Saturday, July 31, 2010

Objectivism & “Metaphysics,” Part 2

Basic presuppositions of realism. Realism is the view that physical objects exist independently of being perceived (that is to say, physical objects exist whether they are perceived or not). What is presupposed in such a view?

  1. That physical objects exist.
  2. That there exists something that perceives these physical objects.
  3. That the independence of physical objects does not imply complete separation from the perceiver, that there exists some kind of connection between the object and the perceiver of the object.

From these three presupposition we can flesh out the realist position. Realism believes in a physical existence and a sentient perceiver, in other words, matter and consciousness. The belief that the universe is made up primarily of matter and consciousness is known as psychophysical dualism. Most Objectivists reject this dualism, identifying it with the mind-body dichotomy of Plato. Only Harry Binswanger has suggested that Objectivism is consistent with psychophysical dualism:



What's called dualism is the bogey of philosophy. Since Descartes is wrong in regard to the primacy of consciousness, people smear him that anything he ever said is wrong. And one thing that he said was there's a mind and a body. Now that's right….

Dualism is a dangerous term because of its being used for a strawman. But if you mean: Do we believe there are really two existents? Yes! The mind exists and the brain exists—and neither is the other. As I said, shape exists and color exists—and neither is the other. There are many cases of two attributes of the same entity, neither of which can be reduced to the other…. So, yes, I'm a dualist. Or as Leonard [Peikoff] says in OPAR, because the term dualism is not one we have to fight to save and it's so associated with Descartes, the proper word for it is: Objectivism, not dualism. We have our own distinct view here. But if you had to put it in the historical classification, yeah, we're not monists. We believe that both consciousness and matter exist and neither is reducible to the other.


Depiste this rather tepid acknowledgement of dualism, some Objectivists were shocked by Binswanger’s allegiance with so “dangerous” a term. Yet realism implies psychophysical dualism, so that if you are a logically consistent realist, you must, ipso facto, be a psychophysical dualist.

Realism also believes that consciousness is capable of perceiving matter. This is a more difficult proposition to elucidate, particularly for foundationalists like Rand, who wish to provide a veneer of logic for their chief assertions. In the main, there are two groups of theories: (1) direct realism, which posits that we perceive physical objects without mediation, so that physical objects exist precisely as we see them; (2) indirect realism, which posits that we perceive all objects through the medium of ideas, that, in effect, there exists a dualism between physical objects and how they are represented in consciousness. Most theories of realism, including Rand’s, are convoluted attempts to combine direct and indirect realism. They are all involved in what the realist philosopher Arthur Lovejoy called “the revolt against dualism.” None of these confused realists are comfortable admitting that reality is perceived through the medium of ideas, because this insight inevitably stresses the provisional, conjectural nature of knowledge.

So to sum up: the hypothesis of realism, when fleshed out, involves belief in two dualisms:

  1. Psychophysical dualism (i.e., the belief that matter and consciousness exist).
  2. Epistemological dualism (i.e., the belief that mind perceives material objects through the veil of ideas—i.e., representationalism).

Is there any reasons for believing that realism, along with these two dualisms, is true? I will turn to this subject in the next post.

27 comments:

Xtra Laj said...

The Revolt Against Dualism is written with bombast, but is as close to technical perfection for philosophical criticism as one will ever see. In fact, the bombastic language is the only criticism I can make of it.

Epistemic dualism is inescapable and I think people who deny it are just trying to get around the obvious problems of hallucination and epistemic error.

I do think that psychophysical dualism has tenable and untenable forms and I think that some of tenable forms are not that different form identity state materialism. Moreover, there are the eliminativist type materialists who think that ideas are like folk tales.: They are the first step towards towards the discovery of a deeper narrative that might not involve the simplistic idea of the folk tales, but something much deeper and consistent. This might be wrong, but when such people are accused of denying psychophysical dualism, I wonder if people appreciate the distinction between saying that lightning is the result of Thor and lightning is the result of electric charges and whether explaining lightning as the result of electric charges is an argument that lightning does not exist.

Michael Prescott said...

I don't think the statement "physical objects exist whether they are perceived or not" necessarily follows from the three "presuppositions" listed.

One can agree that "physical objects exist ... that there exists something that perceives these physical objects ... that there exists some kind of connection between the object and the perceiver of the object" -- and still maintain that physical objects don't exist unless they are perceived.

Certain interpretations of quantum physics hold that subatomic particles exist only as clouds of "potentia" until they are observed, at which point the smear of potential particles collapses into a single particle at a specific location. As soon as observation ceases, the particle smears out again into another cloud (or probabilistic wave-function).

For a long time the metaphysical implications of this approach were downplayed on the grounds that the strange behavior of subatomic particles disappears when objects are scaled up to the macro level. But recent experiments have disproved this idea, showing that superposition (the "smear" pattern) can be observed in macroscopic objects, such as large molecules called buckyballs, and even in one object (a tuning fork) large enough to be visible to the naked eye. More experiments are ongoing.

tiny.cc/5hu8z

tiny.cc/ddgti

If superposition is a real phenomenon even on the macro level, then it is arguable that physical objects must be perceived in order to exist (as opposed to only existing potentially). They still meet the three criteria listed in the post, though.

An interesting popularization of these ideas is found in Robert Lanza's book "Biocentrism."

Another way of looking at it is to say that the *information* necessary to manifest the object exists independently of the observer, much like the programming code that underlies a virtual reality environment; but the object is only manifested when it comes into the observer's field of perception, much as objects in a VR simulation are rendered only when they come on screen. Physicist Brian Whitworth has offered a fascinating explication of this idea:

http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.0337

In this view, information is the essence of reality, and physical things are only renderings of it.

Xtra Laj said...

Mike,

"Physical things exist whether they are perceived or not" is a statement about reality not being created by perception. Therefore, what happens in reality is independent of my perceiving it - bombs can blow up in China without my knowledge or people can make millions of dollars in Ghana. My observation of such things does not create them - it recognizes them. I would find it odd to say that they are only potential until I perceive them.

This is a very different issue from whether there is something about the process of perception that might influence events or objects being perceived. Or whether there are some things that depend upon perception for their existence.

Laj

Michael Prescott said...

"I would find it odd to say that they are only potential until I perceive them."

They are only potential until *someone* perceives them. It doesn't have to be you.

"bombs can blow up in China without my knowledge or people can make millions of dollars in Ghana."

Those events are perceived by people in China and Ghana. But what about an "event" perceived by no one and nothing?

Imagine a parallel universe, totally cut off from our own, in which there is no consciousness of any kind. There are no living organisms, no spiritual beings, no minds, no perceptions. In what sense can this parallel universe be said to "exist"?

Anonymous said...

"Imagine a parallel universe, totally cut off from our own, in which there is no consciousness of any kind. There are no living organisms, no spiritual beings, no minds, no perceptions. In what sense can this parallel universe be said to "exist"?"

Oh geez...no disrespect to either of you but I can she why the great bearded one equated philosophy with mental masturbation.

Anonymous said...

Though I'm sure Rand would have agreed with him, that the purpose of philosohpy is not to debate the world but to change it.

Steven Johnston
UK

Greg said...

Your three presuppositions simply do not entail dualism. From "There exists something that perceives" it does not follow that what perceives is not a physical object or reducible to physical objects, properties, and relations, or that the relation "X perceives Y" is anything other than a causal relation reducible to physical terms.

To generate dualism as a consequence, one must assume that whatever is capable of perceiving is non-physical. But this assumption is quite obviously question-begging.

gregnyquist said...

"I don't think the statement 'physical objects exist whether they are perceived or not' necessarily follows from the three "presuppositions" listed."

I wouldn't say "follows"; rather, they are implications of the basic postulate of realism, so that if you are a logically consistent realist, you will hold them, even if only tacitly. Of course, if you are not a realist, there is no necessary connection between them, and you're not logically obligated to hold any of them.

When realists say that physical objects exist independently of the perceiver, they are not committing themselves to an absolute independence between the perceiver and the object of perception. When I perceive an object, I am probably
dependent on it materially, for having known it. What is independent is the substantive reality of the object, in that it has a position in time and space, an origin and a history and a destiny all of its own, no matter what I may think or fail to think about it.

The notion that the "information" necessary to "manifest" objects exists independently is obviously not consistent with the kind of realism I am introducing here. According to a critical, representational realism, mere information is not knowledge. Information only becomes knowledge when intelligence interprets it as information about something sought or encountered in the real world.

Having said that, I would also note, in contradistinction to what Rand would have said, that Michael's views are not refutable; they do not contradict Rand's metaphysical axioms nor to they assume what attempt to refute. All forms of idealism, even the most extreme, are entirely consistent with themselves, and only contradict the views that are opposed to them. Most people are biologically predisposed against such beliefs: they violate what Santayana called the "animal creed," that is to say, that there is a world, that there is a past and a future, that things can be sought, that edible things can be eaten, etc. etc. I have difficulty believing anyone can sincerely believe, in the very depths of their being, that when they eat an apple or another animal, that they are merely engaged in information processing!

Xtra Laj said...

Mike,

You wrote:

They are only potential until *someone* perceives them. It doesn't have to be you.


So in other words, if my vase falls over while no one is home, and I come back to see that the vase has fallen over, my vase didn't "actually" fall over. It only "potentially" fell over until I came to see the consequences? Even if I can logically deduce when it happened or if I set up events so that it happens in the absence of people, it only potentially happens because no one observed it, just the consequences? Or the bugs and germs in my room were the perceivers? Sounds like an argument for the existence of God or invisible perceivers to me, only that I'm yet to understand the empirical distinction that requires it. Nothing wrong with arguing for invisible perceivers as long as there is some empirical distinction to be made between what it means to "potentially exist" and what it means to "actually exist".


Imagine a parallel universe, totally cut off from our own, in which there is no consciousness of any kind. There are no living organisms, no spiritual beings, no minds, no perceptions. In what sense can this parallel universe be said to "exist"?

I think this goes beyond the scope of what I'm thinking about. Since it's the kind of thing we can never test, I have no reason to seriously dispute any answer to the question. Such analysis is topic-neutral unless you have an empirical basis for the distinction.

gregnyquist said...

"To generate dualism as a consequence, one must assume that whatever is capable of perceiving is non-physical."

I wouldn't necessarily say that dualism is a "consequence," of those propositions (as if it deduced from them). I am not giving a proof of realism (or of dualism), but merely explaining what the position is. And yes, I do assume that whatever is capable of perceiving is non-physical. The notion of physical objects perceiving one another strikes me as contrary to observation. It is only question begging if one interprets my presuppositions as a logical argument or a "proof" for realism. But again, they are no such thing. As an extreme anti-foundationalist, why would I present a logical argument or a "proof" for realism? I am merely explaining what a logically coherent realism would look like.

Xtra Laj said...


Having said that, I would also note, in contradistinction to what Rand would have said, that Michael's views are not refutable; they do not contradict Rand's metaphysical axioms nor to they assume what attempt to refute.


Agreed. That's why I try to understand what experience or motive is driving the need for the distinction being made.

Xtra Laj said...

The main argument for dualism, as Lovejoy repeatedly pointed out, was that the hallucinations, dreams and errors required a place in the world and we couldn't locate them in what we understood to be the physical world. There might be a behavioral way of getting around this, or some form of identity state materialism might, but I think that the basic dualism that separates the real world from the realm of ideas (perceptions, judgments, imagination etc.) is correct. Ideas seem non-physical (weightless and non-spatial) in nature. If we develop a sophisticated understanding of ideas that allows us to consider them physical, great, but right now, I think considering them distinct from the physical world is the way to go.

Dragonfly said...

Michael: "If superposition is a real phenomenon even on the macro level, then it is arguable that physical objects must be perceived in order to exist (as opposed to only existing potentially)"

That is an outdated interpretation of quantum mechanics. We now know that the fact that a superposition state collapses into a single state when it is measured (observed) is due to the phenomenon of decoherence. This means that such a superposition state interacts with its environment. That can be a measuring device, but also stray atoms, molecules or even the cosmic background radiation. The result is that the superposition is "smeared out" over its environment and becomes in practice unmeasurable. Measurements of the local system then always give a single state. There is no observer needed for decoherence. That is also the solution of the paradox of Schrödinger's cat: long before anyone looks into the box the cat is already in a definite state (dead or alive, and not in a superposition of being dead and alive).

The larger the object, the stronger the decoherence effect, as interaction with the environment becomes unavoidable. Therefore we can observe it only usually only in very small systems. In very carefully prepared experiments one can observe superposition in larger objects, such as buckyballs. But one should keep in mind that buckyballs are still some thousand times smaller than a bacterium, so the term "macroscopic" can be a bit misleading. Such "macroscopic" systems are also called "Schrödinger's kittens".

I looked up your two links, but the second one described only a project that still has to be done, so I'm not so sure that the optimism of the authors is warranted. The first one brought me to a site about lesbians on facebook, I'm not sure that this is relevant in this case...

But anyhow, my point is that observation by a consciousness is not necessary for the disappearance of a superposition state, only the (for larger systems unavoidable) interaction with the environment. The pioneers of QM didn't know this, so they used a pragmatic solution, namely to separate the microscopic quantum system and the macroscopic measuring system (the Heisenberg cut, the collapse of the wave function). This worked perfectly for all calculations, but was theoretically unsatisfying, as QM was meant to be a universal theory, for both microscopic and macroscopic systems. Schrödinger expressed this by his thought experiment with the cat. But today we understand the mechanism that eliminates the strange quantum effects from macroscopic systems.

Wells said...

I'll answer this question.

Imagine a parallel universe, totally cut off from our own, in which there is no consciousness of any kind. There are no living organisms, no spiritual beings, no minds, no perceptions. In what sense can this parallel universe be said to "exist"?

I agree with Dragonfly concerning quantum mechanics, mind over matter, and similar. So I'll use what he said to answer. I'll even provide three, One genuine and two snarky, choose the one most satisfying.

(1) If this parallel universe of our speculation is parallel, then it would contain a planet similar to Jupiter, and a star similar to Sol.
These two bodies act gravitationally on each other as large heavenly bodies are wont to do, the star also shines light on the planet.
The actions of each body, (Being heavy and shining light for the star) cause changes in the other body, The planet is swung around the star and the radiation also gives some motive power to the weather, the star is likewise perturbed slightly.
In order for anything to happen both bodies have to exist in the classical sense. Since there is a star dependent on 'Jupiter's' existence 'Jupiter' must exist, and since there is a planet dependent on 'Sol's' existence, 'Sol' must exist.
*** Or ***
(2) If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? Of course it does. Everything necessary for sound to be generated is there when the tree falls, a tree to fall, and ground to hit.
*** Or ***
(3) Our universe lacked any conscious entities at one time, and yet it existed.

Wells said...

Greg Nyquest said this.

So to sum up: the hypothesis of realism, when fleshed out, involves belief in two dualisms:

1. Psychophysical dualism (i.e., the belief that matter and consciousness exist).
2. Epistemological dualism (i.e., the belief that mind perceives material objects through the veil of ideas—i.e., representationalism).


Is there any reasons for believing that realism, along with these two dualisms, is true? I will turn to this subject in the next post.

Point number 2 is obviously true, and probably even too conservative, mind also perceives stuff through memory, prejudice, state of pain or fatigue, marijuana, and all other types of influences.

Point number 1 however is interesting. It depends on the definition of the word 'Exists'. I mean, the American dollar exists, but it doesn't exist in quite the same way that Michael Prescott exists. This blog exists on many levels. There is the actual writings of the blog by its hosts and guests, Then there is the server over at blogger that the blog is on, which exists, then there is the ARCHN community, which also exists, but but not in the same way that anything else exists.

Michael Prescott said...

"The first one brought me to a site about lesbians on facebook, I'm not sure that this is relevant in this case..."

Huh! I don't know what happened there. Must have been a TinyUrl glitch. I didn't test the shortened URL before I pasted it in.

Anyway, this is the correct link, which I've tested:

tiny.cc/kkp8p

I'm somewhat familiar with the decoherence theory, but I'm not sure I would say that earlier interpretations are "outdated." This implies that Bohmian mechanics has become the universal consensus. As I understand it, there remain many competing viewpoints.

Personally I think decoherence is hard-pressed to explain the more paradoxical results of double-slit experiments, such as those cases where measuring Particle A affects the manifestation of Particle B on a parallel track, or where a measurement of Particle A retroactively affects the manifestation of Particle B at an earlier point in time.

"All forms of idealism, even the most extreme, are entirely consistent with themselves,"

The view I'm positing is not idealism. If information underlies physical reality, I would say that the information exists independently of consciousness -- not as part of our minds or as some kind of latent knowledge.

One possible analogy is a hologram. A three dimensional image is projected out of a two-dimensional plate. The two-dimensional plate consists of wave-interference patterns, which are a form of information. The coherent light passing through this plate constructs a 3D image out of this information. "Knowledge" is not involved.

"the 'animal creed,' that is to say, that there is a world, that there is a past and a future, that things can be sought, that edible things can be eaten,"

I don't doubt that edible things can be eaten. The question is, what is the ultimate reality of edible things and of the organisms that eat them?

"I have difficulty believing anyone can sincerely believe, in the very depths of their being, that when they eat an apple or another animal, that they are merely engaged in information processing!"

What we believe in the depths of our souls is not too relevant here. In the depths of our souls it is difficult to believe that we are on a planet spinning through space at thousands of miles an hour, or that keeping an unstable element under constant observation will prevent it from decaying (the quantum Zeno effect), or that particles that become entangled will continue to influence each other instantly over any imaginable distance (nonlocality). The world is full of things that our "animal creed" would rebel against.

"If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?"

The tree produces sound waves, but without a receiver to pick up the waves, there will be no sound. The tree also reflects light waves, but without a perceiver, there is no color or form.

BTW, I'm not necessarily convinced that this metaphysics is true. I do think it's more likely to approach the truth than a simplistic reductionism, but the real answers are probably still far beyond us. As someone once said, the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we *can* imagine.

Dragonfly said...

Michael: "Anyway, this is the correct link, which I've tested:

tiny.cc/kkp8p"

I get a time-out, but never mind, I'd probably end up on another one of your favorite porn sites... :-)

"I'm somewhat familiar with the decoherence theory, but I'm not sure I would say that earlier interpretations are "outdated." This implies that Bohmian mechanics has become the universal consensus. As I understand it, there remain many competing viewpoints."

I'm afraid this shows that you're not really familiar with decoherence theory... The outdated view is that a consciousness would be necessary to effectuate the collapse of the wavefunction. This mechanism is now explained by the decoherence effect, that works equally well without a consciousness. The older generation of QM theorists mostly ignored the problem, as it was not relevant to the (often extremely accurate) QM calculations.

Bohmian mechanics has not become the general consensus, on the contrary: the theory is mathematically equivalent with standard QM but it's more awkward to use (and it does have its own problems), so it's largely ignored by the people who do real work with QM.

Michael: "Personally I think decoherence is hard-pressed to explain the more paradoxical results of double-slit experiments, such as those cases where measuring Particle A affects the manifestation of Particle B on a parallel track, or where a measurement of Particle A retroactively affects the manifestation of Particle B at an earlier point in time."

The effects you describe have nothing to do with decoherence. In fact decoherence will destroy those effects (as has been experimentally shown), as it is the mechanism that transforms typical quantum effects via interactions with the environment into the standard behavior of classical mechanics.

M.: ""If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?"

The tree produces sound waves, but without a receiver to pick up the waves, there will be no sound. The tree also reflects light waves, but without a perceiver, there is no color or form."

The solution of this problem is trivial: how do you define "sound"? If you define it as the experience by a conscious mind, the falling tree doesn't make a sound, but if you define sound as a physical phenomenon of sound waves (both definitions can be found in the dictionaries), the tree of course does make a sound. Mutatis mutandis the same for color or form.

Greg said...

I wouldn't necessarily say that dualism is a "consequence," of those propositions (as if it deduced from them)..... I am merely explaining what a logically coherent realism would look like.

Well, if dualism is not a logical consequence of the presuppositions you list, and those presuppositions are what makes for "realism," then there is a logically coherent realism that is not dualist as well. So what's the point of focusing on the dualistic version?

The notion of physical objects perceiving one another strikes me as contrary to observation.

Everything I observe is part of the physical world, isn't it? In your own picture, you seem to assume a sharp distinction between perceivers (minds) and perceived things (physical objects). But if everything perceived is physical, then how can there by observational evidence for the existence of something non-physical?

gregnyquist said...
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gregnyquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gregnyquist said...

"The view I'm positing is not idealism. If information underlies physical reality, I would say that the information exists independently of consciousness -- not as part of our minds or as some kind of latent knowledge."

The view above looks to me like a form of platonic idealism, with a world of information taking the place of Plato's world of forms. I would regard it as a type of idealism. The fact that the information is independent of consciousness strikes me as irrelevant to whether it can be described as idealist. I take idealism to be any philosophy which regards a mental entity (i.e., "forms," ideas, representations, images, etc.) as the basic constituent of reality. But others can define the term as they see fit.

"What we believe in the depths of our souls is not too relevant here."

That all depends what is meant by "depth of our souls." I'm using the expression to refer to those views which in fact direct our practical action. It is my strong suspicion that nearly everyone is "deep down" a realist, regardless of whatever conscious convictions they may profess to hold in the heat of argument. The idealist when he loses his keyes searches for them just as if they were lost in a material world existing in time and space. He does not assume that the keyes will magically reappear when the idea of keyes arises in his consciousness. He may attempt, ex post facto, to explain it that way; but that is clearly not so much a belief as it is an intellectual pretension, a sort of game he plays to make the world a more congenial place. Non-realist theories may be logically consistent by the light of their own premises, but they are not easy to implement in practice. They require immense intellectual discipline to maintain in the face of our biological predispositions toward realism; and so outside of a few rare hermits and individuals suffering from psychosis, I suspect that everyone is, for all intents and purposes, a practical realist.

"In the depths of our souls it is difficult to believe that we are on a planet spinning through space at thousands of miles an hour"

It is only difficult because the speed of our planet is not something that has had much practical bearing on the experience of the vast majority of men. Yet when, through education, they have become accustomed to it, they usually find it entirely amenable to their basic animal faith. Not so with idealism, which, except in rare instances, always remains at odds with this animal faith.

gregnyquist said...

"Well, if dualism is not a logical consequence of the presuppositions you list, and those presuppositions are what makes for "realism," then there is a logically coherent realism that is not dualist as well."

No, that still doesn't quite get it. Traditionally, realism is the view that physical objects exist independently of the mind. So what are the implications of such a view? Namely the following: first, that physical objects exist, and second that there is a mind perceiving them. If one finds the notion of mind needlessly complicated and wishes to dispense with it (just as idealists found the notion of matter a needless complication -- and perhaps an offensive one as well -- and decided to dispense with it), that is one's perogative. And undoubtely one can develop an entirely consistent philosophy that dispenses with mind altogether. Even so, this new physicalist philosophy will, in at least some respects, seem to have more in common with idealism (at least in it's monistic tendencies) than with the traditional realism that I have attempted to elucidate.

"But if everything perceived is physical, then how can there by observational evidence for the existence of something non-physical?"

Here we need to be careful about the scandalous vagueness of words, lest equivocation lead us astray. There is "observation" in the narrow sense of the word ("direct" sensory observation); then there is "observation" in a more looser sense (which may include a large moeity of inference). Hence, in the narrower sense, I may "observe" a dog chasing a cat. In the larger sense, I may "observe" that our President is lying. Of course, these are very different types of observation. I can't determine that the President is lying merely from staring at him. A great deal more has to go into the cognitive process. Same with "observing" the "non-physical." Many simpler observations go in to making the larger "observation" that the act of perception involves sentience, and that where that sentience is lacking, no perception takes place.

Michael Prescott said...

"The effects you describe have nothing to do with decoherence. In fact decoherence will destroy those effects (as has been experimentally shown)..."

My point is that experiments like the delayed choice quantum eraser show that observation (i.e., consciousness) affects the way particles manifest. Decoherence theory, which attempts to rule out consciousness as a factor in QM, can't explain these results, AFAIK.

Here's an interesting way to look at it. In a computer game, all the information necessary to render any part of the virtual environment is available all the time. But the calculations necessary to render the environment are done only for the area that's on the screen (i.e., under observation). It would be a waste of processing power to do all the calculations, when only some are needed.

In a similar way, it's possible that (at the quantum level, at least) a "Cosmic CPU" conserves processing power by only calculating what is observed. What is not observed is not calculated. The information necessary to calculate the unobserved elements is still available, but the "rendering" isn't done. These unobserved elements remain in a state of potential - a probability state.

Hence a photon is a probability wave (uncalculated) until it is observed (rendered).

Two entangled particles can influence each other over vast distances because, when one is calculated, the other value is calculated simultaneously. There is no time or space in the Cosmic CPU, only mathematics.

Could this conjecture apply to scaled-up objects, as well? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.

Brian Whitworth's essays (mentioned in an earlier comment) make interesting reading in this regard. Also, there's a neat little Web site devoted to the idea of the universe as information and information processing:

http://www.bottomlayer.com/

Again, I don't know if there is a Cosmic CPU (or an expanding network of processors) or not. Who can say anything for certain about the ultimate nature of reality? It's all conjectural.

Philosophically this hypothesis is hard to classify. In a sense it is a form of dualism, since it assumes two primaries: the Cosmic CPU and consciousness. But unlike conventional dualism, it's not a dichotomy between the physical and the nonphysical, but between two kinds of nonphysical things. So in that sense it may be more like neutral monism ...

"nearly everyone is 'deep down' a realist, regardless of whatever conscious convictions they may profess to hold"

I think that's true, but it says more about human nature or psychology than about ontology. If an avatar in a video game were conscious, it would have to be a "realist" in order to survive in its environment. There's no doubt we have a deep commitment to the everyday, practical reality of the world around us, just as A. Square had a deep commitment to the reality of Flatland. But Flatland was not the be-all and end-all of reality, as Mr. Square found out.

In this virtual-reality hypothesis, merely thinking about your lost keys would not cause them to manifest. What causes the Cosmic CPU to render the keys is that they come into your field of perception - like a castle appearing on the computer screen as you pivot your avatar's point of view. The castle was "there" all along, but when off-screen it existed in a probability state (uncalculated); once on-screen it exists as rendered pixels (calculated).

The probability state = the quantum object as a probability distribution, or wave. A pixel = the quantum object as a particle. Thus the quantum entity can behave like a particle or a wave depending on whether the Cosmic CPU has performed or not performed the calculations, which in turn depends on whether the entity is on-screen or off-screen (the "screen" being our field of perception).

Something to think about, anyway, for those so inclined ...

For the rest, there is Facebook lesbian porn.

Xtra Laj said...

This might not be particularly relevant here, but I found the part about the "Argumentative Theory of Reasoning" quite interesting:

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/morality10/morality.haidt.html

Dragonfly said...

Michael: "My point is that experiments like the delayed choice quantum eraser show that observation (i.e., consciousness) affects the way particles manifest. Decoherence theory, which attempts to rule out consciousness as a factor in QM, can't explain these results, AFAIK."

Decoherence explains such things perfectly. Not the observation by a consciousness is essential in such experiments, but the possibility that a consciousness can observe it. This possibility alone is equivalent with an interaction with the environment. A measuring device that is ready to register a particular event is for the system an environment that destroys coherence by interacting with the system, whether someone looks at the instrument or not.

Now in the so-called quantum erasure experiments the interaction with the environment is controlled and thereby reversible, in contrast to decoherence in general, where the coherence is irreversibly lost into the environment. See for a discussion of the decoherence aspects in quantum erasure experiments: Maximilian Schlosshauer, Decoherence and the quantum-to-classical transition 2.13 Virtual Decoherence and Quantum "Erasure", Springer 2007.

Jeffrey said...

I do realize that I am commenting well after the fact, but after reading and thinking through all of this, doesn't it make sense how Rand made so much money telling people that "A is A"? Let's face it: most people don't have the time/desire to think through all these options about information procssing, solipsm, etc. (there's a reason why The Matrix is an action movie). So here comes a self-proclaimed philosopher who says, "Guess what guys? Your basic everyday beliefs about reality are IRREFUTABLY TRUE! And I have the "proof"! Newbies to philosophy eat it up like candy. As Mr. Nyquist said, deep down we're all naive realists, and coupled with confirmation bias, someone who says "existence exists" like a mantra will become the best selling philosoper of the 20th century.

Me? Most of the time, honestly, I''ll just sweep all this madness under the rug and go about my dayly non-life. But at least I'm not naive enough anymore to think I can "prove" that it's real.

For better of for worse...

Bryan M. White said...

Imagine a parallel universe, totally cut off from our own, in which there is no consciousness of any kind. There are no living organisms, no spiritual beings, no minds, no perceptions. In what sense can this parallel universe be said to "exist"?

Soooo, you hypothesize the EXISTENCE of this parallel universe and then asked in what sense it would exist!?? Don't look now, but I think you just answered your own question there bub.