Re: [asa] Brain and Determinism

From: David Clounch <david.clounch@gmail.com>
Date: Thu Oct 01 2009 - 14:18:31 EDT

Bill,

>Anything determined empirically or "in practice" must be epistemological.

I see.

My prejudice is, being an engineer, is I tend to think in terms of
everything being "in practice". This is why I form my beliefs about what we
know is true based on probability and limits of detectability.
John Wheeler wrote that events that are less likely than 1 in 10^-50 simply
don't exist. But that is an arbitrary limit and it is an argument that "in
practice" such events don't exist. It is not an absolute ontological
statement. So, I feel in good company.

As JP&NB point out, Mr. Dawkins seems to want us to believe arguments that
are akin to how many angels dance on the head of a pin. Rejecting that is
something one does "in practice".

Thanks,
Dave C

On Thu, Oct 1, 2009 at 1:02 PM, wjp <wjp@swcp.com> wrote:

> David:
>
> Let me briefly comment.
>
> 1) QM is a deterministic model. However, it doesn't claim to be
> deterministic of individual events, but rather of average events. This is
> what I mean by statistical determinism.
>
> 2) My main interest here is being able to distinguish ontological from
> epistemological randomness.
> In one sense, it appears to me that while the distinction can be made
> conceptually, it appears impossible to be able to distinguish the two in
> practice. Anything determined empirically or "in practice" must be
> epistemological. So it would seem that what we would be attempting to do is
> to burn through epistemological limitations to ontological ones using
> epistemology.
>
> In other words, in Kantian speak, since we only have access to the
> phenomena, can we ever say something about the nature of the noumena?
>
> bill
>
> On Thu, 1 Oct 2009 11:49:06 -0500, David Clounch <david.clounch@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > Bill,
> >
> > Topic 0: (software people always start counting with zero)
> >
> > I am sorry the character for epsilon didn't translate in the cut and
> > paste. I cannot fix that in email other than to use something like an
> > ascii
> > capital E for epsilon rather than a greek character.
> >
> >
> > Topic 1:
> >
> > **Me** .... explain Polkinghorne? :)
> >
> > rofl?
> >
> > Not sure theres much chance of me understanding JP&NB, let alone
> > explaining
> > them. What I can do is bring more of their explanation to the table.
> Would
> > that be sufficient?
> >
> >
> > Topic 2:
> >
> > Elsewhere JP says something about it being the sharpness of a
> > distribution
> > (first derivative) that rebuts Dawkins (as I recall that may have been
> > in
> > the Cosmic Natural Selection section in appendix A?). But he does raise
> > the
> > same issue that you do in your post. They just come to a different
> > conclusion.
> >
> > You say "Ontologically, it must mean something like events occur for no
> > reason whatsoever, and yet they are statistically deterministic."
> >
> > I don't know what that means. Isn't statistically deterministic an
> > oxymoron?
> >
> > Maybe what's needed is a primer?
> >
> >
> > Topic 3:
> >
> >>First, I don't understand the seemingly discontinuous comment about the
> > Planck length.
> >
> > Do you mean the fact they start with the error being at the limit of
> > detectability and then use another example that has an error that is one
> > part in (fill in the blank with some arbitrarily large and fantastically
> > large number)?
> >
> > Is that what you mean by discontinuous comment?
> >
> > Regardless, I think I will include the calcium/synapse example. It is
> > relevant to arrival times and hypercomplex analog systems such as the
> > brain. the importance of JP&NB has to do with the mind.
> >
> >
> > Topic 4: Epistemological versus Ontological aspects.
> >
> > I think it would be best to let JP and NB explain what they mean by
> that.
> > I
> > will attempt to extract their comments. (This is where a wiki is of
> great
> > help organizing related topics).
> >
> > Thanks,
> > -Dave C
> >
> >
> >
> > On Thu, Oct 1, 2009 at 8:14 AM, Bill Powers <wjp@swcp.com> wrote:
> >
> >> Merv & David:
> >>
> >> A few comments.
> >>
> >> First, I don't understand the seemingly discontinuous comment about the
> >> Planck length.
> >>
> >> Second, I don't follow the argument. It seems to me that from beginning
> > to
> >> end they are discussing epistemological uncertainty and not ontological
> >> uncertainty. In fact, it seems to me that the Heisenberg uncertainty
> > can be
> >> similarly interpreted.
> >>
> >> Since I don't consider the Heisenberg uncertainty to really get at the
> >> matter (it can be viewed as merely the result of not attempting to
> > measure
> >> an eigenvalue), consider instead something like the decay of a
> > radioactive
> >> nucleus.
> >>
> >> We are told that if one were to ask why this particular nucleus decayed
> > at
> >> this instance that the "appropriate" answer is that there is no reason.
> >> Yet, we are also told that the statistical decay of a host of such
> > atoms
> >> has such a small variance that we can make extremely accurate atomic
> > clocks
> >> from them.
> >>
> >> The situation is analogous to tossing an honest penny. If one were to
> > try
> >> to predict whether this penny on this toss would be a head or a tail,
> > our
> >> knowledge would be completely uncertain. All we could say is that it
> > will
> >> be either a head or a tail. And this is why we in Bayesian fashion say
> > that
> >> the result is 50-50, a measure of complete ignorance. Yet, were we to
> > toss
> >> 10^23 such coins we could predict with extraordinary accuracy the
> > fraction
> >> of coins that are heads and the fraction that are tails.
> >>
> >> In this analogical story would we say that there was no reason that the
> >> flip of a single coin came up heads? I don't think so. Such a story
> > was
> >> well known long befor QM came along, and no one was led to argue that we
> >> live in a random universe. Well, maybe not no one. It was probably a
> >> common belief prior to the advent of modern science.
> >>
> >> I know that what I'm suggesting seems to lead to hidden variables. I've
> >> just never quite understood the claim that we live in a random universe,
> >> which appears to imply what?
> >>
> >> Is a random universe that is unpredictable? That's epistemological.
> >> Ontologically, it must mean something like events occur for no reason
> >> whatsoever, and yet they are statistically deterministic. This appears
> > to
> >> me, at least, to be a paradox. Does ontological randomness entail that
> >> events occur without any antecedent conditions, not just unobservable,
> > but
> >> none whatsoever. Even with the pennies there are antecedent condtions:
> > the
> >> penny must be tossed.
> >>
> >> In summary, I don't get Polkinghorne's argument. Please, explain.
> >>
> >> thanks,
> >>
> >> bill
> >>
> >> On Thu, 1 Oct 2009, mrb22667@kansas.net wrote:
> >>
> >> My comments injected below...
> >>>
> >>> Quoting David Clounch <david.clounch@gmail.com>:
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>> Polkinghorne and Beale write about determinism and the
> >>>> brain1<#sdfootnote1sym>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>> Consider a single nitrogen molecule in the air you are now breathing.
> > On
> >>>> average it is traveling 450 m/s and bounces off about 7 billion other
> > air
> >>>> molecules every second, thus 7,000 every microsecond. Suppose you knew
> >>>> the
> >>>> exact position and momentum of every one of these particles (even
> > though
> >>>> this is impossible by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle), then
> > perhaps
> >>>> you
> >>>> could, at least in principle, predict exactly where that nitrogen
> >>>> molecule
> >>>> would be one microsecond later. Of course there are all kinds of
> >>>> complications, such as electrostatic forces, angular momentum, and so
> > on,
> >>>> but lets make it simple and pretend that these were all perfect
> > spheres
> >>>> and
> >>>> Newton's laws exactly applied – the kind of eighteenth-century
> >>>> worldview
> >>>> that shaped the Enlightenment and still influences much of our
> > thinking.
> >>>> But
> >>>> suppose a tiny error is introduced in the angle at which this air
> >>>> molecule
> >>>> is traveling, for any reason at all. A little bit of uncertainty about
> >>>> the
> >>>> position of an electron, say. Call this error (epsilon). After
> > one
> >>>> collision, the error is 2 ; after two collisions 4 , and so
> > forth.
> >>>> Each
> >>>> microsecond this error will increase by 2^7000, or roughly 10^2100.
> > The
> >>>> situation is clearly hopeless even if the initial error corresponds to
> > a
> >>>> Planck length (1.6 x 10 ^ -35 m – the smallest possible length,
> > at
> >>>> which
> >>>>
> >>>> conventional physics breaks down) per meter, after just 97 collisions
> > the
> >>>> uncertainty will be enough for the position of the molecule to be out
> > by
> >>>> more than the diameter of a nitrogen molecule (6.2 x 10^-10m), which
> >>>> means
> >>>> it will miss the 98th target. This will happen in less than a 70th of
> > a
> >>>> microsecond. And making the error one Planck length in the size of the
> >>>> observable universe (about 3 x 10 ^23 m) just means it will miss the
> >>>> 176thmolecule. So even with the unrealistic assumptions of a perfect
> >>>> Newtonian
> >>>> world elsewhere, exact determinism is dead.
> >>>>
> >>>
> >>> It isn't the error amplification (chaos theory) that kills determinism.
> >>> Because
> >>> the original 18th century thought assumed up front that such knowledge
> > was
> >>> impossible anyway, they had already premised their speculation as being
> > so
> >>> *in
> >>> principle* since they knew nobody could know all this. And that caveat
> >>> allows
> >>> them (and us now even with Chaos theory) to reduce the initial state
> > error
> >>> *in
> >>> principle* to zero (infinitely smaller than a Planck length). So it is
> >>> only the
> >>> Heisenberg uncertainty as mentioned below that actually drives the real
> >>> stake
> >>> into the heart of determinism. Yet for all this, it doesn't prevent
> > some
> >>> from
> >>> still thinking deterministically about the universe as a strictly
> > causal
> >>> domain.
> >>> Since my mind can't fully fathom the nature of our ontological
> >>> uncertainty, I
> >>> find myself in this deterministically minded camp at least every other
> >>> Thursday.
> >>> Maybe the atoms in my brain will happen to bounce that way today.
> >>>
> >>> --Merv
> >>>
> >>> In fact, of course, we use
> >>>> statistical mechanics to describe the behavior of gases and liquids
> > and
> >>>> do
> >>>> not try to predict the behavior of individual small molecules. But
> > many
> >>>> people think of the indeterminacy in statistical mechanics as simply a
> >>>> limitation on our knowledge rather than a reflection of real
> >>>> indeterminacy
> >>>> as in the quantum world. This kind of argument strongly suggests, to
> > our
> >>>> satisfaction at least, that in cases like the movement of molecules in
> >>>> air
> >>>> the indeterminacy is real.
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>> They go on to describe calcium ions in te synapses in the brain, and
> > use
> >>>> a
> >>>> similar analysis. They conclude:
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>> We will see later that this entirely destroys the idea that the brain
> > is
> >>>> a
> >>>> fully deterministic system.
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>> 1 <#sdfootnote1anc>Questions of Truth, pp. 126-127
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>
> >>>
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> >>>
> >>
>
>

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Received on Thu Oct 1 14:19:11 2009

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