Kooky history of the quantum mind: reviving realism

What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!One of my hobbies in undergrad was to spend time reading and editing Wikipedia. Towards the end of my studies, I started to specialize in going through Wikipedia’s fat-tail, removing articles to non-notable individuals, and trying to counter pseudoscientists, kooks, and cranks. Trying to understand why people subscribe to pseudoscience; how to demarcate real and pseudo- science; and confronting, correcting, or trolling hokum masquerading as science has occupied an unhealthly portion of my time on the internet ever since.

I had a particularly difficult struggle with the quantum mystics of Wikipedia. Some of their proponents have long been active on the internet, and combined with the general confusion around both quantum mechanics and consciousness, they were a very difficult community to expose. An exceptionally hostile member was the usenet celebrity Jack Sarfatti, a proponent of quantum mechanics as a unifying force between science and art and explanation of consciousness.

Sarfatti had (and has subsequently restored) a wikipedia article chronicling his kooky contributions in greater detail than you would find for most top scientists. Around 21-30 June 2010, I started to dial down the article to more accurately reflect the importance of his ideas; he retaliated on my talk page:

How dare you remove my publications list because there are not enough citations? … Go back to the Gulag in Siberia – no doubt you are a former Soviet apparachuk who persecuted dissidents. You hide behind anonymity … if I am not a notable physicist then why is Professor David Kaiser of the MIT physics department writing a book in which I am prominent, and why did Martin Gardner write about me extensively in 1976 MIT Technology Review before the internet?

This approach of lending legitimacy to their brand of parapsychology by referencing physicists is typical of quantum mysticism. Unfortunately, there is a rich history of notable physicists (including some of the founders of quantum mechanics) wandering outside their field, making very silly philosophical or psychological claims, and providing fodder for generations of pseudoscientists.

Quantum mechanics is notoriously hard to interpret, not just for the public but physicists as well. The foundations of quantum mechanics is an active field of research, and currently it is hard to see a better alternative than the operationalist view. As you can imagine, things were even more confusing when quantum mechanics was being born. However, some of the thoughts crystallized in the Copenhagen Interpretation. Usually associated with Bohr, this philosophy was revolutionary and completely uncomfortable to the realist mindset of scientists since Newton (Howard, 1994).

The subtlety of Bohr’s interpretation (that was almost instantly lost) was that it was a philosophy of the theory of quantum mechanics, not of physical reality. In other words, it described what maps meant and how to interpret them, not what territory they were representing. For example, the non-determinism (not in the deeper computer science sense of the word) inherent in quantum mechanics was not interpreted as a reality of the world, but a property of how our best scientific theory at the time interacted with our prescientific concepts like position and change of position, duration and change of duration, and the relation of cause and effect (Howard, 1994). To Einstein, it meant that we had an incomplete theory (“God doesn’t play dice”), and to Bohr it meant that we had to be agnostic about physical reality and be ready to accept that some of our pre-scientific concepts are ill-suited for looking at the world (“Einstein, don’t tell God what to do”).

Despite how paradigm-shifting quantum mechanics was, there were bigger social forces at play: the Second World War and the birth of the American scientific-industrial complex. Just like computer science, physics losts its philosophers and replaced them with technicians and became a slave to its own technological success. It was in these technologically optimistic but philosophically baren times that David Bohm finished his training. He receiving his PhD from Berkeley in 1943 for calculations with direct applications to the Manhattan project that he didn’t have the security clearance to write up or defend; instead Oppenheimer certified that Bohn had finished his research (Peat, 1997).

With the power of the atom unleashed, and the humility of having physics overturned a distant memory, the post war physicists forgot the subtlety of the Copenhagen interpretation and mostly abandoned philosophy. The few that continued were confident enough to promote realist views that the world was the way quantum mechanics described it, that quantum weirdness was a fundamental feature of reality and not an artefact of the way our pre-scientific notions interact with our scientific theories. Bohm spearheaded this movement with his hidden-variable theories that like classical mechanics before them advertised a complete deterministic description of reality (Bohm, 1952). Unfortunately, such realist theories were shown by John Bell to be incompatible with locality (Bell, 1964). But the cat was out of the box.

To complicate matters, the physics gravy train was coming to and end; the early 1970s saw the Big Crunch in physics funding which lead to many physics PhDs without potential employment as physicists.
With realism back on the table and Bohmian mechanics largely ruled out, this surge of freshly unemployed and uncareful thinkers returned to the Copenhagen interpretation and read it not as a statement about the interaction of descriptions but as a discussion of reality. It was in this atmosphere that Jack Sarfatti graduated from UC, Riverside in 1969; by the mid 70s, Sarfatti and a number of other underemployed physicists formed the Fundamental Fysiks Group. Combined with the mysticism and Hippie culture taking hold of California, this resulted in a movement eager to intertwine (dare I say, entangle?) mind, consciousness, and physics (Kaiser, 2011). Copernicus was thrown away, and man — in particular the human consciousness — was restored to the center of the universe. Reviving this naive realism allowed Sarfatti to argue that “[t]he ambiguity in the interpretation of quantum mechanics leaves ample room for the possibility of psychokinetic and telepathic effects.” (Kaiser, 2011; pg. 73). Nevermind philosophy, psychology, or neuroscience, through the magic of interpreting quantum mechanics we would be able to do everything from remote viewing to reaching enlightenment in the entangled oneness of the universe.

This is part 1 of a series of posts critically examining the history of quantum mechanical theories of mind and consciousness.

References

Bell, J. S. (1964). On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox. Physics, 1(3): 195-200.

Bohm, D. (1952) A Suggested Interpretation of the Quantum Theory in Terms of ‘Hidden’ Variables, I and II. Physical Review, 85: 166–193.

Howard, D. (1994). What Makes a Classical Concept Classical? Toward a Reconstruction of Niels Bohr’s Philosophy of Physics Niels Bohr and Contemporary Philosophy., 201-229 DOI: 10.1007/978-94-015-8106-6_9

Kaiser, D. (2011). How the hippies saved physics: Science, counterculture, and the quantum revival. WW Norton & Company.

Peat, F.D. (1997) Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, pg. 64.

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About Artem Kaznatcheev
From the ivory tower of the School of Computer Science and Department of Psychology at McGill University, I marvel at the world through algorithmic lenses. My specific interests are in quantum computing, evolutionary game theory, modern evolutionary synthesis, and theoretical cognitive science. Previously I was at the Institute for Quantum Computing and Department of Combinatorics & Optimization at the University of Waterloo and a visitor to the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore.

27 Responses to Kooky history of the quantum mind: reviving realism

  1. Grammar Anarcho-Syndicalist says:

    *masquerading.

  2. Josh P. says:

    Hello Mr. Kaznatcheev,

    Thank you for the interesting post, but I have to point out that Bohmian Mechanics is actually a valid interpretation of quantum mechanics. Bell’s inequality only rules out local hidden variable theories (Bohmian Mechanics is non-local). That’s on the Wikipedia page you linked to. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which you also linked to) also says that Bohmian Mechanics is valid and that ” until his untimely death in 1990, Bell was the prime proponent, and for much of this period almost the sole proponent, of the very theory, Bohmian mechanics, that he supposedly demolished.”

    • You are absolutely correct Josh. That is why I didn’t write that Bohmian Mechanics was invalid, but:

      such realist theories were shown by John Bell to be incompatible with locality

      If you are okay with non-local theories then Bohmian mechanics is fine, unfortunately giving up locality is something very few are willing to do. In the end, the distinctions go back right to Bohr, if you use quantum mechanics you need to pick one or the other: kinematics or dynamics.

      Bell’s theorem makes this precise. If you want to talk about pre-scientific concepts in the context of quantum mechanics then you have to give up one of two things either the idea of realism (that properties like position, momentum, etc are actual properties of reality independent of our measurement) or the idea of locality (and if you give that up then you also give up much of cause-and-effect). Bohm gave up the second, most people prefer giving up the first.

      I also discuss this a bit in a philosophy.SE answer, maybe you will be interested in that.

      • Josh P. says:

        Thanks for the reply! I’ll take a look!

      • Stephen Gadsby says:

        I was under the impression that most by now have given up the idea of locality, and with it the EPR paradox/objection. Especially since the work of Alain Aspect.

        Personally, I find it much easier to give up realism than some (essentially) folk physics intuition.

  3. Zach M. says:

    The operationalist view seems silly to me. How can physics not say something about reality, and if it doesn’t then what’s the point of physics?

    Of course metaphysical models are not reality, but as they evolve they do give us a more accurate glimpse of it. No one was arguing an operatialist view of Newtonianism, were they? No, they said, ‘Matter behaves like this.’ It’s only when reality begins to look strange that people take issue.

    It seems to me that most physicists are stuck in a Newtonian worldview and are too afraid to admit that reality is far stranger than they have conceived. I’m not saying that the ‘Quantum Mind’ is the right answer, but at least those people are thinking outside the box of Newtonianism. Taking QM more literally is at least worth a shot. What we need are more brave physicists.

    • Thank you for the thought provoking comment. I will try to address part by part with some of my opinions.

      The operationalist view seems silly to me. How can physics not say something about reality, and if it doesn’t then what’s the point of physics?

      I’m not sure if you’re the same commenter, but I fielded a similar question on Reddit so sorry if I am repeating myself.

      I don’t think operationalists are saying that physics says nothing about reality. They are just being humble about the domain in which its saying should be applied: only in settings where we can directly calculate the consequences of the theory and compare them against experiment. In settings where we can’t do experiments, or where we can’t figure out how to calculate reasonable predictions of the theory, operationalists choose to remain agnostic instead of erecting a huge unsupported ontology.

      In general, I am pretty happy to play with any ontology, but prefer a certain minimalism when it comes to my assumptions about the ‘external world’. Thus, I tend to favor operatioanlist thought. However, I am much more eager to make stricter ontological statements about the shared parts of our internal world: i.e. I believe in mathematics, or at least the flavors used by theoretical computer science. I think this can be a fruitful approach because on top of it we can build an algorithmic philosophy of science which we can study with mathematics while keeping minimal ontological commitments about the ‘external world’.

      Of course metaphysical models are not reality, but as they evolve they do give us a more accurate glimpse of it.

      This is not clear to me, when we take our metaphysical models outside of their initial domain they can often blind us to other alternatives. I think it is better to be agnostic but curious.

      Also, the huge sweeping ontologies that some modern physicists tend to favor seem to me to be rather oppressive and condescending to other fields of science at times. This is embodied in the popular xkcd comic “Purity”. It is a view held by many, that physics is somehow “superior” or “ontologically more fundamental” than other fields. This bothers me, because this gives a lot of undue social power to physicists over the other sciences, sometimes this can lead to hilarious cases of interdisciplinitis.

      Of course, I am being a bit of a hypocrite here since three paragraphs up I just elevated mathematics to that “higher level”. So I could be just replacing one oppressive view with another. However, I think there is a difference in that I don’t view mathematics as a science and thus all its statements are independent of an external ‘objective’ world and inherently provisional, while physics tends to be much less provisional in its proclamations.

      No one was arguing an operatialist view of Newtonianism, were they? No, they said, ‘Matter behaves like this.’ It’s only when reality begins to look strange that people take issue.

      I think there is a reason for this. For me, the real revolution of the 20th century was the discovery of self-reference and the limits of our understanding of ourselves. In one way, it was a in line with the enlightenment in that it was humbling, but it was also revolutionary in that it made us question some of the scientific optimism. We saw this throughout human society, most notable for me is the developments in mathematics where with Godel’s theorem and refinements like Turing’s work we realized that there are limits to our mathematics and thus our understanding. In physics, we have the standard example of quantum mechanics, but also the questioning of some of our other notions of causality with relativity. Even in psychology, we saw this to some extent with the unconscious and the limits of ‘rational’ thought. I think we might have even seen it in art and literature, but I am much less knowledgeable on that front. Hence, it is no surprise that a lot of these more self-conscious philosophical views only gained prominence in the 20th century and coincided with the development of quantum mechanics.

      That being said, I chose ‘coincide’ for a reason. Some of the foundations for these sort of views were developed by Ernst Mach before quantum mechanics and relativity to question parts of classical mechanics. So some people did argue for an early operationalist view of Newtonianism. I think we could find even earlier examples if we turned to less scientific sources; I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some interesting theological challenges, but it is another area that I know nothing about.

      It seems to me that most physicists are stuck in a Newtonian worldview and are too afraid to admit that reality is far stranger than they have conceived.

      I agree, but I don’t think building giant alternative ontologies is the best way to approach this. Once again: minimalism and curiosity.

      I’m not saying that the ‘Quantum Mind’ is the right answer, but at least those people are thinking outside the box of Newtonianism.

      The whole point I was trying to make is that they are in fact not thinking outside the box of Newtonianism. They are trying to build an unfounded ontology and then just assert that it answers questions in other disciplines (i.e. about consciousness and the mind) without any heed to how those disciplines might actually approach such questions. They are trying to use the respect physics has earned from its applications in other domains, to force people to entertain their ridiculous ideas.

      Taking QM more literally is at least worth a shot. What we need are more brave physicists.

      I disagree. I think physicists are taking QM too seriously in settings where they shouldn’t, and at times mistaking the map for the territory. We have enough brave physicists, we need more humble physicists. Of course, there are already some historic precedence for this, like Robert May’s work in ecology.

      • Zach M. says:

        I agree that being humble, yet curious in our assumptions and practices is a good approach to have. However, in doing science it is unavoidable that one must have a working ontology upon which hypotheses are made. Any working ontology is by definition not agnostic, and I worry that you hold such assumptions without realizing it.

        For example, in your reddit comment you stated that “causality is a consequence of locality”. Is there evidence of this, or is this something you assume before you ever make a scientific hypothesis? To me this sounds like an assumption based out of Newtonian thinking.

        It is that Newtonian basis that is currently being called into question by QM. Unless there is experimental evidence I am unfamiliar with that inextricably links causality and locality, you must be willing to entertain the idea that they are not linked. This may be an unsupported ontology, but it has no less support than the idea that causality is a consequence of locality. One realizes this when they are able to move beyond Newtonian thinking, and that takes the bravery I alluded to in my initial comment.

        Though I disagree with you, I find your blog evinces your insightful thinking. With that said, I am seeing many contradictions unfold. For example, this post engages the idea that associating QM with consciousness is a ‘kooky’, unsupported ontology. Yet, you link to me your post titled ‘Are All Models Wrong?” where you adopt the Kantian view that mathematics is a facet of our perceptual apparatus. As QM is a mathematical formalism, then what is it if not a theory of the mind?

        • However, in doing science it is unavoidable that one must have a working ontology upon which hypotheses are made. Any working ontology is by definition not agnostic, and I worry that you hold such assumptions without realizing it.

          I completely agree, my assertion wasn’t that you can’t make any ontic statements, it is just that you shouldn’t make drastic ones that extend well beyond what you can directly use the theory for. I realize that wasn’t clear in my comment. Instead I should have written:

          only in settings where we can reasonably expect to be able to directly calculate the consequences of the theory and compare them against plausible doable experiment

          Of course, that introduces some personal judgement on what is “reasonable” to expect and what experiments are “plausibly doable”, but (to bring it back to the discussion of quantum mystics) it is definitely unreasonable to expect that we can calculate how describing the brain with quantum microtubules will lead us to be able to calculate properties of the mind; especially given that we haven’t been able to make even mild progress in the much easier case of neuronal models (which this would have to inherently generalize and also explain as a special case).

          To give you an example where I think we are more justified in making such leaps, here’s an example of one I was comfortable to write about. Of course, that post was only semi-serious and meant only for a purely theoretical-exercise exploration since there is a trivial argument you can make for why it won’t work in reality.

          For example, in your reddit comment you stated that “causality is a consequence of locality”. Is there evidence of this, or is this something you assume before you ever make a scientific hypothesis?

          I’ve been meaning to respond to that reddit comment, but other things keep coming up. That user and I are using causality in two different meanings of the word. I am using it in the ontological sense, in that sense locality is a logical necessity, i.e. no locality implies no causality. You can see this because not having locality means that information ‘transfer’ is instantaneous (definition), when something is instantaneous the concept of ‘transfer’ is actually ill-defined because it is more ‘sharing’ than transfer since you can’t pinpoint what is the source and what is the sync without a temporal asymmetry. Thus, you can’t conclude which thing caused which, things just are. Of course, from the point of view of any given observer, you could still have apparent (lets call this epistemic) causality and that is what the redditor was referring to.

          Now, there is nothing wrong with making such interpretations (as Bohm did, and I have said several times), but you have to be fully aware of what you are giving up in the process (as Bohm was, but most quantum mystics are not, since they often still make ontic causal statements in an ontology that doesn’t allow it; but we shouldn’t be surprised since Bohm was a very talented scientist, while most quantum mystics were just physics graduates that couldn’t find a job).

          To me this sounds like an assumption based out of Newtonian thinking. (and the subsequent paragraph)

          Here I think you are wrong. The thinking that properly understands locality was only introduced in vague terms after Maxwell and in precise terms after Einstein. Newtonian thinking in fact is what the quantum mystics do. In classical mechanics there is no locality, fields change instantly, and yet Newton and others were willing to make causal statements even though their ontology prohibits them. Of course (and unlike the quantum mystics) when a lot of the great thinkers of the past made these statements in a philosophical discussion, they tried to be clear that the causality was apparent and a consequence of our psychology, not ontic. The only consistent ontological stance at the time was that things just were, everything was an intricate clock-work and there was no purely objective way to say that something was causing something, only subjective ways shaped by where you define relevant system boundaries and goals.

          Though I disagree with you, I find your blog evinces your insightful thinking.

          Thank you! I hope you keep reading and commenting. The discussion with you has been insightful and helpful to me figuring out my own thoughts and learning other’s.

          Yet, you link to me your post titled ‘Are All Models Wrong?” where you adopt the Kantian view that mathematics is a facet of our perceptual apparatus.

          Where do I do that? I would be happy to have that discussion in the comments of that post. keep in mind, as I said before, that I do not have a problem with making strong philosophical commitments about our mental models and mental life.

          In fact, I make even stronger commitments in the algorithmic philosophy of science post. I am rather opportunistic (or flexible, if we want to be more positive) with my commitments and willing to make some pretty strong ones if I can then rigorously show that it necessitates some interesting conclusion. I am also then willing to abandon those ontological commitments if that conclusion is silly. In the case of the algorithmic philosophy post, I make these assumptions and then show that they lead to an interesting and precise mathematical conclusion. In the case of the quantum mystics, the conclusions they draw are not precise (since they seldom use mathematics or logic, but mostly just free-word association and vague ‘philosophical’ arguments) and often can be show to be mathematically incorrect or dependent on some other assumption that they don’t acknowledge and that makes the ‘quantum’ part of their argument irrelevant.

          Also, you have to keep in mind, that my opinions are dynamic and change over time. I am sure if you dig far enough back in my history, you can find all kinds of silly stances. For instance, at some point (before this blog existed) I was a logical positivist, which I think is a completely silly stance now that I’ve learned more and I regularly speak out against it now. I also often take devil’s advocate positions that I don’t believe for the sake of understanding them. For me, philosophy is a dialogue, and I am always willing to change my opinions (temporarily or long-term) as that dialogue and my knowledge develops.

          As QM is a mathematical formalism, then what is it if not a theory of the mind?

          Just because someone believes that mathematics is a property of mind (or even all of mind is described by mathematics) does not imply that any given mathematical theory is a philosophy of mind. Classical mechanics is also a mathematical formalism, then what is it if not a theory of the mind?

  4. Ranzabar says:

    It is by the process of falsification, via formal peer review or, informal discourse in popular ( or unpopular) forums the depth of the arguments are mined for unanticipated products. One could expect that Quantum Physics as the Genesis, or better described, the Taxicab of the conscience mind arena will be the site of epic battles and alliances for, possibly, forever.

  5. Zach M. says:

    “Just because someone believes that mathematics is a property of mind (or even all of mind is described by mathematics) does not imply that any given mathematical theory is a philosophy of mind.”

    How? I do not understand how it could not be.

    “Classical mechanics is also a mathematical formalism, then what is it if not a theory of the mind?”

    If one takes the position that mathematics is a facet of our perception, then of course Classical mechanics is also a theory of mind. That’s why Kant was an idealist! My point is that you can’t say both that *well articulated* quantum theories of mind (like the one below) are ‘Kooky’, and say that mathematics is a feature of consciousness. These points undermine each other.

    I would be very interested to know what you think of this theory:

    It’s worth it if you have the time.

    • Lukas says:

      Sorry I have problem to swallow this youtube video. Its from Donald Hoffman who is a worker with the Chopra Foundation:

      “Hoffman studies visual perception, visual attention and consciousness using mathematical models, computer simulations, and psychological experiments. His empirical research has led to new insights into how we perceive objects, colors and motion. His theoretical research has led to a “user interface” theory of perception—which proposes that natural selection shapes our perceptions not to report truth but simply to guide adaptive behavior. It has also led to a “conscious realism” theory of consciousness—which proposes a formal model of consciousness and the mind-body problem that takes consciousness as fundamental.”

      It can be found here: http://www.choprafoundation.org/speakers/donald-hoffman/

      The Chopra Foundation:

      “The Chopra Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to improving health and well-being, cultivating spiritual knowledge, expanding consciousness, and promoting world peace to all members of the human family.

      The mission of the Chopra Foundation is to advance the cause of mind/body spiritual healing, education, and research through fund raising for selected projects.

      We offer teaching and resources for health and spirituality for disadvantaged individuals and communities, specifically through our concrete commitments to:

      at-risk children, introducing them to music and art for empowerment, meditation and mind body practices

      low-income women and teenagers, offering them comprehensive pre-natal support to help bring their babies safely to full term and birth weight

      prisoners, teaching them meditation for awareness and peace

      Educating healers, about the powerful resources of Ayurveda, mind-body practices and spirituality, through giving scholarships to selected healers to attend specific programs

      Initiating scientific research into mind-body practices to support our educational work and further understanding

      Starting at the very first moments in life, to seeing individuals and communities in the world at peace with themselves and their neighbors while living fully each moment of existence.”

      Its from: http://www.choprafoundation.org/about/about-the-chopra-foundation/

      So I am having extremely doubts about this whole theory even if it is a theory at all.

      • Zach M. says:

        Ugh, I get that Chopra is King Quantum Dipshit, but did you at least watch the video before you dismissed it?

        • Lukas says:

          I did watch it. Same old. Same old which was heard over and over in the department that consciousness has a “very special place in the world”. Even Michael Shermer had some problems with Donald Hoffman. Hoffman is nothing “new” actually. Donald Hoffman believes in Conscious Realism and I read his papers back then when it was something new:

          “In defense, Chopra sent me a 2008 paper published in Mind and Matter by University of California, Irvine, cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman:Conscious Realism and the Mind-Body Problem.” Conscious realism “asserts that the objective world, i.e., the world whose existence does not depend on the perceptions of a particular observer, consists entirely of conscious agents.” Consciousness is fundamental to the cosmos and gives rise to particles and fields. “It is not a latecomer in the evolutionary history of the universe, arising from complex interactions of unconscious matter and fields,” Hoffman writes. “Consciousness is first; matter and fields depend on it for their very existence.”

          Its from: http://www.michaelshermer.com/2012/07/aunt-millies-mind/

          Here is Micheal Shermers take:

          http://www.michaelshermer.com/2012/07/aunt-millies-mind/

          I am happy that we agree on that Chopra is far off into a strange world.

    • Thanks for that video, Zach!

      Everything before 8m06 in that video is standard and cute. A bit too theatrical and drawn out for my taste, but I understand this was a popular audience.

      From 8m06 to 13m30 is very interesting. I have done something very similar in my exploration of subjective versus objective rationality (see section 1 of this post for a summary of last year’s activity on this). In fact, our work has shown something even more extreme that Hoffman!

      All that Hoffman has shown (from his brief explanation, I will have to look at his publications sine I haven’t been aware of his work, before), is that agents tune only to the fitness-channel, and not the truth. This is not surprising to biologist, although it might be surprising to LessWrong uber-rationalist types, it just says that when penalized for looking at excess information the agent tunes in only to the fitness effects. This is a little trivial. We’ve extended beyond this, by showing that even without a penalty, in certain settings agents will evolve misrepresentations of the world that tell them incorrect fitness-information. What’s even more mind-blowing is that these incorrect assessments of objective fitness information actually help agents overcome their selfish tendencies and promote the social good. This happens despite the fact that the agents are acting completely rationally on what Hoffman would call their perceptions and what I call the subjective experience. Further more, we can perturb rationality with some psychological effects like quasi-magical thinking and show some results about it.

      So I am very happy that you showed me that stuff, since I was actually in the middle of some revisions on a paper related to this.

      Finally, everything in the video after 13m30 is utter non-sense. It is about as insightful as simply renaming a Hilbert-space as a “mind space”, arbitrarily picking two parts (or more if you have more agents) of it, then decomposing all operators into they action they have on those parts and calling one operator “perception” and the other “action”, and discretize time (as you would from thinking in terms of unitaries instead of Hamiltonians). Such an approach would actually be more general and mathematically precise than Hoffman, but just like Hoffman’s would give absolutely no insight into anything. However, instead of just making fun of his stuff, I will point out a little bit of the specific nonsense that should set off red-flags.

      [1] He doesn’t understand what falsifiable means. You can very clearly see this when he in passing says “the Church-Turing thesis is falsifiable”. The CT-thesis is actually a quintessential example of something that isn’t falsifiable. To falsify the CT-thesis, you would need to show that some problem (this is well defined mathematically, not Hoffman-atically) is not computable on a Turing machine. Unfortunately, any finite slice of any function is computable on a Turing machine (i.e. if you take any problem, even an uncomputable one, but only test a finite number of instance of that problem then there will exist a Turing machine that will give you the right answer on those instances). For something to be falsifiable, you have to be able to specify a finite number of experiments that can falsify the theory (for example “the sun won’t rise eventually” is not falsifiable, but “the sun won’t rise one morning in the next 2 weeks” is falsifiable). If you had a potential “super-Turing” machine candidate, you would only be able to test it on a finite number of instances, so only check a finite part of a problem.

      [2] His model is not falsifiable (no matter how many times he says that word), in fact, it isn’t even a theory, it is a framework. In order for it to be a theory, he would have to explain how to calculate these arbitrary transition functions that he introduces. Without that, I an put anything I want there and since he allows for the space to be continuous there aren’t even computability constraints (unlike how he claims, although if we restrict to uniform discrete state spaces then it will be Turing-complete).

      [3] He says false mathematical statements. A Markov kernel is not the most general type of channel, in fact Markov kernels can’t model quantum channels. For a discussion on how to model quantum channels aimed at a non-mathematical audience, see my recent commentary (Kaznatcheev & Shultz, 2013).

      [4] As stated in (2) his model is too under-specified to actually be tested. In particular, even on a theoretical grounding it can’t be shown to capture or not-capture (in an interesting way) even non-relativistic QM. Since he allows arbitrarily large state-spaces and doesn’t compare the size of his state space to the size of the QM he embeds, you can always embed a quantum model in an exponentially large classical model. This only breaks down, if you define a notion of locality or tensoring of spaces (which he doesn’t). Once that is in place, you can show that Hoffman’s model won’t capture QM because of (3), Markov kenels don’t capture quantum channels (this is effectively the essence of Bell’s theorem and later refinements).

      [5] Finally, and the biggest disappointment, is that he straight up lies. When he puts those two equations side-by-side, he says we can derive how parameters relate. He then finds a parameter corresponding to the speed of light… except he is working in a non-relativistic theory (as he admits in 33:23, and as you can recognize from the equations) and hence the speed of light never enters any of the equations and so he can’t possible say what those equations impose on it.

      There are a number other issues (like how he considers a special case but then from it draws a general conclusion, although there are plenty of other special cases expressible in his model that violate it), but it isn’t worth further typing effort from me.

  6. Pingback: Interface theory of perception | Theory, Evolution, and Games Group

  7. vznvzn says:

    holy cow what a lot of comments here. guess that fringe science stuff gets the most attn eh? yeah sarfatti is quite legendary & goes back to the days of usenet…. he’s quite famous in cyberspace, wonder if anyone has written a biography of him anyway? probably….
    in general…. kooks deserve more kredit! seriously, science expands through what initially look like kooky ideas, and this is not widely appreciated. seriously! so then the way to come up with real breakthrus :idea: is to become a kooky monster :cool:

    • vznvzn says:

      ah man you turned off the wordpress smilies!?! its like writing with my fingers sprained =( … seriously think about turning those on & then maybe will comment even more :p

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