Learnability of machine learning is provably an undecidable?—part 3: closure

Update on 23 January 2019, 17:55 IST:

In this series of posts, which was just a step further from the initial, brain-storming kind of a stage, I had come to the conclusion that based on certain epistemological (and metaphysical) considerations, Ben-David et al.’s conclusion (that learnability can be an undecidable) is logically untenable.

However, now, as explained here [^], I find that this particular conclusion which I drew, was erroneous. I now stand corrected, i.e., I now consider Ben-David et al.’s result to be plausible. Obviously, it merits a further, deeper, study.

However, even as acknowledging the above-mentioned mistake, let me also hasten to clarify that I still stick to my other positions, especially the central theme in this series of posts. The central theme here was that there are certain core features of the set theory which make implications such as Godel’s incompleteness theorems possible. These features (of the set theory) demonstrably carry a glaring epistemological flaw such that applying Godel’s theorem outside of its narrow technical scope in mathematics or computer science is not permissible. In particular, Godel’s incompleteness theorem does not apply to knowledge or its validation in the more general sense of these terms. This theme, I believe, continues to hold as is.

Update over.

Gosh! I gotta get this series out of my hand—and also head! ASAP, really!! … So, I am going to scrap the bits and pieces I had written for it earlier; they would have turned this series into a 4- or 5-part one. Instead, I am going to start entirely afresh, and I am going to approach this topic from an entirely different angle—a somewhat indirect but a faster route, sort of like a short-cut. Let’s get going.


Open any article, research paper, book or a post, and what do you find? Basically, all these consist of sentences after sentences. That is, a series of statements, in a way. That’s all. So, let’s get going at the level of statements, from a “logical” (i.e. logic-thoretical) point of view.

Statements are made to propose or to identify (or at least to assert) some (or the other) fact(s) of reality. That’s what their purpose is.

The conceptual-level consciousness as being prone to making errors:

Coming to the consciousness of man, there are broadly two levels of cognition at which it operates: the sensory-perceptual, and the conceptual.

Examples of the sensory-perceptual level consciousness would consist of reaching a mental grasp of such facts of reality as: “This object exists, here and now;” “this object has this property, to this much degree, in reality,” etc. Notice that what we have done here is to take items of perception, and put them into the form of propositions.

Propositions can be true or false. However, at the perceptual level, a consciousness has no choice in regard to the truth-status. If the item is perceived, that’s it! It’s “true” anyway. Rather, perceptions are not subject to a test of truth- or false-hoods; they are at the very base standards of deciding truth- or false-hoods.

A consciousness—better still, an organism—does have some choice, even at the perceptual level. The choice which it has exists in regard to such things as: what aspect of reality to focus on, with what degree of focus, with what end (or purpose), etc. But we are not talking about such things here. What matters to us here is just the truth-status, that’s all. Thus, keeping only the truth-status in mind, we can say that this very idea itself (of a truth-status) is inapplicable at the purely perceptual level. However, it is very much relevant at the conceptual level. The reason is that at the conceptual level, the consciousness is prone to err.

The conceptual level of consciousness may be said to involve two different abilities:

  • First, the ability to conceive of (i.e. create) the mental units that are the concepts.
  • Second, the ability to connect together the various existing concepts to create propositions which express different aspects of the truths pertaining to them.

It is possible for a consciousness to go wrong in either of the two respects. However, mistakes are much more easier to make when it comes to the second respect.

Homework 1: Supply an example of going wrong in the first way, i.e., right at the stage of forming concepts. (Hint: Take a concept that is at least somewhat higher-level so that mistakes are easier in forming it; consider its valid definition; then modify its definition by dropping one of its defining characteristics and substituting a non-essential in it.)

Homework 2: Supply a few examples of going wrong in the second way, i.e., in forming propositions. (Hint: I guess almost any logical fallacy can be taken as a starting point for generating examples here.)

Truth-hood operator for statements:

As seen above, statements (i.e. complete sentences that formally can be treated as propositions) made at the conceptual level can, and do, go wrong.

We therefore define a truth-hood operator which, when it operates on a statement, yields the result as to whether the given statement is true or non-true. (Aside: Without getting into further epistemological complexities, let me note here that I reject the idea of the arbitrary, and thus regard non-true as nothing but a sub-category of the false. Thus, in my view, a proposition is either true or it is false. There is no middle (as Aristotle said), or even an “outside” (like the arbitrary) to its truth-status.)

Here are a few examples of applying the truth-status (or truth-hood) operator to a statement:

  • Truth-hood[ California is not a state in the USA ] = false
  • Truth-hood[ Texas is a state in the USA ] = true
  • Truth-hood[ All reasonable people are leftists ] = false
  • Truth-hood[ All reasonable people are rightists ] = false
  • Truth-hood[ Indians have significantly contributed to mankind’s culture ] = true
  • etc.

For ease in writing and manipulation, we propose to give names to statements. Thus, first declaring

A: California is not a state in the USA

and then applying the Truth-hood operator to “A”, is fully equivalent to applying this operator to the entire sentence appearing after the colon (:) symbol. Thus,

Truth-hood[ A ] <==> Truth-hood[ California is not a state in the USA ] = false

Just a bit of the computer languages theory: terminals and non-terminals:

To take a short-cut through this entire theory, we would like to approach the idea of statements from a little abstract perspective. Accordingly, borrowing some terminology from the area of computer languages, we define and use two types of symbols: terminals and non-terminals. The overall idea is this. We regard any program (i.e. a “write-up”) written in any computer-language as consisting of a sequence of statements. A statement, in turn, consists of certain well-defined arrangement of words or symbols. Now, we observe that symbols (or words) can be  either terminals or non-terminals.

You can think of a non-terminal symbol in different ways: as higher-level or more abstract words, as “potent” symbols. The non-terminal symbols have a “definition”—i.e., an expansion rule. (In CS, it is customary to call an expansion rule a “production” rule.) Here is a simple example of a non-terminal and its expansion:

  • P => S1 S2

where the symbol “=>” is taken to mean things like: “is the same as” or “is fully equivalent to” or “expands to.” What we have here is an example of an abstract statement. We interpret this statement as the following. Wherever you see the symbol “P,” you may substitute it using the train of the two symbols, S1 and S2, written in that order (and without anything else coming in between them).

Now consider the following non-terminals, and their expansion rules:

  • P1 => P2 P S1
  • P2 => S3

The question is: Given the expansion rules for P, P1, and P2, what exactly does P1 mean? what precisely does it stand for?


  • P1 => (P2) P S1 => S3 (P) S1 => S3 S1 S2 S1

In the above, we first take the expansion rule for P1. Then, we expand the P2 symbol in it. Finally, we expand the P symbol. When no non-terminal symbol is left to expand, we arrive at our answer that “P1” means the same as “S3 S1 S2 S1.” We could have said the same fact using the colon symbol, because the colon (:) and the “expands to” symbol “=>” mean one and the same thing. Thus, we can say:

  • P1: S3 S1 S2 S1

The left hand-side and the right hand-side are fully equivalent ways of saying the same thing. If you want, you may regard the expression on the right hand-side as a “meaning” of the symbol on the left hand-side.

It is at this point that we are able to understand the terms: terminals and non-terminals.

The symbols which do not have any further expansion for them are called, for obvious reasons, the terminal symbols. In contrast, non-terminal symbols are those which can be expanded in terms of an ordered sequence of non-terminals and/or terminals.

We can now connect our present discussion (which is in terms of computer languages) to our prior discussion of statements (which is in terms of symbolic logic), and arrive at the following correspondence:

The name of every named statement is a non-terminal; and the statement body itself is an expansion rule.

This correspondence works also in the reverse direction.

You can always think of a non-terminal (from a computer language) as the name of a named proposition or statement, and you can think of an expansion rule as the body of the statement.

Easy enough, right? … I think that we are now all set to consider the next topic, which is: liar’s paradox.

Liar’s paradox:

The liar paradox is a topic from the theory of logic [^]. It has been resolved by many people in different ways. We would like to treat it from the viewpoint of the elementary computer languages theory (as covered above).

The simplest example of the liar paradox is , using the terminology of the computer languages theory, the following named statement or expansion rule:

  • A: A is false.

Notice, it wouldn’t be a paradox if the same non-terminal symbol, viz. “A” were not to appear on both sides of the expansion rule.

To understand why the above expansion rule (or “definition”) involves a paradox, let’s get into the game.

Our task will be to evaluate the truth-status of the named statement that is “A”. This is the “A” which comes on the left hand-side, i.e., before the colon.

In symbolic logic, a statement is nothing but its expansion; the two are exactly and fully identical, i.e., they are one and the same. Accordingly, to evaluate the truth-status of “A” (the one which comes before the colon), we consider its expansion (which comes after the colon), and get the following:

  • Truth-hood[ A ] = Truth-hood[ A is false ] = false           (equation 1)

Alright. From this point onward, I will drop explicitly writing down the Truth-hood operator. It is still there; it’s just that to simplify typing out the ensuing discussion, I am not going to note it explicitly every time.

Anyway, coming back to the game, what we have got thus far is the truth-hood status of the given statement in this form:

  • A: “A is false”

Now, realizing that the “A” appearing on the right hand-side itself also is a non-terminal, we can substitute for its expansion within the aforementioned expansion. We thus get to the following:

  • A: “(A is false) is false”

We can apply the Truth-hood operator to this expansion, and thereby get the following: The statement which appears within the parentheses, viz., the “A is false” part, itself is false. Accordingly, the Truth-hood operator must now evaluate thus:

  • Truth-hood[ A ] = Truth-hood[ A is false] = Truth-hood[ (A is false) is false ] = Truth-hood[ A is true ] = true            (equation 2)

Fun, isn’t it? Initially, via equation 1, we got the result that A is false. Now, via equation 2, we get the result that A is true. That is the paradox.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. It can continue. In fact, it can continue indefinitely. Let’s see how.

If only we were not to halt the expansions, i.e., if only we continue a bit further with the game, we could have just as well made one more expansion, and got to the following:

  • A: ((A is false) is false) is false.

The Truth-hood status of the immediately preceding expansion now is: false. Convince yourself that it is so. Hint: Always expand the inner-most parentheses first.

Homework 3: Convince yourself that what we get here is an indefinitely long alternating sequence of the Truth-hood statuses that: A is false, A is true, A is false, A is true

What can we say by way of a conclusion?

Conclusion: The truth-status of “A” is not uniquely decidable.

The emphasis is on the word “uniquely.”

We have used all the seemingly simple rules of logic, and yet have stumbled on to the result that, apparently, logic does not allow us to decide something uniquely or meaningfully.

Liar’s paradox and the set theory:

The importance of the liar paradox to our present concerns is this:

Godel himself believed, correctly, that the liar paradox was a semantic analogue to his Incompleteness Theorem [^].

Go read the Wiki article (or anything else on the topic) to understand why. For our purposes here, I will simply point out what the connection of the liar paradox is to the set theory, and then (more or less) call it a day. The key observation I want to make is the following:

You can think of every named statement as an instance of an ordered set.

What the above key observation does is to tie the symbolic logic of proposition with the set theory. We thus have three equivalent ways of describing the same idea: symbolic logic (name of a statement and its body), computer languages theory (non-terminals and their expansions to terminals), and set theory (the label of an ordered set and its enumeration).

As an aside, the set in question may have further properties, or further mathematical or logical structures and attributes embedded in itself. But at its minimal, we can say that the name of a named statement can be seen as a non-terminal, and the “body” of the statement (or the expansion rule) can be seen as an ordered set of some symbols—an arbitrarily specified sequence of some (zero or more) terminals and (zero or more) non-terminals.

Two clarifications:

  • Yes, in case there is no sequence in a production at all, it can be called the empty set.
  • When you have the same non-terminal on both sides of an expansion rule, it is said to form a recursion relation.

An aside: It might be fun to convince yourself that the liar paradox cannot be posed or discussed in terms of Venn’s diagram. The property of the “sheet” on which Venn’ diagram is drawn is, by some simple intuitive notions we all bring to bear on Venn’s diagram, cannot have a “recursion” relation.

Yes, the set theory itself was always “powerful” enough to allow for recursions. People like Godel merely made this feature explicit, and took full “advantage” of it.

Recursion, the continuum, and epistemological (and metaphysical) validity:

In our discussion above, I had merely asserted, without giving even a hint of a proof, that the three ways (viz., the symbolic logic of statements or  propositions, the computer languages theory, and the set theory) were all equivalent ways of expressing the same basic idea (i.e. the one which we are concerned about, here).

I will now once again make a few more observations, but without explaining them in detail or supplying even an indication of their proofs. The factoids I must point out are the following:

  • You can start with the natural numbers, and by using simple operations such as addition and its inverse, and multiplication and its inverse, you can reach the real number system. The generalization goes as: Natural to Whole to Integers to Rationals to Reals. Another name for the real number system is: the continuum.
  • You can use the computer languages theory to generate a machine representation for the natural numbers. You can also mechanize the addition etc. operations. Thus, you can “in principle” (i.e. with infinite time and infinite memory) represent the continuum in the CS terms.
  • Generating a machine representation for natural numbers requires the use of recursion.

Finally, a few words about epistemological (and metaphysical) validity.

  • The concepts of numbers (whether natural or real) have a logical precedence, i.e., they come first. The entire arithmetic and the calculus must come before does the computer-representation of some of their concepts.
  • A machine-representation (or, equivalently, a set-theoretic representation) is merely a representation. That is to say, it captures only some aspects or attributes of the actual concepts from maths (whether arithmetic or the continuum hypothesis). This issue is exactly like what we saw in the first and second posts in this series: a set is a concrete collection, unlike a concept which involves a consciously cast unit perspective.
  • If you try to translate the idea of recursion into the usual cognitive terms, you get absurdities such as: You can be your child, literally speaking. Not in the sense that using scientific advances in biology, you can create a clone of yourself and regard that clone to be both yourself and your child. No, not that way. Actually, such a clone is always your twin, not child, but still, the idea here is even worse. The idea here is you can literally father your own self.
  • Aristotle got it right. Look up the distinction between completed processes and the uncompleted ones. Metaphysically, only those objects or attributes can exist which correspond to completed mathematical processes. (Yes, as an extension, you can throw in the finite limiting values, too, provided they otherwise do mean something.)
  • Recursion by very definition involves not just absence of completion but the essence of the very inability to do so.

Closure on the “learnability issue”:

Homework 4: Go through the last two posts in this series as well as this one, and figure out that the only reason that the set theory allows a “recursive” relation is because a set is, by the design of the set theory, a concrete object whose definition does not have to involve an epistemologically valid process—a unit perspective as in a properly formed concept—and so, its name does not have to stand for an abstract mentally held unit. Call this happenstance “The Glaring Epistemological Flaw of the Set Theory” (or TGEFST for short).

Homework 5: Convince yourself that any lemma or theorem that makes use of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem is necessarily based on TGEFST, and for the same reason, its truth-status is: it is not true. (In other words, any lemma or theorem based on Godel’s theorem is an invalid or untenable idea, i.e., essentially, a falsehood.)

Homework 6: Realize that the learnability issue, as discussed in Prof. Lev Reyzin’s news article (discussed in the first part of this series [^]), must be one that makes use of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Then convince yourself that for precisely the same reason, it too must be untenable.

[Yes, Betteridge’s law [^] holds.]

Other remarks:

Remark 1:

As “asymptotical” pointed out at the relevant Reddit thread [^], the authors themselves say, in another paper posted at arXiv [^] that

While this case may not arise in practical ML applications, it does serve to show that the fundamental definitions of PAC learnability (in this case, their generalization to the EMX setting) is vulnerable in the sense of not being robust to changing the underlying set theoretical model.

What I now remark here is stronger. I am saying that it can be shown, on rigorously theoretical (epistemological) grounds, that the “learnability as undecidable” thesis by itself is, logically speaking, entirely and in principle untenable.

Remark 2:

Another point. My preceding conclusion does not mean that the work reported in the paper itself is, in all its aspects, completely worthless. For instance, it might perhaps come in handy while characterizing some tricky issues related to learnability. I certainly do admit of this possibility. (To give a vague analogy, this issue is something like running into a mathematically somewhat novel way into a known type of mathematical singularity, or so.) Of course, I am not competent enough to judge how valuable the work of the paper(s) might turn out to be, in the narrow technical contexts like that.

However, what I can, and will say is this: the result does not—and cannot—bring the very learnability of ANNs itself into doubt.

Phew! First, Panpsychiasm, and immediately then, Learnability and Godel. … I’ve had to deal with two untenable claims back to back here on this blog!

… My head aches….

… Code! I have to write some code! Or write some neat notes on ML in LaTeX. Only then will, I guess, my head stop aching so much…

Honestly, I just downloaded TensorFlow yesterday, and configured an environment for it in Anaconda. I am excited, and look forward to trying out some tutorials on it…

BTW, I also honestly hope that I don’t run into anything untenable, at least for a few weeks or so…

…BTW, I also feel like taking a break… May be I should go visit IIT Bombay or some place in konkan. … But there are money constraints… Anyway, bye, really, for now…

A song I like:

(Marathi) “hirvyaa hirvyaa rangaachi jhaaDee ghanadaaTa”
Music: Sooraj (the pen-name of “Shankar” from the Shankar-Jaikishan pair)
Lyrics: Ramesh Anavakar
Singers: Jaywant Kulkarni, Sharada

[Any editing would be minimal; guess I will not even note it down separately.] Did an extensive revision by 2019.01.21 23:13 IST. Now I will leave this post in the shape in which it is. Bye for now.


Learnability of machine learning is provably an undecidable?—part 2

Update on 23 January 2019, 17:55 IST:

In this series of posts, which was just a step further from the initial, brain-storming kind of a stage, I had come to the conclusion that based on certain epistemological (and metaphysical) considerations, Ben-David et al.’s conclusion (that learnability can be an undecidable) is logically untenable.

However, now, as explained here [^], I find that this particular conclusion which I drew, was erroneous. I now stand corrected, i.e., I now consider Ben-David et al.’s result to be plausible. Obviously, it merits a further, deeper, study.

However, even as acknowledging the above-mentioned mistake, let me also hasten to clarify that I still stick to my other positions, especially the central theme in this series of posts. The central theme here was that there are certain core features of the set theory which make implications such as Godel’s incompleteness theorems possible. These features (of the set theory) demonstrably carry a glaring epistemological flaw such that applying Godel’s theorem outside of its narrow technical scope in mathematics or computer science is not permissible. In particular, Godel’s incompleteness theorem does not apply to knowledge or its validation in the more general sense of these terms. This theme, I believe, continues to hold as is.

Update over.

In this post, we look into the differences of the idea of sets from that of concepts. The discussion here is exploratory, and hence, not very well isolated. There are overlaps of points between sections. Indeed, there are going to be overlaps of points from post to post too! The idea behind this series of posts is not to present a long thought out and matured point of view; it is much in the nature of jotting down salient points and trying to bring some initial structure to them. Thus the writing in this series is just a step further from the stage of brain-storming, really speaking.

There is no direct discussion in this post regarding the learnability issue at all. However, the points we note here are crucial to understanding Godel’s incompleteness theorem, and in that sense, the contents of this post are crucially important in framing the learnability issue right.

Anyway, let’s get going over the differences of sets and concepts.

A concept as an abstract unit of mental integration:

Concepts are mental abstractions. It is true that concepts, once formed, can themselves be regarded as mental units, and qua units, they can further be integrated together into even higher-level concepts, or possibly sub-divided into narrower concepts. However, regardless of the level of abstraction at which a given concept exists, the concretes being subsumed under it are necessarily required to be less abstract than the single mental unit that is the concept itself.

Using the terms of computer science, the “graph” of a concept and its associated concrete units is not only acyclic and directional (from the concretes to the higher-level mental abstraction that is the concept), its connections too can be drawn if and only if the concretes satisfy the rules of conceptual commensurability.

A concept is necessarily a mental abstraction, and as a unit of mental integration, it always exists at a higher level of abstraction as compared to the units it subsumes.

A set as a mathematical object that is just a concrete collection:

Sets, on the other hand, necessarily are just concrete objects in themselves, even if they do represent collections of other concrete objects. Sets take birth as concrete objects—i.e., as objects that don’t have to represent any act of mental isolation and integration—and they remain that way till the end of their life.

For the same reason, set theory carries absolutely no rules whereby constraints can be placed on combining sets. No meaning is supposed to be assigned to the very act of placing braces around the rule which defines admissibility of objects as members into a set (or that of enumeration of their member objects).

The act of creating the collection that is a set is formally allowed to proceed even in the absence of any preceding act of mental differentiations and integrations.

This distinction between these two ideas, the idea of a concept, and that of a set, is important to grasp.

An instance of a mental abstraction vs. a membership into a concrete collection:

In the last post in this series, I had used the terminology in a particular way: I had said that there is a concept “table,” and that there is a set of “tables.” The plural form for the idea of the set was not a typo; it was a deliberate device to highlight this same significant point, viz., the essential concreteness of any set.

The mathematical theory of sets didn’t have to be designed this way, but given the way it anyway has actually been designed, one of the inevitable implications of its conception—its very design—has been this difference which exists between the ideas of concepts and sets. Since this difference is extremely important, it may be worth our while to look at it from yet another viewpoint.

When we look at a table and, having already had reached the concept of “table” we affirm that the given concrete table in front of us is indeed a table, this seemingly simple and almost instantaneously completed act of recognition itself implicitly involves a complex mental process. The process includes invoking a previously generated mental integration—an integration which was, sometime in the past, performed in reference to those attributes which actually exist in reality and which make a concrete object a table. The process begins with the availability of this context as a pre-requisite, and now involves an application of the concept. It involves actively bringing forth the pre-existing mental integration, actively “see” that yet another concrete instance of a table does indeed in reality carry the attributes which make an object a table, and thereby concluding that it is a table.

In other words, if you put the concept table symbolically as:

table = { this table X, that table Y, now yet another table Z, … etc. }

then it is understood that what the symbol on the left hand side stands for is a mental integration, and that each of the concrete entities X, Y, Z, etc. appearing in the list on the right hand-side is, by itself, an instance corresponding to that unit of mental integration.

But if you interpret the same “equation” as one standing for the set “tables”, then strictly speaking, according to the actual formalism of the set theory itself (i.e., without bringing into the context any additional perspective which we by habit do, but sticking strictly only to the formalism), each of the X, Y, Z etc. objects remains just a concrete member of a merely concrete collection or aggregate that is the set. The mental integration which regards X, Y, Z as equally similar instances of the idea of “table” is missing altogether.

Thus, no idea of similarity (or of differences) among the members at all gets involved, because there is no mental abstraction: “table” in the first place. There are only concrete tables, and there is a well-specified but concrete object, a collective, which is only formally defined to be stand for this concrete collection (of those specified tables).

Grasp this difference, and the incompleteness paradox brought forth by Godel begins to dissolve away.

The idea of an infinite set cuts out the preceding theoretical context:

Since the aforementioned point is complex but important, there is no risk in repeating (though there could be boredom!):

There is no place-holder in the set theory which would be equivalent to saying: “being able to regard concretes as the units of an abstract, singular, mental perspective—a perspective reached in recognition of certain facts of reality.”

The way set theory progresses in this regard is indeed extreme. Here is one way to look at it.

The idea of an infinite set is altogether inconceivable before you first have grasped the concept of infinity. On the other hand, grasping the concept of infinity can be accomplished without any involvement of the set theory anyway—formally or informally. However, since every set you actually observe in the concrete reality can only be finite, and since sets themselves are concrete objects, there is no way to conceive of the very idea of an infinite sets, unless you already know what infinity means (at least in some working, implicit, sense). Thus, to generate the concrete members contained in the given infinite set, you of course need the conceptual knowledge of infinite sequences and series.

However, even if the set theory must use this theoretical apparatus of analysis, the actual mathematical object it ends up having still captures only the “concrete-collection” aspect of it—none other. In other words, the set theory drops from its very considerations some of the crucially important aspects of knowledge with which infinite sets can at all be conceived of. For instance, it drops the idea that the infinite set-generating rule is in itself an abstraction. The set theory asks you to supply and use that rule. The theory itself is merely content in being supplied some well-defined entities as the members of a set.

It is at places like this that the infamous incompleteness creeps into the theory—I mean, the theory of sets, not the theory that is the analysis as was historically formulated and practiced.

The name of a set vs. the word that stands for a concept:

The name given to a set (the symbol or label appearing on the left hand-side of the equation) is just an arbitrary and concrete a label; it is not a theoretical place-holder for the corresponding mental concept—not so long as you remain strictly within the formalism, and therefore, the scope of application of, the set theory.

When they introduce you to the set theory in your high-school, they take care to choose each of the examples only such a way that there always is an easy-to-invoke and well-defined concept; this per-existing concept can then be put into a 1:1 correspondence with the definition of that particular set.

But if you therefore begin thinking that there is a well-defined concept for each possible instance of a set, then such a characterization is only a figment of your own imagination. An idea like this is certainly not to be found in the actual formalism of the set theory.

Show me the place in the axioms, or their combinations, or theorems, or even just lemmas or definitions in the set theory where they say that the label for a set, or the rule for formation of a set, must always stand for a conceptually coherent mental integration. Such an idea is simply absent from the mathematical theory.

The designers of the set theory, to put it directly, simply didn’t have the wits to include such ideas in their theory.

Implications for the allowed operations:

The reason why the set theory allows for any arbitrary operands (including those which don’t make any sense in the real world) is, thus, not an accident. It is a direct consequence of the fact that sets are, by design, concrete aggregates, not mental integrations based on certain rules of cognition (which in turn must make a reference to the actual characteristics and attributes possessed by the actually existing objects).

Since sets are mere aggregations, not integrations, as a consequence, we no longer remain concerned with the fact that there have to be two or more common characteristics to the concrete objects being put together, or with the problem of having to pick up the most fundamental one among them.

When it comes to sets, there are no such constraints on the further manipulations. Thus arises the possibility of being apply any operator any which way you feel like on any given set.

Godel’s incompleteness theorem as merely a consequence:

Given such a nature of the set theory—its glaring epistemological flaws—something like Kurt Godel’s incompleteness theorem had to arrive in the scene, sooner or later. The theorem succeeds only because the set theory (on which it is based) does give it what it needs—viz., a loss of a connection between a word (a set label) and how it is meant to be used (the contexts in which it can be further used, and how).

In the next part, we will reiterate some of these points by looking at the issue of (i) systems of axioms based on the set theory on the one hand, and (ii) the actual conceptual body of knowledge that is arithmetic, on the other hand. We will recast the discussion so far in terms of the “is a” vs. the “has a” types of relationships. The “is a” relationship may be described as the “is an instance of a mental integration or concept of” relationship. The “has a” relationship may be described as “is (somehow) defined (in whatever way) to carry the given concrete” type of a relationship. If you are curious, here is the preview: concepts allow for both types of relationships to exist; however, for defining a concept, the “is an instance or unit of” relationship is crucially important. In contrast, the set theory requires and has the formal place for only the “has a” type of relationships. A necessary outcome is that each set itself must remain only a concrete collection.


Learnability of machine learning is provably an undecidable?—part 1

Update on 23 January 2019, 17:55 IST:

In this series of posts, which was just a step further from the initial, brain-storming kind of a stage, I had come to the conclusion that based on certain epistemological (and metaphysical) considerations, Ben-David et al.’s conclusion (that learnability can be an undecidable) is logically untenable.

However, now, as explained here [^], I find that this particular conclusion which I drew, was erroneous. I now stand corrected, i.e., I now consider Ben-David et al.’s result to be plausible. Obviously, it merits a further, deeper, study.

However, even as acknowledging the above-mentioned mistake, let me also hasten to clarify that I still stick to my other positions, especially the central theme in this series of posts. The central theme here was that there are certain core features of the set theory which make implications such as Godel’s incompleteness theorems possible. These features (of the set theory) demonstrably carry a glaring epistemological flaw such that applying Godel’s theorem outside of its narrow technical scope in mathematics or computer science is not permissible. In particular, Godel’s incompleteness theorem does not apply to knowledge or its validation in the more general sense of these terms. This theme, I believe, continues to hold as is.

Update over.

This one news story has been lying around for about a week on my Desktop:

Lev Reyzin, “Unprovability comes to machine learning,” Nature, vol. 65, pp. 166–167, 10 January 2019 [^]. PDF here: [^]

(I’ve forgotten how I came to know about it though.) The story talks about the following recent research paper:

Ben-David et al., “Learnability can be undecidable,” Nature Machine Intelligence, vol. 1, pp. 44–48, January 2019 [^]. PDF here: [^]

I don’t have the requisite background in the theory of the research paper itself, and so didn’t even try to read through it. However, I did give Reyzin’s news article a try. It was not very successful; I have not yet been able to finish this story yet. However, here are a few notings which I made as I tried to progress through this news story. The quotations here all come from from Reyzin’s news story.

Before we begin, take a moment to notice that the publisher here is arguably the most reputed one in science, viz., the Nature publishing group. As to the undecidability of learnability, its apparent implications for practical machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc., are too obvious to be pointed out separately.

“During the twentieth century, discoveries in mathematical logic revolutionized our understanding of the very foundations of mathematics. In 1931, the logician Kurt Godel showed that, in any system of axioms that is expressive enough to model arithmetic, some true statements will be unprovable.”

Is it because Godel [^] assumed that any system of axioms (which is expressive enough to model arithmetic) would be based on the standard (i.e. mathematical) set theory? If so, his conclusion would not be all that paradoxical, because the standard set theory carries, from an epistemological angle, certain ill-conceived notions at its core. [BTW, throughout this (short) series of posts, I use Ayn Rand’s epistemological theory; see ITOE, 2e [^][^].]

To understand my position (that the set theory is not epistemologically sound), start with a simple concept like “table”.

According to Ayn Rand’s ITOE, the concept “table” subsumes all possible concrete instances of tables, i.e., all the tables that conceivably exist, might have ever existed, and might ever exist in future, i.e., a potentially infinite number of concrete instances of them. Ditto, for any other concept, e.g., “chair.” Concepts are mental abstractions that stand for an infinite concretes of a given kind.

Now, let’s try to run away from philosophy, and thereby come to rest in the arms of, say, a mathematical logician like Kurt Godel [^], or preferably, his predecessors, those who designed the mathematical set theory [^].

The one (utterly obvious) way to capture the fact that there exist tables, but only using the actual terms of the set theory, is to say that there is a set called “tables,” and that its elements consist of all possible tables (i.e., all the tables that might have existed, might conceivably exist, and would ever conceivably exist in future). Thus, the notion again refers to an infinity of concretes. Put into the terms of the set theory, the set of tables is an infinite set.

OK, that seems to work. How about chairs? Once again, you set up a set, now called “chairs,” and proceed to dump within its braces every possible or conceivable chair.

So far, so good. No trouble until now.

The trouble begins when you start applying operators to the sets, say by combining them via unions, or by taking their intersections, and so on—all that Venn’s diagram business [^]. But what is the trouble with the good old Venn diagrams, you ask? Well, the trouble is not so much to the Venn diagrams as it is to the basic set theory itself:

The set theory makes the notion of the set so broad that it allows you to combine any sets in any which way you like, and still be able to call the result a meaningful set—meaningful, as seen strictly from within the set theory.

Here is an example. You can not only combine (take union of) “tables” and “chairs” into a broader set called “furniture,” you are also equally well allowed, by the formalism of the set theory, to absorb into the same set all unemployed but competent programmers, Indian HR managers, and venture capitalists from the San Francisco Bay Area. The set theory does not by itself have anything in its theoretical structure, formalism or even mathematical application repertoire, using which it could possibly so much as raise a finger in such matters. This is a fact. If in doubt, refer to the actual set theory ([^] and links therein), take it strictly on its own terms, in particular, desist mixing into it any extra interpretations brought in by you.

Epistemology, on the other hand, does have theoretical considerations, including explicitly formulated rules at its core, which together allow us to distinguish between proper and improper formulations of concepts. For example, there is a rule that the concrete instances being subsumed under a concept must themselves be conceptually commensurate, i.e., they must possess the same defining characteristics, even if possibly to differing degrees. Epistemology prevents the venture capitalists from the San Francisco Bay Area from being called pieces of furniture because it clarifies that they are people, whereas pieces of furniture are inanimate objects, and for this crucial reason, the two are conceptually incommensurate—they cannot be integrated together into a common concept.

To come back to the set theory, it, however, easily allows for every abstractly conceivable “combination” for every possible operand set(s). Whether the operation has any cognitive merit to it or not, whether it results into any meaningful at all or not, is not at all a consideration—not by the design of the set theory itself (which, many people suppose, is more fundamental to every other theory).

So—and get this right—calling the collection of QC scientists as either politicians or scoundrels is not at all an abuse of the mathematical structure, content, and meaning of the set theory. The ability to take an intersection of the set of all mathematicians who publish papers and the set of all morons is not a bug, it is very much a basic and core feature of the set theory. There is absolutely nothing in the theory itself which says that the intersection operator cannot be applied here, or that the resulting set has to be an empty set. None.

Set theory very much neglects the considerations of the kind of a label there is to a set, and the kind of elements which can be added to it.

More on this, later. (This post has already gone past 1000 words.)

The songs section will come at the conclusion of this (short) series of posts, to be completed soon enough; stay tuned…

A bit on Panpsychism—part 2: Why the idea is basically problematic, and what could be a different (and hopefully better) alternative

I continue from my last post. While the last post was fairly straight-forward, the subject-matter of this post itself is such that the writing becomes  meandering.

The basic trouble with panpsychism:

The primary referent for the concept of consciousness refers to one’s own consciousness. The existence of the same faculty in other beings is only an inference drawn from observations. If so, and in view of the two facts discussed in the last post, why can’t a similar inference be extended to everything material, too?

Well, consciousness is observed to exist only in those beings that are in fact alive. Consciousness is fundamental, sure. In Ayn Rand’s system, it even is a philosophical axiom. But qua a metaphysical existent, consciousness also happens to be only an attribute, and that too, of only one class of existents: the living beings.

Here, we will not get into the debate concerning which species can be taken as to be truly conscious, i.e., which species can be said to have an individualized, conscious grasp of reality. Personally, I believe that all living beings are conscious to some extent, even if it be only marginal in the more primitive species such as amoebae or plants.

However, regardless of whether plants can be taken to be conscious or not, we can always say that material entities that are not alive never show any evidence of being conscious. Your credit cards, spectacles, or T-shirts never show any evidence of being engaged in a process of grasping reality, or of having a definite, internal and individualized representation of any aspect of reality—no matter in how diluted, primitive or elementary form it may be posited to exist, or how fleetingly momentary such a grasp may be asserted to be. Consciousness is an attribute of only those beings that actually have life. You can’t tell your credit card to go have a life—it simply cannot. For the same reason, it can’t have the faculty to know anything, speaking literally.

Now, coming to the phenomenon of life, it is delimited on two different counts: (i) Life is an attribute possessed by only some beings in the universe, not all. (ii) Even those beings which are alive at some point of time must eventually die after the elapse of some finite period of time. When they do, their physical constituents are no different from the beings that never were alive in the first place. (This “forward-pass” kind of a logical flow is enough for us here; we need not look into the “backward-pass”, viz., the issue of whether life can arise out of the purely inanimate matter or not. It is a complicated question, and so, we will visit it some time later on.)

The physical constituents of a living organism continue to remain more or less the same after the event of its death. Even if we suppose that there is a permanent loss of some kind of a *physical* constituent or attribute at the time death, for our overall argument (concerning panpsychism) to progress, it is enough to observe and accept that at least **some** of the physical aspects continue to remain the same even after death. The continued existence of at least a part of physical constituents is sufficient to establish the following important conclusion:

Not all physical parts of the universe are at all times associated with living beings.

Given the above conclusion, it is easy to see that to speak of all parts of the reality as possessing consciousness is an elementary error: Not all parts of reality are alive at any point of time, and consciousness is an attribute of only those beings that are alive.

An aside related to reincarnation:

Even if reincarnation exists (and I do believe that it does), what persists in between two life-times is not consciousness, but only the soul.

In my view (derived from the ancient Indian traditions, of course, but also departing from it at places), the term “soul” is to be taken in sense of an individual (Sanskrit) “aatmaa.” An “aatmaa,” in my view is, loosely speaking, the “thing” which is neither created at birth nor destroyed at death. However, it is individual in nature, and remains in common across all the life-times of a given individual. Thus, I do not take the term “soul” in the sense in which Aristotle and Ayn Rand do. (For both Aristotle and Ayn Rand, the soul comes into being at birth, and ceases to exist at death.) Further, in my view, the soul has no consciousness—i.e., no feelings, not even just the desires even. For more details on my view of soul, see my earlier posts, especially these: [^][^][^].

The important point for our present discussion is this: Even if the soul were to be an attribute of all parts of the entire universe (including every inanimate objects contained in it), we still couldn’t ascribe consciousness to the inanimate parts of the universe. That is my main point here.

Another idea worth entertaining—but it is basically different from panpsychism:

Following the above-mentioned analysis, panpsychism can make sense only if what it calls “elements of consciousness” is something that is not in itself conscious, in any sense of the term.

The only idea consistent with its intended outcome can be something like a pre-consciousness, i.e., some feature or attribute or condition which, when combined with life, can give rise to a consciousness.

But note that such a pre-condition cannot mean having an actual capacity for being aware; it cannot represent the ability to have that individualized and internal grasp of reality which goes when actual living beings are actually conscious of something. That is the point to understand. The elements that panpsychism would like to have validated cannot be taken to be conscious the way it asserts they are. The elementary attributes cannot be conscious in the same sense in which we directly grasp our own consciousness, and also use it in our usual perceptions and mental functioning.

Even if you accept the more consistent idea (viz., a pre-conscious condition or a soul which may be associated with the non-living beings too), panpsychism would still have on its hands another problem to solve: if consciousness (or even just the pre-consciousness) is distributed throughout the universe, then for what reason does it get “concentrated” to such glaringly high degrees only in the living beings? For what metaphysical function? To allow for which teleological ends? And, following what kind of a process in particular? And then, what is the teleological or metaphysical function of the elements of consciousness?… From what I gather, they don’t seem to have very good ideas regarding questions and issues like these. In fact, I very much doubt if they at all have _any_ ideas in these respects.

Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder [^] notably does touch upon the animate vs. the inanimate distinction. Congratulations to her!

However, she doesn’t pursue it as much as she could have. Her main position—viz., that electrons don’t think—is reasonable, but as I will show below, this position is inevitable only when you stay within the scope of that abstraction which is the physical reality. Her argument does not become invalid, but it does become superfluous, when it comes to the entirety of existence as such (i.e., the whole universe, including all the living as well, apart from the non-living beings). To better put her position in context (as also those of others), let us perform a simple thought experiment.

The thought experiment to show why the panpsychism is basically a false idea:

Consider a cat kept in a closed wooden box. (Don’t worry; the sides of the box all carry holes, and so, the cat has no problem breathing in a normal way.) Administer some general anathesia to the cat, thereby letting her enter into a state of a kind of a deep sleep, being physically unresponsive—in particular, being unresponsive to the external physical stimuli like a simple motion of the box. Then place the cat in the wooden box, and tie its body to a fixed position using some comfortable harnesses.

If you now apply a gentle external force to the box from the outside, the cat-plus-box system can be easily described (or simulated) using physics; some simple dynamical evolution equations apply in this case. The reason is, even though the cat is a living being, the anaesthesia leads it to temporarily lose consciousness, so that nothing other than its purely physical attributes now enter the system description.

Now repeat the same experiment but when the cat is awake. As the box begins to move, the cat is sure to move its limbs and tail in response, or arch its body, etc. The *physical* attributes of her body enter the system description as before. However these physical attributes themselves are now under the influence of (or are a function of) an additional force—one which is introduced into the system description because of the actions of the consciousness of the cat. For instance, the physical attribute of any changes to the shape of its body are now governed not just by the externally applied forces, but also out of the forces generated by the cat itself, following the actions of her consciousness. (The idea of such an additional physical force is not originally mine; I got it from Dr. Harry Binswanger.) Thus, there are certain continuing physical conditions which depend on consciousness—its actions.

Can we rely on the principles or equations of physical evolution in the second case, too? Are our physical laws valid for describing the second case, too?

The answer is, yes. We can rely on the physics principles so long as we are able to bring the physical actions produced by the consciousness of the cat into our system description. We do so via that extra set of the continuing conditions. Let’s give this extra force the name: “life-physical force.”

Next, suppose the entire motion of this box+cat system occurs on a wooden table. The table (just as the wooden box) is not alive. Therefore, no special life-physical force comes into the picture while calculating the table’s actions. The table acts exactly the same way whether there is only a box, or a box with a non-responsive cat, or a box with a much meowing cat. It simply supplies reaction forces; it does not generate any active action forces.

Clearly, we can explain the actions of the table in purely physical terms. In fact doing so is relatively simpler, because we don’t have to abstract away its physical attributes the way we have to, when the object is a living and conscious being. Clearly, without any loss of generality, we can do away with panpsychism (in any of its versions) when it comes to describing the actions of the table.

Since panpsychism is a redundancy in describing the action of the table, obviously, it cannot apply to the universe as a whole. So, its basic idea is false.

Overall, my position is that panpsychism cannot be taken too seriously “as is”, because it does not discuss the intermediate aspect of life (or the distinction of living vs. non-living beings). It takes what is an attribute of only a part of the existence (the consciousnesses of all living beings), and then directly proceeds to smear it on to the entirety of existence as such. In terms of our thought experiment, it takes the consciousness of the cat and smears it onto not just the wooden box, but also onto the wooden table. But as can be seen with the thought-experiment, this is a big leap of mis-attribution. Yet a panpsychist must perform it, because an entire category of considerations is lacking in it—viz., that related to life.

What possibly would a panpsychist have to do to save his thesis? Let’s see.

Since consciousness metaphysically is only an attribute of a bigger class of entities (viz., that of living beings), the only way to rescue panpsychism would be to assert that the entire universe is always alive. This is the only way to have every part of the universe conscious.

But there are big troubles with such a “solution” too.

This formulation does away with the fact of death. If all beings are always alive, such a universe ceases to contain the fact of death. Thus, the new formulation would smear out the distinction between life and death, because it would have clubbed together both (i) the actions of life or of consciousness, and (ii) the actions of the inanimate matter, into a single, incoherent package—one that has no definition, no identity. That is the basic theoretical flaw of attempting the only way in which panpsychism could logically be saved.

Now, of course, since we have given a lifeline (pun intended) to the panpsychist, he could grab it and run with it with some further verbal gymnastics. He could possibly re-define the very life (i.e. living-ness) as a term that is not to be taken in the usual sense, but only in some basic, “elementary,” or “flavour”-some way. Possible… What would be wrong with that?

… The wrong thing is this: There are too many flavors now blurring out too many fundamental distinctions, but too few cogent definitions for all these new “concepts” of what it means to be a mere “flavour.”… Realize that the panpsychist would not be able to directly point out to a single instance of, say the table (or your T-shirt) as having some element of same kind of live which actually is present with the actual living beings.

If an alleged consciousness (or its elementary flavor or residue) cannot perform even a single action of distinguishing something consciously, but only follows the laws of physics in its actions, then what it possesses is not consciousness. Further, if an allegedly elementary form of life can have unconditional existence and never faces death, and leads to no actions other than those which follow from the laws of physics alone, then what it possesses is not life—not even in the elementary sense of the term.

In short, panpsychism is an untenable thesis.

Finally, let me reiterate that when I said that a pre-condition (or pre-consciousness, or “soul”) can remain associated with the inanimate matter too, that idea belongs to an entirely different class. It is not what panpsychists put forth.

Comments on what other bloggers have said, and a couple of relevant asides:

For the reasons discussed above, Motl[^]’s “proof” regarding panpsychism cannot be accepted as being valid—unless he, Koch, Chalmers, or others clarify what exactly they mean by terms such as “elementary” consciousness. Also, the elementary bits of “life”: can there be a \Phi of life too, and if yes, how does \Phi = 0 differ from ordinary loss of life (i.e. death) and the attendent loss of the \Phi of consciousness too.

As to Hossenfelder‘s post, if a given electron does not belong to the body of a conscious (living) being, then there exist no further complications in its physical evolution; the initial and boundary conditions specified in the purely physical terms are enough to describe its actions, its dynamical evolution, to the extent that such an evolution can at all be described using physics.

However, if an electron belongs to a conscious (living) being, then the entire of consideration of whether the electron by itself is conscious or not, whether it by itself thinks or not, becomes completely superfluous. The evolution of its motion now occurs under necessarily different conditions; you now have to bring the physical forces arising due to the action of life, of consciousness, via those additional continuing conditions. Given these additional forces, the system evolution once again follows the laws of physics. The reason for that, in turn, is this: whether an elementary particle like the electron itself is conscious or not, a big entity (like a man) surely is conscious, and the extra physical effects generated by this consciousness do have to be taken into account.

An aside: Philosophy of mind is not a handmaiden to physics or its philosophy:

While on this topic, realize that you don’t have to ascribe consciousness to the electrons of a conscious (living) being. For all you know, there could perhaps be an entirely new kind of a field (or a particle) which completely explains the phenomenon of consciousness, and so, electrons (or other particles of the standard model) can continue to remain completely inanimate at all times. We don’t know if such a field exists or not.

However, my main point here is that we don’t have to exhaust this question without observation; we don’t have to pre-empt this possibility by arbitrarily choosing to hinge the entire debate only on the particles of the standard model of physics, and slapping consciousness onto them.

Realize that the abstraction of consciousness (and all matters pertaining to it or preceding it, like the soul), is fundamentally “orthogonal” to the abstractions of physics, of physical reality. (Here, see my last post.) You don’t commit the error of taking a model (even the most comprehensive model) of physics, and implicitly ask philosophy of mind to restrict its scope to this model (which itself may get revised later on!) Physics might not be a handmaiden to philosophy, but neither is philosophy a handmaiden to physics.

Finally coming to Schlafly‘s post, he too touches upon Hossenfelder’s post, but he covers it from the advance viewpoints of free-will, mind-body connection, Galen’s argument etc.[^]. I won’t discuss his post or positions in detail here because these considerations indeed are much more complicated and advanced.

Another aside: How Galen’s argument involves a superfluous consideration:

However, one point that can be noted here is that Galen fails to make the distinction of whether the atom he considers exists as a part of a conscious (living) being’s body, or whether it is a part of some inanimate object. In the former case, whether the electron itself is conscious or not (and whether there is an extra particle or field of consciousness or not, and whether there is yet another field or particle to explain the phenomenon of life or not), a description of the physical evolution of the system would still have to include the aforementioned life-physical force. Thus, the issue of whether the electron is conscious or not is a superfluous consideration. In other words, Galen’s argument involves a non-essential consideration, and therefore, it is not potent enough to settle the related issues.

Homework for you:

  • If panpsychism were to be true, your credit card, spectacles, or T-shirt would be conscious in some “elementary” sense, and so, they would have to be able to hold some “elementary” items of cognition. The question is, where and through what means do you suppose it might be keeping it? That is to say, what are the physical (or physico-electro-chemical-etc.) correlates for their content of consciousness? For instance, can a tape-recorder be taken to be conscious? Can the recording on the tape be taken as the storage of its “knowledge”? If you answer “yes,” then extend the question to the tape of the tape-recorder. Can it be said to be conscious?
  • Can there be a form of consciousness which does not carry a sense of self even in the implicit terms? As it so actually happens, i.e., in reality, a conscious being doesn’t have to be able to isolate and consciously hold that it has self; but it only has to act with a sense of its own life, its own consciousness. The question asks whether, hypothetically, we can do away with that implicit sense of its own life and consciousness itself, or not.
  • Can there be a form of consciousness which comes without any mind-body integrating mechanisms such as some kinesthetic senses of feedback, including some emotions (perhaps even just so simple emotions such as the pleasure-pain mechanism)? Should there be medical specializations for addressing the mental health issues of tables? of electric switches? of computers?
  • Could, by any stretch of imagination, the elementary consciousness (as proposed by panpsychists) be volitional in nature?
  • Should there be a law to protect the rights of your credit card? of your spectacles? of your T-shirt? of a tape-recorder? of your laptop? of an artificial neural network running on your laptop?
  • To those who are knowledgeable about ancient Indian wisdom regarding the spiritual matters, and wish to trace panpsychism to it: If a “yogi” could do “tapascharyaa” even while existing only as an “aatmaa” i.e. even when he is not actually alive, then why should he at all have to take a birth? Why do they say that even “deva”s also have to take a human birth in order to break the bonds of “karma” and thereby attain spiritual purity?

More than three thousand words (!!) but sometimes it is necessary. In any case, I just wanted to finish off this topic so that I could return full-time to Data Science. (I will, however, try to avoid this big a post the next time; cf. my NYRs—2019 edition [^].)

A song I like:
(Marathi) “santha vaahate krushNaa maai”
Lyrics: Ga. Di. Madgulkar
Music: Datta Davajekar
Singer: Sudhir Phadke


A bit on Panpsychism—part 1: what its basis possibly could be

Panpsychism is an interesting theory from the philosophy of the mind [^] . This topic has a long history, and it has recently been put forth in a very engaging form by an Australian-American professor, Dr. David Chalmers [^]. I gather that there also have been others like Prof. Giulio Tononi [^] and Dr. Kristoph Koch [^]. However, I have not yet read them or watched their videos. So,  my discussion of panpsychism is going to be limited to what I understand about this theory after listening to only Prof. Chalmers. Prof. Chalmers discusses panpsychism mainly in the context of “the hard problem of consciousness.”

I had last year (in 2018) listened to Prof. Chalmer’s TedX talks, and also had browsed through some of his writings. However, I didn’t think of writing a post about it. The reason I am now writing this post is that several physicist have recently come to discuss it. See: “Electrons don’t think” by Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder [^] ; “Panpsychism is needed to quantify consciousness” by Dr. Lubos(h) Motl [^] , and “The mind-body problems” by Dr. Roger Schlafly [^].

In these couple of posts (this one and the next), I am going to note a few points about panpsychism—what I think of it, based on just some surface reading (and watching videos) on the topic by Prof. David Chalmers. My write-up here is exploratory, and for that reason, a bit meandering.

Panpsychism says (going by the definition of the term thrown up by a Google search on the word) that “everything material, however small, has an element of individual consciousness.” For this post, we will assume that this definition correctly characterizes panpsychism. Also see the Google Ngram, at this link: [^]

The thesis of panpsychism seems to have the following two ideas at its base:

(i) What we perceive can cut across the entirety of the existence.

There are no sub-categories of beings (or parts of existence) that can in principle (i.e. directly or indirectly) remain permanently inaccessible to us, i.e., to our means and methods of cognition. For instance, consider the fact that a technique like SEM (scanning electron microscope) can bring certain spatial features of bacteria or of nano-scale structures to a high-fidelity representation that is within the range of our direct perception. Something similar, for the idiot box in your room—it brings a remote scene “to life” in your room.

Notice that this philosophical position means: a denial of a “second” (or “third” etc.) world that is permanently inaccessible to the rest of us, but one that is, somehow, definitely accessible to philosophers of mysticism such as Plato or Kant.

(ii) The idea that what we perceive includes both the realms: the physical realm, and the realm of the mind or consciousness.

Obviously, by the “realm” of consciousness, we don’t mean a separate world. We here take the word “realm” in the sense of just a collective noun for such things as: the contents of consciousnesses, their actions, the products of their processes, etc., as beings having consciousness are observed to exist and be conscious of this world (or take conscious actions in it).

By the idea of the two abstract realms—physical and consciousness-related—we mean a categorically improved version of the Cartesian division—which is to say that our realms have no connection whatsoever to the actual Cartesian division.

[I don’t know if all advocates of panpsychism accept the above two ideas or not. However, when I began wondering what could possibly be the theoretical bases of this idea (of panpsychism), these two seemed to be the right kind of bases.]

Given the above two ideas, the logic of panpsychism basically seems to go something like this:

Since the world we can directly or indirectly perceive is all there is to existence, and since our perception includes both the physical and the consciousness-related aspects, therefore, we should take a direct jump to the conclusion that any part of the existence must carry both kinds of attributes—physical, and the consciousness-pertaining.

If you ask me, there is a problem with this position (of panpsychism). I will cover it in a separate post later this week. I would like to see whether, knowing the fact that I find the logic problematic, you would want to give it a try as to what the reasoning could be like, so that we could cross-check our notes. … Happy thinking!

Bye for now… [The songs section will come back in the next part, to be posted soon enough.]

Originally published on 2019.01.06 14:59 IST. Slightly revised (without introducing any new point) on 2019.01.07 10:15 IST.

Some running thoughts on ANNs and AI—1

Go, see if you want to have fun with the attached write-up on ANNs [^] (but please also note the version time carefully—the write-up could change without any separate announcement).

The write-up is more in the nature of a very informal blabber of the kind that goes when people work out something on a research blackboard (or while mentioning something about their research to friends, or during brain-storming session, or while jotting things on the back of the envelop, or something similar).


A “song” I don’t like:

(Marathi) “aawaaj waaDaw DJ…”
“Credits”: Go, figure [^]. E.g., here [^]. Yes, the video too is (very strongly) recommended.

Update on 05 October 2018 10:31 IST:

Psychic attack on 05 October 2018 at around 00:40 IST (i.e. the night between 4th and 5th October, IST).


Flames not so old…

The same picture, but two American interpretations, both partly misleading (to varying degrees):

NASA releases a photo [^] on the FaceBook, on 24 August at 14:24, with this note:

The visualization above highlights NASA Earth satellite data showing aerosols on August 23, 2018. On that day, huge plumes of smoke drifted over North America and Africa, three different tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia. The storms are visible within giant swirls of sea salt aerosol (blue), which winds loft into the air as part of sea spray. Black carbon particles (red) are among the particles emitted by fires; vehicle and factory emissions are another common source. Particles the model classified as dust are shown in purple. The visualization includes a layer of night light data collected by the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP that shows the locations of towns and cities.

[Emphasis in bold added by me.]

For your convenience, I reproduce the picture here:

Aerosol data by NASA

Aerosol data by NASA. Red means: Carbon emissions. Blue means: Sea Salt. Purple means: Dust particles.

Nicole Sharp blogs [^] about it at her blog FYFD, on Aug 29, 2018 10:00 am, with this description:

Aerosols, micron-sized particles suspended in the atmosphere, impact our weather and air quality. This visualization shows several varieties of aerosol as measured August 23rd, 2018 by satellite. The blue streaks are sea salt suspended in the air; the brightest highlights show three tropical cyclones in the Pacific. Purple marks dust. Strong winds across the Sahara Desert send large plumes of dust wafting eastward. Finally, the red areas show black carbon emissions. Raging wildfires across western North America are releasing large amounts of carbon, but vehicle and factory emissions are also significant sources. (Image credit: NASA; via Katherine G.)

[Again, emphasis in bold is mine.]

As of today, Sharp’s post has collected some 281 notes, and almost all of them have “liked” it.

I liked it too—except for the last half of the last sentence, viz., the idea that vehicle and factory emissions are significant sources (cf. NASA’s characterization):

My comment:

NASA commits an error of omission. Dr. Sharp compounds it with an error of commission. Let’s see how.

NASA does find it important to mention that the man-made sources of carbon are “common.” However, the statement is ambiguous, perhaps deliberately so. It curiously omits to mention that the quantity of such “common” sources is so small that there is no choice but to regard it as “not critical.” We may not be in a position to call the “common” part an error of commission. But not explaining that the man-made sources play negligible (even vanishingly small) role in Global Warming, is sure an error of omission on NASA’s part.

Dr. Sharp compounds it with an error of commission. She calls man-made sources “significant.”

If I were to have an SE/TE student, I would assign a simple Python script to do a histogram and/or compute the densities of red pixels and have them juxtaposed with areas of high urban population/factory density.

This post may change in future:

BTW, I am only too well aware of the ugly political wars being waged by a lot of people in this area (of Global Warming). Since I do appreciate Dr. Sharp’s blog, I would be willing to delete all references to her writing from this post.

However, I am going to keep NASA’s description and the photo intact. It serves as a good example of how a good visualization can help in properly apprehending big data.

In case I delete references to Sharp’s blog, I will simply add another passage on my own, bringing out how man-made emissions are not the real cause for concern.

But in any case, I would refuse to be drawn into those ugly political wars surrounding the issue of Global Warming. I have neither the interest nor the bandwidth to get into it, and further, I find (though can’t off-hand quote) that several good modelers/scientists have come to offer very good, detailed, and comprehensive perspectives that justify my position (mentioned in the preceding paragraph). [Off-hand, I very vaguely remember an academic, a lady, perhaps from the state of Georgia in the US?]

The value of pictures:

One final point.

But, regardless of it all (related to Global Warming and its politics), this picture does serve to highlight a very important point: the undeniable strength of a good visualization.

Yes I do find that, in a proper context, a picture is worth a thousand words. The obvious validity of this conclusion is not affected by Aristotle’s erroneous epistemology, in particular, his wrong assertion that man thinks in terms of “images.” No, he does not.

So, sure, a picture is not an argument, as Peikoff argued in the late 90s (without using pictures, I believe). If Peikoff’s statement is taken in its context, you would agree with it, too.

But for a great variety of useful contexts, as the one above, I do think that a picture is worth a thousand words. Without such being the case, a post like this wouldn’t have been possible.

A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “dil sajan jalataa hai…”
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Music: R. D. Burman [actually, Bertha Egnos [^]]
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Copying it right:

“itwofs” very helpfully informs us [^] that this song was:

Inspired in the true sense, by the track, ‘Korbosha (Down by the river) from the South African stage musical, Ipi Ntombi (1974).”

However, unfortunately, he does not give the name of the original composer. It is: Bertha Egnos (apparently, a white woman from South Africa [^]).

“itwofs” further opines that:

Its the mere few initial bars that seem to have sparked Pancham create the totally awesome track [snip]. The actual tunes are completely different and as original as Pancham can get.

I disagree.

Listen to Korbosha and to this song, once again. You will sure find that it is far more than “mere few initial bars.” On the contrary, except for a minor twist here or there (and that too only in some parts of the “antaraa”/stanza), Burman’s song is almost completely lifted from Egnos’s, as far as the tune goes. And the tune is one of the most basic—and crucial—elements of a song, perhaps the most crucial one.

However, what Burman does here is to “customize” this song to “suit the Indian road conditions tastes.” This task also can be demanding; doing it right takes a very skillful and sensitive composer, and R. D. certainly shows his talents in this regard, too, here. Further, Asha not only makes it “totally, like, totally” Indian, she also adds a personal chutzpah. The combination of Egnos, RD and Asha is awesome.

If the Indian reader’s “pride” got hurt: For a reverse situation of “phoreenn” people customizing our songs, go see how well Paul Mauriat does it.

One final word: The video here is not recommended. It looks (and is!) too gaudy. So, even if you download a YouTube video, I recommend that you search for good Open Source tools and use it to extract just the audio track from this video. … If you are not well conversant with the music software, then Audacity would confuse you. However, as far as just converting MP4 to MP3 is concerned, VLC works just as great; use the menu: Media \ Convert/Save. This menu command works independently of the song playing in the “main” VLC window.

Bye for now… Some editing could be done later on.

Absolutely Random Notings on QM—Part 1: Bohr. And, a bad philosophy making its way into physics with his work, and his academic influence

TL;DR: Go—and keep—away.

I am still firming up my opinions. However, there is never a harm in launching yet another series of posts on a personal blog, is there? So here we go…

Quantum Mechanics began with Planck. But there was no theory of quanta in what Planck had offered.

What Planck had done was to postulate only the existence of the quanta of the energy, in the cavity radiation.

Einstein used this idea to predict the heat capacities of solids—a remarkable work, one that remains underappreciated in both text-books as well as popular science books on QM.

The first pretense at a quantum theory proper came from Bohr.

Bohr was thinking not about the cavity radiations, but about the spectra of the radiations emitted or absorbed by gases.

Matter, esp. gases, following Dalton, …, Einstein, and Perin, were made of distinct atoms. The properties of gases—especially the reason why they emitted or absorbed radiation only at certain distinct frequencies, but not at any other frequencies (including those continuous patches of frequencies in between the experimentally evident sharp peaks)—had to be explained in reference to what the atoms themselves were like. There was no other way out—not yet, not given the sound epistemology in physics of those days.

Thinking up a new universe still was not allowed back then in science let alone in physics. One still had to clearly think about explaining what was given in observations, what was in evidence. Effects still had be related back to causes; outward actions still had to be related back to the character/nature of the entities that thus acted.

The actor, unquestionably by now, was the atom. The effects were the discrete spectra. Not much else was known.

Those were the days were when the best hotels and restaurants in Berlin, London, and New York would have horse-driven buggies ushering in the socially important guests. Buggies still was the latest technology back then. Not many people thus ushered in are remembered today. But Bohr is.

If the atom was the actor, and the effects under study were the discrete spectra, then what was needed to be said, in theory, was something regarding the structure of the atom.

If an imagined entity sheer by its material/chemical type doesn’t do it, then it’s the structure—its shape and size—which must do it.

Back then, this still was regarded as one of the cardinal principles of science, unlike the mindless opposition to the science of Homeopathy today, esp. in the UK. But back then, it was known that one important reason that Calvin gets harassed by the school bully was that not just the sheer size of the latter’s matter but also that the structure of the latter was different. In other words: If you consumed alcohol, you simply didn’t take in so many atoms of carbon as in proportion to so many atoms of hydrogen, etc. You took in a structure, a configuration with which these atoms came in.

However, the trouble back then was, none had have the means to see the atoms.

If by structure you mean the geometrical shape and size, or some patterns of density, then clearly, there was no experimental observations pertaining to the same. The only relevant observation available to people back then was what had already been encapsulated in Rutherford’s model, viz., the incontestable idea that the atomic nucleus had to be massive and dense, occupying a very small space as compared to an atom taken as a whole; the electrons had to carry very little mass in comparison. (The contrast of Rutherford’s model of c. 1911 was to the earlier plum cake model by Thomson.)

Bohr would, therefore, have to start with Rutherford’s model of atoms, and invent some new ideas concerning it, and see if his model was consistent with the known results given by spectroscopic observations.

What Bohr offered was a model for the electrons contained in a nuclear atom.

However, even while differing from the Rutherford’s plum-cake model, Bohr’s model emphatically lacked a theory for the nature of the electrons themselves. This part has been kept underappreciated by the textbook authors and science teachers.

In particular, Bohr’s theory had absolutely no clue as to the process according to which the electrons could, and must, jump in between their stable orbits.

The meat of the matter was worse, far worse: Bohr had explicitly prohibited from pursuing any mechanism or explanation concerning the quantum jumps—an idea which he was the first to propose. [I don’t know of any one else originally but independently proposing the same idea.]

Bohr achieved this objective not through any deployment of the best possible levels of scientific reason but out of his philosophic convictions—the convictions of the more irrational kind. The quantum jumps were obviously not observable, according to him, only their effects were. So, strictly speaking, the quantum jumps couldn’t possibly be a part of his theory—plain and simple!

But then, Bohr in his philosophic enthusiasm didn’t stop just there. He went even further—much further. He fully deployed the powers of his explicit reasoning as well as the weight of his seniority in prohibiting the young physicists from even thinking of—let alone ideating or offering—any mechanism for such quantum jumps.

In other words, Bohr took special efforts to keep the young quantum enthusiasts absolutely and in principle clueless, as far as his quantum jumps were concerned.

Bohr’s theory, in a sense, was in line with the strictest demands of the philosophy of empiricism. Here is how Bohr’s application of this philosophy went:

  1. This electron—it can be measured!—at this energy level, now!
  2. [May be] The same electron, but this energy level, now!
  3. This energy difference, this frequency. Measured! [Thank you experimental spectroscopists; hats off to you, for, you leave Bohr alone!!]
  4. OK. Now, put the above three into a cohesive “theory.” And, BTW, don’t you ever even try to think about anything else!!

Continuing just a bit on the same lines, Bohr sure would have said (quoting Peikoff’s explanation of the philosophy of empiricism):

  1. [Looking at a tomato] We can only say this much in theory: “This, now, tomato!”
  2. Making a leeway for the most ambitious ones of the ilk: “This *red* tomato!!”

Going by his explicit philosophic convictions, it must have been a height of “speculation” for Bohr to mumble something—anything—about a thing like “orbit.” After all, even by just mentioning a word like “orbit,” Bohr was being absolutely philosophically inconsistent here. Dear reader, observe that the orbit itself never at all was an observable!

Bohr must have in his conscience convulsed at this fact; his own philosophy couldn’t possibly have, strictly speaking, permitted him to accommodate into his theory a non-measurable feature of a non-measurable entity—such as his orbits of his electrons. Only the allure of outwardly producing predictions that matched with the experiment might have quietened his conscience—and that too, temporarily. At least until he got a new stone-building housing an Institute for himself and/or a Physics Nobel, that is.

Possible. With Herr Herr Herr Doktor Doktor Doktor Professor Professors, anything is possible.

It is often remarked that the one curious feature of the Bohr theory was the fact that the stability of the electronic orbits was postulated in it, not explained.

That is, not explained in reference to any known physical principle. The analogy to the solar system indeed was just that: an analogy. It was not a reference to an established physical principle.

However, the basically marvelous feature of the Bohr theory was not that the orbits were stable (in violation of the known laws of electrodynamics). It was: there at all were any orbits in it, even if no experiment had ever given any evidence for the continuously or discontinuously subsequent positions electrons within an atom or of their motions.

So much for originator of the cult of sticking only to the “observables.”

What Sommerfeld did was to add footnotes to Bohr’s work.

Sommerfeld did this work admirably well.

However, what this instance in the history of physics clearly demonstrates is yet another principle from the epistemology of physics: how a man of otherwise enormous mathematical abilities and training (and an academically influential position, I might add), but having evidently no remarkable capacity for a very novel, breakthrough kind of conceptual thinking, just cannot but fall short of making any lasting contributions to physics.

“Math” by itself simply isn’t enough for physics.

What came to be known as the old quantum theory, thus, faced an impasse.

Under Bohr’s (and philosophers’) loving tutorship, the situation continued for a long time—for more than a decade!

A Song I Like:

(Marathi) “sakhi ga murali mohan mohi manaa…”
Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: P. Savalaram

PS: Only typos and animals of the similar ilk remain to be corrected.


How many numbers are there in the real number system?

Post updated on 2018/04/05, 19:25 HRS IST:

See the sections added, as well as the corrected and expanded PDF attachment.

As usual, I got a bit distracted from my notes-taking (on numbers, vectors, tensors, CFD, etc.), and so, ended up writing a small “note” on the title question, in a rough-and-ready plain-text file. Today, I converted it into a LaTeX PDF. The current version is here: [^].

(I may change the document contents or its URL without informing in advance. The version “number” is the date and time given in the document itself, just below the title and the author name.)

(However, I won’t disappoint those eminent scholars who are interested in tracing my intellectual development. I will therefore keep the earlier, discarded, versions too, for some time. Here they are (in the later-to-earlier order): [^][^][ ^ ].)

This PDF note may look frivolous, and in some ways it is, but not entirely:

People don’t seem to “get” the fact that any number system other than the real number system would be capable of producing a set consisting of only distinct numbers.

They also don’t easily “get” the fact that the idea of having a distinct succession numbers is completely different from that of a continuum of them, which is what the real number system is.

The difference is as big as (and similar to) that between (the perceptually grasped) locations vs. (the perceptually grasped) motions. I guess it was Dr. Binswanger who explained these matters in one of his lectures, though he might have called them “points” or “places” instead of ”locations”. Here, as I recall, he was explaining from what he had found in good old Aristotle: An object in motion is neither here (at one certain location) nor there (in another certain location), Aristotle said; it’s state is that it is in motion. The idea of a definite place does not apply to objects in motion. That was the point Dr. Binswanger was explaining.

In short, realize where the error is. The error is in the first two words of the title question: “How many”. The phrase “how many” asks you to identify a number, but an infinity (let alone an infinity of infinity of infinity …) cannot be taken as a number. There lies the contradiction.

BTW, if you are interested, you may check out my take on the concept of space, covered via an entire series of (long) posts, some time ago. See the posts tagged “space”, here [^]

When they (the mathematicians, who else?) tell you that there are as many rational fractions as there are natural numbers, that the two infinities are in some sense “equal”, they do have a valid argument.

But typical of the modern-day mathematicians, they know, but omit to tell you, the complete story.

Since I approach mathematics (or at least the valid foundational issues in maths) from (a valid) epistemology, I can tell you a more complete story, and I will. At least briefly, right here.

Yes, the two infinities are “equal.” Yes, there are as many rational fractions as there are natural numbers. But the densities of the two (over any chosen finite interval) are not.

Take the finite interval [1.0, 101.0). There are 100 number of distinct natural numbers in them. The size of the finite interval, measured using real numbers, also is 100.o. So the density of the natural numbers over this interval is: 1.0.

But the density of the rational fractions over the same interval is far greater. In fact it is so greater that no number can at all be used to identify its size: it is infinite. (Go, satisfy yourself that this is so.)

So, your intuition that there is something wrong to Cantor’s argument is valid. (Was it he who began all this business of the measuring the “sizes” of infinite sets?)

Both the number of natural numbers and the number of rational fractions are infinities, and these infinities are of the same order, too. But there literally is an infinite difference between their local densities over finite intervals. It is  this fact that the “smart” mathematicians didn’t tell you. (Yes, you read it here first.)

At the same time, even if the “density” over the finite interval when the interval is taken “in the gross” (or as a whole) is infinite, there still are an infinite number of sub-intervals that aren’t even touched (let alone exhausted) by the infinity of these rational fractions, all of them falling only within that [1.0, 101.0) interval. Why? Because, notice, we defined the interval in terms of the real numbers, that’s why! That’s the difference between the rational fractions (or any other number-producing system) and the real numbers.

May be I will write another quick post covering some other distractions in the recent times as well, shortly. I will add the songs section at that time, to that (upcoming) post.

Bye for now.


My small contribution towards the controversies surrounding the important question of “1, 2, 3, …”

As you know, I have been engaged in writing about scalars, vectors, tensors, and CFD.

However, at the same time, while writing my notes, I also happened to think of the “1, 2, 3, …” controversy. Here is my small, personal, contribution to the same.

The physical world evidently consists of a myriad variety of things. Attributes are the metaphysically inseparable aspects that together constitute the identity of a thing. To exist is to exist with all the attributes. But getting to know the identity of a thing does not mean having a knowledge of all of its attributes. The identity of a thing is grasped, or the thing is recognized, on the basis of just a few attributes/characteristics—those which are the defining attributes (including properties, characteristics, actions, etc.), within a given context.

Similarities and differences are perceptually evident. When two or more concretely real things possess the same attribute, they are directly perceived as being similar. Two mangoes are similar, and so are two bananas. The differences between two or more things of the same kind are the differences in the sizes of those attribute(s) which are in common to them. All mangoes share a great deal of attributes between them, and the differences in the two mangoes are not just the basic fact that they are two separate mangoes, but also that they differ in their respective colors, shapes, sizes, etc.

Sizes or magnitudes (lit.: “bigness”) refer to sizes of things; sizes do not metaphysically exist independent of the things of which they are sizes.

Numbers are the concepts that can be used to measure the sizes of things (and also of their attributes, characteristics, actions, etc.).

It is true that sizes can be grasped and specified without using numbers.

For instance, we can say that this mango is bigger than that. The preceding statement did not involve any number. However, it did involve a comparative statement that ordered two different things in accordance with the sizes of some common attribute possessed by each, e.g., the weight of, or the volume occupied by, each of the two mangoes. In the case of concrete objects such as two mangoes differing in size, the comparative differences in their sizes are grasped via direct perception; one mango is directly seen/felt as being bigger than the other; the mental process involved at this level is direct and automatic.

A certain issue arises when we try to extend the logic to three or more mangoes. To say that the mango A is bigger than the mango B, and that the mango B is bigger than the mango C, is perfectly fine.

However, it is clear from common experience that the size-wise difference between A and B may not exactly be the same as the size-wise difference between B and C. The simple measure: “is bigger than”, thus, is crude.

The idea of numbers is the means through which we try to make the quantitative comparative statements more refined, more precise, more accurately capturing of the metaphysically given sizes.

An important point to note here is that even if you use numbers, a statement involving sizes still remains only a comparative one. Whenever you say that something is bigger or smaller, you are always implicitly adding: as in comparison to something else, i.e., some other thing. Contrary to what a lot of thinkers have presumed, numbers do not provide any more absolute a standard than what is already contained in the comparisons on which a concept of numbers is based.

Fundamentally, an attribute can metaphysically exist only with some definite size (and only as part of the identity of the object which possesses that attribute). Thus, the idea of a size-less attribute is a metaphysical impossibility.

Sizes are a given in the metaphysical reality. Each concretely real object by itself carries all the sizes of all its attributes. An existent or an object, i.e., when an object taken singly, separately, still does possess all its attributes, with all the sizes with which it exists.

However, the idea of measuring a size cannot arise in reference to just a single concrete object. Measurements cannot be conducted on single objects taken out of context, i.e., in complete isolation of everything else that exists.

You need to take at least two objects that differ in sizes (in the same attribute), and it is only then that any quantitative comparison (based on that attribute) becomes possible. And it is only when some comparison is possible that a process for measurements of sizes can at all be conceived of. A process of measurement is a process of comparison.

A number is an end-product of a certain mathematical method that puts a given thing in a size-wise quantitative relationship (or comparison) with other things (of the same kind).

Sizes or magnitudes exist in the raw nature. But numbers do not exist in the raw nature. They are an end-product of certain mathematical processes. A number-producing mathematical process pins down (or defines) some specific sense of what the size of an attribute can at all be taken to mean, in the first place.

Numbers do not exist in the raw nature because the mathematical methods which produce them themselves do not exist in the raw nature.

A method for measuring sizes has to be conceived of (or created or invented) by a mind. The method settles the question of how the metaphysically existing sizes of objects/attributes are to be processed via some kind of a comparison. As such, sure, the method does require a prior grasp of the metaphysical existents, i.e., of the physical reality.

However, the meaning of the method proper itself is not to be located in the metaphysically differing sizes themselves; it is to be located in how those differences in sizes are grasped, processed, and what kind of an end-product is produced by that process.

Thus, a mathematical method is an invention of using the mind in a certain way; it is not a discovery of some metaphysical facts existing independent of the mind grasping (and holding, using, etc.) it.

However, once invented by someone, the mathematical method can be taught to others, and can be used by all those who do know it, but only in within the delimited scope of the method itself, i.e., only in those applications where that particular method can at all be applied.

The simplest kind of numbers are the natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, \dots. As an aside, to remind you, natural numbers do not include the zero; the set of whole numbers does that.

Reaching the idea of the natural numbers involves three steps:

(i) treating a group of some concrete objects of the same kind (e.g. five mangoes) as not only a collection of so many separately existing things, but also as if it were a single, imaginary, composite object, when the constituent objects are seen as a group,

(ii) treating a single concrete object (of the same aforementioned kind, e.g. one mango) not only as a separately existing concrete object, but also as an instance of a group of the aforementioned kind—i.e. a group of the one,


(iii) treating the first group (consisting of multiple objects) as if it were obtained by exactly/identically repeating the second group (consisting of a single object).

The interplay between the concrete perception on the one hand and a more abstract, conceptual-level grasp of that perception on the other hand, occurs in each of the first two steps mentioned above. (Ayn Rand: “The ability to regard entities as mental units \dots” [^].)

In contrast, the synthesis of a new mental process that is suitable for making quantitative measurements, which means the issue in the third step, occurs only at an abstract level. There is nothing corresponding to the process of repetition (or for that matter, to any method of quantitative measurements) in the concrete, metaphysically given, reality.

In the third step, the many objects comprising the first group are regarded as if they were exact replicas of the concrete object from the second (singular) group.

This point is important. Primitive humans would use some uniform-looking symbols like dots (.) or circles (\bullet) or sticks (`|‘), to stand for the concrete objects that go in making up either of the aforementioned two groups—the group of the many mangoes vs. the group of the one mango. Using the same symbol for each occurrence of a concrete object underscores the idea that all other facts pertaining to those concrete objects (here, mangoes) are to be summarily disregarded, and that the only important point worth retaining is that a next instance of an exact replica (an instance of an abstract mango, so to speak) has become available.

At this point, we begin representing the group of five mangoes as G_1 = \lbrace\, \bullet\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\bullet\, \rbrace, and the single concretely existing mango as a second abstract group: G_2 = \lbrace\,\bullet\,\rbrace.

Next comes a more clear grasp of the process of repetition. It is seen that the process of repetition can be stopped at discrete stages. For instance:

  1. The process P_1 produces \lbrace\,\bullet\,\rbrace (i.e. the repetition process is stopped after taking \bullet once).
  2. The process P_2 produces \lbrace\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\rbrace (i.e. the repetition process is stopped after taking \bullet twice)
  3. The process P_3 produces \lbrace\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\rbrace (i.e. the repetition process is stopped after taking \bullet thrice)

At this point, it is recognized that each output or end-product that a terminated repetition-process produces, is precisely identical to certain abstract group of objects of the first kind.

Thus, each of the P_1 \equiv \lbrace\,\bullet\,\rbrace, or P_2 \equiv \lbrace\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\rbrace, or  P_3 \equiv \lbrace\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\bullet\,\rbrace, $\dots$ is now regarded as if it were a single (composite) object.

Notice how we began by saying that P_1, P_2, P_3 etc. were processes, and then ended up saying that we now see single objects in them.

Thus, the size of each abstract group of many objects (the groups of one, of two, of three, of n objects) gets tied to a particular length of a terminated process, here, of repetitions. As the length of the process varies, so does the size of its output i.e. the abstract composite object.

It is in this way that a process (here, of repetition) becomes capable of measuring the size of the abstract composite object. And it does so in reference to the stage (or the length of repetitions) at which the process was terminated.

It is thus that the repetition process becomes a process of measuring sizes. In other words, it becomes a method of measurement. Qua a method of measurement, the process has been given a name: it is called “counting.”

The end-products of the terminated repetition process, i.e., of the counting process, are the mathematical objects called the natural numbers.

More generally, what we said for the natural numbers also holds true for any other kind of a number. Any kind of a number stands for an end-product that is obtained when a well-defined process of measurement is conducted to completion.

An uncompleted process is just that: a process that is still continuing. The notion of an end-product applies only to a process that has come to an end. Numbers are the end-products of size-measuring processes.

Since an infinite process is not a completed process, infinity is not a number; it is merely a short-hand to denote some aspect of the measurement process other than the use of the process in measuring a size.

The only valid use of infinity is in the context of establishing the limiting values of sequences, i.e., in capturing the essence of the trend in the numbers produced by the nature (or identity) of a given sequence-producing process.

Thus, infinity is a concept that helps pin down the nature of the trend in the numbers belonging to a sequence. On the other hand, a number is a product of a process when it is terminated after a certain, definite, length.

With the concept of infinity, the idea that the process never terminates is not crucial; the crucial thing is that you reach an independence  from the length of a sequence. Let me give you an example.

Consider the sequence for which the n-th term is given by the formula:

S_n = \dfrac{1}{n}.

Thus, the sequence is: 1, \dfrac{1}{2}, \dfrac{1}{3}, \dfrac{1}{4}, \dots.

If we take first two terms, we can see that the value has decreased, from 1 to 0.5. If we go from the second to the third term, we can see that the value has decreased even further, to 0.3333. The difference in the decrement has, however, dropped; it has gone from 1 - \dfrac{1}{2} = 0.5 to \dfrac{1}{2} - \dfrac{1}{3} =  0.1666666\dots. Go from the third to the fourth term, and we can see that while the value goes still down, and the decrement itself also has decreased, it has now become 0.08333 . Thus, two trends are unmistakable: (i) the value keeps dropping, but (ii) the decrement also becomes sluggish.  If the values were to drop uniformly, i.e. if the decrement were to stay the same, we would have immediately hit 0, and then gone on to the negative numbers. But the second factor, viz., that the decrement itself is progressively decreasing, seems to play a trick. It seems intent on keeping you afloat, above the 0 value. We can verify this fact. No matter how big n might get, it still is a finite number, and so, its reciprocal is always going to be a finite number, not zero. At the same time, we now have observed that the differences between the subsequent reciprocals has been decreasing. How can we capture this intuition? What we want to say is this: As you go further and further down in the sequence, the value must become smaller and ever smaller. It would never actually become 0. But it will approach 0 (and no number other than 0) better and still better. Take any small but definite positive number, and we can say that our sequence would eventually drop down below the level of that number, in a finite number of steps. We can say this thing for any given definite positive number, no matter how small. So long as it is a definite number, we are going to hit its level in a finite number of steps. But we also know that since n is positive, our sequence is never going to go so far down as to reach into the regime of the negative numbers. In fact, as we just said, let alone the range of the negative numbers, our sequence is not going to hit even 0, in finite number of steps.

To capture all these facts, viz.: (i) We will always go below the level any positive real number R, no matter how small R may be, in a finite number of steps, (ii) the number of steps n required to go below a specified R level would always go on increasing as R becomes smaller, and (iii) we will never reach 0 in any finite number of steps no matter how large n may get, but will always experience decrement with increasing n, we say that:

the limit of the sequence S_n as n approaches infinity is 0.

The word “infinity” in the above description crucially refers to the facts (i) and (ii), which together clearly establish the trend in the values of the sequence S_n. [The fact (iii) is incidental to the idea of “infinity” itself, though it brings out a neat property of limits, viz., the fact that the limit need not always belong to the set of numbers that is the sequence itself. ]

With the development of mathematical knowledge, the idea of numbers does undergo changes. The concept number gets more and more complex/sophisticated, as the process of measurement becomes more and more complex/sophisticated.

We can form the process of addition starting from the process of counting.

The simplest addition is that of adding a unit (or the number 1) to a given number. We can apply the process of addition by 1, to the number 1, and see that the number we thus arrive at is 2. Then we can apply the process of addition by 1, to the number 2, and see that the number we thus arrive at is 3. We can continue to apply the logic further, and thereby see that it is possible to generate any desired natural number.

The so-called natural numbers thus state the sizes of groups of identical objects, as measured via the process of counting. Since natural numbers encapsulate the sizes of such groups, they obviously can be ordered by the sizes they encapsulate. One way to see how the order 1, then 2, then 3, \dots, arises is to observe that in successively applying the process of addition starting from the number 1, it is the number 2 which comes immediately after the number $1$, but before the number 3, etc.

The process of subtraction is formed by inverting the process of addition, i.e., by seeing the logic of addition in a certain, reverse, way.

The process of addition by 1, when repeatedly applied to a given natural number, is capable of generating all the natural numbers greater than the given number. The process of subtraction by 1, when repeatedly applied to a given natural number, is capable of generating all the natural numbers smaller than the given number.

When the process of subtraction by 1 is applied right to the number 1 itself, we reach the idea of the zero. [Dear Indian, now you know that the idea of the number zero was not all that breath-taking, was it?]

In a further development, the idea of the negative numbers is established.

Thus, the concept of numbers develops from the natural numbers (1, 2, 3, \dots) to whole numbers (0, 1, 2, \dots) to integers (\dots, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, \dots).

At each such a stage, the idea of what a number means—its definition—undergoes a definite change; at any such a stage, there is a well-defined mathematical process, of increasing conceptual complexity, of measuring sizes, whose end-products that idea of numbers represents.

The idea of multiplication follows from that of repeated additions; the idea of division follows from that of the repeated subtractions; the two process are then recognized as the multiplicative inverses of each other. It’s only then that the idea of fractions follows. The distinction between the rational and irrational fractions is then recognized, and then, the concept of numbers gets extended to include the idea of the irrational as well as rational numbers.

A crucial lesson learnt from this entire expansion of knowledge of what it means to be a number, is the recognition of the fact that for any well-defined and completed process of measurement, there must follow a certain number (and only that unique number, obviously!).

Then, in a further, distinct, development, we come to recognize that while some process must exist to produce a number, any well-defined process producing a number would do just as well.

With this realization, we then come to a stage whereby, we can think of conceptually omitting specifying any specific process of measurement.

We thus come to retain only the fact while some process must be specified, any valid process can be, and then, the end-product still would be just a number.

It is with this realization that we come to reach the idea of the real numbers.

The purpose of forming the idea of real numbers is that they allow us to form statements that would hold true for any number qua a number.

The crux of the distinction of the real numbers from any of the preceding notion of numbers (natural, whole, integers) is the following statement, which can be applied to real numbers, and only to real numbers—not to integers.

The statement is this: there is an infinity of real numbers existing between any two distinct real numbers R_1 and R_2, no matter how close they might be to each other.

There is a wealth of information contained in that statement, but if some aspects are to be highlighted and appreciated more than the others, they would be these:

(i) Each of the two numbers R_1 and R_2 are recognized as being an end-product of some or the other well-defined process.

The responsibility of specifying what precise size is meant when you say R_1 or R_2 is left entirely up to you; the definition of real numbers does not take that burden. It only specifies that some well-defined process must exist to produce R_1 as well as R_2, so that what they denote indeed are numbers.

A mathematical process may produce a result that corresponds to a so-called “irrational” number, and yet, it can be a definite process. For instance, you may specify the size-measurement process thus: hold in a compass the distance equal to the diagonal of a right-angled isoscales triangle having the equal sides of 1, and mark this distance out from the origin on the real number-line. This measurement process is well-specified even if \sqrt{2} can be proved to be an irrational number.

(ii) You don’t have to specify any particular measurement process which might produce a number strictly in between R_1 and R_2, to assert that it’s a number. This part is crucial to understand the concept of real numbers.

The real numbers get all their power precisely because their idea brings into the jurisdiction of the concept of numbers not only all those specific definitions of numbers that have been invented thus far, but also all those definitions which ever possibly would be. That’s the crucial part to understand.

The crucial part is not the fact that there are an infinity of numbers lying between any two R_1 and R_2. In fact, the existence of an infinity of numbers is damn easy to prove: just take the average of R_1 and R_2 and show that it must fall strictly in between them—in fact, it divides the line-segment from R_1 to R_2 into two equal halves. Then, take each half separately, and take the average of its end-points to hit the middle point of that half. In the first step, you go from one line-segment to two (i.e., you produce one new number that is the average). In the next step, you go from the two segments to the four (i.e. in all, three new numbers). Now, go easy; wash-rinse-repeat! … The number of the numbers lying strictly between R_1 and R_2 increases without bound—i.e., it blows “up to” infinity. [Why not “down to” infinity? Simple: God is up in his heavens, and so, we naturally consider the natural numbers rather than the negative integers, first!]

Since the proof is this simple, obviously, it just cannot be the real meat, it just cannot be the real reason why the idea of real numbers is at all required.

The crucial thing to realize here now is this part: Even if you don’t specify any specific process like hitting the mid-point of the line-segment by taking average, there still would be an infinity of numbers between the end-points.

Another closely related and crucial thing to realize is this part: No matter what measurement (i.e. number-producing) process you conceive of, if it is capable of producing a new number that lies strictly between the two bounds, then the set of real numbers has already included it.

Got it? No? Go read that line again. It’s important.

This idea that

“all possible numbers have already been subsumed in the real numbers set”

has not been proven, nor can it be—not on the basis of any of the previous notions of what it means to be a number. In fact, it cannot be proven on the basis of any well-defined (i.e. specified) notion of what it means to be a number. So long as a number-producing process is specified, it is known, by the very definition of real numbers, that that process would not exhaust all real numbers. Why?

Simple. Because, someone can always spin out yet another specific process that generates a different set of numbers, which all would still belong only to the real number system, and your prior process didn’t cover those numbers.

So, the statement cannot be proven on the basis of any specified system of producing numbers.

Formally, this is precisely what [I think] is the issue at the core of the “continuum hypothesis.”

The continuum hypothesis is just a way of formalizing the mathematician’s confidence that a set of numbers such as real numbers can at all be defined, that a concept that includes all possible numbers does have its uses in theory of measurements.

You can’t use the ideas like some already defined notions of numbers in order to prove the continuum hypothesis, because the hypothesis itself is at the base of what it at all means to be a number, when the term is taken in its broadest possible sense.

But why would mathematicians think of such a notion in the first place?

Primarily, so that those numbers which are defined only as the limits (known or unknown, whether translatable using the already known operations of mathematics or otherwise) of some infinite processes can also be treated as proper numbers.

And hence, dramatically, infinite processes also can be used for measuring sizes of actual, metaphysically definite and mathematically finite, objects.

Huh? Where’s the catch?

The catch is that these infinite processes must have limits (i.e., they must have finite numbers as their output); that’s all! (LOL!).

It is often said that the idea of real numbers is a bridge between algebra and geometry, that it’s the counterpart in algebra of what the geometer means by his continuous curve.

True, but not quite hitting the bull’s eye. Continuity is a notion that geometer himself cannot grasp or state well unless when aided by the ideas of the calculus.

Therefore, a somewhat better statement is this: the idea of the real numbers is a bridge between algebra and calculus.

OK, an improvement, but still, it, too, misses the mark.

The real statement is this:

The idea of real numbers provides the grounds in algebra (and in turn, in the arithmetics) so that the (more abstract) methods such as those of the calculus (or of any future method that can ever get invented for measuring sizes) already become completely well-defined qua producers of numbers.

The function of the real number system is, in a way, to just go nuts, just fill the gaps that are (or even would ever be) left by any possible number system.

In the preceding discussion, we had freely made use of the 1:1 correspondence between the real numbers and the beloved continuous curve of our school-time geometry.

This correspondence was not always as obvious as it is today; in fact, it was a towering achievement of, I guess, Descartes. I mean to say, the algebra-ization of geometry.

In the simplest (1D) case, points on a line can be put in 1:1 correspondence with real numbers, and vice-versa. Thus, for every real number there is one and only one point on the real-number line, and for any point actually (i.e. well-) specified on the real number-line, there is one and only one real number corresponding to it.

But the crucial advancement represented by the idea of real numbers is not that there is this correspondence between numbers (an algebraic concept) and geometry.

The crux is this: you can (or, rather, you are left free to) think of any possible process that ends up cutting a given line segment into two (not necessarily equal) halves, and regardless of the particular nature of that process, indeed, without even having to know anything about its particular nature, we can still make a blanket statement:

if the process terminates and ends up cutting the line segment at a certain geometrical point, then the number which corresponds to that geometrical point is already included in the infinite set of real numbers.

Since the set of real numbers exhausts all possible end-products of all possible infinite limiting processes too, it is fully capable of representing any kind of a continuous change.

We in engineering often model the physical reality using the notion of the continuum.

Inasmuch as it’s a fact that to any arbitrary but finite part of a continuum there does correspond a number, when we have the real number system at hand, we already know that this size is already included in the set of real numbers.

Real numbers are indispensable to us the engineers—theoretically speaking. It gives us the freedom to invent any new mathematical methods for quantitatively dealing with continua, by giving us the confidence that all that they would produce, if valid, is already included in the numbers-set we already use; that our numbers-set will never ever let us down, that it will never ever fall short, that we will never ever fall in between the two stools, so to speak. Yes, we could use even the infinite processes, such as those of the calculus, with confidence, so long as they are limiting.

That’s the [theoretical] confidence which the real number system brings us [the engineers].

A Song I Don’t Like:

[Here is a song I don’t like, didn’t ever like, and what’s more, I am confident, I would never ever like either. No, neither this part of it nor that. I don’t like any part of it, whether the partition is made “integer”-ly, or “real”ly.

Hence my confidence. I just don’t like it.

But a lot of Indian [some would say “retards”] do, I do acknowledge this part. To wit [^].

But to repeat: no, I didn’t, don’t, and wouldn’t ever like it. Neither in its 1st avataar, nor in the 2nd, nor even in an hypothetically \pi-th avataar. Teaser: Can we use a transcendental irrational number to denote the stage of iteration? Are fractional derivatives possible?

OK, coming back to the song itself. Go ahead, listen to it, and you will immediately come to know why I wouldn’t like it.]

(Hindi) “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 \n …” [OK, yes, read the finite sequence before the newline character, using Hindi.]
Credits: [You go hunt for them. I really don’t like it.]

PS: As usual, I may come back and make this post even better. BTW, in the meanwhile, I am thinking of relying on my more junior colleagues to keep me on the track towards delivering on the promised CFD FDP. Bye for now, and take care…