?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

results of belief poll #1

I definitely enjoyed doing this poll, and look forward to doing it again soon with new questions.

While there will no doubt still be a few more people responding to the poll, I currently have 35 responses, including myself... which seems good enough to report the results.

Most of the questions came out about how I expected, based on opinions I've seen my friends express in the past. But there were definitely a few surprises, and a lot that I learned by looking at the results. Roughly speaking, it seems that my friends tend to agree with me on pretty much all the questions.

The only question where I was in the minority was on whether there have already been "negative consequences of global warming". I initially picked 3, which was the second lowest answer of anyone... and the only person picking lower, zarex, also picked 2 for whether it was manmade, which pretty much discredits any opinion he has on the rest of it... I don't think anyone could pick that for that question without being completely unaware/unfamiliar with the science. At any rate, after rethinking things I changed my answer to 5 instead of 3, because I really don't know whether there have been negative consequences. I see articles about supposedly negative consequences now and then, but they never seem all that rigorous to me, it all sounds like a bunch of speculation. Of course, many of the speculations could be true, but unlike the connection between CO2 production and temperature increase, I don't think any causal relationship has been rigorously established. Then again, maybe I still should have answered higher because whether or not you can prove there have been any negative effects, it's entirely reasonable to think there may have been some minor ones (possibly, even some of the ones that get reported). I intend to keep more of an eye on this one, and see if it turns out I was just naive on this issue too. I've always had a strong intuition that global warming didn't make sense, but the further I've looked into it the more solid the science appears, so I've had to override my natural intuitions on a lot of it. Would not surprise me if I had to do the same thing for the remaining question. I guess part of the reason I'm more skeptical on that one is that I hear people so often saying ridiculous things like "oh it's really hot outside! must be global warming!" or "oh, we had a lot of storms this year, damn that global warming again!" The more realistic ones seem like changes to the ecosystem like increases in extinction rates... of course, then you have to debate whether something like that counts as "negative" before it actually affects human populations, which gets into a whole nother debate.

I guess the biggest surprise for me was seeing how many people buy into time travel and faster-than-light travel, at least enough not to mark them both a 1. Time travel has always seemed nutty to me, and filled with all kinds of paradoxes that make it untenable even if it weren't a blatent violation of the laws of physics. (Yeah, you can get rid of the paradoxes if you are able to paste together different branches of the quantum multiverse, but that also seems like it gets really sketchy really quickly, and would involve lots of infinite loops spawning infinitely more recursive branches every time... I don't think anyone has ever come close to actually coming up with a way in which that could make sense and be fully self-consistent) Same goes for faster-than-light travel. When I wrote it, putting in the word "local" was intended to make it clear that I was talking about comparing speeds locally, not jumping through a wormhole . But I guess judging by the responses, some people (notably geheimnisnacht) must have interpreted it differently. While I don't really think there is any possibility of a large massive object moving through the same space at a speed faster than a massless particle like a photon, I'll give it a 1 in 100,000, maybe even a 1 in 10,000 shot that maybe, somehow, there is a way to tear the fabric of space and reconnect it using a wormhole that joins two different regions of space and effectively gets you from point A to point B quicker than light would travelling the longer path (of course, you still wouldn't beat light that went through the wormhole too). But even with this interpretation, picking greater than 1 is unrealistic (unless you just picked something mild because you haven't investigated the subject or haven't thought about it). For those who picked 2 or higher (and have thought about it a lot), do you really think there is at least a 1 in 10 chance that something like that would work? If so, I blame Star Trek, and other bad sci-fi for this one =) Not that I don't enjoy watching it occasionally (and especially enjoyed the recent movie), I just wish people would view it more as fantasy than sci-fi. Also, for anyone who thought there was a decent chance of faster-than-light travel and a decent chance of intelligent life out there, I think you're being inconsistent... if it were possible to travel faster than light, then the Fermi paradox would be much worse; it would be essentially impossible to explain why we haven't detected extraterrestrial life yet... the only explanation would be that we are alone.

The most interesting result, however, was the one about whether there are properties of the world which are not determined by mathematical relationships. There were a lot of people who picked 1 or close to 1, and then another big cluster of people picking 10 or close to 10, and very few picking something in the 4-6 range. So it looks like I have two camps of friends, one camp which strongly believes one thing here, and another camp which strongly believes another thing. I myself picked 3, which wasn't nearly as popular as 2 or 1. If I'd answered it 2 years ago, I would have probably picked 1. So it's something I've been getting a lot more open-minded on, but I still believe roughly the same thing I have for my whole life regarding this. The wording of the question went through several phases. Initially, I phrased it in terms of materialism... "is materialism false"? I tried changing materialism to something that talked about mental properties reducing to physical properties, but I didn't like that wording either. There are just too many subtle ways in which the wording could be misinterpreted and I wanted something that got more to the heart of the issue that materialists and non-materialists debate. I think the thing that really distinguishes what people call the "physical world" from what some people call the "spiritual world" or the "mental world" or the "phenomenological world" is that physical properties are things that can be specified precisely by mathematical equations. You can measure a photon's wavelength, or an electron's charge, or the energy of something, etc. and reduce it to a variable that correlates with some other variable. But then there's the question of whether there is something more than just the equations going on, some substance perhaps... some metaphysics. It can also be interpreted as what Chalmers and others call "qualia", mental properties which do not supervene on physical properties... the things that philosophical zombies are supposed to lack. I'm still pretty confident that Chalmers is wrong, and that any of the other specific loopholes in materialism that people think they have found are wrong, but I've found over the past couple years that I'm more open in general to the possibility that there is some way my worldview there could fail... some way in which I haven't encountered yet or perhaps nobody has encountered yet. At any rate, it does seem like the kind of thing that Jaron Lanier warns against being too overconfident about... it certainly *appears* to me that everything in the world can be specified with numbers and equations, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving, even if they present a very compelling illusion... and I don't want to overstate my certainty just in case. Perhaps another way of explaining why I picked 3 rather than 1 or 2 is that it's easier for me to imagine that there is some way in which the entire framework for my worldview fails, rather than imagining that some specific detail is wrong... changing one detail messes up all of the other surrounding knowledge I have, that reinforces it. But tearing down the whole structure at once may actually be more likely if everything was an illusion from the start. Ok, now I'm kind of talking crazy talk so I'll shut up :)

Oh, and regarding the live forever question, I mentioned this in a thread but for those who didn't see it... my personal answer is that I'd really like to live at least 1000 years and I'd love to have the technology to do so (although I'm not as enthusiastic about seeing everyone have the same technology--could lead to societal problems). And I'd probably even want to live for 10,000 or 50,000 years. But once it gets into the millions of years, I'm pretty sure I would be bored to tears. And if I wasn't bored to tears, I'd have learned and grown and changed so much that there wouldn't be any meaningful sense in which the resulting entity was still "me"... so it's kind of moot. Also, I don't think it is even possible to live forever, given the heat death of the universe and all, so it's also moot from that point of view. Originally I had a 16th question asking whether you'd want to live 1000 years, but I had to cut it because lj wouldn't let me add any more.

P.S. Oh right, I guess I'm also in the minority on not wanting to live forever. So 2 questions out of 15.

Tags:

Comments

( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 07:53 am (UTC)
"inertial supression field"? You might as well say "something like a magic wand that waves you over to the other side of the universe", it wouldn't mean anything more or less. You could imagine it didn't have any inertia, but in the real world, things have inertia. Your description doesn't give me any better of a picture for what it would be than watching the roadrunner run off a cliff and then fall when he looks down... both seem equally cartoonish and unrelated to anything in the real world.

Also, even if you got rid of all of its mass, it would still only travel *at* the speed of light, not faster.

That's why I've decided the only way to accomplish large-scale interstellar travel would be your wormhole solution. But, as you said, you'd still have to "drag" the other end of the wormhole to the destination, requiring slower-than-light travel in the first place. I've actually got a short story about this, where self-sufficient slow spaceships are sent out over vast distances, having to live on their own for centuries, just to bring a wormhole to the proper destination.

Yeah, that's much more reasonable. Another obstacle to it that I don't think I mentioned before is that you'd need some way of changing the topology of spacetime, basically tearing a hole in it and stretching it out... that's something that is fine to just wave over in a book (just claim that they have some way of doing it), but I think it would pose a serious obstacle to getting this to work in real life. Brian Greene and others for some reason believe that such topology changing transitions happen in string theory on a microscopic scale. I don't think it's a mainstream opinion of the string theory community, just him and a few others. Although then there's the whole question of even if it does happen on a microscopic scale, how would you ever get it to work on a macroscopic scale, and get it to stay open and stable?

As for mathematical relationships, yeah, qualia were what immediately popped in to my mind, though intentionality and subjectivity follow as close seconds.

Yeah, it seems like those are all really closely related though.

The inability of formal structures to describe certain phenomenological relations shouldn't be taken as a failure of those structures, however. That's like getting mad at a hammer for not being a screwdriver, though I think a lot of the materialist resistance to the idea comes from the feeling that if the hammer isn't the only tool, all those things you thought were nails will then turn in to screws and it might seem silly to hold on to your hammer. Nothing could be further from the truth: a balanced approach using hammers on nails and screwdrivers on screws makes sense, though I see why that intuition upsets people working within a "everything must be unified!" paradigm.

So if mathematics is the hammer in this analogy, what is the screwdriver? Introspection or something? I guess my main problem is that the hammers seem very trustworthy and the screwdrivers completely untrustworthy, if they do anything at all.
zarex
Jun. 8th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
I happen to be a professional scientist myself, and yes, any sparse evidence I've seen "proving" that 1) global warming is significantly negative and 2) that it is significantly man-made, has been rather unconvincing. Sure, it's not my specialty, but lots of people trained in climatology happen to agree with me, including those who are unarguably extremely well versed in the issue - that you can characterize them as "unaware/unfamiliar" is ludicrous.

I like to think of all scientists as being well trained in spotting BS, and the issue has far more coming from it than any other field I've seen.

What really offends me, however, is the notion that the issue is not up for discussion, and since I happen to answer the way I did, my other opinions must be "discredited". This turns the whole issue into little more than the promotion of dogma, which has no place in any scientists' world. You even said yourself that you have plenty of skepticism.
perspectivism
Jun. 8th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)

+1

See also http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2009/01/gentle-introduction-to-unqualified_22.html


...On the poll data, I did NOT interpret 2/10 as corresponding to at least a 1/10 probability. More like a "1" corresponds to "inconceivable!" and a "2" corresponds to "rodents of unusual size."
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)

On the poll data, I did NOT interpret 2/10 as corresponding to at least a 1/10 probability. More like a "1" corresponds to "inconceivable!" and a "2" corresponds to "rodents of unusual size."

Ah, interesting. I should be more specific in the next one about what the numbers should mean--also, I think I should include a 0, to be more symmetric with the 10. What I'd want it to be would be that 0 would mean "less than 5%", in other words something that rounds to 0... 1 would be something that rounds to 10% (ie, from 5-15%), 2 would be something that rounds to 20%, etc. For this one, since there wasn't a 0 I guess I assumed that 1 meant something that rounds to 0%, and that 2 meant something that rounds to 10%... but because there wasn't a 0 I think it made it confusing. Unfortunately, that was lj's default and it is a pain to change them one by one.
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)

lots of people trained in climatology happen to agree with me, including those who are unarguably extremely well versed in the issue - that you can characterize them as "unaware/unfamiliar" is ludicrous.

I think there are a good number who are skeptical of the consensus for various reasons. But I think it would be really difficult to find ones who would be such extreme radicals that they would agree with a "2" here. You're basically saying that nearly the entire scientific community in every country in the world is either suffering from a mass delusion or just lying to the public about their data and conclusions. That's a pretty massive conspiracy claim and would require some pretty substantial evidence for me to even consider.

What really offends me, however, is the notion that the issue is not up for discussion

I think it has been up for discussion for a long time, it's just that we're now at the tail end of it where one side has conclusively won the argument and the other side has only a few die hard people who refuse to admit they lost. That's not an uncommon pattern in science, it tends to happen because the people who are working on stuff that turns out to be wrong have a strong interest in continuing to work on it, even after it turns out to be full of holes.

This turns the whole issue into little more than the promotion of dogma, which has no place in any scientists' world. You even said yourself that you have plenty of skepticism.

I would hope that my skepticism about some aspects of what I view as alarmism, and about whether crippling the economy is really worth it to solve the problem, would help persuade you that I'm not just promoting dogma.
zarex
Jun. 8th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
Well, the notion of a "2" is pretty subjective of what that means. I took it to mean "pretty darn unlikely".

Is the increase in global temperature of the earth over the past 150 years primarily due to the manmade production of carbon dioxide?

We're talking about an increase of (at most) 1C over 150 years, which is difficult to consider significant, and impossible to determine the source of with any real confidence - and certainly no reason to conclude it is "primarily" manmade.

Have there been any negative consequences of global warming so far?

It's impossible to say with confidence that there are any negatives whatsoever, when the difference is so minuscule. Maybe there are even positives.

You're basically saying that nearly the entire scientific community in every country in the world is either suffering from a mass delusion or just lying to the public about their data and conclusions.

You could look at it the other way as well - there is a significant scientific community, including many, many experts in climatology, who do not believe in (significant) anthropomorphic climate change. Are they all suffering from a mass delusion, and lying about their data and conclusions?

What about all the hoopla over "global cooling" in the 1970's? I'll bet there was a similar consensus about it then. Were they all deluded too? (Clearly it was not nearly as grand as today's hoopla, but that's due to many factors.)

I will admit that the dogma (and related financial/political interests) have helped push me more into the skeptical range. There is so much loaded language ("deniers") that it's tough to take most sources of information seriously. The huge financial interests of those promoting it (Gore, and many climate scientists) can also not be disregarded.
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)

We're talking about an increase of (at most) 1C over 150 years, which is difficult to consider significant, and impossible to determine the source of with any real confidence - and certainly no reason to conclude it is "primarily" manmade.

This contradicts practically every paper published in the field for the past 30 years.

It's impossible to say with confidence that there are any negatives whatsoever, when the difference is so minuscule. Maybe there are even positives.

I would agree with you that if there are negatives then there are surely positives too... but in the future there are a lot more negatives coming than positives. The only real question is just how bad those negatives will be, and whether we've already started to feel them or not (and maybe the latter is not even a question for most people in the field, but it still is for me).

You could look at it the other way as well - there is a significant scientific community, including many, many experts in climatology, who do not believe in (significant) anthropomorphic climate change. Are they all suffering from a mass delusion, and lying about their data and conclusions?

I think one problem is that the people who disagree tend to disagree on tiny subtle issues, but when various political propaganda and media groups get ahold of them, they like to sensationalize it and make it sound like they are rejecting anthropogenic global warming entirely. And incidentally, climate change is anthropogenic (generated by humans), not anthropomorphic (in the shape or likeness of humans). When you see people making up lists of climate change skeptics/deniers, I think most of them differ on tiny issues... or they are just not convinced that the case has been made solidly enough... it's not that they actively *disagree*. There are a handful who do, but it's such an extremely tiny fraction of people that it's hardly worth paying any attention to. And you could find an equally sized fraction who thinks crazy things on the other side of the consensus... in other words, they literally think we're headed for an apocalypse. I don't think either of those counts as a mass delusion, it's just the usual result that there are a few people in any field with really crazy viewpoints.

What about all the hoopla over "global cooling" in the 1970's?

As far as I can tell, there wasn't any... it was mostly made up after the fact by climate change skeptics to cast doubt on global warming. They took a few sensational media articles and tried to claim that it was representative of the views of mainstream scientists at the time when it wasn't.
easwaran
Jun. 8th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC)
If you're willing to grant a 1 degree global change, then you should be willing to grant that there are some local negative effects and local positive effects. Some mountains will no longer support year-round snow, some swamps and deserts will increase in size, some species will be able to expand their range away from the equator, others will be forced to shrink their range towards the poles. And of course, a 1 degree increase in the global average temperature suggests that there will be some places where the local average temperature has increased by 2 or 3 degrees (which is equivalent to an average of several hundred miles of latitude) while there will be others where the local average temperature has actually decreased slightly. It seems hard to grant all that and yet deny that there have been any negative effects - the most you could reasonably do is argue that no specific negative effects have been proven to be connected to the temperature change.

Also, global cooling was never a consensus, or even a majority view. It was considered a reasonable belief for a while in the '70s, but eventually it became rejected because of the evidence in favor of warming.
peter_bayesian
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
If we assume a completely deterministic universe, I don't see paradoxes with time travel that are sufficiently compelling to make it "nutty". And I think I'm less confident that you about whether existing theories will be replaced by something stranger which will enable an as-yet-unimagined method of time travel.

I sounds now like you intended "any negative consequences of global warming" to be interpreted as net consequences over some unspecified time period. If I had interpreted it that way, I would have given a much lower response, especially if the time period extended back several decades. But I interpreted it as asking something more like whether there exists anyone who has been harmed by global warming. Neither interpretation seems important compared to questions about whether it will cause net harm in 2020 or 2030.

"determined by mathematical relationships" seems like a much stronger statement than the kind of materialism I believe in. I don't expect hypothesized phenomenon that can't be described by math to have explanatory power. "Determined by" seems stronger than "described by".

On living forever, I'm unsure whether my position is much different from yours. Any "me" that exists a million years from now will be quite different from the current me. I tend to think of that future entity as me, mainly due to habit and to laziness about analyzing the classification issues. And I'm a long way from accepting heat death as inevitable, although I plan to postpone for at least a few decades any attempt to seriously tackle that problem.
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)

If we assume a completely deterministic universe, I don't see paradoxes with time travel that are sufficiently compelling to make it "nutty".

I don't see what determinism would have to do with it. Instead of presenting the standard grandfather paradoxes, which I'm sure you've heard, let me present another related one. If you can have a closed-timelike-loop, that is where time and causality flows in a circle rather than a straight line... then what is the total entropy at any point in the circle? Recall that entropy must always increase in the forward time direction.
peter_bayesian
Jun. 8th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. That is a harder problem than any I'd thought about. It tends to suggest that the only workable approaches involve connecting branches of the multiverse. I don't understand your "infinite loops" comment about that.
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
The infinitely recursive loops I'm talking about are something like this...

Let's say you go back to the past, that spawns a new branch of reality, starting from where you get back to. If you change even the slightest thing then your younger self in that branch is going to have a different experience and make slightly different decisions... when they go back they will be a slightly different person, doing different things, spawning a third branch... the younger self in that branch then goes back and spawns a forth, and a fifth, etc. etc. I think in any case where you tried to go back to some time that affected yourself, you'd end up spawning an extra infinite number of new timelines, all recursively feeding into each other... I guess I can't rule it out, but it's a monstrous thing to contemplate. And I think there are big issues about how you would even connect the future to the past in the context of quantum mechanics... you'd have to glue together Hilbert spaces from different times or something, and there still may be similar problems with entropy.
peter_bayesian
Jun. 8th, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
I'd don't understand quantum mechanics well enough to analyze the "glue together" problems. I've partly assumed that Deutsch knows enough to have something coherent behind his suggestion.

My intuition is that those loops would be finite either because there are a finite number of "slightly different decisions" that can be caused by time-travel to one region of spacetime or because the changes would eventually get large enough that the recursion would end by one self not time traveling. At any rate I see lots of room for me to be uncertain about whether something like this is possible.
spoonless
Jun. 9th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading The Fabric of Reality in 2003, just before I started grad school. In fact, I'd still consider it one of the coolest books I've ever read (despite feeling like I agree with him a lot less after graduate school). But even while I was reading it, I felt like the time travel chapter was really out of place compared to the rest of the book. The inclusion of that and Tipler's Omega Point Theory stuff both seemed disappointing to me, like he had written a really wonderful book explaining a lot of important points, and then partially ruined it by sticking in this really sketchy borderline-crackpot stuff right near the end.

My intuition is that those loops would typically be infinite, maybe being finite in very special cases. Even if they are infinite that's not necessary a problem, it's just really bizarre. The real problem for me is that I just can't conceive of pasting the different times together in a quantum mechanical context at all... it's easy to do if you're thinking about nice smooth manifolds like people deal with in classical general relativity. And I think that's where papers having to do with time travel come from usually, people who work with classical GR and ignore quantum mechanics, or at best include it semi-classically. But to really do it quantum mechanically, I just can't really picture it working at all.
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I'd recommend the movie "Primer" if you want a good depiction of what I'm talking about with the continual regeneration of new timelines... it's by far the most realistic time travel movie ever made, but very hard to follow (I had to watch it 3 times with a lot of pausing to get most of the plot).
easwaran
Jun. 8th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
I wasn't quite sure what to put for the "mathematical relationships" one. In some sense, it's almost axiomatic for me that everything that there is can be talked about mathematically. I'm confident about this even if it turns out that there are fundamental, irreducible qualia or phenomenological things or whatever. However, phrasing the question in terms of things being governed by mathematical relationships suggested to me that you were thinking more about the physical world actually being the mathematical world, in a quasi-Platonist/Pythagorean identity, which is something I'm less sure how to even evaluate.

As for the living forever, I would suspect that even though it wouldn't really be "me" a thousand years from now (or even probably a hundred years from now) it would be good for each individual at each time to be able to keep living. I don't think there needs to be a holistic unity to the person for the eternal life to be good - as long as there are local unities, that's probably enough.
geheimnisnacht
Jun. 8th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
How would you define "identity"? What distinguishes entity A from entity B, where A and B are at two different points in space-time?
easwaran
Jun. 9th, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
I would say that if A and B are the same entity, then they must have all the same properties (this is part of what it means to be the same thing), and so in particular they must be at the same location in space-time. Thus, if two things are at different locations in space-time, then they are two different entities.

That much is simple, but of course this doesn't settle any of the interesting questions. Nothing about this says that you can't have two distinct entities that occupy the same space-time region. And it also doesn't say that you can't have one object with both A and B as parts (after all, my hand and my foot are in different space-time regions, and thus they are different entities, but they are also both part of the single entity that is me, which occupies a larger space-time region than either).

So, granting that there is an entity that occupies my space-time region today, and an entity that occupies my space-time region yesterday (though some people might deny that there are such temporal parts, or time-slices, or stages, of a person) it's clear that they are distinct entities, but it also seems clear that in this case, there is something interesting and meaningful that they are both part of. I'm tempted to say that since these entities are both person-like (they have thoughts, feelings, memories, etc.) then the most interesting way in which they could be connected is if there is a great continuity between them in all these properties. Just as I will say that two regions of water are parts of the same river if and only if there is continuity in their geographic and temporal features, I will say that two person-stages are parts of the same person if and only if there is continuity in their mental, emotional, bodily, etc. features.

Of course, this account allows for arbitrarily long and distant connections - just as the little trickle in the highlands of central africa is the same river as the massive flood that comes every year in Egypt, the person here now might be the same person as someone a thousand years from now who has none of my same desires, beliefs, concerns, or anything else, because there is a continuous connection all the way.

So we might be interested in a second sort of relation between person-stages, that indicates when one person-stage ought to care about another for reasons of personal identity. And here I suppose the relation is fuzzy, but depends on similarity, and possibly continuity as well. But if there is such a similarity constraint, then there's no reason that I now should care about the person a thousand years from now, apart from the general reason that I have to care about everyone who has ever existed and ever will exist.
geheimnisnacht
Jun. 10th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Nice, I agree with the bulk of that, and I won't bother to pick at details. I had been considering the "continuity" vs. "similarity" problem myself, which I think is interesting. Neither of these alone seems to satisfy my mental picture of identity. I'll write more on this later.

Considering the future, in order to make a judgement about how similar your present and future selves will be, you need some metric of similarity. There would be some enormous set of inputs you compare, and each would have some weight going into a similarity score. In addition, you need a model on how these inputs change with time. Different models would yield quite different results, I think. Consider two cases I think could be reasonable:

-Each person has a relatively small, stable set of characteristics that have high weight for their similarity score.

-The time dependence of all of our characteristics is large on the scale of centuries (or more), which we don't see due to current lifespans.

It seems you are assuming the latter, but I don't think the former is impossible, and may be even more probable given certain technological changes (interfacing with humans).
spoonless
Jun. 10th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)

-Each person has a relatively small, stable set of characteristics that have high weight for their similarity score.

-The time dependence of all of our characteristics is large on the scale of centuries (or more), which we don't see due to current lifespans.

It seems you are assuming the latter, but I don't think the former is impossible, and may be even more probable given certain technological changes (interfacing with humans).

I was confused about what question you were asking with your "A and B" question originally, because it didn't seem relevant to any of the discussion threads. At first, I thought it sounded like a question about identical or non-identical particles, so I thought it had to do with the speed-of-light question. Then since you had directly responded to a comment about the materialism issue, I thought you must feel it's relevant to the materialism question somehow. But now it sounds like it was really a question about the "living forever" question.

Regarding the two possibilities you point out here, that was what I was getting at with my statement about not wanting to live forever. There are two possibilities, either you stay the same on large timescales, in which case I definitely would just kill myself (no desire to do that)... or you change radically into something completely different... in which case I wouldn't kill myself but I also wouldn't consider the person far in the future to be me.
easwaran
Jun. 10th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the claims about far future person-stages that are connected to me nevertheless being quite dissimilar may well turn out to be false - they assume some empirical facts that we don't have good access to. However, I think there is at least some evidence that something like the second possibility is more likely than the first. At least, something like this clearly seems to be the case from childhood into adulthood - I've got a lot of similarities with the person I was back then, sure, but I don't feel like I can own a lot of the decisions I made then. But a lot of fiction seems to presuppose something like the former - lovers being reunited after dozens of years apart and still being perfect for one another, and such. Anyway, if I live to see such long lifespans, it'll be interesting to see how that turns out.
spoonless
Jun. 10th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)

However, I think there is at least some evidence that something like the second possibility is more likely than the first. At least, something like this clearly seems to be the case from childhood into adulthood - I've got a lot of similarities with the person I was back then, sure, but I don't feel like I can own a lot of the decisions I made then.

Also, if we are talking about periods of longer than 150 years or so, you have to re-engineer a lot of things about humans, and in many ways they would no longer be human. Evolution has engineered practically every aspect of our bodies and brains to die after a certain time period. Death is the natural end for humans. I think we've stretched that about as far as we can, without resorting to far more radical re-engineering of the human species. And if we ever get to the point where we can transfer consciousness onto digital substrates, I don't expect personal identity to last much longer... it's too easy for different consciousnesses then to intertwine into more complicated emergent consciousnesses, and too difficult to maintain the boundaries between different "persons". In the long run, I just think we're going to have to abandon the idea of personal identity anyway.
spoonless
Jun. 9th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)

I'm confident about this even if it turns out that there are fundamental, irreducible qualia or phenomenological things or whatever.

Really? So, you could imagine a scenario where qualia were some properties that don't reduce to anything in the physical world, but are describable with mathematics? To me, that seems even further fetched than the scenario where mathematics only works to describe objective external properties, not subjective internal states. I don't agree with people who speak this way about internal states, but I think I've started to at least understand the motivation behind statements people make like "there will never be an equation that represents pain or redness itself, you can only get at that through introspection". I just think they are taking an in-practice limitation and making it an in-principle limitation, although sometimes I wonder at where the boundaries are between practice and principle which is one reason I didn't answer fully confidently on that question.

Regarding the quasi-Platonic stuff... that's not specifically what I had in mind, but often I tend to think it ultimately does reduce to that if you carry the other conclusions far enough. I think you can make a case that they are two separate issues, but I'm not sure because they do seem tightly related in my own mind.

Here's another way of asking it:

Are there qualitative properties of the world, or just quantitative properties? In other words, are all qualitative properties just fuzzy approximations of quantitative properties (and could be in principle eliminated in favor of them), or are there some *truly* qualitative aspects of the world, like perhaps the character of physical reality itself or the nature of the alleged "physical objects" that the mathematical relations are relating. Actually, now that I've phrased it this way I'm feeling like they really are the same question, so I'll leave it for you to ponder and maybe come up with a way in which they are separate.
easwaran
Jun. 9th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
So, you could imagine a scenario where qualia were some properties that don't reduce to anything in the physical world, but are describable with mathematics? To me, that seems even further fetched than the scenario where mathematics only works to describe objective external properties, not subjective internal states.

There must be some fundamental difference in the way that we're thinking about what it means to be "describable with mathematics", because the other position you're mentioning hardly makes sense to me.

I don't expect that there would be "an equation that represents pain or redness itself". But there must be something interesting and meaningful going on with pain and redness for us to care about them. I don't expect that this stuff will necessarily have any description in terms of numbers, but presumably there are interesting things to be said about the relations between (say) pain and temperature, sharpness, roughness, loudness, and so on. There are real, precise things going on in the world (whether physical or non-physical), and if they can be described, then mathematics is part of how we will achieve the best description of them. It may be with the mathematics of real numbers and differential equations, as much of the physical world seems to be described, but it just as well may be some of the mathematics of relations and partial orderings, or of category theory, or who knows what sort of thing.

As for whether there are further "essences" of qualia, or whatever, that don't have any useful mathematical description, well, there's nothing special about mental states for that issue. It already arises when we ask what the difference is between electromagnetism and gravity, in terms of what their intrinsic nature is, as opposed to just in terms of how they behave and guide matter. Similarly, we could ask what makes this object itself rather than something else. But if this sort of thing is something that can't be described usefully by any mathematics, then that still leaves nothing special about the mental. I suspect that these sorts of questions are actually meaningless, but this is the main sort of way I suspect that there might be aspects of the world that aren't describable mathematically - qualia don't seem to me to add any new or interesting problems.
spoonless
Jun. 11th, 2009 05:15 am (UTC)
Well, everything you say is pretty much word for word the kinds of things I say to people when I'm trying to explain why I believe that. But I'm pretty confused now about why you chose "5" and I chose "3". Based on this response, it seems like you should have chosen "1".

I've even said in the past that it's inconceivable for me to imagine the contrary, and I still think that is true. I *can't* conceive of the contrary, but the reason I chose 3 is because I'm trying to allow for the possibility that there is some way in which my current conception goes wrong. I used to think I had really good reasons for believing what I do here, but after arguing with pbrane and others about it (who believe the contrary of what you're saying) I realize that the main reason I believe it is just that I've never been able to figure out what else could be true instead... not because I have some superpowerful airtight reason for believing it. And that seems like a decent reason to be not as certain about it as other things which I have more airtight reasons for believing (such as, we will never be able to travel faster than light).

At any rate, what I'm mainly wondering now is why you picked 5. You said that it had something to do with thinking the question was about mathematical platonism. By that I assume you mean something like Tegmark or my comments that perhaps the physical world reduces entirely to a purely mathematical world. Since you picked a 5 for that, but seem to be picking a 1 for the question I was really asking, I'm wondering what you think the difference between those two is.

I tried to think just now about how they could be a different issue, since they seem so similar to me. The best I can come up with is that maybe you believe that all properties of things are mathematical, but that the things themselves are not. Is that an accurate characterization? I'll have to think about what the implications of that view would be, and if that's a view I might take myself... actually, if that is what you mean, I think it's possibly a position I had never considered before.
easwaran
Jun. 11th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
The picture I'm considering isn't so much one where properties are mathematical and objects are not, but rather one where things can be described mathematically, but they are not themselves the mathematical objects. That is, mathematically speaking, Newtonian physics and contemporary physics are on equal footing, as mathematical theories with many abstract models. However, presumably contemporary physics can be used to describe physical reality, while Newtonian mechanics can't (well, not beyond some certain level of approximation, which I'm sure is correct about contemporary physics as well, but there is presumably some theory that gets things "right" in that way). Thus, there is something to being physically realized beyond just being mathematically consistent. Assuming that there even are mathematical entities at all, there isn't really much more to them beyond being mathematically consistent, and therefore physical entities are not mathematical entities.

At least, that's the outline of the argument against the Tegmark-style Platonism/Pythagoreanism. But the only reason I have for believing that correct physics is physically realized while Newtonian physics isn't is that I live in a world where correct physics is realized - but of course, if both theories were in fact physically realized, then I wouldn't have access to the part of the physical world where Newtonian physics was realized (since both theories contradict the idea of interaction with objects that don't follow their laws). So I may have to give up the premise that there's a distinction to be drawn between false physics and true physics, apart from whether or not it applies to the part of the world that I happen to live in.

Anyway, the distinction between this and the question you seemed to really be asking is that on this view, the physical world can be described completely accurately with a mathematical vocabulary, but that doesn't mean that it's identical to some abstract model of that theory - it just means that it has the same structure as some such abstract model.
spoonless
Jun. 11th, 2009 06:36 am (UTC)
Also, I did not follow your comment about electromagnetism vs gravity and "essences". I cannot imagine how a question of essences could get involved there; you're talking about one mathematical theory vs another (and presumably, they are the same theory, just each a different portion of it).
easwaran
Jun. 11th, 2009 07:37 am (UTC)
I guess the idea of the question is this. On many theories (I don't know if this is true under the most current theories) gravitation and electromagnetism involve two different fields, that are generated by matter according to different equations, and govern the acceleration of matter according to different equations. On one level it seems to make sense to ask whether the gravity field could have had an inverse cube law instead of an inverse square law, or if there could have been matter that interacted negatively with the gravity field rather than positively. Given the sorts of differences there could have been to how gravity works, and also to how electromagnetism works (the field could have been real-valued instead of complex-valued, or vice versa), it seems like there might be a real question to ask about whether the gravity field could have been governed by the equations that actually govern the EM field, and if electromagnetism could have been governed by the equations that actually govern gravity.

That would be a different way things could have been, since the different forces would have worked differently, but it would be impossible to tell these two different possible worlds apart. The possibilities only differ in that the "essence" of the two fields (whatever is the same about them in any way things could have been) has been switched.

If that idea makes sense at all, then the world itself goes beyond the mathematical description of it, so Pythagoreanism is false, but the world can still be described completely mathematically.
spoonless
Jun. 11th, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC)
Hmmm... I kind of see what you're saying, but I definitely think that's not true (about the essence question there being meaningful).

One reason I'm sure it's not meaningful is from having seen string theory, where they are explicitly a part of the same mathematical structure, not two different things.

In string theory, you just start with the ansatz that there are vibrating strings and that they have certain boundary conditions. It turns out, there are only 5 consistent ways of imposing the boundary conditions which leads to the 5 different string theories (which end up all being equivalent in different limits, due to various dualities). If you then analyze what modes the strings can vibrate in, you automatically get that you must have vibrations corresponding to a spin-2 particle that couples to the energy-momentum tensor... this is called the "graviton", and when you look at the equations you get out for how it interacts with matter and energy, they are exactly Einstein's equations for general relativity (ie, the entire theory of gravity can be derived just from assuming vibrating strings instead of particles). Then if you look at the other vibrational modes, you find that some of them correspond exactly to the equations of electromagnetism. Unlike the gravity modes, these only show up in some of the 5, meaning the others would be limits of the overall "M theory" that don't correspond to the physical situation we're in.

String theory has not been verified experimentally, so it is certainly possible that it will turn out that it's just beautiful mathematics that does not correspond to our world. But even if that happens, it seems like whatever theory replaces it should have the same behavior there... I think that's what is meant by a theory of everything, that you don't have any separate parts that get stitched together, it is all one continuous structure.
spoonless
Jun. 11th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
Incidentally, the inverse-square law for all long-range forces (which means, just electromagnetism and gravity) comes just from the fact that we live in 3-dimensions, and local conservation of energy.

It's the same reason why the brightness of a lightbulb drops off with an inverse-square law. If you draw imaginery spherical surfaces at various distances from the lightbulb, you can ask you much power (energy per second) is flowing through that surface. For any size sphere, it has to be the same... and because the surface area of the sphere goes like r^2, that means that the intensity of the light at a point on the sphere has to go like 1/r^2. Actually, a lightbulb is emitting electromagnetic radiation, so that is essentially the reason for Coulomb's law (which comes from Gauss's law). For gravity, it's the same thing, but you are radiating gravitons instead.
spoonless
Jun. 11th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
I did gloss over a big thing here, though. The inverse-square law for radiated power of a long-range force is not the same thing as the inverse square law for the force due to a static charge/mass. But they are connected. You have to do a lot of work to fill in the gaps, but you can derive the inverse-square power law from the inverse-square force law. I guess the question is, could you modify the inverse-square force law in some way that left the inverse-square law for radiated power the same? It seems like the answer is probably no, but I guess I don't know for certain. You couldn't do any simple modification, that's for sure. There is something called tensor-vector-scalar gravity, which supposedly results in an effective force law for gravity that is modified, but it does so by introducing a bunch of extra fields which all interact with each other in complicated ways... I'm not sure how it works, or why it wouldn't violate conservation of energy. Actually, if I get a chance I may look into that.
easwaran
Jun. 11th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
I always figured something like that had to be part of it - inverse square laws are very natural in 3 dimensions for this reason.
geheimnisnacht
Jun. 8th, 2009 10:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I wasn't sure what you meant by the FTL question. I had figured it would be pointless to ask the question you actually intended; (I'd have put a "1"). As for my interpretation, I think it's hard to say we know much about the situation. Such a feat would require energy densities far above what we can achieve today, the existence of exotic particles, or some kind of strange natural phenomenon. All of this, from my understanding, lies outside of the scope of our current models of the universe. Of course, because of this, we're nowhere near even sending information long distances at effective ("non-local") FTL speeds, much less macroscopic objects.
spoonless
Jun. 9th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)

because of this, we're nowhere near even sending information long distances at effective ("non-local") FTL speeds, much less macroscopic objects.

I'd say that we're nowhere near even being able to conceive of how it might work even in principle.
agentsteel53
Jun. 9th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
I do not know if I want to live forever. But I'd certainly like the option.
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

blueshirt
spoonless
domino plural

Latest Month

May 2017
S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031   

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lizzy Enger