Saturday, September 28, 2019

Evolution: Naked Chance?

Image result for meccano set jumble
A set of basic construction parts; throw in a few gluons (i.e. nuts and bolts) and then agitate randomly. Will this mix generate self-replicating, self-perpetuating configurations? There is a way of doing it but is this The Way it happened in our cosmos? (Probably not!)

This post is a response to biochemist Larry Moran's essay entitled "Evolution by Accident".  In his essay he leans toward the view that randomness  and serendipity play a big very big role in evolution. He sets himself against the natural selectionists whom he characterises as supporting a "non-random" view of evolution. In his conclusion he writes:

I've tried to summarize all of the random and accidental things that can happen during evolution. Mutations are chance events. Random genetic drift is, of course, random. Accidents and contingency abound in the history of life. All this means that the tape of life will never replay the same way. Chance events affect speciation. All these things seem obvious. So, what's the problem?
The "problem" is that writers like Richard Dawkins have made such a big deal about the non-randomness of natural selection that they risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. A superficial reading of any Dawkins' book would lead you to the conclusion that evolution is an algorithmic process and that chance and accident have been banished. That's not exactly what he says but it sure is the dominant impression you take away from his work.

Here's another example of the apotheosis of chance in Moran's writings:

What about Monod's argument that evolution is pure chance because mutations are random? Doesn't this mean that the end result of evolution is largely due to those mutations that just happened to occur?

There is no need for me to take sides in this debate between evolution by natural selection and evolution by "pure chance". In fact for the sake of my argument I could proceed under any mix of natural selection and so-called "pure chance".  What I want to show here is that yes, current notions of what drives evolution entail a big random factor, but it is only one aspect of evolution and there are other aspects which are even more significant.

My point will be this: Evolution is driven by chance, but it certainly isn't naked chance; in fact overall the process is very, very far from naked chance. But reading Moran's essay one could be forgiven for thinking he's pushing naked chance too far and has no awareness of how ordered, a priori, the world must really be for evolution to work. The second quote above from Moran would be less misleading about the process of evolution if "pure chance" were replaced by "chance". Evolution cannot be pure chance as we shall see. Moran is either oblivious to this fact or sees it as not worthy of note; but I see it as highly significant, in fact evolution's most significant feature.  The fact of the matter is that the chances in the process of evolution must be subject to a highly constrained envelope if it is to work.

This apparent obliviousness of Moran to the organising envelopes which must constrain the chance diffusion of evolution may trace back to Moran's very partisan form of atheism and the related sentiments I identify in my post on the many worlds cosmology: The purposeless backdrop of the atheist world-view has grave difficulties in making sense of any built-in cosmic bias or preference toward certain states of affairs; in particular an ordered status quo. This bias leads to tricky questions like why this and not that?  These questions in turn may raise what to some is the demon of "purpose" and from there it is short walk into at least a conjectured theism. Partisan atheism finds any contingent bias in the cosmos uncomfortable and finds it easier to handle a cosmos where everything is evenly favoured with the "butter" of probability spread uniformly, thus betraying no sense of preferred statuses in the cosmic dynamic (See here).

My arguments follow even if natural history is driven by some mechanism completely different to standard evolutionary mechanisms. This is because my argument is about logic; that is, it is of the kind "If so & so then it follows that......etc".  Where "so & so" stands in for "standard evolution" which may not actually hold good (and I must confess I have my doubts!). What concerns me here, however, is what follows if we assume standard views of evolution. Therefore the following proof can be advanced without placing intellectual stakes in particular evolutionary mechanisms as they are currently conceived


In my post on The Mathematics of the Spongeam I used the following equation as a way of talking about evolution:

This is basically a diffusion equation with an added term and where Y represents a population value subject to diffusion in a multidimensional space. The first term on the right hand side is the ordinary diffusion term expressed in n dimensions and this is a way of representing a random walk across configuration space. The second term introduces the net result of multiplication and death at a particular point in configuration space. As I pointed out in my previous post on this equation, although it encapsulates many complexities it is a huge simplification of reality; for example the diffusion constants in front of the "house2" symbol could vary with dimension and coordinate. Moreover, as  I also pointed out in my previous post on this equation, as it stands it doesn't explicitly acknowledge an important potential non-linearity. Viz: that if V depends on the environment then it is clear that the value of Y is part of that environment. Therefore V is not just a function of the coordinate system but also of Y. However, in spite of these simplifications to the point where the whole equation is almost a cartoon I can nevertheless use it to express my problems with Moran's brand of thinking.

The diffusion term in the above equation expresses that important feature of evolution; namely, that it proceeds in small random steps. Given this picture one thing becomes very clear: It is fairly intuitively obvious that pure random walk would never produce what we are looking for in terms of the highly organised complexities needed for self perpetuating, self replicating structures. If in the very remote chance any organised complexity was arrived at via random walk that walk would ensure that it would very quickly dissolve back into the sea of general randomness.  For organised structures to have a chance of persisting for any length of time we need the second term on the right hand side of the equation, that is Y. Where configurations have a net replication V will have a positive value; where populations have a net decay V will have a negative value. However, since we expect that the number of configurations which have sufficient organised complexity to return a net value of V to be very small compared to the whole of configuration space then this doesn't give us very many viable self replicating configurations to spread across configuration space. Hence, relatively speaking configuration space will be almost empty of self replicating configurations; we know this simply because a successful replicator will clearly have to be sufficiently organised and the number of organised structures in the whole of configuration space constitutes a very tiny percentage of the whole of configuration space  (See my book on Disorder and Randomness).

Now here's the rub: Since evolution must start from square one (i.e no replicators) the set of self perpetuating, self replicating configurations must be fully connected all the way from the most elementary replicators to sophisticated organisms. This requires V to be such that it forms channels in configuration space favourable to replication, along which evolutionary diffusion can diffuse. To assist the imagination in visualising this connected multidimensional set I use my picture of the spongeam. Viz:

The above is a three dimensional visualisation of what is in fact a multidimensional object; it is  system of very tenuous fibrils spanning across largely empty space. The spongeam may or may not actually exist, but we at least know this; it is a necessary pre-condition of evolution, at least evolution as it is currently understood.

This picture of the spongeam actually prompts a pertinent question: If replicators, which necessarily have to be highly organised, are so utterly dwarfed in number by the immerse size of configuration space, are there actually enough of them to populate configuration space with a class of points sufficiently connected to allow evolution by diffusion from square-one to advanced and complex organisms? I have my doubts but for the sake of the argument we will proceed as if there is a spongeam sufficiently connected to allow diffusional migration from simple structures to complex self replicating organisms.

Whether a spongeam exists to facilitate evolution depends very much on the form of V.  It is possible to "cheat" and simply patch pathways and channels into configuration space ad hoc style to ensure that a wide range of replicators can be reached by diffusion. But such special pleading doesn't seem to be how our cosmos works; its fundamental parts are more like a construction kit such as meccano where a few fairly elementary parts and their "fixing" rules are specified and we are then left with the problem of whether such a system, given the diffusion dynamic, can build or "compute" general replicators. Let me say again: I have my doubts, but that's really another story**. Suffice to show here that given current understandings of evolution Larry Moran's assertion about it being a process of "pure randomness" is entirely misleading.

In the spongeam picture the difference between natural selection and Moran's emphasis on the randomness of the evolutionary walk is a fairly minor difference: In Moran the neutral diffusive evolutionary  "channels" of the sponeam are akin  to "level" pathways where there is no bias pushing in a particular direction. Natural selection on the other hand corresponds to the case where the pathways have a kind of slope by virtue of a changing slope in V which means that the random walk is a walk with a bias in a particular direction and therefore proceeds more rapidly in that direction. But as far as my equation is concerned this is just a variation on a theme and evolution may proceed under both circumstances. (The irony is that if evolution has occurred then I'm very favourable to Moran's concept of evolution!: It minimises the idea of evolution as a fight for survival and instead something more like the drifting apart of languages  when communities are separated)

But whatever! My the main point is that all this exposes Larry Moran's misleading view on evolution; for whether evolution is neutral or biased both scenarios require a spongeam envelope that introduces a considerable information constraint; that is, evolution is a process which in this sense is far from maximum randomness and presupposes a highly organised constraint spanning configuration space.

I'm not here arguing whether or not the spongeam actually exists in the real world: Rather I want to make the point that if it does exist - as it must if evolution has occurred as currently conceived - it does no justice whatever to describe the process of evolution as if it is pure randomness at work: Pure randomness would lead to nothing: If the spongeam does exist in our cosmos then presumably its convoluted network of fuzzy pathways is determined by the set of fundamental particle interactions.

That evolution must start with a huge information bias has been proved generally by William Dembski. Dembski has been unjustifiably abused for his efforts; a sign of the worldview stakes involved in the debate. Although I don't accept the inference that some IDists have thence drawn from Dembski that information can't be created, Dembski's result is sound. I present a back of the envelope proof of this theorem in this paper.

Relevant Link:

** The de facto "Intelligent Design" community are quite dogmatic on this point: For them there is little or no doubt that given the cosmic physical regime evolution, as currently understood, is impossible and that "Intelligence" of some sort (they don't elucidate what sort) needs to step in somehow (they don't elucidate how) and do its stuff of filling in the creative gaps in the creation story. The irony is that what raises a question mark over their thesis is the very existence of the super-intelligence they posit. For if that intelligence is none other than an omniscient omnipotent God then who knows what such a being is capable of: For all we know there may be a set of particle interactions which imply a spongeam and that God may have chosen that set! (although as I must repeat, I am myself doubtful about the existence of the spongeam - but I might be wrong!)

Friday, September 20, 2019

Many Worlds Theory: A theory devoid of meaning, goals and purpose

Many Worlds Theory: According to this notion, every time a fundamental particles goes in more than one direction at once whole universes (and Earths) come into existence to accompany its multiplication!

I thought I would offer a few thoughts on the following quotes from Sean Carroll which I published in my last post.

The Many-Worlds formulation of quantum mechanics removes once and for all any mystery about the measurement process and collapse of the wave function. We don’t need special rules about making an observation: all that happens is that the wave function keeps chugging along in accordance with the Schrödinger equation. And there’s nothing special about what constitutes ‘a measurement’ or ‘an observer’ – a measurement is any interaction that causes a quantum system to become entangled with the environment, creating a branching into separate worlds, and an observer is any system that brings about such an interaction. Consciousness, in particular, has nothing to do with it. The ‘observer’ could be an earthworm, a microscope or a rock. There’s not even anything special about macroscopic systems, other than the fact that they can’t help but interact and become entangled with the environment. The price we pay for such a powerful and simple unification of quantum dynamics is a large number of separate worlds.

Sean Carroll, “Splitting the Universe: Hugh Everett blew up quantum mechanics with his Many-Worlds theory in the 1950s. Physics is only just catching up” at Aeon

….the Many-Worlds perspective, while not making much sense in other approaches to quantum foundations. Niels Bohr might have won the public-relations race in the 20th century, but Hugh Everett appears ready to pull ahead in the 21st.

Sean Carroll, “Splitting the Universe: Hugh Everett blew up quantum mechanics with his Many-Worlds theory in the 1950s. Physics is only just catching up” at Aeon

Here's an example of the sort of thing Carroll is talking about:

Imagine we are in Earth orbit and we have a particle detector that is detecting radiation from deep space and then along comes a deep space particle: Because we are dealing with quantum mechanics and not classical theory this particle arrives in the form of a wave packet. Moreover, this wave packet is subject to dispersion; that is, the wave packet spreads and it spreads linearly with time. This dispersing wave packet represents a multitude of possible microscopic worlds in that it symbolises many particles spread over many positions; as Young's slits experiment suggests, particles are capable of moving off in several directions at once. Now, as Carroll says this wave packet may happen to impact a macroscopic object like, say, a humanly constructed detecting machine which has the potential to magnify a particle detection event up to macroscopic scales. (I am inclined to agree with Carroll that we need not necessarily be talking about a conscious detector such as a human being). If the detection device happens to be in a universe where the the incoming particle is located at the point of detection and triggers a detection event then the presence of the particle, because of the amplifying properties of the detector, will have a macroscopic outcome. But it is also possible that the detector is in one of the many universes where the particle isn't found at the point of detection and therefore in these universes there is no  macroscopic detection event. Now in multiverse theory both these events happen so that at least one of the universes registers a detection event whereas all the other universes that have the particle at an entirely different position will have unaffected detectors. The point is that in multiverse theory the macroscopic world, as well as the microscopic world, are multiplying. Because among these possible worlds randomness of detection has such a high statistical weight, then probability calculus will describe the detection events for the observers in by far and away the greatest number of universes. Otherwise it is important to note that the multiverse as a whole is entirely deterministic.

In this many worlds theory the wave packet doesn't collapse; it only appears to collapse in the universe where a macroscopic detection event has taken place; it is a perspective affect only seen in the detecting universes. All the other universes where no detections take place will continue on their histories where their detectors are unaffected. I suppose I have to grudgingly admit that Carroll does have a possible (if to my mind implausible) interpretation especially as his views (currently) make absolutely no observable difference and cannot therefore be tested.

One theory that doesn't work, however, is the decoherence explanation of quantum collapse. Because this particle comes from deep space it could have been travelling for millions of years and over the course of time the wave packet may be spread over a huge volume of space. Although interaction with the matter of space might have help keep the packet more condensed than it otherwise would have been, it is likely at least some deep space particles are spread over at least several light hours, if not light years.  This huge spreading of the wave packet rules out the decoherence concept of wave-function collapse because for a wave packet spread over a huge volume collapse due to the deterministic interactions of decoherence cannot take place except over a large period of time. This, I believe, is not observed; actual collapse is all but instantaneous.

For Carroll the many worlds view is his preferred world view because it doesn't introduce any complicating and enigmatic extras about a real "collapse", extras that would require hypothesis and explanation; For example, he doesn't need to define some seemingly arbitrary distinction between the macroscopic and the microscopic or posit the instantaneous and random action at a distance necessary for the discontinuous leaps of the quantum state vector. Carroll does away with all that in a swoop. For him the only intellectual overhead is the positing of a large number of separate worlds and he clearly has little problem in accepting such. (Or does he? He does look a little bit apologetic about it!) But I wonder if people are really aware of how large is large? For every particle represented by the smeared out wave packet there exists a corresponding universe; one doesn't have to wait for a macroscopic detection event before the macroscopic universe starts multiplying; there are as many macroscopic worlds as there are fundamental particle configurations: it's just that chaotic sensitivity  of our physical regime means that some of these macroscopic universes follow very differ macroscopic histories.

For me this is all very pointless and meaningless: Many worlds is selecting out nothing; it allows everything through. It is utterly indiscriminating and even handed. It's an obsessive symmetry gone mad.  For Carroll this doesn't matter; the cosmos need have no meaning at all.  He's more concerned that we don't have the inconvenience of having to introduce extra rules and laws explaining macroscopic detection events. Moreover in the bigger picture of the multiverse Carroll does away with the contingency of randomness, for in the multiverse that randomness is just a perspective affect. I suppose it's different strokes for different folks. Or is it? People have a way of insisting that their line of thinking be adhered to by others on pain of being insulted or even by applying duress of some form or other! For an example of that we need look no further than fundamentalist theme park boss Ken Ham

Friday, September 06, 2019

Signalled Diffusion Book IV: Real Numbers vs Complex Numbers

Book IV of my Signalled Diffusion project can be down loaded from this post. The introduction to Book IV is reproduced below.  The books so far are listed below along with their links:

BOOK I:     Foundations
BOOK III:  Drift-Diffusion



Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox set the scene

The general consensus among scientists and layman alike is that quantum mechanics seems a strange and unintelligible way for the physical world to work; in particular it seems outrageous that this world should appear to do more than one thing at a time in that particles seemingly move in multiple directions at once. Further confounding our common sense physical expectations are those well-known apparently random discontinuous leaps of the system state vector when an attempt is made to measure a physical variable. Evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins puts his explanation on this state affairs:   

Physics appears to be a complicated subject, because the ideas of physics are difficult for us to understand. Our brains were designed to understand hunting and gathering, mating and child-rearing; a world of medium sized objects moving in three dimensions at moderate speeds. We are ill-equipped to comprehend the very small, the very large; things whose duration is measured in picaseconds or gigayears; particles that don't have position; forces and fields that we cannot see or touch, which we only know of only because they effect things that we can see and touch.

According to this we are creatures only “designed” (I’m sure that’s not meant literally!) for biosphere survival and therefore have no right to expect to understand the deeper mysteries of the cosmos. There is no reason why, for a jumped up primate, the cosmos should be anthropomorphically comprehensible and meaningful. The cosmos hasn’t been put there for this purpose; in fact you might hear Dawkins say that the cosmos is unlikely to have been put there for any purpose or reason at all; for Richard Dawkins it’s a fundamentally absurd cosmos and you can’t expect human beings to plumb the depths of this absurdity.  The cosmos is what it is without purpose; take it or leave it.

In regard to the specific enigma of quantum mechanics it is perhaps no surprise that parallel universe theory is a popular interpretation of quantum mechanics; it is one way of restoring the notion that reality isn’t ambiguous and in fact follows a single deterministic path of evolution; here the thought is that apparent quantum ambiguity is a sign there is a lot more unambiguous solid reality out there of which human consciousness is simply unaware. The parallel universe idea seems to provide two clarifications for the price of one: a) The totality of parallel universes is both unambiguous and deterministic b) the random leaping is just a perspective effect of us observers, confined as we are to just one of the parallel universes and only able to see just one of the many possible universes that ride side by side.

The intuitive agreeableness of the parallel universes interpretation of quantum mechanics is hinted at by Brian Cox in a BBC article entitled Brian Cox: 'Multiverse' makes sense (See also here):

“That there’s an infinite number of universes sounds more complicated than there being one,” Prof Cox told the programme.
“But actually, it’s a simpler version of quantum mechanics. It’s quantum mechanics without wave function collapse… the idea that by observing something you force a system to make a choice.”*1
Accepting the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics means also having to accept that things can exist in several states at the same time.
But this leads to another question: Why do we perceive only one world, not many?

The suggestion here is that the many worlds interpretation makes sense because it cuts out the asymmetrical contingency inherent in the idea that the reduction of the quantum state vector entails the cosmos making an arbitrary selection singled out from among the many possible choices. In the light of Richard Dawkins views one might question why the cosmos should make even some sense by conforming to the aesthetics of symmetry. But if we run with the symmetry idea as per Brian Cox then symmetry considerations suggest that all possibilities ought to be out there somewhere, thus doing away with any seemingly arbitrary and contingent treatment being preferentially given to a very limited range of possibilities. Max Tegmark has gone even further with the elimination of arbitrary contingency in favour of the hyper-symmetry of his mathematical universe. In Tegmark’s mathematical universe Tegmark extends reification to all possible mathematical constructions; in short nothing, absolutely nothing, is subject to special and seemingly arbitrary selection. However, in Tegmark’s model there remains the tricky philosophical issue of why there is something rather than nothing; in the selection of something rather than nothing we have another awkward asymmetry. There have been some attempts at addressing the counter intuitive ideas that it is possible to get something from nothing by redefining “nothing” in terms of the quantum void. But this could equally be construed as effectively redefining “something” in terms of the quantum void! All in all how you answer these difficult questions is probably very much influenced by your a priori world view preferences and what makes sense to you.

What purports to make sense is a very subjective affair: For someone like Richard Dawkins the cosmos need not make any sense at all. But if we are to appeal to just what makes sense then I have to confess that to me the “many worlds” view, apart from perhaps the vague aesthetic appeal of symmetry, doesn’t make much sense. Moreover, as Brian admits the problem with the many worlds suggestion is the question of why is it only one world is visible to us? Therein, I believe, is the observational clue to the problem’s solution – there is, in fact, only one real world and that world is highly skewed in favour of order*. This suggestion makes more aesthetic sense to me than does “many worlds”.  Making sense of things is how we attempt to join the dots of experience into a coherent narrative or a world view synthesis. But because world views are a very complex product of very complex and differing life experience, it is not very easy to submit them to the formal scientific process of prediction and test. Accordingly, world view synthesis must be carried out with caution and with epistemic humility; fundamentalists and evangelicals of all flavours please take note. Although as far as world view synthesis is concerned some people like Brian Cox clearly have a different mind-set to myself in this respect, it would be very wrong to think the worst of them; like so many of us Brian Cox is simply doing his best to bring intelligibility to the world; if he has a clear conscience we have no grounds to condemn him.

This book attempts to make sense of quantum theory by taking real number diffusion as far as possible before quantisation (which is achieved by introducing “i” into the diffusion constant) with the aim of using this approach to unpack the meaning of quantum mechanics. In the final chapter of this book I propose my own qualitative sense making narrative, narrative which I’ve wrapped round quantum theory in an attempt to render it humanly intelligible.  In my opinion positing quantum theory as just a variation on real number diffusion brings us to a very anthropomorphic understanding of quantum mechanics and relativity; the very opposite of the opinion expressed by Richard Dawkins. In fact may I express my intuition in advance of any clearer analysis that to me the cosmos looks suspiciously like the interior of a huge cognitive system as it seeks and selects solutions to general purpose goals. In this study goal seeking, or “purpose”, is an important sense making construct and trumps, say, the aesthetics of symmetry, especially if the latter is empty of meaning. I touch on some of these matters in more detail in the epilogue.

1* This a priori bias toward order is clearly a necessary condition for perceiving observers. And I would question whether it is entirely coherent to talk about a world without conscious cognating observers. 

Sir Kenneth Clark on Symmetry (Again)

ADDENDUM 12/09/19
Here's Sean Carroll on his enthusiasm for the multiverse. I've taken these quotes from a post on Uncommon Descent. Some of his views are in many ways  the opposite of mine although the second quote below may prove more amenable to my way of thinking.  (See here for more on Sean Carroll's views)

The Many-Worlds formulation of quantum mechanics removes once and for all any mystery about the measurement process and collapse of the wave function. We don’t need special rules about making an observation: all that happens is that the wave function keeps chugging along in accordance with the Schrödinger equation. And there’s nothing special about what constitutes ‘a measurement’ or ‘an observer’ – a measurement is any interaction that causes a quantum system to become entangled with the environment, creating a branching into separate worlds, and an observer is any system that brings about such an interaction. Consciousness, in particular, has nothing to do with it. The ‘observer’ could be an earthworm, a microscope or a rock. There’s not even anything special about macroscopic systems, other than the fact that they can’t help but interact and become entangled with the environment. The price we pay for such a powerful and simple unification of quantum dynamics is a large number of separate worlds.

Sean Carroll, “Splitting the Universe: Hugh Everett blew up quantum mechanics with his Many-Worlds theory in the 1950s. Physics is only just catching up” at Aeon

In my own research, I’ve gone even farther, arguing that the quest for quantum gravity is being held back by physicists’ traditional strategy of taking a classical theory (such as Albert Einstein’s general relativity) and ‘quantising’ it. Presumably nature doesn’t work like that; it’s just quantum from the start. What we should do, instead, is start from a purely quantum wave function, and ask whether we can pinpoint individual ‘worlds’ within it that look like the curved spacetime of general relativity. Preliminary results are promising, with emergent geometry being defined by the amount of quantum entanglement between different parts of the wave function. Don’t quantise gravity; find gravity within quantum mechanics.
That approach fits very naturally into the Many-Worlds perspective, while not making much sense in other approaches to quantum foundations. Niels Bohr might have won the public-relations race in the 20th century, but Hugh Everett appears ready to pull ahead in the 21st.

Sean Carroll, “Splitting the Universe: Hugh Everett blew up quantum mechanics with his Many-Worlds theory in the 1950s. Physics is only just catching up” at Aeon

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Chernobyl Disaster

A pall of highly radioactive smoke  hangs over the whole  of  HBO's "Chernobyl"

(Disclaimer: In this post I'm assuming that HBO's miniseries conveys an accurate picture of the disaster)

I have recently finished watching the DVD series of  HBO's production Chernobyl. This production, in terms of its realism at the very least, lives up to the accolades it has received. It is wrong to say that I enjoyed it: Chernobyl so successfully immerses the viewer into the Chernobyl experience that I felt as though I was there and being there is not a pleasant experience. The scenes involving the wrecked reactor building are convincingly realistic. Soviet society comes over as typically run down: Dingy flats with jaded fixture and fittings along with the rugged Russian steam punk technology further enhance the atmosphere of melancholy which pervades the whole production. Could this society safely handle the Promethean fire of nuclear energy? In fact could mankind as a whole safely handle this new miracle energy? This is the question which hangs around after one has finished watching the series, but while the DVD runs the presence of an unseen danger jangles the nerves, especially as one knows that this was for real; it's not fiction. 

A drama which to my mind conveyed a similar atmosphere of nerve-wracking tension is Forbidden Planet. In this 1950s space sci-fi film the invisible monster from the id stalks the shadows of the night. In Chernobyl the invisible monster is radioactivity which without detectors is hidden to human eyes, but if allowed to take its course does terrible things to the human body. The threatening presence of radioactivity is signified by hollow metallic background noises and these heighten the creepy ambiance, a metonym for a ruthless killer lurking in the dark corridors and ducts of the power station. These inhuman sounds serve a similar purpose to the sinister soundtrack of Forbidden Planet, a soundtrack which alerts the viewer to the presence of the monster from the id. In both productions we have a mortal hazard which in part has been created and released by the activity of humankind. As with the Forbidden Planet's invisible terror human beings are all but powerless against it and yet like the monster from the id the radiation at Chernobyl was somehow channelling the baser human instincts, instincts amplified by a totalitarian soviet state which all too easily brought to the surface the human propensity for corruptibility.

Nasty things lurking in long dark tunnels is a sci-fi motif.

Chernobyl was kind to the courageous people who fought and won the battle against the monster: Valery Legasov and Boris Shcherbina are the all action heroes but the series also acknowledges the role of the many scientists, firemen, miners, Chernobyl staff, doctors, nurses, soldiers and conscripts all of whom, knowingly or unknowingly, risked a slow painful death by joining battle. But did I say "won"? The cost was measured in uncounted lives, a community devastated and the lasting ecological legacy of radiation, although it's true that the human sacrifice stopped the disaster being much, much worse. 

The soviet system doesn't come off lightly in Chernobyl. The myth of Marxist-Leninism, a philosophy which was supposed to usher in a Utopian society, is seen to be so utterly delusional in the face of what is, in fact, exactly the opposite; a dystopian society (except perhaps for the ruling elites!). The powers that be who applied Marxist-Leninist thinking believed the myth and thought themselves as the legitimate dispensers of its philosophy, its only authentic interpreters. But they were all too human and therefore utterly corruptible by nature; in the face of a failing system they upheld it with lies and inhumanity. It was, in fact, nothing more than old fashioned totalitarianism with the added impediment of a command economy. If corrupt behaviour was needed to uphold the myth then so be it; the end justified the means. No one in power dared question the myth or own up to its the fundamental flaws; that would require questioning ones life's work, one's status in the system and the world view on which they was based. They were in bondage to the Marxist myth and in bondage to one another; who ever dared put a foot out of line first was likely to be censored by the rest. Sad to say I've witnessed some Christian contexts where there is a similar reluctance to question the emperor's new clothes; there is resistance to a critical appraisal of aspects of the faith for fear that the whole edifice will come crashing down about them. Difficult questions and discussions may be censored and intellectual integrity suffers. There are those who have lost their faith as a result of this lack of authenticity, transparency and glasnost.  Ideology, where ever you are, whatever it is, secular or sacred tempts spiritual affectation. Christians are just as human as the secular soviets and so if you really want to face sobering lessons about human nature, the human predicament, life, the universe and everything, connect yourself with Christianity, a microcosm of the human lot! If not at least open your eyes to humanity's epistemic and moral frailties and humble yourself before God. If you don't believe in God, humble yourself anyway.

In the Chernobyl disaster the sycophants in positions of authority were in denial about just how bad it was; for them such a disaster ran counter the "cosmic laws" of Marxist-Leninist society. They was great resistance to admitting anything, even to themselves. The denials and cover-ups impeded the clean up and indeed initially there was unwillingness to accept that such a disaster had actually happened in their backyard. Underlings had a tendency to only report what they thought their superiors would like to hear. There was, needless to say, no appetite to lose face by calling in help from the capitalist West, especially America. The reactor blew as a result of the confluence of several factors; Viz: the inherent defects of a command economy which pushed the operators into taking the reactor to the edge, bad local sycophantic management, poor training, a design flaw in the reactors and above all the pressures of the soviet mythology. The flaw in the reactor design was actually known to the authorities but hushed up and not addressed.

Generally the hierarchy were unwilling to break the soviet spell and face the truth that fallen humanity, even in a socialist society, remained as corruptible as ever and especially so when society presented opportunities for totalitarianism. But there was a silver lining in the clouds of radioactive dust: As that dust settled president Gorbachev's eyes were opened; I would classify him as one of the Chernobyl heroes, a hero who was prepared risk the backlash from the old guard and bring change to soviet society for the better with his perestroika and glasnost. In 2006 Gorbachev wrote: "The  nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl ... was perhaps the true cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union".

Heroes of Chernobyl: Legasov, Shcherbina and Gorbachev along with many other unsung heroes. 

A new  mythology arises under Putin:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Something comes from Something: Nothing comes from Nothing. Big Deal

This BBC article of 2014 has come to my notice. Here are the opening paragraphs:

People have wrestled with the mystery of why the universe exists for thousands of years. Pretty much every ancient culture came up with its own creation story - most of them leaving the matter in the hands of the gods - and philosophers have written reams on the subject. But science has had little to say about this ultimate question.

However, in recent years a few physicists and cosmologists have started to tackle it. They point out that we now have an understanding of the history of the universe, and of the physical laws that describe how it works. That information, they say, should give us a clue about how and why the cosmos exists.

Their admittedly controversial answer is that the entire universe, from the fireball of the Big Bang to the star-studded cosmos we now inhabit, popped into existence from nothing at all. It had to happen, they say, because "nothing" is inherently unstable.

"Nothing is inherently unstable"? How do we know that? Predictably the article goes on to tell us how, given quantum uncertainty, both space and matter cannot be existentially null. The scientifically challenged layman, reading this article, would then think that at last the "something from nothing?" question has been solved. The article trades on the fact that some atheists have simply redefined "nothing" in terms of what is in effect something; namely, the assumed pre-existence of transcendent quantum laws prior to the creation of space, time and matter. Therefore this kind of "nothing"  is clearly something, that something being the existence of physical algorithms controlling space, time and matter. This trick has fooled some people who have mooted it as an answer to the "something from nothing?" question; I have heard it said that quantum theory has given us a better understanding of "nothing", so much so in fact that we can now see how something comes from nothing. But this kind of technical casuistry can be refuted by pointing out that one could equally as well argue that the so-called better understanding of nothing is in fact a better understanding of something i.e. something as transcendent law. But "nothing" means absolutely nothing; no givens, no laws and no stuff of any kind, least of all the givens of quantum uncertainty. 

I have dealt with this subject before in the following post:

In the foregoing post I quote atheist Sean Carroll who, even as an atheist, is clearly not fooled by the sophistry of this kind of "scientific theology". 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Relational Ontology

This blog entry on Relational Ontology really goes back to this post  where I discussed some ideas advanced by Jonathan Kopel in a pre-published paper which in published form was to be titled "A Note Regarding Relational Ontology in Chemistry". As I essentially agreed with the drift of Jonathan's thoughts, and after some discussion, he suggested that I might like to follow up his ideas with a paper of my own. I am currently giving this project some thought and below are some initial notes to this end; I hope eventually to flesh out these notes into a full paper. As Jonathan's take on RO majors on the subject of chemical bonds I thought his paper lent itself well to a quantum mechanical treatment of RO and that is my emphasis here. This subject also fits in well with my post entitled "Jottings on Reality, the Paranormal and Chaoskampf" where I advance the idea that the complexity of reality is irreducible in as much as reality makes little coherent sense without the existence of the complexities of sentience to perceive that reality.

Proposal for a paper on Relational Ontology
This paper will cover:

Hypostatic identity: I will be arguing against this vitalistic concept which locates identity in "substance". 

Identical particles: Quantum statistics treats particles as though they are bits in a binary string. Bits have no hypostatic identity; they exist by virtue of relatedness. 

Schrodinger equation: The multi-particle Schrodinger Equation treats multi-particle systems as if they are one object.  

Fields and particle bonding: The field term in a multi-particle Schrodinger equation is a function of all the positions of all the particles. 

Models and approximations: Real world examples of the Schrodinger equation are likely to be computationally irreducible and therefore treatable only via a cluster of metaphorical models and approximations. 

Conclusions: The analytical inseparability of the objects described by the Schrodinger equation and the likely computational irreduciblity of its solutions necessitates a relational ontological perspective. RO is a point of view which guides one’s thinking about ontology and enables one to come to terms with analytical difficulties brought about by the hard-core relatedness of the cosmos. Ultimate reality is not reducible to bits and pieces or a hidden hypostatic property of matter but is found in the relations within an assumed up and running complexity. Complexity, that is relatedness writ large, must be treated as an a priori feature of the cosmos. This complexity cannot be rationalised away as just an incidental and unnecessary epiphenomenon of an elemental hypostatic reality.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Epistemology, Ontology, Creationism and Scientism

 Contemporary North American young earthism is a modern  construction
coming out of the 1960s. Ken Ham can say what he likes!

I recently got some come back from David Bump who first made a starring appearance on my blog here. After some mutually cross words with him there was a calming down period after which the relationship settled down to a more cordial basis. The lesson is: If you want to stand chance of making an initial connection use emotive language. 

I think it is fair to say that David Bump, when he thinks about creation,  has what I would call certain fundamentalist habits mind, but signs are that those exclusivist fundamentalist attitudes (which really mark out a fundamentalist) are not his strong point (I hope). If they were there would be little to be gained in dialogue as hard core fundamentalists, from Mormons through Jehovah's witnesses  to Answer in Genesis start from a position of assumed spiritual superiority and have a deep distrust of those who don't acquiesce to the divine authority of their opinions.

Anyway I'm hoping for a fruitful discussion. My reply to David's first email can be picked up here: This has been a useful exercise as it has summarised my views on epistemology and directly challenges the fundamentalist "Historical science vs Observational science" canard.


It is perhaps ironic that I would also use the views I express in my reply to David Bump to attack the kind of atheist scientism which has a vested interested in attempting to draw a sharp line of demarcation between formal science and studies deemed to lie outside formal science. This is the so-called demarcation problem: For me it has always been a pseudo problem; all attempts  to understand the cosmos entail a tense dialogue between theory and experience, whether we are talking spring extending and test tube precipitating science or sociology; both disciplines use a juxtaposition of experiences and/or observational protocols and imaginative narratives to explain those experiences/observations but with varying degrees of plausibility; for clearly the highly regular world of springs and chemicals is far more systemically accessible than the erratic and complex objects of sociology. Consequently this leads to firmer based science than can ever be hoped for than in much sociology. There is a trade off between the complexity and accessibility of an object of study and its epistemic robustness.

But the suspected underlying motive for those peddling scientism is not unlike that of fundamentalists who (want to?) see the world in the blacks and whites of in-groups and out-groups. The aficionados of scientism seek clear cut criteria distinguishing science and non-science in order to provide a pretext to cast into the outer darkness anything they regard as beyond the intellectual pale and which can then be written off with emotive words such as "irrational" and "superstition" and therefore invalid knowledge.

It is true, however, that in the contention between experience and those narratives which attempt to make sense of experience we find that some conceptions are far less amenable to experiential investigation than others. (e.g. springs vs sociological objects). But you can be sure that as epistemic tractability fades out human stupidity and epistemic arrogance tend to fade in and this epistemic sin recurs with both atheists and theists.

Below are some of my posts on the subject of science and epistemology. As I review these posts I notice that one name keeps popping up: That of Toronto biochemist Larry Moran. So, as far as Quantum Non-Linearity is concerned there seems to be enough prima facie evidence to charge Moran with the sin of scientism. I present the documentary evidence for that prima facie case below.