20130710

Critique of "The Scientific Worldview": Part 5a The Ten Assumptions of Science: Uncertainty

The indeterminist's eternal quest for absolute certainty and the popularity of Aristotle's "absolute chance."

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are in bold:
  
Third Assumption: Uncertainty

BW: Long chapter, long commentary. [First half]

BW: Begging the ironic question: Are you *absolutely certain* that uncertainty is a necessary human condition?

[GB: Very funny Bill. With regard to the future, no one can be “absolutely certain” about anything. That is why we need to use assumptions. I suppose one could make an argument about the past, however. It is certain that a 777 crashed at SFO on 7/6/13. Even though there were an infinite number of causes for that effect, only a few of them would have been significant.]

TSW: "It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is always possible to know more about anything."

BW: A proper understanding of the Uncertainty Principle (UP) sets a limit on how much we can know about fundamental objects ... when all observational methods demonstrably change the status of the object, more cannot be known. I agree with the general propositions, but I think there are categorical exceptions.

TSW: "... best characterized by their enslavement to Aristotelianism."

I don't think it's fair to equate Aristotelianism with absolute certainty. What he does is posit the existence of a mental state (Nous), equivalent to my "unmitigated truth", when humans can arrive at a "common sense" conclusion about reality. He fully appreciates the flaws of induction, but believes humans have the mental capacity to achieve a notional grasp of first principles:

http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/maydede/Aristotle.pdf

In many ways, it's equivalent to your postulation and defense of "axioms" or "assumptions", which you think the evidence, clear logic, and "common sense" intuition require. What you call “consupponibility” is just logical coherence among the propositions.


[GB: The idea of “absolute chance” as one of the causes for effects may or may not be rightfully attributed to Aristotle. That idea, nevertheless, is still held by many folks today. It must be rejected completely (via assumption, of course). That humans have “the mental capacity to achieve a notional grasp of first principles” is, and always will be, highly debatable. If consupponibility “is just logical coherence among the propositions,” then we would not be having this discussion. Later, in your review, I believe that you will again object to infinity. Hopefully, you would not overtly reject it as being “nonconsuponnible,” but that is what you must do to maintain your belief in free will. As I mentioned, no two things, even consupponible assumptions, can be identical. Any differences they have, amount to at least tiny contradictions, which you need to jump on to maintain your assumption of finity.]

TSW: "... either causality is objective and uncertainty is subjective, or causality is subjective and uncertainty is objective."


BW: I think I understand your point, but I don't think it's a valid dichotomy. Causality can be (is) objective and uncertainty (UP) can also be objective: both can be confirmed as objectively true by independent observers of every known instance of either.

[GB: No. Totally disagree. That is the whole point of the Third Assumption. You must be thinking of the fact that analyses always yield different results each time they are performed. Those are objective effects of the infinite number of causes that produced them. That is certain. What is uncertain (to us) is which ones they would be ahead of time.]

TSW: "Indeterminists traditionally have approached the quest with the idea that absolute certainty or absolute knowledge actually could be found."


BW: If you're talking about the infallibility of the Pope, that may have been true ... but is no longer claimed. If you're equating "indeterminism" with "mysticism", then there's plenty of uncertainty about how (and even whether) it actually works, even among its advocates. The "Will of God" cannot be known to us, they claim, so any outcome is indeterminate, uncertain, and unknowable. Other mystics (deists) believe God put everything in motion, with full prescient knowledge of the outcome, as "determined" by Him in establishing the initial conditions. He didn't just rest on the Seventh Day, He went comatose until His ordained "Final Days" of mankind finally arrive and He gets the "friends" that He so dearly craves.

[GB: All that stuff was destroyed with the advent of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the death of Laplace's Demon and predestination. No longer could there be a finite number of causes for even one effect. One could not even set a boulder rolling down a hill, being assured of the exact place it would land. Predestination was impossible, even for an imaginary being.]

TSW: "If one could not be certain of both the momentum and the position of a particle through time, then one could not be absolutely certain of the relation between cause and effect either."


BW: That depends on the meaning of UP. Contrary to Bertrand Russell, I don't think UP denies that particles *have* a specific momentum and position, only that it's modified by observation. Thus, the inability to measure it *before* it causes an effect does not preclude one from inferring both momentum and position *after* it causes an effect.

[GB: Agree. This just reiterates that “the relation between cause and effect” is never “absolutely certain.” Indeterminists are always able to assume just the opposite, just as determinists are free to assume that “there are material causes for all effects.”]

BW: For example: two billiard balls on a pool table, covered to hide the motion of the first ball: we cannot know it's momentum or position. But, we can determine those things by observing the instantaneous effect produced when it hits the second ball (which we can observe). Granted, an instant later, the momentum and position of the first ball changes, since we're doing an indirect "observation", but we certainly know what they were just prior to contact.

[GB: Agree. Uncertainty holds for causes that have not yet produced effects.]

TSW: "... Science was forced to admit that causality and uncertainty were indubitably linked and would have to be assumed; there could be no absolute certainty."


BW: That may have been the way Russell saw UP, but philosophers back to Aristotle understood that inductive reasoning from evidence could never establish the *absolute certainty* for any proposition: humans aren't omniscient and observation is never perfect. You don't need infinite causality to establish that point.

[GB: True, there is no possibility of perfection, but the whole idea of perfection is based on the assumption of finity. Finity is from “finis,” the end; there is no more. A perfect job, a perfect sculpture, a perfect crystal is one in which it is claimed that nothing more can be done to improve it—that is, until you get the microscope out. Even the most “perfect diamond” has all kinds of imperfections if one looks at it closely enough. Like Laplace’s Demon, we “aren't omniscient and observation is never perfect,” not particularly because of our own failings, but because everything we can observe has infinite characteristics produced by an infinity of causes.]

TSW: "For the religiously indoctrinated, the rationale for indeterminism and its implications for the doctrine of free will brightened."

BW: Perhaps, but you don't need indeterminism to advocate free will. A topic for later.

[GB: Again, determinism assumes that there are material causes for all effects, including those claimed responsible for imagined “free” will. In philosophy, the determinism-free will debate is elementary and interminable. My main point throughout my work is that the debate only can be settled by assumption. Like all fundamental assumptions, there is no way to prove which of the opposing assumptions is correct. Nevertheless, choosing the correct assumption is of primary importance. Choose the wrong one, and one may as well give up any pretensions to advance philosophy.]

TSW: "In the Newtonian view expressed by Hermann von Helmholtz, it was "possible to deduce all phenomena from their causes in a logically strict and uniquely determined manner."

BW: Then, Helmholtz didn't understand Newton, who was very circumspect about his assertions. For example:

"That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it." - Letter to Bentley

"I have not yet been able to discover the cause of these properties of gravity from phenomena and I feign no hypotheses... It is enough that gravity does really exist and acts according to the laws I have explained, and that it abundantly serves to account for all the motions of celestial bodies." - Principia

Words like "abundantly serves to account" don't suggest absolute certainty that his laws were inerrant or universal.

TSW: "If, as Bohm emphasized, causality involved infinity, then the old view of determinism as both objective and subjective had to be discarded.”


BW: Bohm was responding to the EPR proposition [Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen (1935)], concluding that non-locality (information transfer exceeding SOL [speed of light]) was a real feature of nature. That conclusion is still in doubt, long after Einstein's "dice" comment. I won't try to explain why I think EPR is a statistical misconception, but Bohm's assertion is purely casual: it certainly hasn't been proven that all effects have infinite causes. So far, you haven't said that you believe in "non-locality". If you don't, then you need something more than Bohm to justify *infinite* causality.

[GB: The speed of light, like any wave motion within a medium, is determined by the properties of that medium. No real medium, however, can have identical properties everywhere that it exists, so the speed of light cannot be constant. For instance, in "Universal Cycle Theory," Steve and I (2011, 2012) speculate that the density of aether-1 increases with distance from baryonic matter. Light speed therefore must increase similarly, but I doubt that it would be significant enough for Bohm’s speculations. You will have to tell me more about what you think “non-locality” is. Sounds woo-woo to me. BTW: Those who assume that causality is finite must oppose all of "The Ten Assumptions of Science" to be logically consistent. I suspect that those who “need something more than Bohm to justify *infinite* causality” will never be satisfied.]

Next: Uncertainty Part 2

cotsw 005


References

Borchardt, Glenn, and Puetz, S.J., 2012, Neomechanical gravitation theory ( http://www.worldsci.org/pdf/abstracts/abstracts_6529.pdf ), in Volk, G., Proceedings of the Natural Philosophy Alliance, 19th Conference of the NPA, 25-28 July: Albuquerque, NM, Natural Philosophy Alliance, Mt. Airy, MD, v. 9, p. 53-58.

Einstein, A., Podolsky, B., and Rosen, N., 1935, Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete? ( http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PR/v47/i10/p777_1 ): Physical Review, v. 47, no. 10, p. 777-780.

Puetz, S.J., and Borchardt, Glenn, 2011, Universal cycle theory: Neomechanics of the hierarchically infinite universe: Denver, Outskirts Press ( www.universalcycletheory.com ), 626 p.


2 comments:

Westmiller said...

GB:"You will have to tell me more about what you think “non-locality” is."

Since you ask ... two views.

1. Assuming the speed of light is what it is (whether wave or particle), then the only causes for effects in our proximity are necessarily in our "light cone": something that hasn't yet arrived cannot be a cause for any current effect. The number of possible causes is certainly "cosmic", but not infinite. For example, a star that is 10bly away may have exploded 9bya, but it won't be seen, nor cause any effect here, for another billion years. If it's a hyper-star that emits strong gamma, when the signal arrives, it may cause the destruction of the earth. In the meantime, it has no effect. So, in that respect, causes are not "infinite".

2. What I was actually talking about was the Bohm Theory of quantum-mechanical "entanglement", which posits that the change of one particle can effect another particle *immediately*, without regard to the speed of light (and/or information). That's the FTL "spooky effect" Einstein was talking about.

In the book, you don't mention whether or not you agree with a speed limit for light (1), nor whether Bohm's proposition (2) is consistent with, or contrary to, your Assumptions.

Glenn Borchardt said...

BW: 1. Assuming the speed of light is what it is (whether wave or particle), then the only causes for effects in our proximity are necessarily in our "light cone": something that hasn't yet arrived cannot be a cause for any current effect. The number of possible causes is certainly "cosmic", but not
infinite. For example, a star that is 10bly away may have exploded 9bya, but it won't be seen, nor cause any effect here, for another billion years. If it's a hyper-star that emits strong gamma, when the signal arrives, it may cause the destruction of the earth. In the meantime, it has no effect. So,in that respect, causes are not "infinite".

[GB: You seem to still be mistaking infinite causality for “everything causality,” which, of course, is impossible. Part of the problem may be your assumption of microcosmic finity. On the contrary, if matter is infinitely divisible, then there are always an infinite number of microcosms within the vicinity of any object. The fact that no part of the infinite universe is subject to collisions from great distances is no problem for infinite universal causality (causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes). The significance of most causes is a function of nearness.]

BW: 2. What I was actually talking about was the Bohm Theory of quantum-mechanical "entanglement", which posits that the change of one particle can effect another particle *immediately*, without regard to the speed of light (and/or information). That's the "spooky effect" Einstein was talking about.

[GB: Nice to know that Einstein could recognize at least one idea that was spooky. It could be that Bohm was hinting at a physical mechanism like the one Steve and I proposed for gravitation ("Universal Cycle Theory: Neomechanics of the Hierarchically Infinite Universe"). I no longer believe in the Lesage theory of gravitation. That required graviton flow at thousands of times the speed of light. Our new theory relies, instead, on local changes in aethereal pressure, which increase with distance from baryonic matter. Thus, if a stratovolcano erupted, the ejecta would displace some of the aether-1 in the stratosphere, producing an aethereal vacuum, in effect. The resulting pressure difference would increase, thereby increasing the gravitational effect above the volcano. That is nothing new, of course—just a decrease in R for Newton’s equation. Even so, no particle’s change in motion can affect another instantaneously. Please realize also that there was a younger Bohm, who was deterministic (1957), and an older Bohm who was not (1978). Maybe this spooky stuff was somewhere in between.]

BW: In the book, you don't mention whether or not you agree with a speed limit for light (1), nor whether Bohm's proposition (2) is consistent with, or contrary to, your Assumptions.

[GB: As you know, light has many different velocities, which like all wave motions, are a function of the density and other properties of the medium (aether-1 in this case). Light velocity increases with distance from Earth (our explanation for the so-called “Gravitational Redshift”). The velocity of light should be highest in the intergalactic regions far from baryonic matter, but I doubt that it is very much greater than c. As implied above, there can be no instantaneous motions of any sort, even though we do not know what the velocity of wave motion would be in an aether-2 medium, it would not be instantaneous.]

References

Bohm, D., 1957, Causality and chance in modern physics: New York, Harper and Brothers, 170 p.

Bohm, D., 1978, The implicate order: A new order for physics: Process Studies, v. 8, p. 73-102.

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