Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Flatland, Dimensionality, and QM Hidden Variables

The animated graphic above shows our 3-D Space plus Time view of the physical world and contrasts it with the very different view of "Flatlanders" who are restricted to 2-D Space plus Time. This posting explores the possibility that insights from consideration of Flatland may be extended to higher dimensionality and shed light on what Feynman called "quantum weirdness" and Einstein called "spooky action at a distance".

In particular, could it be that what we perceive as conflicts between "particles" and "waves" are due to the limits of our perception to 3-D Space plus Time? If we imagine 4-D Space or higher dimensionality, could that help us better understand the "weirdness" and "spooky" nature of Quantum Mechanics (QM)? Could we resolve questions about the Nature of the Universe such as deterministic vs probabilistic, discrete vs continuous, brain vs mind, and so on?


Things we recognize as the same appear different to Flatlanders: 3-D Space residents recognize a can of cola as being the exact same object (a cylindrical solid) regardless of whether it is upright or on its side. However, when a 3-D can of cola intrudes upon the 2-D Space of Flatlanders, they see it as several different kinds of figures depending upon its orientation.

At the left edge of the graphic, the can is upright, and, to the Flatlanders, it appears as a CIRCLE of CONSTANT DIAMETER. When an identical can of cola is on its side, the Flatlanders first see a LINE as the lower part of the can intrudes upon their 2-D Space. Then, as the can is lowered, the LINE transforms into a NARROW RECTANGLE. As the can is lowered further, the RECTANGLE WIDENS. So, what is it? A CIRCLE? A LINE? A VARIABLE WIDTH RECTANGLE?

To we 3-D Space persons, the can is one, and only one, 3-D object, a CYLINDRICAL SOLID. To the Flatlanders, it is several different 1-D and 2-D objects.

Things we recognize as different appear the same to Flatlanders: Continuing to view the animated graphic, we see that a ball appears to us to be a 3-D SPHERE. To the Flatlanders, it is first a 0-D POINT, then a 2-D CIRCLE OF VARIABLE DIAMETER.

Furthermore, when the 3-D SPHERE intrudes such that the diameter of the Flatlander's 2-D CIRCLE is the same as the diameter of the upright can, they cannot distinguish between the can and the ball!

Things we recognize as a single object appear as multiple objects to Flatlanders: Continuing to view the graphic, when a moving 3-D hand intrudes into the 2-D Space, the Flatlanders see a wide variety of 0-D, 1-D, and 2-D objects. At first, when only three fingertips intrude, they see three POINTS. Then, as the fingers penetrate further, they see four small CIRCLES plus a POINT representing the thumb. Further penetration of the hand, beyond the wrist, yields an OVAL as viewed by Flatlanders.


In my recent Dialog with Howard Pattee, we speculated on whether the Universe is actually probabilistic, which is the mainstream scientific view, or deterministic, which is definitely the minority view. I speculated that extending the Flatland scenario beyond 2-D and 3-D Space to 4-D and higher-dimensionality, might support an alternative QM interpretation such as that of David Bohm. This posting, which advocates what may be termed "Superdeterminism", is my attempt to support this alternate view.

Classical Physics vs Quantum Physics

Classical physicists accepted the view that the Universe is deterministic and this was the view of  Spinoza, Einstein, Bohm, (and it is also what I -Ira- would like to believe :^).

Quantum physicists generally accept the "Copenhagen Interpretation" of QM which is that the Universe is probabilistic. In our discussion, Howard supported the view that the Universe is probabilistic. While I accept the general consensus that the probabilistic interpretation of QM has stood the test of time and correctly predicted and explained the results of all experiments conducted to date, I nevertheless take the other view.

The Double Slit Experiment - Particles vs Waves

The Double Slit Experiment demonstrates that photons (or electrons) behave like particles when only one slit is open, but like waves when there are two slits. This raises the question: Is matter in general, or sub-atomic matter in particular, really waves or really particles, or something else?

Perhaps residents of a 4-D Space world would see matter as a single type of object and understand why we 3-D Space world residents sometimes see a wave and sometimes a particle? (The can of cola in the graphic above, which we in the 3-D Space world recognize as a single object no matter its orientation, is observed by Flatlanders either a circle with a continuous edge -or- as a line or rectangle with discrete edges.)

The EPR Paradox - Locality vs Realism

Einstein believed that the Universe exhibited both "Locality" (the influence of a distant event cannot be transmitted faster than the speed of light) and "Realism" (the value of a measurement exists before the measurement is made). Experiments conducted in the 1980's appear to prove him wrong and indicate that we must choose between "Locality" and "Realism" - we cannot have both!

I believe Einstein, if he had to choose, would pick "Realism" over "Locality", meaning that a distant event could exert an influence faster than the speed of light. However, perhaps residents of a 4-D Space world would see that the 3-D Space world was curled up within the 4-D Space world such that objects that appear distant in 3-D Space are actually much closer in 4-D Space. In the graphic above, the fingers of the hand appear to Flatlanders as unconnected points or circles, but we, in the 3-D Space world see that they are all parts of a single object.

A cornerstone of the mainstream scientific interpretation of QM is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (1927), which is that it is impossible to exactly measure both the position and momentum of a sub-atomic particle.

In 1935, Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen published a paper that proposed a thought experiment ("EPR") designed to show that Heisenberg Uncertainty was not correct and that QM, as understood and interpreted at the time, was not complete. The EPR idea was to have an experimenter produce two electrons (or photons) that were "entangled" such that they would fly apart at the same velocity in opposite directions and with opposite momentum.

An experimenter at location A would measure the exact time of arrival (and thus velocity) of particle A and a second experimenter at location B (the exact distance in the opposite direction) would measure the momentum of particle B. Since the particles have the same velocity and opposite momenta, this experiment would yield the exact position and momentum of the particles.

According to Wikipedia:
In his groundbreaking 1964 paper, "On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox", physicist John Stewart Bell presented an analogy (based on spin measurements on pairs of entangled electrons) to EPR's hypothetical paradox. Using their reasoning, he said, a choice of measurement setting here should not affect the outcome of a measurement there (and vice versa). After providing a mathematical formulation of locality and realism based on this, he showed specific cases where this would be inconsistent with the predictions of QM.
In 1982, Alain Aspect performed an experiment that did not turn out well for Einstein's expectations. Aspect (and others) experimentally showed that QM was correct and that Einstein's expectations for both "locality" and "realism" could not be supported. In short, you either had to choose "locality" or "realism", but not both!

Einstein had passed away by the time the EPR experiments overturned his expectations. I believe, given the choice, he would insist upon "realism" and abandon "locality". In other words, he would accept that the action of an experimenter "Alice" at point A could instantaneously affect the results obtained by "Bob" at distant point B! (Please note that the EPR experiments did NOT show that INFORMATION could be transmitted from point A to point B faster than the speed of light, only that the actions of the distant experimenter could influence the results obtained locally.)

"Quantum Non-Locality":  The mainstream view of QM is founded on what Feynman called "quantum weirdness" and Einstein termed "spooky action at a distance". The technical term is "quantum non-locality" which means that microscopic measurements may reveal that sub-atomic "particles" that happen to be far apart in Space may never-the-less be "entangled" such that measurement of the state of one "particle" superluminally (faster than the speed of  light) affects the state of the other, no matter how far away it might be!

According to the mainstream view, the action of an experimenter "Alice" at point A could instantaneously affect the results obtained by "Bob" at distant point B! Despite the apparent "weirdness", Feynman accepts the mainstream view. However, Einstein clung to what is now termed "local realism", which is the view that the Universe has both "Locality" and "Realism".

"Locality" means that an object is DIRECTLY influenced ONLY by its immediate surroundings. Thus, the influence of a distant event will be delayed by a length of Time that is at least the distance multiplied by the speed of light. "Locality" is NOT a property of the mainstream interpretation of QM.

"Realism" means that all objects have a VALUE for any possible measurement and that this value EXISTS PRIOR to the measurement. According to the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment, the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM seems to entail that a cat in a sealed box may be both dead and alive until an experimenter opens the box and looks into it! According to that view, the "collapse of the wave function" requires the intervention of a CONSCIOUSNESS. In other words, the Moon may not exist if no one is currently observing it. "Realism" is NOT a property of the mainstream interpretation of QM.


According to Wikipedia:
John Bell discussed "Superdeterminism" in a BBC interview.  
There is a way to escape the inference of superluminal speeds and spooky action at a distance. But it involves absolute determinism in the universe, the complete absence of free will. Suppose the world is super-deterministic, with not just inanimate nature running on behind-the-scenes clockwork, but with our behavior, including our belief that we are free to choose to do one experiment rather than another, absolutely predetermined, including the "decision" by the experimenter to carry out one set of measurements rather than another, the difficulty disappears.  
There is no need for a faster than light signal to tell particle A what measurement has been carried out on particle B, because the universe, including particle A, already "knows" what that measurement, and its outcome, will be.  
Although he [Bell]  acknowledged the loophole, he also argued that it was implausible. Even if the measurements performed are chosen by deterministic random number generators, the choices can be assumed to be "effectively free for the purpose at hand," because the machine's choice is altered by a large number of very small effects. It is unlikely for the hidden variable to be sensitive to all of the same small influences that the random number generator was. 
Superdeterminism has also been criticized because of perceived implications regarding the validity of science itself. For example, Anton Zeilinger has commented: "[W]e always implicitly assume the freedom of the experimentalist... This fundamental assumption is essential to doing science. If this were not true, then, I suggest, it would make no sense at all to ask nature questions in an experiment, since then nature could determine what our questions are, and that could guide our questions such that we arrive at a false picture of nature."

As I read the above objections to Superdeterminism (or as I usually call it "Absolute or Strict Causality") it seems to me that Bell and Zeilinger are wrong to assume that the experimenter is "effectively free" or "we always assume the freedom of the experimentalist". As Bell acknowledges in the quote above, it is well known that what we commonly call a "random" number generator running in a digital computer is actually bit-for-bit DETERMINISTIC. That is, if we repeatedly start the "random" number generator with a given key number, the computer will repeat the exact same sequence of supposedly "random" numbers AND that sequence will pass statistical tests of "randomness"!

We all agree that a digital computer is a discrete, finite, deterministic machine. According to my view, so is the Universe. Yes, the Universe is much, much, much more complex, but it, and all biological organisms within the Universe, including humans, are machines! 

[UPDATE 29 Dec 2013] I have posted a follow-up to this Topic, with a new animated graphic, that extends the Flatland 2-D Space vs our 3-D Space dichotomy into higher dimensionality to further explore implications for our understanding of QM, see Flatland, Particle-Wave Duality and Super-Luminal Effects.

Ira Glickstein

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dialog with Howard Pattee - Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions

From Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid 
by Douglas Hofstadter.
A 3D block projects three different
letters when illuminated along the three axes.
Howard Pattee's 2008 paper Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages is available for download here. I recently re-read it in detail and engaged in what was for me an interesting and rewarding email dialog with Howard.

This is the fifth in a planned multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.

Click for Part 1 - His 2008 Paper

Click for Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability

Click for Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy

Click for Part 4 - Property Dualism


The following excerpts are from emails from Ira Glickstein to Howard Pattee (Oct 19 11:06 PM, Oct 21 11:56, Oct 23 10:21 PM, Oct 22 12:34 AM) and his replies (Oct 21 3:01 PM, Oct 23 10:21 AM).

[IRA GLICKSTEIN]  Howard, THANKS for your prompt and courteous replies to my questions and critique on your 2008 paper. If I have your permission, I am considering putting a new Topic on my Blog linking to your newly posted 2008 paper and possibly including our recent email dialog. … I think a new Pattee Topic with a specific paper link will be welcomed by your many admirers. So, please let me know how you feel about this "opportunity" :^)

[HOWARD PATTEE]  Ira, You have my permission to publish my more-or-less "scholarly" email discussions with you, but notify or link me to it so I know what's being discussed. …

[IG] Thanks for permission to publish your scholarly replies to my probing response to your 2008 paper. I will certainly link it to you when I publish it …

[HP] Other thoughts. Within a few years 90% of the population will have smartphones, and I estimate that much less than 1% will have any idea of how they work, or even have the background knowledge to understand how they work.

The world is already divided into the very rich and very poor, and all the large financial institutions owned by the rich have proven to be corrupt without help from technology. Technology divides us further into a priesthood of techies (good and evil) and the Luddites. This is now a very unstable situation as we are already experiencing with the NSA/CSS leaks and all the international hacking activities (e.g., Stuxnet and who knows what else?).

Experts say our infrastructure (power, transportation, finance) is at risk. I would say that compared to this technological instability global warming is a minor risk. What do you think? Howard

[IG] Well, as you know, I am a Guest Contributor to the world's most popular climate website. I accept that the mean surface temperature of the Earth has increased since 1880, and that part of that increase is undoubtedly due to human activities such as unprecedented burning of fossil fuels increasing Atmospheric CO2 from about 270 to the current 400 ppmv. However, I am sure the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has over-estimated the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity - ECS (how much the surface will warm given a doubling of CO2) by at least a factor of two, and perhaps three. That is why all IPCC warming predictions since their first in 1990 have been on the high side compared to measured temperatures.

That IPCC error explains why temperatures have stabilized over the past 17 years even as CO2 levels continue their rapid rise. Thus, most of the warming is due to Natural Cycles, not under human control. The moderate warming and moderate CO2 increase experienced so far may be net beneficial to human civilization, and, in any case, poses no real danger. (And, even if it does pose a risk, since most of it is due to Natural Cycles we humans cannot control, we really cannot stop it, so we will have to adapt, using TECHNOLOGY.)

So, I agree with you that technological instability IS a greater risk than global warming. Technological instability includes, IMHO, a genetic engineering disaster, nuclear disaster, political chaos disaster due to runaway debt triggering riots and class warfare leading to tyranny, etc. But, the only way we can continue human civilization given the inevitability of Natural Cycles of global warming (and global cooling - see the ice core record of alternating ice ages and warm ages about every 100,000 years) IS adaptation using technology.

Thus, we have to accept the risk of technological instability as the price of survival. Ira

[IG] Howard, you earlier brought up property dualism, where a single Material Substance can have both "physical" and "mental" properties as described in the linked Wikipedia entry. I think of these properties as being different aspects or views of a single material thing, such as continuous vs discrete, finite vs infinite, particles vs waves, energy vs matter, mind vs brain, etc. Thinking about it, I came up with the following analogy to Flatland, …

[HP] Ira: … Your idea of knowledge as projection from higher dimensions is essential. It also shows us that there is no one right answer. Complementary views are necessary, even when they appear contradictory …

[IG] … a 3D cylinder (like a can of soda) intrudes upon the Flatlander's 2D plane of existence. If it approaches slowly and side first, they will initially sense a line segment. Then, as it penetrates further they will sense a long, narrow rectangle. Further penetration will result in a somewhat wider rectangle. On the other hand, if the can approaches end first, they will sense a circle of constant diameter.

[HP] See jacket of Hofstadter's Godel_Escher_Bach [NOTE: Illustrated above] where one block's projections cast three different letters. … I think the earliest example of projection is the allegory of Plato's_Cave. …

[IG] So, what is it? A line, a rectangle, or a circle? …

[HP] Projections from higher dimensions is basic in quantum mechanics where we model the "states of reality" by an infinite dimensional, complex, normed vector space (Hilbert space). A measurement is a projection of this space rotated by the choice of the basis vectors. Nobody agrees on what the "states of reality" means. Read a little of Schlosshauer's Elegance_and_Enigma:   The Quantum Interviews (The Frontiers Collection) Maximilian Schlosshauer ...

[IG] Thinking about aspect dualism further, if the can approaches at an angle, it will appear to the Flatlanders to be in any of a variety of shapes. It could look like a trapezoid, an ellipse, a triangle with one curved side, etc. However, when in circle mode, a cylinder will always have a constant diameter.

If a sphere (ball) approaches their plane of existence, they will initially sense a point, then a small circle, increasing in diameter. However, the sphere will never appear to be an ellipse nor anything containing a sharp angle. Flatlanders distinguish a cylinder from a sphere by it having a variable diameter and by never having a sharp angle.

So, if we humans are stuck (evolved) in a world where sensing 3D plus time is all that is needed to survive and replicate, we will forever be limited in how we sense 4D and higher material objects that intrude upon our 3D solid of existence. Sometimes material objects will appear to be continuous (like the edge if a can when it is in its circle mode in Flatland) and sometimes discrete (like the edge of a can when it is in it's rectangle mode in Flatland. Sometimes the intrusions will seem to us to be particles, sometimes waves, and so on.

But what about material vs "information" (otherwise known as brain vs "mind")? Well, I would say that "information" is an abstraction that may never be absolutely true, and will seldom be absolutely false. The Flatlanders may all agree that an intrusive object of type “C” has multiple modes (line, rectangle, trapezoid, circle, ellipse, and so on) and that it never has the ability to change diameter, and that an intrusive object of type “B” may change diameter but never have sharp angles, and thus correctly call them by different names (which we -but not them- understand to be a can and a ball), but that "information" is a mere abstraction that does not capture the material truth. …

[HP] Many physicists interpret the mathematics of QM as an expression of the statistical information that is just sufficient to give the best predictions. The wave function or a vector in Hilbert space is just a strange kind of potential distribution from which we calculate probabilities of measured events (N.B. Born's_Rule and Gleason's _Theorem appear to rule out determinism). When we get new information from a measurement, the probability distribution is immediately changed ("collapse of the wave function").

Born argued that this is also the case in classical mechanics because empirically it is not deterministic. I agree with Born that all dynamic models should be understood as change of probability distributions in time. …

[IG] Thus we (scientists) gather "information" and come up with ways to measure and distinguish different hyper-dimensional objects that intrude upon our solid of existence, and notice and document and quantify the correspondence between "electrons" or "photons" when in their "particle" mode or in their "wave" mode, but we will never really, really apprehend what these hyper-dimensional objects "really" are!

We know how to convert "matter" to "energy" (nuclear energy) but we will never know what they "really" are.

Like the child (or senior citizen) who knows how to skillfully operate his or her HDTV set and DVR and PC and iPad, but has no real knowledge of radio frequency waves or computers or software, we will forever possess incomplete "information" that is a rough abstraction of real, real, "reality"!

[HP] This should be called Ira's modern view of Plato's Cave-- the Allegory of the iPad. Howard

Ira Glickstein

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dialog with Howard Pattee - Part 4 - "Property Dualism"

"Property Dualism" based on Wikipedia
Howard Pattee's 2008 paper "Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages" is available for download here. I recently re-read it in detail and engaged in what was for me an interesting and rewarding email dialog with Howard.

This is the fourth in a planned multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.

Click for Part 1 - His 2008 Paper

Click for Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability

Click for Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy

Click for Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions


By the time I wrote my Oct 19th email (excerpted below), I had carefully re-read the remaining sections of Howard's paper.

For Blog readers who have not yet read the original paper (and to remind those who have), and to provide context regarding Howard's personal journey from the "material school" to what is now called "biosemiotics", here is the first part of Section 4 of his paper:
4. Early personal history of the problem
There are more requirements for a polymer sequence to function as a symbol besides energy degeneracy, coding rules, and the ability to fold into a specific catalyst. The entire system must be able to replicate and to persist by heritable variation and natural selection. It was only after studying the nature of hierarchical organization, von Neumann’s logic of self-replication, and the measurement problem that I began to understand the essential semiotic requirement that symbols and codes must be part of a language to allow open-ended evolution. To explain this I need to recount a brief personal history.
The symbol-matter problem first arose in my thinking about the origin of life. I have to agree with Laotsu that symbols emerged from the lawful material universe at the origin of life. From an evolutionary point of view I do not see how one can support the claim that semiotic principles are on the same footing as physical laws. Symbols and life are coextensive concepts and their occurrence in the universe is cosmically very recent and exceedingly sparse, at least for life as we know it.
Before the discoveries of the genetic code and protein synthesis, physicists often viewed life as a basic challenge to natural laws, and many expressed doubt that life is reducible to physical laws. Bohr (1933), Delbrück, and Schrödinger are prominent examples of those whose thoughts on the subject are in the literature (e.g., McKaughan, 2005). Like many other physicists at the time, I was challenged by the central question raised by in Schrödinger’s "What Is Life?” He asks how the gene, “that miniature code,” could reliably control the development of such highly complicated organisms. In the 1960s there were two schools of thought; one school focused on the molecular structure and biochemistry of life, the other school (that should now be recognized as “biosemiotics”) focused on the informational aspects of genetic control (e.g., Beadle, 1963; Kendrew 1968; Stent, 1968; Delbrück, 1970).
I first belonged to the material school because my physics research was on x-ray microscopic and micro diffraction techniques for studying cell structure. Because the origin of life certainly requires understanding the origin of higher levels of organization, I also began to study hierarchical structures, specifically how new levels of organization are distinguished and whether higher levels of structure were objective, a descriptive convenience, or an epistemic necessity. …

The following excerpts are from an email from Ira Glickstein to Howard Pattee (Oct 19, 12:30 AM) and his reply (Oct 19, 10:58 AM).

NOTE: In his email, Howard includes the following links to Wikipedia that, for some reason, I could not get to be clickable within the quoted excerpts below, so here they are in clickable form: mind-matter problem, information-entropy distinction, and property dualist.

[IRA GLICKSTEIN] Howard, I just completed reading the remaining sections of your paper in detail. Of course I am always impressed by your writing style and calm, non-threatening attitude of presentation. I found it quite satisfying to once again spend time reading and trying to understand your reasoning processes, and I totally respect your valuable contributions to our understanding of hierarchy theory, complexity, the semiotic cut, biosemiotics, semiotic closure, and so on. So, please take the following in a positive sense as I intend it.

[HOWARD PATTEE] Ira, Here are my comments stimulated by your thoughtful discussion of my paper.

[IG] You contrast two schools of thought in the 1960s, one (with you, initially, as a member) that focused on the "material" aspects of molecular structure and biochemistry of life, while the second focused on the "informational" aspects of genetic control, that you note would now be called "biosemiotics".

You also ask whether hierarchical descriptions of complex systems are simply accepted and employed by humans because they make it easier to describe and understand these complex systems, or whether these levels actually exist. You, I am fairly sure, would now say the correct focus is on the informational aspects and that the hierarchical levels and structures are real and actually exist.

[HP] No, I am not focusing only on informational aspects. All information must have a physical embodiment. Symbols vehicles are matter or energy. I'm focusing on the symbol-matter problem. I consider the symbol-matter problem the primitive and simpler case of the philosophers' mind-matter problem. In physics it is related to the information-entropy distinction. I am a property dualist, or what I call an epistemic dualist; I am not a Cartesian substance dualist which is what you are worried about.

[IG] I would like to join your view, but I am worried that it veers too close to the Scilla and Charybdis of dualism - the idea that material and "spirit" are separate and distinct (and only interact thru the agency of God). You are careful to say you are not a dualist and that everything is material. The "mind" is not separate from the physical brain, and so on. But, is that a tenable position? Useful it definitely is, but is it in any sense to be literally interpreted?

[HP] Yes, I expect to be interpreted literally, which by definition means "following the words of the original very closely and exactly." I am a property dualist (which is not close to substance dualism) and I state that all symbols and symbolic activity require a material basis, which includes all forms of matter and energy, known and unknown.

[IG] At IBM and Lockheed Martin I conceptualized and designed complex avionics systems and software. On my diagrams, I had a hierarchy of software modules inside a number of physical computers. … Now, if you and I examined an actual aircraft, we would find the avionics as a number of metal boxes, connected by wires. … We would be hard-pressed to find that hierarchy of software modules and systems and subsystems I used to conceptualize and design that avionics system! What happened to my neat and easily conceptualized hierarchy of systems, subsystems, components and modules? It vanished into thin air like your fist when you unclench it to shake hands.

The above reasoning seems to me to support the idea that the actual avionics system is merely "material" and all the "informational" and "hierarchical" stuff is simply the way we humans have come up with to make it more convenient for us to conceptualize, design, and construct a complex system.

[HP] It is not "merely material." It is carefully selected matter precisely assembled only by virtue of the information in your brain (which is also a material structure). This design and construction information is certainly not just a "convenience." It is an absolute necessity. The genetic information performs the same design and construction information for the organism.

[IG] Even the computer program, when loaded into the computer as a string of electrical pulses, causes millions of semiconductor junctions to physically flip to different electrical states (that we call "1" and "0"). It is all physical!

[HP] Of course as a monist it must be all physical. To a physicalist, existence is all physical. But you have to understand what "physical" really entails. The laws of physics are moot without the information acquired from measurement of initial conditions and boundary conditions. Information structures are boundary conditions that control the lawful dynamics.

[IG] Yes, the specific order of those computer bits does control the displayed symbols and does make the radar antenna scan back and forth and so on, and (if it is the flight control subsystem) actually control the engine and airfoils and make the plane fly, but all the "information" is in the "minds" of us human engineers and programmers. Oh, and our "minds" (as you agree) are merely patterns of neuronal connections among the physical neuronal cell of our brains! So, where is the "information"? The "hierarchy"?

[HP] As I said, the computer code and the neural structure are not "merely" anything. They form the informational boundary conditions that control the dynamics.

[IG] Don't tell me the information and hierarchy is on my diagrams and computer program listings.

[HP] That is exactly what I'm telling you. The hierarchical levels are obvious in computer design, and not so obvious in brains. Without your information there would be no computers, and without genetic information there would be no brains.

[IG] Nope, all those are merely paper with ink marks, or computer chips with various voltages on millions of tiny structures, and displays with complex dots of light. None of this is "information" until a human looks at it, and, even then, all it is is patterns and weights of neural connections. OY!

[HP] Four billion years before humans looked at genes, their information was instructing matter how to replicate and evolve into humans.

[IG] As I write the above I feel a sense of loss. I never really believed in God as an intelligence external to the Universe, but I can imagine how a true believer might feel a big loss if we reasoned him or her out of the "God delusion". Is the "mind" a delusion if we really believe it exists? But you say you are a materialist, and I believe you are.

[HP] What do you think you have lost? Eddington: "There is nothing to prevent the assemblage of atoms constituting a brain from being of itself a thinking object [with 'free will'] in virtue of that nature which physics [the laws] leaves undetermined and undeterminable." Most of the structures in the universe are not determined by laws, but by chance (Gell-Mann's "frozen accidents").

[IG] … the "mind" is a word we use to conveniently describe something that is too complex to describe in full neuronal detail. Just as "God" is a word we use to describe the aspects of the Universe that we will never understand in full detail - the wonderful Laws of Nature, the Universal substance we can only perceive as interchangeable "energy" and "matter", of "waves" and "particles", of "random" and "deterministic", of "infinite" and "finite", of "continuous" and "discrete". … but I am optimistic:

“My candle burns at both ends / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends - / It gives a lovely light.” Edna St. Vincent Millay, "A Few Figs from Thistles", 1920

Love from Ira (who did not expect this tome to keep me up past midnight)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dialog with Howard Pattee - Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy

Howard Pattee's 2008 paper "Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages" is available for download here. I recently re-read it in detail and engaged in what was for me an interesting and rewarding email dialog with Howard.

This is the third in a planned multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.

Click for Part 1 - His 2008 Paper

Click for Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability

Click for Part 4 - Property Dualism

Click for Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions


The following excerpts are from an email from Ira Glickstein to Howard Pattee (Oct 16, 3:28 PM) and his reply (Oct 16, 8:21 PM)

[IRA GLICKSTEIN] Howard: Wow! A nearly instant reply with considerable detail. THANKS.

[HOWARD PATTEE] Ira, I'm always ready to argue over fundamentals of epistemology, provided I have time. What do we know?

[IG] I read your comments and the attachment in detail. Of course, I know that my finite, discrete, determinate Universe flies in the face of all the accepted QM theory and experiments. So far, the Copenhagen interpretation of QM has done exceedingly well in all experiments and therefore I am almost certainly wrong. But, since your Universe is, at heart, probabilistic, even you have to admit there is some non-zero possibility I am right :^)

[HP] The interesting psychological question is why you persist in holding on to a belief that in your own "rational"? thinking " you agree is "almost certainly wrong." Jonathan Haidt would say it is because your belief has a sacred aspect that is more important than reason. He says this is a stronger tendency in conservatives than in liberals. Do you think he has a point?

[IG] If the Universe is really continuous in time and space, and if energy and matter can be infinitely divided, then I agree that the Universe cannot be fully determinate. So, I lose in that case.

[HP] I don't think you lose on that point. I agree with Poincaré that infinity and continuity are constructs of the human imagination that have no observable consequents.

[IG] But, has time and space really been shown to be infinitely divisible? Is energy mass infinitely divisible?

[HP] Certainly not. The evidence simply disappears in the uncertainty. relations and the quantum foam.

[IG] I like simple physical thought experiments.

[HP] But until they are checked by experiments don't bet on them. Historically they are often wrong.

[IG] Consider chess, a finite, discrete system where all possible board states may be enumerated and placed in logical time order. Any given board state may have only some relatively small number of predecessors and successors according to the rules of chess. Thus, each possible game sequence of chess may be specified, and all possible sequences of chess board states may be enumerated as a finite set.

Now consider my finite, discrete Universe as a really big multidimensional array in spacetime with a finite number of energy and mass quanta. All possible Universe states (up to a certain time since the Big Bang) may (in theory) be enumerated. Unlike chess, the Universe has no external players, so each Universe state has one and only one successor state. Thus, given perfect knowledge of the initial starting state (at the Big Bang) or any other time since that event, there is only one valid string of Universe states. The result is the past, current, and future history string of the one and only Universe we have the privilege of being a part of.

[HP] That is the issue. There is no evidence that this order of states is unique or deterministic. The Path Integral formulation or sum-over-histories of QM say otherwise. So in this case the chess game is not a good analogy. Howard

[IG] Love, and thanks for your willingness to communicate with such a misguided soul as myself. Ira

[added 9 Nov 2013] The following excerpts are from an email from Ira Glickstein to Howard Pattee (Oct 17, 12:07 AM) with my reply to Howard's reference to Jonathan Haidt and his "Five Channels of Morality".

[IG] Howard, yes, I guess my belief in determinism has a "sacred" aspect that helps me continue to be optimistic in the face of all the chaos of the world situation of continual warfare, both physical and political, and of my inevitable demise as I watch my fellow residents leave Freedom Pointe at the rate of a couple a month, some "feet first" and others to Assisted Living or skilled nursing. I know I am a lot closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, and, having no real belief in traditional religion, and having sold my shotgun and rifle ten years ago when we left NY, I apparently need something to cling to. My committed Christian political allies have their "guns or religion ..." and I would have nothing if not for my determined determinism :^)

On the other hand, I do not think either Spinoza or Einstein were particularly conservative in their attitudes towards social, political, or traditional religious matters, yet they were both strict determinists to the ends of their lives.

But I do accept Haidt's study result that conservatives are more likely to honor the sacred than liberals. We discussed Haidt's "five channels of morality" here and he shows that conservatives value each of the five (harm, fairness, authority, ingroup and purity) about equally, while liberals tend to rate harm and fairness way above the other three, with purity at the bottom. If we equate the sacred with what Haidt calls purity, which is reasonable, then conservatives value the sacred more highly than liberals. But, both conservatives and liberals rate harm the highest.

Meanwhile, I am encouraged by your reference to Poincaré that infinity and continuity are constructs of the human imagination that have no observable consequents. That would imply that either the Universe is neither infinite nor continuous but only seems so to our limited human minds, or, that, even if it is both infinite and continuous, that would not have the random consequences I attribute to continuity.

When I ask if "time and space [have] really been shown to be infinitely divisible? Is energy mass infinitely divisible?" You reply "Certainly not. The evidence simply disappears [in QM uncertainty] ..."

So, I remain hopeful (and you and accepted physics remain uncertain - at least in the QM sense!) Ira

Ira Glickstein

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dialog with Howard Pattee - Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability

Howard Pattee's 2008 paper "Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages" is available for download here. I recently re-read it in detail and engaged in what was for me an interesting and rewarding email dialog with Howard.

This is the second in a planned multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.

Click for Part 1 - His 2008 Paper

Click for Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy

Click for Part 4 - Property Dualism

Click for Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions


At the time I wrote my Oct 16th email (excerpted below), I had carefully re-read the first three sections of Howard's paper.

For Blog readers who have not yet read the original paper (and to remind those who have), and to provide context regarding our long-standing differences of opinion as to causality, determinism, and the arbitrariness of symbols, here are the titles and initial paragraphs of each of the first three sections of Howard's paper:
1. Epistemology and terminology are problems for biosemiotics
There are classical epistemic problems that have troubled the greatest minds for over 2000 years without reaching any consensus. This is the case for conceptual dualisms, like discrete and continuous, chance and determinism, form and function, and especially the mind-body problem that has persistently puzzled philosophers, and is still a central issue for philosophy, psychology, artificial life, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science. It is also closely related to fundamental issues in physics, the information-energy relation and what is known as the measurement problem. All of these problems are related to a category I have generalized as symbol-matter problem.
Biosemiotics, virtually by definition, cannot escape these problems. In my view, the central difficulty with the historical mind-body problem is that philosophy approached it from the wrong end of evolution. The many concepts and terminologies that have been invented to describe thought and language at the highest evolutionary levels of human cognition are not conceptually or empirically clear enough to adequately describe symbolic control at the cellular level where this duality first appears, and where it is simple enough to understand. Because my education began as a physics student, I learned that one must thoroughly understand very simple problems before one could even think clearly about more complex problems. …
2. The rules of symbols and the laws of matter have incompatible epistemic assumptions.
Let me begin with two epistemic assumptions that are a common source of misunderstanding. Models of symbol systems and material systems are based on incompatible epistemic assumptions. Physical laws ― the laws of matter and energy ― are based on the principle that any candidate for a law must give the same results for all conceivable observers and for arbitrary changes of reference frames. These conditions are called invariance and symmetry principles. Physical laws seek to describe those relations between events over which individual agents, whether single cells or humans, ideally have no control or freedom to make changes. Laws must appear universal and inexorable. By contrast, any candidate for a symbol system is based on the condition that all individual agents, from cells to humans, ideally have complete symbol-writing freedom within the syntactic constraints of the symbol system.
In other words, physical laws must give the impression that events do not have alternatives and could not be otherwise (Wigner, 1964), while informational symbolic structures must give the impression that they could be otherwise, and must have innumerable ways of actually being otherwise. Semiotic events are based on an endless choice of alternatives, not only in symbol sequences but also in codes that interpret the symbols. It is just those innumerable alternatives, selected by heritable propagation, that are the prerequisites for evolution as well as for creative thought. …
3. How can symbols and codes be free of physical laws?
This question is a second common source of misunderstanding about the symbol-matter problem. It is a belief among many scientists and philosophers that because physical laws are universal and inexorable there is in principle no room for alternative behaviors, in particular, the freedom of symbolic information, and ultimately free-will. This is a belief with a psychological basis that long predates the discovery of physical laws. It is rooted in the concept of causality ―the feeling that every event must have a cause. Aristotle and Lucretius could not accept indeterminism long before Laplace and Einstein. ...

The following excerpts are from an email from Ira Glickstein to Howard Pattee (Oct 16, 8:25 AM) and his reply (Oct 16, 12:51 PM)

[IRA GLICKSTEIN] Howard: thanks for uploading this paper. I am currently reading it in detail and am up to section 4. You make a very strong case for indeterminacy and arbitrariness of symbols. Of course, I accept that our human brains, even when assisted by highest technology sensors and computers cannot determine the future of evolution and natural (or even artificial) selection.

However, if (a BIG IF) time and space are finite and discrete (as, apparently are the quanta of matter) THEN (I would like to believe and therefore I do believe), at the Big Bang when a finite amount of matter/energy and space-time and the finite, Universal, and unchanging Laws of Nature originated, there were (and therefore still are) only a finite number of possible states of the Universe.
[HOWARD PATTEE] The issue of determinism vs probability does not depend on discreteness. It depends on the nature of laws and what we call states of a system. There is no empirical evidence that the state of a system is exact. It is a probability distribution according to most interpretations of QM. Born even argues that classical models are probability distributions.
The laws may be unchanging but still only probabilistic, as well as the states.
[IG] Thus, the sequence of formation of our Universe and ultimately of life and it's associated symbols, were (and are) fully determined.

I guess we are each too old to modify our basic beliefs.…

[HP] At least I can claim that all of the empirical evidence that I have acquired is consistent with a probabilistic universe. I have never come across any evidence of strict determinism. I have only experienced events with very good statistics.

I agree, however, that faith in determinism and God cannot be disproved by empirical evidence.
[IG] Meanwhile, THANKS again for being such an important part of my intellectual and personal life. …
[HP] Keep thinking. Howard
Ira Glickstein

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dialog with Howard Pattee - Part 1 - His 2008 Paper

Howard Pattee's 2008 paper "Physical and functional conditions for symbols, codes, and languages" is available for download here. I recently re-read it in detail and engaged in what was for me an interesting and rewarding email dialog with Howard (who is still paying the price for being Chairman of my PhD committee nearly two decades ago :^). He has given me his permission to share his comments on my email critiques of his 2008 paper, and I plan to do so in subsequent postings in this "Dialog with Howard Pattee" series.

This is the first in a multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.

Click for Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability

Click for Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy

Click for Part 4 - Property Dualism

Click for Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions


Howard has been an Author, Commenter and/or Subject on this Blog almost since its inception in 2007. Although he has not actively posted here for some time, I've noticed that postings by or about him, as well as postings where he has made comments, consistently garner high numbers of page views, year after year. Clearly, his name is a popular Google search term!

Although I have known and highly respected Howard since I first met him at Binghamton University as a System Science professor in the early 1990's, I still have difficulty getting my anal engineer's brain around his important contributions to the field now called "biosemiotics" (from the Greek bios meaning "life" and semeion meaning "sign"). At my request, he summarized the field of biosemiotics on this blog, here.


He began his graduate study of physics in the 1940's and was attracted to the classic problem of the physical basis of life. Rather than concentrate on the chemical basis of how living organisms are created from non-living matter, he approached it from the conceptual problem of where symbolic function emerges in the context of physical laws. Howard's research interests include: Physics of Symbols, Origin of Life, Epistemology, the Symbol-Matter Problem, the Quantum Measurement Problem, Biosemiotics, and the Epistemic Cut.
The very idea of the "physics of symbols" seems like a contradiction in terms to me. Howard and I have gone round and round on the "reality" of how a physical thing becomes a "sign" and a "sign" becomes a "symbol".  Although Howard is not a "dualist" in the way René Descartes considered "mental" and "material" to be two different substances, he calls himself a "property dualist" in our dialog, believing that the world consists of one type of physical substance that has both "physical" and "mental" properties.

His latest book, co-authored with Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, was published in 2012 as Biosemiotics, Volume 7 2012, LAWS, LANGUAGE and LIFE, Howard Pattee’s classic papers on the physics of symbols with contemporary commentary.

Links to many of his papers are available at:

I hope Howard's many fans will post comments on this Blog.


Ira Glickstein