I’m not much of an architecture enthusiast, but the drawings for the new U of C library make me drool:
I’m not much of an architecture enthusiast, but the drawings for the new U of C library make me drool:
OK, there have been so many posts in Eliezer Yudowsky’s introduction to quantum mechanics for the layman that if I don’t visit Overcoming Bias for a few days, I lose track. And there isn’t an easy way to keep track of them over there. So I’m posting them all in order here. I’ll update when new ones come up. I might also attempt to organise them into a tree-like structure, since not every post is a prerequisite for the posts after it.
Quantum Explanations: Why he decided to write the series.
Configurations and Amplitude: A warm-up with mirrors and detectors.
Joint Configurations: More mirrors and detectors.
Distinct Configurations: Why QM leads people to say crazy things about the consciousness and the universe.
Where Philosophy Meets Science: Why scientists doing foundational work can’t avoid philosophizing.
Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical?
Classical Configuration Spaces: No quantum in this. Background preparation for the next post.
The Quantum Arena: How it differs from the Classical Arena. Hint: Consciousness is not involved.
No Individual Particles
Identity Isn’t In Specific Atoms
Three Dialogues on Identity
The So-Called Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
Which Basis Is More Fundamental?
Where Physics Meets Experience: Easing us into Many-Worlds with a fable.
Where Experience Confuses Physicists
Quantum Orthodoxy: Robin Hanson interjects with some comments on MWI.
On Being Decoherent: Why we can see a particle in one place at one time.
The Conscious Sorites Paradox: “When” decoherence happens.
Decoherence is Pointless: More on the continuity of decoherence.
Decoherent Essences: Why we shouldn’t ‘interpret’ the formalism.
The Born Probabilities: Problems with them.
Decoherence as Projection: Fun with polarizers.
Entangled Photons: Alice and Bob.
Bell’s Theorem: No EPR “Reality”: I really, really like this explanation of Bell’s Theorem.
Spooky Action at a Distance: The No-Communication Theorem
Decoherence is Simple: Why MWI does not violate Occam’s Razor.
Decoherence is Falsifiable and Testable: I think there are serious philosophical problems with this post and the next.
Quantum Non-Realism: Against it.
Collapse Postulates: “WHAT DOES THE GOD-DAMNED COLLAPSE POSTULATE HAVE TO DO FOR PHYSICISTS TO REJECT IT? KILL A GOD-DAMNED PUPPY?”
If Many-Worlds Had Come First: An alternate history of QM.
Many Worlds, One Best Guess
The Failures of Eld Science: Why MWI did not come first.
The Dilemma: Science or Bayes?
Science Doesn’t Trust Your Rationality: MWI and libertarianism. In response to Scott Aaronson.
When Science Can’t Help: More Bayes than QM in this.
Science Isn’t Strict Enough: Huge dose of Whig history of science in this.
Do Scientists Already Know This Stuff?: We’ve moved from QM into some rather flaky philosophy of science now.
Now you can play a game to help scientists fold proteins. When I first saw this being linked I was sceptical that players were really folding proteins — I suspected that the game was just Rosetta@home with a small game tacked on that had nothing to do with the actual protein folding but would keep the computer user occupied while the Rosetta@home ran.
And it seems that Foldit players aren’t helping to fold proteins in the direct sense either:
Can humans really help computers fold proteins?
We’re collecting data to find out if humans’ pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them more efficient than existing computer programs at pattern-folding tasks. If this turns out to be true, we can then teach human strategies to computers and fold proteins faster than ever!
So they intend to collect data from the game to help them spot heuristics humans use that can then be implemented in computer programs. They aren’t going to take the results of human protein folding as the ‘correct’ structures.
I’m finding Peter van Inwagen’s Material Beings annoying so far. It annoys me because it evinces an unhealthy respect for common intuitions, sometimes to the extent of declaring conflicts of said intuitions with facts to be philosophical problems. I tend to be only too ready to jettison the intuitions in such cases, but some philosophers go on to derive some outrageous conclusion or other by way of solving the apparent problem.
I don’t intend to attack van Inwagen’s argument for his outrageous conclusion that “there are no tables or chairs or any other visible objects except living organisms”. I’m only 1/3 through the book so the argument hasn’t been fully laid out yet. But the book got on my nerves early on with some heavy intuition-reliance on several probably minor issues. And I’m blogging this now because I’ve just read a particularly irritating passage that relies on some rather naive biology. Again, this reliance might turn out to be incidental to his main argument; I don’t know. But it’s certainly not incidental in the context of van Inwagen’s methodology in this book.
The offending passage comes in the context of van Inwagen’s explanation of how ‘lives’, the spatial-temporal processes that are biological organisms, are fundamentally different from non-living events:
…there is an interesting and important feature of lives that is not shared by waves. Consider two waves… which are moving in opposite directions and which pass through each other. A still photograph taken at the moment the waves coincide spatially will show what seems to be one wave whose amplitude is the sum of the amplitudes of the two coincident waves. I think we must say… that both the waves exist at the moment of superposition and that each is at that moment constituted by the activities of the same water molecules. We may describe this possibility — the possibility of two waves’ being simultaneously constituted by the activities of the same objects — by saying that a wave is not a jealous event. Lives, however, are jealous. It cannot be that the activities of the xs constitute at one and the same time two lives. Lives are, in fact, so jealous that only in certain special cases can two lives overlap… The only clear case, in fact, is the case in which one of the lives is subordinate to the other, as the life of one of my cells is subordinate to my life. (…the only possible case… I think, would be the case in which the activity of the ys constitutes the life of a cell and the activity of the xs constitutes the life of a multicellular organism. I doubt whether there could possibly be xs and ys such that the activity of the xs constitutes a life, the ys are properly among the xs, and the activity of the ys constitutes the life of, say, a hamster.)
Here’s an example of non-jealous lives that is not a case of small units of life being ‘subordinate’ to a larger unit: the bacteria in human guts. I claim that they are not subordinate, because although they are useful to humans, they are also ‘free’ to serve their own [reproductive] interests; it is arguable that they are not really ‘our’ cells — they don’t share their host’s genetic material, for one. It would be surprising if, among the microorganisms in our gut, there aren’t any that are mere free-riders who don’t add to our [evolutionary] fitness. Yet, I claim, that the processes constituting these bacteria are part of the overall process constituting a human life. Given that the bacteria outnumber cells containing human DNA in a given human body, and given the importance of the bacteria to normal human digestive functions, it does not seem appropriate to exclude these bacteria from the overall process of a human life. (If you need one, and even more spectacular example of dependence on bacteria is that of the Siboglinid tube worms, which are completely dependent on bacteria for their nutrition.) To put it in van Inwagen’s vocabulary, if we let ys = gut bacteria, then it seems like his ‘hamster’ example has been found, except we have bacteria instead of a hamster. Isn’t it correct to say, in some sense, that “the activities of commensal gut bacteria constitute at one and the same time the lives of humans and bacteria”?
There is nothing to stop the indignant metaphysician from just insisting that the objects constituting the life of a human are the tiny minority of cells that contain human DNA, and everything else is other lives. But I would gently suggest that the biologically messy notion of a “life”, at least going by van Inwagen’s choice of functional individuation, may not be the best starting point from which to build a complex metaphysical thesis. Is there perhaps a better way that he could have defined a “life”? Well, there isn’t one that’s obvious to me. If he chooses to define it my similarity of genetic material, he runs into the problem of having to say that a pair of genetically identical twins constitutes the “same life”.
I did not mention the long, elaborate analogy he had used to sketch his functional definition of life. This right after saying that “it is the business of biology to answer this question [of what a life is]“. I just don’t see the analogy as enlightening everything. It seems instead to expose the weaknesses of his reliance on an assumed clear notion of what a life is.
Another strike against van Inwagen’s claim that a life is a “reasonably well-individuated event” comes from an example that he uses to demonstrate what are not reasonably well-individuated events. The example is that of a flame that spreads into several spatially separated fires. These, he claims, are not well-individuated. But it’s difficult to see how, if we consider only their level of individualization, a kind of unicellular organism that reproduces by simple binary division could be said to have members that are any better individuated. Since the binary division requirement implies that the ‘event’ that begins with the very first cell of this kind of organism is spatially and temporally continuous with all the descendants of that cell, what’s stopping us from calling saying that every cell thus reproduced is a part of a larger mega-organism? How are the individual cells any better individuated than the flame which splits into seven flames?
Now, maybe that is a clear biological definition of a life to be had after all. But on current knowledge, I wouldn’t base my entire metaphysical project on anything as uncertain as the individual nature of lives. I suspect there is significant potential of us altering our ontological terms as we learn more biology, so our current usage of the word “life” need not necessarily reflect any fundamental fact about actual lives, if such even exist.