The Misanthropic Principle


“What is well known in general, exactly because it is well known, is not known.”

G. W. F. Hegel, “Preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit”

“Defects of empirical knowledge have less to do with the ways we go wrong in philosophy than defects of character do; such as the simple inability to shut up; determination to be thought deep; hunger for power; fear, especially the fear of an indifferent universe”

David Stove, “The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies”

The historical development of modern science carries with it several philosophical underpinnings that while common, often pass unnoticed by becoming parts of a “social cliche”.

The recent Creationist Agenda managed to bring about one such issue which is commonly referred among professional philosophers with the pompous name of the “Three Major Cosmological Indignations of Mankind”

These are attributed to the three major revolutions, the Copernican, the Darwinian and the Freudian. All share a common attribute consisting in a decentralization of the human kind with respect to the rest of the Universe. Although the last may be in doubt due to more recent neurological evidence, it is the second one that presents the most interesting evidence of a self-contradictory attribute in it’s very name by which it became known to a general audience’.

Despite the core of Darwinian teaching, we still prefer to use the term “Evolution”. In doing this, we preserve a place for us in the upper parts of a tree-like diagram of species variation. Implicitly, we enjoy a special place on the upper leaves of that tree for our own intelligence and scientific understanding.

However, one should be reminded that a “tree” structure is in itself an abstract construct that only shows variation. The true nature of the so called evolutionary record is in fact the mere and raw prevalence of one specimen to another.

It is perhaps by a sheer luck that the lack of contact with any possible alien race allows us to show such arrogance by putting ourselves on the top leaves and considering our own science as the best of anything achievable. But just think of a species able to sense all the acoustic and electromagnetic spectrum, what need would it have of all our precious and expensive equipment!

[Ed. Indeed, the Mantis Shrimp is a crustacean found in waters of Thailand with extreme perceptual powers from ultraviolet through infra-red]

Consider also the case where all the massive ingenuity and trickery of nature would have been concentrated on another species like the “Alien” in Scott Ridley’s film, not requiring anything more than its own reflexive power to face all our defenses. If ever on Earth it would have wiped us all out in months if not days!

We are flattered enough by still thinking of ourselves as the culmination of natural history, a kind of self-prize and yet we show no true evidence of such a progress when the issue of social relationships comes about, even in Academia.

There, the same old natural attitude abounds and that is “pre-eminence”.

The Long and Short of Physics

Physics is a very peculiar subject. When it changes, it does so radically in concept. However, the difference in results is barely perceptible.

Quantum mechanics is close to a hundred years old now. However, the classical theories of point and continuum mechanics are fine for most applications. How can the conceptual structure of a theory be so different and the results so similar?

For instance, under quantum theory we are supposed to believe in wave-particle duality. Bohr introduced the idea of complementarity to support his assertion that things are just too weird down there to understand. However, I wonder if this was just a ruse.

In 1926 there were two contending pathways forward: the continuum wave-mechanics of Schrödinger; and the discrete matrix mechanics and transition theory of Heisenberg. Of course, Dirac was able to demonstrate how they might be viewed as equivalent.

The philosophy of wave-particle duality has potentially obscured an important reality. While the two theories may be mathematically equivalent, due to the Dirac transformation theory, they are not physically equivalent as pictures. They suggest different ideas.

The wave-mechanics of Schrödinger leads the mind in different directions than does the matrix mechanics of Heisenberg. What we think of as natural in one picture can seem unnatural in the other picture.

For example, particle physics conceives of all particles as point-like and subject to creation and destruction via quantum transitions.

That picture is rather unnatural in the Schrödinger scheme of things. The wave equation has no inherent jumpiness to it at all. It is completely deterministic. Moreover, when one thinks this way the usual matrix elements for atomic transitions become rather obvious derivates of classical charge densities. It is a just a small variation on the classical theories of the dielectric due to H.A. Lorentz.

In the Heisenberg scheme, the transition element is just plucked from thin air. It has no obvious connection to the previous theory of classical dielectrics. Indeed, students are mercilessly beaten if they should dare to even suggest such a thought!

The lesson for me in all this can be stated rather briefly.

Suppose Schrödinger and de Broglie were right and we should treat matter waves as real stuff and not probability amplitudes?

Where would that take us? What would become of wave-particle duality? What is logical?

One thing seems very clear to me… There would be no particles.

In this picture, everything is a wave, albeit one which can be dynamically localized. The electron, as a wave, has an extent, and this is determined by the prevailing interactions. These can naturally be of two kinds:

1) mutual interactions

2) self-interactions

In the detailed development of quantum chemistry we can say a lot, in detail, about the first class of interactions. They are entangling, and so ensure that the waves in question must exist in configuration space. In short, entanglement is the normal state of affairs.

However, about the second kind of interaction we do not actually know very much. What we do know is that if you break wave-particle duality in favor of particles then you need to introduce a vacuum, along with particle creation and destruction. This is the basis for Quantum Field Theory and the reason why most particle physicists habitually refer to a wave-function of a single coordinate as a classical field.

Within this way of thinking, it is necessary to turn this classical field into an operator and then speak the language of particles.

Of course, with that goes another problem. One needs to figure out how to obtain finite answers for the electron self-energy and the related vacuum polarization effects. One has also bought into an infinite zero-point energy and a host of other technical difficulties.

On the other had, if we break wave-particle duality in favor of waves things look different. In that case, it is easy to get a finite self-energy term and there is no vacuum, nor any pesky zero-point energy. However, there are still meaningful problems. The main one is to get a stable bound structure for the electron since the static Coulomb field is repulsive. This would seem to involve the need to introduce an auxiliary field.

The purpose of this all too brief survey is to highlight one simple fact. Waves and particles are most definitely not equivalent as ideas for theory construction. When you attempt to build a theory based upon waves in configuration space then many things look different:

1) particles are no longer point-like and must therefore be dynamic entities

2) quantum fields are simply entangled wave-functions in configuration space

3) the reconciliation of mutual-interactions with self-interactions is incompletely understood

It is the last item which presents the major difficulty. Quantum Field Theory does not go over into this new regime in unmodified form. However, there is a new freedom gained to treat certain questions differently. For instance, pair processes and indeed all higher energy resonances, as seen in particle accelerator experiments, would need to be differently interpreted as resonant wave phenomena.

If I had to make a bet for the next hundred years in physics I would take these positions:

Waves: Long
Particles: Short

de Sitter Gravity: Long
String Theory: Short

Schrödinger: Long
Heisenberg: Short

Non-Linear Field Theories: Long
Linear Field Theories: Short

Einstein on Determinism: Long
Bohr on In-determinism: Short

It seems to me that these are all in fact the exact same bet.

When you change a theory, you need to make it self-consistent as well as empirically accurate. Strings go away because the reason for them is gone: the particle is really a wavy quasi-particle. The other bets relate to the physical consistency of real matter waves.

Of course, these are all quoted at very long odds right now.

However, they are my personal bets.

In a world obsessed with the very latest: everything old is new again.

Who’s Afraid of Bourbaki?

nosferatulargeNicolas Bourbaki: A Symphony of Horror

Nicolas Bourbaki is the Evil Genius Who Never Was that Ate the Soul of Mathematics.

Worse, he sucked the blood clean out of the entire subject leaving only a Dessicated Husk to Haunt the Musty Corridors of Academe.

A huge array of contemporary issues in Science Education and the Motivation of Youth to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM, subjects can be traced to the influence of this one fictitious person.

How so, you may well ask? How could a fictitious character, in the Mathematical Sciences of all places, lay waste to Society? Well, perhaps I exaggerate some concerning Society at Large, but certainly Bourbaki has damaged the Society of Mathematicians.

This happened over many years starting in 1935 with a founding group of exemplary French Mathematicians. They formed a group and published anonymously under the pseudonym: Nicolas Bourbaki.

The official title for this group is:

Association des collaborateurs de Nicolas Bourbaki

The ambitious purpose was to place all of mathematics on a rigorous foundation.

In the way of these things, the purpose for which the group was founded was preceded by the demonstration of its futility.

While the Bourbaki movement was founded in 1935, the Austrian genius Kurt Gödel had just proved, in 1931, that the pursuit of rigor in Mathematics was ultimately to prove a Chimera. There are true statements, propositions in Math-speak, which are simply undecidable within the axiomatic system.

There is an element to mathematical invention which lays beyond logic.

One can pursue rigorous arguments to support the Towering Edifice of Mathematics but the result is a Tower of Babel. The problem is that there will remain statements within any axiomatic system which are undecidable within it. Such self-referential propositions point outside any axiomatic system and declare it to be logically incomplete.

In the vernacular, logic ain’t everything it is cracked up to be.

I should hasten to add… this does not make Mathematics less useful. In truth, it makes mathematics more interesting since it highlights that which exists beyond logic.

When a real Mathematician creates new Mathematics there is an operation in play which exists beyond mere deductive logic. There is a genuine creative force. The identification of axiomatic systems, especially new axiomatic systems, is a creative exercise Ex Nihilo. You simply cannot derive axioms from axioms.

Unfortunately, the Bourbaki movement took root in Mathematics Departments and spread like wildfire. Coming fast on the heels of the Great Insight of Gödel came a mighty social movement to Make Mathematics Rigorous. It became a veritable Crusade.

The leaders involved comprised a Who’s Who of the French Elite:

Henri Cartan
Claude Chevalley
Andre Weil

Undoubtedly they are counted among the first rank of 20th Century mathematicians.

However, in light of Gödel, the movement was destined to fail from the get go.

Bourbaki produced a huge array of formal material on foundational issues in mathematics. However, it also led to a delusion among mathematicians, and later physicists, that true and correct thought was a rigorous: Definition, Theorem, Proof and Lemma style of mathematical discourse.

The idea was that Mathematics must be Kept Pure of Intuition.

Rigor is Bliss.

Of course, the problem is that Mathematics soon Disappears Up It’s Own Functor and becomes: Arid, Dry, Boring and Irrelevant.

When the express purpose is to eliminate intuition it is no surprise that there a few women in sight. Educators are surprised that few young kids want to study mathematics.

Golly Gee, I wonder why?

This brings me to the reason why Bourbaki was anonymous.

It was a direct reaction to the towering presence of the departed genius Henri Poincaré. This man may rightfully be thought of as: The Last Mathematician with a Personality.

Unlike the dry and dull mathematics of today, Poincaré rightfully stressed the development of mathematical intuition. He believed, as I do also, that the ultimate source of mathematical inspiration comes from the human spirit.

Intuition drives mathematical invention.

Just as Poincaré opined, in his reflective work Science and Hypothesis, I maintain that there is an element of invention in mathematical creativity.

Man does not derive Mathematics, but does something far greater, man invents it.

He or she does so in the manner of all invention. Through observation, introspection, experimentation and inspiration. There is not some algorithm at work that simply enumerates dry propositions from some ultimate source of truth.

Evidently, if you wish to Kill a Great Spirit, the spirit exemplified by Poincaré, then you must do so in a group and anonymously. Thus was the Great Hatchet Team of Nicolas Bourbaki born. They hacked away at the Spirit of Mathematics until it was dead.

Now there is almost nothing left of the great motivating creative force in mathematics.

It is dry, dull and actively shunned by students. It is considered abstract, tedious and impenetrable. All of the interesting mathematics happens outside of Mathematics.

It surfaces in the Computer Science approach to classical dynamics.

It pops up in the Isogeometric Analysis of NURBS-adapted Finite-Element Analysis.

It lurks in the role of Generating Functions in the area of Adiabatic Quantum Computing.

Decoding the above, I will explain the connections:

How do we understand and represent physical law in a world of software algorithms?

How do we pass between the representation and design of artifacts alongside modeling their behavior?

Where do solutions to hard problems come from and is it the programmer who solves the problem or the computer?

There is a huge amount of work to be done in getting mathematics back into shape.

I believe that this Sad and Sorry Carcass can be Re-Animated.

Today I announce the formation of a counter-insurgency group:

Association des agents provocateurs pour éliminer de Nicolas Bourbaki

We have Silver Bullets, Wooden Stakes and Buffy Attitude.

Who’s Afraid of Nicolas Bourbaki?

Rigor leads to Rigor Mortis.

Multi-Verse Dreaming and the Fredkin-Zuse Ambush

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on;
and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

W. Shakespeare, “The Tempest“, Act 4, scene 1.

In a previous post on Privateer Science, one phrase caught my attention:

“all physics is an algorithm”

I believe this is worthy of further analysis.

Can we reduce everything to an Algorithmic formulation? Are we living in a digital universe or a simulation? There is much blood spilled over such claims, which makes it interesting to trace their history backwards.

The earliest version was offered by a pioneer of digital computers, Konrad Zuse. In 1967, he published a treatise with the name “Rechnender Raum”, [Ed. in English: Calculating Space], which conceived of the Universe as a set of interconnected parallel processors. The problem of quantum correlations is not there resolved but is attributed to “external” machinery of some sort.

Later, the American physicist Edward Fredkin developed this story. He tried to build a realistic model based upon the conception of parallel automata given by Von Neumann. Later, this became known as “Cellular Automata” as in the computer game “Life”. This philosophy was renamed the “Fredkin-Zuse Hypothesis” in analogy with the famous “Church-Turing Thesis”.

It is unclear how to build the Standard Model as Cellular Automata and how many properties and symbols these should have. Such systems, if properly defined, have a vast number of combinations so any disproof is difficult.

The most recent creative attempt is a book by Stephen Wolfram, “A New Kind of Science”. At 1200 pages, this colossal tome claims that a short collection of Cellular Automata might reproduce the complexity of the Universe as we perceive it.

There remains the problem of consciousness, or freedom of will, and a serious attempt by the Roger Penrose. In his masterpiece, “Shadows of the
, he claims to present a complete and rigorous proof for the non-algorithmic nature of the human mind. The key is the intuitive capability of proof, as shown by mathematicians.

Others think differently, including Marvin Minsky and John Searle.

Let us be dispassionate. Personally, I would not be surprised if these questions turn out to be undecidable!

What is interesting to me is that the history of such claims goes way back in ancient Greek philosophy. Indeed, the allegory of Plato’s Cave, in the “Republic”, describes how people can live chained like prisoners. They perceive the shadows of things as reality projected on the walls of the cave from an external source of light which is always behind their back.

If by accident, or by favor, one of the prisoners ever grasps the
external reality, he finds it impossible to explain it to the rest of his comrades. They still prefer the shadows into which their minds are accustomed from the actual reality. This is the mystery of Life.

Later Plato’s followers and intellectuals like Carneades and the Pyrrhonists established a kind of “Academic Scepticism” which in a sense  precludes the Kantian notion of the ever inconceivable “Being in itself”. Soon after, the Pre-Christian tradition of the Gnostics went a step beyond, by claiming to have discovered an external constructor or “programmer” of our reality in the face of the evil mad god “Demiurge or “Yaldabaoth”  in the effort to also answer the famous “Problem of Evil“.

Strangely enough, modern sociology and anthropology was also influenced vby the notion of simulated reality. This is evident in the works of Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard, especially the Baudrillard’s
work “Simulacra and Simulation“. In this and similar works, modern sociology sees a kind of “Apo-Semiosis” or designification where the Sign is finally deprived of any need for a signified “true” object to gradually become an empty signifier. This is reminiscent of all the “quantum this and quantum that” hype or the “All Popes and no God” attribute mentioned earlier in this blog.

One of the most important works of fiction that made heavy use of such a paradigm was the 1992 novel “Snow Crash” based on a 3D Metaverse, a kind of fully “Immersive Reality“.

In an acute critic, Richard Rorty mentions that the most important symptom of such a worldview is not so much its artificiality but rather the total lack of inspiration. In another important work by Walter Michaels, titled “The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History”, the following phrase still echoes concerns expressed in this blog.

“So a world in which everything – from bitmaps to blood – can be understood as a “form of speech” is also a world in which nothing actually is understood, a world in which what a speech act does is disconnected from what it means.”

The above really sounds so “Quantum” if so “Copenhagen” that one cannot avoid the temptation offered by direct comparison!

And by another stranger coincidence, one can even be tempted to ask of what it would mean if a kind of “Entangled Brains Hive”  could exist where not just two separate dreamers but a myriad of them could tune into one and the same common dream!

Would such a dream be able to materialize and what kind of elusiveness would such a dream matter appeared to have? What would the scientists and intellectuals inside the World Dream conclude on the nature of the Dream-matter? Would it be as elusive as the
wave-particle duality appears to be?

I cannot avoid a last comparison in here with the verses from a very common popular song, the well known “Hotel California

“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “