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


Howard Pattee said...

To be fair, there is the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics that is often considered consistent with a deterministic reality. There is no way known to disprove this theory by any experiment. I find the theory a "solution" that is worse than the problem.


Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, I agree with you that the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) as a "solution" consistent with deterministic reality is worse than the problem!

I always thought that MWI was too "wasteful" in imagining that multiple new worlds (universes) come into existence upon the "collapse of the wave function" to account for the multiple possible outcomes of a QM experiment.

Also, reading your MWI link, it seems some MWI proponents believe a "sentient" (intelligent) observer is necessary or somehow affects the "collapse". That the presence of a "sentient" observer would change the results of an experiment has always seemed ridiculous to me. (Or, an extreme interpretation that the presence of a video camera at an experiment changes the result only after the video is viewed by a "sentient" observer.)

The best deterministic QM theory IMHO is that of Bohm (or Broglie-Bohm) that sacrifices "locality" by imagining a "pilot wave" or something like that to sense if there are one or two slits open in the "two slit interference" experiment. See

Bohm's theory also explains how the results of the Einstein Podulsky Rosen (EPR) could be consistent with absolute causality and determinism.

Someone said that if Einstein had been alive in the 1980's when Alain Aspect did the EPR experiments that came out badly for Einstein's expectations, Einstein would have sacrificed "locality" rather than determinism.

What thoughts do you have on Bohm?


Howard Pattee said...

Many physicists (I'm one) believe the root of the particle/wave problem is largely caused by how our brain distinguishes "discrete" objects and "continuous" motion. I put discrete and continuous in quotes because they are cognitive constructions that probably do not correspond to fundamental microscopic realities.These sensori-motor brain constructions have evolved to survive in a classical man-sized and moderately energized world. Objects and motion are complementary concepts and are recognized by different processes and in different regions of the brain.

The problem with the concepts of discrete and continuous was recognized long ago by logical thinkers like Zeno and Aristotle. Much of the efforts of great mathematicians of the 17th and 18th century was spent trying to formally (deterministically) describe continuity with discrete symbols (e.g., Cauchy and Dedekind).

Heisenberg's fundamental Uncertainty Relation, which is experimentally well-verified, tells us that nature does not allow the complete deterministic prediction of the position of discrete objects and their motion. It means the brain's two deterministic constructions cannot accurately model Nature's constructions.


Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, thanks for bringing Zeno (ca 490 - 439 BC, pre-Socratic philosopher) into this discussion. See

As you say, Zeno (of Elea, not to be confused with the later Zeno of Citium, an early Stoic) recognized the problem of the concepts of "discrete" and "continuous". While I agree with you that the human brain evolved only those capabilities necessary for satisfactory survival and reproduction, I do not believe that Zeno, ca 450 BC, understood evolution. Therefore, I am not so sure he blamed those conceptual problems on limitations of the human brain.

Furthermore, I think the problem with the concept of "continuous" (and it's natural partner "infinite") is due to a fundamental failure of understanding the Universe in which we live. Even with our evolution-limited brains, we should recognize, IMHO, that the Universe is both finite and discrete (without "scare" quotes).

Quoting from the above a Stanford link: "Simplicius, ... writing a thousand years after Zeno, [says Zeno posed some] 40 ‘paradoxes of plurality’, attempting to show that ontological pluralism—a belief in the existence of many things rather than only one—leads to absurd conclusions; of these paradoxes only two definitely survive, though a third argument can probably be attributed to Zeno. Aristotle speaks of a further four arguments against motion (and by extension change generally), all of which he gives and attempts to refute."

Most of us know Zeno through his paradoxes, including:

- Motion: you cannot move from where you are to a goal because you first have to reduce the distance from your start point to the goal by half, then by a quarter, then an eighth, and so on, in an INFINITE series which would take an INFINITY of time increments. But, of course, you do reach your goal in a finite time, thus neither distance nor time can be divided infinitely.

- Fast and slow runner. For a fast runner to overtake a slow runner, he must first run to the location from which the slow runner started. However, when the fast runner gets to that location, the slow runner will no longer be there, having moved on. Then, the fast runner must run to second location of the slow runner, but, by the time he gets there, the slow runner has moved on. This requires an INFINITE number of incremental moves by the fast runner. But, of course, the fast runner DOES overtake the slow one, thus neither distance (space) nor time is infinitely divisible.

- Flying arrow: At any instant of time, an arrow is motionless. If time consists of an INFINITE number of instants, and the arrow is at rest in any given instant, it cannot move. But, of course, the arrow does fly to the target, thus time and space are not infinitely divisible.

(Continued in next comment) Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

(Continued from previous comment)

As you know, I believe the Universe is a finite, discrete "solid block" or matrix of multiple dimensions (at least four - t, x, y, z - and probably more, perhaps ten or eleven). We are hurtling at the speed of light through that matrix, mostly along the "t" TIME dimension which is why it seems to us so different from the x, y, and z SPACE dimensions. (See Time, the Fourth Dimension).

Although we may never be able to prove it (due to the evolutionary limitations of our brains as noted by Howard) "particles" and "waves" are merely aspects of the Universal Substance, as are "energy" and "mass", "deterministic" and "probabilistic", "local" and "distant", and so on.

I plan to post the next increment of the email "Dialog with Howard Pattee" very soon, in which I make an analogy involving "Flatland". Residents of 2D Flatland cannot understand even simple 3D objects like a can of cola. When a can impinges upon their 2D world, it seems to be a circle, with a continuous edge. However, when that same can is rotated 90 degrees and impinges their 2D world, it appears to be a line, and then a rectangle, with discrete corners. I suggest we are similarly misunderstanding the identity of 4D objects that impinge our 3D world, seeing them as continuous (waves) when they are in one orientation in their 4D world, and as discrete (particles) in another orientation.

Ira Glickstein