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Saw this on neuroscience recently: An Information Integration Theory of Consciousness

Sounds promising to me. Although I think they need to get a lot more specific, otherwise it's going to end up including too much in the definition. There are many systems which integrate information in various forms (the internet? society?) but most people wouldn't intuitively think of them as being conscious.

In other news, Lubos Motl thinks a multiverse explanation (such as the landscape) for the apparent fine-tunedness of our universe is as poor an idea as gods or aliens having created it. Ironically, the one time Peter Woit agrees with him, I disagree with them both! At least I'm in the company of minds like Leonard Susskind. I posted this objection to Lubos Motl's blog (referring to this Time magazine article):

I don't see why #3 should be lumped in with #1 and #2. Both #1 and #2 require additional explanations as to where the gods or aliens came from, what their universe looks like, and who finely tuned it so they could arise.

The multiverse, on the other hand, requires no additional explanation. It may or may not be right, but it solves the problem of "how did things get so finely tuned?" without complicating things any further than they need to be.

As for the hope that string theory is going to uniquely predict from first principles several parameters which happen to be exactly what's required for life of any kind to exist... well, I'll have to trust the experts here, but it doesn't seem to me a likely prospect for any theory. Evolution is how we explain the miraculous chain of events within our corner of the universe which conspired to create life, so it seems quite natural to expect that's how it would work on a larger scale.

He responded, but didn't make much of a point, other than what I thought I already addressed. I'm not saying it's impossible that we'll find some sort of all-powerful deductive reason why all these parameters are exactly what they happen to need to be, I just find it very unlikely. And although I'll agree that we shouldn't just stop looking for better explanations, I strongy disagree that a multiverse explanation is bad philosophically in the sense he thinks it is. Especially if we can use statistical analysis (anthropic or otherwise) to make predictions with it. There's a pretty huge gap between that and the aliens/gods explanation.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
burdges
Nov. 27th, 2004 04:58 am (UTC)
Silly question
I can easily imagine a universe where life only perceives the universes where it can exist for one of the following reasons:
a) black holes have universes inside them with similar, but mutated, laws.
b) an inflation creates a large number of universes
c) some quantum principle applies to the laws of physics themselves, so we are in one part of the "superposition of laws," a distinct superpostion from the one we live in.
I can also imagine that we are just lucky, or even that the question may legitimately be unanswerable/meaningless.

What I have trouble with is the naive quantum multiverse via quantum mechanics, i.e. our universe is a big superposition, nothing ever collapses or cancels out, and that we are just lucky because all the photons are traveling in straight lines. It seems that if photons frequently did not travel in straight lines, it is statistically impossible for us to be in the one universe where nothing is screwy. So there needs to be something killing off all the stupid universes right? What is supposed to be doing that? Some sort of cancelation?


Anyway, Motl is clearly right about one thing, "if we can't make hard and testable (and tested) predictions, the corresponding part of physics will be reduced to 'yet another religion'." He is right that it is bad to "not ask why," but I *assume* that he is wrong that *all* multiverses block the question of why. What is probably true is that *some* multiverses block the question of why. So here would be my prejudices:

Bad (tend to give wrong answers):
naive quantum multiverse, gods, aliens

Bad (tend to block investigation):
superposition of laws multiverse, black hole based multiverse, gods, aliens

Good (fit evidence and provide for further investigation):
inflation, nonnaive quantum multiverse which actually allows you to figure out why some things are in a universe whide superpostion, and why somethings, like photon paths, are not.

Belief in biological evolution does not prevent us from asking why specific animals exist, it just gives us a mostly correct framework within wich to study the question. A multiverse based evolutionary explination for the laws of physics needs to seek to do the same thing.
spoonless
Nov. 27th, 2004 12:11 pm (UTC)

What I have trouble with is the naive quantum multiverse via quantum mechanics, i.e. our universe is a big superposition, nothing ever collapses or cancels out, and that we are just lucky because all the photons are traveling in straight lines.

The main type of multiverse Motl is referring to is the so-called "String Theory Landscape" which is a different type of thing; the "naive quantum multiverse" would not by itself be able to account for different laws of physics, only different outcomes with the same laws of physics. But I do think it's the most reasonable interpretation of quantum mechanics, so I'll defend that a bit here...

i.e. our universe is a big superposition, nothing ever collapses or cancels out, and that we are just lucky because all the photons are traveling in straight lines.

Things do not collapse accoring to this interpretation, but they do cancel out. Interference is real. When two branches interfere with each other they can enhance the fraction of the total wavefunction which contains a certain outcome or diminish it. If they exactly cancel then that outcome simply doesn't happen.

It seems that if photons frequently did not travel in straight lines, it is statistically impossible for us to be in the one universe where nothing is screwy. So there needs to be something killing off all the stupid universes right? What is supposed to be doing that? Some sort of cancelation?

Yes, interference is exactly what kills off the stupid universes. Feynman path integration involves an integral of an exponential of i times another integral over each of the possible paths. The "classical path" is the unique one where the integral in the exponent (called the action) evaluates to zero. All possible paths are added up, and the ones far from the classical path interfere too much with each other, causing the exponential to oscillate wildly and add up to zero (method of stationary phase, or steepest ascent, if you're familiar with those terms). In the case of the photon, the classical path is the straight line. It's by far the most likely path, so on a large scale it's the one we see. On a smaller scale we see bizarre things like tunneling happen. There's nothing lucky about it, it's just constructive interference.

Anyway, Motl is clearly right about one thing, "if we can't make hard and testable (and tested) predictions, the corresponding part of physics will be reduced to 'yet another religion'." He is right that it is bad to "not ask why," but I *assume* that he is wrong that *all* multiverses block the question of why. What is probably true is that *some* multiverses block the question of why. So here would be my prejudices:

He's right that it will be criticized as such. And certainly I'd hope there would be predictions for it, if not now, eventually. But even if there weren't, if it's the most plausible explanation it's the most plausible--even if it makes the religious crowd more bold in saying science is bs. Avoiding something because we're worried about sounding too much like religion is bad. We should be honest about it and go wherever our nose leads us. Worst case, we might have to chop off some of it and say "okay, this part is not science, it's philosophy". But at least it's good philosophy--well motivated, rather than contrived.

I agree with you that some multiverses are not as good as others. Max Tegmark's Ultimate Ensemble, for instance, is an example of a multiverse which is just too large to be of practical use in physics for now. But the general idea, I think, is good. If our little sandbox is too specific and arbitrary, then we probably live in a bigger sandbox than we thought.
burdges
Nov. 27th, 2004 04:06 pm (UTC)
He's right that it will be criticized as such. And certainly I'd hope there would be predictions for it, if not now, eventually. But even if there weren't, if it's the most plausible explanation it's the most plausible--even if it makes the religious crowd more bold in saying science is bs. Avoiding something because we're worried about sounding too much like religion is bad.

Its not exactly about "sounding like religion," its about "being like religion." There is always a risk that a belief will prevent you from making progress (quickly), so we take anything not actually falsifiable with a grain of salt. We don't mind being a little slow to understand that classical mechanics does not explain everything, but we should not be slowed down by something we can never even use.

Anyway, the copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics represents a triump of rigour over intuition.. suggesting that multiverse theories and evolution of physical laws theories are unlikely to ever slow down modern physics.

We should be honest about it and go wherever our nose leads us. Worst case, we might have to chop off some of it and say "okay, this part is not science, it's philosophy". But at least it's good philosophy--well motivated, rather than contrived.

The same standards should apply to philosophy. If we cut things out, we probably need some diversity there.
spoonless
Nov. 27th, 2004 06:43 pm (UTC)

Its not exactly about "sounding like religion," its about "being like religion." There is always a risk that a belief will prevent you from making progress (quickly), so we take anything not actually falsifiable with a grain of salt. We don't mind being a little slow to understand that classical mechanics does not explain everything, but we should not be slowed down by something we can never even use.

I agree with the grain of salt comment. But the problem is, it's very difficult to tell which theories are going to provide predictions soon and which aren't. Earlier in my journal I mentioned how a professor here Michael Dine recently gave a lecture on a prediction the Landscape might make. They only did a rough estimate, but if it has the properties they think it does, then it has definite predictions which can be tested. And that's without even using (more controversial) anthropic tools to make further predictions with it--which I think should count for at least half-credit towards falsifiability.

I do think that this is more an issue of sounding like rather than being like. And really, it's not even sounding like religion, it's sounding like philosophy. Philosophy approaches problems from the standpoint of trying to figure things out... religion approaches it from the standpoint of preaching dogma, accepting scriptures without question, and spreading gossip. The little bit of philosophy they do use is poor, unnatural, and really just a crutch to support the main engine of indoctrination through faith.

The same standards should apply to philosophy. If we cut things out, we probably need some diversity there.

In order to explain science to anyone, we need to use some sort of implicit philosophy. Belief in anything from chairs, to atoms, to quarks, to distant stars, is supported by philosophy--not science in the strict sense. All science can say, in the logical positivist sense, is that these things appear to behave in a way which is consistant with the existence of these things. If you're going to talk about what's really going on you have to assume some sort of minimal picture of the world. The right way to do this is to choose the simplest explanation. Unfortunately, when we don't all agree on which is the simplest, you have to start making philosophical arguments. Which is where you get away from pure "hard science" a bit. But it's still necessary for understanding. Which is, after all, what I'm after. I care very little what it's technically categorized as.
burdges
Nov. 28th, 2004 07:22 am (UTC)
philosophy
In order to explain science to anyone, we need to use some sort of implicit philosophy. Belief in anything from chairs, to atoms, to quarks, to distant stars, is supported by philosophy--not science in the strict sense. All science can say, in the logical positivist sense, is that these things appear to behave in a way which is consistant with the existence of these things.

Maybe we need a definition of philosophy. It sounds to me like your talking about "should be true" or intuition. OTOH, I tend to mean questions of "should do" or a broad version of ethics.

I'm not sure what the definition of philosophy is, but I know that I don't want it to include both intuition AND ethics. I'd prefer to have the hope of achieving a more objective ethics then that (based on understanding the evolutionary reason that we have the observable ethics we do have).

There are also all the sorts of "meaning of life" type questions, which may have the strongest claim to the word philosophy, and I'd like to see these separated from intuition as well. But I would also not want to over state their relevance to ethics.. as far far too many people have done that.

Getting back on topic, my vague comment about diversity was suggesting that a wide variety of intuitions is desirable when none seems to be yielding the desired result.
spoonless
Nov. 28th, 2004 10:10 am (UTC)
Re: philosophy

Maybe we need a definition of philosophy. It sounds to me like your talking about "should be true" or intuition. OTOH, I tend to mean questions of "should do" or a broad version of ethics.

Philosophy is about understanding the world at an abstract level and resolving problems and paradoxes. It's about asking questions, and answering them. In some sense, I like Wittgenstein's view that it's simply the study of language. What does it mean to say X? And how is the best way to talk about Y? The relevence to physics is that physicists come up with the equations and then philosophers (or more often, physicists doing philosophy) must decide what the best way to talk about it is. I believe this is quite necessary for both understanding and explaining it to the public.
Of course, this definition is a bit narrower than most philosophers would like. Philosophy historically has been broken down into such categories as metaphysics, epistemology, language and logic, theology, ethics, aesthetics, mind, mathematics, and science. There may be a couple more but I think those are the biggest categories. Theology is sort of a subset of metaphysics, and ethics and aesthetics I like to lump together as axiology (theory of value). Mathematics and science split off fairly early into the natural science branches and math (remember PhD still stands for "doctor of philosophy") but nowadays philosophers still discuss how to interpret math and how science is done and what they both mean. Again, supporting my view that today, philosophy is mostly the study of language and how to talk about things.

That said, the only two big branches of philosophy I personally find interesting are metaphysics and epistemology. Mind and mathematics I'm also interested in but I think they're comparatively small questions rather than huge areas. Objective ethics? Bah... I like mine 100% subjective. I think objective ethics is kind of dangerous. Politics is a bit objective, because you're figuring out how to get along without killing each other over resources. That's about all I have to say about the subject.

Getting back on topic, my vague comment about diversity was suggesting that a wide variety of intuitions is desirable when none seems to be yielding the desired result.

Agreed, and this usually is what happens. But I of course like to offer my intuitions, and it's going to affect how I direct my research and where I'm looking for answers. It makes perfect sense that others should explore other paths if they have different intuitions.
spoonless
Nov. 28th, 2004 10:26 am (UTC)
Re: philosophy

Mathematics and science split off fairly early into the natural science branches and math

By split off here, I'm referring to the fact that math, physics, and philosophy were all called philosophy by the greeks. But later, the people who wanted to work on quantitative questions became known as natural philosphers and then later as mathematicians and scientists. The pure philosophers, which are now just called philosophers, work on the qualitative questions: questions of how to say things and how to explain them... sometimes crossing over into the quantitative side of logic which is also handled by mathematicians.
burdges
Nov. 28th, 2004 10:56 am (UTC)
Re: philosophy
We are making lots of progress towards an objective ethics since people can:
1) make observations of ethics in people and animals.
2) use game theory to understand why "ethical" behaviors are selected for.
3) figure out, slowely, how how much of our ethical behavior is biologically programmed, and how much is learned.
4) do experements to discover the effectivness of actions, i.e. show that giving away condoms actually decreases teenage pregnancies.

spoonless
Nov. 28th, 2004 07:48 pm (UTC)
Re: philosophy
I disagree, but I also think that most--if not all--disagreements in philosophy are due to semantics.

When I say ethics is subjective I mean that what makes a person happy depends on the individual. Different people have different goals, different ideals, and therefore different ethics. There is no one-size-fits-all morality that should be forced on everyone. I don't think this contradicts anything you've written here. Except maybe what you're implying with #4.

Regarding #4, the question of whether giving away condoms decreases teenage pregnancies is not an ethical question, it's a matter of fact which can be determined empirically. An example of an ethical question would be "are teenage pregnancies good or bad?" This requires someone to make an ethical decision. In some cultures, marrying and having children around 12 is the norm, it is not considered unusual or unhealthy. But in ours it is considered bad. Unlike the question of what happens when you give out condoms, it's not an objective issue... not a matter of fact, but of opinion.
burdges
Nov. 29th, 2004 03:28 am (UTC)
objective ethics
There is no one-size-fits-all morality that should be forced on everyone. I don't think this contradicts anything you've written here.


True, but there is no one size fits all theory of many things, its called diversification or directed random mutation.. and it does not mean that there is not a semi-objective game theoretic principle controlling what hangs around, or what aspects of someone's morality you should help to "select ageist."

Except maybe what you're implying with #4.


The study of biological evolution suggests that these game theoretic principles create a notorious complexity in practice. So thus far we tend to just play catch up, and appreciate the mix diversity and convergences, but I don't think this will always be true for ethics, just as it will not always be true for humans.

You accepted #1 through #3, and presumably the underlying premise that our morals today are determined by past memetic and genetic evolution.

Regarding #4, the question of whether giving away condoms decreases teenage pregnancies is not an ethical question, it's a matter of fact which can be determined empirically. An example of an ethical question would be "are teenage pregnancies good or bad?"


The christians sure seem to believe that giving away condoms is a moral question. And how is the question of "are teenage pregnancies good or bad" not something which can be determined empirically?

You just choose your values, in my case increasing the rate of human evolution (flag), and do the experement. Is more less educated people better then fewer more well educated people. Of course, we have soo incredibly many less educated people, that the answer seems obvious from my perspective (assuming that we can show that teenage pregnancies impact the number of educated people).

My point is that either we treet ethics as this ephemeral thing which always receeds in the face of science and objective knowledge, or we treat it as yet another field to gradually be studied into objectivity.. with perhaps lots of intuitive guidance for the time being. I am NOT claiming that we can just sit down and derive ethics from game theory. You can not derive peacocks from game theory, but you can learn objectively how they got that way and why they work, and make changes.

Objective need not mean uniform or convergent. Indeed, mathematical models of ethical problems sometimes have multiple stable solutions with arbitrary factors determining the difference or which group would win if different stable societies were merged. Even in the teenage pregnancy example the difficulty of educating a person and the population size impacts abortions morality.

Now people frequently feel that objective implies uniform, but this is an exaggeration.. it does often increase the rate of a preexisting convergence though.


Okay, coming back to the flag, you may be saying that choice of basic values should be non-objective, but I disagree here too.
(1) Our ethical memes must be good at surviving if they are to survive.
(2) Our past experience with arbitrarily chosen moral values has produced a lot of "intuitively bad" things.
My *intuition* says that taking "increasing the rate of human (mental) evolution" as a basic moral value solves both of these problems, and I think its a good enough idea to warrant extensive testing. Of course, this ethical meme only succeeds at (1) by rapidly making life inhospitable to traditional memes, and I have no idea how various distinct pro-evolutionary meme's will compete.. vorlons and shadows. :)

spoonless
Nov. 29th, 2004 08:19 pm (UTC)
Re: objective ethics

Okay, coming back to the flag, you may be saying that choice of basic values should be non-objective, but I disagree here too.

I'm not saying should be, I'm saying are.

I agree that game theory is an excellent tool for figuring out how to maximize ones chances of achieving a given set of goals. But you always have to input the goals into the system. Those are chosen based on who we are and what we desire, not based on reason or calculation. You'll never be able to calculate, for instance, whether death is preferable to life, or life is preferable to death. It's in the nature of a preference that you have to ask yourself what you prefer. Some people hold as their ideal world peace. Anything else that stands in the way of that goal is considered bad. Others say world peace is too boring, or it hinders the progress of mankind which can be achieved more efficiently through conflict. When you've got a basic clash of ideals, game theory is never going to make the different parties change them. What is can do which is important is tell us how to build a political system which allows us to get along while holding conflicting interests. At least those of us who have certain basic interests in common, and are willing to compromise. But game theory works at the level of politics, not ethics.

We seem to have differing definitions of objectivity. I think we probably agree more or less, but don't like using the same terminology. I think it's important to separate two classes of statements. Consider the following statements:

1.) The World Trade Center fell on Sept 11, 2001.
2.) Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.
3.) The earth is flat.
4.) Captain Crunch is a better cereal than Fruity Pebbles.
5.) Homosexuality is disgusting and immoral.
6.) Abortion is morally wrong.
7.) Killing someone, even in self defense, is wrong.

The first 3, whether true or false, are matters of objective truth. #1 is a fact. #2 is a fact as far as we know. Even if somehow it turns out to be false later, it is still an objective matter, either true or false regardless of what anyone thinks or believes or wants to be true. The third is a factual matter and is false. #4 thru #7 however, are subjective. We can call them subjective truth, but I'd prefer not even to call them truths at all. They are neither true nor false, they are preferences people have, or ideals that they hold... like art, they are matters of taste.

If someone has a taste I don't like, as long as it's not hurting me, I leave them alone. Occasionally people have tastes for things I severely dislike and which could threaten me or others... classic example being Hilter's genocide. In these cases those of us who feel strongly about it must put a stop to it. But in the end, it's not because there is a right or a wrong, it's because we don't like what's going on.

Again, it's possible we agree. But I've outlined here some of the motivations I have for phrasing it this way. I think there is a good reason to separate these classes of truths, otherwise it leads to two very unfortunate things. One, people saying truths such as whether the earth is flat or whether there is a god are subjective, because they think it's not much different from the subjective set of "truths". And two, it leads to people trying to force absolute moralities on everything because they think their morality is a matter of fact rather than taste. Both of these, in my opinion, are terrible results. I tire of both of these outcomes and think that it's important to maintain the split between the realms of "is" and "ought". Value depends on the valuer. Is does not.
burdges
Nov. 30th, 2004 02:33 am (UTC)
Re: objective ethics
Okay, I understand that 4 through 7 are hard to talk about objectively. But even these have been illuminated / influenced by objective thought. I suppose your claiming that objective though will completely answer these, and your perhaps right.. maybe I should make a distinction and use a word besides objective. However, the enormous impact of rational though on these even ideas prevents me from using the word subjective.

4.) Captain Crunch is a better cereal than Fruity Pebbles.

Our modern understanding of nutrition is going to influence any such determination.

5.) Homosexuality is disgusting and immoral.
6.) Abortion is morally wrong.

Anti-homosexuality / anti-abortion memes are pro-reproduction memes (although Dawkins has other theories with other reasons for anti-homosexual memes). No one needs pro-reproduction memees in a word with 6 billion people. Plus, more objective observation recognizes that anti-homosexuality / anti-abortion memes destroy lives, occasionally lifes from the most productive segments of society (like Turing).

7.) Killing someone, even in self defense, is wrong.

I'm not sure I'm prepared to address this one, as I don't know its history.

My point is that, today, the objective influence on these moral values is far greater then the subjective influence. Your saying that the subjective will never be eliminated from these. But I expect the objective to further dominate the subjective in these values, and for the subjective to become increasingly irrelevant. i.e. "is better" is replaced with "is more nutritious" or "tastes better." There I have just reviled a splitting of the question, which arguably preserves the original subjective question, but I think that in the context of choice between these two new questions, the original takes on only a shadow of its once powerful subjective "awe and mistery" and all the "awe and mystery" now flows from the objective nutrition question. Plus, less dangerous artificial sweeteners provide a means to merge the two objective questions without resolving the original subjective one.

Anyway, you have convinced me that I'm overstating it when I say "objective," but I should probably say either "asymptotically objective" or "decreasingly subjective," as I am refering to a process rather then a state. It is important to distinguish between these and the truly objective.
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