Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on April 7th, 2020, 8:14 am 

I have argued on other threads that if maths (excluding probabilities) embodies the philosophy of Determinism, (ie. produces single inevitable outcomes), then the use of probabilities must demonstrate a breach of Determinist principles.

I didn't get much push-back on this - so let me ask the direct question - Do you agree or not?

If so, would you also agree that any use of probabilities in mathematical models renders that model to be a description rather than an explanation?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 3rd, 2020, 8:50 pm 

In the absence of any challenges to this proposition after several months, I must assume that the statements are correct.

In that case, contrary to many suggestions on this forum, it must also be correct that most, if not all, descriptions, propositions, and theories about quantum mechanics do not show/follow determinist principles - because most if not all include the significant use of probabilities.

Therefore it cannot be claimed that the combined theories of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are deterministic.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby hyksos on June 4th, 2020, 11:19 pm 

There are two different contexts for this issue of determinism. One context is from a philosophical debate about Free Will. So philosophers will spill chapters of ink on Compatibilism vs Incompatibilism https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/ Thrown around in these debates is some concepts of moral responsibility and also something else about this phrase : "causal determinism".

The other context is physics grad students looking at equations within their discipline. In that context, the word "Deterministic" has a different meaning. It refers to whether the equations of a theory are deterministic.

I think on forums like this one, (on IRC, on discord, on reddit, and et cetera) these two different kinds of determinism are presumed to be interchangeable, and are liberally mixed and substituted in dangerous ways.


In that case, contrary to many suggestions on this forum, it must also be correct that most, if not all, descriptions, propositions, and theories about quantum mechanics do not show/follow determinist principles - because most if not all include the significant use of probabilities.

Okay so lets break this down into split hairs. The legal statement (for a lawyer writing an insurance policy) is that the results of experiments are indeterminate.

On the other hand, if you are actually referring to the technical theory of quantum mechanics : that theory is actually a good candidate for being fully deterministic. (since we are being legal lawyers, let me qualify that claim. QUantum mechanics is the best candidate for being a deterministic theory of physics)


Remember that the equations of QM do not contain anything like "the act of measurement by an observer". All that science really knows for sure is that something inexplicable happens when a system is measured --- it collapses out of a superposition and selects one of the many eigenstates the system could be in. The appearance of a particular eigenstate (or stationary state ) of the system will occur in measurement by a probability. These probabilities is the magnitude of the wave function squared.

Everyone within and outside of academia will always promote their own Interpretation of QM as if it were airtight gospel truth. The cold reality is that every last one of them is speculation.


The universe we inhabit contains observers who take measurements. They measure systems and in doing so the system gives them some particular answer -- a kind of piece of knowledge. At the end of the day, the problems about quantum mechanics are not about Compatibilism and Free Will. They are instead about the question that goes "Prior to taking the measurement, was the system in a deterministic state?" In shorter shrift: Did all the parts of the system sitting there waiting in objective positions at all times? Even shorter : is the universe a giant mechanical machine?



Therefore it cannot be claimed that the combined theories of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are deterministic.

Almost nearly everyone in academia agrees with this statement. Were you addressing a particular claim made by a particular poster at this forum?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 12th, 2020, 8:52 pm 

Hi Hyksos

Yes - as stated, I am responding to comments on this forum. As an example, on 16th March you said...

When davidm earlier claimed that "Quantum mechanics is deterministic", that claim was true, I will admit. However, it is only true of the mathematical formalism of QM in textbooks.


There's the rub. The QM physical environment is claimed to be deterministic when the evidence isn't there to make the claim - other than through mathematical equations which do not explain observed facts. (The use of probabilities does not explain anything - it can only describe).

We also generally do not see your caveat re: maths (above) attached to scientific statements. Neither do they generally recognise what probabilities mean in the broader context.


I don't see this, as a debate about Free Will. It is a debate about what a lack of determinism means. In strict terms, as I understand it, that means a lack of any cause, whether known or not.

Mathematical explanations may try to bring events that appear to break the principle of causality 'into the fold', by introducing 'hidden variables' or probabilities. But if these mathematical fudges really do disguise a genuine circumstance of non-inevitability, then we have to ask what that means at basic level.

If there is no cause, what are you left with?

For me at least, Free Will is a way to illustrate the frequency of non-deterministic events in our thoughts. I have also said that I am not 100% tied to what can be proven when it comes to explanations of seemingly non-deterministic events - so I am open to deterministic possibilities if offered. But on a growing number of things, they still fall short of an explanation.

However, I feel we are both aware of examples where there cannot be a deterministic explanation without breaking some core principles within science, such as strict causality, (even if we care to speculate about possible solutions that cannot be proven). Ideas such as 'wave-particle duality' are an example of that.

What I see lacking in the scientific community is a lack of proper consideration about what non-deterministic activity means, if it is not a hidden variable.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby hyksos on June 21st, 2020, 3:56 pm 

There is a false dichotomy in what you are describing. It's like you are arguing with someone who is not here. You are trying to adjudicate an argument between two debaters who are not present.

For me at least, Free Will is a way to illustrate the frequency of non-deterministic events in our thoughts.

I would merely repeat what I have said already five times here in several threads. The problems of Quantum Mechanics are deep questions about the nature of reality itself. So these problems happen in provincial contexts like a photon passing through a glass window. You don't need a person in the loop for these wave function "collapsings" to occur.

Anybody who claims that the universe is composed of eternal rigid particles bouncing around in a featureless void , and then utilizes that "fact" as a defense against the existence of Free Will. I would have to cut that reasoning off at its head. The universe is not like that. The premise is wrong.

A wrong premise does not entail the conclusion is also wrong, but it disallows the argument from proceeding at all to begin with -- that is to say, there is no reason to waste one's time engaging with it.

For me at least, Free Will is a way to illustrate the frequency of non-deterministic events in our thoughts.

You have roughshoddedly skipped over several levels of scientific inquiry, including psychology, neuroscience, and the biology of cells. Unfortunately, human beings are not animated Pinocchio doll.

If we were animated Pinocchios, you might be reasonably justified by a line-of-inquiry involving how the "mere wood" that comprises Pinocchio's head could have memory and cognition. Such a theory may naturally lead to having to turn to Quantum Mechanics for an exhaustive description.

Actual human heads are composed of segregated tissues which are themselves composed of neuron cells. The neurons have tree-like branching structures into various layers, and very complicated gap junctions between synapse and dendrite. If such a complete description of these systems was at-hand, one might invoke quantum mechanics to explain some properties about the smallest parts of vesicles. Beyond such research, it does not seem prudent (or even rational) to build an immediate bridge spanning between Quantum Mechanics and the thoughts in human minds.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 22nd, 2020, 9:56 pm 

Hi hyksos

As you should be aware from the OP - I am not really interested in Free Will for the purposes of this debate. I only mentioned Free Will because you had done so in your previous post as having a very specific place in the contextual arguments - which I didn't necessarily agree with..... and not for any other reason.

I have also read and understand your previous statements and am very aware that QM is trying to understand the nature of reality itself. So am I, and I have tried to explain the context of my mathematical point on that basis.

You have said yourself (above) that the results of QM experiments are indeterminate - by which you mean they produce different results in the same conditions, for reasons that we don't know.

Yes, we can use probabilities to determine a more likely outcome in any given situation and it is the only valid tool that we have available in the circumstances..... but it is not an explanation, just a description which requires us to gamble on the probabilities if trying to predict an outcome.

I don't know why you deviated onto the subject of neurons, the question in this thread is still whether it is valid to claim that the physical universe is deterministic, when the use of probabilities is evidence that it may not be. If you then add things like entanglement and wave particle duality, there seems to be even more evidence that it isn't.

On other threads, I thought you said much the same thing.

What I was hoping for was a discussion about the factors which might refine the point. Eg. where there is just a limited set of possible outcomes - might that point to an underlying deterministic condition, as opposed to those circumstances with a vast range of outcomes where virtually anything might be possible, and therefore more likely to be truly non-deterministic.

Also, if there is a real belief in non-determinism, what do we think that means, precisely?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on June 23rd, 2020, 9:33 am 

Hi, Suz -

It's me again, sans turtles. You'll have to put up with it :-)

QM is trying to understand the nature of reality itself. So am I, and I have tried to explain the context of my mathematical point on that basis.


I'm not against maths or QM. QM is relatively (no pun intended) new so it's the big thing at the moment. Before that we only had the classical stuff so now we know a bit more and we're consumed by it.

Later, inevitably, we'll discover something else and that'll override QM... etc, etc. Which will be interesting, of course. And then something else, and then something else. And then everything'll become a big sci-fi movie :-)

You want the nature of reality. So look at it. What is 'reality'? That word means being, or having, the quality of being real. 'Real' means that which actually exists.

I know half the world thinks reality is an illusion but that's not true. In fact, it's downright silly. When people are starving not one of them thinks it's an illusion. Only comfortable academics in armchairs with food in their bellies announce that sort of thing. Or people with odd beliefs.

So the ghastly truth is that reality is what really is actually there, and we know what's there - nature, man, space, etc. We ourselves are in it and of it and a right mess we've made of it too. But we didn't make ourselves.

You can investigate the structure of reality, which is what they're doing. Getting down to the smallest possible particle, and all that.

But I'm wondering, when you say 'the nature of reality' whether that's all you mean. Just particles and mathematical calculations? Is that reality? Or is that part of reality?

You see the point? Is that reality or one of our endeavours that seeks to understand the world we find ourselves in? And, being one of our endeavours, isn't it very limited?

Probably no one will agree to this but never mind. But the truth is that anything we do as an endeavour is partial and therefore limited.

I'm not knocking science or trying to dismiss it. Without science we'd be back in the caves or something so that's not the point. The point is to understand limitation when it comes to dissecting reality.

So is there a way of understanding reality that isn't partial - for the simple reason that a partial investigation will produce a partial result?

That's what we have at the moment, a partial understanding of what constitutes reality, the thing which is there. And we think we have to go on finding partial or incomplete understandings till one day we strike gold and get the whole thing!

How long will that take? You and I will be long gone and those after us will still be searching. So the search for incomplete answers may not be the way at all. Not that one is dismissing the advances of scientific knowledge; it has its place.

So is there anything we can do that isn't partial? Our minds are limited as they are now because we depend on our thinking which is itself dependent on our knowledge. That's so, isn't it?

Can we ever, no matter how hard we try, think of something we don't know? If we've never heard of it how can we think of it? So it's not possible. But yet, with what we know, we want to investigate something immense, beyond calculation.

So how do we find something which has nothing to do with knowledge? Because it amounts to that. When we say 'I want to find x' we've already thought of it. So how do we investigate the unknown?

It's quite simple, we can't. But there is a state of mind that is in a state of not-knowing. If I asked you your address you'd know what it is immediately. But if I asked you what mine is you'd go completely blank. Try it sometime. There's no response from memory if the answer's not in there.

So the mind need not be held by knowledge of any kind. And can we perceive from that state?

Does this interest you? If we look at something known there's a recognition. That's what we call experience, recognising something known. So all experience of that kind is old because it's recognised from memory.

But if the mind is in a state of not-knowing, non-experiencing, what happens? Then you'll see the nature of reality.

Whether that can ever be conveyed to others is doubtful, it probably can't be. From the scientist's point of view that's probably quite useless because they want to quantify everything, put it in a book, and so on. But that may not be possible,

But what is possible is that we can discover it for ourselves, and that is the end of all illusion, wondering, groping, and all that.

So I suppose it depends what we want really, doesn't it?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby hyksos on June 24th, 2020, 8:59 am 

Yes, we can use probabilities to determine a more likely outcome in any given situation and it is the only valid tool that we have available in the circumstances..... but it is not an explanation, just a description which requires us to gamble on the probabilities if trying to predict an outcome.

I see that you are again emphasizing the contrast between Explanation and Description again here.

After a second review ( a week later) I now do see that you included the distinction in the opening post of this thread. My reply to that and my reply to your misgivings follows :

In an television interview with Richard Feynman he became very irate when someone asked him why do magnets produce a force of repulsion. This is an issue as to whether science, being a Descriptive activity, cannot produce answers to a Why-question. Why-questions are intrinsically tied up into purpose and goals and common sense.

Image

In the words of Joseph Campbell, he told a story of a Buddhist master monk, who asked his students to meditate on a question : "What is the meaning of a flower?"

Image

We don't want a scientific description of the flower. A description of the function of its cells. A description of how the internal world of those cells proceed by genes, proteins, and molecules. Instead, we ask what the purpose of a flower's existence is, too begin with. The answers might serve as an explanation of the flower, separate from its description.


Quantum Mechanics provides a description of matter and energy in terms of probabilities. The theory is not telling us why any of this is happening. As you have discovered, it is not providing an explanation for why any of these particles are behaving this way.

In addition to Feynman and Campbell above, I will also include a quotation from the Crackpot Index. This is not meant to be insulting , or even funny. But this is included for completeness.

Image
It is completely true that Quantum Mechanics is experimentally successful, and simultaneously it provides no mechanism for why physical events occur. Vis-a-vis Feynman, it certainly will not explain "why" they occur. There is no shame in having a thought which was thought before many times by people that arrived before you.

One might ask why this thought is made a mockery of in the Crackpot Index? The reason is when a person holds up the misgivings about a scientific theory not providing an explanation as proof that therefore the theory is wrong. When you cross that mental bridge, you are wandering dangerously into the crackpot territory.

In flippant hallway/elevator conversation a working physicist might respond to the crackpot : "Humans didn't design the universe, so don't ask us why it is the way it is."

Where now?
My reply here is not intended to dissuade people from participation, or disparage. Once we have come to the realization that science provides us with theories that describe the world and its parts, but never explain them, where then is there is any place to proceed from there ? It feels like , intellectually, we are stranded on an island and can't get off.

There is a place for us to go next. A way "off the island", if you will. It is the Philosophy of Science.

A whole section link __ viewforum.php?f=10 __
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 26th, 2020, 8:53 am 

Hi charon

While I enjoy your posts, I also find them very confusing because you often seem to argue that there is no point in speculating about reality because we will only ever know part of the story - no matter what we find; while at the same time saying (above and elsewhere) that scientific research is valid because it has transformed our lives from being cavemen/women into people who can enjoy life etc..
Yet the whole point of science is that it is asking the very questions you tend to dismiss.

You can't have it both ways.

I must also say that these points which you keep making are off-topic and a distraction - hopefully not deliberate. If you want to debate them, please start a different thread. However, for a last time, I will answer the points you made above.

You want the nature of reality. So look at it. What is 'reality'? That word means being, or having, the quality of being real. 'Real' means that which actually exists.

I know half the world thinks reality is an illusion but that's not true. In fact, it's downright silly. When people are starving not one of them thinks it's an illusion. Only comfortable academics in armchairs with food in their bellies announce that sort of thing. Or people with odd beliefs.


If you accept the science as far as it has proven itself, then it must be true that what we perceive about the world around us doesn't immediately square with the reality as identified by science - so while scientific theory tries to truly explain what we perceive, it must also be true that our headline perception is an illusion when compared to the scientific explanation.

Equally, if you look at things from the alternate perception, and say that everything we perceive is a construct of our minds generated by signals received from elsewhere, (I think therefore I am... etc), then it must again be correct that our mental construct is an illusion rather than the direct reality.

On that basis I think you are kidding yourself when you dismiss other people's ideas about 'the illusion within reality' without any proper consideration.... especially when these points have been made to you in the past, and you haven't provided any argument against these points.

I'm not knocking science or trying to dismiss it. Without science we'd be back in the caves or something so that's not the point. The point is to understand limitation when it comes to dissecting reality.


I don't disagree - but that's not what you have argued in the past - or indeed here. You very clearly ask 'what's the point in trying?'

So is there a way of understanding reality that isn't partial - for the simple reason that a partial investigation will produce a partial result?


Again - you have accepted the merits of scientific findings so far - so why do you dismiss future efforts as not being worthwhile. I have said it before and I say it again - I feel that giving up is defeatist and will not help future generations. If you are content to live in your bubble, then I have no problem with that. Equally it is nice to interact with you on a sensible basis.

However you cannot assume that when you handle your life within your sense of reality, in your way, that yours is the only valid perception of reality, because it clearly isn't. You may also not be correct, and might achieve different/better decisions if you considered other opinions too. And while you feel that we cannot ever know all of the major components of reality, it is still a possibility that we might, (and indeed it is the belief/hope of many, that we may yet do so at some point in future).

Can we ever, no matter how hard we try, think of something we don't know? If we've never heard of it how can we think of it? So it's not possible. But yet, with what we know, we want to investigate something immense, beyond calculation.


I'm sorry but that is entirely incorrect. Of course it is possible to imagine something that we don't know. Both religion and science have done exactly that - probably throughout the existence of Homo Sapiens. We may not always be right, but we have progressed entirely through such speculation.

So how do we find something which has nothing to do with knowledge?


I don't know why you say that speculation doesn't have a basis in knowledge - it almost always does. We observe things that seem to have no explanation and we consider/speculate about possible answers. That is the nature of what we do - even in some aspects of our daily lives - whether its tax returns or Donald Trump!

So how do we investigate the unknown?
It's quite simple, we can't.


Again, I'm sorry but that's another ridiculous statement. When people speculated about Dark Matter because of effects they observed in the distortion of light when looking at the stars, many asked 'on what basis could we possibly investigate what we couldn't see'? Well we did it by investigating the phenomenon which caused us to consider the possibility in the first place, and then finding imaginative always to do so. In that case by looking for 'broken halo' effects ie - partial halos that could be observed over a series of different nights/months and then assembling them into a complete picture which identified where such matter existed.
Similar things could be said about our ability to investigate the inner structure of atoms etc.

While there is currently no way to test/locate Dark Energy we may yet find ways in future, by asking the questions and speculating. However that speculation seems to be taking us in a small number of possible directions based on the evidence, (such as: another form of the current Matter/Energy that underpins physical reality, but without a source in the 3 dimensions we know about; or possibly even an entirely different form of energy - another type of stuff underpinning reality), and when we gain more information we might reduce the number of options down to one.

However if we start with an unassailable belief that probabilities prove/demonstrate determinism then we are clearly on the wrong path. We just happen to live in an age when a large number of declared scientists deny the fundamentals, and seem to therefore be discounting potentially valid options on the basis of doctrine alone. (Perhaps that's what you meant by being honest about the limitations of science). However, if they are to avoid falling into the the trap of religious activists they will find that an honest assessment of all ideas is generally better.

But there is a state of mind that is in a state of not-knowing. .... Try it sometime.


Really ?! ... Which world/mental state do you think that research scientists have, if not a long-standing position of not knowing what the answer is?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 26th, 2020, 9:20 am 

Hi hyksos

As I said to charon above, the purpose of being honest about findings and not overblowing them to claim something that they are not, is to prevent potentially valid explanations being excluded on the basis of dogma alone. In this case, dogmas such as : everything must be deterministic; or that there can only be one type of stuff underpinning reality.

You have previously declared that you believe the realm of quantum mechanics contains aspects which are not deterministic, and I believe that you did that on the basis of observed effects rather than mathematics, (because you have tried to defend some of the mathematical mis-statements that have occurred on other threads, (with good intentions)).

However, if there is any strong, (or better still, proven), example of non-determinism, then, as I have said before, we need to consider what that means.

People who cannot accept the implication that non-determinism MUST ultimately mean that there is either something that occurs without cause, or must arise from an influence outside the known universe - have therefore tried to balance their deterministic ideas by hidden variables; or seeking influences from 'other dimensions'; or trying to change the current perceptions of what Matter/Energy can do alone - often without sensible evidence.

They will seemingly do all of these things to avoid a small number of possibilities which are outside the 'clique of accepted doctrine' which deems that the things they are not prepared to consider are:
events without a cause; or something from nothing; or a 2nd type of stuff underpinning reality...

even if these would provide quite simple explanations to the problems being encountered and in a more believable way than either denying the evidence, or dreaming up even more challenging possibilities, (such as hidden dimensions that have no evidence, or even any concept of their physical manifestation).

What is it that demands that these possibilities be excluded? Doctrine.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on June 26th, 2020, 2:02 pm 

Suz -

you often seem to argue that there is no point in speculating about reality because we will only ever know part of the story - no matter what we find; while at the same time saying (above and elsewhere) that scientific research is valid because it has transformed our lives from being cavemen/women into people who can enjoy life etc..


That's not a contradiction. Of course science has improved our lives but that's not the same as answering much deeper and more fundamental questions about life. Science may be asking those questions but, frankly, they're short on answers. But excellent on washing machines and going into space!

If you want to debate them


I don't :-)

it must be true that what we perceive about the world around us doesn't immediately square with the reality as identified by science - so while scientific theory tries to truly explain what we perceive, it must also be true that our headline perception is an illusion when compared to the scientific explanation.


That's because, since they discovered QM, they've separated what they've found there from the old Newtonian stuff. I maintain that separation is an illusion. Life is a whole.

It's like saying something is two different things when viewed from two different angles. It's not. I believe there are many scientists and others who say that there's still an underlying order despite the apparent contradictions.

it must again be correct that our mental construct is an illusion rather than the direct reality.


Any mental construct isn't the thing it represents. My idea of, say, the Himalayas isn't the Himalayas. But don't say the construct itself is an illusion, it's not. It's a thought-form, or anything else one likes to call it.

especially when these points have been made to you in the past, and you haven't provided any argument against these points.


I thought I had, or I might have missed them. Can you show me any?

You very clearly ask 'what's the point in trying?'


I've never said that. All I said about scientific endeavours was that they were limited, which they obviously are. The limited can't find the limitless. And life is the limitless.

why do you dismiss future efforts as not being worthwhile. I have said it before and I say it again - I feel that giving up is defeatist and will not help future generations.


I've never said, or meant, anything like that. Many scientists, Einstein included, have said the same thing.

you handle your life within your sense of reality, in your way, that yours is the only valid perception of reality


You're making it personal. I wouldn't be limited to 'my' reality or 'my' perception. It's not mine or anybody else's, reality is reality and perception is perception.

Of course it is possible to imagine something that we don't know.


How? Think of something now, anything you want. It's come from your knowledge, hasn't it? If you hadn't got the knowledge it couldn't be done. Be simple about it.

I don't know why you say that speculation doesn't have a basis in knowledge


You're not quoting me correctly today, Suz. I never said that. Of course it does, otherwise with what do I speculate?

"So how do we investigate the unknown?
It's quite simple, we can't."


Again, I'm sorry but that's another ridiculous statement.


Steady on :-)

We can only investigate what is already known - otherwise we wouldn't know it was there to investigate - and that may unearth further discoveries. But that's not investigating the unknown, that's investigating the known.

Which world/mental state do you think that research scientists have, if not a long-standing position of not knowing what the answer is?


Not knowing the answer to something is only a partial state. I don't know what will happen if I mix, say, bleach with gasoline so I can find out.

But I'm talking about a mind in a state of complete unknowing, which is non-recognition, non-experiencing. Not 'about' something but in itself.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby hyksos on June 26th, 2020, 2:07 pm 

What is it that demands that these possibilities be excluded? Doctrine.


Right. The doctrine here is something they call the "causal closure of the physical". I'm definitely not an advocate of this doctrine, and I have only really seen it used seriously on blogs.


People who cannot accept the implication that non-determinism MUST ultimately mean that there is either something that occurs without cause, or must arise from an influence outside the known universe - have therefore tried to balance their deterministic ideas by hidden variables; or seeking influences from 'other dimensions'; or trying to change the current perceptions of what Matter/Energy can do alone - often without sensible evidence.


For the title you used the phrase "Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?". What was your intended meaning of the choice of the word "deny" there? Did you mean to imply that the denial is a problem/error , or were you using "deny" as a sneer?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 26th, 2020, 4:02 pm 

Hi hyksos

In the OP I asked a question.
If Determinist maths says that for a precise start point there can only be one inevitable outcome from the factors at work, then the multiple outcomes implied by probabilities must, at face value, contradict that.

If however you say that there are still factors that would explain the different outcomes on a determinist basis, you either have to play the hidden variables card, or accept that something can break the Determinist principle without a cause. I thought I had made that point.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 26th, 2020, 4:08 pm 

charon

All that I can say is that despite your denials, your original posts read in a different way.
You also refer to your own perception of reality and how that seems to you, and how you might deal with current issues - not necessarily how others might do so.

I would finally say that illusion doesn't have to stray into the QM world. As examples...

We might perceive something as flat and smooth but looking under a microscope shows that it isn't.
Science argues that objects don't have colour - it is the light bouncing off them that provides the illusion of colour... etc.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby hyksos on June 26th, 2020, 7:18 pm 

If however you say that there are still factors that would explain the different outcomes on a determinist basis, you either have to play the hidden variables card, or accept that something can break the Determinist principle without a cause. I thought I had made that point.

Maybe. There is also Many Worlds. And there might be other interpretations I can't remember at the moment.

(On a personal note) I am comfortable with no cause, and I don't advocate determinism in any context.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on June 26th, 2020, 8:20 pm 

Suz -

All that I can say is that despite your denials, your original posts read in a different way.


Or that's the way you're reading them! After all, a denial is a denial. I'm a straightforward person. If I say it's not so, it isn't. You don't have to believe me, of course.

You also refer to your own perception of reality and how that seems to you, and how you might deal with current issues - not necessarily how others might do so.


You see, this is one of the problems. Someone says something which, admittedly, might not be understood. Then they say 'Oh, that's only your own idea/perception/theory, etc'.

Not at all, I'm not trotting out some personal ideas. I'm pointing something out which is quite self-evident. For example, I said before that if you (or anybody) thinks of something, it must come from their knowledge. That's not my personal theory, it's so. It can be tested a hundred times.

I would finally say that illusion doesn't have to stray into the QM world.


Where on earth did I say that?

We might perceive something as flat and smooth but looking under a microscope shows that it isn't.
Science argues that objects don't have colour - it is the light bouncing off them that provides the illusion of colour... etc.


Yes, I know about all that. Water isn't actually wet!

Is this actually what we're discussing here? This is your thread. Is this what you want to discuss?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on June 28th, 2020, 5:01 am 

Hi hyksos

I realise that you are open to the 'taboo' possibilities, as am I.
However if we enter a debate which is to test them - (which this is) - then I felt that we had to maintain precise descriptions.

In the context of summarised logic where we started - the 'Many Worlds' theory would be another hidden variable. There are many permutations of hidden variable. As we both realise, these are all ways to bring non-determinist observations back into the determinist fold.... without evidence.

However these are the subtle admissions that we don't have a causal explanation within Matter/Energy as it is currently understood. I feel that some (a number) of determinist answers will be found to the myriad of unexplained observations that fall into this category - but other observations seem to fundamentally break the very principles on which we base our understanding of Matter/Energy. That's why I like Finipolscie's approach - because he effectively categorised things on that basis.

On that basis of speculation, I feel that the simplest way to resolve a dilemma is probably our strongest avenue of investigation, and for that reason I find the Dualist ideas the most compelling - even if they are rather short of detail.

That doesn't make them true - but I would have thought that they would warrant better consideration.

I am pretty sure that Max Tegmark was aware of Dualism before he launched into his Many World's theory. I feel it shows the extremity of his concern from the logical examples that he tried to explain, that he had to resort to such a theory to balance his mathematical models.

So these are all part of a debate that should be occurring - ie:
"What might the nature of non-determinism be?"

I personally think that Determinism has its place, but only within certain boundaries. Part of the debate should be where we draw those boundaries.

Beyond those boundaries, the next question is why we don't experience total chaos if things can genuinely happen without cause (ie. true randomness or spontaneity (incl. spontaneous creation, where the equations definitely wouldn't balance)). In broad terms I think there are a small number of possibilities incl.....

1 - A very narrow set of touch points between the two 'realms'
2 - A tendency for structure/form/rules to coalesce around things with existing form/structure (as is a common approach in QM) - ie. a tendency to conform.
3 - The possibility that existence might reflect balanced opposites, as in the old mathematical approach of nothing splitting into equal amounts of positive and negative; or the more sophisticated Taoist approach where there are 3 balanced elements.... etc.

I'd be interested to hear anyone's suggestions of others.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on June 28th, 2020, 5:40 am 

why we don't experience total chaos if things can genuinely happen without cause


Because the absence of cause doesn't equal chaos. The universe is in perfect order. Does that order have a cause?
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on July 7th, 2020, 11:57 pm 

Hi Charon

Because the absence of cause doesn't equal chaos.


I think that most scientists would disagree with you here.

If we accept the possibility that something can happen without a cause then it is logical to suppose that some outcomes could be entirely incompatible or illogical for no reason, and that these might be expected to lead to disorder/chaos.

We might use the notion that there is a sudden burst of spontaneous creation composed of anti-matter in the midst of our current environment, and that it wreaks havoc.

The fact that we don't see high levels of non-deterministic disorder either means that things are brought into conformity/order quite quickly through some means, or that the actions without cause can still only arise in ways that are compatible with what already exists.

Does the order have a cause?


I think most people would say yes - even if we don't know what it is.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on July 8th, 2020, 5:21 am 

lateralsuz -

The universe is in total order. That's a fact - absolute, pristine, mathematical, order. Volcanoes may erupt, stars may blow up, but that's part of that order.

Chaos has a cause. Man lives in chaos because he's stupid, greedy, violent, self-centred, and all the rest of it. He's the cause of his own misery.

But the universe is in complete order. When something is absolute like that, does it have a cause?

If that complete order has a cause then it's merely an effect. Is complete order an effect? Is anything absolutely whole an effect of something else?

If it is, then it's partial, right? It's part of a chain, like any cause/effect chain. And that chain can be broken.

Can anything break the universal order? I leave it to you!
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby Positor on July 8th, 2020, 9:23 am 

charon » July 8th, 2020, 10:21 am wrote:The universe is in total order. That's a fact - absolute, pristine, mathematical, order. Volcanoes may erupt, stars may blow up, but that's part of that order.

Chaos has a cause. Man lives in chaos because he's stupid, greedy, violent, self-centred, and all the rest of it. He's the cause of his own misery.

But Man is part of the universe. So if Man lives in chaos, then (logically) part of the universe is in chaos. So the order of the universe cannot be "absolute".

And what about carnivorous animals, and all the misery they inflict on other animals? Are they living in chaos or order?

But the universe is in complete order. When something is absolute like that, does it have a cause?

If that complete order has a cause then it's merely an effect. Is complete order an effect? Is anything absolutely whole an effect of something else?

It depends what you mean by "absolutely whole". If you mean that it is everything that exists, then no, by definition it cannot be an effect of something else, because there is no 'something else'.

If it is, then it's partial, right? It's part of a chain, like any cause/effect chain. And that chain can be broken.

In that case, the order of the universe is not absolute, since it can always be broken.

Can anything break the universal order? I leave it to you!

Humans, do you mean? But why should humans be the only thing in the universe that can introduce 'chaos' (in your sense of the word, not the scientific sense)? That would be an unjustified assertion, given the size of the universe and how little we know about it in detail.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on July 8th, 2020, 11:51 am 

Positor -

But Man is part of the universe. So if Man lives in chaos, then (logically) part of the universe is in chaos. So the order of the universe cannot be "absolute"


But the universe isn't self-centred and neither is nature. Only man is.

And what about carnivorous animals, and all the misery they inflict on other animals? Are they living in chaos or order?


You say it is misery, they don't. Their world is natural to them.

It depends what you mean by "absolutely whole". If you mean that it is everything that exists, then no, by definition it cannot be an effect of something else, because there is no 'something else'.


Exactly.

In that case, the order of the universe is not absolute, since it can always be broken.


I said cause/effect chains can be broken, not the order of the universe.

But why should humans be the only thing in the universe that can introduce 'chaos' (in your sense of the word, not the scientific sense)?


Because only they are self-centred. Nothing else is.

That would be an unjustified assertion, given the size of the universe and how little we know about it in detail.


But we know it is orderly.

For all we know there may be someone or something somewhere that also displays disorderly behaviour, as we do, in which case the same argument would apply.

Where there's disorder there are effects but those effects needn't continue. Man has the ability to change if he wants to. That's been proven many a time. When a human being is orderly he is in tune with the universe.

If you posit that man's disorder is part of the universal order then we don't have to be responsible for our actions, we can blame the universe. As we know, that's not the case. We're all responsible for what we do except in mitigating circumstances.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby Positor on July 9th, 2020, 8:49 am 

OK, thanks for the reply.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on July 9th, 2020, 9:04 am 

Positor -

Which means what?

See, the seasons change and the stars go round and round, all in the right order. It's we who are chaotic with our stupidity, generation after generation. Species are dying off, the climate changes are almost certainly man-made... we don't deserve this planet.

But every science fiction film worth its salt has always spread the message that man has good in him and that the whole game is worth going on with.

I understand your logic that, if the universe is orderly, then everything which man is doing must also be since he's not separate.

Of course, one can think like that, but you see what it means? It means it's okay to be destructive because one day it'll turn out all right.

It's easy to be philosophical about it but would you apply it if it were closer to home? Say your kids started to get into drugs. Would you say it then or do something about it?

This is the only planet we've got and even now they're thinking of simply moving somewhere else if we can find somewhere hospitable. But the problem is us so we'll just take it with us.

That's why it matters that we take responsibility. It could all be changed almost immediately but nobody cares, they think it's all up to somebody else, like the governments. Who, of course, are the very last people.

So maybe we're dooooomed, I don't know :-)
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby Positor on July 9th, 2020, 11:09 am 

Charon,

I understand your passionate feelings on this subject. I agree that the human race is responsible for many evils. The problem is: how can we, as individuals, make large-scale changes to age-old human tendencies? If it were that easy, wouldn't good people (of whom there are many) have achieved such a thing already? The capacity for both great good and great evil is an inevitable consequence of humans' superior brain power compared to that of other animals.

If you wish to set out specific proposals for reforming mankind's behaviour, you may wish to start a thread about this in the Ethics forum.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby charon on July 9th, 2020, 12:28 pm 

how can we, as individuals, make large-scale changes to age-old human tendencies?


It's not worth starting a whole thread about. The answer's straightforward, by changing the way we think and behave. First ourselves, otherwise it's the blind leading the blind, and then through education.

If we can brainwash children to follow the old ways so easily then it would be much simpler - and far more acceptable to them - not to.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby hyksos on July 9th, 2020, 4:00 pm 

Beyond those boundaries, the next question is why we don't experience total chaos if things can genuinely happen without cause (ie. true randomness or spontaneity (incl. spontaneous creation, where the equations definitely wouldn't balance)). In broad terms I think there are a small number of possibilities incl.....

1 - A very narrow set of touch points between the two 'realms'
2 - A tendency for structure/form/rules to coalesce around things with existing form/structure (as is a common approach in QM) - ie. a tendency to conform.
3 - The possibility that existence might reflect balanced opposites, as in the old mathematical approach of nothing splitting into equal amounts of positive and negative; or the more sophisticated Taoist approach where there are 3 balanced elements.... etc.

I'd be interested to hear anyone's suggestions of others.

So in the 21st century, physicists have measured electrons that are moving in very cold superconductors (usually built out of cuprates of some type or another). They report the way the electrons deviate from classical physics quantitatively. In particular, they explain what they are observing in terms of vacuum fluctuations.

why we don't experience total chaos if things can genuinely happen without cause (ie. true randomness or spontaneity (incl. spontaneous creation, where the equations definitely wouldn't balance)).

Vacuum fluctuations are observed and reported on under experiment. Empty space is not empty. It is more like frothing, boiling water than emptiness.

You can tune the angle of a silvered mirror so that light passing through it has a 50/50 chance of reflecting from the surface, or transmitting and passing through to the other side. Normal light we see in the room now is "white" light, composed of many wavelengths, and is a bad testbed for this. Instead, use a dim laser in an optics laboratory. Have a machine measure whether a photon passes through the silvered mirror, or whether it reflects. If a reflection takes place , store a 1. If the photon transmits, store a 0. Over many minutes you get a string of zeros and ones.

1000 0111 0110 1101 1101 1001 0000 1100 1100 1011 0000 1010 1100 0111 1011 0110 . . .

You can segregate these bits into equal spans of 16, and encode them as integers.

34669 , 55564 , 51978 , 51126, . . .

The sequence of numbers is the best and most random sequence you can possibly create. Such a sequence is exquisitely random, given all known metrics of statistics (flat distribution of p-values, etc ).


There is third experiment that exhibits the chaos that exists in physical systems. This is taking a sample of radioactive material and placing it in a machine that measures whether or not an atom decayed in the sample over some interval of time. You can "tune" the interval to match the half-life of the isotope, in such a way that the probability of a decay event either (1) happening (2) not happening in the interval is 50/50. Again, a machine can collect the yes's and no's, encode them as 1 and 0 , and repeat the encoding procedure above. This nuclear decay "Random number generator" again produces exquisitely random sequences.

You can actually build the above three generators, likely using tools available at a community college. There is chaos at the smallest scales in this universe. Even empty space is chaotic. The insides of the nucleus of atoms is not a bunch of grapes held together. Rather matter/energy inside that nucleus is a blur of quantum waves.

Vis-a-vis lateralsuz, we should ask why if uncaused spontaneous randomness is actually physically real, how is it there such orderliness in the world we observe and live in?

Why isn't the universe a random soup of meaningless events like the fuzz on a TV tuned to a dead channel?

(To the best of our current understanding) , the answer looks like this : At the molecular scale, molecules bend, wiggle, twist and shake. The electrons in superconductors will re-organize themselves, even when there energy is nominally zero, as if they are being "bumped" by something... but there is nothing there. We might say the electrons are "shaking" too.

In contrast, matter at the scales of boulders, cars, humans, trees, and teacups -- matter and energy at those scales operate according to Classical Thermodynamics.

Long-story-short. Fundamental particles do not abide by Classical Thermodynamics, but large objects do.

This doesn't sound like an "answer" at all. It is unsatisfying. It raises more questions than it resolves. The next question is how is it that a universe composed of randomly-shaking fundamental particles can give rise to a world of pristine physical orderliness of large objects?

As far as I can make out, nobody knows the answer to this question. Every three years or so, there is large international conference held with writers and intellectuals. They meet to discuss Naturalism. These conferences are usually attended by keynote speakers, including

Rebecca Goldstein.
Daniel Dennett.
Sean Carroll.
Max Tegmark.
Stephen Weinberg.

Sometimes, but rarely Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. In rare instances, the problem above is raised and participants begin debating. They will talk about whether or not quantum mechanics "underlies" classical thermodynamics.

"Does QM give rise to classical thermo?" At this point in the conference, the tone in the room changes. The physicists became irate, they talk louder... they might even start yelling at each other across the tables.

One of the more honest ones will say something along the lines of "I believe QM allows classical thermo to emerge." You can tell from the wavery tone of his voice that he has no idea how this happens. He believes it does.

So yeah. Spontaneous randomness is real, but we don't know how that world of particles "gives rise to" the classical world we live in. Our best educated hypothesis today is that it has something to do with thermodynamics.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby lateralsuz on July 11th, 2020, 9:19 pm 

Hi Hyksos

While I think we are broadly heading in the same direction on this issue, I'd like to nudge you on some of your points in the last post.

People like Dennet are absolute determinists, while the likes of Dawkins are materialists yet slightly less definitive on the question of Determinism because they sometimes say they don't know, but generally hide behind probabilities to cover up some things they can't explain.

I have heard Dennet speak (some time ago) and know that unless he has undergone some radical transformation, he will always presume that things are never random, but merely unpredictable.

On the example of your mirrors, or the decay of atoms, he would say that we do not observe closely enough to truly see what is happening, but if we did, then we would understand that everything has a precise explanation and cause. The effects in a vacuum cannot be assessed because we can't monitor all of the active factors - only the end results of their influences. You even stated that a vacuum is not complete emptiness - but we don't know what is buzzing around at any moment.

If we were to scrutinise the path of a photon in relation to the silvering, and accurately know where it would travel, there would be no guesswork in saying whether it would pass through the mirror or bounce off it. But we can't. We can only detect the end result, and therefore the outcome appears to be random, when it is just unpredictable.

Re: the atom - once again, it is too easy to point out that we cannot see its internal working, and can only detect its after effects, so the half-life estimates are a guess based on probabilities, which mean that they are again not a demonstration of randomness, but of unpredictability.

If we could see photons in flight, and the internal working of decaying atoms, then Dennet may be shown to be right in his assumption... but he might also be shown to be wrong, and that true randomness and spontaneity do exist. At this stage, its a 50:50 possibility either way on the examples which you give - which is why I don't like them. They don't seem to prove anything. (Interestingly, it was examples about the capabilities of Thought and control which gave Dennet the biggest headaches).

As previously stated, I personally prefer to look at cosmic factors like the accelerating expansion of the universe, and the associated questions of origin, to provide examples of randomness and spontaneity. The Bell Test experiments; the various forms of the Dual Slit and Quantum Eraser experiments; and the faster than light experiments by Gisin all add to the impression that things are happening beyond the laws of physics as currently defined.

Some results, (eg. in the quantum eraser test) are so bizarre that they leave people with the impression that the particles are not only entangled, but able to manipulate each other by going back in time!

Yet many of the latter examples (non-cosmic) seem to demonstrate that, at a strategic level, they will result in a degree of order that we can almost predict - which suggests that there is a mechanism to bring conformity to some degree.

I did like you saying that the question should be on how we achieve order

Faster than light communication through particle entanglement is a property that is now beyond dispute, and it may have to amend our standard definition of Matter/Energy and what it is capable of. Yet there are factors which are not explained, eg. why we get such a spread of light and dark patches in the dual slit experiment undertaken with single particles; or how they can anticipate whether one or two slits are open.

Other than for the purposes of grandstanding to counter equally overblown claims by Dennet & co, we have to be cautious about definitive claims, unless we come up with clear examples of indisputable randomness.
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Re: Does the use of Probabilities deny a causal explanation?

Postby hyksos on July 15th, 2020, 11:05 am 

Dennett is a determinist in a certain sense : he does not expect that that things like the Conservation of Energy will ever be seen to be violated. He would hang his hat on this, and I suppose it has not been observed to be violated. I don't know what Weinberg would say about that conservation law, since there is some bendable stipulations involving gravity.

I guess the that the take-away goes something like : Imagine that a physical system is comprised of parts where the parts violate some law X. Can we deduce that that the whole also violates X? "Common sense" tells us we can comfortably deduce this.

In the transition from Quantum--to-->Classical this deduction is not true. The parts of a physical system can act spontaneously, and the whole large object acts deterministically. The parts of the system can disobey Classical Thermo, and the whole large object abides by it.

Why or how the Quantum world gives rise to the "classical" one of rocks, trees, cars and planets is a riddle. It is not solved. Even the heavy-hitting physicists at a symposium on Naturalism get uncomfortable when the riddle is raised.

Many physicists you meet on the internet, such as on IRC freenode, or on the PF forums will tell you that there is no such distinction between Classical and Quantum and that "Everything is quantum". They espouse this with a sort of religious zeal. I would say this zeal doesn't exist in working labs. Many experiments have been performed that try to tease out the "transition" from quantum to classical.

Here is some more material if you have any interest in this issue.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum- ... -20190722/

https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.881293

http://www.bourbaphy.fr/zurek.pdf

https://valiaallori.com/wp-content/uplo ... hanics.pdf
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