise as a result of the interactions at an elemental level and the emergent property is reducible to its individual components, that is, you can figure out the steps from one level to the next, which would be the deterministic view. Whereas, in strong emergence, the new property is irreducible, is more than the sum of its parts, and because of the amplification of random events, the laws cannot be predicted by an underlying fundamental theory or from an understanding of the laws of another level of organization. This is what the physicists stumbled upon,” — Gazzaniga, Michael S.. Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain (p. 124). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

      Here’s a technical description of emergence that Gazzaniga paraphrases from J. Goldstein:

      “Emergence is when micro-level complex systems that are far from equilibrium (thus allowing for the amplification of random events) self-organize (creative, self-generated, adaptability-seeking behavior) into new structures, with new properties that previously did not exist, to form a new level of organization on the macro level.” 16 Goldstein, J. (1999). Emergence as a construct: History and issues. Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 1( 1), 49– 72.

      And one more for the road:

      “It turns out that Newton’s laws aren’t fundamental, they are emergent; that is, they are what happens when quantum matter aggregates into macroscopic fluids and objects. It is a collective organizational phenomenon. The thing is, you can’t predict Newton’s laws from observing the behavior of atoms, nor the behavior of atoms from Newton’s laws.” — Gazzaniga, Michael S.. Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain (p. 125). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

      I’m pretty much treading water here where it comes to the physics. Not gonna touch time-reversal, and didn’t attempt to read some of the links.

      But, as a computer programmer, I’m aware of logical “objects”, each with their own properties and methods, and which can be assembled into larger objects that have new properties and methods.

      Philosophically, the only way to explain the movement of a molecule of water that is in the cell of a human being, is by describing behaviors that a human can do, but which the atom of water cannot do. If the Physicist wishes to say that everything is Physics, then Physics must be expanded to include the life sciences and the social sciences. Or, it must at least absorb all of their concepts, and begin describing a specific class of organization of matter as a “person”.


  8. Extremely interesting notes, Marvin! By the way I have a background in IT too (software development for scientific purposes) and I agree with your reference to “logical “objects”, each with their own properties and methods, and which can be assembled into larger objects that have new properties and methods”. Very interesting metaphor indeed – actually, some may well say that there is more to it than just a metaphor…


    1. Both Gazzaniga and my other Michael G, Michael S. A. Graziano, who wrote “Consciousness and the Social Brain”, use a “hardware” vs “software” analogy to distinguish the mental processing from the brain structure.

      Gazzaniga has this cool quote about beliefs in his intro: “we humans have cognition and beliefs of all kinds, and the possession of a belief trumps all the automatic biological process and hardware, honed by evolution, that got us to this place.” — Gazzaniga, Michael S.. Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain (p. 2). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

      He also brings up the distinction again when discussing the Libet experiments: “What difference does it make if brain activity goes on before we are consciously aware of something? Consciousness is its own abstraction on its own time scale and that time scale is current with respect to it. Thus, Libet’s thinking is not correct. That is not where the action is, any more than a transistor is where the software action is.” — Gazzaniga, Michael S.. Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain (p. 141). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

      Graziano describes conscious awareness in terms of rich data structures. He calls his theory of consciousness the “attention schema theory”. He says, “A schema is a coherent set of information that, in a simplified but useful way, represents something more complex. In the present theory, awareness is an attention schema. It is not attention but rather a simplified, useful description of attention. Awareness allows the brain to understand attention, its dynamics, and its consequences.” — Graziano, Michael S. A.. Consciousness and the Social Brain (Kindle Locations 380-382). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

      Graziano discusses awareness as a property that can be attached to the other information associated with an object in reality, such as a green apple. We can be aware of the fact that we are paying attention to the apple, and also aware of the fact that we are aware of being aware of it.

      When Graziano talks about conscious awareness this way, I imagine a linked list, held together by the association of neuronal pathways.


  9. Thank you Rick and Marvin for your continued comments. I am really please that you two are interacting together as well as with me.

    I would like to stick my two cents into the free will versus determinism issue. I fully agree that there is no logical contradiction between the two under the compatibilism you described Marvin. I am a determinist through and through. Whatever the status of causality at the quantum level is, it is still determined under the mathematical rules that have been discovered. But, my point of view on the free will versus determinism is different however much I agree with the compatibilist view.

    I believe that we do indeed have free will. It is just not what most people think it is. It is an emotion or feeling (a will leave the two interchangeable, but keep in mind there are some differences). I have two key points in defense of this view. The first is the neuroimaging studies done when people are making decisions, including moral ones. These studies show that the emotional centers in the brain are active during these decisions. This indicates that there is a component of feelings when we decide something. Actually, I think this is most likely true with all thought—no thought without feeling. Anyway, it seems true with decisions. The second is that most people most of the time feel that they have free will. I include myself in this group. And not only do people have this feeling, they are often adamant about it.

    I also see free will as a necessity for action. Without this feeling of free will, I find it doubtful that we would act in a deliberative manner.

    However, this view does not give any room for any type of indeterminism. This is because these feelings are fully determined by our brain states interacting with both the external and internal environment, just like decisions themselves are determined. I will add that is the whole person that acts, not just the brain. Because of this I believe that the “for my brain made me do it” excuse does not evade a person’s responsibility for any action.

    See my blog – “Why Are People Afraid of Their Brains?” @ https://aquestionersjourney.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/why-are-people-afraid-of-their-brain/ for more of my thoughts on determinism and the brain.

    I have nothing to add to the quantum physics discussion at this time.

    However, I would like to clarify my views on emergence. I am not against emergence per se. Certainly, it would be correct to say that one level of phenomena emerges from the level below. My problem is with those who think there is something added to the bottom level which causes the emergence at the upper level. As far as I know there is no evidence for this kind of emergence. In addition, there is no predictive law of emergence that I know of (Stuart Kaufman would probably argue differently) either. Computational models of emergent behavior do not provide prediction like the four basic force laws. These models might mimic the behavior, but they do not explain it.

    I am also certainly not claiming that everything is explainable by physics. There are different levels of explanation, and one needs to use the proper level. I pointed this out I believe with the example of love. Knowing all the physical aspects will not explain how love factors into our lives.

    I just get the feeling that some individuals use emergence as a “god of the gaps argument.”

    I have recently purchase the Kindle version of Gazzaniga’s book, but have not read yet, and I am not sure when I will be able to read it, though. Too many books—my reader’s dilemma. As for Graziano’s book, it is now on my Amazon science list. I am probably in agreement with his notion of consciousness being about attention. I think of consciousness as an attention focuser for those things and events that call for closer attention. It is kind of like a spotlight.

    I will leave complexity alone for the moment, but I have issues on how this concept is used as well.

    I do not care for the hardware/software analogy unless it is treated metaphorically. The hardware side of the analogy is okay. After all, the brain is certainly physical. However, the software side seems really off. Software is a written code instructing a computing device to do something. These are some questions that would need to be answer for me to except this side of the analogy: where is this code?; who is writing it?; what is written in it?; and what is being instructed?

    Thank you again Rick and Marvin, and I look forward to any further comments you may make.


    1. In the TV series, “The Brain”, with David Eagleman, he also confirmed the emotional side of decision making. He had a case of a woman who had damage to that emotional area of the brain and it disrupted her ability to even shop for groceries. I suspect it is an analog process where one choice feels more right than the other. When we weigh our options, we’re probably weighing our good versus our bad feelings. I think each criteria or value will have its own weight in goodness or badness.

      I find it simpler to start out with the presumption of perfectly reliable cause and effect. And I presume it holds at all levels of causation: physical, biological, and rational. I presume each event is reliably cause by some combination of these three. One advantage of this approach is that I can completely avoid QM (sorry Rick).

      The paradox is completely avoided by using the operational definition of free will rather than the metaphysical one. If you ever get the chance, read just the beginning of William James’ Lecture II in his “Pragmatism”. He has a great example of the importance of choosing your definitions to avoid eternal debates.

      Unfortunately, Gazzaniga also uses the philosophical definition of free will rather than the operational definition. In my opinion, this is a serious mental error that many scientist have made, creating an unfortunate tradition of confusion and paradox. In real life, their attack upon “free will” as freedom from causation ends up as an attack on the ordinary “free will” that is required for moral and legal responsibility. And that can have bad effects upon people’s behavior as Dr. Eddy Nahmias describes here:

      Click to access Neuroethics-Response-to-Baumeister.pdf

      But, aside from that, “Who’s in Charge” is really loaded with lots of cool information from a neuroscientist who actually participated in the early split-brain experiments.

      Ordinary free will, the ability to decide for ourselves what we will do, when free of coercion or undue influence, is an empirical fact. We are not just feeling that we are making a choice. We are in reality making a choice. It’s really us doing it. And it presents no problem for perfect determinism, because it is a deterministic process based upon our thoughts and feelings. The “chain of causation” is never broken. We just happen to be one of the links that perform a control function. And it’s really us doing it.


      1. I watched that series on the brain, and while I agree with the fact the brain creates our reality, I think it is unfortunate that some might assume the brain is free to create any reality it wants, and that reality becomes relative to some individuals. Overall, I felt the series was pretty good, though.

        I am not sure you understood my point on causality in quantum physics. I said in the blog that above the quantum level because of quantum interactions it is cause and effect all the way up. This means that for all practical purposes we can ignore the issue of quantum causality. And, the quantum physicists can pretty much ignore the issue as well because in their work the mathematics they use is deterministic to the core.

        Quantum causality, whatever that maybe, is to me at least interesting to think about. To me the major, not the only point, in philosophical exploration* is that I enjoy thinking about things, even if I cannot fully figure something. And, I am fully comfortable with most uncertainty at this level. I think it really bothers some people that we cannot gain certainty in every investigation. Maybe, this is where some people fall into an existential fog.

        I agree with you on the importance of understanding what definitions are being used in a debate. I would add presuppositions, such as my metaphysical naturalism. It is hard to have a solid discussion when the definition of a term or concept used in it are different.

        I was not trying to imply that we do not make the decisions we make. If I did not choose to write the previous sentence, who did? My point on free will is that it is not an instrument of making decisions; it is the executor there of. I have no issue with free will being defined as freedom from coercion or force. This definition makes better use of the word because it is false that the choices we make are not determined. But, my definition makes better sense of free will overall.

        I am determined (different sense) to write a blog on free will and determinism in the future Just when, I am not sure.

        * See –


      2. If you tag the article free-will or determinism I’ll likely run into it. I also look for ethics and morality occasionally. These are the topics that I feel I have something important to say.

        I’m not ready to give up on reliable cause and effect in the quantum world. I suspect there is causation, but simply on a different level, and thus having its own “natural laws”. At some point I may revise the causation levels to 4 in stead of 3: quantum, physical (Newtonian), biological, and rational.

        In any case, it’s been delightful discussing quantum weirdness with you and Rick. See you next time.


      3. Thanks for what I assume to be your final comments on this blog post.

        The post referred to in the previous reply is tagged under both freewill (not free will) and determinism. The only post tagged ethics is “What Did Aristotle Mean?” This is an exploration of part of Aristotle’s ethics along with remarks on most of the other theories. You are welcomed to make comments on both if you desire.

        Fair enough on causation at the quantum level. After all, it is a mess down there. The mess I am referring to is agreement between those who think about such things, not as in intellectually messy. Although, it can be that from some quarters.

        I have also enjoyed all our interactions together. I feel it is important to be open to challenge of what we feel, think, or believe is so. It opens us up to change in these things or serves to sharpen our arguments for them. Because of this it is my policy to reply to all commentators. This may have to change in the future, if the number of comments I exceeds my capacity to respond.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Very interesting discussion!
    I just wanted to highlight a couple of very important things in relation to issues of computational complexity, and of using “software” as a metaphor for the patterns (physical laws and structures) that characterize physical reality:

    – firstly, it is important to bear in mind what we actually mean by computing/computability/software etc: the modern definition of such elements (at least since the work done by Turing in the 50s) is independent of any restrictive, technologically-biased definition/implementation of “program” or “software”. What we are actually talking about is abstract information-processing that is executed according to specific “instructions” (or patterns, if we want to use a more neutral term) – and we do not need to refer to a computer to do that. Extrapolating this to the structures of physical reality, if we believe that patterns inform physical reality (which is the main assumption of science) you can identify such patterns with the physical laws. If we identify such patterns with the “software”, then asking “who/what” created such “software” would be tantamount to asking “who/what” created such physical laws, something definitely in the realm of metaphysics, not science.
    The basic processing logic, followed by specific implementations of such information processing, corresponds to specific mathematical models of computation. Such models of computation are often exemplified by “Turing machines” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine) – several types of Turing machines exist, corresponding to alternative computational paradigms (starting from the original one, to more complex neural, quantum, probabilistic machines – but do not be misled by the term “machine” – we are talking about a mathematical processing model here, not about a specific physical/technological implementation).

    – it is also important that considerations of complexity in general, and more specifically of computational complexity, are fundamental aspects in modern physics, and they have been so since the 60’s. Feynman himself, for example, used considerations of computational complexity to argue against the physical continuum: “It always bothers me that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time. How can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one tiny piece of space/time is going to do?”
    Scott Aarsonson from MIT, for example (he is one of the foremost researchers in the field) has done pioneering work in investigating this important aspect of “computability” and physical reality. Modern philosophers mistakenly think this is just a technical problem, but in reality it has many important consequences (see what Aaronson thinks here: https://arxiv.org/abs/1108.1791). Susskind himself (see http://www.nature.com/news/theoretical-physics-complexity-on-the-horizon-1.15285) is investigating a direct usage of models of reality based on computation and computational complexity in trying to unify QFT and General Relativity.
    Also, the close link between the concept of entropy in thermodynamics and the concept of entropy in information theory is well known – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy_in_thermodynamics_and_information_theory.

    With all the above, what I am saying is that aspects of computation, complexity and information theory arguments might actually be much more than simple metaphor, but considered at the proper abstract level they might be saying something very important and fundamental about the deep nature and structure of reality. Such elements have definitely entered the mainstream of physical sciences
    This is to be kept separated from the more extreme approaches of the so-called “digital physics”: for example, naive mappings from ordinary computational models to models of physical reality embedded by the known physical laws have problems – ordinary computational descriptions do not appear to have a cardinality of states, and state space trajectories, sufficient for them to map onto ordinary mathematical descriptions of natural systems).


    1. I wouldn’t describe physical (or quantum) laws as software. Like you said, software raises the question of who/what designed it. And we don’t get any “who’s” until living organisms emerge. Physical behavior is intrinsic to the material and forces themselves. (Just curious: In Physics, is a force an actual “thing” or simply a relationship between two things?)

      But I would say that the DNA molecule is “information” and a “machine” and a set of “instructions” for reproducing itself.

      Nobody deliberately wrote the first instructions for DNA. We presume they appeared as a product of random natural events that shuffled and combined atoms and molecules in every improbable way. It’s sort of like the works of Shakespeare showing up eventually if an infinite number of monkeys, over a long enough period of time, just typed random characters on their iPhones.

      Copying errors and mutations due to environmental intrusions (like radiation) continued to produce variations in the instructions. Successful variations persisted and unsuccessful ones died off. Those that persisted acquired additional variations in the same fashion. Thus the DNA would accumulate more and more successful variations over time.

      Some variations are hard-wired while others are adaptive, like genes expressing themselves only under certain environmental circumstances.

      This accumulation of useful variations eventually produced us (along with all the other life species on Earth).

      Our set of mental concepts (which include each word used here and what the word represents, plus all the nonverbal concepts) survive according to the probability that they will aid the survival of the individual, the society, or the species.

      Conceptualization reduces complexity. We model reality in our heads, without trying to contain all of it. And I suspect we will model it in ways that are useful to our survival. But we don’t really know whether specific information will be useful or not, so we also have “theoretical” as well as practical physics.

      Speaking of which, I wonder if there is an instruction set at the quantum level and a machine building electrons, protons, neutrons. I suppose it would have to be the Higgs Boson via nominative determinism (the “god” particle). 🙂


      1. I agree with most of your comment, Marvin, especially in relation to the “coding” embedded into the DNA, which is another example of how informational structures determine the “physical” structures.

        I completely agree with modern evolutionary theory as the best explanation for the development of complexity in the physical world. By the way, while quantum physics originally played no part in the discovery of the DNA, it is now being investigated as one of the factors that drive genetic mutation (see http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= as an example). To be honest, I just have no time whatsoever for the anti-evolutionary minority that resorts to all sort of metaphysical explanations and that sadly are getting stronger in the US, where I think the resurgence of creationism (together with the phenomenon of Trumpism) is just an indictment of the many failures of the public educational system in the US.

        Regarding your question on force, in contemporary physics there is no such “thing”: force is an entirely relational concept (as an aside, in contemporary physics it appears more and more that there are no “objects”, but structures and relations. For example, particles do not have an individual “existence” but they simply are excitations of fields, and the relationships between such fields are driven by considerations of symmetry, another relational/structural concept).
        Coming back to the concept of “force”, if I had to simplify it in a single sentence, I would say that force is essentially a result of bosonic exchange between particles. Bosons (like the photon) are such intermediate exchange particles that give rise to “forces” between other particles. These bosons are themselves nothing but excitations of a particular kind of field.
        With gravity it is a bit different (where QFT posits the existence of gravitatons, while General Relativity talks about curvature in spacetime generated from the presence of mass-energy) – but in any case it is still purely a relational concept.
        More generally, it is very interesting to note, also for its philosophical implications with regards to the ultimate nature of reality, that every time we progress with scientific development, we end up reducing the number of “objects” or “entities” and we put more emphasis on structures and relations.

        There is just one small point in your comment that I would like to nitpick 🙂 , which is your statement that “conceptualization reduces complexity”. I would distinguish between the apparent complexity as it manifests to us at a first superficial glance, and the irreducible intrinsic complexity embedded in the underlying information structures.
        Conceptualization, rather than reducing the “intrinsic” level of complexity, does reduce the “apparent” level of complexity by identifying existing patterns that allow a synthesis of the apparently chaotic phenomena being studied into a reduced number of objects/relationships.

        For example, the standard model of particle physics has successfully reduced the incredible variety of particles (the so-called particle zoo) into a small set of fundamental entities (and string theory carries this process even further – but I am not too much a fan of string theory). Another example is the fractal information structures that characterize nature in many examples of the physical and natural world – where an extremely simple mathematical law fully describes an incredible variety of physical forms such as mountain ranges, craters, lightning bolts, coastlines, trees, crystals, blood vessels, proteins etc.
        But there are objective limitations to the amount of reduction that conceptualization can carry out – in mathematics, for example, the local distribution of prime numbers has an intrinsic irreducible randomness that can’t be captured by a single law.

        I think it comes down to what “understanding” and what “a scientific theory” ultimately mean: the compression of the apparently chaotic variety of physical phenomena into a significantly reduced set of physical laws that contains in a succinct, concise, informationally efficient but rich manner, all the necessary information to fully account for such multiplicity.
        The greater the degree of experimental information, and physical variety, compression into an efficiently defined law, the better such law, and the deeper the understanding of the associated phenomena (think about the expressive power of the Einstein field equation of general relativity, or the incredible law-generating power of the Euler-Lagrange equation).
        “Irreducibility” then means, following this concept, that the underlying information can’t be compressed any further into a physical law; in other words, that there is no pattern or structure that allows for further informational compression. The underlying concepts are not so dissimilar, after all, to the information compression process that is accomplished by standard software that manages digital pictures/videos.
        The real questions is how much further compression can be carried out by science, and (again to the problem of emergence versus reductionism) how much of such compression can also be carried out across multiple “levels”. When it comes to fundamental physics we are now starting to encounter formidable technological challenges, so the experimental exploration at higher levels of energy is starting to become problematic.


      2. I ran into the concept of epigenetics in Gazzaniga’s “Who’s in Charge?”. Certain genes may express differently in different environments (the pool of milk). Also, we have bunches of extra genes that appear to have no function. Perhaps they are atavistic, and just waiting for the right environment to reactivate. And to these we could add the quantum tunneling in your article, which is severely over my head.

        I don’t think gravitons actually exist. I think gravity is an example of “familiar action at a distance”. Perhaps some day we’ll be so familiar with entanglements that they’ll no longer be spooky either.

        Thanks for your answer to the “what is force?” question.


      3. You are welcome!
        Regarding the “excess” genes, I know very little of biology, so I am not in my field of expertise here, but I remember reading that some sections of DNA do not directly determine traits, but do affect the process of transcription itself. I also remember reading that there is no direct relationship trait-gene and that sometimes it is all due to a very complex coding that involves multiple genes.
        I also personally guess that some genes might have simply been a case of redundancy, or of dead past evolutionary branches that have been “de-activated” ? I am not an expert in this field, not at all, so if anybody can give me more info on this it would be great 🙂

        PS: you mentioned the Higgs Boson, A fascinating example of how what was once supposed to be an “intrinsic” property (mass) has been demonstrated as deriving in reality from the result of the interaction of particles with the Higgs field.

        (by the way, I do not know why this has been called the “God particle”. I find it extremely annoying when such terms are used – and in particular when quantum mechanics is abused to support any sort of metaphysical implications (see http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Quantum_woo for a good laugh). I am afraid that even some theoretical physicists such as Fred Alan Wolf have slipped into the trap of this Quantum mysticism BS – when I see a book titled “A Physicist’s Search for Truth in the Heart of the Shamanic World”, for example, my BS detector goes berserk 🙂


      4. Cool. Having been a believer, I am well armed with skepticism now. As a Humanist, I believe that man created God in his own image. Of course, this also means that we wrote the Bible, so there’s no one to blame the bad parts on but ourselves. I was fascinated by hypnosis as a teen, especially after “The Search for Bridey Murphy” came out. That popularized reincarnation back in the 70’s. Luckily, there was also “A Scientific Report on The Search for Bridey Murphy”, which explained the desire to accept the hypnotist’s suggestion and make up a believable story when he age-regressed you to your childhood, and then suggested, “Go back further…”. And then there was the faith-healing by Anton Mesmer, whose name created the synonym for hypnotism, “mesmerism”.


      5. Marvin, thank you for your further comments.

        Some philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead, arguably the most famous, believed it is all process (i.e. events). There are physicists that hold this view as well, but I cannot recall any names at the moment. I happen to think the universe contains both—things and events. I do not believe it is an either or situation.

        I think that “information,” “machine,” and “instructions” in regards to DNA are valid terms to use: “Information” because DNA contains information in the sequence of its bases – adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T); “machine” because DNA is physical; and “instructions” because by its code the cell is able to build protein.

        The Shakespeare analogy is not a good one. Evolution is not an all in one process. Each random change in DNA is a change from already functioning DNA, assuming we are talking about beneficial change, what is after all what it is in a successful organism. Richard Dawkins makes this clear in many of his books. The Shakespeare analogy gives creationists a foot in the door by showing life to be highly improbable without a creator. The one step at a time explanation does not allow this. By the way the creationist would still be wrong under the Shakespeare analogy because no matter how improbable life maybe it for one happen, and highly improbable events happen all the time. You and me are highly improbable given all the millions and millions of sperm your father could have contributed to his offspring. And, if you factor in generation after generation it probably amounts to at least billions and billions. Of course, the creationist can claim that god guide it all. However, this seems equally improbable if not more so.

        As far as your last paragraph, is this not what nanotechnology aims to do?


    2. Rick, once again I thank you for your interesting comments, which are so astute.

      I would agree with almost all that you say here, except the software questions I raised previously. You stated: “If we identify such patterns with the ‘software’, then asking ‘who/what’ created such “software” would be tantamount to asking ‘who/what’ created such physical laws, something definitely in the realm of metaphysics, not science.”

      I am not sure what patterns you are talking about in software. Language? Anyway, regardless of this point, to me software implies a coder. And, this is my main point. So, whether or not the identity stands, your dismissing the question of ‘who/what’ created the software as metaphysics is valid. In keeping with the hardware/software analogy, with computers the software is provided to the hardware. So, using software in the analogy implies the intention of someone outside the brain supplying it. However you want to look at this aspect, the other questions still stand.

      I am aware of the equivalency of information theory and entropy. Do you think this is why information decays in situations like in the chain where one person says something to another, who tells it to another, and so on, and at the end of the chain what was said is completely different? Could one predict how many exchanges are needed to change the original information to complete difference?

      You mention metaphysics. I think you are using it in prejudicial manner. This is not always the case with the use of metaphysics. There is metaphysics supported by what is known, and there is metaphysics that is wholly unsupported, and anything in between. I think everyone brings metaphysics to the table, and it is call “presuppositions.” In a silly example, when accepting science as a practice or its findings, you assume the physical reality of the universe. It is silly because it makes better sense to assume it. George Berkeley, one of the original empiricists, argued that things would appear pretty much the way they do if there were no physical universe. But, to assume this you need additional assumptions. In Berkeley’s case you need to posit god. By Ockham’s Razor the assumption for a physical universe is simpler, so it is more likely to be true. But, here is the rub. To accept this conclusion Ockham’s Razor has to be true, which is an assumption. I bring this up not to support Berkeley’s idealism, but to show what we believe often has assumptions attached to the belief. And, these assumptions are what metaphysics is all about in my opinion.

      Finally when you say that “computation, complexity and information theory arguments” are much more than simple metaphor. Are you saying this because they are complex metaphors? But, the reason that they should not be considered metaphors at all is because they provide actual descriptions.


      1. Thank you very much Steven for your comment.
        Regarding computation, complexity and information theory arguments, the reason why I am saying that they appear to be much more than simple metaphor, is that I think they tell something very deep about the structures and patterns that characterize physical reality. If we start with the unquestioned and experimentally confirmed assumption that reality is structured according to well-defined patterns (which is what science is all about, finding such patterns), the next question is how are these patterns (physical laws) best captured.
        And what appears to best capture such patterns is mathematics and, as it is becoming more and more apparent, direct arguments and structures from computation, complexity and information theory arguments: we see that purely informational arguments can directly drive the analysis of some of the most important and deepest questions about the physical reality. Actually, in cases such as entropy, it becomes problematic to separate the two! Please also refer to the examples that I made in my previous comment – starting with Feynman, all the way to Susskind. So it is not simply a metaphor; we are talking about information theory arguments being DIRECTLY, not just as a metaphor, used to explore the structures of physical reality – the patterns of physical reality might be informational patterns.

        As a more general consideration, I must say also that modern physics is progressively blurring the naive concept and distinction between what is “physical” and what is “informational” – I personally think that this distinction is really showing as somewhat obsolete and artificial, and definitely not helpful in the pursuits of science.
        Contemporary physics posits quantum fields as the basis for everything that we see in reality. There is no such thing as “physical” particles – they only are an abstraction, as in reality they are nothing but excitations of the corresponding fields. And what are these excitations? Nothing but a local variation of amplitudes of such fields! Amplitudes that, by the way, are not even directly measurable (only their square value is), as their values are expressed in terms of complex numbers. What is the energy of a particle ? Essentially, the sum of the frequency of its wave, plus its interactions with the vacuum.
        What are the “solid things” that we perceive ? Their “solidity” is nothing a side effect of the bosonic exchange that generate the electromagnetic “force” – which by the way is not an object, but purely the result of relational aspects, purely a result of the interactions of such fields. And what is mass ? Nothing but the result of interactions between two fields, the fermionic field and the Higgs field. We really should get away from the obsolete, Newtonian-inspired view of particles as small, spinning balls – nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, it has been demonstrated long ago that there is no way you could have such a thing – in order to justify the experimentally measured intrinsic spin, such small balls would have to rotate at speeds much higher than the speed of light. Spin of a “particle” is therefore nothing that you can represent in classical physical terms. Also, what is the wave function ? Nothing but an evolving wave of probability – another purely informational element! And what are all the phenomena that we see experimentally, such as superconductivity and the double-slit experiment ? Nothing but the superposition of such probability waves! The deeper you go into the inner core of physical reality, the more obsolete old views of what is “physical” actually become.
        Science is about finding the best model (in terms of patterns, structures, relations and entities, the latter being just a convenient collection of properties) to adequately describe physical reality, and physical reality is whatever is measurable and observable – it appears more and more that such models must take into account these informational considerations and paradigms to an ever-increasing extent, and more and more directly.
        So far it is all pretty mainstream science – now, the next step that some scientists have taken, which is to posit that reality is nothing but informational, is necessarily speculative, as are all theories about the ultimate nature of reality, and contentious. Very tempting proposition, but there are issues with this approach, as I highlighted in one of my previous posts. And this is not what I was thinking about in my previous post.

        Regarding the concept of metaphysics, I think we need to clarify what we exactly mean by this term, as I think that we actually agree on this:
        – if by metaphysics we mean anything that goes “beyond” the physical world, in the sense of anything that lives outside spacetime and it can’t be confirmed or observed experimentally, then science can’t prove or disprove anything about it – therefore it becomes supremely uninteresting to me. I am an agnostic when it comes to metaphysical considerations, or, better, it simply it does not interest me as it is not informative. I actually have much sympathy towards Hume’s skeptical views, when he argued that all genuine knowledge involves either mathematics (I think he was a bit naive here) or matters of fact (experimentally confirmed facts), and that metaphysics, which goes beyond these, is worthless. In particular, I deeply distrust philosophical arguments when to comes to the deepest layers of reality – when it comes to the nature of reality, anything that is not supported by science is a vacuous mind game, in my opinion. Science has been debunking philosophical views about physical reality for the last few hundred years – nature has the bad habit of debunking our most beautiful conceptual castles, if we do not ask her first for confirmation 🙂
        – on the other hand, if by “metaphysics” we mean “presuppositions” or understanding the very process with which we humans interact with nature when exploring it (much of it captured by “philosophy of science”), or if it is about clarifying the assumptions/axioms that we use when positing new laws, then I completely accept and respect such efforts, which in my mind fall under the umbrella of “methodology”. In another of your blogs, for example, I stated that the relationship between philosophy and science is a two-way street – for as long as philosophy is properly delimited to its proper scope.
        – sometimes, when we do not have the technology to experimentally verify new theories, philosophical arguments can be used to explore new possibilities and new theories. I have nothing against it, for as long as it is not sold as science and it is clearly highlighted as speculative.


      2. “First there is a mountain. Then there is no mountain. Then there is.” — Donovan

        A table is solid if I can set my cup of coffee on it. That’s one context. And the words are all true and accurate in that context.

        The fact that the table is a bunch of atoms held together by electrical bonds, with “miles” of empty space between them, is a different context. The facts in this context are also true. In this context the table is not solid.

        The fact that the protons and neutrons in the atom are themselves made up of quarks is yet another context. In this context we are dealing with the reductionism of atomic particles to their subparts. But this cannot be said to make the facts of either of the above contexts false. It’s just a different frame of reference.

        Now, it may be the case that our gluons and bosons are themselves made up of smaller parts. And these smaller parts may again be made of something smaller still. Until we get down to the “smallest part of the smallest part” (infinite).

        As a practical matter, we should not be in a hurry to scrap the language of one context due to the discovery of another context. After all, we still need something solid to set our coffee on.


      3. I agree with your comment, Marvin. After all, we have used Newtonian mechanics to explore the solar system 🙂 So, classical physical models have proved to be very reasonable approximations of the underlying physical reality. After all, we are macroscopic human beings with a perceptual apparatus that works pretty well in our world, as proved by our survival as a species….


      4. Indeed. Hey, about the “it’s all just information”. I’m a little worried about the math thing. Math is just another language for expressing what we observe in reality. And it’s more like an abstraction of reality isn’t it? I don’t think it could be reality itself. … On the other hand, Graziano suggests awareness is rich data, and all we can know of reality is information. Hey! Where did my nice solid mountain go?!


      5. LOL 🙂
        talking about maths, I am not a mathematical realist, so while I think that relational and informational aspects (patterns, in a word) do play a fundamental role in the shape of reality, I think that human mathematics is a language that has been often (but not always), very successful in identifying such patterns, and that human mathematics reflects the limitations of our human perceptual and intellectual apparatus.

        Regarding classical/newtonian concepts, it is true that we operate at a macroscopic level and that at that level traditional concepts do play a role, but I think that our very own macroscopic nature makes it all the more imperative to be aware that, when it comes to exploring the inner core of reality, such concepts well may be inadequate and should be superseded. Time is not absolute, and the same is for space, for example, but they unite in spacetime and they are highly depending on the reference frame, regardless of how are common sense may scream that this can’t be the case.
        Nature has never signed an agreement with us to be commonsensical 🙂


        Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree with your comment, Marvin. I like to define myself a “Humanist” like you, so I guess that we are starting from the same overall perspectives.
    By the way, I am in my 50’s so I guess we belong approximately to the same age group: do you still remember all the New Age BS of the late 70’s and early 80’s? I could not stand all that pseudo-scientific mysticism and of esotericism!
    I see similar attitudes now emerging with climate change deniers, creationists, anti-vaccination movements, conspiracy theorists, and some post-modernist anti-science attitudes.
    I do not know why, but is seems to me human societies must periodically go through these periods of irrationality……


    1. I turned 71 this April. You’re about my son’s age. My “little sister” (she’s 68) is into “The Course in Miracles” and believes faith healing can work. I suggested to her that she had an ethical obligation to go to the nearest hospital and start healing. She started making excuses right away. And she always goes to the doctor when she needs to. So much for that. But I remember going to an Oral Roberts revival when we were kids.

      I also remember reading J. B. Rhines “Hidden Channels of the Mind” which provided a lot of anecdotal evidence for clairvoyance, psychokinesis, mind reading, etc. And there was Astrology, too.

      My father was a Salvation Army minister (captain) who was a really good dad and minister, but he had a small problem with women and with guns. He got involved and obsessed with a woman who had him sent to jail for supposedly threatening to kill her. When he got out they had a gunfight in the street and he shot her and then himself.

      After that I started re-examining my beliefs. I came to the conclusion that there was nothing anyone could do in a finite time on Earth that could justify being tortured for eternity. Such a God cannot, must not exist. So I started spending time at the public library reading philosophy, and found lots of fellow atheists in the books.

      When I got married, Rev Gold of the Unitarian Universalist church performed the ceremony. I didn’t go to church much until after I got divorced. Then I started going to the local UU and joined the choir. Now you will find New Agers there, but you’ll also find Wicans, Christians, Humanists, and Atheists as well, It’s a good place to develop tolerance and open up to diversity.

      My mother recently passed away. She moved in with me 5 years ago, and I took her to the Methodist church while she was still healthy enough. But I hope to get back into the UU choir again, because I love to sing.

      And that is probably a lot more than you wanted to know about me.


      1. A fascinating life! Thanks for sharing, Marvin!
        I am of Catholic heritage, but I define myself an agnostic, and a scientific realist (as per this definition https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_realism). My wife is Catholic, but my 18-year old daughter is a convinced atheist.
        Most of my friends define themselves as atheists, with the exception of a couple of Christians (one Catholic, another one Protestant) and I also have a Muslim friend.
        I like to see myself as reasonably tolerant, but I tend to become quite caustic (and maybe not so tolerant) when it comes to religious fundamentalisms and ultra-nationalisms. I totally believe in a uncompromisingly secular state and in the epistemological primacy of science (I have been accused of scientism more than once). As you may have guessed 🙂 I hate pseudo-science in all its manifestations.


  12. For comments of July 16 & 17

    Rick and Marvin, again I thank you for your comments.

    Instead of attempting to reply to each comment one at a time, I am going to offer one reply in a comment link to the blog post, rather than giving a reply directly to each separate comment.

    Rick, not only is it sad that in the United States creationists/intelligent designers vocally speak out against evolution, it is troubling as well. If they were to have their way, evolution would not be taught at all, which would worsen the educational situation even more. I do not feel like being silent about this issue. While, I have very little opportunity to combat creationism/intelligent design, I do not let it slide when I do. This might be like beating my head against the wall because the two sides have vastly different presuppositions.

    Very interesting remarks on complexity. I may have to consider these in future explorations of this issue.

    Marvin, there may have not been any detection of gravitons, but there has been of gravitational waves. I do not know if this implies the existence of gravitons (help Rick) And, general relativity explains gravity without any action at a distance.

    Rick, you are mostly right about the trait/gene relationship. There are some diseases that are expressed solely by one gene allele (e.g tay sachs). Even here the gene allele could not be expressed without the machinery of a cell, and that cell’s interaction with other cells. As far as what “junk DNA” is for, it may not code for proteins, but it can figure into disease expression. If I remember correctly Huntington’s disease is related to a sequence of repeating DNA, and the more repeats the earlier the disease’s onset. If this is not true of Huntington’s, I am sure it applies to another.

    I agree with you about the “god particle.” It is unfortunate that Leon M. Lederman chose this term as the title of his popular science book on the Higg’s boson. I think is was supposed to be analogy with god’s creation of massive objects because the Higg’s field creates mass in massive particles. Still, bad choice.

    Marvin, I would say that without human beings the concept of god would not exist. However, humans did not create god—god does not exist. And for humans creating god in their own image, it would have to be a very distorted image.

    Rick and Marvin,

    I do not call myself a humanist, but if someone would call me that, I would not have too much of an issue with it. I call myself an atheist with reservations. The term means, according to American Atheists*, “a lack of belief in gods.” My issue here is that it can imply that I have no belief in regards to god, and to some theists that I have no beliefs at all, since these types of theists think that all belief is rooted in a belief in god. Of course, their god. This is untrue in my case, and probably others, because I have a belief in the nonexistence of god(s), excluding Baxter of course. So, do I state this every time I want to refer to my beliefs in this regard? No, it is more convenient to just call myself an atheist.

    I am what I call a “there and back again” atheist. I started out growing up without any sense in god. I am of Jewish heritage and had a bar mitzvah (yeah, like I was really a son of the commandments—all 614 mind you). Strange to me at the time, and looking back, was when my parents sent me to an ultra-orthodox Hebrew school because it was the cheapest option, and in class they did not talk about god. I had two reason why I went through with the bar mitzvah at all. One was I wanted the presents (which were not much—I did not have any rich relatives). The second was I did not want to disappoint my grandfather, a very affectionate man, which led me to like him a lot. As I grew up, my parents gradually fell away from any form of Judaic practices, but still had me grow through the Bar Mitzvah. I know my mother is an agnostic. As for my father, he has never stated anything on a belief/unbelief in god that I can remember.

    Anyway, as a preteen, teenager and young adult I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. When I finally realized what problems this was causing me, I was detoxed, went through a rehabilitation program, and went to live in a halfway house. Standard treatment then and now (for the most part) is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In AA there is a big push to reach out to a “higher power” (i.e. god). After two months of sobriety, I came to a realization that I was no longer beholden to drugs and alcohol. In the environment I was in I attribute this fact to god (very general belief). I became a fundamentalist Christian under the influence of my AA sponsor (a personal guidance counselor of sorts). After, a couple of relapses and the beginnings of having bipolar disease, a belief in god no longer made sense too me. It took me about three years after my conversion to become an atheist again, and about five more before I gave up the search for something I could call spirituality. I look at this period with embarrassment. And, I now know what I was feeling after those two months—clear thinking (well not completely, since I believed in god).

    In my spiritual searching I went to a couple of Unitarian churches. The first was kind of neat. They played “Puff the Magic Dragon” at the beginning of the service. The second was staged and stuffy. Neither experience had much of a lasting effect.

    Rick, Bette, my girlfriend of thirty years, is nominally a Catholic. She still calls herself a Catholic, but currently does not practice any of the rituals. She also has pantheistic beliefs. I am much of the tolerant atheist, except for when I feel my personhood has been infringed upon (i.e. disrespected). I get along perfectly well for the most part with Bette, as her beliefs about god are mild and does not lead to intolerance of others’ beliefs. We discuss our beliefs from time to time, but neither of us do this with the goal of converting the other. In these discussions I am just trying to get Bette to understand the underlying reasons why I believe as I do.

    As for other friends, I have many of them of differing believes, including some Evangelicals of the non-obnoxious variety (i.e. they do not try to convert me). In the United States there are fewer atheists, so at least in my social circles I would only have a few friends if I did not have religious (to whatever degree) friends. I do not feel that most secular organizations fit my needs. I get the feeling if you do not have money or time to volunteer, they are not very interested in you.

    Marvin, how about quantum computing? I do not think photons are made up of sub-components, unless you meant using them for some quantum purpose. I am not familiar enough with the field of quantum computing, but I think they use massive particles, but I cannot imagine that there would not be a way to use photons instead.

    Thanks once again guys for all your comments. I will try to do my best in keeping up with them all.


    1. Steven,


      All Humanists are also by definition atheists, even “religious humanists”. If you’re curious, here’s a link:

      Atheists profess no other belief than the assertion that there is no God. Atheism has no position on morality.

      Unitarian Universalism

      The UU supplies a way to provide all the benefits that others enjoy through having a church: moral support for morality, life ceremonies, teaching children life lessons from many sources and religious appreciation, participation with other churches in community services like providing shelter to the homeless in winter, music, social interaction and a sense of belonging, etc.

      One of my proudest UU moments was a church service provided to the adults by the youth group. Each young person spoke briefly about a different view of what happens after we die, including Heaven and Hell, reincarnation, and nonexistence. So that’s what UU is about.

      However, you will get a different experience at different UU congregations. You do get to choose your leadership.

      Quantum Computing

      The main problem with quantum computing is that “uncertainty” would be considered a big bug. We want reliable performance and logic that we can count on. (You probably don’t want your bank balance fluctuating randomly). So, all talk of quantum computing assumes designs that assure reliable calculations. The moving target is to cram the highest number of memory and logic gates into the smallest space.

      As to photons, I remember reading in Pop Mechanics or Pop Science (millions of years ago) about computers built around the flow of photons instead of the flow of electrons. Photons would be immune from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons. Or something like that.


      1. Marvin, thanks for your comment.

        The link you provided has no definition of atheism or atheist in it, so I do not get the point of posting it.

        I would like to hear your definition of a “religious humanist.” To me this would indicate that this type of humanist beliefs in some type of god, probably theistic. Are you claiming that these humanist are mistaken as to what they believe? Or, are you really trying to claim that they are not humanists at all. Humanist also has a much older use. Under this use there were definitely be religious humanist (e.g. Erasmus).

        There also those that can be considered secularist that hold religious beliefs. The point of being a secularist is that these people do not look to the word of god, personal or texts, to solve society’s problems. Granted, they may gain personal support for acting. At a minimum they would adhere to the separation of church and state. But, it would also include applying non-religious solutions, instead of god dictated or inspired.

        Finally, your link is only one group’s interpretation of what humanism is, and what humanists believe. Not all humanists would accept this exact definition of their beliefs and guidance for their actions. In the manifesto it states: “The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully.” One can believe in god without contradiction to this “lifestance.” Also, “without supernaturalism” in the definition in the first paragraph can simply mean without guidance by any supernatural means. And, just because someone is guided by some of what is in their “sacred texts,” does not mean they cannot contribute to the resolution of a social problem. I, personally, do not think this type of guidance is needed. If the Bible, and all other religious texts, did not exist, we could get along very well.

        You state: “Atheism has no position on morality.” Atheism has no position on anything, but atheists do. At best you can say the concept of atheism is not necessary for moral behavior. And certainly, atheists can approach ethics in anyway they deem fit. This does not mean these approaches are valid. Even if an atheist would follow biblical ethics (super unlikely), if he or she did not believe in god, he or she would still be an atheist.

        Finally, to define atheism tout court as nonbelief is not very revealing in itself; although, the definition is not wrong. What are some of the reasons a person has for being an atheist? How does it fit people’s values and actions? Are you claiming that atheistic beliefs have no practical influence on a person’s values and actions? How does it affect someone’s presupposition, and how do these fit in to other areas of that person’s values and beliefs?

        I do not feel the need for any type of organized group participation, especially one with religious overtones. I am a part of several communities of individuals, but these have no organizing theme to them as such. For instance I am involved in a life skills program where everyone is dealing with mental illness, but everyone comes there by their own experiences in life. There is no necessary belief that they must adhered to (as seems to be require in the “Humanist Manifesto”). Life skills programs are psychiatric rehabilitation programs (PRPs). PRP sounds to harsh and clinical in my mind so I do prefer the life skills label. Life skills here does not necessarily mean skills in day to day living, but skills that help the individual to better navigate the emotional components of life. There are day to day skills (such as community resources) to worked on, but I do not feel I need these (I am perfectly able to find the resources in the community I need).

        I maybe wrong in this, but Unitarian Universalists’ hold that all (positive) beliefs are valid. I am not saying all of these individuals sign on to this view. If this stance is right, I could never join such a group. Do not get me wrong, this church, or most others, have positively contributed to easing social ills, but (as above), I do not think they are necessary, and if individuals gain encouragement or other forms of support, I have no issue with this. The only exception would be if other views held by these people, were detrimental to others.

        I am not up on the principles of quantum computing, but I do not think “uncertainty” is an issue. This is because in order to gain a solution a measurement of some kind is necessary. The act of measurement makes the solution exact.


      2. When I was considering my Christian upbringing, as an emerging atheist, I found there was a great deal of value there that shaped my morality in a positive way. I decided that I didn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

        I started looking at Church and Religion as distinct from a belief in God. If we presumed there was no God sustaining these institutions, then their continued existence must be serving some necessary functions in society. One of these functions is the orderly transference of our moral beliefs and values to our children.

        In Church, for example, we sang, “Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone. Dare to have a purpose firm. And dare to make it known”. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Speaking truth to power”? That’s what that little song is about.

        And in Church this becomes more than a dry intellectual idea. It is embedded in our spirit. And that is one of the key functions of Religion, to provide “spiritual” support for morality. Before you object, this “spirituality” is not about ghosts. This is like the secular “team spirit” that inspires performance on the field. It is “moral support” for morality. And sometimes we need that, especially when we see selfish people profiting at the expense of good people.

        A “religious humanist” would be an atheist who believed in a human value system and also wished to enjoy the benefits of Church and Religion. He or she may attend an Ethical Society or a UU church where they are openly welcome. They may also be like my older sister’s boyfriend, an atheist Jew, who enjoys the tradition and fellowship of a modern reform Temple. (They sing in a choir there also).

        I don’t think UU would hold that all beliefs are valid. What it affirms is that all humans are valid and are entitled to hold their own beliefs, whether theistic or atheistic.


    2. Thank you very much Steven for your insightful comment.

      I really feel the urge to express my views on your great point re: creationists/intelligent designers (and I add to this group the climate change deniers, tobacco and fossil fuel multinational corporates and similar, all united in their attack on science).

      While many of my friends mock these creationists, have a good laugh and shake their head with amusement at this phenomenon (which fortunately appears so far to be mostly a US intellectual regression to the early 19th century, and it has not taken much root in Europe yet), I am actually much more alarmed than amused.
      This is a dangerous form of idiocy – as you correctly said, if it was for many of them evolution would not be taught at all, or it would be taught together with pseudo-scientific forms of creationism.
      My friends keep asking me why I take this issue so personally, as after all it affects mostly the US and not the other countries, but they do not seem to appreciate how important the US is in the world economy and in the global scientific world – we can’t afford to have an important country like the US going on a path of intellectual regression.

      I am also extremely alarmed by the rantings of Donald Trump, and his equally intellectually challenged supporters, when it comes to the most important issue facing humankind – climate change. Another blatant attack on science. The withdrawal of the US from the Paris accord is nothing short of a criminal act against humankind, and this will be remember in history as one of the most idiotic acts ever accomplished by a US President. I just hope that he gets impeached before he can do too much damage, for the sake of the planet.
      My friends think Donald Trump is highly amusing, but I think that it would be all funny if we did not share the same planet – unfortunately we have to share the same planet with Donald Trump and his acolytes, which makes it much, much less amusing. We should remember that many people made fun of George W Bush, but everybody stopped laughing after the invasion of Iraq.

      PS: sorry for the digression, but I really felt the need to vent my frustration at seeing this systemic attack on science, and this anti-intellectual climate, that is becoming ever more visible in the US.


      1. Yes, crazy isnt it. In my mind, it is like appointing a convicted pedophile to the management of a kindergarden. Or appointing a pyromaniac as a head of the fire department.


    3. Sorry Steven I just realized that I did not address your inquiry re: gravitational waves.

      The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) experiment is one of the most beautiful, astonishingly accurate, marvelous experiments ever conducted by humankind, and just proved one of the predicted consequences of general relativity (the generation of incredibly small ripples in the fabric of space-time that are caused by gravitational waves generated by huge cosmic events).
      The accuracy of the LIGO detectors defies belief, as LIGO they can detect a change in distance between its mirrors 1/10,000th the width of a proton. This is like measuring the distance from the Earth to Proxima Centauri to an accuracy smaller than the width of a human hair.
      The LIGO detectors only proved that General Relativity is still the best theory for this type of phenomena, and it did not prove nor disproved the existence of gravitons. At macroscopic level there is no difference in the measurable results (in terms of spacetime ripples), between a graviton-based field theory and standard General Relativity.

      There are incredibly complex issues with experimentally detecting gravitons (many say that it is simply impossible), as for a series of reasons that it would be way too technical to explain here, we would need a detector with the mass much bigger than Jupiter, placed in impossibly close orbit around a neutron star, to observe just one graviton every 10 years!! Moreover, gravitons present very severe theoretical physics issues too (such as renormalization).

      This is one of the reasons why we are still looking for something that would be able to reconcile QFT and General Relativity – and I personally do not feel that the positing of the graviton will be the answer to this.


      1. And a graviton “begs the question”, How does a particle move two objects closer together? Do both objects send gravitons that meet in the middle to form a shrinking strand or filament, like the string we use to hold a ball that we sling around us? And what pulls the graviton from one object to the other, “gravity” or even smaller gravitons? If we must presume a force or relationship between the two objects, then we may as well keep that explanation. Right?

        What about magnetic attraction? Do we presuppose any particle travelling between two magnets?

        Again, I think physics generally classifies these as relationships based on the nature of the two objects (mass for gravity and charge for magnets).


      2. Let me give you an extremely simplified version of what these gravitons are supposed to do: now that we have direct experimental confirmation that gravity has a wave-like nature (gravitational waves), we can talk about a gravitational field in a sense similar to the fields studied in QFT. As in QFT we associate a “particle” to the quantized excitation of any field, it is conceptually possible to have a particle called graviton that would represent the quantization of the gravitational field. But the effects of the gravitational fields on objects and their trajectories would be exactly the same in both General Relativity and in the graviton case. The real difference is that there is no quantization of the gravitational field in general relativity.

        Please note that General Relativity and the “graviton” theory do NOT say that objects/particles are pulled or moved closer. Gravity is not really a “force” in the common sense of the term. Gravity is simply the result of the fabric of spacetime being “curved” by the presence of energy-mass. The objects are not pulled closer, they simply keep following a geodesic. It is just that the geodesic, that would normally be a straight line, gets deformed due to the local curvature of spacetime caused by energy/mass. By the way, it is not just mass, but mass/energy that are responsible for the local curvature of spacetime that we call gravity. Photons are massless that they carry energy, for example, and therefore they can influence the local gravitational field.
        Just in case what I am saying makes no much sense, please refer to this one-minute video for a very quick and easy explanation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHGik7WdDYE).

        In case of electromagnetism, the “force” is purely the result of exchange of bosons (photons, in this case) that are the “carriers” of the force. These photons are just excitations of the corresponding field. They carry energy and momentum with them, which they transfers to/from fermions such as the electron. What we see as force is purely the result of this exchange of photons.
        The concept of “charge of an electron” is just a convenient abstraction – the reality is that we have fields, and fields interact with each other (for example, the fermionic field corresponding to the electron interacts with the bosonic field of the photon). The electric charge of a particle is in reality a coupling constant that characterizes an interaction between two charge-carrying fermionic fields and one bosonic photon field, so it is associated with the strength of the interaction between fields – a purely relational property.

        Mass, by the way, is not an intrinsic property, in the sense that mass is purely determined by the interaction of a specific field with the Higgs field. Mass is purely the result of interactions between fields. Actually, you will be surprised that even such interaction with the Higgs field is only responsible for the smallest part of the energy of a proton – most of the mass of a common proton or neutron is actually the result of the strong force field energy; the individual quarks provide only about 1% of the mass of a proton! It is all about he energy associated with the strong force field. Energy and mass are totally interchangeable – and at subatomic level most of it is interaction energy.


      3. The graviton then would be a mathematical construct, rather than an actual particle. And that’s why I’m skeptical about faith in mathematics providing an accurate view of “a deeper reality”.

        I have no problem with mathematicians borrowing formulas from other applications (geodesics) if it simplifies their computations. But the verbal description of what this represents in reality is often a little wacky.

        For example, I suspect it works this way. Space is a measure of the distance between objects. Time is a measure of the duration between events. Space does not actually “bend”. What is being bent is the trajectory of one object due to the mass of another. Time does not actually bend. What actually happens is that events slow down as the objects participating in the event approach the speed of light.

        The physicists should be inserting a big AS IF into their descriptions where appropriate, e.g., “It is as if space-time were a thing and that thing was bending”. And certainly, “It is as if a planet were a golf ball rolling around the indentation caused by setting a bowling ball on a sheet”. There are no big sheets out there in space. And the ball on the sheet is more complex, because the controlling gravity is beneath the bed, in the planet the bed sits on.


      4. I am afraid that I disagree with a few points of your latest comment, Marvin, or at least that I feel to need to qualify them, sorry 🙂

        Firstly, it is not that space nor time that separately “bend”, it is spacetime as a single entity that “bends” – and bending has a very specific meaning, which is curvature. Maybe we should try to get away from overusing classical concepts such as bending, even if we often use it for purely convenience of communication and as a conceptual shorthand.

        Anyway, experimental confirmation of curvature of spacetime is quite overwhelming, the latest example being the LIGO experiment (gravitational waves) that very clearly shows ripples in spacetime exactly as predicted in General Relativity – there is really no alternative way you can explain this phenomenon. The Gravitational waves are just local distortions of spacetime, predicted by general relativity with an incredible amount of accuracy.
        Another example: gravitational red shift, whereby photons lose energy as they climb out of a gravitational potential well – due purely to the effect on local spacetime modification. The way GPS technology is implemented (without compensating for general relativity, GPS devices would be out by miles) is another example. And the experimentally confirmed fact of the equivalence of gravitational and inertial masses (inertial mass defines how matter moves through spacetime, and gravitational mass defines how it is affected by the gravity field. As these masses are equivalent, the natural consequence is that gravity defines the space metric for moving matter).
        The latest vindication of general relativity are the findings of the Gravity Probe B project, which can only be explained by local curvature of spacetime – see https://einstein.stanford.edu/MISSION/mission1.html (we are talking about the geodetic effect—the amount by which the Earth warps the local spacetime in which it resides, and the the frame-dragging effect (the way in which spacetime is dragged around by a rotating body).
        An experiment Stanford University in 2011 has also accurately measured the frame dragging effect relative to the star IM Pegasi, and the calculations proved to be perfectly in line with the prediction of Einstein’s theory.
        Honestly, you will not find anybody in mainstream science defending old concepts of Newtonian mechanics such as “attraction” between objects, and the large majority of scientists accepts the concept of local curvature of spacetime. Please refer also to this article (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/07/scientists-prove-einstein-right). From the article: “Results of the analyses of this data were revealed last week. They showed that Earth does indeed bend space-time. It was also found that, as our planet rotates, it drags space-time with it – a phenomenon known as frame-dragging”.
        I could write a huge list of experiments where general relativity has been confirmed, tons of them, including its principles and “orthodox” interpretation. General relativity appears to be a very accurate theory in its conceptual apparatus, its predictions and its main principles and assumptions.
        Yes, you might metaphorically say that “the trajectory of one object bends due to the mass of another”, but this is ultimately the result of the local curvature of spacetime – we should not conflate the cause with the effect. Moreover, in reality you are actually describing the curvature of spacetime, just using other words! Using your own metaphor, the trajectories of all objects transiting close to another massive object would be bent in the same way (assuming they have the same mass and follow the same initial path) – and this is just another way of defining curvature, it is just that you do it by describing its phenomenological features rather than its structure. Just be careful how far you use your metaphor, though – as practitioners may then ask you – “bending a trajectory” with reference to what – a fixed, zero-curvature, “straight” spacetime ? Or straight space only ? Note that a massive object does not only influence space, but also time. You would have incredibly complex problems with explaining many experimental results and we may well encounter issues with special relativity. Forgive my bluntness, but i think that your metaphor would result in an incredible mess (by the way, it is not just mass that causes curvature, but mass and energy. Even a completely massless object can cause local curvature of spacetime).

        A geodesic, by the way, has a very specific meaning in general relativity, which is a specific element that satisfies a very precise equation (which by the way is an equation specific to general relativity, it is not something copied from other disciplines – even though the naive concept of geodesic is used conceptually to explain what a geodesic represents in general relativity).

        I also have to qualify your example when you say that what happens is that “events slow down as the objects participating in the event approach the speed of light” – firstly, it is important to highlight that “time dilation” can be caused either by differences in either gravity (verified experimentally zillions of time) or relative velocity.
        The first case is due to general relativistic effects, the second is the object of special relativity. Let’s focus for a second on the special relativity case: you are considering time (events “slow down”) as a absolute that gets modified by the approaching of speed of light. I think this is to be clarified: firstly, when you state that an object approaches the speed of light, you have to qualify the reference frame against which you are measuring such speed – secondly, what “events are slowed”? Please note that, if you and I are traveling at constant high speed in relation to each other, I will see your events “slowing down”, while you will see my events “slowing down”. So what slows down? Well, it is purely depending on the reference frame – time is simply not an absolute. By the way, time is also NOT independent from space, as you also have length contraction – the length of any object in a moving frame will appear foreshortened in the direction of motion. The two things can’t be separated! it is nonsensical to talk only about time or space – the two are related by Lorentz transformations that inextricably link and mix the two things – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorentz_transformation (section “coordinate transformation”) to see how some of the time become space or viceversa (I am using very rough metaphors here) as the two things get mixed together by a change of reference frame. You just can’t talk about time and space as if they were separated entities. Distance is also measured not separately in terms of space or time, but the distance is between spacetime events, which is an invariant that includes both space and time. The two can be separated (as a approximation) only in the relatively low-speed, low-energy regimes such as in the daily classical world we live in.

        I also disagree with the statement that the “graviton” is purely a mathematical construct. It is not – it is a theoretical physics hypothesis that has not been proved experimentally. All particles are quantized excitations of a field – so wherever there is a field it is perfectly acceptable to wonder whether such field is quantized, and perfectly legit to try and identify what is the individual excitation of such field (quanta) which is its particle. We really should stop thinking about particles as small balls of matter – they simply are not. And the fact that they are not small balls of “stuff” does not mean that they are just mathematical constructs – they are perfectly physical as demonstrated on a daily basis in experiments. Please note that QFT is the most accurate and the most experimentally confirmed theory so far developed by humankind, so trying to extend it to the gravitational force is nothing strange nor unwarranted. My concerns with the graviton are others, and they are based mostly on specific theoretical physics arguments (apart from the virtual impossibility to confirm gravitons experimentally) – in particular the fact that the underlying mathematics diverges (it gives infinities as results).

        Regarding popular science, yes I agree that physicists, when oversimplifying for the general public, should be more careful and state “as if” – many actually do that, but not all. On the other hand, I think that this is sort of implicit, so I am not too disturbed by that. What disturbs me is when some physicists, for the sake of getting the attention of the public, slip into conclusions that are highly speculative (such as the multiverse theory) and sell them as if they were not.
        At the end of the day, to really understand modern physical theories, I am afraid that there is only one way – to go through the details including all the underlying mathematics and by analyzing in detail all the experimental results. The problems is that the gap between specialist science and the general audience is getting wider, and it is becoming more and more difficult to bridge the two by using metaphors and natural language, so I would go easy on the physicists, as communicating these concepts in an accessible but at the same time rigorous manner is a tricky task indeed. Yes you are right the verbal description of what this represents in reality is often a little wacky, but the problem is that trying to convert concepts and mathematical relationships in natural language (which reflects our classical, macroscopic intuition and conceptual baggage) can be daunting: when it comes to gravity the only real way to really meaningfully talk about it would be in terms of tensors equations, but this is not something that can be done when dealing with a generic audience – people want to talk about balls clashing with each other, rather than local excitations of quantum fields, or phase interference of probability waves.

        With regarding to mathematics providing the most accurate view of reality, I would not pose the question in these terms.
        In my view, science is the best way to provide an accurate view of reality, and science is about identifying patterns (physical laws) that describe reality. Science WORKS, so even on a purely pragmatic view, science has the absolute epistemological primacy over any other mode of human inquiry. Such patterns, relations and symmetries as identified by science are the fundamental ingredient, and human mathematics is the language that has proven the indispensable tool to capture and find such patterns. Actually, in many cases it was mathematics that anticipated, even required, physical results, such as in the notorious case of the antiparticle solutions of the Dirac equation! Mathematics and the physical sciences are inextricably linked, so the success and validity of one implies and proves the success and validity of the other. However it also is important also to highlight that science is about creating models of reality, that get more and more accurate/adequate (hopefully) in describing its structures. The fact that science is becoming progressively more esoteric in terms of the entities and structures that are posited by it, is not a reflection of supposed problems with the methodology or science, but simply a reflection of the perceptual and intellectual limitations of our human apparatus, which reflect the evolution and survival of our species in a macroscopic, low-energy, low-speed daily world.


      5. I have no problem with the theory of relativity (after all, “ignorance is bliss”, and I’m a very happy guy). 🙂

        But my understanding of time-dilation was through a couple of examples: (a) The astronaut leaving earth travelling near light speed returns and finds everyone else has grown older faster, and (b) The actual experiment of the atomic clock in the jet travelling faster than the atomic clock on the ground, where the moving clocked ticked off time slower than the stationary one (your GPS example). Thus, the faster you go the slower you go. 🙂

        Wait a minute. I just had a thought. What is the speed of light if you stretch space? (Like in your example of the red shift when being pulled into a black hole). Did I just say “stretch space”? 🙂

        I tend to lean toward particles coming in waves (waves of what? gotta be somethin’), so I can understand the temptation of gravitons. Since photons can be focused by a pinhole camera, they can also be bent by two slits. Radio waves can come in amplitude (AM) or frequency (FM). I’m guessing light waves are a matter of frequency, but perhaps gravity waves are about amplitude. I’m thinking of a “pulsing force”, as you would get from two celestial bodies (one or both a black hole) in a tight orbit around each other. Perhaps the Big Bang “plucked” certain quantum fields and they’ve been vibrating ever since.

        Photons as particles must have some miniscule mass in order to push the black/white light-vanes of that toy in a vacuum globe we had as kids that spun when placed in the light. (Radiometer, found it in Amazon).

        Anyways, I’m not questioning Einstein’s theory of relativity (just his idiotic position on free will). Nor am I questioning Physics (except their unsupportable claim that they are in the business of “explaining everything”, because they cannot explain what they do not observe, and they pay no attention at all to matter organized as life).

        I guess my main point is also yours, when you say, “Moreover, in reality you are actually describing the curvature of spacetime, just using other words!” The same reality may be described differently to provide the best utility in its own context.


      6. Hi Marvin,

        thank you for your comment. I will try to address some of your points, please let me know if you want further clarifications:

        – Regarding your last statement, I have no problem whatsoever with using a simplified language with the purpose of getting an approximate conceptual grasp of the physical laws. But I also cautioned against going too far with the usage of such metaphors. I think that, as somebody once said, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. In the example of special and general relativity, you simply can’t account for the experimental results without positing spacetime, and spacetime curvature – you just can’t. You can avoid talking about spacetime and its curvature by focusing just on the phenomenological effects, and as I said, it is OK to use (cautiously, mind you) a common-day phenomenological description of nature, but by doing so you have to pay a price: you risk conflating causes and effects, and you fail to capture its nuances and complexity, and the description would be just a rough approximation that you can’t use to extrapolate to a whole series of results or to general principles, or to other fields of science.
        The fact that we have spacetime, and that spacetime is for example something that not only has specific features (not just curvature, by the way), but that it is also progressively “expanding” (as experimentally proved beyond question by the Hubbles’ law), are something on which there is very clear consensus within the overwhelming majority of physicists and cosmologists.
        Moreover, please note that the various fields of sciences are very strictly interlocked and interconnected (I like to compare it to a gigantic crossword puzzle), so you have to be very careful when using common-day metaphors in one field, as concepts such as spacetime are not just verified experimentally, but are also absolutely fundamental not just in physics but also in cosmology. The best theory that we have of the evolution of the cosmos, for example, talks about “expansion” (bad macroscopic metaphor, by the way) of spacetime starting from a supposed singularity.

        – Your question regarding photons: with all due respect, you really have to free yourself from the old concept of particles as small bunches of matter. As a metaphor, it just does not work. Photons, like all particles, are nothing but individual, quantized excitations of fields (think about them as localized ripples in a sea, if you really want some sort of very rough macroscopic image), and these excitations carry energy with them. Remember also that energy and mass are the same thing – in the case of the photon, all energy of the photon is entirely in the form of its momentum. In a sentence, photons have some momentum, but they also have zero mass.
        In your example (black/white light-vanes of a toy in a vacuum globe) it is not the mass of the photon, but its energy (momentum) that plays a role. For massless particles, the momentum is not p=mv, but the momentum is p=h/λc (where λ is the wavelength). You see, the photon is described by its wavelength, concept which does not have any meaning if you insist on looking at photons like small balls of stuff. In the formula for momentum of a massless particle, mass does not even appear.
        For a series of technical and experimental reasons, the mass of the photon is believed to be EXACTLY zero. Mass, by the way, is the result of interactions of a “particle” (in reality, of its field) with other fields such as the Higgs field. In the case of the photon, the photonic field does not interact with the Higgs field. Again, let’s get rid of old concepts of mass, they just do not correspond to reality at the subatomic level.
        Experimentally speaking, of course, you can never confirm any value with infinite accuracy, including mass (we are limited by the accuracy of our instruments, as fantastic as such accuracy is nowadays), but in the case of the photon the upper limit of such mass value is sooooo incredibly small, that it would definitely not even begin to account for the experimentally verified interactions of the photon with matter (like in your example). The interaction of the photonic field with the fermionic fields of matters has been successfully explained by QFT, in the QED theory which is universally recognized as the most accurate and experimentally successful theory ever developed – and such theory requires, by the way, photon with nil mass.
        Just for the sake of completeness, please note that some sources also refer to the photon “relativistic mass”, but this is not really a mass, it is just the energy in its momentum scaled to units of mass (remember: mass and energy are the same thing, so you must be able to express them in the same unit of measure). This usage for the term “mass” is now considered obsolete and misleading, and it appears only very rarely in contemporary scientific literature.
        This article from Wikipedia explains in a relatively accurate way, but in layman terms, the whole photon thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photon.

        – regarding the example of the astronaut leaving Earth and travelling near light speed, and returning to find that everyone else has grown older faster, I must say that many common layman descriptions and interpretations of such thought experiment make it probably the most abused and butchered example ever used in the history of science.
        By the way, many popularizations do not even get a description of the “paradox” (which is not a paradox, by the way) right. The apparent paradox is that the astronaut leaving earth travelling near light speed returns and finds everyone else has grown older faster, but that AT THE SAME TIME people left on earth have actually been travelling near light speed with reference to the astronaut! So, according to the same logic, they should find the astronaut much older! Oppps. Remember, it is all about frame of reference! Many interpretations confuse the cause with the effect, and confuse concepts of special and general relativity effects in an irreparable mess. The reasons for this twin “paradox” phenomenon is not a naive conception of time dilation, but it can only be explained in terms of spacetime rotation of one observer against the other, and by effects on the relativity of simultaneity. The only way to explain it correctly is by using spacetime diagrams that reflect properly the correlation between the two aspects and treat them at the same time, as one object. according to the Lorentz transformation formula. And the full explanation is far from being simple. However I think that this is one of the accessible explanations that do not get the whole thing too messed up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iJZ_QGMLD0
        Some examples are different to the classical “twin paradox” above, and more sophisticated in the sense that they do take into account aspects of acceleration. As spacetime is influenced by the presence of a gravitational field, and conceptually there is no difference between accelerating an object or putting it under the influence of a gravitational field (which is the principle of equivalence), that means that the curvature of spacetime (and the influence on its time component) would happen whenever accelerate an object. In other words, an accelerated object would experience the same “time dilation” effect as an object under a gravitational field. Having said that, in order for the astronaut to return to Earth so to compare things properly, he would have to be in the same reference frame as Earth – which means that at the beginning of the experiment the astronaut would have first to accelerate in order to speed away from the original reference frame, travel around, and then decelerate again. And every time do accelerate/decelerate, general relativity effects kick in. So the whole example needs to take into account all these aspects, and things can get quite complex to explain.

        – finally, your atomic clock experiment is the Hafele–Keating experiment and the difference in time between the two clocks is due not just to the relative speed difference, but also, and quite significantly, to the difference in the gravitational field. Both gravitational and velocity effects are incorporated into the calculations used for the GPS, which is a sort of ongoing Hafele–Keating experiment, if you wish.
        In this types of experiments, yes you can talk about “time dilation” with some justification,but you always have to bear in mind that this is just a conceptual shorthand, an approximation of what actually happens (which involves spacetime, not just time). And most importantly, when talking about time dilation, we are talking about one of the phenomenological effects of spacetime evolution, not about how things actually evolve in overall terms; we are talking about an experienced difference of elapsed time between two events as measured by observers either moving relative to each other or differently situated from a gravitational mass or masses.


      7. Let’s clarify the experimental results of the two clocks. When the clock traveling around the earth came back down and was set side by side with the clock that had remained relatively stationary, did the two clocks show the same time or different times?

        If they showed different times then the result of travelling relative to remaining stationary is that everything (or at least all mechanical systems) slows down. And if this is correct, then if we replaced the clock with the astronaut, then she would age slower relative to someone on the ground.

        Now I don’t know any longer whether it is simply being off the ground (less gravity) or travelling (more velocity) that causes things to slow down.

        The video was not helpful because it brought in a third factor, acceleration and de-acceleration into the mix to confuse things. Also, it made the error of equating the rocket with the earth, as if the earth could have just as easily have accelerated to a new velocity, leaving the rocket, motionless, in the same position in space.

        My understanding of the constant speed of light was that it remained constant across all frames of reference even when it appeared to slow down (red shift). This means that the Earth is moving less than the speed of light (otherwise the light from the stars would never reach us) and the rocket in the story was travelling near the speed of light. So this was suggesting that velocity was the cause.

        I notice in the article on photons that it does not have “rest mass” (perhaps it wouldn’t stand still long enough to step on the scale). However it also behaves like a particle as well as a wave. And it has momentum, which is normally a product of mass and velocity, however if you convert mass to energy I suppose the energy would be a sort of “virtual mass”.

        In particle-talk, I would say that a light-wave was groups of photons traveling together in “bursts”, and that these bursts may appear close together (higher frequency) or farther apart (lower frequency, e.g. red shift).

        It is momentum that moves the radiometer. And I would suppose that a higher frequency would have higher momentum (getting hit more often). This would be the case of “the momentum is p=h/λc (where λ is the wavelength)”.

        What is a field? If it is attached to a particle, then it is a property of the particle. Gravity is attached to the conglomerate of particles, such as those that make up a planet. In theory, if the conglomerate were to be destroyed instantly (imaginary anti-matter version of Earth) then it should cease instantly. But I don’t know whether this is the case or not.

        The center of a photon, on the other hand, seems to travel. We still see light arriving from stars that disappeared millions of years ago. So it would make sense to assume some kind of a particle at the center of a photon.

        And then there’s the other kind of wave, the disturbance in a medium. You throw a rock into the water and it causes waves. Some early scientists have theorized an “ether” permeating all space and in which events can cause wave disturbances. But I’m guessing that’s not involved in this discussion.


      8. Hi Marvin, I have tried to address your points below, they are necessarily in the correct sequence but I tried to address them all.

        – There is no “center” to the photon. All there is, is a wavepacket that we, only for the sake of convenience, define as a particle. Such excitation that we call photon, by the way, has no “borders”, the best we can do is arbitrarily define a lower limit in the amplitude of such wave-packet as a cutoff point. The ripple in the photonic field does “travel”, but that does not make it a particle any more than a sound, as a travelling sound wave, for example, makes it a particle. Again, the concept of the photon as a particle, while tempting, is wrong when considered at subatomic level, unless you only use it as a convenient conceptual shorthand. As I said, the photons is described by “wavelike” characteristics such as frequency, and the concept of momentum is not linked to the concept of mass in the case of massless particles such as photons. Actually, momentum, in general terms, is linked to the concept of energy. Of course, energy can also come by in the form of “mass” (but the formula p=mv is only valid as a rough approximation for massive particles at non-relativistic speeds – such formula has been superseded by relativity by the way). But this is simply not the case for the photon. The fact that individual excitations of a field carry energy and momentum with them does not make them particles, not at all.

        – You are correct when you state that it is the momentum that moves the radiometer. Exactly right, and as you see this has nothing to do with mass. A higher frequency would have higher momentum, this is correct too, but higher momentum does not mean getting hit more often! It simply means that the individual quantum excitations (photons) would have higher energy.
        Higher frequency does not mean that “these bursts may appear close together (higher frequency) or farther apart (lower frequency)”; you are again getting deeply misled by your attachment to this obsolete concept of particle. There are two separate concepts: intensity and frequency. The energy/momentum of a photon is determined by its frequency, and the intensity of light is the total energy flux, which depends on the number of photons (photon flux) weighed by the average individual photon energy. When you go for an X-Ray scan, you do not get lots of photons, but you get photons with higher frequency. The “red shift effect” is due to the fact that the frequency of the individual excitations (photons) decreases, not that bursts of photons appear close together – again, this effect can only be explained exclusively in terms of wavelike features, it is nonsensical to try and explain them by sticking to the “particle” concept.

        – A field is NOT attached to a particle; a field is not a property of the particle, but it is exactly the other way round. The properties are associated with fields, and just for the sake of convenience we call individual excitations of such fields “particles”. This has been demonstrated experimentally many times. Look at the Higgs field, just as an example: it is the Higgs field, NOT the particle, that is responsible for the interactions with all the other fields that result in what we call “mass”. You actually need energy to create particles (excitations) out of this field! And it took helluva energy (125 GeV) to locally excite the Higgs field up to the point of generating some Higgs particles! But you have mass even if you do not sit inside the LHC accelerator. In modern physics, particles are universally seen and they have been experimentally proven as individual excitations of the fields – and QFT and modern physics state laws about interactions of FIELDS, not of particles. Stating that particles are primitive, rather than fields, is simply wrong according to modern physics.

        – Quantum fields are not disturbance in a medium. There is no medium – again, a proof of how inadequate pre-modern concepts of particle, wave etc can confuse the whole thing. Fields, and their excitations, exist in the vacuum. The existence of the ether has been conclusively debunked almost 150 years ago with the Michelson–Morley experiment. Quantum field “waves” are nothing but disturbances (variability of amplitude values) in the field – there is nothing more to it.

        – Gravity is not attached to a conglomerate of particles. Gravity is an effect on the curvature of spacetime generated by the presence of energy, in whatever form this comes by. In your example, if Earth was to be destroyed, then the energy generated by such destruction would generate a similar gravitational field as before (If you could contain such energy within the old confines of the planet). Only once the energy is dispersed throughout space, only then you would notice a difference. Mass is nothing but a congealed form of energy. More than 99% of the “mass” of all matter that you see around you, by the way. is actually binding energy within the nucleus.

        – I understand and I agree with your points about the video and the fact that acceleration aspects are not treated – and this is why I made it clear that the video was far from perfect (“it did not get the whole thing too messed up”) but also this is why I also mentioned, in the same comment, that other examples treat with acceleration and general relativity which are not included in this video.
        This video details how the twin paradox is explained in special relativity, not in general relativity (actually, you can’t really use Minkowski spacetime diagrams in general relativity – Minskowky diagrams are only used in special relativity when we assume that we can assume a flat spacetime).
        But, even by looking at only special relativity effects, this example as per video makes it clear that you have to consider the whole spacetime picture and get away from naive concepts of time dilation – and I think that it does the job pretty well. This example, by the way, is commonly used at Physics courses at freshman level when introducing Special Relativity, as even with all its limitations it does make it clear why we need to consider spacetime as one single thing, and properly use the Lorentz transformation laws, rather than insist on naive concepts of time dilation.
        To answer your question about the clock readings, the resolution of the paradox is that the astronaut would have “aged” less. But, in the case of the twin paradox this is due to the fact that, because of a change of velocity (and ignoring the general relativistic effects of such acceleration), the notion of simultaneous time “rotates” in one reference frame with respect to the other. In purely phenomenological terms, it is AS IF time slowed down (however, if you were the astronaut, time in your reference frame would be as always). But you have be very, very cautious when using such metaphors taken from the classical world: for example, if you and I were traveling in uniform motion at very high speed relative to each other, then I would see that “your time” would be slowing down, and you would equally see and justifiably claim that “my time” was slowing down. Both claims are correct. So, whose time is “slowing down” ?


      9. Okay, so I read up on Time Dilation in Wikipedia, and it seems there are in fact two separate causes: gravity and velocity, and they work differently.

        In the case of gravity, the clock closest to the ground runs slower and the clock on a mountain peak runs faster. And the effect is absolute rather than relative. If the guy on the ground calls up the guy on the peak to compare their clocks, they will both agree that the clock on the ground is running slower than the clock on the peak.

        In the case of velocity, it works differently. However, the Wikipedia article presented what seemed to me to be conflicting claims. For example, in the case of two ships, A and B, where B is traveling faster than A, both will report that the other’s clock is running slower?! So what on earth could that possibly mean?

        If B decelerates to match A’s speed, do the clocks become the same again, or is B’s clock ahead (or behind) A’s clock? If they read the same, then there was only the appearance of time dilation. If they read differently, then one of the two clocks either sped up or slowed down due to time spent at a higher velocity.

        Wikipedia mentioned that the two forms of time dilation can actually cancel each other, one slowing down the clock and the other speeding it up, but that would be a special case where the effects were precisely balanced.

        Changing subjects, with the STM molecules appeared to be small round objects. Since there is no interaction of particles to produce the image, but only the interaction of fields, it would seem that a field presents as a small round object. And if photons are small round objects, traveling through space, and bumping into the blades of a radiometer, then waves would be a collection of these fields moving together in bursts of varying amplitude (quantity of photons) and frequency (bursts per time).

        And if the bursts of photons never actually touch any atoms in the radiometer blade, but merely bump its field with their field, the model works the same as with particles.

        And, yeah, I would agree with the debunking of ether, except for the scientific suggestion of dark matter permeating the universe.


      10. Very good, now I think we are getting to the heart of the matter. I like much of what you have written in this last comment.
        Let me comment on your points:

        – you said “in the case of gravity, the clock closest to the ground runs slower and the clock on a mountain peak runs faster. And the effect is absolute rather than relative”. Perfectly said, very good.

        – you said: “in the case of two ships, A and B, where B is traveling faster than A, both will report that the other’s clock is running slower”. Correct, I just wanted to highlight that what is important here is that the two objects are traveling at a relative uniform, un-accelerated speed to each other.

        – To answer your question “So what on earth could that possibly mean?” I would answer that this simply demonstrates that naive concepts of time dilation, and of concept of “slowing down” are completely unhelpful. This is why I am so persistent with not abusing common-day metaphors. When you talk about “slowing down” you are implicitly, in your mind, thinking about an absolute reference frame – relativity is all about negating the existence of such reference frame! There are different answers depending on the reference frame you are using – all equally valid – and there is no way you can logically reconcile them in one single answer according to a classical world view – they are two different reference frames and you can’t use one single reference frame, you can only convert them from one frame to the other by using the Lorenz transformation rules. This is why talks of slowing down are nonsensical in relativity.
        In the special relativity’s explanation of the twin “paradox”, as another example, it is important to note that, prior to the “turn around”, each party sees the other party’s clock as recording time more slowly than its own, in a perfectly symmetrical way! In the GPS case, for example, if rather than wanting the GPS to use the Earth reference frame for its functions, we wanted us to use the reference frame of the GPS, then we would have to take into account that in this case it would be us who are “aging slower” with reference to the GPS satellite (ignoring the different position with respect to the gravitational field, of course, and all types of accelerations in general). So, the so-called “time dilation” effect is, in case of un-accelerated motion, completely dependent on the reference frame (barring general relativistic effects, of course).

        – You are asking “what happens If B decelerates to match A’s speed” – the answer would depend on how you perform your deceleration – the clocks could be measuring the same time, one could have been slower or faster – it depends on the actual general gravity calculations. Sorry it would require me some serious calculations to give you an appropriate quantitative answer to this question.

        – you said “Wikipedia mentioned that the two forms of time dilation can actually cancel each other, one slowing down the clock and the other speeding it up, but that would be a special case where the effects were precisely balanced”. Very true! (but again I would not use the term “dilation” unless purely as a strictly phenomenological shorthand). Anyway, as an example of these two effects working together, the GPS “time” runs faster by around 39,000 nanoseconds per day than what experienced by objects on Earth. The reason is that the general relativistic effects more than compensate for the special relativistic effects due to a relative speed (time goes “faster” for a GPS satellite, by around 46,000 nanoseconds per day; this is due to the fact that the satellite is around 19,000 km above the Earth, therefore under weaker influence of the gravitational field than objects on Earth).

        – the STM molecules appear to be small round objects essentially because this is how the technology works – STM works on the basis of a specific quantum effect (tunnelling) and it measures variations in local density of quantum states. In layman terms, and with very rough oversimplification, you might consider that it is a a measurement of amplitude of fields. And, again simplifying a lot, you can consider each individual quanta of the field (particle) as something like that https://youtu.be/Xj9PdeY64rA?t=13 (you can watch it until second =50), with an example of tunneling here: https://youtu.be/Xj9PdeY64rA?t=133 (just ignore the silly background music 🙂 Taking into account the technological process followed and the sensibility and averaging of the instrumentation, this can show you how these wave packets may well appear “rounded objects”. Just note that I have hugely oversimplified things here, things are way much more complex than that….

        – Photons are NOT small round objects. They. Are. Not. Frequency is a property of the individual quanta (photon) – and it is purely a wavelike feature. Nothing to do whatsoever with “burst per time”. Amplitude is a value that a field assume at each point in space, whose square value gives you a probability. Amplitude has nothing to do with quantity of photons. A model based on photons considered just as particles just does NOT work – there is a monumental body of evidence, theoretical and experimental (such as tunnelling itself, for example) to prove it. But of course can think of photons as particle-like in some of their behaviour, for as long as you bear in mind the shortcomings of such abstraction.


      11. A standard reference can be used to resolve time discrepancies. For example, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) provides a simple means of converting from one time zone (frame of reference) to another.

        So if we have an astronaut in one spaceship going at speed x with clock ticks occurring at a frequency of t1, and another astronaut in another ship going at speed y with clock ticks occurring at a frequency of t2, they can each calculate what the time would be on their respective clocks if they wanted to meet on Mars for lunch at 12PM GMT Earth time. We can’t just leave it as “relativity is all about negating the existence of such reference frame!”. Otherwise someone is going to be late for lunch and someone else is going to be upset. Relativity should be about providing a way to “synchronize our watches”.

        The critical question is whether the clocks actually slow down or not, and, if they do, whether it is due to acceleration or velocity. In the case of gravity, experiments indicate that if you bring the clock on the mountain peak back down to Earth, the clock at the peak will be ahead of the clock on the ground. Gravity slows down all events according to how close you are to the source of gravity.

        But the astronaut examples in Wiki presumed that gravity was effectively out of the picture. The two ships were moving through space at different velocities. And yet it made no real difference, because both saw the other’s time as going slower. Again, this would appear to be an illusion. And the only way to resolve what was really going on would be to bring both ship’s clocks back to Earth and see whether one was ahead of the other or not.

        And that’s where the question of acceleration versus velocity comes in. If it is acceleration and not velocity, then one might assume that deceleration would completely undo any change caused solely by acceleration, and there would be no difference on the clocks. On the other hand, if it was velocity, then the longer you were travelling at that velocity the greater will be the discrepancy between the traveling clock and the stationary Earth clock (once you adjust to remove the gravitational effect).


      12. I am afraid that when you are stating “A standard reference can be used to resolve time discrepancies. For example, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) provides a simple means of converting from one time zone (frame of reference) to another” you might possibly be confusing some concepts, so I think it is important to clarify a couple of things.
        Firstly, there is no “standard” reference frame. There is only an arbitrarily “chosen” reference frame, as all inertial reference frames are perfectly equivalent – this is at the very core of special relativity. You choose a particular reference frame, and in your reference frame you will see that your own definition of spacetime (BOTH space and time) is different to anybody else who is not at rest with reference to your rest frame.
        Greenwich Mean Time – or whatever convention you use, is just a very particular reference frame on which, for convenience reasons, everybody on Earth agrees as the chosen one – after all everybody on Earth is, in approximate terms, on the same reference frame as the location where the “Greenwich Clock” resides.
        Relativity does not prevent you from translating the results of one reference frame to another: actually, relativity is ABOUT telling you how to convert from one reference to another, through the Lorentz transformations!! This is what the laws of relativity are all about, after all. Of course relativity provide a “way to synchronize your watches” – this is done all the time, for example, by the software embedded in the GPS that uses the result of relativity.
        Relativity states that the measurements of space and time in your reference frame will differ from the ones in mine, and that they are equally correct. It is not just about “time dilation”, but about an overall shift in spacetime that does include space as well, by the way, and most importantly different aspects of relativity of simultaneity. The picture is much more complex than just “time dilation”. Your time dilation can be my space contraction, your time contraction could be my time contraction too etc….
        Let me make it clear once and for all: naive descriptions of “time dilation” are not just over-simplifications and conceptually dangerous, but are also seriously incomplete, and are only to be used with caution. For example, look at the muons experiment – and I could give you many other examples: from the Earth perspective, muons “live longer” but from the muons perspective, they experience length contraction (http://theory.uwinnipeg.ca/mod_tech/node136.html).
        I am afraid you might have partially misinterpreted the Wiki examples of the astronauts: yes, both see the other’s time as going slower, but no, this is NOT an illusion. And it is not a paradox either, in the same way as the twin paradox is not a paradox.
        The fact that I perceive your clock going slower, and you perceive my clock going slower, are equally real and correct, if we travel at uniform speed in relation to each other. And we both would see ANY clock in the universe, whatever your chosen reference frame is, slowing down if any such clock moves at uniform relative velocity against us.
        To see how the thing actually works in detail, please see https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/155015/a-sees-bs-clock-running-slow-and-b-sees-as-clock-running-slow. By the way, you also have to get rid of old Newtonian concepts of simultaneity and of “same time” – simultaneity is relative too, and there is no naive concept of “same time” between two distant objects in different frames of reference.

        “Deceleration” does not “undo any change caused solely by acceleration” – you are confusing kinematic with relativity. Any form of change to uniform motion is acceleration (this is why I used the term “negative acceleration”) – and acceleration of any form (positive, negative) has a similar influence to spacetime: if you accelerate and then decelerate an object with reference to your reference frame, you will see the difference in time caused by both the difference of speed, but also by the two acceleration (one positive, one negative) events. In general relativity, gravity is indistinguishable from acceleration or deceleration. This means gravity is identical to a change in uniform motion. When you “decelerate”, your clock does not “run faster” so to counterbalance your original acceleration, your clock “runs slower” as if you were accelerating.


      13. Okay, so we’re in agreement as to the facts.
        (1) We can arbitrarily choose any convenient time and location as a standard reference point.
        (2) We can use the formulas provided by relativity to map the clock in our own frame to the clock at the reference location, as long as we know:
        (3) the effects of any significant nearby gravity source to the reference location and any that are near to our location, and
        (4) the velocity of the reference point and the velocity of our own frame of reference (adjusted as needed by the changes in velocity during acceleration and deceleration).

        (5) Two clocks (or two people) will operate more slowly the closer they are to a source of gravity and faster when farther away from that source (when velocity is held constant).
        (6) Two clocks (of two people) will operate more slowly when moving at a higher velocity and will operate more quickly when moving at a lower velocity (when gravity is held constant).

        (7) However, neither the two clocks nor the two people will notice that they are operating more slowly or more quickly.
        (8) The proof of the operating speeds will be found when the two clocks are set side by side, or either clock is set beside the clock at the reference location.



      14. A couple of small things: just please note that dark matter has no features whatsoever that would even remotely have any property attributable to any sort of ether. Dark matter would have the same characteristics as normal matter – simply it is much more difficult to detect (for example: in the case that dark matter, it does not participate in the electroweak force, nor in the strong force, but only in the gravitational “force”). Apart from that, it is just like other matter. Dark matter is distributed “discretely” in a way not so dissimilar to ordinary matter. See https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic0818/ for example, where with techniques of gravitational lensing the distribution of dark matter has been derived in one instance.

        Dark energy, on the other hand, is a different story, as it does appear to “permeate space”. It is a very speculative concept, in the sense that we know very little of its nature, but the consensus is that it has nothing to do with any “ether”: it is normally considered as just one of the features of the vacuum. It is actually commonly known as “the vacuum energy”. It may well be just another field – actually the “quintessence” hypothesis (very unfortunate term, as it has nothing to do with the ether) assumes that dark energy is nothing but a scalar field of the vacuum (in the same way as the Higgs field is a scalar field of the vacuum).

        Regarding the two ships example, I did not realize that you did specify which ship would do the catching up. So, without doing any detailed general relativity calculation (which would be the correct approach), I would say that the result can be analyzed in terms of a combination of two effects:
        – spacetime rotation of one observer against the other, and its effects on the relativity of simultaneity (see the special relativity version of the twin paradox we discussed earlier). This twin scenario would be conceptually the same, in terms of spacetime evolution, as two ships travelling at different speeds but with then one catching up with each other. If you use the slower ship as your reference frame in the spacetime diagram, you would see the other ship moving away and then coming back. So the same result would apply – somebody on the “faster” ship would stay “younger”.
        – the effects caused by the (negative) acceleration of the “faster” ship
        Just in purely qualitative terms, I would say that the two effects would combine in such a way that the person on the faster ship would “stay younger” (I think, it is evening here and I am getting a bit tired, so take this with a bit of grain of salt 🙂


      15. I have no good grasp of what energy is. I tend to model it as the motion of particles, as in heat or propulsion or impact. My physics teacher was Don Herbert (Mr. Wizard TV series). Energy in this view is not a “thing” but rather a “state of matter”, as in a ball hitting another ball and transferring motion energy.

        My favorite cosmological view is what I call “stuff-in-motion”. Stuff-in-motion would be eternal, without a first cause. “Motion” would include “transformations” of matter, such as the accumulation of matter into the most compact but super-massive black hole that reaches a trigger point where it explodes in a Big Bang into a new universe. This universe of distributed matter would eventually accumulate back into another super-massive black hole which would explode into another universe, ad infinitum. And, given the infinite size of space, we can imagine Big Bangs going off like popcorn all over the place, and perhaps even exchanging matter with each other.

        All of the energy of a universe would accumulate with the matter in the super-condensed ball. If I were to use the term “information” at this point, it would be in the context of whether the next universe would be an exact duplicate of the preceding one, or whether stuff gets sufficiently reshuffled to produce a unique universe each time.

        Entropy in this cosmological scheme would only exist as a local event, otherwise the process could not be eternal. (And if universes never exchange material or energy, then space-time is also local to a given universe.)

        So, back to energy. Do we distinguish “energy” from “force”? Or, when we are talking of “dark energy” permeating all of space-time, are we referring to the basic forces like “gravity”, or something else?


      16. Lastly, I have to add small comment as I keep ignoring string theory because of my biases against it 🙂
        One of the quantum gravity candidates is string theory – I think that you would find string theory more conceptually in synch with your views – the fundamental elements would be one-dimensional objects called strings – propagating and interacting with each other. Just wanted to raise this for the sake of completeness – I did not want to give the impression that QFT is the last word when it comes to the ultimate nature of reality.


      17. I forgot to mention that I am not dismissive of the correct usage of the concept of particle as a shorthand – not at all!
        After all, the fields are quantized, and each quantum does have particle-like behaviors, in the sense that, for example, a photon is absorbed or emitted as a indivisible unit. You can see, for example, the individual “impacts” of photons on a measuring apparatus.
        The transmission of momentum in scattering experiments happens through the interchange of discrete quanta – another case where you could talk of a “particle-like” behaviour.
        I am perfectly fine with this, and “particle” is a concept used on a daily basis by physicists (by the way, Feynman diagrams visually represent individual excitations as “particles”). It can be a very convenient and fruitful conceptual tool.
        My point is that we have always to bear in mind that, when we do so, we simplify and abstract from what characterizes the underlying fundamental processes at the innermost levels. And that we always have to bear in mind what are the shortcomings and simplifications that we implicit accept when we use such concepts of particle.


      18. Hi Marvin, just one last point re: free will, I honestly do not know what position Einstein had on free will, nor his rationale behind his position, but I vaguely remember that he rejected free will on the basis of his deterministic beliefs ?
        If this is the case, then I would not discount his views out of hand – I personally think that the issue of free will is a very tricky question indeed. I base my own life on the assumption that I have free will and I am a free agent, but I am not so sure that when Schopenhauer said, “Man can do what he will, but cannot will what he wills”, he was completely off the mark.
        To all intends and purposes, I act under the assumption that I have free will, but I do not discount at all that free will may ultimately be an illusion or something like a feeling – honestly, the question does not really matter that much to me, as it would have no practical implications, so I am totally relaxed in relation to this issue :-). All I am saying is that the issue is quite complex and hotly debated.


      19. If you’re curious, I quote Einstein at the beginning of “The Illusion Delusion”:

        Basically, there are two definitions of free will, and you’ll find both in most dictionaries:

        Free Will
        Mirriam-Webster on-line:
        1: voluntary choice or decision ‘I do this of my own free will’
        2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

        Short Oxford English Dictionary:
        1 Spontaneous will, inclination to act without suggestion from others.
        2 The power of directing one’s own actions unconstrained by necessity or fate.

        1. A person’s natural inclination; unforced choice.
        2. (philosophy) The ability to choose one’s actions, or determine what reasons are acceptable motivation for actions, without predestination, fate etc.

        The first definition is the one that most people understand and apply correctly in nearly all practical scenarios: free will is deciding for oneself what one will do when free of coercion or other undue influence. This is what I call “ordinary” free will, and it is all that is required for both moral and legal responsibility.

        The second definition is the “philosophical” definition, and it is the one that screws everyone up. It suggests that to be free, we must be free from causal necessity/inevitability. And that is a logical impossibility, because without reliable cause and effect we cannot reliably cause any effect, which means we’d have no freedom to do anything at all.

        The problem is that whenever science attacks the second definition, they end up attacking the first definition as well. And that undermines morality responsibility. So, for goodness sake stop doing that!


      20. By the way, I see that you and Steven have already discussed this free will issue in much depth – I did not want to re-open the issue 🙂 I just wanted to let you know my position on this – which is far from being developed to the same extent as yours, I feel


  13. PS: I forgot to mention that many of the theoretical physics problems associated with the positing of the gravitons would be solved by string theory, which is a quantum theory of gravity (it reduces to classical general relativity plus field theory at low energies, but it is fully quantum mechanical and it predicts the graviton in a mathematically consistent way).
    I am personally quite prejudiced against string theory (for a series of technical reasons), but I thought it honest to give a complete picture and include it. In string theory, the graviton would emerge naturally as part of the theory itself – and this is one of the positive aspects of string theory that its proponents like to stress.
    This highlights though that, after all, the positing of gravitons would not be such a crazy idea after all…..


  14. Replies for posted on July 17

    Thanks once again for your comments, you guys.

    Rick, I think I might have misunderstood what you meant by more than a simple metaphor. It seems to me that you are saying these things are not metaphorical ways of talking at all. If so, I certainly would agree that they are much more concrete. I took simple as in less complex.

    I would stick with the physical universe (what other kind is there, really) is best described by the patterns of mathematics. The assumption, however well support, is still an assumption. I feel you will probably would not accept this phrasing, but your reasons for doing so support your conclusion. Perhaps, I am stuck in the old school.

    Are not the excitations you speak of real? Does not this make particles real? Maybe, just not what we ordinarily think of as particles—miniature billiard balls. Regardless, are the fields themselves physical? It is hard to comprehend that the universe is nothing but information, or do I misunderstand what you are getting at? Do you then agree with Max Tegmark’s general position, that we cannot talk about particles and such things, but only the mathematics. I am not sure if he takes the informational route or not. Maybe, you yourself are hesitant, which is perfectly reasonable, from your statement on the informational view as “necessarily speculative.” I hope my questions make sense being without the proper knowledge of the field approach in modern physics.

    I completely agree with your dismissal of the metaphysics of the “beyond.” Beyond what? As far as anybody has been able to find out, there is no “beyond” there, except, possibly in some people’s mind. Like you imply, how would you find out? To me the “beyond” is a non-entity.

    Presuppositions are more than just metaphysics seen from the second view you described. In some ways they involve what backs up our thinking. Another phrase for all of this is “background views.” In discussion with others, particularly in disagreements, it becomes important to know what each others’ background assumptions are. This is because without these being stated, or at the very least, being understood, the parties will just be talking past each other a lot of the times. Not that knowing these presuppositions will bring agreement in its wake. I mainly use it to determine if the discussion is worth continuing. It is similar with definitions. If two people are using different definition, especially of key terms, the discussion will falter. Of course, if the people involved can come to a common definition, the conversation could continue more profitably. I am not sure how clear this all is. Please ask any questions that might clarify what I have said.

    What philosophy is is a whole other ball of wax. Philosophy to me is more about exploration. Of course, some explorations will have more meaning than others. But, any one exploration is not wrong in itself. It may not mean anything to anyone else, but am I supposed to tell others what to think about, even if I am not interested. If philosophy comes to the “truth” or an absolute conclusion, then it is knowledge in the first case and dogma in the latter.

    And, it should be important to state what your after in any investigation—science, philosophy, law, history, or whatever.

    Marvin, very good point. It is important that an answer fit the explanation wanted. If I am concern whether I can place my cup on the table, what matters is whether or not it is solid. And, saying it is solid gives me confidence that I can place my cup on it. In a sense, contexts are like onions, there can be many layers.

    I would also tend to agree with you that mathematics is another language. If it is it is a different type of language with a different type of grammar and syntax. Actually, it could be said that mathematics is many languages, sort of like there are different natural languages. Some of the different languages of mathematics would be geometry, set theory, and analysis. Thinking that is describe with natural languages maybe different than thinking described with mathematics. I have come to a tentative conclusion that thinking is different than language use. In other words we do not think in language. Language internal to a person is more like a translation of thought. Language between two people is a mode of communication. Of course, it is okay to think of ourselves as having a conversation with ourselves too (out loud or not). If my conclusion is correct mathematics maybe different in kind; what kind I am not sure of. Maybe, the thinking underlying the use of mathematics is the brain searching out patterns (what do you think, Rick?).

    Rick, indeed we should not think that “surface reality” is what actual physical reality (or informational reality) is. And I love your last sentence here – “Nature has never signed an agreement with us to be commonsensical.” It put a big smile on my face.

    I will hopefully have some time soon to reply to both of your latter comments.


    1. Dear Steven,

      many thanks for your insightful comment – you again touched many things and I will try to address as many as I can:
      – when you state that the universe is best described by the patterns of mathematics, I agree with you: this is still an assumption (always implicitly used by the physical sciences, mind you – this is the one thing where most if not all physicists and cosmologists agree 🙂 ). An assumption which has worked extremely well so far, and that has given us results of incredible accuracy in many areas, but still an assumption. What I think is also important to highlight, in this type of investigation, is that human mathematics is to be distinguished from the patterns and structures that characterize physical reality and that could be captured in principle by a language of patterns powerful enough – in my mind, they are two different conceptual layers and there is no guarantee whatsoever that we humans, given our intellectual and conceptual limitations, will ever manage to develop our human mathematics to a point where we can capture the “deepest reality”.
      Apart from the point above, unfortunately we also need to get back into the old “reductionism” issue, in the sense that there are a few who claim that there is no way mathematics (or any quantitative description of nature in general, for that matter) can capture phenomena such as consciousness or feelings or aesthetics. I am personally a “moderate” reductionist, and I do not believe in souls or anything like that, but only in the physical reality – so I think that very much of supposedly “non-quantitative” entities can be captured, in principle by a quantitative description of nature. Actually, I personally think (ahaha here we have a metaphysical claim 🙂 ) that all of nature can be ultimately captured by a quantitative description. therefore by a language of patterns such as mathematics).
      – I am a bit wary of addressing your question about the “reality” of entities such as particles or fields, or any “object” described by science, or of what is “real” in general. We risk getting into metaphysics, so I will try to be of cautions as possible, and I will try to give you what I think is the most common interpretation within the physicists community about what is “real”, interpretation which I share….
      Now, you will find that probably the general view would be something like the following (with significant flavours and variations, of course):
      a) science is about building models of the world that capture, in a mathematically consistent and (hopefully) experimentally verifiable theory, the structures, patterns and behaviors of the system being studied, with the objective to provide the most accurate, informative, synthetic, powerfully coherent explanation possible.
      b) science is by definition “provisional” and “imperfect”, and it therefore does NOT, and it can not, provide any definitive ontological statement of what “exists” or what is “real”. However this does not mean that science is arbitrary: while science, by definition, does not provide “definitive” confirmation in any meaningful sense, it does provide a high degree of epistemological warranty, certainly far superior to any other form of human inquiry. Science is also clearly separated and distinguished from metaphysics.
      c) When it comes to positing “entities”, science actually uses kind-expressions representing “law-cluster concepts” – which are essentially just bunches of properties, the co-occurrence of which within an “entity” is mandated by set of relations implied by the laws of nature. In that sense they are “real”. For example, a field is defined in QFT by its relationships with the other fields, and by the fact that its individual excitations have a specific spin etc. The laws of nature are nothing but relationships between such bunches of properties.
      Note that this process of identifying bunches of properties as “entities” with (mostly relational and functional) attributes is, after all, not so different to what we humans do in the normal world, when we assign a name and an individuality to (possibly localized) bunches of attributes, calling it an object. We should not forget that identification and naming of common “objects” is as artificial and conventional in our common daily world as what done by the physical sciences – the conceptualization process is not so dissimilar, it just happens to be mathematically supported and much more rigorous in the sciences.

      Now let’s go to QFT and see why there is a very blurred border between the “physical” ad “informational” – I might go so far as to posit an identity between the two – that the physical is informational.
      QFT states that the fields are the “fundamental entities” because we have found that the old paradigm of individual “particles” is inconsistent with special relativity and with many experimental results. We still talk about particles mostly as a intellectual legacy of old theories, and also as a convenient shorthand. Every time we talks about “particles” we should talk about quantized individual excitations of specific fields. Actually, a particle is viewed as an irregularity in the field, nothing but a local variation of amplitudes of such fields! A particle is a variation of amplitude values of a field – purely an informational concept – amplitudes that, by the way, are not even directly measurable (only their square value is), as their values are expressed in terms of complex numbers. Are they physical ? Certainly ! You can experimentally verify that at will. The point though is that the deeper you go into physical reality, the more it all likes like buts of information, the point is that we need to really question what the nature of “physicality” is.
      Think about the wave function, for example: it is considered as a probability wave, again a purely informational concept, and its evolution explains perfectly visible experimental results. Similar thing for entropy.
      There are also many investigations run in mainstream science (highlighted in my previous posts) that directly use informational aspects to investigate the inner nature of reality.
      This view that the physical world as ultimately informational is of course necessarily speculative – and some naive conceptions of digital physics present significant technical and conceptual problems. What I am saying is that I see this progressively increasing importance of “information” in the physical sciences, and that this has been accelerating with the progress of science, so it is quite tempting to extrapolate this to where the future developments might bring us. I also want to highlight that digital sciences have nothing to do with any form of idealism or spiritualism – we are still in the realm of a purely physicalist approach.

      Regarding Tegmark, while I see where he is coming from, and I used to have some sympathy towards his positions, I now disagree fundamentally with some of his assumptions. He assumes that human mathematics IS the structure of nature. He conflates the patterns characterizing the physical world with human mathematics, and with the physical world itself. He essentially removes the need to do physics, as he states that ALL mathematical structures are instantiated in the physical world, then with a sleigh of had he introduces the multiverse to avoid the resulting question: why is that the natural world only instantiates a small subset of the mathematical structures? He also thinks that structures are everything and there is nothing apart from structures (in my view, structures and relations are fundamental, but not exclusive). While he has very good points and ideas, my personal view is that his overall theory leaks like a sieve :-). By the way, his approach is quite different to the approaches of digital physics.

      Sorry for the long-winded note, but your points are very important. Steven, so I thought they deserved a detailed answer.


  15. Bugger, I accidentally pushed the “post comment’ button before reviewing my comment for typos. Sorry about that, I hope it is not too bad… 😦


  16. As usual, thank you Rick and Marvin for your further comments.

    Again I am lumping all my comments to additional comments made on July 17 – 22.

    Rick, I have much the same feelings about the creationists/intelligent designers, perhaps just not as strong. It is not just evolution that is under attack in the United States by the religious right. There were recent attempts to defund scientific research, including health research, here. While some reduction in funding has occurred, these opponents of science research did not get as deep of cuts as they wanted—for now. For better or worse (I say better) technology is an absolute necessity. To not fund science and not encourage science education adequately, not only would our scientific knowledge be in danger, are ability to handle the technology now in place would be jeopardized. This would be disastrous. As one example, who would run and, especially, monitor nuclear power plants. Or, how would we maintain our communication networks.

    And, you are right to be extremely worried about the Trump administrations recent actions. The White House policy (which includes the ditching of the Paris accord) of denying global warming and climate change would be bad for the vast majority of human beings, and most probably, especially in the long run, the world economy.

    I am not so sure of these people should be seen as intellectually challenged, but one thing I can state is that they are willfully ignorant. Trump is a manipulating bully, which leads to his horrendous speech and actions. But, calling him stupid does not advance the arguments against him. However, it is correct usage to refer to his actions as “idiotic” because these are the actions that would be perform by persons lacking intelligence. And, I agree that Trump and his bedfellows are not in the least bit amusing. Although, I would not go as far as some in thinking we are headed for a dictatorship here.

    No worries on the digression. Conversions have their way of moving about, and on the whole this is not a bad thing unless you are avoiding others’ valid concerns.

    Also, thank you for your information about gravitational waves and gravitons, and how they figure into general relativity and your explanation of electromagnetism.

    Marvin, what do you mean by mathematics not “providing an accurate view,” and what are you referring to by “’deeper reality’”? Mathematics provides the most accurate view we have of the physical universe, and possibly other areas of science as well. Reality is reality—it has no depth.

    Transferring a mathematical description to a natural language is not a simple matter. But to discount the natural language description because it is not as exact as a mathematical one, does not mean that any natural language one is as good as another. I feel that your statements imply this view. As you have pointed out before we use different words to describe things in different contexts, but when the context is the same some descriptions are better than others.

    Rick, an astute observation on the use of “bend.” Bend often implies a physical object being bent. Space-time, I think, is not physical itself. At the risk of more confusion, it is the fabric upon which reality exists. Of course, fabric is physical, so this is also a purely metaphoric way of defining space-time, just as bend should be understood. I think “bend” was introduced in the field of popular science writing, which has to rely on metaphors a good deal of the time. I doubt that one physicist says to another, “space-time bends.” They would use the term “curvature.” Sorry, I seemed to have repeat some of your comments that refer to these issues. I wrote this before I saw some of the rest of your comments I am referring to, but I would still stand by what I wrote here.

    Marvin, I am not aware at present what Einstein’s views on free will might have been, but to call them “idiotic” is no argument against them whatsoever. Ad hominem attacks are rarely beneficial in an argument.

    Marvin and Rick, I will make a few comments on free will since is has been brought up. While, I have no issue with the standard compatibilist view of free will and determinism, I do not feel it addresses some important issues. Most people will think of free will as making a deliberate free choice, so to redefine it as freedom to act does not directly address their issue. People have no free choice (deliberate or otherwise). All choice is determined. This does not mean that people do not make choices.
    Deliberate here should be understood as the thinking over of pros and cons of a choice, and we certainly do this, determined or not. But, I do think there is a confusion. I think (bordering on a belief) that what people are actually referring to when they use the term “free will” is the feeling of free will, and to me this is exactly what free will is. So, in addressing people’s common understanding of free will—they are wrong. Taken in the sense of free choice, it is false. Does this involve redefinition? Yes, but under my view, there is actually something that is being referred to as free will, not freedom to act.

    And, Rick, I think, that free will is best seen as a feeling. But, this feeling is one of the strongest feelings we can have. Perhaps stronger than anger. I too can take myself as acting in accordance to what I have decided. I do not know if this is in line with your thinking that you are a free agent. Whatever I do I do, and no one else. Does this just make me along for the ride? I do not think so. I have a brain, and I believe the brain is a deterministic organ just like any other (e.g. heart and liver) that create my choices in conjunction with both are internal (the rest of the body) and external environments. Yes, the brain decides, but is the whole person who acts. Could I have done otherwise? Yes, but that would depend on things being different. So, there is no inevitability to where my life is going. This sounds a bit confused, so I will need to continue to sharpen my views here.

    Rick, you need not apologize for re-introducing the topic. You have a perfect right to give your views here. And, by providing your view you add to the conversion. We can never be so set in our beliefs, that we refuse to listen to coherent arguments that contravene our beliefs. And, in this area we are in the realm of philosophy, were we each have are assumptions, such as mine that everything in the universe is determined. Do I have absolute proof of this. Hardly, where would I get it from? Science, I do not think so. But, I do not take on this assumption without any coherent reasons or some empirical evidence in support.

    Marvin, as far as assigning responsibility for an action. If a person did it, then that person is responsible for it, whether or not the decision was determine. So, relying on the second definition for assigning responsibility can be dismissed. When we criticize someone’s actions we are not criticizing that person’s decision, we are criticizing that person’s action. We do criticize decisions as good or bad, but decisions are not actions.

    Rick, you are most likely correct when it comes to a particle’s existence as an excitation in a field and its scientific meaning. However, I would not expect that particles will go by the wayside as far as common usage is concern, and I see no need to correct it. However, if were talking about what science has found out about them, then it would be correct to speak of them as you have.

    Rick, I share your reservations on string theory, although probably for partly different reasons. My main issue is that, to my knowledge, string theory as yet has no experimental evidence to confirm it.

    Once again, I am pleased as punch at the discussions we are having here on my blog, and I will reply to more of your comments that I have received, hopefully in a timely enough manner. I think by commenting as I do, I miss what you both might have stated since, but it is two against one, and my life is not all about my blog, and I am grateful for this. I am considering only replying to comments directly address to me, and other things I feel that I can contribute to in a conversation.

    Anyway, much thanks.


    1. Hi Steven,

      I was referring to Rick’s statements where he used the term “deeper”, as in, “Also, what is the wave function ? Nothing but an evolving wave of probability – another purely informational element! And what are all the phenomena that we see experimentally, such as superconductivity and the double-slit experiment ? Nothing but the superposition of such probability waves! The deeper you go into the inner core of physical reality, the more obsolete old views of what is “physical” actually become.” (7/17 6:36PM)

      And that is why I would be equally skeptical of your own statement, “Mathematics provides the most accurate view we have of the physical universe, and possibly other areas of science as well.”

      On the other hand, I would completely agree with your comment, “Reality is reality”. We use observation, experimentation, improved instruments (STM, Hubble), and reasoning to see reality as it really is. Math would fall under the category of “reasoning”. But reasoning must begin and end with observation. It begins with observing what we need to explain. It ends with observing the outcomes that our theories predicted.

      As to Einstein’s “idiotic position” on free will, the man was a genius, but the position is idiotic. Here’s what he said, ““In a sense, we can hold no one responsible. I am a determinist. As such, I do not believe in free will.” But a few sentences later he says this, “Practically, I am, nevertheless, compelled to act as if freedom of the will existed. If I wish to live in a civilized community, I must act as if man is a responsible being.” http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/wp-content/uploads/satevepost/what_life_means_to_einstein.pdf

      So, (A) He was not only willing to say we lacked free will, but also that we lacked responsibility(!) and (B) He suggests that we are compelled by society to pretend free will and responsibility exist. Sorry, but no matter how popular those ideas are among scientists and philosophers, the position is idiotic.

      As to your own position, I would agree totally that every deliberate choice is determined. However, the final prior cause of that choice is the mental process occurring in the human brain. It evaluates the options and choses the one that it calculates will best serve its own purpose and its own reasons. There can be no doubt that a “choice” was made, because “choosing” is what we call that process by which several alternatives are evaluated by some criteria and a single choice is output.

      And if we feel like we just did that, after we did in fact just do that, then the feeling is not an illusion.

      Leslie Allan, who does the “RationalRealm” blog, makes the point that we don’t feel “freedom”. What we feel is any constraint upon our freedom. The guy with the gun to our head, forcing us to act against our will is a constraint. The mother telling her child, “No, you can’t have desert until you finish your vegetables”, is experienced by the child as a constraint.

      But we never experience causal inevitability as a constraint. And that’s because it isn’t one. What we will inevitably do is what we would have done anyway. It is exactly identical to us just being us, doing what we do, and choosing what we choose. And that is not a meaningful constraint. It is nothing that we can or should be free of.

      So, what normal people call “free will” is what they empirically observe to be a decision someone makes for themselves, to satisfy their own purpose and their own reasons, free of coercion or other undue influence.

      And that is an accurate perception of reality.


      1. Marvin, thank you for addressing my concerns.

        As for deeper reality, my comment falls to Rick.

        I still maintain that the use of such words like “idiotic” are of no help in arguing against someone’s view, and I feel it can be a detriment, if only as a distraction. Why bother to use “idiotic,” especially when you did not indicate what his actual views were until a later comment. All it really does is to demean the person so labeled. Do you feel a need to be superior to Einstein, or anyone else? Yes, it has a usage when you are referring to behavior. Finally, despite the wrongness in his argument, I see nothing here that an idiot would even be capable of. People are often wrong—this does not automatically turn their wrongness into an act of idiocy.

        How are feelings illusional? Feelings have no inherent rightness or wrongness. They are just felt, of course with cognitive overtones. Maybe, my feelings could be displaced, but it does not indicate that the feeling itself is illusionary. If I say a feel cold in a hot room, and I am not lying, then I feel cold. More closely to the feeling of free will, if I say that I am dismayed over something because I do not know what to do, even if I eventually figure things out, the dismay may go away, but it does not mean I did not feel it. So, free will as a feeling is not an illusion. Although, the notion that someone can choose without it being determined can be so construed.

        Plus, I do not posit free will as a feeling just to put a label on it, or provide a target for its use. I think free will (the feeling) is necessary for action, especially deliberate action. Without it we would not act. One reason to conclude this is the neuro-imaging studies that show that the areas of the brain, thought to be involved in feelings, are active during decision making, including moral decisions, as you are most likely are aware of, having read some of Gazzaniga’s works. This function is further explain by an evolutionary explanation. If the feeling of free will did not serve any purpose (the spur to action), I suspect we would not have it at all.

        I am not claiming that we feel freedom. What I am claiming is that we feel that we have made our own decisions. Plus, I could feel free (have the freedom) to take a walk this morning. And, if a person can feel constraint, she or he should also be capable of feeling free (have the freedom) to do something.

        Finally, what do you mean by “perception of reality”? It maybe an accurate perception to you, but perceptions are not veridical. In other words they are not necessarily indicators of truth or validity. Others just do not perceive free will in the same way as you do, and you will just have to accept this as fact. Please do not play dictator of what people can or should feel or perceive.

        Of course, you can claim that my ideas are idiotic and be done with me.

        I do not throw about my ideas with no feel for the implications of that which I am arguing for. Neither do I claim any absolute validity. But, I do not put my ides forward with out giving them adequate thought, or posing them as the “truth.” Neither do I put forth the same argument over and over again. If I have nothing else to say (maybe just for awhile), I will acknowledge this and move on. I will also indicate when I feel it is no longer profitable to continue a conversation. This goes whether the discussion is about philosophy or any other kind of topic.


      2. I hereby apologize to Albert Einstein for calling his view of free will “idiotic”. I think the more appropriate word these days is “incoherent”. To say that “We must believe free will exists even though we know it does not exist” is incoherent. And that is what Einstein appears to be saying in that interview (after all, such a claim could be made as easily about “God”).

        Philosophy should be a means to clarify our thinking and to avoid making confusing statements. So we need to use a little William James’ Pragmatism when we define our terms. We need to observe how people ordinarily use such terms in ordinary operation. This is not a novel approach. It’s what the writers of dictionaries do.

        And I’ve given you examples above of three commonly used dictionaries, each having two definitions of “free will”. The first is the more common use, what I’d call “ordinary” free will. The second is the “oxymoronic” version, because there is no freedom to do anything at all without reliable cause and effect.

        Only the ordinary definition makes sense. (1) It requires nothing supernatural. (2) It makes no anti-causal assertion. (3) It is sufficient for both moral and legal responsibility. (4) It is precisely what people understand when they hear the term “free will” used in a practical scenario.

        Free will is a decision we make for ourselves when free of external coercion or other undue influence. That is the ordinary and most common understanding of the term. That is what it means in all practical scenarios.

        Free will is not about feelings. It is about the empirical distinction as to whether you made the decision for yourself or whether someone else, or something else, coerced you, or unduly influenced you, to make their choice rather than your own.

        In law, the reason we make this distinction is to correctly identify the cause(s) of a criminal harm, so that we know what needs to be corrected in order to avoid future harm. If someone was holding a gun to your head, then your behavior is corrected by removing the coercion. But if you deliberately chose to commit the act, then changing how you think about these acts in the future will be required.

        If we are to say that the thing that needs correction is the Big Bang, then we’re all screwed. Because there’s not a thing we can do about that.

        Our practical moral problem is that scientists who attack definition 2 are heard to be attacking definition 1. And, as Albert Einstein wisely pointed out, we need definition 1 to assign moral and legal responsibility. Unfortunately, he did not clarify the problem as a matter of two definitions as I just did.


      3. Marvin, thank you for your comment.

        I feel at this point the conversation is becoming a little tit for tat.

        I will say I am quite aware of how definitions should be made. It is somewhat insulting that you think I would not know this. I have no issue with the definitions you gave for free will. However, dictionary definitions do not exhaust the use of words. At one point all words had no definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary took years of work to comb through the many uses of words cited by many amateur collaborators. Different definitions for a good many words differ. It does not make one use or the other inappropriate. It is only incumbent on the user to make sure his or her use is made clear. This includes nonstandard usage.

        So, I am quite aware that my definition would not be found in a dictionary. This does not make it invalid.

        Your are right that free will is not about feelings. More exactly by my lights it is “a” felt emotion. Without it we would not be able to act deliberately. This is supported by neuroscience findings of the connection between feelings and thought in decision making. Further, it makes evolutionary sense. By the way, I am not claiming any absolute validity here, it is more of a plausibility claim, subject to much more investigation, just like in my opinion all good philosophy is about–exploration, not dogma.

        Personally, I find your discussion to be uninformative or uninteresting. Everything you have said I am either already aware of, or those such as Einstein’s views on free will are of interest to me. I get the feeling that you want to make yourself feel superior. I much more appreciate an exploration that is open and not closed. You have said practically the same thing over and over again, as if you said it enough it makes it right.


      4. Thank you for your participation in the conversation. I am still amazed at how much discussion my humble little blog generated. I have nothing further that I wish to add to your last comment on the Unitarian Universal Church.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you very much Steven for your comment.

      – you are absolutely correct that string theory as yet has no experimental evidence to confirm it. Actually, it is worse than that (which is the nature of my main reservations against it): string theory relies on many exotic assumptions (such as compactified extra dimensions) that seems very ad-hoc, and moreover string theory relies on some forms of “super symmetries” that experimentally have already been debunked, leaving open only more exotic forms of such “super symmetries”. String theory is not dead, but it looks pretty sick to me (at least in my personal opinion)

      – regarding the usage of concept of particles, I completely agree that the concept of particle is still useful, especially as far as common usage is concerned, and actually even in physics such concept is used daily. (individual quanta excitations do have particle-like properties, not the least that of being quantized!). However, it is extremely important to highlight that, when discussing things at atomic and sub-atomic level, particles should be used only in a AS-IS context and with extreme caution, and bearing in mind that by doing so you are at best failing to capture at least half of the properties of what you are studying.
      The concept of a photon as a small, round ball of stuff with a center and well-defined borders is, for example, completely wrong, however you look at it, and it would be completely contrary to a mountain of experimental results. Each investigative level should adopt a meaningful language and concepts adequate for that level, so if we insist too much on adopting common-day language and concepts at all levels, we easily fall into nonsensical assumptions and models. If the language at a specific level then seems wacky or too complex, well… too bad I say :-).


      1. Rick, thank you for your reply.

        Yes, I thought you would have more issues to string theory than just the experimental issue. I too have an ill-defined objection to the extra dimensions bit.

        I agree to your approach of using a language that is applicable to the particular level of investigation.

        I was not under the impression that photons had any internal processes (if that is the right word to use). You had previously explain the issue of seeing particles as small billiard balls. This applies also to properties like spin. While, I do not have any deep understanding of what spin is in a particle (neither do I have much interest), I do know that it is not the spin of a spinning top.


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