Absolutely Random Notings on QM—Part 3: Links to some (really) interesting material, with my comments

Links, and my comments:

The “pride of place” for this post goes to a link to this book:

Norsen, Travis (2017) “Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: An Exploration of the Physical Meaning of Quantum Theory,” Springer

This book is (i) the best supplementary book for a self-study of QM, and simultaneously, also (ii) the best text-book on a supplementary course on QM, both at the better-prepared UG / beginning PG level.

A bit expensive though, but extensive preview is available on Google books, here [^]. (I plan to buy it once I land a job.)

I was interested in the material from the first three chapters only, more or less. It was a delight even just browsing through these chapters. I intend to read it more carefully soon enough. But even on the first, rapid browsing, I noticed that several pieces of understanding that I had so painstakingly come to develop (over a period of years) are given quite straight-forwardly here, as if they were a matter of well known facts—even if other QM text-books only cursorily mention them, if at all.

For instance, see the explanation of entanglement here. Norsen begins by identifying that there is a single wavefunction, always—even for a multi-particle system. Then after some explanation, he states: “But, as usual in quantum mechanics, these states do not exhaust the possibilities—instead, they merely form a basis for the space of all possible wave functions. …”… Note the emphasis on the word “basis” which Norsen helpfully puts.

Putting this point (which Norsen discusses with a concrete example), but in my words: There is always a single wavefunction, and for a multi-particle system, its basis is bigger; it consists of the components of the tensor product (formed from the components of the basis of the constituent systems). Sometimes, the single wavefunction for the multi-particle system can be expressed as a result of a single tensor-product (in which case it’s a separable state), and at all other times, only as an algebraic sum of the results of many such tensor-products (in which case they all are entangled states).

Notice how there is no false start of going from two separate systems, and then attempting to forge a single system out of them. Notice how, therefore, there is no hand-waving at one electron being in one galaxy, and another electron in another galaxy, and so on, as if to apologize for the very idea of the separable states. Norsen achieves the correct effect by beginning on the right note: the emphasis on the single wavefunction for the system as a whole to begin with, and then clarifying, at the right place, that what the tensor product gives you is only the basis set for the composite wavefunction.

There are many neat passages like this in the text.

I was about to say that Norsen’s book is the Resnick and Halliday of QM, but then came to hesitate saying so, because I noticed something odd even if my browsing of the book was rapid and brief.

Then I ran into

Ian Durham’s review of Norsen’s book, at the FQXi blog,

which is our link # 2 for this post [^].

Durham helpfully brings out the following two points (which I then verified during a second visit to Norsen’s book): (i) Norsen’s book is not exactly at the UG level, and (ii) the book is a bit partial to Bell’s characterization of the quantum riddles as well as to the Bohmian approach for their resolution.

The second point—viz., Norsen’s fascination for / inclination towards Bell and Bohm (B&B for short)—becomes important only because the book is, otherwise, so good: it carries so many points that are not even passingly mentioned in other QM books, is well written (in a conversational style, as if a speech-to-text translator were skillfully employed), easy to understand, thorough, and overall (though I haven’t read even 25% of it, from whatever I have browsed), it otherwise seems fairly well balanced.

It is precisely because of these virtues that you might come out giving more weightage to the B&B company than is actually due to them.

Keep that warning somewhere at the back of your mind, but do go through the book anyway. It’s excellent.

At Amazon, it has got 5 reader reviews, all with 5 stars. If I were to bother doing a review there, I too perhaps would give it 5 stars—despite its shortcomings/weaknesses. OK. At least 4 stars. But mostly 5 though. … I am in an indeterminate state of their superposition.

… But mark my words. This book will have come to shape (or at least to influence) every good exposition of (i.e. introduction to) the area of the Foundations of QM, in the years to come. [I say that, because I honestly don’t expect a better book on this topic to arrive on the scene all that soon.]

Which brings us to someone who wouldn’t assign the |4\rangle + |5\rangle stars to this book. Namely, Lubos Motl.

If Norsen has moved in the Objectivist circles, and is partial to the B&B company, Motl has worked in the string theory, and is not just partial to it but even today defends it very vigorously—and oddly enough, also looks at that “supersymmetric world from a conservative viewpoint.” More relevant to us: Motl is not partial to the Copenhagen interpretation; he is all the way into it. … Anyway, being merely partial is something you wouldn’t expect from Motl, would you?

But, of course, Motl also has a very strong grasp of QM, and he displays it well (even powerfully) when he writes a post of the title:

“Postulates of quantum mechanics almost directly follow from experiments.” [^]

Err… Why “almost,” Lubos? ūüôā

… Anyway, go through Motl’s post, even if you don’t like the author’s style or some of his expressions. It has a lot of educational material packed in it. Chances are, going through Motl’s posts (like the present one) will come to improve your understanding—even if you don’t share his position.

As to me: No, speaking from the new understanding which I have come to develop regarding the foundations of QM [^] and [^], I don’t think that all of Motl’s objections would carry. Even then, just for the sake of witnessing the tight weaving-in of the arguments, do go through Motl’s post.

Finally, a post at the SciAm blog:

“Coming to grips with the implications of quantum mechanics,” by Bernardo Kastrup, Henry P. Stapp, and Menas C. Kafatos, [^].

The authors say:

“… Taken together, these experiments [which validate the maths of QM] indicate that the everyday world we perceive does not exist until observed, which in turn suggests—as we shall argue in this essay—a primary role for mind in nature.”

No, it didn’t give me shivers or something. Hey, this is QM and its foundations, right? I am quite used to reading such declarations.

Except that, as I noted a few years ago on Scott Aaronson’s blog [I need to dig up and insert the link here], and then, recently, also at

Roger Schlafly’s blog [^],

you don’t need QM in order to commit the error of inserting consciousness into a physical theory. You can accomplish exactly the same thing also by using just the Newtonian particle mechanics in your philosophical arguments. Really.

Yes, I need to take that reply (at Schlafly’s blog), edit it a bit and post it as a separate entry at this blog. … Some other time.

For now, I have to run. I have to continue working on my approach so that I am able to answer the questions raised and discussed by people such as those mentioned in the links. But before that, let me jot down a general update.

A general update:

Oh, BTW, I have taken my previous QM-related post off the top spot.

That doesn’t mean anything. In particular, it doesn’t mean that after reading into materials such as that mentioned here, I have found some error in my approach or something like that. No. Not at all.

All it means is that I made it once again an ordinary post, not a sticky post. I am thinking of altering the layout of this blog, by creating a page that highlights that post, as well as some other posts.

But coming back to my approach: As a matter of fact, I have also written emails to a couple of physicists, one from IIT Bombay, and another from IISER Pune. However, things have not worked out yet—things like arranging for an informal seminar to be delivered by me to their students, or collaborating on some QM-related simulations together. (I could do the simulations on my own, but for the seminar, I would need an audience! One of them did reply, but we still have to shake our hands in the second round.)

In the meanwhile, I go jobless, but I keep myself busy. I am preparing a shortish set of write-ups / notes which could be used as a background material when (at some vague time in future) I go and talk to some students, say at IIT Bombay/IISER Pune. It won’t be comprehensive. It will be a little more than just a white-paper, but you couldn’t possibly call it even just the preliminary notes for my new approach. Such preliminary notes would come out only after I deliver a seminar or two, to physics professors + students.

At the time of delivering my proposed seminar, links like those I have given above, esp. Travis Norsen’s book, also should prove a lot useful.

But no, I haven’t seen something like my approach being covered anywhere, so far, not even Norsen’s book. There was a vague mention of just a preliminary part of it somewhere on Roger Schlafly’s blog several years ago, only once or so, but I can definitely say that I had already had grasped even that point on my own before Schlafly’s post came. And, as far as I know, Schlafly hasn’t come to pursue that thread at all, any time later…

But speaking overall, at least as of today, I think I am the only one who has pursued this (my) line of thought to the extent I have [^].

So, there. Bye for now.

I Song I Like:
(Hindi) “suno gajar kya gaaye…”
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Music: S. D. Burman
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
[There are two Geeta’s here, and both are very fascinating: Geeta Dutt in the audio, and Geeta Bali in the video. Go watch it; even the video is recommended.]

As usual, some editing after even posting, would be inevitable.

Some updates made and some streamlining done on 30 July 2018, 09:10 hrs IST.



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.


What am I reading?

This joblessness, for catching up on my reading, I have been having a more detailed look at Bohm’s theory.

In the past, I had written a longish post on it [^]. However, I thought I could perhaps have a re-look at this theory, and try to write something more concisely. Here are my current thoughts (though not very concisely).

BTW, in my last post, though it was a bit too free-wheeling and longish, I had not noted anything about Bohm’s personal life or character. So let me note down something about it, and thereby get it out of the way, before we come to his physics.

I haven’t read any biographical book on Bohm (nor am I interested in reading one), but from what I gather by browsing brief articles on the ‘net, I think that you can’t hold that McCarthy affair against him, even if as a young man, he sincerely believed in Marxism. [Yes, I myself continue to believe in Capitalism, but read on anyway.] I also don’t hold his association with Jiddu Krishnamurti against him. [Yes, JK was a real funny British creation, even if based on an Indian version of mysticism.] If I must comment on Bohm’s personal life, the first thing I would say, i.e., apart from noting his bewildering naivet√©, is that he obviously deserved a PhD advisor/boss better than Oppenheimer, a country better than the USA (or the way it treated him anyway), and an intellectual Guru better than JK. He turned (partly) lucky on only one of the three counts. Unfortunate.

He also deserved an audience better than the 20th century physicists. And, his physics, I now believe, deserves a bit better estimate than what I think I accorded it the last time.

Bohm’s theory, that way, is not much different from the standard mainstream QM. His theory, I think, essentially is:

(a) deterministic
(b) non-local
(c) with an ontological separation of the quantum into the wave and the particle as two distinct kinds of entities,
(d) and, truly remarkably, having particles inhabiting only a 3D space.

It’s obvious that modern physicists would hate him for (a), and they do.

It would be expected that they should love him for (b), but they don’t. Their passion on the count of (a) has been so strong that they can’t even notice (b).

They wouldn’t a care a hoot about (c) simply because it’s “all philosophical” to them. On this count, they do deliver completely as expected.

And, they to this day haven’t allowed themselves to know that they also hate him because of (d). Since they don’t know it, they just silently chew their lips as they hurriedly skip over this feature of Bohm’s theory.

In contrast, my biggest problems with Bohm’s theory have been (b) and (c).

I was on my guard regarding (a) on two counts: (i) so many attempts at giving a deterministic theory have been so negligent of so many QM features or so much observational data, or have been so outright foolish, that even I couldn’t keep too much enthusiasm for a deterministic theory—one tends to think that in view of the success of probability in classical statistical mechanics, the probability in QM must be a simple interpretation issue. (ii) In philosophization, the determinism-oriented people slip so easily into a denial of free will.

Still, I now realize that we should applaud Bohm for (a), i.e., determinism. We could even be thankful to him for upholding it despite a bitter opposition.

And, if you ask me, we should be even more grateful to him for (d), i.e., for keeping his particles only in a 3D space. (I have to finish my series of posts on space, and when I return to it, I will make it a point to address this issue.)

Now, let’s look at the points (b) and (c), i.e., the non-locality and the ontological separation, in more detail.

Regarding the non-locality, it’s only recently—as recently as this month—that I seem to have finally come to agree that I don’t have a good argument to necessarily deny instantaneous action at a distance (IAD) in every physical theory. (When David Harriman had noted in the mid-naughties on some forum that IAD was not an issue of philosophy, that it is not a task of philosophers to ponder whether one end of the see-saw goes up literally at the same exact time that the other end is pushed down, I had thought that it should be possible to figure this issue out on the philosophic grounds alone, more particularly, on the epistemological grounds. Now I no longer seem to think so.)

But that does not mean that I have jumped over on to the IAD side in general? No! Not at all.

All that I have realized here is that you can’t deny IAD on the basis of the principle of identity, or on epistemological grounds. In other words, the idea is not arbitrary, i.e., it is not devoid of any fundamental cognitive merit. No matter how ridiculous it may sound, a proper theory of physics could still, perhaps, have IAD built into it. Despite Einstein’s relativity.

In my own theorization, of course, I would continue to have locality. My insistence on having locality in a physical theory (or the reason to deny IAD) never was based on the relativistic objection. It was based on a simple consideration: I always thought that when I tossed a ball, or a typed a key, I was not directly and instantaneously affecting the path of a pebble rolling somewhere at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. That, if A, B, and C are three objects situated in space next to each other in the given sequence, then a disturbance from A must first travel to B before it gets to C. This has been just a “native” conviction for me, that’s all. In XI standard, while reading Newtonian mechanics, my mind couldn’t stay focused on calculating acceleration of a ball once it is hit by a bat. The reason wasn’t a lack of a mathematical reasoning ability. The reason was, knowing that a ball was not a particle, I would wonder how the hit must be propagating inside the finite ball, and what it would take to understand this issue really well (the stress waves, I learnt later, but couldn’t explain the issue well right back in XI standard to friends as to why the then text-book explanation based on impulse and all falls short—I only insisted that it does). Wanting to explain the stationary via the transient—or at least wanting to relate the two—has been native to me, to my natural thought processes. (That’s how the sub-title of this blog.) … So, I would continue building my theorization via the local and propagation-al processes.

For the same reason, I also have had this resistance to accept the viability of IAD in a theory of physics. But, finally, I seem to have built some argument to show that IAD could be a reasonable view to take.

IAD would be a relatively easier to accept in a fully deterministic i.e. materialistic world, one that is devoid of any willed (or even just animate) physical action. In the literally clockwork universe, IAD would be easier to believe. How?

Before we come to that point, let us pause to consider another characteristic of Bohm’s theory—the place where my quantum approach (or call it attempt at to build one) differs from his. Recall my past posts on the nature of space, on what I call the foreground objects (say the physical things you see such as apples, trees, buildings, planets, etc.) and the background object (or the aether).

The point concerns what dynamical attributes are carried by which—the usual material (or massive) objects and the aether/field/”empty space”. Since a physical theory must have both of them, I now realize, it should be possible to think of a whole spectrum of theories based on how they partition these two aspects.

In Newton’s particle and finite-body mechanics, it’s the material objects that carry all the dynamically important attributes; the empty “absolute” space simply sits idle. In contrast, in Maxwell’s classical electromagnetism, both the material objects and the fields carry the necessary physical (dynamical) attributes, and an interaction between the two is necessary for a complete physical description. In Bohm’s mechanics, this trend reaches its logical extreme: it’s the Bohmian field that is the true dynamical causal agent; the particles are completely passive.

There, of course, is a position that is even more “extreme” continuing in the same direction, but it falls outside of the spectrum because it is so thoroughly illogical: the mainstream QM. Here, like in Bohm’s mechanics, it’s the “other thing” (say Schrodinger’s wavefunction) that does everything dynamical, but the difference is this: you can’t even say that particles are completely passive because, the mainstream QM insists, the particles can’t even be said to exist unless when observed, and the wavefunction can’t be seen as a 3D phenomenon in the general case of many particles. So, logically speaking, it’s only Bohm’s theory that represents the extreme end of the possible spectrum.

So, there. Newton–Maxwell–Bohm. All the other proper theories fall in between. For instance, molecular dynamics falls in between Newton’s and Maxwell’s, and Higg’s theory, I suppose, could be taken to lie between Maxwell’s and Bohm’s. Bohm’s theory indeed is at the logical extreme (leaving aside the mainstream QM that randomly falls off the table).

Now, if the “empty” thing/field is the real physical agent, IAD becomes more easily believable. Why? Because, quantitatively, there exist only one causal agent, all by itself. When this entity acts, it must act as a whole. And, now, the key point: This action of the whole doesn’t have to be divisible across the parts. The action indeed may be quantitatively different for the different parts (e.g. the force being generated in one part may be more than that being generated in some other part), but inasmuch as it’s the only¬† object in the entire universe, whatever it does is only a single action. Such an action may be taken as carrying a kind of IAD.

Strictly speaking, it’s not exactly IAD in the usual sense of the term. It’s not some action that one object exerts over some other object lying at some distance and somehow instantaneously. It’s an instantaneous action at every point of the same object. It’s a bit like morphing an image: say, a circle expanding to a bigger circle, or a ring carrying some waves transverse to its central fiber. Here, all points are taken to move simultaneously, and so, you could arguably describe it by saying that the motion of one point has an instantaneous effect at another point.

That’s the best possible argument I could come up with, in support of the IAD.

I still have a feel that it all is a nonsense, but let’s be clear about distinguishing a mere feel from a reasoned argument.

Now, if you can ascribe all the essential dynamics to that single object i.e. the Bohmian field, then the possibility of IAD within that field is, how to put it, without a soundly opposing argument.

Then, once you sprinkle some particles in it, the rest of the Bohmian mechanics follows.

But, do note very carefully what is being conceded here. All that I have so far conceded is that the presence of a sound argument necessitating a denial of this kind of a theoretical IAD—the one occurring in a “field” where the field is the exclusive actor in the entire universe. It’s only the universe that ever acts; the parts have no such freedom in such a world, but they may be abstractly seen to have instantaneous influences on each other. All that I am saying is that I have no argument against this kind of an IAD.

But I thereby do not concede that this kind of a theorization (the one involving IAD) is necessary to explain the quantum phenomena. IMO, a good, logical QM theory can also be local in nature—nay, it must be.

Now, even if you grant IAD to the Bohmian field, there is another issue that Bohmian mechanics runs into, viz., the ontological separation between the particles and the field.

If the field is the exclusive actor—as required by the IAD—then it leaves no ontological place in the theory for any particles at all. If so, why are they there?

(Or, if you like: if the American society is a single object that can do all the productive work necessary for itself, then why sprinkle immigrants into it?)

Thus, if the particles are ontological (i.e. if they at all exist in this world as objects), then the field cannot be the exclusive actor in the universe, and so, IAD is ruled out. On the other hand, if the IAD is to be retained in the theory, then to make it the exclusive actor, the particles have to be taken out of that theory; they cannot be more that mere visualization aids.

In the first case, the particles are like the tracer particles in an actual flow of a real fluid—they do affect the flow locally, they are not dynamically passive entities, and so IAD for them is as spooky as lifting your arm and thereby causing a dust particle in the next room or a mountain on the Mars instantaneously move up, too.

In the second case, the particles are like the arrows drawn on a photograph of a real flow—they cannot affect the flow but neither are they actually moving in the actual flow in the reality out there.

You see, IAD is a tough thing to accommodate in a physical theory—whether in the diffusion of carbon in steel, or mainstream QM, or Bohmian QM.

If the Bohmian mechanics is that bad, then why am I reading it? especially since I do seem to know better? Good question.

Answer: Because, even if it is that bad, it is no more worse than that. It certainly is not as bad as its critics make it out to be. In fact, this theory actually becomes the better exactly for the reasons its mainstream critics hate it: determinism and 3D space. And the introduction of these two features make it a far more easily understandable wrong theory. As compared to others. … You see, a theory based on particles moving in only a 3D space does not have to bother about bringing results from 4, 5, 10 or 1000 dimensions back to a space of three dimensions—the symmetries or otherwise of the collapse of dimensions. And, precisely because it’s deterministic with definite trajectories, with particles always moving forward in time, it is easy to grasp, believe even if only temporarily, visualize even if the variables are only hidden, and, possibly also easier to calculate, at least in many situations. Classical determinism, with the feature of a 3D space reduces the cognitive load enormously.

So, as a bottom line, Bohm’s theory is wrong, but “good”!

It sure does not resolve the QM riddles, e.g., the wave-particle duality, but it does essentialize these riddles very well, even, brilliantly. In any case, it does so better than any of the existing QM interpretations. That’s why, it is a good idea to study it.

For most people, this theory should be a good step to get out of the totally mystical abyss of the mainstream QM, even though it wouldn’t get you completely out of it—it might get you out, perhaps, say, some half-way through. But, yes, the air will be fresher, and you will see a greater expanse of the sky.

Little wonder that Ayn Rand-admiring physicists like Dr. Travis Norsen or Dr. Eric Dennis took as much enthusiastically to it as they did. … If there were no Ayn Rand, and no ancient Indian wisdom, one can still be certain, one would have been an Aristotlean. No comparison of the scale even suggested in any sense, but merely as a matter of stating a fact, if I were not to have my approach—or at least some early success with it—I would have ended up being a Bohmian.

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If you want some good pointers to the literature on the Bohmian mechanics, go to “Bohmian-Mechanics.net” [^]. Make sure to see the frequently asked questions [^], PDF document [^].

Just one more point before closing. There are many other, more detailed or more technical objections against Bohm’s theory. For instance, people object that Bohmian mechanics is inapplicable for photons, for relativistic situations, etc. Some of these don’t hold any water; other objections should go away in future (may be within 10–20 years). I mean, generally, I think, you can expect the scope of Bohmian mechanics to be the same as that of the mainstream QM. If there is a mainstream QM theory to explain a certain phenomenon, then, in principle, it must be possible to extend the existing Bohmian approach (even if not the exact mechanics currently existing) to include those same features, too. That’s what I anticipate. With the QM, unless it is made a local theory, all workable interpretations are in a way equivalent, and selection of any one is just a matter of suitability to attack a given problem, or even of personal choice! Bohm’s theory is more than an interpretation (who else has only a 3D space? determinism? forward time?), even if its development as of today may not be as complete as compared to the other interpretations.


So, you think physicists got it wrong?

So, you think physicists got it wrong?

If so, why not tell them—or, even if they wouldn’t listen, at least to the world—what precisely it is?

The obvious reference is to the latest FQXi essay contest. The topic they have selected for this edition of the essay contest is:

“Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?”

For more details, see here [^]. Note that the last date of submitting your essays is August 31, 2012. There also is a chance that “proper” physicists may end up reading your essay; see the “Who is FQXi” page here [^].

However, in case you didn’t know about FQXi, also note that this is not the first time that they are conducting such an essay contest. Check out the winning essays from the earlier contests: 2008 (on “The Nature of Time”) [^], 2009 (on “What Is Ultimately Possible in Physics?”) [^], and 2010-11 (“Is Reality Digital or Analog?”) [^].

To read the essays already submitted for the current (still open) contest—and the ongoing public discussions on them—follow this URL [^].

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In case you are curious to know my opinion of this essay contest, the reason why I didn’t participate in it so far, whether I would participate at least now, etc.:

Why I didn’t participate thus far. Well, there are different reasons for it, not a single one.

As to the very first contest, I would have liked to participate in it. However, I simply wasn’t even aware of the FQXi itself at that time. In fact, despite my fairly extensive browsing of physics-related sites, I didn’t come to know of the first edition of the essay contest any time before it was already over.

What would I have written for the first contest (“The Nature of Time”)?

I would have written about the nature of space before coming to that of time. If further curious, my position would have been in many ways quite similar to Ron Pisaturo’s [^]. A few asides: (i) I didn’t know about Pisaturo or his position at that time. (ii) Pisaturo, in his articles, addresses more points than I would have. In fact, some of these points existed only faintly on my radar; it was he, who, in addressing them, highlighted their existence/importance to me. (iii) Regarding the nature of space itself (not to mention other issues like the finitude or otherwise of the physical universe), my position was (and remains) independently arrived at. In fact, I found out via an exchange of a few emails with him that there could be some differences in our positions, may be even some essential ones, esp. at the level of details. In particular, it’s concerning whether space is a concept of mathematics, physics, or both. Now, as far as my own position is concerned, I had been jotting down my points in small pocket notebooks (the paper version!) that I usually carry around. I hope to find the time, and more importantly, the right frame of mind, to convert these into an essay. I would certainly like to do that, but only after I am more than halfway through writing my QM book. Which means: after about a year or more. Ok. Enough about the first contest.

For the immediate next contest (“What Is Ultimately Possible in Physics”), while the topic selection here was rather smart, I personally didn’t think that it was well focused enough. And so, in all probability, I wouldn’t have participated in it. However, it didn’t matter one way or the other because I happened to miss the deadline once again. (FQXi contests are not held periodically i.e. regularly.)

As to the last contest (“Is Reality Digital or Analog”), I thought that the topic was, at least at the very first sight, a bit frivolous. However, as it happened, what I thought of it on the second thoughts also didn’t matter anyway because I once again missed the deadline, this time round by just a few days or so.

I think there was some discussion on HBL on a related topic roughly around that time, and I, in fact had a subscription to the HBL at that time. That topic, I think, began with the discussion on whether 0.999999… equals 1.0 or not; then went a bit on to series and infinitesimals in a geometrical context; and then, another related thread made appearance: whether, as we go “all the way down,” does the physical stuff at that level have sharp boundaries or not. BTW, this is a far, far better way of formulating what the FQXi contest topic had merely hinted at. … My answers, without providing full justifications here: the stuff “all the way down” cannot have (infinitely) sharp boundaries, because infinity does not exist in the physical reality (HB had this same position); 0.9… does equal to 1.0, but only in the limiting sense—the former does not “go to” the latter. Here, surprisingly, HB differed from me, in the sense, he didn’t at least immediately agree with me; he kept quiet—perhaps was thinking about it. (In case you missed the reason why I might have found it surprising: the infinitesimal is nothing but the infinitely small. Just the way the infinitely large does not physically exist, similarly, the infinitely small also does not¬† physically exist. Both are mathematical concepts—concepts of methods.)

… Anyway, coming back to the FQXi contest, notice the difference that the FQXi topic had from that discussed at the HBL: both digital and analog are, primarily, mathematical concepts, not physical. The fact that they can be successfully applied to physical reality does not, by itself, make them physical. That’s the reason why I said that the terms in which the issue got discussed at HBL were better—the formulation there captured the essential issue more directly, in fact, quite explicitly. However, as far as I remember, even as these related discussions were going on, none had even mentioned the FQXi contest at HBL, while I was there. So, I missed that edition too.

So, this is the first time that I have run into a FQXi contest while there still is some time left for it.

Would I participate now?

As of today, frankly, I don’t know. … As you can see by now, as far as I am concerned, it’s the topic that matters more than anything else, actually.

Come to think of it, I am not afraid of putting even the inchoate among my thoughts, in an essay contest like this. And, that’s to a large extent because, I am most certainly not at all afraid of participating in it and also not winning anything—not even a fourth prize. One doesn’t enter an essay contest in order to win a prize (just the way one does not take an examination to score the highest marks/ranks). In case you are sufficiently idiotic to not get it, notice that what I said in the last line is not an argument against having prizes in contests (or taking them home if you win them). It is merely a way of highlighting the fact that prizes do not deterministically elicit better responses (just the way top examinations ranks do not necessarily always go to the best guy). (If you are not convinced, substitute “fatalistically” in place of “deterministically.”)

The main function of prizes is to attract publicity, and thereby, possibly increase one’s chances of finding, or reaching out to, the right people, the right minds. Prizes serve to attract a better audience rather than a better set of participants. That is, statistically speaking, of course.

You don’t necessarily have to win prizes in order to reach out to a better audience. (And, what’s a better audience, you ask? Obvious. It’s an audience that is itself capable, employs you, pays you, respects you, etc.—overall, values you on a rational basis.) That is the reason why participation matters more than winning.

(The Olympics participants usually get it right—and most of the humanities folks, never do. For example, consider: If it were to be just a matter of exceeding one’s own past performances, or to see the limits of one’s abilities, why not go to a secluded place, exceed your abilities to your heart’s content, and then, never let anyone else get even the wind of it? Ditto, even if your motivation is less exalted, and consists solely of exceeding others’ abilities—beating others. Here, suppose that there are just the two of you, you and your opponent (or the ten of you, or ten teams), and suppose that you (or your team) win (wins) over (all) your opponent(s)—but strictly under the condition that no one else ever gets to know of it. None. You continue to know that you exceeded your past records, or that you beat others, but there is no audience for it, no better consequences to follow in your own life, out of it… And, now, also consider a contrasting scenario: What if you do get to connect to the right kind of an audience even if you don’t win a contest in which you participate. What would it be like? Here, I am tempted to speculate: It would be just like any of our (India’s) sports teams, especially, our cricket team. … So, either way, it is the participation that matters more than the winning. QED, nah?)

So, the idea of participating in a contest like FQXi is quite OK by me. So, coming back to the topic for the current edition of this contest:

As soon as I read about the contest (which was something like the last week or so), I got the sense that the topic selection was, once again, rather smart—but also that the topic was a bit too open-ended, though probably not too broad. Reading through the vast variety of the essays that people have submitted so far only confirmed, in a way, this apprehension of mine.

If a well-informed physicist friend were to ask me in an informal but serious chat the question¬† of the topic (“Which of our basic physical assumptions are wrong?”), the first set of things to strike me would have been rather philosophical in nature. But then, this is not an essay contest in philosophy as such, though, I guess, certain parts of philosophy clearly are not out of place here—in fact, dealing, as the contest does, with questioning the foundations, philosophy of physics, and also relevant principles from general philosophy, are clearly welcome. However, the main part that philosophy can play here would be limited to identifying the broad context; the essay cannot be concerned with expounding philosophy itself, as such.¬† And, so, if this friend were then to further insist that I narrow down my answer to some specifically physics-related ideas, I would really begin to wonder what reply to give back.

That, in particular, was the position in which I found myself for the past few days.

I found that, if I have to think of some issues or ideas specifically from physics to answer that question, I could easily think of not just one or two but at least five-six issues, if not ten or more of them. And, I found that I could not really pick out one over the other without also substantially involving general philosophy as well—comparing and contrasting these issues in the light of philosophy, i.e. using philosophy to put every one of them in a common broad context embracing them all—in which case, it would become (at least a small) book and cease to be just an essay i.e. an article.

So, honestly speaking, this essay contest has, in a way, foxed me.

In a way, it had become a challenge for me to see if I could find just one or two issues out of all those numerous issues. Without there being adequate space to put all of those issues in context, treating just one or two of them would come to mean, I thought, that I consider the selected issues to be at least more pertinent if not more foundational than the others left out of the essay. And, there, I realized, my home-work is not yet well done. I don’t have a very clear idea as to why I should pick out this issue over that one. That’s why, at least as far as I am concerned, the essay topic had, in fact, become a challenge to me.

I then decided to see if I could challenge the challenge (!). Namely, what if I pick up a few issues almost at random, and write something about them, without thereby necessarily implying that these selected issues must be taken as the hierarchically more foundational/at the core/important than the others? Would it then be possible for me to write something?

BTW, there would have been another point against participating, which no longer matters: Sometimes, the discussion at FQXi seemed to digressed too much into inconsequential matters. Submitting an essay is to commit to having discussions. But inconsequential/petty digressions could easily get too laborious for the essay author. Here, however, I have noticed that as the contest and its management matures, the degree of such largely pointless digressions seems to be going down. I think you now can more easily ignore the issues/folks you don’t want to tackle/answer, especially so if you really don’t care much about winning the prize. So, that’s another point in favor of participating.

So, the churning in my mind regarding the topic, regarding whether to participate in it or not, is still going on, even as I write this blog post. However, I think I am getting increasingly inclined towards the idea of writing something anyway and dumping it there. … Let me see if I can do something along that line. And, the only way to see whether that is doable or not is to actually sit down and start writing something. I will do that. … If something “sensible” comes out it, you will see me submitting an entry by August 31. If not, here is a promise: I will at least share a bit from whatever that I wrote (and decided not to submit for the contest), here at my personal blog, and possibly also other blogs/public fora.

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No “A Song I Like” section, once again. I still go jobless. Keep that in mind.

[Minor corrections and updates were made on July 23, 2012.]

Can an Infinitesimal Have Parts?

Context and Motivation:

The title question of this post has been lingering in my mind for quite some time—actually, years (nay, decades). Some two decades ago or so, I thought I had reached some good understanding of it. But then, some of the discussion at a recent iMechanica thread “A point and a particle” [^] seemed to suggest otherwise. The issue again got raised, in a somewhat indirect manner, in relation to this comment [^] on yet another iMechanica thread today. In between, there also were a few message exchanges that I had at HBL last year, not all of which made it to the published HBL exchange. There, too, my own position was at odds with that of Dr. Harry Binswanger, an Objectivist professor of philosophy (and the way he sometimes describes himself, an amateur scientist).

The essential difference is this: People seem to think, for example, that:

(i) you can take a small but finite line-segment, subject it to an infinitely long limiting process, and what you get in the end is a point; or,

(ii) as the chord of a circle is systematically made ever smaller by bringing its two end-points closer, even as always keeping them on the circle, eventually, the circle, in comparison with the straight-chord, seems to get flattened out so much that eventually, in an infinite process, it becomes indistinguishable from a straight-line, and so, the circular arc becomes the chord (which is the same as saying that the chord becomes the arc); or,

(iii) a particle’s geometry is fully described by a point; etc.

All of these examples, in some way, touch on the title question. For instance, since a point does not have any parts, and if in an infinite process a line goes to a point, then, obviously, an infinitesimal cannot have parts. And so on…

Now, I seem to disagree with the views expressed by people, as above. I also think that some of the basic confusions arising in quantum mechanics (e.g. those concerning the quantum spin) in part arise out of this issue.

[Therefore, an immediate declaration: If someone gets a better idea of what QM really is like, after reading this post, thank me, and also, regardless of that and more importantly: give me appropriate and explicit intellectual credit. To my knowledge, the topic has not been treated so directly and in the following way anywhere else before.]


Consider an arbitrary but “nice” enough a function: y = f(x). Consider two points P(x_1,y_1) and Q(x_2,y_2) lying on the curve but a finite distance apart. The slope of the line-segment PQ is given by: m_f \equiv \dfrac{y_2 - y1}{x_2-x_1} \equiv \dfrac{\Delta y}{\Delta x}, where the subscript f put on m indicates that this is a finite-distance case.¬† As you know, there is an infinity of points in between the end-points of any finite line-segment.

To determine the slope of the curve at the point P, we take the limit of the ratio m_f as the distance between x_2 and x_1 approaches zero. In symbolic terms: m_P = \lim_{\Delta x \to 0} \dfrac{\Delta y}{\Delta x}, where m_P is supposed to be the slope of the curve at the point P.

Clarifications—The Idea of Slope:

The italicized parts in the above statement are important. Firstly, it is implicitly (and somewhat blithely) assumed that a curve can have a slope, which can be approximated by that of a line-segment such as PQ. Secondly, it is even more implicitly (and even more blithely) assumed that there exists something such as a slope at a point. Let’s examine both a bit more closely.

What does the notion of slope mean? The extreme case of 0^0 and the pathological case of 90^0 apart, what the notion basically means is that you are going to either gain or lose your current height as you travel (in some direction).

Notice that immediately implicit here is the idea of there being two different locations whose heights are being compared! You cannot define slope without there being two distinct reference points. Hence, you also should not use the term in those contexts where only one reference point is given. If so, how can we speak of a slope at a point?

Realize that the above objection applies as much to the points lying on a straight line-segment as those on a curved line-segment. Even single points on straight lines cannot, strictly speaking, can be said to have a slope—only the straight line-segment, as a whole (or any finite parts of it) may be said to have one. If so, what does it mean when we speak of a slope at a point?

My answer: Primarily, it means nothing! It’s just a loose way of putting things. What it really means is the entire limiting process, and the result of it (if there is any valid result coming off that limiting process).

The slope of a line at a point (whether that line is straight or curved, it does not matter) is just the definite “tendency” shown in the trends of the actual slopes of all the small but finitely long straight line-segments in the close neighbourhood of the given point. You cannot speak of a slope at a point in any other terms. Not even for straight-lines. Straight lines just happen to be a special case wherein all the slope values are the same, and so, determining the trend is a trivial matter. Yet, the principle of having to make a reference to an actual trend of certain property displayed by a definitely ordered sequence of finitely long segments, in an appropriate limiting process, does remain there. It is only in this sense that lines can have slopes at various points. Ditto, for the curved lines.

Clarifications—A Line “Going” “to” a Point:

Now, there is something even funnier. At least in applied science and engineering, we often speak of the above kind of a limiting process, in terms like the following:

Take Q close to P, as close as possible. In the limit, as the length of PQ “goes” “to” “zero,” the slope of the segment PQ “goes” “to” “the slope of the curve” “at” “P“.

All the words put in the scare-quotes (“”) are important.

What does it mean for a length of a straight line-segment PQ to go to zero? It means: P and Q are coincident—i.e. they are one and the same point. (There is no such a thing as two different points occupying the same point—it’s either two names for the same mathematical object, or a contradiction in terms.)

So, can a slope have a curve? The very idea is meaningless outside the context of a limiting process. Yes, you may gain or lose height as you traverse the curve, sure. But does it mean that the curve has a slope? Nope. Not unless your context has the right limiting process in it.

Clarifications—Points, Lines, and the Nature of Limiting Processes:

Now, a bit about the nature of limiting process.

Realize that there is a fundamental difference between a point and a line. (For our purposes, both may be taken as given axiomatically, as abstractions of the locations and the edges of the actually existing objects. That there also is suggested an infinite process in reaching such abstractions is a subtle point that we choose to ignore for the time being.)

The units of a point and a line are different. You cannot compare a point and a line in any commensurate manner whatsoever, full-stop. (Incommensurability is quite frequent in mathematics, more often than what most people realize.)

A line segment may be put in one:one correspondence with an (orderly) infinite set of points, and in this way, it may abstractly be seen to consist of points. However, realize that infinity does not exist. The one:one correspondence process, should you wish to conduct one in actuality, will never terminate, and hence, you will never get a line starting from points, or vice versa: a point, starting from a line. Incidentally, that’s just another way of realizing that a line is incommensurate with a point. Then how is it that we can talk meaningfully of such a process?

What we mean when we talk of a line as being made of an infinity of points is this:

Take a finite line-segment, say from the point P to Q. Take a point P lying on it. Find the finite lengths of M from each of its end-points.  (Aside: It is here that the defining processes of a point, a line, etc. that we have chose to ignore in this post, create some tricky issues. We will deal with them later, in another post.)

Now, take a sub-segment from any of the two end-points to the middle point (whose location, in the general case, is arbitrary; it need not exactly divide the segment into two equal halves.) Suppose we take the sub-segment PM. Now, conduct a limiting process by reducing the size of PM, while holding M fixed. (BTW, observe that every limiting process involves holding something the same even as varying something else.) Making the sub-segment monotonically smaller in size means that the end-point of the segment in the reduced size corresponding to P, say, P' monotonically increasingly gets closer to M. But, it never quite reaches M.

The only case in which P' could reach M is if it is coincident with—i.e. is the same point as—M. However, in this case, there cannot be two distinct end-points left to serve as the end-points of the diminishing sub-segment, and hence, no sub-segment left to speak of.

Hence, we have to say that the point P' never quite reaches M—not even in this infinite limiting process. The most crucial point of the logic is already thus given. The rest is a bit of house-keeping so that even if we revise the entire description here by expressing a point via a limiting process, the essential logic as spelt about remains unaffected.

Now, repeat the process for another, distinct, point N \neq M, lying on the same original line-segment. Since M and N are not one and the same point, and since the “getting closer” process for any arbitrary sub-part of the line-segment cannot terminate for either of them, and further, since both lie on the same original finite segment and thereby enjoy an ordering relation between them (e.g. that M < N etc.), we must conclude that there must be an infinity of N points corresponding to any arbitrarily given point M. Just make M coincident with (or the same as) Q, and the inevitable conclusion follows, namely, that there must be an infinity of such processes for them to span all the distinct points lying over the entire original line-segment.

The existence of this infinity of such¬†“getting closer” processes is what we actually mean when we say a line is “made of” an infinity of points.

Emphatically, it does not mean that a point and a line are commensurate. It only means that the endpoints of a line can be made as close to a given point lying on that line as you wish. That’s all.

Clarifications—An Infinitesimal of a Finite:

Now, we are ready to tackle the idea of infinitesimal.

An infinitesimal of a line-segment is an imaginary projection of the result that would be had if a line-segment were to be made ever smaller in a limiting infinite (i.e. definite but unterminating) process.

Notice that we didn’t jump directly to what the term “infinitesimal” means in a general sense. We simply made a statement in respect of the infinitesimal of a line-segment. This distinction is important. The reason is that there is no such thing as a general infinitesimal!

You can have infinitesimals of (finite) lines, surfaces, volumes, etc. Or, of quantities that, essentially, are some kind of densities of some other quantities which have been defined in a “wholesale” manner over finite lines (or surfaces, volumes, etc.). But you cannot have infinitesimals “in general,” as such.

Infinitesimals not only acquire their meaning only in some definite kind of an infinite limiting process, but they also do so only in reference to the certain finite thing (and its associated properties) which is being subjected to that process. A process without an input or an output is a contradiction in terms. An infinitesimal can only result when you begin in the first place with a finite.

Since an infinitesimal must always refer to its input finite thing (be it a length, a surface, etc. or a density variable defined with respect to these), therefore, it must always carry some units—which are the same as that of the finite thing.

The “infinitesimal-izing” process (to coin a new word!) does not touch the units of the finite thing, and hence, neither does the end-result of that process—even if the result be only via an imaginary projection. Thus, the infinitesimal of a line always retains the units of, say, m, and that of a surface, m^2, etc.

The above precisely is the reason why we can “cancel out” dx dy with da where the first expression is a product of lengths, and the second one is an area—and wherein all the quantities are infinitesimals. Infinitesimals have units; equations formulated in infinitesimal terms must follow the law of dimensional homogeneity.

Clarifications—Can Infinitesimals Have Parts?

Now, having examined the nature of infinitesimals to (hopefully) sufficient extent, we are finally ready to answer the title question: “Can an infinitesimal have parts?”

I will not directly answer the question in yes or no terms. My answer should be obvious to you by now. (If not, kick yourself a couple of times, and proceed to read further or, equally well, abandon this blog forever.)

First, observe that it is only a finite line-segment which, when subject to an infinitesimal-izing process, becomes an infinitesimal.

Apart from its two end-points, you can always take a third point lying on that finite segment such that it divides the segment into two (not necessarily equal) parts. Say, L = L_1 + L_2. Now, observe that as you take L to an infinitesimally small quantity, you also thereby subject L_1 and L_2¬† to the same infinitesimal-izing process such that the equation dL = dL_1 + dL_2 holds as a result. (The reason we can directly put this relation in this way is that the rates with which each becomes small is identical. In contrast, the area gets smaller at a rate faster than that of the length—another way of seeing that an infinitesimal always has dimensions i.e. units.)

Now, returning back to today’s discussion. At iMechanica, I have raised a couple of points:

(i) Do we define stress in relation to a plane? Or do we do so in relation to a thin plate made infinitesimally small? The difference, now you can see, is this: a plane has no thickness. But a plate does. Its thickness has the units of length, which can’t be made zero. Hence the question.

(ii) Is the elemental cube (used for defining variations in stress, say to the first order) have a finite length? Or is it (or can it be) infinitesimal?

Once again, I will not provide a direct answer to these questions. However, I will leave you with a very very obvious clue (apart from what all I have mentioned above)—but one, which, nevertheless, raises further curious issues. These are essentially nothing but the same as the issues we have chosen to ignore today—what are points? lines? surfaces? do they exist? Anyway, the clue, presently, is the following.

Take a brick. You can always make its size ever smaller in a limiting process so as to get an infinitesimal Cartesian volume element. Agreed? OK.

Now, take a pack of playing cards. Subject it to a similar limiting process. And, ask yourself the above two questions.  The answer(s) should be obvious!! (As to the tricky part: Ask yourself: Can you assume zero thickness in between two adjacent playing cards in the same pack? Your answer to the question of whether stress is defined in relation to a plane or an infinitesimally thin plate, will in part differ depending on how you answer this question!)

[PS: I think I might edit this post a bit. If I do so, I will also note down any major change (e.g. that of the logic or of hierarchical precedence, etc.) that I make. For instance, I am not at all happy with the way I have explained the idea of “an infinity of points in a line, even though a line never goes to a point.” That part hasn’t at all come out well. I expect to make changes there—or, may be, perhaps, write another post to once again give a try to that part. … Hey, after all, this is not a paper on mathematics—just a blog post, OK? ūüôā ]

[A side note: I know that the limit notation as rendered here on the Web page does not look nice, but that’s an issue primarily with the WordPress support of LaTeX. I am not going to hack around with \dfrac etc. just to get the \lim look nice here!]

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A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “dil beqaraar saa hai…”
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar (I like her version better than Rafi’s)
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri


A List of My Enemies

1. Dr. Nitin B. Kulkarni. MBBS (BJMC), PhD (Michigan), MD (Psychiatry). Founder, Ayn Rand Thinkers’ Club, Pune (ARTC). Formerly (in 1991), a recipient of a minor travel etc. grant from the Ayn Rand Institute. Currently, Psychiatrist and Assistant Medical Director, Patton State Hospital, CA, USA.

2. Mrs. Nina Nitin Kulkarni (Miss Sadhana V. Nagarkar). B.Com., MA (Psychology), etc. Currently (since 1994 (?)), Nitin Kulkarni’s current wife. Also, my ex-wife, of a marriage that lasted essentially for less than a month, and which should not have taken place in the first place.

3. Mrs. Pradnya Martz (Miss Pradnya Prabhakar Walhekar). Convent educated. B. Arch. (JJ School), Masters in Architecture (Massachusetts, Amherst). Currently, employed with the Oberlin College, OH, USA. The Kulkarnis’ “friend.”

4. Dr. Amar Ghorpade. MBBS (Miraj), Grad. Studies in Psychiatry (Lousiana State, Baton Rouge). Currently, Associate Chief of Psychiatry, New York Methodist Hospital.

And, all their Objectivist and other supporters and/or users, including those in FBI, CIA, etc. This is quite a bunch, and they are necessarily to be included any time I mention the above four.

A couple of characters who were only borderline cases back then (17–20 years ago) but who by now have faded out. I mention them just in order to sharpen the difference of the above four from the rest of them:

1. Dr. Sandip Tulshiram Patil. MBBS (BJMC, Pune). PhD. (?).
2. Mr. Shirish Kulkarni. Chartered Accountant, Pune.

The only members/associates of the ARTC who did not turn out to be my enemies, then, or later on:
1. Dr. Kiran Kharat. MBBS (BJMC, Pune). MS Ortho (completed?) (BJMC, Pune). MS Ortho (England). Currently, based in the UK, with visiting associations in hospitals in Pune.
2. Mrs. Netra Shirish Kulkarni. B. Sc. Shirish’s wife.

I have made many friends in life, and then, comparatively very rarely, also some enemies. The 80/20 rule, recently discussed in an article in the DNA newspaper, applies also to friendships turning into enmities. What people usually do is to forget, even forgive, and carry on with their lives. Which, all in all, works out well for relationships, for maintaining the fabric of a society. That’s usually everyone’s experience, and mine is no different—it is difficult to become or have enemies, by that 80/20 rule. It does take something out of the ordinary to become an enemy. But, yes, if there is an enmity, I am not going to evade it either.

So, I have made enemies too, even if they are far rarer as compared to friends. By way of numbers, that is. And, by way of values? Nowhere even near. (BTW, might as well mention it here. I consider also Swami Vivekananda a friend. In fact, that’s what the thought to cross my mind within the first 30 seconds was, when I read about his recent 150th anniversary, at Dr. Dey’s blog a couple of days ago. A friend. … Oh! I know what you mean, but never mind! The Swami did keep a huge company of friends, and it’s OK to call him that—a friend—provided you yourself are pure in extending your friendship to him, anyway. (BTW, but for the bad atmosphere created by BJP-RSS-Internet Hindus (and their Christian/Muslim etc. counterparts elsewhere), it would not have been really necessary to state it separately that it is OK to criticize intellectual positions of friends, too—provided it is done right.))

But even if I have made many enemies (e.g. those “Java” etc. bustards from the San Francisco Bay Area who first treated me as enemies and hence I had no choice but to fight back), the first four characters mentioned here in this post are rather different. They did require a separate mention. And, note that before going ahead and thus stating their names publicly, I have waited for years, suffering career setbacks, financial setbacks, even psychic attacks and all. Indeed, I think many of you do know that I do believe that many of these psychic attacks originate from within the USA, that at least some of them follow the US government’s policies and decisions (and those of the governmental agencies such as the FBI, CIA, etc.). It is this part—psychic attacks—which has made it necessary for me to put these names in this manner here. I don’t mean to say that the psychic attacks originate with these actively evil or at least extraordinarily dishonest and ingrate a set of characters. My point is that if tomorrow I come to know that the game originated with them, or that they added fuel to the attackers’ fire, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. (My mother may get surprised, perhaps also my father—but I wouldn’t. And, I hope, at least some of my friends wouldn’t, whether they knew these characters first-hand or not.)

* * * * *    * * * * *    * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Marathi): “ek ek virate taaraa, aasmant ye aakaaraa,
ubhaa devaraayaa kshitijaavarati,
uThi shreedharaa re, sarali raati…”
Lyrics: (Shanta Shelke ??)
Music: ??
Singer: (Suman Kalyanpur ??)

[Note: This again is a song whose credits I neither can remember nor can I access via an Internet search. It certainly was a poem prescribed in the school-time texts for us. I have only a vague of recollection of having heard it as a recorded song. I remember the tune very distinctly, of course, and I can even upload or send you an audio file of my (bad) hummings if it will help you locate the song. I feel the lyricist most probably was Shanta Shelke (but then, I sometimes end up attributing to her many songs which actually were not hers). The singer could be Suman Kalyanpur.

… For non-Marathi readers: By way of formal genre, this song sure is a “bhupaali,” but a very different one. It is a very light song. It is a song that welcomes the beginning of a new day. It does so neither with the noises of the road traffic nor with the stern finality of a military siren. Nor even with the discernibly regimented voice of a classical number. Instead, this song seems to welcome the day with the natural sounds surrounding an idyllic village (one which is not a holiday resort). I will post a rough translation of the poem itself later on. … In terms of the tune, it is a very peace- and calm-inducing song. It is that sort of calm which is suited not to retire to sleep but to gently break it. Not to make a new beginning but to help you prepare your soul to do so. The tune is an ideal accompaniment to that sense of awareness which precedes any awareness of any mental activity for any sort of planning for the actual day. The song goes with just the barest grasp of a fresh, nice, welcoming day, that’s all. … If you are familiar with Marathi literature (and hence with the metaphors, idioms, etc., used in it), this song carries that same touch of wholesomeness as is found in such expressions as this one: “The place was new, but for some odd reason, it seemed familiar, as familiar as the smell of mother’s used saree.”

….Some songs you remember in your troubled times. Others are the songs, you realize only later on, you should have remembered in those troubled times, but somehow, didn’t. And there are still other songs… They are so simple and light, they simply descend on you regardless of the times you are in. This song is one of those. To the psychic attackers: I didn’t choose this song because there is this word “taaraa” in it, to remind Tara Malkani. Nope. I didn’t. I “chose” it because it is one of those songs that finds me out when I need them, so to speak.]

[Written in a hurry, I will edit this once more, and then leave them.

… Oh, BTW, this blog is not meant to be kid-sister-friendly, and so, I could have used words appropriate to describe these characters without a sense of hesitation. But frankly, I don’t use such words unless there is that emotional intensity present in the very moment in which they are to be used. I mean, one doesn’t insult even the “bad” words, does one? Right now, I feel nothing, and so, I didn’t use those words. But yes, I have used such words in the past, and God knows I will do so again, too! I may delete this last comment during the pending editing—or then, again, I may not!!]


David Harriman’s “The Logical Leap”: Grade “A” (But a Qualified One, Not Straight)

1. Introductory

It is a pleasure to review David Harriman’s book: “The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics” [^]. The book forms a significant and welcome addition not only to the special history and philosophy of physics, but also to general philosophy proper.

[At 5000+ words, this review is long. You are warned.]

I shall not go into that usual, almost mechanical aspect of a book review whereby the reviewer feels obliged to narrate the contents of the book: e.g., how many chapters the book has, what chapter covers what topic, etc. All such information (and more!) is easily available at the book’s Web site as well as via book-previews at the booksellers’ Web sites.

What I instead propose to do here is to jot down an informal, rapidly written, and a decidedly blogsome (a word I just coined) review of the book, telling you what I found about it during, and immediately after finishing, my very first and rapid reading of this book. I am sure I will notice many things to a better depth and also much differently, at a later date. At the same time, I must say that though rapid, my reading has been careful enough that I can say that I have got a fairly good overall sense of the thesis of the book. On second thoughts, make it theses, i.e. thesis in the plural.

2. The Main Themes (or Threads of Theory) Developed in the Book

Usually books this small (~270 paperback pages) carry just one central thread or theme, at most two (in which case, the second theme oftentimes is minor). In contrast, this book is ambitious. It has several central themes, which may perhaps be clubbed together into four main categories given below. Note: The grouping scheme given below is mine, not of the author himself. The four themes (not all being of equal importance) are:

  1. To identify the broad philosophic nature of induction: to present a new theory of induction and to tie it with Ayn Rand’s existing theory of concepts. In short, to extend the Objectivist epistemology, being a theory of concepts to that of generalizations; to identify the nature of the starting material of induction, and to show how an inductive generalization necessarily follows from it and why; etc.
  2. To trace the threads of historical development of a few important discoveries of physics, in order to isolate how the principles of induction were actually being used in their work by path-breaking or great physicists like Galileo, Newton, Dalton, Maxwell, and others; to illustrate the author’s view of the interrelations between causality, theory and experiment; etc.
  3. To present some of the prominent ways in which the process of induction might get misapplied, i.e. the errors of inductions. Further, to show what happens when physicists altogether abandon induction, and to illustrate such errors or disintegrations via suitable examples from the history of physics
  4. To identify the broad, philosophic nature of physics and of mathematics. Here, the author not only tries to show how and why the famous “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics” is indeed “reasonable”. The author goes much farther and says that such an effectiveness is not only “reasonable” but also necessary; that it must directly follow from Rand’s theory of concepts, as interpreted and extended by him.

You can easily see that the scope of issues with which this book deals is broad. (BTW, ambition is a good thing, as far as I am concerned.)

3. How Does the Author Fare on the Main Themes, in an Overall Sense?

How does the author fare on these concerns of his? Before we begin looking at this question, let me first note something important.

A significant portion of this book has drawn not only on the published lectures and other materials by Dr. Leonard Peikoff, but also on Harriman’s in-depth interaction with Peikoff. Indeed, the book is a result of a collaboration between the two. The Ayn Rand Institute, I gather, had treated the writing of this book a major academic project for a considerable length of time (a decade, the author notes in the preface). Strictly speaking, Peikoff has written only an introduction to the book; formally, he is not a co-author. However, going by what the author has noted in the Preface, and also after going through the text, as far as I am concerned, the long and short of it is this: I consider Dr. Peikoff as an informal but definite second author of this book.

Now, let’s return to the question of how the book fares on all the above-mentioned ambitious themes that it aims to tackle. I will provide quite a few details below, but let me first give you my overall evaluation right away.

In this book, the author has performed exceedingly well, nay, brilliantly, on the first three counts, i.e. 1. through 3. in the above list. He demonstrates an extraordinarily virtuoso performance not only on the first and the third count, where Dr. Peikoff might be expected to have had a very direct influence on the writing, but also on the second count, where I guess, for all practical purposes, Harriman either would have been completely on his own, or otherwise can only be imagined to be the first and the main mover in the collaboration.

However, as far as the last theme, i.e. theme number4. above is concerned, the author has offered, what in my opinion is, a flawed thesis. I have issues with almost all aspects of it, not just an isolated one. In this post, I will try to only indicate why I think so; I will take up a more detailed look at this issue in a separate follow-up post some time in the indefinite future.

Note, I will not write much here about the first three (good) aspects. The reason is: there is just too much of great, and new, material concerning these aspects in this book. If I pick up one, I would be doing injustice to others. And, in a first reading, it really is not possible to develop a comprehensive sense of what is outstanding in such a rich array of ideas. I therefore will leave most of the good part alone in this review.

In other words, don’t try to judge the relative volumes of the good and the flawed in this book, going by how many words I allocate to each in this review.

4. The Main (Non-Negligible) Theoretical Flaw Present in the Book

Now, returning to what I think are the flaws of the book:

The author (i.e. the author-duo) believes that physics is inherently mathematical. I find that proposition very troublesome, full-stop.

Now, an alternative view, wrong again in my opinion, but arguably much less wrong than the view presented by the author, would consist of reversing the order and saying: “mathematics is inherently physical.” Now, of course, this second view, too, is plain wrong—in my opinion.

The reason for both the statements being wrong is this: the two subject areas, viz. physics and mathematics, simply cannot be connected via any kind of an inheritance relationship—forward or reverse. Stronger: It’s Rationalistic to suppose that the two can be. The objection remains even if you try to extend the meaning of the term “inherently” in some sense.

In other words, despite first noting that this book has astonishingly great virtues, in addition, what I am saying is also this: The author of this book does take an outright wrong position as far as the nature of the relationship between physics and mathematics is concerned.

But then, the author doesn’t just stop there. True to his integrating spirit (otherwise a very admirable trait), the author attempts to justify that wrong position of his by appeal to what I consider to be a mistaken interpretation of Rand’s epistemology, viz., her measurement-omission principle. I will provide the details later, but if you must have something right away (and if you already know Objectivist epistemology): the author confuses the quantitative measurements with the numerical ones, effectively treating the second as if it was not only coextensive but also synonymous with the first. As expected, he also confuses the qualitative and the quantitative. And similarly for the related aspects.

Thus, it is this fourth theme of the book which is truly troublesome for me. There also are some other minor flaws—the passages where he uses the words “approximate,” or (physical) “quantity” for example, or the place where he tries to relate numerical measurements and consciousness. But, to my mind, these are either only secondary or relatively minor.

Please note what I am saying concerning this fourth theme. What I am saying is not that the author has a good thesis but has simply not explained it well enough. I am also not saying that he has a potentially good thesis but left out some important aspects of it in the present book. No. I am saying neither.

My position is stronger: As far as the fourth themes is concerned, the very thesis that the author assumes, explicitly puts forth, explains, and tries to integrate with all of the rest of his arguments and positions throughout this book, is fundamentally untenable. The position he takes is wrong! Further, to the best of my knowledge, such a position also would not be justifiable on the basis of Ayn Rand’s epistemology (ITOE, 2nd edition)!!

Ok. So that’s one major flaw. Anything else to be noted in an overall sense? Any other significant +ves and -ves?

Let me jot down a few, more or less completely randomly and on the fly. (I might write a better deliberated and hopefully more concise review later.)

5. This Book Has Tremendous Virtues, Too!

As I said before, this book has enormous virtues. Let me list a few:

(5.a) It offers a new philosophic solution to the age-old problem of validating induction.

Yes, what this book offers is a new solution. So, the book does represent a step forward, a very important one. However, I wouldn’t call it epochal. To my mind, the truly game-changing—and therefore epoch-marking—book was Ayn Rand’s ITOE.

But, yes, even if not epochal, the book still is really great. I would call it: path-breaking and englightening. The book truly illuminates and enlightens all the essential aspects of the problem of induction—and of the new philosophic solution it offers.

Let me give you just one example of the kind of sub-issues that have to be addressed in forming a new philosophic solution. In this book, the author states, and convincingly explains, a new sub-proposition: “Discovery is proof.”

To form a new solution is to non-contradictorily add to the existing (i.e. Ayn Rand’s) Objectivist epistemology. The author certainly succeeds in doing that. Here is an example of one sub-issue that the author tackles: Concepts are what make induction possible and necessary.

Even regarding the theme where he has failed in a broad manner (i.e. in the theme concerning physics and mathematics), the author presents many wonderful ideas. Here is one:

“Ideas within a mind are an inseparable part of a total cognitive state in a way that is not true of physical bodies.”

See the kind of tightly-knit formulations the author presents? The book teems over with such gems. (If you didn’t find the position that discovery is proof surprising, then probably you might not consider the other examples I gave here worthy of admiration either. In such a case, neither the book nor the present review is meant for you.)

(5.b) It is an exceptionally well-written book.

It has been written with exceptional clarity and lucidity. The book remains lucid through and through.

However, sometimes, the style of expression tends to get a bit too much “Californian,” sort of like “spacey”. This is especially noticeable when the author gets into the details of the history of physics, the place where he begins unraveling the various complex threads of reasoning present in Galileo’s work vs. those in the others, and how Newton differed from them. In this part, the text does seem to lose its grip a bit; it might even become boring to some. However, that’s just the stylistic part. The important point is, even in such passages, the writeup itself remains unusually clear in exposition.

The book is also very well-structured. However, the flow of the writing is such that I doubt if a casual reader would really spot the underlying structuring, upon first reading. I noticed the structuring aspect only after I began scribbling my margin notes and underlying sentences for that mathematics-physics issue.

(5.c) The book also carries some rare anecdotes, stories or other treasure items dug up from history of physics.

The author obviously has taken pains to go through a lot of original material. In the end, he comes up with some bits that not only illustrates his fresh philosophic positions, also help correct some wide-spread or popular myths/legends/anecdotes. Invariably, these also show physicists in a better light than what tradition has allowed them. Harriman considers great physicists his heroes, and it shows through his writing.

For example, did you know that Ben Franklin had taken the care to wear an insulating glove before flying his famous kite in that rainy storm? that it was a carefully planned experiment, preceded by a long chain of conceptual analysis, and with some clearly anticipated results? The popular accounts typically show Franklin as a blind adventurer who turned lucky in not getting electrocuted in that thunderstorm—and the characterization subtly helps build the myth that discoveries, esp. great discoveries, are made by blind chance. Harriman senses the looming theoretical danger right in advance, and proceeds to overcome it by supplying the right facts after a thorough digging through the history.

Let me directly cite a passage (taken at random) to show how, in his writing, the author combines authentic history and in-depth remarks about physics.

Most engineers know that it was Count Rumford who first observed that during boring of guns, the metal would get hot, and that this observation was one of the earliest steps that eventually led to the formulation of the laws thermodynamics. Now here’s how accurately and succinctly the author describes the development:

“In the eighteenth century, heat was widely believed to be a fluid (called “calloric”) that flowed from hot to cold bodies. At the end of the century, however, two experiments provided strong evidence that heat was not a substance, but rather some internal motion of the matter comprising the bodies.

In 1798, Count Rumford (aka Benjamin Thompson) was supervising the manufacture of cannons at the military arsenal in Munich. He was surprised by the enormous amount of heat generated in the process of boring the cannons, and he decided to investigate the phenomenon. He placed a brass gun barrel in a wooden box containing cold water and bored it with a blunt steel drill. After about two and one-half hours, the water began to boil. The apparently inexhaustible supply of heat led Rumford to reject the caloric theory. As he put it, “Anything which any insulated body, or system of bodies, can continue to furnish without limitation, cannot possibly a material substance.”

There are many such stories in the book.

6. Scope for Improvements

Now, let me note down a few points where there is scope for improvement.

(6.a) For a book that claims the heritage of Ayn Rand’s ITOE and aims to further that legacy, a chapter-wise summary is conspicuous by its absence . A summary is an objective necessity for a book like this, dealing, as it does, with a complex subject: presenting a new theory in epistemology, and integrating it with a completely fresh look, in its light, at the history of physics. For a matter this complex, it would be easy for the novice reader to get lost in the trees and fail to see the forest. Even if not “perfect,” a “next-to-perfect” summary is a necessity. The author should seriously consider writing a chapter-by-chapter summary document, and uploading a PDF/doc file of it at the book site/blog.

(6.b) A more direct (perhaps point-wise comparative) account of how the author is adding to Mills’ principles, would have been helpful. It’s obvious to me that Mills couldn’t have had a sound theory of concepts, and therefore, of generalizations. Mills must have worked with blunt tools. But did he at least address, in whatever form, the idea that integration was necessary to induction? the crucial role of the conceptual frame-work, and the reasons thereof, that Harriman puts forth?

(6.c) There are no equations in this book! Equations could have served as a final encapsulating device, after arriving at the end of certain discussions. Not as a substitute for the preceding thought, but only at the culmination of a thread. And, even there, not as a substitute to a conceptual statement, but by way of condensation into mathematical terms. Perhaps, also using the then existing historical notation itself, in addition to the modern notation. The absence of equations is a rather curious omission—especially given the author’s (wrong) view that physics is inherently mathematical.

(6.d) As far as the printing-layout of the book goes, the page headers alternately carry the book title and the author’s name. But, this way, the current chapter number is not easily accessible to the reader. Though a very minor matter, it does become something of a major inconvenience while referring to the book-end references. Consider an example. Suppose I wanted to look up what reference no., say, [17] was, at some point in the main text. Keeping one finger in the main text, I would turn to the References section at the end of the book, only to realize that I had forgotten what was the number of the chapter that I was into. Now, to find the chapter number, I had to turn all the way back to the front of the book, but in two steps: first, to the current page, to find the page number I was at, and then to the Contents section in the beginning, to find the chapter number (by interpolation)! Then, I had once again go back to the end of the book to look up the referred work—provided I had managed to remember the reference number in this process! (It was [17] in this case.) Plain inconvenience!!

… Every one knows it’s you who wrote the book, Dave, so drop your name from the headers section and replace it by chapter numbers during the next print revision. And, it’s not at all a bad idea to give also the chapter titles in the References section also. Simple things, but someone needs to look into them.

7. How “Big” Is the Main Theoretical Flaw? Why Does It Matter? What Grade to Assign This Book?

OK, so you can now see that, overall, there are many great virtues to this book, one important flaw—but virtually no other significant flaw as far as the contents or the main thesis of the book goes.

So, it’s now time to look into what that aforementioned major flaw does to the overall evaluation of the book.

Usually, I have little or no difficulty in forming judgments about any book that carries as much clarity and as many virtues as this one does—it’s a straight “A”. But then, this book did present me with a real difficulty.

The trouble, essentially, was this: The flawed part is not “cut-able”.

This book is not written in a compartmentalized manner (which, otherwise, is a virtue). So, contents-wise, the flaw is not restricted to just one or two isolated chapters or sections. The author has weaved-in the wrong view with so much other material, sub-themes, too. The flaw is weaved-in throughout the entirety of the book.

It therefore was very hard for me to come up with a final judgment in terms of a letter-grade: Should I give this book an “A”? Does it really deserve an “A”? Shouldn’t the grade reflect the important flaw especially because it’s all woven-in, via a “B” grade?

If I gave the book an “A”, I would run the risk of supporting what I consider is a wrong and misleading view. In my opinion, a lot of chaos in theoretical physics (modern or classical, but especially the modern physics) can be directly or indirectly attributed to this wrong view of mathematics and physics.

And, apart from that abstract considerations of evaluating a book, I do have something personally important and practical matter at the stake too. It is this (erroneous) view of physics which, I think, might allow people to dismiss my research (or indeed any research such as mine) out of the hand, via the rhetoric: “But where is the mathematics for your theory, Ajit? I see no equations.” The implication being: Is it really physics you are talking about?

Now, it is useless to tell such people that no suitable mathematical notation has yet been evolved to directly capture the physics theory I am formulating and putting forth. … The only alternative is to use an infinity of integrals… Take a moment to imagine how bad that would be, to use as a notation… And, another matter. If I use that notation, I also run the risk that the actual physics of my theory would get confused with, say, Feynman’s approach, i.e., with what has already been said (which, in my opinion, is a wrong physics theory too).

Note, my theory does have quantitative relationships, but no equations, not yet. Even then, it is possible to point out, right away, that there would be definite, even if small, differences in the transient dynamics of photon propagation—and similar differences will remain in a broader theory of electron propagation too. Making this prediction is possible. And, it is possible to build computer simulations that clearly bring out the difference too.

Yet, Harriman’s position makes it impossible to distinguish between a superficial or incompetent attempt at theorization in physics, and a proper theory of physics that does not have equations. Such a position conforms to the conventional wisdom; see Wigner, Feynman (“The Character of Physical Law”), Hamming, Narlikar, et al. Such people can, and do, critique (if not outright dismiss) my work on the count of a perceived lack of “rigour!” Why? Conceivably only because it’s not “mathematical” enough.

Thus, there really is a lot at stake practically speaking too.

And, apart from my own case, I think there has been a huge waste of human effort that has actually occurred due to emptiness of thoughts resulting out of pursuing mathematics while attempting to do physics. In future, I will illustrate this assertion of mine by taking a prominent example: in reference to what Feynman was happilypreoccupied stating in his book, misleading people in his effervescent and charming style. Dirac’s was one very peculiar case; he could (only once) simply fiddle around with equations to produce some good physics. Such cases are peculiar but not unreasonable. And, more importantly, they are not anti-thetical to my position.

So, lionizing the role of mathematics in physics is not all that a new insight; it has been an idle past-time of many theoreticians, of both the Platonists in philosophy, and deductivists in physics.

And then, if a brand new book arrives on the scene, takes the position of primacy of induction, offers a great theory concerning induction, and also commits the same error of lionizing mathematics in physics, the risk multiplies many times over.

Thus, giving an “A” carries a real risk.

On the other hand, if I gave the book a “B”, I would end up insulting so much that is actually so valuable, nay, so astounding good, and yes, also so fresh i.e. new. New, even as a philosophic theory. This aspect of the book really needs as much praise—and, practically speaking, also as much of sales and circulation—as it can get.

I tried to weigh the matter for about a week or two by now. Actually, for more time. I became aware of the flaw of the book rather early into my reading. In fact, I had sensed that there could be an issue of this sort as soon as I had gone over the contents (index) of the book way back in May/June 2010 or so, and I had noted such an apprehension of mine in one of my iMechanica posts too.

Anyway, after weighing the matter enough, finally, I have decided to give the book a qualified “A”. Yes, it’s an “A”, but a qualified one. Though the final grade is an “A,” there is a footnote to it saying that the author(s) has (have) failed in an important and non-negligible respect.

Honestly, this failure of theirs has really surprised me—esp. given Peikoff’s insights into philosophic errors, esp. of Rationalistic thought processes, and given the fact of his supervision of this project.

But still, a failure is a failure. So, to conclude this matter, it’s only a qualified “A”: the authors manage to barely slip into the “A” grade, and only via grace marks.

(BTW, this long passage about what grade to choose, again, demonstrates the falsehood of hasty quantification—a possibly new fallacy I just coined. Two prominent examples: 1. Attempting to derive a single number (ordinal or cardinal) for what actually is a composite issue. 2. Attempting to assign equal probabilities to all possible outcomes, esp., assuming that tossing a fair coin illustrates anything fundamental.)

I think in a future post on this topic, I will provide the reasons why I think that the matter I call flaw really is a flaw, and also will give some details of the places in the book where the author reveals that flaw.

Please do note: Even if I write such a post next, my intention is not to keep discussing the flaws of the book. Nope. Let alone character assassination (of the book or of the author(s)), even polemics as such does not hold much interest for me. On the other hand, I think I do have something positive to develop, present, and defend: What I think is the correct view of mathematics, physics, and their interrelations. I will write when I find the time to do so; no specific promises as to when.

8. The Controversy Concerning This Book and Dr. John McCaskey

Incidentally, if you have been waiting for my opinion of the recent McCaskey-related controversy, let me begin by saying this: I cannot say that I have gone through his review at Amazon.com because, despite starting afresh some 4–5 times, I simply could not finish reading his comment even once. He writes very boringly. So please consider this entire comment of mine as based on an incomplete knowledge of his publicly available (and network-wise accessible) comments. I have also similarly tried to go through the emails exchange he had with Harriman, and have failed in finishing reading it.

On the above basis, what I have to say about the matter is this: I wouldn’t have had any problem if the concerns raised by McCaskey were actually to be in any way significant to a critical appraisal of the book. However, I do have a problem with McCaskey because nothing of what he writes regarding this issue in fact is in any way significant or germane to the book. And, I have no desire to debate this position of mine with any one. (I will delete comments to this post asking or nudging me towards this end.) But yes, I do want to write about this matter once, and thereby finish it off from my concerns.

Why is McCaskey so boring? I mean, he gives this detail, then that detail, then comes up with this advice to the author (Harriman), then that advice… But none of it goes anywhere even near to that which actually are the core concerns of the book! See the four themes I have given above, and see if McCaskey is directly concerned with any of these! Indeed, some of what he writes does not even make plain sense to me—whether related to the book or otherwise.

Then, I also factor in these facts: McCaskey has a PhD from Stanford and teaches there; before that education, he had co-founded/worked for a company which was founded by a President of the Stanford University; they both made millions or billions (in US $ terms) during the Internet boom of the late 1990s, and apparently managed to retain significant part of that money after the bubble burst. Ok.

I have worked in the SF Bay Area, right during those Internet boom and bust times, and I have a kind of sense (not a psychic sense but just plain ordinary sense) of what these asshole Americans, esp. Californians, esp. Bay Areans, esp. “successful” ones are like. A very definite sense.

One of their chief characteristic is best described using an analogy: they are very well adept in administering the Chinese punishment, in a mental manner. Allow me to explain.

These SF Bay Areans in particular (and Americans in general), esp. the techy ones, can summon an infinity of patience and keep creating and raising “issues” after “issues” in a decidedly polite manner (which often, but not necessarily always, follows political correctness). They can, and do, raise a lot of technically correct but actually meaningless “issues”. They can keep spawning threads after meaningless threads—and they do. The “drops” keep falling on the head of the intended victim… These Bay Arean (Californian, American…) assholes can keep doing it all until the automatic/biological/at least low-level functions of the opponent have to give away, and the victim cracks down.

Now, while I would always stand by the above description, let me hasten to add that I realize that such need not actually have been the case with McCaskey’s treatment of the book and of its author. What I mean to point out is this: use of such tactics, at least in a mild form, is very very easy for me to imagine. Even in this context. If this last interpretation is not valid, then I have to wonder: what else could be the point of raising all those meaningless or irrelevant historical details—to a colleague? I mean whether McCaskey wanted to mount that Chinese punishment sort of attack on Harriman or not, in any case, most of McCaskey’s stated concerns are far too detailed, at a few isolated “leaves” of a tree and not at its root or stem, and, come to think of it, inconsequential or¬† actually completely worthless as far the main thesis, the main subject matter, the overall nature, and the main thrust of this book is concerned.

And, though I have nothing personal for or against McCaskey, still, yes, I do think that Peikoff did a good thing by getting that kind of a pitter-pitt-patt, pitter-pitt-patt sort of nuisance (aiming for the conformance to the “accepted” etc. sort of history, no less!) out of the way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Unlike McCaskey, I do have a lot of issues with Dr. Leonard Peikoff himself, too, among others, especially concerning some of the things such as reincarnation etc. which he labels “arbitrary”. Yet, in the matter concerning the McCaskey etc. matter, I think that Peikoff did the right thing.

… How I wish Peikoff had a similar perspicuity when it came to taking a proper view of the inter-relations between physics and mathematics—which will be our topic next time (i.e. the next time I write on this subject).

9. To Conclude

In the meanwhile: Go ahead, buy it. Buy it for yourself, and also ask your library to order a copy. If you are American/British/Canadian/French/Australian/…/Christian etc.: Consider giving it as a gift this holiday season (starting with this Thanks Giving week-end). And, while doing so, also add a mental note: Ajit Jadhav has some issues with what is presented in the book concerning the nature and relation of physics and mathematics, but not with the fundamental thesis concerning induction—with a virtuoso exposition of a magnificent theory.

This book would have made for a great deal for the reader even at a price like Rs. 2000/-. At about Rs. 600/-, it is a windfall—even if the author, IMO, doesn’t get some of the things right. So, go ahead, buy it—and read and re-read it. You will profit from it. That’s the bottom-line.

Version History:
— v.1.0 Began writing November 25, 2010, 10:00 PM; finished the same night; minor changes made and published on the blog on November 27, 2010, ~6:38 PM.
— V.1.1 Added paragraph titles and a little more matter on November 28, 2010, ~7:15 PM. One more minor revision is due.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like

(Marathi): “kuNi jaal kaa, saangaal kaa…”
Lyrics: “Anil” (A. R. Deshpande)
Singer: Vasantrao Deshpande
Music: Yashwant Deo

[PS: Revised Nov. 28. One more minor revision is due.]


Consciousness—A Basic Issue

0. A Few Extra Words (Not Exactly a Preamble):

Before coming to the subject matter of this post, here is a pointing out to you that I have today updated my last post, in which I have now asked a question as to whether an observation independently made by Arjen Dijksman and me has been pointed out so explicitly before. See the last point (i.e. point no. 6) of my last post here [^].

Also, before coming to the main subject matter of this post, let me pause for a moment and think aloud about my method of posting.

Most times, to preserve the “life” or “livingness” in my posts, I write them on-the-fly. I do so at a cybercafe—thus, I have neither my references (books etc.) at my fingertips, nor am I very certain as to when the Internet and the power connection will go off. Naturally, there is an extra degree of “spontaneity” to my blog posts.

Whatever it is that I wish to write about, I am first and foremost concerned with “getting it out the door.” Further, I am not a very natural composer, whether in English or in Marathi. I have to write and rewrite. In a marketing (i.e. application engineer plus marketing) job I did years ago, I had to write a lot of business correspondence.¬† All my colleagues, but especially the staff in the typing pool—yes, we had typewriters back then—would always make fun of me, because all my hand-written drafts would have many scratches, revisions, arrows going from one part of a line on the bottom of the page to some other line at the top of the page, even to some other page, etc. It is for all such reasons that I often have to update my posts after publishing them at least once, correcting or at least streamlining the content. I think I am now going to discontinue this practice.

However, this post is certainly going to be in my own “traditional” way—written on the fly. I still think that I need to give it some deep thought whether I should not first write my posts at home, and then simply copy-paste and publish them here… I promise that I will think very hard about this matter.

Having said that, let’s try to turn to our today’s topic: Consciousness.

1. Still A Few More Extra Words (and, Again, Not a Preamble):

As I mentioned in a few recent blog posts here, when I reading Ayn Rand about 29 years ago (in the second half of the year 1981), I had already had a few queries that could only properly be called philosophic in nature.

Then, reading Ayn Rand, for many many years (certainly more than a decade), I sort of got swept away from my own queries and thoughts, thinking about what she had to say. Reading/understanding her did clarify a lot of my doubts, and it indeed introduced me to many new issues, even crucial ones, of philosophy. I am in her debt, intellectually speaking, and would always remain so.

However, some time later (starting the I half of the year 1993, and more or less very definitely after the mid-1990s), I slowly began realizing that perhaps some of my original queries did have something more than what Ayn Rand had to say. After undergoing and digesting UO (the audio course), and after thorough reading of OPAR, I was equipped with both a systematized knowledge of Objectivism (thanks mainly to Peikoff) and also a more thorough understanding of the same (in substantial measure, no doubt, because of my own efforts too). Having knowledge in such a form—may I call it a mature form?—had a consequence that I began having more confidence with my queries than what I had in the early years (1980s). In the early years, as students go, one was more concerned with just absorbing what is there; the issue of what to make of my own initial queries could be postponed. Remember here that I am not a professional philosopher. Also note that the issues of life that I confronted back then didn’t require an immediate resolution of these matters. On both the counts, postponing thinking about them was OK. In other words, if I didn’t think about these matters, it was not because I was overawed by Ayn Rand. Certainly not. That’s how many Americans (e.g. of the Brandens’ variety) may approach such issues—not me.

Anyway, beginning 1993 and then in the mid-1990s, I slowly began to realize that some of the aspects of the queries that I originally had (in 1981) were valid ones—even certain supposedly “arbitrary” issues such as certain aspects concerning the nature of consciousness, and of reincarnation. (I also have a bit to add about “arbitrary” etc. … Some other time.)

So, I also then realized that these issues themselves were not arbitrary—not even if both Rand and Peikoff had always indicated these to be so. I could see that I could isolate my viewpoint from almost all the other philosophies, psychologies, and people, believing in reincarnation. I could see that Peikoff’s or Rand’s criticism was not always misplaced. For example, look up Shirley McLean’s Web site. Even today, concerning reincarnation, the first thing she asks you is what you feel about reincarnation! … These Americans!!

Talking of these Americans, first, one of them has a stupid idea. Then, another has an opposing, and equally stupid idea. Both are vocal. Stubborn, with without conviction. Usually, by the time one becomes aware of an issue, such two types of stupids have already been slogging it out at each other, most usually, enacting the mind-body dichotomy.

Then, typically, enters an Objectivist—say, Rand, Peikoff, Binswanger, Schwartz, et al. They all have Rand as the basis. She has some idea about the matter—not necessarily covering all crucial aspects, but more often than not, she does have something crucial to say. Most of the times, she has sound reasoning.

Yet—and here is my basic contention (if that’s the word for it)—neither she nor any Objectivist is even willing to entertain a new thought if such a matter had not already been known and discussed in the Western philosophy. The sphere of their thought does not as many times touch upon all issues—even crucial issues—even crucial philosophic issues—as might be supposed after recognizing the nature of the axioms that they do seem to put forth.

Now, since the idea of reincarnation is not a major part of the Western philosophy (i.e. of philosophy, as contrasted with the Western theology), the Objectivists are rather eager to say, in effect: “It’s arbitrary; good bye!”

To Rand, as to Peikoff, the very idea that the ancient Indian writings might have something crucial, something essential, something of objective value to offer, seems to go against their grain—their cognitive fibre primarily (and then, the entailed moral or cultural fibre, consequently). They say that they are convinced about this issue, and also their actions indicate so.

They have it all. Complete. In full. Take it or leave it. No discussions of “arbitrary” points.

The culture seeps through. All Objectivists are similar in this regard. [To my knowledge, only Tracinsky’s piece is an exception. He does have some fine points, but IMHO, he has not put them with the right examples. I am not enthused ever to write on this part, but may be, after 5/10 years or so….]

For instance, recently, I wrote an email to a recent philosophy PhD graduate, a definitely very young guy, who seems to be Objectivist. Regardless of the fact that (these days) I am a member at HBL and that’s how I became aware of him and that’s how I was contacting him, and regardless of what I have written about Objetivism here and elsewhere (i.e. before this piece), he hasn’t bothered to reply. Not even a one liner. None. He is American, you see. And, an Objectivist. What else do you expect?

Note, the issue here isn’t a superiority syndrome on the part of these ordinary characters (sometime very very ordinary—by my standards), even if, some times, a superiority complex is actually the case—“pride,” “arrogance”, “haughtiness,”… you get the idea.

Now, when any guy, but especially such characters (I mean the Objectivists) exhibit their second nature to me—I mean: a man of my achievements, the consequence is a (Marathi) “luLaa” [English translation: paralyzed] attempt; not very efficacious one.

The point is, characters such as these (and Objectivists aren’t the only ones here) are sure that replying back to me, or acknowledging me (or my work), or God/Rationality forbid, doing so on their own, is going to, per their rapid automated calculations, elevate me.

Now, if the person (say I) am not an American, or at least a Westerner (you know the kind who takes dancing tuitions dressing in “black” at the end of an OCON conference, swears by Shakespeare even if philosophically wrong and simultaneously derides Eastern literature—those types), they calculate, doing this—i.e. in their estimate, whether realistic or not, elevating me—could pose a problem.

I am sure they rationalize such a decision only by reference to the virtue of selfishness, and the limited nature of their capacities. (They are right on the first part, and wrong on the second—their capacities are in fact far more limited than they allow themselves to fancy.)

In my experience, not only the novice or the comparatively inexperienced Obejctivists, but even the more experienced or leading ones also exhibit this same trait. The trait remains the same, only the concrete form of its manifestation changes (and some—but not all—times, also the psychological intensity of the underlying process). For instance, Peikoff could easily talk directly to me on his radio show—but only with me as one of the ordinary guys calling in. He could confirm that he does read my emails. But, would he therefore reply back? … Keep waiting.

In the Objectivist circles, the same policy, even if not officially prescribed, does percolate down to everyone—whether a convent-educated (i.e. Jesuits-mangled) Indian IIT/BJMC student, or his “friends,” or a fresh American PhD in his twenties.

And, one is not surprised; one has read enough about the British and the Indian Freedom Movement; all that one has to do is to put the 2 and the 2 together: namely, to note that both British and Americans are part of the same Western culture—the Jesuits’ convent morality included.

If you think I overstretch the case, note what Peikoff has once noted, in discussing the difference between Dominique Francon (a supposedly beautiful (i.e. thin etc.) and thoroughly spoilt brat, a scatter-brain in a certain basic sense) and Gail Wynand (the prime ideal of all materially successful Indian businessmen). He says (something like) that Wynand has sold his soul, but Ms. Francon is better—metaphorically, she has joined, wonder of the wonders, implicit good of the implicit good, the Convent. Marathi: “karun karun thakali, …” [English translation: Shrikant Rangnekar? Sam Udani? IITians? Times of India?]

So, if you are like me: Indian, talkative, open, and with achievements, and a man who can think—a man who can not only agree but also disagree, a man who can not only absorb the existing material but also create and invent something new, and worse, a man who can not only think but also articulate back replies—and then, if you then approach such characters (Americans and/or Objectivists), initially, there is this apprehension, in their minds, of keeping you at a distance, of not replying back, of being curt types (in their mind: with a firm knowledge of where to draw the line, etc. types). That is the case, initially.

So, that’s initially case. If you are like me, the case remains the same even after years—nay, decades. Note again, I am talking about men like me—not the usual spineless IIT/BJMC idiots flocking to the USA, esp. to the San Francisco Bay Area (and also New York, San Diego… you get the point.

In a general sense, that’s how all Americans behave—with a man like me.

Then, as a new movement especially proud of being proud (etc.), Objectivists could only be expected to accentuate this particular trait. For instance, in showing that men like me are not worthy of their replies, etc. And, similar types.

Now, from my side, I do understand about the limited time and energy that public personalities (such as intellectuals, politicians, etc.) can have at their disposal. In the case of Peikoff, I was willing to make an exception. The tense of the last statement is right—I was willing to do so, but I no longer am.

Today, despite all my achievements (see my resume on my Web site) and all my “follow-up” (12 years and counting)—which I have for years made sure the ARI knew and directly saw (at least as it unfolded since I came back in 2001)—I cannot take so generous a view of these “self-concerned” people. The Grand Old Man of Objectivism Dr. Leonard Peikoff included.

I no longer do. … Indeed, I wish I had come to this view earlier—after all, you don’t have to have as many achievements (in real terms) as mine, to keep that expectation to be treated as a human being—so long as you are of a serious thinking type.

But yes, I do observe that, to transcribe a Marathi saying (metaphor? idiom? proverb? you decide), it is as if these Objectivists’ fingers “luLe paDataat” [English: fall paralyzed] or “mahaarogyaasaarakhe zaDun jaataat” [English: fall off as is the case with a lapor], as soon as it comes to making an email reply, listening to ideas, thinking about them, appreciating the work of someone like me, etc.

I know that many of such characters (Americans and/or Objectivists, and further, also the non-Objectivist Americans/Westerners) are going to try and draw an analogy between me and, say, David Kelley—and do they know any better? So, in anticipation, let me hasten to add that I don’t care for Kelley. Not at all. My concern is with my things, my ideas, my life. And, God [also Rationality] knows (and so do you) that I have enough of other stuff to care about.

Which, brings us back to the title of this post. Consciousness.

The reason I didn’t directly go to the subject matter is that, it occurred to me that, ideally, I should have already discussed this with these Objectivists. But of course, now (after years, even decades), I know better.

… After all, if even a post I make about the philosophy of mathematics (in reference to calculus) does not get posted at the HBL (for whatever reason best known to Jean Moroney- and Harry Binswanger, et al.), what chance, do you think, would I have to have it discussed with Objectivists some 13–17 years ago.

But then, I have waited long enough—longer than I should have but without regrets (again, as indicated above, I didn’t mind postponement). So, I am going to begin posting about these things.

While reading, keep just one more thing in mind. There is this matter as to what view I should take when they (Americans and/or Obejctivists) would read it, as, undoubtedly, they would, and, as evidently (over a space of almost or two decades if not more) they have been giving an array of evidence of their superiority and their not willing to discuss.

The view of these characters (Objectivists and/or Americans) that I take here is exactly similar to the view I took of MIT and the American Scientific Establishment.

When they cared not to reply, I told the then Dean of R&D of MIT (via my official email) something like this (I mention here not the exact words but the essence of the whole thing):

Since you (Americans etc.) do not bother to reply me back because even the act of replying might imply acknowledging that such work as mine exists—and the nature of my achievements, and still, since you do take care to show to me via indirect means that you do read what I have to say (my research etc.), what this makes of you? You, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The University of California at Berkeley, The Stanford University, etc.—is that you are, objectively speaking, beggers.

You beg for the knowledge and achievements that I create, that I have created, and that I will go on creating, all, out of my own life and my own interests.

Possibly, as is fashionable in your Western culture (which also put to death not just a Socrates but also a Galois—comparison of scale not intended), you would begin to appreciate me and my work, after the elapse of a “safe” period of time—say, after my death.

But know that I knew this while I was still living—and that I had called you a begger.

My position with respect to Objectivists is not much different from the position I took with respect to those MIT etc. researchers.

Indeed, essentially, it is identical. The difference is that I still think that MIT etc. people are more devious, and less proud (though Objectivists aren’t always as good as their pride, displayed through both their words and actions, goes). But, the principle is the same. And, the comparison is close enough.

Having said what had to be said, let us begin with the topic itself.

Indeed, I had anyway thought of only broaching up the topic today, by way of a question. I will begin covering aspects of the possible/definite answers via randomly posted series of posts at this blog.

2. Consciousness—A Basic Issue

I assume that you are thoroughly familiar with Objectivism. (It is not necessary that you have an acquaintance with the various Indian ideas concerning consciousness. However, it will be helpful in the sense that if you are acquainted with these ideas, you could easily catch my drift right on the first go.)

A basic issue concerning consciousness—which was solved by Ayn Rand by not at all addressing it—can be approached thus (this description is written on the fly; can be arranged in a better hierarchical order later on):

Point 2.1:

Sit quietly in a closed room, with eyes closed for some time. (It’s OK even if the TV is on.) Then, open your eyes and, for a few seconds, take a stock of the objects present in the room. For instance, you see a flower-pot, a desk, or some program on TV. Again close your eyes, and ask yourself one question:

Who observed those objects?”

Note the object of our query. It is not: the physical objects in the room, or the place where the observations were made. It is not even your experience of having observed something.

Here, we are talking about the observer, the “who,” not the observed, the what.

When people seek an answer to this question, many of them often experience confusion. The thing is, apart from saying that “I observed it”, they have nothing more to add. And, they are not sure if the answer is either to the point (or, if they are advanced enough, whether the answer is complete). After all, apart from telling the questioner that yes, one is aware of “someone” “in here” who does the observing, hardly anything else can be added.

Incidentally, a teacher of the “Art of Living” (i.e. Sr^2) courses thought that this ability to isolate the observer from the acts of observations is something that most people have never done in life, before coming and attending their course! I disagreed!! I always knew people right from my primary-school time. (I attended the Basic or Part I course some time back, and am not sure if I want to recommend it to anyone . But, yes, there is something to performing the Sudarshan Kriya, and that thing may be right for you. … You decide, on your own.)

So, to come back to our present discussion, be sure that you know the “thing” that we are talking about here. It is: that “I” within you, that “someone” within you that (primarily speaking) only you can be directly aware of. It is that particular instance of the “I-ness” which you infer by external (physical) observations of other men that they, too, possess it, even if, no one else’s “I” can you be (in the primary senses of the terms) be directly aware of.

It is that “I” that we are talking about here, that’s the main subject matter for us today (and for some time to come).

Ok. Now, answer this question: Where is this “I” of yours located in the real world? (Binswanger’s “Metaphysics of Consciousness” lecture may be helpful here. [You see, I am unlike them.])

Can you say that this “I” of yours, which you can experience any time, but which seems to be the same at any time of your observing it, is located in your brain? Is that so?

Is that really so? Can you really say that this “I” of yours exists “in between your ears,” to use a popular way of putting it?

In answering this way, are you only repeating what scientists/psychologists have told you?

Or is it that you do have a direct experience of your “I” being physically spread, say from this ear to that ear (or enclosed by the boundaries of your brain, your head, your brain + brain-stem + spinal chord, etc)?

If, despite deep thinking and making isolating kind of observations, you still say that you do have a direct experience of that “I” of yours as being spread to a definite location in space, I ask you that you remain on the side-lines and simply watch the further questions and answers. (Eventually, you may want to revise your answers here, or leave this blog altogether.)

The fact of the matter is: No spatial relation can at all be established between that directly experienced “I” of an observer on the one hand, and the material or the physical universe that we directly perceive around on the other hand. None can be.

The reason is: that “I” of yours is beyond both space and time. No attribute, characteristic or relation of the physical universe applies to this “I” that you have. None. Just as equally well, no material thing can primarily be said to be conscious. The two are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive isolations—of man, together with the rest of the universe in which he lives.

This “I” of yours, is (I think) what Ayn Rand had in mind when she said that Consciousness is an axiom—a self-evident primary.

… Objectivists immediately go next to establishing the metaphysical primacy of Existence, which we will not do here—we do take it for granted, though! But having discussed enough, it is no longer interesting in its own right, for our present subject matter.

Just the way the referents of the concept of “Existence” include not only the observed physical universe but everything else, that is to say, just the way the concept “Existence” goes beyond space and time (and beyond: physical form, physical materials, physical substances, aether, etc.) , just the way it goes beyond all spatial and temporal measures, similarly, also the concept of “Consciousness” goes beyond space and time.

… A lot of people have no issue accepting the first, but they do feel hesitant to accept the second. But, it is true. Consciousness has no spatial-temporal measures—qua an irreducible primary, qua a most basic or fundamental fact, it cannot have these measures. (For that matter, it cannot even have contraries—which, again, comes as a shocker to, who else but, Objectivists (and I guess would do so to a greater measure if these Objectivists are Americans).)

Point 2.2:

Let’s do one more experiment.

Catch hold of a friend/family member or so. Ask him to keep a distance of about 5 or 6 feet between you and him, and then ask him to attempt to clap very lightly with his hands, at random intervals. The clapping should be barely audible. Now, close your eyes. Concentrate hard and try to predict the time of the next clap—when it occurs. Do not speak it aloud, just keep that prediction all to yourself. However, do make that prediction, whenever you feel like doing it, silently, within your mind.

Then, once a clap does actually occur, try to find if and how you could determine the fact that there was a clap!

Once you become comfortable with this procedure, get a sound-proofing headphone and wear it. I mean, the headphone should isolate out as much external sound as possible—therefore, it’s OK if you wear your iPod etc. headphone at a loud volume too. Now, try to predict both the timing of the next clap, and its perception by you—by the “I” of you who “is there” to perceive. It gets hard to perceive the clap if it is faint (and if the headphone volume is high). If the conditions are right, you no longer perceive the clap by its sound. This stage forms the basic condition of our experiment.

Now, you seat in a chair facing a wall, close your eyes, wear the external “sound-proofing” headphone, and ask your friends to slowly come towards you, without making any sound, and making a clap. (The experiment works better if there are more than one clappers who might approach you—with only one of them clapping at a time.)

As the friend(s) approach closer, eventually, they are permitted to physically touch you in their clapping. (However, they should approach you with as much stealth as possible. For example, turn the room fan on, so that you don’t feel their breath as they approach you. Again driving the sensory signal out with another large signal.)

If you now do this entire experiment (silently predicting the time of the next clap and then trying to actually perceive the next clap), you will find that, eventually, you are able to perceive the clapping only when there is an actual touch—a direct physical contact, effected to your physical body. Not at all otherwise.

Agree with that empirically established fact? OK? Now think about what kind of an abstract fact is implicit in it.

The implicit fact is: You cannot perceive anything unless it establishes some kind of a physical or material contact with your material, spatially delimited body.

In other words, your perceptions—and therefore also your consciousness—is¬† delimited in space, time, and in general by the material universe.

3. The Basic Issue:

It is obvious by now that there seems to be a very basic contradiction between the Point 2.1, and Point 2.2 above.

In Point 2.1, we concluded that consciousness—that “I” of yours who does the perceiving/observing—cannot be ascribed to any specific region of space.

Though we didn’t touch upon it, there also are many further examples. For instance, loboctomy patients do not report of a partial reduction of their “I,” neither do patients who develop a cancer of the brain, report a partial enlargement of their “I.” Consciousness is independent of space and time, it seems.

Then, in Point 2.2, we concluded that consciousness is necessarily delimited to a region of space—namely, in broad terms, your (own) body. If your friend bangs a table, it doesn’t hurt you; if he bangs your body, it does. So on and so forth.

Of course, even if we didn’t make explicit all parts of the logic in the Point 2.2 above, by itself, it was also logical. The logic goes this way:

The only way you can think of having an “I” is if you first observe something (in reality apart from in your consciousness), and then, (chronologically and logically) some time later, catch (literally) your self while you are in a process of observation, and then become aware of the possibility of being self-conscious—i.e. of isolating the basic fact of that “I”ness.

Implicit in such a process of discovering the ability to be self-conscious is the fact that perceptions do matter—without them, you couldn’t have isolated your own “I.” Yet, having done that, you know the answer to the question: “who does your perceving (something in reality);” the answer is: that “I” of yours. Which is beyond space and time.

If you must have me cite Ayn Rand, let me do so (purely from memory, will check accuracy later):

“Existence exists, and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms, viz. that something exists, and that you exist possessing consciousness; consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.”

Of, in Peikoff’s words:

“There is something that I am aware of.”

Consciousness is an axiom; the “I”ness is there right from the first sensation of your life.

And, qua a philosophic axiom, it is outside of space and time.

4. The Issue in Summary

So, let us now summarize: Observing (or perceiving) requires the body; the body is spatially delimited; the conscious observer which is an aspect of you the person, cannot be isolated by you except after having made (enough number of perceptual and at least implicitly conceptual) observations; yet, the basic fact of there being you the observer—the “I” of yours—has always been there in fact and therefore is an independent axiom; qua axiom, it is beyond space and time.

In short, what is delimited by space and time is beyond space and time. Or “better” still: what is in the space (and time) is beyond it. Good enough?

The basic issue then is: where, logically, does the transition occur from that dependency on the physical world (say with space-time measures) to that independency that the “I” display?

If you go through Ayn Rand, you would know that apparently, the thought never occurred to her.

If you ask Objectivists, they will go away, say “good bye” (for the sort of reasons mentioned above). (I have not given it a thought whether the begging concomittantly in logic and in time.)

Let me disavow my Objectivism, if this is required (as it does seem to), and address ideas and issues touching upon the above basic issue, at this blog.

Indeed, the above issue was one of the points with which I had begun studying Objectivism.

No, the query was not so clear to me, and certainly it was not expressed in such terms at all. Certainly not with this generality. But the query was there. See if you can detect the above basic issue in the query that I actually had.

5. A Bit Personal/of the Past

My query (of around 1981 times and may be a few years before it) was something like this:

The eye is regarded as “some sort of” a “camera.” The eye-lense forms an image; the nerves get excited in an isomorphous sort of a manner (not a word I had back then!). Then what? The nerves send the signal the brain. Then what? The brain “interprets” in such a way that we “become” “aware.” Meaning: a physico-electro-chemical process, and the “I” that I always have, gets affected. Even if the “I”, as consciousness, is not made of anything material. If so, how does the affectation occur? How does the material connect with the “I”? And, further: Is it OK to restrict the process “in reverse,” by asserting that the converse also is true—namely by saying that the only way the “I” can, e.g., “see” is if there is a material process/reaction in my body?

Since I still do admire Ayn Rand, let me end this long post on a chuckle:

Too bad Ayn Rand didn’t think of this issue.

Or, may be, she at least didn’t fully think, or, possibly, as a “good” Russian/American/Westerner, willfully refused to think, of this issue, and of many of the issues touching upon it. For instance, “soul,” “reincarnation,” etc.

Aren’t these ideas near-by—in the sense, closely related?

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “duniyaa kare sawaal to hum”
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Saahir Ludhianwi
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar

[May be I will streamline a bit a few days later; more likely is: I will add separate entries here on the topics that are off-shoots from this one.]


A Write-Up for the Blog: “Ayn Rand – India”

A note about this post: This post was actually typed at the blog called “Ayn Rand – India,” in response to their “sticky” question: “Tell us about your journey”: [^]. However, upon submitting, it turned out that I had (as usual) exceeded their space limit (4096 characters). I anyway was planning to post the write-up here, too. So, here we go. (I am inserting a link to this post at their blog). [This post was first posted on August 13, 2010, and then was also expanded and updated on August 22, 2010.]

How I discovered Ayn Rand:

It was ~29 years ago. It was 1981. I was a TE (i.e. III year engg.) student at COEP, Pune; it was the first semester in the academic year 1981–82. By this time, I had already had read quite a lot of material (mostly in Marathi), and had come to formulate quite a few specific questions that can be called only properly philosophic. In 1981, I was reading psychology and philosophy in English at random. … However, I think we are jumping here; first, a word about my reading up to that time is in order…

Actually, I probably had fully read (or at least well-browsed through) the entire library available in a taluka place, while in school. Biographies of geographical explorers and of scientists, was my favorite genre. Also, virtually any type of non-fiction. Our family had subscribed to the “Kirloskar” magazine (and also “Stree” and “Manohar”), and I would be the first in the family to finish them cover-to-cover, virtually within 2–3 days of their arrival. I would also read up any nonfiction books that I could lay my hands on—the books in the library, school seniors’ science and history books, etc. Virtually anything. I distinctly remember that I had finished all of Vivekananda’s books on yoga while still in school (around 8th standard). … So, I was well versed with philosophy as such. But all of my pre-engg. reading was mostly in Marathi.

During my 11th/12th std. (or thereabouts), in the magazine “Science Today” (no longer published by their publishers, the Times of India group), there was this series on the “Method of Science” being run by a scientist by name P. M. Bhargava who was into popularizing the Method. (It’s the same Bhargava whose Exhibition on the Method of Science had been vandalized in 1978; his write-ups in “Science Today” were based on the material from this exhibition). This series of write-ups had absorbed me a lot. So, by the time I went to engineering I already knew in explicit terms that I would want to apply the *method* of science (with the stress on the word method also right from those days) to *everything* in my life. I changed it later on, of course, after reading Ayn Rand—I realized that exercise of rationality cannot be limited to only that kind of knowledge which involves testing of hypotheses via *experiments* alone. In fact, I also knew right back then that experiments as such don’t have to be conducted. What I really meant, without having the necessary terms, was the unbreached application of Reason to every issue in Life. That’s what I actually meant when I said the *method* of science back then.

That was the background. Now, comfortably settled in and with COEP, I had once again picked up the habit of reading non-fiction books, my new interests being psychology and philosophy. But this time, I decidedly was pursuing books in English (in part because I didn’t find what I wanted in the Marathi books anymore, and in part because I wanted to improve my English anyway).

The best books were then available with the British Library (on the Fergusson College Road in Pune). But obtaining the Library’s membership was not only somewhat expensive for us students in those days, but the Library also had a long waiting list for membership. So the membership was difficult to get in those days. We usually used to borrow books on someone else’s membership card. In the first semester of TE, I remember, I had begun¬† sometimes accompanying a friend to the British Library;¬† we would use the membership card of a certain cousin brother of his (himself a BTech chemical engineer from IIT Bombay, working in Pune). I distinctly remember that I had arranged for borrowing Russell’s book, I guess may be on logic or so (I no longer remember the exact title). Randomly, I also was browsing up other authors. (Funny, however, that I still hadn’t yet bought Will Durant’s “Story of Philosophy,” which happened only a few years later!)

It was at this point that a friend of mine (a class-mate of mine at COEP), then an Objectivist, happened to recommend Ayn Rand to me. He had all her books with him. Some of these books, and some knowledge about Objectivism had come to him from *his* friend, a senior to us, a graduate of both COEP and Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management, Bombay. (I later learnt that *that* guy, in turn, had been introduced to Objectivism by some professor, probably a visiting faculty, at the JB Institute.) … Indeed, at this point of time (II half of 1981), I had also begun reading Freud, again borrowing the books by Freud from this same friend. I indeed had become an enthusiastic Freudian for some time then, something that I more deeply thought about and then disavowed only in 1984 or thereabouts.

Unlike most other readers who begin with Ayn Rand novels, I happened to begin with her non-fiction works. I no longer recall the time-period exactly, but perhaps there was a week or two of “For the New Intellectual” (FTNI) with which I began. I did not finish it. For books in English, I used to have a very very slow reading rate, something like 12–15 pages per hour. (Even today, I don’t usually exceed 20 pages/hour). I also usually don’t finish books in one go, neither do I follow the sequence given in the book during even the very first reading. So, I didn’t quite finish FTNI. But, within a couple of weeks or so, I went to her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.” (ITOE).

It was this book which kept me engaged the most. The friend and I discussed and argued a lot, sometimes for hours. I think that unlike my usual habits, I almost fully *finished* ITOE (in any case definitely including Peikoff’s essay) before moving on to “The Romantic Manifesto.” The “Virtue of Selfishness” and “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,” and “The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution” came immediately later. However, I didn’t finish all the essays from these books. Yet, I did jump at the essays having more general themes, leaving the more topical essays aside. Much, though not all, of this was already there before my final year¬† (1982–83) began. I guess I didn’t read the novels in full until years later—I knew the plots in general terms from my discussions with my friend. I guess I read “Atlas Shrugged” in full for the first time only while attending IIT Madras (in 1985–87).

I did not “convert” to Objectivism immediately. In fact, during the initial discussions with my friend (in 1981–82), I used to take a position completely opposite of Ayn Rand’s. ITOE still was only in the first edition back then, and its back-cover would then carry a descriptive paragraph of the kind of erroneous views of concepts that people have. The description would then add how Ayn Rand offered a fresh alternative.¬† When I began reading ITOE, I would often argue with my friend, always taking precisely this opposite position, e.g. that concepts are approximate, vague, with multiple meanings, etc.

But, I also had already come to accept the “*Method* of Science,” including “logic,” and so, in our arguments, I picked up the challenge to prove Ayn Rand wrong. To achieve this end, I would work through her arguments, purely in order to defeat her. I worked through each passage, each line tens of times, arguing points—either in my mind or with my friend. Even back then, I knew that if I accepted ITOE, and if Rand was consistent, then I would also accept everything else by her too.

I guess the “conversion” (i.e. conviction) had already occurred sometime by mid-1985, when I bought “Philosophy: Who Needs It” (PWNI). [The first version of this post gave the date wrongly as 1987. I then thought about it, checked out my book collection, and verified that the date of purchase of my copy of PWNI is: 14th May, 1985.]

Somewhere above, I have said that my friend and I would argue a lot, sometimes for hours. That was an understatement. We could easily chat and argue right from a morning, through lunch, through dinner, and then till late in the night up to like 2 or 3 AM in the morning. … Both of us (and many many more of my friends from hostels) had already grown to the lectures-bunking style of attending COEP. Some of these arguments did occur at COEP’s Boat Club, but it was easy to lose focus because of friends dropping by. One doesn’t want that kind of an interference if one is ought to prove an obviously intelligent philosopher wrong. Therefore, a majority of our arguments (in Marathi: “DokephoD”) occurred on cups of tea (also with cigarettes) at a small restaurant called “Cafe Helena” on the Furgusson College Road. (Helena wound up long time ago. It used to be near the Iranian Cafe Ramsar, opposite the Police Parade ground.)

Let me end this description of my early times with Objectivism, on a funny memory. During my *very* initial discussions, I remember, one argument we had was whether photography could qualify as art or not. My position was that it did; the friend’s position was that no, it didn’t. Both of us were willing to rope in *epistemological* arguments to justify our respective points (after reading up The Romantic Manifesto, of course!) In one of these discussions, I once gave some argument that I thought was very strong, and then, in closing it, I said to my friend, with a mock anger and with anticipation of victory, something like: (Marathi) “tyaa tujhyaa yeDyaa ‘Ayn Rand’ laa jaawun saang, tyaachyaa ‘argument’-madhe dam naahin mhaNun!” [English translation: Go to your stupid Ayn Rand and tell him that there is no substance in his arguments.] This friend of mine suddenly looked at me a little strangely, and, suppressing his smile, said: (Marathi) “Ajyaa, [an expletive deleted], tulaa jar tiche mudde khoDunach kaaDhaayache asatil, tar kamit kami tichi pustak_ jara niT tari waachat jaa. ‘Ayn Rand’ ‘to’ nahi, ‘tee’ aahe.” [English translation: Ajyaa, [an expletive deleted], if you have to disprove her points, then at least read her books carefully. Ayn Rand is not a “he”; it’s a “she”! She is a woman, not a man! ] LOL… The thing was that I had very little exposure to the Western things back then. I was not exposed even to the Western society, let alone the Western culture or literature. So, the first time I had heard of Ayn Rand’s name from this friend, I had imagined “Ayn” to be some kind of a variation on the name “Ian.” And so, I had taken this new strange philosopher to be a man. (I knew the name “Ian” to be a man’s name because of the Ian Fleming of the James Bond fame.) The assumption that Rand was a man had continued for at least a month or so, perhaps more.

As to the argument concerning photography,¬† yes, after months, eventually, we did come to settle our argument. I came to accept the absence in photography of that kind of a *recreation* of reality which would be necessary for something to qualify as art; he came to accept more deeply his point that there may be some element of art in those photographs whose elements had been “managed” carefully enough.

One reason the photography debate ended also was because, in the process, I had introduced¬† another debate: Does engineering graphics qualify as a language in its own right, even if only as a highly specialized kind of language? My position was that yes, it did. Words, as epistemological symbols, do not have to be expressed using the same mechanism as our usual language, a way in which, say, poetry can be composed.¬† Each element of engineering graphics does represent a concept, and there is sufficient complexity of combination of basic concepts that it should be taken to a language of its own sort. Thus, say the isometric view in an engineering drawing is comparable to a paragraph describing an object… We had come to this sub-debate after trying to understand Ayn Rand’s observation concerning the traditional view that a¬† picture conveys a thousand words. Ayn Rand had pointed out, from her unique angle, that a word stands for an infinity of concretes and thus are cognitively far more powerful. Since I had started out by being in principle against her, esp. while going through ITOE, I immediately came up this argument that engineering graphics is a language!

Even some 28/29 years later, I wouldn’t mind receiving new arguments on this matter. And, as far as I know it, this argument of mine is novel in the sense that I haven’t yet seen it mentioned in any writings by anyone, Objectivists or others!

Anyway, to resume tracing my studies of Objectivism, many pieces really fell in place for me only a few years later, in 1989–90, when I listened to Peikoff’s audio courses on “Philosophy of Objectivism” and “Understanding Objectivism.” This was at a club of some people who then were Objectivists. Tara and Govind Malkani of Bombay used to supply these cassettes.

My reaction to Ayn Rand’s writings have included everything that her admirers have ever written.

Here, the piece I like best is Peikoff’s “My 30 Years with Ayn Rand.” You might have guessed by now the reason why it would be a favorite of mine. … Come to think of it, there are two reasons. (i) The first, less important, reason is that Peikoff keeps away from discussing the concretes of her personal life except if these would honor her. (ii) The second, the really important reason is that he does not fail to highlight that it was her *method* of using her mind which was the most unique thing about her. This emphasis on “method” would tell you why I appreciate Peikoff’s piece—the reason is, this way of capturing Ayn Rand’s essence *is* (epistemologically) *right*.

However, unlike most other Objectivists, I have also sometimes thought if, stylistically speaking, she could not have been a little less passionate, a little cooler in her writings. Not that her passionate criticism of the irrationalities that she saw around, really bothered me. Nope. Not at all. (I am usually told that I have a temper myself.) But still… Let me put it this way. The tone of her later writings, say in PWNI, is definitely more mellow, more mature. The early writings (I mean non-fiction) are more full of an acute kind of a fire, and, going by the number of lines or pages alone, more concerned with polemics. Stylistically alone, I like her later writings better.

I am not much of a fictions man. In fiction, among her writings, I like her “Anthem” more than anything else. Probably, “Atlas Shrugged” would come at #2, followed by “The Fountainhead” at #3

But, again, I am a kind of a guy who rather happens to pick up Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, or Binswanger’s lexicon, rather than the fiction works. [For instance, I have wondered whether, for determining ranks of her fiction works, esp. from #2 onwards, these ranks could not be determined in reference to the direction of the net velocity vector which would be obtained if the instantaneous velocities of all fish on the planet Earth were summed up. (Incidentally, I had thought of such a vector the first time in 1994–1995, i.e. way way before Paul the Octopus. I had thought of it completely on my own, not knowing similar proposals elsewhere. (*Don’t* take this seriously!))]

Anyway, frivolities aside, let me mention a few essays by her that have remained etched in my memory for whatever odd personal reasons. I haven’t looked up her books in recent times, and am talking purely off-hand, or on-the-fly. So, the list may change after a due deliberation. But, off-hand, I would say the following list, in no particular order. (I am noting the main subject matters, the title words may not be exact): the entirety of ITOE; the “Summary” section of ITOE (which, qua summary, is the all-time best that I have ever seen in any writing—philosophic or in science/engineering); the psycho-epistemology of art; the comprachicos; the opening essay in the book The Virtue of Selfishness; the essay on philosophical detection in PWNI; The Metaphysical vs. the Man-Made; Don’t Let It Go; The essay on occasion of that chess championship match between an American and a Russian (I always have a very poor memory when it comes to names and things like that);¬† The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy; etc. (For the first three-four years, keeping ITOE aside, my most favorite was The Comprachicos; it still is one of the most favorites.)

How do I relate to her ideas today? Hmmm…. In my recent PhD thesis (submitted 2007, defended 2009), I explicitly acknowledged Objectivism as the general philosophy behind my research.

However, I think I do “look elsewhere” too when it comes to certain very few issues such as: reincarnation (I believe in it unlike Rand/Peikoff), some of the Indian ideas concerning soul, etc. I have been reading a lot on these matters, the “Upanishad”s being my most favorites. Recently, I have begun reading Patanjali’s writeups on Yoga too.

I think I am very clear on these matters: I am going to or already have accepted certain of such ideas, without rejecting Ayn Rand’s *axioms* and their interrelations in a general sense. Thus, I do believe in the Primacy of Existence.

But I also believe that many other supplemental observations can be made, and need to be integrated. Such a change will not be Objectivism. But it will be/is a part of my thought and outlook, and, to the extent that such ideas are philosophic matters, also of my personal philosophy. (I have no ambition whatsoever in philosophy—there, I am, and intend to remain, an amateur).

Overall, my advice to the newcomers would be to finish her books first, and then also do go through Peikoff’s courses: “Philosophy of Objectivism” and “Understanding Objectivism” (esp the latter). Another matter. His course on “History of (Western) Philosophy” also helps a lot. Of course, that is, if you are interested in her philosophy and not just her fiction (at the level of art).

BTW, one change over the years is that I no longer am very enthusiastic in discussing her ideas. There have been some bitter experiences with the so-called Objectivists, but I am sure these did not matter. I think this loss of interest has been very natural.

I wanted to understand philosophy, and after reaching a comfortable enough level over decades, I think now, naturally, there is only a mild interest in exchanging ideas. However, of course, I many times do mention her in my blog posts, if there is a need to trace the origin of ideas to her (and to other leading Objectivist philosophers like Peikoff and Binswanger).

Enough! (Even I get tired typing!!)

PS: This is the second edition of this post, considerably expanded with trivia, and updated. I am sure there would be mistakes in it, but I will let these remain. (I am very poor in English composition, and English anyway is my second language, not first.)

The reason there was a gap between my last post and this one is that, about two weeks ago, my mother fell while sitting on a chair right in our home, and broke her hip joint. There was a surgery. So, I have been away from blogging. I plan to write a few things on philosophy of mathematics and physics, and also on the nonlinear dynamics part of my hypothesis on homeopathy here soon enough. How soon, you ask? Go, figure! ūüôā

* * * * *   * * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “deewaanaa kar ke cHoDoge lagataa hai…”
Singers: Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: [TBD]
[This post originally posted on August 13, 2010; considerably expanded and updated on August 22, 2010.]

General Update + Comments on Eric Dennis’ Views Re. Bohmian Mechanics

General Update:

You might be surprised, perhaps, that this post does not continue with my series on the hypothesis of homeopathy. The reason is two-fold:

(i) I began writing on the theory of dynamical systems (chaos, catastrophe and all), but soon got confused as how best to present it without using too much of mathematics, this blog being for a more general readership. Also, what models should I pick up. I could not make up my mind very easily on these matters.

(ii) Even as my confusion continued, I got entrapped in a spike of too much work and running around. Here’s a brief: I worked on some time-bound delivery in my day-job; researched a topic for my “other” research work; physically visited IIT Bombay (to gather some literature with the help of a friend there); attended a two-day conference arranged by MSC Software in Pune (nice folks these (I have now almost begun forgetting that they took no action towards employing me just a few years ago at the time that I needed a job so badly), they distributed (to each attendee) a small carry-bag and a wrist watch, and even had invited (each attendee) for cocktails and dinner at the five-star hotel too, though, surprise of the surprise, I didn’t go—I was that busy); wrote some important documentation and physically rushed around to see that it was sent by courier before the deadline of June 30; wrote a couple of lengthy (2,000+ words each, I found out later) emails on certain very fundamentals of physics, that also were thoughtful (and I say thoughtful because these were questions more or less on my research); and wrote a three pages long Extended Abstract for a paper for an upcoming international conference and also sent it; etc.

Naturally, there was no time left for blogging. … Not that anyone noticed, but still, it feels good to talk about talking to the empty universe that includes spammers—thank you, Akismet!

I promise to finish the write up on homeopathy soon and post it, because writing those couple of emails have provided me with some good food for thought too, something to get out the door asap—but after finishing up the series on homeopathy.

– – – – –

Dr. Eric Dennis on Bohmian Mechanics at OCON 2010

Sometime in the meanwhile, I noticed in a general search related to QM and philosophy that Dr. Eric Dennis [^] would be delivering an optional course on “Modern Physics and Objective Reality” at the Objectivist Summer Conference 2010 [^].

Going through his course description, I found that I would disagree. Therefore, I left a comment on Dr. Dennis’ blog here [^]; see comment # 7. However, I didn’t receive any reply. So, after waiting for a few days, I wrote an email to the OCON organizers, requesting them to forward my email actually written for him. They immediately replied back, saying that my email had been forwarded. Even then, there was no response. In this last email, I had mentioned something to the effect that if no communications occur, then I will write my disagreement on my blog on the same day as his lecture. … Now that I am through with my June-end deadlines, I actually can.

First things first. I attach a great deal of credibility to the lectures/courses given at the OCON conferences. That precisely is the reason why I thought of highlighting my disagreement. Another thing. As a rule, I hate it if people do not reply normal (polite etc.) emails/comments on serious topics/issues being discussed publicly. Naturally, I was disappointed by the absence of Dr. Dennis’ reply, esp. since the OCON organizers did respond. A serious concern here is I think that the weight of Objectivism might be used to support such a basically “wrong” theory as Bohm’s. With that said, I still must note that I was not angry with Dr. Dennis (my usual response in such situations), merely disappointed. Enough. Let’s get to the issue itself.

For ease of referencing, here I in toto copy-paste the description for Dr. Dennis’ OCON 2010 course:

The received story of modern physics features a pioneering group of quantum theorists (Bohr, Heisenberg, Born, Pauli) who showed that critical aspects of the atomic world are observer-created, vindicating subjectivism by reference to what has become a bedrock of experimental science. This story, however, is undermined by a parallel lineage of physicists (Einstein, de Broglie, Schrödinger, Bohm, Bell) whose climax came with David Bohm’s reformulation of quantum mechanics in terms of an objective micro-world.

We contrast these two approaches to quantum theory in layman’s terms, focusing on how they each explain key experiments and on what premises about the nature of explanation itself they each proceed from. Examining the response of Bohm’s opponents will locate the real source of their worldview not in experimental discoveries, but in avant-garde philosophy, which will help to elucidate contemporary disputes about scientific methodology at the frontier of physics.

[Bold emphasis mine].

The first paragraph in the quoted description suggests the idea that Bohm had succeeded in giving an objective description for the mechanics of quanta. This suggestion is, in my honest opinion, completely false.

The second paragraph suggests that none of the arguments against Bohmian mechanics is founded, or is sought to be founded, in “experimental discoveries” i.e. physical/empirical observations. I disagree—I am willing to subject my view of quantum mechanical phenomena to certain new types of observations to be made in actual experiment.

Let me address both these parts. Allow me to be brief; after all, these are subject matters of professional-level papers, not informal blog entries, and my own views, though definite, are nowhere near completion—my research is just beginning. With that note, let’s address the two issues.

I have not studied Bohmian mechanics as a graduate student of physics would; my reading is limited to gleaning what overall kind of ideas he was advocating. Even then, I am against his mechanics. The reason is basically two-fold.

(a) What Bohm Said

To the best of my knowledge of quantum phenomena, I find that one has to concur with Feynman’s observation that the wave-particle duality is the most crucial issue of QM; resolve it, and the fundamental mystery of the QM would basically be¬†gone, even though details and implications would remain.

On this count, I believe that Bohm has not at all resolved the wave-particle duality. His scheme physically retains the duality through and through. In his scheme, there is an abstract potential, and then there is the actually propagating particle. The two are related only in his blanket assertion—he provides no physical explanation as to precisely how these two might be physically connected, except for abstractly repeating that they are. This, I believe, is the most important objection against his theory.

Bohm’s explicit aim was to restore determinism in QM. Note, the word is “determinism,” and not causality—i.e. causality in Ayn Rand’s sense of the term [^]. My (early) impression is that he probably would not have known the distinction. I think he could have accepted “infinite precision” as a perfectly legitimate term; he wouldn’t have noticed the epistemological flaw about it. Indeed, “infinite precision” is the one characteristic, even a demand, that he would have made on causality. His description of quantum phenomena is geared to ensure a deterministic propagation of quanta. The only dynamical model he could have thought of, in order to ensure a causal description, would have been the one that had straight-line trajectories as the ideal. That is what determinism would have implied to him. (I speak here in the indefinite sense, using the words “would have” etc. because my study of Bohm is too limited—I can find neither the time nor the physicists who can talk to me about QM and hasten up the process—not even Dr. Dennis (:)).) In ensuring this kind of a variant of causality, I believe he forgot addressing the duality as such, and actually ended up dividing the quantum into two parts: the abstract potential and the particle that travels guided by that potential.

This theory has another flaw. I don’t have the time to spell out (and probably can’t do so on the fly anyway, without referring to Peikoff’s lectures and Objectivist books again) but to those who know it, to elevate Bohm’s ideas, the flaw in his scheme is somewhat similar to Aristotle’s idea of the Unmoved Mover.

The Unmoved Mover does not himself move, said Aristotle, but He sets in motion all the things in the universe (supposedly in one “instant”) and immediately removes himself out of any activity within the universe. Thus, the universe that you and me see around us is orderly; it runs without any form of conscious interjection/interference/even observation on the part of the Unmoved Mover. And yet, the source of its order is: The Unmoved Mover.

Bohm’s quantum is able to travel along any of an infinity of the paths that are in conformance with the abstract potential associated with a particular physical setup such as the double-slit interference chamber. If you let a number of Bohmian quanta successively travel along these possible path, the mathematics is such that the density on the observation screen is exactly as would be observed in the interference experiment. But if you ask a Bohmian, which particular of these infinity of paths would the next quantum take, his answer is: “this can’t be predicted.” The path selection happens before (or concomitant) to the emission of the quantum, as if there is an Unmoved Mover sitting in the source atom which emits a quantum.

In Bohm’s theory, there is no physical mechanism for the construction of that abstract potential. INHO, this is the most crucial issue in any quantum theory having definite trajectories for a particle in its description. I certainly will explain sometime later on why I think that it is the most crucial issue. Two sub-notes are in order (i) The most crucial issue for any quantum theory having a waves-based description (i.e., the mainstream/Copenhagen theory, using, say, the device of the wave-packet—a combination of many waves of differing frequencies, but not a monochromatic radiation) is explaining the definitely local nature of the detector events. On the other hand, the most crucial issue for any quantum theory having a particles-based description (Feynman’s and Bohm’s theories) is explaining the construction of the spatially spread-out field/potential. (ii) Actually, what I plan to do is to present a “poor man’s” version of QM—a pseudo-QM that deals with only an unrealistically abstract view of the actual physical universe. The simpler case allows us to more easily see through the issue. This is what I intend to in a nearer future, say, within a month or so. I guess if you know about QM and if you go through the pseudo-QM, you would agree with my assertion that providing a local-physical mechanism for the construction of the potential indeed is the most crucial issue.

Coming back to Bohm’s theory, the complete absence of even hints towards a physical mechanism for the abstract potential once again suggests as if there was this Unmoved Mover setting that potential up for a particular physical setup (or, to put it in mathematical terms, for the given boundary- & initial-value problem).

In Bohm’s theory, once the path is thus selected—in deference to the potential and the initial probabilistic condition—the quantum “shoots straight,” so to speak. In terms of both the potential and the initial condition, the description is everything except the explicit mention of the Unmoved Mover. No wonder the Brits so readily accepted Bohm!

The thing which I find most troublesome in this account is not, really speaking, that the Unmoved Mover almost got there in that theory. The most disturbing part, to me, is that I don’t know, to precisely what do I ascribe the quantum mechanical motion. If I subtract the potential from the theory, I am at a loss, in the sense I can’t make any prediction about the particle propagation, not even a probabilistic prediction. If I subtract the actually propagating quantum “particle” from the account, once again I am at a loss; the theory then loses the possessor of definite trajectories, and no device is left to explain the detector events. I know that in Bohm’s theory, the propagating particle here is “dumb” enough that it can’t know the territory ahead on its own, but at the same time, I don’t know what physical mechanism does connect the spatially omni-present abstract potential with the spatially definite propagating particle.

So, the only conclusion I can reach is that both are necessary even if the two are physically unconnected, i.e. separate in principle. And if the two are separate, I know that Bohm didn’t resolve the wave-particle duality. If so, he didn’t provide an objective description of the micro-world. And if he didn’t do that, then what, prey, did he do? … And, why is Dr. Dennis lecturing as if Bohm did?

Overall, to my mind, this absence of a resolution of the duality is the most important charge against Bohmian mechanics.

As I said, I would have been perfectly happy even if Bohm were to tell us that there was an Unmoved Mover in his theory—if the theory were otherwise satisfactory, taking care to resolve the duality in a physical sense. I would have been happy with that… I was not at all disturbed when Leonard Peikoff nominated St Thomas Acquinas as the most influential man of the millenium… The reason is simple. If someone gives an actually valid theory with some inessential thread of a minor error (may be even an error that involves mysticism) here and there, even then the theory would be valuable: the mistake would be relatively easy (perhaps even damn easy) to correct—provided there was a (largely) valid theory behind that veil of mysticism. But if there is no basic resolution, then where does that leave one? Back to the square one!

(b) What Dr. Dennis Says

The above section concerned more with what Bohm himself said; this section concerns more with what Dr. Dennis says. Namely, about locating ideas in empirical observations.

(Let me note, judging by his blog-posts, I don’t think there is a very serious difference between Dr. Dennis and me concerning an overall “world-view” i.e. certain broad general philosophic premises. BTW, frankly, I never have understood what precisely people mean by phrases like “experimental discovery;” there is a little philosophic point about it—it’s a very minor point, but if the issue is to be exaggerated, I would say that I smell mysticism of muscle in such an usage—which, BTW, is typical only of 2oth century American physics, not at all typical of the 19th century physics anywhere. … But then, again, it’s a very minor point; forget about it.)

Since this post has already grown to 2,000+ words, let me leave a lot of material out of this one, and cut straight to the point.

As I said, I haven’t studied Bohmian mechanics the way a graduate student of physics would. Therefore, what I am going to say in this point too, have rather indirect bases to them. This does not mean that the point is vague, indefinite, or unworthy of serious professional attention. All that it means is that the following description isn’t IMHO fit for¬† publication in a scholarly journal, that’s all.

If you google for computer simulation following Bohmian mechanics, you come across certain pictures, all of which, invariably show a certain special kind of transient dynamics. For example, see the Web site of Prof. de Raedt [^],[^], or better still, since it more explicitly talks about Bohm, the site at the University of Innsbruck (UoI) [^]. On the UoI site, look for 2D visualization to get to this simulation picture [^].

I am going to cut a lot short here, but enough to say that if I were to simulate this situation using my approach, the implied transient dynamics would be different. Note two points here.

(i) First, it is my general understanding that all of the following approaches would give identical results for the long-time-large-flux situations (i.e. vaguely speaking, the same asymptotic values/limits): (i) Copenhagen (or the standard interpretation), (ii) Feynman’s approach, (iii) Bohm’s approach, and (iv) mine (barely beginning; no way complete; officially, we still talk of only photons as of today). And, all of these have to match with experiments such as the one by Young, of course! [There was a “tongue of slip” here, confusing Young with Hooke, in the first version of this post—I blame my recent preoccupation with elasticity for the confusion!]

But the second point is even more important. I assert that there ought to be differences among these approaches when we look at the early transients at low flux levels predicted by each. The time-series of detector events would be essentially different.

And, precisely because Bohm did put forth a quantum traveling along definite paths, therefore, it is all the more easy to make comparisons between his theory and my approach. (BTW, making such comparisons between all such approaches was a background consideration when I recently wrote a post of the title: “Wanted: Photon Counters” [^]).

In other words, I not only have objections against the Bohmian mechanics not only on conceptual grounds (no resolution of the duality) but I also have a prediction against it (and against all prior approaches, right from the Copenhagen or mainstream view from the mid-20s, onwards through all its modifications/additions, through Bohm) to be settled via experimental verification.

In case you have read (as I did) notable physicists/professors such as Nobel laureates (or people serving on the Nobel selection committees) tell you that all new quantum theories are just “interpretations” for the same mathematical “framework” and that in principle no theory could be built that could make new kind of predictions than what was already known (till, say, the close of the 20th century), well, they all have been plain wrong! My approach does indicate a new class of predictions.

BTW, in case you have noticed that I don’t mention Everette and wonder if I do so deliberately. The answer is that yes, I don’t mention him; this is not always deliberate, but the point is I don’t think he ever had a theory to begin with. But for the present-day American idiots, no one would have read his nonsense. And none will, a century from today (perhaps even just a half-century from today). So, let the nonsense be where it might reside—in the heads of (perhaps reputed) American physics professors and their students (and their colleagues etc. elsewhere). For my purposes, I would like to end this post with a reminder that I have both conceptual issues and specifically predictions-related differences with not only Bohm’s theory but also with the mainstream/Feynman’s theories.

[Updated on July 6, 2010, 10:30 PM IST. Even if there are flaws, I will now let this write-up be as it is.]

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