The Case For Reality: Because Apparently Someone Needs to Make One

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This morning, I read an article on consciousness and physics (“The Case Against Reality” in The Atlantic). The beginning of the article starts off with a broad statement: That our senses aren’t completely accurate; that the world isn’t perfectly represented them.

It’s a relative statement so it’s not worth disagreeing with. That is, given the scope of our space telescopes and quantum detectors — yeah, we do a crappy job of perceiving. But, compared to the capabilities of a jellyfish or just total blindness, we do a great job at perceiving reality.

But then the article goes on to describe:
(1) that external reality simply isn’t there,
(2) our science is flawed for assuming so and trying to measure it,
(3) that the brain doesn’t exist, because it’s “a classical object” according to quantum mechanics, and,
(4) that the whole universe is “conscious observers” all the way down.

“I’m emphasizing the larger lesson of quantum mechanics: Neurons, brains, space … these are just symbols we use, they’re not real. It’s not that there’s a classical brain that does some quantum magic. It’s that there’s no brain!

I will dive into why quantum doesn’t imply this, later in the article. If there is any “larger lessons” to be drawn from the sciences, it would be that relying on intuitive argumentation (the main tool of academic philosophy) has historically ended up being wrong. The larger lesson of psychological sciences actually shows that intuition is easily misled and completely biased by experience.

The professor’s stance is based on the idea that perfect objectivity doesn’t exist, and therefore, by extension, pure subjectivity is all that exists. He uses physics to back up this idea.

First, let’s clarify the physics details.

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The article says all observation, all science, all attempts at objectivity is belied by a major flaw: “Physics tells us that there are no public objects.”

No, it doesn’t.

Public objects is a made-up term, not a physics one if you’re wondering; implying that we all essentially live in our own private universe with our own private objects — that is, you and I cannot perceive the same ‘public’ object. If you assume objects are ‘public’ — that is, if you assume you and I can both perceive the same thing — we will fail. He says that this dramatic personally-exclusive reality is implied by physics.

Classical physics describes ‘public objects’ all the time with great precision. You and I can both use our own telescopes, even be on different sides of the planet, observe the same comet, and use gravity equations to know where it will go next and when. We will observe the same thing, arrive at the same prediction.

The more modern physics of enormous objects (‘theory of relativity’) can successfully describe momentums, energies, velocities, and masses from any vantage point you pick in a system. Yes, counter to our initially-limited intuition, if one vantage point is travelling close to the speed of light, it will observe different masses, velocities, and even passages of time. But, all these vantage points within this system are consistent with each other.

In fact, using the theory, you can pick any vantage point (“observer”), and then proceed to describe the rest of the public objects.

Successfully, even.

Observer

“Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features.”

Many physics-inspired word artists conflate our sense of self (consciousness, subjectivity, etc) with the use of the word “observer” in physics. Physics uses the word “observer” a lot. It uses the word in relativity theory as described above. In that case, it refers to from which vantage point you are looking at the rest of the system.

“Observer” is also used it in quantum physics. Specifically, the wave function collapse principle which predicts a particle’s probable actions after its been “observed”.

“Experiment after experiment has shown—defying common sense—that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers.”

In this case, the principle he’s attempting to refer to is that subatomic particles are probabilistic and we can’t determine ahead of time what they’ll do exactly. We use wave equations to describe the possibilities of what could happen and the probabilities associated with them. Once measured (usually by hitting these particles with a photon of light and seeing where it bounces), we can collapse the probabilities down to a narrower range of possibilities (‘wave function collapse’). This measurement is sometimes referred to as an observation. Basically, these particles are “non-deterministic” or “indeterminate” between measurements.

At this very small scale, particles don’t have a perfectly determinable position and speed; they take on a vibrational probabilistic quality that is only revealed or made less cloudy by colliding or becoming aggregate with a larger system. The larger system, whether it be a particle detector, a computer and a human scientist, is referred to as an observer. But, the vibrational and probabilistic path of a lone particle is unknown until it’s “observed” (that is, measured by a system).

Hopefully, its clear how quantum physicists are using those words.

Quantum Behavior Doesn’t Imply that Our Subjectivity Is Super Important to the Universe

Nor does it imply, (and I get into this because this point gets implied a lot by “mind philosophers”), the system or measurement is required to include human eyeballs and a human brain. The particles don’t care whether someone is in the room to look at the data. Or whether that person is brain dead. Or whether another living species is looking at the screen. The word ‘observation’ does not imply an observer needing consciousness.

This might seem like an odd point, but this has been suggested by some since quantum behavior was discovered (1930’s). “Observer” means when subatomic particle action is observable because it becomes aggregate with a larger system. Any larger system. But some people think that these words imply that “consciousness” pins down these particles, and minus that, the particle, and the entire universe, is libel to do anything.

The counter-joke to this, from physicists, is that would mean the universe was waiting around for billions of year for someone with a PhD to observe it, in order to manifest into a more determinate state.

Of course, we would tend to think our subjectivity is important. Hopefully, its clear how incredibly self-obsessed these philosophizing attempts are. Its like watching your friend on drugs proclaim his felt connected-ness to the moon because his visual system and empathy system are perturbed by drugs. And then insist to you that this feeling actually implies something about the moon rather than his brain.

Quantum Doesn’t Mean That Everything is as Fuzzy as a Single Particle Is

I recently read the beginning of Max Tegmark’s book, describing a single calcium ion, particles small enough to be appreciably influenced by quantum action, rushing into a single neuron, theoretically causing a thought that in a parallel universe he wouldn’t have had. Yeah, if a single calcium ion could do that, that might be true. Except, it’s more like a million calcium ions. With another million waiting by if those didn’t rush into that single neuron. And the magnitude of a single firing of a single neuron on any of your thoughts being analogous (in terms of scope) of you forgetting to vote and that having any influence on the California primaries. He’s trying to describe a system so sensitive and perilously on the edge, that a single “quantum” action gets biologically amplified all the way up to a macroscopic process.

We rush towards explanations that amplify incredibly tiny perturbations. Chaos theories. A single voice influencing social movements. A blinding insight or thought. Its a protective narrative to reinforce our focus on the tiny part we have control over. To associate motivating feelings of meaning with that narrative. But things happen in aggregate. You can, in fact, use mathematical models to demonstrate the robustness of the inertia of large systems to single, or even many, aberrant events.

Quantum behavior doesn’t imply that all daily objects we clearly observe (and even manipulate), which are made up of these small particles, are now forever “un-determined” and that nothing is real. The reason we don’t perceive the fuzziness of particles is because with any large number of objects (voters in elections, cells in human biology, wind currents in weather), seemingly chaotic individual behavior becomes pretty determinable in aggregate.

The “lessons” of quantum physics (such as the somewhat-indeterminate nature of particles) doesn’t generalize to even a large set of particles joined together, much less, macroscopic objects. Even a single molecule (such as a large protein or DNA strand), an aggregate of thousands or more atoms, becomes visible and ceases to exhibit quirky quantum behavior of single particles.

Even with single particles, they aren’t completely indeterminate. They just can’t be completely pinned down with perfect accuracy. This isn’t just because of measuring limitations; its because these particles are literally buzzing around. All of science so far has observed this quantum behavior, only and precisely in the context of really small and individual particles, but not in large objects. Quantum physics doesn’t imply the whole universe can’t be pinned down at all.

Quantum and Free Will

This article didn’t imply this point but I’ve seen this one also. Sometimes, errant metaphors are drawn between the probabilistic paths of particles and our perceived free will. The probabilistic nature of a particle having multiple path possibilities (which is what a wave function describes — probability of it taking varying paths) and collapsing to one of these possible paths when measured should not be conflated with your mind’s ability to think of multiple futures and then (sometimes) having something similar to one of your previous thoughts, happen to you, as a perceived decision. The metaphor is possible, yes. But it doesn’t go very far. It doesn’t mean that free will is implied by quantum behavior.

It’s just our anthropomorphic tendency to associate human-like qualities (a complex psychology with somewhat unpredictable behavior) to electrons. Its also our tendency to infer a causal link between two patterns that seem similar.

Just Use “Quantum” In Everything

The professor also describes failures in neuroscience progress is the failure to work in quantum rather than “Newtonian physics” when looking at neurons (“and yet my field says, ‘We’ll stick with Newton, thank you. We’ll stay 300 years behind in our physics.'”). I’ve also heard this revelation from high and drunk scientists at parties before. That, somehow, the equations describing the fuzzy, probabilistic qualities of particles could somehow unlock all the other sciences (or predict the stock market, etc). That we just need to ram those equations onto the other sciences.

The action’s of neuronal axon potentials, actions of atoms and molecules within a cell containing at least quadrillions (and more) atoms, the subtle electric fields given off by massive amounts of neural cells firing together, do not become even slightly more accurate with wavefunction descriptions.

It would be cool if one set of equations generalized to everything but these don’t. As neither does Relativity Theory — the equations describing the slight bending of space or warping of time that occurs with really huge objects (like our sun). We don’t try to shove the equations of relativity into our neurosciences (or whatever else) either. They just don’t work outside their context.

Again, the “lessons” of quantum physics doesn’t just generalize to everything. We didn’t find the Philosopher Stone when we examined particles. We just found out that at a really, tiny resolution, individual particles behave in such a vibrating and somewhat indeterminate manner (not infinitely indeterminate either), that they can hop around a bit, take on multiple fuzzy positions, even collide with themselves, and are just less tethered to space and time.

Nor does this imply that each one of us are (physically) living in our own exclusive universe. Obviously, from our mind’s point of view, we each do each have our own exclusive biological reality connected to a personally exclusive brain — but this doesn’t extend to the world beyond or the entire universe.

consciousness

The Philosopher’s “Consciousness Field”

“I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. The experiences of everyday life—my real feeling of a headache, my real taste of chocolate—that really is the ultimate nature of reality.”

I recognize that people with a stated affiliation in cognitive neuroscience inherently contain self-centered tendencies (that is, obsessing about their own mind works) but the point of the field isn’t to strive towards solipsism. The view of some “cognitive philosophers” is that consciousness is not just a vague term roughly summarizing complex phenomena from a helicopter view; but, rather, a fundamental entity or field in the universe.

Perhaps, that last part slipped past you. Buckle in for this.

A literal entity or field (in case that wasn’t emphasized enough). That, stay with me here, if you hack atoms down into electrons and protons, and then those into quarks, and then hacked those further, you would find “consciousness.” Some kind of a fundamental consciousness entity/particle/field. This is a theory by some academic philosophers. Everything built on that “consciousness field”, and that all of reality is tenuous, bending to pure subjectivity. Again, not how it just seems to us. But to use teenage vernacular, they mean everything is literally-literally consciousness. To use philosophical vernacular, you can see how this view would strike scientifically-striving individuals as probably the most solipsistic view one could have on the universe.

This concept of a “Consciousness Field” continually comes up, represented by academic philosophers keen on walling off a niche with obscuring language, and maintaining a cross-fire of grossly over-confident and data-less shots backed by self-obsessed and limited intuitive aim. This reenactment of academics scares off commentary from the scientific academics with loudness of the blanks they fire. Publicly, this phenomena is popularized by a large drug culture that is keen on proving meaning to their neural short-circuiting trips that feels so real, and spiritualists who reject old religion but still possess psychologies that find the universe to be not only simmering with meaning, but itself literally feeling meaning, an appealing reassurance.

Actual Consciousness

“Consciousness” is a term we use to roughly summarize complex behavior of other people. Usually it implies people are capable of responding in some way (e.g. an “unconscious” patient isn’t responsive in any complex way other than the simpler spinal cord and brainstem reflex circuits). In locked-in syndrome, it means the person can’t respond (direct any muscle movement including eyes and voice) but is still inputting information through their senses, comparing it against their memories, and updating their summaries of the world. They are conscious but we have a harder time telling because of general muscle paralysis.

The article refers to split brains and states that each half is conscious. But, then also, refers to whole brain, before it was split, being conscious. How is this possible?

Split brains are an interesting medical and neuroscientific example. You can show that each half of the brain processes information from its half of the body (and interprets that information with whatever abstraction centers are on that side — language tends to be lateralized to one side), and is limited by the physical split. So, in that case, the side missing the language center can still perceive objects through the sensory nerves hooked up to that side,, but can’t come up with the words for them.

This really points to the fragility of the concept of “consciousness” rather than proving you can split (or conjoin) “consciousness” infinitely. Consciousness refers to comparisons in input from whatever is in memory. Its a contrast of the environment (and senses of your body) filtered up into summary representations, that are constantly changing and are rich in informational detail. Awareness, feelings, and consciousness are explainable as physical deterministic processes.

“It suggests that I can take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It’s conscious agents all the way down.”

No, if we hacked your brain down to bits, each one would not possess the same capacity of consciousness you have/feel now. In fact, if we stroked out small select parts of your brain, you would lose a lot.

Informational “Consciousness”

By the broadest and abstract-est of definitions, consciousness as an informational definition (past state + current inputs), can be applied to subatomic particles, the sun or anything. But it’s not experiencing the same spectrum of informational states, language, perception or anything else that you are experiencing, except in this extremely abstract sense that, it too, processes its current state against the context of its previous state. But again, not in any way remotely similar except by abstract metaphor. So that definition is poetic only, probably criminally confusing and almost completely unuseful.

And even this abstract definition that I’ve just described (as stripped down as it is to even work this generally) is more of a generalized information description that doesn’t usefully relate to biological/medical consciousness that well. The various cognitive philosophers I’ve read, never even make a case this coherent for some kind of general information processing mechanism.

Even if you tried to push this information processing abstraction forward, particles don’t possess complex memories from multiple points in time and containing thousands of features to compare against such as in a neural network or your brain. It also doesn’t contain memories of how it was feeling (essentially summaries of your body’s state) associated with those features or points in time. In fact, if we’re drawing associative patterns here, much of the phenomena in quantum physics shows the opposite pattern. That is, the particle’s past doesn’t matter at all to how it will act next.

Again, any similarity the professor sees in brains and particle behavior, is a reflection of his own brain’s biases in how it represents the world. Not in the world itself.

To extend it past that at all, is an anthropomorphic simulator in your head (evolved, useful, but limited) gone awry. These are the same circuits responsible for you cursing at your car or yelling at wind blasting you in the eyes. To simulate psychology in anything complicated in the world around you can be useful: It allows you to summarize and predict other people’s (and animal’s) actions — useful in contexts with other people. But, again, easily overextended to other complex phenomena, where you’re projecting psychologies and intent into the weather, laptops, or the universe.

Social “Consciousness”

The article also refers to a mathematical model of consciousness that say any group of interacting consciousness is essentially one consciousness.

Right, it could. As a social definition of consciousness. A team working together, a corporation, a bobsled team, could appear to be a single “consciousness” acting on its environment. But it depends on the resolution of your summaries (or “symbolic representations” in a model). On the other hand, an entire body of work (fictional dramas even) can be written on just two people, each sharing some secrets from each other, and having shared knowledge with each other, each with different histories to compare against. As a social definition, some consciousness is shared, but to the level that ‘consciousness’ (that is, memory, previous experiences, inputs) isn’t shared is extremely relevant to us.

Evolution Of Our Mind

The obfuscation attempts are revealing when he uses physics to imply no reality exists, then jumps to evolution to prove it shaped us to aggressively filter out all reality (which apparently now exists).

“Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be.”

The article elaborates on an evolutionary theorem that claims to prove evolution is driven by “fitness” over “reality perception”:

“The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.”

Maybe, “reality-perceiving” (if that could even be captured as a stand-alone abstract definition…) does take a backseat to another evolutionary driver, but is still really up there as a priority in evolution. Maybe reality-perceiving isn’t identical to fitness but still overlaps with fitness. Maybe it overlaps almost completely with fitness. A lack of an absolute doesn’t mean the complete opposite is true.

Also, there’s a real issue with abstracting out fitness like this. You could try to put things like hair color or working metabolic enzymes on a spectrum somewhere between “mostly incidental” and “helped your fitness a lot”. Your metabolic enzymes were required to survive and were probably aggressively selected for.

On the other hand, there are probably fitness contributions from minor aesthetic differences in hair color. Yes, hair color probably takes a huge backseat priority to your metabolic enzymes in terms of environmental survival. Yet, this doesn’t prove that hair had no contribution at all to individual fitness (probably as a sexually competitive trait) or that the selection of good metabolism forced us to have the least sexy hair colors possible (which would be analogous to what he’s claiming).

Fitness refers to all the properties that allow an agent to (1) thrive and persist against elements in an environment, (2) as a group against competing species, and, (3) if its not asexually-reproducing, to be selected for against other members of the same species. Perception of the environment with more accuracy and clarity (that is, more useful mental models) is part of this. But, so is skeletal frames, muscles, metabolic enzymes and other stuff.

In fact, the physical reality, ironically the thing that purportedly does not exist, shares influences in shaping evolutionary selection. So, yes, we don’t evolve as ethereal, disembodied, conscious entities because the selection of our cognitive and mental faculties had to co-evolve with a bunch of physical stuff. This is precisely because the world is real, physical and not pure consciousness.

This isn’t to say that, by evolutionary principle, organisms have to be driven only by ‘survival against the elements’ fitness. Evolution could do this only fractionally, and be mostly driven by something environmental like aesthetics (that is selected for, such as in dog-breeding), or model accuracy (such as in evolutionary-designed algorithms in a computer) or whatever the environment deems as fitness. It may be that in recent evolutionary history in humans, with our physical form mostly hashed out, clarity and perception got more emphasized by the environment and sexual selection.

Our Probably-Evolved Mental Bias

Yes, your mind’s ability to interpret reality has a bias wired into it (and ability to bias) that is explainable by evolution. Again, this isn’t about “quantum physics” telling us “public objects” aren’t “available.” Nor, it isn’t about us actually living in some forty-two dimensional Gak-filled universe, our biology being able to sense that, but our minds not perceiving it because we cognitively filter it out because “snake avoidance” is quicker without it:

“But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you.”

You do have a bias wired into your mind. It is probably evolutionary. Your brain does possess a resilient ability to maintain narrative summaries/explanations that seeks to ignore (and even become unaware of) what it can’t control, and remain long-term statistically optimistic even when the immediate, local environment isn’t promising.

Your brain can also filter inputs deftly, at many levels and without your awareness, to convince yourself these narratives are true. It may be that those individuals lacking this, in the evolutionary timescape, offed themselves or just sat down and died.

However, truth-wise, this cognitive bias means that you are, in essence, perceiving the genetic reality (that is, the extremely long-term reality) quite accurately even when the momentary reality all around you gives you only dismal evidence (or vice versa). Compared to the reality of a particular crappy day, your optimism (or pessimism) might seem inaccurate. But maybe, compared to the reality of the long-term, you may possess a genetically more wise viewpoint that is actually more true. In that case, you’re wired for truth. Depends what the scope of the reality is that you’re talking about.

This bias isn’t anything to do with quantum probability equations. Its just a bias wired into your valuation and judgement algorithms in your brain. Algorithms that sometimes fail in some moments, but were hammered out with a billion years of reality immersion.

Models and Mathememagics

First, keep in mind, he can’t state anything about the scope (“pretty much all of reality”) from just a model.

Secondly, he also makes a conclusion from a model which selects for fitness, to conclude that fitness is more important than other features (ability to perceive reality). This is like judging dogs at a dog show purely by size, then commenting that its amazing that, according to a dog show that you’re running, larger dogs always seem to be more aesthetically pleasing.

“The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.”

Yeah, any added specificity will limit “fitness”, the general indicator of success, in a “fitness” model. If your model restricts any feature, only redheads, or tall people, or double-jointed thumbs — then, yeah, it will be more limited overall. There’s so many definitions and assumptions in this, it would be annoying to parse them all out.

The point is models are board games and you can design them however you wish. Just because the board game you designed happens to consistently bias the game for the first player over the second, doesn’t generalize into some broad lesson about going first or second in life. And, it certainly doesn’t “mathematically prove” anything.

The Problem with Philosophy From the Mind

The lesson from physics, if there is one, is that the very experiences we rely on, the ones feeding out intuition, are limited compared to the scope of light years or the smallness of sub-atomic particles.

We learn this, in fact, by probing reality with the least subjective approaches we can come up with. The take-away from all of this is to rely on sciences to continue to incrementally provide us with nuggets of reality. The lesson of human progress has shown that grand attempts at Holmesian inferences about the nature of all things, from a philosophical armchair, doesn’t work.

That last statement is in reference to “cognitive” philosophers who pontificate on the “infiniteness” of “free will”, or just claim, despite evidence, that the universe couldn’t have arose from “physical nothing”, or claim the universe is, itself, “consciousness.” They rely on logic and words to make these conclusions, without realizing that word and logic actually have limits. Without realizing that our logic and words are completely based in limited experience and are actually being changed by our observations from science and new experiences.

Despite the progress of science, there are a slew of self-labeled “philosophers of the mind” who fall backwards into their own subjectivity, right after pointing to evidence of our successful progress to work around our subjectivity, and conclude that attempts at objectivity is pointless and that completely isolated subjectivity is all there could ever be in the universe.

“Here’s how I think about it. I can talk to you about my headache and believe that I am communicating effectively with you, because you’ve had your own headaches. The same thing is true as apples and the moon and the sun and the universe. Just like you have your own headache, you have your own moon.”

Of course we have our own perceptions, interpretations, and preferences. It’s important to note, though, he’s not pointing how as biological creatures we tend to be obsessed with our subjectivity. That’s true. It’s super important to us. But, he (and other philosophers like him) claim that reality itself is just as fickle and varied and subjectivity-obsessed as our minds. He (and others) use physics to say that complete subjectivity is all there really is in the universe itself:

“…the idea that objectivity results from the fact that you and I can measure the same object in the exact same situation and get the same results — it’s very clear from quantum mechanics that that idea has to go.”

“Philosophy of the mind” continues to be a cognitively infantile view on the evidence of physics (and science in general). It’s probably why I continue to be engaged by it. The field continues to serve as a concentrated demonstration of all our mind’s tendencies and fallacies (despite being self-proclaimed experts in logic and fallacy). Cognitive tendencies and fallacies that are present everywhere in our world but they are particularly purified, refined and concentrated in their field. It’s almost a human cognitive experiment in itself.

They generalize absolutist narratives about all of reality from one or two phenomena of physics, while being oblivious to the fact that these very actions [over-generalization of patterns; creating idealized absolutes and trying to project them onto the world around us; narratives with casual agents possessing empathy and personality; self-protective and reinforcing explanations] are limited tendencies of the brain, not limitations of the universe itself.

Abstractions, Generalizations and Metaphors

“You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful.”

That’s true. For the computer user, its an accurate-enough representation. For someone who needed to fix the hardware of the computer, they’re going to need more or different representations.

Abstractions and representations may seem like an esoteric point to the reader. But if you have an image of yourself and an image of myself in Photoshop, these are symbolic representations of us. If you keep blasting them with filters long enough, they will eventually look similar. Perhaps even indistinguishable. You will get the shadows of two eyes, a shadow of a mouth. Those are just pictures though. Representations of two entirely different people.

Maybe you can say that’s a “face.”

You could really go crazy with Photoshop filters and do this with your face and a sunset. Eventually, you get two identical white blobs and they will appear the same.

Maybe you can say that’s a “thing.”

Symbols, words, cave paintings are just attempts (sometimes useful) to represent real things in abstraction (not just that one dog but all dogs, etc) by removing some detail. Its the same thing with models, math, equations and technical definitions.

Abstraction can be useful. But, it can also easily be so abstracted that you’re just looking at two white pages that used to have colors and lines, saying “your face is basically the sun.” Yeah, that’s poetic but how is that even remotely useful? The universe and your brain both have “complicated structure”, too. That really doesn’t help much. Its just an association; rather, than, a predictive pattern embedded in a specific context.

This is why you can’t just drive all the way right off the idealized-absolutes-generalization cliff, even though your mind is driven to find broad pattern predictors (or one grand pattern predicting everything). That’s what your mind does; find associations. Sometimes, they are patterns. Sometimes they are predictively useful.

Sometimes you’re shaking a stick at the sky and dancing in a circle hoping it will rain again. The field of physics and neuroscience have extremely reliable models for guessing what a object will do next or how strongly a group of neurons will fire next.

Within their respective contexts.

When you generalize or make metaphors, you need to stay slightly back in the context. In the details. Because the context is where the pattern becomes useful.

I hope you can see why extremely abstract representations of brains (to the point of losing any context or useful detail) and his representations of the universe, appearing identical or similar to each other, doesn’t imply anything. Its just a useless exercise in abstraction, stripping out all relevant detail.

Summary

Really, whats going on is a borrowing of the most fragile concepts, to gain credibility and shroud in obscurity. Concepts like “consciousness,” “observer” and “non-deterministic.”

Purposely slamming around limited words like this well outside their context, borrowing the credibility of multiple fields while simultaneously discrediting them, doesn’t contribute much in my opinion.

This particular example in The Atlantic takes this a step further than the usual consciousness-physics turdball by throwing a math spin on it to “prove” things (remember, math proofs can show that math is consistent with other math; you can’t “prove” a principle of evolution, that’s a misappropriation of the word “prove”), and then distracting the audience with the narrative that is evolutionary theory.

This article (and the theories of “cognitive philosophy”) is really, a beautiful example of conflation. Conflation relies on misusing, stealing, and borrowing words. Words meant to represent a certain concept in a specific context. Fiat currency that is taken outside its borders and attempted to be redeemed.

The Chuck-E-Cheese tickets and Dave & Buster’s cards that are attempted to be redeemed at a third location altogether, include “observer” and “consciousness”. The key to this confusion is that few experts work at both of these establishments (physics, neuroscience).

Obscurantism has a lot of niche space to thrive in our modern era of knowledge. Poetic connections are not only possible, but in our brain’s tendency. This should not discount the approaches we’ve taken to get this far:

“The idea that what we’re doing is measuring publicly accessible objects, the idea that objectivity results from the fact that you and I can measure the same object in the exact same situation and get the same results — it’s very clear from quantum mechanics that that idea has to go.”

Essential part: “objectivity … that idea has to go.”

Objectivity is a continuum. Of course, perfect objectivity isn’t an achievable point. But our (increasing) ability to interpret reality more objectively lets us build skyscrapers and global cellphone networks. Something about reality, the way we interact with it, the way we and our systems interpret, is allowing us to manipulate it with increasing success. The very fields he references are testaments to that.

I hope you have a clearer summary of physics, consciousness, evolution, and models (or are at least motivated to find one) than what this bit of disreality has offered. Credit to The Atlantic, at least, for shining light even if not a disinfecting one, upon an ongoing epidemic that people sometimes tell me has long since been eradicated.

Image credits:
http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–WMmmzTq3–/c_scale,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/182n44jkw325ajpg.jpg

http://naturalbuddhas.nl/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/consciousness.jpg

http://media1.s-nbcnews.com/j/newscms/2014_10/231536/140305-space-quasar_addb62489d72a93a8c7d3a7a0b058a5f.nbcnews-fp-1000-400.jpg

2 Comments

  1. Hi Omar,
    I am in the East Bay by Berkeley and would like to talk with you. I have been working on a book to try and take the mystery and misunderstanding out of QM from a non-technical point of view. The goal is accuracy and simple language. It is a bit of a challenge but I think the rest of us need it :-) Although an amateur I have had reason to use entanglement on a digital job project 16 years ago so I do have a little technical understanding. However I am primarily interested in presenting the philosophical aspects rather than technical.

  2. Good stuff.

    I recently came across a strange editorial in the journal ‘Perception’ by Jan Koenderink that you might like to critique.

    http://dspace.library.uu.nl/bitstream/handle/1874/306808/p4301ed.pdf?sequence=1

    It’s called “the All Seeing Eye”. It doesn’t make any of the quantum mistakes that Hoffman makes. Do you think it’s false, a straw man, or just some kind of tautology or truism?

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