Open thread

I haven’t done an open thread in awhile. I was meaning to get out a full post today, but of the several ideas I’ve got in my head right now, I don’t know what people would most be interested in. I could continue my series on the ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics, talking about Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, etc. but I’m not quite feeling it at the moment. So consider this an open thread to talk about whatever you want, express preferences for future posts, and ask me questions.

  • trivialknot

    Will you ever blog about decision theory? When you posted that you were reading Yudkowski’s paper on TDT earlier, I got interested in the topic. Never finished reading that paper though.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Good question. I certainly feel there’s a lot more that could be said about TDT. But doing it well would be time-consuming. I’ll make a not of it as something to return to when I find the time.

  • urbster1

    What is the ontology of the fundamental laws of physics on materialism? Scientists want to believe they exist. See 56:57 of this video: Yet Weinberg can’t account for what they are! Why not? He says “they’re not made of anything” so what are they? “It’s the relations [between the particles] that are real” but what does that mean? If you rewind the video to about 39:45 Weinberg says “I suppose you would say that it’s real because it exists in minds and the minds are in brains…” Yet Carroll asks, “so Schrödinger’s equation is real because people can write it down?” For me, Alex Rosenberg nails it at 40:20 when he says “the biggest problem for me philosophically … that’s ‘what is the metaphysics and epistemology of mathematical truths’?” I saw your previous post about a book on the philosophy of mathematics, but it didn’t seem to really address this issue. Would you be inclined to say that (regardless of symbols, characters, or semantic terms used) that A always equals A? Or would you argue that A=A is not always true (even regardless of symbols)? Is the universe just random, or are there underlying laws and principles? Is math just a language that humans made up, or do the underlying structures or patterns actually exist in some sense? If so, how and in what sense? If not, isn’t it essentially a matter of faith on behalf of scientists like Steven Weinberg (who admits if he didn’t think they were real that he in fact made a mistake in his choice of career) who believe in such mathematical “laws” that can not be experimentally detected or scientifically observed? But again if the structures / patterns / laws do exist, would we not have a justification to infer that mathematical objects exist in some non-material sense (in the sense that Weinberg admitted)? In effect, doesn’t this spell the end for materialism (naturalism)? How can a scientific law exist without being subject to all the laws of entropy, change, and decay like the rest of matter?

    • Ray

      The laws are real in the sense that they can be written down. They’re true in the sense that all the things that exist act according to them (i.e. they are material objects. — for the purposes of this discussion, I’m taking acting in accordance with physical law to be a definition of materiality.) Also, to head off one piece of possible confusion, when I say the laws are true at all times, I do not mean that the laws are written down at all times, just that, when they are written down, they accurately describe all times and places. A map of the world may accurately depict Jakarta without actually being in Jakarta.

      As far as the second law of thermodynamics goes. First of all, it says entropy cannot go down, not that it must go up. Thus, even if you could come up with a well defined notion of entropy that would be higher if the laws of physics became false, the second law does not require the laws must become false. Second of all, the derivation of the second law presumes the laws are true, by way of the Louisville theorem in Classical Mechanics, and by way of the unitarity of the time evolution operator in Quantum Mechanics. So, whatever ontological status you want to give to the laws of physics, the second law of thermodynamics cannot require that they be false, without removing the reasons why physicists generally suspect the second law to be true.

      • urbster1

        So is this question either unanswerable or meaningless, on your view?

        • Ray

          which question? You have a lot of sentences ending in question marks.

          If it’s your fist question. The laws exist in the backwards E mathematical sense, but not in the “there’s a stapler on my desk” sense. The senses are sufficiently different that you can decide the laws literally exist or not, depending whether you want to consider “there exists” to be a literal or figurative reading of the backwards E.

          In any event it doesn’t matter. The mere existence of the laws, in the mathematical sense, doesn’t cause them to be followed. Newton’s laws of motion backwards E exist, they just don’t accurately describe our world. I assume your interest here is God, and if you’re tempted to say God exists in the backwards E sense, this might prevent the materialist from consistently denying his existence. Nonetheless, you will have only opened up room for a God who is as impotent to produce a virgin birth as Newton’s laws are to produce an object moving faster than light in our relativistic universe.

          If it’s your last question. No I don’t think any of this stuff is a threat to materialism. At best, if your objections held, you would have shown that the materialist had inaccurately described his position. The materialist position is not contradictory as actually applied. People who call themselves Materialists consistently deny p-zombies, virgin births of male humans, witches, goblins, etc. while consistently accepting atoms, molecules, conservative force fields, etc. So if you show that some statement, purporting to describe materialism, logically implies denial of what actual materialists accept, or acceptance of what actual materialists deny, then you have simply shown that the statement is an incorrect description of materialism.

          • urbster1

            How does materialism account for this difference in types of existence — what is the nature of the so-called “backwards E” existence as opposed to existence itself, and how is it simply by decision that “backwards E” laws come into existence? Do such laws exist only when decided upon, and what informs this decision? I have no interest in “god” unless we are opening up the concept of “god” for debate since no one agrees on what such a concept refers to. The truth of the existence of physical laws and mathematics does not depend on any god, according to Leibniz: “I know that it is the opinion of Descartes that the truth of things depends on the divine will; this has always seemed absurd to me. For thus the necessity of the divine existence, and therefore of the divine will, itself depends on the divine will. Thus it will be a nature prior, yet posterior to itself. Besides, the principle of necessary truths is only this: that the contrary implies a contradiction in terms …. Since then the incompossibility of contradictories does not depend on the divine will, it follows that neither does truth depend on it. Who would say that A is not non-A because God has decreed it?” (G., I, 253). Leibniz was no Christian; his “God” is essentially a 100% rational mathematical mind: “When God calculates and exercises his thought, the world is made.” This is done according to the laws of mathematics which precedes any god. In fact, the principle of sufficient reason applies to any god because there is no sufficient reason why conditions for the existence of one creator god would not be ipso facto valid for infinite creator gods; therefore, monotheism is impossible.
            According to Chomsky, the very concept of materialism is incoherent, see: so therefore I would challenge you to provide a definition or a description of materialism that is fully coherent and also accounts for the difference between existence as well as the mathematical “backwards E” sense of “existence” you have mentioned (which you seem to believe is arbitrarily decided).

          • Ray

            You see mathematicians have these lovely things called axioms, which tell you when backwards E statements can and cannot be asserted. If you want to make it about material objects, there are these lovely material objects called computers, which can tell you whether you applied the axioms correctly. (Mathematicians work too, and despite protestations to the contrary from some circles, mathematicians are also material objects.)

            As for the rest of your statement. Quotes from Leibniz and Chomsky don’t prove anything. You can get smart people to say all kinds of crazy things. And, as for accounting for the difference between the two senses of existence. It’s not some kind of miracle that one word can be used in different ways in different contexts (e.g. I can beans in a factory, and I can eat the beans too.) If we used the same word for ass and elbow, would you want me to “account for the difference” between those as well?

    • Richard_Wein

      “Is math just a language that humans made up, or do the underlying structures or patterns actually exist in some sense?”

      Let’s just consider the natural numbers, for the sake of a very easy example. To get the natural numbers, all you need is for people to adopt a shared habit of counting things: one, two, three, etc. This is a useful habit: for example, it lets a farmer check whether he’s lost any goats overnight. Given this habit, three must come after two. It’s inherent in the shared habit, and therefore in our shared language. So it would seem rather strange to ask whether this fact is a consequence of an “underlying structure”. Similarly, when we adopt the habits that constitute speaking the language of arithmetic, it’s a consequence of those habits that 2+1=3.

      In a sense 2+1=3 is a universal truth. Any alien species that adopts the same sort of habits will correctly say the same thing (in their own specific language). And since these are fairly obvious and useful habits, it seems likely that any sufficiently advanced society will adopt them. So mathematical language is a language we make up, but other societies are likely to hit on the same sort of language (broadly speaking). And then they’ll arrive at the same results that we have.

      There’s no “underlying structure” in the sense that there is when we describe reality, e.g. when we say the Earth is round. Problems arise in philosophy of mathematics partly because people insist on analogising pure mathematics with science. Science is concerned with modelling reality, but all the reality has been abstracted out of pure mathematics. There’s a logical structure to pure mathematics, but not one that exists anywhere.

      Talk about numbers, sets, etc, being “objects” and existing in a non-physical “realm” is misleading. Sometimes we may need a word to refer to numbers, sets, etc, collectively, and we may call them “things”, “objects” or “entities”. But Platonists make a mistake in elevating this verbal convenience into a substantive fact. It makes sense to talk about the existence of mathematical objects in the way that mathematicians do, when speaking mathematical language, e.g. to say that there exists an integer between 2 and 4 (namely 3). But it’s meaningless to ask whether mathematical objects exist in some general sense (unless that sense is spelled out).

      So mathematical “objects” don’t “exist” in any sense that poses a problem for physicalists.

      • urbster1

        And so what of the ontology of the fundamental laws of physics? Are they not mathematical and hence nonexistent? Or is it just a meaningless question in a meaningless random universe?

        • Richard_Wein

          Scientific models–even when they consist of equations–are not “mathematical” in the same sense as the statements of pure mathematics. The latter are pure abstractions which are necessarily true given the language in which they’re expressed. The former are contingent models of reality which happen to use mathematical language because it’s the best language for the job. Whenever we talk about the real world (inside or outside science) we are constructing models of reality. These models can use use both natural language and mathematical language. There’s no fundamental difference between the two. Mathematical language is just an extension of natural language which allows us to be more precise.

          I think it’s unhelpful to talk of laws of physics as if they were something that “exists” out there, rather than as models of reality that we construct. There is a reality that exists apart from us (or rather that we are a part of), and then there are our best models of that reality. Perhaps there could be a model that could be considered absolutely fundamental, in the sense of being absolutely precise and complete. I don’t know. But even if we had such a model, I would still distinguish between the model and the reality.

  • Pofarmer

    Once in a while I meander over to the Catholic channel. Those guys got some major leaque bull shit, layers of it. How in the world do hou ever penetrate that?

    • Chris Hallquist

      Oh dear, yeah, the Catholic channel is scary outside of Leah’s blog, and then her commenters can be pretty scary. I’m not sure I’m even going to try to deal with all that stuff.

      • Pofarmer

        The thing is, they make it all sound so very reasonable, untill you realize it’s all completely manufactured. Had my grandmothers funeral today. Quite a lady, taught bible school for years, 95 years old. Anyway, the preacher was finishing up at he graveside, and talking about how we’ll all rise on the last day to be with Jesus in heaven, and all I can think is, “Wow, we really beleive some crazy shit, don’t we?”. Started reading Thomas Paines “the age of reason” again tonight. Amazing how he just deconstructs right through everything and cuts out the heart.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Saw Pacific Rim today. Very entertaining, especially the monster vs. robot fight scenes. Don’t think too hard. Don’t ask why they can’t do remote control. Don’t ask, “Oh they have escape pods? So why didn’t the other pilots escape before they exploded their robot?”

  • Rain

    I just visited google+ again hoping it got better. It actually got worse. It’s amazing how off-putting that place is now. Maybe it’s just me, lol.

    • Rain

      Well I guess I just have to live with the fact that I have to use Chrome. I surrender, take me now Google, lol.

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