Some comments on QM and CM—Part 2: Without ontologies, “classical” mechanics can get very unintuitive too. (Also, a short update.)

We continue from the last post. If you haven’t read and understood it, it can be guaranteed that you won’t understand anything from this one! [And yes, this post is not only long but also a bit philosophical.]


The last time, I gave you a minimal list of different ontologies for physics theories. I also shared a snap of my hurriedly jotted (hand-written) note. In this post, I will come to explain what I meant by that note.


1. In the real world, you never get to see the objects of “classical” mechanics:

OK, let’s first take a couple of ideas from Newtonian mechanics.

1.1. Point-particles:

The Newtonian theory uses a point particle. But your perceptual field never holds the evidence for any such an object. The point particle is an abstraction. It’s an idealized (conceptual-level) description of a physical object, a description that uses the preceding mathematical ideas of limits (in particular, the idea of the vanishingly small size).

The important point to understand here isn’t that the point-particle is not visible. The crucial point here is: it cannot be visible (or even made visible, using any instrument) because it does not exist as a metaphysically separate object in the first place!

1.2. Rigid bodies:

It might come as a surprise to many, esp. to mechanical engineers, but something similar can also be said for the rigid body. A rigid body is a finite-sized object that doesn’t deform (and unless otherwise specified, doesn’t change any of its internal fields like density or chemical composition). Further, it never breaks, and all its parts react instantaneously to any forces exerted on any part of it. Etc.

When you calculate the parabolic trajectory of a cricket ball (neglecting the air resistance), you are not working with any entity that can ever be seen/ touched etc.—in principle. In your calculations, in your theory, you are only working with an idea, an abstraction—that of a rigid body having a center of mass.

Now, it just so happens that the concepts from the Newtonian ontologies are so close to what is evident to you in your perceptual field, that you don’t even notice that you are dealing with any abstractions of perceptions. But this fact does not mean that they cease to be abstract ideas.


2. Metaphysical locus of physics abstractions, and epistemology of how you use them:

2.1. Abstractions do exist—but only in the mind:

In general, what’s the metaphysics of abstractions? What is the metaphysical locus of its existence?

An abstraction exists as a unit of mental integration—as a concept. It exists in your mind. A concept doesn’t have an existence apart from, or independent of, the men who know and hold that concept. A mental abstraction doesn’t exist in physical reality. It has no color, length, weight, temperature, location, speed, momentum, energy, etc. It is a non-material entity. But it still exists. It’s just that it exists in your mind.

In contrast, the physical objects to which the abstractions of objects make a reference, do exist in the physical reality out there.

2.2. Two complementary procedures (or conceptual processings):

Since the metaphysical locus of the physical objects and the concepts referring to them are different, there have to be two complementary and separate procedures, before a concept of physics (like the ideal rigid body) can be made operational, say in a physics calculation:

2.2.1. Forming the abstraction:

First, you have to come to know that concept—you either learn it, or if you are an original scientist, you discover/invent it. Next, you have to hold this knowledge, and also be able recall and use it as a part of any mental processing related to that concept. Now, since the concept of the rigid body belongs to the science of physics, its referents must be part of the physical aspects of existents.

2.2.2. Applying the abstraction in a real-world situation:

In using a concept, then, you have to be able to consider a perceptual concrete (like a real cricket ball) as an appropriate instance of the already formed concept. Taking this step means: even if a real ball is deformable or breakable, you silently announce to yourself that in situations where such things can occur, you are not going to apply the idea of the rigid body.

The key phrases here are: “inasmuch as,” “to that extent,” and “is a.” The mental operation of regarding a concrete object as an instance of a concept necessarily involves you silently assuming this position: “inasmuch as this actual object (from the perceptual field) shows the same characteristics, in the same range of “sizes”, as for what I already understand by the concept XYZ, therefore, to that extent, this actual object “is a” XYZ.

2.2.3. Manipulation of concepts at a purely abstract level is possible (and efficient!):

As the next step, you have to be able to directly manipulate the concept as a mere unit from some higher-level conceptual perspective. For example, as in applying the techniques of integration using Newton’s second law, etc.

At this stage, your mind isn’t explicitly going over the defining characteristics of the concept, its relation to perceptual concretes, its relation to other concepts, etc.

Without all such knowledge at the center of your direct awareness, you still are able to retain a background sense of all the essential properties of the objects subsumed by the concept you are using. Such a background sense also includes the ideas, conditions, qualifications, etc., governing its proper usage. That’s the mental faculty automatically working for you when you are born a human.

You only have to will, and the automatic aspects of your mind get running. (More accurately: Something or the other is always automatically present at the background of your mind; you are born with such a faculty. But it begins serving your purpose when you begin addressing some specific problem.)

All in all: You do have to direct the faculty which supplies you the background context, but you can do it very easily, just by willing that way. You actually begin thinking on something, and the related conceptual “material” is there in the background. So, free will is all that it takes to get the automatic sense working for you!

2.2.4. Translating the result of a calculation into physical reality:

Next, once you are done with working ideas at the higher-level conceptual level, you have to be able to “translate the result back to reality”. You have to be able to see what perceptual-level concretes are denoted by the concepts related to the result of calculation, its size, its units, etc. The key phrase here again are: “inasmuch as” and “to that extent”.

For example: “Inasmuch as the actual cricket ball is a rigid body, after being subjected to so much force, by the laws governing rigid bodies (because the laws concern themselves only with the rigid bodies, not with cricket balls), a rigid body should be precisely at 100.0 meter after so much time. Inasmuch as the cricket ball can also be said to have an exact initial position (as for a rigid body used in the calculations), its final position should be exactly 100 meter away. Inasmuch as a point on the ground can be regarded as being exactly 100 meter away (in the right direction), the actual ball can also be expected, to that extent, to be at [directly pointing out] that particular spot after that much time. Etc.

2.3: A key take-away:

So, an intermediate but big point I’ve made is:

Any theory of classical mechanics too makes use of abstractions. You have to undertake procedures involving the mappings between concretes and abstractions, in classical mechanics too.

2.4. Polemics:

You don’t see a rigid body. You see only a ball. You imagine a rigid body in the place of the given ball, and then decide to do the intermediate steps only with this instance of the imagination. Only then can you invoke the physics theory of Newtonian mechanics. Thus, the theory works purely at the mental abstractions level.

A theory of physics is not an album of photographs; an observation being integrated in a theory is not just a photograph. On the other hand, a sight of a ball is not an abstraction; it is just a concretely real object in your perceptual field. It’s your mind that makes the connection between the two. Only can then any conceptual knowledge be acquired or put to use. Acquisition of knowledge and application of knowledge are two sides of the same coin. Both involve seeing a concrete entity as an instance subsumed under a concept or a mental perspective.

2.5. These ideas have more general applicability:

What we discussed thus far is true for any physics theory: whether “classical” mechanics (CM) or quantum mechanics (QM).

It’s just that the first three ontologies from the last post (i.e. the three ontologies with “Newtonian” in their name) have such abstractions that it’s very easy to establish the concretes-to-abstractions correspondence for them.

These theories have become, from a hindsight of two/three centuries and absorption of its crucial integrative elements into the very culture of ours, so easy for us to handle, they seem to be so close to “the ground” that we have to think almost nothing to regard a cricket ball as a rigid body. Doesn’t matter. The requirement of you willingly having to establish the correspondenc between the concretes and abstractions (and vice versa) still exists.

Another thing: The typical application of all the five pre-quantum ontologies also typically fall in the limited perceptual range of man, though this cannot be regarded as the distinguishing point of “classical” mechanics. This is an important point so let me spend a little time on it.

Trouble begins right from Fourier’s theory.


3. “Classical” mechanics is not without tricky issues:

3.1. Phenomenological context for the Fourier theory is all “classical”:

In its original form, Fourier’s theory dealt with very macroscopic or “every day” kind of objects. The phenomenological context which gave rise to Fourier’s theory was: the transmission of heat from the Sun by diffusion into the subterranean layers of the earth, making it warm. That was the theoretical problem which Fourier was trying to solve, when he invented the theory that goes by his name.

Actually, that was a bit more complicated problem. A simpler formulation of the same problem would be: quantitatively relating the thermal resistance offered by wood vs. metal, etc. The big point I want to note here is: All these (the earth, a piece of wood or metal) are very, very “everyday” objects. You wouldn’t hesitate saying that they are objects of “classical” physics.

3.2. But the Fourier theory makes weird predictions in all classical physics too:

But no matter how classical these objects look, an implication is this:

The Fourier theory ends up predicting infinite velocity for signal propagation for “classical” objects too.

This is a momentous implication. Make sure you understand it right. Pop-sci writers never highlight this point. But it’s crucial. The better you understand it, the less mysterious QM gets!

In concrete terms, what the Fourier theory says is this:

If you pour a cup of warm water on ground at the North pole, no doubt the place will get warmer for some time. But this is not the only effect your action would have. Precisely and exactly at the same instant, the South pole must also get warmer, albeit to a very small extent. Not only the South Pole, every object at every place on the earth, including the cell phone of your friend sitting in some remote city also must get warmer. [Stretching the logic, and according a conduction mode also to the intergalactic dust: Not just that, every part of the most distant galaxies too must get warmer—in the same instant.] Yes, the warming at remote places might be negligibly small. But in principle, it is not zero.

And that’s classical physics of ordinary heat conduction for you.

3.3. Quantum entanglement and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle are direct consequences of the same theory:

Now, tell me, how intuitive was Fourier’s predictions?

My answer: Exactly as unintuitive as is the phenomenon of quantum entanglement—and, essentially, for exactly the same ontological-physical-mathematical reasons!

Quantum entanglement is nothing but just another application of the Fourier theory. And so is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. It too is a direct consequence of the Fourier theory.

3.4. Another key take-away:

So, the lesson is:

Not all of “classical” mechanics is as “intuitive” as you were led to believe.

3.5. Why doesn’t any one complain?

If classical physics too is that unintuitive, then how come that no one goes around complaining about it?

The reason is this:

Classical mechanics involves and integrates a conceptually smaller range of phenomena. Most of its application scenarios too are well understood—even if not by you, and then at least by some learned people, and they have taken care to explain all these scenarios to you.

For instance, if I ask you to work out how the Coriolis force works for two guys sitting diametrically opposite on a rotating disco floor and throwing balls at each other, I am willing to take a good bet that you won’t be able to work out everything on your own using vector analysis and Newton’s laws. So, this situation should actually be non-intuitive to you. It in fact is: Without searching on the ‘net, be quick and tell me whether the ball veers in the direction of rotation or opposite it? See? It’s just that no pop-sci authors highlight issues like this, and so, no philosophers take notice. (And, as usual, engineers don’t go about mystifying anything.)

So, what happens in CM is that some expert works out the actual solution, explains to you. You then snatch some bits and pieces, may be just a few clues from his explanation, and memorize them. Slowly, as the number of such use-cases increases, you get comfortable enough with CM. Then you begin to think that CM is intuitive. And then, the next time when your grandma asks you how come that motorcyclist spinning inside the vertical well doesn’t fall off, you say that he sticks to the wall due to the centrifugal force. Very intuitive! [Hint, hint: Is it actually centrifugal or centripetal?]

OK, now let’s go over to QM.


4. The abstract-to-concretes mappings are much more trickier when it comes to QM:

4.1. The two-fold trouble:

The trouble with QM is two-fold.

First of all, the range of observations (or of phenomenology) underlying it is not just a superset of CM, it’s a much bigger superset.

Second: Physicists have not been able to work out a consistent ontology for QM. (Most often, they have not even bothered to do that. But I was talking about reaching an implicit understanding to that effect.)

So, they are reduced to learning (and then teaching) QM in reference to mathematical quantities and equations as the primary touch-stones.

4.2. Mathematical objects refer to abstract mental processes alone, not to physical objects:

Now, mathematical concepts have this difference. They are not only higher-level abstractions (on top of physical concepts), but their referents too in themselves are invented and not discovered. So, it’s all in the mind!

It’s true that physics abstractions, qua mental entities, don’t exist in physical reality. However, it also is true that the objects (including their properties/characteristics/attributes/acctions) subsumed under physics concepts do have a physical existence in the physical world out there.

For instance, a rigid body does not exist physically. But highly rigid things like stones and highly pliable or easily deformable things like a piece of jelly or an easily fluttering piece of cloth, do exist physically. So, observing them all, we can draw the conclusion that stones have much higher rigidity than the fluttering flag. Then, according an imaginary zero deformability to an imaginary object, we reach the abstraction of the perfectly rigid body. So, while the rigid body itself does not exist, rigidity as such definitely is part of the natural world (I mean, of its physical aspects).

But not so with the mathematical abstractions. You can say that two (or three or n number of) stones exist in a heap. But what actually exists are only stones, not the number 2, 3, or n. You can say that a wire-frame has edges. But you don’t thereby mean that its edges are geometrical lines, i.e., objects with only length and no thickness.

4.3. Consequence: How physicists hold, and work with, their knowledge of the QM phenomena:

Since physicists could not work out a satisfactory ontology for QM, and since concepts of maths do not have direct referents in the physical reality as apart from the human consciousness processing it size-wise, their understanding of QM does tend to be a lot more shaky (the comparison being with their understanding of the pre-quantum physics, esp. the first three ontologies).

As a result, physicists have to develop their understanding of QM via a rather indirect route: by applying the maths to even more number of concrete cases of application, verifying that the solutions are borne out by the experiments (and noting in what sense they are borne out), and then trying to develop some indirect kind of a intuitive feel, somehow—even if the objects that do the quantum mechanical actions aren’t clear to them.

So, in a certain sense, the most talented quantum physicists (including Noble laureates) use exactly the same method as you and me use when we are confronted with the Coriolios forces. That, more or less, is the situation they find themselves in.

The absence of a satisfactory ontology has been the first and foremost reason why QM is so extraordinarily unintuitive.

It also is the reason why it’s difficult to see CM as an abstraction from QM. Ask any BS in physics. Chances are 9 out of 10 that he will quote something like Planck’s constant going to zero or so. Not quite.

4.4. But why didn’t any one work out an ontology for QM?

But what were the reasons that physicists could not develop a consistent ontology when it came to QM?

Ah. That’s too complicated. At least 10 times more complicated than all the epistemology and physics I’ve dumped on you so far. That’s because, now we get into pure philosophy. And you know where the philosophers sit? They all sit on the Humanities side of the campus!

But to cut a long story short, very short, so short that it’s just a collage-like thingie: There are two reasons for that. One simple and one complicated.

4.4.1. The simple reason is this: If you don’t bother with ontologies, and then, if you dismiss ideas like the aether, and go free-floating towards ever higher and still higher abstractions (especially with maths), then you won’t be able to get even EM right. The issue of extracting the “classical” mechanical attributes, variables, quantities, etc. from the QM theory simply cannot arise in such a case.

Indeed, physicists don’t recognize the very fact that ontologies are more basic to physics theories. Instead, they whole-heartedly accept and vigorously teach and profess the exact opposite: They say that maths is most fundamental, even more fundamental than physics.

Now, since QM maths is already available, they argue, it’s only a question of going about looking for a correct “interpretation” for this maths. But since things cannot be very clear with such an approach, they have ended up proposing some 14+ (more than fourteen) different interpretations. None works fully satisfactorily. But some then say that the whole discussion about interpretation is bogus. In effect, as Prof. David Mermin characterized it: “Shut up and calculate!”

That was the simple reason.

4.4.2. The complicated reason is this:

The nature of the measurement problem itself is like that.

Now, here, I find myself in a tricky position. I think I’ve cracked this problem. So, even if I think it was a very difficult problem to crack, please allow me to not talk a lot more about it here; else, doing so runs the risk of looking like blowing your own tiny piece of work out of all proportion.

So, to appreciate why the measurement problem is complex, refer to what others have said about this problem. Coleman’s paper gives some of the most important references too (e.g., von Neumann’s process 1 vs. process 2 description) though he doesn’t cover the older references like the 1927 Bohr-Einstein debates etc.

Then there are others who say that the measurement problem does not exist; that we have to just accept a probabilistic OS at the firmware level by postulation. How to answer them? That’s a homework left for you.


5. A word about Prof. Coleman’s lecture:

If Prof. Coleman’s lecture led you to conclude that everything was fine with QM, you got it wrong. In case this was his own position, then, IMO, he too got it wrong. But no, his lecture was not worthless. It had a very valuable point.

If Coleman were conversant with the ontological and epistemological points we touched on (or hinted at), then he would have said something to the following effect:

All physics theories presuppose a certain kind of ontology. An ontology formulates and explains the broad nature of objects that must be assumed to exist. It also puts forth the broad nature of causality (objects-identities-actions relations) that must be assumed to be operative in nature. The physics theory then makes detailed, quantitative, statements about how such objects act and interact.

In nature, physical phenomena differ very radically. Accordingly, the phenomenological contexts assumed in different physical theories also are radically different. Their radical distinctiveness also get reflected in the respective ontologies. For instance, you can’t explain the electromagnetic phenomena using the pre-EM ontologies; you have to formulate an entirely new ontology for the EM phenomena. Then, you may also show how the Newtonian descriptions may be regarded as abstractions from the EM descriptions.

Similarly, we must assume an entirely new kind of ontological nature for the objects if the maths of QM is to make sense. Trying to explain QM phenomena in terms of pre-quantum ontological ideas is futile. On the other hand, if you have a right ontological description for QM, then with its help, pre-QM physics may be shown as being a higher-level, more abstract, description of reality, with the most basic level description being in terms of QM ontology and physics.

Of course, Coleman wasn’t conversant with philosophical and ontological issues. So, he made pretty vague statements.


6. Update on the progress in my new approach. But RSI keeps getting back again and again!

I am by now more confident than ever that my new approach is going to work out.

Of course, I still haven’t conducted simulations, and this caveat is going to be there until I conduct them. A simulation is a great way to expose the holes in your understanding.

So take my claim with a pinch of salt, though I must also hasten to note that with each passing fortnight (if not week), the quantity of the salt which you will have to take has been, pleasantly enough (at least for me), decreasing monotonically (even if not necessarily always exponentially).

I had written a preliminary draft for this post about 10 days ago, right when I wrote my last post. RSI had seemed to have gone away at that time. I had also typed a list of topics (sections) to write to cover my new approach. It carried some 35+ sections.

However, soon after posting the last blog entry here, RSI began growing back again. So, I have not been able to make any substantial progress since the last post. About the only things I could add were: some 10–15 more section or topic names.

The list of sections/topics includes programs too. However, let me hasten to add: Programs can’t be written in ink—not as of today, anyway. They have to be typed in. So, the progress is going to be slow. (RSI.)

All in all, I expect to have some programs and documentation ready by the time Q1 of 2021 gets over. If the RSI keeps hitting back (as it did the last week), then make it end-Q2 2021.

OK. Enough for this time round.


A song I like:

[When it comes to certain music directors, esp. from Hindi film music, I don’t like the music they composed when they were in their elements. For example, Naushad. For example, consider the song: मोहे पनघट पे (“mohe panghat pe”). I can sometimes appreciate the typical music such composers have produced, but only at a somewhat abstract level—it never quite feels like “my kind of music” to me. Something similar, for the songs that Madan Mohan is most famous for. Mohan was a perfectionist, and unlike Naushad, IMO, he does show originality too. But, somehow, his sense of life feels like too sad/ wistful/ even fatalistic to me. Sadness is OK, but a sense of inevitability (or at least irromovability) of suffering is what gets in the way. There are exceptions of course. Like, the present song by Naushad. And in fact, all songs from this move, viz. साथी (“saathi”). These are so unlike Naushad!

I have run another song from this movie a while ago (viz. मेरे जीवन साथी, कली थी मै तो प्यासी (“mere jeevan saathee, kalee thee main to pyaasee”).

That song had actually struck me after a gap of years (may be even a decade or two), when I was driving my old car on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. The air-conditioner of my car is almost never functional (because I almost never have the money to get it repaired). In any case, the a/c was neither working nor even necessary, on that particular day late in the year. So, the car windows were down. It was pretty early in the morning; there wasn’t much traffic on the expressway; not much wind either. The sound of the new tires made a nice background rhythm of sorts. The sound was very periodic, because of the regularity of the waviness that comes to occur on cement-concrete roads after a while.

That waviness? It’s an interesting problem from mechanics. Take a photo of a long section of the railway tracks while standing in the middle, especially when the sun is rising or setting, and you see the waviness that has developed on the rail-tracks too—they go up and down. The same phenomenon is at work in both cases. Broadly, it’s due to vibrations—a nonlinear interaction between the vehicle, the road and the foundation layers underneath. (If I recall it right, in India, IIT Kanpur had done some sponsored research on this problem (and on the related NDT issues) for Indian Railways.)

So, anyway, to return to the song, it was that rhythmical sound of the new tires on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway which prompted something in my mind, and I suddenly recalled the above mentioned song (viz. मेरे जीवन साथी, कली थी मै तो प्यासी (“mere jeevan saathee, kalee thee main to pyaasee”). Some time later, I ran it here on this blog. (PS: My God! The whole thing was in 2012! See the songs section, and my the then comments on Naushad, here [^])

OK, cutting back to the present: Recently, I recalled the songs from this movie, and began wondering about the twin questions: (1) How come I did end up liking anything by Naushad, and (2) How could Naushad compose anything that was so much out of his box (actually, the box of all his traditional classical music teachers). Then, a quick glance at the comments section of some song from the same film enlightened me. (I mean at YouTube.) I came to know a new name: “Kersi Lord,” and made a quick search on it.

Turns out, Naushad was not alone in composing the music for this film: साथी (“saathee”). He had taken assistance from Kersi Lord, a musician who was quite well-versed with the Western classical and Western pop music. (Usual, for a Bawa from Bombay, those days!) The official credits don’t mention Kersi Lord’s name, but just a listen is enough to tell you how much he must have contributed to the songs of this collaboration (this movie). Yes, Naushad’s touch is definitely there. (Mentally isolate Lata’s voice and compare to मोहे पनघट पे (“mohe panghat pe”).) But the famous Naushad touch is so subdued here that I actually end up liking this song too!

So, here we go, without further ado (but with a heartfelt appreciation to Kersi Lord):

(Hindi) ये काैन आया, रोशन हो गयी (“yeh kaun aayaa, roshan ho gayee)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: [Kersi Lord +] Naushad
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

A good quality audio is here [^].

]


PS: May be one little editing pass tomorrow?

History:
— 2020.12.19 23:57 IST: First published
— 2020.12.20 19:50 IST and 2020.12.23 22:15 IST: Some very minor (almost insignificant) editing / changes to formatting. Done with this post now.

 

 

A general update. Links.

I. A general update regarding my on-going research work (on my new approach to QM):

1.1 How the development is actually proceeding:

I am working through my new approach to QM. These days, I write down something and/or implement some small and simple Python code snippets (< 100 LOC Python code) every day. So, it’s almost on a daily basis that I am grasping something new.

The items of understanding are sometimes related to my own new approach to QM, and at other times, just about the mainstream QM itself. Yes, in the process of establishing a correspondence of my ideas with those of the mainstream QM, I am getting to learn the ideas and procedures from the mainstream QM too, to a better depth. … At other times, I learn something about the correspondence of both the mainstream QM and my approach, with the classical mechanics.

Yes, at times, I also spot some inconsistencies within my own framework! It too happens! I’ve spotted several “misconceptions” that I myself have had—regarding my own approach!

You see, when you are ab initio developing a new theory, it’s impossible to pursue the development of the theory very systematically. It’s impossible to be right about every thing, right from the beginning. That’s because the very theory itself is not fully known to you while you are still developing it! The neatly worked out structure, its best possible presentations, the proper hierarchical relations… all of these emerge only some time later.

Yes, you do have some overall, “vaguish” idea(s) about the major themes that are expected to hold the new theory together. You do know many elements that must be definitely there.

In my case, such essential themes or theoretical elements go, for example, like: the energy conservation principle, the reality of some complex-valued field, the specific (natural) form of the non-linearity which I have proposed, my description of the measurement process and of Born’s postulate, the role that the Eulerian (fixed control volume-based) formulations play in my theorization, etc.

But all these are just elements. Even when tied together, they still amount to only an initial framework. Many of these elements may eventually turn out to play an over-arching role in the finished theory. But during the initial stages (including the stage I am in), you can’t even tell which element is going to play a greater role. All the elements are just loosely (or flexibly) held together in your mind. Such a loosely held set does not qualify to be called a theory. There are lots and lots (and lots) of details that you still don’t even know exist. You come to grasp these only on the fly, only as you are pursuing the “fleshing out” of the “details”.

1.2. Multiple threads of seemingly haphazard threads of thoughts

Once the initial stage gets over, and you are going through the fleshing out stage, the development has a way of progressing on multiple threads of thought, simultaneously.

There are insights or minor developments, or simply new validations of some earlier threads, which occur almost on a daily basis. Each is a separate piece of a small little development; it makes sense to you; and all such small little pieces keep adding up—in your mind and in your notebooks.

Still, there is not much to share with others, simply because in the absence of a knowledge of all that’s going through your mind, any pieces you share are simply going to look as if they were very haphazard, even “random”.

1.3. At this stage, others can easily misunderstand what you mean:

Another thing. There is also a danger that someone may misread you.

For example, because he himself is not clear on many other points which you have not noted explicitly.

Or, may be, you have noted your points somewhere, but he hasn’t yet gone through them. In my case, it is the entirety of my Ontologies series [^]. … Going by the patterns of hits at this blog, I doubt whether any single soul has ever read through them all—apart from me, that is. But this entire series is very much alive in my mind when I note something here or there, including on the Twitter too.

Or, sometimes, there is a worse possibility too: The other person may read what you write quite alright, but what you wrote down itself was somewhat misleading, perhaps even wrong!

Indeed, recently, something of this sort happened when I had a tiny correspondence with someone. I had given a link to my Outline document [^]. He went through it, and then quoted from it in his reply to me. I had said, in the Outline document, that the electrons and protons are classical point-particles. His own position was that they can’t possibly be. … How possibly could I reply him? I actually could not. So, I did not!

I distinctly remember that right when I was writing this point in the Outline document, I had very much hesitated precisely at it. I knew that the word “classical” was going to create a lot of confusions. People use it almost indiscriminately: (i) for the ontology of Newtonian particles, (ii) for the ontology of Newtonian gravity, (iii) for ontology of the Fourier theory (though very few people think of this theory in the context of ontologies), (iv) for ontology of EM as implied by Maxwell, (v) for ontology of EM as Lorentz was striving to get at and succeeded brilliantly in so many essential respects (but not all, IMO), etc.

However, if I were to spend time on getting this portion fully clarified (first to myself, and then for the Outline document), then I also ran the risk of missing out on noting many other important points which also were fairly nascent to me (in the sense, I had not noted them down in a LaTeX document). These points had to be noted on priority, right in the Outline document.

Some of these points were really crucial—the V(x,t) field as being completely specified in reference to the elementary charges alone (i.e. no arbitrary PE fields), the non-linearity in \Psi(x,t), the idea that it is the Instrument’s (or Detector’s) wavefunction which undergoes a catastrophic change—and not the wavefunction of the particle being measured, etc. A lot of such points. These had to be noted, without wasting my time on what precisely I meant when I used the word “classical” for the point-particle of the electron etc.

Yes, I did identify that I the elementary particles were to be taken as conditions in the aether. I did choose the word “background object” merely in order to avoid any confusion with Maxwell’s idea of a mechanical aether. But I myself wasn’t fully clear on all aspects of all the ideas. For instance, I still was not familiar with the differences of Lorentz’ aether from Maxwell’s.

All in all, a document like the Outline document had to be an incomplete document; it had to come out in the nature of a hurried job. In fact, it was so. And I identified it as such.

I myself gained a fuller clarity on many of these issues only while writing the Ontologies series, which happened some 7 months later, after putting out the Outline document online. And, it was even as recently as in the last month (i.e., about 1.5 years after the Outline document) that I was still further revising my ideas regarding the correspondence between QM and CM. … Indeed, this still remains a work in progress… I am maintaining handwritten notes and LaTeX files too (sort of like “journal”s or “diaries”).

All in all, sharing a random snapshot of a work-in-progress always carries such a danger. If you share your ideas too early, while they still are being worked out, you might even end up spreading some wrong notions! And when it comes to theoretical work, there is no product-recall mechanism here—at all! Detrimental to your goals, after all!

1.3 How my blogging is going to go, in the next few weeks:

So, though I am passing through a very exciting phase of development these days, and though I do feel like sharing something or the other on an almost daily basis, when I sit down and think of writing a blog post, unfortunately, I find that there is very little that I can actually share.

For this very reason, my blogging is going to be sparse over the coming weeks.

However, in the meanwhile, I might post some brief entries, especially regarding papers/notes/etc. by others. As in this post.

OTOH, if you want something bigger to think about, see the Q&A answers from my last post here. That material is enough to keep you occupied for a couple of decades or more… I am not joking. That’s what’s happened to others; it has happened to me; and I can guarantee you that it would happen to you too, so long as you keep forgetting whatever you’ve read about my new approach. You could then very easily spend decades and decades (and decades)…

Anyway, coming back to some recent interesting pieces by others…


II. Links:


2.1. Luboš Motl on TerraPower, Inc.:

Dr. Luboš Motl wrote a blog-post of the title “Green scientific illiteracy enters small nuclear reactors, too” [^]. This piece is a comment on TerraPower’s proposal. In case you didn’t know, TerraPower is a pet project of Bill Gates’.

My little note (on the local HDD), upon reading this post, had said something like, “The critics of this idea are right, from an engineering/technological viewpoint.”

In particular, I have too many apprehensions about using liquid sodium. Further, given the risk involved in distributing the sensitive nuclear material over all those geographically dispersed plants, this idea does become, err…, stupid.

In the above post, Motl makes reference to another post of his, one from 2019, regarding the renewable energies like the solar and the wind. The title of this earlier post read: “Bill Gates: advocates of dominant wind & solar energy are imbeciles” [^]. Make sure to go through this one too. The calculation given in it is of a back-of-the-envelop kind, but it also is very impeccable. You can’t find flaw with the calculation itself.

Of course, this does not mean that research on renewable energies should not be pursued. IMO, it should be!

It’s just that I want to point out a few things: (i) Motl chooses the city of Tokyo for his calculation, which IMO would be an extreme case. Tokyo is a very highly dense city—both population-wise and on the count of geographical density of industries (and hence, of industrial power consumption). There can easily be other places where the density of power consumption, and the availability of the natural renewable resources, are better placed together. (ii) Even then, calculations such as that performed by Motl must be included in all analyses—and, the cost of renewable energy must be calculated without factoring in the benefit of government subsidies. … Yes, research on renewable energy would still remain justified. (iii) Personally, I find the idea of converting the wind/solar electricity into hydrogen more attractive. See my 2018 post [^] which had mentioned the idea of using the hydrogen gas as a “flywheel” of sorts, in a distributed system of generation (i.e. without transporting the wind-generated hydrogen itself, over long distances).


2.2. Demonstrations on coupled oscillations and resonance at Harvard:

See this page [^]; the demonstrations are neat.

As to the relevance of this topic to my new approach to QM: The usual description of resonance proceeds by first stating a homogeneous differential equation, and then replacing the zero on the right hand-side with a term that stands for an oscillating driving force [^]. Thus, we specify a force-term for the driver, but the System under study is still being described with the separation vector (i.e. a displacement) as the primary unknown.

Now, just take the driver part of the equation, and think of it as a multi-scaled effect of a very big assemblage of particles whose motions themselves are fundamentally described using exactly the same kind of terms as those for the particles in the System, i.e., using displacements as the primary unknown. It is the multi-scaling procedure which transforms a fundamentally displacement-based description to a basically force-primary description. Got it? Hint below.

[Hint: In the resonance equation, it is assumed that form of the driving force remains exactly the same at all times: with exactly the same F_0, m, and \omega. If you replace the driving part with particles and springs, none of the three parameters characterizing the driving force will remain constant, especially \omega. They all will become functions of time. But we want all the three parameters to stay constant in time. …Now, the real hint: Think of the exact sinusoidal driving force as an abstraction, and multi-scaling as a means of reaching that abstraction.]


2.3 Visualization of physics at the University of St. Andrews:

Again, very neat [^]. The simulations here have very simple GUI, but the design of the applets has been done thoughtfully. The scenarios are at a level more advanced than the QM simulations at PhET, University of Colorado [^].


2.4. The three-body problem:

The nonlinearity in \Psi(x,t) which I have proposed is, in many essential ways, similar to the classical N-body problem.

The simplest classical N-body problem is the 3-body problem. Rhett Allain says that the only way to solve the 3-body problem is numerically [^]. But make sure to at least cursorily note the special solutions mentioned in the Wiki [^]. This Resonance article (.PDF) [^] seems quite comprehensive, though I haven’t gone through it completely. Related, with pictures: A recent report with simulations, for search on “choreographies” (which is a technical term; it refers to trajectories that repeat) [^].

Sure there could be trajectories that repeat for some miniscule number of initial conditions. But the general rule is that the 3-body problem already shows sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Search the ‘net for 4-body, 5-body problems. … In QM, we have 10^{23} particles. Cool, no?


2.5. Academic culture in India:

2.5.1: Max Born in IISc Bangalore:

Check out a blog post/article by Karthik Ramaswamy, of the title “When Raman brought Born to Bangalore” [^]. (H/t Luboš Motl [^].)

2.5.2: Academic culture in India in recent times—a personal experience involving the University of Pune, IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, and IISc Bangalore:

After going through the above story, may I suggest that you also go through my posts on the Mechanical vs. Metallurgy “Branch Jumping” issue. This issue decidedly came up in 2002 and 2003, when I went to IIT Bombay for trying admission to PhD program in Mechanical department. I tried multiple times. They remained adamant throughout the 2002–2003 times. An associate professor from the Mechanical department was willing to become my guide. (We didn’t know each other beforehand.) He fought for me in the department meeting, but unsucessfully. (Drop me a line to know who.) One professor from their CS department, too, sympathetically listened to me. He didn’t understand the Mechanical department’s logic. (Drop me a line to know who.)

Eventually, in 2003, three departments at IISc Bangalore showed definite willingness to admit me.

One was a verbal offer that the Chairman of the SERC made to me, but in the formal interview (after I had on-the-spot cleared their written tests—I didn’t know they were going to hold these). He even offered me a higher-than-normal stipend (in view of my past experience), but he said that the topic of research would have to be one from some 4–5 ongoing research projects. I declined on the spot. (He did show a willingness to wait for a little while, but I respectfully declined it too, because I knew I wanted to develop my own ideas.)

At IISc, there also was a definite willingness to admit me by both their Mechanical and Metallurgy departments. That is, during my official interviews with them (which once again happened after I competitively cleared their separate written tests, being short-listed to within 15 or 20 out of some 180 fresh young MTech’s in Mechanical branch from IISc and IITs—being in software, I had forgotten much of my core engineering). Again, it emerged during my personal interviews with the departmental committees, that I could be in (yes, even in their Mechanical department), provided that I was willing to work on a topic of their choice. I protested a bit, and indicated the loss of my interest right then and there, during both these interviews.

Finally, at around the same time (2003), at IIT Madras, the Metallurgical Engg. department also made an offer to me (after yet another written test—which I knew was going to be held—and an interview with a big committee). They gave me the nod. That is, they would let me pursue my own ideas for my PhD. … I was known to many of them because I had done my MTech right from the same department, some 15–17 years earlier. They recalled, on their own, the hard work which I had put in during my MTech project work. They were quite confident that I could deliver on my topic even if they at that time they (and I!) had only a minimal idea about it.

However, soon enough, Prof. Kajale at COEP agreed to become my official guide at University of Pune. Since it would be convenient for me to remain in Pune (my mother was not keeping well, among other things), I decided to do my PhD from Pune, rather than broach the topic once again at SERC, or straight-away join the IIT Madras program.

Just thought of jotting down the more recent culture at these institutes (at IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, and IISc Bangalore), in COEP, and of course, in the University of Pune. I am sure it’s just a small slice in the culture, just one sample, but it still should be relevant…

Also relevant is this part: Right until I completely left academia for good a couple of years ago, COEP professors and the University of Pune (not to mention UGC and AICTE) continued barring me from becoming an approved professor of mechanical engineering. (It’s the same small set of professors who keep chairing interview processes in all the colleges, even universities. So, yes, the responsibility ultimately lies with a very small group of people from IIT Bombay’s Mechanical department—the Undisputed and Undisputable Leader, and with COEP and University of Pune—the  Faithful Followers of the former).

2.5.3. Dirac in India:

BTW, in India, there used to a monthly magazine called “Science Today.” I vaguely recall that my father used to have a subscription for it right since early 1970s or so. We would eagerly wait for each new monthly issue, especially once I knew enough English (and physics) to be able to more comfortably go through the contents. (My schooling was in Marathi medium, in rural areas.) Of course, my general browsing of this magazine had begun much earlier. [“Science Today” would be published by the Times of India group. Permanently gone are those days!]

I now vaguely remember that one of the issues of “Science Today” had Paul Dirac prominently featured in it. … I can’t any longer remember much anything about it. But by any chance, was it the case that Prof. Dirac was visiting India, may be TIFR Bombay, around that time—say in mid or late 1970s, or early 1980’s? … I tried searching for it on the ‘net, but could not find anything, not within the first couple of pages after a Google search. So, may be, likely, I have confused things. But would sure appreciate pointers to it…

PS: Yes, I found this much:

“During 1973 and 1975 Dirac lectured on the problems of cosmology in the Physical Engineering Institute in Leningrad. Dirac also visited India.’‘ [^].

… Hmm… Somehow, for some odd reason, I get this feeling that the writer of this piece, someone at Vigyan Prasar, New Delhi, must have for long been associated with IIT Bombay (or equivalent thereof). Whaddaya think?


2.6. Jim Baggott’s new book: “Quantum Reality”:

I don’t have the money to buy any books, but if I were to, I would certainly buy three books by Jim Baggott: The present book of the title “Quantum Reality,” as well as a couple of his earlier books: the “40 moments” book and the “Quantum Cookbook.” I have read a lot of pages available at the Google books for all of these three books (may be almost all of the available pages), and from what I read, I am fully confident that buying these books would be money very well spent indeed.

Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder has reviewed this latest book by Baggott, “Quantum Reality,” at the Nautil.us; see “Your guide to the many meanings of quantum mechanics,” here [^]. … I am impressed by it—I mean this review. To paraphrase Hossenfelder herself: “There is nothing funny going on here, in this review. It just, well, feels funny.”

Dr. Peter Woit, too, has reviewed “Quantum Reality” at his blog [^] though in a comparatively brief manner. Make sure to go through the comments after his post, especially the very first comment, the one which concerns classical mechanics, by Matt Grayson [^]. PS: Looks like Baggott himself is answering some of the comments too.

Sometime ago, I read a few blog posts by Baggott. It seemed to me that he is not very well trained in philosophy. It seems that he has read philosophy deeply, but not comprehensively. [I don’t know whether he has read the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology or not; whether he has gone through the writings/lectures by Ayn Rand, Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Dr. Harry Binswanger and David Harriman or not. I think not. If so, I think that he would surely benefit by this material. As always, you don’t have to agree with the ideas. But yes, the material that I am pointing out is by all means neat enough that I can surely recommend it.]

Coming back to Baggott: I mean to say, he delivers handsomely when (i) he writes books, and (ii) sticks to the physics side of the topics. Or, when he is merely reporting on others’ philosophic positions. (He can condense down their positions in a very neat way.) But in his more leisurely blog posts/articles, and sometimes even in his comments, he does show a tendency to take some philosophic point in a something of a wrong direction, and to belabour on it unnecessarily. That is to say, he does show a certain tendency towards pedantry, as it were.  But let me hasten to add: He seems to show this tendency only in some of his blog-pieces. Somehow, when it comes to writing books, he does not at all show this tendency—well, at least not in the three books I’ve mentioned above.

So, the bottomline is this:

If you have an interest in QM, and if you want a comprehensive coverage of all its interpretations, then this book (“Quantum Reality”) is for you. It is meant for the layman, and also for philosophers.

However, if what you want is a very essentialized account of most all of the crucial moments in the development of QM (with a stress on physics, but with some philosophy also touched on, and with almost no maths), then go buy his “40 Moments” book.

Finally, if you have taken a university course in QM (or are currently taking it), then do make sure to buy his “Cookbook” (published in January this year). From what I have read, I can easily tell: You would be doing yourself a big favour by buying this book. I wish the Cookbook was available to me at least in 2015 if not earlier. But the point is, even after developing my new approach, I am still going to buy it. It achieves a seemingly impossible combination: Something that makes for an easy reading (if you already know the QM) but it will also serve as a permanent reference, something which you can look up any time later on. So, I am going to buy it, once I have the money. Also, “Quantum Reality”, the present book for the layman. Indeed all the three books I mentioned.

(But I am not interested in relativity theory, or QFT, standard model, etc. etc. etc., and so, I will not even look into any books on these topics, written by any one.)


OK then, let me turn back to my work… May be I will come back with some further links in the next post too, may be after 10–15 days. Until then, take care, and bye for now…


A song I like:

(Marathi) घन घन माला नभी दाटल्या (“ghan ghan maalaa nabhee daaTalyaa”)
Singer: Manna Dey
Lyrics: G. D. Madgulkar
Music: Vasant Pawar

[A classic Marathi song. Based on the (Sanskrit, Marathi) राग मल्हार (“raaga” called “Malhaara”). The best quality audio is here [^]. Sung by Manna Dey, a Bengali guy who was famous for his Hindi film songs. … BTW, it’s been a marvellous day today. Clear skies in the morning when I thought of doing a blog post today and was wondering if I should add this song or not. And, by the time I finish it, here are strong showers in all their glory! While my song selection still remains more or less fully random (on the spur of the moment), since I have run so many songs already, there has started coming in a bit of deliberation too—many songs that strike me have already been run!

Since I am going to be away from blogging for a while, and since many of the readers of this blog don’t have the background to appreciate Marathi songs, I may come back and add an additional song, a non-Marathi song, right in this post. If so, the addition would be done within the next two days or so. …Else, just wait until the next post, please! Done, see the song below]


(Hindi) बोल रे पपीहरा (“bol re papiharaa”)
Singer: Vani Jairam
Music: Vasant Desai
Lyrics: Gulzar

[I looked up on the ‘net to see if I can get some Hindi song that is based on the same “raaga”, i.e., “Malhaar” (in general). I found this one, among others. Comparing these two songs should give you some idea about what it means when two songs are said to share the same “raaga”. … As to this song, I should also add that the reason for selecting it had more to do with nostalgia, really speaking. … You can find a good quality audio here [^].

Another thing (that just struck me, on the fly): Somehow, I also thought of all those ladies and gentlemen from the AICTE New Delhi, UGC New Delhi, IIT Bombay’s Mechanical Engg. department, all the professors (like those on R&R committees) from the University of Pune (now called SPPU), and of course, the Mechanical engg. professors from COEP… Also, the Mechanical engineering professors from many other “universities” from the Pune/Mumbai region. … पपीहरा… (“papiharaa”) Aha!… How apt are words!… Excellence! Quality! Research! Innovation! …बोल रे, पपीहरा ऽऽऽ (“bol re papiharaa…”). … No jokes, I had gone jobless for 8+ years the last time I counted…

Anyway, see if you like the song… I do like this song, though, probably, it doesn’t make it to my topmost list. … It has more of a nostalgia value for me…

Anyway, let’s wrap up. Take care and bye for now… ]


History:
— First published: 2020.09.05 18:28 IST.
— Several significant additions revisions till 2020.09.06 01:27 IST.
— Much editing. Added the second song. 2020.09.06 21:40 IST. (Now will leave this post in whatever shape it is in.)

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