Can we ever know that?

Living in a time when we might have found the limits of what we can know is as exciting as any of the other “walking out of Plato’s cave” moments.

Sabine says there are scientific papers published that are rigorous in their math, but not based on evidence, so she says they aren’t science.

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The CFI bot offered up this post from a year ago.

It concludes with,

This is what I try to tell the trolls and true believers that visit here. I try to tell my real friends to their face also, but then they have a reason to fill a glass that isn’t even half empty.

They decide that they have found the end of the argument, that their evidence is the answer and there is nothing left to do but get the world aligned with where they already are. The comedian Bill Hicks would imitate crickets and say he was waiting for the rest of humanity to evolve, to catch up to him. He was trying to be funny, but people at cocktail parties or on discussion forums aren’t funny at all. They are so attached to their theory that simply listening to another one is anathema. If someone agrees with part of what they say, that’s not enough, they have to move to the next point where there is disagreement.

Anyway, yeah, science is cool. There might be a multi-verse, but we’ll never have evidence for it. Enjoy the Spring.

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How we ask our questions, set the parameters of the answers we can hope to arrive at.

I used to tell people there are no non trivial absolutes. They would general respond with something like you are forgetting death and taxes. The point I was trying to make is that languages are closed systems with internal logic. As long as you maintain that logic you can make absolutely true statements such as 1+1=2. The problem is that there are no 1s or 2s in physical reality. As far as I can tell everything is a system related to everything else. The categories we create are abstract and reductionistic. I Quit trying to explain the problem to people because it gets tedious. I have switched to a new way of explaining it. I simply make a distinction between abstract reality and physical reality.

Many thanks to Dennett for this simple example of how the abstract becomes real. Money isn’t “real” but it transcends time and space by shrinking and expanding time and distance in a way physical commodities such as gold cannot. Now I find that people can’t understand that either and want to go back to a gold standard. Whatever, the point is that the abstract becomes real in relation to physical reality. Some money isn’t real because it has become detached from physical reality. Some change in physical reality such as the failure of the Confederacy rendered a specific money that was issues worthless. The same thing could be true of mathematics. As long as a system is in place to maintain the internal logic of 1+1=2 then it is a true statement.

You can apply the same principle to almost anything. In this case the concept of a proof in empirical science. Proofs are absolute within the system that exists to make them absolute. What confuses people is that all languages including math and logic are abstract. For example there is no such thing as an atom. What we think of as an atom is a representation of a arbitrary category of matter. No matter how accurate and precise that representation or category is it remains abstract. A reductionist and deterministic symbol of something we can work with. All complex chaotic systems are like that as proven by Quantum Mechanics. So you are asking what is real? What is real about atoms is how the concepts changes the meaning of physical reality such as an atomic weapon. When they built the first one they didn’t know very precisely and accurately what would happen if they set it off. It was only after the manifestation in physical reality that the consequences to both physical and abstract reality became clear.

Proof are as real as anything else we are just thinking about reality wrong. For the most part we do not live in physical reality but abstract reality. It’s true of all life but that is a different topic. We exist in a world of reduced complexity and chaos out of necessity. We don’t see, feel, smell, hear or taste reality. We only evolved the senses needed to insure the fitness of the species. You can include the six sense of consciousness if you like.

One of the popular analogies I hate is the idea that we live in a simulation. We may live in a mathematical universe but that is a different concept. Mathematics are a way of extending the senses or are ability to interact with reality like many other tools. Reality is real we just don’t know what it is. Another popular analogy I dislike is the wet robot. Only someone who doesn’t understand that evolution is an internal and external process dependent on errors would suggest such an analogy. It has to do with how some concepts are difficult to understand like zero and randomness. People do not see randomness because we didn’t evolve to see anything as random. Yet without “random” events evolution and probably the universe couldn’t exist. Perfect reproductive fidelity is lifeless.

RIght, so atoms aren’t real, but I’ll make a bomb and show you what’s real alright. This is kind of like the kid in high school who told me my green sweatpants weren’t green, but that they were absorbing all the other colors and reflecting green. Well, it sounded cool at the time, but now I know that is what “green” means.

Now, the kids come up with more sciencey ways of saying it, like,

We live in the world in which we live. What “necessity”? You mean we evolved in this world to survive in this world, as if that was a choice? I think you are talking about the map, as if it is the territory.

The Map is not the Territory - Definition and examples — Conceptually

The map is not the territory but the map changes the meaning of the territory to the extent it helps us survive within the territory. It becomes real through cultural evolutionary adaptation. Once you acknowledge your limitations to perceive and understand the territory the abstract reality of the map becomes just as real as the territory. Unless of course you don’t need the map. It would be the same as money isn’t real if you don’t need it. Although it is a bit more difficult to see the situation for your green sweatpants it can be done. Your pants are simply green if what you need to know is if it is an aesthetically pleasing match or color. If you are building a green laser it is helpful to have a different concept of what green is.

It’s actually a very old idea. Plato said that the idea of a horse is more real than the horse itself. Of course the idea of a horse is different depending on what use you are intending to make of a horse. The idea of a horse is different for a cowboy than someone who keeps them as a pet or our ancestors who hunted them for food. Plato had no idea of physical evolution but he would have had a clear understanding of cultural evolution. He would have been familiar with the process of selection used in domestication. You could call domestication applied evolutionary theory. The irony is that it took as long as it did to develop the idea of natural selection.

The reason it took so long to develop the idea of natural selection, at least in part, has to do with cultural reproductive fidelity. You can see the importance of cultural reproductive fidelity in the idea that math is racist. In both physical and abstract reality reproductive fidelity is important to short term survival. The more complex the organism or society the more important it is. Some simple organisms such as RNA bacteria take advantage of low reproductive fidelity for rapid adaptation. A complex society however has to be very careful in how it adapts. We use history to determine what adaptations are useful and which are not. That is why it is so important to maintain some level of historical accuracy.

I understand that I’m starting to sound like someone obsessed with bringing philosophy to science. That really isn’t who I am. I tend to agree with Steven Weinberg that the use of philosophers as it relates to science is to argue against the bad ideas of other philosophers. I don’t think however that Weinberg predicted that cultural mutations would arise that were a threat to science. The popularity of Postmodernism being one example. Anytime you mess with complex chaotic systems there will be unpredictable consequences. As it relates to this thread, proofs are just a way of maintaining reproductive fidelity within an abstract system. You have to ask why so many scientific papers are withdrawn today after having gone through peer review. One thing I have noticed is if there is a good philosopher on the team it is less likely. Philosophers maintain a high degree of language fidelity. Einstein said he rarely thought in terms of language and he also said the secret to his success was imagination. Genius it turns out is the ability to generate a large number of abstract mutations and sort through them rapidly to find a solution. It mimics physical evolution. What makes it work however is maintaining high reproductive fidelity in the tools used to make the selection process. Since I have taken an interest in philosophy I can see that my imagination has actually been blunted. I don’t have as many “new” ideas as I used to. Language it turns out can be a trap. If you spend all your time dotting the Is and crossing the Ts you don’t have time for imagination.

Now I’m not a particularly cleaver person. I’m sure there is a lot I’m missing. If I didn’t think it was important I would just go back to my imaginary world and speculation which is way more enjoyable.

[quote=“wolfhnd, post:4, topic:10817, full:true”]
As long as you maintain that logic you can make absolutely true statements such as 1+1=2. The problem is that there are no 1s or 2s in physical reality.

Well, the human codified symbolic numbers do not exist in reality, but relational mathematical values do exist in reality. We use them for applied physical purposes.

Fundamentally the abstract concepts of 0 and l can be appplied to ;
0 = nothing (No reality) and 1 = something (Reality), and of course, that is how digital computers work. ON/OFF sequences that transmit (quantum?) data.

What confuses people is that all languages including math and logic are abstract. For example there is no such thing as an atom. What we think of as an atom is a representation of a arbitrary category of matter. No matter how accurate and precise that representation or category is it remains abstract.

A reductionist and deterministic symbol of something we can work with. All complex chaotic systems are like that as proven by Quantum Mechanics. So you are asking what is real?

OK, I can follow your logic and I believe we are going in the same direction with this.

Our reality began with the BB and the beginning of time. However, while there are no numbers floating around, all objects or sets of objects which emerged after the inflationary (Planck) epoch with the cooling of the chaotic plasma state in the form of sub-atomic “elementary particles” have values as expressed in elementary particles.

Elementary particles
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a subatomic particle that is not composed of other particles.[1] The Standard Model presently recognizes seventeen distinct particles—twelve fermions and five bosons.


We may live in a mathematical universe but that is a different concept. Mathematics are a way of extending the senses or are ability to interact with reality like many other tools. Reality is real we just don’t know what it is.

We know what part of it is reality. The part we can observe and measure. That part of reality can be described mathematically and physically demonstrated and better still can be repeated and applied for our use. The fact that human applied mathematics are functionally allowed, suggests a mathematical aspect to the universal environent.

Human mathematics work because the reality is abstractly mathematical in essence and responds to the use of human mathematical symbolisms that virtually copy universal dynamics. Human Laws of Nature describe nature close enough that we can mathematically predict the result of a future natural event.

I’m not suggesting that I’m saying something that lot of people don’t already know. The problem comes in the way they process.

We evolved to see agency everywhere and for that agency to be deterministic. If you like for every effect to have a cause. For example the wind rustles the grass and a deer assumes a predatory and bolts taking the herd with it. It turns out it is better to wrong than eaten. If the deer’s senses and brain were more sophisticated it could tell the difference between just the wind and a predator. The problem is that if the that were the case it would need more energy so there is a trade off between energy and sophistication. Evolution is conservative only what increases fitness survives.

Humans are the same we only have the senses and brain power needed to serve fitness. What we have that deer do not is complex culture. Part of that culture is thinking tools such as math and logic. Like the physically evolved system they are reductionistic and deterministic. That leads to the “no predator problem”. Only since the product of those tools is even more abstract than the physically evolved systems they can become more detached from physical reality. Since the cost of being wrong is fairly low they are not self correcting. You can even get the right answer and still be wrong. For example a theory that is mathematically perfect but doesn’t correspond with experimentation.

Where the problem becomes critical is with complex chaotic systems that are irreducible. Here I have to stop and point out that yes relational mathematical values do exist in reality but that they still represents a categorical reduction. What they represent exists in a system of near infinite complexity. Reduction is a powerful tool but it requires great skill to use. Often too many “predators” that do not exist can slip in.

I would like to elaborate but right now I have too many distractions. I suppose the next step is to establish just because you can’t “know” “reality” doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You can know enough to serve fitness within the limitations that time and space impose. I still have to establish, I guess, that proofs are real withing those limitations. I’m not sure you disagree with that but we have slipped away from the issue which is probably my fault.

If you think the map is the territory, you will get lost. That’s what the analogy means.

I am a believer in Determinism, but I can imagine that at quantum scales determinism becomes fuzzy.

I suggest another video by Sabine Hossenfelder followed by a interview of Roger Penrose (nobel laureate) who is deeply involved in the non-computable (non-deterministic) aspect of consciousness at quantum levels


It is as I say always a matter of degree. How lost would you be without the map? That is where we are at I’m afraid with science journals they lost the map. A lot of people got lost with the map but at least a few were able to get through.

I’m a determinist by training and personality. Until I retired and took an interest in philosophy I assumed that everyone who worked in science was a determinist. It turned out that in philosophy determinist had a meaning I had never even considered. The best way I can put it is that a determinist believes that the chain of causes and effects reach back to the beginning of time precluding the possibility of “freewill”. There are some rare exceptions where scientist consider themselves compatibilists. A compatibilist believes in the chain of causes and effects but holds out some level of “freewill” being possible. Dennett for example called himself a compatibilist.

I can’t watch the videos because I don’t have sound on my computer and I don’t want to watch anything on my tiny phone screen. I’m old :slight_smile: So I will wing it.

My philosophy is that for most things close enough is good enough. My idea of close enough however is much different than many people’s. When I worked as an engineer close enough meant as close as you could get within the practical limitations of time and money. The difference between as close as your would like and the practical limits were taken up by margins of errors or safety factors. The trick is in known what the critical elements are. For scientists close enough is seldom good enough. The practical limitation of time and money still exist but the difference is made up by focusing very narrowly. The margins of acceptable error are very tiny. Scientists are good at working with discrete components and engineers are good with working with systems. Scientists use carefully measured data and engineers use statistical or analog data. For example the measured rainfall and runoff from historical observations under various conditions. A kind of generalization that doesn’t work for science. I think having contemplated these different approaches for years is why I became so interested in the systems we call complex and chaotic. The question becomes can you actually determine the whole from it’s components. If I dumped a bunch of parts on a table could you tell me what it was? If the thing is sufficiently complicated it seems unlikely. Especially if you could assemble the parts in different ways to create various functional systems. If systems are sufficiently complex they also tend to become chaotic. Small changes can have dramatically different results as we see in physical evolution. So I became interested in evolution. Having worked with computers I also knew that complex programs require random inputs to prevent lock ups. Once I understood philosophical determinism I immediately became a compatibalist. No quantum uncertainty required. Over time I became convinced that the key to everything was randomness.

You would assume that determinism means no randomness but their is little I have worked with more deterministic than a computer. There are also few other machines that nobody has any idea how they work. The components are all designed by various groups working more or less independently and put together by other groups and then various groups develop different parts of the software. It is a recipe for chaos. When the thing doesn’t work right you don’t just throw it away you but a little bump in to keep it going. A little random input. The question is how random does it have to be?

The point is that while true randomness is an interesting question it isn’t required. It is a question of close enough. To get some level of freewill you don’t need much randomness at all. That lead me to the conclusion that one of the properties of life was intelligence. To get intelligence all you need is enough randomness to break the loop of response. To get a genius all you need is enough random ideas or imagination to sort through to come up with a solution assuming that a rigorous selection process was in place mimicking evolution. Imagination it turns out is the difference between high intelligence or rigor and genius.

Assuming that someone accidentally read through this whole thing the important take away is that evolution including the evolution of ideas is all about close enough. The problem is we didn’t evolve to think in terms of close enough. We evolved to be fairly binary. Fight/flight, friend/foe, infant/predator, male/female, dead/alive, whatever. We evolved to be determinists. Every effect has a cause but an effect can have many causes. Reality is not binary. It is a complex chaotic system that is irreduciable. We got into the trap of ultimate explanations because we evolved with that expectation. That doesn’t mean that the search for an ultimate explanation is pointless. If you don’t set your standards high enough you will often fail. That doesn’t mean that everything that doesn’t meet those standards is useless. The trick as I said earlier is knowing what is close enough for purpose. As it relates to this thread knowing that proof is impossible doesn’t mean that attempting a proof is pointless. Proofs were part of a system that worked pretty well it, turns out it is the system not the proofs that are important. All systems are chaotic you keep it at bay by some level of reproductive fidelity. A genius may come along and break that fidelity but you regroup around the mutation and move on.

If I was cleaver enough I could reduce this down to a few sentences, sorry for the long winded post.

[quote=“wolfhnd, post:12, topic:10817”]
If I was cleaver enough I could reduce this down to a few sentences, sorry for the long winded post.

The Mind is an an internal Universe of quantum memories.

Well, it is complicated. But one truth seems to be that the evolution of the universe rests on a mathematical equation. There are certain inescapable axioms. Usually described as Universal Laws.

One is the discovery of the fractal nature of the universe.

Gauss’s diary entry related to sum of triangular numbers (1796)
Another mathematician, Carl Friedrich Gauss, echoed Archimedes when in 1796 he wrote in his diary, **

“ΕΥΡΗΚΑ! num = Δ + Δ + Δ”, referring to his discovery that any positive integer could be expressed as the sum of at most three triangular numbers.[12] This result is now known as Gauss’ Eureka theorem[13] and is a special case of what later became known as the Fermat polygonal number theorem.

Then came fractals, the infinite recursion of a Sierpinsky’s Triangle.

And a new modern model in cosmology , CDT (causal dynamical triangulation) made its entrance

Causal dynamical triangulation (CDT), theorized by Renate Loll, Jan Ambjørn and Jerzy Jurkiewicz, is an approach to quantum gravity that, like loop quantum gravity, is background independent.

This means that it does not assume any pre-existing arena (dimensional space) but, rather, attempts to show how the spacetime fabric itself evolves. There is evidence [1] that, at large scales, CDT approximates the familiar 4-dimensional spacetime but shows spacetime to be 2-dimensional near the Planck scale, and reveals a fractal structure on slices of constant time.

These interesting results agree with the findings of Lauscher and Reuter, who use an approach called Quantum Einstein Gravity, and with other recent theoretical work.

and evidence is everywhere

What fractals, Fibonacci, and the golden ratio have to do with cauliflower

Self-selected mutations during domestication drastically changed shape over time.

Many fractal patterns exist only in mathematical theory, but over the last few decades, scientists have found there are fractal aspects to many irregular yet patterned shapes in nature, such as the branchings of rivers and trees—or the strange self-similar repeating buds that make up the [Romanesco cauliflower]

(Romanesco broccoli - Wikipedia).

> It has long been observed that many plants produce leaves, shoots, or flowers in spiral patterns. Cauliflower provides a unique example of this phenomenon, because those spirals repeat at several different size scales—a hallmark of fractal geometry. This self-similarity is particularly notable in the Romanesco variety because of the distinctive conical shape of its florets. Now, a team of French scientists from the CNRS has identified the underlying mechanism that gives rise to this unusual pattern, according to a new paper published in Science.

Fractal geometry is the mathematical offspring of chaos theory; a fractal is the pattern left behind in the wave of chaotic activity. That single geometric pattern repeats thousands of times at different magnifications (self-similarity). For that reason, fractals are often likened to Russian nesting doll.

IMO, the Universe spacetime is a geometric object, and whatever we see or understand is an evolutionary product of mathematical functions, just as life is an evolved expression of biologicakl dynamics.

Yes I agree that it looks like initial simple conditions are self elaborating to produce complexity. The search for the “formula of everything” is not a waste of time and is dependent on the universe being deterministic.

The question I think is if you can intentionally alter the pattern to produce “unnatural” results. Is that what you are doing when you engineer a new species such as conscious AI?

I tend to think that it was unavoidable that an ape would evolve that used tools and that those simple tools would eventual become conscious AI. The only thing that could have stopped it was an extinction event. The problem is that evolution is dependent on random events. If you have perfect reproductive fidelity you don’t have evolution.

It turns out that random like zero is an incomprehensible idea. As Einstein said “God doesn’t play dice”. If the universe is deterministic then how can quantum uncertainty exist? If the initial conditions exist at the the quantum scale then as you say you still need “inescapable axioms” to produce patterns. How do you get inescapable axioms if the initial conditions are “random”.

One of the reasons I like Dennett is the same reason most people I know don’t. He side steps the “big questions”. If you simply accept that randomness is necessary you can move on to what we are really interested in which is how do we organize ourselves. How can we use randomness to do that? We can use bottom up design that mimics evolution to solve problems that are too complex for top down design. It is a sophisticated form of trial and error. I think a lot of people reject the idea because it makes human intelligence less special. You have to be a bit autistic to appreciate it. By that I mean less species-centric. That is kind of dangerous because what is the meaning of life and how do you get morality? You become a compatibilist. It isn’t very intellectual satisfying but it is functional, pragmatic.

Did we do that?

When did that happen?

Didn’t know we were having trouble with that.

Use randomness?

Do you have example?

[quote=“wolfhnd, post:14, topic:10817”]
Yes I agree that it looks like initial simple conditions are self elaborating to produce complexity. The search for the “formula of everything” is not a waste of time and is dependent on the universe being deterministic.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. Whereas each event is deterministic in and of itself, it is the chaotic dynamics of spacetime itself that introduces variety of expression. Hence “relativity”.

The problem is that evolution is dependent on random events. If you have perfect reproductive fidelity you don’t have evolution.

Yes but we are not talking about A random event, we are talking about trillions and trilions of random events.

Just check the mathematical evolution of this excellent experiment.

I really suggest watching Robert Hazen. He lays out the history of the earths’ evolution in a great conversational and entertaining way.
Once you have heard his original lecture at Carnegie Institute, you will look at the universe and its evolutionary processes in a clear way.

Example; He takes you trough a back-of- the- envelope calculation of how many chemical and mineral exeriment the earth itself has performed during earth’s lifetime.

He estimates that the earth has performed some… wait for it…
“2 trillion, quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion” chemical interactions .
So the question of an occasional random event occurring in a dynamic environment, still adds up to a steady occurrence of evolutionary changes.
While most changes are causally meaningless, it is that rare beneficial change that becomes selected for continuation. (natural selection for survival).

And then there is the occasional major mutation, such as what gave humans chromosome 2 , a mutative joining of two 2 separate chromosomes into ONE (2 x larger) chromosome, which I suspect was responsible for our extraordinary brain complexity, which truly outstrips human need for any kind of adaption. Man is able to create his own environment, and beginning to pay the price for “divorce from natural procession. Chromosome fusion
(the bible describes that event as man being kicked out from paradise due to his ability to disobey natural law and " influence” natural processes), such as AGW

[quote=“lausten, post:15, topic:10817”]
Didn’t know we were having trouble with that.

Zero does not exist in nature. It describes “nothing”.

Well we are on the same page but I don’t think the number of “mutations” or random events explains much. I have never experienced anything I thought was truly random. The assumption being that we simply can’t follow the chain of events.

20 years ago I looked for almost a year for an example of evolved to evolve. Couldn’t find any evidence. The significance of that is that if everything evolves through random events you would think something would have evolved to take advantage of it. Some people have pointed to microorganism but when I looked at their studies they were pretty flawed. I understand I’m looking at the wrong scale but…

At the molecular level we take randomness for granted and employ it constantly as in the Brownian motion that allows us to mix a cake. It is a crude example of what you are suggesting at a much larger scale but it doesn’t prove true randomness.

What I’m saying is you don’t need true randomness to get practical applications. In the same way zero doesn’t need to exist to get practical applications. I’m pretty content with the “magic” we already have. Now your understanding may someday allow for something like instantaneous transport or fantastic evolved systems but that seems a long way off.

Yes I’m assuming that AI will become conscious, whatever that is.

The side focus I’m pursuing is an understanding of human intelligence. Especially the abstract culturally evolved aspect. It is important I believe to start with the understanding that humans do not have tools because they have large brains but that tools allowed diversion of resources away from the gut to evolve a large brain. Because our behavior is somewhat short circuited from instinct we would be “dumber” than a monkey if it were not for culture. But we are egotistical creatures who believe we were born “intelligent”. What we were born with is the potential to become more intelligent than a monkey. We get a lot of help from culturally evolved “intelligence”. Properly understood it is what is called swarm intelligence. That is why there is so much talk of “neuro networks” in computing.

Here is your example of applied randomness. It is not the best I have seen but I don’t keep track of research papers.

If I seem testy I’m sorry I’m getting frustrated with my ability to communicate clearly.

[quote=“wolfhnd, post:17, topic:10817”]
What I’m saying is you don’t need true randomness to get practical applications. In the same way zero doesn’t need to exist to get practical applications. I’m pretty content with the “magic” we already have.

There may not be randomness at all. Everything may evolve in a deterministic way (obeying the universal constants) but in a dynamic environment each deterministic event is ever so sligthly different and those evolutionary changes would not be random but just plain unmeasurable.

“Things cannot happen at the same time in the same place”

It seems that in the end it is a case of “energy transforming into matter”, in one way or another.