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Observer and Observed - an Empiricist's View

RuvDraba
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7/13/2016 4:16:07 AM
Posted: 4 months ago
Since the early 20th century, science has offered philosophers some interesting questions about the difference (if any) between the observer and the observed.

In a recent private message, Matt8800 asked:
Do you feel the double slit experiment implies an interaction between consciousness and matter?

To which I replied:
No, as you rightly guessed, I really don't. I'll be happy to explain why later. But let me first try to address what I imagine the thrust of your question might be with an alternative reflection:

Two observable phenomena force us to ask questions about how well our minds can observe. They are the Uncertainty Principle, and entropy.


I want to thank Matt for his question, and for his consent to make this a thread we can share.

For member interest, the context here is that I've declared myself an empiricist [http://www.philosophybasics.com...] -- we view knowledge as arising principally through sense. But certain phenomena make us ask what a sense is, and how confident we can be that the knowledge we gain is about the subject, and not the observer. I understand Matt to be inquiring how these questions are answered, and to trigger that conversation he's asked about one of the first big ontological surprises in modern physics: the double-slit experiment [https://en.wikipedia.org...], which shows that matter expected to behave like a particle, can sometimes act like a wave.

That triggers a range of questions about observation and sense-making, about science vs philosophy, and some of those questions have only gotten more complicated over time, with questions about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and our notions of time itself (hence my later reflection.)

In this thread I mean to present what sense I make of things. It's not meant to be an argument that anyone else should form the same view. Matt is of course, free to ask questions, or pose alternative views. I'll offer opinions and thoughts. However it's not my intention to convince anyone else to adopt empiricism as a form of sense-making, or to adopt it as I do, or even to defend it. I'll simply answer what I can as best I can, acknowledge any contradictions, and acknowledge what I can't.

Other members can of course ask questions, offer comments or criticisms or quibble with one another. I don't mind, except that by stipulation I shall not defend empiricism here, or science, or criticise philosophy or religion. Those are things I might do in some other thread, but I don't wish to do them here. So if something a member says requires me to respond in that way, of necessity I'll have to either defer it or respond in another thread.

As a next step I'll try to offer a more complete answer to Matt's question about wave/particle duality and why it doesn't bother me as an empiricist. The threads on that answer are long, and it might not fit into a post, but I'll try to keep it focused. Matt is of course free to jump in at any time. :)
RuvDraba
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7/13/2016 6:22:24 AM
Posted: 4 months ago
Double Take on the Double Slit Experiment
Some of the earliest work on light was conducted by Isaac Newton in the 17th century. In his treatise Optics, he was able to identify key behaviours of light -- like reflection from mirrors and refraction through lenses -- and predict everything he'd seen by treating light as a particle. But at the same time another physicist, Christian Huygens, was able to predict everything light did by treating it as a wave.

So which was it?

At the time, neither Newton nor Huygens could prove it was one and not the other.

But fast-forward to 1801, and a physicist called Thomas Young performed an experiment that ostensibly resolved the problem. It's probably easier to show the experiment than talk about it, but for those who'd like to read it, I link the Wikipedia entry here: [https://en.wikipedia.org...]. For members who'd like to watch it, there's a great, fun, short Youtube video linked right.

But as some members will already know, the short form is: Young showed that light wasn't a particle; it was a wave.

Problem solved?

Well almost: Young had only scratched the surface of one of the most puzzling problems in Physics.

Once Young's double-slit experiment could be performed on light, it could also be performed on anything else that could pass through two slits -- including objects known to have mass -- like electrons, protons, neutrons, and pieces of atomic nucleus. Surely, objects already with mass should behave as particles, and only light -- which wasn't known to have mass -- was a wave?

It didn't work out like that.

What emerged over the next century was what is now called wave-particle duality: the idea that every elementary particle can not only be described in terms of particles, but also waves [https://en.wikipedia.org...] -- including light itself. Einstein's Nobel prize was for the photoelectric effect, in which he was able to explain how the energy in light arrived in discrete chunks -- what eventually came to be called photons. [https://en.wikipedia.org...] But Einstein already knew about Young's experiment showing that light was a wave. He wrote that:
It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do. [http://www.upscale.utoronto.ca...]

This principle of wave-particle duality has now been demonstrated not only for light and protons, neutrons and electrons, but also for atoms and molecules. Physicists are now breaking records for the largest object known to demonstrate wave-particle duality, with a recent record in 2013 from a molecule with over 800 atoms. [http://arxiv.org...]

So what's going on here? What's the use of experimentation when it gives you ambiguous results like this? is the problem with the experiment, or is it with our minds? If it's with the experiment, what's wrong with it? And if it's with our minds, how can we be trusted to observe accurately when the answers don't even make sense?

That's how I've interpreted Matt's question, and what I hope to explore in this thread. Shortly, I'll take a departure from optics and quantum mechanics into the philosophy of science and empiricism, and hopefully link back to the original problem after a broader chat about my take on the epistemological foundations of science.

But Matt, I've interpreted liberally here. If I've gotten the wrong angle on this, please let me know. Or if I've gotten it mostly right, please let me know too. :) [I should also acknowledge here that optics and quantum mechanics aren't my discipline -- other members may well know more.] Comments and questions from other members are welcome, regardless.
matt8800
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7/13/2016 2:59:14 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/13/2016 6:22:24 AM, RuvDraba wrote:
Double Take on the Double Slit Experiment
Some of the earliest work on light was conducted by Isaac Newton in the 17th century. In his treatise Optics, he was able to identify key behaviours of light -- like reflection from mirrors and refraction through lenses -- and predict everything he'd seen by treating light as a particle. But at the same time another physicist, Christian Huygens, was able to predict everything light did by treating it as a wave.

So which was it?

At the time, neither Newton nor Huygens could prove it was one and not the other.

But fast-forward to 1801, and a physicist called Thomas Young performed an experiment that ostensibly resolved the problem. It's probably easier to show the experiment than talk about it, but for those who'd like to read it, I link the Wikipedia entry here: [https://en.wikipedia.org...]. For members who'd like to watch it, there's a great, fun, short Youtube video linked right.


But as some members will already know, the short form is: Young showed that light wasn't a particle; it was a wave.

Problem solved?

Well almost: Young had only scratched the surface of one of the most puzzling problems in Physics.

Once Young's double-slit experiment could be performed on light, it could also be performed on anything else that could pass through two slits -- including objects known to have mass -- like electrons, protons, neutrons, and pieces of atomic nucleus. Surely, objects already with mass should behave as particles, and only light -- which wasn't known to have mass -- was a wave?

It didn't work out like that.

What emerged over the next century was what is now called wave-particle duality: the idea that every elementary particle can not only be described in terms of particles, but also waves [https://en.wikipedia.org...] -- including light itself. Einstein's Nobel prize was for the photoelectric effect, in which he was able to explain how the energy in light arrived in discrete chunks -- what eventually came to be called photons. [https://en.wikipedia.org...] But Einstein already knew about Young's experiment showing that light was a wave. He wrote that:
It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do. [http://www.upscale.utoronto.ca...]

This principle of wave-particle duality has now been demonstrated not only for light and protons, neutrons and electrons, but also for atoms and molecules. Physicists are now breaking records for the largest object known to demonstrate wave-particle duality, with a recent record in 2013 from a molecule with over 800 atoms. [http://arxiv.org...]

So what's going on here? What's the use of experimentation when it gives you ambiguous results like this? is the problem with the experiment, or is it with our minds? If it's with the experiment, what's wrong with it? And if it's with our minds, how can we be trusted to observe accurately when the answers don't even make sense?

That's how I've interpreted Matt's question, and what I hope to explore in this thread. Shortly, I'll take a departure from optics and quantum mechanics into the philosophy of science and empiricism, and hopefully link back to the original problem after a broader chat about my take on the epistemological foundations of science.

But Matt, I've interpreted liberally here. If I've gotten the wrong angle on this, please let me know. Or if I've gotten it mostly right, please let me know too. :) [I should also acknowledge here that optics and quantum mechanics aren't my discipline -- other members may well know more.] Comments and questions from other members are welcome, regardless.

Ruv, thanks for your insight.

I think this is a fascinating subject.

Here are some questions I have regarding this subject:

1. Is it the act of observation that causes wave function collapse?

2. Is wave function collapse an actual change or does is it possible that it only appears to change, but in reality, undergoes no change?

3. If observation causes wave function collapse, why does it do that? Why does it seem to be observer dependent?

I realize that current scientific knowledge cannot answer some of those questions. Regardless, I am an obsessively curious person and there is a correct answer somewhere out there. Maybe it still remains to be seen as to whether that answer is discoverable.
RuvDraba
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7/13/2016 10:10:21 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
Matt, with your indulgence I'll answer your questions in short-form first as best I can, and try to explain my understanding (such as it is) afterwards.

At 7/13/2016 2:59:14 PM, matt8800 wrote:
1. Is it the act of observation that causes wave function collapse?
To the best of my understanding, nobody knows, though there's a popular interpretation that says it's so, and several contender interpretations that says it isn't. :)

2. Is wave function collapse an actual change or does is it possible that it only appears to change, but in reality, undergoes no change?
To the best of my understanding, nobody knows, though there's a popular interpretation that says it's real change, and some contender interpretations that say it isn't. :)

3. If observation causes wave function collapse, why does it do that? Why does it seem to be observer dependent?
If observation causes the collapse, it's observation-dependent. Observer effect appears in physics as a function of the manner of observation, and it's one of several effects impairing precision.

Yet I've seen no serious argument that it's related to the intentions, expectations or desires of the observer, and there's every evidence that it doesn't. (For instance, different observers see the same light distribution in a Young double-slit experiment.) However, in psychology and sociology there's a form of observer effect that can depend on the observer. It's unrelated to Physics, but uses the same name, so it's often confused. (More below.)

So broadly, what is Matt talking about?

Wave vs Particle Description
In a post above, it was discussed how ordinary particles can sometimes act as waves. The diffraction in Young's double slit experiment is wave behaviour. Yet the quantum energy in Einstein's photo electric effect is particle behaviour.

So which is it when? If we imagine all the light in Young's double slit experiment were particles, then those particles will eventually end up distributed in bands of light at the back of the box. If we lined each particle up and sent it off one at a time from the same source, how does each particle 'know' where to go? And can we predict where the next will end up?

A key result in quantum mechanics is that we can't. We don't know from moment to moment where each photon of light will go, but using probability we can determine very precisely where they will end up over-all.

That doesn't sit well with a lot of people. If there's precision in the aggregate, surely there should be precision with individual quanta too? Einstein was among the physicists who didn't like quantum mechanics playing dice. Neils Bohr was among the physicists who thought it was okay, and generally today, quantum physicists mostly think it's okay.

But it's still extra complicated, because waves and particles each convey different information.

Both particles and waves can have a speed, energy and a direction of travel. But particles have momentum (the tendency to resist being made to go at some other speed in some other direction), position (location in space), and density (how many particles in an area at any time.) Waves however, have amplitude (height of a wave), phase (whether a point in a wave is presently a peak or a trough), and frequency (how many peaks over time). In particles, individual energy can be calculated from speed and momentum, and total energy of all particles combined can be measured by changing particle density (flux) over time. In an individual wave, energy can be calculated from amplitude, and total energy of all waves combined can be measured by changing frequency over time.

Wave Function Collapse
But those are different calculations with different information. If you want to know the position of light, it must act as a particle -- it can't be a wave. When it's a wave, it doesn't have a position, just a phase. Yet we know that light sometimes has a position: we can see it reflected from a wall, or detect a quantum of energy in the photosensor. So we can only get the positional information we want when a wave becomes a particle. When, then, does that happen? Or as Matt asked above, when does probability 'collapse' into certainty?

Before getting into it, there are two key wrinkles in finding that out...

Observer Effect
Firstly, there's the thing which Matt mentioned called an 'observer effect.' In order to get information from a system we have to poke it somehow, and any poke on a small system tends to produce a significant change. So if you want to know where a photon is, you have to absorb it by something whose location you already know... and that eats the photon. If you want to know where an atom is, you have to bounce a photon off it, and that can change the energy in the atom. In big systems, that doesn't matter much, but in small systems, it can change the observation. [https://en.wikipedia.org...(physics)]. This is completely unconnected with something psychologists call the Observer Expectation Effect, in which a cognitive bias can unconsciously influence the participants of an experiment, but is sometimes confused because the same name can be used for each. [https://en.wikipedia.org...]

Heisenberg Uncertainty
But then there's a second matter, which is about the limits of precision with which small stuff can be measured anyway. Part of the problem with being a wave is that there's more than one way to describe you. For example, every wave can be described as a changing amplitude over time, but a result by mathematician and physicist Francois Fourier says that every wave is also a sum of frequencies, and can be equivalently written as a frequency-distribution. [https://en.wikipedia.org...] Both descriptions are equivalent -- one's not more important than the other. So frequency-distribution predicts amplitude-duration and vice-versa.

Physicist Werner Heisenberg started working with wave-descriptions, and realised that there was a theoretical limit to the precision with which you could measure any small quantum system. If you tried to get the momentum right, you'd lose precision on the position. If you tried to get position right, you'd lose information on momentum. This is in part due to the Observer Effect, but it also links to something Neils Bohr called complimentarity. [https://en.wikipedia.org...(physics)] Certain pairs of observable properties are complementary, like frequency and duration in Fourier's account of waves. These include position and momentum, energy and duration (because frequency is energy), wave and particle, spin on different axes, and several others. One determines the other, so you can't measure both at the same time -- essentially, more precision in one becomes more imprecision in the other. This is not only a theoretical prediction -- it has now been experimentally verified.

So quantum mechanics is weird in more than one way: it's probabilistic but not piecewise predictive, it's uncertain when the information will actually be available. When it is, looking at it at all, can alter it, and the harder you look at some properties, the more imprecise other properties can become. :D

But worse than that, there's more than one interpretation of what it all means.

And here we could talk about Schroedinger's Cat, Copenhagen Interpretations and Alternate Worlds... or we could talk about what on earth is happening to empiricism and objectivity.

I don't mind, although I'm less qualified on the first than the second. Your call Matt -- or maybe you want to dig more into the Observer Effect?
matt8800
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7/14/2016 3:21:14 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/13/2016 10:10:21 PM, RuvDraba wrote:
Matt, with your indulgence I'll answer your questions in short-form first as best I can, and try to explain my understanding (such as it is) afterwards.

At 7/13/2016 2:59:14 PM, matt8800 wrote:
1. Is it the act of observation that causes wave function collapse?
To the best of my understanding, nobody knows, though there's a popular interpretation that says it's so, and several contender interpretations that says it isn't. :)

If you recall those alternative interpretations and have links, I would be interested in taking a look at them.

2. Is wave function collapse an actual change or does is it possible that it only appears to change, but in reality, undergoes no change?
To the best of my understanding, nobody knows, though there's a popular interpretation that says it's real change, and some contender interpretations that say it isn't. :)

3. If observation causes wave function collapse, why does it do that? Why does it seem to be observer dependent?
If observation causes the collapse, it's observation-dependent. Observer effect appears in physics as a function of the manner of observation, and it's one of several effects impairing precision.


Ruv, as a non-scientist discussing a complicated topic with a scientist, you may find me using scientific words in technically unscientific ways. Regardless, my intent is to communicate as effectively as possible. If I use any words incorrectly, feel free to correct me or ask for clarification as appropriate.

It would appear, at least on the surface, that there are two things to factor into any possible explanation of this phenomenon - consciousness and the behavior of particles/waves. While I realize there may be many more factors that are outside the scope of current human understanding, are there any other understood factors that could/should be included in the evaluation of a possible explanation?

I have transposed 'observation' with 'consciousness' because observation cannot exist without consciousness. If anything, it could be argued that consciousness is mostly observation. Do you feel that using the word consciousness would seem mostly likely to be appropriate to use in place of the word observation?
RuvDraba
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7/14/2016 8:17:39 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/14/2016 3:21:14 PM, matt8800 wrote:
At 7/13/2016 10:10:21 PM, RuvDraba wrote:
Matt, with your indulgence I'll answer your questions in short-form first as best I can, and try to explain my understanding (such as it is) afterwards.

At 7/13/2016 2:59:14 PM, matt8800 wrote:
1. Is it the act of observation that causes wave function collapse?
To the best of my understanding, nobody knows, though there's a popular interpretation that says it's so, and several contender interpretations that says it isn't.
If you recall those alternative interpretations and have links, I would be interested in taking a look at them.
The Copenhagen interpretation says it's observation (meaning: interference with a process to observe it) which causes wave-function collapse. There's a handful of other interpretations though, and they ebb and flow in popularity mainly from conjecturing around new, ambiguous results. :) I'll post a summary and get you some links.

2. Is wave function collapse an actual change or does is it possible that it only appears to change, but in reality, undergoes no change?
To the best of my understanding, nobody knows, though there's a popular interpretation that says it's real change, and some contender interpretations that say it isn't. :)
Some of the non-Copenhagen interpretations argue that the collapse is only apparent.

3. If observation causes wave function collapse, why does it do that? Why does it seem to be observer dependent?
If observation causes the collapse, it's observation-dependent. Observer effect appears in physics as a function of the manner of observation, and it's one of several effects impairing precision.
My intent is to communicate as effectively as possible. If I use any words incorrectly, feel free to correct me or ask for clarification as appropriate.
Understood Matt.

QM is one of the hardest fields in science to pull insight from, and I'm trying to explain why certain 'Deepak Chopra' style QM-as-magic beliefs are not credited without saying what is actually verified -- since verification is still being explored. But a key point is that experimentally, QM is repeatable -- it works the same way for everyone. Anything which does that, is Physics, not magic.

It would appear, at least on the surface, that there are two things to factor into any possible explanation of this phenomenon - consciousness and the behavior of particles/waves.
Every account of QM includes Schroedinger's Cat, and we're about to get to it. :) But there's an oft-cited and slightly mischievous quote from Schroedinger (I think it was he) about wave-function collapse potentially being able to occur any time from the observation of the event, through to the consciousness of it. That's one of a few times I'm aware that consciousness has come up in QM discussions. But it comes up too in talks about entropy and time, which is part of why I first mentioned it.

While I realize there may be many more factors that are outside the scope of current human understanding, are there any other understood factors that could/should be included in the evaluation of a possible explanation?
Because of the ambiguity in QM, there's reason to ask questions about where the edge of the experiment is. Normally an experiment is a sort of logical box, in which you control the things you don't want to interfere, and let the things you want to observe play out. The scientist by definition, stands outside the box with his hands behind his back, to watch. But there are times (in psychology and sociology especially) when the act of watching itself can interfere with what occurs, and scientists are forced to either stop watching and go to indirect evidence, or else make it inobvious when the watching occurs. :)

Knowing the edge of the experiment means knowing something about how the behaviour works before you set the experiment up. At the moment, scientists think they know the edges of QM experiments, but it's always possible they'll find something to persuade them they don't.

I have transposed 'observation' with 'consciousness' because observation cannot exist without consciousness.
An observation is really just a detailed and faithful record of an event. I don't think it matters how that record arises, so long as it's faithful and detailed. A dinosaur sets foot in wet clay, the clay 'observes' the dinosaur's foot and weight, and a paleontologist can later think about what the clay 'saw'. Video surveillance records an intruder -- the intruder has been observed whether anyone is yet aware of it. Radiotelescopes record their own observations, since they can see wavelengths humans can't. The observation is the radiotelescope's -- its precision is the scope's precision. Humans just read and interpret what is recorded

If anything, it could be argued that consciousness is mostly observation.
We could choose various operational definitions for consciousness, but speaking for myself, as a former researcher in Artificial Intelligence, I'd nominate the capacity to correctly predict the observer's behaviour in circumstances that haven't yet been observed. So I'd say consciousness needs observation, and predictive modelling, and memory of the model, and some form of reflection. :)

So if that were our definition, which of those functions should we consider relevant to a QM experiment and why?

Do you feel that using the word consciousness would seem mostly likely to be appropriate to use in place of the word observation?
No, for reasons I sketched above. Any accurate, detailed record can be an observation. We just need to be clear on what we think the edge of the experiment is, and why.

More on Schroedinger's moggy, and various QM interpretations, plus quantum entanglement and implications for consciousness in a forthcoming post, Matt. :D

Thank you for this interesting chat. :)
keithprosser
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7/14/2016 10:30:21 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
Possibly hastily interrupting Ruv, but I think he is skirting around the main point. The problem is that there is no known mechanism for waveform collapse.

To make sense of the results of the two-slit experiment using electrons, QM says each electron after passing the slits exists in a 'superposition of states', ie the electron simultaneously exists as a electron that passes throught slit A and an electron that passes through slit B.

But if we put a detector (say a phosphor screen) for those electrons after they pass through the slits using, it will register a single flash at a single point.
The superposition of positions and trajectories 'collapses' to a single, definite point on the phosphor screen.

As I said, what caused that collapse is undefined with in QM. Well, perhaps it is the act of observing that causes collapse? If we are watching the phosphor screen directly we won't see the superpostion - we see a single, well definite flash. The superposition certainly collapsed in that case, but do we need a conscious observer to cause it?

Well , suppose we set up a video camera so we can record the results on tape for viewing later - would it record a single definite flash?

The problem is that we can't know for sure, because the only way we could know is to look at a playback of the tape, that is to once again bring our consciousness into play as conscious observers of the recording! Until we view the tape, the tape would be in a superposition of recording all the different possibities of flashes, but which only collapses to a single movie when we view it.

Is it ridiculous that a video tape could be in a superposition of states? Not really. As Ruv pointed out there seems no intrinsic limit on the size of objects that can manifest superposition. If a 800 atom molecule can be in a superposition, why not a video tape, or a cat?

But the fact remains that we are never conscious of superpositions - we are only conscious of definite states (note: we never observe superpositions, we can only infer them).

So Schroedinger's cat in its sealed box is in a superpostion of being being alive and being dead, but once that superposition interacts with consciousness (ie someone looks in box) the superposition collapses to a definite state, either of either a live cat or of a dead cat.

It seems that because we observe a universe where cats are either alive or dead, and never alive and dead at the same time our consciousness plays an essential role in creating reality as we know it.

I am not sure how being an empiricist or not come into it.
matt8800
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7/15/2016 3:22:29 AM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/14/2016 10:30:21 PM, keithprosser wrote:
Possibly hastily interrupting Ruv, but I think he is skirting around the main point.

We are still working towards the main point. The foundation must be built, with alternatives considered, analyzed and ruled out before reasonable assertions can be made.
matt8800
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7/15/2016 4:13:40 AM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/14/2016 8:17:39 PM, RuvDraba wrote:

QM is one of the hardest fields in science to pull insight from, and I'm trying to explain why certain 'Deepak Chopra' style QM-as-magic beliefs are not credited without saying what is actually verified -- since verification is still being explored. But a key point is that experimentally, QM is repeatable -- it works the same way for everyone. Anything which does that, is Physics, not magic.

I absolutely agree. So far, everything in our universe can be explained in terms of math and laws. I see no reason to believe that any reality exists outside of that. If there were ever any evidence that our consciousness was not wholly a product of our physical brains, I believe that phenomenon would follow laws every bit as much as entanglement and superposition. I do not believe any natural laws have ever been broken nor do I believe they will ever be broken.

If one were to only take a cursory look, it would seem intuitive that there is some relationship between consciousness and wave function collapse. If there was a list of all the possible interpretations, Occams Razor would state that the one in question would most likely be the correct interpretation. While I am not asserting this about you, Ruv, I have gotten the impression that many choose to reject even considering this interpretation out of incredulity.

With that said, I admit that QM is far from intuitive, Occams Razor may not have the same predictive power with regard to QM and Occams Razor may say something completely different if we had more data. Meanwhile, I think we should see if the data we do have can tell us anything.

My main point here is that I think the interpretation in question warrants at least staying on the table. I don't believe in Russell's teapot but there are no experimental results that would seem to imply Russell's teapot might actually exist.

It would appear, at least on the surface, that there are two things to factor into any possible explanation of this phenomenon - consciousness and the behavior of particles/waves.
Every account of QM includes Schroedinger's Cat, and we're about to get to it. :) But there's an oft-cited and slightly mischievous quote from Schroedinger (I think it was he) about wave-function collapse potentially being able to occur any time from the observation of the event, through to the consciousness of it. That's one of a few times I'm aware that consciousness has come up in QM discussions. But it comes up too in talks about entropy and time, which is part of why I first mentioned it.

I did not know that about entropy and time. Ill look that up. Thank you for mentioning.

While I realize there may be many more factors that are outside the scope of current human understanding, are there any other understood factors that could/should be included in the evaluation of a possible explanation?
Because of the ambiguity in QM, there's reason to ask questions about where the edge of the experiment is. Normally an experiment is a sort of logical box, in which you control the things you don't want to interfere, and let the things you want to observe play out. The scientist by definition, stands outside the box with his hands behind his back, to watch. But there are times (in psychology and sociology especially) when the act of watching itself can interfere with what occurs, and scientists are forced to either stop watching and go to indirect evidence, or else make it inobvious when the watching occurs. :)

Knowing the edge of the experiment means knowing something about how the behaviour works before you set the experiment up. At the moment, scientists think they know the edges of QM experiments, but it's always possible they'll find something to persuade them they don't.

Yes, I agree that is an issue.

I have transposed 'observation' with 'consciousness' because observation cannot exist without consciousness.
An observation is really just a detailed and faithful record of an event. I don't think it matters how that record arises, so long as it's faithful and detailed. A dinosaur sets foot in wet clay, the clay 'observes' the dinosaur's foot and weight, and a paleontologist can later think about what the clay 'saw'. Video surveillance records an intruder -- the intruder has been observed whether anyone is yet aware of it. Radiotelescopes record their own observations, since they can see wavelengths humans can't. The observation is the radiotelescope's -- its precision is the scope's precision. Humans just read and interpret what is recorded

I agree that defining what constitutes as observation in this context should be dissected. I have thought about this several times.

In the analogy you used, the dinosaur is making a physical record because of the fact that his foot interacted with the clay. Don't particles make physical records via cause and effect as they interact in an open system? If conscious observation and creating a physical record were essentially the same thing, wouldn't the particle be continually observing itself through cause and effect? If the particle was continually making physical records (observing), wouldn't its wave function always be collapsed?


If anything, it could be argued that consciousness is mostly observation.
We could choose various operational definitions for consciousness, but speaking for myself, as a former researcher in Artificial Intelligence, I'd nominate the capacity to correctly predict the observer's behaviour in circumstances that haven't yet been observed. So I'd say consciousness needs observation, and predictive modelling, and memory of the model, and some form of reflection. :)

Can you expand on the sentence I put in bold please?

So if that were our definition, which of those functions should we consider relevant to a QM experiment and why?

Do you feel that using the word consciousness would seem mostly likely to be appropriate to use in place of the word observation?
No, for reasons I sketched above. Any accurate, detailed record can be an observation. We just need to be clear on what we think the edge of the experiment is, and why.

More on Schroedinger's moggy, and various QM interpretations, plus quantum entanglement and implications for consciousness in a forthcoming post, Matt. :D

Thank you for this interesting chat. :)

Likewise :)
keithprosser
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7/15/2016 6:13:09 AM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/15/2016 3:22:29 AM, matt8800 wrote:
At 7/14/2016 10:30:21 PM, keithprosser wrote:
Possibly hastily interrupting Ruv, but I think he is skirting around the main point.

We are still working towards the main point. The foundation must be built, with alternatives considered, analyzed and ruled out before reasonable assertions can be made.

I can only apologise for interrupting your obviously private conversation!
RuvDraba
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7/15/2016 8:06:53 AM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/15/2016 6:13:09 AM, keithprosser wrote:
At 7/15/2016 3:22:29 AM, matt8800 wrote:
At 7/14/2016 10:30:21 PM, keithprosser wrote:
Possibly hastily interrupting Ruv, but I think he is skirting around the main point.

We are still working towards the main point. The foundation must be built, with alternatives considered, analyzed and ruled out before reasonable assertions can be made.

I can only apologise for interrupting your obviously private conversation!

It's not private, Keith, though it was an invited dialogue. We put it up by common consent for questions and comments.

But the problem with talking about QM is that you have to first agree on what QM is, and why some conjectures are entertained but not others. When there's a common frame, then we can talk about plausibility, validation and verification. But not all members have that common frame, and whatever hole we leave can be filled by confusion or misinformation -- of which there's a great deal online. And untangling that can be more expensive than circumventing it. So I am taking some posts to get to the point, not because I don't know what point I wish to make, but because I wish to dot the i's and cross the t's.

But let me say, I liked your post, and it made me want to reply straight away. But that would require assuming knowledge which I realise you have, but which I cannot assume other members have. So I'm going to post one or two posts more before replying, and apologise in advance for that delay.
matt8800
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7/15/2016 3:20:44 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/15/2016 6:13:09 AM, keithprosser wrote:
At 7/15/2016 3:22:29 AM, matt8800 wrote:
At 7/14/2016 10:30:21 PM, keithprosser wrote:
Possibly hastily interrupting Ruv, but I think he is skirting around the main point.

We are still working towards the main point. The foundation must be built, with alternatives considered, analyzed and ruled out before reasonable assertions can be made.

I can only apologise for interrupting your obviously private conversation!


Not at all! Please join in and lets get different perspectives.
matt8800
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7/15/2016 4:18:26 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/14/2016 10:30:21 PM, keithprosser wrote:
Possibly hastily interrupting Ruv, but I think he is skirting around the main point. The problem is that there is no known mechanism for waveform collapse.

To make sense of the results of the two-slit experiment using electrons, QM says each electron after passing the slits exists in a 'superposition of states', ie the electron simultaneously exists as a electron that passes throught slit A and an electron that passes through slit B.

But if we put a detector (say a phosphor screen) for those electrons after they pass through the slits using, it will register a single flash at a single point.
The superposition of positions and trajectories 'collapses' to a single, definite point on the phosphor screen.

As I said, what caused that collapse is undefined with in QM. Well, perhaps it is the act of observing that causes collapse? If we are watching the phosphor screen directly we won't see the superpostion - we see a single, well definite flash. The superposition certainly collapsed in that case, but do we need a conscious observer to cause it?

Well , suppose we set up a video camera so we can record the results on tape for viewing later - would it record a single definite flash?

The problem is that we can't know for sure, because the only way we could know is to look at a playback of the tape, that is to once again bring our consciousness into play as conscious observers of the recording! Until we view the tape, the tape would be in a superposition of recording all the different possibities of flashes, but which only collapses to a single movie when we view it.

Is it ridiculous that a video tape could be in a superposition of states? Not really. As Ruv pointed out there seems no intrinsic limit on the size of objects that can manifest superposition. If a 800 atom molecule can be in a superposition, why not a video tape, or a cat?

But the fact remains that we are never conscious of superpositions - we are only conscious of definite states (note: we never observe superpositions, we can only infer them).

So Schroedinger's cat in its sealed box is in a superpostion of being being alive and being dead, but once that superposition interacts with consciousness (ie someone looks in box) the superposition collapses to a definite state, either of either a live cat or of a dead cat.

It seems that because we observe a universe where cats are either alive or dead, and never alive and dead at the same time our consciousness plays an essential role in creating reality as we know it.

I am not sure how being an empiricist or not come into it.

I wanted to add that you brought up some interesting points I would not have thought of. I hope you continue to join in the discussion as it sounds like you have some knowledge of it.

I just wanted to make sure there were no holes in the foundation of my premise before moving on. Additional input can help expose holes or cover up holes on either side. I want to pick this apart without bias.
RuvDraba
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7/15/2016 7:24:35 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
I think we have almost enough foundation to discuss what link, if any, there might be between cognition and probability collapse. So let's get to it.

Schroedinger's Cat, Copenhagen and the Embarrassed 58%
Earlier I wrote that in the Double Slit experiment, when the energy emerges from a source, you can put a sensor in front of the energy and count it as particles. Yet when it goes through the double slit it acts as waves, and when it hits the back of a box, it acts as a particle again.

Which raise the question: when is it a particle; when a wave; when both? The question matters because the information yielded by a wave isn't the information yielded by a particle. So what can we know, and when can we know it? Moreover, we have additional problems, in that to know anything about our subject we must interfere with it somehow: the observation changes the subject, and there are also limits theoretical and experimental on how much information we can extract before changing the experiment itself.

This makes it hard to find what mechanism if any, causes the probability function to collapse into certainty. We know that make the waveform collapse whenever we put sensors in place, but the sensors don't tell us when the waveform collapses -- only what happens as it does. Thus we cannot know how it collapses -- and that's the point Keith made above.

Physicist Erwin Schroedinger pointed this out with his famous Cat thought-experiment: Imagine a cat in a box rigged to work like a sort of random gas-chamber. Some container of gas inside the box is opened by an electrical signal from a sensor, and the sensor picks up anything with a probability function -- like say, decay of a radioactive element where you can't predict the moment it'll decay, only how much decay there is over time. [https://en.wikipedia.org...'s_cat]

So at any moment, the radioactive element might decay, the energy could hit the sensor, trigger the gas, and the poor cat can die. But we're not sure which moment. With the box closed, after (say) five seconds, is the cat dead? Is it alive? Is it both dead and alive? Quantum mechanics can't say. Now imagine we open the box to find the poor cat dead. Here's the even worse question: was it the beta decay which killed the cat, the sensor picking up the decay, was it a random event that happened after the beta decay, or is it the act of opening the box itself that kills the cat? In other words, did our conscious inspection just kill the cat? Schroedinger had no answer. He wrote:

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks. [https://www.tuhh.de...]

So here he's saying that to accept blurring of description at the atomic level, is to accept blurred causality in the world we live in too. We cannot conclusively separate our intent from the experiment we observe, and that's problematic since all science is based on the idea that knowledge about the world comes from senses, not intention.

So what could actually be happening here? There are many possible interpretations, the most popular of which is called the Copenhagen interpretation after the birthplace of one of QM's founders. Here's a summary of some famous ones:

* Copenhagen interpretation: the act of observation collapses the wave function and decides the state, so it's the sensor that kills the cat.
* Many worlds interpretation: there is no wave function collapse. Rather, reality splits into all possibilities at every moment, so that the cat is dead in one reality and alive in another. We simply inhabit one of these, but don't know which until we open the box. So it's reality that kills the cat; we just don't know when it did so
* Ensemble interpretation: Whether this cat is dead after five minutes isn't the right question. The right question is how many cats die after five minutes. In other words, we should abandon direct, measured causality, and go with probabilistic correlation instead.
* Relational interpretation: The situation only appears ambiguous until what the cat knows about the the box as an inside observer, joins what the experimenter knows about the experiment as an observer of the outside world.

Note that none of these popular interpretations has the mind of the observer killing the cat (although the relational interpretation comes close to doing that, by joining experimenter-knowledge with cat-knowledge.) Matt has asked whether that's some sort of scientific incredulity deliberately overlooking that possibility, and I mean to argue later that there's not. I've also omitted an exciting new interpretation I read about only last week which might help untangle things, and I'll cover that in a later post.

But perhaps for our purposes what's most significant about the Copenhagen Intepretation is that despite it being the most popular, a majority of physicists may not actually support it. In 2011, an informal poll of 33 physicists attending a conference on Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality found that 42% accepted the Copenhagen interpretation, while the 58% who didn't, couldn't agree on an alternative. [http://arxiv.org...] Theorist Sean Carrol described it as perhaps the 'most embarrassing poll' in physics. [http://www.preposterousuniverse.com...]

Although it's small and informal, such a poll clearly shows quantum mechanics in a state of ignorant confusion -- at least in 2011. And I'm not a physicist, much less a QM theoretician, so I shouldn't claim knowledge they themselves deny having. However, I think there's still empirical sense in such confusion; I don't think empiricism is in collapse from this situation; and in my next post I hope to get to that. So my next post will focus on consciousness in observation, and then perhaps in a subsequent post we could talk about the prospect of deconflicting this mess. :)

I hope that may be useful.
matt8800
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7/16/2016 3:26:41 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/15/2016 7:24:35 PM, RuvDraba wrote:
I think we have almost enough foundation to discuss what link, if any, there might be between cognition and probability collapse. So let's get to it.

Schroedinger's Cat, Copenhagen and the Embarrassed 58%
Earlier I wrote that in the Double Slit experiment, when the energy emerges from a source, you can put a sensor in front of the energy and count it as particles. Yet when it goes through the double slit it acts as waves, and when it hits the back of a box, it acts as a particle again.

Which raise the question: when is it a particle; when a wave; when both? The question matters because the information yielded by a wave isn't the information yielded by a particle. So what can we know, and when can we know it? Moreover, we have additional problems, in that to know anything about our subject we must interfere with it somehow: the observation changes the subject, and there are also limits theoretical and experimental on how much information we can extract before changing the experiment itself.

This makes it hard to find what mechanism if any, causes the probability function to collapse into certainty. We know that make the waveform collapse whenever we put sensors in place, but the sensors don't tell us when the waveform collapses -- only what happens as it does. Thus we cannot know how it collapses -- and that's the point Keith made above.

Physicist Erwin Schroedinger pointed this out with his famous Cat thought-experiment: Imagine a cat in a box rigged to work like a sort of random gas-chamber. Some container of gas inside the box is opened by an electrical signal from a sensor, and the sensor picks up anything with a probability function -- like say, decay of a radioactive element where you can't predict the moment it'll decay, only how much decay there is over time. [https://en.wikipedia.org...'s_cat]

So at any moment, the radioactive element might decay, the energy could hit the sensor, trigger the gas, and the poor cat can die. But we're not sure which moment. With the box closed, after (say) five seconds, is the cat dead? Is it alive? Is it both dead and alive? Quantum mechanics can't say. Now imagine we open the box to find the poor cat dead. Here's the even worse question: was it the beta decay which killed the cat, the sensor picking up the decay, was it a random event that happened after the beta decay, or is it the act of opening the box itself that kills the cat? In other words, did our conscious inspection just kill the cat? Schroedinger had no answer. He wrote:

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks. [https://www.tuhh.de...]

So here he's saying that to accept blurring of description at the atomic level, is to accept blurred causality in the world we live in too. We cannot conclusively separate our intent from the experiment we observe, and that's problematic since all science is based on the idea that knowledge about the world comes from senses, not intention.

So what could actually be happening here? There are many possible interpretations, the most popular of which is called the Copenhagen interpretation after the birthplace of one of QM's founders. Here's a summary of some famous ones:

* Copenhagen interpretation: the act of observation collapses the wave function and decides the state, so it's the sensor that kills the cat.
* Many worlds interpretation: there is no wave function collapse. Rather, reality splits into all possibilities at every moment, so that the cat is dead in one reality and alive in another. We simply inhabit one of these, but don't know which until we open the box. So it's reality that kills the cat; we just don't know when it did so
* Ensemble interpretation: Whether this cat is dead after five minutes isn't the right question. The right question is how many cats die after five minutes. In other words, we should abandon direct, measured causality, and go with probabilistic correlation instead.
* Relational interpretation: The situation only appears ambiguous until what the cat knows about the the box as an inside observer, joins what the experimenter knows about the experiment as an observer of the outside world.

Note that none of these popular interpretations has the mind of the observer killing the cat (although the relational interpretation comes close to doing that, by joining experimenter-knowledge with cat-knowledge.) Matt has asked whether that's some sort of scientific incredulity deliberately overlooking that possibility, and I mean to argue later that there's not. I've also omitted an exciting new interpretation I read about only last week which might help untangle things, and I'll cover that in a later post.

But perhaps for our purposes what's most significant about the Copenhagen Intepretation is that despite it being the most popular, a majority of physicists may not actually support it. In 2011, an informal poll of 33 physicists attending a conference on Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality found that 42% accepted the Copenhagen interpretation, while the 58% who didn't, couldn't agree on an alternative. [http://arxiv.org...] Theorist Sean Carrol described it as perhaps the 'most embarrassing poll' in physics. [http://www.preposterousuniverse.com...]

Although it's small and informal, such a poll clearly shows quantum mechanics in a state of ignorant confusion -- at least in 2011. And I'm not a physicist, much less a QM theoretician, so I shouldn't claim knowledge they themselves deny having. However, I think there's still empirical sense in such confusion; I don't think empiricism is in collapse from this situation; and in my next post I hope to get to that. So my next post will focus on consciousness in observation, and then perhaps in a subsequent post we could talk about the prospect of deconflicting this mess. :)

I hope that may be useful.

It took me awhile to respond because sometimes I like some time to put some thought into a complicated topic first.

I agree with everything you have said and don't have much to add.

I do have one question though, which may be irrelevant because Schroedinger's cat is simply a thought experiment:

Why is it never considered that the Cat's observation would collapse the wave function? If I am interpreting the Relational Interpretation correctly, it comes close but not quite.

'Relational quantum mechanics (RQM) is an interpretation of quantum mechanics which treats the state of a quantum system as being observer-dependent, that is, the state is the relation between the observer and the system.' https://en.wikipedia.org...

In the above sentence, what would the difference be between an inanimate object, such as a rock, and a conscious observer?

It would seem to me that Occams Razor would say the Many Worlds Interpretation is unlikely. If this were true, wouldn't a new universal reality be created every quanta of time for every wave/particle in existence?
matt8800
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7/16/2016 3:59:29 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
A couple more thoughts:

Regarding the Copenhagen Interpretation - Similar to the need to define what 'observation' is and what it is not, the 'act of measurement' would also need to be defined. As I mentioned earlier, the line dividing particles/waves creating records via cause and effect in an open system and an act of measurement should be drawn.

'There have been many objections to the Copenhagen Interpretation over the years. Some have objected to the discontinuous jumps when there is an observation, the probabilistic element introduced upon observation, the subjectiveness of requiring an observer, the difficulty of defining a measuring device or to the necessity of invoking classical physics to describe the "laboratory" in which the results are measured.'

https://en.wikipedia.org...
RuvDraba
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7/16/2016 4:23:42 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
Dr. Strangemog, Or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Instruments

In a previous post I presented summaries of some popular QM interpretations, but in this post I want to focus on another: the so-called von Neumann-Wigner intepretation, which can be summarised as "consciousness causes collapse". [https://en.wikipedia.org...].

John von Neumann was a contemporary of Einstein's. A pure and applied mathematician, physicist and polymath, he contributed toward putting Quantum Mechanics onto a rigorous, formal mathematical footing, and it was he who first argued what Keith mentioned earlier: that consciousness was not only a possible part of the wave-collapse phenomenon, it was an inextricable part. In the final chapter of his book "Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics", he broke the idea of a quantum experiment into three parts: the Object, the Instruments and the Observer, and argued that the observation hasn't actually been completed until the instrumental readings are lodged in the Observer's consciousness, and so the superposition of probability states extended to the Observer too. In fact he argued further -- that since the Observer's behaviour may affect other things, this can extend to the whole universe: the universe itself might be a quantum superposition of states.

Later, physicist Eugene Wigner took this further still, arguing that that not only was consciousness an inextricable part of the experiment, the wave-function collapsed at precisely that point. To illustrate this, he extended the Schroedinger's Cat thought-experiment to an experiment he called Wigner's Friend -- if you leave your cat in the box, and your friend with the cat, and go out for the day, when you come home, is your friend happy or sad? Surely, argued Wigner, your friend is in a superposition of states until you talk to him. Thus, in Wigner's view, it's consciousness itself which differentiates the experiment.

That's a fairly solipsistic view, and it has other problems which I'll talk about shortly. But to give you an idea of how physicists now view it, the same poll of 33 QM physicists found about 6% support (i.e. 2 respondents) for the proposition that the observer "plays a distinguished physical role" in waveform collapse. However respondents also noted that "Popular accounts have sometimes suggested that the Copenhagen interpretation attributes such a role to consciousness. In our view, this is to misunderstand the Copenhagen interpretation" -- meaning, while they supported they idea, they didn't feel that the Copenhagen interpretation did.

So, I'm not a Physicist or a Quantum physicist, and my opinion about this field is largely irrelevant for the purposes of predicting how it might develop. But here's why as an empiricist, I don't think von Neumann-Wigner has legs...

Ruv's Objections to von Neumann-Wigner:

1. von Neumann-Wigner never defined consciousness. This isn't a fatal flaw, but until consciousness is defined, the interpretation isn't an hypothesis -- it cannot be more than a partial conjecture. Conjectures are valuable to science philosophically, but they're not empirically valid. You don't have to think of them in 'what if' terms until their 'what' is defined enough to test, and while researchers have done some work on quantum effects in consciousness, this field isn't developed enough to conjecture coherently with, much less hypothesise with. I feel it can be discounted until it is.

2. von Neumann-Wigner adds overwhelming confusion for no additional insight. The problem of when an electron (say) goes from being a wave to being a particle has been replaced by the vastly more complex problem of what is consciousness and when does it know what it knows. Parsimony and pragmatism alone suggest that even if this were a viable conjecture, it's not the first you'd try to experiment with.

3. It doesn't align well with later results such as the Big Bang Theory. The BBT is a very comprehensive and detailed account of the history of our universe, from about the first 1/10^43rd of a second of energy through to the formation of the earliest particles of matter around 380,000 years later, through to their fusion into atoms, the collapse of atoms into stars, the formation of galaxies, and the acceleration of the universe. It seems to me that the universe's superposition of states (if they existed) needed to collapse in the first place to eventually form the consciousness needed under von Neumann-Wigner to collapse later states. So if something else did it in the first place, that 'something else' could do it more than once.

4. Collapse by consciousness likely reduces to a more mechanical problem. neither von Neumann nor Wigner defined consciousness, and there's no reason to suppose that they had a clear idea what it was. Yet neurology and psychology are developing a clear idea. We know for example, that humans aren't the only self-aware animal. We're not the only animal able to use tools, or language, or the ability to coordinate. We also know that even in humans, consciousness comes in a spectrum of states, which can be affected by drugs, injury, and the operation of the mind itself. So it makes sense to ask 'how much consciousness could collapse the wave function', or even 'what part of the processes of consciousness could do so'? In an earlier post I posed a possible 'minimal model' for consciousness, entailing observation, memory, predictive modeling and reflection. I'm not saying this is a definitive model, but it's hard to conceive consciousness without them. So if that were our model, which function in the model collapses a wave-form under von Neumann-Wigner, and can that function collapse the wave-form without consciousness?

5. It destroys precision. If (as is generally suspected) consciousness is a product of neurology, von Neumann-Wigner seems to have replaced a high precision question about one electron, with a low precision question about billions of electrons in the brain. So how is it supposed to be precisely predictive, even if it were true?

6. Is it falsifiable? The acid test for a good empirical theory is falsification: how can you know when your idea is wrong? In the early stage of conjecture, theoreticians tend not to think too much about falsification, so I'm not blaming von Neumann or Wigner for that. However, the problem with 'consciousness causes collapse' is that it's like a permanent paranoid conjecture that the monster under the bed goes invisible whenever you look for it. How do you falsify that? How is it constructive? It's not clear to me, and I've never seen anyone explain how this partial conjecture could ever be unpacked to the point of falsification.

7. We have more viable lines to investigate anyway. It's not my field, but given all the above, von Neumann-Wigner is literally about the last line of conjecture I'd try to develop while ever we have more viable conjectures to explore. And some other interpretations are looking promising both theoretically and experimentally. In another post, I'd like to pick up on one that I think has the right sort of 'shape' to eventually open up some more empirical insights -- if it pans out.

So I can't say that my take on QM predicts anything that a quantum physicist might think. But with support among Quantum Physicists of only (informally) 6%, even they may not actually be actively researching it. And I don't see what they'd produce of empirical value if they did. So -- for now -- I dismiss von Neumann-Wigner as empirically irrelevant.
matt8800
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7/16/2016 7:51:18 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/16/2016 4:23:42 PM, RuvDraba wrote:


That's a fairly solipsistic view, and it has other problems which I'll talk about shortly. But to give you an idea of how physicists now view it, the same poll of 33 QM physicists found about 6% support (i.e. 2 respondents) for the proposition that the observer "plays a distinguished physical role" in waveform collapse. However respondents also noted that "Popular accounts have sometimes suggested that the Copenhagen interpretation attributes such a role to consciousness. In our view, this is to misunderstand the Copenhagen interpretation" -- meaning, while they supported they idea, they didn't feel that the Copenhagen interpretation did.

How many physicists discounted consciousness as being a factor because it appears to be metaphysical in nature? How many confirmed scientific facts would have been considered metaphysical 200 years ago (especially with regard to QM)?

So, I'm not a Physicist or a Quantum physicist, and my opinion about this field is largely irrelevant for the purposes of predicting how it might develop. But here's why as an empiricist, I don't think von Neumann-Wigner has legs...

Ruv's Objections to von Neumann-Wigner:

1. von Neumann-Wigner never defined consciousness. This isn't a fatal flaw, but until consciousness is defined, the interpretation isn't an hypothesis -- it cannot be more than a partial conjecture. Conjectures are valuable to science philosophically, but they're not empirically valid. You don't have to think of them in 'what if' terms until their 'what' is defined enough to test, and while researchers have done some work on quantum effects in consciousness, this field isn't developed enough to conjecture coherently with, much less hypothesise with. I feel it can be discounted until it is.

Yes, I agree that consciousness must be defined and does not yet have a conclusive definition. The problem with discounting some possible definitions is, how can we know for sure that the ones that are discounted aren"t the correct ones? As more scientific data is accumulated, it is reasonable to consider the possibility that the new data will either confirm or deny some of the definitions. If so, those definitions cannot be confirmed or denied if they are removed from the table as a possibility.

2. von Neumann-Wigner adds overwhelming confusion for no additional insight. The problem of when an electron (say) goes from being a wave to being a particle has been replaced by the vastly more complex problem of what is consciousness and when does it know what it knows. Parsimony and pragmatism alone suggest that even if this were a viable conjecture, it's not the first you'd try to experiment with.

Yes, I agree. At least at this point, lack of definition of consciousness creates those problems you mentioned. With that said, I see no reason to think the Many Worlds Interpretation is any more useful. Additionally, all the other interpretations have other sizable problems.

3. It doesn't align well with later results such as the Big Bang Theory. The BBT is a very comprehensive and detailed account of the history of our universe, from about the first 1/10^43rd of a second of energy through to the formation of the earliest particles of matter around 380,000 years later, through to their fusion into atoms, the collapse of atoms into stars, the formation of galaxies, and the acceleration of the universe. It seems to me that the universe's superposition of states (if they existed) needed to collapse in the first place to eventually form the consciousness needed under von Neumann-Wigner to collapse later states. So if something else did it in the first place, that 'something else' could do it more than once.

I have thought about this. If Neumann-Wigner was correct, it would seem that the only explanation is that, as of yet undefined "consciousness", is a force in the universe, similar to electromagnetism. Of course, one would have to reconcile why some wave functions are un-collapsed if this were true.

I have wondered that IF this were true, would it have any relation to Self Organization Theory? (https://en.wikipedia.org...) I realize that is over-reaching and that I am prematurely communicating an idea I have had but it is an interesting question to me nonetheless.

I understand the distastefulness of the similarities to some of the Chopra-esque claims. Even a broken clock is right at least twice a day, even if by accident, and wrong the rest of the day.

4. Collapse by consciousness likely reduces to a more mechanical problem. neither von Neumann nor Wigner defined consciousness, and there's no reason to suppose that they had a clear idea what it was. Yet neurology and psychology are developing a clear idea. We know for example, that humans aren't the only self-aware animal. We're not the only animal able to use tools, or language, or the ability to coordinate. We also know that even in humans, consciousness comes in a spectrum of states, which can be affected by drugs, injury, and the operation of the mind itself. So it makes sense to ask 'how much consciousness could collapse the wave function', or even 'what part of the processes of consciousness could do so'? In an earlier post I posed a possible 'minimal model' for consciousness, entailing observation, memory, predictive modeling and reflection. I'm not saying this is a definitive model, but it's hard to conceive consciousness without them. So if that were our model, which function in the model collapses a wave-form under von Neumann-Wigner, and can that function collapse the wave-form without consciousness?

Yes, all animals are self-aware to varying degrees. At what point would an organism not be considered conscious? Is an insect conscious? If so, could an insect"s consciousness collapse a wave function under this interpretation? Of course, we could never know because measurement would bring our own consciousness into the mix.

(continued)
matt8800
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7/16/2016 7:53:50 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/16/2016 4:23:42 PM, RuvDraba wrote:

5. It destroys precision. If (as is generally suspected) consciousness is a product of neurology, von Neumann-Wigner seems to have replaced a high precision question about one electron, with a low precision question about billions of electrons in the brain. So how is it supposed to be precisely predictive, even if it were true?

We know that electrons in the brain impact consciousness but we do not know for sure that the electrical activity is the same as consciousness. There have been many seemingly otherwise reasonable medical doctors that have made unverified claims that patients have created experiences without brain activity. I am aware of the critiques on this and why this should not be considered an established fact. There are also reasonable critiques of the critiques. My point in bringing this up is simply to point out that we might not be able to come up with a solid definition of consciousness if we insist it must have something to do with electrical activity in the brain as long as alternate assertions aren"t properly ruled out, assuming they can be ruled out.

6. Is it falsifiable? The acid test for a good empirical theory is falsification: how can you know when your idea is wrong? In the early stage of conjecture, theoreticians tend not to think too much about falsification, so I'm not blaming von Neumann or Wigner for that. However, the problem with 'consciousness causes collapse' is that it's like a permanent paranoid conjecture that the monster under the bed goes invisible whenever you look for it. How do you falsify that? How is it constructive? It's not clear to me, and I've never seen anyone explain how this partial conjecture could ever be unpacked to the point of falsification.

I agree this is also an issue; however, what we can falsify currently is different than what we could have falsified 50 years ago. I see no reason to believe 100% that it could not be falsified in the future.

7. We have more viable lines to investigate anyway. It's not my field, but given all the above, von Neumann-Wigner is literally about the last line of conjecture I'd try to develop while ever we have more viable conjectures to explore. And some other interpretations are looking promising both theoretically and experimentally. In another post, I'd like to pick up on one that I think has the right sort of 'shape' to eventually open up some more empirical insights -- if it pans out.

So I can't say that my take on QM predicts anything that a quantum physicist might think. But with support among Quantum Physicists of only (informally) 6%, even they may not actually be actively researching it. And I don't see what they'd produce of empirical value if they did. So -- for now -- I dismiss von Neumann-Wigner as empirically irrelevant.

As an empiricist, why wouldn"t you dismiss the Many World"s Interpretation, for example, as empirically irrelevant in the same vein?
matt8800
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7/16/2016 8:05:26 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/16/2016 4:23:42 PM, RuvDraba wrote:

So if that were our model, which function in the model collapses a wave-form under von Neumann-Wigner, and can that function collapse the wave-form without consciousness?

I think this is the heart of the matter.
RuvDraba
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7/16/2016 8:57:34 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
Keith, thank you for your post and patience.

At 7/14/2016 10:30:21 PM, keithprosser wrote:
It seems that because we observe a universe where cats are either alive or dead, and never alive and dead at the same time our consciousness plays an essential role in creating reality as we know it.

Without stipulating what consciousness is, we can be pretty confident that it plays an essential role in discovering and recognising knowledge regardless of what that knowledge is about. But that observation is much broader than Quantum Mechanics. We might never directly observe wave/particle behaviour and it'd still be true.

It's so broadly true that it raises a 'so what' question whenever it's invoked. Yes: the collection, assembly and recognition of human knowledge is a product of human thought , and so how would you like to use your human thought to draw some thought-independent conclusion from that? :D

We live in a world where we never directly experience the indefinite, and where our consciousness always completes any observation. But is correlation always causation? Even if there's a causal link in this case, which way does the implication go and how do you test it?

I am not sure how being an empiricist or not come into it.
It comes into it when we think about what is the independently falsifiable epistemological prediction to verify the conjecture.

It's one thing if we think there's a monster under the bed because, although we can't see it, it keeps stealing cookies from the kitchen and eating them there. It's quite another if we can see no monster under the bed, but a sock goes missing from a drawer across the room. :) In the first, we're drawing a reasonable and potentially falsifiable if surprising conjecture; in the second we're being paranoid. So, what's the reasonable and potentially falsifiable conjecture from von Neumann-Wigner that keeps us constructive rather than paranoid? :D
RuvDraba
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7/16/2016 9:43:48 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
Matt, having reached a natural rest in the exposition, I'm now working through your comments and questions. Thank you for your patience too.

So far, everything in our universe can be explained in terms of math and laws. I see no reason to believe that any reality exists outside of that.
I don't hold so strong a view on that, Matt. The earliest moments of our universe may well have been moments where the symmetries we know now, and the conservation laws they produce, weren't operating as they do now. And that may have strong implications about interactions with realities unlike the one we presently know. For example, it has been conjectured that alternate universes may have been interacting with our universe as late as the earliest formations of the first black holes -- that energy and information may have been exchanged then.

If so, did it leave a trace? With the big bang theory, a single observation became a prediction of three other major bodies of observation not seen before -- and recall that BBT is still relatively young. While ever multiple worlds conjectures are tracking toward BBT-level predictions, I think they're viable. However, with that said. I don't know what the specific predictions should be. And as our other physics get fleshed out, the window of opportunity on multiple worlds may close, and it may become purely and eternally theoretical.

If one were to only take a cursory look, it would seem intuitive that there is some relationship between consciousness and wave function collapse. If there was a list of all the possible interpretations, Occams Razor would state that the one in question would most likely be the correct interpretation.
It's definitely good systematic investigation to at least explore where that conjecture takes us. And the conjecture has been explored since the late 1930s, including by serious people. However it hasn't gotten very far, and for now at least, I don't see how it can. In a previous post I listed seven objections, and it doesn't need to overcome only one to progress -- it really needs some path or insight to help it overcome all seven, almost simultaneously. If there's a path toward doing that, I don't know what it is. But it's not enough to be a serious person who credits it. There has to be a serious plan with serious accountabilities and serious milestones... I think those are seriously lacking. :)

I have gotten the impression that many choose to reject even considering this interpretation out of incredulity.
6% support isn't terrible. It means people are thinking about it. I'm just not clear in myself what will come of the thinking.

My main point here is that I think the interpretation in question warrants at least staying on the table.
I think it needs an ante to stay on the table. Not an experimental result, but a 'please explain' linking conjecture to constructive hypothecation so it stops looking like a distracting excuse. :)

I don't believe in Russell's teapot but there are no experimental results that would seem to imply Russell's teapot might actually exist.
Russell was a classical logician. In classical logic, every well-formed statement is either true or false. So Russell needed to explain why he had assigned 'false' rather than 'unknown' to certain religious propositions, and chose the analogy of a teapot floating in space: insufficient evidence for is evidence against.

That's okay, but you don't have to stay with classical logic. Constructive logic works better with predictive knowledge. In constructive logic, you can't assume a statement is true or false. You have to say what you know and how you know it. In that logic, you are free to dismiss propositions that lack information on their truth as poorly-formed, and never consider them thereafter.

In the analogy you used, the dinosaur is making a physical record because of the fact that his foot interacted with the clay. Don't particles make physical records via cause and effect as they interact in an open system?
As long as they do so precisely, yes. A dinosaur's interaction with clay is very precise. You know the edge of the print, how much of the surface feature is a feature of the dinosaur's foot, and how much is a property of the peds in the clay. So the information about the incident reconstructs unambiguously. Imprecise records make poor observation, and that's why science loves math so much -- it lets us measure things precisely.

And QM is the study of imprecise events, so our recording is presently poor. Or put another way, it's highly sensitive to how and when and where you do the recording. You don't want to find that the size of the dinosaur changes substantially depending on whether it stepped in clay or mud.

If conscious observation and creating a physical record were essentially the same thing
It's plausible that consciousness includes precise recording, but the reverse isn't implied. Earlier I sketched a possible 'minimal model' for consciousness involving observation, prediction, memory and reflection. If it's only memory (i.e. persistent recording) collapsing the waveform, then that's the Copenhagen interpretation, and you don't need the rest of consciousness to observe it.

If anything, it could be argued that consciousness is mostly observation.
We could choose various operational definitions for consciousness, but speaking for myself, as a former researcher in Artificial Intelligence, I'd nominate the capacity to correctly predict the observer's behaviour in circumstances that haven't yet been observed. So I'd say consciousness needs observation, and predictive modelling, and memory of the model, and some form of reflection. :)

Can you expand on the sentence I put in bold please?
In math, a homomorphism is a mapping between objects that preserves structure -- so if you map limbs, an ape is homomorphic to a human. An isomorphism is a homomorphism that also preserves compositional correspondence, so to be isomorphic, apes would need the same number of teeth as humans, the same number of ribs and vertebrae, so that whatever you find in an ape predicts a similar discovery in a human, or vice-versa. Our ability to predict is our ability to produce homomorphic and isomorphic models of observation, constructed either in our neurology (i.e. as thought), or in the materials of our world, by our neurology (i.e. as engineering.) I was saying that some predictive modeling capacity seems key to functional notions of consciousness.

In my draft sketch 'minimal model' I also included the ability to acquire outside-world information (i.e. observe), remember (i.e. record independently), and reflect (i.e. change the model to suit needs, or to better predict observation.) If you have that range of capabilities, you can as easily model something you see, like an elephant -- or model yourself.

But then, if that's the thing we think is collapsing probability, which part(s) of it are doing so? And can we synthesise those parts into some instrument? This seems to me the key thought-experiment separating an operational QM interpretation like Copehagen from a more existential one, like von Neumann-Wigner.
RuvDraba
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7/17/2016 1:20:43 AM
Posted: 4 months ago
Matt, I hope to address your remaining questions and comments in a single post.
At 7/16/2016 7:51:18 PM, matt8800 wrote:
How many physicists discounted consciousness as being a factor because it appears to be metaphysical in nature?
I don't know the answer, but we know that physicists have taken it seriously for some 80 years, so how many don't take it seriously doesn't matter, since the moment it started making significant, specific, falsifiable predictions, it could do as other unpopular ideas have done (like evolution or BBT), and overturn the orthodoxy.

I've already explained though, why I think it unlikely to do that. That's not an argument that no physicists should explore it; it's simply pointing out that there are huge challenges and risks for no predictive insights that I'm aware of.

Yes, I agree that consciousness must be defined and does not yet have a conclusive definition. The problem with discounting some possible definitions is, how can we know for sure that the ones that are discounted aren't the correct ones?
How many conjectures are possible to articulate for any phenomenon? The answer is probably infinite, so a more practical question then is: of all those conjectures, how many are accountable to all observable evidence to date, extend or refine the knowledge and methods already proven and offer useful new predictions?

The answer to that question is: very few. Copenhagen might be one of them, and there might be some others, but I don't think von Neumann-Wigner (vNW) is. If that changed, so be it, but it won't change from more vague, weak, overcomplicating conjectures. It'll change because of other things we actually observe -- like a predictive theory of consciousness, or the ability to record superpositions. So to me, vNW seems stalled on the side of the road, waiting on better thought from elsewhere to either jump-start it or bypass it.

As more scientific data is accumulated, it is reasonable to consider the possibility that the new data will either confirm or deny some of the definitions.
Not without definitional transparency in the first place. In a field already cluttered with conjecture, vNW stands out as a conjecture unable to stand on its own feet. For all that it's a systematic avenue to explore philosophically, in practice it's vague, partial and incomplete, lacking not only a mechanism for waveform collapse, but mechanisms for the consciousness purported to possibly explain it, and mechanisms for verifying the supposed causal link between the two. At the moment, it's sophistry responding to complexity with serial obfuscation.

Yes, I agree. At least at this point, lack of definition of consciousness creates those problems you mentioned. With that said, I see no reason to think the Many Worlds Interpretation is any more useful. Additionally, all the other interpretations have other sizable problems.
Poor conjectures don't legitimise other poor conjectures, and it's fair to knock off poor conjectures wherever we find them. :)

Were Many Worlds a purely philosophical conjecture, it'd be subject to the same sorts of criticisms I've leveled at vNW: unfalsifiability, needlessly expanding complexity, galloping imprecision, vague mechanisms unlikely to be testable empirically. But with the link to BBT and some informatic inquiries around Black Holes, I think it's stronger than that. I don't necessarily think it's right (for example in relativistic time, what defines a 'moment' in which a universe is supposed to split?) but it might be predictive enough in its error that a better kind of wrong might be found.

I don't know how we might do that with vNW though. If a member can offer a scenario in which it might produce a demonstrably wrong but informative result, I'd love to hear about it. :)

3. It doesn't align well with later results such as the Big Bang Theory
I have thought about this. If Neumann-Wigner was correct, it would seem that the only explanation is that, as of yet undefined "consciousness", is a force in the universe, similar to electromagnetism.
Then it predates your consciousness and mine, and so unless we can prove it's not still around, our consciousnesses also needn't be collapsing waveforms at all. And if that's the case, then in parsimony, why insist that waveform collapse is the product of universal consciousness and not just some sort of periodic certainty?

(Actually, there's a nice interpretation covering periodic certainty, which I hope to pick up in a later post.)

I have wondered that IF this were true, would it have any relation to Self Organization Theory? (https://en.wikipedia.org...)
The interpretation I mentioned above covers periodic, 'spontaneous' certainty, but also the ability for certainty to cascade... which begins to suggest testable mechanisms while aligning nicely to BBT, which is why I like it. It has some problems with relativity and dark matter, but those are the sorts of issues you can explore constructively and either falsify the idea, or verify it.

I understand the distastefulness of the similarities to some of the Chopra-esque claims. Even a broken clock is right at least twice a day, even if by accident, and wrong the rest of the day.
To my mind Chopra isn't a broken clock so much as an insider trader who knows he's lying to rubes. Science has two schools of thought about what to do with pseudoscientists: systematically ignore them and starve them for air, or engage and demolish them. Chopra doesn't starve for air -- he feeds himself quite well; so with him the first option seems ineffective, and meanwhile he's leaching credibility from something more important and (as we've seen) hard to discuss.

Yes, all animals are self-aware to varying degrees. At what point would an organism not be considered conscious? Is an insect conscious? If so, could an insect"s consciousness collapse a wave function under this interpretation?
Indeed. You'd hope that a serious vNW conjecture would predict exactly what conscious function, in what quantity, is sufficient.

We know that electrons in the brain impact consciousness but we do not know for sure that the electrical activity is the same as consciousness.
'The same' can only be determined behaviourally. We have a lot of empirical evidence that neurology impacts mind, but little evidence that anything else does. Drawing a connection to QM doesn't fix that so much as add more burdens to a conjecture I believe is unable to shoulder the burdens it already has.

6. Is it falsifiable?
I agree this is also an issue; however, what we can falsify currently is different than what we could have falsified 50 years ago. I see no reason to believe 100% that it could not be falsified in the future.

Yes, but under its own steam? As far as I can see, observations that might falsify vNW will also be falsifying a bunch of other ideas about neurology and psychology, and most other QM interpretations too. So we could presently ignore vNW and get precisely the same benefits vNW needs to progress anyway.

As an empiricist, why wouldn"t you dismiss the Many World"s Interpretation, for example, as empirically irrelevant in the same vein?
As I mentioned above, BBT/black hole links. We already have a lot of BBT/black hole empirical results, with more coming every few years, so to my thinking, Many Worlds remains viable until falsified or their empirical implications are played out.

Why not say the same for neurology and vNW? Because I believe vNW wouldn't know what to do with a predictive model of human cognition if it had one. Suppose we had a perfectly accurate computer simulation of a human mind, able to play chess like Fischer, chat like Oprah, and philosophise like Plato. Now what? You hook it up to a double-slit experiment and... what? What in vNW will it falsify, and how? :D
keithprosser
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7/17/2016 1:11:34 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
As an mildly interested on-looker when it come to physics I thnk it enough to know a bit about the various interpretations. I don't see any need to be a card-carrying evangelical subscriber to any of them - as Aristole said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

That said, let me put in word for the Broglie/Bohm model.
https://en.wikipedia.org...
As usual for a wikipedia article, the above link quickly degenerates into a text book for cognscenti rather than a general introduction, but it as I understand it, the deBB scheme has some nice features that make it appealing to me, and would have thought also to an avowedly reductionstically inclined Ruv!

Basically the deB-B scheme is determinist and realist. It has none of the philosophical problems involved in defining 'measurement', 'observer' and 'consciousness'. As such it cuts through most of the the gordian knots of QM, but at a price - it is non-local, which is to say it includes instantaneous action at a distance. Special relativity would seem to rule that out, which may be the main reason it is sometimes considered 'left-field', but it has been shown that such AAD cannot be used for passing signals so causalty is not threatened - the spirit (if not the letter)of special relativity is preserved.

I don't advocate deBB. I don't advocate any particular interpretation - I'm not qualified to pronounce. But deB-B is one more model to think about if you are unable to go to sleep,especially if you want to get consciousness out of the picture.
Riwaaz_Ras
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7/17/2016 2:54:38 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
Some people believe in theory of evolution. And they call themselves 'empiricist'.
(This is not a goodbye message. I may or may not come back after ten years.)
DanneJeRusse
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7/17/2016 3:02:49 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/17/2016 2:54:38 PM, Riwaaz_Ras wrote:
Some people believe in theory of evolution. And they call themselves 'empiricist'.

I don't believe in evolution. I understand and accept it as fact, though.
Marrying a 6 year old and waiting until she reaches puberty and maturity before having consensual sex is better than walking up to
a stranger in a bar and proceeding to have relations with no valid proof of the intent of the person. Muhammad wins. ~ Fatihah
If they don't want to be killed then they have to subdue to the Islamic laws. - Uncung
Without God, you are lower than sh!t. ~ SpiritandTruth
matt8800
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7/17/2016 3:23:11 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/17/2016 1:11:34 PM, keithprosser wrote:
As an mildly interested on-looker when it come to physics I thnk it enough to know a bit about the various interpretations. I don't see any need to be a card-carrying evangelical subscriber to any of them - as Aristole said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

A rare, but important, ability indeed...
DanneJeRusse
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7/17/2016 3:50:59 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/17/2016 2:54:38 PM, Riwaaz_Ras wrote:
Some people believe in theory of evolution. And they call themselves 'empiricist'.

Some people don't understand evolution. And they call themselves 'righteous'
Marrying a 6 year old and waiting until she reaches puberty and maturity before having consensual sex is better than walking up to
a stranger in a bar and proceeding to have relations with no valid proof of the intent of the person. Muhammad wins. ~ Fatihah
If they don't want to be killed then they have to subdue to the Islamic laws. - Uncung
Without God, you are lower than sh!t. ~ SpiritandTruth
RuvDraba
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7/17/2016 6:43:16 PM
Posted: 4 months ago
At 7/17/2016 5:44:08 PM, keithprosser wrote:
I refuse to post - or even read - anything about evolution in this thread!!

Bless you, Keith.

(Through whatever quantum entanglement might achieve that. :D)